Day 2 – Nashville: The World Famous Ryman Auditorium

I really enjoy guided tours. The reason for this is that they are often led by people that are really interested in the subject matter. I’ve even seen volunteers lead tours and often they describe things with so much passion that it makes me understand why the tour has so much significance.

The Ryman Auditorium as seen from the Old Town Trolley
The Ryman Auditorium as seen from the Old Town Trolley

One of the tours I purchased in advance was the Ryman Auditorium guided tour. Since it included a walk-through backstage, I felt that it would be an opportunity that the average person would not experience.

Inside the Ryman Auditorium. This venue only has 2,300 seats.
Inside the Ryman Auditorium. This venue only has 2,300 seats.

Upon arrival, we were directed to their upstairs theater. We watched a very short documentary. Despite the short length of the video, we were left with a deep appreciation of the historical significance of the Ryman Auditorium.

We were able to see three different dressing rooms. Johnny Cash and June Carter, Women of Country Music and the Minnie Pearl rooms. Our tour leader provided details of everything in the room including who was depicted in each of the photographs. What was interesting was the fact that the lobby, ticket office and the dressing rooms were built during the remodel that started in 1994.

The line inside Arnold's Country Kitchen
The line inside Arnold’s Country Kitchen

We made a dash for lunch as I understood that this was one of the most popular lunch spots in Nashville – Arnold’s Country Kitchen. In addition, it is only open Mondays through Fridays. The food is served cafeteria-style and even though we arrived at 11:00am, there were about twenty people in line.

Fried Catfish, Fried Tomatoes, Cauliflower Casserole and Pecan Pie
Fried Catfish, Fried Tomatoes, Cauliflower Casserole and Pecan Pie
Chicken Dumplings, Fried Green Tomatoes and Corn Pudding
Chicken Dumplings, Fried Green Tomatoes and Corn Pudding

Despite their James Beard award and the long line, both of us were mildly disappointed with our meals. While I enjoyed my fried catfish and the cauliflower casserole, it was good and not outstanding. My mom disliked the fried green tomatoes and the corn pudding. She did, however, like the chicken dumplings.

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

We spent the afternoon on the Hop On Hop Off Bus and took a complete round trip tour around Nashville. Midway through the loop, our driver pointed out Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. He said most of the major country music stars started their career there. He added that one of the most famous business dealings there was when Willie Nelson pitched the song Crazy to Patsy Cline’s husband. The rest is history.

Historic Marathon Works building
Historic Marathon Works building

Upon departing the bus, we walked through the shops at the Marathon Works building. During the early 1900’s this building produced the Marathon automobile. To date, Marathon has been the only automobile manufacturer in Nashville. Now, it houses shops that sell handmade goods.





Day 5 – Taking the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway in Skagway, AK

I dislike getting up early on my vacation, but we were scheduled to leave the ship at 7:45 a.m. Thursday morning.

After eating some pastries and drinking a cup of coffee, we were soon walking down the gangway. A fully restored 1927 bus was waiting to pick us up.

Our driver was loaded with facts and trivia about Skagway. She slowed down near each point of interest and gave us the history of that building. We learned that Warren G. Harding was the only sitting president to visit Skagway.

The house that Sarah Palin grew up in.
The house that Sarah Palin grew up in.

At the tail end of her trip, she pointed out the house that Sarah Palin lived in when she was growing up. When Tina Fey imitated her, she said that “[she] could see Russia from her house.”

Because the town is small, her tour was understandably brief. She then dropped us off with another driver, Mark, who would drive us to Bennett Lake  where we would board the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

Our new driver and guide was quite the character. Born in New Orleans and raised in the San Fernando Valley, he opted to move to Skagway.

The Skagway campgrounds wanted $350 a month just for him to pitch a tent without utilities. Nevertheless, he moved up there and pitched his tent elsewhere.

Waterfall on the way to Canada

at the border between Alaska and Canada

Mark was on the lookout for wildlife and other interesting things for us to photograph. We pulled over at a couple of different waterfalls and view points. We went though Border Customs in Canada and eventually made it to our destination.

We were one of the last people to arrive and so we boarded the next to last passenger car. Despite the age of the passenger cars, they seemed well maintained and the windows were spotless.

Since there no cars that were completely open, I appreciated that they left the front and rear doors open during our trip.this allowed me to be outside and take some great shots on the passing scenery.

Commentary was provided on the train. We learned about the history of the Gold Rush and the impact of that it had on the people and the horses. Over 3,000 horses died during this time and the area became known as Dead Horse Trail.

We passed by numerous ponds and streams. Even some of the bridges are engineering marvels and one of them became a historical landmark. Our docent also called out each glacier my name.

Day 4 – Iceberg Ahead

I believe the reason most people go on an Alaskan cruise is because they would like to see glaciers. We were already booked on an Alaskan cruise, but when my wife told me of an opportunity to see a glacier up close, I jumped on it. Unfortunately, I was initially wait listed, but I was later notified that I could participate.

Early the morning of the departure, the captain’s voice was broadcast over the public address system. He remarked that our destination that day, Tracy Arm, had too much ice and was unsafe for passage into the arm. Fortunately, they had a backup plan, the adjacent Endigo Arm, would be our destination.

Getting ready to see icebergs up close
We debarked the Disney Wonder at noon on Wednesday. What was billed as a catamaran, turned out to be a medium sized pleasure boat run by Allen Marine. Despite the size and the fact that most of the seating was inside, there was enough space to move to the outside deck for photo shoots.

Loading our boat was quickly done and approximately one hundred people boarded. Our mini cruise was led by an enthusiastic Juneau native, “Mo”. Growing up in the area, he had extensive knowledge about the climate, fish and local animals. While we were familiar with “icebergs”, most of us were also introduced to “bergy bits” (small icebergs) and “growlers” (floating ice).

Mo was intent on finding interesting things for us to see. He let us know about a waterfall coming up, but he eventually found two black bear fighting with each other. Through my camera lens, I could see them actually standing and fighting almost as if they were boxing.

The Captain of our vessel

Our captain piloted us down one area and eventually wound up  the arm that where we could see the jewel of the trip, Dawe’s Glacier. It was slow moving as the captain of our boat was ensuring that he would not strike into the numerous floating ice in the area.

Dawe’s Glacier
We eventually wound up at the crown jewel of our destination, Dawe’s Glacier. It was a commanding wall of ice that was mixed with blue and white hues. We learned that their blue color is obtained from the freezing process that eliminates air that was originally caught by falling snow. When light strikes the iceberg, it is absorbed rather than reflected and the ice returns a blue-green color.

An expedition cruise ship was already deep in the arm and was lowering Zodiak boats so that their passengers can get an “up close and personal view”. I think some of us were somewhat jealous that we couldn’t have that experience, but nevertheless we were appreciative that our boat was much closer than the Disney Wonder.

The captain of our boat made several quarter turns of his vessel. This allowed everyone on the boat to obtain a take a good picture of the glacier. We took off and because the Wonder was at the entrance to the arm, we were soon upon it. I think we were all grateful that we were able to check this off of our bucket list in grand style.














Day 4 – Eating with Mickey and Minnie

We (probably the better way to say this is I) joined back up with eating with my cousin’s family. Today’s seating was the “Character Breakfast” in the Animator’s Palate dining room.

The enrrance to the Animator’s Palate
The menu
IThis is the full Disney meal experience. The menu is Disney themed complete with Mickey waffles. Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto made there way to all of the tables, posed for pictures and signed autographs.

 Days 3 & 4 – Aboard the Disney Wonder

We boarded the Disney Wonder on Monday afternoon. The Wonder is Disney’s second cruise ship in their fleet and was remodeled a couple of years ago. If you are a Disney fan, this is definitely the way to cruise.

The Disney Wonder docked at Canada Place
Our scheduled boarding time was 2:00 p.m. The distance from our hotel to the cruise port was only about .5 miles and so we decided to walk instead of taking a cab. We were all smiles because there was no line! The majority of the passengers had already boarded and we in one of the last boarding groups. This suited me just fine because we were going to spend the next 7 days aboard the cruise ship.

After the required emergency drill, the time few by and before we realized it, it was already time for dinner. All nine of us sat together in the Parrot Cay dining room. The menu was a Caribbean theme and I ordered grouper for my entrée.

In the early morning, my wife worked out on the ship’s exercise room. While I initially thought I was awake at 5:30 a.m., I quickly fell back asleep and both my daughter and I slept in.

Our cousins made a reservation in the Wonder’s signature restaurant, Palo. Even better, they invited us to join them for brunch. Since I happen to enjoy Northern Italian cuisine, I was really looking forward to this experience.

My wife returned to the cabin full of glee because she had just won that day’s Bingo tournament. “How much did you win?”, I asked. She replied “85 bucks” to which I simply nodded and grunted.

My wife in front of Palo
Palo is located at the rear of the ship. Because it featured 180 degrees of windows facing to the rear, it offered a tremendous view experience. In fact, one of the servers saw whales from the window and of course, everyone scrambled over to that side of the ship to catch a glimpse.

Brunch featured their extensive buffet and since it was crowded, our server suggested waiting a few minutes.We took the time to enjoy a glass of Proseco on “Mickey” and toasted “To Family”.

Variety of pizzas
Baked Salmon
I was happy that Palo featured Northern Italian fare because I enjoy this much more than the heavier Southern Italian cuisine.Our server walked us through the various stations – there was a station for smaller versions of entrees: pizza, chicken parmesan,baked salmon, pappardelle, Veal Satlimbocca and quite a few other items.

She wooed us at the dessert station and we were impressed to see tiramisu, cannolis, fruit tarts and puffed pastries.The seafood area definitely caught my attention: Alaskan crab legs, scallops, shrimp with cocktail sauce and a calamari salad.

French Gouda, aged 2 years
The cheese station was definitely noticed. A nice variety of European cheese were pre-sliced. I think the favorite of our group was the French gouda that was aged 2 years.

King Crab Legs
Calamari Salad
I was happy focusing on the seafood items on the buffet while the others started with the buffet and moved on to some of the recommended entrees.To allow others to try more items, we shared many of the dishes (e.g., pizza, chicken parmesan). The pappardelle pasta was probably made on-board as it was velvety in texture. It was cooked with butter and truffle oil and I think we had 3 orders.

The others in our group were focused on packing in their dance cards with many of the on-board activities. The girls did extremely well with the trivia game and were only scored by some Disney fanatics. My wife is one of those and also enjoyed participating in their trivia games.

I didn’t attend that evening’s dinner because I was still full from lunch. Tritons Restaurant prepared rack of lamb that evening and I heard the dish was delicious. Our server felt bad for our daughter and gave my wife a full chateaubriand dinner to take back to her.

Sunset over the Inside Passage

We enjoyed a nice sunset that evening.

Day 3 – Granville Island Public Market

Granville Island is one of the top tourist destinations in Vancouver. It actually resides on a peninsula and not on an island. It is home to a large public market, a scenic marina, restaurants and vendors that offer local crafts and goods. This was our second trip to Vancouver and I’m glad we made time to visit this place.

As we entered Granville Island, I was amazed at how extensive it was. There were quite a few retail shops, restaurants and general businesses. As we drove, I even noticed a “Kids Zone”. I quickly regretted that we didn’t devote a day to explore this marketplace.

Public Market inside Granville Island
Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes
Filling the baskets with berries

Our driver dropped us off at the designated cabstand. One of the buildings nearby was labeled “Public Market” and so we decided to see if we could find something that would satisfy our need for breakfast. A fair amount of fruit and vegetable vendors were set up. Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, fresh greens and beautiful organic berries were in abundance. Next to the wall was a full service meat vendor.
Preparing bagel sandwichws with smoked meats
Attractive display of macarons
As we made our way through the market, the vendor changed to crafts and specialty foods like handmade sausages, smoked meats, coffee and tea, hats and jewelry. Long display cases with baked good showed impressive items like croissants, muffins and colorful macarons.

Chicken Pot Pie with a side salad
Spinach Quiche
Belgium waffle topped with bacon and Canadian maple syrup
Bacon and egg sandwich
Hunger eventually gave in and everyone split up and ordered from the different vendors available. One of the most popular items was a chicken pot pie and my wife ordered one. Spinach quiche was another popular item. Cousin Helen ordered the Belgium waffle with bacon and I ordered the croissant with eggs and bacon sandwich from the same vendor. I was quite happy with my breakfast sandwich. The croissant was buttery, flakey and light. It was cut in half length-wise and filled with a fried egg and bacon. Triangular formed hash browns were also included. The bacon was thick and extremely lean.

Assortment of macarons
After we finished our breakfast, we continued to walk through the Public Market. Cousin Jason stopped at an olive oil vendor that specialized in infusing it with other flavors. The one that seemed most intriguing to me was the harissa infused olive oil. The girls were enamored with a French macaron baker. He offered interesting flavors like salted caramel, bubble gum and earl grey. They ended up buying a box to enjoy later.

Edible Canada
Because we had a scheduled time to board our cruise ship, we headed back to the hotel to pack. I’ll definitely return to return to Granville Island as I missed seeing “Edible Canada” and the gourmet chocolate vendor.

Day 2 – Dinner in Gastown Vancouver BC

Between going to Richmond for Dim Sum and traveling to the Museum of Anthropology, we had done a fair amount of walking. We took taxis back to our hotel and took a short nap. We agreed to meet up again for dinner.

Dinner was another place I had previously researched, The Flying Pig in the Gastown area of Vancouver. Back in the mid 1800’s, John Deighton arrived in Vancouver. He became popular because of his penchant for spinning tall tales and talking without end. The nickname “Gassy Jack” was born and has stuck with the city ever since that time. 

The restaurant was located just beyond Guu with Otokomae and so we walked the same route as the previous night. It was another gorgeous evening for walking the town: blue sky, temperature in the mid to upper 60’s and lots of things to see. Of course, the line at Bella Gelateria was already long. The youngest one in our bunch, Emi, scanned the line and immediately picked out Peyton List from the Disney Channel show, “Jessie“. In fact, Emi recognized her aboard the flight out from LA to Vancouver!

After a short walk, we arrived at The Flying Pig and checked table availability with the staff. We were a large group (9 individuals) and as we’ve quickly learned, restaurants can’t easily seat that many. We were told that our wait would be approximately 45 minutes and so we decided to window shop in the immediate area.

The restaurant notified us that our table would soon be ready and so we scurried back over there. Perhaps we were all impatient, but I was amused that our entire group crowded around the entrance; it was almost like they were preparing to storm the castle.

A few minutes later, we were seated at a long butcher block table designed for large groups. Seating was fairly tight, but I was impressed that the restaurant didn’t have to join tables in order to accommodate us. Popular music was cranked up fairly high and the conversation was appropriately matched. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to converse during our meal.

While I initially thought that the restaurant menu would be predominately pork, I was fascinated to learn that “The Flying Pig” represents their desire to see the impossible happen during each visit. The owners believe in the strong Canadian work ethic and they believe “that you’re only as good as your last meal.”

Porchetta (pork loin wrapped in pork belly) was the special of the day. My wife ordered the veal piccata and the short rib mac and split that with our daughter. I ordered two side dishes, crispy brussels sprouts and lobster and prawn risotto.

    The veal was thinly sliced and served with a lemon caper butter sauce with a side of risotto and some fresh vegetables. The veal was tender and easily sliced with a fork and the lemon caper sauce didn’t overpower the meat.

    I think the bit hit of the table was the porchetta. The pork belly added a lot of moisture and flavor to the pork loin. It was accompanied with mashed potatoes. The brussels sprouts was prepared with lemon and sprinkled with fresh parmesan. Some of the leaves were so crispy they were almost like eating potato chips.

    Unfortunately, the big disappointment was the lobster and prawn risotto. The lobster was barely noticeable, but worst of all, the dish was not even warm, let alone hot.

    The “vanilla cake” was ordered by the girls. We were shocked to see the size (it seemed like a quarter slice of the cake). The chocolate frosting was rich and tasty. The girls had fun taking turns with the photo ops.

    As we walked back to the hotel, I was grateful the girls didn’t beg for gelato.