I have not written a blog post here since my annual review, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

In February, I updated my kitchen by having new countertops installed, putting a fresh coat of white paint on the cabinets, laying new wood-look floor tile and updating the backsplash and window coverings.

Before

After

In March, I went with Carrie and the boys to Orlando to visit Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Although Disneyland and California Adventure are our favorite theme parks, we like to visit Florida once every couple of years to catch the attractions we don’t have in California. Since Carrie and Brian have a timeshare, we usually get a condo near the parks, and I pay for the car rental. I have had Southwest frequent flyer miles from my credit card that I have used the last several flights, so it’s actually a more affordable trip than one might think. Of course, tickets into the theme parks are the biggest expense by far, but you really can’t put a price on family fun.

Nathan made Eagle Scout this year, and his troop ceremony was held at Brian and Carrie’s.

I took my Minnie to New Mexico this spring to spend time in the state parks there with Dale, I wrote all about that on my RV blog.

It’s been a very long, very hot summer here. Instead of monsoon, we had “Nonsoon”. Summer thunderstorms have been few and far between, and temps have been in the one teens the majority of the summer months. We decided to celebrate Richard’s recovery from his critical illness earlier this year, and what better way than with a barbecue and swim party at Brian & Carrie’s.

Robin and Ken put in a new pool this summer, and I hadn’t visited since last Thanksgiving, so I flew up to Boise to spend a long weekend in mid-August.

While I was there, I mentioned to Robin that I was doing a quick trip to Disneyland the first week of September, and suggested she sneak away and join me. She said yes, and we had a wonderful three days together experiencing all the Magic. The parks were the least busy I can ever remember, and we walked onto the majority of the rides in both Disneyland and California Adventure. The only downer (and it was a huge downer) was the heat wave Anaheim was experiencing. With temps in the high 90s (one day even hit 101°) and humidity climbing to 85%, we were melting. It was a good thing we didn’t have to spend much time waiting in long lines in the sun or we would have packed it in and gone home. But it was a fun three days and something we haven’t done together since 2003.

I’m getting ready to head out on a fall trip in my Minnie. First I’m going to Gulf Shores in Alabama to join Wendy and Denny’s friends and family celebrating their Golden Anniversary. From there, I’ll make my way back to Mississippi to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway all the way to Nashville. I’ll be blogging about that on my RV blog, so catch up with my adventures there.

By the time I return, it’ll be holiday season. Hard to believe 2020 is just around the corner!

Either this post is going to be very long, or I’m going to have to cut out a lot of the adventures I had. Or I could break it into more than one post. But here goes!

Back in August of 2014, Alice asked Glenda and me if we would be interested in taking a cruise to Alaska with a tour group led by old friend Roy Lawson. Glenda, being from Alaska, gently declined, but it didn’t take me long to get on board with the idea and commit. I’ve never cruised, and an Alaskan one has been on my bucket list. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to travel with a group of friends, and let the tour company handle all the arrangements. Now that it’s over, I would wholeheartedly do this again! It was a fantastic experience, and included many, many details that I would have had to research and handle myself. I’m glad I was able to leave all that to the experts.

The adventure began on Friday, the 10th of July. I got up verrrrry early and called for a 4:00 a.m. Uber pickup to the airport. I flew through S.F. to Vancouver, where we boarded the Radiance of the Seas by Royal Caribbean cruise lines. The first day (evening) we got settled in our cabin, explored the ship, and had our first group dinner in the dining room.

Web Photo

Our cabin

One of the lounges on the ship

Sailing north

We cruised all day the second day, but with cloudy, rainy weather, we didn’t see much from the ship other than water. There were just very brief moments of shore views, but for the most part, we stayed inside enjoying the amenities of the ship. I’m talking FOOD! Cruise ships are notorious for their unending gastronomical  delights, and the Radiance of the Seas was no exception.

The ship won this award last year.

In the dining room one night

On day three, we were woken up by some banging and thumping and we looked out our porthole window to find this:

Our first view of Ketchikan

Yes, we were docked in Ketchikan, and our deck 2 porthole was sorely lacking on the vistas. We quickly dressed and went for breakfast, then left the ship for a bit of a walk around town, stopping into beautiful St. John Episcopal Church, then watching a local fisherman reel in a huge king salmon. Later, we rode the trolley which included a narrated historical tour around the area with a stop at Saxman Totem Pole Village.

Ketchikan behind me

St John’s

What a catch!

Totem pole from the Tlingit tribe

That night we cruised toward Icy Strait Point and the tiny town of Hoonah (pop. 800). The ship anchored off shore at 9:00 on Day four, and we rode the tender boats (the life boats’ most common alternate duty) to the pier. We had no excursions scheduled for that day, so we walked the mile and a half town with several members of our group and watched for whales off shore. We had been told that port was one of the best for whale sighting from land. But we didn’t have any luck while in town. That evening back on the ship during dinner someone called out “Whales!” and everyone ran to the port side windows to see a few black backs swimming by. That was really the extent of our wildlife sighting for most of the trip. A real disappointment.

Hoonah, viewed from the ship

Tender boats

The Radiance at anchor

We woke up on Day five to find the ship already docked in Juneau. Alice and I rode the tramway up the hillside to the Nature Center. We did catch sight of a bald eagle in one of the trees. The rain and fog blocked any views from the mountain, but we walked a (muddy) nature loop trail through the woods back to the center before riding back down.

Juneau, viewed from the ship

Our view from the tramway

Injured captive Bald Eagle. Such a magnificent bird!

On the nature trail above Juneau

Juneau from the Nature Center

That afternoon we took a tour bus to Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier

We learned several tidbits about Juneau and Alaska:

  • Alaska has 70% of all the bald eagles in the US
  • A 13 year old boy designed the AK state flag (it was a contest and his was voted the winner)
  • Juneau capitol building was voted the second ugliest capitol in the US

Mendenhall was  interesting. We listened to a ranger talk about the salmon forest, and that’s when I remembered I had forgotten to take along my National Park Passport Book.

We took one of my favorite excursions on Day 6 in Skagway. We rode a bus to White Pass summit, crossed into Canada and back, and then stopped at a sled dog training camp. The musher has participated in many Iditorad races and placed in the money five times. He did an excellent job on the narrated demonstration. We heard about the life of a musher and what the experience on the race trail is like, and then saw a demo of the dogs pulling the sled. This excursion did not include riding on the sleds, but it did include getting my sunglasses eaten by one of the dogs. (Don’t worry, we got them away from him before he swallowed anything dangerous!)

Some interesting things we learned on this tour:

  • It used to be spelled Skaguay. The name means windy. Population is ~950.
  • RV parks charge $300 a month for a tent space and $1400 a month for a trailer / motor home space.
  • Moore’s Creek Bridge is a stayed cable cantilever bridge. It is only secured to the mountain on one side; that allows it to move during earthquakes.
  • Sled dogs run 6 hours and sleep 6 hours when racing. They race from age 2 to about age 9. They are mutts, not purebreds. They are bred for racing and love to race. They got very excited when the musher brought out the harnesses and started hooking them up to the sled for the demo.

The cantilever bridge

Coming back into Alaska from the Canadian Summit
(It was cold up there!)

Matt, the musher

The dog’s coats, with a removable “fly”. Matt was describing how the dogs pee while they are running.
It was pretty comical!

On day seven, we cruised into Disenchantment Bay right up to Hubbard Glacier and the ship stopped and did a 360° turn. It was spectacular! Hubbard is one of the very few glaciers on earth that is actually advancing; most of them are quickly retreating and disappearing due to climate change on our planet. Hubbard calved many times while we watched, but catching it on a video was very difficult because you never knew when and where the next chunk was going to fall from. The thunderous crack warned us way too late of the direction to look. But we stood out on deck for a long time watching and marveling at the magnificence of nature.

From Disenchantment Bay, we sailed across the open water of the Gulf of Alaska toward our final cruise destination, Seward. This was the only area where we really felt the rolling of the ship, and the seas were quite rough with all the bad weather we were having. Every few minutes the waves would crash against our porthole. I was guessing 30 foot swells, but I was teased for that inaccuracy and told they were more like 3-6 feet. It seemed like I could have stacked at least 4-5 Brian’s in some of those waves.

That afternoon Alice and I went to a talk by the Captain of the ship. (We had to leave early for a meeting of our tour group for disembarkation instructions). He said the Radiance is one of 4 identical ships and is small-medium size. Royal Caribbean has just built a ship (the Oasis of the Seas) that two Radiances would fit inside. The Radiance has 60% of her viewing decks behind windows because she sails to areas with inclement weather. I can tell you we were thankful for those inside areas every day!

We  were lulled by the rocking of the ship all night, and came into Seward at 5:00 a.m. We departed the ship at 9:20. I think this is enough for today’s post. In the next entry, I’ll describe our land excursion from Seward, through Anchorage and Denali, to Fairbanks.

I go to Disneyland so often now (I even bought an annual pass) that I don’t post updates about my trips anymore. But my most recent visit to the Happiest Place on Earth was my happiest visit ever, so I have to mention it. Disneyland at Christmastime is absolutely spectacular! I’m not one who likes to start celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving, but last weekend that changed for 2014. Seeing and experiencing millions of lights and decorations, music and magic, I just couldn’t help feeling like Christmas had arrived.

Disney goes all out, transforming several rides with Christmas themes, adding holiday treats to their menus, and best of all, lighting up Sleeping Beauty’s castle and It’s a Small World. The Jungle Cruise becomes the Jingle Cruise; all the animals are covered with lights and decorations and the boat captain’s spiel is holiday nuanced. The Haunted Mansion takes on the “Nightmare Before Christmas” theme, with Jack Skellington as host, and gingerbread aromas and decorated ghosts everywhere. Small World is transformed on the inside as well as the outside, and every land shows off holiday embellishments and the repetitive “Small World After All” song morphs into Jingle Bells along the way. The Main Street Parade has float after float decked out in red and green, and dancers and characters remind you that it’s holiday time. Santa and his sleigh bring up the rear, of course.

The first evening we were there, we came off the Indiana Jones ride and were heading back to our hotel at about 7:00. As we turned onto Main Street, it suddenly came alive with music, lights and snow (yes, snow!) and the “Lighting of the Castle” event was in full swing. It was totally unexpected for me, and I stood transfixed watching section after section become aglow with lights and decorations. It was absolutely one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and by the time it was radiating from top to bottom, I was a blubbering baby. Nathan sweetly put his arm around me and said, “It’s okay, Nonna. It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I sniffled for half the walk back to our hotel.

The next evening, Carrie wanted to get the kids back to the hotel early and into bed, so after walking them all “home”, I headed back to the park simply to experience the castle lighting again. After it was over, I walked around to Fantasyland to see “It’s a Small World” and got there just in time to watch the 3-4 minute animation production that is displayed across the front of the structure. Magnificent!

We saw the castle lighting one more time on Monday night, and yes, I cried my eyes out again. On our final night, we stayed to catch the fireworks show. But alas! unfavorable weather conditions (high clouds and breezes) caused the cancellation of “Believe”, and we went home disappointed to have missed it.

The whole time I was there, I was secretly trying to figure out how to get back for another visit before January 6 when the holiday theme ends, but with limited vacation time left this year, and even more limited funds, it will have to wait until next year. Believe me, I will be there!

Disclaimer: I ordered a new iPhone 6+ a month ago, but it didn’t come until after the trip, so all of these pictures are taken with my 3 year old cell phone. The quality is not that great, and I don’t claim to be the world’s best photographer, plus I had to shrink the pixel size to upload them to the server. So you’ll have to use some of your Disney imagination to mentally enhance these photos into a better reality.

Merry Christmas! Oh yeah, and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

On our second morning in Hawaii, we drove to Pearl Harbor and took the tour. The museum is excellent and extensive, with eye witness accounts, photos and recordings of the Japanese attack, and many mementos on display. Then we ferried over to the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s a solemn place, where you simply want to stand and contemplate what happened that morning in 1941.

Photo from the web

Part of the sunken ship

Oil Slick (the seeping oil represents the tears of the Arizona)

The names of the 1,177 sailors and marines who died on that day

Our Go Oahu Card included several museums and palaces on the island. We spent one afternoon at the Bishop Museum, learning about the Kings Kamehameha (five of them!) and the history of the royal families and their influence on the island people, and changes over the centuries. Bernice Bishop was an adopted descendant of Kamehameha II.

We visited the Iolani Palace and Queen Emma’s (wife to Kamehameha IV) Summer Palace. It was interesting to see the beautiful pieces of artwork, china, furniture and jewelry, some more than two centuries old. We arrived at Iolani too late to join the guided tour, but wandered through the basement museum. We did take the guided tour of Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, and even were asked to remove our shoes in one room with beautiful red carpeting.

Sperm Whale (On display in the Bishop Museum)

Hawaiian village model (Bishop Museum)

Feather Capes (Bishop Museum)

Thatch Hut (Bishop Museum)

China Hutch (Queen Emma’s)

Royal Crib (Queen Emma’s)

Feather Kahili

Here’s some information on the Kahili

All in all, we did learn a lot about the history of Hawaii, but please don’t quiz us on any of it!

I did lots of research on Pinterest before we went, looking for the best places to eat, and we found many. I only took a few pictures, but suffice it to say, we ate well.

We sampled Mike’s Huli Huli Chicken, which is from a food truck that is permanently parked on the North Shore, and has been featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives”. To say the chicken was spicy is an understatement!  We wolfed down the rice and macaroni salad just to cool our mouths, but we are glad we can say we ate there.

Mike’s HuluHuli Chicken

Mike’s Truck in the background

We both had gift cards from a mutual friend for Outback Restaurant, so we stopped there one evening and had the glazed pork chops.

 Hankering for coconut shrimp, we walked down to Tiki’s Grill on Waikiki Beach and had a yummy plate of crispy prawns.

Coconut Shrimp at Tiki’s Grill in Waikiki

Pina Colada

We also tried out several other local diners, filling our tummies with pork, chicken, fish, burgers and shave ice. Before we even arrived, I told Glenda that we were going to get a cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory to nibble on in the evenings on our condo lanai. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of that, but it was decadent!

On Wednesday, we went to the humongous Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium where we were divested of some of our hard earned cash in exchange for baubles and trinkets we could not go home without. Prices on goods beat the souvenir shops in town by about 25%, making them even more tempting. We also spent a couple of hours on two different days walking through the outdoor Ala Moana Mall in Honolulu, but we didn’t buy much there except some delectable Honolulu Cookies. We walked around some of the beautiful hotels, which have changed a lot in the last 30 years.

At the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki

By our last day, we were both eager to go home. We had seen all we wanted to see and were pretty worn out. We puttered around in the morning packing up and checking out of our condo, then wandered the beach front, the shops and the swap meet one more time. In the evening, we drove up into the Punchbowl area, where we saw the only rainbow that appeared in the whole week we were there. It was a beautiful goodbye gift from Oahu before boarding our plane for our overnight flight home.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the most popular attractions in the Hawaiian islands. It is run by the Mormons and has a subtle mission feel. Not everyone who works there is Mormon, but many of them are, and they extended invitations to us to visit the Oahu campus of BYU and the Temple. The PCC is a beautiful theme park where you can get a sample experience of Polynesian village life. Glenda and I took a canoe ride through the different “nations” of Polynesia. It reminded me a bit of Epcot, but on a much smaller scale. We floated through Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Tahiti to name a few.

We wandered around a bit, then made our way to the dinner buffet, where we enjoyed many delightful dishes (and some not so delightful) and sweet desserts. Following dinner, we made our way into the large theater to watch “HA – Breath of Life“. This was one of the highlights of our entire week. It was a spectacular show highlighted by Polynesian music, dance and twirling fire knives. We had great seats and it was cool in the open air theater, and then we enjoyed our pretty evening drive back down to Honolulu. (Photography is not allowed in the theater, so I have no pictures of that, but you can check their website for a few photos.)

On Thursday, we drove up to Kualoa Ranch, and took the Movie Tour. This two hour bus ride through a portion of the 2000 acre ranch produced dozens of photo ops and reminiscing about the many movies and television shows filmed there. The two that I remembered most were Jurassic Park and Lost. We stopped at the meadow where dinosaurs grazed, and saw Hurley’s golf course. Then we walked through the Lost Hatch which is actually an old WWII bunker. There were dozens of movie posters and memorabilia still scattered around. Our tour guide, Cowboy, was a native Hawaiian, and told us many stories about the Ranch and history of the area, as well as anecdotes about movie and TV productions.

Our chariot

Hurley’s golf course, up on the hill

The Hatch

WWII Bunker

On one of our drives to the North Shore, we found our way to a coffee plantation. It was a little out-of-the-way place, and they were glad to see us. We got a short (private) tour and a sample of coffee and chocolate that were made from the beans off their trees. Delicious!

Cacao beans

Coffee beans

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