Odenza Reviews: Make the Most of Your First Trip to Iceland

No matter what time of year you’re looking to vacation, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a destination as adventure packed as Iceland. But, despite its surge in popularity over recent years, the tiny island nation is once again taking the forefront of travelers’ minds.

These days, the land of fire and ice is drawing attention because it’s an ideal destination for social distancing. For starters, Iceland’s population is a mere 360,000. Couple that with the country’s proactive pandemic planning and testing, and you have what may arguably be the perfect getaway.

But, if you’ve never been to Iceland, don’t fret. To make the most of your first trip, here are three things to consider:

Choose whether you’ll visit Iceland during summer or winter.

Deciding when to visit Iceland can be difficult because it’s one of few destinations that offers a variety of incredible experiences year-round, most of which are only offered during their respective season. Ultimately, choosing what time of year to visit will depend on a few different variables:

  • Are you comfortable driving in winter conditions? The best way to explore Iceland is on a road trip with you as the driver. It offers you the chance to take your time and sightsee as much as you’d like. Although driving in Iceland is easy (if you’re from North America, you’ll be driving on the same side of the road and the same side of the car), weather conditions can change in the blink of an eye, especially during winter. If you aren’t comfortable driving on snow/ice, consider visiting Iceland during the warmer months.
  • Would you rather have more daylight hours? During the winter, Iceland has approximately four-nine hours of daylight. While the winter months provide exceptional opportunities, such as potentially viewing the Northern Lights, if you’d rather have more time to explore during the day, you may want to visit during the summer (when Iceland has approximately 20-22 hours of daylight).
  • What are your preferred activities? Seeing the Northern Lights is never guaranteed; however, as mentioned above, if seeing the aurora borealis is on your bucket list, you’ll need to visit during the months of September-March. Additionally, anything ice-related, such as glacier hiking, will only be offered in the winter months. On the contrary, if activities such as campervanning, whale watching, or viewing the Midnight Sun are on your bucket list, you’ll want to visit during the summer months.

Decide how long you’ll visit.

The duration of your vacation may not be flexible, and that’s okay (there’s plenty to do in Iceland no matter how long you’re there). But if flexibility is an option, consider the following when choosing the length of your trip:

  • Seeing Iceland requires a lot of driving on winding roads with unpredictable weather and no passing lanes. This means getting from point A to point B can take more time than you expect. Also keep in mind the limited daylight hours if you’re traveling during winter months. Typically speaking, the more time you have in Iceland, the better.
  • How much do you want to see, and what do you want to see? If your main goal is to see the Golden Circle and/or the South Coast, anywhere from five-seven days is doable. But if your must-see places or must-do activities take you anywhere else, you’ll want to consider spending more time on the island (who could complain?).

Enjoy all Iceland has to offer (even if it’s touristy).

Simply put — Iceland’s hotspots are worth it. Would you visit New York City for the first time without catching a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building? No. Would you visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Probably not. So, when visiting Iceland, don’t miss out on the Blue Lagoon. However, the perk to visiting Iceland’s most popular attraction is that, contrary to many other famous attractions around the world, the Blue Lagoon is clean, relaxing, and utterly magical. As for Iceland’s other hotspots (the Golden Circle, Seljalandsfoss, Jokulsarlon Lagoon, etc.) — they’re worth it, too! So, make sure to visit as many places as you can. Additionally, don’t miss out on the following:

As if Iceland could get any better, a bonus is that it’s the perfect stopover between North America’s northeast coast and Europe. So, even if you simply extend a Europe trip by just two or three days, visiting Iceland is always worth it.

Are you ready for the road trip of a lifetime? Iceland awaits you.

Odenza Reviews: Finding Aloha on Molokai

Biggest isn’t always best – particularly in the travel world. On tiny Molokai, you’ll soon discover everything you always dreamed Hawaii was, but could never find on the other islands.

The fifth largest of the islands, Molokai is less than 40 miles long and less than 10 miles wide, and it doesn’t have a single skyscraper or shopping mall. In fact, you can drive all over the island without ever finding so much as a traffic light. Seven small hotels offer 140 rooms – that’s it – and in most of them, your wake-up call will be the sound of a rooster crowing under your porch. Don’t look for glitzy beach bars, t-shirt shops or casinos. You won’t find a single one.

What you will find are roughly 7,400 proud, friendly people ready to tell you that they’re true Hawaiians. According to state statistics, more people on Molokai have Hawaiian blood than on any other island, but it’s more than genetics that gives this island its authentic feel. It’s all about an attitude of simplicity and a dedication to maintaining the Hawaiian way of life – of living aloha.

“Aloha” is the first word you’ll learn on any of the islands and you’ll instantly find yourself using it as your standard hello and goodbye. But the word – particularly on Molokai – means far more. “Aloha” translates to: ‘al’ – face-to-face, and ‘ha’ – the breath of life. In its fullest interpretation, aloha means love, friendship and responsibility, extended not just to your fellow human beings but also to the earth. The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most isolated places on the planet, which means in order to survive, their inhabitants must foster harmony and preserve their natural resources.

The Hawaiian “Aloha Spirit” law was officially enacted in 1986 and it’s taken very seriously. Aloha is both a state of mind and a way of life – it’s the essence of Molokai. You’ll feel it when you meet Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, the last survivor of a 1946 tsunami that virtually turned Molokai upside down, sweeping through beaches, rocks, trees, homes and anything else in its path. Perhaps because he survived when so many others did not, Anakala feels he was chosen to be the protector and the keeper of traditions in his lifelong home – the beautiful, isolated Halawa Valley.

As you walk down the narrow pathway through the lush green fronds and grasses to his home, Anakala blows his conch shell to welcome you. He stands solemnly encouraging you to come close and to lean towards him until your foreheads touch. “Now,” he says, “we will share the ‘ha’… the breath of life.”

You might feel unsure as you place your forehead against that of a relative stranger and even odder to breathe deliberately into his face and inhale his breath – but the practice is strangely calming and welcoming.

Together, you’ll sit on his palapa-covered porch, and Anakala will tell you his stories of the valley, the tsunami, his family, and his belief in the Hawaiian way of life as he knows it. As you listen to his soft voice and look at his treasured collection of handmade leis, newspaper clippings from 1946, family photos and more, you’ll begin to relax – perhaps like never before. In the background, the sound of a waterfall adds to the ambiance, and you’ll feel as if you’re now understanding aloha a little better.

the “harbor” at Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai where the sufferers of Hansen’s Disease (called leprosy at the time) were taken off the ships to live in the isolated area

One of the stories Anakala usually shares with visitor doesn’t take place in his valley, but rather miles away at the base of the cliffs at Kalaupapa. There, in 1866, the first Hawaiian victims of Hansen’s disease (then called leprosy) were shipped by government health officials to quarantine them from the rest of the islands. Cut off on three sides by ocean and on the fourth, by 1,600-foot sea cliffs, Kalaupapa became first, their prison and ultimately, their home.

Being exiled to Kalaupapa meant never again seeing your family, friends or home, but strangely, the story was less tragic than you might expect. A visit to the museum that commemorates the Kalaupapa colony showed that a town was built, marriages happened, children were born, and new families were created. There were dances, parties, celebrations and a sense of real community in a place where there might only have been death and despair. In 1969, the mandatory quarantine order was lifted, but many residents refused to leave, choosing instead to stay where they had built their lives. There are still a handful of people living there, in what is now Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and they plan to remain.

You must see it for yourself, so after leaving Anakala in his beautiful valley, drive to the cliffs overlooking Kalaupapa. The ocean surrounding the settlement is a brilliant cobalt blue, with a bright sun and a soft breeze that will play in your hair. The Kalaupapa residents may have chosen to stay since the ravages of their disease made integration into a larger society uncomfortable, or perhaps they were simply unwilling to leave the pristine retreat the colony had become – a place of quiet, of sunshine, of waves, and of acceptance. Perhaps, they’d created their own version of the aloha way.

Odenza Reviews: The Great Alaska Road Trip

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Set Your Sights on Adventure in the Last Frontier

There is no more intimate of a way to experience Alaska’s true grandeur than by taking a road trip – just you, your car, and a strip of pavement leading through mile upon mile of dramatic scenery, big wildlife and friendly, down-to-earth small towns.

There’s just one catch: Alaska is so big that driving the whole state would take a month or more – and you still need a boat or plane to reach some of the far-flung communities. But if you’re clever, driving still offers the closest, most personal introduction to Alaska’s majesty.

There is no more intimate of a way to experience Alaska’s true grandeur than by taking a road trip – just you, your car, and a strip of pavement leading through mile upon mile of dramatic scenery, big wildlife and friendly, down-to-earth small towns.

There’s just one catch: Alaska is so big that driving the whole state would take a month or more – and you still need a boat or plane to reach some of the far-flung communities. But if you’re clever, driving still offers the closest, most personal introduction to Alaska’s majesty.

Southeast Alaska

All great road trips start on islands, right? That means your journey begins in Southeast Alaska, where isolated island communities are connected not by bridges but by ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Make sure you book your car berth far in advance; some of the ferry routes only run a couple times a week, so they fill up fast.

Most of these island towns are busy cruise ports, which means you don’t need a car to partake in most of the tours and amenities. But having your own wheels makes it much easier to explore the dozens of miles of coastal roadway each island community possesses. This is your gateway to beachside rock petroglyphs near Wrangell, pretty picnic and fishing areas near Petersburg, and totem pole parks near Ketchikan.

No car? No problem – you can rent one in most communities. But again, the key is to plan ahead before they sell out.

If you bring your passport, you can take the ferry all the way north to Haines or Skagway, then drive into Canada, turn west and cross the border back into Alaska, headed for the famous waypoint of Tok. But let’s assume you’ll take a ferry to the Southcentral Alaska town of Valdez.

Southcentral and Interior Alaska

Even in a land of superlatives Valdez is something special, backed by towering mountains and surrounded by the rich waters of Prince William Sound. Plan on at least one big tour here – perhaps a visit to one of the world’s most active tidewater glaciers – plus time to explore the small, but very interesting, local museums.

When you’re ready to move on, it’s a six-hour drive northwest to the Interior Alaska city of Fairbanks – which easily becomes eight once you add time for rest stops and taking a few photos. You’re trading the dramatic mountains of Valdez for rolling hills clad in every imaginable shade of green. Much of the land here was shaped by early gold mining, and panning for gold remains a massive tourist draw, along with unusual experiences like bathing in a hot spring or taking a nature walk with free-roaming reindeer.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, use Fairbanks as your jumping-off point for a day-long drive up the Dalton Highway to the work camps of Coldfoot or Wiseman, or even all the way to Prudhoe Bay. Let someone else do the driving on a van tour, then hop a small plane to get you back to Fairbanks in the same day.

From there, you’ll hopscotch south: another two hours to Denali National Park, where six million acres of wilderness speak for themselves; then two and a half hours more to Talkeetna, the famously quirky little town that serves as ground zero for flightseeing tours around North America’s tallest peak: 20,310′ Denali.

The next major stop is Anchorage, Alaska’s only “big city,” where you can have almost anything you want, from a true city spa day to walking hundreds of miles of city trails and parkland. You’re back in Southcentral Alaska now and just a short drive from many great tours, including glacier dog-sledding from nearby Girdwood or hopping a plane for bear-viewing in Lake Clark or Katmai national parks.

But this isn’t the end of the line. A narrow ribbon of highway continues south to Seward, a popular cruise port known for its day cruises; you can go sightseeing, whale-watching or fishing there. Or, take the other fork and end up in Homer, which is famous for its friendly people and many artsy, foodie and fishing pursuits. Along the way, you’ll pass through Kenai and Soldotna, home to some of the best freshwater salmon fishing in the world.

When to Hop on a Plane

There are a few places in Alaska where your car can’t go – at least not easily. So, although traveling by four wheels gives you the freedom to slow down and explore the state on your own terms and at your own speed, at some point, you should consider taking to the air to reach the Arctic communities of Nome or Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow). Unless you’re on a cruise, planes are also the easiest way to reach the famous fishing/crabbing city of Kodiak or the remote fishing port of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.

But once you get there, rent a car and head out on the local roads. There are once-in-a-lifetime memories awaiting you.

 

Odenza Reviews: Los Cabos Awaits Your Return

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Located on the southernmost tip of Baja California, Mexico, and considered one of the world´s most inspiring destinations, Los Cabos is a hot spot year round. From the hot and wild summer to the fresh and vibrant winter, there isn’t a season when this unique destination isn’t amazing.

It almost seems unfair that one destination conformed by two towns (Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo) boasts so many incredible attractions: stunning blue flag beaches, perfect weather, remarkable biodiversity, delicious gastronomy, sophisticated accommodations, world-class night clubs, and spectacular tours along the marvelous peninsula.

Los Cabos just announced a Five-Phase approach to reopening beginning June 1st. The way we travel might have changed, but Los Cabos’ unique experiences remain the same. The goal of the phased reopening is to systematically allow companies to resume activities while protecting the health and safety of the community and travelers, and limiting the resurgence of new COVID-19 cases.

The tourism board also confirmed that 62 percent of the hotel inventory will resume operations while international airlines like Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta have already announced their return to the destination. If you haven’t been here before, or even if you have and are dreaming about returning, here are some of the many reasons you’ll fall in love with this stretch of paradise. Los Cabos awaits your return.

Blue Flag Beaches

There are 19 beaches worthy of this distinction – no wonder Los Cabos ranks as the top destination in Mexico for visitors! When you see a Blue Flag flying, you know a beach or marina is clean and accessible, has great water quality, meets high safety standards, and is working hard to protect local shorelines and ecosystems. Along the rocky cliffs lie a great deal of bays, luxurious resorts, and soft sandy beaches. The water tonalities cover all shades of blue, from navy to turquoise, and green. When you drive along the corridor from San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas, the color palette is something else!

The Arch of Cabo San Lucas

The distinctive landmark of Cabo San Lucas is the rugged taffy-colored rock formation that erupts from the sea at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez. Also known as Land’s End, The Arch is a popular tourist attraction and the central focus of countless vacation photos. A visit to Land’s End is undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do in Cabo San Lucas. Getting there is easy, and you can view the iconic golden arch from your boat. Some might call it the “land´s end,” but for us, it’s just the beginning of your next unforgettable adventure.

Whale Watching Tours

Whale season in Los Cabos occurs from December to April. Getting close to their habitat is an unparalleled experience you’ll talk about for years to come. Imagine being on the front row admiring their colossal size and extraordinary longevity. Environmental protection, non-invasive tour protocols, as well as support of both local and worldwide conservation are of great concern for every tour operator in the Cabo San Lucas bay. Please follow the instructions of your guide and enjoy this unrivaled spectacle.

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

Speaking of amazing sea life, the Sea of Cortez in Los Cabos has a huge variety of sea flora including one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. Don´t forget to partake in scuba diving and snorkeling lessons, but make sure to keep conservational rules in mind so we can preserve the reservoir for generations to come. Operators are eager to help you find the best possible tour, so go ahead and plan your trip now.

