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Unique Accommodations Around the World

Sure, the top suite at a hotel is glamorous. But it still has four walls and a ceiling, just like every other room you’ve stayed in, right? Unless you’re watching fish and rays swim by in one of the underwater suites at Atlantis the Palm in Dubai or the Underwater Room at Manta Resort on Tanzania’s Pemba Island, that is. Maybe you have a pretty state-of-the-art aquarium at home and that’s still a little too domestic for you. No worries, there are plenty of unique accommodations that can take you out of your comfort zone while still making you feel warm and cozy.

An inflatable bubble

Iceland’s Bubble bills itself as a “5 million star hotel” and is a perfect spot for viewing the Northern Lights. Most bubbles are fully transparent, but privacy is not a problem, as trees separate each from bubble from the next. The hotel doesn’t even tell you where it’s located until you book, so there aren’t a lot of gawkers milling around. The bubbles are temperature controlled and wired for electricity, with bathroom, shower and dining facilities in the service house. In winter, the bubbles make for a personal IMAX theater with the Aurora Borealis playing often. In summer, you can enjoy outdoor activities late into the night and see the last rays of the midnight sun fade away. Virtuoso-preferred destination management company Iceland Encounter can help with the arrangements and help you select which bubble is right for you.

A yurt

Virtuoso-preferred tour operator Remote Lands has a special relationship with Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia, where the guest rooms are 30 yurts, or gers, covered with felt and canvas with wood-burning stoves supplying the warmth. The lodge also utilizes solar and wind energy with an eye toward environmental and cultural sustainability. One of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, Three Camels is a great base for excavating dinosaur fossils under the tutelage of a paleontologist or camel-trekking through the Gobi Desert. The meals are traditional and served in an over-sized ger, and in the Dino House lounge you can learn Mongolia’s favorite game: shagai (played with the ankle bones of sheep and goats) while enjoying a drink from the Thirsty Camel bar.

A cliffside pod

The mountaintop view overlooking Peru’s Sacred Valley and Urubamba River is one you won’t forget. Especially if you spend the night in a pod hanging over a cliff, gazing up at the stars and down at the heartland of the Inca Empire, experiencing the sort of connection the Incas had with the heavens. Booking your place at Skylodge through Virtuoso-preferred Metropolitan Touring is easy. Getting to your room is more of an adventure. Guests climb about 1,300 feet of Via Ferrata (metal handholds and footholds in the rock face) or do a combination of hiking and ziplining to reach the pods. Once you’re there, a gourmet dinner with wine awaits as your reward. Pods contain a bed and sitting, and, yes, there is a separate bathroom.

A treehouse

“The ultimate bush bedrooms,” the treehouses at Virtuoso-preferred Lion Sands private game reserve will bring the sights and sounds of the South African wilds into your living quarters. You arrive at sunset to a gourmet picnic and observe as the diurnal wildlife scampers off to sleep and the nocturnal animals take over. A field guide drops you off and offers a tutorial on what to expect, and remains on call should things go bump in the night. Among the sounds you’re likely to hear are hippos honking, lions roaring, leopards calling and hyenas cackling. With three locations (Chalkley Treehouse in the Sabi Sand, Kingston Treehouse in the Sabi Sand and Tinyeleti Treehouse in Kruger National Park), there are distinct options for couples and families, with a varying range of amenities depending on how much you want to rough it.

An ice hotel

About 125 miles inside the Arctic Circle stands the small village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, once frequented only by the reindeer-herding Sami people and those trading fur with them. Since 1989, though, it has been home to Icehotel. Not all the rooms are made of ice, and the hotel actually recommends that you spend most of your nights in a “warm room.” But the real attraction are the “cold rooms,” which are rebuilt every year once the weather is right. It’s a good idea to spend either your first or last night in a cold room, where temperatures can be as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need to bring your own long johns, but Icehotel supplies outer clothes and thermal sleeping bags that are warm enough for temperatures between 10-15 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit (it won’t get that cold). Hot lingonberry tea and trips to the sauna are also provided so you can snuggle in. Virtuoso-preferred tour operator 50 Degrees North has activity packages available to fill your days, and Icebar is open until 12 a.m. for a nightcap.

Take your Villa or Apartment Renting To The Next Level With Virtuoso

Taking the whole family on a beach vacation this summer? Want an apartment in the big city for a long weekend? Why, you’ll need to book an Airbnb rental for that, right? Sure, if you want to run the risk of being secretly filmed by your host, as one couple recently discovered was happening to them at a Longboat Key, Fla., rental. Or if you’re OK with the possibility that your host might cancel your booking at the last minute for no reason or because of your race, as occurred in February with a Big Bear, Calif., rental. Or if you don’t mind that the place you’re renting might not have the proper insurance, safety measures or even be legally available for short-term rentals.

