Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Norwegian Epic

Traveling with family….flying solo – don’t worry the Norwegian Epic has something for everyone.

Since lots of ships are family friendly, let’s start with what the Epic offers for single travelers. Unlike most ships or tours that require a single supplement, the Epic features 128 studio suites designed specifically for those traveling by themselves – or as we found during our tour – mother/daughter, friends, anyone who might want a room to themselves.

The rooms are just 100 square feet, but feature a double bed, sliding door closets and bathroom. All of the studios are “inside” cabins, but they feature a large window that looks out into the hallway, so you don’t feel claustrophobic. Ninety of these cabins are connecting cabins allowing mother/daughter type travelers to be together while maintaining separate sleeping quarters.

Another advantage of the single studios – access to an exclusive lounge area stocked with snacks and games.

The Epic staff boasted that the ship has the largest suites and villas complex at sea. These larger rooms come with butler service and access to a special pool area and fitness room.

When it comes to family fun, the Epic has three waterslides, several pools and its kids area. Kids are divided into three age groups and given appropriate activities. There’s also a bowling alley, rock-climbing and rappelling walls and billiard tables.

When you get hungry from all of the onboard activities – and I haven’t even mentioned the Blue Man Group performances in the theater – there are dozens of dining options. Eleven are included in the base fare, including the Manhattan Room where I had the opportunity to enjoy lobster bisque and a steak for lunch.

Ten specialty restaurants are available for $10-25 extra.

The Epic is currently sailing in the Caribbean, alternating 7-day Eastern and Western itineraries that can be combined into a 14-day sailing. From May-October 2011, the ship will reposition to the Mediterranean for 7-day sailings out of Barcelona.

While experienced cruisers should enjoy this ship, the Epic is a great option for first timers looking to experience the fun and excitement at sea.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Little Bighorn Battlefield (Custer's Last Stand)

Something about the sight of hundreds of white gravestones dotting the rolling, hilly landscape helps bring history alive. A visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield is memorable and much more educational than reading about “Custer’s Last Stand” in a history book.

Start at the visitor center where one of several park rangers will recount the events of the weeks, days and hours leading up to this historical battle. Each have a flair for storytelling. Some paint a bloody picture of the events (it was a battle after all that claimed hundreds of lives).

As you gaze out at the landscape, it’s easy to envision where the U.S. troops led by Gen. Custer were stationed and how they were split up. Standing at the top of the hill, near the black-faced tombstone marking the spot Custer fell, it’s easy to see how the native Americans could advance through the ravines and hillsides, remaining unseen in the tall grasslands.

The park staff attempts to present a balanced account of the battle, reminding visitors of the pride the native Americans had in their land and how they acted in defense of their homeland. It’s also pointed out that because the native Americans won the battle (and handily so), it may very well have been the reason they lost the “war.”

If you want a piece of American history to come to life, visit the Little Bighorn Battlefied.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bighorn Canyon

Add another destination to the places I want to take a vacation. This one would have never made my list without a short teaser visit earlier this month.

Usually my travel wish list consists of islands with beaches and light blue water or exotic overseas locales. This respite from the hustle and bustle of life is in the middle of Montana.

I'm talking about Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

My "tease" of a visit came at the Yellowtail Dam near Ft. Smith, Montana. The dam was constructed in the 1960s and created a 71-mile reservoir that extends south into Wyoming. The dam itself is impressive - 525 feet high and 1450 wide, damming the Bighorn River.

Behind the dam is the Bighorn Lake, winding those 71 miles through towering steep-sided canyons to desert shrubland. No roads connect the northern and southern entrances to the area, so you'll need a boat to traverse this area of tranquility.

While you're cruising, keep your eyes open for buffalo, wild horses, bighorn sheep and more than 200 species of birds.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pictograph Caves State Park

Just a 20-minute drive outside of Billings are some caves where pictographs from 2,200 years ago are located.

A scenic two lane drive along sandstone cliffs dead-ends at the caves where a visitor center has been constructed recently. A short trail takes you to threecaves. Don't let the word "caves" fool you. You don't have to go spelunking or even bring a flashlight to see the pictographs, although binoculars are highly recommended.
In addition to exploring a bit of history, you'll feel like your on a wild adventure due to the "Beward of Rattlesnakes" signs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pompey's Pillar

As Lewis and Clark explored the west in the early 1800s in an effort to map a route to the Pacific Ocean, they discovered a vast, wild landscape.

On July 25, 1806, William Clark left his own mark on that landscape. As he traversed present day Montana, he came across a massive sandstone outcrop rising 150 feet above a two-acre base on the banks of the Yellowstone River.

Clark noted hundreds of markings, petroglyphs and inscriptions in the sandstone and quickly added his own signature to the collection. He named the rock Pompy’s Tower in honor of the nickname he had given to Sacagawea’s son. The rock was renamed Pompey’s Pillar in 1814 when Lewis and Clark’s journals were published. Today, Clark’s signature remains frozen in time encased behind glass - the only remaining on-site physical evidence of Lewis and Clark's epic journey.

Pompey’s Pillar is now a national monument located about an hour outside of Billings in the eastern half of Montana. A new visitor’s center features displays about the Lewis and Clark expedition, the lives of native Americans in the area and a short movie.

From the visitor center, it’s a short walk to the rock itself. A staircase leads to two stops. The first is a platform where you can view Clark’s signature as well as other names carved into the stone from the 1800s. From there, you can continue to ascend to the top of the pillar and enjoy a panoramic view of the area, including the Yellowstone River.

View our photos of Pompey’s Pillar on our Facebook page.

Mexico changes currency policies

New regulations in Mexico affecting U.S. travelers start this week. Hotel front desks and currency exchange booths are now able to change only a maximum of $1,500 cash per person per month into Mexican pesos (before, there was no limit). Also, businesses will be limited to accepting $100 cash per transaction (though there's no limit on the number of transactions per customer), and some establishments will be prohibited from accepting (or may now choose not to accept) U.S. currency at all. Major travel suppliers now recommends that U.S. travelers use credit cards, travelers checks, or ATM cards (to withdraw money in pesos). They also say that some U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico have had trouble using American passports with fraying or peeling corners, so check the condition of your passports and get replacements if needed as you plan travel to Mexico.