Alaskan Disney Cruise – Days 8 and 9 – At Sea and Disembarking

I’m having to do two updates in one day because packing up our cabin took much longer than expected and we very nearly missed the 10:30pm bag deadline! Day 8 was our day at sea, which is very relaxing after three straight days of activity.  We hit some open ocean and the boat started rocking so I was not feeling great.  I wasn’t pukey but I get a really bad headache when I get motion sickness, which puts me in a delightful mood.  More delightful than usual if you can believe it.  My dearest youngest daughter lost our sea bands, and I wasn’t about to spend $15 for yet another pair, so I just hoped and prayed the captain would turn inland which he mercifully did shortly after breakfast.

After breakfast, I joined the other senior citizens on the cruise for a naturalist talk on whales that was absolutely fascinating. Apparently they now believe some whales live 200 years! They found a 150 year old harpoon in one recently. Orcas are the kings of the ocean – in a fight between an orca and a great white shark, the orca wins. Orcas are also the most widely distributed mammals except humans across the globe – who knew? The humpbacks go from Alaska to Hawaii each year – most of them anyway. The males sing a song. All the males sing the same song, but the song varies from year to year. It was fascinating to listen to.

While I was in the naturalist talk, Doug was having second breakfast and reading while Elisabeth and Charlotte competed (and won) in a pasta and play dough house building competition.

We all had lunch and then parked ourselves on the deck because the SUN made an appearance! It was so great to feel warm sun after nearly a week of cold cloudy intermittent rain. The kids went swimming and we just basked. Then the wind started up and I went to the cabin to rest, pack, and look out the window for orca whales. The day at sea was our best chance to see orcas according to the captain and naturalist. It was also the day that had perhaps the most beautiful views – which is hard to say because really every day was full of gorgeous views.

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This was all around us during our last at sea day – it was perfect.

Elisabeth and I then went to a family-friendly comedy show where the comedian pulled her onstage and tried to arrange her marriage to a little 10 year old boy who was far more horrified than anyone else about the situation. Elisabeth hammed it up with the comedian…   luckily we were able to avoid a marriage and Doug wasn’t there so he didn’t have to dress in a tutu with a wand and a wig and dance around to Let It Go like the other dads.

I went back up to the basking deck only to find out that Charlotte got to see an orca breaching repeatedly right off of the port side of the boat! I couldn’t believe I missed it, but she was so excited – so I couldn’t be too mad. About that time we looked ahead of us and saw this massive blanket of fog heading our way. It was so neat to see coming and then to enter. You couldn’t see from the front of the boat to the back of the boat, the fog was so thick. Eventually we exited the fog, but there were still thick blankets off in the distance that made for some amazing views.

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Fog over us and a layer of fog settling in on the mountains in the distance. I’ve never seen fog like this.

We had dinner in the fancy dining room last night. No one could really decide on a dessert so somehow between 4 adults, we had 9 desserts. And I only ate one because there was only one gluten free one. Our server didn’t like that we failed to order baked Alaska so she brought two of those (which apparently did get eaten).

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Girls in front of Triton’s – the fancy restaurant on board – which has an Ariel statue in front. This is in the main lobby where you enter the ship..

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It was David’s birthday the last night of the cruise! Singing happy birthday. Our servers for the week for Anji (short for Anjuman) on the left and Melchor, the guy on the right in the colorful vest. Both were nothing short of fantastic. Melchor did magic tricks for the kids every night as we finished our meals. He was hard to leave behind.

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Insane dessert feast. I think Doug ended up finishing most of it.

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A parade of the fifty nations represented by the Disney Cast Members on board the Wonder. It was very festive and fun. Our servers are the two main servers in this shot.

After dinner I planted myself on deck, determined to find an orca. The sun was not warm and lovely anymore, but the lighting was beautiful. I stood there for half an hour, freezing.  I mean whole body shivering cold. These two cute kids came over after thirty minutes and the 4 year old points and hollers “look a shark!!” and the big brother says, “ugh that’s not a shark, there aren’t sharks here, it was a wave.” He might have even called his brother stupid. So the little boy goes running in to find his mom and the big boy goes running after him, obviously aware that he’s about to get in trouble for being mean to the little one. And thirty seconds later a whole pod of orcas started to breach right in front of me. They got out of the water enough that I could see their body up to their dorsal fins. There were probably 7 or 8 in front of me. It was amazing. And then they left and 3 seconds later that little boy hauled his mom out there to see the shark. I felt so bad for them!!

I always have my camera ready, but I was SO excited by the orcas that I took zero pictures.  Not a single shutter click. I did, however, squeal and physically grab the one other person on deck, who was not whale watching at all, because I was so excited.  I made her come look.  I think I even jumped up and down if my memory serves me right. I might not be the best wildlife photographer…

I headed over to the other side of the boat to see if there were any orcas over there and apparently missed a pod by a few minutes. But I did find the moon rising over mountains and a red to blue sky. It was so beautiful. I froze something awful, but the beauty was well worth it.

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Super moon rising from the starboard side of the ship.

The night time broadway show, where the rest of the family was, ended at 9:30 and we quickly ran to get our picture package and then to finish throwing our stuff into suitcases to set them out to get them off of the boat. It was 11pm by the time we went to sleep, and the alarm was set for 6:30, so I didn’t write a trip entry.

This morning we had a 7am breakfast time followed by getting off the boat at about 8:45. We were all – ALL, even the adults – really sad to get off of the boat. It was so relaxing and having all of your meals taken care of for an entire week is something I know I couldn’t appreciate until I was a parent. But, I suppose they wouldn’t actually let us live on the boat without working so since I would make a terrible server and I don’t think they’d let me wear the fancy officer suit on day 1, we got off the boat and headed to Vancouver airport to pick up our rental car and drive to Seattle.

It took us over an hour to cross the border into the US. I don’t have much more to say about that except that it was really frustrating. Grr.

We had absolutely no idea what time we’d be getting into the Seattle area given the uncertainty of disembarking, getting to the airport, clearing customs, getting a rental car, getting over the border, traffic, etc. We fortuitously (for me) had about 45 minutes to kill in one of my very favorite cities – Seattle! I love the mix of people and the vibrancy of the parks. We went straight for Pike Place which makes me a total tourist, I’m sure, but it is one of my very favorite places. We parked a few blocks away and walked through some parks with ping pong tables, chess boards, and even this cool waterfall-on-both-sides bridge thing that got Charlotte nice and wet. I hope locals go to Pike Place because if I lived here, I would go often. I love the energy and cheap beautiful flowers and the cool little side streets – LOVE.

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Heading down the street to Pike Place Market.

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Family portrait in the reflection. I could go for a hot toddy….

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Cute side streets

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This is the famed fish market where they throw the fish. No one was buying, so we didn’t get to see any fly this time. But we will be back….

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We bought some fresh donut peaches for the kids and I swear before we blinked they ate six of them.

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Charlotte in the water tunnel in a park in Seattle.

We didn’t have much time to spend here, though, before we got to our hotel, Doug went for a sweltering hot run, we grabbed dinner and now it is high time for bed because our shuttle to the airport leaves at five am! Woo hoo!

I have to admit that I am excited to sleep in my own bed tomorrow night. However, this Disney Cruise vacation has been more fun than I even imagined. I thought I would be over-Disneyed, but I am not. They do a great job of not overwhelming you with Disney everything.   It was just the perfect amount of activity and relaxation. We each had a great time. I’m not super interested in a Disney Caribbean cruise, but I would certainly do another Disney cruise to a more interesting location in the future. It is SO easy with kids. Definitely something for everyone.

So, until our next bloggable vacation (which will hopefully be spring 2015)… TOODLES! (That’s for you Ryan and Melissa… who do I owe the dollar to?)

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Alaskan Disney Cruise – Day 7 – Ketchikan — 6 inches of rain!

Well today did not go as planned. The ship wasn’t scheduled to dock until 11, so we got to have a lazy-ish morning. It was POURING out. Apparently the captain came on the speaker and said that a weather warning was issued for Ketchikan because they were scheduled to get six inches of rain today. Six inches! We are in a rain forest, so they are not strangers to rain, but apparently six inches is something they sit up and take note of. Doug decided to call our sea kayaking tour provider and they told him they didn’t think it was wise to go out in this, so we cancelled that trip.

Doug, however, was scheduled to go out and run 14 miles as part of his marathon training. He is a hardy soul and was undeterred by the sheets of rain. His run went well but he came back soaked through all 3 layers. In his absence we had taken the opportunity to book us all a Ketchikan Duck Tour, which as our friend said when we got back, “well… that certainly was something to do.” The kids apparently liked the duck tour. I found it… cheesy. And uninformative. This is a pretty neat little town with an interesting history that I think they could have talked about more. Instead we heard an awful lot about subjects not necessarily appropriate for kids.

