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Ryanair to make passengers seek permission for toilet use

Ryanair passengers will need to ask permission to use the toilet when flights return on July 1.

Europe’s biggest airline will also conduct temperature checks, require masks to be worn and prohibit queues to reduce the chances of spreading the coronavirus.

Toilets will be made available on request, Ryanair said in a statement.

The Irish low-cost carrier has grounded its fleet since late March, but plans to restart with about 40 per cent of its normal flight schedules, it said.

The comeback is dependent on government restrictions being lifted on flights within Europe. While the European Commission is preparing recommendations for removing border controls, there are signs that the reopening will be bumpy.

The airline intends to run almost 1000 flights a day from July 1 and to restore 90 per cent of its pre-pandemic route network.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the airline was operating 2400 flights a day.

RELATED: Qatar offers 100,000 free airfares

In a return to flying video, Ryanair said passengers should check their temperature before going to the airport, check in online and download their boarding pass to their smartphone. Travellers will be made to undergo further temperature tests at the airport, must wear face masks or other coverings and wash their hands and use hand sanitiser in terminals.

On board the aircraft, only cashless payments will be accepted. Queuing for toilets will be prohibited, and physical distancing at airports and on-board will be encouraged where possible.

RELATED: Virgin’s plan for people owed refunds

The aircraft will also undergo a deep clean every night with chemicals that are effective for more than 24 hours. All Ryanair planes are fitted with Hepa air filters similar to those used in critical hospital wards, the airline said.

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Etihad Airways to resume regular service between Australia and the UK

From May 15, Etihad Airways will operate a regular scheduled service from Melbourne to London Heathrow, it was announced today.

The carrier will also introduce services from London Heathrow to Melbourne from May 21. Both flights will operate via Abu Dhabi and flights will feature Business and Economy cabins.

The airline plans to maintain this link until it fully resumes its previous double daily connection between the two cities.

See more: Coronavirus may eradicate the most hated seat on the plane

See more: What to expect on flights after coronavirus

Flights will feature Business and Economy cabins. Picture: SuppliedSource:News Limited

Etihad said it had implemented “an extensive sanitisation and safety program” on flights and at airports, and recommended face masks for travellers.

“The airline is practising the highest standards of hygiene at every part of the customer journey,” reads the airline’s statement.

“This includes catering, aircraft and cabin deep-cleaning, check-in, health screening, boarding, in-flight, crew interaction, meal service, disembarkation and ground transportation, among others.

Etihad said it had implemented an “an extensive sanitisation and safety program” on flights and at airports.Source:Supplied

“On board, we’ll make sure you are seated with as much space as possible between every guest, and we’ll offer our food and drinks service in line with important COVID-19 guidelines,” a statement on Etihad’s website said.

Passengers will remain on board at Abu Dhabi.

Additional safety and security measures will be in place at the destination and passengers will be required to self-quarantine, the airline said.

Etihad advises all customers wishing to travel on these services to check current entry regulations for both the United Kingdom and Australia.

See more: The best websites to help travel bugs survive isolation

See more: 14 Aussie spots to get away from it all

See more: Traveller’s three rules to survive lockdown

See more: Aussie spot most travellers never see

Originally published asEtihad resumes flights to the UK

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Stay away from Lake District despite easing of lockdown, police say

Police in the Lake District have urged people to “take a long hard look at your own conscience” and stay away from the national park – despite the prime minister telling people they can drive to beauty spots for exercise from Wednesday.

Parts of Cumbria have the highest coronavirus infection rates in the UK, prompting fears that the relaxation of lockdown will lead to a further spike.

Across the country on Monday morning, officials in other tourist destinations were frantically discussing how to interpret Boris Johnson’s easing of lockdown measures while keeping local populations safe.

Coronavirus lockdown: what are the new rules announced by Boris Johnson?

In the early hours of Monday morning South Lakes police tweeted a map showing infection rates in the county, saying: “Before considering travelling to #Cumbria #LakeDistrict please grab a brew, examine this map, and take a long hard look at your own conscience. We urge you to use common sense and to continue to exercise close to your own home. We need to break the cycle of infection #lockdown.”

Cumbria police issued more than 100 fines over the bank holiday weekend to people making non-essential journeys, according to its assistant chief constable, Andrew Slattery. “That’s double the amount we’ve issued over the entire rest of the lockdown,” he said, blaming newspaper headlines for “giving the impression lockdown was over”.

