Port of Call: Vancouver

20 06 2013

JohnKTravel Vancouver Port of Call

If your Alaska cruise starts or ends in Vancouver, BC, be sure to plan to stay a few days before or after the cruise. The safety, international energy and the vibrant restaurants are just some of the many attractions that will make you want to return. It is a world class city offering food, culture, nature, and more.

The city is easily walked, with a convenient light rail system that makes getting to the downtown from the airport quick and affordable. The Skytrain also makes getting around the city quick, easy, safe and affordable. If you are arriving by cruise ship and not able to stay, there is a stop a block away from the cruise terminal that will take you to the airport.


JohnKTravel Vancouver Port of Call

 Stanley Park, one of the best parks in the Americas is minutes away from the downtown area. Like a Central Park on the water, the park offers 14 miles of ocean side paths, native totem poles, lakes and beaches. Stroll the paths or rent a bike to cover more territory.

In the Northwest, “summer” can be short and the norm is a mixture of sun, clouds and quick showers. Weather moves fast in the area and it is possible to see all within an hour, so go prepared with a jacket or an umbrella.  

The melting of  many cultures has created a mix of restaurants to meet all tastes. Like many large cities, competition means that the restaurants have to be great to survive. The proximity to the Pacific ocean and the milder climate provide local chefs with a mixture of local seafood and vegetables. Vancouver also has a lively food truck presence. Download the Eat St app to find your favorite food experience on a budget!  www.foodvancouver.com

JohnKTravel Vancouver Port of CallGranville Island is one of the must see attractions for both locals and tourists. The Island is home to galleries, shops, and restaurants overlooking the water. Be sure to visit the local Farmers Market where you can find produce, pastries, flowers and more! For a colorful ride there, take the Aquabus ferry across False Creek. http://theaquabus.com/ http://granvilleisland.com/granville-island-farmers-market   

For a more authentic experience, take Skytrain to Commercial Drive. The location on the far east of the city is an eclectic community. Known locally as The Drive, you will be mixing mostly with locals. ere H Over 57 of the Best of Vancouver winners or located on The Drive. www.thedrive.ca

Vancouver is where we were introduced to the hop on hop off bus. Several serve Vancouver and are a perfect way to hit the high points of the city in a day. The buses make a loop of the city, stopping at the main attractions. You hop off, visit and catch the next bus to go by. I would recommend splurging for the more expensive lines with the nicer buses. The lower end buses can get overcrowded and cannot always accommodate everyone waiting at a stop. http://govancouver.about.com/

Insiders Tip: watch the sunset from one of the beaches in Stanley Park, or go to the bar at the Pan Pacific at sundown to watch the sun set and the lights come up across the harbor. 

In short, if you enjoy music, food, nature, native American culture (called First Nations in Canada, don’t say Indian), or shopping, don’t miss the opportunity to spend a few days in Vancouver. It instantly became one of our favorite cities, and I am sure you will feel the same.


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.

A Place of Serenity

2 12 2012
Byodo-In Temple

A place of serenity on Northern Oahu

Serenity in our hectic lives is a luxury. On the Kahekili Hwy (83) on North Oahu is an unlikely attraction. In the back of the Valley of Temples, which is a cemetery, is a replica of the 950 year-old temple in Uji, Japan. This replica was built in the 1960’s to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigrant workers arriving in Hawaii.

The temple and grounds are like taking a mini-trip to Japan. The background of the Ko’olau mountain range and the large pond filled with koi and swans lull you into serenity. The temple is still used by worshippers, and the custom is to ring the large bell before entering.

There is a $3 entry fee with is collected before you enter the grounds. At the entry to the cemetery, just let them know you are going to the Byodo-In.



Insiders tip: Across the street from the entrance to the Valley of the Temples is Ninja Sushi, we had very good and reasonably priced sushi there. It’s just a strip mall restaurant, but the food was great.

Hawaii is more than just Waikiki

26 11 2012

As we were sitting in the Honolulu airport returning from our trip to the Islands, we met a couple who had just stayed in Honolulu for their week long stay. It was easy to see they were disappointed with the stay as they had spent their entire time in the city, not venturing out of town to experience the rest of Oahu. The Hawaiian Islands have so much to offer, and unless your focus is high end shopping and dining, you will find so little of it in Honolulu.

Honolulu Sunset Waikiki Beach

A Romantic Sunset on Waikiki Beach (aren’t they all)

While the Hawaiian Island have a common history, culture, and share the aloha spirit of hospitality, each Island has some unique geography that gives the Island a character and personality of its own. All the Islands provide picture perfect memories of tropical shores, green slopes and valleys with cascading waterfalls. Experiences can range from relaxing on the beach to zip-lining, to ocean kayaking, snorkeling, biking, shopping, dining. Picture yourself taking that romantic moon lit walk on a beach. Can you feel the trade wind and hear the surf?

Volcanic activity formed the Islands and are a prominent part of each island. Tropical rains keep half of the islands green but the volcanoes block the rain, creating a wet and dry side to the island. Most of the resorts are found on the drier side of the island. This is most apparent on the Big Island, where the wet Hilo side is a rain forest and the dry Kona side looks like a parched lunar landscape.


Kauai is one of the quieter Islands

The oldest of the populated Islands is Kauai, “The Garden Isle”. It is also one of the quieter Islands, a spot for relaxing and rejuvenating the body and spirit. Here you will find serene tropical rivers, beaches so famous for their beauty they are the stars of numerous movies, and Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.  You can enjoy hiking on the Napali Coast, learning to paddle board or kayak on a river or on gentle bays. Kauai allow you to be as active or relaxed as you desire.

Oahu is home to the iconic Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. The Hawaiian picture most people have in their minds is the view down Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background. Honolulu is a big city with almost a million people, so do not plan to just stay in Honolulu, you will be missing the “real” Hawaii, which you can also find on Oahu. Just 10 minutes out of town, you can find deserted beaches and lush tropical gardens to tour. The north shore of Oahu features rustic towns, famous surfing beaches and the unique shrimp truck dining stops.

Maui is “The Magic Isle” and offers green-carpeted mountains, quiet waterfall pools, along with luxury resorts and five-star dining. The iconic view of Maui is Haleakala volcano towering over the center of the island. Here you will find zip-lining, biking down Haleakala, sailing, golfing, and shopping ranging from malls to the small towns of “Upcountry”. Maui is probably the most visited of the Islands after Oahu, but smaller towns and rural areas are easy to find. If you really want to get away, the Islands of Lanai and Molokai are part of Maui County and offer quieter getaways.

Hawaii, “The Big Island” is confusing because the name Hawaii is the name for the state and one of the counties (islands). The Big Island is home to Kilauea, the active volcano. This is the only place you can find an active volcano on the Islands. The Big Island is big too. It is best broken into two segments, one to see the volcano based out of Hilo, and one for relaxing at one of the luxurious resorts or condo developments on the Kona side of the island.

Mid December to mid April is “official”  humpback whale season, although it is not uncommon to see them before and after season. Boat tours are available to get a closer look at the whales, but they are often close enough to shore for you to see them  from the beaches and resorts. Whale season is a good time to have an ocean view room.

Winter on the Islands is from November to April and temperatures will range from the low 70’s to the mid 80’s. The other season, summer offers temperatures into the 90’s but normally trade winds cool you year round. Evenings can cool off, so bringing slacks and a long sleeve shirt or sweater can be a good idea.

Unlike a Caribbean or Mexican vacation, do not plan to spend all your time in your resort. The Island is a major part of your experience, so plan to have a rental car to explore the Island (unless you are in Honolulu). Local dining is also part of the experience, so you will generally not find all-inclusive resorts in Hawaii. There are ways to dine on a budget, so make dining part of your explorations.

Hyatt Place Waikiki

25 10 2012

At 426 rooms, the Hyatt place is a boutique hotel at the quiet end of Waikiki, down by the zoo and two short blocks from the beach. Compared to the neighboring Marriott with 1175 rooms and the 1239 room Hyatt Regency down the street, Hyatt place is a quiet sanctuary from the bustle of Waikiki. The hotel is a recent purchase by Hyatt, and was remodeled and updated.  Hyatt retained many of the former staff, meaning the staff is helpful, professional and happy to be working under the Hyatt brand.

The standard model for the larger hotels on Waikiki is to have shops on the first floors and common areas. The interiors of the Marriott and Hyatt Regency look more like shopping malls than hotels. While the Hyatt Place does not have restaurants, they are within easy walking distance. Instead of shops, the Hyatt Place has a modern contemporary common area with a 24-hour bar.

Hyatt Place WaikikiHyatt Place has two different Towers, The Pali Tower is considered the deluxe tower due to the size of the rooms at 500 to 550 sq feet. The Diamond tower has standard room accommodations room size 220 to 250 sq ft. The penthouse floor is identical to all the other rooms in the Pali Tower, only difference is that the PH floor is the top floor.


Insiders Tip: On your next visit, you can request to be on a higher floor. If you prefer ocean views, on the website you will need to confirm Deluxe King or Queen Ocean View, and request the penthouse floor.

Our room had a sitting area and more plugs than I have ever seen in a hotel room. A skillet breakfast is included with the room. Fried egg is combined daily rotation of breads for an open-faced egg sandwich. Yogurts, fruit, granolas, cereal, miso soup and bagels with cream cheese are additional choices. Breakfast is from 6:30 to 9:30.

Hyatt Place bar and snacksThe lobby area has a 24-hour bar and snack bar. In the back corner of the area is a gift shop with remarkably competitive prices. The water and juices there were less the neighboring ABC store! Would you rather pay $3.25 for a bottle of water in the room or $.85 in the gift shop?

Insiders Tip: Park at the Aston Banyan diagonally across the street. You get in and out privileges and it is half the price of valet parking at the Hyatt Place.

We had a deluxe city view room, which actually faced Diamond Head and had a partial ocean view. Our room had a small lanai (balcony), which we enjoyed in our down time. We were on Oahu for just a few days so we did not intend Hyatt Place to be a place of relaxation. If you want relaxation, head to Maui or Kauai. If you want mixing with lots of people, nightlife and high energy, Waikiki is the place for you!


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.





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