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Iceland has risen to fame over the last decade as a bucket list travel destination because of the sights and experiences that make it an impressive addition to your list of “been there” travel destinations and even your social media feed. Here are eight of Iceland’s all-inclusive private tours essential for an adventure-filled getaway peppered with lavish delights.

Soak in the Healing Waters of the Iconic Blue Lagoon

You cannot visit Iceland without a stop to its world-famous geothermal waters. While you can find several options for hot springs, perhaps none is more well-known or photographed than the retreat at the Blue Lagoon, which sits only 20 minutes from the airport and is a perfect beginning or end to your time in Iceland.

You can also find an incredible culinary setting at the Blue Lagoon, with the Moss Restaurant receiving Michelin acclaim for its masterpieces made from seasonal ingredients.

Take a Private All-Inclusive Tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle

So many travel from around the globe to visit Iceland because of the varied natural landscapes on the island, including volcanic activity, powerful waterfalls, and moss-covered greenery. One of the best ways to see these natural wonders is through an all-inclusive tour of the Golden Circle. Some of the highlights and landmarks you could visit along the full-day tour include the following:

•    Kerid Crate Lake
•    The Gullfoss Waterfall
•    Geysir Geothermal Area
•    Þingvellir National Park

Your driver will pick you up and drop you off in Reykjavik, guide you through each stopping point, and provide key amenities while riding in the van, such as Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and lunch service. You’ll also receive Icelandic staples like juicy tomatoes and savory rye bread that are perfect after trekking through the countryside.

Go for Dinner and a Show at Harpa Concert Hall

The center of Iceland’s social and cultural scene is the Harpa Concert Hall, which has won many awards for its awe-inspiring architecture and grandeur. Entertainers come to perform in the hall as part of a solo act or musical festival.

Clean up in your best black tie attire and treat your ears to the refined sounds of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra or the Múlinn Jazz Club. Make a complete experience of your show with dinner at La Primavera, an exclusive restaurant on the 4th floor that places Icelandic ingredients within the food traditions of Northern Italy. You can book a table from Thursday to Saturday.

See the Northern Lights from Iceland’s Countryside Resorts or with a Private Guide

Plan accordingly, and your all-inclusive Iceland adventure will likely involve several opportunities to admire the natural wonder of the Northern Lights, especially in the winter months (October to March). How’s that for a bucket list item?

Visit Magic Ice Reykjavik for a Unique Cocktail Experience

Since 2019, Iceland has been home to Magic Ice, a sub-zero temperature bar where you can view ice sculpture masterpieces while sipping your favorite cocktail from a glass of ice. Your admission ticket will get you a complimentary drink and a winter poncho with gloves to keep you warm.

Revisit Famous Settings from Game of Thrones in Þingvellir National Park

Fans of the HBO favorite Game of Thrones may want to return to the Golden Circle and Þingvellir National Park for a tour of the locations where the show’s filming took place. The guide brings the show to life as you walk through popular areas like Thorufoss and Hengill.

Take a Helicopter Tour of Iceland’s Impressive Landmarks

In addition to touring the glorious countryside by van, you can capture an aerial view of Iceland. The helicopter hovers over stunning landscapes, including the Landmannalaugar region, black sand coastlines, and monstrous Eyjafjallajökull. You’ll land atop the glacier for a brief snowmobile ride before flying to the highlands for lunch from your private chef while sitting amidst the lava fields.

Whatever you choose to do, Iceland offers many luxury tours and all-inclusive experiences for travelers to see this rugged island’s amazing natural wonders while enjoying life’s best pleasures. Let’s plan your trip to Iceland today!

We still recount the culture, marvel at the buildings, and read the stories that originated in ancient Greece. At the heart of many of these famous elements is Athens, Greece’s capital city. Today, Athens, is much more than ruins and history; it’s a thriving destination that seamlessly blends modernity with tradition in ways that continues to captivate travelers. 

 

CELEBRATING THE PAST

For many, the allure of Athens is in its rich history. Perhaps no symbol of the city is as prominent as the Acropolis. This rocky hill rising in the city’s center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to several ancient buildings, including the famous Parthenon. The Parthenon’s precise construction remains a feat of engineering even today and ongoing restorations continue to preserve its legacy for future visitors.

Visitors to the Acropolis can walk amongst the ruins, but they should also visit the neighboring Acropolis Museum. This modern museum opened in 2009 and displays many artifacts from the site. The entire top floor is dedicated to the Parthenon and the sculptures are positioned to replicate their original placement on the structure. Excavations during the construction of this new museum revealed ancient walls and artifacts, which are now on view in the museum’s entrance.

The intricate details of the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus, the Ancient Agora of Athens, and Hadrian’s Arch will inspire the imaginations of both history buffs and architecture lovers. They can take in the detail and skill of Greek culture’s early bronze works and mosaics at the National Archaeological Museum. The marble-laden Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896, can also be found in the heart of the city.

