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Alaska Adventure A Lesson For Fear

ATV-1ALASKA — As she climbed onto the ATV, she wondered if her arthritic hands would allow her to complete an hour-long trip through the bush without crashing, or at least without more than the usual pain. She’d experienced this type of fear before, like being afraid of heights and climbing into a helicopter to see the Norwegian fjords and later a fixed-wing aircraft to land on North America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley. Being unable to swim, she jumped on and off a a 27-foot boat that had to be tied to the bollards while she and her husband — the boat’s only occupants — negotiated 64 locks on the Midi Canal, in southern France.

Fear was not new to her. Only its type.

“I don’t even drive to the grocery store,” she told the guide, whose name was Terry. “How can I drive an ATV?”

Terry was re-assuring.

“You’ll do fine,” he said. “We’ve had lots worse than you.”

To err on the safe side, Brian put her second in the line of six vehicles on the Black Bear ATV Adventure for passengers of the Star Princess. If she was at the back, he explained, we might lose her. Better she set the pace, even if it was slower than that of her colleagues.

The ride from the McKinley Princess Lodge to the “bush” and the preparatory and necessary orientation did little to re-assure her. Nothing would, until she started guiding “her” ATV along narrow paths, over exposed roots and between trees which looked doorways that were too tight.

But she did it.

It was a terrific shore excursion, she said. There were no black bears, except what was left of one on Terry’s ATV, a prop he happily needed to justify the name of the event. There ATV-4was a loaded gun on his belt, in case an unfriendly black bear showed up, but in the four years he’d been doing this he’d never had to draw it, let alone pull the trigger.

There was lots to see in the wilderness. 

Chaga, widely and wildly rumored to be a cure for cancers, growing out of the birchbark on many trees. The Susitna River, peacefully flowing through its sandy banks in a land where ATV-5nature is often not peaceful. Nuggets on the river beds, ranging from sandstones to jade…real jade, Terry said. Rougher roads than we’d ever seen, almost impossible to drive anything on — “almost” being the operative word.

ATV-3In the end, it was another “overcoming fear” moment. Another one she could share with her granddaughter, who had to write a paper at school about overcoming her own fears, which were far different, yet much the same. She told her grandmother’s story — not the ATV one, the McKinley one — as an example of how it’s okay to be afraid, and oh-so-satisfying to beat it.

Overcoming fear.

That’s what going to Alaska can do for you. If you’re on a Princess cruise that includes land tours before this summer season ends, do it. Ask for Terry.

And what’s next for this woman of adventure? Would you believe tunnels once used by the Viet Cong, near Saigon?

There’s no stopping her now.

In the news…

• Enhanced Internet, social media packages fleet-wide for Carnival
• Crystal Cruises to launch two 70-suite river yachts in March 2017
• Carnival donation of $2.5 million to preserve coral reefs in Caribbean

Today at portsandbows.com: AmaSerena officially joins AmaWaterways fleet

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 24, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

When Ships Get Locked in a Lock

This news item was posted a few days ago on Cruise Critic:

"AmaWaterways have yet to confirm the details surrounding an incident in which their river cruise boat AmaDagio was trapped in a lock with another ship (on the Rhone River in France), forcing the line to debark passengers and delay the scheduled itinerary…"

You've never really lived until you've been stuck in a lock in France.

The passengers on the AmaDagio had some options, and that's not always the case. Especially if there's only one passenger…and one crew member.

For us, it was on the Midi Canal in southern France. We manoeuvred our ship, all 27 feet of it, into 64 locks that week. In one of them, we were trapped.

The water was dropping, just like it was supposed to because all 64 of our locks were going downstream. The "ship" beside us started to list…inward…think of a boat tipping sideways into the middle of a confined space. Our "ship" was doing the same thing.

There was no evacuation plan. Passenger(s) were stuck, going down with the ship as it were. The scheduled itinerary was endangered, especially if the boats were broken.

Fortunately for both vessels, there was a man at the wheel of the lock, controlling the dispersement of the water. Yes, a locksmith. He closed the gate, stopped the flow of water, allowed more water to pour in from the top, and the two ships became horizontal again.

After a few minutes of impending terror, we kept to the itinerary in one piece. The one-piece was more important than the itinerary.

Carnival Splendor
8 nights
October 8, 2013
New York (return): Grand TurkHalf Moon CayNassau
Inside: $369
Cost per day: $46

The Booming 'Other' Kind of Cruising

Our first experience of "river cruising" consists of a week on the Midi Canal in the south of France on a 27-foot "ship" with a crew of two, neither of whom knew much about how to steer a vessel in the water, never mind negotiate the 64 locks that lay ahead of us. Oh yes, and the person tying our little ship to the bollards in each of the 64 locks didn't know how to swim.

Experts, we are not. Credible commentators, we are not. We are, however, intrigued by what's happening on the rivers of Europe…and Asia…and North America…and South America.

River ships are being built with amazing regularity. The industry leader, Viking, put 10 new ships in the water this year and will add 12 next year. That will bring the size of the fleet, according to the Viking website that lists them all but the class of 2014, to 68 ships.

Our esteemed colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows has filled screensful of space enlightening the cruise world about the man behind Viking, Torstein Hagen. He is, if nothing else, a fascinating and wealthy Norwegian with a physics degree from his homeland, an MBA from Harvard and an ambition that taunts (or should) the cruise industry at large. Other than being the 69-year-old founder (also CEO, Chairman, President and chief cook and bottle washer) of Viking, not a lot is known about him…even Wikipedia is only able to come up with two paragraphs, one of them to simply identify him as "a Norwegian citizen."

Last week, not content to blow the river cruise industry out of the water with his expansion, Mr. Hagen dipped into the "other guy's" pond and unveiled plans for an ocean ship. The Viking Star will be relatively small by ocean standards (about 1,000 passengers) but it will mirror the marketing of his river ships.

Which is?

In a word, destinations.

Viking ships carry a couple of hundred passengers, each of whom can figure on paying $200 and $300 per night for a week of seeing the sights of (plug in the continent) from the rivers that at one time were the principal form of transportation. The emphasis is on spending time in what ocean cruisers call ports, sometimes for a day or two, as opposed to six or eight hours. There are no casinos, no plethora of fancy restaurants, no explosion of entertainment.

"I like to say ocean cruising is a drinking man's cruise," Hagen has often said. "River cruising is a thinking man's cruise."

It sounds like the accommodation is classy, the shore excursions are eclectic and the cuisine is elegant.

Hmm, just like on our 27-footer on the Midi Canal.

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
August 3, 2013
Venice (return): Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Olympia
Inside: $849
Cost per day: $121


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