A Travellerspoint blog

SW Adventure: Day 4

Arches NP, back to Las Vegas

sunny 100 °F

Day 4: August 3.
Arches NP back to Las Vegas.

Our plan A was to get over to Arches NP early and get back to Vegas before dark. I set the alarm for 6am but it never went off. Neither Chris or I are good sleepers and he got up at 5am. Chris decided since he was up, I should be as well. Oh well, another hour of semi sleep would not make any difference. We packed up and headed over to Arches in the dark. Of course nobody was manning the entrance booth and we headed straight to the parking lot for Delicate Arch (DA). The last time we were in Arches NP we did not include DA in our plans. This time our plan was to get up to DA before it got too hot. We got our day packs and headed out in the dark. The sun had not come up yet but it was light enough to follow the path. The Wolfe Ranch cabin is at the start of the trail up to DA.
Chris lead the way and I struggled to keep up. My knee was OK, but I knew it was be hurting by the time we got to DA and back. There are huge expanses of slick rock on the way up to DA but there are stacks of rocks that will keep you on the right path. There is no one trail to DA and we saw other hikers going off to our right and left as we went uphill. It is not a difficult or technical hike, but it is strenuous enough that we had to stop numerous times to catch our breath. Other hikers blew right by us, but we were not in a race with them. I was surprised when we got to DA and saw how many were already there. Of course the ones that passed us were there, but so were many other young hikers. They must have beat us out of the parking lot as we never saw them. We both got our photos and headed down.
Downhill is hard on the knees and I was really limping by the time we got to the car. Chris had been over to Arches the day before and did not want to photo anything else. I had him swing by the Windows parking lot and got out for a few more shots. It is not too far from the parking lot to the Window view area and I was done in 15 minutes. That was enough for both of us and we headed for the exit.
I had Chris stop at the Visitors Center for a bathroom break and refill my water bottles. After exiting Arches, we headed for I-70 and turned south. Chris needed to gas up and Green River UT was the best option. We decided we could make it to Cedar City before eating, so we just drove non stop to Cedar City. I spotted a Subway and got a $5 veggie. Chris filled up with gas while I got my sub. He wanted a burger and found a local spot to chow down. I called my mom and gave her an ETA. I ate outside of the burger joint as I did not want to carry a Subway inside. After Chris finished, we drove to Vegas and made it home by 4pm. Day 4 of our quick tour of AZ, Colo. & UT was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 11:20 Archived in USA Comments (0)

North To Alaska! Day 1


sunny 80 °F

My friend Mike L flew to Vegas from Thailand to pay his taxes. He used to live in Vegas and has property here. Anyway, he wanted to get out of Pattaya during Songkran and visit with his Vegas friends for a month. We got many free shows, hit the buffets and I caught up with his life in Pattaya. He touched base with his Vegas friends. Mike was going to treat his ex GF to a cruise to Alaska for storing his stuff and his car. He stays with her the month he is in Vegas. Long story short, she could not get the time off in May for the cruise. I have been to all of the states except Alaska and volunteered to go. We started getting prices and dates. Since his mother and sister live in the Seattle area, he wanted to cruise out of Seattle. Plan A was for Mike to fly up a week before so he could visit his family. We picked Sat. May 19th as our departure date. Two cruise lines were leaving May 19th, Holland America Lines (HAL) and Norwegian. Several friends of mine had been to Alaska before and they said HAL was to one to go with. OK, HAL it is. Once we paid for our cruise, I booked a flight on Southwest: LAS-SEA the morning of the 19th. Mike left May 13th and we agreed to meet on the ship.

The Westerdam leaves SEA at 4pm, giving me enough time to fly in that morning and get over to Pier 91. Plan A was to use the Park & Ride, run by the RTC (our bus system). Free parking for a week, $2 bus to the airport. I had used this system several times flying back to Mass. to visit a friend. Always on a Tuesday or Wed. however. I found out that finding a parking spot on Sat. morning was not so easy. I spent 10 minutes trying to find an empty parking spot. No luck. I went to Plan B. Drive to the MGM Grand and leave it in there. They have 6,000 parking slots in their highrise parking garage. I found one on the 3rd floor, surrounded by other cars. Just another car in a sea of cars, I hope! Got my bags and walked to the taxi line. The guy ahead of me had luggage and was also heading for McCarren. We split the fare, $7/each and I waited for my flight. Flight was supposed to take off at 9:40, left at 10:15. Got in to Sea-Tac at least 30 minutes behind schedule. I had booked the shuttle online to Pier 91 for $21. HAL people were at Sea-Tac waiting for cruise passengers in the baggage area. I chatted with the HAL girls, $25 if you go with them to the ship. Should have done that, but had already paid. I found the shuttle area in the garage and waited for the van to fill up. Around 1:30pm off we go. 8 were going on the Westerdam, 2 to a Seattle hotel. We told the driver that we needed to get to the ship by 3pm. He stated he would drop us off first, then the hotel people. That changed on the way. Now he wants to drop off the hotel people and then us. OK, what choice did we have? Into downtown Seattle, heavy traffic and we are looking at our watches. At about 2:45pm he drops off the hotel people and we head for Pier 91. A few wrong turns and we hit the Pier at 3pm. The only good thing about being that late: no check-in line! Our group goes right to a check-in crew member, hand over a charge card and get our cruise card. HAL puts all expenses on your credit card, plus $12/day for tips. You are dinged $12/day to cover all crew members that provide service to the guests. Seems like a fair system, better than trying to find crew and hand them cash before you exit the ship. I am assigned room 4105 and try to find it. Mike has been on the ship since 2pm and he has been exploring. I just get my bag on the bed when we hear that the lifeboat drill (LBD) is going to take place at 3:30. This is mandatory. They take roll and tell us if you miss the LBD you cannot sail with the ship. A few rooms do not raise their hand when called. A few room numbers were called on the loudspeaker after the LBD. I hope they did not miss out on the cruise for being late. I never did find out. After the LBD, the Mikes head for the buffet. Along with most of the 2K other passengers! We have a 7:45pm dinner slot, but I was going to pass on the Vista Dining Room most nights. Or so I thought. Anyway, we hit the buffet and both of us found something we could live with. I am a veggie, but there are plenty to choices everyday. Limited buffet the first night we find out. But, they have pizza and salad, dessert, good enough for now. Mike takes me around the ship to learn where everything is. 11 decks plus fore, center and aft elevators, it can get confusing. Lido Deck (9) has the buffet, pool, and spa. I brought my workout gear because I plan on lifting weights or doing cardio everyday we are on the ship. Everybody eats too much on a cruise, so working out should help in the battle of the bulge. We tour the gym/spa/pool and then down to Deck 3 for the Dining Room, Vista Lounge, Casino on Deck 2. After the brief tour, back to the cabin to unpack.

I did not take any photos the first day. Here are some shots of the Westerdam.

After unpacking and Mike telling me about his week in Seattle, I decided I could lift weights even after eating an hour ago. I took my gym bag and headed for the gym. A small but decent gym allows almost everyone to get in their workout. At 5:30pm the first day, not many were there. Lift, stomach and headed for the showers. Everything is provided and the shower is better than the one in our room. Shower, change and back to the room. Rest, read and chat with Mike. There is a presentation in the Vista Lounge (showroom) at 7pm. Our cruise director Jason introduces the Captain, his officers and tells us what we are can expect the next 7 days. Afterwards, I decide to hit the buffet while Mike heads for the Dining Room. You have 2 choices. Assigned seating at a set time or open seating. Mike used AAA to pay for the trip and our cruise specialist suggested the late assigned seating. You can always head for open seating if you don't like your table companions, same menu. I find out there is no full buffet the first night. The first 48 hours the crew will serve you. Health issue we are told. They do not want passengers touching any of the food. OK, let them serve. I select salad, fruit, rice/veggie, dessert, and chat with those at close by. After dinner, I head for the Casino. One of the guys working out while I was in the gym turns out to be the Casino Host. Young guy named Phillipe. I get signed in with my cruise card and Phillipe shows me how the poker is run on the ship. There is no dealer, a 10 seat poker table with tabletop computer terminal at each place. I find out how it works and start to play. A young couple from LA welcome me and we start chatting. Reid & Eunice are fun to chat with and not real serious players. Most of us just want to play and have a good time. Occasionally a guy would show up that was a jerk, but mostly it was a fun group. Your name and how much money you have is displayed on every computer. We start kidding the other players by name when they raise 'all-in' or make a bad call. The most you can buy in for is $200, so nobody is going to lose too much. By 10:30, we all decide that is enough. Reid & Eunice are on deck 4 as well. We walk back to our rooms and agree to play the next night after the show. Mike is already in bed, so I quietly call it a night. Day 1 of our cruise is over.

Posted by vegasmike6 00:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

North To Alaska! Day 2


overcast 50 °F

I woke up at 7:30, got ready for the day. We will be at sea all day heading for Juneau. The Explorer is delivered each day to your cabin and lists what is going on at what time. There is more to do everyday than anyone can attempt, so you pick what is important to you. Mike is Catholic and wants to attend 8am Mass. I pass, but agreed to meet for lunch at 1pm. I went off to Lido Deck for the BF buffet. Pretty deep line at the main serving station so I went over to the omelet station. Added toast, fruit & juice and I felt I had a good BF. Chatted a bit with those sitting at my table and headed off. There is a 9:30am Windows 7 (W7) workshop I want to attend so off I go. It took some bumping around, but I found the Digital Workshop in the shopping area, Deck 3. Tony is paid by Microsoft and will be giving workshops everyday. He wants all of us to learn how to use W7 more effectively. My first class is oddly enough, 'Learning W7'. I have used W7 for 2 years now, but Tony walked us through features on W7 that I did not know existed. He pointed out that few of us bother to read the manual and are not getting as much out of W7 as we should. Great class, free of course and we got a gift bag at the end as well! At 10:30 a class on 'Beginning Photo Editing' will start. Early arrivals have a laptop to practice on. Since I am a holdover from previous class, I have a laptop to play with. Many others do not. 24 laptops, over 50 in the class. I have been using Adobe Photoshop for years, but Tony wants us to use Windows Live Photo Gallery. He walks us through: cropping, auto adjust, red eye removal, contrast/color and finally making a panoramic photo. Very informative, easier to use than Photoshop. All of us that have W7 can download Photo Gallery for free. It is now 11:30 and I want to get in my workout before lunch. Back to the cabin, workout gear, up to the Lido Deck. I do legs, stomach and 30 minutes on the bike. Shower, walk past the pool and into the buffet. I find Mike, we tend to sit on the right side as you enter, window seat if possible. I build my own sandwich, salad, fruit, water. I am trying to make good choices as it is very easy to overeat on cruises. Unlimited buffets, sit down dinners, late night snack, it can all be too much if you let it.

There is a lecture on arthritis pain I want to attend at 2pm. Given by the resident Acupuncture guy, I hope to learn more about why my knee hurts most of the time. Big surprise, his answer to everything wrong with you is, drum roll please, ACUPUNCTURE!! I resist the temptation to sign up for a series of acupuncture treatments. Others do, but I move on. I leave and head over for the movie, 'Big Miracle'. Fitting movie when you are heading for Alaska. After the movie I head back to the cabin to bring my journal up to date and read a bit. Mike is there and we discuss the day. Tonight is the first of 2 formal attire nights in the Dining Room. Since I did not bring suit/tie I will pass and head back to the buffet. Salad, pasta, pizza, tea are tonight's choices for me. At 8pm is the first show in the Vista Lounge. 'Grand Tour' is a production show featuring the Westerdam singer/dancers. Music and dancing from countries in Europe. Very well done and I get a few photos w/o flash.

I head over to the casino and I find Reid & Eunice at the Poker Table and join them. We only have 5 and need more to make an interesting game. We try to con others passing by to join us. Most decline, but we do get a few new players. Phillipe walks them through how to play on the computer and they join in. Computer Hold 'Em is easy once you have played a few hands. Everyone is in a good mood and we have fun w/o losing very much. About 11pm a guy named Brian joins us. A non stop talker, and it turns out a drunken fool. He goes 'all in' several times and we all fold. Most of us have about $200 to play with, he starts with $50 and runs it up to over $100. It becomes apparent he is betting on crap hands and Reid, Eunice and I decide we are going to break him. We now 'check' not matter what we have. When Brian bets too much, one us call him. Another bet by Brian, call him again. It takes 5 hands, but we send him to the rail. We all decide to quit at midnight and that is what we do. I lost first night, but make up most of it tonight. We had fun even with Brian's presence. Of course taking all his money was icing on the cake. We head back to our rooms and call it a night. I read for awhile, take my Tylenol PM and go to bed about midnight. Day 2 is over.

Posted by vegasmike6 16:51 Archived in USA Comments (0)

North To Alaska! Day 3


overcast 50 °F

I get up at 7am so I can get my workout in before BF. I get up to the gym, lift, stomach, shower, BF. I choose fruit, french toast, juice. Mike finds me and we plan our day. Linda, our shore excursion expert is showing a film & talk at 10am in the showroom. We head over to learn more about Juneau and glaciers. Of course they want you to sign up for shore excursions, but we are going to wing it. I have a book on Alaska and all shore excursions are cheaper once on land. We head up to the Observation Deck and take photos as we are approaching Juneau. Then we have lunch in the buffet: build a sandwich, salad, fruit, juice. Mike and I decide to let the most of the passengers get off before we do. We will be in Juneau from 1 until 10pm, so no hurry. We head back up to the Observation deck and take photos of Juneau. There is another cruise ship already docked and I get plenty of photos. At around 2pm, I get my day bag ready. Camera, binoculars, water and head for Deck 1. The crew scan your cruise card as you depart and will scan it again when you return. They will know if someone does not return to the ship.
Juneau was named after a gold miner, Joe Juneau. In 1880, Chief Kowee showed Juneau and Richard Harris where they could find gold nuggets. The Tlingits had a fishing camp here for thousands of years, but with the discovery of gold, Juneau become a boom town. Sitka had been the capital of Alaska Territory, but in 1906, the capital was moved to Juneau. In 1931 the Alaska State Capitol was built and now houses the legislature & the Governor. 31,000 residents now call Juneau home making it the third largest city after Anchorage & Fairbanks. There is a tourist office on the dock and we get maps of Juneau and what to see/do while ashore. There is plenty to do: whale watching, salmon bake, helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier (MG), float plane, zip line, sea kayaking, rafting, etc. We want to visit MG, but don't want to spend very much. Both of us are cheap charlies so there is no conflict on trying to save a few bucks. There is a city bus that takes you 1.3 miles from MG, but we agree our knees won't hold up to that plus the hiking to get close to MG. There is a guy selling tours right on the dock and he is touting the last few seats on his whale watching tour: $130. That is cheaper than ship's price, but we pass. He does sell us bus tickets to MG for $8 each way. We pay up and get on the bus. About 20 minutes later we are at MG Visitors Center. Photos, then we hike to a hill that gives a better view. You cannot actually walk on MG unless you go via helicopter. For $250 each, that is not in our budget. The Mikes decide to hike as close to the waterfall as we can. It is not that far, but we both have sore knees. We get as close as we can, good photo ops of MG and Nugget Creek Waterfall.
We hike back to the Visitors Center and wait for our return bus. Same driver and off we go to downtown Juneau. I am limping when we get back and don't have much leg left. The Internet is expensive on the Westerdam, they use satellite connect and claim it is costly. Whatever, we both passed on using the Internet while on-board. The Juneau Library is right by the bus stop and we go in. They have a 15 minute computer available and I send my mom and nephew Kevin an update. My mobile works in Juneau, but bad reception. Mike and I consult our town map and head off for a bit of sightseeing. The famous (infamous?) Red Dog Saloon is right across from the Library. I peek inside and decide it is not worth 30 seconds of my time. Another bar packed with cruise passengers, sawdust floors. Neither us like beer, food is free on the ship, why linger? We do see that St. Nichols Russian Orthodox Church is a few blocks away. Uphill blocks however! Juneau is squeezed into a small area between the Gastineau Channel and mountains. Not much level ground in Juneau. We are both hurting by the time we get to St. Nichols. It is a beauty and we get out our cameras. $2 donation and we have the place to ourselves. Services are held each Sunday and the congregation stand for the entire service! No thanks, my knee would not accept that ordeal. The reason is space. It is just too small to have enough seats for all the parishioners. Songs are sung in English, Tlingit & Slavic. Very diverse congregation attending St. Nichols I guess. Photos and then out the door.
After the uphill trudge, my knee needs a rest. There is a small park next to the church and I gratefully sit down while Mike looks at another church. My cell works pretty well up here and I chat with my mom, nephew Kevin, friend Mark and my neighbor Jean. We are both tired of walking, but need to get back to the ship. It is all downhill from the church, but downhill is tough on the knees as well. Back down Franklin St. we spot a statue claiming to be Manila Square. In Juneau? A bust of Jose Rizal and a plaque honoring the Philippine people's contribution to Juneau. Many Filipinos came over to work on the whaling ships, gold mines and then the fish canneries. There have been Filipinos in the Juneau area since the 1800s. Close by is an active Filipino Community Center and this is where cruise ship workers from the Philippines head to speak Tagalog with their countrymen. Or get a home cooked meal from the Filipino Restaurants nearby. There are over 2,000 Filipinos in Juneau today. A couple photos of Manila Square and we get back on-board. A crew member scans your cruise card, then a quick trip through a metal detector and we are officially back on-board.

I am going to try the dining room tonight: 7:45 seating. Mike raved about the food and service so I decided to give it a try. Good decision. Beautiful room, attentive waiters, plenty of choices. The table seats 6, but we are the only ones there. They serve salmon every night and Mike orders that plus another entree. I get the onion soup, salad and their veggie option. All very nicely done and now we have many dessert choices. I get the blueberry crisp and Mike chooses 2 other desserts. After seeing & tasting my choice, Mike decides he does not want to miss out on the blueberries, so he orders that as well. The waiters might privately think you are a glutton, but they just smile and bring it anyway. It is now almost showtime in the Vista Lounge so we head for the showroom. Paul Pappas is on tonight, a remarkable piano player. Paul has played Vegas, but now plays for several cruise lines. Paul knows his crowd and plays show tunes and songs an older crowd will recognize. Wonderful show and everyone afterwards was chatting about what a great showman he is. Of course he is selling his CDs afterwards, but that is what all entertainers do. I stop by to tell him how much I enjoyed the show, but refrained from purchasing his CD. I just don't listen to music in the house very often. I stop by the casino, but it is closed. We are late leaving Juneau and the casino cannot open until we are out to sea. It will be midnight until they can open and I am not going to wait that long. Back to the cabin, read, journal and bed about midnight. Day 3 of our cruise is over.

Posted by vegasmike6 17:55 Archived in USA Comments (0)

North To Alaska! Day 4


overcast 40 °F

I was up at 7:30 and headed up to the Observation Deck. There are NP Rangers giving a talk on Glacier Bay (GB). This is the highlight of the trip for most of us. Only 2 ships a day are allowed into GB so you feel that you have the place to yourself. The captain gets as close to Margerie Glacier as allowed. We will be here for 4 hours, so plenty of time to get photos of the glaciers and surrounding mountains. This is why I brought a waterproof jacket. It is cold, windy and overcast. But, it is Alaska in May, so not a surprise.
Mike and I get our photos and go back inside to warm up. We repeat that several times over the next 4 hours. Photos, inside, food/drink, back outside. Mike & I did get to see a large chunk of ice calve off the glacier. We heard it crack and then plunge into the water. Neither of us were fast enough to get a photo of the event, but felt lucky to witness it. The crew tells us that this is good weather for GB in May. We could have been dealing with snow or rain, so I guess we got lucky with just cold and overcast. The crew were right there with hot cider, or head inside for hot chocolate, coffee, tea. GB has spectacular scenery and will probably be the highlight of the cruise.
I went back to the cabin, got my workout gear and up to Lido Deck to the gym. Legs, stomach, ride the bike for 30 minutes. Shower and back to the cabin. There is another Digital Workshop on getting more out of your camera and decide to attend. I show Tony my photo of the guy holding up his laptop. Tony spoke about getting a firm platform for good pics. Holding a laptop at eye level is not what he had in mind! After class is over, I decide the best option is to lay down, do some reading plus bring my journal up to date. We have a 7:45pm seating in the Vista Dining Room and Mike and I set off around 7:30. Yesterday we had the table to ourselves, not tonight. Two couples are there, one from AZ another from Mass. Mike started feeling queasy from the ship rocking and rolling. It was smooth sailing in GB, not so when we hit open seas on the way to Sitka. Mike apologized and left for the buffet. It is mid-ship so he figured it would be moving less than the stern. Anyway, I had to hold up our part of the conservation by myself. The couple from Boston had been to Martha's Vineyard, so we chatted about MV. I drove a taxi on MV for 6 summers back in the 90's and we traded stories. The couple from Phoenix were another story. She was very quiet and let her hubby do all the talking. And boy did he talk! I am guessing he had a few pops before getting to the dining room and had a few more with dinner. He was pretty close to drunk by the time dinner was over. Tom broke the cardinal rule about not discussing politics or religion at dinner. We let him pontificate for awhile and then I had enough of his blather. I politely let him know his was not the only point of view and that he was a liberal fool. Well, that was probably not correct dinner behavior, but I was tired of his ranting on and on about how the wonderful democratic party was. The Mass. couple now steered the conversation back to more acceptable topics and we finished dinner w/o anymore fireworks. I had the onion soup, salad and veggie option, peach crisp for dessert. That was a great choice. They serve it warm with ice cream on top. Yum. The dining room is very hard to beat for a great dining experience. Way better than the buffet. Before the cruise, I thought I would just use the buffet every night. I did not want to dress up or order from the menu. I was wrong. The Vista Dining Room had very good food every night, plenty of choices, perfect service, a beautiful room with a great view off our stern. It was now 10pm and showtime. Tonight's show was the ship's company, Country/Western was the theme. Another good show. I stopped in the casino and found Reid & Eunice, waiting for more players. We got started and again tried to recruit a few more players. The table holds 10, but we rarely had more than 6. We bantered back and forth, not losing or winning much, but all of us had fun. We agreed midnight would be a good time to quit and so we did. I lost $30, so not much damage done. Back to 4105, Mike already in bed. I tried to be quiet and hit the sack as well. Day 4 was over.

Posted by vegasmike6 11:30 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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