Travel by Any Means Necessary

Tag: Celebrity Page 1 of 2

2023: A Year in Review

Pena Palace

2023 has probably been the best year of travel for us so far. We had several amazing, life-changing trips and visited many new-to-us destinations. We started the year in an airport: as the clock struck midnight we were walking through the Atlanta airport for a few hours shut-eye before catching our early morning flight home from Puerto Rico.

We discovered a love of train travel this year and took several weekend trips to Chicago on Amtrak. The train takes about the same amount of time as driving and it allows you to relax and do other things as you travel. We have found our favorite neighborhood in Chicago (River North) and are planning to return in 2024.

Disneyland Train Station

In March we crossed off another state in my goal to visit all 50 states before I turn 40. This time, we headed to California and took a wonderful cruise that allowed us to see a lot of the coastal cities. I understand why so many people love California. Each place was more beautiful than the last. The cruise also took us to Mexico and we have been trying to figure out when we can squeeze in a return trip. It was our first Celebrity cruise and it will not be our last. And of course, I realized my lifelong dream of visiting Disneyland.

In May, Chris went to a conference in Austin and I got to tag along for the weekend which was a fun way to break up the time between big trips. I have come to realize that some of the best meals of my life have been in the Austin area so I never turn down an opportunity to visit.

Sunset at Sea

Sunset at Sea

Less than 3 months after our spring cruise, we hit the sea again for our longest and most crazy cruise yet, a transatlantic from Florida to Portugal. It was a return to our favorite cruise line (Norwegian) after 3 cruises and it felt like coming home. The ports were amazing and afterward, we spent a week and a half exploring the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) with a stopover in Iceland on the way home. This trip was life-changing and we’ve just been figuring out how to return to Europe since we got home.

Enjoying a Glass of Wine at Bonobo

We stayed closer to home in the second half of the year. We took a few camping trips around Michigan, and in August, we spent a week in one of our favorite places, Traverse City, and we took our furry friends. While traveling with the cats added some challenges, not having to worry about them while we were away was worth it for us.

In the fall, we discovered how one-night getaways can be a fun way to break up the routine without having to shell out the money for multiple nights of lodging. We spent a night in Milwaukee that was surprisingly enjoyable and I would love to go back and see more of the city.

Icelandic Sheep

Overall, this was a year of seeing new places for short amounts of time. I have added many new places to my “to return to” list which I put into writing this year. I am struggling to figure out where to go in 2024 between the places I have never been and the places I want to return to. This will probably be a lifelong struggle. Stay tuned to find out where I end up next year!

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. To read campground reviews check out my Michigan Campground Reviews page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market


Wordless Wednesday: Angels Flight

Angels Flight

Celebrity Solstice 2023 Review

Celebrity Solstice in Ensenada

Our March 2023 Pacific Coastal Cruise on the Celebrity Solstice was our first time sailing on a higher-end cruise line. There were three main factors that went into booking this cruise: dates (it lined up with my spring break), ports (Pacific Coastal with a focus on California ports is an unusual itinerary), and price (this was the cheapest cruise I have ever booked) so the more-luxury amenities didn’t really play into our decision to book this at all, but they were very nice perks!

The Grand Foyer of the Celebrity Solstice

The Grand Foyer

I originally booked us in an oceanview cabin but as we were getting closer to sailing, I notice the prices going down and I called our travel agent who was able to upgrade us to a balcony for $100 total with an additional $250 in onboard credit. This was much better than the minimum bid to upgrade that the cruise line offered. I highly recommend making a note of the fare when you booked and keeping an eye on the prices as you get closer to sailing. It is important to note that if you booked with any perks like free drinks or gratuities, a lot of times the sales may not include them so you would have to decide between your perks or the upgraded stateroom.

Embarkation in Los Angeles was much improved over the headache we experienced in Vancouver. We had an 11:00 check-in time and we had to sit around for a little bit waiting for boarding to begin. Celebrity is known for having several higher-end cabin options including Concierge Class and Aqua class. Guests in these cabins and those that are Elite and above in the Captain’s Club (Celebrity’s Loyalty Program) were able to board first but we were on the ship in no time and enjoying lunch in the Oceanview Cafe.

The food on Celebrity was unbelievable. I am not usually a fan of cruise ship buffets, but I chose to eat lunch at the Oceanview Cafe instead of finding a restaurant on land several times. They had a large variety and everything we chose was very good. The ship was sailing at about 60% capacity, which is unheard of right now, but it was never a problem to find a seat and the crew was always around cleaning tables. There was a crew member that stood in the middle of the buffet singing good morning to everyone. It put a smile on my face each day.

Grand Epernay Dining Room

Grand Epernay Dining Room

After our experiences with my time dining on Royal Caribbean, we booked the early dinner on this cruise. When we got on board, we went straight to the Maitre D and switched the late dining and I am really glad that we did. At home, we are not late diners, but the late dining time allowed us to eat a big lunch and not worry about having dinner in just a few hours. One thing that surprised me, was when she made the switch, the Maitre D asked if we wanted a table for two or to share a table with other young people. Part of me wished I was more outgoing because that could’ve been fun. It also could’ve been very annoying, so we opted for the table for two.

The food and service in the main dining room was spectacular. There has been a lot of talk in the Celebrity Facebook groups about reduced offerings in the main dining room and the quality going downhill. If that is the case, I cannot imagine what it was like before. The food was leagues above what we experienced on their sister-line Royal Caribbean.

With that extra onboard credit, we tried two of Celebrity’s signature restaurants, Tuscan Grille, the Italian Steakhouse, and Murano, the French restaurant. The steaks from Tuscan Grille were great but I feel like we missed out because we didn’t order sides of the pasta. Murano was amazing. We had the Chateaubriand for two and it was prepared tableside. The atmosphere of Murano was not for me. It was too stuffy. I really don’t need a server to ask for permission before setting down the food that I ordered. If we sail Celebrity again, we would probably try Tuscan Grill again but skip Murano.

Soundtrack Band on Celebrity Solstice

Soundtrack Band

Entertainment on the Solstice really blew us away. There was live music going on pretty much all day somewhere on the ship. We really enjoyed the house band, Soundtrack. They played a lot of Scary Pockets arrangements of songs, which is Chris’ favorite YouTube band so we watched them pretty much every night. The theater shows were high quality and we enjoyed the special acts they brought on for our sailing. One of them was on the current season of The Voice.

The Celebrity Solstice is a mid-sized ship, but the offerings were very unique. Up on the top deck is the lawn club (below) where there is real grass that you could sit on, play bocce ball, and practice your putting. There is also a hot glass studio. When the ship launched it was a partnership with the Corning Museum of Glass, now it is the Hollywood Glass Studio. The weather on this sailing was chilly so there weren’t a lot of people hanging out by the pool and chair-hogs definitely weren’t a problem. The Solstice was a lot more low-key than the rock wall and Flow Rider on the Royal Caribbean ships, and because of that, there are few children on board. Nothing about the ship was stuffy or too formal, which was one of my worries about booking on a higher-end cruise line.

The Lawn Club on Celebrity Solstice

Our balcony stateroom was great. It was an average size for a balcony cabin, but the bathroom was bigger than on the Royal Caribbean ships and had more storage. Since we upgraded to a balcony guarantee, we had an obstructed view, so we got to watch the crew members power washing the lifeboats during port days (below). Our stateroom was toward the aft of the ship which made it very easy to get around. Our stateroom attendant was great and was very quick to clean our room each day. Celebrity is still servicing staterooms twice a day and they are still leaving chocolates on your pillow at night. I haven’t seen that anywhere in years so I was impressed.

All of our encounters with the other guests were very positive. We were definitely some of the youngest guests on the ship, but everyone we ran into was friendly and happy. They didn’t constantly complain like on our Alaska cruise with Royal.

View from our balcony on the Celebrity SolsticeDisembarkation was a bit of a mess, but it wasn’t Celebrity’s fault. The port of San Pedro had two other ships coming in that day, so we had to use a third pier a ways away from the other two. Because we were disembarking with the ramps they use in ports and they are very steep, we were not able to carry our luggage off and we had to take a shuttle to the area where we could pick up our luggage from a tent. We found our luggage no problem, but since we ended up in the last disembarkation group it took forever to get a ride back to Los Angeles and it ate into our day of exploring the city.

Overall, this was a wonderful trip and I would book a Celebrity cruise again in a heartbeat. I have already been searching to see where the Solstice will be next year on my spring break. Chris says this is the best vacation we’ve had in a while and if you’ve been following this blog, you know some of our recent trips have been once-in-a-lifetime kind of trips.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Harbor

Santa Barbara Harbor

One Day in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Harbor from the Maritime Museum

When planning this trip, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for our day in Santa Barbara. There were not many excursions offered by the cruise line and the ones they did have were very expensive for what they were (walking tour for $125, no thank you). Not too long before the cruise, someone in the Cruise Critic group mentioned the free tours offered by Walking Tours Santa Barbara. If you have a cruise booked, I highly recommend joining the roll call over on Cruise Critic so you get tips like this one!

Walking Tours Santa Barbara offers three totally free tours on specific days and times: waterfront (the one I booked), Old Town, and the Funk Zone. They just ask if you enjoy your tour that you tip your guide. The waterfront tour took us from the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum to the Amtrak Station. The company advertises this tour as the perfect tour for first-time visitors to Santa Barbara. Personally, I felt that the tour went on a little long. This would’ve been a perfect 90-minute tour, but I really can’t complain since it was free.

Santa Barbara Courthouse

The iconic Santa Barbara courthouse

Santa Barbara is a tourist destination all year round because of their beautiful weather. It is really hard to complain about a place with average high temperatures from 66 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit all year. The mission-style adobe buildings that the city leaders adopted after the 1925 earthquake destroyed most of the town add to the city’s natural beauty.

After the tour, we did a little wine tasting in the area of town known as the Funk Zone. We started at the Santa Barbara Winery since we were able to get tasting coupons from our tour guides for $12 (much less than we paid to taste in Sonoma). From there we walked to The Valley Project which advertises its wine as spanning the 5 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) of Santa Barbara. While these wines don’t get the attention of a Napa or Sonoma, everything we had was very good and we brought even more bottles back onto the ship.

One thing that was awkward about our time in Santa Barbara is that it was very obvious that a lot of the locals do not want the cruise ship traffic. We heard a lot of muttering about “ship people” when we were walking around and our tour guides were very curious about our change of itinerary with Monterey banning cruise ships. It is very different than in Alaska where the people were begging for the return of cruise ships during COVID. Once again, it just made me think about what it means to be a conscious cruiser. If we cruisers want cruise ships to be helpful to the local economies they visit, it is important that we to get off the ship and visit the shops and restaurants and spend some money. If we just lay on the beach and eat and drink on the ship, more and more interesting places are going to stop allowing ships to visit.

Overall, I really enjoyed our day in Santa Barbara and wished I had more time in this beautiful area. I guess Santa Barbara will have to be added to that increasingly long list of places I need to return to!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week for my review of the Celebrity Solstice! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.


Wordless Wednesday: Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

One Day in San Fransisco

Alcatraz as seen from the ship

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra.

When talking to people about this trip and our time in San Fransisco, everyone told us to make sure we get our tickets to Alcatraz in advance. For whatever reason, I had no interest in going inside “the rock”. It was cool to see from the ship (top) and maybe if we had more than a day and a half in town it would’ve made my list, but what I really wanted to get out of San Fransisco was an in-depth experience in Chinatown. If you’ve read this blog for any time now you know one of my favorite things about travel is the food and trying food that I can’t get in my small town back home, so we booked the Chinatown Food & History Tour through Viator. We had to be back on the ship at 2 pm this day so that made choosing a tour relatively simple and I was really happy with the one we ended up with. It was a small group tour, there were only 5 of us, and our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. We really got an understanding of Chinatown and its history and we got some delicious food too!

Terra Cotta Soldiers in San Fransisco's Chinatown

San Fransisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and is home to one of the largest populations of Chinese people outside of Asia. In the 1850s people began immigrating to San Fransisco from China in search of their fortunes in California’s gold rush. Many of them worked to build the transcontinental railroad. Early on in its history, Chinatown became a hub of illegal activity from gambling to drugs and prostitution, and the city of San Fransisco had plans to move Chinatown to a less desirable part of the city. In 1906 an earthquake and fire practically destroyed the city and the residents of Chinatown quickly rebuilt using bricks that were salvaged from the wreckage. The merchants of Chinatown hired American architects to design buildings in Chinese-motif “Oriental” style in order to promote tourism to the new Chinatown.

Inside Old St. Mary's Cathedral

Our tour started at Dragon’s Gate which is the traditional entrance to Chinatown. From there we walked to Old St. Mary’s Cathedral (above), which is one of the only buildings in Chinatown that survived the fire of 1906. From the church, we walked along the streets of Chinatown and saw the architecture on our way to our first food stop which was supposed to be a bakery but they were closed for renovations so we ended up at Hang Ah, the oldest tea house in the United States where we got Shumai and soup dumplings. I was OK with this change because I have been obsessed with trying soup dumplings since the pandemic and no restaurants around us make them! They were everything I had hoped they would be and more!

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company

Our second food stop was the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company (left) where we each got a bag of fortune cookies and a reusable shopping bag to take them home in. Now, fortune cookies have never been my favorite part of the meal when I get Chinese carry-out at home, but these were really good! They were very fresh and didn’t taste like cardboard! I almost didn’t want to eat them when I got home because I didn’t want them to be gone. Our final stop of the trip was a very popular dim sum place where we each got to choose one dumpling or bun. Doing this tour with someone you feel comfortable sharing food with is a good idea as you will be able to try more things that way.

This tour was everything I had hoped it would be. We got to know Chinatown in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to explore on our own and we got to try more authentic Chinese-American food than I can try in my midwestern small town. I have been chasing dim sum since we got home and nothing I have found so far lives up to what we had in Chinatown. I guess we will have to go back! If you are going to be in San Fransisco and really want to get to know Chinatown and its food, I have nothing but good things to say about the Chinatown Food & History Tour.

Selfie as we went past the Golden Gate Bridge

The tour ended with just enough time for us to get back on the ship before we headed for the next port. We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on our way out of the bay. One thing that really struck me as I stood out on the deck was all the crew out there too. In between the guests, I saw a chef, a waitress, and a maintenance worker from all over the world watching the ship sail under this magnificent piece of engineering, taking selfies along with us.

Be sure to check back next week when I share about our free walking tour of Santa Barbara. Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Pin This:

Wine Tasting in Sonoma

Muir Beach at Sunset

Some of the links below are affiliate links and as such, I earn a small commission from purchases that allow me to continue telling you my stories without costing you anything extra.

After our day at sea, we made it to San Fransisco. Since our previous stop was in Mexico, we had to have an immigration check before we could go ashore. We were assigned a number and were asked to bring our passports to the dining room when our number was called. For U.S. Citizens with a passport, it was no big deal. We were off the ship and heading to our wine country destination in no time at all.

When our port stop in Monterrey was canceled and they added back the overnight in San Fransisco I was excited. That was one of the reasons we booked this cruise and it gave us time to leave San Fransisco and get into wine country. We had a trip to Napa and Sonoma planned for 2020 but obviously, it was canceled so this trip allowed us a little taste of what we missed. With only one day to explore the area we decided to spend it in Sonoma because it is a little closer and from my research, Sonoma seems to be more focused on the wine, whereas Napa wineries are more for the experience.

