Joy Hammer, CTC, DS
Interests & Specialties
Joy has been with Central Travel for 15 years, but spent her entire life traveling! In addition to a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC), Joy holds a Destination Specialist (DS) certification for Mexico, Alaska, and Spain. Joy has been everywhere from Belize to Thailand, enjoyed over a dozen trips to Europe, and has visited almost every major island in the Caribbean. Joy is located in the Promenade Shops office on Monroe Street in Sylvania, OH.
Joy Hammer loves to travel and she recently became hooked on European River Cruises! She has been on four, and loves introducing new clients to how wonderful they are! As one of her clients said, “I’ve sailed on many large ocean cruises, but now that I’ve experienced a river cruise, that’s the only way I’m going to cruise from now on!”
River Cruising - what a great way to see Europe! Picture yourself relaxing in a deck chair as your floating hotel slowly passes scenic landscapes. Stroll from the ship directly into the center of medieval towns and quaint villages. Leisurely, guided walking tours are included, with plenty of time to explore on your own. Take a moment to just sit at a cafe to enjoy a Heineken, or sample a local specialty such as a Belgian waffle or "frites" (french fries) with mayonnaise.
River Cruises are offered on various rivers throughout France, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Germany, Portugal, Hungary, and other areas of Europe. They are also available in China, Egypt, and the Galapagos Islands. Ask us about themed cruises, such as Wine Cruises, Jazz Cruises, or the festive Christmas Market cruises! No matter your destination, you'll experience the very best that each location has to offer.
River cruises carry less than 200 passengers, so there are no long lines anywhere. No traffic-jammed highways. No need to pack and unpack. And, since all meals, wine at dinner, and numerous shore excursions are included, you don't need to worry about expenses adding up or currency exchange rates.
Joy is also passionate about Mexico. As a Mexico Destination Specialist, she has traveled extensively throughout México more than a dozen times, not only the numerous coastal resort areas but much of the interior as well. Spending usually a week or more at each destination, she has enjoyed the beaches of Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, and Acapulco. In the past several years, Joy has spent time vacationing at Secrets Maroma and Secrets Capri (beautiful, adults-only resorts in the Riviera Maya). She attended Travel+Leisure's Yucatan & Cancun 2014 Travel Academy in November of 2014 and reports that the hotels and the beaches are better than ever!
What she really enjoys, however, are the colonial towns, such as Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Taxco and Campeche. Traveling throughout the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo she spent 9 days “hacienda hopping”, and was able to see several. These haciendas are a fabulous alternative to more mainstream properties, allowing travelers to relax in historic surroundings or spend time exploring nearby quaint towns or ancient Mayan sites. Whether honeymooners looking for romance, or a family looking for adventure, this area appeals to everyone.
She has also toured numerous archaeological sites, such as Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Tulum, Palenque, Edzná, Ek Balam, Monte Albán, Mitla, and Teotihuacán. Traveling by rental car or local bus, she has been able to explore many areas of México. Joy would love to help you find the area or resort that is perfect for your next vacation!
MY RECENT TRIPS
SECRETS AKUMAL, Riviera Maya
I absolutely loved this property! I’ve stayed at or toured dozens of resorts in Mexico/Caribbean over the years, and this is now my favorite (more than any of the other four Secrets in Mexico I’ve stayed in, or any Couples or Sandals, etc.). My primary reason is the overall layout, and the gorgeous, lush vegetation, palm trees, etc. While the property is somewhat spread out, the greenery made it seem smaller and more private. There were numerous walkways between buildings and restaurants, many that were “covered” with branches and vines. The three pools were all large and surrounded by palm trees, so much more attractive than massive expanses of concrete, as is so often the case. Although I’m more of a beach than pool person, I really liked the Quiet Pool, which had soft background music playing, plus the way it was configured, curving around trees, etc., again made it seem more private.
BEACH: this was another plus for me. While not nearly as long as Maroma, it was long enough to have a nice stroll, under a mile long, and the sand is nice and firm, so you don’t sink in with each step. I also enjoyed seeing the local fishing/snorkeling boats and a few families (since Mexico beaches are not private). The best part is that you can snorkel right off the beach, and there is an area of coral that attracts numerous fish. Some guests saw turtles feeding in the grassy areas off shore, but unfortunately we did not (possibly due to hurricane stirring everything up). If clients are avid snorkelers, I recommend Yal-Ku Lagoon, right down the road. Don’t know the entrance fee options, as we didn’t visit this time.
DINING: Unless you have a Preferred Club Room, the only breakfast option is the Market Café (buffet). It was nice and offered everything you could possibly want, although not quite as impressive as others I’ve been to. Note: no helping yourself, a staff member dishes up what you want. This was also open for lunch, as was the Seaside Grill, the coffee shop, and a pop-up grill option at the Main Pool. We dined at 5 of the 6 dinner options, and thought all were excellent. No reservations taken, and even with fewer tables available due to spacing requirements, never had much of a wait, unless preferred an outside table (since only 3 or 4 available). Long pants are required for men at 4 of the restaurants, at least if you wanted to sit inside.
More Adventures from Joy Hammer, CTC, DS ...
Mexico City is a huge, vibrant city with so much to see and do. 21 million people (I think I encountered most of them while walking!). A few of the highlights that I enjoyed are:
• The Historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting more than 1400 important buildings from the 16th to 19th centuries, as well as beautiful buildings and architecture (both old and new). Example… the Main Post Office is unbelievably gorgeous, truly something to see.
• The Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitucion) – the main square, a popular gathering place for centuries, 1 of the world’s largest squares.
• Cathedral – the largest and oldest in the Americas, started in the 1500s, located on the Zocalo
• The National Palace, also located on the Zocalo. Worth a visit to see “The History of Mexico” murals by Diego Rivera, full of details from the times of the Aztecs on.
• Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes), a gorgeous building that serves as an opera house and concert hall. I strongly recommend attending a performance of the “Ballet Folklorico”, which is a wonderful display of music and dance from all over Mexico (get tickets thru your hotel concierge, easier than doing thru Ticketmaster). Plus a performance is the only way to see the spectacular glass-mosaic curtain made by Tiffany’s, with over a million pieces of stained glass depicting the valley of Mexico – lovely!
• Alameda Central, a beautiful park with numerous fountains and sculptures, next to Bellas Artes.
• Chapultepec Park, over 1 ½ square miles, begun in the 15th century. Popular for lakes, sports facilities, museums, zoo, etc.
• House of Tiles (Casa de los Azulejos) – built as a residence in 1596, boasting a façade of beautiful blue and white Talavera tiles, with a lovely interior that now includes a Sanborns restaurant (nothing fancy, good for lunch, loved the Enchiladas Suizas)
• Museums – there are over 150 in town with something for everyone, from art and history, to children, even chocolate! Arguably, the top 1 to see is the Anthropology Museum, located in Chapultepec Park. You could spend several days to check out the various rooms, from Aztec to Mayan Indians, etc. but 1 ½ - 2 hours will give you a good overview. Many museums are set in lovely colonial buildings, worth seeing just for the setting.
• Paseo de la Reforma – a wide tree-lined avenue stretching about 9 miles across the main area of the city, modeled after the great boulevards of Europe. Runs from downtown to Chapultepec Park, with lots of greenery, a few fountains, skyscrapers, hotels, restaurants, etc.
HOTELS: I loved where I stayed, the prettiest hotel I’ve ever been. Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico (Grand Hotel of Mexico City), perfect location right around corner from the Zocalo, 60 rooms, 5 floors. All rooms open to a central lobby area, covered by a stunning Tiffany stained glass ceiling. Their Terrace restaurant has beautiful views of the Zocalo, all lit up at night. https://granhoteldelaciudaddemexico.com.mx/en/
FOOD: Mexico City is a top choice for foodies, from street food eaten standing up on a corner, to gourmet restaurants, lots of choices. In 2010, UNESCO named traditional Mexican cuisine an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. And, while you can get tacos and quesadillas, try some of the local specialties as well. Some foods are spicy, many aren’t. The soups are wonderful (my favorite was “chapulines”, aka grasshopper). We ate lots of seafood, plus Barbacoa (tender, steam cooked meat). Try “chilaquiles” for breakfast (corn tortillas mixed with eggs and salsa, etc.). Or “mole”, a rich sauce with 20 plus ingredients, including several types of dried chilies, and usually chocolate, although not necessarily sweet. There are numerous variations.
Morocco has been on my bucket list for some time and I was thrilled to experience this fascinating destination!
My fixed 8-night itinerary covered a lot of ground so I could view different parts of the country. As a result, we spent a lot of time in the car several days, but it was worth it to be able to see as much as we did. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, learned so much. Such a colorful and exotic country!
Morocco is known for being one of the most tolerant of the Arab nations. The country is relatively safe (just typical petty crime, such as scams or pickpockets). The Moroccan people are very hospitable, warm and friendly. While I generally prefer to travel independently, this is not a country I wanted to do on my own. While it is easy to get around on your own, as there is good train and bus service between towns (and taxis are plentiful in town), it was definitely preferable to have a guide.
Highlights of my trip:
• The Imperial Cities of Marrakesh, Fes, Rabat, and Meknes have all, at some point in history, been the capital of Morocco. (Rabat is now). They offer beautiful palaces and museums that provide a glimpse into Morocco’s history, which encompasses influences from the Berbers, the Roman Empire, and the French and Spanish settlers who tried to claim the country as their own. All left their influence on Morocco.
• The Sahara Desert offers camel tours, but even better, an opportunity to camp in the desert. Both were awesome experiences!
• Casablanca – often just a cruise port stop, there really isn’t much to see and do here, other than a visit to the Hassan II Mosque, the only 1 in Morocco that permits non-Muslims to enter. The 3rd largest in the world, it holds 25,000 people inside, and over 80,000 outside. Built in 1993, and overlooking the sea, with a retractable roof. Beautiful!
• Medinas – this refers to the old part of the town, typically walled, with narrow maze-like streets, fountains, mosques. Many tourists think of it as the shopping area, but that is just part of it, as the medina is where many people live. Within the medina are many “souks” (marketplace or stalls), that sell products to both locals and tourists. Two of the best are in Fez and Marrakech (both UNESCO designated World Heritage sites). The one in Fez was my favorite, car-free, but over 9000 alleys. It’s a labyrinth, you WILL get lost without a guide! GPS doesn’t readily work here, and there are very few street signs. Marrakech is also large and colorful…unfortunately, we just didn’t much free time to actually shop in either. We did have time in Casablanca, but I didn’t really care for that 1. I also would have liked more time wandering the medina in Rabat, with its pretty white and blue buildings. . Note: the lunatics on mopeds flying thru the tiny lanes (no matter what city) are extremely dangerous!
• Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou – this historic 11th fortified village site has been the site of numerous films and TV shows. Beautiful setting, nice hike up to the top.
• Stunning scenery – the spectacular canyon of Todra Gorge was a highlight, as were the colorful Atlas Mountains, including our day tour in the Imlil Valley. This area is a top trekking destination. We hiked up over 1000 feet to almost 6000 feet above sea level, over rocky terrain, part of it done by mule. The narrow paths (with naturally no guard rails) are not for the faint of heart!
My journey to Cuba with Azamara Club Cruises was a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend this opportunity to explore Cuba. I have sailed with Azamara several times and thoroughly enjoy the size of ship and amenities on board. Couple highlights on Cuba:
• The local tour guides that we booked thru Azamara were good to excellent, and we learned a great deal. Once the tour is finished, you are free to wander around on your own.
• Very little crime in Cuba, we always felt safe walking around.
• I loved the architecture in Havana – what a beautiful city! Many buildings have been restored, others damaged by age, neglect, or hurricane damage (most recently Irma last fall).
• There are 4 main plazas in Havana, all lovely! The Plaza de San Francisco is right across from the pier, and the others are all within walking distance (Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Cathedral).
• Music is everywhere, and quite good. The band will ask you to purchase their CD, or otherwise a cash donation, so helpful to have cash on hand.
• Vintage US cars are everywhere – we were told there are over 60,000 on the island. The bright colors are beautiful! You can negotiate with the owner for a ride.
• We visited 2 other Cuban ports of call – Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, both with historical interest. Full day tours at both (at Cienfuegos, we chose to go to the nearby city of Trinidad). All have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
• Azamara hosts one Azamazing Evening on each cruise – it is complimentary, but make sure to sign up for it. For this itinerary, it was a wonderful performance of Cuban music and dance at a beautiful local theater.
• Azamara hosts a “White Night” on every cruise, which was lovely. Held outdoors, the food quality and variety were excellent. Since it was very windy and chilly, the crew brought out blankets for those of us who needed them! Remember to bring your white attire!
• If interested in dining at the Specialty Restaurants, at this point they can only be booked once onboard. Times fill up extremely quickly, especially for days at sea so board as early as possible, and go immediately to book reservations before even going to their cabin. The food and ambiance at both Aqualina and Prime C were excellent, $30 per person unless staying in a suite.
In 2017 I traveled to the Castile and Leon region of Spain ( northwestern Spain). Full of history, this area was once home to the Spanish Royal Court, has over 200 fortresses/castles, and 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spring or Fall is the perfect time to go - our weather was quite pleasant, ranging between mid 30’s in the early morning to 50’s or low 60’s during the day.
This trip also concentrated on gastronomy, and we were fortunate to eat both lunch and dinner at the top places in town. From exquisite soups to the many types of pork, beef, veal, fish, etc., the meals were some of the best I’ve experienced anywhere.
So, why would you travel to this area? Obviously, the most popular destinations in Spain are Barcelona, Madrid, and the Andalucía area (Seville, Granada, etc.). Here are a few points:
• Perfect for the more experienced traveler who has already toured other areas of Europe
• Uncrowded! We all know that countries such as Italy or France are ridiculously packed with tourists, even in late fall.
• Very inexpensive, compared to other places in Europe.
• Food is excellent, and wine tourism is very important here as well.
• Architecture is stunning….I saw more beautiful buildings here than in many other European cities.
• History surrounds you….it's like you’ve stepped back in time. Especially since you’re in smaller towns, where you are easily able to experience the atmosphere.
• Art, both historic and contemporary…over 400 museums
• Festivals – almost 100, and the Holy Week festivities are extremely popular.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Spain adventure - I’ve been to Europe over 15 times, and would definitely recommend this area to anyone!
There are very few places in the world that can offer such an incredible diversity of scenery, climate, and vacation pleasures as Costa Rica does. 26% of the country has been set aside as protected area, rich with wildlife, dense rainforests, and opportunities for eco-adventures. In an area as small as the state of West Virginia, there is everything from tropical beaches, volcanoes, scuba diving, sports fishing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking canopy tours, bird watching (over 890 species), golf, and much more! Opportunities for wildlife viewing are excellent throughout the country, but advise clients to keep in mind that they are not on an African Safari, but rather, a Costa Rican Treasure Hunt!
Climate: 2 seasons – “Green” or rainy season, from May-Oct, and the “Dry” season, from Nov – April. In the dry season, it still rains, but not every day as in the rainy season. The average temperature doesn’t vary much year-round, from lows in the 70’s to highs in the 80’s. However, areas at a higher elevation such as San Juan, Monteverde, and Arenal can be 15 – 20 degrees cooler. In the rainforest areas, the humidity can be almost 100%.
SAN JOSE – most clients will fly in and out of San Jose unless they are only spending time in the Guanacaste area, in which case they will fly into Liberia. Quite frankly, San Jose doesn’t offer much of interest to clients. It is the largest city in Costa Rica, with a population of 2 million people (out of 4 million total in the whole country). Most people use San Jose only as an overnight before continuing on elsewhere in the country, although day trip excursions are easily arranged, if so desired (to Arenal, for example).
ARENAL VOLCANO – Costa Rica’s most active volcano, located 3 hours north of San Jose. Arenal puts on an unforgettable light and smoke show nearly every day. Nighttime viewing is the most spectacular, with glowing lava and mini-explosions lighting up the sky (weather dependent, of course).
MONTEVERDE – 4 1/2 hours from San Jose, and settled by American Quakers in 1951. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve covers 26,000 acres or over 40 square miles. Guided hikes or maps for do-it-yourselfers give access to the well-marked trails, waterfalls, and observation areas. I recommend a guide, in order to better observe the amazing variety of flora and fauna. With luck, you may even spot the “Resplendent Quetzal”, truly 1 of the most beautiful birds in the world.
The above 2 areas are rich in natural attractions, such as thermo-mineral hot springs, waterfall hikes, hanging bridges walks, whitewater rafting, river float trips, zipline canopy tours, horseback riding, bird-watching, butterfly farms, ATV tours, and much more!
GUANACASTE – in the northwestern part of Costa Rica, on the Pacific, this area is where the most popular beaches are, and is much more developed than the Caribbean side. So, it naturally is the ideal place for those to want to enjoy water sports such as snorkeling or SCUBA diving, deep-sea fishing, etc. The town of Tamarindo is famous for excellent surfing conditions. However, there are also numerous national parks such as the Palo Verde wildlife sanctuary, only accessible by guided tour boat, where you can observe a variety of birds, monkeys, crocodiles, and iguanas. The Guanacaste area also offers kayak trips, Mangrove Tours, whitewater rafting, volcano hikes, ATV tours, and of course, more zipline canopy tours. A day trip to Arenal is possible from Guanacaste. Depending on the location of the hotel, the Liberia Airport is roughly ½ hour – 1 hour away. There will be a new Hilton Garden Inn opening across from the airport in Dec 2008, a nice option for guests who have an early departure.
CARIBBEAN COAST- despite its name, this is not necessarily the area to go for a beach vacation. Large portions of the coast are protected as national parks and backed by dense jungle. The best-known area is Tortuguero, 47,000 acres, with plenty of wetlands, rivers, lagoons, and canals that serve as a window through which the visitor can admire the amazing flora and fauna, making it a wonderful experience for nature lovers. Monkeys, caimans, sloths, toucans, manatees, jaguars, and over 405 species of birds abound in the area. Approximately 3000 green sea turtles come to shore each season between July and October to lay their eggs, with Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and Leatherback turtles also coming ashore July – Sept. There is an airstrip (currently closed for renovation) across from the Tortuga Lodge, with another airstrip 2 hours north (via boat) at Barra del Colorado.
DRIVING IN COSTA RICA: Costa Rica is a small country, but many places can take a longer amount of time to get to than you may expect. The narrow roads, while generally paved, are not always very good, with huge potholes, or are even washed out in the rainy season, plus there are lots of hills, and many curves! Signage is poor, and by their own admission, Tico (local) drivers are not good. Add to this the lack of sidewalks outside of San Jose, so people and animals are sharing the roads alongside cars. And, of course, except in San Jose, street lights are minimal at best! If you insist on renting a car, a 4-wheel drive is a must, especially in the rainy season. Secure parking isn’t readily available, and break-ins are evidently frequent. If clients don’t want a tour, recommend that they either fly (if possible), hire a driver, or utilize Gray Line, which provides connections just about anywhere a tourist wants to go.
A&K comments: this fam trip was sponsored by A&K, who naturally did a superb job! Our guide was unbelievable, knowledgeable about anything and everything. All details were handled perfectly, with contingency plans in place to account for weather delays or any other unforeseen issues.
CLIENT MOBILITY: whether traveling on an escorted tour or independently, clients must be relatively mobile in order to best experience the highlights of Costa Rica. They should be able to maneuver in and out of boats, handle a fair amount of steps and uneven terrain, walk several miles, etc. There are numerous modes of transportation used, from 3-12 passenger planes, 10-15 passenger boats, SUVs on very curvy, potholed roads, etc. Several people in our group ended up not feeling very well after experiencing some of the above!
ZIP LINE TOURS - In recent years, canopy experiences and rides have come into vogue in Costa Rica. There is NO government safety regulation of these activities. A few self-regulate and use acceptable safety practices. MOST do not. There have already been three deaths involving a canopy ride in Costa Rica and frankly, it is surprising that there have not been more.
TYPICAL SOUVENIRS: coffee, of course, with “Café Britt” being a recommended brand. Usually, the grocery store has the best prices. Other popular handicrafts are wood products, such as bowls, platters, carvings, etc.
FOOD & DRINK: a typical meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) is “gallo pinto” or rice & beans (which I found relatively bland). Plantains are plentiful, and they serve a variety of tropical fruit, including excellent pineapple. Otherwise, lots of the standard chicken, beef, and fish. Costa Rican wine is not recommended by anyone! The beer, however, is fine, according to my husband. The primary brands are: Bavaria (gold, dark, and light), Imperial, and Pilsen. A popular mixed drink is a “Guaro Sour”, made from a sugar cane-based liquor named Guaro. Surprisingly, the coffee served is not always the best, except at the nicer hotels, since the “good stuff” is mostly exported.
PURA VIDA! Pura Vida (POO-rah VEE-dah), is a Costa Rican phrase you will hear quite often, that literally translated means "Pure Life." It is used as a greeting, a farewell, and to express satisfaction. PURA VIDA also means "I am doing alright", "I'm doing perfect" and "Thank you".
ARENAL NAYARA: Small lodge, with 24 wonderful casita rooms with outside shower (plus a standard inside shower), jacuzzi on the deck with view of Arenal Volcano, beautiful lush grounds, 1 restaurant.
MONTEVERDE LODGE: Located next to the Cloud Forest, outside the town of Santa Elena, this lodge offers standard accommodations, with walking trails on the grounds. Inviting restaurant/bar area with fireplace.
TORTUGA LODGE: Rustic lodge, very basic, across the river from the Airstrip (currently closed for renovation), and across the river from turtle nesting beach. Excellent guides offer trips down the river and “canals” to spot monkeys and numerous birdlife.
REALINTERCONTINENTAL: Located outside of the city, next to a mall, about 20-30 minutes from the San Jose Airport. Typical “business” hotel, large rooms, several restaurants, and a nice pool/garden area.
PEACE LODGE at LA PAZ WATERFALL GARDENS: This property, located about an hour from the San Jose Airport, would make a nice pre or post stay for clients touring Costa Rica, rather than staying right in the city. Every room has a jacuzzi and a stone fireplace, with waterfall “showers” and oversized balconies. The best part, however, is that the lodge is located at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. You could easily spend the entire day at the Park, with 3.5 kilometers of trails overlooking spectacular waterfalls, a hummingbird garden that enables you to see dozens of the gorgeous creatures up close, a butterfly observatory, serpentarium, as well as areas for monkeys, orchids, and much more, all within a beautiful, natural setting.
Such a small country with so much to offer! We began our journey in the fall of 2007 in the capital of Lisbon, exploring its rich cultural heritage, historic neighborhoods, and great nightlife, and ended with a few days relaxing on the breathtaking beaches of the Algarve.
In between, we toured the picturesque village of Sintra with its 2 fabulous palaces, the charming walled towns of Obidos and Evora, and the magnificent monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha. From dramatic coastline to lush green landscapes, the countryside was simply beautiful. Sampling the varied cuisine and wines, especially port, was an enjoyable "must"!
We spent several nights in historic Pousadas, which are castles, convents, fortresses or palaces, and very atmospheric. English is spoken almost everywhere, and we appreciated the fact that Portugal is a better value than other European countries. Portugal truly has something for everyone!
In August 2010, I had the pleasure of cruising the Danube River on the new River Beatrice, part of the Uniworld River Cruise Collection. Simply one captivating city or town after another!
First, we were able to spend three days in Prague prior to our cruise; what a beautiful city! Known as the “City of Spires”, the architecture is stunning! With most river cruises, you can travel in either direction, so we began our cruise in Passau, Germany, home to Europe’s largest pipe organ; hearing a concert in the over 300 year old Cathedral was a highlight! From there, we explored the UNESCO World Heritage town of Salzburg, where we had plenty of time to wander at leisure after our included walking tour.
The next day we toured the 900 year old Benedictine Abbey of Melk, followed by a scenic cruise thru the beautiful Wachau Valley. And, just enough time for a wine tasting at a local vineyard in the quaint village of Dürnstein. Then, on to imperial Vienna, again with included sightseeing as well as free time. Of course, we had to sample the famous Sacher Torte – delicious! But, the best was yet to come – Budapest – simply one of the loveliest cities in all Europe! We spent an extra day there at the end of our 7-night cruise, but still not enough time to see and do all that we wanted.
I was very fortunate to cruise with AMA Waterways on their famous Christmas Market River cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. Christmas Markets are held in almost every city and town in Germany and Switzerland (among many others), and are absolutely delightful! Rows of wooden stalls (reminiscent of a manager), elaborately decorated, selling all types of Christmas ornaments, food and drink, etc. Food stands are everywhere, and definitely worth checking out! Numerous kinds of pastries and sweets, hot pretzels, nuts, waffles and crepes, and of course lots of Bratwurst. But the most popular stand at any market is the Glühwein Stand, serving a variety of mulled wines (red or white), or perhaps hot cider and hot chocolate.
This is a 'must do' for everyone!
I recently cruised with Avalon from Paris to Normandy’s Landing beaches. This Paris-to-Paris cruise combines time in France’s marvelous capital with discoveries of quaint French towns. My ship was The Tapestry II, one of Avalon’s new Suite Ships, built in 2015, and it is lovely! Décor is classic and understated, only 64 cabins, 50 of which are Panorama Suites.
The itinerary included Vernon, where you can choose between a guided visit to Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny or the magnificent Bizy Castle. Les Andelys with its Château Gaillard, then Caudebec, where you can take an included excursion to the poignant Normandy landing beaches or choose the “Taste of Normandy.” We visited Joan of Arc’s historic Rouen, and in Conflans, you can see either Vincent van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise or Napoleon and Josephine’s elegant Château de Malmaison.
Some if the ship highlights include:
- Crepe making and pastry demonstrations by the chef (all delicious!)
- Special Wine Pairing dinner in the Lounge (only 20 people, so recommend signing up as soon as announced, although they offered on 2 or 3 nights)
- Special “Grill” lunch (burgers and brats) on the Sky Deck. Again, limited seating, so reservations required.
- Excellent service and almost 100% of the staff seemed to truly enjoy their job, whether interacting with guests or each other.
- Guides were exceptional, as I‘ve experienced on other River Cruises as well.
- Food was good to very good and the variety of options Avalon offered was enough to satisfy even the pickiest eater.
- Panorama Suites are nice, 200 SF. Bathrooms are gorgeous.
I have taken a number of river cruises over the years – Avalon is the best!
BERMUDA – what a beautiful island! Gorgeous water/beaches, lovely pastel houses with white roofs (to collect rainwater for drinking and household uses, since no fresh water on the island). Lots of history, quaint towns, and of course they are known for their fabulous shopping!
This was my first trip to Bermuda and my first sailing on Celebrity. I specifically chose this itinerary since it provided three days in Bermuda, more time than other cruise lines. The beaches are gorgeous! And, yes, slightly pink. Many beaches offer good snorkeling right from the shore (bring your own equipment); otherwise, there are options off-shore for both snorkeling and diving, as well as wreck dives, nighttime journeys, etc. For non-water based activities, one really nice option is Crystal Caves. Very impressive, and easy to reach by bus.
I sailed on Celebrity’s Summit. The Summit is one of their smaller ships, 2158 passengers. It was completely renovated earlier in 2016, and 80% of the cabins are window or balcony. Sails April – August out of Cape Liberty, New Jersey. A wonderful way to experience the beauty of Bermuda!