Archive for 2013

Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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Traveling isn’t for everyone

Friday, December 20th, 2013

-by Erin

Traveling is not easy. It can be time consuming, exhausting and challenging. There are time differences and jet-lag, long flights and early mornings, language barriers and currency calculations. Sometimes you may not understand the directions or know what you are eating but for those of us willing to put up with the unknown, there are huge rewards to be gained.

Imagine opening your window to the sounds of Barcelona or hiking to the top of a mountain in Canyonlands National Park in Utah or tasting rich stews in local markets of Morocco. Think of how excited your friends will be when you tell them that you have crossed not one, but two things off your bucket list. Envision that new piece of artwork hanging in your house that reminds you of your travels every time you walk in the door. Get excited about getting together with new friends that you have made to regale the time you went exploring and came back with the most incredible story to tell.

Travel can be all this, and more. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but if you are the kind of person who is willing to put yourself out there for an amazing experience, to sacrifice that extra hour of beauty sleep to wake up and see the sun rise over the mountains of Machu Picchu, then traveling is definitely for you! The world is your oyster and we can’t wait to explore it with you!

 

Celebrity Cruises Launches New ‘Captain’s Club’ Program

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Celebrity Cruises recently announced an enhanced Captain’s Club loyalty program.  Guest feedback helped define the new program features, which include two new, additional levels of status and rewards beyond the existing “Elite” level, which is the highest level of membership in the brand’s current four-tiered program.

Effective on sailings commencing after November 25, 2013, the new Captain’s Club will offer a six-tier program. The Club’s current levels of  “Preview,” “Classic,” “Select” and “Elite” will remain, with two new tiers — “Elite Plus” and “Zenith” — each with their own unique set of benefits and privileges.

Members who achieve the new Elite Plus status will receive an even higher level of recognition and broader benefits, including additional beverage and specialty dining discounts, complimentary 200-minute Internet packages, complimentary cappuccinos, lattes and more.

Members who achieve Zenith status will receive benefits and perks befitting this ultimate level of membership, such as access to Michael’s Club Lounge (available fleetwide in 2014), a complimentary premium alcoholic beverage package, complimentary laundry, a 1,600-minute Internet package, and other benefits.

Celebrity’s guests now can accelerate their progression through the loyalty tiers with a new Club Points system which recognizes the stateroom category as well as the days spent onboard. Members’ previous cruise credits will be automatically converted into Club Points, and members will retain all of the benefits they earned in the program to-date – with no expiration. In many cases, guests may automatically become charter members of Celebrity’s new Elite Plus or Zenith tier. It is important to note that no current members will lose any of the benefits they have come to expect and enjoy today. Full program details are available at www.celebritycruises.com/captainsclub

Another new enhancement is the ability to quickly access special pricing exclusively for Captain’s Club members through the Captain’s Club portal on the Celebrity Cruises website. By simply entering their name and Captain’s Club member number on the site, they can instantly see available loyalty pricing.

“At a time when many loyalty programs are cutting back on benefits or making it more difficult to redeem rewards, we’re thrilled to do just the opposite,” said Celebrity’s Director of Loyalty Lee Moreau. “Guest loyalty is the cornerstone to any successful business, and that’s why, at Celebrity Cruises, we make our guests the center of our attention.  We hope this reinvigorated program will even more vividly show our guests how much we appreciate their loyalty, and allow us to welcome them back onboard even more frequently.”

Original source:  CelebrityCruises

Unusual Fun Facts About Traveling

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Its the holiday season so time to perk up!  Have a little fun!  Laugh and bring cheer!

So, we searched high and low for some of the most unique, unusual, and unknown fun facts about parts around the world.   Here are our Top 10!  Be prepared to “LOL”.

10. An unbelievable amount of 250 people have fallen from the Leaning Tower of Pisa

9. There are over 5 million parts in a single 747 aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

8. Dying is illegal in Britain’s House of Parliament

7. What is known as a “French Kiss” in England is known as an “English Kiss” in France.

6. In 1987, American Airlines eliminated one olive from each salad served in first class. This saved them $40,000 annually.

5. The concrete used in the Hoover Dam is still drying, and it’s estimated that it won’t be completely dry for a few hundred years.

4. Donald Duck comics were once banned in Finland because he doesn’t wear pants.  Quack!

3. The majority of earth’s oxygen is naturally produced in Russia.

2. It is illegal in the UK to stand within 100 yards of a ruling Monarch if you are not wearing socks.

1. About 25% of the total land mass of Los Angeles is committed to cars.

Ok….more more:  There is enough fuel in one full tank of gas in a jumbo jet, to drive an average car around the world FOUR times.

Are you amazed yet?  If not, here’s one last attempt:

Don’t be offended if someone from Tibet sticks his tongue out at you.  This is a cultural sign of a greeting.

“Hello!”

Cruise industry seeking big jump in telecom speeds

Monday, November 25th, 2013

If you’ve ever been on a cruise and decided that leaving your emails behind just wasn’t for you, you probably wished you had.  Understandably some people need to stay connected even while on vacation….maybe for work purposes or to stay in touch with a sick relative or just to chronicle the vacation to friends on facebook back home.  The frustrations of online connectivity while sailing at sea aboard a passenger cruise ship has long been a thorn in the industries bow and stern.   Slow connections and dropped communications coupled with charges so deep even the waters of the Atlantic Ocean couldn’t compare, have long been maddening and mounting means of angst in an otherwise blissful vacation experience.  Fortunately, that’s about to change.

Faced with accelerating demands by passengers for digital connections for their mobile devices, cruise lines are pushing vendors for faster, cheaper, more reliable telecommunications at sea. In response, the satellite providers are getting creative in their efforts to provide the bandwidth that enables Internet access, social media use and other telecom services. Solutions include creating a hybrid of satellite and land-based carrier networks, installing additional antennae on ships for more flexible, reliable signal tracking and using satellites in lower orbits to reduce signal transmission times. In some cases, passengers can expect a “dramatic” rise in the speed of Internet access from the ships, one analyst said. The innovations from companies such as MTN Satellite Communications and Harris CapRock are being implemented now, although they won’t start being ready for use until next year or 2015. 

“There are a whole series of new technologies and satellites that are going to be available in the coming couple of years that will greatly improve the performance and the available bandwidth on those ships,” said Rick Simonian, president of maritime solutions at Harris CapRock. With its purchase of CapRock Communications in 2010, Harris Corp. embraced a commitment to the cruise ship segment.  Since then, it has won contracts with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. to install new equipment and provide services. Its contract with Carnival, disclosed in mid-October, covers more than 100 ships in the fleets of 10 Carnival brands. Harris CapRock said it will provide bandwidth levels higher than those previously available on each fleet to meet “new service requirements Carnival set for its guests and crew.” Simonian said a key piece of the puzzle is installation of more than one satellite antenna on each ship. Most ships, he said, have a single antenna, housed in a spherical dome fixed to the ship’s mast.

“The problem with that is that if the ship is turning and the line of sight to the satellite gets blocked by the smokestack, or if they’re in some other obstruction, then the service goes down,” he said.
Two antennae mitigate that problem and will also be capable of switching back and forth between different radio frequencies, C-band and Ku-band, using the resiliency of one and the greater bandwidth of the other as conditions change.
Earlier this year, Harris CapRock completed installing gear on 33 ships belonging to Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. It will also integrate an ambitious new satellite system from O3b Networks, starting with the Oasis and Allure of the Seas.  O3b is launching satellites that orbit about 8,000 miles above the Earth, rather than the 23,000-mile distance of existing, geostationary satellites.  That cuts the back-and-forth signal speed to the satellites from 720 milliseconds to 130 milliseconds. “It will dramatically increase the amount of bandwidth available, to kind of unheard-of rates,” Simonian said. “The only ships that get rates like this would be Navy aircraft carriers, just for comparison.” O3b has launched four of its eight-satellites constellation and should be ready to serve the Oasis and Allure next spring, Simonian said.
But the O3b concept has some limitations and is unproven, said Chris Quilty, who covers satellite companies for the Raymond, James & Associates brokerage. “Royal Caribbean has made a huge, very expensive bet on a category-killer solution for the cruise industry,” Quilty said.

One limit is that coverage doesn’t extended beyond latitudes up to 45 degrees north and south of the equator, which excludes cruise areas such as the Baltic Sea and Alaska. Also, O3b’s satellites aren’t fixed in geosynchronous position like higher-orbiting satellites, so they have to be tracked.  “One is coming up over the horizon as the other is going down,” Quilty said. The tracking system that’s required, he said, “is much more complex. I would say it’s a high-risk, high reward proposition.” MTN Communications is offering a different solution, one that seamlessly switches satellite signals from satellites to land-based networks when ships approach or are in ports. When that happens, existing satellite bandwidth is freed up for use by cruise ships farther out at sea. “Adding more satellite bandwidth will no longer solve the ‘constantly connected’ demand,” said Errol Olivier, president and CEO of MTN. “And, way too often, adding more bandwidth just raises the costs for cruise operators.”
As cruise lines roll out MTN’s hybrid system and other solutions, such as the one offered by Harris CapRock, the retail cost of Internet service, which is currently 50 cents to 75 cents per minute, should come down, even as performance improves. How much prices will drop and speeds will increase is up to the cruise lines, Simonian said, adding, “That information is proprietary. They [the cruise lines] want to protect that.” MTN once held upward of 90% of the cruise industry communications market, and it still serves Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Pullmantur, Windstar Cruises and others. Still, Harris in recent months has gained a big foothold by landing the two biggest companies in the industry as customers. Brad Grady, an analyst at Northern Sky Research, said that because Harris is a big, public company with a broad client base ranging from the U.S. Navy to the global oil and gas industry, it can use its scale to reduce prices.  “There is always a bigger fish willing to do more at a better price,” he said. “And for larger end-users, specialization does not necessarily beat price.” Quilty said that except for the U.S. government, Harris is the largest consumer of satellite capacity in the world.  “By definition it is an economy-of-scale business, so you can generally buy capacity at a lower price,” he said.

Original source:  Travel Weekly Magazine

Goin’ To A Land Down Under

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

In the land of Oz there are many special things that are magical.  No, I’m not talking about a twister or Auntie Em. Nor am I speaking about Toto or little munchkins, or a yellow brick road or a wizard.  I’m talking about “the land down under”, also known as Australia.  Also known, since Aussies like to shorten so many words, as “Oz”.

This is a magical land of a different kind.  Magical in the sense that as western as many of the cities are, the diversity of culture and landscape and adventure and people are so unique to the world that one cannot help but feel like they’ve entered a very meaningful place.  One day, we’re walking in a paddock among free ranging kangaroos and koalas,  The next day we’re hiking among the Olgas rock formation that was created by centuries of the earth settling around it (unlike so many mountains that have been created  upwards by thermal activity deep with the earth’s core).  Then, we’re trekking through the 100 million year-old Daintree Rainforest and before you know it, we’re snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef.  Some went hot air ballooning and camel back riding at sunrise around Ayers Rock, and some went to a performance at the famous Sydney Opera House.  In the morning we’re cuddling a koala and in the afternoon we’re taking boomerang-throwing lessons.

One night we’re eating dinner under a gazillion stars at the Sounds of Silence experience, and the next night we’re cooking out on the barbie with skewers of beef, shrimp, kangaroo and baramundi (local fish). One morning we’re climing a bridge high above Sydney and then that evening we’re praying at The Great Synagogue where the historic relevance of Judaism in Australia captures a deep essence.   At times, we’re learning about the culture by an eloquent Aussie-linguist saying words like “Fair Dinkum” (I’m telling the truth), “Owarya” (how are you?) and “fancy a stubby?” (can I buy you a beer?)…and at times we are toasting with AJ Aussies who live where we’re visting and just can’t be hospitable enough for us.

Amazing Journeys’ tour to Oz was just remarkable. We’ve only just returned, but the memories are bound up in our souls forever.  Every day was a “G’day Mate” and we can’t wait to go back!

Just who is Amazing Journeys?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

-by Erin

What is it that makes Amazing Journeys truly amazing?

If you’ve traveled with us before, you already know the answer to this question. But if you’ve never been on a vacation with us, you might just be wondering what is it that makes Amazing Journeys so amazing?

At Amazing Journeys, we believe that traveling is about more than escaping your daily cares – it’s about enhancing your life by viewing it through an always-fresh, often-exotic new lens. Every year is different; each trip is unique. What remains consistent is our unfailing commitment to quality, our unparalleled expertise with the Jewish group travel experience and our genuine passion for discovering new destinations. With over 75 years of combined travel experience, we take the guesswork out of vacation planning, so that all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the ride! Click here for introductions to the Amazing Journeys team.

New to AJ and want more information? Click here so we can answer some of your most commonly asked questions.

Throughout the years, we have sent over 10,000 passengers on their dream vacations! These trips have been incredible – but don’t just take our word for it – click here to see what some of our passengers have had to say.

We are always adding new trips to our upcoming line-up so check back to our trips page often so you don’t miss the opportunity to cross another location off your bucket list. We will be posting new trips soon including a cruise to Spain, Italy and France, a National Parks Adventure in the States, a land tour in Ireland, exploring Morocco and a long weekend getaway to Hawaii. Also on the horizon, a brand new division with trips exclusively for those in their 20s and 30s including adventure travel! Tell your friends, your family members and your co-workers that we may just have the perfect trip for them in 2014.

Join in on the fun and get to know our friends on Facebook. We always have something fun to share! Hope to travel with you soon!

That was close!

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, erupted last weekend sending up a towering plume of ash visible into much of eastern Sicily. Smoke billowing during the eruption of Mount Etna volcano was seen from near the Sicilian towns of Catania and Messina, Italy, on Saturday  Etna’s eruptions aren’t infrequent but this one was unexpected.

Just this past summer Amazing Journeys trekked the base of the then-dormant Mt. Etna volcano while exploring a remnant of the last eruption in 1992 – a lava river that was formed by advancing molten rock that carved its way down the hillsides.  While exploring the area this past July it is interesting to note that not a hint of seismic activiity was present at that time.

Europe’s most active volcano, Mt. Etna erupted throwing ash visible in much of eastern Sicily causing the closure of nearby air space, but authorities lifted the closure after just a few hours.  Evacuations of several inhabited villages weren’t necessary despite the lava flow.

Watch raw footage of the dramatic eruption here:  http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/2013/10/27/13/16/mount-etna-eruption-filmed-over-sicily

Rollin on the River

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

– by Malori

Ever hear of a river cruise? Are you wondering what all the buzz is about? It’s the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry and 24 new ships are being built by six different companies, all debuting in 2014.

River Cruising opens up a world of possibilities of intriguing destinations. Pulling up right alongside a local dock, the river cruise experience lets you enjoy scenery along the way, and then coming directly in to the city center to explore on foot, by bike or on an array of complimentary guided excursions. According to AMA Waterways, in business since 2002, “there is no better way to experience the soul of a destination than on a leisurely river cruise, immersed in history, culture and breathtaking natural beauty.”

Traveling along rivers, these smaller ships are built with shallow drafts and can navigate smaller waterways, unlike their oceangoing cousins who cruise the high seas. During your journey along the rivers, you can look out from your balcony, window or one of the public spaces and see the ever-changing landscape of the destination you came to see. Many of the “Next-Gen” river cruises use a “long-ship” design that allows more interior space for guest rooms, bars and restaurants, spa and workout facilities, and even a pool with a swim up bar.

Onboard, the experience is more like a small boutique than a large hotel. The staff is dedicated to treating their guests like members of their own families, and several offer a premium experience. With local musicians to entertain, cocktails and dancing, lectures on local history and culture, time on board the ship is spent feeling like you are on vacation, whether it’s relaxing, socializing with other passengers, sunning by the pool, working out or getting a massage.

On most river cruise, complimentary wines are offered with meals, further enhancing your local cultural experience. You get to try wines from the local regions you are visiting, along with regional specialties the chef prepares each night.

River Cruises offer many themed cruises as well. From Chocolate Cruises to Wine Tasting Cruises to Jewish Heritage Cruises, there is a theme that fits nearly every taste and taste bud!

Amazing Journeys is joining in on the River Cruise fun on our Jewish Heritage River Cruise next summer. Sailing from Vilshofen, Germany on August 6 and ending in Budapest, Hungary on August 13, we will transport you along the Danube River through the magnificent landscapes of the Sound of Music Country and along the shores of our Jewish culture and our legacy. From synagogues to Jewish districts, modern museums and historical monuments, this cruise will be one you will surely remember. For more information on our Jewish Heritage cruise, click here or call us for information on any other river boat cruise at 412.571.0220.

Out of Africa

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

– by Bill

We were driving….”game” driving that is.  In the middle of the Entabeni Private Game Conservancy about 3 hours east of Johannesburgh South Africia, our open air jeep moving along a bush road in search of….whatever.  On a game drive, one never knows what one will find and so we just watched and waited for the next amazing sight -whatever it might be.  Already we had seen our share of antelope – rather some of the 91 variations of the antelope species that inhabit Africa. At first, seeing a Spring Buck, an Impala or a Kudu was exciting…but it wasn’t long before we were looking beyond “another antelope” in search of the next big thing.  Well, it was actually the Big Five that we coveted most: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.   It was only our 2nd day on safari but already we had seen – in addition to antelope – a jackal, lots of wildebeest, several giraffes and even the not-as-elusive-as-we-thought cheetah.  It had been exciting…but above and beyond anything else we were bent on ticking the Big Five off our Seen In Africa checklist .

And so we drove.

Suddenly we ascended a small curvy mound on this dirt bush road when, around the bend, we suddently came to a screaching halt (more like a dusty halt) as the horns of a massive rhino were pointed sharply (and I mean “sharply”) at our vehicle.  Mr. Rhino wasn’t charging however – just staring.  And so, we stared back…amidst the clicking of camera shutters and mild shrieks of amazment.  In moment of suspended animation, we faced head-to-horn with this amazing creature as time stood still.

Suddenly, Mr. Rhino took a few steps RIGHT AT US!  While we squirmed in our seats our driver/ranger quietly knocked on the outside door of our jeep, which seemed to startle the creature and stop him in his tracks. Turns out that rhinos have terrible eyesight and probably didn’t even know that we were there.  The sound alerted him that he should proceed elsewhere, and so he did, down into the bush.

This was one tick on our Safari checklist of the Big Five, and what a start.  It was exciting and mezmerizing, but it was only the beginning. 

As our days throughout South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe went by our thirst for viewing all Big Five was satiated.  As were a few unique and special activities that many will never forget including swimming with Great White Sharks, riding an elephant and petting a famous cheetah named Sylvester.  Sylvester is a rescue-now-ambassador of his species throughout all of Botswana. His mother and siblings were killed by lion when he was just one day old.  He would have died too had he not been rescued and now he lives somewhat domestically in a habitat where he is also visited by travelers, school children and researchers.  Sylvester has his own facebook page  and if you “like” him and you can learn all about his amazing story.-https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sylvester-Cheetah-Ambassador/169927003078626  We were all  truly and genuinely “wow’d” by Sylvester – petting a cheetah was utterly indescribable.

As the sun set on our amazing Africa adventure, our group of 18 people were left with warm feelings of Africa, a new sense of adventure and a renewed spirit of the wild. Early morning game drives, experiences of the local culture, adventures that touched our souls, and a heartfelt two weeks with friends is a memory that will never be forgotten.  The 15 hour flight home notwithstanding, being out of Africa keeps us longing to be back again.

 

*As a footnote to the rhino story, I am sorry to say that we were asked not to post any pictures.  Poaching rhino horns is an epidemic in southern Africa and with high tech criminals scanning the internet, ever little bit of effort helps.  Apologies for not being able to post an amazing picture of this remarkable creature.

Airline fees you may not hate

Friday, October 11th, 2013

-by Erin

Within the past few years, passengers have been hit with airline fees for seemingly every part of your trip.  From booking your flight with an actual person on the phone to checking your suitcase to enjoying an in-flight snack, each transaction had travelers opening up their wallet again and again.  It was maddening how things that were once included in your day of travel are now a la carte with additional costs.  With that being said, airlines are now introducing a new slew of fees, but this time passengers might actually like them. Unlike the first generation of charges which dinged fliers for once-free services like checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight. Extra legroom, early boarding and access to quiet lounges were just the beginning.

Airlines are now renting Apple iPads preloaded with movies, selling hot first class meals in coach and letting passengers pay to have an empty seat next to them. Once on the ground, they can skip baggage claim, having their luggage delivered directly to their home or office. In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier.

Carriers have struggled to raise airfares enough to cover costs. Fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are the reason the airlines are profitable. But the amount of money coming in from older charges like baggage and reservation change fees has plateaued. So the airlines are selling new extras and copying marketing methods honed by retailers. Technological upgrades allow airlines to sell products directly to passengers at booking, in follow-up emails as trips approach, at check-in and on mobile phones minutes before boarding. Delta Air Lines recently gave its flight attendants wireless devices, allowing them to sell passengers last-second upgrades to seats with more legroom. And just like Amazon.com offers suggested readings based on each buyer’s past purchases, airlines soon will be able to use past behavior to target fliers.

Other airlines are experimenting with tracking passengers throughout the airport. In the future, if somebody clears security hours before their flight, they might be offered a discounted day pass to the airline’s lounge on their phone. Airlines have yet to find the right balance between being helpful and being creepy. So, for now, most of the data is being used to win back passengers after their flight is delayed or luggage is lost. “We want to get back to a point where people feel like travel isn’t something to endure, but something they can enjoy,” says Bob Kupbens, a former Target executive and Delta’s current vice president of marketing and digital commerce.

Southwest has held off charging for most checked bags. But it sells plenty of other add-ons. Recently, it introduced a way for people at the back of the boarding line on some flights to cut to the front for $40. Airlines now alter fees based on demand. United Airlines used to sell its Economy Plus extra legroom seats for one price per route. Today, aisle seats cost more than middle seats; prices are higher on popular flights. Airlines are also starting to bundle items. Passengers purchase items they might not necessarily buy alone; it also simplifies the dizzying array of offers. American offers a package for $68 roundtrip that includes no change fees, one checked bag and early boarding. Delta is experimenting with a $199 subscription that includes a checked bag, early boarding, access to exit row seats and extra frequent flier miles on all flights a passenger takes between now and Jan. 5.

Airlines say the fees bring a sense of fairness to the system. Why should a passenger with a small carry-on subsidize a family of four, checking suitcases? Jamie Baker, an airline analyst with JP Morgan Chase, likens it to a meal at a restaurant. “The sides are not included in the price of a steak,” he says. “Airline ticket prices should reflect the costs incurred by the individual passenger.”

Original article can be found here