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Cannon Beach, Oregon – A Picturesque West Coast Getaway

cannonbeachOne of our staff is returning to her home overseas soon and she mentioned the scenic places along the West Coast that she’d still like to discover before her departure. Cannon Beach, Oregon quickly came to my mind and after telling her about it, I wanted to blog about this gem – it’s picturesque and relaxing…a place I’d highly recommend for a family, romantic or personal retreat. Since my first vist there in 2006, I’ve enjoyed returning several times.

WHERE TO STAY

Cannon Beach (CB) lodging and food can be rather expensive. If you’re on a budget, some hotels offer a price break if you stay for 3+ nights. But, if you avoid busy times (May - September, weekends and long weekends) and are willing to risk it, you could arrive at CB later in the day, drop in to a few hotels and get better rates than if you’d booked on-line. I did this during a trip last year and was offered an excellent rate. I checked out the rooms at numerous excellent hotels and the ones I’d particularly recommend are  The Ocean Lodge, Inn at Cannon Beach as well as the ultra-deluxe, award-winning Stephanie Inn. If you’re looking for less expensive lodgings, try motels and hotels in neighboring Seaside. Yosurfsand-oceanfront-decku might also want to try out a vacation rental through vrbo.com. There may be a 2-night minimum stay but otherwise, you’ll cut costs, be able to cook your own meals, have more space and live like a local.  These are my favorite lodgings:

Surfsand Resort (photo at right) - The staff  here are professional and friendly, the rooms and facilities are clean and well-maintained, the
side view of Cannon Beach from my room was absolutely mesmerizing, the rooms have great amenities, the decor is unique, the fitness facilities and swimming pool were a real joy to work out in, and there were delicious complimentary snacks…they really made my stay a special one.

gearhartGearhart Ocean Inn (photo at left)- Situated in a quiet residential area of the nearby town of Gearhart, this small, lovely New England-style  inn is a short walk to the ocean. The grounds are well maintained, and rooms are clean and nicely decorated. They offer free beach cruiser bikes, well-stocked kitchenettes, free WiFi, and an extensive free DVD library. Book early because this place is popular!

WHAT TO DO
Anyone I know who’s been to CB has commented that unless you’re into outdoorsy pursuits, options for things to do can be limited. CB is a wonderful place to rest and enjoy nature. Go for long walks along the nine mile stretch of ecolabeach…morning,  noon and at sundown. Haystack Rock (as seen in the top photo), located right on the beach, is a fascinating geological wonder that you won’t want to miss. Although I  haven’t visited the nearby Ecola State Park (photo at right), I see from TripAdvisor.ca that 400+ travellers gave it top marks. Dozens of travellers also highly recommend Oswald West State Park and Hug Point State Park. As for shopping, there are a few shops and galleries in the town of CB as well as the small Seaside Outlet Mall in the neighboring town of Seaside.

WHERE TO DINE
When I travel, I keep costs down by buying meals at a supermarket. It’s a great opportunity to rub elbows with residents and try out local fare. There’s a Fred Meyer grocery store in Warrenton – about a thirty minute drive north of CB. But if you’re looking for great restaurants, from my research, the following offer excellent culinary experiences: Castaway’s ‘Tini Tiki Hut, Lazy Susan Cafe, Irish Table, Stephanie Inn Dining Room and Newman’s at 988. For coffee lovers, the Sleepy Monk is top-rated. If you’re a foodie, you’ll enjoy the highly entertaining “Watch & Learn, Wine & Dine” program at the popular EVOO Cannon Beach Cooking School.

WHAT TO PACK
41112_SB_Both__20089_1390036548_1280_1280Weather at the beach doesn’t usually getviolight_slim__80682_1386146910_1280_1280 really hot and can be windy, so in the summer, be sure to pack long pants, a sweater and light jacket. For the rest of the year, take a warm coat and if you get cold easily, mitts, a toque and a scarf as well. You might also want to pack an Eagle Creek Packable Daypack. (photo at upper left), Violight travel toothbrush (photo at upper right) and one thing I never travel without: Cloudz Cozy Travel Slippers.

Enjoy this Pacific jewel!

Misleading Hotel Advertising

I’ve found Oyster.com to be an excellent on-line resource offering comprehensive hotel reviews. The “Photo Fake-Outs” section on their website is particularly interesting. Although it’s still a bit limited in the number of cities and reviews it has, it’s continuing to grow which is great to see. Here’s an interesting perspective on misleading hotel advertising.

Staff Picks for Europe-Bound Travellers

Many of our customers are heading to Europe this summer and maybe you are too (lucky you!). I asked our fabulous, well-travelled staff what their top picks are for what to pack for a trip to Europe and here’s what they recommend:

humangear™ GoToob Large - 3 Pack

1) humangear GoToobs (image at left) are sturdy yet squeezable bottles for lotion, soap, sunscreen, etc.…And, they don’t crack or leak, you can take them on the airplane and they’re BPA-free.

2)  Waist money belts, such as the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover Money Belt are a must.Compression

3)  Travel lightly with Eagle Creek Compression Bags or Travelon Compression Bags (image at right) which squeeze out air thus giving you more room in your luggage.

4)   Keep your luggage light by packing the convenient Flexo-line laundry line. It stretches up to 7 feet and doesn’t require any clothespins.Go Travel™ Super Snoozer

5) The inflatable GoTravel Super Snoozer Pillow (image at right) is compact and has a dip where you lean your head – unique for horse-shoe shaped pillows.

6)  If you’re an avid tea or coffee drinker like one of our staff is, you’ll want to pack the Voltage Valet Beverage Heater as it heats up water and takes up practically no space.

Happy Travels!

Key Ways for Saving on Accommodation

Accommodation can eat up a big part of your travel budget so here are some ways to keep lodging costs down:

Vacation Rentals

In travel tips classes I’ve taught, there are always a few attendees that mentioned how they had saved big by staying at a vacation rental.  These rentals can be apartments or houses or rooms in houses that owners rent out. The best known website is Vacation Rental By Owner. The advantage is that you often have more space (a bonus when travelling with a family or group), can cook your own meals, can have access to pools or other amenities, not have to pay extra taxes and tips, and you can feel what it’s like to live as a local. The main disadvantage is that the owner may be located off-site and can’t quickly manage problems that arise such as noisy neighbors or dealing with an electric fireplace that won’t shut off (a problem we had with one rental – we left voicemails for the owner and she never called but we were eventually able to resolve the problem.) Parking and arranging a time to meet with the owner to get the key can also be inconvenient. Two people who attended my classes mentioned problems they had but both situations were quickly dealt with once they asked VRBO to get involved. Do a Google search of the owner to see if guests posted any negative experiences.

Priceline

If a vacation rental doesn’t suit you, one of the best ways to lower accommodation costs is through the website Priceline.com. Naturally, hotels aren’t eager to let it out of the bag that they need rooms filled so this website fills a great need for hotels to discount their rooms while giving travellers a price cut. In a nutshell, you submit a bid for a hotel room of your selected star rating, area of a city and dates along with your credit card details and Priceline lets you know if your bid was accepted or not. If it is accepted, Priceline then  charges your credit card and tells you what hotel you’re staying at.  It’s a bit complicated, can be time-consuming but is kinda exciting! Go to the “Need Help?” section of their home page and then, head to the “Name your own price” section of the home page. Check out BetterBidding.com or BiddingforTravel.com to assist you in figuring out how much to bid. It’s widely believed that hotels give the poorer quality rooms to guests who have booked through Priceline and other third party websites. At one hotel I stayed at, I found that this was the case but not at another one.  Keep in mind that there are service fees and once your bid is accepted, you can’t get a refund.

Hotwire

Hotwire.com is easier to navigate than Priceline as it basically tells you, “We have a 4* hotel in the downtown area of Vancouver and the rate is $99 for the dates you’ve selected.” Then, all you need to do is decide if you want it or not. I’ve read that Hotwire’s prices are usually about 15% higher than Priceline’s.  Again, there are service fees and once you book it, you can’t get a refund. BetterBidding.com and BiddingforTravel.com provide excellent tips.

Other Helpful Websites

The go-to website for many frequent fliers is Kayak.com which tells where the best on-line deals are for your preferred hotel. One hotel I was at mentioned that TravelZoo.ca (TravelZoo.com in the US) offers great bargains. Expedia.ca (Expedia.com in the U.S.) can sometimes offer great deals. Visiting a hotel’s website can often net you big savings because they may have special promotions tucked away somewhere.

Give Them a Ring

Calling a hotel directly, rather than their 1-800 number (if it’s a hotel chain) is another wise option because the hotel itself knows better if they need to fill rooms and therefore are more open to discounting the rate. Inquire about any special rates if you’re a Canadian Automobile Association (American Automobile Association) member, attending a convention, are/were a member of the military, etc.

 

Celebrating a Special Event? Why Not Have a Travel Theme?

I love it when celebrations are based around a theme. I once attended a wedding that had a baseball theme so instead of signing a guest book, we signed baseballs! The tables at the dinner were named after famous baseball stadiums and the gifts given to each guest were old-fashioned Coca-Cola glasses. Another wedding I attended had a golf theme and yet another had a “Fruits of the Spirit” theme. Are you celebrating a special occasion? Why not make it a travel themed one? Here are some ideas:

- If yo41061_TR__11672.1389333745.1280.1280u’re having a luncheon or dinner with numerous guests invited, name each table after a country.

Eagle Creek Pack-It Two-Sided Half Cube (image at left), Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set  and Travelon Jewelry Rolls make popular gifts.

- Wrap gifts using maps.12402.5.50__26900.1378756422.1280.1280

- If it’s a wedding, give Travelon luggage scales (image at right) to members of the wedding party. One customer of ours bought 60 luggage scales to give to each of the guests attending her father’s 60th birthday.

-  Have appys from around the world for a bridal shower or birthday bash.

-  Decorate tables and halls with maps, globes or palm trees.Light My Fire™ Spork

-  Small gifts for guests could include Lewis N Clark TSA Keylocks, Belle Hop luggage tags or the Swedish-designed fork/knife/spoon combo Spork. (image at left)

Travel is such a fun theme to work with. Enjoy the party!

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Travel Things

A friend of mine who seems to be on a different continent every other month mentioned to me recently that one of his favorite travel items is his slippers. It got me thinking about what a few of my favorite things are to travel with. Here TravelRest™ - The Ultimate Travel Pillowthey are…

TravelRest Pillow (image at right) – I can count on sleeping well on flights with this pillow because it provides the right amount of support and comfort. Despite the size it becomes, when deflated, it doesn’t take up much space.

Howard Leight Earplugs - A writer for a motorcycle magazine called these “comfortabulous” and I can’t agree more. Howard Leight is considered a leader in hearing protection and is used by the military and construction workers. One of our customers told us how helpful they were while her condo building was under construction. I’ve tried cheaper versions which feel scratchy and don’t block sound well but these ones are so slewis_n_clark_comfort_eye_mask_navy__19370.1379144416.386.513oft and drown out the noise on the airplane or at the hotel.

Lewis N Clark Comfort Eye Mask (image at left) – I’ve tried out a wide variety of eye masks over the years and this is the winner! I use this at home and on the road. While some people prefer not to have an eye mask rub against their eyelids as this one does, I’m OK with that. It’s soft, blocks the light well, has an adjustable strap and a clip closure which isn’t bulky…no Velcro closure that can get tangled in my hair.12181.5.black__14943.1378693665.1280.1280

Travelon Bag Bungee (image at right) – I usually travel with just a carry-on and on top of my  carry-on I have a tote bag that holds my purse, water bottle, snacks, reading material, travel comfort items, etc. I absolutely love this Bag Bungee because it keeps my tote bag firmly in place so I don’t have to deal with a purse that flops around or falls off.

Ask frequent travellers you know what a few of their favorite things are to travel with – there are so many great items out there that’ll make your travels more enjoyable.

Featured Traveller: Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman is the founder and editor of  Wanderlust and Lipstick, a terrific website for women travellers. For over 22 years, she has been globetrotting and combining her love for travel with volunteer work, adventure trips, travel writing and business. She has backpacked through Nepal and hiked the Himalayan foothills in Bhutan; ridden a motorcycle solo from Seattle to Panama; worked with orphans in Vietnam, driven the AlCan Highway to Alaska, among many other adventures. Beth leads women-only and co-ed trips to India, Bhutan, Vietnam & Cambodia and this year, she’ll start leading tours to Papua New Guinea.

I heard Beth speak  a few years ago when she was promoting her invaluable book, Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo (now in its second edition). Her warmth and enthusiasm for travel and life makes her a popular go-to person for women’s travel. Despite her busy travel and speaking schedule, she was kind enough to take some time to provide tips for TravelPerch.

1) What advice do you give to people who would like to travel but are nervous about doing so?
Fear generally comes from a feeling of not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. So, I recommend doing as much research as possible about the destination(s) you’re going to and speaking with others who’ve been there. This usually helps people feel more relaxed about their upcoming travels. And with the internet, we now have access to a tremendous amount of information and are able to connect with people who have likely done a similar journey.

 2) What are some of your favorite travel gadgets?
I have 2 favorite travel gadgets. One is the xShot Monopod which allows me to mount my small digital camera on the end and then take pictures of myself with iconic backgrounds. I no longer have to try to extend my short arm out far enough to get my head and the background into the shot!

My other very favorite gadget is a SteriPEN. This water purifier uses UV light to kill 99.9% of germs in water. I’ve traveled through India on several occasions drinking tap water that’s been purified with a SteriPEN. It doesn’t make the water taste any better so I use Emergen-C vitamins to mask the taste.

3) What websites do find helpful for travelling?
I don’t generally go to specific sites for tips but will do a Google search if I’m looking for information about a particular destination to see what will pop up. As for forums, I use Lonely Planet’s Thorntree and Fodor’s Talk when I have specific questions about a destination (hotel recommendations, etc.). I’ve also taken to posting questions on Twitter and have received some great answers that way!

4) How do you stay healthy on the road?
Part of the trick is to be healthy in the first place. I do eat relatively well and am healthy in terms of getting plenty of exercise. I try to do the same while I’m traveling. It’s really important to keep your immune system boosted and if you’re in generally good health, you’ll be less prone to getting sick on the road.

5) How do you stay safe on the road?
Well I wrote a whole book about that! :-) Really, the key is to be confident. The moment you let down your guard and stop paying attention to your surroundings, you immediately make yourself vulnerable. I recommend that women take a self defense course if they feel a bit shy about traveling. It’s really important to walk with your head held high!

Packing Tips Video: Anne McAlpin

Check out this video by packing expert Anne McAlpin – lots of practical tips for your next trip.

Want to watch the entire video? Visit this link to purchase.

Featured Traveller: Anne McAlpin

Today, I have the pleasure of  introducing you to Anne McAlpin…an incredibly knowledgeable packing light expert I learned of when I heard her give an excellent talk a few years ago at a travel show I attended in Seattle.

Anne has been a featured guest on Oprah, The View, CNN and the Today Show sharing up-to-the-minute travel tips. She has flown more than 2 million miles, traveled in over 67 countries & cruised through the Panama Canal 98 times. Anne is the author of the informative book, Pack It Up, which  has a DVD companion. If you ever have a chance to attend one of her seminars, I highly recommend you go! Check out her website, packitup.com and her tips below.

1) How do you pack lightly for your trips?

I try to pack things I can use more than one way:

  •  My “personal” bag for the plane is also my shopping tote, my beach bag & my computer bag. No need to pack three different totes.
  • My blanket for the plane is actually a travel towel that I can use as a sarong & a beach towel.
  • My jacket is reversible so I can layer it for warmth but also reverse it from blue to black and wear with anything from jeans to dressy black skirt.
  • And…I use a checklist so I don’t pack things I don’t need. When I unpack, I cross off my list what I didn’t use and then I don’t pack that item on the next trip. Print out my free checklist at www.packitup.com

2) How do you stay healthy despite all of the travelling you do? 

  • I get as much sleep as I can before my trip.
  • Wash my hands as often as possible & pack travel size anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.
  • Pack healthy snacks for travel days, some of my favorites:  mixed nuts (so I can pretend I’m in first class!), chocolate covered fiber bars (Make a quick easy breakfast & for obvious reasons, good to have in your travel bag if needed), Jr. Mints (before landing & when I can’t brush my teeth- yummy)

3) What are some of your favorite travel gadgets/accessories to pack?

  • TSA luggage lock – if only to keep my large zippered compartment from accidentally opening. [Andrea's note: All of our locks are TSA-approved.]
  • The new triple security lock that also attaches to your bag I think is a great idea (so it doesn’t get lost). I can also use it to attach bags to the overhead rack in a train, bus, etc. and use a bike lock! [Andrea's note: We carry the same lock - Lewis N Clark Triple Security Lockdown lock.]
  • Silk Money Belt – I prefer silk as it’s a natural fabric, breathes well in hot humid weather and much more comfortable than other fabrics. [Andrea's note: We carry the Eagle Creek  Silk Undercover Money Belt.]
  • Hanging Toiletry Bag – Because there’s never enough counter space in small hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins, etc. I hang mine on the back of the door or shower curtain and I don’t have to unpack it at my destination. Tip: Always keep one packed so you’re ready to go at a moments notice! [Andrea's note: We carry a variety of hanging toiletry bags.]

4) What are some of your favorite travel-related websites?

What Pickpockets Don’t Want Tourists to Know

During the seven years I did short contracts working on a variety of cruise ships, I saw dozens of entertaining shows on board. But, one of the best ones was when we were sailing in the Mediterranean. It was performed by a Swede based in the US named Bob Arno who’s a pickpocket expert.  If you ever get a chance to see his show, I encourage you to go. Here’ an eye-opening 50 minute National Geographic documentary with Bob in it when he’s on location in the pickpocketing hotbed of Naples, Italy.

 

 

10 Ways to Save on Airfare

This month, I’m teaching several workshops on travelling on a budget so I’ve got cheap airfare tips on the brain…With United Airlines and Continental Airlines merging, Mexicana Airlines going bankrupt, and more business and leisure travellers taking to the skies after staying close to home last year because of the recession, airfares are on the rise. Here are ten ways you can shave costs on flights:

1.  The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Wednesdays are usually the least expensive while Sundays are  often the most expensive.

2.  Early morning, just after lunch, just after dinner and the overnight flights are when you’ll often save.

3.  The cheapest time to buy airfare is usually from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday morning because that is often when competition between airlines on airfares is particularly fierce.

4.  Check out Bing Travel as they have a free “Price Predictor” service which advises you whether to wait or buy airfare now on the more common routes.

5.  Track flight prices before you buy by going to Yapta which stands for “Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant”. If you’ve already purchased tickets, this website may be able to help you get airline refunds.

6.  A search on ITA Software will pull up a list of numerous airlines which fly the route you’re wanting to go and there is the option to include nearby airports. You may find airlines on the list that surprise you and those flights could be less expensive because people wouldn’t think to fly with them. For example, Korean Airlines flies between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, Brazil. And Cathay Pacific jets between Vancouver and New York.

7.  Check out these websites for budget airlines that aren’t always included in the more popular travel search engines:  Which Budget, SkycannerWeGoLo and DoHop.

8.  Become a fan of your favorite airlines’ Facebook pages as more and more airlines are posting sweet deals there.

9.  And while you’re social media-ing, drop by the tweets made on Twitter by airlines you fly often to find out about the latest bargains.

10.  Signing up for enewsletters sent out by airlines is a good idea so that you can be in the know about sales they’re offering.

Featured Traveller: Patricia Kuhling
There is a good reason Patricia Kuhling’s parents refer to her as a “gypsy”. Patricia notes that she struggles to stay put for any extended period of time and tends to be plotting her next adventure within days of returning home from a trip. She’s a seasonal crew member for Princess Cruises and Cunard Cruise Lines and has travelled to many a distant land. Patricia has also enjoyed travelling and camping extensively throughout the beautiful Canadian province of British Columbia, where she calls home. Here are Patricia’s tips:

1)  How do you travel lightly?

  • I always try to keep my personal products and daily essentials to a minimum. The large and bulky bottles take up a lot of space and weigh down my luggage.
  • I like to mix and match my outfits so that I can wear them repeatedly and still have variety.
  • If you are cruising, remember that there are laundry rooms onboard so pack your own detergent to save dollars.
  • Most shops on cruise ships offer a range of products. If you neglected to pack something, it can typically be purchased onboard.

2)  What are your favorite travel websites?

  • I always use www.tripadvisor.com before going on any vacation, whether it be a local adventure or traveling overseas.
  • I also like to visit www.lonelyplanet.com.
  • I often spend significant time surfing around on airline websites for good deals so as to compare their rates to package deals found through www.expedia.ca, www.travelzoo.ca, and so many other travel websites.
  • I also try to find a local website for the destination I am travelling to. Most cities have a great website with local information.

3)  What travel accessories/gadgets do you like to travel with?

  • I always take an all-in-one personal product bag. If it has a hanging feature, all the better for just hanging up in the bathroom for easy access, especially if there is little counter or cupboard space.
  • Luggage tags are a must. I choose brightly coloured tags that are easily identifiable, keep your contact information current and also include it inside your bags.
  • Avoid large purses or bags. I carry a small organizer bag with just enough space for money, credit cards, and copies of i.d. and emergency contacts.
  • A portable battery operated alarm clock is a must.

4)  What are your top tips for people going on a cruise?

  • Travel light and always pack an extra outfit and overnight essentials in your carry-on baggage. Your luggage is typically transferred from airline to the cruise ship so there is room for error!
  • Research any shore excursions prior to your cruise. I find www.tripadvisor.com to be a great site for feedback. Pre-book your excursions as any of the good ones fill up quickly. If you are planning to venture off on your own and purchase shore excursions through local tour operators, the ship will not wait very long if you return late.
  • Most cruise lines now have staff gratuities automatically added to your shipboard account. If this is not for you and you would rather tip only those crew members who serve you directly, go to the pursers’ desk upon boarding the ship and have it removed from your account. Make sure to carefully review your final bill for any double charges. Keep in mind that not all crew and services on the ship are included in the automatic gratuity.
  • Make photocopies of your passport, cruise ship itinerary and emergency contacts. Carry them with you on shore.
Alaska’s Spectacular White Pass & Yukon Route Railway

Alaska is an amazing place – one I recommend  you visit some time in your life. Although I’d worked in “The Last Frontier” one summer a few years ago, when I was there for a couple of weeks last month, I was still absolutely mesmerized by its natural beauty.

If you’re ever in the Alaskan town of Skagway, be sure to take a journey in the old-fashioned parlour cars of the famous White Pass & Yukon Route (WP & YR) train. Built in only 26 months, after blasting through coastal mountains, the 110 mile “railway built of gold” cost $10 million and took to the tracks at the turn of the 20th century during the Klondike Gold Rush. The railway connects the pint-sized port of Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada and beyond to northwest Canada and the Alaskan interior.

In 1982, the WP & YR ceased operations when the Yukon’s mining industry collapsed as a result of  low mineral prices. Six years later, the railway reopened for tourists and today, the WP & YR carries over 450,000 passengers annually during the busy May to September tourist season. There are several train excursions to choose but the 3-3.5 hour narrated “White Pass Summit Excursion” is one a WP & YR employee recommended as the best choice, especially if you’re on a budget since the ride will set you back at least $110.

Within just a 20 mile stretch, the train, pulled by vintage diesel locomotives, climbs almost 3000 feet. Spectacular scenery abounds as you’ll see glaciers, gorges, waterfalls and mountains. You’ll ride on cliff-hanging turns, through two spooky tunnels and a variety of bridges and trestles. The WP & YR is considered an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal, and the Statue of Liberty.

Tips:

- Sit on the left side of the train. The train turns around in the middle of the journey and passengers switch sides so you’re able to get a view from both sides of the train but on the way back, people tend to get a wee bit sleepy.
- Get outside on the platforms that connect the cars, and enjoy the fresh air and exhilaration of being in the midst of unbelievable natural beauty.
- If you plan to head out on the platform, dress warmly, even if it’s a hot day in Skagway. As the train creeps north, it sure gets chilly!

Cruise Ship Review: Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas

If you’re looking to take a cruise with children or have a multi-generational vacation, Royal Caribbean is an excellent choice. When I ask travel agents what their favourite cruise line is, RC is often mentioned (along with Princess and Holland America).  Last week, along with several travel agents and their customers, I toured RC’s Radiance of the Seas cruise ship. Here are some observations:

Passenger capacity:  2,501
Maiden Voyage:  March 10, 2001
Length:  962 feet

Décor –
Fun and playful, this ship is nearing its 10th birthday so the décor is slightly outdated, or “retro” as one of the people on our tour noted. You’ll find stains, chips and a bit of wear in cabins and public areas but the various styles of wood panelling and glass add a sophisticated touch. Having a nice mix of art throughout, this ship’s innovative atrium is quite the spectacle complete with glass elevators. Cabins are outfitted in deep yellows, reds and blues.

Cabins – The sleeping digs on this ship are decent but I agree with a travel agent on our tour who pointed out that the beds seem to be on the small side. In the standard cabins, bathroom counter space is limited and some have ugly exposed pipes. The more luxe suites were nice but not as classy as some I’ve seen on other ships. However, the lavish Royal Suite – all 1001 square feet of it – with its wet bar, baby grand piano, Jacuzzi and gorgeous tiled bathroom floor was one we sure liked!Radiance of the Seas

Lounges/Discos – The Viking Crown Lounge has a fantastic view and would be a great place to soak in the natural beauty as you sail off the scenic shores of Alaska. The festive maritime-themed Schooner Bar links to the cozy British colonial-style atmosphere of the wood-panelled Colony Club. A hit with our group, this spacious lounge is complete with innovative self-levelling pool tables and card tables. There’s also a nightclub, sports bar, casion and movie theatre for even more selection of entertainment.

Restaurants – While the casual Windjammer Cafe buffet offers a wide variety of dishes, the food presentation isn’t as good as what I’ve seen on other cruise lines. A travel agent I dined with in the elegant 2-storey main dining, room, Cascades, raved about the Portofino Italian restaurant (extra fee). There’s also the Chop Grille (extra fee) which offers a fine view. We quite liked the casual outdoor Sea View Café in the kids area.

Children’s Area – Royal Caribbean is renowned for its onboard entertainment for children, and this ship is no exception.  Kids won’t complain of being bored because they have so many things to choose from such as a climbing wall, basketball court, 24 hour golf putting green and indoor play centres geared towards different age groups.

Pools – If you’re looking for some peace and quiet onboard, the African safari-themed Solarium Centre indoor pool area is one you’ll love. Waterfalls, plants and three life-size stone elephants as well as a soothing recording of birds chirping make this a peaceful adults-only sanctuary. There are several other pools and whirlpools for all ages.

Theatre – The 3-level Aurora theatre is pretty standard, but keep in mind that Royal Caribbean offers some exceptional shows onboard.

Fitness Centre & Spa – Located at the front of the ship, the ShipShape workout area affords a stunning view and is super spacious.

If you don’t mind that the décor needs an update, this ship has such a wonderful array of dining options and amenities that it’s certainly one to consider…especially if you’re travelling as a family.

7 Things You Wouldn’t Think to Pack for a Cruise

Having worked on over 30 cruises and toured ships from four cruiselines, I’ve put together a list of items you may not have thought to pack but should definitely consider adding to your list:voltage_valet_ps2_3__26164.1385268213.1280.1280

1) Power Bar – Outlets are often in short supply in cabins so if you need to charge or plug in several items, you’ll definitely need a Voltage Valet Travel Power Strip. (at right)

2) Lanyard – You’ll spot many cruisers wearing their credit card-style cabin key hanging around their neck from a lanyard. This way, you won’t need to always be carrying a purse or wearing clothes with pockets.

elgin_travel_alarm_clock__73214.1388292108.1280.12803) Alarm Clock –  Some cruise lines don’t have clocks in their cabins so taking one of these is an absolute must if you don’t want to miss that shore excursion or breakfast buffet! The Elgin Digital Travel Alarm Clock (at left) has a very good alarm on it.

4) Post-It Notes – These gems make it easier to communicate with others you’re travelling with. And, if you have any requests of your cabin steward, simply leave them a note on the bathroom mirror.

5) Walkie-Talkies – Another great way to keep in touch with your cruising companions (especially if you’re travelling with children or a large group) is by using a set of walkie-talkies. You may also be able to rent them from the Purser’s Desk on board.travelon_laundry_soap_sheets__65130.1378755176.1280.1280

6) Laundry Essentials  – If you’re on the road for more than a week, lighten your load by using the onboard laundry room. Customers love the ultra compact Flexo-Line laundry line and Travelon Laundry Soap Sheets. (at right)

7) Binoculars – You’ll be so glad you took a pair of compact binoculars, especially when sailing in Alaska and other areas rich in nature and wildlife. Bushnell and Nikon are popular brands.

Enjoy your cruise!!