A few hours in Vancouver, B.C. (Alaska 2015 Trip Report)

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

Arriving in Vancouver in the wee hours of the morning and then having a train to catch to Seattle at about 6PM, we certainly didn’t have much time do see even a sliver of the sites that Vancouver has to offer. But, since our transportation option to the Pacific Northwest took us to Vancouver, we decided to make the most of the short time we did have in Vancouver. We spent all that time at Stanley Park. And holy smokes, we probably could’ve spent another full day or two JUST seeing that park.

Well, first, we started off with breakfast at Le Petit Belge, just a block from the hotel. They offered some amazing Belgian Waffles, both sweet and savory! (I got savory, and Ken got sweet!)

Exterior of Le Petit Belge Sign for Le Petit Belge Savory waffle with prosciutto, asparagus, and egg salad Large waffle with maple syrup

It was fantastic, and we definitely recommend it!

Since we were so short on time, we took a taxi to Stanley Park. From some of the first sites in the park, we were enthralled. Take a look at that skyline!

Skyline view of Vancouver from Stanley Park Sailboats and Skylines at Stanley Park in Vancouver

As we walked along the path in the park, we came across the First nations art and totem poles exhibit.

Totem poles in Stanley Park in Vancouver

According to the City of Vancouver’s website, “Three beautifully carved, red cedar portals welcome visitors to the Brockton Point Visitor Centre and to the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people. Their form represents the traditional slant-roof style of Coast Salish architecture. The gateways show the history and thriving modern culture of Coast Salish people.” They were installed in 2008.

Brockton point totem poles Totem poles in Vancouver

As we walked around, we saw a seaplane taking off! We were watching it closely because we would be going on a seaplane in just a few days time on a cruise excursion in Ketchikan, Alaska!

Seaplane taking off near Stanley Park in Vancouver

The paths were well marked with lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Paved paths in Stanley Park Bike and pedestrian lanes in Stanley park

And again, the views of Vancouver! Stunning!

View of Vancouver skyline from Stanley park

As we continued our walk around the paths in Stanley Park, we came across the Brockton Point Lighthouse.

Brockton Point Lighthouse in Stanley Park Lighthouse in Stanley Park | Brockton Point

Just past the lighthouse, we saw a lovely sculpture, which we later learned was called “Girl in a Wetsuit.”

Girl in a Wetsuit Sculpture in Stanley Park | Vancouver Statues Sculpture that looks like Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid Statue | Girl in a Wetsuit

And right near the statue was a replica of the S.S. Empress.

Replica of SS Empress in Vancouver’s Stanley Park Description of the SS Empress Replica of SS Empress in Vancouver’s Stanley Park

And a few more fun finds in Stanley Park:

You are here sign in Stanley Park

A sign that I thought was most stereotypically polite Canadian: “Water not suitable for swimming.”

Funny signs in Vancouver | Water not suitable for swimming

And of course, those views!

Water views from Stanley Park

We reached a shadier area with lots of trees, and we even spotted a splash park for kids.

Stanley park trees Splash pad in Stanley Park

It was at this point we had burned off all our Le Petit Belge breakfast calories, and we were getting crazy hungry! And we had no idea where to pick up a taxi. (At the time, Uber was not operational in Vancouver. Not sure if that’s still the case.)

But, we actually located a bus stop and waited there for a bus. Only one problem. When the bus arrived, we realized we had ZERO Canadian money. Since we had verified that taxis took credit cards, we just assumed that we wouldn’t need any cash during our VERY short time in Canada! The bus driver still let us board, and we were apologizing profusely. We were mortified.

We were going to take the bus all the way back to the hotel, but we were driving past a strip downtown that looked like it had a good concentration of restaurants. So we got off the bus, and headed to a pizza place. Except the pizza place was open air and didn’t have A/C. And we were pretty sweltering at that point (it was pretty hot weather for Vancouver. Seattle was the same way, pretty unusual). So, we opted for a pub-like place right across the street called Malone’s.

Malone’s Restaurant in Vancouver

We started out with some poutine (of course, right?)

Poutine

And we both had burgers, albeit with different toppings!

Burgers from Malone’s Burgers from Malone’s

We finished up our late lunch, rested our legs for a little while longer at the restaurant, and then decided to walk back to our hotel, which was about 15 minutes away. We needed to get our things packed up and to get ready for our train ride. Since the train was going to Seattle, we’d have to transit customs at the train station, so we wanted to allow ourselves plenty of time for that.

We definitely need to get back to Vancouver for a more thorough trip! I think I envision a Pacific Northwest road trip sometime in the future!


Florida and Space Shuttle Launch 2010 (Blast from the Past Post)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.


 

I wanted to revive my “Blast from the Past” posts. Thanks to a recent trip to Florida (and another one forthcoming for our trip to Disney!), I started to think back to previous trips to Florida and thought I’d cover those trips!

Back in 2010, Ken and I knew that the NASA shuttle program was coming to a close, and we decided to get tickets to see one of the last shuttle launches. In May 2010 we watched the last launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.*

It was truly one of the most tremendous experiences of my life. I don’t throw around that phrase lightly.  I know one of the other experiences in my life that has that designation was my trip to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

I had seen a few shuttle launches as a kid, but mostly from nearby Cocoa Beach and never actually at Kennedy Space Center property. Being closer was just incredible.

As the countdown went to zero and we could see the shuttle lift off the launch pad, there was this incredible ROAR that followed.  It was several seconds after the shuttle was in the air, and the vibration from the rocket engines was so amazing.  Powerful. Humbling. That there are things just SO powerful that can be made by humankind.  HUMANS CAN LAUNCH THINGS INTO OUTER SPACE.

Anyway, on to photos.

Shuttle launch tickets

When we got to Kennedy Space Center, there were MANY MANY lines to stand in.  One line after another to get us on the right buses that would transport us to the causeway where we’d watch the shuttle launch.

Lines at Kennedy Space Center

We were tremendously unprepared for this trip!  We thought we’d have some time at the Kennedy Space Center before heading to the site to watch the launch. But nope, we were bussed out to the launch site a good six hours before the launch was actually scheduled. Which left us in May Florida heat, with no sunscreen, no water (that we brought anyway, we could purchase it on the causeway), and only one lowly towel to sit on (on the grass).

Laying on the grass waiting for the shuttle launch

The people next to us were much more prepared with folding chairs.

Folding chair

The Florida sun was BEATING down on us.

Florida sun

We walked around for a little while. We saw the big countdown clock.

Shuttle countdown clock

There was also a makeshift post office. If you mailed something there, you’d have a commemorative cancelled stamp.

Post office at shuttle launch Post office at shuttle launch

As the clock counted down, the crowd became electric!

Crowds waiting for shuttle launch Crowds waiting for shuttle launch

Then the clock approached zero, steam started to spew from the base of the rockets.

Shuttle beginning to launch Shuttle beginning to launch

For a moment the shuttle and entire launchpad disappeared behind the plumes of smoke/steam.

Shuttle beginning to launch

And we had liftoff!

Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center

The shuttle moved with such speed that my camera had a hard time focusing on it!

Space Shuttle Liftoff of Atlantis in 2010 Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center

And within a matter of 90 seconds or so, the shuttle was completely gone from sight and all that was left was a giant plume of smoke.

Space Shuttle Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

The next day, we actually went BACK to Kennedy Space Center to visit.

Ken and I at Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

There was an incredibly somber area, a wall of remembrance for astronauts who lost their lives in the line of duty.

wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center wall of remembrance at Kennedy Space Center

We boarded the bus tour that departs the main area of the Kennedy Space Center every 15 minutes or so.  That took us up close to a lot of the launchpads and buildings!

Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

We had just seen a shuttle launch from one of those launchpads the day before!

And then we walked around a really cool area of the Space Center, which included a Saturn V rocket (which is HUGE!), and the original mission control stations for the Apollo missions!

Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center

Cocoa Beach

After KSC, we made a brief stop at Cocoa Beach (Ken watched reruns of I Dream of Jeannie when he was a kid! And since that show took place at Cocoa Beach, he wanted to make a stop there!)

Cocoa Beach Cocoa Beach

Gatorland

One of our last touristy stops during our trip to Florida in 2010 was one of my favorite “off the beaten path” spots in Orlando.  Gatorland!

Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando Gatorland in Orlando

That was it for our 2010 trip to Orlando! The shuttle launch was a truly amazing experience. Although the shuttle program has since retired, I’m hoping to go to another type of launch at some point in the future!

 

Mardi Gras 2016 in New Orleans – Day 1

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Mardi Gras in New Orleans 2016

 

After we arrived in New Orleans around 12:30 in the afternoon and checked in at The Roosevelt, our room wasn’t ready yet so we headed to the French Quarter for lunch (more on where we ate in a future post!). While we were eating, we got a text from the hotel front desk that a room was ready for us. We finished our lunch, and as we headed back to our hotel, we tripped upon our first Mardi Gras parade!

Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras Parades Watching the Krewe of Iris

This parade was the Krewe of Iris. (A Krewe is the group putting on the parade. It’s an organization, similar to a social club. Members pay to become members of the Krewe).

Parade watchers (us included) go CRAZY for the “throws” from floats, which include beads, cups, stuffed animals, and all sorts of other fun things (many are unique to each krewe).

Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016

And people always look so pleased when they catch something!

Catching throws at Krewe of Iris during Mardi Gras

The Krewe of Iris is female only, so there were lots of girly touches, like this giant lipstick on a float:

Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Iris | Mardi Gras 2016

We got back to the hotel (as I mentioned, the hotel was RIGHT next to where most of the parades turn around on Canal Street,) we got our hotel room key and our luggage out of storage, and went up to our hotel room to unpack and get settled.

We had tickets for “grandstand seats” later that night for the Krewe of Endymion. (I mentioned in a previous post why we decided to get grandstand tickets for some of the parades).

But first, we discovered another parade on Canal Street just a half block from our hotel. This time, it was the Krewe of Tucks! (The tail end of the parade).

Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016

When I first started researching travel tips for going to Mardi Gras, I was dumbfounded by some of the jargon. One of the words I kept seeing was “neutral ground.” Usually that term was seen near the term “sidewalk side.”

Okay, native New Orleanians, please chime in here, but best I can tell is that the folks you see standing at the metal barrier gates are standing in the “neutral ground.”

Neutral ground during Mardi Gras Neutral ground during Mardi Gras Neutral ground during Mardi Gras

The neutral ground is the large median strip where the New Orleans streetcars would normally be running.

As far as I can tell, if you are in the neutral ground, you are basically stuck there the entire duration of the parade. Perhaps there might be breaks in the parades where the police might open the barriers for a short duration, but not that we saw. Since it’s basically a median strip, there are no restaurants or bathrooms. But, we did see lots of porta-potties set up in the neutral ground.

We were standing on the “street side.” I’m not sure if it was because it was close to the end of the parade, but we didn’t have any trouble getting close or seeing the floats well.

The parade ended and the gates opened and people started to walk down the streets while traffic was still closed off.

After Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016 After Krewe of Tucks | Mardi Gras 2016

Shortly thereafter, we made our way to the grandstand area for the Krewe of Endymion. However, we couldn’t get into the grandstands yet, even though the entrance time was indicated on our tickets. Apparently the previous parade was running REALLY late, and so the folks with grandstand tickets to THAT parade were still sitting there.

We found out that this is a recurring theme of all the Mardi Gras parades. They run late and long! I mean crazy long! I’ll talk more about that in a future “Mardi Gras tips” post! It’s all good, given that it’s such a fun atmosphere. Just something to consider if you’re trying to run a tight schedule during your trip (which, for the most part, we were not).

We were finally able to get into the grandstands a little bit later.

Mardi Gras Grandstands Ken and Melissa at Mardi Gras

Since the parade wasn’t at our location yet, we were able to get in some great people watching!

Crowds at Mardi Gras Parade Crowds at Mardi Gras Parade

Lots of families would bring these ladders for their kids at the parades, so they’d have a good vantage point. They were basically a ladder with a little bench seat on top.

Mardi Gras ladders for kids

And finally, the Krewe of Endymion started! I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking here!

 

Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

The parade followed a fairly predictable lineup, alternating floats and marching bands.

Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

Like I mentioned earlier, people went WILD for the throws from the floats!

Catching throws at the Krewe of Endymion Catching throws at the Krewe of Endymion

Before buying grandstand tickets, I had read a lot of criticisms of them, including that it would probably be more difficult to catch the throws from the floats. I definitely found that to be UNTRUE. We went to three different parades in three different grandstands and we definitely felt “up close” enough to the parades to catch the throws!

Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

We weren’t sure what these were at first, but we later found out that these folks, who would be carrying flames every few floats, are called “Flambeaux.” The flames were traditionally how the floats were illuminated at night. Although the floats have their own lights now, Flambeaux remain a tradition. It appears that a lot of regulars were “tipping” the Flambeaux with dollar bills, but I’m not sure about that part of the tradition.

Flambeaux at Mardi Gras Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Endymion | Mardi Gras 2016

After several hours at the parade, it still wasn’t over, and we were getting hungry. So, we left the grandstands, went back to our hotel to change around and warm up (it was COLD during the parade!), and then we headed out to dinner. We snapped this selfie in the elevator in our hotel after the parade:

Post Mardi Gras Parade Selfie

We had dinner in the French Quarter, and then started to head back to the hotel. As we crossed Canal Street on our way back from dinner, I captured my favorite photo of Mardi Gras (and maybe one of my favorite photos ever!) The AFTERMATH of a day filled with parades:

Post Mardi Gras parades mess After the Mardi Gras parade ends Canal street after a Mardi Gras parade

The photos just make me chuckle every time. It’s like some post apocalyptic scene! Especially in that one photo where the girls are kinda huddled together. For what it’s worth, the streets were GLEAMING clean by the next morning (and every morning we were there). It was amazing.

That was it for our first day in New Orleans! Man, it was a packed day considering we didn’t even land in New Orleans until noon!

Have you been to Mardi Gras? What were your favorite aspects?

Westin Grand Vancouver (Hotel Review)

This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

By the time our flight landed in Vancouver, we transited Canadian immigration and customs, and stood in a long taxi line, it was about 3AM when we got to our hotel, the Westin Grand Vancouver. We were only staying for one night, but they had graciously already pre-approved a (very) late checkout for us of 4PM the next day.

I had long lamented what hotel to stay at in Vancouver. Which was silly because we were going to be there for such a short time. Did we want to stay close to the airport? Close to Stanley Park? (since that was going to be our primary place to visit during our short stay?)

I had been ogling the Fairmont Pacific Rim, but alas, couldn’t justify the price. Although the Westin Grand Vancouver was not terribly close to Stanley Park (we took a taxi there), it was centrally located in Downtown Vancouver and was very reasonably priced.

I booked a Deluxe Corner Suite, with view.

Upon entry to the room, there was a bathroom door straight ahead, and a living room to the left.

Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver

The living room was nice, but oddly shaped and not as spacious as I expected.

Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver Living room in Deluxe Corner Suite at Westin Grand Vancouver

There was a small nook in the hallway with a closet, coffee supplies, and a small fridge.

Coffee Nook | Westin Grand Vancouver review

The bathroom was spacious and had a separate tub and shower.

Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review

There was also plenty of counter space, which is greatly appreciated.

Bathroom at Westin Grand Vancouver | Hotel Review

The bedroom was a decent size, and had wraparound windows.

Bedroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver

The windows were gorgeous and allowed for great views of the city, but it was summer, just shy of the solstice, so the days were LONG and the sun was up early. And the room darkening curtains had some unfortunate gaps, especially in the corners. Not usually a problem when we travel, but when you’re not getting to bed until after 3AM.

edroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver edroom Deluxe Suite Westin Grand Vancouver

There was a door to a small balcony next to the desk in the living room.

Door to balcony in Deluxe Suite

There were some fantastic views of the Vancouver skyline from the balcony. And if you peak far in the distance, you can even see the coast! (er, the bay?)

Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony Views of Vancouver at Westin Grand from hotel room balcony

One minor complaint about our stay is that the elevators in this hotel were HORRENDOUSLY SLOW. There were only two, and the hotel had at least 30 floors, if I recall correctly.

But, the hotel location was great, and I was so appreciative of the late checkout that they allowed. Since our train to Seattle wasn’t leaving until 5PM, I didn’t want to have to pack up and put our luggage in storage before heading out sightseeing for the day. I’m never a huge fan of having to put my luggage in storage after checkout and before moving on to our next destination. So, the late checkout gets a big thumbs up from me!

Have you visited Vancouver recently? Where did you stay?


 

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER Review (First and Business Class) – JFK-YVR

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our long, but lovely layover spent in the British Airways lounge at JFK, it was time to board our Cathay Pacific flight to Vancouver!

You can read more about why I sat in business class and Ken sat in first class in my previous post, but here’s a quick excerpt for the lazy:

I had originally booked two business class tickets on Cathay Pacific, knowing that they usually open up first class availability at the last minute. The idea was that I would switch our seats from business class to first class. About two months before our departure, ONE first class seat opened, and I jumped on it, booking it in Ken’s name. And I kept checking and checking for one more seat to come available. There were four open seats in first class according to ExpertFlyer (meaning that only two seats were booked, one of which was Ken’s).

Long story short, a second first class seat NEVER opened. I checked all the way until the morning of our departure. The flight did, in fact, go out with FOUR empty first class seats. Ken and I had talked about it, whether we both just wanted to sit in business class together, but I told him I really wanted him to experience Cathay Pacific First Class. So, I sat in business and he sat in first.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Review – JFK-YVR

My business class seat was fantastic. I sat in the “front row” of the business class cabin, which the ticket counter agent was kind enough to do so Ken and I were really only one “row” apart, even though we were in different classes.

Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER

The business class cabin is set up in a 1–2–1 configuration, and I had a single seat. I snapped a photo of the middle seat configuration as well:

Two center seats of business class configuration on Cathay Pacific 777–300ER

The TV screen was at an angle, but popped out for viewing.

TV screen Cathay Pacific business class

The remote control and TV controls were above the seat, which I much appreciated after constantly adjusting my seat by accident thanks to the poorly placed seat controls on Air Berlin’s Business Class.

Seat controls Cathay Pacific Business Class

There was also a small, convenient table between the seat and the window.

Cathay Pacific Business class seat

The food was decent, but to be honest, I was getting pretty tired by the time food was being served. It was a 10PM flight departure, and I had already been, ahem, imbibing quite a bit at the lounge, so I was feeling pretty sleepy 🙂

I opted for the Potato Leek and Vegetable Strudel. I thought it was quite tasty!

Cathay Pacific Business class menu JFK-YVR

My starters were placed on my tray first.

Meal tray on Cathay Pacific Business Class

Followed by my main dish, the Potato Leek Strudel.

Main dish in Cathay Pacific Business Class

After dinner, I reclined my seat, put on my headphones, and started watching Selma. I fell asleep shortly into the movie (which is no indication of how I felt about the movie! Tiredness was just winning out at that point!)

I woke up to some turbulence and turned on the airshow, which showed that we were over Montana. I peeked out the window and saw some lightning in the clouds far off in the distance to the south.

Airshow Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR Airshow Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR

Cathay Pacific First Class Review – JFK YVR

Ken thoroughly enjoyed his first class seat! Toward the very end of the flight, the flight attendants even let me come up from business class to join him in his “guest” seat for a cup of Hong Kong Milk Tea.

Cathay Pacific First Class Guest Seat Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Milk Tea

Although, I had snuck up there briefly to talk to him before, and snap a picture of him cozy in his bed-in-the-sky. (Full disclosure, he’s not actually sleeping, just pretending for the photo)

Sleeping in Cathay Pacific First Class

Here were some photos he took of his bed. And seriously, how can one person have SO MANY CABLES AND ELECTRONICS next to him on his seat?

Cathay Pacific First Class Lay Flat Bed Cathay Pacific First Class Lay Flat Bed

Ken is a fairly picky eater. Basically, if there’s any “fancy” sounding ingredients, it’s pretty much safe to assume that it won’t be anything he’ll want to try. So, this gorgeous looking ramen bowl didn’t get eaten much. (Sorry, we didn’t get a picture of the menu, so I’m not sure of its precise name).

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

He did indulge on the bread though!

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

And dessert too.

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

And check out the fancy sink in the first class cabin lavatory. Since there were only two passengers in first class, and two lavatories, each passenger basically had their own bathroom. 🙂

Cathay Pacific first class lavatory sink

Ken didn’t sleep as much as I did on the flight, so he enjoyed flipping through the inflight entertainment system.

Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class

Also worth pointing out were the seat massage controls available!

Seat massage first class Cathay Pacific

Once we landed in Vancouver (nearly 1AM PDT), we transited immigration and customs, and then hopped in a taxi to our hotel, which I’ll review next in this trip report!