Alaska/Ketchikan

After we left Vancouver, we had a day at sea.  There are so many fun things to do on a cruise ship.  We did a photo scavenger hunt and name that tune game.  Both were lots of fun to do especially with the group that we travel with.  We have a group of around 20 friends who like to travel.  Some trips we have all 20 joining but this time we had 11.  When we were planning this trip, we decided early on that each couple would get a port.  It works out well because that couple would research all the excursions that the cruise had for that port as well as other options on excursions off the ship.  We have found that if we get someone from that port city familiar with the area to take us to various spots that they recommend that it is much more fun and pleasant because then it is just our group that is going versus a bigger group from the cruise ship.  We either have always lucked out or we are just that good in our research as we have never run into any problems with the people we pick and having them get us back to the port on time.

One note on gluten free food.  I was not diagnosed celiac when we took this trip so I cannot give any recommendations on restaurants that we visited at each port.  However, I have been on many cruises since my diagnosis and I will say that the cruise lines we were on are very accommodating with gluten free options.  It also helps that you get the same waiter each night as they then are aware of your food issue and know ahead of time what you can or cannot eat.

Ketchikan was one of those ports that we all split up and did a multiple of things.  There was a group that did a float plane.  I did not do this, but from what I heard later, the group that went thought it was the best thing that they did on the trip.   The company they went through to take this excursion was called Island Wings and everyone who went said that they would highly recommend this company.  Island Wings took them on a tour of Misty Fjords and they saw some awesome sights.

Island Wings Float Plane

Some of us went on a Duck Tour.  I know it sounds lame, but if you’ve never been on one before, you need to go on one just for the fun of it.  The drivers are usually highly amusing and the tour does take you on an overview of the area.  While taking the duck tour, we did see an eagle.

Ketchikan is known as the salmon capital of the world and it is something to see when the salmon are swimming upstream there.  We went end of August and we were surprised at how many salmon we saw.  I tried to capture them jumping and did not have much luck, but you can see from the picture below just how many there were.

Make sure you leave plenty of time to walk around the town as it is cute and they have lots of little shops to go into.  Also, when packing for an Alaskan cruise you should bring a rain jacket and layer.  It was rainy in Ketchikan but I would say that it was in the mid 50’s when we were there.

The Town of Ketchikan

Please come back next week as our next stop is Skagway!

Alaska/Vancouver

Alaska was one of my all time favorite trips.  Since there was so much do and see there and since we did both a cruise and land tour, I am going to make multiple posts on this trip.  I will start with Vancouver.  Our cruise originated out of Vancouver so we decided to go there before the cruise for a couple of nights to sight-see a bit.  We went in August of 2010 and the Olympics were held in Vancouver in February of that year.

I’m pretty much obsessed by the Olympics so I was pretty excited to be seeing a city that had held the ceremonies only a few months prior to our visit there.

The Vancouver Olympic Cauldron

Canada Place

Canada Place is a building on the waterfront of Vancouver.  It is the home of the Vancouver Convention Center, the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, and Vancouver’s World Trade Center .  The building’s exterior is covered by fabric roofs resembling sails (at night these sails turn different colors).  It is also the main cruise ship terminal for the region, where most of Vancouver’s cruises to Alaska originate.

A group of our friends took a bus tour of Vancouver which gave them a nice overview of the city.  Another group went to Stanley Park which is a large urban park.  It is designated a national historic site of Canada and you can enjoy scenic views of water, mountains, sky and trees along the seawall.  There are also lots of hiking trails.

We stayed at the Terminal City Tower Hotel which is within walking distance of the pier.  This hotel was very nice, but we picked it for it’s close proximity to the pier and restaurants.

I would recommend going to Vancouver at least one night prior to your cruise departure date to see some of this city’s sights.  Our trip there was very enjoyable.

We cruised with Royal Caribbean and went on the Radiance of the Seas which I would also recommend especially for cruising to Alaska as the Radiance has floor to ceiling windows that offers you incredible views.

Come back next week when we go into our first port; Ketchikan which is called the salmon capital of the world.

 

Hilton Head Island

I just returned from a trip to Hilton Head.  Hilton Head in February is a much different visit than if you go during the summer time.  In summer, Hilton Head is packed, but in February it is much less crowded.

Hilton Head has the most beautiful sunrises and you need to make sure you wake up early enough to see one as they are worthwhile getting up early to see.

