Get Away to Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast!

by Nancy Mueller
( September 7th, 2015 )

Sunset Savor

If savoring the pleasures of food, wine and travel are high on your list for the Fall season, why not plan a September weekend getaway to Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County? Hosted by the editors of Sunset Magazine, this year’s 6th annual event runs from Thursday September 24th through Sunday September 27th.

For this “ultimate epicurean adventure,” expect to enjoy world-class wines, delectable farm-to-table cuisine, demo sessions with culinary celebrities, educational seminars and fun entertainment in beautiful, historic surroundings.

Here’s how to make the most of your visit:

Getting There

Start your road trip of the central California coast by exploring the sleepy little beach communities along the way. On my first visit last Fall, I flew into San Luis Obispo and picked up a car rental for the short, scenic drive through the heart of central California wine country to my hotel destination, Best Western Plus ShoreCliff Pismo Beach. With spellbinding views, soft, coastal breezes, and the sound of waves kissing the shore, I could have easily spent the long weekend here from my perch above the Pacific Ocean.

View from Best Western Plus ShoreCliff Pismo Beach

But as wonderful a retreat as that might have been, I would have missed out on the fun activities ahead. My multi-day adventure had just begun . . .

Opening Night 

The 2014 opening night kicked off at the famed Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle

Once the summer residence of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and his mistress, actress Marion Davis, today the Hearst Castle is a California Historical Landmark and State Park. Named ”La Cuesta Encantada” (Spanish for “The Enchanted Hill”) by Hearst, the lavish estate epitomizes the romance of the 1920s and 30s, showcasing magnificent gardens, premier art, grand rooms within and patio settings with stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Limousine Coach Hearst Castle

For a glimpse of what it must have felt like to be a guest here, we arrived via our limousine coach for the 5 mile winding drive to the hilltop.

Hearst Castle Drive

Upon arrival, we sampled Sunset’s Gold & Silver winning wines paired with international cheeses and charcuterie as we watched the sun slowly slip from sight behind the hills of San Simeon.

Hearst Castle Sunset

This year, the all-new Strings at Sunset, promises to be an equally exciting evening with the opening gala held at Vina Robles Amphitheatre, where legendary Beach Boys’ co-founders, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, rocked the house in 2014.

Enjoy an evening featuring award-winning 2015 wines together with tasty appetizers. Meet and greet California cuisine personalities Mary Sue Milliken, co-chef/owner of Border Grill Restaurants & Truck and Louis Maldonado, Executive Chef of Spoonbar. Then plan on dancing the night away to musical performances by String Theory and Spags.

Adventure Tours

Pismo Beach Clambake

Thursdays and Fridays are all about adventure at Sunset Savor the Central Coast. I opted to go with an authentic clam bake at SeaVenture Beach Hotel and Restaurant in Pismo Beach. Visitors quickly tossed flip flops aside, feeling the warm sand squish between our toes, simply soaking up the ocean view on a spectacularly sunny Central California Coast day.

The Soul Sauce Band

While The Soul Sauce Band kept us entertained nearby, SeaVenture’s Chef Casey Walcott began prepping for the day’s main event: a traditional clambake beachside.

Chef Casey Walcott

For this year’s options, head seaside again, this time to Avila Beach, or visit Bristols Cider House in Atascadero to tour the facilities before enjoying your cider-paired lunch – unless you’d rather have an exclusive tour of Hearst Castle, followed by lunch and wine tasting at Hearst Ranch Winery.

Next, enjoy your free evening exploring downtown San Luis Obispo. Stroll down Higuera Street, the main area for boutique shopping, artisan crafts, dining and entertainment to unwind before resting up for the next day’s star attraction.

Historic Santa Margarita Ranch

Set on one of California’s oldest, continuously working cattle ranches, Santa Margarita Ranch, our two-day Main Event opened with a ribbon cutting, Chumash Indian blessing, photo op and hosted breakfast.

