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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!

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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.

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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!

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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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Europe by Rail – Barcelona to London

This Spring, my husband and I took a long, leisurely trip that started with a cruise to Barcelona and proceeded by train, staying in small towns on our way to Paris, and then via the Chunnel to London.

We went with First Class; unlike plane tickets, the price difference between first- and second-class on the trains is minimal, but the comfort level difference is huge! Who wouldn’t want large, reclining seats with lots of leg room, tables, and huge windows on a long trip?

The trains were really comfortable, there was plenty of food in most stations, and there was food available on all trains except the short local ones. The restrooms on the long-distance trains were plentiful and comfortable, although I did not notice any on the local trains.

There is a new, high-speed train between Barcelona and Paris that takes only a few hours, but we were meandering through France, so we needed a number of train trips. We had a wonderful adventure and thoroughly enjoyed the train journeys, but it did take some careful planning ahead to make it all work.

First of all, we each bought a First Class, flexible, two-country Europass, which allowed us ten days of unlimited travel in Spain and France. This particular pass is about $700 per adult, but it more than paid for itself by the end of our trip, and the convenience of not having to queue up to buy tickets in each station was invaluable.

The pass does not give you seats on the high-speed trains, you still have to reserve and pay for those seats, but it saved us a bundle; local trains do not offer reserved seats, but those were free with the pass. One leg of our trip, from Barcelona to Toulouse, for example, would have been about $160 each without the pass, and was about $17 with it, so that day alone paid for $143 of each pass…you can see how the savings add up!

You do need to be diligent about reading the instructions on the pass and following them! Each night before we traveled, I sat and filled out the next day’s date on the pass, and the cities, date and times of each train on the pass folder. It takes only a few minutes, but if you do not do that, you could be double charged for the ticket.

Some people have asked if they really need advanced reserved seats… no, no more than you need to reserve a seat on an airplane. You can always take your chance on showing up at the station and buying a last-minute ticket, but many trains (and all high-speed trains) require reservations, and they do sell out.

Here are a few tips I gleaned from our travels:

Download Eurail’s free RailPlanner app to use for local, non-reserved trains; it’s easy and gives you departure and arrival times, as well as letting you know if you have a change of train required. With wifi, it will give you live schedule updates, but offline you can see routes you have saved in advance.

Here’s one time where it really saved us: the posted schedules at Chenonceaux “station” (some tiny local stations are more like bus stops), were entirely wrong due to construction that caused the trains to be rescheduled. Checking ahead on RailPlanner meant we knew to catch the posted ‘4:45 train’ at 4pm, instead of missing it and having to wait for the 6pm train!

When you travel, do pay attention to the train number and not just your destination. Our train to Toulouse, for instance, actually continued on, so there was no train on the board that said “Toulouse”… just the departure time, Carcassonne, and the train number.

It’s wise to know the name of your arrival station [there are sometimes multiple stations in a town] and what is 1-2 stops before it, so you aren’t scrambling to get to the doors!

Like the Europeans, pack as light as you are able. The trains are not easy with heavy bags! Elevators are few and often far off in the wrong end of the station, so you’ll have to double back a long way, or haul your bags down 2 flights, around a corner, up a flight, and down a hallway [or worse], and your seats may be on the upper level of the car…great for views, but more stairs to climb.

Keep your passport with your train pass and tickets, as often all three are checked before you are allowed to board, especially on trains crossing a border.

If you can get to the station early, scope out where the train boards and gates are. Some stations are huge and it’s comforting to know where you’ll need to be when your train is announced, as you usually will have 15- 20 minutes to find your car from the time the gate is announced.

Buy your “Chunnel” tickets well in advance, as there are only a couple of Eurostars each day between Paris and London, and they sell out. A lovely meal is served at your seat, so you can really sit back and enjoy the beautiful countryside.

People were almost universally really nice and happy to answer questions, and the views from the trains were really wonderful; even at high speeds you see more than you would from the highways and there is no stress of driving on unknown roads!

That’s the summary…you can ask me if you want more details or help planning your own rail journey. And yes, we’d do it again… in fact, rail is absolutely the only way the two of us would choose to get around inside Europe.

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