Australia and New Zealand
A red carpet evening at the Sydney Opera House “is a great way to start or end your itinerary, depending which way you want to go,” said Vasil Vladinski, operations manager for Anderson Vacations, which offers a variety of itineraries in Australia and New Zealand. Groups can take a backstage tour followed by dinner and a performance.
During a cruise in Sydney Harbour, the 56-passenger boat takes passengers to area beaches and a locals’ restaurant. Travelers can also climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where the “views are phenomenal,” he said.
Near Queensland, the Whitsunday Islands provide the iconic Australian beach experience, and Cairns is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, which people can explore in countless ways: in a helicopter, on a glass-bottom boat or in the water snorkeling, diving or ocean walking.
Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, is a sacred place and a huge draw for cultural tourism. In Daintree Rainforest, groups can walk with an Aboriginal guide through their ancestral lands.
Off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is a haven for wildlife where “everyone comes back and says, ‘I wish I had more time there,’” Vladinski said.
In Rotorua, New Zealand, Maori guides use the thermal mud to cook a traditional hāngī meal, which travelers then eat for dinner. “Lord of the Rings” fans can visit the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata, and in the Waitomo Caves, living glowworms light up the walls.
An overnight stay on a boat in the remote Milford Sound allows travelers to watch the sunset from their kayaks and discover waterfalls as seals jump all around their boats.
On Safari in Kenya
Going “on safari” invokes images of trekking in rugged terrain, sweating under a glaring sun and batting away unthinkable bugs. But Talbot Tours’ Kenya Safari Adventure is one of the most relaxing vacations you’ll ever take, said president Serge Talbot.
The itinerary includes five game reserves: Amboseli, Samburu, Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru and Maasai Mara national parks. Travelers stay in African lodges that rival American resorts and spend their days swimming, napping and reading between twice-daily game drives in the early morning and late afternoon.
During each outing, travelers will see an “incredible variety of animals,” Talbot said. Guides, many of whom Talbot Tours has been using for more than 10 years, navigate six-person, pop-top safari vehicles through reserves where guests will spot lions, cheetahs, giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, elephants, baboons, wildebeests, zebras and more.
At Sweetwaters Serena Camp, travelers stay in luxury tents that look directly across the game reserve; a fence keeps the animals separate. Serena Mountain Lodge is a four-story lodge built on stilts where every guest room, along with the dining room and lounge, overlooks an illuminated waterhole and salt lick. Guests can watch the “pecking order” as animals take turns arriving to drink, Talbot said.
Travelers marvel at thousands of pink flamingos at Lake Nakuru; the trip also includes visits to a giraffe compound, a chimpanzee sanctuary and an elephant orphanage.
But one of guests’ favorite moments is the Maasai Mara village, where travelers can interact with the tribe and the children.
Pope Benedict’s Bavaria and the Passion Play
Before he was Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was a boy from Germany’s Bavaria region, where travelers can learn about his life during Ed-Ventures’ Pope Benedict’s Bavaria and the Passion Play itinerary.
Groups will visit Marktl am Inn, where Benedict was born in 1927, and the village of Traunstein, where he spent his childhood. The trip also includes stops in Freising, where he studied and later taught at the School of Philosophy and Theology, and at the Cathedral of St. Mary, where he was ordained in 1951.
But the showstopper is arguably the Passion Play in Oberammergau, a production the town has been doing since 1634 after vowing to put on the play if God spared them from the bubonic plague. Townspeople now perform the play several times a week May through October during every year that ends in zero. Actors must be from the town or be a direct descendent of someone who is.
“It’s in German, but you know the story,” said Shannon Larsen, vice president of operations and TAP partner for Ed-Ventures. “The drama is amazing. It hits you right in the heart.”
Although the trip is popular among Catholics and other Christian groups, “there’s so much to see in Bavaria, you could take Pope Benedict off there and just call it ‘Bavaria,’ and it would still be a nice, cool trip,” she said. “Frankly, there’s a ‘wow’ every day.”
Those wows include a visit to Salzburg, scenic views of the Alps and plenty of World War II history, such as touring the Eagle’s Nest teahouse, which was given to Adolf Hitler as a gift in 1933.