What to expect from a river cruise

My very first experience cruising the river was an add-on to a land excursion in Germany on a small ship for a two-hour  sailing  up the Rhein river. . The  view of the old landmarks was  intriguing, however, the cruise was anything but exciting.
That’s why when an amazing opportunity for a wine cruise onboard AMAPrima with AMAWATERWAYS came up, I signed up but didn’t hold my breath.
River cruising has gained a lot of popularity during the recent years, but typically it appeals to the 55+ folks.  So, I had no idea what to expect from a  river cruise, with the exception of my pre-conceived notion that it would be boring.
Well, there were a lot of people in my 27-member group that were way below 55+ and I must say, we had an amazing experience.
If you are a first-time river cruiser, here are some of the highlights you can EXPECT:
•    Small ships and a small crowd. You will get to know and make friends quickly with the people you wine and dine with.
•    Your food, beverages and wine (including beer) are included. ( If you crave your alcoholic beverage after lunch or dinner, you will be charged).
•    Your land excursions are always included.
•    Impeccable service. From the moment you step onboard, you will enjoy an unparalleled level of service. Most of the crew members seem to be enjoying their jobs, which comes though in their dealings with you. (Room service does not exist).
•    Relax, relax and relax some more. The ship is like a floating boutique hotel. The common area has rows of comfy couches with a 360 degree view  of the river and surrounding areas. Perfect for chatting, reading, practicing  your  photography skills or just quietly sitting and contemplating.
•    On the upper deck, you can sunbathe on lounge chairs, swim, watch the beautiful scenery from a different vantage point or walk or jog in the jogging area.
•    Watch the ship go through locks which is a fascinating process in and of itself. A lock is a machine used to raise and lower the ships to go through the canals.
•    I’m a germaphobe. When I stay at hotels, I always slip on a plastic cover on the remote control, turn lights on and off using a tissue, etc. I was absolutely and pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness and neatness of the ship. The crew works very hard to keep your rooms and dining area spotless. The single rose stem given to me by the captain on the first night, was placed in a tiny vase next to my bed the next morning. How special!
•    Some cruise lines including AMA don’t include the gratuities in the total cruise price. You will have the option of adding them on your charge card or hand out cash in the envelopes provided by the ship on the last day of the cruise. You will pay roughly  about $100 per person in  gratuities, if you choose.
•    Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap and body lotion is always available. You will also find a robe, slippers and umbrellas in your room
•    Multigenerational trip: If you want to invite the entire family including the kids and grandkids to sail, most ships are now family friendly. Disney has partnered with AMAWATERWAYS to accommodate those family friendly passengers.
•    You can make your own espresso, coffee and tea whenever you want on the upper deck. (No coffee machine in your cabin).
•    Farm to table food and wine paring.
•    Your five course lunch and dinner menu comes with chef’s recommendation and other choices like grilled chicken and salmon which are always available.
•    The excursions are immersive and mostly away from tourist traps. You can walk, hike or bike on your excursions depending on the level of your fitness.
What not to expect:
•    Night life. Some itineraries include overnight stays. You can take a short walk into the town and spend the entire night away from the ship, if you choose. Honestly though, there is so much to do during the day that going to bed earlier may not sound like a bad idea.
•    Onboard activities. Some ships do offer well being classes like yoga and healthy eating, wine tasting, painting, etc. Your travel agent will be able to match you with the right ship depending on your interests.
•    Younger crowd. The average age onboard the ship is 50+.
•    Casinos
•    Loud and tipsy crowd
•    Inexperienced travelers. Most of the RC passengers are well heeled travelers.
•    The free wifi is not always available specially if a lot of people onboard are online.
•    You can NOT bring your curling or flat iron onboard for fire safety.
•    No lifejacket drill
If you ever get an invite to go on a river cruise, especially if it’s a wine-themed cruise, don’t hesitate to accept it. Surprisingly enough, it’s a great way to enjoy a great vacation!

A Wine Theme Park (?!)

Finally, an adult theme park to get excited about!

If you are crazy about wine, then you might want to check out La Cite` du Vin (City of Wine) in Bordeaux, France right on the banks of the Garonne River, a roughly five-and-a-half hour drive or one-hour flight from Paris.