San Jose del Cabo

San Jose del Cabo´s downtown main plaza and its distinctive architecture has become an Art District where you can find art crafts from all over the world, but mainly Mexican art and local creations. It´s also a hot spot for shopping and dining. This adorable town has an interesting variety of bohemian and artistic restaurants, cafes and galleries. From November to June, it hosts the Art Walk, an event that takes you on a stunning stroll around the picturesque streets and charming stores of San Jose del Cabo. Its world-class marina, stunning gold-sand beaches, famous surf spots, and wildlife make this town a must see on your next vacation.

Odenza Reviews: Two Countries, One Destination

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Imagine standing on top of 1/5 of the world’s fresh water supply, hearing the roar of 600 gallons per second, while taking in the beauty of one of the world’s natural wonders and simultaneously looking across the way at another country.

Sound far-fetched? Luckily, it’s not! Located in northwest New York State straddling the Canadian border, Niagara Falls is the perfect domestic destination for Americans and Canadians alike. And, no matter which side you visit (it’s recommended to visit both if possible), you won’t be disappointed.


THE AMERICAN SIDE

The American side of Niagara Falls often gets overlooked and underrated. But, given that the actual Falls are on the American side, nowhere else in the world can get you closer. Consider exploring Niagara from the American side first to fully experience the sheer power of the Falls, followed by a trip to the Canadian side to appreciate its size and majestic beauty.

Getting There

For the easiest access to the American side of Niagara Falls, fly into Buffalo, New York. From there, rent a car from the airport and explore. (Pro tip: Car rentals are typically inexpensive in the area as long as your pick-up and drop off locations are the same.)

If you fly into Buffalo in the evening, it’s recommended to stay at a hotel near the airport and get started on your adventure in the morning. If you arrive mid-day, consider exploring Buffalo for the remainder of your first day as the lines at Niagara Falls will already be long.

What to Do at Niagara Falls

You’ll want to arrive at Niagara Falls as soon as it opens to try and beat the lines. And, if possible, try to purchase tickets beforehand so you don’t miss out on any of your preferred activities. On the American side, these main attractions are recommended:

  • Observation Deck
  • Maid of the Mist
  • Cave of the Winds

But, do make sure to allow for spare time as the park on the American side offers several walking trails with exceptional lookout points.

Where to Visit in the Area

Whether you explore the surrounding area before or after your trip to Niagara Falls, there’s plenty to do nearby. Consider spending a day in Buffalo and exploring Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Darwin Martin House, and Anchor Bar on Main Street, home to the original Buffalo Chicken Wing. You could also take a 1.5-hour drive to Rochester, New York, spend a day relaxing at a public beach on Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, or explore the beautiful countryside of the Niagara Wine Trail, USA.


THE CANADIAN SIDE

If getting up close and personal with 600 gallons of rushing water per minute isn’t the adrenaline rush you’re looking for, the Canadian side of Niagara Falls will be more your speed. Tourists flock to the Canadian side of Niagara, and it’s easy to understand why once you experience its full view of the entire Falls (typically with a rainbow in sight) and beautifully landscaped Falls-side pathway.

Getting There

For the easiest access to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, fly into Toronto, Ontario. You can also rent a car from the airport there and then begin your trip. If you don’t feel like driving, consider other scenic options such as the GO train or bus, or the VIA Rail train. There are plenty of transportation modes available, including tour operators offering small-group private tours around the Niagara region.

What to Do at Niagara Falls

If you’ve already experienced the rush of the Falls from the American side, it’s recommended to spend lunch on the Canadian side (Queen Victoria Place restaurant offers Fall-side views and casual dining in a historic setting), then let your meal settle with a nice pathway stroll. But, if you’re experiencing the Falls fully from the Canadian side, these main attractions are recommended:

  • Journey Behind the Falls
  • Hornblower Niagara Cruises
  • Skylon Tower

And, if you want an outdoor bird’s eye view of the Falls and aren’t afraid of heights, you can also soar from a 220-feet high vantage point for more than 2,000 feet on the WildPlay Zipline. Take flight if you dare!

Where to Visit in the Area

If you have the time, you should consider exploring Toronto – the capital of the province of Ontario, Canada’s largest city, and the fourth largest city in North America. But the true gem of Canada’s Niagara region is Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Niagara-on-the-Lake sits just 30 minutes north of Niagara Falls on the shore of Lake Ontario. This quintessential town boasts 19th century buildings, a picturesque old town and waterfront, and a wine country that has taken a backseat to its neighbor, Niagara Falls. Although underappreciated, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a destination that should be on everyone’s radar. Home to rolling vineyards with chateaus, iconic ice wine, and more than 20 wineries in a five-mile radius (with nearly 100 wineries in the entire Niagara region), Niagara-on-the-Lake is the perfect relaxing getaway that rivals California – but without the crowds.


RECOMMENDED ITINERARY

For the perfect four-day trip to Niagara Falls, here is a “tried and tested” itinerary:

DAY 1
  • Arrive to Buffalo, New York in the evening.
  • Rent a car from the airport and stay at a hotel nearby.

 

DAY 2
  • Embark on your Niagara Falls adventure early in the morning.
  • Visit the American side: Start with the Observation Deck followed by a Maid of the Mist boat ride and the Cave of the Winds (it’s recommended to book your tickets in advance). End your time on the American side with a stroll through the surrounding park.
  • Next, head to the Canadian side for lunch and a scenic stroll along the Falls-side pathway.
  • Then, drive north to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Enjoy an afternoon drive around town stopping along the lake or at a winery (most of the downtown shops will be closed by this point).
  • Finally, end your adventurous day with a quaint dinner in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Notes:

  • Recommended hotel: Woodbourne Inn
  • Recommended dinner: Treadwell Cuisine

 

DAY 3
  • Start your day off with breakfast at your hotel (especially if you stay at Woodbourne Inn).
  • Then, spend your day exploring Niagara-on-the-Lake’s wineries.

Notes:

  • Recommended wineries: Inniskillin (for ice wine), Ravine Vineyard, and Two Sisters Vineyards
  • Recommended lunch: Ravine Vineyard Winery Restaurant (request to eat outside if weather permits)
  • Recommended dinner: Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards (request to eat on the patio if weather permits)
  • Pro Tip: If visiting in the summer, consider not exploring Niagara-on-the-Lake’s wineries on a Saturday, as many wineries close early for weddings.

 

DAY 4
  • Enjoy breakfast at your hotel in the morning.
  • Then, drive back across the border to catch your flight home from the Buffalo, New York airport.

Note: If you’re starting your trip on the Canadian side, or if you can’t visit both the American and Canadian sides, this itinerary can easily be adjusted.

Whether you’re looking for an adventure or simply needing a relaxing weekend getaway, Niagara Falls and its surrounding area is the perfect North American vacation. Get soaked, sip on wine, explore two countries, and take in the beauty of one of the world’s natural wonders – all within one iconic destination that attracts visitors from around the world.

Odenza Reviews: Beauty in Your Own Backyard

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Both meditative and mind-blowing, the magnificent national parks of Canada and the United States offer travelers breathtaking views while simultaneously protecting natural heritage for generations to come. From snow-capped mountains and turquoise lakes to lush forests and red rock canyons, there is wonder to be found from sea to shining sea. And, while you might not be able to visit these parks in person now, we encourage you to immerse yourself in these lush locales to inspire your future travels.

Canada

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Atlantic Canada’s second largest national park is a starkly beautiful expanse of craggy, mist-shrouded mountains, wind-swept highlands and landlocked fjords on the eastern coast of Newfoundland. From its rocky beaches and lush coastal forests to its barren lands, this geologically fascinating and breathtakingly scenic park is punctuated by the panoramic peak of Gros Morne Mountain and the ancient glacial and geological formations called the Tablelands. Here, you can ascend from flower-filled lowlands high into the alpine tundra in search of caribou, ptarmigan (also known as a snow quail) and snowshoe hare. Paddle past the sheer cliff sides of Western Brook Pond, a waterfall-fed freshwater fjord, and explore coastal pathways and trails leading to beaches hidden among sea stacks – all the while soaking up the colorful traditions of the charming seaside communities that make Newfoundland so unique.

Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario

Sitting on the St. Lawrence River, on the border between Canada and the United States, Thousand Islands National Park is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Ontario. Its rugged shoreline and islands are dotted with opulent estates, including the famous Boldt Castle. The European style mansion, on Heart Island, is one of the main attractions, but its history is mired in sadness. The castle was the dream of millionaire George C. Boldt, an American hotelier who built this summer home as a display of his love for his wife, Louise. Unfortunately, she passed away suddenly before the castle was completed, and the broken-hearted Mr. Boldt stopped construction and never set foot on the island again. For over 70 years, the structure was vacant, left to mercy of the elements until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property. Today, visitors who embark on a Thousand Island cruise can visit the castle (a passport is required to disembark on the island) and enjoy the stunning views of the St. Lawrence River. Other islands offer visitors hiking trails, canoe or paddling excursions and overnight accommodations.

Jasper National Park, Alberta

The largest of Canada’s seven Rocky Mountain National Parks, which together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage site, Jasper is an alpine wilderness teeming with wildlife, including bighorn sheep, moose, eagles, elk, wolves, lynx, cougars and grizzly bears. Here, nature is writ large – from massive glaciers and snow-capped peaks to towering waterfalls, deep canyons and pine scented valleys. In summer, you can stroll through meadows carpeted with brilliant swathes of delicate wildflowers, soak in the restorative waters of natural hot springs and paddle across pristine emerald lakes, or camp, hike, bike and even backcountry horseback ride over rugged mountain trails. In winter, there are opportunities for canyon ice walks, cross-country and downhill skiing, pond skating, snowshoeing and wildlife watching.

Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia

Saturated in millennia-old indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth culture and famed for its rugged coastline dotted with enormous beaches and old growth rainforest, Pacific Rim National Park is one of Canada’s most popular National Parks. Stretching south from the whale-watching center of Tofino, the park spans part of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast – famous for its spectacular Pacific storms that draw awed visitors from around the world. Take an easy interpretive stroll along the picturesque Wild Pacific Trail near Ucluelet or a challenging multi-day trek along the legendary West Coast Trail. Learn to cold water surf like the pros. Paddle among the Broken Islands, one of the world’s premier sea kayaking destinations. Whale-watch from shore or on a boat, keeping an eye out for some of the estimated 20,000 grey and Orca whales that transit past here each year. Explore one of the world’s oldest temperate rainforests at Clayoquot Sound. Or kick back and relax while watching a ferocious winter squall pummel the shoreline while you dine in style on classic west coast cuisine.

