Great World Getaways – Online Travel Magazine: Africa, I've Been There

Travel tales from Uniglobe Agents who have been there

I’ve Been There: Kenya

September 23, 2015

A Nairobian Sunset | Photo credit: Mutua Matheka mutuamatheka.wordpress.com

Packed and ready to go, I felt somewhat apprehensive about travelling half way around the world, on my own, to fulfill a lifelong dream. But within minutes of arriving in Nairobi I knew I was in for a trip of a lifetime. Kenya, the birthplace of the wildlife safari, has a well-deserved reputation as the quintessential safari destination. It is a showcase of breathtaking landscapes, abundant wildlife and diverse cultures.

My safari began in the bustling city of Nairobi. Here I met my fellow travellers and guide and received a detailed briefing of what to expect on safari.

The first day I visited an elephant orphanage where orphaned elephants are raised by a group of keepers until they are 5-9 years old. They are then released back to the wild and carefully monitored until they are accepted into a herd. These orphaned elephants are never left unattended and recognize their keepers as their mother.

From there I visited Karen Blixen’s Museum made famous by the Oscar winning movie Out of Africa staring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. This historical site marks a time in history when Kenya was governed by the British, which allowed many Europeans to settle, producing coffee, tea and other crops. My last stop for the day was to the Giraffe Manor, a 15-acre park owned by Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville to raise and protect the endangered Rothschild giraffes. It was interesting to understand how important wildlife is to the Kenyans. Many orphanages and sanctuaries have been developed to protect and provide for endangered or vulnerable species and almost all have processes in place to release these animals back to their natural habitats.

With the sites of Nairobi completed I was anxious to venture to the Kenyan wilderness and begin my wildlife safari. A few hours by Land Rover and there I was, in the bush and grasslands of a natural world unchanged by the passage of time.

I can’t begin to explain how incredible the first sightings of large herds of wildlife were. Zebras, gazelles, impalas, giraffes and elephants were in abundance. It was magnificent to just sit in the open vehicle and watch the procession of varied species as they wandered for food and shelter. Each game drive brought a new adventure, new animals and a variety of spectacular scenery. Sightings of lions, cheetahs, hippos, wildebeests, elephants, giraffe, antelope, hyenas, leopard, buffalo and birds became a daily experience but each was every bit as incredible as the first.

Throughout my journey I travelled to four different parks and reserves. Each offered a different climate and elevation, and an array of different species of animals, scenery and tribal culture. I was a guest in two tribal villages, the Samburu tribe and the Masai tribe. Both tribes are nomadic, seeking grazing and water for their cattle and goats. Their rich cultures are based upon ritual and ceremony and harmony with the environment. Their diet consists of blood from their cows mixed with milk plus boiled meat from their cows or goats. Their simple way of life was both mesmerizing and admirable and I really enjoyed learning about their traditions and lifestyle.

While the bulk of my experience took place during day, I will never forget the uniqueness of the permanent tented camps. These stylish tents provided unexpected comfort including a king size bed, full bathroom, hot running shower, electricity and even a private butler. But the best part about the tents was the ambiance of the African nights. Lions, elephants, hippos, hyenas and many other animals could be heard in the distance while the crickets and frogs sang their nightly melodies in the foreground. I was truly in my element and would choose this over a hotel room any day!

As my journey came to an end I recollected my new experiences and realized that Kenya had touched my soul in a way that no other country had. I long to return again, to pick up where I left off and expand my journey through other countries in the magical land of Africa.

Uniglobe Instant Travel Consultant Bonnie Hinschberger

Bonnie Hinschberger
UNIGLOBE Instant Travel
(519) 660-6966
Toll free: 1-877-844-5444
bhinschberger@uniglobeinstant.com

I’ve Been There: Cancun

September 22, 2015

Relaxing in Cancun

I’ve just returned from Cancun with a group of 14. Cancun is most famous for its beaches, which were completely re-built a few years ago due to the effects of several major hurricanes. This popular destination provides that great combination of nature, history and attractions.

If you are departing from Toronto, Cancun is also a great choice because of the many flight and hotel options – you can fly on any day of the week.

When choosing a hotel in Cancun, we advise that you choose carefully. The difference between a great vacation and being ‘not happy’ is often $50.00 per person, or the hotel offering a day program for the kids.

In the great Canadian tradition, we chose the Great Parnassus Resort and Spa, an all-inclusive hotel. The hotel is a 12 storey building with a stunning indoor atrium. It is located at the south end of Cancun Hotel Zone by Playa Delfines, directly beside the Hilton Cancun and 15 minutes to Cancun’s International Airport. This family oriented resort hotel features 550 rooms, 8 restaurants, 3 pools, 5 bars and many more amenities. The Mexican Restaurant, El Maguey (only open for lunch) provides 5 star Mexican fare (ask for a bowl of Guacamole – amazing and not on the menu). The French Restaurant, La Maison de Michelle, provides some of the best food I’ve ever had in my many trips to Mexico

(the Maître’D will make a flaming Mayan Coffee after dinner if you ask – again not on the menu).

Mexicois a country known for its history, beaches, food and hospitality, and has been a very popular destination for Canadians.

But unfortunately,Mexicohas been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The negative press related to violence has affected tourism – not to a huge degree but definitely noticeable. The facts are true – there is violence related to drugs and drug cartels. But the drug cartel problems are mostly near theU.S.and Mexican border. The popular resort towns are, for the most part, as safe as ever.

Here are some general tips for travel toMexico:

Don’t go to Acapulco, Tijuana or some of the other northern cities and towns due to internal violence. I would go to Cancun, Los Cabos, Ixtapa, Cozumel and Manzanillo in a heartbeat.

Before you book, investigate upgrade availabilities at your resort. For a few hundred dollars more, you may get a suite with an ocean view, private dining lounge access, in-room dinner for 2, VIP boat cruise and more at the Great Parnassus in Cancun.

The Government of Mexico says you can only use Mexican Pesos. Not true. The American Dollar is still king and accepted readily along with Pesos (Note If you pay in USD, your change may be in Pesos).

Find a travel agent who knows Mexico. Based on your budget and needs, a travel agent that knows that country, and has been to several destinations, can provide professional guidance to ensure you’ll stay at a resort that is right for you, and that you will have a great Mexican vacation!

Uniglobe Travel Agent Mark Crone

Mark Crone
Uniglobe Graham’s Travel
416 281 5300 / 1 877 901 1102 (toll free)
Twitter: @GrahamsTravel
Email: 
mcrone@uniglobenormark.com

Atlantis Resort – It is “Better in the Bahamas”

September 11, 2015

Uniglobe The Travel Times - I've been there - Atlantis

A trip to Nassau, the Bahamas. What’s not to like.

Nassau has this real jet-setter feel to it. It’s a stone’s throw from Florida. Miami to Nassau is 179 miles. Jet boats, yachts, the Bahamas Express and more head over to the Bahamas with relative ease. Flights from Florida are about 55 minutes and flights into Nassau from around the world are plentiful.

The Bahamas is an independent nation but as a former British colony, its roots and traditions are very British. As you drive into Nassau, you feel like you are in a tropical, seaside England. Blackbeard the famous pirate once called the Bahamas home and now many a celebrity do so as well including Mariah Carey, Sean Connery, Johnny Depp and others.

As we cross the bridge to Paradise Island, the Atlantis Resort and its Royal Towers arise to a majestic view. Officially opened in 1998, the resort was created by South African hotel magnate Sol Kerzner and his company (think “Sun City” in South Africa). It’s a large property and now features the 3 towers of Atlantis Resort, the Reef Tower, the Cove Tower and the Harborside Resort. They’re all very distinct. You can easily stay in your own little area or wander the property and take in all it offers such as numerous dining choices, 11 pools, 3 beach areas, dolphin cay, a water park, marine habitat and other activities.

Uniglobe the Travel Times - I've been there - Atlantis

Atlantis is very much about the experience. Although it’s a large property, it has a comfortable feel to it. The Atlantis experience also includes a spa, 5-star restaurants and entertainment. During the weekend we were there, Justin Bieber was there too. Every few weeks there is a featured performer in concert to draw fans from North America.

Food is everything and the dining reflects that. Buffet breakfasts, snacks and casual dining are all exceptional. We had great dinners at the Bobby Flay Restaurant (Mesa Grill) and Cafe Martinique.

While it’s easy to get drawn into the glitz of the larger than life resort, it still comes back to the water for me. The Dig (one the world’s largest walk through aquariums) is one of the most amazing fish viewing experiences anywhere. As a water thrill, the “Leap of Faith” a.k.a. Shark Slide, has no equal. As you jump into the tube at the top, you must cross your feet and fold your arms (lest they be ripped from your torso). You drop 60 feet at breakneck speed through a glass tube with sharks racing around you (or so it seems). At the bottom, you are dumped into a pool and immediately think “ok, that wasn’t as bad as I thought”. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the beach. The beaches are gorgeous and the water is perfect. That’s all I need.

Of course, there is more to the Bahamas than Nassau, but it’s a great place to start.

Uniglobe Travel Agent Mark Crone

Mark Crone
President
UNIGLOBE Normark Travel Inc.
Direct: 416 281 1942
www.uniglobenormark.com

I’ve Been There: Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

August 26, 2015

Anne Frank House Sign
Photo credit: David Berkowitz)

There are many, many reasons to visit Amsterdam but visiting the Anne Frank House/Museum – The actual house in Amsterdam where Anne and her family were in hiding during World War II – should be at the top of your list.

The Diary of Anne Frank was written within these very walls. Anne was born in Germany in 1929. Her family moved to the Netherlands in 1933 to escape Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany.

In 1940, the Netherlands was invaded by Germany and the Franks went into hiding shortly thereafter. Anne collected her thoughts within the diary while in hiding but never finished her work. “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful and bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

In 1944, everyone hiding in the Secret Annex was arrested. Only Anne’s father, Otto, survives the war and internment. The hiding place and annex has been preserved as a museum that visitors discover room by room with audio and short video. The hidden staircase, artifacts, and the actual diary are all here. You are taken through her short life – the early years in Germany; emigrating to Holland; the German invasion; the hiding place; the arrest; the return of Otto Frank; and the publishing of the diary. It is a moving experience that will bring tears to your eyes.

The Anne Frank House should be on your travel bucket list (and you will get the vibrant city of Amsterdam as a bonus). It is very much a pilgrimage – there are approximately 1 million visitors per year. Go early in the morning and/or when raining – the line may be shorter. You will never forget the experience.

Uniglobe Travel Agent Mark Crone

Mark Crone
Uniglobe Graham’s Travel
416 281 5300 / 1 877 901 1102 (toll free)
Twitter: @GrahamsTravel
Email: 
mcrone@uniglobenormark.com

I’ve Been There: Uniworld River Cruises

August 18, 2015


Photo credit: Uniworld.com

20 Countries, 13 Rivers, 40 Itineraries, 500 Departures

Multi-award winner Uniworld Boutique River Cruises provide distinctive ships, creative itineraries

If you have been aboard one or more of the many cruise ships available today – perhaps sailing the in the Caribbean or sailing the west coast to Alaska, you may now want to consider a cruise in Europe. And if so, given your experiences aboard a very large cruise ship, you may now want to consider ‘stepping on board to the next level.’

Primarily for the experienced cruise passenger, Uniworld River Cruises takes you beyond.

Uniworld River Cruises, headquartered in Los Angeles, was founded in 1976 and was the first river cruise company to focus on the North American passenger. The introduction of all English-speaking river cruises, meals catering to the North American market, pre and post cruise land programs (standard offerings today) were the result of innovations introduced by Uniworld.

Uniworld has a fleet of ten company-owned and operated ships in Europe, as well as charter partnerships in Russia, Egypt, Portugal, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Uniworld’s fleet has been designed and decorated by the Red Carnation Hotel Collection design team. Red Carnation’s award-winning collection of family-run, world-class hotels is renowned for its expertise in operating luxury boutique hotels and is a sister company to Uniworld. In recent years, the Red Carnation design team has overseen every detail of Uniworld’s European ships, helping to create stunning, welcoming interiors. The close synergy shared between Uniworld and Red Carnation has resulted in unparalleled levels of quality of service and stylish luxury, allowing Uniworld to offer the very finest river cruising experience available.

Uniworld’s guests enjoy an intimate, boutique hotel-style experience onboard luxuriously appointed river cruise ships with five-star inclusions. With an average capacity of 130 guests and a ratio of one highly trained crew member to every three guests, Uniworld provides award-winning service and has been recognized as one of the world’s best small ship cruise lines in surveys published by both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

Why? Uniworld has been cruising waterways for more than 30 years, and delivers a guest satisfaction rating of 98 per cent. On board the various ships, there is an average of 134 guests with one staff member for every three guests.
Uniworld’s superb food and beverage program – awarded by Zagat as the only river cruise company to receive high standards in dining – has been created by Bernhard Zorn, Uniworld’s certified Global Master Chef, who ensures his team of world-class chefs prepare a wonderful selection of selections using fresh local produce available from the destinations of each itinerary. As well, Uniworld’s distinctive wine program was developed by Red Carnations renowned sommelier from their Relais & Châteaux member hotel.

But if you are indeed a ‘Foodie’, Uniworld offers those appreciative of the delights of food and wine an added-value plan aptly entitled Epicurean Adventurer Program. The program is designed to take guests deeper into the wonderful world of wine and food from the regions they visit. The Epicurean Adventurer Program includes a special wine and food pairing dinner, a culinary demonstration and tastings led by a master chef, and an exclusive shore excursion to a private wine tasting.

Onshore, Uniworld ensures the best quality included excursions hosted by expert English-speaking local guides who use state-of-the-art Quietvox headset systems to enhance guests’ sightseeing experience. All of Uniworld’s itineraries and excursions are planned by Uniworld employees who physically investigate every aspect of each itinerary to ensure the highest level of delivery throughout each cruise.

Gary Hill at Uniglobe Glen Abbey Travel in Oakville, Ontario sailed on the River Beatrice from Budapest, Hungary to Passau, Germany. Gary Hill can be contacted at 905 827 7272 or you can email gary@uniglobeglenabbey.com

Patricia Gaudreau has been aboard four Uniworld Cruises. Patricia can be reached at Uniglobe Donaldson Travel in Cambridge at 519 823 7570 or email Patricia at pat@donaldson-travel.com

Jane McManus at Uniglobe Instant Travel in London has also had the pleasure. Jane can be contacted at 519 660 6966 x 234.

I’ve Been There: Our Egypt Experience

August 6, 2015


Photo credit: George M Groutas

Egypt is so steeped in history, it’s like a dream. One of my earliest exposures to Egypt was the “King Tut” travelling exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The exhibit was amazing in so many ways and without a doubt created a seed in me. I had to go to Egypt at some point in my life to see more of this amazing world history.

Some years later, my girlfriend (now wife) and I planned a whirlwind 10 day trip to Europe including Egypt. Greece was the real vacation (including the Acropolis) but Egypt was all about discovery – in 3 days!

After landing in Cairo, we started speaking with a tour guide in the airport and end up with a 2 day private tour of Cairo and area with a private guide andcar/driver. Perfect and great value! Off to the Cairo Marriott on the banks of the Nile.

In the next day and a half, we visited the National Museum, the great Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the open air museum at Memphis (the former capital), the Khan El-Khalili bazaar, the Nile and many other sites along the way. Seeing wonders of the world and world history is something you never forget. It was a quick visit but well worthwhile. A visit to Egypt must be done!

“Cocktail Party” stories to share:

At lunch, we are taken to a rustic roadside restaurant on the way to Memphis. Lunch is pita in a basket with some kind of poultry. The poultry is pigeon. I hadn’t had pigeon before (or since) but it was delicious. I take a pita from the basket and discover ants all over the underside. The waitress rushes over, takes another pita from the basket and crashes the two together. Like a pair of cymbals! The ants fall off – all is good! She hands me back the pitas.

Our drive back into Cairo follows a road alongside a canal. We are driving behind a sewage truck with a big leak in very hot 44c weather.Each leak creates instant steam and sewage vapor. The driver decides he must overtake the truck. A taxi is racing at us in the opposite direction. Our little car has no more horsepower and we are heading straight for the taxi. Seated behind the driver, I pull my arm in as our side mirrors hit and oursfalls off. The driver is not fazed – I was but hey – it’s part of the experience.

Egypt was the trip of a lifetime and one that everyone should have in their travel memoirs. And a place where every traveler must visit (at least once)!

Uniglobe Travel Agent Mark Crone

Mark Crone
Uniglobe Graham’s Travel
416 281 5300 / 1 877 901 1102 (toll free)
Twitter: @GrahamsTravel
Email: 
mcrone@uniglobenormark.com

I’ve Been There: Jamaica

July 25, 2015


Photo credit: White Witch Golf Course

When Canadians think of a beach vacation, the popular choices are Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica. All four destinations have golf, but only Jamaica combines a real laid back Caribbean holiday with some of the most spectacular golf courses you will find anywhere in the world.

Jamaica travel choices are plentiful. Air Canada has daily non-stop flights to Montego Bay from Toronto and seasonal non-stop services from other Canadian gateways. The list of Jamaican resorts could fill this entire article but a few of the better choices are Half Moon Resort, Ritz Carlton Resort and the Rose Hall Hilton Resort. There are also seven Sandals Resorts with access to Sandals Golf Club but you’ll need to stay at either the Sandals Royal Plantation or Sandals Grande Riviera to be anywhere near the Sandals Golf Club.

Caddies are mandatory on all courses in Jamaica. If you’ve never played with a caddy a word to the wise – ask the distance to the hole (instead of them telling you which club to play) and follow their putting suggestions – they are always right!

I have had the good fortune to play five of the following top courses in Jamaica:

White Witch This is definitely the most challenging course in Jamaica. Tom Fazio designed this course, which is 6,859 yards. The course was carved out of Rose Hall Plantation and features Caribbean Sea views on 16 of the 18 holes – some of the most spectacular golf course views in the world. Stay and play packages are available if you stay at the Ritz Carlton Resort.

Cinnamon Hill The course, which was designed by Robert vonHagge and is 6,637 yards, features several holes along the ocean coastline, and one can spot plantation relics and great views. It is also located in Rose Hall close to White Witch. The Rose Hall Hilton Resort is right beside the course, and offers golf packages.

Half Moon This course 7,119 yard course is classic Trent Jones, and is situated directly across the street from the Half Moon Resort. Half Moon makes a great vacation.

Tryall This classic old Jamaica course is about 30 minutes west of Montego Bay. Ralph Plummer designed, this course which is 6,772 yards, lush and well groomed but very much a “country club”. Be on your best behaviour – members rule.

Sandals Golf Club Formerly the Upton GC, Sandals purchased the club in 6,502 yards, 1992. Golf Digest four star rating for courses to play while on vacation. A nice course consisting of 6,502 yards and located in Ocho Rios … Green fees are included with your stay at Sandals Resort.

With its unique and laid back culture, great scenery, tropical climate, and world-class golf, Jamaica really has it all if you are a golf enthusiast or want to hit a ball alongside the ocean and just enjoy the views!

Uniglobe Travel Agent Mark Crone

Mark Crone
Uniglobe Graham’s Travel
416 281 5300 / 1 877 901 1102 (toll free)
Twitter: @GrahamsTravel
Email: 
mcrone@uniglobenormark.com

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