Tag: tourism

Marvelously Medieval Rothenburg, Germany

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Marvelously medieval Rothenburg

Rothenburg is probably the best place to see medieval architecture… and maybe one of the best places to see crowds of tourists as well! Admittedly there is an over-abundance of tacky souvenir shops and getting trampled by legions of tourists is not out of the question, but if you can overcome these downsides Rothenburg is a fascinating place to explore.

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Quaint, cobbled streets

Here half-timbered houses painted in bold hues compliment cute clock towers on cobblestoned streets. Fortunately, it’s an easy enough escape to slip down a side street and get away from the touristic masses and gaudy commercialism.

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The side streets are quieter

The Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Museum and Shop probably is well packaged in the category of “you either love it, or you hate it.” If sugarplums are dancing in your head at the thought of being enveloped in the wonder of Christmas in July (or June, or August… or whenever you’re there), and boisterous decor does not bother you, you may love it. If “Scrooge” is more your style, you may want to say “bah, humbug” to this attraction. It’s replete with both people and baubles, like Black Friday on Christmas themed steroids.

Feel free to stroll aimlessly, for the city is surrounded by medieval walls and no matter how far you walk you will eventually make your way to the main square again. It’s a great place to safely get lost in.

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The main square

Rothenburg is charming, colorful, and distinctly delightful, despite the crowds. It’s a great place to step back in time a reasonable day trip from Munich.

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Colorful half-timbered houses

This video will give you a tour of the town:

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A Tale of Two Fairytale Castles: Neuschwanstein and Harburg Castles, Germany

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Bavaria is dotted with a myriad of historic castles, of many different ages and styles, and many of which are a relatively convenient day trip from Munich. Undoubtedly the most famous of them all is Neuschwanstein Castle, model for the castle at Disney World one of the most instantly recognized German landmarks the world over. Neuschwanstein’s tower pokes through the clouds like a giant exclamation mark, a fitting metaphor for the amazement to be experienced here.

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Tourist Establishments Below

When you arrive, whether by train, tour bus, or car, the touristy restaurants with English menus and shops sporting tacky souvenirs at the bottom of the mountain give you a sample of what’s to come. While I knew how famous this landmark was, I was unprepared by the extent to which it’s popularity would impact my experience. But all-in-all it was worth it.

The castle is actually very high up on the side of a mountain, and you have a few options of getting close: hiking it (not recommended unless you have plenty of energy and determination – it’s further than it looks from the bottom!), or taking a bus or horse carriage, both of which come with a wait and a charge. The scenery takes you through densely forested area. You must reach the top for spectacular views of the valley unencumbered by trees and other obstacles. And the view is indeed incredible – it is understandable why this location was chosen. You emerge from a tunnel of trees to wide-open views of vast landscapes, tiny houses far below, and puffy white clouds populating brilliant baby blue skies. And soaring above it all, the magnificent Neuschwanstein tower.

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View from the Top

I shared this view with a multitude of other tourists, from all over the world. It was shoulder season, and I can only imagine how packed the entrance to the castle is in peak season. Guided tour is the only way to “explore” the castle – if you can call it that. It’s not really the way I like to explore a place – free reign is by far my favorite way to go. But that was not the most disappointing aspect of my visit – I quickly realized why the tours were guided. I discovered that cameras, photography, and filming of any kind whatsoever are not allowed in the castle – and security guards are constantly spying on you to assure compliance. Being herded through the rooms at the guide’s pace (who is trying to make time for as many groups that day as possible – with a LOT of people waiting), not being able to capture the experience with my camera, and being routed through not one but two gift shops, made the experience feel like a trip through a glorified theme park. But despite this, I was enthralled by the little time I was able to spend in the lavish rooms, and the breathtaking exterior of the castle alone was worth a visit at least once, although I doubt I’d brave the crowds again.

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Colorized Photo from 1886 (Public Domain) of the Bedroom

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Colorized Photo from 1886 of the Byzantine-Inspired Throne Room

Despite being forbidden from taking photos, I didn’t want to leave you hanging without a visual taste of the interior. Fortunately, there are photos available old enough to qualify for public domain that I can share with you. I was particularly impressed with the astonishing Throne Room. As a scholar of ancient Roman art, I really appreciated the authentically inspired rendition of the brilliant Byzantine art style here, from the arches and columns, to the clerestory, to the gilded walls depicting spiritual scenes. It is no wonder this art has continued to be so cherished and emulated throughout history.

The concept of a museum denying visitors the right to photograph and film is one I find acutely disturbing – but that is an issue for another post. Ultimately, it was a tremendous hassle to visit Neuschwanstein, between the exhaustive regulations and thick crowds of tourists. But none of these drawbacks can diminish the beauty of the building and how moved I was to finally be able to witness it first hand. If you have the chance, I’d say go, and make the most of it.

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Harburg Castle Exterior

Harburg Castle stands in stark contrast to Neuschwanstein. Here you are also required to embark on a guided tour, but the atmosphere is far more relaxed and welcoming. I only encountered one room I was not allowed to photograph, and was not only free, but encouraged, to film and take photos to my heart’s content during the rest of the tour. There was no rushed feeling, and I felt more like I was exploring the place than being shuffled through it.

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Entering Harburg – a Much Warmer Welcome

I did not feel the suffocating burden of massive crowds of tourists. Harburg is much older, and many would argue not nearly as spectacular as Neuschwanstein with its more modest decor. But Harburg provided a more intimate, genuine experience that I felt offered a welcome balance to my visit to the tourist and commercialism overwhelmed Neuschwanstein.

