Fond Of The Frond: Dubai’s Iconic Palm Island

Most people who know anything at all about Dubai have heard of or seen pictures of the iconic Palm Jumeirah Island.  If not, you should watch this fascinating YouTube video about its construction.  I find the accomplishment mind-boggling even taking into consideration that my mind stays boggled a fair portion of the time anyway.

Palm Island, Dubai UAEThe entire structure is an engineering marvel but considering my occupation (you know, travel savant) you won’t be surprised to learn that my favorite portion is the outer ring called The Crescent.  As you look at this picture, the structure in the middle of the Crescent and dominating the landscape is Atlantis.  I published a post about the resort a few days ago which can be read here.

On the extreme right (eastern end) of the Crescent is another great resort, Anantara, which I will tell you about in this post.  On the extreme left (western end) of the Crescent is the One&Only, The Palm and at just south of The Palm is the One&Only Royal Mirage.  I will tell you about the latter two in a subsequent post.

Whew!  Now that we have north, south, east and west pretty much covered, let’s take a brief visit to the incomparable Anantara.  As you will soon discover, I like pretty much everything about this hotel but among my favorite features are the villas out over the water.

Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa.If you can pry your eyes off all the “beautiful people” in the foreground (and I use that term in the loosest possible way), you can see the majestic over-the-water villas in the background.  In case you care to do a quick reality check on my judgment in this regard (never a bad idea), I direct your attention to a post on The New York Times Travel blog that was published just two days ago, can you believe it, on the very same subject.  Those shameless bugggers over at the Times have spies everywhere trying to scoop me!   (Note to Shivani Vora.  I just linked to your post.  A reciprocal link would be nice.  Just sayin’.)

Now I want you to close your eyes (never mind, that won’t work unless you are a camel, and a literate one at that, and can read this post through your eyelids).  OK, just imagine yourself floating aimlessly on a pool float in front of your swim up bungalow when you suddenly feel the need to slake your thirst.  Do you paddle over to your domicile, clamber out and retrieve a drink?

Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & SpaDon’t be silly my pampered friend!  You are on vacation and this is the Anantara, after all.  See this little boat with the ice chest?Beverage boat at the Anantara  Your boat butler will simply paddle over to you and offer you the refreshing beverage of your choice.  How cool is that?

Another thing you are going to enjoy about this luxury property is the dining options.  Crescendo offers international cuisine in a dazzling open air setting.  According to their website, Mekong “evokes a feeling of the Far East with a melange of traditional Oriental ingredients . . .”  It sounds inviting.  It seems like forever since I had a really good melange.   Perhaps most surprising of all is Bushman’s Australian Restaurant And Bar.  This venue even features a Salt Guru (no, really) to help you select the perfect salt variety to compliment your meal.  I don’t know about you but I have had a Salt Guru on retainer for years. 

Night falls on the Anantara DubaiSadly, the sun is setting, not only on another glorious day at Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, but also on another of these masterful posts.  Wipe away that tear little buckaroo.  I will return very soon with another thralling installment.   That is sort of like thrilling but more captivating!

Dubai’s “A” List: Atlantis and Anantara

I trust you have been dutifully following my most recent journey at Golden Circle 2013.  I have arrived in Dubai which is for me a brand new destination.  As a widely traveled, highly skilled (if not particularly modest) travel professional, what do you suppose was the very first thing I chose to do upon arrival?  Head straight for the world-renowned Dubai shopping mall?  No, you must have me confused with Paris Hilton which isn’t easy seeing as how she weighs slightly less than my right leg and she carries more money in her coin purse that I have in my retirement account. Oops, that’s right, I don’t have a retirement account.  Sorry!

No, to the contrary, I set off to do a series of hotel site inspections.  I realize you lay travelers have trouble identifying with such odd behavior.  You are normally slipping your swim suit on under your clothes in the airplane lavatory so your hotel transfer can bypass check in and take you directly to a waiting deck The World Islands Dubaichair and a towering pina colada.    You have to remember, we in the travel industry are consummate professionals who routinely put duty before personal gratification.  (If you are buying that, could I interest you in Paraguay on the Dubai World Island? It’s a steal – this week only – and if you pay cash I will throw in Sri Lanka and a set of steak knives.)

