Cougars, nude flight attendants, dirty cities

By Richard Turen

Richard TurenFirst, let me apologize. I was unable to squeeze in many of the really important news stories in the year just ended. I tried, but our industry just cooks up so much worthwhile grub for those who feast on travel news that I find my to-do basket overflowing with stuff I have to share with you.

My two-part trend report, as it turns out, was incomplete. (Read part 1 and part 2.) I should have included a comment from the Association of British Travel Agents that "naked cruising has been tipped to sweep the sector." The report explains that the cruise sector is eagerly pursuing "the naturist community" in a bid to encourage a new kind of customer to take to the seas.

I never associated the decline in formal nights at sea with the growth in nude cruising, but perhaps that was a mistake. We might see evening dress recommendations listed as "towel optional" in years to come.

One other trend I missed was the advent of "cougar cruising." A cougar, for the culturally challenged, is an older woman who prefers to date younger men, described as "cubs."

If you think this isn't serious, consider the fact that the first sold-out International Cougar Cruise went out on the Carnival Elation on Dec. 4. The group's promoters, Singles Travel Co., boasted that "300 cougars and cubs" had a great time and left behind a rather long waiting list.

This was clearly not an officially sanctioned, Carnival-sponsored theme but rather one onboard group. Still, 300 guests is not bad for your first effort. My business partner, Churchill, is still convinced that this was some sort of zoo fundraiser at sea.

The Coast Guard did not have to make any arrests; the other passengers aboard reportedly had a good time; and the group organizer was looking forward to many more groups -- and, perhaps, charters -- built around the theme of "partying" as defined in the cougar bible, "Cougar: A Guide for Older Women Dating Younger Men" [Firefly Books, 2002].

The publicity train took off, and whatever you thought of the concept, you had to admit that from a pure business perspective, the organizers might have hit pay dirt.

Then suddenly, after achieving the kind of publicity it had previously generated in years past with an "O.J. Trial Theme Cruise," Carnival found its moral compass at sea and pulled the plug.

The line announced that future cougar-themed groups would be banned.

What to do? From initial reports, it appears that cougars and their cubs haven't missed a beat; they will henceforth be romping aboard the vessels of Norwegian Cruise Line and, perhaps, Royal Caribbean.

And where is this all headed?

The world's largest cruise retailer, Cruise.com, has scheduled the first "divorcee theme cruise" aboard NCL in October with several additional departures planned by Royal Caribbean.

No word yet on whether Carnival intends to ban divorcees from its ships.

• • •

Congratulations to St. Maarten and Washington, whose airports placed second and third, respectively, in Travel+Leisure's list of "The World's Scariest Airports."

Landing at St. Maarten's Princess Juliana Airport is always fun, especially if you are arriving on a large Airbus or a 747 trying to make do with 7,152 feet of runway while flying low over Maho Beach and just missing the perimeter fencing that surrounds the airport.

Flying into Reagan National in our nation's capital, pilots have to use something referred to as "river visual," coming in low over the Potomac and avoiding flying over sites like the White House, the Pentagon, Dick Cheney's house or CIA headquarters.

But these obstacles pale in comparison with the challenges faced by pilots coming into T+L's first-place winner, Paro Airport in Bhutan, where you land in a small valley ringed by 16,000-plus Himalayan peaks. The trick is to maneuver through a canopy of openings that dot the tree-covered hillsides.

• • •

Meanwhile, several thousand denizens of TripAdvisor have voted London Europe's dirtiest city and Paris its most overrated. Copenhagen, Denmark, was voted Europe's cleanest city, Dublin the friendliest and Brussels the most boring.

This drivel was sent out in press releases and was read by and regurgitated by bloggers worldwide. And if all reviews on TripAdvisor evince this same level of intellectual honesty, one can only assume that the site's primary users are two grannies with a few million email addresses who share a flat in an area of London where dog walkers control the footpaths.

Paris overrated? There isn't one of us who has actually been there who wouldn't support the dream of moving a neighborhood -- say, a complete arrondissement -- from that city and relocating it to our hometown. For starters, it would enhance the quality of our bakers and florists, not to mention what it might do to our dining options.

• • •

This past year, no less than the Duchess of Cornwall weighed in on tourism, according to London's Daily Mail. The Duchess is concerned that tourists from the U.S. and Europe are too fat for the donkeys they are riding at Egypt's Pyramids and Jordan's Petra sites.

Her animal rights group points out that we have reached the point where tourists weigh more than the underfed animals beneath them. They are asking that tourists refuse to be photographed on beasts. I have agreed to join this movement. No "Richard atop a camel" photos for me.

• • •

Air New Zealand might have found the perfect way to get seated passengers to pay attention to the safety instruction video prior to takeoff. The video, using some strategic camera angles to avoid an X rating, is delivered by flight attendants who are wearing nothing but body paint.

One can only hope that our nation's railroads do not adopt a similar approach to safety instructions.

• • •

A couple has sued Cunard Line in Britain for "stress" suffered during their scheduled 15-week cruise on the Queen Victoria. The couple decided to leave the ship after just six weeks.

Citing a legal concept called "loss of enjoyment," the couple claimed that their cruise featured some sleepless nights, a bit of stormy conditions, mouth ulcers (I won't speculate on that) and a noisy cabin. Cunard tried hard to make amends aboard the ship and moved the couple to a penthouse suite. But in their suit, the couple claimed they felt "trapped," despite the assistance of their butler, etc.

You will be pleased to know that the couple received a refund of $80,000 plus another $36,000 in "damages." No word on what their travel agent received.

Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to Conde Nast Traveler's list of the World's Top Travel Specialists since the list began. Contact him at rturen@travelweekly.com.

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