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Rollin’ Down the Rivers: Top 10 Things We Love About River Cruising with Ama Waterways

Ginger and I have both recently returned from European river cruises with Ama Waterways – me on the Garonne River in Bordeaux for a wine-themed cruise and Ginger on the enchanting Rhine. What a way to go! Here are our top 10 things we love about river cruising.

1. Easy on easy off. River cruising is a hassle free way to get right into the heart of amazing cities and towns along the way. Whether your preference is exploring on your own via Ama-supplied bikes, on foot, or by public transportation, guided walks or bike rides, you’ll find yourself in the center of historic towns. I had the pleasure of spending 3 days in Bordeaux, a historic trading center which lost its lustre in the 19th century but which has been beautifully restored. We took a brisk (VERY brisk) walk with a local resident tour guide to get a fantastic overview, then later explored on our own, seeking (and finding) the famous Dune cake from Patisserie David

Bordeaux, Rhine, River Cruise, UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Caribbean Vibe on The Royal Clipper

After an amazing sail along the Dalmatian Coast in September, Bill and I signed up to re-board the Royal Clipper in the winter during her time in the Caribbean.  We’ve bare boated in the past, but what fun to have Star Clippers take care of us as we sailed to some of the most remote islands in the Windward Islands – including the lightly populated nature preserve-dominated Dominica.

We were fortunate to have our own Half Moon Bay yoga instructor on board with us – Anna Enea – who offered morning and evening yoga classes.  As if we weren’t relaxed enough by being pampered with European cuisine and tropical drinks, Anna also offered a meditation class.   We had a special surprise bonus on this sailing with a cardio-funk/hip hop dance instructor on board as well.  Ben’s classes were fun and a bit challenging as we tried to roll and move at the same time the Royal Clipper did.   I’m sure we were a comical sight.

I met so many people who were on their 8th or 9th cruise with Star Clippers, and many stayed aboard for 14 days – either starting in the Grenadines, or going on to the Leeward Islands following our sailing.  A couple people re-upped for the next week while we were on board.   What all of us repeaters share is a love affair with the dramatic sail aways and the friendly relaxed atmosphere among guests and crew.  These are true sailing ships.  Our journey through the Windward Islands took us over 800 nautical miles and into small harbors the big cruise ships can’t get to.   Sleepy Isle des Saintes, for example, is off the coast of Guadeloupe and other than a few ferries and some gorgeous yachts in the harbor,  we had the island to ourselves.

One of my favorite islands on this itinerary is Antigua – home to gorgeous white sand beaches, fantastic luxury resorts, and, yes, some great rums.  The Caribbean Islands are fiercely proud of their island-made rums, and we were able to sample Dynamite from Dominica, English Harbour from Antigua, and Damoiseau from Guadeloupe.   The African/French/English/Dutch influences in this part of the world have created beautiful foods, people, and music.   As is traditional on the Star Clippers, one evening is devoted to local entertainment.  We enjoyed a wonderful steel drum band in Antigua, and while it delayed the sail away till well after midnight, it was worth staying up for!

Bay World Travel will be back on Star Clippers in the fall in the Mediterranean and plans are underway for what promises to be the sailing adventure of a lifetime – the transatlantic crossing of the Royal Clipper in the fall of 2017.   Meantime, don’t hesitate to call if you’d like to consider a real sailing experience in the Caribbean, Asia or Mediterranean.   See you on board!

Antigua, Caribbean Islands, Dominica, Windward Islands

Croatia Under Sail: Bay World Travel Group Goes on Trip of a Lifetime

55 intrepid sailors, many of them members of the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club, traveled with Bay World Travel on board the Royal Clipper, the world’s largest sailing ship, in September.

Our itinerary took us from Venice, then across the Adriatic, to the beautiful Dalmatian coast, where we anchored off the picturesque landscapes of Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia.  The perfectly preserved or restored medieval towns of Kotor, Dubrovnik (thanks to UNESCO and humanitarian aid its immaculate walled city is completely restored since the devastating 1990’s Serbo-Croatian wars), Hvar, Rovinj, and Piran charmed us all.

Croatia, Cruise, Venice

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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!

Florence, Italy, Panzano, Rome

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.

Alaska, Cruise