In search of winter hot spots

Skip the Caribbean and try cruising to destinations in the South Seas

The Smart Traveler

October 22, 2006

IF YOU'VE BEEN TO THE Caribbean more often than to the corner grocer, as cruise specialist Rick White puts it, where else can you go this winter to flee the cold without having to mortgage your house?

CRUISER FRIENDLY ONBOARD GUIDE TO ALASKA'S INSIDE PASSAGE

Cruiser Friendly Publications / $18.00

We all know that Alaska is big, but just how big? According to author Terry Breen, Alaska is more than 570,000 square miles; and with a population of less than 650,000, that translates into 1.2 people per square mile. So, it's big and empty. Breen, who has worked 15 years as a lecturer and naturalist on cruise ships in Alaska, serves as your personal guide. As you cruise the state's Inside Passage, she points out what to look for: plant life, marine life, land mammals and birds. She also discusses highlights of cities, towns and landmarks along the cruising routes.

JUNE SAWYERS

GEARS & GADGETS

Why settle for luggage that merely holds clothes when you can have a bag that also entertains you? The Boom Bag wheeled 21-inch Expandable Carry-on Suiter has a removable stereo amplifier, speakers and sub woofer mounted in the space between and around the trolley rails. Just power up the system with the included power cord, plug in your MP3 or CD player, grab the included remote control and start a dance party. The Boom Bag also has a microphone jack with separate volume controls, so you can use the bag for audio presentations -- or turning a hotel room into a karaoke club. Airport security may require this bag to travel as checked luggage. 21-inch Expandable Carry-on Suiter is $300 from Boom Bags; 800-927-1767; boombags.com.

JUDI DASH

EXCURSIONS

CLIMB MOUNT KILIMANJARO

Shore excursions are getting grander in scope: Crystal Cruises will offer a nine-night adventure climb to the 19,340-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in the spring in conjunction with two Crystal Serenity sailings beginning or ending in Cape Town, South Africa. Participants will hike four to six hours per day with overnight accommodations at the mountain's most comfortable huts. The program is operated in conjunction with Micato Safaris. Call 888-799-4625 or go to crystalcruises.com.

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

ONBOARD

Classroom on the open seas

The Institute for Shipboard Education, which sponsors three annual Semester at Sea programs for undergraduate college students, will conduct a Seminar at Sea program open to all travelers Dec. 27-Jan. 6 aboard the 24,300-ton Explorer. The 11-day voyage starts in Nassau, Bahamas, and visits six more islands before arriving at Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Onboard lectures, workshops and Spanish-language classes are planned. For information, go to semesterat sea.com or call 800-854-0195.

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

SHIPS

Fleet additions at NCL

Norwegian Cruise Line announced it will spend about $2.8 billion building up to three new vessels. The planned ships -- behemoths, of course -- will be designed to accommodate the signature restaurants and intimate eateries that characterize the line. The design of the new ships also will offer 60 percent more passenger space than the cruise line's largest ships. NCL already has in the works two other new ships, scheduled for delivery this year and next. In December, the line will launch the 93,000-ton Pearl and, in 2007, its sister ship, the Gem.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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