Florida tightens driving rules for Britons

Even as thousands of British holidaymakers are heading for half-term holidays in Florida, the administration in Florida has tightened rules to dissuade rash and unsafe driving.

The administration has issued a warning that foreign drivers would need to carry an international driving permit as well as their local driving license to be authorised to drive a vehicle in Florida. The law could lead to jail terms for people who violate the law.

Until this year, drivers only needed a standard British photo card licence with the green counterpart to drive in the US. But Florida’s legislature has changed rules that would require them to also carry the international permit as well as their national licence. Violation of the law would lead to harsh penalties and mandatory court appearances, authorities warned.

A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said, ‘We have raised changes to Florida driving laws with the Florida authorities. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has advised us that they are urgently looking to amend the law for those countries who issue driving licences in English.’

Few British motorists carry the permit, which costs £5.50. It is issued by the AA and RAC by post. They can also be obtained in person at Post Offices.

About one million UK citizens visit Florida annually. Elle Hubbard of the rental broker, Tripwheels, said, ‘We had hoped that perhaps there might be a ‘grace period’ or leniency shown given that many tourists will be already in Florida and unaware of the new rules. However, we were told ‘Law enforcement is there to enforce the laws, we are not selective nor can we disregard the law.’

Relief for passengers of crippled cruise ship

A five-day nightmare for passengers of the cruise ship, Carnival Triumph, ended today when they were finally able to disembark in Alabama, US.

The vessel, operated by Florida-based Carnival Cruise Lines, had been adrift without plumbing or electricity following an engine room fire last Sunday. The 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crewmembers were left with overflowing toilets that soaked cabins with raw sewage. Returning passengers also claimed that owing to thick smoke from the fire, passengers in cabins at the rear of the ship’s lower decks had to abandon their accommodation completely and spent the rest of the voyage sleeping under sheets on the decks.

Conditions did reportedly improve from Thursday, when a generator that was delivered to the ship at least made the preparation of hot food possible after an enforced diet of cold cheese and cucumber sandwiches. Passengers reported that toilets also began flushing again on Thursday.

The ship left Galveston, Texas, last Friday and should have returned on Monday.

Gerry Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines chief executive, boarded the ship to apologise to passengers personally, and prior to doing so spoke to reporters saying, ‘I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know it was difficult. I want to apologise for subjecting our guests to that. We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case.’

Cahill also announced a reimbursement package comprising a full refund of the cost of the cruise, plus transportation costs, a future cruise credit to the amount paid for the abortive voyage and a payment of $500 per person as compensation. Passengers’ response to the offer was generally reported to be lukewarm.

The Carnival Corporation also operated the Costa Concordia ship that ran aground in Italy last year with fatal results.

Hawaii to promote 18 Big Island events for 2013

The tourism authority in Hawaii is planning to promote 18 big events on Big Island for 2013.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has entered into an arrangement with the City and County of Honolulu, and the counties of Hawaii, Maui and Kaua’i to arrange the programmes. The itinerary will comprise 98 events and includes programmes to be held state-wide that will receive funding under HTA’s County Product Enrichment Programme (CPEP) for 2013.

Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the HTA, said, ‘As part of our marketing efforts to perpetuate and promote authentic and unique experiences on Hawaii Island, the HTA has selected CPEP events that reflect the distinction of each island and what makes it a one-of-a-kind destination. Our partnership with the County of Hawaii has allowed us to showcase year-round experiences exclusive to Hawaii Island, that highlight our people, place and culture for both residents and visitors to enjoy.’

The CPEP’s prime intention is to provide visitors with unique experiences in Hawaii, and the 18 events for which funding is to be offered include the Hilo Grown Ag-Tour, the Ka’u Coffee Festival and Hula Arts at Kilauea in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. The programmes have been planned to involve tourists of all ages and interests, so no one should feel left out.

The CPEP was created in 2002 as a partnership between the HTA and local counties, to diversify tourism programmes in the islands.

For more information on the HTA and for details of the forthcoming events, visit www.hawaiitourismauthority.org.

Action Holidays for Lovers of the Great Outdoors

Does your dream holiday involve big skies, raw natural beauty, and plenty of outdoor activities? Feel your riding skills could do with a boost – or a kick start – but can’t be bothered to take lessons?

What you need to look into is a dude-ranch holiday.

See Big-Sky Country the Right Way

Now, take a deep breath and put Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in City Slickers out of your mind for a minute. Drunken cowboys and terrifying trail bosses aren’t part of the package. But choose the right insurance – in this case you’ll probably need to get a specific Allianz single-trip travel insurance to cover you for the unexpected– and you’ll be ready and set to saddle up.

If you’re not safari-mad, but you still want your dose of sunshine, then America is just the place to get your riding kicks. Of course, you’ll need to make sure your policy covers you in the US, but for scenery and professionalism it’s hard to beat CowBoy Country ranches. And they come in all styles – from family-friendly guest ranches to toughen-you-up working ranches.

Luckily for lovers of the great outdoors, you’ve got all the Western-movie beauty you could ask for right where most dude ranches sit. Think high desert and canyons in Arizona and Texas, to snow-capped mountains and prairie in Idaho and Montana. And horseback riding gives you the chance to see it like few people do.

Do the Real Cowboy Thing on a Working Ranch

For intermediate and advanced riders, a stay on a working ranch is definitely worthwhile. Get the urbanite out of your system with fast-paced, overnight horse and cattle drives, where it’s all about round-ups, long rides, and campfire meals by clear lakes.

Most ranch stays are 7 nights, including a  couple of days to get used to your horse and then wind down after the drive. So you’ll have a good four days out ‘working’. Then you can tell everyone back home that you’ve herded hundreds of Longhorn cattle or frisky colts.

Soak Up the Scenery on a Guest Ranch

Or go for the gentler guest-ranch experience where you can take daily rides along mountain trails and through the desert, depending on your skills. Beginners who don’t fancy 8 hours in the saddle can still get intensive lessons, but in an amazing setting rather than the pony ring

Guest ranches will also have activities for non-riders or those who just want a day out of the saddle. If you’re thinking more about relaxing, check if there’s a heated pool or games room. Some ranches also offer extra sports activities like hiking and white-water rafting.

Ranch-Hand Meals

All that activity helps you make the most of a very important part of any US visit – the food.

One of the things I love most about dude-ranch holidays is the food. Whether you’re waking at sunrise to coffee and bacon strips cooked over an open fire, or settling down to a melting-soft steak, homegrown veg, and freshly-dug potatoes after a trail ride, the cowboy diet is the crown on the whole ranch experience.

Take in world-class art along Manhattan’s Museum Mile

There’s nothing we like to do more in our free time than wander around galleries and museums, which is why New York is one of our favourite holiday destinations in the world. By coming to the Big Apple, you’ll get to check out dozens of great cultural landmarks, though we think the best are to be found along Manhattan’s Museum Mile.

This is the name given to a stretch of the world-famous Fifth Avenue in the city’s Upper East Side district that incorporates ten world-class museums and galleries. As it’s thought to contain one of the densest displays of art anywhere in the world, we believe it’s the ideal destination for any culture vulture to visit.

In fact, as it’s possible to spend an entire day exploring each museum along the strip, you could quite easily end up coming here several times during the course of your holiday. With that in mind, here is some information about a few of the institutions along the Museum Mile that you can visit.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

As it’s one of the biggest art museums to be found anywhere in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or the Met, as it’s often referred to) is one place that keen art lovers definitely ought to check out.

Indeed, as the institution contains some two million pieces of art we don’t think you’ll struggle to find something you love. If you’re into Oriental art, we recommend you visit the Florence and Herbert Irving Asian wing. Here, you’ll discover everything from Tibetan paintings to textiles from south-east Asia, as well as ceramics and calligraphy.

Alternatively, you may want to look at the armour galleries in the John Pierpont Morgan wing. Come here and you’ll get to see hundreds of weapons that form part of the Met’s extensive permanent collection, including pieces from America, Japan and Europe. While the museum’s collection has more than enough objects to captivate you, if you’re hoping to see something new you might want to consider look into what temporary exhibitions will be taking place during your time in the city.

If you’re planning on visiting the museum this summer, you’ll get to take in displays that look at the American Civil War and a retrospective of the life and work of Los Angeles-based sculptor and painter Ken Price, who died in February 2012.

Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design

As the only museum in the country to be devoted entirely to historic and contemporary design, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design is one institution that should not be missed.

Housed in the former mansion of industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie, this museum has hosted hundreds of exhibitions since its launch in 1897, with a vast array of objects displayed in that time.

Among the items you’ll find in its permanent collection are designs for French parasols, postmodern glassware and 17th-century tsubas, a protective guard that is found on Japanese swords.

Museum Mile Festival

While you can visit the above institutions and the rest of the museums in this part of New York at any time of year, we think it’s a particularly good idea to do so in the summer. By taking a flight from the UK to New York in June, you may arrive in time for the Museum Mile Festival.

Taking place on June 11th, this fun event sees the museums offer free admission to visitors for three hours, while sections of Fifth Avenue are closed to traffic so that a fantastic block party can take place. With this spectacle consisting of live music, children’s activities and street performers, it’s a great option for those seeking a family-friendly day out in New York.

If you’re a culture vulture, which New York museums and galleries do you want to visit the most? We’d love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.

New York to construct world’s biggest Ferris wheel

Developers in New York are adhering to their plans to construct the world’s largest Ferris wheel.

The city, which is in rebuilding mode after the devastating super storm, Sandy, is to go ahead and build the structure, which it is hoped will also be seen as a mark of the city’s resilience. The new addition will grace the shoreline of storm-torn Staten Island and, once completed, the structure is expected to be the world’s largest Ferris wheel.

Even though flooding after Sandy has caused some changes to the nearly $500m project, the developers have maintained their impetus and not scaled it back. While supporters say that Staten Island needs the boost now more than ever, detractors are of the view that there are other more immediate needs that had to be fulfilled rather than building the Ferris wheel. The 625-foot-tall tourist attraction is set partly in a flood zone.

Developer, Richard Marin, said that the development would add to the beauty of the city’s, oft-dubbed, ‘forgotten borough.’

Marin, the chief executive of New York Wheel LLC, said, ‘We’re providing some things for the city and for the local community that they would have no other way of getting right now. Quite frankly, this borough is extremely lucky that this kind of project is under way.’

Private money will pay for the project, and the city will receive $2.5m a year in rent for the two parking lots where the wheel, a mall and a hotel will be located. The project was planned in such a manner that ground floors will sit above what the federal government has so far considered to be once-in-100-year flood line. After Sandy, the developers have been taking extra care to ensure that buildings can withstand flooding.

Snow storm causes US travel chaos

A major winter storm that has been tracking across the USA is causing serious travel disruption and is expected to bring still more chaos to northern and eastern states.

Thousands of travellers have been stranded at airports due to the wholesale cancellation of flight schedules. The US Midwest has seen the most disruption until now, but the east coast is bracing itself for disruption along its entire length, from Florida to New England.

Flightaware.com has reported that 360 flights have already been cancelled on Thursday December 27, while 1,780 flights were cancelled on Wednesday. The worst affected areas on Wednesday were Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Washington, New York and Cleveland.

News station, WFAA, carried a statement from Cynthia Vega, spokeswoman for Dallas Fort Worth international airport, saying, ‘(Tuesday’s) rapid snowfall, ice and winds required us to implement a de-icing program and severely hampered our ability to safely service aircraft as we normally would.’

At least six people are known to have died due to the severe weather, which is expected to continue moving across the country through Thursday and into Friday, bringing further disruption to the northeast. A statement on the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration website reads, ‘A potent storm system will continue to move through the northeast United States. Additional heavy snowfall will be focused from Upstate New York and Lake Ontario into New England through Thursday night or Friday Morning, where widespread accumulations over a foot are expected. As much as two feet of total snow is possible in central Maine. This will lead to hazardous travel conditions.’

