Cruising the St. Lawrence River and Nova Scotia

When people call us about booking a cruise, they usually ask about the Caribbean. It’s easy to see why. The weather is usually great, with warm temperatures and lots of sun. Alaska is another popular destination for cruising. Of course, Alaska is the largest of the 50 states and has one of the smallest populations; much of the scenery is unspoiled wilderness with little or no evidence of humans. Cruising on the St. Lawrence River and the waters off of Nova Scotia and Maine is similar to cruising Alaska (without the glaciers). The land here is sparsely populated, and the towns are small, just like most of the ports of call on Alaska itineraries. However, there are far fewer ships sailing these waters and visiting these ports. On our cruise, we were the only ship in port. You will have more space to explore without running into hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other cruisers visiting the same port. We recently cruised from Montreal up the St. Lawrence River and then through the bay of St. Lawrence to Prince Edward island. The cruise then went around Nova Scotia to Maine and finished in Boston.

We cruised on the Holland America Veendam. This ship was launched in 1996 and received a complete refurbishment in 2009. The ship is not new, however every space was clean, and we didn’t notice any excessive wear and tear. The carpets all looked fresh, and the public spaces were well maintained. The front desk staff was extremely helpful if we needed them for anything. This was our second cruise with Jude, the cruise director, and we were surprised that she remembered us from a cruise in February of 2015. Holland America has reduced ship board announcements to a minimum. This makes paying attention to the “where and when” pamphlet you receive every morning critical if you don’t want to miss a specific activity. We really recommend downloading the navigator program, which you can do free on the ship to keep track of everything.

Dining options on the Veendam are varied. The traditional buffet, The Lido Market, has taken the standard ship’s buffet and made it more of a themed experience. They have added in more fresh food, and everyone we talked to that tried the salad bar loved it. There is a decided Asian and Italian slant to the offerings in the Lido Market, so we could always find something we liked. Breakfasts in the Lido Market were some of the best I’ve had on cruise ships. We did not have a bad meal the whole trip. A portion of the Lido Market is converted into Canaletto. This restaurant serves great Italian food every evening. Reservations are required for Canaletto, and there is a small upcharge. Another dining option with a small upcharge is The Pinnacle Grill. We ate twice in this restaurant on our seven night cruise. Great food and impeccable service are the hallmarks of this amazing place to eat. Dive In, the burger joint, offers pool side hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch. There is also a taco bar set up close by. We had burgers twice on our cruise and visited the taco bar one day as well. On the lido deck aft of the Lido Market is Slice. This is a pizza parlor offering fresh pizza all day. We didn’t visit this place to eat because the early May weather was cold and rainy for our entire cruise. All of the restaurants offer gluten free options, including gluten free hamburger buns and gluten free pizza. The Lido Market had gluten free toast and bagels for breakfast, and the main dining room brought gluten free rolls to our table. We were also able to order gluten free desserts at every meal.

Deck 8, The Upper Promenade, is the deck where we spent most of our time. We had really bad weather, with temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s with winds up to 25 mph and rain every day, for most of the cruise, so pool time was limited. Deck 8 has four bars, the casino, a coffee bar, and all the shops on the ship. There was classical music every night in the Explorer’s Lounge and in the ocean bar. In Mix, the combination sports bar and piano bar right next to the casino, a piano player played more contemporary selections as well as requests. Bar and casino staff were friendly and efficient, however in the evening when the bars were full, service could be delayed. Some reviews have mentioned slow drink service on this ship. We did have to wait once or twice for a moment or two to order a drink, but I found it refreshing to be able to sit in a bar and listen to the music or just people watch without have to turn down ordering a drink every minute or so. Bar service was not a problem for us. The Crow’s Nest offered live music by night that was more contemporary and of course another bar.

We visited five ports of call on this cruise: Quebec City, Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, Sydney of Cape Breton Island, Halifax Nova Scotia, and Bar Harbor, Maine. You will need a passport on this itinerary.

Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America. The old city is well preserved without being too touristy. The town can be walked, and there are many nice coffee shops and sidewalk diners to get a bite or just a pastry or cup of coffee. There were even a few fur shops, which is appropriate as Quebec was founded to service the French fur trade. The town is dominated by a huge Fairmont hotel and the Citadel of Quebec. The Citadel is an impressive star fort on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River and can be walked to from the ship. We didn’t take an excursion from the ship, we just walked through the old city and had a nice time. There was snow still on the ground in early May. Take a jacket.

Charlottetown, PIMG_0062rince Edward Island is small city on the southern shore of PEI (Prince Edward Island). This city also had very little tourist feel and was charming. We walked around the city in the morning and bought some locally made ice cream as well as some local chocolates (this is a weakness of ours!) IMG_0066The children’s novel, Anne of Green Gables, is set here, and much of the town’s tourism is themed around this fictional character. In the afternoon, we took an excursion booked through the ship’s excursion desk to a local falconry for birds of prey. We had close-up interactions with two of his birds, a hawk and a falcon. This was a one of a kind experience and I highly recommend this tour.  See the video here!

Sidney on Cape Breton Island is a small town you can cover by foot in an hour or so. You will want to book an excursion here to see the area. The fortress of Louisburg is found here. This is a reconstructed fort that predates the American Revolution. The fortress has locals in period costumes and is treated like a theater, much like old Williamsburg in Virginia. A very charming time can be spent here reliving the past in a living theater.

Halifax, Nova Scotia is a large city and if you’ve been internet deprived during your cruise, this is a great place to get reconnected. The city has a hop-on hop-off tourist bus that is very convenient to the cruise port. We just did a walking tour of the boardwalk along the port and then walked up to the Citadel of Halifax. This fort, built from 1828 to 1856, is Canada’s most visited national historic site. The fort is garrisoned by men and women in the uniforms of the 78th Highlanders (a renowned Canadian regiment). These men and women conduct firing demonstrations throughout the day as well as conducting a changing of the guard ceremony every hour. The Citadel also contains the Army museum highlighting Nova Scotia’s contribution to Canada’s military operations from World War 1 through the War in Afghanistan. There are also regular pipe and drum performances. Entrance to the citadel is free and was a highlight of the trip.

Bar Harbor, Maine is a charming small town. The town has many shops and restaurants as well as some magnificent homes lining the Atlantic Ocean. There is a museum in town dedicated to preserving a record of the area’s native population. Acadia National Forest is close by, and you can take an excursion to this beautiful forest. You will clear US customs before being allowed to visit Bar Harbor. This only takes a few minutes but must be done by everyone on board before anyone can exit the ship. This is the only port where you use tender service from the ship to shore; at all other ports the ship docks at the port.

So, if you’re looking for a cruise vacation with a little less tourist feel and you want to visit this lovely part of the world, consider taking a cruise. You won’t regret the decision.

Condor Tours and Travel, Inc. is a finalist in Gwinnett Chamber’s IMPACT Regional Business Awards

Gwinnett County (METRO ATLANTA) GA – Condor Tours & Travel, Inc. has been recognized as a leading area organization by becoming a finalist for an IMPACT Regional Business Award.
Designed to be reflective and unique to Gwinnett and across metro Atlanta, the program pays tribute to premier organizations in top industries that are driving economic development and job creation, while enhancing our quality of life.
We at Condor Tours & Travel have worked hard to create job opportunities to the local community. We also work with local companies to offer travel opportunities to their employees. For 26 years we have supported the Gwinnett County community.

Recipients will be selected in the following sectors:
• AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction)
• Education
• Healthcare
• Hospitality
• Information Technology
• International
• Nonprofit
• Service
• Small Business

“Bringing together leaders across these important industries is another example of how the Gwinnett Chamber can fulfill its mission to serve as a community forum,” said Dr. Dan Kaufman, President & CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber. “We are honored to provide a platform that showcases these excelling organizations, which are what makes the metro region a leader in so many areas.”

The awards ceremony will be held 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 10 at the Infinite Energy Forum.
An overall IMPACT Regional Business Awards recipient will be selected from one of the above category winners.

MEDIA CONTACT
Lori Snow – 770-339-9961, loris@condortoursandtravel.com

PROGRAM CONTACT
Cally D’Angelo | 678.957.4958 | CDAngelo@GwinnettChamber.org

Panama – It’s More Than the Canal

A highlight of visiting Panama is a tour of the Panama Canal. This modern wonder of the world, completed in 1914, is a must see for anyone visiting this amazing country. Most vacations to Panama include a visit to the Miraflores Locks Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center offers a great view of the Miraflores Locks and the entrance to the Culebra Cut, which travels through the mountains of Panama to Gatun Lake. There is a movie on the construction of the original canal as well as the new locks and it has a nice gift shop. You can actually see in the distance the new locks that are now open. In addition, many people choose to book a partial transit of the canal for a close up view of the operation of the canal locks and the precise work involved in moving ships through this engineering marvel. Today however, I’m writing about the nature you can see while here.

Panama is one of the most biodiverse destinations in the world. With over 950 species of birds known to exist in the rainforests, Panama is a must for bird watchers. Your birding book will be filled with brilliantly plumaged rainforest birds and you will have amazing pictures to share when you return home. Birds are found all times of the year in Panama, and while the months of January, February and March are Dry Season in Panama, it can rain anytime, and Panama is warm all year round so weather isn’t usually a factor in scheduling your trip.

Barro Colorado Island (BCI), an island in Gatun lake formed when the Chagres River was dammed to create the Panama Canal, is a special destination close to Panama City. This island, isolated from human influences, is home to a Smithsonian Institution research facility. Hundreds of scientists conduct research projects on Barro Colorado Island every year. You can visit this nearly pristine rainforest environment after only a short drive and boat trip from your hotel, and experience unspoiled natural habitats. You will be doing a lot of walking on this excursion, so bring good hiking shoes or boots. To visit BCI, you must make a reservation in advance, or you will not likely be able to go, as they limit the number of guests, and it sells out. Tours generally include transportation to and from the island (often by boat from Gamboa), a two to three hour guided hike, lunch, and a visit to the museum. Hikes through the island offer the opportunity to spot many creatures, including monkeys, anteaters, birds, and insects.

The Jungle Boat Tour is one of our most popular excursions. This boat tour of Gatun Lake is a great way to have an up-close encounter with native animal species. You will see monkeys, and they will usually come on the boat for a snack. You may also see crocodiles, sloths and many birds. You will arrive at the floating lodge hidden in one of the finger lakes for a nice “comida tipica” (typical lunch.) This is a morning tour, so your afternoon is free for other adventures. The Jungle Boat Tour originates from Gamboa, a town where Gatun Lake meets the Panama Canal, cut through the Continental Divide.

Another tour offered near Gatun is the Aerial Tram Tour, where you will experience the rainforest from a different perspective. Glide through the canopy of the forest, from the shadowy rainforest floor through the understory, and into the sun drenched canopy. You will be accompanied by a guide on this mile-long trip, who will describe the flora and fauna that you will see. The tram ascends 280 feet over half a mile and ends at a spectacular viewpoint atop a hill. You may visit the Observation Tower where you will have a panoramic view of the Chagres River and the Panama Canal.

If fishing is your thing, Panama offers some of the best Bass fishing in the world. The Peacock Bass was introduced to Panama in the 1950’s and flourished in the warm waters of Gatun Lake. This fish is a fighter, renowned for its strength and endurance. Panama also has great salt water fishing opportunities. The waters here are the yearlong home to Black Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna, Roosterfish, Cubera Snapper, their famous Corvina, known in the United States as Sea Bass, and more than twenty other prized gamefish.

The indigenous tribes of Panama have been somewhat successful in resisting cultural influences from the modern world. The many tribes of indigenous people are spread throughout Panama and many are very remote. The Embera people, however, reside close to Panama City and you can visit one of their villages to observe a native village in action. You travel by land to Madden Lake, where you join up with the Indians in their dugout piragua boats and head up the upper part of the Chagres River above Madden Dam. This tour also gives you the opportunity to share a lunch cooked over an open fire of fish and plantain. The more adventurous folks can take the piragua to a tributary river and hike to a water fall for a swim.

You can spend a week in Panama and the surrounding rainforest with so many different choices, then head to the beach area to relax for a few days. The Pacific coast beaches are the most popular in Panama and are as close as 30 minutes and as far as eight hours from the city, so you decide how secluded you want to be. The closer to the city you are, the bigger the hotels will be; further away from the city, you can enjoy the small boutique type properties. Don’t miss out on all that Panama has to offer by doing a one day cruise in and out. Plan to spend seven to ten days exploring this beautiful country. Condor Tours and Travel offers many packages to expose you to this emerging country.

Pleasure Cruising Tips

Pleasure cruising has become one of the most popular vacation activities in the travel world. Going to the Caribbean or Mediterranean Seas or to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans on a cruise ship is a great way to see multiple ports without having to unpack. You carry your bedroom with you on these exciting and fun trips. Even three and four day cruises are great ways to spend a long weekend getting pampered while eating great food. Most cruise ships have top end spas that offer many different massage styles (Swedish, Deep Tissue, Hot Stone, and other exotics) as well as facials and full body wraps. These treatments are great for relaxing and make you feel like a new person. Also, most cruise ships have casinos on board for those that want the thrill of placing a wager on the hopes of hitting a big score. Many of today’s giant (over 150,000 ton) ships have extensive shopping areas that offer almost anything you need or want to purchase. Cruising can be tons of fun!

Here are some tips for making the most of your cruising vacation:

When you check in for your cruise, you will be checking your bag at a central check-in facility. The bags will then be processed and brought to your stateroom. We have had our bags brought up quickly, one or two hours after check in, and we have had them delayed for five or six hours. We always bring our swim suits and clothes for dinner plus a small make up case in a small carry-on bag so we can go to the pool knowing that we will have clothes for dinner. This is just simpler than trying to carry large bags onto the ship.

When you are finished with checking in and have boarded the ship, you will have your stateroom key card. This card not only unlocks your stateroom door, it is also your ship board credit card. You will not need cash on the ship. Except in the casino, cash is not accepted anywhere. Everything you purchase in the shops on board, drinks in the bars or at dinner, soft drinks, and any excursions you book through the ship board excursion desk are purchased using this card. Keep it with you at all times and don’t be shy about checking with the desk to check on the status of your account if you feel like doing so. By the way, you can use your card in the casino as well and some electronic games may require the card rather than cash. We usually like to control our casino budget by using cash.

Arriving at your port of departure a day early is always a good idea if you have the vacation time to do so. This will ease your peace of mind if your plane is delayed. A same day arrival can be nerve racking if the airlines are having delays or traffic at the port is excessive. Also, it is always a good idea to do a pre check-in with your cruise on the cruise line’s website. This will save you time at the terminal. Be sure to have all of your travel documents with you including your cruise packet from your travel agent, passport, and travel insurance documents. Many Caribbean and Alaska cruises won’t require a passport, however it is always a good idea to have it with you. It is simple identification and having one makes deciding on a cruise simpler. You won’t have to worry about the specific ports you are visiting and whether they require passports.

Once on board, just have fun. Most activities on board are included in your cruise fare. Many of today’s mega-cruise liners have dozens of activities every day. Many also have rock walls, wave riding machines, water slides, mini-golf, basketball courts and table tennis. Most have a walking course around the ship for a morning or evening walk or run. All ships have workout rooms with treadmills and usually stationary bikes and some elliptical trainers. Use of these facilities is included in your fare. We usually try to exercise every day, at least a walk in the morning. They also offer classes like Yoga, Pilates and Zumba for an added cost.

Food in the main dining room and at the buffet is included in your fare. You can have anything on the menu for dinner or lunch. I had three appetizers with no entree and three different desserts for dinner once (all of the appetizers looked good and none of the entrees appealed to me – and I shared the desserts, promise!) On almost all cruise lines, alcohol is not included in your fare and must be purchased using your key card. All cruise lines offer a purchase plan where you purchase drinks ahead of time for a discount. My husband drinks diet coke and he nearly always buys a plan for his sodas. Some cruise lines include alcohol in your fare; your travel agent will let you know if this is so for you.

After our first cruise, finding our suitcases was a chore. The cruise lines disembark all the passengers and get the passengers for the next cruise boarded and the ship resupplied, and they must do this in about ten hours. Disembarkation procedures vary between lines but they all try to disembark passengers in stages to cut down on the numbers trying to find luggage. However, there are always hundreds of fellow cruisers in the luggage area, so it can be confusing. We now have a luggage set that is a blue color that really stands out, and this has made finding our cases much simpler. Another tip for getting home more easily is to try to schedule your flight (if you are flying) later in the morning, so you’re not stressed by trying to make your flight. The cruise lines usually start disembarking passengers around 7:00AM and it can be tough to make an 8:00 or even 9:00 flight. Give yourself a little breathing room, and you’ll be glad you did. Cruise lines also usually offer a shuttle to the airport and using this allows you to avoid the lines getting taxis. Most major cities have Uber or Lyft service now, and you could try this as well. We haven’t tried Uber or Lyft after a cruise yet, so I don’t know if they are better than taxis, but I would think that given the numbers of people at the cruise terminal, that the driver may have trouble finding you and your party. Remember some cruise ships accommodate over 7,000 passengers, so there are lots of people milling around. It is important to not only know the Port but also the Terminal where your ship is located so that your driver can find you.

These tips should help you to enjoy a fun cruising adventure for your next vacation. Just contact us and we can help design the perfect cruise for you!

Sandals Emerald Bay

Sandals resorts are all-inclusive destinations. Once you have paid for your vacation to a Sandals resort, you will not need much money for the rest of your trip. I have stayed at many all-inclusive resorts, and some are better than others. Sandals is top tier in the all-inclusive category. They actually prefer the phrase “luxury included”.

The bars serve fine top shelf brands without an up-charge and the drinks are served in in tall glasses or sturdy plastic at the pool (for safety). And you’re not running to the bar for a refill every five minutes because the drink is large enough to last a while. The bartenders are friendly and well trained. My favorite drink is a mojito, and I sort of judge a bartender on his/her ability to make a good one. The mojitos at Sandals Emerald bay were uniformly good. Okay… so based on this admittedly subjective rating, the bars and the bartenders are excellent. (!)

The food is good, and you will find some meals that are truly excellent. Sandals Emerald Bay has seven restaurants. I ate in all of them and found them all to be good to excellent.

Il Cielo is an Italian fine dining restaurant which is open for dinner, and reservations are needed. The food is excellent. Even though I’m not a big fan of salmon, for some reason I ordered the salmon filet, and it was delicious. My husband had their signature lasagna and it was also excellent. This restaurant also serves breakfast, no reservation needed.

Barefoot by the Sea also requires a reservation for dinner. Their menu is seafood and island specialties like conch chowder. Lunch is served here from 11:30 to 3:00. This restaurant is just across the dunes from the beach, and your feet dig into the sand as you enjoy your meal. Right around the corner from Barefoot By the Sea is The Jerk Shack. This walk-up restaurant serves jerked chicken, pork and sausage and everything has some spice. The sausage is especially hot. I loved it. This is very convenient to the main pool.

La Parisienne serves French cuisine for dinner. Reservations are required to enjoy dinner in this high-end restaurant. My husband and I both had the lamb and found it excellent. He also had the escargot appetizer and the smile on his face said it all! I ordered a chocolate flourless cake and enjoyed the best dessert I’ve had in a while.

The Drunken Duck is a British Pub. The pub is open from 5:00PM to 1:30AM serving pub food and serving gastro fare from 6PM to 9PM. No reservation is required to eat here. The food is excellent. I had the shepherd’s pie (one of my favorites) and it was great. This is fine place for a casual meal.

Bahama Bay serves a breakfast and lunch buffet with table service for dinner. No reservation is required. The breakfast buffet is a standard spread and has a station for fresh eggs and omelets. The lunch buffet has a different theme each day (Mexican, Spanish, Asian, Continental). Dinner is served a-la-carte and this was one of my favorites. I had the Bahamian fried chicken and wanted seconds (but didn’t get them due to an expanding waistline).

Dino’s serves fresh baked pizza’s. No reservation is required here. The pizzas are baked to order and we got them to go and ate in our room on the balcony. The pizzas are sized for one person. We got a Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple and one with sausage and mushroom. It was a great meal.

Lastly, Café de Paris serves French treats as well as fancy coffee and ice cream. Drop in any time until 10:00PM and indulge yourself. We got some pastries here the morning of our departure to take to the airport. Of course, we also visited this place three or four other times during our stay at Emerald Bay!
Sandals has dozens of room categories and this blog doesn’t really give me space to outline them all. The basic room is a large room with a king-sized bed, table and sitting chair. All the rooms have an ocean view unless you have a ground floor walkout. Sandals also offers suites with sitting rooms and separate bedrooms.

Sandals also has suites that include butler service. We did not have a butler at Emerald Bay but have booked suites with butler service in the past and really enjoyed this extra level of service. Your butler will make your dinner reservations for you and will deliver meals to your suite if you prefer to eat in the privacy of your room. Butler service can take a Sandal’s vacation to another level of luxury.

The beach at Emerald Bay is framed by the unbelievably bright turquoise Caribbean waters lapping the beautiful white sand, a sight which is truly breathtaking. Paddle boards and sail boats are available (weather permitting) for exploring Emerald Bay. Snorkeling and diving equipment are provided for under sea adventures. Canoes, Kayaks, and Aqua trikes can be taken into the bay for some exercise or just for a lazy hour or so on the water.

Sandals Emerald Bay also features A Greg Norman designed 18 hole championship golf course. The course has six holes that hug the perimeter of Emerald Bay. This course will definitely challenge your golf skills. We played three rounds, and this was a highlight of our trip. Tennis is another sport offered at Emerald Bay. Six well maintained clay courts are on sight and a tennis pro gives lessons for all levels of tennis players.

After a round of golf or some tennis, a visit to the Red Lane spa might be just what you need to relax. The facility is state of the art and the ambiance is so relaxing. Individual or couple massages are offered, many with a special Caribbean flavor. You can get manicures and pedicures, facials, and body scrubs. Literally dozens of different massages and body treatments are offered to relax and renew your body and spirit. Sharing a romantic couples’ massage on the beach is an experience you will cherish with your loved one.

The Sandals at Emerald Bay is a beautiful resort offering activities for all levels of fitness. Of course, if you just want to lay on the beach or at the pool, the views are amazing and I can’t really fault you for that choice. I realize most of this blog was about the food at Emerald Bay, but I think food can really make or break a vacation. The food at Emerald Bay certainly didn’t disappoint.

Why use a Travel Specialist?

We hear this question every day. Well, not every day, but we hear it often, from friends that rarely travel outside the US or from people we are having conversations with at parties or in other social settings. Everyone knows they can book hotels and airline tickets online, and if you have been on a cruise, you probably booked it yourself online. The online travel site advertisements on cheap hotel rooms and cheap travel are everywhere. You can Google trips to anywhere in the world and dozens of sites will pop up for you to browse. So why use a travel specialist?

First, you don’t pay us for our services. Just like the online sites, we are paid by the cruise lines, airlines, hotels, and tour operators. Getting a travel specialist to help plan and book your trip is free to you. On occasion, an agent may charge a fee, but then apply it to your trip if you book. This is to protect them from spending their time doing all the research and then having you book online anyway. Travel agent fees or costs to use an agent seem to be the most misunderstood facet of our business. You can spend hours searching websites and maybe making some phone calls to book a vacation. Or you can contact a travel specialist and have them spend the time researching deals and venues while you’re working or spending time with your family or doing activities you enjoy. In addition, if you have booked the trip with us, we will watch for upgrades or available discounts that may show up that affect your trip and then can offer these to you.

The reason I started this blog with a discussion of money is because cost is the first thing many of us think of when planning a trip. This is understandable and important, however the value a travel specialist brings to your vacation is not all in the dollars and cents. I booked a recent short vacation for someone in New Orleans. They knew they wanted to go to New Orleans but didn’t want to stay in a conventional hotel. I found a small boutique hotel (fewer than ten rooms) in the garden district near Bourbon Street, but a bit off the beaten path. This gave them a different experience than a conventional hotel would have and it was exactly what they were looking for when visiting this unique city. I had another client who wanted a family vacation in the Caribbean and was overwhelmed with the options available. After understanding their budget and interest, I narrowed it down to a handful of options, making it easier for my client to make a decision.

I travel to locations and hotels overseas six to eight times a year. Even my personal vacations usually include a site visit. If you are traveling to Panama, I can set up your itinerary so that the local holidays will minimally impact your trip. If you want to raft in Costa Rica, I know the best white water rafting spots to fit your level of experience. If you want to hike a desert in Chile or explore the Greek Isles, cruise the Danube or other rivers, or sail the ocean in a large ship or a small boat, I can provide you with invaluable advice. We also know the resorts because we have been there. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway with someone special, that is a completely different resort experience than if you are going with your family, and we can help you with either. If you want a trip with extreme adventure, we have ideas for that as well. We have the resources available for just about any type of travel. Now, I admit I haven’t been everywhere, but here at our Condor Tours & Travel office, the cumulative experience of our travel specialists totals over 75 years! We can give you first hand observations on nearly all resorts and hotels, and we can recommend activities or tours.

We recently had a client that booked a cruise in the Baltic Sea, visiting Norway, Denmark, and Holland. After the cruise, he took the train from Rotterdam to Berlin and enjoyed three days exploring this historic city, including a guided tour of Potsdam and a walking food tour of some of Berlin’s neighborhoods. We organized all of this for him and sent him off for two weeks to over ten destinations. His vacation included air and train travel, cruising, hotel reservations and guided tours. Because we coordinated all of this for him, he only had to deal with us. It’s our job to deal with the suppliers, hotels, cruise lines, air lines and tour operators in the various countries.

We protect your personal information and you only give it one time to us. You aren’t putting your credit card and passport information at many different sites – just to us. We then protect your information in our secure site and delete it upon the completion of your tour.

Finally, our team will help you identify any visa requirements your destinations may have by helping you to obtain this information, especially if you are traveling using documents other than a US passport. When you leave on your trip, you will know the documents you will need to enter the countries you are visiting. The rules in Latin America and the South Pacific regions are usually more complicated than in Europe, and we will help you navigate the laws of various countries.

The internet offers so much information that it can be overwhelming. Feel free to do your research on a destination, then, let your agent help with the trip details, and let them make recommendations on accommodations, tours, etc ., as they are the true experts in travel. Whether you come to us or go with a local agent – be sure to research them. How long have they been in business, do they get out to see destinations or work with well-informed suppliers? As with any industry, the experience of your agent will insure a better travel experience. Remember – the internet is for looking but your agent is for booking!

Royal Caribbean Announces Cruises to Cuba

Royal Caribbean Cuba
Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Cuba continues to pique the interest of American travelers, and as of this week, it’s become a whole lot easier to get to the Caribbean island via a cruise ship.

Just after Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. announced that all three of their brands would begin sailing to the destination, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. stated that the Cuban government had granted two of their brands—Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruses—approval for sailings, too.

“Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers.”

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian also join Carnival Corporation’s experiential line Fathom, which began traveling to Cuba earlier this year. Fathom’s single vessel, Adonia, was the first U.S. cruise ship to call in Havana in 50 years. Stay tuned for updates on when the Royal Caribbean and Azamara itineraries will be available for booking.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Gets Permission to Cruise to Cuba

norwegian-to-cuba

(2:03 p.m. EST) — Shortly after Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. revealed it would deploy two cruise ships to Cuba, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it received approval from the Cuban government to send all three of its brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Oceania Cruises’ Marina will kick off the season, with the first cruise from Miami on March 7. The 1,258-passenger ship, which was part of the company’s Cuba plan revealed July 2016, will call on Havana on select Caribbean itineraries; many will be multiple-day calls.

Regent’s 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will follow, with two cruises slated to visit Havana in April 2017.

Norwegian will send its 2,004-passenger Miami-based Norwegian Sky on a series of four-night cruises, with overnight stays in Havana, throughout May 2017.

“As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly proud that one of Oceania’s vessels will be our company’s first to sail to Cuba,” said Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

“This is truly a dream come true for me, and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents.”

Both ships will offer shore excursions in compliance with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations, focusing on Cuban culture, art and history. U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in purely tourist activities; the OFAC requires that “they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities…”

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. will release full details and dates for its Cuba season next week for Oceania Cruises and in late December for Norwegian Cruise Line.

What’s next for Cuba? We report live from Havana to give you a glimpse of the mood and locals’ visions for the future at the end of an era.

–By Gina Kramer, Associate Editor

Cunard Line, P&O Cruises cancel all 2017 calls to Turkey

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Turkey’s tourism industry has been dealt some heavy blows in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks and an attempted coup this summer.

According to Cruise Critic, Carnival Corporation’s Cunard Line and P&O Cruises have both confirmed the cancellation of all calls to Turkey next year.

“After careful consideration, we have taken the decision to remove Turkey from all itineraries in 2017 for both Cunard and P&O Cruises, based upon various sources including advice given by the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” the cruise lines said in a statement.

Planned stops in Turkey will be replaced with calls in Greece and Albania.

The news may disappoint travelers looking forward to enjoying some of Turkey’s historic sites, Cunard and P&O aren’t the first cruise lines to pull out of the troubled destination.

AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST CRUISE SHIP, OVATION OF THE SEAS, ARRIVES IN FREMANTLE FOR AUSSIE SUMMER CRUISING SEASON

It’s the fourth biggest cruise ship in the world, and the biggest to ever sail in Australia and today it arrives in Fremantle.

Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas will be based in Australia for the summer season, making its maiden call to Fremantle today followed by Adelaide on December 11, Hobart on December 13 then arrive in her new summer homeport of Sydney on December 15 in what is expected to be a landmark day on the famous Harbour.

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Ovation of the Seas, with its 18 decks and extraordinary adventures on-board. Picture: Chris Ison/PA Wire

Launched in April this year, the 4905-guest Ovation of the Seas is smashing record after record including its viewing capsule, North Star, that rises 90m above sea level.

To get an idea of just how enormous this ship is, we’ve collated some stats that will literally blow your mind, including how they cater for so many guests on-board what has been dubbed the biggest hotel in Australia.

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North Star capsule is breaking cruise ship records.
WHAT YOU’LL EAT

On a seven-day cruise, Ovation of the Seas will cater to 4905 guests with:

3300kg of chicken
3750 dozen eggs
714kg of lobster tail
5100kg of beef
850kg of salmon
238kg of ice cream
4286kg of flour
1700kg of french fries
6803kg of potatoes
1803kg of bacon

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Dine on lamb at Jamie’s Italian on-board. Picture: Royal Caribbean
And has total restaurant seating for 3474.

The ship uses seven million litres of freshwater per day;

Has eight specialty restaurants with more than 150 different dishes served daily;

Stocks 40 brands of beer;

Stocks 340 brands of wine;

Stocks 127 different specialty cocktails;

Uses 40 varieties of fruit;

Uses 80 varieties of vegetables;

Offers 40 kinds of breads;

Offers 80 kinds of pastries;

Uses 37,000kg of ice-cubes daily.

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American Icon Restaurant on board Ovation of the Seas. Picture: RCI
IT’S ENORMOUS

• At 168,666 gross register tonnage (internal volume, not weight) Ovation of the Seas could fit 843 million mangoes.

• It can carry almost 6500 guests and passengers — eight times as many as an Airbus A380.

• If stood upright, at 347m the ship is almost as tall as Uluru and more than two and a half times as high as Adelaide’s tallest building the State Bank building.

• At 92m high the North Star gondola capsule is higher than a Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon.

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The pool bar is the perfect spot for a sunset drink.
• Ovation’s four bow thrusters produce 4694 horsepower each — more than double the horsepower of a five-car city train.

• At 41m wide, Ovation is about as wide as 17 Adelaide trams or 14 Melbourne trams.

• With 2091 staterooms and carrying 4905 guests at full capacity, Ovation will be the biggest hotel in the nation — more than triple the rooms of the Crown Metropol in Melbourne and the Four Points Sheraton in Sydney.

•The iFly skydiving simulator has a maximum wind speed of 250km/h.

Source: Royal Caribbean International