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European Nickelodeon Cruise in 2011

March 28, 2011

Norwegian Cruise Line is offering the ultimate family vacation on the Nickelodeon Cruise this summer 2011.  On July 24, the Norwegian Epic will depart from Barcelona for a 7-day Mediterranean cruise with stops in Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Rome (Civitavecchia) and Naples in Italy and Palma in Majorca, Spain.  This NCL Nickelodeon cruise promises to be a hit with the kids where they can get totally immersed in the Nickelodeon experience with activities, such as, meeting Jennette McCurdy and Nathan Kress from iCarly, “seeing” the voices of SpongeBob and Patrick Star, eating breakfast everyday with favorite Nickelodeon characters, viewing premieres of Nickelodeon tv shows and movies.  And of course, there is the distinct Nickelodeon honor of getting SLIMED!

While kids are at play, parents can enjoy the many dining and entertainment options on Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest and most innovative ship, the Norwegian Epic, which will make her debut in Europe this summer 2011.  The 4,100 passenger Norwegian Epic boosts more than 20 Freestyle dining options, with French, Italian, Sushi and Steakhouse restaurants.  Adults can grab a drink at the SVEDKA ice bar or enjoy the Blue Man Group and Second City shows.  There’s always the opportunity to test one’s luck at the casino or to get pampered at the Mandaran Spa at sea.  Or parents and kids can together enjoy the aqua park, rock climbing wall, bowling alley or take in a movie aboard the Nickelodeon Cruise on the Norwegian Epic.

Norwegian Cruise Line continues to be a European favorite having been named “European’s Leading Cruise Line” three years in a row by the World Travel Awards (2008, 2009 and 2010).  Families can enjoy the best of cruising and the best of Nickelodeon entertainment on this special cruise only taking place once this summer 2011.  Prices start at $1,049 per person for an interior room and $1,599 per person for a balcony room for the July 24 Nickelodeon European sailing. 

LIMITED TIME OFFER:  Onboard Credit of $100 for July 24 Nickelodeon Cruise in Europe.

To book this cruise or to get more information on cruises in Europe, contact Grin Travel at jennifer@grintravel.com

Jennifer Grinold
Travel Agent, Grin Travel
www.grintravel.com
www.facebook.com/grintravel

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The Matterhorn in Switzerland

March 22, 2011

Here’s a reprint of an article I recently wrote for Mamizeit online newsletter, a publication for international moms in Switzerland.

When we moved to Switzerland almost two years ago, my husband and I agreed our family’s first Swiss vacation could only be one to one place: the Matterhorn. Like those visiting our hometown of San Francisco must see the Golden Gate Bridge, we longed to set eyes on this Toblerone peaked mountain, to feel that we had indeed made it to Switzerland. This iconic emblem of the Alps is the most photographed mountain in the world, and Zermatt, the village at its base, is a tourist magnet attracting travelers from across the globe. While Zermatt is certainly not off the beaten track, it is a charmed spot in Switzerland, defined by the imposing presence of the Matterhorn.

Situated on the Italian border of the Valais canton, Zermatt is a car-free town which must be reached by train, or by an electric taxi for those who want to drive to the nearby town of Täsch, just 7 kilometers away. Zermatt is a picturesque village consisting of cobblestoned alleyways shooting off three main streets which house the majority of the shops and restaurants in town. Between the hotels and apartments, there are more than 13,500 visitor beds in town, but they do fill up quickly, so book early, unless you are planning to travel to Zermatt offseason.

Zermatt is perched high in the mountains at 1,620 meters and boasts 300 days of sunshine a year. Though be warned that the Matterhorn often plays coy, hiding behind the clouds, out of sight from its admirers. On our first visit, we had to wait a day before the mountain peak graced us with its presence. The wait built up our anticipation and when we finally saw the Matterhorn as we climbed the nearby mountain on the Gornergrat cog railway, we literally jumped out of our seats in admiration.

Zermatt is best known for its snow sports, offering the highest altitude skiing in the Alps, open year round. The village is surrounded by three major ski areas, offering great options for the beginner to the expert skier with over 390 kilometers of downhill skiing and links to Italy. Zermatt is a great destination for spring season, as it is guaranteed snow with ample ski terrain above 2200 meters, and on the longer spring days, it’s possible to ski until early evening. Apres-ski opportunities are plenty in Zermatt which offers bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and discos for all those looking for evening activities.

