Family Journeys

disney at halloween

Endless Travel Blog

Family Journeys—Just for the Thrill of It

--by Susan Hammond

After just spending a day and a half at Disney World (prior to a conference that I attended) and drinking the Disney ‘Kool-Aid,’ I had time to reflect during my flight home what a gift travel is to all generations; especially our children. To begin with, today’s kids are far more well-travelled than previous generations. As a child growing up in the midwest as a grain farmer’s daughter, our family vacation was spending one week each summer at the Lake of the Ozarks, enjoying lots of mosquitoes, sunburns (since the acronym SPF was not yet invented) and, of course, wonderful family time. I remember when I was five years old, I was thrown in the lake with two small waterskis and was not allowed to get back in the boat until I got up on those pieces of wood. This was before adolescent skis had a rope tying the two skis together, so this definitely took time and patience. Of course, my parents to this day don’t recall my first initiation to water skiing, but I am grateful they did that, since water skiing, tubing, and playing ‘dunkie ball’ in the lake were our memorable family adventures each year.

aquariumWith my children taking their first flights in diapers, I am reminded that kids may not have the everyday freedom these days as I did growing up, but there was no way that I would have learned to scuba dive in Mexico, work with wildlife in Africa, or zip-line in Costa Rica while I was still in elementary school. Parents today see the value in this kind of life experience for good reason. I feel that life experiences gained during travel gives kids a large universal worldview and ultimately makes them better, more well-rounded adults.

Whether you are an adrenaline junkie, a semi-adventurous family, or just want to spend time playing in the sun and sand, we work with our travel partners to design programs to match your specific family’s persona—bold, timid, and everything in between. It is amazing how open kids are to new places and unique experiences. Children, particularly between the ages of 6 and 12, are really curious. Parents and grandparents should know that this is the height of when kids are into everything and are little sponges who take in everything about the world around them. This is a great time to expose them to new things.

So if your kid’s interests include getting lost in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, climbing the mast on a tall sailing ship, or attending a class onboard a ship on how to shoot and edit short movies with a program from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, our job is to match your family with the type of vacation that tempts the entire family to spend time together and bring their imaginations to life. We also know of programs suited to younger travelers, leaving parents to enjoy their own activities, or to do nothing—possibly the ultimate adult dream come to life.

So what 2016 family vacations are really ‘tickling our fancies’ these days at Endless Travel? Earlier this year, Discovery Communications and Princess Cruises collaborated with Discovery at Sea, an interactive family vacation experience. Princess now offers Stargazing at Sea through the partnership, in which a specialist discusses the folklore around the cosmos and teaches your children how to find the bearings and identify the major constellations. Adventures by Disney enhanced their 2016 England and France itinerary to include ‘high tea,’ a bicycle ride through the streets of Versailles, archery lessons, a knight-and-dragons-themed scavenger hunt and a speedboat ride on the River Thames. Un-Cruise Adventures has unveiled its Family Discoveries Program, in which children eight years and older are welcome on all vessels for every destination and departure date. Activities such as tide pool treasure hunts, costumed reenactments of the Oregon Trail and paddle-board racing are sure to be a big hit.

Activities such as tidepool treasure hunts, costumed reenactments of the Oregon Trail and paddle-board racing are sure to be a big hit.

maccu picchuAttention grandparents! What is the best way to reconnect with those teens again and get their noses out of their cell phones? How about non-stop action in Peru, scanning the canopy for wildlife from the comfort of your Amazon lodge or trekking the Inca Trail? Whether you catch the scenic train to Machu Picchu or embark on one of the world’s best-known hikes, you will be rewarded with a stunning combination of ruins, mountainscapes and cloud forests. Also, what better way to immerse your teenager into the local culture than by learning the art of weaving at a women’s co-op in a traditional village, or enjoying traditional life and scenic views on Lake Titicaca (the name of this lake itself will get the attention of a 14-year-old).

Here’s what we think is under the radar as it refers to family travel. Well, Disneyland’s Adventureland offers the Sunrise Safari Breakfast Adventure for those kids that want to be a skipper on Disney’s Jungle Cruise. This breakfast will give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of this world famous attraction, and guests will also be trained to be Jungle Cruise skippers. As the guests complete their crash course in jungle skipper training before the park opens to the public, they will receive a special tribal mask inspired by the attraction’s original concept art to commemorate their adventure.

Also, it’s hard to find a child who doesn’t love dolphins, and there are plenty of programs that allow kids of all ages to get up close to the animals. On Marco Island, Florida, however, budding scientists can actually help researchers catalog dolphins as part of 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project, a study of bottlenose dolphins in southwest Florida. What an opportunity for a child to be privy to this special experience by ‘meeting’ dolphins by name as the creatures splash in the waves alongside the boat! Participants walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for one of the sea’s cutest creatures. Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort is nearby for the family to enjoy, including a kid’s camp and a bakery tour for kids—complete with the opportunity to design their own chef’s hat.

Finally, a new trend in family adventure that I think is worth mentioning is multi-generational families’ river cruising in Europe. Adventures by Disney and AmaWaterways is partnering to offer family-focused sailings onboard a brand new purpose-built river cruise ship. New entertainment options have been added to these sailings, tailored to families. Groups might sing their hearts out at karaoke nights, enjoy screenings of their favorite Disney films, or participate in themed events. Tauck, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways are also offering family river cruises in 2016. A trip to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, visiting a traditional windmill village in The Netherlands, and a Rubik’s Cube magic show in Budapest are just some of the highlights that any child would enjoy.

In summary, all the travel consultants at Endless Travel are prepared to offer suggestions that appeal to everyone in the family, regardless of age. We believe that in the world we live in today, we should be grateful that we have the opportunity to give the gift of travel.

Ready to go?

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Rhine River

cologne cathedral

Endless Travel Blog

Cruising Down the Rhine River With Avalon Waterways!

--by Sheryl Fick

I recently returned from a European river cruise where I escorted a group of 12 on the Rhine River with Avalon Waterways and it was a great experience! If you have not cruised the rivers of Europe or Asia, you are in for an exciting and very relaxing experience. Especially if you have only sailed on an ocean liner, you will find this experience very different and very relaxing. Avalon carries just over 150 passengers, so no long lines for excursions or meals, or anything, for that matter. The ships or boats are normally four decks high and three are for passenger cabins. The ship I was on has bicycles, a small hot tub and a gym, plus a running track for anyone wanting a bit more exercise. Meals are served

Strasbourg is truly a charming French town!

in two dining venues, and wine and beer are included with lunch and dinner. Each day, when the ship arrives in a new port, you have a 2-hour English speaking tour—all included in the price. Avalon makes river cruising a relaxing experience with a great deal of daily information and a 24/7 concierge to assist in any of your needs. But let me tell you about the ports we sailed to in the 7 days we spent in Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

middle rhine riverThe Rhine is the most scenic river in Europe—and the most romantic. You simply unpack and enjoy as the world goes by. No motion on a river, so you glide from town to town and disembark each morning in a new town to explore. After the 2-hour tour, you have many hours to return to that town if you choose, giving you ample time to enjoy what you may have a specific interest in.

Our Avalon cruise started in Basel, Switzerland, which is a small, charming town should you want to arrive earlier than the day the cruise starts. From there, we sailed to Strasbourg, France, where our ship was docked on the edge of town. That afternoon, I set out on a bicycle for an easy 15-minute ride back to the city center for a bit more shopping. Our morning city tour that day hit the highlights of the Cathedral Munster and Petite, France, as well as sever- al museums. Strasbourg is truly a charming French town!

The next day, our cruise sailed west and docked in Mainz, Germany. We visited the interesting Gutenberg Museum where we witnessed the techniques of the printing process. Then we sailed to Rudesheim, Germany. This was a very surprising small town with so much charm, and it was comfortable to walk the cobblestone streets for hours. It was here I took a gondola ride high above the town for a bird’s-eye view of one of my favorite smaller towns on the river. We sailed through the Rhine to Mannheim on what is called the Romantic Middle Rhine to Koblenz, Germany, which is what we all really wanted to see: those romantic castles, vineyards and lovely, small German villages that lined the Rhine on both sides of the river. Simply beautiful, to say the least.

Our approach to Cologne could not be missed—with the
famous Gothic Cologne Cathedral (a UNESCO World
Heritage Site), which remained unharmed during the bombings of WWII. Its construction was finished in 1880 with a height of 515 feet! Incredible! No visit would be complete without sampling many of the Cologne factories either.

rijksmuseumOur final stop and overnight was the capital of the Netherlands: Amsterdam. This city is a melting pot and cultural kaleidoscope, and with so much history, a city not to be missed. We had a wonderful canal cruise that first morning and had ample time to visit the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, or even Madam Tussauds, where there are life-size wax figures on display. This city literally has something for everyone! Here, I chose another bicycle ride as part of a tour into the countryside of Amsterdam. The biggest challenge was just getting out of the city to the rolling hills of the countryside, as there are more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are cars, but we had a very patient guide—thank goodness!

That evening, we had the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party, and we all felt it was a wonderful 7 days spent seeing so many impressive sights of the Rhine River. I cannot say enough about the wonders of river cruising, and with this being my seventh river cruise, I was not disappointed in the least.

So give Endless Travel a call, as there are many different brands of river cruises and we are very qualified to differentiate those choices for you and to find just the perfect river cruise for your 2017 sailing. Avalon is simply one of the best!

Ready to cruise?

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Wine, Culinary, and Cultural tours

grapes on the vine

Endless Travel Blog

Wine, Culinary, and Cultural Adventures to Stir Your Soul

–by Susan Hammond

The travel consultants at Endless Travel and our trusted travel suppliers, who are food and wine-obsessed curators of uncommon epicurean and wine adventures, want to help you explore the world and all of its edible wonders. We believe that you can capture the very essence of a destination by delving into its wine and cuisine.
Let us introduce you to local chefs, artisanal producers, time-honored culinary traditions, street vendors and Michelin-Starred restaurants. We want to take you inside family farms, orchards, food markets, vineyards and wineries, bakeries, gourmet groceries, and kitchens that help you hone your own cooking skills. Each adventure is designed to include iconic landmarks and cultural highlights as well as the finest hotel properties for a truly fulfilling travel experience.

artisian cinnamon rollsFor instance, they call Nashville the Music City, but there’s so much more to Nashville than country music. It’s one of the hottest culinary destinations of the moment with a slew of bright, young chefs turning out fresh takes on regional classics. There’s the signature ‘hot chicken’—you could learn how to make it in a class taught by a local chef. Enjoy wood-smoked barbecue brisket and taste southern delights on a walking tour of the historic Germantown section of  Nashville. And don’t forget, you can quench your thirst at Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery and satisfy your sweet tooth at the Goo Goo Cluster Shop, where the famous sweets are made right before your eyes. Amazin’, y’all!

There are fascinating museums to be discovered in its labyrinth of medieval streets.

I know you all have heard of the amazing food and wine in the Tuscany region of Italy. However, I really enjoyed the Piemonte area, which is the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement (opposite of fast food) and is famous for its white truffles, creamy cheeses, elegant wines and rich chocolates. It also boasts picturesque hill towns, elegant cities and stunning mountain vistas. You can visit opulent baroque cafes in Turin, bustling produce markets, hunt for truffles in Alba, meet winemakers and make some of the regional specialties such as vitello tonnato and ravioli del Plin.

Piemonte, which means “foot of the mountain,” is rightfully named, as many of its premier vineyards are at the foot of the Alps. When you think of Piemonte, several of the most notable and well-recognized wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Dolcetto come to mind.

