Archive for the ‘Travel Stories’ Category

Voluntourism Feels Really Good

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Thursday, September 27th, 2012
by Amanda Klimak

Our own Paul Largay and his friend, Dr. Peter Jacoby, recently completed the Fireball Rally, to raise money for The Missing Children Fund.

The “vacation” was hard-earned. And the accommodations were, shall we say, not what our heroes are used to. But the sacrifice was well worth the effort.

Crystal Symphony Debuts World’s First Living Wall at Sea

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

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 Living Wall

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.”

Trident Grill Living Wall

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.

For more information on Crystal Cruises and reservations, contact a Largay Travel Specialist at 1-800-322-9481, online at or email us at


By jharris   Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Historic Dockyard

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.

The sunrise as we pulled out of the dock.

The Virtuoso Traveler Photography Contest 2012

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Monday, June 11th, 2012
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!

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!

Please email

The world’s finest travel agencies & advisors are Virtuoso.

Belize, Central America by Julie Harris

By jharris   Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Cave Tubing – Blue Hole National Park

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.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chaa Creek and Xunantunich

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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Almond Beach and Iris’ Sunny Side Up

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.
Iris’s Sunny Side Up

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


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.

Equitrekking Travel Names Largay Travel Preferred Provider of Travel Services

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Friday, December 30th, 2011

Emmy-Winning Team Expands Client Service Capacity for Exceptional
Equestrian Vacations with Virtuoso Travel Agency

Washington, D.C., January 2, 2012– Equitrekking Travel, which features exceptional equestrian vacations from the Emmy Award-winning Equitrekking PBS TV show, has announced Largay Travel, a veteran Virtuoso travel agency, as their new Preferred Provider of Travel Services.

The Equitrekking team, who started their business with a single Virtuoso agent two years ago, joined forces with Largay Travel to keep up with the demand from travelers for their riding vacations. Much of this interest is spurred by the popular Equitrekking TV series, which broadcasts nationwide on PBS stations and internationally in over 65 countries. At their interactive website,, equestrians and those seeking to horse ride while on vacation can choose from a variety of hand-picked riding holidays, many of which have been featured by equestrian travel expert and three time Daytime Emmy nominated TV host Darley Newman on Equitrekking. Photos, videos, traveler reviews, blogs, travel tips, detailed itineraries and more engage travelers with personal insight into each special vacation.

“After riding horses with local people all over the world and receiving inquiries from travelers who wanted to ride with the guides they saw featured on our TV show, we launched to feature these unique experiences that combine horse riding with other adventure, culinary and cultural travels,” said Darley. “We are excited to work with the highly regarded team of travel consultants and horsewomen at Largay Travel as we expand our offerings and welcome new travelers.”

Largay Travel, one of New England’s premier travel organizations, has been arranging exclusive travel experiences since 1969. Their dedicated team of 30 skilled advisors have been recognized for four consecutive years by Conde Nast Travel magazine as one of “America’s Top 100 Secret Travel Agents” and for the past 8 years has made the A-List of the world’s top travel agents published by Travel & Leisure magazine. With 26,000 eligible agents competing for these honors, Largay Travel continues to stand out and bring clients the best in adventure, family, cruising and African safaris.

“We are excited to carry through our goal of providing life long memories from travel to the equestrians and their non-riding partners who take Equitrekking Travel’s featured tours,” said Amanda Klimak, Vice President of Largay Travel. “Our expertise in adventure and luxury travel and our ability to customize experiences paired with Equitrekking Travel’s extensive equestrian travel expertise makes for a winning combination for travelers.”

By working with Largay Travel, clients have the option for a full service experience from start to finish. This has been of special interest to equestrian groups, who receive special discounts and travel deals when booking a trip found on Travelers also have access to trips found nowhere else, including’s exclusive Maui, Big Island and Cappadocia, Turkey horse riding vacations, a medieval village trek in Ireland and a special tour of Wales featuring riding Welsh Cobs in the breathtaking Cambrian Mountains, a visit to the Derwen International Welsh Cob Centre and a traveler favorite… a horse ride to the pub.
Equitrekking Travel continues to rapidly grow its client base, increasing its revenue three fold in its second year of operations. In addition to being featured on television in North America, Asia, Africa and Europe and earning high praise from travelers, Equitrekking Travel has been profiled in USA Today, The Boston Globe and Martha Stewart Radio.

With an already popular TV series, Newman continues to spread the word about her personal passion for eco-friendly horseback riding exploration and supporting locally owned, sustainable small businesses, all the while working to serve a growing niche community of equestrian enthusiasts and their families.

For more information, visit


Founded by Darley Newman, an equestrian travel expert and the three time Daytime Emmy nominated host, writer and creator of the Emmy winning Equitrekking TV show, features exceptional horseback riding vacations. Visitors may watch video clips, view photographs and get first hand accounts of riding with the local guides in each destination as they dream, plan and learn on the website, which features detailed itineraries, travel deals and upcoming departures. Visit for itineraries and upcoming departures.

About Largay Travel

Largay Travel was founded in 1969 by Roland F. Largay. Paul Largay, Roland’s nephew, joined the organization in 1982. Together they have traveled the world and built one of New England’s premier travel management organizations. Largay Travel, headquartered in Waterbury, Connecticut, employs a staff whose average tenure with Largay exceeds 15 years. The company is strategically divided into three separate divisions: leisure travel, group & incentive and independent agents, to ensure all the respective, unique needs of each sector are satisfied.

Taking Fun to a Whole New Level in Shanghai

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As a travel specialist I am always in search of the most fun and unique experiences I can find. In Shanghai, China I was able to find just that and it was called, Shanghai Sideways. With this tour, guests enjoy a two, four or full day tour of the city in a WWII motorcycle with sidecar. Of course the bike is driven by an experienced guide but each bike can take two passengers, one on the back and one in the sidecar. While moving about Shanghai, your “Insider Guide” stops to give you a bit of history and take you to the more off the beaten path locales.

It’s fun…’s exciting…and it’s one of the coolest things we did in Shanghai! Check out our video below..

Creating Amazing and Unique Experiences on the Great Wall

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Thursday, October 20th, 2011

As a travel specialist, I am always in search of unique and memorable experiences and lunch on the Great Wall of China is just that. Hosted by St. Regis Hotels, our day included cocktails, phenomenal entertainment and a gourmet lunch. Truly spectacular!

Discovering the New China

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Today we had the opening session of the Virtuoso’s Chairman’s Event in Beijing, China and it was a completely eye opening experience to me.  Our speakers included a government official from the Department of Tourism, Lijia Zhang, author of a book entitled Socialism is Great and David Ben Kay, who was a liaison for Microsoft located in China, who now has a company in the 798 Art District helping people outside China start businesses within China. They also had two college students speak about their lives growing up in China and how different they were from their parent’s lives.  Each person’s perspective was unique and it was truly enlightening for me both as a travel specialist and as an American.  

To be completely honest, and I’m almost embarrassed to say this, prior to this meeting and prior to my trip to China, my perception of China had been somewhat warped by television and a lifetime of education on communism. Even though China was a destination full of culture and history, it was a country with a government with an agenda.   A country of people who ate anything that walked, crawled or flew and a destination with people who had little to say about their lives and their future.  A country with an agenda to take over the world, by continually loaning money, like a loan shark, who will eventually use that power to control everyone else’s destiny.  Although some of that may have been true in the past, I am quickly discovering that is not the case in China today nor with the citizens of China.

With over 1.3 billion, yes that’s billion with a ‘B’, citizens in China, things are changing.  Young people are able to make choices. Choices of careers, of schooling, of what they wear and how they think. They are able to aspire to become something other than what their parents and grand parents were.  Lijia Zhang talked about how in her parents lifetime in China, they lived like ‘A frog in a well’ or someone who could not escape their destiny and could not see anything more than what was in the well. She talked about how much that has changed and how different things are in only the past twenty years. One of the college students spoke about how his primary goal was to be happy in life and find a career that was truly fulfilling to him, a concept that was unheard in the past.  The other student was studying journalism and was planning to teach at a  college in the US next year, as long as she gets the job, before returning  to China to become a professor of English to Chinese students. David Ben Kay spoke about entrepreneurs and artists coming to China to build businesses.   All of these realities were something completely incomprehensible to the people of China  years ago but are exciting opportunities for the people of China today. 

With these changes, there is a growing upper class in China, that is hungry to see the world and hoping to travel abroad and there is a sense of innovation that is truly exciting.   Matthew Upchurch, the CEO of Virtuoso and host of our trip, gave several statics in his portion of the opening session.  One statistic that stuck in my mind was that last year alone, over 79 million visa applications from foreigners to visit the US were not processed, primarily due to inefficiencies within the US government and a lack of emphasis on tourism in our country.  He continued by talking about how the processing of those visas would have resulted in over over 606 billion dollars and a half a million jobs in the tourism industry in the United States.  As a person whose career depends on tourism both within and outside of the US and as someone who is witnessing an economy in need of jobs, I see an opportunity that shouldn’t be passes by.  The opportunities to both embrace the ‘New China’ and embrace our the opportunities for tourism are exciting and should not be overlooked. 

Our meetings wrapped up with a talk from Guy Rubin of Imperial Tours and Patrick McCloud of A & K about China as an emerging destination.  They spoke about improvements to roads and airports and an increase in the number of upscale hotel options available to visitors.  They focused on how China has become a destination worthy of not just one, but many visits. From river cruises, to small villages, to emperors palaces and tombs, China has something for everyone. It is safe, it is unique and the history and culture will not disappoint even the most well traveled individuals. The food has been amazing and i have yet to be served even one bug, cat or lizard.  

China is an emerging destination and in my opinion, one that is worth visiting.  For you know that when Starwood hotels commits to opening a new hotel in a country every two weeks for the next two years, that something amazing is happening and you don’t want to miss it! 

Our arrival to Beijing

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Monday, October 17th, 2011