The price isn’t right


As a solo traveller who likes cruising, I’m always desperate to find a fair deal in a market that’s clearly geared towards groups of two or more.

I understand why there has traditionally been a bias towards catering for couples and families, but times are changing and more people — young, old and in the middle — are travelling on their own. With this in mind, I sometimes get riled when a see “deal” that is patently biased against solo travellers.

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Peaceful, picturesque Port Vila

I’ve rarely felt more welcome than I did in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific about 1900 kilometres east of  Brisbane, Australia.

The people I met were friendly and very proud of their country. Taxi and bus drivers eagerly volunteered information and pointed out interesting sights.

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Pacific Aria: first impressions

I’ve arrived onboard P&O Cruises Australia’s Pacific Aria for a seven-day journey  from Brisbane to New Caledonia and back.

Ship’s webcam view of port in Brisbane

I’ll be blogging when I can, and posting updates on social media. In the meantime, I’ve undertaken a reconnaissance mission and here are some pictures of the ship and the port.

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Passengers are powerless

Another week, another horror story about customer service on airlines. This time it’s about a woman who says she was told by United Airlines cabin crew to urinate in a cup.

(united.com)

Of course, there are different ways to interpret the story, but it does — once again — highlight an important issue: exactly how much control airline crew have over their passengers.

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It takes a village …

The northern Italian village of Bormida has hit the headlines because its council is offering €2,000 to anybody who wants to come and live there.

Savona (Brett Debritz)

The idea is to boost the population of the village, where rents can be as low as €50 a month. I, for one, am tempted — particularly given Bormida’s close proximity to the borders with Monaco and France, and to the beautiful port of Savona, where Costa Cruises has a terminal.

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The lowdown on the UAE

Having just finished a five-year stint in Abu Dhabi, I find myself bombarded with questions about the United Arab Emirates. Generally, it comes down to three questions: What’s it like in Dubai? (Abu Dhabi and Dubai are conflated in many people’s minds, apparently), Should I visit? and Can you get a drink there?

Sunset on the Abu Dhabi Corniche

Bars are plentiful in the UAE, although they are generally hidden away from public view inside hotels. But there are other, more important things, visitors and would-be residents ought to know about the UAE. And here they are:

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You only live twice

(United/Chase)

Many years ago, a colleague of mine was proudly showing me her lifetime membership card for Ansett Airlines’ Golden Wing business lounge.

Less than a year later, the Australian airline went bust and the offer was rendered worthless. Well, thanks to United Airlines — which has become the gift that keeps giving for cynical travel writers — I’ve now encountered something that tops that in the disappointment stakes.

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Is your attire ship-shape?

Frequent cruisers will be familiar with formal night. It happens at least once on every voyage: the night where you either dress up in your finest to enjoy silver service in the dining room or you slum it in your shorts and sloppy joes at the buffet.

(Cunard)

Even in this egalitarian age, most cruise ships still have a dress code for their restaurants — especially on the formal nights — and some people think that the code sometimes goes too far.

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Show some respect

Playboy model Jaylene Cook has created controversy in New Zealand by posting a selfie taken at Mt Taranaki, a Maori sacred site.

Cook at Waikato (from @jaylenecook_)

The Instagram picture was said to offend many in New Zealand’s indigenous community, although it was met with approval from at least one local tourism official. The incident raises an important issue that goes beyond the land of the long white cloud.

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Baggage handling blues

Imagine being stuck on a cruise ship with nothing but the clothes you’re wearing. That’s what happened to an Englishwoman when a company hired to load her luggage put the bag on the wrong ship.

(pocruises.com)

While I emphathise with the woman concerned, I think the story has wider implications.

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An expensive business

The first time I flew business class, it was from Brisbane to Perth. Somebody else — a publicist promoting a play she wanted me to see so I could interview the star* — was paying, so I’m not sure what it cost.

I was, however, shocked to see the difference between the economy and business class fares currently being offered by Qantas for the same flight.

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‘Worst’ airline fights back

It’s been a long time since I flew Jetstar. In fact, when I last did, the Qantas subsidiary still had unallocated seating — an “innovation” it very quickly abandoned.

(jetstar.com)

But from what I’ve heard and read, it comes as little surprise that Jetstar has been has named the world’s worst airline in an international survey. Equally, it’s no surprise that it is fighting back, because the methodology was clearly flawed.

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Not just for the birds

Reading recently that billionaire Elon Musk had taken Amber Heard on a date to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on Queensland’s Gold Coast reminded me of my childhood.

My family always holidayed at Currumbin Beach, from well before I was born. My grandparents camped on the beach near the long-gone mineral sands works in the 1940s and 50s, and when my sisters and brother came on the scene, my parents booked a flat overlooking the beach for three weeks every year during the Christmas school holidays.

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Going through the emotions

Previously: Brett has decided to resign from his job in Abu Dhabi and return to Australia …

“How do you feel?” I heard that in the office on my last day at work last week, and I heard it again at drinks with friends afterwards.

It’s an interesting question. When I first resigned, I felt a kind of elation at the prospect of starting something new.

Since then, I’ve been through the gamut.

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It’s not easy being green

My hotel room, in common with every hotel room I’ve stayed in in the past 10 or more years, is very “green”. What I mean by that is that it has little notices like this:

There are a few variations, but basically they are asking guests to indicate whether they want their sheets or towels replaced, reminding us of the damage we are doing to the environment by washing things to often. Continue reading It’s not easy being green

Liveable or not liveable?

I’m a big fan of Melbourne — indeed, I have friends there and I often advise people planning a trip to Australia to include it on their itinerary.

Brisbane: didn’t crack the top 10

But I can’t say that I’m convinced that it is the world’s “most liveable city”, as it has been declared by The Economist for six years running. (Will it make seven? Wait until August to find out.)

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The man from Ramada

It doesn’t quite have the cachet of The Man who Lived at the Ritz, but for the next week and a half I’ll be the man living at the Ramada Downtown in Abu Dhabi.

So far, I’ve enjoyed a friendly welcome and I’ve been very happy with my comfy, well-furnished corner room that, among other things offers me a view of my old apartment building.

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