Tag Archives: vacation

Seattle

Kathryn took Stone and Eric to Pacific NorthWest for an 8 day vacation.    They spent 2 days in Seattle (indoor rock climbing, Seattle Center, Science Museum/Planetarium, Seattle Aquarium,  the waterfront and oversized Ferris Wheel, Pike’s Place Market, and up the Space Needle.

They spent 3 days in a beautiful condo (with an outstanding ocean view) on the coast.  Several of Tom’s friends had condos there as well, so it was like a big party, complete with cards and games and wine.  The condo building had a pool table, so the boys played a lot of billiards.   The highlight of the trip  was razor clamming which we absolutely loved (and the weather cooperated).  It was an absolute blast.  With help, we cleaned, cooked and ate the clams too.Kathryn had a lovely birthday Debbie bought a 90 minute massage, then she got to do some laps in their community pool while Tom took the boys to the Museum of Flight.  We all then had a lovely dinner (Kathryn had trout).

We were all amazed at the traffic.  Everywhere.  All day and all night. Expressways just packed with cars.  Strip malls and congestion.  It was such a relief to get back to the New York State Thruway!  And so much development.  Tom just moved back to the general area in which he lived during the 70’s. It was “country” but it is no longer….the outskirts of Seattle is literally one city (suburb) after another with no space in between.

The boys got a long very well.  Stone was a little overwhelmed and maybe a tad homesick at times, but overall did well.  Debbie went above and beyond making sure we were happy, busy and well-fed.   The red-eye flight home was tough.  Re-entry into the real-world is tough.

Fort Ticonderoga

We met our friends Kent & Kathi in Lake George and toured Fort William Henry on Lake George and Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champagne.  Named Carillon by the French in 1755 and known to the soldiers in the American Revolution as “the old French Fort,” Fort Ticonderoga stood at the center of 2 wars and 5 battles. By 1820, “the old French Fort” had fallen into ruins when William Ferris Pell purchased the land and began one of America’s earliest preservation efforts.   The weather worked out fine as it was clear and warm on Monday and the showers held off until late on Tuesday.  We were at the pavilion marking Fort Defiance overlooking Fort Ticonderoga when a violent thunderstorm came through, but we stayed dry and talked a little longer with the resident re-enactor.  I managed this picture of the fort between rain events.

Oregon Vacation

After months of planning, research and discussion we took a two week vacation in Oregon to include 2 days along the coast, a 4 day white water rafting trip on the Rogue River, a trip to Crater Lake, spending three days with our friends in Eugene, staying at SunRiver Resort in central Oregon, trekking to the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Bed Monument and finally riding the ski lift up Mount Hood.

We started off by getting picked up at the Portland airport by our friend, Skip, who had flown to Oregon a week earlier to do some exploration.  We stayed in Newport and played tourist going North the 1st day to Depoe Bay.  There is a resident pod of grey whales which makes its home off Depoe Bay from March through December.  We were fortunate enough to have good views of three whales feeding extremely close to short.  We also took a tour of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  Kathryn was happy as she picked up her National Park Service Senior Lifetime Pass for $10.

On Friday evening we met for orientation prior to our 4 day rafting trip.  We met Kate, the head guide, and the other members: Keith & Kate; Jos, Heli, Jack, Freddy, Bea, Billie for a total party of 12.  We saw wildlife ; otters, bears, eagles and a constant presence of turkey vultures.  We stopped at least three different locations that offered good ‘jumping rocks’.  We stayed alert for the shape-shifting poison oak that appeared as plants, vines, or bushes.

The weather was perfect and one of Kathryn’s and Eric’s expressed joys was sleeping out under the stars sans tent.

We had 1 large raft piloted by Scott that only carried gear.  Alyssa was usually in sweep position.  Kate directed the paddle boat and Ian raft varied position in the middle.  In addition to the three rafts and the paddle boat there were 3 inflatable kayaks or Duckys.  Everyone took turns depending on their sense of adventure and the expectations for upcoming rapids.  No one dumped until the very last day when two of the duckys were overcome by rapids.

There were several excursions for side hikes to see waterfalls, slot canyons and slides.  One such “hike-from-hell’ left Kathryn with scrapes and bruises from her ‘I’ll slide down’ approach.  Eric was grabbed and hauled to safety by Guide Ian as he nearly fell off a steep trail. They made sure to bring night vision with them in case they didn’t make it back before dark.

With the warm weather there were lots of opportunities to swim alongside the boats; ride the bull (sit on the very front of the paddle boat and have water gun wars. We even made our own obstacle course out of random inflatables we had with us. This reminded me of the time we had with the inflatable obstacle course hire in Perth, such good memories and such a good time. The water in the warm weather is sublime in these parts.

At the conclusion of our rafting trip we stayed in Grant’s Pass to do our laundry, eat Chinese food and pack for the remainder of our vacation.  Early Wednesday we packed up to drive north east to Crater Lake.  We encountered a lot of smoke from the High Cascades wild fires and were concerned about our ability to see Crater Lake, but Crater Lake was unaffected by smoke. We had hoped to take the guided boat tour around the lake, but found out that 6 of the 10 available boats were being repaired.  After watching a short video on the creation of the lake and soaking in the views we headed to Eugene.

Our long time friends, Kent and Kathi, were kind enough to house us for three nights.  We visited the raptor preserve.  We shopped at REI.  Eric bought a skate board and practiced on the sidewalks.  Kathryn hiked Spencer’s Butte and saw spotted squirrels. All too quickly we left to meet up with Tom & Debby and Jim & Pam at the SunRiver resort.

We got up at 2:30am to drive to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Painted Hills unit.  We were concerned about traffic and crowding, but saw no traffic until on the access road.  There were cars and trucks parked everywhere camping out and waiting for the Painted Hills unit to open their gates at 6:30am.  The Painted Hills unit admitted 350 vehicles, of which we were car #342.  The vehicles that couldn’t enter parked along the road and individuals walked in to utilize the porta-potties and water.  Tom cooked breakfast burritos for everyone and then we set up in an adjoining field to watch the eclipse.  Using the special glasses we watched the eclipse proceed.  The temperature dropped about 10-15 degrees, but there was enough light to see clearly even with 99% obscuration.  A spontaneous cheer went up when the eclipse reached totality and a 2nd cheer was emitted when the sun re-appeared 2 1/2 minutes later.  A special event.  We encountered some delays returning due the 35,000 people leaving the Symbiosis Gathering in Prineville.

Our last day in Oregon was spent at Mount Hood where we took the ski lift up for a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains.

And, of course, no trip would be complete without some doggerel involving our friend Skip.

Navigating with Skip’s Tom-Tom GPS unit is an adventure. Sometimes Ms. Tom-Tom provides general guidance, not specific directions. Other times she requests a turn off an embankment or immediate U-turns for no particular reason. It called to mind Lesley Gore’s defiant song “You Don’t Own Me”.

Skip’s Tom-Tom

You don’t own me, I am your GPS.
You don’t own me, I’ll put you under stress.

And don’t’ tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to say.
I am in control. I will tell you the way.

I will re-calculate. I want to use the interstate.
I will turn you around. You will be lost, not found.

You don’t own me, I’ll take your street address.
You don’t own me, but your route you will have to guess.

And don’t’ tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to say.
I am in control. I will tell you the way.

I am not alone, there’s Wayz and Google on your phone.
They will confirm my choice, although they speak with a different voice.

So make an immediate U-turn. You will certainly learn.
With all the power that I yield, you’’ end up in an alfalfa field.

You don’t own me.

Orlando: Universal Studios and Rope Course

Kathryn, Eric, went to Orlando for a 4 day vacation 3/11 through 3/15, with friends Margaret and Harrisen.  We had a 3 day pass to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure.  We took one day off in between and went to do a ropes course in Kissimmee, which gave us a good break from the theme-park stuff.  The parks were not very crowded on Friday and we found that by going in the “single rider” line (your group gets split up to fill in empty seats) we were able to avoid having any wait at all, although Harrisen objected somewhat as he is fussy about sitting next to strangers.  The boys got along and Margaret and I got along so it was good.  Saturday we got the express pass, which again made it so we had no waiting.  Monday was busier but even then we had 15 minutes or less of a wait in the “single rider” line.  So we did the rides a lot.  We got really good at the “Men in Black”  ride which involves shooting aliens (the boys each had a high score of over 300,000).  We did the Simpsons ride so many times we could say the script with the characters (Maggie: “Dad, I’m scared” Homer: “Don’t worry honey, it’s an amusement park; they aren’t going to kill you as long as you have a dime left in your pocket”  Psychopath Bob “You’re going to die!”  Homer: “You sound just like my doctor!”)  Our hotel was quite nice and within walking distance of the park, so we were able to be on our own time schedule and not have to wait for a shuttle.  All in all, a very good trip.  Limited pictures to share, as you can’t take pictures on the ride, and no one wanted to pay $25 for the picture taken by the park on each ride.

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Spanish River

2015-07-31 Spanish River

During our 5 day trip down the Spanish River Skip had several ‘songs’ composed in his honor.  It gave Jim something to do while paddling and proved mildly entertaining to the rest of the group.  There were variations of Canoeing in the Rain, and 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall (became 30km to Paddle Today) and this summary of the trip.

Spanish River 2015 (with apologies to New Riders “Henry”)

Every year about this time we plan a canoeing trip,
bringing all our canoeing buddies the group is led by Skip.
Heading north to Spanish River, there are sights to see,
paddling down those Spanish rapids, classes II and III.

The Spanish landscape is beautiful and a wondrous sight,
we saw ducks, ospreys, moose and the full moon at night.
But the lure of the river was running down those waves,
we ran all the rapids except those named as graves.

Now we’re paddling the Spanish River going fast splash, splash;
if we dump at this one it will be our last.
Paddling Spanish rapids, classes II and III;
help me keep this canoe straight through these rapids if you please.

Paddling down Spanish River for all of five days
Skip consulted all the maps we thought he knew the way.
Lakes and swifts and rapids, the water ran downstream
We paddled 30 kilometers every day ‘cause Skip was mean.

Bouncing off the rocks and boulders paddle Steve and Ski,
Following right behind them paddle Tim and me.
Jack is ruddering, Skip is prying, trying to keep them straight.
At the bottom of the rapids we will quietly wait.

Now we’re paddling the Spanish River going fast splash, splash;
if we dump at this one it will be our last.
Paddling Spanish rapids, classes II and III;
help me keep this canoe straight through these rapids if you please.

Now it’s looking dire for our boys and their sideways canoe,
They are floating towards the rocks and we don’t know what they’ll do.
Watching beers and chocolates floating down the waves.
Leaving Jack and Skip alone, it’s snacks and beers we’ll save.

Friday before departure Eric and I assembled the Yakima racks for my truck; a vex some process, but it enabled us to carry most of the gear, two canoes (Wenonah Cascade & Old Town Camper) and three passengers.  Tim drove his Jeep with his gear, Steve’s Mad River canoe and three passengers.

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We met at my house at 7am and were on the road by 7:30am – headed to Buffalo, Toronto and NW to Agnew Lake Lodge.  Toronto was hosting the Pan American games and traffic was unbelievable.  We lost 1 hour in heavy stop and go traffic and almost got rear ended.  We stopped in Perry Sound (home of Bobby Hull) due to a traffic accident. We overheard the accident lawyer, who was a famous florida accident attorney,  say that the accident had killed 2 and left 4 others injured. To the other side, another personal injury lawyer was assimilating the grim scene on the accident spot. We call Agnew Lake Lodge and informed them we would arrive the next morning instead.  We rented a campsite and turned in at 9pm.  We arose Sunday at 5:30am, packed up and drove to Agnew Lake Lodge.

Google Directions to Lake Agnew

At Agnew Lake Lodge we got our shuttle drivers, fishing licenses, camping and parking permits and headed to Duke Lake – a three hour drive.  We were on the water at 1:30pm and headed out looking for an early campsite.

2015-07-31 Spanish River

We camped on a sandy point after paddling on 9th Lake for a little over 2 hours.  We were hopeful the exposure on the sand spit would provide a breeze and keep the bugs away.  It did, occasionally.  We had some mosquitoes, but mainly biting flies – stable flies / ankle biters.  We all took a quick swim to clean up but didn’t stay in long due to the leeches.  We agreed that each of us would be responsible for our own breakfast and lunch but we took turns making dinner.  For the 1st night Steve made turkey meat burritos for dinner.

I slept OK – not great.  I overfilled my NEOS air mattress and it was hard, but my charcoal pillow gave relief, though. We had mosquitoes in the tent and I had to get up to pee.  We got up at 6pm.  Skip made coffee and eggs.  We packed up our tents, damp with condensation and were paddling by 8am.

2015-07-31 Spanish River1

Our routine was to paddle for 60-90 minutes and then stop for a drink and snack.  Skip’s plan was to get us to the head of Agnew Lake on Thursday night so the paddle across the lake could be done early Friday morning while the lake was calm.  To achieve this he set paddling goals of 10km on Sunday and 30km every day thereafter.  We paddled from 8am – 3pm – all lake paddling with a couple of little swifts in between. Leaving 1st Lake we followed a series of swifts and easy rapids.  Tim and I put our canoe cover on as we left our lunch site anticipating rapids.  Tim and I went 1st through the first rapids we encountered.  Skip and Jack went next; followed by Steve and Ski.  There was a large rock towards the bottom of the rapids.  Skip and Jack tried to cross to the right side of the stream and broadsided the rock and dumped.  They used the home made bailer I issued to each canoe to empty the water from their boat – it would be used again.  Tim and I saved the beer and chocolate which escaped their canoe.  We took pictures at one of our break points that coincided with a campsite that Skip, Steve, Bob and I had used as our day 1 campsite on our trip 12 years prior.  It was more overgrown by bushes.   We fell just short of Skip’s goal for the day when we decided to stay on a point in Expansia Lake.  Skip and Jack made dinner: steaks, potatoes and fried squash.

2015-07-31 Spanish River2

Our water filter got clogged despite our pre-filtering of the lake water.  We back flushed multiple times and got minimal improvement.  Tim declared out Expansia Lake campsite to be ‘Squatchy” and claimed to hear several Sasquatch noises.

Our 3rd day was a marathon day of paddling from 8:30am – 6:30 pm with a one hour break to portage around Upper Albion Rapids.  We ran the Lower Albion Rapids, Railroad Rapids, Bridge Rapids and Cliff Rapids.  We were going to stay at Cliff Rapids but the 1st site was too muddy and dark.  We ran the rapids (past the nude sunbather) and found the lower two sites were taken.  About 3pm we stopped at an old campsite and Jack, Tim and I went for a swim to cool off.  I felt like I was overheating and needed to cool down.  About 4km below Cliff Rapids we found an island campsite where we stayed for the night. It was buggy, but home for the night. Tim and I made carrot sticks and celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter or cheese spread as our snack and cooked hot dogs and beans for our dinner.  Jack & I took a swim off a nearby sand bar after dinner but the hordes of large horse flies were a menace and kept us from being out long.

2015-07-31 Spanish River3

We were on the water at 7:30am and paddled Zig Zag and Little Graveyard rapids.  We emptied the boats and carried around Graveyard Rapids.  At Agnes Rapids, Skip & Jack carried, Tim & I lined and Steve and Ski ran.  We played leap frog with a family group who stopped to swim at the Elbow.  One of the swimmers lost their Croc while swimming.  Tim and I managed to retrieve it from the fast moving water and toss it up on shore for them to retrieve.  We saw two moose swimming across the river and they stood on the shore and watched us approach for a long time.  We stopped to camp for the night on top of a very large rock with an outstanding view although it was a pain to haul our gear from the canoes up the slope.

Our water filter has failed.  It has gradually slowed down to the past few days we have had to back flush every 16-32 oz.  We finally got enough water by letting it drip all night long into the big collapsible water bucket and by using the water from the 1/2 gallon ice blocks which melted.  I also had 2 dromedary bags filled with water from melted ice.  It was nice drinking clean water that we didn’t have to add Crystal Light flavoring.

Wednesday night I made Spanish rice  using Kathryn’s recipe and preparations.  It came out great and everyone had 2nds and 3rds.

2015-07-31 Spanish River4

Thursday morning we were on the water at 8:15am, ran a couple of swifts and then ran the Cascade Rapids.  Cascade Rapids were a series of ‘cascades’ with the last of the rapids being large standing waves.  Tim got a chestful of water, but little made it’s way into the canoe.  The canoe cover worked well.  It was easy to access the snaps stayed on and it shaded our lower legs and feet.  It saved us on at least two occasions from getting serious water in the canoe. We paddled until 2pm and camped at the head of Agnew Lake.  There was a lot of wind and white caps as we set up camp.  We staked our tents down securely and enjoyed some camp time.  Skip and Jack made dinner from freeze dried vegetables and rice.  Bored by 6pm we turned in early at night. We were once again blessed with a full moon at night.  We got up early, had coffee and granola bars and packed up for our paddle across Agnew Lake.  The lake was dead calm to start, but we ended up paddling into waves on our return.

Spanish River Last Day Collage

On our return ride home (13 hours !!) we had plenty of time for trip assessment discussions.

  • The Spanish River was a good choice for our skill levels.  The Class II & III rapids were challenging but not threatening.  Both Tim and Jack, as well as the rest of the group, gained more confidence in running rapids and maneuvering the canoes around obstacles as the trip progressed.
  • Traveling with 6 people / 3 canoes was ideal.  The group fit the available campsites and we all traveled at a similar pace.
  • The truck and Jeep were ideal for transporting 3 canoes, gear for six people and six passengers.
  • The Mad River and Wenonah Cascade canoes were well suited for the trip.  The canoe cover was a nice feature.  The 16′ Old Town Camper canoe lacked a little freeboard in the middle and that’s where Skip & Jack shipped most of their water.  Bailers for each canoe were useful.
  • Despite planning a 6 day trip the group decided to try and return on Saturday.  We spent 1/2 day on the water Sunday; Monday-Thursday as full days on the water and 1/2 day out on Friday.  While a little more “down time” would have been appreciated on a couple of the long days paddling when given the extra time on the last day we got bored.
  • Despite planning to fish the group didn’t invest as much time in fishing as perhaps planned.  Even with a license and bringing fishing equipment Jim never fished at all.  Steve and Ski did the most fishing, but much of that was trolling while paddling.
  • The next trip should have a ‘transportation officer’ responsible for road maps and alternative routing to/from our destination.  We relied too heavily on our GPS which routed us through Toronto and heavy traffic.    The drive to/from Agnew Lake Lodge was excessive.
  • Our water filter issues were troublesome.  We had another Basecamp filter and a small emergency Sawyer water filter if needed.  We did multi-layered pre-filtering of our water, but probably should have let our water settle in the camp bucket for 10-15 minutes before pre-filtering.
  • Our meals worked out great and we had an abundance of food and snacks. The two burner propane stove worked out well.  We agreed next time that the cooks shouldn’t also be responsible for washing dishes.  We should have squeezed our food supplies to reduce  from 4 to just 3 coolers.

Plans for a summer 2016 trip are being considered.

St John

Friday 3/13/2015

I didn’t sleep prior to our departure. We had planned to play volleyball at Stittville on Thursday night, but a fan had dislodged from the ceiling and they wouldn’t let us play. So Kathryn and I went home for an early bedtime. We awoke at 2:15am, got dressed and Cindy/Bonnie picked us up a2:45 for our 6am Syracuse flight. We left on time for JFK. Eric was apprehensive about going through security and had divided the trip into stages:

  1. NYS Thruway to Syracuse
  2. Flight to JFK – especially getting through security
  3. JFK to St Thomas (where we picked up our rental SUV)
  4. St Thomas to St John via Red Hook ferry
  5. Drive to the house

Prior to the car ferry we stopped and picked up $353 of groceries. We met Fuscos at the Red Hook ferry ($50 roundtrip).  The house consisted of a main kitchen dining room, living room with several connected bedrooms/bathrooms with outside showers. There was a salt water pool that Harrison and Eric used every day during the start of vacation.

2015-03-23 St John1

The view from our bedroom was spectacular.

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The house had two driveways; the first was a rugged up and down with switchbacks. The second driveway, Ironwood Drive was off of Upper Carolina. It was all paved and much smoother.

Friday night we went to Skinny Legs for burgers. It was late, crowded, buggy and the food took forever. The waitress insisted on an 18% tip.

We went back to the house using driveway #2 and went to bed. We had a few mosquitos, but Eric, sleeping in the loft, had tons of bites. Harrison got up during the night and went to sleep with his parents. Eric slept through the night but paid the price in being bitten by mosquitoes. He looked like measles boy.

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Saturday 3/14

I got up at 7am. Most everyone was up early. We were packed and out of the house by 10am. We went to Salt Pond for Day 1. Everyone got two snorkels in. Although I wished we’d reached out to Wahine Charters for a premium snorkeling experience, this trip wasn’t that bad. It was a 1st for Dan, Margaret and Harrison. We got back to the house by 4:30.

Sunday 3/15

Dan made eggs, sausage and potatoes for a hearty breakfast. It took longer and we left the house at 10:45am to go to Francis Bay. We saw turtles and the boys played in the waves all afternoon; running and jumping in the waves. Kathryn, Bonnie and Margaret went into Cruz Bay to pick up skip coming in the Red Hook ferry at 6:15pm. We had a late roast pork dinner and turned in after one game of pitch.

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Monday 3/16

I got up at 5am to use the bathroom and saw Skip up and making coffee. I slept in until7am. We had problems with the gas stove which were solved by turning on the third tank in the series. We made sandwiches and headed out to Maho Bay; another sandy beach and grassy areas for turtles. We saw 6-8 turtles and one large sting ray.

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We had burgers for dinner and used the outside brick oven to cook a 20lb turkey for Tuesday night. I have evolved into the dishwasher loader person.

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Tuesday 3/17. St Patrick’s Day

We awoke early – 6am. Actually Eric was the 1st one up stating that his feet itched.  Fuscos stayed at the house while the rest of us (Skip, Bonnie, Cindy, Eric, Kathryn and I) went to Leinster / Water Lemon Cay. It was a walk of ¾ of a mile, but the trail was good (much improved since I remember it last (2011)). We had an early start and departure from the house and were at the beach by 10am.  The water was very clear and we saw many turtles and a couple of rays. Eric snorkeled all the way out to the island, but he and I returned while Kathryn and Skip continued on around the island. Eric spotted a ray and nurse shark in the deep water between the point and the island. In a place where we have seen spectacular groups of starfish we saw none.

Wednesday 3/18

We were up early and were at the dock by 8:30am to board the Kiote Sail boat (www.kiotesails.com) for a day of sailing and snorkeling. Eric got sea sick on the ride out but recovered enough to swim and enjoy the day at Flanigan Island. Captain Jimmy let Dan and me steer the sail boat during our trip.

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Thursday 3/19

Eric slept past 7am. Kathryn and I were up by 6:30 to enjoy the sunrise. We made a bit pot of oatmeal for breakfast. We left early for a snorkel near Haulover that was recommended by Captain Jimmy’s crew help, Holly. We never found anyone at the Ashville campground to permit access. So we left for Lamashure Bay – one of my favorites. The road in is now paved whereas once it was a 4WD / Jeep Wrangler type trail. Still all the vehicles parked at the bay were 4WD. The beach was nice.

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We snorkeled the whole bay clock-wise. We were back to the house by 3pm and most of the crew went shopping in Cruz Bay. Eric got a t-shirt and headband while Kathryn got earrings. I cooked a roast beef in the outside oven. During the night I awoke and looked at the stars and clear skies.

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Friday 3/20

We arose at 6:30am and watched the sunrise. Dan made eggs, sausage for breakfast. We had roast beef sandwiches and went to Vie’s beach – $2.50 entry fee – but worth it. White sandy beach and lots of coral. Skip and I snorkeled way out where Holly said there were lots of turtles, but we saw nothing.  We camped under a large shade tree with iguanas in the branches; fighting and mating. I finished reading The Emerald Mile (about the Colorado River and Grand Canyon) and began reading Gone Girl. The boys found several coconuts and enjoyed smashing them open.

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Saturday 3/21

Kathryn and Skip ran to Love City market early to get ingredients for coconut crème pie. I opened a couple of coconuts; Skip shredded them and Kathryn made a pie.  It was delicious.

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We loaded up for the north shore / Jumbie Bay. It was rough with big rollers when we got there – too rough to snorkel – so we backtracked to Francis Bay. It was murky with sand. I didn’t go snorkeling but finished reading Gone Girl.   The group went out for dinner at Oasis after determining that Miss Lucy’s was too expensive and didn’t serve fresh fish. I wasn’t that hungry and stayed at the house and read.

Sunday 3/22

We spent the day at Salt Pond. Skip and I snorkeled the right side and saw lots of coral and a school of ~500 small fish accompanied by a large Barracuda. Later Kathryn and I snorkeled the left side and saw a snake/eel, founder, rock fish and a large Jack fish. We ate dinner at Skinny Legs.

Monday 3/23

We made the return trip: drive, ferry ride, turn in the rental car, fly to JFK, wait, flight to Syracuse, drive home, and crash (luckily before midnight).  Tuesday was back to work and trying to be positive about the about of snow that had melted away.

Utah Vacation

First of all, welcome. You are about to embark on a wonderful journey, one that 96.4% of first-timers repeat again and again. We want you to feel that you will have a trusted advisor leading you on this journey. If we get you on the right ship, you will discover a new kind of vacation experience that will take you to new worlds with very little hassle in unsurpassed comfort.

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SOME IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
MAKING CRUISE RESERVATIONS

Last year, 11.3 million North Americans took a cruise vacation, a 6% increase over the previous year. Despite unparalleled growth, only about 9% of adult Americans have sailed on a cruise ship. Today, we would like to talk to those of you who are considering your first cruise, and, perhaps, to a few of you who have cruised once or twice before but would like to know more about the industry.

Cruise ship photoThe reservations process can be daunting. How do you pick a ship, a cabin, or an insurance policy? This brief guide is intended to help you navigate the cruise-selection process. Whatever process you use to select your cruise, be content with the knowledge that there is a 96.4% chance that once you return from your first cruise, you will sail again within thirty-six months. This represents the highest satisfaction level, by a wide margin, of any type of vacation experience and it is the core reason for the growth of the industry. But lets make certain that you get it right the first time. Here are some of the questions we are asked most often by consumers considering their first cruise:

How Do I Start?

Some of the best and least subjective information about cruising can be found in books such as The Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Fielding’s Guide to Cruising. We find the information in these books to be far more accurate than information gathered from the Internet. Friends may offer opinions based on their own experiences, but it is doubtful that they have the range of cruise experience sufficient to guide you toward exactly the right vessel. And there is only one best cruise line and vessel for you – the ships really are that different. All of your friends likely to insist that their doctor is “tops” in his or her field. It is much the same with cruises. Unless you have sampled dozens of ships and are aware of the striking differences between products, it will be difficult to make a decision on your own. Marketing departments at the largest lines aim to keep you confused. Every ship is described in glowing terms.

How Do I Select An Agent?

There are a number of cruise specialized travel firms in the United States that enjoy excellent reputations. But ultimately, it is the relationship you will share with your particular consultant that will have the most influence on your overall cruise vacation experience. Quite often, firms that sell the most cruises get preferred rates. As a general rule, you are best off working with a member of the “By-Invitation-Only” Virtuoso Network. These are the top-producing agencies in the nation. Last year the network members sold $5.1 billion worth of leisure travel. They are the top-producing agency group for virtually every one of the top-ten rated cruise lines. Conde Nast Traveler Magazine rates the best cruise consultants in the nation on a yearly basis. The ratings are published every August.

(For the complete ratings of the top ten lines, click on Cruise Line Ratings on our home page).

Planning a cruise ought to be a three-step process. First, contact a knowledgeable cruise expert to discuss possible options. It is important that your consultant tries to learn about your likes and dislikes. Do not give in to sales pressure during this first discussion. Take the time to study the brochures you will be given, looking carefully at accommodation choices and itineraries. During the second discussion with your consultant you will make the actual reservation. The third and final step in the process is a comprehensive trip review, which is usually done two or three weeks prior to your departure.

It is the first, consultive meeting/discussion that is critical. A great consultant will try to get to learn as much as possible about you and your goals for your upcoming cruise vacation. You will not be pressured to purchase. In fact, if you try to purchase, you will be asked to take the time to do some research to check the validity of the advice you are being given, you just need to make sure to pick the best option for you, try to pick an option that offers port canaveral transportation, this way you don’t have to worry about it later.

Will I get a better rate if I book with one of those 800 numbers or the Internet?

It is true that there are cruise agencies that work out of large rooms in out-of- state booking centers. And it is true that they may have a lower price than you will find in your own community. This usually has more to do with the fact that they are rebating a portion of their commission than with any special deal they have with the cruise lines. In fact, cruise lines frown on rebaters, much as the medical or legal professions frown on practitioners who would kick back a portion of their fees to attract business. A travel firm that sells on price rather than service, runs the risk of loosing the right to sell a cruise line’s product. Cruise lines cannot set the price but they can set standards and they can refuse to pay commission to those who rebate a percentage of the cost of their product.

How Should I Go About Selecting The Best Cruise for Me?

That will be determined by the skill and knowledge of your consultant combined with the research that you have been willing to do on your own. Here are some questions you will need to answer to get pointed in the right direction:

What is your budget? Be candid with your consultant. Any of the top-ten cruise lines are going to cost from $500-$800 Per Person Per Day. There will, however, be special sailings and promotions that could lower the cost by as much as $200 Per Person Per Day. Always discuss cruise costs on a per person, per day basis. Do not include airfare or insurance but do include all port charges and taxes. This will enable you and your consultant to discuss apples-to-apples without confusion.

How long can you get away? Ten to twelve days is the ideal length of time to cruise. Are you really locked into seven? One of the biggest mistakes made by first-time cruisers is the selection of a cruise that is shorter than what they need or can afford. Never book a three or four night cruise. They are not at all typical of the overall cruise experience nor are your fellow guests.

What do you expect to get from your cruise experience? Your agent will want to know this so you can be matched with the perfect ship.

How important is the age of the ship? Booking you on a new, glitzy mega-ship with two or three thousand fellow guests is no problem – but is that what you really want? Would you consider an older, more mature cruise ship? Be cautious. Wine and people seem to get better with age but we feel that does not apply to cruise ships?

Do you like the Mirage and Caesar’s Palace? We ask that question, because some of the new ships being launched closely resemble floating Vegas resorts with huge casinos, several dining options, and numerous onboard options. But there are alternatives for those of you who don’t want a glamorous, high-energy cruise experience. One cruise line employs Oxford and Cambridge lecturers on voyages that concentrate on the antiquities. There are small, comfortable ships where you never have to don a tie, sailing ships that cruise the French Riviera, 100-passenger ships that ply the rivers of the Colonial South with visits to antebellum mansions along the way, and small ships that sail with just six couples to Alaska. The point is that there are numerous options for those who want to do other than mainstream cruising. The top-three rated cruise lines are all ships with fewer then 700 guests with an “inclusive” policy, meaning gratuities and drinks are included. Most of the larger, mass market ships, feature long lines and institutional cooking.

How Do I Find the Best Cruise Line for Kids? That one is easy. Most cruise lines offer rather superficial children’s programs led by part-time instructors. The best current children’s programs will be found aboard Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. The highest-rated children’s programs overall and by a wide margin, are offered by Disney. These are the only three lines we would consider if you are looking for the very best onboard kids programs. Holland America and Celebrity Cruises also have good onboard children’s programs.

What Will My Fellow Passengers Be Like? This is the least-asked, most critical question to consider. When you are traveling you are relatively careful about the hotel and the restaurants you select. You are concerned with health and your personal safety. But you are also concerned with something we call, for want of a better term, “the jerk factor.” A deal on a ship with a group of rampaging drinkers who are going to keep you up till the wee hours is not a deal. It’s money down the drain. Your vacation is an expression of who and what you are.

The fact is that the more expensive the cruise product the more refined an audience it will tend to attract. Of course, refinement is not for everyone. Comfort is also important. But the “jerk factor” on various cruise lines is definitely worth discussing with your agent. Cruise line brochures do not, unfortunately, offer “jerk factor” ratings

Orlando FL: Universal Studios and SeaWorld

Eric and Kathryn returned from their vacation in Orlando where they spent 4 days visiting Universal Studios and SeaWorld. They stayed at the DoubleTree Hotel and were within walking distance of Universal Studios and a bus ride from SeaWorld. There were several shops and entertainments between the hotel and Universal Studios. Below Kathryn and Margaret pose in front of the elephant.

Eric and Harrisen look to have a basketball dribbled onto their heads in front of NBA City.

Eric poses with Jaws.

Eric and Harrisen tackled an urban climbing wall.

Eric, Margaret, Harrisen and Kathryn pose with the characters from Madagascar.

 

They had a perfect seat for the Shamu Show, but the boys were disappointed they didn’t get wet! So the 2nd day they returned to the Shamu Show and sat in the Splash Zone and happily got soaked.

Eric got to feed the dolphins, rays, sharks and seals.

Feeding the dolphins was fund so the group returned to do a training session. They got pet the dolphins and teach them a couple of tricks.

They taught a dolphin to stand and make a noise.

The last day was the warmest so the group returned to Adventure Island in Universal Studios for water rides.

Eric and his souvenir stuffed seal named “Orlando”.

 

Toddy Pond, Maine

We have been blessed with wonderful weather during our vacation. We went swimming every day – usually twice. We did jumping competitions from the dock; swam to a large nearby rock for sunning; and twice we took out the pontoon boat for tubing and swimming in the middle of the lake. We played Jump or Dive, Marco Polo and any other ad hoc water game we could think of.

Below Eric, Kathryn and Scout lounge on the large rock and then Scout, Kathryn and Eric swim in from the rock.

Below Pam relaxes in the tube while Eric prefers being thrown into the water.

Below Jim prepares to dunk Eric, who can be seen below the water in the next picture.

Kathryn and Jim Helmer ride the waves while tubing.

Kathryn picks blue berries. Jim and Eric enjoy fishing from the end of the dock at evening.

Scout, Kathryn, Jim and Eric around the evening fire. Kathryn and Pam on top of Blue Hill Mountain.

We had lots of native blueberries – in fact every other day 2-3 people would pick a bowl from the surrounding bushes for our breakfast cereal. We had a home cooked lobster meal one night, did take out lobster rolls one night, got invited to friends for chicken BBQ and ate at an ocean side restaurant last night to celebrate our 34th year anniversary.

We had a campfire for 3 nights. On Sunday or Monday night we saw a meteor shower with 8 meteors in a 10 minute span including one of the brightest single meteors I have ever seen.

In ‘down’ times we played lots of Sorry. We picked up a new board game called Scotland Yard and played that several times between swims as well.

We had one more quick swim before lunch on Saturday and then drove the 4-5 hours to stay in a motel 6 just NW of Boston and then completed our trip on Sunday morning. Somehow a single 9 hour drive isn’t that appealing.