Tidewater Traveler - August 2009
George W. Sellers
A few minutes after boarding the motorcoach with other travel planners, an average-sized gentleman with a big voice about three seats forward of my location decided it was time to assault the mic of his mobile phone. His goal was apparently to deliver a report of his evening’s activities here at the luxury resort, Lake Las Vegas, to one of his distant colleagues. You know the voice – the cell phone voice that booms to dominate restaurants, waiting rooms and other public spaces under the assumption that everyone has interest in the collection of vowels and consonants that dribble into the tiny cell phone and annoy the ears of everyone in the room. I often wonder if folks who abuse cell phone etiquette in this manner might communicate just as effectively if they would abandon the phone and broadcast their voice through an open window.
Enough ranting - because I was intrigued by one thing I heard the great communicator shout to his digital assistant. He said, “It was just as though I was walking through a small village in Tuscany.” Tuscany is a mostly rural region in north-central Italy celebrated for unique cuisine, wineries, classic art and personable Italians. With its best known cities of Florence and Sienna, and its many quaint, rural villages, Tuscany draws tourists from around the world. “Just as though...,” he said.
In its own rite Lake Las Vegas is a very impressive resort of luxury lake-front private homes and ultra-upscale hotels. Located near Henderson, Nevada, about 30 minutes drive south of the famous Las Vegas Strip, the resort is anchored by a lake-front shopping and entertainment village, fashioned after Italian architecture. Aquatic activities are in abundance for residents and visitors to the resort. Essentially, and literally, the lake community is an oasis in the desert. “...just as though I was walking through a small village in Tuscany,” he said. Hmmmm....
Next evening, I was standing in front of the famous Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Strip, awaiting the start of the incredible fountain display. I turned around, leaning against the concrete railing, and could not avoid seeing the replicas directly across the street; replicas of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. A male adult in an Asian family passing by was heard to say, “Look! That is just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris.” Well, not exactly – shape? yes – size? no. The real thing is about three times taller. “...just like...,“ he said.
My thoughts turned to the Venetian Hotel and Resort just down the street. I remember the first time I walked into the Grande Canal Shop’s section of the hotel, and realized it was just like I had stepped in the city of Venice with its canals, gondolas and tiny shops lining the canals. Hmmmm....
Walt Disney World! Animal Kingdom! Millions of dollars have been spent in an attempt to convince visitors, and the resident animals, that they are in the savannas of south-central Africa. Vegetation, land forms, and of course animals and cast members all blend to induce visitors to believe that they are on an African safari.
The entire southern half of Disney’s Epcot, the area known as World Showcase, exists to depict architecture, cuisine, attire, music, art and other aspects of culture and custom from countries around the world. For example, step into the Mexico pavilion and you can believe that you are in an ancient Mayan empire. Stroll the streets of Epcot’s France and become convinced that you are shopping on a Paris rue. Yes, they too have an Eiffel Tower and when you see it you might say, “It’s just as though I am on the Strip in Las Vegas, standing in front of the Paris Hotel and Casino.”
Years ago I heard a client express the following sentiment: Why should I spend time and money to take my grandchildren to Florida to see “artificial” castles and moats, when I can take them to Europe to see the real thing?
My regular readers realize that I truly enjoy visits to Walt Disney World and will seek every opportunity to be there. And, I am always fascinated with a visit to Las Vegas. I discover something new and different each time I go. So, this article is not a Joe Biden-style assault on travel to these destinations. If I could go to Disney World tomorrow, I would. Las Vegas – might wait a little while because I was just there, but I plan to return. And I plan to continue encouraging my clients to go to Disney World and Las Vegas.
But I cannot help but to be impressed by this concept of Just-As-Though travel. It was Charles Caleb Colton who suggested that ”imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If he was correct, then Western Europe must be exceedingly flattered because our United States of America is replete with reproductions of European landmarks and architecture. Perhaps this epiphany of mine is not a revelation to most of my readers, but here is why I think it is timely. Never in recent memory has a visit to Europe to see the “real-thing(s)” been more affordable. Maybe it’s time to not be satisfied seeing Big Ben at a Williamsburg theme park. Maybe it’s time to go to London and see the real thing. See the Eiffel Tower in Orlando, Las Vegas - or how about Paris? Castles? Just about anywhere in Europe you can view or explore centuries-old castles. It may be cleaner to do this in Las Vegas, but imagine taking a gondola through the canals of Venice instead of a shopping center.
Cruising, and in particular river cruising, has become an affordable and comfortable way to see Europe. For example, cruise the Rhine past open fields, woodland, country villas and castles. Or cruise through the waterways of the Netherlands to view acres and acres of tulip fields and hundreds of classic old working windmills. Dock in large cities for a cultural tour and dock in small villages for a stroll or bike ride to meet the locals.
Many reputable river cruise companies frequently offer two-for-one cruise pricing (even for 2010 dates) and sometimes even free airfare to and from the USA. River cruise hosts meet travelers at the airport and attend to every need until it is time to board the flight back home. Seeing Europe from its waterways in this manner is comfortable and convenient because suitcases get unpacked once, not nightly as when moving with a land-based tour group. Issues of where to eat, what to see, how to handle local currency - all solved by the riverboat staff.
Consider seeing the real thing(s) on a European riverboat cruise and you will never need to say to your friends, “It was just-as-though...”
May all of your travels be happy and safe!
George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel Web site and travel planning service SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Traveler articles may be directed to George@SellersTravel.com.