Gino's Travel Agency
WE TURN DREAMS INTO REALITY
by Eileen Ogintz, Taking the Kids, February 6, 2020
Kayak to a glacier or paddle a canoe while looking for bears snacking along the shore and birds flying overhead.
Check out the puffins, the sea otters, harbor seals and more. Scoop glacial ice for your drink.
Ryo Sprosts, 8, likely won't ever forget eating lunch in a kayak as the Aialik Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Aialik Bay, calved and roared. He was a bit sore after the seven-mile kayak, he said, "But that was the best!"
His older sister and parents agreed. His dad Craig Sprosts said, "Alaska is about the wilderness experience and being here is a fantastic opportunity to have comfort and be in the wilderness."
Actually, you can't get much more remote -- or farther away from cruise crowds than at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, which opened 10 years ago -- the first and only lodge in the national park and accessible only by a four-hour boat trip from Seward. It's just 16 cabins within the 1,700-acre Pedersen Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary. You can't beat the views of the Pedersen Glacier!
The vast majority of visitors to Alaska -- millions each year -- arrive by cruise ship, but since 1977 Alaska Wildland Adventures has offered a different kind of experience, now with three different lodges offering everything from fishing to hiking to wildlife viewing. This is the time of year when most families book Alaska trips, however they plan to travel.
"You just can't mass produce an authentic wilderness experience on a cruise ship," said Kirk Hoessle, the president and founder of Alaska Wildland Adventures. He came to Alaska as a 21-year-old for a summer job and started leading wilderness camping trips the following year. Hoessle observed that there has been tremendous growth of families seeking a wilderness experience like the families we met to one parent traveling with one child or an adult child to grandma and grandpa chartering a whole trip for the extended family.
As a result, Alaska Wildland Adventures has devised itineraries for families with shorter travel times between destinations, diverse activities and trip leaders, who are in tune with kids. "It's a big part of what we do now. and we love it," he said.
"Now I understand why they call this the Last Frontier," said Jan Whittingham from Northern California, traveling with her son Chase, 26. "It's unbelievable."
Think plunging fjords, crystal clear water, the glaciers, wildlife everywhere you look, and comfortable log cabins all with decks to enjoy stellar views.
The lodge is located within Native-owned lands, representing a small portion of the ancestral homelands of the Alutiq people. Many visitors combine a lodge stay with a few days at Alaska Wildland's Riverside Lodge on the Kenai River in the Chugach National Forest fishing for salmon. (We didn't have much luck last year. Others opt for a trip to Denali National Park. Alaska Wildland can handle all the logistics while working to keep their environmental footprint as small as possible.)
(The most popular length of stay at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is the three-day, two-night option, which starts at $1,775 per person, plus tax, and includes round-trip marine wildlife and glacier cruise from Seward, all meals, guided activities (kayaking, canoeing, hiking) and accommodations. Rates for kids under age 13 are $1,575, plus tax. (A cruise might seem a lot less expensive on first blush but adds up quickly when expensive shore excursions are added.)
Hoessle notes that some cruisers add a lodge trip for a more complete Alaska experience. That's what we did, after a week exploring the Inside Passage on Regent Seven Seas where most of the passengers seemed to be multigenerational families.
Alaska, of course, has long been a bucket list trip and one for a special celebration. We saw that at the lodge, meeting a honeymooning couple and families celebrating 50th birthdays, 25th anniversaries and upcoming college graduations.
Here, families truly do get that elusive family time as there is no Wi-Fi or cellphone service to distract anyone. "I love the setup," said Haley Yamada, 21, a college senior from suburban Chicago. She and her brother joked that they were thoroughly entertained watching the ice melt and skipping rocks in the lagoon. "And enjoying this with my family makes it super nice," added Trevor Yamada, 19.
Meals are family style -- halibut one night; salmon the next with freshly baked bread, vegetables, salads and home-baked deserts. (The lemon tarts were spectacular!)
Breakfast and lunch are hearty and buffet style -- everything from hot biscuits and gravy and eggs to granola, yogurt and oatmeal to chicken chili for lunch. Those off on an all-day adventure make their own lunches. The rest of us go off in the morning and return for lunch, then we're off again in the afternoon.
No worries if you aren't an adventurer at heart either. There are mellow beachfront and forest walks. Cori Perdue, 32, was happy to enjoy the scenery and read while her 74-year-old mom, Karla Martin, went off on the daily excursions. "I'm having fun relaxing not having to constantly check my phone," she explained.
One day we hiked uphill (just 650 feet but scrambling over rocks) to a vantage point to see how really remote we were, Pedersen Glacier and the Pedersen Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary spread out beneath us.
There was only one problem, the guests agreed, and it wasn't the weather. We all had rain gear.
"I wish we had an extra day," said Sally Mann, traveling with her husband and two sons. "We just didn't have enough time."
(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid's Guide to Philadelphia, the 13th in the kid's guide series, will be out this spring.)
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Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen will spend its 2020 summer season in Alaska, with departures from Vancouver, B.C.
When Alaska became the 49th state 61 years ago it was dubbed (unofficially) “The Last Frontier.” But it’s far from last in anything tourism related. In fact, in 2019, Alaska cruises earned the top spot as the most booked domestic vacation for the third year in a row, according to Travel Leaders Group’s annual travel trends survey.
Alaska also tied for second with Colorado (behind only Hawaii) as the state drawing the most consideration from potential visitors during the next two years, according to MMGY Global’s 2019-2020 Portrait of American Travelers. Nearly two-thirds of respondents expressed an interest in going there.
That may explain, in part, why the state is expecting 10 new cruise ships, including the Alaska debuts of Golden Princess from Princess Cruises and Holland America Line’s Koningsdam. Well over a dozen other lines have ships operating in Alaska. Here are just a few highlights of the upcoming season.
Christened in November 2019, Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen will spend its 2020 summer season in Alaska, with departures from Vancouver, B.C. In addition to several 14-day “Treasures of the Alaskan Coast” sailings and slightly longer “Epic Wilderness Expedition” itineraries, there’s the 18-day “Alaskan Adventure with Aleutian Islands” departing on August 1. The latter includes such less-visited ports as Kodiak, Kihak Bay, Unga Village, Dutch Harbor, St. Paul, St. Matthew Island and Nome.
Small-ship luxury operator Ponant sails the Northwest Passage to Nome, Alaska this year with the 264-passenger L’Austral. Sister ship, Le Soleal also sails many voyages within Alaska waters in 2020 and 2021. This year, it’s launching an enticing new “On the Trail of the Gold Prospectors” itinerary between Vancouver and Juneau. Port calls on this seven-night voyage include Skagway, Haines, Sitka, Ketchikan and scenic cruising through Tracy Arm, Endicott Arm and Misty Fjords.
Famous land-trekking adventurers are taking to the seas with Cunard, hopping on Queen Elizabeth for a full season in Alaska in 2020. The vessel will embark on 10 Alaska sailings from June through September. Sir Ranulph Fiennes — named the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer” by the Guinness Book of Records — will share personal insights of his adventures through several lectures.
Notable expeditions by Sir Ranulph includes the 1972-82 Transglobe, the first surface journey around the polar axis, along with the Pentland South Pole Expedition, which was the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic Continent. Sir Ranulph has trotted on other adventures as well, having climbed Mount Everest as well as the North Face of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps, guided by Kenton Cool, and has raised $22.8 million for charity throughout his career.
Mountaineer Kenton Cool will also join Cunard onboard Queen Elizabeth in Alaska to share his experiences with guests. Cool has climbed to the top of Mount Everest 14 times.
Famous land-trekking adventurers will sail on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2020.
Sir Ranulph will be the first featured guest speaker in Alaska, on Queen Elizabeth sailing between Vancouver and Juneau (June 2-4, 2020). Kenton Cool will board the ship on June 12 and sail on voyages through July 2, 2020.
Regent Seven Seas will introduce new Go Local Tours and other interactive programs led by local residents in Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Sitka, so guests can learn about some favorite local spots to eat and hidden gems. During a new “Native Tlingit Walking Tour” in Ketchikan, luxury cruisers will accompany a local guide of Tlingit descent for a walk to learn about the city’s history and how the indigenous people have adapted to changes over the years. Then it’s on to Cape Fox Lodge, a Tlingit-owned hotel, to taste smoked salmon, reindeer sausage, fried bread and blueberry jam.
Seabourn has announced new seven-day Alaska and British Columbia cruises as part of its 2020 itineraries in the region and is enhancing four itineraries in the region with scenic cruising of Glacier Bay National Park, with narration and insider observations by a National Park Service Ranger. The 10 new seven-day cruises are a shorter complement to the line’s lineup of 10-, 11- and 12-day sailings.
The Ventures by Seabourn optional shore experience program will return in 2020. Escorted by an expert team of 14 that includes scientists and local guides, the optional for-charge kayak, Zodiac, catamaran and hiking tours offer close-up touring opportunities. Ventures by Seabourn destinations include Alert Bay, Inian Islands, Rudyerd Bay (Misty Fjords), College Fjord, Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm, Haines (Skagway), Hubbard Glacier, Wrangell and Harriman Glacier.
Additionally, scheduled shore excursions for 2020 include a mindful living tour, retreat at Burrow Creek Waterfall Lodge and crab boil that is an extension of the line’s Spa & Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil program, as well as a salmon-fishing experience in Sitka.
For guests who like a Scandinavian design aesthetic, Explorer Suites, a snow grotto in a pampering thermal suite and an Aquavit Terrace, perfect for al fresco dining to gaze at the majestic beauty of Alaska, Viking Ocean Cruises will operate summer season voyages between Vancouver and Seward onboard the 930-passenger Viking Orion.
Oceania Cruises’ “Alaska Explorer Youth Program” will be available on the 684-passenger Regatta for Alaska sailings starting June 18. Designed for those 5 to 12, with different age groups split out, the program is supervised by experienced youth counselors. Kids can expect games, fun activities and Alaska-inspired special events. Regatta’s 2020 cruises range from seven-day voyages to 10-, 11- and 14-day cruises. For families desiring a week-long voyage this summer, one option is Oceania’s seven-night “Stunning Scenery” voyage sailing roundtrip from Seattle on June 18. Port calls include Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka and Victoria, BC.
Of special interest to families, youth adventurist and guide Erin Kirkland will be onboad UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Discoverer for its July 4 and August 1, 2020, “Alaska Fjords & Glaciers” sailings. Kirkland is a guidebook author, travel journalist, and advocate of kids, nature, and world exploration who has sailed on family itineraries with UnCruise since 2014. Mother to an active teenage son, Erin is based in Anchorage, Alaska, and continues to write about family-friendly activities and destinations in the 49th state.
Adventure activities may include flora / fauna identification, foraging, and forest exploration, scavenger hunts, kayaking and paddleboard relays, history and local culture talks, ecology-themed games and activities, and beach parties. Art and craft and art activities may include personalized watercolor paintings and nature collages, basic photography, and wildlife watching.
A popular non-cruise option for families is the Alaska Railroad, especially the Easter Train and Holiday Train events. The Easter Train includes treats, a magic show and a visit from the Easter Bunny. The train departs Saturday, April 4, from the Historic Anchorage Downtown Depot and travels down the Turnagain Arm to Indian, then back to Anchorage. Holiday Train departures have yet to be announced, but are usually in late November and early December. Activities include a coloring contest, holiday carolers, a magician, door prizes and a visit from Santa Claus.
In between, summer packages include the 11-day “Glaciers, Rails and Trails,” seven-night “Alaska’s National Parks by Rail” and “Alaska Wildlife Safari” and six-night “Active Alaska Adventure,” among others.
Anther train experience is Gray Line Alaska’s one- to four-night Denali Rail Tours — Anchorage-Talkeetna-Denali (and reverse) — aboard its private, domed railcars, some of which have a lounge and an open-air viewing platform. There’s also a dining area onboard. Longer (five to seven nights) Denali Explorer Tours and seven- and eight-night Escorted Tours are also available, as are Self-Drive tours.
Carnival Cruise Line has announced plans to expand its presence in Alaska with the deployment of Carnival Freedom from Seattle beginning April 2021. The ship, which will operate the cruise line’s week-long Glacier Route itineraries, will join Carnival Miracle, which will operate 10- and 11-day Alaska cruises from San Francisco beginning in May 2021.
In late summer, Crystal Expedition Cruises sets sail with its new 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor, a luxury expedition yacht built to handle even the most remote polar regions, and the new vessel will first sail to Alaska in 2021. Top suites onboard include the Owner’s Suite that’s 1,130 square feet with a 737-square-foot veranda, and an Expedition Penthouse of 985 square feet with a 735-square-foot veranda.
Crystal Endeavor’s 19-night “Russian Far East & the Aleutian Isles” itinerary from Otaru, Japan, to Anchorage will depart June 12, 2021. Travelers will sail through waters surrounding Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and hauntingly beautiful volcanic islands and learn about island culture. Among other highlights are off-the-beaten-path spots in the Aleutians and calls at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, AK.
Windstar Cruises recently announced its 2021 Alaska season: Nine journeys from June through September on four itineraries, including a new seven-day option from Vancouver to Juneau and the reverse. The new itinerary, “Scenic Alaska,” will travel the Canadian Inside Passage and will spend time in Alaska’s Misty Fjords, plus Tracy or Endicott Arms, with stops in Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway (a first-time port for Windstar) and Juneau. All 2021 Windstar Alaska sailings will take place aboard the reimagined 312-passenger Star Breeze, with 50 new suites, two new restaurants, an enhanced spa and fitness center and more.
MSC Cruises USA, the North American arm of MSC Cruises, has appointed Rubén Rodríguez as president. He will join the organization on March 18, taking over for Roberto Fusaro, who left MSC Cruises USA at the end of January for personal reasons.
MSC said that Rodriguez’s role will be to help the business achieve further growth and strengthen the company’s strategy in the United States, both in terms of its commercial presence and brand awareness, and leverage long-term investments made in recent years.
Reporting to MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato in Geneva, Switzerland, Rodriguez will also oversee the development of its future terminal in Miami, Florida, which is due to open in October 2022 and Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in The Bahamas, which opened at the end of 2019.
Rodriguez has worked for eight years at Carnival Cruise Line, where he was executive vice president ship operations between 2009 and 2015, and executive vice president marketing and guest experience between 2007 and 2009. Prior to joining Carnival, he was a partner and managing director at management consulting firm The Boston Consulting Group.
Rodríguez more recently was CEO of Great Wolf Resorts, North America’s largest owner and operator of indoor water park family resorts, between 2015 and 2017. In the last two years, he has been a senior advisor and board member to a range of international companies and private equity firms, engaged in investments as well as growth and performance improvement programs for brands in the travel and leisure sectors.
He has a degree in mechanical engineering from Princeton University, a Master's in civil engineering from the University of California and an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
MSC said that Rodriguez will work with Rick Sasso, chairman of MSC Cruises USA; Ken Muskat, COO, MSC Cruises USA; and the rest of the local leadership team based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Royal Caribbean International has signed an agreement with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to develop the first Royal Beach Club in the destination. The move marks the start of planning and development for the new beach club, which was first announced last fall when the cruise line and the government signed a memorandum of understanding. Groundbreaking is scheduled for later this year.
Created exclusively for Royal Caribbean guests, the Royal Beach Club at Antigua will sit along more than a half-mile of beachfront. Plans call for private cabanas, a poll with a swim-up bar and a lineup of locally inspired experiences, such as regional cuisine and island-style BBQs. Guests will also be able to take advantage of jet skis, paddle boarding, snorkeling and a family splash pad.
In a written statement, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said that the line is also looking at ways for the local community to enjoy the destination while Royal Caribbean ships are calling at other destinations.
The cruise line has also committed to bringing Symphony of the Seas to the island nation with a call on November 3. Docking at a new port at the capital of St. John’s, Symphony will be the first Oasis-class ship to visit the island, Royal Caribbean said. The largest cruise ship in the world by gross tonnage, it has a capacity of 5,518 guests based on double occupancy.
As class participants enter Carnival Kitchen on Carnival Panorama, they’ll encounter a long, elegant table; it’s set up for those taking classes that include dinner.
As 2020 begins, cruisers have new culinary options from contemporary cruise lines. Most notably, Carnival Cruise Lines’ new Carnival Panorama, sailing roundtrip from its home port in Long Beach, CA, has debuted the brand’s first Carnival Kitchen.
Fifteen separate culinary classes — everything from a “Carnival classics” workshop class with dinner to an Asian cooking class with dinner, a pasta master class, cake workshop, sushi rolling and more — are offered. One-hour and two-hour morning, afternoon and early evening sessions (for $30 to $59 per person) are available mostly on sea days.
Each class can accommodate up to 18 guests at a time. Cruisers learn to prepare dishes at nine marbled-granite cooking and prep stations; they have cooktops, sinks and refrigerators, as well as electronic tablets displaying recipes. Pre-measured ingredients save time and move the classes along.
As class participants enter Carnival Kitchen, they’ll encounter a long, elegant table; it’s set up for those taking classes that include dinner. A large, wall-mounted, flat-screen TV is available for instructional / entertainment use. A humongous cabinet between the dining area and the cooking stations also houses pots, pans, cooking utensils and other culinary items that class participants may need.
Carnival Kitchen is located in the Deck 4 aft space (occupied by Club O2 on other Vista-class ships); Club O2 has been relocated. Cooking class reservations can be made pre-cruise on www.carnival.com or, once the guest is onboard, at any restaurant. Classes fill up quickly, though, so clients should book early.
Another new ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore, sailing this winter from Miami and this summer from New York, has a savory new specialty restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta. The new restaurant concept was developed by LDV Hospitality, which has Scarpetta restaurants in New York City, Long Island (NY), Las Vegas, Newport (RI), Philadelphia and London, UK. Now, cruisers can experience the Scarpetta experience on the high seas.
The eatery’s name is derived from the Italian expression, “fare la Scarpetta,” which means to savor a meal to the last bite, and separately, Onda is the Italian word for “wave.” Serving what’s being called elevated Italian cuisine, the new restaurant offers such delicacies as yellowtail crudo and braised octopus, along with pastas made in house daily such as Scarpetta’s signature Spaghetti Tomato and Basil.
Norwegian Encore has a savory new specialty restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta.
Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas will soon emerge from a $165 million revitalization with new culinary and bar spaces; it’s part of the line’s $1 billion Royal Amplified fleet update program. Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar will offer family-style, rustic dining with an enhanced menu of Italian staples, complete with hand-tossed pizza from the new in-house pizza oven, an expansive charcuterie station and a good selection of wines and limoncellos.
Allure of the Seas’ Portside BBQ, a new concept that first debuted on the recently revitalized Oasis of the Seas, will serve a menu of tasty dishes that include brisket, pulled pork, chicken, beef ribs, turkey legs, burnt ends, mac and cheese, homestyle cornbread and more. Portside BBQ is Royal Caribbean’s first barbecue concept; dishes are priced à la carte.
Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade will offer game-day parties on big-screen TVs as well as tournaments, complete with bar bites and brews. El Loco Fresh, featuring casual Mexican “street fare” is another option. Allure of the Seas will sail a summer Mediterranean season of cruises from Barcelona.
Now sailing from PortMiami on winter season Caribbean voyages, MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia offers a two-story Mediterranean-style promenade lined with shops and specialty restaurants — including HOLA! Tapas Bar and Ocean Cay, restaurants by two Michelin-starred Spanish chef Ramón Freixa. Additionally, there is the Jean-Philippe Chocolat & Café, an open-fronted chocolate atelier by renowned pastry chef, Jean-Philippe Maury.
MSC Meraviglia has a total of 12 different dining venues offering a wide range of tastes and styles, including Asian to French, from casual to upscale. In addition, the line’s recent partnership with home and lifestyle expert Martha Stewart means guests have new exclusive culinary and discovery experiences onboard and ashore in the Caribbean.
Costa Cruises’ first new LNG-powered ship, Costa Smeralda, just began sailing in the Mediterranean. In addition to sizable environmental pluses, the vessel offers 16 restaurants and “food experience” areas. Most notable is Tutti a Tavola, a new eatery (with no extra fee) that’s specifically conceived for casual dining for families with children; it’s located on Deck 16 adjacent to the play area.
Also fun for culinary buffs is Ristorante LAB – Kitchen Lab with 24 cooking stations for classes. To learn more about dining and other features of this new Costa ship, travel advisors can access a Costa Smeralda e-brochure at Costa Extra, the cruise line’s newly redesigned portal for travel professionals.
Yet to come? In August, Carnival Cruise Line will debut a new seafood restaurant designed by chef Rudi Sodamin on the line’s new Mardi Gras. Rudi’s Seagrill on Deck 8 will boast an 80-seat indoor dining room as well as an al fresco area on The Lanai.
The star of that eatery will likely be Sodamin’s food face-themed artwork. Other fun culinary highlights will include fish-shaped ‘Gurgle Pots’ that make comical gurgling sounds when poured out. Mardi Gras is going to be a new home ported ship at Port Canaveral, beginning year-round seven-day Caribbean cruises later this year.