Tag: cruise excursion

Scintillating Skagway, Alaska: a Wilderness Wonderland!

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White Pass railway train

Skagway, Alaska is a remote wilderness wonderland, and frequent port on Alaskan cruise itineraries. Nicknamed “gateway to the Klondike,” Skagway has an illustrious history of people embarking on a risky but exciting adventure with the ambition of getting rich during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a sleepy town that resembles an Old West movie set combined with tourist commercialism in response to the large number of cruise ships that dock here throughout the summer. I visited while on the Alaska itinerary for the Norwegian Bliss. Luckily, the commercialism does not significantly detract from the historical interest of the architecture in town.

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“Downtown” Skagway today

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Skagway in 1898, during the Gold Rush (public domain image)

My highest recommendation for what to do in Skagway after a stroll through town to observe the Old West late 1800s architecture is a ride on the White Pass train. This train ride affords spectacular views of the White Pass Mountains, including remote wilderness, vast forests, waterfalls, wildlife, and glaciers (including during the summer.)

 

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White Pass train engine

Besides the scenic views, it is fascinating to contemplate, as you listen to the whistles and chugging of the train and feel the vibration of its powerful motor, the efforts involved in building this rail track through these steep, imposing mountains. You traverse over massive bridges, through long tunnels, and on the edge of the mountain. (Afraid of heights? Consider yourself warned!)

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Views from the train

There are a variety of train routes you may take in varying lengths, the longest making it’s way up into the Yukon Territory of Canada. You may purchase tickets for the train ride directly from the operator in town, or purchase an excursion or tour that includes the train ride as one of the included attractions, as I did.

 

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Gold panning lesson

Another attraction included on my tour ticket was a gold panning lesson. During this experience, a very animated woman in period costume explained and demonstrated the process of panning for gold. Following the demonstration, I was handed a pan and given a trough out of which to pan for my own gold. Staff make the rounds to help anyone in need of assistance, but I was still confused… when turning in my gold for an appraisal, it was appraised at about $5. (You do get to keep the gold as a souvenir.) Others did better than I did! The experience was very touristy, but I learned a thing or two about the Gold Rush culture and process of panning nonetheless.

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Iditarod racer lecture

The other portion of the tour I participated in included a sled dog lesson and demonstration. This began with a lecture given by an Iditarod racer, who showed and explained her equipment and discussed what the experience of participating in the Iditarod entails and what life is like for both racer and sled dog. Her presentation was, albeit somewhat touristy, engaging and informative. A short video presentation was also given.

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Sled dogs on a dry run in the summer

After the lecture, a sled dog “race” was simulated on dirt (given it was summer) on a dry run. The audience was introduced to the sled dogs on the team, and allowed to pet both the sled dogs and the puppies on site.

The train experience was definitely the highlight of any trip to Skagway, but if you can overlook the touristy veneer of some of the other offerings in the area much can be learned about history and culture in Alaska!

You may view my full video tour (including all of the above listed attractions!) here:

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Harmonious Helsinki, Finland!

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Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki was the next stop on my cruise through the Baltic Sea on Norwegian Breakaway. Probably the most recognizable sight in Helsinki, and the top priority for many visitors, is the neoclassical, multi-domed Helsinki Cathedral in Market Square. This landmark serves as a gathering point for Fins to congregate and socialize on its massive steps. Perched high, it stands as a beacon to be recognized throughout the city, inviting all to partake in its pleasures.

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Neoclassical Architecture around Market Square

Neoclassical architecture is prevalent in Market Square. Usually a vast, open square, it was replete with military tanks during this visit, which I was hastily advised was temporary and in celebration of a patriotic event. Well thank goodness for that!

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Sibelius Monument: Organ Pipes Portion

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Sibelius Monument: Likeness Portion

Designed in honor of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the Sibelius Monument is a symphony for the eyes. It was introduced in 1967, and is housed in Sibelius Park, a wonderland of natural beauty, and a perfect example of the Finnish ideal of people living harmoniously with their natural surroundings. Witnessing the locals frolicking in park settings like this, it is clear the Fins treasure the natural beauty that surrounds them. The monument has two separate parts: one resembling an organ and another with Sibelius’ likeness. Sibelius’ head rests contentedly upon the rocks, drawing the natural beauty of the rocks into the sculpture, man one with nature.

