Tag: Alaska

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Photography

While I am not the best photographer, I am passionate about photography and travel. These photos are unfiltered / unedited.  I love connecting with others who find the adventure of travel and / or photography to be their vocation or hobby. So let me know if you are a travel blogger and/or a photography blogger by commenting below. Don’t forget to leave the link to your blog for us to peruse!

And most of all…  Enjoy.

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Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

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The Northern Lights should be on everyone’s “bucket list”. Simply extraordinary.  This photo from Alyeska, Alaska

 

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Anchorage Alaska, Late December 2016

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The road to Napa is without much greenery during the Summer

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Chicago Ferris  Wheel on the Pier. Taken from within the glass enclosure

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Southwest Airlines – taking me on another adventure!

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CABO, Mexico, of course!

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CABO – Ship coming in to port.

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Sausalito in the Summer

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The Inland Empire of Southern California at Sunrise

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Wellville New York’s David A. Howe Library

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New York City skyline in August

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Morris Arboretum, Pennsylvania

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Flying again!

And a few photos from my own “backyard”

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Summer in San Pedro, CA

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Cabrillo Beach, Southern California

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November sky in Southern California

 

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

This is the third in a series. Welcome back if you have read the first two blogs and for those who haven’t, you may wish to first check out Part 1 and 2 here.

Now to continue the story…

Nothing seemed more apropos on how to end a year that was “not stellar” than to see the Northern Lights.  So, Alaska was the third of three stops on our journey to throw 2016 a “good-bye party”.  By now we are “supercharged” to switch gears from being in a tropical climate to one that could be freezing.

Then there was a blizzard.

Let me explain. Fairbanks, Alaska, our intended destination, is one of the top spots to view the Northern Lights. We had reservations at a quaint place called the All Seasons Inn and were packing for weather conditions that could be well below zero degrees. You know what they say about the “best made plans”… so, with 24 hours to go we received word that there was a blizzard expected  and we needed to cancel any hopes to get to Fairbanks.

Disappointed and determined we quickly rallied (with the help of our friends / traveling buddies) and booked flights and accommodations  to the more southern area of Anchorage.  We stayed in a lovely resort where THE North Face is located known as Alyeska.  Trust me – this place is a MUST SEE.

I can’t say enough GREAT about Alyeska and the people of Girdwood, where the resort is located.  Quaint and picturesque are two words that come to mind when describing this town of just a few hundred residents, perhaps slightly more.

Alyeska is a skiers delight. Ironically, I don’t ski. Nor did any one else who I travelled with – but, that didn’t seem to matter.  The hiking, spa and pool were amazing and just the sights of the mountains and the ocean merging together were enough for me.

Then there is the tram. Gosh I love a good tram ride! But, this one was indescribable. So, let me have the photos and video do the talking. (See below)

And, if you do venture to Alyeska make sure to avail yourself of the charming, albeit quirky, town of Girdwood.  I love it!

In closing, 2016 overall was a challenging year.  Heartbreaking for many (including within our family) but also full of hope.  With each baby born or act of kindness this world did continue to be an awesome place.  I just needed three weeks of travel to places unfamiliar, yet spectacular, to remind me about how resilient we all can be if we surround ourselves with hope, joy, love and humor.

Enjoy the photos and Happy 2017!

 

We did see the Northern Lights (photo taken by a basic iPhone 6S). This photo doesn’t do it justice as to the magnificence of this solar “flare”.

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The dismal day didn’t hinder the fun at Alyeska

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These icicles are at least 6 feet long – luckily the only thing below them is snow

 

 

Just as the tram was about to end, I filmed this quick video of the view.

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