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When planning a trip with a cruise line, what most travelers wonder is how far in advance they should book their trip. While there is no single, hard-and-fast rule when it comes to booking your cruise for the lowest rate, there are plenty of trends and factors to take into consideration when deciding the best time to book your cruise. Whether you book early, late or somewhere in-between depends on your budget and your priorities. The most important rule of thumb to keep in mind? How far in advance you book will determine whether you’re able to sail on your dream cruise.

When to Book a Cruise

Ultimately, deciding when to book a cruise comes down to your budget at the time, coordinating with who you’re going with, and how much demand there is for the cruise.

You should book a cruise early if you want a good rate on your favorite cabin and if you have a specific ship and itinerary in mind. Popular cruises sell out quickly, so you should definitely book early if that’s your cruise of choice.

If you’re comfortable with being flexible when it comes to your cabin, ship and itinerary, booking late may get you the lowest price, especially if you live close to the home port.

If you’ve missed your chance to book early but don’t want to deal with the riskiness of booking late, keep an eye out for promotions such as fare sales and perk offers. They may not match the low rates you can find when you book early or last minute, but you can still find a deal.

Best Time to Book a Cruise –– Early vs. Late

When it comes to sailing, what are your priorities? Do you want the best selection of rooms? Do you want the best deal?

Although many claim it’s better to book a cruise late for the best price, cruises actually tend to offer the best fares when their itineraries go on sale. Rates rise as ships sell out. For the best selection of dining times and rooms, you should book early, especially if you’re looking for a suite. Travelers who book early also may receive perks such as complimentary upgrades, onboard credit or free airfare. Best of all, most cruise lines require only a refundable deposit for your cabin reservation. If your plans change, you can easily cancel your booking.

Booking late may offer the lowest price as cruise lines look to fill empty cabins at the last minute. You can start looking for these deals about 90 days ahead of sailing. If this is your plan, you’ll need to be flexible with itineraries, ships and sailing dates. You may find good deals on outside and balcony cabins, but you’re not likely to find these low rates for prime cabins or elegant suites. Last-minute rates for dream cruises that fill up quickly will be higher, not lower. Additionally, if you need to fly to the port, last minute airfare may negate what you saved on the lower cruise rate.

The answer boils down to what you value. Do you value experience or savings? Discuss with your cruise companions to determine when the best booking time is for you.

Cruises You Should Book in Advance

Regardless of when you’ve decided is the best time for you to book your cruise, several cruises really should be booked in advance. If you’re looking to sail on any of these six cruises, you need to book as early as possible.

1. Holidays

Some of the most popular cruises are ones that fall over the holidays. Families, couples and friends get together to enjoy one another’s company –– while someone else does the cooking. You can drink eggnog by the pool or eat a multi-course meal prepared by professional chefs during the holiday season, but don’t wait until the last minute to book your trip. Because cruises for holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s and Thanksgiving are popular with so many people, you’ll need to book at least a year in advance.

Since these cruises are so popular, you’ll need to be prepared for spending more, making it even more vital to save on cruise fare by booking early. New Year’s and Christmas holiday cruises are generally the most expensive, as children are on break from school and families want to take advantage of the time off with a vacation. This means cabins are in high demand during these holiday seasons. If you’re looking for a specialty cabin or suite, aim to make your reservations as soon as bookings for your itinerary open. To ensure you get your preferred itinerary, cabin, ship and dining group, book nine to 12 months prior.

The itinerary is also a critical component of holiday cruises, so you’ll want to book early to make sure you get to experience your dream itinerary. Do you want to spend the actual holiday, like Christmas, on the ship or in port? You may end up stuck in a port where most businesses are closed, leaving you with little to do. Or you might find a port stop with local festivities and celebrations you’d like to attend. Or maybe you’d prefer a day onboard to relax, spend time with your loved ones and enjoy activities on the ship. Pick the itinerary that works for you.

To get the utmost enjoyment out of your holiday cruise with as little stress as possible, book as far in advance as possible.

2. Newer Ships

Many travelers are excited to be among the first to set sail on a new ship –– the first to sleep in their cabin, the first to see a new show, the first to sample a new restaurant, the first to experience the onboard activities. To top that all off, there’s also the smell of a new ship and the excitement from the crew and locals. The cruise line will listen to your feedback, and it will help them determine which restaurants are preferred, which shows and activities draw the most interest and which features cruisers most enjoy in their cabins.

But with a lot of interest in the ship comes plenty of competition for reserving a cabin. Getting a spot on a newer ship will require booking in advance. This is especially true for small ships like ours at Windstar, which can fill up quickly. If you want to be one of the first to travel on a newer ship, be sure to book early.

At Windstar, we’re renovating our three all-suite Star Class ships for your enhanced comfort and enjoyment. Book your cruise on Star Breeze, Star Pride or Star Legend for a new, enhanced experience. And don’t forget to book ahead.

3. Short-Season Trips

For some cruises, the need to book early has less to do with the ship and more to do with the destination. Short-season trips compress high demand into a shorter timeframe, which means getting a spot on this cruise is more difficult. Take into consideration the peak season for your destination as well. If you want to take a cruise to Alaska, for example, keep in mind that cruises in late May and early September tend to be less in demand, as weather can be unpredictable and wildlife sightings are more scarce. Trips to shore and helicopter and boat tours are more likely to be canceled during these times of the year due to the weather. The waters in the Gulf of Alaska also tend to be choppiest in September, so cruisers prone to seasickness should avoid an Alaskan cruise at that time of the year. However, September also offers the best opportunity for cruisers to view the Northern Lights and the best deals for souvenir shoppers.

From mid-June to mid-August, you’ll definitely need to book a cruise to Alaska well in advance. The summer months offer the warmest weather, although July and August tend to be rainy. Summer also provides the best chance at seeing wildlife and boasts the largest variety of fish if you’re looking to add fishing to your agenda. What works best for you in terms of weather and experiences will be what determines the season you’ll be traveling.

Book your Alaska Cruise with Windstar to explore narrow fjords, view massive glaciers and get up close and personal with wildlife like bears, seals and whales. Take your trip on any of our Alaska cruises:

  • Islands & Inlets of the Inside Passage
  • Alaskan Splendors
  • Aleutians & North Pacific Crossing
  • Alaska Glaciers & Prince William Sound

Be sure to book in advance for a cruise to Alaska and other short-season trips!

4. Expedition Trips

Expedition cruises give you a taste of adventure and exploration combined with the relaxation of an elegant vessel to carry you on your journey. These trips include an expedition team who are experts packed with knowledge about your destination. If an expedition cruise is on your agenda, booking early is vital. Expedition ships are small, so these cruises sell out quickly and long before sailing. As with short-season trips, you may be able to book an expedition trip outside of the peak seasons, but you likely won’t see as much or experience the best weather.

With Windstar Cruise Tours, we offer the best of both land and sea experiences for you to cross off your bucket list. We take care of all the on-land details, like hotel accommodations and tickets to attractions. Choose from any of these Windstar Cruise Tours for an unforgettable expedition:

  • Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour
  • Alaskan Glaciers & Rails to the Rockies Cruise Tour
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Cruise Tour
  • Private Vatican & Italian Riviera Cruise Tour
  • Prince William Sound & Denali Cruise Tour
  • Under the Tuscan Sun & Down the Dalmatian Coast Cruise Tour

Booking your cruise in advance will ensure you don’t miss out on experiencing the expedition of your dreams!

5. Special Occasions

Combining a cruise with a special occasion or a visit to a popular event can be the trip of a lifetime. Maybe you want to take a cruise for an anniversary or a birthday. Or maybe you want to attend an event like Mardis Gras or the British Open. Since many of these world events occur only once a year, you’ll need to book far in advance. You’ll also want to be sure to reserve any tickets to the event or perks that aren’t included in the cruise’s fare. Events like the Australian Open, Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz Fest, the British Open, Monaco Grand Prix and the Melbourne Cup are all major events that attract large crowds, so any cruises that incorporate them will need to be booked as early as possible.

6. Themed Cruises

If you have a hobby you enjoy, a celebrity you’ve been dying to meet or a TV show you’ve been watching for years, a themed cruise may be the perfect option for you to combine an interest of yours with a vacation. Some cruises give you the chance to meet famous athletes, authors or musicians or to attend Q&As and concerts. Other themed cruises allow travelers the chance to indulge in their hobbies. You can brush up on your golfing skills or work on improving your dance moves.

Music, food and craft beer are the most common themes. Culinary-themed cruises tend to offer a range of activities, from wine tastings to cooking lessons to competitions. Music cruises focus more on meet-and-greets and concerts. You can choose from full-ship theme cruises, partial-ship theme cruises or theme-inspired cruises. Your level of interest in the cruise’s theme should factor into your decision of which of the three you choose to sail with.

Cruises around bands, TV shows, hobbies or interests can sell out very quickly, and especially popular cruises tend to sell out mere months after going on sale. Book early to enjoy any of these themed Windstar cruises:

  • James Beard Foundation: Alaskan Splendors
  • James Beard Foundation: Autumn on the Atlantic Coast
  • James Beard Foundation: Classic Italy & Dalmatian Coast
  • James Beard Foundation: Quintessential Croatia
  • James Beard Foundation: Spanish Main: Rise of the New World
  • James Beard Foundation: West Coast Epicurean Extravaganza
  • James Beard Foundation: Windstar Cre Hometowns: Philippines & Indonesia
  • James Beard Foundation: Yachtsman’s Harbors of the Rivieras
  • Rome & Grand Prix of Monaco
  • Sail Amsterdam Celebration
  • Star Collector: Alaska & James Beard Foundation West Coast Adventure

A themed cruise is a special experience, so book well ahead of time to make sure you get to enjoy the experience yourself!

Book Your Windstar Cruise Today

While most cruise ships attempt to offer you the chance to explore the world, Windstar’s small cruise ships bring you closest to exciting, new destinations. We offer cruises on newer ships, short-season trips, expedition trips and themed cruises, so you can choose from a variety of cruise vacations depending on your interests. The service and experience with Windstar will make your trip an unforgettable one. Explore Windstar’s cruise destinations and book your next adventure today!

