Free Dining or Free Drinks. Hmm…which to chose?

Being offered a “free” dining or beverage package seems to the be sign of the times today in ocean cruising bookings.  Every cruise line has its own twist on the perks offered but these two are always in the mix of offerings.

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So, which do you choose?  You love to eat and…. okay you like to consume adult beverages too, thus the dilemma exists.

Now, my first recommendation is talk to your travel professional because all “free” perks are not created equally.  For example, some lines charge service fees associated with their “free” while others do not.  Most lines have a dollar limit to drinks available using the perk and the big difference is how they handle those drinks that hop over that limit.  For example, let’s assume your drink limit is $13 but you really want to try that $16 martini.  On some lines, you would pay only the $3 extra, on other lines you would not be able to use the beverage package and be charged the full $16.   Note from one wine snob to another:  Serious wine drinkers (those who won’t drink the house wine at a bar and who don’t drink much in the way of other alcohol) should think twice about the “free” beverage package because it isn’t likely to have wines that will make you happy.  You, may want to consider choosing the free dining perk and then buying your own wine package.

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Dining packages are no different, you really have to do the math regarding which perk will be best.  Example:  you are on a 7-day cruise, your perk is 3 nights in a specialty restaurant, on board credit, free wifi or the beverage package.  What is the value of those 3 nights dining?  Let’s say the price is $35 per visit to the specialty restaurant x 3 = $105 but the onboard credit is $150 per person…..which is better?

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Remember a particular cruise line can only speak to and only wants to sell you their product, they cannot offer you a side by side comparison like a travel professional.  We can help sort all that out and can search across all cruise lines for the best perk offering out there.

And on that note:  Cheers and Bon Appétit1-Celebrity Century 3-20-2010 10-19-42 PM

Christmas is coming

Thanksgiving is over, the turkey’s been eaten.  So now what?  Well let’s see you could do the normal stuff like put up a tree, spend a bunch of money on stuff your family really doesn’t need and bake till you back breaks…..or, you could try something completely different.  Something you’ll remember and talk about for years to come.

What is it you ask?  A Christmas market river cruise through wonderfully decorated European towns.  Also known as Christkendlmarkt or Marche’ de Noel, Christmas markets are essential street markets that occur during the 4 weeks of Advent.  These markets go back to the late Middle Ages in German speaking parts of Europe and regions of France and are traditionally held in the town squares.  They offer open air stalls with local crafts, food and music.

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Did I just hear the men readers all just groan?  Hold on, seriously this experience has been both mine and my husband’s favorite vacation of all times. What could be better, a floating luxury hotel with all you can eat, drink and take in (Uniworld all-inclusive river cruising is our favorite)?  Well now that you asked, yes, the cruise part is wonderful but he Christmas market part is fantastic!

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Breathe easy, this is not your US craft fair with stampeding women, it is open air, relaxed wandering through stalls while the sights and smells of the market surround you.  Each town decorates differently so every stop is unique and beautiful.

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Imagine strolling with your best friend, arm in arm, Christmas music playing in the background.  Taking in the smell of local food specialties cooking (think giant wok sized pans making potato pancakes or salmon roasting on cedar planks over open flames) sampling as you go.  Stop and admire the handcrafted cuckoo clocks and nativity sets or try on hand spun hats and scarves. Or buddy up to the locals in the ice skating barn and learn why they love this time of year.  And don’t forget you are doing this all the while sipping on a cup of hot gluhwein (mulled wine with flavors of citrus and warm spices).  What could be more wonderful than that?

I promise, this is just the thing for renewing your Christmas joy.   So, skip Black Friday and Cyber Monday (remember no one wants that new set of towels, bedroom slippers, or socks and underwear) and try something different.  You’ll be thrilled you did!!

Even if you don’t own a garden

Tom Thumb, Green Thumb all I know is I’m all thumbs when it comes to gardening.  In my house I have exactly 2 plants…that are still alive.  I’ve been told it is impossible to kill a Christmas cactus…well I’ve just completed losing #4.  Out back I have a “garden” and I use that term very loosely since we refer to it as the weed bed.  So, I’d be the last person in the world you’d expect to want to visit the famous Keukenhof gardens in Holland.  Yet somehow it was on my bucket list – go figure!