 

NATURAL BEAUTY

Athens in a sprawling city that rests in the shadow of hills and covers a valley as it sweeps down to the Aegean Sea. Though the Acropolis is central and the most famous, Lycabettus Hill is taller and is the best spot for a panoramic view of Athens. Those up for a climb can take the stairs carved into the hillside to reach the top, while many opt to ride the cable car.

Visitors can explore Saint George’s church after a long climb or a short ride. Built in 1870, this small church is known for its white-washed exterior that contrasts with the richly colored murals inside. After a stroll around the church, visitors can sit back and enjoy the view at the hilltop’s restaurant, which serves traditional Greek dishes that vary by season. The view only gets better as the sun sets and the city lights appear. The cable car operates until midnight, meaning visitors can take in the city at night without fear of climbing back down in the dark.

From the hilltop, visitors can likely spot the National Gardens. These 38 sprawling acres bring lush greenery to one of the city’s busiest areas. Nestled between the Greek Parliament and the Panathenaic Stadium, the National Gardens offer an idyllic way to escape to nature’s beauty. Visitors can stroll the notoriously winding paths and visit the small zoo, playground, duck pond, and Botanical Museum.

 

CUISINE

Trying fresh olive oil in Greece is a must, with many restaurants serve it for dipping with bread. Gyro shops are around every corner and make the perfect on-the-go pitas for lunch, and visitors may be (pleasantly) surprised to find that along with typical gyro fillings, most Athens gyros also include French fries!

Many traditional Greek dishes rely on filo pastry, from savory spanakopita to delicate baklava. Be on the lookout for tiropites, which are filo dough filled with a mixture of Greek cheeses and feta me meli, or feta wrapped in dough and drizzled with honey.

Hundreds of eateries around Athens offer tasty dishes to try. The neighborhood of Plaka around Monastiraki Square and Syntagma Square is vibrant and open late into the evenings. Look for restaurants that offer rooftop or open-air dining with a view of the nearby Acropolis.

HOW TO GET TO ATHENS

Athens is home to an international airport that is connected to the city via the suburban railway, the Metro Line, and several bus routes. Taxis and cars are also available to take travelers on a 30 to 40-minute drive into the city.

Many popular cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Celebrity Cruises, also offer cruises with stops in Athens.

Let’s plan your trip to Athens today! 

Even before the invention of the airplane, travelers longed to see the world. Cruising has captured the hearts of vacationers for over 100 years. In fact, several cruise lines, like Cunard, launched in the 1800s. From the beginning, exciting innovations, thrilling journeys, and good times have defined cruising.

1844 — P&O Introduces Leisure Excursions

  • As a precursor to modern cruises, P&O Cruise Line began sailing small ships around the Mediterranean purely for the pleasure of sailing and seeing the sights. This was the first step in changing the sailing industry from its focus on mail and cargo to one about carrying passengers for travel and pleasure.
View From A Cruise Ship Balcony At Sunset

 

1900 — Prinzessin Victoria Luise is built in Germany

  • This was the first ship to be exclusively built for luxury cruising rather than for cargo transport, marking the beginning of cruising as we know it today.

1922 — The first world cruise set sail.

  • The Laconia of the British Cunard Line set sail on the first world cruise. This voyage lasted six months and took guests to the most popular and far-off destinations in the world.

1950 — Cunard held an all-American celebrity cruise.

  • Cruising was popular among the world’s biggest stars and was a social event complete with drinks, dancing music, and more. On one voyage, Cunard hosted special guests that included Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Walt Disney, and Rita Hayworth.

 

Mariner Of The Seas Royal Caribbean 2019

 

1960s and 1970s — Modern cruise lines are founded.

  • Though some cruise lines can trace their history back to 1800s, many of today’s modern cruise lines were founded in the 1960s and 1970s. Princess Cruises launched in 1965, Norwegian Cruise Line in 1966, and Royal Caribbean in 1968. Carnival Cruise Line followed soon after, launching in 1972.

1977 — The Love Boat premieres.

  • Set on a Princess Cruises ship, this television show tells the story of Captain Merrill Stubing, his crew, and passengers, often played by guest stars. The show frequently featured the Pacific cruise ports of Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. Many credit The Love Boat for the rise in popularity of cruising.

 

1990s & 2000s — Bigger and Better

  • Ships grew bigger and got better. Cruise lines worked to incorporate unique onboard activities, exclusive shows, more dining options, and kid-friendly fun! These advancements paved the way for the technology-packed, incredible cruising experiences!

Cruise lines’ plans for ships in 2024 and beyond will usher a new chapter in cruising history. From even more mega-ships to ultra-luxury sailing ships and expedition cruising, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come and the options now available. Let’s start planning your next cruise today! 

For decades, people worldwide have come to Europe to see some of its most famous castles. If you’ve ever been fascinated by fairy tale architecture, then take inspiration from this list of the best European castles to visit to indulge your inner child.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Built in the late 19th century by Bavarian King Ludwig II, Neuschwanstein Castle famously served as Walt Disney’s inspiration for the castle featured in the company’s iconic logo.

Located in the pristine beauty of the Bavarian Alps, the castle’s dramatic towers, turrets, and corniced stone façades stand in relief against a sweeping plain that separates the castle hilltop from the larger mountains. As you walk on the turrets or stroll through the surrounding landscape, you can’t help but feel the same childlike sense of wonder that inspired Disney’s early animators and storytellers.

Alcázar of Segovia

Alcázar of Segovia, Spain

The story of Cinderella was originally popularized in Europe by German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 19th century. However, the castle that readers and audiences of Cinderella have most strongly associated with the fairy tale ball sits on a stony perch in Spain’s autonomous region of Castile and León.

The site’s history as a fortification spans back to the time of the Roman Empire and includes several distinct periods of construction during both Spain’s medieval Islamic history and restoration efforts under Spain’s Charles III. Today visitors can explore the castle’s network of rooms featuring tapestries and coffered ceilings as well as a unique armory in the Museum of the Royal College of Artillery.

Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord, France

France’s Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is world-renowned for its charming vineyards, historic towns, and often painted landscapes. In the mid-16th century, French King Francis I had Chateau de Chambord constructed in the eastern Loire Valley as a symbol of the grandeur of the French monarchy and as a country getaway for his personal hunting retinue of more than 2,000 attendant nobles, servants, and guards.

The castle’s notable architectural features include a symmetrical exterior design, 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 84 staircases—the most famous of which is a double helix staircase rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. In the evenings, the castle reflects beautifully in the waters of the diverted canals of the Loire River that border the grounds, giving visitors a chance to capture a vivid image of the structure’s flawless symmetry.

Hohenzollern Castle

Hohenzollern Castle, Germany

Atop a hill overlooking the Swabian Alps in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany sits Hohenzollern Castle. Constructed by Prussian royalty in the mid-19th century, the castle’s Gothic Revival architecture—featuring multiple layers of towers, turrets, and battlements—embodies the spirit of European folklore captured in descriptions of King Stefan’s castle in Sleeping Beauty.

With picturesque medieval city centers and networks of hiking trails through the nearby forests and hill country, the surrounding Baden-Württemberg area is a worthy vacation destination in its own right. Unsurprisingly, Hohenzollern remains one of the most visited castles in Europe year-over-year.

Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan, Scotland

Used in many well-known movies such as Highlander, The World Is Not Enough, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the castle of Eilean Donan occupies a small tidal island in the Scottish Highlands’ Loch Duich. Standing on the cobblestone bridge that connects the castle site to the green and rugged lakeshore, you’ll quickly understand why Eilean Donan is one of the United Kingdom’s most photographed castles.

Scottish highlanders first fortified Eilean Donan in the 13th century as a refuge from frequent Viking incursions. After centuries of use in a variety of conflicts, the English Royal Navy destroyed most of the older structure in 1719 during the Jacobite Uprising.

Wishing to preserve the site’s storied history and architectural beauty, Scottish and British Army officer Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap had the castle meticulously reconstructed in the early 20th century. Owing to its recent reconstruction, the present structure is both thoroughly accessible and a window into the medieval history of the Highlands.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle, Romania

If you’re an enthusiast for both European castles and the darker side of fairy tales and folklore, Romania’s Bran Castle nestled in the mountains of Transylvania has just what you’re looking for. Local accounts have identified Bran Castle as the home of the mythical Count Dracula for centuries.

Today the well-preserved 14th-century fortress fits seamlessly into the eerie landscape of the forested slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Visitors can explore the castle’s interior—now a museum—and wander to the nearby village of Bran.

So, which of these enchanting castles will you choose to visit first? Whether you’re a fairy tale fan, a history buff, or simply seeking a dose of magic, Europe’s castles are waiting for you. Let’s start planning your dream trip today and let the spellbinding beauty of these castles transport you to a world of wonder and awe.

My husband and I recently cruised in the Mediterranean for the first time, and it was fantastic! We have cruised with several different cruise lines over the years, but they were all in the Caribbean and Alaska. For this trip, we wanted to venture to some of the ports in Europe. We had never considered cruising in Europe because we thought the port times were too short and we would feel that we didn’t have time to see everything. However, we found an itinerary with Virgin Voyages that we liked and decided to go for it.

The name of the voyage was French Daze and Ibiza Nights, and we sailed on the Valiant Lady. The cruise started and ended in Barcelona, and our ports were Marseille, Cannes, Palma de Malorca and Ibiza. We decided that if we felt short on time in any of the ports, we would make a point to revisit some day. Two of the port stays were overnight – Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza – which was just icing on the cake. On those nights, we ate an early(ish) dinner on the ship and then went into town for the evening. We spent our time wandering the winding cobblestone streets and exploring the beautiful bars and restaurants in the old town. Then, the next day, we still had time to visit the landmarks. 

