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Christmas Markets along the Danube

“It’s a really special time to experience Europe,” said travel advisor Cathy Kroll after taking AMA Waterways Christmas Time Cruise, “and visiting the ‘Christkindl’ markets along the ancient cities of the Danube is a unique way to experience the Christmas season.”

xmas

“The hand blown ornaments, the little ‘smokers’ or hand incense burners; the men and women cooking sausages and sauerkraut over enormous pans; market-goers in their hats and mittens standing around barrels drinking their gluwein – these are all images from my Christmas market cruise that I’ll never forget.”

vienna

Who should go on these cruises?  “You know,” says Cathy, ‘although anyone would enjoy these, I think they’d be particularly fun for groups: your book club, your church group, all your girlfriends, or a family reunion.. it’s just so much fun to experience this with a lot of people!’

xmas2

And what about the weather? “There’s no way I would let the winter weather stop me.  Just be prepared for the cold… like your mom always tells you, ‘dress in layers!’.  My own tip?  Wear shoes that are waterproof.  Besides, you can always drink gluwein to keep warm!  And you know, when you get chilly at the markets, it’s so wonderful to come back to the ship that is all decorated to the nines for the holidays, and be welcomed with mulled wine and hot cider.”

AMAWaterways Christmas market departures are specially decorated for the holidays

AMAWaterways Christmas market departures are specially decorated for the holidays

“I travel because I’m so interested to see how others live, and the history of countries that are so much older than our own.  I love seeing life through others’ eyes.  I also love taking what I’ve experienced and, frankly, the travel mistakes that I’ve made myself, and helping my clients have their own, perfect vacation.”

If you have any questions about the AMA Waterways Christmas-Time Cruise, or you’d like some help crafting your own perfect vacation, contact Cathy at ckroll@sbtravel.com.

Australia: A Land of Surprises

“It was a country of continual surprises”, says Travel Advisor Erin Zetter, just returned from Australia.  Erin was one of only 60 agents from throughout the US and Canada invited to travel down under on Travel2’s ‘Amazing Aussie Adventure’.  Visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Ayres Rock, and the Wolgan Valley in a small group of 10 Virtuoso agents, Erin’s preconceptions of  Australia were challenged – and in a good way.

Erin at a Camel Farm

Erin at a Camel Farm

“First,” says Erin, “I was astonished at the amount of wildlife.  We went on a night safari drive to see the nocturnal animals, and then a nature walk the next morning to see kangaroos, wallaby and wombats.  We also visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park, where I was thrilled to be able to feed kangaroos (from ice-cream cones!) right out of my hands.  I originally thought, though, that the wildlife in Australia would be rather elusive.  But when we went to the Blue Mountains I couldn’t believe the number of kangaroos you could see – they were everywhere, in the hundreds.  I could even see them from right outside my room!”

Ern gets to hand feed a kangaroo.

Ern gets to hand feed a kangaroo.

 

“Everyone has seen photos of the Australian outback,” says Erin.  “But I found that no picture can compare.  You can’t begin to imagine the vastness, and the sunset and views of Uluru (Ayres Rock) were stunning.  The stars began to come out at the end of a ‘Sounds of Silence’ dinner in the outback. They had billed it as a ‘dine under a billion stars’ evening – and for once, there was no exaggeration.  With the clarity of the sky, I could see planets, galaxies, even the full Milky Way.  It was a very emotional experience”.

Sounds of Silence dinner near Ayres Rock

Sounds of Silence dinner near Ayres Rock

 

Even the visit to Australia’s cities held surprises.  Did you know the Sydney Opera House can be toured?  And that ‘Opera House’ is actually a bit of a misnomer? Because it’s not just one house, but a full complex with five different theaters where you can hear the symphony, of course, but also rock performances, dramas, and theater in the round.

In Sydney, Erin also got to complete a bucket list item with another iconic city landmark.  Conquering all fear of heights in the name of research for her clients, Erin climbed – and crossed – the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 1.5 hours as part of BridgeClimb Sydney.  Her reward from the top was 360 degree panoramic views of the city.

See those tiny dots up there?  Those are the brave climbers on BridgeClimb Sydney.  Climbers are dressed in suits to match the bridge - so as not to distract the drivers below.

See those tiny dots up there? Those are the brave climbers on BridgeClimb Sydney. Climbers are dressed in suits to match the bridge – so as not to distract the drivers below.

