River Cruising Anyone?

River cruising is all the rage.  In fact, I have more people asking about river cruises that any other kind of tour travel these days.  It’s not really surprising based on the amazing advertising that airs about this type of travel.  It looks simply idyllic doesn’t it?

Guess what?  It is!!  Having just returned from a trip down the Rhine River, I feel qualified to say this.  Traveling through the waterways of the world by ship is absolutely enchanting.  A vast array of river cruise companies have created floating hotels that whisk you through multiple cities and countries, but you never feel rushed or overwhelmed.  Many times you spend the day basking in the culture of one delightful town, cruise overnight and wake up in a brand new place to explore the next day.  Add in exceptional food, interesting and fun excursions and plush accommodations, and you have a recipe for a fantastic vacation experience.

Below I’ve given a little bit of information about four popular cruise lines currently operating.  If you would like to see a chart that compares all the major river cruise lines, please let me know by adding a comment here, and I’ll get that to you shortly.

  • AmaWaterways – This cruise line boasts 17 modern ships in their fleet and sails the waterways of Europe, Africa and Asia (Vietnam and Cambodia).  The staterooms, recreational and dining areas are beautiful, well-equipped and meticulously maintained by an incredibly friendly staff that make you feel more like an old friend than a customer.  In addition, Ama has a focus on health and wellness, offering hiking and biking excursions as well as yoga and pilates classes, and all are included in the cost of your cruise.  There are also less active excursions like gentle walking tours and wine tastings for those who’d rather relax while seeing new places.  The food is simply wonderful (seriously), and the cost is very reasonable based on the accommodations and level of service provided.  WanderMore Travels Grade: A+
  • Viking – Based on the amount of advertising Viking does, this cruise line has become synonymous with river cruising especially to Americans.  Sailing the waters around Europe, Russia, Egypt and Asia, Viking is the largest river cruise operator (by far) in the world.  This leads to itineraries that are widely varied and well-developed.  The accommodations, common and dining areas have very clean lines following Nordic fashion, and are well maintained by a lovely and polished staff.  There is not a focus on health and wellness for excursion choices, but the staff is always ready to help you hire a bicycle in town or map out a hike to scenic areas.  The cost can be reasonable if you book through an advertised deal.  WanderMore Travels Grade: B+
  • UniWorld Boutique River Cruise Collection. UniWorld has been offering amazing river cruise experiences for the last 30 years. Just walking onto the ship is an experience.  Each vessel has a unique design that can only be described as artful.  Think Versailles mixed with a little Ritz Carlton and you’ve got the right flavor.  Their itineraries are just as varied as the décor, offering trips down less-visited waterways like the Po River in Italy.  In addition, they are truly an all-inclusive experience (yes, that includes alcohol 24/7).  With all the beautiful attention to detail in the décor, the food and the itineraries, UniWorld charges a premium fare and has people returning again and again to experience this amazing brand of floating elegance. WanderMore Travels Grade: A
  • Crystal River Cruises. Crystal has been cruising the oceans in luxury (serious luxury) for the past 25 years, and has now entered the river cruise market. In keeping with their strength in the luxury market, Crystal calls their ships “River Yachts” as opposed to the more mundane title.  The food can only be called Michelin inspired and the staff are hand-picked and Crystal trained.  Their staff ratio of two crew members to three guests is unmatched, with butler service for every room category, dedicated spa professionals, Crystal Society hosts, multiple pastry chefs and much more.  Their ship Mozart boasts king-sized beds, iPad control centers and the largest suites of any river vessels in Europe.  Suffice to say, you will be in the lap of luxury for your entire cruise.  Naturally, the price tag is as hefty as you might imagine, but sometimes you just need to splurge a little – right?  WanderMore Travels Grade: A+

Happy Travels!

 

Traveling Overseas? Get Prepared with My Top 5 Check List

Travel rocks!  Pretty simplistic statement, but seriously, seeing beautiful new places, having amazing adventures, and collecting memories that will light up the rest of your life – what could be better?  Not much in my opinion.

To get the most out of your travel experiences though, it pays to prepare a bit to make sure everything goes smoothly.  To that end, I’ve compiled my top 5 list of preparation items for your next overseas journey. Take care of these few items before you head out the door, and you can strike out with confidence.

