Identify Your Travel Needs

Snorkel with Stingrays

Keira is about to snorkel with stingrays.

Everybody wants to get the most out their vacation. A great first step to that end is to identify your personal travel needs. Take a look at these four types of vacations and answer these questions: What type of vacation sounds like bliss to you? Which has you most excited? Perhaps more than one of these options has you salivating and itching to go. Take notes and let your travel agent know!

Are you sport-oriented? Does the sound of hiking, whitewater rafting, hang-gliding, skiing, etc. sound like adrenaline boost you’ve been craving? If you said “yes”, then you should focus on having adventure oriented trips. Tame is lame. Get your heart racing by learning a new sport like scuba-diving or abseiling. Go on big thrills like zip-lining, bungee-jumping, and sky-diving. Swim with dolphins, or like me, swim with stingrays! There are all sorts of highly specialized travel companies with a vacation package designed just for you!

Are you fascinated by history? If you like learning and seeing history in person, you will want to find companies that cater to that. You should seek out museums to wander and take hosted tours. Tour guides will be knowledgeable whether you are taking a historic walking tour, an art and culture tour, exploring a wildlife reserve or touring national parks. You will never go wrong if you visit famous landmarks, world culture sites, and world class museums.

Are you hungry for local flavor? The way to your heart is through your stomach. It is time to expand your palate with food and wine tours, cuisine classes, local fairs, famous festivals, and local famers’ markets. Experiencing an up-tempo night life and parties tastes sweet to you. A great resource for you is Food Reference, which has a comprehensive list of food festivals in the US and around the world, broken down by month. It’s good to plan ahead!

Are you interested in relaxation and leisure? Your ideal way to travel is first class all the way with little to no fuss. You are ready to get away and leave behind all stressors. The best vacations for you would include spa retreats and shopping excursions. If you could soak up some sun, that would be even better! Soft sandy beaches with bright colored and clear waters are calling your name. A cruise, where you only had to unpack once, would be just the ticket allowing you to explore the full amenities of the ship. It’s time to unwind, let go, and say “ahh” as you sip a fruity little number.

What to Look for in a Travel Agent

Snowed!

Oh Snowed!

You never realize just how valuable a travel agent is to your vacation until disaster strikes.

A few years ago, I was traveling to South America to take a cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the first time I had done something like that so my travel companion and I planned for eventualities. We booked our tickets with the cruise line (not recommended, because the travel insurance does not cover weather, which we thought it did) and planned to arrive in Argentina, a day ahead of boarding.

The cruise line booked us to fly north before heading south. It seemed extremely dumb at the time because we started at an international airport (MCO) and there was another south of us (MIA). Weather turned and we got stuck and then stranded in Atlanta as first our flight was delayed and then cancelled. We were shuffled out of the secure part of the airport to rebook and that was when having a travel agent worked to our advantage.

Our travel agent was booking us on flights as soon as one cancelled (and many did). She figured out how to get us out of the US when other travelers were giving up and figuring they’d get refunds on the cruise. Long story short, we managed to board a plane the next day and get to our cruise for a fabulous adventure at the bottom of the world.

I learned from that experience what to look for in a travel agent and the five most important items are:

  1. Knowledge: A knowledgeable travel agent is the first step for any strategic vacation plan. A good travel agent will know basics about areas where you want to travel, but a great agent will recommend places to go, things to do, what to pack, what to expect, etc.
  2. Willingness: If you have a knowledgeable travel agent, but your travel agent isn’t willing to work for you, then you are better off using Google to search the Internet for your travel needs. A travel agent willing to get you the best deal, to ensure you make it to your destination, or to assist in an emergency is worth her weight in gold.
  3. Ability: If willingness doesn’t match ability, you’re sunk. Your travel agent no matter how willing to help you also needs to have experience in her field. She should excel from start to finish concerning all aspects of your booking.
  4. Out-of-the-Box Thinking: When everybody else is stymied by the unexpected, your travel agent should remain cool, calm, and collected. She should be three steps ahead, coming up with alternative solutions while everybody else stews.
  5. Friendship: If you are friends with a travel agent, I would recommend using your friend at least once. Nine times out of ten, your friend will treat you better than any other travel agent you could find. They will go the extra mile for you and these are the miles that count!

If you find a travel agent with all five qualities, do not let her go! I know I haven’t!

Share your best/worst experiences with a travel agent!

Festive London: Three of the Best Santa’s Grottos

santa claus grotto

“Mommy! When I went to Santa’s Grotto I saw Santa Claus!”

Those with kids will know that a visit to Santa’s grotto is a Christmas institution. However, choose carefully. There’s nothing more disappointing than a bad Santa, and one obvious beard can be enough to ruin the magic for little ones for good.

If you can get to London then you’ll be spoilt for choice for great Santa’s grottos, and can rest assured that there won’t be a single cotton wool beard in sight! Why not turn your Santa’s grotto visit into a festive mini-break for the whole family by booking a family room in a low cost, central London hotel? Now is the right time to book your ideal bolthole in the city.

Once you’ve got the accommodation sorted, all that remains is to find your perfect Santa experience. Choose from these top three Santa’s Grottos in the capital for a guaranteed magical time with the kids:

Kids can play in real snow in the ice grotto, visit the wish fairy, dodge Jack Frost and get into a snowball fight with a naughty snowman at the Ice Grotto at Selfridges, and that’s all before they even meet the big guy himself!

Visitors to Selfridges in London from the 3rd September should also spend some time in the Christmas Shop – the store’s biggest ever! A gorgeous fairy-lit shopping wonderland, you’ll even be treated to traditional Christmassy scents such as spice cake, marzipan and pine while you browse.

Hamleys is offering something more than your typical Santa’s grotto experience this year, with the ‘I Met Father Christmas at Hamleys’ attraction. During this hour long experience, which includes a meal (food provided depends on the time of day), children will get to meet Santa and his elves and enjoy some fun Christmas themed stories and activities. Each child takes away a small gift.

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a mesmerising Christmas experience for adults and children alike. A Christmas market, ice sculptures, ferris wheel, circus, ice skating rink and funfair rides all await, but those who want to meet the big guy himself should head straight to Santa Land where Santa waits in his cottage. All good little boys and girls get a small gift, making this a great value free grotto in the city. You may, however, find it hard to sneak little ones past the rides without putting your hand in your pocket!

The approach of Christmas presents a fantastic opportunity to make magical memories with your children. Make the best of those precious early years with a trip to our capital where you’ll find your pick of amazing Santa’s grottos.

Book your family accommodation, pack your camera and the kid’s Christmas lists, and you’re all set!

Wander to Southeast Asia and Travel on the Cheap!

Elephant Ride at  Siem Reap, Cambodia

Elephant Ride at Siem Reap, Cambodia

As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so many years ago, not all who wander are lost. Maybe those who wander are just filled with a little more wonder than the average person. If you think you are this person, well, the world abounds in low-cost places to travel. One such place is Southeast Asia — Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Once a very war-torn part of the world, these unique cultures are now more like paradise, offering you an oriental relief from the rigors of western society. Whether it’s one night in Bangkok or several in Ho Chi Minh City, these countries and their favorable exchange rates won’t break the bank!

The most expensive item you’ll have to purchase when visiting Southeast Asia is your plane ticket, but even this item is far cheaper than what it once was. You can fly from London, Paris or most major cities conveniently to Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore and then transfer flights if need be. These regions are isolated from the West no more. Once you’re there, you can lie upon the beaches of Thailand or ride an elephant in Cambodia. Or visit centuries old temples and learn about the lost long-ago culture that made this region one of the most advanced in the world at that time.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are also cities not to be missed and you can help yourself to some pho or other tasty Vietnamese cuisine. You’ll find your money will go far here and feel like your money will last forever. Adventure trips could include backpacking in from Bangkok and discovering villages few Europeans ever see. The opportunities are boundless in Southeast Asia and nothing will cost too much money. You’ll save so much money choosing this region for your next vacation you’ll want to come back again and again.

Anne Perkins is a freelance writer focused on how to live large on a little living. She writes financial savings tips and enjoys taking any idea and making it easier or cheaper to complete.

Travel Green: Ways to Offset Your Carbon Footprint on Your Next Cruise Holiday

cruise ship

Is Green Travel Possible on a Cruise?