Kluane National Park, Yukon

Kluane National Park and Reserve is truly an extraordinary destination, set within the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. On top of being home to the largest non-polar icefields in the world, the park is a hiker’s paradise as it comprises 17 of Canada’s tallest mountains – including Mount Logan, the highest peak in the country. Two modern highways allow visitors access to the park, where they can enjoy scenic drives and watch Dall sheep grazing or resting on the mountainsides, black bears roaming in search of food, and herds of mountain goats climbing to the summits. For visitors seeking adventure, the park offers numerous hiking trails from short family friendly paths to multi-day expeditions. Rafting is also available on the Alsek River to see grizzlies, eagles and glaciers. For a behind-the-scenes look at the wildlife, flightseeing tours offer a great opportunity for some unique encounters with nature and spectacular photo ops. A visit to the Thachäl Dhäl Visitor Centre is a must to get historical details of the region and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

The United States

The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon encompasses just over one million acres and three distinct forest environments, measuring 277 miles long. From Grand Canyon Village, the drop measures a vertical mile, or approximately 5,000 feet from Rim to River. (No, there is no elevator to the bottom!) The width ranges 10 to 18 feet across. Putting that in practical terms, if you hike the canyon or go down by mule, it takes two days. If you hike from the South to North Rim, the trek is three days one way. For a real adventure, raft through the Canyon; the trip can take up to two weeks. That said, the park offers a variety of sight-seeing opportunities for people of all ages and fitness levels. Scenic rim tours by motor coach are an excellent way to maximize your time and see the key viewpoints.

The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

For a quieter, less crowded visit, make the 4.5-hour drive to the North Rim. North Rim is open May 15 to October 15 and there is only one lodge in the park, so reserve well in advance. The North Rim offers numerous hiking trails and mule rides from 1 hour long to 2.5 days.

Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest was designated a national park to preserve and protect multi-colored stones, trees, plant and animal fossils, Native American sites and petroglyphs, and portions of the Painted Desert, along with a section of Historic Route 66. The landscape is diverse in color, wide open and somewhat flat with plateaus spanning miles. Visit the Hoodoos, natural stone towers at Devil’s Playground, or do some geocaching. The National Park Service set up a series of geocaching clues that can be accessed from your own GPS system through the park website. The visitor’s center displays some amazing samples of petrified trees and clearly explains the evolutionary process of fossils – great for the kids if you are traveling as a family.

Arches National Park

Here you will find the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world, with over 2,000 documented arches! A special experience is the park’s night skies program. Here, the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye, except on nights of dense cloud cover. Arches offers visitors the opportunity to view dark skies from dusk till dawn, and there are ranger-planned night sky programs on set dates. A unique moment in time here is when the earth and sky blend into the darkness, allowing you to wonder at the beauty and vastness of the universe.

Bryce Canyon National Park

From Arches, it will take around five hours to drive to Bryce Canyon, where you will be awed and inspired by towering stone hoodoos and cliffs in dazzling shades of orange, pink and gold. The hoodoos, according to Paiute legend, were once human before a powerful god called Coyote became angry with them and turned them all to stone. Take in the formation called Thor’s Hammer on the Navajo Trail – a must-see for movie and comic book fans. The park is open year-round, but access may be restricted during winter months due to road conditions. There is nothing more beautiful than snow covering the glimmering red rocks at sunrise. The park even offers snowshoeing in winter months as part of their planned ranger program.

Zion National Park

Zion was Utah’s first National Park. The name means “Place of peace and refuge”. The Narrows, truly the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, has white and pink walls as high as a thousand feet tall, and the river is sometimes just 20 to 30 feet wide. It is one of the most popular areas in the park and can be seen by hiking along the paved, wheelchair-accessible Riverside Walk for one mile from the Temple of Sinawava. If you wish to see more, you will be walking through the Virgin River, which can involve wading upstream for a few minutes or become an all-day hike. There is only one historic lodge inside the park and two restaurants, so dining is limited. If the lodge is sold out, your agent can find a variety of lodging options nearby. From April to October transportation through the park is by shuttle only, but private cars can take the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway year-round.

There is so much more to see throughout North America, and the national parks of Canada and the United States offer a variety of opportunities to get out and explore the great outdoors. So, start planning your future exploration now – we’ll be back out there before you know it.

Odenza Reviews: Hawaii by Bike

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Biking – a growing sport in Hawaii – is compelling, refreshing, and exciting. While island-hopping, you’ll discover a rich variety of biking terrain, from volcanic mountain slopes to twisty single tracks. Whether you prefer riding mountain bikes, city bikes, or hybrid bikes, there’s no shortage of routes. With fresh air, lush greenery, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, bike trips in Hawaii make for an unforgettable workout. For both competitive cyclists and casual riders, it’s worth booking a trip with a reputable travel agency and coming to Hawaii to find the best rides.

