What is an escorted tour anyway?

rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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!

Cuba

classic car in cuba

Endless Travel Blog

Viva Cuba!

--by Susan Hammond

Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, and located just 90 miles south of Miami, has much to offer for those seeking a world of contrasts and authentic experiences. I had the opportunity this past November to fulfill a personal dream, and escorted a group of 12 clients to three Cuban cities (Havana, Varadero and Vinales) on a 9-day, fully escorted, people-to-people experience offered through Cosmos Tours. It was amazing to actually take a step back in time, allowing us to observe the allure and unique lifestyle of the Cuban people.

Cuban law, while relaxed some for American tourists, still places strict limitations on what we can do when traveling to Cuba, requiring cultural exchange activities for many travelers. The travel restrictions and U.S. embargo, which still remains in effect, means travel to Cuba is not easily planned on a whim.

cuba capitolUpon arrival, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture, the delicious cuisine and my warm welcome from the people. I quickly learned that the Cuban people I interacted with were very inviting and friendly in their responses to questions from our group about their country.

Upon landing in Havana from Miami on a charter flight, we were picked up by our 33- year-old Cuban Tour Director, Limon. As we headed east, we drove through picturesque countryside to a beach destination called Varadero, which is a hotspot for tourism because of the beautiful Cuban beaches. We kept busy that day visiting a local artisan shop called Taller de Ceramica Aristica and enjoyed a pottery demonstration by the owner and, of course, shopping opportunities.

We next traveled to a nearby city called Matanzas, known as the Athens of Cuba for the many renowned artists and intellectuals it has produced. One of the most fascinating stops that we made was at a print and binding shop called Ediciones Vigia. This independent publishing collective began making homemade books in 1985. They are truly creating books that are not only of literary value, but also unique works of art. Each book published is beautiful to behold, fit to be displayed, and work to be treasured.

cuban manThe anticipation of traveling back to Havana was high as we prepared ourselves for a walking tour of Old Havana. Cosmos Tours arranged for a local architect to give us a lesson about the history written in the stones of the 400-year-old streets and colonial buildings. The Havana UNESCO World Heritage Site centers on three historic plazas, each distinct with a church, slave market, and fort. Among the bustle of people, we witnessed one of the most confounding paradoxes of Cuba. Gaily dressed peasant women and old men with fedoras and big cigars posed for photos for a dollar each. They easily made $10 a day, $300 a month. Yet the average government salary is $20 per month. The Cuban people are definitely very resourceful.

While in Havana, we visited a daycare center filled with 50 two-year-olds. Caring nuns and their helpers run this center. Only mothers who are willing to go back to work are allowed to put their child in this free childcare program. The children delighted us with a few songs, and we then returned the favor by singing “Old McDonald” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” This exchange was heartwarming and definitely a highlight of our day.

Next, we were off to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home where he lived for over 30 years, and penned some of his most favorite novels. We saw tombstones where he buried four of his beloved dogs—Black, Negrita, Linda and Neron. It was also fascinating to see his fishing boat, El Pinar, which was used to patrol for German U-boats during WWII.

Next, we were off to visit Ernest Hemingway's home...

As we wrapped up our 9-day tour, we traveled to the western end of the island to the lush province of Pinar del Rio. On the way, we visited a local primary school and interacted with fourth-graders working on math problems. Since this is a state owned school, we were not allowed to donate money to the school, however school supplies were much appreciated. As the children introduced themselves, they told us what they wanted to be “when they grow up.” We heard the typical professions such as police officer and school teacher. But one young man said he wanted to be a driver, and his buddy sitting next to him boasted that he was going to be a mechanic. These two professions in Cuba are very important to this nation due to the vast number of vintage cars throughout the country.

As we checked into our pre-assigned bed and breakfasts in the small town of Vinales, we had the wonderful opportunity to interact with host families and continue immersing ourselves in the local Cuban culture. From the feedback I received from my clients, this part of the tour was one of the highlights of the overall trip. My husband and I stayed in a home where the host was an English teacher. He enjoyed educating us on the everyday challenges of his community, and demonstrated excitement towards the American tourist and what we bring to their country.

