In this Issue:

FEATURED TRIP: Great Southern Explorer
CRUISE OF THE MONTH: Panama Canal with the Queen
JOURNEY OF THE MONTH: Elegant Palm Springs
BEHIND THE SCENES: Seattle’s Space Needle
THE WAY IT WAS: The Golden Age of Rail Travel
DID YOU KNOW? The French Started the Panama Canal
HISTORIC SNAPSHOT: The Timeless Grand Canyon
A TASTE FOR TRAVEL: Broiled Catfish with Fried Eggs and Smoked Bacon
TRAVEL TIPS: Our Most Frequently Asked Questions
NATIONAL PARK TRIVIA: The Origins of Canada’s National Parks
IN YOUR OWN WORDS: What our guests are saying about us



COMPLIMENTARY NEW ORLEANS HOTEL NIGHT! Receive a second complimentary post-cruise one-night hotel stay in New Orleans’ French Quarter on our 16-day Great Southern Explorer riverboat tour departing November 12, in addition to an already-included post-cruise one-night stay. That’s a total of two fun-filled nights in the Big Easy after your voyage! Note that this is an EXCLUSIVE offer that is made available ONLY to subscribers of this e-newsletter and must be redeemed by calling Uncommon Journeys at 1-800-323-5893. This offer expires October 31, 2016 and is subject to availability.

Featured Trip


Great Southern Explorer

Here at the Uncommon Journeys office, one of our catchphrases is “go big or go home” and with a new trip by riverboat on the elegant Louisiane, flagship of the new French America Line, that’s exactly what we mean. This amazing 16-day riverboat cruise tour from Nashville to New Orleans follows in the wake of the legendary steamboats of the 19th century but, of course, with every modern amenity of today. Departing November 12, the Great Southern Explorer isn’t just an uncommon journey, it’s one of a kind!

Experience the colors of fall along the river. Photo courtesy of French America Line

Embrace the grandeur of America’s great rivers on this sweeping voyage from musical Nashville to legendary New Orleans. Experience the beat of the South as you listen to rousing country music in Nashville and tour Graceland, former home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis. With a special overnight stay in Memphis, you might want to sample some world famous barbecue at Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous.

Walk in the footsteps of Union and Confederate soldiers at the Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover, learn about the 1811 earthquake in New Madrid that caused the Mississippi to flow backwards and visit the quirky Purple Toad Winery in Paducah. Then celebrate the elegance, charm, and generosity of the South as you float past the historic sites of Mississippi and the parishes of Louisiana. Tour the antebellum plantation homes of Natchez and the grand architecture of Oak Alley.

Have a glass of wine and a bowl of gumbo in Baton Rouge, stand in reverence at the Vicksburg National Cemetery, see the vast Mississippi Delta in Greenville, and unearth a treasure at a French Quarter artisanal market. You will enjoy time in three of America’s greatest cities, each with their own distinct musical styles–country in Nashville, the blues and rock and roll in Memphis and jazz in New Orleans.

Begin with a complimentary one-night pre-cruise hotel stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville and conclude your adventure with a one-night post-cruise stay at the family-owned Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Each day becomes part of an unforgettable memory that will last a lifetime. This is the French America Line difference.

Arrive in Nashville and check in to the impressive Gaylord Opryland Resort. Rejoice music lovers for you are in heaven, also known as “Music City, U.S.A.”, home to the iconic Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

DAY 2  |  NASHVILLE, TN (EMBARK) Your fare includes breakfast this morning at your hotel as well as a transfer to the Louisiane and all porterage. Settle into your stateroom or suite, head to The Veranda for a light snack and then bid Nashville farewell as the Louisiane departs and you immerse yourself in the joys of life on the river. Bon voyage!

The pleasures of the Louisiane become apparent as you start your day with a made-to-order beignet and café au lait in The Veranda. Read a book, talk to the Illuminator, our onboard historian, and then enjoy made-to-order crêpes.

Surrender to the charm of Dover, unlike Confederate officer Nathan Bedford Forrest, who refused to give up his cavalry after a resounding Union victory. Wander through the park honoring Forrest, and revisit his exploits at Fort Donelson National Battlefield.

Picture 42,000 Union soldiers boarding 185 ships on their way upriver, and you’ll get a sense of the rich local history of this town, which also boasts the National Quilt Museum.

Spend the afternoon with new friends and sip a pre-dinner aperitif in the Bar Royale. Then indulge in the Southern and Continental cuisine of The Crescent Room followed by stimulating entertainment before retiring to your suite or stateroom for a restful night’s sleep.

Imagine this sleepy village flattened in 1811 by North America’s strongest recorded earthquake, and further shaken up by 1862’s Battle of Island Number Ten, with artifacts on view at the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site.

During your two-day port visit in Memphis, you have a full night aboard the Louisiane to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Listen to the blues on Beale Street into the wee hours or watch the moon rise above the Mississippi River.

On your second day in Memphis, feel the beat of the city with a tour of Graceland or a visit to the Stax Museum of Soul Music and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.

Delve into the shrouded past at Winterville Mounds, an archaeological site that offers a rare look into the lives of early American peoples.

Hear the distant echoes of Ulysses S. Grant’s call to arms as he lay a 47-day siege to the city, now immortalized at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Get lost among the gallant antebellum buildings in this magnificent town, one of America’s national treasures. Chat up the friendly locals in the thriving entertainment district Natchez-Under-the-Hill, which Mark Twain once described as having a “desperate reputation, morally.”

Climb aboard the USS Kidd, an elegant WWII and Korean War veteran, before heading into the lively Louisiana state capital. Take time at the new and old State Capitols, both striking edifices.

Linger at one of the most photogenic sites in America, majestic Oak Alley Plantation, and stroll its allée, lined by 28 massive oaks more than 300 years old. Tour the Big House and investigate the buildings dotting the lovely grounds.

Bid adieu to the Louisiane and take the time to explore New Orleans at your leisure. Amble along the festive streets of the “Big Easy”, where the scent of Creole dishes and the strains of jazz mingle within stately French Quarter homes. Tonight your lodging is the Hotel Monteleone, a perfectly situated historic gem.

Explore the recently completed National WWII Museum or hop on a streetcar to the Garden District to further uncover this most European of American cities.

Fares begin at just $5,995 per person!



Panama Canal with the Queen

Our 23-day Panama Canal with the Queen cruise tour from New York to San Francisco on January 15, 2017 is one you won’t soon forget. A passage through the Panama Canal is at the top of every cruise traveler’s list of “must-see” moments and with this extraordinary voyage, that dream becomes reality. View the Manhattan skyline from the Statue of Liberty, and with three nights in San Francisco, ride the fabled street cars, take a bay cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and celebrate the City by the Bay. Be one of the first to transit the newly-enlarged Panama Canal and marvel at man’s achievements in both the 20th and 21st centuries, feel the warmth of the Dutch in Willemstad, be awed by the colonial charms of Cartagena, soak in the sun in Huatulco and go whale-watching among the famed arched rock formations off Cabo Sab Lucas. Bask in the comfort of Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, a contemporary ocean liner honoring the grand traditions of the past. Be treated to white-gloved service, traditional English Tea, enriching lecturers and the joy of numerous days at sea where the only requirement is that you recharge, relax and put the focus where it belongs: on you.

The majestic Queen Elizabeth.

Arrive in New York and make your way to the Wyndham New Yorker in the heart of Manhattan. The balance of the day is at leisure to enjoy the Big Apple as you wish. Perhaps take in a Broadway show or visit the renowned Guggenheim Museum.

Take a stroll through Central Park or get in some shopping along Fifth Avenue before your transfer to Brooklyn and Cunard Line’s sophisticated Queen Elizabeth where you’ll sail beneath the graceful Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into the twilight and your first evening at sea.

DAYS 3 – 4  |  AT SEA
Discover the rhythm of “sea days” where the world is your oyster and schedules evaporate amid the refreshing ocean breezes.

Ft. Lauderdale is a cosmopolitan and upscale destination. Look for baubles among the galleries and jewelry stores of chic Las Olas Boulevard or ride the yellow water taxi along the Intracoastal Waterway.

DAYS 6-7  |  AT SEA
Be sure to experience afternoon English Tea on Cunard Line where tradition and perfection go hand-in-hand before kicking up your heels to a big band in the magnificent Queens Room ballroom beneath glittering chandeliers.

Step off at Willemstad and enjoy your visit to the capital of this former Dutch colony. In Punda, the oldest part of the city, discover the beautiful 17th and 18th-century Dutch-style architecture.

DAY 9  |  AT SEA
If you haven’t done so yet, treat yourself to a spa day aboard the Queen Elizabeth and then enjoy a tranquil afternoon in the traditional English library.

Charming, narrow streets host quaint colonial buildings, while the magnificent cathedral and palace dominate the city. The walled old town brims with delightful plazas awash with flowers.

Transit this 1914 engineering marvel that was expanded in 2016. Pass through a series of massive locks, glide through dramatic Culebra Cut, and sail across Gatun Lake.

DAYS 12-13  |  AT SEA
Watch spectacular sunsets from the Commodore Club on the top deck.

The resort of Huatulco in the state of Oaxaca is famed for nine bays of clear waters and coral reefs, backed by rich jungle and coffee plantations. In one of the bays, Santa Cruz, you may see the “sleeping man”, a natural phenomenon resembling a face.

DAYS 15-16  |  AT SEA
Spend a lazy afternoon reading a book or relaxing in the Garden Lounge, a light and sociable room inspired by Kew Gardens.

Cabo boasts an uncrowded feel with warm hospitality to match the sunshine. Nestled on the Southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, it is famous for its casual atmosphere, exciting nightlife and stunning beaches and scenery.

DAYS 18-19  |  AT SEA
Sip specialty teas and coffees, and savor delicious pastries at Cafe Carinthia overlooking the Grand Lobby.

Arise early to watch as the Queen Elizabeth sails under the Golden gate bridge. Traverse the steep rolling hills by cable car, visit the Museum of Modern Art, or head for the celebrated vineyards of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Enjoy your final morning aboard the Queen Elizabeth before boarding your motorcoach for a tour of San Francisco’s highlights including Chinatown, Golden Gate Park and Fisherman’s Wharf before arriving at the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf for a two-night stay.

Enjoy San Francisco at your own pace. Perhaps you’ll choose to visit Alcatraz, lunch in quaint North Beach, or shop at famed Union Square. Later this evening enjoy a special group Farewell Dinner.

Bid farewell to the most romantic of cities to begin your complimentary Amtrak journey home.

Fares start at only $4,595 per person!



Elegant Palm Springs

Here at the Uncommon Journeys, combining to interesting elements is the key to our success. For example, our 12-day Elegant Palm Springs cruise tour departing November 1 features both glorious Palm Springs combined with a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. There are a number of reasons we love this trip.

We have long been fans of Palm Springs, believing it to be the perfect warm weather destination with its beautiful setting against the San Jacinto Mountains and the fact that with a nice hotel downtown, the entire 'small town' village is within a few blocks making it even more appealing. The casual lifestyle, dozens of superb restaurants and rugged natural beauty, combined with sunshine, swimming, golf and tennis make it the ideal vacation destination. In fact, we have taken hundreds of people to 'The Desert' as Frank Sinatra worded it over the years and all have praised it as one of their finest vacations in years. Similarly, we have long been fans of Holland America Line and their superbly run Dutch Ocean Liners. With teak decks, roomy staterooms, fine art, legendary dining and service as well as little touches like beautiful floral arrangements, Rosenthal china and 24-hour room service, Holland America is near the top of our list of favorite ways to spend a week. Therefore, it was only natural that we combine Palm Springs with a short but indulgent Holland America cruise, into an affordable holiday with little or no flying required.

Palm Springs, an oasis in the desert.

Our vacation begins in downtown Palm Springs with a four-night stay at the wonderfully located Palm Mountain Resort, in the center of downtown. We have included an interesting, though entirely optional, sightseeing adventure daily, as well as at least one meal. Naturally, if you would rather golf, bicycle or lay by the pool, this too, is fine. Since we know the area so well, both our sightseeing and dining are of exceptional quality, as you would expect from Uncommon Journeys. Everything that you wish to see or visit is a few short blocks from our hotel, making this a vacation of great ease and relaxation. After four blissful days in Palm Springs, we have a short but scenic ride South to San Diego where the Veendam awaits. Here too, great dining is featured including the acclaimed Pinnacle Grill one evening in addition to acres of deck space, pools, a cinema, a choice of lounges and nightclubs, a spa, casino and much more. Onboard, there are special parties and events for our guests and in a way, our ports in Mexico are almost incidental to the fun and relaxation of being on this beautiful ship, so much so that many of our guests do not even disembark in port! For those that do disembark, a range of excellent shore tours are available for purchase and one of our favorites is Mismayola Beach in Puerto Vallarta, where the film 'Night of the Iguana' was made. Of course, ruggedly beautiful Cabo San Lucas, at the very tip of Baja California never fails to impress.

We are naturally biased but for an elegant and relaxing escape to warm weather, with little or no flying, foreign airports, intrusive security checks and general discomfort, there may be a better holiday but we doubt it. We look forward to welcoming you aboard this elegant pairing of a great resort destination with a fine Dutch liner. All Aboard!

Fares begin at only $1,995 per person!

With 350 days of sunshine a year, Southern Pacific Railroad knew what they were doing promoting tourism to this desert oasis starting in the 1920s. Since hotels should always be well-located, ours is in the heart of downtown, just a few minutes’ walk from hundreds of stores, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs. And tonight is our casual welcome dinner at a long-time desert favorite, Las Casuelas Terraza, a nice way to meet your fellow travelers.

This morning features a city tour showing not only the astonishing range of mid-Century architecture in this city but homes of some of the famous residents that have lived here. We enjoy lunch in a stylish downtown bistro while leaving all afternoon and evening at leisure for you to enjoy as you wish: biking, golfing, swimming, tennis or shopping.

This morning is a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum with award-winning areas devoted to modernist architecture and design, western art, photography and glassware including Dale Chihuly. We have left the afternoon free for soaking up the sun by the pool but later today is a special treat, the aerial tram ride up 8500-foot-high Mt San Jacinto, a two-and-a-half-mile trip to the summit. After time exploring, and this tram ride is the equivalent to driving from Baja California to the Yukon in terms of geographical changes, we enjoy dinner at Peaks Restaurant with a memorable view.

This morning we visit the extraordinary Living Desert Reserve, a remarkable 1,200-acre botanical garden and zoo showing the full spectrum of life in the Colorado Desert. We have left the afternoon free and tonight is a special treat, dinner at Lyons English Grill. Lucille Ball, Bob Hope and Cary Grant all enjoyed Lyon's and you will too, with its rich interior, expert waiters and delicious menu. The Prime Rib is especially recommended. The perfect end to our stay in Palm Springs.

All morning to sleep in since we do not leave the hotel until 10am for the short scenic drive south to San Diego and the Veendam. At 4pm, we set sail, departing San Diego's beautiful harbor, bound for the Mexican Riviera. Tonight is your first taste of Holland America's justly acclaimed cuisine and service. A favorite spot of ours for before dinner drinks is the Crow’s Nest Bar, looking forward over the bow.

DAY 6  l  AT SEA
All day at sea to enjoy ocean travel at its best with time for lunch on deck, a movie, a visit to the spa or simply relaxing in a deck chair with a good book. Tonight is our welcome aboard cocktail party followed by dinner in a choice of restaurants.

Ruggedly beautiful Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California welcomes us this morning and there is a choice of excellent shore tours ashore to choose from. Another relaxing evening to enjoy the many delights of the Veendam with a favorite of ours being the opulent Explorers Lounge for after dinner drinks and dessert where a string quartet performs.

Historic Mazatlan with its colorful Zocalo in the ancient center of town is our port of call today and here too, a nice variety of optional tours are available including two favorites, a bird watching tour through mangroves by boat and another to a sanctuary for the rare gulf turtles.

Quaint Puerto Vallarta, best known for the film 'Night of the Iguana' is a treat today, with our favorite being an excursion to Las Caletas, the former home of John Huston, the film director. There is also a wonderful Dolphin encounter program that our guests rave about.

DAY 10  l  AT SEA
After three ports in a row it is a nice to have a day at sea to relax and do nothing more than swim, relax and enjoy all that ship travel has to offer. Tonight is a splendid time to enjoy dinner in the stylish Pinnacle Grill followed by a show or visit to the Casino.

DAY 11  l  AT SEA
A final day at sea to sleep in, perhaps with breakfast in bed, to enjoy a lazy lunch by the pool or to finish off that book or to say goodbye to newfound friends. We travel up the coast of Baja today, within sight of land normally and whale sightings are not uncommon.

After breakfast, we disembark in San Diego and guests may extend their stay in this lovely city or travel home by train or air.



Seattle’s Space Needle

The Space Needle as become the calling card for the Seattle skyline.

When the Eiffel Tower went up in Paris, people hated it. In a world where intricate stonework and soaring domes were the accepted style, an open girder of iron, a relatively new building material at the time, was seen as uninspired at best and terribly unattractive at worst. Many people forget that Gustav Eiffel’s proud creation was originally built as a temporary structure. It was constructed not as an icon for Paris but simply as the grand entrance arch for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. Eiffel only had a permit to allow the tower to stand for two decades; by 1909 the City of Paris would be allowed to finally tear down the eyesore. But as we all know, the French attitude toward the tower changed over those 20 years and the eyesore eventually became a national treasure.

It’s interesting that another city icon was also built for a World’s Fair and, unlike even the Eiffel Tower, is perhaps the most copied concept in cities around the world. Seattle and the Space Needle are intimately intertwined; you can’t think of one without the other. The Space Needle, which rises 605 feet, feels even higher because it’s built near the top of one of Seattle’s many hills. It is part of the skyline yet just far enough removed that the views from the observation and restaurant level are stunning since they encompass the spires of the city’s downtown core along with Elliot Bay and, on a clear day, the massive and majestic bulk of Mount Rainier.

Constructed for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Space Needle was not universally panned like the Eiffel Tower. People loved its elegant tripod shape and futuristic profile, all of which represented the city of Seattle at the dawn of the jet age, fueled by the designs of hometown aerospace giant Boeing. At the time it opened, the Space Needle gained instant fame as the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River – quite an accomplishment for a city that was not the global powerhouse we know today. Seattle was an important community in the fabric of America, but was not nearly the size it is now nor as cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Somehow, the Space Needle was the catalyst for an image makeover that turned Seattle into one of the hippest and trendiest cities in the nation in the 1960s. It seemed as though anything was possible in Seattle.

The Space Needle was the centerpiece of the World’s Fair and is today located on grounds known as the Pacific Science Center which reused many of the pavilions from the fair as museums, now joined by brand new attractions such as the extraordinary Experience Music Project.

Interestingly, the Space Needle is not the vision of a single architect, although its clean lines and unified design would lead you to believe otherwise. A businessman named Edward Carlson envisioned something that resembled a huge balloon, somewhat like a modern water tower, while architect John Graham favored a flying saucer hovering above the ground. A third designer, Victor Steinbeck, came up with the curved legs to attach the saucer to the earth and what we know as the Space Needle was born. As slender and delicate as it appears, it’s actually extraordinarily strong, able to withstand winds of more than 200 miles per hour and earthquakes as strong as 9.0 on the Richter Scale.

The Space Needle never stays static…literally. The huge restaurant at the top rotates through 360 degrees. It was once two separate restaurants but in 2000 was all combined together into one impressive space.

There is nothing like the Space Needle. At Uncommon Journeys, it is these types of icons that we work to incorporate in our trips. Our 8-day Elegant Canadian Rockies train tours departing June 22, July 20, August 24 and September 14, 2017 happen to begin in, you guessed it, Seattle.



The Golden Age of Rail Travel

Uncommon Journeys has revived a time when train travel was a much anticipated joy.
Photo courtesy of Pullman Rail Journeys.

There was a time not all that long ago when traveling itself was part of the joy of each trip. We didn’t travel solely to arrive at our destination, we savored the journey. It was a time when rail travel was at its zenith, and stylish Streamliner trains, aerodynamic and filled with every modern creature comfort, glided across the country, their passengers ensconced in comfort attended to by an attentive staff who remembered names, drink preferences and hometowns. It was a time when Santa Fe’s Super Chief brought stars to Hollywood, where CEOs traveled along Great Northern’s Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle and the Vista-Dome rail car, with its dramatic curving walls of glass, was the sensation of the era. It was the Golden Age of Rail Travel.

The lost art of leisure and luxury have returned with our lovingly restored 1950s Vista-Dome Streamliners featuring classic Pullman cars, including delightful club cars and expansive lounge cars along with elegant dining carriages. You are greeted by white-gloved staff who offer complimentary wines and spirits during your stay aboard our private train, the Great Western Limited. Multi-course dinners are served on white tablecloths set with fine china, gleaming cutlery and fresh flowers. Convivial conversation awaits under a Vista-Dome of stars and a meticulous Pullman stateroom with fluffy pillows, soft blankets and the gentle accouterments of another time beckons you to a restful night’s slumber.



Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake’s spectacular mountainous amphitheater.

Join us on a special holiday that features one of the most stunning places in all North America, Moraine lake in Banff National Park. With four full days in Banff you won’t miss a single vista, including the picture-postcard beauty of this dramatic mountain lake. Join one of our 8-day elegant Canadian Rockies departures on June 22, July 29, August 24 or September 14, 2017 and see for yourself.

If you’d like to see a photo from one of your own Uncommon Journeys trips featured in our newsletter, just email it to us at and be sure to note in your email that we can use it for marketing purposes.


The French Started the Panama Canal

The greatest American engineering achievement of the early 20th century began with the French.

By the late 19th century, world trade was booming but one of the biggest stumbling blocks was Central America. To sail from the United States’ east coast to the Pacific required a very long, very expensive and very treacherous detour around the storm-beset southern tip of South America. The same problem once faced Europeans sailing to Asia and Australia but thanks to the sea level Suez Canal which opened in 1869, that trouble was solved. Ships no longer had to detour thousands of miles around the southern edge of Africa.

After such success with the Suez Canal, the French turned their sights on Panama. In 1876, the French formed a canal company and in 1878 received permission from Colombia, of which the Panama region was a part at the time, to dig a canal. That’s when a gentleman by the name of Ferdinand de Lesseps enters the picture. He took on the project and was so charismatic, he was able to raise a staggering amount of money toward the construction of the new canal. As the man known for building the Suez Canal, he had both the name recognition to raise money and the talent to complete the task.

But there was a bit of a difference between the canal in Egypt and the one proposed in Panama. The Suez Canal, while no easy feat, was entirely at sea level. No locks to raise or lower ships were needed. It also was built through the desert so construction consisted of digging a trench in the sand. Not simple, but certainly not an overwhelming engineering challenge. The greatest enemy of the Suez Canal’s construction was the terrible heat.

In Panama, de Lesseps found an entirely different topography. Not only was there a mountain range in his way, the terrain was very dense jungle rather than flat sand. It suddenly occurred to the eager Frenchman that this might not be a cakewalk. It didn’t help that although the difference in the height of the land across the Isthmus of Panama begged for locks, de Lesseps insisted on a sea level canal just like in the Suez. It wasn’t the logical engineering solution, but it’s what he knew. The fact that he had committed his army of workers to blasting through solid rock rather than digging through the soft sand of the Egyptian desert didn’t faze him. Construction began.

Even as workers took breaks from the sweltering heat, the difficulty of cutting through the jungle and the seemingly impenetrable rock, the problems were mounting. The rivers crossing the proposed canal route were capable of flooding the area or, later, the finished canal. During rainy season, the ground turned to mud and both machines and men became mired.

However, it wasn’t landslides or downpours that became de Lesseps undoing; it was the tiny mosquito. At the time, it was common practice to leave standing water in barrels and other containers out in the open and even to put pans of water around the legs of beds to keep insects from crawling up from the jungle floor at night. What no one realized is that stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes. And mosquitoes carry both malaria and yellow fever. Workers began to contract these deadly tropical diseases and perish. At first a few. Then dozens. Then hundreds. And eventually thousands.

The French slogged on for eight years from 1881 to 1889 and during that time, a staggering 22,000 workers died of disease. Nearly $235 million had been spent and the canal was no more than a third done. The French finally surrendered to the overwhelming odds.

The Americans came in and, armed with knowledge of how malaria and yellow fever were spread and intent on creating a lock system to raise and lower ships as they transited the canal, finished the project in 1914. Today, of course, transiting the Panama Canal is on every traveler’s list of great experiences. In fact, it’s the highlight of one of our most popular trips, our 23-day Panama Canal with the Queen trip departing January 15, 2017.




Luxury in Yellowstone

The Timeless Grand Canyon

One of the boats used in the Powell Expedition which, 150 years ago, explored the Grand Canyon for the first time.

“Grand Canyon was largely unknown until after the Civil War,” according to the National Park Service. “In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran with a thirst for science and adventure, made a pioneering journey through the canyon on the Colorado River. He accomplished this with nine men in four small wooden boats. Though only six men completed the journey. His party was, as far as we know, the first ever to make such a trip.” Today you can visit the canon in considerably more comfort on our 8-day New Year’s at the Grand Canyon train tour departing December 29, 2016.


Miriam Beard


“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
- Miriam Beard



Broiled Catfish with Fried Eggs and Smoked Bacon

The secret to this riverboat meal is in the smoked bacon!

Famed author and chef Regina Charboneau, a Paris-trained native of Natchez, Mississippi is Chef de Cuisine of our travel partner French America Line. She fuses French and Southern cuisine but also has a fondness for straight-up traditional Southern dishes. This meal’s secret ingredient is the bacon. “My favorite bacon is the hickory-smoked country bacon that comes from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee, just south of Knoxville,” Regina says. “I order it online and keep it in my freezer. When I want smoked bacon, I want to be able to smell the smoke, and Mr. Benton’s bacon delivers.” Try it for yourself on our 16-day Great Southern Explorer riverboat tour from Nashville to New Orleans departing November 12, 2016.

8 thick slices smoked bacon
4 (5- to 6-ounce) catfish fillets
1 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
4 large eggs

1. Lay the bacon flat in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Cook, turning, until the bacon is brown and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. (The bacon grease is used to cook the fish and eggs, so don’t burn the bacon.)
2. Using tongs, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off, leaving 1/4 inch of the bacon grease in the pan. Return the pan with the remaining bacon grease to the stovetop to cook the fish.
3. Season both sides of the fish fillets with the Cajun Seasoning. Heat the bacon grease over medium heat. Add the fish, being careful not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the fish to a warm plate.
4. Place 4 teaspoons of the reserved bacon grease in a nonstick skillet. Heat over low heat. Break the eggs one at a time into a saucer. Gently slide the eggs into the skillet and cover with a lid. Cook the eggs to desired doneness, about 3 to 4 minutes for over easy. The beauty of using the lid is you do not have to flip your eggs and risk breaking the yolk.
5. To serve, place 1 catfish fillet on each of 4 large plates. Top each piece of fish with a fried egg and arrange 2 slices of bacon on the side.



Our Most Frequently Asked Questions

What clothes should you pack?

Is there a restriction on how much baggage I can bring?
Airlines, limousines and other transfer vehicles have luggage allowance policies which may limit the amount and/or weight of luggage you may take with you and/or impose excess luggage charges. You are responsible for complying with the policies. Please keep this in mind when packing. Luggage handling is included on tour for one large bag per person. Should you desire to check more than one bag on the land portion of the tour, an additional porterage fee will apply. Note that baggage fees and other charges may be directly assessed by airlines or airports.

When will I receive my final documents?
Final documents for your holiday contain everything needed for your travels and will include our “Helpful Hints” which detail the operation of the tour and who the tour manager will be and how they will make contact with you. Also included are a detailed “day to day” itinerary as well as any connecting travel arrangements or pre and post-tour options that we have booked for you. This package is sent out between two and three weeks prior to departure.

What clothing should I bring?
With only one exception where cruises are involved, casual clothing is recommended. Our holidays do not require that one dress up or bring formal clothing. On tours which may include a cruise, further guidance will be given in the final documents about the cruise line’s onboard events and dress.

What about tipping?
Tipping is included at all hotels and included meals during the tour. Guidance will be given for the advice on tipping where appropriate for Tour Managers, local Step-on Guides, and aboard trains.

Are there laundry facilities available?
On most tours we will be in regions where laundry services will be available. In more rural areas of the National Parks and aboard trains laundry facilities are not available. Aboard cruise ships, self-service laundry facilities are provided as well as dry cleaning and laundry services.

Can I bring my own alcohol aboard?
Aboard trains and land tours, you may bring personal alcoholic beverages for consumption while on tour. We ask that personal alcohol NOT be consumed in public areas. Aboard cruise ships, there are generally limitations on the quantity of alcohol allowed. Please refer to the cruise line’s documentation regarding their on-board policies.

Do you offer discounts for AARP, AAA membership, etc..?
Our holidays are priced in a manner which includes the group discounts offered by our hotel and railway suppliers and for this reason, our rates are not further discountable. Some discounts may apply to your pre- or post-tour connecting Amtrak travel.

Are Children allowed on tours?
All guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by and occupy the same accommodations as an adult aged 25 years or older.




The Origins of Canada’s National Parks

Cave and basin, the spot which spawned Canada’s vast system of National Parks.

Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth. With its soaring, jagged, snow-covered peaks, dramatic waterfalls, Caribbean-blue mountain lakes and towering green pines, it is awe-inspiring. It’s also Canada’s first national park, established in 1885, only 13 years after Yellowstone National Park. 

But the idea for Canadian national parks began in what is now the charming mountain town of Banff itself. Just past the tony restaurants and shops of downtown, across the sleek footbridge that crosses the Bow River a mile upstream of Bow Falls and with a sweeping view of the town and the mountains that ring its borders, is Cave and Basin National Historic Site. It is revered as the true birthplace of Canada’s national parks.

Parks Canada, which you can find on their website here, describes the discovery of hot springs discovered in the area by two brothers in the 19th century. “The McCardell brothers wrote to the government, laying claim to the hot springs. However, the government, needing to generate revenue to finance a railroad, also saw the potential these medicinal waters had for attracting tourists,” Parks Canada explains.

“Arguments over the ownership of the springs escalated into a legal battle, and the government solved the dispute by creating Hot Springs Reserve in 1885.” According to Parks Canada, “The Order in Council dictated the springs were ‘reserved from sale or settlement or squatting….’”

But that’s a long way from being a national park. However, “on June 23, 1887, the Hot Springs Reserve was expanded thirty-fold under the Rocky Mountains Park Act and officially became Rocky Mountains National Park – the first national park in Canada. This Act acknowledged that natural areas should be included amongst the country’s sources of wealth and that the parks should belong to the people of Canada,” Parks Canada notes.

Banff National Park didn’t get its name as we know it today until 43 years later through Canada’s National Parks Act of 1930. That act eventually led to “43 national parks, 167 historic sites, 4 marine parks and 1 national urban park in Canada and the largest system of protected places in the world.”

We invite you to discover the origin story of Canada’s national parks yourself with Uncommon Journeys on our 8-day elegant Canadian Rockies departures on June 22, July 29, August 24 or September 14, 2017.


    What our guests are saying about us

“My wife Diane and I were on the Uncommon Journeys Wonders of the West Tour that began in Chicago on July 22nd and ended when we returned on July 31st. This tour was led by Conrad Tausend, Tour Manager. What an amazing and enjoyable experience!

“Diane and I really did not know what to expect in taking this tour. We had never taken a vacation with a cross country train and bus trip and had never been to the National Parks, other than brief drives to Mount Rainer and the Grand Canyon. We were extremely pleased with all aspects of the trip. We felt this was the best way to experience Yellowstone, Glacier National and Grand Tetons, etc. While in the bus, we are able to take in the beautiful scenery instead of having to focus on driving and directions. We took over 500 pictures of some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen. The diversity of natural scenery that we experienced on this trip was unparalleled (mountains, waterfalls, canyons, geysers and others thermal areas, lakes, streams, and an unending pallet of different colors). And we got to see lots of wildlife (not the kind we have in Chicago bars and restaurants but rather Bison, Elk and other animals). The accommodations were rustic yet very comfortable and the food was good. And there were many enjoyable things to do along the way like the raft trip down the Snake River, the stagecoach ride and dinner and swimming in the hot springs. What a great time!

“Also, we can’t imagine a better tour manager than Conrad. He kept us safe, healthy and hydrated on the trip. As a closest historian, he added greatly to our enjoyment of the trip by providing us historical insights and interesting facts as we went along the way. His knowledge is exceptional and above and beyond what would expect even from an experienced tour manager. His knowledge helped us more vividly experience the areas through which we were traveling (for example, he made us feel what Lewis and Clark were going through on their expedition). When we ran into traffic due to construction on one part of the journey, Conrad made us forget about the delay by engaging us in interesting trivia contests. He pointed out all the ways to best enjoy and experience the areas we were going to. And at every stop, he went out of his way to make things easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable for each of us. I told him the trip was perfect and I meant it.

“I am certain that we will take an Uncommon Journeys trip again in the future (Yosemite looks awful inviting).

“Thanks again. You helped us forget about everything and gave us ten days of ultimate fun and relaxation.”

Bob K. - Naperville, IL

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