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Rock Church: Exterior

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Rock Church: Interior

Temppeliaukio Church, also known as “Rock Church,” provides another fine example of the Fins connectedness with the natural world. Constructed into solid rock and with a giant skylight to flood the pews in sunlight, it is a testament to the wondrous quality of nature. The rock provides incredible acoustics for the music, which you don’t need to attend a service to delight in.

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Uspenski Cathedral

In stark contrast, Uspenski Cathedral is a more elaborate and exotic Eastern Orthodox Church. This church showcases the Russian architectural influence in the city. Russian Emperor Alexander II is commemorated within, who reigned over the Grand Duchy of Finland in the 1800s. Throughout the city there are remnants of Finland’s Russian-culture swayed past.

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Modern Helsinki

 

Today Helsinki has a shortage of housing and modern structures are springing up all around. The buildings shown above are near the Port, where many more buildings illustrating futuristic zeal are currently under construction.

You can view my video tour of Helsinki here!:

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Seductive St. Petersburg, Russia!

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The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

An overnight stay in St. Petersburg, Russia was the next stop on my Norwegian Breakaway Baltic Sea cruise, and this seductive city turned out to be the most exotic, enticing destination I had ever visited!

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The Hermitage Interior

The Hermitage, in all of it’s baroque brilliance, was worth braving the overbearing crowds. Dripping with glistening gold and brilliant, bold pastel and jewel-toned colors, it was a spectacular sight to behold! The priceless works of art housed within were almost an afterthought to the marvels of interior architectural design! Room after room I was breathtakingly awe-inspired!

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Church of the Spilled Blood, Under Restoration

The Romantic Nationalist design Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built between 1883 and 1907, is a St. Petersburg landmark, with its signature onion domes in brilliant gold and bright colors. It was under restoration, so my view was unfortunately limited. It is well-known for it’s magnificent mosaics.

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One of Two Rostral Columns (Lighthouse)

Two towering columns, the “Rostral Columns,” served as lighthouses commemorating Naval victory. The statues at the base represent Russia’s major rivers. The Old Stock Exchange can be seen in the background.

The Peter and Paul Fortress, originally St. Petersburg’s citadel, now houses the State Museum of St. Petersburg History. The St. Peter and Paul Cathedral is another bastion of baroque brilliance, and is celebrated as St. Petersburg’s oldest landmark. Packed with people, it was difficult to navigate – but given some extra time it is possible to slowly work your way to the front for an enthralling view of its spectacular baroque altar.

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“Russian Folkloric Extravaganza”

The Russian Folkloric Extravaganza, and evening show held in St. Petersburg, provides a poignant peek into Russian cultural heritage! Fabulously filled with traditional costumes, acrobatic dancing, sword throwing, soulful singing, and a bear costume (!), it is a delight to witness. Added bonus: the theater it is held in gives a glimpse into gloriously tacky Soviet-era architecture and art!

A visit to St. Petersburg, Russia is a rare treat, and, I would argue, I must-visit for anyone given the opportunity! If you visit aboard a cruise ship a visa will not even be necessary – your excursions serve as your visa, and customs-immigration is a breeze to pass through (it was easier than customs-immigrations in the U.S.!) On the downside you can’t explore on your own, but your day will be packed full of spectacular sights nonetheless. If you have more time a visa – booked several months in advance – may be the way to go.

You can watch the St. Petersburg video tour here:

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Tantilizing Tallinn, Estonia: A Medieval Marvel

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Tallinn, Estonia provides a fascinating glance into medieval times, and into modern-day life in a former Soviet controlled country. The residents of Tallinn proudly embrace and celebrate freedom, and they cherish their medieval heritage in one of the best-preserved examples of medieval-architectured old towns anywhere.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is arguably the most fascinating attraction in Tallinn. It is a Russian Revival style Cathedral built between 1894 and 1900, a time period when Tallinn was a part of the Russian Empire. The namesake of the Cathedral, Alexander Nevsky, was victorious in the Battle of the Ice, Lake Peipus, present-day Estonia. Its signature onion domes burst up into the sky towering above all else, guiding all to witness it in all of its spectacular glory!

