Monday, August 31, 2015

Westin Hotels & Resorts Brings Fans Behind-The-Scenes Of US Open

Westin Hotels & Resorts brings fans behind-the-scenes of US Open
Inspired by the electric atmosphere in New York City during one of tennis’ premier events, Westin Hotels & Resorts, the official hotel sponsor of the US Open since 2010, announced today two new ways for both guests and tennis enthusiasts to experience the tournament.
As excitement builds for the finals of the season-ending Grand Slam® tournament, Westin Hotels will take fans on a journey behind-the-scenes of the US Open with their inaugural Beyond the Baseline live show. Hosted by well-known sideline reporter Julie Alexandria and Olympic silver medalist, Tim Morehouse, each show will feature unique segments with tennis’ elite players, celebrity patrons and dedicated fans, giving viewers an inside look at what goes on at the major competition.
Planned segments include:
• On The Road Presented By Westin: A look at how players manage their non-stop travel schedules without sacrificing their fitness and mental wellbeing.
• The Heat Index: A daily pulse check on what’s hot socially at the US Open, allowing audience members to participate in daily trivia polls, hot topics and more by following along with #beyondbaseline.
• Best Of The Blue Carpet: Everything viewers need to know about the celebrity world at the US Open, including interviews from the Blue Carpet, live shots from the stands and on-set cameos.
• All-Access Pass: The ultimate behind-the-scenes tour of the US Open’s inner-workings, taking the audience through the grounds, from the luxury suites and the player’s lounge, to the kitchens, all 17 courts, and more.
Spectators who make it out to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the two week tournament can stop by the Baseline Stage located outside the East Side of Arthur Ashe Stadium next to the US Open Club each morning and evening to view a live taping. Beyond the Baseline will air every day during the tournament at 7pm EST on
As the action heats up on the court, tennis fans can cool down at The Westin New York at Times Square without missing a minute of the primetime excitement. To get guests in the game day spirit, Westin will present Match Point Hour an evening match viewing series featuring experiential activities so that fans can feel like they’re a part of the tournament action without leaving Manhattan.
Starting Monday, August 31 through Thursday, September 10, from 6:30-9:00pm every night in Bar 10, guests and locals alike will be able to catch a live viewing of Beyond the Baseline and the evening matches. Spectators can test out their swing skills with a complimentary Wii™ tennis station, sip on fan-favorite Grey Goose® Honey Deuce, the signature cocktail of the US Open since 2007, as well as fuel up between plays with a tennis-inspired SuperFoodsRX® bar menu. On Thursday, September 3 through Saturday, September 5, Westin will also offer a special Tennis Gear Tune Up Station available for anyone interested in stepping up their game. Patrons can have their tennis gear evaluated, racquets restrung and receive a professional swing analysis from a tennis pro.
"All of the activities that Westin is offering during the US Open are designed to enhance the viewing experience and transport at-home spectators from their seats to the stadium,” said Bob Jacobs, Vice President of Brand Management, North America, Westin and Sheraton. "Beyond the Baseline and Match Point Hour bring our guests closer to one of the sports’ most exciting tournaments, providing an opportunity for fans to discover new and playful facts about their favorite players, view matches in a beautiful, upscale environment and find inspiration to get moving on the courts themselves."
The Westin brand’s tennis offerings extend beyond the US Open to Westin Resort properties, where guests can move well on beautifully manicured courts during daytime and early evening hours. Players of all levels can enjoy match play, casual games, or lessons with the seasoned Westin pros.

Travel Experts Find Airfare Hack To Save 20% Or More On Flights

The Travel Expert team has found an airfare hack that can save passengers 20% or more on flights (in our case 29%). The process is quite simple, anyone can do it, and it just requires time and some polishing of your airfare searching skills.
Why It Works: Airlines have complicated pricing algorithms that take into account dozens of variables to update their pricing on a daily basis. Most importantly, many airlines compare their pricing to the competition and adjust pricing accordingly. This opens the possibility for arbitrage scenarios where travelers can book a cheap rate for a competitive route that makes a stopover at your (actual) destination city. This fare can be lower than booking directly to your (actual) destination city.
We picked East Asia because this is home to one of the most competitive markets in the world. There are plenty of airlines competing for the same trans-pacific routes from major hubs in the States to capital cities in Asia. This mixture is great for travelers looking to find deals to travel to Asia. Here, we teach you how.
How To Do It: Lets go to Taipei. I picked December 1st, 2015 to try out this technique.  We will be searching for the cheapest one-way flight to Taipei following these simple steps:
  1. Go to Google Flights and enter your preferred travel destination. In this case, we want to go from LAX and to Taipei (TPE).  

  1. Look at the search results. The most affordable flight is with China Airlines for $561.00 USD.
  1. Redo the original search and replace the destination airport with different airport hubs in that region of the world. In this case, we tried Hong Kong (HKG), Tokyo (NRT), Seoul (ICN), and Shanghai (PVG). Check out this list to see all airport hubs around the world.
    1. KEY: Under “More Options”, select your real destination city as the connecting airport (in our case Taipei), and complete the search.
4. In this case, Hong Kong showed up as the cheapest flight option with a stopover in Taipei. It will cost us $398.00 USD to fly LAX-TPE-HKG versus $561.00 USD for flying LAX directly to Taipei. That’s 29% cheaper. Huge savings!!
The Execution: During your travel day, please make sure you tell the check-in attendant that you only want to check-in your flight and luggage to Taipei– otherwise your luggage will end up in Hong Kong!! I’ve personally done this twice, once in Frankfurt and once in Jakarta, and I was prepared to give explanations and come up with a story but both times the check-in attendants just smiled and didn’t ask anything.
About the Author:
Alex Saad is the Founder and CEO of He hopes to use his travel expertise to find cheaper airport transportation deals for fellow travelers. is an airport transportation search engine and reservations platform.

Vivid Green Pesto, Great Wine And Fabulous Walks … Genoa Is A City Of Indulgence

Genoa city centre
Medieval city … Genoa is a great place to walk, and enjoy the region’s culinary heritage. Photograph: Nicholas Walton
A historian’s favourite places to eat, walk, stay - and try onion chocolate - in this historic port city
Genoa was a medieval rival to Venice. It’s not been primped for tourists like Venice, though. Genoa was a shipbuilding centre and is a working city – it has an affinity with Liverpool, Glasgow or Newcastle. Some people think it’s a bit grubby, but if you enjoy getting off the tourist trail and finding out about a real Italian city, it’s got so much to offer.
The city is tiered like a wedding cake, rising above the old port. The funicular railway runs to Righi for fantastic views, or there’s an elevator (it goes sideways as well as up and down) to Castello d’Albertis, a bizarre museum. Below here there’s a lovely statue of a young Christopher Columbus, who was from Genoa, staring out to sea.
Genoa is the oldest football club in Italy and has a football museum. Go to a derby match (Genoa v Sampdoria) if you can, I always go with my father-in-law: it’s another way to see the real city.
There’s an amazing tiny chocolate shop on Vico dei Castagna called Romeo Viganotti, that the Genoese like to think only they can find. Owner Alessandro Boccardo is a shy Willy Wonka-type character, quite otherworldly, who makes all kinds of amazing experimental flavours (the onion one didn’t quite work) with 200-year-old machinery. The boxes are beautiful and make great presents.
My book starts with the story of the transsexual prostituteswho live in the medieval centre (the largest in Europe). Around one corner you may have an old violin-maker, around the next the prostitutes.
Stencilled signs put up by US forces at the end of the second world war can be spotted in the little streets on the edge of the port. They warned soldiers not to go into town because they could be stabbed, get lost or catch something from a prostitute. It wasn’t picture-postcard Italy back then.

Castello d’Albertis, which can be reached by elevator from the city below.
 Castello d’Albertis, which can be reached by elevator from the city below. Photograph: Alamy

Pesto here is astonishing: so vivid, so green. You’ll always be disappointed with any other after tasting it in its hometown. The Genoese also love tripe. You see schoolchildren wandering along with little cardboard cones that in Britain would be stuffed with chips, but here they’re full of glistening tripe.
Da Maria is a cheap trattoria on Vico Testadoro, serving the food an Italian grandmother would cook – pasta, rabbit, octopus. Office workers go there for lunch and you join the scrum to pay downstairs. At the other end of the scale isZeffirino, run by a charismatic guy who knew Sinatra and cooked for Pavarotti – who is said to have rented a flat above the restaurant. I remember having a delicious sea bream with taggiasca olives and tomato there – a level above anything I’ve had.

Trenette al  pesto, at Zeffirino restaurant in Genoa.
 Trenette al pesto, at Zeffirino restaurant in Genoa. Photograph: Italo Banchero/AP

There are amazing wine bars all over Genoa, but the one I go to with my wife (who’s from here) is Cantine Matteotti, hidden on a tiny street called Archivolto Baliano. They just scribble the wines they have open on a blackboard – about 10 white, 10 red and a couple of sparkling – and serve simple plates of cold meat or aubergine parmigiana. It’s really atmospheric with marble tabletops and a zinc bar. In any other city you’d come out feeling like you’d been mugged but here you might spend €20 between you and come home happy and sloshed.
Many hotels here are business-focused, but Vecchia Genova, set up by former BA flight attendants, is beautiful with reasonable rates. You can also find some fantastic Airbnb places in the atmospheric buildings overlooking the port.
Visit the Galata Museum in the old shipbuilding site on the waterfront to get your head around the city’s naval history. There’s a reconstruction of one of the old war galleons that dominated the Mediterranean from the time of Ben Hur to the 16th century. It was a real merchant pirate city, they took what they could from the harsh life of the seas.

