The Advantages of Small Ship Cruising

By Emerald Waterways

What inspires you to travel?  Is it adventure, culture, food, relaxation, interaction with the local communities, peace, or all of the above?  A small ship cruise is about all of these vacation goals and delivers them on a personal level, with no queues to stand in for buffets, no long lines to embark or disembark, simply no waiting and, therefore, less stress.

Imagine this:  a straw hat on your head, sunglasses shading your eyes, a gauzy flowy summer chemise blowing in the breeze, a drink in your hand and your feet resting on the lounge chair as you gaze to the shoreline, taking in the charming harbor coming into view.  You realize with a start that soon you’ll be strolling ashore, ready to tackle the day to discover what lies ahead.  This is small ship cruising!

What exactly qualifies as a small ship?  Typically, a small ship is considered one that has fewer than 500 guests. (Some lines consider their ship small if it’s under 1500 guests, which doesn’t seem so small at all).  In the case of the small ships in the Scenic group portfolio, Scenic Eclipse is 228 guests or less, while the recently announced Emerald Azzurra will welcome just 100 guests.  With more space per guest, these two beauties will attain unmatched comfort and luxury for those that sail them.

A yacht or small ship is a more intimate experience, both on board and on shore.  Public spaces are laid out in such a way that you never feel crowded or closed in by other guests.  You almost have the feeling of being in a guest house, with relaxed, comfortable lounges and inviting outdoor spaces with plenty of room for everyone.  When you ask what makes or breaks a cruising experience, it’s the crew that go out of their way to make a connection and to ensure that you have the best trip possible.  You’ll become well acquainted with the staff and crew.  They’ll know your name, remember which table you prefer, whether you prefer an intimate dinner at a table for two or if you’re more likely to join those new friends you just made.  They’ll know which drink you prefer when sitting on a lounge chair overlooking the sea and which one you prefer pre-dinner in the cozy lounge.  Your travel partner prefers his coffee black and cappuccino is your choice – they’ll know!  You’ll always feel like you are their number one priority.  You’ll leave your small ship feeling that you’ve made new friends, not only with the other guests but also with those staff members who delivered your trip of a lifetime.

The destinations are unique with small ship or yacht cruises.  They can enter pristine harbors where larger boats cannot, and will not, as these larger ships will overwhelm the location and have to shuttle their guests by tender to shore.  For the lucky few on a really small ship, you’ll be able to not only visit the bookend must-sees, like London, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Lisbon, Athens, and Venice, for example, but you’ll also be able to put down anchor and perhaps even swim off the back of your vessel onto a remarkable beach like you’ve never seen before, most notably lacking in visitors.  Or perhaps you’ll take a zodiac for a short trip to shore, only because the harbor that you’ve pulled into doesn’t have substantial docking facilities.  Whatever you do on a small ship, the smaller the better, you’ll never have long lines, you’ll be free to leisurely embark and disembark.

With a small ship you can have everything included or opt for a line that gives you choices to tailor your adventure.  If you want discovery, opt for a line with fewer inclusions, to make the experience uniquely your own.  Take a bike and go off the beaten path.  Dive off the swim platform and be one with your surroundings.  Walk alongside your guide, taking in the local points of interest and then branch off on our own, meandering until you find something that suits your fancy – perhaps a lunch at a local taverna, sip a glass of locally sourced wine, chatter with the purveyor of the local coffee shop to learn about their daily life.  It’s all up to you how to spend your time.

If you prefer the surety of all-in-one pricing and are looking to up the adventure and discoveries, lines like Scenic Eclipse go above and beyond to include everything AND give you choice.  Choose from a daily menu of excursions or simply choose to indulge in the onboard amenities, perhaps a day in the spa, or reading a book in the observation lounge.  Feel like getting some exercise, check out the yoga lounge or take out a paddle board and go for a swim off the swim deck.  Take a tour of the wheelhouse where the captain will be happy to answer your questions.  As small expedition ships up the ante, look for bells and whistles like helicopters and submarines!

What’s for dinner you ask.  Of course, food is always an important part of your vacation so be sure to read the reviews to see if your small ship fits your culinary style.  Do you want multiple dining venues, which are usually only available on the bigger ships?  The Scenic Eclipse is unique in that it has more space per guest than any other ship of its kind.  Scenic Eclipse, while being a small ship, offers 10 dining venues, each with its own unique story.    From Koko’s sushi and teppanyaki to Lumiere’s fine French cuisine, there is something to please every palate.  On smaller yachts which tend to be slightly more relaxed, the options won’t be as plentiful but there will always be great food and choice at every meal. 

Destination is always paramount and small ships offer many options, with many of the options off the beaten path.  Whether it’s the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Adriatic, Yukon & Alaska or the Great White Wonders of the Arctic and Antarctic, you’re sure to find the next great adventure with a small ship cruise.  So, what are you waiting for?!  You surely won’t be disappointed and you surely will be looking for your next small ship adventure sooner than later!


Sustainability is Responsibility

By Terry Dale, President and CEO of USTOA

Strong and symbiotic partnerships are key to the sustainability mission. Here are a few of the many USTOA tour operators who have firsthand experience in building these types of relationships.

Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions launched a sustainable strategy framework named the Polar Promise that’s dedicated to protecting the Arctic and Antarctica. Working with scientists, community leaders, and innovators, Quark Expeditions contributes $500,000 USD each year through donations and funding for more research and development projects. Partnering with the Inuit Cruise Training Initiative, they hire Nunavummiut guides, while other training programs are available for people to become ambassadors of the polar region.

Intrepid Travel

In addition to many other sustainability initiatives launched over the years, Intrepid Travel released a free 10-step guide in 2020 that is designed to guide travel businesses towards decarbonizing their operations. As a B-Corp certified tour operator and carbon neutral company since 2010, they have offset more than 351,000 tonness of carbon emissions worldwide. During guided trips, Intrepid Travel prioritizes public transportation and minimizes the number of flights included in each itinerary. With expert advice and experience, they are helping other tour operators join the zero emissions movement.

Lindblad Expeditions

With more than 50 years of responsible travel experience, a focus of Lindblad Expeditions’ daily operations is to source food from local farmers and fisherman whenever its possible. In the Galápagos, they collected 27 percent of provisions locally in 2019. This supports the local economy and preserves the ecosystem by reducing the threat of invasive species entering through imported foods. With a strong sustainable seafood policy, they do extensive research to ensure that they are keeping oceans healthy and fish stocks constantly regenerating. In the assessment, they measure fish quotas, stock levels in ocean zones, method of catch, maturity levels, and feed.


Ways to Prep Your Home for Your Next Vacation

By YMT Vacations

Prepping for your travels is exciting. You’ve gotten your itinerary squared away and your packing list is growing longer and longer. But before the adventures can begin, you should make sure your house is vacation-ready. You’ll need a pre-vacation checklist to help keep your home safe and clean while you’re away.

Home Preparation Checklist For Leaving On Vacation

Don’t let the excitement of your upcoming trip distract from the tasks needed to prepare your home before departure. Before jetting off to gorgeous parts of the world, be sure to consider the following tips so that you return to a clean house and optimal sanity. 

Clean Your House & Fridge

The last thing you want when you return from a beautiful vacation is to enter a messy house. Before you jet off, make sure you thoroughly clean your home. Cleaning your house before a vacation ensures you will have less work to do once you return from your trip. Dust surfaces, vacuum the floors, wipe the counters, take out the trash, and put away the laundry.

Throw out any fruits sitting on the counter and clean out your refrigerator. If you still have a few days before your trip, save money and cook up food that could go bad while you’re gone. Toss whatever you don’t use or place it in the freezer. Once you’re done cleaning the house, be sure to take out all trash so you can return to a fresh-smelling home.

Practice Fire Prevention

Before you head out, do a thorough scan of anything that could cause a fire. Unplug electronics that won’t need power while you’re gone. This includes routers, air fresheners, computers, televisions, chargers, and small kitchen appliances. You’ll protect your space from catching flames, as well as avoid a hefty energy bill upon your return.

Also, triple-check your smoke detectors. If something were to go wrong, you’d at least want them to sound off so your neighbors can take action.

Program the Thermostat 

A great way to save some money while you’re off exploring the world is by setting your thermostat. You want the air circulating so you can avoid condensation. If you don’t have a smart thermostat, set your thermostat to a warmer temperature in summer and a colder temperature in the winter. Just make sure it’s above freezing, since you don’t want to freeze your pipes. Leaving a fan on is a great alternative to keep that air flowing.

Put Your Mail on Hold

Built-up mail is a signal to burglars that someone isn’t home. If you are preparing your house for an extended vacation, reach out to the United States Postal Service before you leave and ask them to put your mail on hold. They will keep your mail anywhere from three to 30 days. You can also ask a friend to stop by your house every few days to check your mailbox.

Ask a Friend to Stop By

It’s always the best when your friends or family members show up for you even while you’re away. If you can, ask a friend or family member to stop by your home to water plants, check on pets that don’t need 24/7 supervision, and maintain other household chores.

If you aren’t comfortable asking a friend to check on your home while you’re away, technology can help. Some companies will match you with a house sitter while you’re out of town.

Secure Entry Points

The worst thing is being out of town and realizing you might have forgotten to shut the window after that warm, breezy day. Before leaving, be sure to close and lock all windows and doors. You want to eliminate the possibility of someone having easy access to your home.

If you have an alarm system and accidentally leave a door unlocked, someone could walk into your home or apartment without setting off the alarm to alert the authorities. Double-check all entryways to make sure you have secured your home.

Don’t Forget the Details

Getting ready for a trip means crossing off your packing list and preparing all your proper documents. Call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling. Alert your alarm company if you have one, and be sure to follow the above rules when preparing your home for your time away. You’ll have peace of mind and enjoy your trip more knowing that a secure and well-prepped home is waiting for you when you return.

YMT Vacations has been providing affordable guided tours for mature travelers since 1967. Our guided cruise and land tours, to destinations around the globe, are designed with value in mind. By thoughtfully bringing together each separate element of your vacation, we can guarantee you the best price and an easy, worry-free trip. Visit ymtvacations.com to learn more!


5 Ways Travelers Can Support Local Communities Through Sustainable Travel

Rachel Jordan is the Partnership Marketing Coordinator for Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations®

“Take only memories, leave only footprints”.  It’s an oft-used phrase, and while the travel industry is filled with them, every iteration of this specific one provides the same message: leave things as you’ve found them and minimize your impact. Small changes travelers make can have large effects, whether that be on the environment, on people, or the larger world around us.

As of 2019, travel and tourism accounted for just over 10% of the world’s GDP, or roughly $8.9 trillion USD, demonstrating how many countries have come to rely on tourism to support local economies. As we become more interconnected and this number continues to grow, the idea of minimizing impact and the necessary advocation for sustainable travel is more important than ever. For all of us travelers in a modern age, we are constantly in search of immersive experiences, trying our utmost to forge authentic connections, dive deeper into a culture, and find ways give back to the local communities that welcome us. But, as a destination becomes more popular with travelers all seeking the same kinds of experiences, there are positive and negative impacts, and it can be challenging to strike a balance in making sure the positive outweighs the negative.

But what does that look like? How do we, as individuals and businesses, support local communities through sustainable travel efforts? Here’s a look at how we can all get started, cultivating the kind of responsible travel that establishes a solid foundation of well-sustained destinations to enjoy for generations to come.

1. Travel with companies who involve locals 

Truly sustainable companies keep sustainability in mind right from the get-go. They will be mindful when designing tours to ensure that as much money as possible will stay in the destination. These companies hire local guides, so the money earned by the guide stays within their family and is reinvested back into the community. These companies also seek out local restaurants and hotels, making the effects of visiting a destination more impactful on local businesses. The more you avoid the tourist “hot-spots,” the more money can help the overall economy. For example, at Club Adventures, on our Women Explorers trip in Morocco, we employ female guides and drivers. This commitment supports not only the local community, but also empowers an underrepresented demographic in the tourism industry.  

2. Get involved with local, sustainable efforts 

Many developing countries realize the impacts of industrialization and climate change, and while they may not have the infrastructure to switch to green energy, many have already established efforts that protect the local environment. With some research prior to your trip, you could plant trees in the Amazon or help clean up a polluted beach in Bali. There are countless ways to get involved, so spend your time doing some research to see how tangibly a business is taking an interest in local efforts, and how transparent they are about the effort and the benefit(s) to the destination.

3. Avoid creating dependent relationships 

With great power comes great responsibility. The power of tourism dollars requires operators and travelers alike to ensure responsible allocation. In keeping with this belief, Club Adventures does not visit or encourage tourism to any schools or orphanages on any tour. This ensures that any child-focused organization does not become reliant on funds from tourism, which is a fluid industry and could negatively impact the organization should tourism monetary support fluctuate.

4. Avoiding Animal Abuse 

We’ve all seen those pictures of people riding elephants in India or Southeast Asia.  As amazing as it might look on Instagram, many of these attractions are not treating these animals humanely. Sustainable companies and independent travelers alike should strive to not support these attractions, but instead specifically look for companies that have been strictly vetted to ensure they are treating the animals correctly, and do not allow visitors to touch or directly interact with local wildlife. Some of these companies may be rehabilitation centers, but still make sure to check if they have been thoroughly inspected before getting involved.

5. Practice green habits at home and abroad

Simple changes can truly make a difference, especially when the 40 million Americans who travel annually contribute to the change. Prior to our departures, Club Adventures encourages everyone to bring a reusable water bottle to exponentially decrease the use of single-use plastic. We advise to avoid getting plastic bags while shopping by putting souvenirs into your backpack, and to bring their own recyclable toiletries to avoid using one-use hotel containers.

At Club Adventures, we believe that sustainable travel should be the preferred style of travel, especially as our world continues to cope with over-tourism and climate change. Fortunately, sustainability is gaining wider traction across the travel industry as travelers start to dig deeper into who they travel with, and what impact their travels have on the world around them. Our suggestions are just the beginning to making a difference while traveling, but these small changes can have large effects. If we’re looking to take only memories, and leave only footprints, the work that comes along with that starts with each of us.

Rachel Jordan is the Partnership Marketing Coordinator for Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations®. In her role, she assists with the implementation of comprehensive marketing strategies, while continually enhancing the strength of the Club Adventures brand. Rachel is also an avid traveler and blogger and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Global Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development. She continues to expand her comfort zone by exploring as many new cultures and destinations as possible. Follow her adventures on her Instagram account! 

Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations®, is a small-group adventure travel provider created for those who want to explore the world through a local lens. With global journeys 8-14 days long, group sizes are kept small (16 passengers max) and leaders are local. Get closer, go deeper, and create memories that will last a lifetime, all the with support of a trusted brand.