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Kadriorg Palace

The Kadriorg Palace of Catherine I of Russia is a baroque masterpiece currently serving as home to the Art Museum of Estonia. Its fanciful pink pastel exterior shines brightly, providing a warm welcome to those entering the city at this popular entry point.

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Cobblestoned Streets, Hard-Bitten Buildings

Tallinn has boldly risen from the ashes of Soviet dominance, and has a plethora of meticulous renovations on historic architecture as well as cutting-edge modern buildings to show for it. But head off the beaten path, down a cobbled side street, and you can catch a glimpse of the “other” Estonia – the impact that Soviet rule had on their economy and the hard work the Estonians have taken around the city to restore their urban landscape. Understandably, it will take time for these restorations to be complete. For now, the decay of some of these buildings provide important historical reminders.

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Views from Patkuli Viewing Platform over Old Town

From the Patkuli Viewing Platform you are afforded spectacular views over old town, into the modern district, and of the port (note the docked cruise ships here!) Tallinn’s signature red rooftops blanket the old town district.

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Tallinn: Old and New

This overlook is an ideal “first stop” before you head into Old Town, to catch an overview, and gain a perspective that includes both old and new that you cannot witness from street level. This view encompasses the spirit of the Tallinn of today – as a meticulous caretaker to history and modern metropolis all at once.

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Surprising Spires around Every Corner

Old Town in Tallinn is a medieval history buff’s playground, with spires popping up around many corners, hilly cobbled pedestrian paths, and street musicians galore. I enjoyed the talents of more street musicians here than I have in any other city I have ever visited!

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Cafes in Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square is surrounded by powdery-pastel gabled buildings, brilliantly adorned with intricate details. Cafes abound here – an ideal place to enjoy the magnificent architectural surroundings and observe Tallinn residents enjoying their freedom and fulfilling their ambitions.

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Gustav Ernesaks Memorial

The Gustav Ernesaks Memorial, dedicated to the Estonian composer of the same name, is located at the Song Festival Grounds. Gustav Ernesaks is perhaps most well known for composing ‘Mu isamaa on menu arm,’ which the tourism bureau describes as “the unofficial anthem of the Estonians during the Soviet era.” (visitestonia.com) My guide explained that this location is of great sentimental importance to the Estonians because of this connection, symbolic of their independent spirit.

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Performers with Traditional Medieval Instruments

What better way to complete a visit to Tallinn than with a concert performed in the traditional medieval style? You can see these performers and more on my tour of Tallinn here:

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Captivating Copenhagen: Scintillating City

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen

My Baltic Sea Cruise on Norwegian Breakaway began with embarkation port Copenhagen, Denmark. I relished the opportunity to spend a couple of days in this unexpectedly alluring city!

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Borsen (old stock exchange)

If you can overcome the high cost of staying in the city, the rewards are priceless! I made it my mission to make the most of my precious time in Copenhagen by getting a comprehensive overview and then prioritizing which locations I wanted to investigate further with a double-decker bus tour. I was thrilled to learn that not only would I get the second morning of touring the city free, but that Gray Line Bus has an arrangement with the cruise lines that provides shuttle service to the ports included with your double-decker ticket. I would be able to spend the whole day on day one, and all morning on day two, exploring the city with transportation provided – followed by a convenient means to reach the port for my cruise.

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Little Mermaid Statue

What I like most about the double-decker bus tours is your ability to explore independently, at your own pace, without spending valuable time on public transportation and with long-distance walking. I don’t mean to knock public transportation – and often take advantage of it when traveling – but I find that in a very expensive city where I have limited time the convenience of the double-decker bus is a good value, because I can spend more time enjoying what the city has to offer and less time worrying about how to get from “point a” to “point b,” and then doing it.

Ultimately, I ended up getting off the bus at almost every stop – something I don’t usually find myself doing on these tours. You don’t hear as much about Copenhagen as some other European capitals – yet Copenhagen is no less endowed with incredible sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.

