River Cruises: Fun for the Whole Family

 
The view from castle ruins sitting above Durnstein, Austria

The view from castle ruins sitting above Durnstein, Austria

Checking out the view from our stateroom...

Checking out the view from our stateroom...

Tauck Bridges is well known and loved for their family-centric small group tours.  They now offer specific river cruise itineraries where kids are not only welcome, but Tauck makes the children’s experience a priority.  This summer, I was thrilled to take my 8 year old son Teddy on their Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure.  I had a few reservations about how much fun a young boy can have on a river cruise visiting small European villages, but we had a blast!! 

We flew into Munich, Germany where our private driver met us in the arrivals hall and whisked us to the Hotel Bayerisher Hof to meet our crew.  We then transferred to Vilshofen, Germany where we boarded the MS Esprit.  Our cabin has two twin beds, plenty of closet space and a full wall of windows and a french balcony providing unobstructed views of the countryside.  The lower floor has rooms with just windows.  I think it is well worth the extra money to get the wall of windows and a door to let in the fresh air.  The suites on the top floor are truly as roomy as a hotel room with very spacious bathrooms.  

We visited a few large cities such as Vienna and Salzburg and a few small villages.  Our absolute favorite day was in Durnstein, Austria.  It is such a quintessential small Austrian town where we rode bikes along the river and hiked to the top of castle ruins for a magnificent view of the Danube and bucolic countryside.  Another favorite day was in Brataslava, Slovakia.  Teddy and I loved exploring the capital of Slovakia, visiting its shops and trying its wonderful food.  These smaller towns were a better fit for the young kids.  They were more relaxed and could have fun exploring.  The larger cities were a bit more intimidating for them to navigate.  The teenagers on board seemed to really love visiting the larger cities.

What truly made our trip special was the crew on the MS Esprit.  Carlos, the cruise director, was a great leader and ended every announcement with ‘ciao for now’.  The kids loved it.  The staff was also exceptional and took great care with the kids.  Our tour guides who live in the cities we visited were also wonderful. 

Would I take a river cruise again?  Yes!!  Next time, I want to take the whole family.  This cruise had a nice group of younger kids that all became fast friends.  The teenagers also had their own group and seemed to be having a great time.  As a result, all us moms, dads, grandparents and special friends had a blast enjoying the scenery, great wine and making family memories to last a lifetime.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this special experience at 314-780-8845 or julie@topflighttravels.com.  

BELMOND BRAVISSIMO MYANMAR

If you have never considered visiting Myanmar, you will be dusting off your old Burmese dictionary and booking your flights after viewing this video.  Belmond offers travelers an extraordinary opportunity to visit this beautiful country, as well as to truly get to know its people.  A highlight of the trip is to take a cruise on the Ayeyarwady River aboard the Belmond, Road to Mandalay!

Contact me for more information!

Must-Have Travel Gadgets and Accessories for 2016

There are certain things I never leave home without.  My list of must-haves changes a bit each year as I learn about new items on the market with other travel advisors and clients.  Here are a few of my favorites:

 Compression Travel Bags.  Honestly, these compression bags have changed my travel life.  I’m sure they have been around for years, but I am so grateful to have discovered them.  I bought Eagle Creek Pack-it Compression bags at REI for my trip to Peru.  These bags suck all the air out of your clothes and turns a suitcase of clothes into a small brick.  I had about 4 small bricks for each climate change of my trip.  It helped in organization and enabled me to take over a week’s worth of luggage in a small carry-on.  Crazy!  Now, I wouldn’t recommended taking your linen pants with you.  Otherwise, these bags are a game changer.


 Updated Passport.  Even if you don’t have international travel plans set in place, get your passport renewed.  Passports may soon be required for domestic travel in quite a few states, meaning the Department of State of will be deluged with passport applications and renewals from individuals who would never normally need a passport.  I would not have faith that the government will increase their productivity capabilities until after they are bogged down with increased processing delays.  Don’t get caught in that mess.  Renew your passport now.


 Battery Charger for Cell Phone.  Battery chargers aren’t new news, but they remain an absolute must for travels.  There is nothing worse than your phone’s battery dying right when you reach the best photo op of the day.  I find that I need to buy a new charger about every year.  Their power diminishes with use.  I also get the biggest charger available.  I just find those little batteries need recharging too often to make them useful.


 SPG American Express Credit Card.  Don’t leave home without it.  I transfer the points to the airline of my choice for free flights all the time.  The points can also be used for bargain stays at wonderful Starwood properties around the world.  Alternatively, the Venture Capital One card is excellent.  With excellent credit, you can earn two points for every $ spent.  The points can be used to offset any travel Dollars charged to the card.


 Tumi Luggage.  Tumi Luggage continues to sell some of the highest quality luggage on the market.  Their customer service is also very impressive.  I took my luggage to a local retailer to have a zipper repaired on a 20 year old piece of Tumi Luggage (it was still in excellent condition).  Instead of repairing the zipper, Tumi replaced the luggage!!  Tumi is well worth the high cost.  I agree the high cost is very high!  My trick has been to buy it on ruelala.com.  If you aren’t familiar with this website, they have flash sales on clothing and home goods.  Every so often, they sell Tumi at 50% off or greater.  Buy a piece at a time.  You will be so happy.

Four Seasons Continues to Expand its Global Footprint

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts success is due to its unwavering dedication to the highest standards of service and hospitality, according to J. Allen Smith, President and CEO.  Building on that success, Four Seasons has been growing its portfolio around the world.  

Four Seasons Surf Club

Four Seasons Surf Club

I am most excited about its revival of the legendary Surf Club in Four Seasons style, opening in 2016.  The Surf Club opened as a private club in 1930 and was frequented by celebrities and world leaders such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Winston Churchill.  Located just a few minutes south of Bal Harbour, The Surf Club boasts 965 feet of Atlantic oceanfront and will once again be a glamorous retreat for those looking for both peace and luxury.

Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina

Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina

Another new property creating tons of buzz is the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina slated to open mid-2016.  Located on oahu’s sunny western coast, it balances a classic hawaiian style with one-of-a-kind luxury.  The area is wild and rugged, yet conveniently close to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach.  Oahu is becoming newly discovered as one of the most requested Hawaiian islands to visit.

Rumor has it that Four Seasons is opening a new resort in Los Cabos.  Having bounced back to better than its former glory, Los Cabos has become the hot spot for luxurious, trendy and sophisticated beach resorts.  The addition of a Four Seasons will make it very hard choosing where to stay during your next visit.

Rumors are also very persistent about Four Seasons opening a property in Grand Cayman.  I will be very curious as to the location chosen for the resort.  The beach in front of the Ritz is terribly overcrowded.  Guests of the Ritz will not find the peaceful solitude often found in most areas of Seven Mile Beach.  I have great confidence that Four Seasons will create another oasis in Grand Cayman, consistent with the standards it has set at all its properties.

Did you know TopFlight Travels is a Four Seasons Preferred Partner?

Did you know TopFlight Travels is a Four Seasons Preferred Partner?

I’m a Preferred Partner with Four Seasons.  This wonderful honor ensures my clients receive VIP treatment during their stays at Four Seasons, and also provides valuable amenities not offered to the public.  Please contact me at 314-780-8845 or julie@topflighttravels.com for more information on your next glorious stay at a Four Seasons.

SEA CLOUD CRUISES

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud Cruises is a fabulous cruise line.  I'm finding that many people are not aware of this company and that needs to change.

Sea Cloud consists of two actual hand-sailed windjammers, the SEA CLOUD and SEA CLOUD II, that sail the Caribbean (including Cuba) and Central America in the winter and Northern and Southern Europe in the summer.  Currently, both yachts are transitioning across the Atlantic to begin its winter season in the Caribbean.  Click here to see exactly where they are this moment.

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud

The ships are what make Sea Cloud cruises so special.  SEA CLOUD was built in 1931 for E.F. Hutton and was owned until the 1950s by his wife Marjorie Merriweather Post.  During WWII, Roosevelt chartered the SEA CLOUD for a symbolic $1.00.  The masts were removed, and she was painted grey to serve as a weather station.  The SEA CLOUD has such a storied past, there is a book written on her history.

This casually luxurious yacht is available to the public.  It has 60 crew members for only 64 passengers and is available for private charter and individual or small group bookings.  The staterooms are like no other at sea.  Marjorie's stateroom is over 400 sq. ft.  E.F. Hutton's stateroom is wood paneled with its own fireplace.  In fact, all the original 8 staterooms have their own fireplace, as does the dining room and lounge.  The service and food meet the highest standards of the most sophisticated guests.  

The SEA CLOUD II is a similar, traditional windjammer that is relatively new.  They are both square riggers with up to 30 sales with the hull having the design of a sylish yacht.  There is a focus on the sailing of the ships where you can watch young men and women from all over the world climb dizzying heights as they step nimbly along the rigging to hoist the 30 sails in a traditional manner.  The sight is breathtaking.  You also can't forget that while you are experiencing this magnificent yacht, you are also exploring beautiful parts of the World!

Try something new.  Don't settle for the same experiences.  Call me for more information on Sea Cloud Cruises or email me. 

Virtuoso Travel Week on the Today Show!

What a fun week in Vegas!  Virtuoso Travel Week always proves to be educational, exhausting and fun!  This year was no different.  Check out the Today Show's segment on our experience!

I think the video below is a great summarization of the experience.  I'm heading to ITLM Americas next week.  It will be held at the Fairmont Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya.  It is a market for luxury and ultra luxury suppliers to spread the word to the right agents about their resorts, tours and destinations.  Agents may attend by invitation only.  They are paying for my airfare and accommodations to be there, so how can I decline, right?  I just wish Billy could join me.  I look forward to sharing everything I learn with my wonderful clients!

Virtuoso Travel Week - 2015

I can't believe another year has passed, and Tui Leatherman and I will be heading to Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas on Sunday!  It is such a productive trip.  We learn about all the new opportunities and luxury properties available to our clients, make new friends and contacts and reconnect with old friends.

If you have an idea on where you want to travel in the next few years, please let us know.  We can make sure to meet with all the relevant individuals at your chosen destinations to make sure we book you at the properties that are the best fit for you and can learn about what we can do to make sure you enjoy a trip of a lifetime.

Check out the video below to get a sense of what it is like during Virtuoso Travel Week.  There are over 4500 luxury travel advisors and suppliers connecting with each other for a week.  It is a little like speed dating for vacations.

Please let us know if you have any questions or have any trips that you want us to start researching while in Vegas. julie@topflighttravels.com or tui@topflighttravels.com.

 

Family Vacations: Where to take your teenagers.

I love traveling with teenagers!!  They are so excited to see the World and really appreciate their new experiences.  Where to go just depends on their interests and how adventurous they like to be.  Consider one of the following adventures for your teenagers:

Clayoquot Wilderness Retreat

Clayoquot Wilderness Retreat

Clayoquot Wildnerness Resort.  I am most excited about this choice for families with teenagers who like the outdoors.  It is a very exclusive, eco-safari destination located on the Western edge of Vancouver Island, Canada.  You fly into Vancouver, then take a scenic 45 minute private seaplane transfer across Vancouver Island, landing at the resort.  Accommodations consist of 20 luxury tents beautifully furnished with hardwood floors, ensuite bathrooms and an indoor/outdoor shower.  The tents sleep 5 people, so they are perfect for families.  The food is incredible, and the resort recently earned the distinction as a Relais & Chateaux property.  Daily activities are customized based on each guest’s interests, weather, animal sightings and your willingness to go wild!  You may choose to learn how to surf (very popular in this region-wear your wetsuit!), hike on Flores Island, kayak, ride your horse through the rainforest, fish, zip line, enjoy heli-hiking, visit wildlife such as black bears, whales or enjoy the onsite spa.  All these activities, meals and drinks are all-inclusive.  Thus, a family can enjoy as many or as little activities as they wish.  Visitors to this resort come from all over the World.  Some families stay up to two weeks!  I visited this resort last summer and cannot recommend it more highly for families with teens.

Photo by Anup Shah/Digital Vision / Getty Images
Photo by Anup Shah/Digital Vision / Getty Images

African Safari.  Another favorite option for families with teens is a safari in South Africa.  South Africa is a great place to visit with your children, because its wildlife is plentiful, while its infrastructure is better than other countries.  I think Micato Safaris is your best choice with your family.  Don’t take my word for it though.  Travel & Leisure magazine has voted Micato Safaris the best 9 years in a row.  The company is family owned by Felix and Jane Pinto, whose children and teenage grandchildren are active in the company.    On a Micato safari, you are a VIP everywhere you go.  It is a blend of excitement and elegance, a place of delightful surprises and uncommon luxury.  You may even find yourself at the Pinto’s home enjoying dinner with them on your first evening.  The Pinto’s treat their guests, as Travel & Leisure notes, like “well-loved, out-of-town relatives.”  Any African safari is a journey of a lifetime, however, 

Photo by MLiberra/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by MLiberra/iStock / Getty Images

Iceland.  Another great trip with teens is Iceland.  Experience nature, culture and adventure at the edge of the Arctic Circle.  This is a trip for active families to explore a mystical, raw, wild landscape by land, water and air.  I recommend Backroads for this active trip.  They do a terrific job of designing trips that ensure a wonderful time is had by family members of all ages.  You fly into Reykjavik, Iceland and travel by bike, foot, Zodiac, plane, horse and “super jeep” through incredible geologic wonders, from glaciers and geysers to volcanoes and sea stacks.  After riding hardy Icelandic horses, you may relax in geothermal pools.  Again, this is a trip of a lifetime.

New York City.  Everyone remembers their first trip to Manhattan.  The parents and children in your family can enjoy the trip if done correctly.  There is nothing better than having a private guide and driver take you to the city highlights, such as Rockefeller Center, Times Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Greenwich Village, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, The New York Stock Exchange and Grand Central Station, just to name a few.  Everyone will also want to visit the 9/11 Memorial.  Your teens are at the right age to appreciate the events that took place when they were babies.  There are also so many unique things to do in New York, such as a scavenger hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dinner at Dizzy’s Coca Cola Jazz at Lincoln Center.  One day must be dedicated to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum, where you learn what it was like for an immigrant child living in in the 19th Century and tour their restored home.  It truly brings history to life.  See Central park while in a pedicab, take a tour of NBC, dine at Katz’s Deli and catch a family friendly Broadway show.  Make sure that your trip is organized prior to your visit and includes activities of interest to all family members to ensure that everyone has a wonderful time.

Contact me at 314-780-8845 or julie@topflighttravels.com for more information on traveling with your teenagers.