Friday, October 30, 2015

WellsWorld on the radio: Bid your way to adventure






See Rome, Paris, London or Istanbul the Rick Steves way.




Ride across Canada and back with deluxe accommodations from Via Rail.


Stay at the Peabody Memphis and star as its Honorary Duck Master.

Rick and the other members of the 60-year-old  Society of American Travel Writers have once again assembled a stellar list of travel treats and adventures for the annual Travel Auction and you are invited to participate.

Food lovers
Cook books, giant Texas steaks, a food writer's flavorful guide to the flavors of New Orleans and an evening's stay, a five-course dinner and breakfast for two at Paul Kitching Michelelin-starred 21212, Royal Terrace, Edinburgh.


Marcliffe Hotel
 Speaking of Scotland, golfers can choose from the 5-star Marcliffe Hotel with rounds at Royal Aberdeen and Trump International or 5-star Lochgreen House Hotel overlooking Royal Troon. Better yet, combine them.
 












Go to sea for six- to-eight days in the Caribbean with Carnival Cruise Lines or the Atlantic Ocean off Maine on a Windjammer cruise. 


Safari in south India, spend a week in Tobago or a weekend in Trinidad or get away to condos in Destin, FL. or Orange Beach, AL.

Branson
Closer to home, river raft in West Virginia or South Carolina, wellness spa in Texas, hit the speedway in Indianapolis, relax in Santa Fe or spend a week with air, lodging, rental car and show passes in Branson, MO.

Sample the sights and lobster flavor of this year's 2-nation vacation that the Good Girls in the Badlands took and blogged about (www.goodgirlsinthebadlands.com) with stays in Portland, Maine; St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick and at Digby Pines in Nova Scotia.There's also a whale watching cruise you can add.

Bidding continues until 11:45 p.m. EST  Nov. 8, which means you can buy for holiday gift-giving.
http://events.readysetauction.com/satw/2015 



CruiseStay

Cruising out of Fort Lauderdale? Rodeway Inn & Suites offers free shuttles to and from the port plus parking at its secure hotel site with discount packages available beginning at $60 a night. www.rodewayfll.com.

No Single Supplement Safari

Lion World Travel offers four nights in Cape Town, South Africa, and three nights at Bakubung Bush Lodge during its nine-night safari package for $3,299 per person.

The two departure dates - May 5 or Aug. 18, 2016 - include round-trip economy air fare from New York, transfers, welcome service, accommodations at the Commodore Hotel in Cape Town, a tour of the Cape area, Djembe drumming session, seven breakfasts and five dinners and six game drives in the Pilanesburg Game Reserve.

For details and reservations, 800-387-2706 or www.lionworldtravel.com

Cruise Calculator

We all see deals on cruises but just how much will it actually cost you to go on one?

The just announced, FREE, Cruise Calculator will help you figure it out. Fill in the actual prices on tickets, taxes, parking, airfare, port excursions (you can find out from you travel agent or the line's website) or use the calculator's estimates and the site does the rest.

Try it, http://cruisecalculator.net. I think you'll like it.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Cambodia and Vietnam the AmaDara Way

Cruising the Mekong River on AmaDara

AmaDara
If you want to feel incredibly privileged and fortunate, see a third world country on a first class river ship. AmaDara, the largest and newest ship plying the Mekong River, made her inaugural cruise in August and I was there for the experience.

AmaWaterways had just been named Best River Cruise Line by Virtuoso and AmaDara enhances that reputation. Cruises on AmaDara start at $4,959 per person.

The experience began on land with a stay at the exotic Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, what are left of the glories of the Khmer empire when much of this area of Asia was known as Campuchia.

Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom, with a variety of temples and beautifully carved walls, is most everyone's favorite but its smaller spaces can become claustrophobic when the hordes of tourists descend every day.






















Angkor Wat, larger and better preserved (its royal builder insisted on a finer grade of limestone), absorbs the hordes and only seems crowded for the sunrise, when everyone wants the same view of reflections from across the lake the massive temple faces.



 Angkor Wat



Both are impressive and convey the melancholy of lost grandeur.










Floating village in Cambodia
Life on the Mekong River
We were welcomed to AmaDara by a local band, Cambodian lion dancers, traditional dancers, captain and crew and AmaWaterways' owners and board of directors. Cabins are spacious, come with two balconies and are well-equipped. Public spaces are comfortable and airy.

