Archive for the ‘We Recommend’ Category

Book of the week – Smithsonian Natural History

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Our book partner, Longitude Books, is always looking for new top reads for curious traveler.

This week, they’ve recommended you try Smithsonian Natural History, The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth.

smithsonian natural historyEvery kingdom of life, from bacteria, plants and animals to the minerals and rocks that make up the Earth is featured in this stunning visual survey, just the thing you need to get you ready for your next Journey out into the world.

With more than 5,000 color images, this book, which celebrates the centennial of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The first chapter introduces Earth, its geology and life-forms, followed by in-depth chapters on minerals, rocks, and fossils; microscopic life; plants; fungi; and animals, each with informative descriptions and rich images. Ever wanted to know more about the Mexican red-kneed tarantula? Then this is your book.

Wew have 40 itineraries focused on teaching you more about natural history. Click here to learn more.

More Q&A with Journeys Director Amy Kotkin

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Last week, Journeys Director Amy Kotkin answered travelers’ questions about top travel destinations for 2012 and where you should go next. This week, she tackles more of your questions about Smithsonian Journeys and travel value.


China's Yangtze River

China’s Yangtze River.

Q. Is Smithsonian Journeys part of the Smithsonian Institution?  How are they related?

A. Smithsonian Journeys is very much a part of the Smithsonian Institution! As the Institution’s travel program, we share the goals of education and outreach with the whole Smithsonian staff. Just as the Smithsonian seeks to share knowledge of the world around us through museum exhibitions, publications and on-line resources, Smithsonian Journeys shares the world through first-hand experience in destinations worldwide with Smithsonian experts! Your participation in Smithsonian Journeys benefits the Institution’s myriad activities, helping us preserve our national treasures and shape the future through science, research and exhibitions.

Q.   What does All-Inclusive mean? 

A. That’s a good question, because it can mean slightly different things on different trips.  Take our All-Inclusive Mediterranean Cruises, for instance. These are fabulously priced trips that include international air fare, port charges, hotel stays before the tour, on-board gratuities, shore excursions, and wine with dinner each night on board! In essence, 90% of what you need on tour is included. Why not 100%? Because we know that though you are looking for a great deal, you also want to shape your vacation to your own tastes and pace. So, while all morning excursions are included, for example, we leave the afternoons up to you! Explore independently, relax on board in lovely ports, or join an optional afternoon excursion at a modest additional cost. On most of our small group land tours, international airfare is included, all gratuities, most meals (though again, we want to make sure you have time to explore on your own, including finding a great restaurant!) as well as the services of a full-time tour director and study leader. We never want you to pass an envelope at the end of the tour, or feel that you have been “nickel and dimed.”

Q.  Why do some tours include roundtrip airfare and others don’t?  Can I use my frequent flyer miles? 

We are delighted to offer included airfare on many of our tours, through special arrangements with our travel partners. We provide this feature on as many tours as possible, though included air is not available for all routes. If you’d prefer to use your frequent flier miles, you are always welcome to get a “credit” for unused airfare, resulting in a lower tour price. However, many of our travelers find that the included airfare is so reasonable that they opt for our air packages and save their frequent flier miles for other travel!

Want to learn more? Click here to read last week’s Q&A with Amy.

Where do you want to go next? Let us know!

Q&A with Journeys Director Amy Kotkin

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Amy Kotkin has been developing educational programs for the Smithsonian Institution since 1974 and is Director of Smithsonian Journeys. Here, she shares her thoughts and recommendations for travel in 2012, as we launch our new travel season.

Q.  Every year Smithsonian Journeys adds new destinations.  What are some of the highlights for 2012?

Amy Kotkin with artist in Turkey

Amy Kotkin visits with an artist in Turkey.

A. Just when we think we’ve been everywhere – a new destination beckons.  Or, we “re-imagine” existing destinations by looking at them in novel ways.  Always “looking around the corner” at what’s next is truly invigorating for our staff. For 2012, we’ll offer a cruise to Southern Spain and Morocco on the elegant small ship Corinthian II.  While we know that there was significant cross-cultural fertilization between these two regions going back before the middle ages, the opportunity to see how this is reflected in the art and architecture of Spain and Morocco is simply dazzling, as well as thought-provoking! Speaking of cruising, we’ll also be offering our first in-depth cruise to Crete!  We’ll encircle the island on the gem-like yacht Callisto (with only 34 guests), stopping at charming small towns, ancient ruins including the magnificent Minoan palace at Knossos, Byzantine chapels.  Two new holiday trips will also make their debut in 2012!  Christmas in Vienna and Prague promises festive performances, special access tours and fine food. Jane Austen’s Christmas features time-honored English holiday traditions.

Q.  What are your most popular destinations?

A.  Wow! So many come to mind.  But if I had to identify the top three just in terms of enduring interest over many years, Turkey, China and Peru top the charts for because of their amazing cultural treasures.  Having been with Smithsonian travelers when they first beheld the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, China’s Great Wall and Machu Picchu, I can tell you that these are truly magnificent, moving experiences.  Of course Egypt is on nearly everyone’s “life list,” and we are happy to have resumed our expert-led trips there.  For natural history – Alaska, Galapagos, Tanzania and the Amazon are “the classics.”  Interest in these incredible destinations never wanes.

