Made it to Alaska!

25 07 2013

Hey Y’all! I’ve made it back to Florida from my trip to Alaska and let me tell you, It. Was. AMAZING. I’ll do my best over the next few posts to share with you my experience, but I don’t think words or pictures will do it justice. I also want to apologize if I get a bit wordy- I want to try to capture as many details as I can so that I don’t forget a thing! This was absolutely the best vacation I have ever been on. Alaska is definitely a magical place- I would go back in a heartbeat! If you are ever presented with an opportunity to go- DO IT! It will be a trip you don’t forget!

I left Tampa bright and early on Tuesday, giddy with anticipation. It didn’t even phase me that I would have to sit through 4 flights before I made it to the largest state in the country- I was lucky enough to be flying first class! Bill had purchased my ticket with his frequent flier miles and as it turned out, the only seats he could use his miles on were in first class. What a shame 😉

IMG_7913This was my first time flying first class and man, it was awesome. First to board, extra leg room, and surprisingly tasty meals are going to make it hard to go back to coach! I flew from TPA–>ORD–>MCI–>SEA–>JNU. Phew. My longest layover was in Chicago, where I was actually able to meet up and grab a snack with my college roommate Adrianne. It was so nice to see her, and a great way to pass the time! I finally arrived in Juneau at about 10:30pm Alaska time- which was actually 2:30am Eastern time.

IMG_2128Yes, the sun was just setting at 10:30pm. Thanks to several naps on the plane and the excitement of finally arriving, I wasn’t terribly sleepy yet. I got off the plan in the tiny airport and headed out to the curb to catch a cab. There were three cabs out there, and I went up and asked one if he could take me to my hotel. Unfortunately, the cruise line was using his cab to take passengers or entertainers to their hotel. The other two cabs were also being utilized by the cruise line, and I started to get frustrated. My cell phone didn’t work so I couldn’t call Bill, who should have already been at the hotel. And there were no more cabs in sight. What airport doesn’t have a line of cabs rolling in when a plane arrives? Uh, you’re not in a big city anymore, Steph.

After about 15 minutes or so, another cab appeared. There wasn’t really a cab line per se, just the small crowd of Juneau visitors gathered where the cabs were supposed to be.  So when the driver got out and asked who needed a ride, the first one to speak up was a family from West Virginia. They were headed to a hotel a few blocks from mine, so I asked if we could share the cab fare. They agreed, so off to downtown Juneau we went! (The mom was actually West Virginia’s Secretary of State!)

Bill greeted me as I stepped out of the cab. He had been getting worried since he hadn’t heard from me, and was checking every cab that dropped people at the hotel. It was so good to see him after a long day, and it finally hit me that we were about to have our first real vacation together. 🙂

Tomorrow, we fly to Skagway to hit the trail!





A Weekend in the Mountains

15 03 2013

I’m going to attribute my lack of blog posts over the past week and a half to my spring break. That’s right, I get a spring break! It’s one of the perks of working for the school district; however, it is technically unpaid (my salary is prorated throughout the course of the year to make up for it) so that is definitely a drawback. But, having a week off of work is pretty darn nice. Especially when you can spend some time here:

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photos courtesy of Meghann

Last week, I tacked on two extra days to my spring break to head up to northern Georgia for a long weekend with my friends. It was a needed break and a nice change of scenery from Tampa.

Me, Bill and 8 of our friends rented a log cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Man oh man was it gorgeous up there! The mornings were chilly, but when the sun came out it warmed up enough for us to head outdoors and explore.  On Friday, we drove about 30 minutes or so to a trail suggested by the guidebook in our cabin. It just so happened to take us to a section of the Appalachian Trail!

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We hiked for a short distance, maybe only 10 minutes or so, before arriving at pretty waterfall. Stopped at the waterfall were two women, one who was treating her blistered feet. I asked her how far she was planning on going and her response was “Hopefully, all 2000 miles of it!” Wow, what an undertaking! Since reading Wild, a book about a woman’s solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve had a heightened  interest in hiking, so my thoughts immediately started wondering about the trek that lies ahead. I can only imagine the things she’ll see, the people she’ll meet, the stories she’ll tell. How cool to have that experience! 

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After pausing by the waterfall for a few minutes, we continued to hike for about another half an hour. We paused for the obligatory group photo (sans Marcus, who took the picture for us), since we hadn’t really seen any other hikers since leaving the waterfall.