When planning our day in Sonoma, I relied on a book that has served me well in the past, Wine Trails of the U.S. and Canada. We chose to visit Gundlach Bunschu and Laurel Glen Vineyards. Gundlach Bunschu is the oldest family-owned winery in Sonoma. With the German heritage, it reminded me a lot of the wineries in northern Michigan with outdoor seating around fire tables. It was a very laid-back experience and all the wines we tried were wonderful! Laurel Glen was a much more intimate experience. We had reserved the last tasting of the day and we had the downtown tasting room to ourselves. Laurel Glen has a much smaller repertoire, being known for their Cabernet Sauvignon. In general, I am not a fan of California Cabernets, but what we tried at Laurel Glen was spectacular. I also loved their rose which is made from old vines on the edge of their property that they don’t know (and don’t want to know) what they are. They combine them every harvest into a delicious rose that they sell out every year.

Wine tasting at Gundlach Bunchu

We chose to rent a car and do this winery tour on our own as opposed to using a ship tour or another organized tour because we wanted to be in control of where we went. As I mentioned above, we were looking for good wine, not the best views or winery experience. A lot of the organized tours of Sonoma stopped at Sutter Home, which has free tastings but is mass-market wine that you find on the bottom shelf at the supermarket. If you’re not that picky, one of those tours would be fine, but I am very happy that we chose to go our own way because we tried two fabulous new wineries that we will probably buy more from in the future.

We decided to come back to San Fransisco on the Pacific Coast Highway and we were rewarded with a phenomenal sunset over the Pacific (top). We couldn’t have timed our drive any better. We ended our day back in San Fransisco at an Argentinian Restaurant called Lolinda. Afterward, we headed back to the ship for the night to prepare for another day in San Fransisco in the morning. Be sure to stop by next week as I detail our day to explore San Fransisco and our tour of Chinatown.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Pin This:


Wine Tasting in Mexico

The World's Largest Mexican Flag in Ensenada

After falling into the Ocean in San Diego, our next day was much less adventurous. Our ship (the Celebrity Solstice) took us down to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the town of Ensenada. It may come as a surprise, but one of the things that this region is known for is its wine. The Ville de Guadalupe (The Guadalupe Valley) is known as Mexico’s Napa Valley.

When talking to some people on the ship about this tour, they turned their noses up at it because Mexico isn’t known for its wine. The reason we don’t see Mexican wine in stores in the United States has nothing to do with the quality but more with the quantity that they produce. With such small growing regions, Mexico does not produce that much wine and most of what they do produce, the Mexican people consume.

Wine Glasses awaiting tasting at L.A. Cetto

Our tour took us to two different wineries, L.A. Cetto, and Casa de Doña Lupe. L.A. Cetto has been making wine in Mexico since 1928 and is probably one of the biggest wine production facilities we have ever toured. We tasted some of their mass-market wines and also some of their more high-end wines and everything we tried was on-par with the big American wineries for a fraction of the cost. Casa de Doña Lupe has a more home-spun feel to it and reminded me of a lot of the wineries we visit in Northern Michigan. Our tasting was outside among the vines while a local guitar player strummed a tune. After tasting at Doña Lupe we were able to browse their shop for wines as well as homemade jams and olive oils to take home.

One thing that is tough about a tour like this is that everything we tried was excellent and very inexpensive (a bottle from the reserve line from L.A. Cetto worked out to about $16), but traveling with two adults, you can only bring two bottles of wine across the border without paying duty so we were very limited in what we brought home.

L.A. Cetto Wine Barrel Fountain

We booked our wine-tasting tour through Shore Excursions Group. We have used them many times and have always had good results. They guarantee to get you back to the ship on time and they are much cheaper than booking through the cruise line.

We really fell in love with the Valle de Guadalupe and hope to return sometime and actually stay in the area. I guess I will have to add it to the list! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Cruising the Pacific Coast Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Pin This:

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén