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River Cruise Along the Danube during the Holidays

If you are looking for a river cruise out of the ordinary, consider a Christmas Market cruise from the third week of November to the week before Christmas! My wife and I had the privilege of experiencing a seven-night Christmas market cruise on MS Joy by Tauck River Cruise.

We sailed from Wien (Vienna), cruising along the Danube River north to Nurnberg, Germany. Every stop was more breathtaking and charming than the last, with Melk, Salzburg, Linz, Passau and Regensburg all delighting our senses. Before the cruise we spent two nights in Budapest, staying one night each at the Ritz-Carlton Budapest and the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, two hotels located side by side in the heart of the city. Both are lovely hotels, but the rooms are slightly more modern at the Ritz. And as with everything, it’s all about location. For a view of the Danube, we really loved the Four Seasons Budapest.

MS Joy by Tauck River Cruise:

Tauck river cruise lobbyThe ship we traveled on was just six months old, with hardware comparable to the competition. The bar and sitting areas are located on the top deck (forward) with a dining room below. We stayed in a mid-deck cabin with French balcony (approx. 220 sq. ft.). Staterooms are generous in size with large bathrooms (shower only), comfortable beds and bedding. The room also came with flat screen TV, iPod docking station, safe, mini-fridge (stocked with Perrier, sodas) and plenty of storage for belongings. There was a small table and two chairs to sit and look out at the scenery.

Staff:

Tauck river cruise directorsThis is where you notice a difference from other river cruise lines. The staff to guest ratio was 42 staff members to our 100 on board (the ship can take up to 130), offering exceptional service and a clear desire to give guests everything they need to be comfortable. There was turn down service and usually some small gift left on your bed (keepsake) each night. Most river cruises have one cruise director, but on Tauck there are four. Yes, four! One is typically from North America and three are regional to the sailing, each offering something a little different. Plus, they always accompany guests during excursions, with one on each coach. In addition, there was a local guide assigned to say 10-15 guests each with a headset to listen should you find yourself in the back.

Shore Excursions:

Included was a daily shore excursion averaging from four hours to all day long. Each tour was carefully thought out. In Vienna we had lunch in a palace with a short performance of local choir singing some of the favourite carols (award winning too). Often there was a surprise on each excursion, such as a coupon for a local drink (hot mulled wine including the mug) that you can pick up in the Christmas Market. Note that on Tauck everything is included, so there’s no tipping and no need to book extra excursions. Often the tour included a delightful local lunch ashore in a palace or monastery. The excursions were very well done and always exceeded our expectations.

Food:

A Tauck River Cruise is perfect for “foodies”! Breakfast and lunch was semi-buffet style with plenty of quality selection. You can order eggs prepared and brought to your table and sides such as fruit, cheese and bread available at the buffet. Lunch was mostly buffet but there’s also the option of ordering and having it delivered to the table if you prefer.
The ship also offered a more relaxed setting at the back of the ship in a space called Arthur’s with a set menu from 11:00AM to 11:00 PM. A good selection of wines, beers and premium drinks were available all day long. Dinner was a la carte and the menu changed each day. Overall, the food was excellent with plenty of options for all taste buds. The gala dinner was a real treat with Chateaubriand paired with Chateauneuf du Pape red wine.

Overall impression:

Tauck River Cruise continues to deliver an amazing experience on the rivers, just like they have been doing on land for some 90 years. English is the main language spoken on board. The cruises are a little pricier than their competition but you will see the value quickly once your tour begins. Never do you need take out your wallet unless you feel the need for a little shopping therapy. When you’re ready to discuss a river cruise in December, be sure to get in touch!

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Categories: River Cruises

Holiday River Cruises

If you are looking for a vacation out of the ordinary, then consider a Christmas Market Cruise during the last four weeks before Christmas! My wife and I had the privilege of experiencing a seven-night cruise in mid-December on MS Joy by Tauck River Cruises. We sailed from Wien (Vienna), cruising along the Danube River north to Nuremberg, Germany. Every stop was more breathtaking and charming than the last, with Melk, Salzburg, Linz, Passau and Regensburg all delighting our senses.

Before our cruise, we decided to spend two nights in Budapest, staying one night each at the Ritz-Carlton Budapest and the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, two hotels located side by side in the heart of the city where you could step outside and visit the local Christmas markets.  Both are lovely hotels, with outstanding staff and service.  And as with everything, it’s all about location. For a view of the Danube, you will really love the Four Seasons Budapest.

MS Joy by Tauck River Cruises

The ship we cruised on was just six months old, with hardware comparable to the competition. The bar and sitting areas are located on the top deck (forward) with a dining room below. We stayed in a mid-deck cabin with french balcony (approx. 220 sq. ft.).  Staterooms are generous in size with large bathrooms (shower only), comfortable beds and bedding. The room also came with flat screen TV, iPod docking station, safe, mini-fridge (stocked with Perrier, sodas) and plenty of storage for belongings. There was a small table and two chairs to sit and look out at the scenery.

 Staff

20161212_211225This is where you notice a difference on Tauck River Cruises from other river cruise lines.  The staff to guest ratio was 42 staff members to our 100 on board (the ship can take up to 130), offering exceptional service and a clear desire to give guests everything they need to be comfortable. There was turn down service and usually some small gift left on your bed (keepsake) each night. Most river cruises have one cruise director, but on Tauck there are four.  Yes, four!  One is typically from North America and three are regional to the sailing, each offering something a little different. Plus, they always accompany guests during excursions, with one on each coach. In addition, there was a local guide assigned to say 10-15 guests each with a headset to listen should you find yourself in the back.

Shore Excursions

20161212_130719Included was a daily shore excursion averaging from four hours to all day long.  Each tour was carefully thought out. In Vienna we had lunch in a palace with a short performance of local choir singing some of the favourite carols (award winning too). Often there was a surprise on each excursion, such as a coupon for a local drink (hot mulled wine including the mug) that you can pick up in the Christmas Market.  Note that on Tauck River Cruises everything is included, so there’s no tipping and no need to book extra excursions. Often the tour included a delightful local lunch ashore in a palace or monastery.  The excursions were very well done and always exceeded our expectations

Food

20161214_204121Tauck River Cruises is perfect for “foodies”!  Breakfast and lunch was semi-buffet style with plenty of quality selection.  You can order eggs prepared and brought to your table and sides such as fruit, cheese and bread available at the buffet.  Lunch was mostly buffet but there’s also the option of ordering and having it delivered to the table if you prefer.

The ship also offered a more relaxed setting at the back of the ship in a space called Arthur’s with a set menu from 11:00AM to 11:00 PM.  A good selection of wines, beers and premium drinks were available all day long.  Dinner was a la carte and the menu changed each day.  Overall, the food was excellent with plenty of options for all taste buds. The gala dinner was a real treat with Chateaubriand paired with Chateauneuf du Pape red wine.

Overall impression:  Tauck River Cruises continues to deliver an amazing river cruising experience, just like they have been doing on land for some 90 years.  English is the main language spoken on board.  The cruises are a little pricier than their competition but you will see the value quickly once your tour begins.  Never do you need take out your wallet unless you feel the need for a little shopping therapy. When you’re ready to discuss holiday river cruising during the holiday season, be sure to get in touch!

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Categories: Hotels, River Cruises, Travel related

Azamara Club Cruises

A River Cruise Experience at Sea

If you’ve done much ocean cruising, you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of ships in each port; many offering a very similar experience. There is one however doing something different and with only two small ships. I’m referring to Azamara Club Cruises.

This boutique cruise line is very special. Rather than focusing on the ship itself, they put the spotlight on an immersive destination experience. This is something rarely found with typical “mass market” cruises.

Longer Port stays well into the night

Azamara QuestMany people say that Azamara Club Cruises (at sea) is similar to some of the best European river cruises. With only 700 guests, Azamara can really focus on service and fine dining while creating a club like atmosphere.

They boast about their longer port stays, lasting well into the night – often till 10 or 11:00 PM. Compare this to most other ocean cruises that depart by 6:00 PM or earlier. This extra time will allow you truly immerse yourself in the port. You can leisurely visit nearby towns or the countryside or relax for dinner in local restaurants. Azamara’s “Cruise Global, dine local” initiative is really something very unique for ocean cruising.

There is perhaps one drawback to the destination focus: in some ways, the ship is like a big floating hotel. Of course, it is an extremely NICE floating hotel! Still, at 6:00 PM you may find that the majority of the passengers are still ashore.

Those who decided to forgo getting off the ship might find it a little too quiet. For others who prefer a quiet setting might appreciate the extra peace and tranquility for a few extra hours. If you prefer to eat early, you easily pop into the dining room of your choice as it will be likely be very quiet until the others guests trickle in later in the night.

Intimate Ports of call

Azamara in NieceSince Azamara’s ships are smaller than average, they are able to visit ports that larger ships simply can’t. For example, in 2016 you could visit small and beautiful ports such Taomina in Sicily, along with Trapani , Portovenere, Almafi, and Sorrento in Italy. If you want to experience the French Riviera, how about Nice, St.Tropez, Cannes, Cassis, Porto Vechio and Monte Carlo?

More overnight stays with Azamara Club Cruises

Azamara in VeniceAzamara also boasts about their overnight stays in many popular ports. There are overnight stays in cities like Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Venice and Florence in the Mediterranean or St. Petersburg, Russia, Stockholm or Amsterdam. There are even options for the Baltic states in Northern Europe.

As a luxury travel consultant, I find that Azamara Club Cruises can be the perfect fit for many of my clients. With some attractive promotions currently offered, it could be a good time to find out if it’s right for you. To schedule a consultation, give me a call or just click here.

Quantum of The Seas a Techno Delight

I just returned from two short nights on the new Quantum of the Seas by Royal Caribbean. This is their first “smart ship” at sea and it is a technophile’s dream. From robotic bar tenders to virtual staterooms, cruisers will marvel over the many high-tech features on this ship.

Quantum of the SeasThe Quantum of the Seas is not Royal Caribbean’s biggest ship, although it is still considered a “mass market” vessel carrying over 4,000 passengers with 2,000 staterooms.  While the size is impressive, it is the technology that you’ll notice the most.

The ship offers true high speed Internet.  You can stream your favorite movies or do Facetime video chats with your loved ones at home.  There is even an app you can download on your smart phone to track your luggage, view your dining options, browse the available entertainment and all sorts of other fun and helpful things.

RFIDWhen you arrive at the cruise terminal to check in, in addition to getting a standard Seapass card, they’ll hand you a waterproof RFID wristband (Radio-frequency identification device) to wear.  This essentially replaces your Seapass, allowing you to open your cabin and use it to pay for any on board purchase.  It looks nice and fashionable too!

20141122_130641While the inside staterooms still lack a view, on this ship they come with “virtual balcony’s” that project live video of the sea outside, as if you were looking through your own real windows.  That is a very nice development indeed.

For those who love luxury, The Quantum offers state of the art suites and so-called “loft suites” ranging in size from 350 to 1,600 square feet.  The larger suites can comfortably accommodate up to eight.

There are other fun new shipboard experiences on The Quantum of the Seas like bumper cars, roller-skating, a trapeze workshop, a gigantic Xbox entertainment center, and a full-sized basketball court. Most of them are housed in the soaring, multi-purpose SeaPlex sports center, which may attract people who have never visited a sports court before.

Just outside the sports center you’ll find a climbing wall, a surf simulator, and even a skydiving simulator called Ripcord by iFly.

20141122_162620As if that were not enough, the amazing North Star observation arm will take you more than 300 feet above the ship, offering a genuinely thrilling 15-minute 360° view of both the ship and the sea. It’s an audience-pleasing first for a cruise line that has been offering firsts for decades.

Dining is also game changer on this ship.  Instead of one big dining room, The Quantum of the Seas introduced “dynamic dining” with four separate rooms; each with it’s own character and menu.  While these dining rooms are included at no additional charge, there are several specialty-dining venues with new and unique culinary experiences (surcharges apply).

One cautionary note:  if you prefer to eat where you want, when you want and with whom they want, it’s wise to reservations ahead of your cruise, rather than taking your chances at sea.  I chose to dine in Jamie’s Italian by Jaime Oliver and loved the ambiance and of course, getting to taste some of his dishes.

20141122_223134For entertainment, The Quantum of the Seas introduced an entirely new experience called Two70. This completely interactive venue is hands-down, the most technologically advanced space of its kind at sea. The name comes from the 270-degree view off the stern of the ship provided by the 30 foot inclined glass panels that make up the back of the room. You’ll be blown away by the combination of visuals, both live and animated, provided by several robotic LCD screens.  This is IMAX on steroids!

The Quantum of the Seas is a fantastic experience for cruise-lovers who need to stay connected, love technology, yet are comfortable with pre-planning their vacation days.  With such a large vessel, planning ahead is a critical part of making it an enjoyable adventure.

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Categories: Cruise News, Ocean cruises

Hyatt Hotels add All Inclusive Resorts

Hyatt Brings All-Inclusive Luxury to Jamaica

Ritz_Rose_HallAll-inclusive resorts are common in Jamaica, but Hyatt Hotels is doing it in style.  They took the pristine real estate of the former Ritz Carlton Rose Hall to create two new luxury experiences on the island.

I was fortunate enough to visit the resort last year.  I was very impressed by the beautiful pool that is so big anyone can easily find a chair to lounge around.  There is also a great beach for all to enjoy.  Although very nice, in my opinion it’s not as spectacular as Jamaica’s renowned nine-mile Negril Beach.

While Hyatt is certainly not a newcomer to upscale resorts, the all-inclusive variety is a relatively new offering.  They began with two locations in Cancun and Los Cabos, Mexico as well as Andaz in Costa Rica.

The new Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara are being designed with a focus on food and dining quality along with exceptional service.  Of course, these are two areas in which Hyatt excels.

They hope to create unique and meaningful experiences that will bring a new level of sophistication to Jamaica.  It’s an upscale alternative to Sandals (their biggest competitor), which is both popular and well established on the island. In order to entice you to give them a try, there are several very attractive packages available this winter.

Rose HallVacationers will love the close proximity to the Montego Bay Airport.  It takes only 10 minutes as opposed to a two-hour drive in both directions to Negril or Ocho Rios.  There is also a World-class golf course minutes away with a free shuttle running all day, that also takes you up the hill to experience Rose Hall and its very interesting history.

Hyatt has divided the property into two distinct resorts:  a family environment called Ziva, and an adults-only resort called Zilara.  Both will be ready when the busy winter season comes November 1st.

Hyatt_ZivaThe Hyatt Andaz opened just this year in Costa Rica, and it is located in the Papagayo Peninsula with its distinctive “Pura Vida” (pure life) philosophy. The breathtaking setting of a relaxing ocean with a mountainous background will make you feel like you totally belong in this lush, natural setting.  I will be visiting this property myself in October, so stay tuned.

As a travel experience consultant, my passion is to create memorable trips that are even better than you hoped for.  With Hyatt’s great reputation for delivering excellence, it just might be the perfect fit for some of my most discerning clients this winter.

5 Travel Tips For Those Under 30

Are you under 30 but love to travel?  Are you a college-age globetrotter?  Do your kids or grandkids have the travel bug?  I know I sure did when I was a student. Below are my five top travel tips for those under 30 who are looking turning ordinary travel, into a satisfying, affordable and safe adventure, especially for the younger crowd.

Travel is a very different experience today than when I was young.  But, that also means there are some amazing opportunities that never existed before.

Tip #1:  Plan Ahead
StockStudents
My first tip is to plan well in advance. This will allow you to sort out important details if you plan to travel alone, or to coordinate things with a friend or a group.  It makes a big difference in how much you might spend as well.  Travel can be expensive, or very affordable!  It’s wise to do some research early, to get an idea of the budget you’ll need.

luxury_hostelsDon’t forget to include the cost of flights, hotels, hostels, resorts, activities, and of course; food and beverages.  Then, break it down to daily amount to help you budget. If money is tight, there are plenty of countries with affordable youth hostels.  But, beware:  that they can vary in price AND quality. So, do your homework long before you depart.

Tip #2:  Work With Those Who “Get” You!
My second tip is to consider companies that specialize in international travel for young people. As a travel consultant, I often recommend and use Contiki Holidays.

contiki_coach2Contiki specializes in travel packages and programs for people 18 to 35. They offer terrific options for exploring the globe, and being independent, yet not being saddled with figuring it all out on your own. They even have programs for singles that want to join in with others from all over the globe.  It’s a great way to meet people, have some structure to your trip, and even save money due to being part of a group.

Tip #3:  Documents Matter!
My third tip is to be SURE you have a passport that is valid for at least six months (from the date of travel).  It’s also very important to find out if you’ll need a visitor’s visa to enter the country (or countries) that interest you.  Nothing can ruin a trip faster than being turned away at the airport due to improper travel documents.  It happens a lot!

passports-usa-canadaAs a travel consultant I know not to rely on how things “used to be” and to research it every time.  These things change often!  From passport and visa information, to travel alerts, embassy locations, and even health and disease advisories, none of it should never be left to chance or neglected until the last minute.

One very helpful website is from our own government.  It covers all sort of things related to travel for Canadian youth: http://www.youth.gc.ca/eng/life_events/travelling.shtml.  Americans can find similar information from the US State Department here:  http://studentsabroad.state.gov.

Tip #4:  Get Registered for Emergencies
My fourth tip is to sign up in advance with the appropriate government agency to receive important information on safety and other conditions.  Registering also helps the local embassy to contact your family in the event of an emergency or disaster.

Canadians can register here. Americans can register for similar information and services here.

Tip #5:  Reduce Your Risk – Use a Pro

students_PisaMy fifth and final tip is to get unbiased expert advice from a professional that deals with it every day. The Internet is great for general information and to get some good ideas. Of course, not all websites show “reality” and not all review sites are completely legit.  When you deal with a professional consultant, not only can they can point you in the right direction, but often save you a lot of time, money and embarrassment.

Parents always worry about the safety of their children at any age!  They want to you to come home in one piece, filled with many great travel stories and have plenty of photos to share.

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Categories: Hotels, Travel related

Sports Vacation Travel

We often hear in the news about cruise vacations and dream destinations but what about sports vacation travel? How popular are destinations where the focus is something like The Super Bowl, The World Cup, Olympics, WTP tennis or Grand Prix racing?

London2012 olympicsMajor cities and governments throughout the globe invest huge sums of money to compete in order to win such big name sporting events to help promote tourism. There is an expectation that they will bring millions of dollars of much needed revenue. Sports vacation travel is on the rise and I am seeing more and more groups of people wanting to travel in order to follow their favourite sport and team.

Maracana-Stadium-Brazil-World-Cup-2014This all sometimes comes at a cost since it can drive up the cost of hotels and flights dramatically. The recent World Cup in Rio de Janeiro was an example where availability and prices for hotels went at ridiculous rates that forced fans to pay huge sums of money in order to take in perhaps a once in a lifetime match featuring their home country. I just wish these event organizers made it more accessible for all to enjoy this and not just those who are willing to get a second mortgage in order to take in a sporting event.

The good news is that there are travel suppliers that focus solely on providing the vacationer access to all sporting events. For a service fee, you can access tickets to any sporting event you like and many times they also combine hotels and transfers so there is no worry or hassle involved. This makes it easy and takes away any fears about fraud and all too good sounding offers advertised on the internet.

grand_prix-monaco-2014So, if you have thought about going to France and staying in Monaco to experience the Grand Prix in person or perhaps a weekend getaway in New York City to personally take in the US Open, these things are all doable but be sure to book well in advance and speak to a travel experience consultant who can match you up with the sports vacation travel of a life time.

Top Cruise Ports a Must See in 2014

Thinking of your next vacation and considering a cruise in the future but are wondering what are the top cruise ports in 2014? Every port has something special to offer but me help you narrow this down with my top five Cruise Ports to consider.

Sydney  Opera House

My first top port that you have to get to at some time in your life is the Port of Sydney, Australia. I know it is far but Sydney really is such a lovely city that has a great blend of interesting sites like their famous Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Tower Skywalk, Aquarium, that are all in walking distance. They have lovely restaurants and great shopping too. Outside of the city are amazing beaches. One day in this port is definitely not enough. I recommend that you start or end your cruise in Sydney and allow yourself at least two full days. Best time of the year to visit Sydney is between November and April since their seasons are opposite ours.

Venice, Italy

Next would be Venice, Italy.  What can I say…. Venice is rich in beauty, history and culture. Take the water taxi to Saint Mark’s square and start your journey to the Basilica, Doges Palace and be sure to enjoy a gondola ride through the many canals. The Venetians are also great craftsman so you will definitely want to do some shopping. I suggest that you avoid the summer months since it is so crowded with tourists and visit in the spring or fall.

Barcelona

My third top port would be Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is a combination of new and old. As you disembark your ship you enter the Latin Quarter called “Las Ramblas”.  This area is famous for many museums and historic sites and churches that have amazing architecture. Besides the history, enjoy the many cafes and Spanish restaurants. This is another city that one day will not be enough in port since there is too much to see and do.  You can visit this port pretty much any month of the year but I suggest April to October.

Santorini

Fourth on my list would be Santorini, Greece. I love all the Greek Islands but the views and beauty of Santorini is like no other if you ask me. As you arrive in port, you will see everything is on top of a cliff.  Be sure to take the tram up to the top and view the iconic Greek buildings, boutique hotels, gift shops and stop for a coffee and desert in a cafe and just sit and enjoy the incredible views of the Mediterranean. Best time to visit would be April to October.

Fishermans Warf

Finally San Francisco, California. Once again you are parked right in front of the Fisherman’s Warf. You can walk the many interesting streets or take the famous street car and check out this great city. I suggest you invest in a city tour to get all the history and of course have lunch on the Warf where you can enjoy fresh seafood. San Francisco gets a lot of precipitation and fog so I would stay away in summer and consider the spring and fall months.

I could easily add ten more ports on my favourite lists for you. This is a great little start and hopefully you will come up with your own top list of Top Ports to see in 2014.

Food and Wine Destinations in Demand

2013-09-04 20.57.22Travel trends continue to show that food and wine destinations are still in big demand.  Luxury travelers and mainstream vacationers are equally seeking experiences that focus on healthy cooking, delicious wines and more boutique hotels with focus on the personal touch.  All the major cruise lines now offer cooking demonstrations and wine pairing events on board with someliers. I feel that vacationers are less interested in the days of the big buffet but now are leaning towards healthy food choices and the experience of how food is prepared.

Culinary-CenterOceania is a premium luxury cruise line that realized this back ten years ago and built their brand on food and wine.  In doing so, they have become one of the most profitable companies at sea. Their newest ships feature a full 16 person cooking station (see photo right) where you cook right along with the chef and passengers are happy to pay the extra couple hundred for the experience. Of course there is wine included and that makes cooking all the more fun.

river cruise sept 19, 2010 316River cruise lines have also tapped into this by offering a more boutique experience. Since the average vessel only sleeps 130 people (Dining room on Avalon Waterways), everything is more intimate and not produced in mass quantities. Many vacationers are looking for packages that allow you to travel in small groups with extras, like cooking classes with chefs and experiencing unique wine pairings at boutique wineries.

Jackson Family WinesFor those who cannot cross the pond and visit Europe personally with a river cruise or visit to the many vineyards, villas and historic landmarks, I suggest you consider booking a package to visit the beautiful region of Sonoma Valley near San Francisco. They have many amazing boutique vineyards like Jackson Family Wines (right) and you can experience some great food and wine pairing. This is a taste of Europe in California. You can find some of the best wines and amazing chefs who are eager to show you their talent.

There are many food and wine destinations in the world that travelers can discover.  Whether you choose to visit the wine regions of Europe or to stay here in our very own continent of North America, be sure to do your research. Make a list of what you would like to experience and check with your travel experience consultant for good advice on a package that will meet your needs.

Denali National Park Wows Tourists this Spring

I just returned from escorting a group of seniors for two weeks in glorious Alaska and found Denali National Park continues to wow tourists with abundant wildlife this spring once again.  It was unusually dry and temperatures were on the mild side to everyone’s delight. So dry that much of the state is under a extreme forest fire warning.  It did make for beautiful sunny days with perfect photo opportunities each day to enjoy.

MS Oosterdam

MS Oosterdam in Skagway

My first week began with cruising up the coastline on a Holland America. We had brief day stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. Our day in Ketchikan was typically overcast with drizzle since this area gets the most rain in the region. As soon as we arrived to Juneau, the sun broke out and we headed out whale watching and saw several humpbacks within 50 feet. The next day we were docked in Skagway and immediately boarded the Whitepass tourist train for a three hour tour to the summit and crossed briefly into Canada. A must while in this port.

Alyeska

View of mountains in Alyeska

After our cruise we spent two nights in Alyeska, which is known to skiers for great slopes and to tourist’s great views. This past year was poor for ski lovers but great for tourists looking for nature and spectacular views from top of the gondola overlooking several glaciers in the distance. Nearby is the Portage glacier that sits in a lake of glacial water.  We took a short tour by boat that cruised right up to within 100 feet. It felt so close you can almost touch the ice.

McKinley Explorer view

View of Mt. McKinley from train

Before reaching the Denali National Park we boarded the tourist train for eight hours on yet another bright sunny day. We had stunning views of Mount McKinley (now called Mount Denali) the entire way up and so thankful since only a mere 30% get to view it due to constant inclement weather around the giant mountain.

 

Denali National Park

Several Caribou crossing road in Denali Park

 

We spent two nights and one full day in the park and during my seven hour tour was able to see close up dozens of Caribou, Dawll Sheep, several moose, golden eagles and five grizzly bears from a safe distance. This to me was like being on an exotic African safari but much better since besides the abundant wildlife we got to see the view of the mountains and valleys which made for lasting memories.

Discovery paddle boatMy trip wound up in the city of Fairbanks where we only had enough time to take a three hour authentic stern-wheeler boat cruise on the Discovery II. We were able to watch a bush pilot demonstration and visit an Athabascan Indian village and learn how for thousands of years Indians survived in very rugged conditions.

 

This was my forth trip to Alaska and second time to Denali National Park. The warmth and passion of the local Alaskan’s make for an enriching vacation adventure for all ages. I look forward to return again to Denali National Park as each visit seems to bring me back to nature in a special way.