Rivermen's New River rafting trips guide amateurs and avid aquanauts alike through some of the most scenic whitewater rapids of New River Gorge National River. Reverential rafters can drink up hearty eyefuls of the gorge and its abundant wildlife, weathered bluffs, and recognizable bridge, as seen on the West Virginia state Pog and quarter. The upper river excursion (4–6 hours, $124) traverses canyons on relatively mild waters punctuated by a few easy rapids. Easily navigable by group raft or inflatable duck (a kayak-like vessel that holds 1–2 people), the upper trip makes an enjoyable introduction to whitewater for families, beginner to intermediate rafters, and adolescent Loch Ness monsters. The lower route (4–6 hours, $134) quickens the pulse with more than 25 rapids, as well as tranquil pools and the requisite breathtaking scenery. Both tours will stop to provide lunch.
The Institute for Shipboard Education was born from an idea to create a floating campus that reflected the ideals of the United Nations and the realities of globalization. As Chinese shipping magnate C.Y. Tung put it, “Ships can transport more than cargo—they can carry ideas.” From humble beginnings, the program went on to attract world-famous guest speakers including Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela. Today, the cruising university onboard the MV Explorer offers two-week Enrichment Voyages for learners of all ages, with educational programming that digs deep into each port of call's culture and history. This 15-day cruise incorporates both lectures and hands-on exploration as it passes along Mexico’s Baja peninsula toward the Isthmus of Panama and Ecuador. At each port on the itinerary, available excursions range from dive trips to volunteer service projects, such as plastering houses or feeding kindergarteners (additional fees apply for shore trips). Or you can set off on your own, armed with knowledge acquired from the recommended reading list.Days 1–3: After cruising from Ensenada, Mexico, to the southern tip of the Baja peninsula, the ship anchors at Cabo San Lucas. El Arco, the city’s iconic seaside arch, forms a scenic backdrop for a day of kayaking and snorkeling.Day 6: Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala lies within easy range of Antigua, named an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved baroque architecture. It's ringed by mountains playing a very slow-moving game of duck-duck-goose. Day 7: Nicaragua’s largest Pacific port, Corinto, borders León, an old-world town dotted with 17th-century Spanish colonial churches such as the Cathedral of the Assumption.Days 9–10: Balboa, Panama, stands at the entrance to the Panama Canal—still an engineering marvel. The nearby overflow reservoir, Gatún Lake, is home to crocodiles, iguanas, and sloths.Days 12–13: Dipping toward South America, the ship docks at Manta, Ecuador, a trade city dating to pre-Columbian times. Pounding waves on Playa Murciélago create attractive surfing conditions.Day 15: The journey concludes at Puntarenas, Costa Rica, leaving you free to explore inland rainforests or head home. During each day at sea, college professors and other experts lead a string of seminars. Subjects are as varied as marine ecology, cultural anthropology, and photojournalism, and they often relate to the next port of call. The ship retains vestiges of its former life as a commercial liner. There are barstools in the 9,000-volume library, for instance, testifying to the space's former role as the ship's tavern. Despite the emphasis on education, there’s still plenty of relaxation aboard. The Wellness Center spa offers massages, manicures, and other pampering services. Nightly live entertainment offerings include an all-male a cappella group, a magician, and staged readings of old Love Boat scripts. During the day, you can even skip class to lounge by the pool, located on deck 7.See the full trip overview for more information.Read the Fine Print for important info on travel dates and other restrictions.
The Yadkin Valley Wine Tours travel among the vineyard rows and through the dark cool of barrel cellars, letting guests get up close and personal with the wineries of the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills. Chauffeured excursions by van or bus roll along back-country roads and scenic highways and make stops at wineries along Swan Creek, Shallowford Trail, Yadkin River Trail, and others.
At each winery, the guide unveils a little piece of North Carolina's winemaking heritage, explaining why the area's grape-growing climate is considered similar to that of Burgundy and the Italian Piedmont, just with much, much more distant views of the Alps. Afterward, a wine tasting lets everyone drink in the local flavor and learn proper tasting technique. Tours often follow the themes of the season, combining wine tasting with mining for gems in the summer, taking in the changing foliage in the fall, and stops at toasty fireplaces in the winter.
As the James and Maury Rivers wind through the Blue Ridge Mountains, they carry kayakers, canoeists, and inner-tube riders past sheer rock walls, boulder-studded rapids, and tree-blanketed mountain peaks. For more than 30 years, the outdoorsmen at Twin River Outfitters have facilitated adventures for explorers of all experience levels on the nearly 100 miles of these rivers in the upper James River Basin. In addition to renting watercraft for independent exploration, Twin River's team leads guided outings, including overnight excursions. The headquarters also encompass a paddle shop, where a knowledgeable staff advises outdoorsmen on gear such as boats, life jackets, and oars autographed by local salmon.
Initially planting vines for neighboring wineries, Virginia Mountain Vineyards' staff slowly began to dabble in the art and science of winemaking. Then, in 2006, they began crafting their own varietals on-site. Today, staffers tend to more than 5,000 vines across nearly 10 acres of picturesque land, plucking ripe grapes to transform into red, white, sweet, and specialty wines. Events are regularly held at the vineyards, including a summer concert series, special tastings, and trying wines straight from their barrels.
Found right on the cusp of the scenic Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Vineyard opens up its family farm during the warm weather months for musical and social gatherings. Melody mavens can park on the plush lawn or in the cozy barn, where they'll swim in the eighth notes of a lineup of lively acoustic bands, with styles ranging from the blues, country, and classic-rock tunes of Exit 162 (April 2, September 4, and October 15) to the rousing fiddles of the Blinky Moon Boys (May 21 and October 22).