Tag Archives: women 40+ travel

America’s Lost Treasures: The Plains Indians

Buffalo picture of tipi of Never Got Shot. Photo credit: Claudia Santino

Buffalo picture on teepee. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art transports you to another place and time. For anyone who’s been itching to pay New York City a visit, it’s a perfect reason. But it’s got a short run and will close on May 10, 2015, so start planning.

You don’t need to be an art critic to understand the value of this exhibit. It’s easy to fall under the spell and spirit of what the Plains Indians were all about. Some of the artistic forms on display go as far back as 2,000 years when migrating peoples contributed items into Plains Indian culture.   The bounty at the Met represents pieces from many Native American nations.

Man's vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Man’s vest, Oglala/Lakota. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The Great Plains of North America was once a vast open landscape of earth and sky, running from the base of Texas and heading north across the mid-west and into Canada. That idea alone made it easy to immerse myself in understanding how the moving canvas of their environment influenced Native American Indians.

We lost the treasures of our country’s earliest artists  a long time ago. The 130 items in this exhibit are on loan from museums in Europe and North America. This treasure chest of Native American art was tossed across the ocean ages ago when soldiers and other opportunistic eyes recognized their value and traded then off.

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Horse sculpture by Lakota artist. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Animal power and a reverence for nature was central to Native American culture and that relationship is on full display here in almost every piece. The pipe is also a significant item in the exhibit. It served as a sacred instrument used in prayer and other rituals. A symbol of friendship and trust, the peace pipe helped seal the pact.

For the Plains Indians these items served more than one purpose.  They were more than form and function. They were part and parcel to their way of life. A war club made of walnut wood is smooth and glossy and engraved with a constellation of four-pointed stars.

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

War club with constellations. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

The arrival of Europeans in the mid-1500s and onward had a significant impact on the Plains Indians, for good and bad. The goods they acquired from these new settlers entered into their artistic expression, with glass beads from Venice, cowrie shells from the Pacific Ocean, and brass buttons from England adorning their clothing and other materials. Battle gear, blankets, dresses, moccasins, shirts and headdresses, mix the natural and the New World and the items on display are a wonder. One very cool looking man’s coat of native tanned leather, porcupine quills, brilliant embroidery and metal hooks and eye fasteners was handcrafted by a Sioux-Metis woman, yet looks like something you’d see on London’s Carnaby Street.

Handcrafted man's coat. (Photo credit:  Claudia Santino)

Handcrafted man’s coat. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Traveling north from Mexico, the Spaniards introduced the horse. Native American Indians quickly harnessed its power, joining the spirit of this animal into their way of life and swiftly adapting to a more nomadic existence. If they were one with nature before, now they could ride alongside her changing seasons. They could hunt better and find the food and shelter necessary to sustain their way of life. Now on the move, they couldn’t afford to be materialistic. The creativity and craftsmanship around their evolving lifestyle is brilliant and inspiring.

The horse transferred the beast into an animal with sacred powers.

The mask transferred sacred powers. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A saddle blanket made of leather, glass beads and wool cloth was used for resting beneath a woman’s saddle and used on social occasions to convey wealth and power. A horse mask transferred this animal into one with sacred powers in warfare or during ritual. A crupper, a strap that secures a horse’s saddle, is beautifully crafted from rawhide, native tanned leather, wool cloth, silk, glass beads, porcupine quills and metal cones. A riding dress with a Morning Star motif signals the four cardinal directions.

Photo by Claudia Santino

A crupper. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

There are many standout items on display. One of them is a cradleboard. Passed down as family heirlooms, these baby carriers worn on the back were crafted by a woman’s family and featured elaborate designs. Thunderbirds accented this one, mythical creatures recognized as powerful guardian spirits. Tiny metal cones hang around the top of a framed strap, creating a tinkling sound to soothe a baby. The thoughtfulness of which stayed with me.

A cradleboard. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

A cradleboard.  (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Something called the parfleche envelope blew me away. It was the Ziploc bag of its time, only a lot better and, clearly, a work of art. Made from buffalo rawhide by Great Plains women, this painted envelope functioned as a beautiful weather resistant container. Central to life on horseback, it was expandable, lightweight and unbreakable. I may only ride the iron horse to work every day but I like the idea of having one.

Headdresses made from raven feathers and other bird feathers and beads are majestic. Porcupine quillwork, an art form unique to Native American Indians, features strongly in their clothing and other adornments. Painted hides depict ceremonial battles, mythic birds and other forms of life and spirit, using every bit of canvas. They wasted nothing.

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

Oglala feather headdress worn by Chief Red Cloud. (Photo by author)

The Plains Indians spun materials from the natural world to evoke spiritual powers of animals and celebrate creation. A shield with a painted buffalo bull was passed down through five generations. A Cheyenne shield was used in war for almost 100 years. The animal depicted on their battle armor was the owner’s guardian spirit. The belief was that it was the image that would protect the warrior, not the shield.

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Buffalo spirit shield. (Photo credit: Claudia Santino)

Sadly, in the end nothing could protect these Native Americans. Frontier settlers and the US government stripped them of their land and devastated the natural resources, mainly buffalo, that the Indians relied upon to sustain their way of life. The artwork here, from pre contact peoples to contemporary artists, are all of the elements used in their life which serves as a canvas to tell their story. In essence, they are America’s earliest experiential travelers and storytellers.

There’s a lot to marvel over in this collection. These in between days of spring when the weather toys with us are a good excuse to call in a mental health day or take vacation and play tourist for a day or two at one the city’s greatest cultural playgrounds. A chance to see what the Plains Indians contributed to American culture.

Come see this beautiful sight before it leaves town.

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El Capitan’s Dawn Wall Climbers Set The Bar High in 2015.

Ben Margot/AP

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

In a new year that’s already delivered some real lows, two men have given us an ultimate high and something to cheer about.

Free climbers Tommy Caldwell, 36, and Kevin Jorgeson, 30, made history yesterday by clawing their way to the top of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in California’s Yosemite National Park in a single expedition. Using rock holds for their hands and feet–just their hands and feet–and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, they accomplished something that’s never been done. Known as the world’s hardest rock climb, they free-climbed the sheer vertical 3,000ft ascent in 19 days. Their only accessories—rope to stop their falls and sleeping tents suspended from the great rock face.

Desire may see possibility everywhere but not without commitment.

Their quest began on December 27 but it took years of planning and practice. One of the beautiful things about their achievement was the help of friends who ascended 1,200 feet every few days to help replenish supplies that helped them to achieve their goal. Bagels and whiskey helped sustain them, and the positive vibrations pouring forth from the friends, family, and onlookers at the feet of El Capitan and via a live-feed certainly helped. For a lot more details on this incredible climb check out NPR’s Free Climbers Make It To The Summit of El Capitan.

For anyone who likes beginning a new year with a challenge, Caldwell and Jorgeson have certainly provided some great inspiration. We may not all be up for something along the likes of El Capitan, but chances are you’ve got your own personal summit that you’re trying to reach. Whether it’s traveling someplace new or traveling out of your own comfort zone.

Where will you go in 2015 and what will you do? These two guys have set the bar damn high!

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 6–Meet Me at the Station

IMG_2101It felt like a scene out of a Wes Andersen movie when all of a sudden a slight man in a conductor’s uniform came zipping around the bend on an Ecoped, making a quick stop on the gravel road. In his blue uniform, matching hat, pocket watch and welcome smile he seemed too good to be true. Owner of the Train Station Inn, Jimmie LeFresne is the real deal.

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Time well spent on the tracks, LeFresne turned his boyhood dream into reality.

A childhood spent playing in this Tatamagouche railroad station, one of the oldest in Canada, LeFresne turned his passion for trains into a hospitality reality. Back then the trains moved goods and services across the country; its stockyard was filled with pigs and cows. Times changed and it fell to ruin. To prevent its demolition, in 1974 LeFresne had the foresight, at 18, to purchase the station. In 1989 he opened the Train Station Inn, creating a love letter to a bygone era.

Uniquely appointed railway cars serve as accommodations: 2 boxcars, the rest 6 cabooses. The stationmaster’s house operates as a separate suite.

It’s not every night you get to sleep in a caboose; mine was bright orange with a small wooden patio added to one end. Investigating the authenticity of the existing apparatus within the car had me feeling like a kid.

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Boxcar Jane is a sweet home away from home

Staying in boutique and luxury hotels is a treat but the Train Station Inn is an entirely different experience, more like a bucket list experience. Its uniqueness would appeal to friends looking for a special getaway, multi-generational family travelers, honeymooners, or couples in search of a memorable wedding destination.

Lunch and dinner is served in the dining car, where some of the good food you’ll eat comes right out of the Inn’s garden and from local farms and fishmongers. Ambassadors for keeping things local, they serve up organic and fair trade coffee and the next morning at the Jitney Café, a brick house that was once the men’s waiting room back in the day, a cup of it and a yummy breakfast of Orange Acadian Toast with maple syrup had my name on it.

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Whet your whistle at the town’s newly opened brewery.

Situated along the Tatamagouche River, the Inn is walking distance to this community-driven town’s attractions. Travelers visit to experience its hospitality, museums, galleries, spiritual center, and an annual event like Oktoberfest. Located about 20 minutes from town, I popped into Jost Vineyards for one more taste of their fine Tidal Bay. It’s just one of the provinces many wineries.

Later, I stopped in Pugwash where I had a date for a game of disc golf. In the nearby town of Wallace, the Chip Ship  drew me in like bait and I pulled over to sample another tasty basket of fish and chips. Afterward, I slowly made my way back towards Halifax.

 

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All aboard the Chip Ship for some good eats!

When I asked EatLikeALocal guide Monica MacNeil what the most significant thing is about Nova Scotia, she spoke for herself and on behalf of Nova Scotia’s tourism organization. “It’s the people,” she said. “It’s the history of the early Europeans and first peoples that we can trace our roots and origins through to today. That’s what continues to shape our hospitality, spirit and friendships.”

She also mentioned never being further than 40 minutes from the ocean, no matter where you are in Nova Scotia.

I do believe that has something to do with it.

For more information on planning your own Nova Scotia road trip to one of the province’s many shorelines, click here.

This six-part Nova Scotia road trip series was originally featured in Mrs Robinson.

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 5—Northumberland’s Beaches

IMG_2066Out of Pictou heading west on Highway 6, the last thing I expected to come across on my Nova Scotia  road trip was a lavender farm.

Open daily from June-September, Seafoam Lavender Farm is family run; its mission is to promote health and wellbeing through the cultivation of this shrub. While the long winter had delayed the season, new growth was beginning to sprout among the variety of lavender beds laid out in row upon row and owners Dave and Suzy Belt have big plans for their crop.

Lavender's bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Lavender’s bounty extends well beyond this basket.

Their onsite shop is already stocked with an assortment of bi-products from the beloved purple buds, from skincare, to food, to household products. It was pretty impressive but the winner was the vanilla ice cream sundae that Suzy brought out topped with perfectly fresh whipped cream and a generous drizzle of lavender syrup.

Traveling is often about finding a new favorite thing. The Belts get two thumbs up for all their efforts and for spoiling me with their unique and super delicious treat.

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Lavender lemonade, the perfect twist on a hot day

Throughout the drive, I’d been wondering about these so-called “warm waters” that were always in sight. I mean, I’ve been to Maine and that water never gets warm. Here I was much further north, just how welcoming would these waters be?

Recommended by the folks at Seafoam, Rushton’s Beach is the warmest salt-water beach in Nova Scotia and I caught it at low tide where a wide sandbar seemed to extend forever. There was barely another soul in sight.

Since arriving in Halifax, the clear blue skies made the sunny weather seem tailor-made. Screw the bikini back in the car, I stripped down to my undies and walked into my first summer swim and into one of heaven’s gates. If water can be gorgeous, this was it.

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Another perfect summer day at Rushton’s Beach.

On the walk back to the wooded parking lot, dogs trotted towards the beach with wide canine grins, their owners walked lazily behind them. In its mouth, a black lab held a bright orange ball as it ran along the long boardwalk leading to the sand. It was around 5PM and I looked back at this perfect hour, on a peaceful slice of local life and wished I could stay. Similar beaches dot the Northumberland coastline, each offering one of nature’s best forms of free therapy.

I didn’t think it could get any better but a stay that night at a defunct railroad station would make this trip unforgettable.

Next Stop: A trip back in time.

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 4 –The Province’s Birthplace

photo-10Passing through the harbor town of Pictou, where the summer seasonal ferry to Prince Edward Isle operates, a newly opened food kiosk served up an excellent basket of fish and chips to my road weary travel. It was clean food, the batter light and crispy, the chips homemade. Waterfront Fries prides itself on using grandma’s recipe. It was a great find and one that would put me on a fish and chips trail.

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Things that may you go, pull over!

At the end of the day’s drive, I settled in at the Pictou Lodge Beach Resort, a comfortable hotel with an unobstructed view of the Northumberland Strait. Its budget-friendly accommodations range from standard rooms to log cabins. It’s also got Chef Thomas Carey, whose amazingly delicious seafood chowder took first place in the 2014 Taste of Nova Scotia Chowder Cook-Off. With a reliance on the sea, Nova Scotians pride themselves on the culinary traditions created from the waters that surround them. Tonight, I would learn how to eat a lobster like a local.

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One of the many activities offered at Pictou Lodge Beach Resort.

