River Cruising on Five Continents

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

As river cruises have exploded in popularity in recent years, more companies have entered the market and more ships have hit the water. It’s a great way to get to several destinations on the same trip without having to figure out transportation or 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 Irrawaddy, 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 on the river.

Africa


Ama’s 28-passenger Zambezi Queen does four-night itineraries on the Chobe River and 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 taking 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 longer 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 to Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, the Nazca Lines, and even a second cruise in the Galapagos.

Top Fall Getaways

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

The 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 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% special from mid-October to mid-November, and Alpine Adventures has a 25% 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.

Why You Should Book Your Holiday Season Getaway Now

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

Sweating through another hot day longing for a cold drink in your favorite giant unicorn floatie, you may not have given much thought to your travel plans for the holiday season. There’s plenty of time for that, right? WRONG! Make no mistake, winter is coming. Before you know it, the leaves will be changing colors. Soon after, you’ll be looking back wistfully at those long summer days. If you start trying to plan a trip then, you could be frozen out.

The period around Christmas and New Year’s is absolutely the most in-demand time on the calendar. Everyone’s tired of the stress of cooking, cleaning, and accommodating guests. They’d rather head to the beach, let someone else do all the work, and actually enjoy that time with loved ones. The trouble is, there’s a limited number of places where the weather can be counted on. The people who were lucky enough to find rooms last year got the right of first refusal for this year. Many others have had their space booked since spring. Truthfully, you should have already started planning too. But if you act now, there are a few gems left in Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

If you’re out of luck on land, or prefer hitting the high seas, a cruise could be your answer. Again, though, you need to act quickly, especially if you’re bringing the whole family and need multiple cabins. Virtuoso-preferred partners offer some great itineraries to celebrate in style.

If all else fails, think outside the box. There’s a whole other hemisphere where it’s warm when we’re cold. South America, Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand–they all have nice weather as one year turns into the next.

It’s not especially warm in Europe’s heartland, though the jetstream does keep things milder than many parts of the U.S., but a river cruise can let you catch the end of the beautiful Christmas markets along the Rhine and Danube. If you haven’t seen a European Christmas market before, they are a sight to behold. Plus, there’s plenty of mulled wine to help you keep warm, there are great Christmas dinners served on the river, and you can ring in the new year a few hours ahead of your friends.

Whatever you do, start planning now. Otherwise, you may have to settle for what’s available rather than what you want. Or you could be left out in the cold.

Off the Beaten Path Travel Experiences

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

You’ve been up to Machu Picchu and have seen all of the big five on safari. You’ve marveled at the beauty of Lake Louise and split a week between London and Paris. You’ve lived out all your Hobbit-related fantasies in New Zealand and have been to every cat café in Japan. Yet, you still can’t shake this wanderlust. You need a new adventure, but where haven’t you been yet? Consider these off-the-beaten path destinations for each continent (except Antarctica; you should probably stick to the beaten path there).

 

North America: Fogo Island, Canada


One of the easternmost spots in North America, Fogo Island in the province Newfoundland and Labrador has fewer than 3,000 inhabitants and is a great destination in each of the seven seasons. Yes, seven. They are: summer (July-August), berry (September-October), late fall (November), winter (December-February), pack ice (March), spring (April-May) and trap berth (June). Each is unique and offers a glimpse of life in a place so remote and mysterious the Flat Earth Society considers it to be one of the four corners of the Earth. Where can you possibly stay in a place like this? Virtuoso-preferred Fogo Island Inn, of course. Its 29 suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the powerful North Atlantic Ocean, and activities range from jam-jarring to snowshoeing.

 

South America: Uruguay


Tucked between much larger neighbors Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a haven of estancias keeping gaucho culture alive and boasts long-stretching beaches around Punta del Este, where the Atlantic and the Rio de la Plata meet. Uruguayans consume more meat per capita than the Argentines and produce plenty of wine to pair with it. Montevideo is the southernmost capital in the Americas — just edging out Buenos Aires — and juxtaposes colonial architecture with modern nightlife, offering you an opportunity to get familiar with the unique Uruguayan take on the tango. The three Virtuoso-preferred hotels — Carmelo Resort & Spa, Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco & Spa, and Estancia Vik Jose Ignacio — are in different areas, forming the perfect trio to explore the country.

