Category Archives: Culture & Entertainment

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NOTE:  This post contains 30 photos with captions.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless indicated otherwise.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 25 February (T5-C3) — Cozumel, Mexico; Shore Excursions

 

Meghan and Chris take in an early morning view of  Cozumel, Mexico from their stateroom balcony; the first time either of them has seen the island (or perhaps any part of Mexico).  Cruise ships do provide good views of ports-of-call.  It’s 7:30 AM, and Meghan already has her morning coffee.

 

The first stop on our shore excursion was San Gervasio, an important Mayan archeological site managed by CozumelParks.  This racoon-like mammal is a Coati (Nasua narica, AKA coatimundi).  It is native to Mexico and Central America and belongs to the Procyonidae family, which also includes raccoons.  (Photo by Linda)

When we arrived this morning, around sunrise, at the downtown cruise port/dock for the island of Cozumel, Mexico, we had been at sea for over 36 hours since leaving the Disney cruise terminal in Port Hollywood late in the afternoon of Friday, February 25th.  We had a great time on the ship while at sea, but Cozumel was the first of only two ports-of-call for this cruise, and we were all looking forward to going ashore.  Linda had signed all of us up for a shore excursion that lasted about six (6) hours and included three different venues/experiences.  We had to be off the ship and at the meeting point by a certain time, so we all got an early start to our day and had breakfast in the Cabana buffet.  Based on our apparel at dinner, it was also (apparently) “dress like a pirate” day.  Additional details about the day are in the captions for each photo.

 

Madeline, Sadie, and Shawna (mom) at the entrance station to the San Gervasio archeological site.  (Note the boot on Madeline’s left foot.  She injured it not long before the cruise, but it did not slow her down.)  This site has the remnants of a large village that was one of the centers of pre-European Mayan culture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another photo of the Coatimundi.  It did not seem to be fazed in the least by the large group of people passing by and stopping to take its picture.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as we reached the first ruin in San Gervasio, we encountered Iguanas and other lizards.  Things like Coatimundi and Iguanas underscored that we were someplace very different from where we live.    (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remains of a fairly large structure.  The roof is a modern construction to help preserve the underlying stone work, but something like this might have covered the original building when in use.  Wood and palm fronds, however, do not survive the ravages of time.    (Photo by Linda)

 

This photo of an elevated platform provides a sense of the number and size of stones that had to be quarried and moved for its construction.

 

The base of another ruin and its modern protective roof.

 

For most of our time at the San Gervasio Mayan Village, we were on a guided/narrated tour.  The tour guide explained what archeologist think each of the buildings were used for, but I had no way to capture that information for later recall.

 

I do remember that this was one of the entrance gates to the Village.  Note the road/path leading up to the gate from the forest in the center-right of the frame.

 

I don’t know if the Iguana pictured here understands or appreciates the historical significance of the stones on which it is sunning itself, but it certainly picked a good spot, and seems unconcerned about the many human guests to the site.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over many years, this tree took root and grew around a crumbled part of what remains of this building.  The modern roof was constructed around the tree.

 

Remnants of yet another building at San Gervasio.

 

 

One of the stone walkways that connect the various buildings at the San Gervasio archeological site.  Note the drainage ditches along each edge.  When the Mayan Village was inhabited, archeologists claim the space between the stones was filled with something like a limestone grout, resulting in a smooth surface that would have been easy to walk on, and permitted the use of wheeled carts.

 

Another Iguana photo because … well, just because we find them fascinating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A map of the San Gervasio archeological site with all of the buildings identified.

 

 

This map highlights the Mayan Areas of Cozumel, Mexico in a darker green color.  The next photo indicates that San Gervasio is the highlighted area near Acalán.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a photo of a map that shows the full extent of the island of Cozumel, Mexico, its location relative to the rest of Mexico (just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula), and the location of the San Gervasio archeological park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second venue on our Cozumel shore excursion was The Mayan Cacao Company, located at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.  Shown here is the entrance sign.  Note the Macaw on the perch, upper right, which is protected by a thatched roof.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A closer view of the entrance sign and greeter macaw at The Mayan Cacao Company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like San Gervasio, this was also an educational experience.  This display is about cacao beans as a form of currency, and how it compared to other things that served the same purpose.  (From my Money and Banking course at the University of Missouri – Columbia, “Money is anything that acts as a store of value and a medium of exchange.”)

 

Part of the Mayan Cacao experience was a demonstration of the processing cacao beans to make “hot chocolate.”  This was followed by a tasting.  (It was not sweet, but it was very tasty.)  (Photo by Linda)

 

For the third and final venue/experience of our Cozumel shore excursion, we got to hang out at the Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.  I believe this park is open to the public but has an admission charge.   Besides an extensive beachfront with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas, the park included some play structures in the water as well as food and beverage stations.  Brendan and Sadie are in the foreground with their backs to the shore/camera.  Katie brought her snorkeling gear, and was already out in the water somewhere.  (I think Brendan and Sadie might be looking in that direction, but they might just be eyeing the large play structure in the water.)    (Photo by Linda)

 

The seating/sunning area at Playa Mia Beach Resort in front of where I happened to be sitting.  (I am not a “sun bunny,” and require shade in places like this.)

 

 

L-2-R; Katie, Linda, and Marilyn with what I think is the Disney WISH in the background, tied up at the dock for the Punta Langosta Cruise Terminal.  There is another cruise terminal down the coast toward Playa Mia Grand Beach Park that is used by Carnival and other cruise lines.

 

The sign welcoming us to the Punta Langosta port area.  It is the closest cruise terminal to the main/downtown area of Cozumel City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Sadie with buccaneer Ama (Linda) at dinner in the Animators Palate, the second of our three dining rooms.  (Friday and Saturday we were in the Royal Palace dining room, Deck 3 midship; Sunday and Monday we were in the Animator’s Palate dining room on Deck 3 aft, and Tuesday we were in the Enchanted Garden dining room, Deck 2 midship.)  This restaurant had amazing visual technology.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2-R; Madeline, Meghan, and Marilyn at our dinner table in the Animators Palate dining room.  We had a table for 10 every evening for dinner, and it was always table number 81; our waiter and assistant waiter moved with us when we changed dining venues.  Our dining time was always 6 PM (first seating).  Linda selected this time because Sadie was only 5 years old, and it allowed members of our group to seek out various entertainment venues after dinner and still get to bed at reasonable times.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Brendan and his buccaneer dad (me, Bruce, Apa, grandpa, etc.) in the Animators Palate dining room on the Disney DREAM.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shawna and Brendan share a moment while we wait to order dinner.  Our children both have wonderful spouses and our three grand-daughters are a delight.  We are very fond, and proud, of all of them; they are all a great source of joy in our lives.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE:  There are seven (7) photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 24 February (T4-C2) — A Marvel(ous) Day At Sea

 

Today, I was up earlier than I intended to be.  I thought my phone said 6 something, but it was actually 5 something.  I was tired of lying down anyway, so I got up and finished working a Multi-Sudoku puzzle.  It was still dark, and Linda was still asleep, so I worked on drafts of the blog posts for this trip/cruise.  At some point I heard voices outside.  Brendan, Shawna, and Sadie were on the balcony along with Meghan.  Meghan gets up very early and had already been out to get coffee.  Madeline joined the group shortly thereafter.  This is the first cruise we’ve been on with family/friends in adjacent cabins.  Yesterday, we had our cabin steward open the dividers between the four balconies so we could visit easily.  It was a nice arrangement.  We had a brief discussion about breakfast but failed to coordinate a plan.  Other than meeting for dinner every evening, our group took a “freestyle” approach to the cruise, which was great for everyone.

Sadie sits in a large, blue, throne-like chair by one of the two impressive mosaics with themes related to fairytales (prince/princess) that ended up in animated Disney features.  The mosaics were located in one of the elevator/stairwell lobbies on one of the decks, but I don’t recall which one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadie in the other (red) throne-like chair by the other mosaic.

It was Marvel Day at Sea, so we got dressed with our Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirts and went to Cabana’s (the buffet) for breakfast.  We thought our son’s family was also headed there, but we somehow missed them while walking around looking at food.  Our son saw us go by, however, and found us to let us know where they were sitting.

 

 

Breakfast at the Cabana’s buffet offered a lot of choices, and we all found something that we liked.  The things I chose were well-prepared and tasty.  While both of us appreciate the finer dining in the restaurants, neither of us object to the buffet food, and appreciate the convenience of many hours of availability with the attendant flexibility to eat when you want, and choose from a broad selection of food offerings.

Chris and his daughter, Katie, at one of the shuffleboard courts on the exterior promenade deck.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Meghan and Chris at the same shuffleboard court.  Chris is sporting his “Star Lord” t-shirt for Marvel Day At Sea.  (Photo by Linda)

Today was Marvel Day At Sea, and there were many special activities taking place around the ship.  These included photo opportunities with official costumed “crew” members.  Perhaps surprisingly, we did not get photos of any of these events.  While that might seem strange in retrospect, the members of our party who were most excited about the day where our daughter, her husband, and his daughter.  I don’t recall specifically what Linda and I did all day, nor do I recall what Marilyn or our son and his family did today, nor would I even know if they off doing things on their own.  What I do know, is that Madeline had already become very comfortable with the “Edge Club,” a dedicated/staffed space for guests ages 11 – 13.  At age 11, she places a high value on any independence she can negotiate.

 

Sadie with her great-aunt, Marilyn.  Sadie is seriously focused on whatever Marilyn is showing her on the phone.  Based on Sadie’s attire, it appears that she went swimming today.  Not surprising; if there’s water available, Sadie is usually in it.  (Photo by Linda)

The Disney Cruise Line (DCL) app includes a messaging feature that allows guests to message one another without purchasing a “Internet” package.  The feature requires guests to establish connections, so Linda took care of linking her phone with at least one phone from each of the other cabins in our group.

Fairly quickly, Madeline took possession of her mom’s phone and accomplished her number one goal for the cruise; to be allowed to roam around the ship on her own as well as come and go from the Edge Club at will.  This actually worked out very well, and she made several friends her age.  ABIR, Sadie continued the who-dun-it game with her mom and/or dad.

 

Yes, Sadie is using crayons on the white linen tablecloth at dinner.  But it was okay.  Our assistant waiter, Trevor, was the first to do this at dinner last night as he set a puzzle for Sadie (and the rest of us) to solve.  After that, it was “game on” for the remainder of the cruise!  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to well-prepared and tasty dishes, dinner was always nicely presented.  This photo is typical of how desserts were plated.

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NOTE:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)  Photos are chronological and captioned, but are interspersed with some narrative.

 

FRIDAY 23 February (T3-C1) — Disney Cruise Line (DCL) DREAM, Embarkation and Sail Away

 

It’s around 1 PM; we are all on the ship and busy doing things.  Meghan helps Sadie figure out how to play the who-dun-it/discovery game while Marilyn looks on.  Clues were hidden in electronic pictures.  Displaying a game badge would “open” (change) the picture and reveal a clue.  (Photo by Linda)

I was up early and met up with our daughter (Meghan) in the elevator on our way to get coffee.  I rarely get to chat with her alone, and enjoyed a relaxed conversation over coffee.  Linda joined us a bit later.  Meghan eventually took coffee and muffins back to her room for Chris.  Linda and I got breakfast and chatted until she went back to our room to take a shower.  I returned to our room after finishing my meal, got my shower, and got dressed for the day.  We then repacked our suitcases before Linda went back to the lobby to join Meghan, and others, who were having breakfast.

 

 

 

 

Brendan helps Sadie with the who-dun-it game in the lobby of the ship with the Golden Mickey statue in the background.  Having been to Walt Disney World several times, the look and feel of the interior of the ship was familiar and pleasing.  (Photo by Linda)

Everything up to this point had been fairly routine travel—planes, taxis (ride shares), and hotels, with some walking thrown in, either to find food or just because—but with a certain added anticipation of things to come.  Today started in the usual way, but was soon new and different for most of our party.  Indeed, even for us, as we had never sailed on a Disney cruise ship and so had not experienced a ship with soooo many children.  Not that we have never been with large numbers of children; we presumed that it would be similar to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and there is a certain positive energy associated with so many children having such a good time.  Indeed, it even seems to bring out the child in many of adults.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long to discover the self-serve soft-serve ice cream station on one of the upper/open-air decks.  This turned out to popular with everyone in our party and, apparently, most of the other guests on the ship.  L-2-R:  Meghan, Sadie, and Brendan.  (Photo by Linda)

When we arrived at the Hyatt Place hotel on Wednesday, we signed up for a shuttle to take the six of us staying here to the port at noon today.  We did not get a shuttle at exactly that time, but they were scheduled to arrive at the hotel approximately every 10 minutes.  It was at most a 10-minute ride to the port, and only that long because of traffic, so we were still there ahead of the 1 PM check-in time for us (the rest of the group had 1:15 check-in times).  It turned out that these assigned times didn’t mean much.  We dropped our checked luggage with the porters at the curb and then walked some distance into the cruise terminal building.  But the line moved along at a reasonable pace, and various adults took turns keeping Sadie occupied, which is the key to a happy life.

 

Linda on the main top deck. (There are additional small decks at the front and rear of the ship.)  Camera is pointed aft.  The enclosed water-slide is prominent, with the main swimming pool to the right and down one deck.

Looking forward, the large screen on the forward exhaust stack tower, indicates that the ship is “Sailing Away.”  “Sail Away” is a big, festive deal on cruise ships.  Many guests gather on the upper/open decks, while others go out on their stateroom balconies, to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea.  In some ports, there are crowds on-shore waving to the ship.  The time-stamp on this photo is 4:29 PM, but I don’t think the ship has left the dock yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other cruise ships are visible from the port side of the ship.  ABIR, the larger one is a Royale Caribbean ship (emblem on the lower rear hull).  The smaller one was from one of the luxury or ultra-luxury cruise lines, but I don’t recall which one.  Note that our ship is in its berth bow first, with the dock on the other/starboard side.  Our ship had to back out of its berth and make a 180-degree turn (pirouette) before heading out to sea.  The maneuver was precisely and smoothly executed.  The maneuver was very smoothly and precisely executed.

 

Soon enough we were all checked in and were headed onto the ship a bit before 1 PM.  There were a couple of things about the check-in that were different from our previous experience.  For one, they did NOT issue us our cruise cards and said they would be waiting for us by our cabin doors.  For another, they checked every page of our passports, at least for the adults.  I asked why and was told “because there are children on board” but the boarding agent could/would not tell me anymore.  Our presumption is that there must be something in passports for individuals who are not allowed to be around children.  Further research, however, did not provide any additional information.

 

A view looking NNE of the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) and a bridge to a barrier island, as seen from the starboard rear upper deck of the Disney DREAM.

Some of the adult members of our travel party, L-2-R: Chris, Marilyn, Meghan, Linda, and me (Bruce).  Not shown are Brendan, Shawna, Katie and the munchkins (Madeline and Sadie).  I do not know who took the photo with Linda’s phone.  The previous photo was taken around 4:33 PM and this one was taken around 5:22 PM.  This and the next photo indicate that the ship is backing out of its berth.  Thus, logic tells me that we must have departed at 5 PM (cruise ships tend to keep a tight schedule) or we departed at 6 PM and all of my photos are off by one hour (but I don’t think so), or we departed at 4 PM and I have no idea what’s going on.

Our staterooms (on Deck 9) would not be available until 1:30, so some of the adults went with Sadie on an exploration to solve a “crime” while I stayed with Madeline, who needed to sit and get off her injured foot.  (She strained or stressed a growth plate in her left foot a week ago while ice skating, and got fitted with a boot yesterday morning before flying to Fort Lauderdale.)  DCL uses a system to control room access that we had not seen before.  When Madeline and I tried to use an elevator to go from Deck 5 to Deck 9 around 1:20 PM, it would not open the doors at Deck 9.  Clever Disney.

 

The Disney DREAM is definitely underway as it has backed out of its berth into the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) where it backed around to port (behind the camera) into a “turning pool” and swung around to point into the channel leading to the sea, as shown here.  Cruise ships have both bow and stern thrusters, smaller propellers in tunnels that go through the ship sideways.  Besides moving the front or rear of the ship to the left or right, their coordinated use can move the ship sideways, such as towards/away from a dock, or turn it around its mid-point, such as it will do here.  Many cruise ships, especially newer ones, also have “Azipods,” a steerable propeller  mechanism, for propulsion rather than aft-facing propellers and one or more rudders.

 

Our first dinner together in the Royale Palace dining room aboard the DCL DREAM.  We had a table for 10 every evening for dinner.  Our table number was 81, and remained so for all of our dinner meals, regardless of which dining room we were in.  Shown here is our son’s family, L-2-R:  Shawna, Brendan, Sadie, and Madeline.  I think Sadie was just tired, not unhappy, as she really enjoyed the cruise.  (Photo by Linda)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-2-R:  Cousins Madeline and Katie at the dinner table.  (Photo by Linda)

Once in our room, we scoped out the available storage and started unpacking.  Our balcony stateroom had plenty of storage; hanging closets, drawers, and shelves.  It also had the usual safe, and our wallets and passports went in there right away.  We used to turn our cell phones off and put them in the safe as well, but these days we put them in airplane mode (to turn off the cellular radio) and turn on the wi-fi radio to connect to the ship’s wi-fi system.  On the DREAM, this allowed us to use the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app, which was our access to any/all information about the ship’s activities, including menus for the restaurants, reservations (if needed), and our account.  (Most cruise ships now operate this way, so you really cannot go on a cruise these days without a smartphone.)

Linda poses with a statue of “Captain Duck” in the main lobby of the Disney DREAM.  Or perhaps it was “Commodore Duck”?  (I presume this is Donald Duck.  I have no idea what the name of the statue is, if it even has one.  Nor do I know the context of this particular outfit.)

 

 

 

We watched the safety information on the TV in our stateroom.  At 4 PM we went to our assigned assembly station (DCL does not call them muster stations) for the mandatory safety check-in and presentation.  Unlike our other recent cruises, where our muster station was on an outside deck near the lifeboats, we were seated in the large Walt Disney Theater.

 

 

 

 

 

Marvel Day at Sea was still to come, but this display was already up, and Chris is a big fan of the Marvel series.  Disney has a way of bringing out the kid in all of us.

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NOTE:  This post does not contain any photos.

 

THURSDAY 22 February (T2) — The family arrives for the cruise

Katie (our 20-something grand-daughter) arrived from North Carolina ahead of the rest of the family, made her way to the Hyatt Place (via Uber?), and checked-in to the room she was sharing with Marilyn.  We were all hungry so we took her to Carrabba’s for dinner.

Marilyn arrived later from St. Louis, Missouri and waited for our son (Brendan) and daughter (Meghan) and their families to arrive from Michigan.  Once everyone was at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, they got a cab to take them to their respective hotels.

Katie, Marilyn, and Meghan/Chris all stayed at the same hotel we were in.  Brendan and his family stayed at the nearby Embassy Suites as they got a room that would sleep all four of them.

Marilyn, Meghan, and Chris had not had dinner, so we walked to the nearby Publix supermarket where they pickup up ready-to-eat sandwiches and chips and brought them back to the hotel.  We sat in the breakfast room, which had a high table for six, and chatted while they ate.  Brendan’s clan made their own arrangements for dinner.  ABIR (or learned the next day) they had pizza.

Everyone arrived safely, and with all of their luggage, which were the main things.  (When traveling by air, we always try to arrive enough ahead of whatever we will be doing to allow time to go shopping in the event that we need to replace the contents of a lost piece of checked luggage.)  Air travel is always a bit exhausting, but there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as everyone was genuinely looking forward to the cruise.

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Note:  There are four (4) photos in this post.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 06 – THURSDAY 11 January 2024 — A quick trip to Florida in advance of a short cruise

Back in February 2023, we were waiting for a couple of days before boarding the NCL Joy for our trip with Paul and Nancy from Los Angeles , California to Miami, Florida via the Panama Canal.  While Paula and I were our buying some beverages, Linda and Nancy found an “around the world” cruise on the MSC Magnifica for what seemed to be a very good price.  Paul and Nancy had never sailed with MSC, but we had on two previous occasions (2012 and 2013).  We were on the MSC Poetia both times and had a good experience each time.  These were the first cruises we were ever on, and they were special Holistic Holiday at Sea programs organized by Taste of Health out of Miami, Florida.  The program featured plant-based food and provided its own ingredients, executive chef and assistants to supervise the regular kitchen workers.  It was basically a floating educational experience.  As best we could recall, the ship was very nice, the service was fine, and the staterooms were comfortable.  Indeed, we had a waiter who was outstanding!  We did not, however, have any experience with the usual ship food or entertainment, nor had we signed up for any shore excursions.  It had also been 10 years since with sailed with MSC, so there was a lot we did not know about what it would be like to be a regular passenger on one of their ships.

The world cruise was scheduled to depart Genoa, Italy on 6 January 2025 and take 116 nights to circumnavigate the globe back to Genoa, much of the trip south of equator.  Sailing west from Genoa through the western Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean, the itinerary went to South America, around Cape Horn, and up the west side of South America before heading off to French Polynesia and points west, with stops in New Zeeland, Australia, and Malaysia, eventually coming up the Suez Canal into the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back Genoa.  21 countries and 50 ports-of-call.

We have never been south of the equator, and this seemed like a unique opportunity to visit places me might likely never get to otherwise.  And the price seemed really fair—almost too good to be true—but even “value for money” involves money, and it was enough money that we had our concerns about whether we would be comfortable and enjoy being on this ship for this long.

Sometime in the intervening months, Linda found that the MSC Magnifica was doing a 3-night round-trip sailing on January 11-13, 2024 from the Port of Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, and back.  The cruise started on a Friday afternoon and returned on Monday early morning.  The timing meant it was going to be a bit of a “party cruise” as people local to the area could take Friday afternoon and Monday off from work and go to the Bahamas on a big cruise ship.  That was not really relevant to us, however, as we wanted to check out the general condition of the ship, especially the staterooms, as well as the food, entertainment, and service.

On January 6th we flew into Tampa – St. Petersburg International Airport, where Paul and Nancy picked us up and drove us to their new home in the Mount Olive Shores North (MSON, pronounced “Moe-son” or “Moe-sen”) development in Polk City, Florida.  MOSN is an RV community that includes several lakes.  Some of the lots are just RV pads, with perhaps a small storage shed and/or a gazebo, while others lots have large homes with carports or garages for maximum-size Class A RVs.  This fenced/gated community has a strong HOA.  The homes and properties all have a certain look, albeit a nice one, and are all well-maintained.  Class A motorhomes and large 5th wheel travel trailers have to be under cover or inside while smaller motorhomes must be inside (out of sight).  Travel trailers are not permitted.

We were familiar with the Polk City area and MOSN, having wintered three times at the LeLynn RV Park and visited Paul and Nancy at MOSN when they had their previous Winnebago Tour motorhome on a lot there for one winter, and again when they had the American Coach Eagle motorhome on a different lot there.  But this was our first opportunity to see the lakeside house/property they had purchased.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Nancy, and me (Bruce).  In the central plaza at Disney Springs.  The stairs to the closest parking garage are to the left.  (Photo by Linda)

We spent five (5) nights at Paul and Nancy’s home.  We had just spent all of November with them at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but it was nice to see them again.  As usually happens when we are together, Nancy and Linda did joint menu planning and took turns as chef and sous chef.  Paul and I did our part, and ate whatever we were served.

 

Almost every store at Disney Springs is interesting.  Some are unusual, and a few are amazing.  The M&M Store, was all three!

But first on the list of things to do was a visit to Disney Springs.  When we get together with Paul and Nancy in this area, we always visit Disney Springs at least once.  Once turned out to be all the time we had for this visit, but we did manage to find some things at the Marvel Studios store for our cruise in February on the Disney Cruise Line DREAM.  After all, the cruise included a “Marvel Day at Sea” and a “Pirates Day” themed events.  We had dinner there, somewhere close to the Cirque de Soleil building, but I don’t recall exactly where or what we had to eat.

 

L-2-R:  Paul, Linda, and Nancy pose in front of the Sorcerer Mickey LEGO statute in front of the Disney Springs LEGO store.  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is still my all-time favorite Disney animation, but I grew up involved in classical music, so …

Marty and Pat, our friends and fellow Great Lakes Converted Coaches (GLCC) and Converted Coach Owners (CCO) members from Michigan, were at LeLynn again this year, so we arranged to have them over to Paul and Nancy’s one evening for dinner.  It was great to see them, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening.  Our GLCC friends from northern Indiana, Pat and Vickie, were also in the area, staying at Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness campground resort, as they do every January (and have for quite some time).  We drove up there one day to visit with them.

 

 

 

 

 

The LEGO Store at Disney Springs has an amazing outdoor display of life-size and greater-than-life-size, figures.  Star Wars is heavily represented in this collection, but this serpent in the water has always been a favorite of mine.

Those are the highlights of these six (6) days; a bit of running around and socializing, with plenty of time to eat, relax by the lake, watch Morning Joe, and chat about RVing and cruising and being (mostly) retired.

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Note:  There are 3 photos in this post, all taken by me (Bruce) on a Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 

SUNDAY 03 – SATURDAY 16 December 2023 — Getting back into home life

 

Sunday, December 3rd, 2023 — Getting the house back online.

When we are away from the house for more than a few days, I deactivate or adjust various things:

  1. I deactivate the water softener and chlorinator/filter by unplugging the AC power adapters.  The coin batteries remain in the controllers, but when the signal for a regeneration cycle, the motorized valves cannot respond.  Thus, nothing happens.
  2. I also turn off the UPS units for most of the electronics in the house. The exceptions are the one in the basement that powers the Xfinity gateway/WiFi-router and network switch, and the one by Linda’s desk in the kitchen, which powers the network switch that the whole-house generator communication module is plugged into.
  3. I also shut off the circuit breakers that feed the RV electrical outlets in our driveway.
  4. We might set some mechanical clock timers to control a couple of lights.
  5. We set all of the thermostats down and place them in a HOLD condition. (The thermostat in the workshop of the barn is set to maintain a temperature above freezing in the storeroom above it.)

Thus, one of the first things I have to do upon our return is reverse all of this.  I plug the water softener and chlorinator/filter back in, and will also typically initiate a regeneration cycle on one of them.  Which one depends on their remaining water treatment capacity.  UPS units are turned back on and electronics are powered up.  Thermostats are returned to the automatic/programmed operation, and light timers are put back in the switched position.  The RV outlet by the driveway in front of the house obviously gets turned on.

Apparently I have the (annoying) habit of laundering EVERYTHING upon our return from a trip.  In the case of RV travel, that includes towels and bedding in addition to clothes; sometimes even jackets, if I feel they need it.  This does not happen, however, in one day.  For one, it’s too much stuff that would take too much time and, for another, that much laundry at one go would overload the septic system.  And nobody wants that.  I suspect that I started on this task today, moving everything to the basement, sorting it, and selecting a load or two to start.

 

Monday, December 4th, 2023 — Chores, Chores, and more Chores

Whatever else we did today, I suspect that I spent part of it continuing to do the laundry.  I don’t mind doing the laundry, in fact I somewhat enjoy it.  In any event, it has to be done and Linda handles the kitchen pretty much by herself, so this duty falls to me.  It’s also likely that I powered up my laptop computer, downloaded e-mails, and started copying photos from our various devices to our NAS.

 

Tuesday, December 5th, 2023 — Winterizing the Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer

I do not recall why I waited, but according to our calendar I winterized the Airstream travel trailer today.  My best guess as to why I waited a few days was that I had too much else to do on Sunday and Monday immediately after returning home, but it’s also possible that the weather today was more amenable.  Whatever the case, absent any other information to the contrary, I will just have to accept that today was the day for this task.  This is not one of my favorite RV maintenance tasks, but it is what it is and it has to be done, as the RV portion of our barn is not climate-controlled.  Actually, they main thing I really don’t like is having to do it in the cold.

 

This is a photo of the internals of the thermostat in the shop portion of the barn.  I don’t recall why I photographed it, but I obviously removed the cover to check something.  As it turned out, it is wired correctly, and it works just fine.

For the rest of this time period, we attended to various things.  I obviously put the Airstream travel trailer back in the barn once it was winterized.  Linda had a routine medical appointment, did some child-care for the two younger grand-daughters, resumed walking with her friend, Diane.  She also did some accounting work for the bakery, and booked shore excursions for the Disney Cruise Line DREAM in late February of next year.  (NOTE:  The two youngest grand-daughters did NOT know about this cruise yet, but I did not upload this post until May 2024.)

We also had two different HVAC service companies at the house; Lakeside Service takes care of our BOSCH hot-water baseboard heating system, and Schutz Heating & Cooling takes care of our Mitsubishi-Trane Heat Pump system, which they installed.  We had dinner with friends (and fellow Prevost converted motorcoach owners), Chuck and Barbara, and with our friend, Kate.  We also opened up our Boondockers Welcome site to accommodate a special request from a couple who had stayed with us before.  They needed a place to camp for a few nights while they took care of some medical issues at the University of Michigan Hospital.  It turns out that we are one of the few good options for this situation, and we have had other RVers stay here for the same reason.

 

Saturday, December 16th, 2023 — Cloning, ham radio, and a concert

Earlier in the week, I took the 1 TB Samsung 870 EVO SSD (solid state drive) out of my ASUS laptop computer and tried to clone it to a 2 TB version of the same drive.  I wasn’t sure I had done it correctly, so I arranged to go over to Mike’s house (W8XH, from SLAARC, the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club).  He did the clone of my original HDD to the 1 TB SSD a few years ago and used his equipment to do this one.  While I was there, I had a chance to look at some amateur (ham) radio gear that was for sale and for which he was acting as custodian.

 

This Kenwood transceiver caught my eye, but I was equally interested in the HP Signal Generator underneath it.  Ultimately, I had to pass on buying anything as I am not currently active enough in the hobby to justify buying more equipment.

In the evening, we attended the Holiday “Pops” (popular music) concert of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (AASO) at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor main campus.  The orchestra was good, but our main reason for being there was the Ann Arbor Youth Chorus standing behind the orchestra in the photo below.

 

The AASO and AAYC in concert.  Our middle grand-daughter, Mads, is in the last row, 6th from the left.  She was still 10 on this date, but would turn 11 a week later.

 

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Note:  There are 19 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce) were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUE 21 – WED 29 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort — 3/3

 

This post covers our last nine full days at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Our reservation was through the night of the 30th with departure on December 1st but we left on 30 November, one day early, to try and get ahead of a weather system that was moving our way.  Up to that point, however, the weather had generally been very nice.  Gulf Shores is a lovely place, climate-wise, in the late fall and winter.

At the Sunliner Diner in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Counter-clockwise (L-2-R) around the table:  Evan, Anne, Paul, Robert (obscured, at his request), Linda (behind Nancy’s arm) and Nancy.

We continued to visit with Paul, Nancy, and Robert and occasionally also Kate and Charlie from the nearby Escapees RV Club Rainbow Plantation RV Park.  This small group of people are very much kindred spirits; each of them very much of the same mind as us when it comes to religion and politics and food (by and large), which makes for a comfortable and enjoyable time together.

This antique car is inside the Sunline Diner.  The doors on the passenger side have been removed to make a dining booth.

 

Paul makes a final inspection of the layout of our Thanksgiving dinner food in the Luxury RV Clubhouse in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Paul and Nancy’s son, Evan, and his wife, Anne, drove down from Ann Arbor, Michigan and joined us for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Nancy arranged for the use of the Luxury RV Resort clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day, which allowed us to share a meal in comfort with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended, including Kate and Charlie, and shared the work of putting together a nice meal.

 

 

 

 

The first of two tables for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Robert (obscured), Nancy, Anne, and Evan.

 

The other table for Thanksgiving dinner.  L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  Charlie, Paul, me (Bruce), Linda, and Kate.

 

Me (Bruce) sitting on the sofa in our Airstream travel trailer and using my iPad Pro.  Since Bella is also on the sofa, we were probably dog-sitting while Paula and Nancy were doing something that precluded taking their dog along.

We made a couple of visits to the Sunliner Diner during this time, and visited Historic Fort Morgan at the tip of the peninsula that extends west from Gulf Shores into Mobile Bay, stopping for lunch at a bayside restaurant.  Nice weather and dramatic sunsets continued during these nine days, with the later eventually portending of approaching weather.

 

 

 

A view of Fort Morgan, Fort Morgan State Historic Site, Alabama.

 

One of the entrances to the interior of Fort Morgan SHS.  The rectangular block centered above the opening says “Fort Morgan 1830.”  The two parallel lines on the pavement are embedded railroad ties.  My presumption was that these made it possible to use trollies with railcar wheels to move heavy loads in/out of the Fort.

 

 

The previous photo, this photo, and the next two (2) photos were taken at the Fort Morgan State Historic Site.

 

From Wikipedia:  Fort Morgan is a historic masonry pentagonal bastion fort at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Alabama, United States. Named for American Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, it was built on the site of the earlier Fort Bowyer, an earthen and stockade-type fortification involved in the final land battles of the War of 1812. Construction was completed in 1834, and it received its first garrison in March of the same year.  …  Fort Morgan is at the tip of Mobile Point at the western terminus of State Route 180 (Alabama). It and Dauphin Island, on which Fort Gaines is situated, enclose Mobile Bay. The Alabama Historical Commission maintains the site.

 

An interior view of part of Fort Morgan, clearly showing the masonry construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another entrance tunnel into Fort Morgan.  I thought the way the bricks were arranged to create the arch was architecturally interesting, although I presumed that they were set this way for fundamentally structural reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the Sunliner Diner for breakfast before Robert checks out of Luxury RV Resort and heads for points West.  From L-2-R, counter-clockwise around the table:  me (Bruce) taking a selfie of the group, Robert (obscured). Nancy, Paul, and Linda.

 

Robert’s class B motorhome and Jeep in front of the office at Luxury RV Resort while he connects them together in final preparation for his departure from the resort.  The foreground is a sitting area with a firepit.  To the left are some holiday decorations that are featured in the next two photos.

 

Linda provides a sense of scale for the Christmas holiday decorations at Luxury RV Resort; a travel trailer pulled by two Flamingoes.  Two lawn chairs and a Christmas tree with wrapped presents are also visible.  [Note that the door of the trailer is on the “driver” side, which is incorrect.  The main entrance doors of all commercial RVs are on the passenger/curb side, with the utility connections (hookups) on the driver/street side, and RV parks and campgrounds are built around this conventional arrangement.]

This photo of the other side of the trailer decoration shows more clearly that the trailer is a large/round straw/hay bale and that the trailer has tires.  A doll (or small mannequin) that is approximately half normal human-size, is holding one end of the brown sewer hose which runs down into the “dump” connection.

 

We were treated to a nice sunset on our final evening at Luxury RV Resort.  This view is looking southeast, so I could catch the sunset reflecting off of the windows in our travel trailer along with the general soft pink illumination of the aluminum siding and the effect of the color on the clouds to the southeast.

 

The play of light on the clouds seems to say “look at this trailer,” so I did.

 

A composite of four images creates a panoramic view of our final Gulf Shores sunset as it provides a wonderful backdrop for our travel trailer.

 

A composite of three images produces a panoramic photo of an amazing sunset behind some of the tall buildings in the downtown/beach area of Gulf Shores, Alabama, as seen from our travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.

 

One of the three images used for the previous composite photo highlighting the letters A I R S T R E A M across the rear of our travel trailer, just above the awing over the large/opening window.

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Note:  There are 13 photos in this post.  Photos by me (Bruce), unless otherwise indicated, were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro or SONY alpha 6400.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WED 01 – FRI 10 November 2023 — Luxury RV Resort, Gulf Shores, Alabama (1/3)

This is the first of three (3) posts that cover our time in Gulf Shores, Alabama during the month of November, 2023.

We arrived at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama on November 1st per our reservation, which was for the entire month (we got a better rate that way).  We had stayed here before at the suggestion of our friends, Paul and Nancy, who now keep a 5th wheel trailer here during the winter, with their Goldendoodle, Bella.   Robert, our new friend from this past summer, and his dog Buddy (an English Retriever), were also there for the month.  Our friends, Kate and Charlie, were at their place at the Escapees Rainbow Plantation RV park in Summerdale, so not too far away.  Having explored the area on our previous visit, we were looking forward to just having some time to relax and enjoy the pleasant weather in the company of these friends, including walks to the nearby seashore nearby (~1/2 mile), along with occasional visits to a few of the many things to see and do in the area, such as Fairhope, Alabama.

 

Our first sunrise in Gulf Shores, Alabama (for this visit) as seen from the rear windows of our 2020 Airstream Flying Cloud 27 FBT travel trailer at Luxury RV Resort.  The weather was generally good during our visit; not too much rain with mild temperatures and some nice sunrises and sunsets.

 

The passenger/curb side of our travel trailer parked in our site for the month at Luxury RV Resort.  Spacious enough site with a concrete pad/patio with a picnic table and good utility hookups.

 

 

A view of the beach and Gulf of Mexico looking east from the central beach plaza where Hwy 59 ends between E Beach and W Beach roads.

 

A view to the west from the same vantage point as the previous photo.

 

Gulf Shores is a somewhat quirky beachside town that trades on its location.  It’s a well-maintained and attractive place, with beautiful white sand beaches, restaurants (with fish and seafood on offer, of course), night life, surf shops, t-shirt shops, and quintessential “tourist” shops, as well as a very nice state park and lots of nature and history in the surrounding area.  It is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly place as well.  The central beach area was approximately a 1/2 mile walk from the RV park.  The photos that follow highlight a few of these things.

 

Souvenir City on the west side of Hwy 59 in downtown Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Linda is standing in the mouth of the giant shark “sculpture,” which is where the entrance to the store is located.  This place is definitely a “beach town” souvenir shop, and we spent an obligatory amount of time exploring all that it had to offer, which was impressive for its sheer quantity and diversity.

 

The “kitsch” at Souvenir City didn’t end with the entrance shark.  This fiberglass model of the head end of a hammerhead shark was setup for photo ops, and we used it in accordance with the mandatory rules of  tourist etiquette.

 

We only got the entire group together a few times during the month, but Nancy arranged for the use of the RV park clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day so we could share a meal with plenty of space to lay out the food, arrange seating at tables, and not be concerned about the weather.  Everyone attended and shared the work of putting together a nice meal, but a bit more on that in post 3 of this set.

 

What would a tourist/beach town be without a diner?  Hungry, I suppose.  Not a problem here.  The Sunliner Diner might not be authentic, in the sense of having been around for a long time, but it definitely had the look and feel, with some nicely preserved/restored old cars thrown in.

 

Just south of Luxury RV Resort, a major marsh extends east from Hwy 59 all the way to Gulf State Park.  This boardwalk provided walking access to the Wade Ward Nature Park part of it.  Linda walked almost every day while we were camped in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and I sometimes went too, along with Paul and Nancy.

 

 

The marsh mentioned in the previous photo caption clearly had some open water as well.  We were always on the lookout for wildlife, especially alligators, of course.  We saw birds and waterfowl and small animals, but never spotted any “gators.”  The Luxury RV Resort office building and a few RVs are visible, center right in the photo.

 

Our travel trailer, center-frame, with the bathhouse to center-right.  It was close enough to be really convenient.  Also, the clubhouse was just across the street, and it also had bathrooms with showers.

 

This photo was taken some four (4) hours after the previous one.  I think Linda is looking out over Mobile Bay as enlarging the photo faintly shows tall buildings on the distant horizon (in the direction of Mobile, Alabama).  But don’t hold me to this.

 

 

The Gulf of Mexico from the beach west of the Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Even when the weather was not all sunshine and unicorns, it was interesting and sometimes dramatic.  A couple of oil platforms are just barely visible on the horizon, center and left in the frame.

 

Another photo from the same place on the beach.  From left-to-right:  Buddy, Robert, Linda, Nancy, Paul, and Bella.  There was a small parking area out-of-frame to the left, with public access to the beach.

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Note:  This post contains 17 photos with captions, and some minor narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 31 October 2023 — NTNP 14 of 14 — End of the Trace:  Emerald Mound (again) and the Town of Rocky Springs, near Natchez, MS

 

The only remaining wall of the Elizabeth Female Academy in Washington (West Natchez), Mississippi.  (See the next photo and caption.)

 

ELIZABETH FEMALE ACADEMY information sign.  Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  The Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818 in the town of Washington (West Natchez), was the first female educational institution in Mississippi. It was named after Mrs. Elizabeth Roach (later Greenfield), who donated the land on which the school was located. The school closed in 1845, due in part to the relocation of the state capital from Natchez to Jackson, the general shift in the center of population, and several epidemics of yellow fever in the area. The site was reduced to ruins by a fire in the late 1870s. Part of a brick wall is all that now remains of the Academy buildings.

Learn more at:  Elizabeth Female Academy – Wikipedia

 

The small sign post at the lower left of the photo says Old Trace with an arrow pointing to the right.  This section of the old (original) trail starts at the opening on the left. 

 

We walked on identified sections of the original (old) Trace when we could.  We enjoyed the short hikes and admired the natural beauty of these places but also thought about the arduous journeys that so many people made along this trail so many years ago and the history that surrounds it.

 

Over time and thousands upon thousands of footsteps, the path of the Trace gradually wore down below the surface level of the surrounding landscape.  As shown here , the depth at this point is over twice Linda’s height.

 

EMERALD MOUND NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK plaque.  We returned to Emerald Mound today as we only had a brief visit yesterday, mostly the find it.

 

 

The trail leading to the top of Emerald Mound was paved but steep.  This photo gives a sense of the height of the mound from the parking lot.

 

Linda on top of Emerald Mound heads towards a smaller mound and information sign.

 

This information sign and graphic provided a visualization of how archeologists think the structures atop Emerald Mound were arranged, appeared, and used.

 

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace.  Sections like this are sometimes labeled “Sunken Trace,” but if that was the case here, I did not document it.

 

A picture of me for scale (and just because) at a point where the Natchez Trace splits into two paths.  We rarely saw splits like this, and have no idea how common or rare this was on the original trail.

 

LOESS BLUFF information sign.  The loess bluff is the shear area behind the sign,  From MS Edge (Co-Pilot):  A loess bluff is a fascinating geological feature formed by the accumulation of windblown sediment known as loess.  Loess (pronounced LOW-ess) is a type of fine-grained, silty soil composed of particles deposited by the wind. It’s typically light yellow or tan in color.  During the Ice Age, glaciers covered the northern half of the United States. As these glaciers receded, they left behind vast expanses of bare land.  Continuous dust storms swept in from the western plains, carrying fine particles of dust and soil. These winds deposited the loess layer over the landscape.  The result?  Bluffs—steep, elevated landforms—made up of this windblown topsoil. Loess bluffs can be found in various regions around the world.  …  Mississippi also boasts its own loess bluffs, where nearly continuous dust storms during the Ice Age created a layer of sandy soil 30 to 90 feet deep.

 

THE TOWN OF ROCKY SPRINGS information sign.  The town was first settled in the 1790’s.  In 1860 it had a population of 2,616 people spread over a 25 square mile area.  Over 2,000 of those people were slaves who tended the fields of cotton, the main crop that made this town possible.

 

The historic Methodist church in Rocky Springs, Mississippi is the only remaining structure of Rocky Springs and continued to hold Sunday services until 2010.  The site and church are now maintained by the National Park Service.

 

MAGNUM SITE and GRINDSTONE FORD information sign.  The Magnum Site is a prehistoric mound and the Grindstone Ford was the threshold between civilization and wilderness on the Old Natchez Trace.

 

MAGNUM MOUND information sign.  Archeological excavation of this mound revealed much evidence about the prehistoric Plaquemine culture that was the precursor of the modern tribes of Louisiana and Mississippi.

 

A view of Magnum Mound from near the information sign.

 

GRINDSTONE FORD information sign.  The FORD marked the end of the old Natchez Trace District and the beginning of the (wilderness of the) Choctaw Nation.  But it was only “wilderness” in the eyes of the Europeans who were moving into and “settling” the area.

 

And that is the end of my 14th and last post on our trip down the Natchez Trace National Parkway.  It was a trip we had long talked about doing, and even planned for, and we were pleased to have finally done it.  Up next, our month in Gulf Shores, Alabama hanging out with friends.

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Note:  This post contains four (4) photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 30 October 2023 — NTNP 13 of 14 — Emerald Mound and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indian, Natchez, MS

 

When we planned our trip, the itinerary included a 1-night stop for 31 October 2023 at The Great Mississippi Tea Company, another Harvest Host location, near Brookhaven, Mississippi.  We had stayed there once before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

EMERALD MOUND information sign.  Built on top of a hill, this flat-topped 8-acre mound was in use from 1300 to 1600 AD by the Mississippian Indians, predecessors of the Natchez Indians.  It supported temples, ceremonial structures, and burials for the civic and religious leaders of a complex society.  It is second in size only to Monks Mound in Cahokia, Illinois.

 

Besides being a nice place to camp for the night (strictly boondocking), the hosts/owners of The Great Mississippi Tea Company were delightful and very welcoming.  We were given a tour of the place—including the tea plants in the fields and the processing facility—and bought some things in their gift shop (of course).  But they also brought us a tea service in the morning of our departure.  That was a nice touch, very nice.

 

Another view of Emerald Mound from the parking lot and entrance to the trail that leads to the top.

 

We were very much looking forward to returning to The Great Mississippi Tea Company, but canceled the stop based on the weather forecast, which called for temperatures near freezing the night we would be there.  In previous posts, I have mentioned the various reasons we can’t really boondock in our Airstream travel trailer, but I didn’t mention one of the most important; it’s really not that well insulated, and that is especially a problem in cold weather.

 

In another part of Natchez, MS we visited the site of the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.  The smaller mounds found at sites like this could be easily overlooked if care was not being taken to preserve them and tell their story to any/all who visit.  To learn more, visit the Wikipedia entry at this link:  Grand Village of the Natchez – Wikipedia

 

Before canceling our HH stay, however, we checked with the office at the River View RV Park & Resort to make sure we could extend our stay, as we could not check in at Luxury RV Resort in Gulf Shores, Alabama until Wednesday 01 December.  The park was not full and there was no difficulty extending our stay for an additional night (3 total).

 

A banner sign on the museum wall at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

 

With that change in plans, we now had two full days to explore the southern end of the NTNP and the area around Natchez, Mississippi.

 

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Note:  This post contains nine (9) photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 29 October 2023 — NTNP 12 of 14 — Natchez MS and Vidalia LA

 

Our truck and trailer backed into our wooded Boondockers Welcome parking spot at The HatchPad Off The Trace in the Farmhaven area of Mississippi.  No epic views, but a lovely, quiet spot in the woods that suited us just fine.  Our hosts’ house is farther back in the woods at the end of the driveway.  While not really visible in this photo, there is a shed to the right of their house with a washing machine and a dryer.  We were invited to use, and took advantage of the opportunity.  (Most commercial RV parks have laundry rooms, so we made use of those when available when needed.)

 

Today we completed our north to south transit of the Natchez Trace National Parkway at the south terminus in Natchez, Mississippi and then on across the Mississippi River to the River View RV Park & Resort in Vidalia, Louisiana, immediately across from Natchez.  In total, we drove all but about 10 miles of the 444-mile-long road, and that was only because a 10-mile stretch in/near Tupelo, MS was closed for construction/repairs.

 

Another view of our truck and trailer in our BW parking spot.  Barely visible near the center of the right edge of the frame is the electrical box where we were allowed to hook up to shorepower.

 

While not an “epic” trip, in comparison to some of the national scenic roads we have driven, it was a wonderful journey at a leisurely pace with light traffic and a nice mixture of scenery, culture, and history.  I mean, we took nine (9) days to pull our trailer from one end to the other a distance that we could easily have covered in two (2 days,) even with the trailer, or one (1) day without it.  But not on the NTNP, of course, which has a maximum speed limit of 50 MPH, with lower limits in some places.  No, this trip was an intentionally “slow roll” and was a kind of “bucket list” item that we had been trying to do for a while.

 

Natchez, Mississippi as viewed from Vidalia, Louisiana across the Mississippi River.  Most of the “downtown” area is to the left of the bridge.  The River level was very low.  The sand bar in the foreground is usually underwater and not visible.

 

As much as we would like to have the ability to dry-camp, our rig is only capable of doing that comfortably for a very short time in a very narrow temperature range.  We have two solar panels on the roof, but we do not travel with a generator, and our battery system is insufficient to run big loads.  We have propane for cooking, refrigeration, hot water heating, and forced-air space heating, but the last three appliances use DC power to run their control circuits, and the fan in the forced-air furnace is a real energy hog, precluding it’s use in cold weather precisely when we need i.  At the other extreme, we have two heat pumps which function as air-conditioners for cooling or can heat the rig efficiently in cool weather as long as it’s not too cold.  But they are 120VAC devices, and they still use a lot of power/energy.  Making the rig truly off-grid capable is something we discuss, but have not reached a conclusion on whether we will undertake the necessary modifications and upgrades.

 

There was a very nice walkway that went along the River by our RV park.  It extended up to and beyond the bridge, so we went for early evening stroll.

 

A closer view of the bridge with part of Natchez, MS visible on the horizon.

 

A barge being pushed (upstream, from right to left) by a tugboat (which seems backwards) passes under the bridge, being careful to stay in the center of the River in order to have sufficient underwater keel clearance.

 

Just beyond the bridge (on the north side) was the Vidalia Convention Center, a very nice-looking facility.

 

A selfie by the Vidalia Convention Center with Natchez, MS in the background.  I think the reason I never smile in selfies is that I am concentrating on framing the shot and also trying to remember to look at the lens, something both of us seem to have difficulty doing consistently.

 

Our site at River View RV Park & Resort on the western shore of the Mississippi River in Vidalia, Louisiana across the River from Natchez, MS.  And no, the name of the town has nothing to do with the onions, which get their name from Vidalia, Georgia.

 

While we were done traveling the NTNP with our travel trailer in tow, we were not quite done exploring the Trace, which I will cover in the post for tomorrow and the next day.

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Note:  This post contains 11 photos with captions and a little narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SATURDAY 28 October 2023 — NTNP 11 of 14 — West Florida Boundary and Vicksburg Civil War sites

 

Heading south on the Natchez Trace NP from our Boondockers Welcome site, our first stop was the West Florida Boundary parking area.  It was also a trailhead for a section of the Natchez Trace.  This photo provides a sense of scale to the trail and surrounding forest.

 

WEST FLORIDA BOUNDARY sign.  This image file is 1200×675 pixels and can be viewed a full-resolution on a suitable device.  The sign on the right with the map shows the territory known as “West Florida.”  The lower lower/narrow strip along the sea was the extent of the territory as of the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, at which time Great Britain gained control of the lands west to the Mississippi River.  The northern boundary of this area was set at 31 deg N latitude.  The region was quickly considered too restricted for settlement, and a year later (1764) the British (unilaterally) moved the northern boundary to 32 deg 28 min N latitude into the lands of the Choctaws and Creeks, approximately tripling its size.

 

This photo was taken at the Reservoir Overlook for the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir just on the NTNP near Ridgeland, Mississippi.  Our BW location was a bit northeast of here, closer to Canton, Mississippi.  The reservoir is on the Pearl River.  The photo is a composite of five images taken with the SONY alpha 6400.  It is 1200×327 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on a suitable device by clicking on the photo.

 

Another composite image from the Reservoir Overlook, this one taken with a Google Pixel 6.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The RESERVOIR OVERLOOK information sign.  The Ross R. Barnett Reservoir is formed by a large earthen dame and covers 50 square miles.  It is administered by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, an agency of the State of Mississippi.

 

Although our focus for this trip was the Natchez Trace National Parkway, we realized that we were close enough to Vicksburg, Mississippi that we decided to detour over there and have a look.  One of the major tourist destinations in the Vicksburg area is the Vicksburg National Military Park and the Vicksburg National Battlefield.  Once we were there, we discovered the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum site within the NMP, and checked it out.  The museum was not open when we visited the site, but we found the ship, as shown in the following four photographs, fascinating.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg National Military Park (NMP), Vicksburg, MS.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  The USS Cairo was the lead ship of the City-class casemate ironclads built at the beginning of the American Civil War to serve as river gunboats for the Union.  Cairo is named for Cairo, Illinois. In June 1862, she captured the Confederate garrison of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi, enabling Union forces to occupy Memphis.  As part of the Yazoo Pass Expedition, she was sunk in the Yazoo River (a spur of the Mississippi River) on 12 December 1862 (near Vicksburg), while clearing mines for the attack on Haines Bluff.  Cairo was the first ship ever to be sunk by a mine remotely detonated by hand.  The remains of the Cairo can be viewed at Vicksburg National Military Park with a museum of its weapons and naval stores.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

USS Cairo Gunboat, Vicksburg NMP.

 

The remains of the ship were discovered in 1956 and salvaged in 1964-65.  It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on 3 September 1971.  By 1980 Congress had authorized the National Park Service to accept the boat, move it to the Vicksburg NMP, and put in on display in conjunction with a museum to house the recovered artifacts and tell the story of the boat and its role in the Civil War.

 

One of the bunkers at the Vicksburg National Battlefield site.

 

This photo has nothing to do with the Civil War.  I’ve outlined the fuel economy readout on our F-150 instrumentation cluster.  Folks, you can’t make this stuff up; it really does say 29.1 (miles per gallon).  We had recently filled up the fuel tank and only traveled 39.3 miles, as shown in the lower left, so this was obviously light travel and slightly downhill.  Although this MPG is not sustainable under normal driving conditions, the number in the upper right indicates that we could travel another 747 miles before running out of fuel if we could maintain this MPG.

 

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Note:  This post contains 8 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 26 October 2023 — NTNP 9 of 14 — Choctaw Boundary

 

The JEFF BUSBY PARK information sign told us that Thomas Jefferson Busby, U.S. Congressman from Mississippi, introduced a bill on February 15, 1939 authorizing a survey of the Old Natchez Trace.  This was a direct result of the research and persistent lobbying of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to create the Natchez Trace National Parkway and resulted, four years later, in the historic road being designated a unit of the National Park System.  This park commemorates his role in the Parkway’s establishment.

 

 

Our explorations today of the Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP) included some of the section between Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi, within reasonable driving distance of the campground, which is near Ackerman, MS.

 

 

 

 

 

These are Swamp Tupelo trees.  There might also be Bald Cypress trees in this swamp, at least we recall seeing both at one point along the NTNP.  The name Tupelo is of native origin.  From the National Forest Foundation website:  “The name “tupelo,” a common name used for several varieties of Nyssa trees, literally means “swamp tree” in the language of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (ito ‘tree’ + opilwa ‘swamp’).”

 

CHOCTAW BOUNDARY  The map on this information sign shows the territory ceded to the USA when “…tribal leaders in central Mississippi signed the Treaty of Doak’s Stand, ceding rich cotton lands in the delta region east of the Mississippi River for approximately thirteen million acres in the Canadian, Kiamichi, Arkansas, and Red River watersheds in southeastern Oklahoma.  The history of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma began with the signing of this treaty on October 8, 1820 and ratified in Congress January 8, 1821.  To a much greater extent than we realized when planning this trip, the history of the Natchez Trace includes the history of the native people who occupied this land for a very long time prior to the arrival of Europeans in what became known as North America.

 

A trip down the NTNP is a trip through more than just American and native history.  Before the British and the eventual founding of the USA, the French and Spanish were here, as the following photo explains:

 

PEARL RIVER  This information sign tells that Pierre Le Moyne (Sieur) d’Iberville (a French soldier, explorer, colonial administrator, and trader) sailed into the mouth of this river in 1698 and discovered pearls, thus the origin of the name.  A hundred years later, the Natchez Trace avoided marshy lowlands by following a route between the Pearl and the Big Black Rivers for about 150 miles.  Since 1812, the last 75 miles of the river have served as the boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana.  D’Iberville is noted for founding the colony of Louisiana in New France.

 

Here’s the information sign explaining the TUPELO-BALDCYPRESS SWAMP.  These trees take root in summer when the swamp is mostly dry, but the seedlings have the somewhat unique ability to survive and thrive in water that that is deep enough to kill other plants.

 

CHOCTAW BOUNDARY (complete sign).  This image is 1200×742 pixels, and can be viewed full size on devices with suitable screen resolution.  In addition to the map shown in the third photo in this post, it includes the two wing signs, labeled INDIAN TREAT and DOAKS STAND.  The sign on the left indicates that a line of trees crossing the (now) Parkway just to the left marks part of the boundary that was agreed to in the aforementioned Treaty.

 

This FRENCH CAMP information sign tells yet another story of how a place got its name.  Around 1812, Louis Leflore first traded with the Choctaw Indians in the area northeast of the Trace.  Because he was of French nationality, the area was referred to as French Camp.  The name stuck and is still used today.  Interestingly, he married a Choctaw woman and their son, who changed his name to Greenwood Leflore, became a Choctaw Chief and a Mississippi State Senator.  The City of Greenwood and the County of Leflore are named for him.

 

This panorama shows another view of the Choctaw Lake Campground while Linda and I are out for an early evening stroll following our day exploring another section of the NTNP.

 

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Note:  This post contains 8 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

TUESDAY 24 October 2023 — NTNP 7 of 14 — Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield

 

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield sign.

The Natchez Trace National Parkway (NTNP) passes through a part of the “deep South” that was heavily impacted by the Civil War.  From Wikipedia (paraphrased):  Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield site memorializes the Battle of Brices Cross Roads in which a U.S. Army force was defeated by a smaller Confederate force commanded by Major-General Nathan Bedford Forrest on June 10, 1864, but nevertheless secured Union supply lines between Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The 1-acre site is a grassy park with a flagpole, a memorial monument, two cannons, and some information signs.  The monument and site are very similar to that at Tupelo National Battlefield.  Brices Cross Roads, however, is the only component of the National Park System designated a “battlefield site.”  I felt that last point was interesting in and of itself.

 

 

WITCH DANCE information sign.  The site of local lore, also part of the history of the Natchez Trace.

 

LINE CREEK information sign.  A long time ago a nearby creek that flows through this valley was accepted as the boundary between the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, and remained so until both tribes moved to Oklahoma in the 1830’s.  The course of the creek has changed over the years, but the name has stuck.

 

OLD TRACE information sign.  A 200+ year old section of the “Old Trace” is preserved here, and we walked it.  The sign describes the difficulty of creating and maintaining a nearly 500-mile-long path through the wilderness and how readily nature seeks to reclaim the ground, as shown in the next photograph this section of the trail/road.

 

Maintaining this 10-foot-wide section of the Old Trace involves constant work.  Without continuous human intervention, nature would, it its own time, completely reclaim this path.

 

Elements of Exchange.  Although the type is too small to read in this photo, the map highlights the territories of the Eastern Woodland nations and discusses the materials that served as “currency” for trading purposes.

 

These are obviously mounds, and the photo was taken about 4 minutes after the previous one, so I know they were in the same general area, but we failed to photograph a sign telling me about their significance.

 

OLD TOWN CREEK information sign.  This gist of the historical factoid reported here is that in the early 1800’s ordinary Americans could not be bothered to learn the Chickasaw names for their villages and other landmarks and features.  Thus, a nearby village was dubbed “Old Town” and the name eventually became attached to the creek that runs through the valley.

 

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Note:  This post contains 13 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

SUNDAY 22 October 2023 — NTNP 5 of 14 — Tennessee-Alabama-Mississippi State Lines

Today was our full day at Fall Hallow CG/RVpark/B&B.  The weather was nice, and we took advantage of it to further explore the section of the NTNP from here south a way, having explored from here north yesterday.  Fall Hallow CG is in Hohenwald, Tennessee, but traveling south from here, the Trace cuts across the northwest corner of Alabama.  The first photo below is for Pharr Mounds in Mississippi.  Subsequent photos show the signs for the Mississippi and Alabama sides of their common border along the Trace.

 

PHARR MOUNDS information sign describing the largest and most important native American archeological site in northern Mississippi.  The pre-European tribes in this area where part of the much larger and more extensive Mississippian mound culture, whose center was in Cahokia, Illinois.

 

Ancient mounds co-exist with present day agricultural use of the land.

 

Part of the dashboard in our F-150.  Yup, it shows an average fuel economy of 28.4 MPG.  The F-150 is capable of this when not towing the trailer, the fuel tank has just been topped off, good driving, light traffic, and flat roads with no stops.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Crossing into Mississippi from Alabama on the NTNP.

 

I walked to the other side of the road to photograph the matching sign entering Alabama from Mississippi on the NTNP.

 

The terrain in this area was not all flat, and afforded views like this on occasion.

 

Information sign for ROCK SPRING TRAIL which crosses Colbert Creek and meanders through woodlands to get to Rock Spring.  The sign indicates that since 1977 numerous beaver dams have been built here and subsequently destroyed by high water.

 

This panorama of Rock Spring is a composite of four images made with Microsoft Image Composer.  The resolution if 1200×360 pixels, and can be displayed at full resolution on a device with a suitable monitor.

 

This is a bicycle repair station at one of the rest areas in this section of the NTNP.  It has a “rack” for hanging the bike, all of tools one might need (suitably tethered to the post), and an air pump with integrated air pressure gauge.  Although not yet mentioned in this series of blog posts, bicyclists were much in evidence all along the NTNP and this was not the only such repair stand that we saw.  Most of the cyclists were self-contained.  Some of them camped in the NTNP campgrounds while others stayed in motels just off the Trace.

 

A all-purpose, 3-way water/drinking fountain at the same rest stop as the bicycle repair stand; Left portion for filling water bottles, center for drinking, and bottom right for “Fido.”

 

 

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STATE LINE information signs.  This set of signs describes the boundary between Tennessee (right, north) and Alabama (left, south).  The image is 1200×675 pixels, and can be displayed at full size on a device with appropriate resolution.

 

McGLAMERY STAND information sign.  It says that “a stand was an inn or trading post—sometimes both—established along a well traveled route.”  The one here was established in 1849.  It did not outlast the Civil War, but the nearby village still retains the name.

 

Linda picks her way carefully across a stone portion of trail where it crosses a very wet area.

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Note:  This post contains 7 photos.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.

 

SATURDAY 21 October 2023 — NTNP 4 of 14 — North end NTNP and Meriwether Lewis

Today was a relocation day in which we moved the travel trailer from the Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, Tennessee to Fall Hollow Campground, RV Park, and B&B in Hohenwald, Tennessee.  Again, we camped here for two nights.  As RV parks go, this was not a great place and we did not have a great site.  But we had a FHU site, and the campground was located the desired distance from our previous RV park, so it served its purpose of moving us on down the road and using the full day (tomorrow) to explore the next section of the Trace within reasonable driving distance of the RV park.

 

The Meriwether Lewis Memorial.

 

A reproduction of the Grinder House (I think) where Meriwether Lewis met his demise.

The Natchez Trace National Parkway is not just a pretty drive on a nice paved road; it is that, but it is much more.  Although 440 miles long between it’s northern and southern termini, it is sometimes narrow enough that you could throw a ball across it.  In the wider sections, it is still rarely even a mile wide.  It is also a trail (Trace is French for trail) through history, and that history includes the indigenous people that lived in this part of what became North American long before Europeans arrived on the continent, and were still very much here as the USA expanded westward in the many decades following the War of Independence.

 

A plaque marking the site of the actual Grinder House where Meriwether Lewis died.

We quickly discovered, but were not surprised, that the National Park Service had done their usual exemplary job of making an overarching view of this history available to those travelers who were willing to take the time to read information placards, walk the trails, and ponder the few remaining remnants of a past era.

And, as history is want to do, there were intersections with other aspects of USA history that we did not know about or expect.  One of those intersections had to do with Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Louisiana Purchase.  Lewis, who was President Thomas Jefferson’s private secretary, ended up in this area of the Trace, very much in debt as a result of the expedition.  Despondent about the inability of the Government (congress) to reimburse him for expenses, he took his own life on October 11, 1809.  Perhaps we learned this in our high school American History class but if so, I did not recall it.  We did not learn why he came he, so that is a question left for the reader.

The following photos highlight a few additional aspects of this portion of the NTNP.

 

Information sign for the STEELE’S IRON WORKS site.  Dating from 1820, a charcoal burning furnace located here was used to make pig iron.  Metal Ford crosses the Buffalo River just beyond this sign.

 

Metal Ford was a natural rock ledge that made it possible to cross (ford) the River at this place by the Steele’s Iron Works.  Crossing creeks, streams, and rivers was one of the many challenges of transiting the Trace.

 

Linda captures a picture of me positioning myself to get a photo of Metal Ford at the Steele’s Iron Works site, NTNP.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

And here’s the photo I took of Metal Ford at the Steele’s Iron Works site, NTNP.

 

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Note:  This is the 16th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia north along the inside passage to Sitka, Alaska, and then across the North Pacific Ocean to the Hawaiian Islands, before ending in Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 13 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) taken with SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

FRIDAY 15 September 2023 — (T20-21,C17) Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii and home

This was the 20th day of our trip, and the 17th and final day of our cruise.  We arrived in the early morning hours at the cruise port in Honolulu, Oahu, our final port-of-call in the Hawaiian Islands.  (It was a 21-day trip in total, as we would not arrive back at our home in Michigan until the following day, but I cover a few highlights of that at the end of this post.)

On the last day of a cruise, passengers must disembark fairly early in the day so the crew can “turn the ship around” and get it ready for the next set of passengers, who will start their embarkation by late morning.  When leaving from and returning to ports in the continental USA, we can usually arrange flights back to Michigan that allow us plenty of time to get to the airport without having to wait too long to board our plane after getting there.  In the case of this cruise, however, the most “reasonable” flight we could book departed at around 5 PM local time.  That meant we had to figure out what to do during the day, which included what to do with our luggage, a not insignificant issue.

The easiest solution was to book a motorcoach shore excursion that included transportation to the Honolulu International Airport, with our luggage safely stored onboard the motorcoach until we were dropped off at our terminal.  Yes, pre- and post-cruise shore excursions are a “thing,” as are pre- and post-tour transportation options.  Actually, any service a cruise line can provide, or product they can sell, to extract a bit more money from their customers is a thing.  In this case, however, it was an excellent option for us.  Although we had been to Pearl Harbor on our last visit to Hawaii, it was the shore excursion that best met the needs of passengers, like us, with flights departing after 3 PM local time.  And so, we went to Pearl Harbor.

Although still very much an active military base, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is an interesting, historically important, and somber place that draws some 2 Million visitors every year.  Perhaps we were just tired from the cruise, but it seemed like half of those people were there today, or perhaps just half of the people from our cruise ship.  They weren’t, of course, but the place did seem crowed.  Since we had already seen many of the major sites that make up the National Memorial, we were not motivated to spend more money beyond our entrance fee just to stand in lines and deal with crowds to try to see them again.  We decided to just stroll the grounds instead, read placards, take a few photos, and find something to eat.  Our biggest problem was finding someplace to sit (at all, never mind comfortable) and stay out of the sun.  As we’ve gotten older, however, I think we’ve gotten better at just quietly “passing the time” when we find ourselves in situations that require it, or at least benefit from adopting that attitude.

Here are a few photos from that day, followed by an epilogue to wrap up our 21-day trip.

 

Our ship was already at the dock when I took this photo around 6 AM local time.

 

I am always interested in structures, machines, etc.  Shown here is a service ramp that has already been deployed from the terminal to the ship.

 

The famous Diamond Head (extinct volcano) at the far east end of Waikiki Beach, backlit by the sunrise around 6:30 AM.

 

Another view looking towards Diamond Head, which is towards the right edge of the frame at the horizon, showing some of the skyscrapers in this part of Honolulu.  These could be hotels, apartment/condos, or office buildings.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Since we had to disembark early, we were up and dressed early to get a bite to eat and have one last stroll around the ship.  At ~6:30 AM we had the walking track on Deck 13 (ABIR) to ourselves.  The pool has been covered with netting to keep people out, or catch anyone who might fall in.

 

A panorama composited from five (5) images of the harbor off the port side of the ship.

 

Another early morning photo from the starboard side walking track with the harbor behind Bruce.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Yes, this is a photo of the TV screen in our stateroom.

Regarding the above photo, the left side of the screen clearly shows the time to be 17:01 UTC and the upper right corner shows the time to be 07:01 (local) establishing the 10-hour time difference between Honolulu and Greenwich, England (where Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and UTC are usually the same).

UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) is a time standard that never changes (no daylight savings time nonsense), while GMT is a time zone, in which Greenwich, England is located.  We live in the Eastern Time zone (EST or EDT, depending on the time of year), which is UTC minus 5 this time of year (Daylight savings time was still in effect in the USA).  By the time we arrived back in Michigan, our plane (and us) had been in six (6) time zones over ~ 9-1/2 hours in the air.

The screen also shows our position at 21 degrees 18.12 minutes North Latitude and 157 degrees 51.92 minutes West Longitude.  Linda captured an image (not shown here) of the lower left corner of the screen indicating that our total distance traveled (in the ship) was 4,502 nautical miles (5,180.8 statute miles).  The flight distance from DTW (Detroit) to YVR (Vancouver) is ~1,959 miles, and the flight distance from HNL (Honolulu) to DTW (Detroit) is ~ 4,475 miles.  Thus, the total distance traveled on this trip, not including excursions, was ~ 11,614 statute miles, or ~553 miles per day on average.

 

Welcome to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, which includes Memorials for the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and USS Utah, all lost on the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

An anchor that was salvaged from the USS Arizona.

 

The low white building with the curved roof is the USS Arizona Memorial.  It straddles the ship in its final resting place and has a glass floor, allowing visitors to view the remains of part of the ship.  We visited this Memorial on our previous visit.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A circular courtyard that surrounds a relief map of Pearl Harbor, and has plaques with the names of the lost, provided some place to sit and contemplate the events of the day that pulled the USA into World Ward II.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A broader view of the grounds at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.  The USS Arizona Memorial is visible at the left edge of the frame.  The site is beautifully maintained, as you would expect, and is accessible for those visitors with mobility issues.  I think the exception is the submarine tour, as it involves climbing stairs and, ABIR, ladders.  We toured the submarine on our previous visit to the National Memorial.

…..

 

Epilogue (T20-21) — Friday evening 15 September & Saturday 16 September

With our drop-off at the Honolulu International Airport around 3 PM, our NCL SPIRIT cruise was officially concluded.  We were no longer “cruisers,” just ordinary travelers waiting to fly home.  The drop-off point was a “back” entrance to the terminal and it was a bit confusing at first figuring out where to go once we were inside.  But we figured it out in short enough order, and began the process of checking our two larger suitcases, clearing through the TSA checkpoint, finding our gate, and waiting to be called to board the airplane.  The airport was busy;  the Hawaiian Islands are a popular tourist destination, and Honolulu International Airport is the major way most people arrive and depart.

Time zones are fascinating, and while travel across them can be interesting, it can also be challenging, especially as regards sleeping.  (As noted in several posts, I’ve also had an issue merging photos from three different devices in correct chronological sequence.  This has been due to different devices using different time references when naming and tagging image files.)  ABIR, our Delta Airlines flight was scheduled to depart at around 5 PM Honolulu time.  At 5 PM in Honolulu, it was already 10 PM in Detroit, Michigan, and within a couple of hours of taking off, it was Saturday, 16 September at home.

We had an approximately 4,500-mile trip ahead of us at an average (air) speed of ~500 mph, so roughly a 9-hour flight plus a 30-minute allowance for ground operations (takeoff and landing combined).  The actual time, gate-to-gate, could have been more or less depending on prevailing wind speeds and directions at flight altitude (which tend to be from west to east, so a favorable tailwind), or the need to detour around severe weather.  That put our estimated time of arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) at 6:30 AM local time.  Realistically, that meant we should be off the plane, luggage collected, and ready for pickup by around 7:30 AM, but I no longer recall exactly what time we reached the gate.  Early, in any event, but not hugely inconvenient for our son, who lives about 30 minutes from the airport, and had agreed to fetch us upon our arrival.

As with past cruises, we had one of our children take us to the airport and pick us up upon our return.  That has usually been our daughter, but for this trip it was our son.  We drove our F-150 to his house on departure day and he chauffeured us from/to there.  Part of the reason for this, was that he and his wife wanted to get the truck “detailed” while we were away.  They had borrowed it during the summer, along with the Airstream travel trailer, to use for a family vacation and wanted to get it cleaned up as a “thank you” for letting them use it.  We did not expect them to do this, of course, but we were not going to say “no” either.  They also live closer to the airport than our daughter does.

Back at his house the rest of the family was awake, so we got to see our two youngest grand-daughters and tell everyone a little bit about our trip.  We eventually left for home and arrived to find Cabella (the cat who is not our cat, or so we say) waiting for us, even though she had lived outside for the entire duration of our trip.  (She is an outside cat who has become an outside/inside cat while we are trying to figure out how to take care of her in a way that works for her and us.)  Our neighbor, Mike, had kept an eye on the house (and the cat) while we were away, making sure she had water and refilling her automatic food feeder as needed.

I always like to launder all of the clothes we have had with us on any trip (short or long), but that was a task that would wait until tomorrow and get spread over a couple of days so as not to overload the septic system (or me).  What could not wait, was putting the water treatment system back in full operation.  I shut it off whenever we are gone for more than few days so the tanks do not regenerate, which puts a lot of water into the sump.  I recall that we talked about stopping at a Panera to get something to eat, but I don’t recall what we actually did for lunch or dinner.  I suspect we found something to eat for dinner in our refrigerator and/or panty as Linda usually plans for that when we go on shorter trips.  We had, after all, eaten out every meal for the last 21 days.  For longer trips, we try to use up any fresh food before we leave.

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Note:  This is the 15th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 20 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

THURSDAY 14 September 2023 — (T19,C16) Hilo, Hawai’i, Hawaii and Mona Kea

This was the 19th day of our trip, and the 16th day of our cruise and saw us arrive in the cruise port at Hilo, Hawai’i (the Big Island), Hawaii (the State of).  Our main activity was a shore excursion that stopped at Rainbow Falls Lookout before taking us to the observatories atop Mona Kea (also spelled “Muanakea”).

At 13,803 feet (4,207.3 m) AMSL, which is also its “wet prominence,” the summit of Mona Kea (Muanakea) is the highest point of land in the Hawaiian Islands, and the second highest island mountain summit on earth.  From Wikipedia:  “Because the Hawaiian Islands slope deep into the ocean, Mauna Kea has a dry prominence of 9,330 m (30,610 ft) (it’s height if the ocean was “drained” of water. This dry prominence is taller than Mount Everest’s height above sea level of 8,848.86 m (29,032 ft), so Everest would have to include whole continents in its foothills to exceed Mauna Kea’s dry prominence. …”  The highest summit on an island is Puncak Jaya in New Guinea, Indonesia, which stands at an impressive elevation of 4,884 meters (16,024 feet) above mean sea level.

 

Our first view of Hawai’i (the Big Island) and Mona Kea.  This panoramic photo is a composite of five (5) images.  Mona Loa is just visible at the left edge of the frame.

 

Sunrise lights up Mona Kea as the NCL SPIRIT slowly motors towards the cruise port in Hilo, Hawai’i, Hawaii.  The photo is 900×678 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on compatible devices.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A selfie at Rainbow Falls Overlook in Hilo, Hawai’i, HI.

 

A flower along the trail at Rainbow Falls Overlook.  (Photo by Linda)

 

We always try to take a photo of signs to identify where we are.  If we can get a photo with a clock in it, so much the better as it helps me time sync photos to local time.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Rainbow Fall in Hilo, Hawai’i, HI.

 

I’m holding grand-daughter Sadie’s “Apa and Ama” artwork to mark our location at the Mona Kea ranger station / store (the building behind me).  We are already at/above the level of the clouds.

 

The Mona Kea ranger station/store/museum with our tour van in the front parking lot.  From a web search:  “The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Maunakea is open every day of the year from 9am to 9pm.  Located at the 9,200 foot (2,804 meter) level, they provide health, safety, and other information about Maunakea along with access control.  The road up the mountain is open to any/all visitors up this building.  Beyond this point, permission is needed and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required.  Our tour van met both of those criteria.

 

The VIS has a store with various Mona Kea and astronomy related merchandise.  It is also a small museum focused on telescopes and other things astronomical.

 

One of the radio telescopes on top of Mona Kea.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a joint operation of several universities under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.

 

Our tour guide presents information on the various rocks that make up Mona Kea.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Our tour guide had a Mauna Kea (Mona Kea) sign for photo ops for his customers.  Linda is holding grand-daughter Sadie’s “Apa and Ama” artwork.  (Photo taken with Linda’s phone, but obviously taken by someone else, probably our tour guide.)

 

A panoramic view of several telescopes made using the panorama feature of the Pixel 6 Pro.   This photo file is 1080×271 pixels and can be viewed at full-resolution on compatible devices.

 

This is a composite of two (2) images, showing several different types of telescopes on Mona Kea, how they are situated, and the road(s) that are used to access them.  Not all of the telescopes have a 360-degree clear view of the horizon.  They are situated based on available real estate and what part of the sky they need to be able to see.

 

By now it should be obvious that we were there, but here’s another selfie, just to prove the point.

 

The same two observatories as the previous photo without us in the frame.

 

This panorama is a composite of eight (8) images.  The photo file is 1920×363 pixels, so there is a lot of detail that can be seen on a device with appropriate screen resolution.  There are at least 15 telescopes of various kinds visible in the image, along with a portion of the amazing road system that winds up to and around the observatories and support buildings.

 

Last, but not least, a photo of the actual summit of Mona Kea, several hundred feet above where we are standing, and higher than the highest observatory on the mountain.  Why?  Because the summit is a sacred site to indigenous Hawaiians that is used for special ceremonies throughout the year.  As such, it is not open to the public at any time.

 

We are back on the ship in the theater at the conclusion of the evening’s entertainment at ~10:15 PM.  If was the final ensemble performance of the cruise and featured most of the performers who had entertained us throughout the last couple of weeks.  The performances were of a high enough caliber that we were always entertained.  This final performance was over, so cameras where very evident as passengers tried to capture the celebratory moment.  I took this photo to provide some context for the look of the theater.

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Note:  This is the 14th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 20 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 13 September 2023 — (T18,C15) Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

Our ship arrived in the harbor at Kahului, Maui early this morning.  As was well-reported in the news, Maui had recently suffered a devastating fire in and around Lahaina.  This obviously impacted some of the planned shore excursions, but we did not detect anyone being upset about changes in planned offerings.  Indeed, tourists were being encouraged to visit Maui and support the local economy, but the Lahaina area was obviously off limits.  Any disappointment for cruise passengers was inconsequential compared to the loss and suffering of the impacted islanders.

Our main activity today was a shore excursion with “Hike Maui” east along the first portion of “the road to Hana.”  We were transported in vans and had an excellent tour guide.  There was a lot of walking, but it was mostly easy and it was nice to get off the ship and use our legs to walk around town and in the woods.

 

The NCL SPIRIT approaches Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at sunrise.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda soaks up the sunrise as it floods the port side of the ship inbound to Kahului, Maui.

 

The mountains loom behind Kahului, Maui and make their own weather, as mountains are want to do.

 

This sign says it all:  “Aloha, Welcome to Kahului, Maui, Hawaii” with the NCL SPIRIT in the background.  We enjoyed our time on this ship.  It’s the smallest ship in the NCL fleet, but it’s still pretty big.

 

I hold Sadie’s “Apa and Ama” artwork by a large map of Maui, Hawaii.  Notice how the island resembles a person in lying on their side with the head at the upper left and facing down and slightly left.  The cruise port at Kahului is in the curve of the neck on the back (north/upper) side.  Most of the head is high mountains.  The town of Lahaina, which suffered the worst of the recent fire, is more or less directly opposite Kahului on the other side of the central mountains.  Travel to that area was not allowed, of course, as the area is still recovering and rebuilding.  (Photo by Linda)

 

From a web search:  Maui is an island formed by two volcanoes: Haleakala and Mauna Kahalawai. Haleakala is a 10,000 foot shield volcano that means “House of the Sun” and had its recent eruptions between 1480 and 1600.  Maui is an island formed by two volcanoes: Haleakala and Mauna Kahalawai. Haleakala is a 10,000 foot shield volcano that means “House of the Sun” and had its recent eruptions between 1480 and 160012. Mauna Kahalawai is an eroded shield volcano also known as the West Maui Mountains (the “head”) that last erupted 320,000 years ago. Maui does not have any active volcanoes, unlike Hawaiʻi Island, which has two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Maunaloa.

 

We went on a shore excursion with “Hike Maui.”  Our first stop was the town of Paia.  From a web search:  Pā’ia is  a census-designated place on Maui, Hawaii with a population of 2,470 as of the 2020 census.  It is home to several restaurants, art galleries, surf shops and other tourist-oriented businesses. It was formerly home to the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Mill from 1880 to 2000.  Pā’ia is the first town on the Hana Highway when heading eastbound towards Hana.  It was cute, inviting, and very walkable.  “Surf shops” were much in evidence.

 

We came across a ukelele shop while strolling around downtown Paia.  Yes, Ukuleles really are a thing in the Hawaiian Islands, and this shop had a lot of them!  They were all exquisite instruments whose craftsmanship was obvious, and are sold to customers all over the world.  They ranged in price quite a bit but some of them were, as you might expect, very expensive.

 

The front façade of the Mele Ukulele shop.  I had a nice conversation with the owner, as much about photography and cameras (he was also a SONY shooter) as about ukuleles and living on tropical paradise island.

 

“Hike Maui” has taken us to a bamboo grove.  Much of the bamboo was very tall, as shown in the next photo.  The tour provided water and a light lunch, which was appreciated.

 

The tour guide used Linda’s Pixel 6 to take this photo in which we are dwarfed by a stand of bamboo.  It was nice to have a photo of the two of us that wasn’t a selfie.  (Photo by Linda, sort of)

 

The plant life in Hawaii is remarkable; unique, diverse, beautiful and fragile (to outside negative influences).

 

Our tour guide stops to explain some plant life along the trail.  (Photo by Linda)

 

I just liked this plant, photographically:  An interesting backlit pattern in contrasting shades of green.

 

We pause on our way to the waterfall and wading pool for photo op.  (Photo by Linda’s phone, but someone else obviously took the photo.)

 

On part of a hike to a small waterfall and swimming hole we had to go through this tunnel of twisted branches.  This was one of just many interesting things that were part of the hike.

 

We always appreciate good signposts to help us get where we need to go.

 

This view seemed to be quintessentially Maui; a rugged coast with a white sand beach set off by beautiful blue and green water and a blue sky with some puffy clouds.  If you look carefully at the white sand beach, you will also see a large gathering of very large sea turtles.

 

A zoomed in view of a section of the beach showing the very large sea turtles resting on the sand.  This section of the beach was closed off and posted “No Admittance” but we saw people ignoring that, both from land and from the sea.  (Photo by Linda)

 

I included this photo to show that Hawaiians’ also have a sense of humor.

 

We are back on the ship and having diner around 7:30 PM.  We did not do specialty dining very often, but we got two dinner meals as part of our fare, so we apparently used our second one this evening to dine at Teppanyaki, the Japanese table side grill.  The food was excellent and the chef was very entertaining.  (Photo by Linda)

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Note:  This is the 12th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 26 photographs with captions and some narrative.  I think I finally figured out the file naming/numbering scheme used on the Google Pixel 6 / 6 Pro phones and how to relate that to the EXIF date/time stamps on the phone and SONY a6400 photos.  Which is to say, the photos in this post should be in the correct chronological order and I know what time of day (local) they were taken.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 11 September 2023 — (T16,C13) Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii and McBryde National Tropical Botanical Garden.

After spending five (5) nights, four (4) full days, and part of two (2) other days crossing the North Pacific Ocean, we finally sighted land early this morning.  It was the 16th day of our trip, and the 13th day of our cruise.  By 6:30 AM we were making our way into the harbor at Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii, but we sighted land well before that.  Although I had been to Hawaii once before, and Linda had been here twice, It would be our first visit to this island, as well as to Maui, and we were excited to see them.

Our main activity today was a shore excursion to the McBryde National Tropical Botanical Garden (McBryde Garden or MNTBG), with a stop along the seashore on the way there.  Our guide for the tour of the Garden was a former director of the facility.  It was obvious that he really knew his stuff, and still had a great passion for all things botanical.

 

The NCL SPIRIT enters the harbor at Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A golf course at the entrance to the Nawiliwili, Kauai harbor.  Almost makes me want to take up golf.  Nope.

 

The “Apa and Ama were here” photo from the harbor at Nawiliwili with the marina and mountains behind.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A scenic stop along the coast on our drive to McBryde Garden.

 

Another photo from the scenic stop, looking in the other direction up the coast.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Life seems to be everywhere in the Hawaiian Islands.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Another scenic stop, this time after entering the McBryde National Tropical Botanical Garden property.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The contrast of colors and textures caught my eye.  MNTPG.

 

An interesting flowering plant at the MNTBG.

 

There are small frogs on the Lilley pads at MNTBG.  (This photo is 900×600 pixels.  Click to view full size on an appropriate device.)

 

This fruit was larger than appears (the leaves were really big!).  MNTBG.

 

We don’t see plants like this back in Michigan, except in greenhouse environments.  MNTBG.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The variety of green plant leaves provides a nice backdrop for the very colorful flowers at the MNTBG.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Our guide for the McBryde Garden tour was a former director of the NTBG.  He was very knowledgeable, and clearly still had a deep passion for plants and for the Garden.  Here he is cutting up a large piece of fruit, which grows there, so we can all try a piece.

 

A “walled” garden space at MNTBG, with the walls made of plants.

 

Another interesting plant at MNTBG.

 

And yet another interesting plant in flower at MNTBG.

 

Much of McBryde Garden had a very natural look and feel.  There were places, such as this courtyard, that were clearly designed and built to provide architectural elements within the landscape.  The wavy structure down the center of the photo carries running water.

 

Every now and then we have to stop and take a selfie.  We are not very good at it, but it’s required, you know.  MNTBG.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A different view of the same end of the courtyard showing the statue and bench.  The “walls” of this courtyard are plant material again.  MNTBG.

 

These very large trees had amazing, exposed root systems.  For a sense of scale, the little blue patch at the center of the base is me in my blue Columbia shirt.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda stands by a different tree (same species) as the previous photo.  MNTBG.

 

We encountered quite a few chickens on Kauai, including here at McBryde Garden.  The egg-shaped rocks among the roots are referred to as “dinosaur eggs.”  (Photo by Linda)

 

The green leaves with white dots caught my eye, and reminded me of “candy dots” that I would peel off of a paper backing as a child.  A quick Google search revealed that they are still very much available.  MNTBG.

 

This map of McBryde Garden should probably have come first, but we came across it at the end of our tour.  As shown, a small river (creek, stream) runs through the full length of the property.

 

One last flower photo as we wrap up at McBryde Garden.

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Note:  This is the 11th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has six (6) photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos were taken by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise noted.  (Photos by Linda were taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 06 – SUNDAY 10 September 2023 — (T11-15,C8-12) At Sea on the North Pacific Ocean, and a Death at Sea (not one us)

The NCL SPIRIT departed Sitka, Alaska late yesterday afternoon and headed out into the open ocean for what would be our first of five (5) nights crossing the North Pacific Ocean to Kauai, Hawaii.  Once out of sight of land, we would be at sea for all or part of six (6) days, and not see land it again until the morning of Monday, 11 September, when we were scheduled to arrive in the port at Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii.

Our main reason for doing this cruise was to see southeast coastal Alaska for the first time and make a return visit to the Hawaiian Islands, but this time on a cruise ship.  Another reason for doing this cruise was that we had originally booked the same cruise on the same ship for June 2025, but with the itinerary starting in Hawaii and ending in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  That cruise was canceled by NCL, but Linda found this one in time to book a balcony stateroom in an acceptable location on the ship.

Another reason for doing this cruise at this time, as opposed to some unspecified future date, was to see how we would do spending extended days at sea.  Early in 2023 Linda (and Nancy) had booked a 4-month world cruise, starting in early January 2025, on the MSC Magnifica and we wanted to determine if we would be okay with extended sea days while we still had time to cancel that booking and get a full refund of our deposit.

I can report that we were fine being on the open ocean, out of sight of land and even other marine traffic, for an extended time.  We were favored with good weather, which probably helped, but we have been on cruise ships in less-than-ideal conditions, so we already knew we could handle that, at least for 48 hours.  While ports-of-call are usually new places to visit, with lots of opportunities for new, interesting, and even exciting experiences, cruise ships are fundamentally floating cities, with all of the necessities of life, i.e., housekeeping, interior climate control, food–water–sanitation, and lots of activities and amenities such as: entertainment, games, lectures, libraries, music venues, exercise rooms and classes, casinos and, of course, bars and lounges.  (I borrowed a book on the Bauhaus and managed to read it during the cruise.)  And shopping (lots of shopping).  Most ships have a walking track or promenade, so we could stroll there as an alternative to walking the shop and restaurant decks.  And we had our stateroom where we could relax, read, work puzzles, or just rest.  Without the hustle and bustle of going ashore and being part of shore excursions, we found our days at sea quite relaxing.  When the weather was amenable, we could sit on our private balcony, or go enjoy coffee in a more public, but still relaxing area of the ship.  Indeed, for many people, us included, the ship itself is an enjoyable experience.

What we did not do is “document” our time at sea, in part because the only things that change about the ocean are the weather and waves.  Sunrise and sunset are especially nice times, of course, and we hoped to see amazing stars at night.  But we knew from our Panama Canal cruise that the sky might be obscured by clouds, and the outside lighting on cruise ships never really turns off (presumably for visibility and safety) so the “dark sky” experience is elusive to non-existent.  It was also difficult to get photos that did not include other guests, especially their faces.  But at its core, while photography is a pleasurable hobby, it can be a bit of work, we just wanted to relax.

 

Following are a few photos to give you a sense of our time at sea on the North Pacific Ocean.

 

On our third full day at sea, Linda relaxes on our balcony with a book as the ship glides along under fair weather.  These large cruise ships are very stable and move smoothly through the water, all while traveling at 20 – 22 knots.

 

Linda pauses by the walking track for a photo.

 

A selfie sitting in the main theater waiting for the second show of the evening’s entertainment.  We got there early to get good seats, thus the empty seats behind us.

 

A panoramic composite of 8 images showing storm clouds brewing on the horizon at sunset.  I “enhanced” this photo in post-processing to bring out some of the colors (artistic license) but hopefully have not overdone it.

 

In spite of relatively good weather, we did have occasional rainclouds.  As shown here, we were treated to a double rainbow one day.  (Again, I have also used my artistic license to “enhance” this photo in post-processing to bring out the rainbows.  Again, hopefully have not overdone it.

 

This is the book I checked out of the ship’s library.  Though small, the library had a (perhaps surprisingly) good collection of “serious” books like this one, especially on travel and art.  People using the library as a game room were quiet and respectful of others who might be reading.  It was a small, but wonderful alternative place to the larger public spaces to spend some time without feeling cooped up in our stateroom.  (Note:  There is no reason to feel cooped up in a cruise ship cabin.  The ship is a floating city that operates 24 hours a day with massive amounts of deck square footage.)

 

Epilogue — A Death at Sea

The most unexpected thing that happened during our entire trip/cruise was that the women in one of the cabins next to ours passed away while the ship was crossing the North Pacific Ocean.  We were only aware of this because we heard conversation in the hallway one morning around sunrise and opened the door to see what was going on.  The husband was talking to some crew members, and told us that she had taken ill in their cabin a day earlier and was moved to the medical center but died during the night.

Yes, cruise ships have medical centers.  I think the one on the NCL SPIRIT is typical of cruise ships of this class; a small medical center with two doctors and a nurse/technician, lab equipment including an X-Ray machine, and a small pharmacy.  Apparently this woman already had breathing and other health issues (asthma or COPD, but I don’t recall exactly) and was quickly diagnosed with CoVID-19 as well.  We chatted with the husband (listened, mostly) during the next couple of days.  He was very impressed with the care and skill of the entire crew, especially the medical staff as they worked to treat her, but she lapsed into a comma and passed away before the ship could reach Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii and we were too far from land for an aero medivac.  The command staff gave him access to a phone so he could call relatives with the sad news and call someone in Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii to make arrangements for the transfer of her body to shore and transportation home (lower 48 states in the USA).

It turns out that cruise ships also have a mortuary because, as it turns out, deaths do occur at sea on cruise ships.  Not many, but it does happen.  I decided to do some light research (web search) on the subject and found the following from TouristSecrets.com:

“The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reports that the mortality rate on cruises is considerably lower than on land-based vacations or other modes of transportation.  It is estimated that the annual mortality rate on cruise ships ranges between 0.14 and 0.25 deaths per 100,000 passengers.”   That’s 1.4 to 2.5 deaths per 1,000,000 passenger bookings, or roughly “1 in a million.”  This can also be expressed as 0.000014 to 0.000025 deaths per 100 passengers, which is 0.0014% to 0.0025%.  Any way you look at it, these are very low numbers or probabilities.  So, on a cruise ship with 3,000 guests and 1,500 crew (4,500 total people) the percentage chance of someone dying is 0.0063% to 0.0113% (to 4 decimal places).  But these are not random (roll of the dice) probabilities because people don’t just die on cruise ships for no reason anymore than they do on land.

Here is what I found (courtesy of Bing AI):

On average, approximately 200 people meet their fate aboard cruise ships each year (out of multiple millions of passenger bookings).  While the majority of these deaths result from natural causes, there are instances of accidents, suicides, and even murders.  Here are some key points about cruise ship deaths:

  1. Natural Causes: Most onboard deaths occur due to natural causes. These include health-related issues, age-related factors, and pre-existing conditions.  However, not all cruise lines and countries consistently share their death statistics, so the actual number may be higher than reported.
  2. Accidents: Accidental deaths can happen on cruise ships. These may involve slips, falls, or other unforeseen incidents.  Accidents can occur both at sea and while the ship is docked.  (Cruise ships are constantly moving when underway, and even when docked, and movement can be significant in really bad weather.  These ships also have a LOT of stairs, although elevators provide access to all guest floors.  Anyone with balance/stability/walking issues should be mindful of these factors.)
  3. Murders: While incredibly rare, cruise ship murders do occur. These are usually committed by someone the victim knows, often during heated arguments or due to a history of abuse. Guns are strictly prohibited on cruise ships, so most murders involve stabbings or pushing victims overboard.

I would add suicide to the list.  Again, very rare, but they do occur.  Remember that these incidents represent an incredibly small fraction of the millions of passenger bookings each year. The overall risk remains (extremely) low, but serve as a reminder that it’s essential to be aware of health and and safety measures/protocols while at sea.  And there is some comfort, I suppose, in knowing that cruise ships are prepared to deal with these situations.

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Note:  This is the 10th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 21 photographs with captions and some narrative.  All photos were taken by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda were taken using a Google Pixel 6.)

As I am writing these posts some five (5) months after our trip, I have struggled with getting the correct local time stamp for each photo and thus establishing the correct time sequence for images within a post.  The issue is the intermixing of photos from two Pixel smartphones with photos from a Sony a6400 ILC camera while shooting in different time zones far removed from home.  I think I have the photos in this post in the correct order, but have avoided making any reference in the captions to the time of day an image was captured.

 

TUESDAY 05 September 2023 — (T10,C7) Sitka, AK

This was day 10 or our trip, day 7 or our cruise, and our final stop in Alaska before crossing the North Pacific Ocean to the Hawaiian Islands.  We arrived in the Sitka harbor early this morning.  The weather was hazy upon arrival, but quickly gave way to blue skies with nice puffy clouds over the surrounding mountains.  It was just cool enough to require a light jacket, which made for wonderful conditions to walk around the town and go on a guided shore excursion with a very good local guide.

Sitka is a fascinating city with a history that placed it at the center of a crossroads of cultures.  The area around Sitka has been the traditional home of the Tlingit people for thousands of years, and they are still here.  The Russians arrived in 1804 and forcibly established a colony with Sitka (New Archangel) as its Capital.  It later became the Capital of American Alaska when the Russians sold the territory to the United States in 1867.

The Tlingit maintain a vibrant culture here with a performance center in the style of a traditional community clan house; offerings include song and dance.  Traditional art abounds in the Center and various art galleries, as well as the many intricately carved totem poles in the National Park peninsula.  Russian influence is evident in the onion domed Cathedral of St. Michael and the Russian Bishop’s House, as well as the Russian Cemetery and the names of places, buildings, and streets.  Russian dance is performed in town by the New Archangel dancers, while Summer music festivals celebrate Jazz as well as other musical traditions.

Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  Sitka is a unified city-borough in the southeast portion of the U.S. state of Alaska. It was under Russian rule from 1799 to 1867.  The city is situated on the west side of Baranof Island and the south half of Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago of the Pacific Ocean.  As of the 2020 census, Sitka had a population of 8,458, making it the fifth-most populated city in the state.   Although the City of Sitka is located on a two small islands, the borough encompasses a vast area.  According to the United States Census Bureau, the city-borough is the largest incorporated municipality by area in the U.S., with a total area of 4,811 square miles (12,460.4 sq km ), of which 2,870 square miles (7,400 sq km ) is land and 1,941 square miles (5,030 sq km ), comprising 40.3%, is water.

We enjoyed our short time in Sitka, as we did in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, but we sensed that we would enjoy returning here for a longer visit and the opportunity to explore the area more thoroughly.

 

This photo is from the day before around 4 PM as the ship was departing from Skagway.  (Photo by Linda)

 

We had slightly hazy weather for our arrival in the Sitka area, and the best scenery was to the ESE, into the sun.

 

After playing around with this photo for a while in post -processing, I decided it looked best as a black & white image.  (I got my first camera when I was 16 and started out shooting with B&W film and learning how to develop it and make prints using a darkroom that belonged to my parent’s best friends.  It still appeals to me.)

 

We were “anchored out” during our time in Sitka.  (It was never clear to me if this was due to a lack of adequate dockage for a ship our size, or a limited amount of such dockage that was already occupied by another ship or ships.)  A fuel ship prepares to come along side and refuel the SPIRIT in advance of our crossing the North Pacific Ocean.  (The fuel ship is not a barge as it is under its own power.)  (Photo by Linda)

 

As the NCL SPIRIT was anchored out, we had to tender in to the Sitka marina.  Shortly after disembarking from the tender, we were greeted by this very helpful sign with highlights marked on a map of the main downtown area.

 

I never tire of views where mountains meet the water.  This was captured from near the Sitka marina looking out towards our ship, which is just visible center frame where the mountains and water meet.

 

The “Welcome to Sitka” sign seemed like a good place to take a “Apa and Ama are here” photo for grand-daughter Sadie.  We tried to remember to take a photo in each place we visited and text them to her parents so she could follow our travels.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda holds the Apa and Ama artwork for another “we are here” photo.  This one is in Totem Square with the Sitka Pioneers Home in the background.  It might look like a hotel, but it’s actually an assisted living complex; one of the nicest we had ever seen (at least form the outside).

 

On June 14, 1879 the U.S.S. Jamestown (a sailing ship of war) arrived in the waters near Sitka to relieve the U.S.S. Alaska, and eventually moored near where this sign now stands.  From 1879 to 1881, she was the official seat of government for the Alaska District.  The Jamestown was relieved in August 1881 by the U.S.S Wachusett (a steam ship of war), which continued as the seat of government for the District of Alaska until the Civil Government was finally established by the Organic Act of 1884.

 

Our shore excursion today included a visit to the Sitka National Historical Park (aka Totem Park).

 

Our visit to Sitka NHP included a walk in the woods.  The tour guide (left) and Linda (right) are sporting their Tilley hats.  Linda’s lightweight hoodie says “Travel Park Connect.”  This was the motto of the RVillage social media platform.  I have one too.  It was a great idea and good platform for RVers that was very popular but did not survive.

 

While walking through Totem Park, we got to stop at a small footbridge over the Indian River, an active Salmon run.  Although not really visible in this photo (I couldn’t get a good one) the stream was thick with salmon swimming against the current, presumably trying to reach their spawning grounds.  It was quite a sight.  As I mentioned in a previous post, when I think of Alaska I think of Grizzly Bears, Bald Eagles, and Salmon.  I would add to that Eskimos and other indigenous people, totem poles, Polar Bears, Moose, Elk, Caribou, Whales, Bush planes/pilots, and oil production.

 

A shed at Sikta NHP / Totem Park where totem poles are repaired and restored.  (Photo by Linda)

 

This panorama of the Historic Campus of the Sika Fine Arts Camp is a composite of seven images.  The image is 1920 x 270 pixels; clicking on it will display it full size on a device with a suitable monitor.

 

The Sheldon Jackson Museum, founded in 1888, houses an exceptional collection of Alaska Native ethnographic material gathered by Presbyterian missionary and General Agent of Education for Alaska, the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson.  It was purchased by the State of Alaska in 1985.

 

This charming and well-maintained building is St. Peter’s By The Sea Episcopal Church.  It was established on Thanksgiving Day in 1896, the same year the Klondike Gold Rush began.

 

The Russian Bishop’s House is now part of Sitka National Historical Park.  Given that Alaska was Russian territory for 68 years before being sold to the USA, it was not surprising to see Russian influences everywhere, including in the names of islands, streets, buildings and, of course, churches.  Next photo please.

 

Paraphrased from Wikipedia:  St. Michael’s Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel, is a cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America, Diocese of Alaska, in Sitka, Alaska. The earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World, it was built in the nineteenth century, when Alaska was under the control of Russia.  After 1872, the cathedral came under the control of the Diocese of Alaska.  It had been a National Historic Landmark since 1962, notable as an important legacy of Russian influence in North America and Southeast Alaska in particular.  An accidental fire destroyed the cathedral during the night of January 2, 1966, but it was subsequently rebuilt.  The new building’s green domes and golden crosses are a prominent landmark in Sitka.  Some of the icons date to the mid-17th century; two icons are by Vladimir Borovikovsky.

 

Our shore excursion guided walking tour ended atop Castle Hill.  Looking northeast, the green domes and golden crosses of the Orthodox Cathedral are visible  through the trees.

 

A view (probably from Castle Hill) of the mountains, and the east end of the harbor, south of Sitka, Alaska.  (Photo by Linda)

 

We departed Sitka Harbor in the late afternoon / early evening and were greeted by this spouting whale and fishing boat.  Fishing boats were numerous in the harbor and marina.  This was the last time we would see land until the morning of Monday 11 September when we arrived at the port in Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii.

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Note:  This is the 9th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 27 photographs with captions and some narrative.  All photos taken by me (Bruce) using a SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 04 September 2023 — (T9,C6) Skagway, AK — Miners Camp, Bar & Brothel, White Pass & Yukon Railroad

This was day 9 or our trip and day 6 of our cruise.  We had three shore experiences, but they were booked as one shore excursion that provided transportation between venues and ensured we met the starting times for each one, including getting back to the ship on time.

The excursion(s) started with a bus ride to the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp & Salmon Bake, a private reproduction gold mining camp.  It was nicely done, but only provided a sanitized glimpse at what life must have been like during the Klondike gold rush period, which started in 1896.  The “camp” we experienced was certainly much cleaner than the reality of a by-gone era of fortune-seeking in the Alaskan wilderness.  Our visit to the camp included panning for gold (we didn’t get any), a show in the Hippodrome (which was very good), and a buffet lunch (with LOTS of salmon on offer along with lots of side dishes).

Back in town, we toured the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel.  It was a brothel in its day, but is now a museum (of course), although the saloon is still a functioning bar.  Again, a somewhat “sanitized” glimpse, but a glimpse nonetheless, into another aspect of frontier life in the Klondike Gold Rush era.

Our third experience, and one of the highlights of our entire trip, was a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railway from Skagway, AK through White Pass Summit (mm 20.4) and ending in Fraser, British Columbia (mm 27.7). The return trip to Skagway was by motorcoach, which is much faster than the return trip by train, but also gave us different views.

Paraphrased from Wikipedia (and other sources):  The White Pass and Yukon Railway was completed in 1900.  The 3-foot “narrow gauge” railway extended from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory of Canada, a distance of 177 km (~ 110 miles).  It was built in two sections; the first from Skagway, AK north to Carcross, BC (67.5 mi) and the other from Whitehorse, YT south to Carcross (42.9 mi).

When first built, the railway transported would-be miners, equipment, and supplies to the gold fields in the Yukon Territory, as well as points along the route.  It continued to service mines all along the route until metal prices collapsed and the railway closed on October 7, 1982.  The route reopened from Skagway to White Pass Summit in 1988 (20.4 mi) for tourist traffic only, to Fraser, BC in 1989 (an additional 7.3 mi for a total of 27.7 mi) and then to Bennett, BC in 1992 (another 12.9 mi for a total of 40.6 mi).  The reopening from Skagway north was at the urging, and with the active support, of the cruise line industry, which was already calling on Skagway and saw the potential for a unique onshore experience.  (The parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines is a major stakeholder in the current railroad operations.)

The hope has always existed that the entire route would reopen someday.  A train from Skagway, AK reached Carcross Station, YT in 1997 for the “Ton of Gold Centennial Celebration,” a distance of 67.5 miles (~110 km), and this is the currently active portion of the original line.  On October 10, 1997 a special passenger train (invitation only) ran from Carcross Station to Whitehorse, affirming that the rails were still intact and usable.

Here are some highlights of our day in photos and captions:

 

The entrance to Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp.  The “camp” is mostly based on tents displaying various aspects of camp life in the Klondike Gold Rush era.  “Rustic” permanent buildings on-site house a store, restrooms, and the Hippodrome entertainment venue.

 

Our Liarsville location photo for grand-daughter Sadie with her Apa and Ama artworks.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Signs to the most important places in the Liarsville camp (top-to-bottom): General Store, Brothel, and Restrooms.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The Liarsville Hippodrome; a covered entertainment venue (that would not have been part of an 1897 Gold Rush camp).  (Photo by Linda)

 

The young (to us) entertainers were very good.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Linda pans for gold.  (She didn’t find any.)

 

The Liarsville experience included a salmon bake luncheon.  Shown here is the Cookhouse.  It was here for tourists and employees and would not have been part of an authentic tent camp.

 

A view of the “back-room bar” at the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel.  The “madam” serves drinks to our tour group and “explains” the operation of the establishment.  The “rooms” are upstairs and we got to tour that area as well.

 

A massive snowblower used to clear the White Pass & Yukon Railway tracks.  My research indicated that it still works, and is still used, and is quite a sight to see in operation.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A rare selfie of the two of us.  We are in our Pullman-style train car as the train starts its journey up to White Pass Summit and Fraser, BC.  (Photo by Linda)

 

A view from of the left side of the train from in-between two of the passenger cars.  The views were constantly changing, and always amazing, but not always easy to capture from a moving platform with limited choices of shooting angle (and lots of other passengers also trying to take photos).  (Photo by Linda)

 

This a composite of two images that Linda shot with her phone.  The Coastal Range are some serious mountains.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The train approaches one of several trestle bridges that span deep gorges.  The construction of this rail line was quite a feat of engineering and labor.  (Photo by Linda)

 

In the area around White Pass Summit, the highest surrounding peaks are in the 6000 to 7000 ft AMSL category.  The highest peak anywhere near Skagway is Mt. Fairweather.  Located 89 miles to the SW of town, near the ocean coast, it rises to 15,325 ft AMSL.  It is part of a range with numerous peaks in the 10K, 11K, and 12K foot ASL categories, and must be quite a sight to see from the ocean.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Mountains, mountains everywhere, with snow still present in the highest elevations.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The WP&YR uses several different types of diesel-electric locomotives, and still operates a couple of steam engine locomotives.  Our locomotives were black with a red horizontal stripe, but I have been unable to identify the exact model.

 

If this photo is of the maintenance yard, it is out of order.  The sequence number (assigned by the camera), however, indicates that it is in the correct order, so I’m not sure what is being shown here, but I have included it anyway.

 

A view of our passenger car from the rear as Linda (closest person to the camera on the right) enjoys the scenery.

 

Somewhere along the White Pass & Yukon Route (the image has been manipulated, obviously).

 

Well, this is obviously a view from Rocky Point, which is mm 6.9, so we still had most of the trip ahead of us.  The day was obviously cloudy, but the views were spectacular nonetheless.

 

A jagged peak towers into the clouds.  Like I said earlier, the Coastal Ranges are serious mountains.

 

Our train crosses a gorge and disappears into a tunnel.  There are only two tunnels on the WP&YR route, Tunnel Mountain at mm 16.0 and a newer one (1969) at mm 18.8.  I was unable to determine which one this was after the fact.

 

The end of our train as it is about to cross a trestle bridge over a gorge and follow the rest of the train into a tunnel.

 

Distant views.

 

White Pass Summit and the monument marking the boarder between Alaska (USA) and British Columbia (Canada).  The Summit at White Pass is 2,864 ft AMSL.  The train starts in Skagway a few feet above sea level and climbs ~ 140 feet per mile traveled, on average.  That’s a 2.65% grade, on average.

 

The (old) North West Mounted Police (NWMP) station.  I think this was right after crossing into British Columbia, but I’m not sure of the exact location.

 

Our train ride ended in Fraser, British Columbia, where we cleared Canadian Customs before boarding a motorcoach for the return trip to Skagway via the Klondike Highway.

 

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Note:  This is the 6th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia Honolulu, Oahu.  This post has 14 photographs with captions and some narrative.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with SONY alpha 6400 or Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photo by Linda taken with Google Pixel 6.)

 

FRIDAY 01 September 2023 (T6,C3) Ketchikan, Alaska and Totem Bight State Historical Park

 

This was day 6 of our travels and day 3 of the cruise.  I’m not sure what time we arrived at Ketchikan, Alaska, but our first photos, taken from our balcony, appear to be from 6 AM local time.  If so, we were up early and dressed for the arrival.  The embarkation “sail away” is always a big deal, but we especially like arriving in a new port-of-call.  Cruise ships often arrive in ports very early in the morning to give their guests as much time as possible to go ashore (and spend money on shore excursions).  Departure is typically anywhere from mid-afternoon to early evening, depending on the distance/time to the next port.  These ships are able to set and course and speed and maintain it with considerable precision, so they have very accurate ETAs as a rule.   After a few photos, I presume we went in search of breakfast somewhere on the ship.

 

Proof of Arrival for grand-daughter Sadie.  The pony on the left (of the photo) is labeled “APA” (Grandpa Bruce) and the other one is labeled “AMA” (Grandma Linda).  (Photo by Linda)

 

We were docked starboard side in, so we had a view of most of Ketchikan from our stateroom balcony.  Most of the town is nestled between some small mountains and the water, and has an extensive waterfront.  This is a composite image of 4 photographs.

 

We booked a shore excursion to Totem Bight State Historical Park (TBSHP), which took up the late morning.  As we stepped ashore to gather by our tour bus, we were aware that this was the first time we had set foot on Alaskan soil.

One of things we noticed on the Coastal Alaska portion of this cruise was that many of the tour bus drivers/guides and venue guides were relatively young.  In conversation, we discovered that many of them were from Brigham Young University (Utah) and were here working seasonal jobs.  The reason is that BU has a semester schedule that makes it possible for students to take jobs in places like Alaska at times of the year when they are needed.  They also have a training program for tourist industry work, and many companies recruit from there as a result.  We were impressed that these relatively young folks had gotten their CDL-B (Commercial Driver’s License – Passenger Bus).

 

An information board on arrival at TBSHP.

 

A totem pole at the entrance into TBSHP.

 

The lovely, wooded entrance path into TBSHP.

 

The Lodge House at TBSHP.  Our tour guide provides scale for the carved figures that support the massive beams that support the rafter beams for the roof.

 

The Lodge House at TBSHP viewed from the entrance end.

 

A view of the Lodge House at TBSHP from the side, with several totem poles visible.

 

 

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A view of the Lodge House at TBSHP from the side, with several totem poles visible.

 

Another interesting totem pole as we were exiting the TBSHP.

 

Upon return to the cruise ship dock, we walked the town for a while before returning to our ship well ahead of “all on board” time.

 

A view of one of the streets in Ketchikan.  Ketchikan was a neat little town, but busy with tourists and vehicles and difficult to photograph in an interesting or meaningful way.

 

This photo is from mid-afternoon, not long after leaving the dock in Ketchikan.  Seven images were composited to form this panoramic photograph.

 

 

These ships are part of the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is headquartered in Ketchikan, Alaska.  There is a major dry dock facility just out of frame to the left with a ship in it for repairs.

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Note:  This is the 4th of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-dat (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post consists of 13 photos with captions and some narrative.  Photos taken by me (Bruce) with SONY alpha 6400 and Google Pixel 6 Pro unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda taken with Google Pixel 6.)

 

WEDNESDAY 30 August 2023 — (T4,C1)  NCL SPIRIT Embarkation & Sail-Away, Le Bistro French Restaurant

Today was the fourth day of our trip, and the first day of our “Ice & Fire” cruise on the NCL cruise ship SPIRIT.  Embarkation was at the cruise terminal at the Port of Vancouver, which we had visited during the last couple of days to make sure we knew where it was and how to get in as pedestrians.  Given that it was only ~0.5 miles from our hotel, which did not have a shuttle service, we walked to the cruise port with our roller bag suitcases rather than take a cab or Uber.  I’ve mentioned previously that central/downtown Vancouver is a very walkable city, at least in nice weather.

Embarkation was relatively easy.  We checked our larger bags, and took our smaller ones on-board with us rather than leave them for the porters to deliver.  We had to wait for a while to gain access to our stateroom but once we did, we dropped off our bags and explored the ship.  We would naturally do this anyway, as there isn’t much else to (other than drink or swim) while all of the guests are being embarked, but we have also discovered that this is one of the “tips” that is widely shared on Youtube cruising channels.

We made an assumption that the scenery going up the inside passage might be better on the starboard (mainland) side of the ship, so we booked a balcony cabin on that side (the right when facing forward towards the bow).  We chose a room on Deck 9 near the fore-aft center of the ship.  This deck was high enough to have a good view and a near optimal location to minimize the effect of the ship’s movement by being near the ships center of gravity.  This minimizes both roll (side-to-side, worse the higher up you are) and pitch (fore-to-aft, worse the closer you are to the bow or the stern).  (The most movement is felt high up at either end of a ship.)

 

I hold two “cards” that our 4-year-old grand-daughter made.  We tried to photograph them each place that we visited and share the photos with her.  This photo was taken around 10 AM local time near the bow as the ship was docked “bow in” such that the bow was close to shore and the buildings of central downtown Vancouver, BC.  (Photo by Linda)

After getting to our room, we explored the ship for a bit and then had some lunch in the café (buffet).

 

This photo was taken from the forward lounge (the bow of the ship is visible).  The “sails” to the right of the ship are on the roof the terminal, which also houses Canada Place.  The upper deck by the sails is publicly accessible and affords a great, close-up view of docked cruise ships.

 

This photo is a view of the rear of the ship with the small swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs arranged on stadium tiers.  The land in the background is North Vancouver on the other side of the harbor.

 

A rare photo of me on an upper/rear deck above the rear swimming pool looking towards the exit from the harbor and the bridge to North Vancouver.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Departure was scheduled for mid-late afternoon local time, and the ship started to move away from the dock around 3 PM, ABIR (and as evidenced by my photos).  We had a lovely cruise out of the Vancouver harbor, with lots of seaplane activity, something we don’t see much at home.  We watched the scenery go by for quite a while, but eventually went to dinner.

 

The ship has left the dock, and is making a backing turn.  This and the next three (3) photos were taken from the upper forward lounge though large plate glass windows.  This resulted in reflections and a heavy blue cast to the images, which I tried to correct.  Notice how the cruise terminal juts out like the bow of a ship, which was the architectural intent.

 

Another view of the Port of Vancouver Cruise Terminal.  The ship-like appearance is even more apparent here, with the “sails” flying above the building.

 

The ship is bringing the bow around towards the harbor entrance with the Vancouver skyline visible to port (left).

 

From Wikipedia:  “The Lions Gate Bridge, opened in 1938 and officially known as the First Narrows Bridge, is a suspension bridge that crosses the first narrows Burrard Inlet and connects the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, to the North Shore municipalities of the District of North Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver, and West Vancouver.”

 

The entrance/exit from the harbor is underneath a bridge (center of the frame) that connects Vancouver (left) and to the North Shores municipalities (right).

 

The ship is about to pass under the Lion’s Gate Bridge that connects Vancouver (left) to the North Shores municipalities (right).  The bridge marks (symbolically) the boundary of Vancouver harbor with the larger Pacific ocean.

 

Once the ship was out of the harbor and underway we eventually went to dinner.  Dining on NCL ships is “freestyle,” which means we did not have an assigned dining room, time, or table.  This is not true with all cruise lines, but it’s something we like and will look for on future cruises, regardless of the cruise line.  On this occasion, however, we had booked a table at Le Bistro, the specialty French restaurant.  I think we got two specialty restaurant meals as part of our cruise fare, and Linda thought it would be nice to use one of for our embarkation dinner, and she was right (of course).  We booked a 7:45 PM seating.  The setting was lovely and the food was amazing.

 

Linda models our table at Le Bistro, with lots of glasses waiting to be filled.

 

Our salad.  I think it had artichokes, but whatever it was, it was amazing.

 

I pose with what I presume was the main course.  Whatever it was, it was also amazing, because our recollection is that everything about this meal was amazing.  (Photo by Linda)

 

The Le Bistro dinner menu for this evening.  The reality of cruise ship dining is that we have to become vegetarians (or pescatarians) as true vegan options are very limited to non-existent, unless we only eat salad from the café/buffet venue.  (Photo by Linda)

 

Sometime during the day, and certainly before we went to sleep for the night, we unpacked our suitcases and found a storage place for everything.  We appreciated that the empty suitcases fit neatly under the bed and did not take up valuable closet or floor space.  Had they been a few inches thicker, they might not have fit.  Something to keep in mind for future cruises.

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Note:  This is the 3rd of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post consists of four (4) photos with captions and some narrative.  All photos were taken with a Google Pixel 6 Pro by me (Bruce).

 

TUESDAY 29 August 2023 — (T3) Exploring Vancouver, British Columbia (CA) for another full day

This was the third day of our trip and the second of two full days we allocated to explore the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  We were suitably impressed with our explorations yesterday and were glad we at least allowed a second full day.  Today we … well, I don’t know exactly what we did today, but I know what we did not do; we did not take very many photos.  As I am working on this blog post almost exactly 5 months after the fact, we are trying to recall highlights of the day.

Based on the available photos, it appears that we mostly consumed food but (ABWR) we mostly explored the area around our hotel on foot as our hop-on/hop-off passes expired sometime later in the day yesterday.  We recall walking along a street with a lot of shopping and food establishments in low-rise buildings and discovered a nearby Breka Bakery location.  Based on the time stamps on the photos, we returned there sometime in the evening and bought some bakery treats to bring back to our hotel room.  We vaguely recall that the weather was overcast with intermittent rain, which would explain why we took so few photos, or at least why we walked the area near the  hotel and I did not take any photos with the SONY alpha 6400 as I did not want to get it wet.

 

We had an early afternoon dinner at the restaurant in the downtown Vancouver Coast Coal Harbor Hotel.  L-2-R in the photo:  lettuce wraps, avocado dip & chips, and some kind of taco-like things (I think).  ABIR, they were very delicious and probably (mostly) vegan.  (Maintaining a plant-based diet is challenging when traveling, especially on a cruise ship. Meat and poultry can always be avoided, but fish, seafood, and dairy become more of a challenge.)

 

The time stamp on this photo is 03:51 (3:51 AM) on 30 August 2023.  The date/time stamp is UTC, and the local time in Vancouver is UTC minus 8.  That means this photo was shot at 7:51 PM on the previous date, i.e., 29 August.   Shown is a chocolate layer cake that Linda selected at the Breka Bakery outlet walking distance from our hotel.

 

This is what I selected from Breka Bakery.  It’s a crumb-topped cakey-thingy.  I do recall that it was delicious.  Knife and fork shown for scale.

 

This is a photo of the outside of the lid for the fold-up box that my crumb-topped cakey-thingy came in.  The packaging was as beautiful as the desserts.  Breka has seven (7) locations in the greater Vancouver BC area, and all of them are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  It’s probably a good thing that we do have one of these near our home.  I think we discovered the one near our hotel while we were out exploring the area on foot, so that is apparently what we spent the day doing.

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Note:  This is the 2nd of 16 posts about our 21-day trip that included a 17-day (16-night) cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship SPIRIT from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Oahu.  This post consists of 25 photos with captions and some narrative.  Photos were taken by me (Bruce) with a SONY alpha 6400 or a Google Pixel 6 Pro, unless otherwise indicated.  (Photos by Linda were taken with a Google Pixel 6.)

 

MONDAY 28 August 2023 — (T2) Exploring Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)

This was the second day of our trip and the first of two full days we allocated to explore the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  The city had been on our bucket list for some time, and it was exciting to finally be here.  We had read that it is an economically vibrant place that is very ethnically and culturally diverse, and looked forward to seeing and experiencing some of that in our relatively short visit before getting on a cruise ship.

 

A view of the skyscrapers near the Vancouver BC Coast Coal Harbor Hotel as we head out just after 7 AM to find coffee and a light breakfast.

 

A view from outside the downtown 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters.  The coffee shop was near our hotel and with excellent coffee and bread/pastry choices.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

IAs mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, the elevators in our hotel required our key card to access the floors various floors.  Not just the penthouse floors, but all of them.

 

I don’t recall what floor our hotel room was on; it was not the top floor (20), but it was fairly high up.  This is a panorama from the floor-to-ceiling window facing roughly south to slightly southwest.  Linda picked this hotel because it was a) close (walking distance) to the downtown train station and cruise port (Port of Vancouver), and b) not too expensive for its location.  It proved to be a nice hotel and a great location.

 

Our first destination today was Stanley Park, one of the “must see” things to do in Vancouver.  Located on the peninsula northwest of downtown Vancouver, it was walking distance from the hotel, but also accessible via the hop-on / hop-off bus.  This is a view from the park looking back towards downtown.

 

Linda photographed this map signboard to help us navigate this rather large (1,000 acres) park.  (Better/digital maps are available online from the City of Vancouver.)  The park was very green, with large trees and wonderful flower beds.  It is one of the premiere urban parks in North America and is a west coast rainforest ecosystem.  It has 17 miles of pathways and a 5.4-mile-long seawall.  It lived up to its billing, and was a wonderful place to spend a few hours and get in some “steps.”  (Photo by Linda.)

 

One of the highlights of Stanley Park are the authentic Totem Poles.

 

Another view of the Totem Poles in Stanley Park.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

Linda stands by the base of very large tree for scale.  Stanley Park is a west coast rainforest and has approximately 500,000 trees, many coniferous (Red Cedar, Hemlock, and Douglass Fir).  Although heavily logged in the late 1800’s, some of the trees are hundreds of years old, with the largest trees standing 249 feet tall.

 

The trees in Stanley Park are not all green.  There were scenes like this all along our walk through the park.

 

The flowering plants and shrubs throughout the park were also wonderful.

 

Another example of the beautiful flowering plants found along the paths.

 

The entrance to the Granville Island Public Market area.  From Wikipedia and Trip Advisor (via Bing):  “Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in the Fairview neighborhood of Vancouver, BC (Canada) across False Creek from Downtown.  Formerly industrial, today it is a posh artsy neighborhood filled with shops, eateries, breweries, and the Granville Island Public Market.  Arts and culture festivals are hosted here year-round.”  It was charming, and popular.

 

This photo of a street in the market area of Granville Island does not do justice to the place or how busy it was.  The Public Market was extensive, with lots of interesting vendors, but it was bustling with people, so we did not get a usable photo of the inside.

 

Our hop-on/hop-off tickets included access to the small ferries that go to various docks on False Creek.

 

We visited the Maritime Museum.  This is a view looking back towards downtown.

 

A panorama from the same vantage point.  Mountains surround the Vancouver metro area.  They are visible here, but often did not show up in our photos as the weather was hazy.  (Photo by Linda.)

 

Another view of skyscrapers (they are everywhere) from the ferry before landing at the Plaza of Nations dock and resuming on explorations by bus.

 

You have got to love a plant-based pizza and ice cream place named “Virtuous Pie.”  Being located in Vancouver’s Chinatown district was a bonus.  At least one source claimed it was the best pizza in North America.  We haven’t eaten every pizza in N.A., so we can not substantiate that claim but our meal, pictured here, was absolutely delicious.  Really good vegan pizza is not easy to make, but our pies were top shelf and their plant-based ice cream was also outstanding.

 

What you are looking at here is a steam-powered mechanical clock with four clock faces and most of the workings visible.  From AtlasObscura (paraphrased):  The clock is located in the Gastown district (central Vancouver), the city’s original/oldest neighborhood.  Vancouver has a central heating system that supplies steam heat to much of the city’s core, and the clock gets its steam from that system.

 

Another view of the steam clock, located in the 300 block of Water Street.  It was built in 1977 and sits atop one of the steam vents for the central heating system.  It is one of only a few functioning steam clocks in the world and is a “must-see” attraction, so we did.  There was a small crowd there along with us, which apparently is always the case, and the clock did not disappoint.  I actually shot a video with sound, but I am not posting it here (too many megabytes).

 

A composite image of the Disney Cruise Line ship WONDER as it departs the Port of Vancouver BC.  The large building center-left is the Vancouver Convention Center West.

 

The Canada Place portion of the Port of Vancouver BC Cruise Port Terminal.  The design of this port/terminal is suggestive of a ship, and allows the public to get an up-close view of docked cruise ships and watch them sail away and dock.  There is no admission charge as there are shops in the complex.

 

Looking west from Canada Place towards the Vancouver Convention Center West, the objects in the water to the right of the Convention Center are seaplanes.  These are not something we see very often where we live, but there were quite a few of them here, and we often saw them taking off or landing.