September: Back to School
Dust off those books: These six trips
live up to the adage, "You're never too old to learn."
By the Vacations Staff
(Scroll down to see a slide show.)On the Mekong River
Discover cultural wonders along the Mekong River, a route flowing through Vietnam and Cambodia that's been generating buzz among avid travelers for its dazzling scenery, sacred sites and friendly people. In recent years, river cruise operators have scrambled to add ships on this enticing waterway. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection entered the region in 2012 with the 60-passenger River Saigon and has announced plans to expand with the 60-passenger River Orchid in 2013. Avalon Waterways' 32-passenger Avalon Angkor also launched in 2012, and AmaWaterways tacked on its second ship in September 2011, the 124-passenger AmaLotus. The growing number of options available here is a testament to the destination, where wayfarers can traverse the expansive jungle temples of Angor Archaeological Park, gain insight into history at Vietnam war sites such as the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, observe locals conducting business at the floating market in Cai Be and wander the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda of Phnom Penh.
Culinary classes at sea
Combine Asian explorations with cooking lessons on Silversea's 10-night voyage from Tokyo to Shanghai, stopping in Hiroshima, Japan; Busan and Jeju City in South Korea; and Beijing. Aboard the six-star, 382-passenger Silver Shadow, guests will be able to learn techniques at the first Relais and Chateaux L'Ecole des Chefs cooking school at sea. Silversea chef and culinary trainer David Bilsland hosts demonstrations and competitions, as well as "lunch and learn" experiences, where small groups of travelers observe the master cook as he prepares an appetizer, main course and dessert for their consumption. Departing Sept. 29, this cruise also is one of Silversea's wine series voyages, with vintage expert Lyn Farmer hosting talks and tastings and an extensive selection of whites and reds available. Overnights in Beijing and Shanghai allow for more in-depth inquiries into local cuisine.
Sand and safari
Get a glimpse of the world's tallest sand dunes, red-orange towers against a brilliant blue sky, as well as elephants, zebras and endangered rhinos during Brendan's 11-day " Wildlife, Landscapes and Cultures of Namibia." Travelers spend three days roaming Etosha National Park, home to some of Africa's best-known creatures, from lions to hyenas to wildebeest. Pick up local wood carvings in Okahandja and wander among ancient rock engravings and a collection of fossilized tree trunks scattered during a flood millions of years ago in Damaraland, one of the continent's last true wilderness spots. You'll also meet the people of the Himba tribe, whose women wear their hair in long plaits. In the German-influenced towns of Windhoek and Swakopmund, stop for a beer and admire colonial-era buildings. The trip winds down with a visit to Sossusvlei, where you'll see the striking sand dunes for yourself -- and if you're feeling pumped, you can trek to the top. Departures run every month through early April 2014.
Stunning peaks, sparkling blue waters and lush rain forests are packed within the borders of Ecuador, a small country tucked between Colombia and Peru on South America's western edge. Explore its mountainous northern region during "Ecuador Volcanoes and Cloud Forest" an eight-day escorted tour by Discovery Adventures that starts and ends in Quito, the capital city. Visit the famous craft market at Otavalo and then hop aboard a boat tour at Cuicocha Lake, a sapphire expanse inside a volcanic crater. Cotacachi is known for its leather goods; pick up a few as souvenirs before visiting the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument at the equator. Learn more about Ecuador's diverse ecosystem during a trip to the cloud forest of Mindo, where a naturalist will help you spot birds, and a tour of an orchid farm. Finally, spend a day relaxing in the Papallacta Hot Springs (with the option of spa treatments) in view of the mountains before returning to Quito for a farewell dinner.
Among the Scottish isles
Wander the rocky coastline once home to Scotland's island kingdoms on a journey with Hebridean Island Cruises. The 50-passenger Hebridean Princess takes vacationers round trip from Oban, a resort town in Argyll, to a collection of remote seaside villages and mythic isles along the country's western edge. It's an immersion in rustic beauty and strong Gaelic heritage. Visitors stop in Eigg, known for its nearly 200 species of birds -- including golden eagles, red-throated divers and Iceland gulls -- and for historic sites like Iron Age forts and Viking burial mounds. From Kyle of Lochalsh, tour Eilean Donan Castle, originally built in the 13th century. A call at Canna, part of the National Trust for Scotland and one of the earliest Christian settlements, brings guests to the stunning Canna House Walled Garden. Experienced guides add insight to a variety of trips with similar itineraries from March through mid-November, including two weeklong September vacations.
Delve into ancient civilizations with Voyages to Antiquity, a company that caters to curious travelers with cruises that emphasize onboard enrichment and in-depth investigation of ports of call. The 378-passenger Aegean Odyssey embarks on an assortment of Mediterranean and Greek Isles trips from April through October, mostly from Istanbul, Athens and Rome. The up-front rate includes daily excursions that are made more meaningful by onboard lectures from guest speakers in numerous fields, like art, history, wine, food and architecture. For example, Paul Cartlege, a Cambridge University scholar, brings his knowledge of Greek culture and the classics to a 12-day sailing from Athens to Venice, departing Sept. 22. Chats with Cartlege -- who was an adviser during the filming of "300," a fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. -- will enhance explorations of the Acropolis at Athens and Agamemnon's Mycenae, as well as tours of Olympia, site of the original Olympic Games, and Monemvasia, a labyrinthine town of Byzantine monuments and Venetian architecture.
-- Elizabeth Armstrong, Kimberly Garza and Alexis Loyd
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2013. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 510-4002 for current rates and details.