LOS ANGELES, September 10, 2012 – In an industry first, ultra-luxury Crystal Cruises has unveiled the world’s first self-contained, free-standing living wall at sea, created and crafted by UK-based ANS Group Europe. ANS Group Europe spent two days installing the living wall on the 922-guest Crystal Symphony as the ship sailed from Portland to Dover to complete its 11-night “British Isle Brilliance” voyage.
Crystal Symphony's New Living Wall
Designed for an al fresco area in the ship’s Deck 11 Trident Grill, the unique living wall uses a varied and diverse selection of indoor plants to display a world map. The living wall is 37.7 feet (11.5 meters) long and 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) high and will receive regular maintenance by Crystal Symphony’s onboard team of florists.
“In keeping with our ongoing focus on design, we wanted to create a focal point that was both highly contemporary and visually stunning,” says Alexandra Don, Crystal’s vice president, hotel design and services. “The end result is a living wall that brings the Trident Grill to life and serves as an eye-catching backdrop to the incomparable service and choices that always characterize a Crystal holiday.”
The Living Wall at the Trident Grill on the Crystal Symphony
Joel Nash, marketing manager for ANS Group Europe added, “This bespoke project is an exciting and exhilarating scheme. Installing living walls on a cruise ship is taking us to a completely new level and opens up all sorts of possibilities. When you think this wall will be travelling as far north as Lapland and down to Cape Horn, it takes your breath away.”
A living wall is a vertical garden that is pre-planted in panels and then attached to the wall or facade of a building. Plants stay intact in their vertical positions because their root structures are anchored in two to four inches of soil kept within the panel.
The installation of the wall on Crystal Symphony is yet another example of Crystal’s “Crystal Clean” environmental and educational efforts both onboard and on shore. A living wall acts as a bio filter, enhancing air quality by breaking down harmful airborne contaminants and transforming them into clean oxygen. By absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, it reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Crystal’s passion for taking care of guests in an inviting environment of extraordinary space, quality and choices has earned the company more “World’s Best” awards than any other cruise line, resort or hotel in history. A keen focus on design has also earned the line numerous industry design honors, including first-ever awards from Hospitality Design magazine and the Association of Retail Environments (A.R.E.) in 2012.
In the world of luxury travel, there are many things I have learned. First, my job as a travel advisor is to give advice based on my first-hand experiences so I know what works and what doesn’t. Next, that well-traveled individuals HATE, and I mean HATE, to stand in line. Most hotels and cruise lines make a conscious effort to help travelers avoid lines, however, US Customs and Immigration was different. Traditionally travelers could spend a small eternity (anywhere from 30 – 90 minutes or more) waiting on line to be welcomed home after long international flights. This was a sad fact because as advisors, we would spend hours planning the perfect trip, carefully selecting the itinerary, choosing the hotels and arranging flights on the airline with the best on-board experience. Only to have our precious travelers left holding their bags in an endless line when re-entering the US. Traditionally, this was out of our control to advisors, however, now, with the new Global Entry program, we can make those lines disappear and the trip home seamless. So, as all good travel advisors do, I took the two hour ride to JFK Airport to complete my Global Entry application, so I can test the system and make a recommendation.
The Global Entry membership allows travelers to walk past the long lines at immigrations and customs, breeze up to a kiosk, insert their passport and have their fingerprints scanned. They then bypass the immigration agent, for they have already been pre-qualified as a Global Entry traveler. For those of you who travel internationally and are unfamiliar with Global Entry, you need to pay attention because this information will change your traveling life forever.
The Global Entry membership program allows travelers to go through an application and screening process in order to bypass immigration and customs lines when you re-enter the US from abroad. The application is quite simple and only takes a few minutes online and the interview, which is scheduled in advance with the Global Entry Officer, is only about 15 minutes long. Once the interview is complete, you are photographed and fingerprinted, which allows you to use the kiosk in the airport when re-entering the US. The membership fee is $100 and lasts for 5 years AND, as if that wasn’t good enough, you are automatically qualified for TSA PreCheck clearance, which allows you to keep your shoes on and laptop in your bag at certain domestic airports when you travel domestically. Also, anyone paying with an American Express Platinum card will receive reimbursement for the charges.
