Simulation Cruise and New Health Protocols

By: Leah Jorgensen

On July 28, I received an email. I was offered a 4-night Caribbean sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas’ Simulation sailing. The kicker? It was sailing on August 1, and only available to fully vaccinated guests. So I quickly contacted my mother since she is retired and always up for an adventure, made sure we both had our passports and vaccination records, and accepted the offer! Three days later, my father and brother drove us down to Galveston to the ship!

For a Simulation sailing, just about everything is the same, but the guests are at 10% capacity, and the CDC was disguised onboard. Having 400 guests on a ship that has the capacity for 4,370 passengers made it feel like the ship was just ours! It was a little eerie how empty it was, but there was never a line or a wait for anything! The entire crew is vaccinated and had been in quarantine on the ship for 2 months already. They were thrilled to be working again after 15 months, and so happy to just see other people on board. I’ve never seen a happier crew, happier entertainers, and happier guests.

Embarkation was seamless! We could only arrive at the port at our assigned time, and everything was organized. Passports were checked, vaccination records were checked, recorded, and photographed, quickly went through security, and then we were allowed onboard!

One of the biggest headaches of starting any sailing is the safety drills. Due to Covid, they are no longer safe since social distancing needs to be followed. But Royal Caribbean now has a fantastic app for your phone! Once we made it to our rooms and picked up our Sea Passes, we watched a video on our apps of how to find and wear lifejackets, what to do in an emergency, and played the sound clip of the ship’s emergency notification horn. Then it was time to find our assigned lifeboat. Once there, a crew member verified we had watched the safety video and placed a sticker on our Sail Passes to show we had completed the safety drill.

Now I’m not one who wants to keep my phone on me when I’m on vacation (isn’t the point to get unplugged and out of reach?), but the app really was handy! Easy to use and find scheduled activities, we were able to make dinner reservations, reserve show tickets, and make our own personalized schedule. If you’re not sure where something is, the deck plans are there at your fingertips! Don’t worry about waiting in line at Guest Services- your on-board account is already in your hand!

Speaking of hands, we are still living in a pandemic. Every doorway now has hand sanitizer, but instead of just sitting there available, we were asked (required) to use it every time. And outside the Windjammer restaurant, soap and water stations have been installed, and are required to be used before entering. The amount of food has not changed, and the crew will happily put whatever you would like on your plate for you. (Really- I suggest taking the stairs as much as possible so you can fill up with less guilt!) The crew was constantly sanitizing hand rails, chairs, tables, anything that could be touched, and often disinfected the walls. The ships have always been clean, but it was spotless- all of the time.

Relaxing in the pool

Being vaccinated, I was allowed into any venue, activity, public area, and restaurant. But being a simulation, there were some people that were chosen to be “un-vaccinated”. Those who are vaccinated are given a purple plastic bracelet to wear- and they were often checked too. Those who were un-vaccinated had specific shows, time and location for main dining, and activities they were allowed to enter. They still had a full schedule and throughout the sailing were still allowed to see and do everything, but there were just specific times they were allowed to do certain activities. Everyone is still required to wear masks while moving around the ship, but we were allowed to take them off while sitting and actively eating and drinking, and while outside. The crew is still required to leave their masks on even while outside.

When we arrived in Cozumel, we parked next to the Adventure of the Seas, that is currently sailing out of Nassau, Bahamas. Vaccinated guests are allowed to leave the ship, but unvaccinated guests are only allowed off for a Royal Caribbean excursion. On the docks, we got the chance to talk with some very happy folks from Michigan who told us what a fantastic vacation they were having! Their sailing had about 900 guests and they were getting the Royal treatment as well! Mom and I were able to find a taxi (William in taxi 318) to get us to a beach to stick our feet in the water, which is all we were looking for, and back to the dock (I do not normally suggest ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ as there’s always a chance of being late and being left!)! All of the shops in Cozumel were ecstatic to see people shopping there again- the pandemic and halting of travel has really affected us all.

All-in-all, I felt extremely safe. The safety protocols are working and people are able to be back at work. This sailing was a dream, but I hope we don’t have to live through this again in my lifetime. If you do get a chance to sail on the Independence of the Seas, especially before January (and contracts move workers), tell pianist Timothy Boaz, guitarist Darla Fox, and waiters Sanjay and Red that I sent you!

Everything you need to experience on your first trip to Spain

Savour wine and tapas in a sun-dappled cafe by the coast. Soak in the local nightlife to the sound of the flamenco guitar. Stroll through the mosaic-decorated halls of an unfinished masterpiece. This is Spain. The sunny jewel in Europe’s mainland is welcoming back fully vaccinated visitors from the UK, EU and North America. With travel at the edge of our fingertips, it seems only fitting that we pull together some of our favourite things to eat, drink, do, and see for an unforgettable first trip to Spain. 

Weave your way through mosaic landscapes & Gothic architecture
It’s tough not to be awestruck by the beautiful century-old architecture nestled within the heart of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. In this labyrinth of cobbled lanes and squares, you’ll discover the remains of the city’s Roman wall, the Jewish quarter, as well as several standout landmarks from as far back as medieval times. Even if you’re a history buff or an architectural expert, the Gothic Quarter is still undoubtedly best experienced through the seasoned hands of a local guide – helping you dive head-first into Barcelona’s cultural timeline.

The first trip to Spain isn’t complete without stepping into the world of Antoni Gaudi either. A colourful combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, the Sagrada Familia is a magnificent – and still unfinished – Roman Catholic basilica which has become iconic to the city’s skyline. Take a few hours to wander around the building and admire the whimsical maze-like landscaping surrounding the church, which has been described simultaneously as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world” by George Orwell, and the “greatest piece of creative architecture” by famed architect Louis Sullivan.

Celebrate the dances of Spain

How does getting swept up in the passion and frenzy of a live flamenco dance sound? On your first trip to Spain, spend at least one night soaking in Seville’s nightlife: listening to the flamboyant strums of the guitar, the rhythmic clapping distinctive only to flamenco, and the lilting voices of the singers. A night to remember in the city famous for the dance itself.

Relax on the sun-kissed shores of the Costa del Sol

Feel the sun’s rays warm your shoulders as you stroll along one of Spain’s most famous coastlines. Here, there’s something for everyone. Looking for that golden holiday tan? Sip on a refreshing drink from one of the nearby cafes and bask in the midday sun. More of an adventurous type? Take a short trip to nearby Malaga – a city famed for its hiking spots and art museums. Need a cool down on your trip to Spain? Plenty of open-air beachside restaurants are just waiting to welcome you with open arms. There, you can feast on a cuisine inspired by Spanish, Jewish or Arabic traditions. That’s everything from pescaito frito – breaded and fried fish – or gazpacho – a cold tomato soup perfect for a sun-beaten day.

And finally… admire world-famous masterpieces in the Spanish capital

Take a guided tour of all Madrid has to offer, starting with the famed Prado Museum on your first trip to Spain. Inside these halls, some of the most striking pieces from a long history of European art are displayed. We’re talking collections from Velazquez himself, Goya’s Black Paintings (as created in the twilight of his life), and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. From there, the city is yours to dive into. Our personal favorite way to end the day, however? Digging into a hot calamari sandwich whilst doing a spot of people watching in Buen Retiro Park. If that doesn’t say la buena vida, what does? 

Return to Ocean Cruising Coming Soon

Whether you love to cruise the high seas or want to take another type of ship-sailing adventure, you can set your sights toward cruising in the near-distant future, or in 2022 or 2023. A current news release (April 2021) announced the next phase, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. These guidelines will direct cruise ships on what they need to do to resume sailing.

Hastening the Process

Cruise operators have urged the CDC to give them additional instructions to hasten the return of sailing in the U.S. The cruise industry, during the past year, has practically shut down because of the pandemic, despite the fact that voyages have taken place in other places around the globe.

In its most recent press release, the CDC stated that the second phase of the sailing order will enable cruise operators to schedule trial voyages to adapt to new COVID-19 procedures. These voyages will use volunteers before sailing commences with paying passengers. Thousands of people have already inquired about being a volunteer through cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean.

While the CDC says people can travel safely, they still advise cruise travelers, for the time being, to stay at home. The new update by the CDC, defined as technical guidance, mandates that the reporting frequency for COVID 19 take place daily.  A new color-coding system will classify ships, so routine tests can be conducted of crew members, based on a vessel’s color.

Although the CDC’s “Framework” has sidelined the majority of cruise vessels in the U.S., it still opens up the way for cruise vessels to eventually sail. This is especially helpful to know after a no-sail order was extended several times before the Conditional Sailing Order took effect in October 2020.

The CDC’s sailing order applies to U.S. passengers’ ships, operating overnight cruises from the territorial waterways or territorial seas in the U.S. It does not apply to small cruise operators with less than 250 passengers and crew. Therefore, the order primarily applies to areas, such as Alaska, Hawaii, San Juan Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The order applies to foreign-flagged and American flagged ships that, again, carry over 250 people.

If you want to set sail now, some cruise operators with the lower passenger count currently accept reservations that allow you to travel now versus the far-distant future.

Current Legislation

 As of April 20, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives joined the Senate in asking that the CDC revoke the Conditional Sailing Order that was established in the fall of 2020.

Two representatives, Don Young (R-Alaska) and Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Florida) introduced legislation to end the no sail-order, requiring the CDC to offer guidelines for the safe return of cruise operations in the U.S. Moreover, the bill includes the establishment of an interagency work group so passenger activity can resume July 1, 2021.

Another bill has already been enacted called the Careful Resumption Under Improve Safety Enforcements Acts, known as the CRUISE Act. The CRUISE Act legislation was introduced by senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rick Scott (R-Florida). 

The 2 Congress members and 3 senators supporting the above legislation come from states that have been hit especially hard by the CDC mandates.

While some cruise ships have resumed operations in Europe and other international destinations, most vessels, based from U.S. cities plan to resume operations in June or July. In these cases, base ports for the ships will be in places, such s Nassau in the Bahamas or Bermuda. The CDC currently blocks ships from sailing from U.S. ports, something that has triggered a lawsuit in Florida.

Therefore, you will find it easier to cruise on the smaller cruise lines in the U.S. at this time. While things may be slow at first, cruisers will again enjoy cruising if the remain patient.

For example, AmaWaterways will not feature any cruises until the end of May 2021. The cruise line states it will assess sailings beyond that time, 45 days in advance of start dates.

The smaller ship line, American Cruise Lines, has resumed cruising along the waterways of South and Carolina and Georgia. The line’s 100-passenger ship, the Independence, set sail on March 13, 2021. It also has one ship sailing the Mississippi River. The company plans to schedule 13 more cruise ships on U.S. waterways in the coming weeks. 

Avalon Waterways plans to suspend operation through the month of May for U.S. passengers.

Azamara will cancel sailings until the end of June.

Carnival Cruise Lines

The popular cruise line plans to pause service until June 30.

Celebrity Cruises

The cruise line has extended its suspension of U.S.-based voyages until June 30, 2021. It plans to beign sailing again in North America, leaving St. Maarten on June 5, 2021.

Celestyal Cruises, which features Greek cruises to the Greek Isles, plans on restarting cruising in the area May 29.

Costa Cruises plans to resume European cruises on May 1, 2021, using the Costa Smeralda. The line’s Costa Luminosa will depart ports in Europe, beginning May 16, 2021. 

Crystal Cruises plans to resume cruise operations on July 3, 2021, starting with the Crystal Serenity, out of Nassau, Bahamas. The line’s Crystal Symphony will begin sailing again on August 5, 2021, with sailing out of St. John’s, Antigua. All sailings for the Crystal Esprit have been postponed until August.  

As an alternative to ocean cruising, you may contact Crystal Cruises about river ship cursing, scheduled to start between June 4 and June 7, 2021. The cruise company has delayed introducing its new expedition ship, the Crystal Endeavor, for the time-being.

Cunard Line has canceled its departures for its 3 vessels, the Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Mary 2 until August 27, 2021, October 11, 2021, and November 12, 2021, respectively. Instead, the cruise line, which is based in the UK, plans to feature UK-only cruises for residents living in the UK. The Queen Elizabeth will feature summer 2021 cruises.

Disney Cruise Line

Sailings for the ships, the Disney Dream, Disney wonder, and Disney Fantasy have been canceled until May 31, 2021. Scheduled trips on Disney Magic have been stopped until August 10, 2021.

Emerald Waterways plans to cancel sailings through the end of June.

Hurtigruten did resume cruise sailing to the Arctic in July 2020. However, cruises will not resume, until announced, as one of the vessels reported a COVID-19 outbreak.

Holland America will not resume sailings at this time, until, possibly, July. The line cancelled 2021 sailings to Alaska that depart or end in Vancouver, British, Columbia, Canada.

MSC Cruises has cancelled departures out of North America, at this time, through the end of May. However, the company has scheduled cruises departing the UK, beginning May 20, 2021.

Norwegian Cruise Line

The cruise line, along with its brands, plans to suspend travel until, at least, June 30, 2021. The company states it will restart sailing on July 25, 2021 with one of its ships featuring Greek Islands sailings from Piraeus, Greece. It then plans to begin Caribbean sailings out of the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. One ship will be used out of each of the ports. 

Oceania Cruises states it will cancel sailings on all of its ships until the end of July.

Paul Gauguin Cruises plans to cancel all of its sailings until, at this time, May 15, 2021.

Princess Cruises

Cruises featured by the Princess Cruise line that leave Seattle have been cancelled through June 27, 2021. Los Angeles, Rome, and Ft. Lauderdale cruises remain cancelled until June 30, 2021 and voyages leaving Southampton, England have been postponed until September 25, 2021.

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, a new cruise line, associated with the Ritz-Carlton, is delaying its first voyage until November 10, 2021. The line was first slated for debut last year in February.

Royal Caribbean International

The cruise brand and provider announced it will suspend all U.S.-based sailings until June 30, 2021 and restart North American voyages from the Bahamas on June 12, 2021.Cruises from Bermuda will begin in June and cruises from Cyprus in July. Royal Caribbean plans to deploy one ship on each of the new routes. 

Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours will not sail again, according to current plans, until after June.

Seabourn has made plans to reinitiate operation in July, with one ship sailing, out of Piraeus, Greece, to the Greek Islands. All sailings to Alaska have been cancelled. 

Tauck has cancelled cruises until after May 2021.

Viking plans begin cruising again on May 22, 2021, featuring UK-only sailing for local UK residents out of Portsmouth, England. It has also scheduled “welcome back” voyages from Bermuda and Iceland in June and July 2021. Other than those scheduled itineraries, the cruise line has cancelled other sailings until the end of July.

Most of the cruise lines will initiate sailings in North America, primarily from the Caribbean in June or July. You just need to check with cruise providers to get a sense of where you stand. 

Cruises Will Be Shorter

At this time (April 2021), you will have more success scheduling any cruise vacations in 2022 or 2023. You will also find that many cruise schedules will be shorter, which is not necessarily bad. You can see a a lot of great attractions, even if you narrow the itinerary from 12 to 6 days.

Be prepared to follow any quarantine guidelines and get the instructions on COVID-19 sailing requirements.

Because the space inside a cabin is close, more restrictions have been placed on taking trips on a cruise ship in the wake of the coronavirus. Therefore, your choice of a cabin may also be important.

Unfavorable Cabin Locations

Certain cabins are not good choices anytime. For example, you do not want to choose a cabin close to stairways or elevator banks. Not only are they noisier, more people tend to congregate in the areas – not the best places to practice social distancing.

This can be especially problematic if air vents have been built inside the cabin doors. While the vents are meant to improve the flow of air, they also allow sounds from the hall to drift into a room. 

Stay Away from the Anchor and Bow

While you may not be able to find the location of a ship’s anchor on a deck plan, it normally is close to the front of the ship. If you book a cabin close to the anchor, this can be an issue if you sail to several tender ports. 

Tender port represents spots where a ship anchors offshore and passengers tender to land on small watercraft. You also do not want to settle near the ship’s bow at the front, as you can feel the ship’s teeter-totter motion, something that can be rather distracting during a storm or high waves.

Splurging on a Suite

Because of the location of some cabins and their lack of space, you may want to splurge, especially because of the pandemic, on a larger suite. Not only do you enjoy more space, you also receive priority embarkation and more pampering – something worth getting after waiting a long time to cruise.

