Authentic Alaska

The Safari Endeavor has a custom-made kayak launch pad so you can get in and out of the kayak with ease

The Safari Endeavor has a custom-made kayak launch pad so you can get in and out of the kayak with ease

Visiting Alaska via cruise ship is not anything new. Thousands of tourists descend on Alaska during the summer months visiting the main (and touristy) ports of call. The views are beautiful and you can definitely have some great experiences but there is a better way to get closer to the real heart of Alaska - its nature and wilderness.

UnCruise Adventures is the only Alaskan-owned cruise company and their love of Alaska shines through everything they do. They have 7 vessels in Alaska including yacht-style vessels (with a capacity as low as 22-guests!) and expedition-style vessels (which average 60-70 passengers). They have specially curated itineraries to showcase the “real” Alaska - because of their smaller size, they can get into areas that the big ships can’t so you will have Alaska all to yourselves. The captain will also change course if there are reports of whales or bears so that you have the best wildlife viewing experiences.

Each vessel has its own vibe - such as this modern wine bar

Each vessel has its own vibe - such as this modern wine bar

Another difference between UnCruise Adventures and the “normal” cruises in Alaska is the food. You will enjoy healthy and sustainable gourmet meals while on board your ship - including chef-selected wine pairings. There’s always a vegetarian option and other special dietary needs can be met. The chefs will pay attention to how your food options meld with the activities and conditions of the day. You don’t get that on the big ships!

Besides dining, each ship has a lounge and/or bar which will serve local wines and craft spirits and beers. They say they don’t want to brag, but they are confident that they can “hang their hat” on having the best craft bars afloat! Sounds good to me! Oh - and alcohol is included in the cruise price.

Close-up view of the kayak launching area

Close-up view of the kayak launching area

Now to the day-to-day activities - also all included in the cruise fare. You can wake up to morning yoga on the deck. Most ships have a custom-made kayak launch platform so you can get in the kayak without tipping over into the water (I need that). You can also go hiking on glaciers, go snorkeling and/or do stand-up paddle boarding. Typically you’ll have an activity to choose from in the morning and in the afternoon - or you can choose just to relax onboard and just absorb the views which will be incredible from any angle.

While the summer is the most popular time to go to Alaska for the big ships, UnCruise Adventures starts sailing in April. This is springtime in Alaska so there is a high chance you’ll see bears awakening from their winter slumber - with their cubs! There is usually more whales as they haven’t migrated yet. The days tend to be dry and sunny, and there’s even a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. This is the “secret” time to visit Alaska before the crowds!

These cruises are also family-friendly with special activities for kids. They can also do private charters just for you and your closest family and friends.

Besides Alaska, they also have itineraries in Hawaii, Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, Costa Rica & Panama, the Galapagos, the Pacific Northwest and along the Columbia and Snake rivers. There are themed cruise departures including craft beer, photography, wellness, wine and birding (amongst others).

For more information on these cruise options, please email me today!

Best for: adventure seekers, wildlife lovers, retirees, families with kids ages 8+, family reunions, incentive trips, wine and/or beer lovers, those looking for something “different”

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5 Tips on how to plan your first international vacation


Planning your first international vacation can seem like a daunting task - so many things to consider that it can quickly get overwhelming. Fear not - we are here to assist you every step of the way. To help you get started here is our list of the top 5 things to consider when you first start planning your trip:

1. Passport! Get a passport or you won't be going anywhere internationally. And don't get a passport card - it's not worth it as its only good if you were driving to Canada or Mexico. Make sure to get the Passport Book. There are a lot of requirements to getting a passport but luckily they have a handy checklist on the official passport page.

Tip: Get your required passport photos taken at Walgreens or somewhere that knows what they are doing. Don't submit photos you take on your own - your application will be denied. Oh and don't smile. You think your drivers license photo is bad? You haven't seen your passport photo yet then!

2. Budget - Be realistic! And don't penny pinch or stretch it too thin - you will be disappointed. Not sure what it may cost? We are happy to give you some insight. Just an FYI - we only recommend hotels and places to stay that are at least a well-rated 3-star or higher. We don't do hostels. We don't do cheapo motels. We do quality vacations so you are comfortable and happy. This also applies to the sightseeing activities we recommend as well - we concentrate on the overall quality and value - not just the price. Lowest price does not always equal the best memorable experience. You don't have to figure out the exact amount of your budget now but it's good to have a ballpark figure in mind. Try to be flexible as well as more than likely its going to cost more than what you hoped.

3. Where to? Once you've applied for your passport and thought about your funds, it's time to figure out where to go. This is the hard part unless you really know what you want. Ask us for suggestions if you need help deciding. We have the questions that will reveal the answers to find the perfect vacation for you! We specialize in international vacations to any destination. Europe is our most popular continent but we have the skills, resources and experience to send you anywhere. And we have - to all 7 continents (yes, that includes Antarctica!)

4. Organizing the itinerary. Once you know where you want to go, we can start filling in the details. This is the fun part! Where will you stay? How will you spend your time? How will you get there?
We can help you with all the details - this is our favorite part! We love making suggestions and recommendations based on your own travel styles, preferences, "musts"... We are vacation customizing pros. We also like to think outside the box and provide you with the experience that you are looking for but maybe didn't know it.

5. Other travel documents - besides a passport, some countries also require you to get a Visa. This doesn't have anything to do with credit cards (although proof of having one may be a Visa requirement for some countries). Another important thing to check is what, if any, vaccinations are required for your destination. The CDC has a handy website with what is Required (important) and Recommended. Scared of what they recommend? Just look at the warnings for the US to put them into context.

Ready to get started? Contact us now!

How we work:

  1. Email us to start the conversation. We strive to respond the same day so keep an eye out for our prompt response! Please let us know if you were referred by someone at this time as well.
  2. We will send you a questionnaire which will allow us to get to know you as an individual. It will have questions about where you've been before, what your hobbies and special interests are, your travel preferences, etc. We can also set up an appointment to chat (by phone or in person if you are in the Orlando area) if that is easier for you.
  3. When we have your answers and more info, we will send you an itinerary outline to give you some ideas and to get your feedback. We will provide some ideas at this time for how to spend your time and the logistics of the itinerary. This will confirm that we are both on the same page when it comes to your vacation. Changes can be made at this time if necessary as this is a guide only - no reservations or quotes* done at this time. Why no quote at this time? We prefer having an outline of the itinerary before we start making reservations and gathering prices. Unlike a search engine, we hand select all the elements of your vacation. This does take us some time to fully customize all the details. Many times we are working with suppliers in your destination country so time differences have to be taken into account as well. Therefore we need some type of commitment from you before we dive into the details. See below. This ensures we spend our time wisely with the right clients - you. *We can provide ballpark figures at anytime to give you a general idea of expected costs.
  4. Once we have a general idea of the itinerary, we will put together a Custom Vacation Plan for you to review and approve. A Custom Vacation Planning Fee will be due at this time before we move forward with the quotes. The fee amount will vary on the complexity of the trip but is usually @$150. Once we receive this act of commitment from you, we will fill in all the details on the itinerary outline and send you a quote. Changes can be made until you are happy! No obligation. (If you were a referral, please let us know - we may be able to waive this fee!)
  5. After we have agreed on an itinerary, a deposit will be required followed by final payment. Deposits vary but are typically $250 or less per person. Final payments are typically due 45-60 days prior to departure but will depend on the individual elements of your vacation. Credit cards are highly preferred. Note: Some items, namely flights, will have to be paid in full at time of booking.
  6. Fast forward to about three weeks before you leave - we will send you hard copies of all the necessary travel documents including a very detailed itinerary, hotel confirmations, vouchers, tickets... As well as destination info, maps, travel tips... We will also include emergency contact information for you to leave with family and friends, packing lists, and luggage tags.
  7. We will be available during your entire vacation to assist you as need be as well as afterwards. We want to know how much you loved your vacation and look forward to seeing your photos!

Want more info? Ready to book? Just send me a quick email and we can start planning your first international vacation!

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European River Cruising 101

You may have seen the TV commercials or heard your friends talk about the benefits of river cruising, but you may not be familiar with exactly what a trip like this would entail. River cruising in Europe is a comfortable way to experience the countryside, and cities, of different destinations without a lot of hassle or stress. The ship is a floating hotel where you only have to unpack once - your room doesn’t change but your view does. You typically start and end in a larger port city (like Amsterdam or Budapest - two of my favorites!) but then you get to enjoy 7+ days of sailing in between those ports. You see what life is like along the river - small towns and villages; churches and castles; agricultural fields and vineyards. It gives you a whole different perspective on Europe that you can’t get by train or plane.

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning a river cruise:

The Itinerary: Most first-time European river cruisers choose to sail along the Rhine (between Amsterdam and Switzerland - known as the Castle Route as there are so many castles on this route) or the Danube (between Germany and Prague - the “Romantic” itinerary.) But there are also great itineraries in France - in Northern France (Normandy area), Bordeaux, or in Burgundy and Provence, in Portugal (Duoro River - focusing on Port wine), and even in northern Italy. You could even do the longest itinerary from the North Sea to the Black Sea - going all the way across the continent! The options can be quickly overwhelming but I can help you decide on the best option for you and your traveling companions. You really can’t go wrong when choosing an itinerary - they all have their benefits!

This article is concentrating on European river cruises but there are also trips in Africa, Asia, South America and even the USA (ships in these destinations differ than their European counterparts but they share a lot of the same ideals and values).

What is included: Typically speaking, across the board, the cruise price includes your accommodations, meals on board (breakfast, lunch and dinner plus snacks), and sightseeing tours and excursions while in port. Embellishments on these inclusions vary from cruise line to cruise line. Many now nclude wine and beer with dinner. Some include wine and beer with lunch and dinner. A few nclude wine, beer and spirits all day. Some give you a choice of shore excursions to choose from depending on your tastes and pace, or some have “exclusive” access to experiences like a private opera performance in Vienna. Some have bikes on board you can borrow for free. Most have free wifi. There is even butler service options available! This is where things start to get tricky and confusing. Luckily, I have the experience and resources to advise you on what is the best option for you - and what the best overall value is for you.

How are they similar? Unlike ocean cruise ships, river cruise ships have size regulations. They can only be such-and-such tall (usually just 4 passenger decks) and such-and-such wide in order to maneuver along the rivers since they go under low bridges and through skinny locks. So this means that the size of the ships are all relatively the same. How they use that space is where things start to differ.

How are they different? Since the ships all are roughly the same size, the cruise operators differ themselves on how they use that space. Some fit in as many cabins as possible so they have the most people on board (and thus a higher profit). Some have decided that personal space is a luxury that you deserve and have chosen to do bigger cabins (thus less people) which leads to an enhanced experience. You can also find amenities such as pools, whirlpools, a spa, fitness room or "al fresco" dining areas on certain ships.

Decor: The decor can vary greatly. Uniworld is known for their luxury “boutique” style which is reflected in the floral patterns which are everywhere.. Avalon and Scenic are both known to have a more modern and contemporary decor. Tauck and AMA Waterways are more upscale. The decor can also vary from ship-to-ship even if owned by the same company. This is also where I can help match the right ship to your personal tastes. New for 2017: river cruise ships for Millennials!

Staterooms/cabins: The layout of the individual cabins can also differ widely. Avalon faces most of their beds towards the window (often a floor to ceiling window!) so you can lounge in bed while still enjoying the panoramic views. Other companies have decided to offer “balconies” or French balconies (keep in mind that they can’t extend the balconies too much due to the width restrictions so space is often taken away from the interior of the cabin to create the outdoor space). The suites are the “creme de la creme” and often feature upgraded service like your own personal “Jeeves”  butler (side note - I can’t guarantee that will be his name).

Inclusions: I mentioned this above but just to reiterate that it is wise to understand the fine print of what is included - and not included. Gratuities and extra drinks can quickly add up when not included. To avoid "sticker shock", I'll describe what is included when you inquire about the river cruise options.

Onboard amenities and entertainment: There is typically some type of evening entertainment which can consist of local musicians who come onboard for a couple of hours. Some lines feature local specialists for more in-depth wine tastings, food pairings, or educational seminars about the history or culture of where you are sailing through. You won’t find casinos or a big shopping promenade on European river cruise ships but you may find a small boutique, a fitness room, a spa, a jacuzzi and on some ships, a small swimming pool. There are also numerous lounge areas (both inside and outside) to relax and meet other like-minded travelers.

Isn’t it just for old people? I did hear Torstein Hagen (owner of Viking) say a few years ago that Viking’s ships are for those who live in nursing homes (i.e. who have mobility issues). Joking aside, this is NOT true for the rest of the lines (or even much for Viking anymore). The age demographics continue to fall as the popularity of river cruising expands - I believe the average age is around 55 (when it used to be around 70). Kids are now allowed on many itineraries - Disney has even recently started teaming up with AMA Waterways to offer kid-friendly itineraries which is a great way for extended families to travel together. River cruising isn’t recommended for small kids though (under 5 or so) but can be a wonderful option for any other age. Uniworld has even launched a new brand called U by Uniworld that is geared towards Millennials.

What is the food like? I haven’t really touched on the food aspect yet. Most river cruise chefs will go into the local markets while in port to pick out fresh produce and ingredients while you are out sightseeing. The menus are themed to the region that you are sailing in and are paired with regional wines and beer so you have a similar experience as to what you’d have if you ate ashore. Another note about dining - typically you can choose to sit with whom you want and dining times can be open-timed (i.e. no set time that you have to be there). Dinners tend to be more formal than breakfast and lunch, but a suit and tie is never necessary. Alternative dining spaces are also popping up on some ships including outdoor dining venues when the weather is nice. The food quality is all generally quite good but there are a few lines that outshine the others.

Who is the right candidate for a river cruise vacation? Pretty much everyone would enjoy some aspect of river cruising but I think it appeals most to those who are interested in the history and culture of where they are visiting. It is great for those who may have been to Europe once or twice before but haven’t seen too much of the countryside. I think it is perfect for special celebrations (anniversaries and birthdays) or reunions. Wine, food, craft beer,  jazz, and art enthusiasts will be happy to hear that there are specially designed itineraries around these topics several times a year. These themed cruises feature special guests such as winemakers, brewers, musicians or artists who sail with you and hold seminars, tastings, classes, etc.

Christmas market cruises are also gaining in popularity. Traveling to Europe during the winter might not be on everyone’s radar but it is a special time to go. Imagine spending a week sailing between small towns/cities while exploring the festive holiday markets in each place. Great for gift shopping before the holidays - not to mention trying the local holiday treats!

One other thing to mention is that there is very little chance you will get sea sick. You aren’t sailing on an ocean so there aren’t any waves to contend with! I know this is a concern for some ocean cruisers but it you don’t have to worry about that on the rivers.

I hope this gives you some “food for thought” on why you should consider trying a river cruise for your next trip. As always, I am here to answer any questions that you have, as well as personally assist you in choosing the right vacation solution for your tastes and needs. I hope you do consider a river cruise as they are very special (and can be addicting!).

Want more info? Ready to book? Just send me a quick email and we can start planning your river cruise adventure!

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How to say "hello" in 20 languages


Any seasoned traveler can attest that knowing just a few simple words in the native language of your destination can lead to better service and treatment. Plus its just the right thing to do!

So here is a handy guide on how to say "hello" in twenty different languages to help you get started. How many of these did you know already?

First, the easier ones:

1. French: "Bonjour"

2. German: "Guten Tag" (good day)

3. Spanish: "Hola"

4. Italian: "Ciao" (yes, it also means goodbye)

Now a little more obscure:

5. Portuguese: "Oi" or "Boas"

6. Polish: "Dzien dobry"

7. Dutch: "Hallo"

8. Croatian: "Dobar dan"

9. Swedish: "God dag"

10. Japanese: "おはよう ございます" = ohayoou gozaimasu (pronounced o-ha-yo go-zai-mass)

And finally, ten that you don't hear very often!

11. Tahitian: "Ia ora na"

12. Swahili: "Jambo"

13. Czech: "Dobry den"

14. Indonesian: "Halo"

15. Russian: "Zdravstuvuyte" (pronounced ZDRA-stvooy-tyeh)

16. Thai - "Sawa dee-ka" (female) or "Sawa dee-krap" (male)

17. Welsh: "Halo" or "Shwmae" (pron "shoe-my")

18. Ukranian: "Dobriy Den" (good afternoon)

19. Navajo: "Ya'at'eeh"

20. Pig Latin: "Ellohay"

There are also alternative ways to say "hello" in each of these languages, but these will at least get you started!

Happy Travels!


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