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5 advantages of traveling on a small cruise ship

MD Staff

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Close your eyes and imagine your perfect ocean voyage. Are you peaceful and serene, gently floating toward exciting ports? Do you imagine a leisurely trip, with a delightful itinerary and plenty of time to explore your ideal destinations?

If that’s the picture of your dream cruise, chances are you’re imagining a small ship. While the typical cruise may conjure the image of a huge, noisy, floating party, there are better options — with travelers like you in mind.

Here are five advantages of traveling on a small ship:

1. Unique and unusual ports

A smaller ship can bring you to more under-the-radar spots around the world, whose ports can’t accommodate larger ships. Viking, for example, sails to remote Scandinavian ports including the stunning Lofoten Islands among jagged peaks of Norwegian mountains, or the picturesque fishing village of Skagen, Denmark’s northernmost town. Smaller ships can also take you closer to the heart of your dream destinations such as the Sydney Harbor or the Thames River in London.

2. An intimate, relaxed journey

Ships with fewer than 1,000 passengers allow every traveler a more leisurely, intimate experience. You’ll get to know your fellow passengers, the crew and the boat’s amenities much better than on a large cruise ship. You’ll spend less time just trying to find your way around a smaller vessel, allowing you to focus on what matters to you. Smaller ships also mean you’ll experience much quicker and easier embarkation and disembarkation, with no long lines for anything onboard.

On Viking Sky and her sister ships, there are no more than 930 passengers. Each stateroom offers a private veranda, with no interior cabins. Viking hosts no children under 18, has no casinos and offers free access to the spa, creating a relaxed, peaceful ambiance so you can enjoy the journey as much as the exceptional destinations.

3. Culturally enriching experiences

Smaller ships allow for more fascinating tours, and savvy travelers can find the perfect itinerary to suit their tastes. Excursions on smaller ships afford more flexibility, often including interesting experiences larger ships wouldn’t have time to offer. For example, Viking offers excursions that are designed to immerse guests in local cultures, including Local Life, Working World and Privileged Access experiences. Local Life excursions shine a light on everyday activities, such as a Viking Chef-hosted trip to a local farmers market, or tea at a home with local residents, while Working World excursions feature behind-the-scenes “making of” experiences like factory and farm visits highlighting local exports. Privileged Access excursions include unique experiences only available to Viking guests, such as an exclusive dinner in the Churchill War Rooms in London or a private cooking class in a Tuscan castle.

Travel experiences through Viking’s ocean cruises are unique, such as the “Viking Homelands” itinerary, which includes Scandinavia and the Baltic, with overnights in Stockholm and scenic Bergen, plus the historic cities of Tallinn, Estonia, and Gdansk, Poland. If warmer climes entice you, the “West Indies Explorer” itinerary sails round trip from San Juan avoiding the long sea days from South Florida associated with most Caribbean cruises and allowing you more time to spend discovering the rich cultures of nine Caribbean islands over the 11-day sailing. You’ll spend more time on shore, with at least one overnight stay on virtually every itinerary.

4. Unparalleled shipboard experiences

A smaller ship lets you choose the exact experiences you desire. Rather than aiming to please everyone, smaller cruise lines have the luxury of specializing in terms of not only itineraries, but the entire on-board experience. It’s wise to research what amenities are included — or not included — on any ship before signing on to the journey.

5. Compelling value

Smaller ships can offer a greater variety of choices in terms of voyage length, types of accommodations, a better crew-to-passenger ratio (which means better service) and an overall experience that suits each passenger in a way that larger, one-size-fits-all cruises cannot. Search for the right experience for your dream voyage by listing your must-have amenities and destinations first — then don’t settle for less.

Smaller cruise ships like Viking Sky and her sister ships offer luxurious amenities such as fine dining, complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner, free Wi-Fi and 24-hour room service. The onboard Spa draws on the holistic wellness philosophy of Nordic culture, so you can stimulate your circulatory system in the sauna, then be invigorated by the snow grotto, where snowflakes gently descend from the ceiling through chilled air. Viking even offers book collections thoughtfully curated by London’s Heywood Hill throughout the ships.

If you yearn to travel by sea, consider options offered by smaller cruise ship lines, and look for your ideal experience. Your dream ocean voyage will reflect your interests, your travel style and the best experiences to suit your taste — so you’ll enjoy the journey as much as the destinations.

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Travel & Leisure

The Art of Travelling Alone: How to Make the Best of Your Solo Trip

MD Staff

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We are currently celebrating Singles’ Day — now one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year — which encourages people to relish their singlehood and pamper themselves silly! Whether you are single or not, we think it’s definitely important to engage in some #selflove — and solo travelling is one of the best ways to do so. 

There’s no doubt that solo travel can seem pretty daunting at times. Won’t I get bored and lonely? What if I get lost? The short and honest answer is yes, that’ll probably happen at some point. At the same time, that’s really all part of the experience — these ups and downs make up the most exciting adventures you’ll ever have and form memories that will stay with you for a lifetime. More importantly, solo travel brings about opportunities for you to discover and love yourself. You’ll finally have the chance to spend uninterrupted time with yourself and grow comfortable with your own company.

Don’t wait any longer and make your solo travels a reality! Here are three tips to help you make the best of your trip:

Plan ahead

While one of the best things about traveling alone is the freedom of spontaneity, it doesn’t mean that you should show up without a plan. Take some time to research and understand the location you’re visiting and identify some main attractions that you’d like to visit. It really helps to have a rough outline of what you’ll be doing and how to get there. Additionally, make plans to meet people! Whether it is signing up for day tours or simply striking up conversations with strangers, seize the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and connect with people from all over the world. Not only will these interactions help to quell any loneliness, but you may even meet your next best friend!

Pick a comfortable location

If it’s your first time on a solo trip, your choice of location is key. Perhaps you’d like to revisit someplace that’s tried and tested, or you may prefer to explore a new destination that’s less frenetic — just so you don’t feel too overwhelmed. To get you started, we’d recommend: 

Perth, Australia
The capital of Western Australia offers the perfect blend of a trendy urban life and relaxed nature vibes, catering to all your travel needs. Head on to DoubleTree by Hilton Perth Northbridge to have a taste of their signature warm DoubleTree Cookie welcome, and leverage its convenient location to access attractions in the city. Stuff yourself silly with the fresh produce at the Food Markets, and, while in the sunniest city in Australia, be sure to check out the amazing beaches!

Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is one of those fail-safe destinations where everyone always has a great time! While there may be a bit of a language barrier, the locals are always quick to extend a helping hand to guide you on your way. As a solo traveler, you do have to be more mindful of where you’re staying — pick trusted hotels that are close to the main roads, such as Conrad Bangkok, to make your stay as fuss-free as possible.

Shilim, India
For a truly #EatPrayLove experience, look no further than Hilton Shilim Estate Retreat & Spa. A one-and-a-half-hour drive from Pune, this retreat is nestled in an unspoiled mountain range and offers a sanctuary for your body, mind and spirit. It offers some of the most comprehensive wellness facilities in Asia, with programmes like ayurvedic therapies, jungle treks and yoga sessions. While out in nature, you’ll definitely get to spend quality time with yourself and find peace of mind.

Pack light, and right

We all have a tendency to overthink and pack unnecessary things, but this time, there won’t be anyone else to help you wrestle with the bags. Keep your bags light and portable by packing just basic and solo-travel essentials — aside from functional items like a portable charger and Wi-Fi router, also remember to take along a selfie-stick to capture all your solo adventures!

Now that you’re all set, get ready to discover the world and yourself!

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Travel & Leisure

Five Reasons to Discover Kyoto’s Magic in Winter

MD Staff

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Discover the hidden secrets of Kyoto in winter – the magical but least-known season that the locals love. From enchanting illuminations in beautiful temples to seasonal dishes bursting with flavour; vibrant New Year celebrations to “onsen” hot baths beneath snow-capped mountains, here are five favourite Kyoto winter warmers as curated by the team at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto:

1. Ume (plum): Winter’s Secret Blossoms

Despite spring being the best-known season of blossoms in Japan, winter visitors are in for a delightful surprise with Kyoto’s profusion of delicate ume (plum) flowers.

Decorating the city’s plum trees in shades of snow white through to verdant pink, ume blossom’s sweet fragrance and pretty five petalled composition inspired ancient nobility from the Nara period (AD 710–784) to write haiku while gazing at them.

Blooming plum trees, once a prosperous trade with China and now savoured for their unique beauty, can be seen across Kyoto from mid-January. Kitano Tenmangu, just 25 minutes from the Hotel, offers some of the best viewing, with 1,500 plum trees blossoming through to mid-March.

2. Warming Winter Dishes

Warm up from within with Kyoto’s wide variety of steaming hot pots and sizzling Yudofu 湯豆腐.

The Japanese have long adapted their diet to the country’s dramatically different seasons, and winter offers up plenty of delicacies. Try Kaburamushi かぶら蒸し, a fragrant composition of grated turnip, egg white, lily root, gingko and mushrooms atop a white fish – locals liken its appearance to a melting snowball.

Originating in Kyoto, Steamed Sushi 蒸し寿司 is a hot dish with unique seasoning while Tanuki Udon calls on the spicy warmth of ginger on a base of chopped fried tofu with thick ankake sauce.

Celebrate new year in Kyoto with festive favourite Mochi ぜんざい (Zenzai), a dainty, chewy rice speciality available in tea houses and traditional cafes across the city.

3. Inspiring Illuminations

As the sun sets low on the wintry horizon, Kyoto comes alive with twinkling lights.

From January to February, lanterns are lit only on snowy days at Kifune Jinja Shrine, making it a rare but exquisite experience to see the shrine’s pretty red steps and tree boughs aglow.

Discover an illuminated Hanatouro Bridge in Arashiyama (from mid-December for about ten days) and explore the nearby Kimono and Bamboo Forests, where LED lights create a magical woodland trail.

From the end of January for a week, marvel at the mountainous heritage site of Kayabuki-no Sato as the entire village of thatched houses gets festive with handmade snow lanterns, food stalls, dance performances and cultural activities from mochi pounding through to traditional handiwork.

Bringing seasonal enchantment to Kyoto from late November through to late December, electrical company Rohm is behind the city’s largest illumination event featuring over 800,000 lights and loved by locals and visitors alike since 1995.

4. Dive into Kyoto’s Bathing Culture

An integral part of Japanese culture, bathing is considered a daily ritual of both purification and pleasure.

Guests at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto can enjoy a complimentary soothing “ofuro” hot bath and sauna on the hotel’s wellness floor, B2 as well as at THE SPA.

Bathing has long been considered a social activity with locals heading to one of the city’s “sento”銭湯 or public baths to catch up with neighbours. A few sensational sentos remain in Kyoto, such as art-rich Funaoka Onsen Sento and Goko-yu Sento with its scalding hot sauna, perfect after a long hike.

Chase away winter’s chill with an invigorating soak in one of the city’s nearby “onsen”温泉, a natural hot spring. Kurama Onsen, 40 minutes from the Hotel, offers the exquisite experience of being surrounded by forested mountains while Arashiyama Onsen, just 30 minutes away, has views of Arashiyama.

5. Exclusive Winter Activities

Make winter your season of discovery in a country rich with specialities.

Fushimi, a sake-brewing district fed by the pure clean water of the Horikawa river, is a great place to start your winter Kyoto experience. From December to January, the breweries make fresh sake from the newly harvested Fall rice, and offer sake tastings, perfect for warming the body on a cold day. Ask our Concierge to recommend and reserve the best sake breweries at the time of your visit (there are 50 to choose from in Kyoto, including 19 in Fushimi!)

