Category Archives: Europe

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

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!

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


 

Professional Service & Awards

At GetAway Travel, we pride ourselves on great professional service to our customers.  Travel industry surveys continue to relate that travelers that work with travel agents have more fulfilling vacations than those that do not.  We certainly believe it is true, and obviously so do our clients.  Our clients expect to be treated like friends and family.  They are confident in our abilities.  They do not expect to be “sold” on travel as we already know they want an amazing vacation, what they want is our opinions, our help and our support.  One of the ways we support them is by maintaining professional agency affiliations. The affiliation that we are always most excited about is with MAST Travel Network – and unless you are in the industry, you likely have never heard of them.  We’ve been MAST members for many years now, and in fact Sue currently is serving a term on the board of directors.   MAST helps keep us up to date on the travel industry and products, but more importantly puts us face to face with suppliers.

This week was the 12th annual MAST awards night and GetAway Travel came home with 2 awards which bring us great pride.  The first award is for “Best Travel Show”, for our “Afternoon in Italy” event last February.  The second award is the “Directors Achievement Award”, recognizing one of MAST’s smaller agencies for outstanding sales and support with highest percentage increases from one year to the next.  This was a new category and we are truly blessed with being the first agency to ever receive this award.

You should expect great things from your travel agency, and we hope that for you that the travel agency you rely on first and foremost for amazing vacations is us.

Looking Forward – 2016 Year in Travel

European vacations continue to hold great value. The US Dollar remains at historic low levels vs. the Euro. This is good news for travelers to Europe as you definitely get more bang for your buck.  Our best advice for Europe is to plan ahead – this is not a destination that typically rewards the last-minute traveler.   The best way to start planning your European vacation is to schedule a consultation with Sue.

Uniworld River Baroness Honfleur France 3-26-2009 4-32-41 AMRiver Cruising continues to grow and for very good reasons. Our clients absolutely love to take River Cruises. All it takes is to try it once and you will rave about it forever. Be aware however that not all river cruise companies are equal. You can research endlessly on your own, or you can call us to discuss. Our goal is to find out about what you want to do, how adventurous you are, what you like and what you don’t like. What are your travel dreams?  Our recommendations are simply based on you and your needs, that’s it.

iberostar-rose-hall-beach-poolAll Inclusive vacations will remain hot, hot, hot. The industry continues to upgrade old properties and build new ones. There are All-Inclusives for all tastes and budgets. Well we know you want a warm weather, beach destination, but are you looking for a romantic escape or a family/multi-generational getaway? Do you want basic dining choices or a more gourmet experience?   How does a canopy covered bed and open air shower sound? Or a private plunge pool within mere steps of your suite? The choices go on and on.  We can help narrow it down to something you will love.

According to the experts, air ticket prices are down but add-on fees are up.  The simple fact, is you need air tickets to get to many vacation destinations. They are the transportation, not the vacation.

Cheap will remain, well….cheap. While the dictionary defines cheap as inexpensive, it also defines it as something of poor quality or shoddy. Continue to be cautious about anything advertised as cheap, supercheap, ultracheap, etc. A fantastically cheap vacation is not a good value if it is actually craptastic (this is our official industry word for cheap vacations!). Everyone wants good value and that’s where we help – get the best value for your money that actually gets the vacation experience you are looking for. Will it be cheap? We certainly hope not.

The best things in travel continue to come to those who plan ahead. For example, how about planning 2017? You may not be ready yet, but we are. We have 2 special group options worth considering.

Join us in January 2017 for our GetAway on the Getaway.   We will do all the following:  go down the highest water slides at sea, attend award-winning Broadway shows, experience Iron Chef dining, walk the plank and be endlessly entertained and pampered.   Book now and choose between Free unlimited drinks, Free Specialty Dining, Free Shore Excursions or Free WiFi.

In September 2017 we will be hosting a very special Wines of Western Europe group on the Azamara Journey.  Beginning in England, we will sail to France, Spain and Portugal.  Azamara specializes in unique itineraries that include overnight stays in many ports.  Our group will be in Bordeaux, one of the world’s foremost wine regions for 3 days.  But that is not the only World Heritage region we will visit – see our web page for all the details.

Irish Legends Tour – Friends You Haven’t Yet Met.

 “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”  
W.B. Yeats – Irish Poet, Nobel Laureate

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Come and make new friends as you tour the Emerald Isle on the September 2015 Irish Legends Tour –   September 18 – September 27

Click to see all the details on our web page

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Florence, Italy – Capital of Tuscany, Cradle of the Renaissance

GetAway Travel is taking a group of clients to Florence in October 2015 and here is why.

“The Creator Made Italy from Designs by Michelangelo”  – Mark Twain

32-Florence Italy 6-5-2008 1-38-21 AM 3872x2592And one of Italy’s greatest places to see those designs is in Florence.  In Italy, all roads lead to Rome, but in Florence all roads lead to the elegant Piazza della Signoria  – the location where Michelangelo’s statue of David was originally unveiled in 1504.  (Yes, over 500 hundred years ago!)  At the time this was also where the seat of the civic government of Florence resided.   Strategically positioned, the eyes of David with his warning glare were turned towards Rome.  In 1873 the statue moved to the Galleria dell’Academia, where it is viewed today.  A replica statue now stands in the Piazza on the exact spot where the original once stood.

Politically, economically, and culturally Florence was the most important city in Europe for around 250 years, from before 1300 until the early 1500s.  Florentines reinvented money, in the form of the gold florin. This currency was the engine that drove Europe out of the “Dark Ages”, a term invented by a Florentine. They financed the development of industry all over Europe, from Britain to Bruges, Lyon and Hungary. They financed the English kings during the Hundred Years’ War. They financed the papacy, including the construction of the papal palace in Avignon and then reconstruction of St. Peter’s and the Vatican when the papacy returned to Rome.

01-Florence Italy 6-4-2008 8-12-53 AM 3872x2592Florentines were the driving force behind the Age of Discovery. Florentine bankers financed Henry the Navigator and the Portuguese explorers who pioneered the route around Africa to India and the Far East. It was a map drawn by the Florentine Paulo del Pozzo Toscanelli, a student of Brunelleschi, that Columbus used to sell his “enterprise” to the Spanish monarchs, and which he then used on his first voyage. Mercator’s famous “Projection” is a refined version of Toscanelli’s map.  The western hemisphere itself is named after a Florentine writer who claimed to be an explorer and mapmaker, Amerigo Vespucci.

The greatest banking dynasty family that ever lived – the Medicis were centered in Florence.  From there they changed the world more than any other family.  The taught the rest of Europe how to conduct state-craft.  Their offspring married into and influenced rulers in France, Spain and England.

Florence had a profound impact on the world of art.  While your children may only know them as names of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the artists Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi) and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni are all forever linked to Florence.

Florence is the capital of Tuscany – and you know what that means….Italian hill towns and amazing wine – but that will be the subject of a future post.

Why not join us in Florence in October?

 

European Christmas Markets

We recently returned from an unforgettable cruise along the Rhine River to visit Christmas Markets in Germany, France and Switzerland.  Our journey was even more memorable as we travelled with a group of close friends.

Christmas Market

Christmas Market

River cruising provides an up close and personal experience.  The ships typically dock in the heart of town allowing easy and convenient access to the local sights and sounds.  This is especially convenient for a Christmas Market Cruise.  During the advent season, towns throughout Europe host wonderfully decorated markets for crafts, drink and food!  Hop off the ship to go shopping all day and then back on  in time for cocktail hour and a gourmet dinner before you set off for your next stop.

Half-timbered building decoracted for the holidays

Half-timbered building decorated for the holidays

The First Thanksgiving – What you May have Missed

pilgrims_color_631.jpg__800x600_q85_cropOur national holiday stems from the feast held almost 400 years ago by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest.  The Pilgrims came from religious congregations who originally fled the volatile political environment in England for the relative calm and tolerance of Holland in the Netherlands.  They were known as Brownists, named after Robert Browne an Anglican priest who preached against the doctrines of the Church of England.  The Brownists were advocates of a congregational form of organization for the Church of England starting in the time of Henry VIII.   Openly disagreeing with the monarchy however, was a rather hazardous affair.

Mary_I_by_Master_JohnMary I, Queen of England and Ireland from 1553 – 1558, was the only child of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon that survived to adulthood.  As the fourth crowned monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Mary is most remembered for her restoration of Roman Catholicism after the short reign of her younger Protestant half-brother.  Mary was fond of executing protestants by burning them at the stake and earned the nickname “Bloody Mary”.   After her death, Mary’s successor Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry  and Anne Boleyn re-established the Protestant Church of England – where the Monarch is the Supreme Governor, rather than that power residing with the Catholic Pope.  Regardless of who was in charge – it was a messy time to not agree with the only official religion in town, even though it could change depending on who was in charge.  Under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, it was illegal not to attend official Church of England services with a fine of one shilling for each missed Sunday and holy day.  The penalties for conducting unofficial services included large fines and imprisonment.  Your activities contrary to the Church could also be interpreted as Sedition, which generally resulted in execution.

So back to our intrepid Pilgrims.  They had a different set of ideas and it was a dangerous time for that sort of thing so they packed their bags and went to Holland.  Holland?  I thought they went to America?  Gouda Cheese is not a traditional Thanksgiving item!  Well they did not stay there – apparently Holland was a bit too tolerant as the Pilgrims were worried about losing their cultural identity so they hatched plans to establish a new colony in North America.

