Cruise through Alaska

Want to see the most beautiful landscape you could have ever imagined? Go to Alaska. Cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line to travel Alaska in style and to make it relaxing. No reason to stress about how to get from one port to another, plus there’s always the endless food supply! This is my fourth cruise, second NCL cruise to Alaska, and it was one of the best memories of my life! I’ve been on a Royal Caribbean and a Carnival cruise before, but the people at NCL know how to make sure you have a great vacation!

We did a 7-night tour, which is the popular choice. It starts and ends in Seattle, Washington, so airfare is cheaper than going to Alaska, plus you can explore that city before or after the the cruise (blog post will come later).

 

Start: Seattle EMBARK

You won’t leave the port until 4:00pm, so we flew in the night before since we were coming from Florida (never know about the flights). Then, you have the morning and lunch to explore the city and get to the boat between 1:00-3:00pm.

 

 

Ketchikan

This stop was absolutely breathtaking, and that’s because of what we did on land… or should I say in the air. We didn’t get an excursion with the boat, instead we walked around Ketchikan and visited a a tour info center right by the dock. We chose a sea-boat tour, and I’ll NEVER forget it. The scenery, the landscapes, and the realness of Alaska can’t be erased from your memory after this tour. You glide over mountaintops and lakes wedged in between mountain ranges, you fly through the clouds, and you even get to land on one of the hidden lakes, which is only accessible via plane. There are a lot of sea-boat tours but the pilots do a great job of keeping you away (for safety, obviously, but also so it doesn’t ruin the views).

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Juneau

Juneau is where I saw my first glacier (that I could remember because being a baby doesn’t count). What an experience it was! It rained all day, but hey, that’s real Alaska climate for ya. It was the classic experience. We booked an excursion on the cruise ship the first day we were at sea. We chose the Whale Watching and Mendenhall Galcier Photography Tour. Now, I am an amateur photographer, but no one else in my family is. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t go on the tour! Honestly out of the 12-15 people on the tour, only about 4 had nice cameras. This tour included a whale watching boat ride, and we saw quite a few whales and some other wildlife (Bald Eagles and seals).

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Then we drove to a rain forest and were provided snacks and water! Then we trekked through a rain forest and guess what…it was raining! The scenery was STUNNING and the walk wasn’t that bad.

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At the end of the hike was Mendenhall Glacier. This glacier is pretty famous and is quite the beauty to see! The sad part about the glacier, which I only know from a paper I did in college, is how quickly the glacier is melting and not re-forming to the same size each winter due to climate change. There were chunks of ice in the water that stood between the end of the hike path and the glacier itself. Now, if you do another tour you might end up at the Visitor’s Center at the glacier, but don’t worry! My mom said it was better to go to the Visitor’s Center because you get closer to the glacier than where we were. However, you still see a wonderful view wherever you are standing Then you trek back to the bus and back to the dock. The day was over and another great day of exploration was complete.

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Skagway

There’s a famous railway tour in Skagway, but we already did that when we visited Alaska when I was a child. This is the port to see “The Yukon”. With that said, many people chose to do that tour, which is a great option. But, we did something different and took a land tour and saw sled dogs. We actually were driven through parts of Canada (we needed our passports) to get to the sled dogs, but the tour guide/driver stopped at many lookouts along the way and a place for the restroom and snacks.

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The dog sled portion was okay, with the sled being on wheels and the dirt hardly snow. The best part was seeing the sled dog pups, from only a couple of weeks old to just under a year.

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Cruise to Sawyer Glacier

 

AMAZING. STUNNING. BREATHTAKING. So this portion of the cruise, was the second half of the Skagway day, so it was a bit of a rush to get through Skagway. However, totally and completely worth it because the mountain ranges alone the side of the water pass and the waterfalls cascading down the mountain sides were perfection. When I think back to our trip, this scenery is the first that comes to mind with Ketchikan second! One thing to keep in mind is that some cruises go to Glacier Bay instead – check here to see the differences. Glacier Bay is better for first timers and is an all-day thing and you may even get to see chunks of ice break off the glacier! Sawyer Glacier seems to have more of a scenic travel to the actual glacier. Make sure to grab a great spot for viewing either one you choose to do!

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Victoria, British Columbia

Lastly, was Victoria, BC, Canada. Make sure to check your cruise ship about the passport thing. We did a city tour on a double-decker bus that was also an on-off tour, so you could pick whatever landmarks you want to spend more time at. There’s a famous hotel, The Empress, to check out. There are some whale watching tours that take you to some great viewing points for whales, but the times conflicted with our time to reembark and disembark times. However, it’s a great experience if you can do it or if you can’t go on whale watching excursions at any other port. If not, there are many things to still see, shops to check out, and food to eat.

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Ends: Seattle DISEMBARK

Such a sad day, the last one of the trip. You dock early and are let loose on Seattle. So enjoy it if you weren’t able to before you left for the cruise. My family and I rented a car to head to Portland, which is only a couple of hours away. That will be coming up in a new blog post, later!

 

Enjoy, and travel on!

Shayla

 

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Grand Canyon in Two Days

Only have two days to see the Grand Canyon? Don’t fear! It’s totally doable, and you can see loads of great stuff.

The only two tips: plan ahead and stay in Williams, AZ or Flagstaff, AZ

With that said, let’s go through my two days in the Grand Canyon! You see, my family was on a two week road trip and had a tight schedule to stick to. We plan ahead and make our hotel reservations in advance, so we had to keep moving. That doesn’t hurt us, though! We just maximize our time and pack our days with fun from sun up to sun down.

We stayed in Williams, AZ in this cute little ranch style inn. A heads up, the town isn’t the most up-to-date, but with the time you’ll spend traveling and exploring the GC, you won’t care! It’s a ranch-like area, with a slow pace and nice people.

Prep: Fill that tank up with gas! Pack sunscreen and water and snacks!

 

Day 1: Page, AZ & Horseshoe Bend

Rise and Shine was early.

Travel time from Williams, AZ to Horseshoe Bend is about 2hrs and 45min – use iPhone map or Google Maps (Warning if you check the route on Bing Maps it’s WAY wrong).

Drive up to Horseshoe Bend for the famous and amazing view of the Colorado River, in the shape of the a horseshoe nonetheless. There’s plenty of parking, but you will notice cars lined along the road as you approach it. Don’t panic and keep going until you get to the parking lot to check for spaces! If it’s packed, then back to the road for some parking with the crowd. You will have a small hike to get to the actual viewpoint. It takes about 15min (in shape and walking with a purpose) or 30min (if you take your time). Wear sunscreen because you’re literally trekking through the dessert. There are some areas to take breaks, snack and drink some water. If you’re like me, though, just plow through and walk as swiftly as possible because you’re so excited.

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(that little white dot is a boat! So tiny.)

After spending some time there (we were there around an hour or so), but then it was on to Page, AZ for the Antelope Canyon tour because our tour time was approaching. The drive from Horseshoe Bend to Page, AZ – where the tours pick you up for Antelope Canyons – is only 10-15min away! There are some places to grab lunch, fast food mostly, on the way. We had Sonic, but there are other options in town. Or pack your lunch in a cooler if you want to be really well prepared.

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Find the address on your phone of your tour location, which varies depending on what company you choose. There are a few options out there, but I chose one based on the times available and price for four people  in our party. Each company has good and bad reviews, but if you want to see the majesty of the Upper Antelope Canyons, it really doesn’t matter! They drive you to the canyons and take you through, offering photography guidance. It’s a quicker tour but totally worth it and something you HAVE to do. My family wasn’t sure about it before we went, but after the tour they praised me and couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it was. You’re welcome, fam jam.

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Our tour was in the afternoon, so we made our way back to Williams, which was about three hours or so. You can stop at Horseshoe Bend again if you want or if you aren’t afraid of driving home in the pitch black. Sunset photos along the way could be worth it!

If you chose a tour time that’s early, make sure to allow 3 hours or so of driving in the morning, and then go to Horseshoe Bend afterward as you make your way down to Flagstaff or Williams.

 

 

Day 2: Grand Canyon National Park

The Wake-Up call was a little later today, which was great after a long day of exploring and driving the day before. The drive time is pretty short:

Williams -> GC  = 1 hr 20 min

Flagstaff -> GC = 1 hr 45 min

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We drove to the southern entrance, “South Rim” which is very popular. There are shops and the informational center located here. It’s also where you can pick up the bus transport, which takes you around to the other rims if you have anyone, who can’t hike uphill, in your party or if you just want to save energy for later. There are places to grab some quick bites to eat but pack snacks, too. There isn’t much to plan per se for this day. Just know you have the day to explore! Drive to the Western or Eastern Rims or hike or take the free bus transportation. Just take in the sights and enjoy.

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What else did we do on our trip? Check out my next blogs to see!

Enjoy, and travel on!

Shayla

 

 

 

Day Trip: Mount Dora, FL

I frequently find myself dreaming of going on quick one-day adventures and how fun it would be to do that in a state like California, where the beach, mountains, desert, and metropolitan are at every corner. I never usually think of Florida as having fun day trips, but then again, I’m a Floridian, and we often lose sight of our hometown beauty.

My mom and I decided to take a girls trip on Thursday during the holiday break. She thought of Mount Dora, and with it only being a little over two hours away, I was interested in checking it out. We looked online at what there was to offer… food and shops. Definitely interested!

I looked up cool things to do in the area with no one thing standing out. Instead, I searched best food places in Florida because let’s face it: I love food more than anything (except you, Mom). After checking a Buzzfeed article, I found the hidden gem of Mount Dora!

May I introduce: the Goblin Market Restaurant 

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What a quaint little place this was! Not only is the inside decked with walls of books, but also it feels like the dining room of an inn. Four-seat tables are scattered throughout the two dining spaces and rows of old encyclopedias and other books tower alongside you. But, if it’s a gorgeous day out like the day we went, then choose to sit outside! They have two small patio areas, one in the front of the restaurant and one in the back. Trees line the one side of the patio area with the most unique outdoor decorations. There is definitely shade if you need it, especially on the back patio. The front outdoor seating area is a little more exposed to the sun. There is also an upstairs, which seems to be used for larger parties, but I’m not completely sure since we didn’t wander up there.

Food-wise, you can’t pick a more delicious place! Unique and flavor-full dishes fill the menu, and you really can’t go wrong. From soups, stews, salads, and sandwiches, the lunch is anything short of options.

I chose the Jameson Whiskey Onion Soup to start with because 1) I’m Irish and it’s a must, and 2) I love French Onion Soup. Topped with skinny fried onion rings, this was one of the best soups I have ever had! My mouth is watering right now just remembering it. Melted cheese poured over the edges and the best bread was soaking inside. The onions were perfect and the Jameson was not overbearing at all. It definitely helped make the soup a little thicker instead of the usual water-based broth.

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For my entree, I decided to try one of their specialty  fresh salads. The Strawberry Salmon Salad was a great choice, too! The strawberries, spinach, and salmon were topped with coconut shavings and a light vinaigrette. SO GOOD! I felt like it was honestly priced, too, with the salad coming to $14.

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This restaurant is definitely unique and really adorable! It’s casual for lunch, but they require reservations for dinner. No reservations are needed for lunch. It’s nestled off a main road and near a lot of shops. So of course, my mom and I hit the shops next!

Make sure to check out the coffee shop, One Flight Up, and The Spice & Tea Exchange.

Hope this helps someone!

Shayla

Grand Cayman, Grand Adventures

First stop, the grand Grand Cayman. When it came to this port, I honestly had no idea what type of excursion we would go on. I knew the clear water was a highlight for this destination, but I did not have my own snorkel, swim, scuba, etc. gear with me. I am also from Florida, so I knew I did not want to just lay on the beach. However, that only left me a little lost as to what we would do.

Now do not get me wrong, perhaps laying on the beach is your ideal adventure in Grand Cayman, which is still fantastic! One warning: I did hear the 7-mile beach excursion (whether done through the cruise or chosen with locals after disembarking) was not worth the money at all. Although, others on my cruise (Carnival Paradise), who did not sign up for an excursion, packed their own snorkeling gear and just took off swimming for something interesting to look at! That works, too, and if you are tight on cash then I would suggest that route. They did see a giant barracuda, though, so just be smart!

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But here’s what I loved about the USS Kittiwake – Sunken Ship & Reef Snorkel tour:

(all photos are mine)

1. The tour size was perfect – It consisted of about 10-12 snorkelers (also to note, there were three other cruise ships tendered at the same time as us, but we were kept with just Carnival ship goers). A perfect amount of people where you are not swimming on top of each other to see the ship or reefs… because that gets awkward real fast.

2. The tour guides were great – We had Josh and Connor as our tour guides, from a diving company called Cayman Diving, who took us out to our two snorkeling destinations. They were very informative and clearly outlined safety precautions, while also being fun and chill. They took our safety seriously, with one guide in the water with us at the stops and one staying on boat, while also not being strict and hanging over us. And they were funny with their informative and safety speeches.

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3. It was all inclusive – the price was $60 BUT included not only all of the snorkeling gear (mask, flippers, and life vest if desired) but also included about 45-minutes to snorkel at each spot. That is a long time, plenty of time for photos, exploring the ship or reef, and just swimming around.

4. The sunken ship was awesome – You cannot just swim yourself to this sunken ship because it is too far out from the shore (about a 15-minute boat ride there) and far from the beach near the cruise port. The visibility was amazing, and you could see about 60ft down, clearly able to make out every detail of the ship and the sea life that calls that ship home now. The history of the ship was so interesting, too, but you’ll just have to go on the excursion to find out 😉

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5. Timing – Like I mentioned above, we got plenty of time to explore with about 45-minutes at each snorkel site. We did not feel rushed at all and there was plenty of time to explore around the area. Some people got back on the boat early, but out of twelve people it was barely a handful who did that! The snorkeling was too amazing to give up a second. However, I did hear from other tours that our time at the site was much longer than others. Definitely worth $60.

6. Possible once in a lifetime opportunity – I am not a scuba diver, and honestly do not have an interest in becoming scuba certified. That being said, this could possibly have been my only opportunity to see a sunken ship! Since the visibility was so perfect, it provided a wonderful chance for me to merely snorkel yet feel like I was scuba diving. And the amount of fish was insane; my friend and I were literally swimming in a school of fish at one point….as well a being photobombed by them.

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Overall, this excursion gets a 9 out of 10 stars from me! Considering how this port has less to do than our next port (Cozumel), this is a very high score. But, that is basically because the guides were great and the snorkeling sites were A-MAZING. I will not forget this opportunity for as long as I live!

Any questions? Comment below; I’d love to hear your opinion, too.

 

Next stop: COZUMEL

 

Cruisin’ on a Carnival

So it’s been awhile since I have written for this blog but I’m back and better than ever. See, last time I wrote in 2014, I was on a study abroad trip for school. Since then, I have graduated undergrad and am about finished with my Master’s and subsequently trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have been keeping up a humorous blog found here at Thoughts in Your Twenties, another WordPress masterpiece of mine.

I have been many places since and plan on writing all about those adventures now (don’t worry, I have a great memory and lots of pictures).

To start off my one week of summer break (thanks, grad school)…and subsequently end that one week break, I went on a 5-night cruise with a very close friend of mine.

This is the third cruise I’ve gone on but my first Carnival cruise. Now what made me decide to take a trip on the the red, white, and blue dolphin fluke boat?

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Well, honestly it left from a port right by my home during the only week I had off from class and was the cheapest price. Did that worry me a little how cheap it was? Eh, maybe, because Carnival tends to have a cheaper image than the other cruise lines (i.e. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines). But a vacation is a vacation!

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And let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised by my Carnival experience! We were on the oldest of its ships, the Paradise, but it was perfect for our means. The ship was very fun, with many activities planned for any time, and had everything you could have needed. The Paradise has ten floors to explore, along with two pool decks for lounging. There’s a buffet for all three meals, a grill poolside with hamburgers/hot dogs/fries/and more, unlimited fro-yo, an all day pizza bar, drink bars on every floor, and a candy store by the casino.Food and drinks all day! The only thing to pay for is alcohol, which was about $9 on average, and sodas, which you can buy a package for. Small warning, if one person in the room buys the soda package, the other people registered in that room automatically get charged as well. It goes by room, not by individual. That is why we just stuck with the free water, tea, lemonade, coffee and purchasing our own alcoholic drinks poolside.

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Activity-wise, there is much to do. Not only is there the pool (with a slide) to relax at, but there is also a theater for shows, a lounge for stand-up comedy, a casino, a game room, a giant half-human-size chess set, mini golf, ping-pong, basketball, a spa, and more! What else would you possibly need? two days at sea flew by. With some tanning, sipping some margaritas, eating, and watching shows, our first “Fun Day at Sea” literally cruised right by —  I am so punny, I know.

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Our trip consisted of two port stops, one at Grand Cayman, and the other at Cozumel. Both were amazing and the on-board Shore Excursion desk was very helpful in choosing the best excursion! My next blog post will go into detail what excursions my friend and I went on, but let’s just say our two days on shore were beyond AMAZING.

Overall, out of 10 stars, I would give the 5-Night Caribbean Carnival Paradise Cruise an 8.0!

My only “complaints,” which I use that word very loosely, are that the buffet is not open all day like other cruise ships I’ve been on, the casino allowed smoking which carried over to the nearest bar, the social media WiFi plan only included Facebook and Instagram not other social media apps, and the ship could use some modernizing. However, the ship was always VERY clean and the staff was SO nice to everyone. They really seemed to care about their jobs and care for the guests. Dinner was fantastic with specialties every night to indulge in and the servers were so caring and entertaining.

 

If you have any other questions, let me know.  I’d be happy to share even more. And keep an eye out for the blog post on the excursions I was lucky enough to go on!

Did someone say they are hungry?

Part II of my food posts! There are many things you can say about a country, but what speaks the loudest? Food! Of course, it is one of the main needs of life, so it is a very important aspect of traveling. If you’re a picky person, always aim for a larger city to travel to because chances are it will have quite a variety to choose from.

Berlin is a great city for variety! I’ve tried everything from Thai, Italian, authentic German, street-vendor food, and Mexican cuisine. Even if you have had these foods where you live now, the ingredients are never the exact same when used in another country. The Thai food was different than I have had back home, the Mexican food was different, the Italian was different, and of course the German food was way better than anything at home. Here are just a few of the meals I had while in Berlin…

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Ming Quang Thank Bistro — wanton soup

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Vegetable Wrap from a flea market

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 Dinner at Braustuble German restaurant — pork with potatoes, red cabbage and pork — apple strudel

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Los Dolores Mexican food — veggie taco bowl

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Pizza from Al Dente Italian restaurant

And for the last little special food item…..

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WHITE TWIX…mind is officially blown.

Hope I made your mouth water this time, and if so, you are very welcome. All I know is that my stomach was very content after each meal. Until next time, readers ❤

Christoph Niemann

Today we were given the pleasure of having Christoph Niemann speak with our group. Such a great illustrator with his work appearing in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and American Illustration; he has authored many books including Abstract City. Niemann has also helped create an app available on iTunes called “Petting Zoo,” which is a fun interactive game to pass the time.

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Day11 (8) His book, Abstract City

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Niemann also illustrated WHILE he ran the New York Marathon. Not only did he participate in that marathon, but also he drew/painted at the same time to capture random moments of his running journey! He also creates beautiful silk screens for purchase. All while producing illustrations for newspapers and magazines.

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Such a great inspiration and interesting person to listen to.