Exploring the Sicilian Coast: Food, Wine, and Culture

 

Day 1: Sicilian Sunday in Noto & Syracuse

After enjoying breakfast at our hotel, Ortea Palace, we headed out to enjoy a typical Sicilian summer Sunday. During the summer, families in Sicily start their day by heading to a coffee bar followed by the beach.  Most Sicilians work and go to school six days a week, so Sundays are an important time for rest and relaxation.

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Italian couple enjoying their Sunday at the beach

Visiting the town of Noto, we enjoyed beautiful baroque architecture seen in the buildings and monuments throughout the town, but the highlight was meeting the top pastry chef in the region, Corrado Assenza. Corrado is the owner of Caffé Sicilia, a restaurant serving some of Italy’s finest gelato, cannoli, and granita, a type of Italian frozen ice with a crystalline texture specific to Sicily. Corrado and his restaurant have been recently featured on Netflix’s new docuseries, Chef’s Table.

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Myself and the kids with the owner of Caffe Sicilia, Corrado Assenza
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Dessert display at Caffe Sicilia

Corrado presented us with the most fantastic freshly-made strawberry ice cream I have ever had, and we also got to try ice cream eaten inside a brioche, which is quite popular in this region.

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Freshly-made strawberry ice cream at Caffe Sicilia
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Eating a Brioche ice cream sandwich

Next we were off to a local beach for a quick dip in the Mediterranean Sea. Stopping by a beach store on the way, our wonderful guide explained that what we call “pool noodles” they call “little sausages”. How perfect for Italy!

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We finished our evening with dinner in the old town of Ortigia. It is an amazing city with beautiful views, including that of the cathedral standing tall in the town square, illuminated in lights. Dinner here was the perfect way to end our evening.

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Night life in Ortigia

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Town square in Ortigia

 

Day 2: Sicilian Market Tour & Private Cooking Class

Sicily is food lover’s dream, but to non-locals these culinary treasures may be hard to spot.  In order to immerse ourselves in the culture, we arranged with our local team a private chef and market shopping experience.

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Fresh fish display at the market

We met our chef at our hotel and proceeded to the open-air market. Fresh fish, bread, cheese, meat, and produce were on display for our choosing, with the market offering the best local products available. Local food is a staple here in Sicily.

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Specialty Sicilian meats and cheeses

With our fresh ingredients, we went to the chef’s home and spent the lunch hour cooking and eating there. This was an absolutely wonderful experience for the entire family.

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Our private chef preparing the fresh octopus
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My daughter Abby, future pasta chef 😉

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The finished product of our pasta endeavors
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Beautiful octopus dish display
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Various homemade/local jams and toppings for the foods

Cannoli Preparation

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We tried octopus, meats, fish, fresh pasta, and possibly the best cannoli I have ever tasted in my life. Every bite was outstanding.

With our stomachs full, we spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming at a beach club that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.

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View from our chairs at the beach club

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Day 3: The Aeolian Islands

To travel to the Italian islands, you can take a high-speed ferry and arrive there within two hours. The ferry is fast, but a private transfer is also an option and makes the trip more personal and fun!

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With many stops along the way, we made a fun day of our journey to the island of Salinas. Salinas is one of many volcanic islands on the Italian coast. Its beautiful coves, fantastic restaurants, and unspoiled local flair make it a wonderful destination for couples and families alike.

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My husband, Jeff, enjoying the view from our private transfer

Upon arrival, we were transferred to the Relay and Relais & Château property, Capofaro. Just 27 rooms and set in a vineyard on the sea, this is a beautiful and unique place to spend your vacation at.

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The view from one of the rooms at the hotel

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The hotel’s vineyard
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The beautiful pool overlooking the sea
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Our wonderful hotel tour guide

As a member of a preferred agency affiliate of Relais & Château, our clients receive beautiful welcome amenities and complimentary breakfast. This is a benefit of booking through our agency, and is a wonderful way to be welcomed to the island of Salinas!

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Our beautiful welcome amenity consisting of a bottle of wine, fresh cherries and other local treasures
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Beautiful complimentary breakfast for preferred guests

 

Day 4: Exploring Salinas

Exploring the coasts of Salinas is a popular summer pastime for many local Italians. Taking a break from the hot summer day, we headed to the port to meet our private boat.

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Enjoying some delicious wine aboard our private boat

Our captain arranged a last minute request for fishing by bringing along a simple spool of fishing line and a container of bait “Italian style”- a bread and cheese paste!

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Fishing tools: Fishing line and bait paste

How fun it was to fish like the local kids do with the help of our wonderful captain.

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Our captain teaching my youngest the art of fishing
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My youngest’s catch!

 

Many stops can be made to enjoy various scenic coves where other boats gather to enjoy the cool Mediterranean waters and breathtaking views.

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What is special about Salinas is the authenticity. You still have a true Italian experience, but with far fewer tourists, making it feel as if you are a local yourself! Our local spot for dinner that evening was reasonably priced, delicious, scenic, and family friendly.

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Our cute little dinner spot

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To finish the evening, we were treated to a group of local musicians gathering in the piazza, Italian for square, to play for the local Salinas people. Later on, we were also lucky enough to catch a beautiful Italian coast sunset. It was a perfect end to an amazing day.

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Local Italian musicians

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Beautiful sunset over the water

 

Day 5: Stromboli- Volcanic Boat Trip at Sunset

A private sunset cruise to the island of Stromboli is a fun, exciting, and unique experience. From Salina of Lipari it’s roughly a 1 hour boat ride to reach Stromboli.

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Swimming and dinner on the boat can be arranged to perfect your sunset cruise.

The real show comes just after the sun has disappeared and the Stromboli island shines bright with her volcanic lava and exciting eruptions, that is, if you’re lucky enough to view this magical event.

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From top to bottom: The process of a volcanic eruption

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View of the volcano on our ride back to Salina

As seen in the pictures, we had a fascinating and spectacular evening watching the eruption from the water. Sailing back to Salina under a clear sky full of stars was the icing on the cake.

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Fascinating Madrid, Cordoba & Seville- It’s more than flamenco and Tapas!

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Unexpected treasures beyond food, flamenco and wine await lucky travelers to Central Spain.  Madrid is a rapidly changing modern city where past and present are intertwined in the charming towns of Seville and Cordoba.  You can’t escape this region without being blown away by the history here and how it is still represented today.

 

Arriving in Madrid

When arriving to Spain from abroad, Madrid is a logical choice to begin.  My first stop here was my lovely hotel room at the luxury Villa Magna.  Newly renovated, this location is a shopping paradise with quick access to name brand designer shops.  The spa and gym at this hotel were top notch as well making it a nice choice after a long flight.

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My wonderful little welcome amenity shown below was complete with the Virtuoso logo!  It is always such a treat for our clients to receive a warm welcome in their room. The complimentary benefits they receive as a guest of a Virtuoso agency differ for each hotel.

Villa Magna Virtuoso Guest Benefits:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily complimentary gourmet breakfast for up to two per room
  • Spanish Gourmet Tapas & Wine for two in hotel lounge
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

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Making the most of our time, a quick city tour and time at the famous Prado museum were in order to view important artwork which told the story of the history that was to unfold over the next several days.

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Art is a fundamental aspect of Spain and you can see it everywhere.  Beautiful sites abound in the city such as the famed Julia sculpture in Madrid square.img_0082

 

Luxury Madrid Hotels & Food

There is no shortage of luxury hotels and gourmet food everywhere in Spain. Another wonderful choice in Madrid is the Gran Melia Palacio De Los Duques.  The beautiful rooms, rooftop pool, central location, private courtyard, and outstanding food make it a perfect choice for families or couples.

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You can upgrade to “Red Level” rooms to receive the perks of this private lounge and patio.

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The food is fabulous at this hotel!  With multiple dining options, you will find gourmet cutting edge cuisine in the hotel, with more options right outside your door!img_0166img_0167

Fascinating Cordoba & Seville

Traveling to Cordoba & Seville is easy when coordinated with via train and private driver.  An early morning train whisked us to Cordoba.

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We began with a tour of the Alcazar (Castle) Gardens. This fortress was built as a medieval alcazar, but later became the primary residence of Isabella I and Ferdinand II of Aragon.

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Following the visit to the Alcazar we enjoyed a divine lunch and a tour at the Virtuoso property, Hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailío.  Built on top of recently discovered Roman ruins that are displayed through a glass floor while you enjoy breakfast in the courtyard, this is truly unique property.

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Perfect for a honeymoon, the picturesque garden and pool are a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.

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And the piece of resistance was the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, La Mezquita, otherwise known as the Great Mosque that was created during the Moorish settlement.  Built in the eighth century, it is a part of this region’s history where the Islamic religion and Christianity changed hands throughout the centuries.

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The entrance is comprised of Islamic architecture but inside you find the most stunning cathedral.  A private guide is a must here to avoid lines and fully understand the history of this region.

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No visit to this region is complete without time in Seville, the crown jewel of Andalucia.  Just 1.5 hours from Cordoba, Seville makes a great base for exploring the region.

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Checking into the Hotel Alfonso XIII, a Virtuoso and Luxury Collection property,our lucky clients receive the following benefits when staying at this property, you are immediately immersed in the historical significance of this area.  A stunning hotel with beautiful rooms and fantastic, this property is a treat.

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After a restful night, it was off to visit The Alcázar of Seville.  This was a royal palace built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville.

A world heritage site, it should not be missed during a trip to Seville.  A visit arranged with a private guide will ensure avoiding long lines and provide the full context of this historical site.

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And our final stop was the Seville Cathedral, so immense that pictures cannot possibly display the massiveness of this Catholic structure.

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After enjoying a dinner of wonderful tapas and a final evening at our beautiful hotel,  we waved goodbye to Seville hoping to return again someday to this magical city.

 

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Learn about our custom travel planning services by visiting The Ultimate Travel Experience.""

 

 

 

London & The Cotswolds, A Perfect Getaway

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With so many direct air options to London from the USA, England is more accessible to Americans than it has ever been.  When choosing a destination for my annual girls’ trip, we decided to leave the warmth of Florida behind us for shopping, castles, and fireplaces.  Combining London and The Cotswolds made for a perfect 5-night getaway!

 

Day 1- London Food, History & Luxury

Arriving in London, we were met by our wonderful driver who whisked away a  Virtuoso property with the best views in London, The Shangri-La at The Shard, a Virtuoso property.  As a member of Travel Experts, both a Virtuoso agency and Shangri-La Luxury Circle, our clients receive incredible value-added amenities at this hotel at no additional charge.  Breakfast daily, room credit and upgrade if available are standard when we book clients here.

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From everywhere in the hotel, we had sweeping views of London, giving us a unique perspective of the scope of the city.  Our rooms were spacious and luxurious and we were highly impressed with the white gloved bellman and the level of security at the hotel.

LOCATION:  I was skeptical about the location here but we loved it.  Being right next to Borough Market was a treat but best of all is the fact that you are right on top of a major tube station.  It could not be more convenient.  Within 2-3 stops and a 5-minute tube ride, you can quickly arrive at popular attractions throughout the city.  This is certainly an incredible location and protects you from huge crowds in the most touristic areas.

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Unique to this hotel is the indoor pool which is rarely found in London hotels, making it a perfect choice for families with young children.

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Once we settled in, our private guide set out to show us some hidden gems of London.  We enjoyed a tour of the nearby Borough Market, a foodie’s paradise with food stalls, restaurants and cheese shops, learning about this historic location along the way.

 

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Next, we hit some historic sites including an underground amphitheater, and a stop with exclusive access at Guildhall, a historic gathering venue used for town hall meetings for hundreds of years.  Finally, our private guide finished the afternoon with a stop at the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub for a pint of beer.

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Our first day was completed with an evening of cocktails at The Gong Bar, the highest hotel bar in Western Europe with incredible views of the city.

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And a visit to London isn’t complete without a night out for a curry.  Indian restaurants in London abound and we loved every bite of our dinner at Silka.

 

Day 2- London History, Shopping & Pubs

What do you do in London with a free day?  The options are endless!  Exploring the history of the monarchy, incredible museums, world-class shopping, the theatre district, guided walking tours, it’s difficult to choose.

Some of us chose to shop boutiques while others headed to Churchill War Rooms to see the site of the World War II war room headquarters for the British Military.  It’s a fascinating place to visit for adults and families with a bit older children.  Housed underground, it brings to life that time period.

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Next, we were off to lunch at Selfridges, a wonderful recommendation by our guide.  Shoes were bought, lunch was enjoyed and everyone enjoyed the experience before we hopped on the tube to meet the others at one of the oldest pubs in London, Ye Olde Mitre for some dinner and a pint!

 

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Day 3- Leaving London Behind for Palaces, Luxury Cottages & Quaint Towns

Our time in London certainly could have been extended but heading to the Cotswolds for 2 nights was a perfect choice.  Our wonderful private driver/guide took us to our first stop, the World Heritage site, Blenheim Palace.  The principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, it made for a perfect stop.

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IMG_9534Leaving Blenheim, The English countryside welcomed us with rolling hills, sheep, pubs from the 1500s and a superb hotel and dining experience.  A quick stop in a small town for some shopping gave us the first glimpse at the charm of the Cotswolds.

 

 

 

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The best was yet to come, our arrival at our countryside retreat, the Dormy House Hotel & Spa.  The Dormy House Hotel & Spa is on the Farncombe Estate and houses 3 hotels, The Fish, Foxhill Manor, and The Dormy House.  Entering the Dormy House, we found a wonderful staff, roaring fireplaces, and impeccable design tied together in a cozy, chic cottage atmosphere.

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We were quickly checked in and shown to our rooms which were 3 charming and cozy cottage style rooms near the spa.  Each room had robes in the closet just waiting to be worn to the spa!

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Taking some time to discover the hotel we found the beautiful Back Garden restaurant and the potting shed where dinner or cocktails could be enjoyed.

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We finished the evening by heading to the Swan restaurant in the town of Broadway, just 5 minutes away, and enjoyed a fantastic meal in a beautiful stone-walled restaurant.

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Day 4- Spa, Afternoon Tea & Relaxation

Our final day was a perfect day for a girls trip but would be heaven for couples and groups as well.  After enjoying breakfast in the lovely Back Garden restaurant, we began our day at the spa.  The spa was outstanding, to say the least.

We enjoyed outstanding massages and facials, the warm indoor pool, the steam room, sauna and outdoor hot tub in the cool Cotswolds air.

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Rested and relaxed from our massages, we ventured back into Broadway for traditional afternoon tea followed by shopping in the cute downtown area and taking a moment for some photo opportunities!

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Lastly, we stopped for drinks at an old but hip pub at The Broadway Inn.  Just like every other establishment we visited, the Gin lovers were thrilled with top-notch gin and tonics, a favorite of the Britts.

We finished our trip by venturing out to dinner near The Fish Property at a delicious restaurant called Hooked.  It was the perfect way to end our time in the Cotswolds.

I would recommend a London and Cotswolds trip for girlfriend trips, couples, and corporate groups.  For families who want to experience the authentic English countryside and hospitality, a few nights in the Cotswolds is certainly doable after a stay in London.  As always, it’s a matter of choosing the right locations and experiences for your travelers.

Marcy Zyonse, Live The Dream Travel

Sailing Alaska with Mickey

Every year we send many families to Alaska so we decided it was time for our family to take a turn.  There are many factors that go into choosing the right itinerary for an Alaska cruise.  For my family of 5, a combination of the itinerary, WIFI options, and family-friendly activities is why we chose the Disney Wonder 9-night sailing to Alaska from the port of Vancouver.

This is the second year that Disney has offered this 9 night sailing, and this is the only Disney sailing that includes Hubbard Glacier.  Multiple cruise lines offer Hubbard as well as Glacier Bay, so exploring your options for Alaska with a travel advisor is key to making the right choice.

Boarding

Arrival at the port in Vancouver was smooth and we were on board very quickly after our 11:00AM arrival.

Stepping on board, of course, we were greeted by Mickey!

Passengers

Disney has a diverse crowd on board compared to many other Alaskan sailings.  Multi-generational groups were common on this cruise and of course, there were lots of children.  I was however, surprised by the number of adults sailing without children.  Most adults I spoke to were extremely happy with the food and entertainment and were enjoying the adult only venus on board the Wonder.

Itinerary

Our 9-night cruise featured 4 port days at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Icy Strait Point.  In addition, there were 2 scenic cruising days to Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord.  Shore excursion choices are very important in Alaska.  Disney offers many excursion options, but we booked our excursions privately through our trusted operator in Alaska.

Our first port was Ketchikan.  We spent our time kayaking and enjoying lunch in the town.  Other popular activities here are hiking, fishing and crab fishing.

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After kayaking, we sat inside the boat and were treated to local salmon and hot cocoa.  

Back at the marina, the fishermen were bringing in their catch for the day.  

Our next port was Icy Strait Point.  This was a really nice spot with hiking, fishing, whale watching and more activities.  We chose fishing in the morning and whale watching that afternoon.

I loved the little town of Hoonah down the road with just 800 residents.  This is where our boat departed from and where our fishing captain lives most of the year.  It was interesting to chat with him and hear about how people live in Hoonah.  We learned that medical care is a challenge in these coastal communities and flying to Juneau is often the only choice if you need care beyond a routine doctor visit.

We got one!  This was a particularly slow day for fishing but there were a few fish caught here.  Icy Strait point is known for King Salmon and Halibut fishing.  

The ship looked beautiful from the water.  Searching for whales took some time but we found them!  Alaska has rules on how close you can get to the wildlife so binoculars are definitely recommended.

Next, we were off to Juneau which was our favorite port.  The weather was perfect which is rare in this destination.  Here we chose Helicopter Glacier Landing & Dog Sledding.  This was an amazing experience.  My husband and I loved the helicopter and of course, the kids did too.  There is a perspective from the air that you cannot get from the water.

Other popular activities in Juneau are fishing and whale watching.

Of course, the kids’ favorite experience was holding the puppies!

Skagway was the last port we visited.  It was a freezing cold day and very overcast but we still had a great day.  The other ports were more exciting for us but this town is rich in history.  The most popular activity here is the White Pass railway train.  Zip lining, hiking, scenic boat trips, scenic glacier viewing and flightseeing are also excellent choices for Skagway.

We spent the day traveling by both bus and train into the Yukon area of Canada, famous for the Alaskan gold rush.  Our guide provided expert content about the gold rush and also pointed out the historical buildings in Skagway, as we drove to Caribou Crossing and Carcross Trading Post.  This was a very long drive to this area but Mike made it interesting with his commentary.

On the return trip to Skagway, we boarded the White Pass Railway, which was completed in 1900, and has a narrow gauge track through tunnels and mountains.  The views here are beautiful but can vary greatly depending on the weather.  The train is certainly simple but the host on board did a nice job explaining the scenery as we journeyed back to Skagway.

Scenic Cruising

Hubbard Glacier was our first scenic cruising day.  Disney did a great job creating a festive environment.  Passengers were up top bundled up drinking complimentary hot chocolate and given blankets if needed.  Everyone was excited as we approached the glacier in hopes of seeing a chunk of ice crash into the water.

As we sailed closer, the naturalist onboard explained what we were seeing and pointing out anything she observed that was worth noting.  And finally, we saw a huge crash in the water as the glacier calving began.  This was a “wow” moment for sure!

Warm adult beverages were served on deck as well.  

And finally, our last scenic stop was Tracy Arm Fjord.  On the 9 night itinerary, Disney enters Tracy Arm early, turns the boat around and cruises back out.

It was beautiful to see the ice in the waters but we did not get close to the glacier and it really was a bit of a non-event other than the lovely scenery.  We spoke with guests who had previously sailed on the 7-night sailing who stated that much more time was spent closer to the glacier on that itinerary.  This would make sense since it is the only glacier the ship sails to on the 7-night program.

Sea Days & Entertainment

What did we do while we were at sea?  There is so much to do on board a Disney Cruise no matter where you are sailing.  Of course, there are the typical character greetings and live Disney theater productions.  The kids club, brand new Disney movies, the spa, gym and various activities are all great ways to spend your time.

What stood out most on this cruise were the activities unique to Alaska and the fantastic live entertainment on board.  We spent some days listening to a retired Alaskan park ranger speak about wildlife and glaciers in Alaska.  We also loved the new Frozen production show exclusive to the Wonder.  It’s the perfect tie-in for the chilly environment.

But the adult favorite was the live entertainment.  They had some fantastic musicians performing around the ship and often late night at the Piano Bar.  But best of all was a rare “Stars at Sea” event where Broadway star Kissy Simmons performed an amazing line-up of songs.  I really hope Disney continues to bring these stars on board for special events.  Kissy’s performance was a huge “wow” as it’s rare to hear a Broadway performer in such a small venue.

Me and Donald.  There were characters everywhere including all the most popular princesses and the Marvel characters too.  Below is a sample of just 1 day at Sea to give you an idea of the activities onboard.

Below is the show schedule for the week.  There was a separate movie schedule as well including Disney 3-D features still in theaters such as The Ant-Man and The Wasp and Incredibles 2, both Disney movies of course!  

Disney Cruise Lines is legendary for their “kids club” with 4 different experiences for children depending on age.  The Oceaneer Club & Lab (ages 3-12), Edge (11-14), Vibe (14-17) are all complimentary.  It’s a Small World Nursery cares for the littlest guests ages 6 months – 3 years.  Nursery hours are in high demand so we recommend reserving those hours before you board for best availability.

Each space is themed for the age of the children.  The photos of the Oceaneer Club below are just a few of many geared for children ages 3-12.

The adult pool below was relaxing and warm but the weather was better for the two hot tubs.  The open deck seen above the windows is for the concierge lounge only and made a great viewing area at Hubbard Glacier.  Kids pool featured a waterslide and hot tubs too.  

Cadillac Lounge is a cozy adult only venue onboard the wonder featuring live piano music each evening. A variety of wines and cocktails are offered here for a charge.

Dining

Disney followed their standard rotational dining through 3 themed venues.  If you aren’t familiar with this concept, guests rotate to one of three different dining rooms each night. Your dining team follows you to each location to provide seamless service each evening.

Tiana’s New Orleans themed restaurant, Triton’s Seafood themed dining and Animator’s Palate are the 3 dining venues on the Wonder.  Unique to the Alaskan sailings, the menus featured local fare of salmon and halibut, as well as Pacific Northeastern wine.  We loved how the Alaskan theme was incorporated throughout the sailing.

Each of the 4 Disney ships features Animator’s Palate but the experience is a bit different on each ship.  On the last night, we visited Animator’s and each guest was given a page to draw a character.  You can see below, I chose a “Bear” theme.  

All the sheets are collected and after dinner, the show begins.  TV screens are throughout the dining room and each family sees all of their drawings come to life.  See below my “bear”!

Each dining room has a unique menu which changes during the cruise.  Below is an example of our menu from our final night at Animators.

Tiana’s is another fun dining venue recently added to the Disney Wonder.  We rotated through this restaurant twice and each time enjoyed the live jazz band that played during dinner.

Baked Alaska- the perfect dessert for our cruise!

Also featured on the Wonder is the adult only “Palo” (service charge applies).  We visited twice and enjoyed the view from the top, the excellent service, food, and cocktails. For adults who want a break from the kiddos or just a lovely smaller environment, I highly recommend Palo.  They also have a small private room for small groups.

We always start with the antipasto!

A flat fee of $30 per person includes the menu below.  Wine pairing was an additional $59 per person (as of 7/9/18).

Reflecting on Our Alaska Experience

Overall this experience was better than expected.  I’m glad we chose the 9-night sailing that included Hubbard Glacier because this was a highlight for our family.  Before the cruise, I was skeptical that Disney could provide an authentic Alaskan experience but they really did a great job.  I was also surprised that the Wonder provided a quality experience similar to the newer Disney ships.  We did miss some of the adult venues featured on the Dream and Fantasy but overall it was a great ship and many guests we spoke with actually preferred the Wonder to the larger ships.

Alaska was a fantastic destination.  It’s all about selecting the ship and the excursions that is the right fit for your group of travelers.  Whether it’s a family cruise, a luxury cruise or an expedition sailing you are searching for,  please contact us and we will make sure your Alaskan Cruise is planned perfectly from start to finish!

Click here to view our website and contact us to start planning your cruise.

Luxury Puerto Rico Getaway

Many cities, including my home base of Tampa, have non-stop service to San Juan. Hopping down to Puerto Rico is quick and easy for US citizens.  With a carry on bag, just our US driver’s licenses and no customs to clear, this was an easy hassle free getaway.

Our goal was to indulge in a luxury weekend at the Ritz reserve Dorado Beach.  We got off to a great start right away when we were greeted on arrival with coconut and mango popsicles. 

The entrance to the Ritz reserve Dorado Beach is stunning and you could tell right away tha the word “reserve” adds a element of luxury beyond your standard Ritz hotel.

Our butler greeted us and showed us to our room. We took advantage of her offer to provide anything we needed and I quickly asked her to have room service send an order of chips and guacamole so we could start enjoying our plunge pool!  And just like that it was delivered in about 20 minutes. We used the services of our butler many times which was made easy since she gave us her phone number upon arrival.

This is our wonderful butler who checked on us throughout our stay.

The east wing reserve with plunge pool room was impressive and of course our Virtuoso welcome amenities were waiting for us upon arrival including breakfast for 2 daily at MiCasa.  There are many room types here which I was able to see during my room inspection tour with the on-site sales manager.

Love the private outdoor shower!

Our lovely Virtuoso amenities our clients receive when booking through our agency

Activities were plentiful at the resort for both couples and families. We tried everything including the pools, the water park, the spa and the complimentary fitness classes and bikes.

But we did run out of time for the amazing Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program which offers excursions such as snorkeling, hiking and exploring an archaeological site directly on property. Also featured in the program is the historic Rockefeller Trail originally conceived by Laurance Rockefeller in the 1950s to create a walkable, open-air sanctuary through the resort’s surroundings.

Main Hotel Pool

 

Gorgeous East Beach with water sports center.  This area was so quiet and lovely that you felt almost like you were on your own island.  We biked just a few minutes from our room.

Water Park within Dorado beach property a short bike or golf cart ride away from the hotel.  This is not by the main pool so provides a different experience for families with small children.

One of our favoritie activities were the bikes and riding around the 7 mile trail.

Of course we also had to try the food!  This is one of the reasons I will go back to this resort. The food is outstanding at every restaurant. Of particular note are the restaurants Mi Casa and Positivo.  Positivo features fresh sushi and ceviche, tapas style dishes and craft cocktails in a stunning poolside setting.

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Families and Adults will love eating poolside at Positivo where the floor is made of sand!

We also enjoyed a wine pairing dinner prepared and served in an instructional kitchen by chef Rori.  The food was incredible and we enjoyed hearing about his career, favorite restaurants and cooking tips as we chatted and he cooked us our dinner served course by course with fantastic wines.  I highly recommend this experience for foodies or people who are chefs at heart.


Chef Rori prepared each course in his private kitchen for 12 while we enjoyed a wine pairing with each course.  He is an accomplished chef with an impressive background and he was fun and interactive. The food was incredible.

The Seabass with cherry tomatoe broth on a bed of handmade pasta and muscles was delicious but my favoirite dish was the cannelloni white bean soup with scallop.  The chocolate napoleon was fantastic as well!

And for fans of cocktails and mixology the drinks were innovative and delicious. In fact the Mi Casa bar features weekly mixology classes in their “lab”. 

And last but not least was our visit to the Spa Botanico.  The lushly landscaped 5 acre spa is unlike any other spa I have visited.

After entering the stunning reflection pool and garden area, men and women are divided into two separate tranquil garden areas.  Each side features a warm pool, cold plunge pool, steam room, outdoor showers and garden paths leading to individual spa santuaries where treatments take place.

 

The Gorgeous Outdoor Showers with everything you need in the individual wooden cabinets.
Outdoor spa garden with warm soacking pool, cold plunge pool, cold and wam pucket pulls, steam room and relaxation chairs.
Steam House

Entrance to Individual Treatment Houses Where spa treatments are performed.  This features an air conditioned indoor area as well as an outdoor garden for scrub and body treatments.

And when it was over, we had to sadly say goodbye!  But with nonstop service to Tampa and a quick easy trip where I pack a swimsuit and sundresses, I will be back!

South Africa- Capetown & Safari

Safari travel is a bucket list destination for many and an awesome vacation whether you are a family or couple.  I recently traveled to South Africa to explore Capetown and my first  safari at Kruger National Park.

The long flight from JFK to Johannesburg on South African Airways was very comfortable and when we arrived our connection to Capetown was very smooth.  I had time for a breakfast on the layover quickly appreciates the exchange rate.  Two cappuccinos and breakfast was a total of $7 including tip.

After landing, we were greeted right away by our trusted guide, Craig, who would be with us for the next several days. He informed us we would be going straight to Table Mountain for fabulous views of Capetown since we had a clear weather day at hand. Since the trip took place in May, it was fall in Africa and temperatures were perfect in the 70’s and 80’s the entire trip.

We had lovely free time at table mountain and then we were off  to our hotel home for 2 nights, Victoria & Alfred right on the waterfront.  As we were welcomed to this chic hotel, we were stunned by the incredible yachts in the bay and prime location.


The day finished with a property tour and a dinner of fabulous South Africa cuisine and local wines. 

 

Penguins, Seals & Baboons

The next day we were off and running again.  After a lovely breakfast buffet with American, Mediterranean and African delights we headed out for a day driving to the Southern most point of Africa, Cape point.

First stop was Hout Bay for a quick boat trip out to see a colony of seals.

The boat trip was followed by a funicular ride to the top of Cape point. Here we encountered baboons. Our guide had warned us not to carry food in baboon areas and he was right about that. We saw a 2 year old with a cracker narrowly escape an attach as his father scooped him up quickly!


And finally was the highlight- the African Penguins, originally known as “Jack Ass” penguins because of their donkey sound.

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It was a great day capped off with dinner at the waterfront.

Helicopter Tour & The Amy Foundation

There is stunning scenery in Capetown and what better way to see it than by a helicopter tour.  Flying above Capetown was a great way to enjoy the views or for the ultimate luxury can also be used as a transfer service on the way to a second hotel.


Next we were off to The Amy Foundation.   We spent the afternoon learning about their mission and enjoying time with the students while we made a traditional African meal together.

And at the end of the day we were welcomed to our hotel for our last two nights in Capetown, The Twelve Apostles Hotel.  What a special and luxurious hotel with incredible food.   
As a Virtuoso hotel, this is just one of many luxury properties where our clients receive complimentary benefits and amenities so it was great to check it out. I can highly recommend the “12A” as it’s called by locals.

The Winelands

South Africa is quite well known for its wine so a visit to the wine route was definitely in order while in Capetown.  We spent the day visiting hotels and wineries and  having a wonderful lunch in the a garden of  Babylonstoren winery and hotel.


There are towns and wineries throughout this area that could easily be enjoyed in a day trip from Capetown or by spending a few nights here.  There are many options including a chocolate and wine pairing tasting, safari vehicle lunch out on the property. and others that can be customized to be family friendly.

 

Safari Lodge Living

Our final stop of our trip was a 2 night stay at Lion Sands River Lodge which is set on a private game reserve on the border of Kruger National Park.  When we arrived, we were impressed by the luxury feel and scenic setting.


Our meals and beverages were included which is typical at the safari lodges as well as including the mini bar and twice daily game drives.  Think of it as “African All Inclusive”.

The only time I spend additional money was for a massage.  Having a massage by the river was a highlight as I saw elephants drinking from the river during my treatment.   Incredible!


Game drives were roughly 3 hours long and done early in the morning and late in the day so we would have the best opportunity to see both nocturnal and daytime animals.

Our 5:30AM wake up calls paid off and after 4 game drives we had seen elephants, giraffes, African buffalo, leopards, rhinos, hippos, zebras, hyenas, impala and much more.

And of course one of the favorite parts of any safari are the famous “sundowner” stops for cocktails in the bush while the sun sets.


Driving back to the game reserve after dark with countless stars over head confirmed that South Africa is a true bucket list destination for adults and families.

For information on African vacations, please contact Marcy Zyonse at marcy@livethedreamtravel.com.