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Crown Cruise Vacations | April 26, 2015

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Learning about ‘Mr. Alaska’ Chuck West

February 9, 2015 | Heidi

The book on my cabin desk got me curious. Then I saw the display in a ship corridor with a fur-fringed jacket and some photos and thought I had better look into this man Chuck West, known as “Mr. Alaska.”

“He is a legend in Alaska tourism,” said Ryan Downs, heritage leader for Un-Cruise Adventures.

“He fell in love with Alaska as a bush pilot in the 1940s and wanted to share what he found with others … A lot of us on Un-Cruise Adventures probably wouldn’t be here if not for Chuck West.”

Born Nov. 27, 1914, in Des Moines, Iowa, Charles “Chuck” B. West was the son of Louis West (a shoe salesman) and May Bigham West. The family moved to Los Angeles when Chuck was two years old. After graduating from Hollywood High School in 1932, Chuck started as a messenger boy in a bank and worked his way up to teller. Taking night courses at college for two and a half years, Chuck went to work for United Airlines.

And that, as he often said, is when his life began.

Although West started out as a ticket salesman for United Airlines, he quickly became enamored with travel and flight. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, West signed up to take pilot training. Before he got his Air Force commission, however, West was asked to work instead as a pilot in the Air Transport Command, flying planes and supplies to Alaska.

“For those who’ve taken a small plane into Alaska’s back country, where gravel beds left behind by surging rivers and frozen mountain lakes surrounded by icy and unforgiving peaks are the actual ‘landing strips,’ the term bush pilot conjures visions of the exceptional,” a sign on the ship exhibit explains.

“Exceptional risk. Exceptional skill,” the sign reads. “Chuck West, in so many ways, was exceptional.”


As West flew over some of the most spectacular terrain on earth, his dream was born. His goal was to share these Alaskan wonders with the world.

West’s love for Alaska became even more solid when he met and married Marguerite Lee, an Alaskan gal who was once Miss Alaska. For decades, West created ways to show the magnificence of Alaska to visitors by air, land and finally, by sea.

However, most of the facilities and services of Alaskan tourism were still primitive or nonexistent when West arrived in 1945. To remedy that, West rolled up his sleeves and did what needed to be done. He founded Arctic Alaska Travel Service and began offering local sightseeing tours. He started the first air tours above the Arctic Circle, had the first hotel chain in Alaska, the first motor coach line and the first modern small-ship cruises.

At one time, West was the largest operator of U.S. flagged cruise vessels with nine known for their Alaska Cruises.

“The unknown quality made Alaska a hard sell,” West told The Associated Press in 1997. “It caught on, but we’re still fighting that ignorance about what Alaska is.”

In 1973, West sold controlling interest in his company Westours to Holland American cruise line. Then, at 58, after having undergone two heart surgeries, West founded another Alaska travel company that grew to become Cruise West, headquartered in Seattle.

West envisioned something more personal, something that could get travelers up close to really experience beautiful places and to meet the people who live there. His Cruise West vessels were shallow draft, which allowed them to nose into secluded coves and visit places that larger vessels could not.

During his time, Alaska went from being a territory, virtually unknown to tourists, to the 50th state. Alaska now sees an annual influx of mega-sized cruise ships arriving each summer filled with thousands of passengers. Alaskan cruises, such as Un-Cruise Adventures small ships, offer a different way to cruise – harkening back to West’s less intrusive vessels.

Chuck West died in 2005 at the age of 90. But his legacy certainly lives on. “We owe a lot to Chuck West,” Downs said.

After reading the “Mr. Alaska” book, I must agree. Chuck West opened up the world for many travelers, including me.

Photo and Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch


AmaWaterways shares popular recipe for Jägertee

February 5, 2015 | Heidi

River cruises through Central Europe are a great way to visit the cities and towns along the waterways. And returning from shore excursions on those cruises is such a welcome treat.

In the winter, crewmembers are waiting at the ship’s entryway with warm moist hand towels to wash away the grime of the real world. Then a hot drink handed by another crewmember is a soothing way to beat the bitter cold.

One of the popular drinks is called Jägertee. In English, this translates to “hunter tea,” a specialty beverage that originated in the 19th century and was enjoyed during the cold winter days by hunters and foresters.

Made with spices, wine, rum and tea – and served hot – this drink is packed with  flavor and warmth. If you’re looking for something unique to serve this winter, use this great recipe for traditional Jägertee shared by AmaWaterways Cruise Line.


European Jägertee

1 cup red wine

1 cup black tea

1 cup spiced rum

1 cup orange juice

1 cup plum brandy or Schnapps

2-3 whole cloves

2 lemon slices

¼ cinnamon stick

Pinch of sugar

Place tea, wine, rum, brandy, orange juice, spices and lemons in large pot. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes – do not boil. Remove from heat. Use ladle to fill mugs. Sprinkle with sugar to taste.  Serves 6-8.

By Jackie Sheckler Finch


SHORE EXCURSION: Story of Lincoln Logs in New Madrid, Missouri

January 27, 2015 | Heidi

NEW MADRID, Missouri – You never know what you’re going to learn and where you’ll learn it. That is one of the joys of travel.

On a shore excursion in New Madrid, Missouri, I visited the tiny town’s historical museum and discovered an interesting tidbit about Lincoln Logs.

My brothers had played with the toy building blocks when I was a kid. And I always thought the name Lincoln Logs referred, of course, to Abraham Lincoln. After all, he was known as the great log rail-splitter and the future president who grew up in a small log cabin.

But that is not where the name came from at all.

The New Madrid Historical Museum has a great collection of earthquake information and memorabilia. At one exhibit, you can turn on a make-believe “earthquake” and see how long a toy building can withstand the violent shaking.

That is where I discovered some trivia about Lincoln Logs and, of all people, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Because Japan is prone to earthquakes, the famed architect used a series of interlocking notched wooden beams when designing the Imperial Hotel. The result, he claimed, would make the hotel “earthquake proof.”

Miraculously, the hotel was one of the only buildings to survive the Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 (magnitude 8.3).

That design also was the inspiration for the creation of the popular Lincoln Logs.

John Lloyd Wright, son of the legendary architect, thought of the Imperial Hotel design when he created Lincoln Logs in 1916.

And the “Lincoln” in the name is a nod to the Wright family – not to the Honest Abe connection. The Lincoln in the title actually refers to John Lloyd Wright’s father’s given name of Frank Lincoln Wright. Lloyd was the surname of Frank’s mother and he adopted that name when his parents divorced.

For more information: Contact the New Madrid Historical Museum at (573) 748-5944,

Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Greek cuisine a cruise delight

January 20, 2015 | Heidi

ABOARD THE CELESTYAL CRYSTAL - I’ll admit it. One of the things I enjoy most on a cruise is getting to try various foods.  Even a standard steak can taste different according to which chef created the recipe.

So I am excited to learn that my Celestyal Crystal cruise will feature Greek cuisine. Makes sense since we will be cruising to places in Greece and Turkey. But the emphasis on Greek cuisine is a new one, says Demetra Vlachou, research & communications manager for Celestyal Cruises.

“We want to make it as authentic as possible,” she said. “Before it was international cuisine but our passengers requested more Greek cuisine so that is what we are doing.”

The Celestyal Crystal menus are so appealing that it is difficult to choose. For example, the lunch menu today had these delicious options: Cretan Bruschetta, Solomos se Ampeloffyla, Karrotosoupa, Spanakotiropita, Seafood Pikilia, Greek Kebab and more.

I’ve already seen the dinner menu and those choices include Anixiatika Rolla, Kalamata Chicken Liver Parfait, Kolokithosoupa, Artichoke a la Polita, Prawn Souvlaki, Beef Tas Kebas, Masticha Cheesecake, Pasta Pralina Sokolata and even other taste tempters.

Sure sounds like Greek to me. And it definitely is delicious.

The daily newsletter left in our cabins also has a nice touch – Greek recipes that don’t seem too difficult to prepare. I’m saving those to try at home. And I’m sharing one of my favorites here for you to sample.

As the Greeks say before enjoying a great meal, “Kali orexi!”



(Spinach-Cheese Pie)


2 lbs fresh spinach

1 onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup cream sauce

6 eggs, beaten

1 cup finely crumbled feta cheese

Salt and pepper

Dash of nutmeg

½ pound phyllo pastry sheets.

Butter, melted


Wash spinach and discard stems. Dry thoroughly on absorbent paper and cut into pieces. Sauté onion in butter until soft. Add spinach and sauté a few minutes longer. Cool. Add cream sauce, eggs, cheese and seasonings. Mix well.

Place seven layers of phyllo pastry sheets in an 11x14x2-inch pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter. Add spinach mixture, then place eight phyllo pastry sheets on filling, again buttering each sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cut into small squares before serving.

Photo and Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch