EasyCruise Goes Gray

August 4, 2006
Courtesy EasyCruise

The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou (also behind low-fare airline EasyJet), EasyCruise made waves in 2005 when it launched no-frills Caribbean cruises at rock-bottom prices. Since then, the orange cruise ships have expanded to the Mediterranean and the canals of Holland and Belgium.

Now, after customer feedback, they're getting a makeover. Instead of the blinding orange exterior, vessels will be gray with orange trim and will feature a more streamlined, boomerang-shaped logo. The cabins are also getting a toned-down color scheme, and all cabins on EasyCruiseOne will be fitted with windows. A large canopied sundeck with two hot tubs and a revamped café, bar, and restaurant are also in the works.

While the look is going more upscale, prices are staying low. EasyCruiseOne is sailing the French and Italian Riveria through October, and will then debut a new Caribbean itinerary: St. Maarten, St. Barts, Anguilla, St. Kitts, Nevis and Antigua starting at $17 per person per night, December 8, 2006 to April 12, 2007. EasyCruiseTwo sails weekly from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels and back, with rates starting at $13 per person per night, August 11 to November 4, 2006. To book, call 011-44/207-895-651-191 or visit easycruise.com.

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    Jamaica: 'We'll Have to Relax on the Next Trip to the Islands'

    Marney and John Jones are recent retirees living in Snellville, Ga., just outside Atlanta. Anything but novice travelers, they've visited Copenhagen, Paris, and Santa Barbara, Calif., in the past year. But a trip to Jamaica has Marney befuddled. "We're senior citizens, and I may be having a senior moment," she says. "But I just can't seem to figure out the best way to plan this trip." The problem is that John and Marney aren't heading off for a simple week at the beach. Their 26-year-old son, John Jr., the youngest of six, is engaged to Jamaica native Tarsha White. The wedding is to be held in February at the resort area of Ocho Rios, and all four of them want to see ahead of time where the ceremony and reception will take place. That's only one reason for the trip, however. Their visit coincides with a traditional two-day ceremony dedicated to Tarsha's grandmother, who passed away last year. Since the festivities are being held in a fishing village that's an hour east of capital city Kingston--and about three hours over winding mountain roads from Ocho Rios--the family is going to see a lot more of Jamaica than the average tourist does. Adding to the complexity, Marney and John plan to attend a family reunion in Daytona Beach, Fla., after their week in Jamaica. Flights from Jamaica to Daytona involve at least one stop, so we present the Joneses with a handful of options, including returning to a larger Florida hub or booking a standard round trip from Atlanta, followed by a cheap AirTran one-way to Daytona. Eventually, Marney and John go with a Delta ticket from Atlanta to Kingston, returning from Kingston to Fort Lauderdale, nonstop in both directions. "We want to make it as hassle-free as possible," says Marney. From Fort Lauderdale, they'll rent a car and drop it off in Daytona, where they'll meet family and later catch a ride back to Georgia. Tarsha will be able to serve as cultural guide, but she won't be with Marney and John all the time. We offer a few bits of knowledge that'll come in handy for any visitor to Jamaica. Skip over gypsy taxis in favor of government-sanctioned JUTA cabs, which have red license plates. Most taxis aren't metered, so it's smart to agree on a price in advance. Feel free to ask for a quote in American dollars. (U.S. currency is widely accepted, and US$1 equals about J$65.) Most Jamaicans are polite and friendly, and like to be acknowledged. Give a friendly hello or a nod of the head to anyone and everyone. "Good night!" is a typical Jamaican evening greeting; it doesn't necessarily mean good-bye. John and Marney will meet up with John Jr. and Tarsha (who are flying in from Washington, D.C.) in Kingston at midday on a Friday. The ceremony for Tarsha's grandmother begins the next day, and some of Tarsha's family is staying that night at Whispering Bamboo Cove Resort in Morant Bay. "What do you think about that for our hotel choice?" asks Marney. The resort is an affordable gem, with views of the ocean and the Blue Mountains, and access to a private beach. The nearby, candy-cane-striped Morant Point Lighthouse is the oldest in Jamaica, built in 1841 on the island's easternmost tip, and makes for a fine photo op. Marney has arthritis, so for Saturday morning we recommend a relaxing soak at the Bath Fountain Hotel & Spa, eight miles north of Morant Bay. The 127-degree waters have been sought out for their healing powers for more than 300 years. A 20-minute dip costs $10, and attendants generally expect a $1 to $2 tip. Tarsha's family is gathering in the village of Old Pera, where her late grandmother was a shopkeeper. John Jr. is looking forward to watching his fiancée go back to her roots. "I really love to hear Tarsha speak patois," says John Jr., referring to the Jamaican Creole islanders use. On Saturday evening, everyone takes part in the traditional rites of Cumina, a religion based on reverence for ancestors; it was brought to the island centuries ago by Africans. The term Cumina is derived from two words in the Twi language of Ghana: akom (possession) and Ana (ancestor). The event honoring the deceased, which includes singing, dancing, and playing the drums, is anything but a sad occasion. "Tarsha's Grandmom's funeral last year was unexpected and sad," says John Jr. "Now we're going to celebrate Grandmom's life, and enjoy the island as a family." On Sunday morning, the headstone will be placed on the grave, officially ending the ceremony. The Joneses then can spend the afternoon sightseeing in Kingston. John Jr. is interested in National Heroes Park, a former racetrack just north of downtown where Jamaican luminaries such as black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey and former premier Norman Manley are buried. "Marcus Garvey is one of my heroes, so I really look forward to seeing his monument," says John Jr. A colorful changing of the guard takes place on the hour. For tasty snacks, vendors sell boiled crabs and roast corn. Marney, who's Jewish, is curious about Shaare Shalom Synagogue. Jews from Portugal and Spain were among Jamaica's first colonial settlers. A few hundred Jews live on the island today, and the gorgeous building is the only synagogue still in use. We tell Marney to notice the floors: They're covered in sand, a tradition conceived in part to muffle sounds during the Inquisition. All the Joneses are reggae fans and want to see the Bob Marley Museum. We break the news that it's closed on Sundays, but fortunately they should have time to visit later in the trip. Before heading back to their hotel, they simply must taste the chicken or pork at Chelsea Jerk Centre. A family friend will drive the foursome through the mountainous interior to Ocho Rios on Monday. John is dreading the drive. "He hates high mountain roads," says Marney. "I make him nervous whenever I say, 'Look at that view!' " Once in Ocho Rios, there are plenty of distractions to help John forget about the fact that they'll be back on the same roads in a few days. To cool off, they might swing by Dunns River Falls, where tourists can either climb the leveled falls as part of a human chain led by a guide or amble along a boardwalk bordering the falls. Dunns River is a very popular excursion for cruise ships, which dock at Ocho Rios on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The cruise crowds usually clear out by 2 P.M., so an afternoon visit makes sense on those days. Otherwise, early morning is usually the least crowded time to cool off at the falls. Another way to have fun--and get wet--is a river excursion on bamboo rafts with Calypso Rafting. Marney thinks she'd enjoy rafting, but tells us that she faces an uphill battle. "My husband, the grouch, thought it was a lot of money, but I'm working on him," she says. Marney has been fascinated with dolphins since she was a child and says "swimming next to one would be the experience of a lifetime." We suggest Dolphin Cove, but seeing as John balked at the $50 rafting trip, he's not going to be thrilled to hear that 30 minutes of swimming with the dolphins costs $179. The group is staying three nights at the RIU Ocho Rios, where the wedding ceremony will take place, and will have lunch one day at the restaurant that's hosting the reception, The Ruins. "The sea at Ocho Rios is the most beautiful ice-blue water," says Tarsha, who's lived in the U.S. for 14 years but has always wanted to get married in Jamaica. "And the waterfall at The Ruins is breathtaking. What more perfect scene for a wedding?" The Joneses love coffee, so if their driver takes them through the Blue Mountains on the way back to Kingston they should stop at one of the many roadside coffee "factories." These are usually little more than simple stands where a couple of workers roast beans in what looks like a large frying pan over an open fire. Prices should be haggled over, but the beans are generally much cheaper than what you'd pay in tourist areas. Before flying home, the Joneses will finally get a chance to check out the Bob Marley Museum, in the building that was both the reggae legend's residence and his recording studio. To see the museum's collection, which includes platinum records, concert memorabilia, and the bullet holes in the room where Marley survived a 1976 assassination attempt, visitors must take a tour. The last one leaves at 4 P.M. "I bought one of the Wailers' albums in the '70s, and was an immediate fan," says John. "Going to the museum with Tarsha and John Jr., who are also Marley fans, will be meaningful. He was an artist whose music touched many generations." Surprise! Goldeneye, the one-time home of James Bond creator Ian Fleming and current exclusive resort owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, is letting our foursome have the run of the place for an afternoon, at no charge. They'll be welcomed with a tour of the 15-acre property, a buffet lunch of traditional Jamaican cuisine, access to a private beach and Jet Skis, and the resort's cool new adventure: snorkeling with stingrays. Lodging Whispering Bamboo Cove Resort Morant Bay, 876/982-2912, discoverjamaica.com/whisper.html, from $50 RIU Ocho Rios 888/666-8816, riu.com/ochorios, all-inclusive from $126 per person Food Chelsea Jerk Centre 7 Chelsea Ave., Kingston, 876/926-6322, quarter chicken $3 The Ruins 17 Da Costa Dr., Ocho Rios, 876/974-8888, lunch buffet $15 Activities Goldeneye Oracabessa, 800/688-7678, islandoutpost.com, Stingray City excursion $55 Bath Fountain Hotel & Spa 876/703-4345, $10 per couple Shaare Shalom Synagogue 31 Charles St., Kingston, 876/922-5931, video and tour $5 Dunns River Falls Ocho Rios, 876/974-5944, dunnsriverja.com, $15 Calypso Rafting Ocho Rios, 876/974-2527, calypsorafting.com, $50 per raft (two people) Dolphin Cove Ocho Rios, 876/974-5335, dolphincovejamaica.com, $179 Bob Marley Museum 56 Hope Rd., Kingston, 876/927-9152, bobmarley-foundation.com/museum.html, $10 How Was Your Trip? "It took us about two and a half weeks to get out to L.A.," says Lisa Levine, whom we coached on a cross-country drive from Boston with her boyfriend, John Craig. "We followed a lot of your suggestions and went out on our own, too. The trip was fantastic! We would have loved to spend more time in every place we saw. Some of our favorite moments include Ojo Caliente spa, listening to a jazz guitarist while eating beignets in New Orleans, and drinking yummy margaritas and shopping in Santa Fe. We also loved walking around Austin, camping just outside Sedona, and eating great food in Louisville and Memphis." (The photo was taken on famous Beale Street in Memphis.)

