Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I were in New York City checking out some alternative lodging options in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Here’s a link to my TravelPulse blog post…enjoy and hoping the holidays are a happy time for all!

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Travel the world with these bloggers and photojournalists…eye-candy for the armchair traveler

A break in the daily cruise travelogue to praise our fellow writers and photojournalists. Check it out on hypeorlando…8 Global Journalists who take you to foreign lands without leaving home.

Vid and Savi, BruisedPassports.com

Vid and Savi, BruisedPassports.com

Mountain Update and new posts on TravelPulse and hypeorlando

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Taking a break from cruise blogging to write about early Christmas shopping on hypeorlando and a post about the upcoming Fall Farm and Artisans’ Tour in conjunction with local B&Bs on TravelPulse (just click on the links).

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We’ve been busy, up here in NC, exploring Asheville and the surrounding mountain towns. The temps still remain 75 or under…some evenings drop to low 60’s and even high 50’s the other morning. This is why we’re here.

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Deer sightings are in abundance this month, as are squirrels terrorizing us by sitting in trees, high above our metal roof, using us as target practice with these round objects which sound like cannon balls. They hit the roof and then roll down…honestly, if not cannons they sound like bowling balls!

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Yesterday this was a nice mound of colorful impatiens…last night they were a deer’s appetizer

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Visitors arriving in a couple of weeks…will head home mid October, hopefully, after a gorgeous display of fall leaves.

More cruise news and photos to follow…

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Holy Sh*t moments in Juneau

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After two nights and a full day of cruising, we arrived in Juneau. Surprised at how small this town is, especially since it’s the capitol of Alaska, we were told that most of the jobs were in state government or tourism. Of course, fishing is a major industry here, also. Our ship docked just after lunch and we had an excursion planned a couple of hours later.

Our floatplane

Our floatplane

We bravely, but with a fair amount of trepidation, chose a Wings Airways seaplane (or floatplane, as they’re called in Alaska) touring five of the glaciers of Juneau’s massive icefield. Strapping into the 10 passenger De Havilland Otter was scary, to say the least, especially on such a cloudy day but we just sucked it up, donned our headphones and held our breath.

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Will I need this?

Will I need this?

Side note: You WILL be asked to divulge your weight and it WILL be written on your ticket in big red figures. If you choose to lie about your weight, you might feel a bit of panic as the plane takes off, worrying that everybody else might have lied, too. Not that I have any experience in this, just sayin…

Bye, bye, Nieuw Amsterdam - hope we make it back!

Bye, bye, Nieuw Amsterdam – hope we make it back!

To say this was a #HolyShitMoment is an understatement. From the moment our bush plane’s floats left the water until we drifted back to dock, the views were exhilarating and we were glad we chose this adventure. Observing the glaciers from above offers an amazing insight into how these huge structures are formed.

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The 40-minute adventure covered five glaciers, most of which are receding. The Taku Glacier, however, is the largest in the ice field and the only one still advancing. Wearing headphones, we listened to educational narration throughout the flight with oodles of photo opps as every seat has its own window.

My intrepid photographer!

My intrepid photographer!

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There were a few anxious moments when we were buffeted about a bit but the experienced pilot kept us level and before we knew it we were gliding into the bay for a smooth landing, wishing the flight wasn’t coming to an end.

Flowers of Juneau

Flowers of Juneau

Afterward, we strolled the streets of the town and ducked into the infamous Red Dog Saloon. During the mining era, the owner would meet tour boats, with a mule wearing a sign stating, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.”  Now, modern tourists and cruisers fill the sawdust-floored bar looking for a brew and a raunchy song.

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Tomorrow finds us in Skagway…

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An unexpected treat…cruising through Alaska!

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Waiting, waiting…

An incredible opportunity opened up for Charlie and I to join a press group, cruising Alaska’s waterways with Holland America Lines on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. The offer was last minute, as in 2 ½ weeks, but the calendar was clear and, luckily, we brought our passports to NC, so we were in. The key to a happy retirement is flexibility and spontaneity. No moss growing on our rolling stone!

The plan was to fly from Asheville to Vancouver and back via Chicago. It takes an hour to get to the airport from the mountain house and the flight was on time when we left. Arriving at the airport, however, we discovered our flights, in both Asheville and Chicago were delayed. We started sweating bullets when our originating flight wound up 3 hours late but managed to find our terminal and gate in Chicago in time.

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The Pan Pacific, overlooking the terminal

The rest of the trip was seamless as we were picked up in Vancouver, driven through the streets of the city and dropped off at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, atop Canada Place’s cruise ship terminals. Arriving around 6 pm we had time to walk a few blocks to dinner at Original Joe’s on Robson Street. Of course, our brains were telling us it was 3 hours later so we were disinclined to imbibe in the local beer offerings as we were afraid we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.

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The Pan Pacific is gorgeous and next morning our ship was in dock waiting for us to board. We met our fellow journalists for breakfast and were amazed at how far some of them traveled…Australia, Holland, London, Austria, Belgium and a few more from the states…all lovely people who were a joy to accompany on this trip of a lifetime.

Leaving beautiful Vancouver

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View from our deck

The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is one of HAL’s larger ships, much bigger than the ms Maasdam, on which we cruised through New England and Nova Scotia last year. The comfort level and beauty were the same, however, this time with a touch of Manhattan and NYC art deco touches. Our Verandah was roomy, located at the back of the ship, which proved to be a perfect place to view all that Alaska had to offer.

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We met our group again at the Crow’s Nest on the Observation Deck, for a welcome cocktail and then dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room. The food on these cruises is just phenomenal and the champagne was flowing that night, along with perfect wine pairings. We were reminded that we needed to take it easy and not eat our way through the trip…not an easy task!

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Next morning, we met for a private Galley tour. What we saw was a well-organized effort to feed over 2,000 guests and more than 900 crew members. The kitchens were spotless and we saw smiling faces and beautiful culinary creations. Here are some stats…a typical 7-day cruise goes through 23,000 eggs, 1,675 pounds of butter and 137,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. It’s mind-boggling the amount of work that goes into storing, preparing and serving this much food. And they do it cheerfully and meticulously.

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Working so fast, his hands are a blur

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The final taste test

That night we met at The Pinnacle Grill, one of three fine dining choices, which will cost extra but are well worth the price. The menu highlights Pacific Northwest steak and seafood along with an ample choice of wines. Looking out the window we spotted the backs of a few whales cruising alongside the ship. I should mention that the other dining choices, which are included in the price of the cruise, are top of the line. You can choose the Lido buffet which changes offerings every day, along with the Manhattan Dining Room, which is a 2-level, formal dining experience.

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Pepper?

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Vid and Savi, Bruised Passports

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Delectable crab cakes

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Captain Edward Van Zaane and his lovely wife, Apollonia…yes, that Apollonia!

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Here are a couple of links to my blog posts on hypeorlando about this trip… Sushi virgins no longer and What the rest of the world thinks of Americans – Next up, Days 3 and 4, sailing through Tracy Arm, arriving in Juneau and Skagway.

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