Already, many of us are beginning to think about what we want to do on our vacations this spring and summer. With this edition of “Travel Talk” we will attempt to start your thinking in that direction.
A trip that I want to do soon, perhaps this year, is available from Oceania Cruises. Their new and deluxe ship, the Marina will sail on a 12-day itinerary in the Mediterranean — departing from the port for Rome (Civitavecchia) Aug. 26 and visiting Monte Carlo, Monaco, Cannes, France, Portofino, Italy, Florence, Italy, Sorrento/Capri, Italy, Amalfi/Positano, Italy, Taormina, Sicily, Corfu, Greece, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Kotor, Montenegro and ending in Venice, Italy. If someone asked me to put together an itinerary, this is exactly what I would plan. This to me is a perfect Mediterranean area cruise.
The new Marina is excitingly beautiful in a tasteful manner and is larger than the other three Oceania cruise ships, I am told. Fares begin from $4,499 plus taxes and surcharges and include free airfare. Check this cruise out, please. Call 1-800-531-5856 for more information and a brochure.
Here is an interesting idea, stay in the country home where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor spent many weeks a year after he abdicated the crown of England. I’m referring to the private estate, Le Moulin de la Tullerie in France, just 20 miles out of Paris. This 18th century former mill has opened its doors for rent. It is set on two lush acres and includes two stone cottages used by the Windsors’ close friends which included Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor to name a few. Cobblestoned paths and meandering streams wind through the original gardens. Inside, you will find English-country furniture and fireplaces that make it the perfect place to curl up with a classic from the library. Doubles run from $603 per night with a three-night minimum. Contact; landmarktrust.org.uk. You can have dinner at nearby Michelin-starred La Table des Blot or make up your own dinner at the estate. Oh, if we only had a zillion dollars!
I want to include the suggestion of taking a cruise through the Tahitian Islands on an upscale cruise ship — the Paul Gauguin.
The ship is large enough to have all the amenities you want in a modern ship, but small enough to enjoy the area and its pleasures. It is some 19,000 gross tons and carries only 350 passengers. The ship is rated 5-stars and I understand the food is wonderful. It offers French officers and a smiling crew of mixed nationalities. The cruise line is giving free round trip airfare from Los Angeles to Tahiti this year. Call 1-977-495-0864 or visit www.pgcruises.com. These islands are some of the most beautiful in the world!
How about a train trip across Canada this spring or summer? A very fine tour operator has put together two departures to do just that. It begins in Toronto where you will board the famous streamlined Canadian, which is probably the finest train in North America today. You have first class sleeping car accommodations with all meals aboard included. Guests enjoy access to the splendid art deco dining car, the signature dome cars with all-around viewing and the famous Park Car with its round end lounge and Mural Bar.
You will have two days to relax on the train as the countryside passes by the windows before coming to gorgeous Jasper National Park where you will have sightseeing and a stay at the Amethyst Lodge. The Columbia Icefields Parkway will be traversed before arriving at spectacular Banff National Park for an overnight stay. The Canadian Rockies offer some of the most beautiful scenery in North America and should be seen at least once in one’s lifetime.
After a detailed tour of the lakes and valleys of this area, it’s back on the Canadian to continue through the Rockies and on to Vancouver. This is probably one of the most beautifully situated cities in the world. It is surrounded by water, mountains, parks and home to hospitable people. What could be nicer?
In Vancouver sightseeing is included, with time to wander around on your own from the 5-star hotel where you will be staying in downtown. Departures for the 13-day trip are May 12 and May 26, 2011. Fares begin at $4,295 plus. The tour operator is: Uncommon Journeys-Train Holidays. Phone: 510-836-5900 or visit www.trainholidays.com.
The same operator is offering what they call “a West Coast Swing.” You can travel from any California point on AMTRAK free to join the tour in Seattle. Departure is Sept. 19 and lasts 11 days. The itinerary includes one overnight hotel stay in Seattle at the Warwick Hotel, a two-night stay in Vancouver at the Hyatt Regency, travel from Seattle to Vancouver aboard the popular Talgo train along the scenic Puget Sound, plus luxury streamliner train to the Canadian resort town of Whistler with a two-night stay at the Hilton Resort.
Then, board Holland America Line’s Statendam for a stop at charming Victoria, British Columbia en route to San Diego, Calif. You will have four days on the ship before arriving in San Diego. Fares begin from $1,995 per person, plus. Call Train Holidays as outlined above.
A different vacation would be a steamboat tour in eastern Canada. The Canadian Empress takes full advantage in sailing the calm, quiet, safe waters. Offered are spring, summer and fall cruises on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. The steamboat is small, built in 1981 and 108-feet long, holding only 66 passengers. The crew is Canadian and the food is just like home. Fares begin at $2,129 per person for a six-day cruise. The boat would give you an up-close look at the scenery with lectures and chances to walk around the towns you stop at. You may wish to consider combining this with a trans-Canada train trip to Vancouver. Contact St. Lawrence Cruise Lines at: 1-800-267-7868 and visit www.StLawrence CruiseLines.com for more information and a brochure.
You might consider taking a train trip across the United States stopping in several cities and areas of interest to you. I have done this several times and wish to do it again soon. AMTRAK can help you plan this. The equipment is quite nice on selected rails today and it makes it easy to see the country from the ground. You can stop off and rent a car if you wish in those selected areas allowing you to venture out on your own and then return to the train for additional miles. Call 1-800-USARAIL for more information and a brochure.
If you really want to get away from it all, look into the Samana Peninsula in the Dominican Republic located in the Caribbean. JetBlue Airlines is now flying there from several cities in the U.S. The Samana Peninsula is away from the well-known Punta Cana area and offers quiet beaches and coves where travelers can walk in the mornings and late afternoons. If you want warm weather, quiet activity and to be left alone this may be interesting to you. Check out Balcones del Atlantico, a RockResort by calling 1-855-513-7625; rockresorts.com. It features a half-mile-long beach that is protected with 86 villas. Rates begin at $421. per night. Also, look at Bannister Luxury Condominium Hotel by calling 1-829-946-5211 or go online to www.thebannisterhotel.com. Doubles begin at $243. per night.
Windstar Cruises, which feature relaxation on their four-masted sailing ships, are offering 2-for-1 fares plus $200 in shipboard credits, sailing to romantic ports of Italy. From the port for Rome you will visit Venice, Amalfi, Sorrento, Messina, Portofino and Livorno for Florence. Call 1-800-214-1282 or visit www.WindstarCruises.com. Several of my friends have sailed with Windstar and say this is the informal cruise line for them.
Looking for a cruise at a bargain-basement fare? The Mexican Riviera is not selling so well right now because of the troubles with the drug gangs in Mexico. If you just want to sail the warm seas of the Pacific in a beautiful ship of Holland America Line look into the Osterdam sailing in April, October, November and December this year. The seven-night cruise departs from San Diego calling at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas and Bahia Magdalena. San Diego is easy to get to, park your car at the pier and sail away. Fares for a Veranda Stateroom may surprise you. Call 1-877-SAILHAL or visit www.hollandamerica.com.
Holiday River Expeditions can give you an experience and a thrill. They can put you in rafts and boats sailing down Lodore Canyon, Main Salmon River, the Snake River, Yampa River, Westwater Canyon and more right here in the West. Based in Salt Lake City you can obtain their brochure by calling 1-800-624-6323 or go online to www.HolidayExpeditions.com.
As I read ads in travel magazines and newspapers and receive frequent ads in my e-mail proclaiming great price reductions for tours, resorts and cruises this should be a good year again for bargains. Airfares are going up because of oil prices and more cruise lines will be imposing daily fuel added charges but still in all, it should remain a good year for pricing.
Hotels are charging fair rates this season, but some are giving you a fourth and fifth night free with your booking. Cruises remain fairly low considering what you receive for your fare in most cruising areas but, many are giving you wonderful upgrades at the time of booking. Also, some are giving fairly good amounts of onboard credit for you to spend while on the ship. I still think cruises are the best vacation value available when you consider what you get for your fare. Included is your stateroom, all meals onboard unless you dine in extra charge restaurants, and entertainment.
With few exceptions the standard fare in the ships dining rooms is very good and there is really no need to dine in the extra charge dining rooms. It can be pleasurable if you don’t mind spending the extra money to “feel” very posh. You do have to be careful of your budget on any ship today. There are so many temptations to spend the extra bucks. Shore excursions have become generally expensive compared to what they were a few years ago. Sometimes it’s less expensive to hire a cab or join a small group on the dock after you get off in a port and join a group to do an island tour, beach excursion and so on. I have found it to be often less than half the price you pay for a ship’s tour. The down side to this is that the cab may break down and if you are in the “boonies” you may not be able to get back on the ship before it sails. This happens rarely, however.
Beverages on ships are not a bargain anymore, so keep track or your expenses here if you are on a budget.
So, with that, let’s discuss some more travel possibilities for you.
Oceania Cruises, an up-market Line is offering Alaska cruises this year. One I can recommend is a May 12 departure for a 14-day voyage from San Francisco up the West Coast calling at Victoria, Sitka, cruising Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, cruising Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau, Ketchikan, the inside passage, Vancouver, Astoria retuning to San Francisco. May is sometimes a very good weather month in Alaska and this cruise itinerary pretty much does all the more popular sightseeing points. Sailing to and from San Francisco is a pleasure passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and the views around the Bay are always spectacular. Oceania is offering 2-for-1 fares plus free airfare and other promotional advantages this coming season. I suggest your contacting an experienced travel professional for more details and a brochure.
If you like small boat vessels accommodating few passengers giving you up-close views of the country from the sea prospective and stopping at interesting ports of call consider American Cruise Lines. The boats carry around 100 guests, give you onboard historians revealing fascinating details of the area you are cruising in, offer home-cooked style meals with American crews and provide good-sized staterooms. They are not inexpensive, but can provide you with many rewarding travel experiences.
One 7-night cruise in June will give you a sail around the waters of the state of Maine calling at Rockland, Boothbay Harbor, Bar Harbor, Camden, Belfast, Castline, Bath and return to Portland. Call for more information and a brochure at: 1-800-894-8570.
Ever visit New York City? Tauck Tours can give you six days and a “bite of the Big Apple.” With this company you will be traveling in private motor coaches, limos and have a ferry ride. Included in the tour are mid-town Manhattan, the Upper West Side and Hudson River south to Times Square and then, Ellis Island. Walking tours follow in the footsteps of history taking you to the World Trade Center site, Chinatown and Little Italy. You will drive past concrete canyons, towering skyscrapers and famous landmarks including Radio City Music Hall, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. Then you tour the famous theatre district and see a leading show live on the stage, and dine in a New York deli. Your hotel will be the world famous Waldorf-Astoria.
Tauck is a fine tour company and you can be assured they will do their best to have you enjoy your vacation.
Another interesting tour in the good old United States is titled “Patriots of America.” For eight days you tour those areas of our nation that you studied in school as a kid. You will visit Colonial Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon, Washington D.C, Gettysburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia. This itinerary progresses through the early beginnings of our nation. It is also operated by Tauck Tours.
This tour company can show you the Canadian Rockies, Europe and other interesting areas in the finest of style. Visit www.tauck.com or call 1-800-468-2825.
River cruising and small ship cruising is catching on with North American travelers and have become very popular. You can cruise the rivers and waterways through much of Europe, Egypt (when it becomes safe again), China, the Galapagos Islands and more. These riverboats are now quite deluxe with large staterooms (many with balconies), provide wonderful dining, have large and sunny public rooms and offer up-close experiences in the towns and cities they cruise into. What I particularly enjoy is the fact that there is always scenery outside the boats windows. There is much less motor coach travel from place to place and you can often go on your own and wonder around the various locations you stop at.
Your stateroom may have a large, sliding glass window and the balcony will be just outside to sit and enjoy the passing scenery. What a way to go! There will be lectures onboard that will help you decide what to do in each port and shore excursions will be available to those who wish an organized tour. In Europe, some of the evenings will offer tours to theater events as well as concerts and opera performances. These riverboats are now fine resorts in themselves. If you don’t want “sea days” as often occurs on ocean cruising, riverboats are the way to go.
You can cruise the waterways through Alsace and Germany, The Danube, the Rhine, Central Europe on through the Black Sea with a lot in between. Two companies I can recommend are Avalon Waterways and Viking River Cruises. Consult your travel agent for more information and brochures.
If you have never cruised the South Pacific, Holland America Line can give you Australia and New Zealand sailing from Auckland on a 14-day memorable cruise departing Oct. 24 and Nov. 21, 2011. The ship is the very comfortable Volendam carrying only 1,400 passengers. The itinerary includes stops at Taurango, Napier, Wellington, Picton, and Lyttelton for Christchurch, Dunedin, cruising the fjorlands in New Zealand, then crossing the Tasman Sea to visit Tasmania, then Melbourne and ending in Sydney, Australia. With so many stops in New Zealand it will give you an overview of this spectacular nation with its vast beauty, friendly people and good buys on wool sweaters and other articles. Your camera will be continually clicking!
If time and money are no object, consider Holland America Lines smaller ship, the Princendam, departing Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. March 12, 2012 for the ship’s Grand Mediterranean and Black Sea Voyage. A 62-day European Odyssey that departs for a transatlantic cruise first stopping at Fuinchal, Madeira, Portugal, then Seville, Spain before calling at more ports with high points that include Tunisia, Malta, Turkey, Romania, the Ukraine, Greece, Albania, Croatia, Italy, France, Morocco, Lisbon, the Azores and return to Ft. Lauderdale.
The Princendam began life in the later 1980s as the Royal Viking Sun and is only 38,000 gross tons carrying 835 guests. Holland America Line purchased the ship a few years ago, gave it a complete up-date and is the perfect size in my view for a long voyage. Holland America Line may be contacted on line at www.hollandamerica.com.
The ultimate vacation to me would be a round the world cruise. Several are offered each year. You can obtain detailed information from your travel professional.
Enjoy your vacation!