Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Travel Trends for 2018: Cruises

Get your body moving. From tours to cruise ships, activity is in.
Millenniums have taken to cruising and the lines are accommodating this active group. 

Barge and river ships usually carry bikes, but now Ama Waterways offers shore tours on which to ride them. 

Kayaks, snorkel and dive equipment are standard on Expedition ships although expect an up-charge in Arctic climes where special equipment and guidance are required. 

Ocean cruises have always offered active tour options of the once-in-a-lifetime types from aerial flyovers to zip-lining. Expect more of these along with never-on-board-before experiences from ice skating rinks to bumper cars.

Cruisers may want to get away from it all but they want to be connected, too. Lines are offering if not free, then more reasonably priced internet packages. Open cabin doors, pay for drinks, excursions and other purchases and also keep track of on-board companions with interactive cards, bracelets and necklaces. Holland America ships are installing systems that enable passengers to personalize their cruise experience through their own interactive networks.

New ships in 2018 will feature the latest.

Royal Caribbean: Symphony of the Sea. With a capacity for 5,535 guests and 18 decks she steals the largest at sea crown from sister ship Harmony of the Seas.

Ponant: 184-passenger Le Laperouse in June and Champlain in September, double the fleet. Both feature an underwater lounge for a view and sound of sea life and menus from Alain Ducasse Conseil.

Crystal River Cruises: In spring Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel join sister ships, Bach and Mahler. All-suite, above waterline accommodations begin the list of amenities. 

 Hurtigruten: In July MS Roald Amundsen begins polar expeditions in July. Break-through electric propulsion cuts back on noise and reduces fuel usage and CO2 emissions by 20 percent. .

Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Bliss sets sail in June for 4,000 passengers.. Amenities include a two-level electric race car track, country music and Texas-style smokehouse.

Scenic:  In August Scenic Eclipse opens up expedition ocean-going for fans of this river cruise line. Two helicopters, a six-passenger submarine  begin the luxe treatment for them.

Star Clippers: Flying Clipper, a 300-passenger, five-masted ship will be the largest of its kind. First cruises will be in the Caribbean at a yet-to-be-decided date.

Celebrity Cruises: Coming in December, Celebrity Edge will be home-ported in Fort Lauderdale. Its 2,908 passengers will have larger staterooms and a rooftop garden among other luxuries.

Why the spate of new ships? In a word, profit. The record-breaking kind. According to Travel Weekly, Carnival's profit for 2017 is $2.06 billion for a profit margin of 15.5 percent. Other publicly traded cruise companies like Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.  and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are expected to pull in similar numbers.

You know how a cruise never seems long enough? European Waterways feels your frustration and is offering back-to-back barge cruises. Reserve a spot on Panache hotel barge in Champagne and L’Impressionnist in neighboring Burgundy for two weeks of exploration, education and wine tastings.That's plus a night in Paris, too. 

Princess perks.

Princess Cruise Lines' "Exclusively Caribbean Sale" offers free gratuities on 7-, 8-. 10- and 14-day Caribbean sailings February through April 2018.

Based on double occupancy, fares are as low as $99 a day per person.

Book by Dec. 28, 2018 at https://www.princess.com/cruise-deals-promotions.

Fine print: Gratuities on bar, dining room and spa charges are not included.


Gather with Manatees

Winter is the time to swim with the manatees, everyone's favorite water-going sausage-shaped mammals.

Stay at Plantation and gather with the Crystal River gang for an irresistible price. For $274, two guests can stay in a garden-view room, take a manatee snorkeling tour in an enclosed boat from the Plantation Adventure & Dive Center (mask, snorkel and wet suite included) and  breakfast at West 82 degrees Bar & Grill. A two-night package includes the room, tour, another breakfast for two, dinner for two and a choice of guided tours of river and spring for $549.

 The rate is good through 2018, but the prime time for snorkel-ins is Oct. 1 to March 31.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Colorful visions at Pasaquan

Courthouse square, Buena Vista, GA/ Photo © by Judy Wells.
The narrow road a few miles beyond the no-traffic-light-small town Buena Vista, GA, is the last place you would expect to find the riot of color and fanciful structures of Pasaquan, an art installation on the National Register of Historic Places.

But then Eddie Owens Martin, born at midnight on July 4, 1908 to west central Georgia sharecroppers, is the last person you would imagine receiving life-altering visions and messages from Pasaquoyans, residents of the distant future.

Eddie hated farming, did not get along with his father and, according to caretaker Charles Fowler, "never felt like he belonged." So at 14 he left home, ending up in New York's Greenwich Village at the height of the Roaring '20s. His "career" includes stints as male prostitute, street hustler, drag queen (Tattoo Contessa was his stage name; ahead of his time, Eddie had arm sleeves of tattoos), fortune teller, gambler and cook for southerners up north.

His father died four years later and Eddie returned to the family farm - they now owned a 1900s farmhouse and seven acres - to help his mother and brothers get the crops in.

St. EOM's portrait of a Pasaquoyan.
In 1935, he fell ill and the Pasaquoyans first came to him in a fever dream, one of many visits to come. Theirs was a peaceful world in which all religions merged in harmony. Eddie began studying different cultures and their art, so when the Pasaquoyans told him he needed to change his ways and build something out of his life, he took them literally. Changing his name to St. EOM, he returned to the Georgia farm and in 1955, began transforming it into a sanctuary for himself and any Pasaquoyan who might visit.
Entryway to Pasaquan. Photo © by Judy Wells.

The Oratory or "Inner Sanctum" of St. EOM's house. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Grounds and out-buildings. Photos © by Judy Wells.
The "viberations," St. EOM's word, are overwhelming. Visitors don't know where to look first. Color, forms, patterns, figures and visions are dizzying, assaulting the senses. In looking for descriptors, I keep returning to St. Eom's viberations.

St. EOM supported himself and his visionary art environment making and selling furniture and jewelry and telling fortunes that, by all reports, were remarkably accurate.

Attired as a shaman in colorful, flowing robes, tinkling bells and jangling jewelry, he must have been quite a sight in this rural community.

At the age of 76, with heart problems and cancer, he decided to end his life, bequeathing Pasaquan to the Marion County Historical Society. Friends of Pasaquan was born and after a meticulous restoration by the Kohler Foundation, the complex reopened to the public in 2016.

Now under the management of Columbus State University, Pasaquan, 238 Eddie Martin Rd., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Suggested contributions are $10 adults, $5 seniors, $3 students. The complex is closed for the months of December and July.

There are no overnight accommodations in Buena Vista, but plenty in nearby Columbus and Americus. I can recommend the fried chicken at Annie D's, just off the square in Buena Vista.
Downtown Buena Vista.

Travel Auction Returns

The Society of American Travel Writers invites bids on travel delights from luggage and City Passes to personalized tours from travel writers, a stint as Honorary Duck Master at the Peabody Memphis,

a Maine Windjammer cruise

or stays at the fabulous Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, Music City, Ashville, the Farol Hotel in Portugal, Sandals Resorts or

at Mexico's No. 1 hotel, the Hotel Matilda in San Miguel.

To see all of the auction items and to bid, go to https://www.silentauctionpro.com/bidonlinegrid.php?groupId=894

Bidding ends 11:55 p.m. (CST) Dec. 4.

Do read the fine print listing exclusions and conditions for any items before bidding.

Best of South Africa 

Imagine a nine-night trip to Cape Town, the Cape Winelands and safari at a Thornybush Lodge adjacent to Great Kruger National Park with tours, seven breakfasts, three lunches and three dinners with all in-country flights and transfers for $4,199 per person including international round-trip air. 

Thank South African Airways Vacations for this one, including two free nights in the Cape Winelands. You will fly in and out of JFK.

The offer, based on two adults sharing, is good for April 3-26, May 2-31 and Aug. 11-31, 2018, but reservations must be made by Dec. 15, 2017.

Contact South African Airways Vacations
Tel: 1-855-359-7228 (1-855-FLY-SAAV)
HoursL 24 Hours a day / 7 days a week

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cruise your Hobbies and Passions

Cruising the Columbia River. Photo © by Judy Wells.
What piques your interest? Art or astronomy, music or motorcycles, golf or gardening, film or food, wine or wellness?
Combine those and many, many more with your love of travel and cruising with a theme cruise.

The Snake River, one of two "Rivers of Wine." Photo © by Judy Wells.
I recently took one, UnCruise's "Rivers of Wine," along the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers. From Portland, Oregon, we cruised aboard S. S. Legacy, a replica of a Victorian steam packet.

White, red and in between, we swirled and swished it all. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Passengers were a mix of wine connoisseurs and wine curious. Chris Arora, the ship's sommelier, and Casey Cobble, winemaker for Robert Ramsay Cellars in Woodinville, Washington, guided us through daily tastings at Oregon and Washington wineries and cellars and with daily afternoon tasting tutorials aboard.

UnCruise's S.S. Legacy. Photo © by Judy Wells.
It was an eye- and palate-opening experience. Two heritage guides entertained with stories and details about the area through which we traveled, either by boat or by bus. This is Lewis and Clark, Cayouse, Palouse, Nez Perce, Oregon Trail, Kennewick Man and Hanford Project country so there was much to tell.

Mt. Hood looms large over Mount Hood Winery. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The scenery is spectacular. We cruised through the Cascade Mountains, desert gorges and lush valleys. Snow-covered volcanic Mounts Adams and Hood made frequent, unexpected appearances.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Short distances away on land we visited Multnomah and Palouse Falls, one through dense forests,  the other rain-deprived gorges.

Palouse Falls, Washingto. Photo © by Judy Wells.

We learned a lot about wine and even more about our own palates. Casey summed it up simply, our Yum or Yuck wine. Chris's goal sounded simple, too: "I want to help you discover what you like and why."

Preparing for a tasting at Archer, Newberg, Oregon. Photo © by Judy Wells
We gazed, sniffed, swirled, re-sniffed, slurped, swirled, burbled on tongue-tip, swished and tasted, mentally logging with all of the senses.

Meals furthered our assessments. Chef, pastry chef and sommelier conferred in advance, deciding the fare according to wines -  white, red and dessert - to be served so that each made the other taste better.

Vineyard at Domaine Serene in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Photo © by Judy Wells.
And yes, we figured it out.The ultimate test will arrive this fall, when heat abates and temperatures are safe to ship the wines we chose to ship home.

Tasting of syrahs and cabernets at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard, Benton City, Washington. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Now that's a souvenir.

I highly recommend UnCruise "Rivers of Wine." Even the occasional wine drinkers enjoyed the cruise. All beverages, including those on the top shelf, are included on the all-inclusive cruise. if you prefer a different theme, check out themecruisefinder.com.

Summer Sales

What: Amelia Island "Seize the Summer" deals such as credits of up to $100 per day, 20 percent off of summer rates, special packages, free days.
When: Through Sept. 30.
Who: Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island; Omni Amelia Island Plantation; Amelia Rentals; Addison on Amelia;  Fairbanks House; Days inn and Suites; Hampton Inn at the Beach; The Surf Beach Motel; Hoyt House; Blue Heron Inn; Seaside Amelia Inn; Beachside Motel; Amelia Hotel at the Beach; ERA Fernandina Beach Realty rentals.

For complete list of "Seize the Summer" offers, go to ameliaisland.com/

Tuscany for 600 bucks per person?

Gate 1 says that includes flights on Emirates, 5 nights in Montecatini, 1 night in Milan near the airport, manual car rental (automatic upgrade available),taxes and fees.

Depart on Nov. 13, 14, 15, 27, 28: Dec. 4, 5, 6; Jan. 15, 22, 29 (over Carnivale); Feb. 5, 14, 28 from New York. Aug.-March also on sale.

Must book by Sept. 1, 2017, online at Gate 1 or at 800-682-3333 (ask for 8 Day Tuscany Fly and Drive with Milan package).  At end of booking process use promo code TZTSC150.

Blue Ridge Bargain 

 How about a luxury bed and breakfast package in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for $69 per person per night?  

Stay at Wintergreen Resort, enjoy breakfast at The Copper Mine Bistro, take advantage of unlimited access to the Aquatic and Fitness Center or try your clubs on 45 holes of golf, treat yourself at the Wintergreen Spa (I did and it's great), hike  or watch the annual song bird migration. It's apple cider time, too.

wintergreenresort.com or  (434) 325-2200.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Icy Expedition Cruise

Sea Spirit off Bear Island, Nuuk Fjord, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Most cruise bookings are determined by itinerary, dates and cost. Itineraries change only under extraordinary circumstances.

The unexpected is ordinary on an expedition cruise.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
Expedition cruises go into areas of the world where exceptional is the norm. Crews do their best to stick to the advertised itinerary, but environmental conditions may make it impossible. 

Sea Spirit.
Especially on the first voyage of the season like the one I recently took to Western Greenland aboard Poseidon Expedition's M/V Sea Spirit.

Greenland caught my attention in part because it is the world's largest island, three times the size of France with a coastline longer that the earth's circumference yet only 56,000 people live there (56,001 if you count Santa Claus at the North Pole). It is also the Mother of Icebergs. One glacier we expected to visit calves 20 billion (!) tons of them a year.

Qoornoq "Bear Island," Sermitsiaq, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Itinerary changes began our first full day. 

Qoornoq, Bear Island." Photo © by Judy Wells.
After a fascinating visit to Bear Island in the Nuuk Fjord, an abandoned fishing settlement where small icebergs, bergy bits and growlers were arrayed like nature's sculpture garden, our expedition team leader announced the afternoon excursion had been cancelled; the captain was heading out to sea.

Growler in the forefront, bergy bit behind. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Note: Bergy bit in height is greater than three feet but less than 16 feet above sea level; area is normally about 1,076-3,229 square feet
Growlers are smaller, about the size of a grand piano or a truck.  

Iceberg. Photo © by Judy Wells.
An iceberg's height must be greater than 16 feet above sea level, the thickness must be  98-164 feet and the ice must cover an area of at least 5,382 square feet.

Sea ice.
Winter had been exceptionally harsh and sea ice, frozen salt water, was still too thick to navigate safely. This set the pattern that would be repeated throughout the cruise. 

Posing under a whale jaw in Sisimiut, Greenland.
We visited a number of towns and settlements, snapped numerous photos of brightly colored houses and buildings against snow patched hills and interacted with their Inuit residents. 
Kangaamiut Harbor, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Glacier at Kangerlussuatsiaq. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We ventured out in zodiacs to get close up looks at massive icebergs and glaciers. 

First time Arctic Circle crossers get a traditional dousing of polar water from King Neptune. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We crossed the Arctic Circle several times and were initiated.

We were in awe of the young expedition team members who scrambled to find alternative landing sites and entertainingly educated us on Greenland, its language, people, explorers, flora, fauna and environment. 

The crew went fishing and we dined on fresh halibut.
The chefs prepared wonderful food, waitstaff made sure we enjoyed each meal, stewards kept our cabins tidy, the ship provided attractive, comfortable quarters and public spaces and Greenland itself filled our memory cards with photogenic scenery.

We did not make it to that prolific glacier or very far into Disko Bay with its proliferation of wildlife.

We did, however, see huge bowhead whales that grow to 65 feet in length and weigh in at 100 tons compared to the humpback's 40 tons.

We were serenaded by the Nuuk Choir.
Nuuk Choir. Photo by Judy Wells.

We saw snow-covered mountains when the clouds lifted.

We experienced the midnight sun and days where there was little change in light from morning to morning. 

Nordre Stromfjord, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We experienced a few firsts like landing on coasts no tourist had ever visited.

Our transport arrives. Sarqardlit, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Most exciting of all, when we couldn't get the ship up a fjord, having our luggage air-lifted in a sling to the airport and taking zodiacs to an abandoned spot where a Sikorsky helicopter could land and give us a 25-minute ride there, too. 

In Poseidon's 18 years of polar expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic, including an atomic-powered ice breaker to the North Pole, it had never happened to them either. 

Now that's a story to bring home with that bright red polar parka with almost as many patches as a NASCAR driver.

It's also the sign of a well-run cruise operation that knows its territory and has an excellent relationship with local sources. 

Expedition cruises aren't cheap - $6,000 and above per person double occupancy, for eight days in Western Greenland - but given the uncertainty of itineraries, the first cruise of the season is often discounted, especially as departure nears. There is usually an upcharge to kayak because of added staff and specialized equipment.

Sea Spirit has 114 en suite cabins and combines the re-enforced hull and equipment of an expedition ship with the ambiance of a boutique cruise ship. You borrow the water proof rubber boots but with Poseidon you get to take the polar parka home.

Reminder: It's cold at the ends of the Earth.

Sun Gazing

If you haven't selected your eclipse viewing spot yet, or if you have and don't know if you should drive closer to the path of totality, this from Bravo Jet Set
might help. Thanks to Escape to Blue Ridge for passing it along to me.

The closer you are to the zone of totality the longer and the clearer its effects. 

For example, in Blue Ridge, plan to catch the eclipse in totality at 2:35 p.m. for 35 seconds. The town is on the southern edge of the shadow, so totality only lasts for 35 seconds. 

However north and east of Blue Ridge in Fannin County, in McCaysville and Morganton, the totality lasts longer. In Morganton, the partial phase start will begin at 1:05:05 p.m., with the totality phase beginning at 2:34:45 p.m. and lasting one minute and 10 seconds. In McCaysville, the partial phase start will begin at 1:04:43 p.m., with the totality phase beginning at 2:34:08 p.m. and lasting one minute and 34 seconds.

Count on Blue Ridge and everywhere else along the path to have specials from sun-inspired food to sets of viewing glasses at accommodations.