The post How Far in Advance Can You Book a Cruise? appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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Alaska is widely regarded as one of the most stunning, awe-inspiring states in the nation. From its snow-capped mountain peaks to its expansive tundra, Alaska offers a wilderness that can’t be found in any other place in America.

The state boasts a staggering number of lakes, and it’s one of the best places to view the Northern Lights. When you explore Alaska, you’ll find wildlife like whales, sea lions and bears and gaze upon beautiful features of the landscape –– particularly the state’s fjords and glaciers. Most of Alaska isn’t accessible via road, but Windstar expeditions make a trip to this scenic state possible.

What Is a Fjord?

Fjord is an Old Norse word for a long, narrow, deep body of water bordered by high cliffs or slopes and created by glaciers. Though you can find them in different parts of the world, from New Zealand and Chile to Greenland and Canada, the fjords in Alaska are special.

Fjords are formed by the movement of glaciers. Glaciers move slowly over time and leave significant changes to the landscape they pass over in a process known as glaciation. This process creates deep valleys where the glacial force is strongest, forming fjords.

Most fjords are deeper than the coastal sea they empty into, and some are home to coral reefs, though not many organisms can survive in this habit of cold and darkness. Fjords also sometimes feature skerries, which are small, rocky islands created by glaciation. Skerries can be difficult obstacles to navigate around, but fjords are generally calm bodies of water that make for popular ship harbors. With our small cruise ships, navigation through fjords is far less challenging, no matter the skerries, glaciers or icebergs that call the fjords home.

What Are the Best Fjords in Alaska?

Alaska boasts some of the most beautiful fjords in the world. Each has something unique to offer, and none should be missed. Here are the fjords in Alaska you’ll want to put on your travel bucket list:

1. Kenai Fjords

Kenai is a word adapted from an indigenous group known as the Athabaskans, who previously lived in the region. If you’re looking to go whale spotting in America, the Kenai Fjords are your best option. In this spot in South Central Alaska, you’ll find orcas, humpbacks and grey whales that outnumber boats. For a Windstar Cruise that features Kenai Fjords National Park, try Alaskan Splendors, an 11-day expedition that starts in Vancouver and ends in Anchorage.

2. Misty Fjords

This national monument sits in the Tongass National Forest, one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States. Misty Fjords National Monument spans 2.1 million acres. The region is surrounded by rainforest and rock walls 3,000 feet tall. If you’re looking for picturesque, Misty Fjords should be on your travel list. You can find the Misty Fjords on the Islands & Inlets of the Inside Passage.

3. Tracy Arm Fjord

Named after Benjamin Franklin Tracy, the 19th century Secretary of the Navy, this fjord can be found 40 miles from Juneau, Alaska. The fjord boasts beautiful glaciers and is one of the world’s best areas to find deep-sea wildlife. The cold waters can accommodate creatures that usually exist in waters too deep for humans to observe.

This long, narrow fjord of a half-mile wide and 23 miles in length leads to the North and South Sawyer Glaciers. The colossal glaciers here sit on deep blue glacial ice. On some of the ice floes farther up the arm, you can often find hundreds of seals. Book an Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour to visit this fjord.

What Is a Glacier?

A glacier is a mass of ice with the unique ability to move. Glaciers are formed over many years as snow compresses into thick ice. They flow from high to low elevations at a rate of more than 50 feet a day and vary greatly in size, with some about 25 acres and others stretching hundreds of miles long.

Glacial ice currently covers about 10 percent of the world’s land area, and glaciers and ice caps hold over 68 percent of the Earth’s freshwater. Other bodies of water like lakes and rivers contain less than one percent of our planet’s freshwater. Glaciers can be found on all continents except for Australia. Sometimes they appear blue, which is caused by the glacier’s inability to absorb blue lightwaves. The blue light penetrates the ice and creates this azure effect.

Glaciers are commonly confused with icebergs, which are actually floating chunks of ice that have broken off a glacier. While melting glaciers raise sea level, melting icebergs do not. If you think icebergs are massive, you should see a glacier.

What Are the Best Glaciers in Alaska?

Over 100,000 glaciers can be found in Alaska, spanning an amount of land that’s comparable to the size of South Carolina. With the right permit, Alaska’s residents can legally harvest glacial ice. Alaska is also home to the longest glacier in North America –– the Bering Glacier, at 118 miles long. These majestic wonders of nature are truly a sight to behold.

When you travel to Alaska, make sure you don’t miss these glaciers:

1. Sawyer Glaciers

The Sawyer Glaciers can be found in the Tracy Arm fjord. About once an hour, these glaciers “calve,” which means huge chunks of ice break off and drop into the water. This process creates a loud cracking sound, an enormous splash and a resulting wave. These massive ice floes with a deep blue hue are two glaciers you won’t want to miss seeing in action! You can visit them on an Alaskan Splendors cruise.

2. Taku Glacier

Taku Glacier is massive even by Alaskan standards. This is the thickest alpine temperate glacier known, and it has advanced a little less than five miles since the late 1800s. Taku Glacier is over 4,800 feet deep, and its shape is similar to that of Thailand. This glacier is extraordinary not just because of its size but also because it’s one of the few glaciers in the world that has been advancing.

3. Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay is aptly named after the several glaciers you can find in this area of Alaska. A few notable glaciers are the Margerie, which is almost all the way up the West Arm of the 65-mile bay, and the Lamplugh and the Johns Hopkins glaciers. From your ship, you’ll be able to spot bears and mountain goats along the shoreline of the West Arm.

4. Prince William Sound

When you visit Prince William Sound, you’ll find plenty of glaciers, tall mountains and tight fjords. The terrain is green and lush. Though there isn’t as much wildlife here as in Glacier Bay, this area is still well worth the trip.

The tidewater glaciers here drop huge spires of ice the size of office buildings into the ocean, creating a giant splash and sea wave in their wake.

Book an Alaska Glaciers & Prince William Sound cruise for a scenic adventure to see these glaciers!

Tips for Exploring Alaska’s Fjords and Glaciers

If exploring Alaska’s majestic glaciers and fjords sounds exciting to you, start preparing for your trip! Here are a few tips for exploring Alaska:

1. Establish a Plan

If you’re trekking through Alaska alone, with a partner or with a small group, plan in advance where you’ll be going and when you can reasonably expect to return. Leave the plan with someone on shore and give them an idea of the point at which they should start worrying if you’re late to return. Take into consideration the many possible scenarios and unexpected events that could arise.

2. Study Up

You’ll want to educate yourself on self-rescue methods, weather and tides. You should be knowledgeable and proficient at self-rescue techniques and carry a survival kit with you. This kit should include food, water, extra warm layers and an emergency fire starter that can help stave off hypothermia. Improve your skill level, review and practice techniques with your partners and stay within your limits.

Weather at Kenai Fjords can change rapidly and be challenging to predict. This is a temperate rainforest, so the weather is often cool, overcast and rainy. In spite of this, sunscreen and sunglasses are still a necessity, as the reflection of sunlight off the water and ice can be intense. In the summer, temperatures typically range between the mid 40s and low 70s, and winter weather is much more frigid, from temperatures in the 30s to as low as -20. Make sure you come prepared.

Tides can also have a significant impact on the ease or difficulty of your water travels. In Kenai Fjords, the difference between high and low tides can be nearly 15 feet. To account for this element of your travels, carry a tide book with you that you know how to read and use, ask locals for advice about locations that could be hazardous and be sure to tie off your boat and keep gear above the tide line.

3. Pack Your Gear

You’ll need quite a bit of gear for a trip by foot or water. Be sure you come prepared with everything you’ll need. Here are a few of the essentials:

  • Navigation equipment
  • First aid kit
  • Hypothermia kit
  • Repair kit
  • Bear spray
  • Rain gear
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Food
  • Water purification
  • Bags for human waste

You’ll also need to bring communication devices. Cell phone service isn’t available much in Kenai Fjords National Park, so you’ll need to carry a marine VHF radio. This is to be used in case of emergency to reach park rangers or the Coast Guard on Marine Channel 16. A personal locator beacon, flares and air horns can also be useful, especially during extended trips. Flares and air horns can be used to scare off bears or alert vessels of your presence in water during foggy conditions.

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) need to be U.S. Coast Guard approved. PFDs can save your life and are very difficult to put on in the water, so if you’re traveling by water, be sure to put yours on before leaving shore.

4. Exercise Caution Around Wildlife and Glaciers

For your safety and the safety of the wildlife you’ll encounter, keep a respectful distance of at least 100 yards from wildlife and a safe distance from glaciers and icebergs. Tidewater glaciers, for example, can calve anytime, which can cause large waves that swamp kayaks and strike nearby shorelines.

If traveling by water, stay in deep water as much as possible so that waves will pass under you rather than breaking over you. On shore, remain at least two miles away from glaciers to avoid powerful waves from calving ice. Don’t travel between two big icebergs and stay twice the iceberg’s width or height away.

How to Explore Alaska’s Fjords and Glaciers

Ready to start exploring? A car won’t get you to Alaska’s majestic fjords and glaciers, but there are plenty of other methods of exploration and travel to get you where you want to go! Find out more about how you can explore Alaska by fishing, hiking, kayaking and cruising:

1. Fishing

In the area around Kenai Fjords, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for fresh and saltwater fishing. Grab your fishing license and cast your lines for salmon, rockfish, halibut and lingcod.

2. Hiking

Hiking on foot is a fantastic way to explore the Alaskan landscape.

  • To visit Exit Glacier, a 4-mile hike uphill will take you to Marmot Meadows and to the ice field’s edge. This is the most accessible glacier hike in Alaska.
  • To visit Worthington Glacier, hike a 2-mile trail to the snowiest point in the state. Bring proper hiking gear to navigate the loose rock.
  • To visit Mendenhall Glacier, take the Nugget Fall trail to end up just a few hundred yards away from this 13-mile long glacier.
3. Kayaking

Traveling the fjords by kayak is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the Kenai Fjords National Park, you’ll come across a variety of sea mammals up close:

  • Orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, fin whales, minke whales and sei whales
  • Sea otters, harbor seals and Steller sea lions
  • Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises and harbor porpoises

Inexperienced kayakers should travel with a guide. From the elements to the wildlife, kayaking can be a risky exploration method, so it’s important to understand and abide by kayaking safety measures before paddling your way through these waters.

4. Cruising

Arguably the best way to explore Alaska’s majestic fjords and glaciers is via cruise ship. Just about any cruise ship can allow you to see the world, but it’s Windstar’s small cruise ships that bring you closer to new and exciting destinations. The service and experience will make your visit to Alaska an unforgettable one. Follow these tips for the best cruising experience:

Pack Your Fall and Winter Wardrobes

Even in the summer, Alaska’s weather is mostly chilly and unpredictable, so you’ll want to bring your hat, gloves and raincoat. About three-quarters of your wardrobe should be autumn and winter apparel, and a quarter of your wardrobe should be summer apparel for those beautiful but relatively uncommon sunny days. Also, pack something a little more formal in case you want to dress up for any of the restaurants or outings.

Book a Midship Room If You’re Prone to Seasickness

If you’re a cruiser who tends to get seasick, try to book a room that is on a lower level and close to the middle of the ship. Here, you’ll feel less movement than in other parts of the ship.

Pack the Extras

Besides the necessities, you may want to pack a few other items to enhance your cruise experience:

  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Eye drops
  • Earplugs
  • Travel clock
  • Small power strip
  • Seasickness medication
Book Your Cruise With Windstar

A Windstar cruise allows you to relax and enjoy your adventure on a small, elegant ship so you can get up close and personal with the wildlife and glaciers. Our ships can navigate narrow fjords and around ice floes easily.

Ready to get started on your exploration of Alaska’s fjords and glaciers? Check out Windstar’s Alaskan cruise destinations for the chance to see the beauty of Alaska yourself.

The post How to See Alaska’s Fjords and Glaciers appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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We are excited to offer a new inclusive onboard package with exceptional value on everything needed for the perfect vacation.
Guests who purchase Windstar’s new “All-In Package” receive unlimited Wi-Fi access, unlimited laundry service, hotel and beverage gratuities, and the top shelf Captain’s Exclusive Beverage Package featuring all wines by the glass, all beer selections, all mini-bar beverages, and a broad assortment of cocktails — all for $89 per person, per day.

Special Package Pricing Offers $480 Savings on a 7-Day Sailing, Including Unlimited Wi-Fi, Laundry Service, Gratuities, Wine, Beer, Cocktails & Mini-bar.

The “All-In Package” is available to purchase now on more than 550 cruises (ranging from 7- to 56-days) sailing to destinations around the globe into 2021 including Tahiti and the South Pacific, Alaska, Europe, Transatlantic, Canada and New England, Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal. Even after guests board the ship, the special package price of $89 per person may be purchased up through day two of the cruise.

Guests will save an estimated $35 per person, per day when booking the “All-In Package” versus separately paying for the various services and amenities. Unbundled, these additional amenities total approximately $124 per guest, per day including the beverage package typically priced at $59 per guest, per day.

The $89 “All-In Package” proved overwhelmingly popular with Windstar guests when recently available on select sailings.

Unlimited Wi-Fi allows guests to keep in touch with loved ones and share their vacation escapades while globe-trotting through Windstar’s signature small ports of call. Laundry Service is a practical perk that allows guests to streamline packing, save on luggage expenses, and is especially beneficial for guests sailing on water and beach-focused itineraries such as Tahiti or Costa Rica; as well as for guests who participate in adventurous explorations off the ship such as hiking, bike-riding, kayaking, and zip-lining.

The Captain’s Exclusive Beverage Package is the boutique line’s ultimate beverage package that includes all domestic and imported beer and 33 varieties of wine or sparkling wine by the glass plus cordials, liqueurs, aperitifs, cocktails, and mini-bar items. Cocktails are based on house and select brands, and guests may choose from more than 40 liquors such as Grey Goose, Hendricks, Johnny Walker Black, Ketel One, Glenfiddich, Hennessy, and more (brands rotate and are subject to availability.)

In addition, all guests always enjoy the following complimentary amenities on every Windstar cruise: all meals in all venues including featured menu selections from dozens of James Beard Foundation chefs who have sailed with Windstar as part of an exclusive partnership; 24 hour room service; all non-alcoholic beverages including specialty coffees and teas; complimentary water sports from the ship’s Watersports Platform in featured tropical ports; local cultural performances in select ports such as flamenco dancers in Almeria, Spain; special events such as Windstar’s Signature Sail Away and Signature Deck Party, and Signature Beach Party on select sailings; onboard activities including culinary and mixology classes, and enrichment lectures on numerous itineraries such as the Signature Expeditions program found on all Alaska cruises featuring in-depth talks from a team of marine biologists, glaciologists, and more, who sail alongside cruise guests.

For two guests purchasing the “All-In Package” sharing a suite or stateroom, the total savings amounts to $240 per guest or $480 total per couple, based on a 7-day cruise.
To add an “All-In Package” to a Windstar cruise booking, learn more about authentic small ship cruising with Windstar, or to book a cruise, contact your travel advisor, or Windstar Cruises by phone at 1-800-258-7245, or visit www.windstarcruises.com.

The post Windstar Cruises’ All-In Package appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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Windstar Cruises’ Expedition Leader Simon Hook will be joining Star Legend cruise ship for the second year. Simon grew up near the ocean and its wildlife in northern California. His love nature led him to Alaska, specifically Sitka, over 10 years ago. Along the way, Simon gained vast knowledge of the natural world and wildlife of Alaska. He also picked up a camera and has won several awards for photos of Alaska’s wildlife and landscapes. Simon enjoys hiking and backcountry skiing and just plain being outside and enjoys sharing his love of nature with others. In the story below you will find out what Simon is looking forward to throughout the Windstar Cruises’ 2019 Alaska Season.

“Hello, my name is Simon Hook, leader of Windstar’s Signature Expedition team, and I am excited to get the 2019 Alaska cruise season into full swing. The team I am working with consists of experts, scientists, naturalists, and enthusiasts who will give onboard enrichment and be available for questions about the natural world. Formal lectures and informal meetings are already on the schedule to make sure our guests are well informed and if you would like to invite us to dinner all it takes is to ask. Many of the team are photographers as well and love to share the knowledge we have acquired over years of award-winning photography.


There is no place like Alaska, specifically Southeast Alaska, it is so is alive with life. Spring in Alaska is a cause for celebration for animals and people alike. The long darkness has ended and slowly we gain light, minute by minute. The budding of trees and the transit of animals in migration is a spectacle for those who keep a close watch on the shoreline and in the water for life to appear. I often relish spring for the simple fact of more daylight. As I write there are whales in Sitka Sound right now relishing the herring and krill in their abundance.

As the days grow in length the ocean’s phytoplankton reaches to catch the rays. Using the sun as an energy source for photosynthesis, this tiny phytoplankton begins to increase in abundance to eventually turn the water murky and green. This event is a large part of the abundance that Alaska experiences, up to the food chain, wait for humpback whales, krill, salmon, seals, and all the sea birds. Many birds are timing their arrival so that the laying of eggs and hatching of young coincides with the swell in food abundance in the ocean.

When traveling on Star Legend some Signature Expeditions will feature glaciers and I very much enjoy the dynamic and powerful setting that they present. Glaciers are one of the things that don’t run away and can be visited time and again, but every trip is unique. In order to gain the best perspective, I highly suggest signing up for Signature Expedition trips to get in amongst the ice of these beautiful wonders of nature.


It takes a little while for the humpback whales to migrate to their summer feeding grounds from Hawaii, but by mid-summer, there should be a couple thousand humpbacks in Southeast Alaska. Food abundance dictates the strength of populations and whales are known to move around quite a bit but we will have multiple opportunities to whale watch. There is nothing like watching a 35-ton animal slide gracefully through the water, lifting its tail to dive down to the deep. Aboard Star Legend we will make sure you are well informed, just make sure you attend the onboard lecture series, times will be posted in the daily schedule, and whales are always a crowd favorite.

Late season

As the days grow shorter on the Alaska season something to look forward to is the sunset itself. The angle of light falling on the earth later in the Alaskan summer is breathtaking, and because of our high latitude, our sunsets last a long time. Later in the season the opportunity to see salmon spawning in the streams and rivers of the area increases and where there are salmon there are bears.

There are a few specific bear viewing tours offered and although there are no guarantees (they are wild animals) there is a pretty good chance to see one, even in the pouring rain. Speaking of which the Tongass National Forest is a rainforest, so don’t forget your raincoat!

We are blessed with the returning migrations from the far north of birds heading south; flocks of sandhill cranes and Canada geese honk high above to encourage one another. Some birds will nest quickly and as soon as their chicks can fly, they are off to warmer waters. One of my favorite birds that lives life fast is the Arctic Tern. They seem to float on the air as they fly but they are not slouches, their migration from pole to the pole will have them traveling some 24 million miles in their lifetime. Look for them around glacier areas.
I look forward to meeting you all on board Star Legend for the 2019 Alaskan season. Safe travels and smooth sailing.”

The post Alaska by Season appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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Did you know Alaska means “great land” in Aleut? If you travel to Alaska, you’ll quickly see why. Alaska is one of the most spectacular places in the world to photograph wildlife and breathtaking scenery. In Alaska, you’ll find 17 of the highest mountain peaks in the country, more than 3 million lakes, an estimated 100,000 glaciers and more than 70 volcanoes. It’s no wonder Alaska is a photographer’s dream come true.

You may be wondering where to start, since there is so much beauty to behold in the Last Frontier. We’ll inspire your photography journey, and show you some of the most jaw-dropping locations to take photos in Alaska.

Most Beautiful Places in Alaska to Take Photos

Alaska may be best known for Denali National Park, but the entire state is full of photogenic jewels. Consider the following locations for your photography excursions. By the end of this post, you might agree — photography in Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list.

1. Kodiak

Kodiak is a city on Kodiak Island —Alaska’s largest island. It’s one of the top fishing destinations in the country, where you might catch halibut, cod, trout and salmon. It’s also home to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll find enchanting fjords, impressive mountains, alpine lakes and peaceful meadows.

Wildlife photography is a top activity for refuge visitors. Birdwatching photographers have a chance to capture the beauty of over 200 species of birds. In the winter, they’ll find sea ducks and other migratory birds, and in the summer they may see puffins from the North Pacific.

Many people travel to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to view Kodiak bears, as 3,000 bears call the refuge home. Frazer Lake, which is at the southern portion of the refuge, is a popular spot for bear viewing. The best time to look for bears is at dawn or dusk. You have a greater chance of seeing bears at salmon streams from July to September. The refuge staff recommends taking a guided tour to view and photograph bears. With a guided tour, you can make the most of your experience and ensure your safety.

There are tons of other photography opportunities in Kodiak. For example, you could take a boat tour of nearby islands and snap photos of sea otters, sea lions, puffins or maybe even whales. Or, you could stay in Kodiak and capture images of St. Paul Harbor and the colorful fishing boats set against a backdrop of mountain greenery.

2. Seward

Seward is a port city located south of Anchorage, surrounded by the majesty of the snow-capped peaks and Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is one of the state’s oldest and most picturesque communities.

To start your photography expedition, you might take a picture of the Seward Boat Harbor at the northern tip of Resurrection Bay and capture the essence of Seward. You could also go on a boat tour of Resurrection Bay, camera in hand, and explore hidden coves or photograph sea otters, harbor seals and eagles. Head down to Lowell Point for calming pictures of deep blue water and misty mountains.

You could easily capture hundreds of photos without ever leaving the bay area. However, photographers do not want to miss the chance to explore Kenai Fjords National Park— a top destination for visitors who wish to surround themselves with glacial beauty. You’ll find almost 40 glaciers drifting from the Harding Icefield and an abundance of wildlife in the park’s lush forests and crystal waters.

You might get to photograph sea otters, sea lions, moose, mountain goats, gray wolves, bears and a variety of birds. You might also see orcas and humpback whales. Imagine snapping a shot of a whale rocketing from the water, or capturing the striking contrast of a red kayak in front of a glacier.

Most of the park is only accessible by water, but a boat tour offers incredible opportunities to photograph breathtaking scenery and wildlife. If you’re a photographer visiting Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park is a must-see.

3. Metlakatla

Metlakatla, located on Annette Islands Indian Reservation, is the only American Indian Reserve in Alaska. It’s also the only settlement of the Tsimshian people in the country. The community has an active economy due to its natural resources and the ability to harvest halibut, cod, clams and salmon. Metlakatla features lush forests and salmon-rich streams. Visitors usually travel to Metlakatla by boat or seaplane.

For traveling photographers who want to capture Alaska’s cultural diversity and history, Metlakatla is the place to go. Plan to take pictures of skillfully crafted totems, traditional dance, a longhouse painted with a Tsimshian design or the tranquil harbor. You might also take photos of the island from atop Yellow Hill, which stands 540 feet above the community and offers a panoramic view.

4. Wrangell

Are you looking to photograph a colorful array of totems and Native American art? Or would you rather snap pictures of Alaskan wildlife? You can choose both if you head to Wrangell.

Wrangell is one of the oldest towns in Alaska and surrounded by natural beauty. You’ll find over a dozen totems scattered through the town. Make sure to take your camera to Chief Shakes Longhouse, located on an island in the middle of the harbor, to take close-ups of totems and tribal designs. You can easily reach Chief Shakes Longhouse by walking over the pedestrian bridge. Keep on the lookout for bald eagles too while you explore the island.

While in Wrangell, you might also visit Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park to photograph primitive rock carvings. If you want to take a short trip south of Wrangell, you can visit the Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory to watch eagles, harbor seals and bears feast on salmon. However, you don’t have to leave Wrangell to view wildlife. You only need to look to the trees to catch a shot of an eagle or to the shoreline for herons. Everywhere you turn, you can find something picture-perfect.

5. Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm

Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm are long, narrow fjords located about 45 miles south of Juneau. From aboard a boat, photographers can capture some of the most unforgettable scenery in Alaska. Imagine plunging waterfalls crashing down cliffs into turquoise water, or brilliant blue ice formations dotting the water like gems. You’ll also have the chance to see eagles, seals, bears and whales if you go in the summer.

You might take your camera with you as you stand within a half mile of South Sawyer Glacier if conditions are right. This glacier, at the head of Tracy Arm, extends deep underwater, producing a vibrant blue hue. If you’re lucky, you might also find mountain goats at the base.

For dramatic glacial scenery that will take your breath away, make sure to explore Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. When you look at your gorgeous photos post-trip, you’ll be so glad you did.

6. Inian Islands

Inian Islands is a unique and pristine designated wilderness area located between Chichagof Island and Glacier Bay National Park. The area is only accessible by floatplane or boat. There are no established trails on the islands, but visitors still have plenty of ways to explore. If you tour Inian Islands by boat, you’ll get to treat your eyes, and your camera, to the unspoiled beauty of dense temperate rainforests, rocky shorelines and shimmering icy water. You’ll mostly want to focus on the water, so you don’t miss the chance to capture photos of humpbacks, orcas, sea lions and otters.

7. Icy Strait Point

Icy Strait Point is a tourist destination privately owned and operated by Huna Totem Corporation. It’s on Chichagof Island outside of Hoonah — Alaska’s largest Tlingit village. Lush rainforest and clear, blue waters surround Icy Strait Point. Here, you can choose from over 20 tours, check out a restored Alaskan salmon cannery, walk nature trails or set up your gear on the shore and wait to capture shots of whales or eagles soaring overhead.

One of the benefits of visiting Icy Strait Point, besides its stunning beauty, is the chance to search for wildlife with the help of a tour guide. For example, you might head with a guide to see brown bears at the Spasski River Valley, which is known for a high brown bear density. While on a tour, a guide can show you the best spots for taking wildlife photos. You’ll also get to learn about the animals and enhance your overall experience. You’ll enjoy the meaning of your photographs with greater depth if you learn the story and history behind them.

8. Juneau

Juneau is Alaska’s capital city. Downtown Juneau sits at the bottom of Mount Juneau on the Gastineau Channel. Tongass National Forest surrounds the city — the largest national forest and home to the highest density of black bears in the world. An estimated 32,247 people call Juneau home.

Juneau in itself is a photogenic location. While in the city, watch the sky, and you might catch a bald eagle or great blue heron flying overhead. You may also find whales swimming past you as you walk through town, or seals peeking at you from the channel. Search the steep sides of Mount Juneau, and you might catch a black bear or mountain goat feasting on vegetation.

To get closer to the abundance of wildlife in Juneau, you can ride the Mount Roberts Tramway almost 2,000 feet above downtown and explore subalpine trails. In the summer, you’ll find marmots and grouse. You might also see bears, deer, porcupines and other mammals along the trails.

Finally, you won’t want to miss Mendenhall Glacier while you’re visiting Juneau. Here, you can view the 13-mile-long glacier, which ends at Mendenhall Lake, from the historic visitor center. You can also walk along the lake for spectacular views of icebergs or to photograph Nugget Falls cascading down the mountain. You might also snap shots of moss-covered trees or wildlife while exploring the area. To get there, you can take a bus or taxi from downtown.

9. Misty Fjords

Located a short trip east of Ketchikan, Misty Fjords National Monument is a designated wilderness area and part of the Tongass National Forest. Thousands of years ago, ice covered the area, carving deep fjords with cliffs reaching thousands of feet into the sky. You can travel by boat on the Behm Canal to enter the heart of the fjords and take jaw-dropping photos. It’s possible you’ll see whales, porpoises, mountain goats and bears along the way. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to photograph plunging waterfalls, abundant wildlife, dramatic cliffs, dense green forest and pure, astonishing beauty.

10. Ketchikan

Situated near the entrance of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is a city that offers charming scenery, surrounded by wildlife-rich waters and forest. Besides being in the Tongass National Forest, Ketchikan is also home to a vibrant arts scene. In other words, there is a ton of potential to photograph something incredible anywhere you turn in Ketchikan.

For example, did you know Ketchikan has the largest collection of totem poles in the world? Some of them are also among the oldest. You can get shots of totems scattered around town or at one of their totem parks. If you want to immerse yourself in nature while visiting Ketchikan, consider taking a trip just outside town to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary to possibly get photos of eagles or black bears. At the sanctuary, you can also stop at a historic sawmill or stroll through the totem park.

Visit Alaska With Windstar Cruises

Alaska scenery is hard to believe unless you’ve been there. Words can’t describe the majesty of steep rocky cliffs jutting out from deep blue-green water, or the sight of massive ice formations carved by time and nature. If you explore Alaska, you will never forget the scenery. Taking pictures is one way to remind yourself of your journey, but the beauty of Alaska will likely remain embedded in your mind and your heart.

At Windstar Cruises, we can take you there. We’ll carry you to must-see Alaskan ports, as well as secluded harbors where big ships can’t go. We aim to show our passengers the most beautiful places in Alaska in one comfortable, intimate voyage. To learn more about our Alaskan cruises, contact us today!

The post Photography Ideas While Traveling in Alaska appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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Exchanging currency can be confusing. It can also get expensive for travelers who are not aware of exchange rates and currency conversion options. If you’re concerned about foreign currency, know there’s nothing to fear. You can prepare for your journey abroad and learn the best ways to exchange currency before you depart. With a little preparation and planning, you’ll feel in charge of your money, and you’ll know what mistakes to avoid.

