This past summer we crossed an Alaskan cruise off the Shappirio travel list. Without hesitation, we booked our sailing on Celebrity, our favorite cruise line, and for the first time ever, booked a Concierge Class Veranda cabin. With Concierge Class we were guaranteed a few extra perks, like priority check-in, a “Welcome Aboard” lunch, welcome fresh fruit and sparkling wine, and daily delectables. Our veranda provided us plenty of opportunities to wake up to gorgeous scenery and take afternoon naps wrapped up in North Face jackets and flannel blankets.
Our Alaska Hubbard Glacier Cruise sailed out of Vancouver through the Inside Passage with stops at Icy Strait Point, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Hubbard Glacier is not really a stop but rather a slow sail up to and past this mighty, mass of ice. The glacier calves every few minutes as enormous pieces of ice crack and fall into the water. It is truly an amazing yet alarming sight. While I felt truly thankful to see such a wonder of nature, I also understood that the cruise ship I was traveling on was certainly contributing to the rapidly melting ice. My selfish desire to see Alaska was torn with my understanding that it is us humans who are threatening our environment most.
The highlight of our cruise was Juneau. It was here that we took a bicycle tour through a rainforest to a glacier. We even saw bears! It was also here that we participated in a local beer tasting, and where I got my first taste of real Alaskan salmon. Alaskan salmon is RED and delicious.
While Juneau was indeed my favorite stop along the way, it was also where I lost my license on the street, and spent most of my few precious hours at port scouring the dock looking for my ID. I learned a few lessons from this experience: 1. Do not put your license in the North Face pocket that is made for your hands. 2. You can file a police report online in Juneau, Alaska. 3. There are still good people in this world. One of my biggest fears when I lost my license was telling my mom. Strange considering I’m 36 years old, but my mom worries, and I worry, and I was worried we were going to have a huge worryfest about someone stealing my identity and walking the streets of Juneau. But, lucky for me, a few days after leaving Juneau, a man approached me on the back deck of the ship, calling me by name. It turns out he found my license on the street, put it in his pocket, and then forgot about it. A few days later he found it, turned it in to the cruise ship, who then returned it to me. The man and his family searched for days to find me on the ship, and finally found me stuffing my face on the back of the ship while desperately searching for whales. I believe we were both in shock that, out of the 3 or 4 ships that were in port that day, I was on the same ship as the guy who found my license.
While an Alaskan cruise is beautiful, it is a lot of time at sea. It is too cold to sit by the pool or swim, and while there are plenty of activities on board, you still find yourself passing your time by exploring the buffet again and again. Eating becomes a recreational activity.
We are particularly thankful for the wonderful people we met at our dinner table on this cruise. Rhonda and Barry, our new Australian friends, were real troopers putting up with our random spurts of sea sickness that caused my mother-in-law and I to go running from the dinner table on two separate nights.
Ketchikan was your typical cruise port loaded with t-shirt shops. We did take a walk to see the salmon run, but since the salmon were dying, the smell was almost unbearable. The best part about Ketchikan is the Arctic Bar, a dive bar located just steps away from where your cruise ship parks. Here you can chat with the local bartender and sip on some local brews before heading back to your ship.
If you have never been to Alaska, we highly recommend it. A cruise is a good way to get a sample of some of what this magnificent state has to offer. Paul and I now want to go explore Alaska by land, with hopes of one day going to Denali National Park. It’s a new item on the Shappirio list, and we can’t wait to say we’ve crossed it off.
Check out a few more photos of our trip! Whale watching was pretty fabulous as well!
We took the Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver to meet up with the ship that was to whisk us off to Alaska. I would highly recommend taking the Amtrak Cascades if you ever get the chance. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made, as the train takes you on a relaxing ride along the Pacific Coast.
Vancouver turned out to be one of my favorite cities to visit on this trip. I can’t wait for us to have the opportunity to go back someday. We spent one night in Vancouver before getting on our ship, with a plan to spend a few nights in the city on the back-end of our Alaskan adventure. We stayed at the Westin Bayshore, which is right on the water. With your stay, you get free bikes, which Paul and I took advantage of, even though we did get into a little trouble in Stanley Park. Some heavy duty bikers who were clearly prepping for the Tour de France, yelled at us for going the wrong way on the trail. I almost yelled back, “Hey, we only have these rentals for a half hour!” but I contained myself.
Here are a few photos from our first day and morning in Vancouver…
House boat, anyone?
Not sure who these two are, but they looked so content…
Our ship pulling in to pick us up…
Our trip to Alaska began with a night in Seattle. Southwest Airlines flew us from Philadelphia to Seattle with a stop in Las Vegas to change planes. This broke the trip up nicely and gave us a chance to stretch our legs on what would have otherwise been a very long flight. Our first evening in the city, we stayed at the Sheraton Seattle, which was in a location that allowed for an easy walk to the Pike Place Fish Market. You can’t go to Seattle and not stand with the crowd to watch the fish get thrown around.
Since we were tired and grumpy from hours of traveling on airport food, we weren’t picky about dinner. I had read about Elliot’s Oyster House, a seafood restaurant on the waterfront, and I was warned from all of the reviews, “Beware! It’s a tourist trap!” I love when tourists warn you to stay away from the places they comfortably roam. As if the locals set the place up especially for them to ruin, then complain about. While I’d normally stay away from anything remotely close to a Ferris Wheel and an aquarium, it was one local’s review that completely convinced me to give Elliots a try.
A young lady had written that when she had moved to Seattle, her family would always visit requesting to go out for the seafood they couldn’t get at home. Each and every time she would take them to some new trendy place on her local radar, and they’d always go home disappointed. Until she took them to Elliot’s, which she herself was mortified to be seen in, considering its “tourist trap” reputation. Turns out, they loved the food, and proclaimed it was exactly what they’d always hoped to eat in Seattle. Even she was pleasantly surprised. Thanks to her honest review, we gave Elliot’s a try. This is where I fell madly in love with open-face pesto salmon sliders. I never knew such a thing existed until I pushed my way through the doors of this so-called place of sightseer confinement, found a seat at the bar, and discovered this Happy Hour item of my dreams. If that makes me a tourist, so be it. Although I’d rather be called a traveler.
This past August we went on a two week adventure through Seattle, Vancouver, and Alaska. Then we came home to a hectic beginning of a new school year. This one more hectic than most, with a new and sudden career move for me, the writer of the family. Life got busy, and Alaska became a distant memory, put aside for when things settled down, and when my mind was better able to focus and reflect on my personal life. Yet, things don’t ever really settle down, do they? There comes a time when you just have to tell yourself it is okay to spend a little time on you, and do those things that fulfill you. So while my mind is racing with all the “have-tos” and the “should-dos”, this very brief blog post is my attempt to concentrate on those things I’ve neglected to do. This trip was a photographer’s dream for Paul. Alaska is a state so uniquely different from the 49 others, with so many amazing opportunities to capture great photos.
Stay tuned for a more detailed post on Seattle, Vancouver, and Alaska. Until then, enjoy the view…
So we randomly happened upon this fence, and lucky for us, somebody had already brought it down. We picked it up as our new logo. It only took us 9 years to find each other. Match made in logo heaven…
Before we traveled across the United States and back with a Jeep Wrangler and a tent, more than a few people expressed their opinions about our plans. Many of them were shocked that we even had it in us to do such a thing. After all, during the previous summer we had rented an apartment in Paris, living a month of the sweet life, indulging daily on cheese, wine, and baguettes. Some thought we were crazy and told us so, while others prayed for our safety and our marriage. These people were under some strange assumption that our less than luxurious L.L. Bean accommodations were immediately going to drive us apart just as soon as we left the driveway. There were one or two people who admired us; they wished that they had the time to take on such an adventurous trip.
In our experience, it seems that the word “camping” gets people talking. Everybody has an opinion, and, we’ve found, it’s rarely a positive one. But, we get it. On that trip across the country we had our moments of failure: our camp stove shot flames, Paul’s ankles were attacked by fire ants, sleep was limited, and some fellow campers were rowdy. Yet, the amazing moments, the ones that included sipping coffee on the rim of the Grand Canyon with just the elk for company, or eating dinner by moonlight at a perfectly set picnic table in the Great Smoky Mountains, could never have happened if it wasn’t for our willingness to sleep outside. Camping gave us memories that will last a lifetime.
Then, this summer, we added a new term to our travel plans: glamping. Glamping gets people talking too, but in an entirely different way. Glamping seems to be an intriguing concept, one that many seem to think they can get behind. “What is it?” they ask inquisitively. Glamorous camping with beds and hard wood floors, real pillows and sheets, a campfire you don’t have to build, and a bar. Did someone say there’s a bar?
If you haven’t already read about it in a travel magazine or on a blog, let me introduce you to the fabulous Firelight Camps in Ithaca, New York. We, or should I say, I, became slightly obsessed with the idea of glamping last summer when I discovered the Firelight Camps website. I had been scrolling and clicking around their site for quite some time, admiring the gorgeous photos of their glampground, and waiting for the perfect time for us to book a stay. That time came when the Canadian wedding invitations came in the mail, and I realized this summer was our opportunity to add our first glamping trip to our itinerary.
We were pleasantly surprised with how adorable the town of Ithaca is, with its little shops and plethora of restaurants. Firelight Camps is just a short drive from downtown, situated just below La Tourelle Resort and Spa. Wind your way down to the host tent, where you can check in, meet their amazingly friendly staff, and chat with fellow campers. Here you can find complimentary breakfast in the morning (with vegan options), as well as a local wine tasting at 5pm. You can even purchase a homemade smores kit to roast over the community campfire. Just a short walk from the host tent is the bathhouse, with real showers, freshly laundered towels, and clean toilets (every glamper’s dream come true).
Since we had my 83 year old mother-in-law along for the ride, it took her awhile to warm up to the idea of glamping. She didn’t quite understand why we were paying the cost of a stay in a hotel to sleep in a tent in the woods. She couldn’t quite grasp the sense in hiking to the bathroom at 2am, and she swore there was something clawing and sniffing at the canvas in the middle of the night. This was all forgotten when she tasted her first s’more. We are still wondering how she got to 83 without ever being introduced to the delicious combination of graham cracker, chocolate, and gooey roasted marshmallow.
I’m going to be honest. Glamping is still very much camping, but without the frustration of setting up, breaking down, building a fire, or sleeping on the ground. While the mesh entryway to your tent zips to the floor, there is still a good chance you’ll find a spider or two in your bed, or a curious squirrel at your door. You’ll hear things rustling in the woods, and you’ll need a lantern for your trek to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
But, would we do it again? In a heartbeat. It’s just different and fun, and so relaxing to sit on the balcony of your tent and rock in a chair. I bet it’s breathtaking in the fall, when the heat of the summer has died, and the glorious colors and smells of autumn fill the air. It’s the perfect escape for a writer and a photographer, or anybody who wants to get away from it all for just a little while. You can also explore nearby Upper Buttermilk Falls State Park. (We were unable to do this due to thunderstorms).
If you do reserve a glamping trip at Firelight, make sure to hit up Maxie’s Supper Club for dinner. We loved this oyster bar so much that we ate dinner there two nights in a row. To think we’d find such a delicious New Orlean’s themed oyster bar in the middle of Ithaca, New York! Along with their fresh raw oysters and their authentic New Orlean’s seafood dishes, their menu also included vegetarian options, such as a fried green tomato p o’boy, and vegetarian jambalaya. Thank you to the staff of Firelight Camps for providing us with such a tasty recommendation!
So the next time somebody shouts their opinion from the rooftops about the idea of camping, tell them to give glamping a try. And remind them of this quote, which you can find on the back of the Firelight foldable map…
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”-J. Muir
My very first memories of my childhood begin at the age of 5. There are two early events that remain solidly etched into my mind. 1. The overwhelming excitement of waking up at 4am on the first day of kindergarten. 2. My first trip to Niagara Falls.
Now all I remember about that first day of kindergarten is that I could finally wear my first day of school dress. Don’t ask me about the rest of the day; I don’t recall. All I know is Mom built a strong foundation for the rest of my life. I’ve still got a burning passion for “back to school” clothes.
However, the trip to Niagara Falls is quite a different memory. If you think I’m going to tell you how gigantic and great those waterfalls were to my 5 year old brain, then forget it. The truth is, the endless rushing roar of the water, those ridiculous “let’s take your picture in a barrel” displays, my babysitter, and Eddie Murphy, left me completely mortified. I guess that explains why I waited until I was 35 to safely return.
Let’s go back in time: After checking into the hotel, I realized that I left something behind in the car. Obviously, in my 5 year old mind, it was an item so priceless that it just had to be retrieved immediately. My babysitter kindly offered to escort me to the parking lot while my parents settled into the room.
A bit of a side note here: babysitter traveled with us everywhere. She was/is family to us. I’m an only child and she was like a sister to me. A sister with a pet skunk. It’s not everyday you get a babysitter who is allowed to bring Stinky the Skunk over to play. And no, we weren’t wealthy people who traveled with a personal nanny or anything. We just liked her, and she liked us (and free travel I assume).
Anyway, we went out to the car and on the way in, she opened the huge 1986 glass door to the hotel, and inadvertently took my big toenail off at the same time. Cue the screaming and crying and running down the hallway back to the room, blood trailing behind. I was bound and determined to tell my parents that she had to go, along with my toenail left behind at the front door. But, after reassuring me that I wasn’t going to die, they put me on life support and tucked me into bed. I must have fallen into a deep sleep, enough of one that my babysitter decided to share her collection of Eddie Murphy comedy tapes with my parents. Do you know how incredibly awful it is to hear people laughing their heads off in another room while you are dying of missing toenail? It’s just the worst.
The next day they took me to see the waterfalls and told me that there are these (crazy) people out there who try to travel over them in barrels. So after trips down in the caves behind the falls, and an up close and personal view on The Maid of the Mist, I was fairly certain I didn’t want any more rides at this insane amusement park. And then they thought it would be cute to put me in a barrel at the aforementioned ridiculous “put yourself in a barrel and take a picture” displays. The only problem is, when you’ve barely gotten kindergarten under your belt, all you can think is, “I’m going over…without my big toenail.” The photos say it all. My big, red cheeks are streaked with tears while I wait for my life to end in a barrel built over falls of cardboard.
Well, it turns out, I lived. The toenail grew back, and I married an amazing man whose mom is Canadian. Since she’s from Ontario, she’s claimed for years that she has no time for Niagara Falls. I’ve gotten the, ‘Oh please, who wants to go there?’ line quite a few times, as if instead of a plastic pool in her backyard, she grew up with a rather annoying hundred eighty some feet of rushing water knocking at her back door. At first I didn’t get it, but now, after visiting some thirty years later, I totally understand. I will explain; just keep reading.
In March, the invitations to a Canadian wedding arrived in our mailboxes, and Paul and I, like we always do, decided to make a trip out of a rather long drive to Simcoe, Ontario. Never heard of Simcoe? That’s okay. It’s somewhere near Stratford, which used to be famous for my mother-in-law, but now is all, ‘We knew the Biebs when…’ Or I could be wrong; maybe they don’t like to admit to that. Either way, this is the place the Mom’s-in-law calls home, and there was going to be a family wedding, and we were invited.
You can imagine my mother-in-law’s disgust when we broke it to her that we were stopping at “The Falls.” The very ones from her backyard years ago. She was less than impressed, and I think, at one point, strongly considered hitching a ride with other relatives. But, as she always knows, we promise a good time no matter where we wind up, and we assured her, it would be worth the trip. These were the waters of her youth and, at 83, she just had to see them again.
So with our Starwood Platinum status in tow, we, along with what seemed like a million other Americans (is there an election going on or something?), crossed the border and made our way to the towering Sheraton on the Falls.
To put it short and sweet, they upgraded us to a room with a spectacular view of the falls, and thank goodness, because, I needed a serene escape from the chaos below.
I’m just going to say it…
Can we stop Pigeon Forging all of the beautiful places in this world? Can I see a remarkable natural wonder of the world without Ripley and friends? Believe it or not, I came here for the waterfalls! Just like when I go to the Great Smoky Mountains, I come for the camping and the bears, and not the go-karts of Gatlinburg and Dollywood. And I love Dolly, but please.
Truth is, I know, it’s all about the kids and giving them something to do, because, as I know from personal experience, those falls are terrifying. But you know what else is terrifying? Dad’s wallet. We don’t have children, but I can imagine Clifton Hill is not Dad’s favorite place on the family Niagara vacation. “Believe it or not, we don’t have any more money for the Rainforest Cafe! Just look at the water. It’s free.”
And this, my friends, is why I can understand why the Mom’s-in-law couldn’t possibly understand why we wanted to stop in Niagara Falls. But there is something remarkably special about us dragging her there. With the sliding glass door open to the glorious rushing roar of water, we all got to see the falls without the tourist frenzy. We got a front row seat to the fireworks bursting over the rainbow lit water. And we got to truly appreciate this incredible wonder of our Earth. It’s truly all in how you look at something.
Early the next morning, Paul and I boarded The Hornblower (the Canadian version of The Maid of the Mist), and once again, I journeyed to the bottom of those falls, thirty years later. Donned in a red plastic rain slicker and a baseball cap, with both big toenails and a husband, I came to understand how incredibly lucky I am. I’ve sat beneath the twinkling Eiffel Tower; I’ve eaten tapas in Madrid; I’ve seen the sun set over Sorrento; I’ve been to Napa; and I know how small I am in comparison to the great Niagara Falls…even at 35.
The most common question we got when people asked us where we were headed for Spring Break was: Why Austin, Texas? Our question was: Why not?
Austin is an easy direct flight (about 3 and a half hours) on Southwest Airlines from Newark Airport. But hold it cowboy! This isn’t quite like the Texas most people imagine. That’s not to say you can’t buy yourself some high quality kicks at Allens Boots, because you totally can, but I’d recommend saving your hard earned money for the music, the drinks, and the food. This is the “live music capital of the world”, the home of the Whole Foods, and a city that prides itself on being a bit “weird.”
Here are the places we visited and the hotels we stayed at while visiting the state capital of Texas:
Our first night in Austin we stayed at The Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol. We hold a bit of love in our hearts for this hotel since it is the hotel we stayed at during our cross country trip several summers ago. We were so tired on that trip that the Sheraton was about all we saw of Austin. On our most recent trip, this hotel was undergoing a bit of a facelift while we were there, but we loved the new addition of the The Yard Bar at Waller Creek. It was a great way to unwind after our rather unusual and hectic airport experience in Newark (you don’t want to know). I also love that this hotel is just around the corner from Arlo’s, a vegan food truck serving up some delicious vegan burgers outside of Cheer Up Charlies, one of the many fun and unique drinking establishments in the city of Austin.
Being Starwood Preferred Platinum Guests, we always make sure to visit as many Starwood properties as we can while visiting a city. Since Austin has three Starwood options within downtown, we were able to add three stays to our Starwood portfolio. After the Sheraton, we headed straight for this lovely place:
What do you get when you combine raindrop shower heads and Heavenly Beds with an amazing rooftop pool? The Westin hotel of your dreams. Welcome to the Westin Austin Downtown, a bright, beautiful, and modern place to rest your head during your visit to the state capital of Texas.
Located on East 5th Street, the hotel is a short two block walk to Congress Street, and just far enough away from the rowdy crowds on 6th.
Enjoy the sunshine by the pool during the day, then return in the evening for a peaceful view of Austin. And don’t forget to stop in across the street for some live music at Antone’s. Enjoy the convenience of having “Austin’s home of the blues” directly outside the Westin lobby doors.
Ahh…we wish we worked for Starwood. We’re always hoping they’ll discover us and send us around to stay at their properties while Paul takes photos and I write about their lovely hotels. #dreamjob
Unfortunately, due to rain, we didn’t get a lot of time to experience that amazing pool during the day, but the hotel was within walking distance to two gems that we discovered while staying there. First, we became slightly obsessed with Frank Hot Dog. This was our go-to lunch establishment for two days in a row. All they had to do was serve up the most authentic tasting vegan Chicago dog and we were hooked. I know, I know. A Chicago dog in Austin seems like the least authentic thing you could eat, but it was good. Even the bartender from Chicago agreed that they nailed it. I can’t help myself when it comes to those irresistible little sport peppers.
Our other fun discovery was Garage , a place recommended to us by a friendly bartender at Stella San Jac, the Westin’s restaurant and bar. The Garage is a glamorous cocktail bar located in the office space of a parking garage. You can sit and sip on a cocktail while cars whirl around you to and from their spots. It’s different and it’s one of the places you can’t miss while visiting Austin. Apparently, this bar used to be one of Austin’s best kept secrets, but as we’ve learned with our own little city by the sea (Asbury Park), these amazing things don’t stay secrets for long.
You can’t go to Austin without having the breakfast tacos. Unfortunately, since I gave up eating eggs in America several trips to France ago, I couldn’t settle for just any old taco. Since one of the highlights of my trip to Austin was a visit to the Whole Foods Headquarters, I was ecstatic to find a taco bar with amazing vegan breakfast tacos. They were so tasty, that I dragged Paul there two days in a row because I became quite addicted, quickly. I’ve heard all the jokes about it being “Whole Paycheck” and all, but I must admit, this grocery store is one of my guilty pleasures in life and now, no other Whole Foods will compare to Austin.
Okay, so it’s not one of his guilty pleasures in life, but he’s supportive. This was after our second visit for vegan tacos…
Our third Starwood stay was at the W Austin. They kindly upgraded us to a corner suite with spectacular views of the city. Our room was huge, and since we weren’t able to enjoy the pool, we enjoyed a lot of HGTV and this dreamy popcorn…
We also took the longest Uber ride we’ve ever taken to the Noble Sandwich Co. for a taste of the “best sandwiches in Austin.” Judging by the their outstanding vegetarian options, I’m sure their meaty sandwiches are fabulous. I loved my oyster mushroom reuben with sauerkraut and swiss, and Paul enjoyed his pimento cheese with smoked green onions, romaine, and olive oil pickles.
We didn’t get a chance to see everything in Austin. In fact, and no pun intended, due to all of the rain, we missed Rainey Street. We hear this is one of the must-see streets in Austin for good food and drinks. Just one more reason to go back!
So go see Austin. It’s the Texas you’ve never dreamed of…
Took my photographer to New York City this past weekend. Sampled a few delicious items at Chelsea Market, walked the High Line, indulged at Mario Batali’s Babbo, snacked at The Pennsy, and, once again, took a few minutes to admire Grand Central Station.
The tickets to the show sold out in 8 minutes, and we were lucky enough to get two. Bruce Springsteen’s The River Tour-January 24th-Madison Square Garden. A perfect excuse to escape the monotony of our daily routine for a long, winter’s weekend in New York City. And then, like it sometimes does in January, it snowed. The kind of snow that gets you a day off from school, cancels your big evening with The Boss, and with some odd twist of fortunate luck (that didn’t feel fortunate at the time), officially makes you one of Springsteen’s “snow people.”
And that seems to have made all the difference…
Why? Because Bruce Springsteen understands the agony endured by his biggest fans (my husband) as they were made to wait until March to see his sold out show. He understands that some people flew to New York on that blustery January day (i.e.the guys sitting next to us who flew all the way from London), only to find a city silenced in white, and sudden new travel plans.
So when he welcomed his “snow people” last night and told us he’d make it up to us, we understood he meant it. Until almost midnight, he rocked the Garden with not only the show we’d all signed up for, but with songs like “Rosalita”, “Jungle Land”, and “Meeting Across the River.” We even got to see him dance with his mom to “Ramrod.” It was an unforgettable show, worth every minute of the wait, and every flake of the snow.
We also can’t complain that we got to spend a Monday in March, strolling the busy streets of New York City.
And despite these gray clouds above…
The “snow people” saw some beautiful signs of spring!