Which Alaskan cruise is right for you?

Which Alaskan cruise company is right for you?

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.

Mid sized cruise ship
Alaska mid sized cruise ship

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.

Start by listing the experiences you hope to enjoy like Glacier BayRead More
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Seals own the benches in San Cristobel Galapagos

San Cristobel Seal on his bench
San Cristobel Seal on his bench

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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South Dakota Vacation Ideas

The Black Hills of South Dakota- Vacation Destination

The Black Hills of South Dakota are best known for Mount Rushmore National Park, but there is so much more to see and do there.  Come along on my four day adventure and see the highlights with me.  The main purpose of this trip was to introduce my four year old grand daughter to the four presidents in the rock.  She had been asking about Mount Rushmore ever since I picked up a sweater there a few years ago and it was time to let her experience exactly what the rest of us loved about the Midwest.

Buffalo and calf crossing road
Buffalo and calf crossing road
Buffalo Traffic Jam Custer State Park
Buffalo Traffic Jam Custer State Park

Our first stop was at Custer State Park, located about twenty five miles south of Rapid City.  The Wildlife Loop, the home of the largest buffalo herd in the world, is a must see for every visitor to the park.  Allow plenty of time for traffic jams and unscheduled stops, you’ll be glad you did.  When it was finally time for us to weave our way through the herd, we prayed this buffalo wouldn’t ram and scratch at us like hedid to another red car that came from the other direction a few minutes earlier.

On this day beautiful day in South Dakota, the herd was just south of the small visitor center.  It does move freely through the park.   Once we passed this large herd, we enjoyed walking out to a prairie dog town.  There, we listened to all the squeaking and squawking as they warned each other to return to their tunnels.  We were able to still get a good look. Read More

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Foreign family travel destinations for all age groups

Mount Rushmore South Dakota
Mount Rushmore South Dakota

When considering family destinations, keep the flight time and ease of communication at the forefront.  If this is a first international trip for children, this is especially true. While its important for them to experience cultures and people with a different way of life, it’s equally important for them to love the vacation and become truly interested in travel for the experience of tasting the world.

For east coast travelers, Amsterdam is a quick and easy option.  With non-stop flights from Boston, New York and Dulles, to name a few, departures will likely be in the early evening resulting in a morning arrival.   Plan fun and easy activities on Day One to allow for an early bed time that will get everyone on track with the time zones.  The most common local transportation for families is by bike.  Plan to ride as often as possible on the mostly flat, well marked and super safe bike routes along the country side.

For west coast travelers, Hawaii may be the perfect family getaway.  Participate in a luau on the beach. Experience the dances and customs of island people at the Polynesian Culture Center. The PCC is at least a full day out event.

All US locations will have an easy flight to Tennessee to see Opryland Graceland and Dollyworld. Focus on music by seeing a concert by having a tour of Nashville.  If you have extra time, take a paddle boat cruise up the Mississippi.  Be sure to check dates that will accommodate families and children.  Consider taking Grandma along for a multigenerational vacation.

The US National Park system truly has something for everyone.  Choose which park to visit after considering each family members interests.  For younger children, hiking should be short and easy, leading to animal viewing locations.  A great choice is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, with lodging at nearby Custer State Park.  Older kids will enjoy walking the Freedom Trail in Boston.  Fourth of July visits will include fireworks and festivities that highlight our nations independence.

A weekend away, in a resort with a pool might be just right for the finicky eater and sleeper.  This will allow them to see the fun and excitement of being away from home, without the stress of a flight.  Be sure to pack all the favorites right into the car (blanket, pillow, favorite cup and snacks).


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Feast of the Three Wise Men Cologne Germany

Today is the Feast of the Three Wise Men, whose remains are said to be buried in the Cathedral in Cologne. Each hour a mass is held with the church bells chiming throughout the town square.

This is the biggest church in Europe, having been spared during WW2. There are bullet holes evident on the exterior facade along with some blackened walls from coal use, but still it is a beautiful and well cared for piece of history.

Today, four couples were being honored in a special service to renew their wedding vows too. During the services, the church was still open to guests who could view from a distance. Churches like this make Roman churches seem small.



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Azores Vacation-Ten reasons to visit

azores view of lakes
Azores mountains and lakes

There are at least ten reasons to plan an Azores vacation.

1. Location.  The Azores are a chain of nine islands located about 1800 miles east of Boston and non stop flights are available year round from Boston and Toronto .  Seasonally, there are also direct flights from Montreal and Oakland California.  The flight from Boston only takes four hours.

2. Long tourist season.  For tourists who are looking for a temperate climate during the shoulder seasons, the Azores might be a perfect ft.  Temperatures range from about 50 degrees in January, it’s coldest month, to the high 80s in August.  Read More

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Winter Fun in Alaska

Winter Fun
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

Wendy in Seward
Wendy in Seward

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.

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Will I have phone and internet on Alaskan cruise

Will I have phone and internet coverage on an Alaskan Cruise?

Phone and internet will be available onboard intermittently aboard most ships enroute to and in Alaska but coverage will vary depending on the location to land and other factors.  While things will vary from ship to ship, satellite phone service is available onboard many ships at a cost of about $8.00 per minute when phone calls are absolutely necessary.   If you do need to make a phone call from your stateroom, instructions are available on the phone and it’s not difficult.

Alaska cruise day at sea

Alaska cruise day at sea

Most ships also have a wifi package for guests.   While most of us want to relax and unwind onboard, we also like the comfort of having our cell phone close at hand for picture taking and keeping track of the time.  But what about the other functions we use it for?  It might be reasonable to purchase a package for about $100 which will give you enough data to check emails a few times daily, as well as look at some website.  I met students who were taking online courses and they were able to get all of their class work done with that package.  It’s just a matter of not wasting time and clicking through too often.  Obviously, streaming will eat up your plan in a matter of hours webpage.  While internet may be available during sea days, it will be very slow as compared to times when the ship is in port.  The cost was about $55 for 100 minutes of usage or 75 cents/minute.

Leaving Seattle, United States guests will continue to have cell coverage for an hour or more prior to entering Canadian Territory.  Once in Canada, my Verizon phone sent me a message advising me that I had left my home territory and additional prices would apply should I decide to phone, surf or text while in Canada.  Upon arrival in Alaska, US rates apply on cell phones and internet for those devices with a package.  In the case of this 7 day cruise, we were in US territory for about 5 days.  If you plan on a land tour while in Alaska in summer or winter, your phone will normally work just like at home, but check with your provider to be sure your package includes the 49th.

Most days, ships will be in ports of call that do have free wifi options right in town.  These are often within walking distance of the ship and most often include a public library, many that will also offer computers for a small fee.  For many people who don’t want to be surfing while onboard ship, this will be enough to check emails and take care of a few items from the real world.

Your best precaution will be to contact your provider prior to leaving home and knowing exactly what your plan will cover on both your phone and hotspot, if you have one.  While there are still a few ships that offer internet to guests, this is not the norm and even then there will be days when there simply isn’t a way to communicate with those outside the ship.


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Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for an Alaskan Cruise

Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for your Alaskan Cruise

Orca in Glacier Bay
Orca in Glacier Bay

Ugh, that sticky subject when planning a vacation; it comes up eventually every time you travel.  Maybe you are one to plan a budget in advance and try to stick close to those numbers.  You might be one to pull a number out of a hat, book the cruise right at your limit and not plan for excursions and ship board expenses.  Another personality will just put it all on the card and figure it out later.

Knowing in advance what your expenses might be will help to plan your trip and enjoy it to the fullest.  Factors to consider are broken out below, plan out your wish list as you go down the list. When budgeting, though, work in order of your personal priorities.  This will help to determine the cruise line and sailing that is right for you.

The reason there are at least a dozen cruise companies sailing the Alaska coast successfully is the differences and markets they tend to attract.  Let a travel agent help you explore which one is the best fit for your next vacation.

Ship Size:

More so than in any other market, there are varied ship options for your sailing to Alaska.  From 12 person yachts that can visit uncharted nooks and crannies to large floating cities with every imaginable amenity and offering.  While budget will play a role in this decision, your personal interests need to be considered to find the best fit.

Cruise Line:

Several companies sail the icy Pacific Ocean to the Bering Sea and beyond from May through October.  Choosing the best fit for you might be as easy as listing your top dream activities on board. For instance, do you want the giant outdoor movie screen to looking at the best children’s programs? This thought may lead you to or away from a particular kid friendly line.  You may enjoy privileged status with one company or you may want to gain that status for your dream future trip around the world.  Quite often, clients know if they want formal nights and country club casual attire or if they’d prefer the casual anything goes climate, how do you like to travel?  Do you prefer a set dinner time or do you prefer my style dining?  Are you looking for an inclusive drink package?  These are important differences between the cruise companies.

You could always call the cruise line directly and ask questions; they will certainly tell you all about their ships.  Will they tell you about a competitor that might be a better fit for you?  Not likely, but a travel agent will tell you.

Travel Dates Affect Budget:

If you are traveling with children, the school calendar may dictate your options for travel dates.  If you don’t mind the colder weather, like a true New Englander, May or September can offer the same experience but with fewer crowds.  Floridians might prefer July, Alaska’s warmest month.  The calving glaciers are best seen with the warmer weather beginning in late May and newborn cubs and wildlife will be more abundant then too.  Highest season in July is also highest priced but because of the warmer temperatures and longer days.

Trip Itineraries:

Alaskan cruises are generally 7 days or longer. The most common southern Alaska 7 day itineraries follow Read More

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Handicapped accessible travel needs

The World is Now More Accessible Than Ever – Explore and Enjoy It!

The world is now more accessible than ever before. Twenty percent (62 million) of the U.S. population has some form of disability, and the number of these individuals is increasing daily. We all  need to, want to, and can travel. If you’re part of that twenty percent, a world of travel awaits you.


Travel professionals such as myself who are accessible travel advocates certified by Special Needs Group www.specialneedsgroup.com, the leading global provider of special needs equipment for the travel industry, have unique, specialized knowledge about how to help individuals with disabilities enjoy a wonderful, hassle-free and memorable trip.

Here are a few tips to ensure that when your next travel opportunity arises, you are ready to go.

Outline your travel needs

Take time to evaluate the logistics of your trip in relation to your ability to keep pace. What modes of transportation will you be using? Airplane, motor coach, train, ship, transit vans for ground transfers? Make a list, referring to relevant brochures, your trip organizer or travel agent to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Now, make a list of your specific requirements. Be honest: what types of special needs equipment do you depend on at home? What do you use or need (or wish you had!) when shopping, sightseeing locally, dining out or going to the movies, attending concerts, the theater, street fairs or sporting events at home? Read More

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