• Edward Piegza and local guides in Cuba

    The Amigos Effect: Why I Keep Going Back to Cuba

    <p>In a million years, I couldn’t have predicted how much Cuba would mean to me. When we began the long slog to become one of the earliest companies to get U.S. government approval for travel to Cuba, I didn’t have a personal connection. My closest brush with the island came from the stories my in-laws told about their visits decades before I ever met them. It was a surprise to me that my connections with Cuba would turn into an all-out mission to help Americans see Cuba at this inflection point in history.</p> <p>What I now think of as The Amigos Effect—the benefits of deep, sustained and unselfish friendships with the Cuban people—means that <a href="https://goo.gl/5J7qsG" target="_blank">Classic Journeys can offer a $1,000 savings per person</a> on every trip to Cuba until March 17, 2017. With friends like ours, we’re able to make Cuba more affordable even though we have hands down the <a href="https://goo.gl/JXPUDf" target="_blank">best guides</a>, <a href="https://goo.gl/s3itWf" target="_blank">best hotels </a>and best interpersonal experiences of any company that you may consider for your visit.<br><br><img alt="Bar in Cuba" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kx&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002m8c" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>Gaining access to Cuba started for me as a business proposition. My company, Classic Journeys, is built around the thrill of immersive cultural travel. Being part of the movement to open up Cuba and explore life there was a natural fit. <a href="https://goo.gl/dzYoHn" target="_blank">Wherever we go on Classic Journeys</a>, we’re all about meeting the local people, and the stated objective of the U.S. government was to establish people-to-people connections between Americans and Cubans. It was a match made in heaven.<br> </p> <p>It was also obvious from the get-go that we needed feet on the ground if we were going to succeed. Though the country now permits some private enterprise, government Bureaucracy with a Capital B is impossible to avoid. Phone calls get through better now than they used to. Emails have always been a little hit or miss. Face time (the kind with actual people in the same room) has been our operative mode from the start. Bureaucrats are people too. Their jobs are to toe the line, but they are not immune to people who find judicious ways to make their work easier. We’ve always sought to do that. The biggest bonus was that our measured approach to officialdom put us in connection with the everyday people of Cuba. At first, overwhelmed by demand, the authorities directed visitors to the limited organizations and places that could handle the traffic. In a typical scene, a stoic director of such-and-such a community project stood beside a translator who dutifully relayed the party line on tobacco production, education policy, or whatever topic was at-hand. We’re told that plenty of that still happens, but we’ve moved on!<br><br><img alt="School children in Cuba" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kx&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002m91" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>On our repeated visits we kept scratching at the surface. The directors warmed up. They introduced us to the tobacco farmers who gave us their own versions of the quota system. We focused on becoming a regular, respectful and responsive presence in their lives. The teacher in a rural school realized we didn’t want to be just spectators in her third-grade classroom, but that we wanted to hang out for a while with her and her students. Most importantly, <a href="https://goo.gl/JXPUDf" target="_blank">our local Cuban guides</a>—truly some of the most exceptional pros you will ever meet—saw that Classic Journeys and our guests were consistently sincere in our desire to really understand their lives. That’s opened doors that I never even dreamed of on my first few trips. These days, our amigos are free with their time and enthusiasm. There’s nothing mechanical about how our favorite salsa teachers use their eyes and their smiles to get you moving. (My own hips remain resistant to the beat, but that doesn’t stop them from trying!) When we open the door to the workshop where our friends Julio and Nidialys operate Cuba’s premier classic car-restoration business, the reception always blows us away. You instantly realize that they couldn’t be happier to see us all. It’s a your-friends-are-my-friends moment, a greeting that is completely unlike the professional greetings you’ve probably received at plenty of touristic spots.</p> <p><br>Beyond the intimate entrée we get into Cuban life, our friendships have yielded some terrific advantages that are crucial to the <a href="https://goo.gl/dzYoHn" target="_blank">value you get from traveling with Classic Journeys.</a> For instance, we’re regular customers at some of the country’s best paladars. These privately owned restaurants are probably the greatest free-enterprise success story in these parts. As regulars, we’re never shut out, and you might notice that we’re seated at some of the best tables.<br><br><img alt="Friends at dinner in Cuba" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kx&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002m8r" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>You may have read about the scarcity of top-level accommodations in Cuba. The stories are true. Many properties are, to put it gently, rudimentary. Demand for the best of the best is stratospheric. Fortunately, <a href="https://goo.gl/s3itWf" target="_blank">we’ve been staying at many of those preferred hotels for years now</a>. A Classic Journeys trademark (and this is true all over the world, not just in Cuba) is our fair, above-board relationships with hoteliers. Behind the scenes, we put a tremendous amount of energy into respectful business practices that aren’t always the norm. While other companies struggle to find adequate space, we can confirm access to great accommodations.</p> <p><br>And all of this is why I keep going back to Cuba. First, because the friendships that have blossomed there are so satisfying and the new ones are a constant delight. To walk into Mailin’s paladar in Trinidad and see her face light up in recognition before she smothers me with a hug is a gift beyond words. But, as I said at the start, the other terrific benefit is that these friendships allow us to fulfill a mission that we hold near and dear. <a href="https://goo.gl/5J7qsG" target="_blank">We can show you the Cuba we love </a>at an extremely important moment in history…we can do it in style…and we can offer you exceptional value at reasonable cost.</p> <p>After you compare your options, I hope you will allow <a href="https://goo.gl/5J7qsG" target="_blank">Classic Journeys to show you the Cuba we know and love</a>. Because that’s what amigos are for.<br><br><img alt="Woman riding in classic car in Cuba with arms in the air" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7kx&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002m8w" style="height: 344px; width: 500px;"></img></p>

