Travel year 2018 has been an awesome one in many ways. Last year this time we had no idea what would be ahead of us. We had only one staff cruise and one longer winter vacay cruise booked, but well, things kind of escalated. And now, last day of this year looking back, it’s been quite a crazy year! We are full time entrepreneurs and fitting travel in our calendars requires pretty detailed planning and dedication to stick to schedules & plans. Planning of schedules of work related projects and travel plans have to go side by side. Otherwise, we’d never go anywhere.
In January we went for the traditional Christmas cruise with our staff. Leaving one Sunday evening, returning the next evening. These are precious events, being able to spend time together in a relaxed, fun atmosphere. You know, eat, drink & be merry. Our staff only has to show up and bring their personal belongings, we make all the cabin bookings, table reservations, buy the drink coupons etc.
January also meant visiting the annual MATKA Nordic travel Fair in Helsinki. The largest travel industry event in Northern Europe is a place to meet industry professionals and other travel bloggers, listen to some awesome keynotes (like Sophie Radcliffe, the genuinely empowering personality behind Challenge Sophie) and panel discussions on various travel related themes and of course, get inspired by browsing through the numerous exhibitor stands. We were happy to have discussions on luxury cruises with different operators and this visit really started our hunger for Japan and Cuba.
Mikaela was chosen as one of the members the Turku Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee and her first tourism seminar in January was all about Southwest Finland’s tourism development and networking. It took place at the new Visitor and Innovation Center JOKI.
Photo stream shows we also made a very snowy visit to Tampere during this month. Some family members live there.
January was in all, a very busy month as we had to organise everything for our February adventure. Not to forget Yellow Fever vaccinations.
February started by travelling. We had a trip to Miami, took a NCL cruise and then spent a couple of nights in Miami before coming home. We counted 2 continents, 6 countries & 10 port cities. The beginning of our trip was affected by a horrid snowstorm. Our plane didn’t take off from Turku, we were taken to Helsinki Airport by a bus. The wind was so strong it felt like the bus would slide off the road at times. But we made it there. And in many places around the world the airport would have been in a chaos because of the weather. At HEL they calmly enter the storm and clean the runways and the the planes. It’s called Snowhow. Check out a cool video here.
Our Finnair business class flight from Helsinki to Miami was a pleasant one. For us time up in the air is time to relax, it’s always definitely part of the fun. Having time to watch some movies, take naps, read a little. It was also interesting to get to taste the signature menu by Executive Chef de Cuisine, Eero Vottonen. He is enthusiastic about the Finnish ingredients and for him, taste always comes first.
To get from airport to our hotel we had a car rented by AVIS as we have the AVIS Preferred membership and it has some great perks to it. It’s also very easy to make booking on their Finnish site. Drive to Hollywood takes about 30 minutes when the streets are quiet. And checking-in at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino felt like coming home. We had booked a balcony room and waking up & seeing the lush pool area below – well, couldn’t complain.
We spent our Hollywood days hanging out at the pool, the casino and doing day trips to our favourite places like the the Florida Swap Shop. Read more about it in our earlier post Fun Fort Lauderdale: Florida Swap Shop
Miami Cruise Port is easily found, we returned our car to the nearest AVIS and took a shuttle to our ship, NCL Jade. This ship is a so called Panamax size one, it can cruise through the canal. This means Jade is not one of the biggest ones. But as we soon realised, we actually liked that a lot. The service was excellent and it was never too crowded.
Our cruise took 11 nights and our ports were:
- Cartagena, Colombia
- Panama Canal & Gatun Lake, Panama
- Puerto Limón, Costa Rica
- Roatan, Honduras
- Harvest Caye, Belize
- Key West, USA
All ports, except Key West were new for us. Also, we had not visited any of the countries before. Colombia was our first visit to South America. Read more about some of our port days:
Rainforest Canal Cruising in Costa Rica
Partial Transit of Panama Canal
Visiting Embera Indians of Panama
We haven’t blogged about the days in Honduras and Belize yet. At Roatan island we took an island tour and learned about the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna community of Punta Gorda, explored traditions, admired the flora & fauna. Harvest Caye is NCL’s private island and from there we explored the mangrove estuaries and even saw some manatees.
At the end of our cruise we stayed at Miami Beach. We had some hotel night points to use and we used them for Four Points by Sheraton on Collins Avenue. Location is nice, directly on the Atlantic Ocean, beach is just steps away and you can get the Miami Beach free trolley like a block away to take you to South Beach area and other places. However, the hotel has seen it’s best days. Room was clean, but dated. It seemed that some kind of a remodelling in some parts of the hotel was in progress.
We’ve stayed at quite a many hotels here at Miami Beach, just next door to this hotel is the legendary Fontainebleu. Just remembered that we’ve actually blogged about it earlier. Read about it: On the Footsteps of: James Bond (and Fontainebleu Miami)
This month we stayed in Finland and planned the following months. Like booked excursions for the May cruise. Applied for Chinese visas (meant sending our passports with the applications). Yes, after February’s trip we one night pressed “book” for flights to Shanghai. And also found a cruise that would take us to Japan. One trip to Tampere was in our calendar this month, it seems. At work this time of the year means festivities like St. Patrick’s Day and Easter + preparing for the Summer & Fall months.
Passports still with the Chinese visa applications and busy days at work. These are times when it’s good to find music from different cultures, cook dishes bringing back spicy memories, read books and articles on destinations and find useful YouTube material for future travels.
Mikaela participated an interesting workshop by Gay Travel Finland. Pink money is a huge thing financially, globally, but inclusive travel can’t and mustn’t be thought from that point of view first. The inclusiveness and openness have to be organizational values for companies to succeed in the field of pink travel. When genuine openness actualizes, service providers can expect profits as well. Applies to all services, not just travel related.
The end of April is filled with May Day aka “Vappu” celebrations in Finland. For foreign tourists this is quite an exotic time of the year to visit, especially larger university cities like Turku and Helsinki are total party centrals for days.
The month started by attending the PING Festival in Helsinki for the second time. #PING is the leading H2H Digital Marketing Event in Europe. Once again, #PING offered “world-class keynote speakers such as Futurist Anne Lise Kjaer, Brand Strategist Nick Westergaard, and Influencer Marketing Specialist Emilie Tabor. Parallel sessions provided hands-on knowledge on how to boost your business to the next level.”
Not only was the event sparkly and energising, with 740 marketing professionals and influencers around the world under the same roof, but the event venue made a difference, as well. You can’t not be inspired at the beautiful Clarion Hotel Helsinki
Shanghai had lured us for ages and finally we made our way there in May. If we’d have to list favourite big cities, Shanghai is on that list with no doubt. Having visited Hong Kong and Macau the previous year we were exited to discover our first mainland city. Read our blog posts from this adventure:
- In the Mood for Shanghai
- East Nanjing Road, Shanghai
- A Day At The Yùyuán Gardens & Bazaar
- Machmaking in Shanghai: The Marriage Market
We still haven’t blogged about our cruise experience on Royal Caribbean’s luxury ship Quantum of The Seas that took us to Fukuoka and Yatsushiro (the itinerary said Kumamoto, found ourselves in this different port city). Let’s just say the cruise was the most odd experience ever in so many ways.
The Japan ports were fun and we will be back, no doubt. So, May gave us 3 new cities and one new country.
In June there was one trip to Pori, Mikaela went there for a day to a huge Scouting event as she was partly responsible for the peace and diversity education. The event took place at at the city recreational area called Kirjurinluoto, maybe most famous for the annual, hugely popular Pori Jazz Festival. Kirjurinluoto has many features, like some lovely nature trails worth visiting, one of which Mikaela had a chance to explore. The same weekend we also had one trip to Tampere.
June was a staycation month in our beautiful hometown Turku, we spent a lot of time in our garden after work & planned future trips in July and beyond, celebrated Midsummer’s Festival at our clubs and visited the local summer theatre Samppalinnan Kesäteatteri
We hadn’t been to Barcelona for quite a many years and saw how the number of visitors really affects the life there. The signs “Your Holiday, our Everyday” have a point. However, the city has a special place in Pekka’s heart as he studied there during his university years. We enjoyed slow mornings, flaneuring around the side streets, people watching, stopping to taste tapas and pinxtos, having a drink here and there. Talking with the bartenders about life in Barcelona these days. We also took a city tour to see how the city streets have changed through the years. And if you want to know where we stayed: we were very happy with our four star boutique hotel Olivia Plaza by the Plaza de Catalunya, both because of the location and the service.
Our first ever MSC cruise (the brand new ship, Seaview) started from Barcelona and the itinerary took us to three different countries: France, Italy & Malta. All the port cities were new for us and Malta all new country as well.
In Marseille we walked around the beautiful, old marina and took a fun city train tour to have an understanding of the city structure. Must say that despite this kind of activities sound like the most touristy things ever, the tours actually have mostly been truly informative experiences.
Genova, that first didn’t seem that interesting at all, offered some surprising ways to see the city, we got the birds eye view from above and visited the most beautiful sea side area, Boccadasse, that is less crowded than Cinque Terre, but almost as pretty.
Napoli let’s the imagination run free. No, we haven’t been reading Elena Ferrante’s hugely popular books, but we’ve read history and visited the city in popular culture. The city with the majestic Mount Vesuvius in the horizon, religious sites everywhere and a secretive Camorra influencing beyond the surface has a unique, yet sad edge to it. If you’re into decadence, this is your place for sure. The beauty of the old, partly decayed buildings is something that is difficult to explain if someone doesn’t like that, though. If you didn’t know, Napoli is famous for the food. And the food of Napoli became even more famous after the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and even more famous after the film, Julia Roberts had pizza at a certain place that seems to be crowded all the time.
Next ports were Messina in Sicily and Valletta in Malta. In the latter we enjoyed the city of Mdina. Read about the experiences here:
Finnish summer was crazy warm, warmer than in decades. And the heat continued this month. Our August was filled with work stuff (thank God for air-con). Mikaela had a seminar on sustainable travel by Chamber of Commerce this month. Our Archipelago is a unique one and there are numerous, fantastic companies around the islands that have exceptional ways to experience everything you can think of. Sustainability comes first, that is the core of the lifestyle on the islands.
Those who know us also know we have spent quite a lot of time in Florida. this month Mikaela received her Specialist Certification for Florida’s Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. So, what ever you need to know of that area, ask us!
There was also one (Travel) future customer seminar and a tour around the Naantali Spa that is going through some major renovation.
We wanted to have some friends, who also happen to be co-owners in our company, to New Orleans. We had planned this trip for quite some time. The French Quarter still is one of those unique, urban entertainment areas where you know it is still part of local life as well.
For first timers you have to show & tell so many things. The lifestyle, the street musicians, the local cuisine, the heritage, the landscape, the legends and the stories. Want to visit NOLA? Check out these blog posts:
A lot of work, a lot of planning for future months.
We also went to the Tailor Made Travel Event in Helsinki. This was a by invitation only event and we found it to be a great resource for cruise information. Some airlines have tempting routes to Australia these days as well, Australia has been on our list for such a long time.
The night before we also visited a bar opening of the fun, travel-inspired Gate 21 Music Bar and a friend who owns bar Room Bulevard . Where we stayed at? Holiday Inn City Centre has such a fantastic location for the morning train back home and well, we’ve got points as well. Fun lobby bar, nice brekkie.
This time of the year is one of the easiest times of the year for us to take off. Well, it does mean quite a lot of work done in advance, but we decided to use some of our summer vacay days here again. Many years we’ve been to Las Vegas, this year…
We had a flight to Barcelona and a couple of night at the same hotel as earlier this year. Go check July. We took a cruise by NCL Spirit this time and the ports after sea days were Tanger (was supposed to be Casablanca, a storm changed plans), Funchal in Madeira, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas in Gran Canary, Malaga and Alicante on mainland.
Still have not written a word about these ports in blog (only in Instagram and notebook). We just had so much fun sailing and also, met nice people from around the world. Also, there were super early mornings at each port with an excursion. Thus, didn’t get any blogging done. And now, at the end of the year we’ve been pretty busy at work due to all the paper work.
The last trip of the year was a return train ride Christmas Eve to Tampere. The odd, odd thing: the last train back to Turku left in the afternoon and in our car there was only one more person.
So, that is how our travel year looked like. In numbers it means we visited five continents (only Antarctica and Australia missing) and of the visited countries, 9 were totally new for us. How was your travel year, have you done a wrap-up?