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Photo courtesy of Meghann

It was close to lunchtime (or past?) so we turned around and headed back to the cars. On the way back down, we spotted some more hikers making their trek north. Some were clearly day hikers like us, but some appeared to be in it for the long haul. What a journey! I wonder how many of them will make it the whole way?

We paused for some more photos to commemorate the day.

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Can I just say that I was so, so, so happy that Bill was able to come on vacation with me? With his busy schedule, it’s hard to plan a trip together. I was planning on going with my friends when we started talking about the trip months ago, but Bill was always a big question mark. As the trip got closer, Bill’s schedule was clear, but I tried not to get my hopes up. Thankfully, his schedule remained clear, and he was able to come too!

Being on the Appalachian was a pretty cool way to kick off the weekend in the mountains. It was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me! I’m a big fan of getting in some exercise in ways that are fun and different, aka not running, biking, or swimming. 🙂

On our second day, our group headed out to Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.

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There’s a 2.5 mile windy, steep road up to a ridge where there’s a large parking lot before you can make the last .6 mile trek up to the very top. I was feeling a little car sick from the 45 minute drive to get to the base of the mountain, so when it was suggested that we hop out and run/walk up to the top, I agreed. I figured it was better to tough it out by walking up the 2.5 miles at an 11% grade than to feel miserable while driving up the mountain and trying not to puke.

Felipe and Bill decided they were going to run the whole thing, while Courtney, Jess and I decided to play it by ear. We’d start by walking and then run if we felt up to it. The other half of the group opted to drive up to the parking lot.

Holy hill! I felt like I was walking on a treadmill at the highest incline…and then some! We definitely got our hearts pumping and started to sweat.

It was still pretty chilly in the shade, and we spotted some remnants from the snow they received a few days prior.
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How odd to be warm enough to be in a sports bra while holding snow!

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We celebrated when we spotted the 1 mile marker…but the celebration didn’t last long, since we knew we were only a third of the way to the top. We started to challenge ourselves along the way, saying Ok, we’ll run to that next big tree. Or, when there was a relatively flat section, we’d try to run for 100 yards or so.


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After about 5 intervals or so, we made it to the parking lot, where we caught up with Felipe and Bill. Only .6 to go! Finally, we made it to top where we spotted some friendly faces 🙂

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It was beautiful up there! IMG_6376

We took a few group shots before heading down to the cars and back to the cabin for our last night. This was again an awesome way to get in some exercise, and I used some muscles I don’t get to use while running in flat as a pancake Tampa.

We wrapped up our last night with some fun games of charades and catch phrase, s’mores around the fireplace, and playing a few rounds of pool. So. Relaxing.

I’m going to be super cheesy here because honestly this was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I absolutely enjoyed the scenery and the activities, but I really enjoyed just spending time with my friends. We had meals together, played games together and just enjoyed our mountain experience together. I would happily vacation with these guys again…we’ve already begun chattering about the next trip 🙂

For more details about the trip, check out Meghann’s posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Mary’s post!

Question of the Day: Have you ever been on a group vacation? How was it? 





3 New Countries!

11 01 2012

Hi Friends! Happy hump day! Is it really the 11th already? Yipes! I really wish this month would slow down!

Last week went by especially fast because I was on vacation! I went on a cruise with my boyfriend which took us to 5 countries in 8 days! I was able to add three countries to my “Countries Visited” tally: Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. We also hit up Aruba and Grand Cayman. It was my last vacation before my big move, which happens Sunday, by the way!

One of the highlights from the trip was ringing in the New Year in Aruba. Our flight arrived at 11:20pm, and by the time we got through customs and got to our hotel, it was just about midnight. I was happy just to be with Bill, but the icing on the cake was that we were in Aruba and there were thousands of fireworks going off around us. It was an incredible sight to see, especially from the balcony of our hotel room. Check out the short video I took:


So. Many. Fireworks.

Absolutely incredible.

Here’s a daylight pic of where I shot the video:

Pretty sweet view, eh?

We had just enough time to grab a bite to eat and check out the beach in Aruba, before we needed to board the ship and sail for Cartagena, Colombia.

When we got to Cartagena, we hopped on a water taxi that took us from the port to the Old City.

We strolled around on the streets, just taking in all the sights and sounds of the city. There is clearly a lot of history here, but unfortunately, we didn’t go on an organized tour to learn about it. I need to do some research now!

I really enjoyed just wandering the streets, and stopping into the occasional store.


I also bought some fresh fruit from one of the street vendors. Holy deliciousness! This was the best mango I’ve ever had in my life!!

We made it back to the ship just before we left for our next destination: The Panama Canal.

I’m going to be honest here, and say that I’m glad I can say that I’ve been through (er, partially through. This cruise only took us through some of the locks.) the Panama Canal, but it wasn’t the most exciting part of the trip. Going through takes a long time, and someone was droning on the loudspeaker information about what was happening and about the history of the canal. Unfortunately, it took a lot of effort to understand what he was saying, and I ran out of patience. I think if I knew a bit more about the history and engineering, I’d probably appreciate it more.

We did get off at a port in Colon, Panama, which was also underwhelming. There was basically a small shopping area nearby and nothing else. The ship was only scheduled to be here two hours, and I can see why. We stopped in one of the stores, which was basically like a big Walmart or Target, and explored the aisles. One interesting find:

Imported Milwaukee’s Best beer for 49¢!

It was also neat to see all the different foods they stocked on their shelves, and see how they displayed their eggs (not in refrigerated cases) and meat (also, not in refrigerated cases).

We hopped back on the ship with plenty of time to spare before the boat set sail again. Next stop: Limon, Costa Rica!

When we arrived in Costa Rica, it was POURING rain. We had signed up for an excursion, but our tickets never arrived. So, we stood out in the rain and spoke with the excursions woman, who explained that the one we had selected was sold out, and that she could put us on a new one. After briefly glancing at the excursion she was pointing to, but mostly relying on her judgement, we gave her our information, and ran to the bus. Our new excursion was a boat ride on the canal and a stop at a banana plantation. Ok with me!

Before we even got to the canal, we saw some wildlife, including monkeys!

Fortunately, the rain stopped when we got to the canal. Once there, our boat driver and tour guide, with their eagle eyes, pointed out everything from snakes to birds, to lizards, to monkeys and sloths. It was really cool to see animals in the wild, which I usually only see in zoos!

After the tour, they gave us some fresh fruit. This was probably the freshest banana I’ll ever eat. And the pineapple and watermelon were AMAZING! T

We stopped at the Del Monte banana plantation on our way back to the ship. We saw how the bananas get from trees and into the boxes that are sent to the States and other countries.

First, bananas are bagged while on the trees. These bananas have (I think) about a month before they get cut off the tree.

When they’re ready, they’re cut off the tree, and attached to a pulley system, where someone will walk the bananas (up to two miles) to the building where they clean and sort them.

They are debagged, and someone hoses them off. The bunches are then cut off the main plant, and tossed into a water bath.

From there, they float to a series of people who sort them. If they are bruised, or too yellow, they’ll be tossed onto a conveyor belt, which takes them to either local markets, or ships them to the Gerber factory. If they meet certain quality standards, they will continue on their journey.

The bananas continue to float until they hit the next series of people, who take them out, dry them, add the Del Monte sticker, and put them in a crate.

They box them up, and then ship ’em out!

I’m happy I had my educational experience for the day. Now, take me back to the ship so I can put on some dry clothes!

The next day was a sea day, while we drifted towards the port I was most excited about, Grand Cayman. I was super pumped to go swimming there, in the crystal clear water, surrounded by tons of tropical fish. I could hardly wait to jump in! Bill and I went swimming in two different spots, once near a sunken rice boat, where I saw a small sting ray, among other brightly colored fish. We also tried to head out to Eden’s rock. Unfortunately, there were little jelly fish all over the place, and we were getting stung like crazy, so we turned around. We did get to see a few 4 foot long tarpon though, just hanging out by the rocks were we got in. Pretty neat. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy an underwater camera to take pictures. 😦

My island vacation wouldn’t be complete without stopping for a Piña Colada at a beach side bar. YUM. Does vacation really need to end?

I had an amazing time on this cruise. This trip really made me realize that I absolutely love traveling to new places. The world is so much bigger than my little reality, and just seeing how other people live is a good reminder of that. There’s more than just the American way of doing things, and traveling helps you see that.  One of my Facebook friends posted this quote the other day, and it really resonated with me:

The world is a book. Those who do not travel read but a page.

I understand that making travel happen can be a challenge: the cost, the timing, etc. But, the things you see, the experiences you’ll have, the memories you’ll make are totally worth it.