Mediterranean Itineraries

Considering A Mediterranean Cruise

Venice

Summer is cruising season in the Mediterranean and the major cruise lines are well established in the market and offer a wide variety of itineraries. There are a number of similarities in most itineraries with the two main embarkation ports being Barcelona and the port for Rome, Civitavecchia. Venice, Italy is another popular embarkation port with some cruises to the eastern Mediterranean sailing out of Piraeus, the seaport of Athens, Greece. Itineraries vary in length with cruises of around seven days usually including four or five ports of call, those of nine to eleven days make six to eight stops and fourteen day itineraries calling on up to ten ports.

Dubrovnik

Cruises from Barcelona often stop at a series of ports east along the coast that usually include Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, located near to Nice and Monte Carlo. Favorite Italian ports visited include Rome/Civitavecchia, Naples and Venice, with Venice often being an overnight visit. Additional popular ports include Livorno, for its proximity to Pisa and Florence, along with Genoa on the west coast and Ravenna on the east coast.

Kotor

Most cruises out of Rome/Civitavecchia go south and cruise around the Italian boot passing through the Straights of Messina. Popular destinations on shorter cruises (6 to 8 days) include Naples, Venice, Dobrovnik, Kotor in Montinegro, the Greek island of Corfu and Malta. Longer cruises can add Messina, the Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini, Ephesus, Turkey and Athens.

Pisa

There are also Rome itineraries that sail west and often include Livorno, Villefranche, Provence France, with stops in the Spanish ports of Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca and at times a visit to Gibraltar.

With the popularity of cruising growing there are more and more returning passengers. The cruise companies are always looking to add new ports as an enticement to get them to cruise again. For that reason there are always differences and surprises in searching itineraries so look for one that hits your “must see” destinations or new stops.

Santorini

There are some important things you need to consider when planning how you are going to get the most out of your cruise port visits. For most ports of call visits have a serious time limit and if you go off on your own you cannot be late returning to your ship. The ship just won’t normally wait for you. If you take a cruise sponsored tour the ship is obligated to get you and your fellow passengers back on board before sailing. That doesn’t mean that you are locked into taking only sponsored tours but you need to plan and allocate extra time to get back to the ship.

Corfu, Greece

When making your plans there are a few ports that many people put high up on their list to visit when they decide to cruise the Mediterranean. Here we offer a few highlights along with ideas on getting the most from those all-to-brief stops.

Florence

Livorno with trips to Pisa and Florence – You can easily take a train from Livorno Centrale to Florence Santa Maria Novella for €6 and €14 per person one way. You do have to get from the pier to the train station but most cruises offer a shuttle service at a reasonable price into town center. In Livorno you can also buy a combination round-trip ticket that includes the train tickets and a bus to the train station that can be purchased at many convenience shops. The trip takes about one and a half hours and trains run about every half hour. In Florence from Santa Maria Novella you can walk into the historic district in only a few blocks. You can get to Pisa in much the same way but the train trip is only twenty minutes with a moderate walk to the Cathedral and old city walls.

Rome

Civitavecchia / Rome – This is a city that everyone should make an effort to visit. From the buildings of the ancient Roman Empire to the Vatican there are days worth of sightseeing to be experienced. There is good information on seeing Rome in one day HERE.

You can find a good article on getting into Rome HERE. In Civitavecchia the train station is a moderate walk along the waterfront from the port and a train to S. Pietro station (Vatican City) takes about 40 minutes. Fares start at €5 per person one way on the commuter trains and up to €20 round trip using regional trains. There is a manned ticket booth at the Civitavecchia station along with automated vending machines. A round-trip bus booked through the ship will cost over €80 and take about two hours depending on traffic.

Barcelona

Barcelona -Barcelona is one of the two largest cruise ports in the Mediterranean and is used as an embarkation port as well as a popular port of call. The city is a modern and historic place with a number of iconic neighborhoods and attractions. If you are cruising out of Barcelona do not miss the opportunity to spend a couple of extra days visiting this vibrant city.

There are 3 cruise terminals at the World Trade Centre pier called North, South and East terminals and are much closer to the Columbus Monument on the waterfront at La Rambla.

The third terminal is Sant Bertrand, and it to is near the World Trade Center (refer to our cruise terminal map). Sant Bertrand is usually used for ferries to the Balearic Islands.

Palma, Spain

Transportation – The T3 PORTBUS (the “Blue Bus”) runs a circuit from all cruise port terminals to the monument of Christopher Columbus. The tickets for the T3 need to be purchased with cash on the bus itself. Single ticket: €3.00, with Return ticket: €4.00. Many of the cruise ships also provide a shuttle bus to their passengers for free or a small charge (usually about $5 to $8). Getting to the Gothic Quarter by

taxi from the port is normally less than 10 minutes with a fare of about €20.00. A Taxi to Barcelona airport from the cruise port should take about 25 minutes with a fare: of €30.00 – €35.00.

Malaga, Spain

Barcelona is a city steeped in culture and history and many think it is the city itself that is the main attraction. From great food to an exciting night life, from the old Gothic quarter to the modern shopping districts this is truly a remarkable city. The Gothic Cathedral in the heart of the Gothic quarter is a must-see as is a walk up Las Ramblas. Make sure to save time to explore the winding side streets with their shops and restaurants. There are also a number of great museums in the city. The MACBA (museum of modern art) and the CCCB next door are worth an hour or two. The Picasso and the permanent Dalí exhibition in the Gothic Quarter are always worth a visit. The Caixa Forum is a museum which has different art exhibitions every month. It is just off Plaça Espanya, on Avenida Marques.

Venice – Cruise ships dock at the cities cruise port and most ships offer water shuttles into the area near Piazza San Marco. That’s a good option but you can also walk out of the port. With a good map or phone app you can navigate through the city and reach the Piazza in only about a mile and a half through a number of interesting neighborhoods.

Pompeii

Naples – This city is near to the ruins of the Roman city Pompeii and well worth the time , but Naples is also not far from the Amalfi coast. There are frequent Trains from Naples to the Amalfi Coast. To get from Naples to Salerno, you can take one of Trenitalia’s Alta Velocità (AV) trains from Napoli Centrale station. The trip is about 30 miles and there are also InterCity and Regionale trains serving this route, with over three dozen trains a day costing €5 each way. From the Positino station it is a good idea to know where you want to visit and take a taxi but this is still an easy day trip.

The Acropolis

Piraeus and Athens – You can find a good piece on Piraeus HERE. The main attraction is the Acropolis in Athens and it’s well worth a day if this is your first visit. If you wold like to save a good amount over the cruise tours you can use the metro to travel from Piraeus to central Athens. A trip to Athens using the metro costs less than €1. Also a free shuttle bus usually operates in the port taking passengers from the ships to the metro station. Visiting the Acropolis has a general admission €10 and hours vary by season and day of the week. You should also expect a good uphill climb to reach the top but the is an elevator fro people with disabilities.

Monte Carlo

Villefranche-sur-Mer – You can find a good piece on Villefranche HERE. Less than a half mile around the waterfront is the train station where you can catch frequent trains to Monte Carlo, Nice or Cannes. They run about every twenty minutes and a trip to Monte Carlo takes only fifteen minutes and costs usually under €7.00. So before you sign up for that expensive tour consider some exploring on your own.

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Cruising Through The Panama Canal

Lock up to Gatún Lake

One very popular cruise itinerary is transiting the Panama Canal. Cruises generally cover three categories. West to east normally starting in a California port and ending in Florida. The reverse, east to west and Caribbean cruises that go part way through the canal and return to the Caribbean.

The best way to experience the canal is on a cruise ship. Generally these cruises start from major cruise ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They usually include a number of itinerary stops that can include Grand Cayman, Cartagena, Columbia, Colon in Panama, ports in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico but the star of the trip is the Canal.

In 1880 the French tackled what was to be one of the biggest engineering projects ever. The intent was to dig a canal from the Caribbean across Panama to the Pacific Ocean. They were defeated by some mountains but mostly by a mosquito and the single celled organism that causes malaria.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States took on the responsibility of getting done a long-term United States goal, completing the trans-isthmian canal. In order to get the U.S. authority a number of treaties were attempted and finally the U.S. backed a revolutionary movement that gained Panama independence from Columbia and granted the U.S. ownership of the property.

The new canal projects success was partly the result of healthcare advances made during the construction, led by William Gorgas, an expert in

Gatún Lake

controlling tropical diseases including yellow fever and malaria. Gorgas was one of the first to recognize the role of mosquitoes in the spread of these diseases, and by focusing on controlling the mosquitoes greatly improved worker safety and health.

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The American engineers abandoned the French plan of a sea level cut and went to a design using locks to lift ships up to the level of Gatún Lake and back down again. One of the biggest projects was the Culebra Cut through the roughest terrain on the route and remains one of the largest earth –moving projects ever tackled.

Transiting the locks

Later in the construction it was decided there would not be enough water reserves to operate the locks. Several dams were built with one being a dam at Pedro Miguel which encloses the south end of the Culebra Cut (actually an arm of Gatún Lake). The Gatun Dam is the main dam blocking the original course of the Chagres River, and resulted in creating Gatún Lake. Additionally two dams were built at Miraflores that enlarged Miraflores Lake.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

 

Mules prepare to receive a tanker

We have taken a couple of cruises that transit the canal and are always enthralled by the trip thru the locks and lakes of this remarkable place. Ships are pushed and pulled by tugs and canal rail engines called “mules” into locks with only inches of clearance. Water roars out of exhaust ports and massive ships rise and drop effortlessly within the locks.

A new electric Mule

Cruising across Lake Gatún is like a journey thru a primitive and beautiful rain forest with numerous islets. Dozens of ships glide along near us as they line up to re-enter the locks. Transiting the Culebra Cut with its walls towering above leaves us overwhelmed by the shear tonnage of dirt that had to be excavated and hauled away.

 

 

 

Many cruises stop at Cristobal Pier near Colon where locals offer crafts and wares for sale with usually Kuna Indians from the San Blas Islands among the merchants. Many of the cruise ships require a quick paint touch-up at the exit dock to cover up numerous rubs and scrapes from the passage through the locks

Up until recently the canal could only accommodate ships designated Panamax. Those original locks are 1,050 ft (320.04 m) in length, 110 ft (33.53 m) in width, and 41.2 ft (12.56 m) in depth. These limits have influenced the ship building industry to build Panamax vessels for the past hundred plus years

On September 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty promising to give control of the canal to the Panamanians in the year 2000. After Panama took control the Panama Canal Company started an expansion project. The expansion project started construction in 2007 and opened for commercial operation on 26 June 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger Post-Panamax and New Panamax ships, which have a greater cargo capacity than the original locks could accommodate. New Panamax ships will have a dimension of  1,200 ft (366 m) in length, 160.7 ft (49 m) in width and 49.9 ft (15.2 m) in depth. Unfortunately many of the cruise industries new mega-ships still cannot cruise the canal mainly because they are too tall to cruise under the bridge at the Pacific end of the canal.

All-in-all this is a fascinating journey and one of the three or four  best itineraries we’ve taken. The ports-of-call are an opportunity to visit a number of Central American countries and see some of this interesting region.

Glaciers and Cruising Alaska

Our cruise ship approaches Hubbard Glacier

Cruising Alaska has been gaining in popularity for a number of years and it doesn’t seem like interest will taper off any time soon. All the major cruise lines offer itineraries along with a number of smaller lines.

Cruising up The Misty Fjord

We often get asked what cruise we would recommend and we do have some very specific ideas on what to look for. Alaska has a lot to see and almost any cruise will be a memorable experience but there are differences.

Ice approaching Hubbard Glacier

 

First, some information on the general environment. Coastal Alaska has a limited number of ports and locations so there is a lot of cruise similarities. The major cruise ports are Skagway, Juno, and Ketchikan and each has a lot to offer and they are popular with passengers. There are also a couple of less visited stops with the most common being Hanes. Another common stop is Icy Straight Point. Both of those are more opportunities to take tours than a an actual  destination. There are also a couple of “cruise only” destinations. The first is the Misty Fiord which is usually a half day of cruising up thru the narrow fiord. The other is Hubbard Glacier where the ships cruise up near the face of the glacier. Finely is the port of Seward and it is the farthest north of the itineraries. Most one-way cruises make it up to Seward as this is a jumping off point for trips to Denali and includes the origin of the Alaska Rail Tours.

Hubbard Glacier calving

Our opinion is that the most spectacular sights are the glaciers and that should be a prime consideration in selecting a cruise line and its itinerary. Because the number of ships allowed to go up near to Hubbard Glacier are very limited we recommend that your first priority is to select a cruise that includes this glacier. Hubbard is a huge glacier that terminates at a bay and it is “calving” huge chunks into the water constantly. In addition the bay is filled with icebergs and flowing chunks of ice with seals being a common sight.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is another popular destination and usually all you need is a bus ticket from Juneau. The glacier is a National Park with a good visitor center and great hiking trails and it really is only a half hour bus ride from town. Almost all Alaska cruise passengers have an opportunity to visit this glacier.

Dawes Glacier
Up on the Juneau Ice Field

 

 

A third glacier of particular note is Dawes Glacier located at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord. It also terminates into water with calving a frequent event. Unfortunately it is not on many ship itineraries probably because there is a limit on ships allowed all the way up the fjord. Tracy Arm Fjord is a branch off of the Misty Fjord and while cruise often include Misty Fjord, few make it up to Dawes Glacier.

 

Helicopter tours Skagway

A fourth frequent glacier opportunity is a helicopter tour up on the Juneau Ice Field. These tours are available from Juneau as well as Skagway. One tip that can save you some money is to book the tour on your own rather than thru the ship. You can call using U.S. cell service at most points near the popular towns and often book at the last minute. The tours only take a couple of hours so it is easy to fit into a port day as well.

Regardless of which cruise line you prefer pay attention to the available itineraries and try to get a cruise that includes Dawes or Hubbard. Most cruise will list Hubbard on the cruise itinerary but you will probably have to make some inquiries regarding Dawes.

 

Caribbean Character

Mahogany Bay Village Roatan Port
Roatan, Honduras

Many years ago on a Caribbean cruise we stopped in Roatan, Honduras. Our ship docked at a commercial pier only a short walk into the small town of Loma Linda. We went shopping in the local market, bought some ground coffee and a tee shirt, visited a local leather shop where they did everything by hand. On the way back to the ship children skipped along with us and locals set up craft stalls in their front yards.

A few years latter we again stopped in Roatan on a cruise but things were much different. We docked at the new cruise ship pier in Mahogany Bay. Across a bridge from the dock is a well-equipped resort beach area and just a short walk down the pier is the shopping village featuring all the usual stores, Diamonds International, Del Sol etcetera. The area was clean, modern, attractive but except for the sales staff the only other people there came off the ships. It was hard to tell if we were in Honduras or Sint Maarten.

Mahogany Bay cruise beach area

Theme parks treat you to wild animals, high-speed excitement and tastes of foreign lands and we appreciate that it is all part of a carefully orchestrated consumer experience. This experience is designed to be attractive, stimulating, clean, safe and above all else fun. It’s what makes people want to come back. As millions of people travel by ship or plane to Caribbean ports and resorts do they give much thought that they are taking part in a similar process?

Cruise Village Costa Maya, Mexico

Making tourists happy is big business and it has everyone playing to get a share of that dollar. Island governments go to great lengths to keep visitors safe and happy, telling their friends and coming back. Island resorts function very much like theme parks where the attractions are sea, beach, food and fun. The cruise industry offers ships that meet these same objectives but they are also faced with the need to make port calls. Over the past twenty years the cruise lines have done a lot to shape the on-shore experience of their customers on these Caribbean islands.

Georgetown, Granada

The first and obvious addition is the cruise lines creation of private islands. These are isolated locations where the cruise ships offer beaches, water sports and cookouts in a perfectly controlled environment. In the Caribbean these include Disney Cruise Lines – Castaway Cay, Bahamas, Holland America Lines – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, Princess Cruises – Princess Cays, Bahamas and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti.

Cruise port Sint Maarten

Next are the new cruise ports, usually developed with the help of private companies, local governments and the cruise industry. In the most inclusive form they include Sint Maarten, Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan in Honduras, Sub Base St. Thomas and the port onGrand Bahama Island. In 2005 a private company with financial support from the government developed Port Zante to accommodate the big cruise ships visiting St. Kitts. Similar facilities where developed in St. Lucia, Curacao and St. Vincent with development planned for Belize and several other ports in the future.

Many passengers on cruise ships usually see the islands on arranged destination-focused tours. Unfortunately they completely miss the real Caribbean and spend their time shopping in the same stores on different islands that include

Cruise dock and shopping Cuzumel, Mexico

Diamonds International, Del Sol, Columbian Emeralds, Cariloha, Little Switzerland and others.

Basseterre St. Kitts

All-Inclusive resorts aren’t really much different from the cruise ships at giving us a feel for an island and its people. Their intent is to provide virtually everything the guest could expect or want in a relatively isolated location. They even arrange tours in much the same way as the cruises. There are also destinations where the entire island has been mostly overwhelmed by Western style and culture. Grand Cayman, Sint Maarten and Aruba can be characterized that way.

If the focus of your trip planning is turquoise water, sun and sand, water sports, entertainment and good food and you don’t really have an interest in island culture and history that’s fine. After all those are the things that have made the Caribbean the destination it is. But if you would like to spend some time exploring Caribbean life, that option is available.

Snack shop Tobago
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Yacht Haven near the cruise docks, St. Thomas

Fortunately a number of the larger Caribbean destinations have cruise facilities near to larger towns that can offer some insight into the real character and lifestyle of the island. In Curacao the ships dock very near to Willemsted and in St. Thomas many ships dock at Havensight with a nice walk or short jitney ride into Charlotte Amalie. In Antigua ships dock on the waterfront of the capital, St. John. The area near the dock has been developed to offer shopping and restaurants but most of the city is a working West Indian environment. All opportunities to look around, try a local restaurant and talk to people.

NOTE: While most areas in the Caribbean are safe, just like in Europe or America there are places that should be avoided. While we have almost always felt safe we would be cautious in areas of Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. In the case of Jamaica every effort is taken to provide a safe environment at the major resort areas as well as major tour destinations.

 

Cruising Alaska

Icy3As we write this, we are just finishing our fourth Alaska cruise. Having done this a number of times before, we recognize that there are a lot of similarities but also some significant differences in these cruises. Because it is so vast, Alaska is a destination that is more easily seen by cruise ship. Cruising gives you an opportunity to view some of the towns, cities, glaciers and wildlife up close and personal. After a first trip, it is then possible to decide if you want to spend time further exploring by train, ferry, car or a combination. It is also possible to add a land portion before or after a cruise which could include places like Denali, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

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A lot of ships begin the cruise in Seattle or Vancouver, two wonderful cities to spend a few extra days before or after a cruise. They are easily accessible and offer an abundance of hotels, restaurants and things to do in a wide range of prices (hotels in Seattle are rapidly getting more expensive though). A lot of the cruises are seven nights and depart and return from the same port.

A common itinerary for Alaska cruises is up the inside passage. Normal port stops are Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau and Icy Strait Point and visits to the Misty Fjords and Hubbard Glacier. Some cruises also visit Victoria, Canada on Vancouver Island. A typical

Ketch1
Ketchikan before dawn

seven night cruise will include four or five of these places with lots of opportunities for tours arranged through the cruise ship or setting out on your own for independent exploration. If you spend a little time on the internet investigating your ports of call, chances are you can locate an independent tour operator who will take you to a glacier, panning for gold, etc. at a significant savings over the cruise ship tour prices.

One sure highlight of an Alaska cruise is a visit to a glacier. There are three which are easily accessible and each has a different character:

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Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is a National Park and the easiest to get to since it is only a few minute bus ride outside of Juneau. Ships offer a number of tours to Mendenhall but we would recommend the public bus service that departs from near the cruise ship docks with a round trip fare of $30 per person.

Hubbard glacier is spectacular and is a destination that a limited number of ships can visit. Hubbard would be high on our list of itinerary stops when selecting a cruise. The ships maneuver up near the face of this massive glacier as it calves giant chunks into the sea which makes for spectacular photo opportunities.

Dawes glacier is way up inside the Misty Fjords and also calves chunks of turquoise ice

Dawes
Dawes Glacier

that float down the fjord. In booking, be warned that a visit to the fjord does not guarantee your cruise getting up to the Dawes glacier as it depends on conditions.

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Hubbard Glacier

In addition to viewing from land or sea, there are also helicopter tours that can be booked that will take you to glaciers up on the Juneau ice field. These helicopter tours are usually booked in conjunction with stops in either Juneau or Skagway.

Because Alaska is on most U.S. cell service plans you can consider booking one of the helicopter tours directly. We did this in Skagway and saved almost half on the cost of the tour over booking through the ship. Because of scheduling concerns there are times that we would not recommended booking a tour other than with the cruise. In this case we were in Skagway all day, we booked for a morning tour and were back with hours to spare before the ship sailed. It also was the same tour provided by thehelos cruise excursion desk.

One of our favorite towns is Skagway and while its’ primary purpose today is as a seasonal tourist destination it is still a fun and interesting stop. The town is the home to the railroad excursion train known as the Yukon and White Pass Route that climbs up to the pass that was a primary gateway into the Klondike during the gold rush days. The Yukon gold rush was the event that gave birth to this boomtown and was the entrance point to the Chilkoot Trail, described as the “meanest 33 miles in history”. In 1897 the dreams of thousands were attached to the call “North to Alaska” and the promise of gold. Today

Skag
Skagway’s main street

the main street of Skagway is lined with gift and jewelry stores along with art galleries and a few bars. Because the cruise ships represent the heart of the town’s economy, once the “season” is over the population of the town drops to only about five hundred intrepid souls.

The largest cruise city and the state capital is Juneau and while the waterfront is dominated by jewelry stores and gift shops, tourism is not its’ principal business. Fishing boats come and go from its’ docks and it is home to a university and, of course, the government dominates the job scene. The famous Red Dog Saloon, founded during Juneau’s mining era, has been in operation

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Salmon Hatchery Juneau

for decades and still serves visitors and locals alike. For a time, “Ragtime Hattie” played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top. Later, in territorial days, the owners would often meet the tour boats at the docks with a mule that wore a sign saying, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.” Wyatt Earp is said to have lost his pistol in a poker game there. The saloon also hosted an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show just after Alaska became a state.

Near the cruise docks there is a cable car up to a mountaintop that offers a panoramic view of the area. Juneau is also home to the Mendenhaul glacier and during one cruise we visited the local fish hatchery. It is a remarkable operation that scoops up and processes tons of fresh “wild” salmon and is a good alternative to the controversial salmon farming which has become popular in recent years.

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Ketchican

Ketchikan is another popular port where you can, depending on the season, book a fishing trip to bring back your own salmon or, if really lucky, a haddock. There are operations where your charter captain can have your catch smoked or flash frozen and express shipped home (expensive but worth the bragging rights). Again there are jewelry stores and gift shops everywhere and also one of the better opportunities to buy canned or smoked salmon to take home to family and friends. It does seem that each time we come back to Alaska, the price of salmon jumps in price, probably driven by of the growing popularity of Alaska cruising, so shop carefully.

Icy Straight Point is another popular stop with the big draw being whale watching tours. There are also some nice Alaska rain forest hiking trails and a new zipline. On one recent trip when we were anchored out we returned to the ship early and a large humpback whale spent almost an hour near the ship. We have been told that that was not that unusual an event here.

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Whale at Icy Straight Point

After taking several Alaska cruises, we decided to try something different this time. We selected a Celebrity ship, Solstice, which was doing its’ last seasonal cruise in September, beginning in Seattle and terminating in Vancouver. The ship was then heading to Hawaii and then on to Australia. We decided that we wanted to stay on the ship and disembark in Hawaii which meant we invoked the Jones Act. (See our post on the Jones Act here.)

Victoria
Victoria, Canada

To avoid a Jones Act violation, we needed to disembark and spend the night in Victoria, Canada, the last cruise port, and then board the ship again in Vancouver the next day. This requires special permission from the Canadian Government to disembark early, before termination of the cruise. The process is called down lining and can be arranged after your cruise is booked. The transfer to Vancouver can be made by helicopter, seaplane or ferry and we selected the latter for both convenience and price.

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Vancouver Island ferry terminal

The disadvantage to transferring by ferry is that the ferry port in Victoria is some distance out of town and in Vancouver is not in close proximity to the cruise ship terminal (Canada Place). The BC Connector solves this problem by offering a ticket which provides bus service to the ferry port in Victoria all the way through to Canada Place. The bus literally drives onto the ferry where passengers spend the crossing in clean and comfortable lounge areas. Upon arrival in Vancouver, the bus drives on to Canada Place. Cruisers head inside for check-in and suitcases are given to porters for loading onto the ship. This service should be reserved and paid for in advance on the internet as there are a limited number of seats available.

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Our ship passes a pod of Humpback Whales.

Cruising the South China Sea

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A First Visit to Southeast Asia

We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).

Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.

Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.

Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.


Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.


In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.