Attention Harry Potter Fans!

Harry Potter Platform

With the announcement that Universal Studios Florida’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is scheduled to open in July, we have to ask – did you know that with Collette you could see the original Diagon Alley in England? Not far outside of London sits the Warner Brothers Studio where all of the iconic Harry Potter movies were filmed, and it’s now open for touring.

A visit is included on our London & Paris Family Adventure tour. You’ll not only follow in the footsteps of Harry and friends as you walk down Diagon Alley, but imagine your family taking a stroll through Hogwarts, exploring the Great Hall, and taking a glance inside Dumbledore’s office.

You’ll get a full behind-the-scenes look at all the intricate sets, costumes, and creatures and learn how they were created. Feel closer to the cast and crew as you learn the secrets behind the curtain. Along the way, you will be amazed by the talented artists and the sophisticated mechanics behind the movies that were central in making the films such a phenomenal success.

This is the perfect trip for Harry Potter enthusiasts of all ages.


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Remembering D-Day

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American World War II Cemetary

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventy years ago today, on June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France.

Supported by thousands of aircraft and warships, the Allies invaded the French coast with the goal of gaining entrance to Nazi-occupied Europe, and rooting out the German forces that heavily guarded the shoreline.

More than 9,000 of those Allied troops were killed or wounded, but their noble efforts that day allowed the Allies to secure the coast soon thereafter, and by the end of August 1944, Paris was liberated. The Battle of Normandy had successfully come to an end, and it was the beginning of the end of World War II.  Today, we remember D-Day, and pay tribute to all those who fought so valiantly.

Collette’s “Memorials of War: Normandy and Paris” tour begins in Paris, visiting WWII sites such as the Vel d’Hiv Memorial, as well as providing time to enjoy all that the “City of Lights” has to offer. Then it’s off to Normandy, where you will experience the D-Day landing beaches, as well as two memorial museums and the U.S. Military Cemetery. Other Normandy sites include the Bayeaux Tapestry, Le Mont St. Michel, and Chartres Cathedral.

“Memorials of War: Normandy and Paris”


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Happy Memorial Day

American Flag
“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” - Thucydides, Ancient Greek historian

Over the years Memorial Day has become a chance for spending time with family and maybe catching a baseball game.  And it kicks off the summer travel season.

Yet, none of these things would be possible without the sacrifice of so many throughout our nation’s history.

Have a great day. And remember to keep in your heart the true meaning of Memorial Day.


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Golden Gate Bridge Crossing

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May 27 marks the 77th anniversary of the opening of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. The folks in San Francisco are very proud of their bridge, and from the beginning, there was great celebration to mark its opening date. After all, the technological wonder connected San Francisco to Marin County, spanned 4,200 feet , and was the longest bridge in the world until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964. But how did this symbol of San Francisco come into being?

The idea for the bridge had its genesis in the late 19th century, but the design didn’t actually happen until the 1920s and construction began in the 1930s. After five years of construction, the bridge opened to pedestrians on May 27, 1937 (it opened to vehicles the day after). San Francisco declared that a “fiesta” be held for their magnificent orange suspension bridge. Schools, offices, and stores were closed, or were only open with limited staffing. Some 200,000 pedestrians showed up to walk across the bridge, and at the end of the day there were fireworks.

You can see this spectacular symbol of San Francisco for yourself on four existing Collette tours, including the brand new San Francisco city tour, “Spotlight on San Francisco.” For more information on these and other tours, head to Collette’s website.

 


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Traveling with Mom

AF mom waterfall

One of the greatest benefits of working at Collette is the opportunity it has given me to travel. In the past few years, I have had the good fortune to travel with my mother on two Collette tours: Sunny Portugal and Tropical Costa Rica. Both destinations completely exceeded our expectations, and I’m so thankful we’ve been able to share these new experiences together in these incredible destinations.

Because I live in Massachusetts and my mom lives in Colorado, I don’t get the chance to see her all that often. Traveling together allows us to spend the time we miss out on living in different states. We both love traveling and exploring new places – my mother passed that passion on to me. I remember as a kid drawing maps together, playing with the globe and studying geography.

Since I left home for college, I have lived in many places around the world. Over the years, my mom has always made the effort to visit me. We have been able to explore many exotic places together, from Japan and New Zealand to Europe, Latin America, and more. That’s really how I grew to love travel – from all the practice planning trips with my mom!

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Some of our favorite travel memories are walking the beautiful promenade on the coast of Portugal between Estoril and Cascais, and zip-lining in the jungle of Costa Rica – I never thought I’d see the day when my mom braved that! As much I have enjoyed designing tours as a Product Manager, I can honestly say that I can now fully appreciate the value of taking a guided tour – when someone else has already done all the planning, and my mom and I can just show up and enjoy it.

It’s been a fantastic way for us to make new memories together. I look forward to our next trip, our own special version of mother–daughter bonding time.

 Author: Allison Flint Lenzi, Project Manager at Collette

AF mom boat


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Collette’s Rediscover Cuba

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I’m lucky to have been born into a family that values travel. You might’ve read all about my trip with my grandmother to London and Paris, which was wonderful. The Collette guided tour “Rediscover Cuba” I recently traveled on was just as magical in so many ways and, again, seamlessly planned.

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In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, for many years Americans were not able to travel to the country. In fact, tour operators have to possess a special license to bring American tourists to Cuba. Because of this, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I would ever have the opportunity to visit. Not only was my group able to visit Cuba, but we also visited the best museums, restaurants and attractions. I savored each moment knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which, by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can have an insightful conversation with even a brick wall, so it was no problem. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I enjoyed learning about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.

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In the last few months before the trip, many friends and family members kept asking, “Why Cuba?” In a sense, I wasn’t exactly sure either.  But once I arrived, I realized exactly why Cuba was such a fantastic travel destination. Antique automobiles, sandy beaches, colorful houses and horse-drawn carriages are all things I loved about Cuba.

When I left Dallas, Texas on an early March afternoon, it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty.

Before I left the United States, I heard Cuba didn’t have the best reputation when it came to hospitality or cuisine. However, my experience was just the opposite.  We went to the finest restaurants and hotels during our stay, including an enjoyable stay at our resort in Trinidad for the first few days. Although it was the perfect environment for relaxation, there was no time because there were so many exciting things to see and do in Trinidad. In the city, we saw hundreds of buildings with “Trinidad 500” markings. Our guide informed us that 2014 marks the 500th anniversary of the quaint city. What a pleasant surprise!

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The ration store, art museum and sugar mill were only a few of the places we visited. After exploring Trinidad and Cienfuegos, we were whisked off to Havana in the tour bus. Salsa dancing, a visit to a train station, Hemingway’s house and an hour-long ride in a 1950s red convertible were a few of the things that made the city so special.

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Overall, the music was something I loved most about the country’s culture. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded us at nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just  in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?

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The art and architecture were stunning. Because of the country’s deep history, there are so many styles of buildings. Some had regal columns and others resembled pastel-colored boxes. Each city we visited had its own style and, more excitingly, some neighborhoods had their own theme. My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s unique mosaic style—then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of colorful imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.

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Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easygoing way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregating by the fences and talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all their windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans enjoy.

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Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.

Author: Lauren Frock

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Collette Travel Service, Inc. d/b/a Collette has been issued a license (license number CT-2012-299283-1) by the Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) which authorizes registered guests of our programs, under the auspices of Collette, to legally travel to Cuba, to participate and engage in a full time schedule of authorized educational exchange activities in Cuba, which will involve meaningful interaction between you and people in Cuba.

Prior to departure, Collette will provide you with a Letter of Authorization to confirm your legal travel status, the authorized travel agenda and activities, and your recordkeeping responsibilities.


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High Rolling, Las Vegas-style

photo 1[1]Las Vegas was always exciting, but it just became even more so with the opening of the High Roller observation wheel at the end of March.

In case you haven’t heard about this, Caesar’s Entertainment spent $550 million to build the new LINQ shopping, dining, and entertainment district on the Las Vegas Strip, with its focal point being this magnificent gyre.

The High Roller rises above the Singapore Flyer, the London Eye, and China’s Star of Nanchange — up until now, the tallest observation wheels.

Check out the following impressive stats:

  • Tallest point: 550 feet
  • Height: about 51 stories
  • Capacity: 1,120 people
  • Number of cabins: 28
  • Number of people per cabin: 40
  • Weight of cabin: 44,000 pounds
  • Glass per cabin: 300 square feet
  • Number of LED lights: 2,000

Lest you think that the spectacular views of Las Vegas won’t keep you sufficiently entertained, each cabin comes with eight monitor screens playing video and music shows. Your ride aboard the High Roller lasts 30 minutes, and the price for tickets will start at $24.95, plus fees. You can now be a part of the Vegas skyline, and enjoy an expansive view of the entire Strip. Get ready to roll!

Collette tours with free time in Las Vegas: Canyon Country and Western Wonders.


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Experience it… Salem, MA

Salem Witch House

Founded in 1626, Salem is one of the oldest cities in the United States.  The coastal city is both scenic and rich in history.  Be awed by its rugged coastline, quaint historic buildings, and picturesque marinas.  The town is perhaps best known for the infamous witch trials of 1692, when several local women were accused of witchcraft and eventually put to death for their crime.  Located here is the “House of Seven Gables,” an authentic Colonial-style 17th century home built by sea captain John Turner in 1668. This home inspired some of the famous works of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, Salem was an important New England trade port particularly for East Indian trade.  This important period is documented at Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which features a 1797 merchant ship.

Grand Tour of New England


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San Antonio Redux

 

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A month ago, I wrote a post about San Antonio, and highlighted its River Walk—a series of walkways throughout the city providing stellar access to city treasures. Since then, San Antonio’s River Walk has been featured in National Geographic Traveler and other news outlets, as its epic $358 million expansion has come to completion and it’s open for business!

As is suggested in this name of the last phase — Mission Reach — access to the four Spanish missions has been increased (access to museums was increased in an earlier phase of the project — Museum Reach). The River Walk has long provided superb access to hotels, restaurants, and attractions. This Mission Reach phase somewhat restricts access to the first two, but includes heightened access to the third, the goal being to restore the surrounding environment to a more natural state.

You are free to travel by foot, bike, and even kayak, if you so choose. But proper boats are not permitted here, in order to foster the proliferation of native plants and wildlife. Tourists and locals alike can now enjoy the natural beauty of the San Antonio River with improved walkability — a great combination!

 See the River Walk for Yourself!

 


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St. Patrick’s Day Near and Far

Brazen Head Pub

Today, the world is celebrating Ireland.  Dating back to the 17th century, St. Patrick ’s Day was traditionally a religious day of feasting and celebration in honor of its patron saint, who is attributed with bringing Christianity to Ireland and driving the snakes from Ireland.  But as we all know, it has evolved into a celebration of everything Irish and the world becomes Irish for a day.

Whether you have been to Ireland and are reminiscing about the warm Irish spirit and hospitable culture, or longing for a trip to the one of the friendliest countries in the world, today is a day to celebrate. If you can’t make it to Dublin for their fun-filled, four-day-long festival, some of the biggest celebrations take place around the U.S.  Here are a few of the big ones:

New York City

This is the biggest celebration. It began as an Irish military march in 1762.  Today, the parade features over 150,000 participants and sees over a million people taking to the streets every year.

Chicago

They get the prize for the most imaginative. For 40 years the city has been coloring the Chicago River green for the day (eco-friendly dye of course) along with hosting an extravagant parade and other festivities.

Savannah

It is St. Patty’s Day, southern-style.  As in Dublin, they too do a four-day-long celebration with parades, bands, food, and plenty of beer. But in Savannah, it is all about the music – five stages and 60 bands over four days!

Boston

Boston boasts having the first St. Patty’s celebration taking place in 1737.  A city with more than 15% of its residents claiming Irish heritage and a basketball team named the Celtics, this is the perfect place to celebrate Irish culture.

New Orleans

You missed Marti Gras – no worries, there is always St. Patrick ’s Day New Orleans-style.  Another four-day celebration, complete with daily parades painted in a sea of green, and of course, plenty of beer!

So today, if you can’t be in Ireland in person, be sure to take some time to learn a Gaelic word, wear an exorbitant amount of green, eat a heaping portion of corned beef and cabbage, and drink some Irish Beer (in moderation of course). I hope all of you get to visit Ireland someday to see for yourself how truly amazing it is.

I wish you the Luck of the Irish!


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