Skagway – Gateway to the Klondike

I consider Skagway, Alaska as one of the must-sees in the state.  I highly recommended the White Pass and Yukon route Railroad.  This depot was built in 1898 and follow the Trail of ’98.  It was completed in 1900 after the big rush was over.  The train climbs to 2865 feet.  You travel past the Gold Rush Cemetery into Tunnel Mountain past Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch (3,000 pack animals died here of exhaustion).  There is a steel bridge over the White Pass Summit.

Also in town is the National Historical Park Visitor Centre where there is a walking tour map available.  You can learn about Soapy Smith & his gang.  The National Park service has restored many of the original buildings.  Skagway’s most famous trail is the Chilkoot, its entire length taking 3-5 days to hike.

While you are in town don’t forget to taste the local brew at the Red Onion Saloon!  Have a wonderful visit to Skagway!

Tracy Arm (scenic cruising)

Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska (Scenic Cruising)

Named after Civil War general Benjamin Franklin Tracy, this narrow fjord is located approximately 50 miles southeast of Juneau.   Breathtaking Tracy Arm extends over 30 miles long, with nearly a quarter of its area covered in ice.  In fact, it encompasses some of Alaska’s largest glaciers, including the twin Sawyer glaciers, which often expel enormous chunks of ice into the waters below in a magnificent process known as calving.  During the summer when Princess ships visit, icebergs float along the surface of the glistening water in an array of sizes, from just a few inches up to three stories wide.
Protected within the Tongass National Forest, Tracy Arm Fjord is a haven for wildlife.  Black and brown bears, deer, wolves, harbor seals, mountain goats and a variety of seabirds have been spotted in the area.
As you glide through the pristine fjord, you’ll first pass by a lush forest where a number of beautiful waterfalls cascade down, and then you’ll be treated to views of snowcapped mountains and blue-tinged glaciers more spectacular than you could ever imagine.

This excerpt was taken from the Princess Cruises website.

Review of our Celebrity Solstice Cruise by Al Kruzins

The Winner Takes it All is most appropriate for this incredible class of ship. Awesome Cruise Director, Lisa Richard sang this ABBA/.Mama Mia song at the finale show. Best Cruise Director we have experienced, not a traditional Cruise Director background, senior Manager at Toshiba, with a love for theatre, toured and played in Vegas with Mama Mia, before joining Celebrity (X). One of the few female Cruise Directors at sea.

Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde, also was one of the best (a Norwegian) with an excellent command of English, great humour (It’s only me!) and even surprised everyone with a song/guitar rendition of “Brown-eyed girl” at the final show. Don’t miss this show, even though everyone has to pack.

Captain Gerry and Lisa are on vacation for 2 months, May/June 2011, I think but returning in July to Europe.

General Comments

Best ship we have ever sailed. Excellent Celebrity service, food quality, food presentation, friendly greeting by officers and staff, easy ship layout, solarium, spa was great.

Officers were visibly present throughout the ship and you don’t always see that. No heavy sales pitches or announcements.
Celebrity has hit a home run with the Solstice class, you must sail this. Princess, NCL and Carnival can’t come close. Royal Caribbean is close in many features though and our next favourite.

Best suited for mid-50’s age group, but a very good children’s program in place., People who appreciate great dining/presentation will enjoy this.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival have more activities with climbing walls, wave riders, ice rink, slides but you can’t go wrong with Celebrity.

Features

X has introduced drink packages, most other lines have not. Classic pack is $39/day plus 15% gratuity, includes waters, smoothies, special. Coffees, pop, beer/water up to $5 and wine/alcohol up to $8. Many people chose this, a good option, we did not. Other packages also available.

Dining and Wine/Dine packages also offered with good wine selection.

They had several drink specials, 3 days I think, buy one get one free from 4-5 pm, How about a yummy mudslide or sex on the ship(beach!)

We love the fact that there is no smoking in all rooms and balconies (just like Royal Carib) we did have to report some people a few times, as smoke blew into our balcony several times, Security was prompt and they were warned, third time they would be fined $250.

Real grass lawn club on Deck 15, playing bocce ball etc, besides Corning Hot Glass blowing show. They had string quartet concerts, acoustic etc on the grass, wine/cheese in lawn area, very nice, something you won’t find on any ship.

Embarkation, disembarkation was very good. We opted for walk off disembarkation, seems many others did as well, we waited 45 min.

Room

Nice linens, beds comfortable, roomy shower ( we had a Balcony 2B, Deck 6 midship- all balconies, concierge and aqua class are the same size-more amenities with the latter two though) Nice touch, night light in Solstice class bathrooms, leg shaving bar for the ladies, flat panel tv’s powered by Apple, got 14 channels (Apple computers in the iLounge)

For those of you who don’t know, there are no clocks in any ship stateroom (only on the phone), so bring your own clock, also most don’t have night lights (bring your own on other ships), we used earplugs, fan noise not high, but we like it quiet. Good size balcony with quality furniture with see through balcony railing.

Entertainment

Various additional artists performed in Deck 3 and 4 atrium open areas (good use of space) and throughout the ship. Acoustic guitar (Jana Seale) , string quartet (Adagio strings), jazz (Cheek to Cheek quartet), A Cappella quartet (Metro Park).

Great Celebrity Life lectures, Captain’s ship navigation, recycling talk, improve comedy workshop (Nancy Howland Walker) , humour (Rich Ceisler-very late adult shows except for last night), body health, detox, dance, trivia etc.

Shows: Ghostlight-Spirit of Broadway (great songs), David Meyer (xylosynthesizer-amazing), Tony Pace-vocals/impersonator-excellent, The Show (acrobatic/Cirque –unique) Pulse (up tempo, active music/dance-interesting) and finale, (variety show of previous and the big finish with Captain and Lisa)

Past Captain’s Club had great events, wine tasting, backstage tours, officer party etc.

Dining

Grand Epernay, main dining was outstanding, our waiter/assistant were efficient. Last formal night has lobster tail. They offered some specialty dining appetizers on certain days.

Food quality, temperature, great desserts, great everyday food options (shrimp cocktail, escargot, Caesar salad, salmon, steak etc- available everyday)

We went to buffet for breakfast (after workout, great equipment, quite busy in the am) and lunch, did not use dining room for those meals but others did.

Tuscan Grill- best dining experience almost ever on land or sea (well worth $30 each) on deck 5, way aft, picture window, wake view with sunset- Italian flavor, presentation/food quality over the top. Saw Murano and Silk Harvest, menus looked good, others had positive view, Blu-healthy dining for AquaClass or Suite guests only ( we heard very good, but some though it was too healthy and came for main dining)

Had great lunch at Bistro on Five (crepes soups/salads, for only $5 each) AquaSpa café (free, very healthy lunch).

Other

We used Premier parking in Fort Lauderdale, $48 incl tax for the week, had to switch lots and delays in pick-up, but priced right.

One of the best vacations ever on a fantastic ship.

Cruise Line Private Islands

Many people have asked me about the various island stops that the cruise lines make so I am posting an article with thanks to Chris Owen that is well written…. Judi

Cruise line private islands, a very safe port
by Chris Owen (RSS feed) on Feb 12th 2011 at 7:00AM

Often a highlight of a cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean is a stop at one of the cruise line’s private islands. Probably one of the safest, most controlled ports of call you might visit, cruise line private islands are consistently ranked high by passengers. Most are located in the Bahamas and each one is unique.

On every private island you will find crystal clear water, sandy beaches, water sports and activities along with beach-side service for drinks and lunch will be served. Some require tendering in from the ship, others dock at the island.

The first passengers off the ship will find a pristine beach raked and clean, along with resident workers ready to make your stay comfortable. There is plenty to do (or not do) for adults and kids and even serene adult-only areas.
Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas is Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island, under their care since 1977 when the line became the first to have one. The island features Snorkeling

Recent enhancements to the island that started in January of 2010 will continue through the end of this year. Several new island activities have been added since the project began including more than 16 wave runners, kayak rentals and an eco-adventure boat tour around the island. These are in addition to the existing snorkeling; floats; inflatable hippo slide; and parasailing.

The second phase of enhancements includes an arrival/departure pavilion, additional bar facilities; several comfort stations; a band stand; cruise program activity area; private beachfront cabanas; a kid’s play area; straw market; and beach volleyball courts. The beachfront will continue to be expanded on the island’s west end.

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas This Holland America Line island (now also a Carnival island) was originally called Little San Salvador Island and has been rated as “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine. An international bird sanctuary in the Bahamas, the beauty and serenity of Half Moon Cay is unique.

There are a variety of exciting and new activities to choose from while exploring this privately owned paradise. You can go horseback riding on the sand and through the surf, take a stingray adventure, visit the Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park, hike a nature trail or simply relax in an air-conditioned, private beachfront cabana.

Princess Cays, Bahamas is Princess Cruises private island on the south side of Eleuthera Island about 30 miles from Nassau. Princess Cays guests will find equipment for many beach activities. Water sports fans can choose from water craft such as sailboats, catamarans, paddle wheelers, kayaks, and banana boats, while those who wish to explore the island’s coral reef can rent gear for snorkeling.

Floating mattresses are available for lazily drifting in the sun, and several protected swimming areas are available on both the north and south beach areas. Beachside, reggae and calypso music set the mood, and guests can enjoy a game of volleyball or basketball, or choose to relax with a hammock, beach chair or under an umbrella.

