31. January 2020 · Comments Off on Caribbean Cruising in The Haven · Categories: Life & Family, Travel

I asked Brian and Carrie if I could tag along on a cruise with them sometime. They had just booked a week in January on the Norwegian Escape for their family. They made arrangements to upgrade their one bedroom suite in The Haven to a two bedroom, and I paid the difference. It was a lot cheaper than a private cabin for myself in the exclusive upscale area would have been, though slightly more than a standard stateroom on the lower decks. However, it was well worth it. The accommodations were supreme, and service was exemplary. Many of the things you pay extra for in a standard cabin were included in the Haven’s suites.

We flew to Miami on a red eye flight on January 4, and boarded the ship about 11:00. They served us lunch in The Haven reception area while we waited for our room to be ready and luggage to be delivered. We explored the ship, and watched our ship leave the port from the Sundeck.

We had four ports of call: Roatan, Honduras; Harvest Caye, Belize; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. We had booked excursions in all four ports. We did a Catamaran and snorkel cruise in Roatan. Unfortunately, Andrew tripped on deck and severely sprained his ankle, and required a wheelchair for the remainder of the week.

On the catamaran
Snorklers

Harvest Caye is a small island owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines. Many of the cruise lines do this, as it’s a way for passengers to visit foreign countries that may not be safe for American tourists. They still get a taste of the culture and climate, but are completely isolated from the mainland dangers. Carrie and I did some window shopping while the guys played water sports.

On the morning we docked in Costa Maya, Carrie woke up sick. The boys and I had booked a dolphin encounter, but Andrew’s ankle prevented him from going, so Brian stayed “home” to be nursemaid. Nathan and I really enjoyed the dolphins; it’s quite an awesome experience.

Extremely gentle and affectionate animals
The dolphin is pushing me by my feet. It was fast!

By the time we got to Cozumel, Brian had come down with flu, and he and Carrie both quarantined themselves in their bedroom. I took Nathan and Andrew (in his wheelchair) and we went off on our excursion to Chankanaab Adventure Park. This is a small sea life park with a few attractions, including dolphin and manatee encounters, sea lion show, crocodile exhibit, and a replica Mayan village. There were also pools and a beach for swimming. We had a good time, though pushing that wheelchair on packed sand was hard work.

Andrew was enthralled with the Mayan exhibit. He stood on one foot for a picture.
Crocodile exhibit (Notice the pointed snout. Gators have a rounded head.)

We arrived back in Miami the morning of January 11, and Brian and Carrie were feeling some better. We had booked a final excursion riding an airboat through the Everglades. This was a great experience, and we all really enjoyed it. By the time we got back to Miami, Brian and Carrie were worn out, and we went straight to the airport to rest and wait for our evening flight back to Phoenix.

Gator sunning himself.

This adventure has made me want to do more cruises to exotic places around the world and, if I can swing it, to stay in the luxury suites.

07. September 2019 · Comments Off on Fun year · Categories: Life & Family, Travel

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!

I drove my Tesla to Boise for Thanksgiving week. It’s been quite a few years since I spent a Thanksgiving with the Holsingers. I’ve been up to Eagle for Christmas and New Year’s many times, but they were making travel plans for this December holiday, so I thought turkey day would be a nice change of pace. Besides, it would be another opportunity to take my Tesla on a road trip, and test out a colder climate and the impact on an electric vehicle. I experienced the reduced battery range that cold temps cause, and also the importance of tire pressure. By the time I drove as far as Flagstaff, I started getting continuous “low tire pressure” warnings.

Snow on the Supercharger

Frosty car

Chilly morning in Richfield, UT

Since my Yuma trips in October, Tesla has added “Navigate on AutoPilot” to the firmware. This feature incorporates lane guidance, on and off ramp navigation, and blind spot awareness when driving on the highway. I’ve found the autopilot works great out on the open road, but in crowded cities, especially with lots of semi trucks on the road, I get a little nervous that my car doesn’t give an inch when someone encroaches on my lane. So I typically turn off the auto steer as I come into heavier traffic, and drive with just the traffic aware cruise control engaged.

At 1025 miles from my house to Robin’s, I like to stop at a hotel about halfway between us. I price-checked on Orbitz, and selected economical hotels that were near Superchargers. Hotels with destination chargers tended to be about twice as expensive as I like to spend, so I didn’t book those, but it may be worth it to folks who don’t want to spend extra time charging at the end of a long driving day and who have money to spare.

I admit I was surprised that charging stops took more time than I anticipated, but I really didn’t mind the waits. I always got out and walked around a bit to stretch my legs and to use the restroom. Sometimes I wandered through a store nearby or got a snack, but many times I just got back in the car and perused my phone. I spend a lot of time at home on my phone or iPad reading news, blogs and social media, so I didn’t feel like doing it in the car while I charged to be much different.

When I arrived at the Holsingers, they all ooh-ed and aah-ed over my car, but since it was dark, no one took rides. I made it clear anyone was welcome to do a test drive anytime, but sadly no one took me up on my offer. Instead, we stayed home all week watching TV, doing jigsaw puzzles, chatting and — most of all — EATING!

Steven and I worked on a fun puzzle together while Ken made scrumptious food.

Robin put together a 1000 piece puzzle of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Lucy is a good girl.

Friends of Robin and Ken joined us for Thanksgiving dinner. Casey smoked the turkey in a bacon wrap, and we provided the sides.

Who doesn’t love bacon?!

We had a delicious meal and a lovely day, topped off with silky chocolate pie (the Holsingers fully embrace that Lafferty tradition!)

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m planning a three day trip to Disneyland next week. My friend Glenda is going with me. It will be fun to enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations and holiday spirit with her in the Happiest Place on Earth. Merry Christmas everyone!

My four siblings and I took Mom’s ashes back to New York last week to bury them in Obi Cemetery beside Dad. It was a bittersweet trip, rekindling the grief of her death, but also bringing much joy as we spent special time together remembering her life, as well as our early years in western New York. We were joined on the journey by two spouses (Dianna and Gisele), and Heather. One of the best parts of the trip was getting to spend time with Dale’s three kids and their families. Karen and Damon, Jen and Louie and their three kids, and Dave and Lisa with their three daughters came to the rental house for the weekend to share food, fun, conversation, and lots of love.

Dianna, Karen & Carmen

Lily, Lucy & Harper

Jen & Louie

Dale with Olivia

Damon & Dave

We rented a beautiful house on Cuba Lake, and it was the perfect spot for our large crew. Ten of us slept there, and at one time following the burial, we even accommodated 25 adults and children eating pizza, laughing, crying, chatting and playing. If the weather had been better (it rained or snowed every day), we might have enjoyed being right on the lake even more. Here are pictures of the burial and gathering afterwards. (Some of these are Heather’s.)

Five siblings placing Mom’s ashes into the grave. (pc: Heather)

Mom’s beloved cousin Barb (on the couch on the left) and her family, who drove up from Pennsylvania

Sharing eulogies

We spent three additional days driving around exploring and rediscovering the area where all five of us were born and lived until 1958, and also to take in some local sights. Thankfully, we had Richard with us, as he remembers EVERYTHING, and was an excellent tour guide. He took us all over Cuba and Rushford, pointing out all the different places Mom, Dad and we had lived, gone to school, played, worked, worshiped, and bought our cheese (a very important part of our childhood history).

We were all born here

The house Dad built

The house where Mom grew up

An old abandoned lock on Oil Creek near Cuba

Cuba Lake

On Tuesday, we went to Olean and visited the Cutco Knife Factory and the Zippo Lighter Museum. Both were interesting and we enjoyed the day. On Wednesday, we drove to Corning to tour the Corning Glass Works and Museum. Part of the museum is filled with beautiful glass artwork, and we participated in a guided tour of that. There are also demonstration areas where we could watch glass blowing, glass scultpure and a very interesting presentation on optical fiber. We wandered around an “exploratorium” that had hands-on attractions, all related to glass and it’s amazing impact on, not only our daily lives, but the scientific world as well.

Flag made of Zippo lighters

One of the awesome lighters in the flag (Go Cards!)

Zippo lighters have had a myriad of design choices

The very first Zippo lighter

Beautiful glass

Stained glass window

Carved glass (I could not get rid of the glare from the glass case)

Guided tour

Our last evening, we stopped back at the cemetery to lay flowers on Mom’s grave and take a few pictures. Then we went on to Sprague’s Maple Farm restaurant for a delicious dinner of meatloaf with maple glaze (yes, we ALL got the evening’s special!)

One last look

At the cemetery on Sunday, I looked around at the hills to see a beautiful splendor of fall colors, and knew Mom would have been so pleased that we laid her to rest during her favorite season in her favorite place — autumn in New York. For all that she gave us over the years, I’m glad we could give her that one last gift. Rest in peace, Mom. We love and miss you so much.

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!

 

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