Category Archives: Cruising

Barging through Burgundy, France: A Visit to Chagny Market

 

Cruising on the Caprice barge hotel is a marvelous way to experience the French countryside © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is late afternoon when we get our first glimpse of the Caprice, the barge hotel that will be our home for the next week as we cruise along the canals and River Saône through Burgundy.

I literally fall in love with the boat, looking much like a Monet painting on the mirror-still water of the canal. It is absolutely sweet, charming, inviting.

The gorgeous Burgundy countryside on our way to St. Leger Sur Dheune, where the Caprice is docked © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We have arrived where the Caprice is docked at St. Leger Sur Dheune after about 1 1/2 hour bus trip from Dijon. Dijon is an enchanting Old City, just a few hours outside of Paris, that I bless my good sense to have planned to stay over at the historic Sofitel Hotel when we return (the cruise alternates routes; this is the northbound route that ends back in Dijon).

During the course of the next week, the canal and river cruise of Burgundy on the Caprice proves to far exceed my hopes and expectations – everything from the creature comforts onboard, the fine dining and wining, the pleasant company of our fellow travelers, the picturesque landscapes and fascinating attractions, the opportunity to bike and explore storybook quaint villages, the relaxed and casual atmosphere that is eminently more satisfying than lounging on a beach.

The biggest surprise for me are the excursions. Each day we are taken by bus to some really fascinating place, with our own guide.

The Caprice was built as a commercial barge, carrying grain, timber and coal, and converted to a passenger ship 25 years ago. It has a “boatee” shape – not squared off, flat like other barges – designed for rivers as well as canals.

The vineyards of the Cote de Nuits region, Burgundy, France © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The upper deck of the Caprice has a two-tiered sundeck with tables, chairs and umbrellas. and is decorated with pleasing flower pots. The indoor salon has comfortable upholstered seating and large picture windows, and is separated from the dining area by a bar stocked with beverages and ice. The dining area has lovely picture windows that let in light and let you see the countryside float by as you linger over your meal.

We gather together in a comfortable lounge for an orientation to the barge and our cruise, meet the staff, enjoy a welcome drink of the traditional Burgundian Kir Royale and meet our fellow travelers.

Our group is extremely diverse and comes from all over: Colorado, Connecticut; Cleveland, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan; Ft Lauderdale, Florida; Vancouver, England, Australia, and New York.

Tina, the general manager, is from the UK, who we come to know as incredibly pleasant, efficient, and good-humored, welcomes us with a very helpful orientation to the boat and the program, and introduces the staff: Chef Herve, hostesses Sophie (who is now married to Herve) and Molly, Roger, the first mate and Captain Willy.

Tina gives us a wonderful orientation to what we will experience.

The boat floats so slowly along the canal, “a toddler can toddle at the same speed,” she says, so we can walk along side, and get back on at the next lock, or bicycle the towpath that goes alongside, or take the bike to explore nearby villages. (We just have to give some advance notice to Roger, the first mate, to hand us down the bike).

The Caprice barge hotel, tied up at St Leger Sur Dheune, at the start of a week-long cruise through Burgundy © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

During the course of our cruise, we will go through some 21 locks. Going through the locks is a main source of interest and excitement.

“We make it look easy but there is only two inches of space – so don’t stick your limbs out.” At the point the barge is level with the shore – just a few moments, really – that’s when we can get off and walk or bike along the towpath, or even bike into nearby villages, catching up with the barge further on (they give us an approximate time schedule).

She warns us that some of the bridges we go under are extremely tight space – and may even brush the top of the boat, so if we are standing on the high terrace, “be aware, you may have to duck.”

There are windows in cabins, but we need to close them when we are moving – because water will come in like waterfall.

The stunning scenes along the canal at St. Leger Sur Dheune ©  Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The water on the Caprice is potable, but bottled water is provided, as well, and we can help ourselves to a chilled supply in the refrigerator, where there are also sodas and beer.

Wines – red and white – are served at lunch and dinner, and there is also a bar – you run your own tab by simply marking down what you have consumed.

Coffee and fresh fruit are set out all day long, and a platter of cookies is there for us when we return from our afternoon excursions.

A bell is rung 5-10 minutes before lunch and dinner, and to signal when we need to get ready for excursions.

Breakfast is more casual. We can help ourselves to a marvelous buffet, available from 7:30-9:30.

Biking on the towpath along the canal.

Everything is extremely well organized: Each day, they post the list of the locks we will be going through, with the distances to the next one, mostly half to one-mile apart (that lets you know when you can get on/off), and also post the menu, and the schedule for the day, and each day they tell us what we will be seeing the next day.

Each day, we arrive in our new destination for the night around 4:30-6 pm and dock, giving us time to explore these quaint villages and towns by walking or biking.

We will spend the first two days on the Canal de Sange – traveling about 8 miles – then join the River Saône, spend one full day on river, and then the next day, start on the river and end on the Canal de Bourgogne which will take us into Dijon.

Tina tells us that after 11 pm, the crew goes to sleep and “the last person in locks the door.” If we want to stay out later, we need to take a key to open the door.

The decor on the Caprice is extremely pleasing – nautical with rich blues and polished wood and brass fittings.

Below deck, Caprice has 10 cabins averaging 82 sq. ft. with (big surprise) private bathrooms. The cabins are cozy and comfortable, with warm wood paneling, a window, decent lighting, and good storage.

