ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida will play a key role in the 2020 election no doubt, but could one of the most dependable voting demographics in the state unwittingly help to vault entitlements into a slow death spiral affecting millions?
Enter The Villages, a senior community north of Orlando where loyal republicans outnumber democrats five-to-one. Their loyalty to Trump seems unwavering, however, could such loyalty cost the elderly their livelihood as they know it? Is that loyalty reflective of other senior communities throughout Florida or just an anomaly? Because the entitlement time-bomb is ticking, the fuse is lit, and it runs straight through Florida, a senior citizen stronghold.
Despite the President’s broken promises not to cut Medicare or Social Security, Trump remains popular throughout certain communities in Florida. Combined with the fact that the state is worth 29 electoral votes (3rd in the country, tied with N.Y.), and yes, Florida may decide the next President. Unfortunately, if it’s a second term for Trump, all signs point to an Entitlement Apocalypse.
If you’re one of the 76 million-plus baby-boomers in America that rely or soon will rely on Medicare or Social Security, and this doesn’t concern you, it should. Trump’s proposed budget calls for an $845 billion dollar cut to Medicare over the next ten years. And that’s just one of 30 promises the President has already broken.
According to the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, without new legislation, the Social Security Trust Fund will run dry in 2035. Then the fund will only be able to survive with 20 percent cuts across the board. That means retirees and beneficiaries will only receive about 75-80 percent of what’s owed to them. The reason they’re called entitlements is because Americans have worked and payed into the system their entire lives. They’re entitled to them!
Currently, the payroll tax that funds the trust is capped at $132,900. Any income above that threshold is tax exempt. It’s a system that’s considered archaic and unfair because low and middle income people pay into the system based on 100% of their income, while contributions from someone making a million dollars or more is based on about 13% or less. Lifting that cap is the most popular solution. It’s an idea that more than 85% of Americans support, and most Democrats in Congress endorse. Contrarily, most Republicans reject the plan, supporting only cuts to one’s benefits.
Saving Social Security is political dynamite, so it’s no wonder it’s been cast aside by this president. In the lead up to the 2016 election, the topic didn’t come up until the last question of the 3rd and final debate. Ironically, It took a conservative news anchor from Fox News, Chris Wallace, to expose the fact that Donald Trump has no plan for saving entitlements. In Trump’s own words he said, “I’m going kill Obamacare,” in response to the query – clearly a red herring. Trump changed the subject because he has no plan! It’s just one of the many reasons the next presidential election is so crucial.
It’s also the reason this hypothetical map should scare the hell out of every senior citizen in Florida! It takes into account democrats winning back most Northeastern states, while forfeiting the Midwest. In this scenario, Florida decides who occupies the White House in 2021, and consequently, whether or not Social Security and Medicare survive.
Ron Algood is a Florida native, senior citizen activist, and wildlife conservationist. He’s a graduate of The University of South Florida with degrees in Mass Communications and Public Relations. He’s been published by HCC- The Hawkeye, USF – The Oracle, and The Tampa Bay Times – TBT Edition.
TAMPA – Lutz Lions’ aging pitcher, “Smokey” Joe Algood treated a sold-out crowd to a perfect game in Sunday’s season opener by defeating the Cincinnati Strays 1-0 at Cat Baloo Stadium. It was the first no-hitter for the British short-hair mix that joined the Lions this year after a long layoff due to injury.
The Strays roared into Tampa Bay as last year’s undefeated champions with hopes of a repeat this season, but the Lion’s left-handed pitcher squashed that dream by delivering a dazzling no-hitter for the first time in Lion’s history. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, the Stray’s Siamese right fielder, Chiang Mai, committed the game’s only error. While chasing a routine pop-fly, Mai was a distracted by what appeared to be a real fly and chased it instead of the baseball. That mishap allowed Lion’s catcher, “Tip Toe” Gerow, to score easily from third base bringing the game to a stunning end.
The Lions’ coach, Lady Neapolitan, credited the win to Algood’s deceptive pitching style and a disciplined team that has blossomed since implementing the “No Spay, No Play” rule. In 2014, the Lutz Lions became the league’s first professional team to require that its players be spayed or neutered.
“We did it because we want our players to set a good example on and off the field,” Neapolitan said. “We’ve always known that spayed or neutered pets live longer and happier lives, but now we know they can play and pitch better as well.
Algood was neutered in 2008 at The Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Afterwards, he joined the Barn League (the farm league) for the pros. He became the first British Short-hair mix to possess an astonishing .99 ERA, in part due to his dazzling fastball and left-handed knuckle ball. His dreams of turning pro were delayed, however, when his father insisted he first get an education. In 2012 he finally earned his degree in public relations and graduated The University of South Florida.
That same year Algood tried out and made the Lion’s farm team. He signed a 3 yr. contract, and played the first year exemplary. He was touted to be the Lions starting pitcher for the 2013 season. However, during spring training he tore a rotator cuff in his left shoulder that put him out for the entire season. When he recovered the following year, his fast ball was no more.
“When he returned, his fastball was more like a hairball, said Lion’s cranky catcher Crescent Moon. “So I told him he should take his time and develop his knuckle ball. It was a gutsy call, but that’s what he did.”
Algood took the entire 2014 season off to work on his knuckle ball presentation. He looked to his idol for inspiration, per-parent and Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher Alex Cobb, who missed two months of the 2013 season due to an injury, only to return a stronger player. He trained vigorously. When he wasn’t pitching, he was climbing kitty condos and chasing mice. Simply put, he learned how to be a cat again.
But when he tried to return to play baseball, according to a league spokesman, the terms of his contract had been breached. He couldn’t play. Smokey Joe would have to earn his way back onto the field as a walk-on. But who would give an aging British Short-hair mix without a fastball a chance”?
“In an unprecedented move, I called a meeting with the team, and we took a vote,” Lions’ General Manager, Jade Algood-Gerow, said. “It was unanimous. Every cat, even the cranky catcher Miss Moon wanted to give Smokey Joe another chance. Other teams were laughing like we were crazy. But after Sunday’s game, no one’s laughing. Instead, it’s time to celebrate!”
TAMPA, Fla. – “The man leads and the lady follows, is a dogma of the dance world that sounds as barbaric as it is outdated,” says Ron Algood, a ballroom dance instructor in Tampa Fla. that specializes in first wedding dances. According to Algood, times have changed. He believes in a more modern approach, based in aesthetics and inclusion.
“Every movement the leader does on the dance floor should make the follower look better, not the other way around. The leader is the frame, and the follower is the picture,” Algood says. It’s a much smoother approach to an old teaching method that frankly, was too authoritarian. Besides, who wants to dance with someone that’s bossing you around? Dancing should not only be fun, but inclusive.”
That’s why dancing together for one’s first wedding dance or simply to enhance one’s relationship is now for everyone, including the LGBT community. Algood should know. He was one of the first gold-certified dance instructors in Tampa that welcomed Gays and Lesbians into his studio back in the 1990s. However, now that he’s specializing in wedding dances, one would think his former LGBT students have dissipated—not so.
Although same sex weddings are not yet legal in Florida, Algood says it’s only a matter of time. Besides, nearly half of his students are learning to ballroom dance for various reasons. Social dance halls that specialize in ballroom dancing are popping up everywhere. They’re inexpensive, smoke free, and according to Algood, offer a relaxed atmosphere that welcomes all couples, including same-sex ones.
“As far as know, I was the first,” says Algood. “I went dancing at this Country & Western club call the Neon Moon back in the 90s. At the time, I didn’t even know it was considered an LGBT establishment. As it turned out, my professional partner and I tripped the light fantastic till the place closed. Afterwards, several couples asked for my card; I guess they figured out we were instructors by our dancing skills. Anyway, they became my first LGBT students.”
According to Algood, they also became the first students that exemplified his modern teaching theory.
Teaching the LGBT community to dance has one benefit that’s exclusive to them: They can switch roles (leader vs. follower) even in the middle of a lesson. Most couples start out with a pre-determined leader and follower. But in dance, sometimes one partner can do better in a different role than the one previously assigned. That’s where their flexibility and his teaching method join forces to create a beautiful picture.
“I think it keeps things exciting. I particularly remember this one couple, two middle-aged women, one with great rhythm, one not so great. Consequently, they were struggling. Half way through the lesson I suggested they switch roles, just for the fun of it. That did it,” Algood said. They became great dancers, and I was thankful to them for being open-minded and willing to try something new. Likewise, they seem to really appreciate the fact that I knew both the traditional female and male particulars of ballroom dancing, even though I’m straight. For me, it’s all about teaching the gift dance, not about someone’s sexual preference.”
Ron Algood is a Tampa native and a graduate of The University of South Florida. He and his wife, Carolyn, are former competitors and FSF champions. He has taught couples ballroom dancing for more than 25 years. He specializes in teaching First Wedding Dances and LGBT couples. Gift certificates for all occasions are available. He can be reached at (813) 417-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TAMPA, Fla. — A recent article in The Wall Street Journal claims that buying two separate airline tickets for international travel is often less expensive than buying one ticket. It’s an airline tactic known in the travel business as “hidden cities”. Although this may be true, author Scott McCartney warns that the strategy comes with serious trade-offs that could cost one dearly. That begs the question: Just how dear is dearly?
“They’re not for everybody,” Says Ron Algood, a travel industry expert in Tampa with more than 25 years of experience in the travel industry.
Algood says that hidden cities are no secret. They’re gateway cities that are cheaper launch-points for international travel. Savvy travelers have known about them for years. A good travel agent will normally disclose their price-points. He says a great travel agent, however, will share their downside risks as well. He reveals that airlines are under no obligation to honor a no-show passenger, especially when the missed connection is due to a self constructed itinerary.
“Even worse,” He says, “if you’re a no-show on the outbound international flight, that airline will most likely cancel your return flight as well. That’s a hefty price to pay; a price that could run into the thousands of dollars.”
And according to Algood, most travelers are not willing or able to pay those kinds of penalties. Whereas The Wall Street Journal briefly disclosed those risks, Algood points to the fact that a seasoned travel agent can help avoid those risks altogether.
“Self-constructed itineraries are a more acceptable practice to college students flying on the cheap,” Algood says. “They don’t mind an overnight at a gateway city on their way to backpacking through Europe or Asia. But a party of four taking their family vacation to Europe or Hawaii doesn’t have that luxury. Unpacking and repacking, plus paying for additional hotel nights times four can add up quickly. Then imagine a no-show fee in the thousands of dollars times four; that’s a nightmare.”
According to Algood, there’s a much smarter way.
“Most vacationers need hotels or condos included in their vacation,” Algood says. “By allowing a wholesaler to ticket the airline portion of their itinerary as part of an air-hotel package, they’re sharing in the responsibility of getting the customers to their destination. Pleasant Holidays is just one good example of a reputable wholesaler that packages Australia, Hawaii, and now Europe. A savvy travel agent knows several, each one specializing in different parts of the world.”
“Moreover, packaged air-fares usually offer add-on fares from most major cities in the United States,” Algood reiterated. “Yes, you may pay a little more, but it’s worth the peace of mind. In most cases, knowing that the long awaited family vacation or Honeymoon will not be devastated by amateur piecemeal tactics is worth it.”
Algood also strongly urges travelers to buy travel insurance from a reputable insurance provider. Doing so covers not only medical treatments incurred overseas, but also the investment of the vacation itself. He notes that most airline tickets are non-refundable or have major penalties for canceling, but that’s not the only reason to buy travel insurance.
“The Savvy traveler will protect his or her investment with travel insurance,” Algood says. “Reliable policies also include coverage for cancellations due to illness of the passenger or immediate family member, missed connections, and even lost luggage. Additionally, most people’s medical insurance does not cover them outside of the United States; travel insurance does. I would never travel abroad without it. Travelex is one of the best; plus for convenience, they have money exchange booths set up at most gateway cities.”
Ron Algood is a Tampa native and a graduate of The University of South Florida with a concentration in public relations. He has traveled the World extensively and worked as a travel consultant for more than 25 years. His specialties are leisure travel, cruises, and unique honeymoon destinations. Besides being a travel industry expert, he teaches modern ballroom dancing and specializes in first wedding dances.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a future bride say, “My fiancée has two left feet.” In my 26 years of teaching dance in Tampa Bay, I’ve never encountered two left feet. On the contrary, I’ve found that most grooms are very capable dance partners. Often the problem is that wedding couples seeking a memorable first dance have had their nerves shattered by the notion that their wedding dance needs to be a complicated ballroom routine, like on Dancing with the Stars. Unfortunately, those that are lured into one of many franchised dance studios by a free introductory dance lesson become frustrated by high prices and a ballroom dance routine that doesn’t match their song. And more often than not, they are forced into choosing another song that they didn’t want in the first place. I’ve witnessed that scenario played out numerous times. The fact is, a good wedding dance doesn’t have to be a competition ballroom or Latin dance routine. And that’s one of the many reasons I left the high-priced franchises more than a decade ago and became an independent.
I don’t want to berate ballroom dancing in any way. I love it. As a former competitor with trophies ranging from 1989 to 2006, I worked hard to achieve my professional status, and I have the State Championships (along with many national 2nd places) to back up my record. But even while I was competing, I always enjoyed exhibition dancing more than competitions. Exhibition dancing allows for more freedom of expression; whereas, competition dancing is often riddled to death with relentless dance moves packed into a 90 second routine. In the same way, I find that a good wedding dance tends to the simpler version as compared its ballroom predecessor. And as a teacher for over 26years, I find it more rewarding to give couples what they need instead of a trophy they can hang on a wall—a memorable wedding dance.
The first problem most couples encounter is the song. The fact is, even if it’s the bride’s favorite song, a ballroom studio will often try to change it. Why? Because it doesn’t fall into their familiar category of Waltz, Foxtrot, or Rumba. Unfortunately (even though they’re broken hearted on the inside), brides and grooms alike fall into the trap of discarding their favorite song. They do this in order to appease the franchised ballroom teacher, who has convinced them they must do so in order to save their wedding dance. Hogwash, it doesn’t have to be this way.
I was first introduced to The Nightclub Two-Step(not to be confused with the country western two-step) about 20 years ago. Buddy Schwimmer, who is the father of Benji Schwimmer, the 2006 season winner of So You Think You Can Dance, invented the dance in the 1960s, so couples could dance to songs with slow to mid-range 4/4 timing. That timing happens to be one of the most popular timings for songs chosen by wedding couples. Hence, the Nightclub Two-Step (NC2S) has become one of the most popular dances taught by instructors who are willing to venture into uncharted territory, in other words independent teachers.
One of the benefits of being an independent instructor is the freedom to think and execute outside the box. I discovered this long before I started specializing in wedding dances. Ask any successful ballroom competition dancer, and they’ll most likely tell you their coach is an independent teacher. My wife and I are no exception. While competing we found that independent coaches often had years of experience that outweighed their franchised counterparts ten to one. Moreover, they often went outside the box and were more current on dance styles. And that’s where wedding dances come in. The Nightclub Two-step and wedding couples make the perfect marriage.
I have also found that the Introduction (also called the intro) of the dance is the most important. Most songs are phrased out, and many wedding dance intros have a 32 count phrase, regardless of the type of dance. It’s those first 32 beats of music that captures the audience. For that reason, if I had to choose any part of the dance to be perfected, it would be the intro. I can guarantee by the end of that first phrase, the bride’s mother will be displaying tears of joy, as well as the groom’s. If a boo-boo happens afterwards (and it always does), no one will even notice! And the good news is that most dance intros can be learned in just a few lessons. Unless the couple wants unique choreography, three hours of instruction is usually enough. I know many of my former ballroom competitors will disagree. But I recently developed a 32 count intro that proves my point. Additionally, one can use it for any type of dance. I demonstrate it with a Viennese Waltz, but you can substitute it with any style, like an NC2S, by just changing the last 8 count to a basic step or an under arm turn that’s relevant to that particular dance style.
Ron Algood is a certified Gold-Level independent dance instructor. He resides in Tampa, Fla. where for more than 25 years he has taught numerous couples the gift of dance. He teaches all types of partner-dancing, including ballroom, Latin, Swing, Nightclub Two-Step and social dancing. Over the last ten years he has specialized in wedding dances and unique choreography including theater arts. His website is www.foreverweddingdances.com He can be reached at email@example.com or 813 417-DANC.
The battle lines are drawn. Members of the travel industry have thrown down the gauntlet in order to attain their piece of the customer-pie. Tour operators, hotels, cruise lines and travel agencies are the players. Ever since the 1990s when airlines first cut agency and tour operator commissions down to zero, the players involved have had to reorganize and reinvent themselves in order to survive. Only now, a new player has emerged: social media. And although social media is still in its infancy, the travel partners involved have decided it’s a tool worth embracing. The tricky part, however, is doing so without offending one another. Otherwise, it may end up starting a new war: The Social Media War.
Although the players still refer to each other as “partners in travel,” anyone familiar with the travel industry will tell you their relationship is a fine balancing act, one that Houdini would have envied. Tour operators, hotels, cruise lines, and travel agencies still depend upon their relationships for revenue. However as distribution channels change, and customers seek the best “deal,” so do the partner’s relationships. They have become so fragile that they borderline between partners and enemies. Take for instance when one such entity, Delta Airlines, used technology in the 1990s to gain market share through its own distribution channels; the tour operators and travel agencies affected united and threatened to revolt. Many agencies consolidated and used technology to launch their own reservation systems and reclaim their lost revenue. Some called it a travel industry revolution, but regardless of what one called it, it worked. Several experts said that the airlines didn’t see it coming, much the same way Tunisia and Egypt didn’t see their revolution, deemed the “Twitter Revolution” until it was too late.But now, social media is prevalent in almost all aspects of business, so being blindsided by the competition is less likely to happen. Still, since profit margins in the travel industry are so small (sometimes less than 10 percent), competition will gain traction as they become familiar with using social media as a sales tool.
Of the big four, tour operators have the most to gain or lose. Because tour operators include airlines, hotels, and cruise lines in their wholesale products, they are the most sensitive to the slightest change in the customer distribution channel. Hence, they were the first in the travel industry to embrace social media. For example, TripAlertz’s innovation went beyond typical tour operator sites, like Orbitz and Travelzoo, and synthesized a flash-sale website with a site similar to Groupon. As a result, TripAlertz created a two-way symmetrical model that offers its customers travel deals that are deeply discounted. The catch, however, is that regardless of whether it’s a hotel, airline ticket, or cruise, the trip is non-changeable and non-refundable. Obviously, those penalties are much stiffer than if one were to book directly with a hotel, airline, or cruise line. Still, TripAlertz’s maintains a loyal following via its new social media platform, so its customers must believe the low prices offset the stiff cancelation penalties.