For those younger at heart, beautiful, cosmopolitan, and quirky Barcelona is the capital of Spain’s Catalunya region, and is a favorite for foodies who adore its avant-garde chocolate shops, traditional granjas (milk bars) and, of course, its sparkling Cava. Ahh, long lunches and romantic late night dinners. Barcelona boasts a wealth of artisanal foods and one of Europe’s most vibrant markets, La Boqueria, where at dawn, chefs choosing colorful produce meet and mingle with hipsters, just out of El Born’s pulsating clubs, seeking breakfast. A bustling cruise port poised on the Mediterranean Sea, this amazing city—Gothic and Modernist—has been home to world-famous artists (Picasso’s first exhibition was held in a legendary cafe there). Many of its magnificent buildings are the work of its own architect, the talented Antonio Gaudi. There are fascinating museums to be discovered in its labyrinth of medieval streets. Combine that with seductive shopping, people watching and all the tapas you’ve dreamed about.

clamsThinking about a girls’ trip? Ahh, the Hamptons… just a hop, skip and a jump from the chaos of New York City, these beautiful beach communities are a blissful world away from the concrete jungle. Experience this marvelous seaside destination as the cognoscenti do: filled with fresh, seasonal foods, and fine, local wines. With our help, you can stay at a historic inn, experience hands-on cooking classes and visit one of New York State’s most lauded wineries, Wolffer Estate, located on a former potato farm. With its old farmhouse and boarding stables, it breathes old-world charm. Plus, a must-see, in my opinion, is an afternoon tour of an artisanal dairy specializing in raw farmstead cheeses made from its herd of Jersey cows.

Endless Travel is dedicated to providing the extraordinary ‘life experience’ one finds tasting, discovering and adventuring with wine and food. Nothing is more fun and memorable than traveling with likeminded friends—especially when they love wine and great food. We know that sophisticated travelers love to rediscover their favorite cultural and historical centers—to revel in past haunts or experience what’s new or what had escaped them on prior visits.

We are your local advisors assisting you in planning your next wine and culinary adventure, providing you access to the local knowledge—from the geology and history, expert wine and cuisine commentary, and insider information. Our goal is to provide the colorful context for a most meaningful and personal experience.

Hungry yet?

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Steamboat Cruise

mississippi river boat cruise

Endless Travel Blog

Explore a unique steamboat cruise

--by Joyce Masaga

I was recently on the American Queen traveling with my sister on a relaxing cruise of the upper Mississippi River. I have been fascinated with this cruise since American Queen Steamboat Company, a Mississippi river-based cruise line, resuscitated multi-day Mississippi river cruising in April of 2012.

American Queen is the largest steamboat in the world, with the capacity to carry 436 passengers. Before re-launching in April, 2012, American Queen received a $6 million spruce-up to the Victorian décor—chandeliers, upholstery and polished wood throughout. Think antiques and fresh flowers providing the ambience of an antebellum mansion. Outside, lacy filigree evokes memories of the many stately riverboats that preceded her and so inspired her designers.

In April, 2014, American Empress (which formerly sailed Pacific Northwest and Alaska cruises as Empress of the North) joined the fleet after undergoing a major refurbishment. The 223-passenger ship sails the Pacific Northwest (on the Columbia and Snake rivers).

Combining the best of the old and the new, this beautiful lady of the river epitomizes the grace and grandeur that has made river cruising a cherished American tradition...

Both ships are filled with modern amenities, too, such as WiFi in public spaces, but the aim is to evoke memories of the stately river steamers of the 19th century.

Unique on-board experiences

• Both ships have resident expert ‘riverlorians,’ who tell the stories of the towns and hamlets visited, both via in daily lectures and one-on-one—they’re very visible on the ship and will answer questions virtually any time.

• There are libraries that offer fiction as well as nonfiction written about the histories of the areas visited.

• On the dining front, the menus reflect regional cuisine: New Orleans and modern Southern comfort food on American Queen, fresh seafood and bright berries on American Empress. Decadent delights on American Queen include items such as sugary beignets, corn and shrimp fritters and molasses-glazed pork loin stuffed with Andouille sausage to satisfy passengers’ appetites. On American Empress, passengers will eat pan-seared scallops, Indian rice soup, and steamed cold-water lobster tail. No formalwear is ever required, even for dinners, where complimentary wine and local beer are poured.

• The ships feature a professionally trained, all-American staff.

• Entertainment on board includes a sing-along in the Main Deck Lounge and a lavish show in the two-deck-tall Grand Saloon.

Excursions and themed cruises

• To add a little zest to the stately vibe, both ships carry bikes, providing passengers a chance to peddle through the river towns they visit.

• Shore tours, included in the fares, are in every port of call and provide immersion into the history, culture and cuisine of the heartland. Both ships have their own dedicated fleet of luxury motor coaches.

• These uniquely themed river cruise voyages feature special entertainment creating a river cruise experience unlike any other. From Civil War and Big Band Swing, to Old-Fashioned Holidays and New Year’s Eve themed.

My personal experiences

My cruise was from St. Louis to St. Paul, and as soon as we checked into our St. Louis hotel we felt the hospitality of the American Cruise Line (the pre-night stay is included in the fare). We took advantage of a City Tour of St. Louis, which included the Anheuser Busch Brewery, before boarding our boat. As we approached our embarkation pier in Alton, IL, we saw our majestic steamship in the Mississippi river. We knew then this was going to be a special seven days.

The cabins are adequate in size and the bathrooms are larger than expected. Most of the cabins have river views, with French doors that open directly to an open deck with your own table and chairs.

The entertainment is another ‘exceeded our expectation’ moment. There is a seven-piece band and four singers/entertainers that have nightly shows in the ornate Grand Saloon. There is also nightly entertainment in the Engine room bar which is nice before retiring to your cabin or if you like to dance.

Every port has opportunity to walk ashore and visit the town, or included in the fare is a chance to do a unique hop-on, hop-off tour. You always have the same drivers, as they drive to each town the ship sails to. It is very interesting to visit the American towns that thrive along the Mississippi. Each stop has a rich history that makes it unique.

We also enjoyed the food and American servers on the American Queen. There are always soft drinks, coffee, teas, cappuccino, cookies, popcorn and the popular ice cream. The breakfast and lunch options include a buffet, or you may order off of the menu. The dinner experience is casual, and you are offered a four-course menu with local favorites always on the menu.

My favorite part of the entire week was actually sailing the Mississippi. We saw small towns, lots of greenery, several locks and many eagles along our route. This cruise is meant to be relaxing and reflective.

Combining the best of the old and the new, this beautiful lady of the river epitomizes the grace and grandeur that has made river cruising a cherished American tradition for more than two centuries. One voyage and you’ll see why. Please give us a call at Endless Travel for itineraries and pricing.

Ready to cruise?

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aurora borealis

Endless Travel Blog

Why you should go to iceland now

--by Joyce Masaga

Iceland. The name itself conjures up an image of a land of imposing ice formations. And while that isn’t too far off, Iceland is more than just arctic temps and shining glaciers. Don’t let the cold deter you: Iceland might be almost at the top of the world, just below the Arctic Circle, but its winter temperatures are often warmer than those in New York. (And it’s only a 7-hour nonstop plane ride from Denver).

I was lucky to visit Iceland last month. I wanted to share my observations and thoughts, as there are many more reasons you’ll be
enchanted on a visit to Iceland. So pack your (faux) fur-trimmed hat and prepare to be wowed by this unique little island country.

Northern Lights

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to witness the wonder that is the Northern Lights. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the mystical green lights dancing in the sky on a cold, clear winter night. The phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis can be explained scientifically as the result of the upper atmosphere being blitzed by highly charged electrons from the solar wind.

The hunt for the elusive Northern Lights can be even more memorable than actually witnessing the show. Bundle up for an adventurous 4x4 Jeep excursion searching for the best nightly sighting, or test your luck waiting for the lights to appear on your evening dip in one of the country’s many geothermal pools.

