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Windstar Cruises has dramatically broadened its award-winning shore excursion program over the last three years, more than doubling its options for guests to upwards of 2,500 choices. The increase is a direct result of the line’s expanded global deployment to new regions like Alaska, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, and the Holy Land.

The small ship leader in destination delivery and diverse itineraries now sails to over 330 ports of call worldwide, with 700 cruise departure dates available through 2021. The company’s global expansion offers cruise guests itineraries that are immersive in a particular region or country such as Grand Japan, Around Iceland on the line’s all-suite ships, or Grand Caribbean Adventure on Wind Surf, the world’s largest sailing ship. In addition, nearly half of Windstar’s itineraries offer late night departures and overnights in port for more diverse excursion selections, including evening tours and overnight or multi-day options such as exploring Spain’s mystic inland region in the new “Beyond Ordinary: Alhambra In Depth & Insider’s Granada Overnight Tour.”

With smaller ships that can access and stay longer in smaller ports, Windstar’s shore excursions are authentic and personalized, allowing time and space to explore local cultures. To help guests navigate the many choices and match shore excursions to their interests, activity levels, and budgets, Windstar offers three shore tour categories. The award-winning line has recently debuted 10 Beyond Ordinary Tours, in-depth experiences offered in select ports. These tours complement the small ship line’s popular Concierge Collection and Essentials Collection, offered in every port.

Beyond Ordinary tours are comprised of the most over-the-top experiences that deserve to be called “once in a lifetime,” such as a panoramic helicopter flight from Monte Carlo that transports guests to Alain Ducasse’s La Bastide de Moustiers in Provence for a Michelin-starred lunch. A bit less high-flying but still exceptional is an excursion in Roses, Spain, with access to the Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery for a private yoga session on the rooftop, followed by brunch with views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Windstar introduced three Beyond Ordinary Tours last summer to great response, and has launched seven new ones in 2019 so far. The one-of-a-kind tours, bookable now, are designed for sophisticated travel tastes. Windstar’s knowledgeable Product Development team is actively curating new tour options daily, with the goal to deliver exclusive visits to rarely accessible places, matched with definitive experiences that are unique to a port, region or culture – creating storied moments that last a lifetime.

The intimate capacity of Windstar’s elegant, small cruise sailing and all-suite ships, each carrying just 148 to 342 guests, allows the company’s Product Development team to craft tours that visit exclusive and unusual sights and out of the way local favorites, personalized for much smaller groups as few as 2-4 guests.

Windstar’s 10 new Beyond Ordinary experiences include those noted above and the following:

·        Málaga & Almeria, Spain, Beyond Ordinary: Alhambra In Depth & Insider’s Granada Overnight Tour

·        Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, Beyond Ordinary: Tikal National Park

·        Portimao, Portugal, Beyond Ordinary: Algarve Premium Race Tour

·        Ashdod, Israel, Beyond Ordinary: Masada Flightseeing & Jerusalem Exploration

·        Haifa, Israel Beyond Ordinary: Jerusalem, Masada Dead Sea, and Petra Overland

·        Melbourne, Australia, Beyond Ordinary: Decadent Wine & Foodie Experience by Helicopter

·        Bergen, Norway, Beyond Ordinary: Helicopter to Baroniet Manor with Horse Carriage

·        Heimaey Island, Iceland, Beyond Ordinary: Snowmobile & Helicopter Glacier Adventure

“Our team is located around the world and works incredibly hard to develop unusual tours that will interest our guests and be considered the best in destination delivery. With 50 new itineraries visiting Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Fiji, the South Pacific and Cook Islands, Mexico, U.S. Coasts and more, we’re tapping a host of fresh experiences and destinations that are truly special,” says Windstar Director of Product Development Kelly Hubbard. “Our Beyond Ordinary and Concierge Collection excursions are authentic, next-level outings that show exactly how Windstar does things differently.”

Windstar has doubled its Concierge Collection excursions in two years to more than 110 tours featuring intimate experiences that typically range in size from four to 16. Concierge tours present off-the-beaten path experiences, whether visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, discovering street art with artist Eduardo Hermida in El Ferrol, Spain; taking a “tree to bar” chocolate-making class in St. Lucia using prized trinitario cocoa beans or exploring remote Dry Tortugas National Park by seaplane.

“It’s no longer enough to say that our cruises visit interesting, out of the way ports; it’s about painting the picture of the overall destination and explaining exactly what a guest will do that day, with specifics on how we deliver those experiences,” explains Hubbard. “The majority of our shore excursions are available to review at the same time as guests are considering the cruise itinerary they want to book. This gives Windstar guests the advantage of knowing all of the great shore excursion options available, so they can make the most of their vacation time and get excited about cruising with Windstar.”

Examples of newly developed and popular Concierge Collection tours include:

Adelaide, Australia Concierge Collection: Sea to Wine Biking TourAn easy bicycle ride from gorgeous Henley Beach traces the River Torrens right into the heart of Adelaide, where a private wine tasting is arranged at the National Wine Centre with a myriad of South Australian wines to learn about and enjoy. After tasting, guests stroll through the Botanic Gardens for a picnic lunch in the park.

Tracy Arm & Endicott Arm, AlaskaSignature Expedition Tracy Arm KayakingWindstar Signature Expeditions operate directly from the ship and are led by Expedition Leaders who provide insight, education and commentary while exploring Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness.  Kayak in front of the South Sawyer Glacier or Dawes Glacier, both actively calving tidewater glaciers, spot harbor seals hauled out on ice floes, or mountain goats high on vertical granite cliffs that rise from the sea and spout waterfalls. John Muir referred to this area as “a wild, unfinished Yosemite.”

San Francisco, California – Concierge Collection: Sonoma Wine & Olive Oil Tasting with Lunch — Guests are whisked away by luxury van to the Gloria Ferrer Winery for a private cave tour followed by a wine and cheese tasting. Enjoy lunch in quaint downtown Sonoma Square before traveling to Figone Olive Oil & Production Mill for a private tour and tasting of olive oil and balsamic vinegars, finished with another private winery tasting. This tour offers a full day of classic California wine country experiences.

Balboa, Panama – Concierge Collection: Coffee & Chocolate Foodie ExperienceAt Casco Viejo, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, guests enjoy a walking “foodie” experience starting at a coffee house with a focus on Geisha coffee, famed for being the most expensive on earth. Naturally next stop is a chocolate shop with an expert chocolatier to guide tastings. The experience finishes in a rum distillery that uses sugar cane cut by hand in a small farm in Chiriqui. The rum tasting is complemented by local ceviche and traditional Panamanian snacks. 

Cozumel, Mexico Concierge Collection: Chichén Itzá Overnight & Sunrise Guests head to the Hacienda Chichén Resort for a delicious dinner from acclaimed Mayan chefs serving up exclusively organic and local fare. After a restful sleep at the eco-resort, guests rise by dawn to hike and catch the first sun rays touching the Chichén Itzá ruins, one of the most important archaeological sites of the Maya, before the grounds are open to the general public.

Geiranger, Norway – Concierge Collection: Geirangerfjord RIB AdventureOn a RIB (rigid inflatable boat), guests zip through Geirangefjord with a chance to get up close to the famous waterfalls in the scenic fjord, as well as the hauntingly beautiful abandoned farms.  

Hubbard and her team travel the globe to hand-select tour components and operators that are a unique fit for Windstar guests, testing and fine-tuning to ensure each location, activity, meal and experience is the best representation of each port of call. The tour development process, while sounding glamorous, relies on years of expertise and relationships with partners around the globe, Hubbard notes.

Windstar’s aptly named Essentials Collection offers an abundance of options for guests to maximize time in port and truly “see the sights.” These tailored tours guarantee an authentic taste of regional geography, culture and cuisine, and are deemed “must do” activities for first-time visitors providing classic experiences and a comprehensive overview.

Windstar offers more than 1,900 Essentials Collection tours, such as visits to mystical ancient Olympia, or an underwater coral garden in Bora Bora. A few of the new Essentials Collection tours include:

Lembar, Indonesia – Essentials Collection: Sasak Traditional Village & Kuta BeachExperience the rural lifestyle of a traditional Sasak village in Central Lombok, while your guide shares insights on local culture and architecture. Kuta Beach offers the best seascape in Lombok, and an Indonesian buffet lunch is served at a beautiful tropical resort, with ample time to enjoy the beach.

Istanbul, Turkey – Essentials Collection: Turkish Bath ExperienceRelax at the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Turkish bath, where guests are welcomed in Hammam Square with takunya (wooden sabots) and pestemal (loincloth) then ushered to heated ‘gobektasis’ for a rub down massage and bath.

Messina, Italy – Essentials Collection: 500 Vintage TourVisit hidden gems of Eastern Sicily while driving a classic vintage car (Fiat 500) along the beautiful Taormina seafront to the town of Savoca, Francis Ford Coppola’s infamous setting for “The Godfather.”  

Windstar’s “Destination Event” Offers Up to USD$1,000 Shipboard Credit per Suite to Spend on Shore Excursions and more — In celebration of Windstar’s 2,500 shore excursions, the line’s “Destination Event” is offering cruise guests who book late summer and into fall, a shipboard credit to spend on board on shore excursions, alcoholic beverages and spa services. The up to USD$1,000 per suite shipboard credit is available on more than 700 voyages to more than 330 ports of call on sailings through 2021; credit varies based on length of cruise and cabin category:

Voyages 14 days or more:

·        USD$1,000 SBC per suite ( USD$500 per guest) for Premium Suites

·        USD$400 SBC per suite (USD$200 per guest) for Standard Suites & Staterooms

Voyages 5-13 days:

·        USD$400 SBC per suite (USD$200 per guest) for Premium Suites

·        USD$200 SBC per suite (USD$100 per guest) for Standard Suites & Staterooms

Premium Suites include: Owner’s Suites, Classic Suites, Officer’s/Bridge Suites and Wind Surf Suites. To use the shipboard credit for shore excursions, tours must be booked on board. 

Windstar’s immersive shore excursions feature smaller groups and smaller ports around the world, and have been honored as the best in the business, recently given the following accolades in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 Hot List for Best New Cruise Ships & Itineraries: “As far as Alaskan expeditions go, this itinerary gives passengers more access to so many aspects of the state’s culture than any competitor.” 

To learn more about Windstar’s 2,500 shore excursions and authentic small ship cruising, please contact your Mondo Travel Specialist on 0800 110 108.

Source: Francis Travel Marketing 

submitted by -- Tony Terrill

Ladakh is a unique high altitude region located in the northern part of India and is now one of the newest union territories. Nestled between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, Ladakh is known for offering unseen and spellbinding views. The territory is known for the other worldly landscapes, stunning natural beauty, centuries old monasteries, huge valleys, death defying mountain passes and exciting Buddhist culture. The barren and snow clad mountains of Ladakh are certain to take your breath away. It’s a perfect place for nature lovers and true paradise for adventure seekers who love biking, trekking, backpacking and expeditions.

Most of us have dreamt to visit Ladakh once in our lifetime and so do I. It was only this year I was able to fulfill my long cherished desire and thoroughly awe struck by the enormous beauty bestowed upon me of this incredible region.

This widespread region is full of incredible diversity from near barren landscapes to snow capped mountains, from sparsely clad population to buzzing Leh city, from prefect roads to long stretches of rugged pathways. When you think of Ladakh, three things come to our mind – mountains, monasteries and monks. There is much more than what meets the eye or ears. Ladakh is far beyond and it will surprise you at every corner that you visit. The never seen landscapes, changing terrains (and they change within few kilometers), arid land, long swathes of valley, wonderful wildlife and nature preserved to its core are some of the few things that you will find here.

Now let me take you to a virtual journey through Ladakh which I visited this year. Here is my day to day itinerary and experience that I am so happy to share with you.

Leh – Nubra Valley – Pangong Lake – Leh

Day 01: I arrived at Leh Airport in the morning and was welcomed by my driver Motup who drove me to my Hotel called Nature’s Land Hotel in Leh city. After check-in it was time to get acclimatized till late afternoon. Leh is located at an elevation of 3500 m so it’s important for everyone to take rest on your arrival day and get acclimatized.

After resting for few hours it was time for brief Leh sightseeing. I started with visit to Shanti Stupa. It is a Buddhist white-domed Stupa on a hilltop from where you get stunning aerial view of whole valley.

After that it was time to visit Leh Palace. Leh Palace was built during the 17th century by the ruler King Sengge Namgyal. Its construction is on the same lines as the construction of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. This 9-storey royal edifice is almost in ruins now, but is preserved as a part of Ladakh’s heritage. An example of medieval Tibetan architecture, it has massive walls and wooden balconies. Ancient mural paintings adorn the interiors of this palace and speak of its golden bygone era.

Day 02: This morning I got ready at 0800 hrs and it was time for 06 hours drive to beautiful Nubra valley via Khardung La (highest motorable road in the World at elevation of 5300 m).

The drive was not an easy one. It started snowing when we reached Kardung La and pass was closed for few hours. After waiting for 02 hours luckily weather got cleared and pass was opened. It took 04 hours from Khardun La to reach Nubra valley. On the way I saw some of the most mind blowing views of humongous valleys that seemed like a fairy tale.

I arrived around 1600 hrs and checked into Nubra Boutique Camp located in Hunder village close to Sand dunes. After one hour of rest it was time to visit the famous Sand dunes of Nubra valley and see Double humped Camel. I was lucky to get few pictures with Camels.

Day 03: This early morning I visited Diskit monastery that is located at a hilltop in Diskit village with incredible views of Nubra valley. Diskit Gompa is the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the Nubra valley. I made sure to spend time inside prayer hall to sit quiet and meditate. I also visited magnificent statue of Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the future) that is located within the complex.

Later it was time for 07 hours drive to Pangong. The road to Pangong was gorgeous yet dangerous. There were quite a few incidents of landslides and we were lucky to escape it. The drive from Nubra to Pangong was one of the most nerve wracking and hair raising experience I ever had in my life.

On the way I also got a chance to take pictures with Himalayan Marmot. This was really crazy experience as Marmots were really friendly & unperturbed with my close presence.

We continued our drive and reached Pangong around 1800 hrs and check-into Nature’s Nest Camp.

It was unbelievably cold and windy. I decided to have early dinner and rested inside the Camp to keep myself warn and fit.

Day 04: This early morning I spent some peaceful time alone on lakefront and realized the water of Lake Pangong is salty. The crystal clear water of Lake will leave everyone highly impressed with unparallel beauty of the Lake.

Today it was time to return to Leh city via Chang La. It took 06 hours to reach Leh city and on the way I visited Thikse monastery.

Visit to Thikse monastery was certainly one of the highlight of my trip. The monastery is located at an elevation of 3600 m on a hilltop in Thikse village. The multi storey monastery comprises of temples, Assembly Hall, monastic school, nunnery, central courtyard and souvenir shops. I made sure to go to the roof of monastery from where one gets eye catching views of the whole valley. You are bound to see barren and snow capped mountains with oasis of green cover. The views of the valley will leave you totally mesmerized and overwhelmed.

On arrival in Leh city, I checked into Nature’s Land Hotel.

In the late afternoon I decided to see the left over sights of Leh. I visited Gurdwara Patthar Sahib that is located at a distance of 40 kms from Leh and was constructed in 1571 in memory of Guru Nanak to commemorate his visit to this region.

Also visited Magnetic Hill where you will see your car, with its engine turned off, move upwards on a steep slope. It almost sounds unbelievable.

Later visited Sangam where Zanskar River and Indus River merge.

Then I ended my day with visit to local markets and bought few souvenirs.

Day 05: Today it was time to return to Delhi and with a very heavy heart I said goodbye to Ladakh and my friend Motup who told me so many stories that will remain forever in my memory.

For more information on Ladakh and other Himalayan destinations please contact a Mondo Travel Specialist on 0800 110 108. 

Source: Hemant Kaushik, We Must Travel

submitted by -- Tony Terrill

Korean Air is increasing flights on the  Seoul (Incheon) – Auckland route (from 5 to 7 per week) from 27 October 2019 to 28 March 2020.

In addition, Auckland service will be operated by a Boeing 747-800i aircraft in a two-class configuration featuring Korean Air’s refreshed Business & Economy Class seats.

For more information on flying Korean Air contact your local Mondo Travel Specialist on 0800 110 108.

submitted by -- Tony Terrill