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Our Amazon experience with G Adventures is marketed as its
“Comfort” level, noting there are higher levels of service and amenities than
its standard, more “get out there” and camp, hostel and use public
transportation type tours. So while our
Amazon trip is not a luxury one, my expectations are that it should be fairly
comfortable with appropriate amenities with a price of about $2,500 per person
(exclusive of air) for this nine (9) day tour. (The Aqua, a truly more luxurious ship, sailed by one morning and it has
fantastic bedding and some flashier facilities, but I am not sure how many
people are going to come to this part of the Amazon for a luxury experience of
that sort. At least it is available…at a
much higher price. Other options also
exist at various price points, but more on that later; noting that all of these ships have itineraries that are quite similar.)
We started out in the jungle; the “concrete jungle” of New
York City. Because we only had limited
time, and I really didn't have any desire to spend too much time in Lima
(because I had been there before, there is not a lot to see, and there is so
much crime), coordinating our flights required we fly out of JFK Airport on
Copa Airlines…at 1:45 a.m.…with a connection in Panama City, Panama. For those of you not familiar with JFK
Airport, and more particularly Terminal 4, let’s just say it isn't a wonderful
We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our
supposedly on-time departure and did enjoy the Wingtips Lounge (which was
surprisingly OK), but at about midnight we found out our flight was delayed to
2:15 a.m.. and then was going to board almost any minute…until 3:00 a.m.,
courtesy of US Customs performing a drug sweep of the plane upon its arrival
Once, very tiredly onboard, the crew did not offer even a beverage
service until about 2 hours outside of Panama.
Upon arrival in Panama for our 3 hour layover (now down to 2.5 hours) I
was able to get upgrades to first class on our flight to Lima, after chilling
out in the Copa Lounge. Our 9:00 a.m.
Copa flight was fine and I had a good sleep after lunch service…interesting on
an early morning flight.
We were greeted by the G Adventures driver who took us (“us”
being me and my son) to The Dazzler Hotel in the Miraflores section of
Lima along with one other fellow passenger. As I mentioned, Lima is a very
poor city with lots of crime. The number
of police we observed in our 40 minute drive was remarkable. G Adventures’ selected hotel was quite nice
with friendly staff, clean and modern rooms and in a nice location. Remarkably the hotel did not have any
warnings about not drinking the water and did not offer any complimentary
bottled water. Lima has some of the
worst “drinking” water anywhere with it not only being full of bacteria, but
also ultra-high levels of heavy metals due to the water supply being downstream
from intensive mining operations.
After a nap we had a 6:30 p.m. get together for a briefing
and to meet most of the other travelers.
Our group of 26 was atypical for a G Adventures’ tour as it was it is a
pretty much older (with at least 8 being well over 60 and two approaching 80...who did everything!), very Canadian and with
a number of teachers/educators.
Unfortunately, as I would find out all too quickly, while where there
were some very nice folks, our group proved a testament to teachers on vacation
are far more rude than their students.
More on that later too.
My son and I then headed out to dinner at an internationally
acclaimed restaurant, Malabar, for a unique dining experience. (It has consistently been rated one of the Top 10 restaurants in all of Latin America.) Malabar’s specialty is it use of ingredients
from the Amazon and Andes combined into beautiful, creative and interesting
tasting creations. The restaurant itself
has an earthy, warm, palate of colors and textures, a quiet atmosphere and very
attentive service. Honestly, it was hard
to balance the crime concerns on the outside with the elegance inside the
restaurant. There is a wealth disparity
here as in other South American cities, but wealth seems to be more of a
relative term in Lima.
(I do have to admit
that after I decided on Malabar I decided to look on TripAdvisor…which I did
with the same skepticism I have when I look on CruiseCritic. It was worth it for the ridiculousness of its rating and some of the
comments. Rated as the 149th best restaurant in Lima, Peru, my favorite was a very recent
post claiming dissatisfaction with the restaurant but noting, "The only reason
for its top rating is its excellent food." Huh?
Isn’t that the point??? By the way, TripAdvisor ranks Veggie Pizza is rated the
No. 4 restaurant in Lima…which is an internationally acclaimed foodie city!)
Anyway, it was a fairly early night as we had to be up at
4:30 a.m. in order to be on our way to the airport for an 8:00 a.m. flight on
Star Peru Airlines. Lima Airport is much
improved from 1986 and our flight to Iquitos was fine. Because of the early flight and where the bus
dropped us off, there were no porters so we had to carry our own bags. However, upon arrival in Iquitos, Peru G
Adventures did not allow us to touch our bags, but had porters take our bags to be placed on our
midsized bus (there are 26 in our group) and then into our cabins on the Queen
We drove 15 minutes to the Manatee Rescue Center where there
a modest, but unique, opportunity to see the rare Amazon manatee (the smallest
of the manatee species) and to feed and touch them. After the animal are rehabilitated they are
returned to the wild. Hopefully their
return to the wild is far away from Iquitos. Turtles are also raised there in a very successful program.
I remember Iquitos as being a small rundown town back in
1986. Now it is a large very run down
city without anything about it that makes it attractive. We stopped there so that folks in our group
could pick up last minute items that they didn’t bring or didn’t think of (like
ponchos) or for an ATM. I have traveled
to quite a few remote areas and spending an hour in a rundown port city to shop
for last minute items should have been a red flag; especially because it was
later explained it kept us from our “orientation tour” of Iquitos. (Good
or bad, understanding a place before or during your visit makes a lot more
sense than doing it afterwards...a topic I will talk more about later on. Yes, I have lots of travel thoughts!)
I was amazed by the effort some in my group put in to
getting the best exchange rate possible.
Folks, you are spending thousands of dollars on your vacation and for
the amount of money you are actually going to spend, do yourself a favor, make
life easy and blow the potential $5 savings by using the ATM at the
airport. As we waited for a fellow passenger
in Lima I purchased 250 nuevo soles for about $94; no hassle, no pressure, no
waste of time.
After an hour in Iquitos (one hour too many) we finally
headed towards the ship, the Queen Violeta, which was located in a truly
depressing dump of a marina. Fortunately
as quickly as we could board the ship, the ship was underway and our Amazon
adventure finally began.
As an aside, one thing about this G Adventure trip I did not
like right from the start is the passing of envelopes to tip literally
everyone. In less than 24 hours I had to
tip the driver to the airport, the porter at the airport, and the driver from
the airport. During this trip various
“included” excursions required a gratuity be given as well. This sort of procedure does not make me feel
like I am showing my appreciation for services rendered, but rather am a
“tourist ATM” to which the locals go to withdraw funds. (G Adventures advises, in advance, about
gratuities for the staff, but not this.
It is an avoidable and inappropriate irritant; especially when it is a
more inclusive product. Ironically, on many of the more rustic experiences G Adventures creates a tip fund at the outset and let's the CEO (Chief Exploration Officer a/k/a guide) deal with tips along the way. I have no idea why it wasn't done here.)
The Queen Violetta was supposed built in 2012 and is fairly
basic, but comfortable, but one would never believe she was built in 2012. If she was there were a lot of recycled
parts. That said, the interior public
spaces consist of a dining room/bar and a small forward facing lounge. (There is another “lounge” that looks like it
was supposed to be a bar, but lays empty.)
Outside there are two covered areas on the top deck (one with a few
simple mismatched metal chairs and one with four hammocks…that are in high
demand) and below them there is another area with comfortable informal lounges
The rooms are basic, but the
beds are quite comfortable. Our Superior
Room (on the upper deck) is just forward of the Dining Room and extremely
conveniently located. It consists of two
beds, a dresser and a wardrobe with a very small desk and one table lamp. The bathroom is rustic, but functional with a
full tub over a shower (though I don’t see anyone taking a bath in it) and a
sink that has holes for a larger faucet (and hot and cold taps, not just cold) that are open to below as well as a
toilet and an open rack for storage.
All of the guests are accompanied by the CEO throughout the trip and a naturalist in a single skiff when venturing
off of the ship. Again, it is basic.
On this trip
most of the activities are viewing wildlife from a skiff rather than hiking
through the Amazon as I did previously.
For that reason the reference in the materials to “skiffs” and being
supplied with one skiff was not good; especially as some of the group was more
interesting in being “vacationing tourists” rather than “travelers” and there
was no way to segregate us into more appropriate subgroups. (Also, later in our journey the skiff sunk during a heavy rain and that left us without any skiff for an entire day while it was pumped out and the engines flushed.)
Immediately upon arrival we were directed to the Dining Room
for a briefing and lunch while our bags were delivered to our cabins. The atmosphere is quite informal, but G
Adventures’ staff makes sure you are comfortable and relaxed. Along those lines the activities for the
evening or morning are posted on a white board in the dining room letting you
know what to wear and what to bring. Not
too much information; just the basics. (I wanted more than the basics...like background, like what animals we might see and their ecology, for example.) It was explained that we would do everything noted in our itinerary, but
possibly in a different order due to conditions and weather.
Our lunch was simple, but good for what it was and where we
were. Hearts of Palm salad, chicken,
fried yucca and beans. I won’t be
discussing the menu as I normally do.
Just know that the food is of “good enough” quality and varied with
usually two proteins offered such as catfish and beef, chicken or pork, along
with vegetables, a starch, breads and a salad. Soup is sometimes offered as well.
Desserts were generally pretty good..though jello seemed to be offered more as the trip was winding down. There were a few occasions where they did run
out of food. Whether it was as a result
of some of the more gluttonous group members or poor planning, that really is
I unpacked in about 3 minutes and it was time to chill out
on deck and wait for our 5:30 p.m. skiff "excursion". It was quite relaxing to be away from the
cities and on the water watching the beauty of the Amazon start to appear and
the grunge of Iquitos to slip away.
Just as we were going to board the skiff a typical late
afternoon storm hit, but 15 minutes (and a lot of water) later the sun was
out. On board the skiff we had our
safety briefing and pretty much went back onto the Queen Violeta for dinner as the sun was setting and
an early night.
Tomorrow we are up at 5:00 a.m. for our first exploration!
In 1986 I traveled to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle when I was single and wanted a truly rustic adventure spending my days and nights under the deep forest canopy if not canoeing around some of the backwaters. It was, well and truly, one of the most invigorating and inspiring journeys of my life...and one, along with my African safaris, inspired me to travel.
G Adventures' Queen Violeta Amazon River Cruise Ship
Alas, it is now almost 30 years later and, while I am extremely excited to return to the Amazon jungle, I am not going to be roughing it, or spending quite as much time, in the biosphere that impresses me so much. And I am taking my 18 year old son with me as a "father-son" trip before he heads off for his first year of college, so it isn't going to be all about my getting that great photo or my individual experience. I am, now a bit wiser and maybe a step slower, more than ready for new perspectives on a fascinating area that far to few people experience.
I have organized this trip through G Adventures (which, as it develops its brand) offers trips that range from the truly rugged to pretty much, sort of, luxury. This nine (9) day trip is leaning more to the comfortable and fairly well taken care of side...but isn't quite what one would call luxury.
It conveniently it takes two weekends and only one business week - and starts in Lima, Peru for one night at the Dazzler Hotel (a good thing after the 1:45 a.m. flight I have to Lima!), then an early morning flight the next day over the Andes to Iquitos, Peru for a visit to a Amazonian Manatee Rescue facility and a quick city tour (which I understand has grown significantly, if not for the better).
It is then on to our ship, the Queen Violeta, a new 32 passenger ship (though maximum 28 guests are on any sailing) (Note: Starting in 2015 G Adventures will be using a different ship.)
G Adventures' Queen Violeta Amazon Cruise Ship
While the accommodations will be simple, they are a huge upgrade from the hard bunk with mosquito netting in a room open to the jungle - no windows, no electricity and a basin with muddy Amazon River water...with the latrine-style outhouse and community 55 gallon drum shower (also using muddy Amazon River water)...down the dock...that I experienced the last time. I will talk more about the ship after I am aboard.
Once a board the ship it will be six (6) days cruising the Amazon, but not heading east as I did the last time (when I visited the Yanamamo and Napo River areas), but doubling back west to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.
The first day will be spent sailing to the confluence of the
Marañon and Ucayali rivers, considered to be the point where the Amazon River
begins, where it should be possible to see monkeys, sloths, a variety of birds
and the famous pink dolphin. Over the next five days, guides will lead jungle
walks, give lectures and point out unique species of bird and marine life as we
explore the smaller tributaries of the river.
Two days of excursions in the Pacaya-Samiria National
Reserve are designed to provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, and a
chance to interact with the locals…including a local shaman. I had an experience with the locals on a far less structured basis the last time (some great stories are coming in the next articles!), but I also endured what was a surprisingly touristic, but still very cool, demonstration of blow gun expertise. While I don't know how things will go with the shaman, I don't think I will be trying to bring back a blow gun again, as in 1986 the airline said it was a weapon (a wood vs. pvc pipe, but OK, I guess!).
We will also go piranha fishing Last time I brought my own rod, but not this time (though I did catch some pretty nice fish other than piranha). I know the technique to use, but will let you know about that when it happens! And, of course, swimming in the back waters - with all of the folklore - and truths - as to its dangers is also on the agenda.
Something I am really looking forward to is exploring the mangroves in a dugout
canoe. I hope we visit some of the areas with giant lilies that are six feet or more across, as I did last time. We will also visit the Sapisapi River to look
for charapas and other turtles.
Finally we will visit the port town of Nauta and visit a local market. Considering that the diets of the locals are almost entirely based upon what is available in the jungle, there are most certainly going to be some very interesting things to see...and, possibly taste. (I mean you know I will try just about anything including balut eggs in Cambodia, so I am looking forward to this!)
There are more than a few clients that I have urged to go deeper into the Amazon than Manaus, Brazil; heck, how pristine can it be when they are playing World Cup football (soccer) there entertaining tens of thousands of fans. That is why I regularly suggest that if you want more than a "taste", less of a "tourist" experience, and to experience the "real deal", Iquitos, Peru is your better jumping in point.
Now, speaking of G Adventures and its evolution into the luxury expedition market, I want to make you aware of its Galapagos luxury cruise experience. Its 32 passenger ship provides true luxury accommodations - something one luxury line is struggling mightily with - with many of the amenities that are difficult to find in the Galapagos.
G Adventures' Evolution Standard Stateroom
While I will be talking more about the Galapagos opportunities later, now is the time for me to get packing for my Amazon experience!
If you are interested in any G Adventure tours or cruises, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY...but wait until after July 27th. Internet and telephone are not prevalent in the Amazon!
I have just been advised by AmaWaterways that a very few staterooms have just become available for the October 6, 2014 Goldring Travel 2014 Food & Wine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on the AmaWaterways AmaCerto.
This fourteen (14) day cruise has numerous included high quality tours and will also have some tastings of the little-known but extraordinary wines of the regions. All this is provided without any additional cost to you with the tasting and other special events being provided courtesy of Goldring Travel. (If you have ever been on a Goldring Travel Food & Wine Cruise you know a once-in-a-lifetime experience is more than probable!)
Whether you are a wine buff, a history buff or a scenery buff, this is a truly exceptional cruise during one of the most beautiful and comfortable times of the year.
Interested? Please read the details on our website by clicking this link:
While I am onboard I will, no doubt, spend a lot of time looking at the differences, the changes, the improvements and, of course, enjoying the Windstar rebirth of this wonderful intimate ship. (OK, I might have a few moments...a lot of moments...of nostalgia.)
If you would like to join me on this unique cruise of Istanbul, Turkey's Black Sea Coast, Romania and Bulgaria (and, possibly, post-crisis Odessa, Ukraine) call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at email@example.com.
Now a word about wines on Celebrity versus Princess.
I am traveling as a single adult with my daughter, no
different really from a couple where one does not drink or may not during
meals, purchasing a bottle of wine is generally not a good option (unless I
dined in the same restaurant each evening) so I would have been suffering
throughout this week…if I had sailed on the Royal Princess.
Let me explain: Before
departing I took a long (well, it really could not be that long) look at
Princess’s wine lists. They are, except
in Vines, pretty ordinary. Sabatini’s
prides itself on its extensive Super Tuscan list, which is fine, but I find it
a bit offensive when you are given only two options: Purchase expensive bottles of wine or select
from rather ordinary wines by the glass…pretty much forcing you to purchase by
the bottle if you care about wines.
Further, elsewhere on the ship you are pretty much stuck with
marginal to acceptable wines, but not much that you actually want to drink. Let me put it to you this way: Your only "by the glass" options cost no more than $7.95 and are nothing other than you would find at a typical chain restaurant
in the United States.
This, obviously works for the vast majority of the Princess guests, but I was not invited onboard to consider Princess for its average guest, but the upscale to luxury guest.
Celebrity’s approach is much different.
Of course it has Cellar Masters which has a wonderful wine
list and a very large egnomatic machine selection (where you can purchase
various amounts of some truly outstanding wines through a pre-paid card sort of
like using an ATM for wines.
Carrying on with the "wine is important" theme, each of the Celebrity specialty restaurants has a solid variety of wines by
the glass and bottle, so that you are not “forced” to purchase a Super Tuscan
if you want a Cabernet Sauvignon or a bottle if you want a glass or two (or use your Premium Beverage Package). Note
that the wine lists vary by restaurant, so overall there are a pretty extensive
offerings around the ship. I can enjoy a
quality Bordeaux in Murano, a solid Malbec in the Lawn Grill, an excellent Abarino
What I truly like is the ability to supplement my Premium
Beverage package, which allows me to order any wine up to $13.00 a
glass without an additional charge. But if I want a glass of a very
nice Bordeaux which sells for $17.50 a glass I can pay $4.50 extra. (The
Bordeaux went very nicely with my venison I enjoyed in Murano on my second
night aboard.) Or if I want a 20 year tawny port with my cheese I can pay $2.00
more rather than “suffer” with an acceptable port. With this approach I can readily change my
wines by the course, creating my own parings with or without additional
cost. This is truly a more upscale
experience available on Celebrity and really not on Princess.
On the issue of Beverage Packages, Celebrity has had them
for years and they are truly a good value if you enjoy alcoholic beverages
throughout your day. If you have a
Bloody Mary or Mimosa with breakfast, a couple of beers during the day, a glass
of wine with lunch, pre-dinner cocktail,
two glasses of wine with dinner and an after dinner cocktails, the Classic or
Premium package (dependent on the quality of wine and spirits you enjoy) can be
a significant savings. (Princess is
first dabbling with the beverage package concept, having introduced it on a few
ships. But as the wine selection is
limited I am not sure that for an upscale guest it will be of much value.)
Also interesting is Celebrity’s approach to “sales”. More than once I have heard those folks
selling water by the gangway and buffet remind people that if you have a
package the water and Vitamin Water and Gatorade is included. Similarly, while a person purchasing a
cocktail has the spirit measured, when I ask for a double it is provided without
hesitation. It is nice to see that Celebrity understands
that the cost of offering up that bottle of water is nothing compared to the
cost of otherwise winning back a guest that might not be totally loyal to its
This sort of focus on making the Celebrity guest feel valued
is not lost and is seen in a number of touch points throughout the cruise.