Ride The Ducks San Francisco: San Francisco Duck Tours

Wednesday September 3, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 0 Comments

The bus/boat of the San Francisco Ridte the Ducks tour.

The bus/boat of San Francisco Ride the Ducks tour.

If you live in the city of San Francisco or Boston or Philadelphia or Seattle, you’ve probably noticed them. It’s hard not to. Amphibious vehicles tooling around the neighborhoods with the music cranked up and the passengers blasting kazoos shaped like duck bills.

My family and I took the San Francisco ‘Splashtastic Sunset’ Ride the Ducks land and water tour on a recent Friday night. When we boarded, we were each handed  a “quacker” (the duck-shaped kazoo). I tucked mine away, sure that I wouldn’t be joining that party. But it wasn’t long before Captain Jeff rallied the half-full bus of revelers (including myself) into humming along with Sinatra, the Village People and Tony Bennett as we traversed Fisherman’s Wharf and the neighborhoods of North Beach and Chinatown.

Quacking up on the San Francisco Ride the Duck Tour

Quacking up on the San Francisco Ride the Duck Tour

Corny, scripted jokes aside, Jeff was an entertaining and informative host, bus driver and boat captain. We cruised through Union Square, the Fi Di and SOMA and entered the water just south of AT&T Park. By then it was dark, and the bay cruise was definitely “splashtastic” as we watched the light show on the Bay Bridge twinkle, creating psychedelic patterns.

We dipped into McCovey Cove, next to the Giants ballpark and the Captain turned over the reigns to anyone who wanted to drive the boat. My kids (and I) jumped at the opportunity.

We emerged from the water via the same boat ramp and returned to Jefferson and Taylor Sts. in Fisherman’s Wharf via the Embarcadero where we quacked and waved at pedestrians along the way.

 

The nightly  light show on the Bay Bridge.

Nightly light show on San Francisco Bay Bridge

Ride the Ducks San Francisco
450 Bay St, San Francisco, California 94133
(415) 922-2425

This post was contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion of Friscomama.com. Photos by Dan Dion. We were guests of the Ride the Ducks tour.

Hotel Review: Skamania Lodge, Washington

Friday August 29, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 2 Comments

Our daughter recently accepted a job in Washington state and is living in the hip city of Portland, Oregon. As my husband and I are graduates of the University of Oregon, we are more than happy to explore our daughter’s new recreational playground. With that in mind, we put together a Pacific Northwest roadtrip beginning in central Oregon and ending in Washington’s Columbia Gorge. Our home base for Washington was Skamania Lodge.
 

"Columbia Gorge"

Sailboats float along Columbia Gorge


 
What we liked about Skamania Lodge; this 22 year old playpen – offering 254 rooms for outdoor lovers – caters to both young and old. Golfers walked by me as I exercised my dog, while a group of excited teenagers shrieked and did their best Tarzan calls from zipline platforms strung between towering trees above.
 


 

I met a coffee roaster from Seattle while I was soaking in the outdoor hot tub. Hyped up on caffeine, he was singing the praises of Skamania and the hiking trails around the area. Splashing in the pool were two millennials from Gresham, Oregon by way of Romania. They had learned that this was the place to stay when you visit Multnomah Falls.
 

"Skamania Lodge" hot tub

Soak in the hot tub


 
"Skamania Lodge" pool

Splash in the indoor pool


 
And then there were the friendly employees – the gift shop lady who steered me to a cup of gourmet instant oatmeal for my early morning departure, my server in the Cascade Dining Room who wanted to make sure that I enjoyed my diver scallops and the Waterleaf Spa Manager who took the time to explain to me why organic skin care products really are better for your body – and the earth.
 
"Cascade Dining Room" scallops

Diver scallops, Cascade Dining Room

 
Pet-friendly resort

Like many of our readers, we travel with our pet. This can be a problem at upscale resorts. Fortunately for us, Skamania Lodge is pet-friendly. $75 one time charge for pets, check the website for current rates. Room #194 welcomed dogs and had a back door that opened to plenty of dog walking trails. The golf course pro shop even had a water bowl waiting outside their front door!
 

"Skamania Lodge" pet-friendly hotel room

Pet-friendly hotel room


 
Sit back and relax
After a full day of outward bounding, pull up a rocking chair in the great room and admire the beauty that surrounds this place. There’s plenty of room to roam or sit back and relax and drink in the view of the spectacular Columbia Gorge – with a glass or two of local wine.
 
"Skamania Lodge" rockers

Sit back and relax


 
"Skamania Lodge" exterior

Take in the Columbia Gorge view


 
Insider Tip
As I live in California, I am very aware of our water shortage. I am always shocked when hotels don’t provide hotel guests the choice to opt out of daily linen and towel changes. Skamania Lodge goes one step further with their Green Choice Program. Hang a bamboo card on your door to opt out of housekeeping services. In return the lodge will deliver a $5 voucher for use on the property for each following day.
 
"Skamania Lodge" "Green Choice Program"

Green Choice Program

The lodge charges a reasonable $19 one time resort fee. My room rented for $179. Check the website for current rates and package deals. Skamania Lodge is a member of Destination Hotels & Resorts. For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow @SkamaniaLodge on Twitter.

