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Thursday September 18, 2014

This Week's Travel News

Thomas Cook Launches Premium Long Haul Service

Thomas Cook is launching a premium long haul service from May 2015 after the refurbishment of its A330 aircraft.

The revamped planes will serve its long haul programme from Manchester, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow and Belfast to destinations including New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Orlando, Cuba and the Caribbean.

The travel firm will then launch brand new economy and premium offerings in May 2015.

Thomas Cook Airlines UK CEO, Christoph Debus, said: "As more and more customers book flight-only seats, it's also important that we compete with scheduled airlines on these routes, combining great value and great service to provide outstanding value for money for the savvy long haul traveller."

The new economy cabin will feature ergonomically designed lightweight seats, touch screen on-demand in-flight entertainment system (IFE) and a range of blockbuster movies. Customers will also receive a three-course meal designed by celebrity chef James Martin, snack, 23kg baggage allowance (20kg on non-US routes) and 6kg hand baggage allowance.

The new premium service, which will be available on the airline's four Manchester-based A330, will feature seats with more legroom, width, headrest and footrest.

Customers who have already booked existing Thomas Cook premium economy seats for departures before May 2015 will be seated in the new cabin once aircraft are refurbished. However, the new premium service will begin in May 2015.

Half-Term Ferry Offer to France

Stena Line has launched a magnifique half-term offer to France which promises to leave families dizzy with excitement. With travel and accommodation from only £69 per adult, per night, families can make some great savings as kids go free.

With this fantastique deal from Stena Line, families can discover the magic of Halloween at Disneyland Paris or enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of Normandy with return travel and two nights onboard Stena Line from Rosslare - Cherbourg by car and two nights' accommodation from a wide choice of hotels.

Ian Baillie, Stena Line's Key Account & Product Sales Manager, UK & Ireland said: "Half-term provides the perfect chance for families to enjoy some quality time together, however sometimes it can be too expensive to getaway. Which is why we have put together these great-value hotel breaks to France starting from only £69 per adult, per night, with kids travelling and staying for free, which will no doubt appeal to all budgets.

"Families have hundreds of hotel breaks across France to choose from including Disneyland Paris Novotel Marne La Vallee Collegien from only £72 per adult, per night and Appart City Caen from only £69 per adult, per night. These prices all include return travel by car from Rosslare - Cherbourg, so you also have the added benefit of being able to stock up on great value wine and Champagne while you are travelling through France making some wonderful family memories," Ian added.

See the Northern Lights - or get Second Cruise Free!

Seeing the Northern Lights regularly tops the polls of Brits Bucket list travel experiences. However, it can be hard to know how to maximise your chances of seeing the lights.

Well, Hurtigruten are so confident that a voyage on one of their ships gives you the best opportunity to see them, that they have become the first operator to introduce a Northern lights promise, and if the lights are not visible from your ship, they will give you a second voyage - for free!

All you need to do is book an 11 night Classic Round Voyage before November 30, 2014, for departure between October 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015.

The cruise company's crews will be scouring the night skies for an appearance of the dancing light show. If they do appear, an announcement will be made to everyone on-board, and will be verified by the Captain (or nominated officer).

If the lights do not make an appearance, Hurtigruten will give you a choice of a seven day Classic Voyage North, or six day Classic Voyage South in an inside twin cabin (full board basis), departing between October 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016. Flights are not included.

Philip Price, Hurtigruten said: "It has been a truly spectacular couple of years for sightings of the Northern Lights in Northern Norway. If you take a Classic Round Voyage with us, you will spend seven days out of the 12 under the key "aurora oval" area. We cannot of course guarantee that you will see the lights during their voyage (only Mother Nature can do that), but we can do the next best thing which is to promise that if the lights prove elusive, we will give you another opportunity to see them next year."

Holidaying Solo More Popular than you think!

New research by an online travel agency in the UK has revealed that almost a quarter of Britons have been on holiday by themselves. The top reasons given for going on holiday abroad included 'looking for love' and 'to re-discover' themselves, while 1 in 5 solo holiday-makers confessed they simply 'had no one to go with'.

According to the findings of online travel agency a quarter of Britons (24 per cent) have been on holiday by themselves. The survey was conducted as part of ongoing research into the holiday preferences of Britons, in order to keep track of booking trends and patterns. 1,693 people took part in the poll and answered questions about their holidays, all of whom were aged 18 and over and from all around the UK. All participants had been on a holiday abroad in the last 12 months.

All respondents were initially asked 'Have you ever been on a holiday abroad by yourself?' to which 24 per cent of respondents indicated that they had. The remaining 76 per cent of respondents revealed that they had never been on holiday by themselves.

The relevant respondents were then asked to reveal which location they went to whilst travelling abroad alone. The top locations were revealed as follows:

  • 1. Spain - 25 per cent
  • 2. Australia - 23 per cent
  • 3. Thailand - 18 per cent
  • 4. Greece - 14 per cent
  • 5. France - 11 per cent
  • Participants who had previously indicated that they had never travelled alone were asked to disclose whether they would ever consider holidaying abroad alone in the future. A majority of 67 per cent of those respondents indicated that they would, whilst the remaining 33 per cent of respondents stated that they would never go alone.

    Hop Aboard Santa's Polar Express

    Christmas has just got even more magical following the launch of Santa's Polar Express at the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa which promises to offer families an unforgettable festive experience from December 17-22.

    Enjoy light refreshments at the Percy French Station before hopping aboard the Polar Express which will take people on a magical journey through the stunning Slieve Donard grounds to a winter wonderland of festive treats including story-telling with Mrs Claus, movies and letter writing with the elves in their busy workshop before meeting the man himself.

    Sir William Hastings of Hastings Hotels said: "I am delighted to announce the launch of our first Polar Express experience which is coming to the Slieve Donard Resort in December. Never before has there been such a magical setting for families to enjoy such a special festive experience. The Polar Express will take families through the beautiful grounds of the Slieve Donard with the Mountains of Mourne providing a striking backdrop before having lots of festive fun in the Winter Wonderland and meeting Santa."

    Santa's Polar Express is taking place at the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa from Wednesday December 17 - Monday December 22 from 4pm-9pm each day and is £16 per child and £12 per adult and includes a gift and photograph with Santa. Booking is essential.

    Crystal Guests can Experience Downton Abbey

    As excitement builds around the fifth season of hit drama Downton Abbey, Crystal Cruises is offering its guests the rare opportunity to live the luxurious life depicted in the show, complete with early 20th-century period costumes and cars plus exclusive access to filming locations, including Downton itself - the real-life Highclere Castle.

    The two-night "English Countryside & Highclere Castle" Extended Land Programme will be offered post-cruise with Crystal Symphony's 18-night, North Cape/Arctic cruise from Reykjavik to Dover.

    During the excursion, guests will visit Highclere Castle in Hampshire, arriving just like visitors on the show - in vintage 1920's chauffeur-driven automobiles. There, Crystal travellers will be the guests of honour at a private champagne reception and tour of the estate, including numerous rooms made famous on the series, such as the library and drawing room.

    Prior to visiting the Castle, guests will also visit Berkshire's Basildon Park, which is used as the Grantham family's London house; Swan Inn, where Lady Sybil and Branson elope; Byfleet Manor, known as the Dowager Countess' home, for lunch Downton-style, with period-costumed hosts; and Bampton, a village filled with locations that double as the Crawleys' home, the hospital and the church where Lady Edith was jilted at the altar. At night, tour participants will sleep in an authentic English manor house - the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire - boasting the most luxurious of modern amenities amid a centuries-old setting.

    Survey Shows Travellers Want Reclining Seats Banned

    New research by a flight comparison website in the UK has revealed the top five pet peeves of Britons when it comes to flying, with passengers reclining their seats coming voted in second place.

