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On to Alaska! Picture this: Amber Airplane and I were in a taxi on our way to LAX when a text message came through on my cell. Our flight to Seattle (SEA) was delayed significantly. I knew if we waited for it, we would get in too late to make our connection to Anchorage (ANC). This called for some quick thinking. We decided to try to make the flight to San Francisco (SFO), then connect to SEA and on to ANC. Well, the agent who checked us in was one of those rules-are-rules sticklers. She said, “Sorry, the SFO flight leaves in 30 minutes. Because you’re checking luggage you needed to be here at least 45 minutes early.” She then spent 10 minutes searching different options for us but I knew if we were to land in Alaska that night, we had to be on that flight to SFO. Finally I said “Thank you,” grabbed our stuff and took off.
Amber Airplane headed for the taxi line, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I wanted to find someone a little more helpful, who knows what customer service is all about. Sure enough, at the other end of the terminal we spotted a friend behind the check-in counter. We ran over and rattled off our dilemma. I don't know how she understood us, because we spoke so fast it sounded like another language. Luckily, she spoke whatever our language was because without hesitation she said she could get us on, but we needed to hurry because the gate was (of course) the furthest possible. I said, “What about our bags?” She said, “Don't worry – I’ll hand deliver them.” She raced off in the other direction, warning, “The door closes in eight minutes, so run!” Now THAT’S customer service!
One more obstacle loomed: security. We headed in the opposite direction of the crowd, to LAX’s little-known security checkpoint. Though out of our way, it had no line and was our only chance. I practically took off my pants, just so I wouldn't beep. It worked! I grabbed my belongings, and ran up the stairs while fastening my belt. You can’t imagine how far this gate was. It was in another terminal, but it seemed like another time zone. We cleared security by gate 80, had to pass the 70 gates and go all the way to the last 60 gate. That doesn’t sound bad, until you realize that at LAX the 80 gates are Terminal 8, the 70s Terminal 7, and so on.
You don't see many people running through airports these days, so we must have looked liked bandits. When I heard the last call for our flight I knew we couldn’t make it without serious help. Then, out of nowhere, a courtesy cart appeared. I yelled to the driver, “Can we get a ride?!” He made sure no police officers were chasing us and said, “Hop on.” Then he put the pedal to the metal. We flew through the terminals -- I never knew those little golf carts could go that fast. He was beeping the horn, weaving and in and out of crowds. Everyone looked at us with disgust, like we were just some lazy tourists. He couldn't take us all the way to our gate (cart restrictions), so we ran the final 200 yards. We made it just as they were closing the door.
After wiping our sweat away, we relaxed. The rest of our flights went smoothly. They were also on time. That was key, because of our tight connections. We even had a few minutes to spare at SFO, so we grabbed a to-go sandwich and checked out the showcases. Our flight from Seattle to Anchorage was unusually deserted. That was awesome, because we had a whole row to ourselves in coach. Flying into Alaska in the summer is one hard-to-beat breathtaking flight. You fly over some of the most beautiful snow-capped mountains. Even the greatest pictures don't do it justice. Trust me, it's surreal. We were in Alaska last year for summer solstice, and it never really got dark. This year in mid-July the sun set a little after 11 p.m., but the only time it was dark enough to see stars was 1-4 a.m. I took this picture just as we were about to land -- at 11 p.m. How amazing is that?
We were in Alaska for a few reasons. One was to see my best friend from college, Kevin Morris (and his wife Lisa). Another reason was to hang out with Scott McMurren and Steve Stripling from the weekly call-in radio show I do (Scott also writes the Alaska TravelGram newsletter, as well as the must-buy (if you’re headed to Alaska) Tour Saver (I will write more about it next week). The third reason as because I had two book signings for my new book “ You Are Here Traveling With Johnny Jet.com.” I might as well throw in a fourth reason, too: Any time I get a chance to go to Alaska, I’ll jump -- especially in summer. Calling it “beautiful” is like saying the Sistine Chapel is “nice.”
It turned out Kevin had house guests from Spain. He did a year abroad in high school, and stayed in touch with his host family. His Spanish friends are Nacho (just a nickname -- I don't think he liked my Nacho cheese jokes), Daniel, and his girlfriend Lourdes. The latter two were out touring in Valdez when we arrived.
We love staying at Kevin's and Lisa's. They built their house themselves. It's huge and cozy, out in the Anchorage suburbs. It's so nice that we would have been happy just hanging out there all day, lounging, playing with the cat or watching for wildlife. Almost every day I saw at least one moose in his yard. One moose I spotted early in the morning was a giant. Everyone laughed when I said it was as big as an elephant, but we’ll see if they’ll be laughing when they spot it themselves in the driveway.
Kevin is a fireman, so he works 24-hour shifts. He usually has one day on, then one day off, beginning at 9 a.m. As he caught up on his sleep our first morning, I caught up on JohnnyJet.com. That is, until Scott McMurren, called to say that he told NBC News I was in town, and they should do an interview right away to plug the book signing. I'm not about to turn down free press so I quickly showered, shaved, gathered the crew (Amber, Kevin, Lisa and Nacho) and cruised down to the studio. The interview went surprisingly well, and I wasn't nervous at all. It was supposed to air the following night, and I really looked forward to seeing the response.
When that was finished we were starving. We could have had tasty $4 reindeer dogs, like last year, but because we were downtown we decided on something a little more upscale. We all went to the Snow Goose because it was close by and they had an outdoor deck. BTW: Alaska was having record high temps. It was in the mid-80s, which is really rare. Whoever thought we would all be applying sun screen like we were in Hawaii? Snow Goose: 717 West Third Avenue, Anchorage,tel.: 907-277-7727.
After lunch we went for a walk to the park to check out the Stanley Cup. (Stanley Cup?! More on that later.) On our way to the park Amber Airplane spotted . That's the store where she found her Bear Claw Salad utensils last year. She uses them all the time, and everyone loves them, so she wanted to buy some as gifts. (We do our Christmas shopping throughout the year). Trapper Jack's has handmade grizzly utensils, which cost $19 apiece. Carr's, which is the local supermarket now owned by Safeway, sells a cheap version of the claws for $4.99. Of course she didn't want any imitations, but if you do, you know where to get them (and other inexpensive tourist items). Trapper Jack's Trading Post, 701 West Fourth Avenue, Anchorage, tel.: 907-272-6110.
After buying a bag full of bear claws for everyone we went to the park, where everyone in the city was checking out the Stanley Cup. In case you don't know, every player on the NHL championship hockey team gets a day with the cup in his home town. Anchorage native Scotty Gomez plays for the world champ New Jersey Devils, and it just happened to be his day with the cup. This is a huge deal for hockey fans (and towns). I couldn't believe how many people showed up and waited, just to touch the cup. It's such a big deal that Scotty was the top news story every day. They even flew him and the cup around in a helicopter. None of us wanted to wait in line for hours, but we didn’t want to leave without touching the cup. So I came up with a master plan. I slipped some high school kids $20 to borrow their sweaty, stinky costumes for three minutes while they were on a break. They thought I was a weirdo until they saw the results. We cut the line! Who's gonna say no to a bear, a moose, a reindeer and an eagle? It's amazing how much pull animal costumes have in Anchorage. NOTE: It was harder for me to talk Amber Airplane into putting on the grungy costumes than for me to get them from the high school kids.
After showering (very important!) and taking a nap we went over to Kevin's parents house for an Alaskan BBQ and some volleyball. I loved playing at 10 p.m. without artificial light!
SLEEPING TIP: Always travel with an eye mask, in case you end up in a place without blackout curtains.
The following day the weather was back to normal: cool and cloudy. That was okay, because we weren't in Alaska for any crazy sightseeing. We’ve been there a bunch of times, so we didn't do any wild adventures like in the past. Most of the time we just lounged around the house and caught up on work and sleep. You may have noticed we’ve been running nonstop the past few weeks.
Before we knew it, it was 6 p.m. and the news was on TV. We were told my interview would air then. Everyone gathered around and waited for it -- but no Johnny Jet. At 6:30 I was embarrassed. We figured with Scotty in town they must've nixed my interview. But as we walked out the door to see Kevin at work and go to my book signing we heard, "Coming up next: Johnny Jet!" We were excited, and NBC hooked up Johnny Jet.com so well! I couldn't believe it: They made me look like a superstar. I was stunned. The Spaniards just looked at me and said, “Wow!” Now, if I can get press like this on national TV, I’ll be rich!
After the news we went down to the station to check out Kevin's work. Did you know all firefighters keep the truck doors open and their uniforms by the entrance of each door? Pretty smart. Unfortunately we couldn't spend a lot of time there, because my first book signing ever was set for 7:30 at Title Wave books.
I had no idea what goes on at a book signing. I figured I’d be lucky if one person bought my book. But when we drove by I saw a lady walking out with my book in her hand. As soon as we parked, Amber Airplane ran over to her and said, “Do you want Johnny Jet to sign it? Because he's right here!” I was embarrassed -- until I heard the lady ask, “Where is he?” When I jumped out of the car, she screamed like I was a singer in a boy band! I thought she was joking, until she said, “I just saw you on TV so I rushed down here to get your book.” I was so excited to see HER excited that I couldn't even sign my name. I don't even know what I wrote -- it was my first autograph. The power of TV!
I walked in the store thinking I would only sit behind a table, waiting for customers to walk by so I could interest them in a book. But when I saw a podium with my name on it, and theatre-style seating with a bunch of people sitting down, my stomach dropped. Scott McMurren had a microphone in his hand and said, "Johnny Jet is here, everyone!” I must have turned three shades of red. My mind was spinning. I wondered, what the heck is going on? I couldn’t believe so many people showed up for me -- plus no one told me that I was supposed to give a presentation.
Luckily, the week before I had had one of the most nerve-racking public speeches in my life at my cousin AJ's wedding, so nothing could be as bad. I knew I could speak off the cuff about travel. I did, and it went well (I think). The coolest part of the event was to see a huge table with a pile of my books on it, and having people ask me to sign them. I tried to act all cool, but I just wanted to shake the shoulders of everyone who came up and scream “THANK YOU!”
After the show we went to our favorite restaurant in Anchorage. The Moose's Tooth serves tasty designer pizzas , and is constantly packed. Be sure to stop there for dinner. Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria, 3300 Old Seward Highway, Anchorage, tel.: (907) 258-ALES.
Next week we will finish our trip to Alaska, and begin to tell you about where we went the day after we got home from the 49th State. Here are three hints: Amber Airplane’s grandparents are from there, there are some famous national parks, and Wild Bill was shot there.
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The great American vacation is vanishing. Every year, the average length of a leisure trip shrinks by a few more hours, to the point that travelers like Craig Puller have a hard time thinking of it as a vacation at all. Consider the trip Puller took to the Florida Keys. Reluctant to take a lot of time off from his job, the Princeton, N.J., data analyst flew to Miami over a long weekend and spent three nights in three different hotels before jetting back just in time for work Monday morning. "It was such a whirlwind tour," he remembers, "that my wife joked we needed a vacation from the vacation." That's no joke, actually. > Details in Opinion .
Whew! Time for a Vacation - Sex, Lies and the Caribbean - Four 'Secret' Times to Travel.
DESTINATION OF THE WEEK FROM NOT2FAR.COM
Finding Old Florida: Tired of five-star restaurants and beach resorts with pricey spas? The hinterlands of Indian River County, located about a two-hour drive southeast of Orlando, offer an alternative to the pampered vacation and a real taste of Old Florida. It's a place where you can chow down on exotic lizards, sample citrus with strange names and discover odd plants in a botanical garden that time almost forgot, as we discovered on a recent visit. >> Read the whole story .
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Cruise Ship Etiquette by Linda Coffman|
Consideration, Courtesy & Civility
Of course it's your vacation and of course you deserve to have the best time ever on your long-awaited cruise. But do you really want it to be at the expense of others? When it comes to our fellow passengers, it sometimes seems that way.
Cruise ships, particularly the ones in the mega-ship size range, are cities at sea. Like any land-bound city, a cruise ship is inhabited by a diverse population. Passengers and crewmembers come from all corners of the globe and from varying cultural backgrounds. The thing most guests have in common is the desire to have a satisfying vacation—to explore new places, to relax and revitalize, to spend time with family and friends, or to just have some carefree fun.
It seems that some passengers get a bit carried away in terms of carefree and forget to pack one of life's little treasures—the good manners we practice at home and in our everyday lives.
Cruise Diva's Guide to Good Manners
Adhere to the Dress Code—The ship's daily program will indicate the appropriate attire for every evening of your cruise, generally beginning at 6pm. It is inconsiderate to ignore the guidelines and do as you please. Sitting next to someone wearing sweaty exercise clothing in the show lounge or casino is nothing short of unpleasant.
Do Not Be a Chaise Hog—Every morning an invisible cadre of passengers piles towels and personal belongings on chaise loungers by the pool to "save" them for later. This is extremely selfish behavior. If you aren't using a lounger, it should be available for others.
Do Not Save Seats—Go ahead and set aside a seat for a spouse or traveling companion who is joining you. But do not be thoughtless and try to "save" entire rows of seats in the show lounge or complete tables in the casual dining area. Again, make room for others.
Control Your Children—For their safety, and the safety of others, parents shouldn't allow their children to freely roam about the ship, run at the pool, splash water on other passengers, cavort in the hot tubs, or play in the elevators. Some parents are in total denial when it comes to the unruly actions of their children... the "bad" kids can't be theirs! Yes, it's their vacation and they just want to have fun, but don't allow their good time to interfere with that of others.
Be a Considerate Smoker—Those who smoke should only light up their cigarettes, cigars, and pipes in the areas which are clearly marked for that purpose.
Do Not Jog Before Daybreak—It should be obvious that if there are cabins located below the deck where jogging is permitted, then passengers are probably still asleep in them before the sun comes up. Only run on deck during the hours indicated in the daily program.
Be Mindful of Others in the Spa & Gym—Wear appropriate work-out attire and wipe down the equipment when you are finished using it. Take your turn in a reasonable amount of time, especially when others are waiting.
Turn Down the Sound—Portable electronics are wonderful gadgets, but not everyone has the same taste in music. In public areas, CD players should be used with headphones. In cabins and on balconies, the sound should be kept at a reasonable volume. The same goes for televisions, especially late at night.
Await Your Turn—Events and activities are scheduled in a certain way for a purpose. For instance, the orderly filling of shore tenders and the ship's debarkation procedure at the end of the cruise. Don't be in such a hurry that you compromise the safety of others.
Do Not Complain While You Wait—No one cares to listen to grumbling and whining. It's a vacation so lighten up and go with the flow. Instead of complaining, try to strike up a conversation with someone in line. You can meet interesting people while you wait to book a tour or cash a traveler's check.
Listen and Follow Instructions—This is no more important than during the muster drill! Listening cuts down the need to ask questions and can insure your safety in case of an emergency.
Don't Forget the Three "C's" at Sea
Let Consideration, Courtesy & Civility be your guideposts. And don't forget to bring along...
A pleasant attitude
Your sunniest smile
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