CocoCay, Bahamas is one of two private islands for Royal Caribbean. This one is more along the lines of other cruise lines private islands with sandy beaches (duh) and a nice hammock here and here to enjoy your island-style seaside barbecue.

Tip: When you get off the tenders, there are three beaches to go to. The first one is the biggest and the most crowded. Keep walking and you’ll find the second beach, which is a little smaller and less crowded. Keep going even further and you’ll find the third beach, which is the smallest and least crowded.

Labadee, Haiti in is the home to what Royal Caribbean calls their “private destination” and with good reason. On the north coast of Hispaniola, the secure, secluded area is surrounded by exotic foliage and mountain slopes. Guests can enjoy beautiful coral reefs, a pristine public beach as well as a very nice private beach area reserved for suite guests.

A year ago Royal Caribbean International came under close scrutiny as the line planned to visit their private destination of Labadee, Haiti shortly after a devastating earthquake rocked the island. I was on board Freedom of the Seas last January when critics said it was in bad taste for the line to have cruise passengers go ashore for fun and sun while so many were suffering on different parts of the island nation. A year later, not a lot is better in Haiti and Royal Caribbean continues to call.

Castaway Cay, Bahamas is Disney Cruise Line’s private island. Unique to Castaway Cay is that the ship docks at the island, no tendering involved, which makes for a great experience. Recently updated, this one has it all.

This is Disney Cruise Line turning an island into a theme park, complete with rides, trams to get around on, gift shops plus really good food. All other private islands pale by comparison. Really.

They should build hotels here and let people stay a while. No wonder some sailings include two stops at the popular island.

If all those are not good enough for you, maybe you should just buy your own

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

I just have to share these 7 rules from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie:
1. Do not imitate others.
2. Apply these four good working habits:
             a. Clear your desk of all papers except those relating to the immediate problem at hand.
             b. Do things in order of their importance.
             c. When you face a problem, solve it then and there if you have the necessary facts to make a decision.
             d. Learn to organize, deputize and supervise.
3. Learn to relax at your work.
4. Put enthusiasm into your work.
5. Count your blessings – not your troubles.
6. Remember that unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment.
7. Do the very best you can.

7 Security Tips for Travelers

1.     Carry a purse with a locking flap or secret pocket.

2.     Don’t carry all your credit cards, bank cards & cash in one location.

3.     Copy the contact info from your Credit Cards & Interac card in case they are lost or stolen.  Also, copy your passport & put the copy in a different place or email it to yourself for easy access.

4.     On a ship or in a hotel do NOT EVER follow an employee to an area that is For Employees ONLY.

5.     Do not open your door unless you know who is there.  If it’s an employee make sure you knew they were coming.

6.     Report anything that you feel is suspicious.

7.     Do not walk the streets alone in an unknown part of town.  Use common sense and stay safe.

10 Packing Tips

Packing Tips

1. Roll your clothes – They arrive with fewer wrinkles and you can pack more.
2. Take clothes that don’t require ironing
3. Take a small bottle of laundry detergent for hand washing & clothes pins.
4. Wear dress shoes that match any outfit. Only ONE pair.
5. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
6. Co-ordinate colours.
7. Wear the heaviest of your clothes. i.e. walking shoes, jacket
8. Don’t forget a good sun hat and sunscreen.
9. Pack in a smaller suitcase.
10. Make a list of what you are taking. Don’t take unnecessary items.

Enjoy the journey and don’t expect everything to always go smoothly.
When it doesn’t, take a deep breath and go with the flow.

Ketchikan, Alaska

[flagallery gid=11 name=”Gallery”]Ketchikan is the 5th largest city in Alaska and has a population of just over 7,000.  The city is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World”.  I have visited in June, August and September and saw the most fish ever in one place in Ketchikan Creek in September.

One can take a downtown walking tour from the Visitors Bureau and through the Welcome Arch.  Along the way you can visit the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center.  It’s about $12.00 to tour both and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The hatchery releases more than 300,000 salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout each year.  When I was there I saw two injured eagles that were given a new home here.

Also, on this walk is the Totem Heritage Center (see picture).  Here there are some original totem poles from Tlingit and Haida villages from the 19th century.  There are three major locations where you can see totems: City of Saxman, Totem Bight and the Totem Heritage Center.

Creek Street is a well-known area especially in 1903 when more than 30 bawdy houses lined the creek over the years.  Today many shops line the street although you can now tour “Dolly’s House” where the most famous madam had her business.  Her house is preserved much as she left it and the inside can be seen for about $5.00.

On my third visit to Ketchikan I ventured out in a semi-submersible.  It makes is possible to see what’s below the water and the boat runs along a shallow area where there are many starfish, jelly fish and other ocean critters.  The crew will show you a few of these up close and touchable!

I don’t shop too much when I travel but I found the nicest little shop in Ketchikan, the Chinook Company at 307 Stedman Avenue www.chinookandcompany.com where I did all my Christmas shopping.  They have an assortment of gourmet wild foods, outdoor clothing and unique art.

Also for shopping enthusiasts there is a Tongass Trading center that you can see from the ship dock where you can find all kinds of unique touristy items.

Another recommended tour to take is the Misty Fjords: Waterfalls, Wildlife and Natural Wonder.  Over 2 million acres within the Tongass National Forest was designated in 1978 as the Misty Fjords National Monument.  The best way to experience this area is on a floatplane or helicopter.   You’ll see magnificent glaciers, waterfalls, lakes and sheer granite cliffs.

I would highly recommend a visit to Ketchikan and most of the ships’ itineraries include this quaint city with a wilderness feel to it.  It’s very picturesque and rustic, surrounded by a vast wilderness and impassable mountains.

Alaska’s Capital – Juneau

[flagallery gid=10 name=”Gallery”]Juneau is the only capital city with no road linking it to the outside world.  Travel in and out of Juneau is by boat or plane only.  Arriving by cruise ship leaves so little time to do everything but you can have a very fulfilling day with lots or little activity.  That’s the good part – you always get to choose how you will spend your time.

Juneau and the Inside Passage are wet so I recommend dressing appropriately.  Layering clothing makes sense and then as the weather warms up you can take a layer off.  In the spring there is usually about 3 inches of rain per month and in the fall about 7 inches of rain per month.  I have been there in June, August & September and the August week happened to be mostly rainy.  You can never tell for sure.   Dress for the wet weather and then be pleasantly surprised if the sun shines!

If you have never been to Juneau I believe a “must-do” is to go whale-watching.   You can travel out by boat and see many humpback whales and even an Orca.   The whale excursions actually guarantee that you will see a whale or get your money back!  I have gone whale-watching twice from Juneau with activity both times.  You will more than likely also see seals and other sea life.   If you are really lucky you might see a bear along the shore. 

having been through the Inside Passage three times people are amazed that I’m not bored and that I want to go back but I find it totally fascinating.  Did I mention that I am a nature lover??

Mendenhall Glacier is also a worthwhile trip.  There is a visitor’s centre there from which you can view an amazing glacier that is 12 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.  When I was there I stood for at least an hour watching the river and the glacier in the pouring rain.  It’s okay, I was dressed for it.  I met a gentleman there who has lived in the area for 25 years and loves it and his son was visiting him.  I really enjoy meeting local people whenever I travel.    You can’t walk on the Mendenhall Glacier but you can take a helicopter ride over it.  I bought a DVD which showed the view from the helicopter and it is truly amazing!  Perhaps on my next visit I will experience this.

If you like salmon then you will be in your dreams in Juneau!  You could go to a salmon bake and taste it barbecued over an open alder wood fire and also you could visit a salmon hatchery and see how these fish develop throughout their life.

In the city of Juneau where just over 30,000 people live you can enjoy the local beer.  One of the most famous places to do this is the Red Dog Saloon.  It has a saw-dust floor and a bounty (not sure if that’s the right word here) of animal heads on the walls.  It’s a memorable visit.

Mt. Robert’s Tram is a good way to view the area.  It is a 6 minute trip to the top of Mr. Roberts, 1800 feet above the city.   Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate the times that I was there so I didn’t ride the tram.

When I visited the Mendenhall Glacier I also went to the Glacier Gardens.  At 580 feet there is a boardwalk that gives a breathtaking view of Mendenhall Valley, Douglas Island, Gastineau Channel and the Chilkat Mountains.   This garden has something that I’d never before seen.  When they were clearing the area one of the forklift trucks dropped a tree and the landowner had a very creative idea to leave it there.  In fact there are many trees that are in this garden upside down and in the root area is a magnificent show of flowers.  It’s a very unusual site!  We rode in a large golf-cart type of vehicle and keep going up & up through the forest.  Coming down is via a different path and there are many colourful areas of flowers.  I was really glad I took this excursion.

There are endless choices of things to do at Juneau and I have only covered a few here.   You could visit the Alaska State Museum where there is a lot of history, art and culture from the area.   Dog sledding is popular in the area and you can visit and see the dogs, go canoeing, kayaking or even drive a hummer.  If you like to fish there is an abundance of excursions which include halibut sport fishing, salmon sport fishing or fly-fishing.  Even go on a jeep adventure if that suits you.

There is a rainforest canopy and Zipline expedition (never for me!) and a chance to pan for gold.  On my next visit I may try the 9 mile bicycle tour and beer tasting beside Auke Lake.

Whatever you decide to do in Juneau I know that you will be able to experience a full-day’s worth of adventure and want to go back.    Enjoy my pictures & ask me about my upcoming plans to visit Alaska again.