We seem plunked down in a different world. It looks like something from the depths of history. Or maybe from planets beyond our orb.
Great shards of ice glisten like diamonds in deep sapphire waters. Tidewater glaciers sweep like rivers of ice down massive mountain valleys. Mountains, some as high as 15,000 feet, rise straight out of the ocean. Snow draped peaks tower over sparkling fiords.
“It feels like you are going back in time, back to the Ice Age,” said Ranger Fay Schaller as our cruise ship enters Alaska’s Glacier Bay. “We are traveling on one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Accessible only by sea or air, Glacier Bay National Park is recognized as a biosphere reserve, as established in 1986 under the Man & Biosphere program of the International Coordinating Council. In 1992 the 3.3-million-acre park also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Aboard the Wilderness Explorer, we will spend three days in Glacier Bay, not merely cruising past the astounding scenery but actually stopping to go ashore, paddle a kayak or ride in a skiff. To see Glacier Bay is to enjoy nature in its primary stages.
First, our ship stops at the Glacier Bay Ranger Station headquarters in Gustavus, a town with less than 500 year-round residents and the official entrance to the park. Here we pick up Ranger Fay who will be with us for our entire visit in Glacier Bay. Some passengers and crew make a quick visit to the Glacier Bay Lodge to use the Wi-Fi for a last check of Internet and cell phones. During the rest of our cruise, we will have neither.
But, oh, the beauties we will see. No technology can compete with what Mother Nature has to offer.
In the 1960s cruise ships began entering Glacier Bay regularly. Today, entrance to Glacier Bay is closely guarded in order to protect the delicate environment so cruise lines must apply for permits to visit. A limited number of permits are issued each year for ships which meet the strict criteria.
The scenery is spectacular. The park includes 16 tidewater glaciers with 12 actively calving icebergs into the bay. Wildlife abounds, from sea birds to shore-bound birds. Whales cavort in the waters. Steller sea lions trumpet their songs from icy islands. Orca killer whales patrol for prey. Wolves and bears prowl the shores. Goats nestle in the rocky crags.
Even though we edge near the icy creations on the Wilderness Explorer and in our kayaks and skiffs, we don’t get too close. Without warning, columns of blue ice can smash into the sea with a primeval roar. Known as calving, the falling ice can create strong waves and toss house-sized chunks of ice.
“The Tlingits have a name for caving,” Ranger Fay said. “They call it ‘white thunder.’”
Seems like a very descriptive name for an almost indescribable feature of Glacier Bay.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Here are 7 reasons to consider a family holiday cruise this year:
1. Truly festive atmosphere – After Thanksgiving, the cruise lines get in the holiday spirit by decorating their ships from bow to stern. Some cruise lines spend in excess of $100,000 annually on holiday decorations. Christmas trees, lights, garlands and even artificial snow bring the festive season alive at sea. Hanukkah customs and celebrations also are observed. Religious services of all types are often held aboard.
2. Special guests – Christmas-time cruises would not be complete without guest appearances from Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elf friends. They make appearances on many ships during the holiday season in the spirit of fun and relaxation leading up to Christmas Day. As expected, Santa’s bag of goodies is full for the kids on board.
3. New Year’s fun – Ringing in the New Year is a splash aboard a cruise ship. Elaborate parties take place at sea for people of all ages and tastes. Special food, entertainment, toasts, party favors and more make the night memorable. For sports fans, many of the cruise lines offer special all-day tailgate parties to watch New Year’s Day football.
4. True relaxation – Leave the hustle and bustle (and accompanying stress) of the holidays behind and enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere with the family on a cruise vacation. There is no better way to spend an afternoon in December than lying poolside while sailing across the ocean, or snorkeling through a secluded reef on a cruise line private island.
5. Unique gifts – A cruise vacation is one holiday gift that will be truly appreciated. Plus, there is interesting shopping onboard the ship (The Jackie Kennedy Jewelry Collection on board the Golden Princess is quite reasonable and very beautiful) and in various ports. Special shipping arrangements can be made to get the gifts home. If Santa is going to visit the kids, the cruise lines recommend small token gifts that are easy to hide and transport. Leave big gifts at home to open before or after the trip and remember not to wrap presents before you stow them in your luggage, as they may need to be opened for security reasons.
