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Archive for September, 2009

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All aboard the Emeraude: a Vietnam trip to remember forever

This summer, I told you all about my own experiences traveling throughout Vietnam. Well, one of my favorite parts of the trip was our stay aboard the Emeraude, in the beautiful waters of Halong Bay.

Anyone who visits Vietnam will no doubt want to visit Halong Bay. This amazing bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site is dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and isles. Local legend has it that long ago, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent dragons to help defend the land. The dragons spit out jewels and jade, which turned into the islands and islets of Halong, forming a great wall against the invaders.

Most tourists take a short cruise, half a day usually, to admire the beautiful waterway, but for those with a little more time and a flair for a romantic journey back in time, we recommend a night aboard the Emeraude, a replica, one-of-a-kind steamer from the French Indochina days.

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During the day, you cruise around one of the most gorgeous waterways in Asia. While you cruise, you can enjoy a terrific massage aboard or relax on the deck and admire the views. High tea is served in the late afternoon, and dinner aboard the cruise is excellent continental and Vietnamese cuisine.

Each of the Emeraude’s cabins exudes warmth and character with high standards of workmanship, distinguished style, and impeccable service. With its polished wooden floors and brass fixtures and fittings, the Emeraude’s charming rooms offer timeless elegance. All cabins have a picture window. Balconies and sitting areas are located outside each cabin on the walkway. Each cabin has a private bathroom stocked with toiletries. Hair dryers are available at the reception

The Emeraude’s restaurant offers delicious, freshly caught local seafood and other specialties. While taking in breathtaking views of the bay, passengers can enjoy the delicious flavors of the local cuisine.

From the sun deck, passengers can treat themselves to a soothing massage while sipping a refreshing cocktail and gazing at the rock formations reflected in the crystal clear water of the bay.

The Emeraude’s swimming deck offers passengers the opportunity to swim in the cool waters of the bay surrounded by the majestic scenery. At dawn as the sun rises, passengers can participate in T’ai Chi class while taking in the calming silence of the bay. Cooking classes are also available on board, which I can tell you from experience is a wonderful and educational time!

The decks invite sitting and enjoying the magnificent sunsets, and then, when it’s dark after dinner, guests can watch the film "Indochine" under the stars. The entire experience is very romantic and a true step back to another time. And (perhaps best of all) the cost for this wonderful experience is about $120 per person, including meals and accommodations.

EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT: Friendly Planet Travel in the news

FP_News.jpgDim the lights and roll the recent highlights reel.

WallStreetJournal.com: Traveling Down Under

LAngelesTimes.com: China: 10-day tour package to Forbidden City, Great Wall and Shanghai only $999

Travel Babel: Cheap China Tour Package in Winter

ShermansTravel: Fascinating China Tour with Airfare from $999

MSNBC.com: 15-day tour of India and Nepal from $2,499

A taste of the sentiment from the Taste of China tour

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"This is on of the best of the many tours I have taken over the years, notable the quality of the accommoations, excellent quides in all cities, specially, SAM, who patiently stayed with us to the ending. I have and will continue to highly recommd Friendly Planet, Very much a high-end budget package which was very flexible. Thanks to your hospitaly from you as well as the Chinese — so accommodating with a smile. — Shirley Bell"

Christmas in September: Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea

It might be September, but it certainly feels like Christmas here at the Friendly Planet Travel office. That’s because I’m thrilled to announce the release of two new cruises: Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea and the Iberian Coasts Cruise. Not only are the prices on these trips incredible for the outstanding quality of travel, but they both have departure dates over the upcoming holiday season.

Want to do something with your family during the holidays that no one will ever forget? Leave the details to us. Today, I’m going to tell you all about the seven-day Mediterranean Highlights cruise for only $1,299 (and stay tuned for all the details on the Iberian Coasts Cruise).

How about spending Christmas Day exploring the ancient coastal town of Trapani, Sicily? Although most of the city has been modernized, much of Trapani’s architecture still reflects its medieval past and ancient heritage. Some of Trapani’s best preserved structures include the Annunciation Sanctuary, the Pepoli Museum, the Spedaletto Palace, and the Church of Saint Augustine. In additional to its rich history, Trapani’s westward position on the Sicilian coast affords some of the most spectacular views of the beautiful Mediterranean sunsets.

FP_Spain.jpgBut that’s just one day. Our Mediterranean Highlights cruise is a fantastic celebration of the cultural riches and natural beauty of the Western Mediterranean aboard the M/V Louis Majesty cruise ship, Louis Cruise Lines’ newest, completely refurbished addition.

