Saturday, April 28, 2012

Alaska cruises offer new ships and itineraries for 2012

Alaska is a destination that everyone should put on their bucket list. One of the best ways to see the northern state is on a cruise ship, and the 2012 season begins in May. A variety of large and small ship cruise lines are scheduled to set sail in Alaska's waters this season.

Large cruise ships are always popular

Coral Princess is a large ship that sails to Alaska
Thirty large cruise ships are scheduled to serve the nearly 900,000 visitors who cruise in Alaska each year. Alaska will see the return of a Disney Cruise Line ship, the addition of a Princess ship, Norwegian Cruise Line will replace the Norwegian Star with higher-capacity Norwegian Jewel, and The World of Residences at Sea will also make an appearance for one voyage in 2012. Large ships offer many amenities not found on smaller ships, and some have naturalists on board presenting programs and commentary during the sailing.  Larger cruise lines have their own docks and a large program of tours from which to chose at popular ports. They also provide land and sea combination tours for visitors who want to go inland and explore more than the coastline.

Small cruise ships offer different experiences

Sailing in Glacier Bay
Small-ship cruise lines are also establishing new routes, ships and excursions for passengers. American Cruise Line will sail to Alaska for the first time in 2012, offering small-ship adventures along Alaska's Inside Passage aboard the American Spirit. With no more than 150 passengers on each cruise, guests are treated to an intimate atmosphere on ships designed to navigate calm, narrow inland waterways. Seven night, round trip cruises from Juneau and 11-night, one-way cruises between Juneau and Seattle travel into Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm Fjord visiting Sitka, Hoonah and Petersburg. Complimentary shore tours are offered at each port of call, taking passengers to local sites and providing insight into the area's culture, heritage and history.

Small-ship adventure operator American SafariCruises has two vessels joining its fleet in Alaska for 2012, one sailing a new itinerary. American Safari Cruises recently added the 86-passenger Safari Endeavour to its fleet of three yachts. The renovated ship will sail in Alaska's Inside Passage on weeklong, round trip itineraries from Juneau. Sister company InnerSea Discoveries also added a new ship, the 76-guest Wilderness Explorer that sails on weeklong adventure cruises one-way between Juneau and Sitka.
See birds, otters, and other wildlife on ice patches in the water.

Adventure Life is offering several new adventures to Alaska, including itineraries with luxury expedition cruise vessels. Travelers can choose from more than 25 small-ship adventures traveling to Prince William Sound, Glacier Bay, Point Adolphus and more. Trips range from eight to 15 days.

Alaskan Dream Cruises of Sitka will offer three new itineraries and additional ports of call (Ketchikan, Skagway, Haines, Thorne Bay, Kasaan, Wrangell and Gustavus) on its two renovated ships. Itineraries range from three, six, eight and 11-day cruises spotlighting the glaciers, wildlife and Native culture of Alaska's Inside Passage.

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic celebrates 30 years of Alaska exploration in 2012 with its new Undersea Alaska Program. An undersea specialist onboard each Alaska expedition will dive 40-80 feet below the water and collect high-definition footage to be shared with guests. Lindblad Expeditions' Alaska itineraries include the eight-day Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness and the 12-day Alaska, British Columbia and San Juan Islands trips. Its fleet includes two 62-guest vessels that voyage into remote passages where guests can explore by kayak or raft for up-close encounters with wildlife.

Information courtesy of TravelAlaska. Photos by Larry Burmeier

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day 2012: National Park Service implements "green" plan

With Earth Day approaching, it’s good to know that America’s national parks are taking the initiative to improve sustainability and influence the 280 million annual visitors to the parks.

Big Bend National Park in Texas was one of the first
parks to implement "green" practices a dcade ago.
National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis recently released the Green ParksPlan to focus on sustainable management of national parks and key environmental issues ranging from reducing energy and water consumption to limiting waste to lowering emissions of greenhouse gases.
“The Green Parks Plan is a comprehensive approach to sustainability that will reduce the National Park Service’s carbon footprint in every park and office,” Jarvis said during a news conference at the Lincoln Memorial. “It addresses how we will reduce energy and water consumption, limit the waste we generate, mitigate the effects of climate change, change what we buy and how we manage facilities.”

Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee
has programs studying and preserving natural elements.
By 2020, the National Park Service will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from on-site fossil fuel combustion and electricity consumption by 35 percent and non-irrigation potable water use by 30 percent. National Park Service employees – more than 20,000 – along with 220,000 volunteers, park partners and concessioners will implement the plan and adopt sustainability as a guiding value.
The Green Parks Plan has nine goals for how park facilities are managed and operated:
  • Meet or exceed the requirements of all applicable environmental laws.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and determine how facilities can be adapted to respond to the risk posed by climate change.
  • Improve energy performance and increase reliance on renewable energy.
  • Improve water use efficiency.
  • Transform vehicle fleet and adopt greener transportation methods.
  • Buy Green and Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
  • Minimize the impact of facility operations on the external environment.
  • Employ sustainable best practices in all park operations.
  • Engage visitors and invite them to take sustainable actions in the park and at home.

Jarvis highlighted two success stories, the Visitor Center at Santa Monica MountainsNational Recreation Area in California and the ranger station at John DayFossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. The buildings are called “Net Zero” because solar panels generate all power needed for operations and more.

Green actions keep water blue in
Rocky Mountain National Park
in Colorado,"the accessible
The Green Parks Plan also focuses on concessioners, many of whom have programs to recycle and compost waste, conserve water and energy and reduce fleet fuel consumption.
Other sustainability projects at national parks include:
  • Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The park has reached the Green Parks Plan goal with more than half of all waste diverted from the landfill and recycled.
  • The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The 90-year-old pool is gone, the new pool, which reduces water usage from 7 million to 5 million gallons of water, is due to open this summer.
  • Through relighting, Big Bend National Park in Texas reduced its light bill by 95 percent and garnered the park official “Dark Sky” designation from the International Dark-Sky Association. It’s one of 10 dark sky parks in the world and a boon to night sky tourism.
  • Assateague Island National Seashore installed solar panels that provide 50 percent of power at a new ranger station and solar power for night lights at campground toilets. It also has portable recycling units around the park to divert waste from the landfill.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier.
Information courtesy of Jeffrey Olson, National Park Service

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fiesta San Antonio celebrates heritage through multiple events

 Battle of Flowers Parade 2011
Colorful, vivacious, and historic—that’s Fiesta San Antonio. There’s not a festival anywhere that is better at combining fun, music, and heritage into a single event.

Texas Cavaliers River Parade 2011
Actually, it’s 100 events held over a span of 11 days—parades, concerts, coronations, art exhibits, athletic contests, and more--and half of those events are free. For the city of San Antonio it is a Party with a Purpose because each of the official events is produced by a local nonprofit organization or military unit. The funds raised by Fiesta events provide services to San Antonio citizens throughout the year.
Fiesta started in 1891 when a group of ladies decorated horse-drawn carriages and paraded in front of the Alamo, pelting each other with flowers. It began as a way to honor heroes of the Alamo and the victorious Battle of San Jacinto, which won Texas’ independence from Mexico on April 21, 1836—and this is still celebrated. The event was so successful that it was decided to hold the Battle of Flowers Parade every year.

Fiesta has evolved into one of America’s premier festivals, a celebration of San Antonio’s rich and diverse cultures, with an economic impact of more than $284 million for the Alamo City.
Fiesta del Rey 2011
For a complete list of Fiesta's historic ceremonies, events and activities, go here. Some of Fiesta's most interesting historic events are highlighted below.

A Day in Old Mexico & Charreada
April 22 & 29
Charro Ranch
Admission: $15 adults/$3 children
The Charreada is an equestrian tradition dating to colonial Mexico when the gentry prepared their horses and riders for war. Equestrian skill as an art form continues in the culture of CharrerĂ­a. This festival gives you a fascinating immersion in this age-old tradition, including athletic competitions, Mexican music, ballet folklorico and Mexican food and drink.
More >
This Hallowed Ground
April 21
Alamo Plaza
Admission: FREE
A walking tour of the original perimeter walls of the Alamo with living historians. Dig deep into how the battle was fought and view artifacts discovered on the Alamo grounds over the years.
More >

Monticello Park Historic District Tour of Homes
April 21
Monticello Park Historic District
Admission: $15
Self-guided tour of six beautiful homes in one of San Antonio's most eclectic historic neighborhoods. During the 1920s, Monticello Park was one of the most desirable in the city and the homes were designed by some of the city's leading architects of the time.
More >
Information courtesy of San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Photos courtesy of Fiesta committee.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Road trip safety essentials

Today’s guest post is from Robert Lobitz who represents LED Lights Warehouse.

Whether you are motoring across the country or just driving a few hours down the road, it is important to have a survival kit in the car with you. There are a few basic items to include, especially the following essentials.
Medical kit. The first thing that you need is a well-stocked first-aid kit. The basic med kits available at all-purpose stores do not have sufficient care items for an emergency. It is better to special order a survival kit with a hard-bodied case—one with enough space to add your own necessary or preferred items. If possible, get a case that is watertight to help protect the contents from water damage that will make them unusable. For example, sterile bandages become useless if the packaging is damaged.

Flashlight. You must have a reliable flashlight and an extra set of batteries in your car. The old style of flashlight is no longer adequate because chances are the batteries will be dead when you really need it. LED flashlights are the most durable and efficient flashlights on the market. Survival specialists even recommend LED flashlights powered by solar cells or a hand crank—no batteries needed. Flashlights are also handy for emergency repairs and checking under the hood when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.
Emergency flares. You should also have LED emergency lights with you. If your car runs out of power, your hazard lights may not work—a dangerous situation at night when oncoming cars may not be able to see your stopped vehicle. Stand-alone emergency lights with internal batteries will help prevent additional accidents when you’re stranded.
Gather these items, put them in your car, and keep them up to date. Periodically check the charge on batteries, expiration dates on medical supplies, and bulbs in your lights (when you change time on clocks is a good time to do this). A little effort now will keep you prepared in case of an emergency on the road.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Titanic fever floats new version of movie and museum exhibits

On April 12, 1912, the indomitable ocean liner Titanic sailed and sank, but 100 years later people are still fascinated by the fateful journey and stories of people on its maiden voyage.

Fifteen years after the latest Titanic movie became a blockbuster, a new 3-D version of James Cameron's "Titanic" is being released.  The conversion from 2-D took a team of 300 people working 60 weeks. It's expected to appeal to a new generation of viewers as well as those who saw and loved the original love story with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the big screen. Look for it in your local theaters.

The most notable new Titanic museum just opened in Belfast, Ireland, city where the ship was built and launched. But if you can’t get there, check out special exhibits and Titanic museums in the U.S. to become immersed in this stunning event from both an historical and personal standpoint.

Mystic, Connecticut12,450 Feet Below opens at the Mystic Aquarium, located two hours southwest of Boston, on April 12, 2012. This exhibit starts Titanic Week, April 12-18, an event presented by Sea Research Foundation. If you live in the Northeast, don’t miss this captivating, permanent exhibit marking the centenary of the ocean liner’s maiden voyage and tragic sinking.

Museum at Pigeon Forge
Orlando, FloridaTitanic, the Experience allows visitors to explore full scale recreations of the Titanic’s Grand Staircase, First Class Parlor Suite, Veranda CafĂ© and Promenade deck. Trained historians in period costumes portray famous Titanic notables sharing stories of passengers and crew during a guided journey. An extensive underwater area displays an 8-foot replica of the Titanic as she appears on the bottom of the Atlantic today as well as new HD footage of the wreck shot during the most recent expedition. Original memorabilia from Titanic movies is also on display.

Indian Orchard, Massachusetts—Home of the world-famous Titanic Historical Society Collection, the original commemorative venue has one of the finest collections of rare survivor artifacts. In the museum you can relive authentic 1912 events, see Titanic legends come to life, and view historical treasures.

Binoculars recovered
from the Titanic
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee—Experience what it was like to walk the hallways, parlors, cabins, and Grand Staircase of the Titanic while surrounded by more than 400 artifacts directly from the ship and its passengers. View an underwater eight-foot replica of the ship as it currently rests on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Branson, Missouri—Become a passenger on the giant liner’s disastrous maiden voyage and learn the history and events that led to the boat’s demise.  One hundred true personal stories of people connected to or on the ship are being shared online throughout the year. TITANIC museum is operating on schedule despite the recent tornado in Branson.

Heart pentand from
the Titanic on display
at Museum of Science
and Industry, Chicago
Other special exhibits—Artifacts and exhibitions commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic are currently on display at these additional venues around the country:
·       Atlanta Aquarium in Georgia
·       Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois
·       Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada
·       Museum of National Science in Houston, Texas



Monday, April 2, 2012

Ruins of Pompei invoke images of the city's disastrous fate

Today’s guest post is by Carolynne Woods, a transplanted Canadian currently living in Seattle, WA.  Formerly a Director of Sales with Hyatt Hotels International, she is now retired, but the passion for travel and history remain unabated.  Read her blog at

Outside the ruins of Pompei
The entrance to Pompei, the ancient city near Naples, Italy, that was partially buried by a volcanic eruption, is rather festive for such a somber location.  There is a fine hotel and restaurant and a well-stocked gift shop with souvenirs and replica statues.  Outside is a citrus stand that has not only fresh fruit but liqueurs that are citrus based.  Nearby many other souvenir stalls line the streets close to  tour bus loading zones.
Ancient streets of Pompei are historically preserved.
Pompei (European spelling has one i) evokes visions of hot, molten lava spewing down upon an unprepared city without warning.   It’s this mental image of such an epic tale that attracts hordes of tourists each year, including us.  We opted to tour the streets where it all happened and imagine what life had been like prior to this horrific event.  A visible hint to the weather conditions that the people of ancient Pompei dealt with was stepping stones embedded in the roads to enable crossing the streets during heavy rains.  The streets were well planned and were mapped in ancient times.  It is with these old records that the new nameplates are placed on the streets.  They also provide the physical layout for those unearthing the buried city. 

An eruption from Mount Vesuvious destroyed Pompei.
The main road has elevated sidewalks that have also withstood the passage of time although in some areas eroded gnarled limestone is crumbling from centuries of rain saturation.  The restoration project has attempted to retain as much of the original materials as possible.  There are spots where several stone towers about 15 feet high were listing, and they now have braces to try to return them to their ramrod straight former look.  Hidden in narrow side streets are less imposing but adequate structures that were homes of the less affluent.   
Pompei had a vibrant culture that is evident from the frescoes and other signs of amenities that existed in private villas.   Public baths had ornately painted walls and even offered hot and cold water.  In the outer area of the baths are macabre plaster replicas of some of the people of the city, caught in their death poses.  In the 1960’s Fiorelli realized there were voids in the ash layers that he believed were the decomposed bodies.  He developed a method of injecting plaster into these spaces to recreate the shapes of the victims. 

There are also huge public areas such as the Pompei Forum with a marble entry door still standing, a testament to the longevity of Roman structures, that led to their marketplace.  This is partially seen in the right hand side of the photo.  Fountains, brothels, villas and simple homes have been unearthed…shining a spotlight on the lifestyles in ancient Pompei.  Excavations continue, and each year more amazing discoveries surface while the ever powerful Mt. Vesuvius still looms menacingly over the ruins.  

Photos courtesy of  Carolynne Woods