6. No snow –- A holiday cruise is ideal for people looking for a change of scenery as colder weather moves in at home. With Caribbean temperatures in the low 80s during this time of year, the closest you’ll come to cold weather on a cruise ship is the air conditioning. (Some ships do feature snow falling in the ship’s atrium, but it is manmade and wonderfully designed to melt before hitting the floor.)
7. Great food- Nobody goes hungry on a cruise vacation, especially during the holidays. A variety of eats are available 24/7. Cruise menus fit the season, with world-class chefs preparing traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, plus special kosher foods during Hanukkah. There are no shortages of gingerbread, cookies, pies and other deserts. Even better… you don’t do the cooking!
Cruise vacations offer holiday sailings plus kid-specific programs, all within the inescapable confines of the cruise ship, allowing families to enjoy the holidays in a relaxed and fun freedom, says Crown Cruise Vacations President Ross Spalding.
There are a number of outstanding sailings for families. The specialists at Crown Cruise Vacations offer these sailings as examples of cruises to choose from for a high-seas family holiday:
4-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on the Royal Caribbean International Brilliance of the Seas
5-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas
sailing Dec. 24, 2014: round-trip Tampa, Fla., with stops in George Town, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; with two days at sea.
3-Night Bahamas Cruise on the Disney Dream, sailing Nov. 28, 2014: round trip Port Canaveral, Fla., with stops in Nassau, Bahamas; and private island Castaway Cay.
5-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on the Disney Wonder, sailing Dec. 21, 2014; round trip Miami, Fla., with stops at Cozumel, Mexico; and Castaway Cay; with two days at sea.
Sophisticated cruise specialists at Crown Cruise Vacations provide exclusive offers, exceptional value & unparalleled service and can assist with experienced cruise information and bookings for holiday cruises and all types of cruises. For more information and to book a cruise call 1-877-283-1114 toll-free USA/Canada, +1-609-945-9801 direct dial or visit http://www.crowncruisevacations.com/
If you happen to see the American Queen cruising along one of America’s rivers, take a close look at that name beneath the big red paddlewheel.
Proudly posted on the back of the riverboat is the American Queen’s new homeport – Memphis, Tennessee.
“We are very happy to be the new home of the American Queen,” said Jonathan Lyons, public relation manager for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our city officials worked hard to get that honor.”
A major part of those efforts to please the American Queen and it’s passengers, Memphis recently constructed Beale Street Landing. The ambitious docking facility can accommodate 50-foot shifts in the Mississippi River’s height.
After a decade of design, planning, construction and a difficult budget, the Riverfront Development Corporation’s $43 million Beale Street Landing project officially opened June 28, 2014.
Beale Street Landing’s dock, where passengers load onto the American Queen and other riverboats, is made from barges so it can rise and fall with the river. Passengers can reach the boat by walking down the landing’s ramp. For those with mobility problems, golf carts are available to get to the boat.
And the new Beale Street Landing should get plenty of use, Memphis officials said. The American Queen docks here 13 times a year. The Queen of the Mississippi docks 15 times a year. The Grande Mariner and the Grande Caribe from the Blount cruise line both dock here four times a year. A local sightseeing cruise boat, the Island Queen, takes passengers on cruises twice a day.
Next to the landing is a small park with gardens and seats where people can sit and watch the river flow. A playground, restaurant and gift shop also are part of the project.
With such a great landing and such a marvelous homeport, cruise passengers might want to plan to spend a couple of extra days in Memphis before or after a cruise.
Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Andrew Jackson loved his home so much that he chose to be buried there with his beloved wife Rachel. Some say that the man known as “Old Hickory” still keeps watch over his Tennessee plantation.
The Hermitage is preserved today almost as it was during the days of the man who became an American icon. Built between 1819 and 1821, the home has almost all its original furnishings including the wallpaper, which dates to the early 1800s. Today, the site is a popular shore excursion for riverboat passengers.
Jackson was born March 15, 1767, on the South Carolina border. His father died in a logging accident before Jackson was born and the family had to move in with relatives in order to survive. Both of his brothers died in the Revolutionary War and his mother died when Jackson was 14. The penniless youth tried his hand at the saddlery trade and school teaching but was drawn toward the law and became a lawyer in 1787.
Then he came to Nashville and found his future.
Staying in a boarding house, Jackson fell in love with the owner’s daughter, 21-year-old Rachel Donelson Robards who was trying to deal with a rocky marriage. Believing that her husband Lewis Robards had obtained a divorce, three years later Rachel and Andrew were married.
Then they found out that Robards hadn’t gotten a divorce after all. They were legally remarried in 1794 but the scandal plagued them the rest of their lives.
Jackson’s political star rose quickly and the 37-year-old Jackson bought the Hermitage property outside Nashville during this time. The War of 1812 gave Jackson a chance to rack up a string of victories that gained him a reputation as the country’s foremost commander in the field.
Then came the Battle of New Orleans. In 1814, Jackson and his ragtag army marched into New Orleans against the British. The British suffered more than 2,000 casualties. The Americans reported fewer than 20.
The victory confirmed the Louisiana Purchase, led to the acquisition of Florida, lent respect to the Monroe Doctrine and created a healthy regard for America’s independence. The victory also made General Jackson an instant legend and propelled him toward the White House.
But his past came back to haunt him – and eventually claimed his wife. The 1828 presidential campaign set a record for mud slinging and name-calling. The worst attacks in the campaign were those on Rachel’s reputation, accusations of adultery and bigamy that hurt Jackson and his ailing wife.
Jackson won the election, of course, but Rachel never lived to be in the White House. Rachel died three weeks before the inauguration.
On Dec. 22, 1828, Rachel suffered a massive heart attack. Jackson blamed his wife’s death on the nasty campaign of 1828 and the stress of the imminent move to Washington. On Christmas Eve, Jackson laid Rachel to rest in her white inaugural gown in the garden at the Hermitage, surrounded by weeping willows.
Shrouded in grief, Jackson then made his way to Washington. For the next eight years, through two tempestuous terms in office, Jackson made his mark on the presidency and the nation.
In 1837, Jackson at last retired to the Hermitage at the age of 70. While in the White House, Jackson had a permanent temple made of limestone created for his wife’s grave and his own. The structure resembled a Greek-style gazebo.
Lines from the epitaph he chose for her tombstone describes “a being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound but could not dishonor.”
Every day, he visited Rachel’s grave. He missed his wife so much that he had a painting of her put in his bedroom so that she would be the last thing he saw at night and the first thing he saw in the morning.
On June 8, 1845, the 78-year-old Jackson finally joined his wife in death. The former president died of kidney failure and was buried beside his beloved Rachel in the Hermitage garden.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY - In keeping with its 1900s theme, the S.S. Legacy has a simple way to keep track of passengers who are ashore and those who are aboard.
Each time we leave the Legacy for a shore excursion, we look for our cabin number on a large magnetic board and move our little magnet from the “aboard” column to the “ashore” column.
If there are two of us sharing a cabin, there are, of course, two magnets – one for each passenger. One person might go ashore and the other might not.
When we return to the Legacy, we move our little magnet again. The board also has a separate list for crew members.
Does it work? “We’ve never left anyone behind,” said Julie Kehr, assistant heritage leader on the Legacy. “There is usually a crew member around to remind you to move your magnet when you’re coming or going.”
On larger ships, the tracking system is usually done via computer. When passengers leave a ship for a shore visit, each passenger slides a personalized cruise ID card through a machine. A crew member is always there to make sure no one leaves the ship without sliding the card.
Upon return, a passenger goes through a security check and slides the personalized cruise card again.
At boarding at the beginning of every cruise, passengers on the large vessels have their photos taken and are given a cabin cruise key must like a credit card. The “key” is used to enter the passenger’s cabin as well as to exit the ship (and often to charge important items aboard ship, such as cold cocktails or beer). That way, the computer knows who is aboard and who is ashore, as well as what that person looks like.
Does that work? A carnival cruise director told me it is an excellent system but there are sometimes still cruisers who are having so much fun ashore that they lose track of time.
If passengers are not back at the well-publicized time that the ship is set to leave, those tardy passengers are on their own. Sure wouldn’t be fun to have to find a way to get to the next destination where the cruise ship is due to dock.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Floodwalls in river towns certainly perform a very useful service. But they also can be a blank canvas for creative people.
One of the floodwalls I always enjoy seeing is located in Cape Girardeau where riverboats tend to stop.
In the 1730s, a young Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Girardot established a trading post at a rock promontory jutting from the west bank of the Mississippi River. This large promontory was referred to as “the cape,” a significant headland projecting well into the river.
However, Girandot was a trader, not a settler, and by the middle of the 1700s, Girardot had moved on. His name with some spelling changes remained.
Although the Mississippi River was the reason Cape Girardeau exists, the mighty muddy Mississippi has also been devastating to the community. Every few years, the river would ravage the downtown area, wiping out businesses and bankrupting proprietors.
In order for the city to survive, something had to be done to tame the river. Plans took decades. “In 1956 work began on our flood wall to protect Cape Girardeau,” said guide Linda Hill. “The wall was finished in 1964 at a cost of $4 million.”
The huge wall has saved the historic downtown area many times over, particularly during the historic flood of 1993 when the river crested at 48,49 feet, nearly 17 feet above flood stage.
Since the city had such a large blank canvas, folks decided to turn it into a work of art. The result is the Mississippi River Tales Mural with its pictorial history of the region and the Missouri Wall of Fame, featuring dozens of famous and infamous Missourians.
Dedicated in 2005, the 1,100-foot-long Mississippi River Tales Mural has 24 panels seeming to be in 3D, leaping out at viewers.
“It looks as though the wall is made out of stone but it’s not. It’s just concrete but it was painted to look like stone,” Linda said.
My favorite two panels are the “1803 Lewis and Clark” and the “1909 President Taft’s Visit.” On Nov. 23, 1803, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark stopped at Cape Girardeau to deliver letters of introduction to Louis Lorimier, another Frenchman who was given a land grant to the area in 1793 and established a trading post. Lewis found Lorimier presiding at a horse race.
Strolling back to my riverboat, I passed the mural honoring William Howard Taft’s visit to Cape Girardeau on Oct. 26, 1909. The first sitting President to visit the city, Taft was part of a 16-boat flotilla carrying a large number of dignitaries who came down the river to publicize the developing effort to stabilize and deepen the river channel.
An estimated 25,000 turned out to hear Taft speak. It was such a great celebration that for years after that date was known as “Taft Day.”
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
If you’ve cruised the ocean wide, you’ve probably seen that tall “whale tail” decorating ships belonging to a famous cruise line. The red, white and blue funnel with fins on both sides is both decorative and useful.
For a bit of cruise ship trivia, do you know what cruise line uses the distinctive tail atop its ships? A hint – the name is often associated with clowns, appropriate enough because the cruise line’s vessels are often known as “The Fun Ships.”
Don’t look at the answer below until you have formulated yours.
If you recognize it, congratulations. If not, might be time to book a fun ship cruise.
(Answer) The “Whale-Tail” is a funnel design used on Carnival cruise ships. It is actually a Carnival patent.
The wings are functional as well as eye-catching. Made of a fiber glass composite, the wings are designed to help direct the flow of exhaust gases from the diesel engines, generators and other equipment. The wings direct the exhaust flow away from and over the aft decks and fun-loving passengers.
The first Carnival whale tail appeared on the new ship Tropicale launched in 1982. It is said that longtime Carnival designer Joe Farcus created the unusual funnel.
Called “The World’s Most Popular Cruise Line,” Carnival now has 24 ships with the company’s 25th, the Carnival Vista, scheduled to enter service in 2016.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
A few spinouts later, the Florida woman emerged from her sleek Ferrari and proclaimed, “Whew! I need a drink!”
The race car simulator on the MSC Divina is so realistic, Sherma said, that she was breathless as though she had been running a marathon instead of just sitting in a stationary vehicle.
“It really gets your adrenaline going,” she said. “You feel as though you are actually out there racing.”
The Formula One racecar simulator was getting a workout itself on our three-day voyage aboard the MSC Divina. The state-of-the art simulator reproduces driving conditions in one of the fastest cars in the world. Wrap around video screens and vehicle movement makes it feel as though the driver is tackling some of the world-famous racecourses from Monte Carlo to Montreal.
“It’s even harder than it looks,” said MSC Divina crewmember Nelson Torres, in charge of the simulator experience.
It looked plenty tough enough to me. “A lot of people wreck,” Torres said. “It is a professional car and handles like one so people are sometimes surprised at how hard it is.”
The vehicle is an actual Formula One car, a single-seat, open cockpit, open-wheel racing with substantial front and rear wings. In the true racecar, the engine is positioned behind the driver.
In the simulator, “drivers” get to experience the thrill of traveling at high speeds. From the flash of the green light to the pit stop and to overtaking a rival, the goal is to safely and quickly make it to the checkered flag and be the winner. Not many simulator drivers accomplish that.
The Formula One Simulator on Deck 16 of the MSC Divina costs $9 for a seven-minute drive. “It’s something you have to do,” said Sherma. “It’s hard to describe unless you’ve done it.”
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Fin
When I told a friend I was cruising to the Conch Republic, he looked a bit puzzled. “Is it in the Bahamas?” he asked. “Or maybe Hawaii?”
Good guesses. But wrong on both. The Conch Republic is located in the good old USA, in Florida, in fact. Conch Republic is the nickname for Key West.
How did the far tip of Florida get that moniker? From what might have been the shortest the shortest naval battle in history.
“We declared war on the United States and threw stale Cuban bread at a Navy officer,” Key West guide Robert said. “It lasted for about a minute. Then we surrendered and asked for $1 billion in foreign aid to rebuild. We’re still waiting for that $1 billion.”
A popular stop for cruise ships, Key West knows how to make cruisers feel welcome. When my ship docked for the day in Key West, many of us climbed aboard a Conch Train open tram to tour around the unusual community. Driver Robert pointed out sites of interest and told us stories of Key West’s past and how it got its nickname of the Conch Republic.
“You are in the Conch Republic,” he said, gesturing to a Conch Republic flag on a porch. “We are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Conchs. Our local high school sports team is the Fighting Conchs.”
The problem began in 1982 when U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida Keys so agents could search cars for contraband. Since the checkpoint was on the only road into and out of the island chain, traffic was brought to a standstill. A 17-mile-long traffic jam resulted.
The roadblock angered residents, visitors and Keys officials who complained that the Keys were being treated as a foreign country. Citizens should be able to come and go more freely, they argued.
When their protests were ignored, Keys residents decided to secede from the Union. On April 23, 1982, the southernmost point in the continental United States did just that. They seceded from the United States of America and formed the Conch Republic.
“The roadblock was quickly removed,” Robert said. “That is why our motto is ‘We seceded where others failed.’ We celebrate that.”
In fact, a 10-day Conch Republic Independence Celebration is held every April. In a town known for its parties, the annual celebration is legendary. That is one thing I quickly learned to like about Key West.
In addition to its colorful characters, laidback atmosphere, renowned Key Lime Pie, balmy weather, many museums, fishing fun and fascinating history, Key West is the only place I know that publicly celebrates the end of every day. Folks gather in Mallory Square to salute the sinking of the sun and to watch for the famed green flash – a special glint of light in the water at sunset.
I think I could get used to that. Celebrate every day and live life to the fullest. Good philosophy to have no matter where you are.
Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch