Category: Travel

National Comedy Center – Destination Laughter!

Laughter IS the common language of our world. And, you will find much of it at the National Comedy Center!

From Vaudeville to the Family Guy and every genre of comedy in between – you will find them here in Jamestown, New York!

When you think of destination spots for vacations one usually doesn’t pick Jamestown – until now. The National Comedy Center and the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museums are about to invigorate this sleepy hamlet located in Western New York the way that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revived Cleveland, Ohio.

Read more about other Western New York location gems here.

In order to truly appreciate this “cultural center” you really need to experience it first person. But, I will try my best to give you a close-up account my words and the images snapped from my trusty iPhone 8 plus.


More than 50 immersive exhibits take visitors on an interactive journey through comedy history, from early vaudeville acts to the latest viral memes.

National Comedy Center Website: comedycenter.org

There is so much to see and “feel” at this center. I can’t stress enough how you need to experience it for yourself. AND EVERY ADULT can access this place. The accessibility factor is super!

To entice you to indeed visit I have devised a TOP 10 list of my favorite “things” about the National Comedy Center. I encourage you to add to my list in the comment section.


Tip 1. Come early and plan on staying several hours!

The center opens at ten. Arrive early to beat the crowds and be able to take in the exhibits without feeling rushed. If you have have all day opt for the pass that allows you entry to the Lucille Ball – Desi Arnaz museum AND the National Comedy Center. Both are amazing and you will be glad you did!

Note: Wear comfortable shoes and bring Kleenex. You will need it to wipe the tears from belly laughs throughout your stay.

TIP 2: Go all out – immerse yourself!

The first step of this experience is to get a wrist band that allows for digital engagement throughout the center. You can use the code to ‘vote” for favorite actors, comedy shows and more! Also, to receive content to your inbox that you generate – you will need to have this “techie wristband”.

Note: The first time I visited I was shy about sharing my personal info so I made a bogus email and name. Bad move. This didn’t allow me to get any of my saved content that I generated along my visit. The second time I was forthcoming and sure enough – when I got back to my hotel there were my interactive videos, etc. waiting for me in my inbox!

And… Don’t forget to wave to yourself when you walk through the entry way!

Above the entry way door you will spot your welcome message!

Tip 3 – Meander among the history of comedy, famous quotes and more

One of the very first exhibits you will encounter is a homage to comedy writers. Plus, a whole section dedicated to the humor of George Carlin. I spent quite a bit of time in this first section not realizing how expansive the remainder of the place was. But, I loved George Carlin and I was thrilled to see such a large exhibit about his genius and tumultuous history of censorship.


Now move on to the the first truly interactive room allows you to see behind the camera- literally. You also can pull up a chair and pick one of your favorite comics to perform. Dana Carvey got us off to a great start!


There are quotes and jokes along the way for all to enjoy. On windows of a walkway between sections of the building you will find great quotes that give you just enough chuckle. They also lead you in to an exhibit of a timeline of comedy in the United States. And, when you are done here – stop as you shouldn’t bypass the writer’s library. This area has some hidden gems – so go enjoy them!

Tip 4: Sit and stay.

There are several places that offer you a place to sit and watch a show, movie, news reel or interactive exhibit. Sit and stay for a while in these areas. Lingering is encouraged as there is sooooo much to see and reminisce. One of the areas I spent the most time was a huge wall with an interactive board of comedy influence – called The Continuum. It was fascinating to literally connect the dots between one comedian to another.

(Shameless side note: I will be working with Harry Shearer this October… guess what I am going to show him?! See below.)


Tip 5. Get a drink and a snack.

This place may seem a bit overwhelming with hysteria. So you may need to refuel. Lucky for you there is a snack bar easily accessible to the exhibits. Prices are fairly standard and won’t break the budget.


Tip 6 – Play with toys.

There is a section that shows you how props were used in comedic scenes, such as Saturday Night Live. . I missed this section during my first visit but went purposely to see it during my second. It was so much fun! Again, playing with toy props is encouraged! Also, a good place for older kids to explore.

Props!

Tip 7 – Become part of the act!

There are several opportunities to become part of the show. You can do you own improv stand-up comedy routines. You also can sit in a booth an insert yourself in to several well known scenes from past comedies such as I Love Lucy. Hubby and I took a few photos as Ethel and Fred Mertz.


Tip 8: Go Blue… Go if you dare…

The Blue Room is “rude, crude and at times socially unacceptable”. It also highlights some of the most “on the edge ” comediennes during the past century. I loved this room. It wasn’t salacious but more educational, if comedy that makes you blush can be that. So, if you want to see Richard Pryor, James Carlin, Amy Schumer, Don Rickles, Lenny Bruce and many more at their comedic best – take the elevator to the BLUE ROOM floor. No kids allowed. Read the caution below before entering. And, be prepared. The F-word is used liberally like salt is sprinkled on fries.


Tip 9: Keep going – there is so much more to do!

Just when you thought you were done with the exhibits here you will happen upon one of the most fun gift shops … anywhere. This place alone is a homage to comedy! Stay. Laugh. Purchase.

When you are done keep going and make your way to the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum a short walk away. If you find yourself hungry – stop for lunch at one of the several little cafes you will find along the streets.

Jamestown also is a stone’s throw to the famous Chautauqua Lake and institute.

Like some night life? Head east to the Seneca Nation Casino and Resort. They have a number of bands that play there, including Peter Frampton who packed the house!

Much to do here in Western New York!

Related: Places to eat and stay in Jamestown


Last Tip – #10 – Avail yourself of the events at the National Comedy Center and make plans to come back!

There is so much that happens at the National Comedy Center- especially in the summer months when the tourist season is at full peak. I am so bummed I won’t be there this week as August 7-11th is the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival with top comedians headlining.

Get your tickets here

And, just look at who contributed to this center and advises the programming, etc.!


Something to consider…

Our world is a bit topsy-turvy these days. In fact, there is so much dissension and violence that laughter gets lost in our collective worry and grief. We NEED a place like the National Comedy Center to help remind us about good times and good people. After all, laughter IS the best medicine.

Lastly, a special shout-out to the wonderful staff at the National Comedy Center. Gary Hahn and Adrienne (sorry forgot your last name) – both were super attentive and answered all my questions to help me prepare for this article. I hope our paths cross again – very soon! And, special thanks to all the staff – they were nice to every person who walked through their doors!

Western New York

Can you find the common thread between … Hot air balloons, a town named after Alexander Hamilton’s sweetheart – Angelica and attractions dedicated to famous comedians from all over North America?

Answer: All are reasons to travel to the Southern tier of New York.

New York is a BIG state. Many people confuse the Southern Tier with “Upstate” or the Adirondack area. But, if you are familiar with New York – you will know that the Southern Tier is largely rural with areas that are truly gems to visit. And yes, there is much more to discover in this state than New York City and Niagra Falls.


Wellsville New York – Where Balloons Adorn the Sky!

July is a perfect month to visit Wellsville, New York – a hamlet tucked among the Allegheny mountains and adjacent to the Genesee River. Known for good food and people – this town is where I went to junior and senior High School and holds a special place in my heart. . It also is home to the Wellsville Balloon Rally! This weekend event (usually Friday – Sunday) is all about community spirit and beautiful hot air balloons. In conjunction to the rally, the entire town comes out to hear an Elvis impersonator sing on the lawn of the beautiful David A. Howe Library and attend the street fair where bargains are every where including at Northern Lights Candles where my family competed a large portion of early holiday shopping!

It also is about weather.

Too hot, too windy or any rain will ground the balloons! However, if conditions permit, the balloonists will have an “afterglow” at dusk – meaning they tether in place – even if they can’t launch. Below are photos from this year’s festival. (A special thanks to Bye Bye Hot Air Balloon for allowing us to check out their balloon and gondola “up close”.)

Tip: Book hotel rooms early – as this is a very popular event and rooms go FAST and are in limited supply!

Read More: About Wellsville, New York and the Balloon Rally


Oh Angelica!

Angelica, New York. I have a very peculiar recollection of this town. It revolves around the annual Allegheny County Fair. I recall the first and only time we went. There were kids laughing, lots of animals, the smell of fried dough and I think hot dogs and tons of carnival rides. The “peculiar” memory? Well – this is where I learned I hate carnival rides as I “lost my cookies” on something called, THE ROCKET!. (Sorry if TMI!)

I only mention the above memory to say that I have let my decades old fear of Angelica go as I returned to this town earlier this summer. The old memories have been replaced by new ones. I now see beyond the carnival scene and learned to enjoy the lovely streets sprinkled with Victorian homes, antique shops, and small eateries.

Favorite Angelica “hot spot” – The Canteena which was exceptionally fun as it reminded me of college town fare and drink. Plus, this place was a stone’s throw to antique shops that had lots of toy and game memorabilia.

Fun fact about Angelica – this is the town that was purportedly named for Angelica Church – the beloved sister-in – law/ love interest of Alexander Hamilton. With less than 1000 residents, Angelica has seen a bit of a resurgence in popularity due to some savvy Main Street planning and the connection to the Broadway show- Hamilton!


Go West! Jamestown, New York strives to be the Home of Comedy!

About three weeks ago I visited Jamestown, New York for probably only the second time in my life. The first time was en route to Chautauqua Lake . In fact, many people have made Jamestown a “drive through” destination versus a place to stop. My money is that Jamestown will now be a very “trendy” place to visit with thanks to some new awesome attractions – the I LOVE LUCY Museum (two actually) and the National Comedy Theater. I am only going to whet your appetite about these places in this blog. Soon, I will be dedicating my blog to a more in-depth look at these attractions. By the way- the National Comedy Center is INTERACTIVE and open captions all film content for the Deaf.

However, IF you can’t wait – enjoy the photos below and click the links to go their respective websites.

I LOVE LUCY MUSEUM

NATIONAL COMEDY CENTER

UPCOMING EVENTS AT THE NATIONAL COMEDY CENTER


In other news…

I OBVIOUSLY have a keen interest with travel. And, I find it sad and disheartening that some families cannot travel or experience area attractions because they have family members that have unique challenges (eg. Autism, Deafness, mobility issues’ etc.). I really, really, really would like to address these issues in upcoming blogs and add links to destinations, hotels, airlines and more that are dedicated to inclusion and allow for all families to enjoy!

IF you have any information – please use this contact form and I’ll get back to you asap! Thank you.

