Unique Vacations

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Every now and then I come across vacations that are truly unique. They are simply not the standard offerings from tour and cruise lines. I’ll give you the names of the tour operators and cruise lines in this article.

Uncommon Journeys has put together an interesting itinerary which it calls “North by Northwest”. The vacation involves free train travel from any California point to Los Angeles where you begin your trip with lunch on board the famous Queen Mary docked in Long Beach Harbor. Then, board NCL’s Norwegian Pearl and head north out to sea.

The next day is spent cruising the waters of the Pacific. There will be lectures and parties aboard. On the second morning you will sail under the Golden Gate Bridge and dock for a full day in San Francisco. Various shore excursions will be offered, or you may simply take a cab to the middle of town and explore. Ride one of the famed cable cars and also visit China Town and perhaps have lunch or go over to the Ferry Building to shop the stores and have lunch there. Later, walk around Union Square then take a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf for crab Louie before returning to your ship. Your dock will be close to everything the city has to offer.

Then it is out to sea again to cruise along the California and Oregon coast and then a stop at Astoria, Ore. You steam up the Columbia River where you dock. Here are several interesting places to visit and among them is the Nautical Museum, which you will find most interesting.

Your next port of call will be lovely Victoria, B.C. You can explore the famed Butchart Gardens and have tea at the lovely Empress Hotel located next to the bay with many boats tied up waiting to go fishing. This will be one of your most popular ports of call.

Next, your ship will visit Nanaimo, B.C. where nearby are rainforests and beautiful flowers. The town will be fun to walk through.

Then it’s to Vancouver, B.C. where you will have the opportunity to visit Gastown with all its interesting shops, Stanley Park, China Town and other locations.

Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the West and after your visit here you will understand why I say this. It is surrounded by water and beautiful parks.

Now, travel south to Seattle via Talgo train. It takes just a few hours and the scenery will be some of the best on the trip. At Seattle you check into your deluxe hotel and then visit Pikes Place Market, historic Pioneer Square and the waterfront area. You will sleep well this night at the Mayflower Park Hotel.

Next day, board another train for the scenic ride to Portland. Here, you will visit rose gardens and much more. Portland is a very interesting city.

Now, its time to head east on the Columbia River to visit the Gorge, Crown Point Mountain House and Multnomah Falls.

The trip ends here and you can return home by air or train from Portland.

The operator is Uncommon Journeys, phone 1-800-543-2846. There is only one departure for this 14-day trip – April 29, 2012. To learn more visit the Web site.

A rail trip across Canada

Several times since I have been writing this column I have discussed the wonderful train trip across Canada on their streamlined Canadian traveling from Toronto to Vancouver. Again, Uncommon Journeys has put together a wonderful itinerary using this fully re-furbished Budd built train, which has been doing this run for more than 50 years. You can now have large private rooms with your own bath as well as coach accommodations.

Here is the itinerary: fly to Toronto, check into your deluxe hotel and later visit Niagara Falls. There will be Toronto sightseeing, then board the lovely Canadian for your trip across the country. The food will be cooked to order aboard in the diner and there will be lounge cars with bars and plenty of room to meet new travelers enroute. You will visit Jasper National Park for an overnight stay at the Amethyst Lodge and tour Banff via the Columbia Icefields Parkway and even ride on the glacier itself on a special vehicle.

From beautiful Banff you re-board the Canadian for your trip to Vancouver. Here, you will visit all the important sights of this amazing and colorful city before traveling home.

Again, there is one departure only for the 12-night trip: May 10.

Phone: 1-800-543-2846 for more information and a brochure or visit the Web site.

Hit the rivers

American Cruise Lines will be operating the classic steamer Queen of the West on the Columbia River out of Portland, Ore. beginning this spring. You will have a cabin on a paddle wheel steam boat operating 7-day cruises to visit Astoria, Fort Clastop, Steavensen, The Dalles, Richland, Hells Canyon and much more. Included will be a three-hour tour of Portland, which you will find fascinating. Cruises begin in April. Phone 1-866-975-9050 for more information.

And, speaking of riverboat cruising, check out Uncommon Journeys American Legends trip operating July 2, 2012 to include a special 4th of July fireworks display in St. Louis as well as city sightseeing, and then board the classic American Queen paddle wheel riverboat to cruise south on the Mississippi River to visit fascinating towns and cities along the river. The boats calliope will play at each stop as you disembark to explore the towns. The 10-day trip will end in Louisville, Ky. Phone 1-800-543-2846 for more information.

Another riverboat, the Grand American Queen will also ply the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers this year and you can enjoy wonderful vacations on this vessel as well. It will be the largest of the riverboats cruising American rivers this year. A fall color cruise would also be enjoyable. Phone American Cruise Lines for a brochure, 1-866-975-9050.

See New Zealand

Other unique vacations can be found with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic tour and cruise operators. All of their offerings are special and carried out in a professional manner. One trip that I particularly like is exploring New Zealand’s North and South Islands. This is one of the few other countries in which I could live.

This 17-day tour departs Dec. 17, 2012 and the tour operator will show you all the details of this amazing nation. You travel aboard National Geographic’s Oceanic Discoverer, move into your cabin and that is it. No shuffling around checking in and out of hotels. You will have the opportunity of exploring an active volcano, Maori culture, cruising Milford Sound and everything in-between in this most scenic country. All the towns and cities are fascinating and I guarantee you will enjoy every minute of your trip. New Zealand can’t be beat in my opinion; there are beaches, mountains, and friendly people. What could be nicer? And you will be there in the middle of their summer. Phone 1-800-397-3348 for more information.

More unique cruising

Lindblad Expeditions is also offering an 8-night adventure sailing around Greece and Turkey in the famous Sea Cloud sailboat. It once belonged to E. F. Hutton and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post. Built in 1931 with 32 cabins and suites, the 360-foot boat is completely modern in every respect and extremely comfortable.

You fly to Istanbul, Turkey for a stay at the Four Seasons hotel before taking a complete tour of the city and environs, then board the Sea Cloud to visit Ephesus, Didyium, Bodrum, Santorini, Delos and ending in Piraeus which is the port for Athens. You can purchase an optional Athens tour and if you have never visited here, I urge you to do it. Athens offers so much in history and beauty. I was there late last year again and enjoyed every minute of sightseeing. The tour departs May 27, 2012; phone 1-800-697-3348 for more information.

This same tour operator will also sail you on their National Geographic Explorer for 14 days around the British and Irish Isles, plus a visit to London. The voyage includes: Dartmouth, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher, County Donegal, Ireland, Iona and Staffa, inner Herbrides, Scotland, Inverewe, Orkney Islands, Fair Isle and Mousa, the Shetland Islands and ends in Bergen, Norway.

This is certainly a unique vacation and you can phone 1-800-697-3348 for more details, pricing and the departure, which is May 15.

Consult your travel agent for more unique vacations. There are many.

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