Tag Archives: Netherlands

So Long 2013—Taking The Polar Bear Plunge.

2012polarbearplunge
As you prepare to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I hope you can look back and see only good things behind you. And while the anticipation around this evening builds, I’ve come to relish New Year’s Day much more than the night before.

The reasons are obvious, of course—a new day, a new year. But the tradition of standing along the shoreline while close to 3,000 people hightail it towards the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean like they were being chased by the hounds of hell is a great metaphor for life. It’s resolution time. None of this sticking your toe in to test the icy waters of change—live bravely and dive right in.

New Year's Baby.

New Year’s Baby.

This year marks the 113th anniversary of the annual Coney Island Polar Bear Club Plunge and it’s a great reason not to sleep in.  For starters, it happens at the reasonable hour of 1:00pm, which gives you enough cushion to make yourself presentable or clear out a fuzzy head. Secondly, it gives you time to either knock up a killer breakfast or pop over to a local diner and start the year off right by treating your self to a good meal. But most importantly, it gets you outside in the salt sea air and deposits you in an energy field of kookiness and courage, with some folks dressed as mermaids, penguins, polar bears or big babies in diapers. Coney’s always let its freak flag fly and with temps forecast for the mid-20s on New Year’s Day, it seems fitting that this annual madness takes place there.

Polar bear plunges happen in Canada, the UK, Netherlands, and in a few more cities across the U.S. but I’m kind of proud of the one we’ve got here in Brooklyn. For starters, with almost every subway line throughout the boroughs barreling directly to Coney, or connecting to a train that does, it’s a destination that you can get to lickety-split. Once you arrive, just head towards the shoreline. You can’t miss it, or the massive crowd all bundled up and bracing themselves for what most folks consider sheer lunacy. People come from around the globe to take part in or witness the plunge.

Hubba-hubba -- The Father of Physical Culture.

Hubba-hubba — The Father of Physical Culture.

The club was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, also knows as “The Father of Physical Culture.” He believed a dip in the ocean during the winter could be a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity. Considered a bit of a kook himself, he was the kind of person who made things happen. He constantly reinvented himself and in the process became a millionaire. He was also a writer and when he couldn’t get published he started a publishing company. The guy went on to become the most successful publisher of magazines in history. He also inspired people around the world to live healthy. It’s among that kind of spirit, and with that type of energy, that makes it a great way to start the year.

Standing there, you’ll also have a massive smile plastered on your face while you probably think, “better those nuts than me” and hear the screams from what’s on the other end of that running leap. But I don’t think they’re so nuts. Most of us have to be pushed to do something bold or to change. Being around loads of people who brave the freezing water and take that icy plunge inspires me to live on the edge of my comfort zone and stokes the philosophy to “just do it.”

If you’re anywhere throughout the five boroughs on New Year’s Day, wrap up, pack a thermos of hot cocoa or a flash of whiskey and consider coming out to Coney Island. It’s one big love fest and after the plunge the party carries on with the rhythmic beats of a DJ on the boardwalk at Stillwell. And don’t forget your camera.

If you’re going, let me know and maybe I’ll see you there.

Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a safe and Happy New Year!

Many Rivers To Cross With AmaWaterways.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

River cruising is becoming a preferred choice for vacations as travelers seek out new experiences. Hard to believe that the industry only emerged in 1992 after the completion of the Main-Danube Canal, making it possible for pretty much all of Europe to leverage its maritime landscape. While the Continent’s rivers had long been used for merchant trading, the completion of the Canal opened up new routes and provided the European travel industry with unique opportunities for travelers to experience this destination from an entirely different point of view.

While American travel companies didn’t jump on board until around 10 years later, they quickly witnessed the rise of river cruising once they rolled out their ships. One of the lines making a name for itself on this side of the Atlantic is AmaWaterways, which operates voyages in Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa. For anyone who’s never been on a cruise or doesn’t like the idea of being on the open ocean, river cruising offers a unique opportunity to test the waters. I had a chat with Gary Murphy, Vice President of Sales from AmaWaterways to learn more about its growing appeal.

Q: For an industry that’s fairly young, you’re doing pretty well. What’s all the fuss?
A: Over 90% of the folks who book with us are people who enjoy cruising but want a more intimate experience than on a gigantic ship. They love the feeling of going on a smaller boutique type of experience. Depending on the itinerary and ship, we max out at 162 guests. River cruising can be a very leisurely vacation or it can be extremely active. The ship is not the destination like it is on an ocean cruise.

AMAWaterways' Zambezi Queen

AMAWaterways’ Zambezi Queen

Q: What do you want people to know about this bird’s eye view?
A: When you look at river cruising, you need to look at it like a floating hotel. Many cities in Europe evolved along the banks of major rivers and a river cruise can take you right to the historic center of those cities. Often, you’re asleep when the ship is en route to the next destination. If you’re going through central Europe on a motor coach or train, you’re traveling during the day. On the ship you wake up in a new town, go out and explore it, come back to the ship for lunch, then cruise to another town. There’s always something new to see.

Q: What about those bikes on your European itineraries.
A: We once had a group of six women who planted the seed for guided bike tours. They were on a cruise in the Netherlands and didn’t take the daily sightseeing tours with us – instead, they borrowed our bikes and planned out their own routes, cycling to the next port and meeting back up with the ship. They did all the research themselves, which was a bit of work for them. So we thought, let’s do this for our guests. Now on every European itinerary (except Portugal) we’re the only river cruise line that travels with over 25 bikes stored on the ship. They’re completely complimentary and guests love being able to explore on their own or take a guided bike tour.

Q: So you’re giving it up for us gals here, right?
A: It was a great idea and we’re happy to give those women full credit! Women like to bike and they don’t want to have to carry their luggage with them or have a van follow them. Many of our ships cruise along the Rhine or Danube, both of which have paved bike paths along the riverbanks, completely separate from the roads. On certain days you can ride ahead of the ship, going through small towns along the way, and meet the ship in the next port. If the ship is in port all day, you can borrow a bike and sightsee on your own, returning to the ship later that afternoon. On our guided bike tours we have two guides, one who rides in front with the fastest rider and one who rides in back with the slowest rider. They’re there to keep an eye on everything.

Vineyards along Portugal's Douro River.

Vineyards along Portugal’s Douro River.

Q: What’s the most popular itinerary these days?
A: The most popular cruise for the company is also the most popular cruise with women, Budapest to Nuremburg on the Danube. It’s a great itinerary with Vienna, Budapest, a pre/post stay in Prague, and pretty little towns like Durnstein and Melk. Another popular one is our Paris & Normandy cruise. France is commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, and our Paris & Normandy itinerary includes some special excursions to the D-Day beaches. And we have a Knitting Cruise that sails over New Year’s in 2014, which is already 60% sold out.

The Danube.

The Danube.

Q: I don’t knit but it might be a good excuse to learn. Who’s the inspiration behind these ideas?
A: Kristin Karst, our Executive Vice President, is very creative, very active and she loves designing eclectic itineraries. For instance, she created a Chocolate Cruise where guests visit a castle, see how chocolates are made, and learn how to pair dark chocolate with red wine. Our culinary and wine tours are really popular. In Austria, guests on our wine cruises get to do a tasting of Sekt, the Austrian version of champagne, served inside a mountain cave outside the town of Schlumberger.

Up close and personal in Normandy.

Up close and personal in Normandy.

Q: You’ve added a new destination in 2014 that’s long been closed to tourists. Tell me about Myanmar.
A: It’s a niche market. We like going into destinations that are interesting to operate in. Our president, Rudi Schreiner, is a river cruising pioneer who loves going into new areas of business and designing ships that best serve that area. Our ships in Mekong are hands down the best ships there. Rudi is designing a ship for Myanmar, a beautiful small ship with only 28 suites. It’s the perfect size to operate on the Ayeyarwady River.

Q: For all its popularity, there’s not a lot of advertising for river cruising. Why is that?
A: We advertise in conjunction with retail travel agents and all of our business comes through them. We create a lot of educational tools for travel agents because it’s very important for them to understand our product and the exceptional value we offer. A good travel agent can point out the differences and benefits between competitors and help clients determine which river cruise is the best choice for them. The best travel agents are the ones who know how to match their clients to the right product.

Q: Younger people don’t typically cruise, are you seeing any changes there?
A: We’re seeing them in multi-generational family travel because river cruising lends itself to that type of vacation experience. For instance, teenagers or active folks can bike, their parents can go on a culinary tour, the grandparents can go on a leisurely walking tour, and then you all meet back on board to share a meal and spend some time together as a family.

You know, two years ago I went surfing in Indonesia and brought my family with me. We were standing in the airport and my daughters started complaining about the long flying time. My 16-year old turned to me and said, “Dad, we should have just taken another river cruise!”

Curious if a river cruise is the way to go? Learn more at AmaWaterways or speak with a travel agent.