Our journey is an exotic living mosaic, where every port recalls another magnificent era of castles and fortresses, ancient cultures, exotic art, and architectural treasures and grandeur. We’ll visit fascinating ports of call in Spain, France, Italy, Tunisia, and Malta while enjoying superior accommodations every night aboard our cruise ship.

Travelers are free to explore themselves throughout the day in destinations such as Marseilles, France; Sicily, Italy; and Port Mahon, Spain (to name a few). Or, take advantage of some of the inexpensive tours we’ll be providing.

This is one of those Friendly Planet Travel packages that not even everyone at Friendly Planet can believe. I’ve told you about how our good relationships with our suppliers often translate into savings for us, which we of course pass on to you! Well this is the perfect example of that practice at work.

The $1,299 price includes roundtrip flights from New York, a six-night Mediterranean cruise, all meals aboard the cruise, and group transfers. Not only have we been given very special rates for Friendly Planet travelers, but we’ve gotten a free one-level upgrade in our pricing from our cruise supplier. That means when a passenger pays the lowest price (for an inside cabin), they’re getting an upgrade to the next level of inside cabin for free. This same upgrade policy applies when booking the already heavily-discounted outside cabins. If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you know what a great deal this is!

FP_Italy.jpgAnd it’s affordable for the whole family. Children up to age 18 (maximum two children per cabin) can share with two adults for free. The only additional costs are the taxes on the cruise and their cost at the hotel in Rome.

We’ve also struck a deal for our single travelers, who often get slammed with hefty supplemental fees when cruising alone. We’ve negotiated discount rates for them, so the supplements will be lower than cruises usually charge. Stay tuned for more information about both the singles and children deals.

FP_Rome.jpgAnd finally, after the cruise docks at its final port-of-call in Genoa, we’ve included an optional, free two-night extension in Rome. The flight to Rome is, of course, also included, as well as all transfers. While in Rome, travelers will stay at the centrally located, 4-star Hotel Genova.

This year’s Mediterranean Highlights cruise takes place Dec. 19 to Dec. 28, with six additional departures throughout 2010. As I said, the perfect holiday trip for you and your family! And keep in mind that December in the southern Mediterranean is gloriously temperate; perfect for taking in the view from the ship’s deck, enjoying the full spa, and spending days touring.
 

Enchanting Germany and Oberammergau Passion Play

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When you hear of Germany what do you think? Fairy-tale castles, medieval churches, stunning natural landscapes, friendly locals, and beer, beer, BEER! Well, now you can add "value" to that list because we’ve designed a tour that blends together 10 days of Germany’s unique cosmopolitan flair and rustic charm for only $3,599.

The first part of our Enchanting Germany tour takes travelers through some of Germany’s most historic and picturesque towns and villages, including Mainz, Marburg, and Eisenach, as well as many others along the way.

The tour begins in Munich and circles the country, finally ending 10 days later in Oberammergau, where travelers can take in the much-sought-after Oberammergau Passion Play. Vacationers will find the German countryside and cities brimming with rich history and culture, and the larger-than-life steins brimming with fresh beer at many of Germany’s famed beer gardens.

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Have a look at our Web site for Enchanting Germany’s full itinerary, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. You can also book online. Flights, transfers, great hotels, many meals, a comprehensive sightseeing tour program, and tickets to the Passion Play are all included.

Imperial Cities of Central Europe and Oberammergau Passion Play

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In addition to our popular Austrian Adventure tour, we also offer tickets to see the Oberammergau Passion Play through our Imperial Cities of Central Europe tour, one of the most comprehensive tours of Central Europe that we have ever offered. For only $4,199, travelers will get a taste of the spellbinding experiences offered in some of the most mesmerizing cities in Europe on this 12-day journey.

This exciting two-part tour takes globe-trotters to four of the most beautiful and historic Central European cities: MunichSalzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Vacationers will explore this complex, multicultural arena of historic, artistic, scientific, industrial, and commercial importance dating back to the Roman Empire.

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The tour then culminates with a visit to the village of Oberammergau, where you’ll have the opportunity to view the famed Passion Play.

As you can imagine, the itinerary is extensive, but you can check it out in full detail on our Web site. There are two tour dates available in 2010: May 17 to May 28, and Sept. 9 to Sept. 20.

As always, flights, transfers, great hotels, many meals, and a comprehensive sightseeing tour program are all included in this amazing deal, as well as tickets to the Passion Play. But, hurry to reserve your space. This tour sells out in the blink of an eye!

Austrian Adventure and the Oberammergau Passion Play

It isn’t often that you hear the words "off the beaten track" associated with group tours through Europe. But that’s exactly what our two-part Austrian Adventure is for our travelers. This 10-day tour first takes vacationers through the rugged and spectacularly beautiful Alpine region of Tyrol in Western Austria.

