So we’ve turned the page to 2021. Never in my lifetime have so many people been ready to put a year behind them and move on to what we all hope will be a better future.

This was another one of those weeks when I had more than 600 words of a column written then decided to change my mind. That happens much more often than you might imagine.

One of the things that I really missed this year was the opportunity to travel.

I got the travel bug at an incredibly young age, listening to WMAL radio in Washington, D.C., as a child. Their morning team, Harden and Weaver, who were on for 38 years, had a travel club and they led tours all around the world ever year. I always thought I’d like to do that some day.

Some day came in 2000, when I was able to pull together a cruise to Alaska. Martha Bryant at the former Bryant & Garrett Travel helped arrange the trip and by the time we flew to Anchorage, our group from Rome numbered more than 80.

It was so many more than we had planned for that we were broken up into three groups for the flight up and two groups for the flight back.

My particular group going up flew into Minneapolis and then to Anchorage. The leg from Minneapolis to Anchorage was overbooked by about 15 people.

I could understand the airlines overbooking by a few. Cancellations happen. But 15? They were begging folks to change flights because we flew up early early early on the same day the Carnival ship was to sail from Seward.

Our group finally all managed to make the flight, but not before the airline had started making plans for me to fly the next day, then get a puddle jumper to meet the cruise ship at our first port in Haines. Fortunately that did not turn out to be necessary.

Coming back from Vancouver, our plane was having some mechanical issues so I called the travel agency back in Rome. They were able to switch flights up so that we didn’t have to spend an extra night in Vancouver because the airline was having to fly a part, or parts, up from Seattle.

That’s just one huge reason why I still love using a travel agent. They know how to use the system to full advantage.

That first trip was such a huge success that we tried again in 2001. We tried a New England and Canadian Maritimes trip in the fall. I took more than two dozen folks, including three couples that had been with me on the trip to Alaska the year before.

I can identify with retail merchants who love repeat business.

We returned to Alaska in 2002 with more than 70 people that time. I suspect that gives you an indication of what a special place Alaska is. I would go every summer if I had the opportunity.

I’ve actually done 10 cruises to Alaska over the last two decades and I’ve had at least four couples who have been on at least three of those cruises. There is enough to see and do in each of the ports — from Victoria, B.C., to Ketchikan, Sitka, Icy Strait, Juneau, Skagway, the College Fjord, Glacier Bay — that you can have a very different experience on every trip.

Aside from Alaska, I’ve been fortunate to lead a couple of European river boat trips, a Mediterranean cruise, another trip around the Canadian Maritimes and down the St. Lawrence Seaway, a trip into the Panama Canal and another “oldies” cruise in the Caribbean.

I’ve been beyond blessed to have been exposed to a lot of the world.

I really feel for the cruise lines during this pandemic. I cannot even imagine the amount of money they’ve lost this year.

Cruising isn’t cheap but in terms of value for the dollar it can’t be beat. You get a nice “hotel” room (though admittedly the bathrooms are tiny). You get all the food you could ever imagine eating, from fine dining to the 24-hour pizza and ice cream bars.

You get what amounts to Broadway style shows in the evening, and daily visits to amazingly beautiful places.

I never get tired of going on whale watching expeditions while in Juneau. If I did 100 cruises to Alaska, I would choose the whale watching trips 100 times. Those folks know how to find whales. There’s something beautiful about watching a critter the size of a school bus glide in and out of the water.

There is something about going to Glacier Bay and watching rivers of ice inch toward the bay, then crash with a thunderous shotgun-like noise into the bay.

During one of the riverboat cruises in The Netherlands, I’ll never forget our guide telling us we were going to see both the new church and the old church in one particular town.

The old church was built in 1392, 100 years before Columbus sailed!!! It is still standing!! We walked another couple of blocks before coming to the new church. It was built in 1609 and was still is use!

There’s lots to see and do when you get the chance.

I hope we all get the chance again soon.

Associate Editor and business columnist Doug Walker is always looking for news and tips about area businesses. To contact Doug, email him at DWalker@RN-T.com or call 706-290-5272.

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