September 21, 2017

The Friends

Group escapes range from Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
to college reunions at a seaside resort

By Michelle Chumbley

Vacations Magazine: The Friends
G Adventures
Check out megaship amenities
Two Royal Caribbean International ships set new standards for high-flying thrills and choice onboard entertainment. Quantum of the Seas, already sailing from Bayonne, NJ, and Anthem of the Seas, making its grand debut on April 22, feature innovations like RipCord by iFly, an exhilarating skydiving simulator, and North Star, a glass gondola that lifts you 300 feet above the sea.

Gather the gang for a round of miniature golf or a first-run movie by the pool, then hit the tables at Casino Royale or grab cocktails at the ice bar in Two70°. Celebrity chefs have taken over the food scene: A rustic Italian restaurant from Jamie Oliver has indulgent fare like truffle tagliatelle, while James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz's craft brew pub features specialty drinks and delectable snacks.

The new modular layout of family-connected junior suites is ideal for pals traveling together. Three cabins with their own bedrooms and baths are joined by a vestibule, providing an ideal blend of privacy and gathering space. Specially designed studio staterooms for singles also come in handy for mixed groups.

Explore the all-inclusive side of the Caribbean
Whether your group's style is relaxing on the sand or challenging each other to beach volleyball, Dreams Resorts and Spas' all-inclusive properties in the Dominican Republic have something to offer everyone. You'll find one location in La Romana and two in Punta Cana, all three on the country's eastern tip. They provide a range of dining options, from elegant French and Italian cuisine to grilled steaks at a casual, ocean-view eatery.

With dance classes, cocktail-making and cooking lessons, casino games, Hobie Cats and live entertainment, there is plenty to keep you busy by day. Those who want to venture off-site can book an excursion (for a fee) like a safari ride to cocoa plantations, a zipline adventure through the jungle or a happy hour cruise on a catamaran.

Join a citywide celebration
Escorted and independent tours incorporate famous festivals into itineraries that can include accommodations, guided sightseeing and several meals. Even better, discounts may apply when booking a trip for eight or more people.

Consider two far-flung destinations with cultural festivities. Carnival is celebrated in many Catholic countries in the lead-up to Lent, but the masked balls, colorful parades and samba music in Rio de Janeiro are unarguably the most popular. G Adventures' "Rio de Janeiro Carnival Experience" includes the festivities and a tour of city landmarks like the Christ the Redeemer statue; a Feb. 12 departure priced from $2,009 per person will likely sell out soon, so explore 2016 dates. On Wendy Wu Tours' "Harbin Snow and Ice Festival," you'll see frosty sculptures in what's known as China's Ice City before heading over to Shanghai to ring in Chinese New Year, with prices from $2,840 for an eight-day trip starting Feb. 13.

Leave the passport at home and celebrate American favorites in New Orleans with tour providers like Cosmos. Look for trips that attend either Mardi Gras (another likely sellout for 2015 travelers) or the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a 13-day trek departing April 30 and priced from $2,189 per person.

Try Contiki for lively international events. The travel provider gears itineraries toward guests ages 18 to 35, with a range of accommodation options to suit smaller budgets. On a four-day "St. Patrick's Day" jaunt in March, you'll celebrate in Dublin with an option to stay in a hotel or a hostel, priced from $355 per person. Fall brings Oktoberfest, and Contiki takes you to Munich, the original site of the affair, on four- to seven-day sprees priced from $315 per person.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2015. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.


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