Vancouver

It was sad, but eventually we ha to say goodbye to Alaska and to our home-away-from-home.

Run Sarah, Run postcard -- "You Betcha!"
Oh yes, this was a postcard I spotted in Alaska.
Goodbye Norwegian Sun!
Bienvenue à Vancouver!

We disembarked in Vancouver, where I promptly lost my cabin card (thus delaying my getting off the ship) and saw a million children coming off the Disney cruise docked next to us. I’ve been really looking forward to visiting Vancouver because, although I’ve made a few visits to the West Coast

Our first stop was Stanley Park, which is definitely one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen.

Totem poles at Brockton Point

We didn’t have enough time to explore the entire park, but we were able to stop by and see the Rose Garden. It was gorgeous.

I wish I could really capture how beautiful this garden is.
I wish I could really capture how beautiful this garden is.

We spent a bit of time in downtown Vancouver, which I enjoyed. The downtown area is more urban than I think I was expecting it to be, but it wasn’t overwhelming or dirty. (Although there is a small chance that there was an exchanging of drugs across my chest at one point, I cannot confirm this.)Read More »

Alaska: The Last Frontier

Last time on “Starr blogging regularly and in time with actual current events in her life”, I had started telling you guys about my family trip to Alaska by telling you about the cruise ship where I spent most of the vacation.

Let me tell you about Alaska itself. In brief, I loved Alaska. It left a really deep impression on me that I’m going to attempt to summarize in a 3 key points.

1) There’s something incredibly patriotic about visiting Alaska, our last frontier. I felt more American coming home. Seeing the vast expanses of untouched land out there and thinking about the folks who came out here in search of a better life really helps you think about the history of the state and of our nation. This is the same pristine beauty that people beheld during the gold rush. Even though we think of the United States in terms of the cities, seeing Alaska makes me think of the scenic beauty in this country that many Americans will never see outside of a calendar or screensaver. I was seeing a side of America that seemed unmarred by modernity. I felt connected to the grandness that Americans before me had fallen in love with.

Driving down Seward Highway

Seeing bald eagles soaring everywhere definitely lends to the overall feeling of AMERICA.

2) Another thing that lent itself to my increased feelings of American identity was how much respect there was for the First Nations people. Each state has its own culture, and the culture of Alaska seems very much connected to the cultures of its First Nations people. I learned as much about the Tlingit during this trip as I did about the Lenni Lenape (the First Nations people of New Jersey that we learned about in the fourth grade). I saw more Native American art on this trip than I have maybe ever seen, and a great deal of it wasn’t in a museum. From the totem pole outside the governor’s mansion to the sculptures in the airport, it was clear to me that the First Nations people of the region are held in reverence, and I can only hope that the rest of the country can follow suit.

The Tlingit story of the Eagle and the Raven features very prominently in Alaskan decoration
Totems at the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, Alaska. These were over 10 feet tall and you can see the years that have tolled on them
Decoration on the glass roof of a bus stop

3) A very uniquely Alaska point in American history is its rich gold rush history. Most towns/”cities” in Alaska started out as prospecting towns, so I learned an immense amount about the incredible pasts of these towns. The preparation that went into going out to Alaska was massive. To leave home and go thousands of miles to live in this cold frontier, you had to bring literally one year’s supply of food with you. Think about people making multiple trips over mountains and ice fields with pounds and pounds of cans and sacks so that they could feed themselves and their family for possibly an entire year. One big takeaway is that where there is gold, you will find so many saloons and brothels, oftentimes more than there were prospectors!

Creek Strete in Ketchikan, the most picturesque Red Light District I saw on this trip.
One of the brothels on Creek Street
Dolly’s House: where both men and salmon swim upstream to spawn

Other fun tidbits from my trip:

  • I went ziplining for the first time in my life with my brother — on North America’s fastest, longest, and highest zip-line. It was GREAT.


    A rather unattractive photo of me coming back to the ground
  • The state flower of Alaska is the forget-me-not. I’ve always liked forget-me-nots but I think I came home loving them.
  • I wasn’t able to see any live salmon but Alaskan salmon is a big deal and you likely already know that
  • No aurora activity while we were there, but remember the great thing about summers farther north in latitude: crazy early sunrise, crazy late sunset.
    This photo was taken our first evening in Alaska at dinner. It was 10 PM.

    Sunrise: 4:33 AM Sunset: 11:22 PM
  • I tried reindeer meat via reindeer sausage included in some dishes. I don’t really eat non-Chinese sausage but it was pretty good!

    Seafood étoufée from Simon & Seafort's in Juneau, Alaska, featuring some chunks of REINDEER SAUSAGE
    Seafood étoufée from Simon & Seafort’s in Juneau, Alaska, featuring some REINDEER SAUSAGE

FUN BONUS: Finding my name in random places!

One of the Tlingit totem poles was carved for the STARR family
Walter A. STARR, U of Cali graduate who went out to Alaska in search of gold
Art by Grace Freeman

All in all, I had a great time in Alaska and was so rejuvenated by the time we made it to Vancouver for the last leg of our trip. Here are just a few random fun photos from our trip:

A snowplow for the old railroads
A whale skull hanging among antlers

Hole in tree

Broadway… in the “city” of Skagway
I passed this 10 times and then on the 11th… a little giggle.
The namesake of the Star House

Cruisin’ Again!

This year’s family vacation was another Norwegian Cruise Line trip to Alaska that ended in Vancouver, Canada. I have never been to the Pacific Northwest before, so I was really excited about it although not totally sure what to expect. There was one thing that was familiar to me, and that was coming back home to a cruise ship most nights of the vacation.

We started our trip in Anchorage, took a cab to Whittier where we boarded our ship.

We only spent about an hour in Whittier but it was a gorgeous day and the gorgeous scenery was just… gorgeous.

From there, we went to Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan before disembarking in Vancouver, Canada. Let’s get talking about where I spent a lot of my time during this trip:

Norwegian Sun

If you remember, I had an amazing time my first time cruising ever, and NCL had a lot to do with that. This year, we were on the Norwegian Sun, which is a slightly smaller ship than the Norwegian Star. I basically knew what to expect as the ship was designed similarly to the Star.

The food was, of course, great.

Starters & salads
Entrees……… mmm…

We rarely ate at the buffet, because my parents liked the portion control that comes with the meal service and also not having to carry our plates around and struggle to find a table. (“We’re on vacation, it’s okay to like being served, right?”) The food was good and by the end, I found out you could order more than one of each course from other tables where people were taking full advantage. Needless to say, my brother is teasing me for ordering multiple desserts to this day.

And I’d do it again! All the desserts.

One of my favorite things about our cruise this time around was the camaraderie on the ship. Whereas on the last cruise, everyone was generally friendly but doing their own thing, I made friends on this cruise. I [secretly snuck out to avoid having my family there] went to karaoke every night but the first and there was a nice little crowd of regulars there. Not only did we have regular singers, a few of whom were in the Karaoke Superstar Contest on the last day with me (shout-out to Garrett, Janice, and Coby!), but we also had regulars in the audience who were so nice and fun (shout-out to Carol, Jane, and Rodney for supporting me through the finals!). I’ll write another post about my passion for karaoke, but when you sing in front of a group, you do need to sing FOR your audience, not just at them. On cruises, I usually sing a lot of classic tunes from before the 80s because there are a lot of retirees onboard, ya know? Country songs also tend to be pretty popular. There was also a big sing-along in the atrium which I enjoyed a lot. Sing-alongs are just always a good time and are part of what makes karaoke amazing.

This was our in-house Johnny Cash, Garrett. 18-year-old who just started singing this year and already SO talented.

We also did a murder mystery lunch with a family from Miami. It was one of the few times my brother and I got to interact with other people our age and I had a lot of fun. Everyone played up their characters pretty well and we all had a lot of fun. The food was meh but the murder fun was great 😀

(Also there was an “adult game show” that I can’t talk about because it was just so crazy, but I bonded with my teammates on our no-AARP team and it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t naughty but just very strange and difficult to explain.)

I can’t provide an explanation for this photo.

The cruise staff was, as always is the case with NCL, fantastic and awesome and so friendly. Seriously, I spent so much time around them that I picked up a bit of an Australian accent by the end of the cruise.

The Views

Basically, the Pacific Northwest is full of gorgeous, breathtaking views everywhere you go. I felt like I was in a postcard, or on a water bottle label. Mountains, oceans, forests, bald eagles… just wow.

Hubbard Glacier

MAJESTIC AMERICA

Sitting in a hot tub and looking around at snow-capped mountains covered with verdant green trees against a stunningly blue sky was just… it was a beautiful moment. It truly was.

I don’t know how I will go back to vacationing without cruising, you guys. I really do love it so much.

Saying goodbye in Vancouver