In this post, we’ll show you the best places to exchange foreign currency and ways to plan. Exchanging currency can be a simple process and a lot less expensive than you might think.

What You Should Know About Exchanging Currency

Perhaps the most important thing to know about currency conversion is the exchange rate. The exchange rate is how much it costs to buy a foreign currency with your home currency. So, if you live in the United States and you plan to travel to Europe, the exchange rate will tell you how many U.S. dollars you need to buy a certain amount of euros. For example, it might cost $1.10 to buy one euro.

If you know how much it costs to convert your money to the currency of your destination, you’ll know what to expect, and you can plan your budget better. You’ll also see if you’re being charged too much by a currency exchange service.

Keep in mind that exchange rates constantly fluctuate. Currency traders on the foreign exchange market consider supply and demand and determine exchange rates based on their predictions. In most countries, the government does not regulate exchange rates and can only indirectly influence rates.

Before you exchange money, you can look up the most accurate and up-to-date market exchange rate using an online currency converter. You can even download an app to monitor exchange rates easily from your phone. That way, if you’re in a European country, for example, and someone offers to sell you one euro for $5, you’ll know you’re getting cheated. You can figure out what you should be paying before using a currency conversion service.

Generally, the more convenient a money-exchanging service, the more they will charge for their service. For this reason, you’ll typically want to avoid using currency exchange kiosks in airports. Airport kiosks and currency exchange booths usually charge a much higher exchange rate than other options. For example, while the market exchange rate might be $1 to buy 0.89 euro, you might only get 0.80 euro with $1. Although this may not seem like a lot, it can add up quickly. There are plenty of less expensive ways to exchange currency.

Best Ways to Exchange Currency

If you plan to exchange currency, the exchange rate is inevitable. However, you can keep fees to a minimum and avoid overpriced currency exchange services. Here are the best ways to exchange currency for the most savings.

1. Visit Your Bank Before You Depart

If you’re wondering where you can exchange currency for free, you might consider your bank. Your bank may not charge customers a fee to exchange currency. Your bank will also likely offer a better exchange rate than a stand-alone foreign currency business or airport currency exchange. For example, currency exchange stations in airports usually charge rates as high as 15 percent. However, expect a higher rate if you exchange currency before you depart than if you use an ATM when you arrive at your destination. If you are getting a good deal, your bank’s exchange rate will not be much higher than the market exchange rate.

Call or visit your bank and find out if they charge a fee for currency exchange services. Also, find out what their exchange rate is. Make sure to contact your bank at least a week before your departure date to ask questions and order the currency. Your bank may not have the currency you need on hand, and it could take a few days to come in. Once your bank has the foreign currency, you’ll be able to pick it up or ask them to mail it to you.

Should you exchange currency before you travel? It’s probably not necessary. There should be ATMs available at the airport, so you do not have to use a currency exchange booth or kiosk. With that said, it may be a good idea if you feel more comfortable obtaining foreign currency before you depart, or if you’re worried your debit or credit card will decline while you’re traveling. Overall, you’ll want to get most of your foreign currency while you’re abroad.

If you choose to visit your bank before you travel, find out if you can exchange the currency when you return. If not, you can exchange the currency at an airport exchange booth, but you will likely not get the best rate.

2. Use Your Debit Card at a Foreign ATM

The best way to get foreign cash is to use an ATM once you arrive. Generally, ATMs offer the lowest exchange rates. Before you leave for your trip, find out if your bank has ATMs in your destination or partners with any providers to provide fee-free ATM usage. You might be able to use your bank’s ATM or their partner’s ATM in another country and skip paying an out-of-network ATM fee. You can save a lot if you stick with your bank while abroad.

You will still pay a foreign transaction fee when you use an ATM, whether it’s in your bank’s network or not. The foreign transaction fee covers the exchange rate. If you use an ATM outside of Europe or Mexico, you may also be charged a convenience fee. Lastly, if you use a credit card rather than a debit card to withdrawal cash, you may be charged a cash advance fee by your credit card issuer.

As a general rule, it’s best to minimize cash withdrawals as much as possible to avoid fees. Plan to carry $50 to $100 worth of local currency on you each day and use other forms of payment, such as a credit card, for large purchases. If you plan withdrawals well, you won’t have to stop at an ATM too often, and you also will not have too much foreign currency left unused.

Make sure to inform your bank you’ll be traveling abroad before you leave. You don’t want your bank or credit card issuer to freeze your accounts when they see an international charge.

3. Use a Credit Card for Purchases

Using a credit card is the best way to exchange currency when cash is not needed. On average, you’ll face the lowest exchange rate possible with a credit card — better than banks or credit unions. For example, if you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, you can save almost seven percent over using a bank or credit union.

Before you depart, call your credit card company and ask if they charge a foreign transaction fee. If so, consider applying for a fee-free card before your trip if you have time. The average foreign transaction fee for a credit card is 1.60 percent but may be as high as three percent.

Although most cards charge a foreign transaction fee, there are plenty of fee-free credit cards available. Why not save two or three percent on purchases while traveling if it’s possible?

Also, be aware that your credit card will use its own exchange rate. Therefore, you’ll also want to find out what your credit card company charges for converting your foreign transaction to U.S. dollars. Compare their exchange rate to the market rate. That way, you can see if you feel comfortable with their exchange rate, and you’ll know what to expect when you use your credit card abroad.

Be aware that if you pay with a credit card, some merchants may ask if you want to pay in U.S. dollars or the local currency. If this happens, always choose the local currency. The merchant can choose whatever exchange rate they wish to convert your U.S. dollars to their currency. However, if you choose to pay in the local currency, your credit card issuer will determine the exchange rate. Chances are, your credit card’s rate will be a much better deal.

Aim to use a credit card as much as possible for bigger purchases so you can avoid having to withdraw cash. If you lose your credit card or if it gets stolen, all you’ll need to do is call your credit card issuer and explain what happened to resolve the problem. On the other hand, if you lose cash, it’ll be gone forever.

Other Options

The above methods are the best ways to exchange currency, but they aren’t your only options. Here are a few other methods to consider that may suit your circumstances better.

1. Traveler’s Checks

In the past, travelers commonly used traveler’s checks to make foreign purchases. Now, with ATMs more readily available all over the world, traveler’s checks are no longer a popular choice. However, they still offer a few advantages.

One benefit of traveler’s checks is you can get a refund if they are lost or stolen. When you buy traveler’s checks, you’ll register them with the company you buy them from. If something happens to the check, you can get them replaced usually within a day no matter where you are traveling and cancel the lost or stolen checks. You might want to bring a few backup traveler’s checks with you if you plan to travel to remote areas that may not have many ATMs.

You can order traveler’s checks through most banks and credit unions. It may be easiest to get traveler’s checks from your bank to avoid being charged a non-customer fee. However, you’ll likely have to pay a fee to purchase traveler’s checks whether you belong to the bank or not. Traveler’s checks are sold in different denominations and currencies. You can use them like cash wherever they are accepted.

Another benefit of using traveler’s checks is they never expire. Therefore, if you have some left over from your trip, you can save them until you travel again or cash them once you get home for a fee.

2. Order Currency Online

Instead of heading to a bank to buy foreign currency, you can shop for foreign currency online. To get the best deal, you’ll need to research what’s out there and compare different rates to the current market rate. If you order a large amount of currency, you may be able to avoid a shipping fee.

You might choose to order currency online if you need a foreign currency faster than a bank can deliver, or if you simply do not want to deal with the hassle of going to a bank — some currency providers offer free next-day delivery or standard two-day delivery if you order over a certain amount of currency. While ordering currency online could be your most convenient option and the vendor you choose may or may not charge an ordering fee, that vendor also might not offer the best exchange rate. Or you might be charged rate and shipping fees for orders less than a certain amount.

Ultimately, you might consider this currency option if you plan to travel with a group and want to purchase currency in bulk. No matter where you choose to order currency online, beware of hidden fees before you make a purchase, compare exchange rates and consider shipping costs.

Plan Your Trip With Windstar Cruises

As long as you’re aware of current exchange rates and prepare ahead of time, you should not have any issue getting the best exchange rates possible. Call your bank and credit card issuers to let them know you’ll be traveling and ask what fees you can expect when you make purchases or withdraw cash abroad. If you are not satisfied with your current credit card issuer, consider applying for a credit card that offers great deals for travelers.

Now that you know more about currency exchange, you’re ready to start planning an exciting voyage. At Windstar Cruises, we can take you to the most stunning destinations around the globe, from secluded beaches to bustling ports. Contact us to book your next adventure today!

The post Best Way to Exchange Currency When Traveling appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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Deciding where to travel can feel overwhelming at first. There is an endless array of worthwhile destinations around the globe, whether you want an awe-inspiring experience in nature or an unforgettable cultural journey. How do you figure out where you want to travel when there are so many places awaiting you?

Take a deep breath, close your eyes and exhale — choosing where to travel is easier than it seems. Planning a vacation can be a thrilling and energizing experience, and you’ll look forward to the amazing trip you planned. The key is to break down the planning process into manageable steps and figure out what’s most important to you and what you want to accomplish during your voyage.

In this post, we’ll help you get started. We’ll share top considerations for choosing a satisfying, joy-filled journey that suits your unique preferences and situation.

1. Think About Timing

The first step to deciding where to travel is to determine how much time you plan to spend on your trip. Do you want to get away for a weekend, or are you ready to dedicate a month to world exploration? Perhaps you’d like to plan a trip somewhere in between. Knowing how much time you have will help you narrow your options and come up with a plan.

For example, if you only have a week to travel, you probably do not want to go anywhere too far. The further away you go, the more time you’ll need to get there and adjust to a different time zone. On the other hand, if you have over two weeks to travel, a trip to a distant destination can be life-changing.

Similarly, if you only have a few days to travel, make sure not to cram too many activities into your itinerary. You’ll want to have time to rest between excursions so you can maintain your health and energy levels. You’ll also want to be able to slow down and savor each moment. You’ll enjoy your time much more if you don’t feel rushed.

Also, consider when you want to travel, as that can affect your overall experience. Do you want to explore a new place during the peak of tourist season, or would you rather avoid big crowds and head to your destination off-season? Is it important for you to travel while the weather is warm, or are you comfortable with winter weather? If you want to do a lot of outdoor activities, it may be worth going during a busier time of the year when the weather is ideal. However, if you wish to spend most of your time indoors visiting museums, you might enjoy traveling during a slow season.

2. Consider Your Travel Companions

Who do you plan to take with you on your adventure? Will you be traveling with a spouse, children or friends? Are you excited to travel solo for the first time?

If you’re traveling with your spouse, for example, consider destinations where there are activities you will both enjoy. Maybe you dream of traveling to a fjord surrounded by mist-shrouded cliffs, and your spouse wishes to view exotic wildlife. A trip to Alaska might be the perfect match for you both. Or perhaps the thought of listening to waves crash on the shore while sipping colorful cocktails makes your worries melt away, but your spouse prefers action-packed activities. Costa Rica wouldn’t disappoint either of you. Also, consider your partner’s schedule and physical fitness level to plan a trip that’s restful and fun for you both.

If you plan to go on vacation with a group, you might consider a cruise. That way, the planning and transportation are taken care of once you’re onboard for a stress-free trip. To figure out cruise destinations or anywhere you plan to go, sit down with your travel companions and ask them questions such as:

  • How much time do they have to travel?
  • What do they most want to accomplish from traveling?
  • What type of accommodations do they prefer?

If you plan to travel alone, consider how far you want to step outside of your comfort zone. Do you feel comfortable and safe visiting a foreign country by yourself for a life-enriching cultural experience, or would you prefer to go somewhere less intimidating and closer to home? You might consider booking a tour or staying at a resort if you’re traveling alone for the first time.

3. Choose Your Environment Preference

Think about the type of environment you prefer. This includes factors such as weather and scenery. For example, do you prefer warm, sunny weather? You might consider heading to a destination in a tropical climate such as the Caribbean. Do you feel more comfortable in a cooler climate and like to cozy up in front of a fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa? There are plenty of gorgeous northern destinations to choose from. You might enjoy whale watching in Cape Cod, for example, or be swept away by a roaring waterfall in Iceland.

What type of landscape do you want to wake up to while you’re away? Do you want to watch the sun rise above steep seaside cliffs, or does your heart flutter when you think of waking to the sound of tropical birds surrounded by greenery? Do you want to be in the middle of an exciting, inspiring urban location, or do prefer the peace, quiet and romance of a remote village? It’s all within your reach — you just have to figure out which destination uplifts you the most.

4. Get Recommendations From Well-Traveled Friends

If you have dozens of destinations on your bucket list, we understand it can be trickier to plan a vacation than if you were someone who has clearcut likes and dislikes. It might help to speak with a friend who has traveled extensively. Here are some questions to ask an experienced traveler for inspiration and recommendations:

  • When and why did you decide to travel?
  • What sites are must-sees in the places you’ve traveled to?
  • Are there any places you recommend for beginner travelers?
  • What was the most memorable experience of your last trip?
  • What advice do you have for someone who wants to travel?
  • How do you choose your destinations?
  • Where do you want to travel in the future and why?
  • What’s your favorite place you’ve been to so far?
  • Where would you go again if you could?
  • Would you move to any of the places you visited?
  • What inspires you when you travel?
  • What experiences do you like to have while you travel?
  • What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?
  • How important is knowing the local language?
  • What item would you never leave home?
  • How long do you need to travel?
  • Do you recommend going off the beaten path?
  • What was your favorite city?
  • What surprised you the most while traveling?
  • What was the scariest experience you had abroad?

If you aren’t acquainted with any world travelers, you can easily find travel blogs and advice online provided by people who love to share their experiences and tips. You might try asking bloggers and Instagrammers for a recommendation.

It’s true that an experienced traveler can give you valuable advice about choosing a destination, how to prepare and what to expect. However, there’s one important tip to keep in mind regardless of what they say — go to the place that excites you.

5. Focus on the Experience You Want to have

Planning a vacation based on an interest in a certain country may be a good starting point, but it can also be overwhelming. Most countries offer hundreds of different sights to see, foods to taste and areas to explore. So, instead of saying you’d like to visit Italy or Mexico, for example, think about specific experiences you’d like to have. The more specific you can get, the better. You’ll have an easier time choosing and planning a destination. To help you get started, consider which of the following experiences appeal to you most:

  • Wildlife viewing: Do you feel immense joy when you catch a glimpse of an elusive mammal, bird or reptile in its natural habitat? You might want to build a trip around wildlife viewing, and you’ll be glad you did. Consider traveling to national parks or wildlife refuges. For example, you might visit the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which is home to thousands of brown bears. Or you might head to Loh Liang in Indonesia to look for Komodo dragons, whales, dolphins, turtles and other wildlife.
  • Outdoor adventures: If you want to have memorable experiences hiking, climbing, swimming or doing other outdoor activities, make it a priority to go somewhere that will nurture your love of adventure. Maybe you’d like to go kayaking in the Sea of Cortez or glide on a zip line through a tropical forest. Think about the type of outdoor activities you enjoy the most and the top experiences you want to have.
  • Eating: Do you have a favorite food you want to learn more about? Or is there a type of cuisine you’ve always wanted to try but never had the opportunity? If you enjoy treating your taste buds to new and exciting flavors, you might plan a trip around culinary thrills. For example, you might go to Sorrento to learn about limoncello production or taste fresh, delicious locally-grown products like Caprese salad and bruschetta. If you appreciate food and the process that goes into making certain dishes, you can’t go wrong choosing a destination that feeds your culinary curiosity.
  • Festivals: Do you want to partake in a music festival or vibrant cultural festival? Research what’s going on around the time you wish to travel. You might find a festival you won’t want to miss. That can help you choose a destination, and it may be the perfect way to plan a trip if you only have a few days to travel.
  • History: History buffs can use a vacation to satisfy their love of history. There are so many fascinating historical spots around the world to see from the Acropolis in Athens to the castles of Edinburgh. Think about the periods of history that fascinate you the most. It’s a sure way to have a satisfactory trip you’ll never forget.

Overall, thinking of what kind of experiences you want to have can help you choose a destination you will genuinely enjoy. If this requires you to go off the beaten path, don’t overthink it — let your bliss take you wherever you need to go.

6. Get Inspired

Still feeling stuck or torn between destinations? You might need a dose of inspiration to help you find a place that feels irresistible. As long as you have an internet connection, inspiring photos and stories are just a few clicks away. You may only need to see a photo of Venice at dusk or a picture of turquoise water lapping over a powdery white shore to discover the place that calls you.

To get inspired, look at different social media accounts. Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are bountiful in gorgeous photos of places people have traveled to and shared. You might see somewhere you would’ve never thought of or discovered otherwise. Or, maybe you’ll realize you can’t go another year without finally soaking your feet in crystal blue water. Also, check out various travel blogs for ideas and recommendations.

You might also look to your favorite shows, books or movies for inspiration. Maybe you’ve seen a film that takes place in a visually striking setting you’d loved to experience firsthand. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to explore the real-life setting of your favorite novel.

Lastly, you might pick up a travel book or magazine and let yourself get lost in captivating photos. You might find yourself aching to travel far to an exotic location, or you might feel dizzy with excitement at the sight of a domestic destination. When it comes to choosing a travel destination, sometimes it’s best to follow your instinct and let your heart be the decision maker.

Contact Windstar Cruises

Where do you want to travel? At Windstar Cruises, we can take you where your heart wants to go. We’ve designed our cruises to create fulfilling, memorable journeys to destinations around the globe. Sail aboard one of our intimate yachts, and we’ll take you to pristine shores the big ships can’t reach.

If you long to roam medieval streets in the Mediterranean or behold the tranquil beauty of secluded islands, we’re glad you’re here. We can’t wait to accommodate you and make your voyage comfortable and relaxing as we take you to your dream destination. Contact us today about booking an unforgettable cruise for your next vacation!

The post How to Decide Where to Travel appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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On April 2nd, 2019 at Fincantieri’s shipyard “Arsenale Triestino San Marco”, in Trieste, Italy, John Gunner, Vice President of Expansion Projects for Windstar Cruises, pushed the button which activated the torch to make the first cut in the new steel that will become the first of three new ships sections as part of Windstar’s $250 Million Star Plus Initiative.

Fincantieri’s Vice President of Ship Repair and Conversions Andrew Toso, Shipyard Director Gianni Salvagno and Windstar Cruises’ Vice President of Expansion Projects John Gunner in Trieste, Italy. (left to right)

The $250 Million Star Plus Initiative is the most complex and comprehensive small ship lengthening, engine replacement, and renovation project undertaken in cruising. Windstar will take half of its entire fleet – Star Breeze, Star Legend, and Star Pride – and renovate each ship in succession. The work on the first of the three ships begins on Star Breeze in October 2019 and shall end with the departure of Star Pride from the yard in November 2020. This steel cutting marks the beginning of true project construction. The popular ships will be cut in half to allow the installation of a new stepped mid-body section that will lengthen each vessel by approximately 25 meters. The total capacity of the “new” expanded ships will be 312 guests, and additional staff will be hired in order to maintain the line’s impressive 1.5 to 1 guest-to-service staff ratio.

The new sections will be built in Trieste and then will be transported south by barge to the Fincantieri yard in Palermo, Sicily, Italy to be inserted into the iconic Windstar ships along with the new engines. The timeline requires the new sections to be fabricated from April through September, shipped in October, and then inserted into Star Breeze so that she can be completed in time for her arrival for
re-inaugural activities at the port of Miami on March 19, 2020.
The extension and modernization project is being performed by the “Ship Repair & Conversion” part of the Services Division of Fincantieri, one of the world’s largest shipbuilding groups and number one for diversification and innovation that has built 89 cruise ships from 1990 to today with 54 new ships currently being designed or built in the group’s yards. The company also has a deeply rooted experience in cruise ship conversion, which consolidates its leadership in this highly specialized naval transformation sector.

