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Cruising from Vancouver, Canada? Here’s some fun ideas for things to do in the city!

Vancouver is a vibrant city, with beautiful buildings and a plethora of things to do. It is a rare blend of big-city lifestyle and outdoor adventure. Where else can a person ski, sail and dance the night away, all in one single day? Not to mention all the hotels readily available for your vacation! The Vancouver region has more than 25,000 guest rooms, with about 13,000 alone downtown. They range from economical to boutique…..you are sure to find one that suits your budget and taste. The cities attractions are set in a blessed location with mountains, ocean, islands and even farmland within short reach. A new city in many ways, Vancouver is still changing and growing

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If you are looking for a hotel near the port, you have many options. Some of our favorites are the Pan Pacific Waterfront (located on the pier), the Fairmont Waterfront (directly across the street) and the Fairmont Pacific Rim (an easy walk). There are many wonderful hotels available, but be prepared….prices are high! If you want to stay further from downtown, there are excellent transportation options available.

Traffic in Vancouver get be very busy. We have used a taxi from the airport in the past, but now use the SkyTrain…a fully-automated, driverless, light rapid transit system with three integrated routes serving the Metro Vancouver area. The Waterfront Station is just across the street from the port. Taxis are also readily available. http://www.translink.ca

I strongly suggest arriving at least a day prior to your cruise. Give yourself time to rest from traveling and explore the city. There are so many things to see and do in Vancouver!

Whale watching tours are popular from April through October. These are the ideal whale watching months. You have a very good chance of spotting whales, including both transient & resident orcas, humpback, Minke, & gray whales! There are many excellent tour operators available downtown.

Just north of downtown along the northern peninsula lies Gastown…..a fun and easily walkable area to explore and is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood. It grew from a single tavern, which was founded by John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton back in 1867. Today, it is a gathering place for stylish locals and an ideal neighborhood to explore on foot. The Victorian architecture houses a thriving fashion scene, impeccably curated décor boutiques, one-of-a-kind galleries and some of the best culinary fare in Vancouver. Don’t miss the Steam Clock and vintage lampposts. At the end of Water Street, there is a statue of the man who started it all, Gassy Jack Deighton. Architecture and history buffs can take organized walking tours of the area.

Seaplanes are used in British Columbia daily for transportation. You can watch them land in the harbor at the seaplane terminal located in the heart of Vancouver, where business and leisure floatplane travelers have immediate access to the city. Better yet….why not take a seaplane tour and soar above the city while enjoying a bird’s eye view of its picturesque harbor and nearby mountain peaks.

A fun way to explore Vancouver is by bike. There are several bike rental companies located around the city. http://bikesonrobson, http://EnglishBaybikes and urbanwavesbikes are just a few of them. Rates run approx. $8/hour, $24/half-day, $32/full day or $40/overnight (2022 rates). Many of the activities listed below are easily accessible by bike.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s first, largest and most beloved urban park. It is a magnificent green oasis in the midst of the urban landscape. You can explore the 400-hectare natural West Coast rainforest and enjoy scenic views of water, mountains and majestic trees along the famous Seawall. The park offers a wide range of unforgettable experiences for all ages, including Canada’s largest aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium. The Aquarium is home to thousands of incredible ocean species and amazing aquatic life, including otters and beluga whales. Recently, due to the ongoing pandemic and loss of revenue, it faced permanent closure. Luckily, it was sold in 2021 to a US entertainment company and remains open. Due to limited capacity, it is recommended that you book ahead .

If you enjoy parks, the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park in downtown is not to be missed. The 52-hectare park is home to the Bloedel Conservatory. There is a gorgeously landscaped quarry garden, the arboretum with its collection of exotic and native trees and sculptures, including one by internationally renowned artist Henry Moore. If you’ve been to Victoria, it may remind you of Buchart Gardens.

Just across False Creek from downtown Vancouver and under the south end of the Granville Street Bridge is Granville….a peninsula that was once an industrial manufacturing area. Today, it is a hotspot for Vancouver tourism and entertainment. Some Vancouver based tour companies, such as Discover Vancouver Tours and Vancity Tours, offer stops at Granville Island.

Granville Island provides amenities such as a large public market, an extensive marina, a hotel, various performing arts theaters, fine arts galleries and variety of shopping areas. The farmers’ market has day vendors and artists offering local Vancouver goods. There are 50 permanent retailers and typically more than one-hundred day vendors in stalls throughout the market selling a variety of artisan cottage-industry foods and handmade crafts on a rotating schedule. 

Fun fact…This location was used in the finale of the film Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011).

Whistler mountain is just under two hours from downtown Vancouver. The site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler Blackcomb ski resort provides year round activities….including skiing! You can hike, visit Whistler Village or rent bikes and explore the numerous trails.

If you have several days, a visit to Victoria is worth the trip. The capital of British Columbia, it has abundant parkland and is known for outdoor activities. The city’s British colonial past shows in its Victorian architecture, including stately Craigdarroch Castle mansion. Butchart Gardens, with 55 acres of vivid floral displays, plus statuary, water features and a carousel, is one of many formal gardens in the area. https://zest4travel.net/2022/01/30/lets-visit-victoria/

No matter what you decide to do or where to stay, a visit to Vancouver is wonderful. Each time we go, we find something new and wonderful to explore!

Let’s visit Seward, Alaska!

Many cruises begin or end in Seward. What is there to do? Is it possible to stay a few days before or after? And how do I get there from Anchorage…or back?

First, let’s get there!

You need a minimum of about 2 1/2 hours to travel between Anchorage and Seward. The 125-mile trip between Anchorage and Seward follows the Anchorage-Whittier route for its first 50 miles, then veers off into the heart of the Kenai Mountains, skirts Kenai Lake and passes the road to Exit Glacier inside Kenai Fjords National Park before arriving at the port. Any additional stops along the way will add time to your journey. Be sure to plan accordingly.

Cruise lines offer transportation from Anchorage to Seward.  Generally, this puts you on a bus or motor coach. This can be the simplest and most direct option and is a good choice for people on a tight schedule. If you are taking the bus on the day your embark, you also have the opportunity to meet some of your fellow cruisers.

If you don’t want to be the first one on the ship, or are staying a day or two in Seward, consider booking your connection through a local tour operator. This opens the door to adventures and interesting sights along the way. There are many good tour operators in Anchorage. A quick google search will give you lots of options. A fun option is Salmon Berry Tours. This transfer takes 7 hours and includes a stop in the quaint town of Girdwood, with lunch at a local eatery, a trip up the side of  of Mt. Alyeska on an aerial tram and a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. https://www.salmonberrytours.com/tour/anchorage-to-seward-transfer-and-tour/

If you are going to Anchorage from Seward, a fun tour to consider is the Big Swig Alaska Crafted and Cruise Transfer. https://www.alaska.org/detail/big-swig-tours

This tour is a ONE-WAY tour from Seward to Anchorage. Big Swig Tours will pick you up at the cruise port. Your first stop is Alyeska Resort, where you’ll board the Alyeska Aerial Tram to the top of Mt. Alyeska (2,300 ft). The tour includes lunch at the Bore Tide Deli while taking in the incredible views of the Chugach Mountains studded with glaciers. Your next stop is Girdwood Brewing, newly opened in 2017. After this you will drive back to Anchorage, stopping at the largest distillery in Alaska, where you can sample the spirits straight or in a cocktail. The final stop is Double Shovel Cider Company, the first micro-cidery in Alaska. Big Swig Tours will drop you off at your Anchorage hotel or the Anchorage Airport after the tour. Price is $359/person, May-September. It begins in Seward at 9am and ends in Anchorage at 5:30pm, with a maximum of 14 passengers.

Another fun option is the train.

The Coastal Classic turns in front of Bartlett Glacier
The Coastal Classic turns in front of Bartlett Glacier

The Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic traverses Turnagain Arm and then the Kenai Mountains on a historic backcountry route. The train passes three active glaciers while crossing a tract of almost inaccessible wilderness. The 120-mile rail excursion—the most scenic in the state—takes about four hours.

Adventure Class service features lower level cars with comfortable seats beside large picture windows. The Gold Star service features upper level (second story) seating with domed windows, bar, outdoor viewing deck, and a dining car just below.

You can walk around the train while en route, use restrooms, eat in the dining car and catch the view through windows on both sides. Luggage is checked in the baggage car while you bring carry-on items with you. The train slows for wildlife—bald eagles and their nests, moose, even (sometimes) bears. You will see glaciers, waterfalls, wild rivers, big lakes, rugged mountains and extensive wetlands.

Costs and time will vary, depending on when you go. The Alaska Railroad website has all the information, times and prices. https://www.alaskarailroad.com Be prepared to get up really early to catch the train….it leaves at 6:45am!

Well….you’ve made it to Seward! There are so many fun and adventurous activities in Seward. It is a very walkable town. The pedestrian friendly port village has tons of activities, restaurants, museums and a public aquarium, plus hiking, paddling and fishing. It’s a launch point for deep-sea fishing and marine tours into Kenai Fjords National Park.

If whale watching and/or glaciers are on your must do list (and let’s be honest…your in Alaska, so it probably is!), a visit to the Kenai Fjords is a must. This is Seward’s most popular excursion and is a comfortable and affordable way to experience wildlife and glaciers. Trips range from 3.5 to 9 hours. The further out you go, the more likely you are to see wildlife and tidewater glaciers. Day cruises are perfect for groups of all ages and activity levels. Lunch and dinner options are available on many itineraries. This is also an excellent option if you want to do something prior to embarkation. A short tour works well, as most ships don’t depart until evening.

https://www.seward.com/things-to-do/tours/day-cruises-and-boat-charters/

You have plenty of other options available also. Flightseeing, fishing, the public aquarium, hiking and even dog sledding.

Seward is home to some of Alaska’s most accomplished mushers. The Seavey family boasts 8 Iditarod Championships, with Dallas Seavey tying for the most wins ever after earning a fifth victory in 2021, and Travis Beals and Sarah Stokey both have memorable finishes in “the last great race on earth.” It’s the dogs, though, that steal the show on any dog sledding or kennel experience.

Take a kennel tour and explore behind the scenes of an Iditarod sled dog team with detailed tours of facilities, training programs and more. Help the excited pups train for the Iditarod by hopping in a wheeled “sled” and touring the property. These family-friendly tours are fun and affordable. Each summer there are puppies that enjoy being held by friendly visitors.

For a unique adventure, take a scenic helicopter flight to a remote glacier across Resurrection Bay and enjoy a snowy dog sled ride surrounded by icy mountain peaks. Your family will talk about this exhilarating experience for years to come.

Lodging options run the gamut from campsites to luxury hotels. I have personally stayed at Harbor 360 Hotel and can highly recommend. Great location and you have incredible views!

You won’t go hungry in Seward! There are many restaurants, bars, snack spots, coffee bars, breweries and pizza. If you love seafood, you have hit the jackpot!

Whatever you decide to do while in Seward…whether it be for an afternoon or overnight…you will thoroughly enjoy it. There is something magical about Alaska…the air, the people, the mountains, the ocean. Have a fabulous vacation!

Cruise Packing 101 – what not to forget!

PASSPORT! and other important travel documents, such as your vaccination card and Covid test.  I keep mine in a clear vinyl sleeve that I purchased on Amazon.  Keep these items in your carryon…you will need them to check in at the pier.  I find a travel wallet to be very useful. And don’t forget a mask to wear in the cruise terminal and while onshore. Some ports are still requiring them. My favorite is from Tally-Ho Design https://www.facebook.com/TallyHoDesign/. You can find them on Facebook. Super comfortable, deliver quickly and can custom design a special mask just for you. Also a favorite of Capt Kate…they made her sparkly captain’s mask.

Small backpack or tote for shore excursions or for heading to the pool. Tally-Ho Design makes the one I love to use while onboard! They will also be happy to make you a custom bag if you have a design you prefer!

Packing cubes – keep your clothing organized and protected while traveling.  Also makes unpacking in your cabin super easy and fast.

Collapsible storage bins. Keeping the cabin organized is always a challenge. I have found these to be a great help. They fit perfectly in the overheard storage compartment and will help keep your clothes neatly arranged. Amazon has lots of good options. I like ones with a design. When folded down, they don’t take up much room in a suitcase either!

Highliter – mark the activities on the daily planner you want to do onboard. However, with the new ship’s apps that are being developed, you may find that easier to use instead of the paper ones. It is also helpful to highlight important information on other papers that are left on your bed each evening.

Ziplock bags – good for dirty laundry, wet suits, keeping phones sand and water free

Hat – protect your head and face from the sun

Sunscreen – cheaper than buying on the ship!

Sunglasses – glare off the water can be very strong

Chargers for phones, computers, notepads, etc.

Charging device with extra plugs (not a power strip, most ships do not allow these any longer)

Towel clips – keep your towel on the chair, either on the ship or at the beach

Also useful is an anti-theft bag for beach chairs, such as AquaVault. I bought mine on Amazon.

Over the door hanger – helps to organize smaller items in the cabin

Magnetic hooks or clips – hang jackets, hats, keep important papers organized.

Pain killers (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.) and a few bandaids…easier than going to the ship’s doctor and less likely to have a false positive Covid test too!

Bottle bags for packing liquor – protect your belongings when traveling home

And of course…..CLOTHES! Bathing suits are a must, especially if you are planning a beach day. No need to bring beach towels….the ship will provide them for you. Comfortable clothes to wear around the ship during the day. For evenings, dressy outfits for “formal” nights….evening gowns and tuxedos are not mandatory, but some people will still wear them. Wear what makes you happy, as long as you follow the ships requirements. Most do not allow shorts or gym clothes in the dining room for dinner. The ships can be chilly in the evenings, so a light sweater is a good idea.

I hope this helps make packing a little easier. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions!

Celebrity Edge Tour and Day at Sea

Curious to see what the Edge is like? Here is a quick video taken by my son and his fiancee. Watch and subscribe to see what else this cute couple is up to!

My return to sailing!

I am so excited to share that I was FINALLY able to get back on a ship! My last cruise was on the Celebrity Equinox in January, 2020. On Sept 30, 2021, my daughter Erin and I stepped foot on the Celebrity Summit. The walk down the gangplank onto the ship was exciting and slightly emotional. Crew members were cheering us onboard….such a great beginning to our return.

This was a last minute cruise for us. My wonderful husband told us to book the cruise on Sunday, the 26th. The ship departed Miami just four days later! We decided to drive from Orlando Wednesday afternoon and spent the night at the Hilton Downtown Miami. We had an incredible room with a view of the port. The hotel was basically empty and being a Diamond member with Hilton, we got a free upgrade. On Embarkation Day, we woke up to a view of our beautiful ship.

Within walking distance is a Publix for last minutes snacks, beverages for your room or forgotten items. Erin found a great restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner, Casablanca on the Bay. It is also within walking distance and on Wednesday has a fabulous happy hour and free oysters! We ordered roasted octopus, drinks and multiple plates of oysters….soooo good!

We had an 11:30am time slot for embarkation. We decided to leave the hotel around 10:30 to give us time to drive to the port (all of 10 minutes away), park in the structure directly across from the pier and walk over. We arrived about 10:45. After delivering our luggage, we entered the terminal and proceeded directly to checkin. After a brief check of our vaccination cards and Covid tests, we were directed upstairs to checkin where our documents were checked once again. Embarkation had already begun, so we were able to proceed directly onboard. We stepped foot onboard for the first time in 20 months by 11:20am! Crew members, including Cruise Director Sue Denning, were waiting for us with cheers and waves. It was an emotional moment.

Celebrity has changed the manner in which they deliver room keys….this started before the pandemic. We were able to go directly to our cabin, collect our room key (which was waiting for us outside the door) and drop off our carryons. The Summit was updated prior to the shutdowns….I love the new decor and bathrooms.

it was now time to go explore and get a refreshing beverage (or two!).

We had already watched the new muster drill video at the hotel, so all we needed to do was go to our muster station and check in. Easy peasy….done in 5 minutes! If you aren’t familiar with this new protocol, you can learn about it here: https://wordpress.com/post/zest4travel.wordpress.com/2489

We had not sailed on a Millennium class ship in several years. Summit was actually our very first cruise ship back in 2006 when we sailed from Seward, Alaska. It was fun to refresh our memory of the layout and see what changes had been made. I loved the new design of the Oceanview Cafe…..so open and easy to maneuver around. When the ship is back to capacity, it will be much easier than the old cafeteria style layout. The staff are incredible….they could not do enough to make us happy. If you want something that isn’t in plain sight, just ask….if at all possible, they will make it happen.

The entertainment staff had lots of fun activities planned for our 4 day cruise. Poolside dancing, game shows throughout the cruise, nightly shows and several entertainers around the ship. There was a Full Moon White Party (which had to be held inside due to rain) and of course, the iconic and always amusing Silent Disco.

Our only port was Cozumel, which we had not been to before. A trip to the beach would have been fun, as the water was beautiful.

We decided to just walk around the port for a little while and returned to ship to enjoy the pool and an almost empty ship.

One of our favorite restaurants is Sushi on Five. After having appetizers in the main dining room, we enjoyed sushi and the specialty cocktails one evening. The chef even prepared some off menu ones for us (which unfortunately I did not get photos of).

Our waitstaff in the main dining room were great. We mentioned how much we loved scallops….the next night, they brought us a special plate FILLED with freshly sautéed scallops. So Good! And our sommelier went above and beyond to find us wines that complemented our meals. She even poured us some “out of package” ones to try. Miguel made us a special dessert plate on our last night. Again….the crew are amazing.

One of the things that makes Celebrity so special is running into crew members who remember you from previous cruises. We had several on this cruise….bar staff, wait staff, Cruise Director Sue Denning and our all time favorite Captains Club hostess, Rose. These are the people who make you feel like you have returned home.

All to soon, it was time to depart the ship and return home. The Summit was a wonderful return to sailing for us. If you are “on the fence” about returning to a ship….DO IT! I honestly feel that ships are far safer than land based hotels or airplanes. Celebrity is going above and beyond to keep the ship clean and crew and passengers safe.

Until next time…..fair winds and following seas!

Suprise engagement on the Celebrity Edge!

My son took his girlfriend on the Celebrity Edge Sept 26, 2021. They received an upgrade to a Sky Suite and the staff helped him plan a surprise engagement. Please watch the video!

Celebrity returns to sailing!

FINALLY….some good news for the North American cruise industry.

Celebrity Cruises will return to sailing on June 5, 2021.

The Millennium will homeport in St. Maarten. Bookings will begin on March 25th for 2 different 7-night itineraries, with pricing starting at $1,999 for a veranda stateroom.

The itinerary offerings include:

Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados – This trifecta of spectacular islands offers plenty of wonder from Aruba’s natural rock pools, caves and volcanic lava formations; to the colorful Dutch-colonial-style buildings and the Willemstad City Center UNESCO World Heritage Site in Curaçao; to snorkeling and catamaran sailings in the cool blue waters of Barbados

Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados – In addition to the many water adventure offerings in Barbados, this itinerary adds in St. Lucia’s lush green landscape and relaxing Sugar Beach; along with one of the British Virgin Islands’ treasures, Tortola, with its mountainous landscape and beautiful sandy coves that are enough to make any beach lover swoon.

All crew and passengers over the age of 18 must be vaccinated and also test negative no more than 72 hours prior to boarding. More details regarding masks, social distancing onboard and excursions will be provided shortly.

Welcome back Celebrity….we’ve missed you!

A Safe Return to Sailing

Royal Caribbean Group has released their comprehensive program to protect everyone’s health onboard their ships.

Below is a link to the panels 74 detailed steps to safeguard the health of crew, passengers and communities.

Reinventing the muster drill

Royal Caribbean has a solution for the muster drill congestion problem. Muster 2.0 has been in development for over a year. This new technology will allow passengers to complete the muster drill without disrupting their vacation prior to the ship’s departure, in accordance with maritime law.

“The health and safety of our guests and crew are our number one priority, and the development of this new muster process is an elegant solution to an outdated, unpopular process,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group. “The fact that this will also save guests time and allow the ship to operate without pause means that we can increase health, safety and guest satisfaction simultaneously.” 

“Muster 2.0 represents a natural extension of our mission to improve our guests’ vacation experiences by removing points of friction,” said Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean Group’s senior vice president of digital. “In this instance, what’s most convenient for our guests is also the safest option in light of needing to reimagine social spaces in the wake of COVID-19.”

Passengers will be able to access the information an individual basis instead of the group approach that has been followed historically. New technology, eMuster™, will be used to help provide the information to guests via their mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs. Passengers will be able to review the information prior to setting sail, eliminating the need for the traditional large group assemblies. The new approach also enables everyone on board to maintain better spacing as guests move about the ship. 

After reviewing the safety information individually, guests will complete the drill by visiting their assigned assembly station, where a crew member will confirm that all steps have been completed and answer questions.

This is the first dramatic change to the safety drill process in a decade. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas removed the life jackets from guest staterooms to the muster stations, which improved the evacuation process and has been widely followed throughout the industry. Muster 2.0 is also an initiative that will be part of the comprehensive set of protocols and procedures Royal Caribbean Group is developing along with the Healthy Sail Panel that was recently assembled in collaboration with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

Royal Caribbean Group is offering to license the patented technology to interested cruise operators and will waive patent license fees during the time the world and industry battle the global pandemic. Patent licenses have already been granted to the company’s joint venture, TUI Cruises GmbH, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Muster 2.0 was first tested on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas in January 2020. Guests who took part in the mock process indicated a strong preference for the new approach and also reported better comprehension and retention of the safety information.

We LOVE these masks!

We are happy to announce that we have partnered with Enchanting Treasure. They are a small, family owned business located in central Florida. The masks are custom made and can be individualized for each customer. Don’t see an enhancement you like? Or want a different sea creature without pass holder? Just ask them….they will be happy to help.

Please reach out to them on Facebook. Masks are $10 each with $5 US shipping. International orders will be considered on an individual basis.

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