Bob & Nancy on July 1st, 2015
Reflection

Celebrity Cruises, which always puts its fleet in the water, is now sticking in its toe.

All-inclusive cruising?

That’s what Celebrity is calling its latest pricing strategy. Actually, it’s calling the promotion Go!Big, Go!Better, Go!Best and, while it’s a mouthful, it is more effective than its predecessor…123Go!

What Celebrity’s doing is disposing of cruise-only pricing for all oceanview rooms, balcony cabins and suites. Instead, everything is bundled, the new industry catch-word, as our colleague Phil Reimer pointed out the other day at Ports and Bows. River-cruise lines have ventured deeper into all-inclusive waters than any of their ocean rivals.

That’s where the toe comes in for Celebrity.

Buy a cruise with Celebrity and you will be either a Go!Big customer, a Go!Better customer or a Go!Best customer. The difference is what you wish to have included: a classic beverage package, free gratuities, unlimited Internet or a $150 per-person spending credit. They’re all pretty good extras, though not exactly all-inclusivity and you get one with Go!Big, two with Go!Bigger…you get the idea.

The pricing will be built into the increased fares, of course, and give cruisers a flashback to way things used to be when “everything” was included. If it works, Celebrity is likely to increase the number of extras until things like shore excursions are also included. If it works, others in ocean cruising will surely follow suit.

And that’s how we’ll know if it worked.

In the news…

• Holland America suspends flightseeing with Alaska company after crash
• Norwegian's parent company opening new office in Australia

• No impact port changes — yet — from Greece economic woes

Today at portsandbows.com: Denali National Park for all

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
November 28, 2015
Boston (return): Bermuda
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 30th, 2015

Mt Deborah

ALASKA — When you’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy seven different excursions in Alaska, choosing a favorite is like picking crab over lobster — or vice versa. As our Voyage of The Glaciers cruise on the Star Princess wound down, it was a regular question among the participants.

Almost everyone’s pick had the word “glacier” in it.

Including us.

Had we not flown up the slopes of Mount McKinley in a fixed-wing plane four years ago and landed on Ruth Glacier, after several sleepless nights of anticipation or fear, just flying through snow-covered mountain passes would probably have been our first choice. It was trumped, however, by taking a helicopter to a different glacier, called Yanert.

When we landed on the tongue of ice reaching down (above) from Mount Deborah — once known as the granite sister of mighty McKinley — we were alone. Six passengers and a Copterpilot. Crusty ice and rushing water providing a cool, clear drink and creating mini-rivers everywhere on this massive field of compressed snow about 8,000 feet above sea level. There were no animals, no people, no accompanying aircraft…just magnificent scenery in brilliant sunshine, and the only sound was the crunching of the glacier beneath our boots.

For us, a moment frozen in time.

In contrast, when landing on Ruth Glacier at the foot of Mount McKinley in 2011, we were flanked by two other small planes. We could see a camp of would-be mountain climbers, Ruth Glacierjust beyond shouting distance. The surface was more snow than ice and “glacier” implies just the opposite.

Both were thrills. Both were worth doing. But being on the helicopter and visiting the “other woman” — Mount Deborah — was special. She sparkled. She was stunning. She was memorable.

In the news…

• Silence leads to speculation about Viking's fourth ocean ship
• Recovering aircraft from deadly Alaska crash could take weeks

Today at portsandbows.com: Silversea specializing in bundling

Carnival Dream
7 nights
August 23, 2015
New Orleans (return): Roatan, Belize, Cozumel
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 29th, 2015

Today, we bring you a PSA. That’s Public Service Announcement, and it’s for the benefit of anybody who expects to encounter a mosquito this summer. 

So, pretty much everybody.

In Alaska, there are 13 species of mosquitoes. Clearly, Alaskans know something about dealing with them. To that end, today we are publishing a recipe for mosquito repellant, Sharon Soucycourtesy of Sharon Soucy, who’s not really from Alaska but who works in the Land of the Midnight Sun, where even the mosquitoes have less time to sleep during the long days.

Sharon works for the National Parks Service. She drives tourists around the park on the only tour buses allowed in the park, modified school buses painted mostly tan, and last week passengers from the Star Princess were on her bus. Sharon comes from Maine, where presumably she also encountered mosquitoes in summer, just not as often — and not as many — as in Alaska.

Oh yes, the recipe:

* Buy fractionated coconut oil at your local health food store
* Put six tablespoons in mason jar
* Add 10 drops on oil of peppermint and stir
* Pour liquid (it stays as liquid) in a spray bottle
* Apply has needed

Does it work?

“It does for me,” she laughs.

In the news…

• Carnival Magic moving to Port Canaveral four months earlier than planned

Today at portsandbows.com: New ships on the water from Fincantieri

Celebrity Summit
6 nights
October 18, 2015
Cape Liberty, N.J. (return): St. Maarten, Tortola, San Juan 
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64
www.celebritycruises.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 26th, 2015

When you cruise to Alaska to enjoy the local cuisine, you can expect to have seafood…and seafood…and seafood. It’s what Alaskans have long consumed for survival, with a little caribou or reindeer added for variety, and it’s what passengers on the Star Princess had the most opportunities to enjoy. Did we mention that you should like seafood? Below are some of the dishes we encountered (also consumed) on our 11-day journey — with a little culinary variety, of course…

1-Crab Shack

The Crab Shack is a special feature on the ship and the dishes include a healthy array of counterparts from the sea.

IMG_2172

Catch-and-eat…in rainy Ketchikan yesterday, Nancy caught three rockfish and four fellow fruitless fishers helped eat them.

2-Halibut burger

As part of the Alaska experience, Princess serves yummy Mermaid Burgers (halibut) on the pool deck, on select days.

9-Smoked salmon

One of the attractive room service orders are these bites of smoked salmon, enhanced with a little shrimp and caviar.

6-Denali Brewing

In Talkeetna, the Denali Brewing Company serves beer cheese soup, a spicy dish that’s more cheese than beer.

3-Liars salmon

King salmon really is royalty in Alaska, so it was a natural at Liarsville, a funky little town on many Skagway shore excursions.

 

7-Salmon belt

In Juneau, this is one of the places where you can see salmon, before they hit your dinner plate in the restaurants.

4-McKinley crab

Another member of the royal food family is this crab double dip (King and Bering Sea) from the McKinley Lodge.

5-Reindeer meatballs

A break from the seafood…mushroom caps stuffed with reindeer from King Salmon at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

8-Sabbatini dessert

Something sweet to finish — creme al caffe, served only at one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, Sabatini’s.

In the news…

• Nine Holland America passengers perish in Alaska plane crash
• Sea tests underway in Italy for Carnival Vista, Viking Sea
• Quantum of the Seas set to begin Asian assignments

Today at portsandbows.com: Coming next year — Harmony of the Seas

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
September 28, 2015
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $209
Cost per day: $52
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 25th, 2015

JuneauJUNEAU, Alaska — it's perfectly understandable that Alaskans don't really know what to do about the weather. Here in the capital, they live in a rain forest and it's not raining. 

"People in Alaska don't know what to do with this much sunshine," one of them said, while the digital thermometer downtown displayed 67 degrees in the morning sunshine at 9:07. "Usually we have liquid sunshine. This is a vitamin D overdose."

Visitors are told in advance what the weather is (or can be) like in the 49th state, and Star Princessthey're as confused as the locals. A Star Princess crew member from the Ukraine, on her first Alaska cruise, said: "This is more like Hawaii."

For Star Princess passengers who came early to spend time touring the interior, yesterday was the eighth consecutive day of sunshine…or of no rain. To put that in perspective, the last time we went to see the Hubbard Glacier, we didn't. It was behind a wall of rain…rain cold enough it could've been icicled.

Here's what the Hubbard Glacier looked like this time…

Hubbard-4

For the last eight days, the story has been the weather. It is the first word off everyone's lips, be they bus drivers or storekeepers or past visitors. 

On land, there was no doubt that Mount McKinley would "come out" as the locals say, which happens less than half the time. All the flight seeing was on schedule, and all the sights were there to be seen, even if all the animals weren't (note: We've been told that Mountainnice weather brings them out, also that it makes them hide). The many glaciers, both in the interior and here along the southeastern shore, have been posing for pictures like models on a walkway.

Even the whales co-operated. Yesterday along the waterways that cruise ships take to the Inside Passage, the humpbacks were breaching and feeding in gams (groups)  of "about ten" — even tour guides were amazed that so many were doing so much, and going so far as to shower tourists with a little whale spit.

This, for sure, is Alaska at its finest. Whether you're in a bus, plane, helicopter, train or Helicopterwalking…you can see more, and everything is prettier. Everybody's in a good mood, especially the tourists, who don't want Mother Nature to intrude on their vacations. 

As any Alaskan will tell you, it can all change at the drop of a salmon net. Late yesterday, as the Star Princess was leaving Juneau, it started to rain and the wind was howling, to which the locals said: "About time."

Meanwhile, those of us who have been tourists here for more than a week had a different reaction.

"Really?"

In the news…

• Seven Holland America ships to sail 98 Caribbean itineraries
• MGM’s M Life members getting offers from Celebrity Cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: MSC Divina — different approach to Caribbean

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
November 28, 2015
Houston (return): Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan
Inside: $429
Cost per day: $61
www.ncl.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 24th, 2015
Glacier

ON BOARD THE STAR PRINCESS — Can there be a better wake-up call than sitting on the Breakfast-1balcony of a cruise ship with a glacier looming on the outside and a young man from Buenos Aires delivering a four-course breakfast from the inside?

If there is, we have yet to experience it.

This is the “deluxe breakfast” treatment you get from Princess Cruises, for $45 per couple. In Alaska on the Star Princess, the menu’s a little different because, well, it’s Alaska. That means instead of the quiche lorraine you might get on some ships, it’s fresh crab accompanied by a little crab quiche.

“Eat it first,” suggested Rodrigo, our Argentine amigo, “so it doesn’t get cold.”

Sitting on cruise-ship balconies in Alaska usually means hot dishes cool off, even when it’s past 9 a.m. We thought the food might stay warmer if we ate later…okay, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. The crab was so good it barely had time to cool off and, except for coffee, the rest of the breakfast was temperature friendly.

Course two…cold smoked salmon to rest on a toasted lemon brioche dusted with dill cream cheese. Course three…a cantaloupe dish filled with fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, garnished with “clover honey chantilly creme” that enhanced fruits that were already sweet. Course four…oven fresh pastries that stayed fresh if not warm in the cool air.

BreakfastPlus orange juice and 375 ml of prosecco (a champagne and orange juice clone), with coffee that stayed hot in a thermal bottle.

As good as the breakfast was (who needs lunch after that?), the star of “breakfast on the balcony” was most definitely cold.

Pick a glacier…

In the news…

• Virgin Cruises to have three 2,800-passenger ships on the water by 2020
• Carnival Corporation second-quarter earnings nearly triple last year's 
• Refurbishments now complete for all six ships in Windstar's fleet

Today at portsandbows.com: Free air on Emerald cruises until next week

Crown Princess
10 nights
September 23, 2015
Los Angeles (return): San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Loreto, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $79
www.princess.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 23rd, 2015

LodgeDENALI, Alaska — Of the five lodges that Princess Cruises operates in Alaska, the one on the doorstep of Denali National Park has the size, the reputation and the history that a flagship hotel — or a flagship anything — should have.

At 656 rooms, it is the biggest of the five lodges with which Princess cruise passengers have become familiar. 

At 656 rooms, it is the biggest hotel in Alaska.

The lodge at Denali is a destination. From it, you drive only three miles to see the sights of the park. From it, you drive only three miles to board the train for a nine-hour trip to Whittier, the Princess port in Alaska. 

It’s a village unto itself, with shops and restaurants and attractions just moments from your room. It’s a busy place — occupancy is over 90 per cent May to September — and, Bonnie Westlundlike many Alaska tourist stops, it’s a temporary home to a younger demographic of tourist.

“In 1987 [the year the lodge first opened], the average visitor age was 76 years,” says Bonnie Westlund, the resort’s General Manager. “Now it’s 62. We’re now seeing more and more multi-generational families visit.”

In its early years, the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge was a victim of the Curse of Good Friday. On the anniversary of the great earthquake (1964) and the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989), a fire broke out Good Friday in 1996. It was a major blaze, burning the core of the property, yet the lodge was virtually re-built, opening in time for the annual spring season just six weeks later.

“I’m told they were literally moving furniture in as guests were arriving,” says Westlund.

Across the highway from what locals call Glitter Gulch — a ragtag collection of shops and hangouts that in other locations might be called a strip mall, the classy Denali Princess stretches almost the entire length of the “gulch.” Sitting high above the Susitna River, its Susitnaspectacular vistas on the other side do not include Mount McKinley, which is visible from the park, and give it the look and feel of a five-star cabin in the woods.

The signature restaurant is the King Salmon…no imagination necessary to know what that featured menu item is. There’s also a nightly dinner show at the Music of Denali Theater, built to replace (temporarily) the burned-out kitchen from the 1996 fire and now where Base CampVillageyoung performers double as waiters before singing in a musical, Alaska-style. And a third, pub-style eatery called Base Camp Bar & Grill overlooks the river.

The lodge is a “base camp” for atypical wilderness ventures, from aggressive hiking to helicopter rides to nearby (25 minutes) glaciers, but more than anything it is the entree to the national park.

Princess passengers can plan cruisetours so that they stay three or four days in what is — considering that you’re in the middle of the “last frontier” — a glorious contradiction.

When you’re managing a place like this, that contradiction can be explained by the need for WiFi:

“People tend to forget that we’re in the middle of nowhere,” laughs Bonnie Westlund. “They think the Internet grows on trees!”

In the wilderness, almost everything does.

In the news…

• Natalie Cole on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 for jazz club in October
• AIDA ships to offer flat rates to Internet customers

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
July 10, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64
www.celebritycruises.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 22nd, 2015

Midnight SunALASKA — Yesterday was the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In Alaska, it was longer…or at least it looked that way.

When the cliche “the sun never sets on…” is bandied about, nowhere is it more valid…nowhere does it have more authenticity than in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Whatever time is on the clock or watch or smartphone, bedtime comes with sunshine. To deal with it, Alaskans put foil on the windows so they can fall asleep.

Visitors like us pull the blinds as tightly as possible and hope that slit of light will not be the root of insomnia.

The picture above was taken 13 minutes before midnight from the Denali Princess Lodge, as close as this load of Star Princess cruise passengers came to the Arctic Circle, a couple of nights before Summer Solstice. The sun really does never set further north, where it’s the brightest all night long on the 21st of this month. That’s one of the things that makes an Alaska cruise so unique in June.

In the 49th state — and other places this far north — long daylight is one of the things that makes life unique. Helicopters take tourists on rides over the mountains until 8:30, stopping then only because the pilots aren’t allowed to log any more hours. Young children are able to sleep in daylight, perhaps, because that’s the only summer they’ve ever known. Maybe Alaskans welcome illuminated nights as the trade-off that comes with the dark days Tom Seaverof winter when they rarely see the sun for long.

In the Alaska Baseball League, since 1960 there has been a Midnight Sun Game played on June 21 in Fairbanks, home of the Alaska Goldpanners. Last night’s game started at 10:30. One of the game’s alumni is Tom Seaver, who went on to pitch his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“You can explain it forever,” Seaver recently told Alaska historians. “Until you experience it, you just don't believe it.”

Seaver was right.

In the news…

• Harmony of the Seas on the water for tests in readiness for 2016 launch

Today at portsandbows.com: AmaWaterways, Viking a creative pair

Costa Diadema
7 nights
December 12, 2015
Savona (return): Marseille, Barcelona, Palma De Mallorca, Rome, La Spezia
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.costacruise.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 19th, 2015

DENALI, ALASKA — The best way to Alaska’s biggest — physically, for sure — tourist attraction is up close. Unless you think 40 miles is “close enough” that means hopping on a fixed-wing plane or a helicopter that will take you to the base or higher of mighty Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. So yesterday, we did, as part of a Princess Cruises Cruisetour…

Denali

North America’s most-photographed mountain, distinctive and recognizable even from 60 miles away when you're in the air.

PlaneBuilt in Canada, the de Havilland Beaver is one sturdy, safe and successful aircraft — delightfully slow by modern standards.

Pilot

Pilot Chris Palm’s grandfather taught him to fly when he was 15 — now ever since he has logged time flying all over the 49th state.

Glaciers-run

Glaciers run (literally) from head to toe (literally), constantly moving to create fields of ice, moraines and silt.

Gorge

This wall is part of the world’s deepest gorge: 5,000 feet above the glacier and 4,000 feet of ice below the surface.

Glaciers-blue

Often under glaciers there are rivers, and the sun’s reflections makes parts of the glacier appear blue, as with swimming pools.

Glacier-camps

Tourists/climbers regularly land on Ruth Glacier, set up camps and perhaps plan to reach the summit, or maybe just try.

Scenery

Jaw-dropping scenery is everywhere out the windows of aircraft and it leaves passengers stunned and speechless.

Snow

Even this month, there’s no shortage of snow on McKinley and its partners mountaintops — in fact, it snows there in June.

In the news…

• Carnival video a chance to watching the building of new ship Vista
• Holland America, again, wins Port of Vancouver Blue Circle Award
• Silversea passengers latest to get free WiFi for everybody

Today at portsandbows.com: Cunard's 175th anniversary cruise

Carnival Fascination
4 nights
October 1, 2015
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $59
www.carnival.com

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Bob & Nancy on June 18th, 2015

Denali beer-1

TALKEETNA — We know less about craft beer than we know about Kraft cheese, and most of what we know about it is that it goes well with crackers, grilled bread and macaroni. Yesterday in this funky Alaskan town — and funky is the only word to describe it — that changed at least a little.

This is the home of the Denali Brewing Company, now the second-largest craft beer supplier in Alaska. Because Princess Cruises was looking to make a stronger connection Denali beer-2with the locals it visits each year from May to September, and because timing is everything, the two are linked professionally. Denali beer will be served on Princess ships around the world, thereby ensuring its status as the most popular beer this side of the Alaskan Brewing Company

Seven years ago, the place on Main Street Talkeetna where the Denali Brewing Company was founded by two men selling beer out of their trunks was the hub of a town so small it can’t be incorporated. Translation: among the amenities on this lot was the town showers where people…showered.

Talkeetna is used to being the little engine that could.

Most, or many, of its residents still have “dry houses” (as in no running water), yet it has an airport. Its winter population is dwarfed by how many tourists descend on it each summer. Anybody who wants to climb here has to register at the Ranger Station in Talkeetna, and now beer from this Alaskan hamlet is going to be known around the world.

But that’s what craft beer is all about…right?

Being the second-largest craft brewery meant selling 7,300 barrels (about 225,000 gallons) last year. Denali has no illusions about being number one: Alaskan sells 160,000 barrels (close to 5 million gallons). 

Princess is about 10 per cent of Denali’s business, and one brand — Denali Gold — is sold only at Princess Wilderness lodges in the summer, of which there are five.

“Princess knew how much people appreciated a local experience when they came to Denali-ShawnAlaska,” says Denali’s Shawn Standley. “We had to make sure we could produce the high quality and the volume that Princess needed. This year, we sold more Denali Gold in May than in the whole year last year.

At least two of our children, and maybe all three, would love to have on their business cards what Standley has on his.

Beer ambassador.

He is the spokesperson, the front man for founders Sassan Mossanen and Boe Barnette, the later of whom now retains only an equity interest in the company, having re-located to the lower 48, as Alaskans call the states to the south. He can tell you all you want to know about the hops and and grain and yeast and water used to make it, and all the different “flights” of beer so popular at tastings…and that the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier is a cicerone, and there aren’t many of them in the world.

Not many years ago, that was all pretty much foreign to him.

Which means…there’s hope for us.

In the news…

Three free shore excursions on Windstar this summer
• Fires still dangerous but Alaska highways stay open

Today at portsandbows.com: AmaWaterways and Disney ship philosophy

Norwegian Spirit
16 nights
November 5, 2015
Barcelona, Funchal, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Port Canaveral
Inside: $729
Cost per day: $45
www.ncl.com

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