United States Posts

Alaska: What’s an Un-cruise Adventure?

Alaska Damien and Meredith
Sea lions and orcas and bears, oh my!

Meredith and I saw all these and more on the latest Great Getaway, in Alaska’s Inside Passage with Un-Cruise Adventures.

Despite a very early flight schedule that had us up at 3:15 a.m. – note to travelers, book your flights well in advance if you can — and a rainy forecast, we were in high spirits for our first visit to the nation’s largest state.

As we dropped out of the clouds, the gray-blue of the stormy ocean gave way to a speck of green on the horizon. Then suddenly everything was green. The hillsides were covered with the mighty spruces of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest. We knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. This was Southeast Alaska.

When we landed in Ketchikan, it rained. And rained. And rained. We quickly discovered this was par for the course in Alaskan summer. Despite the “liquid sunshine,” we found Ketchikan a warm and inviting town. We even met a few locals who sent us to the dock with 15 pounds of fresh fish. Long story, don’t ask. But what else would you expect in the Salmon Capital of the World?

Unfortunately, the Un-Cruise crew wasn’t allowed to serve our catch — I mean, it sure seemed like a good idea to me — but they were accommodating in every other way. Our ship, the S.S. Legacy, holds 88 passengers, and there were 57 onboard for the week. A ship that size offers a lot of flexibility, as we soon discovered when the captain, Dano Quinn, announced that Petersburg, not Wrangell as scheduled, would be our first stop. The change was made because a large cruise ship was scheduled to be in Wrangell the next day, and this way we avoided having to share the small town with a boatload of people.

The detour allowed us to stop by LeConte Glacier. The rain was cold and the wind fierce, but that served only to enhance otherworldly feeling of being surrounded by gray-green water dotted with icebergs. It felt like a scene from the claymation movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

While, sadly, a stop by the Island of Misfit toys was not in the itinerary, there were too many wonders that were to list. Here are just a few:

— After three days of rain, the liquid sunshine gave way to, you know, actual sunshine that you don’t need a euphemism for. The weather was beautiful the rest of the trip.

— We saw a whale breach three times then slap its fins against the water, a family of orcas and enough sea otters frolicking to make me bored of sea otters frolicking — just kidding, that’s impossible — in one day.

— The White Pass & Yukon Route train in Skagway is a much better way to admire the mountain scenery than the way the Gold Rush prospects did, no matter how appealing it might sound to climb something called Dead Horse Gulch.

— You can probably skip The Hammer Museum in Haines. Unless you really like hammers. I’ll let you decide. The name is pretty self-explanatory.

But the absolute best day was on Glacier Bay. It dawned clear and warm, and we picked up a park ranger who said days like this came around maybe 5 percent of the time on Glacier Bay. We were very lucky, and the hits just kept coming. We saw a black bear in the morning and a brown bear in the afternoon. We saw mountain goats on cliff ledges that appeared impossible to reach.

But what’s Glacier Bay without glaciers? Well, we got within 2 miles of Johns Hopkins Glacier at the back of an inlet and heard the “white thunder” of new icebergs crashing into the bay. We saw rivers of silt pouring down mountainsides, giving the water its muddled turquoise color. We saw icebergs flip over and a seal lying atop one making sure it wouldn’t flip. On the way out, we passed a big cruise ship that couldn’t even make it into the inlet.

In Tarr Inlet, we saw the flowing Grand Pacific Glacier, which one filled the whole bay, and got within a quarter-mile of brilliant-white Margerie Glacier, which enthralled us by calving off two huge icebergs right before our eyes.

The show wasn’t over yet. On the way out, we stopped by South Marble Island, teeming with wildlife. There were puffins, murres and several other types of sea birds. Mostly ignoring them were large groups of sea lions, young males who haven’t gotten the chance to breed, who naturally had other concerns. As you might expect, they had too much time and energy on their hands and spent the evening fighting each other and taking breaks to go swimming. It was like a frat house, except the sea lions bathed.

As if all that weren’t enough excitement for one day, an announcement went out around 12:30 a.m. that the Northern Lights were making a rare summertime appearance. It was the perfect cap to an amazing day of natural beauty.

Which country does the most good for the world?

I love TED Talks, talks no longer than 18 minutes in which the speaker shares ideas, designs and concepts that will help make our world better, encourage us to think and to work together, and to inspire. TED originally stood for Technology, Education, and Design. Today it stands for bite-sized nuggets of gold, of out-of-the-box thoughts, or simple common sense explained in an uncommon way.

So, putting aside national pride, do you know which country does the most good for the world? The answer may surprise you. Also, I encourage you to visit www.goodcountry.org to learn more about the project. Enjoy the TED Talk.

No Tacky Travelers – ever, ever, ever!

Untitled design

Growing up I heard about the “ugly American” traveler. I not only heard about them, I saw them, and, unfortunately have traveled with a few of these folks. They are easy to spot — the one with multiple cameras around his neck, wearing bright colored plaid shorts, and blocking the entrance to the historic site you want to see so he can take one more picture. Oh, and she’s miffed, too, because she was refused entrance into the cathedral, mosque, or temple because she was wearing a tube top and shorts. They’re the people speaking very loudly and slowly in English because they’re quite sure the locals will then suddenly know how to reply in the visitor’s native language. Geez!

Most of us are great brand ambassadors for the USA and then there are those few beacons of poor judgment that make me want to groan and hide….like the bare-chested, pot-bellied young men chugging beers I encountered touring Ephesus and cheering as if at a football game. OY!


Thanks to books, videos and this newfangled thing called the Internet, we can learn how to behave in public anywhere in the world. Who knew?

Become a more savvy vacationer and know before you go the customs of the country you’re visiting and consider offering tips for service well-provided. One of the most common things US travelers forget when traveling outside the United States is the habit of tipping. Surprise, surprise, surprise! Saying thank you financially is a worldwide phenomenon. One last time, all together now, “WHO KNEW?”

Below is a chart by country that gives you these need-to-know pearls of wisdom.  Remember, we are the visitors in someone else’s country. Let’s show some respect, please.

If you ask, ‘Why Charleston?’ – you haven’t been there!

10157104_10102158825223900_1725494662_n words by Damien Martin  :::  Damien@greatgetaways.travel ::: pictures by Meredith Martin

As the sun crawled rosy-fingered back under the banks of the Ashley River, I thanked the bride for having us make the trek. I imagine every guest at some point before the wedding said, “Why Charleston?” But the bride and groom had fallen in love with the city, and over the course of the weekend, we all came to find out why.

The wedding itself was quintessentially Southern — right down to the mint juleps and spiked lemonade on the veranda at Lowndes Grove Plantation. Reeds in the river swayed in the breeze as Jacob and Megan affirmed their commitment on the brilliant manicured lawn. The weather was simply perfect, as was an evening surrounded by old friends. The shrimp and grits weren’t bad, either. We sent the happy couple off in a flurry of sparklers.

The first thing you notice about Charleston — especially if you didn’t take out insurance on your rental car — is how narrow the streets are. The city was founded in 1670 and is packed with colonial charm, if a bit small for its modern inhabitants. The scenery is as wide-ranging as the city’s history. Fort Sumter, site of the Civil War’s first battle, lies in the harbor, while the trees lining downtown make it clear you’re in the Palmetto State. Outside the city center, barrier islands are home to miles of tawny sand firm enough to ride your bike down, and world-class golf courses.

The rehearsal dinner took place downtown at McCrady’s, where on May 4, 1791, the Charleston Branch of the Society of the Cincinnati, founded by Revolutionary War officers, hosted a dinner for President George Washington. While the guests on this night might not have been as important, the hosts sure made us feel like it.

Meredith and I stayed at Wild Dunes, far from the airport and about a half-hour from downtown, so we didn’t get to see the gorgeous Isle of Palms until the next morning. It was worth the wait. Leisure sales manager Jamie Link was kind enough to show us around and treat us to a classic low-country breakfast.

We checked out the resort’s 17 clay tennis courts and wildlife — no gator sightings on this day, but the groom’s golf delegation spotted one the day before — before admiring the pastel-colored oceanfront homes from our relaxing perch on the beach.

It was a weekend to remember. We reconnected with old friends, helped two of them start their life together and were charmed by one of America’s most versatile cities. One thing’s for certain, I’ll never again ask, “Why Charleston?”


10285598_10102156253028600_1129228152_o   10178275_10102157509495630_892377204_n   10286083_10102157335708900_900446964_o

Meet our friend and Virtuoso CEO, Matthew Upchurch!

You have an asset the can never be replaced—your discretionary time. How you use those precious moments is up to you and we all want to use them wisely. So, vacation time approaches. How can you insure you’re maximizing your valuable time and money when planning this trip? I suggest you collaborate with us, of course! Rather than read my thoughts, watch this video interview with our dear friend and Chairman of the Board and CEO of Virtuoso, Matthew Upchurch. As you know, we’ve been proud members of Virtuoso since 1996 and the benefits of our membership are yours-such as an automatic upgrade at a hotel, a customized shore excursion, or having friends of Great Getaways all over the world.
So, enough from me. Let Matthew share our vision: