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Mt. Rushmore … or bust (May 2017)!

5/27/17
Our travel log on our Mount Rushmore RV adventure!

We travelled around 3850 miles on our trip. We spent about $3400 in the RV rental from Apollo RV. I estimated 3500 miles and we were over by 350 miles. Total as was around $1200 with an average of 7-10 mpg depending on road conditions and gas/gallon varied from $2.24 to $2.95 outside of California.

Campground fees were about $1170 and propane at $43.00. The car rental in Custer was $69.00/day and in the Grand Tetons was $225 for 3 days.

Our total, therefore, excluding food and nick-nacks, was just about $6100 for 20 days or about $305/day.

The weather did not always cooperate and we went from 95 degrees at the beginning in Laughlin and 100 degrees at the end in Las Vegas to 25 snowy degrees in Yellowstone. We had more days of windy, wet and cold than dry days. But, that can mid-May weather in the western mountain states.

(andrewcdale@gmail.com = andy who we met in Buffalo, repositioning a Winnebago to Alaska. He lives in Detroit)

Day 22
Thursday, May 25
Apollo RV rental return, 80 miles (CA)
Left about 8:30 am and arrived around 10:30. Returned RV with no problems, very efficient. It was a great trip.

The last tank fill-up was at 3829.3 miles in Bellflower!

Day 21
Wednesday, May 24
Home, 230 miles (CA)
Left LV at 8 am, arrived home about 1:30. No problem and little traffic. We made good time!

I-15 to I-210 to HW330 and home.

Day 20
Tuesday, May 23
Oasis RV Park, Las Vegas, 0 miles
Went shopping at the Dillard’s mall in Las Vegas. Nice not having to drive anywhere!

Day 19
Monday, May 22
Oasis RV Park, Las Vegas, 330 miles (NV)
Went into Capitol Reef NP and spent a few hours exploring the Scenic Drive and eastern portions of Highway 24 under a bright blue sky. Got to play radio for about 30 minutes at the Slickrock Divide turnout. We left the park about 11am and following the direct route (via Google Maps) arriving in Las Vegas right around 5:15 or so, pretty accurate (we had a time zone shift of 1 hour backward).

Went first to the South Point Casino and Hotel for dinner, then checked into Oasis, spot #22 around 8 pm.

We are tired but it was good trip into Vegas. Sandy drove for about an hour, mostly through the Virgin River Canyon, a tough and challenging drive.

Highway 24 from Torrey to Bicknell to Loa to Highway 62 intersection. Highway 62 south to Koosharem to Angle. Highway 62 west to Kingston. West on 62 to Highway 89 south to Circleville and Spry. Shortly thereafter, Highway 20 west to I-15. I-15 through St. George, Mesquite to Las Vegas.

Day 18
Sunday, May 21
Thousand Lakes RV Park, 200 miles (UT)
We headed to Capitol Reef and the National Park camp in Fruita. Knowing it fills up early (first come, first served), I booked a campground in Torrey as a backup.

Left about 9 am and arrived in Torrey about 1:30 pm, drove into Fruita and the campground was already filled, luckily we had the backup in the Thousand Lakes RV Park. The skies were rainy and cloudy and cold all day on the drive. The weather didn’t cooperate in the park either, no sun to enhance the red colors of the landscape. Looked around in Fruita, a beautiful area and picked up a homemade berry pie and ice cream in the visitors center.

Registered in camp, spot #27, about 4 pm with dinner cocktails, spaghetti and berry pie for dessert. We had our 2nd fire here, the only other place that would allow a fire.

Tomorrow is a re-planned big push to Las Vegas, this will give us Tuesday to not have to move at all, a day of rest!

I-15 leaving Ogden to Highway 50, Scipio to Salina. Highway 24 to Sigurd to Loa, Lyman, Bicknell to Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park.

Day 17
Saturday, May 20
Century RV Park and Campground, 250 miles (UT)
We headed back up to Mormon Row for a few more pictures, the weather and lighting yesterday afternoon were not great. On the way, we filled up with propane and took about 5.5 gallons at the Exxon station in Jackson.

We decided to skip the planned 3rd day in Jackson to give us a little more time at the end of the trip. We turned the Jeep in early and lost our campsite and Jeep daily rental fees.

Downtown Jackson was hopping with the May Boy Scouts Antler Auction.

We were on the road headed south through the Snake River Canyon on HI89 to Alpine, Afton, Bear Lake and Ogden by 11:00 am. We were not sure how far south we would go, but we decided to aim for being at Capitol Reef tomorrow afternoon.

Stopped at Bear Lake Quick N Tasty for a Raspberry shake and kept pressing on. The KOA in Brigham City and the Golden Spike RV parks had no room! The lady at the Golden Spike called ahead to Century since we were headed south and they held a spot for us. Actually, this camp for $35 was very nice, clean and a GREAT deal right off the I15 freeway. It was pretty quiet too and the weather was nice and warm. We arrived about 7pm, one of our later days of travelling.

We had hamburgers and corn for dinner on Rosie’s BBQ!

Highway 191 leaving Jackson to Highway 89 through the Snake River to Alpine. South on Highway 89 to Afton, Montpelier, Paris, Garden City, Logan and I-15/89 to Ogden.

Day 16
Friday, May 19
Fireside Resort, 0 miles (WY)
We rented a Jeep and toured the Grand Teton Valley. It was nice to park the RV and be a little more mobile.

Breakfast was at the Bunnery and dinner was at Merry Piglets, in downtown Jackson, right next to each other actually. Both were excellent!

Day 15
Thursday, May 18
Fireside Resort, ∼ 40 miles (WY)
Woke up to light snow at the Coulter Camp. The elevation here is 6800’.

After packing up, we headed to the Jackson Lake Lodge to check it out. Today at 11am was the opening day of the Lodge. Lunch at the Mural Room with the huge viewing windows, was quite nice. Everyone was very attentive as it was opening day. With connection, we were able to call the Fireside Resort and shift our reservations one day earlier.

After working our way down the highway and viewing the Tetons and grizzlies fording a river, we arrived at the resort. We checked in quickly, (changed from #61 to site #93 in the back) and part of our reservation was a Jeep for the 3 days we will be here. I took it to the KMart to get a cooler for tomorrow’s exploration, it will be nice, not to drive the RV around.

Dinner was spagheti, we stopped by the local Albertson’s for supplies in Jackson, a wine shop was next door. No alcohol in grocery stores in Wyoming.

Highway 191 to Jackson, WY.

Day 14
Wednesday, May 17
Coulter Bay Campground, ∼ 80 miles (WY)
Woke up about 5:30 and found snow falling, about an inch, but falling. After breakfast, went down to the store to discover that all the roads out of the park, south, west, east and north are closed. People checking out in the morning were re-checking in as they found the roads closed. Yoy could get to the Lake Lodge, but that was as far west (5 miles) as allowed.

We sat tight until the 1pm weather check, still snowing lightly. The tires on the RV are Michelin M/S rated. The road conditions phone, available outside of the checkin station, still showed all roads closed. The road to Old Faithful goes over 2 passes and those guests, who traveled far, are unable to see this wonder of the world! The prediction was another 1-3” of snow during the day and the same at night.

The update from the office staff was that the south entrance was open to EXITING vehicles ONLY, all other roads still closed. We decided that the roads were wet but not slushy and headed through the Lake Lodge, West Thumb and down the south entrance to the Jackson Valley and the Tetons. As a hedge, we didn’t turn in our checkin stub, just in case, we had to turn around and return.

Of the 4 planned nights in Yellowstone, we stayed only 2.

We made it without issue, the highway was great, and arrived at Coulter Bay Campground around 4pm, site #D-43. Full hookups for $63, (ouch) with very few amenities. It is the only open RV campground this early in the season.

We fueled up at the entrance to the camp and had tortilla casserole for dinner.