 

Europe: Poland

Budapest, Vienna, and Prague have long made for a popular itinerary thanks to their proximity and richness of history. With experienced Europhiles venturing farther east, Krakow and Warsaw make for a logical addition. About half of the world’s Jewish population has roots in Poland, so heritage tours abound. In and around Krakow, Schindler’s Factory Museum and Auschwitz serve as stark reminders of the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stay at Virtuoso-preferred Hotel Bristol in Warsaw and witness the contrasts of a city that was founded around 1300 and nearly leveled during World War II before spending half a century under Soviet control.

 

Africa: Uganda

For those who have seen all there is to see on safari, Uganda offers something new: gorilla trekking. Journey into the ominously named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and spot these massive creatures in their natural habitat. The wonders of the animal kingdom continue in Kibale National Park, where chimpanzees roam from tree to tree, and Queen Elizabeth National Park, where it’s lions that are climbing the trees. Birders can spot more than 400 unique species. The Nile, the world’s longest river, has its source near Jinja, flowing north out of Lake Victoria.

 

Asia: Myanmar

Captivatingly beautiful, Myanmar is best experienced on a cruise along the Irrawaddy River. Itineraries begin and end in the capital, Yangon, where Virtuoso-preferred Belmond Governor’s Residence and The Strand Yangon are wonderful places to spend extra time before or after your cruise. Virtuoso-preferred cruise line Avalon Waterways embarks in Bagan, where you can watch the sunrise over thousands of temples and pagodas or take a hot-air balloon ride over them. You’ll continue upriver to experience local life in places such as Amarapura and Mandalay before debarking in Bhamo, where you’ll have a trishaw tour before flying back to Yangon.

 

Australia: Tasmania

Being isolated from the rest of the world gave rise to Australia’s unique wildlife, landscapes, and indigenous cultures. So imagine how different Tasmania, separated from the Australian mainland for thousands of years, is from what you’re used to. Tasmanian devils, glow worms and echidnas, oh my! Virtuoso-preferred Islington Hotel is a great base for exploring the capital, Hobart, home to the Museum of Old and New Art, described by owner David Walsh as a “subversive adult Disneyland.” Soak up the natural beauty at your own pace during a stay at Virtuoso-preferred Saffire Freycinet on the island’s east coast with an oyster breakfast knee-deep in an estuary or canoeing with a guide at the mouth of the Moulting Lagoon.

Hawaii: Which island is best for you?

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

It’s the only U.S. state in the tropics, the most remote island chain in the world, and it’s actually made up of more than 100 islands. You can go SCUBA diving well below sea level and go to the top of what is technically the world’s tallest mountain (though most of it is underwater). There are great beaches and great golf courses everywhere, and the weather is just about perfect year-round. No matter how you slice it, Hawaii is pretty awesome. But which island is best for you? Off the eight main islands, Kaho‘olawe is uninhabited, Ni‘ihau is off limits to non-native Hawaiians, and Moloka‘i has limited options for accommodations. That leaves five islands that vacationers commonly seek out, each with something unique in store.

 

Hawai‘i, “The Big Island”

By far the largest of the islands, Hawai‘i is made up of five volcanoes and could fit the rest of the islands inside it with room to spare. With Kilauea volcano erupting continuously since 1983 and occasional snow atop Mauna Kea, it is truly a land of fire and ice. Most of the resorts (including Virtuoso-preferred Four Season Hualalai, Fairmont Orchid, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Mauna Lani Bay) are along the Kohala Coast on the western, leeward side of the island, which gets only a few inches of rain year.

The eastern half of the island features rain forest, waterfalls, black sand beaches and Kilauea, where you can hike to flowing lava or through an old lava tube. On the bottom is South Point, the southernmost point in the U.S., and not far away is Papakolea, one of four green sand beaches in the world. In the north is a string of valleys bookended by the gorgeous Pololu and Waipi‘o valleys. On the west side, you can dive with manta rays and snorkel in the amazingly clear Kealakekua Bay. In the middle is the crowning jewel, Mauna Kea. With a summit 13,796 feet above sea level, it is above 40 percent of the earth’s atmosphere, making stargazing a must. Add another 20,000 feet of Mauna Kea below sea level, and it beats Everest by a few thousand feet.

Maui, “The Valley Isle”

There is a saying in Hawaiian, Maui no ka‘oi, “Maui is the best.” With the amount of activities packed into the island, it’s hard to argue. You can take the Road to Hana, one of the most scenic drives in the world, and go a little bit farther than Hana to the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe‘o Gulch. You can watch the sunrise at 10,000 feet atop Haleakala and bike down (for maximum enjoyment, go early in your trip before your body adjusts to the time difference). Explore the paniolo (“cowboy”) town of Makawao or take a tour of Kula Lavender Farm.

For more action, Maui has some spectacular hikes in ‘Iao Valley, which separates the western and eastern parts of the island, and in the rainforest along the Hana Highway. Kihei and Lahaina are great spots for novice surfers, and Trilogy has great snorkeling tours. Discover Molokini, visiting Molokini Crater just offshore, and the full-day Discover Lanai are favorites. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for a luau. Old Lahaina Luau, great for families, and Feast at Lele are two of the best in the islands. The main resort area are Kapalua in the west (home to Virtuoso-preferred Montage Kapalua Bay and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua) and Wailea in the south (where you’ll find Virtuoso-preferred Andaz Maui, the Fairmont Kea Lani, and Four Seasons Resort Maui).

Lana‘i, “The Pineapple Isle”

Part of Maui Nui (“Greater Maui”) before a sea level rise a couple hundred thousand years ago and after that a pineapple plantation, Lana‘i is now 97 percent privately owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. As evidenced by the Trilogy tour from Maui, the snorkeling around Lana ‘i is world-class. With a population of just a few thousand, Lana‘i is a place to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. The Virtuoso-preferred Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i and Lodge at Koele (once it reopens after renovation) are outstanding places to do just that. Activities include horseback riding, a 4×4 Jeep outings, clay shooting and cave diving.

O‘ahu, “The Gathering Place”

Home to about two-thirds of the state’s population and the city of Honolulu, O‘ahu is not the place to go if you’re looking to get away from it all. If you’re looking for high-end shopping and dining, look no farther than Waikiki. You can’t go without visiting Pearl Harbor, but be sure to get tickets well in advance to avoid having to line up at 6 a.m. for them. The snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is excellent, but get there early before the parking lot fills up, or take a tour with pickup at your Waikiki hotel (Halekulani, The Royal Hawaiian, and the MODERN Honolulu are Virtuoso-preferred). Learn to surf or just people-watch at Waikiki Beach. To see the pros on the big waves, head up to the North Shore, a 7-mile stretch that includes the world-famous Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach (the name says it all). 

That isn’t to say you can’t find some peace and quiet. Virtuoso-preferred Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina and The Kahala offer respite off the beaten track. The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a thousand-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan and a good place to calm the mind. Just outside the urban center, there are great hikes at Diamond Head and the Makapuu Lighthouse trails.

Kaua‘i, “The Garden Isle”

What O‘ahu may lack in tranquility, Kaua‘i more than makes up for. The rainiest of the main islands, Kaua‘i is quite rural and its main attractions are natural phenomena. The middle of the island is covered by Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” going to depths of about 3,000 feet. In the northwest, the Na Pali Coast juts out of the ocean, its cliffs resembling the ridged cone of a citrus juicer. These features make Kaua‘i the best island for a helicopter tour that allows you to take in the full scope of its beauty. While the rain can put a damper on some days, without it you wouldn’t be able to go tubing through the irrigation system of a former sugar plantation or kayak down the Wailua River.

