If you want to get intimate with a destination, consider small ship sailing. Waterways have always played a critical role in the history of cities and towns around the world. The most important towns were built around ports where all trade happened. Whether it is by river or by sea, you can visit many historical and important cities and towns by small ship, while only unpacking once along the way.
One of the benefits of sailing into your vacation destination on a small ship is that you can realize exceptional value. Your meals will be included, and small ships typically source their food from the ports they visit, hence local flavor and extraordinary freshness. When you select a small ship over a mega ship, you are typically getting an even more inclusive cruise fare that will provide specialty drinks and alcohol with lunch and dinner (sometimes all day long), and many include some or all of your land excursions. Catch it at the right time and you may even book during a promotion that includes things like round trip airfare to get you to the ship.
Small ships are focused on getting up close and personal with the destinations you visit. They have local experts on board that give complimentary seminars about local wildlife, culture or other themed topics like food and wine or literature. These experts will offer excursions to get you out into the destination and share their expertise, while providing an insider’s perspective. On the water, you can take advantage of watersports platforms that many small ships have on the back. These platforms open into the water and allow you to launch a kayak, snorkel, paddle board and more right off the back of the ship.
If you are anything like me and you care deeply about your impact on the destination, you’ll be happy to learn that small ships place an emphasis on keeping the environment clean and providing a benefit to the people that live there. Uncruise, for example, uses refillable dispensers in the bathrooms that are filled with shampoo that won’t hurt the wildlife, and makes arrangements at each port for recycling and proper disposal of waste. Hurtigruten removed all single-use plastic from it’s ships in 2018. AmaWaterways modern river cruise ships boast fuel efficient engines, LED lighting and insulated windows that reduce energy needs. The Paul Gauguin, which operates in the South Pacific, allows you to experience the local traditions which helps preserve the culture of the people, and visit local marketplaces to allow the Polynesians to sell authentic souvenirs. The small ship cruise lines are all about the destination, and they are very aware, and proud, that their business comes from the authentic experiences and natural beauty of the places they visit.
Amazing destinations are the heart and soul of a small ship experience. Think Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, a circumnavigation of Iceland, the Chobe River, French Polynesia. Enticed? Add a touch of luxury, some amazing cuisine and truly authentic experiences, and you’ll start to understand the allure of small ship cruising.
Have a true passion? Consider a themed cruise. A culinary cruise will bring guest chefs on board to teach cooking classes and take the guests to local markets to buy local, fresh foods to prepare on ship. Birding cruises host ornithology experts to help spot and discuss the birds you’ll see on the trip, and take guided walks to discover birds of all sorts. Music themed cruises host private concerts with well-known musicians and provide opportunities for guests to spend time with the musicians. Themed sailings are no more expensive than non-themed cruises, so if you have a passion and want to pursue it on your vacation, this is a great way to do it.
The only question left is …what are you still doing at home??
Excellent question, and the one I get asked most often. I’m going to break it down for you.
Flying? Your best days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Your best day to purchase airline tickets is Tuesday, when most airlines announce their sales.
Want to visit Europe? September and October are wonderful months to visit. The weather is typically still nice, the heat of the summer has passed, the crowds are fewer and prices are lower.
Disney is your next vacation? If you are not tied to the school calendar, you are in luck! October, November (excluding Thanksgiving week) and early December until about the 20th are great times to visit Disney. The temps are cooler, and the lines are shorter. You can also find better pricing during this time, which is always nice.
If you’re headed Down Under, it can pay off to go during the shoulder season, which is March through May, and during their winter and early spring, which is June through September.
Headed to the Caribbean? If you are looking to escape the winter by hopping to a Caribbean island, you are not alone. That is the very busiest time to visit the Caribbean. But, if you look at islands that are farther north in the Caribbean Sea, like the Bahamas, temps are not as hot as in the islands closer to the equator, so it’s less crowded. It’ll still be warmer than wherever it is you are leaving, and if you get a heated pool and 75 degree days full of sunshine, that’s not so bad. The summer and fall are great times to visit the Caribbean off peak. Many islands near the equator maintain the same temperature all throughout the year, so you may still be enchanted by the ocean breeze and warm water, and it could be for a significantly lower cost than if you visit in the winter. Just be sure to purchase travel insurance since it’s hurricane season!
Hawaii bound? April and May, and September and October are wonderful weather months in Hawaii. Kids are in school (excepting spring break – so beware of the weeks before and after Easter), which means lower prices on hotels and flights, and fewer crowds.
If it’s South America you want to see, remember that the rainy season is between January and March, so avoiding those months is a good idea. If you want to ski, July and August provide the best conditions. Yes, South America is large, so view this as a generalization and we’ll talk specifics when you are ready to plan your trip.
These are my most common requests. The world is a big place, so let’s talk specifics and get you on your way!
While many of the seniors I work with can likely teach the rest of us a thing or two about travel, there are some recent retirees who are just starting their global adventures. The tips below are best practices for any age but especially applicable to older travelers. I’d love to hear your travel tips that you’ve picked up through the years in the comments section.
1. Get insurance
While traveling you run the risk of falling, getting sick, or needing extra medication in case you experience delays. You don’t want to be in a foreign land and not know whether it is covered. You can also elect coverage that protects your vacation investment if either you, your travel partners, or family back home were to get sick before you leave causing you to have to cancel or delay your vacation.
2. Don’t advertise your absence from your hotel room
Avoid the urge to hang the door tag asking for your room to be serviced. While hotels are generally thought of to be safe places, it can be easy for outsiders to get in and out without attracting attention. These signs advertise that the room is empty, and they know that travelers often leave passports, extra money and jewelry in their rooms while they are out. You can all the front desk to ask for your room to be serviced rather than using the door tag.
AARP also recommends engaging the security chain on the door when you are in the room, asking for a room near the elevator with more foot traffic and staying away from ground-floor rooms where window entry is possible.
3. Choose your food wisely
Avoid foods that might upset your system. Heavy, spicy or cheesy foods are best avoided unless you want to spend more time inside of your room than out exploring. It’s also a good idea to see what foods are most popular in your vacation destination and ask your doctor if any of them will react with your medications.
4. Take extra care with medications
Make sure to pack enough medication for your trip, plus at least a few days extra in case you experience any delays. Never check your medications with your luggage; always carry them on with you. Bring a list of your essential medications with you including their dosages and generic names, as well as their names in the language of the destination you are visiting if you can find it. Leave this list with someone at home as well.
5. Bejeweled or not to be jeweled
Keep your bling to a minimum while traveling. Jewelry, expensive watches and fancy cameras can may you targets. Many mobile phones have excellent cameras, so consider whether that will be enough to capture the magnificent vistas you will encounter. Be sure you have enough storage before you leave so that you don’t end up running out of space on your phone to snap photos. If you prefer a separate camera, small and compact cameras pack powerful technology, and are much easier to carry around.
6. Share your plans with someone
Acquaint yourself with your inn keeper or concierge, and keep them abreast of your daily plans. If traveling internationally, make sure to get a calling plan and keep your phone on you.
7. Wear sensible shoes
Make sure to wear shoes that are good for walking, and that don’t have much of a heel. You don’t know what type of terrain you will encounter, and you are likely to spend a lot of time out and about. You want shoes that are good for balance, and comfortable for walking. That’s not to say your shoes have to be ugly, but they do have to be practical.
8. Go Together
Consider Group Travel. Many tour operators offer group packages that allow you the comfort to not travel alone. They also do the heavy lifting. Once you arrive at the destination you won’t have to touch your bags again. A river cruise or a small cruise ship are also great ways to travel together. You’ll be in company of the other cruisers, have group excursions to choose from at each port, and you only have to unpack once while visiting several countries. The small ships offer a higher level of service than the mega ships, and they can visit smaller towns that aren’t overrun with tourists. Being part of a group doesn’t mean you have to be one of the masses. You can travel in a group and still be unobtrusive and among locals.
9. Copy your passport
Make at least 4 copies of your passport, driver’s license, Medicare and insurance cards, travel tickets and itinerary, boarding pass if you have one, plus prescriptions. Leave a complete set with someone at home, one with you in a carry-on bag, and one extra in your luggage.
10. Pack Light
An oldie but goodie – don’t over pack. Take what you need and nothing more. It’ll be easier to move around, it’ll cost less if you stick to the airline’s minimum, and it’s an all around easier way to travel.
11. Embrace the discounts!
Check for AARP discounts, age-based discounts, or military or public service discounts. They are out there, and you might as well make use of them. Not everywhere offers them but be sure to ask.
If you are anything like me and don’t like to give up your exercise routine while traveling, you’ll be delighted to learn that our plight has been recognized. From river cruise ships to hotel chains, more and more options are available for exercise enthusiasts away from home.
Is cruising fit really a thing? Well, yes! Small cruise ships like the Paul Gauguin and the Windstar fleet have a water sports platform on the back of the ship allowing you to kayak, paddle board, wind surf and snorkel right off the back of the ships. River cruise company Avalon Waterways offers a series of Active Discovery cruises for the active clients that want to take a guided running tour around Vienna, hike along the Danube for a spectacular view or bike along the Rhine. All of that PLUS a menu that serves fresh, local and healthful food at each meal. Aerobics, yoga, Pilates and circuit training are available at no cost on Silversea Cruises. Pretty sweet!
Many hotels and resorts also strive to support your wellness habit. Zoetry resorts in the Caribbean specializes in wellness serving only gourmet, fresh, local foods; and offering yoga and meditation to guests, all done in a tranquil environment that will help you destress and recharge. Couples Swept Away Resort in Jamaica has the largest gym facility in the Caribbean, a huge lap pool, included scuba, wakeboarding, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and more. Westin Hotels & Resorts will lend you workout clothes, including sneaks, offers rooms equipped with Peloton bikes as an option for guests, and even has an “Eat Well” menu for kids.
There are lots of options to stay fit and eat well while on vacation. From the ideas to the detailed itinerary, from support while traveling to the return home, I'm here to help make your vacation awesome.
The age old question: ‘where should we spend spring break this year’? It’s a question that is asked often enough, and options are endless. So let me give you some terrific ideas in time to book for this coming year.
If your kids are school aged and you want to travel during their time off, remember that the places that cater to children are most popular and are going to be the most crowded. If you don't mind the crowds, it's a great time of year to visit Disney World. The weather is beautiful – not too hot but great for spending down time at the pool and taking advantage of rides that are famous for getting you wet. I’ve also come to realize that the most popular attractions are scheduled to be open during peak times. For example, if you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom, you know Splash Mountain. Well, when we were visiting this past February it was closed for enhancement.
But if those crowds make you feel claustrophobic, it might be a good time to visit the spots that go out of fashion in the spring. How about taking the kids skiing? Popular hot spots that are ridiculously expensive in the winter drop their prices as the spring approaches. Think Tahoe, Aspen, Vail, Killington. All beautiful places to vacation with your families. While April is not their peak season, there is typically still snow enough to ski. And if not, there is plenty of activity to keep you busy for the week - minus the crowds.
If you’re looking for meaningful travel, why not spend Holy Week discovering what the holiday is all about? In the Latin countries, you will see Holy Week celebrated with such fervor and faith that you will have no problem remembering the true meaning of Easter. Seville, Spain, for example, is perhaps the best place in the world to experience Semana Santa (Holy Week). Pasos, or processions, are organized by religious brotherhoods to leave from their home churches en route to the La Catedral, or the Cathedral. The most popular processions set out on Holy Thursday to arrive at the Cathedral on the dawn of Good Friday, known as the madrugada. And yes, the streets are packed with spectators all through the night. The processions are akin to a float carrying lifelike wooden sculptures of scenes of the Passion, or the Virgin showing her grief at the torture and killing of her Son. Many of these sculptures are sacred, antique works of art dating back centuries. Nothing is so moving as watching the brotherhoods, sometimes with children not yet teenagers, walking all through the night carrying these heavy floats on their shoulders. Spectators line the streets to catch a glimpse of the processions making their way through town. While Semana Santa is not going to be an alternative to facing the crowds of Spring Break, it certainly can put meaning into the week and is something you and your family will never forget. With this tradition dating back to the 1500’s, can you imagine a better lesson in history?
This is a great time to book for spring break travel. Don’t be left wishing you had make plans when spring break comes and your hometown is hit with that freak spring snow storm and you are left at home with nothing to do but shovel.