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Tivoli

I started my day walking to the bus stop with a detour into a coffee shop by the train station (my very modest but very expensive hotel only offered breakfast at an additional mind-bogglingly high charge.) The aroma wafting from the cafe was mesmerizing to my sense of scent, enveloping me and dragging me in for what turned out to be some of the most delicious specialty coffee and pastry I had ever savored. The barista was tolerant of the few pitiful words of Danish I could muster, providing service with a smile. I gazed out at the locals strolling past Tivoli across the street, and tourists stumbling out of the train station in the other direction, looking baffled and enthralled all at once, just as I had done the day before.

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City Hall

I left the cafe immanently satisfied and made my way to the bus stop next to City Hall. Tourists frolicked in the square facing City Hall, its tower proudly rising up into the skyline like a boastful exclamation point. I boarded the bus brimming with excitement of how the city would inspire my other senses – and my expectations were exceeded!

The bus meandered through spectacular public squares patriotically lined with Danish flags, past indulgent old palaces dripping with opulence – and the sleek lines of ultra-modern structures exemplifying the cutting-edge Denmark of today. I departed the bus filled with wonder at almost every stop, and strolled along the canals, pedestrian retail zones, and historic areas. All of my senses fully satiated, I felt happily whole.

Copenhagen was a fitting first stop on this cruise through the Baltic – a preamble of the exciting, thrilling, and inspiring journey I was about to undertake!

My video tour is available here:

 

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Brilliant Berlin: City of Contrasts and the Vital Lessons of History

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Checkpoint Charlie

Aboard the Norwegian Breakaway’s Baltic Sea cruise, the first stop (after embarkation point at Copenhagen) is Warnemunde, the gateway to Berlin for cruise ships. However, it’s no small feat to get to Berlin from there – as a 2 hour train ride each way is required. Fortunately, the trip is well worth it! Be prepared for a very long but exciting day if you decide to make the trip!

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Holocaust Memorial with Reichstag in the Background

The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most compelling sites in Berlin. I was fascinated by the positioning of the Holocaust Memorial in relation to the Reichstag building. The official name for the Holocaust Memorial is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” but this name is controversial given the fact that Jews were not the only population of people sent to concentration camps or the gas chambers. As someone with Polish ancestry I can appreciate the spirit of this controversy and will refer to it as the Holocaust Memorial here. The memorial encompasses 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights lined up in rows. It is a sombre sight, in many ways resembling a cemetery, but one where the departed are nameless and without individual identity, perhaps a metaphor for the way that those who died in the Holocaust were perceived by their executioners. It is movingly fitting that the Reichstag stands tall in the background – its giant glass dome a metaphor for the new transparency that would be imposed on German leadership for the people. It is the Parliament building, where the general population can advance up through the dome and have an overview of the political proceedings below. Like many landmarks in Berlin, these places and their design serve as reminders never to repeat the mistakes of history.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Church

Another stunning reminder is the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, standing crippled next to its modern reconstruction. It stands testament against the perils and destructive forces of war, at once eerie and beautiful, a deeply moving sight to behold.

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Checkpoint Charlie “soldiers”

Checkpoint Charlie is yet another reminder of the possible consequences of war – of people divided, of people deprived. This was the gateway through the Berlin Wall, passing through which was a dream for many that would never come true. Despite the fact that it is a highly touristy photo opportunity, it is still well worth the visit for its historical significance and the chance to reflect on the lessons of the past.

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Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall is an impressive span of eclectic art, much of it promoting freedom and celebrating human resilience and will. Given that the wall previously represented oppression, this is a fitting message for the former East German area of modern Germany.

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TV Tower

The Fernseheturm, or TV tower is the tallest structure in Germany. It towers over the city of Berlin, in the heart of the former East Germany, like a giant exclamation point amid the capitalist bastion of Alexanderplatz, abound with corporate skyscrapers and an abundance of retail shops. The irony is inspiring!

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Brandenburg Gate

No visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of Berlin. Originally commissioned by Prussian King Frederick William II and completed in 1791, it was here that the ceremony to celebrate the reunification of Germany post-Cold War took place. It aptly represents the span of German history and resilience of the German people.

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Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace, completed in 1713, is the largest palace in Germany. It serves as Berlin’s best answer to the baroque style of architecture so prevalent in many of the historic structures throughout Germany. Here in Berlin, this baroque style fascinatingly stands in such sharp contrast to the brash and minimalist Socialist Classicism architecture of the former East Germany that you can still find in other neighborhoods of Berlin.

