Category Archives: Activities

Whale Watching

You catch the bubbles out of the corner of your eye. As you turn, you see the churning sea water smooth out for a quarter of second before the behemoth surges upwards, higher than its bulk should allow, arcing into the air with its white throat pleats glistening in the sun. As it lands with a roaring splash, a massive, forked tail flips up, hovers momentarily as if waving, and then slides back into the deep waters with a whispered gurgle.

Whether your name’s Ishmael or not, watching a whale surface is an unforgettable experience. Luckily it’s an experience you can enjoy in nearly 120 countries, yet these are our favorite spots.

Alaska – Like humans, whales love to sail through the cold, glacier-fed waters of the Last Frontier. While more than 20,000 Gray whales will swing by on the way to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas of Northern Alaska, Humpbacks are the real draw here. You’ll see quite a show when groups team together and form large circles to trap vast shoals of herring, and then propel themselves upwards with mouths wide open.

Australia – Whales, apparently, can’t get enough of Australia’s stunning coastlines and tropical waters. Nearly 60 percent of the world’s whales can be found here, more than 45 species, including Southern Rights, Minke whales, Blues and Orcas. Unlike Alaska, they come down under to breed and raise their young in the shallow, sheltered waters of the Whitsundays and Hervey Bay, where you can spot the grand creatures from viewing platforms placed along the coastal roads.

Dominican Republic – Christopher Columbus noticed whales in the DR’s Samaná Bay and Silver Bank areas back in 1493, and visitors have been returning ever since. In the clear, Caribbean waters, you can watch the gentle giants swimming peacefully among the corals, or, if you’re feeling brave, you can snorkel besides the 40-ton Humpbacks and peer into their dark, dinner-plate sized eyes.

South Africa – Watching Humpbacks and Southern Rights line up for an endless buffet of krill and sardines on the nation’s southern coach is, to some, even more rewarding that seeing African elephants and Cape buffalos on a game drive. You can often spot whales easily at outdoor cafes in the delightful company of a glass of Pinotage from Stellenbosch. For closer observation, head to Hermanus, the self-proclaimed whale-watching capital of the world, where your clothes may get soaked by whales breaching just a few meters from the seaside footpaths.

This excerpt is taken from our Travel Tips Quarterly. Check out our website and sign up for these informative newsletters along with alerts on specific sales to your favorite destinations. Or, give us a call at 618-687-2100 to find your dream vacation.

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Activities, Africa & Egypt, Alaska, Asia & South Pacific, Caribbean

Eating Like a Local on Vacation

Cuisine has always been, and will always be, an integral part of travel. Food is a language everyone speaks, bringing people and cultures together in a way few other things can. So keep these tips on the menu to ensure that your next trip is even more memorable and delicious.

Find the nearest market – Markets offer great insights into the area’s seasonal produce and local specialties, like beeswax candy from Pikes Place Market in Seattle or low-country shrimp and grits from Charleston’s famous farmers’ market.

Nosh on street fare – Eating out every night can be expensive, so supplement pricey entrees with street fare. In places like Southeast Asia, the best eats can be found on street carts and cost less than $10 USD for a complete meal.

Take a food tour – If you’re going to a place for the first time and aren’t sure of the local specialties, sign up for a food tour and taste your way through the city. They take you to the most well-known eateries, ranging from pubs to five-star restaurants, and include bites or drinks at each stop. These tours are typically led by locals, so you get a truly unique insight into the place you’re visiting. There are even some tour companies that offer “foodie” type vacations if you are an avid fan or a critic or connoisseur.

Learn the language – If you’re traveling abroad, learning some key food phrases can help you determine the best restaurants from the tourist traps. If you’re short on time, download a translation app so you can better communicate with locals, read menus or convey important messages to waiters, like if you have a food allergy.

Research social media – Before you go, download Yelp or Trip Advisor, two universal apps that rate and review restaurants, tours and bars. These will help you avoid places that serve lackluster or over-priced grub. In addition, contact local food bloggers and writers and ask them for their favorite restaurants or dishes.

This excerpt was taken from our Travel Tips Quarterly newsletter. Give us a call to help you plan your dream vacation or next great adventure.

 

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Filed under Activities, Bucket List Ideas, Family Travel, Traveler Tips

Caribbean but no passport required!

Puerto Rico beaches     Did you know that Puerto Rico has the only tropical rain forest listed in the U.S. Forest Service? El Yunque has the best hiking with dozens of trails leading to peaks, waterfalls and streams cascading into pools. But besides all the caves, wildlife, spelunking, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, cave diving, body rafting down the Tanama River and scuba diving, it has so much more to offer. Ponce is a town with Mediterranean style buildings that have been white washed. The scenery reminds me of sailing into Greece and the shopping is great too. For history buffs, there is no better place than El Moro, the Spanish fortress built to protect San Juan, which has been standing guard for over 400 years. Not to mention, Old San Juan with it’s cobblestone streets, 17th century churches, and historic buildings. The largest radio telescope in the world is at the Arecibo Observatory for all you science nuts. There is so much to pick from  – relax, play in the sand and turf, go sightseeing, get active or go for the spectacular nightlife after the sun sets – maybe even do it all. Call us for a price on your biggest adventure yet and best of all – you don’t need a passport!

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Activities, Caribbean, Destinations, Family Travel, Travel News, Travel Trivia, Traveler Tips

Cruise ship extras and how to keep money in your pockets

Avoiding cruise ship extra charges can be a bit tricky but can be done with due diligence. You’re not going to get out of tipping the maitre ‘d, your waiter and cabin steward. However, you can save some cash and even avoid some of these additional activities by planning and booking ahead of your arrival at the port. For cruise newbies, this is where a travel agent can really help you out. We help tell you about what’s coming and where you can save time and money.

One of the biggest ways the cruise lines help part you from your money is with drinks and especially, alcohol. At $5-7 per glass, a party on the Lido deck or some time to unwind and watch the sunset can rack up a pretty good bill at the end of a 7-day cruise for 2. You’re better off to buy a bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy it in your cabin. Or, bring along a 6-pack of your favorite soft drink. A word of caution – don’t advertise that you have it. If you must imbibe at the club while dancing or while enjoying some quiet time in the “adults only” area – keep your eyes peeled for “happy hour” or a special rate on the “drink-of-the-day”.

Another money drain can be the specialty restaurants. As delightful as the cuisine and atmosphere in these places are; stick to the main dining rooms or the self-service buffets unless you’re celebrating a very special occasion or just have money to throw away.

Shore excursions are probably the one area that you do want to spend some money on. Talk to your travel agent about what the ship offers and then plan and book ahead. If you wait until you’re at sea, most the of better ones are already sold out or the prices are higher than if you had made reservations online prior to sailing. Some people wait until they get off the ship and book excursions with a local company at the port of call. If you elect to do this, please make sure that there is plenty of time to get to/from your destination so you don’t miss the ship. The companies that the cruise lines work with are very aware of the arrival and departure times for each ship and make sure they get you there and back in time.

Check the ship’s daily program for offers, especially where spa treatments are concerned, as these are often reduced on port days. If you need to do laundry while on board, check into the self-service laundry mat instead of sending your stuff to the cleaners. You can save on staying in touch with folks at home via email by buying an internet package or wait until you get ashore and find an internet cafe.

Some cruise ship extra charges aren’t possible to get a way from but you can certainly reduce your losses by planning and booking ahead. Give us a call or book Royal Caribbean online at our website while keeping us as your local support.

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Activities, Cruises, Family Travel, Holidays, Honeymoons, Miscellaneous News, Travel Trivia, Traveler Tips

Cruisin’ with Kids

One of the first cruises I took (30+ years ago), there was nothing for kids to do aside from walking around on deck and maybe find someone who would play a game of checkers or shuffle board with you. But, cruise lines have finally figured out that kids influence their parents’ and/or grandparents’ decision on where to go and what to do on vacations. Imagine that!

Now, the cruise lines have created both structured and un-structured programs for different age groups giving them their own space and parents the opportunity to enjoy some adult time and be on vacation too. They even offer baby sitting services for a fee, of course. The Disney Cruise Line, for example, has the Flounder’s Reef Nursery for ages 3 months to 3 years, the Oceaneer Club and the Oceaneer Lab is for ages 3 to 12, the Edge entertains tweens and teenagers from ages 11 to 13, the Vibe keeps 14 to 17 year-olds jumping and the Chill Spa is for teens only.  These cruise lines are also revolutionizing their cabin designs on new ships being built with configurations that are family friendly with staterooms that can accommodate 5 people comfortably like Carnival Cruise Lines’ Dream-class ships.

If you haven’t considered a cruise with your kids, you may want to take another look. Check out our website with the low down on what the cruise lines have to offer your crew.

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Filed under Activities, Cruises, Family Travel, Traveler Tips

New at Theme Parks this Summer!

These theme parks have new rides, roller coasters and experiences just waiting for you and your family. Let us help you get your adventure started.

Beginning with Disneyland – California Adventure recently debuted Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. Miniature Italian roadsters move across a trackless dance floor. The Hyperion Theater now features an all-new, live musical with the characters from Frozen. And, the popular Soarin’ Over California will be replaced by Soarin’ Around the World.

You will also be able to experience Soarin’ Around the World at Walt Disney World‘s Epcot. And, their Norway Pavillion now has the Frozen Ever After boat ride which visits Elsa’s ice palace and you’ll hear songs from the movie throughout. The Animal Kingdom will come alive at night with their new Rivers of Light musical experience illuminating the night sky with animal images. Undergoing a transformation throughout the evening hours, the Tree of Life has magical fireflies bringing animal spirits to life. Not to be outdone, Hollywood Studios has added several “Star Wars” experiences including Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show with lasers, special effects and projections of characters and scenes from the films.

Legoland California welcomes Ninjago Land. It’s main focus being Ninjago The Ride with 4-D effects and 3-D imagery. You get to wield the superpowers of the main characters. Updates were made to the existing Legoland Hotel to include suites. Their Discovery Centers will begin showing a new movie featuring characters from “The Lego Movie” battling Lord Business’ brother – Risky Business.

SeaWorld Orlando has added a new roller coaster – the Mako, named for one of the ocean’s fastest sharks reaching speeds of up to 73 mph. It will be the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in Orlando. Similarly, Busch Gardens has added the Cobra’s Curse. Thrust into the middle of an Egyptian archaeological excavation, you will come face to face with an 80-foot long snake.

Universal Orlando welcomes Skull Island: Reign of Kong. This massive new experience on a new island at Islands of Adventure brings a powerful storyline to life with 3-D experiences and revolutionary vehicles. Accommodating up to 72 guests at once, one of the longest rides ever created by Universal navigates a jungle road through unpredictable terrain to meet none other than – Kong. Universal Studios Hollywood brings the park’s first outdoor coaster to life, Flight of the Hippogriff inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Fans of ” The Walking Dead” will be excited to know that the Halloween Horror Nights now have a permanent location inside a new structure.

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Activities, California, Disneyland, DisneyWorld, Family Travel, Florida, SeaWorld, Universal Studios

Visit the World’s Greatest Wildlife Destinations

Nothing compares to the once-in-a-lifetime moments you get to experience on a safari, wildlife cruise or National Park Hike. These moments, like watching a leopard stalk prey in Botswana or photographing a gaggle of penguins swimming in Antarctica, used to be nearly impossible (and expensive), since the areas were widely uncharted and remote. However, now, with more cruises and tours exploring these hidden wonders worldwide, there’s more chances than ever to watch wildlife dwell in their natural habitats. For the best viewing, visit one of these breathtaking destinations. These are from our Travel Tips Quarterly newsletter.

  • Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
    Located on the rugged shores of Hudson Bay in Northern Manitoba, Churchill is one of the few human settlements in the world that is also home to polar bears. Since they spend most of their summer hunting for food, the best time to view them is during the fall. The optimal way to experience the beauty of these bears is with a custom tundra buggy, which offers once in a lifetime chances to get up close and personal, while still remaining safe.
  • Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa
    Chobe National Park in Botswana offers truly unspoiled views of Africa’s famed wildlife. On a game drive here, you won’t be met with other jeeps, but instead with views of warthogs, bush bucks, monkeys, lions, leopards and hyenas. A cruise along the breathtaking Chobe river offers a chance to see the marine mammals, like hippos and crocodiles.
  • Antarctica Peninsula
    Although it may be void of any human life, Antarctica is home to one of the largest populations of penguins, with over 40 million spread across the continent. Once uncharted, Antarctica is growing in popularity, and more cruise lines are adding the snow-capped glacial peaks and emperor penguin colonies to their itineraries.
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
    This tiny archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has been an iconic destination for wildlife viewing for over 200 years. Thanks to more cruise lines charting the South American Coast, it’s much easier for anyone to view its many inhabitants, like the island iguanas, Blue-footed Boobies, giant green sea turtles, sea lions and more.
  • Great Barrier Reef, Australia
    Stretching over 1,616 miles off the coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, comprised of 3,000 individual reefs, 900 islands and thousands of species of marine creatures, is one of the world’s greatest wonders. See the sharks, turtles, fishes and vibrant coral up close with a snorkel or dive.
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States
    Aside from spewing geysers, gradient canyons and rushing waterfalls, Wyoming’s crowned jewel is also home to some of the country’s most spectacular wildlife. From black bears to bald eagles to bison and coyotes, this area is rich with a vast array of animals.

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Activities, Africa & Egypt, Asia & South Pacific, USA