Chicago - June 2008

Trip two of the summer was to the Windy City.  I’d never been to Chicago, or Illinois for that matter, but Kris had been before.  I somehow managed to find quite a few things to do that he’d never done though.

June 24, 2008
Our hotel was amazing.  It’s called the Buckingham Athletic Club, and the El was directly outside.  The bed was comfortable, the rooms spacious and nice, the athletic club was fabulous (great hot tub, lap pool, and service), and the view was spectacular.  We were on the 40th floor, and we could see the Sears Tower and city looking left and the lake on the right from our room. We kept the curtains opened the entire time.


I absolutely adored the bathtub and utilized it every evening. The tub is incredibly long, which was fantastic for a tallish girl like me, and I was able to get the temperature very hot.


The hotel was also within walking distance of a lot of attractions and restaurants.  Kris has a thing with Chicago style pizza (I prefer NY style), so he wanted to try as much pizza as possible.  Our first day, after checking in and unpacking, we headed to get a stuffed pizza from Giordano’s, grabbed beverages from CVS, and explored a bit around the hotel.

June 25, 2008
Day 2 had us stop at a great breakfast restaurant called The Orange.  I had something called a Pancake Flight.  It was yummy, albeit a bit pricey. 


Then we headed to the Magnificent Mile for some shopping.  We shopped a lot, took the tunnel to Chicago’s beach, ate some free M&M’s ice cream bars that were being given out in front of the Hershey’s store, saw the old Watertower that withstood the “Great Chicago Fire”, and then took a trolley to the Navy Pier.


I will say, it was quite odd to see a life-sized stuffed M&M fighting with a life-sized stuffed Hershey Kiss.  The Navy Pier was beautiful.  We had the perfect weather that day, and we really enjoyed walking around, seeing the lighthouse and sailboats, and people watching.




I must say though nothing could rival the Stained Glass Museum.  



After a long day, we got hungry.  Everything in Chicago is expensive as far as food goes, but we stumbled onto a small, inexpensive local Chicago food chain called Wow Bao (hot Asian buns).  Our muscles were achy, so we headed to the hotel spa.


June 26, 2008
The next day was the day Kris was most looking forward to…Concert Day.  We trekked out to a highly rated pizza place called The Art of Pizza and had a few slices.  We walked downtown, stopping at this great little eccentric stationary shop, and then waited in line for Liquid Tension Experiment.  (I’d write more, but Kris’s review would blow mine away.)


June 27, 2008
Our final full day in Chicago, and we ate lunch at this kosher Jewish restaurant.  We rode the El to the botanical gardens and spent an hour or two there, then we headed to Millennium Park to see both the Cloud Gate sculpture, affectionately known as “The Bean” and the Crown Fountain. 





We then went to the Art Institute of Chicago and perused the art of Van GoghMonet’ Waterlilies and others, O’KeefeKandinskyGrant Wood’s American Gothic, and many other famous paintings.  We then headed over to the Buckingham Fountain in Buckingham Park.  This is a pretty well-known fountain thanks to the opening sequence of Married with Children




June 28, 2008
The next day we sleep in a bit, pack, and head to the airport for a delayed flight home.  After getting home, Kris gets ready to go on a weeklong hiking trip to Colorado, and I spend a week going to a Career and Technology Convention in downtown Dallas.

Cruise to Alaska on the NCL Pearl - June 2008

The beginning of my summer vacation tale begins with a fantastic journey to Alaska via cruise ship.  After planning this vacation with Terri for over a year, I can’t believe it’s finally here.  Our ship is the Norwegian Pearl and our itinerary has us going roundtrip out of Seattle, Washington.  

On June 7th, just two days after school is over for the summer, we head out for SeattleAdam, Terri and Wayland arrive in the early afternoon, but Kris and I arrive don’t arrive until around midnight.

On June 8th, we arrive at the Pearl around 10am and board the ship.  (Before getting onboard, I go on a search for my Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper.  I’m addicted.  I found online, before arriving in Seattle, the nearest grocery store to the dock, and the five of us trek the 1/3 mile journey to the store.  On the way we are stopped by bum after bum asking for money.  We’re obviously traveling together, but some ask each and every one of us.  Needless to say, I did not get a great impression of Seattle.)  The ship departs at 5pm.  

Wayland and Terri's door sign

Our door sign
We have mini-suites with balconies.  The rooms are fantastic.  I’ve never had a more spacious room on a cruise ship…I must say they were worth the money.  The beds were super comfy.  We even wound up trying to find out what mattress it was so we could buy one for the house, but it was a specially made NCL brand.  It was also really nice to have a cabin with a tub in the bathroom.  After unpacking, there was nothing to do but explore the ship, and, of course, eat.
 

I’m going to throw in here that I’d normally describe the day-to-day cruise activities I participated in, but there really isn’t a need.  The best part of this cruise was the ports of call.  We wound up with perfect weather, beautiful temperatures, and fantastic excursions.  I’ll describe them in detail.  


All I’ll say about the cruise was that, aside from the room, the itinerary, and the spa (which you pay extra for), I’m far more impressed with Carnival and Royal Caribbean.  (Carnival is my favorite, but Royal Caribbean had the best food.)  NCL had okay, but completely unspectacular, food and entertainment on the ship.  My favorite food on the boat was the pretzel bread…and I’m not joking.  We also found “freestyle cruising” to be a hassle, as you had to wake up early to get down to the desk to reserve somewhere to eat for that evening.  It wasn’t convenient in the least.
 


On June 10th, the Pearl arrives in Juneau, AK where we had booked an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier.  The bus picks us up at the dock and transports us about 10 miles to the glacier.  A canoe awaits us and we paddle out to a point about a mile from the glacier.  Safety concerns do not allow the canoe to get closer, since a major calving (ice break-off from the glacier) could cause a wall of water to swamp the canoe.  






The weather is windy and cold, but what else do you expect whenever you’re feet from a glacier?  We enjoyed hot apple cider and crackers while overlooking the glacier and Nugget Falls.  There were numerous icebergs in the lake, and Adam and I had fun boogying next to the waterfall.  (And I mean right next to the waterfall.  It was spectacular, and oh so powerful.)
 




June 11th has us stop in Skagway, Alaska.  Almost everyone split up this day.  Kris and Wayland climb up the mountainside to Upper Dewey Lake, while Terri and Adam shop Skagway.



I decided to take a wonderful scenic drive and horseback ride into the Canadian Yukon.  The highlight of this excursion was supposed to be the horseback ride, but it wasn’t.  The 6 hour excursion (which wound up being 7 hours thanks to a wonderful van driver who let us stop for photo opportunities whenever we wanted), was filled with breathtaking beauty.  The views were like Colorado on steroids.  



Whenever and wherever you looked, you saw another majestic mountain or glacier…I saw the world’s smallest desert (Carcross) and the top of the treelines.  



Whenever we were riding on the horses, we trotted to the top of a rather large and steep hill and walked right into a postcard at Emerald Lake.  




I don’t know that I’ve ever spent as much time awestruck and dumbfounded in my life as I was in the Yukon.  Visit the Klondike Highway if you ever get a chance…go to Skagway, a wonderfully picturesque town with wooden walkways, great souvenir shopping, and a nostalgic feel, and head to the Yukon stopping at Emerald Lake.  It’s so worth it.
 






The next day was a cruise into Glacier Bay National Park.  The ship visited the Margerie, Reid, Lamlugh, Grand Pacific, and John Hopkins Glaciers.  Each glacier was approached to within a mile for viewing.  The cruise ship slowed and gradually rotated to allow maximum viewing pleasure.  I spent the day in the spa in a one person hot tub with the best view…heavenly.




On June 13th, we docked early at Ketchikan, and were greeted by bald eagles at the dock.  Kris, Wayland, and I took an excursion to the Tongass Rainforest to do ziplining.  (My idea.)  



The zipline excursion starts in the trees high on the mountain, and descends via 7 separate zipline runs and 3 rope bridges.  At times the ziplines run 135’ above the forest floor and up to 850’ in length.  I never did quite get the hang of breaking, as I was having too much fun to slow down, but the trees had padding wrapped around them, and I was always able to kick my way into stopping.  We returned to the city to find Adam and Terri still shopping.








June 14th was a day at sea (Terri and I went and got discount massages in the morning and they were fabulous) with an evening in Victoria, B.C., Canada.  



We took a cab into town and walked around awhile.  We were unable to find interesting shopping opportunities or activities to do, although we were entertained by many a street performer…namely a violinist dressed as Darth Vader.  He was playing a mean tune.  





We did get a Dr. Pepper from a 7-11 in Canada before going back to the cruise ship.  That was neat.
 
On June 15th, the ship was docked by the time we awoke.  We joined a Seattle City Bus Tour that kept Wayland, Kris, Adam, and Terri amused by seeing the significant sites of Seattle, and then ultimately deposited us at the airport.  I slept on the bus tour.  It was boring.  Every time I woke up in the 3.5 hour tour, the tour guide was talking about yet another beautiful tree you can find in Seattle.  Our tour was supposed to stop at the Space Needle, but it just drove by it.  All I know about Seattle is that it is foggy, chilly, has great trees, and it has lots of beggars.  Needless to say, I shant return to Seattle.









We were home for a few days, where I slightly prepared for my Tech Apps certification test, Kris went to work, we played with the cats, and I researched information about our trip to Chicago.  I love planning trips…this summer has been right up my alley.