    What $100 Buys in... Addis Ababa

    $5 Letter opener In the southern part of the country, craftsmen whittle wood--usually ebony--into walking sticks and decorative elements for furniture. They carve smaller objects, like letter openers, for tourists. Merkato Mehal Gebeya Hall, Stall 25. $5 Flip-flops Local sandals are usually made of leather and dried grass, and may be decorated with seashells. If you can't find your size, shopkeepers will often customize a pair to fit. Evangelical Theological College NGO Handicraft Event, Mekannisa Rd. $5 Cotton wrap Traditionally white with colorful trim, natalahs are worn around the head and shoulders to convey modesty and humility and to provide relief from the blazing sun. Green, yellow, and red stripes represent the Ethiopian flag. Abyssinia Gift Articles Shop, Churchill Rd., 011-251/11-111-9870. $10 Cross Ethiopian Orthodox Christians make up about 35 percent of the population (45 percent is Muslim). Merkato Mehal Gebeya Hall, Stall 67. $12 Necklace Handmade beads are a trademark of the Oromos, a once-nomadic tribe that settled in southern Ethiopia in the 16th century. Their necklaces can be found at Stall 67 in the Merkato Mehal Gebeya Hall, an enormous bazaar in the Addis Ketema district. $15 Bracelet Nickel is one of Ethiopia's most abundant resources--and a favorite metal for jewelry. This 100-year-old cuff, known as an ambar bracelet, is from the northern town of Weldiya. Merkato Mehal Gebeya Hall, Stall 73. $20 Bottle Tej, a wine made from fermented honey, is ubiquitous in homes and cafés. It's served in a vase-like brillie. To drink, hold the neck in the crook of your index and middle fingers, palm facing up. Shumeta Leda, Churchill Rd., 011-251/11-111-9961. $25 Pillow Elaborate tribal hairdos require a special pillow--known as a trass--to protect them. Predictably, it's not very comfortable to sleep on, but as a bonus the trass doubles as a stool for clan meetings. Merkato Mehal Gebeya Hall, Stall 216.

    Trip Coach: August 1, 2006

    Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions! _______________________ Larkspur, CO: I would like to take my mother (she is 66 and I am 41) to Spain in October or November. We are both very interested in cooking and are looking for a vacation that combines cooking classes and a little free time for sightseeing. I really enjoyed your article on Paradores in March and think we would enjoy staying at one in the southern part of Spain. If you could also provide information on car rental in Spain vs traveling by train, that would also be helpful. Budget Travel Editors: First off, I would suggest going in October, when it's harvest season in Spain, and also because November tends to be very rainy. Train travel is very easy, and relatively affordable, in Spain, but by renting a car you're able to get off the beaten path to charming villages, where you can catch a glimpse real small town life. If you plan to spend two weeks, maybe think about training one week, and driving the next. Should you decide to rent a car, do it BEFORE you go from a large vendor, such as AutoEurope.com. As for cooking schools, I suggest perusing the Shaw Guide listings for Spain. As of today, there are some 86 recreation cooking programs listed for Spain, many of which are in Andalusia in the south. _______________________ Ridgecrest, CA: Our group, three couples in their late 50s and early 60s, would like to do a walking vacation in Ireland, anywhere between late Spring and early Fall. We're thinking 7-10 days, 6-8 miles per day, staying overnight in B&Bs or country inns but having someone schlep our luggage forward every morning. Can you offer suggestions on when and where to start, what route to travel, where to stay? Thank you! Budget Travel Editors: For starters you should know that Ireland has an extraordinary network of B&Bs that are affordable and where guests pay one fee and then choose among participating properties, many of which are delightfully local and family-run. People often stay at a different B&B every night, which is perfect for visiting "ramblers." As for which part of the country to visit, that depends on you. I recommend picking up a good guide book, doing some reading on the different counties, and deciding what sounds good. Once you know where, you can zero in on specific walking tours. A company we highly recommend is Country Walkers, an outfitter that leads walking tours around the world. At this time they have three tours in Ireland: Cork, Galway, and the Southwest. Burren Walks is another; they guide you across The Burren on the west coast, one of Ireland's most unusual and mythical landscapes. Here are a few other links: goireland.com, southwestwalksireland.com, irishtourism.com/walking-tours-ireland. _______________________ Boise, ID: We are traveling by car to Canada leaving August 3. What documents are required for border crossing going and returning? I have the non-resident insurance card for my vehicle. I am a naturalized US citizen, the other travelers are US born. We are going to the vicinity of Red Deer, Alberta and then to Assiniboia, Saskatchewan for family gatherings. Any other pertinent info appreciated. All travelers are adults. Thank you. Budget Travel Editors: To travel to Canada, a passport or proof of U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, and photo ID is required. Although a passport is not required until January 1, 2007, as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, we strongly recommend bringing one, especially for reentry into the U.S. Find out more at the U.S. State Department website or Canada's Border Services Agency website. Read about the new requirements for travelers here. _______________________ Kenosha, WI: 3 of us will be visiting NYC from 8/11 - 8/14. We need a good schedule for visiting the following: Empire State building; Statue of Liberty, MOMA, Ground Zero, Ground Zero Museum, Tavern on the Green, Central Park. Budget Travel Editors: Sounds like an eventful trip! A few key strategies will help you see all of the sights you mentioned. The best advice is to tackle only one or two neighborhoods each day--there's so much to see and do! So here are our tips: Visit MOMA on your first day and skip the $20 admission fee--it's free every Friday night from 4--8 p.m. More information: moma.org/visit_moma/admissions.html Next, you could stop by the Empire State Building, which is also in midtown. During the summer, it's open until 2 AM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Skip the lines and order tickets in advance online. More info: esbnyc.com Tavern on the Green is inside Central Park, so both destinations can be visited either in a morning or afternoon. One tip: Skip the overpriced food at Tavern on the Green and pick up a picnic lunch at Whole Foods or Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery at the nearby Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. Check out centralparknyc.org and shopsatcolumbuscircle.com Visiting the Statue of Liberty can take hours, especially during the height of tourist season. We've had good luck avoiding the crowds by buying tickets online and going very early in the morning. The first ferry to Ellis Island leaves Battery Park, located in lower Manhattan, at 8:30 A.M. More info: nps.gov/stli/ or statuereservations.com. After returning to Manhattan, you can walk a few blocks north to the World Trade Center site. Be aware that there is only a viewing platform; the memorial and museum is scheduled to open in 2009. More info: buildthememorial.org For more great places to eat, drink, and play in New York City, check out our Snap Guide. _______________________ Longmont, CO: Hi, Can you rent a car in Munich, Germany and drive into Prague, Czechoslovakia? Thank you. Budget Travel Editors: Yes, you can but keep an eye out for the hefty one-way rental fee. Europcar, a wide-spread and well-known European rental company, charges an extra 348 euro for one-way trips. You can rent from the Munich airport (remember when searching online that it may be listed as "Muenchen") and drop it off at the Prague airport or other city locations. Also, the rental car probably will be a manual so get your clutch foot ready. _______________________ Washington, D.C.: I'm traveling to Berlin, and want to fly round trip to Copenhagen for a long weekend (September 1-4). Can you suggest a nice, moderately priced hotel that would be a good base for a 24 year old single woman who plans to see the city by walking and using public transportation? Thanks! Budget Travel Editors: The Absalon Hotel is just a couple blocks from Central Station and is within walking distance of Tivoli, Town Hall Square, and popular shopping and restaurant areas. The hotel sometimes runs special offers online, but a standard single in high season is 136 euro (about $175). The Absalon also has an annex, which is within the same building, with cheaper, low-frills singles and doubles with shared bathrooms (from 74 euro/$95 a night). Both the hotel and annex rates include breakfast. If you get tired of walking or public transportation, the hotel also rents bikes in the summer. _______________________ Philadelphia, PA: I need inexpensive land package to Scotland or Ireland for late September, early October. Any suggestions? Budget Travel Editors: Sure, there are several tour operators that specialize in Scotland and Ireland. Sceptre Tours, for one, has a land-only package for one night in Shannon or Dublin, two nights in country B&Bs, and one night at the lovely Adare Manor & Golf Resort in County Limerick, plus an economy car rental, from $499 per person in September or $379 per person in October. Dooley Vacations has a four-night stay in Dublin with an economy rental car from $309 per person. As for Scotland, Brian Moore International Tours has a package that includes two nights in Edinburgh or Glasgow and four nights in country B&Bs, with an economy rental car, from $609 per person in September or October. CIE Tours has a four-night escorted tour split between Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Nairn, with some meals, sightseeing, and a river cruise from $885 per person in September and $828 per person in October. For inspiration before you go, read our recent article Everyday Is a Winding Road in Ireland and A Tailor-Made Trip to Scotland. _______________________ New York, NY: I am trying to plan a month long trip to Paris for myself. I've never been overseas and I've always wanted to live in Paris. This trip is a big treat for myself! My dates as of right now are October 11th until November 11th. My big problem is housing. For that amount of time I would like to have my own apartment. I was wondering if you guys could point me in the right direction...Something not too expensive (Less than $1000 for the month) Budget Travel Editors: Our eight-page downloadable Paris Snap Guide is packed with insider tips on the best affordably places in eat, shop, play, and stay in the City of Light. Here are three short-term apartment rental agencies that we recommend: parisapartmenttours.com, parisrentaparts.com, and locaflat.com. A cheaper option would be to be rent a room in a Parisian's apartment. Check the listings on these sites: paris.craigslist.org, expatriates.com/classifieds/paris, fusac.fr/en, colocation.fr/homepage.php. Good luck! _______________________ Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all your great questions. See you next week! _______________________