The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry in New York, led by Ray Chung, Director of Design, has been tasked with creating modern and inviting design aesthetics for the new public spaces and 50 new suites. In addition to the suites, there will be a new pool area, restaurants, a spa & wellness center, and enhanced “living room deck space.”
Gunner pointed out, “This is not about just cutting a ship in half and making it bigger. We are replacing the engines and ‘back of house’ too, so that these ships deliver on their promise of visiting smaller ports and special waterways of the world with a softer environmental footprint for generations to come.”
Andrew Toso, Vice President Ship Repair and Conversion of the Fincantieri Services Division, stated, “The considerable experience gained with major naval projects undertaken over recent years, and the Windstar program that we are officially starting today, consolidates Fincantieri’s position as the reference point worldwide for this kind of highly sophisticated and complex operations. We are very proud that Windstar, a prestigious new client for our company, has chosen us for these strategic works which will require an extremely high level of engineering competence and project management.”

Reservations can be made for cruises aboard the post-Star Plus Initiative Star Breeze and Star Legend including Star Breeze’s Colors of Key West & Central America 10-day voyage from Miami to Colón, Panama on March 20, 2020; sailing from Miami will be a first for the Seattle-based company.

The post Windstar Cuts The First Steel At Fincantieri Shipyard To Begin Its $250 Million Star Plus Initiative appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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Once capital city of the Russian Empire, St. Petersburg – the country’s second largest city – was formerly home to the tsars and tsarinas of the imperial age. As a result it is home to an astonishing number of lavish palaces, each more fantastic than the last, along with staggeringly beautiful cathedrals, ancient forts and a center so well-preserved it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety.

Here you can view one of the most enormous and significant art collections in the world, cruise canals by moonlight or take in a ballet or opera performance at one of the world’s most famous theaters, once frequented by royalty – the majestic Mariinsky. St. Petersburg could really be described as one big treasure trove from a cultural point of view; here you can find everything from historic statues lining its riverbanks to the glorious 18th century automated Peacock Clock in the Hermitage Museum. You can also sip a coffee in the last cafe which poet and playwright Pushkin visited before he went off to fight in the duel which killed him or visit the notorious jail where famous revolutionary activists such as Maxim Gorky, Leon Trotsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky were imprisoned.

A huge number of St. Petersburg’s principal gems are clustered together which makes it great to explore on foot. If you prefer to maximize your time to the utmost getting from one glorious sight to another the city has a highly efficient and extensive public transport network.

A Morning in St. Petersburg

Your St. Petersburg day of adventure begins with a walk through history, taking in the very site where it all began on the island of Zayachy. Including a break for coffee your hours until lunch will take you to the prison where first revolutionaries and then the aristocracy were incarcerated, to explore two beautiful cathedrals, visit the humble wooden house which was the city’s first palace and can even take you on a tour of the history of space travel if you choose. Your morning ends with a choice of palaces which were once home to tsars and the city’s most wealthy nobles.

The Peter and Paul Fortress

What better place to start your St. Petersburg explorations than in the very place where the entire story of the city began – Zayachy Island. Directing operations for the construction of this military fortress from his small log cabin, Tsar Peter the Great’s vision began in 1703. The imposing citadel was completed in 1740 and represents the first permanent structure of St. Petersburg – the very seed from which everything you see today grew. Subsequently, it became the final resting place of almost all the tsars of imperial Russia from Peter himself until the very last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II – each interred below grand gold-leaf-adorned sarcophagi inside the fortress’s cathedral.

The Peter and Paul Fortress never did see military action – the feared potential attacks from Sweden and other neighbors never came. However, the fortress was to play a hugely significant role in the Russian story of revolution. Famous revolutionary figures such as Maxim Gorky and Leon Trotsky were imprisoned here and after the Bolsheviks seized the fortress and stormed the Winter Palace in 1917 many top government ministers were then held captive here in a total reversal of power which saw the fall of the tsars.

Today the Peter and Paul Fortress exudes history and is a must visit for anyone interested in the Russian Revolution. There are several things to see inside this vast area – most notably the incredible cathedral and the foreboding Trubetskoy Bastion prison which are both very different attractions. There is also (and somewhat incongruously) the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology.

The Trubetskoy Bastion, St. Petersburg

Before the fortress was even complete in the mid-18th century it saw use as a prison. A century later, what was to become known as the Trubetskoy Bastion, was set aside as the principal prison area. As the last tumultuous decades of tsarist power were played out this infamous site was to be the prison for many major revolutionary figures such as Mikhail Bakunin, Alexander Ulyanov (Lenin’s brother) and Leon Trotsky as well as the influentially politically active such as the writers Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Maxim Gorky.

After the revolution government ministers, nobility and church leaders became the new inmates and many executions took place within the prison walls. In 1924 the prison ceased to function in that role and was instead used as a museum and tool to demonstrate the oppression of the toppled tsars.

Visitors pass through a small introduction and exhibit section complete with such artifacts as clothing of both prisoners and guards and can also listen to prisoner audio accounts. A highlight is the photographic exhibition which is not just interesting for the images themselves but also as an historical treasure for photography. Some of the images date back to the 1800s when photography had just been born.

Today you can tour the two corridors and floors of the old solitary confinement and punishment cells, some of them reconstructed as they would have been during their prison era. Outside each cell you will find interpretive panels listing that particular cell’s inmates along with texts describing the lives and deeds of these historical figures and how long they were incarcerated here.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral,St. Petersburg

Constructed in 1712, the richly ornate Peter and Paul Cathedral was once the entire Russian Empire’s principal cathedral. As was befitting, it soared above all else; in fact its elegant 122.5m golden spire and bell tower ensure its place still as the city’s highest building (although not its tallest structure – that honor goes to the 1960s-built TV tower).

Baroque in style and influenced by European architecture, the cathedral’s rich and elaborate interior is a sensational feast for the eyes. Gold glitters off the various moldings, grand pillars painted to resemble marble soar upwards to the roof full of gorgeous frescoes and details while enormous crystal chandeliers hang suspended from their midst.

Dominating all is the golden iconostatis dating from the 1720s. Typically this common feature is simply a screen wall with doors which divides the main body of the church from the inner sanctuary however in this cathedral it is a fantastic 20m tall tower-like structure, carved from wood and then gilded.

Around the nave can be found the imperial sarcophagi marking the final resting place of the Russian tsars.

The Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology, St. Petersburg

In almost incongruous contrast to the fortress’s other historical features is the cosmonautics museum. Here you can find models of rockets and spacecraft including an original space capsule, a variety of early space travel engine design displays, a reconstructed space station and the reconstructed workshop and office of Glushko – the principal rocket engineer of his time.

The main focus of the museum is its recounting of the Cold War-era Space Race with sections dedicated to the dog Laika – the first animal ever to travel into space – and Yuri Gagarin – the first human to do the same.

The Peter and Paul Battlements,St. Petersburg

If you want a really great view over the river taking in the Winter Palace and the Hermitage across the water among other landmarks, pay a small extra fee and head up to the fortress’s battlements.

It is possible to walk to the Peter and Paul Fortress from the center of the city and doing so will give you great views as you cross the bridge to the island. If you prefer to save time however both trams and buses will bring you right to the fortress gates.

You can enter the grounds of the fortress for free but if you wish to enter the museum, prison or stroll the battlements they each attract a separate fee.

Tsar Peter’s Cabin

If you want to have a look at the 3-room cabin in which Peter the Great lived for 5 years while his fortress was being constructed you can find it 200m from the Peter and Paul Fortress, across the Ioannovskiy Most foot bridge. Officially this humble ‘palace’ is considered the building which founded the city.

The brick casing you see today was set in place by Tsar Peter himself in 1723 so it could be preserved and serve as a demonstration of his humility. The cabin is now a museum complete with Peter the Great artifacts, personal possessions and household objects.

Morning Coffee in St. Petersburg

Once you have made your way back over the Troitskiy bridge from the Peter and Paul Fortress you are within close distance to a rather special place to take your mid-morning coffee break. The Eliseyev Emporium (which it is worth noting has at least ten alternative spellings) is in essence a food hall but in reality that is like calling the Eiffel Tower a tall piece of metal.

This vast emporium is a glittering wonderland which is going to make any food lover feel as if they have arrived in heaven. Here you can find everything from connoisseur chocolates to caviar and macaroons to mouth-watering cheeses with the displays works of art in their own right. As if this wasn’t enough the early 20th century Art Nouveau building itself with its incredible décor is exquisite and worth a visit just to gaze upon even if you have no intention of buying anything.

Gilded ceilings, opulent chandeliers, Art Nouveau-design stained glass and many original features make this one of the most photogenic spots in the city.

In the center of one hall is a giant palm tree completely encircled by a plush red sofa over which it spreads its fronds. Around this are dotted a few tables which make up the seating for the emporium’s coffee shop. The coffee here is freshly ground, the tea menu extensive and the sweet accompaniments of the most tempting variety. Be sure to try the gourmet macaroons which come in a vast variety of flavors including champagne and essence of rose.

Civil Coffee

An alternative spot for a morning coffee pause, also within easy reach of your last stop of the Peter and Paul Fortress, is the Civil Coffee Bar. Where the emporium is glamour and glitz, this venue is quaint and cozy with armchairs or wooden tables, exposed brick walls and one entire side of the room taken up with floor-to-ceiling books. There is also balcony seating which gives you lovely views over the Fontanka River. Well known for its warm welcome and atmosphere, the Civil Coffee Bar has decent coffee and has a reputation as serving the best syrnky in the city. If breakfast feels like a long time ago order one of these sweet pancakes to keep you going until lunchtime.

If you are one of those types of travelers who enjoys experiencing the real culture of places you visit you might like to consider one of the city’s anticafes for your coffee break. While anticafes can now be found around various European cities the concept was born in Russia and involves a free space where you pay per minute for your time there. Within that cost is typically included coffee, tea and snacks or sweets along with internet usage while a variety of extras such as video games, cinemas, kitchens, board games, lounges and hookahs are also all possible. While everyone is welcome at such places, in St. Petersburg the anticafes often provide working space for artists, writers and musicians to practice their arts so in visiting them you may find yourself involved in a poetry reading or listening to a local musician performing. The concept is highly unique and gives you an opportunity of meeting with locals in an authentic form.

One anticafe conveniently close to where you finished the first half of your morning is FD Anticafe which charges 2 rubles per minute (3 US cents). Here, after ascending a beautiful circular staircase, you will find a series of themed rooms for relaxing along with a wonderful roof terrace complete with a view of Nevskiy. Anticafes also allow their customers to bring in their own food and drink so if you prefer to grab a coffee elsewhere and simply enjoy the roof terrace you have that option too.

A Choice of St. Petersburg Palaces

Most cities that have known a royal heritage in the annuls of their history or have an existing royal family can typically boast one palace or very occasionally two. St. Petersburg, however, is very different. Here there are more than 50, most of them exquisitely beautiful or on a grand scale and each of them in some way worthy of a visit.  Several are today home to such things as art galleries, museums and theaters.

Even the most conservative lists tend to describe at least six or more of these palaces of pink, yellow or gold and blue as ‘essential’ inclusions in an itinerary which of course is impossible in a day. However, coming to St. Petersburg without including at least one in your schedule is unthinkable. Some of the most spectacular are described here so you can make up your mind which of them is most worthy of your time.

(The Winter Palace – part of the fantastic and vast State Hermitage Museum – has not been included on this list as it is part of your afternoon’s itinerary.)

The Yusupov Palace

Located on the riverside, this late 18th century palace, sometimes called the Moika Palace, is nothing short of spectacular. It passed into the hands of the fabulously wealthy Yusupov family in the 1800s and became their favored residence of the four palaces they owned in total in the city.

Bright yellow and vast from the outside, the interiors are everything the majority of people imagine a palace to be – grand sweeping staircases, gilded chandeliers, incredible frescoes, rich silks and tapestries and furniture of the most sumptuous kind. All of its many, many rooms are very different

and represent some of the best preserved original features that can be found anywhere in St. Petersburg. Highlights include the gorgeous white-columned ballroom, the fabulous glittering Moorish Room which will transport you straight to Morocco, the highly ornate theater and the Turkish Study.

The Yusupov Palace also has a dark chapter in its history – this was where the famous mystic, healer and self-proclaimed monk Grigory Rasputin was murdered (or where his murder at least began as this story remains cloaked in mystery) in 1916 by the then-owner of the house Prince Felix  Yusupov and his fellow conspirators.

The Marble Palace

The 18th century Marble Palace is said by many to have one of the most exquisite interiors of any palace found and not just in St. Petersburg but in all of the country. In a city known for its fabulous palaces this claim may give you some idea of what lies in store for you here. Balancing elements from the Baroque and neoclassical architectural styles, this building incorporates more than 30 different types of marble inlaid on walls, paneling and floors and adorned with more marble in the decorative urns.

The Marble Museum is today used as an exhibition space for modern art, taken from the Russian Museum collection on a rotating system.

Yelagin Palace

Charming and elegant, the all-white 19th century Yelagin Palace was originally built as a summer villa for Maria Fyodorovna – the mother of the tsar of the time, Alexander I. It remained as an imperial home for more than a century. Its setting – on a greenery-covered island overlooking the water, makes this palace especially lovely to visit. Besides the tours of the opulent interiors the lovely grounds and palace are also home to a series of cultural events ranging from an annual tulip festival to a weekly-hosted evening of concerts each Wednesday where you can listen to a diverse menu of offerings which include classical, jazz and traditional folk music.

One of the highlights here is the Museum of Art Glass – a stunning collection of glass art from both Russia and further afield.

Some of the other palaces such as the exceptionally beautiful Catherine Palace with its sky-blue, white and gold exterior and the Grand Palace – which, despite its name is actually one of the smaller offerings – are only open in the afternoons.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

If you happen to have been visiting one of the centrally-located palaces it is worth making time to take in the beautiful and grand-domed St. Isaac’s Cathedral close by and before you break for lunch.

Today functioning as a museum rather than a place of religious meeting, St. Isaac’s was completed in 1858 after 40 years of construction and represents something of an engineering marvel of its time. Raised on marshy ground, a number of innovative techniques were employed to ensure basic structural integrity. Not least of these was the sinking of thousands of tree trunks to ensure the weight of the portico columns could be supported. Inside you can see a fascinating model of this sunken wooden framework and marvel yourself at how such a vast and grand building remains standing at all.

From the exterior the cathedral is gorgeous to gaze upon with its neoclassical design, grand bronze doors covered in relief art, sculpture-filled facades and pure gold-plated dome.

Inside the cathedral is majestically cavern-like, originally able to accommodate 14,000 worshippers.  Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes but some exceptional highlights include the exquisite mosaics and the iconostasis flanking columns of semi-precious stone such as lazurite and malachite.

If you make your way to the top of the cathedral your reward is some stunning St. Petersburg views.

Lunch in St. Petersburg

If you are one of those who think the St. Petersburg food scene is a little dull and dreary you are somewhat behind the times. While this reputation may once have been true it is certainly not the case anymore and it appears the quality and diversity already established is also an ever-growing phenomenon. Traditional Russian dishes are being reinvented with sensational twists to satisfy the modern market while international cuisine types available are plentiful and all-encompassing.

Italian, Armenian, Chinese, Mediterranean, American, Japanese, French, Indian, Mexican….and so the list goes on.

Perfectly placed for your afternoon’s visit to the Hermitage Museum, the Literary Cafe offers you a choice of dining venues so you can pick your own lunch ambience. Downstairs you will find a lovely casual cafe space which surrounds you with eclectic and quirky vintage décor complete with old portraits and a stuffed bear. Head upstairs for a more formal lunch in elegant surroundings intended to evoke the aristocratic salons of the imperial era. The cuisine is a combination of European and Russian and the restaurant is well-known for its excellent service.

It is also known as the place where Russian poet, playwright and novelist Alexander Pushkin had his final refreshment in 1837 before heading out to the duel in which he sustained the fatal wounds from which he died.

Head here in the evenings and enjoy the entertainment of the cafe’s musical and literary programs which offers grand piano performances and poetry readings.

Another lunch spot which places you almost next door to the Hermitage Museum and on the riverbank is Yat. This is an ideal place to head if you want to sample some traditional Russian cuisine such as blini (savory pancakes), pelmeni (dumplings) and the kind of soups Russian grandmothers would cook up. From the moment of arriving at the charming and rustic exterior of this country-style cafe you will start to get a feel for the whole venue and its ethos. The menu here is vast, the portions generous and both the welcome and the décor warm and homely.

With European dishes on offer as well, Yat offers a selection of small and large tasting plates ideal for sharing which offer an easy way of sampling a bit of everything for those who aren’t familiar with Russian food. For a lunch with style order the caviar tasting plate.

An Afternoon in St. Petersburg

While museum’s often typically feature on a visitor’s itinerary as they explore the world’s cities in St. Petersburg, it is an essential inclusion. Here, although the city has a wide offering of museums, there is one which soars above all others and not just with regard to St. Petersburg but on a global scale. The magnificent State Hermitage Museum is so vast that simply listing its highlights could take up a small book. As several days could not do this mammoth jewel justice almost your entire afternoon will be given to walking the magnificent palace halls and discovering the dazzling exhibitions, treasured art works and ancient artifacts of this amazing place.

The State Hermitage Museum

It would be absolutely unthinkable to come to St. Petersburg and not visit the mind-blowingly fantastic State Hermitage Museum. Founded in 1764 and open to the public since the mid 1800s, the Hermitage is one of the world’s oldest museums and as an art museum second only in size to the Louvre in..

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There is a reason chefs work in kitchens. For some, it’s because they grew up in them, watching a mother or father roast chickens or flambee bananas every day after school for as long as they can remember. For some, it’s because they live on the adrenaline, soaking up the energy of fire and steel and sweat. And for others, it’s because they love the creation, the connections, and the camaraderie. No matter what the reason, the life of chefs in their kitchens is normally an incredibly private space, hidden away from customers and clients alike. Their kitchen is sacred, and theirs alone.

Traditionally, restaurant kitchens are loud, steamy, dark, congested spaces. At their helm, Executive Chefs are known as screamers, a trope made all the more prevalent by TV shows like Hells Kitchen and Restaurant Impossible. But the main kitchen on Wind Surf could be no farther from any of these stereotypes. It’s bright and airy, full of windows looking out over the azure Mediterranean. It’s sparkling, cool, and oddly roomy.

And Chef Anthony Sasso oversees it with a calmness normally not witnessed.

Chef Sasso joined the James Beard Foundation Spanish Symphony sailing on Wind Surf, bringing with him Michelin stars and Iberian tastes. He’s a chefs chef – generous, jovial, brave. His arms bear the marks of his trade – fine white knife scars, and dark black-inked tattoos.

The Wind Surf kitchen is not his own. The pots and pans are not the ones with his dishes burned into them. The knives are not the ones with his handprints embedded in their handles. And the staff are not his ‘guys,’ the ones who know what he wants done even before he speaks.

But he works in this space with understated ease. He teaches as he cooks, sharing secrets and patiently demonstrating techniques. He gives praise. He models precision while his eyes sparkle with laughter. It is obvious that he works in kitchens because the kitchen is where he feels most free, most whole, and even out here in the middle of the sea – the most at home.

Words and Images created by Collier Lumpkin.

The post Behind the Scenes with Chef Anthony Sasso on a culinary themed cruise appeared first on Windstar Cruises Travel Blog.

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