The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, is a phenomenon that many people want to see at least once in their lifetime. The blue green and purple hues that light up the sky are something you can’t miss if given the chance! So planning a trip with all of the changing conditions in mind is probably your best bet to see them.
Staff Spotlight: Alaskan Cruise
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!
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.
July 21 -The Journey Begins
For the first part of our journey, we flew on Alaska Air to Vancouver. At the airport we got Canadian currency and flagged a cab to our hotel, the Radisson Park Inn on Broadway. Nice place. That evening we walked to Granville Island and enjoyed strolling. The hills going down to the water there like San Fran. Steep! We liked Granville and had fish and chips at a local place called Tony’s Oyster and Seafood. The area on our walk was right by the water and very nice.
We were both very excited to board Holland America’s Westerdam. All the luggage & transfer to get on board and thru customs went well. It was really exciting getting to our state room on the ship. The Bon Voyage from Vancouver was grand. We stood on the top deck and next to us were two couples. We began to chat and the ladies said they were from St. Louis!
Emilie and I dined that night the first night in the main dining room of the ship, and I had shrimp Diablo. She had apple pie and I had crème Brulee’. After dinner we enjoyed the Main Stage entertainment on the ship. When we came back to our room, we watched a beautiful sunset. As we sailed out, everything seemed so quiet and tranquil. Our first experience on a ship. NICE!
July 23 – A Day at Sea
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up for this full day at sea. Had eggs Benedict in the main dining room and enjoyed meeting a wonderful couple from Tasmania! There was a tour group of around 25 folks from Australia. We loved this couple and ran into them throughout our sea/land journey all the way to Anchorage. We walked through the shops and a lovely art gallery. Had lunch with a couple from Toronto. There were afternoon lectures on the upcoming ports of call and then a 5:00 happy hour called “Sip & Savor”. Always looking for a cheap glass of wine, I personally enjoyed this event. The chief sommelier offers a tasting of the appetizer of the day and a glass of his choice red/white for five bucks. Appetizer – incredible! Wine – very, very good.
We ate in the main dining room and this is when we met Ann & Dennis from Rhode Island. I had escargot as an appetizer and they were incredible! I savored every bite! We enjoyed getting to know Ann & Dennis and a great meal. After the show we hit the main stage show which featured Jim Short, the Australian humorist.. Good show! As we turned in, we knew that we’d gain an extra hour of sleep as we cruised onward in the Inland Passage to our first port.
Join Brentwood Travel and Holland America on Wednesday, September 12 for On Stage Alaska. This exciting performance is the perfect way to begin planning your own Great Land adventure.
Click here to learn more!
July 24 – Ketchikan, Alaska
It was neat to wake up, look out our veranda and see that we were docked! We came into port at 7AM. Had a nice breakfast and then had an hour to wander around downtown and look at a few shops. Ketchikan is the salmon capitol of the state and they also get lots of rain. They get an average of 180” of rain a season!
We enjoyed wonderful weather our entire trip. It never went over 74 degrees and we walked around Ketchikan in shirt sleeves. After our walk we got the shuttle to take us to our first excursion which was a one hour walk in the rain forest & a trip to the raptor center. Our guide in the rain forest was great!
After we got back to the city we had time to walk historic Creek Street and look inside the shops. We had a late lunch back on the ship with a lovely French couple from Montreal and then sat on the deck in the sun. It was 70 and an incredible day!
I enjoyed Sip ‘n Savor, and Dennis and Ann asked us to join them for dinner. I had crab legs for dinner and after dinner we saw the song & dance troupe again, on the Main Stage. After that we went to the Lincoln Center State to listen to the string quintet play a while. Turned in for sleep after a GREAT day.
July 25 – Juneau, Alaska
Right after breakfast I went to the Crow’s Nest and watched the ship dock. It was incredible to see how the captain came slowly into the dock and literally turned the ship around and had it bumped exactly parallel up to the dock! Our excursion did not leave until 2:00 so we had time to investigate Juneau. We walked for 2 hours and went into the state office building, walked by shops and spent a little time inside the state capitol. We got a great photo outside the capitol of William H. Seward, the guy who got Alaska from the Russians for $7,000,000. Since Emilie and I met 49 years ago in Seward, Nebraska, we enjoyed seeing the man for whom the Alaska and Nebraska sister cities is named.
We had lunch back on the ship and had time to sit on our veranda before our tour. Weather was perfect and 70 degrees! Our 2nd planned port excursion was a trip to Mendenhall Glacier and then a four hour whale watching trip. We only had about an hour at the glacier, but enjoyed seeing it, had a bear sighting and spent some time in the Park Service Visitor Center there.
Retiring to the ship, I had salmon for supper and then we stood on the deck before retiring. Great day! They say Alaska has 50,000 eagles and that 30,000 of them live in Juneau. We saw a number of eagles on our tour and near the ship. They say they are so plentiful in Juneau that the locals call them “crows”.
July 26 – Skagway
Cruising up the Inland Passage is so peaceful. The water is like a lake. We got right off the ship and hopped right onto a van that carried us out of the city and up a winding highway. We ended up in Frasier, British Columbia in Canada which was the 2nd time we needed our passports. Process was simple. Our guide stayed with us all the way and we saw lots of interesting terrain as we came back over the Dead Horse Pass and wound our way back toward Skagway.
About 5 miles north of town, we were dropped off the train with 15 other folks and three guides. The guides were young and friendly and two were EMT trained. The path into the Denver valley was very rugged with lots of roots and rocks. We had to go slow and watch all the time to avoid stumbling. Em & I ended up at the end of the group and before long the rest of our group was out of sight far ahead of us. One of the guides stayed back with us and walked with us; we really appreciated this young man and it felt like we had a personal guide as we walked at our pace.
That night at dinner I had seared kingfish with risotto and it was great. On the Main Stage we saw an incredible illusionist; he put on a phenomenal show! I’d seen this man on TV and he did some super tricks! My favorite was when he makes it snow like crazy on stage.
July 27 – Glacier Bay
This had to be one of the highlights of the cruise! Sailing into the area of the National Park, the water is like a mirror. The scenery is lovely. Tranquility. We had another picture perfect day for weather and just kept saying, “Wow!” The captain got us to four glaciers and at one of them he simply eased up near it, stopped parallel to it, and let the boat sit. For an hour we listened for the cracks and pops and then got our cameras ready. We saw the glacier calving four times and got great photos. The sound of this is really neat! Early that day, we’d picked up about 6 park rangers. They were on board, making presentations, answering questions and talking about what we were seeing. Before the captain turned the ship around 180, we literally sat on our veranda and watched all this happen.
New friends, Dennis and Ann invited us to their room for a glass of wine, and then we dined together in the main dining room. I just had to do it: steak and lobster! I thought the steak was quite good. After dinner we went to the Lincoln Center Stage where a five person string and piano ensemble played some great music.
July 28 – Day at Sea
We had no trouble with seasickness. Traveling thus far was smooth, you had to look out a window to tell we were moving. This was the day I had worried about…crossing the larger Bay of Alaska. This was the ONLY day we had rain and it really didn’t matter much. It was partly sunny most of the afternoon, 55 degrees and mostly calm sea. We stayed busy on the ship and had no motion problems.
July 29 – Disembark Ship in Seward, Alaska & Head North
We woke up early to have breakfast and to prepare to disembark. After breakfast it was fun standing on our veranda and watching the dock crews begin to unload all the luggage from the ship. They have this down to a science!
Our first stop was just south of Anchorage where we walked a bit at the Potter’s Marsh area…a large bird sanctuary. Having passed through Anchorage, we stopped for lunch at a very nice place in Wasilla. I thought that was some little town, but it is a huge bedroom community for Anchorage. On the way up to Denali, we had one more stop at an Iditarod race crossing. There was a small museum and gift shop, and one musher had his team there. Emilie was quite happy to hold one of the puppies.
July 30 – Day in the Denali National Park
We had a wonderful night’s sleep and awoke to another gorgeous morning. It was 54 degrees. Our wonderful travel agent Stacey Hoehne encouraged us to purchase a meal package at Denali. We did that and had a great dinner last night. Breakfast this morning was super! Emilie said it was the best biscuit she’d ever had; also loved the jam. With her eggs she ordered ham and the slab of ham was an inch thick! It has a huge piece, far more than she could eat. I had a splendid pecan waffle with delightful cinnamon vanilla syrup.
They say only about 30% of the tourists get to see Mt. Denali ‘cause of the clouds. It’d say we say the bottom 2/3 of the mountain. We saw one Dall sheep, a bear in the distance with two cubs, a moose with her baby and 14 caribou. Caribou were much more visible and close to the bus when sighted. In fact, when we stopped for a break, two of them walked down a roadway right behind the bathrooms where we were! We got back to the resort late and went straight to bed.
July 31 – Scenic Train from Denali to Anchorage
The train ride was another real highlight of the trip. If Glacier Bay was the high point of the cruise, this ride was the highlight of the land portion of our adventure. Luxury is the best word to describe them! The entire top of the upper seating area is glass to allow viewing. At the front of the car is a full bar. The dining car is beneath the seating area. White table cloths. First class, like on the ship.
There were hours of forested views and lovely lakes, mountains and vistas. We had a great bar tender and an absolutely fantastic guide in our car. She was a 4th grade teacher from Portland. Her ongoing commentary (along with the scenery) made these 8 hours fly by. This young gal was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. She had us laughing almost as often as that humorist on the ship.
To our surprise our Denali meal package included coupons for lunch on the train, dinner that night in Anchorage and breakfast the next morning. Nice surprise, as we thought we’d bought meals only at the resort! Sandwich in that dining car was fun and tasty.
Motor coaches took us from the train station to our hotel in Anchorage, the Westmark, downtown and owned by Holland. Like magic somehow our luggage again made it from our room in Denali to our new room here at the Westmark!
We had dinner in the hotel restaurant. Great service. Food good, but not out of the ordinary. We walked around downtown after supper and ran into Dennis & Ann. We walked about five blocks to a place called Simon & Seafood. We had a night cap and watched evening fall over the bay. The walk back to the hotel was nice, but then we had to say our final good-byes to our lovely, new friends and feel the sun setting on the last day in Alaska.
August 1 – Fly from Anchorage to Seattle
We enjoyed breakfast and there was light rain this morning. A nice motor coach took us to the airport for our 3 ½ hour Alaska Air flight to Seattle. Everything was on time and Meredith and the girls drove us home. Matt spoiled us with a glass of red wine upon our arrival and grilled steaks for us. Tacoma had lovely weather that evening and we sat by their fire pit and enjoyed talking and making s’mores.
August 3 – Home Again. Home Again…
All good things must come to an end and this was the concluding day of our vacation. Great adventure! Many, many memories. We’d taken over 250 photos, so I know we’re going to have a great photo album as well to remember these blessed and fun days! Great to be with family, to make pleasant new friends and to see so much of God’s beautiful creation!
to being planning an amazing Alaska Adventure!
2018 Travel Resolutions
When you work in the travel industry your resolution list doesn't always include just diet and exercise; instead, it's where to travel next! Some of our staff members shared where they hope to travel in 2018 that they had not visited before. We wish everyone a happy 2018 and we hope you complete your travel resolutions, too!
Allison Harper - Walt Disney World
Ashley Curry - Road trip to another state with a stop in Walt Disney's hometown, Marceline, MO
Cathy Robinson - Singapore and Italy
Cheryl Hegger - Adriatic and Baltic
Emily Medina - Galapagos Central Islands & Inca Discovery tour to see Machu Picchu
Jennifer Wilmes - Alaskan tour
Joanie Ramey - Napa, CA by way of Sacramento, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Destin, FL; Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Maggie Groene - Alaska and Punta Cana
Mickey Gaona - Portugal
Missi Wilson - Anywhere on a cruise
Stacey Hoehne - Hawaii
Susan Hakenjos - Meditation and wellness trip in India
To book your 2018 resolution trip contact one of our excellent specialists at 314-439-5700, or visit our Contact Us page.
Staff Testimonials - Alaska
Seating at Creve Coeur Community Center is free but limited! To reserve your spot, email us or call 314-439-5700 ext. 110. To find out more about "On Stage Alaska" click here.
Alaska for our family meant high adventure. We went Salmon Fishing in Skagway with stunning Bald Eagles flying above, Helicoptered to the top of a Glacier where we got to ride in a trail sled with the Iditarod Dogs and drank glacier water, hiked White Pass Mountain in Skagway and zip lined in Skagway with gorgeous scenery. My husband, teen boys and myself had a thrill of a lifetime.
If you are looking to take a vacation filled with adventure, ever-changing spectacular scenery, fresh coastal seafood, unforgettable sightseeing then an Alaska Cruise is for you. I think of Alaska as one moving postcard!
Cruising to Alaska was really an incredible experience. There's nothing like drinking champagne out on your balcony and watching the glaciers float by.
Seeing the sunset and scenery while eating dinner was amazing. When you cruise along you see pieces of the ice floating along which is something you just don't see here.
I really enjoyed my cruise in Alaska. The scenery is spectacular—the glaciers, mountains, wildlife and culture are a must see!
We did the 11 day Alaskan tour, with four days on land and a seven day Inland Passage cruise on the Coral Princess. Upon arrival in Fairbanks, we were greeted by Princess staff and received our welcome packet. We were surprised by the “Meet Me Onboard” request to send a suitcase ahead to the ship. We did NOT pack a separate bag for this, so we spent a lot of time ‘repacking’ one of our suitcases. That was a minor inconvenience, as the remainder of the trip was trouble free! Our luggage was delivered to our rooms by the time we arrived at the hotels/ship.
The Discovery III riverboat cruise was the best excursion of the trip. The ship was equipped with a great sound system and video monitors, so all onboard could see and hear all narration. There were fascinating bits of information. Iditarod training camp and fishing village info was easy to hear and see. We really enjoyed that.
The two Princess lodges were beautiful. They were rustic looking and very accommodating. We purchased the on land food package and certainly got our money’s worth. We could order anything on the menus, with no exceptions. All the food tasted great. The bus drivers for excursions were all courteous and explained in detail what we were seeing and some history of the area. Despite the rain, the train ride to Whittier was entertaining and visually stunning.
There was a lot of notice of invo-virus and signs to wash hands frequently. There were Purell hand sanitizers by all restaurants, shops, elevator lobbies and stairwells. However, they were not ‘forcing’ you to sanitize before entering restaurants – especially the buffet (sanitizing was mandatory on other cruise lines we have sailed). We recommend sanitizing hands before and after dining
They brought naturalists on board to discuss what we were seeing in Glacier Bay and as we entered and cruised the Inland Waterway. They were very informative and helped all to view humpback whales, sea otters and Orca killer whales during our journey.
Our three shore excursions were:
- Skagway - helicopter to a glacier
- Juneau – Mendenhall Glacier lake float and whitewater rafting
- Ketchikan – Rain forest walking tour
This was our first trip to Alaska and our first time on Princess Cruise Line. We will not hesitate to recommend Brentwood Travel to our friends and we will have them coordinate our next major travel event."
In Skagway we went zip lining and I have to admit…I am afraid of heights! I overcame my trepidation by having our fearless guides talk me through the adventure. By the end, I was zipping down with no problem and the scenery from high above was breathtaking.
Ready for your own Alaska adventure or to sail off on a Celebrity cruise?
Contact Stacey at 314-439-5700 Ext. 102 or
Dagmar at 314-439-5700 Ext. 104 to book your next trip.
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Staff Spotlight: NCL Cruise to Alaska
The ship, Norwegian Pearl has an old-style look with a Russian influence - very pretty! We ate at all of the specialty restaurants and loved them all. One of my favorite aspects of an NCL cruise is the Freestyle Dining. It's worth it for me to be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want.
The entertainment onboard was awesome! They have music venues all around the ship that offer a wide variety of shows. Over the course of the cruise we saw a women's quartet, a rock group, an easy-listening show and a 5-piece Motown group that really had the boat rocking!
Cruising to Alaska was really an incredible experience. There's nothing like drinking champagne out on your balcony and watching the glaciers float by.
We did an excursion at every stop and managed to see a whole lot. Some of my favorite highlights were exploring the Mendenhall Glacier, riding the train in Skagway, and going "whale chasing." Technically it was whale watching, but we were in a small boat with only about 20 people, and every time a whale was spotted, our little boat would zoom over to go find it.
It was a wonderful trip overall, and I would definitely recommend a cruise to anyone who wants to see Alaska for themselves.
For more information about NCL or Alaska cruising, email Mickey or
call (314) 439-5700 x 260.
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In the 64 years since Brentwood Travel was founded in 1957, we've grown into the largest, full-service travel agency in the Greater St. Louis area. No matter what your travel needs may be, our consultants will be able to assist you.
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