Vacation values: Tips for getting the 2016 vacation you want

Where are you going in 2016? That question has been on the lips of nearly everyone I’ve spoken with in the past week.

For travel addicts, the reason is clear: A trip — or just the prospect of one — helps ease the difficulty of getting back to work. Even if you’re not a total travel fanatic, the idea of a great vacation can give you a little purr.

On the royal lake in Udaipur.

On the royal lake in Udaipur.

Ah, but there’s the frisson of potential discord: How do you GET a great vacation?

For the next several weeks, I’m posting a tip a day for getting a great vacation in 2016. The goal is 30 Tips, 30 Days. But I’m hoping friends and followers will kick in with more ideas beyond those already on my list, so we can keep going.

Can we make 365? Maybe. With breaks, of course, for travel.


Sailing Antarctica’s Iceberg Alley


One hundred feet tall, two hundred beneath the sea, the massive “cubes” that are the remnants of a massive ice shelf-turned-berg called B15 bob along the Antarctic Sound. Once 160 miles long and 40 wide, the berg has diminished over 14 years courtesy of wind and water. Remaining still are these bobbing cubes and a single impressive stretch measuring more than 10 miles long. Soon it will be even smaller yet, pierced by blue crevasses and scarred by the ravages of cold and current. How this slice has even worked its way into this narrow stretch of Iceberg Alley is a mystery. Says the captain, “It’s like trying to wallpaper your apartment through a keyhole.”

Antarctic cycle of life

We wake to a bathtub ocean beneath a Brown Bluff, a volcanic ridge sheltering a sensitive Adele penguin colony. Hundreds of Adeles zip through the water, zipping in and out of the sea like porpoises, with the same splendid grace in water that they so sorely lack on land. At the water’s edge, battalions of black and white, march to and fro, neurotically debating whether to go into the sea – necessary if they want to eat – or whether to simply keep waddling nervously along.



Eventually, for most, hunger wins out, and they dip into the sea for a fish meal that they will ingest and then prepare as fuel for new-born chicks. Here there are many – some so new that they peck their way out of their shells as we watch. One parent closely guards the baby against a skua whose attempts to snag an egg or chick are foiled. If we have to leave, this is a splendid last stop on the White Continent.

Antarctica: Favorable winds

shadowshipThe winds have packed the ice in the Weddell Sea, making progress toward the emperor penguin colony impossible. We turn and sail instead into a gloomy afternoon. The weather turns, as it often does here, and soon we are again swimming in a vast and limpid sea beneath a clarion canopy. The orange light of the midnight sunset spills into a rosy glow. We sleep.

Antarctica, with comforts


Aboard the National Geographic Explorer:

Café au lait, whiskey (literally) like Shackleton drank, prime rib, crudo, homemade bread pudding, beef bourgongon with Portobello mushrooms, sea bream, lentils in curry. Fluffy duvets, turn-down service, a snug library with grand views.



Antarctica: An emperor (penguin) comes to visit


“Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.”

During the night, we’ve entered the Weddell Sea. The usual morning greeting, from expedition leader Lisa Kelley, comes at 6:30 – earlier than planned. An emperor penguin has been spotted on the ice. It’s unusual this far north, but it’s early in the season, and in this atypically heavy season for ice, we’ve been afford this rare pleasure. “It’s not something you get on every sailing,” says naturalist Eric Guth. Camera shutters whir around us, snapping madly.

The emperor belly flops and toboggans a dozen feet to a group of Adele penguins. Intimidated, they immediately march off out of sight.

It’s a double treat. No sooner have we moved indoors and settled in with coffee then a second emperor is spotted. This one is far closer to the ship, and we’re able to grab photos of his (or her?) head, its eye patch rimmed in yellow. Like other penguins, the emperor colonizes for nesting, but before and after the season they often roam independently – solo travelers on a fish-eating mission. Because its gestation period last so long, emperors lay their eggs in mid-winter; by this part of the summer, their chicks can be left on their own while parents go off to feed.

A thousand images later, the ship sails deeper into the Weddell Sea.   A pair of little Adele penguins flap their arms as we steam past their ice floe, as if signaling our path forward. The wind pops up, and they flop onto their bellies. The flurries begin.

Just as lunch approaches, and the jackets and gloves have gone back to their drawyers, Lisa’s mellifluous voice rings through the speakers. A leopard seal has been spotted up ahead. Time to grab the camera.