Who knew there were so many options to think about when planning a Galapagos cruise? Cruise vs land? Sailing yacht or small ship? Which itinerary? What time of year?
Switzerland has been in my memory bank for a long time, having lived near Zurich for a brief time in the 60's (yes, I'm dating myself), and having visited numerous times while living in Germany. I truly believe that my early introduction to the Alps with my family is why I have such a deep love for mountains.
The Swiss of course are well known for their watches, cheese and chocolate, but the mountain scenery, in my opinion, is the deepest connection. The Matterhorn, Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau - all iconic sites, and worth seeing. A few years ago we went up Mount Titlis and Mount Pilatus. Also worthy. Just beautiful.
With popularity come the crowds. The day we went up Mount Titlis was beautiful but took 4 hours waiting in line for the cable car to reach the top. The wonderful thing about Switzerland, though, is there is no shortage of mountain scenery, from a distance or up close. To enjoy an area less crowded is not difficult.
An area we discovered oh so many years ago is Meiringen - Hasliberg, a perfect spot to explore and enjoy in all seasons, as we did. These pictures are in June, but it's also a fabulous winter resort - in fact its where I learned how to ski.
Do you think a cruise just isn't active enough for you?
This may be true statement on some cruise lines, but certainly not all. A number of small ships have, as part of their "personality", fun and exciting ways for you to maintain your active lifestyle - ways well beyond the workout room.
You can certainly go for the treadmill or elliptical machine, but check out these options. They may have you rethinking your cruise choices!
IMAGINE yourself on the teak deck of a timelessly elegant clipper ship, a warm breeze blowing in your face as the crew unfurl 54,000 square feet of sails above you.
You begin to tingle head to toe.
As you sail into the sunset, you sigh when you realize this is one of the most incredible experiences you have ever had.
This last week I had the opportunity to sail on Celebrity's newest ship, the Edge. Over the last 12 months I attended a number of webinars to learn more about what the ship had to offer, and hands down, she is impressive.
The build up to the inaugural was exciting, but seeing everything in person is an unmatched experience. Being one of the first to see this ship with everything brand spanking new was especially sweet!
From beautiful neutral colors and jewel tones to innovative staterooms and distinctive venues and experiences, the Edge is quite the ship.
A little like Hawaii 50 years ago (except no crowds and many more modern conveniences). A bit like Tahiti except much more affordable. A big slice of paradise. Yet largely undiscovered by North American travelers.
This would be the Cook Islands.
15 beautiful and lush islands make up this Polynesian archipelago, with stunning white sand beaches, volcanic peaks, turquoise lagoons, beautiful coral reefs, laid back lifestyle and some of the friendliest, if not the friendliest, people in the world.
The islands remain unspoiled, with no chain restaurants and no buildings higher than the tallest coconut tree! In fact, that's the law.
How can you go wrong?
As the saying goes, big surprises come in small packages. Zodiak excursions do just that - surprise, excite and treat you to once in a lifetime experiences.
There are a number of special places in the world that are only accessible by zodiak, or skiffs - small boats designed to take a small number of people into places that bigger ships (and even small ships) just can't get to - places where there are no ports or no docks.
Here are my top five favorite destinations where zodiaks are an integral part of the whole experience. The memories just would not be the same without them.
On July 4th, we sailed out of Copenhagen, the beginning of our 9 night Baltic cruise. We were treated to sunny days the entire cruise, and though I rarely let weather hinder my experience, I must admit that not having even one drop of rain was quite special.
A Baltic cruise had been on our wish list for a number of years, and this itinerary and timing fit perfectly into an already planned visit to Germany. In all honestly I would have preferred a smaller ship (a much smaller ship!) as it would have reduced some of the transfer time, but none the less, we packed in a lot of experiences.
A Baltic itinerary is not one I would describe as relaxing. It is however, incredibly interesting, very rich in history, with each port offering unique experiences. Following are the highlights.
Photo courtesy of Backroads Travel
Sometimes the best medicine, the best way to relax and unplug, to get away from all the noise, is to take a walk or a hike. Clear the brain. Get some fresh air. Right?
But not just any walk or hike.
Trails where you take in breathtaking scenery, drink in the beauty of the mountains, glaciers, pristine forests. Oh, and the views....... just imagine!
Or trails that take you down hidden alley ways, where you can peak into beautiful courtyards, walk through gorgeous gardens, meander through quiet hamlets. Add in a cheese and wine tasting for a perfect day.
No rushing, just enjoying the moment. Something different from your everyday.
I know a lot about cruising and the different brand personalities. The brands also do a wonderful job promoting themselves and their styles. I have found, however, the best way to get authentic insight (aside from taking the cruise myself) is from you, my clients. I love hearing about personal experiences. Everyone brings a different perspective to the table, and this is the best way to learn and truly understand how to match the right experiences - on and off the ship.
Dear friends and clients Kim and Maria are seasoned cruisers and global travelers and are not afraid to go off the beaten trail to explore more authentic, less touristy areas. "Go where the locals go" fits them perfectly. We met on on board a transatlantic trip while looking for exciting options in Reykjavik.
Their recent Celebrity cruise had an extended stay in New Orleans, and I thought it would be fun to share their experiences with you (written by them and sharing with their permission of course!). My learnings are at the end.
Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourism (Lake-Wakatipu Queenstown)
I know if you were to ask a Kiwi or folks who have experienced the wonderfulness of New Zealand, they would give way more reasons on why you'll fall in love with the country. Wonderful, proud, friendly people, stunning scenery, unique flora, fauna and wildlife, the land of Bilbo Baggins and the Shire, caves lit up by glow worms, delicious food and wine - these just a few.
Here are my top reasons:
When you are looking to explore unique and intimate ports of call, look no further than small ship cruises. With under 600 passengers, ships are small enough to sail into areas that big ships can't even dream of. But don't be fooled - small ships offer big and unforgettable experiences. Here are eight destinations that have caught our attention.
Photo courtesy of Star Clipper Cruises
Over 10,000 waterfalls, 130 volcanoes (30 active), 800 hot springs, 269 named glaciers and a population of 334,00 fun and friendly residents, all in an area smaller than the state of Kentucky. This is Iceland.
If you love open spaces and nature mixed with a little adventure (or a lot), then a visit here might just be for you, because Iceland can be simply described in one word -
To really experience all that Iceland has to offer, you need 7-10 days to explore the country. But if you only have a few days (maybe you are on a stopover to/from Europe or you are on a cruise), day trips in and from Reykjavik will have you leaving with WOW memories.
My top suggestions include the following:
Picture courtesy of Star Clipper Cruises
This picture above gets many a conversation started.
"Ohhhh, I want to do that!"
I agree. Nothing like cruising along beautiful sunny coastlines, hearing the sound of waves below and the winds above filling out the sails. And one can't forget simply relaxing on the teak decks of a tall sail ship.
A perfect vacation for someone, who, like me, loves the water and sailing but wouldn't dare try to sail anything on their own (at least not with extensive training or hiring a captain), and especially not over greater distances.
Nope. I would much prefer an experienced crew taking me to quiet, hidden gem ports, comfortable cabins, fine dining and the opportunity to think I'm working by helping raise the sails or steering the ship. Almost like having my own private yacht, but travelling with a few like minded people like me.
Come, step on board and forget everyday life for a week or two!
Addicted to your smartphone? Chances are pretty high that your answer is YES! And I'm sure your spouse, children and friends would say the same. In fact, I recently saw a statistic that over 50% of teens feel they are addicted to the phone, and on average we check our phones 75-100 times per day - texting, email, Facebook, Instagram and all those other apps. Wow, right?
Do you need time in a NO PHONE zone?
Check out these fun, active (and healthy) vacation experiences - perfect for families needing time away from technology, time to re-connect (but equally great for singles, couples, friends and even affinity groups). So much fun that no one will miss that phone (guaranteed at least for a several hours but usually all day if not longer)!
Photo courtesy of European Waterways
When you think of cruise lines, which ones to come to mind?
More often than not, the big cruise lines are mentioned. Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity and so on. Given the amount of advertising they do - TV ads, magazine ads, celebrity endorsements, social media, etc., it's not surprising they are top of mind.
These cruise lines are absolutely the right vacation option for many. But if you want experiences that are, in my opinion, second to none, look at what I like to call "under the radar" cruise lines. Smaller companies that aren't marketing powerhouses, so you may not have heard of them before.
Following are 6 of my top choices (in alphabetical order).
I was first "introduced" to the Marquesas Islands back in 2002 during one of the first seasons of Survivor. I use introduced lightly as it was on TV, and on a reality show to boot. It is highly unlikely that I will ever experience these islands the same way, but the beautiful scenes left a lasting impression on me.
I have, though, been to the Society Islands - Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora. The stunning scenery, on land and water, the amazing people, sites and activities all have me wanting a repeat visit. And when I do go, I would like the Marquesas to be part of my itinerary.
Why? Although the Marquesas are part of the islands of Tahiti, the landscapes, the people and the culture are quite different from the other archipelagos. Located over 900 miles from Papeete (almost 4 hours flying time), the Marquesas are relatively untouched. They have been described as Hawaii 100 years ago. This isolation has created a unique language and unique culture among the people who reside there. The islands may be part of Tahiti, but the people are not Tahitians - they are Marquesans.
Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London all spent time here. Paul Gauguin (the man) is buried on Hiva Oa. The modern word "tattoo" originated in the Marquesas. Men and women proudly display their tattoos. And thus the intrigue begins.
Photo courtesy of Linblad Expeditions
A few weeks ago I wrote about seeing puffins in the wild, and what surprised me the most about these birds was how small they are. Being the size of a duck, puffins are bit difficult to observe from 15 decks up. This made me think about a number of other wildlife encounters that are best experienced on a small ship cruise. In fact, some of the best wildlife viewing around the world is on a small ship.
Why? Small ships get you up close to nature. Because they are smaller, these ships can navigate into areas that big ships just can't - areas that wildlife prefers as well - away from people and crowds. And equally as important, small ships tend not to follow strict itineraries. Captains have the flexibility to change course, so when Mother Nature does her thing, small ships can follow her time clock versus a set time clock.
This flexibility turns into some absolutely amazing adventures all around the world, like the itineraries below.
Are you a "yachtie" at heart? I know many of us who love to cruise are. Sailing those bright, beautiful turquoise waters is such a great way to simply relax and enjoy life! Right?
Most of my cruising has been on bigger ships, but my best memories are from excursions taken on small sail ships. A day at sea on a catamaran from Cairns to Michelmas Cay to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef - sailing around the Bora Bora lagoon, checking out Marlon Brando's island and swimming in water so clear I could see at least 50 feet down - a day trip in Tortola out to a secluded island to snorkel with new friends - these are just a few wonderful memories that come to mind.
Explore smaller, unique ports, away from the crowds, no lines. How fantastic would it be to extend these sailing experiences beyond just a day?
I was reminded the other day that they can be, and you don't have to own your own yacht!
Have you "been there, done that" and want a different type of vacation experience? How about a truly unique trip for a family reunion or simply a group of friends? Are you looking for time to unwind and unplug? Interested in visiting roads and waters less traveled, getting into the heart of a country, strolling through quaint villages, mingling with locals?
A luxury barge cruise may be just the ticket!
Photo courtesy of European Waterways
River cruising is quite popular, for many great reasons. Especially in Europe, where rivers have long been major transportation hubs, cruises offer passengers ample opportunity to experience history at its best and visit sites off the well traveled trail. The number of passengers onboard is far less than ocean cruising, which creates a more intimate environment, smaller excursion groups and time to meet and mingle with fellow travelers.
One of the most awe inspiring cruises I have ever taken was about eleven years ago from Valparaiso, Chile to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Every port of call was so very unique, from Punta Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine Park (picture above) and Ushuaia, the starting point for many Antarctic cruises, to Montevideo, Uruguay, Buenos Aires and of course Rio. We even went out to the Falkland Islands. I would take this exact same cruise again as it offered so many exceptional experiences.
I love the outdoors, and something about mountains, glaciers and water really speak to me. On this trip, visiting Patagonia, the Tierra del Fuego region, the Magellan Straits and Beagle Channel left an indelible mark, so much so that both regions are back on my "must visit again soon" list. The "icing
Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourism (100% NZ)
I've always been active, and enjoy some form of activity when I travel. Not "uber" active, extreme sport active, mind you. It is vacation after all. I'm more of the soft adventure active. I love exploring areas I visit, whether its a walk through town, a short hike, eating at local cafes, getting away from the crowds, seeing wildlife, just experiencing the more authentic side of things. Of course starting and ending my day at nice accommodations makes the experience that much better. Based on recent travel trends, I'm not alone.
60 is the new 50 these days, right?
Trips that include hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling or getting out on a skiff matched with cultural immersions and learning opportunities are growing in popularity, especially with the boomer population. But not just this group - families and multi-generational groups are onboard as well. Nothing like fun activities to bring family groups together!
Some companies have been in the active travel space for quite some time; other companies are getting ahead of the trend (or jumping on board) by adding active options to their existing itineraries. I for one am excited to see this. While I enjoy creating my own adventures, when I look at these trips, I would be hard pressed to create the same experiences.
Read on to explore some of my favorite active vacation options.