Category Archives: Group Travel

Blogging my way down the Danube – Budapest day 2

It’s up and at ’em today with a goal of seeing as much as possible. First stop St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in a very nice area, the church is surrounded by many shops and cafés so after the visit you might want to grab a bite to eat or a glass of wine and enjoy the square.

St Stephens Basilica Budapest

St. Stephen’s is dedicated to the Hungary’s king who was the founder of the Hungarian State. Construction started in 1851 but the church was not dedicated until 1905. During WWII, the church roof, towers and external walls were badly damaged however visitors today will find that even the beautiful mosaics have been successfully restored. Like many churches & Basilica’s in Europe, St. Stephan’s has it’s precious relic. Here (in the chapel) you will find the mummified hand of the church’s patron saint, the first king of Hungary. I’ve seen quite a few mummified parts in my travels but no matter how many, I can’t quite get over the concept – and yes, in every church I do seek them out….go figure!

St Stephens Basilica Budapest_2

If you are ambitious (we were not) you can walk up the 364 steps to the cupula for a panoramic view of the city, or do it the easy way and take one of the 2 elevators – either way, its worth the effort on a clear day.

matthias church budapest_7

St Matthias church on Buda Castle hill

Next stop on our whirlwind tour is Buda Castle. We took public transportation for an easy jog over to that part of town. Located on what is referred to as Castle Hill, the 18th century Buda castle is a 200 room palace built to protect from Mongol and Tartar attacks. The castle was quite damaged in World War II however today many parts of it have been restored and now house the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The entire complex is designated a Unesco World Heritage Site and it is worth taking the time to explore.

Fishermans Bastion Budapest_1

An amazing view from Castle hill of the Parliament building on the Danube

matthias church budapest_6

View of Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill

Funicula to Budda castle

Funicular Ride up to the Castle

Take the historic funicular up to the top and be sure to marvel at the views from the top. Stay for a changing of the guards ceremony and be sure to throw a penny in the fountain. While we were exploring a festival was being set up in the castle square and we are glad we hung around until the stalls began to open. This was by far the best Hungarian food ever! The cabbage roll was to die for, the grilled chicken was moist and tasty and sausage….well with a cold Hungarian brew, what could have been better??

Budpest_105

Sue & Ellen enjoy lunch at the Buda Castle

Onward we went – in search of one of the “most scenic tram rides in Europe”. AKA Tram #2, on the Pest side of the river is according to National Geographic, one of the most scenic trams in the world but I think we missed its beauty. Don’t get me wrong, out the river side of the tram there were some very pretty sights – when you could see them. However, the tram is crowded and used for local transportation so if you can get a seat on the scenic side you are lucky…heck that is if you can get a seat at all!

gellert baths

Tram running in front of Gellert Baths in Budapest

Now a word about this and other trams/public transportation options in Budapest. You must buy a ticket and you MUST validate it upon entering the tram. We bought a 10 pack and got on. One of us validated and the other 2 did not, as our main goal was seeking out a seat. Well it seems that the one who validated did not actually validate the ticket itself but rather the ticket cover….and folks that doesn’t count when the tram police step on board and check your tickets. Let’s just say that the 1 Euro tram ride ticket became about a $35 per person fine – yep, even though we had attempted to validate according to the nice lady checking tickets, we had done so incorrectly and it simply didn’t count! You see, she doesn’t “make the rules, she just follows them” thank you very much and pay on the spot! It did not matter that we had some 8 unused tickets that she could have easily stamped …nope….tourist hand over the money! And so we did….but here is the good news (according to her), we could now ride the tram the rest of the day for free! Well we rode it all right, to where we found a wonderful little wine bar to toast our contribution to Budapest tourism!

getting a ticket in budapest_1

A Souvenir that won’t be soon forgotten!

All in a days fun…and something to talk about for a long time to come!

 

Blogging my way down the Danube – Day 1

Starting in Budapest, Hungary, we made our way down the Danube River on the Uniworld SS Maria Theresa and oh what a time we had.

Boscolo Hotel Budapest_14
We arrived in Budapest a few days earlier and checked into the Boscolo Budapest Autograph Collection Hotel aka the New York Palace Hotel.  This city center hotel is truly an extraordinary experience where historic combines with contemporary comfort. Marble bathrooms, plush bedding, silk wallpaper and Murano chandeliers make you feel as though you are royalty.

Boscolo Hotel Budapest_3

The service is fantastic and a visit to the world-famous New York Café located within the hotel is a must do.
Although tired, we grabbed a bite to eat while we waited for rooms to be ready and then our first stop of the trip was the famous natural hot spring baths. It was a short stroll from the hotel to the underground that took us right to the baths.

Széchenyi thermal bath Budapest

There are many hot mineral bath options in Budapest but we chose to visit Szechenyi Baths. Szechenyi is the largest in Budapest with 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor options. Each pool has a different temperature, our favorite was outdoors pool because of the size and temperature. It was the warmest and together with the sunshine it revitalized our bodies, minds and spirits after that long overseas flight. Onsite, one can also take advantage of steam and sauna cabins, massage therapies and even a beer spa! We rented a cabin which afforded us a private change area and a place to store our things. This experience is highly recommended on your next trip to Budapest, there is just something about floating around in deliciously warm water while surrounded by a Neo-baroque palace!

Széchenyi thermal bath Budapest_2
Feeling refreshed we headed back to the hotel knowing dinner and bedtime were just a few hours away. Tomorrow was to be a full day of sightseeing….stay tuned!

Széchenyi thermal bath Budapest_4

Happy GetAway Travelers!

 

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.

1-DSC_0971

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.

1-Azamara Journey 9-5-2017 11-45-35 AM

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?

1-P1130636

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?

river-princess

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.

Waterfalls & Wine 2015

Our 2015 Waterfalls & Wine tour in the great Pacific Northwest was a tremendous success.

Heading out from Seattle, we went to see our first waterfall.  Snoqualmie Falls did not disappoint with an amazing double rainbow – this was truly a sign of all the good times to come.

Snoqualmie Falls - double rainbow

Snoqualmie Falls – double rainbow

02-waterfallsandwine-001

a great start to the tour

03-waterfallsandwine-002

Even at the falls, there is an opportunity to taste wine.

Our next stop was in Yakima at Gilbert Cellars – Hackett Ranch.  The hospitality was warm and welcoming, the wines were tasty and the scenery was outstanding.

04-waterfallsandwine-003

Happy folks in the lavender

Gilbert Cellars

The ladies are mesmerized

After a delicious catered lunch at the Hackett Ranch, we departed for Walla Walla, the town so nice they named it twice.  The group checked in a the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel.  This was our home for 2 nights while we explored the nearby wineries.

Day 2 began at L’Ecole – where the wine was very nice, but I think everyone agreed that our second stop of the day at Northstar was truly a hit.

09-waterfallsandwine-008

Wine tasting and lunch on the patio at Northstar

10-waterfallsandwine-009

After lunch we head to the vines to hear about Washington wines

11-waterfallsandwine-010

and then on to the wine blending class where everyone made their own red wine blend from 4 different barrels of Merlot, 1 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 petite verdot

12-waterfallsandwine-011

the blend is starting to take shape

13-waterfallsandwine-012

the group shows off their personally crafted wines

After eating lunch and crafting our own red wine blends there was still another winery stop to make.  At Long Shadows we experienced a custom tasting and tour that included barrel sampling.

14-waterfallsandwine-013

keep it coming!

17-waterfallsandwine-016

the sadness and shock of seeing an empty fermentation tank

16-waterfallsandwine-015

Keep your wine thief handy, we’re having a barrel tasting

On day 3 everyone packed up for our journey to the waterfalls along the Columbia River Valley…but of course we stopped at a winery along the way.  Columbia Crest in Horse Heaven Hills.

18-waterfallsandwine-017

Our server at Columbia Crest for the reserve tasting was charming, engaging and a true delight. Look at all the happy faces

After a brewpub lunch stop we travelled along the Columbia River Gorge, with brief stops at 5 waterfalls.

21-waterfallsandwine-020

Amazing view of the Columbia River

20-waterfallsandwine-019

Evening of day 3 found us just outside of the Willamette valley.  For dinner we took over our hotel lobby, ordered pizzas and everyone brought a bottle of wine to share.  Day 4 began in the picturesque Dundee Hills.  Our first stop was Archery Summit.

24-waterfallsandwine-023

Our tour of Archery Summit had frequent stops to taste wine.

26-waterfallsandwine-025

Pretty bottles all in a row

23-waterfallsandwine-022

Just one of many vineyard views in Dundee Hills

The group loved Archery Summit and did not want to leave…except it was time for lunch.  So off we went to our tasting, tour and catered meal on the patio at Domaine Serene.

30-waterfallsandwine-029

side by side comparisons

28-waterfallsandwine-027

our tour at Domaine Serene begins

29-waterfallsandwine-028

After Domaine Serene, we had a special musical interlude

and then on to our next stop – Durant Vineyards

 

32-waterfallsandwine-031

the dancing continues

33-waterfallsandwine-032

outstanding views from Durant vineyards

Our final wine tasting in Willamette Valley was at Soter Vineyards

37-waterfallsandwine-036

artsy photo of Soter glass

38-waterfallsandwine-037

the gang continues to have fun

35-waterfallsandwine-034

is it time to dance again?

36-waterfallsandwine-035 At Soter even old friendships were made new again!

39-waterfallsandwine-038

A sincere thank you to everyone that joined us on the 2015 Waterfalls & Wine tour.  We look forward to our next journey together.

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?