Highway 20 around Yellowstone Lake to Highway 191, south entrance to Coulter Bay.

Day 13
Tuesday, May 16
Fishing Bridge RV Campground, 0 miles (55 miles just touring about) (WY)
After breakfast, we decided to head to Old Faithful and the Upper, Midway and Lower Geyser Basins. Our first stop was the Lake Village and the Lake Hotel. It reminds us of the Hotel Del in San Diego, same style of architecture. We made a reservation for 5:00 pm dinner, figuring we’d be out the whole day.

Old Faithful didn’t disappoint, it went off at 12:27 or so, very impressive. It is cycling about every 90 minutes or so right now.

We made it to Midway to see Grand Prismatic Spring and the Fountain Paint Pot at the Lower Geyser Basin. Travel took us to Madison and we hoped to do the Firehole Canyon Drive, but it was closed to RVs.

Our trip back to the Lake Lodge was pretty quick and we made in just in time for dinner. Sandy ordered the Alaskan Salmon and I had the Bison Tenderloin. It tasted just like beef, nothing to distinguish it.

I played radio and made 20 contacts for KFF-0070, Yellowstone NP on 40 and 20 meters. I was on for about 1:15 minutes stating at 02:00 (8pm local?) and ending at 03:11 UTC on 5/17/17. Tough conditions. As I was putting the gear away, snow was starting to lightly fall.

Day 12
Monday, May 15
Fishing Bridge RV Campground in Yellowstone NP, 250 miles (WY)

We dumped again in Buffalo at the camp, the gages showing 2/3 black and everything was cleared out, maybe we were on a slant on the pad yesterday.

From Buffalo, we took I-80, and 16 west via the east entrance to Yellowstone. We stopped in Cody for propane, gas and groceries at the Albertson’s. Lunch was at Mojo, a sandwich shop that had a great turkey/swiss panini and a nice hearty tortilla soup. We were leaving Cody right at 1:00 pm. Travel via Highway 14 was beautifully scenic with lots of snow melt flooding the Shoshone River. We crossed 2 mountain passes, one at 9666’ in the Bighorn National Forest and one at Sylvan Pass at 8530’ in Yellowstone NP. As we dropped into the Yellowstone Basin, the clouds were starting to give very light snow showers, pretty cool. We saw bison and pronghorn as we dropped into the valley. Most portions of the lake are still lightly frozen over and snow berms up by the passes were pretty impressive, some places 10’ high.

We checked in about 3:00 pm and settled into spot D116. Fishing Bridge Campground is only for hard sided RVs because of the grizzly/black bear activity around the area.

We walked over to the general store, the path from camp to the store is still snowed over, so we took the street. A cute place with pretty much everything you need.

The elevation here is 7700’, Lake Yellowstone level.

Dinner was the leftovers from Buffalo, Pie Zanos.

Highway 16 to Worland from Buffalo, Highway 20 to Greybull, Highway 14 to Cody. Highway 14 to east entrance to Yellowstone and Fishing Bridge Campground.

Day 11
Sunday, May 14 (Mother’s Day)
Deer Park Campground, Buffalo, 150 miles (WY)
We dumped at Deadwood, but still had about 1/3 left in the black tanks according to the gages. After having breakfast in camp, we took off for Buffalo.

We took the scenic Spearfish Canyon drive out of the Black Hills from Deadwood and Lead, very scenic, but other areas are just as spectacular.

A slight detour to Devil’s Tower in WY was pretty cool for photo ops and it helped to break up the drive.

Lunch was at Subway in Moorcroft, WY.

We drove throught the Indian Camp RV park and Deer Park camprounds first in Buffalo. I was tired of the KOA stuff (see Deadwood) and didn’t relish another night in one. We drove into town, picked up dinner at a place that Sandy found on TripAdvisor, then proceeded to camp.

Dinner was Pie Zano’s in Buffalo. Excellent take out, we had antipasto, bread and chicken alfredo. Cannolis for dessert, pistachio and chocolate chip, they were yummy.

Upon arrival around 4:00 pm, we met out neighbors, who are taking the same exact RV on a one-way re-positioning trip to Alaska for Great Alaskan Holidays. They offer mid-May departures from the Iowa Winnebago factory to Alaska. We will check this out for next year! Randy, our neighbor is at andrewcdale@gmail.com

Highway 85 from Deadwood to ALT14 to Lead to Spearfish Canyon. ALT14 to I-90 west to Sundance, WY. Highway 14 to Highway 24 to Devil’s Tower. Highway 14 to I-90 to Buffalo, WY.

Day 10
Saturday, May 13
Deadwood KOA, 50 miles (SD)
We left Palmer and headed up to the Mt. Rushmore National Park. It took just about 10 minutes and we found a nice place to park the RV. The views of the monument are spectacular. We did everything in about 2 hours and decided to head over to Keystone, just beyond the monument to explore. It was pretty small, so we decided to head to Hill City and Deadwood, Sandy read up that is would be a fun place to check out the small town gambling.

Change of plans, we would have to backtrack to Palmer if we headed to Deadwood. On our way, we decide to just stay in Deadwood to save some time for tomorrow.

We picked the Deadwood KOA and notified the Palmer Gulch KOA, that we were checking out a day early (we ended up staying in Palmer Gulch 2 of 3 planned nights). The Palmer folks were nice enough to refund the 3rd night for us.

At Deadwood, we were at the B27 site. This KOA was very narrow and the spots very tight. Even though, the camp is not full, the checkin folks try to keep campers together. It was just an ok site.

Deadwood is a cute little town that allows small scale gambling within city limits. There was trolly shuttle into town for $1/each and we hopped on the next one. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane made this place famous. At the trolley dropoff, wee grabbed a city bus tour with Alkalai Ike, pretty corny but entertaining.

The Legend’s Steakhouse in the Franklin Hotel was dinner. It is the number 1 dining place and was ok. It is the only game in town and does get very crowded. We stood in line for a 5pm seating. We took a cab back to the campsite.

Highway 244 to Keystone. Highway 16A and 16 and Highway 385/85 to Hill City and Deadwood.

Day 9
Friday, May 12
Wind Cave National Park (Palmer Gulch Day 2), 0 miles
Today we rented a car and headed over to Wind Cave NP. It would be easier to just leave the RV parked. We had to do our first laundry, so we headed to Custer on the way. The Purple Pie Palace was lunch after a stroll through the town. The french dip, to go, was quite tasty and the laundromat across the street was clean and efficient and friendly.

At the Wind Cave picnic area, we had our lunch, then proceeded to the cave tour. The box formations in the cave were pretty cool.

We headed back to Palmer via the Needles Highway for some spectacular views. You couldn’t drive these roads with an RV due to narrow, low tunnels and pretty tight twisty roads. We turned the car in. Since the RV was staying in place, Sandy made her chicken enchilda casserole crock-pot recipe in the morning. We thought it would be done too early, she had set it to cook for 6 hours, but it ended up at 8 hours with no problem. It was delicious!

This was our first fire on the trip with the camp firepit. Wood bundles were $6/bundle, ouch, advertised outside of the camp for $3 or 2 for $5. We managed to get the cable working and Sandy was watching her 2 Hallmark channels!

Day 8
Thursday, May 11
Palmer Gulch Day 1, 35 miles (SD)
From Custer Cabins, Sandy discovered a Black Hills Aerial Adventures heliport on the way to Crazy Horse Memorial. We took the “deluxe” air tour of the Black Hills. After the last few days of weather, it was a beautiful day to go flying in the morning. The views were spectacular. Friday, was the first official opening day of the heliport operation.

The Crazy Horse Memorial was pretty amazing, lots of work done with no federal dollars spent. Lunch was Buffalo Stew and salad bar in their restaurant.

We opted to backtrack a little and do the Wildlife Loop Road tour before checking in to Palmer. It was an amazing loop with bison, pronghorn and praire dogs.

We checked into Palmer Gulch, site #148 late afternoon. Nice, level and the camp is HUGE, a big operation! We headed to the Ponderosa restaurant for dinner, country fried steak (huge portion) and caesar salad for dinner.

Highway 385/16 to Highway 244 to Palmer Gulch and Mt. Rushmore.

Day 7
Wednesday, May 10
Custer Mountain Cabins and Campground, 250 miles (SD)
We left AB Camping RV Park in WY, headed to South Dakota. It was cold and rainy as we headed out. The weather was not cooperating.

A quick stop at FE Warren AFB for photo ops with the missiles in front of the guard shack, good memories of careers long ago.

A rainy and windy 250 miles or so was ahead. Instead of staying at Windcave as planned, we opted to stay at Custer Cabins in Custer to have full hookups. The weather was helping our decisions. After the weather we were having, we were not anxious to rough it too much.

As we climbed into the Black Hills, the weather cleared for us. Custer Cabins had slow internet. Our first BBQ steaks with Rosie’s provided. Nice location, spot #16, very empty camp.

I-25 from Cheyenne to Highway 85 north to Lusk. Highway 18 north to Edgemont. Highway 89 to Pringle. Highway 385 to Custer via Highway 16A.

Day 6
Tuesday, May 9
AB Camping and RV Park, 200 miles (WY)
From the Pueblo KOA, we had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel down the road. Sandy went shopping at the Dillard’s, while I went to the Target for a few more supplies before we took off.

We drove through darkly building clouds in Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins and arrived in WY after a rainy and wet drive. Our spot was S-26, in the back forty.

TripAdvisor recommended the ChopHouse in Cheyenne. A quick stop at the Walmart for a water filter and off to strolling through the local quilting store and dinner. Dinner was not too bad, the ChopHouse is a chain in WY and MT, I think.

I put out the ‘welcome’ mat upon setting up camp to clean off our feet before entering the RV. We left to find it missing! I left the broom and ‘welcome’ mat to re-orient ourselves when we returned. I walked around camp after we returned and found that my next-door neighbor decided to help himself to it. I knocked on the door, took it and walked off!

The camp has nothing to write home about except the internet here was nice and fast, but we were close to the access point. Again, $ in mid-forties.

I-25 through Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins to Cheyenne, WY.

Day 5
Monday May 8
Pueblo KOA, 300 miles (CO)

The water heater went out, we noticed it in the morning at Santa Fe Skies. Therefore, we had showers in the shower house today at Santa Fe Skies.

We called the Apollo RV road-side assistance number and they were working on a repair in Pueblo for us. Luckily for us, Action R’N’v Mobile RV Repair Service (278 Dinosaur Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87508) was just a couple miles down the road in Santa Fe. We showed up at 10 am and he swapped out the water heater “brain” and all was well after $380 or so. We were done by 11am. We notified the road-side assistance folks.

We dumped at the commercial station in the camp in the morning before leaving for the repair.

Lunch was in Las Vegas, NM at Charlie’s Bakery. Amazing New Mexico chili adovada carnitas with posole. Sandy had a chicken enchilada.

Driving north on I25, the skies gradually darkened and we got rain and more wind. Progress was slow but we made Pueblo just in time for an amazing sunset. We spotted a Cracker Barrel and Sandy knew that there was a Dillard’s in Pueblo, tomorrow’s adventures!

Our campsite was B02, again a so-so camp. I am getting tired of KOAs. They are portrayed much better than they look. And, they all seem to run in the $45 range.

The weather further north that evening, in Denver, had golf-ball sized hair, so we lucked out being on the southern edge of the front! Sharon, Sandy’s cousin got rained out for a Rockies game 2 years in a row, there was a picture of the field in white.

I-25 east and north to Las Vegas, NM. I-25 to Pueblo.

Day 4
Sunday, May 7
Santa Fe Skies RV Park, 320 miles (NM)
We headed east from Homolovi to the Petrfied Forest National Park. We did the loop from south to north, starting at Holbrook. The Jim Grey rock shop in Holbrook is loaded with stuff. The NP is amazing, the northern painted desert lookouts were panoramic! However, we spent too much time in the park and were late in resuming, I think we were on the road about 1pm, late!

We continued through Albuquerque (joining I25 north) to Santa Fe, again the wind. The campground was just ok, we were down in the D loop, a strangely laid-out campsite.

Spaghetti dinner. We had water and electricity, again $ cost in the mid-forties.

I-40 to Petrified National Park. I-40 to Albuquerque. North on I-25 to Santa Fe.

Day 3
Saturday, May 6
Homolovi State Park, 250 miles (AZ)
We climbed out of Laughlin, through Kingman headed east on I40. Today’s drive was about 250 miles and we arrived at Homolovi in the afternoon. It was a windy drive, very tiring to battle the vehicle.

After finding and paying for our site (#35, only $25), we headed into Winslow to “stand on the corner” (Eagles song) and check out the sites. A quick drink and cheese platter snack at the La Posada Hotel in town and back to the campsite.

Homolovi is very clean and nicely laid out, lots of space. I would stay here again for sure. There are indian ruins around the site that can be investigated if you are interested in that sort of stuff.

Highway 68 to Kingman. I-40 to Homolovi State Park.

Day 2
Friday, May 5
Riverside Resort Campground, 220 miles (AZ)
We decided to just head for the Riverside ($21) to get our bearings with the RV. We stopped at Bed Bath and Beyond and Target for supplies. We really hit the road about 11:30 am. At BBB, we picked up a queen size 3” Temperpedic mattress topper and it made all the difference in the world for sleeping!

Luch was at Panera in Barstow.

The site was fine and the electrical hookup was easy-peasy. We arrived around 3pm for Cinco De Mayo.

Highway 330, I-210, I-40 to River Road.

Day 1
Thursday, May 4
Pick up RV from Apollo RV in Bellflower.

RV Shakedown Trip: December 7 – 12, 2016

RV road trip – December 7 – 13, 2016

We picked up a class C motorhome from Cruise America in Riverside on Wednesday, December 7 to be returned on Tuesday, December 13.

The trip was actually from Thursday, returning Monday (8 – 12).

We left Running Springs about 12:45 pm., a little later than desired. We were headed east to Laughlin, NV, staying the first night at the Riverside Resort RV Park. We picked up the motorhome with 5/8 gas to be returned that way.

Itinerary (on the fly, except for first night)

Heater is extremely noisy but very efficient propane-wise. We plugged in every night and we burned just 2 of the 12 gallons of propane on board. The propane runs the heater and the refrigerator when not on 110v power.

Trying to mitigate the noise of the heater, we tried the following sleeping arrangements. The “Queen” bed in the back measures 80” long by 54.5” wide.

  • Night 1 together in the queen bed
  • Night 2 Dave in the overhead bunk at front, Sandy on the dining table. Way too much noise for her too close to the heater.
  • Night 3 Dave in the queen bed and Sandy in the overhead.
  • Night 4 Dave in the overhead and Sandy in the queen.

The overhead isn’t quite so bad, it is far enough from the heater and heat rises, so it was pretty comfortable.

Mileage stuff: Reset Odo A and B to 0. A is the total trip, B is each gas fill-up leg.

  • Leg 1, December 7 and 8 (Wednesday and Thursday)
    Cruise America, Riverside to Valley Oak, overnight. Valley Oak to Riverside Resort.
    289.5 miles, odo A.
    Filled up 31.773 gallons at Flying J, Barstow for $2.329 = $74.00
    Reset Odo B to 0.0 in Barstow
    170 miles from Barstow to Laughlin.
    We picked up the RV with 5/8 tank and will return it as such.
  • Leg 2, December 9 (Friday)
    Gas in Kingman at odo B, 208.3 miles
    Filled up 25.645 gallons at Flying J, Kingman for $1.969 = $50.50
    Reset odo B
    208.3 miles from Barstow to Kingman
    MPG = 208.3/25.645 = 8.1 mpg
    Arrived Temple Bar about 3pm
  • Leg 3, December 10 (Saturday)
    Temple Bar to Lake Mead RV Village
    No gas fillup required
  • Leg 4, December 11 (Sunday)
    Lake Mead RV Village to Las Vegas, Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort
    Filled up 19.015 gallons at Shell in Henderson for $2.419 = $46.00
    Reset odo B
    169.5 miles from Kingman to Temple Bar to Hoover Dam to Lake Mead RV Village to Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort
    MPG = 169.5/19.015 = 8.91
    Arrived LV about 12:15 pm
  • Leg 5, December 12 (Monday)
    Oasis RV Resort to Barstow, 185.9 miles
    Odo b = 185.9 with 20.609 gallons
    MPG = 185.9/20.609 = 9.02
    Added 2 gallons to propane for about $7.50.
  • Leg 5, December 12 (Monday)
    Barstow to Running Springs
  • Leg 6, December 13 (Tuesday)
    Running Springs to Riverside
    No fill-up required, returned vehicle with about 3/4 tank

Comments:

  • We might try the campground at Boulder Bay in Lake Mead. We didn’t try dry camping and that would have been a good place to try it.

Summer 2016 Viking “City of Lights” Cruise

Day 1 – June 20, Monday
AF065 LAX to CDG.
The Air France Airbus A380-800 was a nice way to fly. The flight left at 3:30 p.m., right on time. Spent some time in the Skyteam Korean Air/Delta/Air France lounge prior to departure. We were in seats 63A and 63B and we boarded on the upper turtle deck air-stair. Very nice business class seats.

Day 2 – June 21, Tuesday
Paris
We arrived in Paris about 11:30 a.m., collected our luggage and looked for our AirFrance Le-Bus Direct bus transfer to the hotel. We booked the bus fare online prior to leaving. We were on Line 2, the Green Line, from CDG to Tour Eiffel. Porte Mailott was the first stop and it took about 45 minutes from the airport. The fee per person was 17.00€.

We stayed at the Le Meridian Etoile on Boulevard Gouvion. A Viking representative, Francois, was there for our check-in and she gave us a vicinity map and had our room check-in already covered. We just had to wait for a couple of hours for the keys.

For a late lunch, we wandered down the road from the hotel to La Trattoria di Bellagio (101 Avenue des Ternes, 75017 Paris), the food was OK, not great. Across the hotel was the Hyatt Regency and the mall. I dragged Sandy to the Orange Boutique store to pick up a sim card for the iPhone 5. For 40€, we picked up a 2 week phone/data plan (2 hours, 2000 text and 2GB data) that was plenty. The Orange store was just past the Arc de Triomphe. It was a Euro Cup special promotion. I could not find a data plan for the iPad Mini 4. I found out later that I should have purchased another Apple Sim Card and I could have gotten an iPad plan online. The Apple sim card in the iPad IS universal BUT IT IS LOCKED TO ATT in the U.S.

Dinner was wine and cheese from the mall across the street, in-room dining! We were tired.

Day 3 – June 22, Wednesday
Paris
Breakfast at the hotel was included each day. It was very nice and expansive, but very crowded due to the ongoing Euro Soccer Cup. Lots of fans throughout the hotel, restaurants and Paris!

This was our day to explore Paris via L’Open Tour. We met the bus at the Arc de Triomphe stop late morning. We ended the tour at the same place, it was fast, hot and a whirlwind tour. We had lunch at Bistro Romain Champs Elysees, they are on Yelp and Travelocity. It was a great place to people watch, the food and beer, Kronenbourgh 1664, was fair.

Dinner was at the steak place, Brasserie Le Sud, attached to the hotel. Sandy’s salmon was wonderful and my skirt steak (from Argentina) was pretty chewy!

Day 4 – June 23, Thursday
Paris
We were on our own, bought an all-day metro pass and took it to the Notre Dame stop. There is no cost to tour the cathedral, it was amazing.

Lunch was at Cafe Notre Dame across from the cathedral. We had ham and cheese baguettes with french fries and were able to use the bathrooms with FREE tokens.

Sandy set us up for a 6:00 p.m. champagne cruise. We had to get to the dock at the base of the Eiffel Tower and had planned on taking the metro again. But, we met a nice rick-shaw driver, Kevin, and he gave us a bicycle tour of the Notre Dame to Eiffel Tower path. He was a great tour guide!

We arrived in plenty of time for the River Seine evening champagne tasting tour. We used Vedettes de Paris as the booking agent. The tour lasted 1 hour and we took a tour up and down the Seine sipping and learning about champagne.

We took another rickshaw back to the Arc, this one was battery operated by a quiet lady with no conversation. She tried to upcharge us with “fee per person”.

Dinner was at La Maison on Rue Saint-Ferdinand, recommended by Francois and shown on our map. We met Paul and Darlene, future cruise friends, sitting next to us at dinner. Paul’s NY steak looked great. I had Sea Breem, a dinner special. It was perch with lots of bones, awful! Sandy had a sausage special, presented in a spiral fashion, which also was pretty weird! We should have stayed with safe choices!

Day 5 – June 24, Friday
Paris
Paris City Tour with Viking busses, we were on the Orange Bus. This was one of the 2 extra paid excursions. We toured the city and went to Notre Dame (again), a pre-arranged lunch at a restaurant near Notre Dame, and then the Louvre. We had very little time in both places but it was fun. Dinner was a glass of wine and a sprite at the bar. I was feeling a little out of sorts and not too hungry.

Day 6 – June 25, Saturday
Paris to Trier and the Viking Odin, Germany via bus.

Luggage out the door at 6:30 a.m., and 7:45 a.m. departure on the bus with breakfast in-between. We were on a schedule.

We made a stop at the Autogrill (near the Aire de Riems Champagne) on the way to Luxembourg for lunch. On our own for lunch and to explore. Lunch was at Brasserie du Cercle, good Italian pasta.

We had a tour of the American Cemetery after boarding. From there, we motored for another 2 hours or so to Trier and boarded the Viking Odin with the crew welcoming us aboard. We arrived about 5:00 p.m. A VERY LONG DAY. It drizzled/rain most of the day.

We had a bottle of champagne in Room 312, a Veranda Suite (code AA). Room 312 had a bedroom, bath and small living room. The windows in the bedroom were full sliders and there was a little patio off the living room where we could sit outside. We met our steward attendant, Dorina. Dinner was Chateaubriand. It was probably one of the better meals on the boat. Dinner is free seating and we were able to mingle throughout the dinners meeting different people. The wine was very fluid.

The Odin was docked for the night, I thought we would be cruising but we didn’t leave until the next morning.

Day 7 – June 26, Sunday
Trier to Schweich to Bernkastel
A 9:00 a.m. shore excursion was available to explore Trier. We just decided to pass and explore the boat and relax a little. At about 10:00 a.m., the boat cast off, the tourists would catch up with us as the boat sailed down the Moselle River. The Moselle flows through the Lorraine region.

The Odin traveled backward for about 1/2 hour, at a fork in the river, the boat turned around and resumed floating down the Moselle river. Somewhere in the discussions, it was mentioned that we would travel through 42 locks. With its bow and stern thrusters, the boat could slip sideways pretty much anywhere it needed to be.

The travel plan was to travel down the Moselle river, then upstream on the Rhine and upstream on the Main to Bamburg, our final river destination. A bus trip to Prague would complete the vacation.

This is the way it would work most times, we get dropped off and the boat sails away to our next port, where we catch up with it after our shore excursion.

We were headed for Schweich and by the time we arrived, the tours were back and re-boarded. We then had our 12:30 afternoon safety briefing, everyone donning their life vests in their assigned evacuation area. We were in the lounge, right side group.

At 3:30 p.m., there was a live cooking demonstration by the head chef in making Ofenschlupfer, or german bread pudding. A volunteer was requested and Sandy volunteered to be the chef’s assistant. We have some cute pics of her in her chef’s hat and apron! (see IMG_4341.jpg)

We floated to our next location, Bernkastel, we arrived about 5:30 p.m. We had signed up for an optional Bernkastel Walking and Wine Tasting tour. (We signed up for 2 optional tours on this cruise, this was the 2nd.) The excursions are timed so lunch and dinner meals sometimes shift slightly. Dinner tonight was at 7:30. The wine tasting was at Dr. Pauly’s Wein Probier-Keller winery. The tasting took place in their cellar area and we tasted 4 rieslings. They ranged in price from 12.50 to 24.50€. Interesting, the area of the Rhine is noted for white wines, 92% and 8% red wines. Our favorite was #2, the 2014 “Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Riesling Feinherb”. They are all a little sweet. (see IMG_4367.jpg)

Day 8 – June 27, Monday
Cochem
We arrived at 8:00 a.m. in Cochem and took the shore excursion, the Cochem Walking Tour and Visit to Reichburg Castle. (see IMG_4400.jpg). The castle was built in the 1100’s. It was razed to the ground in 1689 by troops of Louis XIV. In 1866, it was restored with a mixture of styles. We were back on board for lunch. We went searching for the purple peach jam mentioned during the castle tour, we found it with help from the tourist information center. The peach is a Mosel Vineyard Peach.

By 7:00 p.m., we had sailed down to Winningen to prepare for tomorrow.

The evenings entertainment was the Fischer Family, a group of “traveling troubadours”. We swore that one of the women had to be a cross-dresser (from afar), but she was just of hearty German stock! We missed the show, too crowded.

Day 9 – June 28, Tuesday
Winningen/Koblenz to Lahnstein to Aschaffenburg
Our morning excursion was the included Marksburg Castle tour (see IMG_4455 to IMG-4503.jpg). Once we were off, the ship cast off headed for Lahnstein where we would catch up to it before lunch.

Somewhere in the journey, we transitioned to the Rhine River, there is a peninsula and statue. (see Ehrenbreitstein fortress (23).JPG, this is a Viking USB stick picture).

See the picture of the Lorelei Rock, the mermaid. We were floating in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The “Lorelei maiden used to sit and sing sweet songs. Woe to the sailor who passed the rock at nightfall and was lured to his doom …”

Day 10 – June 29, Wednesday
Aschaffenburg to Miltenberg to Karlstadt
Wednesday morning we woke up to Aschaffenburg with our shore excursion to the Heidelberg Castle. The ship headed off to Miltenberg. This tour was from 9:00-5:45 p.m., a long day! Heidelberg has its university, “Germany’s answer to Oxford”.

The Heidelberg Castle tour was amazing (see IMG_4659 to IMG-4713.jpg). This was a long day. Mark Twain visited here, the largest wine barrel in the world (250 years old, shaped from 130 oak trees with a capacity of 50,000 gallons) is here.

This was the place to shop with shopping stretching for 1 mile in the center of town. We crossed the Alte Brucke (Old Bridge) to rub the monkey for good fortune!

We opted out of the university student lunch and did our own thing looking for schnitzel. Sandy found the Kathe’s Christmas Store and used her coupons passed out on the boat. Lunch was at Zum Guldenen Schaf, a place recommended by Boyen, our tour director, but it wasn’t the place he recommended. It was still pretty good!

The ship arrived in Miltenberg about 4:00 p.m. and cast off for Karlstadt about 5:30 p.m. The shore tour folks, us, boarded the busses and met the ship in Miltenberg. There was a delay in the ship in the lock or something, so we cooled our heels with free ice cream in a little park awaiting the Odin.

Day 11 – June 30, Thursday
Karlstadt to Wurzburg Alter Hafen to Zeil am Main.
Today was the Bishop’s Residenz and Walking Tour (see IMG_4729.img). We returned by 1:00 p.m. No photographs were allowed inside the residence, but the grounds and the surrounding area were allowed. Asian groups ignored the “no photo” signs and clicked away. The Bishops Residenz is “one of Germany’s finest baroque palace ensembles, built between 1720 and 1744.

We had free time and lunch at a little Italian cafe in one of the town squares. It was nice to people-watch and drink some Martinsbrau Marktheidenfeld (I think!).

The afternoon was shuttle service from where we docked into the city for the afternoon. I think we just relaxed on the boat.

This was the “Farewell Toast and Dinner” celebration, a day before the last day of the cruise.

Day 12 – July 1, Friday
Zeil am Main to Bamberg
The excursions didn’t start until 1:30 so the morning 10:00 a.m. disembarkation meeting was mandatory for at least one person in each party. It was a pretty simple process, orange tags on the suitcases by 6:30 a.m. and off the boat by 8:00 a.m. (tomorrow’s plan).

We had a leisurely lunch before the afternoon excursions.

The 1:30 p.m. Bamberg excursion was a walking tour of the town. We made a trek to the Schlenkerla brewery/beer garden to try the Rauchbier, or smoky beer. It was interesting, probably not one of my favorites. Bamberg is a beautiful town with a river running through it.

Day 13 – July 2, Saturday
Bamberg to Nuremberg to Prague.
We went to see the Zeppelin Field, walked around and then toured the city via bus. We got to see where the Nuremberg trials took place. Nuremberg is a walled city.

Lunch was on our own, we were dropped off in the center of town at the Hauptmarkt and given some free time. There was the Frauenkirche Clock (Männleinlaufen) that at noon, had a cuckoo clock display as the bells rang, it was pretty cool. We tried the finger-size brats at Bratwursthausle, they were pretty good, but the waiter had a bad attitude. Pretzels were charged by the item, not like here in the US.

On our way to Prague, we stopped in the Pilsner area, at a roadside Autogrill for a potty break. The big thing here was the Rozvadov McDonalds at the rest stop. The place was packed. Pilsner Urquell was all over the place, in that we were in the Pilsner area.

We stayed at the Prague Hilton, a nice big place, arriving about 5:00 p.m.

Dinner was at the hotel bar/restaurant, it was fair. Everyone was on their own for whatever.

Day 14 – July 3, Sunday
Prague
Breakfasts were included and again, there was plenty of choices.

There was a City of Prague tour included that we decided to skip and do our own thing. We walked around to the Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock and the Palladium Mall. Lunch was at La Corte (Na Porici 1053/44, Prague 1), an Italian place with authentic old family recipes. It was just OK, not spectacular.

Sandy had her shopping map laid out and we were headed to “Garnet” central. She was able to find them at Granat store near the 4 Celetna avenue.

Dinner was to be at Kolkovna Celnice (V Celnici 1031/4, Prague 1), a traditional Czech cuisine place, but the service was non-existent. We wanted to try this place because Paul and Darlene tried it the night before and the goulash was fantastic they said! We wandered across the square to Kings Court Brasserie for our last dinner and people watching. The schnitzel and creme brulee were delicious!

Prague was extremely crowded.

Day 15 – July 4, Monday
Prague to Paris
AF1383, an Airbus A321 left at 9:25 a.m. and arrived at 11:45 a.m. We were in seats 02A and 02B in business class. Viking was nice enough to get us on the 7:00 a.m. bus airport shuttle, even though we had NOT booked this airport transfer.

We stayed at the Hilton Paris CDG to lay over a day so that we could take the Airbus A380 back to LAX. The Hilton shuttle van picked us up and dropped us at the hotel, it was very convenient. The Hilton was OK, food was expensive and we streamed the TV show “Limitless” on the iPad with the Hilton Honors free WiFi.

