Holiday Club Deals
Receive the latest and greatest deals and some great
Holiday Club Deals
Receive the latest and greatest deals and some great
An Interview With Carla Nelson
How many years have you been selling travel?
I have been selling travel since 1993, as an previous owner of the Cranbrook branch, just recently relocating to the Edmonton Strathcona branch, for a new chapter. I have added Regional Trainer to my resume which is very enjoyable. I love selling cruises, and digging into a complicated itinerary! I love escorting adventure groups to far flung parts of the world. Recently I have added to my training in luxury product, and am a member of Virtuoso Luxury Travel, specializing in partnership with Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
What are your hobbies?
I am a Rotarian,. Ok that's not a hobby.... I belong to a gym. I love a good book. I'm a bit of a wine snob. And coffee snob. Lol. I am a hiker, walker, trekker - if I can walk there, that's my preferred mode of transportation. And, of course, I love to travel!
What type of resort activities do you favor? ie water sports, lounging by the pool, etc?
A long beach good for walking, then a quiet pool with a cool drink. Snorkeling, hiking, people watching. I'd actually rather be on a cruise ship doing 'resort activities'! But I am not too much into resorts these days, more into adventure and experiential travel.
What are your favorite destinations?
I love to CRUISE! Just about anywhere and on any size of ship, including river cruises. I love Europe, especially France, Spain, Portugal and Italy (who doesn't?). Iceland, Peru and Nepal for hiking. Bali, Dubai...my new favourites include most of South America, and I've just experienced India, Morocco and Jordan..wow. Ok I have lots of favourites!
What languages do you speak?
Only English is understandable...my French and Spanish work in urgent situations (bano...bano...!!). I've taken beginner Spanish about 3 times...muy bien, mucho palabras...
Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru
Sun (Mexico, Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii)
All Inclusives, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Club Med, Cuba, Disney, Dominican Republic, Florida, Grenada, Hawaii, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, West Indies
Alaska, Arizona, Boston, California, Chicago, Florida, Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado, Texas
Coach Tours, England, Wales
United Arab Emirates, Jordan
Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Safari
China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Thailand
Alberta, Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, Central, Eastern, Northwest Territories , Western, Yukon
Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama
Alaska Cruise, Avalon Waterways, Bermuda Cruise, Carnival Cruise, Celebrity Cruise, Eastern Caribbean, Europe Cruise, European River Cruising, Florida, Holland America, Mediterranean, Mexican Riviera, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Panama Canal Cruise, Princess Cruises, RCCL, River Cruising, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Southern Caribbean, Sun Cruises, Viking River Cruise, Western Caribbean, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Seabourn Cruise Line
Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Coach Tours, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Scandinavia, Slovenia, Sweden
US Virgin Islands
I participated in a G Adventures fam trip to mainland Ecuador in June 2022. Quito is high elevation so weather was fall temperatures. Single digits at night, 20+C during the day, rain and sun. Very mountainous countryside. We experienced the 'Swing at the end of the world' at Devil's Cauldron, yes, a swing out over the edge of a mountain. Scary! We had opportunities for ziplining, canyoning, hiking, and spa. We visited Tena, entrance to the Ecuadorian jungle. We did a home-stay at Pimpilala Cabanas, off grid, family run subsistence farm and lodge, where we experienced jungle walks, whitewater rafting, learned Quichua rituals, and tasted new food.Due to indigenous protests and road blocks, we were evacuated from the jungle in the middle of the night to ensure we could travel to our next stop - Papallacta, a hot springs resort. Beautiful log cabins with hot, lazy river pools meandering through the property. Hop in and out wherever you like! Following our stay there, it was back to Quito and the end of the fam. We visited Telefriqo - a cable car to the top of a mountain, 4000m at the top, where there were swings and cool photo ops!I treated myself by staying at the JW Marriott in Quito for a few nights, before continuing on my adventure to the Galapagos. This hotel is fabulous! A great location within walking distance of markets, shops, restaurants and bars. Greeted at check-in by white gloved butlers in top hats with champagne, and it just got better! My room had a view of Cotopaxi, the striking volcano just outside of Quito. Luxurious rooms, VIP Lounge, spa and pools. Great food, cocktails and service. And because it is Ecuador, VERY affordable!Following the fam, I hired Ecuador Family Tours (a recommendation from a friend), a local family run small company that provides airport services and local sightseeing tours. Johnny doesn't speak much English, but a great driver, and his wife, Gabby is an English speaking licensed tour guide. I visited Mindo Cloud Forest, with a chocolate factory tour, visit to Nambilla Falls, and stop at 'Mitad del Mundo' - Middle of the World. This complex houses the Equatorial Museum, Ancestral homes, and the Equator monument. At the Museum, you can participate in interactive experiments with north and south lines, balancing, watching water swirl, looking at sundials and feeling weight differences in your body. Science is cool!Next up - Galapagos with Intrepid Tours.
Another 'COVID' trip - off to San Jose! Stayed in the Hotel Autentico in Sabana, a nice area of the city and a nice clean, local hotel with courtyard, restaurant/bar and pool. It was rainy season in CR, so it rains hard several times every day, but only for a short while! After meeting the G group, we were off! Visited a coffee plantation, La Cafecita, a Planeterra project, on our way to the Eco-Arenal hotel for the night. Found a new juice I like - guanabana - with milk, it's a soursop milkshake! During the day, we did a volcano hike and a hot river soak. The last big eruption of Arenal was in 1968, but still considered active. The next day we travelled from Fortuna to Monteverde, crossing Lake Arenal by boat, which got us closer to Monteverde and our hotel, Hotel Cipreses. I took an independent hike in Curi-Cancha nature preserve, and chased a Blue Morpho butterfly until I got the great camera shot! This is the cloud forest and by early afternoon, the clouds blanket the valley for the rest of the day. We visited the Hanging Bridges in the cloud forest. There was also ziplining available nearby. Following Monteverde, we travelled to Quepos, home of Manuel Antonio National Park, a great place for beaches and natural walking trails. We saw monkeys, iguana, agouti and exotic birds. I found a lovely secluded beach in Manuel Antonio, Playa Biesanz, not well marked and more locals than tourists. It was interesting being in Costa Rica during COVID. There were no nightclubs open, so no latin dancing, which was a shame. You can tell locals have suffered from lack of tourism during the pandemic. It is a beautiful, lush country with an emphasis on eco-tourism, but the majority of the land is privately owned and there are many commercial ventures - ziplines, canyoning, rafting, party catamarans - and for me, this takes away some of the magic and beauty of the country. Don't hesitate to go in rainy season, it's extremely humid and temperatures are 25-30C, but the rains are short and intense, and do not interfere with much.
Carla's SAILING ADVENTURE - November 2021 Taking advantage of my free time during our COVID slowdown, I ventured out of my comfort zone and decided to catamaran through the BVI's with G Adventures. Out of my comfort zone because, although I love being 'on' the water, I am a bit of a chicken when I'm 'in' it! And seasickness was a concern. Getting to Tortola from Canada is not the easiest and requires a few stops so you need to travel light and pack your patience. I travelled via Toronto and Antigua to reach Tortola. From there, you have to get to Beef Island for the ferry from Trellis Bay to Scrub Island to board the catamaran. Our upgraded boat was 62' with galley and 4 passenger cabins, wifi, A/C, 2 captains and an attendant. The next thing you need to know is there is only one big bed in each cabin, so be prepared to get friendly with your roommate! A/C is a mixed blessing onboard, as the generators at night are very noisy and I often wished they were off, but it was too hot to do that. I dealt with my possible seasickness by taking a non-drowsy Gravol every morning whether it was rough or not, and I had no problems at all! Our itinerary for the week was basically sailing between one or two islands per day and having time to explore for a bit on each one, and some beach, swimming, or snorkelling thrown in. Dinners were often on land as we hitched to a mooring ball at night. We were transported from our mooring ball to land by our on-board Zodiac. First island we sailed to was Virgin Gorda. Enroute, we sailed by Necker Island and Mosquito Island, both owned by Richard Branson. Not sure if he was in residence or not! On land, we took an open-air truck around the island, visiting the Sweet Willy Ice bar, the 'Baths' - huge granite boulders pushed around by Mother Nature with the ocean coursing between them, ropes and climbs required! Next day we sailed to Anegada Island, small and underdeveloped. We rented a truck for the day and explored the island, visiting a flamingo pond, empty beaches, coming across Cow Wreck Beach and Tipsy's Bar, a make-your-own-drink bar. Interesting concept! For dinner, we enjoyed huge fresh lobster at Potter's by the Sea restaurant and danced on the outdoor stage. The next day of sailing took us first to Monkey Bay on Guana Island for snorkelling. Snorkelling equipment is provided, but if you're not a strong ocean swimmer, I would recommend bringing your own swimming lifejacket, as G does not provide guided snorkelling excursions. Water was beautifully warm and clear, but not many fish around with so many sailboats moored. Following our snorkel, we sailed to Jost Van Dyke. A small island with one main street along the beach. Home of the Soggy Dollar Bar with Gertrude's right next door, both about 2km away from the downtown. Beautiful beaches, great tropical cocktails and island music. We ate supper at Ali Baba's, a great little seafood restaurant, followed by a visit to Foxy's, a landmark outdoor nightclub on the beach, before calling it a night. Part 2 sailing to more islands in the BVI's - stay tuned for my experience with a jumping cactus!
Sailing the BVI's with G Adventures - Part 2 From Jost Van Dyke, we hoisted the main sails and headed to Norman Island, making land at Pirate Bight early afternoon. All the regular suspects - beach, bars and warm water! Later we went by zodiac to Willy T's Floating Barge Bar, a wild and crazy place! Silly Willy rum drinks, temporary tattoos in inappropriate places, jumping from the barge into the ocean, with or without bathing suits - almost anything goes here! On to Cooper Island for some snorkelling and beach time. I decided to do a hike instead along the rocky shoreline and ended up encountering a very nasty Cholla 'jumping' cactus! I had to pluck needles from my calves and back of my hands. Painful and a little bloody! (Update: several months later back at home, actually had to have my doctor surgically remove one spine from my hand as it got very infected. All good now.) The next day was our last day on the catamaran. We motored back to Tortola, packed up, and bid our crew farewell, as we disembarked at Scrub Island. Some of my group stayed the night at the Scrub Island Resort, a beautiful Marriott property. I stayed back in Tortola at the Wyndham Resort for the next 2 nights, which was also lovely (and less expensive!). Flew InterCaribbean back to Antigua. They are prop planes and quick rides, but the schedule is fairly unreliable so be careful with connections. My overall impressions of sailing the BVI's: Nothing very cultural or historic. Not very active and could turn into a 'booze cruise'. The islands and the sea are postcard beautiful. Sailing is peaceful and serene, but if you have to motor, then it just feels like a taxi service from A to B. People are fun and friendly and everyone is on 'island time'. Catamarans have some tight spaces and everyone needs to like each other. Seasickness is easy to avoid with regular non-drowsy meds, and staying high on the boat when there is movement. You should be comfortable being in the water as swimming, snorkelling and jumping off the boat are regular activities. Water is bathtub warm! Pack very few clothes. You are always in shorts or bathing suits, need no makeup, no shoes onboard or at the beach. Get an easy haircut! There are jellyfish. There are stinging cacti. They don't recycle in the islands. Everything is expensive (USD). There is evidence of past hurricane damage from years ago. On to the next adventure! Ecuador & the Galapagos!
If it hadn't been for COVID, I never would have thought of going hiking in Utah. Way too close to home for me. But I was looking to get away and my choices were limited with all the restrictions and requirements. It turned out to be a spectacular trip - short flight to Vegas, great weather in September, epic scenery, and a really fun hiking and camping group. Our first visit was to Reef National Park, home of the Capitol Reef mountain range. This trip was a camping trip so we stayed in campgrounds along the way. As a group, we had rotating assigned duties, which worked really well! After dark, we headed to Panorama Point for star-gazing, a popular spot with big, flat rocks to lay on. The next day, in Reef National Park, we hiked Waterpocket Fold to Cassidy Arch (yes, that Cassidy - Butch! - he hung out here to escape the law) - the views along the hike were great. Next up - Moab. The first night in Moab, we headed to Dead Horse Point for sunset. Again nice flat rocks to lay on, great colours in the sunset, and bright stars. The next day we hiked the Chester Park Loop in Canyonlands National Park. This hike is near Needles. We hiked through a slot canyon and around some interesting rock formations. The following day, about 30 minutes from Moab, is Arches National Park, where we rose before sunrise to capture the sun coming up at Delicate Arch. We climbed a steep path, with headlamps, to the top to get a fantastic view of Delicate Arch as we watched the sun come up. Then we spent a few hours hiking around Devil's Garden, a short drive away. There are many Arches located in the Garden - Landscape Arch is 380 feet wide; Double O Arch is as it sounds, a double arch; and Tunnel Arch. Close by are the 'Windows' - yup, more arches - over 2500 of them in this National Park. New ones are created constantly by the wind, rain and gravity, and as they are discovered, they are named and added to Arches National Park. Back through Capitol Reef park, we entered the Dixie National Forest. Here we found 'Escalante', the Grand Staircase, which depicts the steps in elevation of the parks, from newest to oldest formations - Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon. We drove the 'Scenic Byway', one of the top 5 drives in the USA, from Calf Creek to Bryce Canyon. Our first evening in Bryce Canyon, we went star-gazing at Sunset Point. This time we viewed the Milky Way and several planets. The next morning, we travelled to Bryce Sunrise Point to watch the sun come up. Once it did, we headed out on a loop hike of the Hoodoos. Gorgeous colours, formations and quite the maze of sandstone figures! The next park we visited was Zion. An early morning departure to get to Angel's Landing and the Narrows all in one day! Angel's Landing is an iconic hike that many people want to check off the bucket list. An hour's steady climb gets you to Scout's Landing where you prepare to ascend Angel's. There are chains and narrow ledges, and a steady stream of andrenalin-seeking tourists waiting to complete this hike. Since I was there, you now have to purchase passes for the mountain, in order to control the volume and ensure safety. If you don't feel up to Angel's, there are a couple hikes from Scout's - the West Rim Loop and Emerald Pools trail. Later in the day, we travelled to the Narrows in the Virgin River. You rent waterproof hiking boots and a walking pole, and start walking through varying depths of water through the canyon. Depending on the time of year, the water can be knee deep, thigh deep, or waist/chest high. It's an interesting experience and of course, the views in the canyon are spectacular! That evening, we all fell asleep on the shuttle bus back to camp. What a week! Total distance hiked - 132 km. In six days of actual hiking, we averaged over 22 km per day. Who knew? Utah rocks!
Off to Africa for a month! Combining G Adventures Kilimanjaro Rongai Route and G Adventures Hike South Africa tours. Private group of 10 for Kili and private group of 15 for South Africa. Arrived in Moshi for the start of our Kili tour a couple nights early to deal with jet lag. We purchased a couple of local tours - one to the Materuki Waterfall with a coffee plantation visit on the return; and a full day Tarangire National Park safari tour, which was well worth it. A 3.5 hour drive, we spent 6 hours on safari. We saw so many animals! Giraffe, impala, warthogs, mongoose, ostrich, monkeys, wildebeest, cheetah, elephant, antelope, water buffalo and baboon! Our G Adventures Kili hike was next. We had one CEO, 3 assistant guides, 30 porters and 1 chef for our group. One thing I learned is that you can rent portable toilets for your group for $40 USD per person for the duration of the trip. We did this, had 2 toilets for our group, and it was the best decision ever, as they were clean and close to our tents! First day of our hike, we drove 3 hours to the Rongai Gate. Then we walked about 9km to reach Simba Camp. 2750m. Easy hike. Day 2 was 7 hours, 13km to reach Kikelawa Camp. 3600m. Last couple hours started to get tough as we gained elevation. Our heart rates and oxygen levels were measured by the guides daily. Day 3 was rainy. We climbed to Mawnzi Tarn at 4300m. I started to feel the effects of altitude sickness - headache, vomiting, no appetite. Oxygen rate starting to drop. Day 4 we hiked to Kibo Hut, considered to be Base Camp, elevation 4720m. A very tough day. My symptoms worsened. Only a few of my group were feeling good, none great. This is where you rest until the push to the summit, beginning at 11pm. I decided my body was not going to let me try to summit, so did not go. The rest of my group attempted the summit - 5 made it! The others turned back at various stages after 1-3 hours. It was very cold, windy, and dark. This is a serious hike and altitude plays a huge factor. The summit hike takes at least 10 hours, maybe less if the weather cooperates. My group reached Uhura Peak in a blizzard! So they made it - but no view! 28km round trip from Kibo to the Peak. While they were gone, I tried to sleep, but with worsening symptoms, it was tough. The only solution would be to descend in order to feel better, so it was a rough night. I didn't eat food or drink much water for about 48 hours. Day 5 - after the summiters rested, we descended to the Horombo Hut, 5 hour hike, to 3720m. Descending 1000m made a world of difference for me - suddenly, my headache and nausea disappeared and I was ravenous for food! During the night, I left my tent to go to the toilet and was amazed at the full moon and starry skies. Still very cold, but clear skies and breathtakingly beautiful! The landscape is bleak, volcanic mountains and lava fields, almost zero vegetation, a few alpine flowers and field mice. It's pretty, but in a vast way - the expanse and forces of nature make it what it is. Day 6 we hiked from Horombo to the Marangu Gate, down to 1879m, all 19km downhill! We started the day in down coats and ended it in tank tops. The ecosystem changed from mountain alpine to tropical rainforest with monkeys and lush vegetation. Once back at the Gate, it was an hour bus ride back to Moshi. Our guides and porters sang traditional songs all the way! Upon arrival, celebrations were underway for our accomplishments! My final thoughts about Kilimanjaro - take the most days you can to do this trek. There are a couple longer routes than Rongai, and in hindsight, I wish we had done one of those. You need to acclimatize slowly and the more days the more likely you will summit. I had hiked high elevation mountains before in Peru and Nepal, but had more time to acclimatize and I was successful at summitting, with very few elevation symptoms. Kili almost killed me, but I still feel like I conquered the mountain! On to South Africa in Part 2!
In Part 1, I told you about my experience with the 'Mountain' - Kilimanjaro! Though I was disappointed that I did not summit, and considered returning to do just that, I have now come back to that old adage - 'it's not the destination, it's the journey' - and it was an amazing journey! We had one night to rest in Moshi before heading to South Africa. There were some mishaps - hotel room disaster (my fault, not theirs); last minute major airline schedule changes (definitely their fault); and one of my group who slept through their early morning wake up alarm (you know who you are!) - but despite all that, we endured the long day enroute to Capetown! Day 1 & 2 were orientation days in Capetown. We explored the V&A (Victoria & Albert) Waterfront area, the 'Cape Wheel' ferris wheel, and took a short harbour cruise. This is a beautifully scenic city with a stunning coastline and mountains. Day 3 we visited Cape Point & Penguin City at Boulder's Beach. The Cape is bleak and rugged. We hiked to the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost tip of Africa, then had fun watching the playful, stinky penguins - hundreds of them! On Day 4, we tackled Table Mountain. It was a steep climb, with some scrambling near the top. We arrived 2.5 hours later at the top, where we rewarded ourselves with beer and an incredible view! Cable car down - only 5 minutes! Day 5 began our journey from Capetown towards Johannesburg where we would end in two weeks time. Today we travelled though wine country (with a tasting stop, of course!) and farmland until we reached Oudtshoorn, know for the largest ostrich farms in the world. On day 6, our first stop was to the Cango Caves - magnificent stalagmites and stalagtites. Next stop - a working ostrich farm, where we learned that these birds have great eyesight, strong necks and their meat has zero fat. Past Oudtshoorn we entered an area known for timber production, and a commercial port on the Indian Ocean. On Day 6, we hiked the Otter Trail to a waterfall. Lots of boulder scrambling along the ocean, 6.5km round trip. The last stop on the first week of our tour was in Addo Elephant National Park. Along the drive, we visited Jeffries Bay, a popular retirement community; Port Elizabeth, a huge industrial automotive city, and the large township (aka - slum) of Motherwell, with high unemployment, crime and poverty. Addo Elephant National park was established in 1931 with only 11 elephants and is now home to over 600 elephants and other large animals. We saw zebra, hartebeest, jackal, hyena, and kudu (antelope family). It is magical watching these animals in the wild! Next - week 2 in South Africa
Continuing with my 'Hike South Africa' journey, we travelled from Addo Elephant Park to Graaff-Reinet, a 3 hour drive. Along the way, the springbok and impala sprinted with us, as well as the Oryx, the national animal of Namibia, of the antelope family. Strange looking with straight up skewering horns! We followed the Mohair route (mohair made from goat's wool) and visited the Valley of Desolation. This excursion was 3 hours long and we rode in open air safari 4X4 Jeeps. At the top, we paused for Sundowners (happy hour) and watched the sunset. Later, back at the B&B, I discovered I love Dom Pedros (whiskey milkshake), a well-known beverage in South Africa! The next day (day 8) we crossed the Orange River on our way to Lesotho, a land locked country, and the bread belt of Africa. We stopped at Malealea Village for the night - beehive huts in the country - no recycling here, but the staff performed for us on instruments made of junk, and they had a maze made out of wine and beer bottles. On day 10, we headed back to South Africa towards Drakensberg. The next day we hiked the Thugela Gorge in the Drakensberg Mountains - 23km round trip to the gorge and waterfall. Day 12 was a travel day to Cape Saint Lucia, a 7 hour drive. Along the way, we passed through Zulu-Natal province, home of the Zulu warriors; the port city of Durban; and visited the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. We walked the 'Walk of Freedom' and visited the interpretive museum. The next day, we swam in the Indian Ocean, and took a boat cruise on the Sant Lucia Estuary - hippos, crocs! They were so much fun to watch and listen to! Day 14 saw us travelling again, this time to Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). Eswatini has never been colonized and is a monarchy. The 47 year old king has 12 wives! In Mlilwane (capital city), we visited the National Park & Chief's Village - the chief is a woman! After a nice visit we headed back to our beehive hut accommodation for the night. Those things make me claustrophobic! End of week 2!
Last week of my 'Hike South Africa' tour! On the move again, leaving Eswatini and heading to Kruger National Park. We had a lot of fun in Eswatini, learning some Sawati language, customs and dances. The next day, we crossed the White River and saw huge banana plantations, as well as mango and guava groves. This area produces the most macadamia nuts in the world. We stopped at Hazyview, gateway to the Kruger game reserve. Up early the next day for a full time of safari wildlife viewing, and it did not disappoint! Zebra, elephant, hippo, giraffe, tortoise, hyena, wildebeest, kudu, steenbok, baboon, warthog, leopard, cape buffalo, monkey, and LION - 3 male lions and 1 lioness lounging in the savannah - we were lucky to see them! We started our day at 530am and left the park at 330pm, so it was a long day but non-stop viewings in our open air safari jeeps. Very rewarding! After a night of comparing safari viewing notes (our group was in several vehicles) and being entertained by energetic dancers and a lovely meal, we had a much needed rest for the night. The next day we were off to Johannesburg. Jo-burg is in the Golden province, established in 1886 due to the discovery of gold. Soweto is the biggest township (slum) in South Africa. In 1976, there was a Soweto uprising protesting Aparteid and and the Africaans language. Many students were killed. The Aparteid Musuem is located here. Our trip ended in Johannesburg and we all returned home with fabulous memories. This was a long time to travel, but it was so interesting. We felt like we really got to experience Africa - some of my group said that 'Africa changed me forever' - as you get to know the people, live with them, let them tell you stories and how day to day life is - you have a much deeper understanding of this destination. The travel days were long sometimes, but our guides told us stories, fed us full of facts and history, and we all got to know each other better. South Africa still has many problems, racism is still very evident, and poverty, drought, food shortages and unemployment among black and coloreds (these are very acceptable terms there, and how they refer to themselves) is present in most provinces. The white Africaans own 90% of the land, but are only 10% of the population, so you can see how unbalanced it still is. Nelson Mandela and his changes made a huge difference, but there's still a ways to go. I hope they get there. It's a magical country. That wraps up my Africa trip - next up Hiking the National Parks of Utah in September 2021!
PERU G ADVENTURES CHANGEMAKERS CONFERENCE JUNE 2019 In the spring of 2019 I found out I had been selected to attend the first ever G Adventure Changemakers Conference for agents in Peru. The selection was based on how many 'lives changed' during a measurement period, and I had a great year changing lives through travel! There were 140 agents from around the globe and many G employees. The founder, Bruce Poon Tip, even made an appearance and partied with us at the wrap up gala evening. In Lima, we met with small companies that G had provided loans to to enable them to start up businesses. This included Bite Peru, a gastronomy experience, now offered to G travellers and other tourists. We travelled to Cusco and the Sacred Valley and visited Planeterra projects. Planeterra is the non-profit arm of G Adventures and is their way of giving back to the communities that we visit, by using travel as a force for good. We visited Ccacacollo in the Sacred Valley, a women's weaving project that began in 2005 with 3 women and now employs over 60 women. This community has thrived as a cooperative where all income is shared. We visited Parwa Restaurant, which is also a training facility for the food industry, and began in 2014. We had quite the party there following our delicious lunch! We were offered to try Essengia Edena products. This is a project that began in 2012 to develop biodegradable products for the Inca Trail and hotels. A great idea! G Adventures core values include 'do the right thing'. For them, this means ensuring that porters have the proper equipment, animal and child welfare guidelines are followed and volun-tourism opportunities are limited. This trip was quick, informative, and fun! So great to be among like-minded agents and a sustainable tourism company like G Adventures.
AVALON WATERWAYS ACTIVE & DISCOVERY CRUISE ON THE RHINE JUNE 2019 Right on the heels of returning from Peru, I was off again. This time on a beautiful trip to Europe – a relaxing river cruise on the Avalon Panorama, but with a twist – this was one of Avalon's new 'Active & Discovery' itineraries. I'll soon tell you more. But first, let me tell you about a hotel gem in Frankfurt – Villa Kennedy. This 5-star historic hotel is only 15 minutes from the airport and within walking distance of the Sachenhausen (Old City), home to markets, bars, restaurants, and shops surrounded by the beautiful gardens of the main square. The staff at Villa Kennedy are very attentive – the doorman handed me a cool towel and bottle of water when he spotted me returning from a morning jog. Amenities are high end, including night cream by the bedside table. The open air courtyard restaurant and bar provide a quiet, private sanctuary. I had never actually stayed overnight in Frankfurt before, usually just transiting through, so it was a nice find! I boarded the Avalon Panorama in Mainz, just 30 minutes from Frankfurt. The ship has Avalon's famous wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows in place of stateroom balcony – a very large sliding door that creates a lovely open air french balcony, with seating area for viewing and sipping on your favorite beverage. There is a small fitness room, main restaurant, top deck open air restaurant with BBQ, L'Occitane amenities in the bathroom, small hot tub, 21-speed bicycles to take ashore, great local food, onboard entertainers, with mainly Eastern European crew. A new position, 'Adventure Host', has been added to these cruise itineraries. Onboard, you have access to fitbits, hiking poles, exercise gear, picnic blankets, yoga, pilates & stretch classes, as well as bicycles with helmuts and locks. The active excursions were not as active as I'd liked – I would rate them as leisurely to moderate, so often I cycled between the ports, which was great, as the distance was 30-40km along scenic bike paths. The guided hikes that I participated in were scenic and interesting, and available to most fitness levels. Jogging and kayaking excursions were offered, though not as popular! All the classic sightseeing tours are available on this itinerary, so taking the 'active' ones is not necessary. Optional excursions are offered for additional cost. I opted for a Microbrewery Tour – not sure why, as I'm really not a beer drinker! I participated in a Discovery Excursion in Amsterdam – Van Gogh painting class, offered by professional art teachers in their school. I actually came away with a painting that I could hang on my wall! Stops along the Rhine included Rudesheim, Bingen, Boppard, Koblenz, Engers, Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Arnhem, Nijmegen and Amsterdam. There were beautiful castles, cathedrals, monasteries, fortresses, museums, vineyards and more to explore. Some stops were for a few hours, others overnight. River cruising is relaxing, inspiring and enlightening. You travel in a small ship with only about 100 other guests. Ease of embarkation and disembarkation at ports is a highlight. When you come back to the ship after excursions, you meet your new friends in the lounge for a cocktail and soft music before dinner and discuss the highlights of your day. So civilized! Although river cruises come with a larger sticker price than other cruises, the inclusions make it great value. All your meals & snacks, most alcohol, specialty coffees, bottled water, choice of excursions & activities, wifi, and luxury accommodation is included. Promotions often extend free airfare, transfers, and gratuities. No formal wear, no assigned dining tables, no pressure! When you add it all up, it's great vacation!
INDIANA JONES, THE MARTIAN, MOSES – WHERE AM I? Part 1 of 3. I’m in a small, peaceful country bordered by chaos. A land-locked country with a rich history and a promising future. Yes, it is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan! I was fortunate to be able to join a group of travel agents last November for a 10-day adventure trip, planned by Intrepid Travel, one of our preferred small group adventure suppliers. Over 80% of Jordan is desert. To the north is Syria. To the east is Iraq. To the south, Saudi Arabia and a sea border with Egypt. To the west is the Dead Sea, Palestine and Israel. There are 9 million people living in Jordan, 2 million of Palestinian descent, over 1.3 million Syrian refugees, and many Iraqi Christians. The people are 95% Sunni Muslim. Although surrounded by war torn and politically turbulent countries, today, Jordan is calm, safe and inviting. They have no oil to fight over, and no important coastline for major transport. Their exports consist of phosphate, fertilizer, cement and potash. They produce some textiles for export, but the major industry is tourism. Since King Abdullah II’s appointment in 1999 and his regime of economic liberalism, with thanks to a highly educated and skilled workforce, foreign investment and a free trade zone have contributed to the prosperity of the country. To understand the importance of Jordan, you must look at the history. Jordan was ruled by the Nabatean (nomadic Arab) empire, the Romans, and the Ottomans. In 1921, it was a British Protectorate. It gained independence in 1946 and captured the West Bank, which became a political football and resulted in the creation of the state of Israel. In 1948, Jews left Germany and the Golan Heights and inhabited Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs left. The West Bank was part of Jordan until 1967 when, during a 6-day war, resulted in Jordan losing the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Israel. The Arabs that didn’t leave were eventually given Israeli passports, and the Palestinian refugees in Jordan were eventually given Jordanian passports. A peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1994. To say that these countries are not completely intertwined would be incorrect. On to the first adventure of my Jordanian visit! Wadi-Rum! This is ‘The Martian’ part of the story. The movie, starring Matt Damon, was filmed in Wadi-Rum, as it is supposed to resemble the landscape of Mars. Watching the movie after visiting this place, I would have to agree! This is original, nomadic Bedouin country, though the government now owns over 720 square kilometres as a protected biosphere. Wadi-Rum means ‘Valley of the Moon’. The monolithic sandstone rock formations are natural and were created from the Cambrian era (approx. 60 million years ago) to the pre-Jurassic era. Erosion from water and wind has created holes, caverns, gorges and natural arches and bridges which make this desert look like Mars! Many prehistoric inscriptions and carvings can be seen on the rocks. There are several permanent tent camps in Wadi-Rum, licenced by the government to provide a Bedouin life experience for eco-adventure tourists. It does not disappoint. Most camps have about a dozen goat-hair tents in a circular area, a dining tent, a firepit, a toilet tent, some electricity by solar panels, 4-wheel drive jeeps, and a few camels. As evening settles, you cannot believe how quiet it is, nor have you ever seen the night sky like it appears in the desert. The Milky Way, planets, satellites, shooting stars – so much activity above you and none on the ground. As the campfire wanes, and the Bedouins put away their musical instruments, there is no better place to be than inside your tent with camel hair blankets piled high. Wadi-Rum is also a photographer’s paradise. The red sand, blue skies, sandstone structures, colourful tents, camels, Arabs in traditional dress, combined with the magnificent sunsets and starry night skies, cannot be beat! You truly feel lost in time.
Indiana Jones, the Martian, Moses – Where Am I? Part II of III Petra could have been settled as early as 9,000 BC and may have been the Nabatean Kingdom capital city in the 4th century BC. Petra was important then as a commercial route to Gaza, Damascus, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The cave dwelling inhabitants were master stone carvers, agriculturalists, and water conservers. It is believed that by the 1st century AD, the population was 20,000. The Kingdom fell to the Romans in 106AD. An earthquake in 363AD destroyed most of the city and it was abandoned. It wasn’t rediscovered until 1812 by a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In 1929, a British team excavated and surveyed the site. In 1985, Petra was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site and most of the cave dwellers were resettled to the villages of Wadi Musa (near the front entrance to the site) and Umm Sayhoun (near the back, non-public, entrance). In 2007, Petra was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is the most visited attraction in Jordan, drawing over 1 million visitors per year. There are now 27 official monuments at the site, such as Al Khazneh (the ‘Treasury’), the Monastery, Great Temple, Royal Tombs, and the Roman Theatre. It is open to the public every day all year. I stayed in a hotel in Wadi Musa, which is 2 km from the entrance. From the entrance, the Siq (gorge or shaft) is a 1.2 km long but narrow access which leads to Al Khazneh, the most famous of the carved structures. I suggest a 2-day pass to the site because it is large and there is much to see. Good walking shoes are essential. You can put on many kilometres in 2 days, but you can still visit the site with less mobility. Donkeys and camels are available at the entrance to take you through the Siq to the Treasury, which is amazing and if you see nothing else, your visit will have been worth it! Inside the site, there are vendors, small restaurants and stalls, guides, and workers, some of whom still live in caves on site. On day 1, go with a guided group to learn the historical significance of the structures and monuments. On day 2, explore on your own and take in the many hiking trails to hidden sites and spectacular views. On day 2 is when my visit turned into an Indiana Jones adventure! A colleague and I walked the 3 hours and 850 stone steps to the ‘Monastery’, an incredibly well-preserved gigantic carved structure, where your reward is the view and the lack of tourists! Then we hiked to the ‘Treasury from Above’, again uphill, 1.5 hours, to a wee tented tea house open to the cliffs with a fullface view of the Treasury. And then the rains began. And it rained and rained. For over an hour! With others stranded at the top, we watched the tourists scatter for shelter below and observed the waterfalls cascading down the cliff faces. Once the rains subsided, we carefully made our way back down the cliffs and were preparing to do our third hike to the ‘High Place of Sacrifice’, when we were stopped near the Siq by some very agitated donkey handlers who were herding all the visitors to higher ground. We were about to experience a flash flood! We could hear the waters rushing before we could see them, but they came, and quickly! People who were in the Siq were swept away and some injured. Others were quickly gathered up by every available donkey, horse or camel handler and taken to higher ground. It was chaotic! The hard sand quickly turned to mud beneath our feet, and everyone who could walk on their own was directed to move away from the Siq towards the back entrance, and out to Umm Sayhoun. We were being evacuated! We walked the many kilometres out the back entrance and to the Bedouin village. Once there, we realized we were now more than 10km from our hotel in Wadi Musa. Emergency vehicles, taxis, villagers and tourists clogged the roads. Eventually we did manage to get a shared taxi back to Wadi Musa, where our frantic Intrepid guide had called the police to go searching for us! However, we were fine – safe, tired, but excited that we had just experienced our very own Indiana Jones adventure!
Indiana Jones, the Martian, Moses – Where Am I? Part 3 of 3 And finally, the ‘Moses’ part of my visit to Jordan. Following my visits to the Bedouin desert villages and the wonder of Petra, it was time to see the ‘Promised Land’, the land given by God to Abraham and his descendants. Moses played a very important part in the history of the Old Testament and of Jordan. One of our first stops was at the Holy Rock, the place where Moses struck the rock twice with his staff and water gushed out. The story goes, in many variations, that God freed the Israelites from the Egyptians and Moses and his brother Aaron led them to a promised land of milk and honey. But it was a desert and there was no water and little food. The followers rebelled. God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it will produce water, but he strikes it instead. God sees this as disobedience and tells Moses he will see the promised land, but he will never cross. And that seems to be true, as he dies on Mount Nebo at 120 years old, looking out over the land he was not allowed to reach. No one knows where he is buried though there is a large monumental cross dedicated to him at Mt. Nebo. Many stories in the Bible – the book of Numbers, some of Genesis and Exodus – all occurred in present day Jordan. From Mt. Nebo, you can see Jericho, the Jordan River and Palestine. Mt. Nebo is one of the places for Christian pilgrimages that the devout must visit. The village at the outskirts of Petra, Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), was so named by the Nabateans because Moses passed through this valley, striking the rock, bringing forth water from the spring which brought water to Petra and surrounding areas. You can visit Ain Musa, Moses’s Well, near the Rock of Meribah, which he struck. Moses’s brother, Aaron, died soon after the rock incident. Supposedly, he is buried at the top of Mount Hor, near Petra, but again, the location of his actual burial spot is shrouded in mystery. Aaron’s Tomb is located at the summit of Mt. Hor. The final highlight of my trip to Jordan was visiting and swimming in the Dead Sea! What a desolate place! The Dead Sea is 428 meters below sea level. Earth’s lowest elevation on land. It is 304 meters deep, 50km long and 15km wide. Israel and the West Bank are on the other side of the Dead Sea. The sea floor mud contains 23 minerals and the water is dense with salt – 1.25kg/litre! The high salinity means nothing can live in the sea or surrounding land. There are no trees, no plants, and as you drive in, you go lower and lower into the dry, cracked earth, until you reach a reception centre. As you walk down to the sea, the sand beneath your feet is as hard and rough as cement. Slathering yourself with Dead Sea mud will cost you about $5. Once the black mud hardens on your skin, it tingles and itches, and then it is time to get in the water. You cannot do anything but stand straight up or float on your back. If you try to swim, you will tumble and roll. It’s a very weird experience! The mud smells slightly of sulphur and is very difficult to wash off. You must ensure you do not splash water in your eyes or they will severely burn! About 20 minutes in the sea is the most your skin will stand before you must get out and wash the whole mess off! Check that experience off my bucket list! That concludes my journey to Jordan – a special country jam-packed with history, wondrous monuments and active adventures. My thanks to Intrepid Travel, their knowledgeable guides, hospitable hosts, and my fellow travellers.
Week 1 – Preference Vacations Rail Adventure Best Western Quid Venice – Basic business hotel with good amenities, located in Mestre, outside of city centre of Venice. Nothing much near the hotel. They provide a shuttle from the airport at scheduled times only so there may be a wait. We took a bus to the Piazza Fenetto, city centre of Mestre, 3E, 20 minutes away. Restaurants, patios there. When we left to go back home about 9pm, we learned the buses had stopped running and taxis were all booked up for hours, so we walked. A 4 km walk with GPS! To get to the island of Venice, we arranged a minivan through the BW for 50E for 8 pax. A 20 minute ride. Dropped off at the ‘carpark’. Then you walk or get a water taxi to your hotel. We walked, again with GPS, over the Grand Canal, which has steps up and down. Watch for scammers that offer to help with your luggage. They do help, but won’t hand over your bag at the other end unless you tip them, approx.. 5E, it may be worth it if your bag is heavy. Arrived at our hotel, dropped bags and headed out for a 9am city tour which I booked through Viator. 2 hours of walking, 30 minutes gondola. Operated by City Wonders. Included skip the line at St Mark’s. Venice is actually 127 islands in 6 districts strung together by bridges. Crazy place! Hotel Al Sole, Santa Croce district – good location, closer to the train station than central Venice (Castello or Dorsoduro). 3-star, historic boutique hotel. Wonderful courtyard for breakfast or happy hours. Booked through Preference Vacations. We quickly learned that restaurants may have a ‘coperto’ or cover charge ranging from 1 to 2.50 E per person, as well as ‘servicio’ or service charge ranging from 10 to 15%. This is before your order or a tip, so be wary and always ask. Vivaldi concert – 35E for 1 hour. In a church, but pews removed and replaced with plastic chairs, so a bit disappointing ambience. Wonderful music though if you like classical. Booked it through Viator. Murano and Burano – Catch the 4.1 or 4.2 Vaporetto (ferry) to Murano. A one day vaporetto pass is 20E. Watched the glass blowing in Murano. Caught the #12 ferry to Burano. Longer ferry ride than to Murano. Cute island with colourful row houses along the canals, known for lace making. Make sure you get an ‘express’ vaporetto on the return to Venice. We didn’t and a 20 minute ride turned into 1 hour. For an inexpensive evening cruise on the Grand Canal, take the #2 Vaporetto from San Marco to Piazzale Roma (carpark) along the Grand Canal. Night sky and twinkling lights on the water, under the Rialto Bridge, it’s really amazing. Way cheaper than a night time gondola ride which will cost 100E. Water taxis are very expensive, so avoid them if you can. We took one from the hotel to the train station, 10 minutes away for 80E. There were 8 of us plus heavy luggage, so it was worth it, but they charge by the taxi not the number of people. Italian trains – booked through Preference Vacations. What a wonderful experience! Quick, easy, comfortable, modern, clean trains, and affordable. This is the way to travel in Italy. We took our own wine and snacks aboard, though they have a bar car. Lots of storage for luggage. Free wifi onboard. 2 hours to Firenze. Hotel Paris, Florence – booked through Preference Vacations. 3-star historic boutique hotel with 1st floor terrace (our happy hour and picnic place). All the rooms were different and unique. A/C, breakfast, wifi. City tour, Florence – included with Preference Rail Adventure package. 1.5 hours walking, 1.5 hours in Uffizi Gallery with narration. Accademia Gallery, home of ‘David’ – it is possible to get in without a pre-reserved ticket only if you get up at 7am, get in line by 730am for an 815am opening. We were in by 830am, but there are 3 lines, one for reserved ticket holders, one for groups, and the unreserved line. The other lines go first. David was spectacular! Closed on Mondays, so Tuesdays are super busy. Go Wed or later. Visited Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, Centrale Mercado, then went to the Opera (purchased from the venue, but could be arranged by your hotel concierge). Held at St. Mark’s English Church, 25E for 1.5 hours. Grand piano and a baritone and soprano singing ‘love duets’ in Italian. Beautiful! Instead of all this, some of my group purchased an excursion for the day to Cinque Terre, 90E for 12 hours. We originally tried to book a cooking class for the afternoon but all sold out, need to book in advance. They are 90-120E per person though. Train to Rome, 1hr 40mins. Hotel Romanico – booked through Preference Vacations. 4-star priced as a 3-star. Beautiful architecture and great location. We walked from the train station, 20 mins with GPS. Visited Colloseum on our own because it wasn’t included in our City tour, operated by Greenline Tours (Classic Rome), included in the Preference Vacations Rail Adventure. Visited Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Vatican City (ended here), did not include entrance to St Peter’s, but we did it on our own. Then visited the Campo de Fiori (central market), walked to the Spanish Steps. Hired the hotel minivan for 45E to take 8 pax 10 mins to the train station, but again, it was worth it with the luggage. 1 hour by train to Naples. End of Preference Vacations booking after breakfast at the hotel. Booked train to Naples through Loco online. Cheaper than Trenitalia and worked just as well. Week 2 – Exodus Walking Tour – Walking the Amalfi Coast Exodus picked us up at the train station and transferred us to Bomerano, one of the 4 towns that make up the area of Agerola. It took about 1.5 hours by shuttle bus. We arrived at our home for the week, the Hotel Due Torri (due means two-owned by the 2 brothers Torri-Nicola and Giovanni). Family run and exclusive to Exodus groups. Family style evening meals in the restaurant, breakfast buffet in the breakfast room, small bar at the pool, 35 quaint rooms on 2 floors – mine had a large balcony, great for group happy hours. Bomerano is tiny, couple of shops, restos around a piazza. That’s it. Day 1 started at 830am to the Path of the Gods. Arrived in Positano at 2pm, 1500 steps down. After a swim caught the 330pm ferry back to Amalfi, then picked up by the minibus back to Bomerano. Day 2 off to Pompeii. Had to tip 10E each to pay for a local guide at the site. Then to Vesuvio, which last erupted in 1944. Had a great guide, Stephano, very knowledgeable and passionate volcanologist. You can still see steam rising and if you dig in the dirt, you can feel heat. We climbed to the crater which was a pretty steep jaunt. Back at Due Torri, we had a pizza making demonstration, and then we ate what we made. Day 3 we drove to Ravello to start our hike back to Amalfi. Near Ravello, we viewed Villa Santa Rosa, owned by Bill Gate’s sister in law, cost 700E per night. Most beautiful gardens I have ever seen were at the Villa Cimbrone, a Roman estate from the 11th century, full of statues, gardens, pavilions, fountains, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterly’s Lover in Ravello. The walk from Ravello meandered through small towns, then into the forest along the ancient aqueduct system with paper mills and lemon groves. Arrived in Amalfi about 3pm. Minibus picked us up after some shopping time. Day 4 we walked from the hotel to a Mozzarella Factory for a demonstration about ricotta and ‘milk flower’ cheese, mozza made from cow’s milk, not buffalo. The we walked to the Tre Calli Circuit. Took about 5 hours, up to 1190m, some steep paths, a ridge and down some scree. Only 3 of 10 of us did the complete hike. Back to Bomerano about 2pm. Cooking demonstration in the evening at the hotel – homemade pasta, appies of cheese and homemade marmalade, tiramisu for dessert – which we prepared then ate. Lots of laughs in the kitchen! Day 5 was our free day. Some went to Amalfi, some to Positano and the rest of us to Capri. We arranged a shuttle from the hotel to Amalfi for 20E per person round trip where we caught the ferry to Capri. 37.50E per person round trip. Going over you circle the island so it takes nearly 2 hours. The return trip is less. Upon arrival in Capri, we purchased funicular and bus tickets. 2E for each bus ticket and 2.50E for each funicular ticket. The funicular takes 10 minutes from the port to the top where the town is located. From there you can take a bus to Anacapri, which is less crowded and has beautiful streets, shops, restos and bars. From there you can take a single seat chair lift to the viewpoint, which is a 360 degree view of the entire coastline. 11E round trip, 15 minutes each way. Cute little, expensive bar at the top. Really like Capri and Anacapri. Worth the trip. Day 6 was our 11km walk from Bomerano to Amalfi. Some road walking and some steps (3000+!) and some ‘jungle’ walking. Arrived in Amalfi early enough to enough some beach time and last time for shopping. Day 7 was departure day, transferred back to Naples with Exodus minibus. Private transfer dropped us at the Hotel Joyfull in Naples. Nice hotel about 10 minutes from the airport but the location is sketchy. Very dirty industrial area of Naples, only stay there if you need an airport hotel. Very little English in Naples. We took the metro to downtown for the day, visited the Naples Archeological Museum, which is the best in Italy. More Pompeii artifacts there than in Pompeii itself I think! They also have a very interesting Egyptian mummy room. Shopping is very affordable in Naples, there are lots of street performers, the waterfront walk is very nice with views of Vesuvius. Overall, very pleased with Exodus. They were very attentive, our guide Severio was nice, funny, and looked after us very well. I have confidence selling this product. Apparently Walking the Amalfi Coast is Exodus’s #1 seller. I can see why.
Travel feature – The island of Bonaire One thing I love about cruising in the Caribbean is waking up in the morning and discovering a brand-new beautiful island! And there’s nothing better than finding a cruise itinerary that includes islands you have not yet explored. I discovered 3 new islands on my 10-day Southern Caribbean Princess Cruise in December. Bonaire is one of the ABC Islands in the Leeward Antilles, which is comprised of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Just 100 kms northwest of Venezuela, and outside the traditional hurricane belt, these islands are warm and sunny year-round. The ABC Islands are Dutch, under a special municipality treaty with the Netherlands. Most of Bonaire’s 20,000 inhabitants are of Dutch nationality. The island is small, just 294 square kilometres, which contains a huge mangrove forest, with lagoons and inlets, the largest called Lac Bay. Within these lagoons you will find many species of shorebirds, including pink flamingos and the yellow Amazon parrot. The island produces over 400,000 tons of salt per year. This salty surface is responsible for the vibrant pink colour of the native flamingos. In fact, these flamingos are so important to the island that the airport is named Flamingo International! What I really love about Bonaire is that this tiny island is a leader in nature conservation and eco-responsibility. In 1979, the entire coastline including the mangrove forest was made a National Marine Park and is protected. The island employs new sewage treatment and garbage disposal methods and is one of the few islands with a complete recycling program. Even retail dive companies belong to an organization called ‘Dive Friends Bonaire’, which means that all divers return with any garbage they spot when they dive. Bonaire is exploring self sustainability in energy by producing electricity through bio-diesel and solar methods. From a history of slave trade and wars to a progressive sustainable tourism industry, Bonaire seems to be doing something right. However, if you are expecting the fast-paced, flashy, touristy islands like Aruba, St. Thomas or St. Maarten, you won’t find it here. It is low-key, with few high-tech tourist attractions. What it does have is nature and lots of activities related to that. Snorkelling and scuba are very popular due to a huge coral reef on the southwest side of the island. There is windsurfing, sailing and kiteboarding. Mountain biking, hiking, caving and horseback riding are great activities with fewer tourists and lots of trails rather than highways. It is a birders paradise – frigate, boobie, owl, parrot, heron and of course, the pink flamingo. There is a Wild Bird Rehab Centre located on the island. I participated in a kayaking tour for the day while off the ship. From the capital of Kralendijk, over rough island roads, we arrived at Lac Bay, part of the National Marine Park. Locals run a small interpretive center and take small groups of visitors out on guided tours of the mangrove inlets in kayaks. It was a beautiful day - blue sky, calm wind, crystal clear water - as we paddled through overhanging branches and narrow channels which opened up into more and more beautiful places! The certified guide paused to tell us about the history of the island, the fragile environment, and pointed out different species of trees, plants, birds and life in the seagrass – queen conch, baby rays and seahorses. It was a great, non-commercial way to spend the day! Cruise ships are becoming much better at offering ‘off the beaten track’, active choices for shore excursions, at nearly-local pricing. So next time you are cruising, break away from the pack and have your own incredible adventure!
The island of Dominica is located within the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic located on the island of Hispaniola. It is pronounced ‘Dom-in-eek-a’ with the emphasis on ‘eek’. The island is 750 square kilometres and home to 71,000 inhabitants, most of African descent. This island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and he named it Dominica, like ‘Sunday’ in Spanish. After the Spanish, the French colonized the island initially, followed by the British. Dominica gained its independence in 1978. It is a natural island, with rainforests, 365 rivers, volcanoes, and hot springs. Boiling Lake in the Valley of Desolation is a Unesco World Heritage Site, as is Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Dominica is in the hurricane belt and was hit hard by Hurricane Maria in 2017. It was already a poor island and the hurricane damaged over 90% of its buildings and destroyed many of its agricultural fields. Bananas, coffee and exotic fruits were the main export, but they now rely on rebuilding tourism. The government has also instituted a ‘citizenship by investment’ program. This is appealing to many who want a tax-free haven and a piece of island paradise. Eco-tourism includes hikes to waterfalls and hot springs, dolphin and whale-watching. The few beaches here are small with volcanic black sand. Snorkelling and scuba are popular, especially ‘champagne’ snorkelling, where geological conditions create bubbles in the water, and the fish love it! My shore excursion in Dominica was another ‘off the beaten track’ choice and it did not disappoint! A drive through rainforest, a hike to Titou Gorge, and then a swim up the gorge to Middleham Waterfall! The swim was difficult as the current got stronger the closer you got to the waterfall. The scenery was stunning – rock faces and caves, thick rainforest, flowers, and cascading, warm water! Our guides strapped us into flotation aids, provided some life rings, and ensured we all made it the waterfall one way or another! Following our strenuous swim, we arrived at the thermal pools, a series of 5 semi-natural pools varying in size and heat. So relaxing and such a beautiful lush setting. Our hosts provided us with the freshest, sweetest fruit juice – a very nice treat! A short drive and we were back in Roseau, the capital city. There is not much commercialized shopping here, and no big-name chain hotels. The city has colourful gingerbread architecture, and is noisy with reggae music and artisan vendors. You can visit the Botanic Gardens and Roseau Cathedral nearby. I enjoyed my day off the ship exploring the Nature Island of the Caribbean - Dominica!
Trafalgar Tour - This was a travel agent familiarization trip for 7 days. From Madrid, we travelled north to the coast, west, south back to Madrid. A typical coach tour which was very organized and had a knowledgeable tour director, though she was a Canadian, not a Spaniard. Our driver was Portuguese. Local guides in towns/cities were very good. Hotels were 3-4 star depending on location. Meals that were not taken in the hotels were very good. Those served in the hotels were mass produced and boring. This itinerary is normally a 11 day one, but ours was shortened and jammed packed. We visited Pamplona and walked the route of the Running of the Bulls. We visited San Sebastian and enjoyed the beach walk. Next was Bilbao, home of the Guggenheim Museum, though it was closed on Mondays so we did not get to go inside. On to Santander, which was a lovely coastal city. From there, we travelled through the Picos de Europa and visited the Holy Cave at Covadonga. In Oviedo, we experienced Trafalgar's 'Be my guest' in a traditional cider mill with the Castanon family. Although we were following the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela we did not follow the camino all the way to the Cathedral. At Oviedo, we headed south to Zamora and Salamanca. Loved Salamanca! The entire city is a museum - so beautiful and historic - and clean! All of Spain is clean! We visited Toledo and then ended back in Madrid, visiting the Prado Museum, Plaza Espana, the Gran Via and the Cibeles Fountain. A beautiful city. Tapas and wine were enjoyed throughout this trip!
Trafalgar Tour - This was a travel agent familiarization trip for 7 days. From Madrid, we travelled north to the coast, west, south back to Madrid. A typical coach tour which was very organized and had a knowledgeable tour director, though she was a Canadian, not a Spaniard. Our driver was Portuguese. Local guides in towns/cities were very good. Hotels were 3-4 star depending on location. Meals that were not taken in the hotels were very good. Those served in the hotels were mass produced and boring. This itinerary is normally a 11 day one, but ours was shortened and jammed packed. We visited Pamplona and walked the route of the Running of the Bulls. We visited San Sebastian and enjoyed the beach walk. Next was Bilbao, home of the Guggenheim Museum, though it was closed on Mondays so we did not get to go inside. On to Santander, which was a lovely coastal city. From there, we travelled through the Picos de Europa and visited the Holy Cave at Covadonga. In Oviedo, we experienced Trafalgar's 'Be my guest' in a traditional cider mill with the Castanon family. Although we were following the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela we did not follow the camino all the way to the Cathedral. At Oviedo, we headed south to Zamora and Salamanca. Loved Salamanca! The entire city is a museum - so beautiful and historic - and clean! All of Spain is clean! We visited Toledo and then ended back in Madrid, visiting the Prado Museum, Plaza Espana, the Gran Via and the Cibeles Fountain. A beautiful city. Tapas and wine were enjoyed throughout this trip! The next part of my Spain trip was an Exodus hiking tour. I travelled from Madrid to Alicante in the south, where I spent 3 days independently. I had never heard of Alicante, but was so pleasantly surprised. It is a quaint seaside city with a lovely walking promenade, great beaches, food, shopping and wine. I rented a beautiful apartment, very well equipped and reasonably priced, from Apartamentos de Tito Group. I met my hiking group in Alicante and we were transferred by minibus to Benimantell, a remote village in the Sierra de Aitana mountains. We stayed in a family run lodge for the week. It was basic, but comfortable. The food was family style and amazing, served by 3 generations that have been running this lodge since the 1940's. We did 5 days of trekking with a day off in the middle. The treks were moderate and some challenging with scrambling, scree, steep climbs, but all with incredible views as there was usually a peak to climb and ridges to walk each day. On our day off we visited Guadalest and Altea. Guadalest is mountainous with a spectacular mountaintop cathedral. Altea is a quiet little beach town. The Exodus guide was local and very experienced. We were in good hands for the week. Our group was 14 - 3 Canadians and 11 Brits. Weather in early November was perfect - warm sunny days and cool mountain evenings with spectacular sunsets! Following my hiking week, I travelled up the coast towards Valencia to a small seaside village called Calpe. Great day hikes all around, beautiful clean beaches, great seafood right off the fishing boats, shopping, tapas and wine! What more could you want? I'd highly recommend Spain for an active or relaxing vacation. It's got something for everyone!
Joined an Exodus Travels small adventure group trekking tour for a week. What a beautiful little island and a hidden gem for North Americans! Brits are all over it, but not many Canadians. Our group was 9 Brits and me. This was a moderate (rating 3) trek that covered approx. 70km of walking in 5 full days. Highlights included the beautiful vine and flower filled coastal port city of Funchal with an awesome gondola to the mountaintop; levada treks (irrigation system of canals through the volcanic mountains with worn pathways); ascending Pico Ruivo, Madeira's highest peak; and the Ponta de Sao Laurenco ocean walk. The entire island is green and covered with trees, flowers and vines. Seafood is spectacular, and the wine is not bad either! A must try is typical Madeira wine that comes in dry, semi-sweet, and sweet variations. And Madeira sweet cakes! Portuguese is the official language but English is widely spoken. Currency is the Euro, but the cost of living is much lower than other countries in Europe, such as France or Italy. Overall, quite affordable. Few crowds, laid back happy people, and a popular island for many adventure sports, such as mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, scuba diving and more!
Another trip to Morocco! A Maritime fam with Exodus Travel. This trip began in Marrakech and travelled over the Atlas Mountains and through the Draa Valley to the desert. We visited the cities of Ouarzazate and Zagora, and the Unesco site of Ait Ben Haddou. Once we were in M'Hamid, as far west in Morocco towards the Algerian border that you are allowed to go, we prepared for our camel trek to the Bedouin camp. High temperatures of 47C forced us to trek in the late afternoon once the sun had lowered in the sky. A bit cooler, and the shadows created on the dunes nearing sunset were spectacular! The Bedouin camp was 'glamping' - flush toilets, queen beds, wine! - and the quiet starry sky was amazing. Following the desert, we headed back into the High Atlas Mountains to the remote village of Tijhza. We had to ride mules for an hour to reach the village. Our lodge was unique with expansive views of the mountains. A unique experience for us was a traditional primitive hammam - a communal bathhouse heated by fire under the cement floor with women scrubbing you down with black olive soap and loofahs. Way to get to know your fellow travellers intimately! Back to Marrakech to the souks! Hard to come home without new treasures as the artisan crafts in Morocco are magnificent! This was a great cultural adventure!
Travelled with VM Tours (customized Canadian small group tour operator) to Morocco in Oct 2016. From Montreal, flew Royal Air Maroc direct to Casablanca, only 6 hours. Stayed at a oceanside riad and visited the famous Rick's Café (remember the old movie Casablanca) in the evening for cocktails. Very historic, though attracts a lot of tourists. Travelled to Essaouria next, also on the ocean, famous for fishing and ship building. Historic port. Next to the Atlas Mountains, the Berber village of Imlil. Beautiful mountains, completely different vibe than the ocean cities. We hiked through Berber villages all day. Next time I want to ascend Mt Toubkal, highest peak in the Atlas Mountains at 4100m. Following Imlil, we travelled inland to Marrakech, a bustling, colourful city. The Riad Catalina was quaint and well located in the centre of the city. The huge souk was a shopper's paradise, day and night. Many of us also took the opportunity to experience a hamam - semi-public bath house where you are scrubbed down to reveal new skin! Food was great (tagine), history and culture fascinating, geography diverse and colourful, good shopping (sharpen your bartering skills), friendly and helpful people. It's nearly 100% Muslim. Throw all the myths about Islam out the door. You learn how peaceful the religion really is and much about their faith and beliefs. Dress respectfully (cover shoulders and knees), and don't flog alcohol (it's possible to obtain it, and drink it in some restaurants), just be discreet. I'd go back in a heartbeat. This time, I'd include a safari to the Sahara Desert to discover more of the diversity of magical Morocco!
Travelled on a Maritime Travel Exclusive Fam operated by Indus Travel from Vancouver. Nonstop Air Canada flight from Toronto to Delhi was crowded and did not have very good service. The aircraft is the brand new 787 Dreamliner which AC has modified by narrowing the seats, taking out a section and cramming 60 more passengers onboard. Flight attendants are scarce, overworked, and cranky. 14 hours...yah. On the ground in India, Indus is good. Guides are knowledgeable and can navigate groups through chaos with relative ease. We visited Varanasi, Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambhore, and Agra in almost 2 weeks. We stayed in mainly 4 to 4.5 star hotels - Trident chain, Met in Delhi. All quite good and meet North American standards. All provided security, and breakfasts were included. Varanasi - the 'real India' and a cultural, spiritual centre. Rituals on the Ganges were fascinating. Delhi - 21 million people, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, tuktuks, buses, bicycles, dogs, pigs and cows all navigating the uncontrolled streets as best they can. Crossing the street is an adrenaline rush for tourists! Food is good, but don't eat the street food. Drink only bottled water. Sun is hot, but not too humid this time of year. Temps approached 40C. Smog is not nearly as bad as China. Jaipur - the 'pink city', past home of Maharajas and riches. Forts and palaces. We rode an elephant here. Ranthambhore - a national reserve for the Bengal tiger (which we saw!), as well as large populations of monkeys, peacocks, kingfishers, camels and assorted other animals. Stayed in the Treetop Resort, felt like a plantation home, and we were treated well. Agra - home of the Taj Majal and Amber Fort, both of which are spectacular. However, Agra was probably the dirtiest city we visited. Open sewers, garbage dumps, dirt streets, wandering pigs, dogs and cows through the market stalls. And we did not feel safe wandering even a few blocks from our hotel at night. India is an 'experience'. You must have an open mind, be ready for sensory overload, and just accept that this is the way it is. Hawkers are everywhere, and you are overwhelmed, but then you realize that at least these people are not begging in the streets, they are trying to earn a living to feed their families just like we are. I will go back someday.
I travelled to China with Nexus Holidays. Flew Air China from Vancouver. Very comfortable and on time. Visited Beijing for 5 days. Walked the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Tianammen Square. Very smoggy! Toured a Pearl factory, Jade Factory. Shopping stops. Took the optional excursion to the Golden Mask Dynasty Show on the Olympic site. A very good show, only 1 hour duration. Cirque du Soleil type of extravaganza. Flew China Eastern to Chongqing to board the President No. 7 Yangtze River Cruise Ship. Built in 2013 and promoted as a 5-star. Not by North American standards. It's a 3-star. 400 pax. Comfortable, but not that clean. Chinese run cruise line, Chinese crew and food onboard. 3 included shore excursions, 2 optionals offered. Busy itinerary. 3 night cruise. At the end, flew from Yichang to Shanghai. Bus to Suzhou next day, known as the 'Venice of the East' with their Grand Canal. Small city of only 8 million! Visited a silk factory, known for fantastic silk bedding! Then back to Shanghai. Visited the Bund, by day, and by night cruise (optional excursion); the Underground Market; and rode the Maglev Train, fastest in the world, 430km/hour! Nexus Holidays has a solid product, with fabulous national and local guides. Fast paced itineraries. Food was excellent. Chinese family style in the restaurants, but nothing weird or unrecognizable. Hotels were 4 to 5 star North American style in good locations. A great interesting cultural experience!
Custom group - Trekking in Iceland - with G Adventures. Flew Iceland Air direct from Edmonton, a quick 6 hour flight. Arrived Reykjavik and transferred directly to the Blue Lagoon for a 4 hour relax in hot pools, sauna, and steam bath. Enjoyed an espresso and sandwich in their snack bar. Stayed in Reykjavik at the Centerhotel Klopp, a nice 3-star hotel very well located in the city. The city is very walkable, has interesting museums, good shopping, restaurants and an active nightlife. Enjoyed sightseeing and good food for a couple days then headed out trekking. Enjoyed the Golden Circle which included Thingvillur National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss. Arrived Thorsmork and camped, trekked to Emstrur and camped. Visited the site of the 2010 volcanic eruption Eyjafjallajokull. Spent a day in the Hot Spring Valley on the hunt for natural hot streams for bathing. Went river rafting on the Hvita River. Visited Skogafoss waterfall and camped at Skogar. The landscape inland is lunar like, with volcanic lava rock and ash, very little vegetation, virtually no trees, snowcaps, meandering glacial rivers. It is vast and expansive. Summer weather in Iceland changes every 5 minutes! Highs of 10-14C and lows of 5-7C. Sun, rain, but almost always wind. If you plan to visit, layer up! Food is excellent, lots of seafood, lamb dishes, skyr (yogurt), cheese and breads. A few crazy items I ate included - putrified shark meat (awful!) and boiled sheep head (not much meat!). Everything is expensive, more than Europe even. Allow $25-30 for lunches and $45-50 for dinner, before alcohol. Breakfast is included in hotel stays. Best deal is the famous Icelandic hot dog - a steal at $4, and quite delicious! Be prepared for the $14 beer too!
In April, I booked a G Adventures 18 day tour to Nepal. Flew China Southern from Vancouver to Guangzhou China and then to Kathmandu. CZ has new 787 Dreamliners and service is good. Spent a couple days in Kathmandu, visiting the Monkey Temple, Garden of Dreams, and other chaotic sites. Headed into the Himalayan Mountains for the trek, visiting Jagat, Pisang, Manang, Muktinath, Kalopani, Ghorepani, Pokhara and back to Kathmandu. Trekked 156km to elevations of 5614m at Thorong-la Pass. From 32C, humid, smoggy, in Kathmandu to -7C, clear sunny, deep snow at Thorong Phedi. Stayed in basic tea houses, many with solar showers and shared bathroom facilities. Mainly vegetarian food, especially dhal bat (rice, curry vegies, lentil soup). Learned a lot about Nepalese life, Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism.
A quick visit to Honolulu and Waikiki to see new hotels, the Beachwalk, the destroyed International Market Place. Hiked Diamond Head, hiked Manoa Valley with Bike Hawaii tour operator, visited Pearl Harbour, Chinatown. Discovered some off the beaten track restaurants - Uncle Bo's very good. Sensei in the Marriott also very good. Stayed in the Aston Waikiki Sunset, still a decent condo with full kitchen, but basic 3-star. Ala Wai Canal has been cleaned up. Homeless still a problem in Waikiki. Japanese tourists are by far the majority.
As I am a Destination France Specialist, I was invited by the SDF Tourist Board on a travel agent familiarization trip of the area. We began the trip in Montpellier, visiting Collioure, Perpignan, Narbonne, the Abbey of Fontfroide, Carcassonne, the Canal du Midi, Uzes, the Pont du Gard, Nimes, Pezenas, and ended back in Montpelier. See: France Trip Schedule 2014.pdf for the detailed itinerary. This region is not as well known as the Cote d'Azur but it is just as beautiful and not as crowded. It is also known as the Languedoc-Roussillon region which is a very good wine growing area. I revisited Paris prior to the trip, stayed at the Hotel Chopin, a quaint 2-star in the Opera district. Visited the Musee d'Orangerie and Musee d'Orsay, the Jardin Tullieres, the Eiffel Tower, walked along the Seine and ate in some great little restaurants including the Café du Marche and the Grand Colbert.
After 2 successful groups to Peru, I have now hiked the Inca Trail 3 times, and still love it! I have visited 2 lodges in the Peruvian Amazon - Tambopata Lodge and Sandoval Lodge, both accessed by flying into Puerto Maldonado. Following my groups travel, I travelled independently to Arequipa and the Colca Canyon. The 'White City', home of the frozen Incan mummy Juanita, and over 4000m, is the 3rd largest city in Peru. The Colca Canyon rises high into the volcanic mountain range and is home to the Condor, a magnificent soaring bird with wingspans up to 2m!
In early December, I cruised on the Caribbean Princess, enjoying mini-suite accommodation. This is a large ship with many activities. My favourite place onboard is still Crooners Bar and if you're lucky, you get a talented piano player that draws in the crowds each evening. Ports of call included Cozumel, Roatan Honduras and Belize City. In Cozumel, we chose a shore excursion operator off the ship, and visited Punta Sur Eco Nature Park by 4-wheel drive Jeep. Beautiful, deserted beaches with few amenities. Nice break from the crowds of tourists. In Roatan, we participated in a ship island tour, which was not very memorable. I would not recommend it. Following this tour, we enjoyed Mahogany Bay Beach Resort, right next to the cruise port. You can walk about 10 minutes, or take the chair lift ride for a small fee. Good views. At Mahogany Bay, there is a multitude of water and beach activities, loungers, restaurant, beach bar service, and a great walking beach. I had not heard good reports on Belize City port, so decided to book an island visit with the same off ship shore excursion company. We were picked up from the ship, taken to the airport and flew 15 minutes in a small aircraft to Ambergris Caye. The flightseeing over the coral reef was worth the excursion in itself! Upon arrival in San Pedro, we had all day free to explore on our own, which was very easy! If you want, you can rent a golf cart by the hour or for the day to get around, or just walk, the island is small. Great restaurants, bars, shops, as well as the most fabulous beaches. Lots of snorkelling, scuba, boating and fishing opportunities. As usual, 7 nights on a Caribbean cruise is just not enough!
With G Adventures, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Mystical! Added on G Lodge, in the Amazon, on the Tambopata River. Magical! Visited Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Puerto Maldonado. Magnificent!
I travelled to Buenos Aires in November 2012 to learn how to TANGO!! Amazing experience! Rented a small apartment in Palermo area, used local transit to sightsee. Attended a polo match. Feasted on 'asado', Argentine BBQ. Took tango lessons. Bought art from the markets in La Boca. Rented a 'tango taxi' (dance partner) and attended milongas (dances) every night, including the famous 'El Beso' milonga hall. Tango is a culture and serious business for the Argentines!
12 day Med and Greek Isles cruise on the Crown Princess from Rome to Venice, visiting Livorno, Naples, Santorini, Athens, Mykonos, Katakolon (Olympia), Corfu, Split Croatia. From Livorno, I visited Cinque Terre Italy. In Athens I visited the Parthenon and the Acropolis. In Katakolon I visited Olympia, site of first Olympic Games in 776 BC.
By completing this training in November 2011, my contact information will be listed on pages relating to the different themes and regions on the website http://www.ca-en.franceguide.com/, which boasts 1 million visitors per year. A special article concerning certified travel agents is included regularly in the e-newsletter sent to 180 000 members twice a month.
Transat Holidays Familiarization Trip July 14-22, 2011. Inspected 22 hotels. Visited Versailles. Experienced Hop on Hop off sightseeing and Metro.
Cruised on the Norwegian Epic from Miami to St Maarten, St Thomas and Nassau for 7 days. 4200 pax, 19 decks, 21 places to eat or drink. Waterslides, climbing walls, bowling alleys, sports deck, Nickelodeon program for kids. 'The Haven' villas, exclusive cruise within a cruise. 'The Living Room' lounge for solo studio guests. Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams Dinner Theatre, Legends in Concert, Fat Cats Blues Bar (Slam Allen Band was fantastic!), Second City Revue, Howl at the Moon Dueling Piano Bar, Svedka Ice Bar. Largest fitness centre and spa at sea, great Thermal Suite area. You can not possibly do it all on this ship in 7 days!
In May 2011, I cruised from the homeport of New Orleans to the Western Caribbean on a 4 day cruise on the Carnival Triumph. We visited Cozumel and had 2 fun days at sea. This ship and itinerary appeals to families, singles, couples...those who want an informal party for a few days. Very busy, very noisy, food adequate, ship needs updating. But cheap and cheerful!
I completed an 11 day Avalon Waterways Burgundy & Provence River Cruise in July 2010. I spent 2 nights in Paris, transferred through Beaune to Chalon sur Saone and boarded the Scenery for 7 days cruising the Saone and Rhone Rivers. Highlights were Chalon sur Saone, Lyon, Viviers, Avignon and Arles. Following disembarkation in Arles, I transferred to Nice for 1 night, visiting Monte Carlo and Monaco on an optional excursion. Avalon offers many inclusions including wine with meals, walking tour shore excursions, bottled water. Dining is open seating with many fresh regional ingredients purchased enroute. Daily optional excursions along the route offered visits to vineyards and wineries, olive oil factories, medieval towns, and castles, lavender fields and scenic Southern France. I highly recommend this itinerary and mode of travel for leisurely visiting the wine region of France.
I cruised on a 17 day repositioning Panama Canal cruise in October 2010 aboard the Island Princess. I embarked in Vancouver, spent 2 days at sea arriving in San Francisco. Many passengers disembarked as this was the end of the Coastal Cruise. I continued from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas, Puntarenas Costa Rica, Puerto Amador Panama, transitted the Panama Canal, Cartagena Columbia, Aruba and disembarked in Fort Lauderdale. The Island Princess is a beautiful medium sized ship in the fleet, very clean, superb cuisine, friendly professional crew. The entertainment was varied and high quality. The ports of call were all good with the exception of Puntarenas Costa Rica. Best to do a shore excursion here to see the real Costa Rica, though the transfer times inland are long. The transit of the Panama Canal was narrated by a historian throughout the passage which was informative. The 2 day experience in Panama is unique to Princess Cruises and is a good way to experience more of Panama than just the Canal. There were many days at sea. These were most pleasant. Favourite spots on the ship were the Thermal Suite in the Spa, and Crooners Bar with fabulous sunset views just before dinner!
Cruised on the Celebrity Summit from Barcelona round trip, visiting Cannes, Rome, Florence, Sicily, Tunisia, Palma de Mallorca. A smaller ship, nicely appointed, port heavy itinerary, so the ship doesn't matter as much. Ports every day but 1 in a 7 day itinerary. Highlights were the shore excursions offered by the ship. Very affordable for Europe and full days. I loved the Amalfi Coast!
Cruised from Boston to Montreal in a 7 day itinerary aboard Holland America's Maasdam. Smaller ship but nicely appointed. Mostly Philipino crew and Dutch officers. Food good but Pinnacle Grill is a must visit. Found a couple favourite spots on the ship - 'Oasis' in the Spa and the Ocean Bar for pre-dinner cocktails watching the sun set. Ports visited were Bar Harbour Maine, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, Quebec City. Port heavy itinerary, not much time to enjoy the ship. I cruised in July, quite wet and foggy, but warm. Would also be nice in late September when the fall colours are out.
Cruised the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Skagway and return on the Celebrity Mercury, visiting Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway. Ship is small, older, but intimate with great crew.
Cruised the Western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale on the Carnival Liberty visiting Costa Maya, Grand Cayman where we swam with the stingrays.
Cruised with family on the Carnival Spirit from San Diego round trip visiting Ixtapa, Manzanillo and Acapulco.
Receive the latest and greatest deals and some great
Receive the latest and greatest deals and some great