Archive for September, 2006
Can anyone pack the perfect suitcase? I don’t think it’s possible. As a friend of mine pointed out, invariably upon arrival you discover you have either packed too much or not enough. I’m no expert but I have had a lot of practice and here’s what I’ve found.
As soon as I come back I start unpacking and make a list of all the things I really did use on that trip. I keep the list in my suitcase including notes on any extras that would have been nice (instead of the things I never used!) When I know I will soon to leaving again, I often launder what I liked and repack it immediately. I have a basic ship suitcase ready to go all the times. It includes a full set of cosmetics and toiletries; I top-off used items and re-pack them too.
Flight attendants are the world’s best packers. I’ve learned a lot from my friends who fly. Some of their secrets include using every bit of space possible by filling shoes with socks, etc. and rolling your clothes. Rolled items can be smooshed together tightly which helps reduce wrinkles.
It’s hard to plan a portable wardrobe when working on a cruise ship; not only are you sailing through changing climates, you are dressing for changing activities and dress codes - every day. Best way to face this challenge is with separates that can be mixed and matched. Always good for both men and women. Stick to a simple palette of colors that combine easily - you can’t go wrong with black and white!
And of course, there’s the Golden Rule - Always leave space for shopping. It’s not a bad idea to take an empty suitcase or a fold-up duffle-bag when you know you can’t resist souvenirs and local bargains! Don’t forget to check with your airline on weight limits, you don’t want to get carried away. And remember never check jewelry or medication that you need while enroute; even under the new FAA restrictions on hand luggage, personal medication with your name on the label is allowed.
As I write I am putting the finishing touches on my suitcases. In 48 hours I am leaving to join the Seven Seas Mariner for a quick trip. I will fly from Seattle to Anchorage where I’ll jump on the train with fellow guests and travel south to Whittier. If you’ve never been to Whittier it’s a whacky place – the population is a whopping 310 permanent residents. The town site was formerly a top-secret military installation built during WWII and accessible only by train via a narrow tunnel. After the war, visitors traveling to Whittier had to leave the highway and drive onto a flatbed train car in order to continue to Whittier. Today, access is still via the tunnel but the tracks which are still in use have been paved allowing cars to enter for 10 minutes in each direction, each hour! When I arrive, I will board the ship for Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and then a sail along the Aleutian Islands; next stop, Petropavlosk, Russia. Then on to the north islands of Japan where the ship will make her inaugural call on the city of Sapporo. It is always fun to witness the traditional exchange of plaques especially in Japan. City and port dignitaries arrive in formal dress including women in their best kimonos. From Sapporo we sail south along the island of Hokkaido to Hakodate – home of the hairy crab and giant squid! Then it’s Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, and on to China. We visit the industrial city of Dalian, Bejing, Shanghai and finally Hong Kong. This is a special area of the world – so different with so much to learn. One of my dreams is to return and take the train from China to Tibet! Anyone interested let me know! The more the merrier!
Just as sure as winter turns to spring, summer is fading into fall. Mornings are beginning to feel a little more fresh as the temperatures are starting to cool around the country. Soon we will all be moaning winter’s cold with its short dark nights, dreaming about warming our bodies on some distant tropical shore. So given that is inevitable, now is the time to start thinking about a fall or winter cruise!
It seems every time someone learns that I work on a cruise ship, they want to know which cruise is the best – especially for a first timer. Though I have my favorites, most people do not have the luxury of time and money to take a leisurely sail up the Amazon or a slow-boat to China; so what’s the best deal for an affordable winter escape?
During our northern winter months most ships reposition to the warmer climes of the Caribbean and Mexico. Most departures leave from US ports in Florida and California with some departures from Louisiana and even Texas. This cuts down on travel time and cost as low rates are available if you can book your travel in advance. Cruise lines have arrangements with certain air carriers and often offer air/sea packages.
So, Mexico or the Caribbean?
The Caribbean covers a large area. A seven day cruise cannot call upon all islands, so the region is divided up into accessible sections. Traditionally ships sail either to the eastern Caribbean (Key West, The Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and U.S. Virgin Islands) or the western Caribbean (Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Yucatan Peninsula.) Ships that call upon Barbados, Dominica, St. Maarten, St. Barth, St. Kitts, Aruba, Antigua, Guadalupe, and Martinique depart from Puerto Rico. The Mexican Riviera stretches down the Pacific Coast and takes in the famous resort areas of Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuantenejo. For those with a time crunch or budget concerns, both destinations also offer shorter 3 and 5 days cruises.
The Caribbean has been welcoming cruise ships for many years and island economies depend heavily on tourism. That said the good thing is they have well established tourism infrastructure and know how to move people around. There are lots of tours and planned activities available. Down side, many places are very commercialized and lack any local culture or authenticity. However, most people who choose the Caribbean do so, not because they want to see a museum or cathedral, they want to have fun and relax! With miles and miles of beautiful white beaches, warm “swimming-pool blue” water, and plenty of rum punch, this is the perfect place. It is a paradise for sun-lovers, snorkelers, para-sailers, jet-skiers, and divers. When you are ready to move on there are plenty of internationally known stores for shopping. English is the official language of many Caribbean countries, so getting around and enjoying yourself is not a problem.
Mexico has also aggressively developed its tourism however before the cruise ships started to come, visitors were arriving by plane. The main attraction was the quaint Mexican towns with their colorful markets, great food, and reasonable accommodations located next to beautiful Pacific beaches. Those things still exist but you must hunt for them under the increasing number jewelry stores and blanket salesman. Though Spanish is officially spoke, most people in these resort towns speak English. Mexico’s Pacific coast beaches are not as pretty as those on the Caribbean side, but they do offer the advantage of ocean surf (for surfers and body boarders) and whale watching (by boat, not on the beach – that’s another story!) Mexico’s Caribbean coast along the Yucatan Peninsula offers the resort communities of Cozumel and Cancun, where you can find not only lucious white sand but post-classic Maya ruins!
Some seven day western Caribbean cruises combine both the Caribbean and Mexico!
What about weather? People always want to know about what the seas will be like. Especially first timers – they are worried about getting sea sick. First of all – STOP! – we are living in the 21st century where cruise ships are built with state-of-the-art propulsion systems and stabilizers that make the ship one big floating hotel. I kid you not, there have been times on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner when I looked outside to see if we were moving – it is that smooth! The Caribbean has a reputation for being calm and flat (outside of hurricane season!) however it does experience its fair share of rough seas. That is to say – nothing is guaranteed. Mexico has open Pacific coastline but once you clear the off-shore winds, it’s smooth sailing – again, no guarantees. Ships spend the winter in these two areas because the weather is good and chances are very high that you will experience the perfect vacation.
If that was too diplomatic for you, I confess – I am not a beach person. Personally, I like visiting a place that has some history and culture. I like wandering off the tourist trail and finding authentic people who represent the community. So, my bias is toward Mexico. Now, some of you may ask – what about Alaska? Yes, Alaska is an incredible seven day cruise packed with spectacular scenery and wildlife seen right from the ship. Fortunately, Alaska is a summer destination giving you something to look forward to for next year!
Wherever you choose to go have a great cruise with smooth seas and happy times!