While your primary focus of taking a cruise holiday may be to experience the wonders of nature, laze in the glistening sun or do some on-board shopping, there are also a great number of environmentally friendly reasons to why cruising is a great holiday choice. Nowadays, more and more people are becoming concerned about their carbon footprint and how their holiday adventures may be impacting their surrounding environment.

Considering a cruise holiday as an eco-friendly way to travel may just sound a little ridiculous to some people, with the largest cruise liners in the world on record as producing more than 200, 000 gallons of sewage and in excess of 1 million gallons of grey water; all of this being discarded directly into the water. In more recent years, however, many cruise liners have raised the bar for environmentally friendly practices at sea, with many now boasting to have decreased their carbon footprint. So, are cruise holidays really the best way to travel green? Read on to discover the truths about eco-friendly travel and how you can offset your carbon footprint, during your next cruise holiday.

Research your Cruise Line

As aforementioned, a number of reputable cruise lines are now promoting green travel, with many implementing state of the art facilities to reduce their impact on the environment. Disney Cruise Lines, for example, have applied a non-toxic, non-resistance surface to the hull of their ships, in order to reduce resistance in the water and create greater fuel efficiency. Various cruise lines have implemented green solutions, in more recent years, so it is always a wise decision to do your research before boarding.

Recycle On-board

Travellers can always do their own part, by implementing their own green practices whilst on-board. This process is helped immensely, when cruise ships also do their party. The waste created on-board Carnival Cruise Lines ships is recycled, helping to reduce the amount of landfill and pollution created by travel.

Wasting water is also a thing of the past, with many cruise lines now using grey water purification systems, in order to minimise pollutants that are being discarded into the ocean. Purification of grey water also allows this recycled water to be used again, for purposes such as sewage systems.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is another industry leader in the way of green travel, as they have eliminated the use of all plastic cookware, cups and plates on-board, in the hopes of reducing the amount of wastage on their ships, as well as encouraging passengers to refrain from dumping waster overboard.

Whether you are booking tropical Hawaiian cruises or heading to the nature loving paradise of Alaska, it important to focus on your surrounds. When in doubt about the environmental practices of any cruise line, always talk to your travel specialist such as Cruiseabout for recommendations and further details on cruise line policies.

Written by Barbie S. It is almost as good as dream comes true for Barbie when she got an offer as a travel writer, infusing her love for travel and her passion to share wonderful moments with her fellow travellers. Barbie also loves yoga and teaches part-time in a local studio.

The 20 Most Popular Tourist Spots in New York City

statue of liberty

Statue of Liberty National Monument

1. Statue of Liberty

A gift from the French, the Statue of Liberty once greeted every immigrant coming into the United States.

Central Park in winter in new york city

Central Park in winter

2. Central Park

Take a walk through the world famous central park, which includes gardens, forest, hills, lakes and a very large lawn.

Times Square or the Crossroads of the World

Times Square or the Crossroads of the World

3. Times Square

Located right in the middle of the city, it is famous for its annual ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

Tribute WTC Visitor Center

Tribute WTC Visitor Center

4. 9/11 Memorial – Tribute WTC Visitor Center

Pay respect to the men and women victimized by one of the worst terrorist attacks ever.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

5. Empire State

Go to the top of the tallest building in New York at 1,454 feet tall.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

6. Grand Central Terminal

This railway station is the largest in the world with 44 platforms and 67 different tracks.

Rockefeller Center

Atlas at Rockefeller Center

7. Rockefeller Center

This complex build by the Rockefeller family in the 1930’s, includes 19 commercial buildings all in the center of the city.

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

8. Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Ellis Island was the entrance to the U.S. that every immigrant had to go through. Visit the museum to learn about the immigration system and the history that surrounds it.

American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History

9. American Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1869, this museum contains a staggering 32 million specimens, of which only a small selection is showcased at a time.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

10. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Housing over 2 million pieces of art and spanning every culture and time, there is plenty to see here.

The Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art

11. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

View thousands of works of art in the most important museum of modern art in the world.

Tigers at Bronx Zoo

Tigers at Bronx Zoo

12. Bronx Zoo

Visit one of the largest metropolitan zoos in the world, with over 600 different species.

Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

13. Top of the Rock

Located on the GE building, it is the best place for a panoramic view of the entire city.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

14. New York Public Library

The second largest library in the country holds almost 53 million different items.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

15. Federal Reserve Bank of New York

One of 12 federal reserves in the U.S., this one is by far the largest.

