Hands-On Japan Tour 2018

Last year I posted about my love for  Hands on Japan, a tour by Inside Japan. The tour is offered twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Unfortunately, the 2017 trips sold out almost 1 year in advance of departure and I was unable to go.

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Last week I thought now is a good time to book for next spring.  However, upon reviewing the trip for 2018, I noted some changes:

  1. The trip has gone up in price over $1000.  In 2017, it costs $3935.  In 2018, it will cost $5332.
  2. The capsule hotel in Kyoto will be replaced by a regular hotel. In my opinion, this is an improvement.

This morning, I chatted with the sales team at Inside Japan about the price differential.

I was told it was due to the exchange rate but they still think this tour is a great value.  I did not reply.

Inside Japan is a British tour company and has converted the price of the trip from British pounds to US dollars. Although the trip seems to be well organized, it isn’t a value for non-British travelers at the increased price.  There is also an additional $300 conversion charge from the pound to the dollar.

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Best Wine Themed Cruises 2018 – 2019

Love wine and love a cruise, I’ve picked the 4 Best Wine Themed Cruises for 2018- 2019.

 Image result for crystal cruises and wine

1. Patz and Hall from Barcelona to Lisbon

Sail the Mediterranean on Oceania Riveria for 8 days with personal host and Patz & Hall Founder, Heather Patz. The cruise begins in Barcelona during September 2018.  At which time, you will enjoy a wine makers dinner as well as a seminar and tasting.  You also have the option of joining:

  • a three-night pre-cruise tour that goes to Parés Baltà winery
  • a tour in Saint Topez which takes you to the wines of the Cotes de Provence.  It includes a stop at 2 top Provençal wineries one of which will also host a delectable wine-paired luncheon
  • a tour in Florence/Pisa/Tuscany which takes you to tour Super Tuscans. It includes a stop at 2 top Tuscany wineries one of which will also host a delectable wine-paired luncheon

The 8-day Barcelona to Lisbon cruise costs from $2974 per person, departing September 6, 2018 (800-367-5348; foodandwinetrails).

2. Carnival in Brazil

On this cruise, you can drink wine and samba until you pass out. Costco is offering a 14-night cruise from Buenos Aires with Wente Vineyards.  This cruise sails on Celebrity Infinity in February 2018 and includes 3 wine tasting events and a wine pairing luncheon.

The 14-night Buenos Aires roundtrip cruise costs from $2999 per person, departing February 2, 2018 (866-317-4711; costcotravel).

3. Truffle Hunting with the Winemaker of the Year

On this 7- day SeaDream cruise from Rome to Nice, you have the opportunity to hobnob with Andrea Mullineux, the 2016 Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the year. Also on the agenda is a Truffle Hunt, a wine tasting of Mullineux wines and tastings at Hatt et Söner and Panizzi Winery.  Yup, this is paradise.

The 7-day Rome to Nice cruise costs from $4199 per person, departing October 7, 2018 (800-707-4911; SeaDream).

4. Bordeaux Region with Crystal Cruises

A post about the best wine cruises would not be complete without discussing Crystal. In July 2019, the Crystal Serenity will sail from Amsterdam to Lisbon on a 14-day cruise. This cruise will explore the vineyards and chateaux with three days in Bordeaux.  The excursions have not been defined yet.  However, it has already sold out the lower two categories promising that this is not a cruise to be missed.

The 14-day cruise from Amsterdam to Lisbon costs from $11,999 per person, departing July 29, 2019 (888-722-0021; crystalcruises).

 

Best Asia Cruises 2018 – 2019

Here are my top picks for cruises to Asia for 2018 – 2019.

seabourn-cavier-and-champagne-in-the-surf

 

1. Go to India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka

Relax and explore on this 18-day cruise from Bangkok to Mumbai on the Oceania Nautica. On sea days relax and enjoy the amazing cuisine. Destinations include a busy two-night stay in Yangon and Colombo.  Also, upon booking all guests get to choose between a FREE 3-Night Essence Of Bangkok Pre-Cruise Land Tour or a FREE 3-Night Taj Mahal: The Eternal Masterpiece Post-Cruise Land Tour.

The 18-day Bangkok to Mumbai cruise costs from $3,999 per person, departing April 11, 2017 (855-623-2642; www.oceaniacrusies.com).

2. Japan Intensive during Sakura Season

Azamara Cruises’ has decided to focus on country intensive cruises. On a 15-day voyage in April 2019, the Quest will sail through Japan during Sakura or Cherry Blossom season. Sailing round-trip from Tokyo, the cruise also visits Nagasaki, Hakodate and Busan, Korea.

The 15-night Tokyo roundtrip cruise costs from $5399 per person, departing April 27, 2019 (877-999- 9553; www.azamaraclubcruises.com). Excludes flights.

3. Asia Seas Exploration

Luxuriate with caviar and champagne on Seabourn’s 21-day cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe in April 2018.  This cruise visits Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and China. Seabourn is the only line to offer a unique combination of multiday stops in ports such as Beijing and Shanghai and stops in lesser-known ports of Yeosu, South Korea and Yantai, China. Finally, depart the Seabourn Sojourn in the Japanese city of Kobe and extend your stay to visit Osaka.

The 21-day Asian Seas cruise costs from $14,999 per person, departing April 24, 2018. Excludes flights. (866-755-5619; seabourn.com). 

Researching Shore Excursions

I spend a lot of time researching shore excursions for cruise itineraries that interest me. For the past month or so, I have been waiting for Oceania to post the excursions for a 2018 Bangkok to Mumbai trip.  In the interim, I have been looking up excursions for a dream trip on Seabourn which leaves around the same time, it is an either/or situation.

Two weeks ago, I would have said the single best site for looking up points of interest or excursions for a trip was the Princess cruise site. Princess has a very clean and ordered way of showing points of interest at each port through numbering and then including the same numbering in each shore excursion.

Last week, I decided to test Princess and looked up NYC to see the excursions offered. I was very disappointed.

NYC and Princess

If you came to NYC and only saw the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport or Times Square, you missed the point.

I am from NY and I can honestly say I have been to 3, 4, 6, 7 on the image above.  I have passed by 5.    I stopped at all of those places because I worked near them and they have shopping.  But if you came to visit NYC I would never say let’s go to these places.  NYC is really about wall street, food, clothing, theater, and museums.

How can you not have an excursion to MOMA or the Museum of Natural History? How can you not take people on a food tour? How can you not have an excursion to a mediocre show on Broadway? How can you not take them to 5th Avenue to see all the high-end stores?

This exercise made me realize how important it is to research the ports and what a cruise line is offering prior to booking a cruise.

 

 

Azamara Cruises Country Intensive Itineraries

On cruise lines loyalty matters. It matters for discounts on cruises, upgrades and onboard perks.  Royal Caribbean has one of the best loyalty programs, which gives a Royal Caribbean Crown and Anchor member equivalent status on all of their cruise lines.   For those who don’t know,  Diamond members are Captain’s Club Elite members on Celebrity and Discoverer in Le Club Voyage on Azamara. This makes cruising on Celebrity or Azamara more attractive to someone like me, a Diamond member than say on Crystal or Oceania. 

So each week, I get an email from Azamara to decide if that advertisement will entice me to go on a cruise with them.   It has never happened. Their cruises are usually not as port intensive as they proclaim and I worry about consecutive days at sea on a small ship.  

This January, Azamara announced it’s first ever “country intensive” voyages, which include more overnight stays in ports and greater immersive itineraries.

The new program will be introduced in 2018 and features one-country cruises to destinations, including Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Greece, and Norway, on the line’s two 690-passenger ships — Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest.

After reviewing all of the itineraries,  I only found one interesting and that is the Japan Intensive.  This cruise is 15 days sailing roundtrip from Tokyo on the Azamara Quest in April 2019. Pricing starts at $5399, which includes gratuities, drinks and local shuttle service.

Unfortunately, most of the shore excursions are not available yet but the Azamara Senior Blogger posted the below to a CruiseCritic message board.


Seven Things to Do in Japan
https://www.azamaraclubcruises.com/b…hings-do-japan

A Guide to Japanese Cuisine, (caution…this will make you hungry!)
https://www.azamaraclubcruises.com/b…panese-cuisine

Castles, Shrines, and Temples of Japan
https://www.azamaraclubcruises.com/b…panese-cuisine

I think Azamara has finally enticed me to take a trip with them.

 

India and Nepal via Tauck or Gate 1

TajMahaldawnRecently, I spent an hour looking for group tours to India and Nepal. I could only find two, a BBC Earth Trip through Tauck and a Discovery Tour via Gate 1.

Theses are two very different trips.

The Tours

The Tauck tour BBC Earth Journey of Northern India & Nepal is 17 days. The cost is from $10,640 pp, double occupancy, plus air.  This seems to be one of Tauck’s most popular trips as it is always sold out. The tagline is that it immerses you in the Earth Journeys experience, featuring custom-made BBC Earth on-tour film vignettes and when the opportunity arises, the use of field equipment. There are game-viewing safaris in search of the elusive tiger, a flight over the landscapes of Mt. Everest, a visit to a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu, and visits to the wonders of Northern India.

My question was can I have a similar experience for a fraction of the Tauck trip price.

The Gate 1 tour, Incredible India and Nepal, is 19 days. The cost is from $3500 pp based on double occupancy, airfare not included.  This trip has no tagline. It is a tour focused on the Wonders of Northern India and Nepal. Unlike Tauck, there are additional expenses for optional tours and meals.  This journey includes stops in Pokhara and Samode, neither place is usual for itineraries to Nepal or Northern India.

Comparing the Tours

I am not going to spend time comparing things we already know. The hotels, meals, and transportation methods will be better on Tauck.  They use five-star hotels and cater to a mainly North American clientele. However, I decided to create a spreadsheet and really look at the differences in these trips day by day.
Capture india 44

 

The spreadsheet helped me to decide that I do not like how the Gate 1 tour is organized, you change hotels ten times.  This is exhausting and for someone like me, it means something might be left or lost.

Also, while I have read Pokhara is a pretty place, I have also read there is nothing to do. Bhaktapur is a preferred stop in Nepal for me.

I am also confused about the purpose of the stop in Samode.  According to Gate 1, you are to join a village jeep safari.  Safari to me means hunting. Therefore, a  village jeep safari to have a glimpse of the village life followed by lunch at a hotel seems dumb.

The Tauck tour is also rigorous but it changes hotels less, eight times.  Also, the tour is consistent with the theme,  you go on two safaris of animals, you are contained by the theme from BBC Earth.

I think the Tauck Tour is a better tour.  It is more comprehensive.  The Gate 1 tour does not make sense to me.

 

 

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