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Travel: Alaska cruise brings a tale of a whale

   I was standing in an alcove on an upper deck about to step out onto the deck of the Carnival cruise ship, the Miracle, when the doors opened and a family blew in. 

 

   A man and this three sons, each holding an ice-cream cone, lunged forward like the wind had reached out and given them each a shove. The youngest—maybe four years old, definitely no more than 5—was so full of big news he didn’t care that he didn’t know me. 

 

    He  ran up to me and said, “We saw the tail of a whale!”

 

    I was impressed. We’d left Seattle the afternoon before and it was just the first morning of our Alaska cruise. 

 

    “Is this true?” I asked his father. “Or is this just a whale of a tale?”

 

    The man laughed and said it was true. They’d been walking along the deck when the whale popped up and showed his fluke, his whale tail, before disappearing back into the sea.

 

    The little boy couldn’t contain himself.

 

     “The whale breathed up (his arms shot up in the air and the ice-cream wobbled on its cone) “and then he dived down like this” (he scooped his free hand up and then down) “and then his tail came up!”

    As an afterthought he added, “Daddy let us have ice cream for breakfast. 

 

    Wow. A wave from a whale and an ice cream cone for breakfast. The little boy had just described my perfect day.

 

    I asked the man if this was their first Alaska cruise and he said it was. He said they live in Texas and they’d come to see Alaska. And whales. They really wanted to see whales and here, just a day into the trip, they’d already had their own private show.

 

    Several years ago, after my first cruise up the Inside Passage, I decided I want to make the trip every summer. For the rest of my life, if I can swing it.  No two Alaska cruises are ever the same. People from around the world plan and save for years and travel a lot of miles to get there. But living in the Northwest, we’re already halfway there. It’s easy to get on a ship in Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia, to spend a week looking at some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. 

 

    I’m working on my Alaska-every-summer plan. This year I was solo but in the company of people of all ages: men, women and children—(lots of children) and large family groups, all ready to go see the sights. And we were off to a good start.

 

    The boy’s happiness was contagious. I looked at my watch. It was still early, they’d be serving breakfast for another couple of hours… I filled a cone with vanilla ice cream and stepped out onto the deck. The wind whipped my hair as I licked the cone and swept my eyes across the horizon.

 

    I’d already decided it wasn’t going to take much to turn this into a perfect day. I had my ice cream cone. Now all I needed was a glimpse of the tail of a whale. 

    And like the little boy, I didn’t have to wait long at all.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Five ways to Go, See and Do this year

     Winter is the time to plan, especially for travelers. Right now airlines, cruise lines and travel agents have lined up new itineraries and there are deep discounts for those of us who are daydreaming of travel. It’s also a good time to set personal goals, to think as much about why we go as where we go. 

Here are five good ways to Go, See and Do this year: 

 

 

Go it alone: This is the year to be brave and have a solo adventure. The week I spent in Iceland, based in a hotel in Reykjavik but exploring the rest of the country by a different excursion each day, was one of the most rewarding solo trips I’ve ever taken. IcelandAir offers inexpensive and short flights direct from Seattle, the city is safe and perfect for women traveling alone and excursions are organized and inexpensive with coach pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.

 

See Alaska: The beautiful landscape of Alaska’s inside passage is always magnificent and worth seeing again and again. Even if you’ve taken an Alaskan cruise, it’s worth taking another. The new Holland America Land + Sea Journeys combine a cruise with overland trips to Denali National Park.

If a big ship is not your thing, UnCruise Adventures offers small-ship cruises which allow you to spend more time in the hard-to-reach areas teeming with wildlife. 

 

Delve into History: I confess to being a history buff. I love to see the places where people and events changed the world in big and small ways. This year marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the battle of Normandy, when more than 150,000 Allied troops came ashore and the ensuing battles changed the course of World War ll. Standing at the American Cemetery in Normandy at Omaha Beach, or spending time any of the D-Day Museums that have been established at other beaches, the scope of the invasion and the cost to both military and civilian lives is inescapable. There are options for any traveler, from escorted “heritage” tours to all-inclusive river cruises making brief stops at the highlights.

 

Take a River Cruise: Thanks to glowing word-of-mouth recommendations by returning travelers and creative advertising campaigns like Viking’s extensive Downton Abbey commercials, cruising the rivers of Europe is the new Grand Tour. Elegant river boats move from one interesting port to another while passengers take in the scenery from the comfort of staterooms and lounges. At each stop English-speaking guides lead tours to the historical and cultural sites. The food is good, the wine flows freely and the pace is relaxing. It’s become the favorite way for Americans to move around Europe.

