Go See Do Photography

A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Tag: Royal Caribbean (Page 1 of 3)

Alaska Raptor Center

Quigiq the Snowy Owl

After our time at Fortress of the Bear, we headed to another wildlife rehabilitation center in Sitka, the Alaska Raptor Center. Where Fortress of the Bear takes in orphaned bear cubs, the Raptor Center focuses on rehabilitating birds of prey: eagles, owls, and falcons. Many of the birds in their care eventually are able to be released into the wild, but some have injuries that are too severe and they get to live out their lives in the center, educating guests about these magnificent creatures and the work of the raptor center.

Raptor TalkWe started our visit at a raptor talk where we met Owlison (left), a great horned owl, and Hannah, an avian care specialist. Owlison came to the Raptor Center with a fractured wrist bone and possibly some damage to her wing. Through Owlison’s rehabilitation, she is now capable of flight but not well enough to hunt on her own, so she is now a permanent resident at the Raptor Center.

Volta the Bald EagleAfter the raptor talk, we got to see the Flight Training Center where rehabilitated birds are able to practice flying from perch to perch as they would do in the wild. Rehabilitators watch the birds in the training center to determine if they are able to fly well enough to survive in the wild and be released. When we visited the birds weren’t very active but it was very good to see the steps the experts at the Raptor Center take to make sure the birds will be able to survive on their own once they are well enough to leave the center.

While many of the birds at the Raptor Center have sad stories, it is good to know they have a place to live out the rest of their lives (many of which are longer in captivity than if they were still hunting for themselves in the wild). Volta (right) has one of those sad stories. He was found electrocuted, most likely from stretching his wings between two power lines. His carocoid bone was fractured in his fall and without that, he is not able to take flight.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about their raptors in residence, plan your visit, or donate to their cause, visit AlaskaRaptor.org. To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Fortress of the Bear

Black BearWhen planning a visit to Alaska, a bear sighting is usually high on the list of things people want to experience. But, any wildlife sighting is hard to plan, and seeing a bear in the wild can be dangerous. Fortress of the Bear in Sitka, Alaska is a bear rescue that allows visitors to view native brown and black bears from a safe distance while giving orphaned bears a second chance at life.

The state of Alaska has no rehabilitation program for orphaned bears so for years, when a mother bear was killed, fish and game rangers had to kill the cubs because without the mother they would starve to death. One ranger got really sick of having to shoot baby bears, so in 2007, he opened Fortress of the Bear to take in orphaned cubs. Since then, they have sent bears the zoos around the country and is currently home to 7 brown and black bears. Fortress of the Bear is currently working with the state of Alaska to change the law and allow bears to be rehabilitated and released.

I was surprised to learn that the trainers at Fortress of the Bear taught the bears to sign. Just like people have taught monkeys to do, the bears put their paws together in front of their chest to signal they want more food. It was fun to watch the bears at feeding time! You can watch the video above!

Brown BearFortress of the Bear is a nonprofit that does important work in Alaska! The money for their mission comes from admissions and additional donations. If you are in Sitka, I highly recommend a stop. It is not a big place, the hour they gave us on our tour was more than enough time. It was fun to see the bears and it was good knowing the admission supports Alaskan wildlife. If you want to know more about Fortress of the Bear, read about the bears, or donate to their cause, check out fortressofthebear.org.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Sitka

Sitka from the Water

One Day in Sitka, Alaska

Cruise ships in Sitka Sound

Cruise ships in Sitka Sound

After our day in Vancouver, we got up the next morning and boarded the Serenade of the Seas, and headed to Alaska. Sailing out of Vancouver Harbor was beautiful and I was excited to snap some photos as we headed up the Inside Passage but at that moment I realized I left my camera batteries at the Airbnb in Vancouver. Since our first two ports were islands (Sitka and Juneau) with no road connections to the mainland and lithium batteries cannot be shipped by air, there was no way to order a replacement and get it by the time we were in Alaska. If we were still Nikon shooters, the pharmacy in Sitka sold Nikon batteries, but that was no help as we had our Fuji camera with us. While we still had cell signal we did some internet sleuthing and found a Fuji photographer who used to have a store in Juneau. We sent him an email and were able to meet up with him and buy a battery when we were in Juneau. All that to say that my photos from Sitka and the first half of our day in Juneau were all taken on my phone as we had a camera and an expensive rented telephoto lens, but we had no way to turn it on.

So, after all that stress, we arrived in Sitka. After doing all my research before we left, it seemed that Sitka is a pretty easy port to explore on your own without an excursion. Our ship docked at what is known as the Old Sitka Dock and is a few miles outside town, but they offer a free shuttle to take you downtown. Once we were dropped off at Centennial Hall, we booked a $10 per person shuttle that would take us to Fortress of the Bear, the Alaska Raptor Center, and from there we could walk to the Sitka National Historic Park and back to downtown.

Alaska Pioneer's Home

I quickly fell in love with Sitka. Sitka is located on the west side of Baranof Island on the Gulf of Alaska. Because of its location, the island is a temperate rain forest with the temperature varying between 33 and 62 degrees throughout the year with the temperature rarely dropping below 22 degrees. I don’t know about you, but that’s not really what I think of when I hear Alaska weather.

Sitka was home to one of the first European settlements in Alaska being settled by Russian explorers in 1799. In 1802, the native Tlingit destroyed the original settlement killing many of the settlers. In 1804 Russian forces returned and bombarded the Tlingit fort causing the Tlingit people to leave under cover of darkness. The Russian influence in Sitka can still be seen today with the Russian Bishop’s house and St. Michael’s Cathedral still standing in downtown Sitka.

Boats in Crescent Harbor

In August of 2015, heavy rains triggered a series of 60 landslides in Sitka, one of which killed three people. The US Geological survey did a landslide assessment of Sitka and determined that the entire island is a landslide risk. Now, the USGS has installed a first-of-its-kind landslide warning system to notify residents of landslide conditions so evacuations can occur.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week to read about our time at Fortress of the Bear in Sitka! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Planes, Buses, and Boats: Exploring the Pacific Northwest

Juneau from the Air

Cruise ships in Juneau, Alaska

We are back from another amazing trip! This time, we headed to the Pacific Northwest to cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas! We went to a lot of places that have been on my list for a long time and I really feel like I just got my toes wet in this beautiful area!

This may not come as a surprise to longtime readers, but we will go to some great depths for a cheap flight. For this trip, we booked nonrefundable flights to Seattle with a cruise leaving out of Vancouver with the thought that we would take Amtrak across the border, but when we went to book the train we learned that it hasn’t been operating since COVID. There was hope that they would get it running this summer, but now it’s been pushed back to the winter. So, after doing hours of research we decided to take the bus across the border. Because of schedules we ended up book Greyhound from Seattle to Vancouver and then QuickShuttle from Vancouver to Bellingham, Washington where we rented a car for the rest of the trip. I will give our thoughts on these options as it comes up in the trip report.

Here’s a little rundown of what is to come on this trip report:

  • Day 1: Seattle
  • Day 2: Vancouver
  • Day 3: Embark Serenade of the Seas
  • Day 5: Sitka, Alaska
    • Fortress of the Bear
    • Alaska Raptor Center
    • Sitka National Historic Park
  • Day 6: Juneau, Alaska
    • Mendenhall Glacier
    • Whale Watching
    • Mt. Roberts Tramway
  • Day 7: Skagway & Haines, Alaska
    • Dogsledding & Musher’s Camp Excursion
    • Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
  • Day 8: Cruise Tracy Arm Fjord
  • Day 10: Disembark Ship, Quickshuttle to Bellingham, Rent Car to Port Angeles, Washington
  • Day 11: Olympic National Park
    • Crescent Lake
    • Rialto Beach
  • Day 12: Hurricane Ridge
  • Day 13: Sequim, Washington
    • Dungeness Bay National Wildlife Refuge
    • B&B Family Lavender Farm
    • John Wayne Marina
  • Day 14: Hoh Rainforest
  • Day 15: Mt. Rainier National Park

As you can tell from this overview, this was a busy trip and I’m so excited to share it with you! Be sure to check in next week as I detail our day in Seattle!

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: St. Maarten from St. Kitts

View of St. Maarten from Brimstone Hill

Explorer of the Seas Review

Explorer of the Seas from St. Lucia

Explorer of the Seas from St. Lucia

This Southern Caribbean cruise on Explorer of the Seas was a trip full of firsts for me. This was my first time sailing the Southern Caribbean, my time sailing Royal Caribbean, my first time sailing with a balcony, my first time sailing with friends, and my first cruise with a port every day. A lot of new experiences, to be sure!

My first impression of the ship is that while it is one of the older ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet and it was due for an upgrade in 2020 that got put on the back burner, it is a beautiful ship. The decorations were more elegant than the two Norwegian ships I’ve been on, but not as over the top as Carnival. Everything was clean and they were committed to keeping the guests healthy.

With a port every day on this cruise, we barely had time to enjoy our balcony. This wasn’t that big of a deal to us because when we booked this cruise, an ocean view was actually more expensive than a balcony. I was really excited to finally cruise with a balcony but I was disappointed by how little we actually used it. Our next cruise has several sea days so I’m hoping to get more use out of the balcony. If you are looking at a cruise with a port every day, save your money and get an ocean view. There’s not that much time to actually utilize your balcony.

The activities and entertainment onboard are where Royal shines. Even though we had a port every day, there was still a lot to do on the ship. Where Norwegian would have trivia once a day, there were 3 or 4 trivia games every day. We played pickleball and mini-golf. We went ice skating. We even tried the Flow Rider. Tip for ladies, if you are wanting to try the Flow Rider (the onboard surfing/boogie boarding simulator) bring a one-piece swimsuit. The first time, I did well until I felt like was going to lose my bottoms and then I was just trying to figure out how to get off it. We probably wouldn’t have done so much if we weren’t traveling with friends who were first-time cruisers and wanted to try everything, but I was really glad we did.

The Explorer didn’t have any big Broadway-style shows during our trip, but all of the shows we saw were top-notch. The ice show was spectacular and how many people can say they saw an ice show or went ice skating on a cruise ship? The singers and dancers were great. They had a group of Argentinian Bolo Dancers on the ship called Impact! and it wasn’t something I had ever seen before.

The cruise director on the ship, Elvis, was one of the best cruise directors I have ever had. He was fun and engaging and was funnier than the comedian they had on board. If you’re ever lucky to sail on a Royal ship with Elvis, you are in for a treat!

Explorer of the Seas in San Juan

The only area where I can complain about the Explorer of the Seas is the dining. We had My Time Dining and I assumed it would work like Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining and I was very wrong about that. While you don’t have to make reservations for My Time Dining, it is recommended. Since this was my first Royal cruise, I didn’t realize you could reserve this before getting on the ship so we were left with late dining times every night because that was all that was available. I want to say it was on the second night of the cruise, even with a reservation we waited an hour in line for a table. After that, we learned to just get there earlier, but no one wants to spend their vacation waiting in line.

My other complaint is that they increased the capacity of the ship (our sailing was close to 100% full) but they were not staffed for that! Dining was the area where this was the most obvious. By the end of our cruise, the buffet was back to being self-serve so hopefully, that will allow additional staff to be serving in the dining room. But, the servers all seemed like they were stretched too thin. In the section we were seated the first two nights, our server came up and asked our table and the table next to us if anyone wanted drinks. Since someone at the other table said no, none of us got drinks. We ended up flagging down the assistant waiter and getting a drink, but we shouldn’t have had to do that. After the second time of this bad service, we asked the host if we could sit in a different section and the service was much better.

We ordered the complimentary continental breakfast room service for the first day before we headed to St. Thomas. We ordered it with an hour buffer and it did not arrive before we had to meet our group on the pier. So, we snorkeled on an empty stomach. Luckily our tour included snacks so we survived until lunch back on the ship but it was very disappointing. The following day we received chocolate-covered strawberries as an apology and that was nice, but it didn’t make up for the fact that we had to go to shore on an empty stomach. We just had breakfast at the buffet for the rest of the cruise.

Our ridiculous table of sushi at Izumi

Our ridiculous table of sushi at Izumi

We did try two of the specialty restaurants: Chops Grill and Izumi. Chops is Royal’s steakhouse. The steaks were great and the atmosphere was relaxed, but it was expensive. I would rather just pay the upcharge for the Chop’s Filet in the dining room and call it a day. Izumi on the other hand was fantastic! One of the friends we traveled with, Joe, was adamant that he doesn’t like sushi and after this experience, he told his wife that he wants to be included when she has sushi with her friends. We learned that you don’t have to book Izumi in advance and pay the $35 fee for this meal. Everything they serve is priced a la carte and we had a hard time reaching $35 per person. Look at all that sushi on that table (right)! Our server was so impressed he insisted on taking a picture!

All-in-all, I really enjoyed our first Royal Caribbean cruise and I think our friends enjoyed their first-ever cruise! We have another one coming up soon and I did consider changing to a set dining time, but then I heard that they are back to sitting you with strangers. I think I would rather wait in line to eat than sit with strangers, but you can make that decision for yourself.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Old San Juan

San Juan National Historic Site

One Day in Old San Juan

Castillo San Cristobal

After a whirlwind seven days on the Explorer of the Seas, we disembarked in San Juan. When planning this trip, I had a hard time figuring out where we wanted to stay on this day, especially once American moved our flight the next day from 1 pm to 5 am. Since Old San Juan is only a 20-minute drive from the airport, we decided to stay at the El Colonial, a boutique, adults-only hotel located in the heart of Old San Juan.

We disembarked the ship early and got a taxi to drop our bags off at the hotel, but the taxi driver couldn’t find it, even though he had Google Maps pulled up on his phone. I am not making it up when I tell you that he literally got out of the van and asked someone for directions. Eventually, we made it to the hotel where they offered us a cocktail (before 8 am, I might add) and held our bags so we could explore the city.

Lighthouse on Castillo San Felipe Del Morro

We first headed to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, part of the San Juan National Historic Site. With the construction of the Castillo having begun in 1589, it is the oldest building in the United States. I’ll never forget, back when I was recapping our St. Augustine trip on this blog, someone commented that they were glad I noted that the Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest building in the continental U.S. because Castillo San Felipe is older.

While under Spanish control, the fort was attacked by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, and the Americans. The fort and the territory of Puerto Rico were transferred to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American war. In 1915, a shot from the Castillo is thought to be the first American shot fired in World War I. During World War II, the military added a Harbor Defense Fire Control Station to the Castillo to keep watch for German submarines in the Caribbean. At 180 feet above sea level, the lighthouse (above) is the tallest point of the Castillo.

From the Castillo, we explored the city a bit. The colorful buildings are very inviting and make the city fun to explore! We enjoyed delicious, homemade popsicles, before setting on a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant for lunch. This was the first time in my life that I had to tell a server I was allergic to bananas and ask what they had that did not contain bananas. If you do not like bananas, you should probably avoid Puerto Rican food. The food was good, but bananas and plantains are a staple of island cuisine and not being able to eat them really diminished my experience. Everyone else loved their mofongo, though!

Castillo San Cristobal

After lunch, we headed to the other section of the historic site, Castillo San Cristóbal (above). Completed in 1783, Castillo San Cristóbal took up 27 acres and featured the gates to the walled city of San Juan. The fortress was built to protect Castillo San Felippe del Moro from a land attack. The walls of the Castillo remained until 1897 until some of them were destroyed to allow the harbor to expand. In 1898 Puerto Rico joined the Spanish-American war when a cannon from the Castillo fired on the USS Yale. During World War II, the Spanish colonial water cisterns were used as fallout shelters. In 1949, together, both Castillos became the San Juan National Historic Site. In 1983, the Castillos and the walled city were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iguanas on the Castillo Wall

Iguanas on the Castillo Wall

With a 5 am flight, we didn’t stay out too late, although people were still at the hotel bar having a good time when our taxi arrived at 3 to take us to the airport. One day was not enough time for this beautiful city! You can bet that I have Detroit to San Juan flight alerts set up on my phone! You know the song, I left my Heart in San Fransisco? I left mine in San Juan.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Timothy Hill View

View from Timothy hill

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