Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cruising to Alaska

If you're thinking about taking a vacation this summer, this is a great time to start planning. Looking for a “bucket list” worthy destination? Here's why you should consider a cruise to Alaska.

For the outdoorsy, adventurous traveler, it doesn’t get any better than a cruise to Alaska. The shore excursions are amazing! And if you’re traveling with teens, there’s so much for them to experience they couldn’t possibly be bored! There’s hiking, kayaking, glacier trekking, dog-sledding, fishing, ice-climbing, white water rafting…

Alaska is rich in Native culture. The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian live in Southeast Alaska. You can learn about them by visiting museums and cultural centers as well as   taking the time to view the towering totem poles that showcase the artistry of their people. Today, the craftsmen of the region are also known for their handmade dance masks, decorative paddles, button blankets, and finely-woven cedar bark and spruce root baskets.

History buffs can immerse themselves in Alaska's Gold Rush history. Back in 1898, prospectors flocked to the Klondike, hoping to become instant millionaires in one of the biggest gold rushes in history. Remnants from the Klondike Gold Rush remain and make for a fascinating history lesson as you travel the White Pass Railroad or try your hand at gold panning.

People come to Alaska to view the diverse and abundant wildlife in its natural habitat.   Whether its eagles soaring above your head or seals sunning on the rocks, the wildlife is everywhere. With humpbacked whales, orcas, otters, gray wolves, moose, dall sheep, mountain goats, and brown bears, no state is as “wild” as Alaska!

Have I mentioned the majestic landscape? Whether walking, flight seeing, or viewing it from the deck of your ship, words cannot adequately describe the sheer drama of Alaska’s scenery. Lofty mountain peaks covered in snow, ice-sculptured craggily fjords, crystal blue glaciers, and the lush green forests will take your breath away. Need I remind you to pack a camera?

The cruising season for Alaska is quite short. Now is the time to book your cruise for the May to September season, while the cruise lines are running great booking promotions and a good choice of cabins are still available.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Snorkeling On Your Caribbean Cruise

Snorkeling is a fun and relaxing way to view the colorful and fascinating world just beneath the ocean's surface! If you can float you can snorkel! All you need is a plastic mask and a short tube to breathe while floating facedown on the surface of the water. Here are some of the best-rated snorkeling spots to check out on your next Caribbean cruise.

Belize / Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Western Caribbean cruise itineraries are known for excellent snorkeling opportunities! This 4,448-acre aquatic wonderland is near San Pedro, Caye Ambergris. Due to the protected status of the area, the fish populations have exploded. In waters as shallow as 5 feet, large schools of jacks, groupers, snappers and barracuda abound. Don’t miss Shark Ray Alley, where in just eight feet of water, you’ll get up close and personal with dozens of its namesake creatures.

Curacao / Playa Kalki

Limestone cliffs surround this small cove and the beach on Curacao’s northwest coast. The water is crystal clear, but the beach is very rocky. An entry point is marked with a buoy. With visibility of at least 100 feet you will have lots of opportunity to see green moray eels, lobsters, reef fish and beautiful star coral formations. There’s a beach bar and restaurant with simple menu and diving center where you can rent gear. Curacao is a port of call on a Southern Caribbean cruise.

Grand Cayman / Smiths Cove

Okay, everybody heads out to Stingray City and yes, it’s amazing to experience the tame, gentle stingrays that swim around you! Need a change? Smiths Cove is great for beginners because of the gentle slope leading into the water, and along the limestone edges of the 15-yard-wide cove, the water's only about 10 feet deep. This natural pool is filled with parrotfish, peacock flounder, juvenile angelfish and surgeonfish. Advanced snorkelers can head straight out of the cove to the edge of the coral reef in about 35 feet of water.

Roatan / West Bay Beach

This Caribbean beach has simply incredible, with fine white sand and clear turquoise water. The snorkeling is close to shore and the reef is teeming with life. Some of the more popular species include eagle rays, stingrays, black, gray and queen angels, various butterflies, eels, various groupers and huge parrots. Lots of beach amenities.

St. John, USVI / Trunk Bay

Taking an Eastern Caribbean cruise? Just a ferry ride away from St. Thomas, Trunk Bay is calm and clear, and there's a marked snorkel trail that follows a zigzag course in 3 to 18 feet of water. The park installed 15 underwater plaques along the trail that explain the ecosystem and identify marine life. Shallow rocky areas around the bay are home to octopuses and crustaceans, while the deeper water holds swarms of blue tang, yellowtail snapper, parrotfish and butterfly fish. Plus, the beach has showers, changing rooms, equipment rentals, and a lifeguard.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Norwegian Cruise Line says "Let it Snow"

Some people cruise to the Caribbean to feel the sun slowly bake them to a shade of golden brown. But if you cruise to the Caribbean aboard the Norwegian Escape, you can experience snow all year long! Yes, you read that right! Welcome to the Snow Room of the Mandera Spa, where the temperature ranges from 21 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow gently falls several times a day. Is this crazy?   Not at all!

What’s old is new! The Romans and Ottomans used cooling rooms after hot baths two thousand years ago. Traditional Chinese medicine has used cold water in healing therapies for even longer. Scandinavian countries are famous for their dry-hot-sauna-roll-in-the-snow routine. That’s because they all know that the rapid cooling down of the body after a hot soak has proven health benefits!

Cold water is a stimulus and going from hot to cold is a shock to the nervous system. Cold showers, immersions, or in this case, a Snow Room, causes blood vessels to constrict and then expand once the body reaches its normal temperature. The process helps to increase circulation, rid the body of toxins, and boost the immune system. Really! Cold applied to any part of the body causes an initial chilling effect, but the after effect is a reddish, warming, and healthy glow. Best news yet, it only takes 30-45 seconds of exposure to benefit from the effects of the cold!

However, if you’re having a hard time warming up to this trendy treatment, don’t worry. Norwegian Cruise Line says the snow room will be just one element of the largest thermal suite at sea. The sprawling relaxation zone will offer 17 heated loungers, a hydro-therapy pool, whirlpools, steam room, dry sauna, and salt room. The spa also will have 24 treatment rooms offering more than 50 treatments.

The Norwegian Escape will sail out of Miami beginning November 2015.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

My New Year’s Travel Resolution

What would the New Year be without those well-intentioned resolutions we sincerely vow to maintain? I, like many, had several slated for 2014. However, since I doubt there is much interest in the failed diet and exercise promises I made myself, as well as my oath of personal growth and self-enrichment, I’ll instead share one related to cruising that worked out fairly well…my resolution to revise my packing style!

My old adage of “be prepared for anything so pack everything” was no longer working for me. It had reached the point where I was adding an extra $200 to my travel budget to cover the airline’s excess baggage fees! In addition, as I started taking long European “girlfriend cruises” (the nature of such a trip required that hubby, chief luggage manager, not come along), it became necessary for me to be able to manage my own luggage through airports, cruise terminals, and cobblestone streets. I was determined to make a change!

I began by retiring my fifteen year-old 31”suitcase for a bright red 25” light weight spinner. First of all, that change immediately saved me six pounds! If it’s been a while since you purchased new luggage, I strongly recommend looking at the bags on the market today. Innovations in fabric and design have resulted in great looking pieces that weigh a lot less and are much easier to maneuver! Secondly, I believe that it is a law of nature (or is it the law of a fashion conscious woman?) that compels one to pack whatever size bag they have in front of them to the point of explosion. My new smaller bag requires I pack smarter.

The next items I purchased were coordinating compression packing cubes. Any TSA agent that opens my bag is sure to be impressed by my organization and sense of style! After several trips using packing cubes, I have to wonder why I waited so long to try them! Roll, pack and squeeze out the air and you’ll be shocked at what a space saver they are! I would not use this method for cotton or linen due to excess wrinkling but another change I’ve made is to pack only wrinkle-free synthetic fabrics. I don’t use the cubes for everything but they’re perfect for lingerie, socks, t-shirts, shorts, sweaters, bathing suits, toiletries, chargers and cables.

Early last year I sat down at my computer and typed out a packing list. Actually, I have several, each one geared to a specific type of vacation (cruising, road trip, etc.). There are plenty online to use as a guide.   Just add and delete items to personalize it, save it and print out a copy before each trip. Print out your list at least a week before departure so you can look it over and see if you need to purchase anything. I keep my list handy until I’m ready to walk out the door, then I tuck it in the side zipper of my luggage so I have it handy when I’m re-packing to return home. Referring to a packing list and checking it twice ensures you’ll never walk out the door without something important (like a passport!).

As to the items I choose to pack, this gets tricky! I’ve taken the advice of the experts and try to stick to a specific color palette when selecting my clothes. Black and white has become the backbone of my travel wardrobe accessorized with colorful scarves, t-shirts and costume jewelry. I can make many more outfits but pack less items altogether. Also, before I pack any item I stop and ask myself if it is versatile and necessary. I no longer pack for the worst case scenario.

As I re-read what I just wrote, I must say that I’m pretty pleased with the way my 2014 resolution to revise my packing style worked out. In 2014 I did not pay a dollar in excess luggage fees, yet traveled to Europe for 14 days with everything I needed in my new 25” bag…plus the matching boarding bag that was filled with 10 pairs of shoes! My 2015 resolution is a bit more challenging…cut back on the shoes!!!