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  • Rooftop Pool at Ohla Hotel in Barcelona, Spain

    Best Hotel Pools Around the Globe

    <h2>7 Best Hotel Pools for Whiling Away an Afternoon</h2>   <p>It’s no secret that we love walking tours. Every one of our Classic Journeys trips includes walking trips that get us out into the countryside of Provence or immersed in the culture of Cuba or rambling along the cobblestone streets of Tuscany. And while we enjoy this type of travel so much, we also enjoy some downtime. And what better way to while away an afternoon than lounging by an amazing pool with picturesque views. Here are some of our favorites:<br><br><img alt="Desert Pearl Inn" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002ox9" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>Desert Pearl Inn, Springdale, Utah</b><br> </p> <p>After a day <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/bryce-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">exploring Zion</a>, there’s no better place to watch the sun set over the amazing rock formations than relaxing in the pool at the Desert Pearl Inn. The large, free-form pool is surrounded by a flagstone pool deck dotted with lounge chairs and umbrellas. Soak tired muscles in the hot tub while enjoying the trickle of the nearby waterfall. Lush, green vegetation encases the entire area — a beautiful contrast to the red rock cliffs surrounding the inn.<br><br><img alt="Ohla Barcelona" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002oxE" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>Ohla Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain</b><br> </p> <p>Situated <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/barcelona-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">right in the heart of Barcelona</a>, the Ohla Barcelona is a modern marvel masked behind a grand and exquisite neoclassical façade. The “chill-out” terrace, as they call it, offers stunning views of the city with a glass-sided pool perched between an upper sunning deck and lower seating area filled with two-tops — perfect for watching a sunset, cocktail in hand.<br><br><img alt="Hotel Lone" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002oxJ" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>Hotel Lone, Rovinj, Croatia</b><br> </p> <p>At Hotel Lone, you can choose your pool — indoors or out. Indoors you can still enjoy the view of the gardens thanks to the glass wall enclosure. If you opt for al fresco, which we highly recommend, you’ll <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/croatia-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">enjoy views of the protected Zlatni rt forest park.</a> The area includes a sun bathing terraces (six levels!), a restaurant, a pool bar and a summer stage. The pool complex itself includes the relax pool, aqua-fun pool and a children’s pool with whirlpools, waterfalls, geysers and a swimming track — all filled with seawater. Be sure to enjoy the hydro-massage chairs available in both pools. If you’re lucky enough to stay in a Jazz Room, you’ll enjoy your own private infinity pool massage bathtub on the outside edge of you room’s patio — spectacular!<br><br><img alt="Jasper Park Lodge" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002oxO" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper, Alberta, Canada</b><br> </p> <p><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/canada-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Exploring the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies is a jaw-dropping experience.</a> With the opportunity to see grizzly bears, moose, caribou and more, combined with the awe-inspiring vistas, your senses will be overwhelmed. What better way than to relax and reflect on everything you’ve experienced than poolside under the star-filled night sky. On the shores of Lac Beauvert, you’re in the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserve.<br><br><img alt="Hotel Sahrai" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002oxT" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>Hotel Sahrai, Fez, Morocco</b><br> </p> <p>Enjoy <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/morocco-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">majestic views of Fez and the surrounding</a> area while soaking in the infinity pool at Hotel Sahrai on its magical hillside location. Stretch out in the afternoon sun on a daybed atop the teak pool deck. Hungry after a long day exploring the city? Grab a snack and refreshing drink from the poolside Arcades restaurant.<br><br><img alt="La Vista Boutique" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002oxY" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>La Vista Boutique Hotel &amp; Spa, Kusadasi, Turkey</b><br> </p> <p>It’s an endless blue vista from this luxury <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/turkey-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">infinity pool perched on the edge of the Aegean Sea</a> at the La Vista Hotel. Pick your lounge chair or sit at one of the many tables below the waterfall edge of the pool — both maximize this spectacular view. Be sure to catch a sunset and watch the cruise ships sail out to sea knowing you’ve got the best seat in the house.<br><br><img alt="Furama Resort" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lL&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002oxd" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br><b>Furama Resort Danang, Da Nang City, Vietnam</b><br> </p> <p>You might be mingling with royalty, presidents and movie starts when you stay at Furama Resort Danang, a five-star favorite of the jetsetters. But all of this will fade away as you relax in the huge pool area bedecked with palm trees. The <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/indochina-tours/?utm_campaign=best-hotel-pools&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">infinity edge overlooks China Beach and out onto the East Vietnam Sea</a>. Even more enticing — check out the swimming lagoon. It’s like taking a swim through the jungle — overgrown with palms and other jungle plants — all with a nice tile blue bottom and clean, refreshing water.</p>

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  • Lake of the Poas

    Introducing Coast-to-Coast Travel in Costa Rica

    <h2>Atlantic to pacific, the diversity is off the charts.</h2>   <p>The <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/costarica/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">soundtrack of a day in Costa Rica</a> is a crazy mash-up. The macaws caw in a different key than the howler monkeys that are totally out of tempo with the tree frogs. But somehow, all of the twitters, raspy roars, buzzes, hoots, whirrs, howls, soprano trills and chuffs work just fine together until — as if somebody flipped a switch — they fade in unison at dusk.</p> <p>That’s the sound of biodiversity, and there’s more of it in this West Virginia-sized country than anywhere else on earth. That’s what makes <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoast/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">coast-to-coast travel in Costa Rica</a> so amazing. After all, this is a nation where a “transcontinental” flight takes about an hour. It’s a land with Afro-Caribbean culture and cowboys. Don’t even try to count the keeled-bill toucans, orchids and river otters or the surprisingly different habitats where they live.<br><br><img alt="Toucan" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lV&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rBm" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoast/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Coast-to-coast is how we took in Costa Rica’s diversity on our latest trip,</a> and now we’ve transformed our gee-whiz week into the newest Classic Journey. We start on the Caribbean side at Tortuguero National Park, a coastal landscape laced with freshwater creeks and lagoons. On a single kayak ride, you could spot white-faced Capuchin monkeys, caimans, tiger herons and … well, you get the idea. The local beach is one of the world’s most important nesting sites for sea turtles. In season, you may see the hatchlings emerging from the sand and making a break for the waves. In an isolated village (no cars, no streets), we hang out with the locals, visit their school and learn about their Afro-Caribbean heritage.</p> <p>Even a quick morning flight comes with a built-in geography lesson like no other. From the window, you get an egret’s-eye view of the rainforest and a trio of volcanoes … and you appreciate in a way no textbook ever taught you just how skinny Central America is. By early afternoon, you’re in a raft on the Tenorio River near the continental divide, ready to take on Class III/IV rapids or taking a walk to Llanos de Cortez waterfall. By dinner, you’re <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoast/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">in a Pacific-view room at a resort in Guanacaste National Park</a>, on one of the country’s most pristine beaches.<br><br><img alt="Whitewater rafting" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y50000001z7lV&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM500000002rBr" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br> </p> <p>Up there in Costa Rica’s northwest corner, the climate’s a little dryer, and ranches stretch toward the Nicaraguan border. In season, we check out the cowboy and rodeo festival. In these parts, we go for a<a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoast/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank"> guided walk near the volcano in Rincon de la Vieja National Park</a>. The forest is ideal for a quintessentially Costa Rican zipline ride through the treetops. And this is habitat for a full cast of monkey species, sloths, tapirs, collared peccaries and even jaguars and pumas. Just in case you haven’t already racked up enough unique experiences, we’ll also head out for a catamaran-based snorkeling trip or, alternatively, you can go for a surfing lesson on Pacific waves.</p> <p>Sound like fun? Here’s a bit of news that will make you even happier. Every activity on the trip is included in the price you pay upfront; you won’t run into a single surcharge or equipment rental fee the way you do on cruises or some other tours. We’re also offering the trip two ways: as a <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoast/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Luxury Eco-Adventure</a> and as a <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoastfamily/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Multisport Family Journey</a>. <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/coasttocoast/?utm_campaign=coast-to-coast-travel-in-costa-rica&amp;utm_source=sojourn&amp;utm_medium=blog" target="_blank">Coast to coast, Costa Rica has more than enough variety</a> to spice up your life like no vacation ever has!</p>

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