In May of this year, Travel Consultant Christine Hakenjos sailed to Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of The Seas. She, along with her fiancé and 14 of his family members, departed out of Seattle for an Alaskan Cruise they would never forget! Keep reading for her experiences in Alaska and her thoughts on the ship itself.
We boarded the ship on Friday, May 24th after spending the evening prior in Seattle. We arrived at the Cruise Terminal and boarded Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. The check in at the terminal was a breeze! We had completed our check in process before we even arrived in Seattle. I highly recommend doing this!
Our itinerary was absolutely wonderful! Although I will say, after this cruise I DEFINITELY want to see more of Alaska! This 7-night cruise featured stops to Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia. We also had two days out at sea and one day cruising through Alaska’s Inside Passage as well as one day cruising through Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier.
I will be honest, I was a bit bummed at first that we were only going to have 3 days in port, but after experiencing the views from our balcony stateroom during our days cruising, I totally changed my mind! I swear we could have sat out on that balcony for HOURS.
With a group of 16, it was hard for us all to decide on the same shore excursions so some of us did different things while in port. All our excursions & tours were booked through a company called Shore Trips because we were wanting smaller group excursions. Everyone LOVED their shore excursions! We all thought our tour guides were very knowledgeable and entertaining. The tours were very well done and worth every penny!
On our 4th day of the cruise, we arrived in the small town of Juneau, Alaska. The town was absolutely adorable and has a lot to see and do just within walking distance of the pier.
The tour that 8 other members of our group and I went on was the “Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier Combo Tour.” First, we were taken to Mendenhall Glacier where we were given an hour and half to do what we wanted. We decided to take the mile hike to the foot of Nugget Falls. The views from this point were just stunning! I have never seen a waterfall that big before. The waters of Mendenhall Lake were a mixture of blues and from where we were standing, we could actually see where the fresh water from the lake met the glacier’s run-off. This change in colors was beautiful to see! The glacier itself was unbelievable. I had seen many photos of it from all the research I had been doing prior to the trip but seeing it in person was a whole new perspective.
After our visit to Mendenhall Glacier, we were driven to Auke Bay where we boarded our boat and met our very knowledgeable captain and marine biologist tour guides. They were both very insightful and entertaining. They lead us directly to whales, sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, and other wildlife while teaching us all about life in Alaska and the habits and lives of these beautiful mammals.
Even though we had chances to see whales and dolphins from our ship, seeing them up close and personal like this was a whole other experience! We were all SO glad we took part in this tour!
Two members of our group did the “Mendenhall Lake Canoe Adventure.” They paddled their way across beautiful Mendenhall Lake leading them to the face of the living Mendenhall Glacier.
Three other members of our group decided on the “Helicopter and Dog Sled Tour” in Juneau. Their tour began with a 20-minute helicopter ride through glacier-carved mountains to the top of Herbert Glacier where they found about 80 huskies waiting to greet them. The mushers (tour guides/dog sled leaders) then took them on a 2-mile look through the mountains, even letting them drive the sleds!
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This summer I went on a 4 night Jamaica getaway to Secrets Wild Orchid with my friend Libby.
Secrets Wild Orchid shares their property with Secrets St. James. Each resort has their own set of rooms and their own main pool areas but they share the restaurants and the entertainment. You have access to both properties!
A quick walk across the sky bridge and I was in a modern, hip environment. Breathless Resorts are adults only but focus on a social environment. The pool area has a DJ and weekly foam parties. We had lunch at their rooftop restaurant and pool.
begin planning an amazing Jamaican vacation with Secrets!
We started our trip by flying into Vancouver two days before our cruise was scheduled to depart. We stayed at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel which was in a great location for exploring the city. To see some of the beautiful scenery in the surrounding area, we booked a small group tour with a local guide. He took us North to Squamish, where we were able to see Shannon Falls, the Sea to Sky Gondola, and the famous suspension bridges.
On May 27, we were able to board our ship: Holland America’s Westerdam. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship, and when it was time to depart Vancouver, we made our way to the top deck for the Bon Voyage party. The scenery was beautiful as we sailed out of the port and began our journey North to Alaska!
Our first full day on the ship was a day at sea. We decided to hangout on the top deck and enjoy the sunny weather while keeping an eye out for whales and dolphins. That evening we cruised through the inside passage, and the crew opened up the bow of the ship so we could all get a great view as we sailed forward! We then went to dinner in the main dining room and got a table next to a window to continue enjoying the passing scenery.
The first port we visited was Ketchikan, where we booked an excursion to go sea kayaking. Ketchikan is known for being the rainiest city in Alaska, and even though there was a light rain falling when we started our tour, the guides were prepared with rain gear that kept us completely dry as we paddled through the peaceful coves! After our kayaking adventure, we walked through the famous Creek Street. The sun came out and we had perfect weather as we did some shopping and sampled local beers. We then returned to the ship and spotted lots of eagles as we sailed on to our next port!
