Travel Blog

Visiting Italy can be compared to stepping into your favorite gelato shop — everything looks so good and it can be hard to make a decision. There are so many choices, all so different, and yet all so delicious. There is something in the Gelateria, or the country of Italy, that appeals to everyone. And just like a good gelateria, Italy invites you back time and time again to try a new flavor.

For the first timer a visit to the “Big 3” is essential: Rome, Florence, and Venice. But realize that because they are the Big 3, there’s a good chance that everyone else had the same great idea. For this reason, by getting off the beaten path, even within these famous cities, you can find some hidden gems of Italy. I’ll share my thoughts on some of these hidden gems of Rome, Florence, and Venice and save the other tastes of Italy for another time.

A first timer’s visit to Rome will likely see the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica as well as the sights of Imperial Rome, but let me offer a suggestion for my favorite museum in Rome, the Museo Borghese. Nestled in the middle of the Villa Borghese, a large and beautiful city park sits the Museum Borghese, a 17th century Villa converted to a museum. The museum houses several famous and spectacular Bernini sculptures as well as an impressive collection of art including pieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, and Reubens. While the Museo Borghese is popular, the crowds are well managed with a required reservation and timed entry for all visitors. The museum is a comfortable size and the entire collection can be easily enjoyed in under two hours. It’s a pleasant break from the city and the crowds. Afterward you can reward yourself with a nice stroll or bike ride through the massive park and finish off the afternoon at the far end of the park in the Terrazza del Pincio. This Terrazza commands an impressive view of the city of Rome and the Piazza del Popolo below.

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We often equate September with back to school; a new start for learning. In September, my new learning wasn't going back to school, but rather going back to the Caribbean. Having been to the Caribbean many times both on cruises and destination vacations, I was excited to explore three new ports of call (two in never-before-visited countries) and a return to a port I visited over 20 years ago.

My fall getaway appropriately was on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship the Getaway. The ship, built in 2014, accommodates almost 4,000 guests, and yet there were plenty of activities, dining options and entertainment to make the ship feel comfortable and not crowded. The ship sails from Miami with stops in Mexico (twice), Belize, and Honduras and allows for a full day at the beginning and end of the cruise to enjoy sailing and relaxing on board the ship. Although shore excursions are offered in every port, I chose to forego the planned tours and enjoyed my time at the beach, poolside and shopping.

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October 6

I love visiting Mexico any time an opportunity comes around, I’ll sign up for it, but I’d never cruise the Mexican Riviera and when I received an invitation from Carnival for their educational seminar at seas, I didn’t even think twice about it, I signing up. The itinerary included Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta out of the port of Los Angeles.

On the day of our cruise, I took the first flight out to make sure I arrived to Los Angeles with plenty of time before my embarkation. I had purchased the transfers with Carnival and when I was picking up my luggage I spotted the Carnival Representative dressed up in his uniform and holding a Carnival logo. I walked up to him, told him my name and after a few more guests showed up he escorted us to the Carnival motor coach.

We arrived to the pier at about 11:15 am which I thought it may have been too early to check in, but after a welcome speech from a Carnival staff we were allowed to get off and gather our suit case to then proceed to the check in. I really liked the check in process, being that our shuttle was the second bus to arrive, there were no crowds so our check in process was perhaps 30 – 40 minutes before arriving to the Lido Deck where one can find the buffet. Boy was I happy to be able to sit down and enjoy a meal. A few hours went by, and as I was doing a ship inspection of the top decks, an announcement came on the loud speaker, our cabin was ready and everyone could now go to their cabins. I of course was ready for a small siesta after over eating at the buffet so I headed to my cabin.

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I just returned from a “Simple Sophistication” U.S. River Cruise experience from New Orleans up the great Mississippi River. I was on their newest ship the “American Song”. The ship was beautiful and sleek; with lots of windows and spacious cabins. American Cruise LInes delivers culture, history and enlightenment without casinos and buffets. They have personalized exploration, well-designed enrichment programs on board and ashore. There was a good variety of food selections on each daily menu (without black tie and formal gatherings); plus hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza on the top deck. One can enjoy the rich history and culture of the Mississippi River with customized excursions in New Orleans, Oak Alley, Natchez, and Vicksburg just to name a few.

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I recently had an opportunity to visit France. France has something for everyone from history, art, architecture, food, wine, chocolate, beaches and even Disneyland! The United States and France have been friends and allies for hundreds of year which is evident in the memorials and monuments that dot both countries such as our Statue of Liberty to the monuments, cemeteries and memorials in Normandy.

My recent visit to France took me from Paris to Normandy and then to the south of France. My purpose for the first week was history, art and architecture. My purpose for the second week was a Uniworld Cruise on the Rhone and Saone Rivers.

Time is too short for the many museums and monuments of the city. Prioritize and go early. I chose quality time in specific locations over trying to see everything. I did spend time at Notre Dame including hiking to the top, which commands an amazing view of Paris and listening to the bells. I spent a full day at the Louvre. In one day you cannot even walk through the entire museum,. One evening I took a tour of the Eiffel Tour and went to the summit. My guide pointed out the Paris view and 1,000 years of history as your eye travels from Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arch de Triumph to the modern city of La Defense. I also visited The Medieval Museum to view beautiful tapestries, and St Chappelle to appreciate the stained glass windows.

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