As the trip would be long and arduous, it was thought that the initial settlement should be undertaken primarily by the younger and stronger members.  The remainder agreed to follow if and when they could at a later date.  It was time to go, so a small ship was procured to set sail for North America – the 60 ton Speedwell.  Speedwell?  Wait a minute – that does not sound right.  My first grade project was to build the Mayflower with toilet paper tubes and tongue depressors.   Well all was not well with the Speedwell.  It was supposed to bring some passengers from the Netherlands to England and then set sail for North America, but…. it leaked.  A second larger ship, the Mayflower had already been leased for other transport and exploration services. Once the Speedwell was officially deemed not to be seaworthy, plans were changed and some crew and passengers were transferred to the Mayflower.

MayflowerAtSeaCroppedThe Mayflower was no cruise ship.  She was a merchant vessel and not built for passengers at all.  She was a typical English merchant ship of the time, square-rigged with high castle like structures fore and aft that served to protect the crew and main deck from the elements.  But having such structures made the ship extremely difficult to sail against the wind.  As a result the voyage to America took over 2 months.  There were roughly 102 passengers and 30 crew members aboard.  The Mayflower carried stores aboard to supply the Pilgrims with essentials needed for their journey and future lives.  Among them would have been tools, weapons, live animals including dogs, sheep, goats and poultry.

The crossing would be miserable,  with huge waves constantly crashing against the topside deck which eventually fractured key structural supports.  After long delays to even get the voyage started, the passengers put up with shortages of food and supplies, and also had to help repair the ship.  One passenger and one crew member died during the voyage and one child was born.  The Pilgrims lived ‘Tween decks with no privacy and only a chamber pot for a toilet.  They suffered injuries from being thrown against the walls of the wind tossed ship and when they weren’t seasick they were mostly bored.  The rare opportunities to go above deck and get fresh air occurred when it was time to empty chamber pots.

The Pilgrims eventually arrived in the New World, but it was winter – making it very difficult for them to find food and build shelters.  Already weakened by their 66 day voyage, most passengers failed to survive the first few months.  Fortunately, native Americans called the Wampanoag lived in the area and shared knowledge of local game and crops, helping the colonists survive. Waterfowl such as duck was plentiful and during the winter wild game such as rabbit, squirrel, deer and yes, turkey.  The first Thanksgiving feast was held in the autumn of 1621 to celebrate the first successful harvest.

So what does this have to do with travel? 

Well you can still make the voyage between England and America.  One great way to do this is aboard the Queen Mary 2 – recognized as Best Luxury Cruise Ship by readers of Travel Weekly.  It won’t take you 66 days, but only 7 or 8.  The Queen Mary 2 entered service in 2004.  Built in France and coming in at 148,528 tons – over 800 times the size of the Mayflower at 180 tons.  The Queen Mary 2 is 1132 ft long – 10 times longer than the Mayflower at 100 ft.  The Mayflower had 4 decks, the Queen Mary 2 has 14.RMS_Queen_Mary_2

Queen Mary 2 holds about 2600 passengers (Mayflower 102) and a crew size of 1253 (Mayflower 30).

OK – obviously there is really no comparison, and you certainly won’t have to live ‘tween deck and only get to go up top to empty your chamber pot!  Also you won’t be bored.  There is a long list of daily activities – Fitness class, card games, dance lessons, lectures, and watercolor instruction to name but a few.  The on board planetarium is a big draw with 3 shows a day produced by the NY American Museum of Natural History.  Computer, IPod and IPhone classes are offered as well as interactive fun gatherings in the Golden Lion Pub for trivia contests.

RMS-Queen-Mary-2-factsIn the evening, entertainment comes alive in the plush Royal Court Theatre.  The spectacular Queens room lounge recalls the main ballroom of a 1930s ocean liner with all the glitter.  Veuve Clicquot lent its name to the Champagne Bar.  The Chart Room is a great place for pre-dinner drinks, being kind of a traditional ocean liner smoking room, but without the smoke.  Across the way is the wine bar, Sir Samuel’s.

The Canyon Ranch Spa is the largest ever mounted in a ship, with a staff of 50 to perform an array of services.  Movies are shown under the stars on warm nights.  The deck space has the longest promenade at sea.  Five swimming pools, some with adjoining whirlpools are available in the open and under a Magrodome.  Sports include: tennis, golf driving range, basketball and shuffleboard.

The main dining venue is the soaring Britannia Restaurant, a spectacular space with 3 tiers.  Spaciousness and elegance are apparent in all the public room corridors, foyers and lounges.

If the Pilgrims were aboard the Queen Mary 2, they may have never left the ship when it arrived in America, and we would miss out on our annual Thanksgiving feast (and day of Football).  So let’s give thanks to the Pilgrims, thanks to the native Americans that kept them all from starving to death in the new world – and thanks for the many amazing travel options we have today!

May you and your family have a great Thanksgiving holiday.