Norway Fjords Travel

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I cruised the Norwegian Fjords a few weeks ago. The scenery was amazing, as was the experience of seeing how people live in remote fishing villages.

I was fortunate to have the choice between Cunard’s ultra luxury Queen Victoria and Hurtigruten’s Kong Harrald, a medium size cruise ship/ferry service.

We chose Hurtigruten for the inland route and local experience. Spending a full day on deck enjoying the sunshine and views made it the perfect choice.

Ocean or River Cruise- The Differences

Cruise European Rivers

Cruise European Rivers

What’s the difference between an ocean cruise and a river cruise?  River cruises generally focus on cultural and historical sites.  Ports are often right in the city center with included tours and excursions of nearby castles, museums and other points of interest.

Ocean cruises offer a lot of night time entertainment as well as daytime fun onboard.  Many ports of call are at beaches and tourist spots known for shopping and dining.

While at sea, the beauty and tranquility of a distant horizon are seen while cruising.  On a river cruise, vineyards, castles, mountains and small villages catch our eye.  Read more

River cruise differences

Art Illuminations Theme Cruise on AMAWaterways

Art Illuminations Theme Cruise on AMAWaterways

What is the difference in river cruise companies?

Some ships are known for their culinary flair and others for free bicycle use.  Several new “theme cruises” set different sailings apart, from Tulip Time to beer and wine tastings to Jewish heritage and Christmas markets.  The list now includes specials sailings for chocolate lovers as well as golfers and jazz fans.  While most river cruises are geared toward adults and allow two guests per cabin, a few hold special multi-generational sailings where all family members are welcome.  Find the one that feels right to you.  Some of my favorite lines include AMAwaterways, Avalon and Viking but there are many more.

How are they similar?

Unlike ocean cruising, river cruise ships hold no more than 200 guests.  This intimate setting allows for three wonderfully prepared meals each day, cultural and historical speakers, included tours and excursions and unmatched service throughout your cruise.  Because of the lock system on the rivers in Europe, nearly every long ship is the same size.

Avalon Wine Themed Sailings

Calling all wine lovers!

Do you know any individuals or groups
who would enjoy sailing the intimate rivers of Europe
on a luxurious Avalon Waterways River as well as:

Tastings at local wineries
Onboard wine tastings
Onboard food & wine pairing with dinner
Visit a local wine village
Onboard lectures from a wine expert
SAVE $500 per couple when deposit by August 26th, 2014*

The Blue Danube Discovery

November 1, 2015

13 days, Budapest to Prague

from $3289 per person/land only

Burgandy and Provence

Paris to Cote d’Azur

11 days, March 29 and October 25, 2015

from $3549/per person/land only

The Rhine and Mozelle

October 30, 2015

13 days, Amsterdam to Basel

from $4199 per person/land only

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

Winter Fun in Alaska

Winter Fun
Step out of the Box: Don’t just think Summer in Alaska
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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.

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

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

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