You gotta hand it to the cruise industry. They know what we like and they keep giving it to us; free drinks packages, fabulous swimming pools and rock-climbing walls and, increasingly these days, theme cruises with special guests.
Notwithstanding the fact that none of them seem to want to invite travel editors on board, they seem to have some pretty good concepts. The latest one I've read about involves former ballplayers, ranging from Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Marichal to former Jays outfielder Jesse Barfield.
USA Today reports that MSC cruises has announced another round of 'baseball greats' voyages to the Caribbean this coming winter. There will be five sailings, all on the 3,010-passenger MSC Poesia (what kind of a name is that, anyway) out of Ft. Lauderdale and ranging from seven to 10 nights.
Barfield apparently will be on a 10-night southern Caribbean voyage that leaves Dec. 11 and also features former big leaguers Bill Russell, Dave Campbell and Stan Bahnsen. Former player and Jays manager Jim Fregosi, who I think would be pretty entertaining if my dealings with him in my career as a Jays/baseball reporter are any indication, will be on a seven-night eastern Caribbean trip leaving Feb. 9 with Banhsen, Larry Parrish and Griffey (senior, not junior).
The list I saw isn't bad. But I'm not seeing too many guys in their 40's on the list. I'd think MSC, in an ideal world, would want to mix in a few younger baseball guys to go along with the Griffeys, Marichals and Barfields, and you don't often see Jesse Barfield's name mixed in with Griffey and the legendary Marichal, do ya? (A side note here: I grew up outside of San Francisco and saw him pitch his no-hitter in June, 1963. Very cool, although I remember my dad telling me in later years I was bored by the lack of scoring in the game. Stupid kid.)
I was noodling about on cruisecritic.com this morning and found there are far more theme cruises than I had expected. There are art cruises (I'd heard about those) and history cruises (of course), but also nature cruises, "gaming and technology" cruises and political cruises. Yeah, that's gonna be awesome; talking with wrinkly, former senators around the hot tub.
The music ones sound pretty good to me. I'm not a metal fan but I read that Foreigner, Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult and more than 20 other bands will do a four-night cruise from Fort Lauderdale on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas early next year. Cruise critic says they'll "perform multiple times in three different venues aboard the ship, which will sail to Labadee, Haiti (the cruise line's private beach area), and back. Meet-and-greet sessions will be available, too.
A BILLION TOURISTS?
An amazing stat here from the World Tourism Organization: there were a record 467 million "tourists" around the world in the first six months of the year. If the numbers hold up, we could be on track to reach ONE BILLION tourists by the end of the year.
The number for the first six months of 2012 was up five per cent from last year, and officials at the WTO say we could very well crack the 1,000,000,000 mark by Dec. 31.
"Tourism is one of the few economic sectors in the world growing strongly, driving economic progress in developing and developed counries alike and, most importantly, created much needed jobs," said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.
The WTO says Asia and Pacific tourism numbers are up a sizable eight per cent from last year, while Africa and Central America rose seven per cent and South America visitation numbers were up six per cent.
Numbers for the Caribbean were up five per cent. I didn't see numbers for Europe or North America as a whole but they can't be up too much if the world overall is up five per cent.
The report said outbound travel was up a whopping 30 per cent for China and 15 per cent for Russia, compared to nine per cent for the U.S. and six per cent for Canada and Germany. Growth was slow or even negative for the UK, Australia, Italy and France...
THANKS TO FRANCE TOURISM
The folks with Atout France held a nice gathering in Toronto Wednesday night, complete with French cuisine and French wines. The emphasis was on some of the southerly regions of the country, including Marseille, Provence and the Midi Pyrenees region, which is the largest region of the country.
Looking at the videos shown during the evening reminded me just how vast and varied France is. Sure, there are gentle valleys and wineries in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley (check this coming Saturday's Star Travel for a nice piece on the Loire), and there's Paris and the French Riviera, of course. But the mountain villages and swift-flowing rivers and deep valleys and snow-capped peaks were the images that had me gazing in wonder.
I've seen the Gorges de l'Ardeche in southern France, and it's quite something. And a couple years ago I spent several days along the Lot and Dordogne rivers, which feature great canoeing and fabulous, fabulous food and wonderful castles and gardens. If you've never been to France and have an image in your mind of "typical" French countryside, the Dordogne just might be your ticket.