Escapes: Ready for the surprises of a 2020 cruise?

The brand-new, 13-deck Carnival Panorama in port at Ensenada, Mexico. It will call Long Beach its home.
(Jim Edwards / For The Times)

People who ride roller coasters perplex me. Clearly they’ve never had that freefall dream, where the ride just goes on and on. Now there’s a new breed of thrill seeker: the person who rides a roller coaster on a cruise ship. What? There wasn’t enough swaying and rocking and rolling before?

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times — and not quite the killjoy I may appear. Mostly. I like my pursuits a little quieter, like, say, a tattoo parlor on an elegant cruise ship. (Yes, that’s true.)

Cruises increasingly have the capacity to surprise, and this year they have. No trend has escaped the careful eye of cruise experts Fran Golden and Rosemary McClure, and they bring you their scrutiny in several articles in this week’s newsletter.

But wait. There’s more — more Vegas (watch for a special section on Sunday in print, and get a sneak peek of the content below), more advice on seeing and photographing the Yosemite “firefall,” more uncertainty about what to do when an airline passenger passes out in a locked lav and, this week in the End paper, more about how a cruise embodies the solace of saying goodbye.


Your cruise in 2020

The cruise lines keep topping themselves. This year, there’s a real trend toward vegan cuisine, Fran Golden writes. “There are dishes on the menus that I personally find enticing, and I am not vegan,” she said in an email. That’s but one of the 20 or so trends she chronicles for would-be or gotta-see cruisers.

Meanwhile, Rosemary McClure tells us about the expedition you should take on increasingly popular Alaska cruises, a ship trip on which the scenery surpassed her wildest dreams and the new Carnival Panorama — that ship of the roller coaster, to which Golden remarked, “What’s next? A ski slope?“ — which is homeporting in Long Beach.

And for those for whom cruises aren’t fun unless they’re getting a deal, McClure reveals a little secret on getting a whole lot more for a whole lot less.

How coronavirus may affect your travel plans

Hugo Martín and Mary Forgione explain the impact of the contagious, sometimes deadly illness on your travel plans. The State Department has upped its warning on China to a Level 3, which means you should reconsider travel (and to a Level 4, do not travel, for Hubei province, home to Wuhan). You also can keep up with any breaking news at

Will wildflowers put on a show this spring?

No doubt about it: Last year’s wildflower crop was super. So how are things looking for 2020? That depends, Mary Forgione writes. Some factors are how much rain we get (in some places, not enough so far), how warm it is and whether the winds stay calm. Find out what might bloom where and when.

Fields of California poppies in 2019 at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Lancaster.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

For a flight attendant, delicate matters are the norm

Elliott Hester, who writes the monthly Fly Guy column, has more than 30 years of experience as a flight attendant. He brings his wisdom about the human condition to this month’s entry about passengers who faint in flight. Usually, he notes, it’s not serious, but what if the flier faints in a locked lavatory? Read his take on the dilemmas that often define the job.

Vegas, you light up our lives

Keep an eye out for our special print Vegas section this weekend, as well as the digital version. In it, you’ll find, among shopping and dining ideas, an explanation for why the city seems, well, just so darn bright and a guide to what has changed or is changing — both by Christopher Reynolds — plus some escape-hatch ideas for when Vegas overwhelms from Jay Jones.

San Francisco street bars cars

Anyone who has been in San Francisco knows Market Street — and also how incredibly busy it is. Now the city has made a stretch vehicle-free, all the better for pedestrians, Christopher Reynolds writes.

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Reader recommends

We love it when readers give us tips based on their trips. Reader Holly Bruning did so, after spending time at Vespera on Ocean in Pismo Beach, a hotel that opened in the fall and is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The 124-room hotel faces the Pacific and also has a pool and the Somerset Grill restaurant, which Bruning rated as very good.

Rates and info: From $275 a night on weekends, $188 a night during the week. 147 Stinson Ave., Pismo; (805) 773-1011.

If you have a travel recommendation, write to Please include your city of residence as well as your contact information in case we have questions.

In Yosemite, the other light of our life

We know that the annual firefall” is fast approaching. And now we know how to capture the ultimate photo of this natural phenomenon, with help from Mary Forgione and Times Community News photographer Raul Roa, whose breathtaking photo appears on the post. (Check out his time-lapse video, too.) Quick note: Your phone may not be the best way to memorialize this light display.

Yosemite's firefall as seen from Glacier Point. The phenomenon occurs in February.
(AP handout photo / Yosemite National Park Service / Bethany Gediman)

What we’re reading

Afar offers tips on dealing with an anxiety attack on vacation. Writer Cassie Shortsleeve outlines techniques for the immediate situation and for the long term, adding that what works for you may not work for someone else. And know that you aren’t alone: Panic attacks are not uncommon among travelers, according to the Journal of Travel Medicine.

What do Pismo Beach and Paris have in common? New lands preserved just for you, Afar reports. The newly opened Pismo Preserve in San Luis Obispo County opened last month. It has 11 miles of trails and offers expansive views of the Pacific, Maggie Fuller writes. And three hours from Paris, the Parc National de Forêts has 1,250 miles of trails, Fuller writes in another piece. This is the time to go, she notes: Visitor numbers are expected to more than triple in the coming years.

Would you go on vacation to a certain destination if you knew you could not take photographs? Writing for CNN Travel, Lilit Marcus explores the notion of photo bans as a deterrent to travel for places suffering from overtourism and as an aid to helping people unplug.

A woman takes a selfie at Lower Yosemite Falls. Would you still go to a destination if you weren't allowed to take a photo?
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

What else you might be reading

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The Kobe Bryant special section in print. Many readers have asked for the special edition that ran Jan. 27 with the news of Bryant’s death and the special section remembering him. It’s available in our online store.

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End paper

The cruises I take today are so different from those we took in my childhood. Because I was born in the dino age, a ship trip then was about transportation, not fun — although there was some of that too. The vessels in those days were liners, not pleasure ships, and they had the sharp bow, not the rounded snout of many of today’s ships.

Regardless of their looks and the intent, all cruises, then and now, share at least three traits:

•They have a certain smell, maybe more in those days than today, but it’s kind of a yeasty-salty-oily smell, as if you were baking a pretzel in furniture polish. It makes me hungry for the delicious feeling of the vastness of the ocean.

•They emphasize food to a captive audience, sometimes to that audience’s detriment. On the last cruise of my childhood, a three-week trans-Pacific trip that was mostly at sea, I recall my mother asking my father to help her zip up her dinner dress. As my dad struggled, he murmured to my mother, “There seems to be more girl than there is dress,” a gentle commentary on her overindulgence.

•They are metaphors for life. I remember crying bitterly when leaving behind people and places I loved, once departing Honolulu and once Manila. I stood on deck for a long time until I could not see land anymore.

As I have aged and said goodbye to many people I have loved, I try to remind myself that just because I can’t see land doesn’t mean it isn’t there, whether that’s true in fact or in memory.

Wherever you go, make memories and friends, travel safely and well, and remember we’ll be here to welcome you home.