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Recently, I took a short trip to New York City – an action packed long weekend arranged through Bay World Travel’s relationship with New York City Vacation Packages. My friend Joanne came up from New Jersey, and 1 day into the trip I was surprised by two other friends who decided to join us for the weekend.

While I’ve gone to school in New York, worked in New York, and visited for business reasons through the year, I’ve never been a tourist in New York. I know New York is an amazing city but seeing it through visitor’s eyes provided a new perspective. Here are my top 5 reasons to make New York City a girlfriends’ getaway.

1. Convenience. I live in California so traveling across the US for a long weekend might seem to be a bit much. But honestly, flights are convenient, frequent and affordable. Plus no passport is required, and you’ll land in New York quicker than driving between northern and southern California. There are nonstop flights from the West Coast into New York’s two biggest airports – JFK and Newark – and lots of connecting flights into La Guardia and White Plains as well.

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Top 5 Reasons to Cruise to Mexico

I’m just back from a glorious 7-night cruise aboard Holland America’s MS Westerdam – joined by my sister and 2 friends to celebrate a milestone birthday.  We embarked in San Diego – bound for the lovely Mexican Riviera ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta – but honestly many of the highlights were enjoyed right on board.  Here are the top 5 reasons I love this itinerary and cruise line –

1. Mexico culture immersion.  I’m not just talking about Margaritas though they were certainly featured along with a daily taco bar poolside – but the gracious Mexican ambassadors who sang, danced, and taught us about this beautiful country and culture.  My sister and I even braved a salsa and merengue dance lesson – technically not Mexican but the Latin vibe is irresistible under the warm Mexican sun.

2. Spa day!  3 leisurely sea days provided the inspiration for complete relaxation.  The hot stone massage was heaven as were the heated tile beds and steam room looking out over the gentle Pacific waves.  This Holland America ship was the most stable I’ve ever sailed on …. no rolling sensation on shore, just a gentle rocking to sleep every night.

3. Champagne Dreaming.  I fell in love with the Champagne Dream –one of Holland America’s signature cocktails.  This drink is light and refreshing but packs a punch too!   This was our go-to cocktail for the sunset. We visited several of the bars but our favorite bartender, David, worked at the Pinnacle Bar and was the super fun mixology class instructor.  Yes, my sister and I both got our degrees in mixology!

4. America’s Test Kitchen.  What an awesome partnership Holland America has with ATK.  Our America’s Test Kitchen host Abbie was just delightful and I came home with lots of practical tips and great easy fast recipes.  My husband thinks I’m an obnoxious kitchen know-it-all now!

5. Coffee break.  Smiling and gracious staff greeted us everywhere but we have a special fondness for the barista at the coffee bar – and we’d sit for minutes on port days or linger for hours overlooking the Pacific on sea days.  Great staff, good food, leisure time to enjoy the company of friends and family, and the beautiful sea sum up the Holland America cruise experience.

Interested in exploring Holland America itineraries and destinations?  It’s as easy as giving us a call to get you onboard.

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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.

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It takes me a day to get my New York City “sea legs” – but then, it’s a total adrenaline rush! Times Square has become brighter than ever, people are crowding the streets 24/7, horns are honking, and vendors sell a dizzying array of food and merchandise on the sidewalks and streets.

I just returned from an exhilarating 5 days and 4 nights in New York. My reason for going was to sing with a group of over 200 choristers in a Lincoln Center performance of Carmina Burana. My itinerary included hours of grueling rehearsals followed by performing this powerful music to a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. I’m sure the people who bought tickets were more attracted by the Grammy-winning conductor Vance George and Metropolitan Opera baritone Keith Harris than by the chorus which was recruited from around the world but it was an incredible experience nonetheless.

But I was in New York and decided to renew my acquaintance with a former hometown of mine and one of my favorite cities. Highlights included:

A trip to the fast-paced Chelsea/West Village neighborhood. With New York Google headquarters on 8th Avenue and 15th, this area has become even more hip. While my March visit was still cool, I had to take the opportunity to see the High Line – a one mile greenway built on the site of the old elevated New York Central Railroad. The High Line affords beautiful views of the Hudson and volunteers were out in force readying the space for spring planting. My son Michael and our friend Jennie, an actor in New York, enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Standard Grill just under the High Line. Speaking of hip, there’s a nightclub and private lounge at the top of the Standard Hotel. My friend Joanne and I went up for a cocktail at the nightclub (which is open to the public), and were blown away by the awesome night skyline across the Hudson.

Of course, I had to revisit some of my favorite areas in New York – 5th Avenue for shopping, Times Square and the theater district for the Broadway lights and shows. Since I had a packed rehearsal schedule, I was able to see just one show – the pre-opening matineee performance of Mothers and Sons starring Tony award-winning Tyne Daly in a tight ensemble play about a mother finally coming to terms with the death of her gay son from AIDs in the 1990’s. It was a riveting performance and is already gaining critical praise. The array of performances available for New Yorkers and visitors is head-spinning – you can see theater, dance and music any day of the week. When I lived in New York in the 70’s, I worked with a woman who went to a ballet performance every day of the year. Today the options are even more overwhelming. My recommendation is to plan in advance of your visit what you’d like to see and do. I really wanted to get to the Gauguin exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art but I would have enjoyed a full day and time was not on my side this visit!

And I adore Central Park and the Lincoln Center area. I stayed at the New York Sheraton to be close to our rehearsal space. It is a fantastic location – less than a block from the closest Broadway theater and just a few blocks from Central Park and Lincoln Center. The weather was a little brisk but honestly I enjoy this time of year – it’s not high season so while it’s always crowded in New York, the plentiful supply of hotel space provides some fantastic deals this time of year, and it’s easier to get into the hot restaurants and shows.

I’m a foodie too, so a highlight for me is always about the food! My friend Jane and I enjoyed a wonderful meal just a block from the hotel at the Redeye Grill, and Joanne and I went to Malaparte, a tiny West Village restaurant that features simple and beautifully prepared food from the Emilia Romagna region on the Italian Adriatic coast. I know it sounds odd, but we split a pounded breaded pork chop topped with arugula which tasted like heaven on a (large) plate! By the way, you don’t have to spend big bucks to enjoy great cuisine in New York. Our dinner bill at Malaparte was under $40/person, and one of my favorite meals was takeout from the Halal Guys on the street corner across from the hotel. $6 bought a huge portion of a mixed grill of chicken and gyro over a bed of rice, lettuce, with pita and a wonderful sauce. The guys rightfully advised me to use the spicy sauce sparingly. This fed both my son Michael and me for dinner with leftovers!

Interested in a New York getaway? I’d be happy to put together a great itinerary for whatever your style of travel is – from luxury/culture to budget/highlights of Manhattan. There is so much to see and do in this city don’t do it all in one trip. For example, you might want to do one trip focused on Ellis Island, lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center memorial, another in midtown/Broadway, and another on either the East side (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, shopping!) or West side (Lincoln Center, Central Park). Nonstop inexpensive flights are plentiful from the West Coast to the East Coast too! You can reach me or any one of our travel advisors at go@bayworldtravel.com or 650-726-7345.

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