Friday, September 19, 2014

Charlotte’s tour companies are diverse, abundant and visit every continent



African lion rests in the sun of South Africa  (Photo: John Lasater)
CHARLOTTE, September 19, 2014 – If you love to travel, Charlotte has an abundance of top notch tour operators that can take to places beyond your wildest imagination.

Once you have conquered the traditional destinations of Rome, Paris and London, Charlotte’s travel experts are ready to elevate your expertise to new levels of traveling experience which include every continent on the planet.

Nada Vergili among Italian sunflowers  (Photo: Nada's Italy)
Nada Vergili returned to the United States from her native home in Florence, Italy after living several years in Florida as a child. Today, Vergili’s tour company Nada’sItaly recently celebrated its tenth anniversary featuring more than 30 Italian tours each year.

Nada’s approach to travel is the same as her business slogan, “Tours for people who don’t go on tours.“
Using her personal knowledge of the birthplace of the Renaissance, Nada limits her groups to a maximum of 12 participants with an emphasis on opening a window to the traditions and lifestyles of the Italian people.

The Duomo of Florence  (Photo: Nada's Italy)
Vergili’s infectious personality combined with her genuine love of her homeland brings Italy alive in ways that are uniquely personal and unlike any visit you have ever encountered in Europe’s sunniest destination.

Many travel experts believe that when the merger between US Airways and American Airlines is complete Charlotte’s airfares will skyrocket. Perhaps, but one benefit of the union will be added international access, especially to South and Central America.

Enter Raffaele Beltram of Beltram Travel. Raffaele has been sending visitors to our neighboring southern continent for decades, and he is knowledgeable about all things South America including Antarctica.

Guess who's coming to dinner  (Photo: Facundo Santan/Antarpply Expeditions)
The silver haired, white mustachioed tour operator loves to talk about the heritage and traditions of Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and other latin lands. In addition, he offers expeditions to explore the wildlife and vegetation of the world’s last frontier in Antarctica with cruises sailing from Ushuaia, Chile.

A whale of a tale  (Photo: Antarpply Expeditions)
Though Beltram’s expertise is South America, he also occasionally offers tours to Europe including his current program to visit the Christmas Markets of Prague in December of this year.

With Europe, South America and Antarctica covered, why not visit Asia? Francis Tsai (frantsai@gmail.com) is a veteran of the hospitality industry with nearly 5 decades of experience.
Breathtaking Hanging Temple Monastery
Tsai is a native of China with personal travel credentials and skills to offer tours to Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.


Tsai’s destination list includes some of the most exotic spots in the world. In addition, enough time has elapsed since the war in Vietnam that many veterans of that era now have a desire to return much like D-Day veterans go back to the beaches of Normandy.

The Great Wall
During the early years of his travel career, Tsai worked with Pan American Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Lufthansa, Carnival Cruise Lines and the Hong Kong Tourist Association among others which give him a broad, diverse background in the tourism business.

Turkey is the only country in the world situated on two continents and Istanbul is the only city with “dual continent“ status.

Sam Crane of Crane Travel Tours worked in NATO headquarters in Izmir, Turkey as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. He is fluent in the Turkish language and, thanks to his years of working in the Adriatic region of the world, Sam has compiled a encyclopedic knowledge of Turkey and environs.
Crane’s tour company has been active for nearly 20 years with specialized tours to one of the best kept secrets in the tourism business.
Istanbul's Hagia Sophia  (Photo: Crane Travel Tours)
Crane’s tours emphasize Turkey’s historical heritage as ancient Asia Minor which was “the cradle of Western civilization.“

Magnificent Cappadocia  (Photo: Crane Travel Tours)
From the covered bazaar and mosques of Istanbul to the Greek ruins of the Mediteranean and beyond, Crane Travel Tours takes you into the past through the crossroads of Western culture.

Africa completes Charlotte’s list of continental knowledge and Safaris by John Lasater is all you need to know. 

When it comes to photo safaris, John Lasater is one of the best. Over the past quarter century Lasater has visited the “dark continent” nearly 60 times.

