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Shampoo theft

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A few years ago, when I was at a party thrown by a major luxury supplier, I found myself in conversation with the company’s vice president of sales. Talk turned to the new brand of toiletries the company was using, and it was on the tip of my tounge to say that I liked the scent so much that I asked the housekeeper for a few take-home bottles, when the exec said, with indignation: Guests steal the shampoo! (And he felt quite strongly about it.)

Whoa there. Isn’t the shampoo there to be, er, stolen? As a momento of your trip? As a chance not to buy new shampoo, for, oh, three days? Even luxury guests love a free vial of body wash from Crabtree and Evelyn, even if it is the lavender-lilac scent.

Why this is coming up today? A Bankrate column (via the New York Times' Bucks blog) had an unlikely reference to the old souvenir-or-just-stealing  debate: A column on whether you’re “taking frugality too far.” Case in point: Making off with the toiletries. According to the personal-finance consultant quoted in the report, hotels do expect you to take the shampoo, build it into the cost of the room, even.

But don’t take the toilet paper, please. A rule of thumb: If you have doubts, ask someone at the property. If you don’t want to ask somebody, that should set off the internal alarm bell, so to speak, and you should leave that bathrobe/picture frame/settee where you found it.

So do you agree that toiletries are made to be tucked away in your checked bag? If so, what’s your favorite stolen shampoo? I liked the Lili Bermuda stuff from the Tucker’s Point Hotel in Bermuda so much that I later convinced my cousin, on the island on a cruise, to pick up more for me. At the Lili Bermuda store, people!


Luxury hotel in Turkey fails to pay electric bill

(Hotels) Permanent link

MardanThe opulent Mardan Palace Hotel in Antalya, Turkey, crowned the world’s leading luxury hotel at the World Travel Awards in London earlier this month, is being powered by generators this holiday season.

Seems the Mardan Palace hasn’t paid its electric bill in some time, according to a Bloomberg report

Legal proceedings to seize the hotel will be initiated if the electric bill of nearly $3 million is not paid within three weeks, Bloomberg said, citing a Turkish media report.

And what’s running up those electric bills? The Mardan Place, built at a cost of $1.4 billion, boasts the Mediterranean’s largest swimming pool, 11 bars, 10 restaurants, five giant aquariums, a 22,500-square-foot spa, nightly laser light shows and 546 guestrooms, including two royal suites with private pools.

The pool is so large that gondolas sail guests from one end to the other. 

The architecture reflects distinctive landmarks of Istanbul, such as the Dolmabahce Palace, the Da Vinci Bridge and the Maiden’s Tower.

The hotel opened in May 2009, attended by a guest list of 600 international dignitaries and a host of celebrities, including Mariah Carey, Tom Jones, Richard Gere, and Sharon Stone. 

-- Gay Nagle Myers 

TSA agents sing and dance at LAX

(Airports, Government) Permanent link

TSA security agents smiling, singing holiday carols and breaking into dance?

No, it’s not an urban legend.

Travelers passing through Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday were surprised, stunned and entertained by the TSA Choir, a group of 17 singers and musicians, all of them TSA employees, who broke into song in the international terminal, according to USA Today

Ernie Perez, a security supervisor and tenor, led the choir in a Ray Charles-like rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" and "Feliz Navidad."


They also performed an eight-minute dance routine on the floor of the terminal, even enticing some passengers to dance along to recorded songs such as "Surfin’ USA," "Rock Around the Clock," and "Staying Alive."

"We’ve been taking a lot of heat for what we do at TSA," Perez said, referring to the aggressive pat-downs and use of body scanners on passengers. "We wanted to put a positive face on TSA." 

The TSA choir is one of the two; the other is at the airport in Austin, Texas.

The groups have performed since 2003 and they serenade passengers with patriotic music on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and other occasions.

-- Gay Nagle Myers 

Richard Branson loses bet, will dress in drag on flight

(Airlines) Permanent link

Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson will dress as a flight attendant with shaved legs, makeup and high heels.

It’s going to happen on a Feb. 21 flight on AirAsia X from London Stansted to Kuala Lumpur as a result of Branson losing a "cross-dressing bet" to AirAsiaX chief Tony Fernandes, reports USA Today.

The two men laid a wager over whose Formula One team would place higher in this year’s rankings, and the loser was Branson.

Both men decided that the spectacle should go toward a good cause. The flight, not yet on sale, will be auctioned off for charity.

And passengers should expect a good time. Fernandes promised lots of  "memorable experiences and fun. Richard and I, being the characters we are, will inject unique things into it to make it a special flight."

-- Gay Nagle Myers 

Mexicana flight attendants pose for sexy calendar

(Airlines) Permanent link

Ten flight attendants at ailing Mexicana, grounded since the bankrupt carrier ceased operations on Aug. 28, launched a sultry, sexy calendar last week to call attention to their plight, according to the Associated Press.

Click here to see pictures of the women at a photo shoot.

The 2011 calendar features glossy shots of flight attendants in bikinis and aviation shades, draped over propellers and an airplane fuselage on an airport runway.

Racy poses in the cockpit in very abbreviated uniforms also are scattered throughout the calendar’s 12 featured photos.

Each of the flight attendants who posed contributed her own money to help cover the calendar’s $8,000 production cost.

The first run of 1,000 calendars at $12 apiece was an immediate sellout. A second edition of 3,000 calendars is in the works.

— Gay Nagle Myers 

Drunk passenger drops anchor

(Cruise) Permanent link

A drunk passenger aboard Holland America Line’s Ryndam released the vessel’s stern anchor as the cruise ship was returning to Tampa from Costa Maya, Mexico, on a weeklong western Caribbean itinerary last weekend.

Although deploying the anchor could have caused significant damage, the Ryndam was unharmed.

The FBI has charged Rick Ehlert, 44, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., with attempting to "damage, destroy, disable or wreck a vessel." That’s a felony charge.

The ship was in motion with about 1,950 passengers and crew onboard at the time of the incident.

A subsequent review of the ship’s surveillance video showed Ehlert entering a restricted work area, donning work gloves and releasing the anchor at 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 27 while still dressed in his formal attire from the previous evening. Ehlert was traveling with his girlfriend.

Once the ship docked in Tampa, he was met by agents of the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and admitted to being drunk, throwing a life buoy overboard and disabling the anchor.

He claimed to own a 50-foot boat that had a similar anchor system.

Holland America confirmed that the details in the FBI affidavit "accurately reflect what happened, to the best of our knowledge."

Wonder what Ehlert’s bar tab was for that night?

— Gay Nagle Myers 

Naming godmothers

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The maritime industry is full of traditions, and chief among them is the cruise-ship naming ceremony. It’s considered bad luck if the bottle of "christening fluid" – typically champagne – doesn’t break on the new ship’s bow on the first try (and it’s considered unheard of for a ship to start revenue service without being officially named).

The naming, is conducted with a fair bit of pomp and circumstance in the industry. Some ceremonies are perfunctory, with the bottle smashing on the side of the ship practically before the audience has time to draw a breath. But most of the time there’s fireworks (metaphorically speaking, but sometimes there are actual fireworks). The bar is constantly rising. One of Jonze’s favorites was the naming of Holland America Line’s Oosterdam, where the bottle slid from the mast of the Rotterdam on a wire, right down to the bow of the Oosterdam (a clean break). Another was the naming of the Carnival Splendor, where a British Royal Navy diver scaled the side of the ship with a bottle of bubbly in a pouch.

Royal Caribbean International’s use of a nonperson in the role – that would be Fiona, the princess-turned-ogre in the "Shrek" franchise – is just the latest in a list of unusual and headline-grabbing godmothers.

Some are the wives of boardmembers or relatives of the owners. Many are actresses, models or "personalities." Several are royalty: Cunard Line is the gold standard in this category – who else could convince the Queen of England to name all three of its queens? – but HAL counts several of the Netherlands royal family as ship sponsors.

A few are repeaters. Witness MSC Cruises, which uses Italian actress and icon Sophia Loren to do the honors for each of its new ships.

And, rarely, some godmothers are men. Sen. Daniel Inouye was named the "godfather" of the Pride of Hawaii in 2005. Apparently, both Inouye and Norwegian Cruise Line thought it unlucky for a man to actually do the christening, so Inouye gave the blessing as six female crewmembers pulled the lever to release the champagne bottle. (NCL wasn’t the first cruise line to select a godfather for a ship; there’s at least one other: Composer Vangelis Papathanasiou, who was the godfather to the Olympia Explorer at now-defunct Royal Olympic Cruises.)

Was Fiona the first fictional character to name a cruise vessel? Nope: Tinkerbell christened the Disney Wonder.

Do you have a favorite godmother or chistening ceremony story?

The boycott that wasn't

(Airlines, Airports) Permanent link

Maybe it was the TSA’s urgent, last-minute plea last week that everybody play nice. Maybe it was well-placed, widespread fear of the consequences of screwing with the TSA. Maybe it was just a national Turkey Day good mood.

For whatever reason, the threatened national boycott of pat-downs and scanners at U.S. airports never materialized. In fact, in his The Media Equation column today, New York Times reporter David Carr makes a persuasive argument that the whole thing was a case of media hoopla fed by a Twitter-based virtual lynch mob (not his words, but you get the picture).

Maybe so, but when all is said and done, isn’t anybody really upset about these new invasive procedures? Yes. In fact, members of the lame-duck Congress have struck gold. Expect to see a whole new level of demagoguery and just plain hot air as our esteemed lawmakers set aside work on such annoying distractions as a new SALT treaty to deal with the real threat to America: a machine that can see your undies.

Unless, of course, you get your undies in a bundle about scans and opt for a pat-down that could be either demeaning or exciting, depending on your frame of mind. It’s TSA’s world, folks. We just get to live in it.

 — Rob Fixmer 

Is TSA avoidance grounds for a refund?

(Airlines, Airports) Permanent link

Passengers who want a ticket refunded because they refuse to be body-scanned or patted down at the airport are venturing into uncertain territory.

Travel blogger Christopher Elliott contacted five airlines to find out if they planned to accommodate customers who would rather stay home than face TSA screening.

American, Southwest and United/Continental said no. Delta said maybe. AirTran gave a refund to a passenger who said she "cannot fly when these are the terms."

Junk videos

(Airlines, Airports, Security, Government) Permanent link

With the Transportation Security Administration all up in our, er, business this holiday season, it didn't take long for video parodies of the TSA's new search procedures — a.k.a. the amplified pat-down — to hit the social media streets.

The first, from health advocate Michael Adams, is a rap based on the blog of traveler John Tyner who recorded his conversation with TSA agents on his cellphone, telling them: "Don't touch my junk, or I'll have you arrested. "United Breaks Guitars," it's not.


And here's a spoof from "Saturday Night Live," portraying TSA agents in a commercial styled after those cheesy 900-number spots one sees on late-night TV.


Tourism and the British monarchy

(Cruise) Permanent link
Amid all the hoopla over the announcement that -- finally! -- Prince William and Kate Middleton are to be married, a paragraph in the New York Times' Lede Blog confirmed to Jonze that, yes, of course, there is a travel angle here (and not just the news that the prince proposed during a holiday in Kenya).

According to the Times: Supporters of the monarchy could defend the expense of a royal wedding as a stimulus package for the British tourism industry. “That is, after all, one of the main economic arguments in favor of maintaining the institution, that it is a steady draw for tourists who visit the British capital to see the Windsors in their pomp.”

So Will can hopefully keep that fancy title thanks to the travel industry. You’re welcome, Your (future) Majesty!

The Times report also credits another very British institution, the BBC, which says that “Restaurants and hoteliers can now look forwards to a two-year bulge in tourism numbers, with the 2011 wedding to be followed by the 2012 Olympics.”

Now, onto more new matters. Like, where will Will and Kate honeymoon? Lonely Planet has some ideas. Among other destinations, it suggested in an email today that he might like New Zealand: it’s hosting the Rugby World Cup next year; William is a rugby fan. And she, by all accounts a very private person, might like “a secret island” a la the Torres Strait Islands in Australia or the Ssese Islands in Uganda.
Lonely Planet also proposed the “Ultimate British Honeymoon,” including walking Hadrian’s Wall, sailing around Scotland and staying in a caravan on the Norfolk coast. 

How about a cruise? Lonely Planet suggested cruising the Galapagos on Princess Grace Kelly’s yacht.

But that’s a royal yacht, and if Jonze has learned anything over the past few days, it’s that Prince William and Ms. Middleton are a down-to-earth, modern couple. So we spirited over to the Cruise Log, where USA Today cruise reporter Gene Sloan is, very democratically, polling the masses: Which cruise ship would be best for a royal honeymoon? Choices range from the Hebridean Princess to the Carnival Splendor.
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