Haleakala, Maui

Book a mountain bike tour with Bike Maui and ride 23 miles down the iconic Haleakala volcano after watching a magnificent sunrise. This outing starts off early, as you check in between 3:00 am and 4:00 am. You’ll first head up in a vehicle driven by a guide and check out the volcanic crater, learning about Maui nature and geology and admiring the heavenly rays of purple and orange to the east. The total elevation change is 6,500 feet as you bike back to sea level, and it’s a comfortable pace, as the average grade of the route is just five per cent. In all, it takes about eight hours.

Old Mamaloa Highway, the Big Island

Ranches teeming with cattle and cowboys give Waimea its character, just south of the Kohala Forest Reserve in the northern part of the Big Island. Bike east on the Old Mamaloa Highway, riding through the historic, 1847-founded Parker Ranch and old sugar plantation lands, and checking out the Mauna Kea volcano. Stop at the Tex Drive-In to refuel with a hearty grilled ahi burger. Another 20 miles will bring you to the magnificent Waipio Valley Lookout, overlooking where the legendary Hawaiian king Kamehameha I lived as a child.

Ke Ala Hele Makalae Trail, Kauai

If you have no desire to climb Mont Ventoux as a Tour de France competitor but love relaxing, scenic coastal bike rides, the Ke Ala Hele Makalae Trail in Kaui is for you. Extending more than seven miles, the multi-use, paved trail follows Kauai’s eastern shores, known as the “Coconut Coast.” Check out interpretive signs along the route, which highlight local nature, archeology, and history. Or stop for a swim at Lydgate Park, which offers two enclosed lagoons and a picnic area. Bikes can be rented at Kauai Cycle.

Peacock Flats, Oahu

Are you an avid mountain biker who’s looking for some challenging, technical single tracks? Then it’s time to bike Peacock Flats. Nestled in the northwest corner of Oahu in the Kuaokala Forest Reserve, the route includes a thigh-burning 1,500-foot climb that kicks off at the Mokuleia Access Road. Tight switchbacks on the cliffside Kealia Trail command your attention even when there are views of huge surfing waves and Dillingham Air Field to be enjoyed.

Honolulu Century Ride, Oahu

Biking in Hawaii is a wonderful solo escape, but it can be even more enjoyable when you do it in a group. Check out panoramas of Kapiolani Park and Diamond Head on the coastal Honolulu Century Ride. Hawaii’s largest annual bike ride, with more than 2,000 participants, will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2021. It’s a fun event, and you can choose to bike anywhere from five to 100 miles.

Odenza Reviews: Marrakesh, Morocco

boatd docked near houses and body of water

Marrakesh, home to beautiful palaces, gardens, night market and mosques, is an enchanting city that will make you want to revisit every summer for years to come.

This city is easily one of the most unique and fascinating cities with beautiful boutiques, riads (traditional guesthouses), and spectacular architectures that will blow you away. Located on the Saharan dessert, you will find plenty of activities to partake in from camel riding to exploring hidden palaces.

This thousand year old city is bustling with tourists and it’s easy to travel to from anywhere around the world. The oldest historic part of Marrakesh, is called Medina and is a popular area for tourists with its lineups of souks (traditional markets) for antiques, crafts, spices and affordable souvenirs. When wandering around Medina, stopping by a Hammam, a bath house, is highly recommended and is an experience that one should not miss out on.

Marrakesh is a city to get lost in and each alley is guaranteed to give you a different experience from its maze-like narrow cobblestone lanes to the use of vibrant and bold colors around walls and tiled mosaics that easily make for breathtaking backdrops.

 

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Odenza Reviews: Castles, Gardens and Battlefields: The Historic Isles are Calling

the-british-islesYou don’t have to be a history buff to be intrigued by the traces of the past that linger everywhere in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Roman ruins, Neolithic standing stones, Norman keeps, palatial Georgian homes, Victorian monuments – they all remind us of other times and other lives.

Talk all you will about “Cool Britannia” with its trendy designers and of-the-moment pop stars. But sometimes, it’s just more interesting to meander down the lanes of the past. And if there’s one thing the British Isles have plenty of, it’s the past.

For North American visitors, the big draw is often genealogy, tracing the stories of ancestors who may have fled the Irish famine of the 19th century or the Scottish rebellions of the century before that. Genealogical travel is huge business these days, with dozens of companies offering tours and vacation packages, and often including research assistance as well.

This renewed fascination with the past has only been helped by a slew of historical dramas, both films,and television series, that have brought the past alive to new generations. The Starz TV series, Outlander, has drawn countless visitors to Scotland’s Culloden Battlefield, where the Jacobite dream died in 1746. ITV’s Victoria has ignited a fascination with the first modern monarch, a woman who not only encouraged scientists, artists, and free thinkers but mastered the art of personal brand management long before it was a thing. And numerous Second World War dramas – Foyle’s War, The Bletchley Circle, Their Finest, and Dunkirk among many – keep our fascination alive with dark conflict, heroes and villains.

The past lingers in the castles, palaces and stately homes, as well as abbeys and cathedrals, that dot the land. Wales, for instance, is often called “the castle capital of the world” for its sheer number of structures – 600 of them, of which 100 are still standing. And each era leaves its mark on its buildings through architectural embellishments. The Gothic flying buttresses of the Middle Ages aren’t just beautiful; they reflect an advanced technology of the time. The same goes for the stately structures of the Tudors, the symmetry and plastered ceilings of the Georgian era, the ornate detailing of the Victorians, and the clean minimalism of contemporary design.

