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Author: Mary Corcoran

Life is Too Short – Travel with Friends!

For the past 20 years, I have traveled with my dear friends Chris and Kate every 5 years for our milestones (we share the same birth year).  Over that span of time, I’ve taken the time away from children, responsibilities, and husband Bill to enjoy quality time with friends for a week to 10 days per trip.   We’ve been to Napa, Lake Tahoe, Ireland, Spain, Alaska, and have even done a couple “staycations” together.  We are perfect travel companions!

My children are now grown, Bill is still working but headed for retirement, and I’m getting close to 65.  While Chris, Kate, and I were on our last official milestone trip when we turned 60 – to Barcelona and the Costa Brava of Spain – we agreed we had to accelerate our schedule if we want to see everything we want to in our lives.

Yes, it’s challenging to balance obligations and responsibilities, but the rewards of traveling with close friends and family are priceless.  Let me share a couple client stories with you.

Christine and her husband have been all over the world.  But when she was ready to celebrate a milestone birthday at 50, she decided she wanted to share the experience with a group of friends who share her love of Italian food and cooking.  This group of six included sophisticated world travelers like Christine and first-time to Europe travelers, but they share a bond of friendship and common interests together.  After almost a year of planning, the group headed to Florence, the Tuscan countryside for 3 days of cooking classes, and Rome in November.  They enjoyed each other’s company, great food and conversation, and new recipes to showcase at home.  They toured the Uffizi in Florence, had a wonderful private tour at the Vatican, and cooked, laughed and drank wine together.  When I met with them after their return, what they most valued about this amazing trip was the time they got to hang out together.   Because they shared typical small European hotel rooms, they appreciated the intimate public areas of the Hotel Cellai in Florence and especially loved the small Villa Fattoria Valle in Panzano where they were the only guests.

Flo and Vivian are friends but their relationship is really more like that of sisters (it’s equally awesome to travel with sisters as I can attest to!).  They love to travel together and have discovered the joys of river cruising.  They are inveterate shoppers and their first river cruise experience was an Ama Waterways cruise on the Danube from Budapest to Prague for the Christmas market season.  I was so impressed with these two women – they went to each of the markets and each stand at each market.  In Salzburg alone, they visited 120 stalls and came away with fabulous and unique treasures for friends and family.  They had such a great time they signed up for another Ama Waterways cruise – this one along the Rhine and waterways of Germany and the Netherlands to experience tulip time.  They were delighted with the 125th anniversary commemoration of the death of Van Gogh with a spectacular “Van Gogh” tulip display at Keukenhof fields.  They exuberantly shared photos, their treasures, and even recipes from Ama Waterways which focuses on the regional cuisine of its destinations.

When you have friends who share that kind of enthusiasm and interests, why not channel it into a trip together?  Life is too short not to go.  Here’s my short list of tips to make traveling with friends the perfect experience:

  • Plan ahead to minimize surprises.  The planning process helps crystallize what is important for all the friends traveling together.  A travel professional – such as any one of our team members at Bay World Travel – is an objective and collaborative partner in making sure it’s an experience you’ll all find amazing.
  • Allow for downtime on your trip to make time for what friends value most – conversation and companionship.
  • Consider cruising.  Whether a small vessel like AmaWaterways or a large ship, there’s opportunity for friends to do things together or separately.  When I went on the Alaska cruise with friends and family, we always gathered for a pre-dinner cocktail and dinner – sometimes sharing stories of what we did together and sometimes what we did on our own.
  • Do a trial run.  Haven’t traveled with this friend or group of friends before?  Try a weekend getaway to see just how compatible you are as travel companions.
  • Get extra amenities.  If you want to invite friends along on a cruise, tour or resort stay, there are often extra benefits we can negotiate to help sweeten the deal.

Call Bay World Travel today to start planning your next adventure with friends and family!

Alaska – My 50th State – Celebrity Cruising Style!

Alaska has always eluded me. I’ve visited all of the other 49 states, and when Celebrity offered an attractive deal for a September Alaska cruise, I jumped at the chance. In fact, my daughter Aimee (also a travel consultant here at Bay World Travel), 2 friends, and 5 family members decided to witness this milestone with me.

What a phenomenal trip! The company of people I love, the incredible scenery, the “edutainment” style of learning about the natural wonders and history of Alaska through the Celebrity Life program, and the onboard experience combined to make this the trip of a lifetime.

Not only was this my first trip to Alaska, it was my first “big ship” cruise experience. I was concerned that the embarkation, meals, disembarkation, and ports would be mob scenes. I was pleasantly surprised that every aspect of this cruise felt as open as the state of Alaska – yet the cruise ship was fully booked.

It’s hard to capture the essence of this trip just because the ship and the state are so big! But I’ll try!

Scenery.

Our naturalist Brent Nixon narrated our absolutely gorgeous cruise through the Tracy Arms Fjord. Our group joked that for a guy who insisted words couldn’t describe the beauty and grandeur of this place, he sure had a lot of them! But he was thoroughly entertaining and informative. He quoted John Muir who said about this fjord, “shut in by sublime Yosemite cliffs, nobly sculptured, and adorned with waterfalls and fringes of trees, bushes, and patches of flowers, but amid so crowded a display of novel beauty it was not easy to concentrate the attention long enough on any portion of it without giving more days and years than our lives can afford.”

We went through an area of this fjord where ships and boats and people all need to be quiet so as not to disturb the natural beauty. Imagine being on a ship with 4,000 people when it’s perfectly still. And we got all the way to the Sawyer Glacier, so close we could hear the ice cracking, see harbor seals resting, and witness the glacier “calving” truck size blocks of ice into the cold deep water.

On a nature hike outside Ketchikan, I saw a black bear fishing for salmon in a rushing waterfall (he missed 3 and finally got a big one) and found a hidden waterfall outside Skagway. My sister-in-law Karen got a good photo of the 2 year old. I was enjoying a massage when a frolicking humpback whale was spied just off the port side of the ship, but my brother got a couple of great photos. And Karen was able to capture this great shot of a humpback on a whale watching boat near Juneau.

Pampering.

This experience felt so indulgent yet Celebrity cruise fares are not over the top – no wonder this cruise line has won Cruise Critic’s “Best Value for the Money” award. Our group fell in love with the dining room staff, and dinner at the main dining room became our nightly ritual. Sanyo our head server, Allan our sommelier and Cerna who served as host and took care of our vegans’ and vegetarians’ more complicated dinner selections, made us feel like we were being welcomed into their homes. Since we had done a nominal upgrade to the premium drink package (totally worth it – thank you, Ruell at the pool bar for suggesting it!), we were entitled to free-flowing wines, cocktails, specialty coffees, and after dinner drinks. By day 2, Allan knew our preferences and took care of pairing our food choices with great wine.

Entertainment.

In addition to the daily shows – magic, music, dancing, and a Cirque style performance – we were blown away by the Celebrity Life programs. We never got to the Top Chef events (which looked like a lot of fun) because we were drawn to learning more about local wildlife and Alaska history. We focused on the presentations by naturalist Brent Nixon and his wife Mary Amanda Fairchild. Brent can do a mean impression – and I mean mean! – of a sea lion, but his orca, humpback and harbor seal impressions weren’t too bad either. Ms. Fairchild is an Alaska history expert and was thoroughly entertaining in her lady of the night role as “Miss Amanda.” These ladies figured prominently into the gold rush days of southeast Alaska. But the most surprising and interesting presentation was her “Titanic: The Last Song.” This sounds odd to offer on a large cruise ship but it was riveting and emotional. It turns out “Miss Amanda” is also a member of the Titanic Society and a forensic musicologist. Yes, the last song was “Nearer my God to Thee” but a little known version written by Arthur Sullivan.

Companionship.

Cruises are perfect for a group – enabling people to choose their own activities but come together to share stories and enjoy a meal or drink together. Our ritual was to have an evening cocktail – sometimes on the stateroom veranda (we had 4 adjacent staterooms). Our cabin attendant Gaston – also a great guy – was able to open the partitions so we could sit down together. We had all our dinners together and found a special area of the Ocean View buffet where we would look for each other at breakfast or lunch if we were not out and about.

Something and somewhere for everyone.

Some of us wanted to enjoy the Canyon Ranch spa and some of us preferred to explore the ship. Shore excursions ranged from high adrenalin activities (Aimee, Lucy, Kyle, and Paul elected to snorkel in Alaska!) to nature hikes. And some of us elected to explore on our own. While we didn’t have kids on board, my young adult daughter did want to enjoy some of the nightlife (we all indulged in an evening of karaoke but then left her to her own devices). There are lots of programs for kids and teens as well.

If you haven’t considered a cruise because of the concerns of crowded commercial ports, rest assured you won’t feel that way in Alaska. Cruising is the perfect way to explore this elusive destination and is a great jumping off point for cruisetour land options such as a visit to Denali or a trip to fish in the icy waters. Aimee and I would both love to be of assistance in booking your Alaska experience. Contact us at go@bayworldtravel.com.

Lost in Lucca: Traveling Itinerary-Free in Northern Italy

After our amazing Azamara Monaco Grand Prix cruise, Bill and I decided to spend 5 nights in Italy. Northern Italy is just a short drive from Nice, our cruise disembarkation point. We spent 3 nights in Liguria in an agriturismo (farmhouse that offers inn-style accommodations) so that we could visit the Cinque Terre and 2 nights in the Piemonte region to enjoy Italy’s best wines. Accommodations and car rental were the only advance reservations we made (highly recommended!) – the rest we lived in the moment.

I love Italy! The food, wine, people, and scenery can’t be beat. I’ve traveled there several times but this was a first for Bill. In addition to the food, wine, people, and scenery, he also loved driving in Italy. Granted our Fiat diesel was not his fantasy car but it was sturdy and remained largely unscathed during our whirlwind tour.

Sostio a Levante was our chosen agriturismo. The big attraction there is the views over the Cinque Terre and innkeeper and owner Laura’s cooking. Every night featured a fantastic 3-course meal with wines served from their own vineyards. Breakfast in the morning included freshly baked pastries along with local cheeses, meats, eggs, and bread. I spied Laura picking herbs early in the morning which showed up in the evening meal. On the first night, we had gnocchi with fresh pesto (Ligurian specialty) as a first course – it was fantastic!

We spent a day traveling by train to the 5 legendary towns of the Cinque Terre. It was a quick trip out of Framura to the towns. Since some of the trails connecting the towns are still in disrepair after the 2011 floods, we opted to do our walking in Riomaggiore, the last town of the 5. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! The views are spectacular as we enjoyed a lazy late lunch on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.

We had considered going to Florence, about two hours from our inn, but decided instead to go to Lucca – just a little over an hour. What a great choice – we avoided the hordes of tourists in Florence but still got to see amazing cathedrals, Renaissance art, and saints’ relics. The basilica of San Frediano houses the mummified remains of St. Zita, a 13th century saint who is the patron of domestic servants and I was happy to learn she can also be called upon to help locate lost keys. We strolled on top of the medieval walls which have been transformed into a city park and enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the plaza which rings an ancient Roman amphitheater. Speaking of which, it was searching for the amphitheater which finally led us to break down and buy a map of Lucca. However, we thoroughly enjoyed being lost in Lucca – finding St. Zita and the boyhood home of Giacomo Puccini along the way. Serendipitous discovery is the hallmark of traveling with Bill and one I haven’t tired of after 30 years of traveling together.

On our last morning in Liguria, I broke down and enjoyed one of Laura’s fresh apple muffins. I’m not usually attracted to sweets but these were amazing! Then we were off to La Morra, a hillside medieval town in the middle of the Langhe region of the Piemonte – overlooking the famous Barolo vineyards. Our inn was just outside La Morra and we learned that the presentation of the 2013 Barolo wines was happening on that weekend. The inn was quickly filled to capacity with well-heeled oenophiles from Switzerland. I counted about 12 cases of wine that were moved from the trunk of a fancy Ferrari to one of the guest’s rooms. Another example of why booking ahead is important!

We spent one day enjoying the views from La Morra and another day in Alba, the famous wine and culinary center of this region (famous not just for wines but also for white truffles). This time, we went with maps in hand, provided by our innkeeper. We toured more churches and I finally had the opportunity to climb a bell tower to look out over this beautiful city. We had a memorable lunch at La Bottega del Vicoletta, a humble looking restaurant with a takeout counter in the front but with incredible Alban gourmet cuisine. We talked to the chef to ask her secret on the best broccoli I’ve ever eaten (turned out it was just vinegar but it was cooked perfectly and perched atop a veal carpaccio that legends are made of.) The tajarin tartufo nero – another Piemonte specialty featuring porcini mushrooms and feather-light egg noodles – was incredible with the lovely bottle of local Barbera we split.

Do you like finding your own way through Europe? Bay World Travel’s recommendation is to make sure you have all your big dots connected – flights in and out of Europe, transportation within Europe, and accommodations. Then fill in the little dots if you’re adventurous or let us organize a full itinerary for you. Call us or email when you’re ready to start planning! 650-726-7345 or go@bayworldtravel.com

Off to the Races! Monaco Grand Prix on Board the Azamara Quest

If you’re a Formula 1 auto race fan, you know the annual race in Monte Carlo is the grande dame of speed and glamour. My husband Bill loves fast cars and is especially enamored of the Ferraris, though this year they are thoroughly outmatched by the Mercedes. When we learned of the Azamara Quest’s 4 night cruise which culminated in attending the race, we had to do it!

I’ve got to say this was the experience of a lifetime. Unpack once on board, spend lazy days on the French and Italian Riviera, and then enjoy the adrenalin pumping race among the rich and famous in Monte Carlo – hassle free! We anchored out, overlooking Monte Carlo and the steep cliffs of Monaco, then took a tender in to the pier. Walk up the hill, say howdy to the royals in the palace on top of the cliff, and find your seat. Bill opted for seats that overlooked the action in the pits, right in front of the S-turn. The cars, drivers, and pit crew were so close you could almost touch them.

After the race, you have the option to stay and party with the population (ranging from die-hard race fans sporting Indianapolis 500 t-shirts or Ferrari caps to glamorous women in form-fitting outfits) or return to the ship to enjoy a relaxed evening.

We opted to return to the ship after the race and enjoy the final evening of the cruise with dinner served on our cabin’s veranda. We looked out over Monte Carlo and could hear the faint sounds of partying on shore and on the Azamara Journey which was anchored nearby

Other highlights of this Riviera experience:

Strolling along the Promenade des Anglais overlooking the Cote D’Azur in Nice. Ok, we had to duck for cover during a brief hailstorm but after that, the skies cleared and it was beautiful. We enjoyed a traditional nicoise salad paired with a lovely Provence Rosé at a sidewalk café, enduring the stares of locals since we chowed down much earlier than is proper in France.

Enjoying a regatta off the harbor of Portofino. Bill loved the little wooden dinghies. We found a great viewing area up the steep hill of Portofino.

Yachts, helicopters and cigarette boats. I’m a small town girl and I was wowed by the huge yachts with a minimum of one helicopter and fast expensive boats streaking across the water. It was fun to discover an app to learn the ownership of the yachts we saw along the way. I can dream ….

Finding the traditional tarte Tropezienne in St. Tropez. Apparently, La Tarte Tropezienne does not want out of towners to find the bakery so there will be more for the locals of this delicious cake (think brioche dough with a creamy filling and sprinkled with a bit of salt on top – yummy!) Fortunately we ran into a lovely French family who led us through the narrow winding streets right to the door of the bakery which bears this cake’s name.

Dinner at the Aqualina restaurant overlooking St. Tropez on board the Azamara Quest. Azamara cruises are inclusive – wine, beer, and standard brand liquors, gratuities – specialty restaurants (Prime and Aqualina) have just a $25/passenger up charge – but be prepared to enjoy a 4-star meal with incredible views and service. All the meals were great with 24/7 room service available if you want to laze in your cabin. The ship itself carries about 700 passengers, and though this cruise was fully booked with race enthusiasts, it never felt crowded.

I’m anxious to try some of Azamara’s other itineraries – they’re port-intensive and focus on destinations the larger ships can’t get to. I know I’ll be pampered and relaxed – since Bill picked his passion of racing, maybe I can select the next one – wine-themed cruise in Australia and New Zealand perhaps? Or Greece and Turkey? Here at Bay World Travel, we’re here to book your dream vacation. I can honestly say dreams can come true!

Destination Iguazu Falls – Rainbow’s End in South America

How do you end a fabulous 12-day cruise that plies the Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina coastline? Paul and I decided to take a trip to Iguazu Falls which spans the Argentina and Brazil border, one of the world’s largest and arguably the most spectacular chasms. This is our second experience with taking a post-cruise trip, which we have found is a stress-free way to see an exotic destination. We were refreshed and relaxed after 12 days of being pampered on Oceania, one of our favorite cruise lines. Cruising is a great way to see several destinations without packing and re-packing. More on that later …

After a two-hour flight from Buenos Aires and private transfer to the Sheraton Hotel at the Iguazu National Park, we enjoyed the spectacular views and relaxed. It was a good thing we rested because we had a full day of touring – starting with the Brazil side for its vistas of the entire falls and then back to the national park in Argentina to commence our hikes along the falls. One of the hikes took us to the entrance of Devils Throat – a narrow chasm where half of the river flows. It’s wet, misty, and absolutely spectacular. Happily we were afforded ponchos which were even more of a necessity on our boat ride under the falls the following day. Our speedboat took us inside the Garganta del Diablo (Devils Throat) Canyon – awesome! We also took a nature hike where we got up close and personal with monkeys and the ubiquitous coatis. Coatis are the South American cousins of raccoons, and tourists feed them so I had to shoo more than one of them away. Staying 2 nights and spreading our tours over two days was almost perfect, but I’d recommend lightening up one of the days’ schedules to allow more time to enjoy the spa services at the lovely Sheraton. Paul and I had a great time enjoying a hydrotherapy regime.

Speaking of relaxation, our Oceania cruise was fantastic – 12 nights aboard the lovely Oceania M/S Regatta. We embarked at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and ended our cruise in Bueno Aires, Argentina. A highlight for me was Uruguay. We took the opportunity to tour Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital and a beautiful, affluent Latin American city as well as Punta del Este, Uruguay’s top beach resort destination.

On board, we enjoyed wonderful service and meals. Oceania’s food, under the executive culinary direction of none other than Jacques Pepin, is world-renowned and award-winning. We were able to enjoy specialty dining at Toscana (Italian) and the Polo Grill (steak and seafood) as well as the grand dining room where a beautiful array of dishes, from Jacques Pepin French signature plates to Canyon Ranch healthy, flavorful cuisine were available. This was my third Oceania cruise and it won’t be my last, and I know why so many of my clients who enjoy luxury cruising swear by this cruise line.

South America and/or luxury cruising on your list? Give me or any one of Bay World’s travel advisors a call. We’d love to collaborate with you to make your travel dream a reality.

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