Keel laid for huge cruise ship

Several years ago, off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, I was seated in a small watercraft, staring up in amazement at the size of one of the cruise ships anchored just outside the picturesque harbor.

It was like gawking at a Manhattan skyscraper from a bicycle. How big can they get?, I wondered at the time. Well, apparently the sky's the limit.

Workers for Royal Caribbean International today laid the keel of Allure of the Seas, the second of the Oasis-class cruise ships analysts say will redefine the industry.

The keel laying ceremony was held at STX Europe's shipyard in Turku, Finland.

When the cruise ship is launched in 2010, it will share the title of the world's largest and most revolutionary cruise ship with its sister ship, Oasis of the Seas.

It will span 16 decks, carry 5,400 guests at double occupancy, and feature 2,700 staterooms. Both Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas will be based in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

The ship will have seven distinct themed areas, which will include such amenities as lush grounds open to the sky in Central Park (shown above), located in the center of the ship and spanning more than the length of a football field.

Central Park will be lined with boutiques and specialty restaurants, ranging from casual to fine dining, and introduce balcony staterooms rising five decks above the storefronts and overlooking the park -- one of a few new categories of onboard accommodations made possible by the ship's unique design.
Royal Caribbean
Largest Cruise Ship
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Napa's COPIA center bankrupt but re-opening

April L. Dowd photo

The bad news: COPIA:The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts, which has been closed for several weeks, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The good news: It will reopen during the reorganization period.

The center, located in Napa, CA, said restructuring through a Chapter 11 filing will provide six months to achieve long-term sustainability. In the filing, Copia estimated its outstanding liabilities between $50 million and $100 million.

"We recently have taken intensive measures to overcome our deteriorating liquidity position," Copia CEO Garry McGuire said in a statement, referring to cost-cutting by making Copia less of a wine and food museum and more of an education institute.

Copia was the brainchild of wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, who died in May at age 94. It has been financially troubled since its 2001 opening as a facility that includes museum exhibition space, a restaurant, expansive gardens, meeting rooms and art galleries. It has been closed in recent weeks, but will reopen during the restructuring.
Visiting Napa Valley
Dowd's Guides

'Whisky Bars of Edinburgh' lineup set

If you're planning to visit Scotland in 2009 to take advantage of the tourist-friendly events that are part of the year-long "Homecoming Scotland" program, make a note to sample the whisky bars of Edinburgh.

Ten of them have teamed up to attract visitors to the capital city and promote their whisky experience. The program, announced today, was created under the auspices of ScotlandWhisky, the country's national whisky tourism initiative.

“Edinburgh is rightly famous for its bars and ‘Whisky Bars of Edinburgh’ brings together 10 fantastic examples of where visitors can enjoy a dram in a traditional setting. Each bar has a great reputation for its Scotch Whisky range and staff that have passed the Scotch Whisky training school,” said Chris Conway of ScotlandWhisky.

The featured bars featured are accredited "Scotch Whisky Embassies." Each has a wide range of whiskies, including single malts, blends and rare bottlings, and a staff trained in whisky appreciation.

Although Edinburgh is renowned for its lively bar and cocktail lounge scene, similar programs are being developed for Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

The "Whisky Bars of Edinburgh" participants:

The Albannach, on The Royal Mile
Whiski, 119 High Street
Scotch Whisky Experience, 354 High Street
The Abbotsford, 3-5 Rose Street
Leslies Bar, 45 Ratcliffe Terrace
The Bow Bar, 80 West Bow
Stockbridge Tap, 2-4 Raeburn Place
Thomson's Bar, 182-184 Morrison Street
Teuchters, 26 William Street
Teuchters' Landing, 1c Docks Place
• Scotland's Most Expensive Cocktail
Scottish Tourist Board
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