But in this green and pleasant land, the historic gardens are as renowned as the buildings they surround. The most distinctive are those designed in the 18th century by Capability Brown, “England’s greatest gardener,” whose “gardenless” landscapes of rolling lawns broken up by clumps of trees and serpentine lakes ushered in the Romantic wildernesses of the 19th century. It’s estimated that he was responsible for more than 170 gardens surrounding some of the greatest estates, including Belvoir Castle, Croome Court, Blenheim Palace and Harewood House – all places where his work still endures.

Of course, many of these great homes also have royal connections, making the UK a “must-visit” destination for those fascinated with the monarchy, both past and present. But even before William the Conqueror arrived in 1066 and started construction on Windsor Castle, there were the Romans who ruled over Britain for nearly 400 years starting from Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD. They laid down roads, built baths and erected walls. There are still plenty of ruins to be seen in the sceptered isles, from Hadrian’s Wall in the north to Chedworth Roman Villa in the Cotswolds to the Roman baths in Bath. And one of the best places to discover Londinium’s Roman history is the Museum of London, which boasts more than 47,000 objects in its Roman collection. But even before the Romans, there were the Neolithic peoples whose memory lingers through the standing stones at Stonehenge or Craigh na Dun, as well as hill figures like the Uffington White Horse.

In the British Isles, it seems no matter where you wander, the past is never very far away.

Odenza Reviews: Capture Your Moment Under Alaska’s Northern Lights

imageFew things can rival the experience of looking up to see a night sky covered in dancing ribbons of light: the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. These mysterious lights draw thousands of visitors to Alaska during the winter and shoulder seasons, when night skies are dark enough for the colors of the aurora to shine through.

The only thing better than carrying a memory of the northern lights home with you is capturing them in a photo, too – so I turned to Todd Salat, the Aurora Hunter, professional photographer, and owner of the Todd Salat Shots gallery in Anchorage, for some advice on how to make that happen.

Prep before your trip

The key to capturing aurora with both camera and heart? Salat says it’s taking the time to practice night photography before you leave on your trip, along with accepting that no matter how good you are or what kind of camera you’re using, a certain amount of trial and error is inevitable.

“Practice in the backyard before you go, or even in a closed bedroom with the lights off and a candle as a target,” he advises. And although with a bit of luck you can capture amazing aurora photos on late-model mobile devices, if you’re after a hero shot you can blow up and hang on the wall, you’re going to need a higher-end digital camera and a tripod.

“The first thing you need to do is stabilize your camera,” Salat goes on to say, “After that, it’s all about exposing the relatively low light onto the sensor of your camera.” That means learning to twiddle a few settings in manual mode: ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop or aperture.

Get ready for trial and error

Cameras, lenses, and shooting conditions all vary enormously, so Salat recommends starting by making sure you have some light preserved on your camera. Set your shutter speed between five and 10 seconds, place the aperture as wide as possible to let the most light in (select the lowest possible f-stop setting), and crank the ISO as high as you can tolerate it. Salat usually starts shooting at ISO 3200 but notes that on some cameras, ISO 1600 is a good place to start.

Then, take a picture and check the results in your camera’s LCD. At a high ISO, your camera sensor is more sensitive to light than your eye, so even if all you see is the vague white light of a dim aurora, your camera might be able to see green and other colors. If the picture is too grainy or “noisy,” that’s because of a high ISO. But since the most common mistake Salat sees from hopeful photographers is underexposing their photos, it’s better to overexpose at first, so you at least see something on the screen, then dial it back.

Once you have the first trace of light on your screen, tweak your settings to suit conditions in the moment. As a general rule, keep the aperture as wide open as possible as you adjust the balance of ISO and shutter speed. A higher ISO lets you use a faster shutter speed, while a lower ISO requires a slower shutter speed to allow more light through the lens.

Focus on the light

Knowing how those settings relate to each other and being comfortable adjusting them before you find yourself standing under the ever-changing aurora, will get you most of the way to great photo memories of your Alaska experience. But if the stars or foreground objects in your shot are fuzzy, you may have a problem with your lens focus.

“You need to set your lens to infinity focus, then dial it back a hair,” Salat explains. “But the width of that hair varies from lens to lens.” His solution? Go into live view mode, focus on a star or a foreground object that you’ve illuminated by headlamp, then tape your focus ring in place so it’ll stay at just the right setting. Once that’s done you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the hunt for a perfect photo memory.

“I think the number one thing you want to do is enjoy the experience,” he says. And as long as you take the time to practice adjusting your camera settings beforehand, you can have your aurora experience and photograph it, too.

Additionally, follow these tips for a seamless aurora photography experience:

  • Use a remote shutter release or short shutter delay so your long exposure isn’t blurred by the motion of your finger on the camera.
  • Bring extra camera batteries – they run out quickly in the cold. Keep the spares in an inside pocket of your jacket or stash them in a warm place.
  • When you bring your camera back inside, put it in a plastic bag to keep the lens from icing over.
  • Bring a headlamp with a red-light mode so you can see what you’re doing without disrupting your night vision or photos with splashes of bright white light.

 

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