Hotels, campsites, cafes, pubs and public toilets will remain closed for the foreseeable future, said Slattery. “Just attracting people to the Lake District with no facilities isn’t going to benefit the economy at all and in fact it might set it back.”

He added: “If people come en masse to the Lake District next weekend it will make social distancing very difficult if they congregate in the same car parks, go on the same busy footpaths in the honeypot areas.”

Tony Watson, the head of communications at the Lake District national park, tweeted: “Before travelling to the #lakedistrict, please be kind and consider our rural communities. There have been four times the deaths in Cumbria than in the whole of Australia. Just because you technically can come, doesn’t mean you should.”

Richard Leafe, national park authority’s chief executive, said: “Following the government’s announcement that people will be able to travel for exercise from Wednesday, we know that many will be keen to visit the Lake District. This is understandable for the many physical and mental health benefits the national park provides. However, sadly Cumbria currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the UK, therefore keeping our staff and local communities safe must remain our priority.

“For example, our mountain rescue teams are made up of volunteers, many of whom work in the NHS and other frontline professions, so we cannot afford to put unnecessary pressure on them. So for now, we’re asking people not to rush back to the Lake District. Help protect our communities – the fells will still be here when this passes.”

The latest figures show Barrow-in-Furness in west Cumbria has the highest infection rate in England, with 804 cases per 100,000 people. Lancaster is second with 513 and South Lakeland third with 482.

But Aaron Cummins,the chief executive of Morecambe Bay NHS trust, which covers Barrow and South Lakeland, said the figures should be viewed with caution.

“As a trust, we have been testing our colleagues and their family members, local care home staff and other key workers for a significant amount of time and in large numbers. It is important that these figures are viewed in this context,” he said.

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Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for the South Lakeland constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale, has written an open letter to the prime minister asking him to limit the number of miles people can drive for exercise “to help prevent the inevitable high influx of people travelling to the Lakes, the Dales and south Cumbria”.

Farron told Johnson: “With there being no changes to the guidance issued by the Welsh government, Snowdonia will still be off limits for people living in Manchester and Liverpool meaning that we are likely to see an even higher number of visitors descending to the Lake District than we otherwise would have done.”

In his address to the nation on Sunday night, Johnson said: “From this Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”

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Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer Outlines Path to Reopening

Disney Parks is developing plans for a phased reopening as well as preparing to implement physical distancing and capacity measures and increase cleaning and disinfection amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel.

In a message to guests published on the Disney Parks Blog on Tuesday, Hymel also confirmed that the company is looking into enhanced screening procedures and prevention measures as well as new training for cast members.

“We’re looking at all of our locations and how best to begin the reopening process, including a gradual reopening and/or partial reopening of certain locations,” she said. “For example, the opening of retail and dining locations prior to the opening of our theme parks.”

“As you can imagine, managing guest density in queues, restaurants, hotels, ride vehicles and other facilities throughout the park and across the resort is a major focus, as we implement physical distancing guidelines based on guidance from health authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and appropriate government agencies,” added Hymel. “This will likely include implementation of guest capacity measures to comply with state and federal guidelines.”

Hymel, who is working with the U.S. Travel Association on guidance for reopening travel businesses, also revealed that Disney Parks is planning to step up cleaning and disinfection but still determining which high-traffic areas it will target as well as the type of cleaning products and processes it’ll use.

Following guidance from governments and medical experts, Disney will also implement enhanced screening procedures and prevention measures, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks.

Disney has already added hand sanitizers and handwashing stations across its resorts.

Today, we’re sharing an update from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel about our plans and considerations as we prepare for the reopening of our Disney parks, resorts and stores: https://t.co/90NnSvOR2o pic.twitter.com/5wQonjx8um

“These are just a few examples of the many areas we are developing plans for, so please keep an eye on our online channels, where we’ll provide more details as we confirm and begin to implement our plans,” said Hymel. “Given the constantly changing global health environment, these practices may evolve as we consider the latest guidance, but we will share more information with you as we look towards reopening.”

Earlier this week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced the phased reopening of Shanghai Disneyland will begin with controlled capacity on May 11.

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10 Etsy Mother’s Day 2020 Gifts Under $50 That Are Fit For A Queen

The second Sunday of May is almost here, and you know what that means: Mother’s Day. Whether you’re celebrating your mom, your aunt, a maternal figure in your life, or anybody else who deserves extra love, this day is a chance to show that person just how much you appreciate them. If you’re looking to pamper your mom/mother figure, these Mother’s Day gifts from Etsy are fit for a queen.

For some reason, Mother’s Day always seems to sneak up on me, despite it being the same day every year. And because moms work tirelessly every day of their lives, it’s nice to do a little more than just call or send a card — although, knowing my mom, including a card with your gift will score you some bonus points. But if you were caught off guard like me, there’s still time to get your mom something sweet. Because this is someone so important to you, it can be hard to figure out what to get your maternal figure.

Fortunately, Etsy has pretty much everything you could ever think of, all coming from small businesses. Whether your mom likes nothing more than skincare or a clever t-shirt, there’s something for her. Before you give up and start searching for the same old gift card, check out these sweet Mother’s Day gifts from Etsy.

If you just want your mom to kick back and relax, Zaaina’s Self Care Spa Box ($25, Etsy) has all the tools for a pamper session. This set includes a bath bomb or natural soap, as well as a candle. All the products are made from organic, essential oils so your mom can finish her spa day feeling totally fresh and rejuvenated.

Is your mom different from other moms? Does she like ‘00s teen movies? Is she, dare I say, cool? Then, she may be in need of MazeCustom’s I’m A Cool Mom Sweatshirt ($21, Etsy). MazeCustom is rated five stars, so you can trust that your recipient will be getting a nice, quality sweatshirt.

If your mother figure is an accessory kind of person, she may be on a constant hunt for new purses. For those whose aesthetic is on the quirkier side, DSignbyDi’s Orange, Wooden Bead Bag ($50, Etsy) is a summer bag they will use forever. This vintage, wooden purse will never go out of style, so it’s perfect for the moms who are simply timeless.

Pretty much everyone likes to relax in the bath with a glass of wine after a long day. QuenchSoap’s Raspberry Vanilla Self-Care Gift Set ($26, Etsy) is an aromatic relaxation box that will take anyone’s chill time to the next level. This set is also vegan for all those conscientious mothers out there and includes soap, body scrub, and a bath bomb.

If your mother figure always manages to brighten your mood, they’re probably deserving of RoyalBabesCo Mama Sunflower Shirt ($22, Etsy). This shirt easily fits into any wardrobe and is comfy for the mom-on-the-go. Besides, who doesn’t love sunflowers? To show that this person brightens your life, this sunflower shirt exudes warmth.

StresscaseShop’s Goddess of Self Love Mothers Day Self Care Kit ($43, Etsy) relieves stress from head to toe. This set includes a rose quartz bracelet, shower fizz, bath bomb, essential oils, a rose quartz crystal, a velvet clay mask, face mist, and foot cream — talk about the full treatment. It’s ready to ship in three days, so you can give your momher stay-at-home spa day ASAP.

If you know someone with small kids, they’re probably pretty tired. And if they’re tired, it’s anybody’s guess who caused it. So, if you want to give a mother of young kids something to laugh about and show her kids a little love, too, AlphabetBags Exhausted T-Shirt Set ($45, Etsy) gets everyone involved.

Not everyone likes baths, but that doesn’t mean you can’t de-stress in the shower. To relax without taking a full bath, ShopLeebrick’s Happy Mothers Day Gift Set ($40, Etsy) has everything needed for a self-care day. The set includes an oatmeal and honey shea butter soap bar, a coffee-scented luffa soap, shower steamer, and a Sleepy Time body and hand scrub. This combination of scents is perfect for waking up in the morning and calming down at night.

An overly protective mother can be both a blessing and a curse. If your maternal figure can be on the stricter side, but fiercely loving all the same, you may find this MountainMoverz Mama Bear Women’s Sweatshirt ($39, Etsy) fitting. It’s great for nature lovers, as well as moms who just love a good bear hug.

For a personalized touch, SEmbroideredBoutique Monogrammed Nylon Small Size Tote ($24, Etsy) is an adorable purse. The classic tote style makes it easy for anyone to pack it up and be on their way. This purse will quickly become a daily staple for your recipient, as long as you get the monogram right.

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Helsinki’s huge VR gig hints at the potential of virtual tourism

According to Finland’s National Police Board, this year’s Vappu Eve (the festive night before May Day, when the country traditionally enjoys public fun and frolics) was “exceptionally peaceful”. Citizens largely respected calls to stay at home. And yet … I found myself at a gig in Helsinki’s Senate Square with almost 150,000 other people. I was dressed as a giant pineapple called Temperamenttinen Satuilija (Temperamental Fabulist!), and was tossing champagne at Finnish rap duo JVG as they performed live on a stage, in front of the city’s neoclassical cathedral. Just another day in lockdown.

Though it happened in real time, the event was held in the virtual world. While Temperamenttinen – my avatar – was bopping in the Nordic twilight, I was at home, at my computer, cat on knee, finger on mouse, sending gestures and fizz-bottle emojis to the duo, who could see the feedback as they performed. I can’t say it had the buzz of being at a “proper” concert. And JVG weren’t my personal jam. But, technically, it was impressive. Without the requirement of a VR headset, I was watching humans, performing in real time, in front of an interactive audience, within a world of meticulously rendered make believe.

Virtual Helsinki – launched in late 2018 – is the physical capital’s digital twin. It was built using 3D modelling from open data (supplied by the city), as well as drawings and images. It allows users to experience key landmarks as they choose, and it claims to be one of the world’s most realistic VR experiences.

The platform is part of the city’s bid to become the virtual capital of the world. “We are embedding digital innovation into all of the city’s activities. Simply, digitalisation builds better cities – it means personalised services and more choice,” says Laura Aalto, CEO of Helsinki Marketing. Helsinki is a good test-bed for VR: big enough to enable the development and trial of significant innovations, small enough for it to be feasible.

The Covid-19 lockdown has spurred such a trial. “We realised we could use Virtual Helsinki for the local community, by inviting citizens to participate in a virtual celebration with one of the country’s most popular artists,” says Aalto. Development of Virtual Helsinki’s gig platform was accelerated, including new features, such as bringing in audience avatars. Zoan, the Helsinki-based VR studio behind the project, squeezed half a year’s work into five weeks. It worked.

The live show was watched on 460,000 computers. With a conservative estimate of 1.5 viewers per computer, that is almost 700,000 people – Finland’s biggest online event. Of those, 149,403 attended by creating avatars, though the camera largely focused on the band and, with only 500 avatars visible at a time, you’d have been lucky to pick yourself out on screen – even dressed as a pineapple.

10 of the world’s best virtual museum and art gallery tours

The gig was a success, but what does it – and virtual tourism more widely – mean for the future of travel? Helsinki is seeking to be a pioneer of sustainable tourism, and allowing people to visit without racking up carbon emissions certainly aids that.

“The travel industry needs to reinvent itself and I hope this encourages other destinations to experience with digital platforms,” says Mikko Rusama, chief digital officer at City of Helsinki. “Some are suspicious and think no technology can replace a real visit – which in a way is true. But VR can bring about new experiences that are impossible in real cities.”

Virtual Helsinki plans to develop its content – art exhibitions, shopping experiences, “re-lived” historical events – and to make it all multi-user. “Multiplayer functions enable visitors to become social in virtual cities,” says Rusama. “That will have a big impact on people’s interest to explore places virtually.”

10 virtual tours of the world’s most famous landmarks

But, when we’re permitted to move again, will the city have made actually visiting it feel unnecessary? “No, the idea is to offer visitors an alternative way of experiencing the city in addition to travelling here,” says Aalto.

“Customer behaviour is likely to change radically post-corona[virus]. We won’t stop travelling but the reasons will be different. We need a stronger “why”; visits will be more in line with what we stand for. The winners in the future tourism industry are those that can understand and meet the values of visitors.”

Right now, destinations across the world are brainstorming ways to create virtual content to keep visitors interested while travel is off-limits. There are 360-degree tours: we can scan the mountains of Switzerland, the skyscrapers of Dubai or the Great Barrier Reef ; and 3D modelling allows us to take tours of Egypt’s ancient wonders that offer such clarity we can see chisel marks on the walls. Also, festivals and events have moved online: the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville’s weekly country music concert, which hasn’t missed a show in its 95-year history, is now streaming every Saturday night.

And we can expect more, believes Dr Timothy Jung, founder and director of the Creative AR & VR Hub at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The role of VR will increase,” he says. “The tourism industry may need to consider hybrid experiences – a combination of real and virtual – in the future. And, after this forced isolation, people will be more open for virtual experience as an alternative way of socialising and enjoying life. It might be accepted as the new normal within tourism.”

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5 things to eat in Vietnam (and one you might not want to) – A Luxury Travel Blog

Part of being an adventurous traveler is getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, and embracing the fact that you may not find the foods or creature comforts that you are used to. It’s hard to be completely immersed in a new culture without sampling the cuisine, and in Vietnam, you’ll want to try everything, trust me. If you only try the first 5 dishes on this list, you’ll have a good sampling of the delicacies Vietnam has to offer, and if you are adventurous enough to try #6, you’ll have earned bragging rights!

Spring rolls

This classic Vietnamese appetizer is on every lunch and dinner menu. Fresh, cold spring rolls (goi cuon) consist of pork or shrimp and vegetables that are tightly wrapped in rice paper (banh trang). The fried version, cha gio, may look similar to an egg roll from your local Chinese restaurant but are SO. MUCH. BETTER. We learn to make spring rolls on our tour’s cooking class, which begins in a bustling market. We learn about the different uses of fresh noodles and how to recognize the freshest ingredients, and we end with a feast of our own making.

Pho

The famous noodle soup is traditionally eaten for breakfast but can be found on restaurant menus for every meal. Rice noodles and broth make up the base while beef or chicken and herbs add to the flavor. The types of noodles and herbs vary depending upon the region, so you can have two very different but equally delicious phos in Ho Chi Minh City in the south and in Hanoi in the north.

Cao lau

This rice noodle dish is native to central Vietnam’s Hoi An city. What makes it so special is that the noodles are made from rice soaked in lye water, which gives a distinct taste that can’t be replicated elsewhere in Vietnam or abroad. Meat (typically pork), bean sprouts, and various herbs & greens make up the rest of the dish.

Banh mi

Banh mi is the Vietnamese word for bread, but it’s used to refer to a sandwich that consists of a baguette (there’s that French influence!) filled with meat, vegetables, and herbs. This might not sound like anything to write home about, but this is a special sandwich that many people go bananas for. There is a famous banh mi shop in Hoi An (reportedly featured on one of Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows), make sure you make a reservation because the line is usually out the door.

Egg coffee

Coffee was introduced into Vietnam supposedly in 1857 by a French Catholic priest. The Vietnamese proceeded to enthusiastically embrace the drink, and coffee shops are everywhere in the country. Coffee beans are grown in Vietnam in the central highlands, and apparently, Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world. The Vietnamese have created two coffee oddities—weasel coffee and egg coffee. The controversial and expensive weasel coffee is made from coffee beans that have passed through a weasel’s digestive system intact, then collected from the weasel poo, cleaned (obviously) and roasted. Many think this process produces a smoother and more aromatic taste. Egg coffee, however, is more affordable, appealing (in my opinion), and doesn’t involve any animal exploitation. Egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk are mixed in to produce a thick, sweet drink. Our guide also took us to a famous coffee shop in Hanoi to try their egg coffee. I thought it was delicious, and I don’t drink coffee!

Crickets

While not a part of North American diets, in many places in the world, including Vietnam, insects are consumed as a wonderful source of protein. There are cricket farms open to the public where you can see how these critters are rasied and, if you’re so inclined, taste some deep friend ones. As you might expect, they are super crunchy!

Matt Holmes is the Founder & President of Boundless Journeys. Boundless Journeys is an award-winning tour operator that goes off the beaten path for immersive and authentic travel experiences.

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FOX Nation’s Abby Hornacek Talks National Parks, COVID-19 Travel Impact and More

Abby Hornacek hosts “PARK’D with Abby Hornacek” and “American Arenas” on FOX Nation.

The travel enthusiast is a long-time lover of national parks and exploring the outdoors. Hornacek, the daughter of former NBA player Jeff Hornacek, grew up traveling all over.

Currently at home in Arizona, Abby spoke with TravelPulse recently to share her knowledge on national parks, how COVID-19 has impacted her travels and more. Viewers can catch both of Abby’s shows on the Fox Nation streaming service.

TravelPulse (TP): You’re currently in the third season for PARK’D. What’s something most travelers may not know about the show, but should?

Abby Hornacek (AH): I think what’s different about our show is we really delve deep into these parks. And something that I love about it is that we explore the history, so we can go deep into how it became a national park; what conservation efforts are there; etc. We also do three activities at each location, so I get to experience things there and kind of show what each of these parks offers while also showing off their beauty.

TP: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the show and your travels?

AH: Unfortunately, because we haven’t been able to travel, we haven’t been able to go to any new places. For season three we released Grand Teton National Park and Death Valley National Park, which were two parks we had gone to before all of this hit. And then we have a special edition show—which is potentially something that we are exploring for moving forward. [For the special edition show] we kind of gave a look into the places that we’ve been already and then where we plan to go as well.

Moving forward, we’re probably going to explore Arizona a lot and hopefully get as much content as we can, but unfortunately, it is limited. In that special edition show, I talked about how this is impacting us with COVID-19. So that’s something people can check out in Season 3 as well.

TP: What’s your favorite national park that you’ve visited thus far?

AH: Oh, that is so hard. I love Zion National Park and Yellowstone. And I think on this new season with Grand Teton and Death Valley—those are two of my favorite episodes. The Grand Teton was our first winter episode, and it was negative 13 degrees. It was a little rough, but it was beautiful and sunny with a gorgeous view. I think Zion is one of my favorites just because it is one of the most versatile parks. I love rocks, and it’s just the sheer versatility of the sandstone cliffs; getting to learn about the geology behind how these cliffs came to be; and how the river and its tributaries carved out these canyons.

TP: Do you think there’s a best time of year to visit the national parks?

AH: I think it depends on which National Park you want to go to. If you go in the summer, you can experience the lakes in Grand Teton and then head over to Yellowstone and see Old Faithful. I would say for the majority of the parks—if you want to do a lot of hiking—I would go more in the spring and summertime before it gets too hot. But if you like snowshoeing or skiing, then Yosemite is a great one to do in the winter. Same with Yellowstone and Grand Teton—there are a lot of winter activities, so it’s really just what you’re looking to do. You can go to the Grand Canyon in the summer and then [go back in the] winter and get a completely different experience.

TP: Which parks do you think are ideal for adventure travelers? And which parks would you say are better for family travel?

AH: I think all of them are really great for family travel just because they are so expansive. There are a lot of things you can do with the family, including camping. If you’re a true adventurer, you’ll really want to go out to the Grand Canyon for some great climbing. Joshua Tree is also a good choice if you’re really into rock climbing. It depends on the type of activities you want to do though—Joshua Tree is also great for families because its camping is great and it’s a mild temperature.

TP: You also host “American Arenas” on FOX Nation—can you talk about that show and some of the more unique sporting venues around the country?

AH: On “American Arenas” we go to a lot of unique and historical places that host sporting events. It’s interesting because I grew up going to games at Wrigley Field. We, unfortunately, haven’t gone over this field yet on the show just because of the timing. But just knowing some of the histories behind some of these places like Wrigley—where they have the original organ, and they still play it—is amazing. I’ve never really been into NASCAR, but we went to Talladega—which any sports fan has heard of, whether you’re into NASCAR or not—and just learning about the history, how it came to be, and the fact that it is the longest oval track is just really interesting.

TP: So here at TravelPulse, our core audience is travel agents and advisors—I’m curious, what’s your experience with travel agents? Have you used one before? What’s your overall view on agents and advisors and their role in the travel industry today?

AH: I think they’re really essential—they’re really great for people to maximize their reach. I’ve been really lucky because my mom is really great at planning things. But if you’re going on a vacation, then it’s important to maximize your time off while traveling somewhere—you want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your trip. And I think travel agents are great for that.

TP: When not traveling for work, what is Abby Hornacek’s favorite way to travel?

AH: It’s funny because I love national parks. I have since I was young, and I’m such a nature person. I also love to travel with my family. So, if I was going on vacation, it would have to be a family vacation to a national park. It’s nice to travel back to the national parks outside of work because when we film in these places, we pop in and pop out—we do it all in two days, and it’s so rushed. We’re not able to get the full experience necessarily. So outside of work, I like to go back to these places—maybe go to Joshua tree in camp or go back to Zion and climb or do something like that. But my favorite type of traveling is with my family, going somewhere I can be adventurous and get out in nature.

TP: Why should travelers consider national parks more once travel restrictions and stay at home orders are lifted?

AH: I think we have so many places in the United States that are absolutely breathtaking and great for vacations. I think a lot of times—just from personal experience—people want to do these extravagant vacations and go abroad. I think this can be very valuable, and everyone at some point their lives should go abroad. But our country is so gorgeous. It’s like we’re 50 small little countries essentially because every state is so different. And something that the national parks offer is a look into all of these different places.

At Acadia, during the fall, you can go look at the trees changing and just truly appreciate nature. Or you can go to Hot Springs National Park, which is the only national park that has a brewery. They’re just so many things that our country has to offer. And by going to our national parks you’re not only getting a great experience, but you’re helping the environment by entering these parks and donating and bringing more awareness to them.

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Marrakech: Morocco’s cultural capital is brimming with stunning architecture

I took a trip to Marrakech, the former capital and one of Morocco’s imperial cities. With its historical sites and packed medina, it was the perfect introduction to Morocco.

So what is a medina exactly? Found in many of Morocco’s major cities, this is the name given to the historic walled area of the city, which features many narrow, winding alleyways and lots of market stalls, mosques and traditional Moroccan houses.

The medina in Marrakech is car-free, as the roads are too narrow for them to enter, instead they’re filled with motorbikes and donkeys making their way through the busy streets. The medina can get very busy, and is full of many stalls, with plenty of merchants eagerly trying to persuade you to take a look at their goods.

To be honest, I found that some of the stall owners were a bit aggressive, with some of them even following me down the street in an attempt to persuade me to stop and take a look. I understand that they’re just trying to earn a living, but I feel like this kind of approach would put off a lot of travellers, and it was one of the things I didn’t like about Marrakech. Fortunately, there was also a lot of good stuff to discover.

Marrakech is the perfect introduction to Morocco

The medina of Marrakech is also home to a number of historical sites, which are adorned with beautiful architecture unlike anywhere else I’ve ever visited. Le Jardin Secret, or the Secret Garden, is one such example.

As its name suggests, this garden is hidden away in the medina, but inside are two large courtyards filled with fountains and many kinds of plants. It really does feel like a tranquil retreat away from the busy medina streets outside. There’s also a tower that offers views over the whole of the medina – the entire old city of Marrakech is made up of low rise buildings, most only a couple of storeys high, with mosque towers being the tallest structures in the medina. It’s quite special to hear the prayer calls echo across the city, instructing Muslims to pray 5 times per day.

The largest mosque in the city is the Kotoubia Mosque, located to the south of the medina, near the Jemaa el-Fna Square. Both areas are worth visiting and great for photography. The Jemaa el-Fna Square is the main square of Marrakech, and is absolutely packed with market stalls selling souvenirs, leather bags, orange juice, and countless other merchandise. The square is full of street performers and entertainers, including snake charmers – be careful not to get too close!

Outside of the medina and well worth visiting, the Majorelle Garden is located to the northwest of the medina. Similar to the Secret Garden, this is another beautiful Islamic garden, which is famous for the ‘blue house’ in the middle. A popular site for photos, the building also contains the Berber Museum, a small museum dedicated to Berber culture.

Berbers are considered to be the original inhabitants of North Africa, before the Islamic Conquests in the 7th century, and a large proportion of the Moroccan population today still identifies as Berber and speaks Berber languages, which are distinct from Arabic. This makes Moroccan art and architecture somewhat different from styles present on the Arabian Peninsula.

Nearby to the Garden is the Yves Saint Laurent Museum – dedicated to the fashion designer, the museum houses a collection of art from various artists who have made Marrakech their home over the last century.

Marrakech is also home to a couple of palaces. El Badi Palace is a huge ruined palace in the south of the medina, and its scale is really impressive. Once a lavish palace, it was stripped of most of its contents in the 17th century for the Sultan’s palace in Meknes.

For a more intact palace, head to Bahia Palace. This palace is mostly untouched, with beautiful marble floors, large open courtyards, and intricate archways and doorways. The carvings on the door are so detailed that it really does make you wonder how people were able to craft something so beautiful.

The Museum of Marrakech is also good for this – in fact I’d go as far as to say that the building is the star of the show, not its exhibits! If I ever got the chance to build my dream house, I think I’d take a lot of inspiration from Moroccan architecture.

Without a doubt, the most memorable experience of my visit to Marrakech was when I took a day trip to a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains, south of the city. The drive there took around two hours, with our minibus winding around narrow mountain roads, with huge mountains and expansive valleys beside us.

When I finally got to the village, I took a short trek up the mountain path to a small house for lunch. The tallest mountain in North Africa, Toubkal, towered over the tiny village, and provided some absolutely breathtaking views. It felt like I’d stepped back in time – some of the houses were made of mud, and there were no paved roads in the village at all. The locals used donkeys as transportation.

Our guide was from a neighbouring village, and he told me he’d woken up at 4am that morning, in order to drive to Marrakech to meet myself, and the rest of the group, at 9:30am. As I walked through the village, plenty of locals would stop and chat to him in the local Berber language. He told me that although Arabic is the main spoken language in Morocco, there are various local dialects, called darija, and that the Marrakech dialect can’t necessarily be understood in other parts of the country.

In small villages like this though, Berber is the everyday language, although most people learn Arabic in school. Visiting the village gave us some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in my life, and although it was cold, the village was tranquil and a really eye-opening experience to how some Moroccans live their lives.

In the city though, I noticed quite a big difference outside of the medina. In the more modern ‘new city’, I noticed that some more upmarket shops and foreign food chains like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut only offered menus in French, not Arabic.

Morocco was colonised by France during the 19th and 20th centuries, and even today French is the unofficial second language of the country, with most Moroccans being at least conversational in it. This made it a bit easier to get around, as a lot of signs are bilingual in Arabic and French, and French is a hell of a lot easier to read as a native English speaker than Arabic!

I noticed that a lot of locals would address me in French first, and if they realised I didn’t understand, they’d try English or Spanish after that. So overall, the language barrier wasn’t a huge issue, although knowing a few French phrases would certainly help any traveller visiting Morocco.

Onto the food: the most famous dish is couscous, but a common Moroccan dish is called tagine. This can come in many varieties, as the word ‘tagine’ actually refers to the pot in which the food is cooked. Common ingredients are chicken, lamb, beef, vegetables, dates, chickpeas and nuts. There are plenty of spices, and it’s now my favourite Moroccan dish. The mint tea is also amazing – it was served regularly throughout my trip – it’s sweeter than I expected, but very refreshing.

Bread is also a large part of the Moroccan diet, being served as a side in most restaurants and sold on stalls throughout the city. As someone without much exposure to Moroccan cuisine before, I’d definitely be eager to get my hands on a tagine again soon!

Overall, I really enjoyed visiting Morocco – it opened up my eyes to a completely different culture that I didn’t know much about beforehand. While it may be challenging for some people, with pushy local merchants and crazy drivers, there is genuinely a lot of unique sights to see here that you won’t find in other parts of the world. North Africa is definitely somewhere that I’d be intrigued to visit again someday.

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Disney Parks Celebrates Sustainability, Conservation Milestones on Earth Day

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Disney Parks is celebrating some impressive milestones of its own, including 30 years of dedicated Disney Parks’ environmental and sustainability initiatives and 25 years of the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF).

It’s also been approximately one year since National Geographic joined the Disney family.

For the past three decades, Disney Parks has been implementing programs in support of waste and emissions reduction as well as water and resource conservation.

Notable efforts include eliminating more than 88 tons of plastic within Disney Parks around the world annually by removing plastic straws and stirrers and constructing solar facilities that reduce Disney Parks’ greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking almost 10,000 cars off of the road.

Meanwhile, the DCF has generated millions of dollars to help protect hundreds of species of wildlife since it was first established in 1995.

“We can all celebrate the impact that the Disney Conservation Fund has had over the past 25 years by proudly directing more than $100 million to conservation organizations working to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet—helping to ensure a future for more than 1,000 species of wildlife around the world,” said Dr. Mark Penning, Vice President, Animals, Science and Environment, Disney Parks.

In celebration of Earth Day, Penning will launch his #AskDrMark Instagram series on Wednesday (@DrMarkatDisney), during which he’ll answer questions from followers about wildlife and conservation.

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