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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

Story Telling at Denali National Park

​DENALI, Alaska — She stands, proud and alone, at a place 16 miles into Denali National Park called Primrose Ridge. She is a small woman and her bright blue sweatshirt fits loosely below the long greying hair that tells you she is probably a grandma. Miniature carvings hang from her ears, another one from her necklace.

Her name is Linda Reid.

When she speaks, it is with clarity. When she sings, as she does briefly after greeting and educating a busload of passengers from the Star Princess, it is the sweet voice of history. She is there, or one of her people are, to give visitors a look at a family with roots deeper than many of the trees around them.

“I’m here on behalf of all native Alaskans,” she says with feeling. "The Eskimos from Barrow and Nome — they don’t want to be called Eskimos…the Klinket from the southeast, Sitka and Juneau…the Haida from the southeast…the Athabaskan from the interior — that’s what I am and we’re related to the Navajo… and the Aliut from the south — they’re half Russian. We speak different languages but today, I speak for all of us."

Linda Reid-8Linda Reid goes on to tell her story, and everybody has one.

“Four generations ago, one person came up here and made it…or I wouldn’t be here,” she says softly.

That would be her great-grandfather. He came north in the 19th century, became chief of the Arrowhead tribe and founded Minto, on the Tanana River. His son (her grandfather) traded with the Hudson’s Bay Company and taught his family members they had three seasons to get food off the land so they could make it through the winter.

She pauses, and smiles.

“Later in life, he was deaf and my Grandma was blind. When the phone would ring she’d say ‘Answer that noise’ so he did, and when she asked who it was he would say ‘Nobody home.’”

Her parents raised 10 children in a one-room log home. Her father was chief, council member and store manager. He hunted for meat, fished, picked berries, mushed dogs and built sleds and snowshoes. All were skills he passed along.

“He died five years ago,” she says. “They were together for 63 years. She made a potlach for him last fall and four months later she died at 84.”

This is her interpretation of her culture. She passes it along now every winter, as a volunteer teacher, passing it along to the little ones.

“And,” she says with a big grin, “I am the proud Grandma of ten little Indians.”

Before the Princess Cruisetours visitors leave, she sings a short song from her great-grandfather’s era and passes along a few words of Athabaskan.


Thank you, my friend.

There, you learned something new today, and so did we.

In the news…

• Italian culinary expert Fabio Cucchelli to update Costa menus
• Guy Harvey artwork being applied to Norwegian Escape
• Wider variety of shore excursions coming for AIDA Cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
October 12, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahama Island, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $259
Cost per day: $64

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

Friday File: Mount McKinley From The Air

DENALI, ALASKA — The best way to Alaska’s biggest — physically, for sure — tourist attraction is up close. Unless you think 40 miles is “close enough” that means hopping on a fixed-wing plane or a helicopter that will take you to the base or higher of mighty Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. So yesterday, we did, as part of a Princess Cruises Cruisetour…


North America’s most-photographed mountain, distinctive and recognizable even from 60 miles away when you're in the air.

PlaneBuilt in Canada, the de Havilland Beaver is one sturdy, safe and successful aircraft — delightfully slow by modern standards.


Pilot Chris Palm’s grandfather taught him to fly when he was 15 — now ever since he has logged time flying all over the 49th state.


Glaciers run (literally) from head to toe (literally), constantly moving to create fields of ice, moraines and silt.


This wall is part of the world’s deepest gorge: 5,000 feet above the glacier and 4,000 feet of ice below the surface.


Often under glaciers there are rivers, and the sun’s reflections makes parts of the glacier appear blue, as with swimming pools.


Tourists/climbers regularly land on Ruth Glacier, set up camps and perhaps plan to reach the summit, or maybe just try.


Jaw-dropping scenery is everywhere out the windows of aircraft and it leaves passengers stunned and speechless.


Even this month, there’s no shortage of snow on McKinley and its partners mountaintops — in fact, it snows there in June.

In the news…

• Carnival video a chance to watching the building of new ship Vista
• Holland America, again, wins Port of Vancouver Blue Circle Award
• Silversea passengers latest to get free WiFi for everybody

Today at portsandbows.com: Cunard's 175th anniversary cruise

Carnival Fascination
4 nights
October 1, 2015
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $59

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

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