Category Archives: Groups families and solo guests

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

Land Based Extreme Adventure New Zealand

Picture of Wendy on the Sky Jump. New Zealand's Sky Tower

Screaming as I fell from the highest building in New Zealand.

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!

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).

 

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

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.

SpecialNeedsCertified_LOGO

SpecialNeedsCertified_LOGO

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

First time cruiser diary|what to expect

First time cruiser diary|what to expect

I sailed in May with my daughter, who was a first time cruiser and saw the world through her eyes.  Just arriving at the port in anticipation of boarding is exciting for a first time cruiser.  We weren’t even out of the van when our bags were taken care of; the tags we printed out last week indicated which ship and stateroom the bags would be delivered to.  After a quick ID check, we went through security, just like the one in the airport but with fewer restrictions.  Our next stop was the twenty station check in desk where we each received a key card, a map of the ship and instructions on the meeting time for the emergency drill.  If we hadn’t completed the online pre-cruise check in, this would have been a much longer and more complicated process.  Online check in is a must!

Ship preparing for departure

Ship preparing for departure

What a great place to do some people watching.  The experienced cruisers are easy to spot; they have their bottles of wine with them.  Some are carrying a case of Mountain Dew or other favorite soda.  A few people have huge beautiful bouquets of flowers, knowing the crew will supply the vase in their stateroom.  They also arrive early for check in to make the most of their vacation time and also to avoid the rush during the last hour of boarding

We see the many baby carriages and loads of assistive devices to help the seniors navigate on board.  I happen to be certified in Special Needs Travel and help arrange those rentals for people.  It makes cruising possible for people right into their 90s.  We met a solo traveler who was 95 and she was having a great time for herself.

The dress runs the gamut, as do the ages of guests as well as nationalities and personalities.  Some people are in their finest clothes, while others are ready for the pool.  Lots of groups, large and small, seem to be gathering around the boarding area.  Again and again we learn that just two were planning to travel, then a sister decided to come along, her daughter and friend added a few weeks later and before they knew it, the cruise became a family reunion.

Since we boarded at 1 PM, we had a few hours to explore the ship.  We went to the upper decks to enjoy the fabulous

Upper deck pool and hot tub

Upper deck pool and hot tub

Seattle weather for a few hours before setting sail.  We knew Alaska would be cooler and wetter.  Since the ship was still actively boarding, we had the chance to watch other guests as they arrived.  Even from our balcony, on the starboard side of the ship, we had a view of the port.  In the days when there was just a single ship in the harbor, the port side would be the one facing the port, but now, with sometimes six ships in port at any given time, the rules have all changed.

Food is always available onboard.  Formal dining rooms, although they have set hours, are open for most of the day and night.  Read more

Meet people on cruise ships-traveling solo

Whether traveling solo or with a group, you may want to meet new people while onboard  your cruise ship.   No matter what your interests, age group or heritage, there are endless opportunities to meet people on board a cruise ship.

Group canoe trip

Solos on a group canoe trip

If you feel shy, just take the first step and attend a seminar or training session. Almost everyone else in the room will have something in common with you, the session topic.  Chat with your neighbor about their interest or experience in that field.

For those with a little more nerve, go to one of the meet ups on board during the first few days.  Within the first twenty four hours on board, there were meetups for LGBT, swing dancers, bridge players, gamblers, young adults aged 18-25, singles and solo travelers and Friends of Bill.  Get to one of the meetups and just commit to stay for 20 minutes.  Again, you will have a common goal with other guests, if they joined it, it means they also want to meet people.

Choose a ship where all guests are assigned a table for dinner each night.  Solo travelers will have the most opportunity to meet people if they choose the larger table option, say 8 or 10 people.  Dinner conversations often lead to finding common interests and networking opportunities.  You already have one major dinner topic in common – travel.

Shore excursions are also a great way to meet people from your ship as well as from other ships.  Read more

Simple Steps to Avoid Illness Onboard a Cruise Ship

How to Avoid Illness onboard a cruise ship

We’ve heard this since kindergarten; the best way to avoid the spread of germs is with frequent hand washing.  What else can we do to avoid becoming a statistic?

Wash Hands Thoroughly:  Go for the soap and hot water.  Use the personal hand towels provided in the public restaurants and then drop them in the provided bin.

Aboard the Maasdam groupts gather to eat and drink

Avoid illness on your cruise by following simple steps.

Use Hand Sanitizer: Take advantage of the hand sanitizer stations all around the ship.   While I prefer not to dry my hands out by using the sanitizers, it is a much easier problem to resolve than illness.

Drink Water: Drink plenty of water, free drinking water is readily available in the stateroom, at the bars, from staff at the pool, during all meals, etc.   Make it a habit to drink water before you feel dehydrated, it really does cleanse the body.

Include Vitamin C: Have something each day that contains Vitamin C.  That might be a glass or orange juice for breakfast, a fruit drink at the pool, or a fruit salad at dinner.  Vitamin C does not store in your body, so it’s important to reload each day.

Routines and Habits: Stick with your eating routines, if you don’t generally eat three or more large meals at home, don’t overstress your body by pushing to the extremes on board.  If you know cheese bothers you at home, it’s likely it will bother you onboard.

Alcohol: Drink as much as you like, if you are a drinker at home.  Either way, try to have a glass of water to offset each beverage to keep the body hydrated.

Stay Active: In most cases, the natural act of moving about on this small floating city, especially if you make a point of taking the stairs, will burn more calories than the average person will get at home.  Add three laps around the outside deck for an additional mile.  If you’d like a structured setting, join in on some of the endless fitness programs onboard and on land.

In Port: Be smart about the street foods you purchase.  Notice the cleanliness of the food areas and also of the server.  Use common sense.

If you do get sick: First and foremost stay hydrated.  Take medicine as needed; if you didn’t bring any, get some from the ship’s infirmary.  Most ships don’t charge a fee for any services related to airborne illnesses.

Remember, it’s a very small percentage of guests that become ill.  News media reports often say the number of people who got sick, but what they don’t say is that in almost all cases, the total number is less that half of one percent of guests.  They also don’t mention the many ships that don’t have any illnesses.

Bon Voyage!

Iditarod Dog Sled Race Results Nome Alaska March 2014

Iditarod Post Start Willow Alaska

Iditarod Post Start Willow Alaska

The Iditarod Race has come to a close for some; for others the run continues. In a very tight finish, Dallas Seavey beat Ally Zirkle by just two minutes.

Dallas caught up to the front runners during the last 50 miles of this thousand mile race, taking the lead for the first time on the last leg of the Iditarod Trail.

Ally, meanwhile, having kept the lead for two days, departed Safety, the last checkpoint, just moments behind Dallas. She took a well deserved break there to care for and feed her team. As Dallas breezed through, only stopping long enough to sign in, she followed.

Our real race favorite, Martin Buser, who held the lead for much if the race, took sixth place in the end. He still had 12 dogs on his team when he crossed the finish line; the highest number out of the front runners.

Martin has a long history with the race, having completed twenty races. He won four times, a record in itself, and also held the all time speed record for ten years.

Martin is the owner of Happy Trails Kennels near Wasilla, about an hour north if Anchorage. It is the most welcoming destination I’ve ever seen.

We spent the afternoon with Martin and his team the day before this year’s race and he had all the time in the world to explain the race intricacies to us. We were welcome to interact with the dogs and also saw a short film about the race itself. In the summer, he also has a mock checkpoint for guests to experience.

We can’t wait for next year’s race. Please give us a call if you’d like to join us on this or another Alaska adventure.

Martin, thank you for sharing your passion with us.

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