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2021 Year In Review

It’s that time again to reminisce about this past year’s travel, the sites seen, the experiences shared, and the relationships renewed. You will notice one difference in 2021 versus past years and that is the total number of places visited. While it may not have been as numerous, we traveled, and it was nothing less than amazing! The operative words when travelling today are stay informed and be flexible and then after that make sure you are informed and continue to be flexible! As the saying goes, the only constant is change and that holds true today  as we continue to navigate the ebb and flow of this environment and the ever changing travel guidelines around the world. 

In January, we went on an Anniversary escape back to Cancun where we indulged ourselves at the Grand Fiesta Americana. It is located at the north end of the most exclusive beach in Cancun in the Hotel Zone and boasts wonderful views of the Bay of Isla Majeures. The Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach All Inclusive Spa Resort delivers luxury without limits. You can expect to enjoy elegant accommodations, world-class service, diverse cuisine options that exceed all expectations, all combined with a wealth of unforgettable experiences.

Just before our departure a new CDC order was announced requiring all travelers, including US citizens, to have a negative COVID-19 test to re-enter into the USA. The Caribbean Islands, Mexico and other international countries have been practicing this all along and are fully prepared to accommodate testing at airports and at the resorts. In fact, our resort in Mexico had already arranged our testing appointment before we arrived at the property. The process was easy breezy! On our appointment day it took us minutes to check in and get the test done. No forms to fill out, as they already had copies of our passports, no waiting in line and no stress as every detail was handled. All we had to do was enjoy our vacation and not worry about where to go and what to do. Many, if not most, 5-star properties cover the cost of testing and some provide additional travel insurance in case you have to quarantine which will cover all of your expenses. Later that same day we received an email with our “Negativo” results for a safe journey home. First class service at its best!

The trend for us during COVID has been to travel to countries that have recently reopened to avoid crowds. After we had our share of Caribbean beaches and sunshine throughout 2020 into early 2021, we noticed travel to these areas was substantially increasing in popularity, so we pivoted once again to avoid the crowds.

In May, the world seemed to re-open and by June, Cruise Lines were once again sailing. The world was now accessible, and travelers took full advantage of the opportunity. You better believe we did as well and immediately set sail for the Mediterranean despite the fact we had been to Greece and the Greek Isles many times. We just knew that it would be the perfect option for the summer.

When sailing from Athens one must spend at least a day soaking in the sights, smells, and history of Greece. We stayed at the Divani Palace Acropolis hotel where we enjoyed breathtaking views of the Acropolis from our balcony. The location of the property puts you right in the middle of everything and is the perfect place to savor Athens fascinating history.

We were thrilled to be among the first guests to sail on the brand-new Celebrity Apex for her inaugural sailing season throughout the Greek Isles and Croatia. Our first port of call would be the beautiful Island of Mykonos. Famous for its minimal Cycladic architecture, Mykonos is full of traditional whitewashed houses and blue-domed churches. The trademark of the island, though, is the beautiful traditional windmills in front of Little Venice, where you can also enjoy the magical sunset and capture the colorful light washing up the island’s Chora (main town). Pure bliss!

Since we have been to Mikonos before we ventured to the other side of the island to visit the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani in Ano Mera Village which was originally built in 1542 by two priests and was originally named after the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. The monastery was restored in 1767 and took its present name after an icon of the Virgin Mary found in the nearby area of Tourlos. Since then, Panagia Tourliani became the patroness of the island and is celebrated every August 15th.

Our next port would be on the beautiful island of Rhodes which quickly became our favorite of all the Greek Isles and that is saying something because there is no bad place to visit in this part of the world. Rhodes is also known as the “Knights’ Island” and has a rich historical past.

Rhodes Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, attracts millions of visitors every year! We strolled through the stone paved alleys on our way to visit the Venetian Castle, the Street of the Knights, and the Palace of the Grand Master. There are simply not enough words to describe the atmosphere in this unique city!

As we journeyed on, our next port of call would find us on the beautiful, romantic island of Santorini. Having been to Santorini before we wanted to make sure to stop and visit one of the most picturesque properties in the world built into the cliffs of the island. Katikies Kirini, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, Verified Forbes Travel Guide & Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice awardee in Santorini, is in the Oia area of the island. It promises to bedazzle your senses with its exquisite setting and miraculous views to the Caldera. In this fairytale hotel, we were captivated by the majestic views and the luxurious service answering all our wishes, our visit was a unique experience that we will remember and cherish for life. Luxury reaches a whole new level, with an idyllic Santorini atmosphere and dream-like accommodations.