Residents' transportation to and from Evergreen Island in Vietnam.
Every day we had choices of excursions to decidedly non-touristy locales each of which added insight to history, culture and way of life of its residents. Unlike large cruise ships, AmaDara has no photographer in your face trying to market photos or a shopping director steering you to "preferred" shopping.

Buddhist monks at prayer, Oudong, Cambodia.
Surprises are an AmaWaterways tradition and we had some doozies: permission to photograph or tape Buddhist monks at prayer, encounters with survivors of the infamous Killing Fields and rides on an ox cart. On board, we were treated to young dancers, seasoned musicians performing on traditional instruments, cooking demonstrations and staff talent shows.

Appetizers were always creative.
Three times a day we were offered inventive Western and local dishes, five-course lunches and dinners, both with fine wines and frequent cocktail parties. Pho Ba for breakfast became a favorite.

City Hall, SaIgon
By the time we reached Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as everyone but its residents call it, we were truly an AmaDara family. After a city tour we went out own ways, shopping, touring, relaxing.

Dinner at Quan Bui.
If you ever find yourself here, don't miss a meal at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza's Mezz restaurant, an amazingly comprehensive buffet of Western, Asian and International cuisine stations, or Quan Bui, a gustatory revelation of Vietnamese cuisine.

Cambodian girl gets your attention with her tarantula in hopes you will buy some bananas.
We all took home suitcases full for goodies but lasting longer will be the respect and admiration for the people who smile despite not always having enough to eat and are working hard to improve themselves and their countries.

Note: For a more thorough account of the cruise, go to All Things Cruise  and look for AmaDara.

Italian Deal

How about $479 for nine nights in Italy?
Three nights' accommodations Rome at the Hotel Buenos Aires, three nights in Florence at the Corona d'Italia and three nights in Venice at the Malibran or Santa Chiara plus daily breakfast, high speed train tickets, free pizza and gelato in Rome and Florence and and a tour of Murano in Venice. Oh, and one sight-seeing tour.

Available November 1 to December 20, 2015 and does not include air or local hotel taxes.

Upgrades available, natch, at  www.tourcrafters.it, “Deal of the Week.”   For reservations, call TourCrafters  toll-free  at  1-800-ITALY95.









Thursday, July 23, 2015

Maritimes, Maine and more

Snowbirds head south in the winter, southerners return the favor in the summer. Try these destinations I recently visited in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine.

Nova Scotia. 

Liscomb River.
Get away from it all. Liscombe Lodge Resort & Conference Center offers cabins or rooms, all with great views, a dining room that serves delicious food with views a bird watcher will love, heated pool, marina and a friendly staff. A two-hour drive from Halifax will put you amid trails galore. En route you will pass folk artist Barry Colpitts' eye-catching house and workshops. Nearby, Sherbrooke Village recreates an 19th century river town.

Halifax
Have it all. Halifax offers dramatic history, a bustling downtown, memorable food colorful wharf, scenic trails and outdoor recreation. Don't miss the Maritime Museum or the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 a short walk away along the waterfront. Westin has nicely renovated the historic Nova Scotian Hotel which is well located for exploring the city.

Lobster and scallop boats at Digby Harbor.
Scallop capital of the world. You will find lobster, too, from the fishing fleet at Digby. The town is quaint, there's a fun walking tour with "Admiral Digby" and it is surrounded by a plethora of little towns, coves, bays and places to visit. To the north, Annapolis Royal is a charming town with a Historic Garden for strolling, excellent restaurants and a ghost tour that many enjoy. To the south, the Acadian Center, Rendez-vous de la Baie, and the tallest wooden church in North America. All are on the famous Bay of Fundy complex. Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, a haven for visitors since 1929, is an elegantly comfortable home away from home from which to explore it all.

Ferry across the Digby Gut to....

New Brunswick

Kingsbrae Gardens.
... where we made a beeline to The Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. Opened in 1889, this commandingTudor-style hostelry added a golf course in 1894, and is an ideal spot from which to explore the wonderfully named Passamaquoddy Bay area. You could spend a day roaming beautiful and welcoming  Kingsbrae Gardens, and don't miss waiting for the tide to recede for the drive to Minister's Island or sign on for a whale-watching excursion.

Maine

Lucky Catch's Capt. Tom measures a lobster to see if it is a keeper. It wasn't.
Time and rain limited exposure to Portland but it has become a foodie magnet with 300-plus restaurants, most chef-owned and/or independent, for its population of 66,000. The Public Market is a co-op of dealers in delectibles, Dean's Sweets (try a Needham) is a chocolate lovers paradise, Gritty McDuff's is the city's first brew pub, handsomely packaged oils and balsamics attract cooks to Vervacious and Vena's Fizz House is the hot headquarters for flavored bitters and bartending secrets. A highlight was a trip on the Lucky Catch lobster boat with its hands-on lesson in catching lobsters. Follow that with a stop at Fort Williams Park and the Bite Into Maine food truck, a locals' pick for best lobster roll.

Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick.
Ogunquit is the quintessential Maine coastal town and nearby Perkins Cove will remind you of the fictional Cabot's Cove of "Murder She Wrote." Treat yourself to a lobster roll crawl and definitely include stops at Lobster Shack, the oldest restaurant in Perkins Cove; Jake's Seafood (the full-bellied clams are great here, too) in Wells, and Shore Road Market & Restaurant,www.shoreroadrestaurant.net.
Walk it off with a jaunt to Nubble Lighthouse at Cape Neddick. If you can snag a ticket, by all means catch a performance at the famous Ogunquit Playhouse. Perfect headquarters for it all, although you won't want to leave it, is the venerable Cliff House Resort & Spa overlooking the rocky waves and crashing waves.

Maine Lobster Festival

 Celebrate the crustacean July 29 to August 2, 2015, in the towns of Rockland and Camden, located in Penobscot Bay.

This year's festival expects to serve up 20,000 lbs of Maine Lobster and 1,700 lbs of Cabot butter. Special entertainment includes a Lobster Parade on Saturday, August 1 complete with lobster floats and a marching band. www.mainelobsterfestival.com .

 Family Fun in the Fjords


Kids Sail Free in Patagonia
Book a three- or four-night all inclusive trip through spectacular Patagonian waters in December 2015 with Australis by Oct. 31, 2015 and one child (age 17 or under) per adult comes along for free. Rates per adult for the three-day cruise are $1,895; $2,298 for the four-day.
www.australis.com.

Jekyll Island Idyll

Book a weekend getaway for two at the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, GA, Aug. 2-Sept. 1, 2015, and accommodations plus a five-course dinner for two with a bottle of signature wine are $250 a night.
www.jekyllclub.com

Dolphins frolic in Jacksonville's St. Johns River.

 Win a Vacation for Two to Jacksonville, FL

Like to share your vacation photos with friends? Bask in a a bit of green-tinged envy? Have we got a contest for you.

One lucky person will be the winner of Visit Jacksonville’s interactive summer postcard contest “Vacations Should Be Shared.”

Five easy steps does it. Create it, Post it and Win it!

1)  Go to www.VisitJacksonville.com  and click on the contest logo or go to www.visitjacksonville.com/vacations-should-be-shared.
2)  Choose your postcard theme: Beachy, Artistic or Ticket.
3)  Customized your postcard with Visit Jacksonville’s memory-worthy #OnlyInJax images.
4)  Add a message to your postcard. Tell us why you would love to win a vacation to Jacksonville.
5)  Then share your postcard on social media, ask your friends to vote and start packing your bags!

The “Vacations Should Be Shared” contest will run from July 22 until August 23 and winners will be announced August 25. All the postcards generated during the contest will be available for public voting on Visit Jacksonville’s website. The postcard with the most votes will be the grand prize winner of a vacation for two to Jacksonville. A second and third place postcard will also be selected for prizes.
For more on the prizes and the rules of the “Vacations Should Be Shared” postcard contest go to www.visitjacksonville.com/vacations-should-be-shared.
 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Coastal Virginia from Assateague to Williamsburg, St. Augustine and deals on dream trips

Chincoteague's wild ponies.

Coastal Virginia 

How can you go wrong with American history, wild ponies, great seafood and beautiful beaches and bays? You can't so head to Coastal Virginia, which takes in the southern end of Chesapeake Bay. Here's a brief description of destinations to consider.
Eastern Shore.

Tiny towns and welcoming natives, memorable ice cream and seafood, nature preserves and wild ponies, in short, perfect for families. Chincoteague especially. The annual pony swimming, penning and auction attract 40,000 visitors; great if you don't mind mobs.  

This year, the dates are July 29 pony swim, July 30 auction of foals. The carnival dates are July 3-4, 1--11, 17-18, 24-25, 27-August1, 2015. It's all for a good cause, to keep the volunteer fire station in equipment.

Cape Charles has an enticing free beach but it is more for adults, with charming B&Bs and my fave, Hotel St. Charles, a small, very contemporary hotel downtown.
 Note: Find links and more details at www.goodgirlsinthebadlands.blogspot.com


Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe, a National Monument in Hampton, protected this entrance to Chesapeake Bay from 1609 until deactivated in September, 2011. Filled with history, underground rooms and corridors, it and the surrounding houses and cannons have witnessed our country's birth, conflicts and successes. Well worth a half-day. Hampton also houses an historic carousel and the outstanding Virginia Air & Space Center.

Chrysler Museum glass studio.
Norfolk's Chrysler Museum has one of the best collections of glass in the country. Across the street, you can see how it's done during demonstrations at the working glass studio.
Busch Gardens
Colonial Williamsburg
 Between its Busch Gardens and down to the tiniest tankard Colonial town, Williamsburg is a family and adult must-do. Two days are not too many to devote to Colonial Williamsburg, even with kids. Tip: Leave your car at the Visitor Center and  take the the free shuttle buses that take you all around the area. Adults, while there, don't miss the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

 Note: Find links and more details at www.goodgirlsinthebadlands.blogspot.com.

Jamestown Settlement.








 Jamestown is America's 2nd oldest continuously occupied - and first British - settlement and nearby Yorktown, where scrappy patriots with considerable help from the French defeated the British in the Revolutionary War, sum up America's creation. Don't miss both Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne or the Yorktown Victory Center.




Happy Birthday, St. Augustine.

Speaking of oldest cities, St. Augustine will celebrate its big 4-5-0 Sept. 4-8, 2015. Keep track of all the events at www.staugustine-450.com.
  

  Deals and Specials

Photo courtesy INCA.
Galapagos Islands: INCA, International Nature and Cultural Adventures, a pioneer in cruising these fascinating islands with small ships, offers $1,000 off savings on departures from Sept. 30 to Dec. 10, 2015 (excluding the Thanksgiving holiday).

Example,the 11-day Origin of the Species tour - 2 nights in Quito or Guayaquil, overnight on Santa Cruz Island with a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station and 8 days, 7 nights aboard the 141-foot yacht Integrity - is now $5,795 per person, double occupancy.

For details and booking, www.inca1.com.

Two to Tango: In the spirit of the Tango World Cup & Festival, HUB Porteno offers the ultimate package August 20-23, 2015. The inclusive three-night excursion into the dance and its music in Buenos Aires, Argentina, includes Tango lessons, tours, nightclub shows, chat sessions with processional dancers and shopping for $1,779 (plus 21 percent tax) per person, double occupancy in a suite.

Details and booking, http://www.hubporteno.com.





Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Barge slowly through the Loire Valley

Locks unlock the trip.
Beautiful landscapes, charming French villages, historic castles, superb cuisine and friendly crews make barging the canals of France a hard-to-beat getaway.

The inclusive trip isn't cheap, you could drive the route in under three hours or, with a few boating skills do it yourself, but the pleasure of being cossetted while informed and given an insight into the lives of the French that tourists never see is priceless.

It's also relaxing and a whole lot of fun.

La Renaissance
European Waterways provided my introduction to this specialized form of travel with accommodations aboard La Renaissance's first "voyage" of the season. There were four passengers on the eight-passenger hotel barge that is the largest of all on the 373-year-old Briare Canal, our comfort, captain's challenge.

Adieu Court, Fountainebleau
Over six nights we went from Montargis, the Venice of France, to Chatillon-Sur-Loire; visited three castles - Fountainebleau, Sully and La Bussiere, where we met the Duchess de Sully working in her beloved garden.

The medieval village of Moret Sur Loing
We strolled through two markets, several medieval villages, a faience factory, countless churches and cathedrals and a winery in the Sancerre region.

Rapeseed crop
We listened to birdsong, admired large fields of brilliant yellow rapeseed and marveled at the French knack for getting trees to grow the same height and hedges to fill densely and grow squarely.

Plane trees
We chatted with locals, tasted the finest foods and wines of the area and transited Gustave Eiffel's remarkable creation, a canal bridged over the Loire River.

Barge along a canal over the Loire River, thanks to Gustave Eiffel.
It was a compelling argument for seeing a little bit thoroughly over speeding through a large area and really seeing nothing.

For a day-to-day look at my barge trip, look for "Aboard Renaissance" at www.allthingscruise.com

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fly with an astronaut

 Limited to 43 guests per day between Friday, April 2 and Monday, April 6, so you better fly LIKE an astronaut to take advantage of this opportunity. 

What: "Fly" on the Shuttle Launch Experience with your guide, astronaut and pilot Jon McBride. Discover what it's like to launch into space aboard a shuttle traveling 17,500 miles per hour. The experience begins at 9:30 a.m. with a pre-flight briefing and photo with McBride at Space Shuttle Atlantis followed by "launch" with Shuttle Launch Experience. Then its off in a bus for a private tour of Kennedy Space Center while McBride shares stories of his space shuttle adventures and life in space. At the Apollo/Saturn V Center it's a guided tour and lunch with printed photos of themselves with McBride and other treats.

 Where: Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

 How Much:  $199 for adults, $174 children ages 3-11; $149 and $134 for annual pass holders.

For reservations, call 877-313-2610.

Traditional potter Wayne Hewell has a special take on the classic face jug.
Credit: The Macon Arts Alliance

Pot Luck 

Folk pottery is featured but you will find all styles among the 6,000-plus pieces by 65 ceramic artists at the10th Annual Fired Works Regional Ceramics Exhibition.

Where: Central City Park, Macon, GA.

When: April 11-19, 2015

Bruce Bley's ceramics showcase his love
for the mountains of North Georgia.
Credit: The Macon Arts Alliance.
  
What: The state's largest annual sale and show of functional and sculptural pottery, including featured artists Bruce Bley, Clint Alderman, Roger Corn, Steve Turpin and fifth generation potter Wayne Hewell. Also, the Earth, Wine and Fire weekend weekend getaway package and free clay workshops.

http://www.firedworksmacon.com





National Park Week runs April 18-26. On opening days, April 18-19, 2015, entrance fees at the 127 of the 407 national parks that charge entrance fees, it's free.

That includes fee-free commercial tours and transportation entrance as well.

Of course, savvy travelers opt for an annual pass ($80) that provides entrance to all national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and many other Federal lands.

Adventures on the Gorge Park Week Special

Start spring with a splash on a whitewater rafting trip on the Lower New River for ages 12 and up, two nights of lodging, and one dinner, lunch and breakfast per person.

The cost? Based on double occupancy, from $99 for a campsite to $279 for a four-bedroom deluxe cabin with private hot tub.

Where? Adventures on the Gorge near Fayetteville, WV.

www.adventuresonthegorge.com; 855-379-8738.

Daily Getaways, Daily Deals

For the sixth year, it's a new deal every weekday from more than 20 major travel brands.

How: At 1 p.m. EDT, now through April 22, any U.S. resident can go to the website, www.dailygetaways.com , and buy the day's special which may range from Hilton Hotel points for half-price stays to rental cars and theme park entries.

Click fast, they sell out quickly.

An Unsolicited Testimonial

Heading to Iceland for three weeks last year and thinking of my often unreliable artificial hip and that country's icy crags, moonscapes and uninhabited lands, decided to be prudent and sign up for Medjet Assist Insurance www.medjetassist.com, just in case. 
Basically, if you are more than 100 miles from home and wind up in a hospital, they will come get you and take you to the hospital of your choice. By commercial flight if you are able, chartered jet if you are not.
I didn't even get beyond a chair in the Air Iceland waiting area at JFK; my hip dislocated 10 minutes before boarding. I wound up in the emergency room at Jamaica Hospital and Medical Center on a busy, full moon night, but that's another story. 
When the orthopedist who repositioned my hip refused to approve travel to Iceland, Medjet Assist was a lifesaver, arranging reservations and sending a most personable nurse companion to see to all the details and deliver me safely to a Jacksonville hospital.  
Never mind the American Express card, I will never leave home without my Medjet Assist card and recommend you look into getting one, too.