Hidden Gems of Italy

Now that summer vacation is in full swing, thoughts of Italy come to mind as a lot of travelers visit the big three: Rome, Florence and Venice – with Amalfi Coast right behind them in terms of popularity. But what some relish is the path less traveled – Umbria, Piedmont Region, and Sicily.

With a perfect geographical location, just one hour by car or train from Rome or Florence, Umbria is an ideal destination for those in search of art and culture. The region is celebrated as “the Green Heart of Italy” for all the olive groves and vineyards, which populate this area. Stay in Relais il Castello – a historic residence in a medieval village named Monte Castello di Vibio near Perugia (the capital of Umbria) where you can take a cooking class at the hotel or visit the nearby Arnaldo Caprai Winery. A very reasonable accommodation with all the comforts of home, but with a unique ambiance that will definitely remind you that you are in Italy, not Connecticut. What’s more, you can rent a car and use it as a base to explore other towns such as Assisi, Perugia, Siena, Florence or Rome.

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Should you Go All-Inclusive?

Excellence El Carmen PuntaCana

When you want to go on vacation, suddenly there are many decisions to make. Should you go to an island , Europe or a ski resort? Should you take the kids or go to a romantic adults-only resort?

How long should you stay? How much can you afford to spend?

That last question often prompts another question – should you book your vacation at an all-inclusive resort or not. And yes, there are all-inclusive ski resorts as well as Caribbean island resorts!

The biggest value add of an all-inclusive is not having to worry about anything since most everything will be included: three meals a day, soft drinks, and some beer, wine and spirits, beach chairs and umbrellas, pool and beach activities and taxes. Some resorts offer water sports, such as scuba diving, kayaking and windsurfing. Often children’s activities in the form of a Kid’s Club are included at family all-inclusive resorts as well. Ski resorts usually include lift tickets and even some ski instruction!

It’s important to note that all-inclusive resorts do not always include ALL of your expenses, however. Land excursions, such as golfing and touring local spots generally are not included. Motorized water sports are usually not included. Also, if you want to toast your vacation with a bottle of Dom Perignon, that and other high-end liquors will probably be extra, if available. Gratuities are often not included, although some high-end resorts advertise that gratuities are not required.

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But, the all-inclusive resort does allow you to budget and not worry about receiving a big bill at the end of your vacation. No surprises means greater peace of mind while travelling – not a small thing at all!

Here are some who would enjoy All-Inclusive resorts:

All-Inclusive Resorts:

  • Families with children who enjoy engaging with other children in kid’s clubs (best ages are 5-12)
  • People who are primarily looking for rest and relaxation on a beach and by a pool with a spa nearby – couples should consider an Adults Only resort for total relaxation and seclusion.

However, all-inclusive resorts are not for everyone. For example, here are some that would probably not enjoy an all-inclusive.

  1. Vacationers who do not drink much or at all (those swim-up bars get pretty noisy around 4pm when people have been drinking all day)
  2. People who like to explore an area and get immersed in the culture of the destination. When you have prepaid all your meals and beverages at an all-inclusive, it is pretty difficult to justify a lot of “off-campus” time for local meals, for example. Plus, why bother when there are so many activities at the resort?

Location may dictate your choice of resort. All-inclusive resorts are concentrated in Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico (with some on other islands such as Aruba and Barbados, for example). Many all-inclusive ski resorts can be found in France, Italy and Switzerland through Club Med.

Whether you choose an all-inclusive resort or a resort with a European Plan (no meals or beverages included) will all come down to your idea of a dream vacation and your budget. A travel agent can help you figure out what works best for you – depending on who you are traveling with, where you are looking to go, and what you enjoy most on your vacation!

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Reinventing the Africa Safari

 

Just back from an amazing trip to Southern Africa and a trip like no other I have experienced. It was a trip of discovery of the beautiful scenery and nature of Africa, setting out on both water and land safaris to see wild animals in their natural habitat, and experiencing the warm culture of the African people.

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A small group of sixteen of us set out for Johannesburg and took a panoramic tour of this capital city, stopping for an authentic lunch in Soweto, home of Nelson Mandela and the fight to end Apartheid. The next day we flew by small plane to Lake Kariba – which is one of the largest manmade lakes in Africa, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Flying over the lake, we were unprepared for the spectacular size and scope of this Lake (over 140 miles in length and spans 25 miles at it’s widest point). We arrived at our luxury houseboat, a new ship purpose-built by CroisiEurope for this lake. CroisiEurope is the largest French rivercruise company – in business for over 40 years — and we were the first American group to experience this itinerary.

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At sunrise, we sailed through the mysterious landscapes of Lake Kariba where drowned trees reach skywards from the depths of lake. We set out on small private boats to discover the Gache Gache River. A birder’s paradise, we saw over a dozen species of African birds never spotted by these American eyes – and a herd of hippos, who finally scattered as we carefully pulled up in our speedboats.   Enjoying the best French-accented cuisine and wines from South Africa onboard, we were truly pampered onboard our floating home for three nights.

The next day we set out for a land safari in 4x 4 jeeps at Matusadona National Park – home to buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, impalas, and elephants – where hunting is strictly prohibited. Later, on a sundowner cruise, we spotted our first lion of the trip near the shore of the lake.

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Next stop: a flight from Kariba to Kasane in Botswana. We boarded small boats and had a fascinating water safari along the Chobe and Zambezi rivers enroute to our remote luxury lodge in Namibia – on Impalia Island. Only 8 bungalows with private pools and our own resident hippos. Here we enjoyed a series of water safaris and land safari in Chobe National Park – home to ¼ of the total elephant population in Africa, plus giraffes, baboons, and Urdus (large antelope) to name just a few.

Night at Lodge

We didn’t think it could get any better than this, until we reached Victoria Falls and found that our lodge had it’s own watering hole where we could view animals as we dined in open air. The “smoke that thunders” of Victoria Falls is truly a wonder to behold. One of the seven wonders of the world, it’s the widest waterfall in the world. An incredible ending to an incredible journey.

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All-American Summer Getaways

 

It’s officially Summer and that means it’s time to take the ultimate family vacation. If you haven’t decided where to go yet, here are highlights of four of the top get-away destinations that our great nation has to offer.

Orlando may very well be the most magical place on Earth. From the wonderous sights and sounds of Walt Disney World’s parks and resorts to the splendor of SeaWorld’s ocean life, this subtropical spot has something for every member of your family. With over a dozen theme parks, some of the world’s finest food and entertainment, and more miniature golf courses than you can count, you and your family will have the adventure of a lifetime. And, with the second highest number of hotel rooms in the country, your family will have a great range of hotel options – no matter what your budget.

In 2004, my family and I travelled to Arizona and embarked on what my son considers to be the greatest vacation experience of his entire life—visiting the Grand Canyon. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, this national park stretches 227 river miles long, spans up to 18 miles in width, and possesses a depth of just over one mile, so it’s no wonder why over 4 million people visit this geological marvel each and every year. While there, you and your family can hike trails, observe a unique variety of wildlife, whitewater raft and learn about local Native American culture and history.

Chicago

Chicago is a place very near and dear to my heart. As a native daughter of the Windy City, I know first-hand of the fun and excitement that the city has to offer your family. Delight in the deliciousness that is deep dish pizza at either the original Giordano’s Pizzeria or Uno Pizzeria & Grill; stroll through the exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago; munch on a classic Chicago-style dog as you root for either the Cubs or the White Sox at a home game; laugh uncontrollably at a Second City improv show; embrace the blues at Buddy Guy’s Legends and explore the modern-day menagerie that is the historic Lincoln Park Zoo.

Washington, D.C. is easily the ultimate all-American family vacation experience. Our nation’s capital boasts some of the most historic sites imaginable. Walk the streets paved by our forefathers as you visit Ford’s Theatre, climb the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and gaze at your reflection in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the Washington Mall in front of the Washington Monument. But the fun doesn’t stop there—you can enjoy a prime cut at BLT Steak, shop the 10 acres of stores at CityCenterDC, ride the nation’s highest-rated public transportation system and bask in the glory of the Star-Spangled Banner flag at the National Museum of American History.

The ultimate family vacation can be closer than you think. A new destination transports us and creates fabulous family memories.

 

Exploring Cambodia and Viet Nam on the Mekong River

Exotic destinations are becoming more and more enticing to baby boomers as they start to check off their bucket list of things to see and do, China and the Great Wall, the Nile and The Pyramids, African game preserves and Victoria Falls, the Galapagos Islands and the evolution of species… But most intriguing of all might be Viet Nam and Cambodia. Both are on Trip Advisors top 10 destinations for 2017. For many who served in the war it’s a difficult decision to go back. Many veterans are curious to see the changes that have taken place in 50 years and others can’t get over the memories of their youth.  The recent television series by Ken Burns on the The Vietnam War puts this into a vivid perspective.

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Traveling to Alaska? This Norwegian Ship is Pure Bliss!

 

Frank and I were lucky  to attend the May 4th NYC Inaugural of The Norwegian Bliss – a brand new way to explore Alaska! This impressive ship features the U.S. debut of the largest racetrack at sea and the Tony award-winning Broadway Show “Jersey Boys”.

What makes this ship uniquely positioned for an Alaska sailing is an awe-inspiring Observation Lounge which takes up half of the 15th deck and has  panoramic windows with lounge chairs,  breakfast and lunch buffets and a circular bar near the bow of the ship.  You want to move right in!

When not spotting whales and glaciers out those panoramic windows, there is plenty of other activities to occupy all ages onboard this ship.

The eco-friendly racetrack on the top of the ship and is a marvel of engineering. Cruisers here were excited about the $7 ride, on which up to ten electric go-karts can race each other day and night. An absolute “must do” for all ages (min. height is 4’6”) Another new attraction is the Ultimate Laser Tag Adventure where families can explore a giant abandoned space station that hasn’t been inhabited for 200 years. 

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