A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Discovering Alaska Part II: Leaving Vancouver for Ketchikan

Sail Away from Vancouver, Canada toward Ketchikan, Alaska

We woke up to an overcast sky on our second and last day in Vancouver. I wanted to get an early start before we had to leave the hotel for the Port of Vancouver later in the day. A tip from the doorman of the Four Seasons directed us to a lovely little cafe a few blocks away for an enormous as well as delicious breakfast. As my husband and I devoured the Breakfast Special of the day, I looked around at the Jazz inspired cafe decor and the busy street outside and had a difficult time remembering that I was actually in a foreign country. The weather changed to rain as we walked back to the hotel, so I headed for the Pacific Center Mall where I found a multitude of shops including the familiar Sears department store. I hurriedly bought a large umbrella, since I forgot to bring one from home and sorted through more Canada memorabilia before finishing my shopping for the day. Leaving the Mall, I stepped outside and found once again that the weather had changed, this time to warm and sunny. Sensing a preview a things to come, I walked down the street and took a few last photos before heading back to the Four Seasons to check in for the cruise.


Vancouver Street scene

Vancouver Street Near Four Seasons hotel

Princess Cruises makes Embarkation very easy for passengers who use their host hotels and transfers to the ship. Reginald and I found a ballroom near the lobby where Princess representatives were set up to take our cruise documents and passports and issue our cruise cards for the Diamond Princess. All that was left to do was board the transportation to the ship (our luggage had been taken on ahead early that morning) and take a last look around Vancouver as we rode to the Pier. Boarding the ship was easy and took less than 15 minutes. I looked around the Atrium area of the Diamond Princess and thought she was a right fine looking ship!

Diamond Princess Atrium

Diamond Princess Lobby

Stepping out on to the balcony of our mini-suite, I sighed in pleasure as I looked out over the beautiful port building and the harbor. Several ships were already sailing out ahead of us and they made a lovely sight against the gorgeous shoreline. After taking some photos and accepting a glass of champagne from our cabin steward, I started the task of unpacking so that I could relax later and enjoy the Sailaway from Canada.

Vancouver Port Building

Vancouver Harbor

Another ship leaving Port

Me on our balcony

Electing to enjoy Sailaway from our cabin, my husband and I sipped wine, took photos and relaxed in the quiet peacefulness of the sound of the ocean, watching the shoreline slowly fade into the distance. Such wonderful scenery! For more than an hour we sailed along the Canadian coastline before heading out to sea toward Ketchikan, Alaska. " What on earth took me so long to book this cruise?" I thought as I leaned on the railing to get my last glimpse of Vancouver. With a start like this, I could only imagine what wonders were yet to come!

Goodbye Vancouver!

Next up, our first port of call, Ketchikan, Alaska. To be continued......

Gerri Grant Gipson Esq.

Posted by Gerriv 14:43 Comments (0)

Discovering Alaska Part I

Cool Sailing in the Summertime

Summer in Alabama is really hot. I don't mean hot as in lots of exciting nightlife and activities, but rather hot as in awful temperatures soaring into the high 90's and sometimes over 100 degrees (F) with killer humidity. After failing to find a cool place to enjoy the summer year after year, I finally decided to try out a cruise to Alaska. I love to go on cruises. It's the best type of vacation there is, in my opinion. Of all of the itineraries that I have done, the Alaska Voyage is the one I avoided for years. Why you ask? I don't like cold weather, I don't like rain. I thought that is all I would get on an Alaska cruise. Boy, was I wrong.

After spending a lot of time researching which 7 day itinerary to choose, I finally settled on the Diamond Princess Voyage of the Glaciers. This ship and sailing was particularly attractive because of the departure port, Vancouver, British Columbia, the site of the last Olympic Winter Games in 2010. My husband and I would be traveling on the Diamond from Vancouver northbound to Whitter, Alaska, the homeport for Anchorage, Alaska where we would fly home. To top it all off, our favorite type of cabin, the awesome Princess mini-suites were on sale and we grabbed one right away.

Diamond Princess Mini Suite

Vancouver, Canada

We left Alabama on a warm June morning and flew via Atlanta to Vancouver the day before the cruise departure. Our early flight got us into Vancouver right around lunchtime. We met the always curtious and friendly Princess Cruises meet and greeters in baggage claim and boarded transportation with our luggage to our hotel for the night, the Four Seasons Vancouver. The Four Seasons was one of the pre-cruise host hotels for Princess, right in the middle of downtown near lots of restaruants and shopping. Arriving at the front desk, I once again found a use for my high school French (it came in handy in Nice, France on another Princess cruise). When the front desk clerk welcomed us with "Bonjour Madam and Monsieur" I was able to reply in kind. I was loving Vancouver already! Our hotel room was airy and spacious with a large window overlooking a busy city street. I read that there was a large shopping mall connected to the hotel and I planned to spend time there picking up some last minute items before boarding the ship.

Four Seasons hotel

Four Seasons hotel room

Ready for a late afternoon meal, my husband and I set out to find a place to eat. The hotel desk clerk directed us to a side street with lots of restaurant choices. Walking out into the bright sunshine and mild temperatures, I was pleased to have this chance to visit Vancouver. Vancouver is the city that has it all: natural beauty and cosmopolitan flair. Set between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains, it has a wonderful blend of nature and urban living. Gardens, parks, and beaches are numerous as are heritage buildings, restaurants, and theatres. This city, with the laid-back feel of Los Angeles and the West Coast of the USA, is the third largest city in Canada and shares an ethnic diversity and multicultural flavor that is friendly and welcoming. Canada has a population just less than 30 million people in a country twice the area of the United States. The heritage of Canada was French and English; however, significant immigration from Asia and Europe's non-French and English countries has broadened Canada's cultural richness. This cultural diversity is considered a national asset, and the Canadian Constitution prohibits discrimination against individual citizens on the basis of race, color, religion, or sex. The great majority of Canadians are Christian. Although the predominant language in Canada is English, there are at least three varieties of French that are recognized. The Italian language is a strong third due to a great influx of Italian immigrants following W.W.II.

After walking a couple of blocks, we found an interesting looking English Pub. Walking through the door we found the place un crowded and quickly found a table. A waitress soon took our orders and we finally felt relaxed after a long day of traveling. We ordered hamburgers, fries and beer which really hit the spot. Leaving the Pub we walked down the street to the shopping area and bought some Vancouver Olympics souvenirs’ before making our way back to our hotel. Spending the rest of the evening relaxing in our hotel, I made plans for the next day to find a great place for breakfast and shop in the mall a little before the Princess transport picked us up from the hotel to take us to the Pier. Our first day in Canada was a delight I and could not help but be excited about what was to come.

Coming up, sailing out of Canada and into the beauty and wilds of Alaska. To Be Continued…….

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services

Posted by Gerriv 08:15 Comments (7)

Is the Mega Ship Cruise Experience for You?

The Oasis of the Seas May Not be For Everyone

After reading this news article from USA Today Cruise Log on the Oasis of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s new mega ships, I find that I am definitely of the belief that "bigger is not always better".

USA Today Cruise Log

As a Travel Consultant and veteran of many cruises, I have found that sailing on the newest and biggest cruise ship doesn't always provide passengers with the best cruise experience. It all depends on what you are looking for. If you want to pay high prices to sail with almost 6000 other people and wait in line for boarding, dining, nonstop entertainment and activities and almost never have a view of the ocean unless you have an OUTSIDE BALCONY cabin, then this ship and her sister Allure of the Seas is for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more relaxed, traditional style of cruise vacation, then there are numerous, smaller, less expensive options out there for you. On every cruise I ever been on, my favorite experience is standing out on my balcony or at the railing on the top deck of the ship, listening to the sound of the ocean waves as the ship glides out to sea. There is something to be said for quiet peacefulness, especially if you are particularly stressed in everyday life. Yes, I do enjoy deck parties, pool games and Broadway type shows in the lounge, but I don't like crowds and lines and having to wait on my vacation. So I am very, very happy that there are cruise ships that cater to people like me. Which type of cruise lover are you?


Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
M & E Unlimited Travel Services
Travel Site...

Posted by Gerriv 12:13 Comments (0)

Australia Revisited

Oprah's Guests follow in My Footsteps

My heart is so full today. I just finished watching "Oprah in Australia" on TV. I visited Australia and Tasmania on a 21 day trip to the land downunder a few years ago. What a treat it was to see Gayle King and other Oprah show guests visit the same places I got to see. The Medowbank Winery in Cambridge, Tasmania were my Mom and I enjoyed wonderful wine and a fabulous lunch overlooking the vinyard has not changed at all. The Bonorong Wildlife Park where I saw a Tasmanian Devil for the first time and petted a Koala Bear is still taking care of animals that need their help. Finally, Beautiful Melbourne, Australia where I strolled the banks of the Yarra River and watched the street cars go by is just a big and lively and fun as I remember. Such a wonderful experience to see all of this again from my living room.

Oprah continues her visit for the next few days on TV. She told her audiance what I already know, the Australian people are wonderful, welcoming and friendly in ways one cannot imagine. This was Oprah's first visit to Australia, so I can actually say I beat her at somethng! I eagerly await continuing my return visit to Australia, thanks to Oprah, tomorrow!







Posted by Gerriv 15:03 Comments (2)

The Disney Cruise Vacation-Worth the Premium Cost?

As Disney rolls out the new 4000 passenger Disney Dream, the high cost gives some families sticker shock.


A recent article in the January 4, 2011 Orlando Sentinel newspaper about the new mega ship, the Disney Dream got me thinking. As a child, my ultimate dream was to visit Disney World. Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was my favorite show on TV. When I finally got to visit Disney World in Florida as a pre-teen, I was delighted that the theme park met all of my expectations. As an adult, about three years ago, I made a return trip with some grown up friends to Disney World and found myself stunned, shocked and appalled at the high prices for park tickets and just about everything else.

I have found extremely high prices to be the case all too often with the Disney Cruises as well. With the roll out of the new 4000 passenger Disney Dream this month, there is extremely high interest in this ship and I have compiled quite a few cruise quotes for the Disney Dream for this Spring and Summer. Newspaper articles and online videos extolling the virtues of this new mega ship have generated high consumer interest and now everyone wants a piece of the Dream. Not surprisingly though, my clients have been more than a little shocked at the cruise fares for 1 cabin on a 4, 5, or 7 day Disney Dream Cruise. While Disney undeniably has a great product for a family cruise vacation, I'm not sure that the experience is worth the premium cost unless you and your family are die hard Disney fans, especially in this economy.

Why do I feel this way? Because there are just too many other options out there for a family cruise vacation that are more reasonably priced, tons of fun for adults and kids, and more of a value for limited family vacation funds. I'm not knocking Disney, but I want my clients to know, there are other options that I would be more than happy to tell them about!

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services

Posted by Gerriv 07:37 Comments (4)

Why I got Married During an Eastern Caribbean Cruise

My very first cruise was in 1990 on the Carnival Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean. Although I had a wonderful time, I did not sail again until the year 2000 when my fiancé, now husband and I left on our 7 day Wedding Cruise on the Grand Princess to the Eastern Caribbean. Why did I choose a cruise as the vehicle to get married? Simple, because it is a hassle free, all-inclusive vacation that is easy to combine with a wedding, reunion, or other special event for a large or small group. My husband and I got to have our ceremony in the Caribbean, with family and friends in attendance and got to have an immediate honeymoon for the rest of the week and be treated like royalty by the wonderful cruise staff. With so much to do both on and off the ship, we could choose to spend time with our family or have time to ourselves.




That is what is so wonderful about the cruise vacation, for one price you get so much choice! How else can you get great accommodations, delicious food and outstanding service combined with the excitement of seeing the world and the convenience of unpacking once for the entire trip! Add an education seminar or an important social event to the cruise experience and you really do have the best of both worlds. Since my wonderful Wedding Cruise, I have sailed on over 15 cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, on several different cruise lines. Because of my wonderful cruise experiences, I decided to share my love of the cruise vacation with as many individuals, families and groups as possible by becoming a Cruise Vacation specialist and Group Cruise Meeting Planner. After several successful group events at sea, I have found that there is nothing I like better than introducing a first time cruise passenger to the delights of the cruise vacation experience. Sharing that cruise vacation with family, friends or colleagues makes it even more rewarding! I truly believe a cruise is one of the best ways to travel!



Travel is Life, Life is an Adventure!

Start planning your own Adventure today!

Gerri Grant Gipson Esq.

Posted by Gerriv 10:12 Comments (8)

Sailing Through History X-Venice, Italy Part II

Touring Venice, Going Home

Our first full day in Venice began with disembarking from the Emerald Princess. I have to say that in all the cruise disembarkations that I have participated in, this one was the most unusual. Our transportation to our hotel was included in the cruise package. After retrieving our luggage, we were ushered down the pier to a larger water taxi that would deliver us to the Bauer Hotel. I was very nervous watching the taxi driver load all of us (there were 15 or so in our group going to the hotel) and our luggage on to this boat. I caught my breath as I saw my suitcase being literally tossed into the rear of the boat, but I managed to relax when everything was loaded without incident. Soon we were off, floating along the canal trying to take in all the sights along the way in the 15 or so minutes that we traveled. Pulling up to another dock, our escort from Princess Cruises directed us off the boat and onto the dock where once again we retrieved our bags. Surprisingly, we would be traveling on foot a couple of blocks to the hotel. I took note to never again travel to Venice with more than two bags because you never knew when you might be called upon to carry them!




Walking into the lobby of the Bauer Hotel was a relief. There was a large waiting room nearby for all of us to wait in until our rooms were ready. It was still quite early in the morning. The Bauer was very impressive. It felt in many ways like I had stepped back in time to the glory days of the Renaissance, marble floors and granite mixed with plush furniture, grand arches and an elegant lobby front desk. After not too long a wait, we were shown to our rooms, side by side and very large and spacious. The windows along the wall in the bedroom and bath opened to look out over a canal where I could see Gondoliers and their boats moving down the canal. It was just wonderful!




We settled in to our room until time for lunch. Heading downstairs to the lobby, I decided to ask the doorman where was a nice inexpensive place to eat. He directed us to a lovely little café a few blocks from the hotel where we had some delicious Italian food, including some lasagna to die for! After lunch we walked down the narrow streets, bridges and alleyways, stopping to say hello to some locals who paused for photographs.



Finally, we found ourselves in St. Marks Square. All I could find to say was “Wow”. All of the photos and video that I had seen of this part of Venice simply did not do it justice. The square was full of people and shops and restaurants. The Basilica di San Marco, commonly known as Saint Mark's Basilica was directly in front of us. The Basilica is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city's churches and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. It is connected to the Doge's Palace which is also on the square. We walked around the square, looking in the expensive stores and taking photos before heading back to the hotel for the rest of the evening. Lying in bed later that night I could hear the Gondoliers singing outside our window. It was one of the loveliest sounds I have ever heard.






The next morning we were up bright an early. Our morning started with a fantastic breakfast out on the hotel terrace, overlooking the Grand Canal before we headed out for the day. We had only one more day to see Venice so we needed to get started. With map in hand, we left the hotel and started our walking tour. Venice is very easy to see by walking, everything is fairly close by. My aim was to head toward the Rialto Bridge and take in a Gondola ride somewhere along the way. The gondola rides were very popular and there was often a long line to ride one. We finally found an empty gondola on our way to the Rialto Bridge, and we did a ‘share ride” with a couple from San Francisco. The gondola ride was an experience not to be missed. Both scenic and relaxing, it is a great way to get an overview of the city. Our gondolier was very friendly and talkative so we enjoyed our sail very much.



After our ride on the canal, we arrived at the famous Rialto Bridge. Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) is the true heart of Venice. The current structure was built in just three years, between 1588 and 1591, as a permanent replacement for the boat bridge and three wooden bridges that had spanned the Grand Canal at various times since the 12th Century. It remained the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854. The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer balustrades, and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops that sell jewelry, linens, Murano glass, and other items. There is a large area of souvenir stands on one side of the bridge that has a “flea market” type atmosphere. We climbed the steps to the top of the bridge and looked out over the Grand Canal. It was a beautiful sunny spring day and the view was just amazing.


Walking to the other side of the bridge we found a restaurant to have lunch alongside the Grand Canal. The food was delicious as expected and we spent some time at our sidewalk table drinking red wine and taking in the view. Heading back to the center of town, we stopped along the way at a convenience store to buy some wine and then we headed back to the hotel. Before packing up for the trip home the next day, Yolonda and I made another trip to Saint Mark’s Square. We walked around buying more souvenirs and took a stroll along the water front. There were people everywhere doing the same thing, the weather was just perfect. Once again I had to pinch myself to be sure I was not dreaming. “Here I am in Venice!” I thought to myself. It could not have been a more perfect day.




Yolonda decided that pizza was a good choice for dinner, so we walked around to a nearby restaurant that actually had carry out. While we waited for our pie, we had a lovely conversation with a waiter who was a transplant from the USA. He told us about life in Venice and a number of things we need to see on a return trip. I still have his business card in my wallet, so I can look him up when I go back. The pizza and Italian wine was wonderful and the packing did not take quite as long as before. We would be leaving Venice in the morning for the long flight back to Atlanta and then Montgomery, Alabama. For the last time on this trip, I listened to the Gondoliers singing along the canal as I went to sleep.

Check out time came early. We had a 20 minute water taxi ride to the airport. In the hotel lobby, the hotel Manager, who I had spoken to once or twice approached me and asked “Signora, why do you look so sad?” I told him that I was sad about leaving Venice, that it had been a wonderful visit, but too short. “Well then, you must return” he said. Yes, he was right, I must return someday.

Ciao everyone! THE END!

Posted by Gerriv 13:51 Comments (2)

Sailing Through History X -Venice, Italy part I

The Heart of Italian Culture and the Capital of Romance

The last day of our 12 day cruise was a flurry of activity. Trying to pack up all of our belongings along with all the souvenirs we had purchased was definitely a chore. By 4:00pm on that day, I was exhausted from packing and decided to take a break out on the balcony. That's when I noticed the change. Instead of miles of ocean, I was looking at the shores of the islands that comprise Venice, Italy. Venice, known as the "floating city" the "city of canals" and “the city of bridges" is in reality a city comprised of 117 small islands connected by canals and bridges in the Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The population of the area is estimated at 272,000 people. The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as a very important center of commerce and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. This made Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history. It is also known for the art of the Renaissance period and it is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi.

Venice is well known as one of the most romantic places in the world, with its beautiful buildings, churches, restaurants, shopping and music, it is made for walking or strolling along the canals and bridges connecting the islands. I knew we would be sailing up the Grand Canal to reach the ships berth in the center of the city, so I quickly grabbed my camera and Yolonda from her cabin and we both rushed up to the sun deck to get an open air view of the center of Venice as we sailed by. What can I say to describe the vision that is Venice Italy? Standing along the rail on the top deck of the ship, the sun was shining, the church bells were ringing, and I could hear the magical voice Andrea Bocelli singing in Italian over the ship's loud speakers on the deck. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The scenery was stunning, and the feeling of pleasure that overtook me was almost overwhelming. To have all of these elements of sight and sound coming together at once was unbelievable. I really wanted to cry, it was all so beautiful.





As we passed the Piazza San Marco, also known as Saint Mark's Square, the principal square of Venice, I thought about the great decision that I had made in choosing our hotel for our 3 day post cruise stay in Venice. The Bauer Hotel, located in Venice's most fashionable shopping district, is just steps away from St Mark's Square and features two terraces providing wonderful views of the Grand Canal. While the thought of leaving the Emerald Princess made me a little sad, I was excited at the thought of staying at a great hotel right in the middle of Venice.




As we continued sailing up the Grand Canal, I noticed several small boats cruising along side of the Emerald Princess, one or two were ferries carrying several passengers. The thing that was striking was that the people on the small boats were waving at us, yelling "Buon Giorno" or "good day" or "hello" in Italian. It was an amazing welcome to an amazing city! When we finally reached our berth in city center, Yolanda and I came down from the top deck and joined Mom and Reggie out on our balconies. We would be spending the night aboard ship and then disembarking from the ship in the morning. I resolved to enjoy my last night on the Emerald Princess and looked forward to our stay in Venice before heading home. I had a good feeling that the best was yet to come!

Next, two more days in Venice before traveling back to the States! To be continued.......

Posted by Gerriv 07:25 Comments (0)

Sailing Through History IX-Katakolon(Olympia) & Corfu Greece

The site of the first Olympics and a visit to the "Emerald Isle" of Greece

The last two ports of call in Greece on our Eastern Mediterranean Cruise were beautiful and picturesque as well as great opportunities to slow down and relax after 13 days of almost nonstop activity. The Port of Katakolon, or Olympia as it is more commonly known is where the first Olympics was ever held and where you can find a historical landmark anywhere in the seaside town. Guided tours of Ancient Olympia and the Olympia Museum were offered, but we elected to spend the day on our own and explore the small village on foot. Apparently we were not the only ones with that idea because as we walked away from the dock toward town we noticed hundreds of other passengers doing the same thing.



We meandered in and out of the small shops along Main Street for a couple of hours before stopping at one of the seaside cafes for a light lunch.
After taking the waiter's suggestions on some yummy appetizers and beer, we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at a table outside on the patio of the cafe, watching small boats drift in and out of port before making our way back to our ship. The weather was warm and sunny and the light salt in the sea air was very soothing. It was a lovely relaxing day.


The next morning found us on the island of Corfu, Greece. Known as the "Emerald Island" because of its lush greenery and breathtaking beauty, Corfu is one of the hidden treasures of the Mediterranean. The second largest of the seven Ionian Islands, Corfu is just 368 square miles. Corfu is one of Greece’s prettiest towns and has a unique charm that shows the influence of the Italian, French and English cultures in its architecture. I chose a half day "highlights" tour for this island that would leave us plenty of time to wander around on our own an do some shopping. The tour was great and our guide friendly and knowledgeable. She led us to some great picture taking spots and I tried to capture the feel of this lovely island with my camera.






At the end of the tour, we found a cool spot to sit on Liston Square to sip some cool drinks before we spent the remainder of the day walking around the beautiful shopping area, purchasing some great leather gifts to take home.




Heading back to the ship I felt that Corfu was definitely a place that I would like to return to someday because it was clear that we had only scratched the surface of what this lovely little island had to offer.

Next, we end our fabulous cruise in the romance capital of the world, Venice. To be continued....

Posted by Gerriv 09:12 Comments (0)

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