Jani Miller, CTC, DS, LS
Interests & Specialties
Jani Miller joined Central Travel in 1977 due to a passion for travel and she hasn’t stopped traveling since! She specializes in the following areas:
- Adventure Travel
- Africa – East & South
- Health & Fitness
- Golf Travel
Jani Is located in the Heatherdowns Blvd office in Toledo
Jani has been listed as one of Travel+Leisure’s A-List Agents for the past 12 years as a golf specialist. Locally she is a member of Stone Oak Country Club and the Toledo Women’s Golf District Association.
In addition to a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC), Ms. Miller holds a Destination Specialist certification for Africa, is an Adventure Travel Lifestyle Specialist, a Certified Lifestyle Specialist for Golf. She is an Azamara Platinum Globe Travel Professional, a Uniworld River Cruise Specialist, a Langham Hotels Specialist and has completed Lindblad's LEXpert course and the Seabourn Academy of advanced luxury-travel-industry training.
Jani is also a Viking Master River Cruise Expert and has taken river cruises with Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon in Europe and Russia. She has completed Avalon Waterways Specialist program, the Globus Tour Expert program and has earned her MBA as an Independent Travel Specialist with Monograms.
Some of her favorite golf destinations include:
- Stay in a lovely Hilltop Suite at Cape Kidnappers and play the fabulous course designed by Tom Doak – consistently rated the #1 course in New Zealand.
- Stay at the Four Seasons Lana'i and play the Manele Bay Course - spectacular views!
- Stay at Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North and play The Pinnacle & Monument courses at Troon North – both award-winning Tom Weiskopf courses and the newly redesigned Ambiente Course at Camelback Golf Club
- Play the Norman course at Red Sky Golf Club in Vail Valley rated a perfect 20 by Golf Odyssey. Stay at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek.
- Play the new Els Club Teluk Datai designed as a tribute to nature is an 18-hole Par 72, 6,750-yard championship golf course set in the beautiful island of Langkawi, just off the Northwest Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Stay at the award-winning Datai in the Ocean Villas.
- St Regis Princeville, Kauai HI, with the newly renovated Robert Trent Jones Jr. Makai Golf Club - a must play!
- Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma Bahamas featuring Greg Norman's award-winning Emerald Reef Golf Club.
- The Lodge at Sea Island which features 54 holes of extraordinary championship golf.
- Puerto Vallarta which features several great golf venues including the Four Seasons, Punta Mita and the Marival Residences which offers free unlimited golf green fees at the Vista Vallarta courses and the Marina Vallarta course
- The Resort at Pedregal or Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach in Cabo San Lucas with golf at Quivira, Cabo Real or Cabo del Sol.
- The island of Lanai is a golfer’s dream with The Challenge at Manele Bay and The Four Seasons Resort Lanai is just the best!
- The Ritz Carlton Kapalua Resort, on Maui one of the few in Hawaii to offer three 18-hole championship layouts - The Bay, The Village, and The Plantation.
- The White Witch in Jamaica – stay at The Hyatt Zilara, Half Moon or Round Hill.
- Torrey Pines Lodge where you received guaranteed tee times at both the North and the South course.
- Bermuda – stay at Cambridge Beaches and play Mid Ocean Club, the new Belmont Hills, Port Royal, Riddell’s Bay and St George’s Golf Club.
- The Ritz at Amelia Island - play The Golf Club of Amelia Island, Fernandina Golf Club, Osprey Cove, and Royal Amelia Golf Links.
- The Gleneagles Hotel which features the challenge of the King's, the secluded charms of the Queen's, or the nine-hole Wee Course. The exceptional PGA Centenary Course designed by Jack Nicklaus was the venue for the 40th Ryder Cup matches in 2014.
- The Homestead in Hot Springs which features The Cascades Course, and The Old Course.
- The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island which is a golfer’s paradise with five competitively designed master golf courses.
- The Grand Del Mar Resort in San Diego
- Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern PA
- Ocean Dunes and SeaLinks Golf Club in Phan Thiet, Vietnam
MY RECENT TRIPS
We recently returned from a Silversea Expedition cruise on board the Silver Explorer from Callao (Lima) to Fuerte Amador (Panama City) with stops in Ecuador, Columbia & Costa Rica.
Having taken a few expedition small ship cruises, I was very interested in the Silversea product. It was excellent! This expedition ship was built in 1989 and purchased by Silversea in 2008. It underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation and emerged as the Prince Albert II in June 2008. It was renamed Silver Explorer in 2011. Although an older vessel it is well maintained. We upgraded to a Veranda Suite – 206 SF with a French balcony – well worth the upgrade.
Passengers were intrepid travelers and most had cruised with Silversea before. All shore excursions were included in the all-inclusive price. The staff, well-educated and highly trained, comprised of scientists, geologists, biologists, naturalists, historians, and ornithologists. Lectures were quite good onboard and during nature hikes.
The ship carries eight inflatable Zodiacs and most of our stops required a wet landing. The wildlife on this itinerary was somewhat limited – several species of birds were found in Peru and Ecuador – similar to the Galapagos.
Kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking (soft & strenuous) were options on almost all stops. The food was quite good and dinner was served in the main dining room or up in the grill under the stars using “Hot Rocks” which was fun. There was at least one vegetarian option every evening. The ship was easy to navigate with two whirlpools, a fitness center, small spa, and salon. The staterooms range in size from 175 to 275 SF many with portholes or windows, a sitting area, twin or queen beds, a writing desk and a flat-screen TV. Every suite has a personal butler.
Items we really enjoyed:
- Guides and naturalists
- Personal butler
- Cleanliness of the ship
- Size of the fitness center
- Staff was exceptional – everyone knew our names and preferences by the 2nd day
Our pre-cruise stay at Belmond Miraflores Park in Lima was excellent and we enjoyed a 3-hour Bohemian Bike Tour the morning of the sailing in Lima with Jose which I would highly recommend.
More Adventures from Jani Miller, CTC, DS, LS ...
Africa – Tanzania & Zanzibar
In October of 2017, we traveled to my favorite destination, Tanzania! This was a custom Africa experience created with Abercrombie & Kent Tanzania. Lodges and itinerary were selected based on previous stays and A&K recommendations. We visited four separate game parks, three different lodges on the mainland and The Residence luxury property on Zanzibar. Itinerary included Lake Manyara Natl Park - Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, Singita Grumeti Reserves at Sabora Tented Camp, Selous Game Reserve at Sand Rivers Lodge.
Our guide Titus in Grumeti Reserves was the best we have ever had! We saw baby leopards, a pride of 18 lions with four 3-month old cubs, a herd of 22 giraffes, tons of elephants and cape buffalo. We even caught the beginning of the great migration with 1,000’s of wildebeests crossing the river in Grumeti Reserves.
We experienced fly-camping in Sand Rivers where we slept under mosquito nets in completely wild surroundings – complete with bush dinner, birthday cake, and breakfast! Truly one of the highlights of our adventure.
A&K took care of every detail. Every transfer was on time, guides were friendly and professional. They even delivered the A&K duffel bags early so we could prepare our friends on how to pack. I would highly recommend using A&K for any type of Africa experience.
Another great experience with PerryGolf and Azamara – it’s a perfect combination. The itinerary sailed from Southampton to Stockholm and included 5 rounds of golf and 3 full days in St Petersburg.
The Journey and the Quest experienced major enhancements in early 2016. From bow to stern, both award-winning ships received complete makeovers. The new look has a blend of contemporary and traditional, updated technologies, upgraded suites and staterooms, and enhancements to their restaurants, spa, entertainment areas and public spaces.
Staff was exceptional! Everyone was professional yet warm and friendly. We recognized a few crew members from previous sailings (this was our 4th sailing with Azamara) and they remembered us as well.
- The International in Amsterdam – challenging but too close to the airport – lots of plane noise
- The Scandinavian in Copenhagen – challenging but a nice track – would play again
- Hirsala Golf Clun in Helsinki – our favorite – beautiful setting
- Gorki Golf Club – near St. Petersburg – new course just opened in 2015 – still a little rough
- Bro Hof Slott – Stockholm – amazing course and clubhouse – very challenging but worth it
10 Nights | 6 Rounds | 3 - 13 September 2014 | Azamara Journey | Lisbon – Barcelona
We partnered with PerryGolf and Azamara Club Cruises for another exceptional golf voyage onboard the outstanding 694 guest Azamara Journey around the Iberian Peninsula. Our itinerary began in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, and concluded in the vibrant Spanish city of Barcelona. The golf lineup included Valderrama, consistently rated #1 in continental Europe, plus PGA Catalunya ranked narrowly behind. The well regarded Spanish layouts of Montecastillo, El Saler, El Prat, plus France’s Golf St Cyprien, completed the six-round program. This is the 3rd time we’ve sailed with Azamara and the 2nd Azamara PerryGolf trip. It’s an excellent combination!
Prior to the cruise we spent two nights at The Oitavos Dunes Resort and enjoyed the experience. The rooms are huge, great fitness center, casual and fun dining. The pool overlooks part of the golf course and provided beautiful sunset views. The course was rated #65 of the top 100 in the world in 2013, but tough economic times in Portugal has had a negative impact on the course maintenance. Enjoyable but we would not recommend this as a ‘must play’ course in the area.
We spent a lovely week in Cabo again in 2015. Our accommodations were in a private 3-bedroom villa called Monte Cristo – part of the Pueblo Bonito family. We also visited the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort . Offered by DL Vacations, this is the best adults only AI in the area. If clients stay at Monte Cristo or one of the Pueblo Bonito Resorts they received discounted green fees at the new Jack Nicklaus course called Quivira Golf Club.
This is by far the best golf course in the area today. Created as an exclusive amenity for guests of the Quivira community and Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas, this world-class layout offers dazzling views and breath-taking drops from tee to fairway. In a destination revered for its unique ocean-desert-mountain setting, Quivira offers more oceanfront exposure than any other course in Los Cabos, with views of the Pacific from every hole.
We also played Cabo del Sol Ocean Course. A world-renowned Jack Nicklaus Signature design stretching for more than a mile along a coastline of craggy rock outcroppings and sun-washed shores. This championship layout is praised by Nicklaus himself for having the “three finest finishing holes in all of golf.” The 5th and signature 17th holes are currently ranked among “The 500 Best Holes in the World” according to Golf Magazine (January 2000). Until Quivira entered the market, this was the best course in the area.
Vail is one of the ultimate ski destinations but it also offers fantastic golf. In 2014 we played the Beaver Creek Golf Club designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. If you can make it through the first three holes your golden - the views were awesome! The EagleVail Golf Club Created by the Devlin/Von Hagge design team, was a delightful course full of elevation change and unique play. Elevated tees guarantee gravity-defying drives in the rarefied air, and, at 6836 yards, beginners won’t be intimidated and experienced golfers will be well-challenged.
Our favorite was the Norman Course at Red Sky Golf Club. Golf Odyssey gives this course a perfect 20, as fine as it gets. Full of glorious panoramas and heavenly elevation, get ready for a day of spectacular views and uneven lies!
And you must stay at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek. Located in the heart of Beaver Creek Village the friendly staff can arrange golf, white water rafting, mountain biking, and hiking are here as well as gourmet dining, boutique shopping and pampering treatments at the Allegria Spa and Fitness Center.
My stay at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, CA was delightful and may have a new ‘favorite’ property on the west coast! The award-winning resort has something for everyone. Whether you seek a day of pampering at The Spa at Pelican Hill, championship golf or an epicurean experience as fresh and delicious as the ingredients in each dish, Pelican Hill is the best.
With views of the ocean or the Italian-inspired landscape and all the comforts of home, the allure of the Bungalow Guest Room (850 square feet) is clear. With residential touches such as a fireplace and soaring 15′ wood-beam ceilings, it feels relaxed and luxurious, all at the same time. A spacious private terrace invites you to savor the quiet morning hours or the glorious sunset each evening over the Pacific.
Tom Fazio designed the 54 holes of golf, including 18 holes at nearby Oak Creek Golf Club®, and their 36 championship holes on the Ocean North and Ocean South courses, to be unlike any that you've ever played before. I played the South Course which was challenging, yet fun with gorgeous views!
Azamara PerryGolf 2017 Australia & New Zealand Golf Cruise
Once again the combination of Azamara and PerryGolf was an excellent experience. Itinerary included; Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania (Port Arthur & Hobart), Milford Sound, Dunedin, Akaroa, Napier, Tauranga, and Auckland. We added in a night stay at Cape Kidnappers which was awesome. We stayed in a Club Continent Suite again which is perfect. Spacious with lovely veranda, butler and just one deck below the gym.
• The Lakes, Sydney – challenging but right near the airport – lots of plane noise
• The Victoria GC, Melbourne – long & challenging but a nice track – would play again
• Tasmania Golf Club, Hobart – a private club – interesting layout – great views of the water
• Chisholm Links, Dunedin – true links course with breathtaking views – members caddied for us
• Christchurch Golf Club (Akaroa is the port) – 90-minute drive to Christchurch with spectacular views
• Cape Kidnappers, Napier – consistently rated #1 course in New Zealand
• The Kinloch Club, Tauranga – 2007 Jack Nicklaus course – raw links style w/ views of Lake Taupo – challenging
The highlight of the trip was playing Cape Kidnappers and staying one night at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in a Hilltop Suite! I would suggest clients stay 2-3 nights to experience all the activities.
I have recently returned from a lovely visit to Maui and Lana’i. The Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui was amazing! From the moment we arrived, we felt embraced by genuine island hospitality and authentic culture. With 50 residential-style accommodations, three restaurants, and a fabulous spa it is perfect for multi-gen families, or couples. Recognized as the top golf resort in the world, Kapalua Bay features two championship golf courses. The Plantation Course and the Bay Course. The Plantation Course is consistently ranked as the #1 golf course in Hawaii by Golf. We played the Bay Course at Kapalua which is known for having the only hole to play over the Pacific Ocean in Maui. Golfers of all skill levels appreciate this championship course for its gorgeous views. Kapalua Bay also features white sand beaches, coastal hikes, two marine sanctuaries and more.
The Four Seasons Lana’i was another over-the-top experience! A short ferry ride from Lahaina to Manele Bay was just the start of our fun. Authentic Hawaii comes alive at Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, where your tee time is any time and the gorgeous Pacific is your backyard. From our oceanfront suite, we had spectacular views of Hulopoe Bay which offered swimming and snorkeling. The property offers many activities including horseback riding, 4x4 sport vehicle exploring, eight restaurants and bars, a great gym, spa and flowering gardens and lagoon-style pools. We chose to play golf at Manele Golf Course which boasts beautiful views of the Pacific. Built on lava outcroppings, the course features three holes perched on cliffs, enlisting the Pacific Ocean as a water hazard. On average the course gets just 30 rounds per day so it’s easy to complete a round in three hours. We played 36 holes one day and almost stayed for another nine! With five different tees all players will be challenged but happy with tee shots over natural gorges and ravines. Views of humpback whales are common in season. Truly a ‘must play’ course in Hawaii!
Antarctic Discovery Crystal Symphony
This 14-day itinerary had 9-days at sea. Ports of call included Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Port Stanley, Puerto Madryn and Montevideo. We set up airport/ship transfers and a half day sightseeing tour in Buenos Aires upon arrival with A&K. Good overview of the city.
Ushuaia, Argentina was a delightful port – we took Crystal’s National Park Trek & Canoe shore excursion – well organized with fun guides. Port Stanley, Falkland Islands is a quiet port – only 3,000 people live in the Falklands. The only experience here is seeing the penguins – we chose a four hour 4x4 excursion (1 hr drive each way) to see the Rockhopper penguins . . . Up-close and personal!
Puerto Madryn, Argentina – we chose to use a private car and driver went to Punta Tombo which is a peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean 110 km south of Trelew in Chubut Province, Argentina, where there is a large colony of Magellanic penguins (600,000) - the largest such colony in South America. Montevideo, Uruguay – a beautiful port city. We arranged for a full day tour with private guide and driver.
We arranged ship/airport transfers and a Polo Tour Experience at La Martina on final day of disembarkation in Buenos Aires with A&K. Two hours of Polo Clinics followed by real experience on horseback then a delightful lunch of homemade Argentine cuisine served under the trees with the family, surrounded by nature and stunning views. The day was excellent!!
The Montage Deer Valley
Park City is a skier’s delight and Deer Valley Resort is consistently ranked #1 in guest service among ski resorts in North America by SKI magazine. We had the pleasure of staying the Montage Deer Valley. Certainly the most luxurious option in the area Montage Deer Valley was exceptional. Located in Empire Canyon near the top of Deer Valley Resort, the Montage is adjacent to three of Deer Valley's chairlifts for true ski-in, ski-out access.
With only 220 rooms, the accommodations begin at 600SF. We had a one-bedroom King resort suite which was 1050SF with two balconies. Although luxurious, the resort was not pretentious. Customer service was outstanding at every level and staff seemed to anticipate rather than react to customer’s needs. We were impressed with how many employees recognized us by name by the 2nd day. Dining was convenient for skiers with Apex, Burgers & Bourbon and Daly’s Pub & Rec allowing ski attire (including boots) for breakfast and lunch. The Vista Lounge & Terrace was casual and fun. Yama Sushi restaurant located just off the Vista Lounge offered fresh sushi (open during ski season).
I would recommend this resort for families, couples and small groups. Kids are catered to with stuffed animals at check-in, s'mores every day at the fire pit, and access to a children's club for everything from nature photography to fly-fishing.
This adventure was a Golfer’s Dream! In 2013 We took a 10-night cruise from Dublin to Hamburg on the Azamara Quest playing five rounds of golf in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Perry Golf partnered with Azamara on this 142nd British Open Golf Cruise Explorer. The highlight of the trip was attending the final round of The Open on Sunday, July 21 at Muirfield watching Phil win!
The Azamara Quest holds just 694 passengers, a mid-sized beauty with a deck plan well-suited to the needs of modern voyagers. Staterooms feature modern amenities, furnishings, and European linens. And one of the greatest features of this ship is the large number of staterooms with verandas. Having sailed with Azamara before, we knew we’d be pleased with the ship and amenities.
And Perry Golf is the best in the business when it comes to international golf travel. We played the K Club, Palmer Course in Dublin, Royal County Down in Belfast, The Carrick on Loch Lomond in Greenock, Scotland, Castle Stuart Golf Links along the shores of the Moray Firth east of Inverness and Kingsbarns Golf Links near Edinburgh, Scotland. Perry Golf took care of every detail, tee times, caddies, mini tournaments, and all social gatherings for the 80 golfers onboard.
We visited St Andrews and walked the Old Course soaking up all the fabulous memories of tournaments past. Certainly a trip of a lifetime!
In September of 2012, we took a custom safari with A&K Southern Africa to Zambia, Botswana, Okavango Delta and a private reserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa. The trip was amazing! We stayed primarily in Sanctuary lodges with the final stop at Singita Lebombo in Kruger. This was our 6th trip to Africa and we wanted to explore areas not previously visited.
A few highlights:
• We choose Zambia to see Victoria Falls and Sussi & Chuma was a delightful surprise. Loved the luxury tree houses (just 12), the activities (riverboat safari, walking safari, Vic Falls, canoeing rapids on the Zambezi River) and dining. Our guide, Chris was excellent.
• Chobe Chilwero has been considered ‘the best of the best’ for years. More of a luxury experience with just 15 thatched cottages (w/ AC). Accommodations were outstanding, great Spa. Game drives are in the Chobe Natl Park in 4X4 vehicles. Good game viewing but cannot leave trails and must be out of the park by 6:30 pm.
• Chief’s Camp was truly an authentic experience. Just 12 secluded, permanent bush pavilions with screens (no AC) great thatched porch, sand walkways and indoor/outdoor shower. This camp is not fenced in so elephants were frequently walking around. The guides are encouraged to have meals with the guests – really liked this.
• We saved Singita Lebombo for last. The main lodge has just 15 Cliffside rooms (#5 and #4 are the best). We also looked at Sweni which has just 6 rooms overlooking the river. Sweni is a good choice for families - rooms offer 2nd bathroom. Outdoor sleeping can be arranged. We experienced a boma, wine tasting with Sommelier Henrico van Lill and dinner in the bush (a la carte). Singita provides a guide (Anthony) and a tracker (Solomon) which helps tremendously in sighting the animals. We were encouraged to have them join us for dinners – a wonderful experience! A private reserve allowed us to stay out after dusk and track animals in the evening. Brand new Land Rovers, excellent spa and extensive gym.
In June of 2012, we had a wonderful experience on Azamara Club Cruises! We sailed on the Azamara Quest. The Quest was originally the R7 (Renaissance) it was purchased by Azamara and refurbished in 2007. With just 694 passengers and 11 decks it is easy to navigate and small enough to reach many ports other large ships cannot access.
The Mediterranean sailing included; Nice, St. Tropez France (overnight), Monte Carlo Monaco (until 10p), Florence (Livorno), Rome, Sorrento, Capri (overnight), Taormina Sicily, Corfu Greece (overnight), Dubrovnik Croatia and Venice (overnight).
Positives about the ship:
- Ability to port close to most towns with overnight or late night stays
- Excellent fitness center with a variety of equipment and complimentary fitness classes
- Five dining options – great food, Prime C & Aqualina Specialty restaurants were excellent
- Complimentary boutique wines with lunch and dinner
- Complimentary bottled water, soft drinks, and specialty coffees & teas
- Complimentary self-serve laundry
- Casual and friendly atmosphere dress code on Azamara is always resort-casual - there are no formal nights and jackets for men are never required
- Reasonable spa treatments (18% mandatory service charge)
- Gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff are included
- Passengers were young at heart and active – well traveled
- The ship is going in for an update in November of this year – they are doing a facelift on the pool area, some of the public areas as well as upgrading the staterooms
Bespoke Excursions, also known as Excursions Ltd., set up two shore excursions that were outstanding; A ‘Taste of Sorrento’ which included an exclusive visit to a 5th generation family-owned farm and ‘The Beauty of Cinque Terre’ (Livorno, Italy). I used ShoreTrips for a couple ports (private car & driver in Rome, horseback riding in Corfu and Eze, La Turbie & Monte Carlo in Monaco). Wanting to see what Azamara shore excursions were like, I bookedCapri from the Sea, 4X4 Adventure in Sicily and Bike riding in Croatia.
Having cruised 40+ times for business and pleasure, this experience was one of the best ever!
What a fabulous experience! We traveled on the Camp Leakey – Faces in the Forest cruise December 29, 2011 – January 08, 2012 from Singapore to Bali. Orion Expedition Cruises is a luxury expedition cruise line with unique itineraries. The main appeal is the spirit of adventure, yet clients have the comfort of fine dining, exceptional service, spacious accommodations and like-minded travelers.
The original itinerary was changed a couple weeks before departure, eliminating two stops in Borneo due to a silting build up at landing areas. These stops were replaced with two stops in the Riau Islands where we were the first ‘tourists’ to visit pristine beaches with excellent snorkeling. The highlight of the itinerary was visiting Camp Leakey at Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo. The 2012 itinerary can be found on Orion’s website – they have added Ganung National Park.
Dr. Birute Galdikas, the founder of Camp Leakey (1971) was onboard (a special treat), she gave a number of lectures about her experience establishing Camp Leakey and the challenges of operating the Orangutan Care Center and forest devastation in Indonesia. Dr. Galdikas joined us at Camp Leakey for scheduled feedings and an exclusive opportunity to visit the Orangutan Care Center where we visited the jungle training area, the exercise area, and the nursery. We were able to ‘play’ with the adolescent orangutans and hold the babies in the nursery. See an update on Mr. Bernie - our adopted orangutan
The exclusive opportunity to visit the Care Center was coordinated between Orion, The Orangutan Foundation (OFI) and Dr. Galdikas. A once in a lifetime experience! A couple of videos are posted on CTT’s YouTube Channel
In August of 2011, we experienced a Uniworld Enchanting Danube Passau – Budapest river cruise onboard the River Beatrice with pre and post stays in Prague and Budapest. It was a wonderful trip packed with activities. The trip began with a 3-night stay in Prague. It’s an easy city to explore on your own. We picked up a couple guidebooks from the library to review on the plane. The hotel concierge and transfer company provided excellent maps – great walking city.
We stayed at The Augustine Prague – a Rocco Forte property. In a great location with a unique history – created from a 13th century Augustinian St. Thomas Monastery. With just 101 rooms, the experience is truly intimate. Good to know:
- Every room is different (think monastery)
- Room rate is driven by location and view
- Casual yet elegant atmosphere
- Nice size gym – great equipment
- Tom’s Bar and The Brewery Bar both fun
- Internet access expensive - $30USD per day
Uniworld Beatrice – Enchanting Danube from Passau to Budapest
Excellent service and amenities. We were in cabin 423 – Category 1. The stateroom was a bit small (150 sq foot), but nice French balcony and ample storage space. Looked at the suites – would definitely recommend upgrading – the cost per day is not that much more. The suites are 225 sq foot and provide butler service.
The itinerary was nice because every port of call was different. We all agreed starting in Passau was preferred as each stop provided a little more in terms of exploration and to end in Budapest was truly fabulous. The whisper headsets were great and local guides quite good. The cruise director on board was knowledgeable and entertaining. Good to know:
- Al Fresco dining suggested in Cruise Companion is offered just 2 nights and can be outside if weather permits. It is also offered to past Uniworld cruisers before regular guests (we could only secure one night). When the weather does not permit the private dining is served in the Captain’s lounge – same menu as a regular dining room.
- Complimentary walking sticks and bikes were quite nice. Per cruise companion, both could be reserved just one day in advance.
- Internet access was free but really slow – the Cruise Companion stated this would be the case.
- The gym was small but adequate for the size of the vessel – it was open 24/7.
- The launderette was clean and easy to use – convenient to press items and not crowded.
- Embarkation and Disembarkation were down to a science. Very well organized and hassle-free.
We added a post stay in Budapest. Since Uniworld provided a half day sightseeing experience here, we chose to add a 2-night extension which was perfect. I contacted the Ensemble On-Location supplier JoAn VIP Travel www.joanvip.com Andrea Goczo Magyar, the Managing Director responded immediately and was excellent to work with. We stayed at the Kempinski Corvinus Budapest - excellent location on the Pest side. Good to know:
- Ensemble amenities are quite good
- Rooms are spacious and service is outstanding
- Smoking is allowed in the lobby (not uncommon for European hotels)
- Breakfast buffet outstanding
- Large gym with excellent facilities – open 24/7
- Great location for shopping – not far from the Great Market Hall
Andrea at JoAn VIP Travel provided two ½ day walking tours and a cooking class www.chefparade.hu/ The cooking class was hands-on, tons of fun and you actually buy your ingredients at the Great Market Hall prior to the class – just like the locals do. Andrea was our personal guide – she was delightful! I would highly recommend using her services. She can arrange sightseeing in many of Uniworld’s European ports - it’s truly a unique experience. Good to know:
Budapest is a fun city to walk – public transportation is inexpensive and easy to use.
There are tons of outdoor cafes and restaurants – I recommend Dunacorso Etterem www.dunacorso.hu – great view – excellent menu.
Lots of shopping opportunities.
Puerto Vallarta Mexico is one of my favorite destinations. Thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Marival Residences this year (we were just here last December). Once again, accommodations, service and food and beverage were excellent. This is a great property for couples, families, and golfers at an excellent value.
The January issue of Golf Odyssey raved about the new St. Regis Punta Mita (an Ensemble property) and the new 18-hole Bahia course so I contacted the sales manager on the property for a site visit. She arranged for us to play the Bahia course – it was excellent (copies of the Golf Odyssey article are available – just let me know). Punta de Mita now has two, 18-hole Jack Nicklaus courses available exclusively to Four Seasons or St. Regis clients. Having played both courses, I would suggest clients would be very happy playing these and a new Greg Norman course called LaTranquila nearby all week long.
Marival Residences asked me to visit their property because they were aware I was a golf specialist. It was a delightful stay and exceeded my expectations. The real value or this resort is their “Seriously All Inclusive” package features, accommodations and customer service. Located in Riviera Nayarit, not far from the Grand Velas it is a perfect location. The accommodations are all suites with the smallest room 1410 sq foot. With only 169 rooms, it has a warm, intimate feel. Although not directly on the beach, every room has an ocean view. We were in a 1-bedroom rooftop suite which offers a private rooftop balcony with private plunge pool.
All meals are served a la carte at 3 restaurants – truly gourmet dining (yes…gourmet in Mexico). All beverages are included including national and premium brand drinks. They also offer a private VIP Beach Club at the Marival Resort and Suites with full F&B service, beach concierge and just a 2-minute shuttle up the road. The fitness center was quite large with state of the art equipment and a separate Pilates room. The World Spa offers 8 treatment rooms – each room a different country with décor and treatments from that country.
Unlimited rounds of complimentary golf are included – just pay the cart fee and transfers. Select one of three courses which include the Vista Nicklaus and Vista Weiskopf, hosts of the 2002 World Championships and 2006 PGA Seniors Tours, and Marina Vallarta golf club. Free unlimited select tours with Vallarta Adventures are also included. We did the Dolphin Encounter and the Sea Lion Encounter – both fun, educational and not touristy. We had done the Canopy Adventure before – a hoot!
TOKYO, BEIJING, XINGANG, CHINA TO KOBE, JAPAN
In June of 2010, I spent time 2 ½ weeks in Asia traveling to Tokyo, Beijing and cruising with Seabourn on the Pride from Xingang, China to Kobe, Japan.
THE GREAT WALL
I then took the 4-hour flight from Narita to Beijing and stayed at the Shangri-La Beijing. This property has a brand new Valley Wing – rooms were great – spectacular lounge on 12the floor with a view and free F&B for Valley Wing guests. Destination China was the on-location supplier I used to set up private car and driver for weekend sightseeing. They provided airport to hotel transfers and 2-days of sightseeing which included a visit to the Great Wall – Mutianyu section (the most scenic), Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I experienced lunch in a local family’s home in Hutong. Kevin, my guide was delightful! He was 24 years old, spoke excellent English and was very polite yet fun. We hiked the wall together for 6 miles! The lunch with Mrs. Chen in her home was a highlight. She made a vegetarian lunch for Kevin and me then we chatted in her living room as Kevin interpreted.
PRIVATE MEETING WITH BUDDHIST NUN
My last stop was the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Osaka The hotel received the top rating of 5-pavilion by Michelin and its two restaurants, La Baie and Xiang Tao, both received one-star Michelin in 2009.
In spring of 2010, I had the most wonderful adventure in Vietnam with Trails of Indochina. My journey began in Hanoi, the 1000-year-old capital of Vietnam. Showing signs of modern development, the city has retained much of its ancient culture, traditions, and charm.
We then spent time in Halong Bay aboard the luxury Halong Jasmine junk cruising through the magical bay and visiting a fishing village which has been living in the bay for generations.
The Royal capital, Hue was the next stop where we explored the Imperial Citadel and saw a Royal Martial Arts performance from a darling group of young people. Then on to Saigon, a city that never stops with some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia.
A special treat was a visit to the luxury resort of Princess d’Annam resort on the South China Sea where we played golf at the award-winning Ocean Dunes Golf Club and watched the sunrise on top of magnificent sand dunes. The final leg was a visit to the Mekong Delta where we had a chance to interact with the local people who make their livelihoods on the river. If Vietnam is on your list, I would be happy to share my personal experiences with you. It was a fascinating destination!
I had the most fascinating expedition to The Galapagos Islands! I chose to travel with Lindblad Expeditions aboard the National Geographic Polaris. In 1967, Lars-Eric Lindblad became the first adventurer to bring nonscientific expeditions here. Lindblad has more experience than any other operator in Galapagos, and in my opinion, have the most knowledgeable and experienced Naturalists. As an Adventure Travel Specialist and a huge animal lover, Galapagos has been on my list for several years. Nowhere else can you experience up-close encounters with remarkable animals like giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, and sea lions galore. The animals have no fear of humans and observing these magnificent creatures up close and personal is unbelievable!
The 10-day experience includes an overnight in Guayaquil, Ecuador on the outbound and return and 7 nights aboard one of Lindblad’s expedition ships. Everyday offers the opportunity to hike, kayak, swim, snorkel, zodiac or glass bottom boat rides. You may also enjoy the LEXspa services, yoga classes, and great lectures. In addition to the animals, the expert naturalists and the activities, we met the most fascinating people! All seasoned travelers, our evening cocktails, and dinner discussions were so much fun.
While on the trip, Rodrigo Marra, the ship’s Video Chronicler asked me to share a few thoughts about my experience.
In 2007 I had the opportunity to go back to Africa for my 4th visit (big birthday!). The highlight was gorilla trekking in Rwanda. I went with Volcanoes Safaris and stayed at Virunga Lodge. We went trekking for two days with Francios, the most experienced guide in the business who actually worked with Diann Fossey. We visited the Kwitonda family which included an 8-week old baby!
Following Rwanda, I went on safari in Tanzania at 3 different camps, staying at Sasakwa Lodge in Grumeti Reserves, Mwagusi Camp in Ruaha National Park and Sand Rivers Camp situated on the banks of the Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve.
The Tanzania private journey was arranged with Brad Horn of Epic Private Journeys. This was a custom trip hosted by Rob Barbour, a partner in Epic. Rob was awesome and I would highly recommend a private guide for this type of adventure. Rob spoke perfect Swahili and took care of every detail. He made the trip extra special!