Sunday, August 23, 2009

Highest Ranked Hotels

Cuba Hotel Awards - A Way Through Excellence

August 23, 2009

Looking for more than good-value hotels in Cuba? Discover a selection of Cuba hotels that have received several prizes and awards, granted by international tour operators and tourism specialists. These leading facilities could be a fine choice for your perfect Cuba holiday or vacation if you trust well-known experts’ criteria.

One of the most prestigious lists of the best hotels worldwide is The Gold List of Condé Nast Traveler. This annual list includes a selection of the hotels around the world that have the best service, rooms, food, ambiance and design, location and leisure facilities. The Saratoga hotel, an Old Havana hotel, received a high rating in the readers’ travel awards 2006 survey, since it was at 24 in the hot list 2006 of the 60 best new hotels in the world within the category “Best for Ambiance/Design”. You can find this distinguished facility in a prime location opposite the Capitol at Havana City. Art lovers will appreciate the Cuban art in all the public spaces of the property and the “mélange” of colonial and contemporary styles at bedrooms and lounges.

If you look further examples of hotel excellence then you should consider theWorld Travel Awards, voted by travel agents worldwide. They were established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate the achievements in all sectors of the global travel industry. These awards are regarded as the “Oscars” of the tourism industry by The Wall Street Journal. Cuba hotels winners at 2007 and 2008 were Hotel Nacional de Cuba as Cuba’s Leading Hotel and Sandals Royal Hicacos Resort & Spa was the Leading Resort. A classy Cuban hotel at the Cuban capitol city and a gorgeous beach resort in one of the best beaches of the island and of the Caribbean, these are the choices of tens of thousands of travel experts, such as travel agents and other travel professionals.

Also Thomas Cook, one of the most important tour operators in the world, recently accorded its Marque of Excellence Award to Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa, a hotel which received several important prizes in 2008. For those seeking blissful vacations, here you will find a piece of your own paradise. This elegant hotel, located right alongside Playa Esmeralda beach in the province of Holguin, has received for the fifth time the Marque of Excellence Award (2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008) due to the quality ratings granted by clients. Since it is a 5-star Ultra All-Inclusive hotel that was conceived for adults over 18 years, it is more suitable for romantic getaways, weddings, honeymoons, events and vacations with group of friends.

Plus, Trip Advisor, the largest travel destinations and tips guide in the Web, granted this Cuba hotel two Travelers Choice 2008 Awards (The Best All-Inclusive in the World and the Most Romantic Hotel in Latin America and the Caribbean). These popular distinctions in the tourist industry represent the views of millions of travelers that have selected this hotel for its outstanding service.

Moreover, Paradisus Río de Oro hotel received the Gold Medal 2008 Award accorded by clients of First Choice, the leading British wholesale company. Also in 2006, the Paradisus Rio de Oro was awarded the Travelers’ Choice Prize in the category of Most Outstanding Hidden Jewels of the Caribbean. Want a better reason to go there in your next Cuba vacations?

If you prefer more responsible and ecologic hotels then you should try Brisas Guardalavaca. This Cuba hotel has won the important award “Green Planet Award” presented by the European Tour Operator Kuoni. This distinction is given to the hotels contracted by this tour operator with relevant results in terms of Environmental Care. This facility has also received the National Basic Environmental Award presented by the Ministry of Technology and Environment in Cuba. So if your catchphrase is “a better and a greener world is possible” then you should consider Brisas Guardalavaca in the top of your Cuba hotels choices.

Also for environment enthusiasts there is a fine resort at Varadero beach, the Iberostar Tainos hotel, which has won an Environmental Hotel Award in 2004/05. Singles, couples and families will appreciate the good four-star value of this recently built hotel, set on a beautiful stretch of beach surrounded by tropical gardens.

Other Cuba hotels have won international distinctions like Meliá Las Antillas, which was awarded the Primo Neckermann Reisen 2008 Award thanks to the rankings given by clients of the important German tour operator Neckermann, part of Thomas Cook group. This property ranked among the 100 best and most popular hotels in the world in 2008! So if you want to experience a truly unforgettable holiday you should look after this offer, an All-Inclusive Superior 4-star resort especially recommended for weddings, honeymoons, tourist groups and circuits.

Also the magnificent Paradisus Princesa del Mar hotel was granted the Marque of Excellence Award 2007 by leading tour operator Thomas Cook, in recognition of the hotel’s high service standards and quality of its accommodations. What’s important about this award is that clients are the ones who assess the hotels by responding to Thomas Cook’s satisfaction polls, which measure the service, facilities and quality of the accommodations. It is conceived for adults aged 18 and over and it is highly recommended for those who want to spend some time in romantic environments with extraordinary scenic views and total privacy.

(Personally, I would add the Melia Cohiba in Havana, especially for a working visit or conference. --John McAuliff)

Monday, August 17, 2009

US Allowing More People to Travel

By David Adams, Times Latin America Correspondent

St. Petersberg Times,

Published Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three times during the last eight years, John Tredway applied for a license to take American students to debate their counterparts in Cuba. Three times, he was denied.

Then the other day he got word that a new request to take students from New College in Sarasota had been approved by the Treasury Department.

"It really came out of the blue," said Tredway, 60, director of USA Youth Debates, which sends groups of students all over the world. "We had been reading in the press about Obama's new Cuba policy for Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba, but nothing indicated that the policy had changed with regard to other Americans."

After eight years of cultural freeze, it seems the ice is thawing between the United States and Cuba. In the coming months, a major Hispanic musician from Miami and a New York orchestra are planning to perform in Cuba, an apparent reversal of the Bush administration policy of isolating the island regime. A sudden surge of Cuban performers are coming here as well.

"The president (Obama) has himself stated that people-to-people contact is good for both countries," said Timothy Ashby, a Cuba specialist with the Miami law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. "It's pretty clear that's the policy."

The Obama administration has approved a Sept. 20 peace concert in Havana's Revolution Square by Colombian rocker Juanes, who lives in Key Biscayne and is one of Latin music's hottest artists. Cuban officials also say they are also looking forward to hosting the New York Philharmonic in late October. An orchestra spokesman confirmed that a trip to Cuba is being planned and that final arrangements are being worked out.

Juanes visited Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss plans for the concert.

"We have no official role in the concert, but the Department of State is in favor of these types of cultural exchanges since they increase understanding among nations," a State Department spokesman said. "We have respect for Juanes and we wish him lots of luck with the project."

Juanes, whose real name is Juan Esteban Aristizãbal, may need it. The concert is under attack from hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami who accuse Juanes of naively providing legitimacy to Cuba's communist regime.

"The concert promises to be nothing more than a shameless, thoughtless and heartless appearance by the 36-year-old singer and his fellow performers," according to Joe Cardona, a Cuban-American filmmaker in Miami. "It will be one more tacit legitimization of the hemisphere's most oppressive 50-year-old dictatorship," he wrote in an op-ed in the Miami Herald.

Exiles object to Juanes receiving a license to perform in Revolution Square, usually the scene of Communist Party rallies. But Juanes has defended the concert, pointing out that Pope John Paul II held an open-air Mass in the square in 1998.

"It's a neutral place," Juanes told Univision, the Spanish-language television network.

He noted that the square is built around a monument to Cuban independence leader Jose Marti, who is revered in both Havana and Miami. "No one is using me," he insisted.

The 1962 economic embargo against Cuba prevents Americans or U.S. residents from traveling to Cuba unless they obtain a license from the Treasury Department. Over the years a number of specific categories for licensed travel have been created, including journalists, professional researchers and Americans on approved commercial business for food, agricultural and medical sales.

Last year the Treasury Department approved 21 licenses for "public performances" in Cuba — mostly for athletic events — up from only seven in 2007. Already this year 20 licenses have been approved, according to Treasury Department spokeswoman Marti Adams.

Last month actors Robert Duvall, James Caan and Bill Murray visited Cuba for four days under an unspecified professional research license, which is generally easier to obtain than one for events that can generate revenue or publicity for the Cuban government.

More Cubans, from actors to academics, are being allowed into the United States as well. A group of 12 Cuban actors presented a Spanish-language version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the University of Alabama this month.

"This is beyond uncommon. No musician or performing group has been allowed in this country like this from Cuba since 2003," said Ned Sublette, a performer and composer from New York who has studied and written about Cuban music.

Other licenses are pending. The Sarasota Yacht Club last month applied for a license to organize a regatta to Cuba in May 2010, one of a number of boating events in Cuba next year that Florida sailors are hoping to attend if restrictions are eased.

The increased number of licenses does not represent a change in law, but rather a more permissive interpretation of existing regulations, said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., who favors lifting all travel restrictions.

"Now they are granting licenses the way they are supposed to, as the regulations were written," he said.

David Adams can be reached at Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Key West to Cuba Race Planned

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A sailboat race from Key West to Cuba (& back) is planned for November of next year.

Small & fast catamarans (18-24 feet) will begin racing at the White Street Pier, covering 95 miles to Marina Hemingway, Cuba. Racers will spend a couple days in Cuba on a mission of cultural exchange focused on sailing. The return trip to Key West is another 95 mile race.

Race organizers have set up a Google groups site at: . You can read more about it there.

I swear, if you listen hard enough, you can hear the Cuban travel embargo leaning over, creaking past the tipping point, ready to fall at any momemt. A political Leaning Tower of Piza if you will. (Yes, I'm aware the Piza Tower has been stabilized).

One has to wonder if the travel ban has in effect been left to expire.

If nothing else, the government no longer wants to defend it.

Take a look at this story about Mytchell Mora - an American who traveled illegally to Cuba and announced that fact upon his return at U.S. Customs. He's hoping to challenge the travel ban in court. Instead, Customs sent him home - without punishment, and with his Cuban souveneirs.

Meanwhile, OFAC, the branch of government in charge of enforcement of Cuba travel rules, is losing funding in a move to quietly deflate the policy.

Orbitz Travel Petition Over 70,000

Orbitz hits signature milestone in Cuba-travel drive
August 16, 7:14 PM · Dennis Schaal - Newark Travel Examiner

Orbitz, the travel website based in Chicago, recorded its 70,000th signer late last month to a petition calling on the Obama administration to overturn the roughly 50-year-old U.S. ban on travel by Americans to Cuba.

Securing that number of petition signers occurred less than three months after the campaign began.

Orbitz Worldwide spokesman Brian Hoyt said one aim of is to attract 100,000 signers.

Hoyt said Orbitz would then present the petitions to elected officials in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

In starting the petition drive, Orbitz took a calculated risk since Cuba travel is controversial and big companies often prefer to steer clear of hot-button issues that can provoke protests, includling boycotts.

But Orbitz's feeling is that regardless of Americans' stance on the Cuban regime -- and viewpoints vary -- it is wrong to restrict Americans' basic freedom to travel.

After all, there are no barriers on travel to China, also an authoritarian regime, for example.

In stepping out on its own on this issue, Orbitz has picked up some support in the travel industry. Supporters of the drive include Cuban-American organizations, as well as the National Tour Association, the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

The Cuban American Commission for Family Rights and the Cuban American Alliance are among the endorsers of the Orbitz effort.

But so far peers of Orbitz, including Travelocity, PriceIine and Expedia, and a broader swath of travel companies and associations haven't followed Orbitz's lead and stepped forward on this issue of such import to the rights of Americans and to the well-being of the travel industry.

It would be in these companies' own self-interest to get involved since Americans likely would flock to Cuba for vacation getaways and cruises once the U.S. government lifted the ban, authorized U.S. travel companies to book trips there, and the necessary infrastructure were in place.

The Obama administration already took steps earlier this year to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba.

Some Americans are seeking to test the legality of the ban even as it remains in force.

Erika Crenshaw returned to Los Angeles recently from a 10-day trip to Cuba with a message for authorities charged with enforcing a ban on travel to the communist-ruled island: Come and get me.

With its petition drive, and accompanying travel promotion, Orbitz hopes to prod Congress and the Obama administration to ease the restrictions for all Americans.

Copyright 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Dennis Schaal is an Examiner from Newark. You can see Dennis's articles at: ""