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Alaska: A Land Of The Midnight Sun

Midnight SunALASKA — Yesterday was the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In Alaska, it was longer…or at least it looked that way.

When the cliche “the sun never sets on…” is bandied about, nowhere is it more valid…nowhere does it have more authenticity than in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Whatever time is on the clock or watch or smartphone, bedtime comes with sunshine. To deal with it, Alaskans put foil on the windows so they can fall asleep.

Visitors like us pull the blinds as tightly as possible and hope that slit of light will not be the root of insomnia.

The picture above was taken 13 minutes before midnight from the Denali Princess Lodge, as close as this load of Star Princess cruise passengers came to the Arctic Circle, a couple of nights before Summer Solstice. The sun really does never set further north, where it’s the brightest all night long on the 21st of this month. That’s one of the things that makes an Alaska cruise so unique in June.

In the 49th state — and other places this far north — long daylight is one of the things that makes life unique. Helicopters take tourists on rides over the mountains until 8:30, stopping then only because the pilots aren’t allowed to log any more hours. Young children are able to sleep in daylight, perhaps, because that’s the only summer they’ve ever known. Maybe Alaskans welcome illuminated nights as the trade-off that comes with the dark days Tom Seaverof winter when they rarely see the sun for long.

In the Alaska Baseball League, since 1960 there has been a Midnight Sun Game played on June 21 in Fairbanks, home of the Alaska Goldpanners. Last night’s game started at 10:30. One of the game’s alumni is Tom Seaver, who went on to pitch his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“You can explain it forever,” Seaver recently told Alaska historians. “Until you experience it, you just don't believe it.”

Seaver was right.

In the news…

• Harmony of the Seas on the water for tests in readiness for 2016 launch

Today at portsandbows.com: AmaWaterways, Viking a creative pair

Costa Diadema
7 nights
December 12, 2015
Savona (return): Marseille, Barcelona, Palma De Mallorca, Rome, La Spezia
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Baseball the Heart of Dominican Republic


LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — When it's your first time in (fill in the country), you never really know what to expect, do you? That's precisely how we felt about the La Romana-JoseDominican Republic. And when you leave, as we did on the Carnival Freedom, you leave behind some things you didn't expect to see…or do.

Like tasting rum — "our vitamin is rum" — at 10 o'clock in the morning.

This was in the midst of a sugar cane field, somewhere in the south-eastern corner of what is the second-largest island in Latin America (behind Cuba). Rum isn't a staple in our house — in fact, it may not even exist in our house — but for whatever reason tour guides like Jose Turbi Guia think it goes well with raw sugar cane. So much for rum and coke.

We thought we'd have been more likely standing in a baseball field than one of sugar cane, because ballplayers are the sweetest export this country has. 

Almost 10 per cent of today's major leaguers are from the Dominican, most of them from the area surrounding La Romana, which is just down the road from San Pedro de Macoris, known for turning out talents like Robinson Cano, Sammy Sosa and Tony Fernandez. San Pedro, in turn, is just down the road from Santo Domingo, the capital and home town of David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista, whose Toronto teammate Edwin Encarnacion is from La Romana.

So baseball is big in the Dominican Republic. As an aside, only one of the country's exports has made the Baseball Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal) but that will soon be changing. In the meantime, this country that shares its island with Haiti will continue to La Romana-baseball-1breed players in ballparks big and small to produce major-leaguers, many of whom will send money home to their families. 

Estimates are that such remittances total more than $3 billion per year, or twice the earnings from tourism.

So forget the name dropping…that's how important baseball is to the economy.

There is little of it going on right now, as the season starts in August, but there is plenty of tourism. The Dominican Republic is reportedly the most visited destination in the Caribbean, and 3,000-passenger cruise ships like the Freedom play a significantLa Romana-cigarsrole. Like all countries in the Caribbean there is much to see and, for cruisers, little time in which to see it.

The Carnival tour we took, in an open-air safari wagon, lasted about four hours. It was a sampler, of course, with stops at a nursery (the kind where they grow plants, not La Romana-busbabies), the sugar cane field, and a "typical" house where you could devour fresh fruit and buy cigars that you watch being rolled.

Along the way, being the good tour guide he is, Jose filled our heads with facts and even philosophies — "Don't give kids handouts…if you teach them to be beggars they La Romana-Flamoyantdon't go to school." Among the things we learned:

• The colorful (they come in orange and yellow) flamboyant trees that are everywhere produce seeds that are used inside maracas

• There are 3,010 members of the pina (as in colada) family

• Education is free, right through university

• About a million Haitians who have come to work in the fields haven't bothered to go back

• A posh 10-square-mile complex called Casa de Campo has 2,000 villages, five designer golf courses and its own airport, plus accommodation for people named Clinton, Iglesias, Sinatra and John (Elton) behind the locked gates.

• Unemployment in La Romana runs 18 per cent, and isn't it too bad the government La Romana-garbagedoesn't put some of them to work cleaning up the garbage that scars so many of its roadways.

• Gas is $6 US per gallon

• The island is 98 per cent coral, which means anything grows because coral retains humidity.

The tour was called Countryside Experience, because it delivered a taste of many things. Who knew that included rum at 10 a.m.?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: New ships coming for Norwegian

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
September 29, 2014
Miami (return): Grand BahamaNassauGreat Stirrup Cay
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $47

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