Best Wine Tasting on River Cruises

You like wine – you like travel – you like the right mix of relaxation and activities = you will like a wine tasting river cruise. The number of wine river cruises mostly in Europe is expanding fast. In this blog, I will focus on European river cruises, which offer the combination of enjoying these tasty regional products with experiencing the actual environment and interacting with people living there. Other options for wine cruises are international ocean cruises with dedicated wine programs, which we will review in a subsequent blog (just an appetizer, the most exciting cruises to me are either with SilverSea or French cruise line specialist Ponant – but we will come back to this topic in a later post).

The most developed and probably best program is with AmaWaterways having a variety of cruises where you can enjoy fantastic wines from that country (or countries) during the night and then visit vineyards and other regional locations during the day. The most popular river cruises are around Bordeaux and Provence in France as well as the Rhine and Danube rivers with a focus on German and Austrian wines. As a highlight, select wine cruises are hosted by a wine expert who brings hand-selected wines on board that will be served during meals and tastings. The wine host is often associated with a specific vineyard (often from the US and usually not from the region visited). This approach is very beneficial since it offers both experiences with more US-oriented wines brought by the wine host while the regional wines are featured onboard and onshore. Because of the dedication by AmaWaterways for the wine cause, we selected them for a dedicated Taste Of Bordeaux cruise in July 2020.

AmaDolce

Our Taste of Bordeaux wine cruise (done in collaboration with the Wycombe Vineyard in Furlong, PA) on board of the AmaDolce will start on July 9, 2020 for 7 nights from Bordeaux and will visit world known Saint-Émilion, Bourg with the option for various excursions (all included in the price) before stopping in Pauillac for a Medoc Grand Cru Classe wine tasting. We will visit Cadillac and have a Sauternes wine tasting. The return will be to Bordeaux with various excursion options. The dedicated wine host for this cruise is Frederik Frank from the Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars. Wine tastings on board and onshore are included in the price of the cruise, which also has the typical AMA Waterways amenities like complementary Wifi, fine dining elevated by Chaine des Rotisseurs chefs, and importantly small group excursions making this cruise a highlight of the year. We do have options for pre- or post-cruise extensions in Bilbao or San Sebastian (Spain) or the Loire valley and romantic Paris. Prices start at less than $4000 (all prices are based on availability), which given all the included amenities are a great deal.

But AmaWaterways is not the only wine specialist in Europe. Avalon Waterways, another well known river cruise line, also has dedicated wine appreciation cruises. A certified Master of Wine may travel with you and will hold lectures and wine tastings together with food and wine pairings. It certainly sounds delicious to me, and I would invite you to explore this option more. Avalon focusses mostly on two regions one in France visiting Burgundy & Provence – great regions for red wine and the other on the Danube with stops in Hungary, Austria, and Germany giving you more of an insight into delicious white wines. The cruise price starts at $3500 but does not include special excursions or pre-paid gratuities, which are included with AmaWaterways. Avalon does not offer dedicated Bordeaux cruises, which is why we chose to conduct our cruise with AmaWaterways. Nonetheless, if the Avalon destinations are more of interest to you – let’s speak,

Viking River Cruises is a European river cruise power house; however, while they offer a variety of cruises on relevant rivers, including around Bordeaux, they are not as dedicated to the wine tasting experience as the two other cruise lines. The Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise is probably better suited if your focus is more on the destination and the wine takes more of a backseat. Cruise prices are in a similar range starting at around $3000 and can go up to more than $9000 in the spacious Explorer Suite. Shore exclusions and some alcohol with meals (i.e., wine) is included in the price. A special treat with Viking is Portugal’s River of Gold cruise, a 10-day tour that starts in Lisbon and then goes via land to Porto where you will board the ship and sail up the Douro River. If you are interested in this tour, please let us know soon as it selling out quickly. While prices start just shy of $4000 for non-balcony cabins, availability for Veranda cabins is limited and starts at $5300 (July 19, 2020 cruise).

If you are interested in any river cruise / cruise line mentioned above – including our specialty wine cruise Taste Of Bordeaux with very special offers (in collaboration with Wycombe and AmaWaterways), please contact us under (215) 348-4632 or hbaxter@dreamvacations.com, or visit our website at http://www.vacationcrusaders.com.

Fantastic Wedding Destinations for 2019 / 2020

Congratulations you have made it into the wonderful world of wedding planning! You had the romantic proposal and cried many tears of joy. The excitement of telling your family and friends has subsided a little and now the panic of wedding planning is looming in front of you. Hopefully you will have a team of folks to help you through the maze of venues, food, and entertainment – the list is endless. Thankfully, you have an awesome team to support you at Darianna Bridal (Warrington, PA) for your wedding party attire. You have everything under control now ohhh no wait! What about the honeymoon??? Fear not Vacation Crusaders will help you every step of the way.

First of all let’s tell you who we are. We are a franchise of Dream Vacations, which is owned by World Travel Holdings. So we have the backing of a huge company, which allows us access to the world of travel and all the special promotions, hot deals and destinations you could imagine! We are a local company, based in Furlong, PA and pride ourselves on providing superior customer services. We want your honeymoon to be the best experience and most memorable occasion, something you will treasure forever. The best news for you is our services are free! Yes free. Why use a Travel Agent you ask, good question. Think about all the time you spend surfing the internet to research places to go on Honeymoon, you could be spending this time with your beloved. Travel Agents have access to deals the general public do not, they have representatives from Travel companies they can work with to negotiate pricing and perks. If you run into issues, your Travel Agent takes care of it, not you. Who do you call if you miss your flight or want to extend your stay or maybe move to another destination. You call Vacation Crusaders, your personal Travel Agency, we will hold your hand and guide you throughout the entire process to get you what you deserve.

So let’s get started what are the basic questions you need to ask yourself about your Honeymoon? Do you want one, if so do you want to do it right after your wedding or do you want to wait? Personally when we got married we waited, and regretted it somewhat – we were so exhausted after our wedding a honeymoon would have been perfect! Even just a long weekend away would have helped a lot, you don’t realize how emotionally and physically draining it is, but in a good way! Do you want to stay local, a bit further away from home but still in the US or are you going big and heading further afield? What is your budget? Does this include transport such as flights or car rental? Do you want adventure or a relaxing beach vacation? All-inclusive or independent type vacation? Will it just be the two of you or will you be accompanied by children or parents? For the ladies, if you are going to change your name remember you will need a new passport and that can take a while (you will need to update your social security card and drivers license first). If you plan to leave the country all travelers will need to have a passport which is valid for 6 months after your travel date and your name on your travel documents must match your passport exactly. To make it easy on you and to get you what you deserve, we will be happy to discuss all those options and requirements with you – our job is to make your dream come true.

Where to go? This is your honeymoon you want to make it extra special, something you can look back on and remember fondly. But where? That’s up to you but as a guide the Top 5 destinations in 2019 are: 

  • Hawaii (Maui)
  • Italy (Almalfi Coast)
  • Caribbean (St. Lucia)
  • California (Big Sur)
  • Fiji (South Pacific)

Top Destinations for 2020 will likely be:

  • Caribbean (St. Lucia)
  • Hawaii (Big Island)
  • Bora Bora (South Pacific)
  • The Maldives
  • Greece (Santorini)

Remember, this is your Honeymoon you don’t have to go where everyone else is going, be adventurous go somewhere you would never normally go, you usually only get to do this once after all. Book your travel early so you can ensure you get the best deals but more importantly the travel dates you want, that bungalow over the sea, the Penthouse Suite at the Ritz Carlton, the early morning balloon ride in South Africa.

One last thing, don’t be afraid to ask guests to contribute to your Honeymoon, not monetary but let them buy you an excursion, chocolate covered strawberries, a bottle of champagne in your room. Your Travel Agent can arrange all this for you too. What are you waiting for give them a call now and start the conversation. Once it’s booked it’s another task off your to do list.

A newer hotel choice in Barcelona – Marriott’s Barcelona EDITION (VCat 3)

A relatively new hotel in town is the Barcelona EDITION hotel – part of the Marriott family of brands. It is has some huge upsides and a few opportunities. Very nice and elegant it offers modern vibes with dark wood paneling, intricate lighing, cool background music. Employees are friendly and helpful. Biggest highlight though is the rooftop terrace drawing clients up there to work (like me right now) and relax well into the night (like me later tonight). The views all around are great and it promises a very lively night crowd.

The hotel is nicely located in the La Ribera neighborhood close to other exciting neighborhoods (like El Gotic) and major attractions like the Barcelona cathedral, many restaurants and shopping places and it is not too far from the ocean. Compared to many US Marriotts most if not all exUS Marriotts are much nicer, with better service, friendlier people (the exception might be Germany – especially the Courtyard in Munich), and better food – and the EDITION is no exception. Breakfast is very tasty and staff friendly. Make sure breakfast is included in your room rate though because it is also pricey (Euro 29 with add-ons).

So my gripes with this place are twofold (but would not prevent me from coming back). Rooms are small and have this funny see-through window between bathroom and bedroom. Fortunately, in this case you have shutters that keeps privacy but makes the small bathroom feel small. There is very restricted storage for cosmetics / accessories especially when sharing with a friend or spouse (or hopefully both – not to be misunderstood – I mean a spouse that is also your friend and not two people – a friend and your spouse). Overall, there is very little storage space in the hotel room so you have to keep everything organized. The second concern applies to us pampered and obnoxious Marriott Elites – no free food or beverages (whattt?). Nope – no concierge level, no stipend for breakfast (unless it is included in your room rate), no nothing. In addition – they gave me an upgrade to an elite room. It promises good cell phone coverage but also provides an obstructed “Elite” view (see picture). The hotel is VCat 3. Our proprietary VCat rating system is explained in another blog – VCat 3 means that if you are in the area this hotel is a good pick but has areas for opportunities.

Barcelona needs Ubers

Our readers have been all around the world, traveling in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. So we travel by plane and maybe train and often need ‘last mile’ transportation to get to our hotel, conference center, or favorite restaurant. Uber and Lyft have – for the right reasons – developed in record time into recognized and appreciated means of transportation mainly for four reasons: predictability of price, often lower cost than a regular cab, cleaner cars, and friendlier drivers. But some cities – like Barcelona have been opposing uber rides. Enforcing restrictions on uber but not on taxi operators to protect the latter. Now take a regular Monday late morning in Barcelona (a city with a well developed public transportation system) and no uber service available. People with packages and babies standing in line to wait for one of the scarce taxis to finally show up. The same happened to me a couple days earlier on Saturday morning – no taxi available while there are 5 or so people waiting for an early morning ride. In addition, I did a couple of taxi rides with a less than optimal experience – taxis could benefit from cleaner cars and less distracted drivers. Barcelona needs uber and / or other ride-hailing systems to break the monopoly and lacking service of taxis.

Minneapolis Airport Marriott (VCat 3)

Ever got stuck in a canceled flight out of Minneapolis and need a hotel? Just happened to me. Why not considering the Minneapolis Airport Marriott? It’s not beautiful, it’s not fancy but it might serve a purpose. The rooms are updated more recently and are pretty convenient. It is a bit of a rat maze though – it might be a warning sign if the front desk draws you a map with fluorescent markers to make it to your room. Rooms have all amenities but for reasons that I don’t understand have no in-room safe. The Concierge lounge for Marriott “Bonvoy” elite members is very personal and nice. Hors d’oeuvre and breakfast are reasonable. Overall it seems that the staff tries to make up in friendliness to what the hotel is missing in comfort. The downside is that you have to find your way to your room and back through a maze of corridors – there might be skeletons of customers that did not make it out (lol). The corridors need a refresh and coincidentally – that renovation might just have started. Overall, a pretty descent hotel that has his charm because of the people working there. VCat 3 – because in our proprietary rating system it has no major outstanding flaws and some nice features.

King Size bedroom – Minneapolis Airport Marriott

Vacation Crusaders Travel Blog

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Please feel free to contact us with any questions / suggestions or if you would like to get help in booking one of the fantastic destinations we have been writing about.

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This Travel Blog reflects the opinions of Vacation Crusaders, a travel agency, and respective individual authors. None of the statements / reviews do reflect the opinion of DreamVacations.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton