Disembarkation

I must compliment the cruise lines – On disembarkation day, they disembark anywhere from 600 to 5000 guests (usually by 9:30 a.m no less!), take on food and supplies for the next cruise, board another group of passengers with the same number of guests and are ready to sail by 4 p.m.! WOW! Talk about organization!

About halfway through your cruise, the cruise line will want to reconfirm your immediate post-cruise travel plans. You may have forgotten that during the pre-boarding process, you had entered how you were going to get home, but this is a way for them to set up the best disembarkation times for all of the disembarking passengers. From the information provided, they divide the passengers into small groups according to their travel plans and cabin level (suites have higher priority than inside cabins). This simplifies how all passengers disembark the ship.

Typically, on the morning of the last day or two of your cruise, you will return to your cabin and see what no cruiser wants to find – the colored luggage tags and disembarkation instructions. This is an indication that your cruise will soon be coming to an end … sigh.

If you have a late afternoon or evening flight, you might consider booking an excursion with the cruise line that will take you (and your luggage) on a tour of your disembarkation city that ends at the airport. These are usually very well done AND much better than spending all day in the airport!

LuggageTagsNOTE: You should never book a return flight after a cruise before noon on disembarkation day. In many cities, the airport and the pier are at opposite ends of town, so you need to factor in traffic, going through security at the airport (especially when abroad) and any unforeseen delays, so noon is a pretty good benchmark to use.

In general, those with early flights disembark earlier than those with later departures – those that have driven to the port have the option of either doing the Express disembarkation (more on that later) or disembarking last, along with the rest of the passengers.

LuggageHallwayOn the last night of the cruise, pack the items that go into your suitcase (making sure you keep out something to wear in the morning as well as the toiletries and medications you will need the next morning) and put your luggage into the hallway (usually by midnight). You will have attached the assigned colored tags, as well as ensure your personal identification tag is still there. That night the crew will come by and gather all of the luggage and take it down to the hold. From there it will be sorted by the colored tags and put into luggage bins, also sorted by color, and stored.

Your carry-on items (that you do NOT set out) would include anything fragile that you didn’t want to pack (or couldn’t fit in the luggage), your toiletries, jammies and anything else you wanted to take home.

If you are driving home, you might want to do the Express disembarkation, which means you will walk off with all of your belongings in one trip (both luggage and carry on). Express disembarkation passengers will be the first to disembark the ship. They might start as early as 7 a.m., depending on when the ship docks and has been cleared by the authorities.

The other option for locals would be to do the regular disembarkation. This would apply if you wanted to have one last leisurely breakfast onboard to make your cruise last as long as possible (but you will still have to be off by 9 or so).

Once the ship has been cleared, the color coded luggage bins are transferred from the ship to the holding area of the terminal. There, the luggage will be scanned for items such as weapons or other illegal items and the drug dogs wander through. Then, the luggage is set out in nice neat rows waiting for you to come and claim your luggage. Again, they REALLY have this down!

After Express disembarkation people have disembarked, then  regular disembarkation will begin. When it’s finally your turn, they will scan your cruise card one last time and hear that final ‘ding’ before proceeding down the gangway. NOTE: As you exit the ship, you will need to have your cruise card and passports handy.

Once you have reached the terminal, you will go through customs. Currently, the limit is $400 per person of personal items. This would exclude any duty-free items you might have purchased onboard or at any of the ports of call. Although you should be truthful, you also don’t want to raise any red flags that might cause you to have to pay additional taxes, so just use your best judgement. You should enter some amount, so any small amount would be fine. Hint: If you purchase any jewelry, just wear it off like you boarded with it.

The custom agents are usually pretty pleasant, especially if you are pleasant with them. Keep in mind, they are stuck in a pretty mundane job and you will have just come back from a fabulous cruise. It is their job to keep our borders safe, so you can’t joke around with them too much. I’m happy to say I’ve never known of anyone to be detained at customs!

DecorativeLuggageFrom there, you will actually claim your luggage. It may look like a sea of luggage when you first enter, but it usually isn’t as bad as it might look. Luckily the groupings are usually relatively small, so you don’t have to sort through too many to actually find yours. (This is truly where having decorative luggage, a colorful luggage protector or a pom pom can be helpful in finding your luggage quickly and easily.)

The last thing you do is hand them the customs form as you exit. If you are driving, HOPEFULLY you 1) remembered not to pack your car keys 2) you remember where you parked your car!

I hope you have found this helpful. So many times the information is all about the fun part and NOBODY wants to talk about disembarkation!

Don’t Throw Away Your Boarding Pass

This article was originally posted on clearmindz.blogspot.ca – it was important, so I wanted to share it with you!

When we travel by air, we hold onto our printed boarding passes like our lives depend on it (although today, many are using their phones for their boarding passes). We know that without it we are not getting on that plane. Once we have boarded, many of us become more careless about it’s whereabouts, because we are done with it. Sometimes we slip it in the seat pocket in front of us, stick it in a magazine, or just chuck it.

Until watching this video I never realized that my carelessness with the boarding pass had the potential to land me in a ton of trouble! Evidently there is personal information frequently encrypted on the pass, according to ‘Krebs on Security”.
All that an unscrupulous person has to do is get a screen shot of the bar code on the boarding pass, and feed it into a bar code reader on “Inlite’s” site. It was pointed out by a forensic expert for CBS, Winston Krone, that it is possible for the encrypted information on the bar code to contain personal email addresses, home addresses and phone numbers. Access to personal financial information is just a step away. Please watch the footage below to help insure the safety of your personal information. I never would have dreamed that being careless with my boarding pass could lead to such potential damage.
Please SHARE this alarming and important safety information with your friends and family on Facebook

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM4_iz3RqE8

Historic Sitka

Historic Sitka

Historic Sitka

In Sitka, we were tendered in rather than being docked (NOTE: since the original post, they have since built a cruise dock in Sitka). Personally, I love being tendered in (as you can get some GREAT shots of the ship if you get a window seat), but it is also more limiting. It’s just not as easy to pop on and off the ship as you can when the it is docked right in the middle of town (which they are in most Alaska ports). Although technically you can go back and forth as many times throughout the day as necessary, most just take one round trip – just be sure you are back onboard before that last tender!

We headed up the ramp to the Visitors Center to try to find where the Russian Dancers performance was, and low and behold it was right there at the Visitors Center!

New Archangel Dancers, Sitka, Alaska

New Archangel Dancers, Sitka, Alaska

As we entered the building, there was also a quilt show happening in one of the adjacent rooms (I’m also a quilter, so this was a nice surprise!).

Sitka Quilt Show

Sitka Quilt Show

The performance was very home spun, as it was actually just a troop of six ladies – apparently there were no men that had the same vision, so three of the six ladies took on the job of what the men would normally do, and the six of them performed  traditional Russian dances.

Russian Dancers, with women performing the men's roll

Russian Dancers, with women performing the men’s roll

The costumes were as close as they could make but appeared quite authentic – they were actually quite good and in hearing about them, they travel down to the lower 48 for performances, so they are actually quite happy that there are no men in the group after all! lol

Costumes for the Russian Dancers

Costumes for the Russian Dancers

As we left the building to continue to check out the town, I was a little hungry, so we found this cute little collection of shops where I got a buckwheat banana and chocolate crepe – it was yummy!

Banana Buckwheat Crepe at

Banana Buckwheat Crepe at the North Sister Shop

Sitka is a cute little mountain town with a lot of Russian influence so worth a walking tour, so you can get the background. There are quite a few churches, and you will find leather, fur and yarn shops scattered throughout the town (as well as the requisite tee shirt shops). It is also quite a fishing town.

Fishermen fixing their nets

Fishermen fixing their nets

Tlinget boat, Sitka Alaska

Tlinget boat, Sitka Alaska

Sitka isn’t included on a lot of the cruise itineraries, but if you are lucky enough to select an itinerary that includes Sitka, you will not be disappointed.

Regatta in Sitka Harbor

Regatta in Sitka Harbor (behind breakwater)

Sitka lighthouse

Sitka lighthouse

Sunset as we sailed from Sitka

Sunset as we sailed from Sitka

Welcome to Astoria!

Welcome to Astoria

Welcome to Astoria

After breakfast, we set off to see the town of Astoria, where we saw one of the locals drive by in what appeared to be a 1932 Ford Sedan. We saw him numerous times throughout the day, apparently taxiing folks to and from the ship.

1929 Ford

1929 Ford

We continued on and saw this cute 1912 trolley, also known as “Old 300,” so we asked the gentlemen inside about it – for just $1, they would take us to the end of the line, down the entire Riverwalk. We paid our $1 and within a few minutes the trolley was full of other passengers.

Old 300" - 1913 Trolley in Astoria

“Old 300” – 1912 Trolley in Astoria

The ride was delightful and probably the best money spent on the whole trip!

Sign on Trolley

Sign on Trolley

The two retired volunteers giving the commentary were just charming (wanna-be stand up comedians, actually), but they were also quite knowledgeable about not only the Port of Astoria, but the history of the area, Astoria bridge (4.3 miles in length) and pretty much anything else they were asked.

Guests on the Astoria Trolley

Guests on the Astoria Trolley

The end of the line was a delightful 4 mile ride, where the instructions were: “Those on the water side, stand up.” Once we were standing, we were told to grab the exposed handle of the seat back and move it to the other side – we would then be facing the other direction for the return. Then the non-water side did the same thing. SO quaint!

Turning the Trolley at the end of the line

Turning the Trolley at the end of the line

We rode back as far as downtown and proceeded to check out the town. It was a cute little downtown with lots of coffee houses and quaint old buildings.

Courthouse and Victorian House

Courthouse and Victorian House

It appeared that the downtown was vibrant, with plantings of flowers and very few ‘for rent’ signs.

Downtown Greenery

Downtown Greenery

The Astoria Column is also in Astoria, although we didn’t visit, but had a mini-reunion with one of our high school buddies. The Column is a 125-foot monolith atop Coxcomb Hill patterned after Trajan’s Column in Rome. Apparently the view from the top is well worth the 164-step, spiral stair trek, but I’ll never know…

Regatta in Astoria

Regatta in Astoria

When we got back to the ship we enjoyed watching folks return and even watched as some crew members brought on what appeared to be ice chests. We later heard the announcement that the chef had been to the fish market and ‘caught’ some fresh salmon, which would be served at the Terrace Grill for dinner. Count me in!

Fresh Salmon

Fresh Salmon

SalmonSaute

Sautéd salmon, with a variety of sauces

As soon as we sailed, we attended the lecture on “Alaska’s Glaciers & Ice: Origin, structure, movement, fate and effects of tide water glaciers” by Dr. John Palmisano – WOW – he packed a LOT of information about glaciers into 45 minutes!

Just as he was finishing, the captain announced that the helicopter was arriving to take the pilot off of the ship (due to the extremely choppy waters outside of the Port of Astoria, apparently it was safer for him to disembark via helicopter rather than the usual pilot boat).

The helicopter came in and began to hover, lowered the hook, the pilot was hooked on, they gave the signal and he was hoisted up and was safely inside the helicopter in about 30 seconds. It was just amazing to watch everyone do their jobs so efficiently and safely! (and yes the area had been roped off so no guest was anywhere near the activity).

Helicopter disembarking pilot from ship

Helicopter lowering hook to lift pilot from ship

After dinner, we retired early and got a good night’s sleep.

Carry On Items

Checklist for TravellersAs you near your departure for your cruise, you’ll need to pack for your trip. These are the suggested items to have in your carry-on luggage (NOT to pack into your checked luggage). I’ve included items for both arriving the same day you board as well as if you will be arriving a day early. You may not need all of these items, but this is a suggested list (and memory jogger).

Plan to wear a shirt with a pocket on your travel day – you can put your boarding pass and passport or ID in the pocket, which is VERY convenient as you make connections throughout the day (although in today’s world, many  use the QR code on their phone.

PAPERWORK

Carry on your person:

•  Personal identification (driver’s license/passport)

•  Travel itinerary – your FULL itinerary (including flight numbers and times) from the time you leave your home to the time you walk in your door again (I have found this EXTREMELY helpful, especially if your travel plans change and you need to contact the hotel at your destination) all on one sheet (your travel agent should provide you with this)

•  Travel documents such as:

•  Tickets/Boarding passes

•  Reservation and confirmation numbers for your air, car and lodgingCurrency

•  Travel vouchers or coupons, especially if they have been prepaid

•  Relevant membership cards (hotel, air, rental, etc.)

•  Money (cash and currency at your destination)

•  Credit card(s) NOTE: If you are traveling with your spouse, both of you should have cards from different accounts, just in case something should happen and you are unable to use one card, you will still have another card for the rest of your trip.Luggage tags

•  ATM cards (make sure you know your 4-digit PIN number)

•  Valuable jewelry inside passport holder inside your clothing (NOTE: you really should try to avoid taking any real valuable jewelry when you travel, but if you do, this is for you)

• Luggage tags for the ship that you will put on your suitcase AFTER you’ve arrived at your embarkation city

CARRY ON

•  Laptop/pad

•  Camera (with accessories, extra batteries, memory cards, lenses, etc)

•  Watch

•  Travel entertainment (book, crossword puzzle book, handwork, etc.)

•  Change of clothes (in case your luggage is lost or detained)

•  Toothbrush and toothpaste

•  Hand sanitizer

•  Comb/brush

•  Medications (including birth control)

•  Deodorant

•  Sleepwear (again in case your luggage is lost or detained)

•  Make sure you have packed any sharp scissors, liquids over 3 ounces, knives or other item that might be confiscated at the airport in your checked luggage. NOTE: When you pack to return home, remember to REPACK these items into your luggage again for the return trip!!

• Small ziploc bag to put any liquids in to get through airport security

• Inflatable neck pillow, ear plugs and eye mask (If it’s an overnight flight)

FOR THE SHIP (for that down time before your luggage arrives):

• Sunscreen – even if you’re going to a cool place, the reflection off the water out on the ocean can still be brutal, so have it handy

• Swimsuit – if you plan to visit the pool

• Sun visor/hat (with chin strap) – Again, even if you are going on a winter trip, you may still want/need a visor to help with the glare from the reflection of the water – the strap is for the wind so it doesn’t get airborn!

American Queen Steamboat Review

AmericanQueen

American Queen at St. Francisville

We recently took a 9-day cruise on the American Queen Steamboat, round trip from New Orleans from Feb. 22nd to March 1, 2014. The weather in some of the ports was rather ‘brisk,’ but the cruise itself was WONDERFUL, with stops in St. Francisville, Nachez, Vicksburg and Plantation Row. There are a number of different itineraries available on the American Queen (other than our Round Trip New Orleans), as it cruises the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers as well. Check the AQvoyages.com website for all of the options.

REGISTRATION

Registration

Registration at Hilton Riverside (New Orleans)

Since an overnight stay at a local hotel is included in the price of the cruise, there was a registration desk set up in the lobby to greet everyone and give them breakfast tickets for the next morning. After breakfast we then went into the Registration Room, where we picked up our boarding passes and signed up for our dining room table. They also were taking reservations for the Premium Excursions (more on that later)

SHIP

The ship itself is just gorgeous. It was built in 1995, but has recently been refurbished and you really DO feel as if you are on a riverboat ‘in the day,’ yet with modern conveniences (like the elevator). The ship holds 436 passengers, although our cruise only had about 250, most in the 60-80 age group, with no children … at all.

MarkTwain

Mark Twain Gallery

PUBLIC SPACES

Swing

The swing on Texas deck outside Front Porch

RockingChairs

Rocking Chairs on the Bow of Observation Deck (Deck 4)

There were a number of beautifully furnished public spaces available to nestle in with a good book, such as the Mark Twain Gallery, Ladies’ Parlor or Gentlemen’s Card Room, although I only saw a couple of people in them at any given time. There was also areas at the bow of both Decks 3 & 4 with rocking chairs and swings that WERE used when we did have bursts of decent weather.

 

 

The two story Grand Saloon on Deck 1 (where all of the shows were) featured beautiful hardwood floors. Chairs would be moved onto the floor for the shows and then removed for later in the evening when the dance band would play and couples would dance.

There was also an elevated area around the perimeter of the dance floor, which is where we usually sat. There were also six small box balconies on Deck 2, reserved for suite guests. We were invited to sit there one night, but felt the view was better from the perimeter seating on Deck 1 anyway. As is the case on most cruises, people tend to sit in the same places throughout the cruise and this cruise was no exception, so there were some ‘balcony hogs’ … alas.

BoxSeats

Grand Saloon Box Seats

Although this was somewhat of a small ship with just 436 passengers, it even had a spa

Pool

Pool

I understand that there is also a gym onboard, but we never found it, but we DID find the pool, which was up on Deck 5, next to the River Grill Bar and Calliope. The Calliope was usually played as we were pulling out of each port.

CABIN

Our stateroom, 315, was on Deck three, category D, with a shared balcony. The double entrance doors opened onto the deck and was the only entrance to the room as the bathroom was at the rear of the cabin. On those brisk evenings, returning to the cabin was somewhat of a dash, but since it was a short distance, it was not a problem.

BalconyDeck

Texas Deck Balcony (Deck 3)

There were plantation shutters on the beveled windows in the door, which allowed us to control light as well as privacy. Fresh air was available through the transom window over the door. Two chairs and a small table were available outside each cabin and those were used by many guests throughout the ship, weather permitting.

Each cabin was named after a state, river or historical person, in our case our cabin was “Idaho,” which also had an information sheet about Idaho framed and hanging on the wall inside the room. It was kind of fun to walk around the boat and see the various names on the cabins! The Idaho plaque outside the cabin really did help us locate our cabin coming back in the evening when it was dark (remember this was on an outside balcony walkway).

Cabin

Balcony cabin queen bed

Because the bed frames enabled the suitcases to be stored under the bed, the hi-loft beds were rather high so getting into bed was a bit of a challenge (for me), BUT the beds were wonderfully comfortable and allowed us to get a good night’s sleep.

The dresser doubled as a desk, which also had a safe, but there was NOT much room for anything else. There was an armoire to hang clothes, but with the plushy robes and life vests also hanging in the closet, there wasn’t much room for clothes, so I ended up rolling up one of the robes and sticking it in the upper unusable shelve to allow for more room in the closet. In our cabin there was just one desk chair, although in some of the larger cabins there were larger chairs and settees, which would have made for a more comfortable experience, I’m sure.

The bathroom floor and bathtub sized shower was tiled with a black hexagonal pattern, true to the day.There was a small glass shelf above the pedestal sink and a small double glass shelved unit behind that for storing toiletries, so the storage space in the bathroom was VERY limited. A hair dryer was available as well as a magnified lighted mirror next to the mirror on the wall. Towels were plush and because we were the first cruise of the new season, brand new! NOTE: Some cabins have a full bathtub.

DINING ROOM

Since this was a first/second seating arrangement, we were assigned a table that we would return to each night for dinner. However, at dinner the first night, one of the other couples enjoyed the ‘unlimited wine’ just a little too much and became quite rude, so we asked to be reseated for the balance of the cruise – they were more than happy to reseat us.

PercyKaren

Karen and Percy

The service by our new waiter, Percy, and asst. waiter, Karen, was excellent. They were also serving two other tables, one of which was a little ‘demanding,’ so it was interesting to watch them wait on us and the demanding table with a smile and desire to make us all happy.

The dining room tables were set with white tablecloths and black cotton napkins, embossed gold chargers and white china and a red rose – simple, yet elegant.

TableSetting

Table Setting in J.W. White Dining Room

The food in the dining room was EXCELLENT – each night there were specials that featured two appetizers, a soup, a salad and then four entrees, as well as standard items available each night if you didn’t care for any of the specials. Each of the items was nicely presented also.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie

For dessert, there was always some kind of bread pudding, as well as a variety of other favorites – we were never disappointed.

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee

About the only thing that was amiss in the dining room, at least at the beginning of the cruise, was the frigid temperature. But things did warm things up by the end of the cruise, so it ended up being quite nice.

ALTERNATIVE DINING

Since our cabin was just a few cabins away from the Front Porch dining room, we ate all of our breakfasts and lunches there and even had breakfast outside a couple of mornings when it was warm enough. For breakfast there was a nice variety of items, including yoghurt, eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grits, biscuits, oatmeal, variety of breads as well as an omelet station. They also had a WONDERFUL blend of coffee and fresh fruit, as well as soft serve ice cream, homemade cookies available any time of day.

FrontPorch

Front Porch Dining Room

Lunch varied daily, but there was always a nice soup, variety of salads as well as roasted chicken (that you would see roasting while having breakfast) a hot entree, panini sandwiches and pizza and then, of course, desserts too.

There was a cappuccino machine, but it was out of order most of the cruise (which I have seen happen on many other cruises), but the ice cream machine worked the entire cruise, which made my husband happy!

There was also the River Grill up on Deck 5, but we never went back there, other to listen to the Calliope one time.

Entertainers

Anna Cargill, Matthew Aaron, Lydia Myers and Chris Handley

ENTERTAINMENT

Since this was billed as a Big Band Cruise, I was expecting most of the entertainment to be of the Big Band era, but as it turned out there were only three Big Band nights, but the Big Band entertainers WERE fabulous!

The other four nights were the four singer/dancers in production numbers accompanied by the Steamboat Syncapators, a truly EXCELLENT orchestra.

Dancers

couple dancing to Phil Westbrook

There was also a lounge pianist that would entertain everyone before and after dinner in the lounge separating the dining room and the Grand Saloon. He was very entertaining and was able to honor most of the requests from the passengers and had couples up and dancing before dinner, even on the carpeting.

There was also a two man duo, Jay and Will, in the Engine Room Bar that played after dinner in the evenings, but we never made it back there.

SHORE EXCURSIONS

One of the REALLY nice things about this cruise is that the cruise line provides 3 to 4 busses that follow you from port to port so you can ‘Hop on, Hop off’ at each port. This Hop on Hop off is included in the price of the cruise (which, if you do ocean cruises can add hundreds of dollars to your exit tab!)

Bus

American Queen bus, wrapped to look like the American Queen

The night before each port, a map is available that shows the bus route and where it will stop. You simply go to the kiosk next to the purser’s desk to sign up for the departure time you want, as there are eight options in 15 minute intervals. In some cases, our arrival into port was a little late so the ‘system’ didn’t really work as intended, but everyone ended up getting on the buses and everyone enjoyed the tours.

Once aboard the bus, there was a local guide that gave the history of the city and fun facts that only a local would know. What we ended up doing (as did a lot of others as well) was to go around the complete loop first and then return to the spots of specific interest to us on the next bus. The busses really did come by about every 15 minutes so it really did work out quite nicely.

There were also Premium Excursions available in most ports that went to a specific area(s) for a more in depth excursion. We opted to do this in Vicksburg and visited the Civil War Memorial. The guide was a HUGE Civil War buff and gave us LOTS of history about the war and pointed out lots of interesting things about the many memorial statues inside the park. It was well worth the $59.

RIVERLORIAN

Pilothouses

Ship’s pilot, John, in the pilothouse

The cruise also featured our Riverlorian (a historian and the river, hence Riverlorian), Jerry Hay. He was actually pretty knowledgeable about the rivers and gave us loads of information to help us to understand ‘why’ things were the way they were on the river. He would give talks during the day, announce things as we would approach them along the way and also led tours of the pilothouse once we were docked. The tours were done regularly throughout the cruise and as the pilothouse is not a very big space, they have to limit it to about 10 or so people. The new rule on the river is that a pilot must be in the pilothouse at all times, so John was there to answer our questions.

The other thing that was REALLY cool (actually rather warm) was to go down to the engine room. You can go down there any time, but it was quite fun to go down when the ship was under way so you could really watch things move. I was impressed with how CLEAN it was down there, but can only imagine how hot it would be in the hot summer months down there! YIKES!

RECOMMENDATIONS

This is not a cruise I would recommend to a family as there just is nothing for children to do, but it is a perfect cruise for people wanting to relax and remember a time gone by. It would also be good for folks that have motion sickness issues as there really is no ‘motion’ to get sick from. It was also a great way to really ‘experience’ the South and the people of the South. I hope to return to the American Queen and experience some of her other itineraries in the VERY near future since we had SUCH a good time on this trip!

 

Cruising with Hurtigruten

Arctic Chapel - Tromso

Arctic Chapel – Tromso

When you say the word “cruise,” one typically thinks of a BIG cruise ship that holds anywhere from 2000 to 6000 guests and features Broadway style entertainment and lavish midnight buffets.

However, there are a number of cruise lines that walk away from this kind of mainstream cruising concept and provide a different kind of cruise experience. One such line is Hurtriguten that sails up and down the coast of Norway.

Offloading car1

We boarded the Finnmarken, a ship that even with full capacity only holds 1000 passengers. Since we boarded on Oct. 27th, during the off-season, there were only about 150 passengers that were going the entire voyage, from Bergen to Kirkenes. By that I mean that although this truly IS a cruise ship with staterooms, main dining room and a cruise director, it is also the ‘coastal ferry,’ whereby the locals (even with their car) can board the ship for just a port or two before disembarking.

Loading ramp-1These ships also take on cargo and deliver it to various ports along the way. It was quite fascinating to watch – once we were docked, the door of the hold would open up, the forklifts would off-load and load cargo and in the 15-20 minutes we were in port they’d close the doors and off we would go.

With Hurtigruten, a ship sails every day from Bergen going North and that same day, one sails from other the ‘end of the line,’ Kirkenes, going South. So on any given day, their fleet of 11 ships are spread out along the coastline of Norway, some going north, some going south.

Narrow straight-1

Going through a narrow straight

Needless to say, throughout our 7-day northbound cruise, we passed a number of other Hurtigruten ships, and of course there was friendly competition to see which ship could get the most passengers out on deck waving as we would pass.

Midnatsol-1While docked at Rorvik, we were even able to board their sister ship, the Midnatsol, during our 45 minute port stop (of course we had to be mindful of the time in order to disembark and get back to our ship in time).

With a traditional mainstream 7-day cruise, the typical cruise itinerary will call on 3 to 5 ports with some ‘at sea’ days as well. The ship will usually pull into port in the morning, you are in port the bulk of the day and then sail again in early evening.

Trondheim

Trondheim

Smitty, Sami and reindeer

Smitty, Sami and reindeer at the North Cape

With a 7-day Hurtigruten cruise, however, the ship calls on 34 ports, yes 34, which means hitting 5 to 6 ports per day! Although some stops are just for 10 to 20 minutes, just long enough to disembark passengers and off-load cargo, sometimes you are in port for a couple of hours, such as Tromso, Trondheim and the North Cape, which was enough time to do a 4 hour, beautiful and informative shore excursion.

Snow covered mtns-1Needless to say, the ship is ‘on the move’ pretty much the entire time. Some of the stops were made in the wee hours of the morning. However, I must say that even though the ship pulled into port after we had retired to our cabin, it was never bothersome or disruptive to our sleep.

One of the appealing things about this cruise (at least for us) was the casualness of it – there really is no ‘dress code’ and jeans are acceptable, even for dinner in the dining room.

Speaking of dining room, for meals, there was a rather extensive buffet for both breakfast and lunch that varied daily. As one might expect, there were some traditional English items, such as baked beans and kippers available at breakfast, but also a wide variety of homemade breads, meats and cheeses, including Brie and bleu cheese, available at both breakfast and lunch. YUM!

Lobster-1Dinner, however, was usually a set menu with assigned seating, but if you didn’t want what they were serving that night, upon request they would also prepare something different for you. The last night of the cruise, they put out an amazing seafood buffet that included mussels, prawns, a couple of kinds of crab and even lobster!

Norwegian fiddle-1For entertainment, local performers were often brought onboard, such as a traditional Norwegian fiddler, who played some folk tunes while a young man danced. Another night, a gal from a Sami tribe came onboard and sang some of their folk songs. Other nights there was a lounge entertainer, but as one might expect, he was barely tolerable, but that was OK since most everyone was outside trying to catch the Northern Lights anyway.

Although not for everyone, for us, the Hurtigruten experience was pleasant and provided us a relaxing weeklong cruise with a taste of Norwegian everyday life, close up views of majestic snowcapped fjords and the ability to see the Northern Lights up close and personal.

Norwegian Troll

Norwegian Troll

Norwegian Pearl Ship Inspection

Norwegian Pearl Haven Courtyard

Norwegian Pearl Haven Courtyard

As travel agents, we are often invited onboard a ship for a ‘ship inspection.’ This consists of a tour of the ship, which includes seeing the suites and prime cabins as well as regular cabins. We also get to see the public spaces and have lunch onboard. The hopes are that we will be impressed with the ship and better able to sell the ship, as well as the cruise line.

Norwegian PearlIn 2013, we did one of these ship inspections on the Norwegian Pearl. The Pearl is one of four NCL ships in the Jewel class, which also includes the Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Jade. These four ships were built in the 2005-2007 time frame and hold between 2350- 2466 passengers, depending on the ship.

Since the cost of building a ship is in the multi-millions of dollars, wisely, the cruise lines typically build a number of ships with the same ‘basic’ deck plan in order to save money on the overall ship design. Then they decorate them in different color schemes and fabrics in order to give a completely different ‘look’ to each of the ships. This is done to make sure a guest that sails on a sister ship would not ‘feel’ as if they were on the same ship, even though it is essentially the same design.

As time goes by and they build new ships with newer features, the cruise lines do their best to refit the older ships and try to replicate the newer features on the newer ships, but sometimes there’s only so much they can do, but it’s still WAY cheaper than building a whole new ship! Celebrity calls that “Solsticizing.”

TheHavenThe Haven is an exclusive area on NCL ships with a private courtyard, pool, exercise area, restaurant and lounge that you can only access with a Haven key card. The Haven level also has other amenities, such as butler service, priority boarding and disembarkation (which can be a GREAT amenity in a busy port!).

On the Breakaway, there are 42 cabins (suites) in the Haven area, but on the Pearl, there are only 14 cabins. However, if you’re looking for exclusivity, the Pearl might be a BETTER option as there would be less people in the exclusive area.

On the Breakaway, you would never have to leave the Haven area for dining as the dining room and lounge are all a part of the Haven area, whereas on the Pearl, you have to go down a deck to access the Cagney Dining room for the exclusive breakfast and lunch. What the other agents and I thought interesting was that even if you were at the Haven level, you would still have to pay the surcharge at dinner for any of the specialty dining rooms.

The nice thing was that there were suites as well as family cabins available in the non-Haven area of the ship  so a guest would NOT have to opt for the Haven area if you just wanted to book a suite.

Norwegian Pearl Lobby

Norwegian Pearl Lobby

Golden Princess Lobby

Golden Princess Lobby

The other thing I find interesting about the Norwegian ships is that their main lobby is somewhat understated, when compared to same space to say the Princess, Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships, which usually feature a truly GRAND, open lobby area spanning multiple decks with a huge “wow” factor.

Carpeting on NCL ships also features fish swimming forward, so you always know where the front of the ship is!NCLCarpet

Alaska Cruises

One of the most popular destinations I book for my clients is Alaska. If you have not yet done an Alaskan cruise yet, I HIGHLY recommend you do it !!!

Skagway

Skagway

Alaska cruises usually call on at least two or three of the following cities: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway or Sitka; as well as cruising by at least one glacier (again these are just rules of thumb and CAN vary with the cruise line), but as my eighth grade teacher taught us, “No rule’s a good rule unless it has an exception.”

Alaska cruises fall into three basic categories:

Round Trip – These are ‘inside passage’ cruises that typically sail from and return to Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco or Los Angeles. These are typically the least expensive of the Alaska cruises because they start and end in the same city, which makes your flights to and from the most cost effective. They usually also includes at least two ‘at sea’ days (If you sail from San Francisco, you will have four sea days and five from Los Angeles).

Alaska TrainNorth/South Bound – These are cruises that sail either from Vancouver northbound to Whittier/Anchorage or the reverse, southbound from Whittier/Anchorage to Vancouver. These are the cruises that are the beginning or ending of the cruisetours, but you can also just book them without doing a land extension (but why not?).

Cruisetours – This is the land portion of the cruise (either pre or post cruise) that takes you into Denali Park, as well as other cities. The land portion can vary from 3 to 15 days, and some include a train ride.

GlacierTo get the most of your Alaska cruise, you will probably want to make sure that there will be a naturalist onboard. Throughout the cruise, the naturalist will give lectures about what you are seeing or the history of the city you are visiting. They are onboard the entire cruise and are available for questions just about any time. If your itinerary includes Glacier Bay, a Glacier Bay Park Ranger will board as you enter the park and through the ship’s TV channel and sound system onboard, point out items of interest as well as the areas where wildlife are known to congregate. Hopefully there will be some kind of wildlife activity while you are cruising by…

BearThere will also be a WIDE variety of excursions available, from a simple city bus tour to sea planes and helicopter rides out to the glacier, dog sledding, whale watching, fishing for salmon and halibut and even river rafting, to name a few.

Before you actually book your cruise, you MAY want to compare the excursions offered by the cruise lines you are considering – occasionally there will be an excursion offered exclusively by one cruise line. You wouldn’t want to book your cruise and then find out the excursion you really wanted isn’t available.

NOTE: You can usually save quite a bit of money by booking your excursions from private companies rather than through the cruise line. Since Alaska is one of the United States and not a foreign country, it is QUITE safe and you don’t have to worry about people trying to take advantage of the passengers. That being said, however, booking through the cruise line is truly the easiest.

Fur brief sold in Alaska

Fur brief sold in Alaska

Everyone in the port cities are VERY aware of the cruise ship schedules. In fact, their store’s operating hours usually revolve around the cruise ship port times. Private tour companies are usually VERY accommodating in helping you get to and from the pier on time, so do not be afraid to book a private tour. They will do their best to get you back in time, but DO allow yourself PLENTY of time to get back as the ship will NOT wait for you! In most of the Alaska port cities, there are ships that arrive in the morning and depart early afternoon, then a second round that come in mid-afternoon and are there into the evening, so they truly can NOT wait. ALSO, since sunset in Alaska isn’t until about 10 pm, you still have quite a bit of daylight hours well into the evening.

The main advantage of booking excursions through the cruise company is that it DOES make it easier, although since the Alaska ports are pretty much in the center of town (not out in an industrial area where taxi’s are not permitted) it is pretty easy to meet up with a private tour dockside.

Alaska is truly amazing to I encourage you to get out and really ‘experience’ Alaska!

Packing Strategies

It is quite common to over-pack for your cruise, as you will most probably not wear everything you bring.

Fur brief sold in Alaska

Fur brief sold in Alaska

You may also want to pick up a souvenir tee-shirt or other garment from some of the ports-of-call. (By the way, those garments (not necessarily a tee-shirt) make GREAT souvenirs – when you wear them back home, people will ask you where you got it and you can say, “I got this when I was on my cruise to XXXX.”)

Consider packing your clothes in a plastic bag … and for a number of reasons:

wet luggage• Even though it might not be raining when you leave home or at your final destination, it just might be raining in some of the airports you connect through. When your luggage is transferred from one plane to another, it could very easily get wet, especially if you have a long layover and the luggage has to sit in one of those ‘luggage trailers’ for any length of time. If you have packed your clothes in a plastic bag, your clothes will still arrive dry.

• If you are traveling with your spouse, you can each put a change of clothes in a smaller ziploc in each other’s luggage, just in case something DOES happens to one of your suitcases, you will have at least one extra day’s worth of clothes.

• You can roll your clothes and get a LOT more in the bag than you would have been able to otherwise.

• The plastic bag can also double as a place to put your soiled clothes – although some ships have self-serve laundry facilities, who wants to be doing laundry when you are on a cruise!?!

NOTE: A garbage bag works great as it will conform to its surroundings quite nicely.

PromenadeDeckLadies, be sure to pack a lightweight jacket or shawl (pasmina). Even if you are cruising to a warm, tropical place, the temperature in some of the common areas of the ship (especially dining rooms) can be VERY cold. You may also want to take a stroll out on the Promenade Deck and having a shawl (pasmina) with you will be handy as it can get QUITE breezy out on deck.

Bathroom CounterspaceTypically there is not much counter space in the bathroom, so if you have a small toiletries case you can work out of, you may find it most helpful. MOST cruise lines will provide shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion, but if you have sensitive skin or are particular about the soaps/conditioners you use, you may want to bring your own (travel size of course).

If you have to fly in a day early to reach your embarkation port, you will want to put not only your medications, jammies and toilitries needed for the next day in your carry-on luggage, also pack the clothes you plan to wear for boarding the next day. This way you will not have to get into your main suitcase for your overnight stay, you can just function out of your carry-on.

Make a copy of your itinerary and put it in each piece of luggage along with a contact/cell phone number – this way if your luggage doesn’t arrive, whoever opens it will have a better chance of getting it to you in a timely manner.

For the first couple of hours onboard, depending on the time of year and where you are sailing from, besides your visor/hat with chin strap (which you will need regardless), you may also need:

• warm: sunscreen and a bathing suit (if you’re planning to hit the pool or sauna)

• cool: gloves, a jacket and scarf.

Remember not to overpack.