Creative cruising: a mirrored stairwell off the Danube, and self portrait with an iPhone

Renowned underwater photographer and explorer Anne L. Doubilet  shares a first with Luxury Travel Mavens’ readers—her first river cruise, a first rate experience. An Explorers Club Fellow who has traveled the world’s seas for National Geographic publications, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame,  winner of the PlatinumPro 5000, international lecturer and creator of the traveling exhibit Ice and Coral, Doubilet also shares some of her photo tips– including the value of an iPhone.

What’s your most memorable luxury trip above water?

I recently took a very high-end trip on a riverboat luxury cruise along the Danube River. “Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube” is a specialty tour offered just a few times a year by Tauck. This was a very unusual type of trip for me as I usually go on working expedition trips to remote places in reconverted fishing trawlers where roughing it is the norm.  And usually I am tossing around on high seas in the open ocean behind tightly closed portholes or strapped to the deck so it was wonderful to cruise smoothly along the water on my first ever riverboat trip.  I particularly loved the floor to ceiling sliding glass panels in each cabin that could remain open to the air and sunlight.

The musical splendors of the Danube

We started with two land-based days exploring Buda and Pest—this Hungarian city is divided into 2 sections by the Danube. Embarking the ship we traveled the river lock system ending up 900 feet higher than when we started.  Stops and tours along the river were in Bratislava, Slovenia; in Austria– Vienna, Melk and a cruise through the gorgeous Wachau Valley, Salzburg—Mozart’s birthplace, Linz home of the linzer tart cookie; in Germany the old cobblestoned streets of Passau and Regensburg; ending for two days in magnificent Prague, Czech Republic.

I love classical music and opera, and my travel companion was Hillary Hauser Executive Director of Heal the Ocean —a close lifelong friend who is an underwater colleague of mine and my opera and classical music tutor. The beauty of the underwater world and the music world is something we share together. Many of my working expeditions were with my teacher and mentor, Dr. Eugenie Clark, the Shark Lady which was like a private marine biology course with the world as classroom. Traveling with such knowledgeable personages makes everything come alive!

Cruising the Danube on the Swiss Jewel

What made the trip luxurious?

The Swiss Jewel is a new sparkling, spacious, light–filled riverboat—just one in a fleet owned by Tauk– beautifully and luxuriously appointed throughout from the private cabins and suites to all the public areas—gracious bar and lounge area, main dining room, smaller Lido Bar on the back deck for more informal meals, and the spectacular huge sun deck comfortably furnished with many tables, umbrellas, chairs and recliner. Relaxing on the sundeck (for which we hardly had time because we didn’t want to miss anything!) as the lush countryside gently flows by is like traveling inside a painting. The service and care of the staff onboard coupled with the rich tours on land made this a very special trip.

Why would you recommend the trip?

We had our own two maestros (Michael Shaw and Andrew Eggert) accompanying us—both PhDs in either Music History or Opera—to discuss the music we would hear and the historical sites we would visit. It was a magnificent immersion in history from royal times of the 1700s when music and art were part of court life, World Wars I & II with the horror of Nazism, the rise and fall of communism and the present day resurgence of tourism.  The palaces, the museums, the gold leaf, the architecture and of course the MUSIC—Mozart, Liszt, Beethoven, Hayden, Bartok.  We visited the homes of Mozart, Liszt and Bartok.  Ferried around in private vans and educated by local guides, we were treated to private tours of opera houses, palaces, museums, special lunches and dinners with concerts, ballets, and opera performances arranged for us.

Musical Cruise on the Danube included live Maestros and historic composers

What are some favorite memories?

In Vienna, we attended opening night at the Vienna Opera—had great seats—for a performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo; in the Auersperg Palace we sat in on a rehearsal of the Vienna Residence Orchestra (one of the world’s best) with commentary by the conductor; a private dinner at Palais Pallavicini under crystal chandeliers served by choreographed white gloved waiters while entertained by musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers was a royal foray into Austria’s history of music and art and opulence at court!

One of my favorites, the Lobkowicz Palace and Art Museum in Prague will stay with me forever. The music archive contains original manuscripts written by Beethoven and Mozart and the personal Lobkowicz family history is awe-inspiring. Our farewell dinner there –preceded by a private tour of the famous art collections–was storybook worthy.

What tips do you have for travelers to get the best photos?  

Champagne Cruise

An interesting photo situation for me occurred on this trip. Because we had to travel light and because this was not a working trip, I only brought one camera body and a few lenses. On day two in Budapest before we even embarked our riverboat, my one camera malfunctioned with some of the lenses.  After despairing and unsuccessfully looking for a camera repair shop in Budapest wasting valuable sight seeing time, I decided to shoot the whole trip with my iPhone.  I was the subject of a photo-shoot with Annie Leibovitz several years ago and her recent recommendation of the iPhone camera stuck in my mind.

You can see some of the results on my website Gallery– Danube Cruise of Music Magic.  I also made a Quicktime movie of stills in iPhoto using the Origami presentation for a fast moving mosaic of the whole trip.

My three main photo tips are:

  • 1. Don’t forget to always look behind you when shooting.
  • 2. Try for the best possible natural light available which usually means sunset and sunrise. Many times this is not possible due to traveling schedules so if stuck at high noon use a bit of fill-in flash to make the subject matter pop out;
  • 3. Get as close as possible to subject matter with wide- angle lenses and particularly with an iPhone!

What are places you have loved traveling to that you recommend people not miss?

For the very adventurous traveler I recommend Papua New Guinea above water and below and Madagascar

Both are places with disappearing indigenous cultures where the rich biodiversity of the natural world is also threatened. Probably our grandchildren will not see much of what we would there—a very unsettling picture indeed!

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by Anne L. Doubilet

Doubilet in the waters of Papua New Guinea

From her website bio: Anne L. Doubilet is an underwater explorer, writer and photographer. She has logged thousands of dives worldwide working as a freelance photographer and dive-team member for National Geographic Magazine on 34 stories about the seas.   A member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Anne has worked in the Red Sea, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Japan, the Galapagos, all around Australia’s coasts, and throughout the Caribbean. She is a recipient of a Platinum Pro 5000 Diver Award from Scuba Schools International. Now officially “bi-polar!” she recently photographed melting and shifting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. A member of the National Arts Club, she premiered her photography exhibition Coral and Ice there and has traveled it to several locations. Author and contributing photographer of the award-winning children’s book, Under the Sea from A to Z, Anne’s work has also appeared in various National Geographic Society publications and The Explorers Journal. She was featured in Vogue Magazine August 2009 and is an “Ambassador of the Sea” in the book Ocean Portraits published in Fall 2010 from Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. A Fellow of The Explorers Club–an international organization with a one hundred year legacy of who’s who in exploration– she served on the Board of Directors as Vice President in charge of Lectures and Programs.  Lecturing at various national and international venues, Anne speaks to the issue of oceans in peril as seen through her 40 years of working underwater.

Gale Anne Hurd produces hit action movies & great dives.

As her professional reputation shoots even higher in the entertainment stratosphere, what does producer Gale Anne Hurd do to relax when she has time? She plunges into the ocean with mask and tank for luxurious exploration.

This month alone, Hurd’s meg- hit television series WALKING DEAD broke all cable records, her movie VERY GOOD GIRLS is in post-production, and her star was placed on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (between Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre).

At the event, director and explorer James Cameron extolled the intelligence of the Phi Beta Kappa Stanford grad and lauded her talents as one of the “biggest producers in the business.” She helped discover his directing talent when they both worked with Roger Corman.

Part of Hurd’s smarts includes knowing how to do things well, whether she is producing box

Diver Gale Anne Hurd with the star of The Walking Dead, Andrew Lincoln, and her own Star for the Hollywood Walk of Fame

office hits, overseeing a television series, owning and operating a wine bistro, promoting ocean conservation, or enjoying luxury diving.

The action producer of other worldly hits including THE TERMINATOR movies, the HULK, THE ABYSS and ALIENS shares a passion in her personal life.

Why do you love diving?

To me, scuba diving is the closest I can get to a different universe without leaving planet earth.

How long have you been diving ? Where have you dove? 

I’ve been diving since 1987, when I became certified in advance of producing THE ABYSS.  I’ve completed over 300 dives in the Pacific Ocean, both North and South (from California to Micronesia and Hawaii, Fiji and Indonesia, Tahiti, etc), the Coral Sea off of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Atlantic off of Florida and the Bahamas, as well as most areas of the Caribbean, including remote areas off of Saba, Dominica, St. Kitts, Barbuda, Belize, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the Cayman Islands, St. Barths, St Martin, and  Anguilla

Do you have an extraordinary moment that stands out in your diving memory?

A night dive from shore off Madang, PNG to the wreck of the Coral Queen and watching thousands of flashlight fish swarm around us right after sunset, all blinking in unison.  It was like being surrounded by 10,000 Tinkerbells!

“Diving is as close as I’ll come to leaving this world.”

What is a favorite luxury dive experience from a land base?

I made some fantastic dives from the Aman Resort in Moyo Island, Indonesia a number of years ago.  It’s a tented luxury resort on a VERY remote island.  They had an underwater nature trail there that was fantastic.

What  are your favorite live aboard dive trip experiences??

As a former owner of the Palau and Truk Aggressors, I’m a big fan of the Aggressor boats around the world.  They are all fantastic ships in great locations for diving.  I also very much enjoyed the Tiata off of Papua New Guinea, which when I was on board traveled from Kavieng, New Ireland to Rabaul New Britain.  The fish life and invertebrates are beyond compare, and the local tribespeople are fantastic, which makes the experience wonderful on a socio-cultural level as well.

What makes it a “luxury dive” for you ?

To me, safety comes first, a great, well-maintained boats kitted out for divers, and the ability and guest-friendly nature of the crew.  Being ecologically sound by tying up to buoys rather than dropping anchor on coral reefs is essential.  Having comfortable staterooms and good food is important too.

Hurd dives with Sting Rays.

Any tips for other divers to make diving more luxurious?

Buy your own equipment and keep it well serviced; after all, it really is your life support and should be treated as such.  Make sure you have the proper dive skin or wetsuit for the water temperatures you’ll be encountering.

Is there any diving you haven’t done yet, that is still on your bucket list? Where and why?

One day I’d love to dive the Galapagos and also Borneo.  Both are remote areas with sea life I haven’t encountered before — and of course, the Red Sea.  I had hoped to dive the latter when I visited Jordan a few years ago, but I came down with a terrible virus and was unable to dive.

 Why do you think it’s important that we protect the oceans?

We are the Water Planet, and if the oceans become even more unhealthy, all life on the planet will suffer.  It’s a very delicate balance now, and we must take action.

You are on the advisory boards of Heal the Bay and Reef Check. How are they helping our seas?

 Heal the Bay focuses on the health of the beaches and oceans off of Southern California, and monitors the water quality of the local beaches, scoring the safety and health of each one.  Reef Check monitors the quality of seas and sea life in over 90 countries around the world and trains local people who are stakeholders (fishermen, etc.) to dive and monitor their seas, so that they can take the lead in protecting their own seas and beaches.

Hurd at her Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena, California

You founded one of the most wonderful gathering places in Pasadena, California–  VerticalWineBistro. Is there any consciousness to how fish fits in the menu because of your diving? 

We do focus on sustainably caught seafood because of my interest in protecting the seas.  We use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood list, which is easy to access on line.  I recommend it to everyone!

In pressure filled arenas, you are very successful in your life including producing innovative Oscar-winning films, and developing and heading up the record-breaking television series WALKING DEAD.  Does diving help your professional success?

It’s a great way to relax and escape for me.  When you’re diving, you are completely engrossed in the undersea world and not thinking about work.

 Has diving helped your personal life?

My daughter and I have dived together around the world, and it’s something we love to share.  She was certified on the island of Culebrita, in the US Spanish Virgin Islands, another wonderful and rarely dived site just off of Puerto Rico.  So many of my friends dive, and it’s wonderful to take dive trips with them as well.

 Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

 Photographs provided by Hurd’s company Valhalla Entertainmnent.


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Ahhhh, barefoot luxury in Barbados !

A view from The Crane Residential Resort- a destination since 1887.

The footwear I wore longest my first day in Barbados was fins. I spent enchanted hours in the morning, scuba diving through the coral gardens in 88 degree water with schools of neon blue fish for company, off the western resort lined-and-designed Caribbean side of  the island.

But the rest of the day, I was indulging in “barefoot luxury in Barbados” – The Crane Resort way – on the eastern, more private Atlantic side of this multi-faceted vacation mecca.

I woke barefoot in a big hand-carved four-poster bed with the rhythmic  sounds of the Atlantic surf. The bed, authentic Barbadian furniture,  was similar to those used in the resort since it first opened as a hotel in 1887, triggering more than a century of legacy. Locals say that in the late 19th century, the visiting celebrity “Buffalo Bill” Cody paid for his stay by leaving a watch and the gold chain to his timepiece.  In the 21st century, 252 accommodations offer golden refuge for travelers from timezones around the world.

I padded across the marble floor to open the tall shuttered doors to my spacious balcony, part of my 1,200 square foot residential suite at the Crane Residential Resort.  My refrigerator was already full of fruits and eggs and the makings for great coffee were on the counter. A five-jet shower awaited too.  I was well fortified for a drive across island, and relaxing diving.

Dive Boat

Catamaran dive boat to explore the Caribbean waters on the western side of Barbados


When I returned to my Crane “home” from easy  diving with Hightide Water Sports, my swimsuit was still wet, so I headed barefoot to the Atlantic Ocean that looked so beguiling from my balcony. My toes were tickled as I walked a small part of The Crane’s 40 acres of landscaping (tended by over 20 landscapers) to the cliff’s edge for sweeping views.

The Crane Resort's elevator to the  private beach

The Crane Resort’s elevator to the private beach below the gardens and suites

Both a glass-fronted elevator and steps descend three flights from the cliff perch to powdery sand that massaged my toes.  In certain lights, the sand shimmers pinks.

Barbados is the eastern most inhabited Caribbean island and the Atlantic waters on the island’s eastern side can be boisterous for body surfing and bogey boarding.

Atlantic surf below The Crane Residential Resort

It was fun to frolic in waves that were more than 20 degrees warmer than the ones I had last played in, off the California coast.  I swam past the breakers and floated on my back reveling that no land mass was between me and Africa! Just leagues and leagues of beautiful sea.

To the side, I could see some old steps along the side of the protecting promontory where two boys fished.  I had been told that the steps, dating back to 1769, were a part of a private sanctuary for women who wanted to get around the societal expectations forbidding females to get wet in public. Here, they could enjoy the ocean.

On the beach today, men and women openly swim, body surf, sun on lushly padded lounge chairs or walk with rum drinks served in fresh coconut shells from the beaches’ bar. I was content to gently undulate with the swells on the bathwater warm ocean, my toes pointing to the tropical sky.

Options to wash off the sand and salt are many starting with the outdoor showers. The Crane’s grounds have several sets of swimming pools. One set of pools flows over 1.5 acres with cascading connections and jacuzzi.  Many of the Resort’s suites come with individual pools either as part of a front yard or as part of an outdoor upper level. I enjoyed The Crane Beach Pool’s proximity to the ocean sounds and sands.

One of the Crane's pools

One of The Crane’s swimming pools with Ocean view


My next barefoot foray on this deliciously naked toe day was the Serenity Spa, one of the Crane’s nurturing niches.  I received the “Travelers Paradise Express” which weaves together Swedish, Lomi-Lomi (Hawaiian) and Deep Tissue very effectively with talented Lashawn also rehydrating my dry post-airplane skin with almond lotion. I particularly liked – of course – the foot rub part!

It’s enjoyable to try massages that are signature for their geographic and cultural context like a Mayan themed treatment in Cancun, Mexico, or an amber massage in the Baltics, so I had been hoping for some kind of Barbados rum massage or pink sand defoliation (I made those up), but the actual eclectic Serenity blend of massage techniques worked wonderfully and does suggest Barbados’ international legacy. For centuries, Barbados was a key portal for the trade of goods, people, and ideas between the Americas, and Africa and Europe.

My feet were quite glad to receive three kinds of massage blended.


A Zen dinner in the Tatami room. Shoes are parked outside and our legs rest below floor level while we enjoy great Japanese and Thai food without leaving The Crane.


How could this barefoot day get any better?

Answer: Dinner in the Tatami room of the fantastic Zen restaurant on the Crane grounds, a Zagat’s favorite for Barbados. Shoes were parked outside the private room as new friends – travel writers and tourism experts – bared soles and souls with stellar sushi, sashimi, and lots of laughs.

After a day of Caribbean diving, Atlantic ocean play, pools, foot massage, and Zen repose, I returned to my suite with its own  jacuzzi bathtub, lounge chairs for star gazing and tradewinds on the balcony,  and the luscious four poster  bed.   What a welcoming sequence  to enjoy  barefoot luxury in Barbados – the Crane way!


PS: The next two days, I did don shoes when I left  the Crane, ironically to check out the big rich history of the little Island that influenced the world and the first President of the United States.  I say ironic because for  a key period,  barefoot slaves helped drive the economic prosperity of Barbados. Now it’s liberated barefoot visitors who help fuel Barbados’ top financial engine – tourism.   I am happy to kick off my shoes,  and the Barbados Tourism folks  can help you plan your own footprints in the sand.


-Lisa TE Sonne for

 Photos by Lisa TE Sonne

Follow her adventures: @ExploreTraveler

Andean Woman

Peru’s Sacred Val­ley weaves together past and present in col­or­ful fab­rics and fla­vor­ful foods that can be hap­pily explored in a day before embark­ing a lux­ury train to the most famous des­ti­na­tion: Machu Pic­chu. Fly­ing from Lima, the cur­rent day cap­i­tal, to Cuzco, once a cap­i­tal of the vast Incan empire, I trans­ferred from the mod­ern day Pacific sea­side to the cul­tural gem in the Sacred Val­ley of the Andes moun­tains. After a savory fusion lunch in Cuzco, I then enjoyed a road trip to more rural sites worth visiting  – Chimchero, Moray, and Ollantaytambo- to experience the cultural weave of old and new.
Gastronomic Pleasures

Gastronomic Pleasures

The Incans grew thousands of different kinds, sizes, and colors  of potatoes in the 15th century and even invented “freeze dried” long before the space program. Hip restaurants now are being creative at serving potatoes and all kinds of culinary pleasures these days as Peru increasingly becomes a gastronomic destination.

The waiter of Limo restaurant in Cuzco brings in an appetizer described on the menu as “Golden fried yucca balls stuffed with andean cheese in a huancaina sauce and micromix salad on the side.” My selection for main course: “Trout prepared in a sudado of its own broth, aji amarillo, tomato, onion and white wine over tender yucca.” For dessert : “Purple corn shimmered with spices, apple, pineapple and quince fruit.”

Coca tea and Cola

Coca tea and Cola

At almost 12,000 feet altitude, Cusco can take some acclimatizing. In fact check with your doctor before going from sea level  (coastal Lima) to Andean Cusco. Locals recommend the Coca tea saying the stimulant makes breathing easier in the thinner air. Warning: My doctor says the coca could show up in a drug test even three weeks later. The original Coca Cola drink so popular in the US had cocaine in it, now illegal.




Tea Time in the Andes



Tea was also offered to wel­come us to Chinchero, 35 kilometers north­west of Cuzco in the Sacred Valley. Chinchero is a work­ing demon­stra­tion cen­ter of Andean tex­tiles.   Lla­mas, vicu­nas and alpacas all pro­vide raw mate­r­ial, and dif­fer­ent nat­ural sub­stances are used for dyes. The women weave scarves, blan­kets and hats for their own use and for sale.

The colors are created from natural ingredients









Final Products

Final creations for sale


Many kilo­me­ters on a dirt road later,  Moray is an impres­sive archeological site believed to be an Incan Agri­cul­tural exper­i­men­tal sta­tion designed with tem­per­a­ture vari­ances at dif­fer­ent lev­els to test and adapt foods gath­ered within the Incan Empire.

Moray -Incan Labs for Food

Pre Incan Agricultural Center
















The Andean Village of Ollantaytambo near the PeruRail train station is well worth a visit before trekking or training to Machu Picchu. Some of the narrow streets, water channels and stone homes date centuries back to Incan times, reminders of the sophisticated irrigation systems and urban designs of the mighty Empire.

Ask your guide or hotel to help with a peek into a working home. My guide, Ruben Tello Velasque, said, “The typical family has six or seven kids, four or five dogs, three or four cats and 200 guinea pigs.” The Guinea pigs that live with the family are a popular food source.

The past and present weave in this home too. Both electrical power and a skylight offer illumination. One corner of the home has guinea pigs and in another corner a kitten sits near fabrics for sale to tourists.  A potato dish is being prepared next to a plastic pitcher under a stone wall which holds ancestor skulls. Nearby woven goods are available for visiting tourists.

Old and new, potatoes and plastic, skulls and commercial goods

Guinea Pigs and kitten in one corner

Kitten and fabrics for sale in the other corner.



A beautiful train ride away, Machu Picchu sits majestically as a monument to the Incan past. Around it, in the Sacred Valley, the new and old ways intertwine for the curious traveler to explore.

For more information on travel in Peru and for road trip bonuses between Cuzco and the train ride to Machu Picchu, contact www.Peru.Travel

Lisa TE Sonne for

All photos by © Lisa TE Sonne  from October, 2012 trip, to be used only with permission. Please add comments below about your own travels or write her  Follow her on Twitter: @ExploreTraveler


Train view of the Andes

Train view of the Andes, going through the Sacred Valley formed by the Urubamba River, called Wilcamayu (meaning sacred) in Quecha, the Incan language still used today.

Machu Picchu in the Andes of the Cusco part of Peru

Dateline:  Cusco, Peru, 11,200 feet, 11pm

Today I marvelled at the human and natural wonders of Machu Picchu, the Inca’s “Lost City” in the Andes of Peru. Chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the World in the 2007 global Internet poll, the pre-Columbian destination has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

The conquering Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, despite it’s being only 80 kilometers Northwest of Cusco. Now this “Bucket List” destination has to limit the number of visitors each day, so reservations months in advance are advised.  Only 2,500 people a day are allowed. Huayna Picchu, the adjacent tall peak that provides great overhead vistas and photos, only allows 200 people between 7 and 10 am, and 200 people between 10 am and 1 pm, according to excellent guide Ruben Tello Velosque of Setours.

Trekkers may walk the Incan trail to Machu Picchu, taking several days to a week over challenging trails. For those who want more comfort and are on tighter time schedules, there’s a one day luxury approach thanks to Orient Express and PeruRail:

Deluxe Train Service begins in the waiting lounge

Take the Hiram Bingham Deluxe Train round trip for stellar service, views, and food, and enjoy a private guide while exploring the Inca’s observatory, agricultural terraces, llamas, and temples.

The waiting area for the Hiram Bingham offers music and Peruvian champagne. Onboard free libations, including a Peruvian specialty, the Pisco Sour, are provided with live music in the lively bar car. Every passenger has a seat at a table with white linen and fresh flower.

The wonderful food and service make it a comfortable way to bookend transportation for a World Wonder, whether you do it in a day or have the luxury of more time. And to enhance the Machu Picchu experience with luxury hotels, a memorable option is to wake up in the Aranwa Sacred Valley (after a superb spa treatment the night before), and go to sleep at the Hotel Aranwa Cusco Boutique.

View of Huayna Picchu from Machu Picchu

The Aranwa bed in my room beckons now, and dreams promise to be rich with the beauties of Peru past and present, and stories yet to come.

          Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

                  All photos (c) Lisa TE Sonne

Aranwa Room

Luxury sleep in an Aranwa Boutique Hotel in Peru