Non-skiers are not without entertainment in Zermatt. They can climb the surrounding mountains via cable cars or cob railway to get closer views of the Matterhorn. And in the summer, there’s hiking, biking, golfing and even zip lining at the Forest Fun Park. There are many, some might argue too many, tourists shops on Bahnhofstrasse in the main part of town. For those wanting to learn a little history, there’s the Alpine Museum which highlights the nail-biting journey of the first climber to successful ascend the Matterhorn, Edward Whymper.

The Matterhorn is one of our favorite places to take our visitors coming from overseas and it has never disappointed. The quaint village graced by the beauty of one of the most stunning mountains in the world promises a rejuvenating and fun-filled trip. And for those still looking for a vacation destination for this April, Zermatt is a top choice for spring skiing. There’s no wonder the Matterhorn remains one of the most popular spots in Switzerland!

For a Grin Travel photo album of Zermatt:
www.grintravel.com/GrinTravelPhotoAlbumMatterhorn.html

For more information on Zermatt or to book your family vacation to Switzerland, contact me at Grin Travel at: jennifer@grintravel.com

Jennifer Grinold
Travel Agent, Grin Travel
www.grintravel.com
www.facebook.com/grintravel

Basler Fasnacht

March 18, 2011

Fasnacht in Basel is the most famous “Carnival” celebration in Switzerland.  The event takes place the week following Ash Wednesday, after most other Swiss Fasnacht celebrations have ended.  The citizens of Basel celebrate Fasnacht for exactly three days, which are referred to as “dreei schenschte Dägg” or the most wonderful days of the year.  Fasnacht is a huge party for the people of Basel, and guests are welcome to attend with tourists streaming into the city, primarily from other towns and cities of Switzerland, Germany and France.

Basler Fasnacht is kicked off every year with Morgenstraich, a morning parade on Monday at 4am.  I attended a 5am Morgenstraich in our own Swiss village near Baden the week prior, so I felt properly prepared and especially curious about the Morgenstraich in Basel.  Although there is a special Fasnacht transportation schedule with trains that run through the nights to Basel, I decided to come in the day before and stayed at the Hotel Victoria, right across the street from the train station.  The hotel offered tourists coffee and croissants beginning at 2:30am on Monday morning.  After fueling up, I headed to the Barfusserplatz in Old Town. Judging by the large number of people heading from the train station at 3am, clearly many chose to take the early morning trains!

When I got to Barfüsserplatz at a little after 3am, it was clear that not everyone went to bed at 8:30pm the night before as I did.  The square was littered with beer cans and alcohol bottles, a sight I had not previously witnessed in Switzerland.  I found a key viewing spot on the elevated square, brushed aside a couple of half full beer cans and waited for the parade to begin.  The crowds weren’t too bad at first, but people quickly accumulated and as 4am approached, the square was filled with eager onlookers waiting for Morgenstraich to begin.

At exactly 4am, the lights went off and with the command “Achtig! Morgenstraich! Forward March!” the parade began.  The only light in the town shined from the Fasnacht “cliques” who carried large latterns or “Zugslaterne” and wore smaller latterns or “Kopflaterne” on their heads.  The “cliques” played their piccolos and drums, filling the Old Town with music.  The gigantic “Zuglaternes” were painted with themes or “Sujets” lampooning Swiss and world events of the last year.  For a taste of how the parade looked from Barfusserplatz, take a peak at my video:

The parades picked up again and I staked out a spot on Freie Strasse, a main shopping street in Old Town, for an up close view of the “cliques.”  These “cliques” seemed to follow no particular route at this point and wandered through the small streets of old town.  Each “clique” seemed to be led by a conductor and the members dressed in different costumes and masques, in accordance with the theme off their large lattern, and played piccolos or drums. For an up close view of the parade, take a peak at this video.  It’s a bit dark, but that’s exactly how it looked being there.

While the parade participants dressed up in elaborate costumes and masks, onlookers simply wore street clothes.  While viewers are not to wear costumes for the event, they are encouraged to wear a Carnival badge or “plakette” which are sold throughout Basel from street vendors, kiosks and Fasnacht participants.  Money collected from the “plakettes” goes to covering some of the many costs of the groups who participate in Fasnacht.  While Fasnacht is a considerable money maker for the city of Basel, generating approximate $28 million USD a year for food, hotel rooms and materials to make costumes and masks, the majority of work is done on a voluntary basis with an estimated 500,000 volunteer hours donated each year.

As the sun rose, the crowds dispersed and the majority of onlookers headed to buses, trains and trams to get started with their regular Monday routines.  But this was by no means the end of the Fasnacht celebrations, which continue for three days.

Morgenstraich in Basel goes down as one of the most interesting and unique experiences I have had in Switzerland.  It certainly challenged my view of the Swiss as quiet and conservative people.  Fasnacht is a time of letting go, dressing up, having fun and poking fun.  When asked if the Swiss people can laugh at themselves, Felix Rudolf von Rohr, the head of the Fasnacht Organizing Committee stated “I don’t know if the Swiss can laugh at themselves, but the people of Basel can.  We are first and foremost the people of Basel, and secondly we are Swiss.”  If you want to get a taste of how the people of Basel celebrate and enjoy themselves, attend Basler Fasnacht.  A must do for visitors traveling to Switzerland this time of year!

Basel Fasnacht: Morgenstreich Photos

March 14, 2011

Just got back from Basel where I attended Morgenstreich, the beginning of Fasnacht.   I was up at 2:15am for a 2:30am breakfast and at Barfuesserplatz by 3:30am.  Promptly at 4am, the city went black and the latterns were lit and Morgenstreich began.  It was the most incredible experience.  I will write a blog with details later, but wanted to share a few photos today.  If you’re wondering if it’s worth getting up so early, YES IT IS!

Basel Morgenstreich Photo Album

Carnival Cancels Stops in Mazatlan for Immediate Future

March 7, 2011

According to a March 7 article in Travel Agent Central, Carnival announced that it will suspend stops at Mazatlan for the immediate future. Carnival said in Friday’s statement, “Due to recent security incidents in Mazatlan, we have decided as a precautionary measure to cancel our current calls there on the Carnival Splendor and Carnival Spirit.”  Carnival is currently working with the Mexican government and local officials to review plans for tourism security and expects to return to Mazatlan when they are comfortable with security measures.  It should be noted that there have not been any incidents with cruise passengers in Mazatlan, but cruise lines including Carnival,  Norwegian and Disney have canceled calls to the city as a precautionary measure.

Fasnacht in Switzerland

March 5, 2011
Fasnacht in Switzerland

Fasnacht in Baden

Woke up at 5am this morning to join in on Morgenstreich in our Swiss village outside of Baden.  It’s the beginning of Fasnacht here in Switzerland and our town was awoken by a parade of noise makers to mark the beginning of Fasnacht, or the Swiss version of Carnival.  This is the time of year when the normally peaceful and quiet Swiss people go a little bit wild, dressing in elaborate masks and costumes and parading through the streets making noise and playing music – good fun for all ages in cities and towns across Switzerland.

The Fasnacht celebrations are held at different times in various cantons, but normally take place just before or after Lent.  The origins of the festival are a mixture of Christian and pagan traditions and have been held as they are today since the 19th century.  The two most famous celebrations are in Basel and Luzern, but many towns host their own Fasnacht festivities throughout Switzerland.  You can find a schedule of many of the celebrations on my.switzerland.com’s website.

We enjoyed our local festivities here in our village and then in Baden later in the day where we enjoyed a parade of masked bands blaring Guggenmusik for all to hear.  The celebration is something unlike anything I’ve seen in the US and I can only describe it as a little bit Mardi Gras with some Halloween thrown in for fun.  Last year was our first year to observe the celebration and we were taken aback to see our normally reserved Swiss neighbors enjoying such a noisy and boisterous occasion.  Here’s a taste of the Guggenmusik we enjoyed today.

I’m thinking of checking out Basel Fasnacht as well, which is held a week later most other Carnivals in Switzerland.  Fasnacht in Basel begins the Monday after Ash Wednesday with Morgenstreich at 4am and festivities last exactly 72 hours.  Check here for a schedule of all Basel festivities:  http://fasnacht.ch/

Well I hope that we were successful in scaring away winter and all evil spirits today in our town.  I am ready to welcome spring!

Jennifer Grinold
Travel Agent, Grin Travel
www.grintravel.com
www.facebook.com/grintravel

Norwegian Cruise Line Price Increase

March 2, 2011

Just read in Travel Pulse Magazine that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has announced that it will increase prices up 10% on April 1 for all sailings, due to increased demand in bookings this year.  NCL also announced that it will extend its “Free Upgrades for All” sales event through March 31, which includes an e-coupon book valued at  $400. 

NCL leads the market in “Freestyle Cruising” and has great entertainment options for the whole family.  NCL’s newest ship, the Norwegian Epic , offers some wonderful itineraries this year in the Caribbean and Europe.  For more information on the Norwegian Epic, see the Grin Travel website.

If you’re thinking about a NCL cruise, now is the time to book, before the Norwegian Cruise Line price increase.  To get more information and to make reservations, contact me at jennifer@grintravel.com

Happy Sailing!

Jennifer Grinold
Travel Agent, Grin Travel
www.grintravel.com