With its abundance of sights and activities, including lakes, forests, snow-capped mountains, Gothic cathedrals and architecture, art-covered buildings, castles, and excellent food and shopping, the Tyrolean region has something for every traveler.

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The idyllic village of Seefeld serves as home base for the first week, offering easy access to other nearby attractions in the region, such as Salzburg, Chiemsee, and the Krimml Waterfalls.

The tour then culminates with a visit to the village of Oberammergau, where travelers have the opportunity to view the famed Oberammergau Passion Play. As I described in my last post, the Passion Play is a religious and cultural tradition dating back to 1633. This very special event takes place only every 10 years and attracts visitors from around the world.

Flights, transfers, great hotels, many meals, a comprehensive sightseeing tour program, and tickets to the Passion Play are all included in this amazing deal for $3,299. But hurry to reserve your space. This once-in-a-lifetime vacation package is sure to sell out quickly!

The Oberammergau Passion Play

In 1633, the villagers of Oberammergau, Bavaria, southern Germany, were in the grip of war and poverty. Worst of all, the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe. Villagers prayed to God for the safety of their families and themselves, and made a vow that if Oberammergau was spared death from the plague, they would perform a "passion play" every 10 years which re-enacts the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In the end, not a single villager died as a result of the plague. True to their word, they performed the first Oberammergau Passion Play in 1634. And descendants of the original Oberammergau villagers have carried on with the tradition, performing the play every 10 years.

The play takes place four days a week between mid-May and early October, and hundreds of thousands of tickets are sold each year. But those without a ticket are out of luck. No recording of the play is ever made; the only way to see it is to witness it in person.

The actors performing in the play were either born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years. The stage is open air, but the seating area is covered and performances take place no matter the weather. The play is about seven hours long, and includes an intermission.

Many people consider a trip to see the Passion Play to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Due to the relatively small size of the theatre – approximately 5,000 seats – plus the fact that the play occurs only for one season every 10 years, there are limited chances for people to experience the Passion Play.
 

About half a million visitors viewed the last performance of the play in 2000, and more than twice that many were disappointed at not being able to obtain the coveted tickets. In 2010, Friendly Planet Travel is delighted to offer our travelers three different tours, all featuring a Passion Play performance in Oberammergau.

As with all Friendly Planet programs, each tour is full-featured and each departure is priced to save our travelers hundreds of dollars off similar programs. As in 2000, space is very limited, and once tickets are gone, it will be another 10 years before the next performance of the Passion Play.

Stay tuned this week, because I’ll be highlighting each of the three tours that feature the Oberammergau Passion Play, Austrian Adventure; Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Salzburg; and Enchanting Germany.

Taste of China REDUX!

As we see every day here in the office, when something’s good, it’s really, really good. And when that something is a chance to tour an incredible part of the world at jaw-dropping prices, it definitely won’t last long. Our latest Taste of China trips for $999 were so popular and sold out so quickly, we knew we had to work extra hard to make those prices available again … and soon! 

And today, I’m thrilled to report that WE DID IT! It’s not often that a once-in-a-lifetime deal actually comes around for a second time. But that’s exactly what’s happened with our Taste of China tour at only $999, including airfare, great hotels, many meals, all transfers, and some guided touring.

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As a refresher, Taste of China takes Friendly Planeteers on a 10-day tour through three of China’s most fascinating cities: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.

Beijing — China’s historic and cultural capital — and Shanghai — often called the "Paris of the East" — are probably two of the most dynamic cities in the world. And Xi’an is the site of one of the world’s most important archeological treasures: the army of 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soldiers, including more than 8,000 life-size ceramic soldiers, chariots, and horses buried there to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.

Travelers on the Taste of China vacation will be exposed to all of the most significant and breathtaking splendors of China, from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall of China to the Temple of Heaven. They’ll also get a taste of what life is truly like in China, when we stop by picturesque villages, a traditional school, and bustling street vendors.

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 If you missed it the first time, don’t let this opportunity pass you by again! For more information or to book, contact us or visit the Friendly Planet Travel Web site.

Five things that should never be inside your carry on bag

FP_CarryOn2.jpgI know how important a well-packed carry on bag is to a traveler. In fact, I’ve seen situations where it’s been a life line, especially in cases where checked luggage has been misplaced. That’s why I gave you my top five things that should always be packed in your carry on bag last week.

But, as I said in my Examiner.com post today, when packing for a trip, what you leave out of your bag is just as important as what you put in it. Don’t waste space with unnecessary items, and always keep airport security standards in mind. If you haven’t flown in a while, I’d suggest reviewing some of the rules and regulations on the TSA Web site to help you decide what to pack and what to pass over.

And for a quick list of tips, check out my post, where I give you my list of five things that should never be inside your carry on bag.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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