 

Nassau Valley Vineyards receives tourism award

eggy Raley-Ward, owner of Lewes-based Nassau Valley Vineyards, has received Southern Delaware Tourism’s 2012 Recognition Award.

After winning the award, Nassau Valley Vineyards has become one among the distinguished members of Southern Delaware Tourism’s elite honour roll. The winery became Delaware’s first commercial winery in 1993 and since then it has received a number of awards in global tourism competitions.

Raley-Ward said, ‘This is a great honour. I love Sussex County. My family has been here for almost 200 years. I left and was all over the world and I came back home to start a business because I believe in Sussex County. I guess there is a lot of truth to the adage that when you have sand in your shoes it doesn’t go away. I guess farming and manufacturing runs deep in my blood. And I’m very happy and proud to tell you we have just surpassed winning 100 medals in international competition. It was not an easy road to do what we are doing. Yes, I had to change Delaware laws to allow for wineries. It has been a long road to prove we can make world-class wine in Delaware.’

The winery is credited to be Delaware’s first and only farm winery, and is engaged in the production of wines ranging from sweet to dry and red to white. All the wines are sold from the same location. Nassau Valley Vineyards opened in 1993 for business, and since then has attracted visitors from all over the world. In recent years, it has become a tourism location for those aspiring to hold their weddings in a green environment.

Travel in northeast US difficult in wake of Nor’easter

Even though the storm, nor’easter, has come and gone, having brought its own problems to those who were battling Hurricane Sandy just a week ago, its effects are still being felt by travellers in the region.

The hurricane, which was not as strong or vicious as Hurricane Sandy, was still destructive enough to affect a population that had already been battered by the first storm. Travellers had to endure an arduous commute when Sandy struck, and had been experiencing major difficulties throughout the first full workweek. Those who endured the hurricane have been further subjected to hardships after the new storm made its presence felt. A wet, heavy climate, felled trees, dangling electric wires and hazardous conditions for motorists have severely affected travellers in the region.

The change in the weather had prompted the Port Authority to place speed limits of 35 mph on some of its New Jersey-New York crossings. Sections of the New Jersey Turnpike were reduced to 45 or 50 mph. The weather also meant that people abandoned their travel plans, preferring to stay indoors rather than venturing out.

Downed trees were slowing or blocking travel on Route 18 North in Neptune, Colts Neck and Marlboro, according to the state Department of Transportation, and travellers are being warned that they could encounter hazards along the way. For much of the time only essential traffic was allowed through, as the cities affected by the hurricane are slowly limping back to normality.

John Durso Jr, a spokesman for the statewide transit agency, said, ‘Crews worked throughout the night to clear snow and ice from NJ Transit properties for the morning commute. Some buses operating through Northwest New Jersey were subject to detours during the morning commute.’

The limited trains on the Northeast Corridor between Trenton and New York were fully packed, and the North Jersey Coast Line train service to New York was scrapped because of overcrowding on the platform.

US website launched by easyJet

EasyJet, the budget airline with its headquarters at Luton Airport in the UK, has launched a new website specifically aimed at users in the USA.

The website has been launched to cater to the growing demand for the airline’s services from US-based travellers. In addition to a US-dedicated home page, American users that visit the site will find that they can now make advance bookings with the airline in US dollars.

The marketing director for easyJet, Peter Duffy, is reported as saying, ‘More than 90,000 US customers visit easyJet.com every week and this number continues to grow. The USA now has the ninth most visitors with more than 360,000 visits in September alone. More than half of the Americans visiting easyJet.com come to the site directly which shows that easyJet holds a truly global appeal and has a strong brand presence in countries thousands of miles from the nearest easyJet airport. This is not just about hits to the website. We take hundreds of thousands of bookings from the US (and beyond) each month. Just like our European passengers they are a mix of people doing business or holidaying in Europe.’

Since being founded by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 1995, easyJet has seen rapid growth in its operations, and as of September this year it was reported to employ over 8,000 people. These are located throughout Europe, but the majority are based in the UK. With over 200 aircraft in operation from 19 bases across Europe, easyJet is claimed to be the second largest low-cost carrier in Europe, after Ryanair.