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Greece has ancient history. But even Ancient Greece had ancient history!

The ruins of the city of Mycenae – located in the Peloponnese, in the south of the Greek mainland – represent an entire civilizations that flourished in the second millenium BCE (1000-2000 BCE). And dominated the Greek landscape in times that date back to the fall of Troy. Back to what was ancient history even as the Ancient Greeks, like Homer, were telling stories about it.

Have you heard of King Agamemnon? He was a mythical king – and the brother-in-law of the famous Helen of Troy. Who may not have been so Mythical. Mycenae is where he is purported to have ruled.

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The Mycenaean culture is sort of a pre-Greece to the Ancient Greeks. By the time of Herodotus, this was already long deserted and almost a thousand years old. But, for a long time – long before the dominance of Greek city-states like Athens and Sparta – the Mycenaean culture dominated the Greek mainland. 

The well-preserved city is, frankly, amazing. Even the Ancient Greeks marvelled at it, crediting the creation of the high stone walls to the Cyclops, because they couldn’t otherwise conceive of how it had been done. The architecture is quite different from that of other Greek ruins. There are no columns here! Rather, Mycenae is made up of huge blocks of stone, and – in ways – bears more resemblance to Machu Picchu than to the Acropolis.

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There are other benefits to visiting Mycenae, too. Mycenae lies away from the beaten tourist path, which means that visitors will glimpse a part of the country that’s not as familiar with tourists. It’s more authentic, and the people won’t be after getting the most euros out of your wallet; they’ll be genuinely friendly. You can dine out and taste the true flavours of southern Greece. You can buy souvenirs that are truly authentic. 

Many people come as a day trip from Athens, because the drive only is about an hour and a half. But if you don’t stay closer to this ancient stronghold, you’re really missing out on the experience. Mycenae is well worth at least a full day to visit – not just for the ruined city, but for the joy of exploring the Peloponnese. Stay somewhere closer, like the Apollon Hotel in Argos, a mere 11km south of the ruins.

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And as you’re coming here – or leaving back to Athens – the ruined city of Corinth is well worth a visit. Yes, it’s the place where Saint Paul was sending his many letters to the “Corinthians”. It’s definitely rich in history – and features prominently in the shared knowledge of Westerners.

A visit to Mycenae is truly special. It will be unlike anything else you do in Greece: ancient or modern. So give this ancient-ancient city a chance – and let it amaze you!

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The top five reasons to go to Cancún (besides the obvious one!)

Okay, you don’t really need five reasons to go to Cancún. One should suffice: the beach in this city, if you’ve ever seen photos of it! But here are five reasons more that you should be packing your bags and setting out on a trip to the glorious Mexican Caribbean: 

1. Check out – or, better yet, check into – the Moon Palace: one of the region’s top ten beach resorts, and all-inclusive to boot. Swimming pools? How about ten. Places to eat? The resort has a good twenty. Golf? Check. Spas? There are several. When you come to Cancún, you’re going to be at a premiere spot right on the Caribbean ocean. So let yourself get pampered a little! 

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2. If you’re at all into ancient history, one of the best sites – and by far less crowded than the more well-known Chichen Itza – is Tulum, an easy day trip from the tip of the peninsula. You can wander these wonderful ruins alone or with a guide. (But if you actually want to learn anything about the ancients who built it, you’ll need a guide!) On the stone, iguanas pose so that you can take selfies. Overall, it’s an appropriate place on the shores of the Caribbean: relaxed.

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3. Right off the coast from Cancún, the Isla Mujeres isn’t only for women. (And that’s despite the name meaning “women’s island” in Spanish!) Here you can enjoy the relaxed vibe of a Caribbean, while keeping the skyline of the city in sight. Spend a relaxing afternoon at the beach, between two of the best meals you’ll eat in Cancún. This island is renowned for its food, and you’ll find everything – from superb Italian and French flavours to wonderful, local Mayan and Yucatecan cuisine.

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4. While the Tulum ruins are right on the beach, the ruins of Cobá are tucked away in the jungle. However, they are well worth the extra effort to get to. At Cobá, you’re allowed to climb one of the ancient Mayan pyramids, and get the reward of a spectacular vista across the Yucatán jungle. Furthermore, you’ll be enveloped by the feeling of authenticity: these ruins today are as surrounded by the ever-encroaching forest as they must have been ages ago. Cobá is a must-see – and the drive from Cancún is less than two hours! 

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5. Tired of beaches and ruins? Then it’s time to hit the clubs! The best club in Cancún, by far, is Coco Bongo – a huge dance club with a thousand incredible acts, any one of which will make you forget that you’re not in Las Vegas! Tickets come with unlimited drinks, and the club stays open well past the USA’s mandated closing time for such establishments. Dance the night away

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Going to the Yucatán? Dive into a cenote!

Forget the ocean; when you come to Cancún and the Yucatán, the water you really need to swim in is in a “cenote”! What is that? Pronounced “sen-oh-tay,” It is an underground pool: a sinkhole where fresh water, which comes from the low-lying region’s many lakes and rivers, mixes with salt water from the sea. The ancient Mayans believed that cenotes were a direct link to the underworld. And in ancient times, human sacrifices may have been held at them. Now, however, these wonderful pools of blue-turquoise water have a much less menacing draw. They are a favorite spot – for locals and tourists alike – to plunge into the glowing, clear water and go for a swim. A trip to Cancún would not be complete without a stop at a cenote. Fortunately, these unreal geologic formations – not found anywhere else in the world – are more than commonplace on the Yucatán Peninsula. There are hundreds; but here are some of the best:

● Cenote Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) is awfully close to Tulum, and it is worth setting up a day trip to see both ruins and the pool together. At the cenote, you have the option to swim, snorkel, or just jump into the luxurious, tepid water. If you are licensed for scuba diving, that is an option too here – if you are not claustrophobic!

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● Gran Cenote in Tulum is one of the best cenotes on the Yucatán Peninsula, though it is heavily trafficked. However, it includes all the amenities, and two swimming areas connected by a cave. In short, this visit to underwater stalagmites is well worth dealing with a few crowds.

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● Cenote Suytun is one of the best cenotes to visit straight from Cancún – complete with a beautiful sunbeam that shines through the cave in the summer, giving this magical place the aura of an ancient Mayan sacrificial altar. Which – like many of its neighbors – it once was!

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● Cenote Samula is a bit off the beach – and off the beaten path – near Valladolid. And while it may be necessary to hire a driver to get there, the stunning watering hole is well worth it. The contrast between the brown rock and perfect blue water is stunning, as light shimmers through the pool in colors you have probably never seen before.

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● Cenote X’keken is in the same complex as Cenote Samula, and it is easy – and well worth it – to go to both. You will get one of the best views of the startlingly pure blue waters of a cenote, just beneath the jutting rocks of the jungle from which dangle a multitude of exposed roots. The colors are spectacular and Instagram-worthy, for sure – so make sure you are brought enough SD cards for your camera or phone!

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● Cenote Angelita is not a touristy site. But if you are a diver, you will have the experience of a lifetime here. Rotting wood on the bottom of this 60m (200ft)-deep, vertical sinkhole collects into a greenish-black cloud of hydrogen sulphate that hangs at the point where saltwater and freshwater – because of their differing densities – refuse to merge. Above, it may be daylight, but dive under this cloud, and you are swimming in the dark.

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Local travel agent becomes a Verified Travel Advisor, why this matter

Arkansas, Elkins, December, 21, 2020] – Devising the picture-perfect vacation for most travelers can be time consuming and daunting.  Paul Graham of Wish List Travel recently obtained his Verified Travel Advisor certification from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).

In our industry, competition is fierce. But when stamped with the ASTA VTA badge, the travel industry and potential clients are granted with the reassurance that their professionalism and industry knowledge is at the highest standard.

The American Society of Travel Advisors is the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry, and the traveling public. ASTA’s certification programs provide a higher level of verifiable professional knowledge to the advanced seller of travel. Completion of the Verified Travel Advisor Program proves to the traveler, and the industry, that the advisor has the highest level of proficiency and dedication to their business.  Only ASTA members subscribe to a 12-point Code of Ethics, the core of which is the concept of “Integrity in Travel.” Put simply, this is the pledge our members stake their reputations on.

The intense nine-course curriculum allots twelve months of completion consisting of training manuals, online videos and exams. Once completed, the travel advisor is awarded the distinguishing mark of being an ASTA Verified Travel Advisor.

Paul Graham of Wish List Travel has passed ASTA’s rigorous standards and is awarded the badge of being an ASTA Verified Travel Advisor. Stamped with the VTA badge, Paul Graham of Wish List Travel has achieved the highest level of integrity by our industry standards.

For all your travel needs contact Paul Graham:

Wish List Travel 479-200-6610 paul@wishlisttravel.biz www.nwatravelagent.com

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About ASTA:
Rebranded in 2018 as the American Society of Travel Advisors, ASTA is the leading global advocate for travel advisors, the travel industry and the traveling public. Its members represent 80 percent of all travel sold in the United States through the travel agency distribution channel. Together with hundreds of internationally-based members, ASTA’s history of industry advocacy traces back to its founding in 1931 when it launched with the mission to facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism. For more information about the Society, visit ASTA.org. Consumers can connect with an ASTA travel advisor at TravelSense.org.

About the ASTA Verified Travel Advisor Program:

There are all kinds of industry certifications in the travel industry. All of which are very valuable and attest to hard work and determination. The ASTA Verified Travel Advisor (VTA) certification program lets the travel industry and the consumer know that advisor is one of unparalleled knowledge, professionalism, and ethical boundaries beyond reproach. The continuing education component of the program is available after completion of the certification. For more information, check out or FAQ sheet.

allinclusive

Black Friday – All Inclusive Deals

We hope hat you had a great Thanksgiving!  In this post informational you will find basic information about the Black Friday Deal and a link to the sale.  We would love to help you with your travel needs.

Sandals

BLACK Friday – Click here to see all the details

  • 1 Hour Couples Massage
  • Free Catamaran
  • Free Private Candlelight Dinner
  • Free Room Upgrade
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Secrets

BLACK Friday – Click here to see all the details

Don’t miss out! Get ready to save big! This year we’re giving you early access to amazing Black Friday deals. Rooms are limited. Deep discounts start at $145 per person, per night. Shop now!

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Zoetry

Travel Freely – Click here to see all the details

JOURNEY BACK TO THE PLACES YOU LOVE WITH THE ULTIMATE PEACE OF MIND Retreat to one of our beautiful CleanComplete Verification™ certified resorts and receive:

  • Free night*
  • Free room upgrade upon arrival
  • Free in-room welcome gift
  • Free night on a future stay
  • $200 in Resort Coupons
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Breathless

Book early, save more. Click here to see all the details

Reserve your stay at Breathless Resorts & Spas by January 7, 2021 and receive the best available rates for travel from April 4, 2021 – August 14, 2021. Plus receive $200 in resort coupons when booking this offer. Use for private, romantic dinners, an indulgent spa day and more.

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Dreams

BLACK Friday – Click here to see all the details

Don’t miss out! Get ready to save big! This year we’re giving you early access to amazing Black Friday deals. Rooms are limited. Deep discounts start at $82 per person, per night. Shop now!

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Now

BLACK Friday – Click here to see all the details

Hurry… Sale ends this weekend! Get ready to save big! This year we’re giving you early access to amazing Black Friday deals. Rooms are limited, shop now. Deep discounts start at $91 per person, per night.

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Alua

BLACK Friday – Click here to see all the details

BLACKFRIDAY WEEK. Book between 20/11/2020 and 30/11/2020 and get up to 50% discount for stays in 2020 and 2021 In order to obtain this additional discount (not combined with Customer Club discount)

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Sunscape

BLACK Friday – Click here to see all the details

Get ready to save big! This year we’re giving you early access to amazing Black Friday deals. Rooms are limited, shop now. Deep discounts start at $55 per person, per night.

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Black Friday – Cruise Deals

We hope hat you had a great Thanksgiving!  In this post informational you will find basic information about the Black Friday Deal and a link to the sale.  We would love to help you with your travel needs.

Carnival

CYBER BLOWOUT EARLY SAVER SALE – Click here to see all the details

  • Up to 30% off cruises
  • Reduced deposits from $50 per person
  • Free room upgrades
  • Sailings through April 2023
  • Hurry! Ends Sunday, November 29th

Royal Caribbean

Black Friday Sale – Click here to see all the details

  • SAVE UP TO $550
  • 60% OFF SECOND GUEST
  • KIDS SAIL FREE
  • ALL SUMMER

Norwegian Cruise Line

Black Friday Sale – Click here to see all the details

  • That’s 30% off all ships and all destinations + 5 FREE offers, including FREE Open Bar and more – a total of $2,900 in value

Holland America

Black Friday Sale – Click here to see all the details

Book by December 1, 2020, and you’ll get FREE Wi-Fi in any stateroom. Plus, up to $2,300 in extras: 

  • Drinks Package
  • Prepaid Gratuities  
  • Specialty Dining
  • 50% Reduced Deposit

Princess Cruises

The Cyber Event – Click here to see all the details

  • 50% Reduce deposit
  • $200 OBC

MSC Cruises

Black Friday Sale – Click here to see all the details

  • Up to $600 Instant Saving
  • $200 OBC
  • Kids Sail Free

Azamara

Thank You Sale – Click here to see all the details

  • Up to $1,000 in onboard credit
  • Complimentary two-category stateroom upgrade

Cunard

Black Friday Sale- Click here to see all the details

  • Fares from $999
  • 50% Reduced Deposit
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YOUR SOLO TRAVEL BUDGET: IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE

By: Tracey Nesbitt / Reposted from www.solotravelerworld.com

When you’re traveling to a new destination, or even a favorite that you’re visiting again, it can be tempting to see and do and eat and drink all of the wonderful things that are unique to this part of the world.

For most of us, though, there are finances to consider.

How, then do you ensure that you return home satisfied that you had the best possible experience without blowing your solo travel budget?

It’s all about balance.

squash dish at Ottolenghi Spitalfields
Onion squash, sesame sour cream, squash pickle, and pumpkin brittle at Ottolenghi Spitalfields.

Splurge On the Memorable Meals, Economize On the Others

If you love food like I love food, it’s important to make it a priority to have at least one spectacular meal that you will remember. On my recent trip to London, this meant dinner at one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants. I am a huge fan of his vegetable-forward style and unique flavor combinations. I took my time and savored every bite (which is a lot easier to do when you’re dining alone). That pleasure comes at a price, especially when you factor in the currency exchange rate, but I’m still talking about that meal two months later.

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Not every meal has to be extravagant.

This doesn’t mean that the cheaper meals will be boring or disappointing – quite the contrary. Some of the most interesting eats in the world can be found in food trucks or other mobile or temporary venues, such as food festivals or cultural celebrations. It can also be fascinating to wander around grocery stores in other countries, and very economical to put together a picnic or a meal to enjoy at your accommodation. Shopping with the locals can provide insight into a culture, and you may find some great deals.

In October, I was traveling with Monograms Travel in London, where I splurged at Ottolenghi Spitalfields, and Amsterdam, where two of my meals were composed of treats I had picked up at a nearby grocer. Economizing on the latter allowed me to savor the former.

Apollo Victoria Theatre, London

Seek Out Events that Are Not Marketed to Visitors

In London this fall, I attended a production of Wicked, the large-scale, Broadway musical at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. It was fabulous – and fabulously expensive. I don’t generally go to this type of play more than once a year, but when I do, I enjoy the heck out of it! I admire the sets, the costumes, the choreography, and even the people-watching during intermission. Because this is a well-known play with a massive marketing budget, you will see both locals and visitors in the audience.

By contrast, in Belfast last year, I attended a production of Diablo, a play about human trafficking in Northern Ireland, presented in a community center. As far as I could tell, I was the only non-resident in attendance. I learned so much about the city, the issues, and that specific community that night. It sticks with me still, and cost peanuts compared to Wicked. They were both wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

National Gallery, London, solo travel budget
London’s National Gallery offers free admission to the permanent collection.

Balance Your Solo Travel Budget with Paid Attractions and Free Admissions

There are some attractions, events, tours, or restaurants that will be expensive no matter what you do. And if you are passionate about them, or have always dreamed of seeing or doing them, it will be worth the splurge. There are others that will be surprisingly inexpensive or even free. To keep your solo travel budget in check, it’s important to have a balance of both in your itinerary.

One of the ways that I like to do this is by reading local papers or weekly entertainment publications such as NOW Magazine in Toronto, TimeOut in many large cities, or consulting local events websites like MeetUp.com or Eventbrite. All of these have listings for free local events such as art openings, festivals, seasonal or cultural events, etc. I took a copy of TimeOut with me when I had my splurge meal in London and perused the listings to find free events for the following days. You can read about that trip in Exploring London Solo with Ease.

wine tasting in Amsterdam, solo travel budget
On the Amsterdam Food and Canals Tour with Eating Europe.

I love a really great food tour, and I took one in Amsterdam. You can read more about it in Solo in Amsterdam: A City that Left Me Wanting More. It was 4 hours long, covered a lot of ground, and included many tastings. These tours are not cheap, but for me, they feed one of my passions, so it’s a place I will put my money. To balance out my solo travel budget, while on that same trip, in London, I visited the National Gallery, which was free, and an exhibit at Canada House, which was also free.

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A unique and inexpensive Dutch treat: bitterballen.

Pay for Some Events in Advance, Others On the Spot

With a travel company like Monograms, you can pay for some of your activities far in advance and others as you discover them along the way. By planning ahead, by the time you reach your destination, some of your events have already been paid for, so there is no additional outlay during your trip, or big credit card bills awaiting you at home. This allows you to set a separate budget for what you will spend while you’re there. When your accommodation and some items like day tours (the big-ticket items) are already taken care of before leaving home, you can spend your cash on meals and activities to supplement and round out your trip, without the burden of returning with debt.

How do you balance your solo travel budget without feeling like you’re missing out? Please share your tips below.

This post was brought to you as a result of the Monograms trip, a project between Monograms and iambassador. As always, Solo Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.

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5 REASONS TO PUT PERU ON THE TOP OF YOUR BUCKET LIST

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Peru invites you to feed the body, mind and soul with off-the-beaten-path experiences found beyond Machu Picchu. Whether this is your first international vacation, you’re seeking a little adventure, or you’ve seen Europe’s famous sights, now is the time to break free from the ordinary and see the unique destinations and unusual discoveries that have stood the test of time

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  1. Location. Peru is closer than you think. Though its exotic, pristine landscapes make it seem far reaching, flights are comparable to those which European and North American travelers are accustomed.
  2. Cuisine. Amid the horizons and ancient vistas of Peru lies an equally important attraction – food! Lima has emerged as a culinary capital with diverse dishes. Regional fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables are bountiful in local food markets, family eateries, and 5-star restaurants.
  3. Culture. The ancient land of architects and warriors is a world of tradition, artistry, natural wonders, and simple pleasures starting in Peru. Get a true taste of graceful Peruvian life with Globus’ Local Favorites.
  4. History. Dig deeper for glimpses of ancient life through archaeological wonders to rival the pyramids in Egypt. Taste traditions with Peruvian cooking classes, relive artistic history with tango lessons, and expand your horizons with visits to local Peruvian homes.
  5. Nature. Stand on the rim of Colca Canyon at eye level with Andean Condors – whose 10-foot wingspan lets them glide for hours on the chasm’s updrafts. Sail to Isla Ballestas to mingle with marine animals in the sanctuary there. Fly over southern Peru’s Nazca Desert to see the Nazca Lines – etched in the sandy soil to better see heaven or for heaven to see.
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Princess Cruises Academy

Local Travel Agent Paul Graham Becomes Cruise Expert by Earning Prestigious Top Rank in
Princess Cruises Academy

Elkins, Arkansas  – A Elkins travel agent Paul Graham has achieved prestigious Commodore status in Princess Cruises’ Academy training program, certifying him as an expert cruise professional. As a Commodore, Paul Graham] of Wish List Travel joins an exclusive group of travel agents who are now recognized by Princess at the Academy’s highest level for their unique qualifications and knowledge as a cruise planning professional. Paul Graham earned this distinction after completing the minimum 25 courses necessary to graduate from the program.

“We at Princess are very proud of Paul’s dedication, as he put in extra effort to offer clients exceptional knowledge regarding our cruise vacation product as well as our worldwide destinations,” said Jan Swartz, President of Princess Cruises. “Travel agents who reach this top level in our Academy program have completed hours of course work to become a cruising expert, which will prove invaluable to providing clients with a great holiday.”

Princess Academy is the cruise industry’s most comprehensive online training program available to travel agents in Australia and New Zealand. Agents who complete the extensive coursework become experts on a wide range of topics, offering travelers full knowledge of important details about a Princess holiday such as the different passenger amenities on the line’s 18 ships, the company’s worldwide destinations and the many special programs available onboard.

I am thrilled to be a Princess Commodore and expand my expertise about cruising. The knowledge I’ve gained makes me a more valuable resource for my clients and enables me to recommend the very best holiday which matches all of their needs,” said Paul Graham.

To become a Commodore, travel agents must fulfill 25 required and elective courses, representing approximately 15 hours of total course work covering worldwide destinations, onboard programs, and customer service skills. As they complete courses, agents receive their “stripes” through four levels: First Officer, Staff Captain, Captain and finally Commodore. Agents can continue to take elective courses to expand their knowledge and keep their Commodore status current.

# # #

Wish List Travel is a full-service Travel Agency offering fee free planning for all your travel needs, including Cruise, All-Inclusive and Guided Tours. We are based in Elkins, Arkansas. Turning your travel Wish List into memories!

For further information contact:

Paul Graham

Wish List Travel

479-200-6610

paul@wishlisttravel.biz

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WHY I GOT ON BOARD WITH RIVER CRUISING

By: Rebeka Bischoff / Reposted from: www.travelzoo.com

Even as someone who spends a lot of her life thinking about getting away (occupational hazard if you vet travel deals for a living), I confess: I’d never seriously contemplated a river cruise. However amazing the itineraries, I couldn’t imagine they left much room for some of the other things I look for in a vacation—especially those tucked-away local treasures that require freedom to explore.

But when one cruise caught my eye—and I couldn’t seem to look away—I decided the time had come to check my skepticism at the dock and spend a week on the Danube. (Yes, I know. Cry me an actual river.)

The vessel? Avalon Artistry II. And as anyone who’s ever traveled on it—or any of Avalon Waterways’ award-winning ships—might guess, it had me at hello. Or guten tag, as the case may be in Nuremburg, where I set off.

Read on to learn how wrong my preconceived notions were—and how right river cruising turns out to be for a huge array of travelers (present company included).

The crowd was the perfect mix

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If I’m being honest, another reason I’d never imagined river cruises to be quite my scene was the—how to put it?—generationally homogenous passenger set I had pictured…right up until I boarded Artistry II and found everyone from mother-daughter duos to honeymooners to girlfriend groups.

And getting to know people happened totally organically, given the small group size (around 100 people total) and endless opportunities to mingle. Over cocktail receptions, excursions and meals (when you could sit on your own, but the group tables always seemed more fun), we shared pictures, travel stories and our favorite recommendations around the world.

I wound up making friends with everyone from cruise junkies to people who were all toured out from other kinds of guided trips and wanted to try something new.


This was no average field trip

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I’d envisioned river cruising to be, basically, one extended field trip, complete with follow-the-leader programming, designated times for everything—and little freedom to wander off. My experience was anything but that. In fact, I quickly realized that my cruise was exactly what I wanted to make of it.

Avalon offers three categories of excursionsclassicactive and discovery — think guided tours of historic sites, mellow hikes through scenic terrain and immersive local experiences, respectively. People who like to plan could map out their days before boarding the ship, while more spontaneous travelers (yours truly), could make decisions last minute (up to the morning of an excursion).

And I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before I boarded, but there’s always the option to skip the day’s included activities entirely and explore independently—or just take advantage of the considerable amenities on the ship (yoga, afternoon tea, board games and lounging on the Sky Deck, just for starters).

So whatever we imagined our own best version of vacation to look like, each guest experienced it.


You can get off the beaten path

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For me, a trip isn’t complete until I’ve set out on my own and mixed it up with the locals. And Avalon’s Adventure Host—yes, that’s an actual job title, and a brilliant invention—was my key to doing exactly that.

There was the time I spotted a seemingly untouristed riverfront path in Vienna and had the sudden urge to explore. Milen, our Adventure Host, hooked me up with one of the ship’s bikes (plus his considerable local knowledge), and within minutes, I was cycling along a beautifully forested trail, not a tourist in sight—though the occasional swan did block my way.

Another standout was the time we were in Budapest, and Milen led me on a hike that showcased—to Insta-perfection, I’ll admit—both the hilly Buda side of the river and the flat terrain of Pest. The famously bustling city seemed surreally hushed, and I knew I was experiencing a magical side of it from our hilltop vantage point.

Once again: preconceived notions shattered.


Even with the amazing surroundings, I had to force myself to leave my suite

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Spanning the full width and height of my suite, the sliding glass doors I found in place of an external wall made me feel like I was staying in an extension of the river. Each morning I woke up with views—from bed—that I could get only from the water. Picture kids playing in the riverfront yards of pastel homes that have been passed down through generations of Danube dwellers. Or gardeners tending to equally ancient castle and church grounds. We’ve all heard of “Europe Through the Back Door,” but this was Europe through the back dock…and I was hooked.

Of course, my suite was hardly unusual for Avalon. The line is famous for its innovative and spacious quarters, which were awarded Cruise Critic’s Best River Cruise Line Cabins title last year. At 200 square feet, the Panorama Suite (the kind I stayed in) is at least 30% larger than the industry standard. And there’s not a bad room on board, either: Avalon’s entire fleet consists of “Suite Ships,” meaning nearly every cabin is a suite.


The cruise was a foodie’s fantasy

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Here’s another misconception I went in with: Traveling by ship meant forfeiting a lot of local flavor. But in almost every town we passed through, the chefs would disembark in search of seasonal produce, fresh specialty breads and other local market finds. The resulting meals, which ranged from Bavarian Sweet Mustard soup to Hungarian Chicken Paprikash, were so good, I got the recipes to take home with me.

Other amazing foodie experiences were arranged for us on board, too. In Austria, for example, a culinary expert named Bianca hosted a cookie tasting, hand-delivering the goods from a bakery in her small town. After setting out plates of eight options apiece—everything from powdered almond vanillekipferl to cocoa-covered schokobusserl—she encouraged us to take in the intricacies of each handmade treat. We then closed our eyes to heighten our senses of taste and smell, and giggled as we guessed at a succession of ingredients.

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In Bavaria, the onboard beer tasting was a huge hit, complete with lederhosen-clad hosts who were, well, fonts of local beer knowledge. One takeaway: If you try nothing else there, make it the Gutmann Hefeweizen, aka “Bavaria in a bottle.” (And a side note for dedicated brewophiles: Avalon runs entire beer-centric cruises through Europe, where you’ll visit historic breweries, attend onboard beer lectures, workshops and tastings—and feast at an expert-led, brew-paired dinner.)

The culinary journey continued on land as well. As guides oriented us to each city we visited, they made sure to include the best local foodie finds. After a group walk past Salzburg’s Fürst chocolate shop, for example, I may have snuck back for the famed house Mozartkugel (marzipan and pistachio surrounded by nougat and dark chocolate).


I got bonus vacation time

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Instead of traveling for hours on buses between cities or worrying about missing a train—as is my way—I enjoyed extra sleep, onboard workout classes and happy hour with friends. Better still, despite the fact that I visited no fewer than seven cities, I unpacked and repacked a grand total of once.

In fact, all the logistics were incredibly easy, mostly because Avalon handled everything from flights to airport transfers to meals and sightseeing. When I say I did not have to lift a finger except to pop another Mozartkugel into my mouth, I’m not exaggerating.


Ready to test the waters yourself?

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Here are three things to know about Avalon Waterways’ European offerings:

They don’t require a limitless supply of free time. Or even a week. Among the 50 or so itineraries on offer, there’s a selection of 4-6 day Short and “Suite” getaways that are perfect for anyone who’s tight on time—or newbies who are river cruise-curious.

If you do have the time and inclination, you can tack stellar land-based extensions onto your cruise. Many of my fellow travelers spent two guided days in Prague prior to our cruise—an option I wished I’d added after hearing the stories.

Through mid-April, Avalon Waterways is offering cruises with a range of perks from complimentary airfare to $2500 off per couple to free extensions on select 2020 Danube cruises. Put otherwise: There’s no better time to discover the world through its rivers.

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