And then there’s Melbourne, Erin’s favorite city.  From above, the city of Melbourne has a full metropolitan skyline, complete with skyscrapers.  But walk the streets, and you’ll discover a hidden Melbourne, one with narrow alleyways and lanes, cobblestone streets, café’s and street performers.  “You’ll think you’re in Europe”, says Erin.

Europe or Australia?  ... It's a laneway in Melbourne!

Europe or Australia? … It’s a laneway in Melbourne!

“So much of this trip was fabulous,” concludes Erin, “I couldn’t believe how much there was to see and do, and so much variety.  I visited at the end of our summer and had a great time.  Ideally, in order to see everything under the best conditions, I’d recommend booking travel for our Spring and Fall.”

Want to learn more about Australia?  Give your Santa Barbara Travel Advisor a call today!

Tips for Visiting Cuba

Cuba, the tropical paradise frozen for so many years in the 1950’s, is quickly thawing.  With the U.S. and Cuba restoring diplomatic relations, now is the time to see the country before it changes.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, cruise ships and tour groups travelling to Cuba must tailor their itineraries to adhere to the regulations of the ‘people to people ambassador’ program allowed by the U.S. government.  This means no lazy days (although under this program your nights are free) – any travel itinerary to Cuba will have a robust itinerary of cultural experiences.  It’s important to realize that going to Cuba will not necessarily be a ‘vacation’ but more an adventure, where you will be touched by the destination and its people.

Many people, in fact, consider Cuba a highly emotional destination.  If travel is all about new discoveries and expanding your horizons, then Cuba represents a perfect opportunity to do that.

 

Even though travel regulations have been relaxed, Americans must still participate in a 'people to people ambassador' program sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Even though travel regulations have been relaxed, Americans must still participate in a ‘people to people ambassador’ program sanctioned by the U.S. government.

 

The people to people experiences will feature Cuba’s culture, lifestyle and personalities, and include opportunities for U.S. visitors to meet with Cuban citizens from many walks of life.  For instance, LaTour’s nine-day Hello Cuba itinerary provides an immersive experience.

One traveler on this tour, Phil Marzullo, described some highlights of his trip, “On my tour, we visited a middle school outside Havana, an attended a music and dance performance by the students.  Another day, we visited a dance studio and took salsa lessons from professional dancers.  We also met with university students, learned about a community service project run by artists and musicians, (and) visited a senior center”…. ”These visits”, said Mazullo, ‘taught us a lot about the spirit and resiliency of the Cuban people”.

When traveling to Cuba, it is important to find a trustworthy, operator with experience in the country.  With so many complicated regulations or possible on-the-ground changes, you should also look for on-the-ground support.  For instance, some tour operators can offer meals in one of Cuba’s paladares.  These are restaurants run out of a private home.  In addition to having better food, the paladares often inspire intense discussions with local entrepreneurs.

 Paladares are privately owned restaurants, often run out of a private home. These are authentic, Cuban establishments where you get to meet local entrepreneurs.

Paladares are privately owned restaurants, often run out of a private home. These are authentic, Cuban establishments where you get to meet local entrepreneurs.

Want to know more about visiting Cuba ?  Then give Santa Barbara Travel a call.  We can let you know about the many opportunities for traveling to this dynamic destination.

Ernest Hemingway lived for almost 20 years in Cuba.  You can visit his private home, Finca Vigia.

Ernest Hemingway lived for almost 20 years in Cuba. You can visit his private home, Finca Vigia.

Solo Travelers on Silversea Cruises

We’ve written before about the amazing explosion in the desire for solo travel.  A recent poll by Booking.com revealed that 66% of women have vacationed without a partner.  It appears that people, especially women, are no longer willing to wait for a spouse or a companion whose schedule or interests match theirs.

This rising demographic doesn’t want to be penalized for traveling alone.  Cruise companies have, in the past, been especially guilty of the dreaded ‘single supplement’ that charges just as much for a solo traveler as for a couple.  That’s why we’re happy to report today about Silversea, the small ship cruise line.  Silversea caters to the independent, adventurous traveler by offering sailings to unique destinations with only a 10% cabin supplement.

Silversea offers concierge-level, personalized butler service in all their suites.

Silversea offers concierge-level, personalized butler service in all their suites.

The cabins themselves are all ocean-view suites.  Owned by an Italian family, Silversea features Italian bed linens and chocolates, and even Italian marble in the spacious bathrooms.  Their all-inclusive experience, with an extraordinary staff-to-guest ratio of nearly one-to-one, is more akin to a floating boutique hotel than the usual cruise ship: there are no lines, no waiting, no assigned dining times or tables, photographers or art auctions.

A welcoming champagne reception is hosted aboard every Silversea sailing, so that independent travelers can meet and mingle with other like-minded voyagers – and some departures even feature Gentlemen Hosts who are available as dance partners and dinner companions.

Select Silversea departures have only a 10% single supplement, with all the same, all-inclusive features

Select Silversea departures have only a 10% single supplement, with all the same, all-inclusive features

Silversea cruises also fit well with the independent traveler profile:  their ships are sized to be able to visit more remote, lesser-known ports and to bring guests closer to their destination.  Silversea guests are known for being physically fit, with a strong spirit of adventure and a bucket list of must-see and must-do experiences.

Silversea guests are highly experienced travelers, with a strong spirit for adventure.

Silversea guests are highly experienced travelers, with a strong spirit for adventure.

The departures featured on Silversea’s 10% supplement promotion reflect that explorer mindset. In 2015, solo travelers can choose between expeditions to Chile and Cape Horn, the Galapagos and Tahiti and New Zealand. In 2016, there are South Africa, Africa and Australian travel opportunities. Don’t like these destinations?  Silversea also has reduced single rates available on additional voyages.

Give us a call at Santa Barbara Travel today to see which departure bests fits your schedule – and your bucket list!

Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail

Did you see Santa Barbara Travel’s newsletter last month?  In it, we mentioned that Culinary Travel is currently one of the hot travel trends, and highlighted several possible locations and vacations around the world where you can indulge your inner foodie (and inner wino).

It’s easy to forget, though – living here as we do – that Santa Barbara is also its own culinary destination.  We were reminded of this with a recent article from a trade publication, Travel Age West.  They were kind enough to highlight for us what we have long known about, but sometimes take for granted: the wonderful Urban Wine Trail located right in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara.  We’ve reproduced this article below.

Other cities might have a string of places to go wine-tasting, but really –  where else can you sip, and then be on the sand – all within five minutes?

 

Strolling Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail
June 17, 2015

Downtown Santa Barbara offers more than 20 local wineries within walking distance

By: Melissa Karlin

Santa Barbara, Calif., is located between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, creating a Mediterranean climate perfect for winemaking. The surrounding area is home to more than 175 wineries and 22,000 acres of vineyards, ready and waiting for visitors to live out their “Sideways” wine-tasting fantasies.

Luckily, visitors don’t have to drive deep into the surrounding hills and mountains in order to enjoy these wines; one can simply stroll along the Urban Wine Trail in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. The trail consists of seven production facilities and 26 tasting rooms, featuring wines that source grapes from vineyards located about 45 minutes northeast of the city in Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria.

Within a five minute walk of this view, you can be tasting on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail.

Within a five minute walk of this view, you can be tasting on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail.

The program began when eight wineries came together proposing a true wine tasting experience in the heart of the city, offering visitors and locals a chance to understand local wine products without having to drive into the Santa Ynez valley.

“It’s an alternative experience,” said Seth Kunin, owner of Kunin Wines. “It can be a car-free, gas-free experience. Visitors can walk the trail or take public transportation, so no one has to be a driver.”

In order to be a part of the initiative, wineries must be located in Santa Barbara County and possess a wine grower’s license that proves they grow their wines personally. This insures there is a more direct grower-to-consumer pattern, according to Kunin.

The bulk of the trail is located in the former industrial district known as the Funk Zone. This area is full of warehouses that have been turned into wine-tasting rooms, art galleries and artisan shops. Most tasting rooms are open from late morning until early evening, though exact times vary.

The majority of wineries are located in an area of downtown Santa Barbara called The Funk Zone

The majority of wineries are located in an area of downtown Santa Barbara called The Funk Zone

Following are a few wineries to sample while exploring the trail both inside and outside the Funk Zone.

In the heart of the Funk Zone is Oreana Winery and Tasting Room. It offers a bar-like atmosphere in addition to wine-tasting with an outdoor space; live music on Fridays and Saturdays; and food trucks on weekends. For those who prefer a more educational and low-key tasting, try The Valley Project. The tasting room highlights the different viticultural areas of Santa Barbara County, showcasing the soils and informing tasters on the various factors that affect their wines.

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery

For an experience outside the Funk Zone, head to the El Paseo complex for multiple tasting rooms. Margerum Wine Company has both a standard tasting room and a reserve tasting room. Take a step into the reserve room to try one of the wineries’ famous syrah options, which can be light, drinkable and without the earthy tones that generally characterize California wines. And for Santa Barbara’s crowning glory, pinot noir? Visit Au Bon Climat by Jim Clendenen.

Au Bon Climat - tasting room

Au Bon Climat – tasting room

One of the greatest experiences of the trail is the sense of community found throughout.

“It’s a pretty cool community,” said Andrew Bouton, an employee at The Valley Project. “Every day, we’ll have someone come in from another winery and say, ‘Someone sent us over.’ It’s not a super competitive thing; it’s more like everyone coming together and making it the best experience.”

As for how to enjoy the trail, Kunin had some advice.
“Start early and pace yourself,” he said. “On weekends, it can get busy in the afternoons. So, if you start early, you can try a few wines and then take a lunch break before trying a few more. And don’t try to take in more than three or four places at a time.”

Most importantly, don’t just go in to drink the wines — go for the experience. With the beach in front of you and the sun shining above, it may be a different environment than a traditional wine-tasting trip, but that’s what makes the trail special.

Selfies More Dangerous Than Sharks !

Yes, we’ve written about the use of – and ban on – selfie sticks before, but we can’t help doing a follow-up on this most fascinating of travel topics.  Particularly since media reports have revealed a crazy 2015 statistic:  as of September this year, more people died from taking selfies than shark attacks.

 

selfie

So far, the scorecard goes: Shark attacks: 8  Selfies: 12.  Four of the selfie deaths this year were caused by falling. This includes the Japanese tourist who died last week taking a selfie at the Taj Mahal.

The next leading cause of death involving selfies was being hit or injured by trains, either because the individual was trying to get a photo with a train or because the photo they wanted involved getting on dangerous equipment.

And then there’s the death by selfie-stick in Wales when the metal rod a man was holding was struck by a lightning bolt.  Other deaths have been caused by distracted photo-takers crashing their cars and even shooting themselves while posing with guns.

No, the numbers aren’t enormous. But it does make you ask the question – why?   What is it exactly that makes selfie-takers so likely to put themselves in danger?

An intriguing bit of research published by Ohio State University last year found that men who post a lot of selfies score higher in traits of narcissism and psychopathy in online tests. While all the participants were still in the healthy range, the scores suggest that they may be more inclined to focus on personal gain in situations, rather than potential danger.

“It’s all about me. It’s putting me in the frame. I’m getting attention and when I post that to social media, I’m getting the confirmation that I need from other people that I’m awesome,” lead researcher Jesse Fox told Reuters.  “You don’t care about the tourist attraction you’re destroying; you don’t care about annoying people in your social media feed … you’re not even thinking about the consequences of your actions, so who cares if you’re dangling off the side of the Eiffel Tower?”

Food for thought.  Just not shark food.

Mexican Riviera Cruises with NCL starting in October

Want to cruise the Mexican Riviera?  Up to now, your choices have been very limited.  Now, you have the option, beginning October, 2015, of sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line.  You have a choice of 7- and 5-day cruises from Los Angeles, and an 11-day voyage from San Diego.

And have you heard about NCL‘s new Haven complex?  Hidden away at the top of their ships, it’s an exclusive enclave, with the personal service of a concierge, and 24-hour butler service – it’s like having your own ship within a ship.  This all-suite area is perfect for multi-generational travel – grandparents, parents and children who all want to travel together in their own, private area.

And since Norwegian Cruise Line is just starting this route, it’s still not too late to book for Spring Break!  Santa Barbara Travel has reserved space exclusively for our clients on the 7-day, March 27-April 3, 2016 sailing – give us a call today to book this departure, which is sure to fill up quickly.

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Land to Sea Culinary Immersion at Terranea Resort

Here at Santa Barbara Travel one of the hottest  trends we see is the desire for culinary travel.  No longer do travelers merely want to visit a destination, they also want to experience it – and many want that experience to include locally cultivated food and drinks.

Building on California’s allure as America’s ‘Capital of Culinary Travel‘, Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes presents a 3-day, 2-night inclusive package for two that will immerse the senses and satisfy your inner foodie with a complete ‘Farm-to-Terranea‘ dining experience.

Join the Executive Chef in Terranea's own garden for a private tour

Join the Executive Chef in Terranea’s own garden for a private tour

Join Executive Chef Bernard Ibarra on a visit to the resort’s local farm, discussing seasonal ingredients, picking produce and then preparing a meal.  Participate in a pastry & liquor pairing workshop with Executive Pastry Chef Pierino Jermonti and Sommelier Szymon Piechaczek.  Go on a whale-watching picnic. Indulge in a spa treatment incorporating salts, lavender, lemons or honey – all produced on site by the resort.
Your 'Farm-to-Terranea' weekend includes a spa treatment with products all produced at the resort.

Your ‘Farm-to-Terranea’ weekend includes a spa treatment with products all produced at the resort.

This culinary immersion weekend also includes seats at the exclusive Chef’s Table Dinner series, dinner for two at signature resort mar’sel (with wine pairing) and your choice of a honey workshop, a sea salt workshop or a fish market experience with a Terranea chef.

Book through Santa Barbara Travel and you will also receive a $100 resort credit, daily breakfast for two, a VIP welcome amenity and a one-category upgrade upon arrival and early check-in and late check-out, based on availability.Enjoy this unparalleled culinary experience December 2-4, 2015, and the weekends of February 18th, April 21st, June 30th, August 25th, October 13th and December 8th in 2016.

Can’t make it for a full weekend?  Then how about booking a Chef’s Table Dinner for an evening?  These are available now on February 18th, April 21st, June 30th, August 25th, October 13th and December 8th in 2016.

A wine-focused dinner more your thing?  Consider a mar’sel Library Wine Dinner, which takes place in 2016 on January 21st, March 17th, May 19th, July 21st, September 15th, and November 17th.

All these events are incredibly popular and fill up quickly, so book now through Santa Barbara Travel for best availability.

Culinary Croatia: With Central Holidays

With 1,118 miles of stunning coastline and more than 1,000 islands, Croatia is an increasingly well-known travel destination for adventurers with a love of history, culture and dramatic scenery.  It should also be a country that comes to mind when people think of food and wine.
croatiaThe coastal regions of Istria and Dalmatia are famed for their fresh, Adriatic seafood.  Here, you’ll find a host of dishes based on shellfish.  With its warm Mediterranean climate, the coastal region also enjoys an ever-changing array of fresh seasonal produce.Inland, the cuisine is characterized by recent contacts with neighboring cultures – Hungary, Turkey, and Austria. Paprika and garlic are heavily featured in this cooking, and the desserts, including the delectable kremsnita, are a wonderful culinary legacy of the Austrian Hungarian empire.
This cream cake, when it's made around Zagreb, in Croatia has a puff pastry top, predominantly custard cream filling (less whipped cream) and is finished with powdered sugar. The massive size is at first daunting, but the light filling makes the cake easy to eat and not too heavy. Just perfect for an afternoon snack.

This cream cake, when it’s made around Zagreb, in Croatia has a puff pastry top, predominantly custard cream filling (less whipped cream) and is finished with powdered sugar. The massive size is at first daunting, but the light filling makes the cake easy to eat and not too heavy. Just perfect for an afternoon snack.

The Croatian peninsula of Istria is renowned for truffles.  The world’s largest recorded truffle (weighing 1.31 kg.) was found there in 1999.  Truffle hunting takes place in the autumn, and local food specialties include pasta or steak with truffles.  Italian foodies drive over the border just to have a truffle lunch before returning home.  In fact, some say that the best Italian food can be found in Northern Croatia!

You can hunt, dig and taste them in the dark forests of Motovun, on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. Especially trained truffle-hunting dogs called 'breks' are used during the 3-month season, which begins in October.

You can hunt, dig and taste them in the dark forests of Motovun, on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. Especially trained truffle-hunting dogs called ‘breks’ are used during the 3-month season, which begins in October.

Croatian wines are equally deserving of praise.  Basking in 2,600 hours of sunlight each year, Croatia abounds in a variety of excellent wine growing regions, with both quality red and white varietals.  Croatian wine, however, is largely undiscovered.  Wine producers are generally boutique, family operations, bottled only in small batches. This means that most of their vintages are consumed by the local market.

Learn more about the culinary delights of Croatia, as well as the Northern Italian Piemonte region, at Central Holidays’ presentation on October 1, 2015 at the State Street office of Santa Barbara Travel.