Our 2016 travel plans
We have excitedly been pulling our 2016 travel plans together over the last couple months. Admittedly Blonde already went to Panama and Iceland this year but those were trips with friends not “official” blog business.
When planning this year’s travel we mainly selected places we have never been before. To the extent that we have any other common theme it would be water (and often wine).
2016 travel plan #1 – Key West and Dry Tortugas National Park
This year marks the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Service and we hate to miss a good birthday party. So we decided that before one of us also turns 100 we should finally get ourselves to Dry Tortugas National Park. “Finally” because for years we have wanted to go but it’s a park that is neither easy or inexpensive to visit. We would start to plan and then give up on the idea because of the expense and hassle factor. But we have, at last, managed to arrange what we are sure will be a wonderful trip.
We will fly down and back to Key West from Naples, Florida, with Salt Island Seaplanes. We had our maiden seaplane voyage last year (so will this be our matron voyage?) in Fiji and found the whole experience to be delightful. From Key West we will take the only ferry service, the Yankee Freedom, authorized to take visitors to Dry Tortugas. We will have several hours to explore the fort and to snorkel from the beaches. The snorkeling is the real “why” of this trip even though we will also say our love of American history is an additional motivation (not that you see us heading off to any landlocked forts).
2016 travel plan #2 – Cruise to the Dominican Republic with Fathom
Last year Carnival announced with great fan fare that they were launching a completely new cruise experience that would combine travel with a purpose. We were intrigued because we always thought travel was its own purpose. The new brand, Fathom, is for “impact travel” which is a combination of the usual fun of a cruise with doing activities at the destination to help local communities.
A consistent theme among travelers in the last several years has been a desire for more immersion in local cultures. Fathom is intending to provide that by having travelers interact with community organizations and volunteer. We admit that we raised some skeptical eyebrows (actually only Brunette can raise an eyebrow so she had to do it twice) but as the trip is nearing and we are planning our activities we think Fathom may be on to something.
That’s why we are going – to find out what the experience actually is for travelers. We will be helping to produce organic chocolate (ignore anything you see in the press about the completed products disappearing during our visit….) and to have conversations with adults trying to improve their English language skills. Blonde is going to try hard to remember not to teach them to swear even though she is a highly qualified and imaginative swearer.
2016 travel plan #3 – The Columbia and Snake Rivers with Un-Cruise
We seem to be the last two incredibly hip Americans (we heard that snort!) who have not been to Portland, Oregon and will finally be able to right that wrong. Our river cruise sails round-trip from Portland which is a definite plus. The itinerary of the Legacy of Discovery cruise is excellent with its combination of history, nature and wine . We are also drawn by Un-Cruise’s motto of “Unrushed. Uncrowded. Unbelievable”.
Although we have been wanting to see the Pacific Northwest we will admit that a big part of the “why” for this trip is that we have heard so many fabulous things about Un-Cruise from other travel writers that we would go anywhere they are willing to take us. Our only concern is that they say by the end of the trip we will see our fellow travelers as “family”. We hope they will seem like members of someone else’s family – perhaps George Clooney’s.
2016 travel plan #4 – Waterways of the Tsars with Viking River Cruises
As certified Baby Boomers we spent many hours in our youth hiding under flimsy desks preparing for an imminent nuclear attack from Russia. We were told that we might have to learn to speak Russian (apparently the desks would have saved our lives only to have us then suffer this linguistic indignity). We saw Khrushchev bang his shoe on the table at the U.N. We were Cold War Kids before that was the name of an indie band.
So when we began talking about where to go in 2016 Blonde felt that the time had come to go to Russia and have a look around. The only way we were interested in going was with Viking River Cruises and to our delight they agreed to host us on their Waterways of the Tsars cruise.
Why Viking? They began their operations in 1997 with the purchase of four ships in Russia. Their long and positive relationship with the government and deep understanding of the people and culture made them our only choice.
We have such high expectations of Viking, based on previous experiences, that if they have Putin come to the ship some night to teach a course on international diplomacy we will not be the least bit surprised. (We do hope he will wear a shirt.)
2016 travel plan #5 – Viking Homelands cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises
In 2015 we sustained some major pouting damage when we couldn’t fit a cruise on the new Viking Ocean Cruise ship the Star into our plans. We made sure to graciously give top priority to an ocean cruise with Viking on the Star this year. The ship, with its capacity for 930 guests, is a size that appeals to us. We do not have an interest in gigantic ships with 1,000s of people on them and when we saw the awards and accolades the Viking Star received last year we were sure it was good enough for us. So there was that.
The itineraries available this year are all immensely appealing but we chose the Viking Homelands itinerary because it will take us to the most places we have never been before. We have seen a fair bit of the Mediterranean (and love it) but we have never experienced the Baltic Sea.
The 15 day itinerary begins in Stockholm and ends in Bergen, Norway. Along the way we will stop in Finland, Russia (we hope they won’t have revoked our visas due to any poor behavior from Brunette on the earlier river cruise), Estonia, Poland, Germany and Denmark. Just writing about it makes us want to go now!
2016 travel plan #6 – Croatia and Slovenia with Go Ahead Tours
We will be honest here (for a change) and confess that we didn’t even know about Go Ahead Tours when they first reached out to us. Blonde has since met some of their team (and even their President) in person and we have had numerous phone conversations and read their glowing reviews on various travel sites. (The reviews are written in a special phosphorescent font and literally glow. OK, that part isn’t honest.)
This bizarrely modest company deserves wider recognition and who better to bring that than us? (Note: rhetorical question, do not answer.)
The Croatia and Slovenia, Old Word Adriatic itinerary is a perfect fit for us. It begins in Dubrovnik with a cruise to Kotor in Montenegro which is somewhere we have been wanting to see for a while now. The itinerary includes Plitvice Lakes where Blonde went with an old (really old now) boyfriend in 1989. We are doing an extension at the end of the trip to Lake Bled, another place Blonde visited in the prior century. Blonde returned from that 1989 trip and told her sister she had to see Plitvice Lakes and Lake Bled. When this opportunity came along to right a historic wrong (or our version of one) we were thrilled.
We like the way Go Ahead Tours has small groups, top quality local guides and people who will take care of all of our logistics. In a previous trip we made to a section of the Adriatic coast of Croatia we did our own driving and had a GPS angrily insist that we drive ourselves into a tunnel wall (true story). We will be glad to let Go Ahead Tours supply the driving. We also appreciate that Go Ahead Tours will give us time on our own in several locations ( perhaps so the other people in the group can get a break). That way we can do some of the directionless wandering around that is part of any good trip.
We are thinking that these 6 trips, which take us into late September, will make for our richest year of travel experiences ever. Or at least so far……
Anyone want to join us? (We’re back to talking about George Clooney here.)
If you have questions about these itineraries ask in the comments; there’s (almost) nothing we would rather talk about.