 

Pick a Theme: Instead of landing and hitting the cobblestones, guidebook in hand, pick a particular focus. If you love Paris, sign on for an Antiques Diva shopping tour that will take you to hidden shops and fabulous flea markets. Or, join Vancouver, British Columbia, pastry queen Jackie Kai Ellis on one of her upcoming tours of patisseries and bakeries. Take a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Theme travel allows you to learn a new skill, enjoy a favorite hobby or simply enjoy a destination in the company of like-minded people.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She blogs about antiques and collectibles on her Spokesman.com Treasure Hunting blog and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com 

Travel: Four Good Reasons to Consider a Family Cruise

   The family vacation season is almost here. Soon, the kids will be out of school and families will set out to spend some time together and see a few things along the way. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional road trip (‘Don’t make me pull this car over!) but more and more families are opting for cruise vacations. Here are a few reasons to consider taking your family on a cruise adventure:

Save money, see more: Traveling with a family adds up. Flights, hotels, meals and all the other expected—and unexpected—expenses can take a toll on the budget. The beauty of cruising is all those expenses are bundled. Many cruise packages—often deeply discounted—include airfare or car rental and, of course, lodging and meals are all part of the deal. A cruise can be the most economical way to see a destination or part of the world. (Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for single cruisers but more lines are offering single cabins or designated single supplement-free itineraries.)

Time together, time apart: Think about it. Your meals are prepared, the housekeeping is done while you’re out at the pool and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world is right in view. All that’s expected of you is to relax and enjoy the ride. Of course, there are times when too much togetherness can be tough on families. That’s the time to take advantage of the ship’s amenities. Let the kids spend some time in the designated children’s center and enjoy a few hours at the ‘adults only’ deck and pool option. Book a date-night dinner at the ship’s premium dining restaurant. There is an additional charge for these meals but the food and wine options are usually topnotch.

Peace and Quiet: Is it really possible to find quiet moments while trapped in a floating hotel with thousands of other people? Absolutely. When choosing a stateroom, a balcony is almost always worth the extra cost; it gives you a private view and a place to get away from the crowd. If your travel budget is tight, put your money toward a small piece of personal cruise-ship real estate and forgo expensive pool-side cocktails and soft drinks.

Let the World Come to You: Travel, even for those of us who love it, has become a complex and frequently expensive proposition. Airfares are high, highways are crowded, gas is expensive and navigating crowded and sometimes unfriendly airports can elevate stress. Just getting from one place to another can be exhausting. But the beauty of cruising is that once you board you can relax and enjoy your vacation while all the details are taken care of by someone else.The ship gets you from one port to another, excursions are organized and arranged for you, room service is almost always complimentary and transportation to and from the airport is a snap. Tip: Work with a travel agent to help you find the perfect fit for your family budget.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Kicking the Bucket List


    So often when the subject of travel comes up, someone will invariably mention their 'bucket list.' They will talk about a city or continent, a monument or some kind of natural wonder or even an event they want to see before they die. Before, as the cliché goes, they kick the bucket.

    I heard the phrase whispered several times last year as I stood on the deck of a small ship in Alaska, watching humpback whales swim so close I could hear them breathing. I heard it just a few weeks ago watching the Northern Lights undulate across the spring sky over Manitoba, standing in a night so dark and cold it was as if I’d floated out into space.

    I never actually put my list down on paper, I’m not that organized, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Instead, I have carried a kind of mental itinerary in my head, images of places I want to see and things I want to experience. But that mental list, like the Northern Lights, is not constant. It shifts and changes, shining on one landscape and then another as I add and subtract. Every time I see a great photograph or read an exceptional travel story, I pencil in new locations. Sometimes the world changes and war, weather or political upheaval get in the way and a destination drops off.

    Of course, the truth is there will never be enough time to see it all, and not just because I got a late start at the second half of my traveling life, staying home to raise a family and then working around that family to build a career. Even if I’d started on a round-the-world trip the day I was born, there still wouldn’t be time enough to experience it all because the more I learn about the world around me, the more I want to see and do. But life is short so I try to treat every trip—large or small— like it will be my last. I remind myself stop and savor the moments instead of pushing to do more and see more. I have learned it’s important to appreciate where you are and where you’ve been, before hurrying on to the next adventure.

     Several years ago, as my daughter and I walked along the Great Wall in China, navigating the ancient, uneven steps, I suddenly remembered a photo of the wall in one of my school Geography books. At that time, China was still a closed and shuttered place. I’d studied the photo with interest but it never once occurred to me that I might one day stand at the place pictured in it, especially with a child of my own. But I did. And in that moment, watching my daughter focus her camera on one of the marvels of the world, I felt a swell of gratitude for the rambling path my life had taken to put us both there.

    So, no real list for me. When my time is up I want more than a column of checkmarks to define my wanderlust. Instead, I want to be the woman who didn’t always know where she was going but always took the time to appreciate where she was.
  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel journalist  whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Bear Encounter: Down and dirty travel on the Wilderness Explorer

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


    When we signed on for a small-ship journey along Alaska’s Inside Passage, we were promised the opposite of a traditional cruise. We were promised an un-cruise, to be specific. Instead of a leisurely sail past some of the most beautiful scenery on the continent, instead of endless buffets and variety shows, we would venture up secluded coves and into narrow fjords and channels thick with Humpback whales. We would paddle kayaks around icebergs, near glaciers and along pristine shorelines. We would step off the boat and into the real Alaska.


    InnerSea Discoveries promised me we would get our feet dirty.


    On the first full day of the voyage, a dozen or so of us stepped into a skiff and rode to the shore for a hike. Walking along the coast at the mouth of a small stream, we listened as our guide talked about the likelihood of seeing bears (this was a favorite fishing spot) and his words were still hanging in the air when the first Grizzly ambled, as if on cue, into sight.


    The bear was young, probably a yearling on his own for the first season. Wading into water that was alive with leaping and splashing salmon, he seemed bewildered, not sure where to turn or pounce next.  Finally, at a disadvantage, he gave up and, aware but not particularly interested in us, followed the stream up to a short waterfall. Then, as we watched, a second young bear stepped out of the trees.
    This was already much more than I’d ever expected.


    The two bears eyed one another as they got closer and closer, finally meeting nose to nose in the middle of the stream. Then, while we stood silent and breathless, they rose on their hind legs and came together in a slow and powerful embrace. We soon realized they weren’t really fighting, but rather playing at fighting; wrestling, wrapping their arms about one another, throwing arcs of water droplets high in the air with each move.


     For almost half an hour the two bears splashed and hugged and tussled and nipped at one another’s ears and shaggy fur. We couldn’t tell if they were siblings who’d stumbled onto one another at a familiar spot or teenagers still somewhere between flirting and playing, but we knew that what we were seeing was an extraordinary experience.


     I didn’t blink, pressing the shutter again and again, trying to capture the amazing performance going on in front of me.


    Finally, as the two bears stopped playing and finally, just like kids who’d dawdled over their chores, got about the business of foraging and feeding, we walked carefully back to the waiting skiff. As we moved away from the shore, finally far enough away to find our voices, everyone began to talk at once. We were the fortunate ones and we celebrated it. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Just thinking about it now gives me chills. The moment was splendid and wild and real.


    The captain had already heard about our adventure and was there to meet us as the skiff pulled back up to the side of the Wilderness Explorer. She reached out to each of us as we came aboard.


    One foot on the deck, the other still on the small raft, I looked down at my boots and I had to smile. They were caked with the gritty, sandy, glacial soil so unique to Alaska. My mind and my camera were full of images and my feet were dirty, just as I’d been promised.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Seattle to Alaska aboard the Disney Wonder

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   The little boy stood beside the table that held the mini-iceberg, the chunk of ice that had once been a part of the North Sawyer Glacier before breaking away—calving— and falling with a splash into the Tracy Arm fjord off Alaska’s famed Inside Passage. It had been harvested and brought aboard by the Disney Wonder crew and put on display on one of the upper decks so passengers could touch history in frozen form.


    Like most of the others who circled the hunk of ice, the boy put out his hand and touched it, tracing with his finger the rough edges that were softening as it melted and dripped away. His eyes were wide and shining, but that touch wasn’t enough for the pre-schooler. He let go of his mother’s hand, stepped forward and wrapped both arms as far as he could around it, putting his cheek against the frozen surface, embracing it. Claiming it. For a moment anyway. Icebergs are cold, you know.


    I hadn’t known what to expect of the cruise beyond beautiful scenery and character breakfasts, but my daughter was the reason for the trip. She would celebrate her 17th birthday while we were sailing and I wanted to give her a memorable birthday that would be fun for all of us without reducing her to a bored minor on a cruise designed for adults. But most of all,  I wanted her to see the water, the mountains, the wildlife and the glaciers of Alaska, and I wanted to be there when she saw it all. I’m keenly aware of how little time I have left with her before she goes off to school and takes the first tentative steps into her own life, and there is still so much of the world I want to share with her.


    After leaving Seattle, the second day of the 7-night cruise we steamed leisurely up the majestic Tracy Arm fjord until, coming around the last bend, we pulled silently up to the ice-filled water at the foot of the blue glacier. People spilled out onto the observation decks, cradling cups of cocoa in their hands, and gazed out on the view. And the view was stunning. In spite of the wind and the chilly temperature, everyone was drawn to the spectacle and then seemed unable to look away.


    The naturalist accompanying the cruise provided on-board narration about the size and history of the North Sawyer, including its rapid retreat, a condition shared by glaciers all over the world. He pointed out the harbor seals resting on the ice, the eagles on the Sitka Spruce and commented on the habits of bears and other wildlife.


    We didn’t just take a spin around the cove and move on. The big ship rested silently in that beautiful place and let us all drink in the sights and sounds. The PA system was turned off for long stretches of time to give us, and the natural world around us, sweet silence. Even the ship’s crew, some of whom must have seen the sight many times, wandered out on deck to take it in. Then, a steel cage was lowered into the water and the iceberg fragment was brought aboard.


    Several hours later we pulled away, back into the Passage and continued our journey. It was exactly what I had hoped for. I watched as my daughter scrolled through the photos she’d taken, pointing out the exceptional ones, and I was filled with gratitude to have been there with her.


    If I’d been a little boy I might have thrown my arms around her for just a moment, happy to be so near to something so wonderful. But only for a moment. Teenagers are slippery, you know.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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