Celebrating Christmas In Scotland

Bag piping Buskers Holiday Serenade

Paula’s Perspective

Six years ago, my husband and I moved to Florida and left behind our family and friends along with all the Christmas obligations. What amazed me is how I never realized you cram all these visits, seeing everyone into just a day and half– Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While it can be fun, it can sometimes be exhausting.

Moving changes all that. Suddenly, there are no obligations and you have a chance to reinvent the holidays without offending anyone. Don’t get me wrong, you do miss your family and all the traditions surrounding the holidays, but it’s really exciting making new traditions.

I’ve personally always wanted to go away for Christmas—to actually wake up in a different country on Christmas morning, celebrating the holidays outside of the United States. Travel opens up your eyes to so many things, but seeing how a country celebrates Christmas is something we don’t often think of doing. And, since I started the whole Scotland thing with Sarah a few years ago, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather continue the adventure with!

Sarah’s Perspective

I first visited Edinburgh, Scotland in 2014 when Paula invited me as a plus one on an international business trip. She suggested a train ride from London to Edinburgh where we could explore the city for a long weekend. On the way to the Boston airport, my mother called and casually mentioned my great-grandmother was born in Scotland. She offered her date of birth and suggested I stop at a genealogical society to find out more information on her.  I was stunned as I have always considered myself Polish by heritage, but quickly took what little information she had, and stuck it in my purse. I forgot about it until we arrived in Edinburgh and walked right by Scotland’s People: a Genealogical Research Center, on the way to our hotel. This began my personal journey into my Scottish genealogy. Over the years, I spent time searching for information on a family history I didn’t know I had and developing an interest in a country that draws me in, like it’s calling me home.

Deciding to spend Christmas in Edinburgh with my family was appealing, although I had my reservations. Traveling during a major holiday can be stressful and I was concerned my children would be disappointed we weren’t following our traditional Christmas schedule. Edinburgh turned out to be a fantastic way to re-energize our family bond, discover new traditions and explore a fairy tale like landscape. Edinburgh Castle is always within the eye’s periphery when in Edinburgh and the gothic silhouette of the city is the perfect place to recapture what is magical about the holidays.

Carnival Rides Edinburgh Christmas Market
The ferris wheel all lit up for the holidays
Sarah and Rob Edinburgh Christmas Market
Strolling through the Edinburgh Christmas Market enjoying a wee dram of whiskey
Edinburgh Christmas Market Day View
A view of the market in daylight

Edinburgh has a large German style Christmas Market that begins weeks before and ends just after Christmas. We spent time exploring the vendor stalls, riding Carnival style rides, drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate made with real Bavarian melted chocolate.  We ate German sausage and Scottish meat pies, and enjoyed being serenaded by traditionally dressed bagpiping buskers.

Christmas Eve dinner was spent at The Witchery: a uniquely decorated medieval restaurant, rich in history and within the shadows of Edinburgh Castle, followed by a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, decorated with millions of twinkling lights. Ticket holders walk through the displays as Christmas music plays in the background, and Santa and his helpers are seen preparing for what will be a long night.

The Witchery Edinburgh
Outside The Witchery for our Christmas Eve Dinner
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
A scene from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh
Edinburgh's Royal Mile
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile decorated for the festive season

Christmas Day was spent lounging in front of our hotel provided personal Christmas tree (it was a complete surprise), opening gifts from the stockings I brought and hung in our lounge room. It was a mild, sunny day, and we hiked to both Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill: two popular and scenic over looks in Edinburgh.  Although most of the city was shut down: no public transport was available; the city was still alive with people, enjoying the beauty of The Royal Mile and other major landmarks that make Edinburgh so special. Tourist shops were open for business, as well as a wine shop and several takeaway restaurants.

Scottish Malt Whiskey Society
Entrance to the Scottish Malt Whisky Society thanks to the Eat Walk Food Tour
Makar's Mash Bar
Eat Walk Food Tour at Makar’s Mash Bar Stop–best mashed potatoes ever!
Scottish Malt Whiskey Society
Enjoying our whiskey after our Haggis tasting

My son and youngest daughter asked if this year we could celebrate the holiday with a few of the traditions we enjoyed in Scotland. I just bought a set of Christmas crackers and am researching where to buy a few Christmas Crowns.

Hiking Up to Arthur's Seat
A view on the way up to Arthur’s Seat
The View from Arthur's Seat
What a gorgeous view of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur’s Seat!
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Our first experience with Christmas Crackers!

These are a few of our Favorite Festive Things to do In Edinburgh:

Edinburgh Christmas Market

Royal Botanic Gardens

Eat Walk Food Tour

The Witchery

Mimi’s Bake Shop

Hiking Up to Arthur’s Seat

A Scotland Do It Yourself Pub Crawl

Traveling during the holidays can be a fun, enriching experience.  Scotland is a magical, soulful country that makes you believe in the magic of Christmas all over again.

Things to do on a Long Haul Flight

Canva - Silhouette of Airplane during Sunset
Photo by Pixabay

With the holidays fast approaching, many travelers will take to the skies for what is the busiest season for travel. So what do you do if your travels require you to take a long haul flight (seven hours or more)? How do you survive a plane ride that long? Take it from us professionals, in order to survive; you have to have a strategy.

Choose Your Seat Wisely
Before you even get on the plane, the seat assignment is key. We all wish we could afford business class or first, but when that isn’t in the budget, choosing your seat wisely will help ease the pain of sitting in it for a long time. Seat Guru is great for picking out the best seat by flight number and is our go to for seat selection, but we are big fans of the two-seat row. It’s not always available on every flight, but it’s ideal especially if you are traveling with a significant other. It’s an aisle and a window with no chance of having a stranger in the seat in between you, and makes for a more enjoyable flight when you can stretch out together. It’s about as luxurious an experience as you can get in economy class.

Wear Comfortable Clothing
This is an absolute must. We recommend layering here because we all know flights can be very cold at times.  And,  if you’re one of the unfortunate souls to be stuck in a center seat between two bodies, it can be very warm. The last thing you want is to be wearing something uncomfortable for hours on end.

Bring Plenty of Reading Material
Now is the time to catch up on that stack of catalogs you’ve been meaning to look through or those magazines you just haven’t had the time to read. You can pack them and if you don’t want to keep, you can discard before you get off the plane. Most airlines have entertainment on board, so there will be plenty of movies, TV shows, etc., to watch on your flight, but we recommend having a combination of things to do. It helps break up the flight–especially if it is 12 to 15 hours or more. Pick a book to download or buy one to carry—now is the time for a great story because not only will you have the flight there, but don’t forget about the flight back.

Organize Your Laptop
If you are bringing your laptop or even your iPad, take this time to organize all your files, delete things you don’t need anymore, etc. I once organized my entire laptop on a 5 hour non stop flight. It’s something we never make time for, but really needs to be done and provides a great sense of accomplishment when you do.

Carry On Your Bedtime Routine
When it’s time to go to bed, we all have our routine—wash our face, brush our teeth, put our pajamas on. Have a strategy for your “things to do time”, but when it’s time to get some shuteye, it’s important to follow your typical routine and make sure you pack those items in your carry and they’re easily accessible. If you decide to use a sleep aid, make sure you try it out at home first, especially if you’ve never used it before. The last thing you need is to be super knocked out or groggy when you finally get to your destination.

Make it a Spa Experience
Flying is very dehydrating to the skin and body, so you make sure you drink plenty of water on your flight. There are socks you can buy to moisturize your feet and you can purchase a travel mask featuring hydrating ingredients to leave you feeling refreshed and your skin looking amazing when you get off the plane. We used one on our long haul flight to Thailand. It’s a sheet mask you simply lay over your face (it has eye holes so you can see). Our flight attendants were so impressed they all kept coming over asking us about it. We used Hydrate by Peach and Lily and they have other ones as well.

When it comes to a long haul flight, the most important thing is to get creative and be comfortable. You can pack a deck of cards, write a good old-fashioned letter to a aging relative (they will really appreciate hearing from you), do a word search or channel your inner child and buy a new coloring book and crayons. There is no one to judge you. And, who cares really? What are the chances you’ll ever see these people again?

Two Family Friendly Destinations for 2019

2019 Family Friendly Locations
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay at night

Singapore is a very young country with a booming economy and so much development happening, if you have visited recently, it may be unrecognizable the next time you are there. A relatively small Island off the coast of Malaysia, Singapore has had many rulers, and only became an Independent country 50 years ago. The Singapore of 50 years ago was teetering on the brink of destruction, but in just one generation, they have become one of the richest countries in the world. Impressive sky scrapers and new modern design are weaved into the older, culturally diverse neighborhoods with their own cuisines and decor, including a Colonial District, in remembrance of English colonial rule. While most of the population is of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian descent, English is the primary language. The temperature hovers right around 80 degrees year round, and the sun rises and sets everyday at 7. There are modern amenities , one of the world’s largest casinos, gorgeous resorts with beautiful beaches, world class zoos and jungle safaris, as well as a Universal Studios amusement park. Just a few of their top attractions are:

  1. Gardens by the Bay
  2. Sentosa Island
  3. MacRitchie Reservoir
  4. Orchard Road

Why We Want to go:

So many experiences in one destination: The Glitz of Tokyo, a visit to the Serengeti, US quality amusement parks, all encompassing southeast Asian and Indian cuisine in one location, world class shopping, year round inviting weather.

Why is it a hot Destination for 2019:

If you haven’t seen the hottest film of 2018 or read the book, you need to. For Americans, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, put Singapore on our radars.

The Azores, Portugal

Azores

These 9 Islands, located approximately 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination. Known for its magnificent volcanic landscape, visitors can hike to breathtaking panoramic peaks, swim in crater lakes, explore lava tubes, bathe in hot springs, and discover a variety of oceanic activities, such as boating, snorkeling and surfing. I became interested in visiting the Azores after I discovered there are non stop flights from Boston with a flight time of approximately 4.5 hours and an equally short trip can be easily found from New York City. The descriptions are similar to the Hawaiian Island activity offerings, but Oahu is more of a 17 hour flight time for us. The top attractions in the Azores include:

  1. Sete Cidades Crater Lake
  2. Terra Nostra Gardens
  3. Algar do Carveo and Gruta das Torres
  4. Marina of Horta

Why We Want to Go:

We love tropical weather and plenty of outdoor activities to keep us busy. One of the most difficult things about family travel is the getting there. These islands are exactly the right balance of close proximity to us, lots of activities, a beautiful location, and affordability.

Why is it a Hot Destination for 2019

Delta recently announced a new direct flight from the northeast, beginning in May 2019. Boston already has a direct flight in place through the Azores own airline, ANA. For those looking for an island getaway with a wide array of outdoor activities and world class cuisine and accommodations, but don’t want the big commitment flying to Hawaii can take, these islands just became irresistible. New York to San Pedro averages just about 5 hours. Hotels average a $120.00 a night and dinner is less than $25.00 per person in the Azores. Compared to Hawaii, this is an incredible steal.

Exploring Montage Palmetto Bluff–A South Carolina Oasis

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Your swing awaits on the walking trails of Montage Palmetto Bluff Resort

Stunning, I must have used these words a thousand times on my recent trip to Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. Just 30 minutes from the great city of Savannah, Georgia (a personal bucket list city for me), it was a nice easy drive from central Florida and absolutely, without a doubt worth going to from anywhere in the country. The resort is set on over 20,000 acres and the scenery is just absolutely gorgeous. There is no detail forgotten and just when you think, “It can’t get any better than this,” it does.

The grounds are gorgeous with stunning views and walking trails, enticing you bounce out of bed early to get your morning run or walk in (They even have a running concierge). I selected a trail taking me along the river to a mossy oak covered path of trees. Throughout the property, there are many bridges and quaint spots—like the town center with the picturesque church—perfect for a destination wedding. There is something for the entire family and because of the various types of accommodations and activities, this property is perfect for multi-generational travel as well.

Bluffton, South Carolina

Montage Palmetto Bluff Conservancy

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The quaint village–perfect for a destination wedding!

Montage Palmetto Bluff has three types of accommodations—inn guest rooms and suites, cottages/residences and village homes. Guests of the resort can enjoy the entire property and the resort fee includes the use of kayaks and canoes, fishing poles, tennis, croquet use of the pool and spa facility (spa treatments are extra), fitness center and  fitness classes and a plethora of activities the resort has to offer. It even includes the gratuities for the bellman, housekeeping and the concierge.  The property boasts a Jack Nicholas 18-hole signature, private golf course, so if you aren’t a guest of the resort, you aren’t getting in. (Highly recommended on the golf club menu is the hotdog. It’s all beef, wrapped in bacon and well, shall we say some things are just worth having and this was.) Both golf and bike rentals are available at additional fees.

Montage Palmetto Bluff May River Golf Course
Views from the May River Golf Course

One of the things that excited me the most was seeing kids riding bikes everywhere. These days’ kids spend a lot of time indoors, so it was really nice to see them out enjoying the day with their families. And, who wouldn’t when you have an awesome bicycle with a bell and a basket? There is also a state of the art bowling alley and a game room on property. Did I mention the awesome tree houses? Just seeing a tree house brings me back to my childhood, I mean, “Who didn’t want a tree house growing up?” There are two of them on property—one more than four stories high with incredible views of the waterways.

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Montage Palmetto Bluff
Two awesome tree houses on the property
Montage Palmetto Bluff Bowling Alley
The state of the art bowling alley at Montage

We were treated to a tour of the lowlands of South Carolina. (I always recommend to clients to get out on the water if you have the chance. It changes your perspective of your vacation destination.) Our guide, who is also the fishing guide, entertained us with tales from a neighboring island where a landowner had placed buffalo so he could hunt. The problem was, he didn’t realize buffalo could swim and they escaped. Unfortunately for the buffalo, they escaped to a hunting lodge and as a result, one of the buffalo heads can be found inside the restaurant on the property, appropriately named, “Buffalo’s.”

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Sampling a local dish at Culinary Heirlooms

img_3330Other highlights include, the island for awesome family days, the homemade hot sauce at Cole’s, the food (delicious), Culinary Heirlooms (local cuisine featured every night at 5 pm for guests to sample), the luxurious and beautifully appointed spa (best facial I’ve ever had), and the s’mores cart. The inn offers fires and s’mores every night with a cart full of homemade marshmallows in different flavors (we were told to try the lemon marshmallow with the dark chocolate) and two different kinds of chocolate. It’s like you died and went to s’mores heaven! “Porching” occurs every day from 3:30 to 5:30pm at the River House where cookies, sweet tea, and lemonade are served and guests can hang out and enjoy the view of the river from their porch rocker. We didn’t have the good fortune to attend this event, but if it is anything like the shortbread cookies we experienced in our room every night, we’re absolutely certain we will not miss it next time.

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The s’more’s cart–chocolate and homemade marshmallows!

img_3270Montage Palmetto Bluff is a haven for families and couples looking to escape from it all and experience the outdoors. It’s just good old fashioned fun. There is no “I” left undotted, no “T” left uncrossed here. They go out of their way and the attention to detail is unfounded. A little boy I met put it perfectly when I asked him what his favorite thing was he had done there on vacation, “I get to shoot a bow and arrow.” He hadn’t even done it yet, but it was his favorite thing. Montage Palmetto Bluff is just that—it’s your favorite thing to do, even though you haven’t done it yet.

Getting there: Fly into Savannah, Georgia (airport code SAV). Transportation to the resort can be arranged or you can rent a car and drive. It’s about 30 minutes.

Guests of the resort who are the Art of Travel clients receive a room upgrade (subject to availability), a $60 dollar daily breakfast credit per room, and a $100 spa credit per stay.

Curacao—The Urban Chic Gem of the Caribbean

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I really didn’t know what to expect when we docked in Curacao. During my days at Islands and Caribbean Travel and Life Magazines, it wasn’t an island we covered frequently. The only thing I had heard was it was “colorful” and “not like any of the other islands in the Caribbean.” (We docked there on our recent ten day cruise on the Norwegian Jade.)

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Docking in Curacao on the Norwegian Jade

The dock itself is charming. I loved the inviting little white tents with “Welcome to Curacao”. And, in the background was something I’d never seen in the Caribbean—a modern bridge towering over the skyline of the island. The Queen Juliana Bridge is a focal point of the skyline. It’s one of the tallest bridges in the world, weighing 3,400 tons and is 185 feet above sea level over Santa Ana Bay. Traveling over the bridge is a little harrowing when the wind is blowing, but the views are spectacular.

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View of the Queen Juliana Bridge with the Swinging Bridge below

The only way to describe Curacao is Caribbean, urban chic. It has the vibe of the Caribbean with all the vibrant, gorgeous colors; yet Willemstad with the view of the Queen’s Bridge overhead, gives it an urban chic kind of feel. With outdoor cafes, shops, and restaurants, it has the bustle of a city with the laid back vibe of the Caribbean.

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Colorful Curacao

Oddly enough, Curacao is home to another unique bridge in the Caribbean—the Queen Emma Bridge. Also known as, “The Swinging Old Lady,” this floating, swinging bridge connects two parts of historic Willemstad—the Punda and the Ortobanda districts. Sixteen floating pontoon boats support the bridge and two motors allow it to swing open to let ships enter the port. It truly is one of the most unique bridges in the world and certainly the Caribbean.

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The Swinging Bridge in Curacao

Things to Do In Curacao

  • Visit the Curacao Distillery Home to the world famous Blue Curacao liqueur and housed in the historic 19th century mansion Landhuis Chobolobo .
  • Take a local driving tour—Ben Tours offers a luxury motor coach tour and includes ice-cold beer, water and wifi. The tour takes you to the distillery and two scenic overlook spots before dropping you back at the dock or you have an option to get off in town and explore. It’s a great overview of the island.
  • Explore the Punda area of Willemstad for shopping, outdoor cafes and local eats. Afterwards make your way to the Netto Bar, the oldest in Curacao (and one of the oldest in the Caribbean) for their famous Rom Berde (green rum).

Where to Stay in Curacao

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Luxury awaits at the gorgeous Baoase Resort in Curacao

The gorgeous Baoase Luxury Resort is the perfect place for a romantic escape.  Located on the south side of Curacao, the resort offers 23 rooms, suites and villas to restore your well-being.  The resort also has a spa for wellness seekers and offers yoga and detox programs. With beaches, golf, hiking and exceptional diving, Curacao is the perfect place to wander, relax and unwind.

An Insider’s Look at the Exceptional Viking Sun Cruise Ship

For those of us that live stateside, you may have heard of Viking River Cruises, but what you may not know, is that Viking has now ventured into ocean cruising. At the Art of Travel Company, we were recently invited to Miami to tour one of their new ships, the Viking Sun, and what we experienced was a work of art, steeped in Nordic tradition, with the beauty and simplicity Scandinavian design is known for.

IMG_2325_The_Art_of_Travel_Company
The Atrium on the new Viking Sun

The ship itself is stunning. With tall, bright windows, and a neutral décor, when you board the ship, you enter the Viking Living Room. Featuring comfy couches and chairs, it makes you feel as though you’ve entered the home of a Scandinavian relative. Every detail was thought through—from the leather wrapped hand railings, to the incredible woodwork of the Winter Garden—each fine touch has a purpose. The carefully selected artwork lining the ships walls even has a story to tell. The art is numbered, and guests who download the app, can look up the description on that particular piece. Other unique attributes include the retractable roof in the Winter Garden and heated pool area, the Explorers’ Lounge complete with telescope for stargazing, and the infinity pool and spa. For the food adventurous, try Mamsen’s, a gourmet deli featuring true Norwegian cuisine, and the World Café with selections from around the world. There are two specialty restaurants on board, The Chef’s Table providing a multi-course tasting experience, and Manfredi’s specializing in the fine art of Italian cuisine. In the evening, head to Torshavn 1920’s style bistro providing a very intimate setting for entertainment. And for those of you on extended cruises, leave the heavy suitcase at home; the ship even has a self-service laundry on board at no additional cost. It automatically dispenses detergent and fabric softener so no need to bring your own. For a small class ship, the Viking Sun is packed full of features.

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The spa facility is very unique. As you enter the spa, a gorgeous modern, gas fireplace greets you. Surprisingly, the same fireplace overlooks the spa pool on the inside, creating a focal point and ambiance for peace and relaxation. The spa is also home to the snow grotto, where guests can experience chilling temperatures and actual snow, and then hop on over to the sauna just across the way. It’s beautifully and comfortably appointed and the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day at sea. Guests on the Viking Sun can use the spa facilities at no extra charge and spa treatments are extra.

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Viking Ocean Cruises has taken what they learned on the rivers and expertly applied it to ocean cruising. With sixty-two ships in their river fleet, and four ocean ships currently, they plan to have ten by 2022. As we stood at the infinity pool, overlooking the ocean, we couldn’t help but envy the passengers about to embark on their journey to Cuba, as the Viking Sun is truly in a class all by itself.

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The Viking Sun offers:

  • Year built 2017
  • Double occupancy only
  • No children under 18
  • Every stateroom has a veranda (270 sq ft minimum)
  • Only 930 passengers (for those who don’t find megaships appealing)
  • Small class ship
  • No casino
  • Two specialty restaurants on board, no upcharge fee
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch and dinner are complimentary and specialty coffees, teas and bottled water are included
    • Unlimited cocktails beverage package is available for a minimal charge
  • Includes one excursion per port per passenger
  • Complimentary Wifi
  • 24 Hour Room Service

Viking Sun offers extraordinary, carefully curated, cruising itineraries to the Caribbean, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, The Adriatic, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Russia and the Baltic Sea. To book a cruise vacation on this beautiful ship, please Contact us.  For more information on the Viking Sun, visit https://www.vikingcruises.com/oceans/ships/viking-sun.html.