So many destinations and so little time, but some things just can’t wait. If you’ve been contemplating Galapagos, it’s time to go now. Between the wildlife, scenery and active adventure options, you’ll have your adventure of a lifetime in style. Choose from very intimate ships to mega ships; land packages to cruise options.
There are so many Alaskan cruise options, it might be hard to choose the right fit for your trip to Alaska. While most vacationers visit Alaska aboard a cruise ship, there are unlimited options to consider how to make the most of your vacation.
There are ships that cater to families and lines that don’t allow children under certain ages. Sizes also range from a dozen people to several thousand onboard. Some itineraries include stops in Hubbard or Glacier Bay. While this may drive the cost up due to permits and entry fees, it also allows nature lovers to experience the Alaska they’ve dreamed of. There are cruises that spend more time in port and of course, endless itineraries with endless ports.
Some ships are really set up to entertain, while others are focusing on wildlife viewing and unique experiences. There are always themed cruises as well as multi cultural and multi generational tendencies to consider. Sometimes it may seem mind boggling figuring out how you will get the best value for your vacation dollar.
Sometimes, we like to get off the beaten path. This sleeping seal is on Main St., San Cristobel Island, Galapagos. We arrived by plane in February and when we departed the airport, we saw white pickup trucks offering rides. We also saw a sort of paved road and were told Main St. was less than a mile, so we walked. The benches in this picture were right across from the restaurants and shops of this little town. The seals were everywhere and they obviously call this island home. I was happy to let them have their space really, it meant they weren’t bothered by us or us by them. Behind the bench is the sea, a few feet in front of the bench is Main St. with hotels, restaurants and shops – a few of each.
Sometimes, we would walk on Main Street and see more than a hundred seals hanging out on the sea wall, on the many benches and even playing on the children’s slide and play area. They did make us feel like the outsiders since the locals let them bask wherever they like.
Charles Darwin certainly chose the right place to study animals. They have no fear of humans because they’re cherished by their community. This is not a place to wing it; have a travel agent help you plan your time to the fullest.
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Extreme sports, New Zealand’s draw for many, will take place on land today. The Sky Tower offers both sky walks and sky jumping. I actually got up the nerve to sign up to sky jump from FLOOR 56 of the tower. When we arrived, we walked by a giant bulls eye on the sidewalk; now I know what it’s there for – my landing but at the time I didn’t really get what I was in for. Another tip off should have been at lunch when the four “jumpers” in our group of many, were told that NO alcohol could be consumed prior to the jump.
Blissful ignorance got me through lunch and down to the basement level where we were each weighed at least twice after removing absolutely every accessory that would come off and take flight on its own. The eyeglasses were attached then taped to a lanyard which was then clipped to a special jumpsuit hook. Absolutely no personal belongings were on our bodies and a metal scanner was used to insure we didn’t forget to remove even a single coin.
We were then covered in harnesses and strapped so tight that I thought I would burst. If my stomach wasn’t nervous enough yet, this did the trick. I saw a shirt for sale that said “I almost jumped” with a picture of a giant chicken on it. I made a mental note to purchase the shirt when I came back down in the elevator after chickening out.
The next thing I knew, we were in the glass bottomed elevator and the guide pressed Floor 56, then he waved goodbye and was gone. As we zipped up the building, we watched the ground below getting further and further away and pretty soon, it felt like we were looking down from space. The door finally opened into a hallway with a sign point to the dreaded Sky Jump area.
Doug, a representative from Air New Zealand, and the only guy in our group of four, agreed to jump first. He went into a glass room where yet again his weight was checked twice, each of his shoes were tugged on by two employees to be sure they couldn’t come off, and his eye glass straps were checked. The harnesses were checked and tightened once again and a Go Pro was snapped onto his wrist. I was still OK with this – since it was him.
The next step was for Doug to step out onto this platform to prepare to jump off the side. When I ever saw the wind whipping his jump suit arms and hair around, reality set in. I just wanted to get this over with and get that CHICKEN Tshirt before moving on. After all, the Sky Tower also has a huge casino, pubs, shops and plenty of other things to do. All of the sudden, Doug was gone. He had stepped off the side.
They called me into the room. While I let them do all the same checks, I thought about that wind some more and I told my guide that I needed to jump right away or forget it. (That T shirt was waiting for me). She said there was no need for backing out and we finally walked out onto the plank. I was told to hold the two poles and face out. The poles were placed so far apart I couldn’t reach both, so they told me to just hold a rope. At the count of three, I was told to just walk off the edge. “You mean you won’t push me? I thought somehow you would make that last move, not me!” She told me it was time to jump and I did, screaming all the way to that bul’ls eye. It was the craziest and most exciting moment of my entire life. I was so glad it was over, yet so sad it ended so quickly.
Even though I successfully made the jump, I walked inside and got that T shirt, the one with the chicken on the back. What a way to start my Kiwi Adventure!
Antarctica has a short travel window, lasting from December through February each year. A number of cruise ships schedule expeditions during that period, as well as a few land based providers (who still travel by ship). While all the ships offer wildlife viewing and possible encounters, there are huge differences in the ship size, feel, and atmosphere.
Two adventure companies stand out with me as the most comprehensive and educational when it comes to Antarctica and one is having a huge weekend sale. I will be open all weekend to accommodate clients who wish to take advantage of this great offer. I will also add a little incentive to guests who book with me during this sale period. Call today, this offer will only last for three days.
Step out of the Box: Don’t just think Summer in Alaska
The climate across Alaska surprises most visitors. During the winter, while the far north sees
temperatures as low as 50 below zero (not a typo), Anchorage tends to see temps and precipitation similar to Maine. The weather in Ketchikan and south of Anchorage including the Inside Passage rarely goes much below freezing and is similar to that of sistering cities of Victoria, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington. With rain forests and mountains bordering the sea, the clouds somehow add to the beauty of the seaside towns like Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, even on a cold and rainy winter day. This is perfect weather for the outdoor enthusiast. We tried dog sledding, skiing and snow shoeing at Alyeska Resort in February.
With 12 hours of daylight by late February and March, the locals and tourists in Anchorage enjoy the Rhondy Festival with a full carnival, including rides and food vendors, as well as performances, tournaments and family activities. I was shocked to see both cotton candy and sausage trailers next to the ferris wheel in the middle of winter but it works. By the way, those sausages, you can choose between pork or reindeer sausages.
The ice sculptures are more magnificent than any First Night Celebration in the world and, like the sand castle contests of the Atlantic Ocean states, the variety and uniqueness made me want to stroll the streets of downtown Anchorage again and again.
The locals just love a good time. The Rhondy is wrapped up with a Trapper’s Banquet where the man with the longest beard is honored. Other guests often wear a beard that night too, just because they can.
On the final day of Rhondy, which happened to coincide with the Iditarod Ceremonial Start, about 3000 participants enter the Running of the Reindeer competition. This event is similar to the Running of the Bulls in Spain but much safer. Tourists, military, high school kids and men and women all have their own start. They run about five blocks through downtown Anchorage trying to stay ahead of the approaching antlered reindeer running behind them. This event lasts less than an hour, yet several hundred people come out to cheer on the runners who wear anything from fur speedos to super hero costumes. It reminded me a lot of the Bay to Breakers Race in San Francisco each May.
I barely mentioned the main event, The Iditarod Race and a week full of events leading up to the race. Read about it in my blog.
Less than two hours outside of Anchorage, one of America’s most scenic roads, Turnagain Arm, is a must see area during winter or summer. On this crisp February day, the temperatures were hovering at about 20 farenheit, the wind was calm and the blue sky was the perfect backdrop. It makes me look forward to reaching Alyeska’s winter playground.
The mountains, grew taller and closer as we left the city, soon towering over the road in all their glory. Pristine white snow seemed to cling to the peaks, ready for an avalanche at the least change in conditions. With mountains on both sides, above lakes and meadows, the scenery was endless and flawless.
The gullies below showing the route the previous snow slide had taken, proved the need for a knowledgeable guide for those who wanted to back country ski, snowboard or snow shoe on the east side or snow machine on the right. The snow machine like to play dare with the mountain by racing straight up as fast as they can go; as soon as the stop, they make a 180 and ride down before the snow follows.
On the other side of the road, the skiers and snowboarders are enjoying the deep snow experience too. Many have their dogs along, sometimes pulling them up the hills and sometimes just playing together along the trails or off the trails. Each skier will carry a shovel and wear a GPS locator, as the risks are high in this adventurous sport. With twelve hours of daylight, even in February, they can get in a full day of skiing one day and a full day of ice climbing another day.
Most people consider visiting Alaska during the summer. Coming from New England, I decided to visit in the winter time. The weather in Anchorage and the Seward area is pretty similar to my home state of New Hampshire during the winter months and the scenery can’t be found anywhere else on earth.
My favorite part of traveling is getting to know the locals and seeing their scenic land and how they live. While July guests to Alaska have the benefit of warmer weather and more cruise and train travel options, the bustling city looks nothing like the home the locals love during the other ten months of the year.
We arrived in Anchorage for the last week in February to participate in the festivities leading up to the Iditarod dog sled races. While in town, we took the beautiful Turnagain Arm scenic road to Seward then on to Alyeska Resort and Ski Area for a few days on the slopes.
While in Alyeska, we went dog sledding at night. The snow is so white and pure that it looks like there are diamonds sparkling through it. Even late at night, a field of snow has sparkles that light the way. The dogs, naturally nocturnal animals, train best at the lower temperatures during the night and while their energy is highest. It was about 10 degrees farenheit during our mush, which was chilly, although we came dressed properly and were able to enjoy the clear skies, the sound of the snow under the skis and the beautiful snow cover. I’m sure this authentic experience could only be found in the winter months.