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After visiting Sydney and Melboure, Australia we were finally ready to board our ship, The Sea Princess.  By noon we were back at the hotel from our Hop On And Off Trolley we had taken to the international market.  Since it was only a block away to the ship we made two trips.  We got our suitcases checked in and went back to the hotel for our carry-ons.

Boarding the ship was pretty easy since so few people got on in Sydney.  The ship, which is one of their older ships in the Princess fleet, holds just under 2,000 passengers.  It started in Brisbane.  Then 400 of us got on in Sydney, although some of those people will get off in Auckland, New Zealand.

In Auckland they will take on another 400 passengers and then we would be on our way.  We found out later there were only 26 Americans on board.  We would travel across the South Pacific to Santiago, Chile, where we got off.

We only did a small segment of the cruise (21 days) but many people were on for the whole cruise. After Santiago the ship would continue south to the tip of South America and then all the way up the Eastern side and through the Panama Canal.  Then they would travel half way back down the western side of South America before heading back to Australia.
That evening the ship sailed and we began our journey East back through several time zones. We moved our time up an hour that night and the next day was the first of three days at sea before we reached our first port.  We were sailing in the Tasman Sea and the Coral Sea was just above us.  This was a typical sea day.  I looked in on trivia, went to a couple of dance classes and got ready for dinner.  We were at a table for 4 where we met a very nice Australian couple.  After dinner I went to the show with a Johnny Cash impersonator who was very good.

The next sea day was a shopping spree outlet day and my brother and I bought some T-shirts for $6.99 Australian (only about $5.00 US). I spent time in the gym and sauna and went back to line dancing class and trivia.  There are so many activities onboard you always felt very busy.

That evening was formal night.  After dinner there was a champagne reception and then we saw a light opera show.  After that was another show with “Mr. Sandman.”  He had a box of sand and made incredible creatures in the sandbox.  When we went to bed we had to change our time forward once again.

Our third sea day was a repeat of the day before.  We read a lot and I went to trivia again.  I met two couples from Australia I sat with every day for trivia.  I didn’t know much Australian trivia and they didn’t know much American trivia so we made a great team. There was a sit down pizza restaurant on board and we decided to do that for dinner.  Then we watched a movie under the stars.

The fourth sea day we landed! We were in Auckland, New Zealand.  We had reservations for the Hop On & Off Trolley as well as Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.

There are two large islands in New Zealand.  One is called the North Island and the other is the South Island.  Auckland, the country’s largest city, is on North Island.  Although there are tall buildings downtown the landscape is unique with cones, craters and lakes.  These came about due to eruptions from the Auckland Volcanic Field a long time ago.

The Hop On & Off Trolley met us right on the ship’s dock. This was called the Red Line. Our second stop was Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium so we got off.  There was a large penguin display that was pretty awesome and then we went on a rolling floor called the shark cave.  We watched huge sea mantas and sharks above and beside us.  There was even a tank full of the largest lobsters I have ever seen.  They have to keep them apart from other sea life because they said they are constant predators.  Sure wish I could have eaten one!

After the aquarium we got back on the trolley (it stops every ½ hour) and continued on to the Auckland Museum.  This held a huge collection of Polynesian artifacts as well as memorabilia from the two world wars.

At the museum we transferred to the Blue Line.  This took us to another part of the city.  We saw a soccer field that was built inside a crater, although you couldn’t really tell any more.  Our most interesting stop on this line was Mount Eden.  This is the highest point in New Zealand and is the top of an extinct volcano.

The Blue line ended back at the museum and we transferred again back onto the Red Line.  We went through an old part of town with lots of shops and restaurants that was quite charming.  They mentioned that Bill Clinton liked the area so much he had visited there twice.

Our next stop was Sky Tower, 1,072 feet high.  It is the tallest free standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere.  Like the Space Needle in Seattle and other similar structures sprinkled throughout the world, you ride a glass elevator up to a platform with 360 degree views.  Once you get off the elevator the tower has glass floors which make it a little scary.

If you have ever been to the Sears/Willis Tower in Chicago you know there is a small glass area you can walk on and see the ground below.  But on this tower the whole platform had a glass floor which was a little eerie to walk on seeing the ground so far below.  This last summer I was in Seattle and they said they were rehabbing the Space Needle and would be putting the same type of glass floor in that structure. The tower also had several restaurants and even a casino but we did not stop.

The trolley took us over four hours to complete and then we found an internet café so we could check online messages. The ship sailed at 5:30 p.m. and we sat on our balcony sipping wine as we slowly watched the city slip away.  It had been a fun day.

The evening show was the cultural songs and dances of the region and we called it an early night after that.

Next up: Our cruise continues

***Note***  I am having a special book sale.  If you go to my website (www.kileenprather.com) you can preview the first few chapters of each book.  I am selling the books for $10.00 apiece and if you buy three or more, shipping is free.  For more information email me at:  kileenp@gmail.com.   Great idea for Christmas gifts.

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***Note this is the 2nd part in a series.  My brother and I took a 21 day cruise across the South Pacific last winter.  Before the cruise we explored Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.***

After arriving in Sydney, my brother and I decided to take a side trip to Melbourne to see a little more of this wonderful country. We were flying Jet Star which is a budget airline.

After a long walk through the terminal we arrived in a waiting room.  My son had told us about an app called “What’s Up” which we loaded on our phones.  As long as anyone we knew loaded it onto their phones we could call or text our friends and relatives for free anywhere in the world where there is free Wifi.

We wanted to try it out so we called our brother in Madison, WI.  It was very weird.  It was Sunday morning for us in Sydney but early Saturday afternoon for him.  It was strange speaking to him like we were near each other instead of thousands of miles away and the call was free!  If you are traveling overseas I would definitely recommend you and your family and friends downloading this app.

Next was our budget airline surprise at a big airport like Sydney.  We didn’t have a gate at the airport.  Everyone was bused (it took 3 buses because it was a big plane like Southwest) out to the tarmac where we walked up the steps to board the plane.  On arrival we were in for another surprise.

An hour and 15 minutes later we arrived in some place called Avalon.  It was a tiny little airport that only Jet Star uses.  We were not in Melbourne.  We were 40 miles away and had to take a shuttle for $22 each to get to the city.  Melbourne does have a regular airport but we never saw it.

Staying at another Holiday Inn we once again lucked out.  We arrived downtown around 10:00 a.m. and discovered they had a room ready for us.  Regular check-in is 2:00 p.m.  So we put our bags in our room so we could begin our tour of the city.

Before our trip started we found a site called “Viator”.  You can get hotels, airline, or tickets to attractions whatever you need all over the world at discount prices.  We had preordered the Hop On & Off Trolleys for both Melbourne and Sydney.

Our Melbourne Trolley was for 48 hours and included an airport transfer on the return.  Naturally we discovered we would not be able to use the transfer since we were at the alternate airport.

The Visitor Center where we needed to catch our trolley was a distance away but the hotel told us there was a tram one block around the corner that ran all over and the downtown area was a free zone.
So we were off on our adventure.  We were hungry but one of the stops was the Queen Victoria Market.  This is the largest open air market in the Southern hemisphere.  We decided to get off there for lunch and shopping.

The place was huge—at least two city blocks wide by a long city block deep.  There were also little cafes everywhere as well as a food court.  Being so close to the ocean naturally I ordered the fish and chips and it even came grilled which I prefer.  About an hour and a half later we hopped back on our sightseeing bus.

By 5:00 p.m. we were worn out and stopped at a convenience store and got a sandwich for dinner that we ate in our hotel room.

The next morning we once again took the free tram to the first trolley stop. There are two separate tours in Melbourne.  Yesterday we had done the city tour so today we were taking the St. Kilda tour.  This area is south of the city and is considered Melbourne’s seaside suburb.

I enjoyed this area and we hopped off to stroll through the little shops and have lunch at an outdoor café.  The day before had been very hot but a cool front had come through so it was quite pleasant.  It had also been so hot the day before that a great white shark had been spotted near shore so the beach had been closed to swimming.

Since we saw everything there was to see we took an earlier shuttle to the airport.  We were hoping to get on an earlier flight, but no luck.  They had plenty of seats available but wanted to charge us $300 extra.  So we sat in that dinky airport and read while we waited for our 8:45 p.m. flight.  This was definitely all part of the learning experience.

We did not get back to Sydney until after 10:00 p.m.  We found a cab to take us to Darling Harbour for our luggage and then on to our Holiday Inn in Old Sydney for the next two nights.  To say we got in late was an understatement!
We had another 24 hour Hop On & Off Trolley scheduled for around Sydney.  Since we got in so late we decided to sleep in.  By starting our first tour around noon we were able to use the trolley until noon the next day and then it would be time to board our ship.

We did two tours.  One was all around the city of Sydney and the other to the Bondi Beach area.  I liked Sydney; especially the old mixed with the new.

We also discovered the city had two cruise terminals.  Much to our surprise there was a Princess ship parked across the street from our hotel when we awoke and the hotel desk said our ship, the Sea Princess, would be docked there the next day.  That would save us a cab ride to the other terminal since we could just take our suitcases across the street and down the steps.

For dinner that night we walked down the street to the “oldest pub in Sydney.”  My brother decided on the Kangaroo steak and it was surprisingly good.  It tasted like filet mignon.

We got up early the next morning and took The Hop On and Off Trolley to the City Market, called Paddy’s Market, which had been closed since our return from Melbourne.  There were a couple of hundred stalls with all kinds of souvenirs.  My brother found a hat he liked and we got sweatshirts at $10 apiece.  I just hoped we could find room in our suitcases for our purchases.

Next up: Our cruise

***Note***  I am having a special book sale.  If you go to my website (www.kileenprather.com) you can preview the first few chapters of each book.  I am selling the books for $10.00 apiece and if you buy three or more, shipping is free.  For more information email me at:  kileenp@gmail.com.

 

I like to cruise in January for my own personal vacation.  There are two reasons for this.  First the week after New Year’s is the deadest time in the cruise industry so prices tend to be rock bottom if you watch for the sales.  And second where ever I travel on a ship, I unpack once and keep moving.  Spending over 100 nights in hotels every year, staying in one room for long periods of time is very appealing.
This year my brother wanted to go to the South Seas.  Since paying a single supplement doesn’t appeal to me, we found a cruise that seemed good for both of us.  I have 2 credit cards—one for airline mileage and the other for stays at Holiday Inns—so I have enough points to fly free and stay free in the hotels in the cities I travel to. This definitely helps with the cost of the vacation.
The first leg of our journey started in El Centro, California where a 12 seat plane took us to LAX.  Naturally there wasn’t a flight attendant.  The pilot turned in his seat and opened his curtain to tell us information.  This was definitely a first for me.
At LAX my brother and I split up because he was flying a different airline.  Crossing the International dateline I lost a day.  Fifteen hours later I arrived in Sydney Australia.  There was a seven hour difference minus a day in time from where we had departed.
I know it sounds like a long flight but we left in the evening so I slept most of the flight away.  Plus they served a snack and two meals so the time seemed to go by quickly.  I have done a lot of overnights or longer on trains so this did not seem that long of a journey.  And you have plenty of free movies you can watch to make the time go quicker which you don’t have when traveling by train.
On arrival (9,000 miles later) I discovered Customs was easy.  We had to get an Australian Visa ahead of time but we did it online so it wasn’t difficult to do.  I must have been listed in the computer because they never asked for proof on arrival.  Perhaps this was just a good way for them to tax you coming into the country.
Luggage carts in the airport were free which is unheard of where I come from… or go!  It took awhile for the shuttle to arrive but I got to the hotel around noon and luckily my room was ready. After 15 hours of flying I was ready for a shower and change of clothes.  As I finished up my brother arrived.
It was a lazy afternoon.  There was a huge Public Market right across the street from our Holiday Inn Darling Harbour.  We stored our excess bags at the hotel for our return from Melbourne and went out to explore.
We discovered we were also just around the corner from Chinatown, which was very lively since it was a Saturday.  By 4:30 p.m. we went back to the food court in the Market and had a Chinese dinner since Chinatown was so packed.
By 6:00 p.m. I could no longer keep my eyes opened.  I am not sure how long my brother stayed awake.  The downside of going to sleep so early was I was awake @ 3:00 a.m.  However we were planning on getting up at 4:30 a.m. to catch our flight to Melbourne so I got on my computer for an hour since the hotel had free Wifi.
Next up:  Melbourne, Australia

***Note***  I am having a special book sale.  If you go to my website (www.kileenprather.com) you can preview the first few chapters of each book.  I am selling the books for $10.00 apiece and if you buy three or more, shipping is free.  For more information email me at:  kileenp@gmail.com.

 

Here’s a great little trip you can take, especially to see the fall foliage in the Ozark Mountains, but also good in late spring or during the summer.  The Ozark Mountains in Arkansas beckon you.  I wrote once about Mountain View, a mountain music and crafts center mecca but this area is also great to visit.

Let me tell you a little about the Hot Springs area.  Everyone knows Bill Clinton was born in Hope but about 70 miles north nestled in the mountains is Hot Springs.  He moved there as a young man and I remember hearing stories of how his mother loved playing the ponies at the Hot Springs horse track.

But there are a lot of other things to do in this area known for its thermal springs and bath houses. The water that flows from the underground springs are believed to have healing abilities and were first discovered hundreds of years ago by Native Americans.

While here you may want to consider a sunset dinner cruise aboard the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat.   A visit through Hot Springs National Park is also a must. Then onto the opulently restored Fordyce Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row is a site to behold.  (this is also where the National Park has their Visitor Center).  Finally check out the Gangster Museum where you are transported back to the 20s, 30s and 40s when gambling and bootlegging coexisted with the warm mineral waters of this awesome little valley town.

Nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks, the quaint town of Van Buren offers a chance to step back in time by strolling through the beautifully restored Victorian Main Street.  Then you can climb aboard the Arkansas-Missouri Scenic Railroad. The turn of the century passenger cars with their elegant mahogany interior which was the norm in the golden age of rail travel, is fun to ride.

Since you are a hop skip and a jump away from Branson why not continue on to this music mecca.

An evening aboard the showboat Branson Belle with dinner and entertainment is a great end to a wonderful day.  This was the best tasting food I have ever had on a riverboat and the entertainment was good, too. Since you are in Branson, what else can you do?  Take in a show, of course.  There are morning shows, afternoon shows and evening shows.  Some of the shows you can take in are The Osmonds, The Million Dollar Quartet, Down Home Country, The Brett Family Show, the Clay Cooper Country Music Express, The Haygoods Show, and #1 Hits of the 60s and the 50s.

And if you enjoy these shows come back anytime in November and December to see their special Christmas shows.

So much to see and do in magical Arkansas.

I have been doing tours in Colorado for years but for some reason have never been to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The park is only a 2 hour drive from Denver but it is to the north and we don’t usually go that direction.   However we have recently changed one of our tours to include this park and I was really excited to get a chance to visit.
A popular summer resort and the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park lies along the Big Thompson River. The town has a population of just over 6,000 and it’s elevation is 7,522 feet.
There is early evidence of Native Americans living in the area for hundreds of years. In the 1850s, the Arapaho spent summers camped around Mary’s Lake, where their rock fireplaces, tipi sites, and dance rings are still visible. They also built eagle traps atop Long’s Peak to get the war feathers coveted by all tribes.  They battled with the Apaches in the 1850s, and also fought with the Utes who came to the area to hunt bighorn sheep.
Whites probably came into the Estes Park valley before the 1850s as trappers, but did not stay long. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes, who founded the community in 1859. Estes moved his family there in 1863.
Griff Evans and his family came to Estes Park in 1867 to act as caretakers for the former Estes ranch. Recognizing the potential for tourism, he began building cabins to accommodate travelers. Soon it was known as the first dude ranch, with guides for hunting, fishing, and mountaineering.
In 1884, Enos Mills (1870-1922) left Kansas with his family and came to Estes Park, where his relative Rev. Elkanah Lamb lived. That move proved significant for the area because Mills became a naturalist and conservationist who devoted his life after 1909 to preserving nearly a thousand square miles of Colorado as Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mills was a sickly boy and he believed he gained strength form the pure mountain air.  He opened an inn and led many hikers through his beloved mountain range.  Between logging and a chance encounter with John Muir (the “Father of the National Parks”) after Muir died in 1914, Mills began lobbying Congress to save the land as a National Park. He succeeded and the park was dedicated in 1915.
Today, Estes Park’s outskirts include The Stanley Hotel, built in 1909. An example of Edwardian opulence, the building had Stephen King as a guest, inspiring him to change the locale for his novel The Shining from an amusement park to the Stanley’s fictional stand-in, the Overlook Hotel.
The town was also the site of the organization of the Credit Union National Association, an important milestone in the history of American credit unions.
Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved highway in the United States, runs from Estes Park westward through Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching Grand Lake over the continental divide.  It is a forty-eight mile road and you reach the summit where the Alpine Visitor Center is located at 12,183 feet.  Wow…talk about cold and windy but breathtaking.
The park is one of the most visited and with it’s location so close to Denver one can understand why.  There are 56 mountains over 14,000 feet in Colorado and as you travel through the park you can see Long’s Peak to the south; the northernmost “fourteener” as those mountains are called, at 14,259 feet.
One third of the park is above timberline and that makes sense with over seventy 12,000+ foot high peaks in the area.  As you drive the Trail Ridge Road the first stop is Horseshoe Park, full of wildlife, especially elk.  And the Bighorn Sheep feed regularly at Sheep Lake.
There are many places you can stop to hike or camp but just driving the road can also be exciting.  Once you get past timberline you can see the importance of this park in protecting the fragile alpine tundra, where trees can not grow due to such very harsh conditions.  Over three hundred very hardy alpine plants make up this area.  Twenty fiver percent of these plants can also be found in the arctic.  This is also a wildlife sanctuary for the many Bighorn sheep who are a symbol of the park.
After you reach the summit, the road descends to Grand Lake and the Colorado River.  The river starts in the park and if you travel on I-70 you can follow it to Grand Junction where it turns south to the Grand Canyon and beyond.
If you are interested in reading more about Colorado be sure and check my two part articles called “Colorado by Trains.”  Colorado is truly an exciting state to visit.  Although it is not known as “The Mountain State”–that title belongs to West Virginia–it is truly a wondrous mountain state.
        I recently wrote an article on the Oregon Lighthouses so I thought I would do something on the Atlantic Ocean.  The problem is you could write a book if you started talking about the East Coast lighthouses so I decided to concentrate on one important area in North Carolina.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a lot to offer.  It extends more than seventy miles on the northeast part of the state.  It includes three islands: Ocracoke, Hatteras and Bodie Island. These islands are connected by a free bridge and free ferry service.
Actually the first two Bodie Island Lighthouses were on Pea Island, an area now underwater.  The first one, built in 1847 was abandoned due to a poor foundation.  The second, built in 1859 was destroyed during the Civil War.  The current lighthouse was built in 1872 and is 156 feet tall.  Currently the public is not allowed to climb it.
After your visit, it’s time to move on to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with a climb up the 257 steps to the top if you are adventurous.  This area has always needed a lighthouse because of the shoals in the area.  There are two ocean currents in this area, the cold Labrador and the warm Gulf Stream.  And when these waters collide, they cause ever changing sandbars which means lots of shipwrecks.
The funds were given in 1793 but the structure at Hatteras wasn’t finished until 1802.  Over the years they kept making modifications, especially when they realized the light wasn’t strong enough to warn ships of the dangers of “the Graveyard of the Atlantic.”  The 208 foot brick lighthouse was finally moved to its present location in 1999.
Next we take a ferry to Ocracoke Island.  Native Americans have lived on this island for a long time and European presence started in 1719.  This island has a lot of history, including pirates, and recently many artifacts have been found from its past. The original lighthouse was built in 1794 adjacent to the island but was obsolete in thirty years since the main channel changed and then lightening destroyed the structure.
In 1823 a new lighthouse was built on the island and is 75 feet tall.  The walls are solid brick 12 feet thick.  There is an octagonal lantern at the top which houses the light beacon.  This is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation.
If you have time you could also journey to Kill Devil Hills to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  There is a Park Ranger program and Visitor Center that exhibits information on the brothers background and the development of the gliders as well as the 1903 Flyer.
Just west of the camp buildings is a large granite boulder commemorating the take-off point.  And you can climb Big Kill Devil Hill for a breathtaking view of the area from the sound to the sea.  On top of the hill stands a 60 foot Pylon, the site where Wilbur and Orville conducted their glider experiments.
From sea to shining sea there are so many incredible sights to explore in our country.  Whether you live on the East Coast, the West Coast or points in between now is the right time to visit these sights.

Last summer I did a tour of the Pacific coast from California to Tillamook, Oregon.  We stopped at two lighthouses but if you are traveling by auto it would be fun to see all nine of the surviving lighthouse stations since they have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven of the lighthouses are available to visit during the summer months, many manned by volunteers.  Over two and one half million people stop each year at these extraordinary links to the past.
All of the structures have been unoccupied since modern technology took over in the 1960s which allowed for installing automated beacons.  The lighthouses are built on prominent headlands near major rivers where commercial fishing and shipping is prominent.
I will tell you a little about each one so if you cannot see them all, you can at least pick and choose which ones sound the most interesting.

Staring from just north of the California border the first one is Cape Blanco.

This lighthouse stands 256 feet above the ocean and is located nine miles north of Port Orford off of Highway 101.  It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast.  It was commissioned in 1870 because of the gold discoveries and lumbering going on in the area.
Two miles north of Bandon in Bullards Beach State Park is the Coquilee River Lighthouse.  It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar.  It was decommissioned in 1939 but restored as an interpretive center in 1979.
Cape Arago Lighthouse is twelve miles south of Coos Bay and North Bend.  It stands 100 feet above the ocean on an inlet.  It is the newest of the lighthouses, illuminated in 1934 but is not opened to the public.  However if you visit, there is a very unique foghorn you might hear.
Next up is the Umpqua River Lighthouse located three miles south of Reedsport  above the entrance to Winchester Bay.  This is the second lighthouse on this spot.  The first one fell into the river four years after it was built in 1861.  This one sits sixty five feet above the ocean overlooking sand dunes.  It took 240,000 bricks to construct the lighthouse tower and if you mention this you will get a discount on the tour cost.
Heceta Head Lighthouse located twelve miles north of Florence has a sixty five foot tower that sits 205 feet above the ocean.  It was first illuminated in 1894 but today the beacon can be seen for twenty one miles, making it the brightest light on the Oregon Coast.  The lightkeepers house built in 1893 now operates as a bed and breakfast.

This lighthouse has been undergoing renovation since 2012 and is closed to the public but just below it is a wonderful beach with parking.  This is where I stop on the motor coach so everyone gets a chance to wade in the Pacific Ocean if so desired. Also it is very near the Sea Lion caves.  There is a charge to see the caves but it is a pretty awesome sight and worth the visit.
You can find two more lighthouses near the Newport area.  One is the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the other is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  The one on the bay is the second oldest lighthouse in the state.  It has a ninety three foot tower and stands 162 feet above sea level.  There are a lot of seabird nesting sites around this lighthouse and I also like to stop here when I can.
As you continue driving the Cape Meares Lighthouse is ten miles west of Tillamook and US Highway 101.  It stands 217 feet above sea level. This structure was first illuminated in 1890 and automated in 1963.  There is a trail that leads from the parking lot to the lighthouse and there are viewpoints people like to stand on to see sea lions or also for whale watching.
Finally the last one is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse just south of Seaside.  It stands 133 feet above sea level on a rock islet.  Because it is exposed to fierce storm waves it was given the name “Terrible Tilly.”  There is no public access and was placed here just south of the Columbia River.  However it is visible in a nearby state park.
Even if you don’t get to one of the lighthouses, which would be a shame, just driving the Oregon Coast is an awesome experience.  At any turn in the road you can see waves pounding the shore or the giant monolith rocks that stand like sentinels in the water close to the shore.  It is a truly amazing sight to behold. To me this should be another great area to add to your bucket list.