- Barging in Provence
Forget about the seasickness pills and the throngs of passengers who are waiting to disembark when you get to port. Barging is all about relaxation.
And leave it to the French to do it in style. Continental Waterways' MS Provence, which cruises France's Provence region from April through November, can be chartered to pamper a group of up to 50 people. The barge's service and cuisine rival that of the best hotels. The 1:3 staff/passenger ratio ensures personalized service, but there's no snobby French attitude here: The crew is friendly and helpful. Meals, in the proper French tradition, are always an event. Three classically trained chefs shop the markets at local ports of call for breakfast and then prepare buffet lunches and four-course dinners that are inspired by indigenous gourmet dishes — paired with red and white wines, of course.
Designed to take advantage of the bucolic views of the rolling French countryside, the Provence offers a lovely dining room with large glass doors that, when open, create a refreshing al fresco environment. The barge also features a lounge with comfy couches and a bar to while away the time; a glass-walled library/activity room; and a 7,500-square-foot sun deck with pots of flowers and two hot tubs. The vessel's 26 spacious cabins, all of which face the outdoors, are decorated with ceramic tiles and the sunny blue, yellow, and red colors that are synonymous with the Provence region.
Even the incentive attendee who has been “everywhere” will be charmed by the many and varied sights of the area: walled medieval cities, Roman amphitheaters, fields of lavender and sunflowers, and vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see.
And Continental Waterways provides a comfortable, air-conditioned bus for off-barge excursions. Not-to-be-missed sights include the legendary cities of Avignon and Arles. Planners can also arrange for special-interest cruises. A wine theme is a natural in this home of Côtes du Rhône and other fine wines.
For more information on luxury barging, go to www.continentalwaterways.com.
— Regina Baraban
- Playing with Manta Rays in Bora Bora
Imagine a ride on an engine-powered outrigger draped with flower garlands, skimming across the light chop on the lagoon that surrounds the island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. A charming tour guide named Patrick, who looks like a Polynesian Mel Gibson, picks guests up dockside at the hotel and whisks them to a secluded reef that is teeming with tropical fish for some of the world's finest snorkeling. But that's just the beginning of the adventure options offered for small groups by Maohi Nui Excursions.
After the underwater safari, Patrick can take guests to a remote motu (what the locals call the islets ringing the main volcanic center island) that has been in his family's possession for generations. Your group can lounge in the warm water, dig their toes into the sand, or watch Patrick and some of his family prepare a feast of coconut-milk marinated tuna, breadfruit, and other savory native fare. Then it's time to visit some of the area's other local residents: the manta rays.
Even those guests who don't consider themselves to be the adventurous type will be intrigued when the guide summons the rays by banging on the side of the boat. Participants are then are invited to climb into the chest-high water and, with bait fish in hand, lure the rays up close. In seconds, the rays will be swarming around the waders like living matador capes. It sounds rather ominous, but the strong, smooth flap of their suede-like wings is an experience that is not to be missed.
For more information, e-mail Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org
— Sue Pelletier
- Climbin', Divin', and Drivin' Down Under
The Aussies, always keen for a great adventure, have cooked up some activities in Sydney and the nearby Hunter Valley that will keep your group's adrenaline pumping — all with the appropriate touches of luxury, of course.
Climbin': Take a three-hour guided climb to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge, which at the top of its arch rises 426 feet over the city. The climb is just difficult enough to get the blood pumping, it's very safe (you're attached to the railing at all times), and the view from the top is worth the effort, and then some. To find out more, go to www.bridgeclimb.com.
Divin': On a prime piece of harbor real estate at Circular Quay (where the commuter ferries chug in and out at all hours) sits the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibits of the newest in Australian art are all the things that one expects from a contemporary art gallery.
But there's another kind of fun available from the seventh floor: Diving off the roof (feet first or head first, as you prefer) and rappelling down the side. The experience is thrilling — plus it absolutely stops pedestrian traffic while you're doing it — and safe, thanks to the careful work of BushSports Adventure Event Management, which organizes the activity. If you have adventurous souls in your incentive group, check it out. For more information, go to www.mca.com.au.
Drivin': Transport your guests (2.5 hours by bus, or 20 minutes by plane) north to the beautiful wine country of the Hunter Valley. Then head out to the Port Stephens sand dunes, where Tony Burrell and his crew from Sand Safaris (www.sand safaris.com) will give your guests a half-hour training session and then lead them out onto the dunes, each aboard a Honda 4X4 Quad Bike — sort of a four-wheeled motorcycle with the handling characteristics of a snowmobile. A pair of guides will take the riders up and down the dunes, with the ocean just a glance to one side. It's like being on a thrill ride, except it's the real thing.
After a session on the dunes in the morning, come back for a session of wine school with Philp Helé of Hunter Resort Country Estate, the largest winemaker in the Valley.
And don't forget to ask one of the many knowledgeable coach drivers in Hunter Valley to pick out a vineyard for your group to visit. Oh, and maybe take them out chasing kangaroos through the vines at dusk.
— David Erickson
- Flying High over Rio
Some call it a religious experience; others consider it to be a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. No matter what you label it, a helicopter flight to the summit of the forested, 2,330-foot-tall Corcovado Mountain — to hover within 100 yards of the famed stature of Christ the Redeemer — is the climax of any trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
On a clear day, it is by far the most thrilling way to get up-close and personal with Christ the Redeemer, Brazil's equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, and the breathtaking panorama of the sparkling city lying at his feet, including Sugarloaf Mountain and the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, is a bonus.
The helicopter flights range from 10 minutes to one hour; Helisight Viagens and Tourismo e Helisul Taxi Aero (a partnership) have been operating them in Rio de Janeiro since 1991. For reservations, call (021) 511-2141, or (021) 542-7895 (Sugar Loaf helipad) or (021) 259-6995 (Lagon helipad) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., including weekends and holidays.
— Kelle Larkin