As entertained as you no doubt are by my witty banter,  we had best move on and take a look at the first two hotels I visited.

ATLANTIS

Atlantis in DubaiOK, this is a test.  I took this picture from my hotel window.  Can you pick out  Atlantis in this shot?  My, what keen eyesight you have!

Just in case you think I write these blog posts from a cabin in northern Minnesota and all my travels are a figment of my imagination, here is a shot of me standing in the entry way of said resort.  At first glance, you may suspect I The entrance to Atlantis, The Palm Dubaimight have appropriated a stock photo of Tom Cruise from the internet but, no, this is really me.

Everything about this hotel is both spectacular and colossal including its domination of The Palm skyline.  Regrettably, there will be space here only to touch on a few of its amazing features.   I promise to return soon to give Atlantis The Palm the robust treatment it richly deserves.  I would love to talk about the decor, the vast array of room types, the selection of more than 20 restaurants and bars, shopping options and so forth. But for now, let me highlight just three features worthy of special attention:

The Lost Chambers Aquarium

Adults and children alike will enjoy exploring the underwater mazes and tunnels of the lost civilization of Atlantis. Along the way you will encounter sharks, eels, seahorses, and piranhas. The aquarium boasts over 20 remarkable marine life exhibits including a touch tank.  That’s right and if you don’t believe me, just ask the director Nubs.

The Lost Chambers Aquarium DubaiAquaventure

Aquaventure Waterpark is billed as “non-stop water, non-stop fun”.  For the thrill seeker, they tout “the Leap Of Faith . . a 27 meter near vertical speed slide” and “other heart-thumping slides that catapult you through shark filled lagoons.”   Just when I thought I was going to have to either up the amperage on my pacemaker or discretely check out and find a hotel for wusses, I discovered the option to relax on their private beach surrounded by lush tropical landscapes.  To give you a sense of its scope, virtually everything you see in this picture I took is part of the waterpark.

Aquaventure Atlantis The Palm DubaiMarine Animal Adventures

Another option is to upgrade your Atlantis experience with one of their up close marine animal adventures. For the uninitiated, “upgrade your experience” is hotel speak for pay a little more.  But hey, in this case, it is well worth it.  The options include feeding eels, groping groupers  or petting piranhas (OK, I might have thrown in a couple of my own verbs there) in one of their Behind The Scenes Tours. Marine Animal Adventures Dubai

You can even do a ten minute photo session at the water’s edge where you can “hug, kiss and dance with dolphins”.  Apparently, there are lots of lonely people out there finding it a challenge to to meet someone.  If you are a certified scuba diver take the plunge into the largest open air aquarium in the Middle East.

Marine Animal Adventures Atlantis DubaiMy goodness how time flies when you are penning classic literature for the ages.  I seem to have run out of space to tell you about the second spectacular “A” lister, the Anantara Dubai Palm.  Please don’t be dismayed.  I will be back in two shakes of a shark’s dorsal fin with a sequel to this post in which I will extol its equally impressive virtues.

If you are simply too famished to wait for the main course, sample this starter I wrote a while back to whet your appetite:  Jumpin’ Jumeirah:  The Anantara Dubai Palm.  Stay tuned!

Travel Hopscotch: Name That Destination

I am writing today to assuage the concerns and quiet the fears that surely must be roiling cyber space over my brief hiatus.  I have not published a new post in a couple of weeks which is quite unusual for me.  I can only imagine how sick with worry you must be.

What’s that you say?  You hadn’t noticed?  That’s not very charitable.  It’s not that difficult to feign a little heartfelt concern, you know.  I do it all the time and in one of my finer moments even manufactured a tear once.   If not grave concern, is there at least any idle curiosity out there as to why I have not posted recently?   The short answer is “I’ve been busy!”

Semaphore

International signal for “Dos cervezas, por favor”.

I know most of you think this travel thing is all foo-foo drinks and tiny umbrellas.  You assume all we do is drag our deck chairs from one shade-drenched palapa to the next but you would be so wrong.  In the first place, we would never drag it ourselves if there were a beach waiter within semaphore range.  I got a very nasty splinter doing that once.

Secondly, I will have you know this industry ranks right up there with thinning trees in the pacific northwest and roughnecking in a west Texas oil field for sheer back-breaking exhaustion.  OK, I might be embellishing a tad but the pace, nonetheless, can be quite frenetic.

