Why to Book an Avalon Waterways River Cruise

River Cruising is quickly becoming one of the most intimate ways to explore destinations.  Many towns were built along the waterways, so you can only imagine the rich history in these small towns.  As a niche of cruising, river and canal cruises are an increasingly popular option, particularly for travelers who enjoy the comforts and variety of cruising, but want to see more of the heartland of destinations like Europe, Asia, Egypt South America.

To get a better idea of what river cruising is all about, view our Avalon Waterways brochure. Call 888-369-8785 to find out how you can receive travel agency discounts beyond what you’ll find anywhere else!

A Few Reasons to Take a Europe River CruiseWhere to book a river cruise to Europe

  • Sightseeing by Bicycle
  • Fantastic Shore Tours
  • Back Country Exploring
  • You’ll Never Get Bored
  • New Twist on Europe’s Rivers: Luxury Boats – New Ships are Coming Out Each Year, including Avalon Waterways Newest Suite Ships!
  • River Companies Are Increasingly Eco-friendly
  • Great Value: Food, Wine, Education, Tours
  • Boutique Custom Cabins – Unique!

Popular River Cruise Itineraries – Avalon Waterways

  • Romantic Rhine – 8 days Amsterdam to Basel or Zurich to Amsterdam
  • The Legendary Danube – 11 days Prague to Budapest
  • Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches – 8 days Paris to Paris
  • Magnificent Europe – 15 days Amsterdam to Budapest or Budapest to Amsterdam
  • Magical China and the Yangtze River – 11 Days Beiijing, Xi’an, 3-night Yangtze River Cruise, Shanghai

Sample Theme River Cruises – Avalon Waterways

  • Wine River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Burgundy and Provence: Departing October 29, 2012
    The Legendary Danube: Departing November 1, 2012
    The Blue Danube Discovery: Departing July 23, 2012
    Windmills, Vineyards & Paris: October 18, 2012
  • European History and Politics River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Jewels of Central Europe: July 26, 2012
    The Blue Danube Discovery: July 26, 2012
    Central European Experience: August 2, 2012
  • Art and Impressionist River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Paris to Normandy’s Landing Beaches: October 30, 2012
  • Jewish Heritage River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    The Blue Danube Discovery: October 29, 2012
  • Music River Cruises – Avalon Waterways
    Burgundy and Provence/Grand France: Jazz Cruise June 25, 2012
    Magnificent Europe: Music Cruise October 24, 2012
  • President’s River Cruises

If you would like to plan an Avalon Waterways River Cruise, our River Cruises travel specialists will be an excellent resource for you!  Many have traveled on river cruises in the past two years and have so much advice to share with travelers.  Call 888-369-8785 to plan your next truly intimate vacation experience on a river boat!

Cruising Style and Types of Cruise Lines

Today’s opportunities for cruising are better than they’ve ever been.  New ships are coming out each year it seems, and the enhancements and new ideas that have come to life on these ships is truly amazing.  We’re talking entire neighborhoods, 3D theaters, boardwalks, new entertainment, top notch dining and more.

As your cruise experts, we’re here to help you find the very best value and sailings to match your personal preferences. Plus, when you reserve your cruise with us, you’ll enjoy exclusive benefits on thousands of sailings such as: exclusive savings, American Express Mariner cruise options, upgrades, shipboard credits, pre-paid gratuities, complimentary shore events and much more.

Call one of our travel specialists today to discover your cruise style!  Below are some of the categories we would classify our cruise partners in:

Ultimate Luxury – Incredible Value All cruise vacations are inherently luxurious, but some are more luxurious than others. The mid-size ships of Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and the small ships of Silversea Cruises and The Yachts of Seaborn, offer itineraries that appeal to people who may have already been there but are looking for new insights. On board, superior service standards ensure that every wish is anticipated and preferences are remembered. The food is gourmet, the spa is exquisite, and all the details are taken care of unobtrusively. Plus the all-inclusiveness of the price, or in the case of Crystal Cruises the very generous “As You Wish” shipboard credit, make these luxurious experiences an incredible value.

Premium Cruises – Traditional Yet Innovative Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are great examples of “premium cruise lines”, and loyal customers continue to rave about the excellent service and amenities whether sailing aboard the more traditional mid-size ships or the fleets’ larger ships. As the popularity of cruising continues to grow, so does the need for an even broader range of experiences, which has charted the course for new deluxe, or “upper premium,” cruise lines like Oceania Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. Both emphasize fine food and wine, well-appointed accommodations and personalized service aboard intimate, mid-size ships. They also offer unique itineraries with more overnight stays that allow travelers more time to explore.

Big Ships – They Keep Getting Bigger! It’s the big ships that feature the headline-grabbing innovations like surfing simulators, rock-climbing walls, movies under the stars, ice skating rinks, wave pools and so many choices that it takes a week to visit every restaurant or dining room for dinner! They also feature some new twists on cruise-ship staples such as health spas, libraries and game rooms. These innovations, along with award-winning children’s programs, make the major cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line an ideal choice for a family vacation, group cruise or couples getaway.

Small Ships – Great Things Come In Small Packages River Cruising: For many travelers, the slower pace of river cruising is perfect for getting the lay of the land, most popularly in Europe and Asia. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fables landscapes dotted with castles, villages and vineyards. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a fine hotel—restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, internet access and comfortable staterooms. Avalon Waterways, Uniworld and Viking offer a diverse array of Europe cruise options, but you can also cruise Egypt’s famed Nile, the Mekong River in Vietnam and the Yangtze in China. Many of our most avid cruisers have become devoted fans!

Worldly Inspiration

“To the world you may only be one person, but to one person you may be the World” – Brandi Snyder

Travel really does bring about new life experiences and can lead to bonds that are formed for a lifetime.  You cannot measure the true value of your travels by the dollars it took to get to your destination, but by the breadth of the new moments and memories that were created.  Our travel agents will work with you to guide you to those next new travel moments that you will cherish for a lifetime.




Your All-Inclusive Vacation Questions Answered

The following questions and answers regarding All-Inclusive Vacations are compliments of our tour operator partner Funjet Vacations.  With so many All-Inclusive resort options out there in Mexico and the Caribbean, our travel agents will work with you to create a custom package that meets your travel expectations and interests.

How do I know if a hotel is all-inclusive?
Fox World Travel and Funjet Vacations notes if a hotel is all-inclusive next to the hotel name. If a hotel is listed as “European Plan” or is not listed as “All-Inclusive”, this means that the hotel price only includes the room rate and does not traditionally include additional services and amenities such as meals, drinks or tips.  Hotels listed as “All-Inclusive Optional” mean that you have the option of purchasing either an All-Inclusive or European meal plan as part of your vacation.

Where are All-Inclusive Resorts and Hotels?
Typically you’ll only find All-Inclusive resorts and hotels in popular vacation hot spots, such as Mexico, the Caribbean and South America.  The most popular regions for All-Inclusive Resorts are: Riviera Maya, Mexico; Cancun, Mexico; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Los Cabos, Mexico; Cozumel, Mexico; Punta Cana, DR, Montego Bay, Jamaica; Negril, Jamaica; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Costa Rica; Panama, and various other islands in the Caribbean and cities in Mexico.  You will not find an All-Inclusive resort that includes alcoholic beverages and all meals in the U.S.  You will find some that are “inclusive” though and might include a meal plan.

What is typically included in an all-inclusive resort/vacation?
Although the definition of all-inclusive can vary from resort to resort, standard inclusions would be all of your meals, beverages, taxes, tips, room service, shows and entertainment and on-site activities such as non-motorized water sports. Items in your room such as bottled water, snacks, toiletries and mini-bar, items are almost always included at no additional charge. Check with your hotel for a full list of amenities and services as part of their all-inclusive plan.
What types of amenities or services typically aren’t included with an all-inclusive hotel?
Included services and amenities will vary by hotel, but typically spa treatments, outside telephone calls, casinos/gambling, special occasion packages, babysitting services and destination excursions are some exceptions that typically are not included in the all-inclusive vacation price. Unless you purchase a service or amenity at your hotel that is not part of the all-inclusive plan, you will not have to worry about any additional or hidden fees after paying for your initial reservation.
What activities are available as part of an all-inclusive plan?
All-inclusive resorts are experienced at making sure you have enough options to be as active as possible. In addition to the non-motorized water sports that are usually offered (snorkeling, scuba lessons,  kayaks, etc.), many all-inclusive resorts also offer a variety of free daily activities such as tennis, exercise facilities, kids’ clubs and playgrounds, pool activities and more. Numerous all-inclusive resorts offer nightlife options from on-site discotheques to live shows and music that guests can enjoy free of charge.
What dining options are available at an all-inclusive resort?
Dining options at an all-inclusive resort are typically abundant and offer an array of cuisine ranging from local specialties to international gourmet dining options. Most all-inclusive resorts also offer at least one a-la-carte restaurant in addition to buffet options with frequently changing menu options and even theme nights. Depending on the resort, reservations may be required at some a-la-carte restaurants, so check with your travel agent or hotel for information on reservation requirements or options for special dietary needs you may have while on vacation.
How much cash should I carry?
Leave your wallet in your room! Cash is not needed for meals, beverages & gratuities as these are included in the cost of an all-inclusive vacation. It is recommended to bring credit cards and a sufficient amount of cash for additional expenses such as spa treatments, telephone and internet services, special occasion packages or services, babysitting services, shopping, and destination excursions. Travel safety tip – bring multiple forms of payment (credit card vs. cash) and keep in more than one place! Most all-inclusive hotels also offer complimentary in-room safes where you can store your valuables.
Can I book an all-inclusive vacation last minute?
Booking an all-inclusive vacation last minute has great benefits! Not only is this a fantastic way to find last minute reduced rates, but the planning is quick and easy as most details are included in one, upfront price.
Are all-inclusive resorts ideal for families?
All-inclusive resorts can be the perfect option for the whole family since their broad range of activities and amenities have something for everyone. From kids’ clubs and playgrounds, kids’ activities, video games,  teen discos and even water parks to adults-only designated pools, nightly entertainment and spa facilities — most resorts are extremely diverse so you can do your own thing together or apart at the hotel. While some all-inclusive resorts are adults-only, there are many great hotel chains that are family-focused.
Can I plan my wedding and/or honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort?
Most all-inclusive resorts offer fabulous wedding or honeymoon packages. Check with your hotel for information on wedding packages and services offered in addition to free inclusions for honeymooners.
What are the major all-inclusive hotel chains and where are they located?
  • Barceló Hotels & Resorts
    • Over 100 total properties
    • Destinations worldwide
    • Funjet Vacations offers select Barceló Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • Beaches
    • 4 total properties
    • Jamaica, Turks & Caicos
    • Part of Sandals family
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Beaches properties!
  • Couples Resorts
    • 4 total properties
    • Jamaica
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Couples Resorts properties!
  • Excellence Group Luxury Resorts
    • 3 total properties
    • Cancun, Riviera Maya, Punta Cana
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Excellence Group Luxury Resorts properties!
  • Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts
    • 2 total properties
    • Jamaica, Antigua
    • Part of Sandals family
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts properties!
  • Iberostar Hotels & Resorts
    • Over 100 total properties
    • Destinations worldwide
    • Funjet Vacations offers select Iberostar Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • Karisma Hotels & Resorts
    • 8 total properties
    • Riviera Maya
    • Brand family includes: AZUL, El Dorado
    • Funjet Vacations offers most Karisma Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • Oasis Hotels & Resorts
    • Over 30 total properties
    • Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain, Canary Islands, St. Vincent & Grenadines
    • Funjet Vacations offers select Oasis Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • Occidental Hotels & Resorts
    • 19 total properties
    • Aruba, Costa Rica, Cozumel, Dominican Republic, Riviera Nayarit, Riviera Maya, Spain, Canary Islands
    • Brand family includes: Allegro, Occidental Grand, Royal Hideaway, Occidental Hotels
    • Funjet Vacations offers most Occidental Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • Palace Resorts
    • 12 total properties
    • Cancun, Cozumel, Riviera Maya, Riviera Nayarit, Dominican Republic
    • Funjet Vacations offers most Palace Resorts properties!
  • Real Resorts
    • 5 total properties
    • Cancun, Riviera Maya
    • Brand family includes: THE ROYAL, Gran, Real
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Real Resorts properties!
  • Riu Hotels & Resorts
    • Over 100 total properties
    • Destinations worldwide
    • Funjet Vacations offers select Riu Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • Royal Plantation Collection
    • 3 total properties
    • Jamaica, Bahamas
    • Part of Sandals family
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Royal Plantation Collection properties!
  • Sandals
    • 13 total properties
    • Jamaica, St. Lucia, Bahamas, Antigua
    • Funjet Vacations offers all Sandals properties!
  • Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts
    • Over 100 total properties
    • Destinations worldwide
    • Brand family includes: Meliá, Grand Meliá, ME by Meliá, Paradisus Resorts, and more
    • Funjet Vacations offers select Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts properties!
  • SuperClubs
    • 13 total properties
    • Jamaica, Curacao, Bahamas, Panama, Brazil
    • Brand family includes: Breezes Resorts & Spas, Hedonism Resorts, and Rooms
    • Funjet Vacations offers most SuperClubs properties!
*Property count and information current as of January 2010.

How to Plan a Vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – West Coast Mexico

Surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Puerto Vallarta provides an exotic blend of cosmopolitan culture, old world colonial charm and nature at her best. Watch whales up close in Banderas Bay from December through April. Puerto Vallarta’s sunny weather is ideal with average temperatures in the mid-eighties. Puerto Vallarta is comprised of two major resort areas – Puerto Vallarta to the south and Riviera Nayarit to the north. Within each, you’ll find a unique destination with its very own personality and charm.


Map of Puerto Vallarta Puerto Vallarta Open-air cafes, chic boutiques and modern art galleries line the vibrant seafront Malecon. Mountains tower above the glistening sea and golden beaches, while lush jungles surround the quaint village. When the sun goes down, the fun continues. Puerto Vallarta’s vast array of nightclubs is unsurpassed along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Puerto Vallarta’s various resort areas including Marina Vallarta, Downtown/Viejo Vallarta, the action-packed Hotel Zone (between the Marina and Downtown)and Mismaloya.

Riviera NayaritRiviera Nayarit is privileged for its natural beauty, ideal climate, white coral beaches and one of the most exuberant ecosystems in Mexico. The area’s facilities include a modern marina with 200 slips, shopping mall, quality international restaurants, three golf courses, a water park, two dolphin centers and miles of glistening white beaches. Riviera Nayarit’s resort areas include Punta Mita, Nuevo Vallarta, Flamingos and Bucerias.

View Puerto Vallarta Vacation Deals | Request Vacation Quote

Puerto Vallarta enjoys a warm tropical climate all year round. January through April – high 86°F, low 63°F; May through Dec. – high 92°F, low 70°F.

Advice and Insight from Some of Our Puerto Vallarta Vacation Travel Specialists

I visited Riviera Nayarit area this past year and had the chance to tour 6 resorts in the region. This is a great value area for families and groups. I also highly recommend the the Wild ATV tour if you’re looking for a memorable excursions.

Cindy Brill, Travel Specialist

Experience one of the best views in Puerto Vallarta at El Panorama, from table side flambe to the margaritas you won’t be disappointed!

Sue Mischler, Travel Specialist

My favorite snorkeling tour in Puerto Vallarta goes to the Marietas Islands- it is a wildlife sanctuary with fantastic snorkeling- it is known as the Mexican Galapagos.

Tricia Newlands, Travel Specialist

Visit the markets downtown Puerto Vallarta for some great shopping deals and also visit a tequila plant and learn about the simplicity of the agave plant.  After tasting this tequila, you will never want Jose Cuervo again!

-Jody Piotter, Travel Specialist

When staying in Nuevo Vallarta don’t miss a trip into Bucerias from the cobblestone streets, oceanside restaurants, thatched roof beach bars… the quaintness is hard to beat.

Sue Mischler, Travel Specialist

Click Here to Search and Book Excursions in Puerto Vallarta

Discover Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Amstar dmc Mexico, Puerto Vallarta General Info General Information
Located in the state of Jalisco, the cradle of Tequila, Mariachi and the Charro cowboy, Puerto Vallarta has become a hugely popular international vacation destination. Much more than a mere resort, however, this destination combines all that is wonderful about Mexico; its people, its diverse cultures and architecture, its sheer beauty and its food and drink! From the bustling old village to the plush resorts of Riviera Nayarit, this is a must on the map of Mexico!
Amstar dmc Mexico, Puerto Vallarta Restaurants Restaurants
With a rich history of migration from many parts of Mexico, Puerto Vallarta boasts a kaleidoscope of flavorful culinary specialties.  Local favorites include marlin, dogfish and shrimp dishes and for the more adventurous, octopus or mojarra ceviche.  Exotic local beverages such as Jamaica & tamarind flavored waters or coconut juice…
Amstar dmc Mexico, Puerto Vallarta Nightlife Nightlife
When the sun sets on Puerto Vallarta the sounds of the night begin to reverberate around the town.  Mariachis strolling through small cantinas along cobble-stoned streets, casual bars with live local bands and chic clubs with pulsating reggae, rock and salsa offer something for everyone.  You can even take your party out onto…
Amstar dmc Mexico, Puerto Vallarta Shopping Shopping
Shopping is big in Vallarta!  There are upscale malls, designer boutiques, jewelry shops, crafts markets, cigar shops, local artist galleries, even a glass-blowing shop crafting beautiful pieces right before your eyes.  Take some time to stroll along the Malecon (ocean front boardwalk) or down the small streets of the city to discover hidden-away…

Call 866-849-8080 to work with a travel agent today!

Who should I use to plan my Tahiti Honeymoon or Vacation?

Ask those who have been lucky enough to experience a vacation on the Tahitian Islands to describe their experience, and you’ll most likely hear words that range from “awesome” to “unbelievable!”

If you’re wondering who to use to plan a Tahiti honeymoon or Tahiti vacation, then wonder no further.  If you need help planning a vacation to Tahiti, Fox World Travel has certified Tahiti Travel Agents who are extremely passionate about the Tahitian Islands and LOVE sharing their enthusiasm with the destination to new travelers and couples looking for a romantic, surreal travel experience.  Contact

Nothing can prepare you for the first time you visit these mythical South Sea islands, but by consulting with a travel specialist who has already slipped away to these beautiful islands, you can be sure you’ll be equipped with the advice and tips you need for an extraordinary vacation experience.

Tahiti and Her Islands are what you’ve always imagined the South Seas to be – an idyllic getaway from the stress of the modern world, resembling heaven more than earth. The palm-fringed beaches of Bora Bora are the perfect launch into the striking coral reefs, abundant with colorful marine life. Moorea’s deep and spectacular bays are surrounded by green-covered mountains that rise from the bottom of the sea, and the panorama from Belvedere Lookout is breathtaking. Tahiti, the largest island, is for the person who wants to try a little of everything that the modern and natural worlds have to offer.

Featured Travel Specialists Who Have Visited the Islands of Tahiti


Sarah Timmers
Thinking back to how phenomenal my own trip to Tahiti and Bora Bora was, every time I talk about this destination it gives me the goosebumps. No one can tell you how beautiful it is until you see it for your own eyes, and the clients I’ve sent there agree. Tahiti isn’t for everyone, so I really take time to qualify my travelers. This trip is a big investment and truly is a chance for couples to relax and rejuvenate. The sight of the lush green mountains next to the unbelievable turquois waters as your flying above the islands is enough to make your jaw drop in awe.Contact Sarah Timmers, Certified Tahiti Destination Specialist

Debbie Weller
I just returned from my trip this Spring and I must say, Bora Bora is the most beautiful tropical destination in the world (my opinion and I’m sure others). The clear blue turquoise ocean is like you’ve never seen. This destination is perfect for honeymooners and anniversary celebrations for couples looking for romance and relaxation in an over-the-water bungalow. This isn’t a budget trip, but a chance to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.  The resorts are so beautiful and amazing, and in particular St Regis, Four Seasons and Hilton Bora Bora are all top choices for stays of some of the most well know actors/actresses. As far as activities, a must-do is to snorkel with the sharks and stingrays in Bora Bora with a Motu Picnic on a private island. Contact Debbie Weller, Certified Tahiti Destination Specialist

Tricia Newlands
There are so many things I could say about the Islands of Tahiti- They are so beautiful- my favorite though – my view from the over-the-water bungalow in Bora Bora of Mount Otemanu in the distance and the clear blue water and marine life below.  It is a perfect place – spectacular!! Contact Tricia Newlands, Travel Specialist

Kathi Madison
We enjoyed Bora Bora the most. This destination is relaxing and simply breathtaking, but I do caution you, this trip is certainly an investment and not cheap. Be prepared to pay above average prices for everything from food and drinks, to your activities. If your hotel offers some sort of meal plan, I recommend looking at that. As far as recommended activities, the a helicopter ride and swimming with the sharks tour are both popular.Contact Kathi Madison, Travel Specialist

Wondering where to find the best Funjet Vacations deals?

Fox World Travel is among only a few select travel companies that offer the ability to book Funjet Vacations flight + hotel packages directly on their web site, allowing consumers who still want to book a vacation on their own online, the opportunity to still have the back-end support of a full-service travel agency with over 50 years experience in the industry.

GoFox.com’s most prominent feature is their “hot deals” search tool, that allows you to see the latest weekly deals available from Funjet Vacations. Dates, destinations, resorts and added values are all laid out in front of you for easy access to online booking or simply research before calling your travel agent.

Check out this week’s “hot vacation deals” from Funjet Vacations and Fox World Travel

To ultimately save time and plan a stress-free vacation from start to finish, contact a travel agent by phone at 888-369-8785, inquire online or find a travel agent by destination specialities!

Dubai Escorted Tour – Tips for Travel to Dubai/United Arab Emirates

Two of our travel agents, Laura Pierce and Peg Giordana recently took a journey to discover Dubai/United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and brought back some valuable information for travelers looking to discover this fascinating area.

Our journey to Dubai began with our flights on Emirate Airlines.  We were lucky enough to get business class in both directions to/from JFK.  This airline is a “destination” in itself.  Your business class seat is more like your own “kiosk” with a wide screen TV, sound system, storage, and a seat that fully reclines into a bed.  They even bring you a mattress, menu to choose your meals and a wine list.  In the back of business class, on the newer model planes like we had on the return, there is a lounge with a full service bar.  Believe it or not, we had so much fun on the 14 hour flight home we didn’t want it to end.  Service was phenomenal.

We spent the night before our flight to Dubai in New York at the Hilton Garden Times Square.  The hotel was a good choice for something reasonably priced and an easy walk to Times Square and major attractions.  The rooms were standard with coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator and a safe.  It also had a nice restaurant and lounge on sight.  We took the subway to the World Trade Center complex to see the Freedom Tower ongoing construction.  There is still a lot of work, but it is going to be beautiful, with memorials, shopping mall, restaurants as well as the museum and offices.

Our Dubai trip was booked through Gate 1.  The hotel was the Royal Ascot Hotel which we were told was within walking distance to shopping, night clubs and attractions.  That was not the case.  The shopping areas in Dubai tend to be grouped by type, and the area we were in was many blocks of electronic stores.    Our trip included many tours and taxis were easy to get, so it wasn’t a problem.  But if someone is going on their own it would be a good idea to get something closer to the “Beverly Hills” area of Dubai where all the high rises, shopping and attractions are.  The main street through this area is “Sheikh Khalifa” (the current president of UAE).  Our hotel had the basic needs, hair dryer, mini bar, LCD TV.  There was a roof top pool/lounge that turned into a smoking lounge in the evening if you know what I mean.   There were eleven restaurants as well, but they were very pricey, so we tried to eat elsewhere.   The local Irish Pub had various specials every night as well.

All of our tours were escorted by a Muslim woman, Chenez, who was extremely informative.  She not only explained what we were seeing, and the history of UAE, but educated us in the Muslim culture and Islam (the way it is SUPPOSED to be, not the way we tend to hear about it).  It was fascinating to learn and enlightening to realize how abused this religion and culture are.  UAE, while Muslim, is more tolerant of modern influences.  Women covering the face is NOT required in the Koran, it is a personal choice.  The women’s’ robes, called Abayas, are becoming more of a “fashion statement” by being decorated and jeweled.  They are not required to be black although most of them are.  Head scarves are mandatory however.  The color and style of a man’s headdress tells you the tribe they are from and/or their level of “importance”.

Our first tour was a Dubai city tour.   Thirty years ago Dubai (Two Brothers) was nothing but desert and a fishing village.  Today it is a multi-cultural, architectural wonder.  There are over 200 nationalities living in Dubai.  The “original” people who immigrated from Yemen are called “Emiratees”.  Only 20% of the residents of Dubai are Emiratees.  They are treated very well by the Sheikh of Dubai, receiving free housing and education.  There are 7 Emirates, each with its own Sheikh, and no one pays taxes.  The founder of UAE wanted to turn the desert into a garden, and the country boasts 40,000,000 palm trees, more than any country in the world.  The ruler of all of UAE is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a very wealthy man with 4 wives, 19 daughters and 22 sons.

Dubai is the largest of the 7 and the most modern, and controlled by Britain until 1968.  It is one of the safest cities in the world with 95% of the people living there able to speak English.  Dubai is divided by Deira Creek with the old side called Deira on one side, and modern Dubai on the other.  The residents of Deira tend to be much more traditional and conservative and most of them are Muslim.  Very few outsiders live there.   Their electricity is powered by natural gas.  One month of oil will bring in 2 billion Dirhams.   They will export 2 million barrels per day.   Dubai is the 3 largest producer of oil in the world.

Their weekends start on Fridays.  Smaller shops are closed till evening following Islamic calendar.  June, July and August the temperature rises to 120 degrees with 100% humidity.  Most do not leave their homes or spend at one of the malls during that time.

Modern Dubai is known as an “architectural playground”.   It is the fastest growing city in the world. Everything in Dubai strives to be the biggest, best, most amazing in the world.  The skyscrapers and shopping malls are true wonders.  The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, is located next to the Dubai Mall.  It is surrounded by a beautiful pond of water fed by the Arabian Gulf and at night there are fabulous water shows to music every 30 minutes with the Burj Khalifa lit up with changing colors.  The water show was designed by the same people who did the one at the Bellagio.  We sat at a lovely outdoor restaurant for dinner and watched three shows (while we shared a bottle of wine).  Fabulous.

The Mall of the Emirates, while smaller than the Dubai Mall, hosts the only ski slope located in a hot desert.  We sat at TGIF’s next to the window and watched people going up the ski lift and coming down in real snow, all bundled up in ski clothing.   The cost to ski was $50 USD for two hours with equipment, $30 for children.   We shopped both malls, using taxis and even the Metro once, but did not shop as much as we gawked.  Many of the shops were too intimidating to even enter, although they had many of the shops you would see at a mall here as well.  The people watching was far more interesting.  There were many westerners, but also Muslims dressed in traditional clothing.  There were teenagers in groups, dressed in the black gowns (girls) and white gowns (boys), acting like teenagers would here but NEVER boys and girls together.  You only saw them together if they were a married couple and even then there were no displays of affection in public.

Dubai is in the process of building a new international airport that will serve 160 million passengers, double the size of Atlanta.  Local flights will use the existing airport, the metro will connect both.

We drove out to Palm Island and saw the Atlantis, as well as thousands of villas and condominiums that were incredibly expensive.  The island is beautiful and everything on it is, of course, amazing.  They have had to stop some of the construction as the recession has even hit Dubai.  We saw the world’s only 7 star hotel, Burj al Arab, but you are not able to even pull into the drive unless you have a reservation there.

FYI, in UAE there is a mosque every 500m so when the call to prayer is heard you are never too far to get to one in time.  They are distinguished by the domed top and a needle shaped tower (there can be any number of these towers but must have at least one).  They do not carry their mats around in UAE and pray on the streets.  But you do hear the call to prayer all over the city and it is a little eerie at times.

Our 2nd tour was to the Emirate Sharjah (Rising Sun).  This is the smallest Emirate and by far the most conservative.  We were warned not to wear anything that showed knees or shoulders on this tour.  It was pretty uneventful after Dubai but interesting to see what the area was probably like 15 or 20 years ago before modern Dubai.  We went to the local souk (market place) and did a lot of shopping there.  The best things to shop for are spices and textiles (gold is no longer a bargain in Dubai).

Our hotel had a shuttle to the beach which we used one day.  Surprisingly, the Arabian Gulf  (Iran and Iraq call it the Persian Gulf)  is one of the most beautiful bodies of water I have ever seen and the beach was incredible.  Temperature was about 115 degrees so we spent most of the time IN the water.  And yes, the locals swim in their Muslim attire.  But there were plenty of bathing suits too so no one seemed bothered.  Bathing suits should be conservative out of respect for their culture.  But there were those who chose not to show their respect and we found this somewhat insulting to the people there.

Our last tour was to Abu Dhabi, the richest city in the world.  It is the 2nd largest Emirate and striving very hard to be the next Dubai.  There are many beautiful buildings here too, but construction on the skyscrapers and the 300 islands they are building has come to a temporary halt because of the recession.  Abu Dhabi is much calmer than Dubai even though there are 2,000,000 people who live there.  It does not have the hustle-bustle feeling as much and we had dinner at a lovely restaurant on the water that served traditional Arabic and international food.  There was also a small souk that we managed to shop a little.

On the way to Abu Dhabi is Ferrari World, the only one located outside of Italy, they claim they have the largest roller coaster in the world.  There is also the largest IKEA in the world (they had to tie me down to keep me out of there!) and the largest mosque.  The mosque is called the “Pearl of the Desert” because it is all white, and is so impressive and large it looks like a castle.  It is able to accommodate over 40, 00 worshipers.  The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered the world’s largest carpet made by Iran’s Carpet Company.  This carpet measures 60,570 square feet and was made by around 1,200 -1,300 female knotters.  The weight of this carpet is 35 ton, and took two years to complete.  This Grand Mosque has seven imported chandeliers from Germany that incorporates millions of Swarovski crystals and is 49 feet in length.  The 96 columns in the main hall are clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl.    It is one of the mosques that tourists are allowed to tour but we first had to put on the black gowns and head covers.  Chenez showed us how they pray and what it means; it was just another fascinating thing to learn.  And we have pictures of the two of us looking like nuns.  Totally out of character.

On our last night we had a dinner cruise with some other members of our group.  Walter, the Gate 1 operations manager in Dubai, knowing us fairly well by then, arranged for them to have alcohol on board for us.  (Bless his heart).  Normally, alcohol is only found in the hotel bars/restaurants and in night clubs or restaurants.  Many of the restaurants (such as TGIF) do not serve alcohol, and public drinking is never allowed.  So no cold ones on the beach for us!

I have to say that this was one of the most fascinating trips I have ever been on.  There were people of all different ages and interests on our tour and everyone enjoyed it.  So for those international clients that really want to experience something different and exciting, it is a fabulous destination.

Our tour guide recommended the book “Rags to Riches” if you want more in depth knowledge of the area.

If you’re interested in learning more about their journey or would like their assistance planning your own tour of Dubai, please don’t hesitate to contact Peg or Laura.

Looking for vacation planning assistance to another region of the world? Find a travel agent by destination expertise here!

How to Plan a Group Vacation

If you have a core group of friends or family that you spend a lot of time with, you may want to consider planning a group vacation. With careful planning, patience, and plenty of communication between all parties, you can put together a group vacation that will be filled with good memories of fun times had by everyone.There is a lot involved in group travel planning, so if you decide to take a group vacation, first get the parties together discuss some of the parameters of the trip – such as time of year, length of stay, type of trip and budget. We then suggest appointing a group leader who will be the primary contact with your travel agent, will act as an intermediary for questions, coordinate paper work, etc. This person will become the main point of contact for everyone involved in the trip – from participants to vendors (hotels, restaurant reservations, etc.). This will probably be a big undertaking, so if you volunteer, or are “volunteered by vote,” then make sure you have an idea of what you are getting into before you accept. Also, select one or two others to delegate to throughout the process, just in case the planning gets to be more than what one person can handle.Take the time to come up with a budget and even set up an account that participants can deposit money into in order to make it easier for the planner to make reservations with – we say this because it is not fair for the person doing the planning to assume all financial responsibility as well. By having a deposit account, it will be easier to keep up with who has deposited and who hasn’t and it may even be a good idea to ask each “family” for small cushion (like $50) to cover any incidental amounts like bank fees, taxes on hotels, and things like that.As you will find, once you set up an “initial budget,” which includes all of the incidentals you have previously decided upon (lodging, travel expenses, food, etc), the destination is the next step. You may find that if you try to pick the destination first, before coming up with a workable budget, that the destination is either too expensive, or, that you could actually afford a more exotic trip. Thus, important planning time could be wasted. When picking your destination, come up with three ideas that everyone would enjoy and then take a vote – majority rules. This also gives any potential participant the ability to back out if they are unhappy with the package before you get to far in the planning process – which could cause major problems like cancellation fees.Now, onto accommodations and travel expenses… Depending on where you decide to go will depend on what’s available. You will find that there will be places to stay from houses, to individual hotel rooms, to condos, and everything in between. Your budget will have a lot to do with where you will be staying, just make sure you communicate all of the available accommodation options to the trip participants before booking the space. Also, many times, you can get a discount when you book a group, so be sure to ask your travel agent about that as well as cancellation policies before moving forward with booking airfare or accommodations.One important thing to remember when planning is not to have everyone spend all of his or her time together as a group. All couples and families go on vacation to spend time together as a unit, so they should be allowed to do so. Do allocate plenty of free time for people to go out and explore their surroundings on their own, but plan a group dinner for one of the nights and maybe an activity or two during the course of your stay. This works out well for multi-generational group trips as well as for groups that include children.Our group travel agents can share plenty of other tips and can inform you of group incentives, or maybe even book another couple or two into your group to ensure you reach room minimums to receive a deeply reduced discount or even earn your vacation free!

Jamaica Travel Tips – Straight from Our Travel Specialists!


Jamaica travel tips

We recently asked our travel agents and staff who have traveled to Jamaica for their  personal ” Jamaica travel tips” for those vacationing in Jamaica for the first time or even a repeat visit.  In particular, to the Jamaica vacation hot spots of Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios.  Here is what they had to say:

  • I recommend taking advantage of convenient NON-STOP charter flights to Jamaica paired with an All-Inclusive package. These are seasonal based on departure city and vary by day of the week and length of your stay.  The are especially convenient for group vacations.
  • When approached by the street vendor I always tell them I bought one last time I was here. Then they tend to leave you alone.
  • Don’t buy beer or liquor at the airport, 4 Beers = $26.00! If you are traveling to Ocho Rios or Negril; the bus will stop along the way for refreshments!
  • Don’t assume just because you are buying it in Jamaica that it is actually made in Jamaica. Check for labels or you could end up buying an “authentic” Jamaican drum that was actually made in Indonesia!
  • Bring an extra change of clothes for most days, between the salty ocean breeze and the humidity everything feels a little damp after you wear it once.
  • You will be approached by people selling wares. If you’re not interested in purchasing anything, then say so firmly and politely. Do not mistake persistence with harassment. Just be firm and you will be left alone.
  • Bring bug spray! There are sandflies on the beaches, which are at their most ferocious in the late afternoon and you often can’t see them.
  • If staying in Negril you must take a trip to Ricks Cafe – timing is everything – plan to go early, have some cocktails and dinner… they normally have a great band playing and you’ll get the most beautiful sunset ever!
  • Make sure to visit Rick’s Café in Negril.  The sunset there will take your breath away.  You can watch the cliff divers as they leap from 50 foot cliffs.  If you are the adventurous type, you will have the opportunity to dive yourself
  • When you’re off shopping, don’t get intimidated and stand your ground if you’re not sure on purchasing something…. Otherwise you’ll find you get back on the bus and realize you just spent $100 on souvenirs you didn’t need!
  • Bring a light jacket and pants/long skirt, as evenings may get cool, especially in the months from December to February.
  • Take a walk on the beach at sunset and look for sandcrabs. It’s fun to watch these little guys throw sand out of the holes they dig in the sand.
  • Do not stop for drinks at the airport bars upon arrival – you could delay your entire transfer van/bus.
  • Definitely try “jerk”. Whether it’s chicken or pork, it’s fabulous. Many of the resorts offer this Jamaica dish, but if you have the opportunity, go to one of the many “jerk huts” and buy it from the locals. (And make sure that you have a “ting” (a grapefruit soda) or a Red Stripe (Jamaica’s beer) ready to wash it down.
  • If you are going to Negril, it’s nice to know that Rick’s Café will pick you up if you are staying in Negril…you just pay to get back!
  • Take along an insulated plastic mug to keep your beverages cool.
  • Take along lots of small denomination bills for bargaining for souvenirs with the locals and for random gratuities given.
  • Take quite a few $1 bills for tipping.