New Orleans to Antarctica
November 15-January 11, 2015
By Alexis Loyd
Michel Verdure/Celebrity Cruises
Mississippi river cruise with American Queen Steamboat Co.
New Orleans to Memphis
Roll along the mighty river with American Queen Steamboat Co. Board the 436-passenger American Queen, the world's largest paddle wheeler, for a trip along the lower Mississippi starting in New Orleans and wrapping up in Memphis. On this eight-day experience, passengers bask in the Victorian luxury of authentic antique furnishings and dine on Southern-style comfort classics from famed chef Regina Charboneau. The culinary whiz, a Mississippi native, created a menu lineup of dishes like pan-seared catfish with black-eyed pea vinaigrette, crab cake Benedict and buttermilk pound cake a la mode topped with pineapple and rum sauce. Following the theme "Music of the 60s," onboard entertainment features the Motown-inspired Bouffants, rockin' Phil Dirt & the Dozers and two tribute bands -- the Atlantic City Boys performing the Four Seasons and the Return playing the Beatles.
Included shore excursions begin at Louisiana's antebellum Oak Alley Plantation, with its 19th-century stately mansion and row of shade trees planted on the acreage between 1725 and 1750. Guests encounter reconstructed slave quarters, an original blacksmithing forge and a Civil War encampment exhibit. Art galleries and antique shops beckon in St. Francisville, LA, where the collection of preserved architectural gems includes the 1905 Georgian Revival courthouse and Grace Episcopal Church, built in 1858.
In Mississippi, Natchez allows visitors to walk in the footsteps of the Southern elite at grand restored 19th-century properties such as Stanton Hall, Magnolia Hall, Rosalie Mansion and the William Johnson House, named after its owner who was born into slavery and later became a slave owner himself. Day Five is reserved for Vicksburg, MS, and its famed Civil War battlegrounds. Vicksburg National Military Park is a must-see for amateur historians: Make time for the ironclad USS Cairo gunboat and Pemberton's Headquarters, an operations center for Confederate forces.
A town rich in blues heritage, Helena, introduces ramblers to the Arkansas Delta's musical and social history at the Delta Cultural Center, part of an idyllic downtown area. Learn about blues, rockabilly and gospel artists, such as Roberta Martin, as well as regional Civil War struggles. Find Native American artifacts and displays dedicated to Mark Twain and Thomas Edison in the nearby Helena Museum of Phillips County. Disembark in another city with songster heritage: Memphis.
***Fly to Tampa, Florida***
NOV. 22-DEC. 4
Florida coast drive
Tampa to Miami
Rent a car and sample the Sunshine State with resort stays and a drive along the Tamiami Trail, or U.S. Highway 41. (We've also suggested a detour to the Florida Keys.)
Scenic route: This 275-mile thoroughfare connects Tampa to Miami, cutting through the Everglades, Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. These subtropical freshwater habitats are home to a diverse array of flora and fauna -- American alligators and crocs, Florida panthers, river otters, West Indian manatees, bright green lichens, strangler figs and mangroves -- making for a colorful and educational car ride. Keep binoculars and species guides handy and plan to stop at key points such as Shark Valley, one of Everglades National Park's entrances and a prime place for gator-spotting; the verdant passageway of Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk; and Ochopee Post Office, the nation's smallest. Hook up with U.S. 41 just north of Bradenton and follow it until you hit State Road 821 at Miami.
Stay 'n' play
St. Petersburg: Nestled between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico roughly 20 miles southwest of Tampa, this city is a cultural gem. Splurge for an overnight at the 361-room Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club, close to the downtown Chihuly Collection, the Morean Arts Center, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Dali Museum. The restored Mediterranean Revival property has hosted Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, B.B. King, George Clooney and Harrison Ford.
Naples: Squeeze in a round of golf or check out the goods at upscale boutiques and eateries. The oceanside Edgewater Beach Hotel provides one- and two-bedroom options with access to 7 miles of sand, heated outdoor pools and nearby 18-hole Naples Grande Golf Club, designed by Rees Jones.
Florida Keys: Put away your pretenses and go with the flow in the Keys -- part beach retreat, part arts haven. Settle in at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, midway between Key Largo and Key West, a kid-friendly home base with 472 rooms and villas and its own marina from which to access fly-fishing, scuba diving, dolphin encounters, kiteboarding, parasailing and more.
Miami: People-watching, searching out Cuban staples on Calle Ocho and hitting the dance floor all are favorites in this glitzy multicultural metropolis. Try the contemporary 281-room Sofitel Miami for plush digs without the hefty price tag.
16 nights aboard Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Infinity
Fort Lauderdale to Santiago
The route: From Florida, the Infinity makes a full transit
of the Panama Canal before sailing the western coast of South America, making stops at ports such as Manta, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; and Arica, Chile.
Lesser-known treasure: The famous mountainside citadel of Machu Picchu is not the only pre-Columbian structure near Lima, Peru. An overnight in the capital affords amateur archaeologists time to seek out Pachacamac, ruins dedicated to the creator of the world, dating to the period between 200 and 600 A.D. Later, the Incas built the Temple of the Sun here, which was ransacked by Francisco Pizarro's soldiers during the Spanish conquest.
Canal centennial: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal's completion. A $5.25 billion expansion is under way on the engineering marvel, which spans roughly 50 miles to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via a series of watertight locks that raise and lower each vessel as it passes over the Continental Divide.
Jailhouse shops: Part of the Old City in Cartagena, Colombia -- the first stop on this itinerary -- Las Bovedas are handicraft shops set up in what served as jail cells centuries ago.
Onboard amenities: Solstice-class elements added to the 1,950-passenger Celebrity Infinity include Qsine, with iPad menus and playful food creations, and AquaClass staterooms. The AquaSpa, adults-only Solarium and kid-centered Fun Factory are other highlights.
For Your Time in Santiago
Visit the house Pablo Neruda built ... for his mistress. In 1953, the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet designed and began building a home for his then-paramour Matilde Urrutia. He called the house La Chascona (the messy-haired girl), after his nickname for the redheaded Urrutia, who later married him. Neruda lived here with his love until his death in 1973; she continued to inhabit the house until she died in 1985. Now run by the Pablo Neruda Foundation, the museum welcomes visitors with its distinctive blue exterior, furnishings in vivid colors and artwork from the couple's famous friends (don't miss the two-headed portrait of Urrutia by Mexican artist Diego Rivera). There's even an on-site gift shop and cafe. Admission to La Chascona runs less than $8.
DEC. 22-JAN. 11, 2015
20 nights aboard Holland America Line's Zaandam
Santiago to Buenos Aires, via Antarctica
End your global escapade at the bottom. Of the Earth, that is. Cap off your journey by cruising to the world's southernmost continent: Antarctica. Guests take in five ports in Chile, two each in Argentina and Uruguay and Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, in addition to sailing amid the region's unspoiled and icy terrain.
No need to trek on a glacier to traverse Antarctica. From the comfort of HAL's 1,432-passenger Zaandam, passengers witness the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at Cape Horn and sail some of the world's roughest waters in the Drake Passage. This time of year, extended daylight (up to 24 hours!) maximizes viewing potential. November through March is this frigid locale's summertime, so keep a lookout for penguins, seabirds, seals and whales -- blue, killer, sperm and humpback varieties swim these waters -- which feed on the sea's teeming food supply. In between glacier and wildlife sightings, get hands-on cooking training at the ship's culinary arts center, attend a performance in the Mondriaan Show Lounge or receive white-glove service at the Pinnacle Grill.
The country of Chile encompasses a long, narrow strip of desert, beaches and volcanoes on the western side of South America. The ship docks at Puerto Montt in the Lake District, 16th-century Castro and lush Puerto Chacabuco before navigating fjords and the Strait of Magellan, named for the famed Portuguese sailor who sailed the waterway first in 1520. In Ushuaia, Argentina, on the Beagle Channel, traverse Tierra del Fuego National Park via canoe or trek to the Five Cascades. Each year, thousands of locals take a break in Punta del Este, an upscale resort spot in Uruguay; follow suit and relax, shop or head to the beach. Sip vintages at a winery in Uruguay's capital of Montevideo and do a little tango in stylish Buenos Aires, the cruise's last stop.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2014. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.