Day 16 – July 5, Tuesday
Paris to LAX
AF066, an Airbus A380-800 left about 11:00 a.m. (scheduled at 10:30), we were in seats 61A and 61B. A nice flight.

Our Global Access card worked great (Sandy’s fingerprint scanner had a glitch and she had to process with the agent manually) and we cleared customs quickly with their scanning passport and fingerprint scanner system.

We took a $20 taxi to the Century Ave. Radisson hotel and had Douglas pick us up there, easy peasy!

January 6, 2016 – Discovery Harbour Return!

Arrived safely in Discovery Harbour. HA1 from LAX to HON was a killer flight, 6.5 hour travel time due to 120-185mph headwinds. These were from the 4 El Niño storms that were tracking across the Pacific headed to California.

When all was said and done, during the first week of January, about 16″ of snow fell in Running Springs! We missed it!!

September-October 2014 in Discovery Harbour!

Friday, September 19 No problem on Hawaiian 001 from LAX to HON. We were in Economy Plus, seats 14A and B. On an Airbus 330, these are right behind first class in the cabin in front of the airstair. Between our seats and first class was nothing and plenty of room to stretch out. Nice pleasant flight! Tommy and Cherub picked us up at KOA, had lunch/dinner at Bongo Ben’s in Kona. Ahi fish sandwich was pretty good. Arrived home, tired but excited. Everything looks intact and in great shape except for the garden. We’re not sure what Dennis did.

Saturday, September 20 Kona errands and BBQ for dinner.

Sunday, September 21 Work day in the garden and hooking up the Bose and Yamaha sound system. A good rain in the afternoon and evening. It sure does rain a lot here.

Tuesday, September 30 We found 3 coffee plants at the Hilo Home Depot store when we visited with Doug and Francine Soper last Friday. Their house is framing along nicely and they shared some tips with us about Hiki Ku. Today, Sandy planted the coffee in the 2nd garden, we’ll see how they do. We spotted a neighbor on our walk with a row of coffee plants, picking the red berries. They do grow here and time will tell our success.

Thursday, October 2

Doug arrived today, fights on time and all is good!

Sunday, October 5

Sunrise this morning shared the smoke coming off the Kilauea caldera. Very cool to see!

2014 August 1-15 60th Birthday UK Celebrity Cruise

August 1 – Friday We packed up and headed out about 3:00 pm, just on time headed for LAX and Virgin Atlantic VS 24 direct LAX to LHR. We diverted for dinner in Long Beach and invited Emily Lees over for a quick bite. She lives in LB and it was an easy trip after work for her. We arrived at LAX just about 8:00 pm, but luckily our check in a security were a breeze. During check-in we were given the option to upgrade our economy seats for “more” legroom to the tune of $70 each. It was worth it, but we noticed that not all of these seats on the flight were taken. VA keeps some of these seats on hold to offer to passengers when checking in. The flight was long, about 10.25 hours but flying overnight is a little uncomfortable but tolerable. VA provides free drinks (wine, beer, hard alcohol/mixed drinks), somewhat edible evening snack/dinner and a quick breakfast. I would fly VA again.

August 2 – Saturday We arrived in Heathrow right on time with no shuttle to be found. Clearing immigration was about an hour long, customs was a snap and by then the driver was released. Sandy called the shuttle service who released our driver after an hour wait. We missed him by 10 minutes, supposedly. The service directed us to take up the prepaid cost with our travel agency. A cab fair to the Millennium Gloucester was fun and quick. This should be interesting. Sandy already sent an email to Christine at AAA, we’ll see. Dinner was across the street at the local pub, the Stanhope Arms, the fish and chips were OK and the beer was so-so. I’ve had better in England.

August 3 – Sunday A day for exploring London before boarding the boat tomorrow. After an American buffet breakfast, which was pretty inclusive, we headed for the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. A Tube run to an above ground train ride (to the Cutty Sark stop) and 1 hour later, we arrived at the Royal Observatory. After wandering lost a bit, we found the observatory on the top of the hill on the grounds. A fee lets you into the observatory and the actual Prime Meridian monument. It was well organized and you can stand on the Meridian! The folks behind you are nice enough to take your family picture. There were very many creative poses. After the Meridian, we had a quick lunch refresher before heading to the northwest side of London to the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio. After just about 1.5 hours, we arrived. One leg of the tube was closed until 11:00 a.m., which caused us to have to divert, but the system is very flexible and easy to navigate. Our appointed tour time was 5:00 pm and we arrived with a few minutes to spare! Dinner after a 1.25 hour ride back to the Millennium Gloucester was across the street at another local eatery, the Patisserie. Not good, not recommended. Everyone was tired and cranky and early to bed for the cruise crew!

August 4 – Monday Left the hotel at about 9:30, picked up some additional folks at the JW Marriott and then arrived at Harwich about 1:00 p.m, a very uninteresting drive through town and rural areas. I wasn’t sure if the driver was taking the fastest route or the route that took the most time. We were not on the first bus to board. Check in for the Celebrity Infinity was very quick for those of us on the Concierge class and we ended up boarded and in the rooms by about 1:30 pm. If you are on the Captain’s Class, check-in is even faster. Sandy and I were in Room 8094, Rosie and Tommy in 8122, Douglas in 8124, all on the starboard side. We were in front of the mid elevator and they were aft of it. Dinner was our first meal at the dining room. The meal is just like other cruises, you can mix and match whatever you like from the daily menu and the special meal of the day. On the first dinner, dress is casual, you CAN come in wearing short pants. Other nights, men must wear pants of some kind, the boys were OK with jeans. Everything is sized smaller so that you can have many options and not be overly stuffed.

August 5 – Tuesday Normandy and Paris trips, kids to Paris and us to Normandy. The trips were both amazing, kids had fun and we had a sobering experience. Figure on 2 hours to Normandy and 2 hours to return to the ship, 10 hours total, a LONG day. The Normandy excursion is not to be missed, the sacrifices these guys made for future generations was truly amazing. This is an early start trip, tough on the first day with an 8 hour time difference. The Caen Memorial Museum luncheon included wine and a salad bar and leg of “duck” for each person. While not the greatest meal, it was nice to relax with new acquaintances and some delicious bordeux. Our trip made it back in time for dinner, the kids did not, but their trip was a lot longer. Paris was fantastic, BUT lots of “old” people” on the bus!

August 6 – Wednesday St. Peter’s Port. Disembarkation was via tender and the wait wasn’t too bad, about 15 minutes. We just decided to have a relaxing day and spend the day in town. The town was cute, small, but not worth spending the whole day. We had lunch back on the ship and everyone took a nap in preparation of the formal dinner drew-up extravaganza at the Qsine Restaurant. The Qsine dinner meal was quite the gimmick, menu on an iPad and really meant to be experienced as a group. Each item selected is meant to be shared in a “family style” depending on the number of people in the group. Our menu had sushi lollipops, tacos, lobster escargot poppers, baby back ribs and spring rolls, donkey tacos (make your own guacamole) indian something, painter’s filet, disco shrimp, chinese…  For dessert, we had creme brulet, make-your-own cupcakes, apple streusel. We arrived for our 6:00 pm reservation and left about 9:45 pm. This meal was the highlight of our trip so far. Not to be missed.

August 7 – Thursday Today we arrived at Cobh (Cove) in Ireland. It is the seaport dock to the city of Cork. Disembarkation wasn’t until 10:30, just a walk off the gangplank, nice and simple. The train trip to Cork was only 25 minutes and we did the hop-on, hop-off bus around Cork. Lunch at the Nosta was just OK, pretty greasy pizza if you ask me. Before re-embarking, we had a “pint” at the Mauretania bar/pub in Cobh. Our highlights were the locals drinking Murphy and Beamish Irish Stout. You don’t drink Guinness in the Republic of Ireland, you wait until you reach Northern Ireland! We just couldn’t do the formal meal in the Trellis Restaurant, but we all ended up at the Ocean View Terrace for buffet style dinner. It’s nice to have options.

August 8 – Friday Liverpool was a walking day, off the ship and exploring the city. We managed to find the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals, both are amazing, but the Anglican is just amazing. The church was designed by a 21 year old architect in the 1880. We were lucky to meet a retired Anglican minister who gave us a mini-tour. He capped it off with a wedding blessing for Tommy and Rosie. On our way to the Catholic Cathedral, we stopped at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, quite a well-known watering hole for a pint!

August 9 – Saturday Dublin was taxi to central town and then a Hop On, Hop-Off bus tour  of the city. Our highlights were the Guinness Brewery  and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. Guinness includes a free pint and a Gravity Bar on the 7th floor for a fantastic 360 view. The order-ahead skip the line Guinness price was $20 US. The Jameson tour includes a taste test at the end (for 8 lucky select people) of their whisky against a 2 distilled Scotch and 1 distilled American whisky. Well worth the price of admission of 17 euros for adults. Irish whiskey vs. English/Scotish whisky.

August 10 – Sunday Belfast was the arranged Celebrity tour of the Giant’s Causeway. It was about a 2 hour bus ride to the geological viewing area. The hexagonal basalt towers are much like those in Devil’s Postpile in the Sierra Nevada range behind Mammoth. Our tour guide was really chock full of information and she managed to talk the entire way, except for a few silent stops of just a matter of minutes. On the way back, she serenaded us with song, she was really quite informative. Just a tad wordy though. A “wee dram” is just 1/8 ounce, I came to learn.

August 11 – Monday Today we had a private tour arranged by Fran Marquez of Celebrity special tours to the Sterling Castle and Glasgow for shopping. Fran will be leaving next year to continue his own tour business in Spain, he was most personable and we should look him up when we travel to Spain. The castle was amazing, we spent easily 2 hours just self-exploring. Lunch was at the Corn Exchange restaurant. Shopping was in downtown Glasgow, the girls shopped and the guys headed to the Counting House for a top-off. It is much nicer going by private coach, the schedule is yours and you can feel much more relaxed. Our coach driver, Ian, was chock-full of stuff and kept us entertained. Our Private Excursion organizer, Francisco (from Celebrity), did a great job in the organization. Francisco and his wife (in future cruise sales) have been on the ship for 7 years and in 2015 will be ending their cruise contracts to start a family and continue their own cruise tour company in Spain. We do need to get their business card so when our travels take us to Europe. Dinner was at the Trellis View restaurant. Tommy has gotten into the groove and now orders 2 of the main course, mixing it up to explore.

August 12 – Tuesday Day at Sea. Nice and lazy day, nowhere to go except on the ship. Lunch marathon Farkle game! Dinner was at Qsine for the 2nd time. This approach was to try everything we didn’t have the first time. I think the first dinner, where we were not sure of the dining approach was better. The seas were roll-y and the swells were noticeable. Sick sacks were about everywhere. We were traveling outside on the high seas for the first portion of 405nm journey. Heading west at 285 degrees had all passengers and crew walking in interesting ways. Once we had turned to a northerly direction, we were sheltered with the Hebrides Islands on the left and the mainland of Scotland on the right. The ride became noticeably smoother.

August 13 – Wednesday Kirkwall hike to Mull Head . It was cold and wet and rainy when we left the ship at 8:00 am. We arrived at the starting point with the sun starting to peak out. The hike was about 3 miles in length, the drill-sargent-guide was brutal, the trail dripping with water and full of puddles and mud, but, it was fun and memorable. The views of the coastline here on the islands around Kirkwall were amazing. Tonight is the last formal dinner. The food is getting old.

August 14 – Thursday Another day at sea. A lazy return down the North Sea to Harwich. I attended the Ships Navigation talks by the 2nd in command and Sandy and I went to the Galapagos tour Celebrity presentation.The kids had fun at the Constellation Lounge, it seems the other like aged kids came out as well and a good time was had by all. Somehow in returning his Scotch Jameson bottle to Douglas, the staff managed to ruin the outside box label. Even with our complaining, nothing could be done. Because we were 3 cabins, we could not purchase all 3 cabins picture CD without a cost of $250 per cabin. That finally was negotiated down to $250 for our cabin and $125 for the other 2 for a total of $375. We all agreed that this was extortion and bought not a single picture.

August 15 – Friday We woke up in Harwich, arriving early in the morning. The system is well organized and each cabin has their bags out the night before, 11:00 pm in our case. Our morning’s departure included a tour of Windsor Castle on the way to the airport. The tour call time was 6:45 a.m. with a 7:30 departure and a 1:30 arrival to Heathrow. The cruise line puts like time-flying people together on the buses. Douglas was headed to Sweden so was not on our bus 3, but on bus 4. It worked out, we all ended up at the castle about 10:30 am. We will have to come back and spend some more time in this area. The shops and restaurants are nicely laid out around the castle area. We saw a Travel Lodge and Holiday Express around the country-side. Lunch was the the Horse and Groom around the outside of the castle walls. The Seafarers Ale was delicious as were the fish and chips, huge pieces, big enough for 2 people.

We arrived at Heathrow right at 1:30 and had a quick checkin for our Virgin Atlantic VS023 flight back to LAX. Flight time was 10.5 hours and dinner was the In-n-Out by LAX on Sepulveda. This was a great trip with many awesome memories.

FUTURE TIPS:

  • Bring ham radio HT, you can listen to the International Coast Guard stations from boat to boat or to port.
  • Bring a small serving tray for coffee to go when you need something to eat/drink in the stateroom.

iPhones and Internet Access Doug and Rosie’s Verizon iPhone 4S were unlocked in the US before we left. The 2nd step was to add the SIM card outside of the US to complete the unlock. Rosie left her phone in the US, so we couldn’t complete that unlock. With the unlocked Verizon iPhone 4S for Doug, we purchased a Vodaphone SIM card with unlimited text and calling and 3GB of data for 30 pounds (I think). We bought this at a Vodaphone store in Greenwich.

iPads We purchased a SIM/data plan for the always unlocked iPad Mini (Rosie) and iPad Mini Retina (Sandy) from Lebara, a front for EE service. We had to go across the street to the Lebara/EE store as the Vodaphone store had a large tour come through that morning and they purchased all the SIM cards that the store had. This gave 10Gb of data for each device in the UK (England and Northern Ireland and Scotland, whereever the pound is used). It did NOT work in the Irish Republic because it is NOT the UK (they use the euro). The data plans were about 15 pounds each. It took about 24 hours to transfer each devices IMEI number to the EE plan. Lebara/EE gives you 50Mb of data as a starter plan while the system configures the devices for the 10Gb data plan. The EE cell system did NOT do 4G, but the 3G was mostly adequate and the prices were hard to beat. The iPads worked well within shoreline access, out at the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, they were out of service.

ATT iPhone Our ATT iPhone 5/5S are not unlocked so they could not be used in Europe. Keep one of the ATT iPhone 5 phones so that we can unlock it, and then it can be the backup phone for Europe on our next travels.

Ship Internet The Internet package I purchased was 250 minutes for $109. I ended up with about 45 minutes surplus. Most of the time was spent keeping track of Hurricane Iselle as she headed to the Big Island. It is, as to be expected, painfully slow. You create an account with username and password. You can use your account on any device, but just one device at a time. I was able to use it on Sandy’s Macbook Air and my iPhone and iPad. It is easier to access email on the iPhone or iPad, because I have to use Gmail in a browser on the Macbook Air.

Ship Prices On Ship Prices Prices are very expensive and EVERYTHING is additional on the ship, for example:

  • Soda can $4.50
  • Bottle water, $4.50 and $6.00
  • Beer, bottle from $6.50 (Amstel Lite, Heineken) to $9.50 (Guinness, Sierra Nevada)
  • Wine, 1/2 carafe $11.00
  • Tea and coffee are free
  • The 3 and 5 bottle wine (for dinner) selections are also extreme, 5 “premium” bottles for $250, you can corkage them for other evenings.
  • Happy Hour martinis are $7.00, normally $14.00!

