BOB'S cruises & tours's Blog

Bubble Cruising? Yes, You Can Cruise Close to Home
COVID's impact on travel is having one brilliant effect: it's shining a spotlight on the boom in cruising on the waterways of North America, with new ships and new itineraries to appeal to every cruise traveler's interests.

'Bubble' travel is the first step in the return to travel.

Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host of BestTrip TV and cruise expert, explains the unique highlights of 6 river and fresh water small ship cruises from the West Coast to the East - plus one cruise line that's expanding operations into North America - that will inspire you to make a cruise close to home your first post-COVID vacation. And book more in the years to come.

Some of the regularly-scheduled itineraries that cross the closed US/Canada border may be modified or canceled in 2020; ask your travel advisor about the latest, up-to-date sailing information about each of these cruise lines and itineraries. There are 'bubble' cruises planned in 2020, and you can also get ahead of the 2021 season that's sure to be busy.


Columbia & Snake Rivers and Wine Regions on UnCruise Adventures


UnCruise Adventures' name makes it clear: this is a different kind of cruise line, focused entirely on active outdoor exploration by small ship. The Seattle-based company focuses on the Pacific side of America: small ship coastal cruises from Alaska to Central America, and year-round in Hawaii, with fares inclusive of fine dining, wine, spirits, shore activities and equipment.


UnCruise Adventurs' only dedicated river itinerary is its autumn, 7-night cruises on the Columbia & Snake Rivers in the Pacific North West, where they say you'll find some of the most magnificent scenery in the US in the Columbia River Gorge. 

Early autumn cruises highlight the Lewis & Clark expedition route, Nature and soft adventure: rafting, hiking, a jet boat ride into Hells Canyon, kayaking, even a cycling/winery excursion.

November 'Rivers of Wine & Culinary' themed voyages feature the region's increasingly well-known AVA's. Their onboard culinary program is linked with shore excursions featuring UnCruise Adventure's own sommelier, other wine experts, winery tours, wine-pairing dinners and local scenic highlights.


The company also has a family program, Family Discoveries, with savings for children 8-13 years old, providing multi-generational families with plenty of outdoor activities to bond over.
 

The Mississippi River and Beyond on American Cruise Lines

The great Mississippi is the artery that has served America's heartland for centuries. Mark Twain's literary works immortalized the world of sailing and living along the Mississippi, and today, the mystique of the Mississippi remains, even as the modern world has caught up to river cruising.


American Cruise Lines offers 3 different styles of ships for guests to choose from, all built in the US, with among the largest staterooms in the industry: Victorian paddlewheelers (above), fully-stabilized coastal ships, and the first and only modern riverboats in the country (below).


This range of vessels cruises three-dozen itineraries in 25 US states, along great rivers the Mississippi and the Columbia & Snake Rivers, and both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. But the company's 9 Mississippi itineraries remain the most popular for Americans and Canadians, who often drive over the border to northern departure gateways to cruise itineraries between St. Louis all the way south to New Orleans, with calls that feature treasured Americana including Elvis' Graceland, Ante-bellum southern plantations, and the stunning design icon and newly re-opened St. Louis Arch.

All American Cruise Lines share its river-cruise style: all-inclusive fine dining, complimentary evening cocktail hours, pre-cruise hotel stays, gratuities, wine and beer with lunch & dinner, complimentary onboard entertainment and lectures, and many included featured shore excursions.
 

America's Great Rivers and Now the Great Lakes Too, on American Queen Steamboat Company & Victory Cruise Lines


American Queen Steamboat Company continues the tradition of gingerbread-trimmed paddle-wheel riverboats sailing the country's two great river systems.


One of their three boats (with another launching in 2020) was the first all-suite paddle-wheeler in the US. Another lays claim to being the largest, most opulent riverboat in the world. The vessel is an engineering marvel, six decks high, longer than a football field, but still with the lacy white trim and paddlewheel you associate with the era of waistcoated gamblers and damsels with parasols. Both sail itineraries on the Mississippi between iconic river port cities like New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville and St. Louis. The third is the largest overnight riverboat West of the Mississippi, sailing on the Columbia & Snake Rivers with a vast collection of historic artifacts and Native artwork.


The cruise line has a unique, and popular, approach to shore excursions, many included with your fare. Deluxe coaches drive the itinerary's route in tandem with the boats. In port, they provide 'Hop-on, Hop-off' service, continuously making the round of major local attractions, so guests can select the attractions they most want to see, and enjoy them at their own pace.

Sister cruise line Victory Cruise Lines has two newly upgraded ships serving guests wanting to sail along North America's coasts, including the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canada & New England itineraries, and an upcoming new ship in 2021 setting sail for British Columbia and Alaskan itineraries. Guests on this cruise line travel with historians and naturalists and enjoy inclusive shore excursions for expert immersion into these destinations in North American's backyards.
 

The Great Lakes on Tauck

Cross-border cruising can't get any better! Tauck is known for ultra-luxury land tours and safaris, as well as European river cruises. But in addition to North American land tours, it provides a one-of-a-kind Great Lakes small ship itinerary that's tailor-made for both American and Canadian guests.


Tauck's autumn cruise between the dynamic Canadian and US cities of Toronto and Chicago bookends the voyage with included pre- and post stays in Fairmont or Four Seasons hotels in both cities. The 7-night voyage between those world-class cities highlights seasonal foliage along the coasts, and includes Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake, Detroit, and smaller destinations (like Michigan's Mackinac Island, above) along both countries' coasts, with exclusive and included shore excursions that feature Nature, sport, culture, makers, and history along the way. 


Tauck is using one of luxury French line Ponant's elegant and eco-friendly, 160-guest, 5-star ships for the itinerary, with private balconies, iPod docks, mini bars and all-included service and on board service including wine, spirits in several lounges, and dining at 2 venues. 

This itinerary has been canceled in 2020 as the US/Canada border is closed and Ponant ships have been returned to France, but you can get ahead of this popular sailing in booking now for 2021.

The Great Lakes on Pearl Seas Cruises


This sister company to American Cruise Lines uses the only fully-stabilized small cruise ship on the Great Lakes and the entire Pearl Mist ship (very similar to American’s coastal ships) has spacious, all-balcony, all outward-facing staterooms. The 210-guest ship also features open sundecks, a fitness area, and a glass-enclosed spacious dining room so you never miss a beautiful sunset or scenery floating by.


Two itineraries allow you to explore the gems of the Great Lakes' world-class cities and charming smaller and lakeside holiday communities: an 11-day, Great Lakes and Georgian Bay itinerary from Milwaukee to Toronto that cruises through vast and lovely Georgian Bay, and calls in Niagara as well as Mackinac Island, and a 7-night Great Lakes cruise that also begins / ends in Milwaukee and Toronto, but provides travelers with less time a condensed cruise that still allows them to experience their own backyard from its freshwater ports.
 

Canada's Rideau Canal on LeBoat

 
Le Boat has been operating 'self drive' cruises on the canals and waterways of Europe for half a century, and in 2018 introduced their first North American itinerary. It's a one-of-a-kind cruise on Ontario's UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal, the oldest continuously-operated canal system on the continent.
Begun in 1826, the Rideau Canal remains today one of North America's most beautiful navigable waterways. You'll be able to swim, fish, cycle and stroll, seeing exquisite stone-masonry and pastoral countryside between Canada's original Canadian capital of Kingston on Lake Ontario, and the current national capital, Ottawa (pictured below), at the other end of the 125 mile-long canal.

There are 47 Locks on the Rideau, many with staff members to help boaters through the locks, and a lock pass is included in your fare. Where other cruises charge by the guest, LeBoat hires out the vessels, making it a highly cost-effective choice for families and even groups including solo travelers. It also means you can set the pace and follow your own itinerary. A tutorial before you go gives you confidence driving the boat.

But don't confuse LeBoat with the houseboat rental experience you may be familiar with – this is more like what LeBoat calls pet-friendly 'floating villas'. LeBoat's fleet includes new, upscale European models designed for larger groups – some as big as 5-cabin/5-bath models that sleep 12 people! – with en-suite bathrooms, expansive 'fundecks', barbecues, air-conditioning, even dishwashers in fully-equipped kitchens. You provide your own food, drink, fuel, and fun.

 

New York's Erie Canal and the Great Lakes on Blount Small Ship Adventures


Founder Luther Blount built his first ships specifically for one very special itinerary: the 'Great American Waterways' cruise that includes the four Great Lakes – the world's largest freshwater system – and New York state's historic Erie Canal. The ships are built for the Erie Canal's size, making Blount the only overnight cruise line able to navigate the waterway. 


Guests love the casual, no dress-up atmosphere, complimentary wine and beer with meals, and a related perk that will astound seasoned cruise travelers: a BYOB policy! Not only can you provide your own wine and spirits (or buy them at local, craft wineries and distilleries along the cruise), Blount even facilitates the process, providing mixers, garnishes and barware, so you can 'pour as you please' for your entire cruise!
 
The Great American Waterways itinerary remains the family-owned and –operated company's most popular voyage. But Blount considers the entire Atlantic Coast part of its cruising 'territory', with itineraries sailing coastal New England and the Canadian maritimes into the St. Lawrence seaway (pictured, top, at New York's Singer Castle), as well as winter itineraries in the Bahamas.

Coming Soon: Viking on the Great Lakes and the Mississippi


This won't help you plan a 'bubble' cruise this year, but even pre-COVID, cruising close to home was gaining steam, and Viking's big expansion into North America is a great example.

From European rivers, to the world’s oceans… and soon to America’s heartland. Viking Cruises announced early in 2020 that it will cruise the Mississippi between St. Louis and New Orleans beginning in 2022.

The company’s first custom vessel, purpose-made in America for these iconic river itineraries, is named Viking Mississippi (rendering pictured top) and debuts in August 2022. It will be the largest and most modern ship in the region.

The Viking Mississippi will join Viking’s current fleet of 79 river and ocean vessels, as well as the recently-announced new Viking Expeditions to Antarctica and the North American Great Lakes. 


#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy of their respective cruise lines.

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If you close your eyes and picture 'Italy', chances are, it's the rows of vineyards and cypress trees, villas and farmhouses, fabled towns and household-name works of art of Tuscany that come to mind.


There are a million reasons why Tuscany is the setting of so many escapist novels, movies and life-changing travels. Here are our favorites:

FLORENCE

The red rooftops of Florence are the symbol of Tuscany's capital and epic Italian Renaissance magic. Wandering the alleys and cobblestoned streets, the Boboli Gardens and the Ponte Vecchio lets you drink in Firenze's one-of-a-kind atmosphere. 


But its greatest attractions are indoors. Italy's greatest collection of art is housed in Florence's Uffizi Gallery. The richness of its collection is unparalleled; so many Renaissance masterpieces – recognizable even if you weren't an art history student - you'll hit Botticelli sensory overload quickly, so you'll want to break up your visit into multiple days. Michelangelo's statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia makes visitors gasp in awe at the 17-foot marble nude – as does its replica placed in its original 1504 setting outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

SIENA

Art lovers may argue whether it's Renaissance Florence or Gothic Siena that is the most breathtaking Tuscan city for art and architecture. Luckily, you don't have to choose, immerse yourself in the cathedrals and squares and museums in both. In a part of the world teeming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Siena's Piazza del Campo stands out in its majesty cradled at the foot of three hills surrounding it. Work off some of that extraordinary Tuscan cuisine climbing the Torre del Mangia, a tower at the Palazzo Pubblico. Your reward is a breathtaking viewpoint over Siena.

 

THE PALIO

Time your visit to Siena right, and you can be a part of one of the world's most famous and storied sports/ cultural historic events. The Palio di Siena is a bareback horse race that feels like a Gothic time capsule. The 10 horses and riders are decked out like, knights of yore, in the medieval colors representing city wards; flags hang from the balconies and buildings in the city.

It's one of the most exciting 90 seconds in sport/ pageantry. The riders cling desperately to their horses for three laps of Siena's packed Piazza del Campo, and often, a few are thrown especially at the tight turns along the way, with riderless horses running into the crowds in the middle of the square or crossing the finish line with the other horses. The Palio is run twice a summer, on July 2nd and August 16th, and the Corteo Storico, a boisterous pageant, precedes the race.  Tip: arrange your visit to Siena's Palio through a tour operator that has balcony access overlooking the Piazza for the best view above the throngs.
 

CINQUE TERRE

'Five Villages' sounds quite humble, but in Tuscany, it's magic. Clinging to the sides of the cliffs overlooking the sea, these five colorful villages are among the most recognizable images of Italy. The area is a national park and also protected by UNESCO World Heritage status that attempts to shield these seaside jewels from excessive tourism/ commercialism.  


It's an epic view from the sea, if you're lucky enough to be on a Mediterranean cruise that sails along the Ligurian coast; smaller ships especially may sail close enough. On land, hiking trails provide both a wonderful outdoor activity and spectacular views of the different villages. There is also a coastal train that stops in each town. 
 

PISA

Pisa's 12th century Leaning Tower has been touristy since there were tourists in Italy – and that's a long time. You too will join the millions of people on Instagram in a photo of yourself 'propping up' the 180-foot tower that is about 4 degrees off a perfect vertical. That doesn't sound like much, but it means the top is 13 feet off center! 

The tower began leaning during construction due to poor foundations. In recent years, hundreds of millions have been spent re-stabilizing the bell tower. Unbelievably, it is safe enough you can even climb 300 steps to the top in a medieval version of a funhouse.

VESPAS

Tuscany is the home of the original, and world's favorite scooter. The Vespa isn't just quaint, retro memorabilia. It was designed (its name means 'wasp' for the insect its shape and handlebars evoke) to lead a transportation revolution: vehicles that are inexpensive and easily parked and maneuvered in urban areas.
 
Vespas are still made at the Piaggio factory in the Tuscan city of Pontedera, not far from Pisa, which has a museum displaying the Vespa customized by Salvador Dali.  They have a cult following around the world. Renting one to tour around Tuscany may be one of the most authentic, fun, and heartwarming local experiences.

WATCH VIDEO AT THE TOP: MEETING A VESPA COLLECTOR/ RESTORER IN TUSCANY


WINE AND DINE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

As captivating are Tuscany's cities, the iconic scenery of region's rural areas are transformative. Chianti vineyards, white truffle farms, olive groves along country lanes lines with sculpted-looking cypress trees, with villas, farmhouses, and chapels integrated by the centuries into the gently rolling landscape.

To visit Tuscany is to spend time, by vespa or bicycle or on foot, in the countryside, and even better, to stay in a rural castello or villa with its own vineyard and restaurant to treat all of your senses to a taste of Tuscany.
 

Start your Trip!


Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.












A night time market in the grounds of a castle. Fires and torches and twinkling lights, the smell of evergreen boughs, the best German Christmas culinary treats and artisans selling authentic German arts and crafts, Christmas decorations and cozy winter woolens.

Whether you're the person who always knows exactly how many days it is until Christmas, or the 'Bah, Humbug' type... Even a die-hard Scrooge gets into the spirit of Christmas at a traditional Christmas market in Germany. And Regensburg's Romantic Christmas market might be the most magical of them all.

You can explore a number of Germany's best Christmas markets on itineraries of seasonal river cruises as BestTrip.TV did.

Not to mention the delightful Christmas markets in other countries along the Danube like Austria, as well as France, Italy, Spain and the UK.

So it's not just river cruises; escorted tours also offer special Christmas market itineraries. You can get your fill and fill your bags with iconic local Christmas tastes and treats, as well as other local all-season gems. A child will never forget the handmade wooden toy you picked up in Germany. Or the signature Christmas chocolates from the Netherlands. Grown-up loved ones will cherish the hand-made 'santon' ceramic figurines of everyday life in traditional Provence that the French use in their nativity scenes. Or the ever-popular local wine from, well, anywhere in Europe.

We know families who have made a trip to a famous Christmas market a family gift. All members of a family, from grandparents, parents, single aunts and uncles and every kid ever! find joyful memories together at a European Christmas market.

We love the idea of celebrating the season with travel, and Regensburg's Romantic Christmas Market - or any European Christmas market visit will warm anyone's heart.

Start your Trip!

Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.