Savannah in Less than 48 hours

48 Hours in Savannah Georgia

With round trip airfare options from Cleveland for less than $150 per person, and a direct flight, there is no better time to visit Savannah, Georgia. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going at the hottest time of the year in July, I had a fabulous time in this ridiculously charming city.

109 W. Gordon St.

To get the true Savannah experience, stay in the historic district in one of the old homes or apartments. We found this charming residence on W. Gordon Street between two of the twenty-two squares located throughout the city. The location was ideal for walking around (it’s only a block from Forsyth Park) and there is ample street parking if you have a car. Also, be prepared to eat really, really well. The food and cocktail scene in Savannah could give Cleveland a run for our money. Some of my recommendations are here:

The Collins Quarter_Savannah

Spiced Lavender Mocha #TheCollinsQuarter

Savannah was my first trip in almost six months. I was starting to go stir crazy and in need of an adventure, if only for a long weekend. Life had gotten in the way of travel – new house, new dog and new job. What I really needed was a trip to rejuvenate my travel hungry soul. I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than in Savannah. Wandering the historic streets of this small city took me back in time. Between the twenty-two squares throughout the historic district, the live oaks dripping in moss and the gas lights adorning many doors throughout the neighborhood, you’ll feel like you’re living a hundred years ago.

Itinerary Suggestions

Wake up early (we went on a Sunday) to grab a seat for brunch at The Collins Quarter. Several blogs had recommended this place, along with our bartender from the Cotton & Rye. Beautiful light fixtures, white subway tiles and distressed, red leather booths gives this restaurant the perfect vibe. The brioche french toast was to die for, complemented by their infamous spiced lavender mocha. And yes, it is as good as they say and beautiful too.  We also happened to wander by at night and the entire restaurant was dark, except for thick candles in bottles and candelabras on the tables. We need a place like this in Cleveland!

The Collins Quarter 2

After a hearty breakfast, we hopped in the car and went to my most anticipated stop of the trip – The Wormsloe Plantation. You’ve probably seen the pictures of the live oaks before – there are 400 of them – as you drive toward the plantation. The gates don’t open until 9 a.m., so unfortunately you will have to deal with other people taking just as many pictures as you. The good news is that the road is really long, so you’ll get to a place where people aren’t in your way. It’s definitely worth the trip just to see the live oaks. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

Wormsloe Plantation 2

The Wormsloe Plantation

After the Plantation, we drove over to Bonaventure Cemetery. Thee stops are within 15 minutes of each other and the cemetery is very close to historic Savannah. At this point in the day, it was getting steamy hot from the sun and rain lurking in the distance. We opted to drive around the cemetery instead of walking. We did park a few times to check out some of the gravestones, but we were happier in the car with air conditioning. It’s an easy cemetery to walk through, so if you have on good shoes, go for it.

The Collins Quarter Brunch

My Cousin Beni @ The Collins Quarter

After the cemetery we parked and headed to lunch. I was famished (I don’t know how after our huge breakfast) and needed nourishment before we rented our bikes. Our hosts had recommended the Crystal Beer Parlor. It’s one (if not the) oldest restaurants in Savannah. It opened in 1933 during the Great Depression. It has more of a pub feel and is pretty casual. We had the giant soft pretzel for an app and for lunch I sampled their signature crab soup (OMG, so sweet and melt in your mouth good). At this point I was stuffed from all the food we’d been eating, so our scheduled bike ride after was perfect.

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

We rented bikes with Savannah on Wheels (right near Forsyth Park) and took them around the downtown area. We walked the bikes on River Street (you can’t ride there on the crazy old cobblestones) and were pretty unimpressed. The riverfront is nice but very touristy. We much preferred the historic district where we stayed. It was great having the bikes to check out all the squares and beautiful streets. Just remember you can’t ride on the sidewalks or in the squares. You’ll risk being ticketed.

Savannah Historic District

Historic District in Savannah

After bike riding we rested and enjoyed our home away from home. Later in the evening I convinced my very tired husband to walk with me to Leopold’s. It’s been around for almost a hundred years and boasts having ice cream that can’t be missed. Coming from Cleveland with places like Honey Hut and Mitchell’s, I was skeptical. We waited about 45 minutes in line before we ordered. I have no idea when there wouldn’t be a line, but it was 9 p.m. on a rainy Sunday and it was slammed. For the record, the ice cream is good but definitely not worth the wait.

W. Gordon Street

W. Gordon Street, Savannah

If you were ever on the fence about visiting Savannah or have ever thought about coming, do it. It’s exactly how you imagined it, but better. It’s a romantic, southern city that is steeped in history and ghost stories. While we didn’t have time to take one of the ghost  tours, I’d definitely schedule one the next time we’re in town. I’m just grateful that the general during the Civil War decided to save this city instead of burning it to the ground. I can safely say this is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited, within the US and aboard.

Forsyth Fountain

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California Coast in 5 Days and 2,725 Miles

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I rarely need an excuse to travel, so when my husband bought me tickets to see Metallica in San Francisco I knew we had to extend our time in California. We’ve been talking about driving up the coast for years, but never committed. Now we had the perfect excuse to check off a bucket-list trip. We booked our trip Wednesday though Sunday, which gave us five days to cram in as many sights as we could from L.A. to San Francisco while driving an obnoxious, touristy red Camaro convertible (that I adored). Tip: Extend your trip to six or seven days to ensure you have ample time to explore San Francisco or L.A.

Camero Convertible California

Day 1: Cleveland to Los Angeles

Highlights: Sanchos Tacos and Laguna Beach

We kicked off our trip in southern California. We scored a direct flight on United from Cleveland for the insanely cheap price of $258 round trip. Tip: Travel during one of the shoulder seasons (spring/fall) for great deals. The weather will be milder, but there will be fewer people and much better prices. It can be quite rainy during the winter months, but we lucked out and had sunshine and upper 60 degree weather the entire time we were on the west coast.

For this trip, we didn’t stay directly in Los Angeles. I’ve been to L.A. a couple of times, but the traffic in the city is enough to keep me far, far away. If you do stay in the city, I would highly recommend hiking in Griffith Park to see the Hollywood sign and gorgeous views of the city below. We stayed just south of L.A. in Huntington Beach with friends that offered us a free place to crash and to act as our tour guides.

Sanchos Shrimp Tacos

Our first stop in Huntington Beach was the In-N-Out Burger. They don’t offer anything vegetarian so I just ordered fries and a shake. The shake was delicious, but the best part was that we ate outside in the sun, in February. For a Clevelander, that is a really big deal. We ended up exploring Huntington Beach a.k.a. Surf City USA and then driving down the coast to see Newport and Laguna Beach.  I quickly realized that our vacation was going to be all about the food, as I sampled phenomenal shrimp tacos at Sanchos Tacos in Huntington Beach before enjoying a fabulous sandwich and vegetarian chili at Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach. If you’re going for a chill, beach experience I would highly recommend this area of Cali.

Laguna Beach Sunset

Day 2: Los Angeles to Big Sur

Highlights: Bagelmania Oreo Mocha, Santa Barbara, Bello Mundo Cappuccino, elephant seals at Piedras Blancas and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

We hit the road super early (5:45 a.m.), but once we had stopped at Bagelmania for a quick breakfast and coffee, we didn’t  make it on the road till 6:15 a.m. It turned out that was already too late for L.A. rush hour and it took us two hours to get out of the city. Tip: Stay overnight just north of L.A. if you’re looking to avoid rush hour traffic or leave at 5 a.m. I would say that we kept the road rage to a minimum, given that we were on vacation and really we had nowhere we had to be all day.

Santa Barbara Monastery

Our first stop was Santa Barbara. If we had more time, I would’ve spent a half day here. The main drag looked absolutely beautiful and I’ve heard this area be called the Mediterranean of California. Definitely worth stopping if even for a coffee and a quick walk in their downtown area.

Once you hit San Luis Obispo, this is where you would hop off Hwy 101 and onto Hwy 1. We stopped here and grabbed lunch at the Firestone Grill. This place received rave reviews, but we weren’t overly impressed. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. After lunch we grabbed coffee at Bello Mundo, where Derek attempted to teach me chess over cappuccinos. Definitely swing through for a cup of coffee before hitting the road.

Bello Mundo Cappuccino

Morrow Bay is right after this and you can see the mini-mountain rising out of the ocean from the road. Keep driving and you’ll hit the Hearst Mansion (it’s up on the cliffs to the right). They say to schedule three hours there and we just weren’t that interested, so we kept driving. Right after the Hearst Mansion is where you can see the elephant seals sunbathing at Piedras Blancas. The females had just given birth a month or so ago, so there were tons of them hanging out catching the rays. They are really great to see up close and you don’t have to walk far to catch a glimpse.

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals

There are lots of little towns that dot Hwy 1, so it all depends what you’re interested in seeing and doing. We only had two full days to drive from L.A. to San Francisco, so we were a little picky with where we stopped. Big Sur was our main “destination.” This isn’t just one spot, but a rather long stretch of Hwy 1 that includes dramatic cliffs that drop into the Pacific. There are tons of vista points, so pull over whenever you feel the need to snap a few pictures and just enjoy the dramatic scenery around you. Whatever you do, try not to rush.

Big Sur Coastline

I would recommend stopping at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. A one mile round trip hike will take you to views overlooking an 80 foot water fall that drops into the ocean. Whales and sea lions  can also be spotted from up above. January through March is an ideal time to see the gray whales migrating. It’s also not a bad spot to take in the sunset.

Julia Pfeiffer State Park Waterfall

If you can (only in the off-season), don’t book a place to stay in Big Sur until you arrive. This allows you the flexibility to drive as far as you want, without feeling rushed to get to your destination. In the summertime you’ll need to book in advance, otherwise you risk not having anywhere to sleep.  Based on where we were at the end of the day, we stayed at Big Sur Lodge State Park. The rooms are normally $399 a night, but we were able to stay for $169 due to it being February. The rooms are nice, but pretty basic. We ate dinner at the lodge, and it was delicious! Be prepared to spend a lot eating in Big Sur. There aren’t a lot of restaurants and because of the location, you are going to be charged more than if you were somewhere else.

Day 3: Big Sur to San Francisco

Highlights: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Ventana Inn restaurant, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park,  and Half Moon Bay

In the morning we got up early (which seemed to be a theme this trip) and went back to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to go hiking. Our concierge at the lodge had recommended the EWoldson hike. What she failed to mention is that the first three miles of this six mile hike are practically straight up the mountain. I will say, it is worth the effort. You not only get to experience the coastal redwoods, but you also get fabulous views of the Pacific and coastline. It took us just over two hours, so we were famished when we were done. We ended up eating at the Ventana Restaurant, which is also perched on the side of the mountain with beautiful patio seating and views of the ocean. The food was so incredibly fresh and tasty. Definitely stop and sit outside if the weather allows.

EWoldson Hike View in Big Sur

After breakfast we went to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which is right near the lodge. It’s a two mile, mostly one-lane road that dumps you out onto the beach. It’s a great place to spend half a day taking in the sun, but we only stayed for a quick walk on the beach before heading back to the car. The really cool thing about this beach is the purple sand beneath your toes. Once I’d gotten my early morning beach fix, we were back on the road, until yet another stop was required at the Bixby Bridge. This is a very popular stop, so we got out, took our pictures and kept moving.

Bixby Bridge in California

Once you get out of Big Sur, there is a stretch of Hwy 1 that takes you off the coast and into some less than attractive agricultural fields. Don’t fret too much, as you’ll be back to the coast before you know it. We did take the 17 mile scenic drive ($10 toll road). The views are pretty, but I’d say it is more to see Pebble Beach and the other golf courses more than dramatic ocean views. If you have the time, do it. However, I didn’t feel like the views were that much better than the rest of Big Sur.

Santa Cruz was our next stop once we got to this section. They have a great boardwalk with lots of rides (which are closed until the summer) even though it was 70 degrees and in my mind, summer. They have a cool downtown area as well and once we had refueled at the local coffee shop, we were driving to Half Moon Bay. We just happened to get there right in time for sunset. San Francisco isn’t too much further once you get out of Half Moon Bay, so we made it into the city right after dark.

Sunset along the Pacific Coast

Days 4: San Francisco

Highlights: Noe Valley, Chloe’s Cafe, Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area (and Drive), Embarcadero

If you’ve never been to San Francisco, you need at least a couple of days to explore. We only had about a day and a half. We rented an apartment in Noe Valley, and I would highly recommend staying in that neighborhood. You get the sense of what it’s like to live in San Fran, while having the convenience of street parking and easy access to downtown via public transportation only a block away ($2.25 a person).

Breakfast at Choloe's Cafe in San Francisco

Like Cleveland, San Francisco is a huge foodie city. Our favorite restaurant on this trip was Chloe’s Cafe. The brunch was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had – banana walnut pancakes, eggs and fresh fruit served with a top-notch cappuccino. Ah, heaven! We spent a good part of the day at Golden Gate Park National Recreation Area (about 25 minutes from Noe Valley), where the views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge are unparalleled. We drove through the park to the Point Bonita Lighthouse parking area, where views that were just as good as Big Sur were around every curve. I would highly recommend taking this little detour.

Golden Gate Bridge

On the drive back through the city we parked on Hyde Street and jumped on one of the infamous cable cars. Tip: We weren’t charged to take the car down Hyde Street from Lombard because we were so close to the end of the line. We did take it back up and that costs $7. About a third of people can get an outside seat; the rest are facing the interior. Don’t worry about taking pictures while riding the cable car. When you take the car down the hill, you can pose for pictures once the car has stopped and is waiting to be parked.

Powell and Market Street Car San Francisco

Lombard Street is prettier in the spring with all of the flowers, but still worth a stop. We spent most of our time along the Embarcadero, which is where the majority of the best sites are anyway. While Fisherman’s Wharf is okay, there are far less touristy areas along the water that are better. We ended the day with a fabulous concert by Metallica at AT&T Park. The excitement of the city for the Super Bowl, coupled with the concert, made for a very fun trip.

Lombard Street

Day 5: San Francisco to Cleveland

Highlights: Sun and Chloe’s Cafe (again)

We had just enough time to enjoy the fabulous food at Chloe’s Cafe one last time, before I begrudgingly returned the convertible I had grown so accustomed.  And we landed in Cleveland and were immediately greeted with snow. Sigh. Until next time San Francisco.

Chloe's Cafe in San Francisco

Day Tripping from the CLE: Cedar Point

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Last night I slept like the dead. The kind of sleep that only comes after 10 hours of walking around an amusement park, riding extreme thrill rides and gorging on Bavarian pretzels with cheese. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the infamous Cedar Point.

Before I could even walk, my parents were taking me to the roller coaster capital of the world, more formally known as Cedar Point. Just over an hour away from the great city of Cleveland, it’s the perfect day trip. Or weekend trip if you choose to stay at the iconic Breakers Hotel, located just outside of the park gates.

Cedar Point is a perfect mix of some of the best roller coasters in the world, rides for all ages, entertainment and delicious (and totally unhealthy) food. Whether you enjoy the thrill of plummeting hundreds of feet through the air on Millennium Force (arguably one of the best roller coasters in the world) or taking the train ride through Frontier Town, you’ll have a blast spending the day at Cedar Point.

To make your trip even more enjoyable, I’ve compiled a list of helpful suggestions when planning your day at Cedar Point!

Tips:

  • Never, ever pay full price for a ticket. Discount tickets are abundant, with some of the best deals being available as a AAA member. If you purchase your tickets on Cedar Point’s website you save $12 and Discount Drug Mart sells tickets for $49.99.
  • Don’t go on Friday or Saturday. Visit the park on days that are less crowded, like Sundays. Lines were ridiculously short on the Sunday we visited, even with nice weather. AAA Sunday tickets are only $38.
  • Start with the rides at the back of the park. It’ll be less crowded early in the day since the majority of people enter through the front gates.
  • Suck it up and buy the Fast Pass Plus. It will be the best $90-100 you may ever spend. You don’t have to wait in line for longer than 15 minutes at a time, you aren’t rushed while you’re at the park and you get to ride all of your favorite rides multiple times.
  • While we’re talking passes, buy the unlimited drinks wristband. While I missed out on this awesome opportunity, our friends paid an extra $5 and got unlimited soft drinks and ice water all day long. Considering the cost of one drink is basically $5, it’s a great investment.
  • If you’re planning on staying overnight, staying at the Breakers Hotel or one of the other Cedar Point properties grants you early access to the park. That gives you the opportunity to ride your favorite rides without waiting in long lines at the beginning of the day.

Flying high at no additional charge

Jet BlueComplimentary. A term that is pretty much nonexistent in the modern world of flying. Instead we are bombarded with fees for just about everything. And I mean everything. That’ll be $12 for adequate leg room, $25 for a checked-bag, $5 for a bag of peanuts and so on and so on. What happened to flights being even remotely enjoyable? Instead, we are left to feel robbed by exorbitant costs that used to be part of just good customer service. Rather than looking forward to my intended destination, I’m more worried about whether or not I’m going to be charged to use the bathroom or something equally ridiculous.

When United Airlines pulled Cleveland off its list of major hubs, I was devastated. What would Clevelanders do? Would our tourism industry (so large to begin with) suffer? Would traveling become harder and more expensive for locals? Enter Jet Blue. An airline I had never even heard of until I was looking at flights for my bachelorette weekend getaway. $138 for a roundtrip, nonstop flight to Fort Lauderdale. I was sold.

Fast forward a couple of months and I’m kicking off my long weekend. Imagine my amazement when I stopped at the ticket counter and didn’t have to pay a fee to check a bag. A supposedly budget airline that gives you a free checked bag? United doesn’t even do that. Next wonderful surprise, extra leg room. For once I wasn’t crowded into the seat in front of me or paying extra money to get the amount of leg room that the average person needs to be comfortable. Oh and you’d like to provide 30 free TV channels for the entire flight? Why thank you! Other pleasant surprises included free snacks (and I’m not talking about those teeny, tiny bags of peanuts either).

Somehow Jet Blue has stumbled upon what every present day traveler hopes and dreams of. A worry free experience, with little added perks that really boost the overall experience of flying. You get charged one price up front and get great service at no additional cost. So simple, and yet modern flying seems to follow this mentality less and less. I think I’ll take another bag of those cookies now.

I’m already excited to start checking out the other flights that Jet Blue offers out of Cleveland Hopkins airport. I’m headed to New York City in December and I’m praying that Jet Blue has a flight that works with my schedule, as I can’t imagine having a better experience with another airline. Bon voyage!

Alaska Unleashed: 16 Day Itinerary

There are so many options for creating your own Alaska itinerary. I’m sharing where we went because we saw everything that we wanted to see and so much more. I highly suggest that you do a lot of research before you go and narrow down the experiences that are important to you. Everyone wants something different, so simply use this as a suggestion for what could be a great trip.

Day 1: Fly into Anchorage from your home city, rent a car and spend the night

  • Anchorage isn’t a very beautiful city, but it’s not a bad place to start your trip. Pick up any last minute necessities, as this city has a Target and other stores we are familiar with in the Lower 48.
  • Recommended B&B: Alaska Frontier Garden Inn; about 20 minutes from downtown.

Day 2: Drive from Anchorage to Seward

  • This 115 mile scenic drive takes about 2.5 hours, but be prepared for it to take much longer.
  • Here you’ll get your first glimpse of glaciers (Spencer and Portage), beluga whales if you’re lucky and mountains as far as the eye can see. If you have time, drive to Exit Glacier and take the short hike to the base.
  • Recommended B&B: Alaska Paddle Inn; located off a dirt road at the end of town, this gem is definitely worth the drive. The inn overlooks Resurrection Bay, which is breathtaking.

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Day 3: Seward, Alaska

  • Kenai Fjords Boat Tour. Take the motion sickness medication no matter what they say; you go out to open sea and it can get rough. This tour gives you the opportunity to see many glaciers, most noteworthy is Northwestern Glacier. During the cruise you also look for whales, seals, eagles, puffins and more.

Day 4: Seward to Talkeetna

  • We spent the morning hiking to the Harding Ice Field, which is possibly one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever completed. The first four miles are straight up, with lots of climbing natural stairs. At the top you are greeted with ice and snow as far as the eye can see, as the Harding Ice Field supplies 40 glaciers with ice/snow.
  • After that we got on the road and made a pit stop in Anchorage at the Moose’s Tooth, a great little pizza place.
  • Recommended B&B: Denali Overlook Inn. They have fabulous breakfasts every morning and if you are lucky you will actually see Mt. McKinley from their living room windows.

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Day 5: Talkeetna, Alaska

  • If you are going to fly around Mt. McKinley, do it out of Talkeetna. We flew with K2 Aviation and landed on Ruth Glacier during our flight. It costs a small fortune, but it is not something that you will ever live to regret. It’s stunning.
  • We spent most of this day relaxing outside and then dining in “downtown” at the Wildflower Cafe.

Day 6: Talkeetna to Healy, Alaska (Denali National Park)

  • This was our base for going to Denali National Park, which we visited once we got into town. We saw moose during the first 14 miles that you are permitted to drive in the park. We also took a short hike at Salvage River.
  • Recommended B&B: Denali Dome Home. Just make sure you request a room that attaches to the main part of the house. Some of them have a separate entrances that are only accessible from the outside.

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Day 7: Healy, Alaska

  • Take the shuttle bus into Denali National Park. There are two options for doing this; the national park’s shuttle buses (which are green and cost about $50) that go all the way into the park or the tours (which are tan buses and cost about $150). I would recommend the park shuttle buses for $50 because they still give you narration and stop for wildlife just like the other tour buses. The national park was beautiful and we saw grizzlies, caribou, moose and sheep.

Day 8: Healy, Alaska to Anchorage

  • This is a heavy driving day (it takes about 5 hours), so we broke it up by stopping back in Talkeetna for dinner at the Denali Brewing Company.
  • Definitely a gorgeous drive and keep your eyes out for wildlife. Or you could be like us and not see any until we got back into Anchorage where a mom and two baby moose were right at the end of the street where we were staying.
  • Recommended B&B: Alaska Frontier Garden Inn. It was really great starting and ending our land portion of the trip at the same place. Plus we had the added perk of being able to do our laundry at the B&B before boarding the cruise ship.

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Day 9: Board Cruise Ship

  • We returned our rental car and took a bus from Anchorage back down to Seward. We booked it through the cruise ship so that we wouldn’t have to worry about our luggage. There aren’t any rental car returns in Seward, otherwise we just would’ve drove ourselves.
  • We chose Holland America for our cruise line. It was nice enough, but not really for me. However, I feel like you need to take a cruise to see certain parts of Alaska.  Keep in mind that the average age on these cruises is around 75 years old.

Day 10: Day at Sea

  • It takes a while to get to Glacier Bay National Park. The whole day was at sea, where I attempted to not feel seasick.

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Day 11: Glacier Bay National Park

  • Holland America and Princess Cruise lines are the only ships that can go into Glacier Bay National Park. A ranger from the park boards the ship for the day as you travel from glacier to glacier, pointing out wildlife and other important areas of the park. It was a really beautiful experience and the boat turns around many times while at Margerie Glacier so everyone has a good view of the calving glaciers.

Day 12: Haines, Alaska

  • Perhaps my favorite stop on the cruise ship and for good reason; I got to see a grizzly bear eating salmon in the river. So let me back up. We rented bikes for $20 from a shop right off the cruise dock and biked 9 miles to Chilkoot Lake. This is where we saw bald eagles soaring up above and a grizzly bear. Highlight of the trip for sure. Plus the bike ride was stunning and there was very little traffic on the road so it was relatively safe.

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Day 13: Juneau, Alaska

  • I didn’t really get to see very much of Juneau because I booked an excursion with Above & Beyond Alaska to hike to Mendenhall Glacier, hike on the glacier, and then visit the beautiful ice caves that exist beneath the glacier. I can’t guarantee that the ice cave will continue to exist after this year due to the melting glacier, but for now it is breathtaking.

Day 14: Ketchikan, Alaska

  • I would say that this was my least favorite port but that is only because this was the one day that it rained on our vacation. Otherwise we were extremely lucky. It’s actually a really adorable town with colorful buildings built on wooden stilts. We spent the day taking it easy and exploring the town. Some people we know went fishing out of Ketchikan and loved it.

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Day 15: Cruising on the Inside Passage

  • Having one final day on the boat to relax and pack is a great idea. We felt totally relaxed and ready to go when the time came. Plus we saw orca and humpback whales on the Inside Passage, although not as many as we had anticipated. It’s a good idea to do an actual whale watching trip if you want to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures.

Day 16: Vancouver, B.C.

  • I’ve already marked Vancouver as a place that I need to return to. It is such a cool city. We took a big pink bus tour, just to get a general sense of the city. Plus they delivered our luggage to the airport so we wouldn’t have to deal with it during our visit. Definitely check out Granville Public Market and Gastown. I’m sure there are other great areas, but that is all we had the opportunity to see.
  • I would recommend staying a day or two there if you can, but 16 days is already kind of a lot. We had to fly home that evening, so that is why we choose what we did.

This concludes my mini travel series on Alaska. This week, back to Cleveland!

Alaska Unleashed: Travel Tips

Whenever I decide to go on a trip, I head straight to the library and grab travel books to help me plan. Nine times out of ten they are ridiculously helpful and have great tips when visiting the location in question. The following are my personal suggestions for when you travel to Alaska based on my experiences this past year.

  • Don’t even think about just taking a cruise. Make sure you take time to see Alaska on land before heading to sea (or vice versa). We spent 9 days, 8 nights in Alaska driving around prior to getting on the cruise ship. You get a much better sense of the true Alaska (and a whole lot of freedom) when you do it on your own. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
  • Give yourself at least two weeks in Alaska. It costs an awful lot to get to Alaska, and let’s be honest, when are you really coming back? (Hopefully soon!) Even with two weeks you’ll only see a fraction of this giant state. Pick one area and get a good feel of Alaska.
  • Go during the shoulder seasons. We went at the end of August and while there is a greater chance of rain in August, it can rain anytime during the summer. By going near the end of the season (August/September), we missed out on large crowds as kids had already started to go back to school. It was nice to not be surrounded by huge groups of people everywhere we went.
  • If you do a cruise, don’t just stay right where the boat lets you off. Venture off and see something amazing. In Haines, we rented bikes for $20 and headed to a lake about 9 miles from town. There we got to see the “real” Haines, where bald eagles, salmon and grizzlies reside. If you stay in the town, you’ll never know what you are missing in the great outdoors.
  • Bear spray is really not necessary. After seeing the size of the grizzly bears in Alaska, it made us realize that the $30 we spent on bear mace would never help us if the bear decided to attack. Just be cautious when you hike/bike and make lots of noise (talking at a normal level) as to not startle the bears. They really don’t want to attack you unless you scare them, get between them and their babies or their food.
  • Bring extra memory cards and extra batteries. You might not think that you’ll need them, but everywhere that you turn in Alaska is beautiful. I took 3,000 pictures in 16 days to put it into perspective. You would hate to run out of memory on your camera with a bear eating salmon in front of you. You won’t get those moments back.
  • And in conjunction with the step above, stop and enjoy what is in front of you. I struggle with this quite a bit because I love taking pictures. It is easy to get stuck behind the viewfinder when sometimes you just need to put the camera down and appreciate what is in front of you. Live in the moment (after you get that perfect shot!) You’ll have much stronger memories of your experience that way.
  • Spend money on the excursions and activities you want to do. I have a tendency to be a bit frugal, but there are certain experiences that you are not going to want to miss in Alaska (i.e. flightseeing around Mt. McKinley and whale watching cruises). Suck it up and spend the money. First off, you aren’t going to be disappointed. And secondly, you don’t want to come home wishing you had seen more.