Spotlight on Take Back Travel in 2022

New Year. New You. New Travels. Has there ever been a better motto? Believe it or not, we’ve made it to 2022, and it’s time celebrate! Chances are, you haven’t been too far from home these past two years, and we hope this next year will open up a world of possibilities. 

Experience What It Means to Malama Hawaii

Celebrate life’s moments through rejuvenation, reconnection, and an opportunity to travel deeper. Experience a transformative trip to Hawaii with a greater emphasis on connecting with the community and culture, giving back to the destination, and preserving it for the future.

Like so many words in the Hawaiian language, malama has a number of different definitions. It can mean to take care of, to preserve or protect, and even to save. So malama is a word used often across the Hawaiian Islands today in discussions about the importance of preserving and protecting the destination’s oceans, its land, and the people who call the islands home. Mindful travelers who decide to malama during their Hawaii stay are sure to enjoy an enriched visit by immersing themselves in authentic experiences that connect them with the place and its people — ultimately creating a lasting connection that truly stays with travelers long after their return home. Find your celebratory malama experience on one of the four major Hawaiian Islands.


Several organizations across Kauai offer opportunities for visitors to malama during their stay, including cleaning up beaches with Surfrider Foundation Kauai and the Friends of Kamalani & Lydgate Park, or helping remove invasive species with Hawaii Land Trust. When you give back – to the land, the ocean, the wildlife, the forest and the community – you will experience Kauai on a much deeper and connected level.


Oahu’s diverse natural ecosystems provide a variety of malama activities for the whole family, from shoreline clean-ups to mountain-top reforestation efforts, and everywhere in between. But you can also malama by helping to keep Oahu’s culture alive. It can be as simple as learning and using the Hawaiian names for our geography, which embed rich cultural backstories and ecological wisdom into the places you may visit.


From perpetuating culture at the Olowalu Cultural Reserve to reforesting Honokowai Valley, there are many opportunities to turn a Maui adventure into a way to give back, enriching your experience of the island and leaving it a better place for locals and future visitors. When you join Maui residents in these efforts, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what community means, and how you can be a part of giving back and protecting it.

Island of Hawaii

Sparkling beaches, deep turquoise ocean waters, wild mountain trails. The natural setting of the island of Hawaii is striking when you enjoy its beauty as a bystander, but a more rewarding experience awaits those who join efforts to malama. By working alongside the communities dedicated to preserving the islands’ unique history and precious aina (land), you are immersed in Hawaii’s true culture. With your hands in the mud, soil, weeds or fishponds, you get a sense of what it’s like to be a part of this place, inseparable from nature.

While the visitor experience might look and feel different, travelers can count on the transformative and positive impact of traveling to Hawaii to change their own lives, and the destinations they visit across the state, for the better. Create moments and lasting memories that you can celebrate for a lifetime, by learning what it means to malama Hawaii.

For more information on Hawaii or to start planning your malama Hawaii experience, contact your Ensemble travel advisor.

Image and Video Credit: Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

Take Back Travel in 2022 with Royal Caribbean

Cruising has been back at it for nearly a year now, but many of us are just barely getting our feet back into the vacation “waters.” We caught up with Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President, Sales, Trade Support and Service, at Royal Caribbean International to learn how travelers can “rise to the vacation” with RCI in 2022.

Q: What makes Royal Caribbean unique from other cruise lines?

I like to say what really sets Royal Caribbean apart is how we uniquely blend quality and energy. Cruise lines that you associate with high quality tend to be a bit more subdued when it comes to liveliness. And cruise lines that you associate with high energy may not be as high quality. Royal Caribbean combines both for an experience you can’t replicate on any other cruise line. 

Q: Tell us about Royal Caribbean’s new ship, Odyssey of the Seasâ„ ?

Odyssey of the Seas is the first Quantum Ultra Class ship to sail from the U.S., and it offers guests revolutionary experiences they may not have interacted with on a cruise before. For instance, Odyssey boasts the largest SeaPlex activity complex in our fleet, complete with a 4D virtual reality experience. The pool deck is massive, and its new resort-style design really gives your pool day an upgrade. The entire ship is truly state-of-the-art and will make your jaw drop as you island hop!

Q: How can Royal Caribbean help travelers “Rise to the Vacation”?

Pulling off the perfect family vacation isn’t always easy, especially when you’re trying to cater to different ages and preferences. Fortunately, Royal Caribbean is known for delivering great family getaways that wow guests across multiple generations. Every ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet is packed with palate-pleasing dining options, incredible entertainment, and unforgettable activities for all ages included in the cruise fare — not to mention itineraries that take you to some of the world’s most adventure-filled shores. But the other half of the equation for helping guests rise to the vacation is using a travel advisor! They’re the experts at matching clients with the ship and itinerary that’s perfect for them.

Q: Many travelers are searching for amazing experiences closer to home, and the Caribbean is a great option. What are some experiential opportunities for travelers when sailing the Caribbean with RCI?

No other cruise line offers a private destination experience like Royal Caribbean. Perfect Day at CocoCay is our exclusive island in The Bahamas that resets adventure to a whole new level. You’ll discover incredible ways to thrill, chill or have a blend of both – like the tallest waterslide in North America, Daredevil’s Peak, the biggest wave pool in the Caribbean, and the first floating cabanas in The Bahamas that bring a bit of Bora Bora to your getaway.

Q: Obviously, safety is a huge concern for passengers right now. What protocols is Royal Caribbean taking to keep passengers safe on board?

We’ve been back at sea for over a year now. The health of our guests and our crew has remained the top priority throughout. And our partnership with expert medical and scientific minds has guided us each step of the way. With tools like vaccination, testing, medical-grade cleaning, and advanced air filtration, we’ve proven we can deliver a healthy vacation, and our guests are able to get back to doing what they love — making memories.

Q: BONUS: What’s one thing you want travelers to know about Royal Caribbean at the moment?

Royal Caribbean delivers incredible vacation experiences in the safest and healthiest way. After living through the pandemic for nearly two years, families and friends are looking for new experiences to share together. With our comprehensive health and safety protocols in place, our guests can enjoy their long-awaited vacations knowing that they are in a fun, safe and healthy environment. We’ve all come to value time that we took for granted in the past, and now we want to take the opportunity to create experiences that will be long remembered over material things. People who used to dream about their bucket list for some unspecified time in the future are now making it their to-do list. We’ve all come to learn that time and family are most important.

Image and Video Credit: Royal Caribbean International

7 Unexpected North American Alternatives to International Destinations

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly yearning to pack your bags, get on a plane, and head just about anywhere. Needless to say, it’s been a bit harder here lately to fulfill our inner wanderlust. But even though the iconic international destinations might be harder to visit, it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice living out our vacation dreams. Here are seven unexpected places throughout North America that will have you feeling like you’re on an entirely different continent.

1  |  Alys Beach, Florida

Inspired by the traditional, brilliant white homes of Bermuda, yet with touches of blue like that of the Greek islands, the Alys Beach community in Florida’s Panhandle is the most visually stunning along the scenic 30A Highway. Although Alys Beach itself is private, the neighborhood also features a 21-acre nature preserve, an amphitheater, the Alys Shoppe and other boutiques, and Caliza – one of the most elegant swimming pool and restaurant combos in the world.

Best Times to Visit: Late spring and early-to-mid summer for best weather and limited hurricane activity

Image Credit: Kara Day | Instagram: @karaa_day and @kararuthphoto

2  |  Glacier National Park, Montana

Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road from West Glacier up to Logan Pass is an experience like no other. Not only is Glacier National Park full of adventure and endless hiking options but Going-to-the-Sun Road is absolutely gorgeous with breathtaking views of snow-capped mountain peaks and wide valleys, stunning waterfalls and lakes, and pristine glaciers. It will leave you utterly stunned, feeling as if you’re driving through the Swiss Alps.

Best Times to Visit: July and August if you’re wanting to access the entire park and all trails

3  |  Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario

Niagara-on-the-Lake sits just 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. 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 rivals European wine destinations and even California – but without the crowds.

Best Times to Visit: May-October for good temperatures; June-August are the most popular months

4  |  Catalina Island, California

As if you snapped a photo from Monaco or anywhere along the French Riviera, California’s Catalina Island almost feels misplaced in the Pacific Ocean. With both on land and at-sea adventure, and plenty of sun and sand relaxation, this under-the-radar island is prime for a paradise getaway closer to home. Make sure to visit Descanso Beach Club where “feet in the sand and a drink in your hand” is the motto they take very seriously.

Best Times to Visit: Spring and fall for better weather and less crowds than in the summer

5  |  White Sands National Park, New Mexico

With nothing but blinding white sand dunes and endless horizons, you might think you’re in a desert on the other side of the world, but you’re actually in, perhaps, the most unexpected place of all – New Mexico. White Sands National Park is an incredibly unique and underrated national treasure of the U.S. You can spend time hiking the “trails,” sliding down sand dunes on your version of a sled, or taking the coolest Instagram-worthy photos. Plus, word has it, visiting the park at sunset is worth the trip itself.

Best Times to Visit: Fall for the best temperatures without spring winds

6  |  Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City may not be as “unexpected” as the other locations on this list, but it’s so European, it couldn’t be left off. What makes it “so European”? For starters, the winding cobblestone streets and French-style architecture will immediately transport you to the Old World. Not to mention, the city was founded by a French Explorer, Samuel de Champlain, in 1608 making the city over 400 years old and one of North America’s oldest cities. For an extra ounce of old-world charm, visit Quebec City during the holidays when Christmas markets, twinkling lights, snow flurries, and holiday cheer abound.

Best Times to Visit: June through September for the best weather; December for holiday magic

7  |  Oregon, USA

Secretly known as the “Iceland of America,” Oregon is an adventure lover’s paradise. Not only is it beautiful and a considerably less expensive option to international destinations, is has so many spots comparable to Iceland, it’s almost unbelievable. Instead of Iceland’s black sand beaches such as Reynisfjara or Fauskasandur, check out Oregon’s Secret Beach. Instead of Aldeyarfoss waterfall in Iceland, visit Oregon’s Toketee Waterfall. Instead of Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon, wade through Oregon’s Oneonta Gorge instead (and be rewarded with a waterfall). Instead of Iceland’s colorful Landmannalaugar mountains, hike Oregon’s Painted Hills. Lastly, you may ask, “But what about waterfalls you can walk behind?” Well, instead of Iceland’s incredibly popular Seljalandsfoss falls, you can walk up and behind the waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

Best Times to Visit: Summer months for the best weather; September and October for leaf peeping

Where Do Chefs Go on Vacation?

Travel is sometimes such a transformative experience that we take away more than memories when we leave.

I enjoy bringing home ingredients from a favorite dish, so that I can continue to savor the dish long after my memories have faded. Among my mementos turned staples are Rwandan coffee and Indian spice mixes. But what do professional chefs bring back from their travels and where do they go to find inspiration for their menus? To find out, I contacted a few chefs I've met over the years. Here's what they had to say.

Venda, Limpopo

“I go home to my grandparents’ house in Venda, Limpopo. It is a trek across South Africa, from the tip in Cape Town to the border that separates us from Zimbabwe, where the family farm and burial grounds are in Tshifudi. Usisi (grandparents’ housekeeper in Xhosa) shows me traditional methods of preparing food—how to harvest, dry and grind leaves, and which ‘weeds’ can be eaten. Identifying the correct dark leafy greens, a staple in many African homes called Moroho, is important. I now recognize some of the Moroho growing in the garden or along the roadside. I grow more in my foraging experience with every walk outside and conversations with Usisi.” 

Chef Amanda Manyatshe from South Africa, Private Chef at For the Foodie in Me

Lima, Peru

“My wife is from Lima, Peru, and visiting her family in the place where she grew up has impacted my cooking at Caerula Mar, where we use fresh-caught seafood, tropical fruit and citrus. From street food like hot corn tamales to bright ceviche and earthy proteins, the slow food of Lima and the love family members put into cooking for us in their kitchen has inspired many dishes and encouraged me to incorporate Peruvian techniques. We do a grilled garlic lemon shrimp served with Peruvian aji amarillo sauce, and my take on Peruvian ceviche, made with fresh hogfish, shaved red onions, cilantro, goat peppers, and a lime garlic ginger marinade.”

Chef Sebastian Perez from Argentina, Executive Chef at Caerula Mar Club in South Andros Island, Bahamas

Santa Rosa, California

“In August this year, I had one of the most revealing and inspiring trips to Kendall Jackson Winery Culinary Gardens in Santa Rosa, California. The whole experience starts with their sensorial garden, where they introduce you to some of the smells and flavors that you later identify in their wines. The complex includes many peculiar products and ingredients, one of which was the ‘oyster leaf.’ I close my eyes, taste a little bit of it, and it was like having a fresh oyster, but it was a plant! Now we are growing that plant to incorporate it in our next menus. The whole experience was truly unbelievable.”

Chef Sergio Pérez from Mexico, Executive Chef at Casa Salles Hotel Boutique in Tequila

Val Granara

“There are no rules when you create a recipe for a new menu. Maybe there’s only one thing you must keep alive and that’s curiosity. But after curiosity, there’s the necessity that guides you in cooking. At the moment, I have to substitute Romanesco broccoli with a seasonal ingredient, so I took inspiration from Val Granara, not far from Rome, where I went for a relaxing weekend. The area is known for its porcini. I loved their veal shank with porcini and decided to use porcini inside the Romanesco broccoli to create my personal version of the dish. The aroma and flavor are intense, the taste is strong and distinct, and has a soft flesh perfectly mixed with the porcini.”

Chef Antonio Vitale from Italy, Executive Chef at Bettoja Hotels in Rome

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

“My last memorable holiday was in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and the most recent in Dubai, UAE. In Mexico, I went to the market to find spices and products but found many were the same as ones in Africa. Hibiscus flower is called flor de jamaica in Mexico and we make the same juice out of it in West Africa. The technique of slow cooking meat under the sand is the same as in Niger. The Dubai experience was full of oriental spices and olfactive memories. Saffron from Iran, lavender from Syria, and sumac from Oman—I use them all in my marinades or to plate a dish, it adds that extraordinary flavor.”

Chef Paule Beke from Ivory Coast, Executive Chef for Douceurs d'Ivoire in London

Step aboard the world’s greatest ships

Each month we’re showcasing our cruise partners to bring you the latest on the cruise line and their ships. With different cruising styles and a variety of ships to choose from, you’ll find these profiles helpful for selecting the cruise that’s right for you.

American Queen Voyages - A Landmark Expedition

Explore Alaska and the Pacific Coast with American Queen Voyages™. Be fully present in the innermost reaches of Southeast Alaska’s hidden wilderness. Be completely connected to the people and cultures in remote indigenous villages. Be wholly aware of the rare access you will enjoy — and the value of protecting this delicate environment for those who come after us.

Over the course of the last ten years, American Queen Voyages™ has built quite the fleet up from our Mississippi riverboat roots, launching vessel after vessel, teaming up with Victory Cruise Lines to give passionate explorers thrilling new experiences: introducing voyages throughout Canada, New England, and the Southeast and beyond — to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and Expedition voyages to the Alaskan wilds. Throughout our promise has been a constant — a deeper, more personal discovery of the North American continent.

The Ship

Ocean Victory

This 186-guest expedition ship represents a new generation of low-energy vessels featuring anchorless stabilizers and an innovative X-Bow® design for softer entry into the seas.

The most earth-friendly, forward-thinking vessel ever to sail Alaska, Ocean Victory™ is custom-built to explore the world’s most fragile places. Ocean Victory’s motors operate clean to keep Alaska’s air and waters pristine.


Our All-Inclusive Fares Include:

  • 1 -NIGHT PRE-CRUISE HOTEL STAY with FREE ground transfers between the hotel and the vessel
  • UNLIMITED GUIDED TOURS designed with your comfort in mind aboard private, deluxe motorcoaches
  • UNLIMITED BEVERAGES including an extensive wine list, choice spirits, local craft beers and specialty coffees
  • OPEN BARS & LOUNGES throughout the vessel including a smoothie and juice bar EVERY morning
  • ACCLAIMED CUISINE for breakfast, lunch and dinner served in multiple venues
  • GOURMET SELECTIONS featuring freshly prepared lobster and USDA Prime Beef available EVERY night

Your Stateroom Includes:

  • Private bath with spacious shower and
  • beautiful finishes
  • Complimentary designer amenities
  • Large storage spaces for luggage, clothing, and personal items
  • Hair dryer
  • Mini refrigerator
  • Bathrobes and slippers
  • Safe
  • Onboard laundry service
  • Your personal water bottle for use at refillable stations throughout the ship
  • Panoramic view

Commodore Services:

Guests holding reservations for select suite-level accommodations will receive our exclusive Commodore Services. This elite level of services includes a bottle of wine and a fruit basket upon arrival, preferred dining arrangements, early boarding, reserved veranda seating at the nightly shows and an invitation to dine with senior officers of the boat.


These are the hallmarks of cuisine aboard Ocean Victory. Each day presents a new array of regional specialties to tantalize your tastebuds. From your choice of breakfast options, to mouthwatering five-course dinners, you’ll eagerly anticipate every bite. Whether it’s a perfectly grilled salmon, or a freshly baked pastry to enjoy with your morning coffee, the tastes are ideally suited to the environment. The only thing that exceeds the quality of the food is the service. Your preferences are our pleasure. We’ll honor your personal likes and dislikes with special care, at every meal, in every venue. And, of course, all meals and beverages in all venues are included in your cruise. Bon appétit!

Main Restaurant 
Enjoy fine dining with a casual ambiance and informal open seating in Ocean Victory’s primary dining venue. Inviting buffet selections at breakfast and lunch are well-suited to the bright, airy surroundings. 

Panorama Specialty Restaurant 
For special occasions, celebrations, or a private getaway, make dinner reservations in this intimate setting. Enjoy à la carte specialties and distinctive tableside preparations. 

Outdoor Bistro
For casual, open dining, enjoy the lively outdoor bistro. Whether the floor-to-ceiling glass walls are open or closed, the view is always the star. 

Explorer Bar Lounge
For excellent espresso or your favorite cocktail, this centrally situated gathering place is an onboard favorite. Live music and a friendly atmosphere make a perfect combination to end your day of exploration.

Pool Bar
Whether you’re relaxing with a swim, or simply relaxing, you’ll find your favorite beverages and snacks at the Pool Bar. The perfect way to savor your wilderness environment.


Discover Alaska and the Hidden Coast of the Northern Pacific on a thrilling expedition into the wilds of nature. Explore LeConte Glacier and its dramatic ice fields by jet boat. Get within 25 feet of Alaskan brown bears at Fortress of the Bear. Join onboard expedition experts and naturalists by Zodiac or kayak to witness spectacular fjords and marine life. Eavesdrop on the mystical sounds of humpback whales as they engage in bubble-net feeding. Stand on deck and enjoy the silent nights of Alaska.

Explore coastal secrets, stunning waterfalls, ancient glaciers, and hidden villages in the company of our exclusive world-class expedition partners.

Your specially trained Expedition Team brings an impressive accumulation of experience and expertise to every day of your voyage. Days will be filled with exploration – on guided kayak groups, in expert-led Zodiac trips, in the comfort of the Expedition Lounge with engaging expert conversation.

Enjoy eye-opening discovery in a behind-the-scenes visit to Sitka Sound Science Center, where you’ll share new findings in their studies and special projects. Sitka Sound Science Center is a nonprofit corporation with a mission of science education and research.

Dedicated to the conservation of our planet’s marine environment, Cal Poly’s research students and faculty will travel with us to bring a unique level of understanding and passion for the waters we explore to our journey.

Scientists working with the historic Five Finger Lighthouse research team will share fascinating insights from their work with Frederick Sound’s abundant population of humpback whales. You’ll eavesdrop on these giants’ communication through special hydrophones - with experts to interpret.

Provides easy access to kayaks for intimate water-level exploration of exotic marine shorelines. 
Allows a safe step into zodiac inflatable boats for exploring nature and secure transport to and from shore. 
Four diesel engines and two electro engines are electronically controlled to optimize fuel consumption. 
Low emission fuel and other environmentally sound practices keep Alaska’s air and water pristine. 
Anchorless stabilizers allow exploration in remote places without damaging fragile sea beds. 
Enjoy breathtaking views from your suite or stateroom, all with panoramic views and 82% with balconies. 
Landmark Zero Emission Day capability is always used in especially sensitive locations. 
Sliding observation platforms give you unique overwater viewing opportunities.


Enrich Your Travel Experience
Meet Your Expedition Team

Peter Szyszka - Expedition Director

Szyszka adds over two decades of experience to the team, leading expeditions across the globe including over 60 journeys in Antarctica. He brings a unique knowledge of our new Ocean Victory vessel, overseeing the 2019 build and fit-out of expedition areas.

Szyszka will oversee our seasoned expedition team and closely collaborate with the American Queen Voyages' award-winning shore excursions team, Ocean Victory officers and crew, and California Polytechnic State University researchers exclusively onboard.

"Alaska is the ultimate destination for adventure travelers yearning to experience an expedition cruise and get up close and personal to its breathtaking nature and cultural experiences," tells Peter Szyszka, director of expedition, American Queen Voyages. "Our expedition programming, paired with the innovation and the technology of the new Ocean Victory will showcase Alaska in a very special way."

Also, an expert divemaster and Zodiac trainer, Szyszka has overseen kayaking, snorkeling, diving, expedition landings, skiing, snowshoeing, camping, mountaineering and even photography programs throughout his career.

Put on your mud boots, grab your kayak oar and explore Alaska with Peter.

Featured Expedition Leader

Michelle Fournet - Director, the Sound Science Research Collective

Join renowned scientist Michelle Fournet, PH.D for select sailings including the Ocean VictoryTM inaugural voyage from Vancouver to Sitka. The Director of the Sound Science Research Collective (Sound Science) in Alaska, Fournet is a leader in acoustic ecology, using sound to investigate questions of ecological importance. Her work studying humpback whales non-song communication in Southeast Alaska was recently featured in the documentary “Fathom” and we are honored to have her onboard.