ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 2

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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.

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 1

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!