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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Bamboo Raft Down the Martha Brae River

While it’s easy to get sucked in at an all-inclusive property and never leave the premises, it would be a mistake not to escape the beach of Jamaica and visit the lush mountainous interior. One of my favorite things to do in the hillside is slowly amble down a river. A mere 20-minute drive from where we were staying at the Riu Reggae in Montego Bay, past the high school where the fastest man in the world attended, Usain Bolt, was the start of a 90-minute bamboo raft trip down the sinuous Martha Brae River. When we arrived, we could see the workers creating the rafts. After a quick rum punch, we met our captain and sat down on a raised seat to begin our descent down this shaded waterway. The shoreline was rich with fruit trees of every type imaginable, from bananas to cassava to mangos. There were also towering banyan trees with vines hanging down. Our guide poled past small houses along the river, offering a glimpse into rural Jamaican life. Just as quickly the ride was over, but we’ll be back in Jamaica hopefully soon for another relaxing river ride. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/27/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Rejuvenating Stay at the Riu Reggae

With our kids out of college early this semester, we decided to head to the Caribbean before Christmas. We made the wise decision to book two rooms at the Riu Reggae, an adults-only all-inclusive which made its debut 8 months ago. Located down the beach from the Riu Palace and the Riu Montego Bay, the Riu Reggae is only a 10-minute drive from the international airport. Compared to the other Riu properties we’ve stayed at in Ocho Rios, Aruba, and Costa Rica, it’s a smaller, more contemporary resort with 400 rooms and 5 restaurants. We thought the food was very good for an all-inclusive property, especially the breakfasts at the main buffet, the steak at the Italian restaurant, and our last night’s dinner at the gourmet restaurant, Kulinarium, which featured lobster, grouper, and oxtail ravioli. The highlight for us (and one of the reasons we keep returning to Jamaica) is the jerk hut, serving slightly charred barbecue chicken on the beach, topped with homemade spicy jerk sauce. We would stand in line every day to grab our lunch there. 
 
The beach connects to the other two properties so you can take long walks in the sand. But most of the time we read our books at the pool while being entertained by the excellent staff. Everyone at the resort seemed genuinely happy to welcome you to their country, from the wait staff to the front desk to the room service (there was no attitude at all). But the entertainers, including Kool Kid and Shampoo, went out of their way to make you laugh and stopped by your chaise lounge chair to converse. One morning, a wonderful band played live reggae music at the edge of the pool, including classic Bob Marley and Peter Tosh tunes. It’s no surprise that the occupancy rate is already 85 percent, with clientele coming in for a week’s stay from all over North America and Europe. If the price remains as reasonable as it is now, I’d happily return. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/26/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, December 15, 2017

Fantasy Islands Week: Heron Island, Australia

Looking forward to seeing an ockie (octopus) in the bommie (coral head)? Then Heron Island, on the Great Barrier’s southern reef, is the place for you, mates. You might also dive with giant sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs between late October and March, or with humpback whales that skirt the island from June through October. Heron Island Resort, the island’s lone accommodation, has room for 250 nature lovers. The Point Suites offer unobstructed views of the harbor and bay.  Part resort, part wildlife sanctuary, this Robinson Crusoe-like island is large enough for couples to follow their own trail to a nesting spot among the white herons.  
 
We’re off to our own fantasy island next week, Jamaica. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas! We’ll be back on the 27th. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/15/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fantasy Islands Week: Bonaire

A mere decade ago, Bonaire was known only to scuba enthusiasts—a clandestine gem discussed in hushed conversations with other serious ocean lovers (types who come out of the water with seaweed in their hair). Now that the secret is out, travelers are learning that nature thrives both above and below the water here. The reef’s proximity to shore is ideal for divers and snorkelers who want to swim with blue and yellow queen angelfish and orange trumpetfish in waters with visibility of 100 feet or more. On terra firma, Bonaire’s semi-arid landscape is home to some 200 types of birds, including one of the world’s largest colonies of pink flamingoes (numbering some 15,000). Situated on a small peninsula, the guest rooms at Harbor Village Beach Resort feature spacious balconies that overlook the beach. Tell the concierge that you savor your privacy and he’ll arrange a picnic for two on tiny Klein Bonaire. Heinekens and Gouda are the sustenance of choice on this Dutch protectorate.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/14/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Fantasy Islands Week: Fiji

Picture yourself on a South Pacific island where the hum of cars and TVs is replaced by the sounds of waves tumbling ashore and the sporadic plunk of almonds dropping from trees. Envision a private island resort catering to only 14 couples. This is Matangi Island, built with romantics in mind.  Each of the 11 thatched-roof bures is accented with Fijian tapa cloths, tribal artifacts, and a bed draped with mosquito netting. You’ll have to book months in advance if you want the three popular treehouse bures—30 feet up a la Swiss Family Robinson.  A stone’s throw away from the lodging, the beach sweeps around a bay shaded by chestnut trees and banana ferns. The surrounding waters are home to the renowned Rainbow Reef. Matangi has its own dive operation to take you out to see the kaleidoscopic coral and the abundant sea life. There’s also saltwater fly-fishing and sailing, but most visitors simply lounge on the beach watching the waters of the Tasman Strait float by as the sun passes overhead.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/13/17 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fantasy Islands Week: Palau

Let’s be serious. You’ve just traveled at least six hours from the West Coast to Hawaii, another seven hours to Guam and yet another 90 minutes to this cluster of 200 sparsely populated islands, which Cousteau called the best scuba diving site in the world. You’re going to have to get motivated to do much else but dive on Palau. From your home base on the capital isle of Koror, head to the Big Drop-Off, considered the best dive wall on Earth. It starts in knee-deep water and then abruptly plummets almost 1,500 feet into an abyss. Nearly as mind-boggling is Blue Corner, a large coral cavity where three ocean currents meet. Hunker down and watch schools of tuna, white-tipped sharks and 3-foot-tall giant clams (where’s the melted butter when you need it?). While you’ll have a tough time immersing yourself in traditional island culture here (read: no jerk chicken or Bo Derek-style hair braiding), Palau’s real attraction is its remote beauty. Rent a sea kayak and check out a few of the Rock Islands, which stretch for 20 miles south of Koror. Then dry off at the Palau Pacific Resort, which guards the finest beach on Koror. That is, if you can stop your legs from kicking.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/12/17 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Fantasy Islands Week: Rangiroa, French Polynesia

It’s cold, gray—the best time to put on a bathing suit and commune with fish.

Here are five of the world’s best places to do it.
 
Ah winter, that magical time of year that compels hordes of otherwise well-adjusted folks to shop for bathing suits and sarongs, jet to far-flung isles, don masks, fins, even oxygen tanks, all to hang with the fishies. Nothing chases away garden-variety seasonal disorders like getting up close and personal with some colorful creatures. Deluxe resorts are rolling out their (waterproof) red carpets to divers these days. Better yet, many resorts have gotten wise to the fact that divers do not live on plankton alone. We also crave some activity where the air comes free. With that in mind, we’ve selected five of the world’s top diving spots this week. Ones that also offer great above-water activities, from trekking in Mayan ruins to sea kayaking along secluded beaches to kicking the coconut shells. 
 
First stop, Rangiroa, French Polynesia. When Requin! Requin! (French for Shark! Shark!) is shouted in these waters, swimmers do not speed to shore fearing for their lives. The snorkelers and divers who come to this oval-shaped coral atoll stay in the water for a face-to-face encounter. Grey reef, black-tipped, and hammerhead sharks peer at divers in Tiputa Pass, a channel that connects the island’s lagoon with the open sea.  The perfect place to recover after your adventure with Jaws is Kia Ora Village, Rangiroa’s premiere hotel. Stay in one of the overwater bungalows along the lagoon. Or if you’re looking for a bit more seclusion, retreat to Kia Ora Sauvage, a private island about an hour’s boat ride away. The island has just five basic bungalows and two cooks, who prepare all the meals. That’s what we call getting away from it all.  
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/11/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, December 08, 2017

New in River Cruising 2018

Guest Post by Lisa Leavitt 

Viking Ra will be cruising the River Nile in Egypt in 2018. Just 52 guests on this upscale vessel with suites 
Century River Cruises will cruise the Yangtze
Avalon will offer trips down Vietnam's Mekong River and Burma's Irrawaddy River
Amadeus will present new golf-focused river cruises next spring including visits to 4 prestigious golf courses
Foodies will enjoy Scenic’s cooking school aboard select ships
Un Cruise Adventures will feature eight Rivers of Wine itineraries on the Legacy, a turn of the century steamer sailing the Columbia and Snake rivers in the US and their Rivers of Adventure series will allow for hiking, biking, kayaking and more from their starting point of Portland, Oregon.
And, much more: barges down the Seine, multigenerational cruises on CroisiEurope where kids under 16 go for free.
 
Sales happen all the time with the river cruise companies: some offer 2-for-1 fares or free international air or they waive their single supplements.
Here's some offers going on right now:  
Avalon Cruises: Save $2,000 per couple on 2018 Active Discovery River Cruises on the Rhine or Danube
Paul Gauguin Cruises: Two Week Sale for cruises in the South Pacific. $2,900 per person savings on select sailings.
Emerald Waterways: Sensations of Southern France: if 6 people book, then the 7th person is free.
 
Contact ActiveTravels to find out the latest deals! We won't steer you wrong!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/08/17 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, December 07, 2017

River Cruising 101

Guest Post by Lisa Leavitt 
 
Are you considering the idea of a river cruise but can't decide? You are not alone! These smaller, more intimate, cruise lines are hugely popular right now and many people come to ActiveTravels with questions about which one to choose. Are you considering a romantic cruise with your honey but want the appropriate age range on board? Bringing your kids? Are you active or do you prefer to wine and dine your way down the river?
 
Here are some of the brands you've probably heard about through countless ads: Viking, Ama Waterways, Avalon, Scenic, Emerald, Tauck, Crystal and Uniworld, to name a few. All of these brands can be compared with regards to these variables:
Which lines include shore excursions? Crystal, Scenic, Emerald, Viking and Tauck-some offer more choices than others.
Which lines include drinks (alcoholic, specialty coffees, soda)?  Crystal, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld
Which lines have bikes onboard? Ama who is pairing up with active adventure company Backroads, Emerald, Scenic, Tauck and Uniworld
Which lines are family friendly? AmaWaterways (they are now partnering with Adventures by Disney), Uniworld and Tauck. Minimum ages can be anywhere from 3 years old to 13 years old.
What if I'm in the 21-55 year old age range? Try U by Uniworld. Their first two sleek black vessels will debut next year on European rivers and will   feature more active offerings, nightlife fun, and more affordable rates for solo travelers.
 
Once you've decided on the cruise line, then you need to choose the river you want to journey upon. Will it be the Danube, the Rhone, the Rhine, the Bordeaux, the Douro, or the Seine?  Here's a quick rundown on what each river has to offer:
Danube: Germany, Austria, and Hungary-a great first river cruise filled with storybook villages, beautiful scenery and the fascinating cities of Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and more
Rhone: Southern France between Lyon and Arles-Burgundy and Provence, Roman ruins, biking, art of Van Gogh, wines, excellent food
Rhine: Amsterdam to Basel-A very popular route to see lots of countries: Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland and many castles, UNESCO sites, riverside vineyards, and wonderful biking paths to explore
Bordeaux: France-great for active travelers who like to hike and bike and love wines
Douro: Portugal-If you love wines, and want less river time and more port time to explore. The Douro flows between Porto on the coast of Portugal and the Spanish border.
Seine: Begins and ends in Paris-can see the beaches of Normandy, Monet's Gardens, Rouen, and the shipping port of Honfleur.
Elbe: Berlin to Prague-see the highlights of Hamburg, Wittenberg (500th birthday of the Reformation this year), Dresden, Germany and pretty little Czech towns along the way
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/07/17 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Backroads to Debut Ocean Cruises Next Summer

Ever since Backroads partnered with AmaWaterways to bring families to the Danube River in 2015, the demand has far exceeded number of available berths. The chance to ride along the river on bike paths during the day though small European villages and then catch up with the cruise for cocktails, dinner, and your room for the week (no packing and unpacking) is ideally suited for all age groups. Now Backroads is bringing their active travel itineraries to the oceans. They are partnering with Lindblad, Un-Cruise, and Ponant on voyages to Alaska, Antarctica, Japan, New Zealand, the Baltic Sea, Galápagos, Iceland and more – totaling 51 departures on 14 itineraries. The bulk of the trips will debut in 2019 but they are already offering one cruise next summer on the National Geographic Explorer, a 10-day multi-sport trip to Iceland. Bike along the shore of a remote fjord on Backroads custom-designed titanium bikes, hike volcanic moonscapes and untamed islands on off-the-beaten-path excursions, and jump in a Zodiac when your naturalist spot passing whales, seals, and rugged cliffs teeming with nesting seabirds like puffins. Contact ActiveTravels for any Backroads itinerary and we’ll be more than happy to find out who already signed up for the trip and if the ages are appropriate for you and your family. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/06/17 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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