Monday, December 17, 2012

New Year's Celebrations 2013

Spectacular New Year's Eve view from the Royal Horseguards Hotel in London
New Year's Eve 2013 falls on a Monday giving many of us a four night weekend - a great opportunity for a fabulous getaway. Here's a few ideas on where to celebrate!

CNN's From Dubai to Kyoto: How to see in the New Year in style offers the ten best cities in which to ring in the new year.
  1. Hong Kong
  2. New York
  3. Berlin
  4. London
  5. Edinburgh
  6. Sydney
  7. Samoa
  8. Kyoto
  9. Taipei
  10. Dubai
Forbes Magazine 5 Hot New Year's Eve Parties Around The World suggests five landmark hotels for a memorable celebration.
  1. The Royal Horseguards, London
  2. Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
  3. Luna Hotel Baglioni, Venice
  4. The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Scotland
  5. The Sebel Pier One, Sydney

Monday, November 5, 2012

Exciting travel news: Tzell will merge with Protravel


Tzell Travel Group signs deal to merge with Protravel International, Inc.

Newly-combined New York City-headquartered travel agency powerhouses to represent over $2.35 billion in annual sales volume

Today, Tzell Travel Group – a Travel Leaders Group companyis announcing that it has signed an agreement to merge with Protravel International, pending government antitrust approval. This merger helps us lay further claim to making our company the undisputed leader in travel.  We couldn’t be more thrilled to now join forces with such an exceptionally well-operated company. 
The merged operations within Travel Leaders Group would represent combined annual sales volume of over $2.35 billion. Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben has indicated that once the deal closes, Tzell and Protravel would continue operating “as is” with no plans to change the successful models both companies have created. Under the terms of the agreement, Protravel founder Priscilla Alexander would continue serving as its President. “Together we now have 72 branches that extend to most major markets across the country and in the United Kingdom,” noted Alexander. “We are proud to now be associated with Travel Leaders Group. Their commitment to excellence provides peace of mind to our discerning clients and agents that we’ll continue providing extraordinary care far beyond their expectations.”

Travel Leaders Group is headquartered in Minnesota and ranks among North America’s top five traditional travel agency enterprises, enjoying nearly $17 billion in annual sales volume in 2011 through its wholly-owned, franchised and member operations. As Travel Leaders Group’s leading wholly-owned agency, New York City-based Tzell Travel Group’s sales approached $1.5 billion last year. In turn, 2011 sales for Protravel exceeded $850 million. While it is anticipated that the merger will close in November, full terms of the deal will not be disclosed since both companies are privately held.

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel with a commitment to our vacation and business travel clients via our progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Having already assisted millions of travelers – through our beginnings as Carlson Leisure Group, a division of Carlson Companies, TraveLeaders and Tzell Travel Group and through the additions of Nexion, Vacation.com and Protravel International – Travel Leaders Group manages leisure, business and franchise travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands. Travel Leaders Group not only ranks as the #1 corporate travel management company by Business Travel News, but it is also among the top ten travel companies on the 2012 Travel Weekly Power List. In 2012, Entrepreneur ranked a Travel Leaders brand #1 in the category of “Travel Agencies-Miscellaneous.”
www.travelleadersgroup.com

About Tzell Travel Group:
With annual sales approaching $1.5 billion in 2011, Tzell Travel Group – as part of Travel Leaders Group – is currently ranked first among the nation's largest corporate travel management companies, according to Business Travel News. Tzell maintains its headquarters in New York City and has offices in 20 states.

In everything it does, Tzell Travel Group places the highest priority on both its corporate client and its agents.  For the individual traveler, Tzell addresses value, convenience, comfort and safety, with its customized quality traveler services.  For the corporation, Tzell offers a broad product line of cost containment, meeting services and comprehensive travel management programs.

Tzell focuses on the needs of its agents by providing the best work environment possible and the strongest leadership and support team.  These elements combined with excellent air/hotel leisure programs create the 'safe haven' which is a hallmark of the Tzell brand.
www.Tzell.com

About Protravel International Inc.:
Founded in 1984, Protravel International Inc. is a full-service, dynamic travel company with an award-winning reputation. With annual sales reaching over $850 million, Protravel is headquartered in New York City and supports a network of 22 branch locations throughout the United States and London, plus a network of hosted agents in all corners of the U.S. Today, over 800 people make up the Protravel organization. Our expertise in destination, international faring and competitive products – coupled with our superior network of contacts in the airline, hotel, cruise and hospitality industry – makes Protravel one of the most powerful selling forces in the travel industry.

Protravel’s diversity of products, size of annual sales and nationally recognized stature permits them to leverage these strengths to bring the most competitive pricing and aggressive negotiations for our highly diverse client base. It is a company-wide commitment to search for the best possible travel options for our customers. Travel arrangements are personally tailored to take optimum advantage of the most up to the minute changes in the industry.

For many years, a dedicated team has guided Protravel with innovative ideas and skills. By incorporating the latest technologies and carefully monitoring industry developments, the finest products and highest levels of service are maintained. The continued success of Protravel is a testament to our sound operation and well-planned development.
www.protravelinc.com

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Once-In-A-Lifetime Africa with Jane Goodall

FEATURING WORLD-FAMOUS PRIMATOLOGIST and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, and 20-year National Geographic magazine contributing photographer, speaker, author and teacher, Joel Sartore.

Only 20 guests will have the opportunity to join this 20-day fully escorted luxury safari journey from July 9 – 28, 2013, traveling almost entirely by private plane, staying in five-star safari camp and hotel accommodations (or best per destination). Our guests will explore some of the most exotic, fascinating regions on the continent and at the same time gain a unique educational experience.

 
Highlights
EXPLORE Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s bustling capital, and examine the 3.2 million-year-old hominid fossil remains of “Lucy” at its National Museum.
DISCOVER unparalleled Big Five wildlife viewing, including enormous herds of buffalo and elephants in Tanzania’s remote and untouched Katavi and Selous National Parks.
EXPERIENCE trekking through the rain forest to view habituated gorilla families in the lush Congo River basin.
ENJOY a private lecture by esteemed primatologist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall and hone your wildlife photography skills with tips and workshops with renowned photographer, Joel Sartore, founder of The Photo Ark.

20 Days from $59,990 per person - Ethiopia | Congo | Tanzania
2 Nights Addis Ababa | 6 Nights Odzala-Kokoua National Park |
2 Nights Kigoma | 3 Nights Gombe Stream National Park |
3 Nights Katavi National Park | 3 Nights Selous National Park

Accommodations
SHERATON ADDIS ABABA, Addis Ababa
LANGO CAMP, Odzala-Kokoua National Park
NGAGA CAMP, Odzala-Kokoua National Park
KIGOMA HILLTOP HOTEL, Kigoma
GOMBE FOREST LODGE, Gombe Stream National Park
CHADA KATAVI, Katavi National Park
SERENA MIVUMO RIVER LODGE, Selous Game Reserve

 

Itinerary Highlights
 
Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia
Ancient cultural capital, visiting historical sites and an incredible welcome dinner.
 
Odzala, Congo
Gorilla permits are not required for the Congo. The trekking is over only 5 to 8 kilometers of flat, muddy terrain. This African rainforest is home to the highest concentration of primates in the world as well as other diverse wildlife.
 
Kigoma, Tanzania
City situated on the banks of scenic Lake Tanganyika. Private lecture by Dr. Jane Goodall (www.janegoodall.org) about her work and the work of the Jane Goodall Institute. Each guest receives a personally autographed copy of one of Dr. Goodall's books. Opportunity to accompany a Jane Goodall Institute staff member on a visit to the Institute's various project sites.
 
Ujiji, Tanzania
Site of the famous meeting between Henry Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone on October 28, 1871.
 
Gombe National Park, Tanzania
Site of Dr. Goodall's pioneering chimpanzee behavioral research, which continues today, more than 50 years later.
 
Katavi National Park, Tanzania
Fabulous Big 5 viewing without the crowds and access to wildlife habitat rarely visited by tourists
 
Selous National Park, Tanzania
The largest national park in Tanzania offering a wide variety of activities, including river adventures
 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Baltic Cruise: My day in Helsinki

I booked a half-day city tour of Helsinki through Crystal Cruises, which was a nice introduction. The city is celebrating its 200th anniversary as the capital of Finland, so there isn’t a preserved medieval quarter here (like Stockholm and Tallinn); instead new buildings and old blend together to create a fascinating cityscape. It's no wonder Helsinki was named the 2012 Design Capital of the World. 
Monument to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius
I enjoyed seeing the Sibelius Monument at the waterfront park named for the composer. The monument was created by the Finnish sculptress Eila Hiltunen in 1961 (apparently, it caused quite a stir as the first abstract public monument in Finland). The famous Rock Church (also called Temppeliaukio Church) was special, but I think the Post Office thrilled me more with it's clean lines.  
The Post Office in Helsinki
After the tour, I stayed in town walking all along the narrow, cobblestone streets. Each block has such a variety of architectural styles (art deco office building next to a Soviet apartment building) that my eyes were delighted by the contrasts.  Esplanade Park offered a charming greenway between two boulevards lined with lots of shops and cafes in the heart of the city. Market Square is at the bottom of the park, on the water, with city views of Uspensky Cathedral above. Farmers, fish mongers, food vendors and craftsmen sell their wares in a lively setting, which was a perfect spot to end a wonderful day.