Or, you could utilize the vast resources of the Virtuoso network and stay at a place that has been properly vetted, offers services such as housekeeping and lets you enjoy your experience instead of worrying about what’s actually waiting for you when you arrive and potentially dealing with issues that turn your vacation into a big hassle.

Virtuoso-preferred partners offer a vast array of accommodations around the world. In addition to many Virtuoso-preferred hotels having private villas and apartments, there are several companies who specialize in just this sort of thing. 

Villas of Distinction features properties all throughout the Caribbean, in several European countries, Hawaii, Colorado, Florida and so much more. You can filter the number of bedrooms you need, the type of experience and level of service you’re looking for, and special features such as beachfront or fully staffed until you’ve found the villa that is perfect for you and your crew.

Abercrombie & Kent doesn’t just do great tours, from magnificently crafted group and family journeys to completely customized private itineraries, the company also has alpine chalets and luxury villas from Andalucia to Umbria at the best addresses in Europe. So after you return from a day of breathtaking touring with your driver and guide, you can sit down to a gourmet meal prepared by a private chef. Sure beats rummaging through the fridge at an Airbnb.

Say you’re off to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York, Paris, London or Rome for a long weekend, a week or a longer stay. Instead of booking a hotel, you’d rather live like a local and have a larger living space with all the comforts of home. Onefinestay has a whole roster of apartments, condos and lofts in those cities, plus an ever-expanding list of global destinations. Onefinestay visits each home before renting it and has a guest services team ready 24/7 to assist guests. Good luck getting a hold of your Airbnb host at 3 a.m.

Ski season is upon us, and you might need help finding a place that checks off all the items on your wish list. Ski-in/ski-out, hot tub, whatever the request, Alpine Adventures has the rental for you, from Vail to Verbier, Crested Butte to Courchevel and just about anywhere else skis and snowboards tear lines.

There are so many more choices, from the villa collections of Virtuoso-preferred wholesalers Travel Impressions and Classic Vacations to the beautiful villas along Lake Como available through the all-everything Italy specialists at IC Bellagio. Now aren’t you glad you don’t have to worry about an Airbnb host dropping by without notice during your romantic dinner?

River Cruising on 5 Continents

As river cruises have exploded in popularity in recent years, more and more ships have hit the water and more companies have entered the market. It is also being marketed to all generations with special family themed departures for kids from 4 years on up and hip, new U-Cruise ships designed strictly for the millennials. It’s a great way to get around to several destinations on the same trip without having to figure out transportation and hauling luggage around. Plus, there are a lot of inclusions, from excursions to meals and even drinks in a lot of cases. Typically, when people think of river cruises, they think of Europe. There are certainly a lot of great itineraries there, but it’s important to note that Virtuoso-preferred lines are operating river cruises on five continents. All those options can be overwhelming, so let’s break it down.

Europe

This continent’s rivers are still by far the most heavily trafficked. No fewer than nine Virtuoso-preferred companies offer river cruises in Europe. Some itineraries are unique. For example, Uniworld is the only line with cruises on the Po River in Italy and is also launching cruises aimed specifically at millennials in 2018. Some are off the beaten path. French Country Waterways, Abercrombie & Kent and Belmond offer barge cruising in France. Viking has a Kiev to the Black Sea journey through Ukraine. Crystal is new to river cruising after many successful years on the ocean, and its river product rivals Uniworld’s in terms of most-inclusive. Both include gratuities and alcoholic drinks throughout the ship at all times. Ama Waterways is building another ship for its always-sold-out Douro itineraries in Portugal. Past travelers with Tauck can receive the Gift of Time, one complimentary hotel night on either end of cruise. It’s also putting loft spaces into lower-deck cabins so passengers can open their windows above the water line. Avalon Waterways’ Panorama suites are designed to maximize space, with uniquely shaped bathrooms and beds facing large windows so you can see the river as soon as you wake and have an open-air sitting area inside the cabin.

Most lines include excursions in each port plus beer and wine at meals. Several have optional excursions for an additional fee, and some even have bicycles onboard if you just want to go for a ride and take in the sights yourself. Among the most popular itineraries are Christmas Markets, Tulip Time in the Netherlands and Belgium, and Danube cruises between Prague and Budapest. Special interest sailings such as wine-themed and Jewish heritage abound.