Sustainable Luxury Travel in Africa

By Sara Verk, Lion World Travel

 

Traveling is more than just visiting new places. It’s about the enriching experiences when we explore and learn about the history, culture and people of the places that we visit. We need to be aware of our environment, be ecologically responsible, travel lightly and not leave a large footprint on the land we’re exploring. We feel it is vital to protect the people, places and wildlife of Africa in order to be able to share it with travelers in the future. We are so happy that we’re not alone in this vision, as there are many safari lodges and hotels in Africa who are adopting eco-friendly and ethical business practices.

 

At Lion World Travel we are committed to supporting our partners in Africa who are serious about the environment. Here are five African lodges/hotels that have embraced the spirit of sustainable travel.

 

1. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa

Grootbos offers five-star luxury in the Western Cape and is a leading example of sustainable eco-tourism. The nature reserve is home to 791 plant species, including 100 endangered plant species, and 1000-year-old milkwood forests. The owners run an extensive conservation and horticulture programs to preserve the flora and have a true passion for the environment. They have even formed a Non-Profit Organization to help other hospitality businesses implement their own ‘green’ initiatives.

 

Grootbos Flower Safari

Grootbos Flower Safari

 

2. Mombo Camp, Botswana

Wilderness Safaris camp in the Moremi Game Reserve underwent a major renovation to bring the traditional camp up to modern design and environmental standards without disturbing the natural habitat. They even brought in an arborist to oversee the protection of trees and their roots. Mombo is 100% solar powered thereby reducing energy consumption and fuel, while a reverse osmosis water filtration system provides guests with high-quality drinking water. Grey water is treated in an above ground sewage plant, ensuring that the water is clean before being allowed to enter the natural environment. They only use approved eco-friendly detergents and chemicals.

 

Wilderness Safaris

Wilderness Safaris

 

3. Bushmans Kloof, South Africa

At Bushmans Kloof indigenous herbs and vegetables are picked daily from their organic garden and incorporated into dishes on the menu. All vegetable waste is composted, minimizing landfill contribution and reducing the need for chemicals to fertilize and enrich the soil in their garden.

 

There is a rich array of local indigenous wildlife here, including the rare Cape Leopard. Along with The TreadRight Foundation, Cheetah Outreach and The Cape Leopard Trust, they have purchased seven Anatolian Shepherd dogs to act as livestock guardian dogs to safeguard against these Cape Leopards.

 

Anatolian Shepherd dogs – Image: Bushmans Kloof

Anatolian Shepherd dogs – Image: Bushmans Kloof

 

Bushmans Kloof is a member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, recognizing their dedication to preserving our planet’s natural and cultural heritage.  They serve as a steward for more than 130 cave sites painted by the indigenous San people. Preservation efforts have helped the Rock Art earn distinction as a South African National Heritage Site.

 

4. Chobe Game Lodge, Botswana

At Chobe Game Lodge, they are leading the way in responsible tourism with a variety of sustainable tourism initiatives including a fleet of electric safari vehicles and electric solar-powered safari boats – a clean and quiet way to enjoy a boat safari.

 

Chobe Game Lodge

Chobe Game Lodge

 

Chobe Game Lodge has embarked on a multitude of environmental and social projects to ensure the long-term sustainability of the lodge. They recycle 15,850 gallons of grey water every day which irrigates the lush green surroundings. Approximately 95% of Chobe Game Lodge’s waste is sorted and recycled! The 800 foot+ boardwalk and deck are built from recycled timber-plastic decking and the poles sourced from a sustainable forestry operation. The decking is maintenance free, removing the need for harsh cleaning chemicals.

 

5. Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp prides itself on being eco-friendly and conservation conscious. The camp is 100% solar-powered, using innovative eco-friendly systems to break down wastewater. Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp supports the Namibia Desert Lion Conservation and assists with protecting a unique population of desert-adapted elephants. The Camp is also a center for research and conservation of the desert-adapted lion and brown hyena, plus they have partnered with the neighboring communities, so that ecotourism can benefit the people of the area.

 

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp

 

With so many great initiatives in Africa, why not choose a more sustainable safari option? Choose a travel company that is committed to reducing any negative impact a trip might have on the destinations you visit and consider an eco-friendly property.

 

Some final tips – pack a reusable water bottle and carry bag. Avoid using single-use shampoo bottles and avoid using plastic straws. Have a great (sustainable) safari!

 

Create your own custom safari, or sustainable Africa vacation package with Lion World Travel. For more than 55 years, Lion World Travel has been making safari dreams come true. We Love Africa and wish to share our passion with you! Our travelers have come to expect exceptional wildlife encounters, five-star service, and the best affordable luxury safari experiences. Visit www.lionworldtravel.com to start planning your journey to Africa.

 


How to Visit Japan as a VIP

Meet knowledgeable locals, see iconic sites, taste exotic flavors and wonder at Mother Nature in true luxury 

By Chelsea Todaro, Communications Specialist with The Travel Corporation

Himeji Castle photo credit: @danminsighttd

Himeji Castle photo credit: @danminsighttd

 

From laid-back Osaka with its eclectic food scene to traditional Kyoto with its lantern-lit cafes and captivating geisha district, Japan has something to thrill even the most seasoned traveler. When it comes to the finer things in life, Japan serves up slick design, bullet trains, Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star hotels, all of which can be experienced on Luxury Gold’s 11-day Majestic Japan journey.

