Canada-New England Cruises 2013

3 06 2013

Be sure to include “Old Ironsides” in your Boston exploration

Canada and New England are beautiful year round, but are a striking adventure when ablaze with fall colors. When seen from the deck of a cruise ship, the coastal splendor also reveals picturesque fishing villages, historic harbors, and cities with cobbled streets and the most historic architecture in Northern America.

While Mother Nature makes seasonal changes on her own schedule, the normal peak times for Fall Colors are from mid-September to mid-October. The coastal colors peak a little later than inland, so be sure to include an excursion inland when possible.

Attractions for a New England and Canada include rugged cliffs, mouth watering seafood, colonial history, whale watching, and quaint harbors. Imagine yourself a citizen of the early colonies, or living the sea faring life in rugged Nova Scotia.

Departure Ports

What city is on your bucket list? Canada New England cruises depart from many of the key destinations on the East Coast. Start with a stay in vibrant New York City and depart from the Cape Liberty, New Jersey (Celebrity) or New York (Princess, Holland America). Enjoy the history and cuisine of Boston or imagine yourself in France by starting or ending in colorful French speaking Quebec. Spend a few days enjoying the history and food in Baltimore and depart on Royal Caribbean. Whatever the starting or ending point, be sure to spend a few days exploring before and or after your cruise.


Holland America’s medium sized ships are ideal venues for this itinerary and Veendam and Maasdam sail he area from May through October. Sailings vary from 7-15 days offering round trips from Boston and one ways from Boston to Quebec City, Montreal (on the AARP bucket list) and Boston, and repositioning (always a good deal) between Ft. Lauderdale in May and Montreal and Quebec City and Fort Lauderdale at the end of Fall Color season.  From Sep 12-Oct 2, the Eurodam joins the others for 10 day one way fall color sailings between New York and Quebec.

Princess’ balcony rich Caribbean and Emerald Princess visit from Sept 14- Oct 16, offering 7 and 10 day sailings from New York and Quebec City. On Oct 26, Emerald repositions from Quebec City to Ft Lauderdale. Princess also offers land tours on both the US and Canadian ends of voyages.

Royal Caribbean’s active style Brilliance of the Seas sails out of Boston from September through October. Grandeur of the Seas makes round trips out of Baltimore. These sailings focus on the coastal harbors and do not enter the Saint Lawrence Seaway. As with all the cruise lines, shore excursions are offered to enhance your enjoyment of each stop.

Celebrity, focusing on cuisine and service has 14 day round trips on Sept 7,21 and Oct 5 from Cape Liberty. Be sure to enjoy the specialty dining venue QSINE any time you are on a Celebrity vessel. It is a unique dining experience, sure to make the list of your favorite restaurants.

Norwegian Cruise Line, home of freestyle cruising, has 7 day one way sailings from Boston to Quebec, 10 day round trips from New York, 7 day round trips from New York, and a repositioning from Quebec to Ft Lauderdale. Norwegian has great specialty (extra charge) restaurants, so save some budget to enjoy them whenever on board a Norwegian ship.

So many choices, how to decide? Start with your bucket list for East Coast ports. Which ones haven’t you visited? If the peak colors are not important, Holland America has ships in the area for the longest period. If the colors are important, match your travel style to the cruise lines. Norwegian is the least formal, and shares the value end of the spectrum with Royal Caribbean. Holland America has medium size ships and tends to have more traditional ship interiors. Princess and Celebrity have more contemporary styling. Celebrity brags about food and service and has more inclusive drink packages. Princess sets the bar for being the perfect vacation host.

Hawaii by Sea

20 03 2013
Day at Sea John K Travel

End of another wonderful day at sea

I am sitting on our balcony, mesmerized by the rolling waves and the darkness of the blue. We have been at sea for a few days so I no longer even notice the gentle roll of the ship unless I compare the railing to the horizon. Most of my life was spent standing on beaches listening to the seductive call of the sea. What would it be like to be far from land, surrounded by blue?

What a blessing knowing my next two weeks will be spent having a ménage-a-trois with my wife and my mistress the sea. (If your wife is there it is not an affair, right?) Leaving on a cruise is unique vacation transportation. You join generations of sailors who watch land disappear on the horizon and succumb to the seduction of rolling waves, and starlit nights.

We normally make your yearly Hawaii pilgrimage by air and then spend a week in a condo or resort. The first few days we spend exploring, but soon we fall into relaxation mode. This year we took an extra week and took a 14-day Hawaii cruise out of LA. If you have the time, a 14 or 15 day Hawaii round trip is often less expensive than the cost of airfare and the 7 day cruise that makes the weekly round trip out of Honolulu.

The extra benefit of a 14-day cruise is nine sea days. The uninitiated will wonder what they would do with nine days at sea. The experienced know that on modern cruise ships, the choices are so numerous it is difficult to choose among the many options. Education choices include dance lessons, photography lessons, wine tastings, port lectures, and on this itinerary: Hawaiian culture, nature and language lessons, ukulele lessons, hula lessons and lei making classes. Entertainment choices include first run movies, romance movies in cabin, nightly shows, bingo, casino, and audience participation game shows. Unlike flying, cruising is still a fun form of transportation.

Did I mention you do not have to cook (Yvonne’s definition of a true vacation), your cabin is cleaned for you, and it seems friendly staff is everywhere to help you enjoy your vacation? Freed of these daily tasks, we now have time to relax on our balcony or find a quiet corner to read a book.

Port of Call-Skagway

24 10 2012

Port of Call-Skagway

Stroll the preserved wooden boardwalks and restored historic buildings in Skagway and imagine yourself a part of the 20,000 prospectors who made the city the base for their quest for gold. Skagway was one of the starting points for miners seeking their fortune in the Klondike. Since the Canadian government required each prospector to bring 1 ton of provisions to survive winter, imagine the logistics hub Skagway once was.  One of the most popular attractions for Skagway is the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon Railroad which was completed just as gold production fell. The city  has attractions to fit interests from historic to active.

White Pass and Yukon Railroad

Photo via, Cecvoffman

The terrain from Skagway to Carcross is so challenging, the construction of the White Pass and Yukon route required 450 tons of explosives and earned a place as an International Civil Engineering Landmark, along with the Eiffel Tower, Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty. Ride in fully restored cars (the oldest four were built in 1881) pulled by vintage diesel engines over 20 miles of steep grades, and cliff hanging curves to climb the 3000 feet to the White Pass summit. The route retraces the original White Pass summit trek, offering a magnificent vista of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and  gold rush sites. The train agent is your historic guide, entertaining you with captivating tales of Gold Rush history. Various combinations of train ride are possible, round trip train ride, train up and bus back, bus up and train back. Variations of the train ride also include gold panning, dog sledding, and riding a bike back down the summit.

Skagway, AK

The famous Red Onion, former upscale brothel, now Bar/Restaurant

History lovers can envision what Skagway was like when it was the gateway to the Yukon. Historical tours of Skagway can be done self-guided, guided by one of the Madams from the Red Onion Saloon, or by tour car. Once an exclusive bordello, the Red Onion Saloon is now a bar/restaurant and a member of the Historic Registry.

Many wildlife excursions leave from Skagway. If seeing a bear is on your list of things to do, your best odds for a sighting is in Haines, a 40 minute fast ferry ride from Skagway. The Chilkoot Lake area teems with bears and bald eagles beginning in mid July as salmon begin their spawning runs.  Kayak on the Chilkoot Lake or raft in the Chilkat Mountains. Nearby Haines is the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, so eagle lovers will want it on their list.

Photography fans can choose excursions specifically designed to provide photo opportunities and advice. Adventure lovers have many opportunities to enjoy their favorite pursuits. Since the ports in the Inner Passage offer similar adventures, it is possible to raft in one port, hike in another, and bike, horseback ride or fish in the next. Skagway offers scenery, history, active days, train rides, bus tours, and wildlife. Your choices range from walking off the ship and self touring the town to flight seeing by float plane. Enjoy your day!

Which Cruise line is right for me?

14 03 2012

You’ve decided to find out what cruising is all about. You have friends or relatives who now mostly take cruises for vacation and you like the fact that your hotel will take you to your destination, while feeding and entertaining you. But there are so many cruise lines, how do you decide which one to take??


Cruise lines have personalities and there is at least one that will match your personality and lifestyle. Cruise lines target specific demographics. The industry term for value cruise lines is Contemporary.  If you like vacations in Vegas, traveling with the family and are younger, Carnival’s fun value package will be for you. Carnival has Early Saver prices for those who plan ahead, so think 5 to six months out for your vacation! Do not underestimate Carnival, they have excellent food, and are more than party ships. Carnival does an excellent job of providing value for the cruise dollar!


Don’t like to color between the lines, and don’t want to be told when or where to go to dinner? Norwegian Cruise Line has the resort feel at sea, and is the “ non conformist” cruise line. Also good for families, Norwegian will often offer discounts for seniors, military and teachers. The newer Norwegian ships are moving out of the value level up to the premium level, with suites and higher prices. Entertainment ranges from improv comedy from Second City to the Blue Man Group.


At the higher end of the value lines is Royal Caribbean. It’s two larger ships, Oasis and Allure are destination resorts. If you have family and the Disney prices scare you, look at Royal Caribbean. The kids programs are excellent, with programs divided by two year increments. If you are active, and sports minded, you fit the keys for Royal Caribbean.


The next step up is the Premium category. Celebrity is modern, smart luxury. Luxury at a value price. If you appreciate world class cuisine, and a higher level of service, you will appreciate the hip quality of Celebrity. The high staff to guest ratio means you will be pampered more than on the contemporary lines.


Azamara is the sister company to Celebrity and offers smaller ships. In addition to the intimacy of a smaller ship, Azamara is all about the destination. Stays in port might be two days and the smaller ships can go where the larger ships cannot. Azamara would be at the value end of the small ship experience. Ages tend to be in the 40-50 range because you will be hanging out with people making $200,000 a year plus.


Princess sets the standard for Premium cruise lines in my opinion. Princess is the Consummate Host, offering Comfortable elegance in their ships, and sailing to 330 ports in the world.  The Princess Alaska cruise and cruise/tour program is consistently one of the best in the industry. Princess allows you to “Escape Completely” on your vacation. You will have an intimate feel on a large ship, with entertainment and excellent dining and educational opportunities.


Holland America is Princess’s sister company and offers medium sized ships with a traditional feel. If your brands are Fairmont Hotels, Lexus and Ralph Lauren, Holland America is for you. The wide teak decks and marine artifacts appeal to lovers of tradition and the classics. Holland America has an excellent kids program, so is an excellent choice for multi-generational vacations. Holland America offers a package that satisfies cultural and sight seekers, romantics, relaxers and extended family vacations.


Straddling Premium and Luxury is Cunard, the true ocean going vessels designed for ocean crossings. The Grills level is at the Luxury level and the entire experience is more formal than most cruise lines. Appealing to worldly sophisticated travelers who enjoy an affluent life style, Cunard presents the opportunity to “dress up” and be pampered with luxury. For travelers with the time, it is often less expensive to sail on Cunard than fly economy to Europe, and with a much nicer experience!


Disney fulfills the Disney affinity for both kids and adults, although if you are not a big Disney fan, you may not enjoy the cruise as much as the kids. Staterooms are 25% larger than the industry standard. A Disney cruise is the ultimate family vacation. if you plan to sail at spring break of other popular times, try to plan a year in advance for best cabin selection. For Disney fans, the ships are often also a Honeymoon destination.


Also straddling the Premium/Luxury line is Oceania. Fellow guests will be, on average, 50+, have a higher education and have an income of $150k+. Like the luxury level, the experience is more all inclusive, no extra charge for specialty dining, or specialty coffees. You can buy a wine package for $49 per day. Foodies will love Oceania. The older ships have 700 passengers and the new ones 1000. An attraction is the fact that Oceania calls on the most desired ports in the world. One of the attractive promotions for Oceania is their 2 for 1 air promotion. Watch for it.


Seabourn fits the Luxury and small ship category. The older ships have just 104 suites and while they do not have verandahs, the ships offer an exceptional level of service. The newer ships have 225 suites, many with verandahs. Seabourn targets the retired rich and the working wealthy CEO. If you expect to be wowed on your vacation, Seabourn can do it. A true luxury level experience, only the shore excursions are extra. Ports are unique destinations that the smaller ships can access.


If you plan to sail in a suite, the best luxury value in my opinion is Regent, even the shore excursions are included. Included is air, pre hotel, alcohol, shore excursions and gratuities . The ships are smaller and do not offer the level of entertainment found on the larger ships. If you like the 4 Seasons, Regent fits your life. If you love entertainment, go to Crystal.


Silversea caters to an international clientele at the luxury level. The ships are elegant and intimate with an almost one to one crew to guest ratio. Being at the luxury level, all is included. The ships are all suites with 85% private verandahs. If you desire luxury on the way to your destination, Silversea will make you happy.


If you want a luxury level cruise and the entertainment and dancing you can only find on a larger ship, Crystal Cruises with their “large” 900-1000 passenger ships will fill your need. Fellow cruisers will on average have been on several cruises and are there for the destination. The 89% return rate says it all about how satisfied they were. The brand pillars for Crystal are: Service, Space, Quality, Choices.   


The questions to ask yourself before a vacation are: do I want to get away and just relax, or am I looking for a destination that will give me an experience. Do you want an active vacation with thrilling activities like zip lining, or soaking up sun and reading. Do you want to experience other cultures, view historical architecture, sample regional cuisine?


Does the sound of only unpacking once while the ship moves you to port to port in an overview of the area appeal to you? Talk to your travel agent who can find the sailings that meet your meets at the best price through the ability to leverage the agencies’ pricing abilities. Cruises can be complicated and dealing with a travel agent rather than a discounting boiler room will give you someone to go to for answers to your questions.




Montserrat, Spain

8 02 2012

Finding the right shore excursion for your one day cruise stop always leaves you anxious. So many choices, so little time. We had picked our Med cruise for an overview of Europe. I had never been to the Med, my more traveled wife had been years ago. We based our shore trip choices for well rounded exposure to the culture and sights of the region. For Barcelona, we did the city tour and then a trip to Montserrat. We got the highlights of Barcelona, with plenty of Gaudi, a drive through the country side and a tour of the remote abbey at Montserrat.
A rewarding day trip destination from Barcelona is the Benedictine monk retreat of Montserrat. Montserrat or “jagged mountain” in Catalan is the home of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. It has called pilgrims for hundreds of years. The Monastery has religious significance and the ride there will treat you with visions of small villages tucked in the mountains. Once you are there, the vista is breathtaking.
Hikers will be rewarded with some of the most unusual rock formations in Catalonia and of course vistas of the country side. Take the funicular (cable car) to the top of the mountain If you enjoy walking there are also some interesting walks through the mountains where you will experience magnificent views of some of the most unusual rock formations in the whole of Catalonia. You can take a funicular to the top of the mountain and from there you can choose a number of different walks, all with amazing views of the Catalonian countryside.
Montserrat’s religious significance began in 880 when a group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky accompanied by angles singing. The children ran to tell their parents who went to see for themselves. The parents experienced the same vision, not only once but for whole month. The obvious conclusion was that this was a sign from God.
A local vicar substantiated the vision in a cave on Montserrat. Exploration of the cave yielded an image of the Virgin Mary. The site of the visions is marked by a Holy Grotto, an ordained holy place that is visited by pilgrims and the curious from around the world.
The monastery is home to one of the oldest publishing houses in the world, publishing since 1499. It also is the home for the Virgin of Montserrat, Catalonia’s favorite saint. The Montserrat Boy’s Choir (Escolania) is one of the oldest in Europe. The Basilica’s museum houses works of many important sculptors and painters, including El Greco, Dali and Picasso.
Ever the foodies, one of our found memories of our day was the local farmer’s cheese and honey we bought from the vendors inside the grounds. The altitude will bring a chill, be sure to take a jacket, and bring a good camera. On a clear day you can see Majorca, but even if it is not clear, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of Catalonia.

Low tech is sometimes the best

26 01 2012

Since the Panamanians have taken over the canal, they have increased the efficiency of the operation. When the new addition is completed in 2014, the revenue from the canal will lift Panama to a First World country. Despite the modernization of operations, the function of connecting a ship to the tugs that hold the ship in place is still accomplished in a low tech solution. Two guys row lines out to the ship which are used to bring the lines from the tugs to the ship. Then they row back to the lock. Sometimes simple is best.


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