You go, girls! Happy travels!

It’s almost summer, and that means travel, vacation, relaxing with friends, right? Hopefully there’s a little of that in your summer plans! I’ve heard of so many great girl trips lately, that I asked my favorite travel agent some questions about planning the best trip with friends.
Enjoy, and happy travels!
Chatting with Janet McLaren, Cruise Planners, personal travel advocate:
Thanks for inviting me to your blog! It’s always fun to talk about travel, and travel with friends is always the best!

 

IMG_3852– What are some of the most interesting or unusual girls’ trips you’ve arranged?
It seems like women either want to get away for relaxation at a resort with a good beach and spa, or they want a cultural adventure with a combination of organized events and independent exploring. I’d say for most interesting: a group of ladies who are going to Italian wine country this summer. They are sharing a villa near Florence for a week and taking day trips into the city and into surrounding towns, then spending two days in Rome.
Getaway cruises are always popular, too, because they are usually economical for everyone and don’t require as big a commitment of time. One group of ladies takes a short cruise to Mexico every January when the fares are low.

– A friend of mine recently visited Barcelona on a tour with her wine club. I’ve heard of book clubs attending author-sponsored cruises. Are these kinds of themed-trips gaining in popularity?
They are, but they are mostly arranged by private groups, not the cruise line. An exception is river cruising — several of the top lines “theme” a number of cruises each year. I’m looking at one for a group right now that is focused on beer (haha, right?), but there are wine themes, music, and Christmastime, too. Also, there are land tours that are geared for special interests. I know of literary-themed tours in England that focus on historical sites related to authors such as Jane Austin, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Dickens, for a few examples. Garden tours abound, as well as castle tours (think Downton Abbey, for instance), and “quaint towns.”

            Best shopping?   Mexico — the short cruises that go there, and the resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen are excellent for picking up handicrafts, jewelry, and clothes. New York and London shopping trips are still popular, although you have to watch the conversion rate of the British Pound to be sure popping off to London is a value or not.

            Best for beach/relaxing?  Interestingly, I get a fair number of inquiries about Miami Beach. The old-style glam resort hotels and the nightlife are very appealing. You get a nice combination of beach time, relaxation, and some fun. Restaurants are a big thing there, too. Of course many all-inclusive Caribbean and Mexican resorts have it all in one place! That’s probably the easiest getaway of all — just go, get transported to your resort, then don’t worry about very much at all. 

            Best sightseeing/culture?  Europe is still number one — history, churches, museums, wine, music, art, ancient architecture — it’s easy to come up with a common interest that binds a group together for a shared experience.

– Any tips or special advice for women traveling together?

Yes, I find that I am often reminding people that they cannot possibly do everything in one trip! Select a theme then let me help plan a reasonable, “do-able” outline that won’t exhaust you — decide on a few important highlights. Save some down time; not every minute has to be planned out and everyone could use a little “me time” mixed in, too.

– Any places you’d advise small groups of women to avoid?

Yes, sadly not all places in the world are travel-friendly to women and male-centric societies make for too much stress and worry. For some reason Dubai holds a fascination (I suppose for the shopping), but I wouldn’t choose it for a girlfriend getaway. India, China, some places in the Mideast and Africa — not worth it. Exceptions: I think a well-coordinated safari in certain locations would make a terrific all-woman adventure, and a historical or spiritual journey in Israel and Jordon would be safe and rewarding.

 

Thanks for sharing your time and expertise, Janet! I want to do it all! Dear readers, do you have a favorite spot for trips with friends? Tips or experiences to share? We’d love to hear them!

Contact Janet for additional info and ideas. 866-592-7351 | 972-231-0066 | jmclaren@cruiseplanners.com | www.cruiseplanforyou.com

Summer Romance: Five Alluring Getaways

This is for all you romantics out there who are looking for a cool getaway! Bon voyage!

I Luv2cruz!

Ah, the romantic summer vacation –warm days, scenic wonders, interesting things to do together —  a chance to reconnect away from the every day drudgery that saps the amour right out of you.

I’ve been consulting with my romance-writer friends, and we agree that these five trips are the best for reviving the romantic spirit:

  1. Rhine River cruise. Was it the day of castle-lined scenic cruising? The strolls through quaint, flower-filled towns? Or perhaps the gourmet dinners with real French champagne night after night? All I can say for sure is that falling in love again in this setting is as easy as nachtisch.
  2. Italy. Really, just anywhere — a tour, a cruise, a week in Rome — doesn’t matter. Multiple trips to the bel paese may be necessary to explore the full range of romantic options! I would suggest a tour of Venice, Florence, and Rome by…

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Romance at the Grand Canyon

SB2017_020As part of a spring break road trip, my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon last week. I’d done a small plane tour many years ago, but this was the first time for either of us to walk the south rim of the park. Have to say it was pretty incredible. We arrived in late afternoon as the sun was beginning its descent, and the moon was rising. Made for some nice photos.

We stayed overnight in the Village, then went back to the scenic vistas of the south rim the next morning. There were fewer people, and we wandered the path without jockeying for position at the lookout areas.

At one area, a little farther out from the main path, we came upon a young couple enjoying the view, and they asked if we’d take a photo. Lucky them. Their timing was perfect, as my husband is a professional photographer.

Turns out they’d just gotten engaged! And it just happened to be our anniversary. Kind of cosmic. We spent the next several minutes chatting and taking photos. The photos probably won’t be their “official” engagement pictures, but I’m sure they’ll be treasured. Of course, he didn’t take just one. He knew how to place them for the best lighting, and the best composition. And he remembered to have the young woman place her hand where her new engagement ring was front and center. It was a short but fun photo shoot.

I don’t remember their names. We’ll never see them again. But it added to the romance and ambiance of our Grand Canyon experience. This is how memories – and stories – are made. Little snippets. Chance meetings. Unexpected connections. Intertwined with life’s big events.

They don’t know us, but we’re forever part of their story. I love that.

It’s really not the U.S. of A.

waterfallSo, Puerto Rico.

It’s a United States Territory. You don’t have to have a passport to go there. And they’ll take your American dollars just fine. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s the same as being in the U.S. It’s not.

I was there with the fam for spring break last week. Overall, I’d say we had a good time . . . but not everything went as expected. Just in case you ever decide to visit this tropical island, here are a couple of key things you might want to know: 1. Not everyone speaks English. Or, not well. 2. Yes, they drive on the right side of the streets there, but the highway signs are in SPANISH. There’s no selecting “1” to get the information in English. So if you plan to rent a car to do some sightseeing, you might want to brush up on your Espanol. It’s particularly helpful to know that East is Este, West is Oeste, etc. Fortunately, on the day we drove to the El Yunque rain forest, we had our son, who has just finished his second college-level Spanish class, with us. But then for a few days . . . we didn’t.

Oh, one other thing – Puerto Rico has crazy, bumper to bumper traffic! No one I talked to, no websites I perused or travel brochures I looked at ever mentioned the bad traffic. Getting from San Juan to Palmas Del Mar at 4 p.m. was truly as bad as driving in L.A., which is where we usually find ourselves on spring break. The taxi driver at the San Juan airport was not pleased about drawing our number that afternoon! Didn’t need fluency in Spanish to read his body language and figure that out.

Also, unless you have AT&T cell service, you’re going to rack up some significant charges if you want to use your phone’s GPS to help you get around. And don’t expect things to run on time. Well, according to a schedule, that is. Everything there is on “island time.” So when the hotel staff says the concierge will be there at 9 a.m., he might show up within the hour. Just because the guy at the golf cart/car rental place answers the phone and says you can pick up said vehicle, it does NOT mean he’s actually at the rental office. But don’t worry, he’ll get there eventually! An 8:30 snorkeling expedition? You could leave the marina around 9:30-ish. Maybe. If you’re a go-with-the-flow, “whatever” kind of person, this will be no problem for you. But if you’re used to running on time and scheduling activities, you might find the hurry-up-and-wait routine a little frustrating. I suggest you take a deep breath – and avoid wearing a watch.

In the first couple of days we were there, I found myself thinking I’d never go back, but as the week progressed, things improved. Once we got to the resort area and figured out the lay of the land (I mean found the pool and beach), we did OK. We had good food, found places to watch the NCAA basketball games, and enjoyed the sunshine and warm temperatures. Most people were friendly and helpful, and it was great to see both of my kids!

I’d go back – I’d just have different expectations! 🙂

So many sights to see!

Fallslibertyorca

With Spring Break upon us, and the promise of summer in the not-too-distant future (yay!) I’m thinking vacation!

I enjoy road trips and sightseeing. I think my favorite vacations combine a little nature and relaxation with exploring famous places. Most, well, all of my travel (except that brief cross into Canada to see Niagara Falls) has been in the United States. Though I’d love to cross the pond one of these days, there’s a lot to see in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Here are the Top 10 American landmarks or national parks I’ve been to so far:

  1. Mt. Rushmore
  2. Grand Canyon
  3. Badlands
  4. Yellowstone Park/Old Faithful
  5. Top of Pike’s Peak
  6. Olympic National Park
  7. Niagara Falls
  8. The Statue of Liberty
  9. The National Mall (monuments) including Capitol, White House, Library of Congress and several Smithsonian museums.
  10. Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Some other cool places or sights I’ve seen include Joshua Tree National Park, the Golden Gate Bridge and Sonoma/Napa wine areas, orcas in the San Juan Islands, Chincoteague/Assateague islands and the outerbanks of North Carolina, Sunrise at Haleakala National Park (volcano) in Maui, the bluebonnets blooming in Texas, Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Forest, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Of course all of these places represent an adventure with stories all their own — I’ll get to those some other time. 🙂

Places I’d still like to explore some day: the Everglades, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and Alaska/glaciers/Denali.

Which American landmark is your favorite, and what’s still on your list?

What was Lost is Found Again

P1020585Oh, the little things . . . just back from a week in Colorado, and I’m so happy to have all of my personal belongings.
See, I had a couple brain cramps and missing items – which is definitely out of character for me. I’m usually very organized, and not only do I keep track of my own stuff, I pretty much do the same for the rest of the fam.
So, egads, in one trip I lost my good sunglasses and my car key, neither of which are cheap items to replace. And replacing the key would be a pain. (The friend I was with when I purchased the sunglasses would probably say the same for choosing a new pair!)

As we were on our way down the beautiful Eleven-Mile Canyon near Florrisant, Colo., I suddenly realized I didn’t have the glasses. We’d just spent more than an hour meandering up the canyon, stopping along the way to take pictures, look at the creek, explore nature, etc. After searching purse, backpack, car, bags, we determined that I must have dropped them somewhere along the way. Great. How to trace our steps and stop at all the same pull-offs, find the same rocks and scenic spots we’d been to? I was feeling pretty annoyed and not terribly bright, but as luck would have it, my husband was able to look back through the photos he’d taken and determine approximately when I’d last had them. Believe it or not, we actually found the stop, and the rock that my daughter and I had earlier perched on. There, indeed, were my glasses, just hanging out on the rock! Note to self: keep track of your stuff!

Fast forward a few days. My car key goes missing – a day and a half after I’d last driven. OMG. Trying to figure out when I’d last had them, and all the places I could’ve dropped them or left them was ridiculous. I called restaurants and stores, tore through the house and car, dumped my purse, computer bag and backpack more than once, and still did not come up with the key. By now, I’m feeling like I must be in the early stages of dementia, Alzheimer’s or some such degenerative disease. This was not like me. So I spend a couple of days fuming and fretting. The last two times I’d been to Colorado, I ended up having to replace the windshield on my car after a rock popped up and cracked it. Was I destined to have a car-related expense on every trip?

The morning we left, I’m feeling around in my purse for the house key, and realize there’s a small hole in the side of the pocket where I kept the key. I figured I must have poked at it so many times in my hunting, that I’d caused a rip in the fabric. In the car a few hours later, it hits me. If the tear had been there before, could my key with fob and keychain have worked themselves through that hole? If so, the key would not drop into the purse, but in between the purse and the lining. Would I not have heard or felt them? No, indeed. We stopped for a fast-food lunch, and as soon as I could, I wiggled my fingers down between the purse and lining. Sure enough, there was the key. Whew! Not only was I relieved to have the key back, I salvaged my reputation, and could put to rest fears of senility! (Sincere apologies to all the people I had hunting for that dang key!) Very glad to not have to add getting a replacement to my list of post-vacation tasks! 🙂