Pre-Thanksgiving Trip to California Central Coast: Elephant Seals + Moonstone Beach

When we returned to the Hearst Castle Visitors Center, we watched the “Building The Dream” movie that is included with the tour admission price.  It was shown on a huge screen and was very well done.


After the movie we went to Sebastian’s for lunch which is located just across PCH.  Had to have the kids take a picture in front of this funny sign!



We ordered one cheeseburger and one tri-tip sandwich and fries.  This ended up being enough food for all us since D had a headache at this point and was not that hungry.


After lunch we went back to our campsite and rested for a bit.  Feeling refreshed, D was ready to go to the Elephant Seal Rookery.



Sunbathing seals!  It is always so neat to see animals in their natural habitat.



Next we went to Moonstone Beach.


These small colorful rocks were everywhere!







Next we went back to Cambria and poked around some of the cute little shops.



This is what happens when I have asked the kids to pose one too many times for pictures!


Dinner was at Main Street Grill in Cambria.  This place has the same owners as Firestone Grill in San Luis Obispo, which we had enjoyed before.  Although the food is good, with large portions, beware that it is cash only and that they charge 25 cents for bottled water.


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Pre-Thanksgiving Visit to Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is one of those places that everyone who lives in California needs to visit once in their lifetime.  I had been multiple times, but never with D or the kids.  D’s family says he went he was a kid, but he did not remember it.


Can you see the castle on the hill?


You can buy tickets online in advance but I found their reservation fee outrageous so we waited until the day of our tour to buy tickets.  We arrived early and bought tickets for the first Grand Rooms tour of the day at 9:00 am with no problem. There is a bus that transports you up the hill to the castle while you listen to narration by Alex Trebek.


Our tour began in front of one of the guesthouses.  There were tourists in our group from multiple countries, including Australia!


Unfortunately, the famed Neptune Pool was being renovated–doh!  Apparently it was leaking 5,000 gallons of water everyday.  The tour guide said it was scheduled to be done by the end of the year, but I am pretty sure it will take longer than that!


La Casa Grande!  It was interesting to learn about the corroboration between William Randolph Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan (a Cal grad!).


It was nice that they had already started decorating for Christmas.



Our tour guide was an amazing fount of knowledge.



The intricate detail that can be found everywhere is so amazing.



After the tour, we were free to wander the grounds.





When you are ready to leave, you go down to the indoor pool and catch a bus at what the tour guide called the “fanciest bus stop in America”.




Walking on gold!



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Our Pre-Thanksgiving Trip to Central California Coast: Cambria and San Simeon State Beach


After lunch we made a quick stop for Doc Burnstein’s ice cream at Mojo’s Village Bean in Cambria.

Then we went across the street so I could pick up a mini olallieberry pie at Linn’s.




We enjoyed this post-dinner.

Next we drove to the San Simeon State Park campground.  After setting up camp we took a short and easy walk to the beach area.





It was pretty empty, with just a few other visitors.



There were a lot of interesting rocks to look at.






And when there’s rocks near water, rock-throwing is soon to follow.






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Our Pre-Thanksgiving Trip to California Central Coast: Pismo Beach & Morro Bay

The kids and I had an entire week off for Thanksgiving.  We left for our mini-vacay on Tuesday in an attempt to avoid the holiday traffic.


Our first stop was the Pismo State Beach Butterfly Grove.



I did not have my camera that has a good zoom lens, so this is the closest I could get.  Can you see the orange monarchs?  These butterflies were not as scary as our last encounter, mostly because they were high up in the trees and we were not in an enclosed area.  It is kind of amazing how they all congregate in such a concentrated area.



I made them take a picture with the sun in their eyes.



The mobile monarch gift shop!

Our next stop was just about five minutes north off of PCH, Dinosaur Caves Park.



I was kind of puzzled by the fact that there were more seals than dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Caves Park.


Don’t ask me what this strange squatting was about.


The park has beautiful views!







OK, so there were dinosaur eggs to play in.


We stopped to eat our sandwiches that we packed from home at Morro Bay.


It was unseasonable warm, like mid-80’s.  I guess it was in the 90’s back at home.  A lot of people were getting food to go from a restaurant that had Crabby Patties on the menu-haha.


We saw some otters that were just chillin’.  Again, a zoom lens would have been handy here.  After lunch we continued our drive to Cambria and San Simeon.

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Disney Alaska Cruise: Last Day @ Sea

On Saturday the kids and I slept in until 8:30 a.m.!  Well, we did turn our clocks forward 1 hour overnight, so it really felt like 7:30 a.m., but that is still pretty late for us.  D was disciplined and ran early in the morning everyday on the running track on Deck 4.

The kids grabbed breakfast from Cabanas.  They brought it back to our room and ate on the verandah.


D and I did not eat breakfast since we had brunch reservations at the adults-only Palo restaurant.

We dropped the kids off at the kids’ club.  They were supposed to make Stitch’s space goo (slime), but there was a mix-up, so they did not do that activity.  They ate lunch at Cabanas with my parents and went to a cooking demonstration after that.

There is a $30 surcharge per person for the Italian restaurant.  I think it was definitely worth it for the experience.  The service was exceptional–it felt like we had our own waiter, even though I think he did have at least one other table to take care of.  He accompanied us to the buffet and explained the offerings.

This huge wheel of parmesan cheese was quite impressive.  I had a small piece with a little bit of honey that had a really delicate taste.  It was like nothing I have ever tasted before!

I ordered a grape pizza that is no longer on the menu.  I had read reviews of people raving about the combination of grapes and bleu cheese and had to try it for myself.  D ordered a sausage pizza.  They were both really good, and the crust was thin and crisp.

For our main entrees, we had chicken parmesan and an eggplant dish.  Both were excellent, but kind of difficult to fully enjoy with all of the other offerings.

Plus, we had to save room for dessert!  I loved the presentation and small portions.  I think the waiter said it was mandatory for us to try at least five.

Well, if we must…

Last ice cream run.

Last dip in the pool and going down the slide.

While D and the kids were in the pool, I snuck a peak at the re-scheduled Frozen deck party.  We did the majority of our packing in the afternoon as well.  Our typical vacations have us staying in one place only one or two nights at a time so we never really unpack.  Here, we really made ourselves at home, so packing back up was quite an undertaking.

Our farewell dinner was at Animator’s Palate.  There was a special activity where you draw a character at the beginning of the meal and then it comes to life in a cartoon that is shown on the walls at the end.





D was serious about his drawing!


The walls coordinated with the servers’ shirts.


There were less choices during this meal because they wanted to expedite service for the animated show at the end.


Kids’ appetizer


Adults Appetizer Sampler


k had the Grilled Garlic Marinated Shrimp with Linguine, which she really enjoyed.  This picture is making me hungry right now!


n had the Chicken Schnitzel off of the adults menu.  Looking back, we did not eat too much chicken in the dining room on the cruise.


Beef Wellington–the kids were interested in this since they have seen Gordon Ramsay’s version on Master Chef.


Roasted Filet of Alaskan Sockeye Salmon


Shahrang had also told us about the “secret menu” Indian food that they offer and brought us some.  The chicken was a little spicy, and very tasty!

I was not able to figure out the video lighting until the very end, but this gives you an idea of how the drawings come to life.

We also had the servers sing happy birthday to my BIL, even though he does not like that type of thing.


The kids had decorate your own cupcakes for dessert.


The adults had Celebration Cake.

Our last towel creation. 🙁


I did my first pin swap with the ships’ officers and was able to snag these two Disney cruiseline pins.

We went to the last show, called Disney Dreams.  It was very well done, and a nice way to end our cruise.



We had to wake up n the last morning.  Our breakfast was scheduled at around 7:15, I think.  We had told Frances that we planned to eat our breakfast in the dining room, but that we would leave our luggage in the room and then do express walk-off.  He said that was fine, and it worked out well.


We were back in Vancouver, where it all began!




The menus were called “See Ya Real Soon!”  We all ordered the Route 66.


The debarkation process was remarkably smooth and efficient.  We took the Skytrain to Vancouver Airport even though our flight was not until 2 p.m.  (My parents and sisters stayed another night in Vancouver and did not leave until the next day).


We watched this woman set up and basically run this Japa Dog stand just outside the airport by herself.  It opened early, so we were able to try it out.


Having had a big breakfast, we just shared one so we could have a taste.  Lots of umami going on here.

We also used our time at the airport to try another Canadian institution: Tim Horton’s.


We had an assortment of Tim Bits.  n liked the salted caramel flavor.

We boarded our plane, landed in LAX, picked up our car at the Parking Spot and returned home without incident.

Thank you for accompanying us on our adventure.  It was truly an experience that we will never forget, and I am so thankful to my parents for making it possible.  I hope this series of posts will help preserve our memories and offer some useful tips to those planning a trip of their own.  If you have not been to Alaska, I would definitely put it on your list of places to visit.  I know that going Disney-style is not for everyone, but the family-friendly atmosphere, impeccable service, excellent food, and outstanding entertainment were perfect for our three generations to enjoy together

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Disney Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan Continued

After our crab tour, we walked around Ketchikan, “The Salmon Capital of the of the World”.


As you can see, it was still drizzly, so we did not spend as much time here as I would have liked.


We took a short walk to Creek Street, a cute little shopping area.


It is built on top of an actual creek!




We followed the signs the salmon ladder, but we were too early for the season.



On our walk we experienced why much of Alaska is considered to be a temperate rainforest.  The air was so moist even though it was cool.

We started walking back to the ship since it was almost time for dinner.


Salmon-colored federal building.


Whale-shaped bench.


Upon re-boarding, we were greeted with hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies!

Our dinner rotation had us at Triton’s.  The menu feature Alaskan “Regional Inspirations”.


Clockwise: Beefsteak Tomato and Vidalla Onion Salad; Marinated Tiger Shrimp; Thai Red Pumpkin and Coconut Curry (vegetarian entrée, just because I was curious); Alaskan King Crab Legs (yum!)

Both of the kids had Fettuccine with Parmesan Crusted Chicken.


Both D and I had the Oven-Baked Lobster Tail.


I had already started digging in when our server offered to cut the lobster meat out of the shell for me.  Oops!  This was definitely one of my food highlights for the week.


Dessert Menu


Apricot Trio; Rasberry Crème Brulee; Chocolate Lava Cake


Yes, it was all good!  Julie, one of our servers, presented the kids with calligraphy she did with their names; very sweet.


After dinner, we returned to a towel monkey.  I took k and n to the gift shop where they each bought a Captain Mickey Tsum Tsum.  Meanwhile, D went to guest services to reserve a placeholder for a future cruise!

The evening entertainment was a magic show by David Gatti.  He put on a good show, and made us wonder, “How did he do that??”

Our Alaska stops were now officially over, and we were headed back to Canada.



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Disney Alaska Cruise: Onboard in Ketchikan + Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour

As we slept, the ship was making its way down the Alaskan coast for our final port stop, Ketchikan. The ship was not scheduled to dock until around 11 a.m., so we enjoyed a leisurely morning.


Another Cabanas breakfast.

After breakfast, the kids went to the Oceaneer Lab for a program called “Lava Flow”.  They tended to be drawn to the scheduled programs rather than the “free play” times.  I guess they like a structured environment!


D and I took this opportunity to go to the Adults-only Cove Café.  Although you have to pay for the drinks here, the prices are reasonable.  This mocha was $3 something, I believe.  Plus, you have free access to the pastry case-hehe.


