Get Away With Fran

August 31, 2009

Upgrade for Disney’s Castaway Cay

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 5:07 pm


Castaway Cay, the private Bahamas island that Disney Cruise Line ships visit, is so picture perfect, in my experience, that you expect to see a Mickey ear-shaped cloud in the clear blue sky (I’m sure if the Imagineers  could arrange for that they would). And what’s a good thing is soon to get better.

The 1,000-acre island’s white sand beach is being extended – meaning more room to play in the sand and build sand castles, and there will be the addition of cool new water play areas and big private cabanas.

The water areas include Pelican Plunge, a floating platform that will have two waterslides and water cannons. The 20 new private cabanas will be 325 square feet and come complete with front porch, dining table, loungers, refrigerator and even a shaded deck and shower area (so you don’t have to drag around any sand). Fluffy towels are included too. No word yet on (more…)

August 27, 2009

New ship cruise news from Germany, Finland and France or Disney, NCL and Royal Caribbean


Lots of stuff happening in shipyards in Europe where several lines are building their biggest, newest, and perhaps most-anticipated (and certainly most publicized) new ships.

First to Papenburg, Germany, where Meyer Werft is building the new 128,000-ton Disney Dream, which will carry up to 4,000 parents and kids (or 2,600 passengers double occupancy) on adventures to the Caribbean, beginning in 2011. The keel has been laid for the latest Disney Cruise Line vessel, which means construction has begun and rabid Disney fans can officially start salivating.

Not a lot of details about the ship yet, but you can be sure Disney has some amazing tricks up its sleeve. Speaking of which, on its Europe cruises this summer guests with big bucks will be offered the unique shore excursion option of flying by private plane from Warnemunde, Germany (one of the ports of call on the line’s new Northern Europe route) to Papenburg to see the Disney Dream under construction. Cool, huh?

On to France, where NCL has its 4,200-passenger, 153,000-ton Norwegian Epic being built at STX Europe in St-Nazaire. The news on this ship is you can now book passage on the ship’s first transatlantic sailing – or at least get on (more…)

August 23, 2009

Planes, trains and moose in Alaska


Today I went biking on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage, Alaska, and about 10 minutes into the ride saw a moose. And then another. A moose family in fact right as the trail passed by some people’s houses, the Cook Inlet on the other side. I got off my bike to snap some photos and then realized they are moose, as in wild animals, as in why is the mother moose staring at me and starting to walk my way? My biking companion and I decided it was prudent to get back on our rented mountain bikes and continue our ride.


The trail actually is right on the edge of downtown, and a pretty easy ride at least for the 15 miles we did (the entire trail and back is 22 miles). There are some hills but the kind that’s long and not particularly steep (though I admit I did walk up a couple of times). (more…)

August 22, 2009

Alaska and sled dogs

Filed under: U.S. — Tags: — admin @ 2:03 pm

In today’s video, 4-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King talks sled dogs, and mushing, and racing, and dogs and dogs and dogs (he loves them). See the cute Alaskan Huskies (even puppies).

August 19, 2009

To the Dogs near Denali National Park in Alaska

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:25 pm


This is me playing Iditarod champion, the late champion Susan Butcher in the background, photographed in a gift shop in Fairbanks.

But last night I did get to meet a real 4-time Iditarod champion, Jeff King, who is also the oldest to ever win the 1,100-mile dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome – he won in 2006 at age 50. Visiting his Goose Lake Kennel, just outside Denali National Park, was a real highlight of my Royal Caribbean cruisetour (the excursion is priced at $49 and well worth it).


From our nice accommodations at the McKinley Village Lodge, a few dozen of us drove by vans to the Kings’ home/kennel. And within minutes of that I had a baby Alaskan Huskie in my hands. Sooo cute. And maybe a future sled dog champion?

The litters here are named by the Kings’ three daughters – now in their teens and 20s – and they adopted a fun approach over the years, choosing themes. For instance, there is the (more…)

August 18, 2009

Take me to the Chena River and on to Denali

Filed under: Cruise,U.S. — admin @ 6:57 pm

If you are in Fairbanks, Alaska, try the Alaskan Ale IPA beer. OK, that’s my recount of last night.


Now for today, we set off on a steam riverboat, Discovery III, complete with red paddlewheel, to explore the Chena and Tanana rivers and learn a little more about Fairbanks. The boat is one of the excursions offered by Royal Caribbean as part of its cruisetours. I should note, you can’t see all of Alaska from a cruise ship, hence the existence of cruisetours that combine a cruise with a several-day inland tour like the one I am currently on. You still won’t see all of Alaska, but you will get a better idea of some of the inland sights (my tour is taking me from Fairbanks down to Anchorage).


The Fairbanks river trip, it turns out, is a well-staged, well-planned tourist excursion for those who like this sort of thing –a few hundred of us watched from the comfort of the three-deck ship’s outdoor areas and heated inside cabins as, on cue, a bush pilot landed a floatplane, reindeer came to the riverbank, the owner of an Iditarod sled-dog camp came out to show off the dogs (which then impressively pulled him in a 4 x 4 at 20 mph) and talk shop (along the way, folks on shore talked into microphones).


August 17, 2009

From Radiance of the Seas to hello Fairbanks sunshine


Today I said goodbye to the lovely Royal Caribbean cruise ship Radiance of the Seas and a very rainy Juneau and hello to Fairbanks, Alaska, sunshine (and the sun actually shines up here way into the night this time of year – when it’s not raining – since we’re pretty darn far north).

To get from Juneau to Fairbanks is not an easy task. We departed the ship for the Juneau International Airport (international because it gets one Canada flight a day), passing you-know-who’s former governor’s mansion and the small Alaska statehouse, to catch a flight on Alaska Airlines to Anchorage. From there we boarded a half cargo, half passenger 737-400, also Alaska Airlines, flying over Mount McKinley, snowy on top, and landing in Fairbanks. The trip took about six hours including time at the airports.

Roberta, a bubbly guide who works with Royal Caribbean cruisetour groups (this week I’m experiencing a sampling of Royal Caribbean’s cruisetour offerings, only shortened, along with some other writers), got us on our bus and to the Pike’s Waterfront Lodge (in photos below).


The Lodge is only five minutes from the airport – you can see the airport from here – but is also distinctively “Green,” especially for Alaska (again, what’s her name hasn’t exactly (more…)

August 16, 2009

Spawning salmon in Ketchikan, Alaska

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:03 pm


The salmon are spawning in Ketchikan and its amazing to watch them trying to swim up stream (though they probably say the same thing about us).

I spent the day wandering around this little historic town, most of it observing salmon in some form or other – swimming, climbing, jumping, lying dead having been just been caught by a fisherman (and headed to someone’s frying pan or BBQ grill, no doubt).

Ketchikan has in recent years experienced an influx of shops plying mostly China-made souvenirs to the cruise tourists – there were at least three big ships in today. There are also (more…)

August 15, 2009

Sunny in Alaska on Royal Caribbean cruise


Sun. It’s actually really really sunny outside as the Radiance of the Seas enters the Inside Passage en route to our first port of call at Ketchikan. Of course it’s Alaska, so temperatures are only high of about 60, but some intrepid cruisers are actually in the outdoor pool. And the hot tubs are crowded. I prefer my little patch of sunlight on my private balcony.


But when I can pry myself away I’ve been wandering around the ship and it surely is a pretty one – the solarium pool, with covered dome, where the decor includes giant elephant sculptures and flowing waterfalls, is particularly lovely. The 12-deck atrium certainly does its thing as the ship’s active hub – live music filters up all the decks and balconies with railings allow you to check out the scene (venues off the atrium include a champagne bar).


August 14, 2009

Alaska cruising with Royal Caribbean from Vancouver

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC… Well, actually I flew in from Minneapolis on Delta (after first flying to Minneapolis from Boston), but who’s quibbling. Will say there’s a lot of flying involved to get to Vancouver (that’s two three-hour flights). But here I am about to embark on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas for Alaska.

Did not have time this trip to explore Vancouver, a city I truly think is beautiful and which I would recommend to everyone. But I did catch a glimpse of the Olympic rings at the airport, with the city preparing to host the Winter Olympics in 2010. BTW, if the airport is an example the city is very ready – getting through customs was a breeze and there were greeters everywhere ready to help people out.

Once at the pier, the same efficiency was displayed by Royal Caribbean staff. I was on the (more…)

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