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Prepare for the worst…

by Elaine Johnston

Thank goodness, the Costa Concordia accident in Italy,  and the unfortunate fire on the Costa Allegra while sailing the Indian Ocean has not put a halt to folks booking cruises…what these incidents have done, though, is bring to mind the old Girl Scout motto:

“Be prepared.”

I have written several articles in the past about being prepared before leaving home, but I would like to share a letter to the editor of Travel Weekly – one of our better trade papers – by Peter K. Dallo, President of  TourService Custom Travel Experts in Hendersonville, NC. Peter has the best method yet…hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him…here goes:

“On a sheet of paper, duplicate passport pages with photos and signature. It’s possible to get two on a letter-size page.

On the other side, there is ample room to print all personal data, including:

1. A list of all medications, their pharmaceutical names, their purpose and correct dosage.
2. The names and phone numbers of all doctors and their specialties.
3. The names, phone numbers and email addresses of your attorney, broker, bank, etc.
4. Names, phone numbers and email addresses of family members, close friends, whoever is important.
5. Credit card information, including the phone number to call if stolen or compromised. If possible, code these in some way.
6. Your full names, postal address, cell and home phone numbers, fax number and email address.

Regardless of how much data there is, it is possible to fit all the information on a single page.

Fold the page in half three times. This produces a 2-by-3-inch sheet. Into this sheet place one or two $50 bills (if in Europe add a 50 euro note), wrap it in plastic wrap, place it in a sealable plastic bag (smaller than a sandwich bag).

This and a tiny flashlight should be carried at all times while onboard.

Should something happen, you have all contacts, passport data (so that a new one can be issued rapidly) as well as money to get you started. It is small enough for anyone to carry without hindrance.”

What do you think? I know I’ll be doing as Peter suggests on my next trip…it doesn’t have to be a cruise. Any trip will do!

Thanks for you time…have a great day!





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Cruising and Hurricanes

by Elaine Johnston

National Harbor DCA

Having just returned from visiting my daughter in Alexandria, VA during Irene’s onslaught of the East Coast of America and then returning home to Lee’s attempt at being a copy-cat in our neck of the woods, I thought it time for me to assure all cruisers and would be cruises that it’s safe to be sailing the high seas during severe weather. Actually – it’s safer being on board ship than on land trying to batten down the hatches. According to the Cruise Line’s International Association, here’s why:

  • Today’s cruise ships feature the most technologically advanced weather forecasting systems and equipment available, allowing officers and company officials to plan voyages to avoid weather-related disturbances in advance. Today’s cruise ships are completely mobile and able to alter, cancel, shorten or extend ship itineraries to provide the maximum comfort in instances of threatening weather.
  • Ships are able to work around port closures caused by severe weather conditions. In the event that ports of embarkation and debarkation are closed, cruise lines coordinate provisioning of the ship as well as transporting guest to and from the original port.
  • Cruise lines notify guests of all itinerary changes right up until the ship’s sailing date. Travelers should monitor cruise-line Web sites for itinerary changes prior to finalizing travel arrangements.
  • While cruise companies are in the business of selling vacations, the safety and security of guests and crew members is their primary concern. In all circumstances, cruise lines take extraordinary efforts to provide a safe and fulfilling vacation experience.
  • While today’s cruise guests purchase air transportation in a variety of ways, travelers who buy cruise-line air transportation receive premium protection and service in comparison with travelers who purchase air separately. Cruise-line air departments invariably stand by guests, working on their behalf to make all arrangements, efficiently reschedule flights and route guests to their ship in instances of travel disruptions caused by extraordinary weather.
  • The purchase of travel insurance, always an important element of any cruise vacation, assumes additional significance in instances of severe weather. Airline flight delays, which are covered in policies available from several providers, are most often the critical factor when you experience problems reaching your ship. Guests can purchase insurance to cover these situations and related expenses. (I’ll write more about travel insurance in another article – it’s important…)
  • In the rare instance a cruise is canceled due to weather-related circumstances, cruise lines, on a company-by-company basis, traditionally offer various solutions that extend to you the opportunity to enjoy a future cruise vacation within a reasonable time period and with your convenience in mind.

If you are planning to sail the ocean blue one day soon, keep your eyes peeled to the media for announcements for CLIA’S (Cruise Line International Association) National Cruise Vacation Week.

You’ve heard of the “World’s Longest Yard Sale”…get ready for the “World’s Largest Cruise Sale”. It runs October 17-23, 2011.

“Let’s Make a Deal” will be the name of the game. There will be savings of $1000 per person on select 2012 European departures with Avalon Waterways; Crystal Cruises is offering an additional $100 per person savings on most 2011-12 departures for bookings made Oct. 1 – 31; Cunard is offering “Feel Famous Fares” for the entire month of October – see Feel Famous Cunard for details; and not to be outdone, SeaDream Yacht Club will offer a $100 per staterooms spa credit on all 2011 and 2012 new bookings made Oct. 1-31.

These are but a tip of the iceberg. You’re bound to find something just right for you.

I’m here to help….

Thanks for your time – have a great day!



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Dude Ranch Vacations

by Elaine Johnston

Enjoy a taste of the West and learn the language of the Cowboy…

Picture yourself on a horseback ride through a sun-drenched forest after a fresh early morning rain or under the stars listening to the crickets singing their special lullabies as the crackle of the campfire plays in the background.

Imagine the smell of morning coffee a brew on the campfire or hearing your canoe paddle break the silence of glassy waters as you glide across a wilderness lake.

Envision stopping and standing still in the mystical splendor of pure silence as you’re hiking or riding through a lush, deep green forest.

There is no reason to simply “imagine” scenes like these. You can experience the outdoors in a truly memorable way with a vacation of a lifetime!  Think dude ranches, horseback adventures, fly-fishing, covered wagons, and cattle drives. Yes, you too can be a City Slicker

From Rustic to Resort…

The richness, romance, and experience of the Old West are still available with the offerings of some of the most spectacular settings to be found…

Experience the life and regimen of the American Cowboy as you ride your way back in time to a place where life was basic and the basics were a way of life. Add a touch of today’s modern pleasures that will change you forever. Dude and guest ranches are an extension of nature catering to your overall experience, enjoyment and comfort.

The first dude ranches were on the plain side – you rode hard and slept harder, unrolling a bedroll in a bunkhouse that offered more cowboy authenticity than creature comfort.

Today’s lodging varies from rustic log cabins with hot tubs under the stars to luxurious resorts and lodges with full-service spas such as the one below -  Mountain Sky Guest Ranch ¹ in Emigrant, Montana.



No two are alike…

I don’t want to give the impression that all dude ranches (also called guest ranches) offer the same kind of experience. While there are a few commonalities you can count on – an emphasis on horseback riding for one – the experiences you will find can vary dramatically depending on the ranch, and even the week you decide to stay. Finding the perfect match takes a bit of careful research…Mmm – right up my alley…I love to research!

Dude and guest ranches each have their own special flavor. Some are family-friendly with a full children’s program, others offer adults-only, singles-only, and ladies-only programs, and some have theme weeks.

Each ranch has a variety of mounts, from gentle ponies to spirited horses that are well trained and dependable.

While dude ranches offer the cowboy in you an array of horseback oriented activities, there are plenty of other adventures “out of the saddle”  the likes of:

  • fly-fishing and instruction
  • canoeing
  • hiking
  • wildlife and nature viewing
  • national park tours
  • skeet shooting
  • hunting
  • hayrides
  • rock climbing
  • whitewater rafting
  • tennis
  • golf
  • special ranch events
  • country swing and line dancing
  • and much, much more…

Can’t make it in the summer? Many ranches run winter programs that include:

  • cross-country skiing
  • snowmobiling
  • horse-drawn sleigh rides
  • and, snowshoeing

all in the midst of majestic winter surroundings. Truly romantic! (See what I mean about careful research?)

Dude Rancher’s Association

Since 1926, the Dude Rancher’s Association ² has acted as the governing body for the western ranch vacation industry, working its member ranches to ensure quality of services and with Federal and State agencies to protect the lands they thrive on. In order to become DRA members, dude ranches must go through a rigorous application process and a battery of site inspections to ensure that safety and quality standards are met for guests as well as livestock.

Location, Location, Location…

In choosing a ranch, location is an important factor not just for proximity and accessibility, but also for the type of riding environment you are looking for.

DRA member ranches are located in 12 US western states and 2 Canadian provinces:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia


Convenience aside, riding comes first and foremost at any dude ranch, so you will want to weigh in on the terrain you’re looking for, whether it be prairie or trail, mountain or desert.

Specialty Weeks

Looking for a new way to experience an American classic this summer?

Today’s dude ranches have expanded to offer a range of specialty weeks which may be centered on improving an artistic skill or an excuse to enjoy a girlfriend getaway.  Here are a few special weeks available this summer as mentioned on “Just Dude It” – the Dude Rancher’s Association blog:


Luxury Inn & Lodge Riding Vacation…first class riding with the comforts of home…

Want to experience the backcountry or countryside on horseback, but don’t like the idea of sleeping under the stars or going days without a good, hot shower? Here’s an adventure for you…Progressive riding tours with overnights in cozy B&Bs, country manor houses, luxury inns, or five star accommodations where most breakfasts and dinners will be served.


You can expect excellent cuisine with a cozy, rich ambiance.


To take advantage of breathtaking vistas, lunches are typically served trailside via a support vehicle or packed along in your saddlebags.

At the end of the day, soak away saddle sores in the hot tub, or better yet, enjoy a relaxing massage. These treks are for horse lovers, but most outfitters accommodate non-riders with a host of activities and amenities.



The Wagon Train Adventure…

Step back in time and retrace the trails of early pioneers who expanded our nation’s frontiers. The creak of the wagons…the smell of leather, sagebrush, and wood smoke…a new mountain panorama around every bend of the train…grandeur beyond belief!

Wagon train adventures offer an authentic western experience on open range and historic regions. Guests may opt to travel on horseback each day, while the pint-sized passengers (and saddle-sore adults) can opt for cushioned perches atop wagons.

Wagon train adventures are a good choice for families with small children or non-riding adults.

Along the trail, you’ll see antelope, deer, rabbits, eagles, and maybe even a buffalo herd or two.

Share in delicious meals cooked over open fires. Enjoy the evening wagon circle and campfire while relaxing to a singing cowboy.

The Authentic Old West…

These fun, educational and unusual vacations are designed for all…Bring your sense of adventure, expand your comfort zone and leave your worries behind. Travel back in time and enjoy the West and all it has to offer. You’ll see country that lots of folks only dream about…

As usual, I’m here as “your personal travel planner” to help make that adventure dream vacation come true…

There’s a little bit of cowboy in all of us…let me help you find yours…

Please call me at 931-484-8228 or Email Me

I’ll get back to you pronto!

Thanks for your time…happy trails to you!


¹Mountain Sky Ranch, Emigrant, Montana

²Dude Rancher’s Association


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The Wedding of the Year

by Elaine Johnston


Has your invite arrived?

You know… The invite for William and Kate’s wedding on 29 April 2011. No – not William and Kate from Anytown, USA… The other William and Kate. The William and Kate throwing the biggest bash of the year in London!

MMMM…. hasn’t arrived?  Not to worry…should be in the mail any day. Probably held up somewhere along the line what with President’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and the fact that it’s having to travel across “the pond”.  Just got mine the other day…guess it’s because I’m a member of “the press” and much needed to report everything I can about the festivities…

Now – just in case you do decide to attend, let me tell you – London is jumping this year. It’s definitely the place to see and be seen in 2011 what with the wedding and everything else there is to do. 2012 with the Olympics won’t be too shabby either, but let’s talk about 2011 first.

Theatre, Polo and Badminton…

Many new theatre shows and musicals will open in London in 2011. In the West End, you can see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of The Wizard of OZ and the DreamWorks Theatricals and Neal Street Productions Shrek the Musical.

Sports fans also have plenty to see in London…In June, Hurlingham Park in Fulham will thunder with the hooves of high-class polo ponies. Polo players from all over the world will battle each other in a furious display of horsemanship.

And in August, the world’s best badminton players will fight for the chance to be crowned World Champions at an incredibly high profile tournament at Wembley Arena. I didn’t know people still played badminton much less have tournaments.

Attending the Royal Wedding is not a prerequisite to enjoying all that London has to offer. You might like to visit at another time and take in the many new and exciting exhibitions available in 2011.

Only In London…

A new exhibition, Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape will open at Tate Modern on April 14, 2011. This exhibition will bring together more than 150 paintings, drawings and sculptures by one of the twentieth century’s most supreme artists. This will be the first major retrospective of his work to be held in London for almost 50 years.

The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace will be host to an exhibition called Dutch Landscapes from April 15 – October 9, 2011. This exhibition brings together 42 remarkable landscapes from the “golden age” of Dutch 17th-century paintings and includes works by Jacob vanRuisdael, Albert Cuyp, Nicolases Berchem and Mayndert Hobberma.

Speaking of Buckingham Palace, if you’d like to take a peak at the Royal Collections, the Summer Opening of the State Rooms begins August 1 and continues until September 25, 2011. While the Queen summers elsewhere, you will be able to explore the nineteen magnificent State Rooms, lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection.

I’ve often said: “If there is another life after this one, I want mine to be in London.” I Love New York – it’s my home, but I really, really Love London!

A city as enormous as London has something for everyone, no matter what your tastes. With unique attractions, world-class museums and premier shopping in every neighborhood, there are plenty of experiences you can’t find anywhere else.

Here are a few suggestions for general sightseeing with museums, shopping, hotel and culinary suggestions to come later…

Westminster is home to Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey, as well as the famous bell tower popularly (and erroneously) called Big Ben (which is actually only the name of the bell in the bell tower). Other attractions in the area include Piccadilly Circus, St. Jame’s Palace and 10 Downing Street, home to the Prime Minister.

Other iconic city attractions range from the thousand-year-old Tower of London (where the Crown Jewels are kept – not to be missed!) to the EDF Energy London Eye, which offers a 25-mile view from its peak.

With its famous great dome, Sir Christopher Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral, has reinvented itself time after time and now stands as a true icon of the London skyline. This spectacular building is the fifth, or possibly the sixth cathedral to stand on this site, but its mighty dome has been a reassuring presence for Londoners for more than 300 years. During the Second World War Winston Churchill commanded that, whatever else happened, St. Paul’s must be saved from the bombs.

Nevertheless, Westminster Abbey is still a coronation spot for British monarchs, and will be the site for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in April. (You’ll see all details on your invitation once it arrives. Keep checking your mail…)

Other classical attractions include the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a must-see for any theatre fan, and Poet’s Corner inside Westminster Abbey, where some of England’s greatest writers are buried.

Sports fans will want to visit the Chelsea Football Club’s museum and book a stadium tour, where they can learn about one of the most popular soccer teams in the world. Tennis fans should make a point of visiting the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, where they can learn all about the championships and even take a tour of the grounds, led by specially trained Blue Badge Guides, and gain access to restricted areas normally closed to the public.

I think I’m about to wear out my welcome this time around. Therefore, all I can say is: “to be continued…”

In the meantime, if you do decide to “cross the pond” this year, I’m here to help and be your “personal travel planner.”

Call me at 931-484-8228 or Email Me…I’ll take care of the details while you pack. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Have a great day!


Getty Images, Mario Testino/Clarence House Press


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Ask any traveler what destination is on their “Bucket List”, and you can almost be certain the “Last Frontier” – ALASKA – is somewhere near the top. Especially if that traveler is recently retired and raring to go…

I live and own a travel agency in the retirement community of Fairfield Glade/ Crossville, Tennessee, and see a pattern of most folks who migrate to retire here.

First things first…

Get the house in order, tackle the landscaping, join every organization and association imaginable just to get to know people, play as much golf as possible just because you can – Crossville and the resort area of Fairfield Glade are considered the “Golf Capitals” of Tennessee – and then start surfing the web for your first vacation…

Nine times out of ten – ALASKA wins hands down! And, the vacation most typically associated with Alaska is a cruise.

This was definitely my mindset until I got off the ship and began exploring. Even though the most common way for most people to see Alaska for the first time is on an Inside Passage cruise, the most comprehensive and exciting way to see this great land is on a land tour. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!

Now, don’t get me wrong. A cruise of Alaska is wonderful…you experience great scenery, first-class entertainment, delicious cuisine and port calls that provide a glimpse of Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and sometimes Sitka – places that welcome thousands of cruise passengers a day. But there is no way to embrace the unpredictability and exoticism of a destination than on an escorted land tour.

Begin in Anchorage…

Anchorage is Alaska’s hub of passenger traffic, with non-stop service to West Coast gateways and seasonal service to Chicago, Dallas and Minneapolis. The airport is also a world-wide hub of air cargo due to its unique global location.

Anchorage is remarkably cosmopolitan for its size – just under 300,000 people. Surrounded by wilderness and six mountain ranges, Anchorage boasts luxury hotels – Marriott, Hilton and Captain Cook to name a few,  delectable restaurants – Snow Goose is one of our favorites – art galleries and specialty shops including those located in 5th Avenue Mall and Diamond Center. Oh, and let’s not forget Nordstrom

The city is rich in history and culture with a vibrant arts and music scene featuring world-class dance, theatre and Broadway performances. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art showcases an impressive collection of artifacts depicting 10,000 years of Alaska history. The best way to experience the state’s distinctive native culture through storytelling, song and dance is to explore the five traditional villages at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of wildlife within Anchorage, including a resident moose population of 1,600! As a matter of fact, during our first trip to Alaska in 2003, the one and only moose we saw from Fairbanks to Anchorage including three nights in Denali National Park was crossing the street near the Anchorage train station as we were disembarking our train…

Anchorage is also the epicenter of Southcentral Alaska and the jumping-off point for day tours to places like Prince William Sound, Valdez, Eagle River and Wasilla, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race headquarters. Wasilla, Wasilla…that rings a bell. Someone well-known comes from there, but just can’t think of who right now…give me a minute or two…


Just a bit south of Anchorage, cruises from Whittier offer access to some of Prince William Sound’s most spectacular sights. Sit in front of a tidewater glacier, kayak a sheltered cove, tide pool or secluded beach. Whittier offers a unique mixture of WWII history and small coastal town charm.

Kenai Peninsula

The Kenai Peninsula is a popular trip from Anchorage. In Kenai Fjords National Park, glaciers, earthquakes and ocean storms are the architects. Ice worms, bears and whales make their home in this land of constant change.

Many tour companies help you discover Kenai Fjords via a cruise and wildlife tour, glacier hikes or helicopter hikes. You need to be physically fit and dress appropriately for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s not for everyone.

Perhaps a float trip or whitewater expedition is more to your liking.

Ride the rail to Spencer Glacier and steal away on a gentle float tour among the icebergs at Spencer Lake and down the Placer River. Professional guides, rain gear, and rubber boots are provided. Please dress in warm layers. Conditions around the icebergs are chilly.  Spencer Lake is full of crumbling icebergs that are so close you can touch them.

Hopefully, the tour you choose includes Seward, the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is also the town in which writer, Peter Jenkins, lived with his family while researching and writing one of the best books I have ever read about Alaska – other than Alaska by James Michner – Looking for Alaska. It’s hard to put down once you’re past the first page…and, if you order it here from Amazon, I’ll make a buck or two just so I can give it right back to Amazon at a later date!

Heading North – Denali

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