 

Since major cities in Japan are known to be densely populated, travelers may run into overcrowded areas that can negatively affect their vacation experience. But travelers with Luxury Gold don’t have to worry—because Luxury Gold goes above and beyond for their guests so they can experience this diverse country in luxurious comfort and style. With small groups, VIP experiences, exceptional dining, elegant hotels and a Traveling Concierge–who’s there to tailor everything to your desire—Luxury Gold truly creates a journey beyond the ordinary.

 

The Golden Pavilion, also known as Kinkaku-Ji Temple, in Kyoto, photo credit: @orslnsight

The Golden Pavilion, also known as Kinkaku-Ji Temple, in Kyoto, photo credit: @orslnsight

 

Part of the unique traits of a Luxury Gold journey are the special experiences crafted to put travelers into the heart of the destination. In Osaka, guests will discover why the city is known as the kitchen of Japan as they embark on a food-tasting exploration along Dotonbori Street with a passionate local foodie and their Traveling Concierge. Having locals be part of the travel experience is important because they bring authenticity and excitement to the journey.

 

Todaiji Temple in Nara, photo credit: @orslnsight

Todaiji Temple in Nara, photo credit: @orslnsight

 

Guests will gain a local perspective in Hiroshima with a special VIP experience, by meeting a survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb, which destroyed most of the city during World War II and changed world history forever. Guests can also join in on paper crane making and learn about the meaning behind this symbol for peace.

Another special feature about Luxury Gold’s journey is that guests will ride the famous high-speed Shinkansen bullet train numerous times while traveling from city to city. This lets guests catch the everyday experience of traveling like a local—all while catching views of mountains and quaint Japanese towns between each city.

 

 

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, photo credit: @orslnsight

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, photo credit: @orslnsight

 

Nothing screams Japanese culture more than Geishas, Cherry Blossoms and sushi, all of which Luxury Gold guests will experience in VIP-style. While in Hachinohe, guests will learn about the meticulous care and nurturing of cherry blossom trees from a cherry blossom doctor who ensures all cherry blossoms, from saplings to mature trees are healthy and thriving during the beautiful cherry blossom season. In Tokyo, travelers will get to participate in a private sushi-making class in Tokyo and discover why it takes ten years to perfect this 2000-year-old Japanese art before sitting down to a freshly prepared lunch. While in Kyoto, guests will enjoy a performance by a Maiko, an apprentice Geisha, as they savor a lunch of traditional Kyo-Kaiseki cuisine made of seasonal ingredients. They can also embark on a guided walking exploration of the vibrant Gion neighborhood, known as Kyoto’s primary geisha district.

 

Gion neighborhood in Kyoto, photo credit: @orslnsight

Gion neighborhood in Kyoto, photo credit: @orslnsight

 

Japanese cuisine is of course a big highlight of this journey, and guests will experience this in five-star settings. In Tokyo, guests will enjoy a famous tea ceremony and watch as locals demonstrate the traditional art of making matcha green tea. Later, travelers can join in the exploration of Nakamise Street and Kappabashi–the local backstreet known as the city’s foodie hub. Guests also have a “Your Choice Evening” for a true local experience. They have the choice of two hand-picked restaurants, each specializing in local delicacies: the Shabu-shabu, which are hotpots of meat and vegetables, or Teppan-yaki, where rice, meats and vegetables are freshly cooked on a grill.

 

Last but certainly not least, guests will dine at the dazzling Michelin-Star Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai, a famous restaurant with old-world charm and surrounded one of the most tranquil Japanese gardens in the heart of Tokyo. It specializes in tofu cuisine, but guests can savor a range of intricately prepared dishes including simmered eggplant and fried shrimp, fresh sashimi and deep-fried tofu coated with miso.

 

Overall, if travelers want a fully immersive experience of Japan with the fine luxuries attached, Luxury Gold will go beyond their expectations for a truly immersive and unforgettable journey.

 

About Luxury Gold
Luxury Gold sets an unmatched standard with its collection of award-winning journeys. Guided by a Traveling Concierge, Luxury Gold is a journey beyond the ordinary, where guests enjoy exclusive VIP Experiences, savor exceptional dining and relax in luxury hotels on every curated itinerary. As global leaders in luxury travel with expertise accumulated over nearly 100 years, Luxury Gold epitomizes extraordinary exploration to some of the world’s most spectacular destinations. To find out more, visit www.luxurygoldvacations.com.

 

 

 

 


How to Prepare for a National Park Visit

By Betsy O’Rourke of Xanterra Travel Collection

Known as “the best idea we ever had,” America’s national parks are glorious icons of the country’s natural beauty.  And, with proper preparation, the parks — from California’s Death Valley to Wyoming’s Yellowstone — can offer some of the most spectacular and unforgettable experiences. Follow these 10 savvy tips to prepare for a visit as epic as the scenery.

Glacier NP Red Bus 5

1. Choose the right park.

 

First, choose the right park. While the famous parks are the undisputed show stealers, don’t discount the under-the-radar ones for worthwhile experiences, too.

 

The National Park Service offers useful tools to help you find the right park, plan your activities, get the right permits, check the rules, and find local tours that help you get the most out of your trip. The Find A Park site is searchable by park, state, activity, and topic. Recreation.gov is its self-service trip-planning site. FindYourPark.com, a collaboration between the NPS and the National Park Foundation, has a park finder filtered by activity, state, zip code, and park name. Xanterra Travel Collection operates the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Death Valley, Mt. Rushmore and Rocky Mountain national parks.  Go to www.xanterra.com for lodging, dining and activity inspiration.

 

2. Know when to go.

 

While spring break and summer are by far the most popular times to visit a national park, if you have more freedom in your calendar, choose the shoulder season and avoid the crowds.  Parks such as Death Valley are actually best in winter when temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s with little to no rainfall. Enjoy the spring fed pools with 86-degree water, the lowest elevation golf course in the world, and completely refurbished rooms and restaurants at the Oasis at Death Valley as well as the majestic views, amazing hikes and brilliant night skies the park offers. Other parks like Zion and the Grand Canyon are magical in winter, and at Yellowstone, the winter snow makes animals easier to spot.

 

3. Plan your activities.

 

To the extent possible, develop a plan for your visit. Pick the right activities and determine the skill level needed to safely enjoy them. Rather than racing around trying to see everything, prioritize a few key things.  Start with the park website or if you’re already onsite, go to the park visitor center. Many offer free Ranger-guided and Junior Ranger programs. There are also many tours available, like the famous Red Bus Tours at Glacier operated by Xanterra or many yellow bus tours at Yellowstone, including the family favorite old-fashioned covered wagon BBQ.

YNPL Old Faithful Geyser and Inn from Ground - Andy Austin

4. Check park regulations.

 

Learn the rules for permits, wildlife encounters, camping, trash disposal, and safety. Parks usually require permits to stay at campsites, for some activities (e.g., fishing), and even to access certain hiking trails. Bring paper versions since cellphone service can be unreliable in remote areas.

 

5. Learn about park conditions.

 

Prepare for your park’s natural environment, weather, and any risks or hazards involved in your activities. Study the trails and stay current on the latest weather and road closures via your park’s website and social media channels.  Understand the level of difficulty and technical skills required of certain hikes, i.e. Subway or Angels Landing at Zion.

 

6. Research how to get around.

 

You can drive through some parks easily; others require guests to park outside and shuttle in. Some parks are sprawling and isolated with few roadside facilities, so carry water, and even gas. If you plan to drive off road, make sure your vehicle is equipped for rugged terrain. And always bring maps; don’t count on GPS.

Pool at twilight - The Oasis at the Death Valley

7. Bring proper gear.

 

Pack strategically to guarantee your safety and comfort based on the park, the weather, and your activities. Most important is comfortable footwear — that is broken in. If you plan to hike, bring essentials such as a daypack, hat, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, flashlight, map, and first aid kit. If you plan to camp out, test your equipment in advance.

 

8. Stay at a national park lodge.

 

If you want to stay inside the park, don’t pass up a national park lodge. Many, like the lodges in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, are beautiful, historic lodges, and most do not have in-room televisions.  Star-lit skies, fire pits and smores and family games offer a non-digital alternative. Staying in the park is the best way to experience it. Once the day-trippers leave, you can enjoy sunsets, starry nights and sunrise with fewer people around.

 

9. Reserve early.

 

Book your park lodge (or campsite) early; many fill up quickly with some as far as 13 months in advance. This is especially true of peak summer season and holidays. If a lodge is full, check back regularly for cancellations as you may get lucky.

 

Advance reservations are also essential for popular activities with limited capacity, such as the mule rides at the Grand Canyon and the Red Bus tours at Glacier.

 

10. Consider a tour group.

 

Planning a national park trip can be very time-consuming. One way to ensure you’re seeing the best offerings is to opt for a guided tour. Depending on your ideal trip length and level of activity you seek, consider a bike tour with VBT, or a walking/hiking tour with Country Walkers, or a more traditional sight-seeing tour with Holiday Vacations. Packaged tours can save you time and money and they all offer the accommodations, meals, and activities for you with local guides and can arrange air and transfers as well.

 

A nationally known executive and thought leader in travel and tourism, Betsy O’Rourke is Chief Marketing Officer at Xanterra Travel Collection, part of the Anschutz Corporation.

 

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection manages lodges, restaurants, tours, and activities in the national parks including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley, Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Country Walkers. Xanterra is also affiliated with two Forbes Five-Star resorts, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Sea Island on the coast of Georgia.

 

 


Heritage Travel in the UK and Ireland

By Europe Express 

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

The United States is home to a spectacular diversity of cultures—cultures that connect us to histories and communities and people across the globe. Every American has a heritage story that takes us beyond our country’s borders and into the wider world.

Fueled by television shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” (wherein celebrities trace their ancestry overseas), our interest in our own genealogy has skyrocketed. We’re learning that our identities are strongly rooted in the identities of those who came before us, and that it’s important to know where we come from in order to know where we’re going.

 

What is Heritage Travel?

Heritage travel is a way for people to connect to their roots in their ancestors’ home country. Depending on how much you’d like to learn about your history, this type of travel can encompass a range of activities. Some people may choose to explore the archives of ancestry agencies, while others prefer to simply taste the foods their ancestors ate or walk the streets where their ancestors lived.

 

Heritage Travel Destinations

As part of the English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh diasporas, many Americans can trace their genealogies to ancestors across the UK and Ireland. If you’re planning a heritage trip to one of these destinations, here are some ideas for your travels:

 

Ireland

Photo by Christian Bowen

Photo by Christian Bowen

Considering that one in every nine Americans can trace their ancestry back to Ireland, the Emerald Isle is among the most popular destinations for a heritage trip. You can access Catholic parish registries in towns like Adare and Shannon, comb through records at the National Archives, or consult with a professional genealogist at the Irish Family History Centre in Dublin. Another great resource is the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, which employs a resident genealogist to help you access over 1.5 million burial records dating back to 1828.

 

England

Photo by Lea Fabienne

Photo by Lea Fabienne

In 1538, King Henry VIII’s chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell, decreed that every church in England maintain records of all baptisms, marriages, and burials. Today, these parish archives provide information about ancestors who lived as far back as the mid-1500s. The Society of Genealogists in London houses an extensive collection of published family histories, as well as census records for the whole of the UK. In Kew, the National Archives are an excellent resource for military and court records.

 

Scotland

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Nearly 50 million people around the world claim Scottish ancestry. If you head to Scotland on a heritage trip, you can visit the seat of your ancestor’s clan, get a taste of long-held cultural traditions at the Highland Games, or learn about your ancestor’s trade at museums dedicated to everything from fishing and farming to textiles and war. If you’re in Edinburgh, the ScotlandsPeople Centre at the National Records of Scotland houses a comprehensive collection of census records, marriage and death certificates, parish registries, coats of arms, wills, and more. At the National Library of Scotland, you can look through emigration lists and ship manifests, browse newspaper articles, or locate the graveyards where your ancestors are buried.

 

Wales

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Whether you’re interested in a one-on-one session with a genealogist in Swansea or you’d like to search centuries’ worth of parish records at the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff, Wales is home to a wealth of family research resources. In addition to its census records, civil registrations, and newspapers, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth houses an impressive collection of tithe maps, which show the names of landowners and occupants in parishes across the country. If you don’t find what you’re looking for at the National Library, you may have better luck at a Record Office in the county where your ancestors lived. These can often provide you with photographs, sound recordings, or videos that help connect you to your roots.

 

Managing Expectations

It’s important to keep in mind that while it can be easy to get your hopes up about finding information that connects you to those who came before, you might not always find what you’re looking for. Remember that at its core, heritage travel is about making connections to your roots, whether that means hearing the languages, tasting the food, walking the streets, or learning the history of the places your ancestors called home.

 

 

Established in 1990, Europe Express provides high-quality custom travel to Europe, working exclusively with travel advisors to create unique vacations that fit the needs, interests, and budgets of each individual client. The company serves both group and FIT leisure markets and books everything from air and rail to hotels and sightseeing tours. With a well-traveled reservations team and buying offices in Europe, Europe Express provides seamless service before, during, and after each trip.

 


9 ways to preserve the polar regions for future generations

Aspiring polar explorers learn about sustainability and conservation on polar voyages with Quark Expeditions

By Doug O’Neill, Quark Expeditions 

 

It was one of those travel moments that was both Instagram-perfect—yet simultaneously soul-stirring. I stood on the deck of Ocean Adventurer as it sailed into Krossfjord, a 30-km long fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Most of my fellow passengers were at breakfast so I had the deck to myself, with my camera at the ready, my eyes peeled on the horizon for my first glimpse of Lilliehöök Glacier, and my ears alert for the signature thunder of glacier calving.

 

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In the midst of all that anticipation of nature’s drama unfolding before me, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of quiet, a stillness that brought with it a razor-sharp clarity of my surroundings.  My mind began to run through an inventory of every stunning image I had experienced in the days leading up to this moment: the sculpted icebergs, the expansive glaciers, the snow-capped mountains, the long-abandoned historic sites, the polar bears prowling along the ice edge, the reindeers that cantered past me when I was on a shore landing, the walruses that gazed at me as I kayaked 30 metres away, of the whales spotted from the ship, and of cliff-tops covered in thousands of nesting Brunnich’s guillemots.

 

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And in my private polar epiphany, I was overcome not only with an intense appreciation for this pristine polar wilderness before me but also with a desire to protect it for every future visitor who came after me.

 

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This realization was by no means unique to me—it’s a moment shared by many who visit the Arctic or Antarctic. And this raised a fairly basic question: what can guests do to help preserve the pristine polar regions?

 

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For this answer, I turned to my colleague, Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager at Quark Expeditions, a long-time sustainability advocate and one of the forces behind Polar Promise, Quark Expeditions’ holistic sustainability framework for protecting the polar regions.

 

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9 ways to be kind to the planet on your next polar voyage 

By Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager 

 

  1. Pack and use only reusable bottles (the only option when on a voyage with Quark Expeditions), coffee cups and reusable bags that you can take home with you.
  2. Choose refillable toiletry containers or non-plastic packaging that are free of microbeads. Your Quark Expeditions cabin is equipped with refillable dispensers of body wash and shampoo.
  3. Don’t introduce non-native species. Pack clean gear, including clothing, footwear, and bags. Decontaminate boots before leaving and upon returning to the ship by using the provided Virkon disinfectant bath.
  4. Bring a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera and/or phone from the elements. (Avoid single-use plastics at all times.)
  5. Don’t dispose of waste during shore landings. Where waste is unavoidable, bring along a reusable bag and carry the waste back onto the ship to be disposed of properly.
  6. Support local communities in the Arctic: Purchase goods from local artisans during community visits in the Arctic, but don’t purchase important goods like groceries and supplies as stock is limited and deliveries are rare.
  7. Follow the environmental and conservation guidelines established by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), who outline strategies, policies and behaviors to protect the polar regions.
  8. Place a bid during our onboard auctions: proceeds from our onboard auctions support polar research and conservation groups.
  9. Become a Polar Ambassador. Talk to one of our Expeditions Team about becoming a Polar Ambassador.  This program teaches you how to make changes to reduce your carbon footprint every day. It’s also your way of educating your respective communities on the importance of protecting the majestic polar regions.

 

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Quark Expeditions is the leader in polar travels. Quark Expeditions has been taking global travelers on immersive journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica for almost three decades.


Updated on March 27, 2020: The new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021.

Updated on March 24, 2020: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the October 1, 2020, deadline has been extended. No new implementation date has been set. USTOA will provide updates as soon as they are announced.

Updated on February 20, 2020: The Department of Homeland Security has made the decision to allow electronic submissions of the documents that are required to obtain a REAL ID, a positive step ahead of the deadline.

In order to board a commercially regulated aircraft on October 1, 2020, travelers must possess a REAL ID compliant travel document. In order to obtain a compliant REAL ID or to ensure that your current travel documentation is REAL ID compliant, please visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize your state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

REAL-ID-feature

Airline travel can be stressful for new and experienced travelers alike. Perhaps the most important part of any trip is ensuring that appropriate documentation and identification is in hand. For domestic travel, this generally means a valid U.S. driver’s license, or state identification card, while passports are required for international travel.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency housed within the Department of Homeland Security, has been speaking to an issue relating to “REAL ID”. REAL ID represents the federal government’s attempt to create uniform minimum security standards for all U.S. driver’s licenses and identification cards in order to access Federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants, and board federally regulated commercial aircraft.

Creating these uniform standards is laudable and will ultimately make travelling throughout the U.S. safer. However, it is important that Americans are aware that their current form of identification, whether it is a driver’s license or state identification card, may not suffice to move through airport or other security settings, particularly with regard to traveling within the U.S. or elsewhere. The traveling public needs to be aware that updating travel documentation in the coming year will be necessary for those who are not already compliant. Otherwise, it is possible that come October 1, 2020 travelers could risk being turned away at the airport. To reaffirm, every American is currently required to possess a REAL ID compliant license or identification card by October 1, 2020 in order to, among other things, board a commercially regulated aircraft. Travelers without compliant identification could be turned away at the airport.

In the past, deadlines have been set on REAL ID compliance, and those deadlines have been kicked down the line. For the current deadline, recent reports indicate that this deadline of October 1, 2020 may hold. It is recommended that American travelers proactively check to see whether their identification is compliant to eliminate the possibility of added travel-related stress.

The good news is that anyone who holds a valid U.S. passport already has a REAL ID compliant form of identification. As of September 2019, 47 states, the District of Columbia, and three United States territories are compliant. Oregon, Oklahoma, and the Northern Mariana Islands are currently under an extension to update their licenses while New Jersey and American Samoa are under review. All states and territories are on track to be compliant before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

The bad news is that many of the states have only just begun issuing compliant licenses and state identification cards, meaning that many travelers may still hold a non-REAL ID compliant license. Therefore, it is imperative that all travelers visit their local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize their state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline to ensure that their travel driver’s license or identification card is compliant for domestic travel. Again, it is important to note that a valid passport is REAL ID compliant.

Unfortunately, not every state and territory have the same requirements for a REAL ID, meaning that the licenses or state identification cards will still not look completely uniform and the documents necessary to attain a REAL ID compliant license or identification card may vary. As mentioned previously, each traveler should visit their state’s or territory’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out exactly what documentation is required to obtain a REAL ID. At a minimum, travelers must provide documentation showing:

1)     Full Legal Name;

2)     Date of Birth;

3)     Social Security Number;

4)     Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and

5)     Lawful Status.

REAL ID compliant licenses and identification cards are identified by the presence of a star in the top right-hand corner of the card similar to the below:

USTOA urges individuals across America to ensure their identification is compliant and to take the appropriate steps to achieve compliance, if necessary. We strongly caution against reliance on the possibility of an extended deadline.

More general information on REAL ID can be found here.

More information on each state can be found here.