Here's a link to my photos.
 
Fish Monger at Market Square

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Baltic Cruise: An afternoon in Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn from Dome Hill
First stop on my Baltic Cruise aboard Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony was Tallinn, Estonia. This charming medieval walled city on the sea could call itself the Dubrovnik-of-the-North: narrow, winding, pedestrian-only streets with adorable cafes and shops,  and plenty of sea views to engage your camera. You could do a short walking tour of the old town so you notice all the highlights (an inexpensive shore excursion option), but it's fun to just wander aimlessly too. Architectural details catch your eye like a 17th century clock on the side of Holy Spirit Church and a dragon gargoyle. 

Unfortunately, I was not the only tourist here; the streets were crowded. Corny tourist traps abound and vendors in period costumes sell everything from spiced nuts, elk soup and elf shoes. And there are an awful lot of burlesque clubs and 'adult' entertainment on offer. But the history is interesting (I loved the story of their singing revolution), the people were friendly (unless you're Russian) and they make really good chocolate (dark chocolate with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and black pepper- so delicious). Click here to see my photos from Tallinn.

" Worthy Elk Soup, full of taste"

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Baltic Cruise: Stockholm, Sweden


Stockholm's charming harbor
My Baltic Cruise aboard Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony began in Stockholm, Sweden. Departed from Newark on SAS’ non-stop flight to Stockholm. The trans-Atlantic flight leaves early (around 5pm) and arrives early the next morning. Plane was reasonably comfortable (2-4-2 configuration) and there was a personal entertainment system for each seat in all classes (but no plugs or internet access). The meal was OK (chicken in red wine sauce both coming and going) served with complimentary wine. It was an 8-hour flight made painless by taking a 4-hour Ambien immediately upon being seated, so I slept most of the way there and arrived feeling halfway decent.

While the Arlanda Express is an easy way to get into the heart of the city (and there are even less-expensive buses available), I do prefer to arrive as effortlessly as possible, so I took a taxi ($60, 30-minute ride). Happily, the Scandic Grand Central had the room ready so I could settle in and jump into the shower immediately.  I liked the room’s modern vibe and eco-features (finally — recycle bins in a hotel room!). Wandered out into the city center on a self-guided walking tour and visited Strindberg’s apartment. Had dinner at Den Glydene Freden in Gamla Stan (the restaurant was established in 1722, and their herring was amazing).
Gamla Stan, Stockholm's medieval center
Traveled by tram to the island park called Djurgärden. It’s most famous attraction is the Vasa Museum, which has a 17th-century sailing galleon with fascinating exhibits.  They said “Stench, Disease and Tedium” summed up life at sea in those days. Good for me that life at sea has greatly improved, especially on Crystal Cruises! Couldn’t resist stopping in to the Spirit Museum to see their Absolut Art Collection (Warhol, Keith Haring, etc), since I had a Stockholm Card granting me free entry to all museums, public transportation and more.  The obligatory canal cruise was a very pleasant way to experience the archipelago (Royal Canal Tour is free with Stockholm Card). The Nobel Museum was a yawn. Enjoyed a traditional smörgåsbord dinner at the Grand Hotel's Veranda Restaurant, especially the cured cod. 
Grand Hotel Stockholm
I was charmed by Stockholm. The ubiquitous lion statues evoked Venice more than their canals and bridges; but all the boats were beautiful, moored on every shore. Wandering around Gamla Stan (which was mobbed with tourists) and the city center (which was crowded with shopping Swedes) was a pleasure.  I was also surprised by the Swedish sense  of humor (a tapas place called Bar Celona, Primo Ciao Ciao serving Italian food, and a Scottish restaurant on the harbor called Loch & Quay). Last stop was for coffee and cake in the courtyard of Vete-Katten (the name of the pastry was Mjölnargårdsbulle, — see, I’m not making it up) before setting sail on the Crystal Symphony.  Click here for my photos of Stockholm.
How would you pronounce it?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Baltic Cruise 2012


