U by Uniworld, a fresh take on River Cruising

U by Uniworld is a fresh new take on River Cruising designed for independent travelers looking for casual flexibility in their itineraries and age does not define this demographic.

U by Uniworld: A fresh take on River Cruising

River Cruising is an interesting travel option and one I had my eye on for my own travel wish list (not surprising now that I’ve decided I’m a cruiser!). I saw the value in all the benefits the cruise lines advertise: See Europe at a gentle pace without any packing and unpacking and no trudging through train stations – sign me up!

But, as a small business owner who generally needs to be accessible and whose husband is a web developer who definitely needs internet access to do his job, the real selling point was easy internet access for the entire trip. As long as we had a decent international data plan on our phones (with hotspot capabilities) we didn’t even need the ship to offer quality wi-fi. For several years, I’ve been convinced a river cruise was a brilliant vacation option for us but there was just one problem…

None of the river cruise options appealed to us. They were either too stuffy or too structured, or both; the itineraries didn’t give us the time we wanted to explore; the formal dining rooms were a turn off, and the marketing photos of couples much older than us scared us away. We can’t have been the only 30-something couple with this dilemma and Uniworld, one of our top preferred luxury river cruise partners, pounced on what they saw as a big opportunity in the market. So, they created a pretty daring new product, U by Uniworld, and Josh and I were more than happy to be guinea pigs in this new river cruising experiment!

So, to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, we booked the U by Uniworld’s inaugural trip down the Rhine River (and several canals and tributaries) from Amsterdam to Frankfurt on The A, formerly known as Uniworld’s River Ambassador. We were even lucky enough to participate in the ship’s renaming ceremony!

Bottom line: This trip was everything we have been looking for all of these years. The itinerary was creative yet relaxed, we had full flexibility to do as we pleased and explore on our terms, I loved not having to wrestle with my suitcase every other day, and we returned home fresh faced and fully rejuvenated from a perfect vacation. The wi-fi? Not great, but adequate. Our international data plan with AT&T filled in the blanks, which is what we expected. By the way, if you don’t have a good international plan, U by Uniworld has a brilliant offer to rent a portable wi-fi hotspot for 10 EUR/day so you can have wi-fi even when you are off the ship.

About the Ship

U by Uniworld: stylish ship design

U by Uniworld currently operates two ships, The A and The B, which share similar designs. Their black exterior give them immediate cool-factor and definitely turns heads, especially when sailing past another “plain Jane” river ship. The interiors are stylish without being garish and they showcase a nice attention to detail in the finishing touches. The rooms are small, but functional with easy to use storage space. Same goes for the bathrooms; they are tight but functional with good lighting and storage. I highly recommend a balcony room – they get more natural light and fresh air, which helps the room feel bigger.

The ship is small and all of the public spaces are multi-functional. The U lounge serves as the main indoor hangout and the bar was always busy. The dining room has several large tables that encourage communal dining, but there’s also enough smaller tables for just 2 or 4 people to give everyone the option to dine together or alone. The guest laundry is complementary and was always in use and Mugs, the self-serve coffee station, was always kept tidy and well-stocked. The ship has a gym with all of the basic equipment you’d expect and they offer morning fitness classes on the rooftop lounge. The rooftop Ice Bar is a really neat space that collapses down for low bridges and provides a fun ambiance at nights.

Each itinerary includes 2 meals a day, brunch and dinner. If you’re an early bird,  coffee and pastries are available in the lounge. Brunch is served as a buffet with both hot and cold foods and there’s a made-to-order station with a specialty dish that changes each day. Dinner features a set, 3-course menu with 2 options for the entrée. All of the dining options on the ship were really well received. I was expecting to hear negative feedback due to the lack of menu options, but everyone was happy. The common opinion by guests was that they were happy to have fewer options at a high-quality level, rather than to have more variety of lower quality. All of the meals were well prepared and well presented.

Highlights from Our Trip

U by Uniworld: day trip to Haarlem

Haarlem, Netherlands

For our first night on the ship, we were docked in Amsterdam and we pushed off first thing in the morning for a little day trip to Haarlem and then returned back to Amsterdam just after dinner. I really loved the timing of this day; we got a fun excursion to a city I probably would have never thought to visit on my own and we were back in Amsterdam to enjoy the city’s nightlife – this day offered a little something for everybody! It also positioned us back in Amsterdam overnight to allow for a full day in Amsterdam the next morning, which was perfect for anyone wanting to beat the crowds at the museums.

Haarlem proved to be a very approachable town and we were lucky to be there during a local festival so the locals were out to enjoy the carnival and everyone was in a cheerful mood despite the overcast weather. The ship docked outside of town so we had a 25 minute walk to get into town, which was a little annoying but we knew we were headed to a brewery later so we figured we earned ourselves an extra beer. Our morning began with an orientation walk around town just as the locals were waking up and shops were beginning to open. After our walk, we made our way to the Jopenkerk, a local brew pub housed in an old church near the center of town. I loved the ambiance and I particularly enjoyed the Jopen Koyt brewed with sweet gale, which as legend has it, must be picked at full moon by nude witches. This beer has been brewed according to the brewer’s statute of the year 1407!

If I could do this day again, I would skip the walk to town and grab one of the complementary U by Uniworld bikes, instead!

Dining in Amsterdam

I loved that our itinerary began with ample time to explore Amsterdam. During our stay, we we so lucky to make two food-related discoveries that made a huge impression on my palatte! The first is Graham’s Kitchen in the De Pijp neighborhood. We made a reservation here on a whim based on a foodie blog review I read about a deconstructed English breakfast appetizer created by an English chef living in Amsterdam. I had no idea if this would pay off and as we walked through the residential neighborhood to find this restaurant, Josh was really starting to wonder what I had gotten us into! The risk paid off 100% and we gobbled up our reward! I promise you, Dinner at Graham’s kitchen is a MUST! We hit the jackpot when we realized our server was Chef Graham himself and he personally served us every dish with stories about the ingredients, the inspiration for the recipes, etc. This restaurant is a true hidden gem!

U by Uniworld: free time in Amsterdam

U by Uniworld: stroopwafel in Amsterdam

Next, we set out to visit some of the famous Amsterdam museums, but we were stupid. We didn’t go early and we didn’t pre-book anything. So, when we saw the lines and calculated the wait times, we also gave up early. I should have known better but I am my own worst client as well as my own worst travel agent and I didn’t give myself time to plan ahead. The next Amsterdam trip will be very museum heavy to make up for my mistake! The silver lining for us this time around is that we had a little extra time to get a little extra adventurous about our lunch plans. Another great perk from U by Uniworld was the complementary 24-hour transit pass and the advice from the staff on how to get around Amsterdam. So, we hopped on a tram and headed to the Foodhallen – how could we not?! The Foodhallen is a beautiful industrial barn full of little food stalls and bars featuring everything from tacos to dim sum, to burgers, and much more. And, of course, we had to end our adventure with some decadent  stroopwafels. We had a blast and ate very well that day!

U by Uniworld: Cheesemaking in Rudesheim

Fucking Good Cheese in Rudesheim

Pardon my French, but that’s actually the name of a cheesemaking experience hosted by a very smart, patient, and entertaining master cheesemaker in Rudesheim, Germany. This was, by far, the best experience we had on the entire trip. We learned that making cheese takes time and patience and the best thing to do while you are waiting for your cheese to do its thing is drink wine and eat cheese! The class was held in the Vinothek Rheinweinwelt and the best description I can find for this amazing place is to call it a Wine Casino. We were given little tokens and shown into a wine gallery that is one of the most unique and creatively repurposed spaces I’ve ever seen. These magical tokens were the key to tasting a fantastic collection of wines from the Rhine River region. What a fun, wine & cheese fueled day!

U by Uniworld: wine tasting

So, is U by Uniworld a good option for you? Here’s my advice’

Know What You’re Buying:

If you’ve been on another River Cruise, you will definitely want to check your expectations. The U by Uniworld pricing is very appealing when compared to those other ships, but don’t get distracted by the savings until you understand what you’re buying. This cruise should not be compared to the other options on the market; it is a product that stands in its own category and many of the things you were accustomed to on other cruises may not be available or the same on this cruise. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you don’t want to be caught off guard.

U by Uniworld pricing starts at $1500 per person for a full week cruise. This includes 2 meals daily (brunch and dinner), a number of complementary shore excursions, gratuities, and some complementary on board activities like a DJ party or wine tasting.

Age Does Not Define This Demographic:

You might have heard that U by Uniworld has an age limit – this is false. When they first announced the new cruise line, they did intend to limit the cruise to guests in the age range of 21-45 but they have since rescinded that policy. U by Uniworld is onto something really interesting with this new format for river cruising and it will appeal to travelers of all ages. The appeal is more about a casual lifestyle and a fresh, unstructured approach to the destination. This, of course, will naturally appeal to a younger demographic but it isn’t exclusive to younger travelers by any means. If you are a laid back traveler looking for a relaxed social environment and very little structure for touring, then you will fit right it.

Be Prepared to Go It Alone:

Each U by Uniworld Itinerary offers complementary touring, which are very basic walking tours using the ship’s guides. This is really location-dependent in terms of knowledge from the guide. The free tours are good for stretching your legs and getting a lay of the land. The tours that have an extra fee are well curated and of a higher quality featuring very creative and unique experiences with knowledgeable local guides. The cruise does not offer an overabundance of excursion options so you will do well to plan ahead and understand when/where you will be on your own to explore or you might want to pre-book a private tour.

One of the best parts about U by Uniworld is how accommodating you are to your own schedule. The ship is often sailing during mid-day. So, if you get off the ship in the morning and you don’t want to be held to the ship’s tight schedule, just plan to take the train to meet the ship at the next docking point! No stress, no hassle, the ship’s crew will even give you directions to the train station and recommendations for which train to take! They make it very easy for you to be independent!

If you are curious about U by Uniworld, let us know! I would be happy to help you compare your options and help you make the right choice for your next adventure!

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Tasmania Destination Report

Tasmania is stunningly beautiful! It is not commonly found on an itinerary for a first-time visit to Australia, but I am so glad I chose to include it in my trip plans. After two nights in Hobart and a site-inspection at Saffire, Josh and I spent 3-nights at Cradle Mountain Lodge exploring and hiking in the National park. This was a perfect blend of beautiful landscapes, fresh air, and wildlife.

Click the images for for in-depth reports from each stop on our itinerary:

1) Exploring Hobart, Tasmania:

A new boutique hotel with lots of personality, a weekend market, and whiskey tasting!Tasmania - Exploring Hobart

2) Site-Inspection at Saffire:

If only we had enough time to stay! Freycinet is stunning and this hotel deserves more than an afternoon to fully enjoy it:Tasmania - Saffire Freycinet

3) Hiking and Wildlife at Cradle Mountain:

Here, your VIP arrival greeter is a wombat! Tasmania - Cradle Mountain

Bonus wombat video!

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On Assignment: Gathering Insight for Your Vietnam Itinerary

David’s semi-retirement has afforded him more time to travel and reconnect with our favorite vendors and destinations. He is our global correspondent sending back dispatches and pro-tips from his trip. Most recently he travelled to Vietnam to take in all of the sights, sounds, and flavors of this incredible country and immersing himself in the local sights and culture. He’s gathering new recommendations and insights for hotels, restaurants, and tours that we will incorporate into your Vietnam itinerary.

David traveled with our partners, Abercrombie & Kent and was quite impressed with the ease of logistics and exclusive access they were able to arrange for his Vietnam itinerary. The sightseeing was intelligently planned to accommodate for weather, crowds, and traffic and the guides were knowledgeable and friendly. You’ll see in the list below, those local guides came in handy several times throughout David’s trip!

Vietnam Itinerary - Don’t Miss Tra Quan Village

David’s Top 10 Tips for Your Vietnam Itinerary:

  1. Start in Hanoi: Hanoi is the best gateway city for a trip to Vietnam. It can be busy and overwhelming, but it is equally charming and welcoming. It offers a view into the past, present, and future of Vietnam.
  2. Where to Stay in Hanoi: The Sofitel Metropole is, for now, the luxury hotel choice in Hanoi, although Four Seasons is planning to open a hotel on Hoan Klem Lake in the downtown area of the city. For a good 4-star option, we recommend the Hotel de l’Opera Hanoi MGallery gy Sofitel.
  3. Some Things to Know About Sofitel Metropole:
    • Metropole Wing vs. Historic Wing Rooms: The original wing in the historical building is known as the Metropole Wing (or the Historical Wing). Rooms are smaller but have the authenticity of French colonial architecture design. Book a Grand Premier room in the newer Opera Wing if you prefer a up-to-date room with a fully featured bathroom; Club access is also included with this category.
    • The  Bomb Shelter: If you’re a guest at the Metropole, take advantage of the tour of the hotel’s bomb shelter (complimentary for guests, but make reservations in advance as the spaces book up). You’ll also learn about the history of the hotel. The Metropole is one of four famous colonial hotels in Asia; the guide will ask if anyone happens to know the other three. If you want to impress, they are: the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Raffles Singapore, and the Strand in Yangon.
  4. Hoi Lo Prison in Hanoi: sarcastically referred to as the Hanoi Hilton by American POW’s, is well worth the visit. John McCain is among the former residents of this prison, and I found it moving to spend time in the space. Generally speaking, I was surprised at how open Vietnamese people are about discussing the war. Don’t hesitate to engage in conversation about the war with Vietnamese people you meet. You’ll hear diverse points of view, and northerners and southerners have quite different opinions about the war and its outcome.
  5. Hanoi Restaurant Recommendation: A most worthwhile local Hanoi restaurant is Quan An Ngon. I choose not to dine at “gourmet” high end restaurants when I visit foreign cities. I prefer to experience local restaurants that the locals patronize. This restaurant was recommended by our A&K guide. The large dining room is surrounded by food stations where you can see different dishes being made. Everything we tried was authentic and delicious, and the price was so reasonable.
  6. Don’t Miss Tra Quan Village: A typical Vietnam itinerary will send you to Hoi An, which is an UNESCO world heritage village. While the village is quaint with some worthwhile attractions, it has become too popular and I found it too crowded with tourists and lined with shops selling to them. If you are in the area, fast-track your time in Hoi An and then invest some time in visiting Tra Quan Village instead. This is a community growing organic vegetables. You can have an informative walk through the farm, enjoy a foot massage, and make a Vietnamese lunch, all for a quite affordable price. In Hoi An, our go-to hotel is the Four Seasons Resort the Nam Hai and this is a great itinerary addition if you want to insert some R&R amidst all of the exploring.Vietnam Itinerary - privacy at Amanoi
  7. Amanoi: This resort is the equal of any Aman resort I’ve ever visited. If you want a sense of privacy and some beach time, this is a great addition to your Vietnam itinerary. I loved the dramatic entrance and the rooms are gorgeous. It may not be a world-class beach, but it is private and I enjoyed the restaurant by the beach where you can have lunch; the food is wonderful.Vietnam Itinerary - Thien Hau Pagoda
  8. War Remnants Museum: Saigon’s most interesting sightseeing attraction is the War Remnants Museum. When you visit, go straight to the third floor and spend your time viewing the photography exhibition in rooms 2, 3, and 4. There are other exhibits about the Vietnam War if you have time. The exhibits definitely display a Vietnamese perspective but, as they say, history is told by the winners.
  9. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a solemn and very impressive monument to Ho Chi Minh, the leader who championed the independence of Vietnam from France and who ultimately brought about the reunification of north and south. When we visited, the queue was over 45 minutes long, but our A&K guide was able to phone a contact and get us fast-track entry.
  10. Saigon Dinner Recommendation: We had a wonderful dinner at Cuc Gach Quan, a local restaurant on a back street in Saigon. Although some tourists were there, this is a restaurant that attracts the locals. The food is excellent and the prices are extremely reasonable.

Because of the logistic requirements of traveling around Vietnam, we recommend our Tailored Luxury itinerary design service for building your Vietnam itinerary. This process will allow us to collaborate with you and put together an itinerary that helps you tick off the boxes on your travel wish list while also ensuring your travels run smoothly and you enjoy the best quality tours and experiences. Let us know when you’re ready to travel to Vietnam and we’ll be ready to dive in!

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Luxury Cruising with Silversea

 Luxury Cruising - SilverseaConfession: I’ve become a cruiser!

We all know the tried-and-true arguments for and against cruising: They nay-sayers will tell you that cruise itineraries are too generic and you will never let you get to the heart of a destination or they’ll say the food is bad and the pool deck is crowded. On certain ships, I won’t argue with them. The cruisers that have “drunk the kool-aid” will rave about the convenience of unpacking only once, the decadence of top-notch servers that really get to know you while you’re on board, or the fun social-scene on board and the joy of traveling with like-minded people. After my experience on Silversea, I can’t argue with them, either!

As I see it, the world cannot be seen by cruise alone, but there are many destinations that were made for cruising and there are several high-end cruise lines that have perfected the model and the key is choosing a small ship. I think 600 guests is the ideal maximum; 400 or less is even better. You want a ship that can handle itineraries to unknown ports and take you off the beaten path and you never want to feel crowded. From there, everything else is icing on the cake. You’ll find luxury cruise lines that are super inclusive (even the airfare is covered); you’ll find cruise lines that offer intimate yacht-style ships, and you’ll find cruise lines that offer overnights in port so you can spend a night out on the town. Take your pick!

Luxury Cruising - Silversea

The Silver Whisper (382 guests) next to the Carnival Glory (2,980 guests) … The key to luxury cruising is small ships!

Silversea Silver Whisper

For my first foray into luxury cruising, my 10-day cruise on the Silver Whisper was a superb introduction! The main features that differentiate Silversea from its competitors include: butlers in every cabin, gourmet dining and a partnership with Relais & Chateaux, a jovial, but not overly energetic social scene, and extraordinary space to guest ratio.

Personable and Caring Service
I was floored by the quality of service during my cruise. Everybody from the butler to the bar tenders to the shore concierge staff were warm, friendly, and genuine. They weren’t happy until I was happy. When you’re in port, a few staff members will join each of the excursions, which is an excellent way to get to know them better (and for them to keep an eye on quality control on shore as well as on the ship). I really loved this social aspect of experiencing our destination with the staff. They pay attention to every detail! By the 3rd night on the ship, I fell into the habit of ordering a glass of rose to take to my balcony to enjoy the sunset every evening. And, somebody took note, because a bottle of rose was waiting for me in my minibar on the 4th day. I still put in my order at the pool bar for the social aspect of being able to chat with other guests, but I appreciated the gesture.

Dining on Silver Whisper
The Silver Whisper has 4 dining options and quality of dining as well as range of options are a signature feature for Silversea. This is a foodie’s cruise! After trying all of the dining options at least once, I honestly loved the menus in the main restaurant so much that I only ate dinners there for the rest of the cruise. The menu is different each night so I never got bored and the wine pairings were perfect. The premium wine list (those wines that come with an extra charge) was really well priced for anyone wanting to try a wine they’ve always heard about but never tried, but I was perfectly happy with the complementary selection. The other dining options for dinner are La Terrazza serving an Italian menu (they don’t mess around; the pasta is made fresh daily!) or La Dame, the Relais & Chateaux French restaurant (with a $60 up charge), and the Pool Grill with fun “hot rock” dining under the stars. Reservations are encouraged for the 3 specialty restaurants just to make sure you don’t have to wait for a table, but you can simply waltz into The Restaurant whenever you’re ready for dinner. The best part is none of the dining venues require group seating. You are free to dine when, where, and with whim you please.

The ship also has an ingenious all-around dining menu. This menu is available 24-hours and serves as your room service menu, but you can also order from the menu in any of the restaurants or in other public areas when restaurants are not open. All you have to do is call your butler. After a few days on board, I found the lunch menu at the pool to be a little stale as it wasn’t updated daily like the dinner menus. So, ordering from the all-around menu provided necessary variety.

Luxury Cruising - Silversea

Creative Itineraries
I was fortunate to be joined on my cruise by several staff members from the Silversea itinerary development and reservations offices. They provided me with some behind the scenes inside into the ports Silversea visits and the relationships they have with the local authorities and tour companies in each port. They take their jobs very seriously. After the hurricanes in the fall of 2017, they had to reroute several cruises including mine and they found themselves using ports the ship had never visited before. Silversea sent a tactical advance teams to make sure everything would run smoothly and many of the guests on my cruise were blissfully unaware of the flurry of activity going on behind the scenes – as it should be!

My 10-day itinerary began in Barbados and worked its way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida making calls at Granada, Bequia, Martinique, St. Barts, Antigua, St. Thomas, Dominican Republic, and Turks + Caicos. I was able to take in a few valuable hotel site-inspections and check in on hurricane recovery on the effected islands and more detailed reports will be posted to the blog over time. Luxury Cruising - Silversea

Some of the itinerary highlights for me included:

  • Beginning in Barbados – this worked perfectly. I caught a Jet Blue flight out of Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise arriving late at night and was on the ship in time for lunch by the pool the next day! If you can spare the time, I would recommend going in 2 or 3 days prior to the start of any cruise as Barbados is a destination worth some exploration and we have plenty of luxury resorts to choose from to kick off the vacation in style.
  • Bequia (pronounced Beck-wy) is the small neighbor island to the famous Mustique resort island and it offers the same calm, perfect blue waters. This is a relaxed island that celebrates its “hidden gem” status and its laid-back vibe makes it a favorite port for sailboats and private yachts. We arrived on a breezy day that was perfect for sailing; the cloudy water wasn’t great for snorkeling so my snorkel excursion became a sailing excursion and we scooted around to some hidden beaches around the island with Bob Marley tunes and the rum-punches free flowing. This was definitely my favorite day of the entire cruise and I’ll be keeping my eye out for future cruises that pay call to Bequia.
  • Driving around St. Barts – Our beloved island of St. Barths was hard-hit during the hurricanes and I was eager to pay a visit and check in on the recovery efforts. I enlisted my friend Sophie from All About St. Barts to show me around. We hopped in her Mini Cooper and tooled around the island looking at beaches and hotels. There were plenty of blue-tarped roofs and piles of debris, but there was an equal amount of construction equipment cleaning it up as fast as possible. A few of our favorite hotels have already opened and the rest will be open by November 2018. In the meantime, we have an inventory of amazing private villas available for rent. Until all of the resorts and beach clubs are back in business, St. Barts is going to return to its quieter days and it is a perfect time to sneak in for a hideaway vacation.

So, I’ve drunk the kool-aid! So much so that I’ve booked myself on a European River Cruise and a Mediterranean Cruise later this year. I’m looking to test my limits with cruising and learn which cruise lines and ships work the best for me! In the meantime, we are definitely here to help you book your next cruise and I’d love to hear from our cruising clients!

 

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Hyatt Hotels on Our Radar

We are so excited to announce the launch of Hyatt Privé, Hyatt’s new travel advisor partnership program. Ourisman Travel has been involved in the creation and development of this program as a Beta tester since 2014 and we think the structure of this program will become an industry standard. This exciting new program offers amenities at most of the Hyatt hotels, expanding our value-add network beyond those that are members of Virtuoso. We are now able to offer amenities (think complimentary breakfasts, upgrades, and hotel credits) at hotels that were previously not part of any amenity program.

Beyond offering amenities to our guests, Hyatt has encouraged deep participation in the program at the individual hotel and sales team levels. As we have tested this program, we have seen an impressive amount of participation from the hotels, not just to honor the amenities, but to become involved in the trip planning and understanding our clients’ personalities and travel wish-lists. We’ve seen first-hand how this program is enhancing our clients’ travel experiences and this has us feeling a lot more excitement than any free breakfast could ever generate.

To celebrate the launch of Hyatt Privé, we sifted through the portfolio of Hyatt hotels to introduce you to some of our favorites, and a few we hadn’t considered until now.

Hyatt NYC hotels

A powerhouse of Manhattan hotel options:

  • Park Hyatt New York – Located right near Central Park, in the heart of midtown Manhattan, is the Park Hyatt New York. This modern hotel epitomizes the brands slogan, “luxury is personal” and is the Park Hyatt’s global flagship location. As soon as you walk through the entrance, you will feel as if you are staying in a New York City residence, rather than a hotel. With so many fantastic hotels in that neighborhood, choosing one to stay in can turn into a daunting task. The Park Hyatt New York should stand out because of their massive entry level rooms, among the largest in the city!
  • Andaz 5th Avenue – Looking for a more boutique experience while in Manhattan? We’ve got you covered! Enter the Andaz 5th Avenue, located across from the New York Public Library and a block away from Bryant Park. This hotel offers fantastic views down 5th avenue and has a great, locally sourced restaurant. This neighborhood does not only attract business travelers, but with the countless shops and restaurants, it is a great area for leisure travelers as well!
  • Andaz Wall Street – Right in the heart of the financial district, you will find this area to be booming! I would recommend staying here when the weather is warmer. You can spend your time wandering around the Seaport, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, relaxing in Battery Park, or kicking back with a drink in the hotel’s Beer Garden. The rooms here are loft style and extremely modern indesign.

Angela and Jessica toured these hotels and survived a major blizzard in the process! You can see pictures from their adventures with the Hyatts of NYC here

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay – The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay is a great option for families in the northeast looking for a resort getaway. Although a great place in the summer, this resort can be a year-round destination. In the warmer months, enjoy the Choptank River, the outdoor pool, and the golf course at the River Marsh Golf Club. When it’s a bit cooler out, the resort has a beautiful indoor pool and a relaxing spa and salon. There are multiple dining options, a few catering to families and offering local seafood with water views. Don’t forget to enjoy the Sunday Brunch at Water’s Edge Grill!

Hyatt - The Confidantes Miami Beach

The Confidante Miami Beach – It can often be difficult finding the right Miami hotel for you. Many can seem too large or too loud. The Confidante in Miami Beach is the perfect combination of lively beach hotel with boutique touches. This hotel is slightly north of South Beach yet it is still walking distance to the area’s attractions. The Confidante originally opened in the 1940’s and the hotel’s current décor pays homage to the era. Pro-tip: don’t miss out on the open-air rooftop spa!

Hyatt - Park Hyatt St. Kitts

Park Hyatt St. Kitts – Run, don’t walk, to the new Park Hyatt St. Kitts! Park Hyatt has finally ventured to the Caribbean with its brand-new resort that opened in November 2017. This jaw-dropping ultra-luxury resort is in Banana Bay, a secluded section of St. Kitts, offering soft-sandy beaches and clear blue waters. Every room category faces the beach, some with their own private swimming pools. Relax at the pool or on the beach and spend some time in the Miraval Spa. You will find two pools at the resort, one just for adults! The three signature restaurants all offer different cuisine and blend local and international flavors. This resort is the perfect place for a couple’s getaway or a family retreat.

Hyatt - Andaz Scottsdale

Andaz Scottsdale – While in Scottsdale, you would want to stay somewhere with a sense of place. The Andaz Scottsdale hits the nail on the head with this! Perfect for a winter escape, this resort is an oasis located in the heart of Scottsdale. The guest rooms are all bungalow-styled and are a combination of modern design and local flair, creating a unique atmosphere. Camelback Mountain and Pinnacle Peak are a stone’s throw away, making this a perfect home-base for an adventurous retreat. Relax and unwind from exploring the desert at one of the three resort pools or the spa/apothecary.

Hyatt Regency Maui Hyatt Regency Maui – Finally ready to begin planning that family vacation to Hawaii that you have been dreaming about for so long about? The Hyatt Regency in Maui is a great place to start! With so much to see and do, this is a perfect resort for both families and couples. All room categories offer private lanai’s and fantastic views, ranging from the West Maui Mountains to the Pacific Ocean to the islands of Lana’i and Moloka’I; the suites are our favorite. We also recommend booking into the Regency Club for access to the newly renovated indoor/outdoor club lounge with personal concierge service and complimentary snacks. Ten onsite restaurants and countless cultural activities will leave you with so much to do and not enough time to do it! But don’t forget to schedule in some pool time. The kids will not want to miss the “Keiki Lagoon”, an interactive pool with a waterslide and you won’t want to miss the adults-only infinity relaxation pool. Don’t miss the Drums of the Pacific Luau or the morning penguin feeding!

If you are thinking of a trip to Maui, check out our destination spotlight and then let us know when you’re ready to go!

Hyatt Carmelo Resort Uruguay

Carmelo Resort Uruguay – With so many fantastic Hyatt hotels in South and Central America, consider a Hyatt-trek through this part of the world. Spend some time off the beaten path at the Carmelo Resort in Uruguay. Its unique location allows for views of vineyards, the forest, and the river. You will be surrounding by nature and close to beaches and coastal towns. At the hotel, you can learn about the local wine or hike/bike through trekking paths. Relax with complimentary yoga and meditation lessons, unwind at the private beach or port, and spend some time golfing and at the spa. A convenient ferry to Buenos Aires makes this resort a perfect city/country combo option with Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. Iana did just that on a recent trip; read more here! 

Park Hyatt Bangkok

Park Hyatt Bangkok – Bangkok was named 2016’s most popular tourist destination in the world. As the countless number of tourists flock to the city, the Park Hyatt Bangkok has created a peaceful oasis for its visitors. This tranquil city hotel prides themselves on providing a true Thai experience with an extraordinary level of service. All rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows showing off this booming city. The infinity rooftop saltwater swimming pool will feel like you are swimming out over Bangkok. The dining options are unparalleled and offer local ingredients. This hotel is definitely not one to miss!

Grand Hyatt Playa del CarmenGrand Hyatt Playa del Carmen – Located just a block off of the famous Fifth Avenue shopping zone, this resort is perfect for anyone looking for a beach getaway with access to shopping and nightlife. The architecture of this resort is unique and eye-catching with unexpected nods to the regions Mayan history. Our favorite features of this resort are the adults-only swim-up rooms, the cenote-inspired spa, and the activity-filled play room for kids (age 4-12).

Jessica did a hard hat tour of this hotel before it opened; click here to see pictures of a unique resort in the making! 

Hyatt - Andaz Amsterdam

Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht – This hotel certainly does not lack style and personality! The décor is bright and quirky incorporating unique works of art. The hotel’s location puts you in the heard of historic Amsterdam and introduces you to some eclectic neighborhoods and under-the-radar sites to explore. Complimentary bicycles make it very easy for you to explore the area. After a day of wandering, rejuvenate in the spa and enjoy dinner and cocktails in the Bluespoon restaurant.

We can’t wait to give you a taste of what Hyatt Privé has to offer! Which Hyatt will you try first? Let us know when you’re ready to go!

all photos curtesy of Hyatt Hotels 

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Postcards from Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Tasmania is stunningly beautiful! It is not commonly found on an itinerary for a first-time visit to Australia, but I am so glad I chose to include it in my trip plans. After two nights in Hobart and a site-inspection at Saffire,  Josh and I spent 3-nights at Cradle Mountain Lodge exploring and hiking in the National park. This was a perfect blend of beautiful landscapes, fresh air, and wildlife.

This is the final entry in a series of posts from my Tasmania trip, read the others here:

Tasmania Lookout Point

We opted for a self-drive tour of Tasmania and I’m glad we did; the roads may have been winding and narrow, but we enjoyed having the extra freedom and flexibility for getting around. We’d been warned by many locals to be careful of wildlife on the roads at dusk so we were racing the sun to get to Cradle Mountain. This picture above was taken at a scenic overlook; I made us pull over because I was feeling car sick (dramamine is a must on these mountain roads), but this view and the fresh air help me recover quickly. What a sight!

The locals were right. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to set and in the last mile before arriving at the lodge we saw two echidnas, a few wallabies, and more wombats than I could count. As a wildlife safari addict, I was in heaven!

Tasmania Cradle Mountain Lodge

Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge served as our home for 3-nights and we were perfectly comfortable. Is this a luxury, 5-star hotel? No, definitely not. But, it is clean, well maintained, offers friendly service and is in THE BEST location for exploring the national park without having to do too much prep work. We booked our Tasmania trip through Swain Destinations, a Virtuoso partner, and they did a great job of setting our expectations and preparing us for the journey.

We stayed in one of the Pencil Pine Cabins and I loved the extra space with the sitting room and fireplace. The bathroom was basic, but they did provide Appelles toiletries, which was a nice touch. The lodge features 2 restaurants and, I’ll be honest, the dining is nothing to write home about. The Tavern has a backpackers feel to it, which can lend to the sense of adventure, but the menu is wanting. Highland restaurant is a more formal affair featuring local game and produce, but the offerings just weren’t enough to keep this foodie content for 3-nights. There is a shop and we ended up sourcing snacks and beverages there to enjoy on our deck; I wish we had stopped at a grocery store on our way in and brought a bottle or wine or two with us. Despite my dining complaints, I enjoyed our time at the lodge and the location alone is reason enough to stay here.

Tasmania Cradle Mountain Enchanted Walk

The key to the location of Cradle Mountain lodge is the number of walks you can do right from the property. The above picture was taken on our first morning. We started light and tried out the Enchanted walk to stretch our legs after breakfast. The trail is a little too short to really feel like you’re on a hike, but it is a great introduction to the environment and perfect if you are traveling with children. We visited in early spring so it was still quite cold, but these steams are popular swimming spots in the warmer summer months.

After that we branched out and did the King Billy Track to see see the 1500 year old pine trees. It was steep and muddy in places, but we were rewarded with incredible vistas from the hillside. The giant pines were quite impressive.

The most popular hike amongst the lodge guests was the Dove Lake circuit. It is an easy, level walk around the lake and takes approximately 3-hours. There are off-shoots from this circuit that will take you up into Cradle Mountain if you are feeling adventurous. We saw a fascinating variety of forest ranging from evergreens to groves that felt like tropical rainforests along with a few picturesque lookouts and waterfalls. I definitely recommend this hike.

Tasmania Cradle Mountain Waterfalls Walk

In addition to the hiking trails, the other must-see attraction at Cradle Mountain is the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary. We arrived with very little knowledge about these fascinating creatures and our guide was so patient and knowledgeable; we returned home with a great sense of affinity to the devils. We’ve been telling everyone who will listen about their eating habits, why they are endangered, and what makes them so cute! They don’t look anything like the cartoon, but they sound exactly the same! Go in the evening for the feeding demonstration to see the devils in their full glory.

On our last day, we were itching to get in one more walk before the sun went down and I’m so glad we did! The Waterfalls Walk began right at the lodge entrance and the late afternoon light made for some great photography in the shadow of the trees, as you can see in the postcard photo above.

Tasmania Cradle Mountain Dove Lake

Tasmania has finally caught the attention of international travelers and there are signs of more and more investment in the tourism industry there. I will be keeping an eye on Tasmania and I expect to see some really interesting developments over the coming year. First up, Starwood has announced a new Luxury Collection hotel in Hobart, The Tasman opening in June 2019. I believe that the Saffire Freycinet has proven the viability of Tasmania as a luxury lodge destination and I hope to see more properties like it in development, as well. I envision an Amankora-style series of lodges around the island or perhaps a Singita or two? A girl can dream!

Even without a plethora of luxury lodge-style accommodations, Tasmania is ripe for exploring and, if you love beautiful natural landscapes and unique wildlife encounters, this destination should be on your bucket list!

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Meet the Wanderer – Michael Estéve

Michael’s easy going approach to life is the same way he approaches travel, which makes him a true Wanderer. Happy to explore a new neighborhood in a city he has already visited or see someplace completely new, Michael is happy as long as he is taking the time to just be somewhere else.

For Michael, travel is all about separating from the day to day structure and letting things come as they may. “For me, putting myself in a different physical space helps me to be as in touch with myself as I am with my surroundings. It’s more about getting back to myself than getting to a particular location.”

Michael visiting Gettysburg!

For Michael, packing is the last thing he thinks of before heading to the airport. More often than not, he is putting his suitcase together the night before! His head is filled with visions of where he is headed rather than what he is bringing with him. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t prepare – before a trip Michael is busy collecting advice on where to go, what to do and, most importantly, what to eat.

Enjoying some French cuisine!

Michael finds that his favorite parts of travel are the meals. Sitting in a café sampling local fare and watching the destination pass him by. Finding a local watering hole is a beloved activity and taking the time to find hidden gems is always a highlight for Michael. Making sure he has time to just wander and be in a destination is the most important thing.

Michael visiting Normandy

Bucket List Destinations for Michael: More of a bucket list vacation than destination; a week in the Caribbean with nothing but boat excursions, leisurely beach promenades, and French-influenced cuisine.

Advice for a Wanderer from a Wanderer: Pack earlier!

Are you a Wanderer? Take our quiz and find your travel personality along with recommendations for destinations, hotels, and activities that fit your style!

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Meet the Wanderer – Josh Ourisman

Josh has always been a bit of a wild card when it comes to his interests. A whiz at coding, Josh follows rugby with the same passion that he has for his barbecue set up. Being a Wanderer is the perfect Josh to a tee, encompassing his drive to get to a new place and explore at his own pace.

Preparing for a trip for Josh is fairly straightforward – he considers the weather and length of his stay and packs around those parameters. However, there is one thing that is always important for him to bring – a good pair of walking shoes. A true highlight for Josh while traveling is getting “lost” wherever he has traveled and just walking until he finds himself back at his hotel (he never really gets lost, he is much too sensible for that).

When he isn’t traveling, Josh likes to walk through his neighborhood, visiting local bars and restaurants to people watch and grab a beer & a bite.

Josh getting ready to explore the Cragganmore Distillery

Like most Wanderers, Josh feels most fulfilled when he has a good mix of structure and free time. Making sure he as a few tours to make sure he gets the most out of whatever destination he is visiting helps him really “wander” in his free time as he feels less pressure to hit the main sights.

Bucket list destinations for Josh? A walking safari is definitely on the top of Josh’s list by a long shot! Followed up by trips to Iceland and Morocco.

Getting ready to dive in to his private pool at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba!

Advice for Wanderers from a Wanderer “Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path – you will be surprised what you find there! Just be sure you have a full battery when you do it.”

Are you a Wanderer? Take our quiz and find your travel personality along with recommendations for destinations, hotels, and activities that fit your style!

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Saffire Freycinet, True Tasmania Luxury

Saffire Freycinet, True Tasmania Luxury

While Tasmania is growing and diversifying and becoming more appealing to tourists day-by-day, it also remains fairly wild and rustic. Luxury travelers may be pressed to find enough options that meet a higher standard, especially if you are looking for polished, high-end finishes typically found in a true 5-star hotel. The previously mentioned Macq01 hotel may not even make the cut if the criteria are too stringent. One clear winner on the Tasmania luxury front is Saffire Freycinet. This property is a hiker’s haven, luxurious lodge, restful retreat, and foodie’s fantasy all rolled into one jaw-dropping hotel.

Upon arrival, you will find yourself standing in the lobby entrance just staring out the big windows overlooking the stunning landscape; you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the beauty. The location is 100% what makes this property possible. The Freycinet Peninsula is found on the eastern coast of Tasmania. It is home to a stunning national park, wineglass bay, and the Hazards mountain range. This area is famous for its briny oysters, abundant wildlife, and several hiking paths with rewarding views. It is also home to Saffire Freycinet and sets the standard for Tasmania luxury travel.

Tasmania Luxury

Stunning Views of Freycinet

While the location is the big draw, it also creates some logistical challenges. Visitors have several options for traveling to Saffire and the decision for what works best for you will depend heavily on what else you intend to see/do in Tasmania (or Australia as a whole). The drive from Hobart is approximately 2 hours and the beautiful scenery helps it go by fairly quickly. You can easily break up the drive with a stop for a picnic lunch and wine tasting at one of the several vineyards along the route. The lodge is also an easy driving distance to Launceston where you can drop your car and catch a flight to the Australia mainland very easily. For a real “WOW” experience and a true dose of Tasmania luxury, I recommend a helicopter sightseeing tour/transfer; a rental car can even be arranged at the lodge to allow for a one-way helicopter transfer.

The location itself is worth the effort to get to, but the lodge is what makes this destination a must for any luxury traveler to Tasmania. The all-inclusive format means that once you’ve arrived, you have nothing else to worry about. You will be completely cared for by the warm and capable staff. To fill their days, most guests will opt to take advantage of the included activities including a visit to a working oyster farm complete with a wine paired tasting, an open-range Tasmanian Devil sanctuary, and guided walks into Freycinet National Park. But, we also insist you allow some time to simply sit, relax, perhaps catch up on some reading, and take in the incredible views!

Tasmania Luxury

Even the rooms feature the fabulous views

Dining is a cornerstone of the experience at Saffire, of course. Breakfast and lunches are casual and dinner can be a bit more of a formal affair, but that is all up to you. I was happy to learn that my site-inspection included lunch, which consisted of a cold buffet with a variety of freshly prepared salads and local fruits and cheeses along with a few options from the grill. Because we were driving, I refrained from enjoying the plethora of bar selections, but it was impressively generous. Do not let the “all-inclusive” designation turn you off, this is a world away from wrist bands and watered-down cocktails; this is true Tasmania luxury. This form of inclusive dining is more about removing the stress and mechanics of an a la carte experience; at Saffire, you are invited to relax and feel at home and the staff is close at hand to help you decide on just the right indulgences for your mood! Even the minibar in the room is stocked with local snacks and beverages so you never have to reach very far for a refill!

Tasmania Luxury

no hassle all-inclusive dining is a cornerstone feature at Saffire Freycinet

Tasmania Luxury

Help yourself, the bar is open!

Oh, how I hated to say goodbye at the end of my lunch. I would have preferred instead to head to the spa for an afternoon treatment! Tasmania had already earned a distinguished spot at the top of my list of places requiring a return trip and Saffire is definitely where I’ll be spending some quality time on that return trip!

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Hobart, Tasmania

Hobart: so much to offer

After traveling for 46 hours, our last flight of the journey to Australia finally landed in Hobart and heads hit the pillows in our hotel at 11pm; we crashed and slept like babies, which was a perfect way to quickly clear away any jetlag! We slept like babies, but we also could barely wait to see what Tasmania had to offer.

Macq01 Hotel

A new hotel in Hobart located right on the water on an old industrial pier, Macq01 does an excellent job of bringing the history of Tasmania to life. At the core of the hotel is a focus on storytelling and each room is dedicated to a historic figure from Tasmania’s past. Our room was dedicated to Edward Abbott, the country’s first foodie and author of the first Tasmanian cook book – how fitting! The room is modern in design with a few organic elements to add warmth and comfort. The bar and restaurant are popular with locals so you don’t have to look far to get a feel for the energy of the city. Views of the harbor and city are a nice bonus. This is a perfect home base for exploring the area. See our Flickr album for more hotel site-inspection photos. 

The next morning, we hit the ground running. We only had one full day to see Hobart and, just like our whirlwind tour of Edinburgh a few years ago, we planned ahead and knew we weren’t going to waste any time!

Hobart: Macq01 hotel

Breakfast at Room for a Pony

The morning started with a nice long walk up the hill to a quirky little restaurant called Room for a Pony. Our first attempt at navigating the strange names given to Australian coffee – what do you say when you just want a plain black coffee?! (More on that later), and a unique and hearty meal of roasted pumpkin and potato with scrambled eggs and hollandaise sauce (not something I would have dreamed up on my own, but surprisingly delicious!) and we were ready to tackle the city!

We meandered our way back downhill toward the harbor and enjoyed the interesting Victorian era architecture blended in with a few 1960s-style utilitarian concrete structures. One benefit of our long flights is that we had plenty of time to remember all of the things we had forgotten to pack and we had a shopping list of things that needed to be acquired. Luckily, we spotted a very familiar-looking red bullseye logo and made our way to Target to do some necessary shopping (deodorant is a must when you plan to do as much walking as we did!). This also gave us a chance to see the less touristy parts of the city; it was a Saturday and a beautiful sunny day so the locals were out and about!

Salamanca Market, Hobart

Every Saturday, Hobart plays host to Salamanca Market, a large outdoor street fair full of local artisan stalls and food trucks. This is an excellent opportunity to buy a few gifts for friends at home, taste some of the local flavors, and even do some whiskey and gin tasting at the McHenry booth! October is springtime here and the colorful blooms all around the market created a festive, cheerful vibe.

Hobart: Sullivan's Cove

The Highlight of the Day: Whiskey and Beer Tasting!

Our one day in Hobart also happened to be my birthday! So, to celebrate, I booked us a half-day guided tour with Drink Tasmania to taste some of the newly popular local whiskeys and craft beers. We were not disappointed! The tour began at the Lark Cellar Door where the shelves are heavy with both local whiskeys and a healthy collection of Scotch whiskeys. Lark is the distiller that can be thanked for reviving the distilling industry in Tasmania after working to revise some of the old temperance laws in Tasmania. This new era of distilling is still quite young and Lark was the first to begin distilling whiskey in the mid-1990s.

We opted to begin with the Belgrove Rye, one of the more unique whiskeys coming out of Tasmania these days. Living in Maryland, the original home of rye whiskeys, we felt an obligation to try this one first and I’m a bit dismayed to report that Belgrove is making ryes far better than the rye’s I’ve been tasting in Maryland lately (cough, cough, Sagamore).  From there, we hopped in the tour guide’s van and drove out of the city to a non-descripted industrial park, which also happens to be home to one of the best whiskeys in the World!

Sullivans Cove Single Malt Whiskey was voted best in the world in 2014. That well-earned accolade has certainly helped to put Tasmanian distilling operations on the map. Surprisingly, the operation at Sullivans Cove is quite humble, which always makes for the best distillery tours. On this tour, we had the rare opportunity to dive deeper into the filtering process. Collectors take note: Sullivans Cove hopes to release a small batch of unfiltered whiskey in 2018, which will make a nice addition to any whiskey-drinker’s bar!

Just down the road from Sullivans Cove is a tiny storage unit that serves as the headquarters for the Last Rites brewery, a very small operation pumping out beers with huge personality. My favorite, was the bright an citrusy “Pay Your Dews,” actually brewed with Mountain Dew!

Our tour ended at the Hobart Brewing Company located just next to our hotel. The head brewer here hails from Colorado so there was a nice familiarity to the atmosphere and flavors of the beers. This is a great spot to while away the afternoon and enjoy the great weather in the beer garden.

Hobart: Macq01 traveller

Jetlag sets in

I wish I could say dinner was at a special local restaurant with more unique local ingredients. But, sadly, after walking over 7 miles during the day, I was afraid I would fall asleep in my dinner! So, we split a simple plate of fish and chips while sipping on Moo Brew, another local beer, and called it a night!

The biggest lesson learned during my time here is that Hobart and its surrounds have so much to offer; one day is not enough; and we most definitely need to plan a return trip! We missed out on many local experiences and, with a little more time in the area, I would have liked to add:

  • A visit to Port Arthur to learn about Tasmania’s history as a convict colony
  • Wine tasting around Hobart and its surrounding countryside
  • More whiskey tasting! I would have liked to spend more quality time getting to know the distilleries at McHenry and Lark
  • At least a half day to explore MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)
  • Hands-on cooking and tasting at Agrarian Kitchen
  • Cheese tasting at the Pyengana Dairy
  • A bit further out, but I would have loved venturing out to the Tasmanian West Coast Wilderness Railway for a unique steam train ride. The route has such steep hills, the train needs a third, thoothed rail (San Francisco streetcar style) to make the climb

If Hobart and Tasmania are not on your radar, they should be. This is typically a destination for a second or third trip to Australia, but I found it to be an easy and approachable introduction to Australia as a whole!

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