2010 - Page 2 of 12 - Amazing Journeys

Archive for 2010

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.


Goin’ to a Land Down Under

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

AJ heads off to the land of OZ. With koalas, kangaroos, boomerangs and a few  “G’day Mate”s leading the way, our group departs this weekend for 2 weeks to Australia.  And then, for many, another week follows to the land of kiwis, adventure and spectacular landscapes throughout New Zealand.

Soon, we’ll be snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef, climbing The Sydney Harbour Bridge, tour The Sydney Opera House, safari-ing in the saavannah with ‘roos, emus and koalas, and exploring Ayres Rock in the true Outback. 

Its trips like this that give true meaning to the words “amazing journey”.

Stay tuned for highlights…

Cruise the British Isles

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Ala Carte Pricing Coming to Cruises?

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Over the past several years, cruise lines have been slowly adding in ala carte pricing for even the most basic items.  First, the cruise lines added charges for sodas in the dining room, once considered to be part of the cruise’s “all-inclusive” pricing.  Then they added upscale dining options at specialty restaurants with fees of $10 – $35.  Next there were ice cream and coffee bars with more and better tasting choices, charges for freshly squeezed orange juice and fees for after hours room service deliveries.  The all-inclusive pricing structure of a cruise are nearly gone.  Don’t get me wrong, the value associated with cruise ship travel still gives you “the most bang for your buck”  however, it is clearly not an “all-inclusive” price anymore.

Carnival Cruise Lines last week announced its most recent addition to the cost of a cruise.  They are “testing” the concept charging an extra $18 for steak or lobster entrees in the regular dining rooms on three of its big cruise ships. Royal Caribbean began charging for upgraded steak selections in their main dining rooms several months ago.  This is a trend that has begun and I suspect will be picked up by every major mass-market cruise line, as always happens when one segment of the industry finds a way to make additional income.

According to Ed Perkins in his article, “Ala Carte Pricing Coming to Cruises,” he says, For most of their modern existence, cruise lines have touted “inclusive” pricing as a major advantage over most vacation alternatives. With the exception of tipping—and usually alcoholic beverages—once you bought into the cruise, you really didn’t have to spend anything extra for the duration. Of course, you paid extra for port excursions and some specialty recreation activities, but those were strictly options. Meals, snacks, regular beverages, entertainment, and most onboard activities were “free” once you got onboard.

What’s changing?  Basically, the way you buy cruises is changing. An executive at a travel company was recently quoted as saying that, with the giant online travel agencies, the travel industry has created a business model “specifically designed to bring our prices down” as much as possible. Those various agencies and their search engines permit instant price comparisons among essentially all the suppliers in any given marketplace. They don’t just facilitate, they emphasize searches for the “lowest” price or fare.

The big airlines recognized this new marketing reality a few years ago: That showing up as the “lowest” option in any search is a huge competitive advantage. In response, most have started to charge extra for many of the facilities and services that were once bundled into the fare, primarily so they could keep that base fare figure as low as possible. In fact, their behavior clearly shows that, absent diligent government oversight, they would engage in wholesale price-splitting: Carving out an arbitrary portion of the real fare, giving it a plausible label—think “fuel surcharge” here—and excluding it from the base fare display. This “lowest fare” focus is especially important with airlines, because you, the consumers, have shown that low fares easily trump any minor product differences.

My take is that the mass-market cruise lines are facing the same sort of problem. With the advent of modern megaships, product differentiation is decreasing. More and more, you will buy a cruise on the basis of an online search, for example, for the line and ship with the best price for a balcony cabin from South Florida to the Caribbean in March. Like the coach/economy airline seat, the mass-market cruise cabin will become a commodity.

Clearly, if I’m right, cruise lines will chip away at their total service packages by adding extra charges for food, beverages, and activities. How fast they will chip depends on market response. But the ability to come out “lowest” in any sort of price comparison is far too important for any mass-market line to ignore. If the only way to show lowest in a search is to charge extra for what used to be “free,” they’ll charge extra.

What are your thoughts on a la carte pricing coming to cruises?  Will you continue to cruise?  Do you still think it offers value for your vacation dollar above land-based vacations?   Share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

Scattered Among The Nations

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

For thousands of years since successive waves of invaders chased the Israelites from their ancestral home, Jews have carried their religion with them wherever they have gone. Living in the Diaspora, Jews maintained their way of life, gathering in communities to share their traditions. Others were touched by the faith of the Jews scattered among them, or by the words of the Torah, and bound their lives to this enduring heritage.

There are scarcely more than thirteen million Jews in the world today; most of them live in established Jewish centers like Israel and large cities in North America and Western Europe. But what many do not know is that there are Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, South America, even parts of Europe and the Former Soviet Union, in which the Jewish populations do not have white skin or do not live fast-paced, modern lives. Some of these communities exist in places so geographically and culturally distant from other Jews that they must struggle daily to maintain the religion of their ancestors.

These often tiny Jewish communities are fascinating. Some of them are ancient such as in Tunisia where the first Jews arrived 2600 years ago during the Babylonian Exile. Others are brand new such as the the Inca Jews of Peru who started practicing Judaism just a few decades ago. The small communities are recognizably Jewish with many of them observing Shabbat and kosher laws in the familiar ways one would find everywhere. However, each have customs reflecting their own “flavor” of Judaism. For example, in the tiny Jewish communities of Uganda and Zimbabwe songs written in Hebrew are set to African melodies; in India the Benei Menashe still practice ritual sacrifice of animals while the Bene Israel have their “Malida” ceremony which offers prayers, songs and bowls of fruits and flowers to the Prophet Elijah.

Amazing Journeys has toured 7 continents and save for Antarctica, have explored and enjoyed points of Jewish interest in places like Peru, St. Petersburg, Sydney, Buenos Aires and even San Jose, Costa Rica.  Yours truly was actually an invited guest on my extended “tour of duty” in Costa Rica back in 2003, to join a family—a big “machar” at the local synagogue—for Pesach Seder.  A totally unexpected experience; so amazingly different…yet so amazingly familiar.  Jews are Jews no matter where in the world they are, no matter what language their native tongue, no matter how mainstream or remote their neighborhood.

See below for some snapshots showing our fellow Jewish kinship from places you probably never thought of around the world:






Ugandan Jews are called the Abayudaya and here are some congregants and their Shule. They are found in the town of Mbale which is in the Eastern part of Uganda.








There are five rabbis in Tunisia; and even several kosher restaurants. Yacov B’Chiri is a cantor of the Djerba, Tunisia Jewish community. B’Chiri has been playing lute, or ud, and singing Arabic and Hebrew songs since he was young, and has become a legendary voice of the Djerban Jewish community.








Over five decades ago, in the northern Peruvian city of Cajamarca, two brothers began a spiritual journey that would reshape their own lives and those of hundreds of others. After Alvaro and Segundo Villanueva Correa read the Torah, they eventually decided to embrace Judaism, forming a community in 1958 whose members strictly observed the Sabbath and the Festivals and kept kosher.

The group, which came to be known as the “Bnei Moshe” (or Children of Moses), makes no claim of Jewish ancestry. Rather, it consists of like-minded families and individuals who found their spiritual truth in Judaism and decided out of deep sincerity to join the Jewish people. They continued to practice Judaism faithfully over several decades, expanding to the city of Trujillo as well, and growing in number to more than 500 people.  Subsequently, nearly all of the Inca Jews underwent conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and made aliyah, thanks in part to Shavei Israel.

Culminating an amazing tour to Poland, Prague and Budapest

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Our “grand finale” was a day to remember. As this note posts our group of nearly 40 are each on their way home after a truly amazing journey. But, before departing Budapest, our group divided into their choice of options. Some departed in the morning for the towns of Esztergom, Visegrad and Szentendre along the Danube Bend, about 25 miles north of Budapest. On our tour, we visit the historical Baroque towns of Szentendre, the hilltop castle ruins and town of Visegrad, and the cathedral town of Esztergom.

Some folks chose the Hungarian Spa experience. Budapest is often called the “Spa Capital” because it is the only capital city in the world with real hot springs inside the city boundaries. Spas have a long tradition in Hungary, going back to Roman times. Our package included use of thermal baths, aroma cabin, adventure pool, sauna, steam and a massage.  

We concluded the day and the entire program with our trademark farewell program and dinner..but as we weren’t quite ready to call it a trip, we culminated our farewell to Budapest with a Danube riverboat ride to view the lighted bridges, castles and even our hotel for a final treat for the senses.  

We hope you enjoyed this armchair tour of our amazing adventure in Prague and Budapest. Stay tuned for lots more in the days and weeks ahead. In just two weeks, Amazing Journeys heads off again—this time to “the land down under” Australia and New Zealand.

Budapest-Day 3

Friday, October 15th, 2010

As we head down the homestretch of our Central Europe tour, we begin our next to last full day with an opportunity to see many Budapest attractions.  Today we explored both the Buda and the Pesht side, viewing Parliament (“Look kids…Parliament!”), and the Danube River running thought the heart of Budapest.  Our morning tour concluded with a walk around Fisherman’s Bastion, overlooking Budapest and lovely Danube River bridges; the Castle and many renovated architectural gems and great examples of Art Nouveau.

This afternoon, we offered some free time to participate on some casual sightseeing excursions or to just chill out on your own. Those who still wanted more had the opportunity to visit the many museums including the mesmerizing Museum of Terror, the Fine Arts Museum or the Museum of Decorative Arts.  Or, as you can expect, many folks ventured out and shopped til they dropped in the Central Market.

Tonight we headed back to the Great Synagogue of Budapest for Shabbat Services followed by dinner at Kogart Restaurant, a “Top 10” on the lists of things to do in Budapest.  The restaurant is an elegant blend of traditional & contemporary and is located on the ground floor of one of Andrássy út’s beautiful old villas.

(photo: This is the Hungarian equivalent of our Statue of Liberty. It commemorates the “liberation” of Hungary from Germany by the Soviets)

Budapest-Day 2

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Today we delved into Jewish life in Budapest. We visited Dohany Synagogue, the second largest in the world.  The Great Synagogue is designed like a basilica and includes some striking Byzantine and Moorish elements. The interior is vast and ornate, with two balconies and, unusually, an organ. Its ark contains 25 torah scrolls taken from other synagogues destroyed during the Holocaust. The Memorial Garden contains monuments to Jews who died in the Holocaust and to non-Jews who protected their Jewish neighbors. 

We stopped at the Old Jewish Quarter with its maze of narrow streets once teeming with Jewish life in the 18th century.  This recently renovated area of Budapest is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A powerful part of our day was when we visited a lovely sculpture of a weeping willow tree where each silver leaf is engraved with the name of a Righteous Gentile who helped Jews escape during the Holocaust. This piece was given to the people of Hungary by her native son and film star, Tony Curtis (who just died only a couple weeks ago). 

Our day was culmintated this evening with a real treat at the Hungarian State Opera House–magnificent inside and outside…it is like a movie setting–to see the ballet, Romeo and Juliet. 






(Thousands of Hungarian Jews were rounded up from the Hungarian Ghetto; taken to the Danube; made to take off their clothes and shoes…and shot…falling into the river. )









(Chain Bridge across the Danube River)

Budapest-Day 1

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Today was a day in transit as we enjoyed the beautiful countryside through Slovakia on our way to Budapest via a 7-hour first class train ride. We arrived early this evening and after checking into the Sofitel Hotel  right on the Danube,  Amazing Journeys presented a surprise celebration dinner in honor of our 10th Anniversary.

Dinner was at KFC and included two pieces of original recipe, two sides and a large soft drink.

Obviously, we’re kidding. Quite the contrary; we enjoyed an amazing meal at the beautiful Hungarian specialty restaurant, Karpatia, one of the oldest restaurants in Budapest and a city landmark since 1877.  Here we dined on traditional and contemporary Hungarian fare while a spirited band of gypsy violinists played Hungarian music creating an amazingly fun and festive occasion.

Last Day in Prague

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Our last day in Prague brought a leisurely conclusion to this part of the tour to allow folks to further take in all that the past several days have brought us. We offered a casual exploration of the Old Town district through the neighborhoods and the quaint decorated houses, We strolled down Michalska Street filled with small galleries, Celetna Street, a narrow street of splendid Baroque Buildings and to Obecni Dum, the concert hall with its rich architectural details. We also topped by Havelska, the local market filled with flowers, crafts, food and other goodies—see photos.

Tonight has been planned as an evening at leisure for all to enjoy what that Prague is known for. Folks joined in on several dinner and music options…before calling it a trip-a-complis. In the morning, a 9:30 am departure from the hotel for an 11:00am train..and off to Budapest we go.