I have enjoyed cruising all over the world for the last twenty years or so and, although I occasionally hear an ill informed comment about it being a snobbish and elitist holiday choice, most people seem quite interested in cruise and cruise ships – even if its not a holiday choice for them, they can understand why it appeals to others.
So I was completely blindsided by a conversation with an acquaintance the other day, the highlights of which were:
What a terrible choice to make….
Huge carbon footprint …
No wonder everyone hate cruisers!’
Now I’d already been thinking about the protests against cruise ships that we’ve been seeing – in Barcelona and Venice for example – and I’d been thinking about the phrase Concious Cruising and how we should consider changes to our behaviour ashore to make us more in tune with local people and the local economy ( please read https://portexplore806233846.blog/2019/07/31/meet-nate-my-cruising-epiphany/ ). However I really had assumed that cruising was better for the environment that flying, I was certain that it must have a smaller carbon footprint – it but turns out that I was completely wrong!
The figures actually that show that on a Transatlantic crossing the QM2, for example, gets about 45 passenger miles per gallon when running at its most efficient whereas an Airbus A321, in comparison, gets just over 107! This is because traditionally ships burn a much worse fuel than planes – in fact its the heavy, sulphurous sludge oil that’s left once aircraft and other higher-value fuels are refined. Even while docked, cruise ships usually keep running their engines – burning fuel to provide electrical power for its passengers and crew.
Southampton, UK is one port that has had enough – Christopher Hammond, leader of Southampton City Council is quoted as saying “Communities find it difficult to see the benefits of these big cruise ships, it’s a very visible thing: a big funnel chucking out black soot and smoke. People think, I’m breathing all that in.” His suggestion is that cruise ships plug into on on shore electricity and turn off their engines while docked to avoid the problems but what else can be done? And is anybody doing it?
Over the last few years many ships have installed ‘scrubbers’ which reduce smoke emissions but whilst they reduce air pollution they work by contaminating and discharging waste water- which is just swopping one pollution problem for another! Battery power isn’t an answer, except for some smaller ships, as batteries couldn’t last for several days at sea. Other options are cheaper, less polluting fuel options such as Liquified Natural Gas, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems, even trials of wind powered generators! (Sails anyone?!)
Wastewater and pollution from onboard sewage brings another huge set of problems so as the Green Movement grows there is obviously a huge need to Cruise Companies to address this before cruisers become the pariahs of the tourism industry! Alaska already has a series of environmental targets for cruise ships in the area and now Europe is being advised to do the same – “With friendly words you will not get any changes,” said German environmental group NABU CEO Leif Miller “so port cities and coastal communities are now asked to ban dirty ships – like Norway is doing for some of their fjords – to protect the people and the environment.”
Happily it does appear that these messages are getting through…
CLIA announced today that 44 percent of new cruise ships are planning to use LNG fuel for propulsion and the industry is taking its responsibilities towards safeguarding the environment seriously by investing more than 22 billion dollars into new technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems, LNG fuel and shore-side power. Obviously new ships can be designed to take advantage of new technology but what about older ships? Well things are looking hopeful there too… Earlier this week MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line, announced that their ship MSC Magnifica is having a major refurbishment for its 2021 season when out will be based in Southampton, with itineraries in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Baltic and the Norwegian Fjords. Environmental improvements include ….
“two new major and important onboard environmental advances to complement a wide range of existing leading-edge environmental technologies across the company’s entire fleet: a state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system and next-generation Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) system. SCR technology helps reducing nitrogen oxide into pure nitrogen and water through advanced active emissions control technology. MSC Cruises also took the opportunity to install a state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment system on board that meets the highest standards and that purifies used wastewater to near tap-water quality… state-of-the-art environmental technology, including hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system (ECGS), as part of MSC Cruises’ longstanding commitment to minimize and continuously reduce its impact on the environment.”
– oh and they will be fitting Magnifica so that she can plug into the shore supply in Southampton! So well done to MSC – lets hope other cruise lines really start to take their environmental responsibilities seriously too!