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Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz is the site of the State Opera, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and university buildings. The greatest draw to Bebelplatz, however, is that it was the location of the Nazi Book Burning in 1933, where approximately 20,000 books were burned by the Nazi Students’ League and Hitler Youth following a speech given by Joseph Goebbels. A memorial of empty bookcases can be viewed beneath a glass panel on the ground.

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Lunch featuring German specialties

Berlin’s a big city to explore, and what better way to refuel your resources mid-visit than a delicious lunch of German specialties? This plate of Sauerkraut, German potatoes, sausage, pork, and tasty meat patty can really give you the energy boost you need to embark on such an adventure!

Berlin is a fascinating city of contrast and the vital lessons of history. You can view my tour here:

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Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos by HXT Electric Hummer – an electrifying experience!

 

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HXT Electric Hummers

The first stop for week two on my back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore was Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos. Grand Turk is an outstanding cruise destination and one I would gladly re-visit time and time again. Not only are the excursions I have taken here some of the best I’ve ever taken, but back at port there is a breathtaking public beach (with free lounge chairs and umbrellas) with the most crystal clear waters and spectacular views I have ever seen on a beach anywhere! Hedonists rejoice!

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Views of the beach and salt flats of Grand Turk

As you wander through the playful port, you realize quickly that John Glenn is highly honored here. Consistent with my tour guide’s proclamation that “John Glenn put us on the map!” there is an exhibit at port highlighting Glenn’s significant contribution to the island. The exhibit includes a life-size statue of Glenn and replicas of the Atlas rocket and Friendship 7 capsule (which landed here in the waters a couple of miles from Grand Turk in 1962 after completing the Mercury 7 mission – you can see the original nearby, one of the stops our Hummer tour made.) If you can pull yourself away from the incredible beaches, it’s worth a look!

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John Glenn exhibit, port of Grand Turk

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Beautiful beaches at the Port, Grand Turk

It was daunting facing driving on the “wrong” side of the road (yes, they do that here!) in the electric Hummer, but once I gave it a try, just following the guide and hearing the frequent reminders to “stay on the left!” after every turn, it was no problem at all. I think anyone could handle it with no issues. Perhaps in a big city it would be more overwhelming – but here it was easy with very little traffic. The Hummers are convertible, allowing the warmth of the sun and light breeze of the wind to wash over you while you enjoy quite a comprehensive tour of the island. The Hummers are an absolute blast to drive, and being fully automatic they are easy to drive too, allowing you to focus on the amazing views.

The tour was very intimate and personalized, with my son and I in one Hummer, and only one couple in one other Hummer on the tour. Apparently not a lot of people booked it – and boy were they missing out! We made a few stops where the guide offered us more information about the island, including a wildlife sanctuary, a salt flats, the “downtown,” (shown above… very peaceful and relaxed!), and the original Friendship 7 capsule I mentioned above. You can see more on these stops in the video posted below. The stops were informative and fun… but to be honest I couldn’t wait to get back in the Hummer!!

I was disappointed when the tour had to come to an end, but having a beach break to look forward to before curfew on the ship made leaving my trusty hummer behind more tolerable!

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Beach bliss

Want to see more? I filmed the tour and you can watch it here!:

I am thrilled to report that I upgraded my filming equipment for these videos – however, this trip was filmed before then. I will be posting soon on my trip to Europe where you will see the difference! Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to further satisfy your travel fix!: Heather Anne’s Ultimate Travel Adventures.

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Next stop next week: Princess Cays, Bahamas, which was stop two of week two of the cruise! Thanks for joining in on the adventure!

Basking in Bermuda Part 2: Hamilton, St. George’s, Pink Sand Beaches, Glass-Bottom Boat

I wasn’t sure the next day in Bermuda, focused on Bermuda’s cities, could top my experiences of the previous day. Yet, in it’s own way, this alternative look at Bermuda was equally enthralling!

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Horseshoe Bay Beach: One of Bermuda’s Famous “Pink Sand” Beaches

The day began with a stop at one of Bermuda’s famous “pink sand” beaches, Horseshoe Bay beach. I was even more struck by how quiet and peaceful the beach was than by the color of the sand, which I would describe as more pink-ish than outright pink. In Bermuda, there are small red organisms that live among the coral. When they pass away they drop to the ocean floor and combine with coral and crushed shell, and when this substance washes up on the beach it gives the sand Bermuda’s signature pink hue. Contrasting with the brilliant aqua ocean, the beach is a magnificent sight, and I would have loved to have spent the day. Especially since this would have been a great change of pace from the crowded beaches back home! But the cities were waiting to be discovered!

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Hamilton

Hamilton, at about the middle of the main island, was founded in 1790. Hamilton is a vibrant pastel-colored cityscape with lively bars, restaurants, shopping, and businesses. Bermuda’s economic hub is highly developed, modern, and exciting! Palm trees dot the bustling harbor front with a backdrop of banks and government buildings. Hamilton means business! I wandered the streets, allowing the city vibe to sink in. Hamilton is easily reached from the port by ferry or van, and is well worth the excursion. It’s a great place to people-watch from an outdoor cafe, see Bermuda’s version of the “skyscraper,” (New Yorkers, please resist the temptation to scoff!) or spend way too much money in the expensive retail outlets! (The Bermuda dollar’s value is maintained at equal to the U.S. dollar, and U.S. dollars are eagerly welcomed in shops and restaurants!)

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Busy Hamilton Intersection

After the brisker pace of Hamilton, I was ready to slow down in the more quaint city of St. George’s. St. George’s was founded in 1612, at the northernmost tip of the main island. Here, historic recreations are played out in front of City Hall by elaborately costumed actors, a jumble of sailboat masts reach for baby-blue skies, and empty, narrow streets wind through charming colonial pastel architecture.

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Road Less Traveled, St’ George’s

While Hamilton plays the boisterous younger sibling, St. George’s plays the more settled down, graceful older one. Strolling among soft breezes, watching sailboats bob in the harbor, getting a glimpse of old-fashioned British phone booths, and being enveloped by a rainbow of pastel on it’s narrow streets, St. George’s is a delightful step back in time.

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Green Phone Booth, St. George’s

From the Royal Naval Dockyard, to Hamilton, to St. George’s, Bermuda’s hubs have their own unique personalities – and I enjoyed getting to know them all. The British may have seen Bermuda as an opportunity to keep an eye on America. But with all of these lovely distractions right here in Bermuda I’m not sure how!

After a few minutes of freshening up, it was time for a night out on the open sea – aboard a glass-bottom boat for a shipwreck tour. I was skeptical – the excursion had some negative reviews, and any tour which includes viewing wildlife – land or sea – can be hit or miss depending on who decides to show up for the party. But it turned out to be an outstanding tour, with very entertaining guides, a visible shipwreck both in, and sticking out of, the ocean, and loads of fish, coral, and other interesting sights below. You can see for yourself on the video below!

I filmed a second video of Bermuda covering the sights mentioned in this blog, which you may view here:

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Basking in Bermuda Part 1: Royal Naval Dockyard, Crystal Caves, & Aquarium

Glad you’re back for the next installment in my Carnival Pride back-to-back cruise series! The first week of the cruise meant a visit to one destination for four days: Bermuda. This first post will cover my exploration of the Royal Naval Dockyeard, the Crystal Caves, and the Aquarium, Zoo, & Museum.

The Royal Naval Dockyard is flush with British history and icons. The fortress and slumbering cannons provide the backdrop for cheeky, bright red phone booths. Tropical palm trees stand out like exclamation points to remind us of the Empire’s colonial reach.

Iconic Images at Royal Naval Dockyard

A stroll through the Royal Naval Dockyard is also a patriotic reminder for American visitors of why this large Naval base was built up: because we kicked the British out! Through their presence in Bermuda, Britain could make an effort at keeping a watchful eye on us.

I ordered a monster sized glass of amber-colored beer from the local brewery, the Frog and Onion Pub. They call it the “Big Ben.” It was just the perfect serving to spend a long time lingering here, soaking in the history and sunshine.

When the sun set, the water glistened in the moonlight and bold silhouettes of the twin clock towers shined with the glow of their lights in front of a backdrop of clear, star-littered black sky. It was time to rest up for a busy day of sightseeing tomorrow.

