We flew from Chicago on August 27th to Nairobi, Kenya by making a stop in London and then on to Nairobi. The flight was consisting of two eight hour flights. We arrived in Nairobi at 5:30AM their time. The visa process was not difficult and we did it right at the airport upon arrival. The cost was only $50.00 PP and would allow us back into the country after we finished our upcoming tour in Tanzania. We were met by our guide and transferred to our hotel. The Nairobi Serena Hotel was quite nice and many of our group decided to catch a little rest. Not so for me, Mary, her sister Marcy and their fellow Rotarian, Ruth Lee. The Rock Island Rotary Club had provided considerable funds to needy schools in Nairobi for water purification units and Ruth had arranged for the four of us to visit the schools. It was such a tender moment to see how the work of a local Rotary Club's funds were at work in schools and were changing the lives of young school children in some of the poorest parts of Africa.
The next morning we left early on our drive across the Great Riff Valley to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve where we experienced our first game drive! The very first game drive we saw thousands of animals. Herds of Zebra, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Elephants, Buffalo Gazelle and Topi It is hard to describe what we saw that first game drive.
We rolled out of bed about 4:00AM the next morning because we were being transported to the site where we would board a hot air balloon virtually at the crack of dawn! This was an optional experience for us and a little pricey but we would highly recommend taking the balloon ride. The pilot was excellent and we had an amazing experience in the air viewing the mass of animals. After our balloon landed we were met by our chase vehicles and taken to a location where we were treated to a champagne breakfast. We followed with another game drive and made it to our camp called the Mara Leisure Camp. The next day we had two more game drives and experienced a real African thunder storm. The next morning we drove to the border of Kenya and Tanzania where we had to exit Kenya and go through the immigration process to gain entry to Tanzania.
Immigration into Tanzania was fairly easy. We exited Kenya and boarded our 4X4's where they took us to the Tanzania immigration office. More paper work and a cost of $100.00 per person for the visa. This visa is good for multiple entries for a full year however. We drove to the Serengeti for two nights at the MBUZI MAWE Tented Camp. Game drives were also outstanding here but it was our first experience in a tented camp. If you're from the Midwest and you think, "tented camp" you most likely do not think of great accomodations. We experienced quite luxurious surroundings. The next morning we found evidence of wild life having been close to our tent and one of our group was going to walk around a bit but quickly changed his mind when only a few feet away was a huge water buffalo lying in the bush. The Serengeti appeared to offer more interesting scenery and also quite a variety of animals. We were able to see numerous Elephants and several Lions a Leopard and Cheeta were quite close to our 4X4. There were always animals to see and those of us with cameras took numerous photos. (I took over 1900 during our two weeks) It seemed that around every turn there was another postcard photo available .
We moved to the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge for two nights, via the Olduvai Gorge renowned for its archaeological discoveries including some of man's earliest known ancestral remains. The crater has a spectacular concentration of animals and stunning views. On the way to the Kenya border we stopped at the Arusha Coffee House for lunch. Several American Presidents have stayed here and it was truly beautiful. We cleared back into Kenya to the Amboseli National Park.
We traveled to Amboseli National Park in Kenya hoping to see Mount Kilimanjaro. We only saw the base of it but the park itself was very interesting. We did a game drive the next morning and headed back to Nairobi where we had dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant renowned for its variety of exotic meats and its famous "dawa" cocktails. (They were so good we had more than one!) A real highlight was a visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This is an orphanage for elephants. They are rescued from the wild and rehabilitated and then released into the wild again. After that we went to the Giraffe Centre that also takes care of Giraffes and returnes them when possible to the wild. We were able to feed them and have wonderful interaction with them.
Some of our group flew back home but several of us flew to Zambia and crossed into Zimbabwe to spend a couple days at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I must admit the immigration process in both of these countries was more time consuming but not difficult. We arrived at our hotel in time to freshen up and take a wonderful sunset cruise on the Zambesi River. The next morning we took a walking tour of the Victoria Falls. That evening we attended the Boma Drum & Dinner show. This show was authenic African entertainment and food. Everyone should try this. The next day we had lunch at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel before flying home. If you have an interest in Africa call us we'd be happy to talk more about this fascinating adventure. People always ask about the food. The breakfast meal each day was outstanding. Many times for lunch when we were on a game drive we had to do with a box lunch. Dinner each evening was outstanding and a great time to visit with each other and talk about the day over a glass of wine or a cocktail.
Dick & Mary hosted a trip to visit the Martin Luther reformation sites in Germany. It included his birth and death homes as well as the important places regarding his reformation and separation from the Catholic Church to begin protestant religion as we know it. This trip was informative as well as beautiful. We traveled to the Bavarian state in Germany where we experienced to beauty and wonder of Oberamergau where the Passion Play is held every ten years. The next one is 2020. A very different trip for us.
We traveled to Scottsdale Resort on McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona for the annual conference of MAST Vacation Partners on May 2nd. This resort is one of the most beautiful in Arizona and includes a golf course, beautiful swimming pools and they provided some great meals with our meetings. I would suggest this resort if you are staying in the Phoenix area because it is close to many fun attractions. Not far from the Grand Canyon. We had a great evening at the Ft. McDowell BBQ in the desert complete with BBQ ribs & chicken, margaritas and line dancing! On another afternoon we had a hummer tour of the Sonoran Desert. All these can be arranged by calling either Dick or Mary at Picture Perfect Travel. The staff is friendly and attentive. It is slightly more expensive than just a hotel but it will enrich your stay in Scottsdale/Phoenix area.
Scotland has been a destination desire for us for several years. This year we traveled there with many friends from the Bucktown Revue. Since we made the trip in March we did expect some weather issues. In fact we did experience some snow in the Highlands. Our guide did mention she had lived in Scotland all her life and had never seen snow at this time of year. Our trip began in Glasgow up to Inverness, ending in Edinburgh. We toured several Castles, did City Tours in the major cities and a highlight was a cruise on the Loch Ness. We failed to see the Loch Ness Monster, "Nessie". Some of the hotels we stayed in were unique and made you want to stay for much longer. Edinburgh has some exciting visits to the Castle, Mary King's Close and we took and afternoon to visit St. Andrews. It was quite a thrill to stand on the famous stone bridge on the 18th hole.
This was one of the most sobering experiences we've had in all our travels. To see the actual camps where over a million people lost their lives simply because of their Jewish Heritage cannot be described. Our local guide through the camp was very well educated about the camps activities and gave an excellent naration. This camp has been preserved in a most reverent way. You see pictures of actual people that lost their lives. If you are old enough, and I was, you can find people with your exact birth date.
There is no possible way to tell someone that has not actually been to Auschwitz about all the feelings attached to this visit. I do believe everyone should make an effort to go there!
We traveled to Eastern Europe in February to see if this would be a good fit for a group in the future. We found all three cities to be very interesting. In Warsaw we had an interesting City tour, walked through the Old Town, Market Square and the Warsaw Cathedral and of course the Chopin monument. We traveled South to Czestochowa for a visit to the historic JASNA GORA MONASTERY the most famous Polish shrine to the Virgin Mary and the Black Madonna. We also toured Auschwitz and I've made a separate paragraph about Auschwitz. One of the most interesting sites was theWieliczka Salt Mine. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a unique place. Many generations of Polish miners have created a world of underground chambers and decorated chapels carved out of salt. Prague is considered one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. The city tour was very good and a stop at St. Vitus Castle, the Royal Palace and St. George Basilica rounded out a marvelous trip to Eastern Europe.
Dick & Mary hosted a group on the Brilliance of the Seas made up of first time cruise people. It was interesting for us to take people that had never cruised before. When people first see a cruise ship they are amazed at the size of the ship. Our group spent five nights with stops in Cozumel and Costa Maya. We had a couple days at sea. This was designed to make new cruisers get the most experiences possible on the ship. Cozumel is a very interesting port in Mexico and many took shore excursions on catamarans or to beach locations. Many went shopping or spent the day at one of the local bars. Overall the group enjoyed the cruise and felt secure being with experienced hosts.
We traveled to Cancun with a large group to the new Secrets Resort. This all inclusive resort is luxury on a wonderful beach location. The food is very good here and we do recommend this hotel. Over the years we've been to Cancun many times and if you call us we can give very good advice on where to stay to meet your needs.
The name says it all! We spent ten wonderful days touring Spain & Portugal. We flew into Madrid and met our Tour Director, Bradley Dick. The tour was on a motor coach that was very comfortable since they had removed several seats and modified it to hold only forty passengers in place of the normal 53. The itinerary was round trip Madrid experiencing such great cities as, Toledo, Granada, Seville, Lisbon, Fatima and Salamanca. Insight Vacations was the tour company we used and we were quite pleased with the tour director and the services of Insight Vacations. Visiting the Alhambra Palace, and one of the most Holy sites in the world, Fatima, was truly an experience to remember. We did some exciting optional tours such as visiting Cordoba and the Grand Palace in Madrid. This trip included many meals. Breakfast each day and many fun experiences at night. The Flamenco show was very good. We also had the opportunity to have lunch in the oldest restaurant in the world. Restaurante, Botin. The hotels provided by Insight Vacations were all very high quality hotels with good food and centrally located to all our activities.
We had the opportunity ro spend a few days at a new hotel in Cancun in July. The Hyatt Ziva is a new all inclusive hotel. It is close to the downtown area of Cancun and is nicely located. The hotel itself is beautiful. The service staff was good and the food is what you would expect for all inclusive in Mexico. Anytime you go to Cancun you must not expect to gain access to your room until at least 3:00PM. All the other amenities of the hotel are available to you when you arrive such as lunch, the pools and water sports. When going to an all inclusive you should always pack in your carry on luggage any swim suits or clothing you might need until you can check in to your room. It was a pleasant experience because we had a room close to the Dolphin pool and they were fun to watch.
From time to time we get calls about river cruises in the United States. Of course we always want to be most informed about the products we sell. We boarded the American Queen in Memphis for a seven night cruise on the Mississippi headed to New Orleans. To be honest with you we were absolutely blown away by the quality of this product. Our rooms were somewhat small but we booked late and the larger ones were already taken, they are available when booked in advance. The food was of the highest quality and delicious. Some lunches even included prime rib and brisket. The service by personnel onboard was some of the best we could hope for. In fact almost every person on the staff and crew will know your name by the end of the week. We developed a lasting friendship with several of them. Finally the entertainment was as good as we ever experienced on a cruise ship. In short this is something we feel everyone should give a try.
It was time for the MAST Travel Consortium conference in Williamsburg, VA and it was a very pleasant experience. The weather was beautiful and our hotel was within walking distance of all the historical sites in the city. We had tours of the battlefields and a memorable dinner where a drum and fife corp picked us up at our hotel and we walked behind it with several of our friends to a wonderful meal at one of the historic restaurants. This is a very exciting part of the USA. If you've never been you should try it because it holds so much history. It is very family oriented without having the feeling of a theme park, although there is one not too far from Williamsburg
We were fortunate to host a group to the Galapagos Islands in January. This is a great time to go because the weather in the Quad Cities is usually pretty cold and the weather there is about mid 80s. You can see some of the most unusual animals anywhere in the world. I don't know of anyplace you can see penguins, seals, sea otters, frigates, blue or red footed boobies. The Galapagos is a national park of Ecuador and is very protective of the animals. This is one of the "must see" destinations in the world.
Our group progressed on to Machu Picchu after the Galapagos. We experienced Inca culture in Cuzco, Lima and of course in Machu Picchu. It is very difficult to tell someone exactly the feeling you will have when you first step into the open and have your first clear view of the ruins of Machu Picchu. We literally had tears of joy when we rxperienced this awesome sight. You can look at pictures and listen to people lecture about this Incan community but you absolutely must see it in person! It was an overwhelming experience. When you book travel either to Galapagos or Machu Picchu you must use the services of an experienced travel agent. It is the best way to get the most for your travel dollar.
Recently we returned from our sixth river cruise! River cruising is one of the most sought after trips, especially in Europe. Our river cruise was in the South of France this time but we have been on almost every river in Europe and we've found them to be the very best way to see the important historical venues of Europe. In addition to having been on many river cruises we stay educated on all the major cruise lines and what they offer. All the major cities of Europe developed because of the rivers. We sailed from Budapest to Amsterdam for 15 days and experienced a Motzart concert in Vienna, which by the way, every port of call has a shore excursion included in the price of the trip. You will never forget an organ concert in Passau or the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. We are pleased to be one of the most knowledgeable and experienced travel agencies selling river cruises. So worth your time and money, but most of all, so memorable.
We took over sixty really nice folks to Ireland recently. This was a very special trip because we were in Dublin over the St. Patrick's Day. We arranged grandstand seating for the parade and that was a great experience. The parade is lengthy and the weather was a slight rain at first but it did not matter to us since we had great seats and was under cover! We had two motor coaches for our group and we toured some of the greatest hilights of Ireland. What made this so special was several of the people were some of the best Irish and blue grass musicians in the Quad Cities. Each night in the hotels they would play their instruments in the hotel lobbies and in one hotel their entertainment did not show so our people played in the lounge to great applause from the locals. We even arranged for them to play in one of the Pubs one night. When they played in the hotels the crowds were large and the hotel's bar business was better at their venue than at the hotel bar. One of our group was crowned King & Queen of the kingdom of Bunratty. We had so much fun with these folks you cannot possibly write about it in one or two paragraphs. I guess you just had to be there!
We were in Holland from April 13th thru the 21st and we experienced one of the most beautiful trips we have ever taken. Holland grows tulips like the midwest grows corn, in fields of hundreds of acres. When we were landing in Amsterdam we could look out the window of the plane and see fields of different colored tulips, red, yellow, purple and multi colored fields. What a sight! Then as we toured the country side there were times we could see fields of color outside the motor coach. Then when we went to the Keukenhof Gardens there is simply no way to describe the eighty acres of overwhelming displays of floral arrangements.
We’ve travelled in over sixty countries but have never experienced this kind of floral beauty. It is only available in Holland for about two months. About mid March to mid May.
We took a river cruise thru Holland and Belgium and not only experienced Keukenhof Gardens, the Floriade but also the quaint old cities of Gent, Brugge, and Brussels to name a few. People that want to do this need to call us right away. A river Cruise is the very best way to experience this but they sell out so quickly only a few people can get the beauty of this trip when it is at its peak. There is a WOW FACTOR that is hard to put into words.
Unless you've been there it is hard to imagine all the wonders of China. When we were in China we were there for fifteen days and we sailed on the Yangtze River, we saw the Teracotta Wariors, and walked the Great Wall. Our guide was only in her mid 20's but she was one of the best we've ever had. She was always able to get us into attractions ahead of the crowd and was very well versed about everything. The Great Wall is simply hard to comprehend. It stretches forever. It seems everything in China is larger than you can imagine and is breath taking when you see it. A trip to China should never be attempted without a travel agent that has been there and knows what you should see and what tour company to book it with. Without an agent that knows China you could have a poor experience. Of course, Picture Perfect Travel can help you because they've been there. We really recommend you take this trip to China and that you extend to Hong Kong.
We spent two days in St Petersburg, Russia and the experience is just too large to do it justice here. The only way to do Russia is off a cruise ship in our opinion. If you go to Russia you will need to spend about $350.00 per person for the Visa to enter the country. However, if you are on a cruise ship you do not have to pay that if you do only activities you purchase on the ship. We purchased a two day shore excursion that took us to every major attraction in St Petersburg. It was two days of ten hours each day. We toured some of the most beautiful palaces in the world. We had a tour of the Hermitage Museum, one of the largest in the world. We had the opportunity to fly to Moscow during those two days but there was so much culture and heritage in St Petersburg it would have been foolish to miss it. We have many clients that have cruised the Med and Caribbean that really need to round themselves out with a Scandinavial and Russian cruise vacation. We highly recommend this trip. Call Dick or Mary for more information 309-788-0500.
We were pleasantly surprised with our stop in the Quaint little country of Estonia. This was our first trip into that part of the world and we enjoyed it so much we wished we could have stayed for several days. The city of Tallin has an old and a new section. The older section was truly Medieval and charming. It was as if we had gone back into time several centuries. On the day we were there the Dahli Llama was in town and it was quite exciting. Security was very tight but did not keep us from doing what we wanted to. The newer part of town was still quaint and filled with exciting things to do. We shopped and also found baked goods that would make your mouth water! If you go to that part of the world without including Estonia you truly have missed out. Call Dick or Mary to book Scandinavia by land or sea!
We experienced a wonderful trip to Scandinavia and Russia on a 12 day Voyage on the RCCL Jewel of the Seas. The itinerary was good because it included Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Russia & Finland with a couple days at sea. This blog concerns the Jewel of the Seas mostly. We found the Royal Caribbean meet and greet staff in London to be most helpful people. We had airline delays but the young man named WILL in Heathrow solved all our problems and we met the ship without incident. He was so friendly it was refreshing. When we arrived at the ship in Harwich we were warmly greeted by the staff and check in was the smoothest we have experienced in many cruises. Through out the entire 12 days the entire ship’s crew and staff treated every person as if they were royalty. Check other blogs for information about Russia and other ports of call.
We are often asked what is our favorite place to travel. Of course we've seen some of the most interesting places in the world, however, if you are looking for probably the most beautiful part of the world we believe it would have to be Tahiti and the South Pacific Islands. The ocean seems to have the most beautiful color in the South Pacific of anyplace we've traveled. Truly it is hard to describe how beautiful the ocean is as you approach these islands. The islands are not the typical island we've grown accustomed to seeing in the Caribbean. As you approach South Pacific Islands you see multi million dollar villas facing the ocean, not industrial ports. These islands are very upscale. They have the flavor of ancient cultures but can also be very modern. The best way to experience the most of the South Pacific in our opinion would be to cruise the islands and find a cruise that would give you overnight opportunities such as in one of the over the water villas. It is not really so expensive to visit but I guarantee you will never forget the beauty of Tahiti and the South Pacific. .
Royal Caribbean recently opened Falmouth, Jamaica as their newest port of call. Travel Age magazine recently declared it the number one new port of call for 2011. We were impressed with it for cleanliness and shopping. You could also walk into the Old Town area and experience the old with the new. The only draw back we could find was the fact it is not so close to Dunn River
Falls. It is about and hour or little better to see the Falls where when you dock in Ocho Rios it is only a ten minute drive. Montego bay and its attractions are much closer however than you would experience by docking at Ocho Rios. The same shore excursions are offered here as at Montego Bay or Ocho Rios but some just take a little more of your day.