Our bags have already been brought to our cabin – we spend just a couple of minutes and then rush off. We have just enough time before dinner to explore so we immediately take off on bikes and along the towpath. This turns out to be some of the most picturesque countryside of the trip, and the late afternoon golden light makes it that much more enchanting. The farms dot the rolling countryside, we come upon some of the most contented looking cows I have ever seen, and some donkeys. The evening is picture perfect as the sun goes down.

Picturesque villages along the canal in Burgundy ©  Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Everyone is seated at dinner by the time we return and we take the last open seats. Tina has waited for all of us before she starts the presentation of the menu, describing the courses and explaining the wines and the cheeses with fascinating insights.

This first night’s dinner lets us experience Chef Herve’s genius at combining flavors and textures: a salad of goat cheese with whole grain mustard greens, pine nuts and black current; the entree of Cod with balsamic reduction, red tomato (so full of flavor) and saffron risotto (texture is exquisite). The presentations are stunning – worthy of the finest restaurant. A feeling of absolute contentment rushes over me.

Indeed, the cruise is not just a “heart of Burgundy” itinerary, but a food and wine itinerary, and during the course of our journey, we really take a journey into French food preparation, and wines and cheeses (though I am pleased that the preparations are not as rich as they could be, and overall, you do not feel guilty enjoying the meals).

At lunch and dinner, there are both a white and a red wine and a couple of cheeses – different each time, so during the course of the cruise, we have had an amazing tour of French wines and cheeses.

This first night’s wine selections are Sancerre and Brouilly, served with a flourish.

Scenes out of an Impressionist painting are just beyond where the Caprice is tied up, at St Leger Sur Dheune at the start of the canal cruise ©  Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The cheese is a delectable Camembert, one of France’s most famous, originating from Normandy, where cows graze on rich soil scattered with apple trees. Also, Fourme d’Ambert, from the Auvergne region, and one of the oldest cheeses in France, dating back to Roman times; it is one of the mildest blue cheeses with a creamy flavor and nutty finish. This cheese, Tina tells us, is injected with wine to help with ripening and for sweetness.

In these kinds of trips, the most interesting part is getting to know your fellow passengers, and each meal, we sit where we like (or where there is still an open seat) so over the course of the cruise, we get to spend time with everyone.

We meet Sidney, 90 years old, who tells us that she took her first trip to Europe when she was 16, in 1937, sailing across the Atlantic to Paris on the Bremen, a German war prize, operated by Cunard. She tells us how she arrived the day before July 14, Bastille Day, and stayed with a woman whose fiancé was killed in World War I. In Connecticut, she started a school, became a reading teacher, and then opened a bookstore. “Amazon.com killed it,” she says, and that’s when she started traveling again. At another meal, we learn that Sidney’s aunt married Teddy Roosevelt’s son; that one side of her family came on Mayflower while the other came in chains from Scotland.

Sunday, Market Day in Chagny

Breakfast is served fairly casually – a buffet that is set out between 7:30-9:30 am, satisfying both early and late risers.

We begin our cruise on the Canal until the bell rings signaling that we should assemble for the bus, and we are taken on our first excursion, to the charming town of Chagny, where the weekly Sunday market is underway (each of the cruises visits one of the local markets).

A picturesque scene in the late afternoon at St. Leger Sur Dheune at the start of the cruise on the Caprice © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It seems everyone has come from throughout the region – there is every manner of food – cheeses, breads and pastries, luscious looking fruits and vegetables, meats, plus clothes, CDs, housewares. There are amazing aromas and sounds, colors and textures. There must be a mile of stalls. It is exciting, vibrant, and marvelously colorful.

At one stall, there is a selection of chickens still with the heads on, ducks, and some other unidentifiable fowl.

The Caprice, one of France Cruises’ luxury hotel barges, floats up a canal in Burgundy © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I love seeing the French words on signs, hearing French and feeling my French jog back to memory in my brain.

We return to the Caprice for a delightful lunch of baked ham with Chablis sauce, broccoli salad, prawn and pasta salad, and green salad. The food is all delectably fresh – Herve shops twice a week at markets such as these.

The wine is a Bourgogne Chardonnay, and a Saumur Champigny.

The dessert is a creamy but solid white cheese, doused with a currant sauce that is magnificent.

We notice many live-aboard barges – some are rentals – and have an amazing appreciation for their skill in managing going through the locks, which often are just big enough for the barge. Most of the locks are self-service – some of the locks open automatically but others have to be hand-cranked.

We don’t stay on the barge long – every opportunity we grab the bikes and ride along the tow path or veer off into nearby villages.

In the afternoon, the Caprice ties up to give us time to explore a charming village, where we are able to bike around, enjoying the traditional architecture.

This evening’s dinner: a quail salad (with beet shoot sprout that gives it a remarkable texture), delectable roasted lamb in a rosemary sauce with potato, all with a gorgeous presentation. The dessert, a passion fruit shortcake.

The Caprice barge hotel takes you on the canals and rivers of Burgundy, passing gorgeous countryside and quaint villages © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The wine selections are a 2010 Pouilly Fume, from the Loire, with a wonderful dry, citrusy, fresh taste, and an Hautes Cotes de Beaune (where we will visit tomorrow), a medium bodied wine from grapes grown on high slopes.

The cheese selections are Chaource, is a triple creamy cow’s milk cheese that melts in your mouth like snowflake, and Cantal.

I am appreciating Chef Herve’s cooking – a young fellow, he is a master at unusual combinations of flavors and textures – his selections are always surprising.

The Caprice is owned by Barging Through France, and represented by France Cruises, Inc, San Antonio, Texas, 866-498-3920,www.francecruises.comwww.FranceCountryTours.com.

(Originally published 2011)

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017

 

At the New York Times Travel Show, travelers showed tremendous enthusiasm for foreign destinations, such as these Indonesia, a destination that Pauline Frommer is recommending for 2017. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel expert Pauline Frommer, of the Frommer Guides and radio show, says that 2017 is probably the best year for Americans to travel abroad because of a surging dollar, competitive pressure on international airline fares, and an international climate where destinations are thrilled to have foreign visitors.

Travel expert Pauline Frommer urges travelers to be skeptical of online travel searches but says 2017 is a great year for Americans to travel abroad because of a strong dollar and low air fares. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

But she began her presentation to the 2017 New York Times Travel Show counseling travelers to be skeptical of technology that is transforming so much of how people travel and even where they travel – how online search engines can force you into purchasing more expensive hotels and airlines based on the profile that previous searches create, and, as a corollary, the intrusion into privacy.

“Often the answers you are going to get through an online search aren’t necessarily the answers you want.” This is especially true because of the way the search engines keep track – through cookies, for example – and will provide listings that seem to conform to previous searches.” The cookies might be in your computer after you did a search for a hotel or a business trip where the boss pays, so you book a $400/night hotel. “So when you try to find a hotel for a family holiday, in your search, all the expensive hotels come up first. It’s more difficult to find the least expensive.”

This is true for flight searches on popular sites (like expedia.com), where if you log off, then go back, you might find that the flight is $200 more. The way around it? You have to either clear your browser of cookies, or go online again on a different computer, or “even go to Starbucks and use their WiFi.”

Based on research that Frommer commissioned from a freelancer, Frommer recommends a couple of websites for airline searches:

Momondo.com (which doesn’t use cookies, so when you return, the price is same but you have to reenter information); and Skyscanner.net (which does use cookies)

She also counsels that the cheapest days of the week to book are Saturday, Tuesday & Wednesday flights.

And based on a study of 26 million airline transactions by the Airline Reporting Corporation, which acts as middleman between airlines and travel agencies (online and storefront), there are trends in fares (she warns won’t always be true and likely not for traveling on Christmas or SuperBowl weekend). Nonetheless, to get the best fares, she advises:

Book on a weekend, 19% savings

Book 57 days before travel for domestic tickets,10% savings

Book 176 days before travel to Europe, 11% savings

Book 77 days before travel to the Caribbean 5% savings

Book 160 days before travel to Asia/Pacific 13% savings

Book 144 days before travel to the Mideast, Africa, 24% savings

Book 90 days before travel to Central/South America, 10% savings

Book160 days to get the best air fare to Asia Pacific; new carriers are also holding international fares down© 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Frommer (as well as travel expert Peter Greenberg) warn buyers to beware of the new category of “basic economy fares” which American Airlines recently introduced, following on heels of United and Delta. Averaging $25 less than regular economy, the airlines have tended to offer them in markets where carriers have competition from low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit.

“But these are really, really ugly. You will never get to choose your seat, which means you are likely to wind up in a middle seat. This is a problem if you are travel with children – if there is a plane crash, how could you leave the plane if your kids are in different seats. I don’t think will be brought up soon with current administration.” On American and United, the austerity goes beyond (and is even parodied by comedians): you don’t get to use the overhead bin, you can only bring on board the plane what you can slip under your seat; if you need to check luggage, it costs $25. Another disadvantage: you don’t get any loyalty points when you buy a basic economy seat (though loyalty doesn’t mean much of anything, anymore, she adds).

Rethink loyalty. Loyalty has been devalued by the airlines now. In the last year, you would get points for how many miles you traveled; now it’s for how much money paid, that is multiplied by how high you are in their system. If you are a big-time business traveler, your money is multiplied by 5; if you only travel only twice a year, it is only multiplied by 2 – not greatest system. It will cause major fights at the gate.”  American, she says, is soon going to use its new Loyalty standard to determine where you get on a list to upgrade (it used to be, as an elite member, first-come, first serve, now the airline will look how much money you spent to get elite membership).

The only way to make the points game work in this climate, she advises, is to use credit cards.

Good news for travelers: airfares in the US have stayed stable, and airfares abroad are dropping dramatically because of new players like Norwegian Airlines (offering $499 fare each way to London), WOW airlines, XL Airlines (operating to Paris, www.xl.com/us/, which used to only concentrate on French travelers, but now Americans, too); Thomas Cook Airlines, Eurowings, AirAsia, Emirates, and soon, JetBlue, adding, “Any airline flying into the United States has to adhere to our gate standards.”

Emirates Airlines, which has been offering low fares, is not new but going to a lot more places in Europe for a lot less money. “Now Milan is the cheapest gateway in Europe because of Emirates.” And the international scene may get a new competitor, as JetBlue is looking to starting to fly to Europe.

Also, AirAsia has started flying to Asia, pushing fares down 25% from last year.

Context Travel specializes in small-group walking tours led by experts and focused on a theme, such as of Ancient Athens, Greece © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

How do you find great ways to sightsee besides using Frommer guide? All around the world, you can find local walking tours led by starving graduate students. “These are people who go to places like Venice, Rome, New York, Chicago to work on dissertations and to make a little extra money, often lead walking tours. They know they have to be really entertaining or they won’t get a tip (which is all they make). The best walking tour in Rome, Through Eternity, is led by a woman writing her dissertation on Michelangelo, who had been studying letters his assistants on scaffolding had been writing the Pope. From those, she learned that Michelangelo, who was from Florence, believed Rome’s water was poisoned and because of that, did not bathe for the 10 years he was in Rome. That’s what his assistants were writing about. This woman really knew and was passionate about what she was speaking about.” Such tours can also be a refreshing change from tour guides who, because of limitations on purchasing licenses, have been at it for decades, and “sometimes are so bored telling about Hadrian’s Gate for the 10,000th time.”

Atypical tour companies include:

G Adventures

Djoser

Intrepid Travel

Explore!

Context Travel

Road Scholar

G Adventures, Djoser, Intrepid Travel all are designed around small groups, never more than 12 people, use locally owned guest houses, local transportation to keep green [and provide a closer, more authentic experience], provide a lot of free time to explore on your own, and tend to be much cheaper than the competition. G Adventures is based in Canada, Djoser in Holland, and Intrepid is an Australian company so you are not just traveling with other Americans, but people from all over the world [which is also a special experience].

“I took an Intrepid family tour with my kids in Morocco. It was the most wonderful tour because of our group. We had a German family, 2 British families and a family who lived four blocks away from us in Manhattan. Explore!, an interesting British company, does hardcore tours of places that are otherwise difficult to get to on your own – the Stans, deep Africa, deep south Africa. Context Travel hires erudite guides – it is the most expensive on list, but they run really smart learning vacations to major cities. It started in Italy, now everywhere. Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) is for seniors, offering smart tours, hub and spoke so you stay in one place and take day trips; tours are often led by professors, educators.”

Under the category “Solo travel with a safety net,” Frommer cites Women Welcome Women (a UK-based international membership network started by a woman who was jealous of son being able to do exchange, http://www.womenwelcomewomen.uk/article/home.aspx; which is not a travel agency or travel company, but basically network women traveling to other cities).

Greeter Tours are free tours run by local who love showing their home town to people from around the world. (in NYC, Chicago, Houston, Paris, Lyon, Bangkok, Delhi, Cordoba, Grenada, Sydney, etc. (GlobalGreeetersNetwork.info)

For a very different perspective on a city, look for a greeters program, such as “This is My Athens” program offered through the city’s tourism bureau, which matches visitors with a local volunteer. Here, my Athens with a Native guide, Constantine E. Cavoulacos, with the owner of Panagiotis, a neighborhood eatery. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Accommodations. There’s been a sea-change in accommodations – AirBnB now has more beds in its inventory than all the major hotel chains combined. “Last year, [hoteliers] were saying AirBnB wasn’t affecting prices because a different person uses AirBnB. But this year, they are saying it is affecting prices. It used to be hotel chains would know they could raise prices sky high for a major holiday; now they no longer have that kind of security [control].”

The best search sites for accommodations, she says, are HotelsCombined.com (#1 for prices 92% of the time, according to a study, but Hotelscombined doesn’t actually sell from inventory, it just Googles), followed by Trivago (which is owned by Expedia; expedia gets inventory from the major chains).

In terms of OTAs (online travel agents), booking.com wins (not just the big hotel chains), followed by Asia specialist Agoda.com (best prices for Asia).

The best Booking Blind sites are: Priceline.com, hotwire.com, and biddingtraveler.com.

For lodging rentals, she recommends:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com (owns Rentals.com, owned by Expedia, massive corporation)

Zonder.com

FlipKey.com

VRBO.com

Sea Changes in Cruising: The cruise industry is seeing a sea change in technology. Frommer is skeptical about where technology is leading, particularly the juncture of privacy and marketing.

Carnival Cruises, for example, is very excited about a new medallion that replaces a key card, credit card, and knows if you are scheduled for a yoga class or a show or have a restaurant reservation.

“Medallion or Horcrux?  They hook you up to an app. They know where every member of your party is, open your door, order a drink, and will sell you things. I find this disturbing – from the point of view of the lack of privacy –a large corporation is going to know everywhere you are. They will be able to up-sell you. You may be glancing at a list of shore excursions and somebody will appear at your side to tell you why you should take a shore excursion.”

But one good trend in cruising, she says, are the lines that have responded to complaints about getting into a port at 9 am and leaving at 2 pm. Some are changing itineraries to allow more time in port, and some make it a focus. Azamara Club Cruises (which pioneered overnight stays, even 2-3 nights in a port so you can really get to know a city, but the trade-off is fewer sea days to relax) and other lines where they give you more time in port, like Oceania, Celebrity Cruises, Costa, MSC, and Holland America, so you can experience nightlife in a place and you don’t have to rush back to ship).

Cruiselines also are introducing new ports to their itineraries such as in Ireland, Australia, Asia, Scandinavia).

Frommer has a bugaboo about how much shore excursions cost: “They scare guests to take them when they don’t need to. They say if you don’t, the ship can leave without you. I say, get a watch. In most cases, you can wander off the ship and see as much as the shore excursion.

But, you can purchase less expensive port excursions than the ones offered by the cruiseline through such agencies as CruisingExcursions.com, ShoreTrips.com, Viator. CruisingExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com offer 12-person vans and usually charge 2/3 of cruise ship costs. Viator is more of a marketplace for city tours will give you guarantee that if you miss the boat they will pay to get you to next stop.

There are tremendous differences in cruiselines – aesthetics, what the experience is like. “When you take a cruise, the ship is your vacation, so get the best ship for you. Use a travel agent. This is one area where you are foolish not to use travel agents – those who specialize in cruises, get special discounts they can pass along, complimentary upgrades, shipboard credits, bottle of wine. They know their boats [and typically have toured the ship and have worked with the line]. Not all travel agents are equal. Ask questions. Make sure the travel agent represents all lines or, at least, the ones you are interested in. They can suggest the best cabin for the price you are willing to pay.

River Cruising has become extraordinarily popular, largely due to the success of Viking River Cruises. “For centuries, the rivers of Europe, Asia, America were the arteries that people used to get place to place, so you are in the middle of everything. You step off the boat and in front of you is the cathedral, the historic square.” (Frommers has a guidebook just on river cruising.)

The beauty of river cruising is that cities are right along the water. The Danube is one of the best rivers for cruising. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But not all river cruises are alike, she notes.

In the category of Over the Top, most luxurious: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic.  “Uniworld has a designer that Marie Antoinette would approve – crystal, silk wall paper; it’s over the top extravagance. Tauck is as luxurious but a little more contemporary in décor, well known for shore excursions. The dirty little secret of river cruises is that all the river cruises except Tauck and Gate 1 share the same guides on shore. Scenic gives all its guests headphones, so can hear commentary about what you are passing on shore; it is an Australian company so you are traveling mostly with Australians and blasts Olivia Newton-John at night; it offers fun trips (and also owns a budget river cruisline, Emerald Waterways).

Luxurious: AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways. Avalon and Ama are trying to attract younger crowd with more active experiences – kayaking on river; Ama carries bikes on board.

Budget Emerald Waterways, Grand Circle, Croisie Europe. “Croisie Europe is the second biggest river cruise company in the world after Viking, but you probably never heard of it because the line only marketed to Europeans until recently – so in Europe, you are surrounded by Europeans. Croisie tends to have very reasonable prices, but some Americans aren’t comfortable because of a language barrier. “Grand Circle, in contrast, only markets to Americans so you will be on ship with Americans, have burgers at every meal if you want, but in their defense, they do a lot on the educational side, bringing on educators, so the cruises are more erudite, but cheaper than the others.”

Family friendlyAmaWaterways has partnered with Disney to do tours for families. “These are wildly popular and very well done (not surprising, Disney). There are no characters onboard, but they have activities to keep kids busy on land and river. It’s great for multigenerational.” Tauck is another with family-friendly tours.

Best rivers (for first timers): Danube (variety – castle, spas, vineyards, interesting trip), Mississippi (variety, start or end in New Orleans, plantations, Civil War sites, Mark Twain sites); Mekong (because you go to many places you couldn’t otherwise get to except by river cruise).

Where to Go 

The US Dollar is strong pretty much everywhere, “whooping every other currency.”

Brexit tanked the British pound

Euro that cost $1.45 in 2012 costs $1.05 in 2017.

Japanese yen lost 1/3 of value against the dollar from 2012

“It’s never been a better time for Americans to travel abroad (at least from a strong-dollar point of view).

Imperial Palace, Tokyo. The dollar has more buying power in Japan because of a strengthening dollar against the Japanese yen. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

As for where to go, Frommer (and Peter Greenberg as well), also tell Americans not to be discouraged by terror attacks in places like Paris, which has lost 30% of its tourism, a vital economic component. “In certain rooms in the Louvre, I was  alone; I didn’t make advanced reservations at restaurants, some of most coveted in Europe; the hotel room, everything was cheaper,” Frommer, who visited Paris in June, says., “And Parisians are happy to see Americans. There’s never been a better time.”

But she points out that a lot of the discomfort for Americans, who see headlines and have little comprehension of geography, is perception:

“What do the UAE, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom have in common? They each issued travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence. We are New Yorkers. We know what it is to bounce back [after a catastrophic event].”

But if you are looking for a city like Paris but has bagels? Montreal is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. The home city of Cirque d Soleil will be the scene of the craziest, most surreal celebrations – 40 foot tall marionettes marching through streets, 3D projections on the river; you can download a free app of the historic district and as you go through, suddenly there is a Sound & Light show.

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands; the people changed back the name to the original First Nations name) “has everything that Alaska has – fishing, wilderness areas, First Nation’s culture but without the crowds and 30% cheaper. I highly recommend visiting before it is better known.”

Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world. “Open the doors. Go there but not necessarily Bali – that is over-loved.” She recommends Sula Wessy – an island of incredible culture, architecture, bright green rice paddies, the smallest monkeys on planet, and fascinating cultural rituals. In

Bali, outsiders can go to weddings and funerals, where welcome; in Sula Wessey, funerals are so elaborate that when people die, they are mummified similar to Egyptians, and left in the house; the mummy lives with the family for years because it takes that long to raise money for the funeral. They have elaborate processions, feasts, dances, and water buffalo sacrifices, then finally the body is buried in rock caves. It is fascinating to visit and less touristic than Bali.

Northern Lights. This is the year to see the Northern Lights, a phenomenon caused by storms on the sun that shoot particles into the Earth’s atmosphere. It goes in a 10-year cycle and 2017 is the last year of the cycle. It will be spectacular this year and crumby for the next. There are inland places in Norway, next to Arctic Circle, where there are no worries of fog from the sea obscuring as well as dog sledding.

Pantanal, the largest inland wetland in the world – twice the size of Iceland, is straddles Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay (?). A decade ago, you couldn’t go in, because it was too difficult, but now river boats go in and for nature lovers it is spectacular because all the foliage is low to the ground so you can see more easily than Amazon – 500 species of birds, jaguars, tapirs, giant otters, fascinating wilderness. It is becoming more popular, so go now.

Nashville prides itself as being the “Athens of the South.” this year, “Music City” is celebrating the 120th anniversary of the Ryman and 50th anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Fame. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nashville – hot – wonderful city – 120th anniversary of Ryman, 50th of Country Music Hall of Fame – every kind of music – get off the plane, live musicians. Foodie scene. Parthenon-replica [Nashville considered itself the Athens of the South], – which sounds silly until you visit – it is the symbol for the city which has many universities, a major medical center, a whip smart population. You will meet great people.

Bermuda – will be home to the America’s Cup this year, undergone millions of dollars of infrastructure rejiggering. Martin Samuelson opening restaurant, great chefs opening. The Hamilton Princess has undergone a multi-million renovation. “More than fun in sun, Bermuda has interesting culture (British, high tea, Bermuda shorts without irony) –a really interesting place, historic sites.”

Not just “fun in the sun” on its famous pink beaches, Bermuda also offers a rich heritage, travel expert Pauline Frommer says © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds as a “bonus place” to her list: Cuba. “President Trump has said he will shut the door there and he can with sign of pen. It was opened by President Obama by executive order so can be closed down just as quickly. But Cubans are smart, when Trump was elected, they fast-tracked port rights to Carnival and 5 other major lines, fast tracked hotel building permits to Marriott and Hyatt and are trying to get Corporate America on their side so Trump can’t undo relations. But go to Cuba while you can and before the changes that would inevitably come.

Connect with Pauline Frommer at Frommers.com, @frommers, on Facebook Frommers.

See also: 

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Cruise Lines International, Cruise Critic Answer Top Five Cruising FAQs

Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas moored at its private island © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas moored at its private island © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(WASHINGTON, DC)— As part of Plan a Cruise Month, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the unified voice and leading authority of the global cruise community, has partnered with Cruise Critic, the world’s leading cruise review site and online cruise community, to answer five of the most frequently asked questions about cruising.

“For travelers considering a cruise for the first time, the unknown can sometimes be a bit overwhelming,” said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor, CruiseCritic.com.  “The beauty of cruising is that there truly is a cruise for every traveler. Whether you’re looking for an intimate experience focused on destinations, or a bustling ship with all the bells and whistles, there’s a cruise to meet every travel style and interest. The most important thing is to make note of what’s essential to you, and read reviews and ask a cruise specialist to find the perfect match.”

Top Five Cruise FAQs…Answered!

Question 1: How can I keep busy on days at sea?

With cruise lines unveiling entertainment and amenities that rival – and often times exceed – those found on land, travelers have an almost endless amount of activities to keep them entertained while at sea. Whether it’s a surf or skydive simulator, zip lines or cooking demonstrations, cruise lines have plenty onboard for just about any interest.

Question 2: Is it possible to really experience new cultures on a cruise?

The interest in experiential travel has continued to grow over the years, and cruise lines have jumped onboard to offer guests authentic opportunities to truly experience the destinations they visit. Cruisers can join chefs at local markets, book home visits with locals or volunteer to make a difference while in port. To cater to those looking for even more immersive experiences, some cruise lines offer overnights in port for more time to explore.

Question 3: Is cruising fun for all age groups?

With a wide and flexible range of dining, entertainment, excursion and even Internet options, cruising is the perfect travel option to satisfy all age groups. Working with a travel agent ensures travelers of all ages will find the best cruise for every personality. From bumper cars and water parks, to Broadway-style shows and farm-to-table dinners, the options are endless for cruisers of various ages and interests  for a variety of age groups.

Question 4: Can cruising be a healthy vacation?

The variety of cruise dining options is vast – from sushi and seafood, to Italian and French, cruise line cuisine leaves little to be craved. In addition to the multitude of dining choices, cruise lines cater to cruisers with various dietary restrictions and preferences including vegetarian, gluten-free, low-carb and more. Onboard gyms, running tracks and fitness classes can help travelers stay on target with their workout regimens, even while at sea. Additionally, cruises offer abundant opportunities to meditate surrounded by ocean air and fun ways to stay active like rock climbing.

Question 5: Will I get seasick?

Today, ships are built with stabilizers that help keep vessels on as smooth a journey as possible, therefore motion on the ship is minimal. For those extra sensitive to motion, there are other ways to combat seasickness – booking an outside cabin in the middle of the ship can help, as can over-the-counter drug remedies, or non-drug remedies like ginger candy or acupressure bracelets. River cruises can also be a fantastic option for those worried about seasickness.

For more information about cruise travel or how you could enter to win a cruise of choice from October 1- October 31, 2016, please visit www.cruisesmile.org. Cruisers can find a CLIA cruise specialist travel agent at http://cruising.org/cruise-vacationer/cruise-travel-guide/clia-agent-finder.

About Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic® is an online cruise guide, offering a comprehensive resource for cruise travelers, from first-time cruisers to avid cruise enthusiasts. The site features more than 150,000 cruise reviews and hosts the world’s largest online cruise community where travelers share experiences and opinions with fellow cruisers. Cruise Critic was the first consumer cruise site on the Internet, launched in October 1995 by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

About Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – One Industry, One Voice
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, providing a unified voice and leading authority of the global cruise community. The association has 15 offices globally with representation in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. CLIA supports policies and practices that foster a safe, secure, healthy and sustainable cruise ship environment for the more than 23 million passengers who cruise annually and is dedicated to promote the cruise travel experience. Members are comprised of the world’s most prestigious ocean, river and specialty cruise lines; a highly trained and certified travel agent community; and cruise line suppliers and partners, including ports & destinations, ship development, suppliers and business services. The organization’s mission is to be the unified global organization that helps its members succeed by advocating, educating and promoting for the common interests of the cruise community. For more information, visit www.cruising.org or follow Cruise Lines International Association on CLIA Facebook and Twitter pages.

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New Era of Luxury American River Cruising Opens with Launch of French America Line’s Louisiane

Louisiane, an intimate riverboat for just 150 guests, has begun her inaugural year sailing America’s rivers; 2017 cruise tours start March 4, 2017
Louisiane, an intimate riverboat for just 150 guests, has begun her inaugural year sailing America’s rivers; 2017 cruise tours start March 4, 2017

NEW ORLEANS – A new era of boutique American river cruising has opened with the launch of French America Line’s 75-stateroom flagship, Louisiane.

Formerly the Columbia Queen, riverboat has undergone a multimillion dollar refurbishment to reflect a subtle but elegant French-inspired ambience to embrace the rich history of the areas she sails that were once known as French America. The ship brims with exquisite French style and the romantic joie de vivre of her home port of New Orleans. Inaugural sailings have already commenced.

The ship accommodates a maximum of 150 guests in 75 suites and staterooms and a crew of 64 for sailings that celebrate regional cultural influences in food, music and history. The Lousiane’s small size allows her to access historic river ports on five American rivers that larger ships cannot navigate. This creates an opportunity to see and experience ports that haven’t been accessed by a U.S. river ship in more than a decade.

“We designed Louisiane to embody superb river experiences, including exploring many diverse traditions on our country’s waterways that were influenced by la belle France during the colonization of America. It’s a wonderful narrative and quite unique to what’s currently available, offering the highest level of service and amenities comparable to that found on the rivers of Europe,” said Christopher Kyte, Chairman, French America Line.

“We also believe that the integrity of the company to whom you trust your vacation should be reflected in our fare structure. Therefore, we guarantee that we will not artificially inflate our prices and then lower prices as the sailing date approaches. You can book early with utmost confidence that you are receiving the best price available, as our fares remain the same from the moment they are created until the moment the vessel sails. That is the French America Line promise,” said Kyte.

“To set a new standard for sophisticated travelers, we offer a variety of cruise lengths to suit any schedule with inspired itineraries that visit a waterfront tapestry of charming towns, villages and grand cities. We hope to capture your heart with the finest regional French, Southern and continental cuisine afloat by Regina Charboneau, our award-winning Chef de Cuisine, and set your spirits soaring with the best-of-America onboard entertainment each night. We have also added some delicious and luxurious surprises, from Hermès bath amenities in the Richelieu Suites and L’Occitaine en Provence in all staterooms to fresh marcarons from the House of Ladurée upon embarkation and nightly gourmet Vosges chocolates at turndown,” he said.

Innovative Experiences

French America Line’s flagship, Louisiane.
French America Line’s flagship, Louisiane.

Itineraries on America’s most iconic rivers and waterways – Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red rivers = range from five to 10 days. Pricing is virtually all-inclusive, with one-night pre-embarkation deluxe hotel stay in some of America’s most legendary hotels, all meals, free-flowing hand-selected beverages, wines, beer and spirits, nightly live entertainment, informative cultural and historical talks by onboard Illuminators, and memorable Traveler Collection shore excursions in every port of call included in the tariff.

Bicycles, helmets and maps are also available for independent explorations in every port of call. For more in-depth experiences during the cruise tour, optional private Curator Collection guided experiences may be added. Optional Prelude and Encore packages are also available for extended pre- and post-cruise experiences.

To enhance experiences onboard and in port, hand-selected expert Illuminators will bring to life surprising facets of regional culture, history, politics, music and more. Lively sessions might delve into the nuances of barbecue styles, the history of classic American cocktails, the origins of Zydeco, the blues or bluegrass music traditions, the religious underpinnings of Mardi Gras, the socio-economic impact of changing agricultural practices on the Mississippi or Native American history in the Upper Midwest.

Signature features on Louisiane include:

  • Complimentary one-night pre-cruise stay in deluxe luxury hotel and next day breakfast and transfer to the riverboat on sailing day
  • Complimentary daily Traveler Collection shore excursions in every port of call, inclusive of any admission fees
  • All meals are included in the tariff, featuring open seating in two dining venues offering inventive regional, French and Continental favorites as well as healthy Currents Cuisine selections under 400 calories for breakfast, lunch, dinner and 24-hour room service
  • Complimentary free-flowing hand-selected wines, spirits, beers, soft drinks, artisanal coffees, tea and choice of still or sparkling Natura brand water in suites and staterooms, replenished daily
  • Full-service Currents Spa with relaxing body treatments and salon nail and hair services with L’Occitaine en Provence products
  • Complimentary WiFi in all public areas
  • Complimentary onboard enrichment talks with noted regional historian Illuminators and live evening musical entertainment celebrating the best of the river and coastal regional America
  • Famed House of Ladurée Parisian-style macarons fresh from its New York City boutique upon embarkation, followed by nightly turndown service of gourmet Vosges chocolates
  • French America Line is also the only American river cruise line to offer in-room iPads pre-loaded with e-books, daily shore excursion programs and menus for onboard dining and entertainment

75 Suites + Staterooms for Just 150 Guests

  • Guests have a choice of 75 suites and staterooms in seven categories, many with private verandas or French balconies for optimal river viewing, all situated on the top three of the intimate ship’s four decks
  • All staterooms feature individual climate control, makeup mirror, deluxe mattresses clad in luxurious linens and duvets, private bathroom with plush towels and L’Occitane en Provence bath amenities, spa-quality bathrobes and slippers, in-room safe, ample storage space, 24-hour room service, flat screen LED television with satellite programming, direct-dial telephones and complimentary 24-hour room service
  • Richelieu Suite: The most lavish accommodations onboard are these two spacious suites on the uppermost Champlain Deck, with panoramic windows and wraparound outdoor promenade seating area, a queen bed, double armoire with built-in drawer storage, chest of drawers, desk and exclusive extras, including Hermès bath amenities, evening canapés, complimentary laundry, fresh fruit and flowers upon arrival, complimentary Curator Collection experiences and private car transfers to/from the airport

Dining + Entertainment  

  • Culinary delights are available around the clock and reflect the regional French, Southern and continental favorites of celebrated Chef de Cuisine Regina Charboneau
  • Convivial Welcome Reception and Farewell Dinner on every voyage
  • The Crescent Room the main dining room on the first level La Salle Deck is a plush jewel box designed for distinctive gourmet dining with open seating, featuring skilled tableside service for breakfast, lunch, and multi-course dinner, and then it transforms into a lively venue for an evening cabaret show
  • Veranda, a casual French Quarter-style bistro with indoor and outdoor open seating, serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, and savory and sweet crepes, beignets and specialty coffees and tea throughout the day, complete with an ever-changing backdrop of charming river town views from its aft perch atop the Champlain Deck
  • The French Quarter Lounge is just the first of three lounges, overlooking the bow on the Joliet Deck, featuring soft jazz nightly
  • The Great River Room is forward on the Marquette Deck and the location for quiet card games as well as private receptions and events
  • Bar Royale adjoining The Orleans Room is ideal for stylish pre-dinner aperitifs

2017 U.S. River Cruise Tour Itineraries

The 2016 Louisiane catalog, with detailed descriptions of itineraries that visit the Deep South, the Heart of America, River Crossroads and Wilderness Rivers, as well as highlights in all ports of call, is now available.

Bookings have also opened for 2017 itineraries, offered from March 4, 2017 to January 6, 2018, featuring 48 five- to 14-day experiential cruise tours New in 2017 are itineraries that also sail along the rarely visited Illinois and Arkansas rivers, and new 2017 destination ports that include Chattanooga, TN; Louisville, KY and Pittsburgh, PA, with pre-cruise one-night deluxe hotel stays prior to embarkation included in the tariff.

Sixteen 2017 itineraries offer the opportunity to spend the night onboard prior to disembarkation in four engaging ports of call, Louisville, KY; Memphis, TN; Natchez, MS, and St. Louis, MO, to permit personal explorations. Discover the allure of thoroughbred racing and aged bourbon; the beats of Beale Street; the charms of antebellum homes and southern entertaining, or the sights and tastes of Music City USA.

DEEP SOUTH™ itineraries will sail the Lower Mississippi and rarely-visited Red River beginning March 4, 2017, departing from New Orleans, LA and Memphis, TN.

MISSISSIPPI HEADWATERS™ itineraries will sail the Ohio, Mississippi and the rarely traveled Illinois River, departing from St. Louis, MO; St. Paul, MN and Chicago, IL.

RIVER CROSSROADS™ itineraries will sail the Ohio and Mississippi rivers beginning in St. Louis, MO; Louisville, KY, and Pittsburgh, PA.

WILDERNESS RIVERS™ itineraries will sail the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers beginning in Louisville, KY and Chattanooga, TN.

Partnership with French Heritage Society

French America Line has a newly formed partnership with the French Heritage Society.  Established in 1982, the French Heritage Society includes 12 chapters in the U.S. and France. Through various activities and educational programs, they facilitate the preservation, restoration and promotion of French heritage throughout France and the U.S. Their central mission of is to ensure that the treasures of our shared French architectural and cultural heritage survive to inspire future generations. This is done through restoration, preservation and cultural grants, educational programs, lectures and conferences. A portion of the sale of French America Line’s Curator Collection experiences will benefit the Society’s efforts along the Louisiane’s river routes.

To reserve or learn more, visit www.frenchamericaline.com or call 888-387-1140.

Preferred Partner with Journese 

French America Line has been named a preferred partner with Journese, the luxury brand of Pleasant Holidays, one of the country’s largest tour operators.

“French America Line is a great fit for Journese, as the new cruise line offers diverse and rarely sailed river cruises visiting charming American destinations with a wealth of amenities, enriching excursions and superb dining and entertainment that Journese guests are seeking. We’re proud to include Journese among the unique lifetime experiences our travel agency partners can offer their clients,” said Amy Comparato, Brand Director, Journese.

Journese is the luxury brand of Pleasant Holidays, offering fully customized four-and five-star journeys across the globe, including Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Cook Islands, Europe, Fiji, Mexico, New Zealand, The Hawaiian Islands, The Islands of Tahiti, United Arab Emirates and the United States. Serving vacationers since 1977, Journese provides boutique service, expert knowledge, private transportation options and upscale activities. Journese is a member of the United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA) and participates in the $1 million travelers’ assistance program. CST 1007939-10.

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