When a hotel sells a room via a deep discounter, like TripAlertz, the hotel often loses money. It is betting on the fact that the customer will return another day and pay full price for the room, or even better, the customer will tell someone else, and they will purchase a room directly from the hotel. More and more, however, hotels are realizing that they must increase their direct bookings; otherwise, their profits will be diminished from paying out commissions to travel agencies and discounted flash-sites. Social media is now becoming their tool of choice. Recently at a hotel conference, David Godsman, the vice president of global web services for Starwood Hotels, unveiled his company’s 1000 unique Facebook pages, one for each of Starwood’s properties. Starwood is placing booking engines on all of its Facebook pages, so the customer can book directly with Starwood’s hotels. Hence, Starwood keeps the commission it would otherwise lose to a distributor. According to Godsman, it’s a win-win because customers will not have to track down a booking engine; instead, the booking engine is where they are, on Facebook. One would think that would solve the lost commission problem, and hotels would no longer face competition problems; however, that assumption would be wrong. Hotels still have competition between themselves, and now new websites that utilize social media only enhance the customer’s bargaining power. Tingo is one such website. The new website includes a social media platform that allows for hotels to actually bid “against” each other, which forces room prices down. Tingo is new to the arena, and no one really knows if it will last. But already they are stealing market share from Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity. Only time will tell if it will survive, and eventually, hotels may decide that they are losing too much of their slim profit margin to remain profitable. Instead, they may take their cue from the cruise lines, which have chosen not to embrace Tingo.
Of the big four, cruise lines have remained the most loyal to travel agencies. Hence, in this new war, one could say they are allies. They realized a long time ago not to bite off the hand that feeds them. As a result, social media has changed their relationship much less than their adversaries. Whereas tour operators and hotels are using social media to direct business away from agencies and into their own booking engines, cruise lines are using it to enhance their partnership. For example, the only obstacle worth noting was when Carnival Cruise Lines enforced a social media policy that prohibited travel agencies from placing “any” of the cruise line’s trademarks on travel agency Facebook pages or Twitter pages. As a result of that policy, customers that booked cruises through travel agencies, and that’s about 80 percent of all cruise passengers, were prohibited from posting on their travel agency’s Facebook page any message that contained the name of the Carnival ship they were sailing on. Carnival quickly learned a valuable lesson. They were losing word-of-mouth advertising, so they changed course and reversed their policy. For this reason, the cruise lines and the travel agencies are best friends again. And there does not appear to be any new form of social media on the horizon that will become the next catalyst for The Social Media War. But don’t count on that.
One thing about social media is certain: it’s much like the weather. If one doesn’t like it, just wait awhile, a new form will come along. Here comes Pinterest, a photo scrapbooking website. Patrick Evans, the social media manager for STA Travel, recently claimed that Pinterest is going to surpass Facebook and Twitter for usability within the travel industry. According to Evans, it’s because of the visual aspects Pinterest offers its customers. He claimed that unlike Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest is more like a digital version of one’s vacation photo album. He may be right. But one has to wonder, will this innocent, digital photo album be the next social media tool that sparks the next conflict? Because in the travel industry, even the most innocent of entities can become the next tool worth fighting over, or in other words, an excuse to start a new war, the Social Media War. Only time will tell.
King, D. (2012, April 2). New sites bet hotels will bid for bookings. Travel Weekly, 1,38.
Weed, J. (2011, April 19). Getting closer to guest. New York Times, p. B8. Retrieved from http://proquest?.umi?.com?.ezproxy?.lib?.usf?.edu/pqdweb??did=2323329251?&sid=3?&Fmt=3?&clientId=20178?&RQT=309?&VName=PQD
I have been known to make unusual comparisons. So I will not be surprised to raise a few eyebrows when I compare public relations to chicken wings. To clear the air, I’m thinking of marketing PR (not corporate PR), when my mind ventures outside of the box and into the nearest Hooters for a fix.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the chicken wing was just a chicken wing, hanging out amidst the other parts and content to be the least desirable part of the chicken. Then along came mild, hot, spicy, and inferno flavors. Throw in some celery sticks with blue cheese dressing, and the Buffalo wing never looked so good. It was hot; it’s still hot.
I see similarities in marketing PR. Like the chicken wing, it used to have its limitations. Rarely was it thought of as anything more than a press release. It was overlooked for some time, patiently waiting amongst the other parts of the marketing campaign. It has been there waiting in the wings (yes, pun intended), for just the right moment, the right breeze, the right aerodynamic conditions to take off. And now is that time. It should be quite a flight, one that even the late Charles Lindbergh would be proud of.
Unlike the ingredients for corporate PR, I’m most excited about marketing PR because I believe it has been buried beneath a mountain of advertising, and now it’s like a volcano about to erupt. The more I learn about it, the more I want to see that hot lava flow! Now, the conditions are perfect for such an eruption. It’s going to get hot, and stay hot!
With media vehicles like social media, web 2.0, and now web 3.0 to support PR campaigns, the sky is the limit. Whether it’s a news release, an event, or a promotion, new technology is creating new opportunities for PR to reach a more targeted audience than ever before. As technology advances, it’s only going to get better. Moreover, I think it will be PR’s catalyst for disseminating messages in a way that will cross generational barriers. All generations, from Generation Y on down to Baby Boomers are going to reap the harvest. The reason: it’s not just Generation X that has become consumer savvy, everyone has.
When it comes to conventional advertising, even baby boomers (the old cash-cows) are no longer a sure bet. The old-fashion commercials that used to garnish their attention have become a victim of TiVo and its fast-forward capabilities. Everyone should have seen that coming once TiVo became a verb! Throw in the effects of The Great Recession, and PR now has a valid reason to enhance (or in some circumstances, replace) conventional advertising. Perhaps that’s why the latest text book Think Public Relations, by Wilcox, Cameron, Reber and Shin, predicts that PR will grow by 24 percent over the next ten years.
That’s why I have decided to jump on the PR bandwagon. It’s not just a trend. It’s just a lot like my old friend, the chicken wing. Only now, it’s time to fly. By the way, contrary to most beliefs, chickens can fly. They just tend to do it when no one is looking. In the meantime, I’ll take mine the same way I take my PR: inferno, with extra blue cheese dressing!
If anyone would like to take the perfect family vacation this summer, here is a tip: Stay home! Of course, I don’t mean stay home, literally; on the contrary, I mean stay here, in the United States. And if I were pressed to recommend the ultimate destination, the answer would be simple: Go north and visit Alaska, and do it now while it’s still truly the last frontier. Several reasons exist today for choosing a vacation in America versus taking one abroad. However, besides the obvious like a weak dollar which equates to a terrible currency exchange rate for the American tourist, there are also the passport and security issues. Passports can take as long as three months to be issued, and even once they are, a visa may be necessary if visiting an Eastern European or Asia country. And then, there are the security issues that have to be dealt with. Long lines, angry tourist, and the constant fear of a security breach have become the norm, instead of the exception when traveling abroad. Although these derogatory circumstances can be avoided if one were to choose a vacation here in America, the question still remains as to which summer destination offers the most for the money, and that is why I recommend Alaska. Not only is Alaska easily accessible, but it offers great scenery, history, and adventure, plus three different ways to see it: by cruise, land tour, or by motor home. Alaska truly is the ultimate summer destination.
The easiest way to see Alaska is by cruise, for there are now more ships touring the inside passage, Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, than ever before. Most of these cruises are seven days in duration, and they depart from Vancouver, Canada or Seattle, Washington. After departing, a typical itinerary (for a round-trip voyage) includes a stop in Juneau (the capital of Alaska), Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria Island. Most round trip voyages follow this itinerary, so if one wanted to save the time and money required in attaining a passport (that is required for Canada departures), I would highly recommend a departure from Seattle. One of the best cruise lines for this would be Holland America , for they now have two ships departing from Seattle, the Amsterdam and the Westerdam, as compared to most cruise lines that only have one ship. Regardless of which method one chooses, expect to encounter seals or whales in Juneau Bay, witness live-calving glaciers in Glacier Bay, photograph beautiful Russian architecture in Sitka, or perhaps experience salmon fishing in Ketchikan. Another option for cruising would be one of the one-way departures from Vancouver. Because these voyages are one-way, they have the added luxury of visiting Hubbard Glacier (the largest glacier in Alaska) or Prince William Sound (the largest concentration of glaciers in Alaska). Some one-way cruises begin in Seward, Alaska and end in Vancouver, Canada; these are called southbound voyages. Northbound voyages do just the opposite; they begin in Vancouver, and seven days later, passengers disembark in Seward. Also, the northbound itineraries are perfect for anyone that wants to add on a land-tour and experience the interior of Alaska.
As wonderful as an Alaskan cruise is, the fact is that they only cover less than ten percent of Alaska. In order to see the rest, including the abundant wildlife, one really needs to get into the interior of the state. The best way to do this, especially for newcomers to Alaska, is a pre-packaged escorted land tour. There are a several companies that offer such tours, averaging ten to fourteen days in length; however, for my money, the one that offers the most unique experiences in Alaska is the “Glorious Alaskan Adventure”, a ten day tour (with an optional 7 day cruise extension) offered by Insight Vacations . The tour starts in Fairbanks and travels south towards Anchorage, with stops in Denali, Talkeetna, Girdwood, and Homer. In Denali, where the tundra wildlife tour is included, clients are fortunate enough to receive a two-night stay (as compared to a one night stay offered by most tour operators). Then guests board the Alaskan railroad and head south towards Talkeetna; for many, this will be the highlight of their trip, for some of Alaska’s best scenery is viewed and photographed from one of the appointed domed rail cars. The Alaska railroad has been in service since 1923 when President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike into the tracks and officially opened what is now known as one of the main tourist attractions in Alaska. Although most tour operators do similar stops, they usually do not offer a scenic glacier day-cruise of Prince William Sound, and this tour does while staying in Girdwood for two nights. Prior to offering this glacier day-cruise, if passengers wanted to see glaciers in Alaska, they were often forced into taking a seven-day cruise. Another great inclusion in Girdwood is a visit to the Happy Trails Kennel, where clients can cuddle an Alaskan puppy while learning about sled dogs from Iditarod Champion, Martin Buser. This is also one of the few tours that travels to, Homer, a sleepy little fishing village at the end of the Alaskan highway. There, guests can enjoy world-class halibut fishing or photograph some unique architecture at the Russian Orthodox Church. The tour ends on day ten in Anchorage; however, touring Alaska often does not. From here, some people continue onto seven day cruises; whereas, some of the more adventurous people often rent motor homes to tour the rest of Alaska.
For those that want to add a little more adventure to their vacation, a motor home is really the way to go. The best motor home rental for this type of adventure is with ABC motor homes. Unlike their competitors, ABC offers motor homes with generators, heaters, and fully equipped kitchens. That can be a big plus if someone wakes up in Denali to six inches of snow (like I did)) in early September! Campsites are available throughout Alaska interior, and there really is not a better way to get close up to wildlife than camping, especially in Denali National Park. There, one can rent a campsite deep inside the park and take hiking trips along one of many hiking trails. In case of a bear encounter, there are even ranger-led hikes for the person that wants to feel a little bit safer in such circumstances. Cars are not allowed inside Denali Parks, so the only way to get around is by using their shuttle buses; the exceptions to that rule are motor homes, for they are allowed a one-time round trip venture to their campsite and back. During their stay, campers utilize the shuttle system to go to and from their daily destinations, such as wonder lake or the ranger station at Eielson. Because there is less traffic in Denali than most other parks, the animals there make frequent appearances. And because there is an average of eighteen hours of daylight per-day, the animals usually do not disappoint photographers, amateur sand professionals alike.
As one can see, Alaska is a remarkable place, and has something to offer everyone. From the towering glaciers to the abundant wildlife, the land is truly amazing. Personally, I believe it is a destination that cannot be beat, and having been in the travel business for over twenty-five years, I can professionally attest to that theory. Too often, however, I encounter destination tourists that never really give Alaska a fair chance; instead, they become engulfed in the idea of a foreign vacation, including forty-seven countries in six days. Often these people return exhausted, and unfortunately, disappointed. For them and everyone else, including the young or young at heart, I have one message: Go north!