The sunset in Mallorca from our balcony

Why did we choose Virgin Voyages? We have sailed with them previously, and really like what they have to offer. First and foremost, the food is the best that I have had on a cruise. Instead of packing everyone into the main dining room or specialty restaurants (with an upcharge), Virgin simply has six onboard restaurants. We made dinner reservations before our cruise, and also had brunch in two of the restaurants on our sea days. There are no additional charges for any of the restaurants unless you want a tower of crab legs or a 10-pound steak (something like that).

The entertainment is also very different. There are no Broadway-style productions or ice shows. Instead, they offer magicians, mentalists, comedians, a dance party, a crazy game show and a couple other shows that I really don’t know how to describe. And then there’s Scarlet Night, where the whole ship is transformed with red lighting and decor, and the guests are decked out in red. The party culminates with a pool party at 11pm, which gets a bit crazy, but we enjoyed it from the deck above, watching people jump into the pool, red cocktail dresses and all.

My favorite thing about Virgin Voyages is the laid-back vibe. There are no formal nights, and nobody cares what you wear to dinner, as long as it’s not your swimsuit! With that said, we found that most people still dressed nicely, just because they wanted to. For those who didn’t feel like it, they weren’t turned away at the restaurants or made to feel ashamed of their attire.

When we booked our cruise, it included some “bar tab” money, which is their version of a drink package. We don’t drink a whole lot, and since sodas are included with every cruise, we had a “0” balance due at the end of the week. What a great way to end a cruise!

If you’re still reading, let me give you just a few tidbits about the ports:

Marseille – Honestly, we weren’t overly impressed with it. We took a full-day ebike tour, and got to see some beautiful areas around the Calanques National Park, but it’s kind of a run-down city, especially considering it is the second largest city in France, after Paris.

Cannes – We spent our entire day in Monte Carlo, which is something I’ll never forget. It was an easy train ride to get there, and we enjoyed all the beautiful yachts, expensive sports cars, the Royal Casino (think James Bond Casino Royale), and the streets of Formula One. It was the perfect day, and since our ship didn’t leave until 7pm, we did not feel rushed to get back.

The harbor in Monte Carlo

Palma de Mallorca – This beautiful island of Spain is not to be missed. We spent our time wandering the old town, visiting the iconic La Seu Cathedral, and just taking in the beauty of the port city.

Ibiza – What can I say? Everyone needs to see Ibiza at some time in their life. The young people on the ship thoroughly enjoyed the overnight stay because they were able to go to the clubs and stay out until dawn. (Virgin provides a bus that goes back and forth to the ship the entire time.) That’s not our scene but we still loved wandering the area and enjoying a cocktail (ok, maybe more) as we watched the people living and loving life in Ibiza. 

Ibiza

I could easily write ten more pages about Virgin Voyages and the ports we visited but I know the only people who might read it would be my friends and family. 🙂 I’ll just leave it here – this was the trip of a lifetime and I highly recommend cruising in the Mediterranean with Virgin Voyages.

Book you Virgin Voyage HERE or CLICK HERE if you’d like us to help you plan your sailing!

I’m going to say from the start that this was my favorite day in Tanzania. It wasn’t one thing in particular but multiple really special moments. This was the day I fell in love with safari and Tanzania. I think you’ll see why. 

The day started with a fantastic sunrise. The sunrises in Africa are incredible and they never get old. There is really nothing better than sitting in total silence with a cup of coffee in your hand and watching the sunrise. This is life! 

Many of my safari mates went on a walking safari, but I was just too scared. The thought of walking through the bush filled with wild animals…like the lions from last night (read more about that HERE) was terrifying. I opted for a ride to breakfast in the bush from the safety of our safari vehicle. On our way, we spotted the cutest elephant – the first we saw on this trip.

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Breakfast was served on the bank next to the Grumeti River which provided the most beautiful backdrop and a great spot for some photos. 

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After breakfast, we headed to the Four Seasons Serengeti Safari Lodge. This was a personal request of mine since I’ve had clients ask about it. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a true lodge (not a tented camp) and the most luxurious property we saw in the Serengeti.
 
Every detail here was well thought out. The grounds are incredible. Every room has a view of the savannah and a great many also overlook a watering hole where you can often find elephants. The rooms are plush with all of the comforts of home. 
 
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Now that I’m home and have taken in the entire experience, it lacked some of the charm of the tented camps we stayed at. There is something exotic and a bit romantic about sleeping in a (luxury) tent in the middle of the bush. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but I’m kind of partial to the tented camps now. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but the luxury tents really add to the experience. That being said, I never turn down the opportunity to stay at the Four Seasons!!! 
 
As we left the Four Seasons we came upon the sweetest elephant up on a rocky hill. He was my favorite elephant we saw on the trip. Curious by nature, when he saw us, he flapped his ears as if to wave. 
 

Then we came upon these sleeping lions. This picture is one of my favorites of the trip. I love the memory of me in the safari car with the lions right there. 
 
 
Lunch today was in the middle of the plain in the Serengeti. It was simply amazing and my most favorite lunch of the trip. The pictures don’t do it justice, but it was one of those moments that I know I will remember for the rest of my life. The food was delicious (per usual) and the company was excellent. I really enjoyed getting to know my safari mates and guides; they really made the trip special.
 
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After lunch, we received a geography/great migration lesson from our guides Elisha and George to help us better understand how the animals move across the Serengeti. This is particularly important to ensure we book clients in the right area, at the right time to ensure the best wildlife viewing. 
 
If you don’t know, The Great Migration refers to the remarkable annual journey of over a million animals within the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya. The procession is led by wildebeest, accompanied by a diverse array of fellow travelers, all in pursuit of sustenance and water.
 
This odyssey commences with calving in the southern Serengeti, near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. From there, the animals embark on a clockwise trajectory through the Serengeti, ultimately reaching the Masai Mara in Kenya. Year after year, they retrace their steps. Along this journey, there is some high-stakes drama, with predators claiming thousands of prey and thousands more being born, a cycle that perpetuates the delicate balance of life.
 
Just after we headed out from our lunch, it was quite fitting that we saw the biggest herd of wildebeests I think we’d seen. They just crossed and crossed and crossed. We sat there for a while and finally started driving down the road where they stopped to let us cross. It was kind of amazing. 

 

From there we headed to another property. If you were on safari, this is where you’d head back to your accommodations for some R&R and maybe a swim, but this was a working trip for us and we were trying to see and do as much as we could! 

The Mbuzi Mawe Serena Camp is a charming tented camp with all of the luxuries at home. It was rustic and charming and comfortable and a property I hope to stay at on a future safari! 

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Then we went on a little game drive as we headed to our accommodations for the evening. We soon saw the cutest elephant cross the road in front of us. We’d seen a few signs for Hippo Pools through our travels in the Serengeti and we finally stopped at one. It was crazy to see all of these hippos together. They are very territorial and showed their flex constantly by opening their giant mouths and pushing other hippos away. It was kind of comical. 
 
Below is another one of my favorite photos of the trip! I got to “drive” the safari vehicle. This is my ridicuous impression of our guide, Elisha, driving and talking on the radio to other guides, tipping each other off on where animals are. 

Just before we arrived at our accommodations for the evening, we came upon three cheetahs which would prove to be the only cheetahs we saw on the trip. They were amazing. 

When we arrived at our accommodations, our guide Elisha, drew this tent on the window to confirm we were in fact, sleeping in a mobile tented camp. I was mortified. A mobile tented camp? I had this idea in my head that I’d be sleeping in a tent on the ground, roughing it. Like a tent you’d pitch in your backyard or at a campsite. The reality is, that crazy idea in my head couldn’t be farther from the truth! 

 

Cherero Camp turned out to be my favorite accommodation on the trip, and many of my safari mates agreed. We arrived at sunset, and I didn’t get a picture of the camp or the outside of our tent, but I did film a video of the inside.  

A mobile tented camp is a camp erected in close proximity to the migration, wherever that may be at any given time of the year. They will move every six months or so, and it often takes a month or more to break down the camp and then re-erect it. If you watch the room tour, you will see that nothing about this tent feels mobile. 

Cherero Camp was remarkable for several reasons. Of course, I loved our room and the shower! The shower was GLORIOUS! The robes and slippers were also a nice touch. I was thoroughly impressed with the hot water bottle that was placed in our beds while we were at dinner so we didn’t get cold in the night. 

Speaking of dinner. The food was excellent and at the end of dinner, we were serenaded by the staff. They even got a few of us to join in on the fun. This was such a special moment and one I won’t soon forget. 

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It was the little touches here that made it so special – the rain boots by the door, the yoga mat, outlets galore, and even a ceiling fan! The staff was warm, kind, and welcoming. Everything about our stay here was perfect. My only regret is not being able to spend more time here. We had a 3am wake-up call the next morning. More about that in my next blog! 

All of the details of my trip are saved as highlights on my Instagram.

If you would like more information on going on safari, click here to get started! 

 

We started the day near Lake Manyara (read about my arrival and first few days in Tanzania HERE) and drove about two hours to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A couple of things to understand (because I didn’t). The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the entire area which includes Ngorongoro Crater which I’ll talk about in a minute. You’ll pass through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area if you are driving to the Serengeti. Unlike a National Park (like the Serengeti), in Conservation Areas wildlife and the Maasai, live together. The Maasai have lived in The Ngorongoro Conservation Area for over 100 years. They aren’t hunters – the Maasai are livestock farmers, mainly cows. In fact, the Maasai named Ngorongoro after the sound a cow bell makes “ngor ngor”.

Ngorongoro Crater is a large volcanic caldera – the largest in the world! The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 100 square miles. I’ll share more about The Ngorongoro Crater in a later post – we will actually descend into the crater later in our trip!

Our first stop in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was the lookout. As we took in the view I was overcome with emotion.  The incredible beauty brought me to tears. The picture below doesn’t do it justice. It was a little overcast this morning which wasn’t as evident to the naked eye. 

My safari mates Denise, Vlado and Erin at the lookout

We headed closer to the Serengeti and stopped at Olduvai Gorge – The Cradle of Humankind

I was once again crying at what I saw. To see what I learned in school so many years ago and the profound piece of our history and creation was very emotional. This is where humankind began! 

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We had a picnic lunch overlooking Olduvai Gorge. I loved this lunch. The food was excellent, the views were incredible and the company was fantastic! 

My safari mate Vlado and our other guide George

Then we headed on to the Serengeti!  We saw so many animals up close and personal. The first animal we saw upon officially entering the Serengeti was the Thompson Gazelles. It was so exciting we stopped for a picture. Little did we know that over the next week, we’d see no less than 2,000 of them! 

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It had rained on that day Serengeti, and we came across a truck that was stuck in the mud. Our guide Elisha being the helpful person that he is, tried to help. We backed up in front of the truck and they attached a chain to our Land Cruiser. Sadly we didn’t get very far as the chain snapped, but Elisha said he once pulled a bus out of the mud. 

We had a long way to go on this day and covered a lot of ground across the Serengeti. I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and how rapidly it would change. It was dry season so I wasn’t expecting much greenery or thick brush, but it was there. 

On our drive, we saw wildebeests and zebras (more animals we would literally see thousands of over the next several days!), giraffes and even a little turtle on the road!

After a very fun, bumpy, and muddy drive arrived at our tented camp for the evening which was beautiful! Ikoma Hills is located just outside of the Serengeti in the Grumeti Wildlife Management Area. Perched on a hill this luxury tented camp provided us with outstanding views and very comfortable accommodations. You can watch a room tour HERE.

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Ikoma Hills offers night safaris in specially equipped battery-powered safari jeeps. This gave us an opportunity to see animals a little more active and close up.
 

The vehicles didn’t have doors and were a little too ‘open air’ for my comfort. We saw quite a few lions including this guy who I will never forget. Shortly after this picture he stood up and got just a few feet from us. 

My safari mate Vlado took this picture. You can just make out the fact that he is missing one paw. He likely lost it in some sort of fight. Our guide told us a beautiful story about it though. Since he’s injured, his pride will hunt and leave a portion for him since he can’t hunt for himself, so he won’t go hungry. 

We covered a lot of ground on this day. More than you would on a typical safari. I went to bed this night exhausted from the day but also exhilarated by what I’d seen. 

We once again heard the flapping of the tent for most of the night. We were old pros now and that didn’t concern us that much. What did was the lions roaring not too far away from us.

As I mentioned before, the Maasai have lived in this area for over a hundred years. They are well-versed in the behavior of all of the animals who live here. Maasai Warriors were guards at every resort that we stayed at. Once the sun goes down they escort you around the property and even stand guard all night watching for those lions. We never saw or heard those lions again. 

All of the details of my trip are saved as highlights on my Instagram.

If you would like more information on going on safari, click here to get started! 

Last August, a Travel Agent friend mentioned a FAM Trip to Tanzania. (FAM = Familiarization Trip. These are trips that Travel Agents attend to become familiar with a destination or resort) She had applied a year earlier, and the trip was canceled, so they were rebooking her for 2023. She mentioned she knew other travel agents who may be interested, and they encouraged us to apply.

The trip was hosted by TATO – The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators in cooperation with the Tanzanian Government with funding from the United Nations Development Programme. Like many parts of the world, Tanzania was hit hard by COVID, and this FAM is part of their effort to rebuild tourism. 

Fast forward to March of 2023, and I received word that I was accepted and would be going to Tanzania for 14 days! Yikes. What did I sign up for? 14 days is a long time to be gone. 14 days in Africa? What was I thinking?

By July, it had set in that I was going to Africa on safari. I was scared yet more excited. I started shopping for clothes and preparing. While Africa had always been on my bucket list, and I had many dreams of safari, realizing it was finally happening frightened me. I’m not sure what exactly I was afraid of. Being eaten by a lion? Catching some flesh-eating bacteria? Dying of malaria, cholera, dysentery? (Spoiler alert: it was all in my head – this is not the Oregon Trail!) 

On Friday, September 15, my husband drove me to Chicago. The following morning I boarded a flight on Ethiopian Air to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then to Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania. Luckily I had my travel agent friend Erin with me, because it was quite an adventure!

It was a VERY long day of travel. The flight was a three-ring circus. The bathroom door came off on the plane, and it was carried through the aisle, a woman trying to steal someone else’s seat while that seat occupant was in the bathroom. People were yelling at each other across the cabin. Guests throwing their trash all over the floor. We made it to Tanzania safely (with lots of crazy stories 🤪)

Tears ran down my face as I stepped off the plane and saw the Kilimanjaro International Airport sign. Africa has always been on my list, and to be here is a dream come true. After a very long process of getting our visas approved, we made it through the airport to meet our guide Elisha.