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Harburg’s More Modest Interior Decor

I filmed a video tour of the castles (in the case of Neuschwanstein, the best I could!) you can view here!:

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Munich, Germany: From Biergarten to Baroque Bliss in Bavaria!

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Taking Bavaria’s Pulse in the Heart of Munich: Marienplatz

After the destruction suffered in World War II, Germany’s cities were faced with the decision of whether to revive their historic treasures or go for a completely clean canvas and thoroughly modernize. Munich chose the former, and exquisitely captured the essence of historic Munich. The current adaptation of the Neo-Gothic “New Town Hall” in Marienplatz (shown above) was only completely finished in the 1990s, though compared to other structures much of the original remained intact after World War II. It was restored and improved over the course of many years.

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St. Peter’s Church, Munich’s Oldest

Luckily, Munich’s oldest church, also located at Marienplatz: St. Peter’s, is in magnificent condition. Here, bold, brilliant colors envelop you in a masterpiece of baroque wonder. Sheltered from the bustling activity outside, the silence of the church encourages you to expend all of your energies into one sense, your eyes, so that the magnificent splendor surrounding you does not overwhelm.

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Viktualienmarkt

Viktualienmarkt, just steps away from Marienplatz, is a down-to-earth place to observe Germans carrying out everyday activities – shopping at the farmers’ market, checking in with the butcher and bread-baker, and indulging in a notoriously German favorite activity – socializing at the Biergarten. If you want to see Munich from a local point-of-view, Viktualienmarkt is a great place to visit!

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Hofbrauhuas – Blatantly Touristy Fun

Prefer a more touristy perspective on the traditional Biergarten? Hofbrauhaus is a rambunctiously exaggerated version forged with the tourist in mind. Here you’ll find large crowds of tourists in a boisterous atmosphere, and, if you come at the right time, a band of merry Germans in lederhosen enthusiastically playing an assortment of raucous instruments! Not entirely authentic, perhaps, but undoubtedly loads of fun!

Olympic Tower offers a great observatory from which you can view not only Olympic Village and the sporting venues, but the city skyline and the Bavaria beyond. It’s satisfyingly comprehensive to be able to get a birds-eye overview of a place to complement seeing it up-close and personal, so I always do so when possible.

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Italian Renaissance Inspired Odeonsplatz

Munich has many attractive squares worth a visit once you’ve experienced Marienplatz. Odeonsplatz, shown above, is one such place. With Italian style renaissance influences, artwork-adorned colonnade, and neighboring rose-dotted English Garden, Odeonsplatz is a great location for a leisurely stroll.

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Nymphenburg Palace Exterior at Sunset

Arguably, the most extraordinary sights in Munich are the illustrious palaces of the House of Wittelsbach: Nymphenburg – the summer residence, and Residenz – the Wittelsbach family’s city home. In an ongoing effort to “keep up with the Habsburgs” of Austria, no expense – or imagination – was spared in devising the grandest, most elaborate and ornate baroque utopias possible. Dripping in gold leaf and endowed throughout with masterfully painted scenes exploding with vibrant color, the interiors of these palaces provided some of the most spectacular and breathtaking eye-candy I have ever seen.

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Awe-Inspiring Main Hall, Nymphenburg Palace

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An Explosion of Color Greets You in the Foyer (Roof)

Not far from city center (and easily accessible by double-decker bus), Nymphenburg Palace can induce a dream-like state of euphoria with its spectacular beauty. I was mesmerized by opulence of my surroundings.

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The Residenz – Very Deceptive Exterior!

Back in the city, the exterior architecture of the Residenz- very simple and unembellished, is extremely deceiving – perhaps an attempt at creating an even greater sense of shock and awe in the visitor once they “unwrap” the nondescript package to find an experience of wondrous bliss hidden within.

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The Gilded Bliss of the Residenz

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Mirros Amplifying the Abundance of Gold

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When Gold’s Not Enough – Crystal Chandeliers and Masterpieces of Fine Art

Here in this imagination-defying paradise, there’s no trace of the everyday life of modern Munich right outside its doors. It’s hard not to soak in the atmosphere and imagine what it would be like if you lived in this sanctuary, crown adorning your head, unicorn in the stables… Ok, not that last one… but I think you get what I’m trying to say… The modern everyday German of the Viktualienmarkt seems a million miles away from here.

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Twin Towers of Church of Our Lady, Marienplatz

After being spoiled silly by the scenery of Munich itself, you can indulge yourself even further with outstanding day-trip options from your Munich home base. I did so by visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, the most famous in all of Germany, and Rothenburg-am-Tauber, Germany’s most well-preserved medieval town. Join me next week to embark on this adventure! I filmed a vlog of my exploration in Munich you can view here!:

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Eden Hotel Wolff – an Authentic German Experience in Munich

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Eden Hotel Wolff, Lobby

Staying at the Eden Hotel Wolff in Munich, Germany turned out to be one of the most pleasant, authentic-yet-comfortable experiences I have ever had staying at a hotel in a foreign country.

It all started with arrival in Munich, after several exhausting hours on an airplane from the United States. Even for the most seasoned of travelers, it can be an intimidating experience arriving in a foreign country tired and not sure how to navigate your way around. After taking some time to relax, decompress, and soak in the local atmosphere at the airport, I pursued a strategy to get into town. The Germans are very efficient with transportation, so it was no surprise to find that there is a commuter train that runs direct from the airport into Central Station, downtown Munich, for a few Euros.

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Eden Hotel Wolff, exterior

Imagine my delight, when, weary, jet-lagged, and exasperated, I discovered the Eden Hotel Wolff directly across the street from Central Station! It looked like paradise with the condition I was in. Without having to exhaust myself with any more searching, or walking, I was there! My home for the next four nights.

It was clear upon entering the lobby that this was no run-of-the-mill chain place. It was unique, and had an old-world charm about it while still offering completely modern comfort. I was dazzled by crystal chandeliers, marble trim, painted ceilings, and an acutely courteous staff who were happy to patiently indulge my broken German (because I wanted to practice, not because they didn’t speak English!) When I had trouble with the European outlet converter I had brought, they even were kind enough to offer a loaner.

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My room at the Eden Hotel Wolff

Passing through stairwells and corridors adorned with fine art and fresh bouquets of flowers bursting with color (and, yes, a working elevator!) I made it “home” to my room. And it was unlike any hotel room I’ve ever stayed in before. It had wooden floors, wood panels all along the walls, wooden cabinets… it had a very earthy, rustic-yet-modern feel to it, and all that wood gave off a pleasant aroma. It was like setting up a bed and tv in a fancy sauna and turning off the heat! Meanwhile, in the bathroom I was surrounded by luxurious marble walls and intoxicatingly-scented amenities on the sink that I couldn’t wait to pamper myself with…. after SLEEP!

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Another view of the room

I slept for the rest of the day, and woke up in the evening long enough for a walk in the immediate area. I marveled at the neon lights and harmony of German-speaking voices, traffic horns, and trolley cars. I grabbed some grub at the train station steps away [many inexpensive restaurants to choose from there, including a McDonald’s curiously serving camembert cheese filled donuts and other delicious oddities (!)]. I then returned to the room to observe some soccer delivered by animated German announcers. I’m not ordinarily a soccer fan, but I’m a diehard professional sports fan, so this felt like a good way to start experiencing the culture when I still felt too worn out to do anything else but prepare for a long day the following day.

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Eden Hotel Wolff’s restaurant

In the morning I was spoiled absolutely silly to an incredible complimentary breakfast spread in the hotel’s restaurant. Every day I was treated to a dizzying selection of German specialties for breakfast, like fresh Muesli, varying types of local sausages, cold cuts, and cheeses, a mouth-watering assortment of carefully carved fresh fruit, delectable pastries, and even tantalizingly salty fresh pretzels! And so much more. I grabbed a free newspaper (which were available in multiple languages) and filled up for a day of energetic and ambitious sightseeing. This seems to be quite normal in Germany, to expect an extravagant complimentary breakfast.

The sightseeing… is for an upcoming blog because there is WAY to much to try to say here about this fascinating city of Munich or the day trips I embarked on from there. And I’m not done gushing about this unforgettable hotel experience!

Back in the evening, winded and famished from actively exploring all day, I decided to give the hotel’s restaurant a try, especially noticing they offered one of my favorite, authentic local dishes: Wienerschnitzel.

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Wienerschnitzel with Cranberry Sauce, German Potatoes, and Russ (beer with lemon soda)

The Russ (beer mixed with lemon soda) was extremely refreshing after the long hot day, and quite delicious. I wish it was more widely available outside of Germany! The Wienerschnitzel was cooked to utter perfection and fork tender. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more like royalty after this amazing feast, I noticed Kaiserschmarrn on the menu – or “Emperor’s Eggs,” a ridiculously rich indulgence of egg-heavy pancake strips sweetened with powdered sugar and dotted with exotic fruits. I hadn’t tried the likes of it since a trip to Vienna at the age of twelve, and nostalgia prevailed: I had to experience it again. I enjoyed it a lot more this time around, because I’ve developed a much greater sense of open-mindedness about foreign cuisine than I could admit to having at twelve… But this is not your everyday kind of dessert – I think I’ll let nostalgia set in again for a while before I tackle this extravaganza of richness again! It is one of the heaviest, most luscious desert dishes you could ever consume – fit for a king apparently!

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View from the other end of Eden Hotel Wolff’s restaurant

I enjoyed the beautiful wood paneled walls and ceilings, chandeliers, and statuettes and artwork on the walls of the restaurant almost as much as the dinner. This dinner was a wonderful extension of my day of sightseeing in Germany, a very authentic experience from the atmosphere to the cuisine.

Eden Hotel Wolff provided a very authentic German experience that made my stay in Munich all that much more meaningful and enjoyable. And what an amazing bonus it was that I was steps away from Central Station and the double decker buses, and minutes away from the spectacular hub of German architecture and culture that is Marienplatz. Being a travel blogger, I like to try a lot of different hotels. But when I return to Munich, I doubt I will be able to resist another stay at Eden Hotel Wolff!

I filmed a video tour – see it for yourself here!:

 

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Coming up next, more from Germany including Munich, Rothenburg, Bavarian Castles, Hamburg, Berlin, and a Baltic Sea cruise out of Copenhagen, Denmark!

 

Graffiti Critique: Staining Europe’s Beautiful Landscape

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“Good” graffiti on the Berlin Wall

There is “good” graffiti and “bad” graffiti. But most of it is bad, and the problem is rampant in Europe these days! I thought the U.S. had a graffitti problem… until I returned to Europe after a long hiatus – and found it virtually unrecognizable. In the U.S., you see graffitti mostly on abandoned and condemned buildings on the outskirts, in decaying neighborhoods, and around subway and bus terminals in some, not all, cities. Across Europe, it seems, these hoodlums are happy to leave their mark anywhere and everywhere – including around historic sights, tourist neighborhoods, and the formerly pristine countryside.

