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I had a fantastic experience recently to sail on Royal Caribbean’s beautiful Mega Ship – The Allure of the Seas. After spending years selling these Oasis class ships, I finally had the opportunity to experience it for myself. I can highly recommend the vacation.

This class of ship is a destination in itself. Everything that you would want at a land resort is offered onboard this vessel. For those that are active you have two rock climbing walls and two flowriders (surfing simulators) where you can use boogie boards or surf boards.

One quick recommendation, women wear a T shirt over your swimsuit, the current is very strong and many have lost a top with lots of people watching. There is also miniature golf, a sports deck, ice skating and even a zipline. All of these activities are complimentary. You might have a short wait, but no cost.

One of the first cruises I ever took was to Alaska and for the 22 years since that departure, I have thought of Alaska as my favorite cruise destination and going a second time did not disappoint. There is something about the scenery and atmosphere that soothes the soul and makes your spirit soar!

There were several reasons I decided to go on Holland America this time. The first is that it was on a smaller ship. There are 2100 passengers compared to the 2500+ on the other cruise lines, so I never felt crowded on this ship. And the crew was very helpful and always willing to go out of their way to help you; I never felt like "just another passenger."

Of note, America’s Test Kitchen has a program on board. I love this show and was excited to see these presentations and Laurie did not disappoint. She was totally entertaining while teaching some new ideas about cooking. I definitely was looking forward to trying the salmon recipes once I got home.

Summer weather in Portugal is quite nice because it is cooler than many other areas in Europe. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean and is the most western country in Europe. They use the Euro for currency and English is limited in some parts of the country.

The main city in Portugal is Lisbon. They have several museums including a unique Coach museum. They have many monuments including The Tower of Belem and the Monument to the Discoveries. It’s a beautiful coastal city and close to neighboring little villages like Sintra.

Three hours away by train is the city of Porto this is where the Douro starts. On one side of the river is Porto and on the other side is Gaia. Porto is a beautiful city best known for port wine and the many companies that manufacture it. There are several bridges that link the two cities. It is the “City of Bridges” and reminds me of Budapest. On the Porto side J.K. Rowling wrote one of her books in the famous bookstore The Livraria Lello, ranked one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. They charge 5 Euros just to go in and people line up for hours to see it.

The Douro river is clean and one of the only rivers in Europe that I’ve seen beaches and people swimming in the river.

There are five locks on the Douro, so the ships are smaller. The AMA Douro has only 104 passengers and night travel is not allowed so the ship is docked each night. The scenery along the river is amazing and enjoyable without clutter.

The Douro is unique and different from other river cruises. Bus travel is necessary to reach the regions on the itinerary. One of my favorites was Peso Da Regua. A small village with vineyards, and local talented merchants with their homemade wares. They are best known for their wine, olive oil and almonds. Each region had their unique “stories” of their ancestors and customs.

I would recommend this river cruise to those who want to visit Portugal and have a unique experience, and those who appreciate wine and its history. The AMA experience onboard is relaxing and wonderful. The local talent onboard each evening was eventful. The staff was great and anticipated every need. The dining was delicious and they and special requests were met. This is a great and relaxing enjoyable way to visit Portugal.

Karen Johnson

If I can help plan your next cruise vacation, please contact me!

Phone: 801.483.5232

Street: 101 South 200 East, Suite 100

City: Salt Lake City, UT 84111

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Around each bend of the river, I imagined Lewis & Clark paddling along in their rugged canoe taking in the beauty of the area. Surrounded by the high peaks dotted with pine trees or the grassy plains, there is plenty to see. Each area is a photographer’s dream.

My husband came along with me. Our cruise started with an overnight stay in Portland. From the balcony of our hotel room, we could see our ship docked ready to take us down the river for our adventure. The ship we cruised on was the American Song. This was her inaugural run since she was recently relocated from the Mississippi River. It was quite a feat to get her here. She had to hug the shoreline since she is not an ocean going vessel. Only the captain, one crew member, and cook were on board. She went through the Panama Canal and up the coast of the western United States. Before the American Song was able to enter the Columbia River, it had to wait a few days for suitable conditions. Even then, a window was still broken on the lowest level in the dining area from the force.

The American Song holds 184 guests at capacity. It is contemporary in style with no paddlewheel. The ship has a four-story atrium and the largest staterooms in the industry, each with a private balcony. Our room was located on Deck 4 (Starboard), which is the top deck for rooms, and was clean, spacious, and the décor was light. There were several lounges, for relaxing, on different levels of the ship. A large lounge (Aft) located next to our room was really inviting in its décor. Skylights brought the warmth of the sun into the room, which made it a nice gathering place. There was also the main lounge (Deck 4 – Forward) where our guest lecturer would speak and where a variety of entertainment would be provided in the evening. If you didn’t want to participate, you could watch from the television in your room. There was no pool or spa and the exercise room was very small. There was a small laundry room with a washer and dryer.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served in the dining room area. There was an option to eat on Deck 4 (Aft) at the snack area where pizza, nachos, and hot dogs were served. Fresh products from the farms of the Pacific Northwest such as fruits and vegetables as well as beef, dairy, nuts, and the famous Tillamook cheese from Oregon, were served. Our food was delicious and eye-pleasing on the platter.

I had not realized until I did this cruise that where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean is one of the most dangerous waters in the world because of the force of the river meeting the ocean. There are also sand bars in this area. Freighters come from all around the world to load their cargo of wheat and lumber. A certified pilot has to guide the freighter in through the river.

After all the guests were on board, we left the City of Portland and cruised to the City of Astoria. This was the furthest city we could get to before the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.

At each docking, shore excursions were complimentary, with the opportunity to upgrade to another shore excursion with a minimal cost per person.

Excursions we chose:

Astoria, OregonFort Clatsop and the Astoria Shuttle Experience where we got off and went to the Maritime Museum, downtown area, and Astoria Column.

Kalama, WashingtonMount St. Helens Experience. We saw the mountain earlier on the boat and by the time we got to the park, it was covered in clouds.

Stevenson, WashingtonMultnomah Falls in Oregon. I couldn’t wait to see these falls. I have seen pictures of the falls before. My husband climbed to the top of the falls and back just in time for the bus ride back.

Dalles, OregonColumbia Gorge Discovery Center

Richland, WashingtonDay of leisure on the ship.

Clarkston, Washington – Not able to take the ship to this area due to high water and not enough clearance for the ship to go under the bridges.

Each of our shore excursions had so much to offer and it was fascinating to learn about the history of each area.

For those who did not want to get off the ship and do the shore excursions, there were other activities provided such as an art class, movies, and games. On some days prior to docking, there would be a lecture from the onboard historian, Ian Sampson. Topics included “Lewis and Clark”, culture, and the history of the area.

We were not able to complete the planned trip based on the itinerary. Because of the high level of water in the river, our ship stayed the last night in Richland, Washington. As a result, they had to bus us to the airport in Lewiston, Idaho for our return flight. Even though it was a long bus ride, it was through some beautiful country.

I felt that the crew of American Cruise Line bent over backwards to accommodate its’ guests. I would highly recommend a cruise with this company.

Sharla Washburn

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City: Orem, UT 84097

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Are you ready for something new in cruising? How about taking it a step further, and start an actual adventure.

I recently experienced something completely unique in the cruising world, at least to me. I spent two exciting weeks aboard Hurtigruten’s Explorer vessel, the MS Fram. This beautiful, small, expedition style ship is specifically designed to take explorers to unique sites. In my time aboard the MS Fram, as they transitioned from the Antarctic to the Arctic Sea, we visited the San Blas Islands, San Lorenzo in Panama, Boca del Toro, Nicaragua’s Corn Islands, Isla de Provencia (Colombia), Cayos Cochinos in Honduras, a couple of days in Belize, and Cozumel.

Even though I’ve been on many Caribbean Cruises, everything about this was new to me. Hutigruten has been around since 1893, mostly in the Norwegian area. They have developed into a line with a highly trained and educated crew that specializes in exploring the unexplored, more difficult to visit, areas of our beautiful planet. Instead of a Cruise Director, they have an Explorer Team. This is made up of Biologists, Geologists, and Zoological Specialists from all over the world. There were daily lectures in both English and German, on the many experiences we were about to have. These included marine life, local birds, plants, geological structures, history and indigenous people of each area to be explored.

Each area was pristine, beautiful, and still full of the flavor of the native people. With only 150-175 passengers, and 85 crew members (total, including room stewards, kitchen and other hotel workers, and the exploration team) there was never an over-crowded feeling. With only a few people in each group, it was easy to feel like I was the first person to explore this island, reef, or cay.

Where Hurtigruten really shines is in exploring the far reaches of our planet. In the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer (Dec-Feb) they take adventurous groups onto Antarctica itself, to wander with the Penguins, and walk on the ice flows. Due its size, it is permitted to make actually landings on the continent itself, something the larger cruise ships are banned from doing. In the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer (Jun-Aug) they cruise the entire Arctic Circle, touching Canada, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, and Norway. They have polar bear and whale spotting competitions and walk out on the icebergs. The cruise itself includes ocean kayaking, snorkeling (for the Caribbean relocation cruises), paddleboards, and motorboat coastal explorations. All of these activities are included in the price of the cruise.

The Chef on board The Fram is very careful to prepare dishes to please every palate. They were composed of organic and high quality produce, seafood, and meats. Though they do not have the 24 hour food availability many other cruise lines offer, I never felt hungry or lacking in meal options.

Hurtigruten is starting to market more and more in the U.S.A. and many of the ships are, or will soon be, undergoing extensive rehabbing, including the MS Fram. They have just launched their premier ship, the MS Roald Amundsen, a green hybrid, which runs mainly on electrical batteries that are charged by small diesel generators. This hybridization makes these wonderful ships the greenest, most earth-friendly ships sailing today.

From the crystal clear turquoise Caribbean waters, to the humid rainforest, this was an expedition I will never forget. It was an experience that has opened up so much of this beautiful planet to explore and love.

Elaine Beckstrom

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Street: 101 South 200 East, Suite 100
City: Salt Lake City, UT 84020
Phone: 801.483.6331

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