So, this spring we set off with a few great friends to visit the Netherlands (okay so we got the men to go because we included Belgium and you all know how good their beer is) and on the itinerary was a visit to the famous Keukenhof gardens.  Keukenhof gardens is open only mid-March to Mid-May and our trip was timed right for the tulips to be in bloom.  We had to decide, full day or half day visit….OMG, we did the full day and still did not see everything so if you are even in that quandary….go full day for sure.

Miles and miles of tulips (well 32 hectares to be exact), every shape and color you can imagine.  Throw in some daffodils and hyacinth and you have a color mania of flowers.  But it’s not all just flowers, there are activities in the park like boat rides, cycle paths, fun signs and wooden shoes to put your face and feet into for that ultimate photo op.  Definitely climb the windmill to get a bird’s eye view of the vast tulip gardens.  If you are taking the kids, then be sure to download the treasure hunt before you go.

Ah yes, a full day at Keukenhof gardens will inspire you…I promise.  How do I know this you ask….well I left the gardens that day 300 or so tulip bulbs heavier (or shall I say $300 or so lighter since the tulips were to be shipped to the US in the fall).  Yes, me the ultimate weed bed owner left the proud owner of lots of tulip bulbs without one single plan for what I’d do with them.

They arrived this fall and I am happy to say they are all planted into a brand new flower garden…now we just wait till spring.  I’ll keep you posted but in the meantime, put Keukenhof gardens on your bucket list, you won’t be sorry.  It was beautiful!

What I did on my sun & sand vacation

Remember when you’d return to school after summer break and the teacher would assign the dreaded “what I did on my summer break” essay?  I mean, growing up in small town Wisconsin, did they really think we did something worth writing about?

I’m older now but that same question still haunts me each and every time I return from a sun/sand vacation to Mexico, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.  Seriously, um…it was hot and sunny and all inclusive.  Need I really say more!  Yet people always ask and somehow I seem to feel obligated to elaborate…..so here goes.

Unlimited food, unlimited beverages, super bright sun, wonderfully cool air conditioning, afternoon naps and a few great books.  Need I really say more?

Sure there is beach volleyball, pool games, aerobics, yoga, snorkeling and excursions if someone is so inclined but for me a beach chair, book and sunscreen are all I really want or need.

That is the beauty of a beach vacation.  One can do as little or as much as one wants, be waited upon or go jogging on the beach, catch up on that elusive thing called relaxation or play hard.  The all-inclusive beach sun/sand vacation has something for everyone.

Some of the great places we’ve found particularly wonderful recently are:  Secrets Cap Cana and Breathless Riviera Maya.  Here’s my travel professional opinion:

  • Beaches – Secrets Cap Cana
  • Food – Breathless Riviera Maya
  • Room – Secrets if you are more modest, Breathless if you are there with someone special and want to spice things up a bit
  • Service – top notch at both places
  • Pools – both have a quieter pool and a more active pool so it’s a toss-up

Secrets Cap Cana

Breathless Punta Cana

Every kid should swim with the dolphins

Depending on your age, you either grew up with Flipper or Dolphin Tale or Free Willy.  Me, I’m a Flipper fan through and through.  Maybe it was the crush I had on Sandy (the cute teenager in the show) but regardless, I never missed an episode and secretly longed for a job as dolphin trainer.  If you’ve read my blog before you know I grew up in small town Wisconsin and dolphin training wasn’t exactly a sought-after career so the likelihood of that ever happening was…well let’s face it….zero!

But it’s hard to kill those childhood dreams and then one day….the dawn of swim with the dolphins started showing up in places like Mexico and Jamaica.

Oooh boy I could not wait to do it!  I got in the water, stood on the platform as instructed and then got my first feel of those lovely gray mammals.  I shook its fin, I waved to it.  I was in heaven!  I’m sure my smile was ten feet wide.  All that of course was the buildup to the ultimate dolphin experiences…..so as instructed, I got in the water, stretched out my  arms when my (yes my) two dolphins passed by I grabbed their dorsal fins and got towed through the water.  Hint, stop smiling here or you get a big drink of dolphin pool water.

Now that was fantastic…but wait…it gets better.  Back out into the water and floating on my tummy, toes pointed down and the next thing you know my dolphins are pushing me right out of the water.  I had my arms raised in victory!  Nothing could have been better.

At least that is what I thought at the time (circa 1980) until this past winter.  You see my husband and I had the privilege of taking our grand kids on a cruise in January and the two older ones (15 & 11) got a swim with the dolphin experience as a Christmas gift.  This time I got to watch and yes, it was even better than my own dolphin encounter.  I was able to witness them learning to love the dolphins as much as I do.  Two super wide smiles, two kids who could not stop talking about their experience.  I guess you could say it was twice as good as my own experience.  So, take my advice, splurge on the Royal swim for your kids…and the kid in you!   It is a memory you’ll cherish forever.

2017 Apple Vacations Big Sale

The 2017 Apple Big Sale is going on Now

Pick your destination:  Cancun/Riviera Maya, Punta Cana, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and Jamaica.  We have special savings on all Apple Vacations plus very Exclusive Savings on All-Inclusive Charter Air Packages of 7 nights or more from Chicago, Rockford and Milwaukee.   Some travel date restrictions apply – contact Sue or Paul for more details (262) 538-2140.

Here are just a few of the properties included in this year’s sale

Adults Only All-Inclusive

Family Friendly All-Inclusive

Call now to get you first choice on dates 262.583.2140

Time Flies Like an Arrow; Fruit Flies Like a Banana

Time flies.  2016 is coming to a close and 2017 is literally peeking its head around the corner.

Often we close out the year talking about many of the awesome journeys we went on – but let’s switch it up just a bit and talk about you, because you are awesome too.

You had a great year and created many new and wonderful memories.  Here’s some amazing places you went and cool things you did.

dreams-cancun-5-5-2008-5-22-35-pm-2896x1944You got married!  Yes you did!  You and many of your fabulous friends and family members went on a vacation to a warm beach destination in Mexico or the Caribbean and you – you said “I do” to that special someone.  Everyone had such a great time.  It was an amazing vacation – hot, sunny and relaxing with delicious food and ice-cold drinks.  There were so many fun times at the pool, beach, dinner and of course at the bar (you are from Wisconsin of course). And now you have that special someone to spend the rest of your life with.  You of course, will never forget 2016.

49-cruising-the-rhine-river-chrismas-market-cruise-037You also fulfilled a lifelong dream and travelled through parts of Europe.  First you made your way by floating along the great rivers.  You loved cruising along the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Main, Seine, Rhône, Saône, Po and Dordogne  watching small towns and castles slowly come into view and then ever so slowly fade away.  You visited the iconic gothic Cologne Cathedral and afterwards enjoyed a few Kölsch beers with their delicate lacey foam heads.  You attended an enchanting concert in Vienna, the city where Mozart composed many of his best known concertos and symphonies.  Centuries ago Vienna was the Imperial seat of the Holy Roman Empire and later of the Austro-Hungarian empire, while today it is ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world – and you were there and loved it.  You sipped all sorts of amazing wines at vineyards in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France and Italy.  Your favorite was that 1-beaune-france-7-26-2013-9-37-55-ambright and tasty rosé  that you had at a charming street café – one which you had no plans to go to, but just stumbled upon while wandering around a quaint little town which still retained many of its medieval walls.  You already forget the name of the wine and of the café, but you’ll never forget just how enjoyable and magical that day was.

Rail travel through Europe remained a popular and convenient way for you to travel.  Easily and efficiently you were able to move from town to town.  When you got to Florence Italy, some of the most amazing art work in the world was there just waiting for you.  It is so hard to believe; it rome-italy-vatican-10-15-2015-4-07-54-amtook over 2 years to make and has been standing for over 500 years.  At 17 feet tall  Michelangelo’s David is a wonderful sight to behold.  After David, Michelangelo was invited back to Rome where he spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Words could not describe how you felt when you saw it – over 5000 square feet of painting containing over 300 figures.  You still feel just a bit guilty taking a picture of it as that was one of the few places in the Vatican where photos were forbidden.  One place you did take a lot of pictures (that was not forbidden) was at the worlds largest museum – the Louvre in Paris.  You marveled at the Mona Lisa – wondering why exactly is she so famous, but resigned yourself to the fact with so many people crowded in front of her, that she must be very special indeed.likuliku-lagoon-resort-fiji-2-1-2011-1-50-22-pm

You weren’t done yet though.  Artwork and history is very nice, but sometimes you just need a beach.  Well you found many of them.  You found beaches in Fiji, Mexico, Jamaica, Hawaii, Florida, Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Costa Rica, Belize, Aruba, St Lucia, St Thomas and Barbados.  You loved the beach.  In fact if you close your eyes you can still feel the sun beating down on you, hear the sound of the waves and feel the breeze through your hair.  Stress was gone, gone, gone.

p1080019Our friend the Mouse, welcomed you to his Magic Kingdom in Orlando.  You took the grandkids there and my oh my did they love it.   But it wasn’t just Disney – you also went to see Harry Potter and attended the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Universal studios. You know the kids almost never remember exactly what comes in a gift wrapped box just a few months later – but they will always remember the time they went on vacation with Grandma and Grandpa.  Those memories will definitely last forever.

You also enjoyed dinner under the stars in the middle of the ocean.  Which ocean?  It does not matter – you felt like you were the only people on the planet and everyone was there to make sure you had a good time.  Your hotel and restaurant floated along to what felt like wherever you wanted to go, but in reality you did not have to make the decisions – it was all being done for you….it was kind of like being on vacation!  Yes vacation.  You loved your vacation time in 2016 and would not trade it for the world.  You came home and told all your friends about what a great time you had.  And when they asked who helped you plan – you told them about us.  That’s why we love you.  You are smart enough to use our agency, and you are warm and generous enough to tell everyone you know what a great treasure we are for travelers.

Here’s to 2016!  Cheers!

Here’s to all the amazing places you’ll go in 2017!  Cheers!

nature do?a manzara

 

 

 

 

Do you know who MONA is?

This BLOG post originally appeared 11/12/11 on our old site with the title “what the heck is MONA”.  MONA is still a great place to visit so we thought we would re-post.  Hopefully we will get to Tasmania again some day soon!

Just a short flight from Melbourne takes you to the island of Tasmania known for the Tasmanian Devil and convicts.

On our first night in the Australian state of Tasmania we stayed at the lovely, modern and somewhat funky Mona Pavillion. Here there are 8 stand alone villa units with either one or two bedrooms as well as a presidential suite facing the River Derwent. From the outside they look somewhat like a space ship.

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From the inside they are right out of a James Bond movie. Each unit is named after Australian artists or architects. We stayed in Walter.

DSC_0393Walter from the outside

DSC_0376Living space in Walter

Each villa faces the harbor providing wonderful views throughout the day. And how could you not have a wonderful view, 3 of the walls are windows. Now i’m not saying they have windows….i’m saying they ARE windows. Full windows with shades that are operated by remote controls on the walls. How cool is that!

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These modernly appointed villas have everything your heart desires including a stocked wine bar, chilling each bottle to its exact prefect drinking temperature! The fridge is stocked with local beers, juices, soft drinks and milk.

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DSC_0392Yes, we had to pull them out to take a photo!

Our unit was a two bedroom, each with it’s own bathroom. And speaking of bathroom! Yeah this is my kind of set up! Oversized Jacuzzi tub with TV on the wall and a remote that if dropped into the water neither electrocutes you and still works!

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The beds, extremely comfortable….you’ll just have to take my word on that and in the morning wake to the wonderful sounds of nature chirping outside. Our bedrooms were tastefully decorated, some had a bit more of the shock factor going on.

DSC_0382Bedroom #1 in Walter

DSC_0435Bedroom #2 in Walter

DSC_0422One of the bedroom’s in the Roy (the largest pavilion)

Each unit is priced differently based upon it’s size but run between $390 – $990 per night based upon 2-4 guests. Plus tax of course. There are full cooking and laundry facilities in each unit.

DSC_0379Kitchen

These pavilions have everything a traveler could want.  As a matter of fact on a placard in the villas it says “we can arrange almost anything legal, just ask”. I’d call that customer service!

So what the heck is MONA?

Well it stands for Museum of Old and New Art. Mona is located just a short 10 minutes outside Hobart, Tasmania and is home to a somewhat shocking if not weird museum, a vineyard, cellar door and wine bar, a brewery, a restaurant, the Pavilion’s and of course a shop.

DSC_0396 Main building

DSC_0447The restaurant

DSC_0448The cellar door

At the cellar door you get a 1 hr. tasting and the admission fee is refunded if you purchase. Wine tours are available for $15.

DSC_0451Of course we tasted…and purchased!

DSC_0475The wine bar and brewery

On Friday and Saturday evenings you can get a 1 hr. beer tour and tasting for $15. They make 4 types of beer and all have no preservatives and are not pasteurized. You got to love the catchy “Moo Beer” name! Wine and beer master classes can be arranged upon request.

DSC_0478Believe it or not, we did not try them all!

As for the museum, lets just say it might not be for everyone as many exhibits are downright shocking and for some would be repulsive.

DSC_0483Museum entry

As the statement goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” this pretty much sums the gallery up. The owner, David Walsh aka Glenn Walsh. Tourists not from Tasmania pay $20 for admission, those under 18 are free. Some of the exhibits are sexually explicit, others personally confronting thus the gallery may not be for children.

DSC_0493Plaster molds of a woman’s privates

DSC_0494The white room

DSC_0497The woodpecker (sorry just trying to give you a feel for the museum)

DSC_0517The human digestive system recreated, this woman is actually feeding the machine lunch at 1130am (sandwich, salad, fruit and a drink).  At 200pm it has a bowel movement! We did not hang around for that!!

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Coolest thing in the museum, mummy on the left, xray tomography of it on the right!

So, that is MONA.  Who wants to go?  It really is quite a cool place, definitely 2 or 3 nights are needed.

New Group GetAway Just Added – but you must act soon

Have you ever taken a European river cruise?  Have you ever cruised with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises?

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Our customers love to cruise on Uniworld.  In fact it has one of the highest rates for repeat trips amongst all the suppliers we use.

 

You may very well ask why that is.  Well for starters, the standards of accommodations, food and service are extremely high.  The ships have very tasteful interiors and yes they are all different, with each being as unique as your voyage.   Typical cruise lengths are 8 – 15 days and everything is included, making for carefree and truly effortless travel.   Included are: scheduled airport transfers, all dining on board, unlimited beverages (including many premium spirits), personalized shore excursions, fitness center, Wi-Fi, on-board entertainment and all gratuities.

kinderdijk-windmillsOK – is this a commercial?  Yes it pretty much is and here is why.  We currently have some very special amazing prices on select Uniworld Cruises including our group cruise in April 2017 from Amsterdam to Antwerp.  This “Tulips and Windmills” cruise is scheduled to coincide perfectly with a visit to the famous Keukenhof gardens which has over 7 million bulbs in bloom each spring.  Additionally we will visit the windmills of Kinderdijk, the picture perfect villages of Veere, Hoorn and Enkhuizen, and the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bruges and Antwerp.  So much to see and so much to do but you need to act fast.  Why?  Because our amazing special pricing only lasts until October 11.  Give us a call at 262.538.2140 to reserve your spot with our group.

For additional details on the ship and the trip you may also want to visit our web page.

 

 

Europe GetAways in 2017

We have 2 exciting European Group GetAways scheduled for 2017.  They may both be cruises, but they are completely different!


1-Wine_grapes07First up is the Wines of Western Europe which includes Bordeaux (France), Basque (Spain) and Portugal.  Our group will be sailing aboard the luxurious Azamara Journey.  Azamara Club Cruises is at the crossroads of where luxury and destination immersive cruising meet.  This ship only holds 694 passengers and has a wonderful mix of amenities.  She’s a perfect-sized vessel: small enough that it’s never too far from one place to another, yet large enough to provide variety on long itineraries. On our trip we will experience late evening and overnight port stays.  The Journey was completely refurbished in 2016 –  it received new spa suites in the fully renovated Sanctum spa with updated decor in marble, light wood and a cream palate. Every suite and stateroom has new beds with the same decor scheme, and the restaurants also received a modern upgrade.

Our 12 Night GetAway begins in Southampton England on September 4 and ends in Lisbon Portugal on September 16.  Along the way you will experience the worlds foremost wine region in Bordeaux, spend a day at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, wash Tapas down with Rioja wine, and sip port in the Douro Valley – and so much more.  You can find more details at our website.  We hope you can join us.


salzburg2Our second European Group GetAway for 2017 is in December.  Why December?  Christmas MarketsCome with us and celebrate the season as we cruise along the Danube aboard the Uniworld SS Maria Theresa.  We last visited Christmas markets in 2014 and everyone had such a great time that we knew we’d definitely do it again.

If you’re tired of commercialism taking over the holidays, you will be very pleased with the traditions and romance of real Christmas markets where the gifts are not mass-produced but craftwork of real quality.   Our group will begin in Budapest and sail along the Danube while visiting Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany.  Every stop along the way will feature special Christmas Market excursions.  You can find more details on the itinerary at our website.

Every Uniworld ship is as unique as it’s itinerary and the SS Maria Theresa is no exception.  It’s opulent 18th century décor is a floating homage to one of the Habsburg empires most beloved ruler.  The food, drink and service on Uniworld are absolutely outstanding – and everything is included!  Call now as there are limited time promotions where even the air is included!

  As always, we can be reached at 262.538.2140 or send us an email: paul@getaway.travel or sue@getaway.travel