There is always a sense of longing to go back to Santorini when sailing away but that feeling is quickly forgotten knowing the next port is Dubrovnik, Croatia. This picturesque city on the Dalmatian coast is referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. This beautiful gem nestled on the southern Adriatic Coast became an important sea power on the Mediterranean around the 13th century. Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik somehow managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces, and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration program coordinated by UNESCO. The old city of Dubrovnik was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and today is one of the most charming small cities in the world filled with romance. We treasured the scenic views from our cable car ride which moved on to an informative walking tour of old town followed by lunch at one of the most picturesque locations in Old Town Dubrovnik at the Dubravca 1836 Restaurant. The food was simply delicious, but honestly, they could have served anything, and it would have been fine with the views of the Adriatic we experienced.

We have just concluded our first week on the Celebrity Apex and it was nothing short of amazing. From the time we initially arrived at the pier, conducted covid testing to board, getting results back in 15 minutes to the itinerary, excursions, the cabin, food, and entertainment until the time we arrived back in Athens was nothing less than smooth sailing…Pardon the pun!

It should be noted all precautions were taken during the cruise and very well organized. The safety protocols were not disruptive and took nothing away from the experience. I must say the week we cruised there were a total of 420 passengers on a ship that holds 2900! It felt like we were on our own massive yacht especially given the fact there are 900 crew members. Needless to say, the service was impeccable.

But wait…Déjà vu!

Remember when I mentioned in the beginning that one must be flexible? Well, this was a back-to-back cruise that should have taken us to the Greek Isles, Israel, and Cyprus but due to the situation in the latter two countries the cruise would once again sail the Greek Isles and Dubrovnik! No Worries, we would just have to do things the second go around that we missed the first time, and you better believe we took full advantage!

It is important to note there are several advantages you will enjoy if you are taking a back-to-back cruise. For example, safety protocol dictates you must be tested prior to arriving back in Athens which took all of 2 minutes to complete and the results emailed to us that afternoon. We didn’t’t have to test again to board, and we could leave our belongings in our cabin. If you aren’t’t staying in the same cabin, then no worries, your attendant will move your stuff to your new cabin. While others are scurrying around to get their luggage and take in the ship, you can lay by the pool, walk into town, or find a cozy, quiet spot, and just relax as you prepare for another fun filled week. We took advantage of this time to stroll and explore the surprisingly big and busy port town of Piraeus.

Ok, so here we go again. Our first port of call would be Mykonos where we decided to take an excursion to the island of Delos. This is another UNESCO world heritage site just a few miles, by water, from cosmopolitan Mykonos. According to Greek mythology, Apollo was born on this tiny island in the Cyclades archipelago. Apollo's sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos developed into a prosperous trading port. The island bears traces of the succeeding civilizations in the Aegean world, from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the Paleo Christian era. The archaeological site is exceptionally extensive and rich and conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port.

Over the centuries, Delos was truly a cosmopolitan center with a diverse population that included people from all around the Mediterranean, but in 88 BCE the Romans destroyed the island during their war with Mithridates (an ally of the Athenians who controlled the island), a calamity Delos never recovered from. Away from the limelight for several centuries, its population dwindled and by the 3d century CE only a small Christian community called it home. Subsequently, Delos was plundered several times in the 8th and 9th centuries and during Ottoman occupation the nearly deserted island became and remained a pirate stronghold. The ancient ruins were also pilfered for marble and stone which were used by the nearby islanders for their own construction needs.

The French School of Archaeology began excavating Delos in 1873. Today Delos is an archaeological site reachable by boat from Mykonos. A small museum among the ruins shelters and exhibits some of the important objects unearthed during the ongoing excavations.

As was the case the first week the next port would again find us in Rhodes. This time we took an excursion to Lindos where one of the most ancient castles in the world is located and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Greece. The ancient town of Lindos, 45 km to the south of Rhodes Town, was founded by the Dorians in the 10th century B.C. In the 8th century, it already was a major trading center, due to its geographical position between Greece and the Middle East. However, it started to decline when the city of Rhodes was founded, in the 5th century. The archaeological remains found inside and around the Acropolis of Lindos reveal the wealth of this ancient town. Part of its worth-visiting monuments is a Doric 4th-century temple devoted to Athena Lindia, where people used to worship their patron goddess with offerings and sacrifices. It was built on the remains of another temple.

Back to Dubrovnik where I had a chance to visit with some very special clients (they all are special) and new friends staying at the iconic landmark Hotel Excelsior! This is a first as we have traveled with our clients, met clients at airports around the globe while going in different directions but this time we were in the same city and our schedules lined up beautifully. We just had to check up on them to make sure they are well taken care of and personally wish them a heartfelt congratulations on their recent engagement. We can’t wait to plan that epic honeymoon soon!!! Congratulations on your engagement Ben & Nicole!!!

The spectacular seaside setting of this property overlooking both the Adriatic and the ancient Old Town, combined with flawless service and an illustrious history of royal and celebrity guests, mark the five-star Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik as an iconic landmark hotel.

With its prestigious location just steps from the UNESCO Old City of Dubrovnik, Hotel Excelsior is ready to showcase its refurbished grandeur as one of the most lavish hotels on the Adriatic. A historic villa built in 1913 and taking full advantage of gorgeous west-facing views of the glorious Old Town, Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik enjoys the most enviable location of any hotel in the city – just a five-minute walk from the medieval fortress walls. It has long welcomed famous guests including Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor. It’s only when you visit that you fully appreciate the magnificence of the setting – the tranquil gardens in which to stroll, the beautiful beach, and the hotel’s three restaurants all offering spectacular views of the Adriatic.

We also met with our two beautiful friends from ASTA who live in Split, Croatia. They came all the way to Dubrovnik to meet us for lunch at Villa Dubrovnik. We originally met at the Destination Expo in Israel in 2019 where it was announced Croatia would be the next host Destination Expo hosted in Dubrovnik 2020. Despite all the craziness in the world due to COVID this expo was hugely successful as it was held this past June 2021. Thank you, Elinda & Vanja, for the beautiful gift you somehow managed to drop off at the pier before the ship departed! We received it…

A Modernist Gem in the Historic Heart of the Adriatic…Set into the rocky cliffs on the most magical stretch of Dalmatian coast, Villa Dubrovnik a member of The Leading Hotels of The World is a stylish retreat for guests in search of luxurious privacy and first-class hospitality. The hotel’s pristine white architecture provides a stunning contrast to the rocky landscape and emerald, green waters of the Adriatic. The property's clean, nautical lines evoke an understated refinement, and the modern decor is matched by an out-of-this-world gastronomic experience that revisits the rich culinary traditions of the Mediterranean in a contemporary style.

Our final port of call on our two-week journey would find us sailing back to Santorini. This is Greece’s postcard island, with bougainvillea-strewn terraces, blue-doored houses, and white-domed churches against the backdrop of the blue Aegean Sea. The island’s biggest and busiest town is Fira (or Thera). Fira is the capital of Santorini and the largest one on the island, expanding every year. Located on a 400m altitude on the western edge of the crescent Caldera, it is perched atop the cliffside. The low-ceiling, cubic buildings are whitewashed with blue details according to the Cycladic architecture and the views are spectacular.

Access to Fira, besides the road routes from the port and the airport, is also attainable by cable car or you can opt to climb a Z-shaped footpath or by donkey for those seeking a traditional experience. Our Santorini tradition is to go up by cable car, stroll around the small streets, grab a delicious lunch at one of the local restaurants and walk down the footpath…No donkey rides for us! The operative word here is to walk DOWN the footpath!

Oia, pronounced IA, is the most famous of all villages of Santorini. It is known throughout the world for its beauty, the sunset, and some amazing luxury hotels. It is certainly the most beautiful and picturesque village of Santorini (and some say of Greece). The village is situated on top of an impressive cliff and offers a spectacular view over the volcano and the island of Thirassia. Oia is situated on the north of the island, 12 km away from Fira. Our ritual here is very simple, find a spot and just take in the breathtaking views while getting lost with the locals.

We all smile in the same language...The best part of travel is the people you meet and the friendships that develop. We had the most AMAZING crew onboard Celebrity Apex! People from all walks of life and from every corner of the world work on cruise ships. It is always interesting to hear their stories and to have personal interaction. In a brief time, you develop friendships that last a lifetime.

It wasn’t a long goodbye as I found myself back on the Apex again in October for her inaugural US sailing after she crossed the Atlantic Ocean after sailing the Adriatic Sea all summer. She arrived in Port Canaveral, FL for her Inaugural voyage and I was back onboard to re-connect with the AMAZING Apex crew, fellow Travel Advisors and Partners.

With the challenges and ever-changing environments, the world continues to reopen, and rest assured that you can travel safely if you are open to flexibility and remain patient. We want to assure you that we are on top of the latest updates and continue to turn our clients dreams into journeys despite the constant changes that surrounds travel today!

Thank you for your business and referrals and we look forward to our continued relationships in discovering the world together!!!

Be sure to check out the photo albums, videos and read all about our Adriatic voyage and past trips on Sofia’s Travel, LLC FB page here.

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