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“Bad” graffiti across the river from the tourist-mobbed Berlin Wall

As an Art History major in college, most graffiti really offends my sense of aesthetic sensibility. I can’t believe there’s actually a raging debate about whether it’s o.k. because “it’s freedom of expression!” and “it’s art!” If you buy a building and spray paint it until your heart’s content, or you paint where it is allowed, that qualifies as self-expression and may even qualify you as an artist. But when you deface property that is not your own and without permission, you are a criminal, not an artist. And, frankly, even if it were art, that still wouldn’t give you the right to alter another’s property without permission! Yet there are a number of articles on the internet suggesting this is actually a debatable topic.

Another “argument” given by some is that the practice of grafitti is ancient, and that there is ancient grafitti which is considered art to us today. As a student of Art History, I agree that due to its historic value and cultural insight, ancient “graffiti” certainly is art. But we do not live in Ancient Rome today, and we were not there, as much as we may have studied and know about Ancient history. Their culture was different – and their laws. Just because something was acceptable then does not automatically make it acceptable now. That goes for grafitti, slavery, a lower status for women, and butchering animals in the arena. I’m fascinated by Ancient Rome, but Roman society has its place in Ancient history. Would these same people who argue grafitti is ok now because it was ok then say the same of these other activities? Their argument is deeply flawed.

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“Bad” graffiti steps away from Kronborg Castle deep in Copenhagen’s tourist district

I wonder why the graffitti isn’t removed and I ponder whether, perhaps, the problem is so rampant that building and other property owners have just given up. I wonder how many times they removed the offending marks just to have them turn up again?

I believe there IS a place for graffitti, and I believe it can be art. There are locations where the spray painting has been allowed – in confined areas where it is not imposing on another’s personal property, or on a person’s appropriate use of property (such as when grafitti “artists” paint over train windows obstructing the view of customers who paid 4.50 Euros for reserved window seats…!) The Berlin Wall is an ideal (and rare) example of the positive impact graffiti can have on a structure.

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Graffiti as art on the Berlin Wall

In the U.S., unless a building is abandoned, in many cases an owner will expeditiously remove unwelcome graffiti. It sends a message that this behavior is not tolerated. In Europe, I fear that by not responding, the opposite message is being sent, potentially making the problem even more rampant. Europe is already buried under the weight of the blanket of graffiti everywhere you look.

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Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial’s gray blocks – covered in anti-graffiti coating

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin shows that on some large-scale projects, efforts are being taken to deter the graffiti scourge. The memorial is covered in anti-graffiti coating, and the gray color resists shadowing. I hope other civil engineering projects in Europe will follow suit with this defense against the graffiti that threatens the integrity of our treasured monuments.

I understand that property owners may be concerned the graffiti will just come back, and are hesitant to spend the money for removal for that reason. That is why the government needs to step in and make penalties far more severe for the defacement of private property. Perhaps then owners would be more inclined to respond, and “taggers” would be less inclined to repeat their bad behavior.

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How do you feel about the graffiti covering the landscape of Europe? Comment below!

 

Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos by HXT Electric Hummer – an electrifying experience!

 

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HXT Electric Hummers

The first stop for week two on my back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore was Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos. Grand Turk is an outstanding cruise destination and one I would gladly re-visit time and time again. Not only are the excursions I have taken here some of the best I’ve ever taken, but back at port there is a breathtaking public beach (with free lounge chairs and umbrellas) with the most crystal clear waters and spectacular views I have ever seen on a beach anywhere! Hedonists rejoice!

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Views of the beach and salt flats of Grand Turk

As you wander through the playful port, you realize quickly that John Glenn is highly honored here. Consistent with my tour guide’s proclamation that “John Glenn put us on the map!” there is an exhibit at port highlighting Glenn’s significant contribution to the island. The exhibit includes a life-size statue of Glenn and replicas of the Atlas rocket and Friendship 7 capsule (which landed here in the waters a couple of miles from Grand Turk in 1962 after completing the Mercury 7 mission – you can see the original nearby, one of the stops our Hummer tour made.) If you can pull yourself away from the incredible beaches, it’s worth a look!

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John Glenn exhibit, port of Grand Turk

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Beautiful beaches at the Port, Grand Turk

It was daunting facing driving on the “wrong” side of the road (yes, they do that here!) in the electric Hummer, but once I gave it a try, just following the guide and hearing the frequent reminders to “stay on the left!” after every turn, it was no problem at all. I think anyone could handle it with no issues. Perhaps in a big city it would be more overwhelming – but here it was easy with very little traffic. The Hummers are convertible, allowing the warmth of the sun and light breeze of the wind to wash over you while you enjoy quite a comprehensive tour of the island. The Hummers are an absolute blast to drive, and being fully automatic they are easy to drive too, allowing you to focus on the amazing views.

The tour was very intimate and personalized, with my son and I in one Hummer, and only one couple in one other Hummer on the tour. Apparently not a lot of people booked it – and boy were they missing out! We made a few stops where the guide offered us more information about the island, including a wildlife sanctuary, a salt flats, the “downtown,” (shown above… very peaceful and relaxed!), and the original Friendship 7 capsule I mentioned above. You can see more on these stops in the video posted below. The stops were informative and fun… but to be honest I couldn’t wait to get back in the Hummer!!

I was disappointed when the tour had to come to an end, but having a beach break to look forward to before curfew on the ship made leaving my trusty hummer behind more tolerable!

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Beach bliss

Want to see more? I filmed the tour and you can watch it here!:

I am thrilled to report that I upgraded my filming equipment for these videos – however, this trip was filmed before then. I will be posting soon on my trip to Europe where you will see the difference! Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to further satisfy your travel fix!: Heather Anne’s Ultimate Travel Adventures.

