Sunday, March 27, 2011


Destination-by Air, Land or Sea
At more than twice the size of Texas (571,951 square miles to be exact), planning a trip to Alaska can be very intimidating. The terrain includes misty fjords, colossal glaciers, temperate rain forests and sprawling tundra and is by no means a year-round wall of snow. While there’s certainly a lot of that (a quarter of the state stretches into the Arctic Circle), during the high tourist season from Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can pack in plenty of outdoor adventure. By air, by land or by sea, Alaska is relatively easy to get to, so all you have to do, is map out your optimum itinerary. Here are some great ideas:
Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier
Did you know that Juneau is the only state capital that you must fly into? It’s cut off from the mainland as it’s bordered by water and ice field. It’s a picturesque town filled with history, Native American culture and incredible scenery. Take the Mount Roberts Tram up 1,800 feet to get incredible views of the landscape. Juneau boasts Mendenhall Glacier, one of Alaska’s most accessible and visited glaciers. You can experience it in many ways, from viewing points to getting up there via helicopter. If you are cruising Alaska, you will more than likely experience sailing through Glacier Bay where you will feel small as you are surrounded by ice.

Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula
In the state’s only true metropolis, urban sophistication lives alongside native culture. Anchorage is home to nearly half of Alaska’s population and you can enjoy much food, nightlife and shopping here. From Anchorage, you can take a coastal highway and check out amazing scenery on your way to the Kenai Peninsula to see Kenai Fjords National Park. Or, take the Alaska Railroad if you prefer not to drive. The Fjords are best seen via a day cruise that typically includes a salmon bake, or for the more adventurous, take a kayak tour.

Like a post card from Alaska’s Gold Rush past-complete with wooden sidewalks, restored storefronts and saloons, Skagway is a favorite for cruisers. You can take a ride on the historic White Pass & Yukon Railroad or spend some time panning for gold. Quaint and delightful, Skagway is memorable to all.

Denali National Park
Capped by Mount McKinley, this park is Alaska’s most popular attraction, rewarding visitors with wondrous alpine scenery. Take a glass domed train ride from Anchorage or Fairbanks. The views en route are amazing. The park is home to much wildlife—grizzlies, moose, caribou, wolves, and much more. Mount McKinley, the 20,320 foot “beast” can be viewed from many points in the park. The park boasts its own lodges, cabins, and chalets, so spend some time here.

Another great cruise port which is a mix between fishing and a Native American village.
A main attraction is simply walking down Creek Street and experiencing many quaint shops. The Totem Heritage Center or a visiting the Saxman Indian Village are possible as are float plane tours of the Misty Fjords.

This is a city on the arctic edge/the northern hub with a gold rush past. It was founded as a mining town and mining is still alive and well. The city is so spread out, that driving is the best way to get around. You can enjoy many museums, parks, and even head 60 miles out to enjoy the Chena Hot Spring.

Alaska is worth seeing and all you need to determine is how much time you have, if you want to fly, drive or cruise and who you will take with you. Alaska just celebrated 50 years, go see what everyone is raving about.

Debby Stevens

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Carnival to End Cruises from Mobile, Move Ecstasy to Port Canaveral

Interesting news for our Alabama Cruisers..

Carnival to End Cruises from Mobile, Move Ecstasy to Port Canaveral
March 10, 2011 3:18 PM

Carnival Cruise Lines will end cruising from Mobile, Ala., moving the Carnival Elation to New Orleans and the Carnival Ecstasy from the Crescent City to Port Canaveral.

The 2,052-passenger Carnival Ecstasy will operate four- and five-day Bahamas cruises beginning Nov. 7. The move bolsters Carnival’s position as Port Canaveral’s largest cruise operator with three year-round ships carrying approximately 600,000 guests annually.

The 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation will operate year-round four- and five-day Western Caribbean cruises beginning Nov. 5.

“We have made the very difficult decision to discontinue our cruise operations from Mobile effective Oct. 22,” said Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to achieve favorable financial results with this program. Although we have consistently filled the ship, it has been at lower relative pricing to the rest of our fleet. We have made every effort to drive higher demand and pricing through our sales and marketing initiatives and the deployment of a newer class of ship in 2009. However, we have not been successful in achieving a sustainable level of acceptable pricing.

“Additionally, the itineraries from Mobile require much higher relative fuel costs to operate and those fuel costs will become even more unfavorable with the implementation of the new ECA requirements starting in 2012,” Cahill said. “We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone in the Mobile community for the friendship and support we have received during the past six years.”

Carnival Ecstasy will depart Thursdays on four-day long weekend cruises visiting Nassau and Half Moon Cay or Freeport. Five-day cruises will depart Mondays and Saturdays and call at Nassau, Freeport and Half Moon Cay or Key West. From Port Canaveral, Carnival also offers three- and four-day Bahamas cruises aboard Carnival Sensation and seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages on Carnival Dream.

Prior to repositioning to Port Canaveral, the Carnival Ecstasy will continue to operate from Galveston, Texas, through Sept. 8 and then from New Orleans from Sept. 22 through Nov. 5, as previously scheduled.

From New Orleans, Carnival Elation will depart Thursdays on four-day cruises visiting Cozumel while five-day voyages will call at both Cozumel and Progreso. Carnival Elation’s new schedule from New Orleans replaces the previously announced program from that port on the Ecstasy.

Carnival Elation will join the Carnival Conquest in New Orleans, marking the first time Carnival has operated two ships from New Orleans in six years. Carnival will be the only cruise line with two ships based year-round in New Orleans, carrying more than 350,000 passengers annually.

Guests booked on cruises from Mobile can cancel for a full refund or they can re-book from an alternate homeport and receive a $25-per-person onboard credit.

Guests booked on cruises from New Orleans on the Carnival Ecstasy that will now be operated on the Carnival Elation are being automatically shifted to the Carnival Elation. Itineraries on the Carnival Elation will be identical to those that were scheduled for the Carnival Ecstasy. The two vessels are sister ships with largely similar features, amenities and staterooms. However, guests who were booked in standard balcony staterooms on the Carnival Ecstasy -- a cabin category not featured on the Carnival Elation -- will be contacted individually to discuss their preferences. The movement of bookings from Carnival Ecstasy to Carnival Elation will be completed by March 11.

Carnival will begin accepting reservations for the Ecstasy and Elation’s new programs from Port Canaveral and New Orleans beginning March 11. For more information, visit

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Where in the World Can You Cruise to from Galveston?

Texans are very fortunate to have the Port of Galveston ( within driving distance from a good half of the state. Many will NOT fly, others do not care to fly, but enjoy traveling to foreign countries, and another group just does not want the hassles of airline travel. Whatever the reason, The Port of Galveston is home to Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and the cruises they offer can be the answer those people are looking for. Here are the island ports of call which can be sailed to from Galveston as well as just a few of the highlights to be enjoyed once you get there:
This Caribbean island is 35 miles off the coast of mainland Honduras. It is surrounded by the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef in the world. Due to that fact, it is well known for the incredible scuba, sailing and snorkeling. Roatan is pretty laid back and not as commercial as much of the Caribbean, but there is lots of fun to be had horseback riding, ziplining and animal watching in the many gardens and lush tropical settings.

The Bahamas is the sum of over 700 islands and cays with water sports, fishing and great shopping and restaurants to explore. Freeport & Nassau are 2 of the islands that ships port at and they offer plenty to do or you can simply find a beach and do nothing at all. You can enjoy one of these islands or venture to another on a catamaran or even a Pirate Ship tour for some sea faring fun.

“Surf & Turf”-that about sums up activity options on this beautiful island. The incredible reefs are a magnet for divers all over the world. And, just a ferry ride away is rich with Mayan heritage offering landlubbers glimpses of culture that thrived 500 years before Columbus set foot on New World soil. Shore excursions of many kinds await to match any taste.

The natural environment of The Caymans, complete with palm trees, orchids and butterflies make this destination ideal for nature lovers. Add to it the water life of stingrays at Stingray City and sea turtles at Boatswain’s Adventure Park and Turtle Farm, and you have a fun mix of options to enjoy the day.

The island of Jamaica is a tourism giant and this Travel Agent will encourage you to get out of Montego Bay to experience the best the island has to offer. Jamaica is for outdoor enthusiasts, those who love culture and history and basically there is something for everyone. Golfing, horseback riding and relaxing on the beach are your normal options. However, only Jamaica offers such incredible adventures as waterfall climbing, bobsledding and dog sledding.

You can get to Cozumel weekly, The Bahamas are only offered once per month and Roatan is only offered during the winter months. On a 4 or 5 night sailing you can spend a day in Cozumel and one other Mexico destination. On a 7 night voyage, you can experience 3 ports during the week and the ports vary by cruise line and week by week. Contact a professional Travel Agent to help you get exactly what you are most interested in for the best price. Do not miss out on fun you can experience right from The Lone Star State.

Debby Stevens
3D Cruise and Travel

Friday, March 4, 2011

Doctors' Orders!

TAKE A CRUISE and Call Me in The Morning

It’s official! Vacations are good for your health. So say the reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. You might respond, “I knew that already.” Ah, but now there is research* to back it up, and lots of it. Cruising is best with friends, family or with just one significant other. So, grab your bathing suit, fetch your passport and tell your boss you are heading out on a cruise—doctor’s orders!

Cruise for your heart: “An annual vacation can cut a person’s risk of heart attack by 50%.”
Rx: A 7-12 day cruise--to Alaska, The Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Hawaii, or South Pacific is just the ticket. Spa, rest, service that spoils you and incredible destinations are the thing for whatever ails you. (Not to forget 24 hour room service).

Cruise to de-stress: “Blood pressure, heart rate and levels of epinephrine (stress hormone) decline on vacations of only two days or more.”
Rx: Even a 2-5 day sailings are out there from all over the US. From Galveston, there are 4 & 5 day sailings that take you away from it all as you sample entertainment, top cuisine and plenty of relaxation.

Cruise to refresh: “Recuperation and improvement in exhaustion are facilitated by free time and warmer/sunnier vacation locations.”
Rx: An escape to the beaches of the Caribbean, Mexico or The Bahamas gets you back in the groove. And, add a few days of just floating at sea simply hanging out at the pool OR taking part in the many onboard activities and exhaustion become a thing of the past.

Cruise for your brain: “Travelers experience a 25%-50% increase in performance on vigilance tests after returning from vacation.”
Rx: Stimulate those brain cells with some serious thinking at the blackjack table in the casino—or while reading a great book in a deck chair. Also, taking in fantastic ports of call in history & nature rich Europe, Asia, So. America to gain much knowledge to share.

Plan a cruise—for an attitude adjustment: “Even the anticipation of vacation travel generates an increase in positive feelings about one’s life as a whole, plus family, economic situation and health. “
Rx: Start by planning when you want to go or where your perfect destinations would be. Determine who you will invite to join you. Will it be a family trip for all generations, a Girls Just Wanna Have Fun venture, or a romantic escape? Call a professional to assist you. The only item you will have left after that will be to countdown the days……

There is a big world out there that God created for all to experience. A cruise is a wonderful way to see particular areas and determine if they will be on your list to return to some day. Take this prescription of R&R to get your health cruising in the right direction.
Debby Stevens

*facts pulled from Travel Industry Association website

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shopping Abroad: A Traveler's Guide

A great article from Independent :

Shopping Abroad: A Traveler's Guide

Some travelers get to know a place through its museums and monuments, others through its scenic landscapes or traditional cuisine. But for globetrotters who love to shop, there's no truer way to experience a place than by haggling with merchants in a bazaar, browsing the handcrafted wares of local artisans or sampling designer duds at the poshest boutique in town.

Shopping in a foreign country can be exciting and rewarding, but it's not without its pitfalls. The intricate art of haggling is often a challenge for visitors used to fixed prices at their mall at home, and the sea of cheap knock-offs and tacky souvenirs in just about any major tourist destination makes it difficult to tell when you've found a true local gem. Become a savvier shopper with our tips for avoiding fakes, haggling like a pro and getting your goods home at the end of your trip.

Finding Genuine Local Goods
How do you know whether that cute handbag is a genuine designer item or if you're getting a good deal on that amazing Oriental carpet at the Turkish bazaar? Our rule of thumb is simple: research, research, research. Sure, window shopping and spontaneous spending are fun, but if you're looking to make a major purchase, you'll want to do your homework to make sure you're getting a good deal -- and the real deal.

If you know you're in the market for a certain item, such as blown glass in Venice or a traditional kimono in Japan, do some reading ahead of time to learn what to look for when shopping at your destination. What qualities ensure that the item is genuine? Which scams should you keep an eye out for? A good guidebook can be invaluable here, offering purchasing tips as well as recommendations for reputable shops and markets.

Another good bet is to consult the concierge at your hotel; he or she will be able to point you to trustworthy vendors that specialize in the types of goods you're looking for. And, of course, the Internet offers a wealth of information on any type of shopping you can imagine. Hop online before your trip to gather the wisdom of other travelers. (For example, offers these tips for shopping for Murano glass.)

Once at your destination, shop around before purchasing to familiarize yourself with the range of merchandise and prices available. (Hint: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.) Tour guides often take travelers to preselected shops for purchasing souvenirs, but use caution -- your guide may get a commission on anything you buy, often resulting in inflated prices. You may get a better deal at a shop you find on your own.

For big-ticket items such as jewelry and art, make sure to get a certificate of appraisal or authenticity at the time of purchase -- and, if possible, pay for your goods with a credit card. That will help protect you if you get home and discover that an item isn't actually worth what you paid for it.

In North America and many parts of Europe, haggling is a bit of a dying art (unless you're on a used car lot!). But throughout the rest of the world, bargaining and bartering are a vital part of any transaction -- and you're unlikely to get a good deal unless you can master your own negotiating skills.

It's important to be familiar with the culture of the place you're visiting, as your haggling strategy will vary a bit from country to country. For example, in some parts of the world, it pays to be assertive and forceful when negotiating a price; in others, you'll do better keeping your tone soft and pleasant. Check your guidebook for a rundown on local haggling customs. is another good source of information on cultural norms, listed by country.

No matter where you're traveling, bring a positive attitude into the transaction. Think of haggling as a game -- a competitive but ultimately fun and friendly exercise. Don't get angry or insult the seller, even if the negotiations aren't going your way. At the end of the day, both you and the merchant should feel happy with the outcome of the deal.

Never enter a haggling situation unprepared. By the time you approach the seller, you should have already shopped around and determined approximately how much the item you want to buy is worth. We suggest having two numbers in mind: the price you'd ideally like to pay and the maximum amount you're willing to spend.

Here's a handy tip: If you're paying in cash, set aside the money that you're prepared to spend and keep it in your wallet; move the rest of your bills elsewhere. This serves two purposes. You can give the merchant visual evidence that this amount is the most you can possibly pay ("See? This is all I have!"), and it also helps prevent you from going over your own self-imposed price limit.

arabian shoes morocco moroccan marketOn a related note, be sure to carry plenty of small bills so that you can pay the exact price of your item. Occasionally a merchant will claim that he can't make change for larger bills, hoping to convince you to let him keep the excess amount.

Make the seller begin the negotiations by waiting for him to make the initial offer. If you're not sure how much to counteroffer, a good rule of thumb is to halve the initial price and negotiate from there. (As noted above, though, this strategy may vary from country to country.)

Traveling with a companion? Discuss who's going to do the talking and what you're willing to pay before you enter the shop and start haggling -- that way you can present a united front (and your husband won't ruin the deal right off the bat with an opening offer that's higher than the maximum you want to spend).

Don't show too much interest in the item you're negotiating for, no matter how desperately you want it. Looking too eager tells a savvy merchant that you're willing to pay a pretty penny to avoid walking out without that must-have item. In fact, you should be willing to walk; when you do so, you'll often find the merchant following you into the street with a new, lower counteroffer.

Don't rush the transaction. Negotiating a deal that works for both parties can take time -- so enjoy the process and go with the flow. (This is a tactical advantage too: if you appear to be in a hurry, the seller may think you'll settle for a higher price just to get out of there.)

That said, if the negotiations have gone on for a while and you've reached a stalemate over the last $5 or $10 difference in price, it may be time to let it go. What will you regret more -- leaving behind a unique memento of your trip or spending a few extra bucks? Remember, too: Odds are that if you're traveling in a developing country, the merchant probably needs that additional $5 or $10 more than you do.

Getting Your Purchases Home
Dedicated shopaholics know to leave plenty of room in their suitcases for souvenirs -- or even pack an additional bag to fit the extras. Duffel bags are a good bet to serve as your extra bag because they fold easily and don't take up much space, but their flimsiness makes them appropriate only for dirty clothes and other unbreakable items, not your new porcelain vase. Valuable or delicate items should be wrapped carefully and stowed in your carry-on.

Occasionally you'll purchase something that's too large, heavy or fragile to carry home yourself. In these cases, you'll need to decide between having the store ship the item for you (which isn't always an option when buying from smaller merchants) and shipping the item yourself.

If you're having the merchant take care of the shipping, be sure to buy insurance for the item, pay with a credit card, and get an itemized receipt specifying exactly what you purchased and how it will be shipped.

box shipping ship package styrofoam peanutsIf you'll be doing the shipping yourself, pack the item well and label the box with the contents of the package, the monetary value of those contents, and either "Personal Use Purchase" or "Unsolicited Gift" (for Customs use). Your hotel concierge may be able to mail the package for you; alternately, you can visit the local post office or seek out the nearest UPS, DHL or FedEx office (visit their Web sites for a list of locations). Again, purchase insurance for your package and pay with a credit card for the utmost protection.

Paying Duty
Back in your own country, your goods will have to clear customs before you can bring them home. In general, U.S. residents are permitted to bring up to $800 worth of merchandise back from a trip without having to pay duty (numerous exceptions apply). The same rule applies to goods that you ship home; Customs will inspect your packages when they arrive in the U.S., and if you owe duty you'll have to pay it when your package is delivered.