This 10- story, gold and silver metal swirl meant to resemble the grapevine’s root and branch opened on June 1, 2016. A mere $91 million museum with a Disneyland approach to its 20 themed areas and exhibits,  “the city” opens daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tickets are 20 USD and include a glass of wine and a self-guided audio tour.

When visiting this luxurious space, you can experience wine tasting, attend screenings and classes in a 250-seat auditorium and even take a fun ride on a simulator boat ride, reinventing the maritime journey of the wine merchants around the globe. The interactive exhibits showcase the art of wine tasting, the history of wine and the science of grape growing.

If you’re interested in visiting the “theme park”, you may want to time your visit to coincide with the Bordeaux Wine Festival happening on June 14 through 17, 2018 so you can enjoy savory tastes from 80 wine pavilions in the heart of the wine country. The festival takes place on a mile stretch on the banks of the Garonne.    Each night, the festival closes with a spectacular sound and light show, followed by fireworks that illuminate the 18th-century Pont de Pierre bridge. Plan to get there during the week, as the festival gets very crowded during the weekend.

Please visit us at M&H Distinctive Journeys to learn about wine tourism and group wine journeys. If you feel extra generous, please like us on Facebook too at Facebook.com/mhdjourneys.



Luggage Hacks

Don’t you agree that one of the most inconvenient parts of your flight, besides the incredibly small space in the plane, is lugging your bags?


Lugging your belongings on the airplane is not what is used to be. Airlines in the US have become very creative in adding fees and penalties for excessive and extra luggage (if your bag is overweight, you have to drop $50 more in penalties on top of the mandatory fees). In 2015 alone, the airline carriers in the United States made over $3 billion in added baggage fees.


Schlepping your bags around is both expensive and bothersome during transportation to and from the airport, checking them in and picking them up at the baggage claim center.


Fortunately, a good alternative to carrying your luggage is to ship them to your destination ahead of time. Shipping luggage, like going on African Safaris, was once considered something only the affluent could afford, but this is no longer the case. It’s true that shipping still costs more than checking in, however, the value is in the reliability and convenience.


Standard Delivery services include:

UPS, USPS, DHL and FedEx. The fees vary depending on the size and weight and the distance and your desired delivery speed. These services are reliable and the tracking number lets you track them anytime. The drawback of using these services is that you’d have to drop off your luggage at a designated location and arrange for special pickup and they may not be open on weekends. Prices vary depending on the weight and size of luggage, but generally, you end up paying $50 to $80 per bag for shipping. They would even can place your luggage in a box to prevent damage and scratch.


Custom Luggage Shipping Companies:

Luggage Club, Luggage Free, Luggage Forward, Luggage Concierge (to name a few).

These companies generally would pick up from your home or office at a designated time. You can also ship your golf clubs, ski boots and any other heavy items. Like standard delivery services, these companies may or may not be open on weekends, so you need to plan ahead.

These companies are very professional and will work with you around your schedule and ship to your hotel, villa or cruise ship. No need to wait in long lines at the carousel and/or worrying about lost or damaged luggage. A sample charge for a small bag is $69 (25 pounds) and $99 for a standard bag (50 pounds).


If you are traveling overseas, shipping your luggage is not a good option because of the cost associated with it. Sometimes shipping can be more expensive that your airline tickets.


Time is money. Next time when you are flying domestic, give these companies a call and see for yourself how flying can actually be less stressful. If you check in 24 hours ahead and pre-select your seat, you won’t have to arrive two hours early at the airport to check in your luggage. If you travel more than two or three times a year, throw in TSA Pre Check, then you’ll really save yourself a ton of time.


Bringing Wine Home from Overseas; Should-I-Bring-Wine-Home DRILL!

During my last trip to Bordeaux, I savored every last sip of wine, knowing I did not plan to bring a bottle home. Ah, but when I returned home, I felt remorse for not putting some effort into bringing a bottle or two home.  First world problems (I know), but a problem is a problem!

So, if you find yourself loving the wine when you are miles and miles away from home, please don’t make the same mistake. Know what your options are so you can make a calculated decision.

This is your “Should-I-Bring-Bottle(s)-Home-With-Me” Drill!

First things first: If you are at a French winery and you fall in love with a particular wine, do a quick google search to see if that particular wine is available in your area. If not, then you might want to haul a bottle or two back home as shipping the wine has proven to be quite costly.
TSA regulations will allow you to carry the wine in your carryon if you purchase liquor from a duty-free shop AND if they can screen the alcohol. If the alcohol is in anything other than a glass bottle, it may not be able to be scanned. The alcohol or wine needs to be in a secure, tamper-evident bag (called an STEB). If you open the bottle or can’t provide the receipt, you’d have to surrender it to TSA.

If you prefer packing the bottle in your suitcase, place the unopened bottle in a sealable plastic bag. This way if the bottle breaks, the bag will keep it from spilling on your other belongings. Wrap the bottle to give it extra cushioning for the trip. Towels, and sweaters are good options. Place the bottle snugly in the center of your suitcase and surround it with more clothes to ensure your bottle survives a possible fall off the baggage carousel. I have transported wine bottles before and I have used extra plastic bags around the towels as an extra precaution. Don’t place anything rough or hard right next to the wrapped bottle.

A safer bet would be to invest in something to help you carry the wine on a flight.  Products like the padded JetBag can give you the peace of mind that your alcohol makes it home safely in one piece. Some airlines like Southwest offer wine and alcohol packaging for as little as $5.

There is no set federal limit on how much alcohol you can bring home, however, generally speaking, one liter of alcohol per person is allowed duty-free by travelers who are 21 and older. For more information, please visit https://help.cbp.gov/.

Word of warning when purchasing your wine at a duty-free shop: You can generally take it with you on the plane – but it may not necessarily travel with you the entire way home. If you have a connecting flight which requires passing through a TSA security checkpoint, your bags are subject to carry-on restrictions, which means anything over the 3.4 ounce limit should go back in your checked baggage. This can be problematic during a layover, as you may not have access to your checked bags to pack your alcohol. Your best bet is to purchase your duty-free alcohol at the last airport you visit before your final destination to avoid the headache of losing it at a security checkpoint.

Wine and travel are a perfect combination so if you just get a sudden urge to bring some bottles home as a souvenir, don’t be afraid. Know your do’s and don’ts and enjoy the journey!


Is Renting a VILLA the right fit for you? (we think so!)


Have you ever considered renting a “villa” on your next group vacation? Most people shy away from exploring this option because of the perceived cost.

Villas are actually a great alternative to renting a hotel or even Airbnb. Why? Villas usually offer great value per person than multiple hotel or resort suites. Luxury villas make more economical sense for traveling multigenerational families or couples.

Villas offer more space and privacy allowing you to truly enjoy your time away from home. They range anywhere from 1-20 bedrooms and offer additional living spaces including living and dining rooms,

Your villa reservation includes a personal concierge who can arrange the following and much more. You don’t have to pay extra to make the arrangements for the following concierge services, but you do pay for the services. Here are some highlights:


Your journey becomes easier knowing you have pre-arranged transportation to and from the airport, your own personal driver or a car rental in your destination, luggage transfers, boat charters, etc.


You can choose to have a pre-stock kitchen with your grocery list or a private chef service for one or more special meals. Or, if you choose to dine out on some nights, reservations are made on your behalf. Interested in private cooking lessons or wine tasting? No worries.. That can also be arranged for you!


Arrangements can be made for additional housekeeping, laundry services or a private butler service.  You can even ask for a private yoga session (or two)  or spa treatments on the beach.


If you are a golf enthusiast, reservations can be made for golf tee times as well as private lessons. Or, if you prefer to take part in water sports excursions or safari tours, arrangements for your activities including pick up and drop off will be arranged for you and your group.

Special Occasions:

If you are celebrating a special occasion such as “retirement”, “anniversary”, “graduation”, “honeymoon” or a milestone birthday, you will have access to local event planners, catering, make up and photography, live music, or even fireworks of your own!

So, next time when you decide to embark on a special getaway, give us a call and we will find a perfect match for your group and budget. Until then, safe travels!

M&H Distinctive Journeys Team


What Part of the World Would your Recipes Come From this Holiday Season?

This year was no exception: Some major department stores started decorating for Christmas in the middle of October, which gave out the subtle message that Christmas is more about spending than celebrating.

If you  would rather spend time with family and friends, and enjoy celebrating the holidays in a simple but meaningful way, here’s some of our suggestions for cooking yummy dishes which is sure to start a conversation around the table!


IMMOVABLE FEAST: a Paris Christmas

“Immoveable Feast is the charming, funny, and improbable tale of how a man who was raised on white bread—and didn’t speak a word of French—unexpectedly ended up with the sacred duty of preparing the annual Christmas dinner for a venerable Parisian family.” You will find some good recipes along with simple ideas to brighten up your holiday.



The 20 BEST GERMAN CHRISTMAS COOKIES: Festive Baking Recipes from Germany

“Did you know that many Christmas traditions have been adopted from Germany? The Christmas tree, Christmas markets and, of course, the baking of Holiday cookies – including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper, allspice… Mmh, yummi! It smells like Christmas”




A COLLECTION OF DELICIOUS CHINESE NEW YEAR RECIPES: Hail the Occasion with mouthwatering Chinese Food

“A collection of delicious Chinese New Year Recipes”. This year, why not incorporate Chinese New Year’s recipes to ring in the new year?


JAPANESE SOUL COOKING: Ramen, Tonkatsu and Tempura

“A collection of more than 100 recipes that introduces Japanese comfort food to American home cooks, exploring new ingredients, techniques, and the surprising origins of popular dishes like gyoza and tempura.” If you’ve always wanted to put the Japanese dinnerware to good use, this book will fire up some ideas for some unique but tasty food.



THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES: Italian Christmas Cookbook: The Collected Comic Strip and Italian Holiday Cook Book

“The Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition comes to life in this popular online comic strip collected here for the first time, complete with a foreword by Steve Geppi and a cookbook for serving up your own Feast!”


COOKIE ADVENT COOKBOOK: With 24 festive Recipes

“Starting on December 1 through Christmas Eve, the cover of the book invites readers to peek under an ornament flap to discover the cookie of the day—then turn the pages to find the appropriate recipe. Beginner and experienced bakers alike will enjoy these simple recipes for beautifully decorated homemade cookies counting down to December 25. With its mix of familiar and global Christmas treats and entirely new ones, this festive calendar and cookbook will create new cookie-baking traditions, bringing tidings of great family and community joy.”

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, peaceful and joyous Holiday Season!

From M&H Distinctive Journeys Team



Christmas 2016

Rothenburg at the Plonlein.jpg

Well, the kids are back to school and with Labor Day approaching, we will officially mark the end of summer 2016.

I am somehow never quite ready to say good bye to summer as there’s always that nagging feeling that I didn’t get to spend enough time in the great outdoors. Fortunately for us living in Los Angeles, we can almost bet that September is the hottest month, so there’s still some bonus time left to sneak out and enjoy the last bit of warm summer days.

Since we are geared for the holidays very soon, wouldn’t you love to skip the long lines and the stress at the mall and get onboard an all inclusive river cruise for a journey in the heart of Europe where you can visit the beautiful grand Christmas Markets? I can almost smell the air  filled with the aroma of cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and coffee and hear the sound of christmas music and marvel at the beautiful handcrafted Christmas ornaments. It’s as if you’ve landed in a story book page.

River cruising is a sure way to start a new tradition of spending quality time with your family and loved ones during the holidays. It’s perfect because it is  slower in pace and unlike commercial cruises, you are sharing the space with about 150 to 230 people. It creates the opportunity to take it slow, enjoy the ride and enjoy each other’s company. Many river cruises now offer activities and amenities for families and groups, so be sure to ask us about those programs.

When you are on a river cruise, you can enjoy all inclusive journeys, pack and unpack once, enjoy all inclusive gourmet meals, craft beer, local wine and soft drinks and take part in hand picked all inclusive excursions in charming quaint villages and cities.

The official kick off to the holiday season in Europe is not until the last week of November. There is still plenty of time to make your travel arrangements and we are delighted to help you get there!

Feel free to call us to discuss a great journey fit for a great family!