In This Issue:

FEATURED TRIP: Yosemite to Denali
CRUISE OF THE MONTH: Summer Holiday with the Queen
JOURNEY OF THE MONTH: New Year’s at the Grand Canyon
BEHIND THE SCENES: Honeymoon History in Niagara Falls
THE WAY IT WAS: Last Crossing of the Queen Mary
PHOTO OF THE MONTH: Victoria’s Butchart Gardens
DID YOU KNOW? Bootlegging in Saucy Sausalito
A TASTE FOR TRAVEL: Grill-Steamed Dungeness Crabs
TRAIN OF THE MONTH: Coast Starlight
TRAVEL TIPS: What Not to Pack
NATIONAL PARK TRIVIA: Wonders of Glacier Bay
IN YOUR OWN WORDS: Guests Speak Up



FREE PRE-TRIP LUXURY HOTEL NIGHT in Niagara Falls on our 13-day Great Canadian Train Ride train tours departing June 18 and October 8. Note that this is an EXCLUSIVE offer that is made available ONLY to subscribers of this e-newsletter and must be redeemed by calling Uncommon Journeys at 1-800-323-5893. This offer expires Friday, June 12, 2015.

Featured Trip

  Yosemite to Denali

This is a visual feast with San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, the Cascade Mountains, Seattle, Vancouver, the Inside Passage with Glacier Bay National Park, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Seward, Denali, Anchorage, and the McKinley Explorer train all in one exquisite holiday.

Cruising into Alaska’s stunning Glacier Bay. Photo courtesy of Holland America Line.

• Two nights in San Francisco at the superbly located Pier 2620 at Fisherman’s Wharf with sightseeing tour, welcome dinner and much more.
• Full-day trip by train to Yosemite National Park with a guided tour of Yosemite Valley and overnight spent alongside the lovely Merced River. A special treat is breakfast at the fabled Awahnee Hotel in Yosemite.
• Sleeping car accommodations aboard our own vintage Streamliner train, the Great Western Limited, with all meals, wines & spirits while aboard. We have our own chef and stewards and this is a most civilized way to travel with classic dining, fresh flowers and elegant surroundings.
• Two-night stay in Seattle at the Westin Hotel.
• Seven-night Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver to Seward aboard the elegant Oosterdam of Holland America Line taking in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay.
• The luxurious McKinley Explorer, a private train operated by Holland America Line from Denali to Anchorage. Guests also have the opportunity to book passage aboard the storied White Pass & Yukon railway during the call in Skagway.
• Two-night stay in Denali National Park at the McKinley Chalet Resort with Tundra Wilderness Tour.

Beginning at just $4,495 per person, this 17-day trip departing June 15, July 13 and August 10 is much more than just an Alaska cruise. Call us at 1-800-323-5893 for more details.


 Summer Holiday with the Queen

Join us for a very rare opportunity to enjoy a short trip aboard the grandest and most opulent ocean liner of our time, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, on the perfect summertime getaway to Atlantic Canada and Boston. This is a wonderful way to sample this iconic ship without spending huge amounts of time or money to do so, making this an indulgent “sampler” cruise. Our holiday begins in grand style at the most famous hotel in the world, the storied Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue, and we even include a special sailing day luncheon, a nice start to your holiday with the Queen. Sailing out of New York’s stunning harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, we sail north to Halifax, Nova Scotia, gateway to Atlantic Canada for a day visit. After Halifax, we steam south to Boston with ample time to explore July 5th is spent at sea, giving you time to explore the many amenities of Queen Mary 2 including the Canyon Ranch at Sea Spa, the largest ballroom afloat, the largest library afloat and the only ocean-going Planetarium. There are acres of open deck, swimming pools, grand dining and more choices of enjoyment than most small cities. While there are many ordinary cruise ships, there is only one Queen Mary 2, heir to a proud tradition first established by the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and we invite you to join us on this spectacular holiday.

The immortal Queen Mary 2. Photo courtesy of Cunard Line.

• FREE round-trip train travel from any city east of St. Louis/Omaha/St. Paul to New York City. Guests may schedule their travels to allow more time in New York before or after the voyage.
• Overnight hotel stay in New York City the evening before sailing at the legendary Waldorf-Astoria, including all taxes & luggage handling from the hotel to the ship.
• Special Bon Voyage luncheon on sailing day along with transfer to the pier.
• 6-day cruise sailing round-trip from New York City with port calls in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Boston, Massachusetts. All meals & entertainment aboard the ship are naturally included as well!
• A professional Uncommon Journeys tour host aboard Queen Mary 2 with special events and cocktail party exclusively for Uncommon Journeys guests.
• Complimentary transfer from the pier to Penn Station after the voyage. Special Bon Voyage luncheon on sailing day along with transfer to the pier.

Beginning at just $1,995 per person and offered one-time only on July 29, 2015, our 7-day Summer Holiday with the Queen cruise tour will sell quickly so call us at 1-800-323-5893 for more details.


New Year’s at the Grand Canyon

Join us on a special New Year’s holiday that features one of the most stunning places in all North America to welcome the New Year, the magnificent Grand Canyon, in all of its pristine winter glory, without crowds and with brilliant sunlit days. We will travel out to Arizona aboard the famous Southwest Chief train, from either Southern California or Chicago (whichever is closer to you), on a splendid overnight journey. We then feature a ride on the historic Grand Canyon Railway right to the edge of the South Rim, overlooking the world's deepest chasm. We will ride in comfort and style over this historic short-line railway, first built by the Santa Fe railroad in 1901 and now restored after an almost 25-year gap, the ultimate way to arrive at this, a most magnificent example of the world's seven wonders. We will enjoy a two-night hotel stay right at the picturesque South Rim. We have even included a tour of the South Rim by coach, allowing you to see even more. After two nights at the Grand Canyon, we travel to Las Vegas for a three-night stay at the ultra-luxe Bellagio Resort. With over eighteen restaurants, including the famed Le Cirque, the Bellagio is one of the world's greatest resorts and offers the Bellagio Spa for additional pleasure. Even if one does not gamble, between elegant shops, the spa, dining, lounges, and more active choices such as golf, tennis, or swimming, the Bellagio is a superb choice to include in this holiday.

The pristine winter glory of the Grand Canyon

As an Early Booking bonus, guests traveling from Chicago receive a free extra night in Winslow at the La Posada Hotel! Guests traveling from the West receive a complimentary pre-tour stay in Los Angeles before departure!

  • Travel aboard the Southwest Chief train in coach accommodations from Southern California (or from Chicago and the Midwest), a one-night journey on this train that features full observation lounge and dining car service. Guests may opt to upgrade to sleeping car accommodations for this journey.
  • Special Welcome breakfast in historic Winslow, AZ at the beautifully restored La Posada Hotel, built by Fred Harvey for the Santa Fe Railroad along with a scenic drive through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest en route to Williams, AZ.
  • Overnight stay in Williams, AZ the evening of December 30th at the Grand Canyon Hotel with dinner and breakfast the following morning.
  • The Grand Canyon Railway right from the hotel in Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a stunningly beautiful trip at this time of the year.
  • Two nights at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with optional New Year’s Eve event and breakfast daily. There is simply no more beautiful place to ring in the New Year.
  • Scenic coach drive from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas on January 2nd via Laughlin.
  • Three nights in luxury accommodations at the Five-Star Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in a deluxe room. A city within a city, Bellagio has over a dozen restaurants including branches of New York's famed Le Cirque and Michael Mina as well as the acclaimed Bellagio Spa.
  • Special Farewell Dinner in Las Vegas at the justly acclaimed Lawry’s The Prime Rib, simply the best prime rib dinner in America.
  • Complimentary motorcoach travel back to Los Angeles if needed. Reduced rate train travel is available to most major US Cities as well.

Our 8-day New Year’s at the Grand Canyon train tour begins December 29 and prices begin at $1,995 per person. Call us at 1-800-323-5893 for more details.


Honeymoon History in Niagara Falls

Thundering Niagara Falls today. Photo courtesy of Helen Filatova and

Niagara Falls is actually America’s oldest state park but geologically speaking, it’s not old at all. In fact, it formed in just a little over 12,000 years after the end of the last Ice Age when enormous volumes of water from the melting glaciers poured over a cliff that is now Lewiston, New York. Over the millennia, the power of the water kept eroding the cliff face which means that the falls themselves kept moving upstream, a phenomenon that still takes place today but on a scale so slow that it’s almost immeasurable. But it’s not the same force of water at work as back in the days of the wooly mammoths. Various dams and other hydroelectric projects upstream have reduced the flow, so the erosion is substantially less than it once was.

Though Native Americans were more than familiar with the mighty cascades of water plunging over the falls, its birth as a sightseeing destination can be traced to the French in the late 17th century when a priest found the falls during an expedition. A book he wrote about the falls was, in a way, the first travel brochure for the region since it inspired many to follow in his footsteps to see this natural wonder. What you may not realize is that Napoleon Bonaparte played a role in Niagara Falls rise as a tourist destination as well. Napoleon had a brother who, taking advantage of 19th century development around the falls and its connection to surrounding cities by rail, decided to go there for his honeymoon. It’s no secret that by the 20th century, Niagara Falls was known as one of the top honeymoon destinations in America.

But the falls’ attraction grew beyond just honeymooners; development in the area exploded, creating not only a gaggle of attractions and ships but also a number of fine restaurants, lovely hotels and accommodations with views that are second to none. That’s why when we were looking for an early booking incentive for our 13-day Great Canadian Train Ride train tours departing June 18 and October 8, we selected a pre-trip night in Niagara Falls as the perfect appetizer for this stunning trip.

Last Crossing of the Queen Mary

The original Queen Mary in mid-Atlantic. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Cunard Line is one of the few companies in recent memory to build one unique ship and not turn it into the first in a cookie-cutter production line. Introduced in 2004, the Queen Mary 2 was the largest ocean liner in the world at the time and the first ship built specifically to sail the Atlantic regularly in more than 35 years. Importantly, she also carried on the name of one of the most important and famous passenger ships ever to slide down the ways. In fact, Cunard worked diligently to bring a bit of the spirit of the original, immortal Queen Mary of 1936 to their newest ship, including the ship’s original horns. And that type of dedication to melding past and present is one reason that Cunard Line is one of Uncommon Journeys’ partners. In fact, the Queen Mary 2 is featured on our 7-day Summer Holiday with the Queen cruise tour departing July 29 and our 16-day Canada and New England with the Queen cruise tour departing September 26.

The original Queen Mary was also one of a kind and a voyage on her was more than special, it was both epic and legendary. One of our favorite descriptions of that era is from the book The Sway of the Grand Saloon by John Malcolm Brinnin and published back in 1971. It is near the very end of the lives of both the Queen Mary and her slightly larger running mate, the Queen Elizabeth, and they are about to meet one another for in mid-Atlantic for the last time. Here’s the passage:

“12:10 A.M. September 25, 1967. The Queen Elizabeth, largest ship in the world, 27 years old, is bound westward; at some point in the early morning she will meet and pass the Queen Mary, the next-largest ship in the world, 31 years old, bound east. This will be their final meeting, their last sight of one another, ever. For more than two decades they have been the proudest sisters on the ocean, deferential to one another, secure in the knowledge that they are the most celebrated things on water since rafts went floating down the Tigris and Euphrates.

“Notices of this encounter have been broadcast and posted throughout the ship. But as usual at this hour, most passengers have gone to bed, leaving only a few individuals strolling and dawdling on the Promenade Deck. Most of these have chosen to be alone; they are a bit sheepish, a bit embarrassed, as though ashamed to be seen in the thrall of sentiment, even by others equally enthralled.

“As the appointed moment draws near, they begin to disappear from the Promenade Deck, only to reappear in the darkness of the broad glassed-in observation area on Boat Deck forward. They stand apart from one another and do not speak, their eyes fixed on the visible horizon to the east as the vibration of the ship gives a slightly stroboscopic blur to everything they see. The mid-Atlantic sky is windless, a dome of hard stars; the ocean glows, an immense conjunction of inseparable water and air. Entranced, the late watchers try to pick out some dot of light that will not turn out to be a star. Hushed, the minutes pass. These ten or twelve of the faithful in their shadowy stances might be postulants on a Vermont hillside, waiting in their gowns for the end of the world. Then the light of certainty: almost as if she were climbing the watery slopes of the globe, the oncoming Queen shows one wink of her topmast, then two.

“Spotted, she grows quickly in size and brightness. In the dim silence of the enclosure there are mutters, the click of binoculars against plate glass, an almost reverential sense of breath withheld. On she comes, the Mary, with a swiftness that takes everyone by surprise: together the great ships, more than 160,000 tons of steel, are closing the gap that separates them at a speed of nearly 60 miles an hour. Cutting the water deeply, pushing it aside in great crested arrowheads, they veer toward one another almost as if to embrace, and all the lights blaze out, scattering the dark. The huge funnels glow in their Cunard red, the basso-profundo horns belt out a sound that has less the quality if a salute than of one long mortal cry. Standing at attention on the portside wing of his flying bridge, the Elizabeth’s captain doffs his hat; on the starboard wing of the Mary, her captain does the same. As though they had not walked and climbed there but had somehow instantly been transported to the topmost deck, the few passengers who have watched the Mary come out of the night now watch her go. As the darkness closes over and the long wakes are joined, the sentimentalists stand for a while watching the ocean recover its seamless immensity. Then, one by one, like people disappearing downhill after a burial, they find their way to their cabins and close their doors.”



Victoria’s Butchart Gardens

The British feel of Butchart Gardens.

On the outskirts of Victoria, the British feel blooms to life in Butchart Gardens, a stunning collection of colorful foliage and flowers that, ironically, owes its existence to a cement manufacturer and his attempt to beautify the limestone quarry that helped him make a living.

Robert Butchart owned a quarry near his home outside Victoria from which the crushed rocks extracted there were a key ingredient in Portland cement. The story goes that in 1907, Robert’s son hired a Japanese designer to build a tea garden. It proved so popular that when the quarry was closed in 1909, Robert’s wife Jeannie decided to turn the abandoned industrial eyesore into a garden. It took longer than expected and the Sunken Garden was finally completed in 1921. Jeannie was so thrilled that she went on a botanical tear, ripping up their tennis courts in 1926 and installing an Italian garden and then planting a rose garden in place of their estate’s vegetable garden.

Today, Butchart Gardens is a must-see destination for tourists all over the world, hosting more than one million visitors a year. Inspired by a Japanese gardener and with a picturesque Italian-inspired garden nestled inside, the gardens nonetheless have a wonderfully eclectic British feel that fits perfectly with Victoria, one of the most British of British Columbia’s many treasures.

Discover the beauty of Butchart Gardens and join us on our 11-day West Coast Swing cruise/train tour departing September 23.

If you’d like to see a photo from one of your own Uncommon Journeys trips featured in our newsletter, just email it to us at and be sure to note in your email that we can use it for marketing purposes.


Lake Louise

High in the Canadian Rockies is lovely Lake Louise, a sapphire jewel among the emerald green forests and opalescent snow-capped peaks. Its majesty, beauty and tranquility are often written about, but rarely conveys. We think this stunning video finally does it justice. Lake Louise is one of the stops on our 13-day Great Canadian Train Ride train tours departing June 18 and October 8.


Bootlegging in Saucy Sausalito

An upscale present hides a booze-fueled past. Photo courtesy of Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons.

Everything has a story, if you only dig a little bit to learn the truth. One of our guests’ favorite haunts is the charming hamlet of Sausalito located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. People love to dine in waterfront restaurants and soak in the hipster vibe of the bobbing houseboats, eccentric boutiques and colorful atmosphere. In fact, Sausalito is an important stop on our 7-day Golden Gate Holiday train tours departing June 14 and August 9 which begin in Salt Lake City, end in San Francisco and encompass the Napa Valley and its wineries in between.

With just over 7,000 inhabitants, Sausalito seems like a sleepy town, a fact that is all the more remarkable given that you can see the dramatic skyline of bustling San Francisco just across the bay. Hundreds of years ago, the view was of steep hills rising from the choppy bay waters. The only folks around to enjoy the view were members of the Coast Miwok tribe who built a little settlement on the spot and named it Liwanelowa. Members of this particular branch of the Coast Miwok were called Huimen and they struck the earliest European explorers not so much for their achievements as for their wonderful, laid-back nature. Perhaps it was a precursor to the California attitude we have all grown to love today. However, they were probably a bit too laid-back because it was apparently not that difficult to move them off their land and they were soon displaced. Their homes were left behind and by the early 1900s, the reminders were so few and far between that it took an archaeological survey to identify their history in the Sausalito area.

If you know your history, then you know that it is the Spaniards who had the greatest influence on California in the earliest years. For Sausalito, the 1775 arrival of the San Carlos and Don José de Cañizare heralded the big changes to come. Sausalito made a wonderful anchorage and as the explorers came ashore, they found an abundance of the ingredients for a settlement: plenty to eat in the form of elk, deer, bear, otters and sea lions; a peaceful indigenous population; and hills covered in timber ideal for building homes, forts and ships. Somehow, though, the Spanish powers-that-be in control of that area of Northern California weren’t impressed and when it came time to build a military post, it was constructed on the site of what is now San Francisco on the other side of the bay, followed quickly by a Franciscan mission. Such a decision made sense because it avoided having to cross the bay to maintain a connection with Monterrey to the south. It seemed civilization had passed Sausalito by.

Nearly 50 years would pass before the allure of Sausalito won the hearts of settlers and, even then, it wasn’t the Spanish. Mexico had won its independence from Spain and it was an Englishman, of all people, who was responsible for the first European presence on the north side of the bay. William A. Richardson had become a Mexican citizen and he wanted a patch of land for himself and was awarded what he dubbed Rancho Saucelito in honor of the willows in the area. Richardson, operating from what is now known as Richardson Bay, sold water to sailing ships and the area began to flourish. By 1838, Richardson had full ownership of nearly 20,000 acres of land.

A decade later, San Francisco’s population exploded during the Gold Rush although Sausalito didn’t benefit accordingly because it wasn’t that easy to reach. Taking a wagon from San Francisco to Sausalito could take days and more than 100 miles since there were no bridges spanning the bay. Therefore, boats became the primary way to reach the hamlet. It cost a lot of money to take either route so Sausalito became known primarily to yachtsmen with a sprinkling of fisherman thrown in to keep things honest. By 1870, Sausalito deserved a post office. Eventually, the town became a transit hub for those traveling north-south along the California coast. The North Pacific Coast Railroad ran its tracks to Sausalito where travelers could embark upon a ferry across the bay to San Francisco. With the advent of the automobile, car ferries began to dominate the route and were considered an extension of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Though they served their purpose, the ferries weren’t efficient and with the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, the car ferries quickly fell into disuse, although a passenger ferry still runs even today, a charming reminder of a lost form of transportation. But the Golden Gate Bridge provided an essential connection, one that didn’t exist at the beginning of Prohibition. Sausalito’s location in the busy bay area but far enough removed from the action made it the perfect spot for bootlegging. Rum runners sailed clandestine nighttime voyages between Sausalito and San Francisco, supplying the big city’s drinkers with their daily supply of hooch.

The outbreak of World War II indelibly changed sleepy Sausalito, bringing to it a major shipyard and the reemergence of Fort Barry and Fort Baker where troops were trained. When the war ended in 1945, so did the need for the shipyard. The town now had an extensive waterfront of piers and coves and by the 1960s, houseboats began to pop up which provided much-needed affordable housing, an alternative to the impressive estates ringing the hills around the town. All-out legal battles erupted in the 1970s as a movement to legislate the houseboats out of existence grew in intensity but was only partially successful. Ironically the houseboats in the community today, thanks to their waterfront locale, now attract as much of a premium price as the large homes in the hills.



Fort Clatsop

Fort Clatsop as it appeared in 1805.

On our 11-day In the Path of Lewis & Clark riverboat/train tours departing June 18, July 16, August 13, and September 9, one of the ports of call is Astoria, Oregon and one of the biggest attractions is nearby Fort Clatsop, the spot where Captain William Clark and Capt. Meriwether Lewis spent the winter of 1805-1806. To reach the area, they had traveled what the National park Service, which manages Fort Clatsop, chronicles as a journey of “4,000 miles across the North American continent with a contingent of 31 explorers, mostly U.S. Army enlisted men, known as the Corps of Discovery.”

“The expedition was President Thomas Jefferson’s idea. He had for years been fascinated by the vast and virtually unknown territory west of the Mississippi River, and in June 1803 he announced plans to send an exploratory party overland to the Pacific. He had chosen Lewis to head it, and Lewis selected Clark, his friend and former commanding officer to share the responsibilities. They were to explore the Missouri River to its source, then establish the most direct water route to the Pacific, making scientific and geographic observations along the way. They were also to learn what they could of Indian tribes they encountered and impress them with the technology and authority of the United States.

“The explorers started up the Missouri River from near St. Louis on May 14, 1804. After a tedious journey of five months, they wintered at Fort Mandan, which they built near the Mandan Indian villages 1,600 miles up the Missouri. Here they acquired the interpreting services of Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trader, and his young Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, accompanied by their infant son, Jean Baptiste.

“In April 1805 the Corps of Discovery left Fort Mandan and followed the Missouri and its upper branches into an unknown world. Along the Lemhi River, in what is now Idaho, Sacagawea's people provided horses and a guide for the grueling trip over the Continental Divide. In November 1805, after some 600 miles of water travel down the Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia rivers, they finally sighted the Pacific.

“Within 10 days of arriving on the coast, Lewis and Clark decided to leave their storm-bound camp on the north shore and cross the river, where elk were reported to be plentiful. Lewis, with a small party, scouted ahead and found a "most eligible" site for winter quarters. On December 10, 1805, the men began to build a fort about two miles up the Netul River (now Lewis and Clark River). By Christmas Day they were under shelter. They named the fort for the friendly local Indian tribe, the Clatsop. It would be their home for the next three months.”


Mark Twain


“I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Mark Twain


Grill-Steamed Dungeness Crabs

Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay/Food Network

Photo courtesy of Food Network

If you want a delicacy of the Pacific Northwest right in your own home this summer, then try this recipe from our fiends at Food Network. Or better yet, taste the real thing on one of our 11-day In the Path of Lewis and Clark riverboat/train tours which depart June 18, July 16, August 13 and September 9.

For the filling and cake:

  • 2 cups crab stock
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 4 large Dungeness crab, 2 to 2 1/2 pounds each, killed and cleaned
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • Pinch red chile flakes
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare a grill to medium-high heat.
In a large roasting pan over high heat, add the stock, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, toasted sesame oil and lime juice and bring to a boil. Add the crabs, shell-side up, and place the pan on the grill. Cover the grill and steam the crabs until they are just cooked through, about 30 minutes, flipping the crabs halfway through cooking. Remove the crabs to a platter.
Strain the steaming liquid into a bowl. Return the liquid to the roasting pan and whisk in the honey, black pepper and chile flakes. Bring to a boil and simmer until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the butter. Halve the crabs and put 2 halves into 4 serving bowls. Pour the sauce over and garnish with cilantro.


Queen Mary

The original Queen Mary in Long Beach.

The story of venerable Cunard Line’s Queen Mary is a fascinating bridge between past and present. A ship twice her size, the Queen Mary 2 has now taken her name and we offer a number of trips on her, such as our 7-day Summer Holiday with the Queen cruise tour departing July 29 and our 16-day Canada and New England with the Queen cruise tour departing September 26. It’s also not unusual for us to schedule a visit to the original Queen Mary in Long Beach when we’re including Southern California in our trips. For me, visiting the Queen Mary is always a special occasion.

When Her Majesty Queen Mary gave her own name to the giant hull that was known only as yard number 534, she created the most famous ocean liner in the world. Five-thirty-four belonged to the Cunard Line, a British shipping company formed in 1845 by Samuel Cunard. He began service with the tiny Britannia, immortalized by Charles Dickens. By 1907, Cunard had taken the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing with the ill-fated Lusitania and the venerable Mauretania.

Though plans for the Queen Mary began a full decade before her maiden voyage, they were almost dashed by the Depression which left the unfinished hull abandoned for two and a half years. Work resumed in March, 1934, and a quarter of a million people watched the great new Cunarder slip into the River Clyde on September 26, 1934. Cunard's publicists saw to it that by the time she sailed her maiden voyage on May 28, 1936, she was known the world over. 

The 1,019-foot, 81,237-ton Queen Mary took the Blue Riband from the French superliner Normandie with an average speed of 29.13 knots. After trading the title back and forth for two years, the Mary swept the seas by racing across the Atlantic at 31.69 knots in 1938. The record held until the United States took the honor by crossing at over 34 knots in 1952.

The Queen Mary was westbound for New York when war was declared on September 3, 1939 and, after disembarking her passengers, was painted in wartime gray. In 1940, she was joined by her 83,673-ton near-sister, the Queen Elizabeth, which had zigzagged across the Atlantic, blacked out, on the most secretive maiden voyage on record. The Mary waited for orders for several months before sailing to Australia.  Eventually, the Mary and Elizabeth returned to the Atlantic as troopships, carrying 15,000 soldiers per voyage. Churchill estimated the two Queens helped to shorten the war in Europe by at least a year. Tragically, the 83,423-ton Normandie was lost in a smoky fire and capsized at her New York pier in February, 1942.

Though Hitler offered $250,000 to any U-boat commander who could sink one of the Queens, they remained unscathed. The only blemish on the Mary's otherwise spotless wartime record was a collision with the 5,000-ton cruiser HMS Curacao. The two ships were zigzagging when they accidentally crossed paths. The Mary's huge bulk sliced through the tiny cruiser like a knife through butter, cutting the smaller ship cleanly in half. Over 300 sailors drowned as the Queen Mary steamed off into the mist, afraid to risk her precious cargo of troops by engaging in a rescue operation that would make her a sitting duck for U-boats.

To her credit, the Mary produced the reinforcements needed to defeat Rommel at the battle of El Alamein and Churchill began planning the D-Day invasion aboard a voyage on the Mary in August, 1943. When the war ended, the Mary had transported 800,000 troops more than 500,000 miles. After many months of reconditioning, the Mary finally returned to the Atlantic as a luxury liner on July 31, 1947, eight months after the Queen Elizabeth sailed on her long-delayed commercial maiden voyage.

Cunard's two-ship express service endured as newer liners entered service although the Mary was given stabilizers in 1958 to boost her appeal on the highly competitive Atlantic run. As the 1960s dawned, the Mary's popularity dipped. The Mary was sent on a Christmas cruise in 1963 that proved to be a bust because she had no permanent pool or air-conditioning.

Sailing into the turbulent 1960s, the Queens continued a schedule of Atlantic crossings as jets thundered overhead with thousands of ex-ship travelers. Economically and physically, the 30-year old Queen Mary's end was near. And the Queen Elizabeth wasn't far behind.

A six-week British maritime strike in the spring of 1966 hung over the idled Queen Mary in Southampton.  When she finally re-entered service, accountants promptly turned back to their ledgers filled with red ink. The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were losing over $1 million a year. Where violent North Atlantic storms and Nazi submarines had failed, simple accountants succeeded. The decision to withdraw the Queen Mary was announced on May 9, 1967 and, on September 22, she left New York on her final crossing. After carrying 2.1 million passengers and earning $600 million, the Queen Mary was gone. But her spirit lives on in the fabulous Queen Mary 2, star of several Uncommon journeys.



Coast Starlight

The dome cars of the McKinley Explorer. Photo courtesy of Amtrak.

Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes, the Coast Starlight links the greatest cities on the West Coast. The scenery along the route is unsurpassed with dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, fertile valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline providing a stunning backdrop for your journey. You can take a ride on the Coast Starlight as part of our 11-day West Coast Swing train/cruise tour departing September 23.



What Not to Pack

Leave the Crown Jewels at home. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Whenever you look for advice on what to pack for a trip, you’ll find a long list of essentials. However, hardly anyone takes the time to highlight what you don’t need to bring along under any circumstances. The folks over at have gone ahead and taken the time to specify those must-leave-at-home items for your next Uncommon Journey. Here’s a quick rundown of what you can definitely live without:

Most of Your Beauty Items
Everything you need to look beautiful at home is just plain overkill on vacation. For the week or two that you’ll be gone, you don’t need a dozen hair care products or six different facial creams. Take just one and you’ll still be looking good until you get back home and can dive right back into your elaborate beauty regimen. Don’t forget that the places you’ll be visiting with Uncommon Journeys will provide toiletries so leave the special shampoos and conditioners in your own bathroom. Share your toothpaste with your traveling partner, along with other little items like a stash of Q-tips or bottle of aspirin.

More Clothes Than You Need
It might seem obvious, but clothes are what fills most of your luggage so go light on the outfits and pack things that mix and match so you can wear a pair of pants more than once with a different top. Neutral colors work well for this. Don’t’ forget some items can easily be washed in a hotel sink with a small packet of laundry detergent and then worn again so a 10-day trips doesn’t mean you need 10 of every daily clothing item.

Your Jewelry and Valuables
Uncommon Journeys trips are about comfort so there’s no need for any flashy jewelry, even on our trips that include a cruise. It’s easy to misplace things when you travel so leave that irreplaceable family ring, your Rolex and the diamond tiara at home.

Unnecessary Gadgets
We love this sensible bit of advice from Independent Traveler: Don’t pack “items such as nightlights, shoe horns, portable DVD players, book lights, coffee makers, fire-safety smoke hoods, hotel-door alarm systems or toothbrush sanitizers, never to actually use them on your trip.” Before it goes in the suitcase, ask yourself it’s something you truly plan to use or just something you think you might need. 

Things You Can Buy There
And that brings us to the final tip. If you do really need something, just buy it while on the trip. Antacids and other over-the-counter remedies are easily available and trying to stock a medicine cabinet of options in your suitcase just wastes space. If you don’t use a Kindle, then buy reading material as you go rather than take along a stack of books.




Wonders of Glacier Bay

The unbridled majesty of Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay National Park, which covers 3.3 million acres of “rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords”, has no roads. The only way to see it is either by ship sailing into it or on a plane flying over it. And both are limited. In fact, cruise ships require permits issued by the National Park Service (NPS) to be allowed entrance to Glacier Bay. That means not all cruise lines can send all their ships into the bay.

Permits are limited so that whales are not disturbed and emissions from ship smokestacks don’t sully the atmosphere. The first is an important concern, although the second reason is no longer as relevant due to the enormous strides in the technology that scrubs modern cruise ship engine emissions of damaging gases.

That said, one of the companies that has been sailing to Glacier Bay the longest and routinely holds among the most permits of any is our partner, Holland America Line. Our 17-day Yosemite to Denali cruise/train tours departing June 15, July 13 and August 10 feature a cruise on Holland America’s Oosterdam and a visit to Glacier Bay. In fact, the entire trip is a visual feast with San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, the Cascade Mountains, Seattle, Vancouver, the Inside Passage with Glacier Bay National Park, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Seward, Denali, Anchorage, and the McKinley Explorer train all in one exquisite holiday.

Glaciers are alive. They advance and retreat. The groan and crack. They calve giant chunks of ice into the bay. Their color changes based on the light. The feel like living, breathing beings and they can literally change the world. The NPS says that “ice has been a major force in the Glacier Bay region for at least the last seven million years, and major ice ages have come and gone dozens of times. The interaction of this ice history with a highly complex geology has produced an extreme fjordal mountainscape matched by few places on earth.”

The last major stage of the world’s latest great ice age, peaking 22,000-16,000 years ago, buried nearly all of the park and preserve. A great ice plateau sloped from elevations of about 5,000 feet in the park’s northern reaches to about 2,000 feet at Icy Strait/Cross Sound and extended far out onto the continental shelf. At that time, ice covering the park was part of an unbroken ice sheet. By about 14,000 years ago, deglaciation was proceeding in Icy Strait and Glacier Bay. At that time, crustal depression caused by the weight of the ice pressing down on the land had raised relative sea level at least 150 feet and possibly as much as 300-500 feet above that at present. By 10,000 years ago, essentially modern climatic conditions were ushered in. The land rose, pushing apparent sea level to below its present position, and modern forest, conditions appeared along with the region’s first human inhabitants.

In the early millennia of the modern epoch, glaciers were generally retracting (although there is some evidence for a readvance about 8,000 years ago). Outwash from retracted glaciers progressively filled major portions of upper Glacier Bay with sediment. Ice was readvancing in the upper west side of Glacier Bay by 4,500 years ago. By 2,500 years ago, ice had advanced sufficiently to block the entrance to Muir Inlet and create a major glacial lake, which persisted for about 500 years. That lake was reestablished upon a second advance several centuries later. A third advance brought ice to the vicinity of Beartrack Cove by about 800 years ago, when sediments comprising the present Beardslee Islands were forming as a result of glacial outwash.

“This outwash surface is very likely the one cited in Tlingit oral history as the site of former riverside villages several centuries ago. Then, oral history and geologic data agree, ice advanced rapidly over what is now lower Glacier Bay, evicting the Tlingit people and advancing well into Icy Strait, nearly to Lemesurier Island.

Retreat from this position was well underway by the time of George Vancouver’s visit in 1794. Ice receded thereafter at an average of one quarter mile per year. The permanent snow line has been slowly rising in recent decades, causing further shrinkage to the park’s glaciers.”

Unfortunately, the glaciers are receding at their fastest rate ever, thanks to the gradual warming of the atmosphere in the northern latitudes. “Over the past 50 years Alaska's annual average temperature has increased at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States' average, and here in Southeast Alaska winters are five degrees warmer. Glacier Bay is expected to become warmer and drier over the next century” and the glacier will continue to retreat. Now is the time for this trip of a lifetime.



Guests Speak Up

“I just returned this past week from an Uncommon Journeys trip (A Passage to British Honduras) and I wanted to let send you my comments on this tour. It was one of the very best tours I have ever taken! I have traveled extensively throughout the world (over 77 countries) and have been on several train tours. Your company’s trip was so well organized and planned and I had such fun! Everything planned seemed to work out perfectly! The two overnight train trips on your private train were great (excellent food and service and wonderful drinks) and the hotel in New Orleans was superb and well located. The 7-day cruise on the Norwegian Dawn was excellent as well. Lastly, my appreciation to you for providing us with such a superb guide. Conrad Tausend was excellent in all regards: well-organized, very competent, pleasant, good-natured, fun, and knowledgeable in the various tasks and duties he needed to perform. I would be delighted to travel on another tour he guides. I hope you will keep my name and address on your company’s mailing list as I hot to make more trip in the future with your firm. Thanks for the good services!”

-Donald G.


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