Not far from Na Pali is the Virtuoso-preferred and stunning St. Regis Princeville. If you prefer to set up shop on the sunnier south shore, the Virtuoso-preferred Grand Hyatt Kauai has lush grounds and a great stretch of beach and proximity to Poipu Beach Park, considered one of America’s best beaches.

Top Dive Locations From Around the World

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

Considering oceans cover more than two-thirds of Earth’s surface, there’s no shortage of excellent places to go diving. So any list of the “best” spots is sure to be missing a few. They’re like children–it’s hard to pick a favorite. At the risk of leaving off your No. 1, here’s a sampling of top locations around the globe to explore the wonders of the deep in style.

 

Belize

It’s hard to argue this one doesn’t belong. The Great Blue Hole, almost 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep, was made famous by Jacques Cousteau. Formed in stages between 15,000 and 150,000 years ago, it’s a basically a big sinkhole about 40 miles off mainland Belize and a marvelous sight to behold. Divers are greeted by midnight parrotfish and Caribbean reef sharks, but the main attraction is the dark, stalactite-filled caverns stretching up from the floor like an underwater cathedral. Just off the mainland is the Belize Barrier Reef, which wowed Charles Darwin and is the second-largest reef system in the world. From the Coppola family’s Turtle Inn in Placencia to Las Terrazas on Ambergris Caye and Cayo Espanto private island, Virtuoso-preferred resorts make awesome command centers for charting your adventures.

 

Canary Islands

Thanks to their warmth and clarity, the waters off the Canaries (part of Spain but off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara) make it easy to spot a wide variety of sea life. Three marine reserves in the islands provide sanctuary for turtles, rays, dolphins, barracudas, and even an ocean whale shark. There is underwater volcanic activity, and you can see the results of earlier eruptions in the arches, caves, and cliffs beneath the surface. For man-made attractions, shipwrecks line the ocean floor, waiting to be explored. If you find sunken treasure, celebrate with a lavish feast then treat yourself to a massage at Virtuoso-preferred Bahia del Duque on Tenerife.

 

Mozambique

There are more than 1,250 miles of coastline in Mozambique, providing ample opportunity for an aquatic safari to pair with one on land. Virtuoso-preferred Azura Quilalea in the north and Azura Benguerra in the south are on private islands and serve as gateways to dives such as the Gap and the Edge of Reason on one end and the Doodles, Pinnacles, and Manta Reef on the other. Just as on a land safari, you’re in for spotting big game: whale sharks and manta rays are year-round residents, while humpback whales make the journey from Antarctica in the winter.

 

Philippines

Made up of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines are a diving mecca. Water temperatures range between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, though the rainy season from November to June can put a damper on diving. Puerto Galera, Cebu, and Boracay in particular are world-class. Virtuoso-preferred Amanpulo on Pamalican Island is centrally located for hopping from one to the next. Of course, from Amanpulo, you need only go about 1,000 feet to find 2.7 square miles of pristine coral reef. If you’re so worn out that you can’t even make it back to land for a drink, the floating bar is available for rent on an hourly basis.

 

Great Barrier Reef

The world’s biggest reef system, the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia, can be seen from space. The diversity of marine life is staggering, with more than 1,500 varieties of fish. Rising ocean temperatures in the area threaten the health of the reef and several aquatic species unique to the area. There are six species of sea turtles. There are more than 30 types of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. There are saltwater crocodiles in the marshes near the reef. There are so many wonders to behold, and three Virtuoso-preferred resorts to behold them from. Lizard Island is less than an hour from dives such as Cod Hole, Dynamite Passage, and No Name. Qualia and Hayman Island in the Whitsundays offer easy access to Heart Reef. Qualia even has the option for an overnight live-aboard excursion with lit night diving. Now that sounds like something that belongs on a list of the world’s best dives.

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