Q.  Early Booking Savings!  Why do you and so many other companies encourage early bookings?  Are there really deals to be had or is it just a gimmick?

A. No! They are not a gimmick!  It is always worthwhile for Smithsonian and our tour operators to fill our tours long in advance.  That way, reservations for hotels, meals, special tours, and excursions can be locked down early and assure us of the best services possible.  Confirming all tour details several months before departure is well worth our while, and therefore, we are happy to encourage early bookings by giving you the incentive to do so.  Ultimately, early booking is in everyone’s best interests.  You get a better price and we are able to assure an optimal tour! Be sure to take a look at our early booking incentives featured on our website under Special Offers.

Amy will be back next week to answer more of your questions.

Have a question for Amy? Send her a note at

Smithsonian Journeys on the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
Burnside Bridge runs over Antietam Creek, site of the battle of Antietam.

Burnside Bridge runs over Antietam Creek, site of the battle of Antietam.

This summer and fall, we have two unique Civil War tours to commemorate the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Civil War. Both tours are led by renowned historian and author A. Wilson Greene, who will explore the personalities, controversies and tensions that led to the Civil War. Click here for more details or read on…

From August 20-27 at Chautauqua, N.Y., Smithsonian participants can attend a sweeping survey of the Civil War—one of the most pivotal events in American history. Study Leader Greene will explore many of the core issues of the war: the events leading up to the conflicts, the resulting political and social upheavals, the plight of individual soldiers and the role of the great commanders and their strategies. Plus, he will examine whether the Civil War was an avoidable tragedy or an irrepressible conflict. Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and historians Gordon Wood and Daniel Walker Howe will also be presenting at Chautauqua while we’re there.

Civil War lovers can also join Greene on our fall Journey through Hallowed Ground from September 13 – 18. This tour traces themes of American history along the “Old Carolina Road” from Charlottesville, Va., to Gettysburg, Pa. We’ll visit two presidential homes, including President Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent Monticello and James Madison’s newly restored mansion, Montpelier. Other highlights include Brandy Station Battlefield, site of the Civil War’s largest cavalry campaign,  Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield,  and finally Gettysburg.

Full details on both tours and an interview with the A. Wilson Greene can be found here.  

Bonus Link:

From Smithsonian Magazine – Who had the best Civil War facial hair? Click here to see photos and cast your vote today. 

Q&A On Our New Private Departures

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Plan your next vacation on your terms with Smithsonian Journeys.

Plan your next vacation on your terms with Smithsonian Journeys.

Our new Private Departures mean that you can go where you want, when you want, with who you want, at your budget. Below, David Tett of Bushtracks Expeditions, one of our esteemed travel partners specializing in customized travel, talks with Smithsonian Journeys staff member MaryBeth Mullen about these exciting opportunities.
Q: For 20 years you and your family have planned custom journeys for the curious traveler to Africa, India, and South America, Alaska, Galapagos, and more destinations off the beaten path. What makes a Private Departure so extraordinary?
 A: Private Departures offer the ability to choose your own dates, control your own itinerary, be independent, and ensure you get the accommodations and destinations that suit you. We’re all so increasingly busy these days, it’s more difficult than ever to get the family together between business, family, school and sports commitments. Planning your own tour is for many people the best way of navigating through all of these schedule challenges.

Q: On a Private Departure, do travelers get to choose their preferred schedule and budget?  Is it really that flexible?

A: Yes it is! Give us your dates and we’ll find out the best available properties that work within your time frame. Of course the more latitude you give us, the better chance we can book exactly what you want. You could potentially even book your international airfare with air miles and let us form an itinerary around those dates you have booked. However, please give us as much time as possible so availability does not become an issue!

 Q: How many people do you need to plan a customized itinerary and are there age limits?
A: Two guests and a minimum 7 consecutive nights travel. There are age limits at certain properties whereas others focus on ensuring younger children are part of the experience and included. We’ll help match the right product to you!

Q: On Smithsonian’s group departures, a team of experts add educational value to the experience, and a tour manager handles logistics and any problems that might arise. What happens on a Private Departure?

A: We have expert guides who we can work into your itinerary. Also, we and Smithsonian Journeys will be happy to find you a full-time study leader if you wish. You are met and greeted by our select representatives along the way. Our local representatives will be able to handle problems on the spot and we provide all travelers with an after hours emergency phone number so that we can assist you if need be!

Q: How far in advance can you book a Private Departure? Is there travel insurance in the event of cancellation?

A: We have booked itineraries one week out, however, considering possible visa requirements, shots, accommodation and flight availability, the sooner you can book the better. Generally one year is perfectly adequate, six months is nice and three months is possible. Yes, we recommend you take out trip cancellation insurance since the trip can be non-refundable as you approach departure date. We also include emergency evacuation insurance for every traveler as part of your tour fee.

Q: Is a Private Departure more expensive than a group departure?

A: It certainly doesn’t have to be more expensive than a group tour. Because the private departure is designed around your specifications we are able to help you manage your budget by choosing from a variety of accommodations, routing, and time of travel.

To reserve your Private Departure, call 1-877-547-1701 or click here for more information.