Published November 06, 2013
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, courtesy East Coast Tourism Company
Nomad Adventures has been going to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for four years, and president Susan Damon customizes each trip. She works with a local man who’s a native of the UAE, and Damon has been enough times herself that she can “take the trip apart and put it back together,” she said.
Tours can be land based, or part land, part cruise, depending on the cruise line schedule, she said. But groups spend most of their time in Dubai, which serves as a launch pad for day trips to Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Oman.
Dubai itself has the old city and the “new city” with its flashy buildings and towering skyscrapers. There, groups visit Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. An elevator zooms visitors up 131 floors in 29 seconds to the observation deck, where there’s an all-glass viewing platform for an “unbelievable” experience, Damon said.
Most groups also opt to include a desert safari night, she said. From Dubai, guides take visitors in Jeeps to a desert oasis. Under the tents, guests can sit on traditional floor pillows to eat a seven-course dinner, watch belly dancers and smoke a hookah. They can also ride camels and have henna applied to their hands.
In the mountainous emirate of Fujairah, Nomad takes travelers to hot springs on a holiday, so they can see how local families gather at the springs to play and picnic.
“You really get the feeling of how they live,” Damon said.
Nomad also usually includes a visit to a family home, where guests enjoy a home-cooked meal and learn about local culture and traditions.
“They open their home to you, and they’re so kind,” Damon said. “They’re usually multigenerational families, so the younger ones translate for the older ones.”
In Abu Dhabi, groups visit the Grand Mosque, which can hold up to 30,000 people in its seven ornate temples. Women must wear the traditional “abaya,” a full robe that leaves only the eyes visible, to enter. Men can wear whatever modest clothing they want but must put on traditional sandals before entering.
“It sounds funny, but [women] love to dress in their abaya; that’s the photo-taking moment of the whole trip,” Damon said.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is one of Atlantic Tours president Richard Arnold’s favorite trips because the Canadian province provides an “authentic experience,” he said.
There, visitors find friendly residents, small communities, family-owned accommodations and local, rustic food such as fish that was probably caught that day, he said.
Atlantic Tours tailors trips to groups’ interests and needs, but Arnold usually suggests splitting up Newfoundland and Labrador into two separate tours to do each region justice.
Last year, Atlantic Tours put together a two-week, tailor-made trip for a Volkssport group, a noncompetitive recreation club that focuses on walking and hiking, on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula.
Atlantic incorporated daily walks with the region’s must-see sites and activities, among them boat cruises, fjord tours and whale-watching trips.
“That’s one of the more unique programs we’ve put together,” Arnold said.
Arnold recommends visiting Cape Spear, the easternmost point of North America, and Gros Morne National Park, one of the few places in the world where you can pick up and hold a piece of the Earth’s mantle, he said.
Another stop is St. John’s, a bustling, picturesque sea village with colorful row houses lining the steep streets.
There are 10 National Historic Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador; at one of those, L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking or Norse settlement that dates to the year 1000, visitors can see the original Viking mounds and watch for passing icebergs and moose.
Another, Red Bay, the site of a 16th-century Basque whaling station on Labrador’s southern coast, was designated a World Heritage site in June. There, visitors can wander through the former whaling town that dates to the 1500s, visit the whalers cemetery and imagine when, in 1656, the San Juan whaling vessel sank just 50 meters off the coast.
Whale watching is prime year-round; summer is the best time of year to see puffins, and June through early July is iceberg season, Arnold said.