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Sperlonga, Italy: Beaches and the beauty of doing nothing

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In Italian they call it Il bel far niente , “the beauty of doing nothing.”

It was hot and humid in Rome, and the city was lousy with sweaty tourists. I’d finished my business in Italy, and had scheduled some beautiful do-nothing time in Sperlonga, a beach town about 80 miles south of the capital in Italy's Lazio region. 

Sperlonga is a medieval village built atop a cliff overlooking a stretch of the Mediterranean known as the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Though it’s well-known in Italy, most Americans have never heard of the town, and those you might encounter there probably work in Europe or have family ties there that bring them back.

Still, it’s one of the Borghi piu belli d’Italia , “the most beautiful villages of Italy,” designated by the Borghi Italia Tourist Network, an organization dedicated to bringing visitors to Italy’s lesser-known cultural wonders.

Sperlonga fits the description. The old city is a whitewashed warren of passageways and staircases opening onto cafes and shops, decked in flowers, with a beach-view piazza at the very top where people promenade from sundown until the late hours.

Down below, white sand stretches east and west along the coast, divided into private beaches called lidos (rhymes with Speedos, of which there are more than a few), each defined by the color of its umbrellas. Twenty euros (about $23) reserves you a couple of chaise longues, an umbrella and a table on the sand, plus access to a dressing room and cash bar.

And though the newer town is packed with lodges and restaurants, it’s barely a mile wide, from the beach to the highway that skirts the coastal mountains.

The first summer tourist to Sperlonga may have been the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who reigned near the beginning of the first century and built a villa next to a grotto at the farthest end of the beach. It was only discovered in 1957 when the Italian government was building a highway past Sperlonga to Capri and Naples to the south.

Construction crews began unearthing relics and fragments of statues, and when government archaeologists descended on the town to take them away, the Sperlonga residents came out en masse and blocked the trucks. The artifacts remained in Sperlonga, and the government built a national museum on the site.

When they excavated the artichoke fields down by the waterline, they uncovered the ruins of the villa with its fish ponds. The grotto revealed more statuary, most of it dedicated to the Greek hero Ulysses who, according to legend, had sailed past the coast there more than a thousand years earlier.

Off in the distance stands the Promontory of Circe, where Ulysses supposedly lived with the witch goddess for a year, again according to legend – though in 20 BC, the difference between myth and history was likely hazier than it is today.

The name “Sperlonga” comes

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September route roundup: Where cruise lines are adding sailings

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Cruise lines are constantly tweaking their schedules. Sometimes it's just the addition of a single port to a long-established itinerary. Other times it's the rollout of an all-new route.

Here, some of the more notable new itinerary announcements from the past few weeks.

Carnival adds more sailings from Mobile ...  

Cruise giant Carnival will continue to offer voyages out of Mobile, Ala. , through at least the end of next year.

The Miami-based line has exercised an option in its contract with the city to continue sailing out of the Mobile cruise terminal through December 2018. 

Carnival resumed year-round sailings from Mobile in late 2016 after a five-year absence. It's the only line offering voyages from the city. 

Carnival has a single ship, the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, based in Mobile. Its initial schedule has been limited to four- and five-day cruises to Mexico, but the line recently announced plans for several longer voyages that will include stops in the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Belize, the Bahamas and the Panama Canal. 

Christened in 1990, Fantasy is one of the oldest cruise ships operated by a major North American brand.

The 26-year-old vessel underwent a multi-million-dollar refurbishment before sailing for Mobile that included the addition of a Guy Fieri-themed burger stand, two new poolside bars and a Mexican-themed eatery.

... and adds more Cuba sailings  

Carnival also has added five more sailings to Cuba for 2018, citing strong demand for voyages to the island nation.

Three of the new departures are five-day trips that include an overnight stay in the Cuban capital of Havana as well as a stop in Cozumel, Mexico or Key West, Fla. They begin on Feb. 17, July 2 and Sept. 5, 2018. 

The other two departures are a six-day sailing featuring Havana and a stop in Grand Cayman that begins on Aug. 26, 2018; and an eight-day voyage with stops at Havana, Grand Cayman and Cozumel that begins on Aug. 18, 2018. The eight-day trip includes two full days in Havana. 

All of the cruises will begin in Tampa and take place on Carnival's 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise. 

Carnival kicked off cruises to Cuba for the first time in June. The line initially announced plans for 12 sailings to the country through May 2018.

Carnival is one of half a dozen cruise lines that have begun sailing from the USA to Cuba in recent months.

Fares for the Carnival sailings to Cuba start at $439 per person, based on double occupancy.

Regent plans epic South America voyage ...

Luxury line Regent Seven Seas has started taking bookings for another epic sailing from Florida to South America and back.

The 66-night voyage on the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will kick off Nov. 1, 2019 in Miami and feature a complete circumnavigation of the continent.