Throw yourself into the jubilant spirits of Hatsumode – Japan’s first shrine visit of the new year – by joining with locals in beautiful traditional dress Kimono to pray for a good year, enjoy food stalls and play games with prizes. Japanese people traditionally go to temples and shrines from January 1-15 – a unique experience to be a part of, if your trip allows. Our Concierges will be happy to share their insider knowledge on the best places to go.

Marvel at nature’s majesty from the comfort of a heated boat on the Hozu-gawa river: winter views include intriguing geologic formations covered with snow alongside colossal boulders, glimpses of the surrounding mountains, mysterious deep pools, and local flora and fauna.

Soak up the splendour of rare Japanese art at the ‘Kyo no fuyu no tabi’ (means Kyoto Winter Trip, 京の冬の旅) exhibition held at fifteen different city temples every year over more than 50 years. It is a unique opportunity to see each temple’s secret treasures, usually hidden from private view. Open from mid January to mid March.

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Hilton’s Hidden Gems Series: Bentonville, Arkansas

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The first Hidden Gem of the series is Bentonville, Arkansas (yes, the home of Walmart, though that wasn’t a factor in choosing), where visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and embrace the natural beauty of the Ozarks. Here, small town charm and rich cultural experiences combine. Bentonville offers something for every type of traveler, from the nature-lover to the art connoisseur. The city is a scenic drive from Little Rock, Tulsa or Kansas City if traveling by car, or accessible through the nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Excellent fall foliage and favorable weather make autumn one of the best times of year to visit, when leaves turn shades of gold, red and orange, inspiring locals and visitors alike to get outdoors.

Things to Do

Cyclists and runners will enjoy the more than 40 miles of hard and soft surface trails in Bentonville. Try the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile, primarily off-road, mixed-use trail that travels from north Bentonville to south Fayetteville and passes through dozens of community destinations, including historic sites, shopping areas and numerous parks.

There’s plenty to see for art and museum lovers, too. Art connoisseurs can admire the local arts scene at the world-renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where a permanent collection of American artwork, from famed artists like Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol, is supplemented by a rotating array of temporary exhibits. Bentonville visitors can also explore the popular Walmart Museum — located in Walmart founder Sam Walton’s original five and dime store — and the little ones can get some hands-on learning at the Scott Family Amazeum, which is 50,000 square feet of interactive exhibits.

Foodies can treat their taste buds to the unique high-South cuisine of the Ozarks, described as traditional Southern cuisine with a modern twist — think cheese grits made with smoked gouda, pan-seared trout served with a side of Hoppin’ John (a dish made with black-eyed peas and rice) and catfish dip made with crème fraîche. The cuisine typically includes local and seasonal ingredients, with many restaurant menus changing every season. Try restaurants like Tusk & Trotter, The Holler and Louise.

Bentonville Square, located in downtown, is lined with shops, restaurants and museums. The square is also home to events and activities year-round, featuring everything from a monthly concert series to goat yoga. Over the holidays, the square transforms into a winter wonderland with holiday lights, ice skating and an annual winter market and Christmas parade.

As part of the northwest Arkansas region, Bentonville is also close to many cities that are perfect for a short daytrip. Try a visit to Fayetteville to tour the University of Arkansas (about 25 miles away), or take a trip to eclectic Eureka Springs (less than 40 miles away), where the entire downtown is listed as a National Historic Site.

Where to Stay

Unwind from a day of adventures at Homewood Suites by Hilton Bentonville-Rogers, located near many of Bentonville’s notable attractions, including the Crystal Bridges Museum, Razorback Regional Greenway and Bentonville Square, all less than five miles away. Relax poolside year-round at the hotel’s indoor pool or unwind in a spacious suite with the whole family, even the furry ones (yes, they’re allowed).

Guests can attend a complimentary evening social Monday – Thursday with snacks and drinks. Wake up the next morning and enjoy a free, hot breakfast (or even just a grab-and-go snack) before starting on your next adventure.

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