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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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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maccu picchu, 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?

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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!