March 21, 2019

William and Kate visit Canada’s Yukon

Kate and William in Carcross, Yukon. (Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty)


How refreshing to see British royalty embrace Robert Louis Stevenson’s approach to travel. The famous author of Treasure Island and other classics once said, “Travel is the chance to come down off this feather-bed of civilization and find the globe granite underfoot.”

On a recent visit to Western Canada, Prince William and his wife Kate openly displayed their preference for down-to-earth experiences over pomp and ceremony. Their accommodations at the stately Government House in Victoria were no doubt in keeping with the luxury they are used to, but the couple looked happiest when donning casual clothes and flying to remote wilderness areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest of coastal British Columbia or the islands of Haida Gwaii, which were originally named the Queen Charlotte Islands for one of Prince William’s ancestors. But he didn’t seem to mind the name change. In fact, he and Kate looked like a pair of lovebirds who had escaped their gilded cage as they paddled, fished, sailed and hiked their way around some of Canada’s most scenic locations with big smiles on their faces.

They left their two small children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, in a nanny’s care for one night back at Government House while they flew to the Yukon. The British press was aghast that the future heir to the throne was checking into a three-star hotel in Whitehorse, but I doubt if William and Kate will be posting a negative review on Trip Advisor about their stay at the Coast High Country Inn. In fact, they looked blissfully rested and relaxed the next day while visiting Whitehorse’s McBride Museum and watching children perform at a First Nations Ceremony in the village of Carcross.

Alaska cruise passengers visiting the port of Skagway can book a shore excursion to Carcross (pop. 300), which was originally called Caribou Crossing and is located on the shores of Lake Bennett. It was here during the Klondike Gold Rush that hundreds of stampeders, after making the grueling mountain trek up the Trail of ’98, set off in makeshift rafts down the treacherous Yukon River to the Klondike gold fields.

A rail line eventually linked Carcross with Whitehorse, where travellers would board a sternwheeler to continue their journey by river to Dawson City. Whitehorse attractions include the MacBride Museum – a complex of log buildings which includes a cabin built by Sam McGee, who was a prospector and friend of the poet Robert Service. Whitehorse and other parts of the Yukon can be visited on a variety of land tours offered by Holland America Line (Holland America ).

Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, is a port of call on round-trip cruises from Seattle and can also be visited, pre- or post-cruise, from Vancouver. There is regular floatplane service from Vancouver to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, where William, Kate and their two children boarded a floatplane after waving good-bye to hundreds of well-wishers gathered along the sea walls. Government House, the royal family’s home away from home during their week-long stay in Victoria, is open to the public. Check its website for details on tours and opening hours (Government House).

An Unforgettable Taxi Ride

The start of our light speed ride from Venice airport to hotel.


“This is one boat ride you’ll never forget,” said Ernest Hemingway to his friend, A.E. Hotchner, upon their arrival in Venice. “No one ever forgets his first ride down the canals of Venice.” The famous author and his biographer were climbing into a motor launch dispatched from the Gritti Palace when Hemingway, a frequent visitor to Venice, uttered these words.

I too have taken a water taxi to my hotel in Venice and it was indeed an unforgettable experience. After landing at the Marco Polo Airport with my husband and two teenaged sons, we emerged from the baggage claim area to see signs at several counters announcing there were no motoscafi (water taxis) available.

It was the height of summer and very busy but we weren’t discouraged by the prospect that all of the city’s water taxis had been reserved. We walked with our luggage past the crowds and headed outside to the water taxi docks. Most of the slips were empty, with only a couple of these classic cabin cruisers tied up. We approached a boatman who was striding down the dock and about to leave with his customers and their luggage stowed on board, but he called to a boatman on a nearby dock.

Some words in Italian were exchanged and he gestured for us to proceed to the next slip where an empty water taxi was tied up. We hustled over to where the other boatman was standing and quickly negotiated a price for him to take us to our hotel, or perhaps I should say we nodded our heads when he said the ride would cost us 110 euro. Then he took our bags and we climbed aboard.

Well, suddenly four jet-lagged travellers from North America were wide awake as we sped across the Venice lagoon, our vessel’s polished mahogany topsides gleaming in the mid-day sun. My hair blew straight back in the apparent wind as we raced past the fairway buoys marking the channel that leads from the mainland to the cluster of islands upon which the magical city of Venice was built.

Still flying along the canals of Venice.


The boat slowed as we approached the islands of Venice, then turned into a narrow canal, our driver threading his craft past the medieval buildings lining the edges of islands connected by footbridges. It appeared our motorboat would barely squeeze beneath some of these low bridges but our driver was unfazed as we maintained a steady speed along the winding canals busy with waterborne traffic.

Passing iconic St. Mark’s Square.


A few minutes later we emerged from these narrow side canals into St. Mark’s Basin where dozens of vessels, including the city’s vaporetti (boat buses), were moving in all directions and churning the waters that lapped onto the piazzetta in front of St. Mark’s Square. We took in the panoply of passing sights, including views across the water of St. Mark’s Cathedral, before whizzing past the entrance to the Grand Canal.

Finally we pull alongside our hotel on Giudecca Canal.


A minute later we were pulling up to our hotel overlooking the Giudecca Canal. Taking our cue from our driver, who obviously didn’t have a minute to spare as he quickly hauled our luggage onto the dock, we disembarked, paid the fare and he was gone. Our whirlwind arrival in Venice was, as Hemingway said, one we would never forget.

The Queen’s Birthday

Trooping the Colour for the Queen.


Cruise passengers flying to England to embark on a cruise should plan to spend time in London. This famous capital is rich in culture and historic attractions, and is home to one of the world’s most recognized citizens – Queen Elizabeth.

No one celebrates a birthday with the pomp and pageantry of the reigning British monarch, and festivities this year to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday have been especially ebullient. Londoners showed up in full force to wave the Union Jack at a huge street party and parade along the Mall and to cheer for a woman who has never wavered in her pledge of dedication to the Commonwealth. In a Cape Town radio address made nearly seven decades ago on her 21st birthday while touring South Africa, the young princess declared that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

Well, her life has indeed been long and her birthdays numerous. In fact, the Queen has two birthday celebrations each year – her actual birthday is April 21st and her official birthday is the second Saturday in June when the City of London pulls out all the stops with Trooping the Colour. This is a 200-year-old military ceremony in which the ‘colours’ (flags) of the battalion are ‘trooped’ (carried) down the ranks. After inspecting the troops, the Queen rides in a carriage at the head of her guards back to Buckingham Palace where she and other members of the Royal Family gather on the balcony for a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.

The Mall, open to pedestrians on Sundays, leads to Buckingham Palace.

Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in Buckingham Palace and was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch until her great-great-granddaughter surpassed her record of 63 years and 7 months in September 2015. Queen Elizabeth’s style has been markedly different to that of Queen Victoria, who spent much of her reign in mourning after the death of her husband. The current Queen, by contrast, has travelled the globe to meet countless people from all walks of life, and she sports bright colours and fanciful hats when she greets her subjects.

But the current Queen does share her great-great-grandmother’s love of Balmoral, a royal retreat in Scotland where she spends her annual summer holiday. Queen Victoria, who loved all things Scottish, purchased the Balmoral Estate in 1852 and commissioned the existing castle. The estate grounds, gardens and Castle Ballroom are open to visitors from early April to the end of July (visit www.balmoralcastle.com for ticket information).

When the Queen is vacationing at Balmoral, her London residence is opened to visitors. During the months of August and September, the State Rooms and Garden at Buckingham Palace can be visited on pre-booked tours (visit https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/ for ticket information).

Donald Trump and the Klondike Gold Rush

Skagway’s gold rush buildings have been preserved.


Presidential hopeful Donald Trump boasts of many things, including his wealth, his popularity and his hand size. Less trumpeted is the fact that his paternal grandfather, a German immigrant named Friedrich Trumpf, kick-started the family dynasty with money he made during the Klondike Gold Rush. The two-storey hotel he ran in Bennett, British Columbia, wasn’t as impressive as the Trump Tower his grandson would erect in New York City eight decades later, but the Bavarian businessman – also known as Fred Trump – did make a handsome profit from his Arctic Hotel’s saloon and bordello.

Located on the shores of Lake Bennett, the boom town of Bennett was where stampeders, after making the daunting climb up the White Pass or Chilkoot mountain trails, would pause in their journey to build makeshift rafts, then continue on their way down theYukon River through the treacherous Whitehorse Rapids to the Klondike. But once the railroad from Skagway to Whitehorse was completed, business slowed in Bennett and Trumpf moved his hotel operations to Whitehorse.

The White Pass & Yukon Route railcars carry cruise passengers to Summit Lake.


The historic townsite of Bennett is now featured on an excursion offered by White Pass & Yukon Route’s summertime rail service from Skagway. However, there are few original buildings still standing in Bennett and cruise passengers arriving for a day in Skagway often opt for the shorter trip in vintage railcars to the White Pass summit, leaving themselves plenty of time to stroll the streets of Skagway – one of the best-preserved towns of the gold rush era. Many of Skagway’s original buildings still stand and several of these have been painstakingly restored by the National Park Service.

Situated at the head of a scenic fjord, Skagway was a single homestead when the first steamship filled with prospectors heading to Canada’s Yukon pulled up to the dock in the summer of 1897. Saloons and brothels were quickly constructed and a boomtown was born. Soapy Smith and his gang of con men soon controlled the town’s activities and Superintendent Sam Steele of the Northwest Mounted Police called Skagway “the roughest place in the world.”

Grave of Soapy Smith at Gold Rush Cemetery in Skagway.


Jefferson Randolph Smith II (Soapy Smith) was born into a Georgia plantation family, which was financially ruined by the American Civil War. Soapy decided to make his mark on the world as a con artist, saloon proprietor, gambling house operator, gangster and crime boss. He eventually made his way to Alaska where he met his maker on the streets of Skagway. A cairn near the waterfront marks the spot where Soapy Smith was killed in a shoot-out and his grave is in the town’s Gold Rush Cemetery.

Friedrich Trumpf had better luck than Soapy Smith. He left the Yukon with a small fortune in his pocket (about half a million in today’s dollars) and died years later during the Spanish Flu Epidemic. His German widow and their eldest son, Fred, parlayed Friedrich’s New York real estate holdings into the business empire ruled today by Fred’s son, Donald Trump.

The year of the selfie stick?

Anne is asked to take a picture with a selfie stick.

Looking back on 2015, it could be dubbed the year of the selfie stick. At least that was the buzz at a bridal shower I attended just before embarking on a summertime trip to Europe. Those metal rods designed to hold smartphones had become so ubiquitous they were being banned at some public venues, such as museums. But from what I observed this hadn’t dampened the zeal of street vendors selling selfie sticks in the busy tourist centres of Italy. Most visitors seemed to resist buying one of these telescopic extenders and those who wanted to widen the view of their self-portraits simply asked a bystander to take their picture. And that bystander was often me. I would nod yes to this request, and then a smartphone would be placed in my hand.

I should mention that I walk around with a single-lens reflex camera slung around my neck. It’s a digital camera, but it is not a phone. I don’t even own a smartphone. So “why me?” I kept wondering as I stared at the unfamiliar object I was now being asked to take a picture with. “Just tap it here,” the phone-owner would say before stepping back to pose beside his beaming girlfriend and wait for me to take a photo.

One morning at dawn my husband and I, who were waking early due to jet lag, decided to walk the streets of Venice while they were quiet and the air was cool. Few others were up yet, just the occasional jogger, as we strolled alongside the canals and across stone footbridges. Then we came upon a small group of early risers who were admiring the famous view at the entrance to the Grand Canal. As Bill and I approached, they asked me if I would take a picture of them. And so began my European vacation, taking photos of complete strangers on their smartphones.

In Rome when I was taking a picture of a young couple in Piazza Navona, the guy thought I had too much foreground in the photo when he checked the image on his phone and not enough of the baroque fountain they were standing in front of. So I took the photo again, and again he wasn’t completely happy with the result. By this time his girlfriend was laughing and I decided it was time to slowly back away and rejoin my waiting family.

While lunching at the Pitti Palace’s courtyard café in Florence, where we watched some brazen pigeons knock a wine glass off a table, I remarked to my husband and two teenage sons that although nearly everyone seemed to be taking selfies with their phones, I hadn’t seen too many people with selfie sticks. A half hour later, as we strolled though the Boboli Gardens, I was not only taking a picture of a couple on their smartphone, but holding it with the selfie stick it was mounted on. My husband was amused by all of this and would take photos of me taking photos of other people. But I actually didn’t mind. The fellow tourists who approached me were always polite and smiling and thanked me for taking their picture.

I can appreciate the appeal of taking selfies. My sons were doing it and they got some good spontaneous shots of themselves in front of famous landmarks. As long as it doesn’t become obsessive, let the selfie seekers have their fun. The one tourist trend that did bother me was seeing a beautiful bridge in Paris covered in “love locks.” What happened to the old adage of take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Panama Canal cruise and rail trip across historic isthmus

Going through Panama Canal is always a fascinating experience.

When we booked our shore excursion on the famous Panama Railroad, we didn’t expect to catch a glimpse of the prison where former dictator Manuel Noriega spends his days, or see a large snake lying dead in the flat bed of a pickup truck. But that’s the joy of heading ashore in Central America, where the sights are exotic and somewhat chaotic.

Map of Gatun Locks including new third set of locks.

We were a family of four enjoying a spring break cruise aboard Holland America’s Zuiderdam when we disembarked by ship’s tender in Gatun Lake to spend a day exploring the tiny country of Panama, from coast to coast.

I had already done a full transit of the Panama Canal on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver, but most ships don’t actually stop in Panama when travelling from one ocean to the other. On a partial transit you not only experience the canal’s colossal locks lifting your ship 85 feet above sea level and releasing it onto a man-made lake surrounded by tropical rainforest, you have the option of going ashore to see the local sights.

We opted for an excursion on the famous Panama Railroad, which straddles the Isthmus of Panama and played a key role in construction of the canal. This journey in vintage rail cars through the jungles of Panama was one of the best excursions of our cruise. We were taken by bus to the train station, where we were greeted by railroad employees and directed to our car.

View of Panama Canal from train near Culebra Cut.

In comfortable facing seats separated by a small table, the four of us settled in for our ride, which traces the Canal and provides up-close views of the jungle that claimed thousands of lives during the Canal’s protracted construction – first attempted by the French (who eventually abandoned their gallant effort), then successfully completed by the Americans, who opened the Canal to the world in 1914.

A man-made wonder, the Panama Canal continues to function as a maritime shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Full transits of the Canal (from Florida to California and vice versa) are popular itineraries, especially in spring and fall when cruise ships are repositioning between the Caribbean and Alaska. During the winter months, several cruise lines also offer partial transits of the Canal. These round-trip cruises usually depart from Fort Lauderdale.
Holland America Line’s 10- and 11-day itineraries feature several port calls in the Caribbean, such as Aruba, Curacao and Half Moon Quay (HAL’s private island in the Bahamas). Other port calls include the Spanish-colonial walled city of Cartagena in Colombia (where we enjoyed an historic walking tour) and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica where we took a river safari to view tropical wading birds, basilisk lizards and the occasional crocodile.

Our Panama Railroad excursion ended back in the Caribbean port of Colon where our ship was waiting. Those passengers who had opted to remain on board got to experience the Gatun Locks for a second time as the ship was lowered back onto the Caribbean Sea. I chatted with a couple staying in an aft cabin and they watched the action from their private balcony.

I highly recommend a partial-transit cruise of the Canal. It combines a Caribbean cruise with the chance to see an iconic monument of modern engineering. Plus, you can go ashore and ride the rails across the famous Isthmus of Panama.

The Mediterranean Grand Tour

St. Mark’s Square in Venice is the epicenter of tourist visits for its beautiful Byzantine architecture.


When Mark Twain boarded a steamship in New York to embark on a Mediterranean cruise, he described hiscruise as “a picnic on a gigantic scale.” The year was 1867 and those were the days of the fashionable Grand Tour of Europe – a lengthy trip that was affordable only to the very wealthy.

Today, a Mediterranean cruise can fit into a two-week vacation, and there’s never been a better time to cash in your air miles and take advantage of the bargain-basement prices being offered on Med cruises. The major cruise lines send ships to the Med each summer where they remain through autumn, when the crowds have thinned out but the weather remains pleasantly warm.

No other cruising region offers the diversity of the Mediterranean, a sea bordered by three continents and over a dozen countries. In Italy alone the ports of call range from Riviera resorts to magnificent cities filled with ancient ruins and Renaissance art. Rome and Florence feature prominently on Med itineraries, as does Naples with its proximity to Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and the isle of Capri. But the Italian port that seems custom-made for cruise visitors is Venice.

Map of Venice from Mediterranean By Cruise Ship, 6th edition.

Arriving in Venice by ship is one of life’s most memorable travel experiences as your ship enters the Lagoon of Venice and slowly approaches what appears to be a floating Renaissance city of domed churches and richly coloured buildings topped with red tile roofs. Built on over a hundred islets, enchanting Venice has no roads and is criss-crossed with dozens of narrow canals. Winding through the centre of Venice is the Grand Canal – a watery thoroughfare lined with ornate palaces, some dating back to the 12th century. Motorized riverboats (part of the city’s waterbus service) run the length of the Grand Canal, making frequent stops along the way so that passengers can hop on and off.

The Grand Canal opens into the boat basin fronting St. Mark’s Square, which is filled with outdoor cafés and considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. This is where visitors compete with pigeons for the best vantage to gaze at the golden splendour of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Italian Gothic façade of the Doges’ Palace.

If you enjoy walking, Venice is a delight to explore. Narrow lanes and stone footbridges lead to hidden squares and quiet side canals. At night, when lights shimmer on the water, these side canals are where you will hear the echoing voices of gondoliers serenading their passengers.

Venice is a busy base port for cruise ships, which fan out in all directions – across the Adriatic to Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast, across the Aegean to such Greek isles asSantorini and Mykonos, and around the toe of Italy’s boot to visit Naples and famous seaside resorts of the Italian and French Riverias.

The sensual allure and cultural enrichment of the Mediterranean has not diminished with time. What has changed is the affordability of cruise travel, allowing many of us to embark on our own Grand Tour.

Getting a Deal isn’t always Good Value

A vacation is a time to relax the way you want.


When choosing a cruise, many of us are price driven but I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t be a bit more value driven. The last-minute deals are tempting, for sure. But I’d rather book a cruise well in advance so I get the itinerary, the ship and the stateroom I want. After all, the main reason to travel is not so much about saving money but having a wonderful time.

Of course there are pragmatic reasons why booking early usually makes more sense, in dollar terms. When a ship starts filling up, the fares will rise, which means there are no last-minute deals on certain sailings. And then there’s the airfare. Timing your ticket purchase can be tricky, and you could end up paying more for a last-minute flight than what you saved on a last-minute cruise fare. Six weeks before a ship’s departure is when the best deals are usually offered if a sailing hasn’t sold out, but the best deals on airfare are often gone by then.

Airline sales come and go, so you have to monitor fares for the best price. If you’re travelling domestically during school holiday times, such as Christmas and spring break, it’s best to book early (watch for sales posted online on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). For international flights, the best fares usually appear about four months before the date you want to travel. To avoid the time-consuming process of monitoring airfares, you could consider booking your flight through the cruise line. These air/sea packages vary with each cruise line and don’t necessarily save you any money, but unexpected expenses due to flight delays and missed travel connections are covered by the cruise line.

Perhaps the best reason to book early is to allow yourself the luxury of anticipation. Studies have shown that most people enjoy anticipating a trip almost as much as the trip itself. If you book early you can spend happy hours reading up on the ports of call and looking forward to being pampered and entertained on board the ship. The pleasures of travel can begin long before you leave home.

Wired but Unplugged: Using Tech on a Vacation

Ipads and Kindles help connect, if you must, with work.

According to the Business Research and Economic Advisors, the global output of cruises topped $117.15 billion. The volume of people cruising conjures up images of lounging deckside while being served cocktails, then heading to live entertainment in the main dining hall. But in reality, vacationers aren’t taking advantage of the much-needed downtime and relaxation.

The American Psychological Association reports 44 percent of people check work messages at least once a day while on vacation. Leave your smartphone and laptop at home and enjoy yourself while hitting the high seas! Here is technology that’s wired, but unplugged (that means techy, but disconnected).

Kindle Fire

Stock your Kindle (or any e-reader) with plenty of page-turning classics, pop-culture fiction and new reads you can’t wait to get your hands on. Remember you can also stock up with online magazines and Kindle Singles full of essays, memoirs and short stories. Turn on “Airplane Mode” to avoid the temptation to connect to your ship’s Wi-Fi. (No work emails, remember?) Instead, launch one of your downloaded games to take your mind off the reality back home.

Iridium Satellite Phone

Cruise ships aren’t always known for their stellar phone coverage, so leaving your smartphone behind isn’t necessarily a big sacrifice. An Iridium Satellite Phone offers coverage from just about anywhere in world (including the South Pole!) without an annual contract.

What’s the point of a sat phone if you’re trying to disconnect, you ask? If you need to be available to your family or your business, but don’t want to constantly check cellphone activity and email messages, a sat phone is a great alternative. You know you’ll have reliable service if you need it. It’s simply a robust and innovative tool to stay connected and have lifeline access to a phone if you need it.

KizON

Royal Caribbean unveiled the first tracking system for kids on cruise ships in 2009. Today, just about every major vessel has tracking systems, video monitors and safety measures in place for passengers of all ages. But what would you do if your child disappeared or got lost en route to a kids’ club or activity? Instead of simply waiting (and panicking) for the cruise staff to raise the alert and scour the ship, take matters into your own hands. KizON is a wristband for children. It ensures parents can find them regardless of where they’ve wandered off. Best of all, there’s a direct call feature on the band so kids can get in touch with parents without needing to remember a telephone number.

Asana

It’s difficult to truly leave work behind if you’re worrying about what’s piling up while you’re cruising. Online project management software like Asana can help you plan out tasks and even has a vacation indicator for your team. They’ll know exactly when you’re leaving and coming back and can continue working on the tasks through the software. Set up responsibilities, remind coworkers who to go to for answers and set goals before you set sail.

Asana also eliminates the need for hundreds of emails to complete a task. When you come back from your cruise, log into Asana to see what the team has been up to, get up to speed and make notes as needed. This will help you spend your free time enjoying being untethered at sea, rather than tethered to your desk.

The Stones take a Cruise into history

Keith Richards and his pal Mick Jagger take a cruise to Brazil and come up with a brand name for themselves.


Anyone who still thinks cruising is for old folks may be surprised to learn that way back in 1968 Mick Jagger and Keith Richards embarked on a cruise with their girlfriends from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro. An ocean voyage can replenish the creative well and the songs that sprang from their transAtlantic crossing included Honky Tonk Women, which the songwriting pair composed upon reaching Brazil.

While at sea, Jagger and Richards were regulars at the ship’s bar where a British couple thought the two looked familiar but couldn’t quite place them. “C’mon, give us a clue. Give us a glimmer,” they would say to the two young Englishmen, and that’s how Jagger and Richards came to call themselves The Glimmer Twins.

When the Rolling Stones toured the U.S. the following year, their opening act was blues musician B.B.King, one of the greatest guitarists of all time. In 1990 the first B.B. King’s Blues Club opened in Memphis, followed by other locations, including Los Angeles and New York. Then, in 2013, the first B.B. King’s Blues Club at sea opened on Holland America’s Eurodam. The ship’s Queen’s Lounge had been transformed to resemble the Memphis club and limited engagement performances were given by an eight-piece B.B. King Blues Club Band featuring two vocalists backed by a drummer, bassist, guitarist, sax player, trumpet player and Hammond B-3 organ player.

This first onboard B.B. King’s Blues Club proved so popular, Holland America has since created the same venue on other ships, including Noordam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Westerdam, Zuiderdam and Oosterdam. Exclusive specialty cocktails are served, such as the rum-based Lucille and Rock Me Baby concoctions mixed with different fruit liqueurs and juices. The Glimmer Twins, now in their seventies, would feel right at home in a bar like this.