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K.A. BEATTIE HORTICULTURAL CONSULTANTS

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous" Aristotle

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Remnants of Gondwana

Posted on January 16, 2017 at 7:05 PM Comments comments (7540)

Remnants of Gondwana

Australia, the amazing southern continent has much more to offer than Kangaroos, Koalas and Uluru. Australia’s land surface was once a part of a much larger for most of its history. First Pangea, when all continents were amalgamated into one supercontinent, followed by the great southern continent Gondwana. The island continent didn’t occur until its separation about 45 million years ago. This massive movement over an extreme timeline birthed Terra Australis with its ever-changing populations of animals, plants and peoples. The Australian relic rainforests offer a unique glimpse at what this portion of earth was like millions of years ago, before human kind was here.

Portions of Tasmania along with scattered pockets of relic rainforest still exist along the eastern regions of Queensland. These remnants exist where 600-800 mm of rainfall occur as well as ideal weather conditions. These veritable museums of ancient plants are not to be missed if you enjoy history and of course, plants. Much of the continent was clothed in such greenery during the Early Tertiary period (65 - 2 million years ago). These precious relics are “Closed Forests” as they are functioning only as closed ecosystems for good reason, as human intervention overtime along with climate changes, have diminished their scope. In north Queensland, the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics includes Kuranda Rainforest and the Daintree - the oldest tropical rainforest on earth. Ports that allow for access are Cairns, Port Douglas, and Cooktown. If you’re truly fortunate, your guide may point out the oldest living vascular plant on earth!

Australia is a veritable “Ark” transporting its Gondwanan heritage into the future. Animals, specifically marsupials, existed here over 100 million years ago. Today you will see their ancestors as Wallaby, Kangaroo, Bandicoots and Platypus (if you are very fortunate). Reptiles of all manner existed in abundance on the ancient continent and today you will see them as giant monitors and the fierce yet notable Komodo Dragon of the Indonesian Archipelago, considered a severed section of Australia.

Open eyes and a curious sense of adventure are mandatory for any visit to Australia as it is an amazing and mysterious continent indeed. Some of our ports of call included Darwin in the northern territory, Cairns, Cooktown, Townsville, Brisbane and Sydney. Ship arranged shore excursion were very thorough with a wide scope indeed. There is little doubt that you will not see all that you would like to, but for the regions that you do select, keep a keen eye open for the remnants of an ancient time. Our well-informed guides were quite open to discussion and in general, very proud of the remarkable conservation efforts that are currently in place for these endangered relics of an ancient epoch.

Far East Fantasy

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (5016)

Shanghai to Sydney aboard Oceania’s MS Insignia is a spectacular itinerary. Having spent only a couple of weeks aboard from Shanghai to Jeju and Incheon Korea, Tianjin and Beijing China to Kobe, Okinawa and Naha Japan, the first few days have been wonderful. Cherry blossom season held on just long enough for us to enjoy the fluffy pink clouds and rosy carpets at our feet. As ancient as many parts of this region are the cities are remarkably modern and sophisticated. Shanghai towers with beautiful new architectural wonders as well as punctuated with colonial and regional designs. The rapid magnetic levitating train is a highlight as it can whisk you away at speeds remarkable by any standard. Our stay straddled a weekend and public holiday so locals were out and about in the many greenspaces in the city.

The island of Jeju Korea sparkled and danced in the sea as we approached, a truly magical place. Many Koreans come to Jeju for vacations and to celebrate special events so it has a festive mood. Abrupt volcanic mountains rise from the sea sporting verdant foliage as if a fancy haircut and deep caves coaxed the very bravest of sous to enter. This limestone and volcanic island supports a very prosperous tangerine and citrus industry with tourism most likely running a close second for GNP. Women divers plunge into the depth retrieving sea urchins among other delicacies and proceed to scoop out the centres as their reward for spending 2-3 minutes holding their breath underwater. Lava tunnels and volcanic craters invite the more adventuresome of the guests but most excursions are very doable. Enjoying the super weather in Jeju and for that matter anywhere makes all the difference on any tour.

Tianjin and Beijing China held an entirely different array of interesting places for us to explore. The great wall, or a piece of it at least was extra special for me. Hangyaguan, or the yellow wall is of the oldest remaining piece of the Great Wall of China. Had I actually climbed to the visible summit of this behemoth structure, I could have gazed on Mongolia. Alas I made it to the second watch tower realizing that the climb down might well be as challenging as the climb up.

The coach ride to and from the pier offered an excellent glimpse into the everyday lives of the residents of this region. The inordinate number of trees and shrub planted everywhere was truly remarkable and indeed nice to see. Apparently this mass planting exercise is an attempt to mitigate the industrial pollution that is prevalent in the area. We were very lucky as the constant light breeze afforded us decent quality. I had expected to witness massive traffic clogging the freeways and thousands of people everywhere, not so… as a matter of fact the complete opposite.

Incheon and Seoul Korea offered something for everyone. Culture abounds in Korea as well as local markets bulging with fish and sea creatures of unknown origin or species. For the history buffs, the Korean War memorials and museums are exceptionally well done.

Japan from Hiroshima to Kyoto and Naha to Okinawa was so wonderful and chocked full of paradoxes. Beautiful architecture from Dynasties past to ultra-modern buildings shinning with metals and glass piercing the still blue and cloudless skies. The island of Mirajima Guchi was a special delight indeed. The iconic Tori Gate stood proudly in the bay at low tide as if welcoming us to this spiritual place. The Shinto temple afforded us a glimpse at this ancient religion or belief system complete with wafting incense, candles and many Shinto priests offering blessings. A resident herd of deer inhabit this island and are remarkably tame; watch your handbags and papers!

Traditional villages, cultural displays, music dance and of course food only enhance the wonderful excursions ashore in Japan. Learning how to bow properly, rehearsing the odd word in Japanese and of course appreciating raw fish and various seaweeds all go towards a very special time and place along our wonderful journey. Definitely not to be missed this region of the world is truly a treasure chest of history art, culture and philosophy; you may return a different person after seeing and feeling this remarkable region of the world.

 

 

Birthplace of The Clouds

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (4753)

The Amazon Basin, or Amazonas, is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet.” I prefer “the birthplace of the clouds.” Huge pillars of candy floss-like vapor rise continuously over the murky waters of the Amazon. Early morning light paints the outer edges of long, island- like shaped clouds as if they were just dipped in gold. As the constant, almost oppressive, sun heightens in the sky, shapes, densities and colors change yet again. Clearly this must be the birthplace of all clouds. This evening, as I enjoy the endless ballet of color and the relentless sun decides to set, another show takes main stage. Soft, evening light drools over the edges of huge banks of clouds, highlighting in sharp contrast the horizon, the sea, and of course, the main body of clouds.

This orchestration of color and texture takes place daily as we sail the mighty Amazon River aboard Regatta. It is the end of the rainy or wettest season; therefore, the river can be navigated by this smaller ship. The Amazon Basin is as large as the continental U.S., boasting more than 4,000 miles of navigable waters and thousands of tributaries. The Tapajos River is the fourth largest in the world and is only one of such tributaries. Spending several days “at sea,” as it were, on these massive rivers, is delightful. The water color changes from clear to café au lait and abounds with interesting creatures.

The shoreline, often just a faint line in the distance, is predominantly submerged trees with only the very tops of these massive specimens peeking out until the dry season. Flooded homes and a battalion of boats of many shapes and descriptions dot this curious landscape. Tramping through the thick rainforest delighting at the huge selection of plants and insects may seem a tad too adventuresome for some with all the scary things that lurk in these parts. However, remember that once aboard Regatta, you are pampered like royalty and will get to sleep in your stateroom, not a tent in the jungle — not exactly the intrepid explorer!

The entire voyage was 21 days, starting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and ending in Miami, Florida. Evidence of the upcoming World Cup was evident in construction and a general fervor of anticipation in Rio, Salvador, Fortaleza and the inland city of Manaus. Contrasts were everywhere, from architecture representing both old and new world, to subsistence agriculture, to full scale devastation of the rainforest to grow soya beans.

The plants of the many regions on this expedition were the absolute highlight for me. Enormous trees festooned with entire ecosystems on their branches, insect homes and buttressed roots the size of a compact car. Curious sounds in the forest kept everyone alert and watchful, but as it turns out, the wildlife are very cunning and excellent at camouflage — with the exception of the ants. The largest biomass in this rainforest is ants, and it is not that hard to believe when you see them. One species is used by local indigenous peoples as insect repellant. The smallest ants ever basically “rain” out of a disturbed nest to be squashed and applied to the skin. Thankfully, these ants don’t bite like so many of their cousins.

Brazil nut trees reign as the tallest trees, holding their lofty canopy well above 30 meters. These trees are protected by law, so are often seen standing in the middle of a newly created field which is sown to the pervasive soya bean. As regal and statuesque as they are, they appear to be sad to be the only species left after modern day agricultural devastation.

The rubber trees, which played a huge role in Brazil’s economic development, are still evident, easily recognizable from the wounds inflicted from endless tapping for their precious latex. Noble and sturdy, these “workhorses of the forest” play a crucial role in the ecosystem, particularly as a food source for certain fish. As the seed pods mature and fall into the river they make a sound that attracts a huge fish. This fish has teeth that resemble the molars of a sheep and massive jaw muscles. Once the buoyant seed pod is in the water, the fish snaps its jaws around the pod, cracking it open and creating an almost gunshot sound.

As we sail out of this enormous river towards the Caribbean, even more sunsets and luscious forests await — many rich in myth, folklore and swashbuckling.


 

Far East Fantasy

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (3418)

Far East Fantasy

Dr. K.A. Beattie

 

Shanghai to Sydney aboard Oceania’s MS Insignia is a spectacular itinerary. Having spent only a couple of weeks aboard from Shanghai to Jeju and Incheon Korea, Tianjin and Beijing China to Kobe, Okinawa and Naha Japan, the first few days have been wonderful. Cherry blossom season held on just long enough for us to enjoy the fluffy pink clouds and rosy carpets at our feet. As ancient as many parts of this region are the cities are remarkably modern and sophisticated. Shanghai towers with beautiful new architectural wonders as well as punctuated with colonial and regional designs. The rapid magnetic levitating train is a highlight as it can whisk you away at speeds remarkable by any standard. Our stay straddled a weekend and public holiday so locals were out and about in the many greenspaces in the city.

The island of Jeju Korea sparkled and danced in the sea as we approached, a truly magical place. Many Koreans come to Jeju for vacations and to celebrate special events so it has a festive mood. Abrupt volcanic mountains rise from the sea sporting verdant foliage as if a fancy haircut and deep caves coaxed the very bravest of sous to enter. This limestone and volcanic island supports a very prosperous tangerine and citrus industry with tourism most likely running a close second for GNP. Women divers plunge into the depth retrieving sea urchins among other delicacies and proceed to scoop out the centres as their reward for spending 2-3 minutes holding their breath underwater. Lava tunnels and volcanic craters invite the more adventuresome of the guests but most excursions are very doable. Enjoying the super weather in Jeju and for that matter anywhere makes all the difference on any tour.

Tianjin and Beijing China held an entirely different array of interesting places for us to explore. The great wall, or a piece of it at least was extra special for me. Hangyaguan, or the yellow wall is of the oldest remaining piece of the Great Wall of China. Had I actually climbed to the visible summit of this behemoth structure, I could have gazed on Mongolia. Alas I made it to the second watch tower realizing that the climb down might well be as challenging as the climb up.

The coach ride to and from the pier offered an excellent glimpse into the everyday lives of the residents of this region. The inordinate number of trees and shrub planted everywhere was truly remarkable and indeed nice to see. Apparently this mass planting exercise is an attempt to mitigate the industrial pollution that is prevalent in the area. We were very lucky as the constant light breeze afforded us decent quality. I had expected to witness massive traffic clogging the freeways and thousands of people everywhere, not so… as a matter of fact the complete opposite.

Incheon and Seoul Korea offered something for everyone. Culture abounds in Korea as well as local markets bulging with fish and sea creatures of unknown origin or species. For the history buffs, the Korean War memorials and museums are exceptionally well done.

Japan from Hiroshima to Kyoto and Naha to Okinawa was so wonderful and chocked full of paradoxes. Beautiful architecture from Dynasties past to ultra-modern buildings shinning with metals and glass piercing the still blue and cloudless skies. The island of Mirajima Guchi was a special delight indeed. The iconic Tori Gate stood proudly in the bay at low tide as if welcoming us to this spiritual place. The Shinto temple afforded us a glimpse at this ancient religion or belief system complete with wafting incense, candles and many Shinto priests offering blessings. A resident herd of deer inhabit this island and are remarkably tame; watch your handbags and papers!

Traditional villages, cultural displays, music dance and of course food only enhance the wonderful excursions ashore in Japan. Learning how to bow properly, rehearsing the odd word in Japanese and of course appreciating raw fish and various seaweeds all go towards a very special time and place along our wonderful journey. Definitely not to be missed this region of the world is truly a treasure chest of history art, culture and philosophy; you may return a different person after seeing and feeling this remarkable region of the world.


 

Machu Picchu ??? Close Your Eyes and Step Back

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (1853)

Machu Picchu – Close Your Eyes and Step Back

K.A. Beattie

Majestic, mysterious and totally awe inspiring, this ancient site still beguiles our current sense of reality. Floating high in the Peruvian Andes, this centre of energy has been reported to revive tired souls and foster dreams for those who make the journey.

Designated by UNESCO as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, an excursion to Machu Picchu, Peru will require some preparation and is not recommended for persons with mobility issues. First off, the most common subject to discuss is altitude sickness, and yes, it is real, the locals prescribe cocoa leaves as a tea or placed in the back of the jaw like chewing tobacco. Alternatively, your physician will be able to prescribe an appropriate medication and of course recommend if it is even necessary, I would not take both medications together of course. Some 3,000 stone steps of varying height, link more than 150 buildings such as temples, plazas, residences and terraces over an impressive five-acre site. Expect to spend a great deal of time walking and gawking, you will certainly not be the only ones there, like so many photographs depict. Hundreds of thousand so visitors make the journey annually to the detriment of the nearby town of Cusco as well as the site itself.

Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire during the 15th and 16th century, but was inhabited, scholars suggest, for about 100 years only. Diseases brought to the New World by conquistadors is often blamed as the culprit for the demise of the inhabitants.

Getting to Machu Picchu can be accomplished in a number of ways, some much easier than others. My personal preference is to choose the cruise line’s pre or post cruise add on. Planning the excursion on your own or with a private tour company of course works however confirmations, schedule adjustments and the accommodations are all very much “flexible”. Selecting a pre-tour is the most popular choice made by cruisers with Oceania, which once again proved true on our last voyage this January. Consider the fact that your excursion will take you high into the Andes, overnight stays, local food, water and of course visiting the site before repeating the process to get to the cruise port. It should be noted that the ship sails when the ship sails, so if your self-planned tour has a problem, or the train is not on time, heavens forbid there is nasty weather, you’re stuck. Travelling with a ship’s excursion all of these issues are taken into consideration and mitigated by the cruise line. Additionally, you will be on a mountain trek; there’s nothing nicer than coming “home” to the ship, indulging in a hot shower, clean clothes and goodness knows service to rival the very best hotels. To my way of thinking, an excellent way to start a cruise.

Machu Picchu appears on South American itineraries as well those coming from the South Pacific via Easter Island. Our last itinerary with Oceania, aboard Regatta, the delightful “R” class medium sized, luxury ship, offered pre-cruise excursions as we sailed from Miami to Lima. The reverse of this schedule allows for a post cruise excursion.

Regatta once again shone with its so typical elegance but since a refurbishment in the summer of 2014 she has even more sparkle. Smiling faces are the norm for crew and even hugs from attendants and staff who we have come to be very fond of over the years. Very much a coming home feeling as we settled into our stateroom before setting out to explore, visit and take in the beautiful scenery. “the kids” as we affectionately call many of our favourite crew go to no end to ensure that your special menu is prepared or your five o’clock cocktail, just the way you like, it is promptly shaken or stirred. The first few days are usually spent with other passengers sharing stories, photos and experiences of being high in the Andes. Naturally, Regatta has quiet little nooks and near-private enclaves around the ship so we can sit and recount our tales. We particularly like the Library with its “English Club-like” atmosphere and a super collection of reading material. Passengers often leave personal books for others forming a somewhat trading system. Let’s face it, if you have read the books, why carry them all the way back home?

Canyon Ranch Spa is heaven! This last itinerary was over 40 days so hair required cutting, nails needed attention and so on. Do NOT miss an opportunity to be pampered in the spa, after all you are on vacation. Often times the spa will post specials, typically on port days, so if you aren’t going ashore or on an excursion, treat yourself, perhaps after your excursion to Machu Picchu.

 

Looking forward to seeing you aboard one of Oceania’s cruises; I’ll be the one with a grin from ear to ear.

 

Madagascar - Ancient, Living Museum

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (5452)

Madagascar – An Ancient, Living Museum

K.A. Beattie

Madagascar could be described as a floating remnant of the ancient landmass called Gondwana. This incredibly primeval ancestry provides the modern world with a glimpse of how our home may have looked long before humans ever walked the earth. Located off the eastern edge of Mozambique, there is little evidence on Madagascar that actually connects it with Africa. This island was a solid “chunk” of landmass that migrated in isolation of the massive continent of Pangea. Gondwana or Gondwanaland was the southernmost portion once Pangea drifted northward, splitting to form two super continents, the other being Laurasia, North America’s origins. The Floral and faunal inhabitants of Madagascar have long intrigued me and for little wonder. This precious piece of history boasts over 12,000 plant species of which 80% are endemic or only found on this island, making it one of the most diverse floras on earth. Comparatively and by way of scale, Tropical Africa has nearly 35,000 species of plants but the region is 35 times larger. Perhaps the most unusual and “must see” regions of Madagascar is the globally distinctive ecosystem, the “spiny forest, thicket or desert”. One of the most bizarre collections of plants that you may ever see, this refuge is a force to contend with. Prickly bits, scratchy twigs, some plants with leaves other totally void and all arranged in what could well be a diorama produced by Fred Flintstone himself. Keeping in the “prehistoric” theme the iconic Baobab trees are truly a sight to behold. One of the most amazing trees on earth, these bloated, bottle-like specimens, six of the eight species are endemic to Madagascar. Adapted over time to endure dry conditions, their swollen trunks, massive root systems and ability to drop their leaves has allowed them to remain in situ for literally centuries. These trees are utilized by locals present and ancient for healing, as repositories for safe keeping, food caches and numerous other functions. The classic forest of Baobabs is often photographed but none do justice to the majesty of these trees.

Curiosities abound in Madagascar, not the least are the amazing Lemurs. Primates by classification and “cuddlies” by definition, these animals as incredibly cute. Lemurs and their families can be seen in selected reserves and if you are fortunate enough to take an excursion from the ship, you are pretty much guaranteed sightings. I love the way some Lemus stand up on the hind legs and scramble through the forest then bounce and hop to the next tree. Giant tortoises also can be found on the islands just off the west coast of Madagascar. Booking a tour or excursion to see them is well worth it also. Some of these specimens are a century old. The many amphibians, reptiles and flocks of incredibly unusual birds are common place. Crocodiles, well yes, but not on my list of specimens to see.

Our mode of Travel to Madagascar is aboard the MS Nautica, a sister ship to our beloved Nautica of the Oceania family. The mid-sized vessels in these particular cases, carry only 684 passengers, and have an agility that the behemoth monster ships do not. Nimble and swift these “L’il Girls” can dock at some of the world’s smaller ports without the need of tenders. I personally enjoy a tender ride but for some it may be more of a challenge for some. Travelling through hot, humid, tropical climates such as Madagascar and the other exotic ports of call in the equatorial regions, can take a toll on some folks, particularly those from more temperate environments. What I relish is that I can tramp through a steamy jungle, wade up to my claves in muddy water, endure sauna-like temperatures and return “home” to the ship (looking a lot like everyone else) and relax. The intrepid explorer is now in five star luxury, several showers and tub soakings later nestled into the comfort of the Grand Dining room, awaiting the reliably excellent service. Our itinerary took us from Dubai in the UAE south and east to several ports in India. These exotic ports offer a wealth of textures, tastes, sounds and actually a veritable buffet for all the senses. Sailing onwards Nautica negotiated the Seychelles and magnificent Maldives, Zanzibar and Mombasa before arriving in Madagascar. In short, the voyage of a lifetime.

In the event that Madagascar is not on your bucket list of places to visit, amend the list. Magical, magnificent Madagascar.

 

 

Chilean Fiords Wine, Wonder and Whimsy

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (3531)

 

Chilean Fiords

Wine, Wonders and Whimsy

K.A. Beattie

Chile is an amazing place offering a banquet for the senses and provender a plenty for stimulating conversation. A lengthy ribbon of mountains, abrupt shorelines, magnificent plants and cultures with roots deep in a mysterious past describe Chile. As a North American I must admit that my understanding of Chile and its history was not strong and upon visiting the country this fact was underscored. Naturally I knew of Llamas from my zoo visits, great regional wines and what little I could glean from cultural displays and festivals in my home city. To my total delight Chile, from the Pacific coast vantage was unbelievably beautiful day after day getting even more outstanding. To put our voyage into perspective, from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia on the Argentine border in Tierra del Fuego took over a week; somehow our north American maps are a little shall we say, biased? Perhaps my most wondrous and indeed thought provoking find was in a tiny museum in Iquique, Chile, several well preserved human mummies. Mummified human remains, nine to ten thousand years old, are still be unearthed with incredible regularity from the Atacama Desert regions. These remains of this civilization pre-date the Inca Empire by some six thousand years. The most famous of these finds are the Chinchorro Mummies first unearthed by workers near Arica, Chile on the harsh desert coastline. The overall look of Northern Chile and Peru for that matter, was stark and desert-like. Abrupt landscapes jutting out of the Pacific with very little evidence of plants, in particular grapes. Chile is known for its wine industry and I was totally primed to sample; apparently my sad little face told it all when we looked at this rather bleak scenery of the northern portions. When in doubt, check with the excursion desk or in my case, the senior sommelier onboard. The bustling coastal city of Valparaiso offered great hope as we ventured ashore with directions and a shopping list from the sommelier. The landscape had changed dramatically offering now a “Vancouver-like” feel. Our map and directions took us to the very popular city region of Viña del Mar, even the name showed promise. As implied, there was Viña or better yet, vino and a whole lot of Mar. Robust reds abound with Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignons leading the pack according to my taste buds. Oceania is known for its extensive wine list and as we travelled the wine country, the list expanded to adopt several unusual vintages. I have a female vintner who plies her skills in the much publicized regions of Southern France, she told me once in a hushed whisper once that her best reds come from her vineyards in Chile! Chilean wines are very affordable and if you tipple a bit, they are not to be missed.

Sailing further south the weather suited our latitude in mid-February, cool with steady winds laden with salt mist. Al fresco dining, always an option aboard, clearly not a popular choice, even with the hardy Canadian stock who braved the hot tubs, scuttling to and fro in abundant terry cloth, however, there was no snow! The fiord lands started for us in the tiny city of Puerto Montt, continued to Punta Arenas and then on to the spectacularly region of Patagonia. Just saying the name “Patagonia” brought excitement to my voice, who would have thought that this corner of the globe was so outstanding? Ushuaia is a city reminiscent of Jasper, Alberta, straddling the Argentine border it boasts to be the most southern city. Charles Darwin sailed these very waters on the famous Beagle of which the channel bears the name. He and his crew actually sailed and charted along most our itinerary, journaling the diversity of flora and fauna of this great southern continent. This was just another thrill for me to sense that I was on a journey that one of my champions travelled almost two centuries ago. The great Southern Beech forests must have impressed him as well the bizarre Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees. Many of the plants in the furthest points south exhibit unusual floral structures and have unique adaptations to ensure pollination and survival under adverse climatic conditions. Fuchsia abound as do Barberry and a vast array of mosses and ferns, many which bear the names of explores such as Magellan and Darwin. Fascinating, breathtaking and awe inspiring are descriptors that I use frequently when asked to describe the area and my experience.

Once again Oceania offered top notch service and one of the most enticing itineraries that I have ever taken. Chocked full to overflowing with excellent excursion choices, interesting ports that many ships can’t navigate and the hallmark “family” crew who spoil us time and time again. Gracias mi amigos!