Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 4

Final installment, I swear!

(Part three is here).

The last thing we did during our Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas racecation weekend was visit the Spa at the Bellagio.

We didn’t book appointments before we arrived and were fortunate to secure them, although for a while it looked like we might not. Next time, I would book my appointments far in advance, especially for the busy hours of 9-11 AM.

In the end, the three of us were able to have facials and massages.

The Spa at the Bellagio is huge.

When they were checking us in and leading us back to the waiting area, I could see a list on a clipboard of all the people who had appointments at 9 AM, and it was a full page.

The robes, slippers and lockers were pretty standard. In the changing area, there was fresh carrot juice (I did not try; B. liked it and J. said it was gross), lemon and ginger water, tea, coffee and bottled water.

The waiting area for massages had about 15 people in it while we were there, and I did not like the fact that men and women were in the same area. There were some guys who did not seem to have their robes secured very well, and these were not the kind of guys you would want to see with their robes undone.

Fortunately, this part of the visit was brief and we could silently roll our eyes at each other while avoiding direct views of the unpleasantry.

I had booked a standard facial but changed to an anti-aging one when I got back to the room. The products were from a professional Elizabeth Arden line. I thought they were fine.

What was really amazing was the lip balm that they applied at the end. Over the course of the weekend, my lips went from dry to parched to raisin-like to peel-y. The combination of dry desert air and dehydration, plus licking my lips constantly during the race even though I know I should not do this was too much. Once the facial was done, I inquired about the balm and learned it was this brand.


From what I can tell, What’s Your Virtue gloss is such a small company that they don’t have a website, but there is an outdated blog from 2014 I found. How the Bellagio chose this brand is a mystery, but I bought the clear gloss and I absolutely love it. This turned my dry lips around in less than 24 hours. The price was $12.

The second appointment I had was a 50 minute massage. Especially after a race, I would prefer a deep tissue massage to work out the knots, but hotel spas are – IMHO – notoriously light on the pressure. The technician I had was somewhere in the middle, so I was ok with that.

There seemed to be quite a few people who had already checked out of the hotel and had their luggage with them when we got back to the locker room. This is a reasonable strategy if you have an afternoon or evening flight (one I have used many times), because you can shower and get ready to go home after your appointment at the spa. For reference, the Spa at the Bellagio had many private rainfall showers, shampoo/conditioner/shower gel, oversized towels, and the standard things (combs, hair dryers, hair products, aerosol deodorant) that you would need. If you had an abundance of free time, you could also use hot tubs, steam showers and a sauna in the women’s only locker area. We did not have an abundance of time so we did not.

Sadly, then it was time to go to the airport.

We did.

The flight home was uneventful.

My final thoughts: I had a blast. J. and B. are super fun travel companions. The three of us had actually already been to Las Vegas for a long weekend over Memorial Day, so this was a familiar trip. I liked the fact that we could offset some of the calories with running. The two trips were different, though, so I am not sure if one was better than the other.

How does the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon compare to other races? As I said previously, the course is flat and fast. This is great. The night start is unique, as is running on the Strip. I have only done two Rock ‘n’ Roll races (the other was Dublin in 2015), and overall I think I like the organization of Run Disney races better (signage, water stops, corral placement). Having said that, I’ve done worse races, too. I would do this again. If you can swing it, I’d also strongly recommend adding the VIP package, even if just for the eagle eye view of the finish line at the post-race party.

How about the medals? These were solid, heavy and quite interesting. I forgot to mention earlier that since we did both the 5k and the half marathon, we got a third medal for completing a “Remix Challenge.” Some 5k medals are flimsy, but even this one was substantial. The half and Remix medals had spinning elements. (See below).

Would I change anything? This is a hard one to answer.

  • I definitely would have done a better job with pre-race fueling.
  • We didn’t get to try as many excellent restaurants as the first visit (including Mr. Chow and Giada’s) since we had the pre-race party one night and room service another.
  • We didn’t get any pool time (although that was mostly temperature related; it was in the low 70s and we could have gone to the pool but decided not to).
  • On the plus side, I burned off a lot of calories and didn’t feel quite so gluttonous on my way out of town despite having an excellent cookie/brownie/cupcake/cannoli from Carlo’s Bakery, and there were the Meb sightings and Snoop Dogg.

So there’s that.

And this guy came home with us:











Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 3

(Part 2 is here if you need to catch up).

Our longest event of the weekend – the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas half marathon – didn’t start until the evening, so when my friends J., B. and I woke up on Sunday morning, we decided to get some pre-race fuel via the Bellagio’s breakfast buffet.

Ugh. Mistake.

This would be a good time to point out that I rarely, rarely eat at any type of buffet situation. When food is unlimited, I tend to eat unlimited quantities, so this is not good and the best strategy is for me to avoid it entirely.

And yet, knowing this information, I boldly strolled into the breakfast buffet and proceeded to consume roughly 14 zillion calories.

At one point I used a slice of cheese pizza like a piece of toast and topped it with part of an omelet to make an open-faced sandwich.

The cheese display was also heavily pilfered.

Ditto the sushi bar, despite having just eaten a much superior sushi dinner only 12 hours earlier.

Double ugh.

The one thing I will contend is that I definitely got my $33 worth of breakfast foods, not that this should be a point of pride.

After that mess, we wandered back to our room to rest and digest.

By 2 PM, we had to head to the starting line.

Even though the race wasn’t beginning for a few hours, there was a pre-race concert at 3 PM that we wanted to see.

This guy:


Yep. Snoop Dogg.

The starting line for this race is near Mandalay Bay. There were 22,000+ runners in the half marathon, so the starting area was quite crowded.


Our VIP race package gave us access to a special area in front of the concert stage with tables, chairs, private bathrooms (still portable ones but barely anyone was using them, so it wasn’t as gross as usual at the start of a race), and refreshments.

img_0973This is what the area looked like:


I was still overly full from our breakfast – even though it was hours earlier at this point – so I did not want any of the food or drinks they had in the VIP tent. The spread was impressive, though. There were several things that looked reasonable to eat before a race (trail mix), but also a massive bowl of hummus, which just seemed like a terrible decision before embarking on a two hour run.

There was also alcohol available, and I was surprised to see several people partaking. Again, this would have made my already bad decision making that day worse. I stuck to water.

Soon it was time for the concert.


Snoop Dogg played the crowd well. At one point, he looked out at the audience and said,

What’s that y’all like to drink while you’re running? What is it? Gatorade?

Crowd screams back: “Gin and Juice!”

He begins singing that song. Crowd goes nuts.

And guess who was dancing and singing along next to us at the show? Meb Keflezighi.


I was in the Green starting wave, which was the second group. The Blue starters began the race at 4:30 PM, Green at 5, and the Yellow wave was at 5:30 PM.

Like the 5k the night before, there were assigned corrals but they seemed like mere suggestions. People were randomly crowded into the space, so there was zero separation by anticipated speed or finish time. This meant that speedier runners were stuck behind slower runners or walkers in many cases. I did not like this part of the race set-up.

The half marathon course is flat and fast.

Runners head away from the Strip for about a half mile at the start and then do a U-turn, running past the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and then down the entire length of the Strip, which is closed to traffic for the race.

Ok, that was super cool. Later I spoke with a woman who was part of the planning team and she told me that getting the Strip closed to traffic is a big, big deal. It only happens twice a year, once for this race and again on New Year’s Eve.

I don’t know if I perceived this correctly or not, but it also seemed that much of the Strip portion was ever so gently downhill.

For the first few miles, I had to bob and weave to make room but still managed to keep a reasonable pace.

My 5k split was 29:45, which is 9:35 per mile.

At Mile 3, there was a run-through wedding area. Supposedly 200 couples got married during the race.

I did not.

My 10k split was 58:53, which is 9:29 per mile.

I secretly had a goal in my head that I wanted to get a two hour finish. I have been working with a trainer over the summer and generally done a lot of better things for my health and body, so I was excited to see what I could do.

Except the wheels came off the bus at this point.

Miles 7-10 were in a strange part of town. It was very dark and difficult to see. After the bright lights and distractions of the Strip, this took significant effort to keep momentum going.

I chugged along and we passed the Fremont Street area.

I was getting very tired, realized I had improperly fueled (Breakfast buffet! You ruined me), and walked for two minutes in Mile 10 near an extremely sketchy “hostel.”

My 10 mile time was 1:37, or 9:42 per mile.

At this point, I was demoralized. I realized I would not make it in two hours. I didn’t have enough gas in the tank to pull out three sub-8 minute miles.

Once I finished my walk break, I felt a lot better.

At least until Mile 12.

I thought I’d missed the sign for Mile 12. When I finally found it, my watch said I’d completed 12.47 miles.

This was very surprising to me, because my watch had seemed pretty accurate to the mile markers up to this point.

I was further defeated and decided to walk for two more minutes. When I started running, I felt moderately better and saw the finish line. In the end, I think mile marker 12 was misplaced and I was further than the course said.

I put a bit more effort into the finish, but my final time was a disappointing 2:09:39, or 9:54 per mile.

My overall finish was 4164/22048, and 1609/13755 for women.

Now, let me also be clear that I know I am crying over spilled milk. I was healthy. I completed the race. My finish was respectable. I get to run whereas others cannot.

I get all that, but what I am saying is that I had a personal goal in mind and felt like I’d let myself down. My time for this race was almost exactly – to the second – the same as my finish for the Tinker Bell half marathon in May. I guess I am consistent.

I got over it my disappointment pretty quickly, in fact by the time I had exited the finisher shoot.

My friends weren’t quite finished yet, so I headed to the VIP after-party, which was held at the Linq hotel.

Besides the party, there was one final VIP package perk: all runners received a very soft red fleece Rock ‘n’ Roll logo blanket. I was cold and sweaty at this point, so that blanket was everything to me.

The party was never crowded at any point while I was there. While there was an indoor area with food (pizza, sandwiches) and drinks (free beer and wine, plus some liquor, but $5 for soda or Gatorade – which was weird and wrong), the outdoor area overlooked the finish line and is where I spent my time.


My hair looks terrible but I am happy to be done.

A slightly better shot of the finish line from above:


J. and B. soon arrived and we had some food and wine (me). Being cold, wet and tired at a party is not all that fun, though, so we didn’t stay late.

Once back in the hotel, we quickly showered and had a celebratory drink.


It was getting super late and this point and we decided to get room service and call it quits.

Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart’s new show was on TV, so we had a laugh watching it while we ate.

Next up: Review of the Bellagio Spa and their amazing lip balm. The (sad) trip home. Final thoughts on the weekend. 












Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, read it here).

So, to catch you up: last weekend I went to Las Vegas for a racecation with two of my fabulous girlfriends.

After our mild debauchery on Friday night (Sub-G Rated by Vegas standards), we were moving somewhat ssslllooooowwwly on Saturday morning.

We ended up heading for brunch at Mon Ami Gabi – a popular faux-French bistro in the Paris hotel – at 11 AM.

We were seated at a well-positioned terrace table and let the caffeine kick in. 

And in. And in.

We waited a long time, maybe 40 minutes, for our order to arrive. The server apologized for the kitchen being slow.


Frankly, I didn’t mind. It was a beautiful day. I was laughing with my friends. The people watching was excellent.

When the meal arrived, it was mediocre. I was really hungry by then, so I ate anyway.


We all agreed that the overall experience was disappointing. On a scale of 1-10, we gave it a two.

But then something unexpected happened that totally turned it around. The manager came over to our table and said this:

Ladies, I need this table for a large party. If you would be willing to leave now, I’ll pick up your check.

Who says nothing is free in Vegas?

We were out of there so fast that there were smoke streams.

Brunch experience now elevated to at least an 8.

We decided to do some shopping and walk off the calories. What really caught my eye were the Alexander McQueen “Obsession” print pieces that I saw in several stores.

Wow. These were stunning.

This collection was new to me and I was honestly a bit dizzy thinking about how much I wanted this bag:


I resisted, but barely.

Here are some of the other McQueen styles that I was longing for:

img_0966 img_0965

The above dress was long-sleeved, sleek and absolutely gorgeous. The charms were all individually sewn onto it. I think the retail was about $6000. This was at Neiman Marcus in the Fashion Show Mall.

This blouse ($1200) was also exquisite:


I tried to buy a scarf with the print, but it was sold out in the Alexander McQueen boutique. Fortunately (Unfortunately?), I discovered it is available online.

Our final stop was Carlo’s Bakery, which is operated by “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro. 

We briefly contemplated bailing since there was a 20+ person queue, but in the end we decided to stay.

And we were so glad we did.

I bought a brownie, a cookie, a cupcake and a cannoli. They were all gone by the time I boarded the flight home.

We headed back to get ready for the 5k race and took the monorail to the SLS Hotel, which is at the far end of the Strip near the Stratosphere. It was slow going to the race. I glanced at my watch and noted that it was almost exactly an hour to get from Point A to Point B.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas 5k started at 6 PM on Saturday night. There were 8200+ runners.

The course was dark, narrow and crowded. It was a boring out-and-back loop. Part of it was on a track. I felt like I was running in a high school track meet, albeit a really crowded one.

The first half mile was so crowded that I was boxed in, an experience I do not enjoy.

I started bobbing and weaving and was able to occasionally make some space to stretch out.

I wish I would have kept my mile splits but I didn’t. I would estimate that the first mile was around 10 minutes with the crowding.

Once I found some space, a competitive drive kicked in and I put the pedal down. My pre-race cupcake and cannoli fuel seemed to be working for me, so I went with it.

As I neared the finish line, I saw Meb Keflezighi for a second time that weekend. He was giving out high fives at the finish line and I was lucky enough to get one! I was so happy.

My finish time was 27:56, which placed me at 923/8249 overall and 307/5297 for women.

I was ok with that. I immediately forgot that I didn’t like the course and mentally registered for next year’s race.

The finish area was crowded, but I eventually met up with J. and B. We reversed our monorail trip back to the hotel, showered and headed to a sushi dinner at Yellowtail.

I wish I would have taken photos of the meal, but I was too busy eating. Everything.

It’s a bit fuzzy (we were also drinking wine), but we ordered:

  • Shishito peppers (a standing favorite among the three of us; these were excellent)
  • Edamame
  • Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño (Unanimously voted best dish)
  • Popping spicy crab roll (This was nuts. I could have eaten two more on my own).
  • Mile High Roll
  • Uni Truffle pasta

And guess who we saw eating there? Yep, Meb Keflezighi.

Next up: Half-marathon and VIP post-race party.








Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 1

I returned late Monday night from a long weekend in Las Vegas with my friends J. and B. 

You can read about my trip prep and packing here.

Officially, we were there to run two races that are part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon series. We chose to do the 5k on Saturday night and the half marathon on Sunday.

Unofficially, we were there to have fun.

J. and B. are Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas vets; this was a first time experience for me and a third for them. They also convinced me to spring for the VIP package, which gave us some nice perks throughout the weekend that I will detail in the trip report posts.

We had an early flight into Las Vegas, and one of the things I love about going there is how quick it is to get from the airport to the hotels on the Strip. With a 10 minute taxi ride, we were at our hotel before 11 AM.

The room wasn’t ready yet, which we expected, so we had lunch on the terrace of Olives, which overlooks the Bellagio fountains. The weather was perfect and we were able to see several fountain displays during the course of a leisurely lunch that included day drinking.

This was a perfect moment.


The seasonal floral display at the Bellagio was stunning. It was still autumnal and I think they piped in a spicy fragrance to enhance the experience. Throughout the weekend – even in the wee hours of the morning – it was crowded with people taking photos.

img_1002 img_1003 img_1004

Our room was now ready. I included a few photos in case you are curious about the rooms at the Bellagio. They are nice but the decor is not exactly my style. Everything was well-maintained but it seemed a bit formal and dated.

Two queens in the sleeping area:


Sitting room (with J. checking her email):


Two of the bathrooms (the bottom one was a powder room. I am also not showing a third bathroom with a walk-in shower):

img_0957 img_0954

This was a good room for a group of friends to share. We had them bring a roll-away single bed, but we could have easily doubled up in the queens and with the roll-away and sofa in the sitting area (which I discovered was quite comfortable during an extended nap on Sunday), you could probably squeeze in six people. B. is a member of a Bellagio perks program and we got a terrific deal on this room, so it was a no-brainer to pick it.

Next we were off to the Race Expo, which involved taking the monorail to the Las Vegas Convention Center. This process was seamless and we picked up our VIP packets within a few minutes. As far as race expos go, this was pretty standard. I was happy to score two free lip balms and a 70s-style terry cloth headband, so that was cool.

Our entertainment for Friday night was a VIP reception at Hyde, one of the signature clubs at the Bellagio. This was one of the perks of the VIP package. As we were walking in we saw running legend Meb Keflezighi. That was awesome. I subsequently saw him again on Saturday  (twice) and Sunday. I wish some of his running skill would have magically wafted on to me. 

The party had some reasonable food (sliders, cheese display, shrimp cocktail, small salads in mason jars, chocolate fountain) and an open bar.

The crowd seemed to be a mix of people who worked for the Rock ‘n’ Roll organization (all of whom were dressed infinitely better than I was in jeans and a black shirt) and regular runners like us with the VIP package. I thought the best part was the venue; Hyde is an open-air space with a direct view over the fountains. They are eye level and it was an incredible background to see throughout the night.

Oh, and there was entertainment: Ozomatli played. Full disclosure: I had no idea who they were. We stayed a bit after the party ended and Hyde transitioned into full club mode.

Another full disclosure: we had taken liberal advantage of the open bar during the party and decided that we should get a snack at that point, which was quite unnecessary. 

We stopped at a 24 hour restaurant in the hotel and placed an order that was something like this:

  • Spinach and artichoke dip
  • Chips and salsa
  • Mushroom tacos
  • Thai salad (My choice, and in retrospect, a very weird food to eat while drunk)
  • A banana split

On the way back to the room, one of my friends decided that she needed to buy this three foot bear in the gift shop:


He became a fun presence throughout the rest of the weekend.

P.S. I will get to the running, I promise! Saturday’s events will be up next.

Pack Up + Go

How fun is this?

Travel company Pack Up + Go will send you on a three day weekend to a mystery city.


This is Austin, TX. Send me here!

They take care of the travel arrangements and accommodations. You set the budget and answer a few questions about places you’ve recently been or are planning to visit (so as to not send you there), plus activities you like to do (Fine dining – check; food markets – check; spas – check).

A few days before your departure they will send you directions to your departure site (airport, train station, etc) and a sealed envelope, which you open when you get there to find out where you’re headed.

While I probably wouldn’t do this for a once-in-a-lifetime two month excursion, I’m game for a long weekend. This sounds like fun.

P.S. Thanks to my travel-loving friend T. for telling me about this.

Disney Cruise with Star Wars Day at Sea

This is an extremely late trip report about our February 2016 vacation aboard the Disney Fantasy, which was one of seven sailings this year that featured a Star Wars Day at Sea.


Photo via Cruise Critic

First things first: I am a Disney nerd but not a Star Wars nerd. I haven’t even seen all of the movies, and I’d rate my opinion of the ones I have seen as a solid “meh.” 

However, these probably qualify as fighting words around here, as Spouse and MGM (9) are huge fans.

We ended up booking this trip because of the timing, which included Trixie’s seventh birthday and a spring break week for the kids. The Star Wars day wasn’t the deal sealer on this one, but I knew it would be a bonus for the guys.

Speaking of bonus: our friends P. and T. and their two adorable kids decided to book the same trip, and not only were our cabins close to each other but we were also able to combine our dining reservations into one big table.

Our family traveled to Orlando a day early and spent the night prior to the cruise at the Swan Hotel. This day was Trixie’s birthday, and I had her presents sent ahead of time to the hotel to avoid filling luggage space with wrapped packages.

Once we settled in and the presents had been ripped open, we headed over to Disney Springs to check it out. None of us had been there since it was re-branded from Downtown Disney, and we were impressed. 

Our first stop was Erin McKenna’s NYC Bakery, which is the first Florida outpost of the renowned gluten-free bakery mini chain. Trixie was diagnosed with severe celiac disease when she was a year old, and this was the first time – ever – that she was able to go to a bakery and choose something to eat. Since it was her birthday, I told her she could get anything she wanted. We walked out $50 poorer, but her delight was totally worth it.


Choices, choices, choices!

Spouse lost his mind at The Boathouse, which overlooks a harbor filled with vintage boats, including his beloved Chris Crafts. I thought he might need CPR at one point, such was his excitement. Also totally worth it.

We boarded the next day. Transport to the ship was smooth, and we were able to check in quickly at the Concierge area in the port terminal.

This time we were in a Concierge veranda cabin on the starboard side, and our friends were in the same type of cabin on the port side. We checked in with the staff at the Concierge lounge and were happy to see two of our favorite cast members were still there and were working our trip.

The itinerary for this seven night Western Caribbean cruise included stops in Cozumel,  Grand Cayman and Castaway Cay, plus three days at sea. Personal navigators from the same itinerary (albeit two weeks earlier) can be found here if you’re interested in seeing what each day was like.

Some highlights of the trip:

  • Brunch at Palo. The four adults in our group did this on our first sea day. I am still dreaming about the grape and gorgonzola pizza.
  • Cozumel. This was a new port to us, and our family opted to take an excursion to Xcaret Ecopark, which was awesome.  We started out by swimming in the underground river, and then both kids needed these juice drinks at lunch.

The access to the animals was incredible. I’d love to go back here again.

  • Cayman Turtle Farm.  Confession: I wasn’t expecting much. All eight of us had booked an Island Tour and Turtle Farm excursion in Grand Cayman, and up to this point the tour had been a total dud. Our guide had spent an hour driving around and pointing out numerous local attractions like Burger King and Subway. We were not impressed. The Turtle Farm redeemed it all. The kids were able to hold baby turtles and there were hundreds of giant sea turtles. (P. and I may have also sent the kids back to the boat with the guys after this excursion so that we could hit a few jewelry stores before the boat took off. We were highly successful in our mission and managed to get the very last tender back to the ship with our new bling. Score!)

My favorite pic of the whole trip: Trixie was so excited to hold this baby turtle

  • Cabana at Castaway Cay. This was the first time that we’d sprung for a cabana. We split the cost with our friends, and it was money well spent. I highly recommend our cabana, Number 5, as it was not too close to the crowded main beach area yet not too far from where lunch is served. Unlike some of the cabanas further down the beach, it was also sheltered from the wind. The cabana came with a fridge stocked with chilled towels, soft drinks and bottles of water. There was also a basket of sunscreen, plenty of fresh towels and a few magazines. Cabanas also come with free use of bikes, snorkeling equipment, inner tubes and pool floats. Oh! There is also an extremely convenient button in the cabana that you can use to order drinks, which will then be efficiently delivered to your hammock.

Welcome to Cabana #5


  • Champagne tasting. The four adults did this on one of the sea days. We discovered Moet Ice Imperial, which is the first champagne designed to be consumed over ice in hot weather. Brilliant! This was delicious. We *may* have used that button in the cabana to get some Ice Imperial delivered right to our hammock.

Moet Ice Imperial

  • Star Wars Day at Sea. Ok, I couldn’t leave this off. It *was* unique. A few things about this day: you won’t see “regular” Disney characters; it’s all Star Wars, all the time. You also won’t hear the usual Disney music; there are ominous marches playing overhead. This day also brought out a lot of fans, many of whom took the whole costume thing really, really far. I’ve said it before, but I have a theory that adults fall into two categories, those who never miss a chance to wear a costume and those who avoid it like the plague. I’m in the latter camp, so I was annoyed to have to dodge fully grown costumed adults having a lightsaber duel in the middle of the jogging track while I went for a run. Characters roamed the ship during the day, including Storm Troopers who patrolled the pool decks. Dinner that night featured a Star Wars menu and the kids got Storm Trooper or Chewbacca masks. The evening culminated with a show on the pool deck and then every single boy under the age of 15 on the cruise spontaneously engaged in a giant lightsaber battle. I had to drag MGM away at midnight and even then, he said that this was the best day of his life and he nearly cried at the thought of never being able to have so much fun again. And that, Friends, made the whole trip worth it.

Even I had to begrudgingly admit that the Storm Troopers patrolling the pool deck was a cool touch


Chewbacca mask/menu


Best. Day. Ever.

While none of us had any hitches on the trip, we saw two people get evacuated from the ship. The was a first. Both happened during the Star Wars day at sea. The first time a Coast Guard cutter pulled up next to the ship and a door in the middle of the hull was opened (same one used as an exit for ports requiring tendering) and a passenger was moved off the ship. The second time was more dramatic: a Coast Guard helicopter hovered over the front of the ship and sent down a Coast Guard member on a cable, then loaded one of the medical officials from the boat into a giant basket and pulled her up and into the chopper. Finally, a passenger who seemed to have a head injury was strapped to a stretcher and brought up into the helicopter via a cable. I had a bird’s eye view of this from my vantage point in the ship’s spa (Yep – this all happened in the middle of my massage), and my heart was racing just watching the passenger sway back and forth on that stretcher as the cable slowly brought him up into the helicopter. We never heard exactly what happened, so I hope that person is ok.

Overall, this was an excellent trip. Having our friends with us really elevated the fun, and I hope we can do it again sometime soon. As usual, I’m already dreaming about our next getaway…



You know how you can anticipate something so much and then build it up to a place where it’s impossible to meet even the tiniest expectation? In essence, you’re just set up for disappointment before the event has begun.

Scratch that thought, because our trip to Alaska completely exceeded all of my wildest dreams.

We’ve been back for a little over a week and it’s still hard to take it all in.

Alaska previously hadn’t been a bucket list destination for me, but last year one of my partners went and raved about the whole experience so much that I had to check it out.

I also enjoyed the thought of having an unplugged vacation with the kids, mostly free of lights/buzzers/gizmos.

Huge bonus: the chilly weather in Alaska also precludes bikini wearing, so bring on the buffet! (Kidding, sort of).

We started the trip with a weekend in Vancouver, a city I fell in love with last year.

al15 al14

The weekend was a mini-vacation in itself: spouse took a tour on a float plane, the kids and I went to the Vancouver Aquarium, we saw the Olympic torch from the 2010 Games, and I ran in Stanley Park twice.


Our boat as seen from Stanley Park

By the time Monday rolled around, we’d squeezed in a lot of fun and it was time to board the Disney Wonder.

This was the sixth Disney cruise for the kids and me and #5 for Spouse (he missed out on a quick trip the kids and I took with my sister last winter).

The Disney Wonder was new to us. We’ve been on the Dream and Fantasy before, but not this ship. I was nervous because the Wonder (along with the Magic) is one of the older, smaller ships. Unlike the Magic, though, it hasn’t undergone a major remodel, so I didn’t know what to expect.

We stayed in a one bedroom suite on the 8th deck. Here are a few shots of the room. It was really spacious:

IMG_6917 IMG_6918

Trixie liked the fruit bowl that was waiting for us:


Concierge service is also different on the Wonder than the newer ships. Specifically, there is no Concierge Lounge, which is usually our favorite hangout.

However, Glenn and Rodrigo – the two Concierges onboard – really went over the top to provide a Concierge experience. In the end, I think they out-did the newer ships, and that is saying a lot.

Here’s a summary of Concierge amenities on the Wonder:

  • A welcome reception where you meet the team, have a glass of bubbly and go over your personalized itinerary. We were able to book a wine tasting and a chocolate and liquor tasting for later in the trip during that event.
  • Snacks delivered to your cabin every afternoon. These varied from the above fruit bowl to small cupcakes, a cheese tray and chocolate covered strawberries.
  • Priority disembarkation. Being the first group off the ship helps beat the long lines at Customs on the last day.
  • A twice daily cocktail reception. Ok, I’ll be honest: this is my favorite perk of traveling Concierge. I was worried that without the Lounge, this wouldn’t happen. It still did; Glenn and Rodrigo’s team took over half of the Outlook Café every night and re-created the Lounge atmosphere.
  • Free fancy coffee drinks in the Outlook café. This was a new one to me. The Concierge Lounge on the new ships has a deluxe espresso machine that you can use any time, but you have to make your own coffee drink. Without that feature on the Wonder, you can get your coffee fix made by a barista, for free. This was actually even better than on the new ships, since you could order off a deep menu of things like Salted Caramel Hazelnut Mochas. I probably should have taken more advantage of this perk, but I didn’t think that a 600 calorie coffee drink was in my daily best interest.
  • Glenn and Rodrigo also came around every day, checking in on us. I really liked them. Glenn told us that this was his last cruise for two months, as he was leaving for vacation and to run the Disneyland Half-Marathon. I was jealous about the race! I hope we see them again on a future trip.

As for the trip itself, it was amazing! After setting sail the first day, the second day was at sea. The scenery was spectacular.


During the third day, we slowly floated through Tracy Arm fjord, ultimately ending near Sawyer Glacier. Spouse and I had brunch at Palo that morning and were treated to views of iceberg chunks and jumping whales. (I also ate most of a gorgonzola and grape pizza, washed down with Prosecco. Just thinking about it now makes my mouth water…)

al11 al10

The glacier:

al7 al8

Trixie on our balcony, taking in the sights:


The four of us took the Whitepass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway the following day, riding all the way to the summit. Spouse is a train nut and this was a long-standing item on his Wish List. Check! We followed up the four-hour trip with lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company.

The next day in Juneau, our first stop was whale watching. Hands down, this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We watched a group of five or six humpback whales bubble-net feed for nearly two hours. The whales swim in an underwater circle, blowing bubbles that force smaller fish (herring) to the surface.

Here is a National Geographic video of what this looks like (totally worth your time to watch this!):

The whales simultaneously jumped out of the water, over and over. I overuse the word “awesome” all the time, but this truly was something that left me awestruck. I could not believe this was happening in front of my eyes. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Whale tail

Our crew took us to lunch on an island and we feasted on freshly grilled salmon. MGM hunted for rocks when we were done:


We also capped that day with a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier.


Our last stop was Ketchikan. The guys went salmon fishing (double thumbs up from them) and the girls went bear watching.

Trixie and I saw about ten bears, including a mom/cub combo:

IMG_7209 IMG_7202 FullSizeRender (10)

The streams were packed with salmon. I felt like I could have grabbed one bare-handed. The mama bear above just caught lunch and has a fish dangling from her mouth.


High density salmon

There were also a lot of “Frozen”-themed events on board, which Trixie loved. She met Anna and Elsa, plus Olaf.

al3 al2

There was also a “Frozen” scavenger hunt around the ship that went on for three days. If you completed all the clues, you won a Rice Krispie treat decorated in a “Frozen” theme. Trixie and I had so much fun finding the clues, but it was disappointing in the end that she couldn’t enjoy the reward since Rice Krispies aren’t gluten-free (malt is the culprit in the regular version, although there are special GF Krispies out there).

One night even featured a “Freezing the Night Away” deck party. This was a stage show with all of the characters from “Frozen,” culminating in Elsa singing “Let It Go” (of course it ends with Elsa singing “Let It Go;” you knew it would) with fake snow falling on deck. MGM was having none of it and requested to be in the kids’ club that night. Trixie wore her Elsa dress and basically lost her mind.

FullSizeRender (13) FullSizeRender (12)

One other event worth mentioning: Trixie lost a tooth onboard. Fortunately the Tooth Fairy was able to scrounge up ten quarters in exchange for her tooth (the going rate around here), but there was much speculation about how she got to the ship (Flying? Her wings would get too cold? On another boat? But how? The final verdict was via helicopter).


Two cute towel animals (why do I find these so hilarious?):

IMG_7014 FullSizeRender (14)

My souvenir:

FullSizeRender (11)

A coffee mug, natch

Final thoughts: For so many reasons, I think was quite possibly our best vacation ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Alaska really outdid herself. I am so grateful that we were able to have this adventure.

Is Alaska on your bucket list?