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Ian McIntosh’s Top10 travel tips

August 12, 2019 Headline News, Travel Deals No Comments Email Email

Issue 48: Friday, 9 August 2019

We have started our cruise from Vancouver to Alaska – today the ship berthed at our first stop, the tiny, rather ordinary town of Wrangell. The cruise along the Inside Passage included misty panoramas not unlike you experience cruising through Milford Sound in New Zealand. Hopefully the following comments will help you plan a cruise to this last frontier.

Air New Zealand premium economy class proved a winner – lots of space, attentive cabin crew and we really enjoyed the food. The cabin is directly behind the front door – so you are first in and first off. The leather seats are comfy and you get a soft full size pillow. The obvious choice out of Sydney is the direct Air Canada service but if you shop around you should be able to get a good deal on the popular Kiwi carrier. The break in Auckland is a good idea.

I chose the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver because I stayed there several times many years ago – and the cruise terminal is right alongside. Your bags are taken direct to the ship from your room – and you get to immigration by hitting CT on the lift button. The hotel turned out to be a disappointment – super slow lifts that kicked up a racket we could hear in our room. Sound insulation is poor, staff often quite rude, bathrooms outdated. Next trip I will look at the Fairmont Harbourside.

Always give yourself time to connect with a cruise. We live in an era when for instance a strike can upset your travel plans by hours – even days. We arrived two days before the cruise – had a good night’s sleep and spent the next day exploring Vancouver via a hop on/ hop off bus. What a clean, upbeat place it is for the visitor (brilliant airport – immigration is all done electronically). In particularly we enjoyed Gastown – good shops and eateries and the world’s first steam powered clock that chimes the quarter hour with a charming Westminster Big Ben steam ‘toots’ version and then goes all out with its big whistle on the hour.

Oceania’s Regatta is a small ship by today’s standards – just 650 people if she is full. Our cabin on deck 7 is super comfortable with all the usual goodies. We booked a concierge cabin offering extras including free laundry and access to the main dining room menu for in-room meals. If you have travelled on Azamara you know the ships (R class built from 1998 onwards) – and their weaknesses. Revolutionary in their day they have tiny bathrooms – not ideal if you have a disability. No swinging a mouse in here I am afraid. Oceania does have new ships in the fleet by the way.

Strolling about reveals elegant décor – the dining and public rooms are quite splendid and the library is huge by modern day standards. There is none of the noise and activity you associate with the big ships of today – the atmosphere is quiet and always relaxing. Staff are everywhere and pleased to serve without being obtrusive. The small balcony is very private with high screens either end. This ship prides itself on food and after a night at the Polo Grill I can see why. The menu is expansive and the food delicious. More on this topic later.

We have breakfast on deck nine at The Terrace – you select from a wonderful array of everything from very fresh fruit to pizza – all served by the staff. No serve yourself is allowed on Regatta. The rear of the restaurant is open-decked, which can be a bit cold first thing in the morning but today for lunch was a treat as we dined overlooking Wrangell.

Alaska promises to bring us closer to nature – and we have already been rewarded. While having breakfast on the first morning at a table for two close to the window a whale suddenly emerged, splashed about for a moment or two and then slipped away. What a treat. Even more amazing when we came back to our cabin from dinner last night a beautiful falcon was perched on the balcony rail enjoying the ride. Our guest stayed for about five minutes just looking at us through the glass balcony door before heading off.

Coming up on our itinerary – later today we are heading for Sitka followed by Icy Strait Point and then one of the highlights of the trip, cruising the Hubbard Glacier. This is a tide water glacier that spawns icebergs four storeys high. It is more than six miles wide and has been very active in the past. A lot of the stops we will be making are not so much because of the attractions of the little towns – but so people can join a long list of tours that head out to sea or inland for viewing everything from bears to whales and dolphins.

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