Time is a Factor

John from Kansas asks:
If you could suggest a place to go right now, where would it be and why?

Two places come to mind - Cuba and the Maldives

Cuba because it will change forever once the rest of the world is able to travel there and establish businesses.  Having served as something of a time-capsule during the US-Cuba embargo, the country is already witnessing some of the social and economic effects of increased globalization. Because Cuba is relatively poor and very bureaucratic, change is slower than anticipated. Under the Obama administration, regulations have evolved and Cuba is becoming more and more accessible to American tourists.  On the other hand, the Trump administration is suggesting that it will void Obama’s executive orders.  Therefore, I recommend getting there sooner rather than later while it’s relatively easy to do so.   Keep in mind that although we have re-established diplomatic relations and eased the embargo and eased travel restrictions for US citizens, the embargo is still in effect as a whole. 

Second, the Maldives.  Talk about change in a vanishing paradise, the reality is that if sea water levels continue to rise at current rates, the Maldives will be completely erased from Earth by 2046.  I would certainly be upset if someone told me my country would be completely submerged in water in my lifetime.  So, there are two places you should go to NOW! Don't wait. In the near future, traces of Cuba’s authenticity and the Maldives’s landmass are both under threat. 

Luckily, Zoom Vacations makes it easy for you to get to both Cuba and Maldives with just an email or phone call.

Perfect Time to Visit Egypt!

I just returned from Zoom Egypt with a small group and the question on everyone's mind is whether we/I felt safe.  

I would say without any hesitation that we were safe in many ways. From a security perspective, given recent history the government has taken extra measures to secure all points of travel as well as tourist sites and areas.  As an American we were made to feel welcome.  We were often asked "where are you from?" as a way to start conversation, and invariably they would say "welcome!".  

Despite the rhetoric about traveling in the Middle East as a gay person, I also felt very welcome and safe.  It was a non issue.  In fact, on our first day in Cairo I spend the day visiting at the beautiful home of an Egyptian couple I first met in Mykonos about 20 years ago.  They have been together for 37 years and explained that gay life in Egypt is alive and well, although it's practiced differently than in the US.

Michelin Changes it up a Bit

In March, Michelin debuted their South America guide. Surprisingly, this is Michelin's first venture into the Southern Hemisphere! Brazil was the only country on the list, with 16 restaurants featured.

Alex Atala's Sao Paolo based D.O.M. received two stars (equivalent to "excellent cuisine, worth a detour") and was the highest rank awarded. Rio de Janeiro featured six restaurants; all receiving one star (equivalent to "A very good restaurant in its category"). The restaurants are Lasai, Mee, Olympe, Oro, Le Pré Catelan and Roberta Sudbrack.

You can be sure that we will be visiting them on our upcoming tour of Rio for Carnival.

Gay Marriage: Who's Next!

Zoom Vacations celebrates in NYC

Zoom Vacations celebrates in NYC

The United States of America adds its name to the list of countries where same-gender marriage is legal throughout the country.
 
It is obvious that discrimination is falling, and the freedom to love and marry who we wish is winning, but which will be the next country?  

Australia:  Same-gender couples who have lived together for more than two years achieve "De Facto" status, which grants many of the rights that marriage provides.  This indicates a definite step in the right direction.
 
Slovenia:  This is our bet for the next country to legalize same-gender marriage.  On March 3, 2015, the Slovenia Parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill to extend the freedom to marry to same-gender couples. Now the bill waits for the President's signature.  
 
Countries Where Same-Gender Marriage is Legal
The Netherlands (2000)
Belgium (2003)
Canada (2005)
Spain (2005)
South Africa (2006)
Norway (2009)
Sweden (2009)
Argentina (2010)
Iceland (2010)
Portugal (2010)
Denmark (2012)
Brazil (2013)
England and Wales (2013)
France (2013)
New Zealand (2013)
Uruguay (2013)
Luxembourg (2014)
Scotland (2014)
Ireland (2015)
Mexico (2015)
USA (2015)
Finland (signed 2015, effective 2017)

Healthy Summer Dish

While traveling, I learn a lot about great healthy and delicious food while traveling that I like to prepare for friends during summer dinners that is easy as uno, due, tre!.  Summer is finally here and two things come to mind: stay in shape so I can take it all off at the beach/pool, and can't wait for the Zoom summer cruise to the Mediterranean in September.  I think about our cuisine aboard the SeaDream Yacht and want to share one of the favorite healthy recipes that I learned onboard. 

MEDITERRANEAN SHRIMP IN A SHOT GLASS

Uno - Ingredients and initial preparation:
Shrimp:  20 whole cooked medium size, cleaned, deveined and 20 fine chopped cooked medium size, cleaned, deveined

Guacamole Creme:  2 ripe avocados pitted, 2 garlic cloves fine chopped, 1tbsp creme , 1 tsp lemon juice, salt/pepper (put in blended until consistency is a smooth creme)

Cocktail Sauce:  2 c. mayo, 1 c. cream, 4 tbsp ketchup, 1 tsp paprika, 4 drops sherry and cognac (mix until consistency is smooth)

Gazpacho:  1 garlic clove, 1/2 a red small onion chopped, 1/2 red and 1/2  green pepper chopped, 1 c. seeded peeled chopped cucumber, 3 c. tomato juice, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, (put in blended until consistency is smooth; chill)

Due - Serve:  
Mix cocktail sauce and chopped shrimp, fill shot glass with 1/3 cocktail sauce mixture, 1/3 guacamole creme and 1/3 cold gazpacho, top with a whole shrimp.

Tre - Enjoy!

Legal Trips to Cuba

A lot of people ask me if we can really run legal trips to Cuba.  My answer is, yes of course U.S. Citizens can travel to Cuba legally. Zoom Vacations has already hosted a few trips to Cuba in the last year alone, permitted by a People-to-People Cultural Exchange license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, and is offering a third in October of this year. 

This program is an exception to the embargo laws banning U.S. Citizens from traveling to Cuba.  First offered by the Clinton Administration for a brief period, the Obama Administration has allowed the program to once again continue in order to encourage more contact between Americans and citizens of the Communist-ruled island.  

This means that you can now fly from the U.S. mainland directly (most usually from Miami) and can come back the same way, and clear U.S. Customs and Immigrations as if you were flying in from London.  You are also allowed to bring back books, art and music without violating the embargo laws.  Of course, this program of legal travel to Cuba by U.S. Citizens can be withdrawn at any time by the U.S., especially with a change of administration.  

Traveling to Cuba with Zoom Vacations is easy, legal, and educational.  To do it otherwise could mean civil penalties of several thousand dollars and/or criminal prosecution.

Cuba on My Mind

It has been months since I returned with our group from Cuba, and I have to say that the experience has remained emblazoned on my memory.  I can't seem to forget the wonderful people I met, the unparalleled architecture we saw, and the beautiful cultural performances we witnessed, such as an inspirational choral performance.  It is amazing how little our group knew about Cuba when we arrived, and how much insight we gained by our visit.

Perhaps it is the gorgeous painting I bought in Cuba (my favorite in my home) hanging over my bed that keeps Cuba forever on my mind, or maybe it is the reminiscing with fellow Zoom Vacations travelers over the experiences we shared that we know few Americans get to encounter.  Whatever the case, I haven't stopped thinking about our time there.

The whole time we were in Cuba, our minds were in overdrive, constantly making connections and drawing parallels and distinctions between our home countries and other places we've visited.  Many people say that you should go to Cuba now before things change, and I know they are right.  We may be nearing the end of an age, and it is an era that I can promise you do not want to miss.  

Gay Travel in Cuba

The US LGBT community and Cuban people have a lot in common.   Like Cubans, gay people know first hand what it is like to be oppressed.   And it's not a surprise that Cubans have turned to (visual, culinary and musical) art to express and assert themselves.  We visited a privately run restaurant in the beautiful retro home of a gay couple.  We enjoyed their hospitality, and enjoyed great conversation.   

Indeed, Cuban food is best enjoyed in the many private restaurants that have sprung up throughout the country. Privately owned, they strive for fair prices, good service and delicious food.  In Havana, we met lots of gay people at a gay venue where we learned that the high art of drag is alive and well and that Gay Pride celebrations are popping up in major cities around the island.  We also learned that gay marriage is being openly discussed in government and has a lot of support.  Music and art are thriving in Cuba.  Private art galleries and craft markets are easy to find.  Cuban art is very affordable and high quality.  The one thing that impressed me about the Cubans I met was not only their kindness, but how open they were in discussing their lives and Cuba's unique position in the world at the moment and where they hope to be in the future.  

They look up to the US culture and government.  So, it's no surprise that our gay group felt very welcomed in Cuba and that meaningful exchanges were had. 

 

New at Zoom Vacations

Zoom Vacations is constantly fine tuning trips to make them better and better each time.  Some changes and additions are subtle but significant.  Here is a list of current and upcoming changes to our roster of award winning trips:
 
Zoom China - Upgraded hotel location on the iconic riverside Bund. Great shopping area and great river and skyline views of the Bund from our new hotel in Shanghai.
 
Zoom Argentina - Added an insider tour of the Teatro Colon to the itinerary.  If you have even been to the Paris Opera House, you won't want to miss this. The welcome dinner is now at one of the top restaurants in South America, which was likened by one guest to Alinea in Chicago, considered the world's best restaurant.
 
Zoom Rio Carnaval - Now this trip includes Samdadrome tickets for the main Carnaval parade.
 
Zoom New Years - A Zoom Lounge will be available on Ipanema Beach with beverages and snacks while you sun tan and watch the hot Cariocas enjoy the beach. Also, a private Corcovado tour has been added to the itinerary.
 
Zoom Southern Africa August - Cape Town upgraded hotel and confirmed dinner reservations at the hard to get in Test Kitchen.
 
Zoom Peru - Confirmed dinner reservations at some of the best restaurants in town such as Central and Astrid & Gaston.
  
Read about our tour to China this May