Ketchikan has an interesting feature in that some of its streets are staircases. Big huge 275 step staircases (or more in some instances, I assume). People park their cars at the bottom and walk up huge flights of stairs to their homes. I cannot even begin to imagine what grocery shopping with an infant while living on a staircase road is like. I thought getting the groceries from the garage to the house merited complaining….

Ketchikan has another interesting feature in that its one multi-purpose sports field is not grass. Nor is it astroturf. It is gravel and ground up sea shells. They can’t have a grass field because of the absurd amounts of rain they receive. I don’t know why they don’t turf it over, except for maybe they don’t have the money. The kids who play high school sports can’t drive to the games in the (four!) other towns that they play against because there aren’t roads, so they either have to take the state run ferry or fly commercially. Each sports season they have five fundraisers! Things are very different here.

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Fishing boats as viewed from the cruise ship, which was about as far as I was willing to take my camera in the driving rain today!

Our water part of the duck boat was cut short by the choppy water and driving rain. We did learn how to identify various fishing vessels and how to remember the five different types of salmon. We have learned this trick each and every day that we’ve been in Alaska. It is apparently very, very important to the good people of Alaska that the tourists go home knowing how to list all 5 types of salmon. Sorry folks, but I can only remember a few. Sockeye, king, cohot (sp?), and that’s it.

At the end of the trip, they sold duck whistles to all of the kids. Before they let us off. This made the last 10 minutes that we were on the amphibious vehicle extra special.

As soon as we got back on the ship, we got in line to meet Mike and Sully from Monsters University – two of Elisabeth’s favorite characters. We were first in line, which was surprising given the length of the line to meet these two guys yesterday. The girls were very satisfied with their experience.

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L-R: Mike, Elisabeth, Lilly, Grace, Sully. Not pictured: Cranky pants Charlotte who wouldn’t leave the stateroom.

 

Charlotte’s birthday was yesterday, but she got a stomach ache at the very beginning of dinner last night, so we took her back to the room. The wait staff was very concerned that they didn’t get to sing Happy Birthday to her, so they made sure to do it tonight. She did not enjoy being the spectacle but she did enjoy the cake!

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Not enjoying being the spectacle…

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Enjoying the cake!

 

Each night they put on a show after dinner. Last night was Toy Story the musical and tonight was a physical comedy routine (juggling crazy crazy things). Tonight’s was the first one that I’ve made, but it was worth staying up late for because it was completely hilarious. The kids were doubled over with howling laughter. Definitely a good night.

Tomorrow is a day at sea, our last before disembarking on Monday. The kids have a big day of pin trading planned. Tomorrow the officers do pin trading and apparently bring out the good stuff. I have a big day planned of coffee and a book. We’re hoping to see the sun again tomorrow. It has been nearly a week since we last saw the sun for more than an hour.

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Alaskan Disney Cruise – Day 6 – Juneau – Whale Watching on Charlotte’s Birthday!

Today was a very special day here on the boat – Charlotte’s 7th birthday! Of course she chose today of all days to sleep in. I kept sneaking over and peeking into the top bunk to see if she was still sleeping. Finally all of this activity woke her up so we could get on to the present opening part of today’s agenda. She was pretty thrilled with her presents which consisted of more Disney pins, an Anna doll, a towel origami book, a new watch, an American Girl gift card, some stuffed animals, and an Elsa pin.

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Opening birthday presents!

She got a surprise present, too. Charlotte is collecting Duffy pins. Duffy is the official Disney teddy bear. Pin trading is a thing at Disney where you have Disney pins and you can trade them with any cast member. Charlotte has been collecting all the Duffy pins she can find. Last night when I was in the store buying her presents, the really sweet girl from France who wrapped them for me had a Mexican Duffy pin. I commented that I’d have to send Charlotte to trade with her and she said that she would set that pin aside. We woke up this morning to a beautiful hand written birthday note for Charlotte with the pin attached to it.

Charlotte got to pick the breakfast place this morning and she chose the buffet where they get to have every form of carbohydrate that you can imagine. In triplicate. After breakfast the girls played shuffleboard while Doug and I gathered every layer we brought with us in preparation for whale watching.

Our whale watching tour left at 11:30 which meant we had a few hours to do something on our own. I booked the whale watching tour through a private company (Adventures in Alaska, Captain Jack Cadigan – highly recommended!!) and the owner told me that the best thing to do was to take a cab up to Mendenhall Glacier. The cab was $35 one way, vs. a shuttle which would be $10 per person each way. Our cab driver came to the US from Cuba 7 years ago and ended up in Juneau after living in Miami where there were too many people. The two places could not be any more different. He was a funny guy who fancies himself a bit of a tour guide, but with his very broken English it was a bit of a chore. “And here is where you be finding the beavers.” “And here is where there are too many bald eagles. Too, too many.”

When we got to the glacier, he pointed us in the direction of a path “where you will be seeing the bears. Just go down that path and the bears, they will come.” I went down the path. I stayed there for 1.5 hours. The bears, they did not come. Now six hours later our friends went down the path and the bear did come. She got a shot with her iphone of a bear grabbing a salmon and eating it, about 8 feet from her. I hauled huge heavy camera equipment thousands of miles but missed my chance at a bear closeup!!

I did get to see some neat things in my hour and a half wait. I hadn’t ever seen a salmon outside of a plate before. They’re big!   I also hadn’t ever seen a salmon spawning up a stream before. It is pretty neat because in the place where the stream is very shallow, they actually kind of wiggle themselves along the bottom and mostly out of the water to get to deeper water. I cannot for the life of me understand why some bear wasn’t just out there treating it like the cruise breakfast buffet. They could have had easily 30 salmon.

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Salmon!

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A mother mallard duck and some nearly grown babies.

The area stank. Bad. Apparently bear don’t eat all of the salmon. They like the heads and then they chuck the rest of it into the woods where it rots and smells. It also, according to the ranger, fertilizes the ground so they have very healthy trees.

Oh! And did you know porcupines climb trees? I didn’t see any of those, either, but the ranger said they see them frequently in those trees.

At 11:30, the whale watching company picked us up at the glacier and took us to their dock.   I think he said the boat was 20 feet long. It has an upstairs observation area, where the captain steers, that comfortably holds 9 people. It also has a comfortable bottom level that also holds 9 people. They only book 8 people at a time, so it was very comfortable. We set out right away to find whales. They have a whale guarantee whereby if you don’t see a whale, they’ll give you your money back. I think they are considering asking us for more money given the number of whales we saw.

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Our boat, the Scania, on the right.

The guide said that at this time of year the whales, which are all humpbacks except for the very very occasional orca, are generally feeding solo. The other kind of feeding is called bubble-netting where they all go under water and blow bubbles then pop up together to grab fish.

Fairly immediately we saw our first whale, who they call Sasha. You might wonder how they know she is Sasha, or if the guy was totally pulling our leg. I wondered the same. But he says you can tell the whales by the patterns on their tail. Sasha was a little difficult for me because her tail is completely black, but when I zoomed in I could see markings on it. Once we saw whales with white on their tails, I believed him.

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Sasha.

 

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See the white markings on this whale’s tale? I think this is the whale they call Flame – a female who has birthed many of the other whales we saw today.

The whales get to between 50-60 feet (!!!) long and weigh one ton per linear foot (!!!!!!). The females are larger than the males. The breeding whales travel from this area all the way to Hawaii in the winter. They only eat when they’re here, though, so a female humpback can lose up to 1/3rd of her body weight over the course of a winter.

Sasha was pretty great. She came up for air a few times before diving down and showing us her tail. Whales come to the surface to breathe. The air that they expel comes out at 300 mph. They surface a few times over the course of a few minutes and then dive down – showing us their tail in the process. They stay down for 8-10 minutes, although Sasha stays under for 10-12 minutes, and then the whole process repeats. The guy said whale watching is 90% patience and 10% luck.

Whale photography is 90% balance and 10% luck. Balancing a long, heavy lens on a moving boat while trying to maintain focus on a whale that pops up randomly is hard and I have immensely more appreciation for those who do it well. The captain happens to also be a photographer so he quickly told me to ditch the monopod and muscle it out hand holding the lens. He was right, that proved to be much easier.

We stayed with Sasha for probably 20-30 minutes before setting out in search of other whales. Within just a few minutes we found one. Then two. Then three! There were at least three whales, and probably four, all within our line of sight and fairly close. Close enough that I had my 150-500 lens at the 150 end in order to fit the whale entirely within the shot. We sat and watched those whales for quite awhile and even the captain marveled at our good fortune.

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They have barnacles growing on their tails!

The other family that was on the boat with us had a teenage girl – probably in the 14 year old range. She kept disappearing to the lower deck and her mom suspected she was down there playing ipad games. The mom made her come upstairs to see the 3 whales together when she innocently said “hey – there’s whales behind us too.” All 5 of us on the upper deck turned around to look behind us at the exact same time and within 5 seconds this enormous female whale breached – her entire 50 foot body jumped out of the ocean and came smashing down creating a huge wave. Of course no one was expecting this, and therefore there are no photos of this event, since the captain had told us not five minutes earlier that whales for the most part do not breach up here in Alaska, only in Hawaii. He said they see breaches only once per month. I don’t think he was kidding because as soon as that happened, the radio started going nuts with other captains saying “did you seeeee that??”

We tried to count the number of whales we saw and the driver thinks it was 10. He said that’s exceedingly rare. We think it was the fact that today is Charlotte’s birthday. Charlotte wanted to see sea lions for her birthday and the captain made that happen. They have Stellar sea lions up here (and they are really stellar). He said they’re the biggest sea lions in the world and that if you compared the skull of one of these to the skull of the bear, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

The sea lions he turned up for us were all huddled on top of this big red metal buoy. The buoy marks a place where the ocean floor rises, which for some reason causes the salmon to swim around it in circles. The sea lions view this as kind of a buffet, so they sleep for a while, dive in and eat some salmon, then hop back up onto their buoy. Lazy things, they are. But so very cute.

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Sea lions on the buoy

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I forgot to ask about the purpose of the bell on the buoy, I was too captivated by the sea lions. I love how they pile on top of each other.

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So cute and lazy.

 

By then it was time for the boat to take us back to shore so we could make our cruise boat in time for All Aboard! There was a Pixar Party on deck 3 where all of your favorite Pixar characters had a huge dance party with the kids. I think Elisabeth about died happy when she got to dance with Sully from Monsters University.

Dinner tonight was a Toy Story themed menu and tonight is the apparently acclaimed Toy Story musical in the theater. We’re getting ready to head off to see that. I’m thinking of staying back in the room and going to bed very early because I’m super tired.

Tomorrow we dock in Ketchikan around 11am. At 3:30 we’re going on a sea kayaking tour, which might be very, very rainy and cold. My goal for tomorrow is to see seals and otters. And to not drop my camera in the ocean.

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Alaskan Disney Cruise – Day 5 – Skagway – Eagles and Bears, Oh My!

Skagway is a town of 800 residents. Which means that our cruise ship alone more than triples the number of people in town. Today there were two cruise ships docked in Skagway. Most of the towns in southeast Alaska are not linked by roads. The roads just end. In order to get from place to place, people take ferries. We went from Skagway today to Hanes (via ferry!). In Hanes, the supply boat comes every Tuesday, so if you want fresh veggies and fruits you better shop Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday. They take the ferry to Juneau (3 hrs) a few times a year to stock up on stuff at Costco, etc. It is such a different way of life!

Doug went for a 7 mile run this morning, which is a little difficult in such a small town – there just isn’t that much space! He gets to do 14 miles in Ketchikan, which might be an even bigger challenge.

After Doug’s run, we had breakfast (three of us for the second time this morning), and then played shuffleboard which proved to be a thousand times more fun than I expected. Elisabeth beat Doug and then Charlotte beat me. The girls were pretty smug about it, so I think some rematches are in order.

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Shuffleboard, like the retirees we are.

 

Today was the first day that we actually got to get off of the boat. We signed up for something called the Evening Wildlife Excursion, which strangely left at noon. We took the 30 minute ferry ride to Hanes where we boarded a bus. I will admit that I envisioned this bus to be a motorcoach, because, hello – this is a Disney cruise!!   What we got instead was probably the oldest school bus I have ever been on. At times I wondered if it was going to start up again.

We had two naturalists on board – one drove while the other told us about what we were seeing. We drove up the Chilkoot Valley. There is some distinction between Chilkoot and Chillcat that I did not quite appreciate and will look up some more when I get home. I believe that one is on one side of a mountain and one is on the other. This river valley, like many of the ones around here, was carved out by a glacier so it has a nice wide flat bottom with steeply rising sides. I am supposed to be in utter awe of the size of the mountains – which have something like a 5000 foot vertical rise. I will freely admit that to me they look like mountains. Pretty mountains, but mountains nonetheless.

My primary goal for the day was to get a picture of a bear. And wow did I ever succeed. They heard a report that there was a bear at this one bridge crossing, so we stopped there and sure enough there was a bear fishing and eating. She is a brown bear – which is a grizzly bear that lives on the coast – and she is about 10 years old. They call her Speedy. At first she was quite a ways away from us, but we stood there and watched for a long time and eventually she made her way down the river right in front of us. We think that at her closest she was 25 feet from us.

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Speedy, how we first saw her.

 

I am in awe of the bear. She swam a bit. She fished. She posed on a rock. When she fishes, she doesn’t even make quick fish grabbing movements like you or I would attempt. She seems to just slowly reach down and pull out a salmon – much like picking an apple out of a fruit bowl. Then she lounges and eats it.

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This was about as gruesome as the fish eating got.

 

I definitely expected more ripping and gnashing and gnarling. I also expected the salmon to jump out of the water and for her to grab them in mid-air, and a motorcoach in the middle of nowhere Alaska, so my expectations were definitely not accurate.

Oh, and while she was fishing, a bald eagle landed next to her. Had they only arranged for the mountain goat to be there, and a seal, I could have summed up my Alaskan hopes and dreams in one picture.

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Coming and going.

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Alaska – bears and eagles.

 

Speedy wore a gps collar for a few years and they tracked her range and her movements. They did this because they thought she was responsible for some bear mischief in town, but the GPS collar says otherwise. She weighs about 400 pounds. Female grizzlies can get to 800 pounds and males to 1200 pounds!!

Oh and I’d like to give a shout out to the McGuire family of Hanes, Alaska who allows the tour to use their yard to watch bear. Your rowboat turned raised bed planter is fantastic, and we really appreciate that you let us stand on your picnic table for a better view.

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Speedy found a cooler someone abandoned, probably when they realized there was a grizzly bear standing behind them. This did not go over with the Alaskan Official Bear Watcher who scared her off of this cooler with an air horn. Apparently we don’t want bears thinking good things come from humans.

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Speedy is bellowing a bit here.

 

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From the McGuire’s house we kept going along the Chilkoot until we got to a spot where there are two active eagle nests.   The nests are very far across the river, but we could see them through the spotting scope and through my lens. I got a picture of an eaglet. They are dark greyish-brown, looking very unlike their parents in their first year. Eagles stay in the nest for 2 months before they start to fly and when they fledge they will actually be bigger than their parents due to their “training feathers.”

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Eaglet

 

From the eagles nests we continued in the rickshaw to a gorgeous lake in front of a glacier. They said we stopped for two primary reasons. First, the road ends there. Second, there are outhouses for those who also expected a motorcoach and got a school bus.

We then turned around to head back to the ferry with another stop at the eagles’ nests. This time, the parents were around and making eagle calls which I found fascinating. Doug got to see a parent actually in the nest, but I missed that waiting for eaglets to pop up in the nest I was watching.

We took the 30 minute ferry ride back to our cruise ship but we missed our dinner seating so we had to eat at the buffet. The buffet is ok, but pales in comparison to sit down cruise dinner in food quality, so we were a little bummed about that.

Tomorrow is Charlotte’s birthday so we get to redecorate our door with birthday decorations. But here’s a picture of the current decorations – Mickey on one door and Donald on our door.

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We will be in Juneau tomorrow, Charlotte’s birthday, where our outing is to the Mendenhall Glacier and then a 3.5 hr whale watching tour with one other family.  Maybe the whale watching guy can turn me up a goat!  It is the very last animal on my checklist!!

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Alaskan Disney Cruise – Day 4 – Tracy Arm

We hit some open ocean waves last night. I do not find a creaking boat comforting, so I was awake for a few hours in the middle of the night. But when we all got up this morning, we were in nice beautiful calm waters. We entered into an area where there are islands to our left and the Alaskan mainland to our right, so there aren’t very many waves.

Today was spectacularly gorgeous. The weather was mostly cloudy with some rain and in the 50s, but I expected that to feel much more miserable than it did. We were basically outside all day except for meal times. The scenery was much too beautiful to be inside.

 

Sneak peak of beautiful scenery

Sneak peak of beautiful scenery

We started out by having breakfast in the buffet restaurant on the 9th deck. It was your standard buffet breakfast fare, with the addition of an omelet bar. There is a strong push to eat bacon on this ship. We are all going to need cholesterol lowering medications come day 5.

At breakfast, there was a guy sitting at the table to our right, all by himself, who started chatting with us. He lives in San Diego, but was born in Taiwan and raised in Boston. Turns out he is a former MIT professor, so we had a lot to talk about. We did not, however, talk about my love of 8.01 and 8.02. He was a course 2 professor in the early 80s and now has two young sons through his second marriage. I found it funny that he said his wife is a tiger mom and then described all of the things his kids have to do everyday. Then he told me she’s a blonde native Californian – shame on me for stereotyping.

After breakfast, it was a little cold and rainy and too early for the kids to go to the kids’ club, so we went to the arcade where we got the world’s most expensive stuffed animals and ran into a girl who is Elisabeth’s age and plays house soccer in our very same soccer club. Did I mention that yesterday Doug ran into someone he graduated from Amherst with? 2000 people on this boat, it is a very small world.

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World’s most expensive stuffed animal from that G-D claw machine. Also, who belongs to this kid? Don’t they care how she dresses?

Speaking of 2000 people on the boat…. I had been prepared for this to feel very crowded. I don’t think this cruise feels crowded at all. Now that might be because all of my previous cruising experience came in my 20s through MicroStrategy when 18 of us would shove in one hot tub, but Disney has done a great job making things feel very comfortable. And not over the top Disney either. I was worried they’d blast It’s A Small World on infinite repeat or something – but they don’t. It is not Disney saturation.

At 9 the kids’ clubs open and our crew was itching to get in. They have a million computers for the kids to play on and lots of other play stations. I’m sure you don’t have to think very hard to figure out where our kids ended up. But 30 mins later was craft time, so we went to make animal masks.

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Crafting on the boat – making animal masks

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This tiger is scary not only because it is a tiger, but because thanks to the glue stick instead of hot glue gun, half of its face is falling off….

 

At 10, we had tickets to go meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Anyone who follows my Facebook newsfeed probably remembers when we went to Epcot in late January and the line was about 4 HOURS to meet Anna and Elsa. On this cruise they distribute tickets and you have to wait maybe 5 minutes. It is great because Anna and Elsa spend lots of time with the kids and the whole thing is very relaxed. Kudos Disney – the first Frozen related thing you’ve done right, after releasing such a great movie.

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After Anna and Elsa, we went up to the 10th deck, front of the boat and pretty much started our long day of scenery watching. The captain came on the loud speaker this morning to tell us that between 10:30 and 12:30 the best whale watching of the trip would occur as the humpback whales had been quite active lately. Sure enough, at 10:30 the whales showed up. You have to wonder if Disney sent out tender boats loaded with krill ahead of the ship. The whales stayed on the port side, mostly, and were evenly spaced over the course of those two hours. Two of them jumped, but of course I missed photographing those. At the very end of my watching time, there were three whales together, seemingly on their backs. I got a couple of shots but missed focus on them – of course. I’m still keeping them because it was pretty cool to see. I have never seen a whale before (in the wild), so this was exciting for me.

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The whale tail shots were everyone’s favorites. I have about 30 of these…. and cannot delete a single one.

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This is my out of focus, at least two whales floating on their backs together shot.

 

The big excitement of the day was Tracy Arm. The ship sails into this fjord that gets pretty narrow at times and has beautiful scenery the entire time. They said we might see eagles, goats, and bears on the hills and mountains but I didn’t see any of those things. However, when we arrived at the glacier, there were hundreds of harbor seals on the ice. The naturalist on board was pretty excited about all of the seals. We also got to get closer than any ship so far this year, by 3 ship lengths. Even the Disney employees came out and marveled at how close we were. As an added bonus, which also got the naturalist very excited, the glacier “calved” a few times and huge chunks of ice came off of the glacier and hit the water creating what they call “white thunder” when it hits. The ship did a 360 degree turn so everyone got a great view and then headed on to our next port of call, Skagway.  This is a big picture interlude, there’s more text after all of the Tracy Arm pictures

 

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This valley was chiseled out by a glacier. I love the clouds in the valleys – it looked like this everywhere you looked.

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The naturalist mentioned bears swimming by waterfalls, so I have pictures of every single waterfall we passed.

 

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some of us napped through the beauty

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This poor parentless child followed us around all day.

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The glacier “calving” with seals resting peacefully in the foreground.

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calving glacier. The blue is not done via photoshop – in fact this picture is straight off the camera. The glacier is THAT blue.

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A lonely harbor seal on a solitary small iceberg.

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seals on an iceberg

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This seal posed so nicely for me. In the rain, even! Well done, Disney, give this guy some more fish.

After the glacier and seals, the crazy crazy crazy younger kids got in the pool. The pools are nice and heated at 85 but getting out of the pools is miserable and cold! I staked myself back up on the 10th deck and waited to see a mountain goat… for a few hours…. And never saw a goat. You might think Disney could plant a stinking goat up on a hill for us. Some magic, Disney!

I thought for sure I would be in good company with long lenses on this cruise, but…. I think I have the longest lens. People seem to think that just because I have this monstrous lens, I can turn up mountain goats and bears and they are all very disappointed to find out that no, I don’t have any pictures of bears either. I feel a little bit like they’re judging me and my photography skills, but I don’t really know any photographers that can materialize a bear so maybe it is just my own insecurities.

Dinner was the same for me: a selection of grilled meats. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m tired of steak. Grilled meats is pretty much the only gluten free option. Charlotte was so tired at dinner that she asked to skip dessert and go back to the stateroom to go to bed. We crossed another timezone, so it felt an hour later to her.

Tomorrow we get to go on a bear hunt. I believe we’re going to the Chilkoot river to watch the bears eat dinner. The naturalist said we might even get to see a brown (grizzly) bear. I wonder where we stand on that goat….

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Alaskan Disney Cruise – Day 3 – At Sea

Today is the second day of our actual cruise, the third of our vacation.  We spent all day today at sea.  When we left Vancouver, it was in the 80s and blazingly sunny.  When we woke up this morning (at 4:30….) it was foggy, cloudy, windy, and cold.  The air temperature was actually around 60, but on deck it felt much, much colder.  We sat out for awhile in warm hats, gloves, fleeces and down coats.  What a difference a day and 300 nautical miles north makes.

As I said, we were up early again.  This time change thing doesn’t work well with my crew, who apparently have very strong circadian rhythms.  Doug went for a 4 mile run on the 1/3rd mile track on the boat.  He’s training for a marathon, so we’ve been talking a lot about how he’ll get his runs in.  Running 21 times around the boat sounded highly unappealing, but today he did 12 laps and said he definitely could have done more, that it was not nearly as boring as it sounded.

The girls were excited to wake up to a surprise that my sister and I made for them – Olaf door decorations!  The cruise doors are all magnetic and of course people have capitalized on this and done all sorts of crazy door magnet decorations.  I have a few days worth of decorations to surprise them with and the first was Olaf.  I downloaded this from disboards.com, printed, laminated, had my sister cut it out, and glued magnets to the back.  We keep hearing people go by marveling over Olaf.  Very fun.  I don’t want to take him down to put up the other ones that I have!!

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After Doug went for his run, we went to our “character breakfast.”  Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and Goofy came around and signed autographs, took pictures, etc. with the kids.  The breakfast was your standard breakfast fare:  eggs, pancakes, waffles, hash browns, etc.  I have to eat gluten free so they spend a lot of time making sure what they serve me is ok for me to eat.  I made the mistake of asking for some bacon and what came out was an entire dinner sized plate piled very, very high with bacon.  Our table did an astonishly good job on the bacon.

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Pre-breakfast dancing on the empty dancefloor.

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Pre-breakfast dancing on the empty dancefloor.

 

 

 

 

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The additional excitement at breakfast was our waiter making us silly hats out of napkins.  Elisabeth and Charlotte got Mickey ears and our friends got two Pocahantases and a Jack Sparrow.  Doug got Peter Pan and I became Cleopatra.  The kids got a good laugh out of it.

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Minnie Mouse Ears

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Jack Sparrow

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Peter Pan

 

We sadly lost one of our group to motion sickness before breakfast was served- she was up on deck trying not to be sick.  Thankfully Dramamine plus arm bands seem to have done the trick.  Charlotte was fading a bit too, so we got her some sea bands and she perked up.  The ride hasn’t been too too bad, but definitely not as smooth as I thought given that we’re sailing between two land masses.

After breakfast, all of the kids went to the Disney Oceaneering Club for a class on animation where they learned to draw Goofy.  It was strange not having the kids around, so we sat and read books in our parkas on the deck.  After the animation class, the kids went to a different kids club and watched a magic show that they deemed not that great.  It is true that all you do on a cruise is eat, so by now it was time for lunch.

We decided to eat at Triton’s for lunch, which is the French themed restaurant on the boat.  Doug ran into one of his college classmates during lunch – such a small world.  Triton’s was good, but the service was really slow.  It took us about an hour and a half to finish lunch.

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Resting in the port-hole window seat

At this point it was time for a heated argument between the two  youngest members of our traveling party about whether or not they should go swimming (seriously!) or play in the room.  In the end, they decided to play in the room and then go swimming.

Yes, we were in coats and yes there were people swimming.  The pools are heated to about 85, so they’re warm, but the brisk wind makes being out of the water uncomfortable.  The lifeguards stand at the edge of the pool in full warmup suits and ski caps.

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Alaskan Cruise Fashion

The sun came out around 2:30, though, and in the sun away from the breeze it was delightful.  They also have two hot tubs that the kids can get in, so our crew spent a good amount of time in the hot tub.  They show a Disney movie on the pool deck, so in the main kids pool you just see a bunch of floating heads staring up at the tv screen while the beautiful scenery of Alaska floats by in the background.

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hot tubbing

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pool full of kids watching Mulan as beautiful scenery passes them by!

For a part of the time the kids were swimming, some of us went to hear a naturalist talk about the types of bears they have in Alaska.  It was fascinating.  I learned that grizzly bears are also called brown bears.  I learned that all black bears east of the Mississippi are actually black but out west they have brown black bears, black black bears, and even white, non-albino black bears.

The stories this guy told about encountering bears were great – although I definitely wouldn’t be as cool as a cucumber as he was.  If you encounter a bear, you’re supposed to try really hard not to scare it or worry it.  You do this by speaking calmly to the bear.  Really.  Low even voice like you’re trying to tell someone to put down the gun.  I am pretty certain that if I have the good fortune to encounter a bear,  calm speaking in a low voice will be an unattainable lofty aspiration.

The naturalist left us with the definite expectation that we will see no fewer than 582 bear on this cruise.  I have, however, yet to see one.  And I’ve been on this cruise for 36 hours now.

Around lunch time today, we started to sail between two land masses.  I believe that on our port side, which any idiot knows is the left side….., are the ABC Islands and on our starboard/right is Alaska.    The waves calmed considerably at that point and the scenery got gorgeous.  I could have stood on deck all day taking pictures.  I saw fish jumping and lots of seagulls but no eagles, whales, or bear.  They told us that tomorrow morning will be our best whale watching opportunity aboard this ship.

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Dinner tonight was formal night.  It was very fun to get all dressed up with the kids.  We dined at Parrot Cay, which is the Caribbean themed restaurant.  Again, I had a steak.  Unfortunately the gluten free options seem to be steak, steak and steak for dinner.

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Immediately after she finished her dinner, Elisabeth took off for a kids club activity where they were building houses out of toothpicks and playdough.  The one who builds a house that can withstand the most wins.  And as soon as that’s over, she’s doing marshmallow Olympics.

Charlotte, on the other hand, nearly fell asleep eating her Mickey shaped ice cream on a stick, so we tucked her in to bed.  This means, of course, that she will be up at 4:30 which joy of joys will actually be 3:30 as we are crossing another timezone overnight!

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Towel creation found in our stateroom tonight

Tomorrow we sail into something called Tracy Arm, which is a series of fjords I think.  I’d google it and tell you more, but I’m getting charged by the MB  and so I’m only getting online to post this and get the heck off again.  I will fill you in on Tracy Arm details tomorrow but suffice it to say the pictures that I’ve seen are gorgeous.  The high is supposed to be 52.  That’s the high.  I know I booked a trip to Alaska, so I can’t really complain, but THAT’S THE HIGH.

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Alaskan Disney Cruise – Day 2 – Getting on Board

As expected, everyone woke up between 3:30 and 4am. I guess that’s what happens when you go to sleep at 7:30 at night. Keeping two kids quiet until a respectable hour is no easy feat. 5:30 seems like a respectable hour, right?

Around 6:30 Doug was back from his morning run and showered, so we headed on out to breakfast. Charlotte, who had been admonished for over 2 hours now to stop stomping around like a wildebeest got to get her inner wildebeest out on our surprisingly difficult quest to find breakfast.

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The wildebeest isn’t fully out yet

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Charlotte reigned it in for an awfully long time before this picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today was BC day in Vancouver, which is a holiday, which means that every restaurant that serves breakfast – except for McDonalds and Starbucks – was closed. We finally found a place that opened at 7 and waited with another family in our same position until it opened. We had a very delicious breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and most importantly coffee. When Mommy’s been awake since 3:30 and it is now 7am and no coffee has been consumed, it is very nearly time to call in the national guard.

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After we ate, and ate, we walked to Beach Drive, which runs along the…. Beach. We walked north up to Stanley Park, which is this enormous park much like Central Park in NYC.   There are allllll types in Vancouver. We saw one old lady changing out of her swimsuit on the beach. We lots and lots of dogs. We saw a woman walking around with an enormous sign singing loudly.

 

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Once we got to Stanley Park, we did a family round of pull-ups.

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But Elisabeth had too many pancakes.  So she watched and photographed.

Then we found a gigantic squash plant that must bear Charlotte-sized zucchini.

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Then we continued on our trek to the Beaver Pond. Doug is fascinated by nature’s engineer. In fact, we honeymooned here in Vancouver and I vividly remember watching a documentary on TV on this subject during our honeymoon. We did not find any of the giant toothed rodents, but we did have a wonderful, and long, morning walk. The sequoias and redwoods here are spectacular.

Finally the time came to pack up the hotel room and head to the ship! We got in the rental car and set out for Canada Place. There weren’t any signs on how to get to Canada Place (cruise terminal), but once you got close there were many, many people coming and going. We had a rental car so we drove through looking for “rental car return” much like you’d find in an airport. No dice. So we circled back around and asked a police officer. Who didn’t know. But HE asked another police officer who suggested we go into the parking garage. There were actually zero signs indicating how one might return their rental car. We were finally directed to P1 and to make a long story only sort of long: there were no signs. We finally found probably 6 spots marked National Rental Car and then dropped our keys in a box. National Rental Car FAIL.

Then began our series of lines, which actually moved along quite nicely. First, we stood in line to get in line for Customs (is this a meta-line?) Then we cleared US Customs because the next time we are getting off of this boat we’ll be on US soil (geez, knock on wood, I don’t want to actually use the lifeboats we learned about today). Then we got in line to check in for Disney, which was quite efficient given the vast numbers of people milling about. I was surprised by how few children there were. Not that there aren’t lots of children, but I expected some sort of Dante’s Inferno level of hell with a million children. This looks more like the mall on a Sunday – plenty of families with kids, but on average more adults than kids. We saw many larger groups of multigenerational families. All wearing matching t-shirts. That’s where I failed. No matching t-shirts for our crew.

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Then we finally stood in line to get on the boat. There wouldn’t actually be a line except they wanted us to pose for a picture, so we had to stand in line for that. When you finally board the ship, they announce your family by name and lots of Disney employees applaud.

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The first impression of the ship is favorable. Really pretty décor, not too big, not too small, Disney magic oozing from everything. First order of business: get the Elsa and Anna meet and greet tickets lest I am forced to go back to Disney World and wait in the nearly 4 hr long line to see them. Luckily this task takes me only 20 minutes to complete and now on Wednesday morning, my girls can spend some quality time with the Norwegian heroines. After this excitement, we quickly met up with our travel friends and had lunch.

It was 85 and sunny in Vancouver today, so we used the afternoon to do something we won’t do for the rest of the cruise: soak in the sun and enjoy being warm. Starting tomorrow we say goodbye to the sun and hello to windy and 50s. At 4 we had to go to our muster stations and learn about life boats. I thought Disney would find a way to make this fun, but no. Learning about life boats is inherently boring. And hopefully useless.

After the mustering, we went up to the 9th deck for the bon voyage party which might have been the highlight of the day for me. Popular music blaring. Everyone dancing – from grandmas to dads to 2 year olds dressed like Tinkerbell. Charlotte is very shy but boy does she like to dance.She worked her way from the corner to the edge of the dance floor to right out in the middle of the action. I only wish these pictures captured an ounce of that joy.

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I believe this was Gangnam Style…

 

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So long, Vancouver!

 

The cruising scenery so far is gorgeous. Treed islands as far as you can see. Mountainous.

Our dinner time is 5:45, so right after the party ended, we came to the cabin to get dressed for dinner. Doug and I have cruised quite a few times before and our cabins were never this large. Disney does this family cruising thing right. There’s even a solid curtain between the kids’s bunk beds and our bed so that we can have the lights on after 8:30. I’ll take some pictures of the cabin this week – it is a great size.

Our dinner tonight was at Animator’s Palace, which is a more casual restaurant. On the Disney cruises, you rotate through 3 restaurants on a preplanned schedule. The staff is very accommodating of my gluten problem and won’t bring me anything without confirming with the chef that even thought it is marked gluten free on the menu that it is actually gluten free. It is nice and makes me feel like I might not have any gluten issues this week.

The dinner itself was good, but I would not say as good as other cruises I’ve been on. Of course, I had to eat gluten free. They brought me gluten free rolls that were delicious – and I am really picky about gluten free breads. I had smoked salmon tartare, which was probably the tastiest part of my dinner, followed by a roasted bell pepper salad, followed by a lean grass-fed sirloin. Honestly the steak and salad were nothing to write home about (yet here I am). The kids picked at their food, mostly because they had lots of rolls before their food actually came.

After dinner, we perused the shops which were expectedly packed. Then we headed off to bed. The girls will hopefully be on a regular schedule tomorrow, instead of the crazy 3:30 am wakeup call we’ve been on.

Tomorrow is a cruising day. We have a character breakfast in the morning and then it looks like there is a packed slate of activities we can do all day.   Movies, naturalist talks, engineering challenges, dance parties – so much fun.

Well hopefully this blog update didn’t cost us hundreds of dollars… we pay for internet by the MB on the ship.  I think I would have gotten a warning if I used more than my allotted share, though….  here’s hoping!

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Alaskan Disney Cruise! Day 1 – Getting to Vancouver

Well, this trip has been a long time in the works.  We booked our Disney Cruise to Alaska months ago and we’ve heard about it nearly daily from the girls.  It felt like we might not ever get to this point in time – life has certainly thrown a few obstacles our way since the booking.   The time has finally come, and I now I am just hoping Disney lives up to the girls’ (lofty) expectations!  I am also hoping that I did not manage to overlook important aspects of Disney Cruising that will inevitably be revealed to us on the cruise and my kids will look at me with horror that they’re missing out on something.

The cruise departs from Vancouver.  To get here, we flew to Seattle and then drove the three hours to Vancouver.  Our flight left at 8:15 this morning, so we thought 6:45 was early enough to get to the airport.  I have never seen more dysfunction at an airport than we found this morning with United.  After 45 minutes of CHECKING A BAG, we scrambled to the airside to get seats because out of the 4 of us, only 3 of us actually had seat assignments – and those seat assignments were randomly scattered throughout the plane.  Luckily this is where United redeemed themselves and worked pretty hard to get us a workable (and actually quite good) seating arrangement.  The flight was uneventful – except that I finished an entire book in one sitting.  I don’t remember the last time I did that.  Oh and I traded a really stinky seat neighbor for Elisabeth during the great seat reshuffling, so that was a win.

Upon arrival in Seattle, we discovered that our booster seat wasn’t on the carousel.  After much searching, the United representative gave us another booster seat that may or may not be ours.  I was hungry, so no one complained and we took the seat.

The drive between Seattle and Vancouver is much, MUCH more congested than I expected. I expected vast expanses of nothing but unbelievably gorgeous scenery.  Sea lions sunning themselves at rest stops.  Whales breaching within eyesight.  Bald eagles posing for pictures.  Instead, we learned that Seattle to Vancouver has a lot of little cities in there and some farms and actually ZERO sea lions or whales.  Bummer.

They do have blue herons.  And the occasional surprise snowy mountain peeking out from the completely inefficient gas station you stop at to get coffee.

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Welcome to Canada! No moose, bear, or maple syrup sightings yet, though

We made it to Canada.  The signs are in English and French, and the border agent said eh and sooooory, so we were pretty excited.  No Mounties, sadly.

Upon arrival in Vancouver, we very quickly realized that ALL of Vancouver was out on the streets celebrating the Pride Parade.  Roads everywhere were closed.  Well maybe not everywhere but definitely the roads from where we were to our hotel.  I don’t know that back alleys are proper travel roads, but necessity breeds invention.  We finally got to within a block of our hotel and the road was just actually blocked.  But the nice, straight out of How I Met Your Mother, Vancouver Policeman helped us move barricades to get to our hotel.

Our hotel.  It looks like a dorm.  There might even be a floor “mom” – there’s a suspiciously house-coat clad lady in the first room  you get to on our floor.  Baker House at MIT might have nicer facilities.  It is 85 degrees here and there’s no AC.  But, it has two comfortable beds, is clean, and I think it will be a great transition to living in a tiny cruise boat cabin.  First, we will appreciate the grandiose appointments of a Disney Cruise Ship.  Second, we will be accustomed to living on top of each other.

The hotel is in the West End, though, which is a fun and vibrant neighborhood.  I think actually the Vancouverians (sounds legit, right?) probably view the appointments of this hotel as selling points.  Vancouver is crunchy.  Did I mention there’s not an elevator and our luggage weighs a LOT?

We walked around a bit to find some dinner, and to try and keep the kids up past 5:30 local time.  We found a Greek restaurant called Olympus that suited our needs just fine.  There were lots of post-parade goers in there, with all forms of interesting attire, which made for good people watching.

 

 

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Mommy was a little cranky after a looooong few weeks and a looooong travel day.

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Little Miss Manners

We’re nothing if not full of manners….

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Elisabeth enjoyed the salad and then ate zero bites of her main meal.

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This is what happens when you try to de-skewer shrimp. Is there any good way to do this?? At least I had had enough of the wine to make me not care quite as much that I spilled the wine…. The waitress said they call this a “sad movie.”

 

And now here we are, all in our PJs ready for bed by 7p local time.  I sure hope the hotel neighbors like seeing the clock at 3:30am, because we’ll be up.

Tomorrow we board the cruise ship around 1pm.  Then a few days at sea before our first stop.  I have to size my pictures really small because Disney charges by the byte for internet access.

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Bar Harbor — Day 2

Again, we were up shortly after dawn.  Part of that is because I naturally wake up early and part of that is because the kids never sleep well on vacation until we’re nearly ready to go home, then they sleep like logs.  Today we wanted to be up early, though, because low tide fell at 7:52am and we wanted to go tidepooling.  I researched tidepooling online last night and reviews said the best place to go was Otter Point.  My good friend Stacy told us to bring rain boots for tidepooling because it is cold here.  Apparently the water at the “beach” never gets above 55 degrees, even in the heat of summer.  Obviously I am not going anywhere near water that cold without protective footwear, so we brought rain boots.

We left mostly on time and after a swing through town to pick up some serious sunblock (not just sunscreen), we headed down to Otter Point.  Now, perhaps we are not experienced tidepoolers, or perhaps we are big wusses, but when we got to Otter Point there was absolutely NO way we were getting down to the rocks safely.  And if we did get down to the rocks, there was no chance we were getting back up until the tide came in and crashed us against the rocks.  Otter Point was breathtakingly beautiful…. but not for tidepooling.  See Exhibit A:

Otter Point with big granite boulders forming tide pools that we could not get to.

Otter Point with big granite boulders forming tide pools that we could not get to.

At this point it was already about 8:10 which meant tide was coming back in.  So if we wanted to go tide pooling, we had to come up with a new plan fast.  Bar Harbor is so named, we think, because there is a giant sand bar that you can walk across to an island at low tide.  We had heard and read that this was a good place to go tide pooling, so we packed up the kids and drove back into town and over to bridge street where we saw the sand bar.  I will freely admit that when I heard of this crossing, I had this idea of a sand bar like I remember in Florida.  Not super wide, and the water is still relatively close to you.  Well, this was not that kind of sand bar.  This sand bar was enormous and there were more than a few taxis driving across it, in addition to NPS Park Ranger trucks.

the sand bar of Bar Harbor, at low tide.

the sand bar of Bar Harbor, at low tide.

We put on our very stylish strawberry rainboots (mine are actually black patent-ish paisley patterned) and set off to see what we could see.  We saw a lot of sea grasses and snails.  We found a small flounder, which was pretty cool, and we found more sea glass than we know what to do with.  Sea glass is somewhat of a competition in this family and usually ends in tears when some sister finds more pieces than the other sister.  We did not break that streak today, but we all left happy with our hands full of sea glass.  My one regret is that we did not find any star fish.  Apparently you have to get there really early to find the star fish or else the birds eat them.  The seagulls here are SO HUGE that I have no doubt they eat more than their fair share of star fish.  They might even eat small children.  Seriously, these birds are enormous.

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Tidal pool in Bar Harbor

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looking towards the ocean from the sand bar in Bar Harbor

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Watching a snail move

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Super cool matching rain boots while tide pooling.

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Our coolest find of the tide pooling morning – a little flounder.

After about an hour of walking around on the sand bar – by which time it was 9:40 and this rapidly approaching tide was nowhere to be found (seriously starting to doubt this whole “tide” thing), we set off for our first of two hikes for the day.  Our hostess told us about a hike on the western side of Mount Desert Island that took you up to a fire tower and had beautiful views called Beech Mountain.  We drove over, through a very quaint and beautiful little town called Somesville, Maine.  It is the first settled town on Mount Desert Island and apparently in order to be a part of Somesville, which seems to be a historic district in its entirety, your building must absolutely be painted white and have black shutters.  They also have a beautiful garden.  Anyway, Somesville was definitely the highlight of our drive over to Beech Mountain.  We nearly drove onto the trail because our road ended abruptly with no signs whatsoever.

We did not, however, drive onto the trail.  Instead, we parked the car and had a series of mis-starts before we found our way.  First, I carefully wrapped my new camera lens in a shirt and stuck it in my backpack.  With a bottle of water.  That opened.  And when Doug went to shake out the pool of water in the bottom of the bag, my new lens got dumped onto the pavement.  After a heartstopping moment, I tested it out and it works just fine.  See?  Although Elisabeth says this doesn’t look anything like her:

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Elisabeth with white zinc oxide based sunscreen on, mid sentence. But the lens works!

Then, we went on the trail.  We walked a bit past a stream bed.  Through more mud.  Past a dead and dismembered porcupine.  More mud.  To a sign that clearly indicated we were nowhere near our desired path.  Back through the mud, past the dead porcupine (making sure to point it out to a family with a small little girl), mud, stream, parking lot again.  From there we found the actual trail head we wanted and set off again.

The Beech Mountain trail was a lot of fun both going up and coming down and the view at the top, like all views we’ve seen here in Acadia, was phenomenal.  There is a 0.7 mile trail up and a 0.6 mile trail up.  Our guide book suggested the longer one up and the shorter one down, which is exactly what we did.  Again we got to practice our mountain goating a we scooted up lots of rocks.  The climb up provided us with many beautiful views like this one:

Walking up Beech Mountain Trail

Walking up Beech Mountain Trail

When we got to the top, we found the fire tower and took in an amazing view.

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Hey look, its a fire tower!

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Daddy, what’s a fire tower?

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That’s a fire tower kids. OK, Daddy, then why is Mommy wearing that ridiculous hat?

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Better get a family picture at the tope, near the fire tower.

While I was setting up the camera on the timer mode to take this lovely shot, we heard a noise.  At first it sounded like it could be a loud rattlesnake.  But then we realized it was the Acadia squirrel battle cry.  Think of “AY-YI-YI-YI-YI” in a high pitched voice before the squirrel made a move for your food.  Again – I’m not the bravest soul in the bunch but at least I’m braver than Elisabeth.  I yelled at it.  It advanced.  Charlotte is our steady hand.  She took over and looked that squirrel in the eye and told it that if it did not leave her family alone, she was going to “throw it off the cliff.”  It took her at her word and turned tail and fled.  It was only regrouping though.  That squirrel made a few attempts at the bag of food before Charlotte apparently scared it off for good.  So then we could eat lunch in peace.  Except for the biting gnats that left big red ugly marks on poor Doug.  The rest of us are unscathed.

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Eating lunch squirrel free courtesy of Charlotte the Brave.

The path down Beech Mountain was of the “steep rocky descent” type.  We’ve all decided that we prefer “steep and rocky” to “long inclined path.”  We must get bored easily or just prefer the climbing more than the walking.  Here’s a shot of a relatively non-rocky, yet steep part of the walk down:

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Once we got to the bottom and back into the car, we set out for our second hike of the day:  Great Head Trail.  We parked in the Sand Beach lot and followed the instructions diligently:  go as far away from the parking lot as you can and there you will find the trail head.  The instructions explicitly did NOT say:  go as far away from the parking lot as you can, cross a river by jumping on rickety stones, and then you will find a trail head.  Now, some say river, some say stream, some say trickle but it all remains the same that you had to walk on stones that wobbled and if you fell in you would assuredly have soaking wet shoes.  And, I think I mentioned before, the water is REALLY cold.  Luckily only one of us fell in an that was Charlotte who only stepped in with one foot and is a trooper who can be bribed off of complaining with one chocolate chip cookie.

This trail might be my favorite of the whole trip.  We scrambled up rocks to get to beautiful ocean views.  Once on top, the trail took you on a ~1 mile loop where you could see many different views of the ocean.  The trail also took you through lots of different terrains from bright sunny/rocky to woodland stream to trees as balance beams over streams.  It was a great hike that took us just over an hour with a few stops for snacks and to explore some tower ruins.  The views of the ocean were amazing – no matter which way you looked.

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Scrambling up the Great Head Trail. Lots of fun to climb on rocks – and this was really the only way up.

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Beautiful views no matter which way you look.

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This looks almost like you could be somewhere in the Caribbean. So beautiful.

The kids started out the hike by fighting over who got to yell out “blue blaze!” each time we saw a mark that showed us we were on the right path.  They then fought over whether or not it was annoying to yell out “blue blaze” each time.  The vacations may look idyllic to the outsider, but the kids can find just about anything to argue over.  At one part of the hike, I looked up and saw Elisabeth holding Charlotte’s hand as they hiked.  So sweet and cute.  I had to take a picture.  They might actually like each other after all.

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What is this hand holding business??

Then, about 20 minutes later I realized that I was being duped, as was Charlotte.  Elisabeth was holding Charlotte’s hand for one reason and one reason only:  so that Charlotte could not walk ahead of Elisabeth on the path.  Elisabeth admitted this under questioning later in the evening so I don’t feel bad thinking that she had ulterior motives.

There was a couple that was very near us on the trail.  At the end they caught up with us and marveled at how quickly we moved… they clearly don’t have young children that they have to chase.  Most of our hikes looked a lot like this:

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Endless energy.

At the end of the Great Head Trail, you get back to Sand Beach where we promised the girls they could test out the water.  Needless to say, it was cold.  There was a lot of squealing and running away from waves.

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After that adventure, we headed back to the cottage where we had turkey burgers for dinner.  I made Elisabeth’s favorite salsa (black beans, tomatoes, onions, lime juice, cilantro, salt and olive oil).  And then we went into town for ice cream.  They had LOBSTER ICE CREAM which I got so curious that I had to try.  I’m here to tell you, lobster ice cream is not good.  Do not allow yourself to be duped into believing it is good, no matter what the nice ice cream server tells you.  First of all, frozen lobster is wrong.  Second of all, a perfectly good vanilla ice cream does not need to be mucked up with frozen lobster.  The taste stays with you.  I’m reliving it a little bit right now.

Tomorrow…. it is supposed to rain and be significantly colder than today.  Coincidentally we are also supposed to go out on a boat for a ranger led tour.  I’m nervous as to how tomorrow will go.  If the weather holds in the morning, we’re planning more tide pooling and maybe another hike.

Maine is truly, truly beautiful everywhere you look.  Here’s more pictures from today:

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another view from Otter Point

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Happy at Otter Point even though we won’t be climbing down onto those rocks.

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Look how happy we are to be starting out on our first hike, which unbeknownst to us was NOT Beech Mountain trail!

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We look slightly less happy now after a false start. But Beech Mountain trail did not disappoint.

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climbing Beach Mountain trail

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Hey look – they actually DO have a place that they make sure you’ve paid! It appears to only keep people from going on Ocean Drive, which is apparently the most popular part of the park.

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scrambling up rocks on Great Head Trail.

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Great Head Trail had lots and lots of rocky climbing.

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anyone know what this is? It looks like some type of fruit blossom. Part of the forest floor was absolutely covered in these. Very pretty!

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Bar Harbor – Day 1

Well, it looks like I DO remember my username and password to this blog.  One year later!  Well, we are here in beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine for four days to explore the area, specifically Acadia National Park.  I don’t know why I have long been obsessed with the idea of coming up this way, but I have not been disappointed.  The town is adorable and filled with fun shops and restaurants.  The scenery is breath taking.  And the park is full of what look like great hikes.

We flew into Bangor yesterday, rented a car, and drove about an hour to get to Bar Harbor.  It was mostly smooth sailing (flying!) except for a 2 hour delay at DCA where we boarded the plane, were just about next in line for takeoff, taxied back to the gate, waited for about fifteen minutes, had to deplane until they found us a new plane and then just as we reboarded, that plane had to be “rebooted.”  Not a great start, but everyone remained in good spirits.

Our drive to Bar Harbor was quite pretty – Maine is very green and there are virtually no big chain stores here.  We saw a Home Depot and it stood out like a big orange sore thumb.  We saw lots of lobstah pounds, but no one would stop and eat seafood with me.

We are staying in the town of Bar Harbor, in a great little rental cottage.  It has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and is about a 10 minute walk to the center of town.  It is also across the street from the elementary school, which means we have unfettered access to a playground.  The kids love the cottage for many reasons, not the least of which are that each of their beds has individual reading lights.  It is quite literally the little things.  I love how much my kids love rental houses.  Are all kids like this?

Last night we went to dinner at Jack Russell Steak House, which is owned by the same folks who own our cottage.  They are super nice people who have three kids – two of which are the same age as my two.  We’ve been very pleased with our stay here so far.  I had baked haddock for dinner.  The haddock is a local fish and it was about the least fishy-fish I’ve ever had.  I very much enjoyed it.  Elisabeth had a hamburger (her new favorite) while Charlotte had chicken tenders – and old standby.  Doug had chicken parm.  We finished it off with a huge amount of dessert:  chocolate mousse, creme brulee, and a brownie sundae.  Delicious.

Fat and happy we came home and immediately put the kids to bed.  I think Doug and I stayed downstairs and chatted on the couch for awhile, or rather maybe Doug chatted on the couch for awhile.  All I know is that I woke up at 9:30pm only long enough to haul myself upstairs and go to bed.

It is always a very good idea to go to bed early on vacation with my children because they will be up at “dawnzerly” light (we have been reading the Ramona Quimby books).  True to form, Elisabeth was awake at 5:30 and we were all up and out of bed by 6:15.  It has been a day of much coffee.

Doug decided to take this early morning opportunity to go for a 6.5 mile run around a Witch Hole pond. He enjoyed the run, although he might have not gone quite as far if he’d known we would take the path down from one mountain – a path that required lots of leg muscles.

We found a visitor's center not affected by the sequester!

We found a visitor’s center not affected by the sequester!

We set out first thing for the Acadia National Park Headquarters to (1) get our car pass and (2) get our National Junior Ranger booklets.  When we got to the Headquarters there was a sign on the door that said it was closed.  But to find out why it is closed, please look at the sign across the parking lot.  The sign across the parking lot told Doug that the headquarters to the national park is closed ….. because of the sequester.  So we should drive to another entrance ~5 miles away to go to the visitor center.

This is a bit of a tangent, but our country apparently doesn’t have enough money to keep the national park headquarters open.  However, this park appears to be on the honor system for payment.  We went all around the park today and never once found an instance to show anyone our fancy car tag.  I’m certainly no economist, but it seems to me that if you, you know, MADE people pay instead of just hoped they’d pay, maybe you could keep your headquarters open.  Anyway, we paid.  Because I am nothing if not a rule follower.

After we visited the visitor center, we set off straight away to go to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard.  Wikipedia has a more technical definition, but it is long.  And 8:43pm, which is probably 13 minutes after I fell asleep last night.  We didn’t drive all the way to the top.  We got sidetracked by parking at Blue Something or Other Overlook.  We figured out that from there it was a short half mile hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain – so we climbed.

I think many of the trails we went on today would not be as challenging absent the mud.  We were not adequately prepared for mud, however, and so we spent much of our time perched like cats over a bucket of water, precariously balanced, trying not to fall in.  We were largely successful.

The top of Cadillac mountain did not disappoint and I am so glad we hike that half mile up instead of just driving to the very top with the rest of the population of Maine.   There are two parts to the top of Cadillac mountain and we were on the quiet, solitary part that we’re absolutely convinced is actually higher than the part the main parking lot gets you to.  Also, we were the only people out there for awhile, which is just much more pleasant.

We made it to the top of Cadillac Mountain!

We made it to the top of Cadillac Mountain!

At the top of Cadillac Mountain - we had it all to ourselves!

At the top of Cadillac Mountain – we had it all to ourselves!

The view is astounding.  There’s no way pictures do it justice.

After we climbed our half mile back down – which is actually the harder direction I think – we hopped back into the car and drove over to Bubble Rock.  The woman who owns this cottage gave us a great itinerary of hikes suitable for kids.  Bubble Rock was a really fun hike that she mentioned to us and it fulfilled its billing.

It started out as a beautiful hike through what we think are beech trees.  They smell really, really good and are a stunning shade of green right now.  The next part of the hike was short but moderately strenuous.  I gave consideration to pulling out the albuterol.  Then came the muddy section which required billy-goat skills that we apparently all actually possess.  Finally we got to the top where the excitement is this ENORMOUS rock that looks like it is precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff.  The great fun is in trying to push the big rock over the edge.  Other parents’ great fun is in keeping their children away from the edge.  My two didn’t even try it because I threatened to have a heart attack right there on the spot if they moved one inch farther.

The beginning of Bubble Rock hike

The beginning of Bubble Rock hike

Pretty beech (??) trees

Pretty beech (??) trees

We allllmost pushed the big rock that has been there for thousands of years right off the edge.

We allllmost pushed the big rock that has been there for thousands of years right off the edge.

We ate lunch up at the top of Bubble Rock and watched other parents keep their children from the edge.  Doug investigated and determined that there’s really only one spot that you’d fall all the way down.

Lunch spot.

Lunch spot.

Then we decided to turn the out and back hike into a circuit hike.  We were successful in this although we failed in making it the circuit hike we planned.  It is sort of like when you’re skiing an you accidentally end up on a black diamond trail when you only ever ski BLUE trails and you go down on your rump.  Even including the rump part in places.  The part of the hike that led us down from Bubble Rock was beautiful.  And steep.  And full of rocks.  It was not unenjoyable in the least, but you did eventually start to wonder if you’d ever feel anything under your feet other than big boulders.  Honestly you couldn’t see the end until you were right on it, so it felt like a rocky climb down that went on forever.  We finally got to the bottom and found ourself right at the shores of Jordan Pond.  After some confusion and my absolute decree that I would sooner die on the shores of Jordan Pond than climb UP what we had just come down, we realize that we were only a very pleasant half mile walk around Jordan Pond from where we intended to be.

see how you can't see the bottom?  This was kind of the easy part of the hike down.  It kept going and going and going.

see how you can’t see the bottom? This was kind of the easy part of the hike down. It kept going and going and going.

Jordan Pond is also where we spotted a snake, which caused great interest and joy in Charlotte and utter fear in Elisabeth.  I’d like to say I was brave, but when I saw the snake I screamed like the little girl that I am and ran.

After a few stops for water, hats, more sunscreen, and a family picture, we found the path that we meant to come down in the first place, talked to some other tourists, and then continued our circuit hike back to the parking lot.  The last leg of the hike was quite pretty – right next to a stream through wooded forest with more beech trees.

family photo courtesy of big boulders upon which to balance a camera and a remote shutter release.  In front of Jordan Pond.

family photo courtesy of big boulders upon which to balance a camera and a remote shutter release. In front of Jordan Pond.

Wouldn’t you know that we must have climbed up and down four thousand big rocks and within 6 feet of the car Charlotte whacked her knee something awful on a big rock that was actually IN the parking lot?  The poor kid is definitely going to have quite a bruise.

The girls really enjoyed our day of hiking.  No one got grumpy (even me!) and they both kept saying how much fun they were having.  They love climbing on rocks, so Acadia is really the perfect place for them.  I’m really wondering if they are somehow part goat.

We came home for a bit of a rest before dinner.  After about half an hour of being home, Doug took the girls to the playground while I sorted through pictures and made dinner.  The grocery store here sells chicken breast for the ridiculously low price of $2.08/pound.  As the regular price.  Crazy.  After dinner, we went to get ice cream in town.  It was good, but we’re really looking forward to trying out another place tomorrow night.

Tomorrow we’re going to check out some tidal pools in the morning, then hit Sand Beach and do a one hour hike there, then we’re going to do Beech Trail and find a fire tower.  In the evening we are planning on heading out for ice cream and a bit of shopping.  Tomorrow is supposed to be our best day weather wise with highs around 67 and sunny.  We hear it is supposed to rain on Wednesday, which is when we’re supposed to do our Diver Ed’s Dive In Theater boat tour.  We will go rain or shine, but we’re very much hoping for shine.

Until tomorrow!

Here’s the rest of the pictures:

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That’s the other summit of Cadillac Mountain, with the parking area. Ours was much better, and clearly higher.

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Beautiful path up to Bubble Rock.

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Beginning the somewhat steep ascent to Bubble Rock

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Practicing pushing a much smaller rock.

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The view from where we ate lunch.

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Charlotte climbing back up after she fell off the edge near Bubble Rock. Just kidding, Mother. Charlotte is fine.

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Bubble Divide.

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Jordan Pond is beautiful, and probably even worth the rocky climb down.

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some bark that I found around Jordan Pond.

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Girls on the bridge, 30 seconds post snake sighting. And the best part of it all? we had to turn around and walk back past the snake. EEEEEEEE!

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artsy fartsy shot of a tree in Jordan Pond

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another, less artsy fartsy but still somewhat artsy fartsy picture of a tree in Jordan Pond.

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