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The Modern Problem Of Picking A Port

With each day, and each violent activity often linked to terrorism, reasonable people who like to travel get even more reasonable. Or concerned. Or paranoid. Or even scared.

Pick an adverb. The uncertainty of traveling abroad — be it in one direction to Europe or in the other to Asia — understandably may leave North Americans more likely to pick a cruise ship departing and returning to a North American port. Not that there are any guarantees that doing so will keep you from being an unsuspecting victim of terrorism.

But even seasoned travelers are at least having second thoughts. Why fly internationally to get on a cruise if you can fly domestically, or better yet drive or take ground transportation to a port of departure?

This is good (okay, more comforting) news for cruise lines with ships that primarily visit the Caribbean, or assorted other warm-weather spots in the Western Hemisphere. Since a Caribbean cruise still out-ranks all others, that would be most of them, yet many have shifted their investments — and some of their ships — to Asia the last couple of years, which in today’s world could mean counting on a local (Asian) clientele.

For North Americans, there is no shortage of options. A quick count shows that there are 21 cruise homeports in this continent: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Charleston, Baltimore, Norfolk, Bayonne, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Anchorage, Boston, San Diego, Seattle, Montreal.

So if you’re an avid cruiser who’s reluctant to fly afar to get to a ship, pick a port.

You may find many kindred spirits.

In the news…

• Two biggest ships (both Royal Caribbean) in southern hemisphere meeting in Sydney

Today at portsandbows.comChristmas markets with Viking in Europe

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Miami (return): Great Stirrup Cay, Ocho Rios, George Town, Cozumel
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $92

Friday File: The Anchorage Museum

If you’re on an Alaska cruise that takes you to Anchorage between now and the end of the season, there’s still time to see Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage at the Anchorage Museum. For us, the museum trip was recommended by Guy Glaeser, the Princess Cruises expert on Alaska, and it turned out to be better than he said. The Cook exhibit is there only until September 7, after which it will be replaced by one on Vincent Van Gogh. There are no pictures of Cook’s amazing journey below because photography wasn’t allowed in that section — and there is far more to this museum than one exhibit, as you will see…


It’s walking distance from any part of downtown‚ stylishly designed and located at the intersection of C Street and 6th Avenue.


Until November 1, an entire section is dedicated to Alaska’s rich history in baseball, and players from Satchel Paige to Tom Seaver.

Alaska in 50s

Another section gives you a detailed look at what life was like in Alaska (and other places) when it became a state in 1959.

Papa Joe's

There’s always been a wild side to Alaska, and that’s why this cleverly-worded teeshirt from a bar makes it into a museum of all places.

Native section

Many creative artifacts from Alaska’s native history, including this jacket that’s guaranteed to keep you warm anywhere in the state.

Captain Cook

The best photo allowed of Captain James Cook hangs in the lobby of the hotel that bears his name, just a few blocks away.

Kids section

As the first Smithsonian Affiliate in Alaska, the museum collaborated on Spark!Lab, an interactive attraction for kids (of all ages!).


Anchorage bid for the Winter Olympics in 1992, losing to Albertville, and this sweatshirt is a reminder the Games still haven’t come.

Today at portsandbows.com: Angkor Wat, Cambodia's tourist jewel

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
November 28, 2015
San Juan (return): Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, St. Thomas
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $67

Wildlife In Alaska Often Surprising


ALASKA — For a few days, we thought our views of Alaskan wildlife might be the mosquito on the sidewalk in Anchorage, the crazed woman standing on the side of the Parks Highway menacingly cradling a rock in her hand and a moose of uncertain gender and size that we spotted from the seat of a de Havilland Beaver, flying 2,000 feet above the Chulitna River.

Then, along came Mother Moose.

That’s her in the picture, leading her two offspring through the non-wilderness at Denali National Park.


This picture was taken about 50 feet from Mama and her kids, on the doorstep of the park’s Visitor Center. There were probably 300 people who in those minutes were this DSCN8449close to the moose family, and not much further away were 10 or 12 buses. We’d just disembarked from one of them, and this was the first stop of the Princess Cruises’ Natural Wilderness Tour.

It was the last place we expected to see a moose, especially one so close.

There are two types of wilderness you see in Alaska. On land tours like this one, particularly in Denali, you can hope to see not just moose but also bears and cariboo and dall sheep. Also mosquitoes, of which there are 13 species, all of which bite. On cruise ship tours in the Alaska ports, you can hope to see whales…as well as bears and cariboo and dall sheep.

The key word is “hope.”

In Alaska, seeing wildlife can be a challenge. Often it takes you by surprise, as it did when we were hiking a mile to the Mendenhall Glacier during a Star Princess shore excursion IMG_2049called Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Quest, which our bus driver called the best tour in Juneau, and he wouldn’t get an argument from us. One of the unexpected wildlife events was seeing this porcupine not six feet off the path where we walked. This wasn’t our first porcupine, but it was our first in natural habitat, and he/she seemed okay with the clicking camera phones.

The second half of that six-hour tour delivered the whales. Whales were not just a promised, they were guaranteed…or you get your money back. At least at this time of IMG_5802year, when the humpbacks are back from their winter vacations in Hawaii, tour guides are more than comfortable throwing down that gauntlet, and the first whales we spotted were just 15 minutes or so after leaving Juneau.

How many did we see?

Too many to count. A couple of (pods) of between six and 10. We saw them creating bubble nets (as if surrounding a school of fish), and we saw them breaching (below)Whales— apparently you seldom see them do both on the same trip, or at the same time. 

The experts say that whales are smart, so maybe they just know when to put on a show.

Maybe the moose knew, too.

In the news…

• Low water levels in Europe forcing river cruise lines to change itineraries
• American Cruise Lines' Mississippi riverboat named America to debut in 2016
• Holland America 'Explore 4' promotion for booking early rewards for 2016-17

Today at portsandbows.com: The changing world of cruise dining

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
September 27, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $58

Alaska Wildfire Cautions Cruisers

Alaska fires

ANCHORAGE — If there’s one thing Alaska has learned to deal with, it’s uncertainty. Day One of an 11-day experience for us — like many cruisers, four on land and seven on the Star Princess as part of a Princess Cruisetour — was waiting with just such an introduction.

On the eve of the height of the cruise season, the smoke signals spewing from 80 miles north were from the Hotel Captain Cook. They delivered a potentially ominous message to everyone with land excursions before or after Alaska cruises:

Wildfires and highway closures.

That’s highway, singular, because here in The Last Frontier, there is only one that connects north and south, the George Parks Highway. Smoke from the Sockeye Fire, now spread over more than 6,500 acres, has closed the road intermittently. This could leave cruisers wondering if they’ll complete their land excursions if they’re going north, or get to their cruise ship on time if they’re heading south.

Late yesterday, the traffic light was still green. There is reason for optimism…buses and trains were getting through but, like almost everything in Alaska, Mother Nature is in charge. This week, in fact this spring, she has been full of surprises. 

A worker at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport put it this way: “It’s too hot for us Alaskans. Yesterday we broke an all-time record for June 15.” 

The temperature, as he spoke…78 degrees.

In the news…

• Carnival sends Breeze to Galveston, Magic to Port Canaveral
• Costa Fascinosa to join in South America for 2015-16 season

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Grand Princess
7 nights
August 8, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

What's to Like About Epic

It was on the Celebrity Eclipse, somewhere crossing the Atlantic, that we heard the erudite author John Maxtone-Graham give the best answer when he was asked what his favourite cruise ship was.

"The one I'm on," he said.

Now that can be taken as a cop-out, or an evasive answer, or both. But for people who like cruising, that's kind of the way it is. Hold up your hand if you love cruising and you've ever been on a bad ship?

We haven't.

And so it is that this week we will re-introduce you to the Norwegian Epic, a massive ship that is sometimes ridiculed by cruise experts who have never seen it, let alone cruised on it. It goes without saying that we liked her, a lot, on both our one-week Epic cruises…the first of them when she was a baby, just six months old.

There is much to like about the Epic, all of it subjective of course…

We like the size, big enough to hold the town where we live but not so big that you get lost.

We like the professional entertainment, which Norwegian made a priority about the time the Epic arrived, because (a) it's high quality (b) the concepts stay the same while the performers change, and (c) if you miss a show you want to see, there's always another night.

We like the food. Yes, it's possible to have mediocre food on a cruise (the old volume-vs-quality thing) but we have tasted no mediocrity from the Epic's kitchen.

We like the variety of specialty restaurants, which are not over-priced. In seven nights, you can have specialty main courses that range from lasagne (La Cucina) to coq au vin (Le Bistro) to superb steak (Cagney's) to all meat Brazilian style (Moderno) to prawns cooked before your eyes (Teppenyaki).

We like the balcony staterooms (yes, even the smoked-glass bathrooms…okay, we're indifferent) with beds that seem larger than the norm and so many little compartments for storage that nothing goes unpacked.

We like the people, especially the servers in the restaurants. Nice people work on all cruise ships, especially in the restaurants, but there's something unique about the Epic's people and the pride they feel in their ship.

We like the ship because it's distinctive. You won't see another one like it, which suits all the cruise people who consider it something of an ugly duckling because the typical blueprint went out the window with this baby.

But we were destined to like a lot about the Epic. It is, after all, a cruise ship.

Norwegian Sun
7 nights
May 20, 2013
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Anchorage
Inside:  $479
Cost per day: $68

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