Without a doubt, the biggest draw of the Galapagos Islands is the wildlife.
The islands are home to the highest percentage of endemic species anywhere in the world. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, about 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and mammals, 30%+ of the plants and 20% of the marine species are only found in these islands. Favorites include the Galapagos tortoises, land and marine iguanas, the flightless cormorant and the Galapagos penguins, the only penguin found in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course there are also other non-endemic favorites, like the blue footed boobie, fur and sea lions.
My Southern Loop cruise itinerary in early June took me to the islands of North Seymour, South Plaza, Santa Fe, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Isabela and Española Islands. Seeing wildlife is never a guarantee, but this is not a problem in the Galapagos. I spotted just about every favorite on the list somewhere along this itinerary. The naturalists told me no matter which itinerary you take you'll see most of the favorites. (If there is a specific species you want to see check with your travel agent to see which itinerary best meets your wants.)
Bottom line, a cruise through the Galapagos Islands is an incredible. My photo story follows.
Seeing wildlife in their natural habitats can be a life changing, soul stirring experience, especially for lovers of "wild things" but equally so for travelers who are simply curious and seeking a bit of adventure.
Wildlife themed itineraries should be experienced in small group settings – whether they be on small expedition and adventure ship cruises or private and small group land tours. Small groups and ships lend themselves perfectly to a better learning and observing environment and offer access to areas that bigger groups and ships just can't. Smaller groups also contribute to the conservation and protection of species. Sustainable tourism - the best way.
Following are 9 top itinerary picks – one (or two) on every continent. Photo credit above: Lindblad Expeditions
Veteran's Day is a day to honor all those who have served, and each year its a day that has me thinking about places in the US and around the world where our soldiers have won and lost.
In the north of France, across the English Channel along a 54 mile stretch of coastline, sits a big piece of World War II history - the beaches of Normandy. This now peaceful part of the world is a perfect spot to take a trip through history and pay tribute to our soldiers lost.
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 as on the show, but the beautiful scenes left a lasting impression on me.
Portugal packs a real punch with its diverse experiences, stunning landscapes, friendly locals and so much more. Lots of sunshine, good food, tradition, intriguing history and culture are all reasons why you’ll love a visit to Portugal.
Photo courtesy of Kakslauttanen
Simply put, the Aurora Borealis and Australis are the Northern and Southern Lights. These mesmerizing, beautiful green, blue, red and purple lights that flash over the polar skies. As we move into the winter months, they become more and more visible in the polar regions.
Have you ever wondered what these "lights" really are? I never put a lot of thought into it until I listened to a presentation by a photographer who was taking a group to Norway on a winter cruise. Not being a scientist, the discussions around solar flares, magnetic fields, electrons and who knows what else could have made my brain go blurry. I appreciated his simple presentation in layman's terms, and found all of it to be quite fascinating. I'm certain you will too.
Photo courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises
A destination on many a bucket list are the islands of the South Pacific. The Cook Islands, Fiji, Tahiti - all ultimate dream vacations of a lifetime. Beautiful islands, crystal blue waters, above and below water adventures, relaxation, and of course romance!
I have been fortunate to visit Tahiti, and I must admit, it truly is a dreamy place. All that and then some!
Beyond the sheer beauty of the islands, here are some fun facts about Tahiti:
When it comes to river cruising, most travelers think of Europe. And these trips are wonderful. But if you are looking for an experience that truly touches (and changes) your soul, take a journey down one of Asia’s great rivers – the Mekong.
Grand temples, colorful cultures, fascinating history and more await you on this incredible adventure – on and off the river. Following are my top 5 reasons to explore this magical itinerary.
Alaska is one of my most asked about destinations when it comes to travel. I'm not surprised - it is such a beautiful place to explore and visit. Wide open spaces, majestic mountains, glorious glaciers, abundant wildlife - what's not to love?
How best to see Alaska? The answer is "it depends" - on you! There are a number of ways to explore this great state, and the best way truly depends on what you want to experience, the time you have and your budget. Options abound to explore Alaska: by sea, by land and by air.
Just like big ship cruising, small ship cruising isn't a one size fits all category.
You've got river cruises, adventure, expedition, and today I'm sharing information about a fourth category - Yacht style.
What are your first thoughts when you hear "yacht style"? For me, I always had this image of beautiful yachts anchored off the Amalfi Coast (like above) . This is a real image. However, yacht style is quite varied, and includes so much more (and destinations).
Yacht style cruises are very much like sailing your own super yacht, and can be like your own personal getaway with friends than a traditional cruise. Read on to see why this type of cruising is so special.
A few weeks ago I shared the first of small ship cruise types - adventure style experiences. Another type of cruising is Expedition style - where I like to say a lot of WOW happens. Extraordinary opportunities for curious and adventurous learners.
What is an expedition cruise? A small ship experience (generally under 200 guests on purpose built ships) focused on the nature, wildlife, history and culture of the areas they visit. The ships are very comfortable with plenty of amenities to suit all tastes. Onboard entertainment is focused on lectures, lively discussions, photography and science centers (no casinos or show productions).
Photo courtesy of Quark Expeditions
You want more access, more intimate environments, fewer crowds, a quieter experience, a higher level of service and personalization. Private or small group land tours, river and small ship cruises provide all of these things for you.
River, luxury and expedition cruises are ones I share with you regularly, but these are just three of a number of different small ship styles. This week I'm sharing a few of the Adventure style experiences you can have on the water.
Adventure cruises are not your typical cruise experience. No, not crazy and wild, but perfect experiences for those who are seeking something a little different. I know travelers who really enjoy these experiences, especially with their families, then also take time to be spoiled on the luxury ships too.
When thinking of South America, Peru, Brazil and Argentina often get the most attention. But don't overlook Chile, a country with a diverse landscape north to south and ample things to see and experience.
It's no secret. I fell in love with this country over 10 years ago when I visited via a cruise from Valparaiso to Rio de Janeiro. Warm and friendly people, great food, wine, interesting history. The absolute best for me was the amazing scenic beauty and wildlife. There is no doubt I'll be returning.
My top 9 reasons to visit:
Off the south eastern coast of Greece lie some of the most stunning islands of the Aegean Sea – the Cyclades Islands. Meaning “encircling”, the archipelago is named such because they form a rough circle around the island of Delos, the legendary birthplace of Zeus’ children, twins Artemis and her brother Apollo. As stated on the Visit Greece tourism site, Delos is the head priest of the Cyclades, the birthplace of immortals. Delos is not a museum. It is not there to tell a story. It is history itself.
France - a land rich in history, art, wine, great food and delightful people. These are a few of the reasons that draw us to this wonderful part of Europe. If you are thinking about a river cruise, the lines that sail the region have done an exceptional job weaving these experiences into their itineraries.
Which river to choose? Despite some similarities, each of these five waterways have unique personalities., which, depending on what you'd like to experience, should help you choose one or at least narrow down the choices.
Still can't decide? Choose one that best matches your dates and budget AND GO! You'll enjoy the experience no matter which area you choose.
Sometimes a rail trip is just what is needed to thoroughly enjoy the scenic surrounds. No driving, no constant stopping to get that photo, travel through areas where roads don't or can't go. Sit back in luxury, relax and enjoy the ever changing scenery and wildlife (instead of watching the road).
10 epic train adventures to inspire you:
There is a saying in German: “Wenn schon, den schon.” It basically means “Let’s go whole hog.” Or “All In.”
When it comes to cruise travel, I often encourage you to take advantage of already being in a region by adding on time for deeper discovery, deeper immersion. One easy way to do this – adding time before and after your cruise in the ports where your cruise starts or ends. A second way, adding time to discover more of the immediate region (or even a bit further away). For example, adding the Loire Valley to a Bordeaux or Seine cruise, or taking the Eurostar to London when ending in Amsterdam or Paris. A third way – extending your cruises from the traditional week to two, three and even six weeks.
Now that’s what I would call “Going whole hog”!
The Maltese Islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino - are located in the Mediterranean Sea between the northern African coast and Sicily. These idyllic islands are abundant with rich culture, history, magnificent landscapes and over 300 days of sunshine.
In other words, plenty of reasons to visit. Following are 10 top experiences not to miss.
For nature and wildlife enthusiasts, Costa Rica is a perfect destination. The landscapes are ecologically diverse, filled with rainforests, lakes, volcanoes, cloud forests and a wide array of plant, bird and wildlife, from chattering howler monkeys and slow-moving sloths to scarlet macaws, toucans and blue morpho butterflies, one of the largest butterfly in the world. With some luck you may even spot an elusive jaguar or rare tapir.
Stunning, tropical, an amazing experience for sure. And popular.
To get away from the crowds (and additional reasons), I recommend visiting on a small ship cruise: luxury yacht, clipper ship, adventure or expedition style, you have a number of great choices.
CRUISE SHIPS ARE NOT ALL THE SAME.
Top differences? The number of passengers, itineraries, dining options and activities are just a few things that differ. And yes, ship size.
Cruise lines have distinct personalities, and the key to a great cruise experience is knowing what types of experiences and activities are important to you (which can differ by trip) and who you want to travel with.
Why can't major cruise lines sail between two US ports without a stop in a foreign port? The answer is found in two acts, the Passenger Vessel Service (PVS) Act, passed in 1886, and the Jones Act, passed in 1920.
A trip to Antarctica is one of the most grand, exhilarating and amazing adventures. Stunning scenery, peaceful landscapes, icebergs, snow, seals, a wide variety whales and of course, penguins! Sites and sounds you will not find anywhere else. Quite the powerful combination.
Before you go, though, you really need to do your research. A trip to Antarctica is a big investment, in yourself and your budget, so you really want to make sure to pick the right trip and ship for your personality, travel style and interests.
The options are many (and growing) and can be overwhelming. Following are 7 things you should consider when choosing your cruise.
Photo credit: Quark Expeditions - David Merron
As an avid cruiser I've thought about world cruises - even as far back as my college days I was looking at Semester at Sea programs. My initial thoughts? Too long. But the longer I muse over it, hmmm, maybe it really isn't. The longest cruise I've been on is 18 days, and that was over in a "blink". I've been on 3 and 4 week land trips, and they too, bam! and it’s over. The idea of being able to see so much of the world in a relaxed manner, unpacking once, little to no time in airports..... very tempting!
What is a world cruise?
Basque country – an autonomous region located in northwest Spain and south west France – is filled with breathtaking coastal vistas, colorful villages and cities scattered throughout the green countryside.
Spain’s Basque country stretches from the popular beachfront city of San Sebastian (seen above) to Bilbao in the west and Vitoria-Gasteiz and the Rioja region in the south.
Basque country is often added as an extension to Spain and France trips, and I’m seeing cruise lines adding port stops here too. Vibrant, lively, spicy and diverse are just a few ways to describe the top 4 reasons to visit this beautiful region.
A question I get quite often from my cruise clients is whether or not to take a cruise excursion while in port or go at it independently. My answer depends on the port of call, if my clients have been to the port before and how comfortable they are exploring on their own. (Note: As of this writing, many cruises are on hold and excursions must be taken through the cruise line. This article assumes we will have options to book our own excursions or explore independently in the near future.)
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder