(Recently posted on CNN)
Don’t be surprised if your favorite city feels a bit more crowded the next time you visit.
(Recently posted on CNN)
Don’t be surprised if your favorite city feels a bit more crowded the next time you visit.
(Recently Posted in Travel Agent)
So, you’ve done your research to choose a cruise line that suits your personality and selected a specific ship and itinerary that looks perfect.
Before your dream vacation commences, however, there are still several final details that require your consideration. These are some of the most crucial questions to ask yourself prior to actually stepping aboard.
Aside from a few rare exceptions, most cruise ships are foreign-registered and thus, by law, must sail to at least one international destination. This is true even of cruises, say, to Alaska roundtrip from Seattle. They have to make a stop in Canada.
That means passengers need to have proper documentation for travel between countries. It’s always best to consult with the cruise line to know exactly what is needed for a particular cruise, but requirements could include not only passports but also additional visas.
Hopefully, this one came up during your research of the cruise line itself, but in case it didn’t, be sure you fully understand exactly what is included in your fare. Cruises are generally a rather inclusive form of travel, but the degree to which they are varies, with luxury ships often including more than the more-mainstream cruise lines.
Accommodations and most food and entertainment are usually included in the fare cost, but drinks outside of nonalcoholic basics are typically not. The more you pay up front, the more will be included. Some luxury lines do cover alcoholic beverages as part of the upfront price.
Speaking of what is included, gratuities or service charges are either among the extras or bundled in. For those cruise lines that tack it onto the bill, while these technically remain discretionary, they may be automatically added to guests’ accounts per day.
It’s wise to know what the daily service charge may be to avoid surprises at the end of the cruise. Alternatively, the option is usually available to prepay the total so as not to have to worry about costs once onboard.
Cruise lines are becoming more and more casual, but formal nights are still sometimes held. Check the dress code for your cruise and be certain you have enough for elegant and relaxed affairs.
Of course, with airline weight limits on luggage to consider, you must also be efficient about packing. Check to see what self- and full-service laundry is available onboard. It might be better to pack lighter and send some clothes out to be cleaned on the ship.
As much as cruise ships are becoming destinations unto themselves, they still seek to take us to actual places, and shore excursions are the best means of discovery. There’s nothing worse than getting there and finding out that a tour has been sold out already, though.
It’s always a good idea to preplan as much as possible and book shore excursions before a cruise to avoid upset. In some cases, you may be able to save some money by buying them independently. Just be mindful, if there’s ever a delay in returning onboard, the ship will only wait for tours reserved through the line.
(Recently posted in Escape)
Cruise companies offer such variety at mealtime you could spend a week at sea and never frequent the same eatery twice with vessels big and small now promising multiple place to graze.
“Dining on board varies as widely as the entertainment and, just like you can find a cruise ship with climbing walls and some with lectures about antique appreciation, you’ll find just a wide selection of dining options,’’ says Imagine Cruising’s managing director Elle Hudson.
Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas has 13 eateries — from formal at 150 Central Park, relaxed at Jamie’s Italian, and casual at Johnny Rockets — as well as Windjammer which is the traditional waterborne buffet and a main dining room so vast it sprawls across three decks.
At the other end of the spectrum Silversea’s recent addition Silver Muse, which carries 569 passengers, is setting a new standard with eight dining alternatives offering everything from the tasting dishes presented in Silver Note to the haute French cuisine that defines La Dame by Relais & Chateaux.
It’s essential to understand the vibe of a ship’s restaurants before boarding so you can pack the necessary wardrobe — some ships still go formal, and you don’t want to be caught without sparkles — then settle on an eatery that suits your mealtime mood as pizza night in the tavern won’t do it if you’re seeking quiet candlelight.
2017’S BIG CRUISE-FOOD TREND
Industry insiders report customers are ditching dining-room formalities for “premium experiences and specialty restaurants’’ with cruisers happy to pay extra for thoughtful lunches, afternoon teas, and dinners.
Cornelius Gallagher, head of Celebrity’s food and beverage operations, says the evolution is occurring because guests have “exactly the same high expectations of their culinary experiences at sea as they do on land’’ and appreciate smaller venues focusing on fresh food and regional fare.
“In response we’ve added even more unique dining options, source ingredients from the destinations we visit, and our chefs add their own personality as many have worked in the world’s top restaurant,’’ the Michelin-starred chef explains.
“The range of specialty restaurants is diverse and on Celebrity Solstice — the ship returning to Australian in October — Sushi on Five serves Japanese-inspired dishes, Tuscan Grille rustic Italian, Murano French cuisine with flair, and Silk Harvest Asian fusion.’’
2017’S OTHER BIG CRUISE-FOOD TREND
This year has seen cruise lines hosting more local gourmet encounters, both at sea and during port visits, with most operators now crafting destination-specific menus and shore excursions that explore sites where flavours are created and traded.
“The biggest trend we at Holland America Lines are noticing is increased interest in more local and authentic food experience, both on and off ships, and ‘port to plate’ is a philosophy we’re advocating right now,’’ the company’s Australian sales director Tony Archbold says.
“When guests sail Alaska they want to learn the best ways to cook salmon and halibut, so we offer classes at our American Test Kitchen demo show, and we know when on shore they look to be immersed so we added new food-focused excursions.’’
Celebrity’s Chef’s Market Discoveries, Seven Seas Explorer’s Gourmet Explorer Tours, and Azamara’s Chef Hosted Excursions are organised port outings that guests behind the scenes at gourmet addresses like local markets, artisan orchards, and private kitchens.
PRESENTING FOOD WITH A STORY
An extension of the port-to-plate approach is focusing on food with history and Oceania, Azamara, Celebrity and Viking offer cooking classes and kitchen-table meals hosted by chefs that share tales about ingredients and recipes.
Viking takes the storytelling a step further by serving high tea in the ship’s Wintergarden every afternoon, replicating ceremonies from around the world, and the brand’s Norwegian eatery is inspired by the founder’s mother.
“Mamsen — our Norwegian deli named in honour of Torstein Hagen’s mother — offers sweet and savoury dishes which come from her cookbook and her original crockery has also been reproduced to bring her story to life,’’ says Viking Cruises’ managing director Michelle Black.
“Our Kitchen Table interactive dining experience takes guests ashore to shop for ingredients in local markets with our chef that’s followed by a cooking class on board and dinner paired with matching wines to enjoy what’s been cooked.’’
SO, WHAT ARE THE SECRETS TO EATING ON A CRUISE SHIP?
Taking a strategic approach to cruise ship grazing might sound silly but TravelManagers’ Karryn Bartlett, a cruising devotee with domestic and international voyages under her belt, says a little forward planning and careful manoeuvring can make a difference.
“Take advantage of the deals offered on sailing day to book your specialty restaurants — especially the chef’s table — and while most ships have ‘anytime dining’, which is great for flexibility, set dining times mean you have the same waiters looking after you and they remember your likes and dislikes,’’ she says.
“Breakfast on sea days is the ideal time to eat on your balcony or around the pool and many cruise lines provide free snacks like pizzas and burgers during the day so check what’s available on each ship so you’re not paying for treats between meals.
“If you like controlling your own portions, or have teenagers with massive appetites, the buffet is perfect and by each going to the buffet separately you won’t lose your table.’’
Cocktail of the day is no longer the highlight of a ship’s beverage scene. P&O has teamed with Sydney’s Archie Rose Distilling Co to create customised concoctions in Pacific Explorer’s hidden bar The Bonded Store while Royal Caribbean’s newer ships boast a Bionic Bar staffed by robots Mix and Mingle that blend tailor-made drinks.
Celebrity stocks the largest wine collection at sea, with a team of expert sommeliers guiding guests through the extensive vino list, and the line’s Solstice-class ships feature a two storey wine tower holding 1800 bottles.
Some passengers invest in an on-board drinks package while others advise against the outlay and recommend paying for individual beverages.
“Depending on preferences, your drinks spend could be large on a longer cruise so estimate how much you will likely consume and consider purchasing a package prior to departure,’’ Cruise1st product manager Gareth Evison says.
“There are usually a range of packages available, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, which are usually priced per person and per day but you will be charged even if you have some days where you drink very little so think about the cruise experience you want.’’
While the quality of coffee served in the past was average, on-board baristas now ensure lattes and cappuccinos satisfy even the fussiest connoisseur.
P&O serves two million cups of “go juice” on board its Australian-based ships every year and assigns staff regular expert training to ensure the brew standard is always high.
Dedicated coffee venues now dot cruise ships. P & O’s Pacific Dawn and Pacific Explorer has The Café which is busy from early morning until late at night; Café al Bacio is the place to linger on nine vessels in the Celebrity fleet, and Starbucks kiosks bring a big name to Royal Caribbean.
Hoot Holidays’ cruise expert Jeff Leckey says travellers need not feel guilty about making return jaunts to the dessert bar with ships having traditional gyms, an outside running track, or exercise classes as well as some more innovative facilities.
“Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas has FlowRider surf simulators, an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, and basketball court,’’ he says.
“One-on-one sessions with personal trainers is an option, there’s boot camp for those that are really keen, and Carnival’s ambassador Shannan Ponton — a trainer of The Biggest Loser — is enhancing exercise activities on board as well as working with chefs to create healthy dishes.’’
Oceania offers Healthy Living Tours inspired by Canyon Ranch, as well as expanding vegetarian and gluten-free menus, while Silversea’s Silver Discoverer presents “wellness-themed programs’’ on four remaining 2017 voyages that include stretching sessions and healthy cooking classes.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
When Scenic Eclipse launches in August next year, the innovative vessel billed as “the world’s first discovery yacht’’ promises 10 dining venues inspired “by all four corners of the globe’’ but in-suite dining available 24 hours and chef-prepared picnics ready to take on shore excursions.
Technology is set to play a bigger role. Free smartphone apps used to message friends on board, research shore excursions, and check daily schedules will be tweaked to take restaurant reservations, display menus, advertise special ingredients, and remember individual order preferences.
Number Three Travel Log
This week June and made a trip over to the “Big Easy”. We had a number of places where we needed to visit and as you know parking is expensive in New Orleans if you can find an empty lot.
So, I decided to down load the Uber app on my smart phone. I had more problems that I thought I should getting them to recognize my credit card but with their tech folks help I got it done.
We stayed at the Whitney Hotel on Poydras. It was a nice hotel.
June and I used Uber six different times Dave’s Travel Blog
while we were in New Orleans. We were picked up within three to five minutes after I put the information in the app where we wanted to go.
Also, the app tells you who the driver will be and what type of vehicle they are in.
Since your credit card is on file with Uber you don’t pay the driver any money it shows you the charge. I always gave the driver a couple of dollars for a tip but you can do that on the app if you don’t have any money on you.
For the six trips, we made around New Orleans which were within a few miles of each other our cost was about six to seven dollars per ride. I figure a taxi would have cost at least four or five dollars more plus the wait time.
All the Uber drivers were quite nice. A good mix between male and female. Most did it to make some extra money. All the vehicles were clear.
Also, another thing to know is you can request an Uber ride thirty days out.
Our first Uber ride in New Orleans I had requested 24 hours ahead and since it was my first time I was concerned it would not arrive. But about five minutes before the prearranged time I received a message that the driver was on his way.
Maybe too many of you this is old hat. But for us this was stepping out of our comfort zone and doing something new.
I know I will do this again the next time I go to New Orleans. Stress free.
Remember you can see many other tourist articles at my web site Tourwithdave.com.
(written by Ted Blank for Forest Lake News)
Have you dreamed of gliding along Germany’s Rhine River, admiring the castles and medieval cities? How about sipping a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir as you follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on the Columbia River? Or, for the more adventurous, discovering the magic of the Temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia on a Mekong River Cruise.
River cruising has become tremendously popular in the past five years. Chances are, you know of a friend or a family member who has enjoyed a river cruise, and you might even be thinking about one yourself. However, you probably have some questions that I’ll answer in this month’s column. I’ve enjoyed five river cruises myself, and recently returned from my sixth – a wine tasting voyage along the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.
River cruises represent a mix of people, including avid ocean cruisers, land tour takers, and independent travelers who enjoy discovering the world on their own. United by a passion for knowledge, culture, heritage, and culinary delights – food, wine, and beer – river cruisers are seeking a destination-focused vacation full of authentic experiences at a relaxed and civilized pace. Most river cruisers are well traveled people who dislike being rushed or herded while on vacation, but enjoy the time to really immerse themselves in a destination.
Demographically speaking, river cruisers tend to be mature. The average age of passengers on the 20 largest river cruise lines is about 62. Recently, however, some cruise lines have added new programs to encourage younger, more active travelers to cruise. Free bicycles, hiking tours, new and exciting shore excursion programs, beer tasting cruises, and dedicated family cruises are becoming common. In fact, Disney now offers a variety of river cruises throughout Europe specifically for families with young children!
The reasons to experience a river cruise are varied, but most cruisers appreciate the comfortable or luxurious surroundings, the intimate size of the vessels (80 to 150 guests, typically), and the freedom of only having to pack and unpack once. Flexible sightseeing excursions – typically included in the all-inclusive cruise fare – and nonstop scenery are also important benefits to river cruising. Truly, though, it is the magical combination of these factors that makes river cruising so popular. The only danger of river cruising is that you might get hooked. Many river cruise line boast repeat passenger rates of over 90 percent, so first-time river cruisers are highly likely to come back a second, third, or even fourth time to explore a different part of the world.
Each day on a river cruise is unique, but typically combine delicious gourmet meals, scenic cruising, and an opportunity to explore a historic city, cultural attraction, or natural feature on land. On some cruises, truly gourmet meals and fine wines enhance the experience. Cabins are comfortable – typically larger than those on an ocean cruise ship – and most feature private balconies or large windows to enjoy the panoramic views. The small size of the ships allows them to offer a high level of personal service. Entertainment includes presentations, tastings and demonstrations by local experts, or perhaps a local musical performance. Amenities also typically include fitness facilities, a choice of dining options, and sometimes a pool or hot tub.
River cruises on Europe’s main rivers – the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and Rhone – are a great way to discover Europe’s treasures. Closer to home, river cruises operate on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake system, and the St. John’s River in Florida. Further afield, the Amazon in South America, Mekong and Irawwaddy in Asia, and Nile in Africa are also popular river cruising destinations.
Over 20 companies offer river cruises worldwide, ranging from the luxurious to the budget. On my website, www.ingenioustravels.com, you can read more detailed blog posts about several of the river cruises I’ve personally enjoyed. Happy travels!
Ted Blank is a Forest Lake-based travel agent and owner of Ingenious Travels.
(Recently published by Rick Steves)
Romania is full of surprises and wonderful people. And as you leave the capital of Bucharest, it gets even better. In the countryside, the history and traditional culture survive vividly.