When we to the upstairs seating area, we saw Doug Jones.  D just had to ask him a few of his infamous “quick questions”.

Next, I went off by myself to the Art of the Ship tour.  The group at Palo, one of the adults-only restaurants.


Our tour guide led us to a few different areas of the ship and pointed out many details about the design of the ship.  One tidbit I found interesting is that they made the ceilings on Deck 5 a little lower because that is where the kids clubs are located.  They wanted to empower the kids and give them a sense of confidence!  I was also fascinated by the fact there are more than 100 different designs of carpet throughout the ship.


The lobby is a prime example of how Disney incorporated their characters in a tasteful and elegant way.



After the tour, I met up with the rest of the family and we watched Born in China, a Disney Nature movie released earlier this year.  The stories that they were able to glean from following select animal families through the course of a year were amazing.  Now I want to go watch all of the other Disney Nature movies that have been made!

We did the quick service counter for lunch and brought it back to our room since it was drizzling outside.  I had a gyro, which is strangely served in a tortilla.  Pita bread is provided upon request.


This was our view as we were now docked in Ketchikan.



My mom had booked us all on the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s tour.  It was still raining out, so crew members were handing out free ponchos as we left the ship.


This was perfect for n because the jacket he had brought was not totally waterproof.


We boarded just a little early, so we were able to grab prime seats near the action.  This is a popular excursion–the boat seemed packed to capacity.


Complimentary coffee and hot chocolate were offered in the galley.  The seating area was heated, they offered heavy jackets, and the bathrooms were nice and clean.


I believe this was the owner of the Alleutian Ballad.  Before he turned it into a tour boat, it was a working boat that was featured on the Deadliest Catch.


There was a tank of crabs right in front of us.  The crew members told us a little about them and then let everyone hold them.




It took some of us a little time to warm up to the idea.


These two shots were taken by my talented brother-in-law.

I like this pic my dad took of us.

The crew demonstrated crab pot and barrel fishing.




I wouldn’t mess with this guy.  However, despite his tough exterior, he became quite emotional when retelling his story about how he started in the business.

The crew gave us just a brief glimpse about the intensity of the physical labor required to work on one of these ships.  The stories about some of the conditions that they had to work through were incomprehensible.  Their passion for their work really came through.

The highlight of the tour actually did not have anything to do with crabs.  The boat stopped when we arrived at a small island.  One of the crew members started to throw pieces of fish in the water and then bald eagles were swarming all around us!


D took this on his iPhone!


Enjoying his catch.

According to the crew, the only reason they are allowed to feed the bald eagles here is because we were sailing in territory owned by Native Americans and it is not under federal jurisdiction.  The captain made a special deal with the Native Americans that allows them to do the feeding on the tours.  I am not certain about these details, but the spectacle is one that I will always remember.


This is a fun excursion that is suitable for all ages.  It was also nice that we were not really affected by the weather since the boat is covered.  I am glad this is the day it was rainy, and not when we went ziplining!


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Disney Alaska Cruise: Onboard in Juneau



We did not have any more plans in Juneau, so we went back to the ship.  Our ship was parked a little farther from town, but there was a free shuttle.  Since we had the time, we chose to eat in the Triton’s dining room, which is open for lunch.


Clockwise: Steak Frites; Salmon Salad; Cheeseburger; Lemon Sole.  All were solid choices!  It was nice to be able to share, too.





For dessert, we had Pineapple Bread Pudding and Lemon Meringue Pie.


After lunch, we watched the new live action Beauty and the Beast in 3D in the Buena Vista Theater.  This is the smaller theater, but both the screen and the sound were excellent.  I really enjoyed this movie.  Now the kids have to see the animated version!  And it was nice that I did not feel like I was missing any scenery, since our ship was still docked.


Dinner that night was at Tiana’s Place.  Since it was our second time dining there, it was a Mardi Gras theme.  The waiters gave us beads to wear, there was lively live music by the Crawfish Crooners, and there was a parade at the end of dinner.


On the way to dinner.


Clockwise: Pickled Gulf Shrimp and Satsuma Orange Salad (light and fresh!); Iceberg Wedge; Sauteed Gulf Shrimp and Grits (highly recommend!); New Orleans Seafood Pepper Pot.  I also ordered the Boudin Sausage Fritters for n to try as an appetizer, but they were too mushy and a “miss”.


I think I have neglected to mention the bread service.  It changed every meal, and sometimes came with dipping sauce.  That night it was herbed brioche.


D and I both had the Cajun Spiced Sea Bass on Shrimp Jambalaya with crisp Fennel Salad and Remoulade.  This dish was solid, so I am glad we both ordered it!


Cute children’s menus.


The kids had the salmon off of the children’s menu.  This time, we asked for some soy sauce.  Not very Cajun, I know.



For dessert we had the New Orleans Bananas Foster Sundae and Tiana’s Buttermilk Beignets.


These could have been a little warmer, but were still yummy.  I know temperature control is difficult when serving such a large crowd at once.


Our head server Mehmet was quite a character and threatened to turn my nephew into a frog!


After dinner we returned to a towel bear, and scenery that would just not quit!




Our evening entertainment that night was the new Frozen musical.  We made sure to arrive early, about twenty minutes before the doors opened to make sure we obtained good seats.  Although the rule is that no one is allowed to save seats, everyone does.  One tip is that there are booster seats for the kids in case you end up behind a tall person.  I would say this show is not to be missed!  In the very beginning, I was a little annoyed by the puppets and nasally voices because I forgot that the story began when the main characters were children.  Once the main story unfolded, however, I was quite impressed with the visual effects and the singing.  I can totally imagine this being fleshed out as a full-blown Broadway musical, like Lion King.  It was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.


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Disney Alaska Cruise: Mendenhall Glacier

On Friday morning, we were scheduled to dock in Juneau, the capital of Alaska.


We had breakfast at Cabanas again, and the kids were a little tired of it.  It would be nice if they changed up the menu a little more there.

One of the main attractions in Juneau is Mendenahall Glacier.  There is a shuttle that departs from the port that costs $35 per person round trip.  However, I did my research and made reservations with Evergreen Taxi.  We were able to hire a van for the ten of us for about $120 round-trip, including admission fees to Tongass National Park.  We scheduled the taxi for 8:15 a.m. so we could beat the first tour buses.  The van was on time and our driver was a talkative guy from Cuba.  The drive took about 30 minutes.  On the way we saw an open field with bald eagles just hanging out on the grass. (Was unable to take a picture).


You can practically see Mendenhall Glacier from the parking lot!  It is quite massive, although it is receding at a rapid pace.

To the right of Mendenhall Glacier is Nugget Falls.


We took a short hike/walk to get a closer look.


Both the glacier and the falls are spectacular by themselves, but seeing them right next to each other is truly magnificent!



Skipping rocks






After we finished taking in the scenery we went to the visitors center.  We watched the short movie and the kids completed their junior ranger booklets.




The taxi driver was waiting for us and we had him drop us off downtown.  We did a little shopping and then headed back to the dock.  This is the Mount Roberts Tramway, that we did not ride, but it is an easy landmark to spot near the dock.


Instead of food trucks, Juneau had a line of these little food huts, which I imagine are similar to the ones in Portland.


Although we planned to eat lunch back on the ship, I wanted to try the famous crab bisque at Tracy’s King Crab Shack.  You cannot miss this place if you are anywhere near the dock.


We arrived before the lunch crowd, so there was plenty of seating.

I am not sure if n is allergic to shellfish, but he was fine with just eating some of the rolls!  D, k and I shared a small cup, which was just right for us to all have a taste.  It had small chunks of crabmeat and a little kick to it; very good on a cold day.

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Disney Alaska Cruise: Grizzly Falls Ziplining + Frozen Night


Each port has several excursions to choose from.  For Skagway, we chose Grizzly Falls Ziplining.  Ziplining has been something D and I have wanted to do for a while now.  Both of the kids had gone on one zipline through scouts.  We boarded a bus and waited for our fellow zipliners.


It seems that there is beautiful scenery everywhere you go in Alaska!

At the base camp, there was a small gift shops and most importantly, clean restrooms.


We then waited for an all terrain vehicle (U-mog) to pick us up.








We got all geared up and were split into groups.  Our group consisted of our family and a mother-son duo.  We were led by Dusty and Makayla.  It seemed that all of the employees were enthusiastic 20-something adventure-seekers.

The first couple of courses were trial runs.  When I was doing research, n was not old enough or big enough for ziplining. This company takes kids six years and up and 50 pounds minimum.  Well, n barely made the weight minimum, so on a couple of lines, they told him to do a cannonball so he would have the momentum to reach the other side.  On the longest line, n had to go tandem with one of the instructors.  k had to pull herself in a little bit on that one too.  Other than that, it was pretty easy, as the instructors did most of the work in stopping and catching us at the end.

Once we mastered letting go of the rope, the next step was hanging upside down!

k was brave enough to try the flip.



I think that I was unsuccessfully trying to do the “ceiling fan” here.

Aside from the two test runs, we went on nine lines.  It was kind of difficult for me to pull my phone out of my pocket while I had all of the gear on, so I do not have too many pictures.

At the end of the excursion, they gave us water from glacier run-off, which was a welcome refreshment.

Three people from our group realized that their Princess cruise ship was scheduled to leave before we were scheduled to return to the port.  They hurried everyone back on the bus and the driver hightailed it back to port.  Meanwhile, the late party was receiving phone calls from their cruise director and they were frantically pleading for the ship to wait.  When we arrived, they ran off the bus, and were able to board their ship.  Lesson learned: make sure your excursion ends with plenty of leeway of the all aboard time so that you are not left stranded.


Our ship was not scheduled to leave until 7:45, but I did notice that we started moving at 7:50!


When we returned to our ship, there was some washing going on.  I appreciated how the crew did such a good job with the upkeep of everything on the ship, inside and out.

For dinner, the theme was “Frozen”, as in the movie.  I had k wear her Frozen-ish dress and we wore light-up snowflake necklaces that were left in our stateroom.  There was supposed to be a Freezing the Night Away party on the top deck, but it was cancelled due to inclement weather.


n did not really have any attire that was appropriate for the occasion!


It was nice that our Frozen dinner was scheduled in Animator’s Palate.  The screens had scenes from Frozen, which added to the ambience.



For appetizers, D had the Oaken’s Red and Yellow Beetroot Salad and Elsa’s Coronation Scallops (Princess scallops baked in a shrimp cognac tarragon cream sauce, topped with flaky pastry).

I had Sven’s Carrot Soup.


All four of us ordered and enjoyed Anna’s Honey Mustard Marinated Salmon.


D continued his adventurous eating and also ordered Hans’s Juniper Wild Boar Filet.



My sister requested extra vegetables and they brought them for our whole table every night.


There were too many desserts that we wanted to try.  They were all delicious!  (clockwise): Elsa’s Chocolate and Raspberry Tart; kids’ Frozen Sundae; Oaken Warm Apple Pudding Cake; Olaf’s White Chocolate Floro Dome.

We returned to a towel elephant.



We were still passing beautiful waterfalls.


The evening show was the newly released Cars 3 movie.  However, we had just seen the movie the week before through D’s work, so we skipped it.  Instead, we took showers, changed into our pajamas and continued to enjoy the scenery.  The kids watched Mulan on television and we called it a night.  We were on our way to Juneau!






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