15. May 2013 20:07
Plenty of ice to go around (the River Duchess)
I spent almost the entire month of March traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines…SeaDream Yacht Club (SeaDream II) on the Upper Amazon River in Peru and Columbia, plus Vantage Deluxe World Travel (River Splendor), Viking River Cruises (Viking Aegir) and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (River Duchess) on the rivers and waterways of The Netherlands and Belgium.
Although my detailed reports on these programs will appear in our publications during the coming months, I thought it might be of interest now to share a few unusual occurrences I encountered along the way.
1. I went through TSA screening at Miami International Airport soon after the notorious Congressional “Sequester” that promised layoffs of numerous federal employees. Immediately after going through the multi-million dollar, full-body screening equipment, all male travelers were being frisked by a TSA employee. The only conclusions one can draw from this situation are (a) the expensive electronics we have all funded either don’t work, or (b) TSA personnel previously accustomed to standing around were now being given unnecessary duties to make them look busy in an apparent attempt to avoid staff reductions.
2. Speaking of fancy electronics, US Airways’ deluxe boarding pass “reader” (complete with conspicuous flashing lights) allowed a Copa Airlines passenger bound for Panama City, Panama, to board my flight to Charlotte. It also boarded another passenger assigned to a seat that didn’t exist.
3. Kudos to South American airline LAN for exceptionally clean and well-maintained aircraft. They also served a very tasty and filling dinner in coach, quite unusual in a time when tasteless, 99¢-TV-dinner-sized meals are the norm. United Airlines earned my “chutzpah” award by following a video presentation boasting of their celebrity chefs, flight kitchens and exciting new menus with a coach meal featuring the same nondescript “chicken or pasta” entrees they served a generation ago aboard DC-8s.
4. I witnessed the captain (who will remain nameless) of one of the ships I cruised upon this month badmouthing his competition in front of several media representatives, on more than one occasion. This is just about the most unprofessional behavior in which a travel company employee can be engaged, so I hope that his employer sets him straight. Furthermore, if something does appear to be lacking or wrong with an industry supplier’s product or service, it is the responsibility of an unbiased media (people like me) to disseminate that information.
5. In between a morning excursion and an afternoon concert of Amsterdam’s world-renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, I stopped off at a McDonald’s in a residential neighborhood for a burger to tide me over until dinner. Needless to say, it was startling to see the restaurant’s counter employees (apparently legally stoned) stumbling around aimlessly in a daze like zombies, and accomplishing very little in the process. I left hungry after standing in line for 15 minutes and getting no closer to placing my order.
6. If you thought that winter had long since worn out its welcome here in the U.S., take a look at the accompanying photo which I took in Hoorn, The Netherlands, on the seventh day of spring, Tuesday, March 26.
7. I am not a big fan of the fancy duvets (“comforters” to us Yankees) that are seemingly very popular these days atop beds in European hotels as well as on numerous cruise ships. Not being a small person, I have found that these padded “appliances” usually end up in a heap on the floor during the night, leaving my bulk uncovered. Thus it was indeed a pleasure to find some of the most luxurious, high quality bedding I’ve ever snuggled underneath, tucked firmly under my mattress aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess. See the photo for a “happy camper” preparing for a night of restful sleep.
The author ready for a good night's sleep
15. May 2013 20:05
Among the many nice folks I met in March, the following particularly stood out:
1. John Harwood, a multi-talented Brit who resides in Manaus, Brazil…botanist, author, poet, troubadour and a member of SeaDream II’s Expedition Team
2. Carl and Judy Eben from San Francisco: Very experienced world travelers and simply one of the nicest couples I have ever been fortunate to meet
3. Myriam Hembrechts, lecturer aboard Vantage’s River Splendor, who appeared to know more about the subject of Belgian chocolate than would be thought humanly possible
4. Neil Oliver, archaeologist, BBC Television personality, and Viking River Cruises lecturer, who gave a fascinating presentation on the history of the Vikings
5. Rik Sprengers, Cruise Manager aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess: The embodiment of cordiality, knowledge and customer service after 11 years on Europe’s rivers and waterways
Carl Eben (on Monkey Island, Colombia)
15. May 2013 19:56
The Leticia Fish Market
What would the travel industry be without unique places to visit? Sometimes it is the unexpected out-of-the-ordinary destinations that stand out in your mind after a trip.
Here are just a few of the gems I discovered during March while traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines to the Amazon River in Peru and Columbia and to the rivers of The Netherlands and Belgium.
1. The Leticia Fish Market in Columbia is where I learned that, contrary to popular belief, residents along the Amazon River actually eat a lot more piranhas than the other way around.
2. The Enkhuizen Museum in The Netherlands’ is the picturesque answer to Mystic Seaport, Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg.
3. Museum Het Schip (The Ship) on a Viking River Cruises excursion is a fascinating example of social housing and Amsterdam School architecture dates from the beginning of 20th century.
4. The Grand Café Horta in Antwerp is the site of a outstanding dinner gala and entertainment included for participants in Vantage’s Naming Ceremony and pre-inaugural cruise of River Splendor.
5. De Doelen, Rotterdam’s performing arts center looks like an ugly box on the outside, but oh what aural pleasures await inside! The center boasts incredibly fine acoustics for a thrilling Rotterdam Philharmonic concert.
Enkhuizen (Zuiderzee) Museum
Museum Het Schip
Grand Cafe Horta
12. October 2012 20:44
All of us (hopefully, at least) have a few friends that we can always count on to “be there” whenever we need them. I am fortunate in that my best friend, Graydon “Gig” Gwin, has also been gainfully employed in the travel industry, so we have a lot in common professionally and have been able to regularly supplement each other’s knowledge in our particular areas of interest.
Our relationship goes back four decades to the early 1970s, when we both worked at the incentive and meeting travel giant, Maritz Travel Company in suburban St. Louis. Although I am now semi-retired, Gig still owns the largest retail travel agency in the “Gateway City,” which specializes in both corporate and upscale vacation travel. But what makes him really unusual is that Gig is one of but a handful of individuals who have visited every single country on the face of the earth (all 320 some-odd of them).
Extensive travel has definitely made Gig into the type of character that makes it a challenge for those he meets to determine whether or not he is pulling their legs, as telling entertaining tall tales has become a Gwin specialty. Even after 40 years of experience, I’m still regularly surprised and amused by some of the things he says and does to complete strangers on the street in foreign lands!
Since Gig’s wife Terrie is not nearly as enamored with being on the road, we have frequently traveled together to places as diverse as Egypt, France, New York City, the Texas Hill Country, South America and Antarctica. Gig has authored an award-winning book entitled Travel Dreams Sold Here – Crafting an Extraordinary Vacation, for which I was privileged to write the chapter on America’s National Parks. This book for leisure travelers is available at amazon.com.
He has also done a substantial amount of travel writing for respected newspapers and magazines, so secondary writing careers are something else we have in common. Furthermore, he currently serves as a regular guest host for a travel-oriented, nationally syndicated radio program heard in 125 markets. As a speaker, he has entertained over 200 businesses and organizations, so if a truly interesting fellow is needed to liven up a conference or meeting, Gig is certainly worth your consideration. He can be reached at www.gwins.com/gig or (314) 571-6937.
Gig listening to a presentation at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
At the Budĕjovice Budvar Brewery, Česke Budĕjovice, Czech Republic
Taking a break during evening exploration in Bordeaux, France