Our next stop was Juneau, Alaska’s capitol city. We started or day by visiting the famous Mendenhall Glacier. We took a leisurely hike down to the lake for a closer view of the glacier and Nugget Falls.
Our next adventure in Juneau was an excursion that I had been looking forward to for months. We had decided to splurge and book a helicopter tour to a dogsled camp on top of a glacier, and it was definitely worth it! The helicopter ride took about 15 minutes each way, and the views from the sky were stunning. When we landed at the dogsled camp, the workers there gave us an insight to their way of life and let us meet some of their sled dogs. (As an animal lover, I was in heaven!) They hooked up a sled and we took off on a ride around the snow-covered glacier. I was happy to see how much the dogs loved running through the snow, and we could see that they were well taken care of by their handlers. This tour was very well done and was a highlight of the trip!
Our next port was Skagway, which is known for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. We had planned to take the famous train excursion, but there was a landslide the night before and the railroad was closed for repairs. Instead, we took a bus tour up the Klondike Highway (which runs parallel to the train route) and had a great time! Our local driver made multiple stops for us to get out and take pictures of the beautiful scenery, and we spotted a family of bears hanging out right next to the highway.
We spent the rest of the day hiking a local trail, sampling the local breweries, and walking around the historic town before heading back to the ship.
Another highlight of our cruise was sailing through Glacier Bay National Park. The weather was perfect as we sat out on the top deck and watched the glaciers calving into the water below. The captain was able to slowly rotate the ship to make sure that everyone got a great view. Holland America had invited park rangers onboard to talk about the surrounding area, and they were available to help spot wildlife and answer any questions.
When we arrived in Seward, we were sad to leave the ship, but excited to head up to Denali! We boarded a motor coach and began the drive North. We were able to stop at Potter Marsh for some free time and wildlife watching, and then we continued our drive. As we approached the park, our driver stopped at a scenic viewing point and we got our first look at the massive Denali Mountain! We then arrived at the impressive McKinley Chalet, which would be our home for the next 3 nights.
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On our first morning in Denali, we took the Tundra Wilderness Tour into the National Park. This tour took us far into the park with a guide that kept us well informed, and we were able to see lots of bears, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep. The tour took us to an incredible viewing point where we were lucky enough to see Denali’s mountain peak for a second time! That evening, we enjoyed the campfire and live music at the chalet after a wonderful meal at a local restaurant.
Because we booked a Triple Denali tour, we had another day in the park to do whatever we wanted! We decided to go whitewater rafting, and even though the water was freezing, our wetsuits kept us warm and dry. Our experienced guide told us fun stories about his life in Alaska and kept us safe as we paddled through the rapids. After our exciting rafting tour, we took a relaxing hike that followed a river and led us to a scenic mountainside with a whole family of caribou.
After our adventure in Denali, we boarded the McKinley Explorer for our scenic train ride back to Anchorage. The dome windows gave us great visibility as we traveled through the mountains. There were lots of food and drink options available onboard and we had a guide that gave us information about the areas we were passing through. This was a fun and comfortable way to make the 8-hour journey!
We had one night in Anchorage, and then our flight home was late the next day. We had lots of fun walking around town, shopping, and trying out more local breweries! I was glad that we had free time to explore this unique town before heading back to reality.
Overall, this was an amazing vacation! Holland America did a fantastic job of helping us experience Alaska by land and sea. The transition from the ship to Denali was seamless and very well organized. Each employee we met was so kind and helpful, and I would highly recommend Holland America for anyone who wants to visit Alaska. Many people consider this a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but we enjoyed it so much that I know I’ll be back again someday!
Contact Maggie at 314-439-5700 ext. 120 or send her an email to begin planning your Alaska adventure.
Just because you're pregnant this doesn't mean you have to sit at home for the next 9 months waiting for your child to be born. Now is a great time for you to get out there and travel because once that baby comes, traveling will be put on hold for a while (still trying to figure out how I'm going to cope with this reality!). With that being said, there are some challenges and joys while traveling that I experienced first-hand and here are some tips that I put together to help you as you make your travel arrangements.
#1 - Get Maternity Leggings ASAP
Whether you choose to fly, drive, walk, run, or lay down you will want to be comfortable at all times, or as much as your growing baby will allow you. The best possible thing to wear is maternity leggings, and I bought about five pairs from Motherhood Maternity before starting my travels. Depending on the color and design they cost anywhere from $15 - $20 a piece (gotta love the cost of maternity clothes!). They have definitely been a lifesaver and I take them everywhere!
#2 - Combat Swollen Feet
If your feet don't swell while you travel then consider yourself VERY lucky. This is probably the most difficult thing I've had to deal with while traveling. If you're in a car or plane for long hours without moving those little piggies just get bigger and bigger and it can become extremely uncomfortable. Try elevating your feet as much as possible and be sure to get a pair of compression socks (aka the most attractive things you will ever wear). I purchased mine at Walgreens for about $7. If your spouse or a very considerate friend is traveling with you and they are willing to rub your feet, definitely take advantage of that as well!
#3 - Ask for Non-Alcoholic Equivalent Drinks
One of my favorite things about traveling is tasting that area's local craft beers and cocktails. In the pregnancy world, you're often left to try that region's finest Coca-Cola or aqua products instead. However, any time I found myself at a brewery or restaurant I always asked if they had any NA (non-alchoholic) beers/root beers or if they could make a virgin Piña Coloda or Strawberry Daiquiri. Just because you're pregnant that doesn't mean you can't still have something similar to the alcohol you're used to drinking. It also helps to make you not feel so left out when you're with a group of people who get to enjoy the real thing.
#4 - Take Your Maternity Pillow
First off, if you don't have a maternity pillow go out and get one now! Unfortunately they are not cheap though, I got mine for $100 at Destination Maternity but it was $100 well spent. Sleep is so important during pregnancy so why sacrifice your quality of sleep while traveling just because it's a bulky item? Obviously if you're flying this probably isn't the most user-friendly carry-on item, but on a road trip, cram that sucker in the trunk and get a good night's sleep when you check in to your hotel. You, and your growing belly, will thank you for it.
#5 - Go on a Babymoon
Babymoon? What's that? Essentially it's your last vacation before the baby is born. This is your time to be with your spouse or partner while traveling before you have to lug around Pack n Play's, strollers and diaper bags. Take the time to reflect on this exciting time in your life as a couple and enjoy the wonders of traveling before you have a new travel partner with you. My husband and I went to Gulf Shores to relax on the beach for a few days and I would highly recommend it. Pregnancy is exhausting at all hours of the day, so getting to just sit on the beach and float in the water to relieve belly weight and back pain was the perfect thing.
#6 - Talk With Your Doctor
One final piece of advice, always talk with your doctor before making your travel arrangements. Depending on how your pregnancy has been going, they may give you a cut off at how many weeks you're allowed to travel, how far you can travel, or they may give you specific restrictions. For example, my doctor has advised me not to swim at Lake of the Ozarks. Although I've swam in this lake my entire life, it is filled with bacteria that can be dangerous to the baby, so until I give birth I just have to hang out on the dock and stare at the water. I have been told other lakes, pools and the ocean are safe to swim in, however had I not said anything to my doctor I never would've realized I could've put my baby at risk.
Your consultant at Brentwood Travel will be up to date on all of the latest regulations and amenities the airlines, tour operators, hotels and cruise lines may have for pregnant women, plus the areas that could be infected with Zika. No need to go in on your own without being fully informed!
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This past July, my family and I traveled to one of my favorite places…Negril, Jamaica! This is the 3rd visit for me (check out my review of Couples Swept Away) and the 15th time for my boyfriend Scott. The biggest change for this trip was that we brought our three kiddos along for an adventure to this magical island. During these seven days, our blended family had a chance to come together to form stronger bonds and create amazing memories.
When beginning to plan, we really wanted to find a resort that would cater to a wide range of ages and interests between the five of us. My 7-year old daughter Grace lives to swim. Scott’s 16-year son Simon was interested in doing some water sports. Scott’s other son Oliver was going to celebrate turning 10 and wanted a unique experience to mark the occasion. And Scott and I wanted a place where we could have some time together but knew that the kiddos would be safe. Luckily we had stayed at the all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay in the past and it was the perfect choice for our diverse needs.
We booked our trip through Apple Vacations which included a charter flight from St. Louis to Montego Bay. Early on Saturday, July 7th we boarded our plan for a direct flight and landed around 12:30pm. We also made the very smart choice of selecting Club Mobay. This is a fast track service and is something we highly recommend whether traveling with your family or just as a couple. We were greeted by a representative with a warm smile and began out next steps through immigration and customs. At one point a very important customs form was torn and luckily for us, our representative caught it in advance. She completed a new one for us before we even got in line. If not for her, our form would not have been accepted and it could have caused a great delay.
At our resort, we were upgraded to a Junior Suite Oceanfront Connection room. This gave us the option of two rooms that shared a hall way which was a perfect option for us. It gave Scott and I a place to ourselves while our kiddos had their own room with a seperate bathroom (a MUST for a beach vacation). Once we unpacked and got settled in, the ocean was calling our name for an evening of playing in the waves.
The next few days we were able to check off a lot of To Do items from our list. For Grace, that included getting her daily fruit punch from the swim up bar which made her feel very VIP! She also enjoyed all the extra attention she received from the staff, especially an afternoon of making beaded bracelets under the shade of a palm tree.
Simon enjoyed a morning of snorkling along the reef. This optional excursion included a ride on a beautiful catamaran and the opporutnity of diving in two different areas. One spot even had a anchor and cannon from a pirate ship to explore! And for more adventure on the water Scott, Simon, and Grace took out kayaks which were complimentary at the resort for some sightseeing along the bay.
Travel Tip: Be sure to visit the Water Sports office as soon as you arrive to make the most of the included activities. You will need to complete a short waiver in order to participate. For kids under 16, a parent's signature will also be required.
Oliver got his wish of something truly unique with a glass bottom boat ride. We were instructed in advance to bring along bread and bananas to feed the fish which quickly became a food frenzy! He also enjoyed living the life with loungers located directly in the pool. These were the perfect spot to watch the daily pool activities which included everything from games, to dance competitions, and even an amazing synchronize swimming performance!
For Scott and I, it was all about being with the kiddos and having time to relax and really enjoy the moments. Food options were plentiful and easy with the buffets that were available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After the kiddos had a full meal and safely in their room, Scott and I took time to enjoy the specialty restaurants located at the resort. The Italian themed restaurant was cute and served delicious lasagna while the Steak House had a beautiful view and my filet was cooked perfectly! After dinner, we would usually find ourselves in the martini bar to try some new cocktails or take in one of the evening shows such as the beach party complete with fire dancers.
The Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay is truly a beautiful property. The decor is bright and colorful and I love the view out the open air lobby straight towards the ocean. Beach access is easy and we always found plenty of lounge chairs and tables for our gear. The resort is centrally located along Bloody Bay (named after a particularly fierce pirate battle) and offers amazing vantage points to soak in the views, especially the picturesque sunsets!
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One of the biggest destination's on my grandmother's bucket list has always been to see Mount Rushmore in person, so this year we decided to let her check this off her list (and mine!) and finally make a trip up to South Dakota. I also wanted to see this destination however I was not prepared for how gorgeous the surrounding area would be. I expected it to be similar to the Midwest - flat farmlands with just one random mountain for the monument. As we started the 14-hour drive my perception quickly changed because it was absolutely breathtaking! On our itinerary we visited Badlands National Park, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Spearfish Canyon, Black Hills National Forest and Mount Rushmore.
While making our drive from St. Louis to Wyoming to first see Devils Tower, we did a side detour through Badlands National Park. We noticed signs on the side of the highway for a 30-minute scenic drive that loops back to the highway so we decided, why not? I'm so glad we decided to do this because it was one of the most gorgeous areas I've ever seen. I've never been to the Grand Canyon before, but based on pictures I've seen this seemed like a mini version of it in areas. There were multiple spots that you could pull over for scenic views both high and low, so naturally we went picture crazy.
Once we finished our drive through the National Park we headed up to Wyoming to see the first ever National monument Devils Tower (as seen in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"). It was such a unique thing to see in person. The surrounding landscapes were large rolling hills with a few small mountains and then all of a sudden there's this tall figure! We took the drive up to the top and then walked around the base of the Tower. Experienced rock climbers are able to climb up to the top but that was a hard pass for me!
On our second day we drove through several areas before making our way to Mount Rushmore. We took the scenic route to Keystone (where Mount Rushmore is located) and we started north and made our way south thru Spearfish Canyon and Black Hills National Forest. Even though it adds about an hour and a half on to your commute it's absolutely worth it! While driving through this area I felt like I was in Colorado with the winding roads, tall pine trees and rapid rivers off to the side of the road. One of the most breathtaking parts was seeing Bridal Veil Falls just right off the side of the road. We pulled over for a quick photo op and to take in its beauty.
When we finally reached the small tourist town of Keystone we decided to go for a unique lunch opportunity instead of just dining in a regular restaurant. Instead we went to Rushmore Tramway Adventures and took a chairlift to Mountaintop Grill for a scenic view of Mount Rushmore! I was terrified to be on the chairlift on the way up and down, but it was totally worth it to have a view of Mount Rushmore for a simple lunch of burgers, fries and sodas.
With a full belly and being very thankful to be on flat land we finally made our way to our final destination - Mount Rushmore! It seemed so surreal to stand at the base and look up and this incredible piece of artwork. I couldn't help but just stare at it and think "wow!". It also was a great feeling to know my grandmother was finally able to check this off her list and to share the moment with my family.
This is a great summer getaway trip for families that I highly recommend. Be sure you don't fly because the drive is half the fun and this trip should be on everyone's bucket list. Head out West and start exploring!
To book your trip to Mount Rushmore, contact Brentwood Travel at 314-439-5700!
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