We didn’t know then what a huge role he would play in our adventure or how lucky we were to have been placed with him. Seeing his smiling face, I was immediately at ease and knew I was in for the adventure of a lifetime. 

Even though we hardly slept on the plane, it was nearly 4pm when we arrived at our hotel and we knew we needed to stay awake. Our hotel – Four Points Sheraton Arusha had a beautiful pool. (Watch a room tour HERE.) We decided to take a dip, and it sure woke us up…it wasn’t heated!!! While at the pool, we met another American. Tyler worked for the Commerce Department and was in Arusha for a conference. We ended up having dinner with him and many more meals over the next few days. We met our first friend of the trip! 

Our First Full Day in Arusha 

Like most hotels in Arusha, ours included breakfast. It was a great cold buffet with fruits, yogurts, cereal, and more. The hot station consisted of things like stewed vegetables, bacon, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, and potatoes. There was also an egg station where you could order eggs any way you’d like. I learned this is the norm throughout Tanzania. 

Elisha picked us up, and we started the day at Sanaa. This non-profit organization trains and employs the marginalized in Tanzania to create arts and crafts. We were able to tour the facility and see everything from shoe, bags, clothes, rugs, and blown glass being made. A kind deaf gentleman even showed me how to make a glass bead. It was an experience that touched my heart and was simply amazing! I picked up some of the handmade jewelry pieces I will cherish forever. Probably the most incredible thing was the handmade safari bags. I purchased one for my husband and we both absolutely love it!

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Then we toured the incredible Gran Melia Arusha a fantastic property that you would stay at upon your arrival in Arusha before you go out on safari or upon your return from safari before you head home. This luxurious hotel offered incredible views and plush accommodations.

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We had lunch at the rooftop restaurant and met the other half of our group. I was traveling with Erin and Denise with our guide Elisha. Erin, Denise and I all met almost 3 years ago to the day on a FAM trip to Cancun. Denise is the reason we were all here together! The other half of our party was Mia, a travel agent from San Diego (my hometown); Francis, a travel agent from Philadelphia; and Vlado, a travel journalist and influencer from Croatia. 

I sat next to Vlado, which would be a theme over the next two weeks. We enjoyed teasing each other but also enjoyed each other’s company and had lots of great conversations. Vlado suggested I try the fried crocodile – when in Rome right? Honestly, it tasted like chicken and I’m glad I tried it! 

Fried crocodile

We finished the day with a networking event where I met with over 50 safari companies, resorts, and more. It was like speed dating! Afterward, there was a cocktail reception where we got to speak to everyone in greater detail and begin to form relationships. 

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While this trip had many amazing parts, the biggest takeaway was networking with owners and operators on the ground in Tanzania. I have people whom I’ve met in person who I can work with to give my clients a first-class experience. There was a news segment produced about the event that you can watch HERE

Heading out to the bush! 

On Tuesday, September 19th we headed out to the bush. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited! We were really going on safari. Little did I know what was in store for us.

We drove about two hours to Lake Manyara. Lake Manyara National Park is about 125 square miles and the sign said: “Home of tree-climbing lions” so that got me pretty excited. Then Elisaha told us that in all of his years as a guide, he’d never seen the lion in the tree. We didn’t either, so that was disappointing. 

We saw lots of birds, tons of monkeys and baboons. Even a few water buffalo. The other part of our safari group saw zebras but we missed them 🫤 

Knowing now what was to come, this park isn’t my favorite. I think I prefer to see animals that could potentially kill me. It’s way more exciting to me. But Lake Manyara is a great park to start your safari adventure. 

Lake Manyara
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Then we headed to lunch at The African Galleria. This was a bit of a tourist trap, but the lunch was tasty.

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Then we toured the Galleria which was full of talented artists and beautiful art. The coolest thing was seeing the craftsman carve the ebony. There was also a huge shop where I purchased some jewelry and other items. 

Finally, we headed to our accommodations for the evening – Kirurumu Manyara Lodge This is a tented camp with the most incredible views of Lake Manyara! 

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This was our first night in a tented camp. I think I’ve slept in a tent maybe twice in my life and honestly, I was scared. If you know me, you know this is WAY out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The tent is on a slab and has concrete floors. Our tent even had doors. The bathroom was attached and had concrete walls. We had a toilet, shower, and even double sinks. 

The mosquito nets were a little frightening, but yet kind of exotic. Looking back now I can laugh. But at the time I was terrified of the mosquitos and other bugs that were going to eat me alive all night long. Add to that we were sleeping in a tent in the wild. With every gust of wind, the tent flapped, and I was sure a baboon was trying to break in. They weren’t. The Massai tribesmen stood guard all night. If we needed something they were right outside and we just needed to flash our flashlight or scream and they would be there within seconds. Remember that movie City Slickers? That was us but in the bush of Africa. 

We had a wonderful evening with our safari mates and guides. This was one of my favorite dinners we had. The food was fantastic and it’s where we all started to get to know each other better. Even though we are all from different corners of the world, we shared a ton of laughs over a great dinner.

All of the details of my trip are saved as highlights on my Instagram.

If you would like more information on going on safari, click here to get started! 

With mountains, beaches, and rainforests, Costa Rica is one of the most diverse vacation destinations in Central America. It is known for eco-tourism, but it also has plenty of options for relaxation, romance, and adventure.

More all-inclusive accommodations are also popping up to match the demand for stays in this scenic, alluring country. These resorts are among the top places to stay in style and comfort when visiting Costa Rica.

The Westin Reserva Conchal

This massiave property on Costa Rica’s Northern-Pacific coast is situated between lush green forests and brilliantly blue waters. With so many amenities – including 15 dining options, a championship golf course, and one of Central America’s largest freshwater pools – just exploring the resort could take days!

The Westin Reserva Conchal


Dreams Las Mareas

Located on the northern coast of Guanacaste, Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica is a gorgeous beachfront resort with shimmering white beaches and lush tropical jungles. Dreams Las Mareas boasts a contemporary design with tasteful authentic décor and offers 447 spacious guest suites with spectacular ocean, jungle or mountain views.

Dreams Las Mareas


Occidental Papagayo

Occidental Grand Papagayo Resort is an all-inclusive, adults-only resort in Guanacaste, ideal for those seeking rest and relaxation. The resort is situated on a hillside offering spectacular views of the sea. Unwind in unmatched seclusion, surrounded by the wild, natural beauty characteristic of Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast.

Occidental Papagayo


RIU Palace Costa Rica

Find balance during yoga on the RIU Palace’s beautiful beach, or during a massage at the Renova Spa’s garden pavilion. With four pools, 24-hour dining, and activities like snorkeling, kayaking and windsurfing included, this is also a favorite for high-energy families.

RIU Place Costa Rica


Secrets Papagayo

This intimate, serene adults-only oasis is just a short 20-minute transfer from the airport, but seems a million miles away from everything. With three gourmet a la carte restaurants, regular beach parties, rum tastings, and live music nightly, a getaway here will invigorate all the senses.

Secrets Papagayo

Now that you’re dreaming of a Costa Rican adventure, contact me today to turn that dream into a reality!

Why Costa Rica? Is it the chance to explore its natural rainforest and encounter the wildlife who call its jungles home? Is it the country’s sandy shores that entice more and more vacationers? Or perhaps it’s the idea of Pura Vida, or pure life, that speaks to us?

With recent resort additions to its coasts, a year-round warm climate, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences awaiting visitors, there are plenty of reasons to travel to Costa Rica this year!

Costa Rica Regenwald

GET TO KNOW COSTA RICA

Costa Rica is in Central America, south of Nicaragua and north of Panama. To its east is the Caribbean Sea and to its west is the Pacific Ocean. Though this small country is only 170 miles wide, it has beaches, mountains, volcanoes, and rainforests. The residents of Costa Rica are dedicated to preserving these diverse landscapes, and through their dedication have become a leading country in sustainable practices.

EXPLORING AND ACTIVITIES

Sloth

For many travelers, Costa Rica’s pristine nature is one of its most enticing aspects. The natural landscape also provides travelers with exciting activities. Ziplines through the forest canopy at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve are a highlight of many Costa Rica trips. Active vacationers may also enjoy hiking the forest trails, like those at Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park.

Whether travelers opt to follow the map or participate in a guided hike, the park trails are one of the best chances to spot local wildlife, like monkeys and sloths. But don’t forget to look up! The forest is full of colorful birds like macaws that are sure to catch the eye hikers. And speaking of sights, Costa Rica’s waterfalls and animal sanctuaries are some of the country’s most Insta-worthy destinations, giving travelers the chance to interact and experience nature up close.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Palms At The Beach In Puerto Carrillo, Costa Rica In Opposite Light. Puerto Carrillo Is A Small Village At The Pacific Coast On The Peninsula Nicoya.

There are several all-inclusive options for travelers to Costa Rica, with most of the resorts situated along the western coast. With views of the Pacific Ocean, these resorts provide guests with beachfront experiences and sunsets they’ve dreamed of.

The Guanacaste province alone includes over 400 miles of coastline where vacationers can kick back, relax and watch the sun set into the sea. Many popular resort brands have also established properties in this region, including Margaritaville, Secrets, RIU, and Hard Rock Hotels. These resorts not only boast stellar service and accommodations, but many also offer excursions that allow guests to explore the region’s natural and cultural wonders.

Volcan Arenal Dominates The Landscape During Sunset, As Seen From The Monteverde Area, Costa Rica.

GETTING TO COSTA RICA

For travelers looking to stay in the Guanacaste province, Liberia’s airport is likely the best option. This city and its airport are located within the province and will save a great deal of driving time. Visitors also often fly into Juan Santamaria (SJO), which is the larger of the country’s two major international airports and can offer more flight options.

Ready to book your getaway to Costa Rica? Let’s get started!