Friday, July 27, 2018

Santorini's unique boutique cave hotel

Sugar cube buildings peer down at the deep blue Aegean from Santorini  (Courtesy:
SANTORINI, GREECE — Ever hear the expression "have you been living in a cave?" Well, now you can on the Greek island of Santorini and, rest assured, it will be the most luxurious "cave" you ever visited.

Some travelers say that arriving at Santorini by boat looks like snow-capped peaks from a distance. Others describe the Greek island as having "sugar cube" buildings nestled high above the deep blue Aegean Sea. Still others think Santorini looks like an open-air salt mine.

Looking into the caldera from Iconic Santini
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
All are accurate descriptions to describe the unique setting that is one of Greece's most popular destinations.

But if Santorini is unique, Iconic Santorini, is even "uniquer."

"Uniquer" may not be a real word (until now), but the ambiance of Santorini's boutique cave hotel deserves such an unusual description because it, like its island home, is one of a kind. And that's what makes it "uniquer."

Bold uncluttered Greek styling
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
Santorini is a fabled island destination that has been linked with the Lost City of Atlantis and other Greek legends for centuries.

As Dimitra of Iconic Santorini's reception team says, the idea behind the hotel is "to explore one of the world's most extraordinary destinations. There are so many diversions beyond its antiquities, beyond its centuries-old vineyards and our guests always seem surprised that there are so many ways to see them -- by wave-runner, sea kayak, helicopter, even by donkey.”

Stairway to paradise  (Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)

What better way to begin a "once upon a time" journey than by staying in a deluxe setting atop the caldera of a legendary volcano?

With 360-degree panoramic vistas, Iconic Santorini is so special, it is oftentimes difficult to rouse guests from their personal balconies or the sun drenched terraces to get them to explore the island. Now that's "uniquer."

The definition of picturesque
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
Perched 1,000 feet above the deep blue Aegean waters of the caldera, 19 individually appointed cliffside cave homes with stone ceilings and local decor peer out from pure white buildings that make sunglasses necessary to take it all in.

Just because the residences are set within caves doesn't mean "roughing it" by any means. Not with flat-screen televisions, dedicated wi-fi, JBL sound systems, all-natural Coco-mat bedding and, naturally, air conditioning included in each and every "personalized" accommodation.

Dining high above the deep blue of the Aegean
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
For those who can be lured from their luxurious surroundings to explore Santorini's numerous attractions, there are at least a half dozen outings to entice visitors who share a sense of adventure and wanderlust.

Why not try SCUBA diving in tucked-away caves, one of which even boasts of a secret church?

Hiking is a favorite activity on the rim of the crater. With an ancient well-marked pathway connecting the villages of Fira and Oia, travelers can get their exercise fix with unforgettable views to guide them.

Don't forget the pistachios
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
By the way, don't forget to stop for some pistachio nuts along the way. Santorini may just have the best in the world.

Adventurous visitors who are exercise-challenged can opt for a helicopter tour over centuries-old vineyards and Santorini's distinctive white "sugar cube" villages.

Sea kayaks or stand-up paddleboards are another way to view the ancient volcanic cliffs. Have your camera ready on this outing because you will most assuredly witness cliff jumpers participating in a another of the island's favorite activities.

Outdoor pool
  (Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
Try powerboating to Nea Kameni, one of the caldera's islets. The popular thing here is a beach picnic preceded or followed by a dip in volcanic hot springs.

Rounding out the six insider tips, is a stop at a traditional Santorini vineyard to sample the island's distinctive Assyrtiko wines.

That's just a half dozen ways to begin. Shopping has long been an island favorite along with numerous sports shacks, parasailing, balloon outings, horseback riding, donkey tours, snorkeling and SCUBA diving to add to the choices.

Enjoy the "suite life" at the edge of a cliff
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)
One of the rapidly growing trends in travel is hotels that are conveniently scattered throughout a destination without being located in a single high rise building. Iconic Santorini is taking that idea one step further and the result has been a new sense of freedom and independence for travelers.

With so much to offer, it is no wonder that Iconic Santorini has earned the World Travel Award as "Greece's Leading Boutique Hotel" for four years in a row.

Day's end with promises of a great new tomorrow
(Courtesy: Iconic Santorini)

In addition, TripAdvisor has also honored Iconic Santorini with its "Traveller's Choice Award" for 2018.

For more information contact Martha Morano  (212-860-5566)

Let yourself go. "Cave in" to Iconic Santorini and its "unique boutique" which is otherwise simply described as "uniquer."

Friday, July 20, 2018

Tripping the "light" fantastic at Tamina Gorge in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland

For the second straight year Tamina Gorge is morphing into a
breathtaking extravaganza of light 
(Courtesy: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz)

BAD RAGAZ, SWITZERLAND — World famous Tamina Gorge in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland is lighting its mysterious caves from now until September 30th.

After the overwhelming success of the first multimedia light show last year, a collaborative effort between the local tourism organization, the canton of St. Gallen, the local authority and the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is once again illuminating the site where thermal waters have bubbled  from their source for centuries.

Gateway to a mystical showcase of 3-D light images
(Courtesy: Grand Resport Bad Ragaz)

Modern technology has been incorporated to create the a mesmerizing spectacle ingeniously transforming Tamina Gorge into the largest natural screen in the world.

As visitors enter the mysterious rock face setting, they are suddenly transported into a strange world that exists somewhere between illusion and reality. By incorporating a world of natural spring water and the power of the elements the breathtaking explosion of light carries visitors into a new dimension of sensuality.

A visual feast for the senses
(Courtesy: Grand Resort
Bad Ragaz)
"Light Ragaz" is truly visual feast for the senses.

The one of a kind show was created by Projektil, a Zurich-based agency, last year. An immediate hit with visitors, there was never any doubt that the exhibition would have a second-coming and chances are good it will ultimately become an internationally known annual display.

The word bad in German translates to something very good for most people because it means "spa" or "bath" in English. Thus any village or hotel property in a German speaking country means travelers can expect to luxuriate away their cares with relaxing wellness programs that are second to none.

In the shadow of the Alps
(Courtesy: Grand Resort
Bad Ragaz)
Approximately 800 years ago warm water was discovered leaking from the crevices of the cold stone of the mystical gorge. Local monks from nearby Pfäfers Monastery believed the thermal phenomenon was caused by a dragon living in the gorge.

As far as the monks were concerned there could be no other explanation for the continuous patches of fog emanating from the entrance to the cave.

Despite the fact that the mystery was solved in 1242 when the healing waters were discovered, it took three more centuries before the physician and scientist Paracelsus came to Bad Ragaz and confirmed the therapeutic advantages of the waters.

Thermal luxury in the resort pool at Bad Ragax
(Courtesy: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz)
Now in its second iteration, light artists project 3D effects onto the structures and rock formations of the gorge. Using cutting edge technology, the light casts illuminations more than 260-feet high in some places taking visitors on a spectacular visual journey of brilliant colors that is more than a half-mile long.

"Light Ragaz" is a one-of-a-kind exhibition that is gaining in popularity each year  (Courtesy: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz)

Gates at "Light Ragaz" open to its other world dimension at 5:30 each evening presenting alluring Swiss nature as it has never been viewed before.

Grand Resort Bad Ragaz has an "air" of elegance and style
(Courtesy: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz)
Travelers can combine a visit to the light show with a stay at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz which, according to the newspaper "SonntagsZeitung" is the best wellness  hotel in the country.

A special rate for a stay at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz during Light Ragaz includes:
     •     2 overnight stays and an extensive breakfast buffet
     •     Entry to the Thermal Spa with its legendary pool, Helenabad, plus bathing in the beloved Tamina Therme (public thermal healing baths)
    •     Welcome drink in the bar
    •     1x 4 course Light Ragaz Dinner in Restaurant Bel-Air, Olives d'Or, Zollstube or Namun
   •     Entry to Light Ragaz in the Tamina Gorge incl. return travel by bus.

The Garden Pool beckons
(Courtesy: Grand Resort
Bad Ragaz)
Situated in the eastern Swiss region of Heidiland, Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz offers seven restaurants with a total of 59 Gault Millau points and 1 Michelin Star, a bistro, a Sushi-take-away and a café all cater for culinary delights. There are also two golf courses available for guests, a business and events center, a variety of cultural activities and a casino to  complement the experience.

The "Blue Gold" of Bad Ragaz, discovered in Tamina Gorge in 1242, offers guests a unique and authentic spa experience in the thermal spa as well as the popular public thermal baths,  Tamina Therme.

A spa for all seasons
(Courtesy: Grand Resort
Bad Ragaz)

This is enhanced by the internationally renowned medical center’s supporting medicinal achievements, including the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre.

A visit to "Light Ragaz" promises to be an "illuminating" one-of-a-kind experience that's, well...let's just say absolutely "gorge"-ous.

Combined with a stay at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz and you will quickly learn that being "bad" never felt so good.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Three great cruise destinations and why

Celebrity Edge makes its maiden voyage in December with
innovations that will change cruising  (Courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)

CHARLOTTE, NC — Organizing the ideal cruise to suit your individual lifestyle takes more planning than most people think.

Cruising has countless variables to consider; cost, cruise lines, length, ports, ships and their size, amenities, days at sea, shore excursions, dining, entertainment, average age of clientele, service, shipboard activities and on and on.

Celebrity Edge will feature split level suites
(Courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)

Some considerations carry more weight than others but, in general, many cruisers either prefer to cruise for the sake of cruising or to be in a different port each day. For the most part, shore people do not enjoy the idea of being on board a ship when they could be out exploring.

The best way to cruise, at least from a personal perspective, is to seek out itineraries which feature a good mixture of both shore days and sea days. After all, what good is doing a cruise if you don't plan to spend some time on the ship?

Asian cruises are longer
(Phoro: Robert Taylor)
Perhaps the second most important consideration for most people is the length of the cruise. Again, personally a seven day itinerary is the minimum with a maximum of 12 to 14-days as the longest.

Cruise lines that pay close attention to logistics while at sea and in port are ideal because they maximize the cruising experience with minimal confusion for passengers. Logistics, when done efficiently and correctly, are subliminal since they are not typically something clients think about. They are, however, a key factor for cruise lines to ensure the best possible impressions for their clients.

With that basic background in mind, here are three cruise itineraries that have been personally satisfying and why.

Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard is its own destination
(Photo: Robert Taylor)

Bermuda: Cruising to Bermuda may sound limiting at first, but in truth it is an ideal itinerary for cruisers and non-cruisers alike. As a one port destination, travelers get the best of both worlds with several days at sea and three days to explore Bermuda on shore.

Celebrity Summit features a capacity of slightly less than 2,200 passengers making it a human-sized vessel for those who are put off by massive numbers of people.

Celebrity Summit sails to
Bermuda  (Courtesy: Celebrity
Summit's maiden voyage was October 2001 with major renovations completed in March 2016 including Celebrity's first rooftop terrace.

Summit sails from Cape Liberty Cruise Port, one of three trans-Atlantic passenger terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Don't be confused if you hear it called Cruise Port Bayonne. That's just another name for it since the port is located Bayonne, NJ.

Shopping is a favorite pastime in Bermuda 
(Phoro: Robert Taylor)
Summit departs Cape Liberty on Sunday afternoons with a couple of days at sea before arriving at King's Wharf in Bermuda each Wednesday morning.

Two and a half days are more than enough time to explore the pink sand beaches and compact destination that made Bermuda shorts a household article of summer clothing.

Local pub
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Bermuda is roughly shaped like a large fish-hook with Kings Wharf situated at the western tip of the island. The name can be a bit misleading because the dock is actually one of two berths that are part of Bermuda's Naval Dockyard.

With the huge influx of visitors now arriving on cruise ships, the dockyard has become a destination unto itself chock full of attractions, museums, restaurants, pubs and boutique shopping.

There are lots of ways to see Bermuda, including ferries
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Access to and from the ships has been greatly simplified with regular miniaturized trains that pick up and drop off passengers at multiple locations.

Once ashore, there is ample opportunity for shore excursions or independent exploration of the two best known towns in Bermuda; Hamilton and St George's.

Out for a stroll with the pups
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Celebrity Summit departs Bermuda in mid-afternoon on Fridays with another day and a half at sea before arriving back at Cape Liberty on Sunday morning for disembarkation.

What makes this cruise unique is that, unlike most sea going adventures, there's only one port to explore, therefore allowing ample time to see anything and everything your lifestyle suggests.

Ancient stocks in St. Georges hearken to another time
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Best of all, by being aboard ship, you can avoid many of the higher priced amenities of this upscale destination which means more bang for your traveling dollar.

Celebrity Millennium sails in Asia part of the year
(Photo: Robert Taylor)

ASIA: For starters, a cruise through Asia is generally not an itinerary for first-time travelers. Secondly, it is virtually impossible to offer accurate information about a specific itinerary because cruise lines change destinations from season to season.

Shipboard activities such as Tango lessons add to the variety
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
As with all three itineraries suggested by this article, there is an equal balance between days at sea and days ashore, which is truly the best way to travel by ship.

Exotic Asian culture
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Asian cruises are typically longer than others primarily because of the distance involved in getting there. That said, the advantage here is the opportunity to visit multiple ports in a single itinerary, including shore excursions which reduce the apprehension that many travelers, even veterans, have in dealing with serious language barriers.

Celebrity's Millennium will begin the 2019 Asian cruise season after a multi-million dollar makeover while her sister ship, the Constellation, has also added upscale amenities for its upcoming sea-going journeys.

Ruin of an ancient civilization
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
A single Asian cruise can take you to as many as six different countries to experience multiple exotic cultures such as Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and beyond.

Each port is unique, with an equal balance of days at sea to rest and relax for the next place on your itinerary.

Fishermen return after a long day to My Khe Beach
For travelers with a wanderlust spirit of adventure and witnessing destinations completely different from our own, Asia offers a wealth of things to see and to do.

Note, that Asian cruises traditionally appeal to an older and international clientele, so if you are looking for a party, head to the Caribbean. On the other hand, seniors can, and do, get rowdy when they want to.

Celebrity Solstice in port in Ketchikan, Alaska
(Photo: Robert Taylor
ALASKA: For all of its immensity, Alaska may have the easiest shore access than any other cruise destination. Docking facilities are on a human scale that minimize the amount of walking to get to places travelers desire to visit, including towns.

And there is much to see in Alaska. One of America's greatest wilderness destinations offers incomparable scenery, wildlife, history and culture.

Photo ops from the deck of the ship are frequent in Alaska
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Best of all, much of the scenery can be witnessed from the ships, which are rarely out of sight of land. Thus, sea days in Alaska have the added dimension of an opportunity to view glaciers, whales and porpoises from the deck of the ship or while sipping your favorite adult beverage in a lounge.

A view of Dawes Glacier from Celebrity Solstice in Tracey Arm Fjord  (Photo: Robert Taylor)
Like most cruises, Alaskan itineraries change, but in this case, there are definite favorites such as Tracy Arm Fjord and the Inside Passage. Many ships also embark from Vancouver or include a stop in Victoria with a visit to the famous Butchart Gardens being a highlight.

When Celebrity Edge debuts in December it will feature the "Magic Carpet"...a massive outdoor elevator
(Courtesy: Celebrity Cruises
These are just three great cruise itineraries that marry the best of both worlds, cruising and time ashore. The key to success is first to determine your personal interests and then do your homework, do your homework and do some more homework.

Following that, just sit back and sail away into one of the best vacations you will ever experience.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Choosing the ideal cruise

Celebrity Summit at sea, en route to bold new adventures
(Photo courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)

CHARLOTTE, NCIn the world of cruising, "one size does not fit all." Basically there are two types of people who cruise; veterans and novices. Savvy sea-going travelers long ago figured out how, where, why and which ships or cruise lines they prefer. Novices tend to be more cautious and selective, frequently looking for the best deal as their primary frame of reference.

Since most veteran cruisers are set in their ways, for one reason or another, it is hardly necessary to offer tips on how to choose an itinerary or a ship.
Celebrity Millennium in port in Ketchikan, Alaska
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Tips for first-timers is a completely different story, but there are ways to maximize the cruising experience without being overwhelmed by the choices.

Experienced cruisers can tell you the name of virtually every ship in a fleet, what the itineraries are and anything else you want to know, or don't want to know, about travel at sea.
New worlds await in each port
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
The first recommendation is to avoid those people at all costs. They can literally ruin a cruise adventure for just about anyone because, for the most part, travel for them is all about status and little else.

"My wife and I have been to the Caribbean so many times, we don't even bother to get off the ship," bragged one snooty passenger recently. That isn't travel, its using a ship as a private restaurant and beach. All of which is fine, but then again, why not just go to a nice resort somewhere?

For people considering a cruise vacation, who are truly interested in travel for travel's sake, here's a basic list of tips for planning your voyage.

Dragon stairway in Danang,
Vietnam  (Photo: Robert Taylor)

Price & Length: Many people are enthralled by the idea of saving money and doing a short cruise to the Bahamas or some small destination in the islands. There's nothing wrong with that, but don't forget the adage "you get what you pay for."

Today's medium sized cruise ships hold about 3,000 passengers and they are basically horizontal floating skyscrapers.

Like any and all forms of travel, the cheapest price is not always the best way to go. Cruising is no different. Check the costs closely and you may quickly discover that a rate that is just a couple of hundred dollars pricier may be worth a thousand or two more value.

Cruising into the future in a split level suite aboard the new
Celebrity Edge which debuts in December
(Photo courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)
Two months after you return from your vacation of a lifetime, that extra money will be long forgotten, but the overall experience will be an eternal memory.

A three or four day cruise may sound like fun, and it will be, but know that by the time you are settled in and oriented to your ship, it will just about be time to disembark. Therefore, plan ahead and think about a 7 to 10 day cruise at a minimum in order to get the maximum benefit of the adventure.

When Celebrity Solstice docks in Juneau, it is the tallest
structure in town  (Photo: Robert Taylor)

Cruise Line & Ship: Do your homework. Go online and research lots of information about various cruise lines and their ships. Tend to avoid reading online comments from other travelers because it is impossible to determine whether their lifestyle matches yours and what level of actual knowledge they have. A first-rate experienced travel or cruise agency is your best source of good, solid information.

Ship's library on Solstice
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
All cruise lines and ships are not the same. As with any form of travel there are bottom of the line and top of the line operators. For most people, somewhere in between usually offers the best value for the money.

My Khe Beach in Vietnam looks much different than it did in the
late 1960's  (Photo:

Ports & Itinerary: You and you alone know best what strikes your fancy so let that be your guiding light to choosing the best cruise option for you.

For example, sailing out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale might save a little money, but if you are going to cruise the Caribbean, why not start closer to your destinations and depart from Puerto Rico? By doing that, it's like getting an extra port from the outset and you can probably visit another island or two in the process.

Bermuda is a fun place to visit
(Photo: Robert Taylor)
Don't forget, different itineraries will generally cater to different personnel. The Caribbean typically has a younger group of cruisers than those sailing in Alaska. European cruises will obviously be more international.

If you are looking for parties and all-night activities, chances are you will do better in the Bahamas and Caribbean than sailing to the Galapagos Islands.

Celebrity Reflection in port (Photo courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)

Sea days vs Port Days: This is one of the most important things to consider when planning a cruise. If you just want to enjoy the ship and its amenities, an itinerary with more days at sea is ideal. Most first-timers however, prefer to use the ship to visit several places in one tour where they can see multiple ports in a single trip.

Dramatic Mendenhall Glacier
in Alaska (Photo: Robert Taylor)
Check to see how many ports a ship visits during any given cruise and make your selection based upon the destinations and number of places you wish to see.

A note of caution, always avoid cruising on an itinerary that offers two ports in a day. One port in a day can be limiting enough, but two is next to impossible.

Celebrity will change the face of cruising forever when the Edge
sails its maiden voyage in December
(Photo courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)
Logistics: This is arguably the most overlooked category of any cruise planning process. Talk to a travel professional or someone you trust who can give you the low-down on the ships that are most capable of handling large number of passengers in ways that minimizes the sense of congestion.

Cruise lines offer all manner of shipboard activities and the ones that are best are those that diversify interests, especially on sea days, to greatly reduce the feeling of being crowded.

Celebrity Edge's "Magic Carpet" will be like a gigantic multi-story exterior elevator  (Photo courtesy: Celebrity Cruises)
There are numerous cruise lines from which to choose, but for starters check out Celebrity which does an excellent job of making their passengers happy with great service and cruises that can be done without breaking the bank.

Bon voyage!