Geysers, Volcanos, Lakes and National Parks

Steaming geysers, drifting icebergs, black lava beaches, erupting volcanos—you’ll find them all in Iceland—and sometimes within a half-hour’s drive of one another. The country has more than 4,500 square miles of glaciers, so you can’t visit without walking on ice in some way. Take a walking or ice climbing tour on the Solheimajokull glacier on the south coast of Iceland. Or take a self-guided driving tour of Ring Road, the main national route that circles the country, to see even more natural wonders at your own pace, including the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, the East Fjords and the impressive Dettifoss waterfall.

Iceland’s Vatnajokull Glacier is the largest ice cap in Europe, covering over 5,000 square miles and plunging to depths of over 3,000 feet. This glacier encases active volcanoes similar to those under Eyjafjallajokull Glacier that erupted in 2010, causing travel snafus throughout Europe. Vatnajokull is so large that it can easily be seen from space. Thingvellir National Park is where you can witness the spot where the Earth’s giant tectonic plates shift and pull apart. It is where the European and North American plates meet. These powerful forces are still hard at work as red-hot magma fills the gap 6,000 feet underground between the tectonic plates. This intense heat creates pressure that fuels the Strokkur geyser, sending water and steam erupting 100 feet into the air.

Escape the tourists and experience this part of the local culture...

Lake Myvaten, located on the northern end of Iceland, is an unusual spot with vol- canos, steaming vents, bubbling hot mud and weird rock forma- tions. The terrain is so strange that NASA used the area to train the Apollo astronauts because the expansive lava fields replicate otherworldly geography.

Geothermal Baths

Geothermal energy heats and powers homes, baths and pools, public as well as private.

Bathing in communal thermal baths is a popular part of daily life—unwinding after a long day or catching up with the latest gossip and news. Escape the tourists and experience this part of the local culture at the geothermal-heated swimming pool, Laugardalur Park, outside downtown Reykjavik— just one of many places in Iceland to offer natural hot tubs.

icelandic ponyIceland Ponies

The Icelandic horse is a unique breed of smallish horses that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway 1,100 years ago. The Icelandic horse comes in many different colors, and the Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for the various colors and color patterns. It is small, weighing between 330 and 380 kilograms (730-840 pounds), and standing an average of 132 to 142 centimeters (52-56 inches) high. It has a spirited temperament and a large personality. In Iceland, they have few diseases, and as a result, Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country, and exported animals are not allowed to return.

Reykjavik and Beyond

Until I visited Iceland a few months ago, I don’t think I fully appreciated just how small Iceland’s population is and what the effect of that has upon the travel experience. The entire country has around 317,000 inhabitants. That’s about the size of St. Louis, Missouri. Reykjavik and surrounding suburbs account for 200,000 of that number, leaving a lonely 100,000 hardy souls strewn about the land of fire and ice. So instead of a colossal capital city, Reykjavik has the size and feel of a small town—or at least not a very big town. But it’s more than size, it’s the mentality of Reykjavik that is so endearing. I never once saw a cop the entire time I was there. The Parliament, prime minister’s house and president’s house all were essentially open with no obvious signs of security, not even a fence.

Being in Iceland wasn’t just nice, it was a vacation from distrust, paranoia and fear, and I loved every second of it.

I also highly recommend that you get out of Reykjavik to explore the countryside, as what really makes Iceland special is what lies outside the city limits. Don’t be afraid to drive. Coming from North America, it was an easy transition for us as Icelanders drive on the right hand side of the road. Gas is expensive compared to the U.S. and should definitely be factored in if you are trying to stick to a budget. Don’t try to schedule too much into one day. Driving distances tends to take longer than you think, and you will want to leave plenty of time to explore and enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty. More than once, we stopped at 3-4 sights while on the road for photo opportunities.

So give us a call at Endless Travel and we will assist you in planning your Iceland Adventure!!

Want to visit Iceland?

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