#TBT: Alaska ’09 Trip – Part 4 of 9

Part 4 of 9: Juneau – Nature Trails & Humpback Whales

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Our ship, the Ms Zuiderdam

In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! To get up-to-date on the trip:

Part 1 – Arriving in Vancouver
Part 2 – On board and getting my bearings
Part 3 – Rehearsals and relaxing

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Rehearsing for our concert

I woke up at 6:35am and my breakfast (same as yesterday – Egg Beaters omelette, grapefruit and coffee) arrived at 7:10am. Out the door at 7:30ish, I got a little lost and didn’t get to the 8:00am rehearsal until nearly 7:50am – to a room that was nearly directly just 4 floors below me, LOL!

Rehearsals went fine…our conductor set us up on stage, we did a run-through of most of our songs and were done by 8:55am or so.

I went back to the Explorations Cafe to “loan” Nancy and Jessie computer time for them to fix something that would best be done on the ‘net, but Jessie was late in getting there to meet me so we decided to do it later. Meanwhile, I tried to log on with my computer and couldn’t – apparently we had lost satellite signal because of the mountains on either side of us. So I kept myself happy by looking at the scenery, both from the comfortableness of inside and, for a few minutes, from the dreary, wet, cold, windy miserableness of inside.

 I decided I was getting hungry by that point, so I went to the Lido Buffet for my “second breakfast” in the form of a nice bowl of oatmeal. I met Esther there so I had someone to eat with.

I went back to my cabin to get ready for my massage, then went up to 9 Deck for my 11:00am appointment with Melanny. I had a seaweed body masque (it felt weird and smelled even worse, LOL!), then got cocooned into a body wrap that made me sweat, while floating on a bed of water. When that was done, I had a full body massage. She tried to work on my shoulders but, as always, they were just way too tight (NOTE: 8 years later, they still are).

When I was done with my massage, I grabbed some Mexican at the poolside buffet (meh), then went back to the Exploration Cafe to hang out for a while. We were nearing Juneau by this point, so I turned my phone on and lo and behold, I was on AT&T! So I called Joe so I could talk to him for the first time in 3 days, which was, of course, wonderful!

We arrived in Juneau around 2:30pm. I went outside but it was raining and chilly out and, with having to take a shuttle bus to get into town, decided it wasn’t worth my effort when I had a tour in an hour, so I went back inside. I was scheduled to go on the “Photo Safari By Land & Sea” tour at 3:45pm so I went to the designated wait spot at the end of the dock at 3:30ish.  Our guide, George, arrived a few minutes later and between our group and a group from another cruise ship, there were 13 of us in total. Esther, one of the ladies from Tampa, was on the same tour.

George was a 24y/o guy with a degree in visual arts. After giving us an overview of Juneau from his POV (The Costco is a hopping place, most people live about 8 miles from town and complain about the 15-minute commute, etc.), he gave an overview of what settings to use on our cameras, whether we had fancy shmancy cameras, aim-and-shoots, or anything in between. We were scheduled to go to a park/forest area to see a the glacier and the forest, followed by a boat ride to possibly see some whales…but the boat was iffy because of the weather, so we would see what happened and if the boat was cancelled, we’d be refunded half of our money.

Mendenhall Glacier was beautiful…and HUGE! And the forest offered all sorts of interesting picture-taking opportunities, using settings I rarely used and/or never knew where to find, LOL!

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If you look really carefully, that black lump in the water is a (I don’t remember if it was a humpback or killer) whale

The boat, thankfully, did not get cancelled so we were able to see several killer whales (relatives of Shamu) as well as humpback whales. The rule is that the boats can’t get within 100 yards of whales but once we’re just outside that boundary, the whales can get as close as they want to us. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to. More unfortunately, the zoom on my camera isn’t that great so my shots are pretty far away. It was still fun to watch, though.

We got back to the ship at 8:15pm, 15 minutes too late for our dinner seating at the Vista Restaurant (we knew that was going to happen – the excursion started at 3:45pm and was 4.5 hours long). Esther and I decided to meet at the Lido Buffet after dropping our stuff off – well, I looked for her and she looked for me but we never did find each other again. The food at the Lido was, as always, just OK. You can’t really make buffeteria food delicious, no matter what you do with it, LOL!

After such a long day, I was ready for bed early and was sleeping before midnight. Goodnight!

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Towel Art: Monkey

Visiting The National September 11 Memorial & Museum

I grew up living in Northern New Jersey and  could see the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the Manhattan skyline from the windows of my high school.  I’d been to the World Trade Center several times as a child to take in the sights from the observation deck.

During my first trip back to New York after the attack on 9/11, I remember driving on the New Jersey Turnpike and looking toward Manhattan. This was a drive I’d been on countless times before. This time there was something missing; there was a huge, empty space.

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Me and my mom on the observation deck of the Twin Towers (c. late 1970s)

September 11th means something different to everyone. We’ve talked about visiting the museum and memorial on previous trips but Sharon just didn’t want to go – she’s not ready. While I was traveling with my father on my most recent trip to New York, we had a free day and both decided that we wanted to go.

I’m not going write a review or give you thoughts about my visit. My feelings are very personal and I think everyone has the right to experience the location without being told how to feel. What I will do is give you some tips and hints that I discovered during our visit that hopefully will help you plan your time there.

Things To Know

The location is split up into two separate areas. There is the 9/11 Memorial which is the outside area – it includes the park, waterfall and reflecting pools. This area does’t need any ticket or admittance fee. The 9/11 Memorial Museum is the area located underground and holds the exhibits and displays. You can buy tickets online if you know your plans in advance. I’d suggest this, as it will keep you from having to queue outside before entering. There are discounted tickets for seniors and veterans. Active duty and Retired U.S. Military are admitted for no charge. We arrived about 20 minutes before our ticketed time but had no issues in entering right away.

How To Get There

Getting to the location is very easy using the subway. Since we were staying near Columbus Circle it was easy to catch a train and exit at the Chambers St. stop. I’d recommend using an app such as Google Maps  to tell you which train to take. This helps because it lists the train line and destination (that’s how you know you are getting on the correct train). It also shows the stops along the way and even when the train is due to arrive. The one caveat is that, unfortunately, the New York subway doesn’t run as efficiently as in other cities like the London Underground or Tokyo subway. In New York, it’s always a guessing game as to when the next train will be coming.

After getting off the train at Chambers St., there’s signage for which way to exit the platform for the 9/11 Memorial but the signs sort of stop when the time comes to figure out which set of stairs to take. We just picked one and it was easy enough to find our bearings once we got to street level. One of the first things we saw was the Freedom Tower. It was a short walk from there to the entrance to the museum.

You can also take an taxi/Uber/Lyft to get to the Memorial from your hotel. However, traffic in Lower Manhattan is usually horrible and there is a lot of construction in the area so it’s probably not your best choice.

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Freedom Tower

Self-Guided And Guided Tour Options

The museum does offer a self-guided audio tour. The least expensive version is a free app that you can download to your phone or tablet from Apple or Android. The whole tour downloads so you don’t need to have reception in the museum to use it.  I had forgotten about this before arriving but was able to download it right at the tour desk on the upper level. The person at the tour desk watched to make sure it downloaded correctly. I didn’t bring headphones but they were able to sell me a cheap pair. My dad has the new iPhone with no headphone jack and had left his bluetooth headphones at home. He had to rent the tour on a iPod-like device and leave his drivers license as a deposit.

The tour is narrated by Robert DeNiro and is very well done. It gives some information and leads you from area to area. It doesn’t lead you to specific items (except for a few iconic displays) but instead lets you look around and explore on your own. There are also several guided tours of both the memorial and the museum. They take 45-60 minutes and cost $15-$20. I’m not one for being led around in a large group so we didn’t sign up for one. You can purchase this with your ticket ahead of time or they were taking sign ups the day we were there. Even on an day that wasn’t crowded, the tours did seem to be selling out for the afternoon time slots, so book in advance if that is your type of thing.

Entering And Touring The Museum

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Entrance Building to the Museum

You have to go through airport-style security to enter the museum, including taking off your shoes and belt. They also don’t allow large bags or backpacks in the museum so leave them at your hotel. The information desk, tour desk, restrooms and coat check are one level down from the entrance level; this is where the tour starts. It was a bit confusing on where to start the audio tour. There is one display on the top floor that’s talked about and then you need to walk all the way down to the exhibit levels for the next stop. We kept looking for the next area, so we wound up initially walking past most of these displays. In retrospect, you can listen to the opening, take your time walking down and reading, and then restart when you get down to the main level. I know that sounds a little confusing but it makes more sense when you’re there.

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The audio tour takes you from area to area and give some background. We followed the tour to the entrance to the Historical Exhibition. This is located in the original footprint of the North Tower. This, by far, is the most intense area of the museum. The audio tour says that if you have time, to enter the exhibit and yes, if I only had a limited amount of time, I would go to this display first. It’s the most important part of the museum to see, IMHO. There were way too many displays to see in the time we had.

They rightfully prohibit photography and usage of cell phones in this and several other areas of the museum. Unlike other places, most people were respectful of the rules but the staff also would remind those who were not.

Per the website:

Photography, videography, and audio recording is prohibited in the following Memorial Museum areas:
• Security screening area (ground floor entrance inside the Museum Pavilion)
• September 11, 2001 (the historical exhibition), except whereas otherwise posted
• In Memoriam (the memorial exhibition)
• Auditorium (second floor inside the Museum Pavilion)
• Rebirth at Ground Zero (film presentation)
• South Tower Gallery (interstitial space).

Cellular phones must be silenced, and not used for placing calls, while visitors are in the Memorial Museum’s Exhibition Spaces. Phone calls can be made from the Concourse Lobby level and from the Museum Pavilion’s auditorium level (2nd floor). If visitors are using a Smartphone with an audio component to provide information, they must use personal headphones, or keep the device silent, while in the Exhibition Spaces.

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The Last Column – The final piece of steel to be removed from the WTC site. It is covered with names, pictures and messages. It was transported from the site by an honor guard.

We finished making our way around following the tour in about 2-1/2 hours. There was still more to see but it is a very intense experience and that was enough time for us. Some of the displays are very emotional and the museum suggests using discretion if bringing younger children (their age suggestion is 10 years).

There’s a gift shop that sells all types of items related to your visit. They did provide my dad a discount for being a veteran.

From there, we headed outside to the Memorial. We had an early time to enter the museum so we didn’t really walk around the outside when we got there.

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9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pool and Waterfall.

The 9/11 Memorial is more the thing that will come to mind when you think of the site. The iconic reflecting pools and waterfall were the first things to reopen and are the location of the remembrance ceremonies on 9/11. The size and scope of them is impossible to capture just standing there. We silently walked around for a while and then decided to call it a day.

I was thinking about when I was flying to NYC back in 2002, I saw that empty space in the Manhattan skyline. That space was made very real when seeing the Memorial. It was right in front of me. A deep hole. However, when I left I didn’t feel a sense of loss or emptiness. There was a remembrance of what happened but also a sense of renewal. That in the face of the worst, we can be the people that we hope we are. I’m very glad my dad and I were able to visit.

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How We Haven’t Paid For A Flight On Southwest Airlines Since 2015

You read the title correctly. We haven’t paid anything for a trip on Southwest Airlines, except for taxes and fees, since June of 2015. That’s 22 flight segments and 18,170 miles of travel. I’ve traveled with my dad, and Sharon’s gone on a trip with a friend, and we didn’t pay for their flights either.

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Image from Great Circle Mapper

I bet you’re wondering how we managed that. It really wasn’t that difficult…I’ve just used several tips that I picked up over the years to make it happen.
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Trip Report: Disney Vacation Club exclusive Moonlight Magic event at Magic Kingdom (2017)

In 1991, the Walt Disney Company launched their own version of a timeshare, called Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Their membership is based on a points system that can be used for a variety of Disney properties and entities, and the number of points for stay at a Disney hotel (or on a Disney Cruise ship, or an Adventures by Disney vacation) is based on, among other things, time of year, and size and popularity of location. DVC points can also be used at non-Disney properties thanks to their relationship with RCI (a division of Wyndham Worldwide). Joe and his parents were huge Disney fans and vacationers throughout the 1970s and 1980s and when DVC became available, they were among the first to buy in (it’s a running joke that I married Joe for his DVC points).

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Airport Lounges Are Worth More Than Just All You Can Eat Snack Mix

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Sipping champagne at the Amex Centurion Lounge, LaGuardia Airport, February 2016

I remember the first time I had access to an airport lounge and was able to go through those doors that had been forbidden to me for so long. It must have been with one of my first business class award tickets. Checking in at the desk, being welcomed to a quiet oasis in the airport. I was visiting a magical place inhabited by important people.

I’ll admit that I’ve become jaded and airport lounges don’t do much for me anymore. Unless I know that it’s a particularly good lounge, I’m not going to waste time, effort or money to go into one. Now, I fully realize this makes me make sound like a pretentious jerk but, well, it’s the truth ;-).

All that being said, a series of events on a trip to New York caused me to change my usual plans and showed me how lounges, and in particular the lounge staff, can be very helpful.
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