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We’re already a month into 2011 (and close to Valentine’s Day), so I’m sure you’ve begun thinking about when you can get away with your sweetheart – for an anniversary or birthday – and where to go. Here’s a roster of my favorite ideas:
January: New Zealand You missed out this year, but that gives you time to save for next year and see one of the world’s most beautiful places. It offers a superb mix of outdoor adventure (from hiking to bungee jumping) and excellent food and wine (amazing lamb and world-class pinot noir). It will be summer, so plan ahead and allot two weeks as the North and South Islands combined are about the size of California.
February: Costa Rica This jungle-meets-beach playground – home to loquacious howler monkeys, luminous blue morpho butterflies, and next Monday’s episode of The Bachelor” – is close enough to enjoy on a five- or six-night getaway. Most flights are into the capital, San Jose, but if you plan to explore the Pacific Coast, you can fly into Liberia. Another option, a seven-night cruise on Windstar (www.windstarcruises.com), which also visits neighboring Nicaragua.
This weekend, TLC’s newest reality show will debut, featuring ex-Alaska governor Sarah Palin exploring – where else? – her beloved home state. Palin may be one of the most polarizing figures in recent political history, but whether you love the gun-slingin’ maverick or love to hate her, it’s hard to argue with a passion for such an adventure-packed, breathtaking wilderness as the Last Frontier.
Now through the next few weeks is an ideal time to visit – summer tourists are long gone, and winter has yet to get into full frigid swing. Plus, rates tend to be lower on everything from accommodations to transit (the Alaska Marine Highway System, the state’s extensive ferry, is offering big discounts; more info on that below.).
Here, I’ve rounded up some cool offerings to explore this rugged outdoor paradise – Palin sightings not guaranteed (but please do let me know if you can see Russia from your hotel). Read more
If you’ve always been intrigued by the Northern Lights, the curious phenomenon that turns the sky around the Arctic Circle a splendid panorama of green, red, and yellow hues, start packing the winter gear, because the best time to catch this elusive natural artwork is from October through March.
But, as anyone who’s in search of the lights, also called Aurora Borealis, will tell you, there are no guarantees. You need a cloudless sky, little or no moon, and luck. And because craning your neck in the sub-zero darkness will try the patience of even the most intrepid adventurer, your best bet is to pick a home base destination that has more than the lights to offer.
Here are a few destinations that offer good opportunities for both. And if you’re itching to see the lights but would rather not experience the bone-numbing temperatures of such chilly destinations, mark your calendar for this time in 2011. Every 11 years or so, the lights are spotted much further south than the Arctic Circle. So wherever in the world you happen to be in October through March of 2011, remember to look up, and you just might get lucky.
If there’s ever a time to visit Alaska, it’s the summer — your daylight hours are maximized (they don’t end) and it’s warm enough to appreciate the state’s rugged beauty in parks like Denali. Plus there are some great Alaska cruise deals and vacation deals. From Denver, L.A., and San Francisco, you can fly to Anchorage and Fairbanks for prices starting at $179. Passengers continually rate Alaska Airlines as one of the most on-time airlines with the best customer service, according to a JD Powers survey. And if Ms. Palin is correct, you may even get a glimpse of Russia. More likely, you’ll see some moose, eat some reindeer sausage and be dazzled by the site of Mt. McKinley, the highest point on the continent.
THE VALUE: The round-trip airfares are about 25% less than similar airfares on other airlines.
As we approach the prime season for cruises to Alaska, several cruise lines are drastically reducing rates in a final effort to fill cabins. Holland America is offering a 7-night cruise in an oceanview stateroom starting from $449 – that’s the same price as an interior cabin (no window). This deal – which represents a savings of up to 74 percent – also includes a $50 onboard credit, plus third and fourth passengers can sail for free!
The ms Statendam embarks from Anchorage on May 23 and coasts through breathtaking regions like College Fjord and Glacier Bay before arriving in Haines, a small town that is blessed with rolling hills and ice-capped mountains. Next, the ship calls on Juneau, which offers shore activities like whale-watching, zip-lining, and nature walks. Then, it’s off to Ketchikan, the “Salmon Capital of the World,” followed by a relaxing day at sea before the cruise wraps up in Vancouver.
For more information, visit www.vacationstogo.com (enter your e-mail address to view the itinerary).
Comprising a nine-ship fleet, with no more than 138 passengers each, Cruise West embodies a low-maintenance-yet-high-adventure philosophy. There are no cabaret shows and spas on these ships; only close and personal encounters with the wilderness. In the spirit of sharing those crystal clear fjord shots, or cataloguing your expedition through Alaska’s glacier-hemmed waters, Cruise West offers a free Flip Mino camcorder (worth $149.99) with every Alaska cruise booked and paid in full by May 28.
If a picture says a thousand words, what about a high-caliber, pocket-sized video camera designed for spontaneous captures and travel versatility? The Flip’s memory holds an hour of film and connects via USB cord to your computer, transferring clips and movies with ease (read: more effective than Twittering 140 characters about your trek through the Icy Strait).
Starting from $1,199, Cruise West’s Alaska voyages sail between four and 16 days, offering unforgettable panoramic views of this spectacular frontier, while briefing passengers on their destinations by insightful exploration leaders and even dispatching inflatable vessels that get so close you could lick an iceberg ? though we wouldn’t recommend it.
InnerSea Discoveries, the spawn of the 13-year veteran, American Safari Cruises is introducing a way for adventurous travelers to experience the uncharted areas of Alaska – without being strapped to a backpack full of survival gear. The new expedition cruise line – set to debut in May 2011 – will attempt to fill the gap in moderately–priced voyages in the secluded areas of the Inner Passage that are often ignored by larger cruise companies. Passengers can go “into the wild” by going hiking, kayaking past ice bergs, spelunking, river-rafting, or by joining an icy polar-bear swim (that’ll really get your heart rate up).
These 8-day itineraries will be offered on two small cruise ships (carrying just 66 to 88 passengers) after both vessels receive extensive refurbishments. Once completed, guests can expect modern comforts such as iPod docking stations, Tempur-pedic mattresses, hot tubs, and saunas – perfect after a day of wilderness exploration. Rates start at $2,500 per person and will include meals, onboard informational guides, equipment for activities, port charges, and transfers. Cruises are expected to go on sale in March 2010.
For more information, visit www.innerseadiscoveries.com.
Passengers taking a Carnival cruise to the last frontier will soon have a convenient, affordable embarkation port to sail from. Beginning in May of 2010, the port of Seattle will play the part of gracious host for Alaska bound cruises as an alternative to the ports in Whittier and Vancouver. Cruising from Whittier has always been a bit of a hassle because this cruise port doesn’t have an airport, forcing cruisers to fly in to Anchorage (which doesn’t have a cruise port). From there, they have to arrange further transportation to Whittier-nearly 60 miles away.
Seattle takes the middle man out of the picture, and makes Alaskan voyages more recession-friendly by also cutting the cost of airfare (I found rates nearly half the amount of flying to Anchorage).
Prior to settling down in its new summer home in Seattle, the Carnival Spirit will sail on May 5 from Vancouver en route to Seattle with a trip through the scenic Inside Passage. Carnival’s Alaska voyages also feature an onboard naturalist, and specialty “Just for Alaska” menu items consisting of local fish and game. Plus, it’s easy to snag a room with a view on this ship, since nearly 80% of the cabins offer an oceanview or balcony, and on an Alaska cruise, it’s worth shelling out the extra cash on the upgrade to take in the scenery.
Interested in sailing to Alaska? Visit our Alaska cruise deal page for some great money-saving offers.
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