  • Register with STEP. STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and is something you should register with if you are traveling out of the country.  It’s a free service that allows US citizens traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.  Once you’re registered, you will get important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country and give the Embassy a way to contact you in an emergency – whether it’s a local issue or family related.  It will also help expedite the passport replacement process should you have your passport stolen or lost while traveling.
  • Make a copy of your passport. I know you’ve heard this before, but it never hurts to review.  If you have a copy of your passport and it gets lost or stolen, you can get it replaced relatively quickly.  If you don’t have a copy, you will incur miles of red tape as the Embassy or Consulate tries to ascertain if you are who you say you are.  You’ll still be asked a million questions even if you have a copy, but trust me, it will make for a much smoother process.  I used to make two paper copies and put one in my carry-on bag and leave one with my emergency contact at home.  However, these days I just have a photo of it in my phone, and I email that photo to my emergency contact.  That way if my phone gets stolen along with my passport (heaven forbid), I can get an electronic copy emailed to me right away.
  • Check-in with your bank. You’re going to need local currency once you get to your destination, and the easiest way to do that is through a local ATM.  Of course, you want to be sure your debit/ATM card will work in ATMs overseas by calling your bank and checking with them.  Typically, if your card has a Visa or Mastercard logo on it, you’re good to go.  (You’ll definitely want to use an ATM at your destination to get the best exchange rates available – much better than the airport or at your bank before you leave town.) Also, while you’re on with the bank checking about your debit card, be sure to find out about any fees associated with using an ATM or making purchases with your card in a foreign country so you can plan accordingly.
  • Make sure you set your cell phone up with a plan that won’t incur overage charges. This one is really important if you don’t want to have a nasty surprise once you get back home.  Your friendly neighborhood mobile phone company will charge your lights out if you use your phone outside the country and haven’t purchased a temporary overseas plan with them.  Data usage is the worst offender.  We’re so used to using maps, social media and Internet searching at home, it’s only natural to continue the practice when you’re traveling.  All of a sudden, you’ve racked up $1000 of overage charges you didn’t plan for.  Call your phone company and set up a plan for texting and minimal talk time, and ask them how to change your phone settings once you’re on your flight to make sure you don’t incur unintentional charges.  Then find WIFI to connect to for data usage, and you’ll be able to communicate with home and your social media buddies without spending next year’s travel budget on all those selfies you posted.
  • Check in with your travel professional about local requirements. Many countries have specific requirements for visitors.  These requirements could include special visas, appropriate clothing, immunizations or possession of medications.  Now you could spend a bunch of time researching all these requirements and always having a niggle of doubt about whether you missed something, OR you could call a travel professional and get a complete list right away.  Guess which one I’d choose?

Happy travels!

This Ain’t Your Granny’s Group Travel

Group travel has undergone a huge metamorphosis in the last 10 years.  Gone are the days of just “seeing the sights”, eating in herds and visiting all the main tourist attractions in an area.  Group travel experts now design adventures around your special interests in a way that is authentic to your destination of choice.  How about tasting wine across Provence while learning French cooking from an Avignon local?  Want to cycle through the Basque region of Spain interspersed with sea kayaking along the northern Spanish coast?  Or maybe a glamping adventure including photography lessons from an Ansel Adams acolyte in Yosemite National Park is more your style.  Does a spa vacation with essential oil classes and gentle horseback riding through virgin forest sound like more your speed?  Suffice to say, if you can dream it up, there’s a group trip for that.

And that’s not all.  Traveling in a group to a bucket list destination focused on your special interest also comes with some great benefits not found in individual travel.  I know you’re thinking, “What, there’s more?”  Yes, indeed there is. Traveling with a group has some definite advantages over traveling solo.  Here are just a few.

  • More socializing. If you are traveling with a group of people you already know, your journey will give you invaluable time to strengthen your relationships and build fabulous new memories with those people.  If you’re traveling with a group of people you didn’t know before departure, you’ll get the chance to build new friendships and experiences with people that have similar interests.  I find I enjoy a hybrid of these two opportunities.  I like going on a group trip with a few people I know and several people I’ve never met before.  It truly broadens the experience so much to learn about people from different cultures and areas of the world all while sharing the excitement of travel with people you’ve known for years.
  • More cost effective. A travel group is usually defined as 8 or more people.  This is because airlines, hotels and attractions typically begin discounting costs for airfare, rooms and tickets if you have a group of 8 or more traveling to the same destination at the same time.  The more people in your group, the more discount you can expect.  It’s just simple economics driving this.  For example, it is significantly less expensive for hotels to rent out an entire floor of their property while dealing with one tour organizer, than to rent out those same rooms to 40 individual people.  Not to mention the guarantee of blocks of space being planned for months in advance.  You can expect anywhere from 25-40% discounts off regular retail pricing.
  • More special opportunities. Many times, large groups will get special treatment because of the logistics of moving your group around.  For example, you might get to board the plane quicker and as a group.  The hotel may set up a special reception area with food and drink on your group’s floor to accommodate everyone.  Customs may divert your group to a special area to handle immigration all at once instead of having to stand in the cattle call line like individual travelers.  Attractions may provide special hours that only serve your group.  Really the possibilities are endless, and all you have to do is join a group of like-minded people on your next adventure.
  • More smooth sailing. Traveling with a group usually makes things go much smoother, especially if you’re headed somewhere off the beaten path.  This is because someone else is handling the details, “greasing the skids” if you like, around all the intricacies of travel for you.  You don’t have to worry about transfers or directions or where to stay.  You just get to focus on the amazing sights and sounds of the locale you’re visiting.

Happy travels!

Looking for a Change? Wellness Travel is for You!

Many people see the words “Wellness Travel” and immediately run the other direction.  This is because there is a huge misconception about what wellness travel is and what it is not.  In simplest terms, wellness travel is an opportunity for you to feel better physically or emotionally than you did before you started your journey.  As a bonus, you get to see some amazing parts of the world and enjoy experiencing everything the area has to offer.  Wellness travel is NOT running a marathon or riding the Tour de France or shaving your head to fit in as you learn to chant with the monks in a Tibetan temple.  Obviously, those are exaggerated examples, but you get the idea.

Maybe it’s a break at a spa retreat, a gentle hike on beautiful mountain trails, cycling to the next town on your itinerary or learning to cook amazing dishes with organic ingredients.  Whatever you choose, taking a wellness vacation has awesome benefits that last much longer than the vacation itself.  The most consistent benefit though, is its ability to change your perspective on life in general.  Who doesn’t need that once in a while?  Check out just a few ways wellness travel can make a change for you.

  • Want to feel better? Step into wellness.  It may feel like a tired refrain, but if you want to feel better, you have to get moving.  We all know this, but doing something about it can be really difficult – especially taking that first step.  Sometimes all we need is the right motivation to get started.   Are you a gardener?  See the blooming tulip fields up-close-and-personal on an easy cycling tour in the Netherlands.  Do you love nature?  Take a gentle kayaking trip down the crystal clear waters of the Suwannee River in Florida. Are you looking to add a little awe in your life?  A glamping adventure through California’s redwood forests is just what the doctor ordered.  Set a goal to actively experience something near and dear to your heart, and you will have taken that difficult first step towards adding exercise as a regular part of your routine.
  • Not sure which end is up these days? Chill out your stressful life.  Did you know that stress accounts for 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians?  Nope, not kidding.  I won’t go into the reasons for that now, but suffice to say that stopping the cycle of stress hormone release is truly phenomenal for your body.  Have trouble “turning off” the stressful brain cycles?  Not to worry.  There are retreats in some of the most breathtaking locations in the world that can teach you techniques to let go of your stress and give your mind and body a break.  Best of all, you can take these techniques home with you to reduce your stress cycle once back into your regular routine.
  • In a rut? Figure out your next move.   Here’s a news flash – overwork kills your creativity.  It simply shuts down pathways and connections that our brain needs to think creatively.  What to do?  Well, pick out a beautiful spot in the world and carve out the time for a nice vacation.  The latest neuroscience findings show that when we are idle in leisure, our brains are most active.   That’s right.  If you want to get out of a rut in your life, you need to slow down and set your brain free to roam.  You will be amazed at the lightbulbs that will go off about your next move.

Happy Travels!