America may be one of the top five favourite travel destinations for Australians, but gone are the days when a trip to the USA meant a dose of Disney, a drive down Route 66 or a trip to the Wild, Wild West.
According to leading luxury tour and cruise operator APT, an increasing number of Australians are taking a step off the traditional tourist trail to explore some of America's best kept secrets; from cruising aboard an authentic paddlewheeler through dramatic landscapes, to sailing aboard a luxury small ship through picturesque Islands, driving through deserts and navigating through breathtaking national parks.
Here's a round of five exciting new ways to discover the USA:
1. Take a River Cruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers – Meandering from Portland along the Oregon-Washington border, the dramatic landscapes of the Columbia and Snake Rivers are fast becoming one of the USA's most popular holiday destinations. Vast and unendingly beautiful, these waterways are best experienced from aboard the authentic paddlewheeler, the Queen of the West. Winding its way from Portland to Clarkston, this rivership epitomises the best of the West, with even the cuisine echoing the adventurous spirit of the region. Freshly caught salmon, locally grown produce gathered at farmers' markets, wines from vineyards on the banks of the Columbia River, and unique ice creams featuring mint, huckleberries, and cherries all feature on the menu.
Trip highlights: See the stratovolcano at Mount St Helens; visit the world-class art collection at Maryhill Museum of Art; visit the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute to learn about the past and future of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes; and sample local wines at the Kiona Vineyards.
2. Cruise the New England Islands Aboard a Luxury Small Ship – Plunging you into the rich maritime history of the New England Islands, a nautical journey aboard the boutique-sized American Star offers a unique insight into this enchanting coastal region. Fascinating museums, quaint ports and picturesque seascapes fill the days, delicious fresh seafood nourishes the soul and nights are spent enjoying onboard entertainment or up on deck gazing at a galaxy of glittering stars rippling across the waves. Departing from Providence in Rhode Island, explore the quaint appeal of Nantucket, Newport, Martha's Vineyard, and numerous other idyllic villages that are home to warm, friendly locals and an enchanting atmosphere of peaceful contentment that is contagious.
Trip highlights: Explore Martha's Vineyard; hop on Block Island's only bus – the old school bus – for an unconventional tour with an enthusiastic native guide; explore the Herreshoff Marine Museum, home to the America's Cup Hall of Fame; and visit the town of Bristol – known as the most patriotic city in America.
3. Sing the Praises of the Deep South in Style Aboard a Mississippi Paddlewheeler – Elegant, sophisticated and taken from a decadent moment in the South's rich history, there is no more luxurious or tranquil way to travel the musical cities of this mesmerising region than aboard the boutique-sized Queen of the Mississippi paddlewheeler. As you gaze ashore from one of several outdoor decks, it's easy to picture wealthy Southern belles in fine gowns standing on the grand porches of cotton plantations, fisherman donned in straw hats lazing on the banks with sapling lines, and Huckleberry Finn and Joe pushing off to freedom aboard a raft.
Trip highlights: Dance through the streets of New Orleans, led by a traditional Dixieland Jazz marching band; enjoy a guided tour of the iconic Grand Ole Opry; learn to line dance during a special Country and Western dinner; visit the Oak Alley, Rosedown and Frogmore plantations to learn about the history of the cotton trade.
4. Frontier Land – Geological towers sit upon sandy plains in a landscape where the hardiest desert cacti struggle to survive yet some of the world's most captivating landscapes and outrageous cities await. From the spectacle of Las Vegas, to the unrelenting beauty of the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, there is nowhere else on earth as diverse or as surprising as the Frontier Lands of America's West. In Santa Fe, heart of New Mexico, the Spanish influence on culture is apparent and the inspirational art that the city has created is captivating. Meanwhile, in the midst of the Mojave Desert, the magic of the native Navajo people can also be experienced. Driving through the midst of these mystifying, imposing and awe-inspiring landscapes is the only way to appreciate their grandeur, revealing why they are known as the Frontier Lands.
Trip highlights: Take a Monument Valley Jeep Tour; Visit a Navajo Hogan (home) to find out about ancient crafts and enjoy a traditional lunch; take vintage steam train ride from Durango to Silverton in a private first class carriage and learn about the remarkable local history; meet local artists and gallery owners during a tour of Santa Fe's famous art districts; and travel by limousine in Las Vegas, arriving in style at Cirque du Soleil's LOVE show.
5. West Coast Uncovered – Renowned for its warm weather and unparalleled beaches, the surf coast of California boasts some of the world's most spectacular seascapes. Leave the star-studded streets of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills behind as palm tree-lined streets change into the sublime scenery of 17-Mile Drive. From the idyllic coastal city of Monterey, a quick detour inland reveals the unrelenting beauty of Yosemite National Park, where geothermal wonders and tumbling falls await, whilst from the iconic city of San Francisco, the sensational wine region of the Napa Valley beckons. As Oregon nears, glittering seas give way to towering redwoods before heading back towards the coast, showcasing the best of this unforgettable region.
Trip highlights: Immerse yourself in nature with a stay at Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite National Park;Hop aboard the vintage 1915-17 Pullman Dining Car on the Napa Valley Wine Train for lunch and a wine tasting; enjoy a refined seafood beach BBQ at Oregon's Gleneden Beach; Visit the quaint French Prairie Gardens in Portland for a 'farm to fork' lunch.
For further information on exploring the USA in a different way, call APT on 1300 196 420, visit aptouring.com.au or see your local travel agent.