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Next stop next week: Princess Cays, Bahamas, which was stop two of week two of the cruise! Thanks for joining in on the adventure!

Holiday Inn Express Baltimore Cruise Package: Tour and Review!

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Holiday Inn Express, Baltimore Hotel Room

Welcome to the first installment of my series on April’s back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore, Maryland!

Parking is always an important consideration when you are road-tripping to your cruise port. The ports charge a premium for parking that can really add up depending on the length of your cruise. In many cities, there are lower-cost parking alternatives with free shuttle service to the port. These options are very limited in Baltimore, making the cruise package with Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street a good option. I was driving from Virginia and didn’t need an overnight stay, but it turned out the hotel night plus parking only cost a negligible amount more than if I had parked only at the port for the back-to-back cruise. So I planned on staying the night before to relax and have a stress free transfer to the ship on cruise day!

Pros:

  • Convenient round-trip shuttle transfer to the cruise port included
  • Free parking for up to 8 days, and discounted extra days if needed
  • Comfortable hotel room in a great location next to Horseshoe Baltimore Casino
  • Breakfast included (although it was underwhelming, and available to everyone)

Cons:

  • Fairly expensive when I reserved (although your results may vary, and it was a better value than just parking)

I appreciated the ability to get my drive out of the way the day before, even though I could have fairly easily made the trip the morning of the cruise. There was no rushing to get ready and get on the road in the morning. Instead, I woke and had breakfast at my leisure before boarding the shuttle. And the night before was enjoyable and relaxing. I had a great dinner steps away at Guy Fieri’s Bar-b-que Joint at Horseshoe, followed by trying my luck on the casino floor. Horseshoe Baltimore is a Total Rewards casino with a large assortment of table and machine games, a lively poker room, and several restaurants. After the fun and exciting nightlife, I was ready for a good night’s sleep on the comfortable bed in my room to prepare for the full day of cruising ahead!

I recommend the cruise package at Holiday Inn Express Baltimore. Considering the cost of parking alone, I found it to be a very worthwhile value, and enjoyed my stay.

My YouTube video on the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore cruise package is now live!:

 

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Next week: a review of the Carnival Pride cruise ship!

Travel MORE, and for LESS!

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At the Airport

How do you travel more for less?

You CAN travel more for less! So with all the expenses involved in planning a trip, how is that possible? I am frequently asked how I’ve managed to make travel such a consistent part of my day-to-day life. Therefore, I wanted to provide some tips for ways I have been able to accomplish this. Some sacrifices and compromises are necessary, and may not be for everyone. But I for one think they are well worth it! This is a long post – and that’s good news! It means there’s a lot of ways to save money on travel!

Time and Money

It really comes down to two obstacles: time and money. Often, people have plenty of one and not the other. Maybe you are retired or between jobs and have plenty of time, but money’s tight. Or maybe you have a very demanding job which pays you well but doesn’t allow you the time to enjoy it. Unfortunately, if you want to live a more nomadic lifestyle, it will probably require some compromises. You may need to wait until any children are older. Or it could mean swapping jobs for one that allows more flexible scheduling. And it may mean passing on the big house, new car, and other luxury expenses to put money away for travel. But there are some easier solutions that may not turn you into a nomad overnight but could help you move in that direction.

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Tokyo, Japan Skyline

Time: Friend or Foe?

First, I’ll address the time issue. Life is short, and it’s up to us to make the most of that valuable, and all-too-limited commodity.  While that bigger paycheck is tempting, and could certainly help with travel, what good is it if it takes workaholic gymnastics to earn it and you don’t have time to enjoy it? There aren’t enough flex-time jobs out there – but they are out there. Jobs that allow telecommuting and/or setting your own schedule (like working monster hours the week before and after the trip so you can miss a week, or job sharing so you can take “turns”) are ideal for the aspiring nomad. If you are satisfied with your career and this is not an option for you, there are other ways to incorporate travel into your life in a bigger way.

Take an Inventory of your Schedule

Take a look at what days you do have off. How many of those weekends or long weekends could be spent elsewhere? Think outside the box. Travel comes in many forms: long and short, close and far. And the world is more connected than ever. But what about all of those chores and errands you do over the weekend? Here’s where the compromise comes in. It may mean harder work the rest of the week – the job and all of these other things. That’s one way to free up your weekend, or week if you work flex-time. (I can tell you first hand it’s worth the effort!) Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

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At the Train Station

Money matters

As for the money issue – there are a number of ways to do more and save money doing it. Some of my favorite ways to travel that save money are:

Road trips.

Road trips force you to stay overnight on the way to your final destination (depending on distance), allowing you to see MORE, and that’s the idea. Not only is it cheaper than other ground transportation, it allows you more freedom. And compared with air travel it might cost you more depending on how many hotels you book along the way… BUT when you compare apples to apples – if you flew to all of those places you will be stopping at which one would have cost you more? And, obviously, the more people you are traveling with the greater the savings, since there are no individual tickets to buy! You may find some amazing surprises and hidden gems in places you never expected traveling this way.

Cruises.

Like long road trips, cruises allow you to visit multiple destinations. The difference? You have a floating “hotel” room throughout the trip. (No schlepping luggage once on board!) Many things are included, like meals and entertainment. And as for anything else, you can pre-pay practically everything now, which helps with eliminating the financial anxiety of unexpected expenses during travel. I don’t know about you, but that has been a concern of mine. I have found cruises to be an excellent value offering great peace of mind. Just don’t go “overboard” (pun intended!) on your spending on non-included shopping and other optional luxuries on the ship!

Road trip to cruise port, then cruise!

For the same reasons noted above! If your cruise port isn’t close by, consider road-tripping it!

Parking discounts.

If you need to park and fly or park and cruise, research your options. The airports and cruise ports charge a premium for parking. I usually use Way Parking for cheap and reliable airport and cruise port parking. They have a great app where I have my receipt and everything else I need in a convenient, digital format. And my car is always locked up safe and secure. Some hotels also offer cruise packages that provide parking. Google “hotel cruise package” and your port city for those.

Travel re-imagined

Don’t underestimate the value of more “local” travel. If you can’t afford a major trip, or your time is severely limited, see what your home city or state/province has to offer, or a neighboring one. You might be surprised what was in your backyard that you never knew about!

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Pictured Rocks, Munising, Michigan

Financial planning to facilitate travel

Here are some of my favorite ways to facilitate saving for travel:

Eliminate debt.

Debt imprisons you. It forces you to work more hours to cover the bills (including interest), leaving you less time to travel, devours more of your paycheck (and, in some cases, most of your paycheck!), and cripples your ability to save for more travel. Sure, it’s nice to have a bigger house, newer car, and all of that cool stuff you can buy with credit cards. But the price is too high if travel is a priority for you. If you can (it may take time) pay those cards down to zero and save them for travel emergencies. Or get travel reward cards to use for groceries, utilities, and gas that you have to pay for anyway and pay them off every single month. Big mortgages and car payments not only hinder your ability to travel, but put you at risk. So make more modest choices if you can. If a financial emergency comes up, and your home or transportation to work are at risk, travel will be the least of your concerns.

More frugal lifestyle

This may seem obvious, but people don’t often implement it. Be more minimalist at home and save that money for travel. This is related to eliminating debt too. Smaller home, older car, going out less often at home… I have found that a smaller home has the added benefit of being more low-maintenance, which is more consistent with a nomadic lifestyle. Of course, with children you may need to wait to downsize these things. Look at your monthly bills and see if there is anything you wouldn’t miss. For example, I prefer video games at home to regular movie nights out. I can get unlimited (fun!) use out of that video game for the cost of a handful of one-time movie theater tickets. And I would rather go out to restaurants when I’m traveling than when I’m at home.

Location, location, location…

Location over size in housing. I would rather have a smaller place closer to many destinations I’d like to visit than a bigger or more elaborate place that is more isolated. If you are in the market for a new place, are your “local” travel options abundant or scarce? This is even more important if your time is limited. I’ll be saving by getting a small condo… and increasing my travel options by purchasing in Florida (more to come on that in future blog posts!)

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Money around the World

DISCOUNTED travel! Don’t pay full price, ever!

Here are my favorite ways to get DISCOUNTED travel!:

Founder’s Card

Founders Card. This is NOT a credit card. This has been the number one most significant way I have been able to save on travel for the past several years. It is a selective program that requires application, but if you can get approved the value is endless. (Entrepreneurs and executives have the highest rate of acceptance). With this membership, I have annually been promoted to Total Rewards Diamond tier level, Hilton Honors Gold, and much more. You can also get instant tier level upgrades on car rentals and airlines, as well as discounts on many other travel and lifestyle products and services. To give you an idea on how much I save with this card, I’ll use Total Rewards Diamond as the first example. It takes 15,000 tier points to earn Diamond the “hard” way. How much casino play is that? One point for every $5 on slots and every $10 on video poker. Tables are variable, but it’s not any easier. The math is pretty clear here. The Total Rewards benefit alone pays for Founders Card several times over.

You also get a $100 celebration dinner yearly, free valet, no resort fees, 20% discount on Norwegian cruises, and skipping all of the lines on Total Rewards Properties (skipping lines=priceless!) Another example: Hilton Honors Gold. This one requires 20 stays or 40 nights in one year at Hilton properties. But with no stays, I was received the welcome gifts, free upgrades, and free $15 breakfasts at Hilton Garden Inn properties. So if I had to name the one thing that allowed me to save the most on travel, it would be Founder’s Card. To apply to join Founders Card, or get more information, visit Founders Card.

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Founder’s Card Website

AAA (American Automobile Association) Membership

AAA Membership. AAA has a membership fee, but is well worth the cost. My favorite thing about AAA is that I can get AAA discounts while still booking directly through my favorite hotel brand websites. It means I will earn rewards for my stay, while still getting the discount. Hotel websites like Hilton and Marriott have a “special rate” option with AAA listed. If I were to book through a travel website for a discount, like Expedia, I would not get credited through the hotel brand’s rewards program. An added bonus with AAA is that I can also save on emergency road service (great peace of mind for long road trips), car repairs, and get free maps and other goodies. I have found AAA well worth it, and been a member for over two decades! AAA has a reciprocity agreement with CAA in Canada, so whether you’re in the US or Canada, road service is covered!

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AAA Website

Costco Travel

Costco Travel. Like AAA, use of this site requires membership. I consider the travel discounts, along with other benefits of the card (discounts on gas, groceries, and more), worth it. Car rental rates and theme park packages are especially good on this site. Perks are often offered with cruise bookings, like on-board credits.

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Costco Website

Cruise Line Websites

It’s often worth checking cruise line websites directly. A google search will get you to your desired cruise line’s website quickly. Many of the major cruise lines run promotions frequently. For example, the “Free at Sea” promotion through Norwegian is (at least as of this writing), very commonly found on their site. It’s an outstanding offer that lets you choose from several coveted freebies. Best of all – even if you have a cruise voucher from a casino and aren’t paying for the cruise you’re still eligible for the promotions on NCL (your results may vary here depending on cruise line.) I like to compare offers on the different cruise lines when I’m ready to book. You may still want to check one of the other resources listed here too for comparison. I’ve found that the best deals of the year on these sites can be found around Black Friday.