Asia

Experience India from along the Ganges, China along the Yangtze, Myanmar along the Irrawady
or Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong and visit some of the most breathtaking sites in the
world. Uniworld’s 13-day India’s Golden Triangle & The Sacred Ganges itinerary visits bustling
New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur before a 7-night cruise starting and ending in Kolkata. Belmond and
Avalon’s Irrawady itineraries open up the “Golden Land” of Myanmar, from shimmering
pagodas to possible spottings of the rare Irrawady dolphin. Ama is adding itineraries on the
Ganges and Irrawady in the next few years. Viking’s three itineraries in China range from 14 to
19 days between Beijing and Shanghai. All three feature the beautiful Wu Gorge and Xi’an, and
the Roof of the World spends two days in Lhasa, Tibet. Uniworld’s three China itineraries range
from 11 to 18 days, one stopping in Tibet and another ending in Hong Kong. The Mekong is quite
popular thanks to such gems as Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. Ama, Avalon, Aqua Expeditions,
Viking and Uniworld all operate all the river.

Africa

Ama’s 28-passenger Zambezi Queen does four-night itineraries on the Chobe River brings the wildlife to you as you’re floating along a primary water source. The journeys built around the cruise include options for exploring Cape Town, going on safari, seeing Victoria Falls and a luxury train ride through Zimbabwe and South Africa. Uniworld and Viking each have 12-day Egypt journeys that begin and end in Cairo. The Nile cruises feature ancient temples in Luxor, the Aswan High Dam, the magnificent Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel and of course the Great Pyramids of Giza. Uniworld deploys the 82-passenger River Tosca along the Nile, while Viking uses the 148-guest ms Mayfair and its own 48-passenger Viking Ra.

North America

As its name implies, UnCruise Adventures does things a little differently. UnCruise goes places other lines don’t go, and its itineraries through the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers do not disappoint. On the 88-passenger S.S. Legacy, a replica of an 1898 coastal gold rush steamer, UnCruise has three themes: Legacy of Discovery, Rivers of Wine and Rivers of Adventure, all roundtrip from Portland. The Legacy of Discovery traces the path of Lewis and Clark, delving into the culture and history of the area. Rivers of Wine features winery tours and tastings in five American viticultural areas: Columbia Gorge, Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley and Willamette Valley. Rivers of Adventure offers white-water rafting on the Deschutes River and water sports in Palouse Falls State Park. Don’t worry, you get to drink wine and see Multnomah Falls on all three options.

South America

With capacities of 44 and 32 respectively, the Delfin III (Avalon) and Aria Amazon (Aqua Expeditions) take guests down the Peruvian Amazon in comfort. Aqua’s seven-night Expedition Cruise, four-night Explorer Cruise and three-night Discovery Cruise all start and end in Iquitos, with different itineraries depending on water level. The long you cruise the more opportunity there is for piranha fishing, jungle trekking and glimpsing pink dolphins. Avalon’s itineraries, ranging from 11 to 20 days spend four days on the river with journeys Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, the Nazca Lines and even a second cruise in the Galapagos possible.

Our Top Fall Getaways

Kids are back in school, and though it’s technically a couple more weeks to the equinox, let’s face it: Summer is over. While you may be shunned from polite society for wearing white now, you can absolutely take advantage of the travel values shoulder season brings. With smaller crowds, nicer weather and lower prices, fall isn’t just for football and pumpkin spice everything. It’s a great time to take a trip. Here are a few places where you can maximize beauty and budget in the autumn.

New England & Canada

The changing leaves and charming towns are a sight to behold, and there are great cruise itineraries that make their way up the East Coast from New York or Boston to Montreal. The light this time of year really works wonders, especially as afternoon fades to evening. For a land-based getaway, Virtuoso-preferred properties such as Pitcher Inn in Warren. Vt., and Cliff House in Cape Neddick, Maine, are the kind of picturesque spots perfect for a long weekend of bringing hygge, the Scandinavian philosophy of getting cozy, to the States. In Western Canada, there is still time to catch the end of Rocky Mountaineer season with awe-inspiring train rides through the Rockies. Virtuoso-preferred Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs have fall retreats designed around mindfulness, meditation and yoga.

Western U.S.

 

The national parks out West have been packed all summer, but now is a great time to see animals scurrying to prepare for winter. Natural Habitat Adventures’ Hidden Yellowstone Wildlife Safari takes visitors in search of wolves, grizzlies and elk, just to name a few as they migrate to their winter homes or hunt their last meals before settling down for hibernation. Virtuoso-preferred Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole has a National Parks Explorer package available until late October. Virtuoso-preferred Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail, Colo., has a 40 percent special from mid-October to mid-November, and Alpine Adventures has a 25 percent off early bird promotion on stays of four or more nights at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe booked by Sept. 29.

Japan/China

 

We aren’t the only ones with gorgeous autumn leaves, and there are fall foliage cruises that take advantage. Windows to Japan offers a Japanese Garden Tour subtitled Aesthetics At Its Finest. After a couple days spent in a celebration of colors among Kyoto’s mountain gardens, you’ll surely agree that the name fits. Abercrombie & Kent’s Wings Over China fall tour takes guests on a journey from Beijing to Hong Kong with visits to the Great Wall, the terra cotta warriors of Xian, on a bamboo raft along the Li River and to the floating villages of the Tanka community.

Europe

With school back in session, there aren’t nearly as many Americans wandering about, and Europeans have finished with their August vacations. As a result, favorite European destinations are populated by actual locals going about their daily lives. Shoulder season is a wonderful time for authentic experiences without fighting your way through huge crowds in the heat of summer. Among the diverse destinations offering fall discounts are the Virtuoso-preferred Alpina Gstaad in Switzerland, Grace Santorini in Greece and Hotel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen, but there are savings to be had all across the continent.

Summer may be ending, but it’s not too late to capture that carefree feeling.

Venenice Lagoon and Po River Family Cruise with Uniworld

 

           

Just back from a wonderful adventure in Venice with my 6-year old granddaughter on an amazing Uniworld Family Cruise on board the beautiful River Countess. For those of you who did not follow along on my Facebook posts, here is a brief synopsis of a week full of surprises.

After resting up at the exquisite Londra Palace hotel, we boarded the lovely River Countess at the Port of Venice for a week of incredible discoveries in and around the magical city of Venice.

Along with visiting several of the Venice highlights, including an exclusive after-hours visit to the basilica, and a visit to the Rialto Market with the chef, we and the children were treated to such cultural delights as mussel fishing and dining at a fisherman’s shack on stilts in the lagoon, historical Bologna and a pasta making class, pizza making and visits to the beautiful lagoon islands. River Countess set up a special room on board for the kids complete with legos, all kinds of crafting activities and a playstation with video games. They all had a wonderful time together and dined with each other at a special kids table in the dining room where the waiters (probably all missing their own children back home) all showered them with attention. Guests on board without children all marveled at how well behaved they were and well organized by the special Children’s hosts on the ship.

   

On the island of Torcello while the adults enjoyed a visit to view the amazing mosaics in the church, the kids went on a treasure hunt and climbed the bell tower. In colorful Burano, we dined on fresh calamari and shopped for treasures. And while the adults enjoyed a special wine tasting at a gorgeous vineyard on Mazzorbo, the kids honed their rowing skills on a canal in the Lagoon. Visits to the local market in Chioggia, time at the beach and bike rides, rounded out a week filled with activities. For the older children and adults, excursions to Padua, Ravenna and Verona were also offered. All around fun time for all!!

           

I highly recommend this amazing itierary for all ages. It is an incredible way to see Venice and so much more. Uniworld thought of every little detail to keep clients of all ages happy at all times.

For families with children young and old, this is a fantastic vacation opportunity you may never have considered. Dedicated family cruises are offered on several of their River Cruise itineraries. Ask me about the perfect one for you.

Postcards from La Champagne and Paris


I have just returned from an incredible trip to the amazing region of LaChampagne in France followed by 5 wonderful days in beautiful, sunny Paris.

While I often get asked about a day trip to Reims from Paris (just one hour by train) to visit a champagne cellar, never have I been asked to design an itinerary around a week or so in this spectacular region totally void of tourists. If you have plans to return to France and enjoy a glass of bubbly, this region should be high on your list. With the 3 beautiful cities of Reims, Epernay and Troyes anchoring the area, miles and miles of scenic vineyards and countless, gorgeous stone villages interspersed, there is enough to see and do to keep you busy for days or even weeks. We even squeezed in a visit to Renoir’s House and Studio in Essoyes. Between our educational talks at the International Wine Tourism Conference, and the many visits to world-famous champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Collet and Mercier along with several visits to small independent wineries producing amazing champagnes – some selling for just 15 Euros a bottle – we learned a wealth of facts and figures about this fabulous product. During our stay there, we sampled champagnes paired with all kinds of foods … with the exception of a very rare table wine called Rose de Riceys produced from only certain pinot noir grapes in one small village, the bubbly was served exclusively at every meal. Usually 5 different varieties with 5 different courses. Only very few producers make Rosé des Riceys wines, and in limited quantities, so they are very rarely seen outside France. Stretching from Reims in Marne due east of Paris south to the Aube and the border of Bourgnone (Burgundy), La Champagne covers a large and beautiful area of France that should definitely be on your must-see list!! With the help of all my new found friends in the area, we can design a fantastic itinerary for you!

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Following my week in LaChampagne, I traveled by train into Paris where I took time to explore in depth the areas of St. Germain de Pres and the Marais as well as visit some of the lesser known museums, such as the Musee de Cluny, L’Orangerie, and Musee Rodin which were all small and amazing. A visit to Monet’s house and Gardens in Giverny rewarded us with a blaze of color thanks to the incredibly warm weather. Finally a return to the summit of the Eiffel Tower after 45 years! Here despite having the required timed ticket entry, the lines for the elevators to reach the summit took over an hour … and then there are the lines to get down again. BUT I have discovered the secret sauce … how to get up the Eiffel Tower without waiting in the elevator lines! Ask me how for your next trip to Paris.

Stays in two of my favorite Left Bank Hotels, Relais Christine and L’Espirit St. Germain just made our visit very special.

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Definitely missing my glass of champagne today …….

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Culinary Cruise with Chef Jacques Pepin

Calling all foodies … don’t miss this opportunity to sail with celebrity chef, Jaques Pepin, on this wonderful itinerary through the Mediterranean from Lisbon to Rome … and then book the fabulous Culinary Creations experience in Rome following the Cruise. Enjoy special on board culinary presentations and excursions, great pricing and our group bonus of prepaid gratuities and $150 on board credit!! A Food lover’s dream … contact us for more details.Oceania-Jaques Pepin 2015-page-001

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Paris & Normandy - In Celebration of Wine

We have an exclusive extension of the early booking discount until August 31st, 2015. Also we are now able to give you $150 per person on board credit. COME AND JOIN US …. CAN YOU SAY “CHAMPAGNE!!”

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Regent Voyager Mediterranean Cruise October 23-November 2nd

 
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It is lovely to visit the Mediterranean late in the season when the weather is usually wonderful, there are less crowds everywhere and between summer and the holidays, it is just a nice time to travel. And it is especially lovely to do so on an exquisite luxury ship. Arriving in Rome for two leisurely days in one of our very favorite cities, gave us time to rest up and lose the jet lag before boarding the beautiful Regent Voyager just out of dry dock with a major refurbishment which made her look brand new.

This is a small ship by today’s standards accommodating just 700 passengers in elegant veranda suites of varying sizes. We splurged on a huge Seven Seas suite with 1-1/2 bathrooms and a butler which was pure heaven for our 10-day voyage. The ship is small enough to be intimate and have no crowded spaces or lines anywhere, ever, yet large enough to have various dining and entertainment venues to please everyone.  A lovely touch is Regent’s “block party”, right after muster the first afternoon, all passengers were invited out into their hallways and asked to bring a glass from their bar. And there waiting to greet us were waiters with canapés and bottles of champagne as we greeted our new neighbors and the officers who passed by to greet us.

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Throughout the cruise all the staff were amazingly courteous and efficient, not one staff member ever passed us in the halls without smiling and saying “good morning, afternoon, evening”. We all swore the butlers had hidden cameras in the suites as they appeared out of nowhere with our evening hors d’oeuvres the minute we stepped in!  The food in all the restaurants on board was exceptional at all times as were the free-flowing wines offered throughout the journey. The ship also boasts a magnificent Canyon Ranch Spa for those wishing even more pampering.

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Our journey through the Mediterranean and Aegean seas took us from Rome to Monte Carlo, on to Pisa and Lucca, Sorrento, Taormina, Sicily for wine tasting at a vineyard on the side of Mt. Etna; Corfu, Greece; Kotor, Montenegro – indisputably everyone’s favorite; Dubrovnik, Croatia and back to Italy for visits to Ancona and Venice. It was a dream itinerary revisiting many favorite spots and discovering new ones. The dawn arrival at St. Mark’s Square had everyone up on deck to witness this amazing scene …. One which may not be possible much longer as Venetians are trying to ban the cruise ships passing that way anymore.

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We have been fortunate to travel in Europe by ship from Lisbon to Istanbul over the years visiting just about every port along the way and we never tire of this incredibly civilized and comfortable way to see the world. Try it, we guarantee you will like it!

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Off to sail on the RSSC Voyager

Packing now to leave in a few days to host over 100 Virtuoso Voyager Club clients on a marvelous voyage from Rome to Venice on the beautiful Regent Seven Seas Voyager. All our guests will be comfortably accommodated in their luxurious suites with verandas, many with the additional luxury of Butler service.
I will keep you updated on our adventures as we sail the Mediterranean and Adriatic on this exciting itinerary.

 

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