Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back to work

It has taken a few days to catch up once the trip was over and get back to a normal (what is normal?) routine. Besides taking care of client issues and situations, it was also planning some of the new things we are working on for our clients and prospective clients.

One of the things to do was to go through all the entries of names that were submitted for our "Name the Newsletter" contest. We had some very creative names submitted and it did take a couple of days to choose the "short list" for the final voting by everyone.

(To see the list if you are not on our e-mail distribution list click on the link below to our website page

We sent out the list of names to vote on at 11:30 PM and had over 15 replies by 7 in the morning. As of today, it looks like 4 names are the favorites and are in a close race. Voting continues until next Sunday October 5th. It is also interesting to read some of the comments submitted with the votes.

We will be scheduling our first "online broadcast" and will be featuring Alaska within a few days by showing a beautiful short documentary entitled "Heart of Alaska". This film recently won the "Best Cinematography" award at the NY Film Festival. We will also show some of our pictures taken during the trip. We will have a "door prize" for people attending the broadcast as we have two copies of the DVD to give away. Again, our e-mail distribution list will get advance notice to reserve space for this show.

We did try to find a monument to Benny Benson but was not sucessful in this quest. I figured Juneau would be the best place since it is the State Capital, but the weather was so nasty the day we were there we just went back to the ship after the Salmon Bake.

We are also working on details for a new promotion which we will be announcing either in the first edition of the new newsletter or at the online broadcast (well both but not sure which will be first yet).

I will be writing some comments on a tragic situation that happened in Belize regarding a lady who drowned on a cruise line offerred excursion just recently.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The cruise is almost over

Yesterday we spent mostly in meetings as it was a day at sea and we really are here on this wonderful trip working. Last night was our awards ceremony and it was nice to have moved up to a new award level thanks to all our wonderful and loyal customers.

As you may or may not know, I did spend almost 3 years recruiting new agents for our company and it was a thrill to see so many of my "children" win awards this year and one even was Rookie of the Year.

We had a special invitation to take a private tour backstage of the main theater yesterday and boy did I learn to have even more respect for the singers and dancers of the production numbers. I thought they had much more space to change costumes and was absolutely blown away with the small area back there for them. Not only do they need to learn all the routines we passengers see, but they have to coreograph even move involved in changing costumes. If someone is in the wrong place, it can have a major domino effect on the next routine.

One of the dancers said that it doesn't take long to get over being shy and that is all I will say about that .

Today we were taken to Buchart Gardens in beautiful Victoria BC. These gardens are a historic site of over 100 years and learned the story of how Jenny Buchart created this magnificent gardens back in 1902. (I will put this info into another forum - probably our newsletter.) We did take many pictures but they will just not do it justice as you need to really see the panoramic beauty of this place. We have recommended this to clients for years even though this is our first time here. What we thought we knew is only 10% of what we saw. The gardens are absolutely amazing!

It's our last night on the Celebrity Mercury and that is always a sad time. Not just that we get "evicted" from the ship in the morning but we have many agent friends that we get to spend time with once a year at our annual conference. The training and education is great but the comaraderie we have is priceless.

I hope you have enjoyed following along with us on this Alaskan adventure and I will apologize as I'm sure I'll read back though all these and realized how much I did not cover. But, if you hve never been to Alaska, think about it! It just might be one of your greatest experiences of you lifetime.

Post some comments and let me know if you enjoyed this trip. Thanks.



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sitka yesterday, at sea today

Unfortunately, it was another damp and drizzly day yesterday in Sitka but we did manage to go into the town for a little while. Sitka is situated along some beautiful mountains and there are many little islands scattered around. On many of them we could see one house and not sure if there were others. The is a strong Russian influence in this town as it was part of Russia and their main area outside of their own country before selling to US. Interesting story about that transaction and maybe we'll get to send something out about it in a future e-mail.

The town is quaint and one of the stores we saw was an old Ben Franklin five and dime (not 5 and 10 cents anymore though). We hadn't seen one of these for years. There were many shops with local artisan creations and just walking into them is like going into museums.

Had to "suffer" through another cocktail party last night which was a theme night by the company - "where in the world are you?" Agents dressed up representing different areas of the world (some did but many did not) and some were very creative as always. I was asked to be on the panel as a judge (briberies were excepted ) but the 3 of us did a fair job of selecting winners in the different categories.

Today we are sailing on the Pacific side of the mountains as we head to Victoria BC. Meetings all day today and our awards ceremony tonight. Tomorrow we will be going to Beuchart Gardens in the afternoon and hopefully weather will be cooperative.

Not much else to report today. I may post from the ship tomorrow or when in airport on Mon as we wait for our flight home.

As a reminder, only a few days left to enter our "Name the Newsletter " contest before we select the names submitted to vote on. We'll also be scheduling our online braodcast about Alaska sometime later in the week and will be able to show some of the pictures we have taken.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hubbard yesterday, Juneau today

What an incredible day yesterday at Hubbard Glacier! Although cloudy, the fog lifted about the time we got close to the glacier so we had some excellent views. Hubbard is one of the largest glaciers in the world as it is 6 miles wide and goes about 1000 ft into the sea reaching bottom.

Getting to Hubbard we also pass Turner Glacier which is close by so really two for the price of one. The glacier did some calving and it is something to behold. It sounds like thunder as the ice cracks and then breaks off crashing into the water. I did manage to capture one picture as the ice was coming down and will put on here when I get back next week.

We also were treated to a very unigue thing. The Captain lowered a life boat into the water to take pictures of people on the decks (for the video the ship sells) but also had them get a piece of glacial ice and bring on board so people could take pictures with the ice. The piece was estimated at 400 pounds and they brought to the aft pool area for display.

This captain tried this a couple of cruises back for the first time and it was so well received by those passengers, when he can safely lower a boat he now does this. only one that I know off pulling this off. Again, I have pictures of the ice in the netting used to haul it up.

Today (Thu) we are in Juneau. We went to a Salmon Brunch today close to town but in a wooded area. There is a beautiful waterfall on the side of the mountain. We had eggs, salmon, reindeer sausage, potatoes, bisquits, coffee, apple cider and could toast marshmellows on an open fire. There is also a bear family living in the woods and the baby did come out for a few moments. Unfortunately, we were looking at the waterfall at the time so did not see ourselves but many did who happened to be in the right place in the park area.

That's the thing with the wildlife - they roam free so one nevers knows where or when something will get spotted. There were whales following the ship the other day in the Inside Passage, but like I always say "No matter which side your cabin is on they will be on the other."
We actually were in meetings at the time.

Spent the afternoon resting as I was fighting a little cold from the mist yesterday and it was cold and damp here today. I never did get to look for any monument to Benny Benson. There is something near the statge house I was told.

We are getting ready to set sail shortly and tomorrow we go to Sitka. Never having been there before, we are looking forward to this port we've heard much about - it is supposed to be very Russain influence in architecture and more.

The food has been great the entire trip and we have not heard any complaints (I'm sure there ares since food is such a subjective thing anyway. Then again, some cruise line sponsers a cocktail party for us every night so............................................

Reminder - if you are not on our e-mail list, you will not know when we will be scheduling our online braodcast about AK. Just e-mail to with your name and ask to be added. Many things will go out periodically of interest to you - special cruise sales, and notices of other things happening.
Always exclusive to the list or advance notice of things posted on our website.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ketchikan and soon Hubbard Glacier

Had a connection problem but finally got that fixed. Yesterday we spent the morning in Ketchikan and had a tour to Totem Bight State Park. I thought we were going to Saxman Indian Village so we were pleasently surprized to go somewhere different.

This is a special totem pole state park honoring the several different Native American tribes in the area. Learning about totem poles (which are not religious) and how they tell stories that get passed on generation to generation is very interesting. These are all re-creations of poles created years earlier but they never move them once they are set in place. They also have a "Clan House" which was really the winter home for a clan and also a place for special commerative events such as a wedding.

We also had a chance to ride around Ketchikan and were able to see the salmon spawing in the creek. Amazing!!!!! However, it's a tough life for a salmon - trael all that way back, "spawn" and die. Oh well, I guess they go out with a smile (sorry could not resist that).

The food on the ship has been very good and probably the best we have had on a Celebrity ship. We have always heard how good the food was but our previous experiences - oh well - but now we are impressed. Service also is very good.

This morning we again spent in training sessions with several cruise line partners and learned more about their product, expecially river cruising. I will have to arrange for one of the online broadcasts we will be doing to feature this type of cruising.

This afternoon we will be heading to Hubbard Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the world. Over 6 miles wide and growing. Hopefully we will see it calve (if you don't know what this means, it means a large chunk of ice breakking off and falling into the sea.) and I will capture a picture of it doing so.

The seas did get rough last night since we are actually in the Pacific Ocean waters now. A little "motion in the ocean" is always fun (except for some I guess) but I don't know of any in our group that had a problem.

Closing this segment for now as Helen and I are meeting with our Sr. VP for lunch.

Monday, September 15, 2008

From the Ship in AK

It's Monday and we are somewhere along the inside passage. Alaska is all about the scenery but guess what. It was so foggy this morning, we could not see the shoreline. See, it even happens to us professionals.

Sailaway out of Vancouver was great. The sun was shining and the temps were pretty mild. We did have some great scenery heading out and I hope some of the pictures come out OK. We actually saw an Otter (they are so cute) while in the Port of Vancouver.

Spent most of today in meetings (it is a working trip) and got some great info. We'll share some at the online braodcast coming up in a few weeks.

Can't tell you about the food because Celebrity sponsored the party last night and put out such a spread for us, no one was hungrey afterward. We will be in the dining room tonight so will find out how it goes and post tomorrow. The buffet for lunch both yesterday and today was very nice. Pizza just so so but I'll give them another chance.

The ship is very nice although we do notice some little things that could be worked on and will mention them when opportunity presents itself.

It's early evening and the sun has come out but we are on the port side so can't see the land. That's something we'll be able to discuss when you ask about which side of the ship the cabin should be on. Actually for inside passage, it really makes no difference normally. However on this trip we will actually sail back to Victoria on the outside (Pacific route) so will not have much to say about the scenery.

Tomorrow is Ketchikan. The battery is getting low so that's it for today. I'll charge it up tonight and talk about our tour in the next post. I believe we are going to Saxman Indian Village where they make totem poles. Totem poles are for fun and not religious and I will tell you that now. We learned that last time we were here.

From the calm sea in Alaska, good evening everyone.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

On the train to Vancouver

I'm actually writing this while traveling on the train between Seattle and BC where we get ship. It is also a test for the broadband service I pay for. If you read this, it works .

Flights were long but smooth yesterday and the weather was great when we arrived in Seattle. After checking into hotel, we made contact with friends we planned to have dinner with at the Space Needle and rested.

The Space Needle is impressive! If you get to Seattle, it is a must do. Of course several cruise lines sail from here for Alaska cruise so one day you might. The restaurant is amazing and it is some experience. Of course, only the area where the tables are rotate around, not the structure itself.

As we are slowly revolving and getting the different panoramic view of Seattle and Puget Sound, all of a sudden we noticed things on the ledge of the windows (the ledge is staionary) and people actually put notes and things and eventually (it takes 47 minutes to revolve) you get back to your note. One young person put one on the ledge saying it was her birthday party and there were $ bills next to it. There were several things but that was pretty interesting (I wonder how much she collected?)

Dinner and the service were extremely good but in all honesty, you are paying for the ambiance and view. One needs to figure about $75 pp for dinner. There is a $35 pp minimum but appetizer, soup, dessert and coffee will be about that. Most meals were $40+. Limited menu but nice choices.

We are on the train with several friends and other agents heading towards our annual conference and the jokes are really starting to heat up. We know that the week will be filled with sights, great learning, and fun (it is our 7th conference).

That's it so far so from somewhere along the rails I will say so long for today Next post will be when we are sailing along the Inside Passage.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alaska here we come

As we are getting ready to leave for an Alaska cruise in a couple of days (why the Eight Stars article was so interesting to me) for our annual company conference, excitement is building around here. Clothes are on the bed ready to be packed (sort of), paperwork is being checked and of course we are trying to take care of all client requests before we leave.

The same as we did in the Spring from the Emerald Princess going accross the Atlantic and through the Med, we will post daily about our experiences and we invite you to travel along with us (minus the scenery and food unfortunately) as we share the things we do in the various of ports of call. One of our goals is to find Memorials to Benny Benson in the various ports and towns we will visit. If we do we will take pictures and I will learn how to upload them to the blog.

We are also planning something very special later in September or early October with our first "live" online broadcast where we will be featuring Alaska (and it will not be political ). So if you are not on our e-mail distribution list yet (and want to be), just send an e-mail to with your name and request we add you. You will then be able get the advance notice to register for this special event and others in the future as space will be limited for these broadcasts. We will also post registration information on our website and here on Ask Me About Cruising but the e-mail goes out at least 24 hours earlier.

Well time to go back to work.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Eight Stars on a Field of Blue

A week from now we will be leaving for our annual conference which this year will be on the Celebrity Mercury for an 8 night Alaska Cruise (and yes, I will do a daily posting from the ship during the trip as I did on the trip across the Atlantic and through the Med earlier this year).

Did you know that it is coming up on the 50th Anniversary of Alaska becoming a state (Jan 3, 1959-2009). In the Fall issue of Mariner Magazine from Holland America Line that I received a couple of days ago, there was a very interesting story about the design and creation of the Alaska State flag.

I requested permission from Holland America Line to share this article with you since you may not be a HAL Mariner (past passenger) as we are and would therefore not get this magazine. They graciously allowed me to put this out on my blog.

On behalf of all the visitors to this posting in particular, thank you Holland America Line for allowing me to share this story. The title is Eight Stars in a Field of Blue.

John Bell “Benny” Benson didn’t have a very auspicious start in life. Born in the tiny Aleutian hamlet of Chignik, Alaska, in 1913, he was only three when the family home burned down. Soon after, his Aleut-Russian mother died of pneumonia, and with few alternatives, his Swedish fisherman father sent Benny and his brother to an orphanage/school In Unalaska.

Benny was instructed in the usual school subjects, but as was common at the Jesse Lee Home, he was also taught self-reliance skills such as cooking and sewing. Little did he know that thousands of miles away, fate was determining his destiny.

Contest with Destiny

While George Parks, the new territorial governor, was in Washington D.C>, it was pointed out to him that Alaska was the only U.S. territory lacking its own flag. When Parks returned north, he brought with him the idea for a territorywide contest among students for the flag’s design.

Benny didn’t think he had much chance to win, since he was only 13 and competing against much older students. But he did have his own impressions of the place he grew up – a region virtually barren of trees but where the sky extended from horizon to horizon and where bears and wildflowers were numerous.

While other students created elaborate patterns visualizing Alaska’s wildlife, mining or marine heritage, Benny kept his simple. Along with his entry, he outlined for the judges the personal meaning he placed behind the symbols he chose – eight gold stars on a field of Blue: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear symbolizing strength.”

Symbol of hope

The judges unanimously selected Benny’s design from 700 entries from all around the territory, heralding it for its simplicity, originality and symbolism. In exchange for his winning entry, Benny received a gold watch engraved with the flag and $1,000 toward his education.

The prize was awarded in 1927, when times were tough in Alaska. The economy was suffering greatly as Alaska’s wealth was siphoned off by interests in the U.S., and as a territory with little political clout, Alaska had little recourse to stop the flow.

Immediately following the contest, Governor Parks began receiving requests from across the nation for the new flag with the wonderful backstory. This not only helped give Alaska’s residents a sorely needed morale boost, but also increased Alaska’s profile to the rest of the world. With the subsequent election of President Roosevelt and the influx of “New Deal” projects, Alaska finally gained tractions to succeed in its push toward statehood.

From Aleutian orphan to ambassador.

At first Benny hid from his celebrity, literally running into the woods when visitors arrived at the school. But over time he used his notoriety to serve as a “goodwill ambassador” for Alaska, and helped to break down barriers for native Alaskans. He often said that the greatest thrill of his live was receiving a standing ovation as he was presented to the delegates of the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1959, when his flag was converted from a territorial flag to a state flag. He also became the first Alaska native to be officially admitted to the Elks Club in Alaska, despite the protests of Elks Lodges in the Lower 48.

Benny spent most of his adult life in Kodiak working as an airplane mechanic, but in his free time he used the sewing skills he acquired at the Jess Lee Home to make autographed Alaska flags for each newly crowned Miss Alaska, legislative members and visiting dignitaries. Although he passed away in 1972, his memory lives on as streets, schools and monuments in Alaska commemorate his remarkable contribution to the great state of Alaska.

I invite your comments.
Al R