Highlights of the trip will include a crossing of the Panama Canal; nearly a week sailing and

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CroisiEurope inaugurating Mekong ship in Cambodia

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Affordable aloha with Holiday Inn Express

There are few things as exhilarating as catching your first wave. Unless that wave happens to be the same wave that actor/comedian Rob Riggle catches. Which is exactly what happened to me on a recent trip to Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. And it was, to quote myself at the time, "totally epic."

Of course, it's not purely by coincidence that I happened to be at the same beach and the same surf camp as Riggle. I was invited to interview the former "Daily Show" correspondent about his role as the creative director of Holiday Inn Express.

Actor/comedian Rob Riggle serves as creative director for the Holiday Inn Express brand. Waikiki Beach is only three blocks away from the recently opened Holiday Inn Express Waikiki, and surf lessons seemed like an appropriate post-interview activity given the brand's new motto, "Be the readiest." "I was lucky enough a couple years ago [that Holiday Inn Express] asked me to be their creative director and I said, 'Yeah, that sounds like a blast,'" Riggle said. "They have things they want people to know about their hotels, and they've made a lot of changes over the years. Great additions like free breakfast, free WiFi, so getting to be that ambassador is a great honor." At 44 stories high and 596 rooms, the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki is billed as the largest Holiday Inn Express in North America and the second-largest Holiday Inn Express in the world. Located in the heart of downtown Honolulu a block from Kalakaua Avenue, the bloodline of Waikiki's shopping district, the property delivers on being an affordable and convenient option for business travelers and families seeking comfortable and modern accommodations. From the moment I entered the hotel, I noticed the bright, open floor plan and modern design evoking that authentic aloha vibe. The foyer's beautiful koi ponds and friendly service help, too. While the rooms here are basic, each comes equipped with a Keurig coffeemaker and flat-screen TV and, as Riggle said, free WiFi, which also happens to be unbelievably fast. The portable work desks and USB ports were also a nice touch. From the upper floors, beautiful panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Koolau Mountain range and all of downtown Waikiki make this high-rise hotel a pleasure to wake up in, especially when a rainbow appears post-rainstorm. At 44 stories high and 596 rooms, the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki is billed as the largest Holiday Inn in North America. As far as hotel amenities go, in addition to the 24-hour fitness center, guests will find the majority of the action on the fifth-floor sky deck, which includes a nine-hole minigolf course, shuffleboard court, giant chess game, ping pong, pool and foosball tables and cabanas surrounding a modest-size swimming pool. Perhaps one of the properties major selling points is on the first floor, where a complimentary Express Start breakfast bar is offered daily. While the buffet comes with standard breakfast fare like cereal, English muffins and omelets, don't miss a chance...

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For Honolulu neighborhood, a return to residential roots

The neighborhood of Kakaako, sitting on Honolulu's coastline tucked in between the skyscraper office buildings of downtown and the towering resorts of Waikiki, has deep roots as a residential area.

The salt ponds that once dotted the neighborhood were used for fishing by native Hawaiians, and in the 1800s the area developed into an enclave for various immigrant groups. In the mid-20th century, though, as other areas of Honolulu garnered more attention, Kakaako started to welcome more light industry, warehouses and auto body shops and lost of some its residential appeal.

Today, after a concerted effort that has involved multiple development groups and heavy amounts of public and private investment, Kakaako has seen a wave of new residential and commercial development.

New restaurants and stores continue to enter the neighborhood, with several scheduled for opening this fall, and Kakaako has gradually become a hot spot in Honolulu for finding top-notch restaurants, fun community activities and a bustling arts and culture scene driven by locals. The Howard Hughes Corp. has added residential units and retail space as developer of Kakaako's Ward Village and at the beginning of this month embarked on a $20 million upgrade to Kewalo Harbor.

One of the most prominent projects augmenting the character of the neighborhood is Our Kakaako, a development plan from Kamehameha Schools, which creates educational opportunities and strives to improve the well-being of native Hawaiians through various projects, including development opportunities. Kamehameha Schools was founded by the estate of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who was the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I.

Included in the endowment were 363,000 acres across the state, the majority of which are agricultural or conservation lands. The land grant includes the nine blocks in Kakaako that comprise Our Kakaako, which opened its first building, the 54-unit Six Eighty residential project, in 2012. The intention was to build an area that stresses connectivity, pedestrian- and bike-friendly design, education and interaction with the arts, according to development director Paul Klay.

Because Kamehameha Schools owned nine entire blocks, Our Kakaako could take a broader approach to community development. Instead of controlling one small parcel, they could integrate all of the projects on their land.

"A lot of urban development is based on in-fill. You have one piece of land, and you are only looking at the best use for that land," Klay said. "That ends up being very insular and, in essence, is turning your back on your neighbor. We want this to be a community where people interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. Because of our master plan and the land grant, we have the opportunity to wrap all of these things together so the community functions more as a unit."

When the Our Kakaako project started, Klay and his team strove to immediately incorporate the existing businesses and art community. Just prior to the launch of Our Kakaako, artist Jasper Wong had started a mural project in the area. Klay approached Wong about an ongoing relationship.

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