Top 7 Reasons Why MSC is One of Our New Favorite Cruise Lines

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We’re proud to introduce our newest preferred cruise line, MSC Cruises. What does it mean to be preferred? It means that we thoroughly researched the brand, our travel specialists have cruised with the line and had great experiences, and that the cruise line is dedicated to provide exemplary service to our clients.

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So what makes MSC so great? Here are our top 7 reasons:

  1. 10 new ships in the next 11 years
    Yep, they have plans to spend BILLIONS almost doubling their current fleet of ships! This means more itineraries, more ports and more opportunities to save on an upcoming cruise.
  2. Stay connected for less
    MSC offers three options for staying connected during your cruise. Whether you’re looking to just connect to social networks and chat apps ($19.90 for an 8-day cruise for 1 device) or you’re ready to have full internet access with streaming ($79.90 for an 8-day cruise for 4 total devices), there’s an option tailored to you so you can keep more Benjamins in your pocket (based on January 2017 pricing).phone
  3. Say hello to upgraded status
    MSC’s innovative Status Match program allows you to join the MSC Voyager’s Club and receive the matching status level of other travel brands (cruise, hotel, all-inclusive), guaranteeing a 5% discount on any booking PLUS similar or higher benefit status on board (see a Boscov’s Travel Specialist to sign up).msc1216352_di_aquapark_lrg
  4. Discounts for Military, Civil Servants and Teachers
    In appreciation of your community service, MSC offers a 10% discount on balcony cabins and 5% discount on oceanview and interior cabins PLUS kids sale free, and you can book multiple staterooms with your discount.
    Eligible civil servants: Teachers, Police Officers, Firefighters, Federal Express, DHL Worldwide Express, United Parcel Service, PLUS, family members are included! Learn more here.
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  5. Cruise like a boss in the Yacht Club
    Described as the “epitome of elegance and exclusivity,” the MSC Yacht Club offers top of the line luxury suite accommodations. Located in the Fantasia class fleet, this distinction carries perks including 24-hour butler service, complimentary select wines, spirits, beers, and soft drinks, private seating at select restaurants on board, exclusive access to the Yacht Club Pool, Bar & Grill, and priority check in. Best of all, this experience is between $1900 and $2500 per person for a 7-night cruise (quoted 1/11/17. View current offers).Butler.png
  6. It’s all in the details on board
    From glass walkways, to exclusive partnerships with Cirque Du Soleil, an all new beach condo design concept on board, a private island set to open in 2018, and cuisines cultivated by celebrity chefs, MSC values every feature on its ships.
  7. Save big with 2-for-1 cruise deals
    Give your wallet a break when you get two cruise fares for the price of one. Book by March 31, 2017, to receive 2 for 1 on MSC Divina sailings in the Caribbean departing now through February 2018. Plus kids sail free on select sailings, and rates start as low as $379.50 per person. Call for details.

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Fall in love with MSC? Don’t mind if we do.

If you’re ready to book your cruise experience with MSC Cruises, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or visit us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Families, unite for Marvel Day At Sea!

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Families, unite! In 2017, Disney Cruise Line will be introducing the all-new Marvel Day At Sea. Guests will be able to meet Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, and other Marvel superheroes to participate in all-day entertainment aboard the Disney Magic.

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Beginning in the fall of 2017, Marvel Day at Sea will be on seven and eight-night Disney Magic Bahamian cruises departing from New York on Oct. 6, 14, 28; Nov. 4, 11 and 18, 2017. These sailings will include one day of action-packed activities in which guests will be able to enjoy exclusive opportunities to interact with Marvel heroes and villains, a special Marvel deck party, youth activities as part of the Marvel’s Avengers Academy, exclusive merchandise, and unique food and beverage options.

Kids and adults alike, will enjoy special screenings of their favorite Marvel films and TV shows known to mankind, including the newest releases and Disney 😄 shows such as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Some of the highlights on this fantastic voyage include:

  • Meet-and-greet and photos with Marvel Universe Super Heroes.
  • A spectacular Upper Deck Party with music, dancing and games.
  • The Upper Deck Party culminates in a stunning display of themed pyrotechnics, lighting, sound effects and the largest collection of Marvel Super Heroes and Super Villains ever assembled on a cruise ship.
  • Kids and families summon their Marvel knowledge and enjoy friendly competition during trivia games, covering courageous heroes and fun facts from the Marvel Universe.
  • For young heroes-in-training, Marvel-themed games, activities and arts and crafts will be offered throughout the day in the Marvel’s Avengers Academy in the Oceaneer Club.

All will include a stop at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay and Port Canaveral, Fla., with a day at the Walt Disney World Resort. Don’t miss these cruises sailing from NYC. Plus, Boscov’s Travel makes it easy with direct roundtrip transfers to the pier. Let us pick you up so you can start your vacation the moment you leave your house.

If you’re interested in learning more how you can set sail with your favorite superhero, contact your Boscov’s Travel Specialist today.

If you’re ready to book your cruise adventure, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or direct message us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Nickelodeon’s Newest Resort is Surprisingly Luxurious

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The following post is written by Jennifer from Boscov’s Travel within Boscov’s in Camp Hill.  Jennifer recently visited Nickelodeon Resort on a FAM trip. In the travel industry, FAM trips – better known as familiarization trips – help travel agents learn what’s available for their clients in destinations across the globe. Jennifer traveled on the FAM in October 2016. 

I had the opportunity to visit the Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana – WAIT, don’t stop reading because I said Nickelodeon…hear me out. While there are nods to the characters especially in the Kids play area (Just Kids), the water park and the character breakfast (additional charge) this resort has so much to offer families and adults alike.

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It’s on a beautiful stretch a beach with a gorgeous infinity pool, some ocean front restaurants and well located wedding venues.  Does that sound ‘kiddie’?  The water park is quite literally across the street – but very easy to get to with an under the roadway access and golf carts or walking paths to get there.  This is also where the ‘Just Kids’ playhouse is and the sports hub with tennis courts, soccer play area, running track, pool and video games. The sports hub is a great place for teens to hang out. This entire area is separate from the lobby, courtyard of dining and shops and the rooms.

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The Nickelodeon resort shares amenities with the Karisma resort Sensatori but these rooms are only available in the Canadian and European market. There is even an adults-only section at Sensatori and yet the amenities like restaurants, pools, spa, etc are shared. This area is a large courtyard walking area almost like a planned communities shopping area. There was family appropriate but non-branded entertainment going on in the courtyard at night. A violinist, a juggler, a mime (who hired the mime?!?) and a popcorn cart. This is an indicator that the ‘Nickelodeon’ element of the resort by the same name is really only an aspect of it. You just need to look at the pictures to see what I mean. Yes there are touches of Nickelodeon orange, shadows on the buildings of characters and a lone pineapple villa (aka Spongebob’s House) done tastefully and kind of minimalist. Let me tell you it’s a pretty spectacular villa!!

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What is more expected of the brand are the numbers of swim up suites and rooms with plunge pools on the second and third floors, spectacular restaurants with an upscale feel, and entertainment that has nothing to do with Nickelodeon themes. My friend just took her daughter here (age 9) and her favorite thing was the swim up suite. Most of the room categories have a safety gate at the sliding glass door to prevent little ones from having access to the pool without assistance.

Nickelodeon is a family friendly LUXURY resort with as much for the parents as the kids… the name sells the kids but the luxury will convince the parents. This resort would be a great tropical follow up to an exhausting Florida theme park for families looking for a more relaxing vacation.

If you’re ready to learn more about Nickelodeon Resort, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, DM Boscov’s Travel on Facebook, or call 800-755-8020.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Rediscovering my love of cruising aboard the Norwegian Breakaway

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The following post is written by Wendy, a member of the Boscov’s Travel Corporate Team.  Wendy recently sailed on the Breakaway, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, as part of a FAM. In the travel industry, FAM trips – better known as familiarization trips – help travel agents learn what’s available for their clients in destinations across the globe. Wendy traveled on the FAM in October 2016. 

Norwegian Cruise Line had invited myself and other members of the Boscov’s Travel family on a 7-Day FAM trip aboard Norwegian Breakaway. For me these trips are a real joy and it had been a number of years since my last cruise, so needless to say I was excited. One of the beautiful things about a familiarization trip on a cruise ship is that travel specialists can experience, well, everything!

img_3715For our Bermuda cruise, we departed from the New York City pier. Boscov’s Travel offers transfers for select cruises to this pier from local Boscov’s in Reading, Camp Hill, Lancaster, and Easton. Our group took one of these transfers aboard a luxury bus from Reading, PA to the cruise terminal. Having cruised before I was quite familiar with the procedures of boarding a cruise ship. I’ll admit, I was blown away by how much more smoothly and streamlined Norwegian has made the boarding process. We were moved along quickly, porters took our luggage, and the staff was polite and friendly. All in all the experience was hassle and headache free.

Unfortunately, the weather was not going to cooperate. Hurricane Matthew threw a wrench in the works. Instead of sailing to Bermuda as planned, our itinerary was changed to Port Canaveral, Florida and Nassau, Bahamas. Seeing as we were on a FAM trip to learn about the ship, this didn’t deter us at all from enjoying everything the Norwegian Breakaway had to offer.

Our first stop was Port Canaveral, Florida. Despite being a little overcast, we decided to check out Cocoa beach. After an enjoyable bus trip to the beach, we felt like we had the beach to ourselves. It wasn’t as crowded as I thought and the weather helped play a small part in that. There are surf shops in the area and made for a nice break in between relaxation sessions on the beach.

The second port we experienced was Nassau, Bahamas. We spent two hours in Nassau at the Straw Market. It was great experience to be able to see hand-made art and local delicacies. According to the locals, the sunset in Nassau is a must-see and we decided to catch it from the Breakaway. And to be honest, the locals were right… was breathtaking.

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The food on the Breakaway was something to behold. We had the chance to experience the Brazilian style Moderno and the Italian style La Cucina specialty dining restaurants during our trip. And if you have the chance, I highly recommend eating at both. At Moderno, your mouth will water as different grilled and slow-roasted meats are carved tableside. At La Cucina, they take classic Italian dishes and put a fresh twist to create something unbelievable.

The rest of the time, we enjoyed the Garden Café Buffet. The buffet style of cooking on a cruise ship has come a long way since the last time I experienced it. Everything tasted as if it had been cooked especially for us. The taste, freshness, and options available were delicious. They also incorporated themes everyday with options ranging from Chinese one day to Western the next, then seafood after that. There were also made-to-order dishes available upon request.

One of our Boscov’s Travel team members is gluten intolerant. One of the best great things about Norwegian’s food options is that they can make anything gluten-free. The staff was very accommodating and understanding of any and all dietary restrictions. During the day, you can go to any of the restaurants and place an order for your dinner that night with your restrictions. When you arrive later that night, your food will be made to your specifications.

The nightlife experiences aboard the Breakaway transformed the ship into the hottest spot at sea. At H2O, every night was a different theme. One night it was a 70’s disco night and the next was an 80’s new wave night. During the day, cruisers could attend a flash mob class and that night everyone would perform the routine they learned that day. We had the chance to experience a flash mob and see everyone perform the dance routine from Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video.

img_3492Entertainment rocked the ship throughout our 7-days. Rock of Ages and Burn the Floor are two of the on board shows you shouldn’t miss. The cast of Rock the Ages was friendly and entertaining and managed to really involve the audience in the show. Even though the 45-minute dance routines from the foxtrot to the salsa of Burn the Floor is not my cup of tea, it was an amazing performance to watch.

Despite Hurricane Matthew changing our entire itinerary, it did not stop us from enjoying everything Norwegian Cruise Line had to offer! If you have the chance to get aboard this floating palace of entertainment, food, and fun; I would highly recommend that you do so. Norwegian’s really taken things to a whole new level with this ship and it shows; from the accommodating staff to every minor detail on the ship. The Breakaway is truly a cruisers dream ship.

If you’re ready to learn more about cruising, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, DM Boscov’s Travel on Facebook, or call 800-755-8020. Be sure to ask about specials!

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Adventures in Costa Rica; 4-Day Fam Trip

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The following post is written by Amy from Boscov’s Travel within Boscov’s at the Colonial Park Mall in Harrisburg, PA.  Amy recently visited Costa Rica on a FAM trip. In the travel industry, FAM trips – better known as familiarization trips – help travel agents learn what’s available for their clients in destinations across the globe. Amy traveled on the FAM in August 2016. 

I was lucky enough to visit Costa Rica this past August with AMResorts, a Boscov’s Travel preferred resort vendor, on a FAM trip. “Preferred vendor” means we have strong partnerships with the resort because of their service and value to clients. We are often able to offer more perks and value added deals for clients because of this preferred status. The goal of the trip was to experience the country, culture, and resort options to share with my clients.

crOur first stay was at Dreams Las Mareas for two nights. Las Mareas is Dreams newest vibrant, beach getaway for couples, families, and singles to enjoy an escape. It is located on an expansive palm-studded beach and surrounded by lush green mountains and jungles on Playa El Jobo in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This resort has multi-levels and I had the privilege of staying in a top floor ocean view with a Jacuzzi on the balcony. Most of the rooms are located in one main building and close to the restaurants. There are a few bungalows closer to the ocean, but there’s not a bad room within the resort.

On day three we made our way to the next resort, but first stopped to take an adventure excursion, the Mega Combo Tour. This is an optional add on through AMStar, a premier destination management company. This excursion has everything! We started our experience by flying from tree to tree on a thrilling zip line canopy tour, complete with hanging bridges and twelve zip line stations. After, we walked through Guanacaste’s flora and fauna and found ourselves staring down a 1,300 foot water slide! Rushing down through it and falling into a refreshing pool.

After lunch we journeyed to a spa, and finished the day very relaxed. You can get to the spa either by a 45-minute horseback ride or by a specialized vehicle. At the spa, I experienced the volcanic mud bath and felt revitalized and young after the adrenaline-filled morning. I would highly recommend this tour since you get to experience many different things and our guide with AMStar was wonderful.

Our next stay was at Secret Papagayo for another two nights. Secrets Papagayo is a sophisticated, adults-only property and my new favorite resort. Most of the rooms are bungalows situated on a mountain. It is a large property and they have trams to shuttle guests around the property to the beach, restaurants and beyond. This is a lovely resort for a destination wedding or honeymoon. My room was behind the spa, and despite not having an ocean view, the room was spectacular. I would highly suggest getting the ocean view or requesting a bungalow higher up on the mountain. We experienced the preferred club status at both properties, which included upgraded amenities in the rooms and access to the preferred club lounge with top shelf spirits.

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Going on a FAM trip doesn’t mean travel agents can relax the entire time. During the FAM,  we are taken around properties on “site inspections” and conducted tours to see as much the resort as possible. We see all other room categories, sample fare at all the restaurants and tour the spa. We also meet with the Sales Managers, Group Customer Service, and receive training to learn about the area and what it has to offer for our clients. We do this for our clients so we can provide the best possible recommendations for their vacation needs.

The entire trip was wonderful … the people, the rooms, the food, the atmosphere. I can’t praise this experience enough! I would definitely hope to return and I highly recommend these resorts to clients looking for an upscale Costa Rica experience at a luxury resort.

If you’re ready to learn more about adult-only resorts in Costa Rica, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, DM Boscov’s Travel on Facebook, or call 800-755-8020.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Adventures in Ireland; 8-Nights in the Land of Saints and Scholars

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The following post is written by Irene from the Boscov’s Travel Group Travel Department.  Irene toured Ireland with a group guided by CIE Tours in October 2016. 

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cead Mile Failte!   “One hundred thousand welcomes!”

Day 1: After a 6-hour flight from Philadelphia to Dublin, we welcomed the crisp and refreshing air of Ireland. The temperature reached a high in the mid-50’s during the day, and we were fortunate to not have any rain!

Our group boarded a luxury bus and journeyed to breakfast at the Coachman’s Inn Pub, then took in the scenic countryside through the Mullinger lakes. Our final destination was the Kilronan Castle. Built in the early 19th century, the castle boasts a rich history of owners including Lords and Colonels, and proved to be a great start to the trip.

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Day 2: After a filling breakfast, we made our way to Galway. During the journey, we stopped at the town of Westport. Complete with the typical European square, this delightful little village boasted colorful shops, cafes and delicious restaurants. It’s no wonder this town was voted the best place to live in Ireland!

After lunch on our own, we boarded the bus to our final destination in Galway. Charming and complete with idyllic cobblestone streets, this college town juxtaposed its energetic young residents against the medieval architecture. We enjoyed a view of Galway Bay at the Radisson Blu hotel.

Day 3: Aboard the “Connemara Lady” we took a cruise through Killary Fjord to see the beautiful scenery of the Irish countryside. Look out for the dolphins accompanying the boat during the tour!

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Day 4: Today we visited another castle on the countryside. Built over 150 years ago by Mitchell Henry for his new bride, Kylemore Abbey eventually transitioned to an Abbey run by Benedictine nuns. For the past 100 years, the sisters have run the estate and adjoining Victorian walled garden where they grow all the food served within their restaurant. The cafe, shop and tour of the gardens and Abbey proved why this is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions.

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Next, we ventured to the Connemara Celtic crystal Factory and the Connemara Marble Factory. Still being mined from marble created over 500 million years ago, the marble is used around the world in architectural design including the state capital in Harrisburg, PA!

Day 5: Today we finally took in one of Ireland’s most iconic natural wonders, the Cliffs of Mohr. Rising 702 feet above sea level and formed 320 million years ago, this is the ultimate photo op.

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Since there is not a bridge across the River Shannon, we drove onto the ferry and made our way across the river.

We enjoyed a jaunting carriage ride through the national park and past the 15th century Ross Castle on the countryside. This night, we stayed at the modern and elegant Killarney Plaza Hotel in the town of Killarney.

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Day 6: Today we visited the Dingle Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen! On the Atlantic coast, the shores feature surfers throughout the year on the sandy beaches and visitors atop the cliffs. We visited the beehive huts, stone igloos built more than a thousand years ago to give its inhabitants a place for shelter, warmth and prayer.

We visited the Blasket Centre where we learned about the inhabitants of the Blasket Islands, inhabited by 300 residents until the 1950’s. With no modern conveniences, electricity or connection to the modern world, this mini isolated civilization relied on farming and fishing for their existence.

Day 7: On day 7, we visited two more castles. Now just a standing facade, the photo below shows the previous family castle of  William Penn, the founding father of Pennsylvania.

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We enjoyed the stories told by our driver as we headed to Blarney Castle. Up the steep 132-steps, we took the obligatory photo kissing the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that there was a king who suffered from a terrible stutter. He came upon a stone in a field and was told by a woman that it would give him the gift of speech. After much protest, the king kissed the stone and became a great orator. The stone was taken from the field and placed within the castle to bring the gift of elegance to anyone who kissed it.

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We made our way to The Davenport Hotel in Dublin and enjoyed dinner and a show of song and dance at the famous Merry Ploughboy Pub.

Day 8: Today we visited Trinity College. The library is home to over 12,000 books that cannot be checked out or touched due to their age and historical significance. The space is also home to the Book of Kells, a manuscript of the Gospel written around 800 AD. We ventured to the cafeteria, better known to non-muggles as the Great Hall in the Harry Potter film franchise.

17Our afternoon included a tour of the Guinness factory and cheers with a pint at the Guinness Gravity Bar where we enjoyed a 360 degree view of Dublin.

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Day 9: Our guide provided us with hop on/hop off passes for the bus. My husband and I went to the prison (similar to Alcatraz) and the National History Museum. Here we saw the peat preserved bog people dating back 2,200 to almost 4,000 years. Following a tour of the museums, we enjoyed the rest of the day sightseeing the town.

Our final stop was the Parliament building where we took a picture with one of the Guardians of the Police. These unarmed police officers offered a smile for a photo op, and perfectly exemplified the friendly and welcoming nature of the country.

We flew back to Philadelphia the next day with a wealth of knowledge and new found love of Ireland.

If you’re ready to learn more about Ireland, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, DM Boscov’s Travel on Facebook, or call 800-755-8020.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Celebrating 100 Years of the National Park Service, Part 2

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As the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of preserving the natural wonders of our beautiful country, two of our employees tell their stories of recent visits to national parks. Jennifer planned for two years and traveled with her family spending 9-days exploring the Yellowstone area, while Kristin traveled to the Grand Canyon on a last minute trip with a friend. You can read Jennifer’s story here. Below is Kristin’s story…

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The following post is written by Kristin from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department.  Kristin traveled to Red Rock and the Grand Canyon in September 2016. 

I had the opportunity to travel to Europe in my youth, but for the past few years I traveled locally with weekend trips in the tri-state area or trips to the Jersey shore. I joined Boscov’s Travel a year ago, and since then, working at a travel agency has opened my eyes to the immense opportunities for travel!

Adventure travel wasn’t a term with which I was familiar, but learning about it over the past year made me eager to pursue my own adventure travel. When I learned that the National Park Service was celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, I knew I was due to explore our beautiful country. In August, I asked my college friend if she wanted to go west a month later.

Boscov’s Travel offers Journey West Tours, excursions guided by a western tour guide which explore the beauty of the west and Alaska. I loved the itinerary of the Southern National Parks tour which included tours of Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and more, but because of time constraints we were unable to go on this tour. With three full days in Arizona, we decided that the Grand Canyon was our ultimate destination.

I worked with Michael from our East location to coordinate the flights and hotels. I wanted to hear his recommendations of what to do, where to go (and what to avoid). Because we were doing a last minute trip, some of the accommodations were limited but he worked with me to get me the best deals on the days we wanted.

We flew into Phoenix on Wednesday evening, rested at the Sheraton Four Points North, then ventured to Sedona early the next day. Because the Grand Canyon is about 3.5 hours from Phoenix, we wanted to break up the trip and thought a hike at Red Rock was the best idea.

Having never been to Arizona, the state’s geography was in sharp contrast to that of img_3223Pennsylvania. One minute you’re driving on a barren, sandy flat plain and the next you’re cruising down a canyon and beautiful natural rock formations are visible in every direction.

The town of Sedona is a sweet little town worth a visit. There are options for seeing the Red Rocks, the most popular being the guided Pink Jeep Tours. We decided to venture on a hike instead. After researching the top 10 Red Rock hiking trails and taking the advice from a seat mate on the plane, we settled on the West Fork trail. About 6-miles round trip, the trail is relatively easy and navigates through forest, rock formations and creeks. We finished the trail in about 3.5 hours and headed to dinner. As a pescatarian (half committed vegetarian who eats fish) I was pleased to see that everywhere we went, there were lots of options for vegetarians and vegans – tempeh, tofu and TVP were present on almost every menu.

We headed to Williams, AZ for the evening and stayed at the Ramada. Williams is one of the closest towns to the Grand Canyon, though still about an hour from the park system. The town is quite tiny, but historic Route 66 runs right through the heart of it.

On Friday, we made our way to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. We were in early enough that we avoided crowds at the entrance. If you travel on a weekend or during the summer when school’s out, expect to wait.

Upon entering the Grand Canyon Village, we were treated to a breathtaking site. This place is absolutely worth a visit and was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We took our gratuitous canyon shots and headed to the trailhead.

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We were very fortunate and had reserved a very last minute reservation at Phantom Ranch, the only lodge within the depths of the canyon. If I were to do this again, I would give myself more planning time. We lucked out with the reservations within the canyon but others may not be so lucky.  Only 1% of the canyon’s 5 million annual visitors stay below the rim overnight, so they recommend planning at least a year out. Only accessible by river, foot or mule, the ranch site was home to Indigenous people a millennia ago. More recently, Theodore Roosevelt (subsequent President who established the National Park System in 1916) stayed there on a hunting trip.

Before heading down, we spoke to a ranger about our plan to hike down South Kaibob trail and hike up Bright Angel trail the following day. Because we were getting our start around 11AM, he recommended that we head down Bright Angel. In the heat of the day, the water stops along the trail and the shaded areas were a welcomed site. We headed down the 9.9 miles to Phantom Ranch. During our 5 hour hike down, we took in some of the most beautiful views of the canyon. My best tip for hiking the canyon is preparation! We saw multiple people who were ill-prepared for the hike. Our worn-in hiking boots were much better than the sneakers, Toms and flip flops we passed on the trail. Salty snacks and drinking plenty of water are key. It is basically an inverted mountain, so doing some quality training hikes prior to a visit is in your best interest.

The Colorado River was a welcome sight and a walk across the bridge and final flat mile brought us to Phantom Ranch. Accommodations include cabins and male and female dormitories. Though small, the 5-bunk dormitories offered heated showers and a restroom. They supply towels and bedding, so within the canyon it’s considered glamping.

The steak, beef stew and vegetarian dinner options are served family styled as you get to know your fellow hikers. Complimented by salad, cornbread and chocolate cake, the meal was not fine dining but one of the best of the trip knowing that it was delivered by mule. The mess room closed after dinner and opened an hour later for games and happy hour where you can enjoy a beer named in honor of the Bright Angel Trail. If you visit, be sure to send postcards that will be delivered to friends and family by mule!

Wake up call was 4:30AM and we started up South Kaibob trail which was lit by the Harvest Moon. There were a handful of hikers who passed us on the way down and indicated that they started after midnight. Going up this trail is not for the faint of heart – it is quite steep, offers no water and has very few flat spots for rest. After 5.5 hours and with a great sense of accomplishment, we finally conquered the canyon.

With photos and memories in hand, we headed back to Phoenix and flew out the next day.

The trip was spectacular. I highly recommend it whether you have a week or only a few days like we had. I discovered my love of adventure travel and can’t wait to plan my next trip.

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