Visit Komodo Island, Singapore, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Mina Qabos, UAE, Dubai, Aqaba, Malta (La Valletta), Barcelona, Cadiz, Amsterdam, Warnemunde, Riga, Tallinn, Estonia, Helsinki, Finland, St Petersburg, Russia, Stockholm, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark and Dover.
Once considered the "country cousin" among Australian cities, Brisbane is today the nation's third-largest metropolis - and one of the most desirable places to live in the country. Lying on the banks of the meandering Brisbane River, this cosmopolitan city boasts elegant 19th-century sandstone buildings, a lively cultural scene and superb parklands. Brisbane is also your gateway to uniquely Australian adventures, be it the theme parks of the Gold Coast or Queensland's dazzling beaches.
Komodo lizards quietly thrived in the harsh climate of Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands for millions of years until their existence was discovered about 100 years ago?when Dutch sailors encountered the creatures for the first time, they returned with reports of fire-breathing dragons. Reaching 10 feet in length and weighing over 300 pounds, Komodo dragons are the world's largest and heaviest lizards. The best place to view these magnificent and endangered creatures is on Komodo Island, the largest island in Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Man and Biosphere Reserve. Although Komodo National Park is famous for its most recognized inhabitant it's also noted for its diverse marine habitat. 1,000 species of fish, 260 species of reef-building coral, manta rays, sharks, dolphins, whales and sea turtles live in the park's coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds and semi-enclosed bays.
Singapore - the very name summons visions of the mysterious East. The commercial center of Southeast Asia, this island city-state of four million people is a metropolis of modern high-rise buildings, Chinese shop-houses with red-tiled roofs, sturdy Victorian buildings, Buddhist temples and Arab bazaars. Founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles of the fabled East India Company, the city is a melting pot of people and cultures. Malay, Chinese, English and Tamil are official languages. Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are the major faiths. Singapore is an ever-fascinating island boasting colorful traditions, luxurious hotels and some of the finest duty-free shopping in the world. Lying just 85 miles north of the Equator at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, the island was a haven for Malay pirates and Chinese and Arab traders.
Sri Lanka conjures up the exotic and the mysterious. Once known as Ceylon, the island boasts a fantastic landscape that ranges from primeval rain forest to the bustling modern streets of Colombo, the capital. A visitor to Sri Lanka has a wealth of options. Relax on some of the world's finest beaches. Explore the temples, halls and palaces of the last Sinhalese kingdom at Kandy. Or take a guided tour of an elephant orphanage. Colombo also offers an array of charms, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, once a royal pleasure garden, to the Pettah Bazaar, where vendors hawk everything under the sun. Colombo and Sri Lanka were shaped by Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and European influences. Colombo also serves as a gateway for Overland Adventures to India.
Oman's capital was once a major trading centre controlled and influenced by the Portuguese. Those intrepid explores and traders are long gone. Today, visitors flock to Oman thanks to its azure air, towering desert mountains, and crystalline waters. Muscat itself is an Arabian fable sprung to life. Old 16th century forts guard the bay and the palace, while the vibrant souqs offer daggers, superb silver jewellery, and traditional crafts and costumes.
Dubai has always served as a bridge between East and West. In the past, Dubai's trade links stretched from Western Europe to Southeast Asia and China. The result was the creation of one of the most protean societies in the world. Nestled in the very heart of Islam, Dubai remains unique in its embrace of the West. Bedouin may still roam the desert, but Dubai also plays hosts to international tennis and golf tournaments. Tourists flock to its shores while the pace of development continues at a frenetic pace, from massive artificial islands to the astounding Burj Al Arab Hotel. Dubai is actually two cities in one: the Khor Dubai, an inlet of the Persian Gulf, separates Deira, the old city, from Bur Dubai.
The port of Aqaba has been an important strategic and commercial center for over three millennia. Originally called Elath, the home of the Edomites became in Roman times a trading center where goods from as far away as China found entry to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Today Aqaba is Jordan's only seaport, and the city serves as an intriguing gateway for travelers. In the surrounding desert lies the lost city of Petra - a city that may date to 6,000 B.C. - and Wadi Rum, where an English soldier mystic named T.E. Lawrence found his destiny as "Lawrence of Arabia." Perched at the apex of the Gulf of Aqaba, Aqaba offers internationally renowned diving opportunities and the richest marine life in the entire Red Sea. The old fortress on the waterfront dates to the 14th-century. Passengers should drink only bottled water while ashore. Please respect local customs and dress accordingly, avoiding exposed shoulders and knees.
Transiting through the Suez Canal is sure to be one of the lifelong memories of your cruise. The thought of a canal linking the Mediterranean and Red Sea extends back in history as far as 2100 B.C. Napoleon Bonaparte, pursuing his dreams of conquest, entertained the notion in 1798. But it was French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps who finally proved that a canal across the Suez was practicable. Work on the canal began in 1858. Eleven years later the opening of the Suez Canal was an international event. The world had acquired a quicker route to Asia-as well as a Verdi opera called Aida. Of course the Suez Canal was a source of immediate controversy. The British wrested control of the canal from Egypt in 1882. Egypt regained control during its revolution of 1952. In 1956, the British, allied with the French and Israelis, nearly took the canal back. The Arab-Israeli Six Day War of 1967 closed the canal until 1973, when another war and intense international negotiations led to its return to Egyptian control.
Malta is the largest in a group of seven islands that occupy a strategic position between Europe and Africa. The island's history is long and turbulent. Everyone from the Normans to the Nazis have vied for control of this small, honey-colored rock. For centuries the island was the possession of the knightly Order of St. John - the Knights Hospitaller. Valletta, Malta's current capital, was planned by the Order's Grandmaster Jean de la Valette to secure the island's eastern coast from Turk incursions. Founded in 1566, Valletta's bustling streets are lined with superb Baroque buildings and churches. Malta has a long history: the megalithic stone temples at Gozo may be the oldest freestanding structures on Earth. Malta has two official languages, Maltese (constitutionally the national language) and English. Malta was admitted to the European Union in 2004 and in 2008 became part of the eurozone.
The 1992 Summer Olympics revealed to the world what Europeans and seasoned travelers already knew - Barcelona is one of the world's greatest treasures. Vibrant and earthy, commercial and cultural, this city of two million residents is the capital of Spain's autonomous region of Catalonia. Stroll along the wide, tree-lined promenades of Las Ramblas and marvel at the spires of Gaudi's Basilica La Sagrada Familia. Or visit the former Olympic Ring on the hill of Montjuic - also home to world-class parks, fountains and museums. Barcelona, which nurtured such artistic giants as Picasso, Dali, Miro and Casals, is definitely a traveler's paradise.
Mention Holland and most people think of tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes. In reality, Amsterdam has been a vital European cultural center since the Middle Ages. The Dutch boast that God may have made the world, but they made the Netherlands. Dams, sea gates, and the 19-mile dyke walling out the Zuider Zee have allowed the Dutch to reclaim their low-lying country from the North Sea. The marsh that originally surrounded Amsterdam steadily disappeared beneath the expanding city. Vibrant, fascinating and always alive, Amsterdam is imbued with the quality the Dutch call "gezelligheid." Explore the city's 700-year-old streets and marvel at its stepped-gable houses. Cruise down its bustling canals and browse the colorful flower markets. Did we mention that you can shop for everything from cheese and chocolates to diamonds and Delftware
Berlin is a worthy rival to London or Paris in terms of history, art and culture. The city's highlights include the restored Reichstag Building with its magnificent glass dome and the stunning Pergamon Museum. Warnemünde is a seaside resort near the harbor entrance to Rostock, one of the city-states that formed the medieval Hanseatic League. Originally a fishing village turned spa and resort. Explore the old Cold War hot spots and view the Brandenburg Gate, restored to its original magnificence. Or, stroll along the Kurfurstendamm and take coffee in a local cafe. Warnemünde is also your gateway to Mecklenburg and the German countryside.
Capital of Latvia and the largest city of the Baltic Republics, Riga has long been a center of commerce and culture. Founded in the 13th century, the city rose to prominence as a member of the Hanseatic League, the great German-Baltic trading consortium that dominated Northern Europe during the Middle Ages. In the long struggle for Latvian independence, Riga has been ruled by Germans, Swedes and Russians. Today this "Little Paris of the Baltic" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its architecture including one of the finest collections of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe. The city's German heritage contributed to the city's rich architecture. Riga's Art Nouveau buildings are outstanding examples of the German style known as Jugendstil.
Like Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic republic of Estonia has survived a turbulent history. The small nation was conquered and ruled by the likes of Teutonic Knights, Polish princes and Russian Tsars. For 51 years, Estonia remained a pawn in the Soviet empire, until the burgeoning freedom movement led to independence for the Baltic Republics in 1991. Like its sister republics, Estonia maintained its ties to the Western tradition, retaining the Latin alphabet and Catholic and Protestant faiths. Once a member of the historic Hanseatic League, Tallinn is the political, commercial and cultural center of Estonia.
Perhaps their country's harsh climate encouraged the Finns' love and respect for design and the arts. Whatever the cause, there's no denying that Helsinki is one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities in Scandinavia. Hailed as the "Daughter of the Baltic," Finland's capital is a city of graceful neoclassical buildings, striking modern architecture and spacious boulevards dotted with squares and parks. In the past century, Finland has nurtured some of the major creative talents of Western culture, from the composer Sibelius to architects Eliel & Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto. The center of Finnish commerce and culture, Helsinki is home to some 616.000 people. Much of the city's neoclassical architecture dates from the period of Tsarist rule, which began in 1809 after political control of Finland passed from Sweden to Russia, Finland gained its independence in 1917.
St. Petersburg has provided a historic stage since the day Peter the Great ordained its construction on the banks of the Neva. In its relatively short history - the city is younger than New York - St. Petersburg has witnessed the rise and fall of Imperial Russia, three shattering revolutions, and civil war. The city survived a long and tragic siege during World War II - indeed St. Petersburg became a symbol of Russian resistance to Nazi invasion. Russia's "Window on the West," St. Petersburg remains one of the world's most beautiful metropolises. Perched on the banks of the Neva, the city is crisscrossed by canals. Two great architects helped bring Peter the Great's vision of St. Petersburg to life: Rastrelli and Carlo Rossi. The rich architecture that resulted features a mixture of styles from ornate Russian Baroque churches to neo-classical palaces. St. Petersburg has also been the cultural soul of Russia, a repository of priceless art and a home to poets, musicians and composers ranging from Pushkin to Shostakovich. Peter the Great instilled his near-mania for architecture and building in his successors, making the then capital of Imperial Russia one of the architectural treasures of the world.
Often described as the "Capital of Scandinavia," Stockholm traces its origins back seven centuries, when it was founded on the island of Gamla Stan and became the capital of Sweden. Today, the city covers 14 separate islands connected by bays, channels and inlets. The skyline is a sea of copper roofs grown green with patina, towers, spires and graceful cupolas stand sentinel over the historic Old Town (Gamla Stan). With its population of nearly a million people, Stockholm is one of the world's most beautiful, clean and orderly cities. With a history stretching over seven centuries, Stockholm is not just a beautiful city but also Sweden's center of art and culture.
Copenhagen was founded during the 12th century. The city owes much of its charm to the buildings erected by Denmark's monarchs, and boasts a treasure trove of late-Renaissance and Rococo architecture. Copenhagen deserves its accolade as the Venice of the North. Founded on a series of islands and islets, the city today is laced with graceful canals and boasts some of the most delightful architecture in Northern Europe. See the fabled statue of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, a symbol of the city. Stroll along the old harbor of Nyhavn, lined with cafés, restaurants and 500-year-old gabled houses. Browse the superb shops on the world-famous Stroget or view the Rococo palaces lining Amalienborg Square. Best of all, savor the taste of local delicacies while wandering the paths of Tivoli Gardens, one of Europe's most celebrated pleasure gardens.