Nadia and Marius wanted a fun and exotic trip that they could take before “settling down” and starting a family. We decided to send them to a multi-city trip to Bogota and Cartagena in Colombia! We picked this location based on their sense of adventure, love of the unconventional, and hope of going somewhere you probably wouldn’t bring kids. The trip was full of opportunities to explore the outdoors through the country’s beaches, volcano, and rainforest while there are also excellent museums and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a bit of culture and learning. We arranged for a day trip to colonial village Villa de Leyva and suggested a coffee tasting in Bogota, while their time in the cruise port of Cartagena was spent visiting the Inquisition Palace and enjoying a mud bath heated by an ancient volcano. They were very pleased with our arrangements for them and Nadia commented, “I found the suggested itinerary that you created to be extremely useful. In fact, we carried it with us everywhere we went. I loved all the restaurant suggestions you made for us. I think they represented excellent value.”

Mandy approached us hoping to arrange for a special trip to celebrate the graduation of her boyfriend, Steve. She wasn’t ready to do a full-fledged mystery trip, so we did a “controlled surprise,” giving her three locations to choose from. In the end, she chose an adventure to Ireland. As we continued to work together to plan the trip, the experience became so special that Mandy and Steve decided to get married on their trip! The lovely couple rented a car and did the southern loop of Ireland, stopping in Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, and Galway. We helped the adventurous couple make arrangements to get married on a private yacht, go kayaking in Galway Bay, spend a night in a castle, and ride mountain bikes along the Derroura trail. They raved, “It was truly an experience that we will never forget!”

We at Magical Mystery Tours believe a long weekend should never be wasted. With just three months to go, have you considered where you will spend your Labor Day weekend?

We know summer can get crazy and your travel options can be a bit overwhelming. Whether it’s a weekend at The Cape, an outdoor adventure out west, or a quick flight across the pond to Europe, let us take the planning off your plate!

Cinque Terre, Italy

Yosemite National Park

Cape Cod

Have you ever thought of going to Moscow? It’s home to the most billionaires, the busiest subway system in europe, and a culture all it’s own. Here is my account of our trip to Moscow over President’s Day weekend. Feel free to contact any of us here at Magical Mystery Tours for more information on how you can experience a similar adventure!

While we had a slight change to our original itinerary, Delta was quite accommodating and got us into Moscow just two hours late. After arriving at 1:30pm, we navigated our way onto the Aeroexpress train (35 minute trip to Belorussky Metro Station) and eventually to our hotel, just 3 more stops on the metro.

The stations were packed, and though it took us one accidental trip to figure it out, they were quite easy to follow. Upon arriving to the Hotel National we quickly realized we had made an excellent choice. With courteous bellmen and a superb concierge, the oldest hotel in Moscow certainly delivered what it had promised. The old world decor, architectural charm and location right across from the Kremlin was rivalled.

Hotel National

After checking in and freshening up, we were off to find a late lunch.

Winding down streets to the northeast of Red Square we found Kolchuga, a cozy basement restaurant decorated for the hunting lovers. Here we energize with fresh salads, veal dumplings and an extraordinarily overprice bottle of french wine. Lesson learned — always inquire about the price before agreeing with the waiter.

With our stomachs full, we wandered around the Kremlin taking in St. Basil’s, the illuminated high end shops lining the square, and an ice rink full of adults and children alike enjoying a Saturday night out. After hearing that we would have to wait to skate, we thought better to head back and get ready for an evening out.

Carrying our restaurant book with us at all times turned out to be genius. Thanks to prior research, we had quite a variety of great places listed and mapped out. The first night was for vodka though, something local and authentic. Walking just 15 minutes from the hotel we found Kvartira 44, a somewhat hidden, family-owned restaurant with cheap drinks and friendly service. It had eclectic decor, a cozy feel, and its 12 tables were full with 20s an 30s catching up over a cigarette and vodka. After trying to look like we could actually read the menu in russian at the door, we quickly ordered our first two shots of vodka, chasing it with herring just as the locals do. While the herring didn’t really do it for us, the vodka did. We enjoyed our second round with a delicious order of potato pancakes. At 90 roubles a shot, we left the restaurant with a bill of about $10.

A shot of vodka with herring to chase it

On day 2, brunch was our first stop. Taking another 20 minute walk we found that our intended destination was closed. But not to worry, in the same block we found a french cafe, Paul, with great coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and french toast to satisfy all.

Heading back down we commented on the European feel to the street we were walking on. A wide street lined with commercial buildings, all seemed to have a mobile phone store or bank with neon signs on the ground floor. The sidewalks were clean and the statues were frequent.

After taking a few pictures of St. Basil’s cathedral, we headed back to get ready for the ballet. Arriving an hour before the performance, we were escorted into the Kremlin state theater to see Swan Lake. The show was absolutely superb — something we will remember forever. The costumes were beautiful and the audience was captivated. From young children to those in their 70s, one could not help but notice how much pride the Russians take in their ballets. By the visible enthusiasm and appreciation it was as if everyone in the audience was a relative of one of the dancers. With overwhelming applause and a rush to the stage following the show, their love of ballet was obvious.

The crowd rushing the stage at the end of Swan Lake

At that point my body was running on empty. After a 9 hour flight with a 9 hour time change, a power nap was greatly needed. Just one hour and 45 minutes later, we were ready for ice skating. After layering up we headed 50 yards from our hotel to one of the top 5 outdoor ice skating rinks in the world (Conde Nast). 750 roubles (admission and skate rental) was a steal for view like this. To the north you had the high end shops all lit up, to the east you had St. Basil’s, to the south you had the Kremlin. Can it get any better? This was the energy boost we needed, and it was definitely one of the top highlights of the trip. After 30 minutes or so, we got off the rink, bought a Russian doll and headed back to get ready for dinner.

Cafe Pushkin is a famous restaurant in Moscow and another pre-planned destination. With 8pm reservations made for us by the hotel, we took the 20 minute walk to Tverskoy Blvd. With a pre-revolution feel, the restaurant did not disappoint. Formal service and tables filled with well-dressed Russians, we knew this was a special occasion. Starting off the night with a Russian mule was the first of many great orders to come.

Course 1: Olivier Salad

Course 2: Classic Russian pie (one filled with mushroom, one with cabbage)

Course 3: “Brosche” soup (roasted beet soup with XX and sour cream)

Course 4: Duck breast with apple confit and foie gras ravioli

Feeling beyond satisfied, we left Cafe Pushkin knowing it was worth every rouble. The night was not over yet though. The only way to spend your last night in Moscow is with a view overlooking the Kremlin. This is exactly what we did at the super trendy, but still classic, O2 Lounge at the top of the Ritz-Carlton. Relaxing in egg chairs and looking out at the Moscow skyline while sipping on a white russian was the perfect end to an unbelievable 48 hours.

Moscow, check.

***Update: Magical Mystery Tours has filled this position and is not currently hiring.  Thanks to everyone who was interested in the position!***

Is planning the trip one of your favorite parts of a vacation?  Do you love sharing travel tips and knowing that you made someone’s vacation better?  If so, you should consider working with Magical Mystery Tours as a part-time consultant.

Preferred Skills and Experience:

  • Ability to plan amazing vacations
  • Be a pleasure for Magical Mystery Tours clients to work with
  • Willingness to be part of the Magical Mystery Tours team and help with marketing
  • Self-starter attitude, attention to detail, travel experience both domestic and international, excellent online research skills, and problem solving skills
Responsibilities:
  • Work with aspiring travelers to plan amazing vacations.  Help clients determine the best options for their vacation and work with them to narrow down options.  This person will plan both mystery trips and regular vacations.
  • Help market Magical Mystery Tours.  The specific duties will depend on the consultant, though we want someone willing to help get the word out about what we’re doing.  A willingness to blog, assist with social media, or other market tasks is preferred.
  • Time commitment: Naturally, the commitment will depend on the amount of trips we’re planning at a given time.  Our estimate that is that it would usually be a few hours a week with potential to increase as business grows.
  • Most business is done via email and most trip planning can be done anytime of day, though you will need to be available by email to respond to customers quickly.

To be considered, please email denise@magical-mystery-tours.com with your resume and an email explaining why you’re interested and why you think you’d be great.  Also please tell us a little bit about your own personal travel experiences (where you’ve been, what you loved and didn’t love, etc).

Here at Magical Mystery Tours, we recently got to plan a mystery trip where the main criteria was that travellers wanted a long-weekend in the US where was sure to be lots of good food.

When we asked on Facebook and Twitter what the best foodie cities were, you all suggested Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, Portland (both Maine and Oregon), Houston, Charleston, and Dallas, but ultimately we went with New Orleans!

I’ve only spent a long weekend in New Orleans, but knew my foodie friend Daniel would be happy to help.  He went to Tulane, regularly goes back to New Orleans, and even named his dog Tchoupitoulas (a main street in NOLA), and will happily discuss his New Orleans food preferences with anyone considering a trip. Here’s what he had to say:

My favorite restaurant in the world is Jacques Imo’s on Oak Street uptown.  The paneed duck breast with sweet potato shrimp cream sauce is to die for.  Served with buttery cornbread muffins and a spinach salad with a fried oyster. Abita beer or a good cocktail to drink. Mouth. Watering.

Also uptown (though not as far “up”) is a fantastic restaurant called Dick & Jenny’s. Took a crew there during a conference last year and everyone LOVED their food.  Neither will disappoint.  Casual but top-notch food.  MMMMM.

A wonderful and famous diner uptown is Camellia Grill.  There’s often a line out the door.  Get the pecan waffles or cheeseburger and cheese fries with the chocolate cherry freeze.  Save room for pecan pie.  Be ready to fist bump the cooks/waiters who have worked there forever.  It’s all served at the counter and there are limited seats.

Higher end price range (and fancier dress) is Commander’s Palace, also uptown.  On Canal Street you can also eat at Palace Café, which is also owned by the Brennan family (who own Commander’s) and it’s excellent.  The pecan-crusted catfish is amazing.  Also John Besh’s Restaurant August belongs on any list of excellent restaurants in New Orleans.  Lüke (also by John Besh) is really good – casual, small and low key.  Bayona on Dauphine is a unique experience and fantastic food.

Antoine’s is a 5-star restaurant in the Quarter.  French food.  Originator of Oysters Rockefeller.  You pay for the 5-stars though for sure.

I’ve not been, but I’ve been told Cochon in the warehouse district is also amazing.

Brunch at Brennan’s on Royal Street in the Quarter is a quintessential NOLA experience.  It’s not cheap, but a mimosa with one of their variety of “plays” on Eggs Benedict is a truly great experience.  Another option uptown for brunch is Café Atchafalaya – slightly cheaper, lesser known and in a neighborhood.  They do other meals too. Yummo.

Arnaud’s in the Quarter is also good.  Acme Oyster House or Deanie’s for good and fun seafood.

The Gumbo Shop in the Quarter, right off Jackson Square, has great Gumbo (duh!) and also really good po boys.

Creole Creamery in uptown has amazing and unique ice cream (not a restaurant, but thought I’d throw it out there).  Gotta do Café Du Monde in Jackson Square for beignets and café au laits.  Central Grocery there by the French Market in the Quarter is famous for inventing the Muffuletta sandwich.  Yum.

Finally, for a life-changing hamburger with boat drinks, Port of Call on the edge of the quarter is amazing.

Thanks Daniel for all the tips!

 What do you think?  Any other suggestions?  Anyone else want to go to New Orleans now?

1.  Keri over at Heels First has a great article on choosing travel buddies.  I’ve been meaning to post about this, but Keri sums up just about everything I could say on this!

2.  A Hello Kitty airplane?  Yes please!

3.  An old article on trends in travel in 1982.  “Bodacious!”

4.  The New York Times had a feature on why travel agents are coming back.  We certainly agree!

I gave you a warning a few months ago that I was about to embark on the Weezer Cruise.  I’m a little late with the review, but the cruise was way too much fun to not tell you about it.

It was also my first cruise!  Thankfully, Stephanie is more of a cruising expert than I am, but I felt like I was missing out on a big area of travel.  I’m still far from an expert, but also wanted to share my initial thoughts on cruises.

My vacation buddy Allison gave a great day-by-day breakdown of the cruise on her blog (see here, here, here, and here), so I won’t get into too many details, but wanted to give you my general impressions of going on a cruise, and, more specifically, going on a music cruise.

Here are my highlights of going on a music cruise:

  • Definitely one of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve had.  I’ve loved Weezer since the mid-90’s and seen them numerous times, but on the cruise we saw them play all their biggest hits and a lot of their rare B-sides in two different venues (once on the deck and once in the ship’s theater).  Everyone there was a huge fan, which made it that much more fun.
Why not perform from the water slide?
  • The other bands there were amazing, too.  Apparently the cruise organizers asked Weezer to suggest other bands that might be a good fit to join them on a cruise, and then chose from that list.  This meant that another one of my all time favorite bands Ozma was playing.  We also saw the band Sleeper Agent for the first time, which I’m absolutely loving right now!  In short, it was what I’d imagine it’s like going to a huge music festival without all the dirt, camping out, and other inconveniences.

    Ozma show on the deck.

  • Access to the bands was great!  We had our picture taken with Weezer, and got to chat with a few members of Weezer while in line for food or just wandering around the ship.  During the first few days we’d recognize band members and sort of whisper among ourselves, but we got used to saying hi to them, chatting, and generally getting to hear that they were having as much fun as we were.  I missed out on this, but Allison even ended up on a snorkeling tour with Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of Weezer!

Meeting Pat Wilson from Weezer during shuffleboard.

 

Meeting Jose Galvez from Ozma!

  • Activities.  The cruise was on a Carnival ship, but the bands and activities were run by Sixthman, a whole company dedicated to music cruises.  They did a great job catering the activities toward a Weezer loving audience.  We had ugly sweater night, mustache night, Weezer trivia, an 80’s Prom Night, a cocktail making contest, and shuffleboard (which Allison and I were atrocious at…any shuffleboard aficionados please leave tips in the comments!)  We also both got picked to be part of a Q&A session with Weezer.  I never really understood cruise activities and the notion of packing a fancy dress to do formal night on a boat, but these activities were all fun and definitely designed for this cruising audience.

 

Rocking the ugly sweater.

 

Practicing shuffleboard (not that it helped...)

 

The Weezer Q&A.

Weezer trivia with Daniel from Ozma.

So now that we’ve covered why the Weezer cruise was great, what about cruising in general?

Let’s do the pros first:

  • It was easy.  Anyone who’s planned a vacation with friends knows how tricky planning can get.  With this, we just decided that we both wanted to go, picked what sort of room we wanted (note: we went with a pretty basic room and were pleasantly surprised by its size), and off we went.  Once we were there, we could easily split up and meet up later.  I usually love picking through the options and finding the best of everything there is to see and do in a place, but for once it was really nice not to think about those things!
  • It was relaxing.  I’m awful at relaxing on vacations.  It seems wrong to sleep in or nap when there are new things to see and do.   This was by far the most relaxing vacation I’ve had.
  • All-Inclusive.  It was really nice to have everything included.  It was a little weird in the beginning to comprehend that there were pizzas and chicken fingers available 24/7 and we never had to pay for them, but not having to think about how much you were spending on each meal was a nice change.  (Note: we did have to pay for sodas and alcohol.  People complained about the prices, but honestly, they were no worse than what I regularly pay in DC for drinks.)
  • Being on a boat!  I worried about being sea-sick, but it wasn’t an issue at all.  There’s just something fun and different about being on a huge, floating resort!
     

Ok, so to round out the cruise review, I think there’s some notable cons, too:

  • Docking locations.  We stopped in Cozumel.  Maybe Cozumel’s great, but where we stopped was just a very touristy port area with souvenir shops and Mexican food.  Granted, I did have the best mango margarita ever, but the stop didn’t add much to the trip.  Maybe doing an Alaskan or European cruise would offer more in terms of ports, but I wasn’t impressed.
  • Food.  Everyone talks about gaining weight on cruises, so I was a little worried.  The food was adequate, there was some notable chocolate cake, but overeating wasn’t a worry.  Everything was very “meat and potatoes” and not too exciting.  Maybe other cruise lines are different, but this was pretty blah.
  • Not “going somewhere.” To me, most vacations are about seeing somewhere new.  On this trip, it was fun to check out a cruise boat, but there wasn’t new local cuisine to try, sites to see, or people to learn from.  I was actually really curious about the people who worked on the boat—where do they live, how long are they on the boat, how did they get into this?  Yet that still isn’t the same as going somewhere.

I love Weezer more than ever, and am certainly glad I got to check out a cruise, though probably need to stick to some dry land vacations before signing up for another one!

We made our radio debut last week on Randy Sharman’s Informed Traveler show on CHQR in Calgary, Canada!

You can check it out here.

We’re excited to be featured in a Smarter Travel article about mystery trips!

What do you think of the article?  Are mystery trips becoming the new trend?  Would you take one?  Or if you’ve been on one, how was it?

**And just for anyone who may be confused,  while we are fans of San Francisco, we are actually DC & Boston based.