St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia
Cruising the Baltic Sea was as wonderful as I expected.  Every destination was special, but by visiting so many in one trip I really experienced the region and learned about their relationships with each other and the sea. Here’s a quick summary of my trip:

Crystal Cruises' "Journey of the Czars" itinerary included these ports of call:
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • 3 full days in St. Petersburg, Russia!
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Warnemünde, Germany

St. Petersburg was as amazing as I expected, but the Amber Room at Catherine's Palace was mind blowing. I knew I'd love Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and wandering the Old Town of Tallinn, but was surprised how much I liked the canals of Stockholm and the architecture of Helsinki. All the Scandinavian ports were clean and charming (most of them claiming to be The Venice-of-the-North).  The people spoke English, were friendly and extremely blond.  The politeness extended to pedestrian etiquette too — folks would stand at a red light with no cars coming from any direction and still not cross until the light changed to green.  It’s really hard to do (tick, t-i-c-k, t…i…c…k), but I got better at it as the trip progressed.
A magical evening at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark
The weather was bizarrely excellent — 60-75 degrees and mostly sunny every day. All the guides swore it was cold and raining all summer until I arrived. The trip definitely challenged my linguistic skills, which are notoriously terrible even in the few languages I studied in school. By the end, I was the Great Pronouncer — confidently reading street signs with phonetic American-English, give or take a few letters. Or syllables. 

FYI: I won the flights on SAS Airlines and the Scandic Hotel stays from Cruise Baltic while attending a CLIA cruise conference in April 2011. I took several of the Cruise Baltic educational seminars at the conference, but this trip taught me so much more about this beautiful and fascinating region. And I was hosting a Signature Travel Network group of 83 guests on the Crystal Symphony. Don't I have the best job?!

Monday, July 16, 2012

St. Petersburg, here I come!

My Baltic Cruise departure date finally approaches and I wanted you to know my schedule. My last day at work will be Thursday July 19, and I won't be back at my desk until Monday August 6. If you anticipate any travel needs, please get in touch as soon as possible so I can help you before I go.

Don't worry: I'll have my laptop with me so I can access reservations and answer questions (although the time difference and busy itinerary may make it difficult), I will have a colleague available to assist you while I'm away and the 24-hour hotline is always available if you have a travel emergency.



This trip will be amazing! I'm escorting a group of 85 guests sailing on the Crystal Symphony's "Journey of the Czars" from Stockholm to Copenhagen with three full days in St. Petersburg. It's my first time cruising with Crystal Cruises, which has been voted the World's Best Large-ship Cruise Line 17 years in a row by Travel & Leisure readers. I'll be posting photos on Facebook and sharing trip details on my blog so please connect with me online.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Birthday gift to self: Weekend in Paris


It’s absurd that yet another year had passed without my having been to Paris. I’d been to Cannes and Marseille. I’d been to Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America.” I’d even been to Albania! What if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and died without having seen the City of Light? So on my birthday, I booked myself a last-minute long weekend to Paris: Not even another month would go by before I could cross it off my Bucket List. 

This is not why they call it the City of Light

My whirlwind visit to Paris was wonderful! I arrived at Hotel de la Tremoille on Friday morning, and this gem of a hotel in the “Golden Triangle” of the Right Bank welcomed me like an old friend. The contemporary décor was inviting, and my Superior room was spacious, with an excellent bath (which I immediately tested with great satisfaction). Next I made nice with the concierge, the charming and sage Patrick Le Clere, to arrange my first dinner in Paris. (Priorities!) Then I was off exploring this city I’d always longed to see.

My three day mission:
  • Tour the Louvre, check.
  • Cruise the Seine, check.
  • Splurge on perfume, check.
  • Shop at Le Bon Marche, check.
  • Stroll along Rue St. Germain and the Champs Elysees, check.
  • Eat at least one chocolate croissant daily, yum!
  • See the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, Place de la Concorde, cafe where Hemingway hung out, etc. Done!
I.M. Pei's pyramid at The Louvre

Wining and dining well was another goal of the trip, and I must declare it a resounding success. My first meal was at a charming bistro near Invalides called D' Chez Eux, which offered deliciously earthy escargot and a rich cassoulet. I met my friend Marina at the Hotel Lutetia on Saturday night for traditional roast chicken at La Brasserie du Lutetia. My last dinner in Paris was at Restaurant Dessirier in the 17th arrondissement where I enjoyed spider crab, white asparagus in hollandaise and an enormous cheese plate for dessert.