    According to the poll, 27 per cent of Britons admit to having had a confrontation over reclining seats during a flight, with three quarters also wanting to see a ban on reclining seats.

    Research by has uncovered the top five pet peeves that Britons have with flying, with being seated separately to fellow travellers and passengers reclining their seats topping the list.

    Initially all respondents were asked "What are you biggest pet peeves when flying?" They were provided with a list of possible responses and told to select all that applied, or write their own if needed. The top five in-flight pet peeves were revealed to be as follows:

  • 1. Being seated separately to those I'm travelling with - 73 per cent
  • 2. When people in front of me recline their seats into my personal space - 66 per cent
  • 3. Crying children - 64 per cent
  • 4. Not enough leg room - 48 per cent
  • 5. Poor customer service from the flight attendants - 29 per cent
  • Overall 75 per cent of respondents felt that reclining seats during flights should be banned. Furthermore, 12 per cent of the respondents said they planned to invest in much debated knee defenders before their next flight.

    Final Countdown to Culture Night Belfast Begins

    In just over 24 hrs, Belfast's Biggest ever Cultural Celebration is about to explode into colourful life across the city centre and beyond.

    Over 50,000 people are expected to flock to the heart of the city for Culture Night Belfast 2014 on Friday 19 September, as over 250 events, organisations and activities are set to attract locals and visitors of all ages for an evening of exploration and adventure

    Culture Night Belfast is in its sixth year with organisers promising that CNB14 will be the biggest, most diverse and extravagant yet. The packed programme of tasters, tours, talks, trails, demonstrations, activities, gigs, recitals, screenings, interventions, altercations and interactions - all absolutely free - will take place right across the city from 4pm-late on Friday night, with record numbers expecting to attend.

    A packed 2014 programme boasts the likes of fast rising local music star UNKNWN in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast Roller Derby with the Belfast Banshees and Norn Iron Maidens, live bespoke CNB broadcasting from Imprint Radio or an offer to hop on the blender bike with CNB project partners Root Soup where culture nighters will get the opportunity to blitz some of their famous, ethical and locally produced soup, as well as The Hidden Courtyard where the Belfast Circus School lead intrepid explorers into the largest hidden courtyard in Cathedral Quarter for a host of circus and music performances.

    Amidst the hundreds of suprises around ever corner, and in every space and place in the city centre, there's also the return of Hit The North, bringing stunning urban art into the heart of the Belfast, the annual CNB parade lead by the Beat Initiative and their Urban Ballet, who will conclude Culture Night proceedings with the percussive piledriver that is a reenactment of the drum-tastic classic Fleetwood Mac track "Tusk", featuring over 500 drummers, musicians and dancers in a show-stopping Grande Finale.

    A 'Little Star' Arrives at Belfast Zoo

    Belfast Zoo has welcomed a 'little star' to the family. On 23 August 2014, Chi the Francois' langur, gave birth to a small but healthy infant.

    The small monkey was rejected by his mother at birth, at which point zoo curator, Andrew Hope, intervened to care for the young infant.

    Zoo curator, Andrew Hope, said: "There are occasions where first time mothers just do not have the skill set or the instinct to care for their young. This is fairly common in many species. After monitoring the mother and baby it quickly became clear that we needed to become involved."

    Since then, Andrew has been instrumental in hand-rearing the langur, named Xiao Xing, taking him home to ensure 24 hour care and regular feeding every few hours.

    Visitors will not yet be able to see Xiao Xing as he will continue to be cared for by Andrew. Long term, Xiao Xing will begin to be introduced back to his family group as he develops. It is expected that he will one day rejoin the group in the zoo.

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    John Trew


    Following seven eventful years as front-line Editor of the Belfast News Letter, John Trew wisely opted for the quieter pleasures of travel journalism.  Now, after 23 years and 270,000 miles, he is living proof that travel not only broadens the mind but the buttocks.

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