Here is an example of a trip prepared by one of our travel planner/advisors. This is a very basic plan. A more detailed plan would have reservations to any and all events you would be attending during your stay, including dinners. If you think we can be of help for any of your travel needs contact one of our travel planner/advisors to help you plan your next adventure. Example
Sailing aboard an Oceania cruise is not a cookie cutter experience, and a week aboard the Riviera can be quite a pleasant surprise. For starters, the ship is sizeable enough to have numerous restaurants and amenities, but only has 1,250 passengers on board. This makes for plenty of space for everyone without ever feeling crowded. The entry foyer is majestic with a grandiose staircase that rises up from the main atrium area. Numerous conversation seating areas are by the windows, and reception almost never has a line (try that on a larger ship).
Strolling around the ship leads to plenty of small nooks to discover. A favorite place is the elegant library with faux fireplace, lots of great books, and leather armchairs with ottomans that made the perfect spot for doing a little work and checking email. Wireless internet is free for everyone and easy to connect to working almost anywhere on the ship. This is certainly a surprise, and most of the time, it’s actually fast.
The main deck features a great swimming pool with small whirlpools on either side. The most impressive part of the pool deck is that the lounge chairs are everywhere and cushioned with thick covers and accent towels. Pool staff are available to set up chairs as needed, too.
A private pool deck is designed for those booking premium accommodations or paying a surcharge to enjoy shaded cabanas on a quieter sundeck. The area is close to the Canyon Ranch Spa, which has a lengthy list of massage and beauty treatments plus relaxation areas with sauna and steam room areas. A well-equipped fitness center offers great views and the latest equipment, and a fridge with free energy drinks and bottled water provides a perfect way to rehydrate.
Of course, boarding a cruise ship is synonymous with eating, and the number of specialty restaurants aboard is exciting. But, the bigger shock will come when you learn that they are free as part of the cruise sailing. The main dining room is a large space that has impressive service and an a la carte menu. Dinner seems to be the most popular meal, but the buffet restaurant at the aft of the ship is where most of the dining action takes place. There are two air-conditioned wings off to the side of the buffet, and the al fresco terrace gets plenty of shade thanks to fabric umbrellas. Unlike other buffets, guests do not pour their own food; instead the staff plates everything for you. This is certainly a more hygienic approach, but quantities can sometimes be too much or too little.
You will like that there is always fresh and tropical fruit available as well as regional cuisine based upon a theme of the day’s port of call. There’s also another grill by the pool that opens for breakfast and lunch plus a free smoothie and milkshake bar. Fresh fruit, yogurt, sorbet, and ice cream are all options, and daily specials provide great suggestions.
In the library, an Illy espresso and coffee bar is the perfect way to perk up with strong Italian coffee like espresso, latte, and even the brand’s famous illy Crema smoothie. Free pastries and sandwiches are laid out in the library.
Among the specialty restaurant options are Asian fusion Red Ginger with freshly prepared sushi and south Asian specialties like Thai curries and Singaporean noodles. A French restaurant prepares formal meals (often tableside) inspired by Chef Jacques Pepin (also the cruise line’s executive culinary director) everything from roasted duck to steak frites. The cheese cart that wheels around is enough to add on a few pounds just at first sight. Italian food lovers enjoy fresh pasta and meat dishes with a panoramic view as the ship sails away at Toscana. Notable touches are the olive oil menu with nearly a dozen varieties and homemade gelato that was just as delicious as what I had just tasted in Amalfi. Polo Grill offers up a steakhouse menu that would rival Morton’s with sophisticated presentation and rather generous servers. (They want you to sample as many of the sides as possible!)
Bottled water and soft drinks are complimentary, but alcoholic drinks carry a fee. Sure, there are beverage packages available, but a la carte drinks are not too overpriced. The main dining restaurants are open seating, but the specialty outlets require reservations. Be sure to request them as soon as you board the ship. Oceania touts that all of its cuisine is prepared a la minute with only some of the buffet options prepared in larger quantities. Even the buffet has bespoke stations with pasta, omelets, steaks, and sandwiches made to order.
If you liked some of the food you’ve been enjoying, why not learn to cook it yourself? A show kitchen offers cooking classes as part of Oceania’s culinary enrichment program. Not into cooking? There is 24-hour room service available free of charge. I enjoyed ordering breakfast to my room each morning. Across the hall, budding artists can try their hand at painting or creating their own personal masterpiece.
Cabins are of impressive size with elegant décor like cushioned headboards, duvets, and padded mattresses. Desks sit in the corner and face the flat-screen cable TV and sofa bed. International power outlets are available on either side of the bed and above the desk. Closet space is plentiful, and behind one door is the minibar stocked with free nonalcoholic drinks replenished daily. Housekeeping is meticulous and leaves behind large bottles of water morning and night. That was such a nice feature; buying bottled water from the bar can really add up. Almost all rooms have excellent balconies with few obstructions as the life boats are well-positioned to stay out of the way.
Marble bathrooms have rainfall shower stalls and deep soaking tubs with separate shower nozzles. Bulgari beauty products on the vanities are replenished regularly (other cruise lines are quite stingy with specialty toiletries).
Since the ship is not one of the behemoths, it can dock at smaller ports. This means that seasoned cruisers have a chance to visit some especially unique locales that the bigger ships cannot visit. On my sailing, we stopped in Monte Carlo, Monaco; Cagliari, Sardinia; and Antibes, France. Before guests disembark, they are offered chilled bottled water, yet another nice touch. Many ports also include free transfers to the city center if the ship docks outside of walking distance.
Back on board, there is plenty of opportunity for entertainment, including nightly performances in the theater including musical revues and comedians. A small casino has a few game tables and plenty of slot machines. Bars feature live entertainers, which also crop up at various places around the ship including a lovely string quartet before dinner each evening. Duty-free shopping by reception includes everything from souvenirs and perfumes to Polo Ralph Lauren and Oceania-branded gear.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, yet is is much less frequently visited than its northern neighbor, the thriving metropolis of Auckland. Still, Wellington is worth the visit, not only for the sights within the city, but for it prime position as a jumping-off point to explore some of the more remote areas of New Zealand. From there, you can easily travel to the areas of Martinborough and Cape Palliser, or join in on a Lord of the Rings-themed tour.
Seal pups at Cape Palliser. Photo courtesy of Rolf Hicker.
Cape Palliser is a gorgeous spot not far from Wellington, at the very southern tip of the island. It boasts a lovely lighthouse (the climb is steep and tiring, but worth it) and a large population of fur seals that sun themselves on the coast. Visit in summer to see seal pups—they’re insanely adorable, and playful, too. The drive out to Cape Palliser itself is worth the trip, as the approximately hour’s journey takes you along some sheer, but stunning, rock cliffs. For nature lovers, the cape is not to be missed.
The Hobbit holes at Hobbiton are a permanent attraction, easily reached from Wellington. Photo courtesy of the New Zealand tourism board.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films have captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of people world-wide, from hardcore fans of the book to blockbuster-obsessed moviegoers. While the films introduced audiences to some now household-name actors, the true star was the setting of New Zealand as Middle Earth. Many scenes from the movies were filmed in and around Wellington, and tours frequently visit areas that are known in the hearts of tourists as Rivendell, Isengard and Minas Tirith.
A charming winery in Martinborough. Photo courtesy of AbsoluteNewZealand.com.
For a more leisurely sojourn, explore the town of Martinborough, just a short car drive from Wellington; it’s situated in the heart of New Zealand’s wine country, and a dozen wineries are easily accessed from the center of town. This is a great place to walk or bike in, with a small-town charm and some fantastic restaurants. Martinborough is a great place to escape the (admittedly mild) hustle and bustle of Wellington. With more than twenty vineyards in the area, it’s a must for oenophiles; the drive there itself is also a thing of great beauty.
For a different side of New Zealand, skip Auckland, and learn the charms of the south, with Wellington as your depature point.
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Set along the gorgeous Douro River, Porto, Portugal is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and a must-see for many reasons. Among the historic sites and museums, there is also magnificent shopping to be found, for everything from artisan chocolate to fine clothing. Portugal’s second largest city is full of chain and specialty stores for any and every kind of product, but these are a few of our favorite spots for special souvenirs and exciting experiences.
The grand staircase at Livraria Lello; photo via Portugal Resident.
Can there be any doubt that Livraria Lello is the most beautiful bookstore in the world? It draws people in such numbers that there is now a charge of a few euros to even enter the store—but the fee goes towards any books you may buy! This ornate shop stays packed; go early in the day, when it’s less crowded. An absolute must-see in Porto.
A Favorita Do Bolhao has been in business since 1934, selling fine charcuterie, cheeses, wine and more. The extensive selection can be overwhelming, but the friendly staff is happy to make recommendations. This place is stocked full to the brim with any kind of delicious thing you can think of, from figs and a wide array of fresh nuts to candy, coffee and tea. Go there for fresh and delicious food that makes for a perfect picnic. While you may not be able to bring much of the fresh products here home, it’s worth the stop to make a quick meal while on the go downtown.
A port wine tasting at Vinologia; photo via Oenos.
If you’re looking to take home some of Porto’s namesake wine, be sure to check out Vinologia. It offers a full tasting, with chocolates and cheeses to accompany the port; staff will help you find the right bottle and take care of shipping it home for you. The intimate experience factor of the tasting elevates this shop and your souvenir bottle. You can buy a bottle of port anywhere in the city, but for something a little more special, visit Vinologia.
Fall is swiftly approaching, and I can think of no better way to experience its crisp air and vibrant foliage than on a leisurely road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway stretches from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, with dozens of jaw-dropping vistas along the way. It’s a truly gorgeous stretch of the country, and fall is the perfect time to take it all in.
Fall foliage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Start your trip with a rejuvenating stay at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia. With a staff-to-room ratio of 4-to-1, this Relais & Chateaux property is full of charm and elegance, and the dining is sumptuous. Spend a day or two here before starting your journey along the parkway, which admittedly will be full of leaf-peepers in autumn. Just acknowledge that you’ll be taking it slow, and soak up the views.
The Inn at Little Washington
Your trip will begin in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a vast mountain wilderness of oak, hickory, birch, dogwood and chestnut trees. History buffs will want to explore the Civil War history of the area, especially in the town of Winchester, which changed hands 72 times during the Civil War.
Continue on to Roanoke, Virginia, which is home to some great museums on African-American culture and history. The O. Winston Link Museum is also great for its 1950s photography—exploring the museum is like stepping back in time.
About two-and-a-half hours after you’ve left Roanoke, you’ll arrive on the North Carolina segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The next major town along the route is Boone, North Carolina. This mountain town is home to Appalachian State University, and it has a laid-back vibe. Go mining for gemstones at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine, or hike at Howard Knob Park.
Howard Knob Park, Boone
Just past Boone, you’ve earned yourself another day of pampering at a stellar hotel. Westglow Resort & Spa in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, is a destination in itself. With 10 spa treatment rooms, plus light-filled rooms for yoga, aerobic workouts and even individual sessions with personal trainers, you’ll be able to stretch out and relax after all that driving. Oh, and the views are spectacular.
The Relaxation Room at Westglow
It may be tempting to spend all your time in this magnificent hotel, but don’t miss the charming town of Blowing Rock. It’s dotted with quaint antique shops, galleries and restaurants. Fall is the perfect season to grab a cup of coffee and window-shop in the town center.
After you’ve had time to enjoy Blowing Rock and the facilities at Westglow, continue on to one of my favorite cities, Asheville. Asheville merits a several-day stay, as there’s plenty to do, including wonderful restaurants, music and shopping, plus the gorgeous Biltmore Estate, as well as plenty of great hiking within driving distance. Stay at the Omni Grove Park Inn (don’t miss drinks with a stunning view on the terrace) or at The Inn on Biltmore Estate.
Omni Grove Park Inn terrace
When you’re ready to savor the last bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway, continue on to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you’ll have even more opportunities for hiking and strolling in the mountains. The foliage will be a stunning end to your drive, and you might even spot some wildlife, including bears, deer, elk and wild turkeys.
Have you ever driven the Blue Ridge Parkway? Any tips for avoiding the crowds during prime foliage season? Let us know !!