A thrill for the men in our group was a visit to a tobacco farm and the opportunity to puff on much coveted cigars while watching the proprietor roll these Cuban novelties. Also, we toured an organic farm where we chatted with the staff and were treated with a delicious farm-to-table lunch.

cuban carCar enthusiasts in our group were totally surprised to see the large number of vintage cars throughout the country. The streets of Havana are congested with Soviet-era trucks, boxy Chinese cars, horse-drawn wagons, and chrome-gilded Buicks and Chevrolets. For those who love history, we explored the different facets of the historic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Also, Cuba is an expert and amateur photographer’s dream by offering opportunities to capture life unfolding naturally for the locals.

In my opinion, Cuba has something for everyone who is willing to remain flexible and “go with the flow.” As a travel consultant, I am often asked, “What is your favorite destination?” Until now, I always struggled with this question since I have had many favorite experiences. Now, without any hesitation, I can confidently say that our Cosmos Cuba People-To-People Tour was a trip that I will never forget. In fact, I am planning to go back in a year or two to explore the eastern side of the island including Trinidad, Bay of Pigs, and King Ranch.

Ready to visit Cuba?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Belize

blue morpho butterfly

Endless Travel Blog

The Unspoiled Paradise of Belize

--by Susan Hammond

I had the opportunity just a few months ago to participate in a guided tour with National Geographic by G Adventures to the country of Belize, allowing our small group of travel professionals to discover and connect with the wonderful local people in a way that was truly meaningful. This adventure took us deep into the Belizean culture, offering a greater hands-on exploration, interactions with local experts and the freedom to roam, all within the structure and security of travelling in this intimate group. This authentic nine-day experience consisted of exploring the Mayan ruins, a visit to a hot sauce factory and excursions to small local villages to get up close and personal with island life.

Formerly known as British Guatemala, Belize is a country on the eastern coast of Central America. It is the only country in Central America whose official language is English, though Belizean Creole and Spanish are also commonly spoken. Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Since this small and diverse country is approximately the size of Massachusetts, we were able to explore a lot of it during my very first visit. What I truly love about Belize is that in just over a week, we spent time in the lush jungle of the west on the Guatemalan border, ending our journey with beach time on Caye Caulker, which is truly a tropical paradise on the Caribbean Sea.

After arriving in Belize City, our group was transported about 20 minutes from the airport to the centrally located Burrell Boom Village, which is right on the Belize Old River. We stayed in a charming jungle resort offering comfort and convenience in an exotic, tropical rainforest setting.

Our first day consisted of a full-day excursion to the Lamanai Ruins, a renowned Mayan ceremonial site consisting of over 800 structures surrounded by lush jungle. Lamanai (“Submerged Crocodile,” in Mayan) was occupied as early as 1500 B.C.

First of all, getting to Lamanai was half the fun! The short van ride led us across rivers and vast expanses of land, providing us with a true Belizean country tour. We arrived at the Tower Hill Bridge where we boarded a motorboat for a spectacular ride upriver, continuing our journey to Lamanai. The boat tour was by far the highlight (except for the Lamanai Ruins, of course, but we had to flip a coin...) of the full-day excursion. The ride was a wonderful opportunity for wildlife spotting, as well as spotting many tropical birds and spider monkeys. We even saw a couple of freshwater crocodiles floating near the river’s edge.

These caves, called ‘Xibalba,’ meaning ‘Mayan hell,’ are fascinating underground worlds.

As we continued on our journey to the western side of Belize to the city of San Ignacio, we stopped along the way to cave tube (which is an activity very specific to Belize). First, we walked approximately 30 minutes through the jungle alongside the river carrying our inner tubes (yes, we had our mosquito repellant close at hand), then happily launched the tubes in the welcomed cool water passing through dark caves and their wonderful cavities that we discovered thanks to our headlamps. These caves, called “Xibalba,” meaning “Mayan hell,” are fascinating underground worlds. In my opinion, cave tubing is a not-to-be-missed activity in Belize that you have to add to your bucket list!

After completing our drive to San Igancio and checking into our rainforest hotel on the outskirts of the city, we enjoyed a couple of free days to individually choose how we wanted to explore the surrounding countryside and attractions. Most of us chose to cross the border into Guatemala (which was an experience in itself) to visit Tikal National Park, which is the largest excavated site on the American continent, containing some of the most fascinating archeological remains of the ancient Mayan civilization. On the way back from this all-day tour, we stopped for a late lunch in northern Guatemala at a local restaurant right on Lake Peten, which is the second largest lake in Guatemala. A dip in this lake was very refreshing, plus the local cuisine was outstanding!

The second day in western Belize consisted of some of the youngsters in the group participating in a cave excursion to Belmopan, Belize’s Crystal Cave. Since I am not a millennial anymore, and spelunking is not my idea of a good time, some of us chose to go to Chaa Creek Lodge (a wildly civilized luxury resort) for the day to explore the Blue Morpho Butterfly farm, where we observed the “Belizean Blue” during every stage of their life cycle. Of course, while we were at the beautiful Chaa Creek lodge for the day, a site inspection was in order after our delicious jungle cuisine. This lodge is very proud that they were chosen to host Prince Harry a few years ago when he visited Belize as part of a Diamond Jubilee tour representing Queen Elizabeth. I came home telling my husband that I could live at Chaa Creek forever, and of course he reminded me that I still have two boys in college, so now is not a good time. Plus, he knows that I would miss the Rocky Mountains and having four seasons, so I was instantly jerked back into reality.

Leaving western Belize and travelling along the Hummingbird Highway, we headed toward the small Garifuna fishing village of Hopkins about three hours by road, south of Belize City. On the way, we stopped at the Hot Mama’s hot sauce factory, which is a true institution in Belize. This tour was a can’t-miss for anyone looking for a genuine taste of Central America. We toured the factory before indulging in some spicy flavors, and of course brought plenty home to enjoy ourselves and give as gifts.

Arriving into Hopkins later that day allowed time to explore the fascinating Garifuna culture. The Afro-Caribbean Garifuna people originated with the arrival of West African slaves who washed ashore on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent around 1635, while likely on their way to New World mines and plantations. We had a delicious dinner at the Sandy Beach woman’s co-op. They served a dish called hudut (a creamy fish stew served with mashed plantain and distinctive local flair). After dinner, we had fun taking a drum lesson and enjoyed a demonstration by these amazing local artists.

belize hammocksUpon leaving Hopkins, we drove back to Belize City and then took a short ferry ride over to Caye Caulker. This small laid-back island, consisting of 1,000 or so residents, displays the ‘no shirt, no shoes, no problem’ attitude throughout the island. The only traffic sign instructs golf carts and bicycles to “go slow,” a directive that is taken seriously. The island is an ideal base for snorkeling and diving adventures at the nearby reef. The northern part of the island—a tempting destination for kayakers—is mostly mangroves, which are home to an amazing variety of birdlife. Other than that, all visitors should be sure to schedule in plenty of time for swinging on a hammock and enjoying the breeze (which is indeed a legitimate activity on Caye Caulker).

In conclusion, my first journey to Belize allowed me to step away from my daily routine to a special place in the sun. I also got to experience some soul-recharging beach time, but with added cultural experiences that gave me a look at what life is like living in Belize. So if you enjoy photographing wildlife, hiking in the jungle or just exploring one of the longest barrier reefs in the Western Hemisphere, Belize has got it all!

Ready to visit Belize?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

The World Awaits

The World Awaits

Travel Beyond the Pandemic

By Susan Hammond: Agency Owner/Luxury Travel Advisor

As I write this article, the state of Colorado is moving towards the Safer At Home phase of this pandemic.  Retailers are opening via curbside, dog groomers can get back to clipping our pets’ nails and trimming the hair out of their eyes, and we all are continuing to keep our hands washed and practicing social distancing.

Throughout the last 6 weeks, we have seen the world go from bad to worse in the travel industry.  I recall getting a phone call at midnight on March 16 from my dear clients traveling in East Africa.  They were just told that the borders in Kenya were getting ready to shut down, and they needed to evacuate immediately.  Trained in crisis management, I instantly sprang into action getting their air rebooked before the airport shut down and thankfully getting them home as safely and quickly as possible.

We have all seen the horror stories coming by way of social and mass media with some online travel agents (OTAs) like Bookit.com ceasing operations and stranding thousands of their passengers all over the world.  Call hold times to OTAs, Costco, cruise lines and tour operators were maxing out 3-4 hours, only to be disconnected.  I and all the travel advisors at Endless Travel spent many hours getting all our clients home safely and either cancelled or rebooked their current vacations that were planned over the next few months.  I was proud of our efforts and that when our clients called, we answered the phone on the first ring.

When the coronavirus releases its grip, and we slowly start to safely emerge from our homes, the world we see will not look the same as we entered a quasi-hibernation in March 2020.  So, I will attempt to speculate what the travel industry will look like on the other side of this mighty virus.

Over the past several weeks, I have been spending many hours reading, participating in industry webinars, and partaking in Zoom meetings with our preferred travel suppliers.  One Zoom meeting recently included executives from Travel Guard, Apple Vacations and Royal Caribbean.   You think I have a tough job right now?  Think again!  The VP of Sales from Royal Caribbean never ever dreamed that she needed to worry about finding a parking lot for 27 cruise ships!

Just like 9/11 forever changed air travel, I think the cruise industry will need to make the biggest changes in order to entice their guests aboard again.  There are reports that buffets will be turned into food courts allowing the crew to serve each passenger with a plexiglass shield acting as a barrier.  Staggering embarkation times, temperature reads, more in-depth health questionnaires and requiring high-risk passengers to have a doctor’s note that they are fit to travel are just some ideas that are currently being discussed by the cruise industry executives.  There is also talk about adding medical staff to ships, and I personally would like for each mid to large size vessel to convert a section of the ship that can easily and quickly be transformed to a quarantine ward protecting all those that are healthy.

Beyond this pandemic, I believe that our world is going to be much cleaner and more sanitized.  I receive an email every business day from our favorite travel supplier located in Livorno, Italy that works with cruise lines and travel advisors offering shore excursions and tailor-made tours all over Italy that never disappoints.   They report that marine life has joyously returned to the lagoon of Venice.  Jellyfish propelling themselves along near the surface, schools of fish swim peacefully by, crustaceans clinging to the city's famous jetties, and seaweed of every colour wafts gently on the current is occurring now due to the murky waters clearing in this beautiful and historic city.  Airplanes will be cleaner too.  Some airlines are already blocking out middle seats on their aircraft and considering loading the planes from the rear first.  JetBlue is now providing masks to be worn onboard, and United is promoting that they are electrostactic spraying all their airplanes.

In the foreseeable future, I am noticing that the travel suppliers are continuing with flexible cancellation and rebooking policies.  I believe that Americans will emerge from a haze of cabin fever eager to explore the world again. We value the freedom to travel more than ever before, but we expect with different priorities and intentions.  Anticipating a trip is a lot like looking forward to a special meal. Both offer the promise of pleasure, a carnival for the senses and a break from our everyday life.

Travel is going to be more complicated going forward, and the benefits of working with a professional Endless Travel advisor cannot be understated, especially now.  In addition to knowing the best travel suppliers (and who may be having special deals), we are well-informed about the solvency of various suppliers and can steer you away from a bad investment, which is key during this tumultuous economic climate. And when it comes to navigating travel insurance, we can also match your circumstances with the right provider and policy.

We are all working at home, available to assist or answer any questions.  We send best wishes to everyone in our community and hope everyone is safe, healthy and staying sane.  We believe that travel really brings people together so see you soon!

The Islands of Tahiti – Pick Your Paradise!

By Alison Barnes

La Orana! As you may or may not remember, I began my Colorado Serenity article about Guatemala with a little history lesson. Well, I have another one to preface my December 2019 trip to The Islands of Tahiti. My desire to visit Tahiti was born of a grade school project in the American Midwest. Tasked with researching an exotic destination, I chose the most faraway, unreachable place I could think of - Tahiti. Now, this was in the days before the Internet and I used the resources at my disposal: the library and “Snail Mail”. I wrote to the Board of Tourism and to my surprise and great delight, I received a hand-written response along with informational materials in return. Right then, I knew I would have to visit Tahiti during my lifetime.

Think French Polynesia is too far, too hard to get to? Think again. The Islands of Tahiti are located equidistant south of the equator as Hawaii is North, and in the same time zone as Hawaii. From Los Angeles International Airport, the flight on Tahiti Nui Air is only two hours longer than Hawaii, at eight hours. I was able to relax on a brand-new Dreamliner aircraft complete with a well-appointed travel kit and reclining seats. A pleasant surprise on my flight also included a lovely flower greeting, Tahitian food, and staff who changed from uniforms to traditional Tahitian dress during the flight.

All flights arrive at Faa’a International Airport (Papeete), located near the city of Papeete on the main island of Tahiti. The airport also serves the domestic airline, Air Tahiti, for further service to the other islands and atolls. Upon arriving in Papeete, I was treated to traditional song and dance and swiftly escorted through the VIP Entrance at customs - must do for anyone because it bypasses the lines!

The Islands of Tahiti are comprised of five main archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotu Atolls. An archipelago is a sea or stretch of water containing many islands; 118 for Tahiti to be exact. The islands are made of atolls, tiny ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed by coral. The coral rings around the islands form the beautiful, calm lagoons of French Polynesia. The older the island, the flatter it becomes, eventually enclosing the lagoons entirely with coral.

My first (and last) stop was the largest island, Tahiti. It was a quick overnight at Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort by Sofitel in the capital, Papeete. The next morning, the air was crisp and the sky was clear aside from a few clouds catching on the peaks of Moorea as we approached Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, via the Terevau Ferry. My day was spent touring famous sightseeing points of Le Belvedere overlooking Cook and Opunohu’s Bays, the volcano’s crater and the Plateau de la Bounty. Moorea boasts mountainous landscapes with pineapple farms, vanilla plantations, and a fruit juice factory. Moorea’s claim of “the best pineapple in the world” is no joke - I had a freshly picked sample from the fields that day and it was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. I dare say it surpasses the pineapples from Hawaii!

My next stop was the Island of Taha’a. As with the Hawaiian Islands, the Islands of Tahiti each have their own personality. Taha’a presents with a more agricultural feel. The island produces 80% of all vanilla exported from the country. In addition to a vanilla plantation tour and demonstration, I visited Iaorana Pearl Farm and learned what is involved in creating some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. One of the atolls of Taha’a is home to Vahine Island Resort & Spa where I toured the boutique property and enjoyed a beach luncheon. It was so quiet, I found myself whispering with my traveling companions so as not to disturb the palm trees and fish! The star of my stay on Taha’a was at Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa in an overwater bungalow for two nights. A fun fact for you is that The Islands of Tahiti are the birthplace of overwater bungalows! My bungalow included a beautiful deck with access to the lagoon below, floor to ceiling windows and, best of all, a clear, glass coffee table to watch “Polynesian Television”. Beautiful tropical fish are attracted to the lights from the bungalow and I spent quite a bit of time just watching them swim by.

The final island visit was to the famous Bora Bora and it definitely did not disappoint. Bora Bora’s personality is all about taking advantage of the multitude of water activities available. Calm lagoon waters make the perfect setting for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boating, fishing. I experienced first-hand the breathtaking colors of a coral garden surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks while snorkeling. Most of my time in Bora Bora was spent touring the luxurious resorts and their amenities all designed with the ultimate vacation experience in mind. The Le Meridian operates a turtle sanctuary and has a wonderful family feel, the Intercontinental Thalasso & Spa Resort uses cold waters from the depths of the ocean in their spa treatments and the overwater bungalow at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa was possibly the softest place to land that evening.

I could continue writing another complete article talking about the fresh cuisine, the people and their culture, the animals, etc., but I guess you’ll just have stop by! After seeing only a portion of what The Islands of Tahiti have to offer and realizing they are not an unattainable destination, I am eager to return and explore more. My next visit’s goals are to spend more time on Bora Bora and discover the Marquesas Islands. I dare you to visit French Polynesia too!

Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Experience

2020 Rose Parade pro rodeo float with rodeo queens posing in front

In the late 1800s, Charles Fredrick Holder and Frances F. Rowland of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club sponsored the Battle of the Flowers to highlight the idyllic climate of Southern California. Holder said, “In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” The battle itself was an “afternoon of chariot races, jousting, foot races, and tug-of-war” as well as a bicycle race, polo played on burros, and an orange race where “contestants raced down a line of fifty oranges, spaced two feet apart, and put them one by one into a basket.”

Leading up to the tournament, however, was the very first Rose Parade. Horse-drawn carriages, decorated with fresh flowers from Hunt Club members’ gardens traveled down Colorado Boulevard to the Tournament Grounds on January 1, 1890, and that event has been repeated every year since.

The 2020 Rose Parade featured 39 float entries, 17 equestrian groups, 20 marching bands, and 4 cars. That’s right, only 4 cars. The only vehicles allowed in the parade without being covered in living organisms carry the Mayor of Pasadena, the parade’s Grand Marshal(s), the Tournament of Roses President and the Rose Bowl Game Hall of Fame Inductees.

When you mention the Rose Parade, what most people think about are the elaborate floats covered with flowers. Every single one of those floats was created by a team of volunteers who work without pay, to create award-winning spectacles guaranteed to make crowds swoon.

Each year, over 700 thousand people attend the parade, and more than 50 million watch it on television. But, what if you want to do more than just watch?

This past December, we connected with a group so that we could volunteer to help decorate one of the floats. You can find a list of organizations that need volunteers on the Tournament of Roses website if you’re looking for an opportunity to do the same. The warehouses where the floats are assembled are filled with millions of flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds, spices, pods or bark, since every visible inch of every float must be covered with organic material. The most delicate of the flowers, including the parade’s namesake roses, are each in a small vial of water to keep them alive and fresh for as long as possible.

Once you’ve spent several hours helping to craft a work of floral art, you won’t want to miss your opportunity to see it in its natural habitat. A seat in the grandstands is well worth the price of admission. (If you prefer to sit along the roadway, be aware that people start waiting in line for a seat more than 24 hours in advance.) Make sure to arrive early, as there are a flyover and other special events that lead up to start time. If you will be near the beginning of the parade route, you’ll also have a great opportunity to watch the pre-parade festivities. Regardless of where you end up seated, though, make sure you bring snacks and water (no hard water bottles, and check on-line with parade security beforehand about current regulations). And whatever you do, don’t drive. Parking is next to impossible. Get up early, and take a ride-share to get you where you need to be. Some hotels in the area even offer shuttle service and parade packages. Endless Travel can help you find a worry-free package that will make your parade experience absolutely amazing.

After the parade finishes, you can walk to the Rose Bowl for the football game (or take a shuttle if that’s part of your package). Surprisingly, the first football game associated with the parade wasn’t played until 1902, and football didn’t become a regular event until 1916. In the years since, the game has become a bigger and bigger spectacle, so make sure to get to your seats early for stunts, more flyovers, and all sorts of pre-game excitement that makes up the full fan experience. And don’t get out of your seat at halftime! The university bands that play can be absolutely incredible!

Post-game, you’ll want to have dinner plans well away from the stadium, as everything nearby will be completely packed. Make sure your transportation plans are cemented in advance as traffic control around the stadium afterward prevents ride-share pickups from getting to you.

The Rose Parade fun doesn’t stop just because New Year’s Day is over, either. The next day, the Tournament of Roses Committee presents “A Showcase of Floats.” This will give you a chance to get up close and personal with the floats, so you can see just what seeds, flowers, fruits and other items made each of them possible.

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl make up the most well-known New Year’s Day celebration in the modern world. When you are ready to be a part of it, make sure you partner with Endless Travel to get your year started off right.

Oxford: The City of Dreaming Spires

Oxford and Cambridge travel

Medieval Spires of OxfordOxford, located in central southern England, is focused primarily around its prestigious university which lies in the city’s medieval center. The architecture of the university’s 38 colleges led poet Matthew Arnold to nickname it the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.

Legends claim that Oxford University was founded by a beautiful young princess named Frideswide. When her dreams of becoming a nun were threatened by a king who wanted her hand in marriage, Frideswide ran away to Oxford only to be followed by the king. But when he reached the town border, he was struck blind. Once he agreed to release her from marrying him, and begging her forgiveness, his sight was restored. Frideswide then founded a nunnery on the site of what is now Christ Church cathedral. The earliest of the Oxford colleges were set up around the nunnery as learning places for monastic scholars.

The numerous colleges make for an amazing place to just wander all day, lost among the historic buildings still clamoring with students.  There are numerous guided and self-led walking tours to be found such as University tours, ghost tours, literary tours, and (of course) Harry Potter film location tours. Oxford, England

Guided or not, however, be aware that many buildings have a fee to enter them, and tickets sell out well in advance. So plan your day carefully if there are specific places you want to visit, or make sure the tour company covers entry tickets. That said, it is common understanding that if a gate or door is open, passersby should feel free to wander inside.

And what tour of Oxford would be complete without a visit to the gravesite of J.R.R. Tolkien? Wolvercote Cemetery in north Oxford is easy to reach by bus from Oxford City Centre. It does have a small parking lot and public restrooms. There are signs and maps to get you to Tolkien’s grave readily available.

Finally, when you are ready for a break from the scholarly and more scholastic life, the Oxford Pub Tour is not to be missed. Take some time to enjoy some tea or a pint while looking out over the Thames. 

A visit to Oxford is a convenient day trip from London, and many tour companies will start and end your tours there, allowing you to forego the tricky prospect of finding parking. A parking violation in the city is quite the expensive souvenir.

The relationship between the City and the University wasn’t always grand, however. After one of a series of “Town versus Gown” riots, several scholars departed Oxford and founded the University now known as Cambridge in 1209.

Not quite as large as her sister university, Cambridge is made up of 31 Colleges, and is the top-ranked university in the United Kingdom, and second-best in the world (according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings). But much LIKE her sister university, Cambridge is an architectural marvel, and fans of historic buildings will not be disappointed. A walk through the numerous courtyards in the town and throughout the university is a must.

CAmbridge river sightseeingSitting along the River Cam, the town of Cambridge is host to a bevy of riverside restaurants serving up delicious meals. And those feeling especially adventurous can splurge on a punt ride, where a boatman will push your boat along with a pole while you wonder at the sights along the riverbank. Some of the best boat guides are former students who share their love of their city and campus with you as you drift up and down the river.

With literary, historical, and contemporary cultural sights to visit, a trip to Oxford and Cambridge is something the entire family can enjoy.  Let Endless Travel help you plan that perfect “Oxbridge” getaway!

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Recommended Reading:

  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  • The Notion Club Papers, J.R.R. Tolkien