SPECIAL OCCASION TRAVEL
Travelers again look to special trips to observe life’s milestones.
2020 was a year of missed celebrations. Graduates didn’t walk to receive diplomas, parents didn’t escort brides to reach their soulmates. Kids celebrated birthdays in driveways, waving to a procession of moving cars. The celebratory moments that make up the memories of a life came and went with minimal acknowledgment. Our optimism told us our next milestone celebration was months away and the COVID-19 pandemic would be over by then. The news told us a different story.
Yet it’s not too late to celebrate. It’s not the date on the calendar that we mark but our achievement of getting to a certain place in life that we honor and which can be observed anytime. Now, with better COVID-19 testing and the worldwide vaccination rollout, many people are wondering how they should do that.
“What better way to celebrate yourself than to indulge in a destination?” said Steve Lima, director of marketing USA and South America, G Adventures. “People come back feeling revived, refreshed, reenergized,” Lima said. Besides just the normal milestones, people deserve to commemorate less glamorous but notable wins like beating cancer or finishing up a divorce.
So when my time came, at the end of 2020, to celebrate living to an age that ends in a zero, I knew I wanted to see and hear live music. After months of listening only to virtual concerts, I longed to hear the soulful vibrations of people channeling their ecstatic experience through trumpets, guitars and voices. Immediately, legendary and historic New
Orleans, Louisiana, came to mind.
Yet COVID-19 still dominated the world, and I wasn’t sure how New Orleans had adjusted. The best place to find information about discovering a new city is through its visitor’s bureau website. New Orleans & Company prominently featured the brand-new, award-winning Higgins Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, on its website. History buffs could spend a couple of days next door at the interactive and intriguing National World War II Museum. Because the pandemic struck three months after its grand opening, the staff at the Higgins Hotel didn’t have far to pivot to ensure guest safety.
“We learned the new extra-duty cleaning protocols of Hilton Cleanstay when those were rolled out in April of last year,” said Marc Becker, director of sales and marketing, Higgins Hotel. As part of the Hilton family, the Higgins Hotel partnered with RB, the company that makes Lysol and other disinfecting products, to bring a whole new level of cleanliness into each of its rooms and public spaces.
Even with the travel and booking experience I have, I realized I was taking a chance by organizing my own trip and not working with a connected travel professional during this era.
“That’s what travel professionals do for a living,” said Heidi Creed, vice president of marketing and client experience, Town & Country Travel. “We monitor the pulse of the ever-changing landscape of travel, so we have resources. When you work with a good travel advisor, they’re going to send you to reputable partners who have all of the safety measures in place.”
“We travel advisors create vacations so they’re seamless,” Creed said, “We have partners who have access to super unique experiences, things like going backstage at the Moscow Ballet or truffle hunting in a château in France. There’s a lot of activities that can be put together from a travel advisor that you can’t just do on your own.”
When we researched our trip to
New Orleans, New Orleans & Company provided suggestions for some of our activities.
‘WHAT BETTER WAY TO CELEBRATE YOURSELF THAN TO INDULGE IN A DESTINATION? PEOPLE COME BACK FEELING REVIVED, REFRESHED, REENERGIZED.’
— STEVE LIMA, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING USA AND SOUTH AMERICA, G ADVENTURES.
Even though much of the city had started to reopen when we visited, it was far from the jubilant festival of joy, with dancing and singing on every sidewalk and jazz club, as it had been when we visited four years prior. Places we thought would be open remained closed.
With the advice of the tourism bureau, we experienced Dr. Gumbo, one of the best food tours we’ve taken, with historical tales marinated between layers of Cajun shrimp, muffuletta sandwiches and Pimm’s Cups. We also got to go kayaking with NOLA Kayak Tours through Manchac Swamp — 170,000 acres of canopied cypress and tupelo trees draped by Spanish moss. After months
of anxiously staying indoors, it felt good to breathe crisp air as our vessel cut through glassy green water.
Had we worked with travel advisors, Creed said, they would have tailored all our experiences to fit our exact personality profiles, sometimes suggesting activities or locations we wouldn’t have thought to ask about on our own. “We’re very relationshipfocused,” Creed said. “For instance, the advisor knows the client loves hot air balloons, and they wouldn’t have thought to visit Turkey, or they’re very active and wouldn’t have thought of a cycling trip or hiking through W Patagonia.”
At the time of writing this story, many of those places are still closed to U.S. travelers.
However, Mexico opened for air, rail and sea travelers from all countries in June 2020.
This is why we decided to pamper ourselves for my husband’s birthday with an international trip to Conrad Punta de Mita, recently opened in September 2020. The open-air design of the entire resort and alfresco restaurants throughout became a prime consideration when we traveled during that time. The brand-new resort offers blocks of ocean-front rooms for families and friends in its casas, so they could stay together. Its Milestones Menu offers curated private experiences to escalate a celebration. “Think a mariachi serenade for a big birthday or craft cocktails delivered just in time for sunset. Also, piñata parties — and that’s not just limited to kids — or a shaman for a symbolic wedding or vow renewal ceremony,” wrote Monica Gonzalez Alejandro, director of sales and marketing, Conrad Punta de Mita, in an email. The resort also offers on-site Covid-19 testing for easy return travel to the United States.
As countries begin to open again, the more popular travel itineraries will book fast. As you plan for your special trip, reserve as far in advance as possible, Creed advised. “Right now, as we look toward a post-pandemic travel era, there’s going to be an extraordinary amount of pent-up demand,” she said. Popular trips like safaris already have inherent capacity limitations because of the number of available tents, so they’re going to go quickly. And she advised travelers to take advantage of generous cancellation policies to make sure you get the trip you want instead of the trip that’s left.
Jean Fawcett, media relations manager, Abercrombie & Kent, agreed. “This is Africa’s moment. Safaris are a natural fit as families begin traveling again, with small boutique camps that offer plenty of space and privacy.”
When considering your dream tour, look for reputable companies like Abercrombie & Kent and G Adventures that voluntarily followed protocols designed by safety governing boards. Their enhanced health and safety protocols met or exceeded the latest global health and safety guidelines and received the Safe Travels stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Lima said G Adventures’ Book Your Bubble Private Tour gives travelers the option of exploring with just eight family and friends. “Private groups are probably one of the best ways to go. So think about having the Galápagos ship all to yourself, which we will allow on a private group trip.” Lima said traveling now or booking early is a wonderful idea because of the deep discounts currently available.
Another incredible option for frustrated travelers is Abercrombie & Kent’s Wings
Over the World Journeys. “Wings Over the World Journeys are perfect for those who want to make up for lost time and binge on new experiences. Travel by privately chartered air enables them to see more and do more,” said Stefanie Schmudde, vice president of product development and operations, Abercrombie & Kent.
Cruises are also starting to book for 2022; but if you don’t want to wait, small cruise line Uncruise Adventures is already approved to sail Alaska from May to September 2021. One reason is its requirement for all crew and passengers to be vaccinated prior to travel in 2021. “Alaska is a destination with an expiration,” said Julie Quarry, director of strategic partners, Uncruise. What she means is, prior to the COVID-19 travel ban, in 2019 cruise ships brought more than 2.26 million visitors to Alaska. However, in May and June, Quarry said, “Uncruise Adventures is going to be one of the only cruise lines up in this area where wildlife hasn’t heard a motor vehicle in almost two years. So it’s a powerful year to get up there.”
Passion points travelers where they want to celebrate. Connections make those destinations come alive, and opportunity taken is seldom regretted.