October 14, 2018 – Kushiro, Japan

Kushiro is often known as the “City of Mist” in Japan because it is quite often overlaid with a thick mist most of the time.  Kushiro, the most populous city in Eastern Hokkaido is a historic port city and well known for it’s strong fishing industry.

We opted to walk around the city today because it was a spectacular day…no legendary mist for us!

Our first stop was the “Moo” shopping mall right by where we were docked.  We have been sending our grandsons postcards from some of our ports of call.  The first thing I noticed was this vending machine where the prize is a crab, if you can catch it with the claw.  Similar to machines in Canada for various toys but I have never seen it for live seafood.  I admit I didn’t try it as I wouldn’t know what to do with the crab if I caught it!

We had heard so many people on board talking about the 100Yen Store (Dollar Store) that everyone seemed to want to find.  So, off we went on our adventure to find this store.  A few wrong turns and some perseverance and we found the store!  Karen was excited but honestly not a highlight for me.  A few small purchases of some neat things and off to find the Kushiro Washo Market.

As we are studying our map of how to find the Fish market, a local Japanese man comes over to see if we need help.  When we show him where were want to go, he starts to explain and then stops and beckons us to follow him.  This kind gentleman walks with us for about 15 minutes (no English) and walks us right to the door of the fish market!!  No idea how far out of his way he went but ever so kind!

This port city is quite renowned for producing tons of fresh seafood and while in downtown Kushiro there are restaurants you can get it and order some local dishes, the Kushiro Washo Market is “the place” to have fresh seafood.

Katte Don is the special dish to have there.  You buy yourself a bowl of rice, and then walk along the rows of shops selecting the ingredients you want to eat as toppings. There are also famous Hokkaido crabs there.  The market is a haven for sashimi lovers like me!  My bowl with 5 different sashimi choices was about $10CAD.  Karen, who is not a big fan opted for another local specialty…fried chicken, about $9CAD.  While the sashimi bowl was in my opinion, better, the fried chicken meal she had was very tasty too.

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Our tummies full, we walk back to the “Moo” market for some additional shopping before boarding the ship.  As we get set to sail away, the local tourism board provides some wonderful entertainment and a Grand send off!

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Sayonara Kushiro!  Thanks for following along.  The next installment will be our visit to Yokohama/Tokyo.


October 11, 2018 – Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, Russia


Petropavlovsk is a fairly architecturally uninteresting place with streets lined with grim, Soviet inspired apartment blocks.  However, it does have a magnificent setting on Avacha bay and is overlooked by two giant volcanoes and surrounded by a long line of snow-capped mountains.

A visa is required by Russia for Canadians visiting the country.  The easiest way for us to accomplish this was by booking one of the ship’s tours which then included the visa.  Frankly, I was not expecting much from this remote Russian town that can only be accessed by plane or by ship.  Being quite isolated, I expected that we would see a bunch of worn out, rusty old Lada automobiles driving around gravel streets.  On the contrary, there are a lot of Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans.  The reason we were told, was that they were a lot more reliable and easier to get than Russian made autos.  The funny thing was that while they drive on the right side of the road, the majority of vehicles also have the steering wheel on the right side of the cars.

Our first stop was Trinity Cathedral, Petropavlovsk’s largest and most impressive church. Despite looking ancient, the church was built in the early 21st century.  From here there are great views of the bay.

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From the church we proceeded to the Crimean War Memorial.  This memorial and small chapel commemorates the lives lost in the Battle of Petropavlovsk, a little-remembered clash between the British, French and Russian forces during the Crimean War.

The drive up to Mishennaya Hill was an easy ascent and provided excellent views of town and Avacha Bay.

On to the Museum of the USSR.  We had been warned not to expect much from this museum where most everything has been donated by the local population.  As such, we were not disappointed.  Lot’s of old stuff but still interesting to see things we grew up with, but Russian made or dare I say, copied.

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Our final stop was at their town market.  Was I ever surprised!  Again, I expected an outdoor market with a few things but this was a very modern indoor market with many shops selling every kind of ware.  Since Petropavlovsk is essentially a fishing town (although the Russians have a nuclear submarine base there which we were not privy to see), I was interested to see the fish market.  An unbelievable assortment of fish but a huge amount of salmon, their main catch.  There were containers and containers of salmon roe (caviar) from several salmon species.  The picture below was only a very, very small sampling of the local caviar offerings.


Back on the ship, I just had to take a picture of the Customs Officers checking everyone’s documentation leaving and returning to the ship.


That’s it for this blog…next stop Japan after a couple more days at sea.  Thanks for reading along.

Disneyland Tips & Tricks – Jamie’s Magical Birthday Getaway

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Disneyland tips and tricks:

  1. If you stay onsite at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, you get an extra magic morning every day.  This alternates between parks.  There are some exclusive benefits – if the magic morning is at California adventure, you can go on the Radiator Springs Racers ride in that first hour.  This is only for hotel guests.  If you have a hopper pass that includes one magic morning, you can get into the park early, but you can’t go on the Radiator Springs Racers until the park opens to the public.  There are also random meet and greets with Disney Characters in the hotel lobby – and no lineups.  The Grand Californian hotel has direct entry into California Adventure park – again no lineups to get into the park in the morning and very easy to go back to the hotel if you need a change of clothes, a nap, a swim or a break from the crowds.  The Grand Californian hotel is currently undergoing some renovations and the Whitewater Raft casual dining/takeaway restaurant is closed.  They serve pastries, fruit, yogurt and coffee in the Hearthstone lounge as an alternative in the mornings.  Coffee is complimentary to hotel guests and breakfast of pastries, fruit and yogurt for 5 of us was usually $25 – a pretty good deal.
  2. Even if you are not a morning person – it’s worth the early wake up call to get to the parks early.  The morning is the best time at the parks – it’s not busy, there are no lineups and you can go on a lot of rides or meet a lot of characters in a short amount of time.  The afternoons and evenings get a lot busier.  As an example, we went right to the Fantasy Fair to meet the princesses at 8am and we only waited 10 minutes.  Later in the day, it was over an hour.  You can get on Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion or Splash Mountain with only a few minutes wait for the first hour…maybe two.  After that it would often be an hour or longer for a wait.
  3. If there are popular rides that do not offer a FastPass option, do those first.  You can always get a FastPass for popular rides, so you can experience them without waiting later in the day.  Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, Incredicoaster, etc….all offer Fast Passes and we found the Fast Passes via the MaxPass to be plentiful.  Rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan’s Flight do not offer a Fast Pass option.  We could ride Pirates twice with no wait at all first thing in the morning.  By lunch time it was an hour wait and by dinner time it was almost a two hour wait….with no possibility of a FastPass.
  4. Have a plan.  I’ve mentioned it before, but it really is important to make the most of your time.  Know which area of the park you want to do first and which ride you want to get a FastPass for and which one you want to go on before it lines up.  Know where and when you are going for lunch so you don’t waste time looking for a restaurant that you like and waiting in long lineups to order food…either use the mobile food order or make a dining reservation in advance.
  5. If you want special dining options, character dining, large group dining, etc…book well in advance as popular ones fill up fast.  Even if you want a regular dining reservation, don’t expect to make a reservation on short notice or to walk up and get in.  Restaurants are often full and there was usually a 30-60 minute wait for a table without a reservation.  Finding ways to avoid lineups is key to making the most of your time.
  6. If you are up for a later night, rides are often quieter during parades/Fantasmic show times and for the last hour or two that the parks are open.  We were able to walk right on rides at the end of the night – same as we could first thing in the morning.
  7. Spending the extra few dollars on the “park hopper” option for the parks is well worth it.  If you only have a few days and want to make the most of your time, it’s great to be able to go between the parks.  The parks are right next to each other, so hopping is very quick and easy. Our last day was a prime example of why you would want to do this.  We made a list of all of our favorite attractions that we wanted to do “one last time” on our last day.  We started our day at 7am in California Adventure Park for our Magic Hour.  We were able to go on the Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree , Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and get some family Photo Pass photos taken with the Cars Characters all by 8am.  At that point, we headed across to Disneyland Park for opening and were able to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and the Jungle Cruise all by 10am.  We headed back to California adventure for a 1040am fast pass at Guardians of the Galaxy…a full day’s worth of fun that we managed to fit in before lunch time.  That meant during the busy afternoon hours, we could head back to the hotel for a swim and a nap and return with fresh kids for Toy Story Midway Mania and Radiator Springs Racers FastPasses, dinner at Wine Country and ended the night with a few more rides when the lineups died down during the parade.


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If you have questions about Disneyland or would like to start planning your own magical getaway please reach out to our team!  They would love to help get you on your way.

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Alaska Blog - 1

October 6, 2018

On the map, Unalaska is a tiny dot far off in the middle of strong seas. But somehow, a diverse group of people make this remote island home, and share it willingly with visitors.

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Unalaska is affixed geographically on the Aleutian chain, and historically in the midst of 10,000-year-old Unangan culture, and in the eras of Russian fur traders, Captain Cook, World War II, and of a commercial fishing industry that ranks above all others in the United States.

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Unalaska, the small, wind-swept volcanic rock, draws researchers, tourists, adventurers, birders, World War II buffs, fishermen, and seasonal workers – so many that the population swells from about 4,000 in winter to nearly 10,000 in summer.

Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch fans often meet their favorite captains and crew, whether by chance in town or at the Carl E. Moses Boat Harbor where most of them are docked when not at sea.

For us, it just felt good to get back on land after a week of being at sea.  Frankly there is not much to see in Dutch Alaska (Unalaska).  We walked into town from the ship (about 2 miles) before it started raining (it rains a lot here) to the Safeway store which is a destination onto itself as it stocks many of the ships for their time at sea.  Big store with lots of canned goods and supplies.  There is another store nearby that also stocks the ships but had more hardware and such.  While there is an old Russian Orthodox church to visit, it was about 3 miles up the road and it was pouring rain, so instead we opted for the Norwegian Rat Saloon for a pint of a local brew.

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Aside from a small museum and some great hiking (did I mention it was pouring rain?), that’s about it for Dutch Harbour.  However, the scenery is spectacular and we were treated to some sunshine once we were back on board the ship.

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During supper, as we cruised out the bay, we saw several pods of humpback whales, always exciting to see their magnificence.  After supper, we were treated to a BBC Film called The Earth.  This segment featured Alaska and was accompanied by the ship’s musicians’.  It was a wonderful performance.

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Dining at Disneyland – Jamie’s Magical Birthday Getaway

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It has been 4 years since I was last at Disneyland.  This time I wanted to make sure that we weren’t always waiting in line to get into a restaurant or to order food.  That was one thing I remember from last time as being a frustrating experience.

Disneyland dining reservations open 60 days beforehand.  You can make dining reservations either via the My Disney Experience app, their website or by phone.  I used the app to make dining reservations the full 60 days prior.  It’s very quick and easy and it allows you to select restaurants in your budget, with menus that you know your family will enjoy.  I made at least one reservation per day, sometimes two.  It helped us to have a plan and to make sure that when our kids (and their mom) were hungry and cranky, that we had a place to sit down, eat and rest without waiting in line.

Some of the places we picked – all were in a reasonable price point:

  • La Brea Bakery in downtown Disney – my daughter says this was the best grilled cheese she has ever had, lots of kid friendly items and good burgers (chicken and beef) as well as homemade soup in bread bowls.   Casual and friendly.
  • Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen for my birthday dinner – New Orleans inspired in Downtown Disney.  Service was great as was the food….the appetizer platter was our favourite.
  • Lamplight Lounge – a must try.  It is new and is located where Ariel’s Grotto used to be in California Adventure.  It is Toy Story themed to go with the new Pixar Pier and again the food, setting and service was great.  The Lobster Nachos and Piggy Wings are a must.  Food is pub-style and they serve alcohol as well….for those tired and cranky parents.
  • Tortilla Joes in downtown Disney – gives a discount for those staying at a Disney hotel.  Mexican food, really good nachos, quesadillas and tacos.
  • Carnation Cafe…a hidden Gem on Mainstreet in Disneyland park.  Awesome burgers – huge and homemade.  Lunch for 5 of us was about $60 US, which is a steal in Disneyland and I thought it was one of the better lunches we had.  The fried chicken is also supposed to be good here, but we didn’t try it this time.
  • Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure was a great spot for a nicer dinner. Italian, nice wine list, good options for kids with spaghetti and pizza.  They accommodated a group of 9 no problem and the food was very good.  The bruschetta, caprese salad and linguine vongole were my favorite.  It is pretty reasonable as well for a slightly upgraded dining experience.

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We also had two special dining experiences.  We chose to keep to more budget restaurants for most meals so that we could splurge on a couple of unique experiences.  Our first morning found us at Storeytellers Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel.  We had a buffet breakfast with Mickey and Friends.  The looks on the kids faces when they got to meet the characters was priceless….and having the characters come to your table saved us hours of waiting in line at the parks.  The food was good with plenty of options and good service.  They didn’t rush you and you got lots of time with Mickey and friends.  It was roughly $38 US for adults and $25 US for kids.

We wanted to get preferred seating to Fantasmic and the most economical way to do that was to have the dinner/show combo at the Hungry Bear restaurant in Disneyland.  We picked our time for dinner and when we arrived, we had a separate line up (no waiting) and we could pick off a special menu or the regular menu.  The kids all picked the chicken fingers off the regular menu and Mark and I had the Blackberry BBQ Ribs with rice and salad.  The food was good, the setting was nice (lots of tables available) and the best part – front row seating (on the ground, not chairs) for the Fantasmic 9pm performance.  This meal/dinner combo was about $130 USD total for 5 of us and well worth the bit extra.

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Something else that is new via the My Disney Experience app is mobile food ordering.  We didn’t try it, but I wish we had.  We waited in line for lunch for about 20 minutes at the Pacific Wharf Cafe (all restaurants were lined up at lunch), but as we waited, there was a steady stream of people coming in and picking up orders with no wait.  It would definitely be worthwhile trying and it is free to order through the app.  You pick your restaurant and pick up time and items and I believe you have to pre pay with a credit card.

My final two suggestions for dining at Disney – have a plan and budget accordingly.  Food and drinks are not inexpensive but if you are prepared and know what you want to spend and pick restaurants accordingly, you will be a big step ahead.  Also, my oldest is 10 and with the exception of the Character buffet, she was able to order off the kids menu.  We just asked for three kids menus and no one asked or questioned.  She doesn’t eat enough to order off the adult menu, so that worked well and saved us a few dollars.

Want to start planning your own magical vacation?  Call us to speak with one of our Disney loving agents today!

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Disneyland’s MaxPass – Jamie’s Magical Birthday Getaway

Maxpass 2Disney MaxPass…..where do I begin?  I am in LOVE with the new Disney MaxPass.  It has helped us to make the most of our 5 day Disneyland family vacation.  Disney introduced the MaxPass earlier this year.  It works in conjunction with the Disneyland app and for $10 per person, per day; you get unlimited photo pass photos (from photographers, rides, etc) as well it allows you to add fast passes on your phone.  I’m not sure of the exact rhyme or reason, I haven’t been able to work it out yet, but it allows you to almost always have more than one fast pass at a time – I have had up to three….this wasn’t possible with the old paper fast passes.  If I wasn’t able to add the 2nd or third right away, I was able to add them within a short time frame.  For example I added a Radiator Springs Racers FastPass at 11am for an 830pm ride.  At 1215pm it let me add a FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania for a 515pm ride and at 3pm it let me add a FastPass for Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! for a 9pm ride.  With the paper FastPasses, I believe I would have only been able to have the first one until 830pm when our time came to get another one.

The weekend was very busy at Disneyland with ride wait times of 75 to 100 minutes on most of the popular rides.  We went on rides almost continually throughout the morning and later afternoon/evening (nap breaks in the middle!) and we never waited more than 10 or 15 minutes for a ride.   The fast passes, combined with the app letting you know current wait times on rides worked amazingly well for time management.

The My Disney Experience app is free – everyone should have this app installed.

What it gets you:43371793_169349567321089_7827775525585158144_n

  • access to maps and current wait times
  • access to park hours and show times
  • access to your dining reservations
  • photos from photo passes
  • access to your FastPasses if you have the MaxPass.


The MaxPass for the extra $10/person per day gets you unlimited FastPasses and unlimited free photos.  The photos are typically $10 per photo to download.  My family of 5 was $50 US per day but it saved us HOURS of waiting in line and in running around the park trying to see what FastPasses we could get.  With two 3 year olds, this was priceless!  We would get in the FastPass line for a ride, while we were in line, I would add the next FastPass on my phone, when we got off the ride, I would look at the online map to see what had a short line to fill time until our next FastPass ride.  It was “magical”.  To date, we also have 32 photopass photos – for free – a $320 value.  MaxPass gets two thumbs up from me!

The one issue we had with MaxPass is one day the app was only showing 1 of the 5 of us in the park.  You have to be in the park to add the MaxPass in the morning.  I asked guest services, they sent me to city hall where there was quite a lineup.  When I got up to the front, they said our tickets were not scanned properly at the gate.  They rescanned them and gave us the MaxPass for free that day….we lost about a half hour, but I was happy with their service in the end – very Disney-like!  Tip – they said if we noticed while we were near the gate that it wasn’t showing all of us in the park, they could have rescanned our tickets at the gate instead of waiting in line at city hall.


If you’ve been following our blogs or working with us for a while you may remember Ed Buchholz.   He’s been enjoying retirement but still travelling regularly.   Currently he’s cruising the Pacific onboard Holland America’s ms Amsterdam.  They set sail on September 30th and will cruise until December 21st.    Follow along as he shares his 82 day experience with us!

We are now 5 days into our 82 day cruise, all of which have been days at sea.  The ship is wonderful and we have been exploring all that they have to offer, from guest speakers to digital classes, stretch to abs classes, wine tasting to cooking classes and so much more.  We are definitely not bored with so many daily offerings.

Eds cruise 1 - 2One cannot talk about cruising without talking about the food!  In an effort to NOT weigh 300 lbs when we get off the ship, we have been quite careful about how many calories to consume.  Since we do not take the elevators while on board and with the exercise classes and the daily walking on the designated track (3 – 5 km per day), we seem to be holding our weight at bay (but it’s really early in the cruise).  The food has been exceptional and kudos to Holland America for having reasonable portion sizes.

The evening shows have been reasonably good and of good variety.  We’ve had a comedian, various musicians and singers and tonight we have a Broadway style show.  We have 11 formal nights during our cruise so my tux will see some use but mainly, the dress is “sporty elegant”, which seems to be a polo shirt and casual or dress pants.  Quite a relaxed atmosphere!

The staff, as always, are exceptional and very friendly.  We are not suffering, that’s for sure!  One can easily get used to never making your bed, or cooking or washing dishes.  The worst is just trying to find time to have a nap!

Our first stop is Dutch Harbor, Alaska which is home to where they film “The Deadliest Catch” series.  I’ll update the blog after our brief stop there.  Thanks for reading and following along!