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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

June 29, 2006:

Internet Itinerary


IT travels a fair amount, both on our own and vicariously through our friends and co-workers. Even so, the list of places we want to go tends to expand rather than contract, and we were pleased when we found a website to help us keep track of our travel fantasies. 43 Places is an off-shoot of the goal-setting site, 43 Things and allows members to list the places in the world they wish to travel, as well as communicate with others who share their interest or have already been. Registration is free, but unregistered visitors can also take advantage of this resource, visiting both destination and member pages.

Destination pages include elements typical to this kind of site, like photos uploaded by members, user comments, and the obligatory Google Maps link, as well as more unique features, like the percentage of members who have declared a location "worth visiting," and events taking place from Upcoming.org. You can search the site for specific destinations, scan the random lists of places at the bottom of every page for something that intrigues you, or browse lists of the newest additions to the site and the most popular places.

If you choose to sign up, the niftiest feature is the world map on your member page, which highlights all the places you've visited in blue and all your dream destinations in orange. Right now, IT's map resembles a pumpkin with a smattering of blue freckles. We plan on working it up to a full-on cobalt tan.


Somewhere Beyond the Sea

IT's been itching to go somewhere, again, so when we heard about the Crown Princess, Emily bused up to New York for a sneak peak of the Princess cruise line's newest vessel. She reports:

"The middle of nowhere is aptly named, but it's prettier than I expected: serene, silvery waters brushed with a slight breeze and light rain, far enough out in the Atlantic Ocean so that land is invisible. To be nowhere on a ship so similar to James Cameron's Titanic (the wood paneling, the grand stairways, and the Cunard Line posters on the walls) was eerie at times.

"We stayed in a balcony stateroom (57% of all 1538 rooms on this ship have balconies) on the Caribe deck. The rooms are small—and the showers smaller—but the balconies are spacious enough to hold two chaise longues and a table with chairs. If you like your privacy and/or shade, I suggest requesting a higher deck like the Aloha or Baja. Due to the ship's stepped levels, people peering over the railing of the pool deck can see the balconies (and bathrobe-clad occupants) on the lower two levels, one of which was mine. Ahem.

"If you don't like to eat (and by eat, I mean stuff yourself), don't go on this ship. I was uncomfortably full throughout the trip, but how could I pass up another round of foie gras, carpaccio of lamb, ricotta flan, or the boiled lobster with drawn butter that our waiter presented after our main course? The food was very good, especially in the two alternative dining venues: The Crown Grill and Sabatini's. Each charge a cover ($25 and $20 per meal, respectively), but the upgrade in cuisine and service makes it well worth it. Not to say the traditional (and free) dining option is lacking: I was entirely satisfied with both the minted leg of lamb I had for lunch and the smoked salmon spread I ordered for breakfast. 

 "Noncaloric highlights include: Departing from New York's Brooklyn Cruise Terminal (you pass the Statue of Liberty on the way out), Princess Pop Star (Club Fusion's version of American Idol aka jazzed-up karaoke), and the Sanctuary—an all-adult pool deck with Buddha statues, AstroTurf, and ready-chilled towels for face and body. Also impressive was Movie Under the Stars, the 300-square-foot LED screen above the Calypso pool that shows music videos during the day and feature films at night.

"This was my second cruise. The first: a 7-day Western Caribbean tour on the Celebrity Millennium in December 2000. While I still don't love cruises, the Crown Princess had a better feel than the Millennium, from its decor (timeless elegance vs. rainbow confetti freak show) to its dining (despite Celebrity's celebrity chef, Michel Roux, Princess's food took the crown). As the Crown Princess is 'not jarringly thematic,' says Rai Caluori, the senior vice president of fleet operations for Princess cruises, 'it will withstand the test of time.' I agree completely. Our celebrity guest, Captain Stubing (Gavin McCloud) from the Love Boat, fit right in."


From June 27, 2006:

Of Moose and Maine

IT likes Maine. IT also likes to hunt (but hates to kill!). Sometimes, IT even likes the middle of nowhere. So, when we saw this advertisement to go moose-stalking in Maine's western mountain region, we thought we'd share it with all of you:

Moose Rut Weekend at Claybrook Mountain Lodge

"Join other moose lovers for a unique weekend of moose-stalking in the Northern Forest. In rut and looking for a female, adult male moose sporting full antlers for their month-long mating season are on the move. From a canoe or bed of a truck, our leaders will use birch-bark horns to imitate the breeding calls of a cow moose to draw in the bulls. With fall bird migration also underway, there should be good birding, too. Price includes lodging at charming Claybrook Mountain Lodge, two breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and activities."

Where: Highland Plantation
When: Friday, October 6 at 7 p.m. to Sunday, October 8 at 1 p.m.
Who: Led by Greg Drummond, Ron Joseph
Cost: $250 for Maine Audubon members, $275 for nonmembers
Limit: 12 participants


Off-Season Key West

Despite mass evacuations in advance of his arrival, tropical storm Alberto didn't end up being a particularly troublesome visitor. Travelers who chose to share their vacations with Big Al found him a tolerable travel companion, and enjoyed having Florida somewhat to themselves. Chief researcher Marilyn Terrell was on the ground with her family and sent this report:

"As we breezed down the Overseas Highway toward Key West, traffic seemed mostly to be headed in the opposite direction, back northeast to Miami, many cars trailing boats. Did they know something we didn't? We stopped at Mile Marker 90.1 in Tavernier for a famous fish sandwich at Craig's Restaurant: fresh-caught grouper, blackened and grilled, served with cheese and tomato on toast—messy but delectable. As we chowed down, the wind picked up and fat raindrops began to fall. My in-laws, hurricane veterans, pooh-poohed the dark clouds. And despite the dire predictions of eager TV weather forecasters breathlessly awaiting the arrival of the first tropical storm of the season, 'Hurricane' Alberto fizzled to a much-needed drizzle by the time we reached Key West.

"We stayed in a pale yellow house with verandahs, ceiling fans, rocking chairs, and a white picket fence on Sunset Key, a small island in Key West Harbor that until 1994 was owned by the U.S. Navy and called, less romantically, Tank Island, because of the gigantic fuel tanks that dominated the place. Now it's dominated by pastel-colored guest cottages (owned by Hilton) and vacation homes fringed by palms, hibiscus hedges, and frangipani trees. Reachable only by a launch that runs every half hour from Key West, the island allows no cars, just bikes and golf carts. There's a restaurant (pricey), a pool, tennis courts and one of the very few beaches in Key West. The beaches down there are made of imported sand and crushed coral, ouchy on the feet, which is why so many people wear Crocs, those brightly-colored plastic clogs with the holes in them.

"Our house was directly across the harbor from Mallory Square, where sunset revelers gather every evening, more to cheer the street performers—like Dominique and His Flying House Cats—than to watch the sun go down. Advantage to the off-season? No lines for post-sunset ice-cream cones.

"Our final day in Key West was brutally hot, perfect for parasailing. Floating 600 feet (183 meters) up above Key West harbor felt like those flying dreams I used to have, where I would run across a field taking longer and longer steps until I was soaring effortlessly above it all. Up there, the air was cool and the mood serene, except for the antics of my 16-year-old son Owen, to whom I was tethered and for whom fun without danger is no fun at all. I was more interested in the view: We could see miles into the magical backcountry of Florida Bay, with its deep green mangrove islands scattered over endless glassy blue water, alternatively spearmint-colored in the shallow places, and light sandy brown over the flats, home to the elusive bonefish and tarpon that make my fly-fisherman husband dreamy-eyed.

"Another advantage to off-season? You don't have to make parasailing reservations hours or days in advance, but can walk along the dock and find a captain who'll take you out. We went with Parawest Parasailing Adventures, a more laid-back operation than the bigger, more commercial outfits available, and one that seemed to give longer air time than most.

"Key West has changed a lot since I used to go there in the late '70s: cruise ships have replaced Navy submarines in the deep harbor, the funky houseboat squatters have been run out of town, national retail chains are rampant. But Key West Aloe is still there, selling its soothing potions, Key West Hand Print still makes its unique colorful fabrics, and the chickens still run wild in the streets. Hippies still ride their one-speed, hand-painted bikes around town. My favorite: a guy sporting a gray ponytail pedaling in slow motion on the bridge over Garrison Bight, wearing a t-shirt with the message 'Rehab is for Quitters.'

"Ah, Key West!"


E-mail your feedback and tips to InsideTraveler@ngs.org.

Bookmark IT!
www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/extras/blog/blog.html

Emily King, Traveler's assistant to the editor, aspires to be on the cover of Fast Company. Researcher Jessie Johnston is traumatized enough by the photo on her National Geographic staff badge.


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