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 7 – Dungeness Goodness in Ketchikan AK

When I read about the daily excursions today, only one of them appealed to me – All You Can Eat Crabfest at the George Lodge Inlet. Having a chance to eat fresh local crabmeat was worth the experience.

We started the day off with breakfast with our cousins. They requested in Filipino breakfast, tapsilog. This is a popular Filipino breakfast consisting of marinated chunks of beef, garlic fried rice and a fried egg. In LA, my favorite tapsilog was from the Tapa Boy food truck; unfortunately, they are no longer in business.

Tapsilog is actually an Anglicized word from tapa, sinangag and it log. This garlic fried rice comes in many varieties depending on your preference: tocilog (pork), spamsilog (spam) and sisilog (fried egg) are just a few of them. I’m sure others are simply created by adding “silog” after the word.

Tapsilog Breakfast

The breakfast was a wonderful treat. The tapa had been properly marinated as it was full of flavor. The garlic fried rice was delicious as well. I mixed everything together and thoroughly enjoyed the dish.
My crabfest excursion was two-part; the first was a tour around the island looking at the local wildlife. The second portion was the actual crabfest itself. I wondered if a wildlife excursion was offered in LA, would it feature people watching at Venice Beach?

IMG_0519 - Version 2After the tour bus dropped us off at the front of the George Lodge Inlet, we walked 79 steps from street level down to water level where the restaurant was located. We were pre-warned that we would have to hike back up these same stairs after we consumed our “all you can eat crabfest”.

Our group amounted to about 50 people and we separated into two pleasure boats. After cruising the edge of our island, our pilot slowed down and stopped. We first saw two black bears fighting in the distance. We cruised a bit more and the narrator pointed out that to the port side was a bald eagle’s nest.

2 black bears fighing
2 black bears fighting
Bald eagle picking up the fish
Bald eagle picking up the fish

After one of the crewmembers tossed in a couple of fish into the water, a bald eagle came swooping down to pick up his catch. He missed picking up the fish on his first try and so he had to make his turn and drop towards the water again. This time he was successful and brought his prize back to his nest.

We then cruised to a quiet inlet filled with orange buoys. These were markers were the crab cages were positioned and the pilot parked next to one. One of the young kids volunteered to raise the cage to the surface and lo and behold, it was filled with crabs. The unexpected find was a salmon. The crewman explained that they were only allowed to take anything 6″ and over. Anything else, they had to return to the sea.

The pilot of the boat turned around and we soon returned back to the dock. It was almost 2:00 p.m. and we were all anxious to eat crab. Actually, some had opted out and ordered the chicken or the pasta.

Because they lacked common seating, I was the odd man out. I was fortunate to join a really nice family from Cleveland. I first congratulated them on their big Cavs win. Because of their deep knowledge of baseball, the conversation quickly turned to that. The two kids, Angel and Zack were about 7 and 9 and were a delight. They both said “we don’t like crab, we love crab”. I just knew we were going to have a great time.

They announced that each table would be entered into a crab shell stacking contest. The father quickly pronounced that “we got this hands down” and the race was on. As expected both kids didn’t eat their salads and the Dungeness crabs were served from a huge mixing bowl.

The conversation was minimal as between our built-up hunger and the fact that we were anxious to win only caused us to hurriedly peel our prized meat. Until I had this crab meat, Alaskan king crab legs were my favorite. I felt that the Dungeness is actually sweeter and more moist that its Alaskan cousin.

Midway through our meal, the servers took halftime measurements of our crab shell stack. At 7” high, we were quite proud of our accomplishment, but when we started hearing higher numbers like 10”, I felt there was no way we would have a snowball’s chance in winning the competition.

The mom said the server said “the winning stack must have a crab shell on top”. The dad quickly took the plastic straw out of his drink, shored up the top of our crab stack, mounted the straw vertically and stuffed a crab shell on the top of our stack. The mom got us even more height by taking her empty beer glass, flipping it upside down and using it as a stand for our plate.

Our server said that we would have to be done with our meal in 15 minutes. Of course, that meant having another serving of crabs. She picked out one with a large apron which is the sweetest part of the crab. Soon thereafter the announcement was made that they were going to do their final measurements. We panicked because our straw just fell down and the dad was having trouble remounting it. Fortunately it was fixed just in time and we measured out at 24” high – the winner of the day!

Crab temporarily fell off the straw

img_0530-1I wanted to say, “What did they win Jack Pardo?” This is was a well-known ending to a popular TV game show. We had to stand up, move to the front of the restaurant and face the audience. We were asked to move our hands like crab pinchers and do a jig. We all had a fun time dancing to the music and if we would have known this was our prize, I don’t think we would have worked so hard to win.

Dessert was cheesecake with Alaskan blueberries and a blueberry sauce.

All in all, a fun day! It was too bad the rest of my family didn’t join me. Of course, that is probably what they are saying about paddling in their kayak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6 – Ziplining in Juneau, AK

Today was my daughter’s 13th birthday. She and my wife tried ziplining in Belize and loved it. An attempt on another vacation was cancelled due to fog. My daughter was intent on  ziplining on her birthday.

The first part of our excursion was a drive to Mendenhall Glacier. Only 45 minutes was allowed for sightseeing and so we elected to take the “photo tour”. Along this walk there were several nice vantage points of the glacier.

We stopped by the visitor’s center. A few park rangers were there to give presentations and answer questions. Amazing time lapse photography showed how much the glacier has receded over the past 8 years.

We then traveled to our final destination – Alaska Zipline adventures at the Eaglecrest Ski Area. Two people were waiting for us to arrive and the number in our group, we split into two groups.

Our two guides, Brandon and Sasha were great at explaining everything and placing everyone’s fears at bay. It was obvious that personal safety was foremost in their minds as they kept checking the buckles and harnesses throughout the morning.

This was my first time ziplining and I went ultra conservative for the first two legs. I launched from the platform without an issue and had a death grip on the T bar. for the third leg, I took Brandon’s advice and launched backwards and let go. The feeling was exhilarating!

Brandon checking on the fitting of my daughter’s helmet
Family Shot

My daughter appeared to have a good time. As a parent, that’s the most you can ask for.

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.