Vacationing out of the box

I do a good deal of generic travel. Actually, the bulk of my travel business is generic. Vacation packages to the Caribbean and cruises are routine bookings at my agency. As vacations go, these choices offer clients a great bang for their travel buck and give a great experience. But the trips I love to plan really kick it up a notch.

When it comes to travel, there are very few travel dreams that a qualified travel agent cannot arrange for you. So this week I went to some colleagues to see what they were dreaming up. Dinner in a private West End club in London? Not a problem. A night in Cinderella’s Castle? A very tough order, but possible. A day at a primary school in Beijing? Can do! Dinner with Emeril in New Orleans? Got that! Front row tickets to Hannah Montana with backstage passes? Come on, get real!

But if you are in the mood for something special, something a little off-the-wall, something your neighbors will envy, check out these four suggestions.

Follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter
Movies never do justice to books, and books never do justice to the real world. So why be content with reading about Hogwarts and Quidditch when you can experience them? This tour offers a seven-night exploration of Oxford, the Scottish Highlands, Alnwick Castle and Edinburgh through the eyes of Harry Potter. Ghosts and goblins and legends of this land have inspired writers for centuries and your own personal storyteller will thrill you with the legend of Padfoot and the true tale of the Hand of Glory, which grabs Harry in Knockturn Alley (”Chamber of Secrets”). From an unforgettable journey on the Locomotive #5972 vintage steam train, to a knock-your-socks-off exclusive “Hogwarts” banquet, to a (ground-based) game of Quidditch, Harry’s fans are sure to be enchanted with this “kingdom.”

This tour is being offered by Single Parent Travel, a great little company in which I happen to have a small financial interest. Don’t let the name fool you—there are plenty of traditional families already signed up. Prices for this once-in-a-lifetime excursion, which departs in July, are $2,980 per person for adults; less for kids.

For more information: Single Parent Travel, 888-277-8543,

Travel to help homeless animals
Here’s your chance to escape your hectic schedule, take in some of the glories of the Southwest (including the Grand Canyon), and put in some time and love at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the country’s largest no-kill refuge for abused and abandoned pets.

The five-day, four-night trip starts and ends in Las Vegas. A van shuttles you from McCarran International Airport to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which is located near Kanab, Utah. After an orientation and tour of the facilities, participants help Best Friends staff with the daily chores and routines that keep the shelter running and the critters happy. After two days of compassionate volunteering, participants travel to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, where they get the lowdown on the canyon’s geology, history and ecosystems, hike along the slickrock tableland, and dine at the edge of the world. Prices for this adventure begin at $909 per person.

For more information: Green Earth Travel, 888-246-8343,

Another thought. If you are not interested in the trip but want to help out, why not have your pet’s portrait painted by Sandra Charlap, owner of The Illustrated Pet? With each portrait, Charlap makes a donation to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

For more information: The Illustrated Pet, 973-220-2331,

Backstage magic with Disney
Ever wanted to see the real Hollywood? Well, with a little help from Disney, you can. This six-day tour is perfect for multi-generational families, offering a little something for everyone. Get backstage access to “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” stroll Hollywood Boulevard, and take a special tour of the Jim Henson Company studio — Muppet out! Did you ever wonder how Disney makes the magic? Get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the creations conjured up by the architects, designers, engineers, technicians and others at Walt Disney Imagineering. The trip also includes a tour of Walt Disney Studios, a welcome reception at the Wine Cellar and Hook’s Pointe at Disneyland Park, character meals, admission to the parks, a VIP tour of Disneyland and, most impressive, a first-rate view of the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. Prices begin at $2,079 for this fantastic Adventure By Disney.

For more information: Dream Come True Vacations, 888-MICKEY8,

A Nefertari Adventure
This is one of my favorites. It is an 11-day immersion in the world’s most fascinating ancient civilization. Anything you’ve ever seen or read about Egypt can’t fully prepare you for the larger- than-life awe of being there and seeing it in person. The Nefertari Adventure brings you to all the major sites of Cairo, Aswan and Luxor, plus it includes a rare cruise down the fascinating man-made lake, Lake Nasser, into the territory of the ancient Nubian Kingdom, where you can see the ancient temples and tombs that were rescued and relocated during the building of the Aswan High Dam. You will travel by car, horse-drawn calesche, camel, donkey, felucca and jet aircraft, not to mention four days on a ship. The cool thing is that it will be just your group (minimum two people). As for Nefertari — well, she was the favorite wife of Ramses the Great, whose magnificent temple you will see in Abu Simbel. Prices for this journey back in time begin at $2,147.

For more information (and to find out what a calesche is): Egypt Magic, 888-575-6941,

Go ahead, think out of the box. Challenge your travel agent. Read the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” and see two or three of them if you can’t swing them all. Take your kids and show them the world. Dig deep into yourself and think of something that really matters and tie it in with some travel. Live your dreams and think outside of the travel box!

Do you have a dream trip? An insatiable desire to visit some sacred place? Send me an e-mail and I may include it in a future column.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

One Response to “Vacationing out of the box”