The lesson was delivered courtesy of Monica MacNeil, who writes EatLikeALocal. She was also partly responsible for my expanding waistline. MacNeil’s skills around this crustacean are impressive, even if I was a buttery mess. She knows good food and if you have any plans to visit, you may want to look her up. An ambassador for all things Nova Scotia, she’s an outstanding guide and a great teacher.

Anyone interested in learning about lobsters might find the Northumberland Fisheries Museum Lobster Hatchery a curious place, you can even adopt one.  Newborns are no bigger than ants and it takes years for them to mature to a size large enough where they can settle on the ocean floor. That’s if they don’t get eaten first. Here you’ll see lobsters of all sizes. My favorite was Blueberry, named for her genetic mutation. I was thankful my eating lesson had taken place the night before because in gazing at her beauty I could see no lobster in my future.  Fish and chips were another story.

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The only blueberry in my future is off the shrub.

A visit aboard the Hector was a reminder there’s no place like home. This replica of the ship that made Pictou the birthplace of New Scotland provides a glimpse into the arduous journey of the 189 Scottish Highlanders confined to it for more than a few weeks in 1773. Anyone with an ounce of Scottish blood may want to check it out.

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Mrs. MacGregor keeping it real.

One of the highlights of any road trip is pulling over whenever the fancy strikes. You cultivate a discerning eye and a sixth sense for what looks right. It was a pleasure to witness small-town life with mom and pop run operations, dollar stores, bars and restaurants. That is one of Nova Scotia’s draws. There are also lots of laid back cafes and a cozy one is Mrs. MacGregor’s Team Room. Known for her melt-in-your-mouth shortbread (which also make great gifts), she serves up her own recipe of fresh seafood chowder. In fact, the only thing that seemed to rival a fish and chip trail was the possibility of charting a chowder trail. Good reasons to return.

But the coastline was teasing and I wondered if I’d ever get a chance to step into its so-called “warm waters.”

Next Stop:    Who needs France when you’ve got lavender growing in your own backyard!

Discovering Nova Scotia: Part 3–No Time Like the Maritime

GabrieausThe charming town of Antigonish is a great base for day tripping to points of interests along the Northumberland Shoreline and some of Nova Scotia’s other shore areas.

Some travelers dislike staying in B&Bs, and I get it, but the Antigonish Victorian Inn might change your mind. Set amongst four acres of farmland, each room in this heritage house is well-appointed with comfy beds, curtains that keep the morning light at bay, free wi-fi and cable. Rates are wallet-friendly and the Inn has welcomed visitors from dignitaries to international travelers, so they know what they’re doing.

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A cozy welcome at Antigonish Victorian Inn.  Photo credit: Visit Antigonish

Easy to get around, Antigonish has pretty much everything you need on its main street.

A road buddy scored a tiny rose gold teacup on a chain at Aphrodite; a boutique that carries locally sourced fashion, art and jewelry. Now in its 7th year, there’s an International Film Festival held here each October. Antigonish is also known for its beloved St. Francis University, July’s highland games that celebrate Scottish sports and music, its access to outdoor activities, and…beaches. But the only dipping tonight would be at Gabrieau’s, one of the regions most coveted restaurants.

Big Island oysters, fresh and sweet, were served raw and baked. A bottle of L’Acadie, a local crisp and sparkling wine that won a top award at France’s Effervescents du Monde, provided the perfect pairing.  Cape Breton snow crab salad with local radishes was quickly inhaled. A main course of plump Maritime mussels from the Eastern Shore with pan-roasted, smoky haddock was complimented by Tidal Bay, a Nova Scotia appellation white wine. A pecan tart with buttery pastry and a slightly salty flavor provided a perfect finish.

The co-op movement began in Antigonish in 1861 and Chef Mark Gabrieau is proud to be part of its enduring legacy. He tills his own parcel of land on a co-op acreage where he grows seasonal fruits and vegetables that make their way onto his menu. A proud ambassador for Nova Scotia’s food movement, he’s won numerous awards, including the 2013 Taste of Nova Scotia Prestige Award for Restaurant of the Year.

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The province’s lighthouses have their own draw.

For anyone remotely interested in where their food comes from, Nova Scotia’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the land and sea. Whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, a majority of the food I ate was locally sourced, meaning profits go back into the community. With tourism being such an integral part of the province’s revenue, it’s yet another good reason to return.

The next morning a stroll through the Antigonish Landing Trail, a wildlife sanctuary for birds and a local hiking and kayaking spot, was the perfect way to start the day before hitting the road.

Next Stop:  Finding my way around a lobster.

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.