Category Archives: US Travel

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

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

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.

 

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

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

Packing List for Alaskan Cruise

Packing list for Alaskan Cruise

I don’t worry about many belongings when traveling, since there are stores available onboard and at ports with almost anything you could need or want.  The most common item that clients say they needed and didn’t have was an extra suitcase for all the stuff they purchased.  See a winter vacation packing list for Alaska to compare.

Electronically speaking, I would be really disappointed to forget my gadgets.  Be sure you have:

Camera, charger, memory cards

Cell phone and charger (most carriers include Alaska in their US plans, but check)

Headphones for your personal music as well as any bus tours you might take Read more

Glacier Bay Alaska on your cruise ship itinerary

Cruising Glacier Bay Alaska

Glacier Bay is one of the greatest of the United States National Parks.  Unlike most parks, nearly all of the 500 thousand visitors each year arrive onboard cruise ships.  While that sounds like a huge number of people, there is actually very limited access and only a small percentage of Alaska cruisers have the opportunity to actually enter and cruise inside Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay whales

Glacier Bay Whales

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

 

Orca in Glacier Bay

Orca in Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay Whales

Glacier Bay Whales

The National Park Service permits only two cruise ships per day entry into the park and the cruise ship company pays a large sum for their permit as well as approximately $50 per person entry fee.  Prior to entering the park, one or more park rangers are delivered to the ship by skiff to escort and narrate to the guests.

Visitors may also enter Glacier Bay on foot or by kayak Read more

What to pack for a winter Alaskan vacation

I visited Alaska in February and needed to know what to pack for my winter vacation.   I kept a list of the things I brought and actually used, as well as the items that I wished I brought along.  The weather will undoubtedly be cold and there will probably be precipitation during any winter visit to Alaska.  Obviously, a lot of time will be spent outdoors to make the trip worthwhile.

My list is below:

Bathing Suit (there’s nothing more relaxing than a Jacuzzi soak after spending a cold day outdoors.

Warm winter boots and woolen socks. (I can’t say enough about the qualities of woolen socks, especially if you plan to stand on ice or snow for an extended period.)  My boots happen to be Bogs brand and they are great for water as well as for cold to -40 degrees.

Warm outerwear including a hat, scarf, winter coat, snow pants or skirt. (Most of the ladies in Alaska have snow skirts.  They look just like snow pants, but are shaped like a skirt instead.  They come in all different lengths, but if you are going to wear a sleeping bag around your body to stay warm, why not get it long enough to cover your legs completely.) Read more

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.

Iditarod Ceremonial Start|First Saturday in March

Iditarod Race Ceremonial Start 2014

Iditarod Race Ceremonial Start 2014

Each March, on the first Saturday, the Iditarod dog sled race ceremonial start is held in Anchorage, Alaska.  This is a major event for Alaskans, who consider dog sled racing their state sport.  They don’t have a football or basketball team to cheer for, but they know the mushers and even the dogs by name, discussing and analyzing their stats and strategies at dinner and at bars.  There are local favorites, of course, and even some family traditions.  The Seavey family has four different sleds/mushers entered in this year’s race.

The ceremonial starts is much like a parade in that each musher, in their actual race order claimed at the musher’s banquet, will cross the starting line on 4th Street in Anchorage with their sled and up to 12 members of the dog team.  Each team will have the musher, wearing his or her numbered pinny, as well as an honored guest riding along.  Read more

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