Steamboat 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?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Iceland

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?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Adventure Travel

Endless Travel Blog

Adventure Travel

--by Sheryl Fick

With travel on the rise and a very large planet to choose from, how does the average person decide what is on their bucket list, and how do they go about fulfilling that dream?

Of course there is the internet, a vast array of so many choices that very soon the process of doing it yourself is simply overwhelming, and how is a person to know what is truly a great value or not? Well here at Endless Travel, this is what we do for you. This is our job, but more, it is our passion! We know how to weed through what you may find. In fact, we only use our preferred wholesalers; these are companies we as travel professionals work with to ensure your adventure travel experience is more than a guessing game online. So let’s talk about a company we use for out of the box adventure travel. This is the essence of G Adventures!

highest glacier in AlaskaG Adventures is a company with over 20 years of out of the ordinary travel experiences for all travelers. I did say “all travelers” because they have various and very specific categories for any traveler worldwide. They offer a very unusual mission statement: “We offer off the beaten path, meaningful, local and very small group travel for ages 4 years old and up to 99.” How can a company do this? Let’s discuss why and how they can.

First, G Adventures in NOT a normal travel escorted wholesaler. They have the following categories so every person can fit into a perfect situation for them personally.

Here is how they do this:

Classic – somewhere between backpacking and a traditional escorted group is where this falls into place.

Comfort – for a more mature traveler, but not necessarily based on age, a person who likes a bit of frills and the finer things in life and travel.

Active – the traveler that likes to hike, bike, climb, and do multiple sports on vacation.

Yolo – this is the youthful client, younger and fast paced. Forget sleep—that can be done much later in life.

Marine – whether an experienced sailor or a landlubber, this group likes water and anywhere in the world water.

Family – starting at age 4, travel with parents, grandparents or other family members for an out-of-the-box multifamily experience.

Local Living – perhaps a Tuscan farmhouse or an Icelandic home where you visit and learn how locals live worldwide.

Freedom is also another unique feature of G Adventures; there’s time to explore on your own.

Rail – long before airplanes, people actually enjoyed rail travel, and it still exists for a more laid back adventure.

Groups – create your own or join in a pre- planned one to meet new people and new adventures.

helicopterG Adventures does things differently! For example, they have guaranteed departures for 1-12 people. If you sign up you will go and this is unheard of in the travel industry! They can do your air or not and coordinate all the other components worldwide. Speaking of worldwide, here are just some of the places you can choose from to create your next adventure:

North or South America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, New Zealand and Australia, Europe, Central America—and more than can be listed.

G Adventures use local transportation, so you travel like the locals with your personal CEO (Chief Experience Officer.) Their accommodations reflect the local character of your chosen destination. Freedom is also another unique feature of G Adventures; there’s time to explore on your own. With small groups you are assured to meet other travelers with similar interests to your own.

With G Adventures, travel is done differently. They don’t just see the world; they make it better. With their Planeterra non-profit foundation, they give back worldwide since 2003, promoting sustainable solutions and economic growth done responsibly.

Some of their experiences include local living in Mongolia, Galapogos in Depth, Exploring Morroco, a Botswana Safari or Thailand and Laos adventure... but the list goes on and on.

We at Endless Travel can assist and help you determine just the right vacation for you.

Ready for adventure?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Peru

Endless Travel Blog

Plan your vacation to Peru today!

--by Shelly Donahue

If you are looking for a unique vaca- tion, Peru, with Avanti Destinations, may be just what you are looking for. You should plan on visiting for a minimum of 6 nights, but with so much to see and do, I would recommend a longer stay.

When arriving in Peru, expect to be greeted kindly by the Peruvian people. Peruvians take pride in customer service and it shines through with Avanti’s local guides and drivers. Also, bring your appetite, as the Peruvian cuisine is a unique fusion of traditional Inca and modern Asian/Latin cuisines.

Getting around Peru is simple. You fly into Lima (about a 10 hour flight from Denver) and then take domestic flights to the majority of the other destinations in the country (Cuzco, Iquitos, Juliaca, Puerto Maldonado, Arequipa and Chiclayo). You must take a train from either Cuzco or the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Avanti’s ground operator has modern sedans, vans and busses that are reliable and comfortable.

Lima is renowned for its rich Spanish architecture—the City of Kings was founded by Pizarro in 1535. Cultures past and present are represented in the outstanding art, archaeological museums and cuisine throughout.

The Sacred Valley is full of adventure.

array of peruvian vegatablesLima has a unique history worth discovery but the highlight of Lima is the cuisine. The gastronomy tour and market visit is often the favorite tour for foodies and non-foodies alike.

Cuzco’s architecture is dazzling and the city tour is a must. Be introduced to the charming colonial city built on the foundations of Inca palaces.

Peru is full of must-see destinations, including the lush setting of the Sacred Valley—natural beauty of rivers and lakes within the well-kept historical towns of Ollantaytambo and Pisac. The Pisac market stands out as a unique experience and is a great spot for some authentic handicrafts to bring home.

First-time travelers to Peru should always visit Machu Picchu twice. The first entrance is for the guide to explain the stories of how and when these ruins were built, but the next day provides a chance to really explore these expansive ruins on your own. It is always best to go to the Sacred Valley first in order to acclimate to the altitude. The Sacred Valley is full of adventure. You can enjoy the natural beauty by mountain biking, rafting, kayaking and hiking. I would recommend at least 2 nights in the Sacred Valley and then 1 night at Machu Picchu, with a visit to the ruins on the afternoon of the day of arrival and another visit the following morning.

If you plan on hiking the Inca Trail, you should plan at least 6 months in advance in order to get your passes to hike the trail. The Inca Trail is closed during the month of February and the best time to visit is June through August.

monkeysThe Peruvian Amazon is a one-of-a-kind destination. The Amazon is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. You can see monkeys, birds, iguanas and the elusive pink dolphins. Long inhabited by indigenous people, the area has a remarkable history worth exploring. Avanti offers both lodges and Amazon cruises, which offer incredible day trips deep in the Amazon while still offering first-class accommodations and incredible food.

Another destina- tion is the enigma of Nazca. The barren desert harbors myste- rious ancient ruins—a set of carved glyphs so massive they can only be seen from the air. The Nazca Lines have long captured travelers’ imagina- tions with their preci- sion and scale. Full of

mystery, there isn’t much comparable to an overflight of the incredible Nazca Lines.

Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the Americas. For visitors to Lake Titicaca, the floating islands of Taquile and Uros are spectacular for both nature and cultural travelers. There is nothing like the combination of scenic vistas and cultural authenticity. Revel in the natural wonders of the lake as you kayak the highest navigable lake in the world.

Ready to visit Peru?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

What is an escorted tour anyway?

Endless Travel Blog

What is an escorted tour anyway?

--by Sheryl Fick

With the Internet, there are so many choices of what to do and how to do it, that at first glance, you may not feel the need for a professional travel consultant. I hope, however, this will explain some reasons to consider Endless Travel. Normally, there are no added planning fees, so see what you think, and see if an escorted tour may be what you want.

First, an escorted tour is when all of the components are bundled together in a form where you, as the traveler, really do not have to pre-plan anything—just show up for the time of your life without any of the hassles of planning and hoping things work out. Of course, that is why you may want to consider the option of a fully escorted tour nearly any place in the world. With the help of Endless Travel to qualify your travel needs, we do the work (or we work together) to plan the perfect vacation.

We work very closely with the Globus (Cosmos is their sister company at a lower price point) family of brands, which include the wonderful Avalon River Cruises and Monograms, the land package we can add on at any time. Globus/Cosmos escorted tours are very popular in Europe, but did you know you can also go to Israel, Jordan, Scandinavia, Iceland or Russia to name a few other destinations? The beauty of an escorted tour is that you can simply sit back, and let Endless Travel do all the work with the help of Globus/Cosmos—you can also be as involved as you choose. This means that if you want to arrive earlier than the tour starts, or stay after the tour, or take a river cruise on Avalon, it can be done. And the pre and post sections can be done with the help of Monograms.

This is a special air rate you can only get by going through a tour company like this...

Several years ago, I experienced an escorted tour in Europe for 12 days. I have to say, it was so relaxing to let someone else drive while I was a tourist and got to hear all the wonderful information presented to me while touring. This tour was during a public wedding in London, and could have been a serious problem, but Globus/Cosmos pre-reserved hotels in the center of each city I visited. So I sat back, and was not concerned with other events potentially disrupting my tour. Such an event could be something like the Rome Jubilee, where hotel space is nearly impossible to find; but not to worry on a Globus or Cosmos escorted tour.

You can have your airfare booked by Globus/Cosmos if you want, and you probably did not know that they offer something you can’t get yourself, which is contracted air. This is a special air rate you can only get by going through a tour company like this, and most times, the prices are much less than you can find. Don’t worry if you do have free air on points. That is something that can be done separately.

This is how it works:

lourveYou contact Endless Travel, and we discuss your itinerary and which escorted tour works best. We can add air to any city you want (arrival transfers). Then you are shuttled to your selected hotel while your luggage is handled for you. Next, you meet the rest of the group and your tour guide for the trip, and are given more details of all the sights you will be seeing. There are no lines to wait in if you choose tours like the Louvre in Paris, the London Eye or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to name a few. Let’s say you want to visit Venice, but your tour ends in Rome. No worries! We can arrange a train first or second class, with transfers from the tour to the rail station, and again upon arrival in Venice. The choices are endless! We take the stress of planning away, and Globus/Cosmos does the rest. You can have as much fun as you want planning additional options.

So if you want the ease of not having to plan a trip on your own, perhaps an escorted tour may be a viable option for you. We see people of all ages now doing escorted tours, as they are hassle free, and everyone gets to enjoy the journey. I am still in contact with friends I met from South Africa, as that is one of the many perks.

Why not call your travel experts at Endless Travel? We have over 100 years of travel expertise, and if an escorted tour is not what works, we ‘sell the world.’ Let us help you plan that trip of a lifetime, and remember we, as Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon, are teaming up to provide the perfect vacation with lasting memories!

Ready to schedule your escorted tour?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!