Glacier National Park

As the sign above says; Welcome to Montana!  We just returned from a trip to Glacier National Park.  We had a great time!  The scenery was beautiful and we had a great group of friends that went with us.  We flew into Kalispell and drove to Glacier National Park.  It was approximately a three hour drive, but it was such a beautiful drive.  We took the Going to The Sun Road into the park and if you have a chance, I would recommend you driving in on that road.  It is a bit of a curvy drive, but the scenery is so worthwhile seeing.  We were lucky we drove in on it as half of the road was shut down due to wild fires for the rest of our trip.  The wild fires made for some smoky pictures, but it was still beautiful.  We stayed at Many Glacier Hotel which is inside the park on the east side.  It is very nice and just like most national park hotels; the rooms are cozy; aka very small:)  Many Glacier Hotel has a deck in the rear that overlooks a lake and this was our view every morning.

Our first morning there, we decided to do a red bus tour so we could get an idea of where things were in the park  There are about half dozen different tours that the red bus offers, but we took the shorter, four hour one.  Red Bus Tours are the perfect way to enjoy Glacier National Park. Most of the red buses are restored originals that have been on tour since the 1930’s. The guides are seasoned Park veterans who are here because they love the Park and enjoy sharing it with visitors.  Once aboard the bus, they roll the canvas top back to reveal a commanding view of the best scenery in the Park. They pick you up at Many Glaciers Hotel and several other hotels in the area.  Here’s our crew.  As you can see, we took up almost the entire red bus.

After the red bus tour; our bus driver took us back to our hotel where some of us decided to do a hike to Red Rock Falls.  It was a beautiful falls and unbelievably we ran into people we knew from our home town.

We took many hikes while in Glacier National Park, but the hidden lake trail was perhaps the most challenging especially to those of us who were not experienced hikers.

The hike to Hidden Lake begins from the west side of the Logan Pass Visitor Center.  The trail begins as a paved surface, but soon turns into a raised boardwalk after only a short distance. At this elevation snow tends to linger around well into the summer. The boardwalk helps to keep hikers above the snow, slush, and mud. Once the snow melts, however, the Hanging Gardens becomes an incredibly beautiful carpet of wildflowers.

A little more than a half-mile from the visitor center, after climbing a series of steps, hikers will reach the end of the boardwalk section. From here the trail shifts to a more southwesterly course, and begins heading in the direction of Bearhat Mountain.

Even relatively late into the season it’s likely you’ll have to cross over a couple of small snowfields as you proceed towards the overlook.  It was very smoky when we arrived at the overlook that day so we did not get a very clear view of the lake.

clements-mountain

We enjoyed this hike, but the over 250 steps sure made it a challenge.

We found a variety of items at Many Glacier with huckleberry in them; huckleberry beer; licorice and tea to name a few.  We would spend nights on the deck outside enjoying these treats.

This is a view of the sunset we saw from the deck.

Some of our crew saw a lot of wild life.  I don’t have pictures to show here, but their pictures were awesome as they saw elk, deer, bears, and big horn sheep.  I personally only saw a couple of bears and that was from the comfort of the car:)

Part of our group left Glacier National Park midway through the week and traveled to Banff National Park in Canada.  Join me next week as I take you on that part of our trip.

 

Hawaii – Kauai

We docked in Kauai on a beautiful sunny day and this stop was an over night one.  We all went our separate ways the first day.  My sister and my niece decided to have mimosas on the beach and have fun in the water.  I must say that the mimosas sure looked yummy.

Part of the group went out to see Waimea Canyon Lookout and the Kauai Island Brewery.  They had some great pictures that they took at Waimea and of course, they really enjoyed lunching at the Kauai Island Brewery.

I love to take pictures so I found Kauai Photo tours and booked a tour for me and my husband.  It was a fun trip with a very knowledgeable photographer that took us to quite a few beaches.

After our photo tour; the rest of the group picked us up and we went to the beach that was known for their sunsets.

It was fun to take the pictures, but the police showed up and made us all leave. We went back to the ship after that and just enjoyed relaxing.  The next day, we had arranged to take a plane ride with the Wings Over Kauai.  I was not excited to go as I hate heights, but I really think this was a highlight for me.  Below are some of the pictures that we took of us in the van leaving for the tour and pictures from the plane.

After the plane ride and some shopping in the area, we all headed back to the ship where part of our group decided to do the rum tasting.

The rest of us feasted on the chocolate covered strawberries that the ship gave to one of our group.

We all enjoyed our Hawaiian adventure but the trip kind of kicked our butts:)  Those two can sleep anywhere:)

Aloha until our next vacation!

Hawaii – Kona

The sunny Kona District stretches almost two-thirds of the entire West side of the island of Hawaii.   Kona was the first capital of Hawaii.  There are lots of historical landmarks within walking distance of the pier.

It was a beautiful sunny day when we arrived at Kona so some of our group went snorkeling.   They found Fair Winds Cruises to take them and they all had a great time.

The rest of the group decided to just explore the city a bit and shop.  We had a very relaxing lunch and proceeded to go shopping.  A friend of one of our  cousin’s lived in Kona and operated a bead shop so we all went there and found some interesting beads.  We also stopped by a flower market that had lots of colorful flowers.

Both groups then met up at the Kona Brewing Company for some beer.  Kona Brewing Company is a brewery in Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. Since October 1, 2010, it has been owned by Craft Brew Alliance. Kona’s year-round beers include Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, and Fire Rock Pale Ale

Please join me next week as our next Port of Call will be Kauai.

Hawaii – Hilo

Welcome to Hilo; the home of Volcanoes National Park and that was our first stop of the day after debarking from the ship.  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is on Hawaii Island (the Big Island). At its heart are the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes. The Crater Rim Drive passes steam vents and the Jaggar Museum, which features volcanology exhibits and a viewpoint overlooking Halema’uma’u Crater. Thick ferns mark the entrance to the Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku). The Chain of Craters Road weaves over lava. Trails crisscross the park.

We all really enjoyed exploring Volcanoes National Park.  It was exciting to see an active volcano and go through the lava tube.

Mr. Pineapple guy was our mascot for this trip and he enjoyed being along for the ride.

Here’s a road shown below that has had parts covered by lava several times due to eruptions of the Kīlauea volcano.

Our next stop was the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center.  For over thirty years the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation has brought delicious macadamia nuts roasted to golden perfection. You can visit the factory, enjoy free samples and shop for a delightful array of island treats and gifts including the exclusive selection of MAUNA LOA products found nowhere else.  It was a fun stop.

We then really all wanted to see one of the beaches that has black sand made of basalt and created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes as it reaches the ocean and cools.  It was quite a ride to get to one of them, but we finally found one and it was worth the drive.

We had a great day exploring Hilo and spent the evening on the back deck of the ship enjoying this spectacular sunset.

Please come back next week as we go to our next port of call; Kona!

Hawaii – Maui

This was our view as we were sailing away from Oahu.  We were on Norwegian; Pride of American ship.  We got a balcony room as I really enjoy ordering my breakfast and eating it out on the balcony.  Funny story about our rooms though.  We all had rooms in a row with the first one starting at the end of the hallway.  Every night it sounded as if we were in a bowling alley.  I am guessing we were just below one of the restaurants and that they were preparing for the next day, but boy was it loud for some of us.

Our first port of call was Maui.  We had two days there and we made the most of it.

The first day in Maui we split up in two groups.  One group went to the Molokini Crater to snorkel and the other went to a lavender farm.  Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small, uninhabited islet located in ʻAlalākeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoolawe, within Maui County in Hawaii.  Here are some pictures that were taken at both spots.

I was fascinated by the green lizard that we saw at the lavender farm.  We all enjoyed our trips and met back up at the ship and drove together to the Maui Brewing Company.

I think we had worn out my sister and my niece as they look very tired in the picture above.

The next day we again split up in two groups; one went on the bicycle ride down Haleakala.  Depending where you get started from on Maui, it can take you up to two hours to drive the Haleakala Highway and then up the winding Haleakala Crater Road leading to the summit of Haleakala. It’s an early wake-up call, but the reward is well worth it. Drive past the Park Visitors Center at 7,000 feet to get to the Haleakala Visitors Center at 9,740 feet. Try to arrive at the Haleakala Visitor Center no later than a half hour before the sun rises — earlier for a good spot. In the summer the sun rises as early as 5:38 AM, in the winter as late as 6:55 AM. The color of the sky and clouds before daybreak are stunning. Here’s a picture that they took from the top.

The rest of the group went to see the Ioa Needle.  Iao Valley is a lush, stream-cut valley in West Maui.  Because of its natural environment and history, it has become a tourist location.  We had bought a pineapple and used the Mr. Potato Head pieces to make him Mr. Pineapple Man and he ended up being our Hawaiian mascot so he went along with the group going to the Ioa Valley.

From there, we decided to start the road to Hana.  I’ve been told that the Road to Hana is more than just a great drive through a beautiful area of Maui. Most visitors tend to zip to and from Hana with a checklist of sights to photograph. This is the wrong way to do it. Do your due diligence beforehand, decide on a few locations that look the most intriguing, and take your time at each location.  We just wanted to take the road to a winery we read about, but sadly it was closed.

We met up with the other group and went to lunch at Mama’s Fish House.  Mama’s Fish House is a world famous restaurant on Maui’s North Shore, featuring Hawaiian fish brought  daily by fishermen.  This is a must to eat at if you can get reservations.  We made them weeks in advance and while it is pricey; it is so worth it.

The food was awesome and we even tried poi.  I’m not exactly sure what poi is, but it’s not something I would try again.  We were all so tired from our bike ride and exploration of Maui that after lunch, we all decided to go back to the ship and rest.

Please join me next week as we travel to our next port of call.

Hawaii

We are very fortunate that we have such a good group that we travel with.  It was so nice that for this trip both my sister and my niece came along with our travel group.  It was fun to be with both of them for the ten days we were in Hawaii.

We had all decided that the best way to see the islands was to do a cruise.  There was only one cruise line that starts in Hawaii and that was Norwegian Cruise Lines.  The ports for this cruise was Honolulu; Maui; Hilo; Kona and Kauai.

We went a few days early to explore Honolulu before taking off on our cruise. I do have to give a shout out to my niece for her stepping in on the flight out to help a passenger having a health issue.  She is a nurse and was the first to notice this man go down and she helped him until the plane could land and get him safely off the plane.  We were diverted to another airport to land so we were about an hour late for our connection to Hawaii.  However, Delta held our flight and we were able to make that connection.

Honolulu, on the island of Oahu’s south shore, is the capital of Hawaii and gateway to the U.S. island chain. The Waikiki neighborhood is its center for dining, nightlife and shopping, famed for its iconic crescent beach backed by palms and high-rise hotels, with volcanic Diamond Head crater looming in the distance. Sites relating to the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor include the USS Arizona Memorial.

Our first morning in Hawaii we decided to visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Millions of people from all over the world come to this majestic setting to see for themselves where World War II began for the United States on December 7, 1941.

Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,000 miles from the West Coast of America and 4,000 miles from Japan, Pearl Harbor serves as a central gathering place for the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which consists of 9 historic locations in 3 of the westernmost United States – California, Alaska, and Hawaii. Of these, five are located within Pearl Harbor itself: the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, the USS Utah Memorial, and parts of Ford Island and Battleship Row.

The USS Arizona Memorial is a must-see destination for all individuals coming to Hawaii, drawing more than 1.8 million visitors each year from all over the world. Visitors are free to explore the grounds of the $65 million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, which was expanded from the original 3 to 17 acres, in December of 2011.

We rented cars so it was easy to get about there and our next stop was The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific; also known as the Punchbowl Cemetery.   It serves as a memorial to honor those men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces , and those who have given their lives in doing so.  Millions of visitors visit the cemetery each year, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hawaii.

Below is a picture of the view from the Punchbowl.

We then went to see Diamond Head State Monument which offers breathtaking views overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu.  The trail takes you to the edge of a 300,000 year old crater. This is a rather strenuous hike so some of us passed on this, but the others that did go up to the top said it was worth the hike up.  Again, I do not usually post pictures of our group, but this is one I couldn’t pass up posting and I hope they forgive me:)

We spent almost a whole day exploring the North Shore.  It was so worth our extra days on Honolulu exploring this area and I would highly recommend doing so.

Please join me next week as we start our Hawaiian cruise adventure!

 

Cruise – Bahamas and Key West

In March of 2012, my sisters and I went on a Karen Kingsbury and Friends Cruise.  Karen Kingsbury is a Christian fiction writer and all of us really enjoy her books so we were excited to meet her on this cruise.  This was a short cruise on the smallest of the ships with Royal Caribbean; The Majesty of the Seas.

We left out of the port of Miami and our first stop was the Bahamas.  We enjoyed just taking a water taxi to check out the Atlantis which is a top resort on Paradise Island.  It was fun to walk around and see what we were allowed to see without being a guest.

We then went to the straw market.  The straw market is a traditional open-air market selling handwoven straw crafts, Bahamian souvenirs & tourist trinkets.  I don’t believe any of us bought anything, but it was fun to see all the colorful items that was being sold there.

Our next stop was going to be Royal Caribbean’s private island, Coco Cay, but the weather was not good for the ship to go there so we ended up spending the night in the Bahamas and an extra day there.  We did not get off the ship for the extra day as we just decided to explore the ship a bit and relax in the sun.

I don’t usually include pictures of the people I go on vacation with, but this is a picture of my sisters and Karen Kingsbury.  She was very accessible and posed for pictures with whoever wanted them.  As I said the cruise was the Karen Kingsbury and Friends Cruise and some of her friends were Matthew West, Mandisa, Tim Halperin, Britt Nicole and Anthem Lights as well as various family members.  It was fun to meet all these people and the performances were wonderful.

Our last stop was Key West.  Key West is Florida’s southernmost point, lying roughly 90 miles north of Cuba. Famed for its pastel-hued, conch-style houses and many, many bars.

Turtles that we saw on Key West.

We had a great time on this ship.  We decided one afternoon to go to Johnny Rockets.  You do have to pay for this, but for a minimal charge we got a shake, hamburger and fries and the waiters put on a show for us.

This was a great trip and we all enjoyed meeting Karen Kingsbury and her friends.  Cheers to another great trip!

 

 

Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg is a mountain town in eastern Tennessee and is known as a gateway to the roughly 520,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many of its key attractions offer sweeping views of the neighboring park, including the 407-ft. Space Needle observation tower and the Sky Lift, a 2.1-mile aerial cable car.

We had a rather large group going to Gatlinburg in late summer of 2012.  We left Cincinnati after breakfast and decided to stop for lunch in Knoxville at the Downtown Grill and Brewery.  I think if the name of a restaurant has the word brewery in it; the guys must stop to test the local beers.

After our lunch stop, we headed on to Gatlinburg.  Since there were so many of us staying, we rented a rather large house.  Everyone had their own room and there were two of everything in the kitchen; two stoves; two refrigerators; two dishwashers, etc.  Below is a picture of the house that we rented.  You can see just how big the place was.  I personally loved the views from the deck which you can see from the pictures below just how beautiful those views were!

There is lots of hiking in Gatlinburg and a number of our group did that every day.  Below are some pictures that they took during their hikes.

The not adventurous ladies decided to drive the artist loop.  The Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community, also known as the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, is a series of shops and galleries along an 8-mile two-laned loop in Sevier County, Tennessee east of Gatlinburg.  We had a great time going through all the shops along this loop.

And of course there was a brewery in Gatlinburg and the guys went there one day for lunch.

Going to Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a great weekend get away and we all had a great time!

Stratford Festival of Canada

The Stratford Festival is an internationally recognized annual repertory theatre festival running annually from April to October in the Canadian city of Stratford, Ontario.  The Festival’s primary mandate is to present productions of William Shakespeare plays, but it also produces a wide variety of theatre from Greek tragedy to Broadway style musicals and contemporary works. For some years, Shakespeare’s work typically represented about a third of the offerings in the largest venue, the Festival Theatre.

We’ve been to Stratford a number of times as both of my girls are Shakespeare nuts and just love his books.  I was not too thrilled with going there the first time we went as unlike them, I do not care for Shakespeare.  However, they talked me into it since there are musicals that they also put on there.

The little town of Stratford is very quaint.  The first time we went, there were lots of small shops to go through.  However, the last time we visited the area, most of the shops were sadly closed.  It is still a cute area and there is lots to do if you are into theater.  There are four theaters there; the Avon; the Festival; the Studio and the Tom Patterson.  All four of these theaters are very unique.  The Festival Theater is shown below in a picture that I took and has a thrust stage which is one that extends into the audience on three sides and is connected to the backstage area by its upstage end.

Every play that we saw in the various theaters were all fantastic.  I was worried about seeing a Shakespeare play but they usually make them unique.  One of the plays we saw, they updated it as if it were 1960 which made it  fun to watch.  Below are some of the sights we saw while there.  The gardens are wonderful to check out when you go.

Of course as I’ve mentioned lots of times, the guys are homebrewers so we had to make a stop by Labatt.  Labatt Brewing Company is a Belgian-owned Canadian beer company founded by John Kinder Labatt in 1847 in London, Ontario. Labatt is the largest brewer in Canada. In 1995, it was purchased by Belgian brewer Interbrew.  I remember how elegant I thought this place was so it would be worth a stop if you want to taste some of their beers.

I hope you enjoyed this short visit in Stratford.  It is a quaint little town with lots of history so be sure to stop by and visit if you are in the area.  We stopped there after we went to Niagara Falls one year and it is not too far of a drive.

Please join me again next week as we head for another adventure.

Seattle

Our last stop for this trip was Seattle.  Seattle is a city on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest and is surrounded by water, mountains and evergreen forests.  It is Washington State’s largest city, and is home to a large tech industry, with Microsoft and Amazon headquartered in its metropolitan area. The futuristic Space Needle, a 1962 World’s Fair legacy, is its most iconic landmark.

The space needle is an observation tower that has a restaurant located in it.  We made reservations to eat at this restaurant and the food was delicious.  The views from the observation deck are awesome!

Next to the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass.  Dale Chihuly is an American glass sculptor. His works are considered unique to the field of blown glass.  If you go to the Space Needle, I would highly recommend seeing this exhibit as well as it is very interesting and beautiful.

Another iconic place to visit while in Seattle is the Pike Place Market.  Pike Place Market is a public market overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront in Seattle. The Market opened August 17, 1907, and is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.  It is a must to walk through and enjoy the many smells and sights that it has to offer.

We decided to tour Seattle by taking the duck tour boat.  It is a fun ride that will take you by land and by water to see various sights in Seattle.  Out on the water we saw the houseboats that you see in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.

The homebrewers again wanted to check out all the local breweries in the area and there are several in the Seattle area.  We visited almost all of them, but the one we kept going back to was The Pike Brewing Company.  It might have been because it was located closest to where we stayed.  We stayed at another Bed and Breakfast that was called the Inn at Harbor Steps which was another Four Sisters Inn.  However, it is no longer in operation.

We all enjoyed our visit to Seattle.  Join me next week on another travel adventure.