2 Great Loire Chateaus—Chenonceau and Chambord

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

There are hundreds of castles and palaces in the Loire River Valley region of France.  Probably two of the most interesting are the Chateaus of Chenonceau and Chambord.  We visited this region of France in late November of this year (2017) on a post river cruise planned by my awesome wife Anne.  To say she hit it out of the park would be an understatement, but I’m not surprised as this is one of the unique parts of our travel business—planning special add-ons to river cruises or special tours that we guide folks on to enhance their vacation experience.

So, let’s learn about these 2 great palaces and why you should consider us to plan your pre or post trip for a river cruise.

Chateaux Chenonceau—a Woman’s Palace

Chateau de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau

Built over the Cher River, this is an awesome chateaux that I instantly knew this was going to be a special visit.  From the entrance to this historic site, it is about a 15 minute walk to the chateaux through some wonderful gardens, a cool duck pond and a carriage house with great examples of horse drawn transportation and farming carts of the era.  Here are some photos:

Duck Pond
Duck Pond
Carriage House
Carriage House

Upon reach the first views of the palace, it is just stunning—it is built over the river and looks like a fairy tale castle. 

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Chateau de Chenonceau is built over the Cher River

As you approach the palace, the forecourt has the Marques Tower, the old keep of the fortified castle that was demolished as the new chateau was built.  The main door is made of wood and wonderfully painted.  Here are some photos:

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Forecourt & Marques Tower
The Impressive Main Door
The Impressive Main Door

The first room we saw was the Guard Room.  Here soldiers we ready to protect the royal family as needed.  The huge fireplace was delightful on the cold day we visited and the Flemish tapestries highlighted some of the past events of this Chateaux. 

The next room was the impressive Chapel.  It was decorated for the Christmas season.  All here is original to the 1500s except the stained glass windows that were added in 1954.  Here is a photo:

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The Chapel

We next visited Diane De Poitier’s Bedroom, the Green Study and the Library.  Diane De Poitier is an interesting women—she was the mistress of King Henry II and he gave her the palace in 1547.  When Henry died as a result of a jousting tournament accident in 1559, Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici’s, quickly made sure Diane was no longer welcome and she took control of the Chateaux. 

My favorite room was the 200 foot long Gallery.  It instantly reminded me of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles except with 18 windows instead of mirrors.  The Gallery is actually the bridge over the river Cher.  The dazzling chandeliers and tufa and slate floor of black and white tiles is stunning.  It would be easy to imagine a wonderful evening ball here—there would be plenty of room to dance and socialize and this was exactly how this area was used by the royals for lavish parties.

The Gallery
The Gallery

There are several bedrooms on the second floor.  They include the 5 Queen’s Bedroom, Catherine de Medici’s Bedroom, Cesar of Vendome’s Bedroom, and Gabrielle D’Estrees” Bedroom.

On the third floor is the black bedroom.  It is the mourning retreat of Louise who lived here after the assassination of her husband King Henri III. 

My research of Chenonceau reveals that this is the third most popular chateau in all of France behind Versailles and Fontainebleau.  It is well worth a visit.

Chambord—a Man’s Palace

Chambord Entrance
Chambord Entrance

One of the largest Chateaus in all France, Chambord has 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces.  It was created as a hunting lodge and to impress visitors.  On first sight, it does just that—this place is massive.  80 of the rooms are on display.  This is a great example of French Renaissance architecture. There are 4 main areas of interest of this palace. 

Chambord
Chambord

We entered and went up the double-helix staircase, the first of the must see in the chateau.   It was designed so users could pass without seeing each other since there are two flights of stairs.  It is rumored to be inspired by Leonardo De La Vince and some say it was designed so the King’s mistress and the queen could pass without having to meet.

The second area of great interest is the furnished apartments of the first floor.  These are lavishly decorated, and have furniture fitting for a king (although they are recreations—most of the original furnishings were looted during the French Revolution). 

Ceremonial Bedchambers
Ceremonial Bedchambers
Game Room
Game Room

The third area is the keeps—the vaulted rooms of the second floor.  The symbol of the king was the salamander and there are many carved into the walls and ceilings.

The Vaulted Ceilings
The Vaulted Ceilings
Salamander
A Salamander–symbol of the King

The forth area is the terraces.  The sweeping views, the turrets, the walkways are really special.  In the center of the terraces is the lantern tower crowned with the fleur-de-lis. 

The Lantern Tower
The Lantern Tower

The gardens are beautiful.  The surrounding wooded area were ideal for hunting and still are used today for that purpose—it is Europe’s largest enclosed forest park.

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The Gardens viewed from the terraces

This massive palace does impress—Francois I, the absolute monarch, invited the most powerful king of his day, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to visit and he accomplished his mission to prove his power and wealth.  A visit here will help you understand what power and wealth can build.

Our Special Pre/Post River Cruise Tours

While I think we have many assets that should make you want to use us to help plan your vacation, perhaps one of our best services is planning special pre/post tours. 

On this post cruise trip, we based in Amboise.  Here are 2 photos of the town:

Amboise
Amboise
Amboise Watch Tower
Amboise Watch Tower

This is a cool little town—great castle, good food, and the palace where the genius, Leonardo De La Vince spent his last 3 years.  In 1516 Leonardo traveled to France and among the items he brought was his painting the Mona Lisa and accepted a position working for the King of France as an engineer, painter and architect.  Chateau du Clos-Luce is an interesting look at Leonardo’s creativity—each room seems to emphasize his talents for painting, building and inventing.  The models of some of his inventions and ideas are really well done.  Here are some photos:

Chateau du Clos-Luce
Chateau du Clos-Luce
Leonardo's Painting Studio
Leonardo’s Painting Studio
Leonardo's Tank
A model of an early tank created by Leonardo da Vinci

My Final Thoughts

We are travel and river cruise experts.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise post or pre vacation. 

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent
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AmaWaterways in 2018

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

Good things keep happening at AmaWaterways, our favorite Europe River Cruise Line.  We have been sailing on this family owned and operated line since 2009—this November we made our 14th voyage with AmaWaterways.  For 15 years (they started their business in 2002), this company has provided what we think is the best value in Europe river cruises. 

In 2018, AmaWaterways will add 6 new itineraries in Europe, a new rivership and enhance its emphasis on wellness during their cruises.  Before we explore these new features, a quick reminder of what you can expect on a 7 day river cruise from AmaWaterways will help us better understand how these new enhancements will improve your vacation experience.  I will also tell you about some of my favorite features of an AmaWaterways river cruise.  So, let’s explore these topics together.

What to Expect on an AmaWaterways Cruise—3 Thoughts from our Clients

We just had a new client sail for the first time on AmaWaterways.  Completely new to river cruising in Europe, he just couldn’t stop talking about how good the experience was.  The meals, the accommodations (staterooms), the service, and the included tours exceeded all of his expectations.  But, he was most impressed with the tours and the guides.  He was especially impressed with the Cruise Manager, Camille.  As an Air Force Academy graduate, who is a military history buff, he was astounded at the level of knowledge of the guides.  Since this cruise was on the Seine and covered the D Day sights, I think it is high praise indeed.  So one really positive feature of AmaWaterways (as seen through the eyes of one clients)–the tours.

One of our other clients is the former general manager of a California winery. He also is a foodie.  He is the most knowledgeable guy I personally know about wines.  He can go toe to toe with any wine host on AmaWaterways or a vineyard owner, either as a technical expert or just a down to earth guy who describes the characteristics of a wine to help you discover what wines you might like best.  His winery actually hosted an AmaWaterways wine cruise in 2014–this guy is the real deal!  His thoughts are—the included regional wines are of very high quality.  They change each day, but if you really liked the previous days offering, they are glad to serve it, if you ask and any still remains on the ship.  He just sailed on his 6th AmaWaterways cruise this month—when clients do repeated voyages on the same line, you know it has good products, especially a guy with his knowledge of food and wine. His lovely wife also agrees with their choice of river cruise lines.  They are great traveling companions, and a lot of fun.  So, another positive feature—complimentary high quality regional wines.

Mark and glasses.JPG
Mark (in the red shirt) and crew prepare for a wine tasting in 2014

Another long term client couple, love food and wine.  They really like the variety and quality of meals served on the AmaWaterways ships.  The emphasis on fresh, regional cuisine paired with the two quality wines of the day, is one reason they love to river cruise on AmaWaterways.  However, their favorite dining experience is the Chef’s Table in the stern of the vessel.  This specialty restaurant features a tasting menu that is perfectly paired with some high quality wines.  The 32 seat venue, included in your cruise fare, is a memorable experience and just one other reason why AmaWaterways is different.  So a third reason, the included Chef’s Table.

Chef's Table 2016
John & Linda (middle seats) loved the Chef’s Table on our 2016 cruise

Instead of listening to my thoughts, their impressions of their vacation experience, says volumes—it is an exceptional vacation that is safe, fun, luxurious, and life changing.

A New Ship—the AmaLea

In 2018, AmaWaterways will christen their 20th vessel in Europe.  It will start on the Tulip Time (Netherlands) in the spring and then move to the Danube, sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest or the reverse.  It is a 135 meter ship (443 ft) with 78 staterooms and has a capacity of 156 passengers with a crew of 51.  In my opinion, AmaWaterways has expanded in a smart fashion—they bring on one or two new ships in Europe each year, make sure they are properly staffed and maintain their exacting standards.  Having sailed on 14 different AmaWaterways cruises, the standards never change—it is a consistent brand. 

6 New Itineraries in Europe

4 of the new itineraries will be on the Rhine. 3 are on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.  One is on the Rhine and one of its tributaries the Main.  Here are the new sailings:

Rhine & Mosel Splendors is sailed by the AmaDante from Luxembourg to Basel.

Rhine & Mosel Delights Basel to Amsterdam is sailed by the AmaPrima.

Rhine & Mosel Fairytales, is sailed on the AmaPrima from Amsterdam to Basel.

Medieval Treasures is sailed by the AmaDante from to Basel to Nuremburg or reverse.

There are 2 new itineraries on the Danube.  They are:

Danube Serenade, is sailed by 3 Ama ships—the AmaCerto, the AmaSerena and the AmaSonata on the Danube River from Nuremburg to Vienna or reverse.

Magical Christmas Markets is sailed by the AmaCerto, the AmaSerena and the AmaSonata from Nuremberg to Vienna or reverse.

An Enhanced Emphasis on Health and Wellness

In keeping with the theme of this blog, I thought I’d like to share some comments from another client about the enhanced wellness offering onboard the AmaLyra.  He is on his 5th river cruise with AmaWaterways.  His wife and he are very active and like the bike offerings and exercise opportunities on AmaWaterways.  Here are his thoughts:

“They had a pilot program with a fitness instructor (Selina).  She provided stretching, core workout, exercise band, hiking, etc. classed and events.  It was great.  She will implement this on another six boats for next year, hiring and training the new personnel.  It is a great addition to the AMA activities.”

AmaWaterways Bike Ride
Our Clients Jane & Len Ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany

My Favorite Changes

Although AmaWaterways does not include unlimited alcohol beverages in the fare, they are starting a new program called Sip & Sail Daily.  It is a cocktail hour just before dinner with complimentary wine, beer and spirits.  This is a great addition and will reduce clients’ onboard bills, as most folks really enjoy a cocktail prior to dinner and used to pay for it—now it is free!

Another feature I like is the continued emphasis on Exclusive Special Interest Tours.  Usually free, they may be capacity controlled to 20 guests, as most places they tour or eat at often just can’t handle more folks.  For cruisers who have previously visited some of the ports on the cruise, this adds options to enhance your cruise experience.

Finally, the continued emphasis on wine themed cruises just improves the vacation experience for many guests.  They are up to 50 now a year—a lot of good choices all throughout Europe.  The wine cruises include a wine host.  These folks are wine industry experts who want to share their knowledge and passion for wine both onboard the vessel and at the local wineries during the cruise.  The best part—there is no additional charge for their services—another free enhancement for you to enjoy.

My Final Thoughts

We are river cruise experts.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We can tell you the advantage and disadvantages of each of the 8 cruise lines that market to the US consumers.  For most individuals, AmaWaterways is usually the best choice and value for their vacation dollars.  This doesn’t mean the others are not good—on the contrary, they all provide good vacations.  But there are subtle differences and after all our experience and personal study, AmaWaterways is often the best choice.  From this blog, you can see that 4 different clients found 4 different aspects of the AmaWaterways experience that was their favorite. 

When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise vacation. 

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Go Ahead—Indulge Yourself in Luxury Travel!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

Luxury travel means different things to different people.  I think most folks would opt for more luxury in their vacations but worry about the costs.  According to the L.E.K. 2017 Luxury Travel Study, only 10% of the respondents considered themselves luxury travelers, but 85% reported they indulge in travel luxuries sometimes in their travels.  We think the key is value, not an abstract term like luxury.  To me, this raises a couple of questions.  How do you know what luxury features you would like to add to your trip to enhance your experience?  How can you enhance your travels without blowing your budget? 

So, let’s explore these topics together.

Life Enhancing Experiences

We are in the life enhancing business.  To help you get your life enhancing trip experience, there are 4 items necessary for us to help you plan your travel.  There are 1) Some idea of a trip you would like to take, 2) a realistic budget, 3) dates when you want to go, and 4) your trip is a good fit to the services we offer.

To get started on your trip, we make it easy for you to communicate your desire to start thinking about a trip.  Please visit www.dreamdestinations.com, select Send Us Your Travel Request and contact us.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.

How Do You Know What Luxury Features You Would Like to Add to Your Trip to Enhance Your Experience?

Chances are you really do not know all the options available for your trip.  Everyone wants to get the most for their money but if you are fixated on price alone, chances are you will get a sub par experience.  How do I know this?  In my 45+ years of traveling to Europe, every time I cut a corner to save a buck or two, the results was usually wasted time and a poor experience.  Would you like an example—I once refused to pay 5 Marks to go see a fabulous wood carved church altar in Rothenburg, Germany—something I really wanted to see.  I had spent well over $6000 for this trip and balked at 5 Marks—it just doesn’t make sense!  Someday I will get to visit the church again—it was a really poor decision.  What is the reason for this story?—we are here to save you from yourself.  It is very hard for us to keep up with all that is happening in Europe, or on river cruises or on ocean cruises, so how can you be expected to know what features you need to add to get that special feature or luxury experience?  Let us help guide you through the process and the outcome will be a better trip.

They key to adding luxury features is to know what your desired outcome of the trip is.  The most important thing for us to understand is why you are going on the trip.  What do you want to experience and what type of treatment do you expect?  Do you want down time in a luxurious spa?  How about a skip the line entrance to the Vatican Museum?  What is the right mix of seeing the sights at the right pace?  What level of comfort are do you expect on your trip?  What type of hotel do you want to stay in?  Those are just a few of the questions we will ask to get you the trip you desire.

How Can You Enhance Your Trip without Blowing Your Budget?

There are many ways that expensive trips can become a better value and may cost less but still deliver the experience you desire.  For example, traveling when fewer people travel is a good way to get a luxury trip at a better price.  For example, spring, fall and Christmas Market trips are excellent values on Europe River Cruises.  Most of the group river cruises we plan are during these non-peak times.  Not only is the price better, there are less crowds.  Sometimes the weather is not the best, but overall it is our favorite time to travel to Europe—a great trip at a better price.  You really can enhance your traveling experience many times by just letting us search your desired time period for travel to let us seek the best travel value for you.

Christmas Market Schonbrunn Palace 2012 467
Christmas Market Stall on a river cruise–great value for a luxury experience!

 

Another way to enhance your trip, is to pick the right vendor who offers the services and level of care you want.  We carefully vet our preferred suppliers—we know who will deliver the experience you expect and will exceed your expectations—our ultimate goal.

Budapest at Night with Dream Destinations Slogan
Budapest at Night–on the right river cruise line, this is included in the fare!

We also look for upgrades.  We always try to make personal connections with hotels, for example, letting them know our valued clients are coming and asking for the best treatment they can offer.

We Can Inspire You to add some luxury features to your next trip!

With our extensive experience and knowledge about travel, we will match you to the right trip and help get exactly what you expect from your trip.   We will get you the best value for your money on a trip, if you will spend some time us.  The more we can learn about you, the better we can serve you.  We also help you decide if a slight increase in your budget might result in an enhanced experience.

My Final Thoughts

We have tried to convey information about our specialties and how they can benefit you.  We have also tried to get you to consider, when deciding whether to use us or not, why you should use us.  We feel that you will get the highest quality, expertly planned trip because of our excellent credentials combined with our passion to help you and our attention to detail—it is a true winning formula!  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise vacation. 

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

To Our Country’s Veterans–Thanks for Keeping Our Country Safe!

By Hank Schrader, Maj (ret), Infantry

Veteran’s Day is celebrated on 11 November each year.  The significance of this date commemorates the end of the fighting in WW I.  For students of history, like me, we like to say “on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month the guns fell silent”—an easy way to remember the date of the end of hostilities of WW I.  This original celebration has changed in America from an Armistice Day observance into Veterans Day, the holiday that we celebrate today.  Veterans of all our military forces should be recognized for keeping our country safe and this blog is a tribute to all who have honorably served our country.

To all of you who read this and served in the military, thank you for your service—most will never know how much you contributed to the well-being of our country and keeping it safe.  I served for 20 years as an infantry officer, my nephew Lance, served in the Army as part of the 10th Mountain Division in Bosnia, and my niece, Mindy Kay is on active duty in the Air Force.  Thanks for your service—you two young ones have made me proud—you helped and are helping to keep our country safe!

A Few Words about My West Point Class of 1971

Sometimes, the best way to describe how our country’s veterans help keep our country safe is to use examples from your own experience.  In the 5 to 40 years or so that the 729 members of my West Point graduating class of 1971 were on active duty, they helped keep the country safe by serving in 7 major conflicts.  Here is a list of those conflicts: Vietnam, Granada, Panama, The Gulf War, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.  For me, who did not serve in any of these conflicts, it is humbling to say the least.  They are perfect examples of selfless sacrifice—in the military you go where you are ordered to go.  There are no excuses, you have a duty and an obligation.  These guys are the rock stars of our class and I salute you!

However, it is not just those guys who kept our country safe—others were stationed in areas that deterred aggression from other countries.  Some were ready to deploy in 18 hours to a potential hot spot in bases in the US and worldwide.  Others supported them with the items necessary to carry out their missions.  You will never know about them—unsung heroes that helped keep our country safe.  They played an important role in our national defense.  They too deserve recognition—again I salute you.

A Final Thought

Of all the services our government provides its citizens, there is none more important than the defense of our nation and our way of life.  Today, less than 0.05% of our nation’s citizens are serving our country in the armed forces.  These men and women, deserve more than thanks for their service.  Maybe next time you meet a veteran, why not say something like this “Thanks for keeping our country Safe!”

We should also recognize the families of our veterans—they also serve, maybe not directly, but they contribute behind the scenes and often make it possible for our vets to complete their missions.  They too, deserve to hear “Thanks for keeping our country safe

Trust me, those who have served will appreciate it more than you could ever understand—why not tell a vet or his family that you know your freedom and safety depends on those who serve?

To all my fellow veterans and their families—Thanks for keeping our country safe!

Hank

Dracula’s Castle

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

When I was teaching World Geography to high school students, I created a project about a Europe Vacation.  The students had to pick 5 places to visit in the 4 regions of Europe and write about those places in a report for a major grade.  For the eastern region of Europe, the most popular choice of my students was Romania, because they all wanted to go to Dracula’s Castle.  Since it is only 3 days past Halloween, let’s visit Dracula’s Castle together and explore the myth of the world’s most famous vampire and learn a little  about Romania.

The Myth of Dracula’s Castle

The story of Dracula’s castle comes from the novel written by the Irish writer Bram Stoker.  In his story, he writes about Count Dracula who lives in a castle in Transylvania.  Count Dracula is a century’s old, vampire who lives on human blood and is said to be descended from Attila the Hun.  He has many powers and sometimes is known as the king of the vampires.  Although Bram Stoker never visited Romania, his description of the castle that Dracula lived in best fits the present day Bran Castle.  This is a weak connection at best, but that has not stopped most folks outside of Romania calling Bran Castle by its nickname–Dracula’s Castle. 

There is speculation that the vampire character’s name, Dracula, was inspired by Vlad Tepes.  He was more infamously known as Vlad the Impaler, but sometimes Vlad Tepes also used a different name–he was also known as Vlad Dracul.  The legend just grew and Bran Castle has embraced it as a good promotional way to get people to visit the castle.

Vlad Tepes

Picture26
Statue of Vlad Tepes in Bucharest, Romania

This story just would not be complete without hearing a little about Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler.  Vlad was a prince during the 1400’s and was involved in the conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary.  He struggled to maintain power and was in constant conflict with the boyars of Wallachia (the Bucharest region of present day Romania).  History has documented his gruesome way to dispatch his enemies—he had them stabbed and then finished them off by impaling them on long sharpen poles in agonizing deaths, that sometimes caused his victims to suffer for days.  His ruthless way to kill just fits perfectly into the Dracula legend of being blood thirsty.  Most of his impaling happened between 1456 through 1462.  Vlad was killed in 1477.  Shortly after his death, stories about his cruel acts were published, especially in Germany, were they became very popular.  There is a famous wood cut carving print, published in 1499, showing the prince eating a meal while, some of his enemies are impaled near him in the town of Brasov.

Vlad is a controversial figure—some accounts praise him as a defender of his homeland, others say he was a ruthless tyrant.  Some say the name Dracul roughly translates to Devil.  While his association with vampires is fictional, the legend remains and he probably was the inspiration for the Dracula vampire character in the horror story by Bram Stoker.  There is evidence that Vlad passed through the Bran area often and some accounts say he was imprisoned in Bran Castle for 2 months, but he never lived in the castle as its ruler.

Vlad Tepes
Vlad Tepes Family Tree on display in Bran Castle

Bran Castle

This is an interesting castle that allows visitors a chance to see most of the insides of this old medieval fortress that was completed in 1388.  This castle was built to defend Bran pass and it certainly does not hurt the legend that at times the castle is shrouded in fog.  We visited on a rainy day—it just was just what you should expect when you get to go to Dracula’s Castle.

Bran Castle Inner Courtyard
Bran Castle Inner Courtyard

For those expecting a spooky castle, the inside rooms are surprising livable.  This is due to the fact that the castle served as a royal residence from 1920 until 1947.  It is well decorated but very sparse for a royal castle.  Yet the haunted mood of the castle is set prior to getting to the upstairs rooms—you have to climb a narrow secret stairway—this is not for the claustrophobic—it is steep and the walls are rough and rocky—perfect for an entrance way to the supposed home of Dracula!

The castle is compact with living and dining spaces.  There are a lot of passageways connecting the four wall of this castle/fort complex. 

The Connected Walls of Bran Castle
The Connected Walls of Bran Castle

Here are pictures of some of the rooms:

King Ferdinand's Dining Room
King Ferdinand’s Dining Room
The Castellan's Room
The Castellan’s Room
The Biedermeier Drawing Room
The Biedermeier Drawing Room
Colorful Door Bran Castle
Colorful Door Bran Castle

  As you would expect there are towers, there is an armor collection and a dungeon.

Armor Collection
Bran Castle’s Armor Collection

It is a worthwhile adventure and one we hope to help you see sometime in the future.

How can you visit Bran Castle?

I think the best way to visit Bran Castle is to base yourself in Brasov, Romania.  This was our base of operations for our visit.  To get to Brasov, we took a train from Bucharest to Brasov.  Along the way, we stopped at Sinaia to visit Peles Castle.  This elegant castle was the royal summer residence and is more a palace than a castle.  It has over 100 rooms.  I will write more about this wonderful castle in a later blog.

Peles Castle, Romania
Peles Castle, Romania

We were on an AmaWaterways lower Danube cruise, so we arranged a private transfer from our rivership to the Bucharest train station.  We then caught our train, visited Peles Castle, got back on the train and stayed in Brasov for a couple of days.  Using our hotel staff in Brasov, they arranged for a private driver to get to Bran Castle.  Brasov is a great town and our experience there was wonderful—we would visit again. Here are 3 pictures of Brasov:

Catherine's Gate Brasov
Catherine’s Gate Brasov, Romania was part of the medieval walls
Brasov, Romania
Brasov, Romania
Brasov, Romania
Brasov, Romania

 

We did learn however, to be cautious about taxis in Romania—they often charge extra instead of the established fare.  Using your hotel to reserve a taxi or private tour was wonderful—we were charged a fair amount.  To help combat this problem, we also learned there are government registered taxis that have agreed to charge fair rates.  It was a great lesson learned.

It is quite possible to arrange a trip from Bucharest to visit both Peles and Bran Castles.  It is a long day trip, usually 9 hours or so, but a lot of folks think it is another worthwhile way to see these two great castles. 

My Final Thoughts

Our visit to Romania was inspired by the fictional demon Dracula.  A river cruise that ended in Bucharest made it pretty easy to venture out on our own and simplified some of the transfers.  Funny how a legend started our interest, and we expected to see a great castle, however, what we got was so much more—it was a visit to a wonderful country, with warm, friendly folks eager to help visitors.  We learned about a new great castle by doing some research—Peles Castle.  Brasov also is a great stop.  But most of all we meet some great folks.  They have worked hard to escape their communist past and we enjoyed our time there.  It is not on the normal tourist path of London, Paris or Rome, but a surprising place we loved.  That is the wonder of travel—just get inspired to try something new and often it will turn out fabulous—just as our experience did.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Maybe you also will want to venture out to Romania—we certainly hope so and we will be glad to help.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

Pushing Your Boundaries With Europe River Cruising

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We are in the life enhancing business.  One way we help enhance your life is promoting the exceptional value a river cruise can provide you for a vacation.  We have a passion for Europe river cruising.  There are many reasons why we have a passion for Europe river cruising, but for me, the two prime reasons are that 1) it will push your travel boundaries in a positive fashion and 2) it will provide you a unique travel experience that is almost impossible to replicate in another vacation.

A Europe river cruise vacation answers the 5 main reasons why folks travel.  Let me explain—why you travel and what you expect to get out of the trip is the purpose for going on your vacation.  River cruises push your personal boundaries by helping you explore new places in comfort, style and ease. 

So what are the decision points on why you go on a trip?  How does a river cruise meet those reasons?  How does a Europe river cruise push your personal boundaries?  How can we inspire you to get the best possible river cruise vacation?  So, let’s explore these topics together.

Why People Travel

According to Phocuswright’s 2016 U.S. Consumer Travel Report survey of 1,724 people, there are 5 main reasons people travel.  They are:

  • Get Away/Take a Break 41%
  • Spend time with family/friends 38%
  • Take advantage of available vacation time 18 %
  • Personal Celebration 15%
  • ( Tied) See a natural/cultural/historical attraction or Attend a specific event 14%

I can promise you all of those reasons resonate with me—we travel for all the above reasons.  The only thing I will tell you, is that the importance of the reason for travel changes with each trip and each individual—when you are celebrating a milestone event in your life, the percentages go way up—just read my blog about Milestones Memories –and -Celebrations if you want more proof that your priorities change with each trip.  Here is the link LEARN MORE

Anne & Hank
Anne & Hank at Cooking School in Wales, UK for Anne’s 60th Birthday Celebration Trip

How Does a Europe River Cruise answer Your Reason to Travel?

If you want a special break and want to spend quality time with your family or friends, for me, there is no better way than a Europe river cruise.  I have written extensively about the value of a river cruise, but, if I had to explain the main reason you should take a river cruise, it is the almost all inclusive nature of the trip.  You get a great stateroom, exceptional food and most drinks (on some lines all drinks), shore excursions and a chance to visit some of the key historic and cultural sights of Europe.  It is practical luxury travel– fun, gourmet but not stuffy, you travel in a relaxed atmosphere, there are great sights and it is flexible and easy to tailor to your desires.  Pretty cool, to say the least!

How Does a Europe River Cruise Push Your Personal Boundaries?

Iron Gates 1
Face Carved into the Iron Gates Region of the Lower Danube

Going on a river cruise gives you permission to explore a world you do not yet know.  I wonder how many of you would go on the Douro in Portugal or visit the Balkan countries of the lower Danube on your own?  Some adventurous souls might, but for many, there is a degree of uneasiness about a visit where you do not understand the language, or cannot read the signs (sometimes in Cyrillic script).  A river cruise removes these obstacles but still allows you a chance to reach out to the people of these new lands.  When we went on a lower Danube river cruise, it was so easy yet fascinating to visit strange lands.  You will be surprised what once seemed so exotic becomes more familiar.  Not only does travel remove barriers in your life, you also will develop new perspectives about the world.

Iron Gates 2
Church on the Banks of the Lower Danube

How We Can Inspire your next river cruise trip

We are river cruise experts.  We have been on 13 Europe river cruises.  We have sailed most Europe Rivers.  Here is a list of rivers we have sailed on or sent folks on:  Rhine, Danube (the entire river), Seine, Rhone, Dordogne & Garonne (Bordeaux Cruise), and the Douro. 

So, with our extensive experience and knowledge about Europe river cruising, we will match you to the right trip and help get exactly what you expect from your trip.  We are not selling travel, we are helping you make memories.  We will get you the best value for your money on a Europe river cruise, if you will spend some time us.  The more we can learn about you, the better we can serve you.  Want some inspiration for a Europe river cruise?—visit our website!

Our Website River Cruises Section

AmaCerto Lounge
AmaWaterways AmaCerto Lounge

Europe river cruising can be a complex subject.  We help make it much easier for you by cutting through the clutter of information about river cruising and companies.  We accomplish this by providing you the highest quality information on Europe river cruising on our website.  In my opinion, this section is exceptional—you will not find anywhere on line as in-depth a description of Europe River Cruises. You can be sure it is authentic–the pictures are taken by us—it is the real deal.  The Europe River Cruise Comparisons is even better—73 slides about the 8 major lines.  We cite facts when possible but when it is our opinion, we clearly state it is our opinion.

Go ahead—pick one of the trips on the river cruise page.  Go through the PowerPoint—can you see yourselves enjoying this trip?—we sure can see you there!

Technical Questions about Europe River Cruises

So what is the best route for you to go on?  What is the best river cruise company?  When will you get the best value on a river cruise trip?  What is it really like on a Europe river cruise?  How can I be certain I will get to see the sights that are so important to me?  We know the answers to these questions and once we spend a little time with you, we will be able to recommend just the right river cruise for you.  Have we got you interested yet?

Added Value

While there is no doubt in my mind we are river cruise experts, and will provide the river cruise that will match your needs, we also add more value in planning your trip by proving customized pre or post trips to your Europe river cruise.  Our trips are unique and tailored to your desires.  We have planned and  have led pre/post visits to Amsterdam, Brugge, Paris, Prague, Nuremburg, Lyon, Arles, Amboise, Strasbourg, Bayeux (D Day area) and Budapest just to name a few great places.

Astronomical Clock
Astronomical Clock Prague, Czech Republic

Here are a couple of examples of these trips that should make you want to use us to plan your river cruise.  By the time you read this, we have a group on a 7 day Seine River cruise.  At the end of the cruise, several of the group will go on special D Day post trip we planned.  Here is a presentation about this special trip:  D Day Post Trip II

German Gun Battery
D Day Sites–German Coastal Gun Battery

In November, we will also led a small group on a tour of Amboise in the Loire River region of France.  Expect a special blog about this adventure in the future.

My Final Thoughts

We have tried to convey information about our specialties and how they can benefit you.  We have also tried to get you to consider, when deciding whether to use us or not, why you should use us.  We feel that you will get the highest quality, expertly planned trip because of our excellent credentials combined with our passion to help you and our attention to detail—it is a true winning formula!  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise vacation. 

It’s time to travel on a river cruise and push through your travel boundaries—please visit www.dreamdestinations.com, select Send Us Your Travel Request and contact us.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

Our New Website—www.dreamdestinations.com

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

October is my favorite month of the year.  I was born during this month, I got married to Anne during October and there are good football games being played, so it is only fitting, in my eyes, that we would upgrade our website and get it online in October.  We are very proud of the new site and best of all, it will serve you as a great resource place to help you get inspired for your next vacation.  So, let’s take a closer look at www.dreamdestinations.com.  Our challenge to you is to decide if this is a good, useful website that can benefit you.  We think it is, but you decide.  Please send us your feedback—we would love to hear from you!

How to Evaluate our Website

Since we have challenged you to evaluate our website, it is only right that we provide some criteria to make your assessment.  There are 2 areas that I believe one should use when evaluating a web site.  They are: 1) the Quality of the Information and 2) the Quality of the Website.

Quality of Information can be assessed by answering 5 questions.  They are:

  • Is the information accurate?
  • Who are the authors and what are their credentials?
  • How objective is the source?
  • How current is the information?
  • How extensive is the coverage of information?

Quality of a Website can be evaluated by answering these 5 questions.  They are:

  • How universally accessible is the site?
  • Is the site well designed?
  • Does the site contain high quality content?
  • Are Internet technologies fully utilized?
  • How original/creative is the site?

So based on these criteria, let’s examine our website together.

Overview

Our website is designed to help you have a better trip by providing great information (content) about cruises, European river cruises and European vacations and adventures.  It answers your questions about what travel opportunities exist, the best way to get there and what to see after you arrive.  It educates and inspires and you’ll find it is easy to use.  We have 8 topic headings that make the site easy to navigate and find what you are looking for on our website.  The topic headings are our Homepage, Specials, Blog, Resources, River Cruises, Cruises, Europe and About.  By my count, there are 113 PowerPoints on our website, hundreds of pictures, almost all taken by us, and 82 blogs.  We believe our website has high quality content that is accurate, objective and extensive.

Our Homepage

AmaWaterways Wine Cruise
A picture of Anne & Hank on our Homepage

Our homepage tells you that we specialize in ocean cruises, Europe River cruises and European adventures.  It also informs you that we can help you have a better trip by providing trips that 1) will exceed your expectations, 2) help you make wise choices, 3) eliminate hassles and 4) help you get the best value for your money.  Lofty words, but how do we provide customers with the highest quality, expertly planned leisure travel trips?

How Are We Different than Our Competition?

We provide you 6 reasons to use us.  They are:  Experience, Certification, Knowledge of the Industry, First Hand Knowledge, Membership in Professional Organizations and Ability to Earn Your Trust.  In each of these 6 areas, we spell out what sets apart from other travel consultants.  After reading these 6 reasons, it clearly establishes us as travel experts who apply our knowledge and industry resources to help you get a better trip. 

One thing you will never see on our website—a booking engine.  The reason is simple to us—we need to match you to the right trip and we cannot do that without talking to you and learning exactly what you expect from your trip.  We are not selling travel, we are helping you make memories.  We will get you the best value for your money if you will spend some time us.  The more we can learn about you, the better we can serve you.

How about this for original content—we create our own videos.  This is a unique feature our website—our videos come from PowerPoint presentations that only use our pictures.  There is a new show posted to our site every 2 weeks.

We are also members of the Better Business Bureau, with an A+ rating.

Our Specials Page

35702_Take_5_Email_02
Flash Sale on Norwegian Cruise Lines

This is where we have good travel values.  It may have a flash sale (like today’s (19 October 2017) one day only) or tell you about a good value river cruise (our 2018 Rhine Cruise) or inform you about our upcoming 2019 D Day trip we will escort.  When we find a good value, we add it here.

Our Blog Pages

We try to write a blog every week or so.  The most current posts are in the blog section.  We have written 82 blogs and we have most blogs posted by subject in the blog/archives section so you can quickly find the information you need.  Our blogs are well respected—some of our vendors regularly read them and pass them on to others in the travel industry.

The Resources Pages

IMG_0323
A River Cruise Safety Briefing on AmaWaterways

Every traveler needs tips and information to make their trip easier and safer.  In this section you can get travel tips, river cruise FAQs, learn about safety, learn how to use the trains in Europe learn ways to protect your money and about travel regulations.

Cruises Section

The Disney Wonder
The Disney Wonder ported at Castaway Cay

We cover ocean cruising in the Caribbean, Europe and North America.  The Cruises section covers it all—port destinations, and cruises we have taken in the Caribbean, North America and Europe.  It focuses on ocean cruises only.

River Cruises Section

The AmaPrima
The AmaPrima

Perhaps the highest quality information on this website, is the 2 pages on river cruising.  In my opinion, this section is exceptional—you will not find anywhere on line as in-depth a description of Europe River Cruises.  The Europe River Cruise Comparisons is even better—73 slides about the 8 major lines.  We cite facts but when it is our opinion, we clearly state it is our opinion.

Europe Section

We cover 44 Europe Countries of the European ContinentIt is divided into the 4 regions of Europe and also includes a Little Treasures of Europe section that is not commonly found on websites.  Each of these 5 website pages list our 50 Europe City Destination Guides by region.  These guides are designed to help enjoy your stay and get the most out of your visit.  We will gladly send you any or all of these free guides after you contact us about a future tripThe drop down menu makes it a convenient, easy way to get these pocket-sized city highlight guide.  There are hundreds of photos in these 5 sections, most taken by us during our travels.

About

There are 2 areas here.  First is a list of our certifications and some more detail about us.  The second area is pictures some of the great folks who travel with us—we call it the Dream Destination’ Traveler Hall of Fame.

My Final Thoughts

We have tried to convey information about our specialties and how they can benefit you.  We have also tried to get you to consider, when deciding whether to use us or not, why you should use us.  We feel that you will get the highest quality, expertly planned trip because of our excellent credentials combined with our passion to help you and our attention to detail—it is a true winning formula! 

Did our new website convey this to you?—we certainly hope so! 

Last, but not least, on our new website (www.dreamdestinations.com ), there is an easy way to let us know where you want to travel.  It is called Send Us Your Travel Request.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

The Benefits of Travel

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

Travel is good.  Not only is it good, there are many studies that prove it has significant health benefits.  For me, however, the biggest benefit is personal growth and learning.  After reading this blog, if it stirs your passion for travel, please go to www.dreamdestinations.com (our new, updated website) and select the Send Us Your Travel Request button—as we say Your Journey Begins Here!  So, let’s examine the benefits of travel together.

Some Facts about Americans and Travel Overseas

According to a study conducted by Hostelworld Global Traveler Report, Americans are about 50% less likely to travel abroad than Europeans.  The report states that 29% of Americans have never left America.  The average American has visited 3 countries; UK residents average 10 countries; Germans 8 countries; and Frenchmen 5 countries.  While it is true it is easy and cheaper to travel if you live in Europe to other countries, it saddens me to know so many Americans are missing learning and experiencing most of our wonderful world.  Far too often, Americans chose Canada, Mexico and somewhere in the Caribbean for their only international visits.  We would hope they would expand to other worldwide locations.  We are here to help you if you are ready to explore to other areas of the world, especially Europe.

I Learned at a Young Age the Benefits of Travel

Landing on Okinawa
Landing on Okinawa 1962

My parents started my lifelong love of travel at an early age.  My Dad loved the outdoors, and we often went camping as a family.  As most of you know, my Dad was a career Army officer. When he was reassigned to Okinawa (I was 12 years old), we visited most of our nation’s national parks on the way to the West Coast of America.  We drove across America to get to a ship that took us to our new home—it sure was a great learning experience to see a lot of America.  But the real lesson was living and traveling in the Far East.  You can read about a rice paddy, but until you see a small plot of land worked by hand by folks living so differently than you do, that you began to understand how complex our world really is.  Yet, you also quickly learn people all over the world are basically the same.  They may look different in their outward appearances, but they have the same wants and needs as you and I do.  Experiencing different ways of life, and connecting with locals, is a far better way to learn about the world than reading about different cultures in a text book.  I was lucky, I was exposed to our unique world at an early age and it quickly changed my life for the better.  To this day, my wanderlust is still strong—thanks Mom & Dad for exposing me to the benefits of travel at an early age!

School Days 1962 1963
School Days 1962 1963–my school photo from Okinawa

The Health Benefits of Traveling

There are several health benefits of traveling.  Here are 4:

It is good for your heart health.  A study of overseas travelers reported that there was a reduced risk of heart attacks in men and women.

Travel enhances your cognitive abilities—it sharpens your mind.  New challenges in a different environment will stimulate your brain.  It is especially true of folks who engage with the local people and their culture.  Just experiencing different languages will improve your communication skills.  Most travelers at least learn a few new words or phrases in a different language and are exposed to new foods, so it is easy to see how travel can sharpen your mind.

You get to relax and disconnect.  Wandering old medieval towns of Europe, sharing an al fresco meal in Rome or Paris—that is my idea of relaxing—a good glass of wine and locally grown, seasonal food!  Most of all, I want to slow down a little and savor life and my surroundings.  I always seem renewed after travel and there is evidence that many folks upon returning from a vacation are in a better mood and more creative.  I know I am.

Your Travel Experiences will Make You a Better Person

You will become more confident.  Change is difficult sometimes but it will help you grow.  When you travel, you become different.  You leave your comfortable, known world and venture into the unknown.  The best part is that the unknown soon becomes familiar and usually awesome.  Good or bad experiences still leave you changed, but I will tell you, most travel is great.  The best part of venturing out is that you gain confidence in yourself.  It is very empowering to know you can handle new experiences. 

You can read about place but until you experience it, you do not really understand it.  Battlefields, Biblical sites, ancient towns, stunning structures, different food markets, and jaw dropping scenery are all different when you visit in person.  Pictures and words are never the same as being there.  It is amazing how many times I have visited a new place and the visit completely changed what I thought the place was like. 

Travel will also quickly teach you how little you know about the world.  Even as a former teacher of World Geography, who thinks he knows a lot about the world, I still have a lot to learn.  Always after every trip I take, it just reinforces that there is so much more to learn and experience.  It always makes me eager for the next adventure!

Travel will make you appreciate your life and the world we live in.  You see some of the wonderful things humans have created.  They have created amazing buildings and structures.  They have found many ways to create good, tasty meals and great beverages and when you try some of them, you will wonder why you hadn’t tried them sooner.  You will be amazed at how they have adapted their lives to their surroundings and environment.  You will see beauty.  These experiences are life changing and you will have been given a true gift—a better understanding of our world and the people who live on our planet.  Travel broadens your horizons.

Travel will provide you experiences that you will never forget.  We have been lucky to have experienced so many, it is hard to select just a few, but I will try. 

  • Imagine the joy of seeing our Granddaughter’s eyes light up on a Disney cruise, dressed up as Elsa—she really was a princess. 
  • Wish you could have joined us savoring excellent wine and food floating on the rivers of Europe in a river cruise boat as castles peer down on us from the cliffs. 

    Marksburg Castle
    Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge
  • Celebrating the holiday seasons in the many Christmas markets of Europe is always a highlight. 

    Christmas Market
    A typical Christmas Market Stall in Europe
  • Watching a play in London is fun and was made even better riding the Tube (subway) with many folks dressed up as characters from The Rocky Mountain Horror Show. 
  • Drinking beer at a pub in Dublin, Ireland with rugby fans from Ireland and Scotland just prior to their international test match later that day, is really getting down with the locals. 

    Kehoe's Pub
    Kehoe’s Pub, Dublin Ireland
  • Gazing on some of the world’s great art in Paris, London and St. Petersburg helps you understand how creative humans can be. 

    Winged Victory
    Winged Victory
  • Learning to cook a great meal from a celebrity chef in Wales was a bucket list for Anne on her 60th birthday. 

    Anne & Hank
    Anne & Hank at Cooking School in Wales, UK
  • People watching in the many outdoor cafes of Europe can be so entertaining you will sit for hours enjoying the street life of Europe. 
  • Walking in ancient ruins, imaging that we were famous ancients of an era long past, allowed us to bring history to life. 

    Harbor Street Ephesus
    Walking the ancient streets of Ephesus–Anthony & Cleopatra once walked here!
  • Doesn’t this make you want to go—just writing my blog has stirred my desire to get back to Europe soon!

My Final Thoughts

Travel is good!  There are so many benefits of travel that outweigh the minor disadvantages of making travel arrangements (most of which we can easily solve for you), so now is the time to take action!  Please, reach out to us with your travel ideas!  On our new website (www.dreamdestinations.com ), there is an easy way to let us know where you want to travel.  It is called Send Us Your Travel Request.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

High Performing Organizations—AmaWaterways River Cruise Company

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

2 weeks ago I attended a lunch sponsor by the West Point Society of Greater Houston.  The speaker, Col (ret) Tim Kopra, a NASA Space Station Commander, talked about NASA and how so many different people and agencies performed at a high level and how as a group they became better.  It was a great talk and he made very salient points about teams working and training together. 

His talk inspired this blog—my association with high performing units.

I have been directly associated with what I consider high performing organizations at least 3 times in my work life.  So, I’d like to tell about these three organizations and why they were so high performing.  The three organizations are the 2/23 Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord CA; the 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA; and AmaWaterways River Cruise Company.

Characteristics of a High Performing Unit or Organization

While some may differ on what makes a great organization, I believe there are 6 or 7 characteristics that allow an organization to be a high performing unit.  They are 1) a proper organizational design, 2) sufficient structure to allow all to contribute to the mission, 3) processes in place to maximize the talents of all members of the organization, 4) appropriate use of technology, 5) good leadership, 6) skilled and willing people who want to do their best, and 7) a culture that promotes the organizations values.  In the right environment, an organization who excels in these tasks will outperform other similar organizations.  So, using these factors, let’s learn why these organizations were so high performing.

The 2/23 Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord CA

Anne & Hank at Fort Ord
Anne and Hank at Fort Ord in 1986

Being an ex-military guy, the best infantry unit I was ever assigned to in my 20 year military career was 2/23 Infantry.  I guess it goes without saying there was a strong structure and a well-designed organization of this 560 man unit.  The training was tough, realistic and we quickly became a well-honed unit.  We were experts at using our equipment and weapons.  Over 10 % were Ranger Qualified—this is the most grueling training in the US Army.  The officers (leaders) were demanding yet really cared about the men and their welfare.  The Battalion Commander was a great soldier—he had a vision and could clearly express his vision of what he expected—we call it in military jargon, the Commander’s Intent.  We always understood the Commander’s Intent—there were clear, concise orders that allow us to know what to do in the absence of orders.  But the fundamental difference was how all executed the Commander’s Intent—everyone seem to understand the mission and get the job done right, often with little or no supervision.  It was amazing, from the highest ranking officer to the newest private, all worked at top efficiency, often in worst weather conditions, tough terrain and with little sleep.  We were the Army’s first Light Infantry Battalion in the Light Divisions concept and, for my money, the best.  Seems to me, 2/23 Infantry was the definition of a high performing organization.

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA

bellevue-football-team-2001
Bellevue WA 2001 State Champs Football Team

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverines were the best high school team in the state of Washington in 2001—they won the state championship, were 13-0 and 55 guys who had one mission—win a state championship.  Not only were they undefeated, they beat the defending state championship team twice on the way to winning it all.  The culture of the team was right—there were high expectations, and all wanted to improve, both players and coaches.  But maybe the single biggest factor was how the coaches managed to get the best out of each player—all contributed to our success.  The players had sufficient athletic talent but it was their willingness to do their best and push their limits that really set them apart.  They were no excuses, no finger pointing when things went wrong, they just rose to the new challenge.  These were high character kids—10 years after the won it all, all 55 had graduated from college.  Can you see the 7 characteristics of a high performing organization in this team?—I clearly can!

Coach Schrader
Coach Schrader teaches his defensive players in preparation for the 3A Championship Game in 2001

AmaWaterways

Chef's Table Staff 2016
Chef’s Table Staff 2016 on the AmaDagio
Crew Caroling 2015
Crew Caroling 2015

So now to my favorite river cruise company, AmaWaterways.  This is what river cruising should be–It is just the right blend of great tour options, wonderful food and wine, comfortable staterooms and a staff only too willing to please.  Their ships are rated as the best of all river cruise ships by Berlitz.  It is a company that uses great technology but it never detracts from the vacation.  Almost every serious travel industry writer about river cruising, rates Ama very high—they often agree with our assessment that it is the best value for the price.  This is a family owned company and they strive to treat their guests as valued family.  Since 2009, after our first river cruise with Ama (we have been on 13 and are taking # 14 later this year), we have watched them grow better each year—there is a constant effort to enhance the guest experience. 

The Ama Ice Cream Lady
Homemade Ice Cream is served at Lunch–what a treat!

Clearly, the three owners of the company are hands on, innovative and inspire all of the company members to perform at max levels.  The quality of the vacations they offer, coupled with superb food and wine, served by waiters who become your friends, sets them apart in my opinion.  All the pictures are of the staff–the stars of the cruise who make your vacation special.  Look at the 7 characteristics list again—do you think they meet the mark of a high performing organization?  I wholeheartedly do!

 

2014 Reception
Key Crew of the AmaDagio 2014. In front from left to right Cruise Director Kris, Hotel Manager Andras, and Captain Danny. In the background, bartenders Tomas and Peter.

My Final Thoughts

I think most folks want to be part of a high performing organization.  You can be part of one, if you select AmaWaterways as the company to provide you your river cruise vacation.  Please, reach out to us with your river cruise ideas!  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

What Are Your Dream Destinations?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We are in the business of turning travel dreams into reality.  It sure is fun dreaming about great vacations but, to be honest, challenging to make reservations for trips.  The challenge is making the right decisions to get you the best value.  Every time we make a reservation for one of the great folks who travel with us, I just wonder why anyone would do it themselves.  So, let’s see how we can help you find your Dream Destinations.

The Dream

Our name says it all—Dream Destinations.  Close your eyes—where do you want to go, what is your must see place or experience—we can get you there.  Every time you see a cool cruise ship or an ad for a river cruise or the iconic sights in a Europe picture, you can’t help but dream a little. 

Eiffel Tower
Paris at Night is one Dream Destination

Our thoughts are very powerful—we all have amazing minds that are in constant motion.  In fact one survey says that 49% of all leisure travelers reported they started researching online after an ad or picture.  (If you are looking for a little inspiration, why not visit our Pinterest page with over 4.500 photos of Dream Destinations—98% taken by us.  Here is the link:  https://www.pinterest.com/visitdd/ ).

While it may be a good idea to do it on your own, we have a better idea—contact us on our web site at www.dreamdestinations.com or by phone 713-397-0188 (Hank) to ask for help.  There are 2 ways we can help you get through the clutter.  First, on our website we have a great tool banner called Send Us Your Travel Request (located towards the bottom left of our home page) and just answer a few questions about what you want to do for your upcoming vacation.  The best part of this is, you do not have to be traveling in the next month or 2 months or maybe you only have ideas now.  We will put your ideas in a Future Travel Plans Data Base and when good opportunities that match your dream trip come from travel vendors, we will let you know.  It saves you a lot of time and hassle. 

The second way we can help you–use our web site to research your travel.  There are 37 PDF PowerPoints about ocean cruises, 8 PDF PowerPoints about river cruises and 51 PDF PowerPoints about traveling to Europe.  That’s right—96 in-depth slideshows to help you learn about great travel.

Our Mission

Being an ex-military guy, the mission has always been of paramount importance to me.  It is what you are going to achieve.  Here is our mission:

Visit Dream Destination’s LLC mission is to provide customers with the highest quality, expertly planned domestic and foreign leisure travel with a focus on cruises, European river Cruises and European vacations for groups and individuals.

So, let’s focus on what this statement means to us.

High Quality Travel

My idea of high quality travel is to allow our clients the opportunity to turn their travel dreams into reality.  There is no real definition of high quality travel that is right for all folks.  It really is a right fit for your trip.  It is our job to discover what great is to you, and advise you, our client, how to get it.  It is a constant process of getting to know you, building trust, adjusting to lifestyle changes—a dynamic process that requires us to contact you often.  The more we know about you, the better job we will do.  Travel dreams can become reality if we get it right. 

Expertly Planned Travel

Expertly planned travel is knowing the destination and the vendors that service that destination.  We need to know the vendor’s advantages and disadvantages.  In short, we must know if they have a good product.  Second, we must be able to clearly communicate these facts to you, our clients. 

On our AmaWaterways Tulip Time Cruise
Anne & Hank with Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President of AmaWaterways–we know our vendors!

Most of you, have a dream trip in mind before you approach us.  Maybe you have read a lot of information on the web or seen an ad or received something in the mail.  The ideas begin—I think this might be a good trip for me—maybe a dream trip to a Dream Destination.  Now, Anne and I have to take those ideas and make it reality.  One way we do this, is to constantly learn and update our knowledge about what products are right for your trips.  We have to know our products better than you do, if we want to provide accurate assessments.  I believe that accurate assessments of vendors or a trip idea, results in expertly planned travel.  The correct match is our goal—we always strive to get you the best experiences and value for your travel.  You can trust us to tell you the truth.

The Power of Experience

We have helped many folks realize their travel dreams in the 21 years we have been in business.  In our mission statement, we focus on cruises, European river Cruises and European vacations for groups and individuals.  We good at it—I believe we are one of the best in the travel industry in our focus areas of travel.

As many of you know, I have been traveling to Europe since 1971.  Anne and I have been going there together since 1989—usually 2-4 times a year.  We have written 50 Europe City Guides.  We have taken 13 Europe River Cruises, led groups on tour in Europe and on river cruises.  We have a great comparison guide about the 8 major river cruise companies that market to the US travelers.  We have taken 25 ocean cruises. 

Picture27
Anne & Hank at the Tuscan Grill on one of our Ocean Cruises

We use our experience to get you the right trip to your Dream Destinations.

My Final Thoughts

What are your Dream Destinations?

Please, reach out to us with your ideas!  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent