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By Janice Llanes Fabry
Following the razzle-dazzle of the holidays and a merry and bright December, northeasterners are faced with a cold, bleak winter. A reprieve from the gray months ahead is always welcome, so dust off the luggage, shake off the chill, and surrender to Rye’s travel wizards.
Of course, the tropical Caribbean islands’ weather and proximity have great allure during this time of year. Droves of travelers also head to Mexico, where the Riviera Maya, on the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula, is as popular for its Mayan sites and barrier reefs as for its all-inclusive resorts.
While Brazil and Argentina are the big draws in South America, Belize’s scuba diving and Costa Rica’s nature vacations have become wildly popular in Central America. Travelers are also coming back to Hawaii. Where else can one come face to face with active volcanoes and also be serenaded by singing whales? There are other treasures south of the equator that Rye’s agents are recommending this winter.
Travel Anywhere, Rye’s first agency, can do cartwheels around the globe and then some. Owner Dan Smith, a veteran of the travel business, had the ultimate tutelage, that of his mother Mary Smith, who opened the agency in 1959. Their resources, first-hand knowledge, and vast experience are worth the modest research and ticketing fee.
In spite of the public’s use of Internet travel sites, Smith said, “We still do everything that we ever did. We can get any information you need efficiently and quickly. If last-minute changes come up while you’re in the car on the way to the airport, we can handle them.” They’ve even been known to have wedding gowns pressed and delivered to the right hotel!
Anne Druckman, who has worked at the agency for 12 years, added, “People have come back frustrated after hours of internet searches. We do destinations often enough that we can give you the best routing and great recommendations for properties. Other than Virgin Airlines flights to space, there isn’t a place we haven’t done all around the world.”
Fellow agent Miryam Barria McGorman, a new addition at Travel Anywhere, has observed a change in vacation patterns. “People are interested in different types of traveling, not only resorts. They want to broaden their knowledge and they want exposure to more culture and history,” she said.
A destination that may not readily come to mind, but offers just about everything under the sun is Panama, where the sun rises in the Pacific and sets in the Caribbean. The beautiful southernmost isthmus of Central America offers a wide variety of interests for all age groups, as well as fine hotels and restaurants.
“The country, which is the size of South Carolina, is so compact that you can do many different things in a relatively short period of time,” said McGorman. “It’s booming infrastructure makes it easy to get around.”
In addition to visiting the culturally rich Panama City and the Panama Canal, the legendary feat that unites the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans via the Caribbean Sea, travelers can explore the country’s beaches and national parks. The Chiriqui Highlands, extinct inhabited volcanoes and rainforests make Panama a veritable nature lover’s paradise. There are more species of birds here than in North America and Europe combined.
In addition, a new Biodiversity Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is expected to attract lots of tourists. Located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, it offers a portal to the richest and most diverse ecosphere in the world, showcasing “The Bridge of Life.”
“You can just hop on a direct five-hour flight,” suggested McGorman. “All this and you could even drink the water, too.”
Travel Anywhere, 88 Purchase Street, 967-5330
Mary McDonnell, owner of Honey Travel, Inc. also has an abundance of experience to offer her clients. She’s been working in the travel industry all her life and took over Honey Travel 20 years ago. She, too, hasn’t skipped a beat despite amateur attempts by Internet users to navigate the globe.
“The Internet might have curtailed business initially, but clients generally want someone to handle the whole trip. They want somebody they can talk to and an itinerary that will spell everything out for them, so they don’t have to think twice,” she said.
Also for a modest airline or rail-ticketing fee, Honey Travel certainly takes care of the entire journey. Airline and hotel bookings, visas, dinner reservations, car rentals, and tours are all assembled in a “precise package.”
“Travel involves a tremendous amount of details,” said McDonnell. “We’re hooked into airline, hotel and cruise systems that the general public does not have access to. I love finding and planning the perfect trip for clients and have them come back and rave about it.”
The agent also loves to travel. She takes one major trip annually, so she could return with a wealth of firsthand knowledge and experience. A couple of suggestions she offered regarding travel this time of year involve wildlife and the high seas.
“An African safari is a life-changing experience. To see the animals in their natural habitat is nothing short of amazing,” said McDonnell, who has her personal photo albums of her adventures to prove it. Imagine coming face to face with “the big five: lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros.”
There are a myriad of safaris available, but her favorite was one that took her to Botswana. She noted that it is less traveled, yet offers some of Africa’s most breathtaking subtropical wilderness reserves.
Make no mistake: these safaris are as luxurious as a five-star hotel. Deluxe game lodges and safari tents with plush furniture and running water offer travelers all the comforts of home. “If you’re going to splurge, Botswana would be the place to do it in,” she advised.
If time is not of the essence, another winter getaway option is a world cruise. “Ships depart from New York and go with the sun and the warm climes,” said McDonnell.
Journeys, which may last up to four months, include epic itineraries aboard grand ocean liners. With maiden calls and overnight stays, the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria, or the Queen Elizabeth take travelers on exotic voyages through every continent. Travelers can shorten the trips by opting to begin or end voyages at various locations. As McDonnell said, “You can see as much as you want of the world and only have to pack once.”
Honey Travel, Inc., 14 Elm Place, 921-0455