Friday, August 2, 2019

Foolproof Cruise Arguments for Non-Cruisers

We all know many people, for one reason or another, will stubbornly refuse not to go on a cruise any time the topic comes up. We admit that cruising may not be a suitable vacation for anyone with a fear of open water, but if their reasons are a fear of subpar food, lackluster service, or a general lack of things to do, we have the perfect antidote for the most common excuses:

1. For Picky Eaters: The Food is Way Better Than You Think

Reason For Not Cruising: “Cruise ship food is terrible. It’s just endless buffets and barely edible entrees.”

What We Say: Cruise ship dining is way more than just buffets. Even if some of the options aren’t great, ships can have up to 20 unique specialty restaurants serving up every type of cuisine imaginable.

If All Else Fails: We resort to shameless name-dropping. Even the most hardcore foodies will start involuntarily salivating when we mention the names Jamie Oliver, Roy Yamaguchi, Curtis Stone, Thomas Keller, Guy Fieri, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, and Michael Schwartz, all of whom have launched a celebrity chef restaurant on a major cruise line.

2. For the Busy Parents: Kids Activities and Childcare Options

Reason For Not Cruising: “My kids will get bored” or “I don’t want to deal with keeping track of them on a huge cruise ship but I can’t leave them at home.”

What We Say: Families are among the most coveted demographics by the major cruise lines, and they will move mountains to get them on board and keep them happy. Newer ships come fully equipped with onboard water parks, age-appropriate kids clubs, onboard activities from go-karts to ropes courses, and character partnerships with kids brands like Dr. Seuss.

If All Else Fails: Onboard babysitting. Parents can’t resist the idea of having time away from their kids (whether they admit it or not), and most cruise lines have group babysitting in the youth club spaces at night.

3. For the Easily Overwhelmed: Cruise Ships Come in All Sizes

Reason For Not Cruising: “Cruise ships nowadays are too big and crowded.”

What We Say It’s true that the newest ships are enormous, but they’re also designed in such a way to spread these crowds out across the ship, avoiding bottlenecks and human traffic jams. We regularly see reviews from first-time cruisers expressing their surprise that the ship never felt like there were 4,000+ passengers on board.

If All Else Fails: While they may not have all the new bells and whistles, older ships (which tend to be much smaller) actually have some advantages over newer ships. And if even they seem like too much to handle, there are always river cruises.

4. For the Easily Bored: There’s Always Something to Do

Reason For Not Cruising: “I’ll get bored on the ship” or some variation of “Cruising is for old people”.

What We Say: If you find yourself getting bored on a ship, you really have no one to blame but yourself. Between the constant activities, shows, and parties, plus four square meals a day followed by napping on the lido deck, you’ll be lucky to experience half of what a cruise ship has to offer on a seven-day cruise.

If All Else Fails: Would cruise ships add features like rock walls, go-karts, surf simulators, ropes courses, and bumper cars if they really were just for elderly vacationers? If they did, we can only hope we're that cool when we retire.

5. For the Spoiled: There’s Nothing Like Cruise Ship Service

Reason For Not Cruising: “I’d rather just go to a resort for the excellent service.”

What We Say: Working in the travel industry means we read a lot of reviews. We regularly see crew members being complimented by name, along with plenty of stories of these hardworking staff going above and beyond their job description to make passengers feel at home. And just to prove we’re not cherry-picking the best examples, when we compile the data, the average scores for service are ALWAYS the highest among any other category (dining, entertainment, cabins, etc.).

If All Else Fails:  You will love the new ship-within-a-ship concepts like Norwegian’s Haven, Celebrity’s Retreat, or the MSC Yacht Club, where they’ll have access to private pools, lounges, and concierge services.

Dream Vacations - The Operach Team is a travel agency based in Overland Park, Kansas. We take pride in working with clients across the country who love to travel. We build vacation experiences that will create memories to last a lifetime.  Our team has specialties across a wide range of vacation options; custom Europe itineraries, Alaska, escorted tours, all-inclusive resorts, Disney, Caribbean, Hawaii, South Pacific, cruise holidays, and river cruises.   

We look forward to making your dream vacations come true!! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Seven Amazing Budget-Busting Cruises

Have you ever dreamed about new cruises to take and fallen into a rabbit hole of what-if research, only to discover how many voyages are out there that blow your budget out of the water? It may take us a while to save enough money to sail on these ships, but just for fun, we’ve compiled this list of some of the most exotic, jaw-dropping cruise experiences to consider adding to your bucket list.

1. Celebrity's Expedition Ships

Fleet: Celebrity Xploration, Xperience, Xpedition, and Flora (after May 2019, only Xpedition and Flora will remain in Celebrity's Galapagos fleet)

Region: Galapagos Islands

What Makes it Special: The ships are extremely intimate, holding just 16 to 100 passengers. All beverages, dining, wifi, use of equipment, and gratuities are included in the cruise fare. Though the ships are comfortable and luxurious, the focus is on the stunning Ecuadorian islands and nature filled with wildlife. A naturalist is always on hand to offer information both onboard as well as ashore, so these cruises are well suited for those that want to learn about where they’re sailing, not just those looking for a luxury small ship experience.

Example Itinerary: 10 Night Northern Loop trip from Quito to Black Turtle Cove, Isabela Island, Santiago Island, Darwin Bay, and more (7 day cruise, 3 days on land in Quito)

Alternative: A southern Pacific cruise that visits lesser-known islands, such as Mystery Island, the Cook Islands, and the Tiwi islands. Princess Cruises is one line that’s known for having unique voyages like this.

2. UnCruise Adventures

Fleet: Nine ships ranging in capacity from 22 to 90 passengers

Regions: Alaska, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Costa Rica & Panama, Galapagos, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest

What Makes it Special: As their name suggests, UnCruise is in many ways the opposite of the traditional cruising experience. The focus is on the nature in the regions it sails, so vessels have kayaks, paddleboards, and a loading platform where in many destinations passengers are allowed to jump right into the water. Crew and passengers get to know each other well because of the intimate sizes of the ships, and there’s an open-bridge policy where travelers can even visit with the captain. To sweeten the deal, excursions, drinks, and just about everything else is included in the fare.

Example Itinerary: 7 Night Glacier Bay Small Ship Cruise roundtrip from Juneau to Glacier Bay National Park, Kuiu Island, Dawes Glacier, Frederick Sound, and Chatham Strait

Alternative: UnCruise sails in a lot of places, but one destination in particular that they’re known for doing really well is Alaska. A great mainstream alternative is a cruise on Holland America or Princess that goes through Glacier Bay, and bonus points if you go with a longer 10 or 12-night voyage that stops at more off-the-beaten-path Alaskan ports.

3. Lindblad National Geographic

Fleet: 14 vessels ranging in capacity from 28 to 148 passengers

Regions: North America, Central America, South America, Northern Europe, Mediterranean, Southeast Asia & Pacific, Antarctica, Arctic & Russian Far East, and Egypt

What Makes it Special: Lindblad Expeditions’ longtime partnership with National Geographic has resulted in small ship voyages that are perfect for amateur and professional photographers and those who love exploring the great outdoors. The ships are all different: some look like mini cruise ships, some are riverboats, and one is a sailing yacht. Unique things that passengers can enjoy on these sailings include sea kayaks, paddleboards, and undersea cameras and hydrophones to feel even closer to the action by seeing and hearing what’s happening beneath the waves. Those interested in photography will be happy to know that there are trained photo instructors on every sailing to answer any photography questions and help capture those once in a lifetime moments.

Example Itinerary: 14 Night Antarctica: The White Continent roundtrip from Buenos Aires (flight days from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia where the ship is and back are included in the itinerary length). On the voyage, six full days are spent sailing in and stopping in Antarctica, along with sea days before and after.

Alternative: A more traditional river cruise through Asia, Europe, or on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the US Pacific Northwest. River cruises are still pricey, but mainstream river lines will be more budget-friendly compared to expedition cruises and have the same intimate feel and focus on destinations. Many Europe river companies include roundtrip air or other amenities that make their offers more enticing.

4. Paul Gauguin Cruises

Ship: The Gauguin

Region: South Pacific

What Makes it Special: Airfare is included in the cost of the cruise, but only roundtrip from the Los Angeles or San Francisco airports. Also included are gratuities, all beverages, dining, and watersports such as kayaking and paddleboarding. The ship features a retractable marina from which passengers can utilize watersports and scuba dive to enjoy the warm South Pacific waters. Those that aren’t certified don’t have to feel left out, either, as the line offers PADI certification on board. Of course, most potential guests are drawn in by the allure of the exotic South Pacific islands The Gauguin visits, particularly because some of them are so obscure and largely untouched by visitors. The rare destinations alone makes Paul Gauguin a standout cruise line.

Example Itinerary: 7 Night Tahiti & The Society Islands roundtrip from Papeete, Tahiti with stops in Moorea, Bora Bora, and Huahine in French Polynesia, as well as Taha’A in the Society Islands

Alternative: Similarly to Celebrity’s expedition ships alternative, the best comparable cruise on a mainstream line to a Paul Gauguin cruise would be Princess Cruises’ unique South Pacific itineraries.

5. Hurtigruten

Fleet: 13 vessels ranging in capacity from 318 to 970 passengers

Regions: Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Northwest Passage, Alaska, North America, South America, Europe, Russia, Caribbean & Central America, and Antarctica

What Makes it Special: Even though Hurtigruten sails in many regions, they are best known for cruises around their homeland: Norway. Hurtigruten does cold weather cruises very well in particular, offering extensive and in-depth itineraries in Alaska, Antarctica, and Iceland. Many ships in the fleet are used not only for leisurely passenger cruises but are also set up as scientific bases for research and data collection. Onboard, Expedition Teams give lectures and presentations about the landscape and sea life as passengers experience it first hand. It’s not super *cough* afjordable, but those who want to go in depth on the environments the ship visits would be well suited for Hurtigruten.

Example Itinerary: 11 Night The Land of the Elves Sagas & Volcanoes roundtrip Reykjavik, Iceland stopping in Isafjordur, Husavik, Akureyri, Grimsey Island, and other places in Iceland

Alternative: Most major lines sail to Norway and other parts of Northern Europe, so there are lots of alternatives to Hurtigruten that won’t break the bank. Those set on Iceland have mainstream options, such as Princess and Holland America.

6. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Fleet: Seven Seas Voyager, Explorer, Mariner, and Navigator (Splendor will debut in 2020) ranging in capacity from 490 to 750 passengers

Regions: Africa & Arabia, Alaska, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Bermuda, Canada & New England, Caribbean, Panama Canal, Cuba, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, South America, South Pacific, and World Cruises

What Makes it Special: Aside from the fact that their ships are smaller and less crowded compared to mainstream cruise lines, the top things that set Regent Seven Seas apart are both its exclusivity and truly all-inclusive experience. Cruise fare includes airfare, unlimited shore excursions, unlimited drinks, gratuities, wifi, and just about anything else you could think of or want while onboard. Service onboard is also next-to-none, where all guests have access to a butler and out-of-the-ordinary requests are not only expected but welcomed.

Example Itinerary: 7 Night Cuban Paradise roundtrip from Miami to Key West as well as Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos, Cuba

Alternative: If you want the luxury without such a big blow to the wallet, consider Oceania which usually ranges from $150 to just under $400 per night, or an ocean cruise on Viking. Viking ocean ships hold 920 passengers and include wifi, specialty dining, and one excursion in each port. They are still expensive but have a better selection of sailings that lean towards the lower luxury price point at $200 to $300 per night.

7. World Cruises

There are many cruise lines that offer a World Cruise from the more affordable Holland America Line to the ultra-inclusive Regent Seven Seas Cruises. When you break down the cost per night, most of them are actually quite affordable compared to the other circumnavigation options offered by land tour companies and other cruises on this list. However, since they span several months on the high seas, the upfront cost is nothing to scoff at. Those that have been looking to explore a larger part of the world than is possible via traditional trips might find that a world cruise is a perfect solution. Another neat feature is that being on a world cruise has some perks that you won’t get on a regular cruise such as unlimited free self-serve laundry, free alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, onboard spending money, and commemorative gifts. The best thing about a World Cruise is the experience of traveling around the world and checking off the top items on your bucket list.

Alternative: Let’s face it, there’s no real alternative to a world cruise. But if you love the sound of taking a long cruise and sailing to different continents only unpacking your suitcase once, a neat alternative to a full world sailing is choosing a shorter segment or two within the world cruise. You embark either at the starting point with those that will be taking the entire voyage, or somewhere along the itinerary. Then, you disembark the cruise at another port along the way or at the ending port. Typically these segments are at least 20 nights or more. There are lots of cruise lines out there that break down their world cruises into shorter segments so that there’s options for those that can’t afford a full sailing or be away from home for that long. It’s a great way to get a taste of a world cruise by actually being on one, but not committing to the full length.

Dream Vacations - The Operach Team is a travel agency based in Overland Park, Kansas. We take pride in working with clients across the country who love to travel. We build vacation experiences that will create memories to last a lifetime.  Our team has specialties across a wide range of vacation options; custom Europe itineraries, Alaska, escorted tours, all-inclusive resorts, Disney, Caribbean, Hawaii, South Pacific, cruise holidays, and river cruises.   

We look forward to making your dream vacations come true!! 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Iconic Highways Around the World

Fasten your seatbelt and get ready to ride. These iconic highways are among the world’s fastest, curviest, steepest, most scenic or significant for their cultural or historic influence.

Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia, Canada

This 185-mile scenic highway loops around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, offering breathtaking views of the coast. It also passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

Stelvio Pass, Italy

The highest paved roadway in the eastern Alps at 9045 feet above sea level, Italy’s Stelvio Pass, with 60 hairpin turns is considered one of the world’s most dangerous roads.

Overseas Highway, Florida

Florida’s Route 1, also known as the Overseas Highway, runs 113 miles from Miami through the Florida Keys. You’ve seen it in countless car commercials and movie car chases. The Seven Mile Bridge - the longest bridge in existence when it was built - crosses Pigeon Key and connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys.

Karakoram Highway, China to Pakistan

Opened in 1979, the Karakoram or Friendship Highway, was built as a joint project between the governments of China and Pakistan. Crossing over 800 miles of often - rugged terrain, the Friendship Highway follows the path of the ancient Silk Road.

US Route 66

Is there any highway more iconic than U.S. Route 66? Established in 1927, the “Mother Road” runs from Illinois to Oklahoma and across the U.S. Southwest from Texas to New Mexico, ending in Santa Monica, California. According to pop music, you can get your kicks along the fabled highway, which was one of the most important routes west for those escaping the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

Chapman’s Peak Drive, South Africa

Hailed as a feat of modern engineering when it was built in the 1920s, Chapman’s Peak Road or Chappie is just 5.6 miles long, yet still manages to squeeze in 114 curves as it hugs sheer cliffs that drop into the Atlantic on South Africa’s West Cape.

Scenic Byway 163, Arizona and Utah, U.S.

This 64-mile highway that cuts through the Navajo Nation and Utah’s Monument Valley has made numerous appearances on the big (and small) screen. Look for it in "Forrest Gump," "The Searchers" and "Easy Rider."

Ruta 40, Argentina

Running parallel to the Andes along the entire length of Argentina’s 3000-plus mile western border, Ruta 40 is among the longest highways in the world. Its southern section, which is largely unpaved, is a popular destination for adventure seekers.

Trollstigen, Norway

The 34-mile-long Trollstigveien, which translates literally as Troll’s Path, crosses fjords, waterfalls, and frozen lakes as it dips and climbs (and makes 11 hairpin turns) through valleys and steep mountains near the western coast of Norway. Ice renders the drive particularly hazardous, so the road closes in late October and re-opens in May, weather permitting.

Great Ocean Road, Australia

An Australian National Heritage Site, the Great Ocean Road runs 151 miles along Australia’s southeastern coast between Torquay and Allansford. The highway, which was constructed as a monument to World War I soldiers, is the biggest war monument in the world. It traverses rainforests, beaches and limestone cliffs.

Transfăgărășan Highway, Romania

Romania’s Transfăgărășan Highway, also known as Ceaușescu's Folly, covers over 50 miles of terrain through the Carpathian Mountains. It’s the second highest paved road in the country and was originally built as a strategic military road to defend against a potential Soviet invasion. The steep rises and hairpin turns as well as access to Bâlea Lake and Bâlea Waterfall make it a popular drive.

Hana Highway, Hawaii, U.S.

A national Historic Site, the Hana Highway traverses 64 miles of Maui’s lush tropical rainforest, passing through several tourist destinations along the way, including waterfalls and public beaches.

Pacific Coast Highway

California’s State Route 1 covers over 650 miles of Pacific coastline from Dana Point to Mendocino, making it the longest road in the state. The first section of the road to be built – and perhaps still the most stunning – is the stretch that includes Big Sur and runs from roughly Monterey in the north to Pismo Beach in the south.

North Yungas Road, Bolivia

Also known as the Road of Death due to the sheer number of traffic fatalities that have occurred along the 43-mile route, Bolivia’s North Yungas Road is an unpaved highway that passes along steep mountain drops between La Paz and Coroico.

Furka Pass, Switzerland

Made famous by a car chase in the James Bond movie Goldfinger, the Furka Pass winds its way through the Swiss Alps between the Canton of Uri and the Canton of Valais. Sheer drops, hairpin turns, and stunning views, including the one of the Rhone Glacier, make this a memorable drive.

Dream Vacations - The Operach Team is a travel agency based in Overland Park, Kansas. We take pride in working with clients across the country who love to travel. We build vacation experiences that will create memories to last a lifetime.  Our team has specialties across a wide range of vacation options; custom Europe itineraries, Alaska, escorted tours, all-inclusive resorts, Disney, Caribbean, Hawaii, South Pacific, cruise holidays, and river cruises.   

We look forward to making your dream vacations come true!!