White asparagus is in season April-June
Paris is such a beautiful city that I can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cunard's Queen Victoria ship review


The Grand Lobby with Cunard memorabilia
Cunard’s Queen Victoria embodies the glamour of traditional cruising. Memorabilia adorns the Grand Lobby connecting us to the glory days and making us ‘Feel Famous’ as their current promotions invite. She offers plenty of diversions to while away a week (or more) at sea. FYI- her 110-night World Cruise itinerary is available to book now.

Queens Room hosts Royal Nights

The Queens Room is the grand ballroom complete with resident orchestra, which hosts “Royal Night” theme balls. If you’ve ever longed to be a Princess waltzed by your shining Knight (or like me, just want to channel Rita Hayworth for one enchanted evening) this is your chance to break out the ball gown and live the dream. Theme Balls include a ‘Masquerade Ball,’ a ‘Victoriana Ball’ and a ‘Royal Ascott Ball’ so pack your favorite fascinator. Gentlemen Hosts are always available if you need a willing partner.   

Royal Court Theatre with private boxes
Fabulous nightly shows are performed at the Royal Court Theatre, which you can enjoy from their private boxes (only on Cunard, additional fee applies). First-run feature films are shown here during the day. The Chart Room has a jazz band enlivening the pre-dinner crowd, while the Commodore Club has a pianist each evening. A wide variety of Daytime Activities are also available including fencing, ballroom dancing classes and prestigious guest lecturers. The Spa facilities are impressive, with tempting loungers by the hydro-pool. 

Todd English Restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine
Dining aboard the Queen Victoria is a grand affair, with your main restaurant assignment dependent upon your stateroom category. Other dining options include the casual Lido Restaurant, and Todd English’s Mediterranean restaurant at sea.

Sadly, my ship tour did not include any stateroom viewings, but we did have a lovely luncheon in the Britannia Restaurant. Click here to see my Photos

There is a 3-day sale running April 4-6 offering complimentary double upgrades and up to $300 on-board credit per stateroom on select sailings. Call me for more information.
 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Disney Fantasy christening celebration

Fabulous christening event for the new Disney Fantasy in NY tonight. Jerry Seinfeld performed and Mariah Carey is the Godmother. Here Neal Patrick Harris sings about the super, splashy synergistic Disney celebration!


Here's Mariah Carey with Bob Eiger and Mickey toasting the new ship:
Mariah Carey is Godmother of the new Disney Fantasy

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Christine Ebersole at The Carlyle

I had a wonderful time listening to Christine Ebersole performing "The End of the World as We Know It Cabaret" at the Cafe Carlyle. The show was amazing — my favorite numbers were Irving Berlin's "Get Thee Behind Me Satan" and the Depression-era classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" but her version of Cole Porter's "Blow Gabriel Blow" was triumphant. It was thrilling to see her in such an intimate setting, and we were only a few tables away from Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. The show is playing through February 25.

The view from Suite 2801
Before the show, I was able to tour The Carlyle and inspect many of its suites with panoramic Central Park views (the very best in the city). Each room is individually decorated with lots of antiques (some traditional in style, some more art deco), so let me know your preferences when making a reservation. (Note: Not all rooms have a modern bath.)

After the tour (but before the show) we stopped at Bemelmans Bar for a drink. This legendary New York watering hole with mural by Ludwig Bemelmans has the yummiest atmosphere, and their signature cocktail, The Old Cuban, was delicious. Chris Gillespie was at the piano ensuring a fabulous evening was had by all.

Tzell clients receive these exclusive amenities when booking rooms at The Carlyle:
  • Breakfast for two Daily. (Room Service or at The Carlyle Restaurant)
  • Complimentary Welcome Amenity
  • $50 Spa Credit per Stay (and the Spa facilities are impressive for a hotel of this size)
  • One category upgrade at the time of booking

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Join me on a Baltic Cruise


You're invited to set sail with me this summer on Crystal Cruises' "Journey of the Czars." The Crystal Symphony departs from Stockholm on July 23, 2012 for an 11-night Baltic cruise ending in  Copenhagen on August 3.  With overnights in both Stockholm and Copenhagen, and three full days in St. Petersburg, this is an amazing itinerary. It will be a pleasure hosting this Signature group on such a fabulous ship!
Click here for more information. I'll be happy to answer your questions, just call me at 607-279-1734.