Category Archives: Cruises

The cruise experience from selecting the right cruise to booking the cruise.

Fast-growing Viking to have six ocean ships by 2020

AMSTERDAM — River cruise giant Viking’s move into ocean cruising is poised to accelerate with the line operating six vessels at sea as early as September 2020.

A company executive on Tuesday revealed an official timetable for the arrival of its fifth and sixth ocean ships: June 2018 and September 2020, respectively. As previously announced, three other ships on order will debut by late 2017.

All of the ships will be sisters to the company’s first ocean ship, the 930-passengerViking Star, which debuted in April 2015.

The disclosure of a firm timetable for the arrival of the company’s fifth and sixth ocean ships came during a press conference preceding the christening of six Viking river ships along the Amsterdam waterfront.

Offering an updated outlook for Viking’s expansion into ocean cruising, Viking executive Jeff Dash said the company would take delivery of its second ocean ship, Viking Sea, on March 24 from the shipyard in Italy where it has been under construction for more than a year. The next two vessels in the series, Viking Sky and Viking Sun, are now scheduled for delivery on Feb. 15, 2017 and Oct. 31, 2017, respectively, Dash said.

Dash then went on to list the months for the debut of Viking’s fifth and sixth ships, which he called “unnamed one” and “to-be-named two,” apparently forgetting that such specifics had yet to be publicly announced.

“But I don’t think we’ve announced all of them yet, have we,” he said, turning to other Viking executives at the press conference.

“No, we haven’t,” said a company spokesperson sitting in the back, who then added, laughing, “we just did.”

Viking’s rollout of new ships is on track to be one of the fastest on record for a new ocean line. Assuming the timetable holds, Viking will surpass one of its closet competitors, Azamara Club Cruises, in passenger capacity later this month, and it’ll be bigger than rival Oceania Cruises by 2020. Including a new ship starting service in April, Oceania’s vessels now have a capacity for 5,236 passengers at double occupancy. Viking’s planned rollout of ships will give it a capacity of 5,580 passengers by 2020. Oceania has no new ships on the way after April.

Viking is competing closely with Azamara and Oceania with similarly upscale, destination-focused voyages on ships in the 650 to 1,250 passenger range.

Viking also soon will have more capacity than luxury lines Seabourn Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Crystal Cruises, which also operate small- to medium-size ships. Viking is poised to surpass all three lines in passenger capacity by early next year.

Speaking at a dinner Tuesday night following the river ship christening, Viking chairman Torstein Hagen once again said the company is aiming for at least 10 ocean ships in addition to 100 river ships — numbers he has thrown out at company events several times over the past two years. The company currently operates 56 river ships in Europe and markets several more river vessels in Asia.

Hagen said bookings for Viking’s new ocean cruises are strong. The company has made waves in the ocean cruise industry the past year with its emphasis on a “no nickel-and-diming” philosophy that is relatively rare even on upscale lines. It offers complimentary Internet access to all passengers and an included tour in every port. Both are hallmarks of river cruising that have never caught on with ocean lines. Beer and wine also is complimentary with lunch and dinner on Viking ships, and even little things like movies on the interactive televisions in rooms and the ship’s self-serve laundry machines are available at no extra charge.

For a peek inside the Viking Star, click through our ‘first look’ photo tour in the carousel at the top of this story. For a look inside the Viking Star’s cabins, click through the carousel below.

Interested? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on line at www.vipleisuretravel.com

New Holland America ship takes to the sea.

Holland America's newest ship, the 2,650-passenger

What will Holland America’s next ship look like under way? Our new photo tour, in the carousel above, offers a sneak peek at the 2,650-passenger Koningsdam undergoing sea trials in recent days off the coast of Italy.

The tour also includes recent shots of the Koningsdam under construction and artist drawings of interior spaces planned for the vessel.

Scheduled to debut in April, the 99,500-ton Koningsdam is the first of a new class of vessel at Holland America that will be larger than previous ships and have a more contemporary design. The line tapped noted resort and restaurant designer Adam Tihany to create interior spaces in partnership with Bjørn Storbraaten, who worked on two earlier Holland America vessels. Tihany also has created spaces for Celebrity and Seabourn ships.

A major milestone in the construction of a cruise ship, sea trials involve days of maneuvers to test propulsion, steering and navigational equipment, and Holland America says the Koningsdam passed with flying colors. It’s now back at theFincantieri shipyard near Venice, Italy where it has been under construction for more than a year.

With sea trials completed, only final finishing work remains before the Koningsdam is delivered to Holland America by the shipyard. With its addition, the line will have 14 ships at sea.

Koningsdam will operate a diverse range of seven- to 26-day sailings around the Mediterranean and Baltic through the fall starting at $999 per person followed by Caribbean and Bahamas sailings.

Call us to book your next cruise at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

Norwegian Cruise Line to expand in Europe

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Make that five ships in Europe for Norwegian Cruise Line.

The Miami-based cruise operator on Tuesday announced it would send five vessels to Europe for the summer of 2017 — one more than this year and the most in its 50-year history.

Norwegian said one of its newest ships, the 3,969-passenger Norwegian Getaway, would reposition to the Baltic for the summer from its current home in Miami, operating eight- and nine-night voyages out of Copenhagen.

The Getaway’s new itineraries will feature calls in Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland;Stockholm, Sweden; and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Norwegian in 2017 also will offer its first complete season of cruises out of Hamburg, Germany as the Norwegian Jade moves to the city. The ship will operate seven- and nine-day Western Europe cruises; nine- and ten-day Norwegian Fjords cruises; 12-day Norway and North Cape sailings; as well as a 14-day Norway, Iceland and UK cruise.

In addition to Hamburg, passengers sailing the Norwegian Jade during the summer of 2017 also will be able to embark the vessel in the UK and Amsterdam.

Norwegian Jade sailings that include stops in the UK will mark the first time since 2010 that the line has operated from one of the country’s ports.

Other Norwegian ships operating in Europe for the summer of 2017 will include the Norwegian Epic, which once again will offer seven-night sailings out of Barcelona; Civitavecchia, Italy (near Rome); and Marseille, France.

Norwegian Spirit will sail alternating 10- and 11-night Grand Mediterranean cruises between Barcelona and Venice; and Norwegian Star will spend the summer cruising from Venice to the Greek Isles as well as the Adriatic, Greece & Turkey.

Ready to book you next cruise? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

 

Cruising in 2015? Trends We Love!

6 Trends We Love About Cruising in 2015

(Photo: PrincessCruises/Facebook)

Here at VIP Leisure Travel, cruise expert Lori has been sharing the inside track on trends and updates to help readers plan the perfect vacation at sea.  Here are six of her favorites:

1. More deals, better prices

We all love a good deal, and happily we’re seeing more chances to save money on a cruise. It used to be that the cruise lines waited until “wave season” — typically the first quarter of a new year — to roll out discounts and perks aimed at jumpstarting advance bookings. But now we’re seeing many more discounted cruises and lots of free amenities being offered throughout the year, especially on Caribbean and Europe voyages. For examples from the past year,Princess Cruises launched a suite and balcony cabin sale in July, while Royal Caribbean held two of its signature Wow sales in late summer and early fall. In October, MSC Cruisesoffered weeklong Caribbean voyages for an eye-popping $299 per person. One note: These deals always have a short booking window, so be ready to put down your deposit when a great discount, an onboard credit, or other valuable offer comes along.

2. Multi-generational cruising

(Photo: Thinkstock)

Big family groups are embracing vacations at sea like never before. Grandparents splashing in the pool with the grandkids and Baby Boomers on shore excursions with their parents are common sights on cruise vacations today. With meals and entertainment included in the cruise fare, family group cruising has already been seen as an affordable travel option with plenty of activities for all ages. But the trend is gaining even more steam as cruise lines go all out with special accommodations choices, free or reduced fares for children, and more supervised activities for tots and toddlers. And families can now stay close — but not too close — in multi-room staterooms and adjoining cabins that offer both privacy and proximity for multi-generational families. Some family suites, as on Royal Caribbean Internationalships, are configured with two bedrooms and two baths, plus larger balconies for outside enjoyment.

3. Catering to solos

There was a time when cruising solo was only for the well-to-do, because cruise lines charge a single supplement fee when just one person books a double cabin. The fee usually is at least 100 percent of the single fare, meaning you’ll pay the equivalent of two cruise fares. This policy is slowly but surely going the way of the dinosaur. Today, we’re seeing more cruise lines, of all sizes, waiving these single supplements at various times during the year as well as building ships that have specially designed solo cabins. Carnival Cruise Lines, for instance, waived all single supplements on upward of 60 cruises between April and June of 2014, and Norwegian Cruise Line was first out of the shipyard with single staterooms a few years back. We’re expecting more lines to join in kind — so if you’re a solo traveler, read this guide to solo cruising, then start packing.

Ready to book your next cruise vacation? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

Cruise Deals for Less Than $75 a Night.

April and May could be the best months to cruise this year. Besides the usual seasonal bargains at both major and regional ports, there are some fantastic re-positioning cruises at lower-than-expected rates. Throughout most of the year, cruises under $100 a night are considered good deals, but Yahoo Travel found a number of spring cruises — for under $75 a night!

Keep in mind that the best rates are for inside cabins, but there are also bargains to be found among the outside and balcony class cabins, as well.

Here are some of the best bets for the season.

Houston and Galveston — Worth a Serious Look

Spring Cruise Deals for Less Than $75 a Night. Seriously!

Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas is headed for the Western Caribbean out of Galveston, Texas. (Photo: Carolyn Poirot/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Royal Caribbeansail seven-nighters from here — and the competition this spring is heating up. The ships travel to ports like Cozumel and Playa del Carmen in Mexico; Roatan; Belize; Grand Cayman; and Jamaica.

Carnival’s Freedom and Magic have seven-night trips from Galveston with spring rates starting at only $419 per person. That divides down to a mere $59.86 per night per person. On some dates, even the ocean-facing outside cabins fall below $75 per night.

NCL sails the Norwegian Jewel from the Port of Houston with April itineraries starting at $479 per person. That’s $68.43 per night.

Royal Caribbean sails the Navigator of the Seas with rates starting at $499 per person ($71.29 per night) on April 5 and 19, as well as on May 3.

Even Florida Ports are Playing the Spring Bargain Game

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Miami is a popular port for cruises with many springtime deals available. (Photo: Yanni Georgoulakis / Alamy)

Florida is where most of us start our Caribbean cruises. Abundant and affordable flights into and out of most Florida port cities make planning the entire trip easier. But note that prices begin to rise just before Memorial weekend and don’t return to the bargain basement again until Labor Day.

You can sail the Caribbean for 10 nights out of Miami on the Norwegian Pearl for only $649 per person. Think $64.90 per person per night.

Carnival’s Splendor, Glory, and Breeze are all bargains out of Miami with six- and seven-night sailings starting at $67.83 per person per night.

Holland America’s Noordam offers either a 10- or 11-night Caribbean itinerary for the rest of March with prices as low as $699 for an ocean-view cabin.

Short Cruises are Perfect for Last-Minute Escapes

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Take a long weekend and set sail for Cozumel! (Photo: Grand Tour/Corbis)

Look at short runs from the Bahamas, Miami, and Los Angeles on the West Coast.

Carnival’s Ecstasy makes four-night Caribbean runs out of Miami for as low as $219 this spring ($54.75 a night). The trip that really caught our eye was on April 20 with Smokey Robinson live in concert onboard. Tickets to the concert are an additional $35 per guest.

For a West Coast cruise, Carnival’s Inspiration and Imagination make three- and four-night trips to Catalina and Ensenada, with even the ocean-view cabins charging below $75 per night.

This spring the Norwegian Pearl re-positions itself from the Caribbean to Alaska, and the last leg is a five-night West Coast journey (Los Angeles to Vancouver via San Francisco and Victoria), with prices starting at $59.80 per person per night.

Don’t Rule Out Alaska

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Alaska can be a beautiful cruise destination any time of year. (Photo: Norwegian Cruises)

Your friends may be telling you that May is too early to enjoy an Alaskan cruise. Just wave bon voyage to the naysayers while you save big bucks.

The best Alaskan bargain of the year may be on NCL’s Norwegian Pearl, where a 10-night cruise starting on May 7 is as low as $59.90 per person per night.

Princess offers what it calls an Alaska Sampler: four nights on the Ruby Princess starting at $74.75 per night. The catch? The only Alaskan port is Ketchikan.

Aloha, Hawaii!

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Royal Caribbean stops at five Hawaiian ports, including Kauai. (Photo: Thinkstock)

If a cruise to Hawaii is something you have always dreamed of but thought you could never afford, you may be wrong. Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas sails on May 14, with inside cabins on this 10-night sailing for only $64.90 per person per night. Ocean view cabins start at $77.90 per person. You can’t spend a week at a LaQuinta hotel for that!

Re-position Your Attitude by Sailing These Ships on the Cheap

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The Serenade of the Seas allows plenty of aquatic adventures — like snorkeling with the friendly stingrays of Grand Cayman. (Photo: Getty Images)

As long as you are good with lots of days at sea, a re-positioning cruise can be a fun way to get some serious downtime — and some great deals.

On April 11, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas moves from New Orleans to Boston to prepare for a summer in northern Europe. Hitch a 13-night ride from NOLA to Beantown for a mere $929 per person ($71.46 a night) for an outside cabin. Ports of call include Grand Cayman, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. Talk about taking the long way around!

On April 19, NCL’s Norwegian Epic moves from Miami to Barcelona. Jump on board and enjoy a balcony cabin on an 11-night voyage for the ridiculously low price of $54.45 per person per night.

Also on April 19, the Emerald Princess moves from Houston to the Mediterranean on an epic 20-night trip that will only set you back $1,199 per person for an outside cabin ($59.95 a night). Stops include Rome and Monte Carlo. Think about this: in the summer, it can be hard to find a 10-night cruise for that price.

Call us today to book your next cruise at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

Healthy Reasons To Take A Cruise Vacation

CLIA’s 12 Healthy Reasons To Take A Cruise Vacation

According to a recent study, cruise travelers rank an ocean cruise as the best overall vacation experience. In addition to being fun, a cruise vacation provides a number of health benefits which are supported by third party research.  This week, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) revealed 12 reasons why taking a cruise is a great choice for vacationing and the overall health of the cruise traveler.

“People today are more stressed and overbooked than ever before. Vacations are important to allow the mind and body to re-energize and relax,” said Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “A cruise vacation in particular provides a variety of places to see as well as the chance to take part in on-board activities in a safe and healthy environment.”

“The great thing about a cruise is that you can do as much or as little as you want, and you’ll still have a nice break from your daily routines at home,” Whitbourne continued. “If you do decide to explore the sights and many opportunities a cruise can provide, you’ll come back from your trip with a set of new memories, experiences and even friends.”

1. Sunshine: There’s no better place to enjoy the morning sunshine than a cruise ship deck. Studies have found that getting an hour of natural sunlight in the morning can help fine-tune your internal clock, allowing you to get more (and better!) sleep. Sunshine also has long-term benefits since it helps the body produce the important Vitamin D which has been found to help fight off heart disease and cancer. Moderate amounts of sunshine will also boost serotoninlevels that fight off depression. So apply sunscreen and enjoy the rays!

2. Relaxation: Finding time to relax plays a vital role in overall health. Chronic stress can lead to a myriad of problems, including impaired memory, inflammation, high blood pressure and heart disease. Skip the stress by lounging at the pool, enjoying spa treatments and relaxing in comfortable accommodations. Best of all, cruising allows for a stress-free vacation experience where vacationers can just “go with the flow” of the itinerary.

3. Cleanliness: Cruise line cleanliness is highly regulated. Each room and common area is kept clean, presentable and disinfected. From door handles to poker chips, cruise ships are regularly sanitized for the well-being of everyone on board. Clean hands also guide a steady ship, as those on-board are urged to wash hands frequently.

4. Ocean Air: The benefits of fresh, ocean air are seemingly limitless and cruisers can take full advantage day and night.  Between daytime excursions and nights spent relaxing on the ship deck, there is plenty of time to breathe deeply! Fresh air is known to help keep lungs clean; aid in digestion; improve heart rate; strengthen the immune system; and provide an energy boost.

5. Salt Water: Isak Dinesen knew what she was talking about when she said, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” Cruisers can take full advantage of the amazing benefits of the ocean. Aside from the stress relief a day at the beach provides, swimming in salt water can also help improve circulation by restoring vital minerals to your body. Ocean water and on-ship salt water swimming pools are also a natural beauty treatment, as the magnesium has been found to help hydrate skin and improve inflamed or red complexions.

6. Camaraderie: Humans are wired to connect with one another and in our hyper-digital age, this isn’t always a daily reality. Cruising allows for high amounts of quality bonding time with your vacation partners while also allowing you to socialize with new people. Whether over a gourmet dinner in the dining room or during a comedy routine in the ship theater, cruise ships offer time to connect with others free of work emails, smart phones and hand-held gaming systems.

7. Exploration: There’s something to be said about the benefits of exploration and having an adventure (not to mention the stories to tell!). Pre-planned cruise shore excursions allow cruisers to scuba dive, parasail, check out local sites in exotic locations and more, without the stress of making planning every detail or reading millions of reviews to find the right activities. Cruisers can see the world without spending months planning.

8. Healthy Dining Options: Though many people think it is impossible to eat well while on vacation, cruise ships around the world offer healthy dining fare and lighter meal options to accommodate every diet. Gluten-free? Vegan? Low-carb diet? Cruise ship chefs are happy to accommodate. Additionally, cruise ships offer buffets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins to help you build a better plate.

9. Staying Active: Cruise vacations offer vacationers a chance to stay active. There are plenty of onboard activities, like rock climbing, basketball or table tennis. In addition, many cruise ships offer full-service gyms and fun fitness classes like yoga in the morning or nighttime tai chi. It’s easy to stay active with options abound on each ship.

10. Meditation: Whether packing a dance card with endless excursions or taking a leisurely stroll around the port, “think time” on a cruise can help clear the mind. Meditation has been found to help reduce stress, negative emotions, recharge the mind and increase self-awareness. Nothing takes the mind to a peaceful place like gazing into open waters or meditating in a beach chair.

11. Stress-Free Vacation Planning: Vacations are important in terms of “getting away” and bonding with loved ones but the stress of planning every detail can be daunting. Cruising allows for stress-free vacation planning with pre-planned excursions, inclusive meals and endless on-ship entertainment. More importantly, a cruise vacation allows you to unpack and get settled in your cabin without the hassle of having to move your belongings, while you visit multiple destinations.

12. Better Budget Value: Nothing can bring down a vacation high quite like returning to a pile of credit card bills. Cruise vacations are a great all-inclusive way to enjoy a variety of vacation experiences without a variety of hidden costs. Cruise travel agents are also available to help budget and pre-plan trips for the most budget-friendly experiences.

Now you know. Call us today to book your cruise vacation at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008. Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

Planning an Alaska cruise? Use these money-saving tips!

Alaska’s coastline is studded with glaciers and inlets with improbable blue waters. The best of these is Glacier Bay, visited by many cruise ships such as Crystal Symphony.

With snow-capped mountains, pristine fjords, miles of emerald forests, eagles flying overhead and glaciers that thunderously calve into the sea, Alaska is one of the top cruise destinations in the world.

A summertime cruise in the calm waters of the Inside Passage takes you into the United States’ “Last Frontier.” It’s a must-do cruise – one very different from a fun-in-the-sun Caribbean sailing.

Here are some tips for planning your Alaska cruise.

Book early: Cruise lines have been touting a busy 2015 season. Surveys, including one by Travel Leaders Group, show Alaska as a top domestic travel destination this year (even ahead of places such as Orlando and Vegas). If you’re planning an Alaska cruise and want a decent price and a good choice of cabins, book now.

Go early or late in the season: The Alaska season generally runs from late April to September. Early-season pricing applies up to the beginning of June. September is also a shoulder season, with lower brochure rates. With fewer passengers in May you can avoid summer crowds. The most popular and highest priced months of July and August tend to bring warmer temperatures but can also be rainier.

Look at itinerary choices: Don’t stress about seeing the glaciers. Every itinerary, whether Inside Passage or Gulf of Alaska, will get you close to glaciers – whether that’s in Glacier Bay National Park or other spectacular places. Some itineraries spend more time at glaciers than others. Itineraries operated by the big ship lines visit virtually the same ports, Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau, and sometimes Icy Strait Point, Victoria B.C. or the Russian heritage city of Sitka. Small ships such as those operated by Un-Cruise Adventures and Alaskan Dream Cruises go farther afield.You can begin or end your cruise in Alaska, giving you more time to explore, or do a round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver.

Pick a ship that’s right for you: Options range from 22-passenger ships with limited public areas to 3,000-plus passenger ships with casinos, spas, lavish productions and other onboard attractions. Luxury cruisers will find choices that include Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea. Disney Cruise Line caters to families with kids – new this year the Disney Wonder will have “Frozen” activities and characters onboard. No matter what line you choose, consider booking a veranda cabin to catch the views.

Plan on lingering: You’ve come this far. Why not further explore? Cruisetours (also known as land + sea adventures) get you to such inland sights such as the Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park, Fairbanks and the Yukon Territory. Alaska powerhouses Holland America Line and Princess Cruises, both with seven ships in Alaska in 2015, have their own buses, rail cars and lodges. Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruises also runs their own land tours.

Pack carefully: Weather in Alaska is unpredictable. It can be quite chilly or you may experience temperatures in the 80s. The trick is to dress in layers, with a lightweight waterproof jacket on top and a warm sweater and T-shirt underneath. Bring rain gear. Bring shorts too. You’ll want sunscreen and bug spray (there may be mosquitoes). Don’t forget your camera and binoculars and keep them handy – you never know when you might spot a whale spout or a Grizzly bear in the distance.

Plan shore excursions: Alaska is one place where it pays to splurge on shore excursions. Flying over a glacier field is an unforgettable experience. While there are historic buildings and interesting museums in the ports (along with all sorts of tourist shops), you’ll want to head out of town to experience the real Alaska. Splurging on a whale watch tour, dog-sledding experience, deep-sea fishing excursion or other wilderness experience is well worthwhile. Booking in advance to get first dibs is advised.

Explore DIY options: You may be able to book some of the same tours (flights, kayaking, boat trips) offered by the cruise lines at a lower price by doing some research in advance. Hiking and biking are also good options at the ports (pick up maps at the tourist offices). In Juneau, a school bus ride to Mendenhall Glacier will cost you about $20 round-trip, and the trails are easy to explore on your own.

Try Alaska food/beer: While your ship may serve Alaska seafood, if time allows it’s fun to grab a halibut burger, reindeer sausage, or other local culinary treat at a port of call. A favorite is Tracy’s Crab Shack in Juneau, which serves impressively giant crab legs near the pier. Historic watering holes in several ports also serve locally brewed beer. Princess Cruises this year is bringing Alaskan delicacies (including Tracy’s crab cakes) onboard as part of its new “North to Alaska” programming.

Prepare to learn: Alaska will impact you in ways you can’t quite imagine, and it’s not just about the glories of Mother Nature. Nearly every ship has naturalists and other local experts — including Native Alaskans and park rangers — who come onboard to share their expertise on glaciers, geography, plant life, wildlife and culture. Plan to learn about the 49th State.

Ready to book your Alaska Cruise? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008. Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com