Flying to Rio
Sailing to Alaska

Looking for The Girl From Ipanema, I spied an early
bird checking out the morning's catch.

Surf, Sand and Society
Summon Savvy Sightseers

Text and Photos by Tim Boxer

RAZIL has long been a trendsetter in music (and fashion and beauty, too). I never forgot The Girl from Ipanema. That inflammable song from the Sexy Sixties sent passions burning in the hearts of adolescents and love-stricken young men all over the world. I often fantasized about meeting her, even more than Brigitte Bardot or Marilyn Monroe. Brazil’s latest sexport, supersexy model Gisele Bundchen, doesn’t really do it for me. (Not when I have Nina at home.)

So this summer I jumped when the Rio de Janeiro Tourism Office (Riotur) suggested I check out their fair city. This was my chance in a lifetime to find that elusive girl from Ipanema. I left my own girl in Flushing as I boarded Varig for a smooth flight to Brazil. That’s the best way to go, with Varig’s daily nonstop flights.

Bringing in the fish on Copacabana

Having never visited here before, I was surprised to see from the air how beautiful Rio de Janeiro appeared. It has the Atlantic Ocean and beaches stretched out on the right side, giving its people the option of going to work in ultramodern glass and steel buildings or playing soccer in the sand, soaking the sun, fishing or surfing the breaking waves.

I gave myself over to the luxury of Hotel Sofitel Rio Palace, which lay at one end of Copacabana. The eight-story structure is spread horizontally in front of the most famous beach in Rio. Opened in 1979, the hotel was later acquired by the Accor/Sofitel world chain, which pumped $20 million to modernize the facilities for a 1996 re-opening.

General Manager Nagi Edouard Naoufal takes care of his guests with every amenity. “The hotel’s aim is for everyone to enjoy himself or herself,” he said. “They can wear casual clothes; no need for tie and jacket.”

Little did I realize that’s actually the credo of Rio.

Sofitel Hotel at right

Sofitel Hotel’s Imperial Club, consisting of rooms on the top floor, pampers those lucky guests to extreme. When you arrive, the butler scampers to iron your suit and shine your shoes. (You can’t be casual ALL the time.)

The sheets and pillowcases are different on this floor. They are made of the finest cotton, very smooth, I’m told. There are two Presidential Suites, which are duplexes. In this Portuguese country, every Sofitel butler speaks English, and some are fluent in German, Japanese, Italian and Spanish.

There’s a fitness room with exercises and massage, and every room is equipped with vanity mirror, hair dryer, mini-bar, electronic safe, cable TV and data ports. The daily paper, in Portuguese or English (USA Today) is delivered daily. But instead of sitting on the balcony reading, I spent a lot of enjoyable time watching the sights on the Copacabana.

I always thought the Copacabana was an expensive nightclub in Manhattan where the biggest stars of the entertainment world performed. I didn’t know there was a Copacabana in Rio and that it was the name of a district and beach. The next beach is Ipanema, and then Leblon, named for different districts of the city.

When it comes to personal safety at the beaches, you needn’t worry. Police were visible everywhere. Tourism is such a high priority that the city makes sure its visitors are well protected. But that doesn’t mean you should be sloppy with security. You never leave your personal effects unwatched at the beach, or anywhere else. That’s just common sense.

At dawn I stepped out on the sundeck and gazed with amazement at the gorgeous scene below. It was Sunday, when auto traffic is banned from Avenue Atlantica, which skirts the beach. People were strolling in the street, sitting under umbrellas on the sand, and flowing with the waves on surfboards.

Every night, the middle pedestrian strip of the avenue is taken over by outdoor merchants hawking all kinds of trinkets, souvenirs and T-shirts. Life here can keep you going all night.

NEXT: Culture can be fun in Rio.


By Sally Ogle Davis

 have never been a fan of cruising. A vacation where the most active thing you do in a week is maneuver your way around the frozen swans at the midnight buffet is not my cup of tea.

And don't you positively loathe the lemming-like exodus from the ship in port, flocking into pre-ordained, allegedly duty free stores to buy junk you wouldn't even consider looking at home?

That was before a brochure arrived on my doorstep promising "Adventure Cruising" – an oxymoron if ever I heard one.  Being nothing if not broadminded, I promised to look into it. That is why I found myself wearing a prodigious quantity of warm and waterproof clothing, shivering alongside my husband and an intrepid band of folks from all over the country, in the middle of an ice flow, in the middle of Alaska.

Nope – this is not cruising the way your Aunt Sadie used to do it.

We'd been dropped on the Mendenhall Glacier by helicopter when our ship, the luxurious Mercury, one of Celebrity Cruises' newer vessels, docked in Juneau. I kept thinking of those folks last year who got stranded overnight on an ice flow in Juneau when their helicopters went down. Happily no such chilly fate awaited us.

We returned to the Mercury in one piece and on time. An hour later we were elegantly attired and sipping a pre-dinner glass of champagne in the Mercury's champagne and caviar bar.

The Celebrity line's research has indicated that in the next twenty years people who have been drowning in all the things the boom has provided them will in the future want to spend their disposable income on experiences they can't have in their own back yards no matter how many toys they've acquired. So they came up with the idea of using their ships as a base – a very luxurious base, mind you – from which to pack in as many and varied adventures as a week or two will allow.

The Celebrity line has consequently become "soft adventure" specialists. What, I hear you ask, is soft adventure?

Well, instead of climbing Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America and definitely not for amateurs, we flew over it, almost close enough to touch, in a DC 3 which had taken part in the D-Day landings and had been perfectly restored, complete with piped-in big band swing music, and  a flight attendant in WW II era uniform. And yes the views were awesome – for once the word was not overkill.

We may have landed by helicopter on a couple of glaciers, which sounds pretty hairy, but we also stood sipping hot toddies on the deck of our ship moored up close and personal to the awesome aqua blue Hubbard Glacier (90 miles long) at the head of Yakutat Bay, as it groaned and cracked and sent huge junks of itself steaming into the frozen straits. It cost us no more effort than raising our glasses and smiling for the ship's photographer.

In 1986 this ninety-mile-long chunk of ice moved en masse to block an entire fjord from its outlet to the sea. Listening to it communicate its wrath that we were invading its territory was pretty intimidating stuff.

Our first port of call after leaving Vancouver was Ketchikan where we traded our ship for a motor launch and sailed up the magnificent inside passage of the Misty Fjords wilderness.

We were hanging over the side to view the sheer granite cliffs rising out of deep dark still waters – perfect for kayaking, which some of our party did. Other passengers had gone jet boating in the backcountry, some were mountain biking in the nearby rain forest.

We simply wanted to concentrate on the feast of wildlife visible from the launch's arrow deck. We saw bald eagles in their nests close enough for headshots, and adorable black white and orange dwarf Puffins. The entire trip became worthwhile when, out from the trees bordering the shore, a family of six black bears emerged to feast on the remains of a beached humped back whale.

We flew back to the ship via floatplane piloted by a crazy ex-Vietnam fighter pilot – a raging Cajun from New Orleans who liked to demonstrate the maneuverability of his aircraft – all the while letting out a fierce rebel yell. Now that was definitely part of the adventure.

We simply wanted to concentrate on the
feast of wildlife visible from the launch's
arrow deck. We saw bald eagles in their
nests close enough for headshots, and
adorable black white and orange dwarf
Puffins. The entire trip became
worthwhile when, out from the trees
bordering the shore, a family of six black
bears emerged to feast on the remains of
a beached humped back whale.

Out of Skagway, our next stop, we took the famous white pass scenic railway, an old single gauge built for the miners of the gold rush  which struggles over sheer gorges with breathtaking drops.   This is not a ride for those who have problems with heights – and at four hours it did take a chunk of time, but the views were breathtaking.

From Juneau there were so many possible variations on glacier exploration, sports fishing, sea kayaking and alpine hiking that it made our heads spin.

From Valdez, a term infamous among environmentalists because of the famous Exxon disaster, my husband went helicoptering to the Columbia Glacier which flows down the mountain and right onto the beach.  En route he flew over the famous Trans Alaskan pipeline, which he pronounced awesome – there's that word again.

I decided that this was the place I would go shopping. Totally untouristy, it looked like a spot where real Alaskans lived. It was bleak, cold and bare. I half expected to see that moose from Northern Exposure walk down the main street towards me. But I'd made the right decision. In an old converted fishing warehouse I found a treasure trove of antiques, old jewelry, and fascinating artifacts from the old Soviet Union. My husband is now the proud owner of a silver hip flask bearing indecipherable but definitely impressive – in a Soviet sort of way – Russian officer's insignia.

We left the ship at Seward, a picturesque fishing town with a population of just 2,500, to take advantage of an additional Celebrity two-day land adventure option – touring Denali National Park.

But first we dropped off at the Seward Sea Life Center, a fascinating aquarium for the study and rehabilitation of every kind of sea creature imaginable. From there we boarded a launch to nearby Fox Island and examined the same creatures in their natural habitat.

As we motored, schools of otters lounged on their backs around the boat playing hide and seek with us. Stellar seals displayed themselves for our perusal on nearby rocks, and salmon leaped out of the water all around us. On a cliff face a bald eagle peered superciliously at us out of his nest.  This was nature undisturbed and we loved every second of it.

Our experience on the cruise alas had spoiled us for Denali when we finally got there. The wildlife seemed thin on the ground and remote compared to what we had seen and we felt very superior to the other tourists busing their way through.  But our stint on land did afford us another collection of great experiences.

The first night at the Talkeetna Lodge we dined with a local character who rejoices under the name of Basecamp Annie. She sets up base camp for the scores of climbers who set off to conquer Mt. McKinley every year. She also goes off to rescue them at considerable risk to her own life and limb when they get in trouble, which is often.

For the next two days our program was slightly less hairy as we rode on horses over vast wetlands and through forested trails, went whitewater rafting in freezing cold but exhilarating rapids, took a long sightseeing trip in one of Alaska's scenic Railway's bubble roofed trains, and my personal favorite – a visit to a kennel where dogs are trained for the world famous annual Iditarod race, the finest dog sled race in the world.

It was puppy time at the kennel. Jeff  King,  who has won the race three times, generously allowed us lots of cuddles with the babies. The adult dogs are much too professional to be messed with. Watching them go through their paces made us wonder again about the validity of that term "dumb animal."

It made me regret that I hadn't taken one of the trips on offer out of Juneau – a helicopter ride to the Norris glacier where you are picked up by dogsled and mushed across the snow and ice.

The best part about this "soft adventure" business is that while you're out in the wilderness getting wet and cold and scared and intimidated and exhilarated all at the same time, your ship is waiting with your comfortable cabin, viewing balcony, four-star cuisine, vintage wines and your opportunity to get your evening gown out of moth balls and put on the Ritz, in fact all the of the luxuries of top of the line cruising. Which is also the bad news. You still come back from a Celebrity adventure cruise several pounds heavier.

The good news is you've had unbelievable experiences with which to bore your friends until, well, until you go on the next one.

Sally Ogle Davis is a syndicated travel and entertainment
writer based in Ventura, Calif.


  Print this Page

[ Back to Top ]
Copyright©1999, 2000, 2001 15 Minutes Magazine, Inc.
Sonar Privacy Statement

Site Designed, Developed and Maintained by Internet Web Systems

Any questions or comments regarding this website, or if you would like one of your own, please contact us at