Santa Margarita Ranch Steam Train

For an overview of the ranch and its history while enjoying the stunning scenery, be sure to hop aboard the on-site steam train that includes original coaches from Disneyland. Enjoy unlimited rides as you listen to a narrated tour by train conductors.

Over the next two days we wandered the grounds, chatting with food and wine purveyors in the Marketplace while sampling wines paired with small sweet and savory bites.

Wine Tastings Sunset Savor the Central Coast

We stopped in at Winemaker Central for wine-tasting and Riedel wineglass seminars with the region’s leading wine experts.

Chefs Tanya Holland and Fabio Viviani

And at Chef Central, celebrity chefs Fabio Viviani and Tanya Holland provided culinary entertainment and wizardry while demonstrating how to make our own duck sausage (Viviani) and creole shrimp and grits (Holland).

Chef Tanya Holland's Creole Shrimp & Grits

Many thanks to my host, Sunset Savor the Central Coast, for the chance to explore the wonders of San Luis Obispo County at this fun event.

Want more information on how you, too, can plan your perfect September getaway? Visit Sunset Savor the Central Coast for details.

Taste. Sip. Indulge. Sunset Savor

Wander on!


Tip: Be sure to bring your appetite!

What about you wanderboomers? What are your favorite spots and events on California’s Central Coast?











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Vacation on the Romantic Danube with Viking River Cruises – Part I

by Nancy Mueller
( August 17th, 2015 )

Cathedral in Esztergom

If you’re like many wanderboomer fans of the PBS hit series, Downton Abbey, you’ve seen the sponsored commercials for Viking River Cruises, enticing you to explore exotic destinations from the deck of one of their deluxe ships. No doubt you have imagined yourself cruising down the Danube, Rhine or Seine Rivers, perhaps a glass of wine in hand, wistfully watching the world go by.


Earlier this summer I had the chance to live the dream aboard a Viking River Cruises’ longship on an 8-Day Romantic Danube Tour from Budapest to Nuremberg. So did the experience live up to my dreamy-eyed vision of a European river cruise? Here’s what I discovered . . .

Exceptional Service

Viking River Cruises

My first clue of Viking River Cruises’ extraordinary customer care began with email correspondence from my Customized Travel Coordinator who arranged my flights and airport transfers. Days later I received a package containing a leather luggage tag and stickers, my personalized “Itinerary & Departure Information” booklet and a “Danube River Destination Guide” of site descriptions and fascinating facts about the art, history and culture of the sites on our itinerary.

Cap't. Oskar & Crew

And that was just for starters. Upon arrival, I was greeted at the airport by a Viking River Cruises’ host who cheerfully whisked me off to the ship without delay.

On board, the entire ship staff, from the Captain to Operations Manager and Reception, Cruise and Concierge Directors, Cabin Attendant, dining and culinary crew, deckhands and maintenance personnel ensured that we would indeed get to “Explore the World in Comfort,” as the company’s tagline promises.

Comfortable Surroundings with Panoramic Views

Viking River Cruises Veranda Stateroom

Wandercruisers have a range of cabin options available on Viking River Cruises. My veranda stateroom included a French balcony which I highly recommend for those moments when you want to enjoy river meanderings from the privacy of your own deck. Or for ultimate luxury, spring for the Explorer Suite with a private wrap-around veranda for 270° views.

The cabins come with ample storage for belongings, a comfortable bed, flat screen TV and premium entertainment package, plus plenty of personal touches, like fresh fruit and bottled water refreshed each day, a heated floor in the bathroom (with a superb hot shower and plush towels) and robe and slippers upon request.

For dining, we had the option of having a casual meal on the Aquavit Terrace with both indoor and outdoor viewing at the bow of the ship or the ship restaurant with more elaborate meal options and expansive river views.

The ship’s sundeck with shaded lounging area, walking track and putting green, proved to be a popular place with the 184 guests on board for river viewing, reading and sunbathing, while the bar and lounge area provided a relaxing, entertaining venue after daily excursions.

Sylvie - Viking River Cruises

The small library was a lovely spot to sit and browse through books that covered the regions along our cruise or to pick up a copy of the daily news: Britain Today, The Canadian or USA Times.

With so many places to explore on board, it didn’t take long for me to feel right at home.

Entertaining Programs

Before enjoying the many included and optional excursions on the cruise, we were treated to a variety of presentations designed to enhance our cultural experience. Captain Oskar answered questions about our ship, the Viking Longship Tor, while the culinary crew showed us how to make apple strudel.

We learned how to order coffee in Vienna as well as how to speak a few essential words and phrases in German. “Ein bier!” “Danke.” “Wo ist die toilette?”

Evening programs included local musicians playing tunes of the region and opera singers singing a medley of songs from well-known operas, creating a fun, festive atmosphere aboard the ship.

Delicious Cuisine

Kitchen Crew Viking River Cruises

Having delectable meals that reflected the regions we visited, combined with exceptional service from our kitchen and dining staff, made for memorable dining on our cruise.

Kitchen Staff Viking River Cruises

From first courses like a Hungarian Farmer’s Plate (salami, ham, mixed pickles and körözött, a spiced cheese dip)

Viking River Cruises

or Seared Quail with Asparagus Risotto with glazed cherry tomatoes, to main courses such as Zwiebelrostbraten (say that three times! Viennese roast beef) & Crisp Onions with mashed potatoes, onion sauce and pickled cucumber, or Grilled Marinated Perch with couscous, raisins and balsamic brown butter, accompanied by recommended regional wines, to desserts liked Crisp Dark Valrhona Chocolate Tart with mango salad or Esterhazy Cake, Linzer Torte or Warm Apple Hazelnut Crumble with malted whiskey ice cream,

Dessert on Viking River Cruises

the food was deliciously prepared and beautifully presented.

Fayth - Viking River Cruises

And for special requests and dietary needs, vegetarian options, cheese plates, Caesar Salad, Sauteed Salmon Fillet, Roast Chicken Breast and Seared Prime Rib Eye Steak were always available.

Niki - Viking River Cruises

Delightful Comaraderie

Comraderie with Viking River Cruises

When asking other guests what they liked most about the Viking River Cruises’ experience, I discovered that for many passengers having the chance to mix and mingle with the others on board was a definite highlight.

Larry & Gail on Viking River Cruises

The open-seating arrangement meant guests could sit anywhere we chose for each meal. I met couples and families from California, Arizona, South Dakota and Florida among other U.S. states, as well as from the U.K.

Excursions to Beautiful Destinations

Krems on the Danube - Viking River Cruises

Each evening we received a briefing about the next day’s coming attractions with suggestions for things to see and do in every location. Whether exploring ports of call independently or on guided tours, we enjoyed city overviews on foot and by bus, excursions to architectural treasures and historic sites, plus stops at popular eateries and outdoor markets.

For more on the wonders we witnessed on our 8-day cruise, stay tuned for Part II of my Romantic Danube Viking River Cruise!

Many thanks to Viking River Cruises for hosting my Romantic Danube experience.

Wander on!


What about you, wanderboomers? Which Viking River Cruise would you like to take?


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How to Pack Light for Your Luxury Cruise Adventure

by Nancy Mueller
( August 5th, 2015 )

Pack Light

Over the last two years my mantra has been “Pack light. Pack light. Pack light.” I ditched my DSLR camera in favor of a small point-and-shoot, then scaled down further with an iPhone 6. I swapped out my paperbacks (because I could never just take one) for a Kindle. I gave up my clunky laptop in favor of a MacBook Air. And I replaced my trusty Travel Pro with a Traveler’s Choice Sedona 21” Spinner.

Even so, I’m still often asked how I manage to trot around the globe with only one TSA-approved carry-on bag and a personal item, e.g. handbag. Admittedly, some destinations are easier to pack for than others. Hawaii anyone? Just tuck in a couple of T-shirts, a few wrinkle-free dresses, flip flops and a bathing suit and you’re good to go for at least two weeks.

Pack Light Summer

When it came to packing for my 8-day European Viking Cruise earlier this summer, I toyed with the idea of checking a bag for the trip. But in the end, I stuck with my original resolve - to pack light and only take a carry-on bag and personal item, which as it turned out, worked just fine.

Pack Light Viking Cruise

To pack light for a value luxury cruise to a warm destination (Let’s skip Antarctica for now), here’s how I make the most of my carry-on bag and personal item – and how you can do it, too:

Travel outfit

  • Long jeans

  • Tank top

  • Long sweater

  • Scarf

  • Closed-toe shoes (also recommended for travel safety), i.e. tennis shoes which doubles as my walking and workout shoes (Travel tip: Wear your heaviest shoes rather than carry the weight in your luggage where they also take up too much room)

REI First Aid Kit

Packing List for 21” Carry-On Bag


  • Underwear

  • Nightie & robe

  • 4 Dresses

  • 2 pairs of pants

  • Yoga pants & top

  • 3 long-sleeved shirts

  • Light sweater

  • 2 tank tops

  • 8 pairs of sneaker socks

  • Rain jacket

  • 2 pairs of sandals

  • Flipflops

  • Bathing suit


  • Make-up/remover wipes

  • Flat-iron

  • Contact lenses

  • Hand, body & facial lotion

  • Sunscreen

  • Razor

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss

  • Deodorant

  • Comb & hairbrush

  • Hair ties

  • Q tips

  • Earplugs

  • Small sewing kit

  • Small manicure kit


  • Sunhat

  • 3 Scarves

  • Costume jewelry

  • Small handbag

  • Small fold-up umbrella

First-aid Kit

  • Band-aids

  • Sterile gauze pads

  • Neosporin ointment

  • Lip balm

  • Eye drops

  • Antiseptic towelettes

  • Moleskin

  • Tiger balm

Personal Item (Baggallini Bag)

  • Kindle

  • MacBook Air

  • iPhone 6

  • iPod

  • Canon G-16 point-and-shoot

  • Hard drive back up for downloading images

  • 2 – 3 extra memory cards

  • Chargers/cords/extra batteries for first five items on list

  • International plug adapters

  • Notebook/journal and pens

  • Host/destination information

  • Travel documents/passport/driver’s license (Travel Tip: Carry copies of important documents and passport in a separate place, like your carry-on bag)

  • Small amount of cash and credit cards

  • Emergency contact information

  • Snacks: Power bars, dried fruit & nuts, dark chocolate :-)

  • Vitamins/medications

  • Sunglasses

  • Prescription glasses

  • Business cards

What I Wish I Had Packed

  • Light jacket

  • Small daypack

Q: What about shampoo and conditioner? Facial cleanser?
A: Since TSA applies the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule, i.e. each passenger is allowed 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-lock bag limited to 3.4 ounces or less of liquids, creams, gels, aerosols and pastes per container, and most travel carriers and/or destinations provide small toiletries, only carry the liquids you can’t live without.

Q: What if I want to bring home some souvenirs?
A: Remember: think light! Save the heavier souvenirs for shipping home or purchase on-line when you get home. Jewelry made by local artists, small packs of savory spices (like paprika from Hungary), scarves, CDs (Yes, some people still buy these) and sweets from the region all make lovely gifts.

Q: But how can I stay a fashionista with only two pairs of sandals, flipflops and tennis shoes?
A: Whatever you wear, wear with confidence!

In case you missed these previous posts on packing tips, check out:

Favorite Travel Items to Lighten Your Luggage – Part I
Pack Light with Favorite Travel Items - Part II

For more information, visit:
TSA Travel Information

Wander on!


What about you, wanderboomers? What else should I add to my list?

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