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Travel Tips Quarterly

Trusted Tips from Your Travel Advisor at
Total Experience Travel

If you've never cruised to Alaska, you may think it sounds pretty straightforward: you fly to the west coast, board the ship, and within days you'll be watching moose dance atop glaciers, while bald eagles land on your balcony railing as whales breach in the waters below, right?

The reality is that Alaska offers some of the most varied and diverse options for cruisers. There are multiple ports to consider, and some itineraries include two glacier visits while others never stop at one. Plus, there are a myriad of land extensions that could overwhelm even the most experienced travelers.

MUST SEE
To pick an Alaska cruise, it helps to know what you want out of it. Do you want to sail the fabled Inside Passage? If so, you can scratch the port of Seattle off of your list, as voyages departing from there swing out into the open waters of the Pacific and avoid the passage entirely. On the other hand, departures from Seattle often stop in Victoria, the gorgeous, English-styled capital of British Columbia.

Cruises from Vancouver routinely include one or two days of scenic cruising through the breathtaking Inside Passage, where you will see towering mountain ranges, narrow passages and wildlife at every turn. If you want to spend time ashore, take one of the Northbound or Southbound voyages that sail between Alaska and Vancouver. Nearly every cruise line offers overland packages that can include stays in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Denali National Park – a must-see for any visitor to Alaska.

MUST DO
When it comes to what you must do on an Alaskan vacation, the options are limitless. You can tour Kenai Fjords National Park, take amazing photos during a train ride from Anchorage to Denali, go dog-sledding across a glacier, sweep above the treetops on a helicopter tour, and fish for salmon (using equipment, not your 'bear' hands like the grizzlies do).

To narrow down your choices into an achievable itinerary, talk to a travel professional with Alaska experience. They will help you sift through the excursions on your cruise, while also offering private tour options to customize the perfect itinerary.

MUST KNOW
Before heading to Alaska, you know to take rain gear and warm gloves…but what else should you know?

  • Bring two pairs of binoculars, because you won't want to share.
  • Layers are the key to staying comfortable, and never underestimate the value of thick, breathable socks.
  • Ask for a wakeup call should the Northern Lights appear – just note this could be very early morning!
  • Mount McKinley is only visible about 80% of the time, so don't be disappointed if you can't see it.
  • Chances are, it's going to rain. Luckily, for many travelers, Alaska can be prettier in the rain than in sunshine.
  • Go sooner rather than later. Nearly every cruiser returns from Alaska with the same thought: "I can't believe we didn't do this sooner."

Some people have mental roadblocks about traveling abroad, worried about the dangers they see on the news or the uncertainties of traveling in a strange land. As a result, they struggle with whether to go on their planned vacation or to eliminate certain destinations from their travel bucket list.

Before you do—and forfeit your freedom to embrace a world of experiences—here are some tips to help you overcome your major travel fears.

FEAR: Unexpected Disruptions
Convinced your cruise ship is going to end up on its side like the Costa Concordia? A hurricane will stand you on an island? You'll be pick pocketed or involved in a terrorist attack?

These concerns seem stronger than they are because they're multiplied by the fear of the unknown. And like any fear of the unknown, knowing is the answer. To gain solid information and key insights about a destination, seek out friends who have traveled there before, dive deeply into travel blogs and online reviews, and consult a travel agent who specializes in that destination. By arming yourself with the right advice and safe experiences, you'll feel more confident at your destination.

FEAR: Lack of Communication
Worried that you won't be able to speak to anyone or read a sign? You'll be amazed to find that the majority of people you'll encounter in popular tourist destinations possess a passable grasp of the English language since it's part of their core curriculum in school.

In the few instances where someone doesn't speak English, gestures typically do the trick. Turn your conversation into a game of charades, and when all else fails, they will usually point you to someone who does speak English. And no matter where you go, everyone will recognize your immediate need if you whip out the pee-pee dance.

FEAR: Mystery Food
Are you afraid that the unreadable appetizer you ordered will come with octopus legs or, even worse, spinach?! While part of experiencing a culture is diving taste buds first into their regional cuisine, food is a tricky subject now that more and more people are on different diets or avoiding certain foods.

Luckily, in most tourist areas, menus often have pictures of the food, so all you need to do is point. Still, it's wise to learn a few key words of the local language if you have an allergy or dietary consideration. You can even consider writing down your restrictions on a card and having them translated before you go, so you can show the waiter or cook.

FEAR: Travel Troubles
Traveling can be a sticky business, especially when you consider flight delays, mixed up reservations, tropical storms or an Icelandic volcano eruption that spewed so much ash into the air it cause the largest air-traffic shut-down since World War II.

That's why having a travel agent can make a world of difference. Should your flight be cancelled or you drink the water and find yourself ill, we are quick to find a solution and ensure you make it home easily. We also have a ton of knowledge about the location to give you safety tips and information before you leave.

Taking a cruise on the high seas is an adventure unto itself. When you're not in port, the daytime hours onboard offer an on-going parade of entertainment and activities for all ages: you can race down water slides or up rock walls, shop 'til you drop or work up a sweat during a spin class, feel the heat of a hot rock massage at the spa or the cold ice beneath your feet while ice skating.

And when the sun goes down, the atmosphere changes and the night takes on a life of its own. While the options change from ship to ship, here's an overview of the choices you'll most likely have on your next voyage.

Dining and Dancing
After indulging in a gourmet meal, you can dance till dawn in multi-level discos where DJs pump out the latest tunes. The bigger ships will have multiple venues, so you can either shake your groove thing in a wildly-lit nightclub or show off your tango skills in the ballroom.

Stage Shows
Cruise lines stay on the cutting edge when it comes to providing traditional as well as up-to-the minute entertainment options for adults. The choices feature a virtual smorgasbord of talent, including the best hits from Broadway and West End, Las Vegas-style spectaculars, comedy acts, acrobatic and aerial shows, elegant figure skating routines, dinner shows, and much more.

Bars and Lounges
Onboard your ship, themed bars, buzzing clubs and chic lounges feature an array of libations and entertainment to suit every taste. Unwind with cocktails and conversation, sample a flight at the wine bar, watch the game at the sports pub, sip your favorite beverage from a frozen glass at the ice bar, listen to dueling pianos or watch performers kick up their heels at a burlesque show.

Under the Stars
There's no better place to relax or party at night than under the stars. Many ships turn their decks into party central at night with giant movie screens and pool parties. So pass the popcorn, snuggle with your partner on the deck chair and enjoy the show.

Casinos
Gambling on the high seas adds a little spice to the cruising experience. More and more cruise ships are catering to gambling enthusiasts by providing Vegas-style gaming such as poker, slots and blackjack. Whether you're a careful better or a high roller, you can play casino favorites into the wee hours of the morning.

On Land Activities
While there is an abundance of venues onboard ship, there's nothing quite like experiencing a port city's night scene. During overnight port stays, you can stay late to dine on local cuisine, dance at discos or enjoy a performance at the theater while soaking up local culture.

A Disney vacation should be magical, which means leaving all the stress at home by ensuring things are planned correctly up front! What's the easiest, sure-fire-iest way to do that? It's by talking to a travel agent who not only has experience in travel planning, but lives and breathes all things Disney.

Of course we don't expect you to take our word for it! Instead here are travelers just like you who weren't sure if they needed a travel agent or what value they would see...the results speak for themselves!

Melissa C – Arlington, MA
"I honestly can't think of words to truly describe how INVALUABLE the help that we received from Chrissy was! We'd never used a travel agent before, and while I love to plan, having Chrissy's help and advice made all of the decisions SO easy! She helped my husband and I plan a week in Disney World – with every question, she gave us so much helpful information! I've never felt more confident going to a new place before!"

Kate – Sim Valley, CA
"Amy got us a great deal on a good neighbor hotel, which was so much more convenient than driving 1.5 hours in daily! She also provided a booklet of information on each park that included height requirements on rides and menu options at restaurants, two things we looked at often! The character breakfast was perfect for my son to meet his favorites without long lines, and the entire trip was absolutely made by seeing his excitement at the Pixar parade in California Adventure."

AMY – Waterloo, IA
"This was our first trip to Disney, and our friend recommended that we get advice from Kim. One email later we were on the phone discussing our family's wishes for the vacation. Our son has a severe peanut allergy and autism. Needless to say, my husband and I were a ball of nerves to fly for the first time and go to such a busy park with him. Kim was calming and informative about all of the details we needed. At the drop of a hat, she would text us the answers to our questions no matter how simple or complex. She gave us multiple options and never pressured us to commit to anything we weren't comfortable with."

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