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Escaping to the north

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COOL GETAWAY: Canada.
  • COOL GETAWAY: Canada.

For all the fun that’s to be had in Arkansas in the summer, some people can’t forget that it’s summer and they’re in Arkansas. For these restless types, we advise heading north.

Alaskan cruises are always highly popular in the summer months, according to Tony Poe of Poe Travel in Little Rock. In fact, cruises are the way most people see Alaska. Price can vary greatly, depending on the length of the cruise, the elegance of the ship, the side trips that one can take — to Denali National Park, for example — and the location of one’s room.

A seven-night Hubbard Glacier cruise from Vancouver to Seward might include a backcountry jeep and canoe safari near Ketchikan, “Glacier Flightseeing via Floatplane” at Juneau, whale and sea lion watching at Icy Strait Point. Per person, double occupancy, such a cruise would cost about $1,950 for a suite, $1,050 for an ocean view stateroom, $800 for an interior (no view) stateroom.

Vancouver is a destination in itself, Poe said — remarkably clean and safe, with great museums and fine restaurants, many things for kids, including an aquarium, and proximity to exciting wilderness excursions. And the weather is perfect for summer, warm but not hot. From May through December, the temperature tops out in the 70s.

For people who don’t want to fly, for one reason or another, Cosmopolitan Tours of Little Rock offers a number of northward-bound, escorted motorcoach tours. A 16-day tour from Little Rock through Ontario and Quebec and back might cost around $2,960 per person double occupancy. The tour includes stops at Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and on the Gaspe Peninsula.

Tony Poe says that going to Montreal is like going to a European city but without the jet lag or the expense. Montreal is comparatively easy to reach, even from Little Rock, and besides the fine food and the cathedral and other sight-seeing, there’s always a festival going on in Montreal in the summer. The best-known, but by no means the only, is the Montreal International Jazz Festival. It’s so cold in Montreal in the winter that when summer comes, people want to get the maximum out of it, Poe said.

Some years back, French-speaking Canada did not exactly embrace people who did not speak French. But the old attitude has changed, Poe says, and the natives — who speak both English and French — are friendly and helpful to visitors who don’t. A Quebecer who hears a tourist struggling with French is apt to respond in English.

Poe also said that the rate of exchange in Canada was not as favorable to the American dollar as it once was, but still favorable — unlike Europe.

Trains are still very much an option in Canadian traveling. What the Royal Canadian Pacific calls its “signature excursion” begins in Calgary and then heads west through the Canadian Rockies, stopping at Banff and Lake Louise, among other places. “The draw is the scenery,” Poe said. “It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

A lot of affluent, retired people like the nostalgia of the train experience, Poe said.

If it’s really, really north you want, the Smithsonian Institution offers an “Arctic Odyssey: A symposium on global warning.” You cruise to the Arctic aboard an icebreaker while you learn about “the unique wildlife, geology, and glaciology of the Arctic region and the effects of global warming on these ecosystems.” Tom Brokaw is one of your shipmates.

Back in North America, Cosmopolitan has a tour that visits four of America’s national parks —Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Badlands — as well as the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse memorial. It’s not quite Canada or Alaska, but it’s not Little Rock in July either.

Doug Smith

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