The Galata Museum, at Porto Antico in the city.
 The Galata Museum, at Porto Antico in the city. Photograph: Alamy

A fantastic place for walking is Monte Beigua, a national park just out of town. There are lots of places to stay that are cheap as chips – Rifugio Pratorotondo has a big restaurant and rooms if you want to stay overnight. A bunk bed costs €15 if you have your own sleeping bag (€18 with sheets), and they have private rooms for €25 per person.
Nicholas Walton’s Genoa, ‘La Superba’: the Rise and Fall of a Merchant Pirate Superpower, published by Hurst, is out now

Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation And Change -February 21 Through May 9, 2016

Constantly reinventing his art, during the First World War,
Picasso alternated between cubist and classical styles 
February 21 through May 9, 2016
 The Barnes Foundation, in partnership with the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, premieresPicasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change. On view February 21 through May 9, 2016 at the Barnes, the exhibition will then travel to the Columbus Museum of Art in June. Curated by Simonetta Fraquelli, an independent curator and specialist in early twentieth-century European art, the exhibition explores Pablo Picasso’s work between 1912 and 1924, highlighting the tumultuous years of the First World War, when the artist began to alternate between cubist and classical modes in his art.

Inspired by the Columbus Museum of Art’s Picasso Still Life with Compote and Glass, 1914-15 and the Barnes’s extensive Picasso holdings, Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change features some 50 works by Picasso drawn from major American and European museums and private collections. The show includes oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and four costumes the artist designed for the avant-garde ballet, Parade, in 1917. Some 15 other important canvases by Picasso’s contemporaries—including Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, and Diego Rivera—will also be presented.

“A radical shift occurred in Picasso’s work in 1914,” notes curator Simonetta Fraquelli. “Following seven years of refining the visual language of cubism, he began to introduce elements of naturalism to his work.” This change in his production can be viewed against the backdrop of an unsteady cultural climate in Paris during the First World War. Many people identified the fragmented forms of cubism with the German enemy and therefore perceived it as unpatriotic. This negative impression reverberated throughout Paris during the First World War and may have been a factor in Picasso’s shift in styles. However, Fraquelli states, “What becomes evident when looking at Picasso’s work between 1914 and 1924, is that his two artistic styles—Cubism and Neoclassicism—are not antithetical; on the contrary, each informs the other, to the degree that the metamorphosis from one style to the other is so natural for the artist that occasionally they occur in the same works of art.”

Included in the exhibition will be major works from the Picasso museums in Barcelona, Málaga, and Paris, including, respectively:Woman with a Mantilla (Fatma), oil and charcoal on canvas, 1917; Olga Kholklova with a Mantilla, oil on canvas, 1917; and Femme Assise, oil on canvas, 1920. 

The exhibition also features four costumes that Picasso designed for the avant-garde ballet, Parade, which premiered in Paris in 1917. These are: Costume for Chinese Conjurer (original), and reproductions of The American Manager, The French Manager, and The Horse. Performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with music by Erik Satie, story by Jean Cocteau and the choreography of Léonide Massine, Parade was the first cross-disciplinary collaboration of its kind. The ballet, which tells the story of an itinerant theater group performing a sideshow, or a parade, was viewed as a revolutionary approach to theater. Picasso was the first avant-garde artist involved in such a production – not only designing the costumes, but also the theater curtain and set. Included in the exhibition will be a watercolor and graphite sketch of the curtain design, and a pencil sketch of the Costume for Chinese Conjurer. Picasso drew inspiration for his designs from the modern world – everything from circuses and carousels, to music halls and the cinema. With Picasso’s inventive, geometric costumes and naturalistic curtain design, Parade can be seen as the ultimate fusion of cubist and classical forms.

Picasso’s juxtaposition of figurative and cubist techniques can be seen as an expression of artistic freedom during a time of great conflict, and his shifts in style became a means of not repeating, in his words, “the same vision, the same technique, the same formula.” The works by Picasso’s contemporaries, such as Diego Rivera’s Still Life with Bread Knife from 1915 and Henri Matisse’sLorette in a Red Jacket from 1917, offer further insight into the shifting cultural climate in France during this transformative period.

Managing Curator for Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change at the Barnes Foundation is Martha Lucy. Managing Curator at the Columbus Museum of Art is Chief Curator, David Stark.
The contributing sponsor for Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change is
Tickets for Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change are now available for purchase. This exhibition is free for members and general admission tickets with permanent collection access are $29 for adults. Senior tickets are $27, youth/student tickets are $15, and children (0-5 years old) receive free admission. Exhibition-only tickets are available for $14 or are free for Barnes members. Exhibition-only tickets are available for purchase on-site only in advance of the exhibition opening on Feb. 21.

About the Curator and Managing Curators
Simonetta Fraquelli is an independent curator and specialist in early twentieth-century European art, who has curated modern master exhibitions for institutions such as Royal Academy of Arts, London; National Gallery, London; and the Kunsthaus Zürich. Fraquelli has published numerous essays on Picasso including, ‘Picasso’s Retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris 1932: A Response to Matisse’ on the occasion of the 2010-2011 Kunsthaus Zurich exhibition: Picasso, His First Museum Exhibition 1932; and ‘Looking at the Past to Defy the Present, Picasso’s Painting 1946-1973’ for the 2009 exhibition Picasso Challenging the Past at the National Gallery, London. Fraquelli resides in Milan, Italy, but continues to collaborate with museums in Europe and America.

