Is a luxury cruise to Galapagos on your bucket list?

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.

Learn more about this and other Silversea Adventures.

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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New Zealand World of Wearable Art WOW Museum

One of many unique dresses on display in the WOW Museum
One of many unique dresses on display in the WOW Museum

Our first stop in Nelson was the WOW Museum featuring the World of Wearable Art and Antique and Unique Car displays. They do manage to have something for everyone. Born through an expansion of the local art culture and galleries, this display focuses on art that is designed to be worn.   Many of these garments are actually winners of the International Wearable Art Awards Show, an international design competition which takes place in New Zealand each September. Art is taken off the wall to adorn the body in wildly wonderful ways and choreographed into an exciting and popular show that can be seen for three weekends in September/October. Winners and other unique entries are then exhibited in the WOW museum and the entire exhibit is changed out twice each year.

A 40 minute video runs continuously in a theatre where guests can come and go as they please. It was amazing to see the choreography and creativity that go into this show. If I were in New Zealand in their spring time, I would definitely make a point of attending this show. I would even consider building a trip around this event, it’s just so unique.

One dress on display at WOW Museum New Zealand
One dress on display at WOW Museum

DSCN1039 WOW Museum (24)A walk through the museum can be accomplished in less than an hour, but it’s worth spending some time watching the show video. There is also a wonderful café on site serving varied and flavorful coffees and teas as well as food items.

My pictures just don’t do justice to this display, but I am posting a few teasers here anyway. While it’s hard to choose one thing that I liked the best, from the very versatile and unique options, I really liked the works of the American artists, pictured here. OK, maybe it’s favoritism because all of the countries had amazing ideas. See more images in the gallery.

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).


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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

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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.

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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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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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