Custer State Park in South Dakota

Custer State Park in South Dakota
We saw a LOT of these guys at Custer State Park in South Dakota!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Saint John and Bay of Fundy Excursion

Maybe it was because of the fact that we had low to no expectations on this excursion.....  but a bus tour around Saint John ended up being a very enjoyable moment during our cruise.  We had a great, enthusiastic guide and we just enjoyed this area a lot.

The main attraction on the tour is the reversing rapids of the Bay of Fundy.  I have to admit that I still don't understand the whole process, but it was cool.  We went by twice so that we could see the changes first hand.  I will be honest, this isn't exactly Niagara Falls, but it is something cool to check out if you are in the area.

Anyway, here are a few more photos from Saint John that I took from our tour bus.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Market- Saint John, New Brusnwick

Here are just a few photos that we took, mostly at the Market, in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Saint John was easily the stop on the cruise that surprised us the most.  We figured it would be a nice town to visit, but we had low expectations.  We ended up really enjoying our visit.

As we got off of the Norwegian Dawn, there was an area with locals handing out maps and guide books (something pretty standard in many of the cities we stopped at).  We talked to a very sweet lady who told us about their mall, market, and other attractions.  She then gave us three pins each!

I thought that was very cool and generous of the tourism people in Saint John!

We had an excursion booked for later in the day to take us to some of the more notable attractions in the area, but we had a few hours before that.  We used that time to walk towards the mall and Market area.

I do enjoy visiting malls with character, and they do have a very cool mall with a local vibe to it.  There is a library in the mall, and they have done a nice job of decorating the area outside of the reading spot.

There are some nice and convenient pedestrian walkways through this mall.  I am certain that these walkways get a lot of use in the Canadian winters.  We took the walkways/mall passage to the Market.

The Saint John City Market started up in 1785!  It is Canada's oldest continuously operated farmer's market.  Check out the photos, the market has a colorful beauty to it, especially with the decorations hanging from the ceiling.

This looks like a very nice place for locals to buy vegetables and that sort of thing, but there were plenty of things for tourists (we noticed a lot of t-shirts).  New Brunswick coffee chain Java Moose has a booth set up here too, which is very nice!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Day 3 on the Cruise- Sydney Nova Scotia

Sydney Nova Scotia ended up being a nice, unexpected treat on our cruise.  We did not have any real expectations here, but we ended up coming away with an appreciation for the area.

We had purchased an excursion for Sydney, which was really just a concert at the port visitor center.  The concert happened in a room just a few steps from our ship.

Our friends on this cruise had done this particular cruise before, and they said that we HAD to do this excursion....  as they would be doing it for a second time.

We followed a bagpiper in to the visitor center, and he led us to an upstairs area.  We were given bottled waters and took a seat at a table with oatcakes, which were tasty.  Coffee was also available.

There was a three piece band with each member switching playing a keyboard, guitar and fiddle.  All three alternated instruments, I think each playing at least 2 at some point.  Kimberley Fraser played a left handed fiddle, which is the only time I have ever seen a southpaw fiddler. 

They were great- doing mostly local folk and original songs. All of the songs were about the area and local culture.  Kim Fraser did sing a Gaelic song at one point.  I did buy a CD from one of the musicians, Aaron C. Lewis, and I have really enjoyed it.  This was a very enjoyable show, with some great and freakishly talented musicians.  This was definitely an excursion worth the price, and I am going to have to look up each of the musicians we saw and keep up with them.

At the port is the world's largest fiddle!  It was perfect for photo ops, and it looked cool next to the ship!

After the concert, we walked around the port, where a local vendor market was set up.  Similar shops were set up at each port, and we enjoyed looking through them.  Here, we met a girl named Jill who has her own chocolate company!  My wife also found a nice alpaca sweater, at a reasonable price (actually, they had some alpaca stuff that was very affordable).  This was a nice area.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Norwegian Dawn Stardust Theater- Haines Magic Show.

We probably went to about one show each night while on the cruise.  We ALL enjoyed the Haines Magic Show the most, but all of the shows were entertaining.

The hour long show featured most of the standards performed flawlessly and coolly.  You may be able to google around and figure out how they are done, but they are still mind blowing, and they take a ton of practice.  AND, it is just fun watching a well done magic show.

David Haines did a Q&A on the ship the day after his show too.  He showed the audience how to do a couple of rubber band tricks, and the trick where you rip up a napkin, then unfold it, and it is totally back together.  When he let us in on the secret, I think we all had a "wow, that was simple and crafty" moment.

He also destroyed a guys 100 bill, then gave it back to him complete.  It was actually a pretty cool Q&A.  He said that he is still flattered when he gets the "how'd you do that?" question.  He said that he works with the same people who do David Copperfield's tricks and they are professional and pricey.  He said that he can either buy a new car, or a new trick AND he has to pay out royalties to the trick designer. 

There were other shows at the theater that we enjoyed too, including one later in the week that featured David and his assistant with other performers from the ship. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cruise Day 2- Behind the Scenes Tour on the Norwegian Dawn

Our second full day on the Norwegian Dawn, we did not have any stops, and we were at sea the entire day.  There was still plenty to do on the ship...  and we ended up taking a "Behind the Scenes" tour of the ship!

Our guide for this tour was a very nice fellow named Kim, who we would bump in to several more times on our trip, and who would be very helpful.  Anyway, this tour started with a short presentation on Norwegian Cruise Lines.  We were told about several ships used in the past, and we were told about their current fleet.

After that, Kim took us to several different departments, and introduced us to the person in charge.  Each of those people explained how things worked in their department, and they toured us around.

I think the most exciting part of this for many was in the kitchen.  We got to see several prep and cleaning areas.  There were photos on the wall showing how dishes were supposed to look.  The staff in this area seemed friendly and aware of food prep procedures.  Of interest were two elevators used.  One was for soiled and dirty items, and the other was for clean, uncontaminated items.

As there are many meals served each day on the ship, there seemed to be almost an infinite amount of prep, cleaning and other areas.  I did enjoy this part of the tour very much, and after going through here, I felt very confident about eating on the ship.  They obviously take their food prep seriously.

Also, at the end of the kitchen tour, a cruise ship photographer took a photo of each person on the tour wearing a bakers hat and holding some oversized kitchen utensils.  A complimentary photo was given to each participant (along with a nice 8x10 photo of the ship) at the end of our tour!

After this we talked to a staff person in charge of getting rid of waste.  This was very interesting too, as incinerators are used in compressing the waste down.

Another interesting area we visited dealt with the budgeting issues of getting supplies for the ship.

This was simply a fun part of the tour, as the guys in this area seemed to have a great sense of humor, and they obviously enjoyed working together on their job.  They cracked jokes left and right as they showed us around.

One fellow talked about all of the eggs needed on the cruise.  He said people ask him about where all of those eggs go (as he asked that, he reached over and patted me on the stomach- EVERYONE cracked up).

These guys let us look into the various freezers and cool storage areas, at the eggs, meats, etc.

They talked about getting their meats and other items before the cruises go out.  They also mentioned that they are able to plan, with 98% accuracy, how much food will be needed.

I was pleased to hear that a lot of consideration goes into the food purchases.  They even admitted that they had to consider nationalities and ethnic groups that will be on the cruises, as different groups like different kinds of foods.

After this, we were taken to the laundry area.  MANY machines are used in the laundering process on the Norwegian Dawn.  I was VERY impressed with the huge washing machines, and the various machines that could straighten and fold towels and sheets quickly!

Lastly, we had the very cool opportunity to see the impressive theater on the ship, and to peak at the backstage area.

This was a real treat, especially after seeing the Haines magic show here.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Le pub des Borgia- Quebec City Quebec

I wanted to make sure I mentioned the cozy Pub des Borgia in Quebec City.

Our walking tour guide, Carol said that this place had the best French onion soup around.  Well, that claim got my attention!  I FREAKIN love French onion soup!

So we stopped here for lunch.  My wife had a great sandwich, and I had the soup.  THIS WAS THE BEST FRENCH ONION SOUP EVER!

I am not sure what they are doing, but this is tasty.  Maybe the fact that I was surrounded by so much authentic French culture affected the taste too, or maybe it was the very old feel of the restaurant.  Anyway, the soup was great.

Oh, and speaking of the restaurant's "feel"...  check out the photos.  The place felt very old and cavernous.  We felt like we were eating somewhere that had been around for centuries.

After our meal we shared a very nice hot chocolate served in a huge bowl.  It was also great.

Le pub des Borgia is located right in the middle of all of the cool things to see in Quebec City, and we were glad we stopped there for lunch!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Cruise Day 1- Quebec City

We flew in to Quebec City and went through a brief, and actually pretty easy process to get set up on our cruise ship.  It did not take very long.  We were given a key card that would really be our main tool on the entire cruise.  it would open our cabin door, it would get us back on the ship.  We would use it to get on and off of the ship.

Next, we went through security.  There were metal detectors and all.  It wasn't exactly airport security, but maybe airport security in the 90s.    We spent the first day on the boat, but we were able to explore Quebec City pretty thoroughly the following day, then we headed out on the ocean that evening.

So, we spent our first few hours out on a walking tour with a very sweet lady who was French Canadian and said her name was pronounced pretty much like Carol... but a little different.  This was our first excursion set up through the cruise company and we really enjoyed it.

She explained how there was French rule, and then British, and how you can notice the different influence in different areas of the city.  She talked about several specific buildings, the fort, and conflicts that occurred in Quebec City.

There was a beautiful, multi-storied painting about the history of the area that all stopped to admire.  Our guide was asked about touch ups and repaints, and she said that the town is respectful, and that there has been little concern for vandalism or that sort of thing.

After the formal tour was over, we went back to see some of the city on our own, visiting some of the areas mentioned on the tour.

We saw several impressive street musician.  There was one lady who had a haunting voice singing opera style songs.  We noticed her during our tour but when we went back to buy her CD, she was gone.

We went in to several shops on our own while we visited.  Some were very unique, some upscale, and there were many standard trinket shops.

The place felt appropriate for the season, and we saw pumpkins and Halloween decorations everywhere.

We briefly visited the extremely popular bakery/coffee shop La Maison Smith where I ordered a hot chocolate to go.  A couple of very kind young people took care of our order and it tasted great!  VERY chocolaty and hot on a cold day!  There was a little bit of language confusion as this is another very French spot (I think most people hear speak both French and English) but another person working there helped sort stuff out for what was a humorous (and hard to explain) bit of language confusion.  After that complicated, and generally unnecessary story, let me just say that La Maison Smith made about the best hot chocolate I have ever had.

Quebec City is absolutely a town we want to get back to soon.  Seeing it briefly from a cruise ship was not enough time at all.  It is very French, and very old.....  and as far as North America goes- it has a very foreign feel.

And it is unintimidating.  We saw no one acting aggressively or strange.  No one approached us asking for money or anything like that.  This is a classy, old, and cool place.