March 2014 Travel Column

Celebrating Easter and Passover in


As the observances of Passover (April 14-22) and Easter (April 20) coincide this year, April is a wonderful time to visit the holy sites in Israel.


To see the same landscapes that Jesus and his disciples once walked, visitors to Israel can follow the Gospel Trail, more than 35 miles of signposted paths and roads. The trail follows the route Jesus is believed to have traveled when he left his childhood home in Nazareth and went to the fishing village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.


On Good Friday, thousands of Christian pilgrims join a procession along the route that Jesus walked through Jerusalem to his crucifixion. The historic route, marked by the Stations of the Cross, begins near the former Antonia Fortress, proceeds along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief) and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Today, the custodians of the church include branches of the Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.


Passover, or Pesach, is a pilgrimage holiday in the Jewish tradition that celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from
slavery in ancient Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which usually falls in April. In Israel, the first and last days of Passover are holy rest days: all productive work is forbidden, so many Israeli businesses close on these days.


During Passover, Jewish pilgrims gather in the old city of Jerusalem at the Western Wall, a remnant of an ancient wall that surrounded the  Jewish Temple, to pray and receive a blessing.


An important part of Passover is sharing a ceremonial Seder meal, which is filled with rituals and special foods. For example, eating matzo, a flat bread made from unrisen dough, recalls the unleavened bread the Israelites ate as they rushed to leave Egypt. Many hotels in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities offer Seder dinners, and some residents even welcome visitors into their homes. Your travel professional can help you
explore all the options.


April is spring in Israel, and is an excellent time to explore the country’s appealing landscapes and cities. To find out more about sites to visit in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, talk with your travel professional.

Panama Canal at 100


August 15 will mark 100 years since the opening of the Panama Canal, which is undergoing the latest in a series of improvements. As work continues on building a new, wider set of locks, the canal remains open for business: cargo ships and cruise ships move smoothly through  every day.


One of the world’s largest and most complex engineering projects, – built so ships could travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific without taking the long and often dangerous route around the southern tip of South America – the canal is impressive in itself. Some cruise lines equip their ships with experts who provide a running commentary while the ship is in the canal. They tell the inspiring and sometimes tragic story of how it was built, and explain its many working parts.


While the canal is completely capable of holding your interest for an entire day, don’t forget to enjoy the scenery of Panama, which is breathtaking. The slender isthmus includes a central spine of beautiful mountains and hills. There are hundreds of rivers, expanses of dense
green jungle, and the most diverse flora and fauna in Central America.


At the Pacific entrance to the canal, Panama City is a modern collection of skyscrapers that began as a 16th century base for Spanish  expeditions into the Inca Empire. There’s a lovely mix of architecture in Casco Viejo, the city’s old quarter; an active arts community; Las Bovedas, a waterfront promenade; and lots of restaurants serving fresh seafood and sangria.


A wide variety of Panama Canal cruises are available from more than a dozen cruise lines. Itineraries range from seven or eight days to 14 or more. Some cruises travel all the way through the canal, from ocean to ocean; some include a partial crossing, passing through one set of locks, then letting passengers go ashore for sightseeing and excursions. A third option is a cruise that docks at the Caribbean entrance to the canal and offers excursions into the canal on smaller boats.


Depending on length, cruises to the Panama Canal often make port calls in the Western and Southern Caribbean, and along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Mexico. To consider all the cruise possibilities and choose the one for you, talk with your travel professional.

Up-and-Coming Destinations in Pacific


In the latest Travel Trends survey from Travel Leaders, five destinations ranked as the top up-and-coming destinations in the Pacific. Based on actual bookings by Travel Leaders’ experts, they are:


New Zealand. This island nation tops many a travel wish list, and movies filmed there – like  “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbitt” – only stoke the interest. New Zealand offers an abundance of gorgeous mountains, forests, lakes, geysers, vineyards and beaches; unbeatable  opportunities to hike, sail, shop and dine; and indigenous Maori culture to explore. Visit both of the two main islands, North and South, to see the country in all its diversity. Don’t miss the glowworms that occupy the Waitomo Caves near the thermal features of Rotorua.


The island of Tahiti is considered to be the heart of French Polynesia. As the largest and most populous island around, it often serves as an embarkation point for Bora Bora, Moorea and other islands. But, there’s lots to appreciate on Tahiti itself such as the mountainous interior, the black sand beaches, and the French-influenced sidewalk cafes of Papeete. In addition to beach time, you can stroll through museums and shop for black pearls.


Fiji is a collections of idyllic islands with the white sand, intensely blue water and swaying palms of your dreams. Many of the islands are fringed by soft coral formations that shelter colorful sea life, making them fantastic places to dive and snorkel. If you can drag yourself away from the beach to explore more of your island, you’re likely to find waterfalls, gardens, and maybe a hot spring.


. This is the spectacular island where jagged volcanic peaks look down on calm turquoise lagoons dotted with clear-floored, over-water bungalows. This may be the priciest location in French Polynesia, but if it fits your budget, Bora Bora will provide an unforgettable tropical vacation. You can enjoy snorkeling and diving, parasailing, trekking up Mt. Ohue, and five-star dining – if you even want to leave your bungalow.


. The state of Queensland is the northeast corner of Australia. Brisbane is its well-known urban anchor, but travelers are just beginning to discover its tropical treasures. Queensland has ancient rainforests, white-sand beaches, Aboriginal arts, and the Great Barrier Reef not far off the shore. The reef shelters the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands, where you can stay in a rustic campsite or a luxury resort.


Your travel professional can help you make plans to visit any of these or other emerging destinations in the Pacific.


Travel Trends for 2014


Luxury travel is on the rise, according to Travel Leader’s latest Travel Trends survey. The survey asked Travel Leaders’ owners and agents around North America about their luxury travel bookings; more than 86% of agents who specialize in luxury travel said that their bookings are the same or higher than they were last year.


Note that luxury travel isn’t necessarily reserved only for the effortlessly rich and famous. Lots of travelers work hard to earn and save for a top-notch vacation experience. These travelers don’t mind spending what it takes to enjoy a luxury vacation, but they also do their research, understand what travel should cost, and demand great value for the money.


To provide a more complete picture of trends in luxury travel, Travel Leaders also asked its owners and agents what their luxury travel clients say is the most important component of a trip. Here are the top responses:


First: Luxury Accommodations. Luxury travelers are looking for a high standard of comfort and service. For example, Mandarin Oriental Hotels are each unique in design and tend toward serene, simple color and furniture choices in spacious, peaceful guest rooms. St. Regis Hotels favor rich color schemes, sumptuous fabrics and careful attention to detail. Located in cities across the world, these luxury hotels offer award-winning spas and restaurants with all the extras – from high-end linens to high-speed Internet access – that you would expect. Luxury can be found in unexpected places, too: Taj Hotels has luxurious lodges in the jungles of India.


Second: Unique Activities. Experts say the very definition of luxury travel is changing to include unique and unusual experiences. This can mean taking the time to truly become immersed in a different culture or to explore a place that few others have been. For example, Cuba and Antarctica may not be traditional luxury destinations, but the fact that few are privileged to journey to these disparate places help to make both unforgettable travel experiences.


Third: First or Business Class Air Travel. The extra legroom, seat width, reclining space and service available in the first and/or business class cabins of an airplane cost considerably more than a coach or economy-class seat, but luxury travelers agree the extra is worth it – especially on longer flights. Some airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and Etihad, also provide luxurious extras outside of their aircraft, like chauffeur service to the airport and elegant, amenity-laden airport lounges.


To explore some luxury options for your next vacation, contact your travel professional.

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