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I like to cruise in January for my own personal vacation.  There are two reasons for this.  First the week after New Year’s is the deadest time in the cruise industry so prices tend to be rock bottom if you watch for the sales.  And second where ever I travel on a ship, I unpack once and keep moving.  Spending over 100 nights in hotels every year, staying in one room for long periods of time is very appealing.
This year my brother wanted to go to the South Seas.  Since paying a single supplement doesn’t appeal to me, we found a cruise that seemed good for both of us.  I have 2 credit cards—one for airline mileage and the other for stays at Holiday Inns—so I have enough points to fly free and stay free in the hotels in the cities I travel to. This definitely helps with the cost of the vacation.
The first leg of our journey started in El Centro, California where a 12 seat plane took us to LAX.  Naturally there wasn’t a flight attendant.  The pilot turned in his seat and opened his curtain to tell us information.  This was definitely a first for me.
At LAX my brother and I split up because he was flying a different airline.  Crossing the International dateline I lost a day.  Fifteen hours later I arrived in Sydney Australia.  There was a seven hour difference minus a day in time from where we had departed.
I know it sounds like a long flight but we left in the evening so I slept most of the flight away.  Plus they served a snack and two meals so the time seemed to go by quickly.  I have done a lot of overnights or longer on trains so this did not seem that long of a journey.  And you have plenty of free movies you can watch to make the time go quicker which you don’t have when traveling by train.
On arrival (9,000 miles later) I discovered Customs was easy.  We had to get an Australian Visa ahead of time but we did it online so it wasn’t difficult to do.  I must have been listed in the computer because they never asked for proof on arrival.  Perhaps this was just a good way for them to tax you coming into the country.
Luggage carts in the airport were free which is unheard of where I come from… or go!  It took awhile for the shuttle to arrive but I got to the hotel around noon and luckily my room was ready. After 15 hours of flying I was ready for a shower and change of clothes.  As I finished up my brother arrived.
It was a lazy afternoon.  There was a huge Public Market right across the street from our Holiday Inn Darling Harbour.  We stored our excess bags at the hotel for our return from Melbourne and went out to explore.
We discovered we were also just around the corner from Chinatown, which was very lively since it was a Saturday.  By 4:30 p.m. we went back to the food court in the Market and had a Chinese dinner since Chinatown was so packed.
By 6:00 p.m. I could no longer keep my eyes opened.  I am not sure how long my brother stayed awake.  The downside of going to sleep so early was I was awake @ 3:00 a.m.  However we were planning on getting up at 4:30 a.m. to catch our flight to Melbourne so I got on my computer for an hour since the hotel had free Wifi.
Next up:  Melbourne, Australia

***Note***  I am having a special book sale.  If you go to my website (www.kileenprather.com) you can preview the first few chapters of each book.  I am selling the books for $10.00 apiece and if you buy three or more, shipping is free.  For more information email me at:  kileenp@gmail.com.

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The finale….
 
The Cascades and Seattle are one of my favorite places to visit.  After living in Seattle for two summers, I can’t think of too many other places that are so nice to be in during that time of the year.
I had told my pax how beautiful the Cascades would be.  The next morning, we passed through the rain forest filled with 200’ high trees of Douglas fir, hemlock, & towering Western red cedars.  We went by several waterfalls & I saw a rainbow at the base of one.  And, of course, there was the tunnel.
The Cascade Tunnel @ Stevens Pass (65 miles from the Washington coast at Everett) is a 7.8 mile single track engineering marvel and the longest in North America.  It was built by the Great Northern Railroad between 1925-1929.  In 1956 a ventilation system was installed to eliminate fumes.  Only 28 trains are allowed in the tunnel daily & the speed is 25mph.  There are doors on both ends and as soon as the train enters, the door on the other end closes and huge fans blow cool air to help with ventilation.  It takes about 15 minutes to get through the tunnel & the fans continue another 20-30 min after the train is gone to clear exhaust fumes out.  The tunnel was built to protect in the event of avalanches in the area and has other safety features installed as a backup.
We arrived in Seattle right on schedule @ 10:30 am.  I had to hail 13 cabs and it was amazing to watch how orderly my pax waited for taxis.  Many could fit 4 in a cab but sometimes with luggage only 2 would fit.  The cabs took off for the airport or airport hotels and when I was finished loading, I realized I had to take one alone since everyone else was gone.
I took my luggage to the hotel (11 others were staying at that hotel) & at 12:30pm I met 18 pax at the airport for our ride downtown on the light rail.  I showed everyone the fish market, the gold rush national park & finally we ended up down at the waterfront where I got my “fix” of the greatest clam chowder in the US (my opinion) for dinner–IVARS.  Since buses are free in the downtown area it was interesting watching 18 of us jumping on a bus at one time.  Finally @ 7:00pm the last 4 travelers and myself climbed on the light rail for the ride back to our hotel.
It had been an interesting tour full of changes and challenges but finally on Day 12 of an 11 day tour I was on a plane headed back home to Milwaukee

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 We were now on Day 10. Normally we would hop on the Empire Builder for the train ride back to Chicago at 10:00am. Instead our train to Seattle would not leave until 6:45pm. Since there was nothing to do at our lodge & we needed to check out by 11:00am, I asked my company if we could keep the motorcoach & driver for an extra day. They said “yes,” so after a piano recital by one of our pax & a group picture, we left @10:30am on a mini “mystery tour.” We went to Many Glacier & it is a favorite of mine in the park. Normally on this tour there is no time to go there. We had a wonderful time. Some pax hiked and some stayed around the lodge. We left at 4:00pm and the only disappointment some of my travelers had was not seeing a moose. As we were driving out of the park one of the pax yelled out from the back, “Stop!!!!!” There on the passenger side down in the lake was a moose just posing for us. All the cameras came out & everyone was so excited. It was a perfect ending to the day. I have probably done about 9 trips to Glacier and this was only my 3rd moose sighting, so I knew it was pretty special. We arrived back at the train station with a little over an hour wait. It wasn’t long before the train pulled in and everyone got settled in their accommodations. They were ready for 48 passengers for dinner and soon many happy travelers were eating while the train headed west. Next week….the finale.

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 It was another late night. We had dinner and a cowboy show until 10:00pm. Having less than 5 hours of sleep for 3 nights in a row was beginning to wear me down. However, we had some fabulous days ahead. After leaving Jackson Hole we had several stops in the Tetons before heading to Grant Village in Yellowstone; our home for 3 nights. The confirmations on flights and hotels were starting to come into my email. I received so many, eventually I ran out of free roaming. I didn’t even know I had a set number of roaming minutes that were free since this had never happened in 6 years of using my plan. Each night after touring I would go to the office and email my confirmations to the manager. He would then print them out for my pax. My sinuses were also bothering me & one morning I emailed my boss & said, “What next? Probably the next thing you will tell me is that the Red Bus will not be able to go over the mountain at Glacier.” She wrote back & said, “Guess what? We just received word it can’t go over the mountain.” I had half expected this because of the snow melt. Salt Lake usually gets 500” of snow a year. This year they got 900”. Snow melt in the Tetons was up almost 400” & there was snow everywhere. One man told me he had lived in the area for fifty years & never had seen snow like this. Rivers were bursting & there was still a lot of snow to melt. On the Glacier webcam, there was still 20-30 feet of snow on top of the Visitor Center at Logan’s pass on top of the mountain. I have another one of these tours in July & just hope the road is opened by then. I told the pax about the Red Bus the next day but also reassured them that they would like what I was doing. We didn’t go over the mountain. The coach usually drives us 1 & ½ hours to get to the Red Buses for the 3 hour ride over the mountain to Lake McDonald. However the buses came & picked us up at the lodge for a 4 & ½ hour ride half way up the mountain. When we returned I took most of the pax the hour and a half over to Lake McDonald. Instead of returning around 5:00pm we didn’t return until 8:00pm. We had dinner at Lake McDonald & most took the optional wooden boat ride on the lake. So it really turned into a fun day. Next up…..getting home!

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That night was a blur. I got to the manager’s reception and worked from 5:15pm-9:30pm helping pax make airline & hotel reservations. Although the ones without travelers insurance were upset, they accepted the inevitable. Those with traveler’s insurance went to their rooms and called the 800 number to get their arrangements started. Meanwhile my cell kept ringing with questions from the pax with the insurance. And, of course, the news of the train wreck was on everyone’s mind, especially since the pictures were being flashed on the internet & everyone realized the car that had been hit was the alternate sleeping car that several had been in on the way to Salt Lake. I got a chill just wondering what would have happened if that train had left Salt Lake with my 2 travelers still on it. The truck in the fatal crash was the first in a convoy of three. Interviews with the drivers of the two trucks behind the first said they saw the train and were waiting for the first truck to come to a stop, but it did not. Investigators found skid marks about 320-feet long on the road leading up to the railroad crossing, and found that the gates and flashing lights at the crossing were operating properly. There was “excellent visibility” of the train and gates on U.S. 95. There was speculation that the driver was texting and going at a great rate of speed. When he looked up and saw the train flashing signals, it was too late. The train’s engineer told investigators that he saw the truck approaching the train and knew there would be an impact. He activated the emergency brake but it took the train one half mile to stop and he watched the collision in his rearview mirror. Meanwhile 6 people, including the truck driver and a conductor, were killed and dozens injured. My own personal message: We have strict laws on drunk drivers & seat belts are required in vehicles. How long before we pass a federal law “no texting while driving”??? How many more people have to die before this happens? My poor late travelers who had to take the train in Chicago the following night after we left, finally showed up @ 4:00am and @ 8:00am everyone was loaded on the motorcoach headed to Jackson, WY.

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The next morning @ 10:00am we were off on our city tour.  My travelers were still upset about the return issues.  The problem was there were several who had not taken the trip insurance (something I would never do) and that meant if the return needed to be changed, they would have to pay additional costs
We all knew the return would not happen.  That morning the TV said that Minot, ND had lost 13,000 homes to flooding & the river still had not crested.  Since the Empire Builder went right through Minot & alternate tracks were nonexistent in that part of the country, it was just a matter of time before we would get the news of Plan “B”.
I asked everyone to enjoy the tour and the day and I would let them know as soon as I learned anything new.  There was time in the afternoon for some additional touring but 35 out of the 47 went back to the hotel to rest up for the manager’s reception that evening since they were so tired from the past evening.
Meanwhile my travelers who had missed the train the previous night were on the Zephyr headed for Salt Lake.  They called they had the same problems and were delayed as we were.  However, in addition they lost another hour. The Moffat Tunnel, 6.2 miles long, and 50 miles west of Denver crossed the Continental Divide.  When they came out of the tunnel there was a rock slide.  There was no danger since railroad tracks were wired by computers and showed rock slides and other dangers to give the engineer plenty of notice to avoid the problem.  It just meant losing more time to clean up the mess.  These travelers didn’t have travel insurance and I didn’t have the heart to tell them then that they would not be taking the train home.
Just after 4:00pm I received the call.  Going home the original way was not going to happen.  Instead we would leave Glacier on the Empire Builder to Seattle.  I would need to help all the pax make flight arrangements and also hotels for those who needed to stay overnight.  And I would have to stay overnight to assist them.
Going to Seattle we would go through the Cascade tunnel which is the longest in North America (more on that later).  However there was grim news.  The train we had been on left Salt Lake and had been crashed into by a tanker truck just before Reno; 6 dead and dozens of injuries

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The next morning @ 10:00am we were off on our city tour.  My travelers were still upset about the return issues.  The problem was there were several who had not taken the trip insurance (something I would never do) and that meant if the return needed to be changed, they would have to pay additional costs
We all knew the return would not happen.  That morning the TV said that Minot, ND had lost 13,000 homes to flooding & the river still had not crested.  Since the Empire Builder went right through Minot & alternate tracks were nonexistent in that part of the country, it was just a matter of time before we would get the news of Plan “B”.
I asked everyone to enjoy the tour and the day and I would let them know as soon as I learned anything new.  There was time in the afternoon for some additional touring but 35 out of the 47 went back to the hotel to rest up for the manager’s reception that evening since they were so tired from the past evening.
Meanwhile my travelers who had missed the train the previous night were on the Zephyr headed for Salt Lake.  They called they had the same problems and were delayed as we were.  However, in addition they lost another hour. The Moffat Tunnel, 6.2 miles long, and 50 miles west of Denver crossed the Continental Divide.  When they came out of the tunnel there was a rock slide.  There was no danger since railroad tracks were wired by computers and showed rock slides and other dangers to give the engineer plenty of notice to avoid the problem.  It just meant losing more time to clean up the mess.  These travelers didn’t have travel insurance and I didn’t have the heart to tell them then that they would not be taking the train home.
Just after 4:00pm I received the call.  Going home the original way was not going to happen.  Instead we would leave Glacier on the Empire Builder to Seattle.  I would need to help all the pax make flight arrangements and also hotels for those who needed to stay overnight.  And I would have to stay overnight to assist them.
Going to Seattle we would go through the Cascade tunnel which is the longest in North America (more on that later).  However there was grim news.  The train we had been on left Salt Lake and had been crashed into by a tanker truck just before Reno; 6 dead and dozens of injuries

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