What Do Elephants and Polar Bears Have in Common?


Exploring Europe by bicycle is a popular activity for adventure travelers

Bicycling through Holland. Riding an elephant in Thailand. Viewing polar bears and the Northern Lights in the Arctic. Kayaking in the Galapagos Islands.

Those are just some of the bucket-list experiences you can have thanks to a Virtuoso program that’s been bringing people life-changing adventure travel for 15 years.


Since 1999, Virtuoso Active and Specialty Travel (better known as VAST) has been at the forefront of providing travelers with unusual opportunities. VAST brings together companies that offer these experiences with travel advisors who specialize in this style of travel. More than 500 advisors and 41 partners participate.

The key to a VAST experience is engagement, whether it’s physical activity, connecting with nature, or interacting with a culture. “You’re not watching it happen,” explains Sue Kasmar, a Virtuoso travel advisor in Santa Barbara, California and a longtime VAST participant. “You’re a part of what’s happening.”


According to the 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study, active vacations are a $345 billion industry. Travelers are craving this style of vacation, as the market has grown 65% each year since 2009. Nearly 42% of travelers say an adventure activity was the main focus of their last trip. To learn more about the latest trends in adventure travel, click here.

riding a camel_

VAST brings bucket-list experiences alive to adventure travelers

VAST is here to provide travelers with expert advisors and unique experiences in both “hard” and “soft” adventure. While not everyone is into hard adventures, like mountain climbing or paragliding, many more are interested in soft experiences. You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy soft adventures such as archeological expeditions, horseback riding and safaris.

Life-Changing Experiences

Loretta Carson, a Virtuoso travel advisor in New York City, is another longtime VAST participant. On an early trip, she rafted down the Snake River in Idaho. More recently, she was the oldest person in her group to complete a high ropes course in Colorado. “When I finally ziplined down, they were all cheering,” she recalls. “It made me feel so good.”

Carson’s experiences showcase why adventure travel can be life-changing. “I’ve challenged myself, and I encourage my clients to challenge themselves,” says Carson. “I give people the opportunity to reach for something they haven’t done before.”

Elephants on a safari

A wildlife safari is a popular VAST experience

Better Adventure Travel Value

When you book an adventure travel experience through Virtuoso, you’ll receive an exclusive amenity. Virtuoso travel advisors can give you this extra value because of the close relationships they have with suppliers as part of VAST. For example, if you take a small-ship cruise to destinations as diverse as Alaska or Tahiti, you’ll receive $100 to spend on board.

To view adventure travel ideas from VAST partners and discover the added value each offers to clients of Virtuoso advisors, click here.

And if you’re looking for a VAST specialist to plan your next adventure vacation, visit www.virtuoso.com and type VAST into the search box. You’ll see an array of extraordinary experiences displayed as well as Virtuoso travel advisors who can design those for you.


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7 Don’t-Miss Tips for Enjoying Thailand

Cricket Ducat in Thailand

The writer enjoying Thai cuisine

By Cricket Ducat, Account Manager – Sales, Hotels & Resorts, Virtuoso

Whether you’re visiting Thailand for culture, food, temples, or just relaxation on stunning beaches, the land of smiles holds something for everyone. On a recent trip to Thailand, I experienced five-star luxury while being immersed in authentic experiences, thanks to the friendly locals.

I wanted adventure and cultural experiences alongside pure R&R. First I explored Northern Thailand’s rich traditions, then ended with unwinding on the South’s beautiful beaches.

Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand enchanted me, especially Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle:

Chiang Mai

I spent my days visiting the temples and evenings wandering around night markets, shopping and eating the local cuisine.

Don’t miss:

  • A cooking class. It’s well worth it to learn how different Northern and Southern Thai cuisine are.
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a sacred temple atop a mountain range with impressive Chiang Mai views.

Golden Triangle

Elephant riding in Thailand

The writer riding an elephant in Thailand’s Golden Triangle

I experienced the Golden Triangle Virtuoso style at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort. Situated on a hilltop in the lush jungle, the property boasts breathtaking views of three countries: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Its Discovery Experience includes activities such as a cooking class focusing on Northern Thai food (my favorite: the rich curry noodle soup, khao soi); and an elephant camp visit, where I learned to ride an elephant and give it commands to navigate, eat and bathe.

Don’t miss:

  • The Hall of Opium, next to Anantara Golden Triangle. The museum, opened in 2005, was a $10 million project to educate people about the negative effects of both the drug and the trade that for so long plagued the area.

Southern Thailand & The Islands

Boasting some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, fascinating coral reefs, caves and waterfalls, the Andaman Sea coastline is a must-see.

Don’t miss:

  • If you’re into snorkeling or scuba diving, or want to try them, the Similan and Surin Islands are great day trips.


The “original Thai Paradise Island,” Phuket is now regarded by some as overrun by tourists. But escaping the crowds and finding its beauty just takes a bit of research. I stayed at Virtuoso property Anantara Phuket Villas, situated along a prime stretch of Mai Khao Beach.

Don’t miss:

  • Looking for a couples getaway?  Anantara Phuket Villas offers 83 private pool villas for an ultra-romantic stay.
  • Anyone – not just resort guests – can enjoy Anantara’s exceptional dining experiences. They include tapas and cocktails at the Tree House Restaurant with its beautiful panoramic view, and Sea.Salt.Fire for a beachside barbecue of fresh seafood accompanied by a tableside salt sommelier. 
Beach in Thailand

One of Thailand’s many scenic beaches

Koh Phi Phi & Krabi

On a day trip to Koh Phi Phi by speedboat, you’ll take in must-see sights including Monkey Beach and Pileh Bay. Monkey Beach’s resident monkeys aren’t shy about climbing on visitors in search of food. Pileh Bay is a large inlet with a coral reef at its entrance. The emerald lagoon is a great swimming area, surrounded by majestic limestone hills.

Don’t miss:

A couple of nights at Railay Beach in Krabi for a much less crowded but equally beautiful beach. The Railay Peninsula is surrounded by white sands, lush jungle and twisted rock.

Dreaming of a Thailand vacation?  Check out virtuoso.com for ideas about everything from where to stay to what to do.



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How to Become a Volunteer Tourist

Volunteering to build a house

One voluntourism activity: building a house

Have you ever thought about volunteering on vacation?  Teaching English, building a house, or cleaning up the environment?

If so, you’re not alone. Volunteer tourism – or voluntourism – is growing in popularity. A 2008 study by Tourism and Research Marketing put the number of volunteer tourists at 1.6 million per year for an annual value of more than $2 billion U.S.

Why Voluntourism?

“Folks are waking up to the fact that tourism is a massive industry with the ability to change landscapes, and thus how one travels matters,” explains Betty Jo Currie, a Virtuoso travel advisor in Atlanta, Georgia. “They don’t want their children to see their travel experiences as simply privilege. They want them to learn about the places they go, the people, and the ideas.”

One Voluntourist’s Experience

Voluntourism: Helping with Animals

Another potential voluntourist activity: helping at a shelter

Pamela Lassers, with Virtuoso partner Abercrombie & Kent, recalls a marketing communications executive who used her talents to benefit an organization supporting Mount Kilimanjaro porters. Porters ascend with climbers on expeditions, carrying gear and supplies.

“The client asked us to find a volunteer project in Tanzania after a bike trip she was doing,” Lassers relates. “She helped the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project develop their website, write press releases, and find university partners to provide an ongoing source of PR interns.”

Where to Go, What to Do? 

Sybil Ford, a Virtuoso travel advisor in New York City, says Kenya and Cambodia are two of the most popular voluntourism destinations. “Those places allow you to combine sightseeing you wouldn’t do on a regular vacation with the ability to help someone,” she notes. “Cambodia is popular with Vietnam war veterans, because Vietnam is not that far from Cambodia.”