Rare sighting of a leopard in a tree  (Photo: John Lasater)
For more than 13 years Lasater has been personally customizing tours to Africa. Best of all, Lasater’s prices are frequently comparable to what most people pay for a trip to Europe. Many tours, which include accommodations, game viewing, tours, guides, meals and air, can be done for less than $5,000.

Jumbo out for an afternoon stroll  (Photo: John Lasater)
As a consultant for South African Airways for more than a decade, Lasater developed a passion for Africa that carries over to the detailed personalized attention he incorporates in each of his itineraries. Our tours are “customized to your requirements,” he says while adding the caveat, “If you come back unhappy it’s your own fault.”


And there you have it. Five tour operators and six continents all available through local Charlotte experts who have seen the world and will gladly share it with you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Switzerland's Golden Pass Train (Part II)

Castle of Chillon, Montreux, Switzerland
SWITZERLAND, September 12, 2014 – Switzerland’s Golden Pass connects three rail journeys into a single trip that combines diverse scenery linking the German region of the country with the French.

The first section travels from Lucerne to Interlaken over a rack railroad that glides through forested mountains beside glacial lakes.

Golden Pass from Zweisimmen to Montreux
The middle portion of the GoldenPass passes delightful villages and farms en route from Interlaken to Zweisimmen where travelers change for the panoramic final leg.  With model train sensations, Zweisimmen is an easy place to take a stroll or enjoy a snack before completing the adventure.

Some MOB trains have special services available.  Passengers seeking a truly unique experience can reserve limited VIP seats at a picture window in the front of the train.  By placing the engineer over the first coach, travelers are able to look directly out to the tracks as the train moves through the countryside.

Another option is the “Golden Pass Classic” featuring vintage refurbished cars from the Orient Express.  Reservations for groups are required and they are highly suggested for individuals, especially during high season.  Special supplements only apply to VIP seats, and reservations for these seats are compulsory and should be attempted well in advance.

Though more difficult to obtain, the VIP panoramic seats are preferable to the vintage rail cars.  After all, Switzerland is all about scenery, and a window seat that nearly puts you on the tracks is a rare opportunity.  In a vintage coach, once you adapt to the historic ambience, it’s really just another carriage.

Gstaad, home of the rich and famous
Just 30-minutes outside of Zweisimmen, the allure of the high-society lifestyle of Gstaad beckons.  Here the course moves along a singular track through an expanse of the valley that is so vast it creates feelings of being transformed into an elaborate HO scale model train layout.  Ahead are the promise of bold new dimensions of freedom that deliver you from the repetitions of day-to-day living.
           
If you can afford the price tag, Gstaad is a year-round fantasy world filled with international celebrities, luxurious hotels and extravagant shopping.  This is lifestyles of the rich and famous to the extreme.  Noted entertainers, diplomats and world leaders are frequent visitors, and many luminaries such as Julie Andrews, Roger Moore, Jeanne Moreau, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor have or had part-time residences there.

Rolling Swiss countryside near Chateau d'Oex
Departing Gstaad, the MOB proceeds to Chateau-d’Oex (pronounced Chateau Day), which has become world famous as a center for hot air ballooning.  With its extensive breadth, the train hums through the valley in the silence of the surroundings.  So serene is the setting, the silence seems to have a sound of its own.
           
Ballooning is a year-round activity in Chateau-dO’ex, but, since 1979 it has held a balloon festival during the last week of January each year.  Enthusiasts from all over the world annually converge on the tiny village to participate.  The area has even become so popular that in March of 1999, Chateau-d’Oex was the starting point for the first hot balloon to circumnavigate the globe.

Golden Pass travels through huge vineyards near Montreux
The final stretch of the route leads to Les Avants where the train begins its descent to the Lake Geneva region and Montreux.  Traveling in this direction is preferable because the serpentine route zigs and zags its way through seemingly infinite vineyards with breathtaking views of the lake and the impressive Castle of Chillon in the distance.
           
The vineyards are often surprising to travelers since the country is not noted for its wine production.  The reason is simple.  Though Swiss wines are excellent, the product is not exported as the Swiss choose, selfishly or wisely, to consume the beverage themselves.
           
