Home Port Advantage

Royal Suite with balcony

Royal Suite with balcony

No need to fly, convenient parking, and a fabulous pre-cruise stay at the historic Galvez Hotel: sail from Galveston with Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Sea on 7-day itineraries calling on Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Mexico, or Honduras, Belize and Mexico.

Sail on the first ship with virtual balconies… say what? Continue reading


Fairmont Hotel Showcase

Fairmont Austin

Fairmont Austin

Senior executives from Fairmont Hotels in Playa del Carmen, San Francisco and Vancouver are hosting a wine reception at Departure Lounge that will showcase these three world-class properties, as well as plans and renderings for the new Fairmont Austin Continue reading

What Makes Four Seasons Hotels Even Better?

Four Seasons London at Park Lane

Four Seasons London at Park Lane

Know what makes Four Seasons even better? a FREE night!

Stay three consecutive nights in London or Florence and receive one free night from January 1, 2015 to April 30, 2015. Book through your Virtuoso Travel Advisor and enjoy exclusive upgrades and amenities. Here’s the scoop:

Four Seasons London at Park Lane
– Confirmed room upgrade (available until March 31)
– Complimentary fourth night with a three-night stay
– Continental breakfast daily for up to two in-room guests
– $100 spa services credit

Four Seasons Firenze - Courtyard Grandeur

Four Seasons Firenze – Courtyard Grandeur

Four Seasons Firenze
– Complimentary fourth night with every three consecutive nights
– Room upgrade upon arrival, if available
– Full breakfast daily for up to two in-room guests
– Welcome amenity in room upon arrival
– $100 spa services credit

– Stroll along famed Bond Street, home to Sotheby’s, Christie’s and designer boutiques
– Treat yourself to a Signature Ritual or traditional massage in the hotel’s one-of-a-kind rooftop spa
– Discover London’s culturally rich history through its many museums and galleries
– Dine in one of 62 Michelin-starred restaurants, including two 3-star establishments
– Soak up the views from the giant Ferris wheel, London Eye, offering the best perspective of the city
– Go for a jog around Kensington Gardens or work out in the hotel’s state-of-the-art fitness center

Michelangelo's David at The Galleria dell'Accademia

Michelangelo’s David at The Galleria dell’Accademia

– Enjoy a four-course gourmet meal by Michelin-chef Vito Mollica in the hotel’s original 16th-century chapel
– Unwind in your well-appointed room featuring a European soaking tub and fully stocked bar
– Schedule one of the hotel’s unique spa services including the Chianti Wine Massage or Iris Sensations treatment
– Tour the city’s legendary landmarks from the Uffizi Gallery to the Medici Chapel and discover the charming villages of Tuscany
– Attend a private wine tasting class for two in the hotel’s winery where expert sommeliers will reveal the secrets behind great Tuscan wines
– Learn the secrets of Italian chefs during a cooking class arranged just for you by the hotel’s concierge

Ready to plan your trip? Ask me about special savings in business and first class on the daily non-stop from Austin to London with British Airlines. Don’t waste hours online, a professional Virtuoso Travel Advisor typically delivers an upgraded experience, secured through personal connections and insider access, for a better price than you would pay direct. Contact me here to schedule an appointment.



Upgraded New Year’s Celebration in New Orleans

Waldord Astoria The Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans

Waldorf Astoria The Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans

I scored my clients an awesome Virtuoso experience at The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel for their new year’s celebration: confirmed upgrade to one-bedroom king suites, daily breakfast, a $50 per suite hotel credit for food & beverage or the fabulous spa, guaranteed early check-in and late check-out if available. All this and over $1,000 in savings over the hotel rates thanks to the $12.5 billion buying power of the Virtuoso luxury travel network.

The iconic Roosevelt Hotel offers an unparalleled combination of Southern hospitality, world-class service and historic surroundings. The hotel near the French Quarter is within walking distance to the city’s most vibrant attractions and entertainment, including Jackson Square, Bourbon Street and the Arts & Warehouse District. The luxury hotel offers guests expansive rooms and suites, destination dining experiences and absolute tranquility at the Waldorf Astoria Spa. This exclusive spa showcases eight private treatment rooms, two couples therapy suites, and a VIP treatment room.

Insider tip: sip a signature cocktail in the elegant surroundings of the renowned Sazerac Bar.

My clients are visiting St Louis cemetery with a private guide, embarking on a Cajun swamp adventure aboard a private airboat, and enjoying a traditional Lousiana Réveillon dinner at R’evolution Restaurant.

New Orleans is a fun getaway from Austin. Drive (ask me about interesting stops) or fly non-stop, soak up the colorful history, excellent dining, and legendary nightlife. New Orleans dining is truly an art form in itself, a testimony to the many cultures that have touched this lovely place. The local cuisine is a divine compilation of French, Spanish, American, African and Caribbean flavors.

Ready to plan your trip? Don’t waste hours online, a professional Virtuoso Travel Advisor typically delivers an upgraded experience, secured through personal connections and insider access, for a better price than you would pay direct. Contact me here to schedule an appointment.

Luxury Redefined at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

couples massage

Indulge in a luxurious spa getaway enhanced with Virtuoso perks and exclusive amenities. Grand Velas Riviera Maya is an all-inclusive resort surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and lush jungle on the Yucatan peninsula just south of Cancun. The resort features magnificent accommodations, white sand beaches, award-winning spa, gourmet dining, casual bars, tons of activities, serene relaxation and mesmerizing views of the emerald-colored sea.

When you book your GOGO Vacations Grand Velas Riviera Maya luxury spa getaway through me your experience includes:

– Three nights all-inclusive stay in a Zen Grand Suite

– myTime 50% off one couple’s massage

– $150 spa credit

– Private romantic dinner for two

– Round trip transfers between the resort and the airport

Rates start at $1,229 per person; book by February 15 and travel by April 30, 2015 (… leave the madness of SXSW?). It’s only 2.5 hours non-stop to Cancun from Austin!

Call me now to discuss your travel plans!


Norwegian Ice Climbing

 Photo: visualimpact.ch | Thomas Senf

Photo: visualimpact.ch | Thomas Senf

In the Vestfjord Valley of southern Norway, lies the tiny town of Rjukan. This historic town is a place fueled by the fusion of work and play that all comes down to gravity. And with over 150 waterfalls in the valley, Rjukan is actually one the best ice climbing areas in the world. From hydroelectric turbines to precision ice tools, follow along as we explore the unique relationship between water and gravity found in the valley and the engineering it takes to harness them.

Rjukan these days has become one of the world’s premier ice-climbing destinations, with hundreds of routes right off the road.

For the less adventurous inclined, I can arrange Hurtigruten cruises in the spectacular fjords, a ride on the Flam railway, one of the world’s steepest train rides, or a drive on the Atlantic Road, a marvel of engineering to name just a few “only in Norway” experiences.

Creating once-in-a-lifetime travel begins with the relationship between you and your professional travel advisor. The Virtuoso network gives you access to exclusive amenities, upgrades, and experiences leveraged by my personal connections to achieve the best results.

Viviane Tondeur, MBA, CTC, DS, is a Travel Advisor affiliated with Departure Lounge, a member of the Virtuoso luxury travel network.  When you rely on me to plan and reserve your trips worldwide, you access a world of insider access and special privileges.

Contact me here to start planning your unique Norway travel experience.

2015 Wine Themed River Cruises and Unique Epicurean Experiences


The beautiful sights and scenery on any AmaWaterways river cruise are a feast for the eyes. On these select cruises, however, there’s something extra special — a feast for the taste buds. Experience wine tastings on board and ashore in Europe’s renowned wine regions. Indulge in sumptuous cuisine with wine recommendations and an incredible wine dinner, in which each course is specially selected and paired with a different vintage by our head chef and a wine expert. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit historic wineries and vineyards, tour wine cellars, and enjoy discussions with acclaimed wine experts. And don’t forget all the unforgettable European destinations you’ll experience along the way!

AmaSerena will debut in 2015

AmaSerena will debut in 2015

Cruise the legendary Danube, Rhine, Seine, Rhône or Douro and save up to $1,500 per stateroom or receive a single supplement waiver on selected departures in the spring and fall.

2015 Wine Themed River Cruises and Unique Epicurean Experiences include:

  • Inspired food & wine pairings
  • Exclusive shore excursions to historic wineries and vineyards
  • Exciting lectures with acclaimed wine experts
  • Select premium wine tastings from celebrated North American and European wineries

Viviane Tondeur, CTC, DS is the Departure Lounge river cruise expert. She has completed the AmaWaterways course of study and was awarded the designation of AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist

Why rivercruising?

•    Small ships – no lines. Most ships carry fewer than 200 passengers, some fewer than 100
•    All inclusive: fresh regional cuisine, fine wines, and other local beverages
•    Well appointed cabins and public rooms
•    Dock in the center of town to explore a destination in depth
•    Shore excursions with English speaking guides are included
•    Culture comes on board with local performers
•    Ship amenities may include hot tub, pool, golf-putting green, salon, gym
•    Floating hotel – unpack once

Questions about river cruising? Contact me here and we’ll discuss your plans and find the ship that fits your style best.


150 Years of Winter Tourism in Switzerland


Pop quiz: who was the innovative St. Moritz hotelier who attracted the first winter guests to the Alps in 1864 with a simple bet that turned out to be the birth of winter tourism? Tweet your answer to @skivirtuoso

Snow sports are amazingly addictive, they can take you across the world, and you’ll meet many new friends and have some of the most memorable days of your life. Following is my hand-picked selection of top Swiss resorts and destinations, and favorite experiences.

Recommendation from my favorite ski instructor: take lessons at every level as it is always possible to improve and there is always another harder slope to tackle.

All hotels below (except The Chedi in Andermatt) are members of the Virtuoso luxury travel network and my clients will receive guaranteed rates, complimentary upgrades, exclusive perks and amenities, and free breakfast daily. From A to Z:

• served as the stunning backdrop to James Bond in Goldfinger
The famous Glacier-Express railway that connects Zermatt and St. Moritz boards and disembarks in Andermatt. The cable car takes you to the Gemsstock with incredible panoramic views from the summit over the heart of Switzerland and about 600 Alpine peaks. The wide open slopes are ideal for experienced skiers, snowboarders and fans of deep snow.

The Chedi: Alpine chic meets Asian sleek in this sublime hotel chalet. Its
extensive facilities include fine restaurants and cosy lounges, a ski-in living room with sports boutique and ski butler, comprehensive spa and wellness center with a tranquil retreat of hydrothermal baths and a duo of swimming pools. Although this hotel is not in the Virtuoso network, I included it because of its unique ambiance. Currently, I can offer promotional rates for a 3-night minimum stay including spa access & treatments, daily breakfast and one dinner, and other perks.

• free “inside” guest program
Davos is a place of superlatives: the largest resort for mountain holidays and at 1560 m the highest town in the Alps. Guests of the ski hotels can benefit from local insiders providing free and exclusive skiing adventures on a daily basis from 20 December 2014 to 6 April 2015. At night, too, there’s plenty of entertainment, with bars, discos and a casino.

InterContinental Davos offers spacious rooms with a modern, warm alpine feel underlined by high tech amenities. The trendsetting dining and lounge experiences and state-of-the-art spa and gym complement the hotel’s Green Engage sustainability effort.

• Glacier 3000
The chalet village of Gstaad attracts countless celebrities who appreciate the quiet and discreet atmosphere. The resort appeals to active travelers offering one of the largest and most diverse winter sports regions in Switzerland with guaranteed snow.

Gstaad Palace, set on a hill overlooking the village, is an elegant hotel with a relaxing ambiance and awesome views of the surrounding Alps. Guests also enjoy the tastefully decorated rooms, restaurants, spa, and world-famous night club. I recently participated in an interactive webinar to get all the latest updates before the hotel opens on December 19.

Alpina Gstaad, the first luxury hotel to be built in Gstaad in 100 years, boasts stunning rooms, private apartments within the hotel, and 2 chalets. All restaurants share a single floor of the hotel with floor-to-ceiling glass doors flowing onto an outdoor terrace. Japanese restaurant Megu is the first European location of the celebrated concept, with its flagship in New York.

• Jungfrau
The Jungfrau Region offers no less than 43 mountain railways and ski-lifts offering perfect skiing over some 125 miles of slopes. Non-skiers also get their money’s worth: more than 60 miles of winter footpaths enable you to explore the mountains on foot.

Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel combines modern comfort with old world charm. The most recent renovation of the rooms and the spa was in 2010. The spa is a veritable fountain of youth and health, offering virtually unlimited sporting possibilities matched by few other hotels.

St Moritz
• White Turf Horse Race
St. Moritz is the cradle of winter tourism and it is the only Alpine destination with own regional airport, located at an altitude of 5.905 ft. There are more than 200 miles of pistes with a state-of-the-art infrastructure in the surrounding area. Benefit from the countless opportunities in the region with a visitor’s card that is a travel pass for mountain transport facilities and buses, a parking disc and a credit card all in one while also entitling its holder to a great many discounts. Every winter, frozen Lake St. Moritz is the site of the White Turf Horse Race, which attracts the world’s finest thoroughbreds.

Badrutt’s Palace Hotel is where it all began 150 years ago! The answer to the pop quiz is Johannes Badrutt. At Badrutt’s Palace Hotel graceful ambience is matched with breathtaking, pristine alpine scenery that surrounds this fairy-tale hideaway. Fashion and food are just as celebrated as outdoor activities, making for a well-rounded experience.

The Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains is ideally located in St. Moritz Bad, with direct access to the cable car station for Corviglia. All rooms and suites are elegantly and timelessly appointed and reflect unpretentious luxury and stylish class. The hotel also boasts award-winning restaurants, a spa and many more facilities. My friend, Alessandro Benedetti, is the Director of Sales & Marketing at the hotel.

• Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition Portfolio
I learned to ski in Verbier as a junior in high school. Verbier and the entire 4 Vallées ski area (not to be confused with Les 3 Vallées in France) is a paradise for all winter sports enthusiasts, from beginner to expert.

The Lodge is a stunning nine bedroom chalet (including a specially designed bunkroom for up to 6 children) accommodating a total of 18 guests. Although we also stayed in bunk beds during our “ski class”, it was nothing like you will experience at Sir Branson’s Lodge… with its private party room, indoor pool & jacuzzi, steam room, and mini ice-rink. Gastronomes will appreciate the private chef , wine cellar and house Champagne.

•    Matterhorn
The idyllic mountain village at the foot of the iconic Matterhorn has developed into one of the world’s most famous ski resorts with more than 188 miles of marked trails and a resort lift capacity of nearly 92,000 people per hour.

Grand Hotel Zermatterhof has been welcoming guests from all over the world since 1879. You will enjoy the newly renovated rooms, fine restaurants, popular bars, and a lavish spa with indoor pool.

Mont Cervin Palace stands out with its attractive façade and roof with numerous turrets and the hotel’s red horse-drawn carriage is an ever popular photo opp. Well-appointed rooms, Dine Around concept, and exquisite spa facilities & wellness center make for a fine stay.

Viviane Tondeur, CTC, DS is the Departure Lounge winter sports expert with a passion for anything snow, a wealth of knowledge, and some very cool tools to lead you to the right slopes. Viviane has completed the Switzerland Tourism program through the Virtuoso Travel Academy and has received the designation of “Switzerland Specialist

What is your most memorable snow adventure? Contact me here and let’s plan another one!


Digital Sommelier and Wine Diary


With over 4 million users already, Vivino is quickly becoming the #1 wine app. You can explore grapes, wineries and regions in the world’s largest wine collection and read professional tasting notes. Then, add your own ratings and Vivino will create your flavor profile to make recommendations on bottles that fit your palate.

Enjoying a memorable bottle while traveling? Snap a photo of the label with Vivino and the app will search its million-bottle archive. If no match is available, your photo will go to a queue for manual identification. The “nearby” feature lets you see ratings, reviews and pricing on wines sold at retailers near you.

Download the free app (iOS and Android) at http://www.vivino.com



Top River Cruise Ports in Europe

Heurige wine tavern in Vienna

Heurige wine tavern in Vienna

by Marilyn Green, TravelAge West

River cruise line executives arguably know the port cities included in their itineraries better than most travelers. We asked them for a few insider tips on what they like to do in their favorite ports.

Wine Taverns in Vienna and Old Town in Basel
Vienna is the favorite port for Kristin Karst, vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. It’s also the birthplace of her husband, Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of the line.

Karst recommends a visit to the heurige, or wine taverns, where guests can join the Viennese in sampling young wines from the current vintage. Another favorite is Cafe Landtmann, a 19th century coffee house that still has a local rather than tourist-centric feel. “We have twice encountered the president of Austria there,” she noted.

Schreiner’s own choice is Basel, one of Switzerland’s oldest cities and the cruise line’s home base. He treasures the city’s international flavor and particularly recommends the restaurants in the Old Town. Among his favorites is Schifferhaus in the port area, housed in a historic building with a charming backyard.


Cheese, Chocolates and Shopping in Lyon
Katharine Bonner, vice president of river and small ship cruising for Tauck, picked Lyon as her port of choice. “It’s a foodie’s paradise that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity chef,” she noted.

When Bonner is in Lyon, she might visit Les Halles for cheese and chocolate treats, or enjoy a salad Lyonnaise for lunch with frisee lettuce, lardons and a poached egg on top. Afterward, it’s time for a little shopping.

“I love silk scarves,” Bonner said. “There’s a special store with an incredible selection that’s located — appropriately — just opposite of the city’s textile museum.”


Encoutering History and Sampling Wines in Berkastel
The Moselle River is home to the favorite ports of Patrick Clark, Avalon Waterways’ managing director. He especially likes Berkastel, where you can view the half-timbered houses built centuries ago while strolling narrow cobblestone streets.

For a meal off the ship, he recommends the regional specialties at local restaurant Graacher Tor. “A visit to the Vinothek in the Weinkuturellen Zentrum is also a treat,” Clark said. “There you can sample the wines of the region, underground, in the historic vaults of St. Nikolas Hospital.”


Outdoor Cafes in Venice
Venice is the best-loved port for Uniworld president Guy Young.

“Traveling on a small river cruise ship has the great advantage of often being in a prime docking location where you can simply walk off the ship and begin exploring a magnificent city,” Young said. “In Venice, sitting in one of the outdoor cafes on St. Mark’s Square is a fantastic experience, and one that I have enjoyed with my family. A drink or a cup of coffee is not inexpensive, but the experience is priceless.”


Strolling Through Uglich
Karine Hagen, vice president of product development for Viking River Cruises, said her favorite port is the Golden Ring town of Uglich on the Volga River in Russia. The dock’s location is picturesque, sitting next to the onion-domed Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood.

“Everything in the town is within walking distance, and it is the sweetest, safest place, should you be so lucky as to get lost there,” Hagen said.

Guests receive a warm welcome on the pier by Babushkas selling their garden flowers. “If you have the chance to visit, look for Babushka Nadya, my local granny, who has been selling home-picked flowers on that very pier for the past half century,” Hagen said.


Villages, Bays and Beer in Southwestern France
Joe Maloney, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for Scenic Cruises, said Bordeaux is a favorite port. He also especially likes Arcachon Bay, nestled between the Cote d’Argent and the Cote des Landes on Europe’s longest coastal beach.

“It has charming villages all around the bay,” Maloney said. “And it is an important location for more than 250 migratory and sedentary birds.”

He also likes riding a bike from Blaye to Etauliers and back again, as there are historic ruins all along the trail. “It is easy to stop for a beer or glass of wine in any of the small villages,” he added.


I agree with Kristin Karst, Vienna is my favorite pick, closely followed by Lyon, the culinary capital of France. Insider tip: gourmet lunch in world-renowned Paul Bocuse ‘s restaurant in Lyon is included on the Rhône river cruise with A-Rosa.

What is your favorite river cruise port city? Contact me here to take you there!

Vibrant London Awaits


Since my 1st visit to London in the early 70’s, I have been back at least once every year, sometimes more often, for pleasure and business. The opening of the Tate Modern in 2000 stands out, as well as many memorable soccer games over the years. Here are my recommendations:

Getting there: this one is super easy – daily nonstop on British Airways between Austin & London.

Staying there: a bit more complicated – Virtuoso’s Best of the Best has 20 choices, it will depend on where you need to be and who you are traveling with. Personal faves include 45 Park Lane, Four Seasons, 51 Buckingham Gate, The Savoy; for families The Milestone offers interconnecting rooms. Enjoy Virtuoso amenities: daily breakfast, early check-in/late checkout when available, room upgrade when available, and an exclusive benefit.

Getting around: London has one of the best public transportation systems in the world + iconic black taxi cabs. The Underground or Tube is clean and covers the nucleus and the suburbs; the famous double-decker buses may take little longer but you’ll get to see more of the sights.

Eating there: full English breakfast room service at The Savoy is the most amazing ever! The Wolseley in a 1921 car showroom (turned Barclays Bank branch) for Veal Holstein; Brasserie Chavot, one of the few French brasseries in London run by an actual Frenchman; Gymkhana for contemporary Indian; Ampersand’s afternoon tea in The Drawing Rooms; Gordon Ramsay; Heston Blumenthal.

See it: Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, British Museum, the London Eye…

Buy it: Oxford St (Selfridges), Regent St, Knightsbridge (Harrods), Savile Row, Notting Hill

Catch it: enjoy some of the best stage shows on earth – with more than 50 venues and dozens of different production showing at any one time, you’re spoiled for choice.

Cook it: Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa restaurant offers a fantastic butchery masterclass, or simply sit back and let the chef do all the hard work at Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus or maze.

Watch it: English Premier League soccer – Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Fulham

Play it: Royal St. George’s Golf Club, Wentworth Club in Surrey

What are your favorite experiences in London?

Destination: London, UK

Departures: daily

Contact me here to help you plan and book your next London trip.

Search for Jaguars in Brazil


If you love big feline predators like I do, you’ll find the jaguar mesmerizing. This famously elusive cat requires large tracts of tropical rain forest and riverbanks to thrive, making Brazil’s vast Pantanal its perfect habitat. The Pantanal is the heart of a Brazil wildlife adventure with a remarkable uptick in jaguar sightings! A few years ago, nature travelers were exceptionally lucky to spy one jaguar. Local guides saw them a handful of times a year. Now, you can sometimes see them several times a week! If you’ve dreamed of observing jaguars in the wild, you’ll find no better chance than joining a Natural Habitat wildlife adventure.

Ecotourism is the key to jaguar-sighting success. The remote ecolodge where you’ll stay offers the best wildlife viewing in the region, as well as employment for local people. Through Nat Hab’s educational outreach to ranchers, communities are seeing value in keeping jaguars alive. Combined with more protection for habitat, jaguars are making a comeback.

But jaguars aren’t all you’ll look for on this exclusive wildlife odyssey! On nature walks and canoe trips through this huge expanse of marshes and islands, you may also see panther, maned wolf, giant otter, giant armadillo, capybara and Brazilian tapir. The Pantanal is home to Earth’s densest concentration of wildlife, including 10 million caiman and nearly 700 bird species!

And of course, no trip to Brazil would be complete without a visit to Iguaçu Falls. Some 275 cataracts pour into this mile-wide horseshoe-shaped canyon. Mist-shrouded rain forest on the rim shelters jaguar, jaguarundi, ocelet, tapir, coati, tirica and anteater.

If it’s South America’s grandest wildlife adventure you’re after, you need to join this adventure. Just three departures are offered in 2015, timed optimally for wildlife viewing between July and September. Call me now to discuss your plans and book your vacation.

P.S. Wildlife viewing in Brazil’s tropical wilderness mandates a small group — that’s why the trips are limited to just 12 guests each.