Here is a bit of good news for those who live for the next installment of these posts.  I am soon to embark upon a rather exotic spate of travel that should provide loads (or would it be bales, or perhaps stacks?) of fodder for future riveting posts.  So where are my travels about to take me?  Are you up for a little cyber parlor game?

Below are pictures of six stops on my itinerary presented in chronological order.  They are labeled, not illogically, Stop One to Stop Six.  I invite you to write a comment with your best guess for each one.  In some cases I have intentionally avoided the more iconic images of the destination.  You won’t see any Sydney opera houses or Eiffel Towers.

Dubai AirportSTOP ONE

Ladispoli, ItalySTOP TWO

Messina, Sicily Athens, Greece

                      STOP THREE                                                  STOP FOUR

Goddess Nike at Ephesus STOP FIVE

Chania, Crete, GreeceSTOP SIX

Give it your best shot.  I am looking not just for the country but the city.  If anyone gets all six correct, I have an immediate opening for you in our vacation travel department!!!

The Unconventional World of Un-Cruise Adventures

Have you ever been on a cruise?  Ah, mon ami, but have you ever been on an un-cruise?

About the only thing these two experiences have in common is H2O and a vessel that floats.  My goal today is to introduce you to a travel company that has taken the commonplace and familiar and transformed it into something almost unrecognizable.  In a good way, of course!

Un-Cruise Adventures I say introduce because their product offering is so fascinating and diverse that it is going to take me several posts to do it justice.  In fact, what do you say we create ourselves a brand new category called Un-Cruising.  (I haven’t created a new category on this blog in a couple of weeks and regular readers know that normally brings on an outbreak of unsightly hives.)  That way, when I have whetted your appetite with this initial tantalizing post, you can can easily sate your hunger for more insights with future posts all nicely grouped together.  You could, I suppose, just go to their excellent website, but that would deprive you of my inimitable wit and charm, now wouldn’t it?

So what is unique about Un-Cruise Adventures?  As already suggested, it will take several posts to filet that particular topic like a twenty pound Columbia River spring Chinook but I can give you a few broad hints here.

Intimacy Versus Anonymity

Speaking in generalities, the major cruises lines believe bigger is better.  I suppose that’s true if, in your mind, no cruise is complete without a rock climbing experience . . . on board the ship!  I personally love the big ships too but with 6000 passengers and a couple of thousand crew, I feel lucky if I can remember my own name much less expect to be greeted by name in the bar.  Take a look at the Un-Cruise Adventures fleet.  You can add up the total passenger count from all eight ships and it might not equal one deck on the Oasis of the Seas.

Un-Cruise Adventures Chat with the CaptainBy the end of the cruise all the staff won’t just know your name, you will know all their names and their children in birth order!  You will have spent so much time on the bridge, you will know how the Captain takes his coffee and where he got that tattoo of a Geisha girl on his right forearm.

The size of the ships provides intimacy of another sort that may have never occurred to you.  I am referring to intimacy with the destination.  Their shallow draft and smaller size permits access to Un-Cruise Adventures hot tubplaces the larger ships could never dream of going.   See how close the ship is to the glacier!  Stop staring at the foreground, Mister.  We are not talking about that kind of intimacy.   Try to stay focused, OK?

If your dream vacation doesn’t include standing in long lines but does include feeling like Norm walking into Cheers where everybody knows your name, this is the travel experience for you.  I know a little about the travel business and trust me, with so few passengers on board to pay the freight, it is a certainty that not only will you be treated like a VIP, you will be a VIP!

Goodness!  There is so much more I wanted to tell you.  One of the neatest things is how they have organized their product into four adventure styles: active, luxury, heritage and charter, each with a very distinct focus and personality.  If you promise to come back soon, I will explain not just that but why they serve only five destinations* (and which ones) plus a whole lot more.

Un-Cruise Yoga ClassesIn the meantime, the picture above shows just how unique this experience really is.  This is their non-traditional emergency drill.  The instructor is saying, “Should anyone fall overboard, you should give your most believable impression of a dolphin!”

By now you should be salivating to know more about the Un-Cruise Adventure experience.  Wipe the corner of your mouth and come back soon!  I’m just as keen to tell you!

* One of those five destinations is Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. Click here to watch a great video!

OK, I’m Here . . . So Now What? Los Cabos

Regular followers of this blog (in other words, the most sagacious among you), will know that I wrote a previous post in this category on the destination of Cancun.  It met with such a resounding reception from both of my fans that I have deemed it time to consider another tourist spot.   And what a destination it is!

Los Cabos, MexicoWithout a doubt, Los Cabos is one of the most beautiful resort areas Mexico has to offer.  Situated at the end of the Baja California Peninsula, it consists of three distinct localities: Los Cabos, Mexico mapCabo San Lucas (bottom left), San Jose del Cabo (on the right) and the Tourist Corridor that runs between them.    I promise to write another post soon that will enumerate the pros and cons of each locale.  (If you are keeping score at home, that would be pros “100” and Cons “0”.)

As I pointed out in the Cancun post , it is not enough to simply select a great destination and the perfect resort.  You need to give a little serious thought as to what you will do once you get there.  What say we get you out of your dreary, drab, mind-numbing daily existence (just sayin’) and remind you what zest and gusto feel like!

Todos Santos Hotel CaliforniaLet’s Get Cultured:   Todos Santos

Situated between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, this charming village is famous for being home to Hotel California.  If you were born after 1977 (first and foremost, try not to gloat), this is the title song from the Eagle’s album of the same name. This desert oasis offers spectacular views of the Pacific.  It is nestled among ancient orchards of mango and palms.  Tours of the fascinating city of La Paz are also available.

Wild Canyon Tour Los CabosLet’s Get Crazy:   Wild Canyon Canopy Tour

When I say, “Let’s Get Crazy”, let me be clear.  I mean let’s you get crazy.  Entrusting my life to a series of cables strung between trees is not my idea of a sane pursuit.  The selling point of this particular adventure is that it is the only canopy attraction in Mexico in which you  can ride tandem with 1, 2 or even 3 friends.  Unless the thought of a joint suicide pact holds some bizarre appeal for you, I strongly suggest you invite your most anorexic friends along on this one.

Dolphin Encounter Los CabosLet’s Get Cuddly:  Dolphin Programs

If you find in impossible to see a cute animal without uttering the obligatory “Ahhhhh”, this experience is probably perfect for you.  As the website explains, “Your Dolphin Encounter begins with an informative introduction by our dolphin trainers who will help you understand the dolphins’ anatomy, physiology, etc.”  This sentence may sound innocuous but it is all about learning how to pet a dolphin and, much more importantly, how not to pet a dolphin unless you want a lot more affection than you bargained for!

Sport Fishing Los CabosLet’s Get Catchy:  Fishing Charters

Most of my fishing experience growing up was with a cane pole and a plastic cork in my grandmother’s East Texas stock tank roughly the size of a disco dance floor.  On a good day you might catch a 10 ounce Sun Perch only to get finned for your trouble.  I am assuming that bears no resemblance to sport fishing but having never experienced it, I can’t attest.  It is obviously popular because on any given morning in Cabo you can see up to 200 charter boats leaving the crowded marina.

Golf Los CabosLet’s Get Chippy:  Golf Options

At last we have reached a truly civilized activity.   Muslims have their Mecca, we golfers have our Los Cabos.  There are way too many great courses to mention them all but three of my favorites (Cabo Real, Puerto Los Cabos & Club Campestre San Jose) are operated by Questro Golf.   Throw my name around and you will probably get a couple of broken tees and all the tap water you can drink.  Seriously, tell Nubia I sent you and you will at least get a warm smile and cheerful greeting.

Amazingly, those are just a few of the many activities available in Los Cabos.

Sunset in Los Cabos

Now let’s close with a few reasons for booking your Los Cabos activities in advance on our affiliate site with our great partners at Amstar DMC:

1)  In many cases, the prices are lower online

2)  You avoid lines at the hotel and the possibility of sell-outs

3)  You get instant confirmation & tickets

4)  Most importantly, you contribute to the financial solvency of this humble blogger.  How is that for “fool disclosure”?

Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes

One of my favorite quotes comes from “The Imitation of Christ” by the German-born Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): “For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands.”  We in the travel agency community are a little like that.  We propose all sorts of brilliant ideas, at least in our own humble estimation, yet we face the reality that in most cases we have zero power to dispose.

Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the SeasI recently interviewed Vicki Freed,  the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, right here on this incomparable little blog and one of my queries was, for her at least, this very familiar and possibly tiresome question:  “When will Royal Caribbean start sailing year round out of the port of Galveston?”

For a little context, travel agents throughout Texas and surrounding states have for a few years now  been clamoring, cajoling, carping (and various other exertions too embarrassing to mention in print) for Royal Caribbean to position a ship in Galveston year round.  We travel types are nothing if not annoyingly persistent.

I have big news!  Let me share a brief excerpt from a press release issued today.  “Royal Caribbean International, the cruise line known for first at-sea innovations, announced today that it is basing 3,114-guest Navigator of the Seas year-round from the Texas port city of Galveston.”   Unlike when mighty Casey struck out, there was great joy in Mudville today. More than one of our travel agents was observed doing the happy dance on their desks!

Navigator of the Seas cabin

Since by design, these “Hear It Here First” posts are intended to be short and sweet, you can click here to read all the details.One exciting aspect of the news is that not only will Navigator of the Seas begin sailing year round from Galveston beginning this November but also will be emerging from an extensive drydock revitalization in February of 2014.  

This is absolutely going to be a very popular ship and departure port so start making your plans now.   Click here if you would like a full schedule of departure dates and itineraries and reach out to me for prices and to secure space.

Remember, you heard it here first.  And, if you didn’t, then clearly you aren’t as devoted a follower of this blog as you should be!  Come on, let’s muster a little fanatical devotion here.

You Say St. Martin And I Say St. Maarten

Before you jump in and shout, “Let’s call the whole thing off!”, let me quickly point out we are both correct . . assuming we are both talking about the enchanted Caribbean island located at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles.  St. Martin is the common English spelling and St. Maarten is the traditional Dutch spelling.  St. Morton is a complete mauling of the name and indicates you probably have way too much salt in your diet.

St. Maarten coastlineChristopher Columbus discovered St. Maarten on November 11th, the holy day of St. Martin of Tours, and thus named the island after him.  If I had known back in college days that all you had to do to get an island named after you is become a saint, I might have behaved a little better.   I am not suggesting by the picture below that this constituted Christopher’s mode of transportation.  I remember from zoology class that there are such things as sea horses but I am relatively certain these are not examples.St. Maarten horseback riding

One of the peculiarities of this tiny island is that it is shared by two sovereign nations, Holland and France.   This fact no doubt explains the provocative phrase the tourist board likes to bandy about. “Where European sophistication and raw island passion have fallen in love.”   Another way to say it is St. Maarten is a “Caribbean Paradise with European Panache”.   Suffice it to say that there is a lot of “Old World” charm on this “New World” isle.

I could ramble on about the myriad activities (take horseback riding on the beach, as a random example), the splendid and variegated beaches, the night life that never ends (can you say 14 world-class, Vegas style casinos) and the dozens of dazzling places to dine but, as you no doubt have observed from past posts, I am a humble man of very few words.  You haven’t noticed?

I would much rather husband our brief time together and tell you about an amazing resort located on this Caribbean gem.  I am referring to none other than the incomparable

La Samanna

The name of this resort comes from the owner’s three children:  Samantha, Natalie and Amanda.  It’s fortunate he wasn’t more prolific or the resort might be unpronounceable.

La Sammana Main EntranceIn the words of the The ID Travel Group brochure, “La Samanna, an Orient-Express hotel, lies in 55 acres of lush, tropical gardens, overlooking Baie Longue stretch of white
sand beach.”  This property is ideally suited for anyone looking for a place to relax and let the gently lapping waters of the bay gingerly wash away the accumulated cares deposited there by a frenetic lifestyle.  If stress is the poison that kills, La Samanna is the antidote that revives.

That doesn’t mean that resuscitation has to take only one form.  An exuberant toast shared by new-found friends under a canopy of stars can be just as invigorating as an afternoon nap in a gently St. Maarten toastswaying hammock.   A sumptuous dinner in an elegant bistro famous for their French cuisine, with apologies to Shakespeare, can serve as well to “knit the raveled sleeve of care” as a restful night’s repose.

Here is one of those insider tips we love to share in these “Incredible Isles” posts.

 “For a couple looking to dine at the most exclusive and romantic table on the island, Le Cave is the spot.  Located in the wine cellar of La Samanna, guests can arrange a private dinner with a customized tasting menu and wine pairings.  It is the most amazing setting for a special occasion.” –Jennifer Molloy, Reservations Manager.

If even these prescriptions are insufficient to straighten out the kinks in your tortured La Samanna Spapsyche, then there are always the nine beckoning spa treatment rooms where the combination of Asian transcendental music and lightly dancing magical fingers will have you slithering out of the treatment room like a great gray slug.  OK, not one of my more gentile metaphors but, you have to admit, it does evoke a powerful, if rather slimy, mental image.La Samanna Spa

I know you will be completely shocked when I tell you, I just happen to have a very special offer should you at this point be gathering up possessions to sell so you can experience La Samanna for yourself.  I am not going to give you a lot of details because 1) that is not what we do here and 2)  if I did, I would have to add a couple of hundred words in mice type of legal disclaimer.

So let me just hint that my little offer includes upgrades, paying for less nights than you stay, some free insurance and such.  If you are intrigued, contact me and I will quite gladly send you the offer . . . along with the mice type disclaimer . . . suitable for framing!

Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.

A Vacation Without Golf? Say It Ain’t So!

Your reaction when you hear the phrase, “Say it ain’t so!” is a barometer of your interests and, perhaps too, your age.  If you are an aficionado of  baseball, you immediately think of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and the famous Black Sox scandal of 1919.  If you are a rocker, on the other hand, you will recognize the phrase as the title of a song written and performed by the American rock band Weezer.  I am appropriating the term, however, with deference to neither but rather simply to register my shock and horror at such a heretical idea.  A vacation without golf?  Please!

Even I am astute enough to recognize that the entire populace does not share this view.  Therefore, this post will attempt the impossible.  (Why squander our time on the merely difficult, right?)  I shall attempt to deconstruct and reprogram the minds of those of you whose opinion of golf tends to parallel a popular quip attributed to Mark Twain, among others. “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”  Whoever may have said it first, it succinctly sums up to the opinion of a multitude of non-golfers.

As seems to be the case ever more frequently in my advancing years, in this matter I am convinced my view is the proper one and all those of a contrary opinion are sadly misguided.  Having shed all pretense of modesty, let me begin to marshal my evidence before I lose your attention altogether.   Here are three incontrovertible reasons why golf should be part of every vacation.

1)  Golf Affords The Opportunity For A Fresh Beginning

I have a preacher friend who once told me that he loved preaching in black churches.  When I enquired why, he replied, “In black churches,  you get to start over every week.”  He did not mean this in any derogatory sense.  Quite the opposite.  He admired the black churches’ emphasis on forgiveness and manifold grace.

This may seem a bit of a stretch but golf is like that.  When you stand on the first tee, youQuestro Golf Cabo San Lucas have nary a blemish on your scorecard.  The card in your hand looks positively pristine, not unlike the closely mown grass under your feet.  You may have gouged and hacked your way through the previous round to the utter consternation of the groundskeeper but all those snowmen (8’s for the uninitiated) on your last scorecard are but a wispy vapor of the mind, melting into nothingness in the morning sun.

As you peer down the first fairway, in a moment of sheer delusion, you ask the starter about the course record.  You pretend it is idle curiosity but inwardly you are fantasizing.  You never know, right?  Sometimes that seductive mirage even lasts a hole or two.  I once started a round with two birdies.  If they could only bottle euphoria like that!

2)  Golf Is Played In Idyllic Surroundings

Questro Golf Cabo RealHave you ever walked the grounds of some palatial estate dreaming that some day your ship would come in (personally, mine broke apart on the twin reefs of poor judgment and bad advice several years ago) and when it did,  you too would finally live in such breathtaking environs?  My humble suggestion . . . in the meantime, of course . . . is to just take up golf.  I have strolled the grounds of the Palace of Versailles and I have ambled through London’s Kew Gardens.  I have also played the incomparable Pebble Beach and Maui’s stunning Plantation course and the former pair have nothing on the latter.

Golf by the seaIf you are a lover of nature, if you like beautiful panoramas and grand vistas, if you like endless variety, fresh air and the sound of birds chirping, if you like gently rolling fields and  towering pines . . . you get my drift . . .  may I gently remind you that the game of golf is played in the great outdoors where nature in all its grandeur is, at least  temporarily, your private estate.

3)  There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Round Of Golf.

OK, admittedly this blanket assertion assumes no freak accidents such as golf cart rollovers, lightning strikes or beanings of your fellow golfers.   Let’s dismiss those negative thoughts at the outset.  Barring such rare occurrences, golf reminds me of a comment I once heard about sex.  Even when it’s bad, it’s good.  As long as you go to the golf course with the right attitude, every round can be a pleasure.

I know what you are thinking.  Precisely because golf is played outdoors, isn’t it true that the vicissitudes of nature are always looming to spoil your outing.  Au contraire, mon ami.  As Oscar Wilde famously said, “There is no bad weather . . . only inappropriate clothing.”  That is precisely why they make rain gear!

Golf in bad weather

I once arose at six in the morning keenly anticipating my first round of golf ever in Ireland.  I flipped on the TV to catch the weather only to be told that I should expect rain and gale force winds off the North Sea.  When my friends and I entered the clubhouse, we were met by the club manager who made the sign of the cross muttering, “God bless you, my children” under his breath.  Not even the locals had ventured out.  True to the forecast there was steady rain and forty mile an hour winds all day.  Ever prepared, I was wearing the proper gear for the conditions.  This undoubtedly renders my sanity suspect, as if it took this final bit of evidence, but I have to say that experience is one of my favorite golf memories of all time.

River Cruising: A Languid Stroll Down Liquid Highways (2)

When last I left you  . . . or you left me . . . let’s not quibble over who broke it off, we were strolling hand in hand down that most renowned of liquid highways, the incomparable Rhine river.  I had made some tortured pun on the name of our ship and you had tittered in that coy way you have. Then, suddenly, you slipped away into the heavy mist that creeps along the river’s banks like a cat burglar in ballet slippers.   Let’s resume our journey and see if we can’t recapture a bit of yesterday’s magic.

Before we leave Amsterdam for good though, I just have to show you this picture as a dire warning that even a pastime as noble as gardening can go to seed, so to speak. You could build an entire reality show called “Horticulture Gone Wild” based on this yard alone.  Did you notice the garage roof?

Horticulture Gone WildOne of my favorite stops along the way was Cologne from which we get our word . . . cologne.  I figured that out without resorting to the guide book.  And speaking of guides, Viking River Cruises has this fantastic system whereby every passenger is given a headset to use on walking tours.  If you look closely at our guide, whom I called Hoss Cartwright (behind his rather imposing back, of course), you can see his microphone.

The reincarnation of Hoss Cartwright.

The reincarnation of Hoss Cartwright.

“Hoss” was an absolute mountain of a man.  Let’s just say he cut a wide swath and I quickly found that if you followed in his wake you could careen along behind him no matter how many Peppermint Schnaps you might have imbibed. I will say, “Hoss” had a masterful grasp of colorful local history and and a very entertaining way of presenting it.

The first picture below is a great illustration as to why comfortable walking shoes are an absolute must on this kind of experience.  The second picture is the perfect advertisement for:

1) living in the south of France instead of the north of Germany

2) letting your wife dress you in the morning

3) finally, for choosing a musical instrument that is smaller than you are! I wonder if this guy ever gave serious consideration to an harmonica.

Cobblestone streetsStreet Musician

 If you are foolhardy enough to book another river cruise company besides Viking River Cruises, the picture below depicts the cabin you will likely end up with.  Ancient casteJust so you know, having waterfowl hanging on your wall will cost you a surcharge..  OK, just a little harmless joke, other river cruise partners.  Actually, there are several quality river cruise companies out there but Viking is certainly an industry leader in many categories.  They are not the cheapest nor the most expensive but they provide incredible value for price.  They have won a number of very prestigious awards.  You might want to read my recent post on Travel Deals And Other Mythical Creatures for a little perspective on travel values verses supposed deals.

If I have rekindled your affection as well as sparked your passion for this wonderful way to see the world, are you willing to indulge me one final installment in this little trilogy?  If so, let’s make a date to meet back here in a few days where we will conclude our river odyssey.