Chrysler Building

The top of the Chrysler Building

16. Chrysler Building

A beautiful example of Art Deco style architecture, this building was the tallest in the world until the Empire State Building was constructed.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral

17. St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Check out this awe-inspiring Roman Catholic Church built in a Neo-Gothic style.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

18. The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The fourth largest church in the world also claims to be the biggest cathedral and angelical church.

Brooklyn Brewery

The Brooklyn Brewery

19. Brooklyn Brewery

Have a beer at one of the largest breweries in the city.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

20. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

Rub elbows with hundreds of celebrities, all made of wax.

Have you been to any of these places? Which is your favorite?

Collectors: What is Your Favorite Travel Souvenir?

travel souvenirs

Travel Souvenirs from My Trips

I don’t know about you, but when I travel I like to collect a few things each time depending on what I can find and where I am going.

First I try to find something uniquely that country’s like a Mayan Calendar when I went to Mexico or Murano Glass Jewelry when I went to Italy or the intricately detailed Chinese birdcage I bought in China. (I don’t even own a bird!!) I got my Venetian mask in Vegas!

Failing that I usually go for trinkets like a doll, jewelry box, deck of playing cards, coasters, etc. Something with character, pictures or designs from the country.

Sometimes I find a cute outfit from a boutique store like I did in Paris or Innsbruck. Sometimes I look for jewelry like the Greek Key Half-Hoop Earrings that I got in Greece. My closet gets a little more international and I feel more cosmopolitan with purchases like this instead of like a tourist.

My favorite travel souvenir right now is the authenticated Roman Glass Earrings that I purchased in Israel. They’re beautiful, elegant, and highly special to me. I see myself wearing them at my wedding.

What’s yours? What do you collect on your travels? Is it shells from the beach? Sand from each country? Pebbles from famous monuments? Tell me!

Quick Travel Tip: Rome, Italy

trajanscolumn

Trajan's Column and Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary

The popular catchphrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” applies perfectly today to this quick travel tip.

When I was in Rome in 2011 and visiting with my friends who live there (we had met on a previous cruise to Antarctica) we did a lot of sightseeing together and sitting down to eat.

They told us one of their favorite places to eat in Rome was a restaurant most tourists would think is a tourist trap, because of its location to famous monuments, but that it is in fact some of the best Sicilian food you can find anywhere in Rome. (And they considered it the best in Rome.) We all went together for dinner one night, and it was superb!

The Trattoria Melo is located near 3 famous sightseeing spots: Trajan’s Column (in Trajan’s Forum), Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary, and the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (aka the wedding cake). To get to it you take a slight detour and aim toward the stairs, it is located just before you reach them. Whew! lol 😀

This family restaurant has been running since 1986. Run by Carmelo (Melo) and his wife, Eva. Both of them were full of smiles and good humor. They pride themselves on hospitality. We ordered on menu and off menu and everything was delicious. At the end of the meal we capped off with some yummy Limoncello.

Buon appetito!

Trajan's Column and Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary

Trattoria Melo is by the stairs to the right of Trajan's Column in this picture.

Directions:
Trattoria Melo
Via Magnanapoli, 6
00187 Rome, Italy


View Larger Map

YouTube Video Exploring Inside of Restaurant:

Travel to St. Petersburg: 10 Things You Gotta Do!

1. The Palace Square –

At the center of the Palace Square is the Alexander Column. This column with the angel on top, was built to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. When I was in St. Petersburg in 1997 Boris Yeltsin was visiting the city too. He came through the zone with an ambulance following behind.

Just before he did we had gotten out of our taxi so the taxi could clear the area, like the rest of the cars and people. We however walked the rest of the way to the Hermitage Museum, which was about three blocks, along the water. We weren’t stopped because we were obviously harmless tourists… I was 11. This is why the square is so empty in the photo above. Today the square is used for official festivals and gatherings.

alexander garden

Alexander Garden

2. Alexander Garden –

The Alexander Garden is located nearby the Palace Square. Its fountain is known as the musical/dancing fountain because it reacts to music playing in the area. Bring a penny whistle or harmonica or a couple of drumsticks and try it out.

The Winter Palace or State Hermitage Museum

Keira, Mom, and Tour Guide in front of the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace is also home to the State Hermitage Museum

3. The Winter Palace –

The Winter Palace is a beautiful masterpiece of the Russian Baroque architectural style with its roof is lined with bronze statues. You might recognize it by another name—The State Hermitage Museum. It is the largest art museum in the world with 150,000+ works on display in 1,000+ rooms. And that’s only 5% of the collection!!! Wow!

The Resurrection Church

The Resurrection Church

4. The Resurrection Church –

It’s also known as Church of the Savior on the Blood. You might recognize its onion dome appearance before the name as it has approximately 20 English translations. I was there in 1997 but just before the renovations were complete so I did not get to see inside, but I totally believe if you can you will love it.

Summer Garden

Summer Garden

5. The Summer Garden –

Peter the Great was personally involved in the planning of this garden. Its walkways are lined with 79 marble statues each of them on mythological themes. Some of the oldest statues in Russia are located here.

Field of Mars

Field of Mars

6. Field of Mars –

Here you will find Russia’s Eternal Flame. This flame is there to serve as a solemn witness for the fallen victims of the country’s wars and revolutions.

bank bridge russia

Bank Bridge

7. Bank Bridge –

Named after the Assignation Bank next to the bridge, the Bank Bridge is not to be missed because of the gold winged griffons flanking either end. Pavel Sokolov also created the lions and sphinxes for the Lions Bridge and for the Egyptian Bridge (mentioned in the Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan of the Kane Chronicles). These bridges are also located in the city.

St Petersburg Metro Escalators

St. Petersburg Metro Escalators

8. Take the Metro –

Have you ever heard of metro sightseeing? You definitely don’t want to miss the metro stations of St. Petersburg. Located deep, deep, deep, in the center of the earth, it is in fact the deepest subway in the world. Luckily you can ride down on escalators! Each station is a work of art, but if the most beautiful stations are all on Line 1.

Keira at St. Issac’s Cathedral and Monument to Nicholas I

Keira by St. Issac’s Cathedral and Monument to Nicholas I

9. St. Issac’s Cathedral  –

This beautiful gold dome cathedral lies on one side of the Isaakievskaya Square. Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral, so your only opportunity to photograph the cathedral is from the square. The square is also home to the Monument to Nicholas I and framing both in your photo will make for a fantastic souvenir.

Narva Triumphal Arch

Narva Triumphal Arch

10. The Narva Triumphal Arch –

The arch was built as a war memorial and hosts an impressive triumphal chariot pulled by six horses on the top. Both the chariot and the horses are made of copper. The copper is hammered giving the sculpture a wonderful texture.

Quick Travel Tip: Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

If you get to Port Stanley at the Falkland Islands you probably want to see the penguins on the islands. So this quick travel tip is not only going to get you out to see them but it is also going to get you out to see them in the most frugal way possible.

In Port Stanley you’re going to look for the shuttle buses to get out to Gypsy Cove. If you are getting off a cruise ship you take a tender to the docks and it is a short walk to the end and then almost immediately you go left. You won’t have a problem spotting them as some of the drivers are waiting in plain sight and you’ll see other travelers lining up. Additionally there are several shuttle buses running to and from the port out to Gypsy Cove all the time so it won’t matter when you get off the ship.

It costs just $20 USD per person to take the shuttle bus. WOW! Cheap!!!

The penguins at Gypsy Cove are not King Penguins, but they are Magellanic Penguins and super cute. They make honking noises which you might get to hear if you’re lucky. Other wild life you can possibly spot at Gypsy Cove include Peale’s and Commerson’s Dolphins, Flightless Steamer Ducks, Falkland Thrush, Gorse, and Sea Lions.

Just a note: Due to the Falkland war in 1982 the coastline of Gypsy Cove is not safe for walking as there could be landmines being washed ashore on the beaches. The have had professional detonators do sweeps, but it’s always good to be extra cautious. Also the danger zone is fenced off so you can’t accidentally step on any. And if there are any landmines the penguins are too lightweight to set them off. No penguins will be hurt.

Gypsy Cove Outlook

Keira and Mom at Gypsy Cove with Cruise Ship

As a bonus Gypsy Cove provides an amazing place to stop and take a professional looking photo of yourself with your cruise ship in the background. 😀