Ketchikan

Ketchikan

Ketchikan, Alaska

6:15 AM wake up for our 7 AM arrival at the Ketchikan port. The city is absolutely charming with the different colored houses making their way up the mountains. Ketchikan is 3 miles long and only 3 blocks wide since the mountains make it difficult to build upon. Some of the “roads” with street signs are actually wooden stairs that lead up the the higher houses that cannot be accessed by traditional paved roads!

View of Ketchikan, Alaska from the Crown Princess cruise ship

We got off the ship right at 7 AM and had about an hour to make our way to the Liquid Sun Gauge where we were to meet our kayaking guides. It was about a 10-minute walk down the dock to the gauge and we perused some stores along the way. One of the stores had a “Short cut to downtown” sign that pointed through its doors as you could walk through the store and out the other side. Talk about cute but effective ways to get people in your store!

We arrived at the Liquid Sun Gauge which had Ketchikan factoids on it and showed how much rainfall the town has seen to date vs. its record of 202.55 inches in 1949. The above shows approximately 180 inches through May of 2016 alone! Next to the gauge is a huge bronze statue called “The Rock” portraying a native Ketchikan woman welcoming all of the traveler types that shaped the town (i.e. gold seekers, fisherman, tradesmen, loggers, and more). We waited by the statue until our guide arrived with a big yellow paddle. She escorted us, along with 6 others, further down the dock to Southeast Sea Kayak’s boat HQ. We got a brief safety instruction, dry bags for our valuables, and life vests. We then transferred to a smaller boat to drive about 20 minutes to Orca Cove. Our transport ship’s Captain was from Australia and was quirky and informative about much of Ketchikan. He told us of the natives and various islands where people live around the city. He also informed us that there was no whistling allowed on the ship. We still have no idea why he was so opposed to our tunes, but both Ryan and I got in trouble a few times for that one!

Sea kayaks in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alasak

The view on the ride to Orca Cove was amazing. There was a larger boat waiting for us in the cove which had all of our kayaks attached. We hopped from our boat to the larger and got put into our two-person sea kayaks. Ryan was too big for our kayak so they had to remove our rudder controlling pegs so he could fit! We also had to wear these water skirt things that we wore like overalls and that covered the sitting hole so if any water came up onto our kayak, it wouldn’t go inside. The water was very calm, but the skirts were nice since they kept our stuff dry from water running off our paddles and kept the heat in so we were warm!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alasak

The tide was at its low point for the day and we paddled first to the rocky inlet of a salmon run stream. The tide was so low that all of the water from the stream was gone and we could not paddle up, but we were able to look down and see tons of sea life in the rocks since the water was crystal clear. We saw what must have been thousands of red or purple starfish all over the sea floor and exposed rocks that were waiting for the tide to come back in. There were also loads of anemone and sea cucumbers! The amount of life teaming below our little kayaks was amazing.

Star fish on the rocks during low tied in Ketchikan, Alaska

We continued to paddle along the shore line. There were only 6 of us, our guide, and the sounds of nature. We came across a rushing waterfall sourced from an inland freshwater lake and multiple eagles who were perched close to their nests where they mate for life and raise their young every year. At one point, two bald eagles took off from their tree and flew right over us to the neighboring island. It was incredible!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska

We kayaked for just about 2 hours. It was so relaxing and by far my favorite experience of the trip so far. Unfortunately, we did not see any whales or otters, but the scenery alone was enough to satisfy. We headed back to the kayak docking boat and chatted with the guys who captained the boat for a while about their travel stories and how they arrived in Alaska. Most of the workers we met were seasonal and just traveled the world for each regions various tourist seasons. What a life huh?

The owner of theSoutheast Sea Kayak makes his own smoked salmon which we got to snack on after our kayaking ride. With a little cream cheese and crackers, it was so yummy! Our boat back arrived just as we finished our snack and we hopped on to go back to shore. I was so sad our last Alaskan excursion was over, but there were still a few cruise days left!

It took about 20 minutes to get back to shore. We grabbed our stuff and browsed quite a few of the gift shops on the way back to the boat. I bought some smoked salmon for my folks as they love to have salmon on the bagels in the morning and where better to buy smoked salmon than the salmon capital of the world!?

Hanging with my bear friends in Ketchikan, Alaska

Our ship departed from Ketchikan at 1:15 PM. We had “A Taste of India” for lunch and I was surprised at how good the ships take on Indian food was. It wasn’t the best ever, but it was not disappointing either! After that, we hopped into our bathing suits and into a hot tub on deck 15. We were having a nice time and I was stretching my IT bands in the hot tub since they were a bit sore. With one foot out of the water, I looked up and saw this 40ish year old guy in a bright red jacket with fanny pack take my picture, smile, and wave at me! Then he turned around and walked off. It was so weird and creepy – I guess he really liked my feet?!

We didn’t stay in the tub too much longer after foot guy before we had to run back to the room and get ready for formal night! I wore a blue cocktail dress and Ryan matched me with a navy bow tie. We did a little pre-gaming at the buy one get one for $1 drink event at the Wheelhouse bar – a great way to have some strong and cheap cocktails if you do not have a cruise drink package. We then continued our party in the Botticelli dining room and had quite the feast or lamb and veal pate, beef Wellington and smashed potatoes, and baked apple cake with vanilla ice-cream.
After dinner, Ryan and I grabbed the bottle of wine from our room and headed to Disney trivia in another bar. While Ryan’s sister and her husband knew almost all of the answers, Ryan and I were pretty poor Dinsey fans. The girl hosting the trivia used to work at Disney and her questions were very detailed! We opted for trying our luck in the couples “how well do you know each other” game after trivia, but we got turned away since Ryan and I are not yet married – boo! After being rejected, we decided to head back to the room to watch movies and sleep off our wine!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska

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Victoria (Sort Of)

While the clock said we got to sleep in to 9:30 AM, the time change actually reduced our sleep time for the morning. We woke up in a haze, that happy hour on board will get to you, and went to breakfast for coffee and pancakes. We even saw a bunch of dolphins out of our breakfast table windows! It was so cool!

We were not supposed to arrive into Victoria until 7PM so Ryan and I took a spin at the gym. You really can’t beat an ocean view while you are on the treadmill while watching a good movie with no commercials. I run about 50% longer when I am into a good show! Post run, I checked out the awesome sauna and steam room in the spa. The sauna was huge and so hot. It felt amazing post workout! I then joined Ryan in the spa’s outdoor hot tub which was much more secluded, peaceful, and out of the wind compared to those on the main decks. Both the sauna and hot tub could be used without buying spa packages which was a total plus!

We also decided to have our last lunch in the Da Vinci dining room instead of the Horizon buffet. I didn’t even realize we could do so and the lunch food in the dining room was so much better than that of the buffet. We had some Asian glazed chicken wings with crispy chives and then wheel pasta in a mushroom sauce to start, bbq pork ribs for the main course, and pecan chocolate cake to end. The food on this cruise was much better than I expected!

After lunch, we stopped by to watch the rapid fire art auction on board the ship. We saw some pieces go for over $12K! It was unbelievable. The auctioneer spoke at an amazingly speedy clip and it was quite an interesting process to watch. I couldn’t imagine buying art at those prices without researching the quality and value first. I do not recommend buying art on cruise ships for those very reasons, unless you absolutely love the piece, because you can probably get a better deal elsewhere. We did not buy anything but, I did get a free bottle of Champaign for making the most noise and jumping up and down at the conclusion of the auction. While my image may have been a little tainted to those who saw me jump up and down for a bottle of Champaign, it was so worth it!

The end of the auction also marked the start to another happy hour. I had two delicious margaritas and relaxed while watching the ocean pass by. Not a bad way to spend the hour before the next activity – the Princess Cruise’s first ever The Voice competition. The theater was packed and 8 contestants from the ship sang their hearts out while three on ship “celebrities” turned their chairs for them. After getting on the judge’s teams, the judges picked their favorite contestant and then the crowd voted for the winner. There were some surprisingly good and laugh-out-loud bad singers competing and it was quite entertaining!

The Voice on the Crown Princess Alaskan Cruise

Post-Voice, we were back into the dining hall for and early dinner before Victoria! It was open seating and I was so close to getting our normal table with our favorite waiters but this lady and her husband sat at our table after I got there and refused to move. I was not super happy but we got another table and all was well with the world. For our final dinner, I had a yummy Caesar salad with anchovies, fettuccine alfredo, N.Y. strip steak, and apple pie. Everything was great but I haven’t really loved any of the deserts onboard outside of the soft serve ice-cream and the oatmeal cookies.

Anyways, we finished up dinner right in time to debark for Victoria. We we in the port, so close to the shore I could have touched it, and then our boat started to back up. We then watched the boat get further and further from the sun shine filled shore, and someone came on the loud-speaker saying that, due to dangerous weather conditions, we could not port in Victoria. Looking around, it was sunny and the waves were subtle. We were so mad and confused! Apparently, the wind was too strong to turn the boat and we couldn’t get in the harbor. Not only could we not go, but there is no make-good from the ship for missing a part of the trip. Talk about an “ugh!” moment.

The view of Victoria, Canada from the Crown Princess cruise ship

Instead of spending our last night on the cruise bummed, we looked on the positive side, remembering all of the fun things we were able to do. We grabbed my bottle of Champaign, our last bottle of wine, and a big blanket, and met Ryan’s family up on deck to play Black Jack. We didn’t want to play with money, but instead, assigned values to the different types of sugar packets and used those as our winnings! The crew brought us some popcorn, I had one last ice-cream, and we played cards until it got dark and cold! It was a really nice way to end the day before going to the room to pack for our 6 AM wake up the next morning.

Trip Planning 101

Trip Planning 101

While planning an adventure is the beginning of your journey and a very exciting peek into your travel possibilities, it can be stressful. The very first step of figuring out where to go can be a whole process in and of itself and then, once you have picked a place, you have to go through the daunting process of choosing flights, hotels, excursions, and booking everything… all of which can take a while. To save you time and some tension, I have put together some tips to make your travel planning process easier!

Step 1: Figuring out where to go!

  • First, figure out how many days you have to play with. If you only have a 3-5 days, consider places within a 1-5 hour flight-time radius (non-stop) so you do not spend the majority of your vacation time in airports or on a plane. The further you go, the longer you should stay. For me personally, I try to have at least 1.5 – 2 weeks anywhere with flight times +15 hours so I can overcome any jet lag and really make the most of the high dollar flight amounts.
  • Once you know how far you can go, determine what locations are good during the time of year you can travel. I had fully planned an Iceland adventure before I realized the ice-hotel we wanted to stay at in September couldn’t be built until December when they had ice! If there are must-do’s in a location you want to go to, make sure they are available at the time you can go. Also, tropical locations have monsoon seasons you will want to watch out for.
  • Next, determine your budget. Compare your budget to the travel costs involved in the general location you want to go. Make sure the flight is less than half your total budget so you have money left for hotels, food, and experiences.
  • Once you have done all of these things, you should have a pretty good idea of where you should go!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Step 2: Booking

There are two ways to book your trip. The first is to take the easy way and find a travel service that will book all of those things for you. The second is to book yourself. I will go through each option below as both have their pros and cons.

Travel Services:

  • Travel services are great. I had AMAZING trips to both Italy and Peru and all I had to do was show up to the airport with my passport and luggage in had. Everything from flights, tours, transportation, some meals, and hotels were booked for us. The Italy trip was good because I was a solo traveler and the EF College Break tour group I went with provided me travel buddies and new friends. Peru took all of the stress off of my shoulders for our family trip. However, when looking for a booking service for our Thailand trip, the average cost was $3K per person without the $800 international flights. That seemed high, so I researched on my own and got better hotels, flights, and excursions for $2.1K per person – that’s over $3.4K in savings for the both of us! Overall, if you go through a booking agent, make sure you do your research so you don’t pay too much.
  • Once you find some tour agencies that service your destination, check reviews on those agencies. People love to talk about their trips, good and bad, so do your homework on your agency options to make sure they are trustworthy and will provide the best experience possible.
  • Another option is to look at sites like Groupon Getaways and Apple Vacations which have great deals on hotels and hotels + flights as well. The sites help you easily book the shell of your trip but the details are up to you so its more flexible. Just be careful to check blackout dates and participating airports that the deals fly from to ensure the details work for you.

Hanging with some alpacas in Peru

Booking yourself:

  • The best place I can lead you is to TripAdvisor.com. It has every excursion idea, hotel option, and restaurant suggestion you could need on your trip, all with thousands of peer reviews and ratings. Other people’s experiences will really help you shape the best trip possible.
  • Once you start Googling and looking at TripAdvisor, you probably open multiple tabs with all of the things you like and want to save as options. I suggest logging all of your options in an excel document categorized by flight, hotel, and excursions with pricing and the URL to each thing. That way, you have an organized list of options that you can pick from once you are done exploring the web. An example of my Thailand trip plan is below:

Trip Planning Guide

  • Check your credit card companies rewards platform for deals. Cards like Amex and Chase Sapphire will give you get double points, travel insurance, trip / baggage protection, and other travel benefits by booking through the credit card. Amex even has a Hotel Collection program that gives you guaranteed best rates, a $75 hotel credit, and an upgrade (if available) when you book 2+ nights through Amex. You don’t want to miss out on those perks – not to mention all of the points you will rack up!
  • Booking flights always scares me – mainly because I am impatient. Once I find one, that annoying “only 2 seats left” sign in the corner of the booking site always makes me paranoid that I am going to miss out on my ideal flight! The truth is, that is not the case. For the most part, I have waited on flights, the cost went down, and my seats were still there. Flights are typically cheapest to buy on Tuesdays and you can save your flights in programs like Hopper to compare relative flight prices from your airport to destinations or Airfare Watchdog which will monitor your preferred flights and alert you when the price drops.

Overall, take a deep breath and relax! Your journey to your perfect trip within your budget and time frame is calling you and will be here before you know it! Don’t forget to check out my packing tips, road trip prep list, Alaska cruise guide and more to get additional ideas for your get-away.

How to plan for a vacation

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

While the whales were up and breaching at 4:45 AM, I woke up at 7 AM to get ready for Bay day! The view through the fjord was breathtaking with snow-capped mountains with waterfalls of melted snow running down to their bases. Seals heads were bobbing up frequently and you could hear the bird’s songs echoing off of the mountain tops. What a place!

Waterfalls coming from the snow topped mountains in Glacier Bay, Alaska

We were hard pressed to find a table to eat breakfast and, with the announcement of whales on the starboard side, I abandoned my food and Ryan to run upstairs to the balcony to look out on the water. I saw a few whale tails and we passed some smaller glaciers before coming upon the Margerie Glacier. I can’t begin to describe the beauty and the size of the mammoth chunk of ice before us. We had the best view on the top of the front of the boat, but the crew closed our area since the slight rain was making it too slick to be safe. Thankfully, Ryan’s sister’s balcony room had a fabulous view as well, so we soaked it all in from there.

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

The boat was stopped at the glacier for about an hour, so Ryan and I hit the gym. I have never had such a fantastic view from a treadmill as a glacier! The window in front of my treadmill looked over the glacier and it was the most scenic run of my life!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

The boat then veered up another channel to Lamplugh Glacier. Again, absolutely gorgeous and huge!

We went to lunch in the back buffet for the “Taste of Alaska” buffet. I really hope that was a poor representation of Alaskan food as it was full of oil / grease and the fish was way over cooked. It was really hard to find a table but I thankfully secured one by the window in the Horizon buffet and I ended up getting a salad there to eat instead. We saw even more whales while we were eating lunch! Such a scenic ride.

Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

Post-lunch, Ryan went to the room for a nap and I went to the bar for a margarita and to type up my day’s adventures for this here blog! I ended up talking to a very nice landscape architect / planner from LA for a while and enjoyed the view until I was called up to the top deck for more whale watching.

Eventually, 5:30 rolled around and we met Ryan’s family in the Botticelli dining room for dinner! It was Italian night, even though the menu did not include lasagna, and I had some yummy veal and spaghetti and meatballs. I was surprised at how decent the veal was! I skipped desert in the dining room so I could run to the 7 PM magic show and grabbed some soft serve ice-cream on route instead. Upon arrival however, I realized that I was not the only one interested in the show and the lounge where the show was taking place was completely packed!

We headed to the Princess Theater instead for the tail end of the lumberjack talk. The guy who was talking had such an increasable story of wooing a Nordstrom makeup artist and convincing her to live with him and raise their kids in a cabin in no-where Alaska. They mainly lived off the land, catching fish, digging for clams, and hunting for one big animal a year whose meat would last them until the next year’s hunt! The speaker was a world renowned lumberjack and, at 54, got back into lumberjacking as his son won the world champion title for lumberjacking! He had such an amazing story and, after he finished his talk, 8 cruisers competed in an axe throwing competition and the winner got to partake in the axe throwing contest during the lumberjack competition in Ketchikan! Again, so cool!

Glaciers in Glacier Bay, Alaska

After the show, we decided to go back to the room and watch movies instead so we could get an early night for our very early arrival in Ketchikan the next day.