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In 2011, I was fortunate to sample some of the newest travel experiences in the travel industry, as well as return to some of my all-time favorites. Here are my Fave Five travel excursions of 2011.
All AboardMy year started off with the kind of opportunity any Disney fanatic would die for: the inaugural sailing of Disney Cruise Line’s Dream. Before the Disney Dream — the first new Disney ship in a decade — even set sail out of Cape Canaveral, Fla., I knew I was in for something special when, at the inaugural celebration, literally hundreds of Disney characters from throughout the decades performed along with actress, singer and former Disney Cruise Line performer Jennifer Hudson. Once onboard, the amazing technological and entertainment enhancements — including the AquaDeck Water Coaster, the magic play floor in the kids’ club, lavish live productions in the theater, re-imagined dining experiences and more — had passengers saying there was not enough time to fully experience it all. I guess that just means I’ll have to sail onboard again.
Connection MadeAnother first from 2011 was the first-ever TravelAge West ExecConnect conference. The live event, held onboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam sailing from Los Angeles to Vancouver, brought together top suppliers with top travel agents for one-on-one meetings, educational general sessions, product and destination workshops and more.
Support for an Old FriendOne of my most memorable trips of 2011 was especially close to my heart. After an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis in Japan, I watched along with the rest of the world as that country struggled to overcome the tragedy. I had traveled to Japan several times in the past and it is one of my favorite destinations, so when the opportunity came to visit and assess the post-disaster tourism situation and discuss new ideas with the Japan National Tourism Office, I jumped at the chance to support an old friend. What I found was a country that, while deeply shaken by the disaster, was ready to welcome guests with genuine warmth and gratitude. During that trip, I had the opportunity to visit Okinawa, which I found to be a truly fascinating destination located in Southern Japan. A highlight of that trip was a visit to the Ocean Expo Park Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and the enormous Kuroshio Sea tank, which houses three 30- to 40-foot whale sharks. Seeing these giants during feeding hour is an experience I will never forget.
Return to the YangtzeMy next favorite trip came last summer, when I was able to return to China to sail on the Yangtze River aboard the new Viking Emerald. I had cruised on the Yangtze several years ago, and it was amazing to see how the tourism product has evolved in China in that time. The Emerald is one of the most advanced ships on the river, and my fellow passengers and I enjoyed the comfort and luxury of our home along this intriguing and historic waterway. Viking tour guides did a great job throughout the trip, which included my first-ever visit to the remarkable Terra-Cotta Warriors of Xian.
Aloha, MickeyMy Fave Five list for 2011 ends the way it began: I had the opportunity to experience another ground-breaking new Disney product. In August, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, opened in Ko Olina, on Oahu, becoming the first major Disney resort not attached to a theme park. Without a doubt, Aulani will raise the bar on what constitutes a “family resort” in Hawaii. With a wide range of features for children — including a manmade, kid-friendly snorkeling lagoon, a top-of-the-line kids’ club, water slides and a lazy river pool — there is no doubt that young kids will love Aulani. What I found surprising was the extent to which Disney incorporated Hawaiian art and culture into the resort, making it an essential part of the Aulani experience.