A Day at the Reagan Library

Father’s Day is always tricky for me. I never know what presents to buy for hubby and this year was no exception. So, I took a “page” from our daughter’s philosophy that experiences far exceeds “things” when it comes to present giving. I took that sage advice and gave hubby a pass to the National Presidential Libraries (NARA.org) with our first stop- the Reagan Library.

This summer the Reagan library is hosting the Da Vinci collection. In essence, it was a handful of his mechanical drawings of tools. From his attempts to draw prototypes for flight to weapons that could create massive amounts of injury or death. Yes, the painter of the Mona Lisa must have spent many hours thinking dark thoughts to create such drawings that were more like “Dexter” than the angels he depicted in his earliest paintings.

Da Vinci's Artwork

Da Vinci’s life and artwork have been long chronicled.  However, there remain many unanswered questions about his greatest works and the thought processes that were involved with his artistry and his mechanical drawings.

For example,  The Mona Lisa is one piece from Da Vinci’s portfolio that is veiled in continual mystery. Was ‘Mona Lisa” a woman or a man that captured the love interest of the reportedly homosexual DaVinci?

 Secondly, the painting of the Last Supper has kept the interest and populated many a question by art and theology aficionados. Why did Da Vinci paint the 12 disciples and Christ as he did? 

Also, at the Reagan library you will find Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Last Supper.  The two juxtapose exhibits presented an interesting mix of pop culture meeting ancient masterpieces! 

Below are the replicas on display at the Reagan library.

Don't leave without visiting other wonderful exhibits at the Reagan Library.

Allot two hours to really walk and enjoy the DaVinci exhibit. Then treat yourselves to lunch or a snack at the cafe on the grounds.  

I would recommend not leaving before you visit the other notable parts of this vast library, including Air Force 1, Marine 1 and the gardens.  

In the outside gardens you will find the burial place for the President and First Lady.  Surrounded by a vista that is simply lovely.

Roses bushes adorn the exterior and must have been a favorite of Nancy Reagan. 

You will also find a slab of the Berlin Wall.  The docent indicated that this particular section was chosen as President Reagan looked the butterfly drawing that was on the Western Side. The Eastern Side is blank.  Just concrete.

Inside, there are scores of exhibits that chronicle the two terms of the Reagan presidency and his life before and after.  If visiting expect to add at least two more hours to cover these exhibits and visit the actual Air Force One and Marine One aircraft.

  

A Driving Vacation to Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Sedona

If you ever want to feel small while delving in to nature –   drive to the many outrageously big canyons that grace our national parks. Including the Red Rock Canyon National Park  in Nevada. There is where Hubby and I started a week long vacation to visit the Red Rocks of Nevada followed by many places, including the Grand Canyon and Sedona, in Arizona.  

And, because I am often best telling a story through a lens versus the printed word, I offer you many a photo.

DAY 1

The excitement of the trip began days before we even packed when I was diagnosed with bronchitis and tonsillitis.  Should we go? Should we stay home? Well, I hate to be told I CAN’T do something, so we packed and went anyway.  By the time we hit the Nevada border I was glad I had stopped at my doctors for much needed prescriptions, including an inhaler. That little medication literally saved me later on in the journey. 

When you drive in to Nevada from California it is hard to not notice the billboards for Vegas hot spots  and note the lack of announcements for much of anything else. Yet after we found some quick bites to eat we  wandered in to the Red Rock Canyon National Park.  WOW! A mere 30 minute drive from downtown Las Vegas, it is a delightful place to spend an afternoon.

Tip #1 - When traveling with a cold be sure to bring all your "must have" sniffle supplies! Purchasing them on the road can be a hassle and also expensive!

 After I had seen about as many red rocks as I could handle, we ventured in to Las Vegas and parked for the night at the Westgate Resort and Casino.   This well appointed room was found on TripAdvisor who then connected me with one of their recommended third party sources. Easy as pie! Plus, I made some ‘dough” on both the cost of the room and  thanks to a quick trip to  the Quick Hits slot machine at this location. 

Bonus: A Youtube video to explain Quick Hits 

 

DAY 2

I never heard of Williams, Arizona before. But, it seemed like a place to stop given two factors, 1) The signs for Route 66 2) There was a Dairy Queen located in the town.  Now neither of those may be compelling reasons for you to want to stop. But, for me – it was worth it as Dairy Queen’s are not common in our part of California.  And, I am a sucker for any store with Route 66 tchatchkes. I loved meeting the local people,  many who gave us tips about visiting the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  

Tip #2: Sometimes the best photo is found off the highway.

Day 3

The majestic Grand Canyon!  Despite my feeling like a ton of red rocks were resting on my chest – I managed to still enjoy the mighty Grand Canyon.  (But, warning… it is up high! Like 7 thousand feet above  sea level. )  All the photos uploaded on this blog were snapped on my iPhone 8 plus.  They are unfiltered and uploaded as is. 

Tip #3: And, sometimes the best photo is found in the quiet of a canyon. But, remember to pack water to stay hydrated as you hike, snap photos and enjoy the vistas all around you.

Bright Angels - Grand Canyon
Mohave Point at sunset
Tip #4 - Spend at least two days or more in Sedona, Arizona. There is way too much to see and enjoy in a single day

DAYS 4 & 5

Sedona is like no place I have ever seen.  We entered this hamlet from a road that was recommended to us by a new “friend” from Williams.  He said to take this longer trek  to truly enjoy the scenery and be wooed by the mountains.  By the time we hit our hotel – The Bell Rock Inn – I was in love with this area. The rocks formations are like no other ones I had seen on this trip.  They seemed to be humongous towers from a movie set standing tall among the village. They were a backdrop to the town, the residences, the parks and schools. These mountains aptly called by appearance – The Cathedral, The Bell Rock,  Snoopy, etc. – were to this part of the southwest like the Pacific Ocean is to Southern California – the grande dame! 

When you visit Sedona be sure to go to the visitor center. There are several and each one is chocked full of great information.  Sedona itself is known for its’ artist colony, healers and diversity. Among the maps and tourist info I even found guides   for LGBTQ travelers and residents.

Sidenote: I always am curious as to the housing market in areas we visit. Compared to Southern California, most are cheaper than we are used to seeing. But, Sedona does present itself with a wide array of price points for housing, much of it pricey and some more affordable.  I can see why many retire to this state. Although I may need a lot more convincing knowing the heat index is well over 90 degrees much of the year.  

The food is also a mixture of Tex-Mex and “eclectic coffee house”.  Don’t expect to see a Starbucks on every corner – they are few and far between. But, do wander in to the several local coffee establishments that will gladly serve you a very fine espresso or latte. 

Without further adieu, I present you the sights of enchanting Sedona, Arizona…

Thanks for taking this journey with me. Oh, and in case you are wondering.. I am feeling much better! 🙂 

Pearl Harbor – a #MustSee

“YESTERDAY, December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Library of Congress: Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945. Address to Congress requesting a declaration of war, Dec. 8, 1941

It is hard to believe that the quiet port area of Oahu, known in Hawaiian as “Pu’uloa”or Pearl Harbor, was once the site of one of the most deadliest attacks ever to have occurred on this planet. It was December 7, 1941 – truly a day that will forever be emblazoned in the minds and hearts of many who still grace our world.  One way to be sure that the lessons of this era are not forgotten is to put Pearl Harbor on your #MustSee travel list!

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USS ARIZONA Memorial  (right) Photo: L. Sattler

There are many FAQs about visiting Pearl Harbor on their website. Click here for these.  In addition, I would like to add a few suggestions that may help make your visit easier.

Tip1: GO EARLY!  I mean arrive when the parking lot opens and plan on visiting more than one day, if possible.  I have been three times and at different times of the year.  It can be hot and crowded by noon no matter what month you visit, so I can’t stress enough the importance of arriving early (they open at 7am) and staying until lunch then leaving and coming back another day.  Also, wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking involved if you visit the entire park.

Tip 2:  The actual memorial for the USS Arizona is under renovation due to a crack – thus it is not safe for visitors to actually walk around the memorial.  Instead, there is a very nice movie and boat ride (70 minutes total)  that includes audio commentary of the events of December 7, 1941 – when the Japanese navy  attacked the harbor leaving thousands dead, wounded and much of the US Pacific fleet destroyed.

Tip 3:  The website also advises people of the following if you wish to take the boat and video tour of the USS ARIZONA:

There are three ways to secure the movie/boat tickets to the Memorial:

  1. Two months out, 325 tickets are placed online at recreation.gov. The official National Park Service website for its Parks. Please note there are three choices to choose from in getting these tickets.
  2. Each day at 7:00am Hawaii Standard Time an additional 525 tickets are placed on recreation.gov for the next day’s reservations.
  3. If you were not able to secure your movie/boat tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial online, the National Park Service gives out over 1,300 free walk up tickets each day on a first come, first serviced basis. Be sure to arrive early for these walk up tickets, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center opens at 7:00am.

Tip 4: Bring a tiny pocketbook / wallet / or  clear bag.  For security reasons, pocketbooks, backpacks, duffels, etc. are NOT allowed and will cost you $5 each if you have to check them in to their storage facility.  The rule of thumb is that if the bag is larger than your hand, it will not be permitted in the park.

The park rangers also advise you NOT to leave valuables in your car as the parking is not secure (although it is FREE to park!)  I learned the second day of my trip to bring a ziplock clear bag and stick my valuables in that followed by a $1.99 tote bag that I bought at the gift shop. Money well spent.

Tip 5:  Watch the movies to see authentic reel footage from World War II. And,  before you venture on your trip  watch their welcome video that you  can find here. 

Tip 6: Ask questions of the many experts and docents that are on the premises. They are a wealth of knowledge and some are related to Pearl Harbor as family members or ex-military.

Tip 7: Buy a Passport  to visit the other ships and submarine in port that are part of the memorial. The USS BOWFIN (submarine) was a great tour and given two thumbs up by my family members. Grab the free audio tape to listen- it comes in several languages.  For those who need captioning or interpreting – please see the information in the chart I found below.

HOW TO MAKE RESERVATIONS – FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT
USS Bowfin Submarine Museum www.Bowfin.org
USS Battleship Missouri Memorial www.USSmissouri.org
Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor www.PacificAviationMuseum.org
USS Arizona Memorial Tours www.PacificHistoricParks.org
Tip 8:  Food and beverage are available for purchase. They are not cheap and I would advise to buy water and then go elsewhere to eat if you want a nice sit-down meal.  Remember, two -half days are better than a long full-day , in my humble opinion.
Tip 9:   Support the memorial park by making a purchase in one of their gift shops. There are a lot of wonderful items available and they make very unique gifts for special occasions.
Tip 10: Kids are welcome, but in all honesty much of the importance of this day may be lost on young children.  I would recommend this park for ages 8 and up unless you just want to show “cool boats and a submarine” to your tots!
Tip 11: Take photos and share the stories about this hallowed site with others.
If you have a tip about visiting Pearl Harbor – please leave in the comment section below. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

All Photos by Louise Sattler

You never know who you will meet on a cruise.

I recently wrote about our family cruise to Alaska.   It was an amazing experience to share the breathtaking sites and sounds of Alaska with the loves of my life- my husband, daughter and son.

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We are what people may call a “social” family.   We make friends of strangers easily.  And when it comes to long cruises – we make lots of friends.  So, it will come to no surprise that we met some very interesting people with extraordinary stories aboard our ship. And, they were our amazing Princess Cruise ship staff.

About our cruise staff

The one thing I must admit is that the Princess Cruise line is staffed with some of the friendliest people I have ever met. From across the globe their hardworking employees make the guests feel special and interfacing with them on a daily basis is a pleasure.

So, please allow me to give a few shout-outs to some of the outstanding staff that made our journey through Alaska phenomena.

Cheers to the Recreation Crew!

From fun games of bingo to trivia and even playing with potential Iditerod sled dogs, Clair, Gambal and Monica were amazing.  Claire hailed from England and Monica from South America.  Despite being onboard for extended periods of time and far from home their exuberance and  humor kept us laughing all cruise long. Plus who doesn’t like a balloon drop during the last night event!

 

And, the waitstaff deserves kudos, too!

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Our steward, Luis was as kind as you could be. And, the waitstaff was attentive and experienced with fine-dining practices. But, it was the two friends and waiters from the Island Princess Explorer’s Lounge that caught our attention thanks to their unending smiles.  One who I will call “H’ is a body double for John Legend. (Judge for yourself in the photo.). His friend is up and coming musical talent, Sabikey.  You can listen to his reggae soul beats at  Soundcloud here. 

 

He also has a video with a sample of his latest track.  I am pretty sure Sabikey has the kind of  talent that will get noticed – and soon. There is bound to be an agent or music promoter who is a passenger on one of the cruise trips!

 

Lastly, there has to be made mention of the Princess Cruise ship’s captain and his crew that kept us on course and safe. At no time did we feel that the security measures were lax. In fact, we found that they were quite vigilant with personal safety and also health of the passengers.  I loved that they requested hand washing before each meal and also provided tons of antibacterial soap and reminders that if you were at all sick to report it to the medical staff.

Thanks, Princess Cruises and The Travel Store for our fun on the Alaskan seas!

Read previous blogs about Alaska:

Traveling the Pacific Northwest: Alaska!

Hello Alaska! (Part 3 of “How we made a loser year end like a winner with trips to Hawaii and Alaska”)

 

p.s. I am not a brand ambassador of Princess Cruises or anyone mentioned in this blog. I simply am a happy traveler who likes to write!

 

A Visit to One of the Last Remaining Blockbuster Stores

Update: Sadly after I ran this article the last remaining Blockbusters in Alaska announced they were closing.

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Original Article

This month my family ventured to the Pacific Northwest. We watched whales frolic and feed, walked glaciers and even explored villages and remote areas both by land and sea.  But, it was a little store in Anchorage that was deemed the “highlight” of our 12 – day excursion.  Yes, apparently one can relive their childhood by simply walking through the doors of one of the last remaining Blockbuster video stores in the heart of Anchorage, Alaska.

This Blockbuster store is under the management of Kevin Daymude.  “Blockbuster” as a corporation is long gone, due to the change of the video landscape.  Replaced by streaming services, such as Netflix, the demand for video and gaming rentals has dwindled to nearly “zip”.  However, in this part of the world, Blockbuster still holds relevance.  New and “antique” videos and games adorn the shelves and there is the requisite aisle of theater sized boxed candies. You can purchase older videos for under a dollar and don’t forget the popcorn and cotton candy!  The only “addition” to the Blockbuster of 20 years ago was a prominent display of movie memorabilia in the very front of the store, including some “goods” obtained from actor, Russell Crowe.

HUH?

There is a very interesting story about how Blockbuster of Anchorage and Kevin Daymude received Russell Crowe’s items from the actor’s “ART OF DIVORCE SALE”.  It would appear that the items were received via an intermediary who acted as a conduit for this Blockbuster store to receive these “treasures of cinematic history”.  Among the memorabilia were two director chairs from the movie American Gangster that were used and embroidered with the actors’ names – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Plus, there was from Russell Crowe’s collection a  “jockstrap” that was placed in the display (and reportedly cost 7K!)

Who was the buyer of all these “artifacts” and what was the backstory? Well,  the person who purchased many of Crowe’s items would be none other than HBO talk show host, John Oliver. The reason why… well that is a whole other story. Let’s start with Oliver’s announcement via  Twitter from April 2018.

 

 And the reason why John Oliver bought these items?  I’ll let Time Magazine explain the “details” in THIS article.  


 

Why is this store still open while the vast majority have closed?  I had an opportunity to chat with Kevin  about the remaining Blockbuster stores in Alaska (and one in Oregon) and get more insight.   (There are two videos for easier uploading.)

 

 

 

 

 


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Lastly, if you do visit the DeBarr Rd. location of Blockbuster know that there are shirts and pullovers available for purchase.  My entire family bought one – how could we not!?! Plus, we walked out with a handful of those repurposed DVDs for 99 cents each!

 

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Traveling the Pacific Northwest: Alaska!

This is part two of a series on traveling the Pacific Northwest.  Part one may be found here.

 

“Wherever there were glaciers, the world was in a constant state of                        creation.”
John Muir, Wilderness Essays

 

First Stop: Icy Strait Point/ Hoonah

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Hoonah is located on Chichagof Island, less than 40 miles from Juneau. While once known for the canning of salmon,  only since 2004 has the town of Hoonah been known as a cruise destination.  The construction of an elaborate and “official” pier and tourist center known as Icy Strait Point has turned this fishing / canning port in to a great location for travelers to explore.

We were welcomed at the entry to “Icy Strait” by a group of teens singing and playing their ancestral instruments. (Little did I know that these teens comprised the majority of the high school students who remained in Hoonah for their education.)

HICCUP #1: WE NEEDED A PLAN B

One thing a person learns when visiting remote areas, even in the United States, is to be flexible with your plans.  Case in point – the  tour jeep company oversold their excursions so instead of a guided tour throughout the Hoonah area, we took our backpacks and hiked sans tour guide.   Getting to the town “center” was easy as the hike was only 1.5 miles over flat paved terrain. (Note: Bikes, strollers and wheelchairs could make this trek without problems as there are sidewalks and paths.)

Our initial stop on this impromptu hike resulted in us stumbling upon a small restaurant/ bar. The  Office Bar   is a lot like the infamous (albeit fictitious) pub, CHEERS – as you enter a stranger and leave with everyone “knowing your name”.    Jess, one of the bartenders,  was a fountain of information and on the “ready” to pour your beer and tell stories about the history and people of Hoonah.  Ask about snow accumulation and she will show you the “family album” of local residents helping each other during snowstorms and more. When you have had your fill of beer and peanuts, head on down a few more blocks to try local fare. Fish is the menu favorite and the Fisherman’s Daughter  is a fun little place with outside seating that attracts both local families and tourists.  When you leave this restaurant turn left and walk about two more blocks. There you will find the bald eagle’s nest across from the school.  There also is a totem pole demonstration.

Best of all…  whales grace the Icy Strait region in late May and June.  While we were at Hoonah we watched more than eight whales swim and feed right in front of us.  There is no mistaking that whales are a force to ‘reckon with.”  I held my breath, as a whale watching boat seemed drifted within a 50 meters of a pod of whales. But, all were safe! Below is a video of the whales eating from the strait gobs of fish! Apparently, one “lead” whale will catch in his/her mouth enough food to supply to the others in the pod.  The tell tale sign that they are involved in this activity is the “bubbling” that happens on the surface.   When you watch the video below look carefully for the bubbling formation in the water followed by four whales coming to the surface in almost perfect unison.

 

More about Hoonah and culture… 

The culture of Hoonah fascinated me.  The town is around 700 people and the depths of their pride is immeasurable.   Children are educated about their heritage by locals and their formal education occurs in the local public school until the 9th grade. Then they can opt to remain in Hoonah or go to high school school in Juneau. (Interesting fact: The graduating class of 2018 from Hoonah was nine students.)

Hoonah is a remote area and to access it means you either arrive by plane, helicopter or boat.  There are no roads that connect this village to another town across Alaska, including Juneau.  To view a map of the area click here. 

Hoonah residents are proud of their heritage and what the legacy they have built.  I thoroughly enjoyed our time and the gracious hospitality of all we met.  If you have an opportunity to visit – do it!

Related information: Princess Cruises

Juneau – The Land of Glaciers

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TAKU GLACIER

Do you remember the show “Northern Exposure”?  I swear it is about Juneau, Alaska.   Juneau is a small town with lots to offer and if you are like me, you will fall in love with it!  Cut off from other parts of Alaska, you can only access Alaska’s capitol by sea or air but there are a lot more amenities in Juneau than “nearby” Hoonah.

Juneau, perhaps, could best be described as quaint and mighty at the same time.  There are quaint small shops and restaurants, but then you have the mighty glaciers nearby.  Mendenhall Glacier is the closest and most famous of those available for viewing by tourists.  Our family ventured on a helicopter and went to Taku, a glacier that took about a  15 minute helicopter ride from downtown Juneau.  Kudos to Coastal Helicopters  for this educational experience, but first and foremost keeping us safe!    Our helicopter tour found us soaring high above the glacier field and parkland.  Nothing can quite describe what it feels like to view glaciers from above and then walk on one. We drank clear and clean “glacier water” and took a ton of photos. Our helicopter operator was knowledgeable, humorous and most of all – experienced!

 

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Want to really experience a glacier? Visit by helicopter!

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The thickness of the trees makes for a striking view from the air. 

 

Special Note:  I wish I had studied more about glaciers and icebergs before I traveled to one. I think it would have made the experience much more enriching.   Also, for those less adventurous, consider the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

 

Stepping back in time with a trip to Skagway!

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Skagway reminds me of a movie set.  Nothing seems real because it all looks so perfect and as if time stopped 60 years ago.  I kept thinking that I was in the backlot of a movie studio – that is how clean and perfect it is! Our intent was to walk the town and then hop on the Skagway White Pass and Yukon Railroad.  Mother Nature had a different idea as a rockslide prevented us from being able to make that excursion, so our family resorted to “Plan B”.    The guys went on tour of the area via bus, while the “gals” hiked the village by foot.

A few notable highlights… 1) Go to the SKAGUAY NEWS DEPOT! It is charming and IMG_1495also reminds me how much I miss establishments that sell printed material! I had a lovely conversation with one of the salesclerks and she told me that Skagway has over two-thousand residents during the Summer.  However, when the snow flies, so do the cruise ships, and the town shrinks to a mere 900 or so.  When the winter becomes a deluge of snowstorms all comes to a halt. Like Juneau, Skagway is dependent on ships to bring goods or planes.  Newspapers are flown in daily except during the winter months.

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2) Sweet Treats  is one of those stores that you walk in because it just smells so yummy!  But, once you clear the doorway you realize that you are on sensory overload!  Decorations from Mexico cascade down from the ceiling alongside Japanese lanterns and other “party decorations”.  I was curious if there was a “theme” to this place and was told, “It is meant to be colorful.”  My friends at Sweat Treats – you succeeded!

3) Be sure to visit the White Pass train depot.  Even though we couldn’t travel by train to visit the Yukon due to the rock slide, the depot itself was worth a visit! (Note: Railroad crews were working very hard to remove the rock and check the train track for any issues. They were hoping to open the White Pass railroad for business very soon.  Get updates here via their email.

 

GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK

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There are not enough words in the universe to describe the majestic beauty of the Glacier Bay National Park.  I awoke early to grab a “front row” seat on the cruise ship and photograph every glacier, iceberg, mountain goat, etc. that I could see!  What I learned from the park ranger who gave the passengers a very nice description and running commentary about Glacier Bay, was that we need to do MUCH BETTER in taking care of our environment.  The glaciers are receding at alarming rates and perhaps global warming is to blame.  If you do only ONE THING on a trip to Alaska – please see up close glaciers and icebergs.  And, if you are on a cruise, please don’t make references to the Titanic or sing the theme song from the movie.

Related; Here is a link to help learn more about the wonders of Glacier Bay.

And, this link will bring you to some terrific footage taken by photographers and videographers.

Below find my video of the ice pulling away from the glacier. There is a sound, similar to the rumble of thunder, right before the tumbling of ice and rock occurs.  I am certain that I didn’t try

 

BLUE ICE?

There is a phenomenon with glaciers that is called “caving”. That is when the ice starts to separate and fall in to the water below.  It is fascinating to watch.  The glaciers, by the way, often have a blue hue. Read here for an explanation about why this happens.

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FINAL CRUISE DESTINATION- WHITTIER

Our last stop was the small coastal village of Whittier, Alaska.  We arrive at midnight and there was still enough light to see across the region.  I was amazed that this part of Alaska truly gets nearly 20 hours (or more) of light during late Spring/ Summer.

Here is a photo I snapped about 12:15 a.m. from our cruise ship of the small village of Whittier. This photo is unfiltered / unretouched. Shot with an iPhone 8 Plus.

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LAST THOUGHTS and SOME RECOMMENDATIONS….

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate seeing Alaska by cruise a solid 8.  There were a few hiccups that impacted our cruise, but, overall the experience was very, very good!

Here are a few quick recommendations:

  1. Do read up about glaciers, fjords and the history of the region you are visiting in Alaska.  I wish I had and I couldn’t really “google” from the ship as we didn’t have an internet package.
  2. Prepare for rain and mud.  We were REALLY LUCKY to have had great weather for the majority of the cruise, but it could easily have been foul weather.  BOOTS are a necessity 12 months a year!
  3. Bring sunblock, bug spray/ ointment and moisturizer as you can get a lot of sun, bugs or dry air in this regions.
  4. Have a very reliable camera/ cell-phone and protect it from wet weather and breakage with sturdy cases.
  5. Be sure to take photos of important documents and your cruiseline card, in case of theft or loss.
  6. Consider tacking on a land adventure – such as visiting Denali National Park, Seward or Anchorage.
  7. Don’t sit in your cabin or stay on the ship. Go and explore, take excursions and make memories!
  8. I used a travel agent and highly recommend doing so.  Linda Kahn – Ferrell of the Travel Store in Malaga Cove was excellent! 

 

Coming soon from this blog:

  • We found the last of the Blockbuster Stores – In Anchorage, Alaska!
  • It Takes a Village to Make a Cruise Successful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling the Pacific Northwest – Part 1: Seattle and Vancouver

Family vacations can be exciting, exhilarating and sometimes exhausting.  But, with lots of planning, a spirit for adventure and a sense of humor – the family vacation can be a success.  I am writing this blog as our family completed the first part of our “vacay” and is about to journey on to “part 2” – a cruise through the inside passage of Alaska. I hope that my chronicles helps other families learn how to plan a successful trip and give insight to those who may need special accommodations when they travel. By all means add your “pearls of wisdom” in the comment section, too!

First stops: Seattle and Vancouver. 

I was expecting rain. Doesn’t everyone talk about the Pacific Northwest, especially Seattle, as being nothing but rain, rain, and more rain? Isn’t the reason Starbucks got its’ start in Seattle was to keep people warm when they were cold and wet from the damp weather?  Well, let me tell you – after nearly a week in Seattle and then Vancouver our family didn’t see ANY rain.  We did experience glorious sunshine, lots of delicious coffee shops, restaurants galore and a ton of fun!

Seattle is a bustling city that one can experience largely on foot or with the assistance of a very efficient rail system.  To get to our hotel (Hyatt Olive 8) from the airport meant an easy train ride and then walking about four blocks. The staff was extremely accommodating, especially since we originally were sandwiched between two rooms with screaming babies. They moved us quickly to a quiet floor and all was good!

Seattle is a fun city and there is no shortage of excellent restaurants (My favorite was a small French bistro on 1st Street – Le Pichet.)  We ordered a number of dishes and found all of them to be excellent! In addition to the culinary scene, be sure to check out these places if you find yourself in Seattle:

1. Go to the Space Needle but spend much more of your time at  Chihuly Gardens and Glass. The glass works by Dale Chihuly took my breath away.  His story can be found on his website.   As an accomplished artist, the state of Washington shows their native son’s prolific works of art proudly!   Moreover, his glass sculptures are exhibited in more than 200 museums and gardens worldwide.  The glassworks are so colorful that they seemed to dance in place when the light hits them “just right.”   Below are just some of the many photos I captured from this amazing place!

Special note for travelers: You can purchase a combo- ticket for both the Space Needle and the gardens. It is worth it,  but GO EARLY to BOTH.  The wait in line for the Space Needle for our 2pm ticket was an hour. While the view was spectacular, it was crowded and people were not “at their best”.  Plus, they are still “under construction” and that meant less room for all the people sandwiched in the viewing area.  My advice – make your trip to the “needle” during a weekday.

The Chilhuly Gardens, however, was an exhibit that offered lots of room to meander. It also was wheelchair friendly. With that said it probably would be a challenge for young children and those that need to “touch”.  This is definitely not a place that welcomes people, especially little ones,  who are accustomed to a museum that allows for a tactile experience.

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2. Next to see in Seattle… Pikes Place Market.  This is just a huge hoot! From flying fish to the gum wall. Yes, I said a GUM WALL. Apparently people have put thousands of pieces of gum on to a wall under the market.  While it is interesting, it also is gross. (Have a germ phobia? Stay away!) There is a Ferris wheel and plenty to keep kids occupied. The walking is fairly easy except for a few rough hills from the seaport to the Space Needle.  Don’t fret! There is Lyft, Uber and taxis to drive you. Plus, a monorail.  Most of all – there is a ton of food vendors with reasonably priced meals.

 

3. Travel from Seattle to Vancouver is great via AMTRAK!  The seats were very generously sized with power outlets. And there was WiFi on the train for those who needed to be “plugged in”.   Food and beverages are served on board, although I would bring your own coffee.  There is ample room for luggage (big bags are taken from you and given back at the end of the trip.) Have your camera ready as the ride passes through areas that make for great photos and video! Below is a snippet of video of the ride through Bellingham Bay. BRING YOUR PASSPORT!

 

3. Now let’s chat Vancouver!  Ah… this city has intrigued me for years as it is the place where so many TV shows and movies are filmed. The CW channel has made Vancouver their flagship “set”.  Again, we we visited when the weather was clear and temperate.  The people are super friendly and this town gets an A+ for walkability.  If you are tired of going up and down some of the hills – hail a cab – there are plenty of them! The only downfall – like Seattle, this city is not cheap.  Even with the exchange rate favoring the US dollar, Vancouver is an expensive place to vacation.  We spent quite a bit of time visiting quaint shops and eateries trying to stay away from the expensive restaurants. Our stay at The Burrard Hotel  was very good and the prices were reasonable. The staff was superb!  Our stay would have been “rated” excellent had there been a pool or hot tub/ spa on the premises.

 The waterfront area (where the cruise ships dock) is filled with fun little shops, but true finds are on the side streets and at the Granville Island Public Market. The cute  Aqua Bus  takes you from Vancouver “proper” to Granville Island in two minutes (no exaggeration!) You also are able to ride a bike across a bridge, but it would appear that cars are not welcome unless there was a distinct purpose – such as dropping off shop owners and their wares.  The Aqua Bus also can take you to other points around Vancouver.  While there is a ramp to get from the Aqua Bus to the dock, it does not appear to be accessible for those in a wheelchair.  You can obtain much more information regarding accessibility here.

       Special Note to travelers:  The Burrard has an elevator but not sure it is wheelchair sized. Laundry is at the hotel and there is parking.

 

The Skyline of Vancouver from Granville Island Public Market

 

Coming up next in this series… Discovering Alaska… the cruising experience. 

 

 

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