Crystal Cruises to offer Belfast and Berlin excursions

Crystal Cruises, a Japan-owned cruise ship company with its headquarters in Los Angeles, USA, is to offer two new excursions this summer on its Northern European itinerary.

The company is adding outings to Belfast and Berlin to the portfolio of ‘Boutique Adventures’ that it has on offer. The tours are claimed to be unique to Crystal and to include access to exclusive venues in the two cities. The excursions will comprise a maximum of 15 guests and will take place during 5 voyages on the company’s ship, Crystal Serenity, between June and August this year.

The Belfast excursion will include a behind the scenes look at Northern Ireland’s seat of power, Stormont Castle. The visit will be followed by lunch with members of Northern Ireland’s assembly at a 19th century manor and working farm. It is on offer to guests aboard the August 26, 7-day Dublin to London British Isles cruise.

The Berlin excursion will be of particular interest to film buffs. It will take them from the port of Warnemunde to Berlin, accompanied by a local film expert who will point out locations in the city that have been used for films including The Bourne Supremacy and Run, Lola Run. Guests will then be taken to the Red Room inside Berlin’s members-only Soho House, for a champagne party and a private screening of One, Two, Three, a Billy Wilder film. The excursion is available on 10-day Baltic sailings from Copenhagen to Stockholm, on departure dates June 15 and 25, and July 20 and 30.

All inclusive cruise rates commence from $4,145, and excursion prices vary.

Opening of New Berlin Airport Postponed Indefinitely

The opening of the new Brandenburg airport (BER) in Berlin, Germany, has been delayed indefinitely, according to recent reports in the German media.

The new airport was slated to open on June 3, 2012, and has been delayed due to problems with its fire safety systems. The new airport is intended to replace Berlin’s Tegel and Schonefeld airports.

The new opening date for the airport is yet to be announced, and sources say that it may be even later than the previously announced date of October this year.

A statement made by the airport authority reads, ‘This further delay is the result of problems with the fire protection system, in particular the fresh air supply in the case of a fire and the complexity of the system as a whole. Based on the previous timetable, construction work was due to be completed by May 2013 to allow a five-month period for trial operations before the official opening.’

The airport chief operations officer, Horst Amann, said, ‘We evaluated the current situation and the next steps concerning the construction work at BER. The analysis highlighted that there was an increased risk that the airport might not be operational by 27 October 2013 as planned. However, we decided to continue the evaluation of the opening date, rather than cancelling the opening date at that stage. This evaluation was concluded by 4 January 2013’

Air Berlin, the Germany based airline, which was scheduled to operate out of the new airport, has also released a statement. Air Berlin chief executive officer, Hartmut Mehdorn, said, ‘The situation is extremely tricky, as we have to contact at least one million passengers individually to inform them about their airport of departure or arrival. In addition, Air Berlin’s expanded and more ambitious flight schedule, planned for BER, now has to be handled using the old infrastructure at Tegel Airport, in the summer season, of all times. We must apologise to our passengers for this temporary arrangement; we ourselves are finding it difficult to live with.’

Tourists the winners in Berlin’s apartments vs hotels battle

As the tourist inflow into West Berlin continues to register a steady increase, the hospitality industry is involved in an intense battle between registered hotels and unregulated apartments.

With the German capital having become the third most-visited city in Europe, the hotel industry is unhappy about the intense competition from unregulated apartments. West Berlin has for a long time been a favourite haunt of budget-savvy tourist groups. Cheap accommodation and services are much sought after and the industry has responded to cater to this segment. Unregulated vacation apartments are not subject to the expensive safety and standards regulations that hotels have to follow, so they can charge less.

According to available figures, about five million visitors to Berlin last year chose to stay in unregulated, privately rented vacation apartments in preference to registered hotels. The irony is that even though demand for regulated hotels has increased due to the increasing tourist numbers, hotel owners are not able to exploit the demand because of the intense competition from budget services. While small variations in prices often lead to loss of business for registered hotels, investment in the development of vacation-apartments has been increasing. Even though the city passed a law in 2012 to stem the tide, there have been no significant changes since.

For the average traveller, this is good news, because even though the number of hotels has increased in the region, average room prices have stagnated. An average hotel room in Berlin costs €87.13, a decrease of 4.03 percent from the average price in 2007. Compared to other parts of Europe, hotel rates in Berlin are low.

The hotel industry is now trying to hit back at the apartment owners, by providing services that only those owners had been offering to date. Realising that group activities were a strength of low-cost services, hotels have introduced community kitchens, group travel and social activities that aim to pool costs and help visitors to socialise.

Berlin Continues to Lure Tourists during summer

Berlin, the capital city of Germany, remains a great tourist attraction for visitors to the country.

visitBerlin, the official City State of Berlin agency offering tourist services to its international visitors, has recently said that the city has registered around a 10% increase in international guests during April 2012, in spite of the fact that most of the Europe seems to be on downward slide of economies. Around 922,500 guests have visited the city, more than during the comparative prior year period from Germany and abroad.

The Berlin-Brandenburg Statistics Office has reported that around 2.2 million room nights were booked during the month of April 2012, indicating a growth of 8.5% from that in the same period in 2011, with a high percentage of rooms being booked by international tourists.

Around 355,000 visitors from abroad spent around 953,000 nights in Berlin in April 2012, with a 9.7% increase from that in April 2011. The city seems to be a favourite for visitors from Turkey; visitors from the country to Berlin increased by around 61% in April 2012, over April 2011; followed by around 39% growth in visitors from Luxembourg; and 30% growth in visitors from both Estonia, and Gulf countries in Middle East.

Berlin covers an area of 891 square kilometres, making it nine times in size over Paris; and it has around 1,700 more bridges than the Italian destination of Venice. In 2011, the city hosted around 108,500 events, which saw a participation of around 8.26 million people.

In April 2012, the city had around 777 accommodations with 123,849 beds for visitors, ranging from ultra deluxe resorts and hotels to budget accommodations, said visitBerlin in its report.

The Top Five Short Breaks from London

Cox & Kings, a UK-based travel company, has listed top five European cities for short breaks from London.

Berlin, Germany

Since the World Wars, the city of Berlin has played an important role in shaping the history of Europe. The present city is a lively tourists hotspot, offering various attractions including the tree-lined boulevard of Unter den Linden, the century-old, Hackescher Markt station, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag parliament building.

A four-night stay in Berlin costs around £625 per person.

St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg city is replete with buildings that reflect Neoclassical and Baroque architecture, interwoven with numerous waterways. It offers many visitor attractions including one of the world’s largest museums, the State Hermitage museum, which hosts a large collection of oriental, Russian and western European art.

A three-night stay in St Petersburg costs around £455 per person.

Istanbul, Turkey

The Turkish city of Istanbul is said to offer a blend of Asian and European charm. Tourist attractions include the Blue Mosque, the Ottoman sultans’ Topkapi Palace, and the former Orthodox basilica, Hagia Sophia. Turkish baths or Hamams are also a popular spa experience.

A three-night stay in Istanbul costs around £455 per person.

Venice, Italy

Venice is the city of palazzos, piazzas, courtyards and marbled churches, which throughout history have drawn tourists from far and wide. An experience that is not to be missed is a cruise on a gondolier along the city’s many canals.

A four-night stay in Venice costs around £345 per person.

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest offers travellers cafes, restaurants, boutiques and spas. Places to see include the Buda Castle quarter, a UNESCO world heritage site that is around 700 years old, Andrassy Avenue, one of the city’s boulevards, and the Central Market Hall.

A three-night stay in Budapest costs around £345 per person.

Lufthansa Confirms New UK – Berlin Routes

Germany-based airline, Lufthansa has confirmed that it will go ahead with its new routes to Berlin from the UK, despite the opening of Berlin’s new airport being postponed.

The company has confirmed that the new routes, to Berlin in Germany from Manchester and Birmingham in the UK, will go ahead on June 3 this year as previously scheduled, although it had initially timed the inauguration of the flights to coincide with the opening of Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport. Owing to the delay in the opening of the new airport, the flights have now been scheduled to land at Berlin’s existing, Tegel Airport.

In addition, Lufthansa went on to confirm that its service to Berlin out of Heathrow, which runs three times daily and has traditionally used Tegel Airport, will continue to do so beyond the date that it was expected to switch to the new airport.

The delay in opening the new airport is reported to be due to problems with fire security systems and it now seems unlikely that it will be open within 2012. Lufthansa and Air Berlin were both due to commence operations there this year and are both reportedly planning to claim damages for the disruption caused to their schedules.

Lufthansa’s expansion plans, which have been tailored to facilities at the new airport, included an increase from nine to fifteen aircraft, enabling it to increase the number of cities that it serves from Berlin to thirty-eight from eight at present. The scheduling for all of this expansion has had to be adapted to facilities at Tegel.

Blade Runner Berlin: Night-time Sights in Germany’s Best City

There’s no doubt that Berlin is one of Europe’s top cultural destinations. Alongside an immense collection of classical relics, the megacity is home to some of the world’s most interesting and immaculately preserved Cold War reminders. From the small remnants of the wall to the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, there’s little about Berlin that isn’t steeped in historical significance.

But there’s another side to Berlin – the Blade Runner, night-time intensity side. Underneath the city’s undeniable charm and beautiful scenery is a beating heart that’s rivalled by few places in Europe, particularly other major cities within Germany. We’ve surveyed Berlin’s best nightspots, finding the best places for a quick (or slow) drink and a pre-sleep midnight meal.

The city’s best bars are located around the Prenzlauer Berg district – a large entertainment and shopping area that becomes packed with locals and tourists alike from ten onwards. Most of the city’s early nightspots are built around the classic German beer bar template, drawing in visitors from across Europe and local workers from the inner city and its surrounding suburbs.

Interested in going clubbing? Berlin has one of Europe’s best club scenes, boasting a selection of late-night party districts that are rivalled by few other global cities. Take a cab to Mitte and browse the selection of nightclubs and late-night bars, most of which stay open until the early morning. A standard evening in Berlin kicks off around midnight, with parties lasting until the early morning.

Uninterested in music, beer, or cocktails? Take to the city’s streets and capture some of the amazing night-time environments. As one of Europe’s architectural centres, Berlin is a stellar city during the day and even more exotic at night. Budding photographers should check out the city’s ageing train network – one of the most eerie and photographable locales in Europe.