The perks of staying in a suite on an ocean cruise make spending the extra money worth the experience. Suite guests have their own special check-in area when they arrive at the terminal. Also, some suite guests can access a private lounge area where they can rest and enjoy a snack. If you book a suite, you will be one of the first guests to board the ship, allowing you to begin your holiday sooner.

Suites on cruise ships are far bigger than regular cabins, thereby reducing the threats associated with getting a virus in a closer space. As most cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, enjoying the sprawling comfort of a suite, which can be bigger than a house, does make a difference.

Some luxury suites cover a space of 2,000 to 4,000 feet. Comparatively, most major cruise lines feature cabins that measure 150 to 185 square feet, with balcony suites spanning 175 to 220 square feet. If you cannot afford to spend extra on a suite, it is better to choose a cabin with a balcony.

Suites on cruises have more space and feature better locations as well. Many suites are located in the middle, or the equilibrium point – the most stabilized area during rough sea voyages. This is a good location to select if you are prone to getting seasick.

When taking an ocean cruise during more restricted travel times, it’s nice to have those extra upgrades that come with a cruise suite. These upgrades include spa-type toiletries, higher-thread counts, and coffee and tea service. Suites frequently come with a private butler, at your service 24/7, or a private concierge. 

Because cruises, in the current travel environment, are typically shorter, it might not hurt to take a shorter cruise and spring for a suite instead of the more confined cabin.

During this time, it is important to remember that most cruising will only be available to those who get vaccinated for COVID-19. Again, you need to check with the cruise line to find out about the protocol you’ll need to follow.

Some of the Popular Cruise Holidays

At this time (April 2021), Greece is a destination of choice featured by many cruise operators, such as Norwegian, Seabourn, and Celebrity. all planning routes around the Greek Isles in summer 2021. MSC Cruises will also be running several itineraries in European waters in May, with calls at ports in Malta, Italy, France, Spain, Croatia, Spain, and Montenegro. Included in MSC Cruises’ routes is Venice. However, embarkment from the port will be rerouted to an industrial port nearby, following a new environmental guideline.

COVID-19 Testing Documentation

To give you a snapshot of what to expect during most sailings, as defined by Carnival, you will need to arrive at the terminal, tested and with the proper documents. Guests who are 2 years or older will need to show that they have been tested negative for a SARS-CoV-2 test taken from 24 hours to 5 days before setting sail. The negative test report document must be legible, identifying the approved and licensed testing service, and include a sample collection date, test type, and identification of the tested person.

Carnival cruise guests must complete a health questionnaire 72 hours before sailing and have their temperature taken during boarding. Only guests who book appointments will be allowed to access the terminal and boarding area. Guests must complete an online check-in and choose an appointment for an arrival time by midnight (Eastern Time) before the date of embarkation. 

You can resume ocean cruising soon, if you so choose. Also, keep in mind that passenger ships carrying under 250 people are scheduling regular cruising now. Most of these cruises are taking place, in the U.S., along the Mississippi River. So, if you are waiting to take an ocean cruise, for instance, from Nassau in the Bahamas in June, you might still think about traveling on one of the river cruises in the U.S. 

As noted, it is important to follow the instructions for onboarding and follow other rules, such as wearing a mask, during the voyage. While these rules have changed the activity of cruising, they will not take away form enjoying a memorable cruise holiday.

Touring the U.S. This Summer

One of the best ways to tour the U.S. is to plan a trip to the country’s national parks and visit popular states, such as Florida or California, or Hawaii. The tropical appeal of the 3 states makes visiting them both exciting and fun.

For example, a trip to Florida or California is not complete without visiting Walt Disney attractions. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland in California are great places to include on your U.S. travel bucket list.

Another place that spells excitement and entertainment is Las Vegas. Known for its casinos, top-line entertainment, and fine dining, the city also hosts tours to places, such as the Grand Canyon or to the Hoover Dam. Therefore, you can take part in both memorable indoor and outdoor activities while visiting this popular tourist destination. 

Keeping Travelers Safe

To ensure your safety, hotels and tourist sites and attractions encourage the use of face masks and social distancing. Hotels have taken added precautions, deep-cleaning rooms for clients so they comply with the guidelines set aside by the Centers for Disease Control or CDC.

If you have any COVID-19 type symptoms or you believe you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, refrain from traveling until you feel better or stay at home at least 14 days before beginning a holiday. If you feel sick during your trip, postpone further activities until you feel better.

Visiting Disney World – What to Anticipate?

Because of the Pandemic, some changes have taken place at the Disney World amusement park. The primary restrictions, currently in place include the following:

  • You must wear a mask when visiting the park.
  • Make a reservation to visit Disney World using the Disney Park Pass Reservation System on the Disney World website.
  • The park has suspended Extra Magic Hours and Fast Passes currently (as of April 2021).
  • Firework displays and parades have been suspended (as of April 2021).
  • Some of the restaurants in the amusement park are temporarily closed.
  • You must have your temperature checked before entering the park.

Now that you know the current rules, you will know what to expect if you visit the park this summer. You will follow the same types of rules if you visit Disneyland in California. 

Riding the Rides at Disney World –  Wheelchair  or ECV Visitors

If you have a mobility disability, you can refer to the Disney site to check which rides you can access if you use a wheelchair or ECV (electric convenience vehicle scooter). You can hire a wheelchair or ECV in any Disney park on a first-come, first-served basis.

Make Magic Kingdom Your First Choice

When it comes to touring the U.S., you should plan to spend several days at either Disney World or Disneyland. If you plan to see Disney World in Florida, make Magic Kingdom your park of choice if you have limited time. Not only does the park feature a fairytale castle, it is home to the famous Disney characters, Minnie and Mickey Mouse.

Do You Have Small Children?  Plan a Visit to Fantasyland

If you have small children, visit Fantasyland, as they have the most rides for visitors in this age group. Be prepared to wait  a while in line for popular rides, such as Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.

The Space Mountain Roller Coaster Ride 

One of the most thrilling rides in the Magic Kingdom is Disney World’s Space Mountain – a high-speed roller coaster that operates in a dark environment with various twists and turns. However, you don’t have to worry about large drops or inversions – you simply will be flying through the “galaxy.” 

If you want to wake up fast in the morning, this is the way to do it – no caffeine needed at all. The ride, which is featured inside, allows people in the queue to engage in interactive games while waiting to take the ride. Space Mountain is one of the best rides to ride if you plan to travel visit Disney World and travel through the Sunshine State.

Traveling Down Route 66

One of the iconic roads in the U.S., Route 66 offers quirky sites, retro neon signs, and world-famous museums. It also leads the traveler to spectacular national parks and unique and iconic landmarks. You simply cannot tour the U.S. in the summer without including Route 66 on your list itinerary.

The historic highway runs east-west across the central part of New Mexico, beside a path occupied by U.S. Interstate 40. Until 1937, the road covered a longer route by way of Los Lunas, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque in New Mexico. These areas now make up New Mexico State Road 6, Interstate 25 and U.S. 84.

Route 66 Attractions

Some of the places to see along Route 66 include the following attractions.

Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, Texas

Just a quick 15-minute drive from Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch is one of the more unusual sites along Route 66. Planted in the red Texan dessert, 10 half-buried graffiti-painted Cadillacs sit nose-first into the ground. Visitors can create their own artwork by spray painting one of the cars.

The Painted Desert – Indian Wells, California

Another “painted” site along Route 66, the Painted Desert is known for its kaleidoscopic colors. This part of northern Arizona features rocks in various hues – from varying pinks and oranges to deep lavenders and shades of gray. Take time, at sunset, during your Route 66 adventure, to view the fiery colors over the Painted Desert.

Visiting the Mile Bottle Grocery in Oklahoma City

On top of the Milk Bottle Grocery in Oklahoma City sits a giant milk bottle – a strong clue that you have reached another classic landmark along Route 66. While the building served as a milk store and grocery store in the old day, it is now a Vietnamese cafe. If you don’t have time to eat banh mi or drink iced coffee, you can always take a picture of the unique landmark.

The Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac, Illinois

100 miles from the beginning point of Route 66 sits the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum – home to thousands of memorabilia and artefacts – all depicting the glory days and history of the Mother Road. Learn more about the route, when it was considered one of the most important roads of the day. Don’t travel down the length of the highway without visiting the museum first.

Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, California

An endpoint for Route 66, Santa Monica Pier serves as the place where the “End of the Trail” sign appears for the roadway.  The pier features a large wheel set against a sandy and sweeping beach and a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. The pier, which is also home to an amusement park and carousel, features free walking tours that allow you to explore the area’s history.

Seeing the U.S. National Parks

Best National Parks for Families

Part of your American touring experience should include a visit to one or more of the country’s national parks. By purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass, you can do just that. You can find out more about a pass purchase by following this link. Doing so will make it easier to plan visits to specific national parks.

Visiting the Grand Canyon

One of the great attractions you don’t want to miss when touring America is the Grand Canyon. Located north of Flagstaff, Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the fourth most visited park in the U.S. National Park System (NPS). 

You can enter the park at the South Rim or travel to the South Rim by train. To take a train ride, you need to begin in Williams, Arizona at the depot. The heritage railroad, the Grand Canyon Railway, transports passengers to the Canyon’s South Rim and Grand Canyon Village. The ride covers 64 miles. Completed in September 1901, the track was built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

Grand Canyon Park is now 102 years old (as of 2021). It celebrated its birthday in February 2019. The length of the canyon runs 277 miles or 446 kilometers long and spans 18 miles or 29 kilometers wide. The depth of the ravine falls to 7,000 feet or 1,857 meters.

Staying Cool in the Summertime

If you visit the South Rim of the Canyon in the summer, it can get blazing hot. Therefore, you need to make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and take the air-conditioned shuttles running through Grand Canyon Village to visit the sites and attractions.

Hiking in the Park during the Summer

If you plan to hike, you need to be in good physical shape, and again, keep plenty of water handy. The Angel Trail, a popular hiking trail in the park, does not offer much shade, so you need to keep this in mind if you do any hiking at all.

Grand Canyon Park Lodging

You can see some historical and unique attractions when you visit Grand Canyon Village as well as stay in some comfortable lodgings. Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, and Yavapai Lodge all get high marks when it comes to staying in the park.

Scenic Overlooks

Grand Canyon Village highlights some of the best scenic overlooks in Grand Canyon National Park, one of the best being Yavapai Point. To begin your adventure in the village, start at the visitor center where you can pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure. 

Village Sites and Attractions

You can refer to the brochure for more information about the canyon, its history, and the village’s historic sites. Some of these attractions include Hopi House, Lookout Studio, and Kolb House. Learn how the village sprang up around the railway in 1901. You can access the village or travel away from the South Rim by train via the Grand Canyon Railway Depot.

California National Parks

Besides the Grand Canyon, you may want to plan a trip to one of the national parks, this summer, in California. In fact, if you want to see national parks, California is the go-to place for the activity. The state is home to 28 national parks, more than any other state in the U.S. 

Yosemite National Park

The most popular national park in California and the U.S. is Yosemite National Park, known for its geothermal springs and activity. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the park is famed for its ancient and giant sequoia trees and the granite rock formations of Half Dome and El Capitan. 

Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery to view the photographer’s black-and-white images of the area’s landscape and check out the restaurants, lodging, and shopping in the park’s Yosemite Village.

Acadia National Park

If your summer travels take you to the East Coast of the U.S., you might want to include a visit to Acadia National Park. Do you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy pleasant weather? If so, book travel to the park just past  the summer season, or 2 weeks past Labor Day. You might consider this part of your summer tour as your last “summer” excursion for the year. 

The park, which covers 47,000 acres next to the Atlantic, sits primarily on Mount Desert Island in Maine. The landscape is defined by woodlands, granite peaks, such as Cadillac Mountain, and rocky shores. Cadillac Mountain represents the highest point in the U.S. on the East Coast. Wildlife in the park include bears, moose, seabirds, and marine animals, such as whales. A gateway to the park is the town of Bar Harbor, a bayside town that features popular shops and eateries.

Planning a Trip to Chicago

The Windy City, or Chicago, is always a welcome big U.S. city to visit in the summer, given its lake breezes and high-rise views. Located along Lake Michigan, the city, which is home to 2.7 million people, stands out as the place to go to enjoy art, shopping, and outdoor activities, such as biking, walking, and boating.

The third-largest city in the U.S., Chicago has been described in myriad ways during its history. During the World’s Columbian Exposition, or the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Chicago was known as a City of Industry. Later, during prohibition, mobsters, like Al Capone, turned Chicagoland into a nefarious playground with bootlegging being one of the main activities.

Enjoying the City Sights

While enjoying the city sights, you might consider taking a Chicago Architecture River Cruise or pass the hours looking at the scenery at Chicago’s Millennium Park. To see a bird’s-eye view of the city, head toward Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). 

You can also see some great city views at the John Hancock Center’s 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago also offers engaging and fun-family activities. Naturally, you cannot visit Chi-Town without eating a deep-dish pizza as well. 

A Quintessential Family Vacation – North Carolina’s Outer Banks

If you are seeking the quintessential family vacation, you should set your sights on visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina separate the Atlantic Ocean from  the U.S. Mainland. The open-sea beaches, shipwreck diving, and state parks, make the Outer  Banks a truly fun place to go when traveling. 

Hatteras Island and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in eastern North Carolina make up the Outer Banks area. The history of the locale is replete with pirate lore and stories of shipwrecks. Roanoke Island lies close to the Outer Banks in Albemarle Sound, between the Outer Banks and the U.S. Mainland. The island is the place where Sir Walter Raleigh established the first English Colony in the New World.

One of greatest mysteries of U.S. history, the colony on Roanoke Island was found abandoned in 1590, 5 years after it was first settled in August 1585.

While COVID-19 precautions should be rigorously followed, you do have plenty of choices for traveling the U.S. this summer. When you decide on a destination or route, check with the sites you plan to visit about any travel restrictions currently in place.

Narrowing Down Your Summer Travel Choices

You can narrow down your choices and the travel days by what you have set aside for a travel budget. When making summer plans to travel the U.S., you will need to answer the following questions:

  • Which accommodations should I choose if I plan to travel with my dog?
  • If traveling by RV, which campsites should I include on my travel itinerary?
  • Should I rent a car or use my own vehicle if I am traveling close to home?
  • When can I get the best deals on airline travel during the week?
  • What hotels are offering discounts or travel incentives?
  • Can I use my airline miles to reduce costs for traveling to specific locales?
  • Who should I contact about getting trip insurance if I plan to zip line or take part in extreme sports activities?
  • What gear should I carry when backpacking or visiting the backcountry of U.S. National Parks?
  • What are the luggage requirements for traveling by bus, train, or airplane?
  • What will I need to pack for the trip? 

Always ask questions to make sure you have covered all your bases when it comes to trip planning and touring in the U.S. That way, you can enjoy a more carefree travel experience and travel almost worry-free.

Tour America’s National Parks: A Guide for Traveling in the U.S.

The recent pandemic has not slowed down visitors to U.S. National Parks. You can get an annual pass (as of April 2021) and visit as many parks as you like in the National Park System (NPS). 

Taking Pandemic Precautions

The CDC notes being physically active keeps the mind and body healthy. Therefore, visiting the parks and hiking the trails are great ways to get some fresh air and to relieve anxiety. Park rangers are now on duty to uphold the regulations and rules and help visitors, as needed.

When visiting any of the parks, you will need to wear a face mask in federal buildings and other facilities, such as the park’s visitor centers, museums, or inside historic sites. When outdoors, the masks must be worn if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

COVID-19 Symptoms

For everyone’s health and well-being, choose to visit a park at another time if you exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • COVID-like symptoms, such as a fever, respiratory difficulties, dry cough, or the loss of smell or taste.
  • You have had close contact with a person who has been diagnosed or is suspected as having COVID-19 during the past 14 days.
  • You have been self-quarantining, worried that you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

An Overview of the National Park System

You can visit more than 420 national U.S. parks, but 63 of the national parks stand out as the most popular – hosting millions of visitors each year. Each of the parks has its own special character and attractions. However, Congress has chosen 63 of the parks as being especially important.

Before visiting the parks, you need to know some of the rules. For example, you should not leave any trace of litter when you picnic in a park. Pick up after yourself, clean up food crumbs, and stay on the maintained trails. Following these basic park rules will help keep the park pristine and keep the ecosystem in balance.

Do not approach the wild animals in a park nor feed them. Animals in these settings may be dangerous. Therefore, it’s best to leave them alone in their natural surroundings. Respect their domain.  Keep your distance. (Practice wildlife distancing.) Also, do not take pinecones or rocks from the parks as souvenirs.

Planning for a Park Visit

Before you tour national parks, you should plan ahead. That means you should know when to expect crowds and should reserve your lodgings before your trip. Know where you want to go and what you will be doing when you visit a park. Research trails and get the appropriate permits for exploring the backcountry. 

The America the Beautiful Pass

Your entry into each park is the America the Beautiful Pass. While national parks generally charge an entrance fee, buying the America the Beautiful Pass will waive the fee and allow you to visit the parks as many times as you like. Also, you can get some passes on a complimentary basis. To check out the options for the pass, click on this link.

If you plan to visit a specific state, check that state’s national parks before you go on your trip. Most of the popular state parks are found in the western quadrant of the U.S., especially in Arizona (home to the Grand Canyon), Utah (home of Zion National Park), California, Wyoming, and Colorado.

However, the state of Tennessee, located in the eastern U.S., is home to the most popular national park, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Another popular attraction in the state is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, part of a trail system that extends from the state of Georgia in the south to the northern U.S., or Maine.

Planning a Visit to Tennessee

If you plan to tour the National Park System (NPS), Tennessee is a good place to start. You can also visit other less-known parks and sites in the state, such as the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, or the Stones River National Battlefield.

Grand Canyon National Park – A One-of-a-Kind Destination

You cannot visit the National Parks in the U.S. without including Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona, on your bucket list. The iconic park is just as symbolic as the Statue of Liberty in New York. One of the world’s seven natural wonders, the park is home to paleolithic and rocky gems.

Grand Canyon Stats

In 2019, Grand Canyon Park celebrated its 100th birthday. The canyon in the park spans 277 miles (446 km) in length and 18 miles or 29 km wide. It plunges to a depth of approximately 7,000 feet or 1,857 meters. 

The Colorado River runs through the park, home to the oldest rock layers in the world, estimated to be around 2 billion years old. The highest point in the park, the Desert View Watchtower, located on the South Rim, stands 7,522 feet or 2,293 meters above sea level.

Even though the average width of the canyon is about 10 miles (16 km), it takes about 5 hours driving time (215 miles or 345 km) to go from the park’s South Rim to North Rim. 

The landscape and terrain of the Grand Canyon is unlike any other site or scenic attraction you will ever see.

You can visit the Grand Canyon anytime. However, temperatures in the summer can reach in the 3 figures when measured in Fahrenheit. Also, the elevations, when hiking the South Rim, can vary – with a rainstorm and colder temperatures often occurring in a lower elevation while it may be bright, hot, and sunny in an upper tier of the park. 

Always Check the Weather First if You Plan to Hike

If you do plan a hike in a national park, always check the weather first. Also, always carry plenty of water to stay well-hydrated. You don’t always have access to a plentiful water supply. Give loved ones itineraries of where you plan to hike and when you will be hiking the trails.

California: Home to the Most National Parks in the U.S.

Seeing the Redwood Tree

While each state contains at least one national park, California boasts the largest number of national parks in the U.S., or 28 national parks. One of the well-known parks is Redwood National Park, home to the tall and towering redwood tree.

A redwood tree is a superlative – the tallest, oldest, and most massive tree of all forest trees. The tree is simply awesome to view. California is one of the only places in the world to see the redwood tree – an iconic conifer of the Golden State. 

Redwood groves flourish about 12 miles north of San Francisco, but a trip to Redwood National Park defies description. Redwoods actually represent 2 distinct but related species of trees. For example, coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) highlight the tallest living trees on the planet. They can grow as high as 380 feet and span up to 18 feet across. You find the trees bordering the California coast from Oregon down to California’s Big Sur.

Giant Sequoias or redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are found only in the Sierra Nevada Mountain in California, near the eastern edge of the state. The trees, which rise over 300 feet tall spread as much as 30 feet across. The oldest of the trees have survived and have been in existence for over 3,000 years. 

Because redwood forests are abundant in California, many of the state’s state parks have “redwood” in their names. 

All of the national parks in California represent varying terrains, from the low deserts of the high Sierras to the lush green landscapes in the north. 

Visiting San Francisco and Traveling South

You can easily spend one month just exploring national parks and historic sites in California. A good itinerary to follow begins in San Francisco. For example, once you fly into the city, you can explore sites, such as Golden Gate, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, and the Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront.

If your journey in California takes you south to San Diego, you will want to visit the Joshua Tree National Park and the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. A visit to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, near Los Angeles, is also worth your time.

Visiting Channel Island National Park

If your journey leads you to Ventura, California, take time to visit Channel Island National Park (about an hour’s drive from Santa Monica) before journeying north to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National parks. 

You should spend about 3 days in the Kings Canyon and Sequoia parks to take in the major sights. Another park to include on your California National Parks list is Pinnacles. Spend a day in the park before returning to San Francisco.

The Best National Parks to View Wildlife

If you like to view wildlife, some national parks provide better chances for viewing animals than others. Most wildlife come out at dawn and dusk, making these opportune times to view animals. Therefore, you can include wildlife viewing in your plans when camping or spending overnights in national parks. Just make sure you logistically keep your distance and bring equipment, such as binoculars, for safe viewing.

Big Bend National Park in Texas

One of the great national parks for viewing wildlife in Big Bend National Park, located in southwest Texas. The park, which features the entire Chisos mountain range and a large portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, is home to a large array of wildlife, including spectacular sites, such as the limestone cliffs of the Santa Elena Canyon and Langford Hot Springs, sitting near the Mexican border.

If you visit the montaine setting of the Chisos Basin, you can see animals, such as Mexican black bears or Bighorn sheep. In the landscapes that are more arid, you will find animals, such as coyotes, jackrabbits, mule deer, and javelinas.

Do you enjoy birding? If so, Big Bend National Park is one of the best places to engage in the activity. Hundreds of birds migrate over the area yearly. According to park officials, the park has more species of butterflies, bats, birds, scorpions, reptiles, ants, and cacti than any other place in the NPS. 

Channel Islands National Park – Ventura, California

Channel Islands National Park in California has been called the Galapagos of North America – another great place to see wildlife in the NPS. The unique isles off the coast of southern California are teeming with endemic animals. You can also see marine animals migrating to warmer waters during boat rides in the area.

Some of the animals that make the Channel Islands home include the fox, a large variety of species of birds, humpback whales, dolphins, porpoises, foxes, seals, and sea lions. The Channel Islands fox and spotted skunk can only be found in the coastal park.

Seeing Grizzly Bears in the Wild

One of the best national parks to see wild grizzlies is Denali National Park and Preserve.  Located in Alaska, the park covers 6 million acres in Alaska’s interior wilderness. The main focal point of the park is Mt. McKinley (also called Denali) – the tallest peak in the U.S. The mountain stands at a height of 20,310 feet. Guests who visit the park regularly engage in summer activities, such as hiking, backpacking, biking, and mountaineering.

Besides grizzly bears, the park is also home to other animals not commonly found in other parts of the U.S., including arctic ground squirrels, golden eagles, and wolverines. In the autumn, you can see antlered moose while sandhill cranes, migrating across the park, fly overhead. During peak years, visitors can see large numbers of Canadian lynx and snowshoe hares. Dall sheep and gyrfalcons also inhabit the area.

Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida

Featuring a landscape completely different from the other parks that abound in wildlife, the Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida sits along the Gulf of Mexico, west of Key West Florida. It makes up 7 islands, including protected coral reefs. Fort Jefferson Loggerhead Key in the park features sea turtles and the park’s landmark lighthouse. Near Loggerhead Reef, the remains of an 1875 ship, the Windjammer Wreck, represents a popular dive site. Sooty terns, nest at Bush Key, a popular nesting site for all types of seabirds.

If you camp at the site, you will see hermit crabs, especially on the beaches at night. Hundreds of migrating birds fly over the park annually. One special note – Bush Key is closed to the public. Therefore, you need to bring binoculars if you wish to view the wildlife. The major species in the park include the above-mentioned hermit crabs, sea turtles, birds, and tropical fish.

Everglades National Park – South Florida

While visiting Florida, you may also want to visit Everglades National Park. Few parks in the U.S. have more wildlife than Everglades. Covering 1.5 million acres, the wetlands preserve sits on the south tip of Florida, and often is compared to a slow-moving and grassy river. 

The park, which comprises mangroves, pine flatwoods, and sawgrass marshes, provides a home to hundreds of animal species. Endangered animals, such as the leatherback turtle, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee, live inside the park.

The Everglades is the only place in the world where you will see both crocodiles and alligators because of the park’s brackish waters. If you visit the Gulf Coast in the park, you will want to take a boat tour. During the journey, you can spot dolphins, manatees, and pelicans. Shark Valley, in the park, features alligators, herons, and egrets. A visit to Flamingo will give you the opportunity to see manatees, crocodiles, and, yes – flamingos.

The Everglades is also a base for wood storks, ibises, bobcats, freshwater turtles,, and armadillos. If you want to see the same animals in a less crowded location, visit nearby Big Cypress National Preserve. Located in Ochopee, Florida, the preserve sits about 45 miles west of Miami.

Glacier National Park – Montana

You cannot round out a list of popular national parks without including Glacier National Park in Montana. The wildlife sanctuary spans 1,583 square miles of wilderness in the Rocky Mountains, with the park’s glacier-hewn peaks running up to the Canadian border. The Going-to-the-Sun Road crosses the park, which features over 700 miles of hiking trails, with a path leading to the park’s beautiful Hidden Lake. Visitors in the park like to cycle, camp, and backpack.

If you trek trails in the park, you will see marmots, pika, and bears. The park features both black and brown bears as well as several ungulate (hooved) animal species, including elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. Mountain lions also reside in the park, and show up from time to time.

Now Is a Good Time to Plan a Park Adventure

Now is a great opportunity to explore the National Parks in the U.S. By purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass, you can explore the National Park System in one of various locales. Whether you travel to Florida, the northeastern U.S., or escape to a park in the West, you will discover a world that takes you away from the stress, for a while, of everyday living. Set your sights on visiting the parks this coming summer and fall.

Top 10 National Parks – According to U.S. News and World Report

The top 10 national parks, according to U.S News World and Report include:

  1. Yosemite National Park – California
  2. Yellowstone National Park – (Mostly located in Wyoming, extending in parts of Idaho and Montana) – visit in April and October to avoid the crowds. The park is known for its geothermal wonders.
  3. Glacier National Park – Wyoming
  4. Grand Canyon – Arizona
  5. Zion National Park – Utah
  6. Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
  7. Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah
  8. Arches National Park – Utah – Known for its natural rock arches, the Landscape Arch, the Delicate Arch, and Double Arches.
  9. Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado – the park sits 70 miles north of Denver
  10. Haleakala National Park – known for its magnificent waterfalls. Hiking inside the park’s crater reveals some amazing terrains.

Wherever you go in the NPS, your pass will give you the opportunity to witness nature at its finest.