Montreux is the final stop for the MOB, but the Swiss Federal Railways have numerous fast and easy connections along the shores of Lake Geneva to Vevey, Lausanne and Geneva, including Geneva’s international airport.  For travelers with more time, there is also frequent lake steamer service between Montreux and Geneva, and the boats accept both Eurailpasses and Swiss Rail Passes at no additional cost.
           

Giessbach Falls near Interlaken
Though not the fastest way to get from Lucerne to the Lake of Geneva, Golden Pass trains may be the most relaxing.  Combining the diversity of landscapes with a variety of destinations and first-rate services along the way, there’s little doubt that this rail journey is a “golden” opportunity.   

Friday, September 5, 2014

Switzerland’s Golden Pass: Three train trips in one (Part 1)

Golden Pass departs Montreux, Switzerland  
SWITZERLAND, September 5, 2014 – The Golden Pass route from Lucerne to Montreux is designated as one of the five classic rail journeys in Switzerland.  It combines three diverse routes that connect mountains, woodlands, lakes, vineyards and even castles with several of Switzerland’s most popular destinations.  Best of all, Eurailpasses and Swiss Rail Passes are accepted for travel along the entire route.

Lake steamer, Lucerne, Switzerland
Heading from the lovely resort village of Lucerne, the first leg of the journey travels through the Brunig Pass to Meiringen and then on to Interlaken.  Though the distance is relatively short in terms of miles, and the pass is only about 3,000 feet high, the rapid increase in elevation combined with the logistical maneuvering of the train requires additional time for the rack-and-pinion system to negotiate the terrain. 
           
Depending on which train you choose, the journey takes between 75 and 90 minutes through cool, densely forested hills.  Three small lakes, Alpnach, Sarnen and Lungern, are a visual treat for riders as the train glides past mountainside villages and sheep graze at the base of the heavens. 

Sherlock Holmes statue, Meiringen

If time permits, Meiringen is great place for a brief visit, especially if you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes.  It was in Meiringen that the great, fictional British sleuth chased down his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarity.   Eventually the two adversaries engaged in hand-to-hand combat before falling to their deaths at nearby Reichenbach Falls.  Enthusiasts were so upset by the demise of their beloved detective that author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was later obliged to revive his character for future mysteries.

If you bother to get off the train, there can be no doubt about the influence Sherlock has had on the community.  The railway station features a full-sized mock up of Holmes flat at 221-B Baker Street in London.  There is also a statue honoring the illustrious consulting detective that features clues from each of the Holmes novels and short stories.

Replica of Holmes residence at 221B Baker St.
A hotel and pub bearing Holmes name are all the proof you need to know this was the site of The Final Problem.  Ambitious travelers may want to hike to the top of Reichenbach Falls, but for the less hardy there is a seasonal funicular that takes visitors to the summit.

From Meiringen, the delightful woodcarver’s village of Brienz is just a 20-minute train ride.  Tucked between the mountainside and the northern shores of the Lake of Brienz, this picturesque town is the home of Lötscher, the only authentic Swiss cuckoo clock maker in the world today.

If they choose, rail pass holders can take advantage of another bonus in Brienz.  Lake steamers make frequent cruises between Brienz to Interlaken, including a stop near the spectacular Giessbach waterfall which spills dramatically into the lake.  As a side note, the train to the top of the falls, the Giessbach-Bahn, is the oldest funicular in Europe.
Overlooking the Lake of Brienz near Interlaken, Switzerland
The steamer pier is just a short walk across the tracks in Brienz.  Boat trips take about an hour, and travelers can reconnect for their onward journey on the Golden Pass in Interlaken.  Passengers with less time, or no desire to sail, can continue by rail around the perimeter of the lake.

In most places, the segment of the Golden Pass between Interlaken and Zweisimmen would be considered a premier rail journey.  In Switzerland, it is more of a pleasant diversion between the perpendicular upheavals of rock in the Alps and the gentle carpet-like progression of rolling farmland.  This leg of the route is one of those in-between places where intoxicating images whisper tales of discovery.  Sit back.  Relax.  Enjoy the ride.

The tiny village of Zweisimmen, Switzerland
Zweisimmen is the terminus of the BLS rail line and the starting point for the third portion of the Golden Pass, the MOB train, which travels to Montreux.  The chalet-filled toy-like village is also the gateway to the world famous jet-setting resort of Gstaad just down the tracks.

Nestled in the heart of a wide valley floor, Zweisimmen lies at the center of a popular ski region, but it is difficult to believe when you are there.  In Zweisimmen the Alps do not swallow the sky as they do in other sections of Switzerland.  Winter is for skiing, but the summer season brings a profusion of flowers and fantastic hiking and walking trails.
 
While waiting to change trains, Zweisimmen is a great place for some last minute shopping, a relaxing stroll, a refreshing glass of beer or a cup of hot chocolate.  Montreux, on the banks of Lake Geneva, is just an hour and a half away.
Rolling countryside of the Golden Pass route in Switzerland
Prepare yourself for vast expanses of rolling countryside before concluding your journey along serpentine ribbons of steel through tiers of neatly manicured vineyards.

Making tracks through Switzerland from Lucerne to Montreux, or vice-versa, is a "golden" opportunity.

Friday, August 29, 2014

320 GuestRanch in Montana offers all the right reasons to visit


Big Sky's majestic ski slopes  (Photo: Taylor)
BIG SKY, MONT,  August 29, 2014 – When it comes to outdoor activities, 320 Guest Ranch in Big Sky, Montana is a land for all seasons.

Deriving its name from the merger of two 160-acre homesteads, 320 Ranch offers a smorgasbord of things for travelers to do any time of the year but, if you must pick one season, choose winter.

Homey 320 atmosphere  (Photo: Taylor)
Just north of the west entrance to Yellowstone Park and a bit south of Big Sky Ski Resort, 320 Ranch is easily accessible from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN). Take your time driving through Ted Turner country and the scenic Gallatin Canyon along U.S. Highway 191 to Big Sky. The ranch is just beyond. There’s only one main road and there is no rush. Time will wait.

The road, Route 191, roughly parallels the pristine Gallatin River meandering beneath towering pines and the majestic Bridger Mountains. Once you arrive at 320 Ranch, as the classic cowboy song Home on the Range says, “The skies are not cloudy all day.” Locals call them “bluebird sky days” and the only thing better is when snow is falling to add a new layer of “cold smoke” to the ski slopes.

The 320 Guest Ranch is an Old West experience with all the comforts of home. Accommodations range from the historic McGill Cabin to 60 other rustic log cabin-style facilities that preserve some of the original structures while retaining their “Montana ambience.”

Interior McGill cabin  (Photo: Taylor)
Today, the 320 Ranch offers deluxe one bedroom cabins, as well as two bedroom riverfront log cabins, a three bedroom luxury log home, and the TeePee Cabin along with the McGill Cabin. Rates vary according to type and season. There are also special events packages and discounts.

Dr. Caroline McGill bought the property in 1936 with the idea of using the ranch as a place for recuperation. Not only was it a personal retreat for McGill, the tranquil streams and surrounding mountains were an ideal location for her patients to regain their strength.

McGill was a dynamo of energy and personality. At just under five feet in height and weighing less than 120 pounds, the doctor quickly adapted to life along the Gallatin River in the area of Big Horn Creek. She was an avid outdoor-person with a love of horseback riding, hunting and fishing. All of which made the 320 Ranch a perfect location for her nature living lifestyle.

To say that Caroline McGill was “spunky” is an understatement. After graduating at the top of her class at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1914, she became the first female doctor and first female pathologist in Montana at a time when the region was rugged and wild and women were given little respect. McGill’s success as a doctor and entrepreneur are a tribute to her determination and grit.

More cabins were added in 1987 when David Brask expanded the ranch, turning it into a full-fledged resort while maintaining the original character. Brask even incorporated many items of Dr. McGill’s junk collection in the new facilities in honor of her vibrant spirit.


Snow Mobiling in Yellowstone  (Photo: Taylor)
Skiing, of course, is the dominant attraction at Big Sky Resort just 12 miles away. But the 320 also offers the full range of winter activities including snowmobiling, snowboarding, dog sledding, snow-coach tours of Yellowstone Park, shopping and spa trips in Big Sky and Bozeman, and even big game hunting.

Yellowstone's winter beauty  (Photo: Taylor)
Also popular on the ranch property itself are one-hour sleigh rides three times each night during the winter season. Rides are $35 for adults, $20 for kids 12 under and free for guests younger than  three years. There is a stop en route at a warming tent where appetizers or desserts are served depending upon the time in the evening.

Visitors enjoy a breakfast buffet 7-9 a.m. each day in the restaurant. Though the dishes change daily, breakfasts served there may be the best breakfasts in Montana.

Wildlife abounds  (Photo: Taylor)
Lunch and dinner menus feature a variety of wild game specialties, such as meatloaf made with elk, bison or beef. It is not uncommon for fishermen to bring in their catch for the chef to prepare it with a goat cheese appetizer, and bake it with garlic cloves and a side of oven-toasted Parmesan bread.

Summer months are equally festive with activities ranging from horseback riding to hiking, hayrides, outdoor BBQs and nightly bonfires as well as golf and whitewater rafting.

Summer or winter, don’t be surprised to find lively musical performances at the ranch along with plenty of rousing Western-style dancing.
Big Sky sunset  (Photo: Taylor)
Big Sky’s 320 Guest Ranch is a perfect place for travelers seeking Mother Nature’s personal nourishment for the soul. It’s a superb chef’s salad of meaty activities complete with ranch dressing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

San Pietro: The invisible hotel on the Amalfi Coast

Spectacular Amalfi Coast with Hotel San Caterina sitting within the rock  (Photo: San Pietro
POSITANO, ITALY, August 22, 2014 – Think of a deluxe, five-star hotel and you conjure breathtaking scenery, superb cuisine, elegant accommodations, first-rate service and romantic ambience all combined in a singular atmosphere of luxury.  But Hotel San Pietro, on the outskirts of Positano, Italy, takes the concept one step further, into a whole new dimension.  How?  Because, simply put, this magnificent family run hotel is…well…it’s invisible!
           
Balcony at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Whether you approach San Pietro from the road or the sea, you have to look for the hotel to find it.  REALLY look.  But when you find it, that’s just the beginning.
           
Situated about two kilometers east of Positano, the tiny Chapel of San Pietro (St. Peter) perches at the edge of what is little more than a wide spot in the road that bends along the serpentine rock face of the coast. Use the chapel as a landmark.  Otherwise you’ll miss the hotel. 

Walk to the left of the church and go behind it.  Then take the steps through a stunning array of fragrances emanating from bougainvillea, hibiscus and grape arbors that line the stairway to an elevator.  Better yet, stroll leisurely among the terraces of flowers that lead to the lobby, known as the Hall.

The Hall at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
In moments you are surrounded by Italian marble, cool tile floors, cantilevered terraces, sloping gardens and sweeping views of the Bay of Positano that point a perpetual face to the sun.  You have entered a world where luxury and simplicity blend harmoniously to create an atmosphere of casual charm and elegant perfection.
           
It all began in 1962 when Carlo Cinque decided to build a private villa and bought some land at the peak of a rocky cliff face where only the tiny, ancient Chapel of San Pietro existed.  At the time, Positano was just a sleepy fishing village that had gradually started to attract the attention of tourists in the previous decade.          
           
John Steinbeck visited Positano in 1953 describing it as “a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” 

Soon after, the community became a haven for writers and artists.  The hidden treasure had been discovered.  It was no longer a secret. Positano would never be the same.
The Grand Terrace at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Shortly after Carlo purchased the land, he went to work on his dream, literally carving his imaginative ideas into the rock.  Overcoming overwhelming obstacles created by the sheer logistical difficulties of elevation and excavation, Cinque eventually completed a small apartment and garden.
Gradually, he added more rooms and more gardens. 

Room at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Little by little, the idea of transforming his craggy precipice into the most perfect hotel on the crest of a cliff was born.  With determination and imagination he burrowed his masterpiece into the rock without disturbing the natural beauty of the surroundings.

After 8 years of incredibly difficult work, 33 rooms facing the bay were opened along with a large lobby and a spectacular terrace.  Today, the hotel is a myriad of 62 rooms cleverly tucked into the cliffs in a series of nearly a dozen ledges.  Each room is completely private with its own balcony and stunning view. 

Dining under the stars (Photo: San Pietro)
Carlo wanted his “small Eden” to have minimal separation from the exquisite plants and flowers outside, so those same exotic garden plants and fragrant flowers appear inside as well, spilling in abundance from planters.  Vines trail along the interior ceiling, while bougainvillea cascades from balconies and other varieties of vegetation span shaded terraces.

Hotel San Pietro is an architectural wonder.  Rooms are seductively appointed with antiques, hand-painted furniture, ceramic tiles and terra-cotta floors.  Some rooms have no curtains in either the bedroom or the bathroom.  The concept allows guests to see out, while no one else can see in; creating an ambience of being totally alone within nature.



Simple elegance  (Photo: San Pietro)
"Special” rooms all have features that set them apart, be it the largest windows, the most sumptuous decor, or the most expansive bathroom.  Experience a bed so large that it had to be constructed inside the room.  Or enjoy the luxury of a sunken marble bathtub next to a giant picture window.  The tub is big enough to accommodate you and three of your most intimate friends.   There’s even a bedroom featuring a full-sized marble sculpture of a male figure with water streaming from a strategic and rather indiscreet location.
           
Perhaps the most amazing construction project was the delicate blasting that took place to install the elevator that travels from the main lobby to the private beach below.  From the Hall, the lift descends 290-feet through solid rock before opening into a huge grotto on the beach.  From the cave, a 25-yard stroll leads to a walkway that goes to a sunbathing platform and bar on the rocks which are surrounded by flower-filled terraces.  There is also a nearby tennis court and rose garden.

The story of the creation of the Hotel San Pietro is the tale of one man's realization of a dream -- a family saga with elements of adventure, fantasy and flair plus inexhaustible commitment and dedication.  Carlo Cinque was not an architect or a designer or a technical engineer.  He was a man with an idea and desire to demonstrate how tenacity and determination could unite a sense of beauty and intelligence into a living paradise.  That is the genius of Carlo Cinque and Hotel San Pietro.

One final element sets San Pietro apart, and that’s the undeniable hospitality that was a hallmark of Cinque’s personality; a characteristic that perpetuates his legacy today.  After Carlo's death in 1984, his nephew and niece, Salvatore and Virginia Attanasio, took over the property.  They have successfully carried on the tradition, maintaining the same affection, personable charm and ongoing friendships with their guests that was so distinctively typical of their beloved uncle.
Upstairs pools at Hotel San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
San Pietro celebrates a symphony of life, where dawn doesn’t break. Rather, it eases gently up hillsides, caressing each little nook and kissing every tiny contour.  Here you can follow the celestial rhythms of the day as glittering paths of golden sunlight yield to sparkling moonbeams that dance like liquid stars on the surface of the sea.
 
Hotel San Pietro may indeed be invisible, but it is definitely a place where “seeing” is believing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Traveling to Antarctica: Just go with the floe

M/V USHUAIA cruises Antarctica  (Photo: Facunda Santana/Antarpply  Expeditions)
USHUAIA, ARGENTINA, August 15, 2014 – Avid travelers love to say they would go the ends of the earth to discover some place new. Today Antarctica is one of trendiest destinations to visit, and that is about as near to the end of the earth you can go.

One tour operator specializing in tours to Antarctica is Antarpply which sails out of the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.

 (Monika Schillat/Antarpply Expeditions)
Among the benefits of operating from Ushaia is that the city is located south of the Straits of Magellan, which for centuries was one of the most hazardous places in the world for seafarers to navigate. Today, thanks to the Panama Canal, ships save time, money and potentially hazardous conditions by not having to navigate around the tip of South America.

The Antarpply ship, which is appropriately named the M/V USHUAIA, has been refurbished to accommodate a maximum of 88 passengers in 44 cabins and suites. Obviously that means the USHUAIA is not one of those impersonal floating cities that takes a week in which to become oriented.

(Facunda Santana/Antarpply Expedtions)
In fact, USHUAIA was originally built for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an ice-strengthened polar vessel. With well appointed staterooms, ample deck space and an open bridge policy, there is an intimacy among passengers combined with the natural wonder of Antarctica that is rare in other forms of sea cruising.

Antarpply offers four different itineraries. Regardless of the tour, they all include the Drake Passage made famous by renowned explorer Sir Francis Drake who sailed the region in 1578.

Sailing aboard the M/V USHUAIA in Antarctica  (Photo: Vergara/Antarpply Expeditions)
Drake Passage marks the Antarctic Convergence, where cold polar water sinks beneath warmer northern waters to create a massive surge of nutrients that sustain the biodiversity of the area.
In addition, the Drake Passage is also the northern border for many Antarctic seabirds.

(Filip Kulisev/Antarpply Expeditions)
Icebergs and snow-capped mountains begin to appear as the vessel reaches the Shetland Islands which were first sighted in 1819 by Captain William Smith. The Shetlands are a cluster of 20 islands and islets which provide the first shore excursion (conditions permitting) where travelers enjoy one of many encounters with penguins and seals.

Drake Passage is also a popular spot for whale watching.

The South Shetland Islands are a famous haven for wildlife. King George Island is especially abundant with huge colonies of nesting Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Blue-eyed Cormorants, Antarctic Terns and Southern Giant Petrels as well as being home to scientific bases from many different countries.

(Pablo Petracci/Antarpply Expeditions)
Not only does the USHUAIA offer passengers up-close-and-personal access to wildlife, it also journeys past unique ice formations which have been personally handcrafted by Mother Nature herself. Three waterways in particular, the Gerlache Strait, the Neumayer Channel and the Lemaire Channel feature towering rock faces and spectacular glaciers that loom so close you feel  you can literally reach out and touch them.

As one might expect on an adventure tour such as this, flexibility is a must depending upon weather conditions and accessibility.

Whale of a tale (Photo: Antarpply Expeditions)
USHUAIA carries its own fleet of Zodiacs which are driven by skilled boatmen. Zodiaks accommodate up to 12 guests and easy to board and disembark. Designed for polar explorations, Zodiaks make it possible to go ashore to experience first-hand the vegetation and wildlife of Antarctica.

As a rule USHUAIA’s bridge is open to passengers who want to experience the navigational operations of the ship and ask the crew questions. On occasion, if weather becomes a factor, the bridge may be closed to visitors.

Size matters (Photo: Weisheng Lin/Antarpply Expeditions)
Dining aboard a compact vessel such as the USHUAIA is single seating with no pre-assigned tables.
Dress aboard ship is informal. Travelers from the United States are always happy to know that they can use American dollars for payments and electrical current is 110 V/60 Hz which is the same as it is in the U.S.

Cabins are also fitted with sockets to accommodate a variety of international plugs but it is suggested that travelers bring any necessary converters and adaptors even though there are a limited number of convertors aboard which can be borrowed.

All cabins on Upper Deck G are equipped with hairdryers, but the hotel manager has a supply that can be borrowed if needed.
Sunset at the bottom of the world  (Photo: Weisheng Lin/Antarpply Expeditions)
Antarpply has an expert team of lecturers who accompany the tours and provide nightly briefings and information before, during and after shore excursions.

Believe it or not, Antarctica is an up-and-coming travel destination. For information, The Magellan TravelClub in Charlotte is offering a tour in November of 2015 through the services of Beltram Travel which specializes in South America.

In addition to the Antarctica cruise there is an optional trip to Buenos Aires to visit the famed Iguazu Falls.


And don’t forget, when you return home, you will have stories and memories that will serve as the ideal “ice breaker” at your next social gathering.