Martha Lucy is Barnes Foundation Consulting Curator and Assistant Professor of Art History at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Most recently, Lucy curated the Barnes Foundation’s exhibition, Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things, which was on view May 16 through August 3, 2015. Lucy lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

David Stark, chief curator at the Columbus Museum of Art, has been a director in the department of museum education at the Art Institute of Chicago and served as curator of education at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. His essays on 19th century Belgian painting have appeared in European & American catalogs & journals. He has taught art history and visual culture at Columbia College Chicago and the University of Minnesota Morris. He received his Ph.D. in History of Art from Ohio State University.

Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers, Inc. It will include essays by Simonetta Fraquelli (Double Play: Cubism and Neoclassicism in Picasso’s Art 1914–1924); Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso scholar (Picasso and Pattern, 1914-17); Kenneth E. Silver, Associate Professor of Fine Arts at New York University (Picasso and Cocteau in Wartime, A Tricolored Alliance) and Dominique H. Vasseur, former Chief Curator at the Columbus Museum of Art (Ferdinand Howald in Paris and Picasso’s Peers during the Great War). There will also be extensive entries on all the works presented written by Ann Bremmer.

About the Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation ( was established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of post-impressionist and early modern paintings, with extensive works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, and Giorgio de Chirico; American masters Charles Demuth, William Glackens, Horace Pippin and Maurice Prendergast; old master paintings; important examples of African sculpture; Native American ceramics, jewelry and textiles; American paintings and decorative arts; and antiquities from the Mediterranean region and Asia. While most collections are grouped by chronology, style, or genre, art at the Barnes is arranged in ensembles structured according to light, line, color, and space - principles that founder Dr. Barnes called "the universal language of art.” The Barnes Foundation’s programs, including First Fridays, Young Professionals Nights, tours, tastings, and family programs, as well as the Barnes-de Mazia Education Program courses and workshops, engage diverse audiences. These programs, held at the Philadelphia campus, online, and in Philadelphia communities, advance the Foundation’s mission through progressive, experimental, and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. The Barnes Foundation is open Wednesday – Monday, 10am – 5pm, and also 6pm – 9pm every First Friday and select Friday evenings. Tickets can easily be purchased on-site, online, or by calling 215-278-7200. For tips and assistance planning your visit, please visit our website.

The Barnes Arboretum, at the Merion campus, contains more than 2,000 varieties of trees and woody plants, many of them rare. Founded in the 1880s by Joseph Lapsley Wilson and expanded under the direction of Mrs. Laura L. Barnes, the collection includes 40 state champion trees, a Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus), a dove tree (Davidia involucrata), a monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), and a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). Other important plant collections include lilacs, peoniesStewartias, ferns, medicinal plants, hosta and magnolias. The Horticulture school at the Barnes Foundation in Merion has offered a comprehensive three-year certificate course in the botanical sciences, horticulture, garden aesthetics, and design since its establishment in 1940 by Mrs. Barnes. Horticulture workshops and lectures are also offered regularly. The Arboretum is open Friday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm, from May 1 – November 1. Tickets can easily be purchased on-site, online, or by calling 215-278-7200.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Secrets The Cruise Lines Don't Tell You


Cruise ship life can be a little mysterious. Your choices aren't always spelled out in black and white. The more you cruise, the more you pick up on the unofficial cruising "secrets" that give you more options, let you save money and generally allow you to have a better time onboard.

Maybe it's knowing just what your cabin steward is able to bring you or what the off-the-menu items are at the bar or dining room. Or perhaps it's a tip to getting a good deal on an onboard purchase.

But why wait to figure these things out the hard way -- possibly after you've missed your chance? We trawled through all the great advice on Cruise Critic's Message Boards to bring you some of the worst-kept cruising secrets out there…at least among our readers who love to share. But whether you're a first-time cruiser or an old seadog, you may find there's something here you didn't already 

  1. You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entree and dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you choose. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrees as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It's a great way to try new foods you're not sure you'll like (escargot, anyone?).
  2. Room service is free of charge, except for late-night hours on certain lines (such asRoyal Caribbean) and select menus on lines that are testing enhanced room service menus on some of their ships (such as Norwegianand Carnival). It's recommended you tip your delivery person, but in-room dining is not the splurge it is at a hotel.
  3. Most people dine in the main dining room or buffet on the first night of the cruise, and many haven't discovered the specialty restaurants yet. If you book an alternative dining venue for the first night of the cruise, you may get a discount on select lines (like Celebrity Cruises) or have an easier time getting a reservation for a popular venue. Carnival Cruise Lines passengers who dine in the Steakhouse on the first night get a free bottle of wine.
  4. Specialty coffee at the designated coffee shops onboard comes with an extra fee, but the pastries, sandwiches and other food at these venues are often free. While some specialty items (like chocolate-covered strawberries) will have a charge, don't assume all the small bites do.
  5. Like ice cream? Cruise lines will charge for branded licks like Ben & Jerry's and Celebrity's gelato. However, there's always a free version -- whether soft-serve machines on the Lido Deck or hard-serve stations at the buffet. And do your reconnaissance -- Cruise Critic members report that soft-serve machines on either side of the deck can have different flavors.
  6. On embarkation day, most people head straight to the buffet to have lunch and wait for their cabins to open. It's a mob scene. But many cruise ships have alternative venues open -- the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crewmember or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal. For example, onPrincess Cruises, the International Cafe, Pizzeria and Grill also are open; on Royal Caribbean ships, Sorrento's, the Solarium and Park Cafes, Giovanni's Table, Cafe Promenade and Starbucks are open on embark afternoon.
  7. Don't know which night to make specialty dinner reservations? The main dining room menus are planned for the week, and the purser's desk often has access to those menus. Ask to see them so you can decide which nights are less appealing and which you don't want to miss, and plan your cruise accordingly.
  1. There's no "open beverage" rule onboard. You can bring drinks from a bar or buffet to your cabin or elsewhere on the ship and no one will bat an eye. (Same goes for food.)
  2. It's often cheaper to buy a bottle of wine than a few glasses -- but what do you do if you don't finish the bottle? Cruise ship waiters can mark the bottle with your room number and save it for another night, even for dinner in another onboard venue.
  3. Groups of beer drinkers can save by ordering buckets of beer. You get four or five beers in a souvenir bucket at a per-beer cost slightly cheaper than ordering individual bottles.
  4. On most lines, soda is not free -- but iced tea in the dining room usually is. Save on soda by buying a soda card, offering a set price for unlimited soft drinks.
  5. Most lines let you bring a reasonable amount of nonalcoholic drinks onboard. Save on pricey shipboard sodas and bottled waters by bringing your own.
  6. Some cruisers use their stateroom Bibles for more than spiritual counsel. Cruise Critic members report that they will leave unused drinks cards or coupons in their Bibles. So be sure to flip through yours to make sure a surprise isn't waiting.
  7. Enticed by all those special drinks in a souvenir glass? You can refill those glasses at a discount -- or ask to have the drink of the day in a regular glass to save money. Also watch your daily program for drink specials or happy hours with reduced price beverages.
  1. Most cabins are made of metal…and therefore they're magnetic. Bring along some magnets (or buy some as souvenirs) and you can keep all your cocktail party invites, alternative dining reservation notices and daily planners hung up on the walls and doors.
  2. Inside cabins have no natural light. At all. Turn your TV to the bridge cam station, turn off the sound and -- voila! -- you've got an instant nightlight and a way to see if the sun is up.
  3. With all of the electronics we tote around with us these days, most people find cruise ship outlets to be insufficient. You can bring your own charging station or power strip (check to see if these are legal on your cruise line), but you may also want to ask your cabin steward. Sometimes there's an extra outlet hidden behind the TV or under the bed.
  4. Picky about your bedding? Some lines will provide egg crate mattress toppers, top sheets and alternative pillow types by special request. Feel free to ask, before or during your cruise.
  5. Cabin designers are pretty smart about creating as much storage space as possible. Do a little exploring or ask your cabin steward for a tour. You may be surprised to find extra storage under the bed or couch, inside an ottoman or behind a mirror.
  6. If you're feeling queasy, don't run out to a pharmacy before making some calls. Room service can bring you green apples and bland crackers (crewmembers swear by the apple remedy), and often you can get seasickness meds from the purser's desk for free.
  1. Casino frequenters can get a hole punched in their room card and a free lanyard from the casino staff for easy play without forgetting your card in the slot machines.
  2. Many lines offer free minutes if you sign up for an Internet package on the first day of the cruise.
  3. Cruise ship spas often offer discounts for first-day and port-day treatments. Stop by the spa, or check your daily newsletters to find out about deals.
  4. If the port talk is at the same time as your massage, don't worry. Presentations and audience-participation shows are often re-broadcast on the ship's channel on your in-room TV. You can still catch the recording if you miss the live show.
  5. Use of the showers, saunas and stream rooms not located in fancy thermal suites is free. Showering in the spa can often mean access to more clean towels, fancy toiletries and bigger shower stalls -- and prevents fights over who gets cabin bathroom access first. Using the free saunas is also a great remedy for that inevitable vacation head cold that stuffs you up.
cookies-and-milkLine-Specific Secrets
  1. Celebrity's buffet secrets include delicious ship-made hard-serve ice cream (for free) in the buffet and made-to-order waffles with a choice of toppings. You can also order a cup of candy toppings with no ice cream if that's your treat of choice.
  2. On Holland America, many cruisers don't know that the Pinnacle Grill is only $10 at lunchtime, and free chocolate truffles make an appearance in the Explorer's Lounge each evening.
  3. Princess ships serve up cookies and milk at 3 p.m. on the pool deck and in the Piazza.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor,

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Holiday Guide To Almería, Spain: Best Hotels, Restaurants And Things To Do

Fort Bravo, near Tabernas, Spain.
A set created for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – and used as a backdrop on dozens more 
films since – at Fort Bravo, near Tabernas, Spain. Photograph: Robert Harding World Imagery/Alamy

Famous for its Spaghetti Western landscapes and film sets, Almería province in Andalucía also offers superb beaches, history and great places to eat and stay
If you want to scramble down to a cove and jump into crystal clear water the colour of sapphires, spend a night drinking mojitos in the desert, lounge on the vine-covered terrace of a cortijo, eat fish you’ve never heard of and explore the wild west, then hire a vehicle and travel 30 minutes out of the city of Almería, inAndalucía.

Head west and you’ll end up hitting a vast expanse of polytunnels, but to the north there’s the 100 square miles of the Tabernas desert, the backdrop to Spaghetti Westerns, where Sergio Leone’s sets still stand. And south-east, there’s the volcanic cliffs, white cube pueblos, and coves of Cabo de Gata natural park. Although a much-loved tourist destination, the park’s towns – San José, Las Negras, Agua Amarga and Níjar – are very small, and there’s nothing much but cactus and beach in between them. All these attractions can be accessed from the ever-lively Almería city. Just remember, some of the coastal bars, restaurants and hotels close at the end of September.


Hiking to coves beyond coves

Monsul beach.
 Mónsul beach. Photograph: Jes s Sierra/Corbis
The easy option is to choose a town or village with a beach and enjoy the benefits of bars, restaurants, kayaks and easy parking. The more challenging and rewarding option is to hike over headlands, or down tracks signposted from the coastal roads, to the dozens of hidden coves or calas accessible only by foot or boat. For the energetic, there’s the 11km hike from Las Negras north-east to Agua Amarga, passing half a dozen gems including Cala San Pedro (with castle, and low-key community of euro-hippies) 40 minutes from the start, and the dreamyCala de Enmedio, near the end. For the less ambitious, there is the spectacular playa Los Muertos, well worth the pleasant 1km amble down a track off the Agua Amarga-Carboneras road. It’s also worth noting that if Cabo’s most famous beaches – Genoveses (a location used in Lawrence of Arabia) and Mónsul (Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade) – are packed, a short hike from either will lead you to lonelier coves. (The 5km road from San José to Genoveses and Mónsul is closed to cars from 10am in summer, and an hourly shuttle bus service provided instead.)

Fort Bravo Texas Hollywood, Tabernas

Fort of Tabernas
 Fort of Tabernas. Photograph: Alamy
This is the best preserved of three film sets built when the Tabernas desert was the epicentre of the Spaghetti Western boom. Created for Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), it’s been the backdrop for hundreds of productions since, including a 2003 Manchester United versus Real Madrid Pepsi advert featuring David Beckham and Roberto Carlos, and the 2012 Dr Who episode A Town Called Mercy. It makes for a great, if surreal day out, what with tourists texting in the saloon and the music of Ennio Morricone drifting over the car park. Twice-daily wild west shoot-out shows are full of kid-friendly buffoonery, and a pool, restaurant and accommodation have been added with families in mind. Despite all this, there’s still something poignant about this strangely beautiful place and its macho history. Film buffs can head on to Los Albaricoques, on the other side of Nijar from Fort Bravo, a real village used as a location in many Spaghetti Westerns.
 Adults €19.40, teenagers/seniors/students €15.90, children €9.90,


Rodalquilar natural park
 Rodalquilar natural park. Photograph: Alamy
This semi-ghost town is dominated by a gold mine, closed since the 1960s (tours available). You can also visit a nine-hectare botanical garden dedicated to all things deserty, hike through the surrounding valley, swim at the family-friendly El Playazo beach, and then hike or drive the five miles north along a bad track to the most famous of Cabo’s many abandoned places, Cortijo del Fraile, scene of the murder that inspired Lorca’s Blood Wedding and a key location in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s pretty dilapidated, even for a ruin, and fenced off, but an atmospheric spot.

City of Almería: highs and lows

The 10th-century Alcazaba is one of the most impressive citadels of the medieval Islamic al-Andalus territory and is second in size only to Granada’s Alhambra. It’s quite a hoof getting to the top of it, let alone fully exploring its many towers, rooms, squares and courtyards (this of course was the architect’s plan), but can be visited in the cool of the evening – there are guided tours at 8.30pm. Beneath the city are 4½km of tunnels, the Refugios de la Guerra Civil, which were constructed by volunteers with picks and shovels to shelter the population from bombing raids during the Spanish civil war. Guided tours only; book in advance.
 Alcazabar: free admission, Refugios: guided tours €3,

Above and below the sea

Arrecife de las Sirenas
 Arrecife de las Sirenas in the Cabo de Gata natural park. Photograph: David Santiago Garcia/Westend61/Corbis
The rocky coastline is as spectacular under the clear water as over it. There are 40 designated dive sites around the Cabo de Gata Unesco marine reserve, many involving caves and tunnels, shoals of mullet and amberjack. The 50-metre Tunel Naranja, Cueva del Frío, and the underwater chamber at Cerro Negro are highly recommended. Local dive companies also offer boat trips, kayak rental, and guided kayak tours into navigable caves and between the pinnacles at Arrecife de las Sirenas. Widely advertised and widely available (until the end of September), as are kayaks and pedalos for rent by the hour on the beach at seaside towns.
 Dive centres include: isub, San Jose, (all year); Buceo Las Negras, (all year); Clear Kayak, Playa San José,


Casa Puga, Almería

Casa Puga restaurant.
 Casa Puga restaurant. Photograph: Alamy
The oldest bar in town (1906) is still the standout choice in this dense patch of bars and cafes close to the cathedral. It’s authentically decorated (tiled walls, hams, religious artwork, framed cartoons and photos of deceased clientele), popular with locals, and the menu hasn’t changed in 30 years according to Adolfo, one of the five fast, wise-cracking bartenders. Enjoy tapas – grilled artichoke, skewers of chicken, grilled prawns, cheese or salty hot pork on warm bread – while standing at the marble bar, or raciones at a table round the back.
 C/Jovellanos 7, +34 950 231 530,

Restaurante Isleta del Moro

A family-run institution on the water’s edge in an isolated bay on Isleta del Moro, this started as a bar in 1969 when only four families lived in the village. It’s now packed at weekends – but retains its quirky, homely feel – with people converging from far and wide for pre-ordered paella, and the heartily recommended house speciality, cuajadera, a saffron-rich seafood stew (intriguingly, erroneously translated as “junket of sandpiper” on the menu). Duck through a tiny door onto the table-wide balcony for the best seats in the house. If the names on the infinite list of available fish are baffling – mero, lecha, breca, zama – refer to illustrations at the back of the menu or opt for the surtido, the mix. It’s all good.
 C/Isleta del Moro, +34 950 389 713

Teteria Almedina, Almería

Teteria Almedina Almeria
Before reaching the Arab fortress, the Alcazabar, you pass the Almedina barrio, a tumble of narrow streets and cheerfully coloured houses, where a neighbourhood association is at work conserving Almería’s Muslim heritage, the spirit of al-Andalus. This tiny restaurant with courtyard is part of that initiative, and well worth visiting en route to the fort for its legendary limón a la hierbabuena (mint and lemon cordial) alone … although while there you could also go for a tagine and a few pastries stuffed with dates, chocolate, honey and nuts.
 C/Paz 2, +34 629 827,

Asador la Chumbera, Agua Amarga 

It is possible to tire of fried fish at the beach. Luckily, this quietly elegant Cabo favourite, a short drive uphill, offers sophistication and variety, and you still get sea views from the outdoor tables. Everything here is rendered super-tempting with purées, caviar, truffle oils and whatnot, but for a hot day, try the red tuna sashimi with wakame followed by mandarin sorbet with vodka. With mains averaging €15 this isn’t a budget option, but a lunchtime or starry night treat. Book ahead.
 Paraje Los Ventorrillos, in the direction of Carboneras, +34 609 079 944,

El Jardin, San José

This busy little seaside town is comprised predominantly of fish restaurants and flip-flop shops. Several of the former are outstanding (try 4 Nudos), but El Jardin is a gem, particularly if you happen to be a vegetarian, lactose or gluten intolerant or partial to healthy, imaginative food. Here, finally, are salads with more than three ingredients, plus savoury crêpes, pizzas, imaginative stuff like carpaccio of squash, an apple ravioli, and dishes using truffles or ginger and almonds. The setting, a tiny terrace at the port end of the beach has no sea view (unless you stand) but the focus is the food. Top value with a menu of the day at €9, and a fair selection of non-vegetarian dishes for carnivores.
 C/del Puerto 8, +34 635 797 432


Capitán de las Sardinas, Las Negras

Capitan de las Sardinas
 Capitán de las Sardinas
A drink at the minuscule La Bodeguiya on the stony beach is obligatory at this lively cove, but don’t miss out on visiting this retro mariner-themed bar with en suite surf shop on a strip of bars near the roundabout. With good music, icy cocktails, and a cheery, fine-looking clientele, Capitán de las Sardinas is the creation of the charismatic Carlos who went bust in the crisis, languished as a barista in London, and has returned to try again. He’s pretty much a poster boy for surfing, for the powers of positive thinking and the rise of a generation of people in Spain who’ve had a tough time but are now the stronger for it.
 C/Cantos Rodados, on facebook

El Vino en un Barco, Almería 

A cool spot in Almería’s historic heart renowned for ingenious cocktails (try mescal sour, or the house special, kraken sour concocted from spiced rum, lemon, ginger beer), and tapas. The black pudding and apple empanadas are good but the crisp, sugary Inés Rosales tortas de aceite, topped with tomato, goat’s cheese and salty anchovies, then grilled, are fabulous. Everything here is exquisitely designed, from lighting, to arty menus, and the ladies’ toilets.
 C/Real 12, on facebook

Discoteca Chaman, Escullos

 Chaman bar/club/restaurant
It’s an interesting idea to have a club open onto a cliff edge, but it’s clear from the footprints that a scramble down to the beach for a swim is part and parcel of a hot night at the Chaman. The attractive terrace with its spectacular views is open from 1pm for lunch, dinner and cocktails, and the late-night DJ action follows until dawn. Should you decide to take a break from the raggatek and dubwize, or whatever, take a look at the building next door – a vast 18th-century fort, Castillo San Felipe, built to keep the barbary pirates out.
 C/Chaman, Los Escullos, San José, +34 658 939 279,

Jo Bar aka Jolie Rouge, Escullos

If Apocalypse Now were a feel-good movie, Kurtz would be hanging out at Jo Bar. More a desert encampment, an assembly of mismatched seating, pallet decking, curios (skulls, art, a mannequin dressed as a pirate), it sits among shrubbery off a sandy track – coloured lights, the sounds of motorbikes and the music of the 1970s are the only clues to its existence. The open-air hangout, founded in 1993 by Frenchman Jo Belle, is legendary in a clandestine way, attracting bikers, rockers, and celebrities – Damien Hirst, Rob Spragg, and the late Joe Strummer among them. Jo is an artist, and his metal sculptures stand proud under the desert skies. But this bar is itself a crazily magnificent piece of work.
 Off the AL4200 road, west of Isleta del Moro, on Facebook


La Almendra y El Gitano, Agua Amarga

La Almendra y El Gitano
 La Almendra y El Gitano
A heavenly place, with pergolas (shaded, plant-covered walkways) and creamy polished floors, tasteful Moroccan-style rooms (four doubles, four suites) set in an oasis of palms and succulents, it looks like a hotel, feels like the holiday home of a wealthy, tasteful friend, and is actually a casa rural, hence shared kitchen, no restaurant. Eat at nearby La Villa, Asador La Chumbera, or the many beach bars down the hill in Agua Amarga, the prettiest of Cabo’s seaside villages.
 Doubles from €115 B&B,

Hotel MC San José

A chic and stylish boutique hotel in a seaside town, with a proper seaside holiday feel courtesy of the boat in the lobby and liberal use of driftwood and pebbles. Copious basking space includes a central pool and flower-filled chill-out terrace, well-equipped games room, glass-walled dining room, subterranean lounge with soft white leather sofas, and bodega stocked with local wines. Standard rooms are great value, superior rooms have spiral staircases to sun roofs, and the small but sophisticated family suite with direct access to the pool is superb. Cool and sweet, with friendly and informative staff, and ideally located for quick access to the beaches of Genoveses and Mónsul.
 Doubles from €70 B&B,, closed in winter

Complejo Turístico y Camping Los Escullos, San José

Restaurant area at Turístico y Camping Los Escullos, San Jose
 Restaurant area at Complejo Turístico y Camping Los Escullos, San Jose
You don’t commune with nature here, but you do get free zumba, karaoke, mini-disco, water polo, aerobics, and drinking games along with access to the pool, snack bar, pizzeria, shop and toilet block. One of four official campsites in Cabo de Gato, its dense concentration of bungalows, safari tents, and pitches for camper van and tents, and the exuberance of Spanish campers, can be overwhelming, but kids will love it. There’s a good beach a short walk down a sandy track, and some of the natural park’s very best are a few minutes’ drive away.
 €30 for two-adult tent pitch with car,

Cortijo La Alberca, Nijar

Spanish country life is at its most idyllic at this 250-year-old farmhouse set amid grape vines, lemons, figs, and bougainvillea in the Ribera de Huebro valley, ideal hiking country in cooler months. The rooms, some converted outbuildings, are authentically restored with their original hefty doors and beams and shuttered windows; the pool, an ancient water deposit, has the look of an Arab bath. Whether it’s for the hospitality offered by Celeste, who runs this casa rural with her parents, her mother’s home-cooked dinners of rabbit and paella served on the terrace, or the quiet loveliness of the location, few places earn such euphoric reviews. “A lot of guests cry when they leave,” says Celeste, baffled but flattered.
 Doubles from €55 B&B,

Nuevo Torreluz, Almería

Spotless, sleek and comfortable, this is a good-value, modern option in the historic centre of the small city, close to the Alcazabar, cathedral and myriad bars and restaurants squeezed into narrow streets. The hotel’s Taberna bar is a popular post-work meeting spot, both for the quality of its tapas and the refreshing misty spray puffed over the outdoor seating area in summer.
 Doubles from €57, breakfast not included,

Cala Chica, Las Negras

Everything in this cool and classy haven, from breakfasts and bathrooms to the front door, is so much more stylish than you’d expect for the price. The picture window in the upper floor lobby frames a view of enticing blue sea. The lower level rooms each have shady balconies and white-cushioned loungers on which to doze before a dip in the attractive pool. It’s a two-minute stroll back to the beach to book a boat ride, eat fish, dance and buy hippy trinkets.
 Doubles from €72 B&B, Follow Sorrel Downer at@somewheresville
 Various airlines operate direct flights to Almería from London airports and Manchester
From Sorrel Downer,