Check-In Time: 4:00pm

Check-Out Time: 12:00pm
 

If You Go:

Skamania Lodge (800) 221-7117
1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way,
Stevenson, Washington 98648

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Destination Hotels & Resorts. All opinions are my own.

Mammoth Cave National Park: History, Mystery and Wonder

Wednesday August 27, 2014 at 8:08 AM | 0 Comments

Historic entrance of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.

Historic entrance of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.

When I first headed down the stairs to the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, I was a child fascinated by walking through passages deep underground. On recent visit with my kids and husband, I found my fascination still intact. The world’s longest cave—more than 400 miles discovered so far, is one of the most unusual places I’ve been.

Memories from my first trip blended with this latest experience. Happily, Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park is as wonderfully weird and mysterious as it was years ago. Its weird mysterious is what has attracted people since long before the Civil War.

Today, a tour led by a national park ranger is filled with tales of history, geology, biology and the human experience.

Remnants of the saltpeter mine operation during the War of 1812

Remnants of the saltpeter mine operation during the War of 1812

Our tour, the Historic Tour included: the saltpeter mine used during the War of 1812 when miners’ efforts helped make gun powder; the story of how Floyd Collins, one of Mammoth Cave’s most ambitious explorers was trapped and perished in 1925 when a boulder fell on his ankle; and of Stephen Bishop, a slave and expert guide who was able to purchase his freedom by saving up the tip money from the wealthy people Bishop took into the cave. Bishop would write the name of his clients with smoke from a torch for money.  Evidence of Bishop’s work, and the other guides who worked with him, still remain on Mammoth Cave’s ceiling.

Along with the human history details, our two-hour tour was a moderate work out as we passed through formations that required us to bend over a bit while we walked down stairs sideways and sometimes backwards. Fat Man’s Misery was the most fun. The narrowest part was below hip level, but it involved a series of quick switch backs, a tricky endeavor for those with big feet.

Writing on the ceiling from more than a century ago.

Writing on the ceiling from more than a century ago.

What wasn’t included from what I remember from the tour that I took as a child were: Lost John, the remains of a Native American trapped years and years ago; the eyeless fish in the river that flows deep in the cave; and the rooms of the former TB hospital.

Lost John used to be behind glass tucked in a recess of the cave’s wall until the mid-70s when the U.S. government decided that displaying human remains is not seemly. The boat trip on the underground river where the eyeless fish are also doesn’t happen anymore for environmental reasons.

The TB hospital, a failed experiment to try to cure tuberculosis by keeping people at a constant temperature in the mid 50s, the year round temperature of a cave, is not part of the Historic Tour. To see the remains of the TB hospital that operated (and failed) in 1841, take the Violet Passage Tour.

Park rangers entertain and inform during each tour.

Park rangers entertain and inform during each tour.

About tours: I signed up for the Historic Tour the day before we arrived at Mammoth Cave because we weren’t sure which tour would fit our schedule. If you can nail down your vacation plans earlier than we could, that gives you more options. Although there were several times for the Historic Tour left, some other tours were sold out.

Although the Historic Tour is listed as “moderate” in terms of difficulty and effort, if you are in okay shape, you’ll do fine. Even though the tour has Fat Man’s Misery on its menu, people of a larger size should not be dissuaded. You can check with a ranger if you’re not sure.

We paired our tour with an overnight at the Mammoth Cave Hotel across from the Visitors Center near the Historic Entrance. The hotel has three lodging options: Heritage Rooms, connected to the main hotel building, Sunset Terrace, a one story separate building, or historic or Woodland Cottages.

Heritage Trail near the Mammoth Cave Hotel

Heritage Trail near the Mammoth Cave Hotel

Our room was in Sunset Terrace, a comfy, clean, two queen bed room that had a 1960s period feel with modern amenities. Our room included a microwave, refrigerator, a clock radio and cable TV. Ironing boards, irons and hair dryers are available. Just ask the staff at the front desk.

Mammoth Cave National Park also has an RV and tent camping campground.

As with any national park, Mammoth Cave has several hiking trails to explore and a variety of activities. In the morning, I walked down the Heritage Trail leading down from the hotel to the Green River where a deer family crossed from one shore to another without giving me a glance.

Mammoth Cave is a visit with bats

Mammoth Cave is a Visit with Bats

In the evening, we went to the campfire talk led by a park ranger. Campfire talks, in my opinion, are a must at any national park visit. This particular talk was about bats. You can’t go to Mammoth Cave without finding out about bats–several kinds of bats.  Bats in this part of Kentucky need the cave for survival. At the talk, we were able to hear them as they flew overhead thanks to the bat listening device the ranger had.

Whether you stay overnight or go as a day guest, eat at one of the hotel’s restaurants. Order the soup beans with cornbread. This is a southern Kentucky favorite food. The soup beans I had for lunch were delicious.

Friends down by the river

Friends down by the river

Insider Tip: Mammoth Cave National Park is open year round, however, the hotel does not operate in full swing after September 30 and before March 1. Also, cave tours are scaled back.

If you go to this part of Kentucky, about an hour south of Louisville, you can easily pair the trip with a Bardstown visit. Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and the site of one of his boyhood homes is also close by.

If You Go:

Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky 42259

phone: 270/758-2180

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association.