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We recommend '5 Reasons You'll Love Taking a Specialty Cruise', which highlights many of our small & specialty cruise ship partners: 
http://blog.virtuoso.com/traveler_trends/5-reasons-youll-love-taking-a-specialty-cruise/

ODYSSEY TRAVEL BLOGS:

AmaWaterways' River Cruise on the Rhine
John Upchurch, Co-owner, Odyssey Travel

I just returned from leading a group of 14 friends down the Rhine River on the AmaWaterways' AMA Certo from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. This was an amazing trip that started with the beauty of Switzerland and continued down the Rhine into Germany where we visited the charming town of Breisach, biking through the country side and visiting cafes serving their local beer. The next stop was Strasbourg, France where Sandy, Mike, Nancy and I rode our bikes around parts of Strasburg that were built in 1200. Then we rode our bikes over to the European Parliament Building and the surrounding gardens. The next day a large part of our crew went on the Philosopher's Way Hike high above Heidelberg with fabulous views of this magic city. The following day we arrived in Rudesheim, where I was able to meet up with an old high school teammate Frank Zmuda, and have lunch. That evening in Koblenz we had a special dinner for our group at the Burg Namedy Castle. This was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. This castle was built in 1701 and is still occupied today by a Princess and her family. She welcomed our group and allowed us to treat her castle as our own, and then served us a wonderful meal. Saturday morning I arranged for our group to have a private guided bike tour of Cologne. We needed to burn off a lot of calories from the night before. Finally we arrived in Amsterdam and I had the chance to tour the Anne Frank House with Sandy, Paris and George Rogers. I have to thank Nancy Munier and Ron Hayes for the attached photos. They took so many good photos I had trouble limiting them to the top 25.

                                




Place Dubai on your Must Visit List

Odyssey Travel co-owners Karen Upchurch and now her son, John Upchurch have both visited Dubai, and give it glowing recommendations. 'The Tourist Capital of the Middle East, Dubai is a place you must visit at least once,' John said, when he recently returned from his whirlwind trip. 'For the women they have the world's largest shopping malls with every luxury product in the world, and for the guys, the world's tallest building. For indoor adventure they have, yes -  indoor snow skiing, year round -  with a four person lift to the top of the indoor hill. For outdoor fun you can drive trucks over the dunes.

Dubai also has a Gold and Spice Market with spices from all over the world. The highlight of the trip was the Arabian Desert Experience. We started with a falcon show, then headed out over the dunes in 4x4 trucks and then rode camels to the dinner in the desert. Not your everyday experience. Another feature that I really
liked is that almost every hotel has a bar on its top level. We stayed at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai and the bar, called the Vault, is on the 71st floor and of course had an amazing view. 

Have fun, life is short. I am now preparing for a River Cruise in Germany, down the Rhine.

               


Taking a Break in Puerto Rico

Odyssey Travel co-owner John Upchurch and his family recently enjoyed a Spring Break in Isabela, Puerto Rico.  They found many recreational activities and opportunities for exploration, fun and relaxation. 
Isabela is in a peaceful and coveted location near Puerto Rico's top water sports areas, which include surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing, in one of the world's most alluring beach vacation destinations.
 

The Upchurch family also indulged in the culinary delights at one of the signature restaurants at Villa Montaña, a nearby resort.  Recognized as a Top Chef by Foodies PR, Executive Chef Jeremie Cruz has won a coveted Caribbean Chef Award. He is a member of the prestigious Chaine des Rotisseurs, the world's oldest international gastronomic society, and a former member and coach of the National Culinary Team of Puerto Rico.  The resort's Eclipse Restaurant received a 2014 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

                    

Crystal Serenity - What More Can We Do?
Marian Blessing, Luxury Travel Advisor

I have just returned from a 10 night sailing onboard Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity. This luxury liner is one of the finest afloat. The ship is perfectly appointed, from the cabins to the show rooms, casino, public lounges, pool deck and onboard amenities such as the spa, golf simulator, paddle tennis courts, walking track and much more. The ship was beautifully decked out for the holidays and while the physical aspects of the ship were amazing, the staff was even more amazing. They were personable (recalling our names after one day), professional, always smiling and there was nothing that was too much to ask. The food was absolutely delicious with many choices for dining. The specialty restaurants, Prego and Silk Road, offered wonderful cuisine, but the food in the main dining room was also quite good. 

I cannot say enough good things about the Crystal Serenity and can’t wait to sail with Crystal again!

                    

Hawaii's Aulani Resort Number One for Families
Robin Fleming

My husband, Steve and I recently flew to Honolulu, Hawaii and stayed at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, which was awarded the Top Family Hotel in the USA by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Transportation to the resort was easy and efficient though SpeediShuttle. A representative met us at the airport and took us to the resort, which is approximately 45 minutes away on the leeward coast in Ko Olina. 

Aulani is a beautiful resort which has captured the history and culture of the Hawaiians, and has so much to offer: pools with a lazy river, slides, separate pools for adults only and the disabled; snorkeling in Rainbow Reef, a saltwater private lagoon with schools of fish; beach rentals and water sports; a spa, fitness programs, child care and children programs, tours of Oahu and neighboring islands, too. We enjoyed walking on the beach and even experienced a mongoose sighting. We stayed in a spacious one bedroom villa which included a full kitchen, living room with balcony, bedroom with balcony, large bathroom, laundry, and a spectacular garden/partial ocean view, where we witnessed an outdoor wedding one day, and could watch live entertainment, including the resort luau, in the evenings.

Additionally, there are several restaurants and lounges with nightly Hawaiian music at Aulani. Our favorite was Ama Ama, an open air restaurant with great food, located by the lagoon where you can experience beautiful sunsets. We also enjoyed the ahi tuna poke’ and nightly Hawaiian music at the Oleo Lounge. There is a small shopping center within walking distance, Ko Olina Station & Center, with restaurants, shops, and the Island Country Market which sells groceries, wine, beer, resort gifts, and has a full-service deli. There is a complimentary resort shuttle which stops at Aulani, JW Marriott (soon to be Four Seasons), Marriott Beach Vacation Club, the shopping center, and the Ko Olina Golf Course.

Our trip to Aulani was one of the best vacations we have ever experienced and we are anxious to return. Five days at the resort was not enough so we are planning to stay a week next time!

        


Chairman's Event in Dubai, Part Two
John Upchurch, Odyssey Travel Correspondent

Karen Upchurch made a new friend while visiting the Sheik's Royal Stables during our Dubai trip for this year's Virtuoso Chairman's Event, and we had refreshments on the lawn in a setting right out of Hollywood. The Arabian stallions were magnificent, and we watched with awe as they were walked and exercised in front of us. This was a rare treat, as special arrangements had to be made to open this private estate. The property is in Dubai, with the city's skyline adjacent to it. One can only speculate how valuable this real estate would be if released to the market. That afternoon, we were taken to a desert conservation area in a caravan of Toyotas Land Cruisers. We stopped and got out to admire the beauty of our surroundings and take pictures. Later, we experienced a desert sunset with a glass of champagne, and were treated to an interesting exhibition of falconry, a local tradition. Our final stop was an encampment, where they had traditional seating for a sumptuous barbecue. We rode camels, and later were entertained by some rather exotic belly dancers. Given the local penchant for modesty, one wonders how they square that with belly dancing.

        

We enjoyed meeting two new Emerati friends from the UAE ministry of tourism, becoming part of their promotion of Abu Dhabi. They have a first class Formula 1 track with a 5-star hotel in the infield, complete with a yacht harbor (Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is this week), and have other incredible projects under way, including a Guggenheim museum larger than the one in NYC, plus a new Louvre opening December 2015. Cleveland Clinic is here, and NYU has a campus. The list goes on. Put this on your bucket list for about three years out. #1nAbuDhabi. Later, at the Park Hyatt, a seaside resort in Abu Dhabi, hosted our group for dinner, complete with Champagne Angels serving us from above. Spectacular.

On to the Burj Al Arab. This hotel was designed to cater to the Emerati royalty, and was not even open to westerners years ago. Now, it is a prestigious destination for both business and upscale leisure travelers. They call it "7 Star" and nobody argues the point! Hermes bath accessories, champagne on ice, a selection of tapas and sweets, and a butler who offered to unpack for us.

        

Photos: Karen snapped this aerial shot of the Burj Al Arab during our Sea Wings excursion on a sea plane that takes off from Dubai Creek, the river that runs through the city.Karen enjoying our room there, & a photo taken from Jumeirah waterway connecting Burj and six other Jumeirah Group luxury hotels.

The next day at the Burj, we enjoyed the spa treatment of our choice, which was a welcome opportunity to relax after a string of hectic days. Raffles Dubai hosted a marvelous luncheon barbecue in their rooftop garden on a beautiful, sun splashed afternoon, with Singapore Slings, their signature drink from the original Raffles. The next day, we enjoyed a sea plane ride over the city, and saw the Burj from the air, as well as the Burj Khalifa Tower, the world's tallest building. Most striking was the Jereimeh Palm Island, totally man made in the shape  of a palm tree, which doubled Dubai's waterfront property. Brilliant. Our wonderful Virtuoso Chairman's Event was capped with a gala dinner at the Burj, where they pulled out all the stops. The evening ended outside, with fireworks and a trio featuring two ladies playing violins. They rocked the house!  Now we're on our way to Jordan for a few bonus days of touring with a much smaller group. We're on Emerites Airlines from Dubai to Amman; a return trip for Karen, and my inaugural.

       

Here's my aerial shot of the Atlantis Resort, a duplicate of the iconic Bahamas resort in Nassau. Now we
 are taking advantage of the opportunity to see another destination on our way home, and have joined a study tour of Jordan. This middle shot is of the city of Amman, Jordan's capital. Karen & I enjoyed the refreshments served by the wonderful cabin crew of the award winning Etihad Airways on our return flight from the UAE.

Upon our return, we received this video from Holger and Leon at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, who wanted to share a few of the 'Wow' moments we experienced under their wonderful care, and thank us for our visit:
YouTube

Dubai Hosts Virtuoso Chairman's Event
John Upchurch, Odyssey Travel Correspondent

My wife Karen & I took an Etihad flight from JFK to Abu Dhabi, the capital & second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (Pop: 921,000), located on an island jutting into the Persian Gulf. Our flight headed south between Baghdad & Tehran, over the Zabros mountains. We enjoyed the hospitality of this award-winning airline & ran into a few Virtuoso friends onboard. We are looking forward to a fantastic Virtuoso Chairman's Event with about 100 colleagues from around the globe.

We began o
ur morning with a walk on the beach. Karen took a refreshing dip, and we relaxed at the Turquoize for a drink overlooking the tranquil resort scene, such an exquisite setting, with azure blue-green water and fine white sand. And what a mix of nationalities! We were impressed with the incredible investment the UAE has made in roadways and infrastructure - interstate quality highways, ports, shuttle trains - everything. They now have capacity to accommodate twice the current population.

As we entered Dubai, we noticed a number of projects from a few years ago now completed, and many more underway. The buzz is back! We are staying at the Madinat Jumeirah, a fabulous property, also on the Gulf. We enjoyed a cocktail party at the beachfront pavilion, with many joyful reunions with our friends in travel, and were greeted by Jumeirah managers and executives, as well as UAE tourism officials who were delighted to welcome all of us. Matthew Upchurch, Chairman of Virtuoso, greeted us warmly, and we joked about the staff almost giving us his suite.  Now we look forward to tomorrow's opening session and the afternoon's cultural activities.  

Matthew Upchurch briefed everyone on the latest developments in the travel industry and various Virtuoso initiatives. We had lunch at The Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which was a traditional setting; all of us sitting basically in the round, on pillows. We were served tea, a traditional beginning to any social gathering, followed by a meal of seasoned rice and lamb, as well as a bean soup. The speaker was an Emerati in traditional white dress, who was quite the comic, and we all enjoyed the entertainment, followed by a short walking tour of the original Dubai village. The evening affair was a wonderful reception and dinner hosted by the Park Hyatt Hotel, located on Dubai Creek, a glamorous property with a nautical theme and scope of activities for guests.

The following day we visited the Al Jahili Fort, and were entertained by local performers and traditionally garbed women performing native cooking demonstrations and handicrafts. There was a fascinating exhibition of photographs from the 1940s by a member of the British army who adopted the tribesmen of the area and traversed the desert with them in a grueling three year ordeal. We visited the Sheik Zayed Palace museum, which was the home of the current Sheik of Dubai's father in his youth. The UAE is only 43 years old, and many of these sites depict mid-20th century life, so they have come a long way in a short time. Interestingly, they are preparing for the post-oil era and both emirates are preparing to become centers of tourism, commerce, banking, etc. 

        

      

Above photos: Burj Al Khalifa, Dubai, the world's tallest building. The Armani Hotel occupies first 39 stories. 

Saturday our bags were packed and placed outside by 6:00 a.m. No mercy! The buses took off around 8:00 to Abu Dhabi and the Emirates Palace Hotel, the crown jewel of Abu Dhabi (literally; it is owned by the Royal Family). We learned that about 10% of the population are citizens of the UAE, and the balance are foreign workers and their families. You should see the housing compounds, and multi-million dollar structures abound. The architecture is nothing less than world class. Emerites Palace is immense - it seems as big as the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The opening luncheon was spectacular. We were greeted by a gauntlet of hundreds of staff members, and led to an area of large gazebos that had been set in a huge square. Dozens of wait staff served us an elegant meal, poured wine and champagne, while a string quartet played. Afterwards, we were escorted by a butler to our room, where our baggage had been delivered. The service is exquisite; the room luxurious. Dinner was a return trip ( for us) to the St. Regis Hotel on Saadiyat Island, a lovely setting. Karen was served by a champagne angel suspended from the ceiling - very cool!

Sunday morning is at leisure; a welcome respite from the frantic pace set by our Emerati hosts, who want us to see and do it all! 
We are so grateful, and fortunate to be able to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  

Click
here for more details on the hidden treasures of Abu Dhabi:    http://www.virtuoso.com/campaign/SingleSupplierLanding/364087_SSE_AbuDhabi?advisorID=14135202&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=AGT/SD_US/CAN_20141106.txt&utm_campaign=364087_SSE_AbuDhabi_111314%20(AGT/SD)

Women Travelers Tour Ireland for a New Adventure
Marian Blessing, Travel Advisor

"The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.”  –  Anna Quindlen

Eight members of the New Adventures Women Travelers just returned from a 10 day trip to Ireland with Collette Vacations.  We visited Dublin, Kilkenny (voted the friendliest city in Europe & a medieval jewel in the Irish vacation crown!), Waterford, Blarney Castle, Killarney, Connemara, Limerick and Galway.  We drove the Ring of Kerry and saw the Cliffs of Moher.  Our journey ended with a stay at Cabra Castle, which was an incredible experience.  

As a group we laughed a lot, learned a lot, and experienced much more than we anticipated.  The name of the tour was Shades of Ireland and is one we will not soon forget, for all the right reasons. One of our travelers said she didn't remember the last time she had that much fun! 
If you are interested in more information about this group and our upcoming trips, please click the New Adventures for Women tab on our website and check it out. We'd love to hear from you.  You can also see many more photos of this adventure on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OdysseyTravelAgency?ref=hl

 
  










Pictures of Portugal
Nella Ward, Travel Advisor

Our Daytona Beach Ski and Travel Club recently returned from a trip to Portugal. Here's the group in Lisbon at the Tower of Belem, the beach at Cascais, and a Laurie and Satar at the Douro River near the Sandeman Winery in Pinhao. This group travels frequently through Odyssey Travel and we love working with them.

    




Celebrating in the Haven on Norwegian's Getaway
John Upchurch, Owner/Advisor

To celebrate my wife being recently elected to a judgeship, we went on a one week cruise on Norwegian's newest cruise ship, the Getaway.  This is a magnificent cruise ship that sails round trip out of the port of Miami. 
We woke up early Saturday morning and drove to Miami so we could get on the ship as soon as possible.  Since we were staying in the Haven, a section of the ship similar to the concierge floor at a five star hotel, the check in process was lightning fast, and then we were escorted onto the ship, strolling past the long lines of people.  Two of the reasons we picked the Norwegian Getaway are that it has ten specialty restaurants that each have their own kitchen and fabulous food, and the spa is truly a five star spa experience - looking out the front of the ship as you relax on the warm, tiled lounge chairs. Very VIP. 
My three favorite restaurants were the Brazilian Steakhouse, the Italian Restaurant and  Cagney's Steakhouse, but I also have to mention the Illusionarium, a dinner show featuring five magicians.  This was a show not to be missed!  The first port of call was St. Maarten where we took a short taxi ride to a wonderful spot named Dawn's Beach, a nice relaxing beach with rental chairs and umbrellas, and a really fun beach bar.  The next stop in St. Thomas I arranged a two tank dive with Aqua Action Dive Center at Secret Harbour Beach.  This was a true professional dive operation and the diving was fantastic, with the reef alive with action and color.  This beautiful beach also had chairs and umbrellas for rent and some good places to snorkel along the shoreline. 
The next several days we spent our time on the cruise ship enjoying the great workout facilities, the pools and of course the spa.  In the evening we enjoyed the comedy shows featuring Rodney Laney and later I enjoyed the full sized casino.  I have to give credit to Rodney Laney, the featured comedian, as he really set the tone for several very fun evenings.  I would highly recommend a week long cruise on the Norwegian Getaway, in the Haven.



VISTA VERDE DUDE RANCH - The Kids Won't Want to Leave
John Upchurch, Owner/Advisor

My wife Sandy, our two sons and I just went to the wonderful Vista Verde Dude Ranch located outside Steamboat Springs Colorado. This was a great family experience that kept everyone busy having fun all day long.
Upon arriving at the dude ranch we all gathered at the barn to meet and greet with the horse we would be riding the rest of the week and the wranglers took us out on a short horseback ride. The first full day on the ranch, Austin went to the kids club, Jack went to the teen club, and Sandy and I rode horses in the morning. In the afternoon we had planned to fly fish with Jack, but he came back to lunch and to our surprise he was enjoying the teen club so much that he wanted to hang with his new friends instead of fly fishing with us. Austin fell in love with his horse Arrow, and all he could do was talk about how much he enjoyed riding Arrow. The atmosphere and cabins were perfect for relaxing and enjoying the beautiful nature surrounding us at Vista Verde. Sandy and I also went on a day long hike along Mad Creek, which is a short drive from the property. The beauty of hiking along a loud river, swollen from the snow melt, is an experience that I won’t ever forget. Vista Verde also had full suspension mountain bikes and guides who took me to some incredible single tract trails where it was just us and a few other brave souls.
The best part was on the last day when my six year old son started to cry because he did not want to leave and the fifteen year old asked if we could come back next summer. It was well worth the cost of the trip.

                   

MONTSERRAT – and the Basilica on the ‘Serrated Mountain’
Dr. Michael Munier  

While visiting locations all over the world I like to set up special private tours at least twice during my overseas trips. I have chosen Odyssey Travel and Travel Advisor Sherry Wilczewski, to work with me in coordinating my private tour arrangements. 
We recently visited Barcelona, Spain and took an amazing side trip to Montserrat that started at 9 a.m. when our guide picked us up in our hotel lobby. We began the day’s excursion to Montserrat mountain bright and early, and were rewarded by avoiding the crowds. We entered the basilica and caught a glimpse of the Black Madonna (also called the Virgin of Montserrat, Patroness of Catalonia), a celebrated and iconic image of Spain which, since the 12th century, has drawn thousands of visitors and pilgrims for her performance of miracles. After touching the statue and making some wishes of our own, we continued on to tour the monastery, trekking down a mountain path to observe the various religious sculptures. Along the way, we visited another smaller monastery, which we were told was more indicative of the rest of the monasteries on the mountain. We made our way back up the mountain on a train, enjoying the exquisite beauty of the landscape, to our next big event of the day. Walking back to the basilica, we were excited to find a few coveted seats available and settled in to hear the world renowned voices of L’Esclonia, Montserrat’s prestigious boys’ choir.
We ended the excursion with lunch from a local favorite farmhouse. The deliciously fresh food was such a treat and very distinctly local. I’m looking forward to the day we get to visit again!

      

       

FRANCE & ITALY - Beautiful and Meaningful
Nella Ward, Travel Advisor

I have just returned from a very enjoyable trip to France and Italy. In France, the highlight was a visit to the Normandy landing beaches, where the 70th anniversary of D-Day is being celebrated all year. It was very moving  to visit the American cemetery and the landing beaches, as well as several museums.
I loved revisiting Paris, my favorite city in the world. Our Globus tour group visited the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees. I also visited Monet’s Giverny, where he painted the water lilies, and enjoyed staying in the Chateau de Breuil, in the Loire Valley.
In Italy, our group visited the Colosseum and the Vatican in Rome, as well as the Amalfi coast. I loved the spectacular scenery along the coast, the tours of the Greek ruins at Paestum, Pompeii and the Isle of Capri.
My recommendation is not to attempt to drive the Amalfi Coast Road on your own; it is as scary as the Road to Hana in Maui! And here's another tip - escorted tours with knowledgeable tour managers and experienced bus drivers are the way to go! 
Happy traveling.