Monday, June 30, 2014

Cruising to Greece: Rhodes

In our first installment of Cruising to Greece we took a look at the top sites of Athens.  Today, we journey to Rhodes, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, and the largest of the Dodecanese Island complex. It is one of the most beautiful Greek islands, with a landscape of fertile plains, low hills, and green forests. Rhodes is a port of call on many Eastern Mediterranean and Greece Island cruise itineraries and a full day in port presents a lot of options for exploring the island.

Hiring a taxi for a half or full day island tour is a great way to see as much of the island as possible. Cabs can be hired when you walk off the ship or can be booked online ahead of time.  You then have the freedom to set our own agenda (perfect for those that prefer to research a destination ahead of time) or follow one that the driver suggests (they do this day in and day out, so you’ll be sure to see all the island highlights possible in your allotted time).  Full day tours will usually include Old Town, a visit to the Grand Masters Palace, the Acropolis of Rhodes, the village and Acropolis of Lindos, the Valley of the Butterflies, a winery stop as well as a lunch break at a lovely restaurant on the Mediterranean Sea.

Many cruisers to Greece choose to spend their day on the island of Rhodes by renting a car or taking a taxi directly to Lindos. Located on the eastern shores of Rhodes, Lindos is a whitewashed labyrinth of little alleyways which was deliberately designed to confuse pirates.  Today it’s a lovely place to meander, with quaint shops and pretty cafes!  The climb from the village of LĂ­ndos up to its famous Acropolis can be quite exerting on a hot day, but its so worth the journey! (An alternative is to ride a donkey to the top; the station is by the main square and the cost is about 5 Euros). At the foot of the steps leading to the acropolis there’s a relief of a Trireme (ancient Greek warship) carved into the rock which dates back to 180 BC! Further up leads to the Acropolis gate with its ruins of sanctuaries, temples, and public buildings all built by the Knights of St John. Continue a bit higher to reach the stately remains of the 300 BC Doric Temple of Athena Lindia. Apart from the historical significance of the Acropolis, the view from the top is breathtaking…you can see the whole city of Lindos as well as the surrounding bays!

Of course, an entire day can be spent by simply exploring Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The medieval fortress-like buildings, walls, gates, narrow passages, minarets, old quarters, fountains, and lively squares make it feel like you have stepped back in time. The best place to start your tour is at the top… the top of city walls, that is! That’s the perfect spot to snap photos of the rooftops, fortifications and the moat. Then begin strolling the down the Street of the Knights, where many of the Inns of the crusading Order of the Knights of St John were based. It is one of the most complete medieval streets in the world, and its buildings of chiseled sandstone form one uninterrupted facade. The Palace of the Grand Master and Archaeological Museum are the two most popular attractions and are worth a visit. There is of course, plenty of shopping in Old Town and many lovely places to stop for lunch or a cold drink.

Rhodes, a port of call on many Mediterranean cruises,  has something for everybody; shoppers, beach-goers, history lovers and archaeology buffs! So whatever you choose to do with your day in Rhodes, I guarantee it will be memorable! Next stop…Santorini.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cruising to Greece; First Stop Athens

The Greek islands are full of important cultural sites, breathtaking landscapes, idyllic beaches, and quaint villages of whitewashed buildings and cobblestone paths.  Its clear to see why its one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!  Since Greece is made up of clusters of inhabited islands, there’s no better way to explore the region than by cruising to Greece!
 Lets take a closer look at Athens, the capital of Greece and one of the world’s oldest cities.  When you cruise to Athens you actually dock in Piraeus, about a half hour from the main part of Athens, a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis with a population of over 3 million! Many cruise lines offer a shuttle to the heart of downtown, but subways and busses also connect the port to the city center.  Once you get to the heart of the city, there are certain sites that should be a “must-see” on everyone’s itinerary.

The Acropolis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is known as the cradle of civilization around the globe. In ancient times, it was the greatest sanctuary of Athens, dedicated to the patron goddess Athena. The Parthenon (the main temple), the monumental entrance called the Propylaea, the temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion (easily identified by the six draped female figures that support the entablature) are four masterpieces of classical Greek architecture that shouldn’t be missed.

If time permits, I highly recommend a visit to the Acropolis Museum. The juxtaposition of antiques and ancient artifacts displayed in a beautifully spacious modern glass building is striking! There is good signage and information in English, and an in-house archeologist is on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Just below the Acropolis is the Plaka district, a historic area filled with shops and restaurants. The shops are a mix of the tacky tourist items as well as jewelry, leather, furs and art. If you’re ready to break for lunch there are some really good, traditional, restaurants serving authentic food such as spanakopita, gyros, moussaka, and souvlaki.

 The Ancient Agora was the commercial, social and political heart of Athens during ancient times.  Excavation of the area revealed a large number of temples, stoas, altars and even a concert hall. Today two large buildings are intact: the Hephaisteion - the best-preserved temple in Greece, and the Stoa of Attalos, which is now, home to another wonderful museum. The rest of the Agora looks like a large park with ruins of ancient buildings visible all around.

The Temple of Olympus Zeus is known as the largest temple in Greece. The massive ancient complex took nearly seven centuries to complete. The temple stands today simply as a remnant of Greek history, and even though only 15 out of 105 huge columns remain, it is still worth seeing.

Plateia Syntagmatos (Constitution Square) is the central square of the city, near the Parliament and many upscale hotels. The most famous aspect of Syntagma is the 11 am changing of the guards by the Evzones in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The uniforms worn by the guards are quite unique, with the pleated kilt or fustanella and pom-pom decorated footwear!

A full day in Athens is enough to see all of the above sites with ample time for shopping and lunch. Watch for our next installment of “Cruising to Greece” where we’ll talk about  Rhodes.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Partying in Rio with Azamara Cruises

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a world famous 5-day celebration, the biggest carnival in the world, with two million people per day on the streets! The official start date is on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, and it finishes on Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. If you have ever considered cruising to South America, what better time to do so than the Azamara12-night Rio Carnival voyage on February 7, 2015.

The Rio Carnival is most known for its glorious Samba Parades. Held every year in the Sambodromo, it is the focal point of the carnival. There are four Samba Parades, held on all four nights of the carnival. The two big performances are on Carnival Sunday and Monday when the premier Samba Schools of the city compete against each other for the title of Champion. It is a stupendous show full of outstanding choreography, dazzling and sexy costumes, irresistible music and unimaginable props and floats. Tickets are very hard to get, but not for you!  If you book the Azamara 12-night Rio Carnival voyage, you will have the opportunity to purchase box seats or grandstand seats in the Sambodromo and be a part of this gargantuan event!

But don’t be confused into thinking that a samba school is actually a dance school; rather, its a musical organization. A typical samba school can have thousands of members, although only the most talented get the chance to “do their thing” in the big parade. These performers include singers, musicians, and dancers.  Other members are the bearers of the flags, banners and puppets. The rest of the school participates behind the scenes and are in charge of the creation of costumes, floats, props and whatever else is needed for the extravaganza.

In Rio de Janeiro, Carnival has been around since the mid 19th century, but in the 1920’s this unique music called Samba was incorporated. It’s an urban music style that arose in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and is a mix of influences from Europe, Africa and South America. Of all Brazilian music styles, Samba is undoubtedly the best known and has become a symbol of the Brazilian nation and its people.

Aside from the days you spend in Rio, the Azamara Journey’s itinerary also includes Montevideo, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Punta del Este, Uruguay, and Buzios, Brazil.  Although Carnival in Rio will undoubtedly be the highlight of your vacation, this is a wonderful cruise to discover the many cultural, natural and architectural wonders of South America!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Alaska Shore Excursions Worth Splurging On

Nothing is as amazing as an Alaska cruise vacation.  Add a spectacular shore excursion or two and you can make it the trip of a lifetime!  I’m talking about an expedition that cannot be replicated on other itineraries and is synonymous with the “real Alaska” experience. Here are a few suggestions well worth splurging on:


One of the most scenic excursions you can take out of Ketchikan is a floatplane tour to Misty Fjords.  The area is part of a vast coastal rain forest and cloud-shrouded monument, hence, its name. The best way to fully appreciate the dramatic beauty of land is from above.  Stunning waterfalls, steep fjords and rock walls jutting 3000 feet straight out of the ocean mark the region. This is a great area for wildlife viewing. Both brown and black bears, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, moose, and wolves roam the land while sea lions, harbor seals, killer whales, and porpoises share the waters. Most tours include an exhilarating water landing which gives you the opportunity to step out on to the plane's floats, where you can delight in the scenery and snap some photos that will make your friends drool with envy!

If you ever sat on the edge of your sofa engrossed in an episode of Discovery Channel's award-winning TV series Deadliest Catch, this is the excursion for you! Set out on the Aleutian Ballad crab boat, the only genuine Bering Sea crab fishing vessel licensed to carry leisure passengers.  It was actually a part of season two of the show, (no worries, the boat has been completely remodeled to provide for guests’ comfort and safety)! Be prepared with your camera as the crew hauls up 700 lb. crab pots full of Alaska King crabs, octopus, prawns and sharks, just to name a few, that are placed in the live tank on-deck before being released back into the wild. If you are brave enough you can try your hand at holding one yourself for the perfect photo to share when you get home!

When you cruise between July and early August you have the chance to experience black bears up close and personal! Just hop in a floatplane and fly along the Tongass National Forest to Anan Creek. Anan Creek supports one of the largest salmon runs in Southeast Alaska, and the bears like to congregate at its big, beautiful waterfall. To make viewing and picture taking safe and comfortable, the Forest Service has constructed an observatory near the falls.  Being able to observe these mighty creatures scooping up and feeding on salmon in their natural environment is certainly a site to behold!


 I bet you didn’t know that the Alaska “state sport” is dog mushing.  Really! So what better way to experience the real Alaska than dog sledding on a remote glacier? Of course you must first get to the dog camp.  No taxi can make the trip, but that’s ok because this excursion includes a helicopter ride! After a kennel tour and getting to know the dogs you can tuck yourself into a cozy, warm sled and go for the ride of your life! Or, if you think you can handle it, ride on the sled as the musher, standing on the runners with a team of huskies dashing through the snow.

A ride on the White Pass Railway is one of the most scenic train rides in the world and a must-do excursion when in Skagway! This narrow-gauge railroad route was built during the gold-rush era and cab be quite the “white knuckle” ride as the train chugs along hugging sheer granite walls, crossing glacial rivers, passes rushing waterfalls, and traverses cavernous gorges! Now imagine taking the experience “up a notch” by disembarking the train at Glacier Station and continuing on with a wilderness snowshoe trek through a magnificent, snow blanketed, sub-alpine rainforest valley. This spectacular trail winds along the raging Skagway River and toward a smaller valley containing the Laughton Glacier.


The Juneau Ice field, much of which is contained within the Tongass National Forest,  is home to 40 large glaciers including Mendenhall Glacier and Taku Glacier, as well as 100 smaller ones. Although not for the faint of heart, helicopter companies offer exhilarating excursions that give an aerial view of spectacular rock formations, rainforests, glaciers, icefalls, ice spires, and vibrant-blue crevasses of the Ice field.  

Upon reaching a destination glacier, the pilot/guide will shut down the helicopter and escort guests on an informative, relaxing walk along the glacier’s surface. For those that want to try something a bit more exerting, some tour companies replace the leisurely glacier stroll with a 2-3 mile ice trek. Guides will teach you the proper use of the mountaineering gear so that the remote areas of the glacier can be accessed. All you need to bring is a camera, and a craving for adventure!  Now while all this is very cool, if you’re thinking about this excursion, don’t put it off… global warming is causing the glaciers to rapidly recede and you owe it to yourself to experience them in all their magnificent glory!

Be daring…be adventurous…be courageous! Book one of these outrageous shore excursions and make your Alaska cruise vacation a once in a lifetime event!

For more information on Alaska Cruises and shore excursions, visit our new website at