We had great responses to our cruise competition round up last month so set out to do another list for you! Cruise competitions are very short in supply this month!! I’ve only found a few plus a couple of others that might be interesting…. Most of these actually close in November but get entering now!! Good Luck and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you, Im always ready to help out!!
PS. Tiny little reality check… I think most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see if you can enter!!
October 14th Exodus Travels and Classic fm have a chance to win a Northern Lights trip tp Norway. Its flying and four nights in a cabin but you do get a chance to get out on the water for some whale watching and in a very sparse competition month its worth a try! https://www.classicfm.com/win/trip-for-two-northern-lights-norway/
November 6th. Floating Festivals, the music themed company that runs its on festivals on RCI cruise ships, is offering a chance to win a weeks cruise in balcony cabin for two. This is for next years special seven-day voyage onboard RCI Anthem of the Seas, the Sail Away with Jane McDonald Cruise. The prize is worth £3,000 and takes place in September 2020; you never know you might even have the chance of a cocktail with the Queen of Cruise herself! https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/win-jane-mcdonald-cruise
December 31st Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list. https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote/
Im really sorry not to have found more for you this month!! hopefully next month will be a little more exciting !
Blog Travel with Intent has One Word Sunday Challenge – this weeks word is Volume.
Just a small section of the incredible 8000 pipes being used in the construction of the organ of La Sagrada Familia, in favourite cruise port Barcelona – due for completion by 2026: the centennial of Antonio Gaudí’s death. It will be awesome in the true sense when 8000 pipes fill this unique acoustic space with sound…
MSC Bellissima – the literal translation from the Italian means Beautiful; so a very confident name for an enormous, great big new ship. We wanted to find out if she deserved such a compliment so were thrilled be able to join Bellissima for a short section of her Inaugural cruise from Southampton to Genoa – embarking in Barcelona for just two nights aboard.
First impressions… ok, yes she is HUGE – from the outside at least! Im not going to write about cabins and amenities as that will be well covered elsewhere although I just want to mention that there is a large overhang above balconies in some higher levels of the ship and other balconies are set well back and will have limited views. Bellissima is definitely a ship that will reward studying your deck plans before booking! Our cabin was right at the bow on Deck 8 – 8002
So yes Bellissima is large but yet, oddly, I felt that she was a bit like a reverse Tardis! She felt much smaller on the inside than you expected. Thats not a criticism, rather a tribute to the clever way that the designers have used the huge amount of space at their disposal to give you a feeling of spaciousness without making you feel small or insignificant. The cruise was completely full yet pretty much wherever we went and whatever we did we didn’t have to queue or wait for a seat. You really can’t say that about much smaller ships!
Some of this has been achieved by very clever use of the ‘dead’ areas of public space… for example the lift lobbies on each floor feature large leather sofas, electronic boards featuring ships guides and event planners, even a model of the ship that the deck is named after! So even while you wait for others at the lift there is plenty to occupy you and stop you feeling stressed. I would say ‘while you wait for the lift’ but we honestly never really did – these must be the fastest ships lifts at sea as even when luggage was being moved and some lifts were out of action we never waited more than a couple of minutes.
As you move around the ship you transition from one area to another through an individual entrance hall – this helps thin out crowds obviously but it also adds to the sense of theatre and occasion…I would particularly single out the entrances to the restaurants, the Cirque de Soleil lounge and most notably the casino, where the clever use of glass and mirrors made me feel as if I was spinning into a different world!
Outside the restaurants, wine bottles cleverly feature almost as an art installation, which is an innovative, interesting and efficient use of space.
That brings me to the thing that most impressed me about Bellissima, the use of clever and innovative lighting and illuminated panels. The most obvious of these is the huge illuminated ceiling in the arcade which changes constantly and even features in its own show! The quality of the pictures and animations is literally jaw dropping when you see them in the full size.
The same technology is also used in some bars and in the theatre for some of the most impressive backdrops I have seen anywhere. I’m not sure the theatre team is making the fullest use of them yet but once they do just watch out, as even now the sudden appearance of a tree surrounded with butterflies or a full height waterfall is spectacular.
The lighting designers have done a brilliant job with outside lighting at night too. My pictures show just one evening but apparently the colours and moods can be changed constantly to give a different feel for different events.
We thoroughly enjoyed our two days on board and can’t wait to go back for a longer voyage. We were particularly impressed by the staff of all departments who went out of they way to tell us how proud they were of their lovely new ship that is Bellissima indeed!
This blog was originally published in March 2019 as a guest blog for Cruise Excitement.
This portExplore Blog was originally published in May 2018 as a guest Blog for Cruise Addicts…
My daughter and I were looking for a short break away when we fell across an absolute bargain 5 night section of a repositioning cruise on MSC Opera, the following weekend. After upgrading to an Aurea Suite (of which more later) and upgrading the all inclusive drinks package to Premium it was still cheaper than a pampering weekend for two at a spa in the UK! We added two Easyjet flights ourselves as there were no MSC flights available and we were ready to go!
The landing in Funchal Airport was an experience & all I can say is that if you are a nervous passenger then maybe best not to go there! We had very little time to see anything in Madeira so had booked a very reasonable transfer to Reids Hotel where we had lunch on a sunny terrace overlooking the ship before asking the hotel to get us another cab down to the port. It was the oddest embarkation ever as although the man on the gate appeared to have our names on a list of the four people joining the ship they didn’t appear to actually be expecting us on board. There was a slightly heart stopping moment as various levels of crew were called to decide what to do with us but eventually the Head of Security arrived, scanned our bags and waved us off to Customer Services for instructions. The staff there were great, they went through our paperwork and sorted us out in no time, ten minutes from stepping onboard we were in our cabin!
MSC Opera is a middle sized ship, built in 2004 and extended in 2015 by chopping a piece into the middle, it now has berths for 2142 passengers. As with all the MSC ships it is well maintained and sparking throughout with constant repainting and revarnishing going on. We had an Aurea S3 Suite which although it is as good as it gets on board Opera, there are no Yacht Club or ‘proper’ suites, would only have been classed as a Mini suite on most other ships. Nicely laid out with a separate sitting area and lots of floor to ceiling mirrors, it is not too boxy as the dressing table is set at an angle across the end of the room. The ‘walk in’ wardrobe is on the opposite side of the cabin to the bathroom which was great as on a previous cruise it was quite hazardous to be getting something out of a drawer when your partner left the bathroom! We had asked for twin beds and it took no time for the steward to remake the double as soon as we spoke to the Desk, in fact he was extremely efficient and helpful at all times and always seemed to be around to make sure we were happy. The ship is quite glitzy and flash with lots of mirrors, lights and brightly coloured artwork, only a small atrium area but lifts and stairs sensibly placed with not too many bottle necks (apart from one odd set of lifts thats only served a few floors and didn’t go up onto the upper deck !) Not exactly subtle or understated!
Madeira seemed quite warm and sunny to us but the ship was coming home from a season in Cuba and most people on board had been in the Caribbean for at least week or so before beginning their Transatlantic crossing so they were starting to feel that it was quite chilly – it is quite surreal watching waiters in thermal jackets and hats serving people in bikinis around the pool! All the decks are named after operas & all Aurea Suites are on Deck 12 La Boheme which is above the spa and the pool deck and below the designated private Area sundeck. This was quite a nice perk, there staff to look after you, sun beds, cold towels, complementary sunscreen and a bar (also 2 cabana type beds that oddly had an extra charge and so were never occupied!), so they are really pleasantly quite with no noise from above or below and no smells form cooking or engines. A few of the cabins on the starboard side (12031 to 12023) are above the kids club so probably best avoided! Aurea privileges also included a separate dining room and spa access, so free use of the spa, sauna and steam room, as well as one included massage each and discounts on other treatments. We booked in for our free massage and were given the usual upsell but it was pretty half hearted which was quite a refreshing change! I think this was many because the 21 night repositioning cruise was nearly over and everyone had settled into a routine and everything seemed pretty chilled.
After spending sail away in the peace of the relaxation area of the spa we settled in to our room, unpacked (which didn’t take long as we had travelled hand baggage only – really!) and went off for supper. The Aurea dining room is L’Approdo which is at the stern, our table had a lovely view through panoramic windows of Madeira as it disappeared over the horizon. The tables were set out for 2 and obviously everyone had had the same table every night, the tables were close enough together to talk to people around you and we practised our French (me) and German (my daughter) and smilingly nodded at our Italian neighbours – in fact the only people who seemed a bit unfriendly were British which was odd! Our main waiter was Cuban ( as were many of the staff on board) and he was obviously thrilled to have new faces aboard and we had excellent service. Wine was by the glass on our package but our waiter brought us a glass of sparkling wine to welcome us every evening and then a very nice Sauvignon Blanc which we continued with for the rest of our trip even though he was keen to find us something else! The food was a bit hit and miss, the first nights menu was Portuguese themed for Madeira and contained salt cod in three different disguises which was a bit weird, we were both tired so opted for a nice simple risotto which was extremely bland but quite nice once we’d tipped a load of parmesan into it and lots of seasoning! The food on the next two nights was ok but on our last night there was a Gala (formalish) evening and the food was extremely good. This restaurant was supposed to be a much higher standard than the main restaurant La Caravella but I really hope that isn’t true as it would be pretty bad! I suspect that the food is much the same but the level of customer service is higher. The food was generally not great, the pizza and pasta from Ill Patio was good & we never tried the hamburgers but the food in the buffet was really quite weird in places, I did wonder if they were running out of things as it seemed quite hard to find something simple to eat. I really don’t do roast meals or casseroles for lunch but a simple roll with some ham and salad or something seemed impossible to source. The ice creams were great and included in our package and we also enjoyed the two Nutella filled crepes which we are ashamed to have bought on our last afternoon (extremely scrummy though!).
The Entertainment Crew were fun and worked very hard, we joined in some games on deck on our first day and also a dance class. We never got around to the mini golf of the shuffle board because we just found too much else to do! An extremely macho dance troupe from Cuba were running a Salsa class which was very popular and well attended, although we were two weeks behind & slightly out of our depth we thoroughly enjoyed it. We weren’t huge fans of the shows in the theatre but enjoyed the Karaoke which was multilingual, hugely supportive and great fun. We took part in MasterChef at sea which was great and the crew had a lot of fun with all the different languages that had to be used on board, managing to make light of what can be a very irritating part of a multi national ship as every small announcement seems to go on for ever! It was only on our first morning that I realised that we hadn’t done a Drill when we came on board, which was quite a relief as I imagine would be extremely wearing in five languages, so we located our muster station and checked our lifejackets like good passengers and carried on having fun. There was a lot to do on board, none of it exactly intellectual because of the language barrier. There was a lot of live music but mainly very amplified and we did find it odd that although there were pianos in many of the bars you really only ever heard people playing keyboards! There were the usual shops, offers and photographers which we largely kept away from although apparently the Aurea package also gave us one free portrait so we were happy to accept that!
The passage from Funchal to Cadiz wasn’t exactly rough but the transatlantic swell rolling underneath us was quite noticeable and I noticed that a few people were quite uncomfortable with it. The pool was drained and the hot tubs closed because of the ships motion, I’m not sure if its always a feature of that part of the world or if we were particularly unlucky but it was a relief to turn towards Spain and put the swell beneath rather than across us. We docked at Cadiz and had a lovely sunny but windy day ashore in the town, getting back onboard a little early for our massages. These were slightly disappointing, not unpleasant in any way but just a bit perfunctory, maybe because we hadn’t booked any other treatments or maybe just because of the end of season feeling that was becoming a bit noticeable. The Cuban dancers had a big good bye party, various things were being tidied up and put away, bars were running out of bits and pieces….the crew continued in very good humour and I suppose its always the same at the end of a cruise but it was more noticeable because we still felt new! That was one of the funniest things on board, every time we did something or met someone they wanted to know why they’d missed us for the previous fortnight, and then were even more confused when we said we had only just got on! It was quite nice to be a novelty on board for once, everyone wanted to talk to us because we were new. People found it even more confusing when they realised we were getting off at Barcelona rather than finishing the cruise in Genoa with everyone else! The other couple who had joined at Funchal said that they had experienced the same, they told us that they get sent very very special offers because they spend so much in the casino, they reckoned that what they gambled on one cruise basically paid for their next one! I’m not sure thats a budgeting tool I want to try – they were lovely though!
Leaving Cadiz and passing through the Straits of Gibraltar was a special moment, everyone gathered on deck to watch. The next day was the final sea day of the cruise with a Gala night. The dress code on ship generally was ‘European smart’ which is glitzier than UK smart and most of the men were in jackets or very smart shirts even on the non gala nights. We were invited to the Captains Cocktail party and that was pretty glitzy but cocktail dress and heels rather than long frock, no bow ties. Excellent entertainment in the bars that night with a lot of people dancing late into the night. We were off in the morning but continued to be an object of curiosity, even as we waited for our nightcap hot chocolate to take to bed on our last night we were questioned about where we’d been hiding for a fortnight!
Next day a bright sunny morning saw us arriving in Barcelona with two other MSC ships so there was a lot of waving and cheering as each one came in, a really family atmosphere. There are a lot of things I really liked about MSC- the crew in particular, the ship, the atmosphere, the layout of the room and the main dining room. Others not so much…the food, the buffet area and the multi national announcements mainly. Joining for such a short section of the repositioning cruise wasn’t a problem at all and we would definitely do it again.
We had some lovely response to our cruise competition round up last month so have done another list for you! Mixed bag of competitions this month, sea cruises are a little thin on the ground this month but there are lots of river cruises and couple of other interesting ideas too! Good Luck and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you!!
PS: Tiny little reality check… most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see!!
COMPETITIONS CLOSING THIS MONTH…
Win an Adriatic cruise for two in June 2020, on the ‘Gold’ Cruise aboard Marella Discovery 2. The fly cruise itinerary from Naples includes Venice, Split, Dubrovnic, Ancona and Messina, as well as Gold fm themed parties in the evenings. Signup to website required. https://campaign.mygoldmusic.co.uk/marella-gold-cruise-tui-sept19
ALMOST a cruise from Capital radio and DFDS Seaways – a trip to Amsterdam with an outside cabin on a DFDS mini cruise to Amsterdam from Newcastle. Includes a hotel stay, in Amsterdam, meals onboard the ship and spending money.
Holiday hypermarket have a competition to win an all inclusive Mediterranean cruise, including flights for two, on the Marella Celebration. The cruise starts at Dubrovnik before visiting Malta, Sicily, Italy and Montenegro. Everyone who enters will receive a £50 discount code applicable to ANY Marella cruise sailing from 1st October 2019 right through to 30th April 2020. Sign up required. https://www.holidayhypermarket.co.uk/hype/win-a-cruise/
Australian Company Cruiseco and Riviera river cruises are running a competition to win your choice of cruise from their selection. Answer: Cruiseco collections. There does not seem to be a location based restriction on entry. https://giveawayalley.com/win-the-cruise-you-choose
Win a cruise for two on Celebrity Silhouette on 9th May 2020 or 27th June 2020 in Southampton. The prize is a 7-night Norwegian Fjords cruise to Bergen, Geiranger, Flam, and Stavanger and the competition involves registering with Hays Cruise. https://www.hayscruise.co.uk/win-a-cruise.phtml
So get entering – GOOD LUCK, don’t forget to tell us if you win !!
PS Hope the lucky Cruise Addicts enjoy their books! If you’re unlucky don’t forget The Confident portExplorer and The Cruise Planner are both available from Amazon or our website http://www.portexplore.me
DOVER… The majority of visitors to Dover arrive through the frankly uninspiring Ferry Port on the Eastern side of Dover Harbour, drive off the ferry and get out of Dover as fast as they can Others arrive at the Western Docks by cruise ship and are herded onto a coach trip to see the sights of London! So while most of these arriving passengers will have spotted the famous white cliffs from the sea and some may even have noticed the famous Dover Castle perched high above the port they are missing out on some real hidden gems. There is a lot more to Britains oldest port than white cliffs so make time on your visit for a little portExplore.…
1. Old Dover Maritime train station … at the western edge of the harbour is a large brick built doorway with a steep flight of stairs. red these lead to a long glazed walkway. Every passenger travelling from London to Calais would have used this passage from its construction in the 1920s until the late 1960s – a very evocative space. At the very end of the passage you can see down into the old ticket hall and past that is the entrance to the harbour wall. Although is owned by the Dover Sea Angling Association they are normally happy to let visitors walk it. This is a really good camera op and makes for some wonderful pictures of the port, cruise ships, the White Cliffs and Dover Castle.
2. Shakespeare Beach & Cliffs… Walk back through the station walkway and at the bottom of the stairs turn left, follow the road round past the fishermen’s huts onto the shingle of Shakespeare Beach. Although not a good place to swim because of the serious undertow this is a good beach for a nice crunchy, bracing walk. Go right to the far end and you will find Shakespeare’s Cliff – it is called that because it is mentioned in the play King Lear. Shakespeare wrote a description of the Samphirepickers who scrambled down from the cliff top, clinging to a rope and clutching a basket to pick the green samphire – a local delicacy which you can still see growing on the cliff. Don’t attempt to climb around the headland or onto the cliff though as it is quite unstable, with frequent rock falls
3. Samphire Hoe… further to the west, on the other side of Shakespeare Cliff, but only accessible from the top of the cliffs, is an award winning nature reserve.To find it follow the footpath out of Dover, marked as The North Downs Way, it will take you to the tunnel entrance and down through the cliffs to Samphire Hoe. A stunning location and outstanding scenery with peace and quiet, walks, wildflowers, birds and wildlife. The site becomes wilder the further you get from the visitor centre but most of the Hoe is accessible for wheelchair users and the mobility impaired who can follow a route marked on the map displayed by the Cafe. If you turn and look up the cliff you will be able to see remnants of the old footpath which used to be the only access but is now defunct and extremely unsafe. The 30 hectare site with amazing biodiversity, a peaceful place to see plants, butterflies, sheep, dragonflies and birds. The location of the Hoe, just across the Channel from mainland Europe, means it is an important area for migrant birds.
4. The Lanes Pub… after all this walking you will be pleased with choice no 4!! The Lanes Micropub in Worthington Street, Dover, was named at Kent named as Pub of the year 2018 by CAMRA, the real ale society. It is small, friendly and family run and if you’re not a beer fan they also sell Kent wines, Mead, ciders and Perry (cider made form local pears.) They don’t do food but are quite happy for you to buy something from the Deli opposite and bring it back! A refreshing change in these days of Gastropubs – good conversation, board games, no keg beer, lager, or piped music- a proper pub!
5. Music Gone By…
If you are interested in Vinyl do not miss this quirky little shop in London Road which is stuffed full of old vinyl records at really good prices!! Otherwise shopping in Dover is a bit meh although you can sometimes find a real bargain in the De-Bradleigh Wharf Outlet stores down by the marina.
6. Western Heights
Climb up to the Western Heights, a wooded area above the port western docks for amazing views across to France on a clear day. You can follow various trails through the cliffs and discover the remains of a Knights Templar chapel, a roman lighthouse, WW1 dugouts and gun emplacements as well as the massive defences built to defend against invasion by the French, that never actually happened.You can see these Napoleonic defenses… forts, barracks and a unique triple Helix staircase that run 140 foot down through the cliffs – lots to explore and see, or maybe just sit and look at the view!
I hope you enjoy your time in Dover, let me know below what you think and especially if you want to add any more of your own Hidden Gems!!
Thanks to Connie for asking me to join this great programme, which is covering Hidden Gems all over the UK. Make sure you look at all the other Hidden Gems posts to see if there is something close to you!
Sitka, on the Pacific Coast of Barenof Island in Alaska, is one of the more unusual ports to see featured on an Alaskan itinerary. Originally built by Russian traders in the early 1800’s it has a very different feel to the wild west, gold rush mining towns that form most of the other ports of call in the area and is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance!!
Baranof Island is covered mainly covered by the huge Tongrass National Forest -the island is 100 miles long but the the coast road only extends about seven miles on either side of the town! Looming over Sitka from across the sound is Mount Edgecumbe, an extinct volcano and bird sanctuary, which looks eerily like Mount Fuji. Smaller, heavily wooded, islands fill the channel and some of the most popular excursions are out on the water – fishing, whale watching, kayaking or visiting the puffins on Mount Edgecumbe.
Shore based excursions take you out to the edge of the Tongass Forest or to one of the destinations in town – just do a little homework before booking as the town runs free shuttle buses from the port to the town centre, which is flat and compact so almost everywhere is easily accessible on your own. Some ships moor out in Sitka Sound and use tenders to bring people in to the same point – Harrigan Hall on the edge of Crescent Harbor. You might want to tale a look at the Port Profile for Sitka published in our talkExplore group on Facebook for a few ideas of things to do. The ‘Fortress of the bear’ and the Raptor Rescue Centre are both on the edge of town and accessible by bus or taxi.
The town hosts the Internationally renowned annual Sitka Summer Music festival which runs in various locations around the town including the Sheldon Jackson College which itself is the base for the Sitka Fine Arts summer camp. We were lucky enough to fall across an amazing FREE lunchtime concert with two absolutely world class cellists and a local ballet dancer! We reached the hall by shuttle bus, feet and serendipity – we weren’t actually looking for it at all, but fell across it by accident! Afterwards we spoke to some people from the ship who had paid $59 each for the coach trip into town and the concert! It hadn’t cost us a penny….although they did get coffee!
Sitka was originally home to the Tlingit people who fought a huge battle against the Russians from their fort built of sapling Sitka spruce trees – the site is preserved and honoured within the lovely temperate rainforest – Totem National Park which is also home to 18 Tlingit and Haida totem poles collected from all over Alaska – ‘gifted ‘ by the First Nations people to be exhibited at the 1904 Exposition – they were relocated here after the exhibition rather than being returned to their original homes and now look out across Sitka Sound and Indian River – very atmospheric and definitely worth a visit!
If you are travelling with kids a walk around Crescent Harbor will bring you to Sika’s brand new musical play park – full of colourful instruments and drums as well as the more conventional climbing frames and slides, it is definitely somewhere for the kids to run off steam! Further on you will find the Sitka Sound Science Centre, – five aquariums, touch tanks, a killer whale skeleton and a salmon hatchery give kids a real hands on experience!
There are free museums at Harrigan Centennial Hall, where the free shuttle drops you, on the Sheldon Jackson Campus and in the ground floor of Russian Bishop’s House. The upper floor of the House is accessible on a free guided tour but the most evocative building relating to the towns Russian heritage as the city of ‘New Archangel’ is St Michaels Cathedral, an onion domed, icon filled building on Lincoln Street not far from the shuttle drop-off.
Shopping is slightly different to other Alaskan ports, with shops showing a strong Russian influence, but we were very impressed by the efforts that the town was making to interact with cruise passengers, almost every street corner had a pitch set up for a locally made jewellery stall, art exhibition or a hotdog stand- you can read my blog below on young Nate and his entrepreneurial friends to find out more…
We really liked Sitka and ran out of time to see all we wanted to – go if you get the chance, you are bound to have a great time there too. We were really happy just walking the sites and didn’t wish that we had taken a tour at all!
Whatever you choose to do, we hope you have a great day portExploring!!
Especially once that might win you a cruise or cruise related goodies! I suddenly realised that there were a few I had entered that had closing dates coming up shortly so I thought it would be friendly to share them with you all – if you know of a competition I’ve missed then please add a link in the comments!
Good luck and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you!!
PS: Tiny little reality check…. I suspect most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see!!
Win a ‘the chance to experience the new P&O ship IONA’ on a cruise to the Fjords by signing up to the email list of Broadway travelcruise. The prize is obviously a cruise but there are no details….
Vote in the British Cruise Awards 2019 to enter a prize draw. The prize is a cruise for two on the brand new Carnival ship Mardi Gras which launches in August 2020 – an ocean view cabin on a ship which will feature the worlds first-ever roller coaster at sea!
Molton Brown has created the new Seabourn Collection and are offering a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard a Seabourn ship for 2 people with £1,500 cash to use towards your flights and transfers, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list.
Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list.
World of Cruising have another Cruise & Maritime Voyages cruise on offer… 12-night ‘Easter Hidden Baltic Treasures’ for two in a twin ocean view, departing from London Tilbury on 11 April 2020, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list.
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Here are Lucky,Nate and their entrepreneurial friends from Sitka, Alaska – who have changed my thoughts about cruising!!
We found them encamped at the Sitka port shuttle terminus in town, where they had set up their picnic table stalls full of home baked cookies, decorated shells, homemade magnets and jewellery – some stalls were decorated with driftwood, bunting and even an otter pelt! They were all really pleased to see us, proud of their wares and eloquent about their town and its history.
We were very taken with these kids… it turned out that they had all paid $10 at the start of the season and that purchasing a pitch meant they were committing to being there every day there was a ship in port. Each stall had a little sign explaining who the kids were, with a little bit about their families and their hopes and dreams for the future. Nate told me that is was the best way to save up money for college and that he’d been up since 05.00 cooking his various cookies and brownies – I asked if Mum had helped but no, “she’s at work”. I asked if they were missing out on the summer but all told me that they were happy to have the chance to be there, and as they could go once they had sold out, they got most afternoons free. They were all proud to have been selected to have a stand and the quality of their cookies was excellent…we had to sample a few to be sure!
And it got me thinking….
Why don’t more ports do this? Isn’t an engraved abalone shell -picked up on a beach a few metres away and carefully etched 2019- a bettersouvenir than a plastic grudge magnet that we all know are made in bulk in China and imported? Why don’t more ports and cities let their young people have direct access to visiting cruisers and the opportunity to sell their own homemade crafts and baked goods? If more of the “cruise dollar” found its way into individuals pockets rather than into the coffers of large multinationals would we be avoiding the backlash we are seeing in Barcelona, Tortola Venice, Dubrovnik, St Martin, Amsterdam….
Its understandable in a way that we’ve made ourselves so unpopular in these places – we spend very little in comparison to visitors that stay in town overnight. What we do spend is quite often booked through the cruise line who have driven a hard bargain with local and national suppliers thus reducing the amount of money that reaches the pockets of the locals still further. In Alaska we were shocked to hear that cruise companies actually owned the jewellery shops that were on the list of “recommended stores”, further that all the privately owned shops that were listed would have paid handsomely to be featured.
Yet there were many quirky and lovely shops to be found in town, most with individual, local made products, such as these amazing wooden guitars, rather than mass produced ‘touristy ‘ items that we saw in every port (and in the shops on board!) – the Artists Cove in Sitka and Parnassus Books in Ketchikan being two examples. It time to search for a locally owned coffee bar rather than use Starbucks just because it is familiar (Seattle excepted!!).
So this is my new mission statement
I will be a better tourist -a Conscious Cruiser!
I will actively try and spend my money where it directly benefits local people.
I will look for locally made products when ashore and buy from locally owned businesses.
I will enjoy local colour and sights where I actually am and avoid rushing off to a tourist site miles from port where possible.
Lets see how we get on! I wonder if this could be the beginning of a new movement, a little like the ‘Slow Food’ movement – maybe we should start a Conscious Cruising movement and start to turn the tide of public opinion back towards a port being happy that a ship is arriving – lets bring back the excitement of a berthing that Lucky, Nate and friends all admitted to feeling! I let you know how we get on, maybe you might even want to join me and become a Conscious Cruiser – you might even come up with a better name!!!
I’d love to know what you think, please leave me a comment below!