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Insights on from your Luxury Travel Agent

My name is Michelle Weller and I have been travelling since I was a child. Lucky me. My father was an executive for Pan Am and met my mother at the LAX Airport back in the early 1960’s. The glory days for luxury travel and I got to see it first hand. Peering over my black patent leather shoes, tights, curly hair and Sunday best I would stare up at the Pan Am stewardesses in First Class on a 747 and thought I’d died and went to heaven. Those were the days! If you travelled when the airlines first took on Tourists, you flew luxury and you dressed the part. To this day, I can’t shake the feeling that every time I go to the airport or walk into a hotel I need to be dressed like I am walking down the red carpet. The same goes for hotels and cruise ships. You haven’t lived until you experience a hotel like the St. Regis or a spa at the Four Seasons. Cruise ship vacations should be had the way they did it when the Queen Mary first set sail on it’s luxury transatlantic crossing.  My passion is the Luxury Travel and I want to share it with you through my travels at Luxury Tours & Cruises!



Ringing in the New Year on Vacation

Sure, there are plenty of places to party and watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve but for travelers searching for a unique spot to ring in 2016, here are celebrations that add a little something extra to the mix.

To celebrate with an Afro-Brazilian beat, head to Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach. Offerings of flowers and candles are tossed into the water throughout the day to honor the goddess of the sea and people wear white to bring good luck for the coming year. In the evening, the music begins from stages along the beach, where partiers dance the samba. There’s a fireworks display at midnight from barges offshore, but that’s just the beginning. Afterward, revelers head to clubs, bars and hotels to party until dawn.

On Dec. 31, Vienna’s historic old city center is transformed into a New Year’s Eve Trail, where the celebration continues until 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Revelers stop off for food and drink and enjoy musical performances as they make their way from one open-air attraction to the next. The Graben, one of the Austrian capital’s most famous streets, becomes the site of the world’s largest outdoor ballroom, enabling partiers to waltz in the New Year. If you’re a little rusty, the city’s dance schools are there to offer crash courses.

New Year’s Eve in Tokyo offers a chance to explore an ancient culture. There are fireworks over Tokyo Bay and plenty of restaurants and nightclubs where revelers can celebrate, but it’s the traditions such as hatsumode, in which people make the first visit of the new year to a shrine or temple to pray for health and happiness that you’ll likely remember. At the most popular places, such as the Meiji Shrine, the atmosphere is festive, with vendors selling food and people buying charms to ensure good luck. At midnight, temple bells ring out 108 times, each one representing a temptation to overcome.

After an evening of partying, the Bahamas rings in the new year with Junkanoo, an electrifying parade that starts after midnight and lasts until dawn. In Nassau, the capital, it’s a community-wide effort as families, friends and neighbors band together and attempt to outdo each other with music provided by cowbells, drums and whistles, elaborately choreographed dance routines and colorful costumes. The centuries-old tradition has roots in slavery but lives on as a celebration of freedom and Bahamian culture.

Of course to many, New Year’s Eve is synonymous with New York City, where a celebration has been held for more than a century. People start filling Times Square at midafternoon and they’re treated to an all-star lineup of performers, which this year includes country music’s Carrie Underwood. Everything leads up to 11:59 p.m., when a crystal-covered sphere will drop 70 feet in 60 seconds from 1 Times Square to herald the start of 2016, and a million revelers will be covered in a shower of confetti.

For help planning a trip to celebrate New Year’s Eve anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.


Bountiful Thanksgiving Journeys

For people who love to travel Thanksgiving can be a feast, with celebrations from Boston to Seattle and places in between.

New York City is home to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a tradition since 1924. The procession, with its giant character balloons, floats, cheerleaders, clowns and marching bands, kicks off at 77th Street and Central Park West, then makes its way 2½ miles to the Macy’s on 34th Street, at Herald Square. But there’s so much more than the parade to see in New York at Thanksgiving. Manhattan’s festive holiday markets will be open for the season, department store windows should be all decked out and the high-kicking Rockettes will be in residence at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

To see where the observation of giving thanks all began, head to Plymouth Mass., about an hour south of Boston. The site of the first Thanksgiving is home to Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed, and Plimoth Plantation, a living-history museum that tells the story of the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors, the Wampanoag tribe. Visitors can step aboard the Mayflower II, a reproduction of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World in 1620. Plimoth Plantation also hosts popular Thanksgiving dinners on Turkey Day and the day after. Be sure to leave time for the sound and light show, and some holiday shopping, at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

In Chicago, the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day parade takes center stage, with balloons, floats and marching bands traveling along a 1-mile route. The parade has been a tradition since 1934, when it was created to lift the spirits of Chicagoans suffering through the Great Depression. Also on Thanksgiving, the Turkey Day Run takes place in Lincoln Park, along Lake Michigan, with 5K and 8K races and a turkey tailgate zone with activities for the whole family. The city’s Christkindlmarket, inspired by Germany’s open-air Christmas markets, will be in full swing by Thanksgiving, with vendors selling European food and gift items.

Houston’s H-E-B Thanksgiving Day Parade is a 66-year holiday tradition, serving up a full menu of floats, balloons and marching bands that make their way along the downtown route. Travelers who want to take part in a different kind of procession can lace up their running shoes to join the TXU Energy Houston Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. There are 5K and 10K races and a Kids Run for children 12 and under. Zoo Lights is another popular holiday tradition, when the Houston Zoo is transformed nightly with animal-themed light displays.

Seattle is full of activities during Thanksgiving weekend. On Thanksgiving morning there’s a 5K Turkey Trot that finishes at Golden Gardens Park, offering spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Friday morning, it’s time for the Macy’s Holiday Parade and on Saturday afternoon, Seattle’s Pike Place Market kicks off its celebration. The annual Festival of Trees, featuring beautifully decorated Christmas trees, each with its own theme, takes place at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.

For help planning a Thanksgiving getaway, contact your travel agent.


Luxury Travel Is Hot This Fall

Aided by a strong dollar, the market for luxury vacations continues to show steady growth according to a new nationwide survey of travel professionals.

Nearly 92 percent of those polled say that luxury travel bookings are the same or higher this year than at the same point in 2014, with slightly more than half reporting an increase. The responses come from a survey of 963 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents affiliated with Travel Leaders Group who specialize in luxury travel.

The U.S. dollar’s strength means that Americans get more for their money when they go overseas, and that’s turning out to be a powerful incentive for travelers. Forty-five percent of agents indicate that their luxury land-based bookings for Europe are running higher this year than in 2014 and 42 percent say they’re about even. For those reporting an increase, nearly 90 percent say that the dollar’s strong performance against the euro has been a factor, with nearly 70 percent calling it somewhat or extremely important.

A significant trend among luxury travelers is the rising interest in multigenerational vacations, with intrepid baby boomer grandparents joining their children and grandchildren. It’s a great way for extended families to spend time together and share memorable experiences. In the survey, 64 percent of respondents report an increase in bookings this year for luxury-travel clients going on multigenerational trips compared to five years ago. And 39 percent report an increase in bookings for 2015 over 2014.

Just about every segment of the luxury-travel experience is showing some growth, with bookings on the rise for cruises, land tours, hotels and premium airline seats.

Thirty-eight percent of those polled say that luxury tour bookings have increased somewhat or significantly over last year and 36 percent report the same for luxury deep-water cruises, while 34.5 percent indicate an increase in the booking of cruise suites.

River journeys are a fast-growing segment of the cruise market and that applies to travelers seeking a luxury trip as well. Forty-five percent of respondents indicate that their bookings for luxury river cruises have increased somewhat or significantly over the same time last year. In fact, the percentage of those surveyed who indicate a significant increase in bookings ¬– 9 percent – is higher for river cruises than for luxury tours or deep-water cruises.

Compared to last year, 46 percent report that their luxury hotel bookings have increased somewhat or significantly, while 48.4 percent say that bookings have remained the same. Similarly, premium cabin (first or business class) airline bookings are on the rise. Forty-four percent report that premium bookings have increased somewhat or significantly this year over 2014.

When it comes to accommodations on land, 29.5 percent of respondents book their clients into five-star hotels and resorts; followed by 4-star hotels and resorts, 16.3 percent; and 5-star suites, 15.6 percent. For accommodations on cruise ships, 35.5 percent book luxury vessels most often while 22.7 percent book suites on luxury vessels.

For help planning a luxury vacation anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.


Follow the Footsteps of Rudyard Kipling through India

If you’ve ever considered making a “bucket list” journey to India, consider this. December 30th will mark the 150th birthday of Nobel Prize-winning author Rudyard Kipling, whose novels, poems and short stories introduced generations of readers to the land and people of India.

In 1865, Kipling was born to English parents in Mumbai – once called Bombay when India was part of the British Empire. Today, the South Asian nation is a place where visitors can walk in the footsteps of Kipling to explore a land steeped in history and blessed with great natural beauty, as well as experience an independent, democratic country with modern, bustling cities.

Bordering on the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, India is slightly more than a third the size of the United States but is the second most-populous country in the world, with 1.2 billion people. It’s a mostly Hindu country with a sizable Muslim minority. A visit can be daunting because there’s so much to see, but tourism is a growing part of India’s economy and the country has a relatively good transportation infrastructure. With careful planning, India offers intrepid travelers varied opportunities for adventure.

Kipling’s birthplace of Mumbai, located on the western coast, is India’s most populous city and a major seaport, as well as the center of the Bollywood film industry. On the waterfront is the grand Gateway of India arch. The stone structure, completed in 1924 to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary, is a great place to start exploring the city. Other must-see sights include the imposing Haji Ali Mosque, the colorful markets that line Colaba Causeway, and the Kala Ghoda Art Precinct, the city’s cultural center.

“The Jungle Book,” a collection of stories about an adventurous boy named Mowgli who is raised by wolves, is one of Kipling’s most-beloved works. At Kanha National Park, in central India, visitors can see the landscape that inspired Kipling – forests, meadows, ravines ¬–¬ and the wildlife, including tigers, leopards, deer, wolves and mongoose. The park is open from mid-October until the end of June.

When he was 5 years old Kipling left India for England, but he returned at 17 and spent nearly a decade working for local newspapers and writing poems and short stories. His novel “Kim” presents a vivid portrait of India in the late 19th century, including hill stations such as Shimla, where the British went to escape the summer heat. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, and surrounded by soaring mountains and dense forests, Shimla remains a popular tourist destination. Among its attractions is the Viceregal Lodge, summer home of the British government until the 1940s.

Of course, no visit would be complete without seeing the magnificent Taj Mahal, in the northern Indian city of Agra. The marble mausoleum, commissioned by a Mughal emperor to house the tomb of his favorite wife, was completed in 1643. It’s a symbol of India’s rich history and is one of the world’s most celebrated buildings.

For help planning a trip to India, contact your travel agent.


The Smithsonian: Visiting New Additions to America’s Attic

No trip to Washington, D.C., would be complete without a stop at the Smithsonian Institution museums that line the National Mall. Even if you’ve seen them before, there are always new reasons to visit. Plus, since admission is free, they won’t bust your travel budget.

The latest addition is the Hall of Invention and Innovation, which opened in July at the National Museum of American History. It includes the 3,500-square-foot exhibit Places of Invention, an activity center for children and the Inventive Minds gallery, a spot to hear the stories of inventors in their own words.

As part of the hall’s opening day celebration, visitors had an opportunity to help build an American flag from 156,000 Lego bricks. It’ll be on display through Sept. 28.

But that’s only the beginning of the new attractions that are designed to explore the central role invention has played in American history, and to inspire the next generation of innovators.

Through examples across the country, artifacts and hands-on activities visitors can learn how Americans worked together, adapted, took risks, solved problems – and sometimes suffered setbacks – all in the pursuit of progress in art, science and industry.

Places of Invention explores six innovation hotspots from American history: the development of precision manufacturing in Hartford, Conn., in the late 1800s; the growth of the film industry in Hollywood in the 1930s; medical advances in Minnesota in the 1950s; the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx in the 1970s; the revolution in personal computing in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and 1980s; and strides toward clean energy in Fort Collins, Colo., that are taking place today.

To gain a sense of how innovation occurs, the exhibit has a display of more than three dozen artifacts that illustrate the inventions at the heart of each community, including the Technicolor camera used to film “The Wizard of Oz,” a turntable used by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, a prototype of the first computer mouse, a men’s high-wheel bicycle from 1886 and an early cardiac pacemaker.

Of course, in a center that promotes creativity there’s quite a bit to do as well as see. The museum has revamped its popular Draper Spark!Lab, a place where children ages 6 to 12, and their families, can participate in activities taking them through the invention process from start to finish. The emphasis is on using low-tech materials. Workspaces are stocked with such everyday items as cardboard and tape. The current theme, “Things that Roll,” includes challenges such as designing a new kind of skateboard.

While the Hall of Invention and Innovation is the biggest recent addition to the Smithsonian, other exhibits at the American History Museum this summer focus on television educator Don Herbert, known as “Mr. Wizard,” who used household items to explain scientific principles; the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Alexander Graham Bell and early sound recordings; and General Motors’ EV1, the first modern, mass-market electric car.

For help planning a trip to Washington, D.C., contact your travel agent.


Toasting Oktoberfests Around the World

We’re in the middle of the dog days of summer but travelers who enjoy a refreshing brew should be looking toward fall, when some of the world’s biggest beer festivals are on tap in the United States and Europe.

Of course when it comes to beer festivals, most people think of Munich. The city’s Oktoberfest dates to 1810, when a celebration was held to mark the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. Today, Oktoberfest draws some 6 million visitors for music, food, entertainment and beer from the city’s best-known breweries. In 2015, the festival takes place from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.

Two must-see events happen at the start of Oktoberfest. On Sept. 19, the parade of landlords and breweries takes place, a procession of horse-drawn wagons, floats and bands. The next day is the colorful Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, with 8,000 participants. An open-air concert featuring all of the Oktoberfest bands, with some 400 musicians, will be held on Sept. 27.

The Oktoberfest grounds are home to more than a dozen beer tents, some of which have room for up to 10,000 people who come to eat, drink, and soak up Bavarian culture. Each has its own atmosphere and in addition to beer, visitors will find traditional food, from soft pretzels to sausages, dumplings and one of the most popular Oktoberfest meals, Steckerlfisch, grilled fish on a stick. For a break from the crowds, several smaller beer tents around the city have become festival favorites.

Of course, no visit to Munich is complete without a visit to the city’s famed Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589 by Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria. As the oldest beer hall in the city, you’ll see huge steins of beer being carried by its welcoming staff, who are renowned for their world famous Bavarian “Gemütllichkeit” – or warmth and friendliness – year-round.

Another popular festival takes place each year in Stuttgart. The Cannstatter Wasen, or Stuttgart Beer Festival, began in 1818 as a harvest celebration. This year’s event, which will be held from Sept. 25 to Oct. 11, is smaller than Oktoberfest, but just as rich in tradition and fun. Visitors will find plenty of beer flowing at huge festival tents, lively brass bands, a colorful flea market, carnival rides including a Ferris wheel, and midway games. A parade with horse-drawn brewery wagons, musicians and marchers in traditional costumes takes place Sept. 27, the first Sunday of the festival.

Belgian Beer Weekend – this year it will be Sept. 4 to 6 – takes place against a stunning backdrop, the Grand Place, the historic central square of Brussels. Organized by the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash staff, the modern version of the centuries-old brewers’ guild, the festival is full of pomp and ceremony, with parades and a display of brewery carts and beer wagons. Nearly 50 breweries take part in the weekend, offering a variety of the country’s beers to sample.

Of course, travelers don’t have to cross an ocean to enjoy a great beer. The Great American Beer Festival, which takes place Sept. 24 to 26 in Denver, is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition. The festival draws more than 700 breweries, giving visitors a chance to sample 3,500 American craft beers served up in one-ounce tasting portions.

For help planning a trip to a beer festival anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.


Experiencing Expo Milano 2015

Travelers with an appetite for one-of-a-kind events should head to northern Italy to take part in one of the year’s biggest gatherings – Expo Milano 2015.

The universal exposition, also known as a “World’s Fair,’ has a history stretching back more than a century and often introduced technological innovations or iconic structures. The Eiffel Tower, for example, was built for the Paris Exposition of 1889. Today, major expositions are held in a different city every five years.

Milan’s Expo, which runs through October, focuses on food and agriculture, with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” More than 140 countries from around the world are participating. They’re focusing a spotlight on culinary traditions as well as the latest advances in technology and agriculture to ensure that everyone has access to a healthy, safe and sufficient supply of food.

Expo Milano has been built on a site that’s nearly 250 acres and is located about 25 minutes from the city center by public transportation. There’s much for visitors of all ages, including children, to see, do and eat.

Employing some of the world’s major architectural firms, dozens of countries have constructed pavilions. Mexico’s is inspired by the shape of a giant ear of corn, the country’s most typical food; Austria incorporates a forest; the United Arab Emirates uses ramps that evoke desert sand dunes; South Korea’s resembles a “moon jar,” a container used to ferment its traditional dishes; Angola has a stylized African baobab tree at its center.

The U.S. pavilion evokes the design of a traditional American barn. It features a boardwalk made of wood repurposed from Coney Island and, on one wall of the building, a vertical farm where vegetables, grains and herbs are harvested daily. Food trucks serve up iconic regional dishes and visitors can tour an exhibit called “The Great American Foodscape.”

Expo Milano also has clusters that bring together countries linked by a common food, such as rice, cocoa or coffee. Pavilion Zero serves as an introduction, exploring the transformation of the natural landscape and the rituals of food consumption. In the Future Food District, visitors learn about new technologies at each step of the food chain. The Children’s Park is designed as a forest, a place for young visitors to lean and have fun. When it comes time for dining the expo has more than 150 options, from restaurants and bars to cafeterias and kiosks.

But the expo is designed to be a feast for all the senses, not just taste, and the arts also play a role. Cirque du Soleil has created a new show, “Allavita!” (“To Life!”) that runs through the end of August. The La Scala opera house will present opera, classical music and ballet during the expo. And Milan’s Palazzo Reale has organized Italy’s largest-ever exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci’s work, with paintings, drawings, sculptures and manuscripts assembled from the world’s greatest museums. It runs through July 19.

For help planning a trip to Expo Milano 2015, contact your travel agent.


Celebrating Sensational Singapore at 50
Singapore’s rapid development and robust economy have made it one of Asia’s “tigers.” But this center of global commerce has also become known as one of the region’s top vacation destinations. That’s especially true in 2015, as the island nation marks its 50th anniversary of independence.

To celebrate, Singapore is throwing itself a party including a Jubilee Weekend August 7 – 10 that’s packed with events. Highlights include a parade, fireworks and aerial acrobatics by the Singapore Air Force on August 9, the anniversary of the date in 1965 when Singapore became independent from Malaysia. Special programs, including a carnival, are planned at the Botanic Gardens, known for its hundreds of varieties of orchids.

In addition, this fall the country will unwrap two anniversary gifts. A National Gallery, designed as a showcase of Southeast Asian art, opens in November in the old City Hall and Supreme Court buildings that date to the early 20th century. And a Jubilee Walk through the heart of old Singapore will include markers at areas of historical interest.

While the jubilee is a great time to discover Singapore, there’s always something to celebrate including an International Festival of Arts from August 6 to September 19 featuring theater, dance, music and film; the Singapore Grand Prix September 18 – 20, a Formula One street race held at night; and ZoukOut, a dance and music festival in December that’s one of Asia’s biggest beach parties.

A country of 5 million people, Singapore has been shaped by a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and European cultures. It’s a place where visitors can dine at gourmet restaurants or try “hawker centers” filled with food stalls; they can window shop along fashionable Orchard Road or hunt for souvenirs at an outdoor market. In the evening they can head to Clarke Quay, filled with restaurants, bars and clubs, or try the Night Safari for a unique look at the animal kingdom.

One of the island’s newest developments is Marina Bay, a center for dining, shopping and entertainment. The Marina Bay Sands Resort has three 55-story towers capped by an observation deck offering a breathtaking 360-degree view. Other attractions include an 18-hole golf course, a casino, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel and the futuristic-looking Gardens by the Bay.

Afterward, visitors can take a step back in time and visit the Colonial-style Raffles Hotel. Built in 1887, the hotel has played host to famous writers and artists over its long and storied history including Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, no visit would be complete without a stop in the hotel’s iconic Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in 1915.

Finally, be sure to stop by Merlion Park to see the water-spouting statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish that’s Singapore’s national icon, symbolizing its humble roots as a fishing village. The head represents Singapore’s original name, “Singapura,” or lion city, in Malay.

For help planning a trip to Singapore, contact your travel agent.


Africa’s Top “Up and Coming” Destinations for 2015

South Africa is by far Africa’s top “up and coming” destination, according to a national survey of Travel Leaders Group agents. But it’s not the only spot on the continent that is drawing attention.

As part of its authoritative annual Travel Trends Survey, 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents were polled about the top spots for travel around the world. Their picks for Africa are: South Africa (41 percent), Kenya (11.2 percent), Morocco (10.6 percent), Seychelles (9.1 percent) and Tanzania (9 percent).

With a highly developed tourism infrastructure and some of the world’s most stunning scenery, it’s no wonder that South Africa is one of the continent’s most popular destinations. A safari should be at the top of the list for any traveler to Africa and South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the best places to view wildlife, including the big five: lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard. Another must-see is Cape Town, a bustling, diverse city famed for its harbor and setting at foot of its imposing Table Mountain. Among South Africa’s biggest annual events is the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July, a 10-day celebration of music, theater, dance and film.

Visitors to the east African nation of Kenya have an opportunity to witness one of the world’s most remarkable sights – the annual migration of the wildebeest. From July to November, more than 1½ million animals make the perilous trek from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve in search of food and water. Tourists can view the migration in early morning drives, walking safaris, on horseback or from a hot air balloon.

The Kingdom of Morocco, in North Africa, offers ample opportunity for nature lovers, with its rugged mountains, vast expanses of desert and coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Morocco’s cities, including Casablanca, Marrakesh, Fez and Tangier, with their mix of Arab, African and European influences, are places to become immersed in history and culture. The Festival of World Sacred Music will be held May 22-30 in Fez, a city with roots that stretch back 1,200 years.

Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is a place to relax on pristine beaches and enjoy water activities including fishing, sailing and diving. It’s also a place of natural beauty. The Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve on Praslin Island is home to an ancient forest including the coco-de-mer palm, which produces the largest nut in the world, and the rare black parrot. The country’s biggest party, the Carnaval International de Victoria, will be held April 24-26.

Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, which takes about six days to climb. For travelers who’d rather stay lower to the ground, the east African nation is home to the Serengeti National Park, teeming with wildlife, and the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater, often called “Africa’s Eden.” The Zanzibar International Film Festival, East Africa’s largest celebration of film, music and arts, takes place July 18-26.

For help planning a trip to Africa, contact your travel agent.


Luxury Travel Trends for 2015
Drawn by its rich history and culture and sumptuous cuisine, Europe continues to be a top destination for U.S. luxury travelers. And according to a new survey, more of them will be planning a special trip in 2015.

Nearly 90 percent of the 844 Travel Leaders Group travel agents who identify themselves as luxury travel advisers say that bookings so far this year are higher than or on par with 2014. In fact, the percentage of agents reporting higher bookings has increased steadily over the past two years.

Agents who specialize in luxury travel have the expertise to ensure that each client’s experience is a captivating one. Even in a familiar destination, there’s a must-see boutique hotel or a trendy new restaurant. What these travelers value most, according to the survey, are luxury accommodations (36.4 percent), followed by First or Business Class air travel (18.1 percent), unique activities (17.3 percent), exclusive experiences (11.1 percent) and ultra-luxury accommodations (10 percent).

Luxury travelers often have the opportunity to revisit their favorite vacation spots time and time again. Although they may spend more than the average American, they still want the greatest value for their money. In 2015, the dollar’s strength against just about every foreign currency makes a trip abroad less expensive than it’s been in years.

For luxury travelers venturing outside North America, a European river cruise is the top destination according to the survey results. And it’s easy to see why. A leisurely cruise provides a great vantage point for taking in the sights along some of Europe’s most scenic and historic waterways, as well as a chance to sample history, culture and food along the way.

High-end travelers remain loyal to the upscale experiences and charms – both Old World and modern – that a European vacation provides. Indeed, four of the top five international luxury travel destinations outside of North America are in Europe. River cruises are followed in popularity by Italy, Mediterranean cruises, France and Australia. Within North America, the most popular destinations are Mexico, Caribbean cruises, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

But this is a group of travelers with diverse and far-flung interests. They rely on travel agents in planning adventures in new places, as well as revisiting old favorites. Up-and-coming destinations on their list include African safaris, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Croatia, Vietnam and Cuba.

When people talk about life-changing travel, Africa, with safaris to view stunning scenery and wildlife, is at the top of the list. However, the real destination to watch is Cuba, which was already high on the list even though the survey was launched prior to President Obama’s announcement of a process to normalize relations. It shows that there’s a great deal of pent-up demand for legal travel to Cuba, particularly among luxury travelers who want an authentic experience before the country undergoes rapid change and modernization as a tourist destination.

For help planning a trip anywhere in the world, contact your travel agent.


Top International Destinations for 2015
When it comes to international travel this year, Americans are heading for the water – to sail on it or relax near it. But they’re also doing so in some far-flung ports of call, including some that are relatively new for cruises.

A Caribbean cruise is the top international vacation destination for 2015, retaining its first-place ranking from 2014, according to a new survey by Travel Leaders Group, which polled 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents. At number two, also unchanged from 2014, is Cancun, Mexico.

But across the pond, things are changing. Europe is drawing American tourists in the highest numbers this millennium, capturing eight of the top 15 international destinations in the Travel Leaders survey including London, which jumped three spots to number three. European river cruises and Rome complete the top five.

Rounding out the top 10 international destinations for 2015 are Mediterranean cruises, Paris, France; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya, Mexico.

As cruise lines including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line launch new ships, there are more options for relaxation and exploration. The eastern Caribbean, a popular choice for those on their first voyage, includes such ports of call as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Southern Caribbean destinations, including the West Indies and Aruba, offer a chance to enjoy more remote, unspoiled scenery. Western Caribbean cruises sail to, among other places, Jamaica and Mexico, the latter providing an opportunity to explore Mayan ruins.

Cancun, Mexico remains a strong draw with its miles of beaches and activities for every age and interest, from history to shopping to hiking to watersports. Among this year’s noteworthy events, the annual Food and Wine Festival takes place March 12-15, with some of the world’s best chefs offering lectures, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and other activities.

Just a hop across the Atlantic, London, with its wealth of museums, churches, palaces and pubs – as well as iconic, familiar sites, is a natural starting point for exploring Europe. One of the British capital’s most famous fictional residents, Sherlock Holmes, is the subject of an exhibit at the Museum of London that runs until April 12. In 2015, England marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo with a display at Windsor Castle, a short train ride from London.

River cruises are a relatively new, yet increasingly popular way to experience old-world European cities via leisurely voyages along the continent’s most scenic and historic waterways. Viking Cruises has a 15-day trip from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Avalon Waterways offers a variety of European river cruises, including ones built around special interests as varied as beer, golf, art and jazz.

And finally, Rome, the eternal city, beckons travelers with its mix of history, food and culture. Among the not-to-be-missed sites are the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and Vatican City, including the Sistine Chapel, where a new lighting system enables visitors to get a better look at the magnificent artwork. This summer the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla will once again provide a stunning backdrop for opera performances.

For help planning an international vacation, contact your travel agent.


Marking the Bicentennial of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

It’s been 200 years since William, prince of Orange-Nassau, returned from exile in England and proclaimed the Kingdom of the Netherlands, installing himself as King William I. To mark the bicentennial, the Dutch are celebrating their culture, industry and history, making 2015 a perfect time to visit.

Festivities run through the fall, culminating in Amsterdam in September. While there’s much to see and do in the lively capital with its scenic canals, the entire country has a great deal to offer travelers, from the flower-growing region in the south; to Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port; to The Hague, seat of government and traditional home of Dutch royalty.

The Netherlands has a rich trove of museums and many, including Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum, have exhibits related to the bicentennial. Hundreds of prints, drawings, posters, cartoons and photographs illustrating Dutch life from the 19th century to the present are part of the exhibit “Two Hundred Years of the Kingdom of the Netherlands” that runs through March 8.

The Hague is a great place to explore the royal history of the Netherlands. Bicycle and walking tours take visitors past sites where Dutch royalty have lived, worked, shopped and prayed for 200 years. One former 18th-century palace is now a museum dedicated to the work of artist M.C. Escher. As part of the bicentennial, the newly restored Glass Carriage, built in 1826 and used by the Royal Family on ceremonial occasions, will be displayed from March 17 to June 21 at the Louwman Museum, which houses more than 250 antique cars.

Flowers are one of the Netherlands’ best-known exports. Tulip Day on Dam Square in Amsterdam, which will be held on Jan. 17, marks the beginning of the season that runs through April. Each year, the country’s growers build a garden with tens of thousands of tulips and people are free to come and pick a bouquet to take home.

In the spring, millions of visitors flock to the Bollenstreek, or bulb region, to view enormous fields of colorful tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. The kingdom’s 200th anniversary will be the theme of the annual Flower Parade that takes place April 22 to 26. Flowers are used to decorate a procession of floats and luxury cars that winds through the area, culminating in the market square in Haarlem on April 26. In Breezand, a 90-minute train ride from Amsterdam, the Spring Garden, featuring thousands of bulbs and floral arrangements, will mark the bicentennial. This year, it will be held March 5-9.

Each year, Amsterdam holds a citywide party to celebrate its monarch. With the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander in 2013, what was Queen’s Day is now King’s Day and in 2015, it will be held on April 27. There are events for all ages and visitors can expect a sea of orange on display. Amsterdam is also the spot where the country’s bicentennial celebration will conclude, on Sept. 26, with the theme unity in diversity.

For help planning a trip to the Netherlands, contact your travel agent.



The Perfect Holiday Gift?

Give the Gift of Travel Everyone has a “bucket list” of places they’d love to visit. During this holiday season, what better way to surprise a friend or loved one than by helping them achieve their dream with the gift of travel. Whether the person on your list loves to explore new places or go off on a relaxing getaway, a Christmas or Chanukah gift can set them on the path to their destination by contributing to transportation, lodging or sightseeing costs. Most major airlines, including Delta and United, offer gift cards that can be sent to the recipient or delivered via email with a personal message. Carriers will have different terms and conditions for their use, so be sure to check the fine print. And airline gift cards can generally only be used to pay for transportation, not for baggage fees or any other services including class upgrades or in-flight purchases. For the train buff, and for travelers who dream of an overseas adventure, a Rail Europe gift card can be a great way to explore the continent. But getting there is only the beginning of the fun.

Hotel gift cards open up a world of possibilities and luxury for the recipient. They’re offered by the major chains, including Hyatt and Hilton, and are accepted at most of their properties. And they’re good for more than reserving a room. Cards can be redeemed for a spa treatment, restaurant meals or hitting the back nine on a golf course, whether or not the cardholder is a guest at the hotel. If you know where your favorite traveler is headed, give them some help with seeing the sights. CityPass offers up to 50 percent off the combined admission prices to attractions in 11 destinations from New York to San Francisco, and booklets can be purchased online as gifts.

A nationwide survey of travel agents conducted by Travel Leaders Group identified Orlando, Fla., and Caribbean cruising as the top domestic and international vacation destinations for the remainder of 2014, so there’s a good chance that your friends or family have those perennial favorites on their list. For the person whose ideal vacation is spending time at sea, gift cards can be purchased for many cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line. In addition to helping pay for the trip, they can be redeemed for a variety of onboard purchases, including spa treatments, at the gift shop, a meal at a specialty restaurant or, in some cases, for shore excursions. If you know someone who’s headed to Florida, Disney gift cards can be used like cash at theme parks, resort hotels and on the Disney Cruise Line. The card comes in a custom enclosure with your personal message. Gift cards are also available from many other Orlando-area attractions.

For advice on giving the gift of travel, or using a gift card you’ve received, contact your travel agent, who just might have gift certificates available that you can use toward virtually any travel purchase.


Taking in the Big Apple for Thanksgiving

Who doesn’t love a parade? And in November that means the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as much a holiday tradition as turkey with all the trimmings. Started in 1924 by department store employees, using animals from the Central Park Zoo, the parade has grown into a 2½-mile procession of giant balloons, colorful floats and marching bands from around the country. Except for a brief hiatus during World War II, it’s become an annual event. The 88th parade steps off at 9 a.m. Nov. 27 at 77th Street and Central Park West, ending at noon in front of Macy’s in Herald Square, at 34th Street. Approximately 3.5 million spectators will line the route. For the best viewing, head to the beginning. To get a behind-the-scenes look, watch the helium-filled balloons being inflated from 3 to 10 p.m. the day before near the Museum of Natural History. This year’s balloons include Snoopy, who’s appeared in 33 parades, more than any other character. But that’s just the start of festivities in New York over Thanksgiving weekend and beyond.

It’s a magical time, a chance to see the city all decked out in its finery. Since 1931, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been part of New York’s holiday celebration. In early November, the tree arrives on an oversized flatbed truck, with a New York Police Department escort, and is lifted into place by a giant crane. (Last year’s tree was a 76-foot Norway spruce donated by a Connecticut family.) The lighting ceremony takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3. While you can see the tree day or night, it’s best viewed in the evening, when the 45,000 lights and Swarovski crystal star on top truly shine. The Christmas tree remains up through the first week in January. Rockefeller Center isn’t the only place to see New York City sparkle. Department stores, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, unveil their window displays in November, and they often have playful, seasonal themes, such as letters to Santa.

Also by November, Manhattan’s holiday markets will be open. At Bryant Park, on 42nd Street, you can watch ice skaters and sip hot chocolate while browsing through more than 125 shops selling unique gifts, including clothing, jewelry, decorative items and more. No visit to New York is complete without a taste of the city’s cultural offerings. Late November is a perfect time to take in two holiday attractions: the high-kicking Rockettes in the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” and the graceful dancers of the New York City Ballet in “The Nutcracker.” In addition, many Broadway shows have special Friday matinees the day after Thanksgiving. For a different track, try the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden, a 20-minute ride from Grand Central Station. Running from Nov. 15 to Jan. 19, it features model trains winding their way past more than 150 miniature New York City landmarks.

To learn more about what New York City has to offer at Thanksgiving, contact your travel agent.


The Caribbean Calls – Fall 2014

With its close proximity to the United States, the Caribbean ranks as the top international destination being booked for the fall – that is, by the ease, comfort and style afforded by cruise ships, most often departing from either Fort Lauderdale or Miami. That ranking is according to a recent survey of 1,054 travel agents associated with Travel Leaders Group, the nation’s largest traditional travel agency company. In addition to Caribbean cruising, four other destinations within the region are also among the top ten in their own right: Cancun, Mexico (#2); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (#8); Montego Bay, Jamaica (#9); and Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya in Mexico (#10). The Caribbean Sea is naturally the primary focal point of any Caribbean cruise. But with more than 700 cays, islands and reefs spread out across this azure-colored sea, visitors who experience the Caribbean by cruise can enjoy a wide array of options and enjoy islands with their own unique charm and individual flavor. Cruises are primarily devoted to three regions: the Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean and Southern Caribbean.

Eastern Caribbean cruises are the most popular, in part because of the ease in getting there and the abundance of cruise lines serving the market. Most islands on the itineraries offer a European vibe, from colonial architecture to cuisines that mix traditional dishes with a Caribbean flair. Itineraries can often include such islands as Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, St. Maarten and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although not technically within the Caribbean, many excursions also include ports of call in the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos. Western Caribbean cruises, which often start in places like Galveston, sail to ports of call that ring the sea from the islands on the north and the Mexican and Central American destinations on the west. Thus, places like the snorkeling paradise of Belize, the island of Cozumel off the Yucatan peninsula from Cancun and points in Jamaica and the Grand Cayman are popular ports of call, particularly with divers who want to enjoy vibrant reefs. Southern Caribbean cruises offer perhaps the greatest diversity of multi-cultural experiences with British, French and Dutch influences abounding.

A favorite for many are the three islands that are often referred to as the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao – all of which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In addition to the vast number of individual itineraries from which to select, there are more cruise lines and ships of varying size and scale serving the Caribbean than any other part of the world. As with selecting any cruise, it’s important to discuss with your travel professional what you want to enjoy and experience the most. In addition to discussing overall budget and itinerary, you’ll want to consider whether you’d prefer to be on a large ship or a smaller one. Your travel professional should be able to make a recommendation based on all of your preferences.

To learn more about Caribbean cruising and why it’s the top international “destination” for fall, contact your travel agent.


Cosmopolitan Atlanta – 150 and 75 Year Anniversaries

Atlanta, by far the South’s largest city, is also the region’s most cosmopolitan. It’s no wonder Georgia’s capital is often referred to as “Hotlanta.” But 150 years ago, Atlanta was literally ablaze, and a couple of milestone anniversaries harken back to the Civil War events that unfolded in 1864. This November 11 marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Atlanta when General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his Union Army to troops to burn city to the ground. At the time, the city’s population was barely at 10,000, yet it had become such a vital transportation hub, that it was transformed into a critical supply line for the Confederates. The essence of the Battle of Atlanta was captured in an immense panoramic painting that is currently housed in the city’s Grant Park. The Atlanta Cyclorama is world’s largest oil painting with a circumference of over 350 feet – the panorama is cylindrical, with observers taking it in from seats on a rotating cylinder in the center. Painted in 1885-86, the historical artwork features a three-dimensional foreground (if you look closely, you can even see a soldier who looks like Clark Gable).

To commemorate the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum is hosting events both on-site and around the city through the rest of the year, including “Art Against the Wall: The Battle of Atlanta at 150” – a free art exhibit at Atlanta’s Gallery 72, now through October 5. Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell also captured the Battle of Atlanta in her Civil War-themed novel Gone with the Wind, which was first published in 1936 – three short years before its translation into a silver screen classic. A former journalist, Mitchell wrote the book at her home, a turn-of-the-century Tudor Revival building that has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Margaret Mitchell House is now open to the public. Less than a mile down Peachtree Street from the Margaret Mitchell House is Atlanta’s “fabulous” Fox Theatre. Seventy-five years ago, the former movie palace figured prominently into the world premiere of the big screen adaptation of Mitchell’s work – not as the venue for the first showing of the film, but instead serving as the starting point for the official parade kicking off the festivities. On December 15, 1939, more than one million people were drawn to Atlanta to celebrate the movie, which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1939. Like the Margaret Mitchell House, the Fox Theatre earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. While it came close to being razed in the 1970s, the Fox Theatre now serves as an impressive live-performance mecca. In addition to offering 60-minute guided tours, the opulent venue plays host to a variety of acclaimed shows. Over the next six months, audiences will flock to the Fox to see artists like Jason Mraz, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd and musicals including Disney’s “Newsies” and “Wicked: The Musical.”

Atlanta also offers visitors a wide array of experiences typically starting at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport – the world’s busiest – where hometown airline Delta Air Lines just opened its Delta Flight Museum. With a metropolitan population of over 5.5 million, this global city is home to such must-see attractions as the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the High Museum of Art and CNN’s Atlanta Studios.

To learn more about visiting Atlanta, please contact your travel agent.


Luxury in the Air: Etihad Airways Raises the Bar

Competition for the jet set has never been richer. And, with on-board chefs, nannies and butlers, luxury travel has never been so, well, luxurious.

The bar for first-class service and posh surroundings was recently raised a notch by Etihad Airways, a high-end Mideast carrier that caters to the rich and famous on routes to or through some of the world’s wealthiest cities, like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Indeed, Etihad is one of several fast-growing airlines that leverage hubs in the Gulf to connect passengers to cities on other continents. For example, Etihad offers flights from several U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Dallas.

Here’s a brief look at what the world’s elite may experience when traveling in First or Business Class on Etihad Airways:
• Chauffeur service – A fleet of luxury cars and chauffeurs provide discreet, safe door-to-door service.

• Etihad butler – A butler is onboard to manage any in-flight or post-flight planning needs that can’t be handled by flight attendants.

• On-board three-room suite or private apartment – Designed for up to two passengers traveling together, The Residence features a living room with leather sofa, a separate bedroom and on-suite bathroom. Or try the private First Apartment, which includes a flat-screen TV, wardrobe and bar, as well as a leather armchair and ottoman that opens into an 81-inch long bed.

• Business class – User-centered design yields a surprising sense of space and convenient storage areas. The seat converts into a bed with a special mattress so you can relax on long-haul flights. An 18-inch touchscreen TV with noise-cancelling headset delivers new movies and classic entertainment.

• Pre or post-flight spa treatments – Treat yourself to a beauty treatment, massage or realignment at the Sixth Senses Spa, available in the lounge of all Etihad destination cities.

• First class lounge – Enjoy on-screen entertainment on a Bang & Olufsen flat screen TV, spend time in the cigar lounge or champagne bar, and freshen up with a spa-like shower while your clothes are ironed and your shoes polished.

• Food – World-class chefs can prepare your favorite dish, as well as other gourmet meals or snacks in five-star ambience, accompanied by a hand-picked boutique wines.

• Airport family room – The family room is stocked with toys, books and TV to entertain your children. And if you need a break, qualified nannies will watch your kids for you.

• Airport business amenities– Stay connected and keep business operations moving with Apple computers, broadband Internet connection and printing facilities.


Cosmopolitan Atlanta – 150 and 75 Year Anniversaries

Atlanta, by far the South’s largest city, is also the region’s most cosmopolitan. It’s no wonder Georgia’s capital is often referred to as “Hotlanta.” But 150 years ago, Atlanta was literally ablaze, and a couple of milestone anniversaries harken back to the Civil War events that unfolded in 1864.

This November 11 marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Atlanta when General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered his Union Army to troops to burn city to the ground. At the time, the city’s population was barely at 10,000, yet it had become such a vital transportation hub, that it was transformed into a critical supply line for the Confederates.

The essence of the Battle of Atlanta was captured in an immense panoramic painting that is currently housed in the city’s Grant Park. The Atlanta Cyclorama is world’s largest oil painting with a circumference of over 350 feet – the panorama is cylindrical, with observers taking it in from seats on a rotating cylinder in the center. Painted in 1885-86, the historical artwork features a three-dimensional foreground (if you look closely, you can even see a soldier who looks like Clark Gable).

To commemorate the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum is hosting events both on-site and around the city through the rest of the year, including “Art Against the Wall: The Battle of Atlanta at 150” – a free art exhibit at Atlanta’s Gallery 72, now through October 5.

Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell also captured the Battle of Atlanta in her Civil War-themed novel Gone with the Wind, which was first published in 1936 – three short years before its translation into a silver screen classic. A former journalist, Mitchell wrote the book at her home, a turn-of-the-century Tudor Revival building that has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Margaret Mitchell House is now open to the public.

Less than a mile down Peachtree Street from the Margaret Mitchell House is Atlanta’s “fabulous” Fox Theatre. Seventy-five years ago, the former movie palace figured prominently into the world premiere of the big screen adaptation of Mitchell’s work – not as the venue for the first showing of the film, but instead serving as the starting point for the official parade kicking off the festivities. On December 15, 1939, more than one million people were drawn to Atlanta to celebrate the movie, which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1939.

Like the Margaret Mitchell House, the Fox Theatre earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. While it came close to being razed in the 1970s, the Fox Theatre now serves as an impressive live-performance mecca. In addition to offering 60-minute guided tours, the opulent venue plays host to a variety of acclaimed shows. Over the next six months, audiences will flock to the Fox to see artists like Jason Mraz, Aretha Franklin and Lynyrd Skynyrd and musicals including Disney’s “Newsies” and “Wicked: The Musical.”

Atlanta also offers visitors a wide array of experiences typically starting at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport – the world’s busiest – where hometown airline Delta Air Lines just opened its Delta Flight Museum. With a metropolitan population of over 5.5 million, this global city is home to such must-see attractions as the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the High Museum of Art and CNN’s Atlanta Studios.

To learn more about visiting Atlanta, please contact us at 1-800-994-POSH.



Discover the Striking Beauty of Slovakia and the Czech Republic

Twenty-five years ago, the Velvet Revolution ended more than 40 years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, which subsequently divided peacefully four years later to form Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Today, these two central European countries offer travelers a combination of extraordinary history, modern sophistication and natural paradise.
Since Slovakia and the Czech Republic are slightly more off-the-beaten path compared to some of their European neighbors, you can get a great value for your travel dollar. Work with your travel professional to uncover deals and create a custom itinerary, but here are a few of our favorite sites:
Prague – The grandeur of Prague is undeniable. A thousand years ago, Prague was founded on the banks of the beautiful Vltava River. The city is comprised of one architectural wonder after another, including arched bridges, medieval cathedrals, gold-tipped spires and ancient castles. The famed Charles Bridge, which separates the historic Old Town from the “Lesser Quarter” that is home to Prague Castle, is adorned with 30 statues. The cobblestone streets belie the metropolitan elegance of Prague’s top-rated restaurants, concerts and theaters. Or, you can always relax in one of the city’s many brew pubs!
Czech Countryside – Experience the lush, legendary and breathtaking landscapes of Bohemia, Moravia and Bavaria by visiting any of the countless vineyards, villages, chateaux and gardens. Unravel history in the towns of Cesky Krumlov and Kutna Hora, where you can see marvelously preserved Gothic and Renaissance art and architecture.
Bratislava – The capital of Slovakia sits on the shores of the stunningly blue Danube River, less than an hour away from Vienna, Austria. At the heart of Bratislava is historic Old Town, with charming narrow lanes leading to an open square from the Middle Ages. Stroll down the cobblestone streets and stop at one of Bratislava’s many beer bars to enjoy a taste of the country’s favorite beverage. Overlooking Bratislava are the ruins of Devin Castle, built in the 13th century to protect the western frontier of the Hungarian Kingdom.
A number of sightseeing opportunities lie within a two-to-three hour drive from Bratislava, including manor houses, monasteries and wineries. The High Tatras Mountains also provide great opportunities for hiking, rafting and cycling.
Slovak Paradise National Park – In northeast Slovakia, trek through the trails of the Slovak Paradise National Park to see its myriad landscapes: mountain meadows, canyons, gorges, ravines, plateaus, karst and waterfalls. Dare to visit the mesmerizing icefalls and stalagmites of nearby Bosinska Ice Cave, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. After a day of exploring, treat yourself to a dip in one of Slovakia’s many hot spring spas, known for their curative abilities.

Contact one of our Agents to put you on a River Cruise with a pre and post trip to Prague!


Panama Canal at 100

August 15 will mark 100 years since the opening of the Panama Canal, which is undergoing the latest in a series of improvements. As work continues on building a new, wider set of locks, the canal remains open for business: cargo ships and cruise ships move smoothly through every day.

One of the world’s largest and most complex engineering projects, – built so ships could travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific without taking the long and often dangerous route around the southern tip of South America – the canal is impressive in itself. Some cruise lines equip their ships with experts who provide a running commentary while the ship is in the canal. They tell the inspiring and sometimes tragic story of how it was built, and explain its many working parts.

While the canal is completely capable of holding your interest for an entire day, don’t forget to enjoy the scenery of Panama, which is breathtaking. The slender isthmus includes a central spine of beautiful mountains and hills. There are hundreds of rivers, expanses of dense green jungle, and the most diverse flora and fauna in Central America.

At the Pacific entrance to the canal, Panama City is a modern collection of skyscrapers that began as a 16th century base for Spanish expeditions into the Inca Empire. There’s a lovely mix of architecture in Casco Viejo, the city’s old quarter; an active arts community; Las Bovedas, a waterfront promenade; and lots of restaurants serving fresh seafood and sangria.

A wide variety of Panama Canal cruises are available from more than a dozen cruise lines. Itineraries range from seven or eight days to 14 or more. Some cruises travel all the way through the canal, from ocean to ocean; some include a partial crossing, passing through one set of locks, then letting passengers go ashore for sightseeing and excursions. A third option is a cruise that docks at the Caribbean entrance to the canal and offers excursions into the canal on smaller boats.

Depending on length, cruises to the Panama Canal often make port calls in the Western and Southern Caribbean, and along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Mexico. To consider all the cruise possibilities and choose the one for you, talk with our luxury travel agents.


Celebrating Easter and Passover in Jerusalem

As the observances of Passover (April 14-22) and Easter (April 20) coincide this year, April is a wonderful time to visit the holy sites in Israel.

To see the same landscapes that Jesus and his disciples once walked, visitors to Israel can follow the Gospel Trail, more than 35 miles of signposted paths and roads. The trail follows the route Jesus is believed to have traveled when he left his childhood home in Nazareth and went to the fishing village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.

On Good Friday, thousands of Christian pilgrims join a procession along the route that Jesus walked through Jerusalem to his crucifixion. The historic route, marked by the Stations of the Cross, begins near the former Antonia Fortress, proceeds along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief) and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Today, the custodians of the church include branches of the Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Passover, or Pesach, is a pilgrimage holiday in the Jewish tradition that celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which usually falls in April. In Israel, the first and last days of Passover are holy rest days: all productive work is forbidden, so many Israeli businesses close on these days.

During Passover, Jewish pilgrims gather in the old city of Jerusalem at the Western Wall, a remnant of an ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple, to pray and receive a blessing.

An important part of Passover is sharing a ceremonial Seder meal, which is filled with rituals and special foods. For example, eating matzo, a flat bread made from unrisen dough, recalls the unleavened bread the Israelites ate as they rushed to leave Egypt. Many hotels in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities offer Seder dinners, and some residents even welcome visitors into their homes. Your travel professional can help you explore all the options.

April is spring in Israel, and is an excellent time to explore the country’s appealing landscapes and cities. To find out more about sites to visit in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, talk with your travel professional.


Top Up-and-Coming Destinations in Pacific

In the latest Travel Trends survey from Travel Leaders, five destinations ranked as the top up-and-coming destinations in the Pacific. Based on actual bookings by Travel Leaders’ experts, they are:

New Zealand. This island nation tops many a travel wish list, and movies filmed there – like “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbitt” – only stoke the interest. New Zealand offers an abundance of gorgeous mountains, forests, lakes, geysers, vineyards and beaches; unbeatable opportunities to hike, sail, shop and dine; and indigenous Maori culture to explore. Visit both of the two main islands, North and South, to see the country in all its diversity. Don’t miss the glowworms that occupy the Waitomo Caves near the thermal features of Rotorua.

Tahiti. The island of Tahiti is considered to be the heart of French Polynesia. As the largest and most populous island around, it often serves as an embarkation point for Bora Bora, Moorea and other islands. But, there’s lots to appreciate on Tahiti itself such as the mountainous interior, the black sand beaches, and the French-influenced sidewalk cafes of Papeete. In addition to beach time, you can stroll through museums and shop for black pearls.

Fiji. Fiji is a collections of idyllic islands with the white sand, intensely blue water and swaying palms of your dreams. Many of the islands are fringed by soft coral formations that shelter colorful sea life, making them fantastic places to dive and snorkel. If you can drag yourself away from the beach to explore more of your island, you’re likely to find waterfalls, gardens, and maybe a hot spring.

Bora Bora. This is the spectacular island where jagged volcanic peaks look down on calm turquoise lagoons dotted with clear-floored, over-water bungalows. This may be the priciest location in French Polynesia, but if it fits your budget, Bora Bora will provide an unforgettable tropical vacation. You can enjoy snorkeling and diving, parasailing, trekking up Mt. Ohue, and five-star dining – if you even want to leave your bungalow.

Queensland, Australia. The state of Queensland is the northeast corner of Australia. Brisbane is its well-known urban anchor, but travelers are just beginning to discover its tropical treasures. Queensland has ancient rainforests, white-sand beaches, Aboriginal arts, and the Great Barrier Reef not far off the shore. The reef shelters the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands, where you can stay in a rustic campsite or a luxury resort.

One of our luxury travel professionals can help you make plans to visit any of these or other emerging destinations in the Pacific.


Luxury Travel Trends for 2014

Luxury travel is on the rise, according to Travel Leader’s latest Travel Trends survey. The survey asked Travel Leaders’ owners and agents around North America about their luxury travel bookings; more than 86% of agents who specialize in luxury travel said that their bookings are the same or higher than they were last year.

Note that luxury travel isn’t necessarily reserved only for the effortlessly rich and famous. Lots of travelers work hard to earn and save for a top-notch vacation experience. These travelers don’t mind spending what it takes to enjoy a luxury vacation, but they also do their research, understand what travel should cost, and demand great value for the money.

To provide a more complete picture of trends in luxury travel, Travel Leaders also asked its owners and agents what their luxury travel clients say is the most important component of a trip. Here are the top responses:

First: Luxury Accommodations. Luxury travelers are looking for a high standard of comfort and service. For example, Mandarin Oriental Hotels are each unique in design and tend toward serene, simple color and furniture choices in spacious, peaceful guest rooms. St. Regis Hotels favor rich color schemes, sumptuous fabrics and careful attention to detail. Located in cities across the world, these luxury hotels offer award-winning spas and restaurants with all the extras – from high-end linens to high-speed Internet access – that you would expect. Luxury can be found in unexpected places, too: Taj Hotels has luxurious lodges in the jungles of India.

Second: Unique Activities. Experts say the very definition of luxury travel is changing to include unique and unusual experiences. This can mean taking the time to truly become immersed in a different culture or to explore a place that few others have been. For example, Cuba and Antarctica may not be traditional luxury destinations, but the fact that few are privileged to journey to these disparate places help to make both unforgettable travel experiences.

Third: First or Business Class Air Travel. The extra legroom, seat width, reclining space and service available in the first and/or business class cabins of an airplane cost considerably more than a coach or economy-class seat, but luxury travelers agree the extra is worth it – especially on longer flights. Some airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and Etihad, also provide luxurious extras outside of their aircraft, like chauffeur service to the airport and elegant, amenity-laden airport lounges.

To explore some luxury options for your next vacation, contact one of our luxury travel professionals.


Top Luxury Destinations for 2014

It’s often said that luxury is in the eye of the beholder. What some may find extravagant may seem merely pedestrian to someone else. Still, others think of the opportunity to indulge in truly unique experiences few are afforded as the ultimate luxury.

Whatever your definition of luxury is, you can be assured of two things when it comes to travel in 2014. One, you can find the luxury you seek all around the globe, and two, your travel professional can help you find just what you’re looking for.

A recent survey of Travel Leaders’ front-line agents revealed that the luxury their clients desire the most – by a wide margin – is to have deluxe accommodations. But this is followed by the desire to enjoy bragging rights through unique and exciting activities offered in the places they visit. Since getting there is said to be half the fun, it should come as no surprise that third on the list is first or business class air travel, which can help set the tone of a truly memorable journey from beginning to end.

Where are these discriminating travelers choosing to go during 2014? Here are the luxury travel destinations being booked most often by Travel Leaders agents throughout North America:

1. European River Cruising. Enjoy the luxurious comfort of a river cruise ship as you glide from one charming town to another along Europe’s historic rivers – such as the Seine, Rhone, Rhine or Danube – or through the historic canals of The Netherlands. The deluxe vessels not only provide gourmet meals and surprisingly spacious accommodations, but they also feature a wide variety of excursions that can transport you even deeper into some of Europe’s most fabled places.

2. Italy. A hands-on epicurean food tour of Italy is a perfect complement to the country’s renowned luxury accommodations. Imagine sampling and learning to cook with truffles in Bologna; balsamic vinegars in Modena; ham, pancetta and aged parmesan in Parma; pizza margherita in Naples; and fine Chianti in Tuscany.

3. Mediterranean Cruising. Several luxury cruise lines regularly sail the Mediterranean, including Crystal, Silversea, Seabourn, and Regent Seven Seas. Some itineraries offer overnight stays in selected ports, giving you more time to explore and enjoy the local culture.

4. Mexico. While Mexico remains a favorite choice of sun-seeking travelers on a budget, there are a growing number of luxury waterfront properties from which to select along the county’s Caribbean coast, which includes Cancun and the Rivera Maya; and along the Pacific coast, from Los Cabos to Puerto Vallarta. Some of most venerated hoteliers have fashionable addresses in the capital, Mexico City, which provides a multitude of culture and high-end shopping amidst spectacular history.

5. Australia. In addition to Australia’s fabled cultural cities led by Sydney and Melbourne, an abundance of Aussie culture includes some of the best vineyards on earth. But a luxury tour of the Outback may appeal to the adventurer in you – at the country’s “Red Centre,” visitors can experience the peaceful, yet humbling Uluru (Ayers Rock) in lux accommodations. For divers and even snorkelers, there’s nothing like the fabled Great Barrier Reef, which provides ample opportunities to get up close and personal with an array of aquatic life unlike anywhere else in the world.

To put a little or a lot of luxury in your vacation plans for 2014, talk with one of our luxury travel professionals.



Top Cruise Destinations for 2014

All-inclusive pricing, wonderful on-board dining and entertainment, and the opportunity to visit multiple ports are well-known reasons to choose a cruise vacation: and, the toughest part may be deciding where to sail. Travel Leaders recently asked its front-line agents to share the cruise destinations they are booking most often for 2014:

1. Alaska. From May through September, most major cruise lines have at least one ship cruising past the spectacular scenery and wildlife of Alaska. You’ll want to take advantage of opportunities presented by shore excursions to walk on a glacier, follow a historic Gold Rush trail (by train, not on foot), or get closer to whales and other impressive sea life.

2. (Tie) Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean.
The Western Caribbean offers sun, sand and surf, as well as remnants of ancient Mayan civilization in Central America. This cruise region includes Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and islands and ports along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize and Honduras. Home ports for these cruises stretch from Florida to Texas, helping to minimize home-to-port travel.

Eastern Caribbean. The Eastern Caribbean has a wonderful variety of islands – the British and American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and St. Martin/St. Maarten, as well as the Turks & Caicos and The Bahamas (although those two groups are technically north of the Caribbean). Home ports, once limited to Florida, now stretch as far north as New York.

4. European Rivers. Cruises of the Rhine, Danube, Seine and other historic rivers are a wonderful way to see interior towns and scenic countryside. River cruise ships are built small and low, but are typically quite luxurious. Some newer ships even have the type of amenities featured on ocean-going ships, such as outdoor pools, multiple dining spots and balconied staterooms.

5. Mediterranean. For those who find it difficult to select a specific vacation destination around the Mediterranean Sea, a cruise is the way to go. How else could you travel from Spain to France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey with such ease and comfort? Some longer itineraries also include islands like Majorca or Malta, or a port call in North Africa.

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Italy Luxury in Rome

Cruising through Europe Cruising through Europe

Nothing was hotter this year than Europe! With the dollar improving, many people were rushing off to Paris, London and Rome to partake in the festivities. River Cruises were going so fast, many opted for Ocean Cruises. The Western Mediterranean with such exotic ports like Nice and heading up into Portugal is always the most popular, but with those Cruises selling out too, many chose to test out the waters of an Eastern Med cruise despite overhypes media reports of unrest in Greece and Turkey.

Like many others in 2013, I found myself back in Rome after many years away and thought I would take a look at the luxury offerings! Probably the hottest spot is somewhere near the Spanish steps because of the walking distance to the best shops (including Tiffany, among others!).I started off at the Hotel Eden, which is a slight walk downhill to the Spanish steps, but it gets you a bit more peace and quiet. The Hotel Eden doesn’t have the best views in every room but it’s more spacious than the Intercontinental or the Hassler rooms. The service was devine and I have to say, the best meal I had in Rome was room service in the Eden. The Intercontinental and Hassler are practically neighbors and you can take a few seconds to reach the Spanish steps, so staying at one of these hotels has a certain “status” that the country club set like to throw around. The St Regis was my favorite hotel next to the Eden because I just felt it had a lot more sumptuous feel but it has a stuffy, old world ambience that many of the “trendier” ladies don’t like. You feel like you are sitting in the exact chair members of old Europe aristocracy sat or perhaps next to a Vanderbilt.

Waldorf Astoris Rome Italy Waldorf Astoria Rome

I stayed up on the hill at the Waldorf Astoria for a few nights, which is the place to go if you want a LARGE room and a huge swimming pool with a breathtaking view of Rome, but count on expensive lengthy taxi rides to and from the major hotspots.

Waldorf Astoria Rome View View From Waldorf Astoria Rome

Despite the minor culture shock moments of small rooms, crazy Vespa drivers and oddly dated overly expensive hotels, Rome captures your heart almost instantly with the warmth of the people, the delicious food an the breathtaking and mind boggling history of the city.

Probably the biggest trend for Rome visits in 2013 was the overwhelming amount of requests for “Private guided tour of the Vatican”. If you have been to the Vatican, you won’t forget the massive crowds and oppressive heat of a summer spent pushing your way through a four hour tour. There are many reasonable options of “10 or less bypass the line” guided tours which will hit you up for a modest $75 or less, but the private tour guide is a life saver in more than one way. A private guide may cost from 550 Euro or above, but it’s a reasonable price to pay to move past all the lines and minimizes the pushing and difficulty hearing your guide the group option offers. And nothing beats a Mercedes driver picking you up outside St Peters at the end of your Vatican tour to be greeted by a private driver who will whisk you off to your hotel for an afternoon wine with bruschetta or a nice spot for gelato and cappuccino while you rest your aching feet!

The best part of a guided private tour is all the questions you would like to ask, but can’t because in a group, the guide is too far away, dealing with too many people or just simply too loud to hear you. With a private guide you can take more time and get more feedback on the myriad of questions that will naturally accompany such an overwhelming display of history and art. I would also recommend a private or small group guide for the Collesseum, but don’t do both in the same day. Count on at least four hours at each location. Not only is it physically exhausting, it is mentally taxing to absorb a few thousand years of art, architecture and history!

There is a reason Italy is the year over year number one destination in Europe and Rome makes the “Best Cities of the World” list every year. So don’t wait… Make 2014 La Dolce Vita Roma!


China Luxury Cruising

Looking for the ultimate in luxury vacation travel, you need to experience China on a Luxury Cruise. I spent 14 days on a Crystal Cruise in March and loved every second of it. Starting off in Hong Kong is the ideal way to begin this vacation to China. The shopping is something you have to not only see, but experience. The ports where the ships dock is very close to the area where the Tiffany Store is and it was my first stop.

Hong Kong Harbor Cruise Hong Kong Harbor Cruise

Don’t forget Dim Sum at the Pearl Café before you head to the port to board your Luxury Liner.  At the port you can also catch a evening sunset cruise in the Hong Kong Harbor and watch the lights come up sipping a glass of champagne.  Then it’s off to the beautiful Crystal Cruise ship.  But first you have to make your way through more shopping with shops like Chanel, Juicy Couture, Rolex, Louis Vuittan, you won’t go home empty handed.  There are even specialty French shops you’ve never heard of but wish you’d had!


River Cruising

Venice, Italy Venice, Italy

It’s been a landmark summer on the rivers of Europe, where cruise ships were filled with passengers who discovered what makes a river cruise special. Sleek river cruise ships are designed to glide under low bridges and into docks along historic rivers like the Rhine and the Danube. Because they generally carry just 100-200 passengers, the ships are intimate and relaxed. You won’t find the kind of large-scale dining and entertainment that ocean cruise ships offer, but everything on your river cruise ship will be top-notch.

With the growing demand for European river cruises, lines like Viking River Cruises and Avalon Waterways have been adding to their fleets. One of the most spectacular cruise ship launch events ever held took place March 20, 2013, in Amsterdam, where Viking River Cruises christened 10 new ships in a single day. In fact, Viking is now in the Guinness Book of World Records as having “the most ships inaugurated in one day by one company.”

All 10 are Viking “Longships” equipped with innovative indoor-outdoor viewing areas and luxurious two-room suites. With an eye toward environmental protection, they have solar panels and efficient engines, too. Viking plans to break its own record in 2014 by launching 12 more longships.

The Avalon Waterways’ fleet is adding two “suite ships” this year, which have 200-square-foot Panorama Suites and 300-square foot Royal Suites designed for great views of the changing countryside through a wall of windows. Avalon Waterways will launch three more ships in 2014.

Not only is there a wonderful selection of European river cruise ships to choose from, there’s a great selection of itineraries, too. Imagine sailing the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland; or, cruising the Danube through (or along the borders of) as many as 10 countries, from Germany east to the Black Sea. Wine lovers can sail the Saone and Rhone through France, or the Douro, which runs through the heart of Portugal’s wine country.

To choose the European river cruise ship and itinerary that are perfect for you, talk with our Luxury Specialists. Don’t wait long – 2014 cruises WILL fill quickly!


The Top Five Friendliest Destinations in the World

Of all the pleasures of travel, one of the best is getting to know people who live in the places you visit. So, why not visit the friendliest destinations in the world, as named by Condé Nast Traveler?

Florianopolis, Brazil

This cosmopolitan city is on the island of Santa Catarina, “The Island of Magic,” connected by bridges to the Brazilian mainland. The modern city and its colonial-era center are on the island’s north end; the south end is quieter, with villagers focused on traditional pursuits like fishing and lacemaking. The outgoing people of this lovely island will be happy to point you toward the wonderful beaches and thermal springs.

Hobart, Tasmania

Visitors receive a warm welcome in Hobart, capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania. This busy port city, set between the foothills of Mount Wellington and the ocean, is a gateway to the East Antarctic (though the local weather is much more temperate). Visitors love Hobart for its scenic beauty, multicultural vibe, historic neighborhoods, terrific dining and vibrant music scene.

Thimphu, Bhutan

At the eastern end of the Himalayas, the small country of Bhutan believes in growing its GNH (Gross National Happiness) just as much as the gross national product. Nestled in a verdant river valley, the friendly residents of the capital of Thimphu share their proud traditions in literature, the performing arts, weaving, painting, embroidery and architecture with visitors. Be sure to see some of the beautiful monasteries in this predominantly Buddhist area.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Perched on an inlet of Lake Wakatipu on New Zealand’s South Island, Queenstown is an all-season resort area. Visit this welcoming town to enjoy the scenery, which includes the aptly named Remarkable Mountains; to sample the wines of the Central Otago wine region; or to ski, paraglide, hike, scuba dive or watch cricket or rugby, depending on the season.

Charleston, South Carolina

The very best of southern hospitality and charm welcomes visitors to Charleston, S.C. It seems there’s always a festival going on, as well as live music and theater, plus tours of historic homes, forts and museums. Charleston is a fantastic place to eat, with seafood-based specialties like she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and low country boil.

To make plans to visit these or other “friendliest” destinations, talk with your travel professional.



TSA PreCheck Program Set to Expand

If you’ve ever thought that you would gladly pay a fee to shorten your wait for airport security screening, you may soon have the opportunity to do just that. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced a pilot expansion of its PreCheck program, which provides expedited security screening to qualified passengers. The pilot is expected to draw more than 88,000 applicants during its first six months, and more than 450,000 during its first 18 months.

Special screening lines reserved for members of the PreCheck program are now available in 40 airports across the U.S. Travelers who use these lines can avoid some of the usual screening procedures: for example, they can usually keep their shoes, belts and jackets on; and can leave computers in their cases. All of this translates to faster screening and enables the TSA to devote more of its resources to situations that raise security concerns.

Until now, PreCheck membership was available mainly to members of trusted traveler programs run by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), including the Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS programs, at a cost of $100 for five years. Now, several airlines – including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America – are issuing invitations to their frequent traveler club members to participate in PreCheck.

Later this year, the TSA will begin to take PreCheck applications from any traveler willing to pay an $85 fee and submit background information, including fingerprints. Once approved, membership in the program will be good for five years.

Passengers will be able to submit background information online via a secure web portal, while fingerprints and other biometric data must be submitted in person at an enrollment center. The first two enrollment centers – at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis International Airport – will open this fall. The TSA plans to add more enrollment sites, and to implement the program at more U.S. airports.

Note that TSA does not guarantee expedited screening for PreCheck members, because stricter security measures may be necessary at times.