May 142018
 

Alaska in one of the best cruise destination for a good reason. Amazing  scenery; more specifically, extraordinary glaciers!  Alaska has many stunning glaciers and most of them can only be seen from a ship. Other reasons go to Alaska are wildlife and vast mountain peaks. Good news, you can see all of that in one area! But, there are some differences between the glaciers themselves, so it’s important to know what to expect before you drop the huge expense of an Alaskan vacation.

 

Alaska cruises are available seasonally:Some start as early as April and end as late as September, but high season is late June through August.  Alaska is considered exotic because of the unique glaciers, fjords, mountains and a great mix of wildlife, but it is part of the U.S. and that gives people a sense of safety. Which is in important when you travel.  And, yes, the glaciers are melting, or retreating as it is also called.  Scientist estimate that collectively the states glaciers lose 75 billion tons of ice annually.

Many years ago I lived in Alaska, but it wasn’t until I took my family on an Alaskan cruise that I truly appreciated what all Alaska has to offer. The big thing was indeed glacier viewing. Memories of sailing into a tight fjord coming close to giant ice bergs, dozens of waterfalls, majestic mountains, harbor seals lounging around and bluer than blue ice silt will never leave me.

There are some things that you need to keep in mind when picking which glacier you want to visit. Most people will only go to Alaska once; I plan on going again! For a lot of travellers Alaska is a bucket list item. So, this post will break down the main glaciers a cruiser can expect to see. Most cruise lines will only go to one of these places, especially the main line ones.  So below is a quick guide of the main features of the most visited glaciers.

Glacier Bay: Not only is this spot the most popular glacier destination it is also a national park and a biosphere reserve it is also a World Heritage Site. What makes Glacier Bay great is that you spend the day transiting the national park through inlets that have been carved by the glaciers themselves.  The ship draws impressively close to these giant walls of sheer ice. These are tidewater glaciers that calve often, which is one of the biggest draws. Glacier Bay is also a great place to see wildlife. Humpback whales spend their summers here. Brown bears, harbor seals, mountain goats and sometimes even puffins are spotted here. Keep in mind, you will need binoculars to really see most of the wildlife-especially on land as the area is so big.  Glacier Bay tends to be colder and rainier than other areas. Ships are required to have a Ranger on board; which is good if you have questions or just want to know all you can about the history and the area. What  you won’t see are  the tight fjords here like you will in other areas of Alaska. For those of you who aren’t sure what fjords are:A long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs created by a glacier.

Hubbard Glacier: This is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, 76 miles wide and 1,200 feet deep. The face is up to 400 ft. tall. A truly impressive thing to behold! It is another great spot to see some spectacular calving and great for wildlife, even bald eagles and orcas! Hubbard is in Disenchantment Bay and offers great vistas and views of Mt. Elias (18,008 ft! Wow!) However, it is one glacier, no travelling up a fjord and ice debris and fog can keep your ship from getting close at all; which is the whole point.

Tracy Arm Fjord: Cruising up the 27mile narrow inlet to the twin Sawyer Glaciers  in almost magical in its sheer beauty.  Cliffs rise up to 3,000 ft on both sides, chunks of ice float upon the water that are so blue they look like glass, and I couldn’t count all the waterfalls that were everywhere. Sawyer Glacier is an active tidewater glacier that is also prone to calving. While we were there the calving was active underwater so we didn’t see any breaking but you can hear it; like thunder reverberating all around. There some wildlife here; arctic birds as well as mountain goats. If your ship sails into Stephens Pass or Holkham Bay you can spot whales, bears and eagles.  Tracy Arm lacks the multiple glaciers that you see on videos and doesn’t have the same sheer massive face of Hubbard but it’s surreal; and cold, bring a jacket!  One of the best thing about Tracy Arm is that smaller skiffs and boats can take you closer to the face of the glacier.  You can not do that in Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier.

College Fjord: This other worldly spot is home to 5 tidewater glaciers and 5 valley glaciers. The waters are calm, the fjords are majestic, snow capped mountains and lush green forests battle for attention, but what is really breathtaking besides the overwhelming presence of the glaciers themselves is the large swaths of ice/glacier  waterfalls that cut between the mountains. Expects to see several chunks of broken ice floating all around. but don’t expect to see as much wildlife as you find in Glacier Bay or Tracy Arm Fjord, although several people write about being able to spot whales off in the distance. The other drawback is that not as many ships will traverse here. If you can find a small ship to take you there it’s a great choice because you can get really close! Similar to Glacier Bay, it allows for viewing multiple glaciers at once, similar to Tracy Arm it has tight fjords and many mountains. The cruises that sail here are one way Gulf of Alaska trips between Alaska and Seattle or Vancouver; meaning the port you start in will not be the same one you return to.  These tend to go further up the coast such as to Prince William Sound which is where this magnificence of  nature can be enjoyed. 

Mendenhall Glacier: This 13 mile glacier is not a scenic viewing from the ship it is in the capital city of Juneau and ends at Mendenhall lake. The Forest Service Center affords spectacular views of the glacier and icebergs in the lake.  There are walkable trails, don’t miss Nugget Falls near the glacier. Wildlife here is abundant and in spawning season you can salmon-which brings out the bears. Speaking of bears, take this rule VERY seriously:no food or drink other than water from May to September due to the bear activity. Even though you can see the glacier and it seems close you can not access the glacier directly through the visitor center. You have to book an excursion. From what I know you have to book a helicopter tour, which are fiercely expensive! If you do grab a spot for exploring the glacier be aware of loose debris. It’s easy to turn an ankle. Have the right boots on and have a guide.

 

Glacier viewing is an amazing journey that cannot be compared to other vacations, but not all glaciers, as you now know, will give you the same experience. No matter what you choose, it will be great! Don’t forget a really good camera. Bring jacket, NOT a parka! So many people pack for -40 degrees! Not going to happen! Unless you actually do book an activity on a glacier you will not need snow goggles, arctic parkas and heavy gloves. When we went it was 80 degrees-not so in the glacial areas, just throw on a coat or heavy sweatshirt you’re good to go.

Seeing orcas or huge chunks of ice falling into the ocean are not guaranteed; it’s nature, not an amusement park  but the sites and sheer overwhelming expanse will delight you.

If you want to know some cruise options here is a link to my booking website:https://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-US/RhondaWeaver/

 

 

 

Another Alaska must see sled dog puppies. Absolutely adorable.

Nov 252017
 

I am blessed with a wonderful Mother, who one year for her birthday, took my sister and I on a trip to Cancun Mexico! It was incredibly fun and beautiful!

Now, I know there is a lot of fear out there about Mexico. Even in the resort areas, bad things have happened.  So, of course, one must always exercise caution.  Stay in a group, in a public area, watch how much you drink-hard to do in Mexico, but I strongly recommend it. If you do drink stay with your friends and stay in your hotel or a popular chain bar like Senor Frogs.

Cancun is very beautiful and has so much to offer! Stunning beaches, amazing food, spectacular scenery, wonderful people and stellar all inclusive resorts, of which I am a HUGE fan! I felt like I got tremendous value and felt very pampered.

We stayed at an all-inclusive resort which I highly recommend.  When food, drinks, entertainment and activities are included it really adds to the value. Value is everything! The Hotel Zone in Cancun offers many all inclusive and is relatively safe. Many have more than one property so you can eat and play at the other properties, which are usually very close.

We stayed at Riu Palace Las Americas; a very Grecian, stunning property! The people were so nice, the service and food were great. The shows were okay, but not much variety. The water sports are supposedly included, but you have to have previous experience and the resources are limited. Even laundry service was included, but the dryers don’t always work so we had to hang dry them. Which was tricky, since it was January and rainy and cool most of the time. Not a lot of beach days, but at least there were hardly ever any crowds.  https://www.riu.com/en/hotel/mexico/cancun/hotel-riu-palace-las-americas/index.jsp

Here’s a hint about room service. If you order 1 thing on the menu, they bring it for everybody! So expect triple portions of everything you order.  Make reservations early for the on-site restaurants, they are small venues and fill up quickly. They have a concierge desk to help you plan all your excursions. Use them; they are a valuable resource. I can not stress that enough. It saved me so much time! The hotel vets the vendors for each tour so it gave me piece of mind. And everybody needs that.  My favorite spot was the infinity pool. So amazing! I never wanted to leave it. This property had 2 sister properties so we could visit any and the food and entertainment was included. Most of these hotels will be off major roads that are close to shopping and nightlife.

If I could pick 3 things that are a must do I would choose: 1)The night time Pirate Adventure! Old fashioned Pirate ships, all-inclusive food and drink. Terrific actors that put on a really great show. The “Captain” shares tall tales and then another Pirate ship comes along boards your ship and there is a lot sword fighting and climbing the ropes and they really go for it. After your Pirates win the battle there is dancing and fun games. Be aware that they will constantly ask for tips. It’s not a big deal but they will push it.

2)Xcaret Park in Playa del Carmen. http://bit.ly/2znD6Jg The cab ride is expensive, at least $80.00 each way. You can go as part of a tour group, but it limits your time there and the park is open late. So, give yourself the whole day and go on your own with some friends.

I tried Snuba for the first time. We got to touch the Stingrays. Snuba is easy and fun, no swimming required.  The water wasn’t super clear but the experience was great. We loved the super big hammocks! They kind of wrap you up like a cocoon.  There was a place to grab an inner tube and float down the river. These things were not super easy to maneuver at first but you can get the hang of it. The park is big and beautiful and filled with things to do. There was no way to do everything in one day.

3) Isla Mujeres and the Tortu Granja Turtle Sanctuary.http://bit.ly/2hSUi2u There is a ferry dock (The Gran Puerto Cancun-Ultra Mar) that is close to downtown Cancun. It is a quick ride, 15 minutes and has a great upper open-air deck.  It was cloudy that day so it wasn’t crowded. The island itself is not big, and they discourage cars. Rent a golf cart or moped to get around. The island has a great beach and tons of local vendors you can bargain with for great prices. Check out Tortu Granja Turtle farm. This is a great place where they house and protect 6 different species of turtles. Between May and October you can take part of the release “ceremony”.  It was educational and fun. I would definitely love to go back there again, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

I would encourage you to study up on how to stay safe while in Mexico. Some things are common sense. Watch what you drink, beware of “drivers” offering to take you somewhere-even out of the airport. The hotel should have its own driver to pick you up. If you have the salad or fresh washed veggies only eat them at 4 or 5-star restaurant. Even beware of the place you stay. I am talking about balconies. The safety regulations are not the same as in the U.S. Balconies tend to be low and there have been reports of people falling off when leaning over.  Some good sites for safe travel for Cancun are Trip Savvy and Vacayholics. Cancun is a beautiful place where you meet wonderful people, enjoy fantastic food and amazing beaches; all at a great value!

Sep 162017
 

 I love cruising! I love everything about it, the entertainment, the food, the ease of getting from one place to another, the variety of activities, most of all I love being out to sea! For our anniversary David and I took a week-long cruise to the Western Caribbean on the Norwegian Getaway. We had a great time and would do it again.

The Getaway is a HUGE ship! Eighteen decks high and 4000 people! The ship itself is beautiful, we really enjoyed the Waterfront which spans deck 6,7 and 8. Deck 7 has the promenade deck and was surprisingly quiet at night. We walked it every night after dinner and rarely saw anyone else. The other great thing about the Waterfront was the outdoor seating. Most ships have benches and sun lounger chairs but in keeping with the Miami vibe of the Getaway (The Miami Dolphin Cheerleaders are the Godmothers of this ship), there are outdoor couches and chairs at the bars and restaurants.  There’s nothing quite like having a mojito or gelato outside on a comfy couch watching the world go by. The entertainment was very good. If you only see one show see Burn the Floor! Wow! Is all I can say. Just amazing performance by the dance group. The food was okay, not the best. I really liked O’Sheehans Bar and Grill though. It is one of the better 24/7 venues on a ship.  Norwegian does nickel and dime you to death. There is a $7.95 delivery charge for room service and they push spa treatments a lot. If you go to the spa go on a port day, it’s a much better deal. Norwegian has a really nice spa too. I wish I would have booked on the last day,  though.  Just because between all the walking at the ports and transversing up and down the ship I was so tired at the end of the trip.

We went to Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize and Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico.

I have to say my favorite was Roatan hands down. I loved their coffee. The port itself is a gated area, that is small yet charming. Before we got off a group of men came out in full costume and greeted the ship with a dance/ritual. It was cool.  We booked our own excursion on Little French Key. https://www.littlefrenchkey.com/ 

Little French Key is a stunning island with the friendliest people and good food and drinks which were included. They have a whole menu of experiences you can choose from to really tailor your excursion. The island has 3 distinct beaches so you can choose a family friendly, a quiet one or the party area with a cool swim up bar.  Little French Key is a place I would to over and over. It was luxurious and fun at the same time. Everybody is incredible nice!  Make sure you find your guides by name once you leave the port area and look for their uniforms so you don’t taken by a unsavory character. They use to offer a discount if you paid with cash, I don’t know if that is still true.

Belize was our second stop. You have to tender in, and I have to say if you go to Belize you should plan an excursion. There is not much to the port itself. We shopped for people, drank out of a coconut and not much else. Belize is great for excursions, like cave tubing or the Zoo or the Jaguar Sanctuary. It not as much fun to just hang out in. Unlike Costa Maya, which was our third port. Costa Maya is a protected area too. It has a large pool with a swim-up bar and little waterfall at the end-beware it’s salt water when you swim into the waterfall section.

They have a Dolphin Swim excursion, massages on the beach, expensive restaurants, the locals performed a really impressive cultural ritual dance, lot’s of shopping and plenty of great photo opportunities. The beach itself is very rocky but the weather was nice and there were plenty of sun chairs and covered areas too. It’s a great place to enjoy yourself and not have to go anywhere or book an excursion.

The last port was Cozumel. One my all times dreams was to swim with the dolphins, so we booked Chankanaab National Park. http://www.cozumelparks.com/ I chose them because I have a co-worker who used to live there and said that they treat their animals well. We got there early and made good use of the pool-it was large with different depths inlaid with a pretty mosaic. The beaches felt secluded, the park itself is large, ruins, zip lining, snorkeling. A person could spend all day there.  It’s beautifully maintained and well laid out.  But, of course, I came for the dolphins. It was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be! We had to stand out in the hot sun for longer than I would have liked waiting for them to call our group, and go over instructions and safety. The area for each group is very large and clean, the dolphins are very well trained. We did the kiss, the shake, and 2 rides. One was a belly ride and the other was with a boogie board and they push your foot. Absolutely amazing! At the end they let us go down in the manatee pool and pet them. The big push is to buy the pictures. You can’t take your own and they charge a lot, so we opted out. They fed us a buffet as part of the package, overall it was a great value and I would recommend Chankanaab to anyone.

My overall takeaway is that the Norwegian Getaway is super lively ship with loads of fun. Every night was a deck party, and I loved the interactive maps all over the ship-you can make reservations, get directions, it was very useful. The Caribbean was full of beautiful beaches and great people. I appreciated the exposure to the cultures even if they were only snapshots of each area and not immersive. The Western Caribbean is most cost effective than the Southern or Eastern and was great because we could decide to hang out and do nothing or spend the whole day on an adventure.  That’s what vacation is supposed to be about, and not having housework.

 

Miami is a fun filled city and I would recommend staying a day or two before or after the cruise.

If you are interested in Norwegian cruise, either on the Getaway or a newer ship please see my link https://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-US/RhondaWeaver

Or you can email me at roamingredfeather.com for other travel option. FYI, I am licensed travel agent and receive commission for travel booked through Expedia. 

Jul 252017
 

 

My husband and I have been going to Bainbridge Island  for  about six years.  It is a quick ferry ride from the Seattle Waterfront.  Pier 52, the Coleman dock; 801 Alaskan Way, 98121. The ferry runs every hour or half hour and runs all day and most of the night. The ride over to Bainbridge is about 30 minutes. Link to the ferry schedule  http://bit.ly/2eLo7DM

The view leaving Seattle is pretty great. The Puget Sound is beautiful. You can see the cruise ships, the space needle and the mountains.  No matter how hot it is out on the water is always cool.  The Seattle Ferries are large with different decks, many viewing areas. Some are sheltered too for windy days. They do have a snack/lunch counter.

We always walk on, it’s really convenient and easy.  Once you get off the ferry you can walk into town in about 10-15 minutes. Just like Seattle, Bainbridge is a slope. So walking there is easy, going back is all uphill. And  Winslow Way is a long street, so getting from A to B  is a trek if you have mobility issues. The other main street is Madison-it runs down to the waterfront.  Right off the ferry there is the Waterfront Park and Trail. It’s not terribly uneven or a hard walk.  There is a bike rental close to where the ferry docks.  http://www.bikebarnrentals.com/

People who would enjoy the picturesque town of Bainbridge:

  1. Photographers-especially if you like flowers. Bainbridge has many different types and floral and fauna everywhere you look. Many of which are not local but varied and charming. In fact right before town following Winslow Way they have a nature/sculpture area that fits in nicely with the vibe of the island.
  2. You want to feel like you’re away without having to go far away and don’t have a lot of time. Bainbridge feels far away and secluded and laid back but it is easy to get too. It’s perfect when I just want to go somewhere quiet and pretty and don’t have vacation time.
  3. You like dessert. Bainbridge does not have a whole row of restaurants close together and very little seafood places. Which is surprising considering the Marina is right there, but that’s okay because they have plenty of places for anyone with a sweet tooth. And I certainly do! Mora Ice Creamery is probably my favorite. They have so many great flavors. Mexican chocolate, mint shaved chocolate, Irish coffee, even marsala wine custard. The place is always clean; seating is limited. There are at least 3 bakeries, we usually go to Blackbird. Another must visit is Bon Bon confections. It’s a candy and fudge shop but the real treat is that there is an entire wall of different chocolate bars from around the world. All types and flavors from Argentina, Brazil,  the Congo, you name it. Many local chocolates too like Theo and Seattle’s Best Chocolate.
  4. You’re mindful of your budget. I can spend the day in Bainbridge get great photos of beautiful flowers, walk around the Marina, go to the Museum of Art which has free admission, get some ice cream and go home. If you want some great gifts the island boasts a pretty cool lavender store Pelindaba Lavender http://bit.ly/2uydx6R 

So, if you have a day in Seattle and don’t want to do all the ultra-touristy things and/or you are in town for a cruise and have spent a ton of money already Bainbridge will fit your needs.