A hard-fought past is evident in the fortress-like churches scattered through the Transylvania region in central Romania. In medieval times, big towns were well-protected, but smaller villages were vulnerable to invaders, so industrious German settlers, imported by the local overlords to tame the wild frontier, fortified their churches.
Like medieval fortresses, these Saxon churches have beefy bastions, stout lookout towers, and narrow slits for raining arrows on enemies. Entire communities could take refuge inside — within wraparound defensive galleries.
Today most of Romania’s ethnic Germans are gone, having emigrated in the late 19th century or fled to Germany after World War II. But their legacy lives on. Stepping inside these churches feels like stepping into medieval Germany. Decoration is humble, pews are simple benches, and Bible quotes are in German.
The whitewashed and ramshackle church of Viscri, hidden deep in the hills, is one of the oldest (c. 1100). Most of the pews don’t have backs. That’s because of the starched dresses and long headdresses of traditional village women, who wanted to avoid creases in their best clothing. The pews with backs were for the families of those who were from elsewhere, usually the minister and the teacher.
Farther north, Romania’s Maramures region is Europe’s most traditional corner. While it takes some effort to reach, Maramures is well worth the effort for those who want to see a real, living open-air folk museum. It’s a rolling, pastoral landscape speckled with haystacks.
Thanks to its rugged terrain and its great distance from Bucharest, Maramures avoided communist farm collectivization — so people still tend their small family plots by hand. Horse carts seem to outnumber cows. Men in overalls and distinctive straw hats pile hay onto their wooden wagons. Women wear big, puffy skirts just above the knee, babushkas on their heads, and baskets laden with heavy goods on their backs. This region feels like Europe’s Amish Country, where centuries-old ways endure. It’s not for the benefit of tourists — it’s just their lifestyle.
Wander through any village and peek into family compounds. Each one is marked with a huge, ceremonial wooden gateway — just big enough for a hay-loaded horse cart to trot through. The gates are carved with a whole iconography of local symbols: starburst (pagan sun worship), wolf teeth (protection), bull horns (masculinity), leaves (nature), and — most importantly — the “rope of life” motif, a helix-like design suggesting the continuity of life from generation to generation. Inside each courtyard, you’ll usually see — in addition to the main house — a humble barn with a paddock, a garden patch, and an old-fashioned, hand-pulled well.
You’ll be surprised how often you’ll be invited inside. Many Maramures residents are eager to show curious visitors their humble homes. In Romania, meeting people often comes with a welcoming glass of the fruity, 100-proof Romanian moonshine called “palinca.” It’s strong stuff — kind of like rubbing alcohol with a touch of plum.
One of the most memorable sights in this part of Romania is the Merry (as in “joyful”) Cemetery. I’ve enjoyed a variety of graveyards throughout Europe, but this one in Maramures is one of a kind. In 1935, a local woodcarver — inspired by a long-forgotten tradition — began filling this cemetery with a forest of vivid memorials. Each one comes with a whimsical poem and a painting of the departed doing something he or she loved.
Although the cemetery is dubbed “merry,” many of the poems are downright morose. Tales of young lives cut short by tragic accidents, warriors mowed down in the prime of life, or people who simply never found happiness are a reminder that death, and life, are sometimes nothing to be cheerful about. Even if you can’t read the poems, the images speak volumes: weaver … loved bikes … television repairman … soldier … hit by a car … struck by lightning … nagging mother-in-law.
It’s a poignant celebration of each individual’s life, a chronicle of village history, and an irreverent raspberry in the face of death. And it’s all painted a cheery blue to match the heavens where the souls are headed.
Traveling in the Romanian countryside, you’ll find both evocative reminders of the past and time-warp lifestyles, seemingly oblivious to the modern world that’s the norm elsewhere. More than any place I’ve found in Europe, this is a place where, when you slow down and let adventures unfold, they will. In Romania, you’ll find that rather than famous sights, it’s the happy and unpredictable serendipity that leaves you with lifelong memories as souvenirs.
(Recently published in the Independent)
With its vast ice-sheet and tremendous calving glaciers, its tundra and its fjords, Greenland is a must-see adventure travel destination. The lure of the wilds is strong and tourists don’t linger for long in the city; most bypass it completely and head directly into nature. But there is a growing community of artists, chefs and artisans keen to prove that there is more to Greenland than icebergs and huskies. Nuuk, they enthuse, is the new Nordic city of culture.
Nuuk is one of the smallest capital cities in the world, with just 17,000 inhabitants – a mixture of Greenlanders and Danes. In 2009 Denmark granted Greenlanders the right to self-rule and the sense of newly-found freedom is still tangible, with Greenland playing an increasingly significant role in the global Arctic community. Last year the Arctic Winter Games – a high-profile event for northern athletes – was hosted here. In October, 200 artists from Scandinavia, Iceland and the Faroe Islands gathered in the city for the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival, drawing an audience of around 10 per cent of Greenland’s entire population.
“The interest in the Nordic culture scene is developing rapidly,” says Mats Bjerde, director of the Nordic Institute of Greenland (NAPA), which promotes Greenlandic and Nordic cultural cooperation. “We want to create a cultural Nordic playground in Nuuk where new skills can be born and avant-garde productions can be created across all creative genres.”
Nivi Christensen, curator of the Nuuk Art Museum, is equally passionate about supporting up-and-coming artists and engaging a new audience. Christensen says: “When I first became curator here, I wondered whether Nuuk was ready to have a cultural institution which had not only old paintings and sculptures, but also new, exciting and challenging artworks. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
The single greatest cultural change in Nuuk came with the creation of the Katuaq Culture Centre, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in February. The undulating, timber-clad building, designed by architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen, echoes the form and movement of the nearby fjord, icebergs and the northern lights.
“Katuaq was built at a time when there was growing focus on the country’s own culture,” explains the director, Julia Pars. “And so the centre became a symbol for nationalism, imagination and the possibility of a new Greenland. Today, we aim to be a window both to our own culture and to the outside world.” Katuaq – which means “drumstick” in Greenlandic – has become the beating heart of the city, hosting film screenings, theatre performances, gigs and exhibitions that attract 100,000 people a year. “Katuaq is like a musical instrument that can begin to play at any moment,” enthuses Pars. “During the day it’s full of dreams – at night it acts like a magnetic field, drawing people into the light.”
Creative expression in modern-day Nuuk takes many forms, from exceptional “new-Nordic” cuisine or artisan craft beer made with glacial ice, to video installations and street art. With the exception of the Katuaq centre, Nuuk’s architecture is, on the whole, rather grey and unimaginative (some would say ugly). Yet this was an ideal canvas for artists Stefan Baldursson from Iceland and Guido van Helten from Australia, who created the huge artworks that bookmark Nuuk’s Soviet-style apartment blocks.
“I’ve always been attracted to extreme places. That’s why I really wanted to paint in Greenland,” explains van Helten. “It’s been a privilege to work on the [apartment] block, especially as it symbolised another time and migration.” His artwork was inspired by a photograph taken in 1906 of a hunter who was relocated from a smaller community to Nuuk as part of a Danish objective to “modernise” Greenland.
The artworks, say Sarah Thode Andersen from Sermersooq Business Council, symbolise “Colourful Nuuk” – the branding initiative recently launched to promote the capital. “We want to show the outside world that the city has many different layers – the traditional, the new, the edgy and the beautiful,” says Andersen. “Nuuk is a melting pot of different individuals. These artworks reflect how diverse Nuuk is.”
It is Saturday morning, the temperature is around 2˚C and a few makeshift stalls have been set up on the main street. Weathered fishermen are sitting beside a tarpaulin spread over drifts of snow, displaying their haul of fresh fish. There is no seal meat on offer today. Opposite, a carver is sanding down a reindeer antler that will eventually become a “tupilak” – a carving of a spirit animal. Nuuk may be evolving into a modern Arctic city, but traditional culture is still very much alive. So, could Nuuk become the new Reykjavik? “Immaqqa,” as they say in Greenland – “Maybe.”
Nuuk is a three-hour flight from Reykjavik. Air Iceland (airicelandconnect.com) flies from Reykjavik to Nuuk from around £572 return. WOW Air (wowair.co.uk), Icelandair (icelandair.co.uk) and Easyjet (easyjet.com) fly to Reykjavik (Keflavik) from London and Bristol from £69.98 return.
Hotel Hans Egede (hhe.gl) is ideally placed in the centre of town and is home to Sarfalik, the best restaurant in Nuuk, which boasts unbeatable views of the surrounding city, mountains and fjord. Doubles from £195, B&B.
While Tokyo is known for its bright lights and modernization, the city of Kyoto is known as a more traditional Japanese city. While there are still all of the modern conveniences, there are also hundreds of temples, shrines, and gardens surrounded by traditional Japanese accommodations and restaurants.
Kyoto is in the Kansai region of Japan, about two-and-a-half hours by bullet train from Tokyo and nearby the Osaka airport (Kansai International Airport). Like many Japanese cities, there is ample public transportation as well as bike rentals available. Many visits to the temples double as hikes up mountains and provide excellent views of the city. Since Kyoto is fairly spread out, make sure clients know how they’re getting around the city before they leave.
For travelers looking for a traditional Japanese experience, full of historical locations, Kyoto is the perfect city.
The Southern Higashiyama sits at the base of the Higashiyama, or Eastern Mountains. At the northern end of the district is Gion, famous for its traditional geishas. Those spending time in the area might spot a geisha in traditional dress and makeup. There are lots of places to see geisha shows, and there’s even a place where you can be dressed up like a geisha. Maica offers guests the chance to dress up like a geisha or samurai complete with kimono, wig, and makeup.
Also in Higashiyama is Kennin-ji Temple, the oldest zen garden in Kyoto. Built in 1202, the temple allows guests to take a walk through the Zen garden and check out the famous two dragons painted on the roof.
Another thing worth checking out: Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka, streets that have been preserved from old Japan. The pedestrian-only streets are lined with traditional shops, restaurants, and tea houses.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most popular attractions in Kyoto. While it’s a bit touristy, it still offers views of the entire city as well as multiple well-preserved buildings to check out. It was built over 1200 years ago and is one of the 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto. The temple is also a great place to go during cherry blossom season.
Located at the edge of the city, Arashiyama is about a half-hour outside the center of the city. It’s worth the trip though for the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Visitors walk through a long path surrounded by tall bamboo looming on both sides.
The grove is also next to the Tenryu-ji Temple. The temple was originally built in 1339 but after fires and wars many of the original buildings were destroyed. Buildings that are there now were built between the late 19th and early 20th century. The gardens, however, did survive and are the original. Tenryu-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Also located in Arashiyama is the monkey park. The park is about a short hike uphill and opens onto an area where a hundred monkey live. It also offers views of the city.
While there aren’t many historical sites in downtown, there are lots of restaurants and shops, including the Nishiki Market. It’s the city’s largest traditional food market and houses traditional vegetable, tea, fish, and meat stands as well as a few restaurants and take away stalls.
Also located downtown is the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It’s housed in a former school building and has a collection of over 300,000 manga (Japanese comic books). If clients are there on a weekend, it might be worth mentioning the workshops held at the museum for a rainy day option.
On the outskirts of downtown is the Nijō Castle. Built as a residence for the shogun in 1603, the building is surrounded by gardens and a moat and divided into five buildings. Since it’s one of the more popular destinations in Kyoto, make sure clients know they should get there early to beat the crowds.
Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto
While the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is new (opening just last fall), Kyoto’s signature traditional elements are still felt throughout the hotel. Located in the center of the property is the 800-year old pond garden, and many guest rooms overlook it. Located in the garden across a glass bridge is the traditional tea room, and guests can take part in a traditional tea ceremony. Traditional aesthetics follows guests into their rooms with washi-paper lamps, fusuma screens, and urushi lacquerware. But of course, there are still modern amenities like Wi-Fi, sauna, indoor pool, and spa.
The Millennials Kyoto
The Millennials knows its demographic so well, it’s named after them. Great for younger clients who would rather spend more time exploring the city than in the hotel, The Millennials is a smart-pod hotel. A popular type of hotel in Japan, rooms are just large enough for a bed and just tall enough to stand in. Some pod hotels are even smaller and only offer enough room for guests to sit or lay. The Millennials however, does come with a bed (a Serta bed to be exact) as well as all the modern conveniences one needs. The smart-pods can be operated by the iPod given to guests at the beginning of their stay. The iPod is used as the room’s key and controls the light, fan, and alarm, which doesn’t actually make noise but wakes guests up but inclining the bed and slowly turning on the lights. Pods come with an amenity kit that includes a robe, towels, toothbrush, and hair brush. High-speed Wi-Fi is also provided and can be used in the hotel’s public spaces.
For those who want more traditional accommodations, a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn, is worth checking out. Tawaraya is a 300-year-old ryokan and considered one of the best in the country for its hospitality alone. As per tradition, there is very little furniture in the room and floors are made of tatami (rice straw mats), but every room does have its own Zen garden and bathrooms have their own hot tub with views of the garden. Rates often include authentic meals – delivered right to guest’s rooms. Here, guests dine in traditional fashion, sitting on the floor, and take part in Kaiseki – a multi-course meal that can last hours. For an authentic traditional Japanese experience, Tawaraya is the place to be.
Premium Pound Sanjo-Kiyamachi
Kyoto is home to plenty of restaurants, from street food to fine dining. One of the most popular meals is the legendary Kobe beef. A highly rated option is Premium Pound Sanjo-Kiyamachi. The restaurant serves multiple course meals around their aged beef.
As you may have guessed, with so many temples in Kyoto, there’s a fair number of Buddhists. Shojin Ryori is traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and is often served in the temples (Tenryu-ji Temple has a restaurant). There are also plenty of independent places to check out.
Haute cuisine, or kaiseki, is also a popular in Kyoto. It often refers to a multi-course meal that combines different taste, texture, and colors. There can be more than a dozen courses comprised of a small appetizer, seasonal sashimi, soup, grilled fish, and more. Hyotei is a three-Michelin star restaurant at Nanzenji Temple that serves the traditional Japanese meal.
Cherry Blossom Season
One of the most popular things to see in Kyoto, and Japan in general, is the cherry blossoms. The best time to see them is usually late March and early April. However, Mother Nature isn’t always so consistent and trees will sometimes bloom at different times. Also, because it’s such a popular event, make sure trips are booked well in advance as hotels will sell out.
(Recently was in USA Today)
NEW ORLEANS — There’s a new royal of riverboats on the Mississippi.
The company that operates the much-beloved American Queen on Monday officially welcomed a second vessel to the river, American Duchess, with a christening ceremony along the waterfront of New Orleans.
Marissa Applegate, daughter of American Queen Steamboat Company chairman John Waggoner, served as godmother for the vessel, smashing a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon against its front railing in lieu of champagne.
“She surely lives up to her royal name,” Applegate told an audience of invited guests at the event, noting upscale amenities on American Duchess that include two-level loft suites — a first for a riverboat in North America.
Applegate also talked movingly about her father, who she described as having an unceasing work ethic. She said it was evident decades ago when he got his start in the maritime world as a captain on a sports fishing boat.
“It has been such a joy to stand by my father and watch him grow this company from the ground up,” she said.
American Steamboat bought and rebuilt an existing casino vessel, the Isle of Capri, to create the American Duchess — an ambitious undertaking that Waggoner likened to bringing a baby into the world. The conversion included the addition of a third deck to the vessel as well as a working paddle wheel.
Initially “it was pretty fun … but about a month into the project, I started to get the morning sickness,” Waggoner said in a speech at the event, joking about construction headaches that included delays caused by high water on the Mississippi. The ship’s debut eventually was pushed back by two months.
“There’s been a lot of pressure to meet our deadlines and finish up the hundreds of projects on board, with a lot of stress for many people,” Waggoner said, equating the pain of the final weeks of work to the pain of childbirth. “But here we are today delivering this marvelous vessel.”
The ceremony also included the presentation of the ship’s Certificate of Inspection from the head of the U.S. Coast Guard’s New Orleans office, Capt. Wayne Arguin. He continued the baby-making analogy by quipping that the document was “like a birth certificate.”
Like the American Queen, American Duchess will sail on the Mississippi between Red Bank, Minn. and New Orleans. It also will cruise on the Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois rivers, with fares starting at $2,999 per person.
Billed as an all-suite vessel, American Duchess features an unusual number of large accommodations. Three Owner’s Suites measure 550 square feet, and there also are four of the Loft Suites that also measure 550 square feet. Standard cabins measure 240 square feet, which is large by cruise industry standards.
American Duchess also has unusually high ceilings on its first two floors, a remnant of its origins as a casino vessel. The floors measure more than 18 feet high. The ship also is slightly wider than the American Queen. The result is a vessel with notably spacious public rooms including a two-story bar area with ceilings more than 36 feet high and a restaurant with soaring windows looking out over the water.
The use of a bottle of bourbon to christen the ship was unusual. Maker’s Mark chairman emeritus Bill Samuels, Jr. who also spoke at the event, noted that the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II used a bottle of Scotch to christen Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2010. Samuels also recounted the story of how his father and a Louisiana congressman secretly swapped a bottle of Kentucky bourbon for the champagne used to christen a submarine near the end of World War II.
A cruise is not only a wonderful experience, it can also save you money, especially in the world’s most expensive countries. With sterling buying less abroad, you may think twice before holidaying in destinations such as Norway and Iceland, but when compared with the costs of independent travel, a cruise, which with one or two exceptions includes all meals, and maybe drinks and excursions too, can seem very good value.
The potential savings on accommodation and flights (on cruises from the UK) are obvious, but when a panino for lunch in Stockholm can cost £10, even a roll and banana snaffled from the ship’s breakfast buffet – we’ve all done it – may save two of you £200 on a 10-day holiday. If travelling with family you can expect huge savings.
A recent cost of living survey from Numbeo, which monitors the prices of around 50 items in 121 countries, from food and accommodation to taxi fares and leisure activities, found that Bermuda has the steepest costs, followed by Switzerland and Iceland. Below are some examples of how cruising can make visiting these countries more affordable.
Iceland is not only expensive, but about to become more so as the krona soars and the nation looks to limit what it sees as an unsustainable rise in visitor numbers (up from 490,000 in 2010 to an estimated 2.3 million this year) with an increase in hotel taxes and other costs.
The cheapest, non-hostel accommodation I could find in Iceland in September costs £59, and a return flight with Wow ( wowair.co.uk ) around £110. A main course in a restaurant will set you back £35, a beer £10.
A cruise works out cheaper across the board. Cruise & Maritime Voyages (0844 998 3806; cruiseandmaritime.com ) offers an 11-night Land of Ice and Fire voyage (also visiting Ireland and the Faroe Islands), a round trip from Cardiff departing May 16, 2018, from £1,069pp. That’s £97.18 per night – or what you may spend on less than three meals ashore.
A 14-night voyage with P&O Cruises (0843 373 0052; pocruises.com ), departing Southampton on June 16, 2018, also visiting Norway and Dublin, costs from £1,549pp (£110.64 per day). Fred Olsen (0845 314 2723, fredolsencrises.com ) offers an 11-night cruise with a full circumnavigation of Iceland, from £1,499pp (£136.27 daily), departing Newcastle on August 28, 2018.
The Norwegians were voted the world’s happiest people in a poll earlier this year, so are obviously not fazed by the high prices they have to pay; the country came fourth in Numbeo’s survey. A dorm bed in a hostel can cost £45 a night, and reckon on £9.30 for a McDonald’s Combo Meal or £25 for a main course elsewhere.
Whether you cruise from the UK or fly (typically to Bergen) to join your ship, a cruise will save you money compared with land-based travel. One of the main Norwegian operators, Hurtigruten (020 3811 4693; hurtigruten.co.uk ), offers its classic 12-day Round Voyage cruise (departures year-round) from Bergen to Kirkenes and back – 2,875 miles of peerless coastal scenery – at prices from £947pp (£78.90 a day), excluding flights. Travel independently and it will cost around £51 (550NOK) for just a three-hour fjord cruise out of Bergen ( rodne.com ).
Construct a city-based itinerary to the Baltic countries, visiting, say, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Tallinn and St Petersburg, and you’re looking at a large bill. A return flight alone to St Petersburg in September currently costs from around £453 on average ( ba.com ).
Yet sign up for the 12-night Northern Delight cruise, a round trip from Southampton with Royal Caribbean International (0844 417 0290; royalcaribbean.co.uk ), and you can visit these cities and more for as little as £999pp, departing June 15, 2018. That’s £91 per night – little more than double your potential airfare to one city –and when you consider the £92 (800 krone) quoted by Numbeo as the price of a meal for two in a mid-range Copenhagen restaurant, a Baltic cruise begins to look very good value indeed.
At first glance, Austria’s prices don’t look too bad – it’s the 24th priciest nation. But that ranking is based on averages countrywide: in Vienna, for example, costs will be higher.
A river cruise that includes several excursions will show you the sights for less: Avalon Waterways (0800 668 1843; avaloncruises.co.uk ) has a nine-day Austrian Highlights and Bavaria cruise that focuses on Austria (visiting Vienna, Dürnstein in the Wachau Valley, Passau and Melk Abbey) and also visits Germany, Prague and Bratislava.
Prices start from £1,497pp (£166 daily), including flights and transfers to and from your home airport (up to 100 miles). Also included are seven guided excursions: when a basic three-hour walking tour of Vienna costs €24/£20 ( viennacitytours.com ), you could save around £150 on sightseeing alone.
Stockholm is high on most travel wish lists, with its archipelago considered one of Europe’s most beautiful bodies of water. But with a night in the mid-range Rival, one of Telegraph Travel’s recommended Stockholm hotels, costing from £138, and a meal in a mid-range restaurant from £35-£50 per head, it is not a cheap city-break option.
Cruising affords the best of both worlds – a view of the archipelago from the ideal vantage point (the sea) and the city within easy reach. Better still, there are additional scenic diversions, such as the Swedish fjords, and other ports of call en route. Fred Olsen (0845 314 3938; fredolsencruises.com ) offers an 11-night round trip from Newcastle on September 25, 2018, from £1,399pp. This includes more than two full days in Stockholm, scenic cruising in the archipelago and fjords, and stops in Gothenburg, Malmö and Visby. A departure from Edinburgh on May 16, 2018, costs from £1,199pp (or £109 nightly).
The cheapest return flight in October to Orlando is around £530 with Condor-Thomas Cook. Yet a package with Iglu (020 3131 3231; iglucruise.com ), from £929pp, includes flights, car hire and three nights’ accommodation in Orlando for Disneyland, as well as a four-day cruise with Carnival (0843 374 2272; carnival.com) to Bermuda, the world’s most expensive country. Departing October 29, 2017, the cruise calls at Freeport and Nassau.
If you prefer to concentrate on Disney’s attractions, an 11-night fly-cruise-stay package with Virgin (0344 739 0633; virginholidayscruises.co.uk ) costs from £1,506pp for a November 2017 departure. This includes a three-night Bahamas cruise on Disney Dream, car hire and seven nights’ room-only accommodation at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. Booked direct, the 10-day return Virgin flight in November costs £523 and seven nights at the Pop Century Resort from £735 – making your Bahamas cruise effectively free.
It costs a lot to fly to Australia – the world’s 12th most expensive country – so why not save once you’re there? Cruises that visit three or more ports offer big savings on internal travel, as do sailings that include excursions. On its 18-night Australia to Asia voyage departing Sydney on March 7, 2018, Azamara Club Cruises (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk ) sails to Hardy Reef on the Great Barrier Reef, a visit that would cost £88/$245 with a shore-based company ( reeffree.com.au ). Greater savings accrue from tendered visits to Hamilton and Thursday islands, and a cruise of the Whitsunday Islands, experiences that would otherwise require paid-for excursions.
Ports of call after Sydney include Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Darwin. Costs for the cheapest internal flights in March 2018 are as follows: Sydney to Cairns, £88; Cairns to Brisbane, £192, and Brisbane to Darwin, £160. Currently the cheapest 13-day car-hire deal (Sydney to Darwin) for March is £435, or £34 daily ( rentalcars.com ), plus petrol, for a trip of more than 3,100 miles. Factor in costs such as these, plus the fact that Azamara also takes you to Bali and Singapore, and the cruise fare starting from £4,270pp, or £237 daily, including meals, drinks and more, seems a good deal.