There’s a world of projects awaiting voluntourists

Ford finds clients are also interested in other African regions, particularly with water-related projects. “Something else I’ve seen tour groups incorporate is support for women’s groups,” she continues. “There’s a certified area with women who are supporting their families with the funds used to purchase their crafts. This is a safe environment where you can actually see the women working.”

Through Abercrombie & Kent trips, travelers can educate street children in Delhi or provide pillows and blankets to kids in Peru, for example. These programs encourage human connections, allowing clients to play soccer or attend classes with the children they help.

“It makes me feel good when I do things like that,” confides Elaine Carey, a Virtuoso travel advisor in Raleigh, North Carolina, of a charitable orange-picking excursion she participated in on a cruise through Israel. “It sets something off deep inside me and makes me want to help even more.”

How to Have a Great Voluntourism Experience

  • Think about your skills and interests and ask your Virtuoso travel advisor to find an experience that’s a match.
  • Have an idea of the kind of project you want to do and how long you want to spend doing it.
  • Often hotels, cruise lines and tour operators have partnerships with charitable organizations, including their own non-profit arms that improve the lives of people in the regions they serve. Your travel advisor can arrange an experience for you through them.
  • Have realistic expectations. You’ll likely meet locals and gain a new perspective, but you won’t witness huge changes from a brief project.


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How a Travel Advisor Can Book You the Ultimate Adventure: Space

Ever dreamed of traveling to space?  Matthew Upchurch has for years.  Soon, Virtuoso’s chairman and CEO will become one of the first civilians to visit suborbital space when Virgin Galactic begins its out-of-this-world flights.

Upchurch appeared on the Varney & Company program on the FOX Business Network to talk about his status as a Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut and how travel advisors can book the ultimate space adventure.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two

Virgin Galactic breaks speed of sound in first rocket-powered flight of SpaceShipTwo

“We’re very close to being ready to go to space,” Upchurch said during the five-minute interview.  He’s had his ticket for seven years and will be one of the first to go up with Virgin Galactic.

The two-hour flight is part of a four-day experience, and travelers in North and South America can book the adventure only through a Virtuoso travel advisor.  The experience is yours for $250,000.  “You can come to us and we have advisors that will connect you with Virgin Galactic,” explained Upchurch of Virtuoso’s Accredited Space Agents who specialize in selling the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

“I’m fascinated with this high-end luxury travel,” host Charles Payne commented.  But he was concerned that luxury travel is expensive.

Travel advisor working with client

A Virtuoso travel advisor finds clients the best vacation value.

Upchurch quoted business magnate and investor Warren Buffett, explaining that “price is what you pay, value is what you get.”  He said that Virtuoso’s travel advisors are the equivalent of wealth advisors, creating a conscious strategy for how people plan their travel and sitting down with clients to provide expert counsel.

Virtuoso travel advisors have a “hugely growing business” and their ability to create unique travel experiences while finding the best value for clients is a significant factor.  When you go on a trip a Virtuoso travel advisor has arranged, “you’re going to meet the people (they) actually have relationships with,” commented Upchurch.

To find your own Virtuoso travel advisor who can book space travel or something more down to earth, click here to visit virtuoso.com. Type “Virgin Galactic” in the search bar in the upper right corner to find Accredited Space Agents.


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6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Luxury All-Inclusive Vacation

Cece Drummond, VirtuosoBy Cece Drummond, Director, Tours Products, Virtuoso

For our 30th anniversary, my husband and I decided on a Cancun getaway.  We selected Grand Velas Riviera Maya as it’s a five-star all-inclusive property and part of Virtuoso’s network of worldwide hotels and resorts.  Not only did we have a fabulous stay, but we picked up several tips for anyone seeking a great all-inclusive experience.

Grand Velas, Mexico - aerial view

An aerial view of Grand Velas Riviera Maya, showing its lush greenery and vast beaches.

Driving onto the Grand Velas grounds, you pass mangroves and jungles and get the feeling you’re entering a private, remote paradise.  Upon arrival, we met our dedicated concierge, Alexandra.  She escorted us to our room, gave us a tour and explained the amenities.  She then inquired – could she customize our mini-bar with special orders, could she unpack for us, did we need dinner reservations, etc.  We marveled at our large sitting room, entertainment system, walk-in closet, Jacuzzi, rainforest shower with L’Occitane amenities as well as a private balcony overlooking the beach with a small private pool.

The beach was spacious and luckily for us was almost empty (hurricane season has its advantages).  We did most of our swimming in the infinity-edge pools – including swimming up to the bar for an afternoon cocktail.  Other times we lingered on the beach as staff catered to our food and drink needs.

Grand Velas - Piaf restaurant

The romantic Piaf at Grand Velas, which pays homage to its namesake French chanteuse

All-inclusives are the way to go, especially if you like beachside cocktails and fine wine with meals.  The alcohol was top shelf and each of the many restaurants had a wonderful wine collection from around the world.  Frida, the Mexican restaurant, had just re-opened that evening with a new menu.  We started with a choice of margaritas – the cucumber one was so light and refreshing.  The food was wonderful – not your traditional American Mexican-American offerings.  The chef even greeted us to see what we thought.  Next night was Cocina de Autor with a multiple-course tasting menu.  This mix of molecular gastronomy was a revolutionary way to consume food.  Our final night was Piaf – a French restaurant honoring the great singer. Starting with Kir Royales, we listened to Edith playing softly in the background.  The French onion soup was highly recommended and it was the right choice.

Grand Velas room with personal pool

A guestroom at Grand Velas, complete with its own private pool

If you’re considering an all-inclusive:

  • Take advantage of everything the resort offers.  For example, at Grand Velas, you could select the family section with children’s activities or the adults-only section.  My only regret was not getting to the spa – I hear the hydrotherapy sessions are wonderful.
  • Use your personal concierge for dinner reservations and to confirm your transfers to the airport.
  • Ask staff to set up an umbrella as you enjoy your beach time.  You’ll find you can only survive so long in the tropical sun!
  • Sample all the signature restaurants to make the most of the delicious variety.
  • Consider sharing meals so you can taste a greater array of delicious options without overeating or wasting food.

My final tip: A Virtuoso travel advisor can help you book a luxury all-inclusive vacation in any resort of your choice.  Don’t have a Virtuoso advisor?  Find one at www.virtuoso.com.

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How Do Affluent Travelers Use the Web?

Online Travel PlanningWhere do wealthy travelers go when they’re thinking about their next vacation? To the internet, of course!

A new study by Google and Ipsos MediaCT finds travelers are increasingly relying on internet research, including online reviews, to plan trips. People with household incomes of $250,000 or more were asked how they use technology for travel purposes. They go online for:

  • Research: 70% said that they start researching online before they decide where or how they want to travel.
  • Inspiration: 64% go to the internet for ideas – the same percentage that seeks insights from family friends or colleagues. Of those surveyed, 76% said the internet was extremely or very important as a source of travel inspiration, and 72% cited travel agents.
  • Planning: a dominant 87% go to the internet – the top source of information.

What do they do online?

These are the most popular online activities among upscale travelers:

  • 80% researched an upcoming trip
  • 67% read reviews from other travelers
  • 55% brainstormed or started thinking about a trip
  • 41% requested more information related to an upcoming trip
  • 35% read a travel-related blog
  • 30% watched travel videos

Woman using smartphoneHow important are devices and videos?

More than half – 55% – say they access travel information on smartphones or tablets for planning trips. Affluent travelers use various devices for online travel activities:

• 77% research trips on a tablet; 55% on a smartphone

• 64% read reviews on a tablet and 44% on a smartphone

Online travel video usage is also on the rise. Upscale travelers view online video at all stages of the travel process:

  • 60% when thinking about a trip
  • 64% when choosing a destination
  • 67% when looking for ideas at a particular destination
  • 62% when deciding on accommodations

What web resources does Virtuoso provide? Virtuoso.com home page at www.virtuoso.com

You’ve found one of them already – the Virtuoso blog, where travelers can find information on destinations and trends. Here are other Virtuoso sites to help you decide on and plan a vacation that’s right for you.

  • Virtuoso.com is your one-stop resource. The site allows travelers to search for inspiration, research future trips, read reviews from verified travelers and request a travel advisor to assist with planning.
  • Virtuoso’s YouTube channel houses a variety of travel videos to inspire and educate.
  • Virtuoso’s other social media channels – Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – promote everything from special offers to destination tips.


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Hotels That Help You Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleeping woman

Are you getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night?

Sleep is one of our most precious commodities, yet we’re not getting enough of it.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours a night for adults, but most people get under seven. And the amount of sleep people get has been decreasing over the years – nine hours used to be standard.

To celebrate World Sleep Day March 14, and assist you with getting a great night’s slumber when you’re traveling, here are Virtuoso hotels lending a helping hand. To book a stay at any of them, contact your Virtuoso travel advisor or find one by clicking here.


The Lodge at Woodloch treatment

One of the sleep-encouraging treatments at The Lodge at Woodloch

The Lodge at Woodloch (Hawley, Pennsylvania)

The lodge offers everything from a “power napping” stretching session, to yoga for relaxation, to a calming lavender spa treatment. Once a year, for National Sleep Week, the property presents a sleep-focused event, with experts sharing information on how to relax mind and body. Sessions include breathing techniques, cooking sleep-inducing foods, or a deep-sleep massage.

The Benjamin (New York, New York)

The hotel’s Rest & Renew program offers tools anchored in the latest sleep medicine findings: the services of a sleep consultant, a menu of ten pillows, pre-bedtime massages to encourage slumber, a power nap package, and snacks to inspire sleep.

Lavender and bed

Lavender is frequently used as an aromatherapy treatment to induce sleep

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples (Naples, Florida)

The resort’s Drift to Sleep experience helps people who have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The treatments promote sleep at a deep state of sub-consciousness. The package includes an aromatherapy milk bath, herbal tea infused with essential oils to slow the body’s rhythm, and an aromatherapy massage, helping transition into an alpha state of sleep. The package ends with a power nap on a warm feather duvet.

Mayflower Grace (Washington, Connecticut)

The inn offers a full menu of slumber-related services, including private sessions to help guests develop a personalized sleep ritual, hypnotherapy for sleep, nutrition consultations for better sleep, and even sleep-inducing music.

Hospes Palacio del Bailio (Cordoba, Spain) and Hospes Palacio de los Patos (Granada, Spain) 

In conjunction with a sleep clinic, Hospes Hotels have developed a program to help guests improve their slumber. It consists of a medical history review by a doctor, a private sleep study in the guest’s room, and lifestyle recommendations from a sleep guide.

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

Four Seasons Bed

The Four Seasons Bed, with a mattress so comfortable it aids with sleep

Rooms at the luxury hotel chain feature touches that encourage relaxation, including optimal acoustics and temperature controls that adjust for personal preferences. Its new custom beds feature a gel foam core that regulates heat absorption. Guests can choose from three levels of firmness.

Tips for Better Sleep

  • Reserve the bed for sleep; don’t use it for work or entertainment.
  • Avoid devices such as laptops and smartphones before bed, because the light from them can stimulate the brain.
  • Practice a relaxing ritual, such as reading, to shift yourself into sleep mode.
  • Exercise daily, but not directly before bedtime.
  • Don’t sleep during the day. If you do, don’t sleep for more than 45 minutes.
  • Don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol or eat large meals within four hours of bedtime.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages within six hours of bedtime.
  • Design a relaxing bedroom atmosphere. Have a comfortable mattress and pillows. Set the temperature on the cool side (60-67 degrees F/15-19 degrees C), keep the room ventilated, and block out noise and light. Consider blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, white-noise machines, humidifiers and fans.


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Life’s a Beach

vl-march-200Spring is in the air, and we’re betting that you’re ready for a change in seasons – and probably a change of scenery, too. Let’s face it: In March, the beach beckons. It’s time to get away, and the March 2014 issue of Virtuoso Life bids farewell to winter from cover to cover.

That cover art? It’s actually a commissioned hand-made paper design, crafted by Russian-born artist Yulia Brodskaya. The Technicolor, 3-D collage is Brodskaya’s modern take on the centuries-old art of quilling, or filigree, rolling thin strips of paper into various shapes – including our Virtuoso Life logo – using simple but time-consuming techniques to twirl each piece into place.

It’s all about warm weather here. We’ve all had enough of the last few months of winter’s crazy climes. These pages are dedicated to beaches, islands, and trips that call for bathing suits, sunscreen, and cold cocktails. Don’t miss the feature on our favorite beach towns around the world (page 66), with tips on where to eat, shop, stay, catch the sunset – or the best waves – and more. From the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, these spin-the-globe articles intentionally entice.elaine-march-blog

It’s Travel Dreams Survey time. Our forward-looking survey asks where you want to go next. It’s quick, easy, and will remind you of all the wonderful places you’ve yet to visit. It’s also fun – besides the virtual globe-trotting it indulges, it helps identify your travel personality. Are you a go-go-go type, or do you prefer to park it on the nearest chaise? Do you like to check off the latest and greatest, or would you rather stick with tried-and-true favorites?

Go to www.virtuoso.com now to take the survey and for a chance to win an exotic cruise for two from Bali to Bangkok with Crystal Cruises – including business class flights on Etihad Airways. Five other winners will receive $1,000 cash prizes.

After completing the survey, share your personality and dream destinations with the world on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. More important, share the results of your personal travel wish list with your travel advisor, who can map out a plan to get your favorites on your travel calendar.

The survey ends March 31, so log on soon – and good luck!





Elaine Srnka
Editorial Director


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Help Virtuoso Life Win Best Magazine Cover

CVR_SEP_RFPVirtuoso’s flagship magazine, Virtuoso Life, is in the running for a coveted American Society of Magazine Editors award – and you can help it win.

This week the ASME is asking people on Facebook to vote for their favorite cover in the “Brainiest” category. If you have a Facebook account, please help Virtuoso Life by clicking here to vote for the magazine’s September/October 2013 issue. The link will take you to the ASME’s Facebook page, and once there, please click “Like” to vote for the Virtuoso Life cover. Voting is open March 3-9 only. The most “liked” covers will compete for the Readers’ Choice Award.

The September/October 2013 issue debuted Virtuoso Life’s “How To Travel Better” theme. Packed with tips on everything from planning and packing to navigating airport security, ordering dim sum in Asia, cultural etiquette, and more, the issue offers insight tailored to the worldliest of travelers. Wildly popular with readers, the issue’s theme was effectively communicated with its type-driven, graphic cover.

To learn more about Virtuoso Life and the travel insights readers get in every issue, click here.


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Vote for Virtuoso Life

vl_januaryDo you look forward to reading Virtuoso’s flagship magazine, Virtuoso Life, every month? You can support the publication and help it win a new honor: The American Society of Magazine Editors Best Cover Contest.

If you have a Facebook account, Virtuoso would love your support. Please click here to vote for Virtuoso Life’s January 2013 issue in the Lifestyle category. The link will take you right to the ASME’s Facebook page. Please click “Like” to vote for the Virtuoso Life cover. The most “liked” covers will compete to win the ASME Best Cover Contest Readers’ Choice Award.

The cover image captured Buddhist nuns collecting alms near Mandalay. The fresh faces and vibrant colors hint at the country’s budding transformation from politically off-limits to tourism darling full of optimism – if a little uncertainty – for what the future holds.

To learn more about Virtuoso Life and the wealth of travel insights it shares in every issue, click here.


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