Per cabin, Celebrity automatically assesses a $12.50 gratuity per person. For our 15 day cruise (August 1-15), the fee was about $375. This kept it hard for us to really tip anyone for exemplary service. Celebrity Cruise Concierge class was a disappointment. The Concierge desk on Deck 8 was not very exciting. Aqua class may be a future choices if cruising Celebrity. Aqua class has a separate dining restaurant and their own private lounge.

Electricity England hotel electric plugs are the big 3 prong plugs. On board the cruise boat, the plugs are 110 US standard and 240 Europe (Italy for us) standard plugs. The Europe plugs are the NARROW round 2 plugs, not the thicker Asian plugs. All computer/phone adapters are dual voltage. Recommendation for future: bring some of the Europe and England plugs to cover all the bases.

Winter in Hawaii

March 22 – Friday

Rosie returns to Chico, sad.

March 21 – Thursday

Beach day at Spencer State Beach in Kawaihea. A nice area to just sit and relax. Dinner was at Lava Lava beach club. It is a great location, but the food is average and over-priced for dinner.

March 19 – Tuesday

Relaxed day, homemade tortillas with beans and pork carnitas. Yummy!

March 18 – Monday

Shopping day at the Hilo Hatties and Ala Moana Mall in Waikiki. There are way too many people in that city. We returned to Waikoloa on the 4:30 pm flight with Rosie.

March 17 – Sunday

St. Patty’s Day tour of North Shore and lunch at Cholo’s in Halaweia. Food and drinks are over-rated for sure. Green margaritas!

March 15 – Friday

Rosie arrives from Sacramento, direct to Honolulu. She was able to get away for another spring break week (Friday to Friday). She will head home from Kona to Kahului, Maui to Sacramento. We head to North Shore to stay at Ko’olani Kai ”Tranquil Sea”. This was a gorgeous location on La’ie on the northeast side of the island, right on the water. But … as with most places, location and price and amenities don’t always match up. We had noisy upstairs neighbors and the parking situation with our Chevy midsize was a nightmare.

March 14 – Thursday

Trip to Oahu, staying at Outrigger Waikiki, right in the center of Waikiki and across from the International Market Place. Dinner was in the hotel at Chuck’s Steak House, eh.

March 11 – Monday

Douglas returns to Oakland. Movie theater in Kona to see …

March 10 – Sunday

We attempt at paddle boarding at A-Bay, too much wind

March 9 – Saturday

Kona brewfest

March 8 – Friday

Paddleboarding

March 7 – Thursday

Morning surf too at 505

March 6 – Wednesday

Pacific Whale Foundation whale watch. Surfing 505 spot in Lahaina

March 5 – Tuesday

Alii Nui (http://www.aliinuimaui.com) to Molokini

March 4 – 7 Monday – Thursday

Maui staying at the Outrigger Royal Kahana (http://www.outriggerroyalkahanacondo.com)

March 3 – Sunday

Fishing on the Vixen with Bomboy Llanes (https://www.facebook.com/BomboyBigGameFishingLures), not a single hit, most disappointing.

March 2 – Saturday

Lazy day, whale watching from shore north of Kawaihea, mile post 5-6 or so.

March 1 – Friday

Douglas arrives from Oakland to OGG to KOA.February 23 whale counting, pizza from Pu’a pizza in Waimea

February 17 – Sunday

Stroll down Alii Drive

February 15/16 – Friday-Saturday

Hilo overnight trip.

February 14 – Thursday

Valentine’s Day! First sub day, Waikoloa Middle School social studies 7 and 8th grade classes. Lesson plans were adequate and it was a fun day. We tried the Valentine’s special dinner at Don the Beachcomber in Kona, nothing to write home about. It has nice atmosphere but that’s about it.

February 10 – Sunday

Hilton Hawaiian Community College culinary arts fundraiser. Community culinary arts college students prepared champagne brunch. Local vendors/restaurants provided dessert snacks. The desserts were much better than the brunch. Disappointing.

February 7 – Thursday

Nana leaves.

February 1 – Friday

Whale watching with Nana and trip to Hawi. We saw lots of whales, no close-in breeches though. Travelled north and ate at Bamboo Restaurant. Always good food!

January 29  – Tuesday

Ocean Sports whale watching trip out of Kawaihea cancelled due to weather.

January 23  – Wednesday

Nana arrives from LAX to Oahu to Kona.

January 16 – Wednesday

Work day

January 15 – Tuesday
Good rainy night and a work day for Sandy. Rain woke me up about 2:00 a.m. Shake-n-Bake, mashed potatoes and corn for dinner, yummy comfort food.

January 14 – Monday
Rosie travels back home and we did some errands in Kona. Late lunch at Taco Bell and dinner was Costco chicken and munchies. No hiccups on their travels, everything was on time and they landed about 8:25 p.m. in Oakland.

January 13 – Sunday
We went north shore sightseeing to Waimea, the Waipio Valley overlook and Laupahoehoe county park. The surf was high and fun to watch, different than in the summer for sure. Final dinner for the kids was at Kamuela Provision Company (KPC) at the Hilton. We mentioned several times that our steaks in the past have been over cooked. This time, we celebrated Rosie’s upcoming 23 birthday and the steaks were perfect. I had the New York cooked medium!

January 12 – Saturday
Paddleboarding at Kawaihae. The water was calm and everyone got to stand up on the boards! Date night for Rosie and Tommy at Hawaii Calls (at the Marriott) and ahi tuna BBQ for Sandy and I. We went to the Chicago concert at the Queens Bowl.The lawn seating was great as were the views of the band. Not quite the old Chicago, but pretty darn close!

January 11 – Friday
Whale watching on the Alala out of Kawaihea harbor. Saw, according to the naturalist on board, 13 whales! Drove down to Kona to pick up the truck and had dinner at Kona Brewing Company!

January 10 – Thursday
Golf day, managed 9 holes and 4 players, late lunch at Banjy’s and a nice refreshing salad for dinner.

January 9 – Wednesday
Fishing with Reel Action and spa day for the ladies. Caught 2 mackerel was our total catch. Dropped off the truck at Trans-Tech for clutch and bearing replacements. Went to the Hollywood movie theater and saw “The Guilt Trip”. Don’s Mai Tai Beach bar for pupus, sunset and Mai Tai’s!

January 8 – Tuesday
Drove around to Hawi looking for whales and things to buy. Tri-tip from Costco for dinner. A total of 20 minutes cooking on a pre-heated grill, 5 minutes per side, rotated.

January 7 – Monday
Rosie and Tommy flew in from Oakland to Maui and then to Kona. They were on time and everything went smoothly. Lava Lava for late lunch Cashew Chicken for dinner!

January 6 – Sunday
Spent the day retrieving the truck and unpacking all of our stuff. We took a trip down to Kona to Safeway and Costco to stock up on supplies. Lunch was at KBC, a good pizza and salad combo! Crashed early after dinner.

January 5 – Saturday
Hawaiian 003 (10:30 am) and 188 (3:30 pm) from LAX to Honolulu and Honolulu to Kona were both on time. We arrived in Kona about 4:30 p.m. and grabbed the rental car. The truck has the pilot bearing going out on it with a repair scheduled for this Thursday and Friday.

January 4 – Friday
Spent the day packing and getting everything in order to move. We shut off the water down below before we left for dinner down the hill. After dinner at El Torito and driving down to LAX, I realized that we did NOT have the condo keys … so we had to make a trip back from Pomona to home to grab the keys.

We didn’t arrive at the Marriott/LAX until about 10:00 p.m.!