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Norwegian Cruise Line Website

Hotel Reward Programs

Google your hotel brand for the link to the rewards site where you can sign up for free. The perks you receive are based on your tier level, which increases depending on the number of stays you have purchased (or not, if you have Founders Card!) The “basic” level, at zero stays, usually has limited perks but will usually give you something, like free internet. As you increase in tier level you will start to see perks like free gifts at check in, free upgrades, premium internet, and free premium breakfasts. And if you’re a member with the hotel’s rewards program, they will often “price match” third party websites like Expedia.

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Marriott Website

Online Third-Party Sites

Kayak, Viator, Expedia, and other online travel sites for air travel and activities. As I previously mentioned, I don’t like these sites for hotel reservations because I cannot earn rewards through my loyalty programs. However, I have booked flights this way and still earned loyalty rewards from the airline. (Your results may vary depending on airline.) Since I’ve found that flight costs vary a lot more from airline to airline, and different airlines fly different routes, I don’t necessarily want to stay “brand loyal” when it comes to flights. The ease of use on these sites is a plus too, especially if you need to book complicated open-jaw or multiple destination trips. Bear in mind you may need to make your seat reservation through the airline’s website or customer service number. Tourist attraction and activity tickets can also be a good value on these sites. I prefer Kayak for airline tickets; I usually find the lowest prices there. And I prefer Viator and Expedia for things to do, because they offer the best selection.

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Kayak Website

Travel Insurance

BE CAREFUL with travel insurance. Some travel insurance offers are deceptively limited. Many of them won’t pay except in EXTREME cases, particularly in the case of flights (read: documented death in immediate family or severe personal illness and nothing else!) Don’t expect them to necessarily pay because your transfer form of transportation didn’t arrive in time, work won’t let you go after all, or you made a mistake. If you need comprehensive coverage, read the fine print!

Organized tours and passes.

I often take advantage of tours to save me both hassle and money. My transportation is efficient, reliable, and covered. And the cost of all of the attractions are combined, usually at a cheaper expense than if I’d visited each one independently. Same goes for city passes, which often include things like double decker bus tours and water taxis that cover my transportation. My favorite companies, both of which I’ve had great experiences with, are Viator and CityPASS. Tours and passes are available in single-day and multi-day varieties. Best of all with these passes, you can usually skip the lines!

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New York Pass Website

Coupons

Groupon. This site offers a number of travel options, but where it really shines is with attraction and entertainment tickets. You can often find cheap attraction tickets to theme parks and other tourist sites. And Groupon is also a great place to find discounted professional sports tickets and concert tickets. Inventory changes frequently, so if you don’t find what you were looking for you may want to check back at a later time.

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Groupon Website

Casino Players Clubs

My favorite way to cruise: with a FREE cruise voucher from a land-based casino where I had a free room and meal to go pick it up! Do you have to play? Yes. Do you have to be a high roller? NO! You just have to play smart. This means while you don’t need to be a high roller, you do need to be aware of something called your “ADT” or “average daily theoretical.” You aren’t rewarded on your total play, but how much you play on an average day you’re there. So, you should go less often and play more, not go often and play less. DO NOT use your players card for comps or to check your balance at the kiosk if you’re not playing much: it triggers a “trip” and hurts your ADT. If you play the way that maximizes your ADT, the better rewards you can get, including cruise vouchers, free rooms, and meals. I’m partial to Total Rewards because of the Diamond upgrade I get from Founders Card and the huge number of locations to choose from.

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Caesar’s Total Rewards Website

Delta Skymiles

Delta Skymiles Vacations and Cruises. I want to thank Mr Traveler on YouTube for this suggestion which I was not previously aware of. Delta is offering sweet perks for booking with them on travel arrangements besides air travel, and, as an added bonus, they will reward you miles in their Skymiles program for booking all kinds of travel with them. I’ve received great customer service from Delta in the past, and it’s definitely one of my favorite airlines.

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Delta Sky Miles Website

Demographic-specific discounts

Other groups that are often eligible for discounts include AARP members, members of the military (active and retired), students, and senior citizens. Always bring your ID cards (college ID, military ID, etc.) when you travel! These discounts are often available at attractions and are sometimes available on hotel rooms and transportation. For example, I typically save huge at museums with my student ID, such as a full year membership at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for $10!

If you have children…

If you have children, things are more challenging. I waited until my children were older to ramp up my travel ambitions. But here are some tips:

  1. Road Trips! With no individual tickets to buy, this is the cheapest way to travel with a larger group. Just remember – children are less patient with car rides. Plan frequent stops.
  2. Camping Trips. Camping is cheap, doesn’t charge by the person, and offers a lot of high-energy activities that are great for kids like hiking and swimming. (As long as the adults can tolerate “roughing” it!)
  3. Amusement Parks. Kids love amusement parks, and often you can find great deals on sites like Groupon. Sometimes you can find “rain check” tickets on Ebay too.
  4. Group Lodging. Some hotels charge a surcharge for extra people in the room. And most hotels have limits on how many people can sleep in the room, so it may not even be an option with a larger family. Rental cabins are a good solution.

Final thoughts…

Keep in mind, not all of these websites that offer discounts on multiple providers will offer every provider, so shop around. (For example, no Southwest Airlines on Expedia.) Finally, I have one more suggestion. A trip is only a good value if you have a positive experience! That’s why I often refer to Tripadvisor for reviews of hotels, restaurants, destinations, and more! Planning and researching ahead is critical to budget, and high value, travel!

Your turn to travel more for less!

I hope this post helps you save some money – and time – in your future travel ambitions! Next week: my series on my back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride will begin. I hope you will come along!

For more destinations, travel tips, and hotel and cruise ship tours, check out my YouTube channel!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

And for a great budget travel transportation option, check out my blog post on Greyhound Bus travel tips!:

Greyhound Bus Travel Tips!

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Harvest Caye, Belize: Port, and Excursion (More Wildlife “Bore” than Wildlife “Tour”!)

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The Grand Finale port of the Norwegian Dawn’s Western Caribbean cruise was Harvest Caye, Belize. I was amazed by the size of the port and number of amenities available. There are multiple huge beaches with an ample source of brightly hued blue and yellow lounge chairs and umbrellas, a gigantic pool with swim-up bar, the usual (only more of it!) shopping and restaurants, and a number of adventure sporting activities including parasailing and zip-lining.

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We enjoyed a local percussion band while we awaited our excursion. Sold by the description indicating there would be manatees to see on this wildlife tour, I was eagerly awaiting our departure. We boarded a small boat that sailed into an area called the “mangroves,” a kind of coastal swamp with trees forming bundles of dense, tangled roots. Apparently this setting is favored by much of the native wildlife, including manatees.

 

We saw several different varieties of birds, and some creepy jellyfish, but I did not see a manatee. A few poked their noses out of the water – and otherwise stayed submerged. I know – a wildlife tour is no “guarantee” that you’re going to see wildlife… but it’s still disappointing, especially when the brochure shows the full body of a manatee as an enticement… It did not seem as though they liked coming up out of the water. All in all, it ended up being the least enjoyable cruise excursion I’ve ever been on. I think I will probably avoid these wildlife tours in the future, because of the potential for this problem. When you’ve only got a limited amount of time in a place, like at a cruise port, you want to make the most of it and not risk a bust. This was supposed to be a wildlife “tour,” but it turned out to be more of a wildlife “bore.” The only manatee I saw was the carved wooden one outside of the entrance to the tour.

 

That said, I still ended up having an amazing time, because the port had a lot to offer and I had time when we returned to enjoy it (though, regrettably, we did not spend a full day in Belize.) I immediately headed for the beach to soak in the incredible view of palm trees blowing in the wind, a beautiful lighthouse in the distance, people playing volleyball on the beach, and zip-liners and parasailers zooming, and floating, by above. It was a gorgeous day basking in the sun, and listening to the crystal clear water splashing up onto the beach.

 

Like many cruise ports, the shops here were touristy and pricey… but still fun to explore (especially the free tastings at the chocolate and rum shops…) The chocolate was out of this world – especially the chili and coffee flavored varieties. Enough so that I was determined to take my chances and try to make it back to the ship with some, through the 80s degree heat, hoping it wouldn’t melt before I could get back!

Harvest Caye was definitely worth future visits – but next time with a different kind of excursion. In the meantime, I hope they introduce a jaguar preserve excursion, which I was hoping to find this time but no such luck! (I’m sure the other cat lovers out there will completely get behind this request!)

Here’s the YouTube video from my channel covering this port!:

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Roatan, Honduras: Dolphin Encounter & Port Tour 2018!

Roatan, Honduras was the third port stop on our Norwegian Dawn Western Caribbean cruise. There are multiple ports on Roatan, and this one appeared to be Norwegian-specific. It was a very small port with expensive shopping, restaurants… and excursions. And I would definitely go out on a limb and say definitely plan an excursion of some kind if you are docking here. The port can be seen entirely, at a leisurely pace, in about a half hour. Of course, there’s always the option of just sitting, soaking in the sun, listening to the musicians, or people-watching over a coconut latte coffee (delicious!), ice cold Corona, or giant plate of chicken nachos… (somehow they’re just not the same on the ship!)

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Fortunately, I had an excursion reserved: the Dolphin Encounter. Now I know that objections have come up to this activity. But not all companies that run this activity are created equal. This excursion was run by the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences. The dolphins are not tracked by gps or otherwise, are allowed to swim free, have lots of wide-open space in a rural environment, and return by choice after venturing out. They also are not forced to do anything, and only interact with people when they feel like it. I shared the ethical dilemma some others feel about this activity, and because of that I made sure to visit one which treated the dolphins humanely. If you feel the way I do, you may want to visit this particular one, or one like it, to experience a dolphin encounter.

The other major advantage of taking this excursion here is the fact that you are allowed to use your own camera. You do not have it the whole time – your “one-on-one” with the dolphin is photographed by their professional photographer. But both photography and filming are allowed for the majority of the encounter. Several other companies do NOT allow you to film or photograph. I was very pleased with the photos they took and chose to order them to keep along with the footage I captured myself.

We were divided into smaller groups, each with our own dolphin and trainer to interact with. My group’s dolphin was named “Polli.” It was a thrilling experience to interact with her! She was very talkative and playful throughout the visit. She showed us some fast swimming, jumps, and “moon-walking” on the water’s surface. The trainer told us about the dolphins and how they are cared for. It was both fascinating and exciting! But that was nothing compared to the ultimate experience of the day: petting, hugging, and getting kissed by the dolphin! It was honestly one of the most memorable, cherished experiences I have ever had.

There was also a swimming with the dolphins option, which requires full submersion in the water and the donning of required gear (which is provided). Here you even get to interact with the dolphins underwater. I passed on this due to a shortage of swimming skill and due to the significantly higher cost, but it is something you may want to consider.

You can see video footage of this adventure on my YouTube channel!: