Category Archives: Alaska

Gavi visits Alaska with Lindblad Expeditions

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A few weeks ago, WIT Agent Gavi joined Lindblad Expeditions on a trip to Southeast Alaska. Read on for her review of the ship and the ports of call. 

For two golden hours on a mid-May evening, I chased the Canadian sunset northward. I left behind clouds spread beneath me like fractured glass and entered Southeast Alaska: a land of glowing snow-dusted ridges, jagged peaks, frozen lakes, ice fields, fjords and mist. I spent the next week with Lindblad Expeditions, exploring Southeast Alaska’s fjords and glaciers from the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird.

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SITKA

The town of Sitka nestles into Baranof Island’s eastern edge. It’s home to a small main street, which contains a well-stocked outdoor store (filled with any high-end brands you could ever want and an entire wall of rubber boots), an organic creperie, a coffee shop, and a few souvenir galleries (save your shopping for Juneau, although one of the shops does have a full mammoth skull on display, tusks and all). Two places in the town warrant time set aside for a visit:

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  • The raptor center happens to be one of the best wildlife rehabilitation centers I’ve ever seen. They have a symbiotic relationship with tourism in the town: it thrives because it’s able to charge admission to cover costs of an incredible operation. Flight training rooms have creeks to cover noise and one-way windows. Birds unable to fly are kept in expansive open-topped enclosures. The center has educational and hospital facilities, and permanent homes are found for all animals unable to be released.
  • Totem Park: This beautiful national historic park lies 10-15 minutes’ walk from the Sitka town center. The trails in this forested area are lined with totem poles that have been relocated from throughout Southeast Alaska for the sake of cultural preservation and education.

 

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THE CRUISE

The Boat: This boat is a smaller, expedition-style ship, which means we were able to go a lot of places many larger cruise ships were simply unable to navigate. It had a compact set-up, with several different communal areas that made it easy to get to know fellow passengers.

The lounge is cozy: it has lots of smaller tables with rotating armchairs, as well as padded benches around the edges. One large screen and several other screens set up throughout, so you can see presentations no matter where you’re sitting. There is a comprehensive library with literature relevant to the cruise area: natural history, cultural history, guidebooks and other reference materials. There was also a basket of novels (take one/leave one style).

The dining room was classy and practical. No assigned seating, so mingling and getting to know people was easy. Mix of round and rectangular tables.

There were wrap-around outside observation areas on the main deck as well as in front of the bridge, allowing a vantage point for anyone who wanted a view.

An area on the back of the third deck had a sun/rain cover and fitness equipment: three fitness machines, weights, foam rollers, yoga mats and some other things.

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The Rooms: Comfiest. Beds. Ever. Cabins could be termed either “small” or “cozy,” depending how you look at it, but this is to be expected on a yacht-style expedition ship. Bathrooms are “wet” style, where the shower and toilet are right next to each other (a curtain can be drawn to keep the toilet and paper dry). Plenty of storage beneath the bed, and there is also a cabinet with several hangers and a shelf. Amenities include bath scrubby, conditioner and lip balm, your own steel water bottle to take home, and there are shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower. A small clothesline is provided that reaches across the bathroom.

Onboard Activities: Largely educational, focused on photography and local history (both natural and cultural), and conservation. Each Lindblad expedition has a Certified Photo Instructor on board (some select programs also have a National Geographic photographer). The photo instructor on our expedition had extensive experience all over the world, and is currently involved in the continuation of time-lapse projects used to document glaciers’ retreat (used in the 2014 documentary Chasing Ice).

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During our trip, the instructor let a fantastic intro to photography session on the first day, followed by breakout sessions determined by camera style and experience. There were also evening lectures presented by onboard naturalists: some of the programs on this voyage included: marine mammal behavior and current research, history of fur trading in the region, formation of the area (including past, current and future hydrogeology), and Native American totem poles of the Pacific Coast. These programs reflected a set of naturalists with diverse strengths, and their passion and knowledge easily showed through their work.

There was great demo gear available on the boat including binoculars, camera bodies and lenses.

Morning yoga and stretching sessions on the back deck for those so inclined, and there was a wellness specialist on board who was available to book massages. The boat had an “open bridge” policy, as long as we weren’t navigating something tricky or pulling into/out of harbor: this was an amazing opportunity to look over maps and monitors and ask questions about navigation. It also provided a way to watch our surroundings from one of the best seats in the house, in a nice warm room shielded from any weather outside.

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Excursions: In general, two per day: one in the morning and one in the evening. We had a variety of choices for each excursion, catered toward different physical levels. Some examples include:

  • Short, medium or long hikes
  • Stand up paddleboarding, Kayaking or Zodiac tours
  • Hiking, Kayaking or Zodiak tours
  • Hiking, cultural visit with river float, town time or flightseeing (port day in Haines)

It is important to remember that, due to nature of the location, schedule and location of excursions on an expedition-style cruise is fluid. Excursions may be adjusted based on any of the following: wilderness restrictions (only a certain number of people allowed on land at a time), weather, wildlife (boats are not allowed in areas where seals are pupping), accessibility (areas with established trails will allow longer hikes than coves with no established trail), and ability of the “slowest” person in a group.

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The food: was phenomenal, especially from the perspective of a girl who usually looks to the “apply heat and consume” philosophy. Responsibly sourced. Breakfast and lunch usually consisted of healthy buffets with a wide variety, and dinner was sit-down with a choice of three protein options which changed daily. Portions were small compared to usual classic American meals, but no one ever left feeling hungry. Light snacks were available throughout the day: cookies, trail mix, afternoon hors d’oeuvres. Dietary needs were all catered to beautifully.

The drinks: Free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, chai latte mix, and anything you can make with a cappuccino machine, any time of day or night. Alcohol was not included: there is an honor tally sheet for beers from the fridge, and a bar tab kept on your on-board account. However, wine was comped on the first and last nights, and beer was comped at the first lunch. Alcohol was included free of charge on three other occasions:

  • During our port day in Haines, we were given credit for drinks at one brewery and one distillery.
  • We returned from a cold zodiac tour and the bartender was waiting at the sign-in board with a vat of apple cider and your choice of Captain Morgan or… some other liquor.
  • Half way through the zodiac tour to the glacier, another zodiac full of crew dressed as Vikings “raided” our boat and distributed hot chocolate with a choice between three alcohols, and whip.

The vibe, overall: relaxed and casual.

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Some Things to Note: 

  • If you have kids: your best Lindblad option will be an Alaska or Galapagos program, which will have a dedicated “Global Explorers” kid-specific program and naturalist on board. On trips without a “Global Explorers” program, activities are not generally geared toward the younger generation (ex: evening lectures rather than entertainment with other companies). If a child is uninterested in an activity and wishes to stay behind, a parental unit will need to accompany the child and be responsible for them.
  • These are not ADA accessible cruises.
  • Remember to pack:
    • A waterproof cover for your day pack.
    • Three pairs of shoes:
      • sturdy, knee-high rubber boots (required),
      • tennis shoes, and
      • “camp shoes” for on the boat. (if your tennis get wet, you’ll be wearing your rubber boots everywhere on board, even when you want to relax).
    • A long string to use as an additional clothesline in your cabin. There is no electric dryer on board, and this will be a lifesaver after rainy expeditions.
    • Lots of warm layers (including gloves, hats, scarf): while Southeast Alaska has some absolutely stunning days, any time of year can also have cold, windy and rainy days. Zodiac tours can be a long activity, exposed with no movement, so you can get cold fast without the right clothing.

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JUNEAU

Alaska’s state capital has a few things worth doing:

On a clear day, take the tram up Mt. Roberts: this has a beautiful view down the channel and some trails at the top. Admission is covered by Lindblad.

While most “galleries” in town are maintained by cruise companies, there are two or three worth visiting:

  • Mt. Juneau Trading Post: Family trading post maintained for generations by a Tlingit family. Old and new art from all over the Northwest coast, ranging from $5 to the sky. If you love art, you can get lost in here for hours.
  • Trickster: Northwest Coast art designed and applied to modern purposes: skateboards, home décor, jewelry, apparel, etc.

Some other Juneau activities: The Mendenhall Ice Caves are a full-day excursion with a local company, accessible only by first kayaking and then climbing over ice. There is also flightseeing available in Juneau.

It’s worth an extra half-day in Juneau to see the galleries and Mt. Roberts tram (arriving the night before you embark, or catching a later flight the day you disembark). For any further activities, you will need to allow an additional day in the city.

 

 

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Travel News: Plan-A-Cruise Month!

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Celebrate Cruise Month with deals to tempt you up the gangway for a fabulous holiday at sea

Plan-A-Cruise Month is the bigger and better successor to National Cruise Week!! SALES from dozens of cruise lines have STARTED and ends Tuesday October 31. Dreaming of a cruise to Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Asia? Call Willamette Intl Travel for huge savings and perks on your next Cruise! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Starting October 26, 2017, NEW TSA rules are in effect

Some travelers INBOUND to USA may be selected for an interview at check-in counters and airport gates by TSA staff. This is aimed at tightening security at airports and for airlines and its passengers. Both American and global airlines must comply, affecting all of the 2,100 flights from around the world that enter the U.S. on any given day. This will lengthen the amount of recommended time passengers need to check in before their flights. Usually Willamette Intl Travel recommends 2 hours before domestic flights and 3 hours before international, but you may want to add 1 hour extra to ensure that you meet your flight.

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Viking Cruises Named ‘Best River Cruise Line’

Currently celebrating their 20th anniversary, Viking Cruises has been voted the Best River Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveler in the publication’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards. The line has scored in the top o the list every year since the river cruise category was introduced. Also, after only two years of ocean cruises, Viking was again named one of the Best Ocean Cruise Lines. Over 300,000 readers submitted millions of ratings and more than 100,000 comments as part of the 30th annual readers’ choice survey. Acclaimed for their innovation, modern Scandinavian design, inclusive value, and destination-focused offerings, for the past 20 years Viking has amassed awards from industry experts and the travel trade.

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Airlines Bring Out the Bubbly And Ice Cream In Coach

Major US airlines are beefing up their menus in an attempt to stand out against a growing sea of low-cost carriers that advertise fares less than $100 for a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Delta Air Lines announced earlier this month that it is serving free Prosecco on international flights in all cabins, just a few weeks after it unveiled new transatlantic routes for next year that include non-stops from Los Angeles to Paris and Amsterdam, New York to Lagos, and Atlanta to Lisbon. Delta was careful with its wording as a traveler sued a Canadian airline for advertising Champagne after he received sparkling wine. By the end of next year, Delta’s first, business and premium-economy passengers will be able to preselect their meals before boarding.

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Emirates Airlines Hires Boredom Specialist To Keep Kids Entertained

Emirates has hired a psychologist and boredom specialist to keep kids entertained on their aircrafts. Young flyers will take just 49 minutes and 47 seconds to ask the dreaded, ”are we nearly there yet?” so with parents battling the boredom threshold, Emirates has teamed up with Dr Sandi Mann, a psychologist and boredom specialist at the University of Central Lancashire to find a solution. Dr Mann has worked with the airline to create the Child Boredom Quotient (CBQ), helping parents identify the exact moment their kids will get bored so they can enjoy stress-free travel.

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First Airport Terminal Gym In Europe Opens At Estonia’s Tallinn Airport

Leading fitness club operator, MyFitness, has this month opened Europe’s very first gym situated within an airport terminal. The gym is located at Gate 6 in the Departures area of Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport with views on to the runway. The gym is fully equipped with state of the art modern equipment with internet connection, as well specialist training machines and a stretching area. The gym is equipped with a treadmill, elliptical trainer, rowing machine, exercise bicycle and a staircase trainer, all equipped with a screen and connected to the Internet. There four specialist training machines for feet, shoulders, chest and back exercises, plus a stretch area. Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport is known to be one of the most unique airports in the world in other areas too.

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Cunard To Offer Short Alaska Season In 2019

In 2019, Cunard Line will sail in Alaska, offering a handful of departures in May and June aboard the Queen Elizabeth from Vancouver. The ship will then transport passengers down the West Coast of the United States, through the Panama Canal to New York, on to Iceland and the British Isles, the company said. Cunard will offer four 10-night round-trip Vancouver sailings with more time in port and opportunities to visit the natural wonders of Tracy Arm Fjord and Hubbard Glacier.” Departures from Vancouver will be departing May 21, 31, June 10 and 20, 2019. Itineraries feature scenic cruising through the Inside Passage as well as full days in several of the region’s ports, including Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. The itinerary also includes the Tracy Arm Fjord or Endicott Arm, Icy Strait Point, Hubbard Glacier and Victoria.

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Ice Festivals around the World

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From the Desk of Wailana, Social Media Correspondent based in Stockholm

Glacial Artscapes

It’s freezing in my adoptive home of Sweden, about -10 C (that’s 14 F!), and venturing outside puts me knee-deep in snow. Coming from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, it’s not something I’ll ever be used to!

But ice and snow has its charms. Sweden just opened its Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi for 365 days of the year (previously it was only in winter season), so that puts me in the arctic spirit! And the rest of the world seems to agree. From December to March each year, cities and towns all across the globe host beautiful Ice Sculpture Festivals and transform their streets into a glacial winter wonderland.

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World Ice Art Championships — Alaska

Since 1989, Alaska is THE destination for worldwide ice art competition. Bringing together more than 100 sculptors and upwards of 50,000 visitors each year, the Ice Art Championship is a place to see masters excel at their craft. Judges break down the competition by Single Block (one block of ice) and Multi-Block, and Abstract and Realistic artworks. These “Olympics of Ice Carving” are a fantastic way for artists to demonstrate strength, vision, and feats of engineering. Usually held between February in March, giving youth carvers a chance to challenge each other during Spring Break. The theme tends to be up to interpretation, with topics ranging from pop culture to folklore; but many artists do favor naturalistic motifs, celebrating local Alaskan fauna or indigenous culture.

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Harbin Intl Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival — China

The magnificent and luminous International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China (whew what a title!), holds the title of largest ice festival in the world. Originating way back in 1963 (albeit interrupted for some years during the Cultural Revolution), it typical runs from January to February. This is one crazy festival–featuring ice lanterns, carving competitions, a fireworks show, converts, water swimming and other ice sports. Sculptures reach their peak in 2007, when a Canadian-themed sculpture was awarded a Guinness Record for biggest snow sculpture (a whopping 820 feet long and 28 feet high!). Tourist packages often combine winter travel in China with a stop in Harbin. (Call Willamette Intl Travel for the scoop!) Come at night for the best multicolored illuminations!

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Sapporo Snow Festival — Japan

The world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival attracts 2 million people to Hokkaido in early February. Its humble beginnings start all the way back in 1950, when a group of high school students challenged each other with a mere six snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it’s been growing, and the festival garnered international attention during Sapporo’s Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Guests can enjoy still sculptures in Odori Park, where lights illuminate the frozen dragons, flowers, supernatural beings, musicians, (and so on!) until 10pm.

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Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival — Netherlands

The Netherlands have thrown a few Ice Sculpture Festivals (including one in Bruges!) over the years, but it’s this year (2016-2007) that one is at last coming to Amsterdam. Forty-two expert ice artists will transform the Arena Park into a magical ice-scape from December to February. The theme: Music Inspires, so expect Mozart, Elvis, and maybe even Prince to make an appearance.

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Quebec City Winter Carnival — Canada

More of a parade than an exhibition, Quebec’s City Winter Carnival is a time for the whole city to shake off winter hibernation. Masquerade balls, winter sports, snowmen pop up here and there, and the parade hosts a fair share of ice sculptures to admire and applaud. Don’t forget your glass of Caribou, a hot melange of red wine, whiskey, and maple syrup!

 

Flickr CC images: art_inthecity, RageZ, Jay Cross, Fredrik Rubensson, Thomas Wanhoff

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Travel News: Alaska Airlines’ New Premium Class

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Alaska Airlines’ New Premium Class Section Now Available For Purchase
Upgrades start at $15, starting in January fliers will enjoy a seat with extra legroom and additional perks. The airline will debut its Premium Class section for travel on select routes beginning Jan. 5, 2017, as it continues a significant retrofit of its all-Boeing fleet. You can now purchase seats with up to four more inches of space between rows. In addition to four extra inches of legroom, passengers seated in Premium Class will enjoy early boarding, snacks and complimentary drinks. Alaska Mileage Plan MVP, Gold and Gold 75K members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades into Premium Class at the time of booking, or up to 24 hours in advance of travel, depending on status and the fare purchased. With the addition of Premium Class, Alaska’s most loyal customers who aren’t able to upgrade into First Class will see a significantly increased likelihood of getting a seat with more legroom near the front of the cabin. For more information around upgrades for elites see the Alaska Airlines blog: Treat yourself: Alaska Airlines launches new Premium Class. Initial prices for Premium Class seats range from $15 to $79 in addition to base fares and are based on the length of the flight. Seats in the new section can be purchased at the time of booking through alaskaair.com or Alaska’s mobile apps, during check-in, and at the airport.

Chinese Visa Scanning on the United App

On October 20 United Airlines introduced new functionality in their mobile app that makes travel to China easier than ever. Customers can use their iPhone, iPad or Android device to scan their Chinese visa to complete check-in through the United app. This new functionality delivers a convenient channel to provide visa information during the 24-hour check-in window prior to departure. 

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Icelandair Adds New US Destinations And Extra Flights

Icelandair is to increase its seat capacity by 11.5% next year as it continues to build up its network linking Europe and North America. The carrier is adding two new destinations in the US next year, Philadelphia and Tampa, which will take its number of North American routes up to 18 flying through its Reykjavik hub. Icelandair will begin flying to Philadelphia on May 30, 2017 and the service will initially run as a summer-only route which will operate until September 20, 2017. If it is successful, the route may eventually become year-round. Tampa will be added as a new destination from September 7, 2017, operating twice per week, and will complement the existing Orlando route, which runs five times per week. Both services will operate year-round from next September when there will be a daily service from Iceland to Florida. The airline also serves 26 destinations in Europe including five UK airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Sister carrier Air Iceland also flies from Reykjavik to Aberdeen. 

Ottawa’s Winterlude Festival Set For 2017

In 2017 Canada marks its 150th birthday, with holiday-makers invited to join in the countrywide, year-long celebrations. The main focus for national events will be the capital city Ottawa, where 12 epic months of big, bold, immersive and moving experiences will be on offer. The first major ‘National Partner Event’ of the Ottawa 2017 calendar will be a special edition of the annual Winterlude festival, which will wow visitors over three fun-filled weekends, 3 – 20 February. Next years’ will be the 39th edition of Winterlude, when Ottawa will be transformed into an enchanting city of all things snowy and frozen. Organizers are promising a festival that will be bigger and better than ever, with some 600,000 revelers expected to descend on the capital. The bumper sized celebrations will be centered in and around three downtown locations, all of which will be free of charge to the public.

US Preclearance Expanding To Stockholm In 2019

The United States and Sweden signed an agreement on Friday to expand the preclearance to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. There are other airports wishing to join the program from number of countries. The Swedish government said it hopes the increased ease of travel will have positive consequences in making Sweden a more attractive place for international companies to base their headquarters in. The goal of the so-called Preclearance program is to extend security and thwart the arrival of unwelcome visitors before they reach the US but the advantage for all travelers is to clear Customs before getting aboard the plane, and to avoid long lines upon arrival. The airports embarking on the process to join the program include Bogota, Buenos Aires, Edinburgh, Kansai, Milan, Reykjavik, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, and Saint Martin. More than 10 million travelers fly to the U.S. from those airports each year. The program already screens about 18 million travelers per year arriving from 15 airports mostly in Canada, the Caribbean and Ireland.

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Stockholm at Night

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Agent Trip Report: Un-Cruise in Alaska

Willamette Intl Travel Agent Barb Baumer took a 7-day cruise with Un-Cruise Adventures and absolutely loved it.

Click here for her report.

Un-Cruise Adventures offers itineraries that are small ship + destination-center + activity- & education-focused.

Related posts:

Un-Cruise Adventures: Not Your Typical Cruise

Un-Cruise Adventures

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Photos from the Alaskan Cruise are up!

As some of you may have followed last week, WIT agent Wailana recently set out on Celebrity Cruises’ week itinerary up to Alaska. She spent time in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, and acquired firsthand experience of services and venues onboard the Infinity ship. Check out her  photos from that trip, up in the Gallery section or linked here.

Feel free to browse through the pictures and even comment! We appreciate your feedback!

Willamette Intl Travel has booked clients on countless Celebrity itineraries and other cruise lines. Interested to hear more? Email Wailana at wailanak@wittravel.com about the ship Infinity or info@wittravel.com for more information on cruises on offer.

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South, Sunsets, Seattle!

This week WIT agent Wailana is concluding her days aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Infinity up to Alaska. Today, we take a look at Victoria and the ship herself.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012 – At Sea

Another day “at sea” is a terrific opportunity to explore the ship’ services. Besides the onboard spa, fitness center and pools, there are ample activities all around the ship, including:

–       bingo night

–       basketball h.o.r.s.e. tournament

–       watercolor art class

–       presentations by a qualified cultural historian and naturalist

–       music trivia

–       wine tasting

–       and much more

As one of the last days onboard, there was a festive air throughout the ship. The gift shop held sales and the lounges specials and events. Photographers shot scenes of impeccably dressed guests against the backdrop of a fiery sunset.

I took advantage of this day to explore Michael’s Club, the shipboard equivalent to a pub. You can sip on a beer from their worldwide selection, enjoying the lounge with its muted lighting, tasty edibles and live music. I was once again impressed with the general unpretentiousness and high standard of food and service. It was also English-themed trivia night, a hilarious event as the etymology of the word soccer came into question.

Thursday, 6 September 2012 – Victoria, BC

The morning began with a crew talent show and cooking contest. This was a great chance to see all 900+ crew members on stage at once, some of them displaying incredible feats of magic, dance, song, comedy and theatre. It was also a terrific opportunity for the passengers to show our appreciation of the hard work behind the scenes.

After, it was on to late lunch. My number one recommendation on any Celebrity ship is to try one of the specialty restaurants onboard. It’s not that the regular restaurants are inadequate–on the contrary, the main dining area Trellis is a culinary delight each seating—but the attention to detail, quality of ingredients, and presentation are up a whole new level. After the entertainment of the A.M., we headed down to the SS United States, the specialty restaurant focusing on French cuisine. The setting had a very clean and 1950’s ship interior, complete with Jazz lounge music, white polished décor, and porthole windows with wooden panels. You can order courses paired with wine or à la carte and just sample from an array of delicious and masterfully prepared appetizers. The peak of the dinner was the jaw-dropping desserts—but those, readers, I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

Specialty Restaurants: Blu (Aquaclass only), SS United States, Qsine

Disembarkation Time: 6.30 pm

Arrival into Victoria was perfectly timed for the afternoon. The sun sinks down over the harbor and bathes the waters in blue and gold. It’s a lovely 30-minute walk or brief shuttle ride into the heart of downtown. In the summer, street performers line the docks just below the capitol building—jugglers, musicians, traders. I would advise cruise passengers to spend their charming, lamp lit evening in Victoria eating out at one of the yummy restaurants in Old Town.

Embarkation Time: 11.30pm

Conclusion

In the end, cruises are luxury resorts set against beautiful backgrounds. They are opportunities to enjoy some fine entertainment, cuisine, and accommodations. Your activities are designed with a demographic in mind, which changes depending on the route. It is important to remember that, with less than 12 hours in any port of call, less focus is given to the destination and more to onboard experience.

With this in mind, Celebrity Cruises stands out as a luxury cruise line. The service is what makes this ship exceptional. The staff was friendly, amusing, approachable, relatable and accommodating. I am not surprised that the Infinity has the highest rated crew in the entire fleet.

Willamette Intl Travel regularly books clients on Celebrity and other cruises. Call WIT at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com to book a cruise today!

P.S. Wailana’s photographs from the cruise will be appearing on the blog next week, so stay tuned!

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