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Two cruise ships couldn’t possibly be more different than Seabourn Sojourn (www.seabourn.com; shown at left; courtesy of the Yachts of Seabourn) and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas (www.royalcaribbean.com). I was recently onboard preview sailings of both as they arrived in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and I can tell you they only have two things in common: They are the newest vessels in their fleets (both debuted in 2010) and they are truly fantastic ships. Come to think of it, comparing them is kind of like comparing a Yorkshire Terrier and a Great Dane. Both are best in show, but for very different reasons!
Here’s a rundown of what to expect, beginning with an aft-to-stern comparison:
I happen to believe that every couple should experience the unique wonder of Venice, Italy at least once – and, ideally, at least once every few years. This amazingly ancient city never gets old for me, perhaps because I always avoid visiting during summer tourist season, when both the heat and the crowds are unbearable. There’s no reason not to plan a trip here in winter, spring, or fall – okay, so the weather can sometimes be unpredictable (it’s typically very cold and damp in December and January, yet I have seen it hit the high 70s in early March), but that’s part of the fun. In fact, here are 10 reasons why Venice beckons now through April.
The Luxury Built into a hillside overlooking the Douro River in one of Europe’s most scenic wine regions, Aquapura Douro Valley clinched a Smart Luxury Award from the magazine in 2008. It has an outstanding 23,600-square-foot holistic spa, but the revamped 18th-century mansion’s strongest asset may be Almapura, its Mediterranean cuisine restaurant, where diners can choose from more than 200 wines, including some from neighboring vines. Aquapura’s River rooms offer a Zen ambience, while private villas come with plunge pools and vineyard views.
There was a time in the not so distant past when the food served onboard most cruise ships – carbohydrate-laden buffets, rubbery pizzas, and greasy burgers and fries – added greatly to the passengers’ gross tonnage by cruise’s end. My boyfriend and I just spent the past week aboard Silversea’s newest luxury ship, Silver Spirit, sailing from Barcelona to Lisbon while sampling cruise cuisine’s much more refined and appetizing present. And while we did gain a few pounds, it was a result of dining on what is, hands down, the best food we’ve ever tasted at sea.
The deliciosa dining scene aboard the 540-passenger Silver Spirit spans six restaurants and is pretty much guaranteed to satisfy epicurean couples. One night, as we sailed along the southern coast of Spain, we savored delicate carpaccio of sea scallops and crispy golden shrimp tempura in the sensational Seishin (“Spirit”) Japanese restaurant. On another evening, we lingered for two hours over a six-course French tasting menu at the romantic Le Champagne. Here’s a rundown of the ship’s culinary treats:
Stroll down the cobblestone streets and sunset-glazed alleys of two blockbuster Mediterranean cities. Central Holidays’ Super Bargain packages start from just $721 with a six-night stay in arty Madrid or spell-binding Barcelona (a savings of up to $700 or more), including round-trip airfare from New York City, a four-night stay at a first-class hotel (with hotel taxes and service charges), daily breakfast, and airport transfers. At the cost of a round-trip flight, you can visit these historic, Spanish stomping grounds, taking in striking architecture, romantic beaches, exotic palates, and so much more.
THE VALUE: Travel during off-peak season is perfect for avoiding tourist mobs and witnessing some of the most authentic and significant cultural celebrations, like Three Kings Day (Jan. 6).
THE CATCH: Leave some spare cash in your budget – each person is charged air taxes and fees of approximately $69.
THE DETAILS: Travel is valid on Thursday departures between November 1 and March 31. Call 1-800-935-5000 to inquire about the Madrid or Barcelona Super Bargain deals.
I am possibly the only woman in America who has not read Eat Pray Love, which hits theaters this Friday, August 13th, as a movie starring Julia Roberts, but I have traveled to all the inspiring places author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in her memoir: Italy, my absolute favorite place on the planet; India, one of the most fascinating countries I’ve ever visited; and Bali (shown above), which I adore for it being as equally serene as it is chaotic.
To be honest, the Eat Pray Love trailers have made me curious to see the movie (but not when I’m hungry, given all the pizza Julia seems to devour!). In the meantime, here’s my take on these three fabulously romantic travel destinations, which every woman (and her man) should see in their lifetime. And wouldn’t you know it –autumn is a wonderful time to visit them all. Read more
Sailing the storied waters of the Mediterranean offers a sense of romance and adventure on the high seas that is virtually unsurpassed, with its shimmering, cerulean sea providing access to a staggering array of diversified ports, ranging from sleepy old-world fishing villages nestled by coastal cliffs to bustling and exotic metropolises that span Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. While many Americans first acquire their sea legs hopping between the island paradises of the Caribbean (see our Caribbean Cruises 101), the siren call of the Mediterranean sounds out strong, enticing U.S. travelers to traverse the Atlantic in search of the region’s treasure trove of ports steeped in rich histories and captivating cultures.
In a Disney fairytale come to life, the 2,400-passenger Disney Magic picked up some unexpected guests at sea on August 6, while completing a Mediterranean sailing from Gibraltar to Barcelona. The crewmembers received news over the radio system of a vessel that had lost power almost five days prior, and began scanning the waters, when they spotted the boat at 3:45 a.m.. Calling off the search party, the cruise ship rescued 18 stranded Algerians, furnishing them with cabins, food, and medical assistance, and alerting Barcelona authorities to coordinate their return home.
It can’t be easy to create a hotspot destination from scratch. But that’s what Costa Navarino, a new resort community in southwest Greece on the Mediterranean Sea, aims to do.
The first hotel to open (in May this year) was The Romanos, the latest addition to Starwood’s Luxury Collection (which also includes the SLS Hotel in L.A., the Grand Hotel in Florence, and Hacienda Temozon in Playa del Carmen, among others). The property’s 321 rooms – a third of which boast private infinity pools – look out over the sparkling Mediterranean or the surrounding countryside and come with sumptuous amenities like 250 thread count sheets, flat-screen TVs, and even butler service (in the suites). Opening rates start at €360/night.
The Kimpton hotel group – with 50 outposts in cities across the country from the new Eventi and Ink48 hotels in New York City to trendy Hotel Monaco in Seattle and Hotel Palomar in Dallas – is offering an array of awesome free perks in honor of summer, from upgrades to tasty treats.
These Summer Playground amenities last through September 10, so there’s plenty of time to take advantage…
From 51 BC to 30 BC, she captivated the empire she ruled and charmed the most influential men of her time – some things never change. I arrived in the City of Brotherly Love to witness the long-awaited world premiere of the Cleopatra exhibition – “The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt” – on display at the Franklin Institute (www2.fi.edu) through January 2011. From hotels to museums to restaurants, Philly was awash with excitement about hosting the most aggrandized matriarch of the ancient world. Read more
In an era when megaships draw crowds with amusement park entertainment, I ? like so many others ? became intrigued with the idea of returning to an old-fashioned style of cruising which the recently launched cruise line, Voyages to Antiquity, promised to deliver. The concept is simple, yet fresh: an all-inclusive educational cruise with a laid-back atmosphere, where the true luxury can be found in ports of call. Even the ship’s name – the Aegean Odyssey can stir a dormant need to re-read the classic nautical tales, or turn the pages of a history book that’s been tucked away in a musty library. I had the opportunity to set sail on the “Pompeii is Something so Wonderful” voyage – the third cruise of the ship’s inaugural season. Despite my high hopes for this unique cruise line, after a few days at sea it became clear that Voyages to Antiquity was another example of an aggressive launch date that left the ship and crew unprepared to welcome passengers aboard.
Given the staggering array of cruise options today – 200-plus ships operated by 25 North American lines accommodating from 100 to 5,400 passengers – couples shopping for a romantic journey at sea can’t be blamed for feeling confused. And while big ships have their advantages, namely attractive prices and a smorgasbord of dining and entertainment venues, smaller vessels offer unparalleled intimacy, exceptional quality and access to some of the most stunning ports imaginable.
If you are looking for an extraordinary cruise this summer, consider a ship holding no more than 450 passengers and sailing a relaxed itinerary along a scenic coastline, such as the Mediterranean or Adriatic. Here are details on two romance-ready small ships: casually elegant Wind Surf (at right) and stunningly sleek Seabourn Odyssey. I sailed on both in recent months and know that they deliver an especially seductive experience and a roster of exceptional ports of call. Read more
Summer is prime sailing season for Mediterranean cruises, meaning there are plenty of unique itineraries to choose from, but all at higher costs. Average rates on cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Norwegian hover around $800-$1,400 for a seven-night cruise – and the ship will be packed with thousands of other passengers. Variety Cruises is offering a summer cruise sale on its yacht-like vessels (carrying 4-24 cabins) that brings the total cruise fare down to less than rates on mega-ships (and you can’t put a price tag on peace and quiet).
Companion travelers can save 50 percent on the Aegean Odyssey, Jewels of the Cyclades, Classical Greece, and Tales of the Adriatic cruise programs, plus guests receive a two-night stay at an Athens hotel, or a $140 ship credit on select itineraries. Rates start at $1,530/person (or $1,148/person after discount) for the Jewels of the Cyclades itinerary which includes visits to Santorini, Mykonos, and other sparkling islands in the Aegean Sea. In addition to these savings, the cruise line is waiving the single-traveler supplement. This offer expires May 30.
About the cruise line:
Founded in 2005, Variety Cruises offers sailings to lesser-visited ports in the Mediterranean, with a wide range of cruising options from inexpensive casual cruises to sophisticated yachts that take you off-the-beaten path. Its fleet consists of 15 fully-owned vessels, making it the largest world-wide small-ship company.
As part of its 2010 Voyages of the Great Explorers series, Cruise West is offering guests a $2,500 VISA gift card, or, to help cut costs, passengers can choose to apply the $2,500 promotion to the total cruise fare. This offer is valid on 17 lengthy voyages (ranging from 10 to 19 nights) aboard the 60-suite Spirit of Oceanus – the cruise line’s premier ocean-going vessel.
As a leader in small-ship cruising, Cruise West is known for its close-knit cruising style that features onboard naturalists and educators, unique itineraries, and personalized shore excursions at every port (which are included in the cruise fare). On each voyage, passengers can experience less-commercialized ports, small towns, fishing villages, and numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites. This sale is valid on cruises embarking May 4 through December 31 – including peak-season summer sailings in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe! Fares start at $4,995 per person. In order to receive the VISA gift card, cruises must be paid in full by May 28. Note: Voyages 18 and 20 (Ecuador to Easter Island and Tahiti to Fiji) are not included in this promotion.
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