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I took a tour featuring an excursion around the island, including stops at the Crystal Caves and the Aquarium, Zoo, & Museum. The caves are a natural wonder formed during the Pleistocene Ice Age, later discovered by two teenage boys playing cricket in 1907. The cave ceilings are dripping with stalactites, and floors are coated with stalagmites. These limestone caves are truly a sight to behold, eerie and other-worldly while at the same time beautiful. The “crystal” in the name refers to the crystal clear water at the base of the cave. Here, it is easy to see how these waters have become a black hole for cellphones, sunglasses and other modern conveniences that were dropped and never retrieved. I can’t say I’m surprised – the views are so awe-inspiring in here I can see how someone could easily get distracted and drop what they were holding.

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Crystal Caves

I, however, emerged from the caves my personal belongings intact, and I boarded the bus to head on to the Aquarium, Zoo, & Museum, where I would witness an abundance of varieties of tropical fish and other sea creatures as well as an interesting assortment of animals.

The flamingos and fish were bursting with color, and the chorus of squawking by the flamingos was endlessly entertaining! The seals were very friendly, gliding through the waters and poking their heads out as they came around to greet me! The museum housed interesting displays describing the natural habitats of the island.

Next it was a return to the Royal Naval Dockyard and the ship for some rest in preparation for another exciting day in Bermuda tomorrow. Next week: Bermuda’s cities – Hamilton and St. George’s, as well as the famous pink sand beach!

My YouTube video is available for this time in Bermuda here!:


As always, thanks for coming along on my travels!

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Harvest Caye, Belize: Port, and Excursion (More Wildlife “Bore” than Wildlife “Tour”!)

Belize 5 (1 of 1)

The Grand Finale port of the Norwegian Dawn’s Western Caribbean cruise was Harvest Caye, Belize. I was amazed by the size of the port and number of amenities available. There are multiple huge beaches with an ample source of brightly hued blue and yellow lounge chairs and umbrellas, a gigantic pool with swim-up bar, the usual (only more of it!) shopping and restaurants, and a number of adventure sporting activities including parasailing and zip-lining.

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We enjoyed a local percussion band while we awaited our excursion. Sold by the description indicating there would be manatees to see on this wildlife tour, I was eagerly awaiting our departure. We boarded a small boat that sailed into an area called the “mangroves,” a kind of coastal swamp with trees forming bundles of dense, tangled roots. Apparently this setting is favored by much of the native wildlife, including manatees.

 

We saw several different varieties of birds, and some creepy jellyfish, but I did not see a manatee. A few poked their noses out of the water – and otherwise stayed submerged. I know – a wildlife tour is no “guarantee” that you’re going to see wildlife… but it’s still disappointing, especially when the brochure shows the full body of a manatee as an enticement… It did not seem as though they liked coming up out of the water. All in all, it ended up being the least enjoyable cruise excursion I’ve ever been on. I think I will probably avoid these wildlife tours in the future, because of the potential for this problem. When you’ve only got a limited amount of time in a place, like at a cruise port, you want to make the most of it and not risk a bust. This was supposed to be a wildlife “tour,” but it turned out to be more of a wildlife “bore.” The only manatee I saw was the carved wooden one outside of the entrance to the tour.

 

That said, I still ended up having an amazing time, because the port had a lot to offer and I had time when we returned to enjoy it (though, regrettably, we did not spend a full day in Belize.) I immediately headed for the beach to soak in the incredible view of palm trees blowing in the wind, a beautiful lighthouse in the distance, people playing volleyball on the beach, and zip-liners and parasailers zooming, and floating, by above. It was a gorgeous day basking in the sun, and listening to the crystal clear water splashing up onto the beach.

 

Like many cruise ports, the shops here were touristy and pricey… but still fun to explore (especially the free tastings at the chocolate and rum shops…) The chocolate was out of this world – especially the chili and coffee flavored varieties. Enough so that I was determined to take my chances and try to make it back to the ship with some, through the 80s degree heat, hoping it wouldn’t melt before I could get back!

Harvest Caye was definitely worth future visits – but next time with a different kind of excursion. In the meantime, I hope they introduce a jaguar preserve excursion, which I was hoping to find this time but no such luck! (I’m sure the other cat lovers out there will completely get behind this request!)

Here’s the YouTube video from my channel covering this port!:

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