I went with my sisters so we did a lot of shopping and sight seeing in the area.  Harbor Town in Sea Pines is one place that you need to stop by and check out.  There is a lighthouse there that you can walk to the top of and check out the view.  In October, 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Hilton Head and they are currently in the process of building this area back up again.

View from the top of the lighthouse.

Harbor Town Lighthouse

We did a lot of walking, but we all enjoyed the walking in the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge area.  We even saw a couple of alligators.

Can you see the alligator sitting on the shore?

We took a couple of trips off the island.  One of those trips was a visit to Bluffton.  Every Thursday they have a farmers market that is something to see.  If you like to see churches, they have a church there that is very beautiful and the area around it is so scenic to see.

While you are in Bluffton, you need to eat at the Cottage.  We ate lunch there and they were able to accommodate my gluten free eating.  It was crowded but it would be worth the wait to eat there.

We also went to Savannah.  Savannah is less than an hour car ride from Hilton Head.  There is a lot of history in Savannah and you can take a trolley tour or simply walk around, which is what we did.

The Cathedral in Savannah

I did not have too many issues eating gluten free on this trip.  One of the places we ate at on Hilton Head was called Rockfish Seafood & Steaks @ Bonboras.  It is a restaurant/bar in Coligne Plaza and is owned by a couple who used to live in my home town of Cincinnati, Ohio.  If you go there, they have quite a few Cincinnati dishes; Montgomery Inn Ribs, Big Boy Burger, and other Ohio favorites.  They also have The Art Cafe above that would be good to take kids to on a rainy day or just a day away from the beach.  They were very accommodating with me and made a gluten free scallop dish that was delicious.

Doesn’t this scallop dish look  yummy?

There is one place that you need to go to and that is Marche de Macarons.  We found this place in Savannah, but found out that they also have a shop on Hilton Head as well.  These macarons are the best that I’ve ever tasted and they are entirely gluten free.  Check out their website at www.marchedemacarons.com.

We all really enjoyed our little winter get away.  It is a great place to take the family to.  If you’ve been to Hilton Head Island, I’d love to hear what some of your favorite places there are.

Nashville

We just returned from a music filled weekend to Nashville.  This is my fourth time down in Music City and this was certainly our weekend for music.  We started out the weekend seeing a Randy Travis tribute where 37 top artists sang his songs.  Some of the acts we saw were Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Allison Krauss, Kenny Rogers, Wyonna and just so many more.  The highlight of the show was at the end when Garth was singing Forever and Ever and Randy joined him for the finale.  We went to the Opry one night and saw Crystal Gayle who was also awesome and yes she still has her long hair.  We ended the weekend seeing Martina McBride and Lauren Alaina.

This past fall we came to Nashville with a group of 20 friends and rented a mansion on Music Row.  It was a great location and a great house for all of us to share.  We did all the tourist things on that trip.  We went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry and the Studio B Tour.  I think the highlight was the Studio B tour because we did a recording of one of Elvis’ songs.  It sure didn’t sound as good as Elvis’ version, but we had a blast recording it.

Studio B Tour

Country Music Hall of Fame

The Grand Ole Opry

The Mansion that held all 20 of us.

Eating gluten free in Nashville does have its challenges, but it can be done.  One of the places we’ve found is the Pharmacy.  They have really good burgers and they are gluten free; just make sure not to get the bun with it.  The servers appear to be knowledgeable on what you can eat.

The Pharmacy

We love going to Layla’s to see Sarah Gayle Meech.  She is a really good singer.  Most of the honky tonks have really great acts.  It’s nice to go in and out of them and checking out the talent.  Below are a couple of places that we’ve found that we really like.  George Jones’ Rooftop Bar is a great place to go on a pretty day and the view is very nice.

George Jones’ Rooftop Bar

Layla’s

Nashville Skyline

I would definitely add Nashville on your list of places to go to as there is something for everyone there and even if you don’t like country music, you should be able to find music for your taste there.

Chicago

I just love visiting Chicago.  Not only is it one of the most interesting places to visit, my girls also live there.  I have two daughters.   The one that used to live in the DC area, recently moved to Chicago and is working at Loyola University.  My youngest daughter is going to DePaul and working on her masters.

There is so much to do and see in Chicago from shopping at the stores on Michigan Avenue, to exploring places like Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Willis tower and so much more.  We just love to go and explore.   Take a Wendella boat tour while you are there.  They have several.  We took the architectural tour when we were there in September and really enjoyed it.  They also have a night time tour that was beautiful to take with skyline all lit up.  Millennium Park is a beautiful place to visit as well or just relax in the sunshine on the beach and enjoy the beauty of Lake Michigan.

Chicago Skyline

The Bean in Millennium Park

The Lincoln Park Zoo

Navy Pier

 

Ghirardelli – We always make a stop here for ice cream.

Chicago offers some of the best gluten free restaurants.  I love going to Wheat’s End when we are in town.  This is off their website; “Wheat’s End Artisan Foods is a family owned company that believes people with celiac disease or who are gluten intolerant shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality or taste. That’s why all our products are handmade in our 100% dedicated gluten free facility with only the best ingredients and no artificial preservatives—into what we think are the best, natural tasting and flavorful gluten free breads, baked goods and fresh pastas available today. ”  When we are in town we like to visit here for Sunday brunch.  The food is fantastic and as you can see from the website explanation, it is totally safe for celiacs to eat in.  There are several other places that are also good, however, none that are totally gluten free like this one.  Check out their website www.wheatsend.com and you can see what they offer.  I’ve also ordered items online and had them delivered to my home in Ohio.

If you’ve ever been to Chicago and have some sights that you would recommend, please let a comment and let me know.

Washington DC

Another one of my favorite areas to visit is Washington DC.  I truly believe everyone needs to visit Washington some time in their life.  It is an amazing place to see.   My daughter lived in the area for about 8 years so we got to see Washington quite a number of times and it just never got old as there are just so many monuments and museums here to see.   Here’s a few of them:

Marine Corps War Memorial

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – If you get a chance, time your visit here to see the changing of the guard.  It is awesome to see!

World War II Memorial

Korean War Memorial

There are so many Smithsonian Museums that you can visit for free.  Some of the ones that we have visited are:  National Air and Space; National Museum of the American Indian; National Museum of American History; National Portrait Gallery; National Museum of Natural History; and the National Zoo.

If you decide to go to Washington contact your local congressman and he will be able to set up a time for a tour of the Capitol.  It is very interesting and fun to see.  You can also set up a tour of the White House through your congressman.

I have found that the bigger cities tend to have lots of options for gluten free eating.  Just google gluten free eating in the DC area and lots of restaurants come up.  I was always very lucky because my daughter who lived in the area also had a friend who was Celiac so she knew which way to steer me for safe eating.  One place that we went to the last time in DC  was Jeleo.  The chef has trained his staff on gluten free so they understand exactly what you can and cannot have.  Another place that we have gone to in the past was called Rosa Mexicano.  At this restaurant, they fried me a special batch of corn chips in a dedicated fryer when they found out I was Celiac.  I would highly recommend both places.

 

Sanibel/Captiva Island

I think we all have that special place that we’ve traveled to that we always want to go back to again and again because it is relaxing or the memories from that place are just so special.  Sanibel Island is that place for me.  I went there on my honeymoon for the first time in 1982 and have been back many times.  Many of my favorite family memories are from vacations spent on Sanibel Island.  Here is a beautiful sunset picture that we took when we were there.  If you go to Sanibel you must look up Danny Morgan.  He is a singer on the island and he sings a beautiful song about the sunsets you can see there.

Beautiful Sanibel Sunset

This is the Sanibel lighthouse that is on the tip of the island.  It has a public beach access to it and you can find some great shells on that end of the island as well as see dolphins swimming around that area.  Sanibel is known for all the shells that are on the beaches.

Sanibel Lighthouse

One of our favorite restaurants in the area is called the Mucky Duck and it is located on Captiva Island which is connected to Sanibel Island by a small bridge.  You can see some of the most beautiful sunsets on the beach outside the Mucky Duck.  The Mucky Duck doesn’t necessarily have a gluten free menu, but if you ask the waitress what they can do for you, they are very accommodating.  Sanibel does not have chain restaurants except for the Dairy Queen.  A couple of great spots for breakfast are The Lighthouse Cafe and The Over Easy Cafe.  Again, both are pretty accommodating on eating gluten free, but I did prefer The Over Easy Cafe for the gluten free choices.

The island offers a variety of things to do there.  They have bike trails over the entire island.  Most of the beaches are private, but there are a couple that are open to the public.  We enjoy going to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve which covers a good portion of the island.  You can drive through, bike ride or walk through this Wildlife Refuge.

Please feel free to leave a comment on where your special vacation spot is as I’d love to hear about it and maybe even visit there some time.