There are a few qualifications for Global Entry, however, as long as you haven’t broken any laws, smuggled snails in to the country or lied on your application, you should be all set. For more information on Global Entry, you can CLICK HERE for a Global Entry brochure or go online to www.globalentry.gov
Later this year Largay Travel will host a Global Entry Day in our headquarters in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Global Entry Officers will be on site to perform interviews. If you are interested in participating, please email me at Amanda@LargayTravel.com and I will let you know the details when they are available.
So, this October when I return from hosting a Voyager Club group on the Silver Spirit, I will test the system once and for all. And maybe I won’t skip past all the weary travelers waiting in the endless line at the airport like I imagined during my long drive to JFK. Maybe, instead, I will just smile and walk on by knowing that all of MY travelerswill do the same. Safe journies my friends!
One of my favorite areas of travel is adventure and experiential travel and every year when I attend Virtuoso Travel Week at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the VAST Globetrotting event is always a highlight. VAST, which stands for Virtuoso Active and Specialty Travel, is comprised of thirty eight companies in the Virtuoso network from all over the world and with all different specialties.
VAST Training with Cox & Kings
These companies offer clients experiences that range from skiing to heli-hiking to yoga trips and more. Although these companies are a small segment of the entire Virtuoso Portfolio, the advisors who sell them are passionate in a big way. These companies are the best-of-the-best when it comes to adventure travel and the advisors realize that knowing every detail about them is imperative to their clients satisfaction.
What makes VAST training truly special is the time and effort that each company puts into their booth so the advisors can get a true feel for what their company is all about. I mean really, how can you not fall in love with Africa when you are sitting in front of a campfire with a beautiful view of the Masi Mara with a story teller from African Travel giving you the ins and outs of safari travel. Pictured to the right is Gail Rosenberg, Ken Sause and Honey Mistry, three of Largay Travel’s best African specialists.
Maybe skiing is your thing, well Alpine Travel decided to bring the snow to Vegas to get us in the mood. They not only talked about their North America and Europe programs but gave us all a great reminder that ski vacations are not just for winter and that the South American ski season is in full swing.
Another option may be fly-fishing, nature photography and whale watching in Patagonia off a state-of-the-art expedition cruise called Nomads of the sea. This vessel not only offers guests a transport to the fly-fishing river via a helicopter that sits on the back of the ship but also offers exquisite food and wine while sailing.
Cox & Kings took a different approach and brought in a spiritual leader to walk us through meditation for a few minutes before talking travel. It set the mood for us to learn about the Khumb Mela festival that will take place next year in India. Cox & Kings trips to one of the largest human congregations on the Earth, offer travelers an experience that they will never have again in their lifetime, as it does not take place every year.
The best idea of the day had to be the Micato Safaris tent which included a seven minute back massage before moving on to our next experience. Since the Largay Travel advisors work with Micato so much to plan trips, no one felt that they had missed any training.
Our day ended and we all left revitalized, educated and ready to make our clients dreams a reality. The VAST event is only the beginning of Virtuoso Week in Vegas and is the perfect way to kick off what is sure to be an amazing adventure!
We arrived to Bermuda aboard the Enchantment of the Seas, a large Royal Caribbean ship that sails out of Baltimore, MD. We docked at King’s Wharf which overlooks the historical Royal Naval Dockyard. Boasting Bermuda’s largest museum, a marina, a shopping mall, restaurants, and an authentic British pub, Dockyard is one of Bermuda’s key attractions. We ventured to the Bermuda National Museum where the Dolphin Quest is located. The dolphins which have been trained from birth are very friendly and amusing. This is a must-do in my opinion!
Clock Tower Mall in the Navy Dockyard
Dolphins performing in Dockyard
The area where the dolphins are housed used to be the keeping where the ships would pull in to receive supplies. It is a great area for a dolphin center.
For dinner, we stopped at the Frog and Onion for some live music and English pub food. The fries, meat pie, and burgers were to die for. The Frog is also home to the Dockyard Brewing Company, Bermuda’s only brewery. Brewmaster Robert Beck offers five great brews – my favorite is the St. David’s Lager.
The Frog and Onion was one of the restaurants open on Sunday in Dockyard. Sunday is a family day for the Bermudians so most stores and commercial areas are closed.
Bermudians and tourists alike enjoy riding their scooters around the island. This cheetah print was too cool!
One evening, there was a parade in honor of the Queen’s birthday. There was a lot of culture to be experienced by the children.
The Bermuda regiment in action with their music and marches.
Gombey’s dancing in festive costumes for the Queen’s Birthday.
St. George, the lovely little seaport in the eastern end of Bermuda has been capital of Bermuda and was the seat of government until 1815. Everyone you turn, you see memories of yesteryear. St. Peter’s Church was rebuilt in stone in 1713, but the section around the pulpit dates from the 1600s.
St Peter’s Church in Bermuda is believed to be the oldest continually used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere.
You will see that like many other churches in Bermuda, St. Peter’s Church also has a separate gallery at the western side so that the blacks could attend the services. This gallery was built in the early 1700s. The entrance to this gallery was through a separate door at the north west corner of the church.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIRTUOSO TRAVEL MOMENTS? Now accepting entries for the 2012 Virtuoso Traveler Photo Contest!ENTER HERE
Round up your best photographs from your worldwide travels, and submit them today. Four lucky Virtuoso travelers will earn cash prizes and may even have their photo featured in VIRTUOSO LIFE magazine or other Virtuoso materials!
The deadline to enter is Sunday, July 1, 2012.
As some of the most well-traveled people on the planet, our clients, we invite and encourage you to submit your original travel photographs that best reflect the contest theme — Your Virtuoso Travel Moments.
Judges will be looking for images that show you, your family, and/or your friends enjoying moments captured during vacations planned by your professional travel advisor. You’ll have a chance to title each image, to indicate where and when it was taken, and to tell us a little about what made it a special Virtuoso moment for you.
Virtuoso will award cash prizes to four lucky Virtuoso Travelers — one Grand Prize ($1,000), one first prize ($500), one second prize ($300), and one third prize ($200). Additionally, entries may be featured in VIRTUOSO LIFE magazine or other Virtuoso materials.
Just imagine how great it would it be to have one of your vacation photos published in an award-winning travel magazine?! Submit your entry, and you’re one step closer to fame, fortune, and cash!
HOW TO ENTER
The contest entry form is exclusively online. To enter (and for complete image requirements, contest details, and official rules), visit the Virtuoso Traveler Photo Contest website today. Good luck!
Today we met our tour guide Omar Deras at the entrance to St. Herman’s Cave in the Blue Hole National Park. St. Herman’s Cave is of great archaeological interest. It was used by the Maya during the Classic Period up to 2,000 years ago. The ancient Maya believed that caves, particularly those with rivers flowing through and out of them, were entrances to the underworld, Xibalba. We saw remains of pottery vessels which were used for the collection of Zuh uy Ha (virgin water) from driping speleothems, actively growing stalactites. There were also charred remains of pots which were used to catch and burn blood sacrifices to the rain god Chaak during droughts. The blood was collected during bloodletting ceremonies in which priests and elders would pierce their tongues or foreskins. No evidence of human sacrifice has been found in this cave, unlike some others in Belize and Guatemala. All of the pottery pieces found in the cave have been shards, since the ancient Mayans believe that it was necessary to smash sacrificial vessels to release the spirits within. All those items are now studied by the Department of Archaeology in Belmopan. This cave system has been carved out of limestone by the Sibun River.
We hiked up the cave, looking at the various formations and artifacts, then drifted slowly down the river for about an hour. We didn’t see or hear another soul for the entire tubing trip. We then hiked back up through the river to the entrance. We completely lost track of time and space for the 2 1/2 hour expedition. It was a jolt emerging into the tropical sunlight after so long underground.
We saw a few cave-dwelling animals during the trip, such as this short-tailed bat. There were several species of bat flying throughout the cave during out trip. They roost in holes, or “pots” in the ceiling carved out by their acidic urine eroding the limestone. There was a large, active colony of cave swallows at the entrance to the cave. There were also many camel crickets as well as their main predator, scorpion spiders or whip spiders, which are actually not spiders, but arachnids closely related to scorpions, but without the stinger. They are harmless, despite their fierce appearance, and Omar even picked a large one up to demonstrate. Mary was not amused.
After the tubing trip we stopped by the inland Blue Hole for a quick swim. The Blue Hole (not to be confused with the much large and deeper oceanic Blue Hole located int the barrier reef), is a formation where the river upwells into a limestone sinkhole, then travels as a daylight river for a hundred feet or so, then dives back down into another cave system. The hole itself is about twenty five feet deep and crystal clear. Our visit coincided with a huge group of army ants, which livened things up. Despite their large numbers they were very orderly, so it wasn’t too difficult to step over their trails. John learned that they have painful stings when he decided that it would be a good idea to flick them into the Blue Hole for the waiting tilapia to snap up. They found a red-rumped tarantula with an egg sac and forced her out of her hole. She was still struggling to escape when we left. It was the only time I’ve ever felt sorry for a spider. The highlight of the stop was a large purple-crowned fairy hummingbird taking a bath in the river just below the Hole. The emerald, white and black hummingbird repeatedly hovered right at the river surface and buzzed in the water, their form of bathing. She then perched on a branch and preened herself.
Today we visited the Cayo District in the western part of Belize close to the Guatemalan border. As we drove from the coast to the west, we were marveled by the beautiful hills and mountains rich in green dense jungle. From the humblest of beginnings Chaa Creek Cottages has grown into a 365 acre private nature reserve offering a range of exciting, educational adventures, expeditions and cultural experiences. The Natural History Centre, Butterfly Farm, Conference Centre, Macal River Camp bungalows, Rainforest Medicine Trail, Organic Maya Farm, eco-friendly Hilltop Spa and swimming pool are linked by miles of beautiful jungle trails perfect for bird watching, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, or just strolling through a pristine rainforest. The canoes remain the most popular way to explore the river and enjoy scenic excursions into San Ignacio Town. The Chaa Creek region has been a hub of Maya civilisation for thousands of years. They are now internationally recognised for providing an authentic Maya experience, and already this year played host to leading Mayanist and author Dr Mark Van Stone as well as a team from National Geographic magazine. Throughout 2012 they will be offering unique Maya tours, presentations, events and activities, culminating in the grand Winter Solstice celebrations on December 21. They offer the Reef and Rainforest Tour where you can combine a true Caribbean getaway with a Maya experience.
Lunch was served by beautiful Mayan ladies dressed in white dresses with bright floral accents. The dishes were typical of the Latin culture.
Salbutes stuffed with pico de gallo, cabbage, and chicken.
Ceviche with plantain chips.
Chicken soup with cabbage and potatoes.
Xunantanich, located in the Cayo District is the tallest Mayan Ruin in Belize.
We made the steep, but short, climb to the top of “El Castillo.” This vantage point provides a breathtaking, 360 degree, panoramic view over the jungle canopy of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River valleys, as well as a vast area of the Guatemalan Peten District, which is only a few miles away. You will also get a close look at the restored portions of two unique stucco friezes, which appear on the east and west sides of the upper portion of the pyramid.
Located in the Cayo District in western Belize, Xunantunich is easily accessible. Most of the lodging facilities in the area offer day trips to the site, which is very popular with all tourists in the region.
Almond Beach is a beautiful property in Hopkins, a small coastal village. This area has not become overdeveloped and is quiet in the evenings. Perfect for a family getaway or couple’s honeymoon. A Garifuna population inhabits the town and these friendly people staff the resort.
These pictures give you an idea of the flora and the fauna that surrounds you.
We are staying on the top floor of this incredible villa.
These are individual cabanas located directly on the beach.
A boat dock directly in the front of the property takes you on snorkeling and fishing trips to the nearby South Water Caye and Glover’s Reef.
The view from our veranda and an iguana friend that sunbathed in front of our porch each day.
Yesterday we ate a delicious lunch at Iris’s Sunny Side Up, a small restaurant in Hopkins village. The previous owner, Iris, started the restaurant 16 years ago with no running water or electricity. She still lives upstairs but the restaurant is now owned by a South African woman. She kept Iris’ name.
Lightly fried Snapper fingers with a ginger sauce and new potatoes.
Fried plantains and black beans with Chicken curry and vegetable.
On our way to Hopkins from the airport in Belize City, we stopped at the Baboon Sanctuary in the small town of Burrel Boom. The Belizeans call the indigenous Howler Monkeys “Baboons”. There is an area of protected land where conservationists and residents cooperate to create a wonderful habitat for the Howlers. Residents allow the trees and vegetation to grow so the Howlers have plenty to eat. Our guide, Robert showed us where a family of Baboons were feeding and the mother and two babies came down from the trees to eat bananas from his palm. The mother had her hands on Mary’s head in eager anticipation of the treat. The father was very upset and howled severely until I finally told everyone to move out.
The tree cutter ants are amazing. They are much bigger than our ants in the states. They travel in large groups transporting leaves from plants in the jungle to their hill. They spit on the leaves and a fungus grows provided them a source of food. The males have huge fangs which can be used as stitches when people get a cut in the jungle. They create huge trails when they are foraging through the jungle. We tried not to step in the trails.
The cashew plant is used to make cashews like the ones we eat at home. They make wine from the fruit of the cashew tree. It is heard to be very strong in alcohol content. The picture below is a lovely cashew tree with people relaxing under it’s shade.
While we were on the tour, a local boy did some dirt bike stunts. He was so cute that I couldn’t resist taking his picture. The Belizeans are very friendly and warm people. The official language is English, but many speak Creole and Spanish.
We finally arrived at Almond Beach in Hopkins. This is a beautiful Spanish style property with clay tile roofs and mahogany interiors. Upon arrival to our room, we found these swans made of towels and fresh flowers on our bed as well as on the kid’s bunkbeds. More pics of the property to come.
On Friday, April 27th, Largay Travel will host its annual company retreat. The Sagamore Resort and Hotel will serve as the backdrop for the Largettes as they work with each other and travel suppliers to improve their already incredible skills and abilities. Suppliers attending the annual gathering include, Adventures by Disney, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Micato, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Tauck World Discovery, Travel Impressions, Travelex, and Virtuoso. Over the course of the weekend the Suppliers will showcase their travel offerings, while the Largay Travel team assesses each, in order to strengthen their understanding of each supplier’s market. This way, customers will be directed to the best tour or cruise for them, based on their own travel desires. Company Vice President Amanda Kilmak is very enthusiastic and optimistic about the weekend.
“Our company retreat is a way for us to improve our business on every level. We get to work with each other and enhance our abilities as travel advisors, we get to work with our travel suppliers and see how they have changed and evolved for the future. This year we are giving the suppliers incentive to really WOW us but rating their presentations. Our ultimate goal is to find better ways to serve our clients, and what better way than to pull all the pieces together for an annual tune up.”
All in all, the annual retreat looks to be successful, enjoyable and very productive as it is every year.
When I first 1st learned that the Allure of the Seas accommodates in excess of 6000 passengers and has a crew of 2500+, I was initially tempted to QUICKLY jump ship & swim for shore. After all, I was interested in a cruise not a stampede- what I envisioned at dinner time would be the Caribbean equivalent of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Oh how wrong I was.
There is no denying it; it has the title of ‘World’s Largest Cruise ship’ because it is, but big in this case is not synonymous with bad or inferior. Quite the contrary, after having a look around, I was pleasantly surprised that the ship was designed & strategically divided into what can best be described as neighborhoods complete
with names such as Central Park, and the Boardwalk. Central Park was home to a number of intimate, alternative restaurants and a fabulous wine bar proudly displaying the world’s largest bottle of Cabernet!
In contrast, the Boardwalk neighborhood’s authenticity immediately reminded me of my childhood days in Coney Island. There are hot dog/ice cream stands, carnival games, popcorn/candy apples, and of course the requisite/magnificent wooden, hand carved carrousel. Does incredible begin to come to mind?
The active and adventure sports offered on-board are highlighted by a (40) foot rock climbing wall, flow rider(s) (go figure I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to surf, and now I do), a zip line -yes an actual zip line- strung 50 feet
above the deck (the 1st step is the most difficult!), and a running track that encircles the ship that helps you to keep pace with the additional calories found around every corner of the ship (kinda, but not really!).
The gym/workout facilities and spa boast abundant, state of the art pieces of equipment, instructors, and attendants. Not only can you get a personalized exercise/nutritional program,but have your teeth whitened, receive a Botox treatment and experience acupuncture as well. Lions & tigers& bears, oh my!
If nighttime action and entertainment options ‘float your boat’ (sorry it was there) then you’re in luck. AGAIN! As a matter of fact you may be exhausted just deciding between jazz/rock/disco/karaoke music. Or perhaps you want your evening’s entertainment menu to include a combination of a comedy club and a Broadway show (Chicago), or maybe an Ice Capades performance followed by an aqua theater nightcap.
The aqua show can best be described as a unique combination of Cirque de Soleil meets the cliff divers from Acapulco. The choices go on as long as the night.
After sailing for (7) days, my experience/impression is that this ship is a ‘boat load a fun’, unique, and certainly in a class by itself. This ship, like all ships, is NOT for everybody. Folks accustomed to more intimate settings, variety of ports, large cabins and surroundings will be better served elsewhere. But, singles, active couples, families (so PERFECT for multigenerational trips/reunions) should seriously consider adding the Allure to their respective bucket lists. The food, entertainment, and service all exceeded my expectations.
The net result when I think back upon this cruise-and I’ll do so very fondly-is a big ol’ Fashioned smile.
Each time I consider taking an active vacation there are some immediate questions/concerns that surface prior to taking the trip itself: have I chosen the right company, have I chosen the correct trip for me with regards to activity levels, geographic venues, style/ levels of hotels? What will my group of fellow travelers/ adventures be like? Most importantly, HOW GOOD WILL THE TOUR DIRECTORS/GUIDES BE??!!
Prior to ultimately selecting the Backroads Canadian Rockies biking trip, I spent considerable time seeking answers to all my aforementioned questions.I knew I wanted a physically challenging program that had multiple options for both longer & shorter days on the bike. I wanted (4-5) star hotel properties. I wanted nightly fine wine & dining opportunities. I wanted less travelled country roads. I wanted magnificent scenery and authentic wildlife encounters. I wanted moderate temperatures conducive to long days on the saddle. I guess you could say, like most folks, I essentially wanted it all…
Backroads and the National Parks of Canada didn’t disappoint & delivered in style.
For (6) days we were treated to a buffet and endless stream of brilliant blue skies, iridescent , jewel-like lakes, majestic, craggy-faced relentless mountain peaks. Abundant wildlife seemed to magically and strategically await us around each bend in the road (big horn sheep, elk, black bear, and yes even a mother grizzly bear…YIKES!).
The challenges of the daily distance and considerable elevation gains were a test of our collective wills, but whose attainment always offered the reward of a magnificent, scenic, visual dessert.
The guides were all incredibly energetic (they had no choice with all these ‘type A’ personalities!) knowledgeable, personable, and unilaterally available. They somehow innately understood & catered to the uniqueness of each participant and, in certain select instances, when somebody climbing a mountain pass ‘ran outta gas‘ , provided a seamless ‘lift‘ to the top where they eventually toasted & celebrated our arrival.
The hotels were all ‘best in show’ in their respective locales. The service, accommodations, & cuisine at the Post Hotel was in a category second to none and would rival ANY US/European ‘best of the best’ property.
Because of our desire to be situated in a very remote wilderness environment, everyone understood that on certain nights the level of accommodations would be adequate but NOT exceptional. On those particular nights the level of service, food, charm ,and dinner conversation offered by the inn keeper and his staff more than compensated us for the utilitarian accommodations.
What a privilege it was to bike & physically experience this hidden gem, pristine and well preserved wilderness area. The memories of this experience, like the endless rewarding scenery & wildlife of Calgary, will provide lifelong memories for all fortunate enough to have participated!