I am not an app.

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

I am not an app or a computer program. Instead, I am an experienced travel planner and I use human common sense and practicality when customizing vacations for my clients. I don't just let the computer dictate what you should do but instead will use my real life experiences when making suggestions on where you should go, where you should stay and what you should do while there. More than likely, I have sent clients to your chosen destination before and oftentimes I have personal travel experience there too - especially in Europe where I have traveled extensively. Yes, travel agents still exist.

Never used a travel agent before? Don't worry - you are not the only one. Majority of my new clients have always planned their own vacations - wasting precious hours googling and making notes and trying to make sense of their travel plans. They are usually referrals from my existing clients who have heard through them about my services and the ways I have enhanced both their vacation planning process as well as their overall vacation experience. I can take the stress out of your vacation planning. You don't have to do it on your own.

For land vacations, I handpick each element to customize the itinerary to your travel preferences and style. I don't have any bias when it comes to hotels or tour operators that I work with - except I choose those that offer outstanding quality and value. The OTA's (online travel agents such as Orbitz or Hotels.com) do have bias in their search results - often the hotel companies will pay to be listed at the top of the search results lists. The companies I partner with are not like that.

With cruises, I again only partner with companies that offer quality and value. There's not as much customization with cruises as the cruise lines dictate the itineraries but I can personalize the shore excursions in each port, as well as the pre-/post-cruise stays.

I've been in the travel agency industry since 2000 and have seen the changes it has made in the past two decades. The OTA's have tried to take over the smaller travel agency businesses and it is a shame that many people still rely on the internet when planning their vacations when there is a better option - an experienced travel agent. A few years ago I launched "Travel Agent Awareness" to help spread the word that real travel agents still exist and that we are the better option to turn to when planning your vacation. We do the research and figure out the small details so you don't have to waste hours figuring it all out on your own while worrying if you've chosen the right options. We have the resources and contacts at our fingertips, as well as the personal travel experiences and advice you can't find online.

So, if you are wondering what it is like to have a real travel professional plan your vacation, then seek out a travel agent. Feel free to ask questions to learn more about our expertise and how we can assist you with your travel plans. I am quick to respond to emails and am accepting new clients. So why wait? Contact me now so we can get started on your travel plans!

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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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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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Cruisin' through France

Avalon_Artistry II_Exterior_01.jpg

Trains are great in Europe. They are quick and efficient. They get you from point A to B in a blur. Which sometimes that is what you want. But sometimes you may want a more relaxed and slower pace. And a slow relaxed pace is definitely what river cruising can offer.

Imagine being able to check-in to your floating hotel for at least 7-nights knowing that you will get to visit many places and see beautiful scenery without having the hassle of packing your bags every few days. Your stateroom, which is larger in size compared to mainstream ocean cruise cabins, has a more hotel-feel instead of feeling like you are on a ship. The size of the ship is limited to four decks so you don’t have to walk for miles to get anywhere and it isn’t very wide as it has to be skinny enough to fit through locks on the river. This all gives the ships a more intimate feel and experience. You’ll meet other like-minded guests from around the world and make friendships that can last for years.

You could easily spend the entire time eating – meals (which are included in the cruise cost) include made-to-order egg station or a breakfast buffet with complimentary sparking wine, daily lunch buffet with pasta and carving stations as well as a grilled lunch outside (weather permitting) or a lighter lunch served in the Bistro, and dinner is a four-course a la carte mouth-watering experience. Regional wine, beer and soft drinks are served with all lunches and dinners (also included in cost). Vegetarian options are offered and other special dietary needs can be arranged. The meals are made with local produce that the chefs shop for while you are out sightseeing. In between the set meal times there is a premium coffee station with cookies and fruit, as well as daily afternoon tea and late night dining. Phew. That’s a lot of food.

Now for the experience. I am concentrating on France for this article and there are three main areas where you can river cruise – along the Seine between Paris & Normandy, Burgundy & Provence and in the Bordeaux area. Each itinerary has its own individual experiences which I will abbreviate below.

  • Paris and Normandy – This river cruise combines the City of Love with the history of Normandy. The ship will sail roundtrip from Paris and include Giverny (Monet’s home) or Bizy Castle, the landing beaches in Normandy, a visit to Rouen to see the cathedral and the Astronomical Clock, and Conflans with a choice of excursions to visit Auvers-sur-Oise or Napoleon and Josephine’s Château de Malmaison
  • Burgundy and Provence – Visit charming villages and medieval towns. Go wine tasting and see a Roman Amphitheater. Enjoy a cheese tasting and visit the beautiful Palace of the Popes. Some cruise lines only focus on Provence and some combine both. The Avalon Waterways itinerary (that has a 40% off promotion on certain dates for a limited time) runs between St Jean De Losne (Burgundy) and Arles (Provence). You can easily add-on a pre/post cruise stay in Paris or on the French Riviera. Great for wine lovers, foodies, history and art enthusiasts and those who want to experience the culture of southern France.
  • Bordeaux – Sailings are roundtrip Bordeaux and are very much geared towards the wine lover. There are cute towns and natural sights to behold as well but most of the activities involve some type of wine tasting or vineyard visit (and nothing wrong with that!) Not all river cruise companies are in this area yet.

There are also special interest cruises on these itineraries including those with a special interest in the culinary aspects, the wine, the art, or the WWII history. These sailings all have extra inclusions depending on the theme.

Does any of this sound interesting to you? Email me today to get started on your travel plans.

Interested in a river cruise but not keen on France? River cruises are all over Europe including Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Austria, The Netherlands, Hungary and Italy. Worldwide they can be found on the Amazon River in South America, China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Africa (river cruise + safari!)


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