Monday, February 27, 2017

Ocean simulator attracts cruisers to Royal Caribbean ships

When booking a cruise, many people never consider an inside cabin even though those are far less expensive than cabins with windows or balconies. Too confining, they say, and you never know what’s happening when you can’t see outside.
RoyalCaribbean has created a way to keep guests in the know even when they are bunking in an inside cabin. Navigator of the Seas was their first ship for which certain interior cabins have a simulator wall called a virtual balcony. This impressive innovation was rolled out in 2014 and has been added to other ships in the Royal Caribbean line since then.

The virtual balcony is really an 80-inch projection LED screen recessed into the wall that shows real-time images of the sky and ocean taken elsewhere on the ship. To make it more realistic, you’ll also hear sounds of the ocean or sounds from the dock when the ship is in port.
Passengers say it feels like you’re looking out a large window and allows you to enjoy the view just like passengers who actually have outside access. In fact, the wall has curtains, just as an actual window would. The best part is you can turn the picture and sound on or off, as you please, which is handy because the camera operates 24/7.

Navigator ofthe Seas features virtual balconies for 98 inside cabins. The view you see is determined by the position of the screen in each room. For example, if your cabin is on the port side of the ship, your view will be from the port side.

Even if you can’t book one of these innovative cabins, there are still times when an interior cabin may work out okay. If you’re sailing in the Caribbean—Western, Eastern, or Southern—and expect to spend balmy port days on shore engaging in different activities, you may not use a balcony so much.

When the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll probably spend more time enjoying amenities in public areas such as the FlowRider Surf Simulator, rock climbing wall, or ice skating rink. Your cabin then becomes just a place to sleep, and you may not miss a balcony at all.

I’d love to try out the virtual balcony and see how close it comes to the real thing.
Photos from free sources.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Discovering the mountains and forests of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in Washington is filled with myriad wonders. It’s a huge park at almost a million acres—really three parks in one with diverse geography encompassing mountains, seashore, and rain forest.  That was enough to entice us to visit last September, and our discoveries of nature in this splendid place remain as cherished memories.
My husband Larry and I and friend Deb flew from Texas to Seattle, rented a car, and started our road trip that would also include Mt. Rainier National Park. Our destination the first night was Port Angeles, which would be our kick-off point for the first part of the journey—in the massive Olympic Mountains.

Hurricane Ridge is the iconic feature that everyone wants to visit, so naturally Hurricane Ridge Road is the most popular scenic road in the park. That was our destination on arrival—and the must-see spot if you only have one day to spend there.
A visit to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at the edge of Port Angeles, the nearest city to the national park, gave us an overview of the topography. Then we drove for 20 miles where the road curved and climbed into a mountain zone and then into a sub-alpine region at 5,000 feet.

The first 10 miles or so featured tall Douglas fir trees before adding silver fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. As we gained elevation, the trees became sorter and clumped together more in a thick forest.  Although some wildflowers were still blooming, we were past prime time (mid-summer) to see paintbrush, lilies, and heather in open meadows.
That was a quick trip, but two days later, when the persistent fog had cleared, we returned to Hurricane Ridge to take a couple of hikes. Near the visitor center, we first tackled the short but uphill trek to Sunrise Point. At the top of the hill views of mountains and landscapes were enveloped in a residual haze from forest fire smoke.

After a snack at a picnic area (gotta fuel up for the next trek!), we rounded out the morning with the Hurricane Hill hike—3.2 miles round trip on an uphill path with elevation gain of 700 feet.  The path was well-maintained and paved at the beginning, but it became quite steep as it traveled to (and past) the tree line, ending at 5757 feet, the highest accessible point in Olympic National Park.
During the last mile switchbacks lead to the summit, slowing down our pace a bit. Of course, taking time to enjoy spectacular views of Port Angeles and the ocean beyond also gave us time to catch our breath. Although the day was sunny and pleasant with temperature in the 60s, the gauzy haze affected our ability to see more of the Olympic Mountains. Had we known exactly where to look on a clear day, we might have recognized Vancouver Island, the Cascade Mountain Range, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier.

Although we  watched for grazing deer, the only wildlife we saw was one marmot. Still, it was a fun hike that took a little over two hours to complete—not bad considering how often we stop to take pictures. During the following week we experienced more of Olympic's dynamic landscapes and understood completely why it was named a national park in 1938 and attracts so many repeat visitors.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, February 11, 2017

National park passes are a great bargain

Much attention was paid to America’s national parks during 2016, the centennial year of the National Park Service. These destinations are truly America’s greatest idea, and I encourage all my readers to visit at least one national park, forest, seashore, or monument each year.

Lifetime passes to America’s national parks for senior citizens and Americans with disabilities are available at any of the country’s more than 400 federal recreation sites that come under protection of the National Park Service. You can also get these passes through the mail, which may be more convenient for some people.

"National parks are places to share with children, grandchildren, and other family members” says National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “They facilitate recreation and healthy living. Many parks, including Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Denali, have trails that are accessible to people with limited mobility and to wheelchair users. We also have many accessible camping and picnic areas," Jarvis adds.

Senior passes are available for $10.00 to citizens age 62 or older. Access passes are free for people who have permanent disabilities regardless of age. U. S. Military and their dependents also qualify for free annual passes that provide admission to, and use of, federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees. Pass users also receive a small discount in gift shops and a 50% discount on some fees for activities like camping and launching a boat.

You can print out an application for a senior or access pass at Once the application package is received and the documentation verified, the pass will be mailed to you. There is a $10 processing fee to receive a pass by mail but no additional fee if you purchase the pass at a park.

Anyone can purchase an annual pass for $80 that covers the owner and three accompanying adults over age 16 (there’s no charge for children 15 and younger) This pass is good for one year at all parks that charge an entrance fee—still a good bargain, especially if you live near one of the popular parks or plan a vacation to several at a time.

The next fee-free day for the 120 national parks that normally charge an entrance fee is February 20, 2017, Presidents Day. Fee-free days provide a great opportunity to discover a new park or visit an old favorite. Keep in mind that some sites are always free.

For more information, visit or Learn more at

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and free sites

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Give happiness in the form of experiences this holiday season

Still have names on your holiday gift list--and no idea what to get? 

Happiness on Christmas morning doesn't depend on the number of presents under the tree. That's true for children as well as adults. Research shows that the more toys a child has (and that includes grown-up toys, too), the less those "toys" are actually played with. 

For little ones, an abundance of toys and games can be overwhelming and distracting, so they really don't concentrate on learning from those toys. Even more, gratitude and generosity typically get lost under scads of Santa paper and colorful bows. 

For adults, the learning curve for many "big boy toys" can be so steep that procrastination sets in, or it's hard to find time to really enjoy them. For everyone, the excitement of unwrapping items fades quickly.

So what does that mean if you're in a frenzied shopping mode? Stop stressing about buying more, and consider ways to spend more time with your children or significant others. 

Giving experiences rather than things has many benefits.

Go ahead—take that vacation! Go to a cherished sports event or concert. Go skydiving or zip lining. The memories last longer. And it's healthier for everyone to connect and share rather than engaging in solitary moments with individual toys or objects.

The personal benefits of travel have been widely studied, but Americans get the least amount of vacation time among countries in the industrialized world, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association.  Even when allowed unlimited vacation time, a trend more corporations are adopting, most people don’t take as much time off as they should.

There are several reasons why time away can help you live longer and happier.
Relaxing on a lovely beach makes a healthy vacation.
Health benefits: Research shows that an annual vacation can cut a person’s risk of heart attack by 50 percent. Even a short holiday can bring down blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones. Active leisure time directly contributes to higher levels of physical and mental health—with a bonus that travelers sleep better. Experiences also help improve social and emotional development for all ages.

Anticipation: Other research has shown that the path to happiness is paved with planning and waiting for an event to happen puts your brain in overdrive with anticipation. Delayed gratification is a great lesson for children, too, as they savor thinking about the upcoming experience longer.
So many places to drive or hike--plan your activities.
Enjoyment: A study from Cornell University shows that people who spend discretionary income on experiences such as travel are happier than when buying material goods. Think how happy society as a whole could be if people focused on getting away from routine more and stretching their boundaries a little.

Relationships: Studies show that 40 percent of travelers feel more romantic on vacation, and more than half of working Americans say they come back from a vacation feeling reconnected with their family. Spending time with family can yield the biggest bonuses for everyone. 
Improve work performance: Spending time away from school or office, especially by traveling, also helps prevent burnout and improves performance after returning from a vacation. By relieving stress, time away reduces absences, increases efficiency, and helps you bring a fresh approach to work issues.

Discover new places like the Wynwood Arts district in Miami.
Memories: Think about the pleasure you get from talking about and sharing experiences with others afterwards (got a stack of photos or videos to show?). The Cornell University study supports the pleasurable memory factor since it found that people get more retrospective enjoyment and satisfaction from experiential purchases than from material purchases. Your kids will talk about the experiences with you for years to come.
Reconnect with loved ones during
shared experiences.
Life satisfaction: Even planning vacation travel generates an increase in positive feelings about one’s life, family, economic situation, and health.  Looking forward to an event often opens up a person for conversation and can help lift depression of people dealing with emotional traumas. Spending time at pleasant vacation locations, exercising during vacation, and making new acquaintances helps people keep their lives in balance.

With all those benefits, it’s time to change your mindset for gifting this year. Sites such as Groupon and Living Social offer a multitude of activities for which you can purchase gift certificates. From race car driving to visiting a safari park to staying in a tree house to extended international trips, these can be purchased at large discounts without hitting a mall.

Photos by Larry and  Beverly Burmeier