What will the Magic Kingdom’s 2020 New Year’s Eve firework’s show look like?

Everyone know Walt Disney World is a magical place. The fireworks alone bring awe and wonder to even the hardest of hearts.

That is true anytime, but especially on New Year's Eve. While you look at the 2019 New Year's Eve fireworks, imagine what they will be like in 2020!

AmaWaterways Christens New Ship!

AmaWaterways christened their newest fleet member, The AmaMora, on July 18, 2019 in Lahnstein, Germany. This video shows the festivities of the day. For information on how to cruise on the AmaMora, visit AmberRoadsTravel.com or email me at Carolyn@AmberRoadsTravel.com. You can also call me at 334-406-5685.

The Rock – Alcatraz

Alcatraz as seen from ferry.

The day was clear and slightly breezy, which is rare in San Francisco. The day before, we played “What is the Weather Now?” when it went from sunny, to foggy, to rainy and back to sunny in the space of 10 minutes. But this day, it was clear and the bay wasn’t too wavy. We were finally going to get to go to Alcatraz.

Twice, several years before this trip, my husband and I wanted to visit “The Rock.” We heard it was a great trip. Not long after we were married, we went to go get tickets and found out it was closed for three weeks. They were filming “The Rock” on Alcatraz. Great movie and I love Sean Connery, but I was disappointed. The next trip, about a decade later, the weather was not cooperating and the water in the bay was too rough. Strike two for Alcatraz. This time, and two children later, it was actually happening!

Get your tickets early, like weeks early (you can order them up to 90 days before your visit), because they sell out fast, especially in high tourist times. Then find Alcatraz Cruises on Pier 33 on the waterfront. It’s not too far from Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the only way to get to The Rock. The National Park Service website (www.nps.gov/alca/planyourvisit/directions.htm) warns that parking is very limited, so public transportation is best.

There are day and night excursions. We took the day one this trip, but I would love to go back and take the night tour. They are very different and you can check out the details on the above website. Don’t forget to smile as you board the ferry. They take your picture as you get on so you have a lovely souvenir to purchase when you get back. The ferry cruise to the island was nice as they gave a brief history of the island as you go. Once you dock on the island, you have a steep uphill climb to get to where the tour begins. Some of the buildings are open and you can read various plaques of information. Most of these buildings are from the time before the prison. If you can’t make the walk, the park service does provide transportation to the entrance.

Once you are on the island, vantage points offer beautiful, if hazy views of San Francisco, Sausalito, the Bay Bridge and, of course, the Golden Gate. If the day is clear enough, you may be able to see the Coit Tower. This is just the land view. On the water, you may be able to see sailboats of all sizes and colors enjoying the day. If you are really lucky, you may go to Alcatraz when there is a sailboat race going on. The regatta is magnificent!

Most people don’t know, until they tour the island that Alcatraz was first a military fort, established in 1850, shortly after gold was discovered in California and the year California became a state. According to the National Parks website, it was part of the “Triangle of Defense” to protect the San Francisco Bay. It was even the site of a short-lived plot to blockade the bay during the Civil War. The Union troops stationed at Alcatraz defeated the Confederate plot without a shot fired.

Alcatraz remained a military fort until 1934, when it became of federal prison with an infamous guest list. This is what most of the tourist come to learn about. You can tour Alcatraz on your own, but I recommend spending the extra money on the audio tour. The narrator spins an excellent tale and there are first hand accounts by some of the later prisoners incarcerated there. Most of the prisoners were not well known, but Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman of Alcatraz (Robert Stroud) stand out. My oldest son was 10 when we went, and he was fascinated. The audio tour is great for the entire family, no matter the age.

During the audio tour, you will learn that while they are not exactly sure which cell belonged to Al Capone, you will see the cell from the famous escape in 1962. You can see the head models that John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris made to fool the guards at bed check. Chris, my oldest, was especially interested in this tale. In fact, he was so interested that I almost could keep up with him! He was literally running from one audio station to the next!

The escapees were never heard from again, sparking much speculation about whether or not they made it to safety. The FBI officially closed the case in 1979, but there is no statute of limitations on escape from a federal prison. Some speculate that they survived and are living in Brazil. Hmmm… I wonder.

The prison closed in 1963 and in 1969 was occupied by Native American activists until 1971. In 1986, Alcatraz became a National Historic Landmark under the management of the National Park Service. There are many areas of the island that are still open to explore and you have until the last ferry to do so. However, if you don’t make it to that last one, you just may have the experience of being incarcerated on “The Rock,” at least for a little while.

The Vikiings Lived Here?

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Norway, I think Vikings. The adventurous Norse men that sailed to far off lands, loved to fight and drink, and longed to die in battle and go to Valhalla. Evidence suggests is was actually the Vikings that discovered North America centuries before Columbus was even born. But when you look at Olden, Norway, it is hard to believe the bloodthirsty warriors could have ever lived here.

History

Olden is a small little village of only about 500 people located at the mouth of the Oldeelva River. It is filled with quaint cottages, beautiful mountains, gorgeous views, and glaciers. There was only one church in the small village called the Old Olden Church until 1934, when the (new) Red church was built. It is these qualities that contribute to its popularity with the cruise lines.

Activities

The main activity in Olden is hiking. Olden is the home of the Briksdal glacier. Hiking up Briksdal, you may catch a glimpse of another glacier, Tjøtafossen and its waterfall that measures 739 meters in height. There are many, many other waterfalls and crystal clear lakes; all worth seeing, if you have the time.

The most famous waterfall is the Volefossen, and you can cross in front of on a troll bridge. Not for the faint of heart, but the from the bridge you can see amazing views of the surrounding glacier and countryside. Just don’t be afraid to get wet. Most people crossing the bridge either get a little wet or soaking wet, so you have a 50/50 chance.

What to Expect

But glaciers aren’t the only reason to visit Olden. Lush, green valleys contrast with the stark gray rocks surrounding the glaciers. Don’t look for nightlife and restaurants, but the people are friendly and they bottle Olden mineral water, which comes from the melted water of the glaciers. It’s not something everyone gets to try.

Not far from Olden, you can find old Viking burial mounds. Since quite a few cruise lines dock there, getting a shore excursion to the mounds should not be a problem.

Weather

Dress warmly when you visit Olden. The warmest it ever gets is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Don’t forget your camera. Who knows, maybe Odin, Loki or Thor will show up!

Highlights

 The Old Olden Church – the first church in Olden, built in 1759.
 The New Red Church – the second church in Olden, built in 1934.
 The Jostedal glacier – the largest glacier in Europe.
 The Briksdal glacier – the arm of the Jostedal that extends into Olden.
 The Volefossen – a 300-meter waterfall on the Briksdal glacier.
 OldenMineral Water – flows directly in to the bottling plant from the glacier.

Sandpoint Idaho

An Outdoor Paradise!

Green highway sign for the Idaho city of Sandpoint, county seat of Bonner County

Eighty miles east of Spokane, Washington, snuggled in between the mountain ranges of northern Idaho and located on Lake Pend Oreille is the outdoor paradise of Sandpoint, Idaho. Active with life year-round, Sandpoint has it all. Let’s take a peek.

Sandpoint is the home of the largest theme park in the Northwestern United States, Silverwood Theme Park. The main attraction is the Aftershock. A wild and woolly rollercoaster that stands 191 feet tall, hits 65 mph and pulls in 4.5 Gs. Not your style? That’s ok. There are a couple of other rollercoasters that will get your heart rate up, and even, has an attached waterpark, Boulder Beach.

A man and a woman are riding their bikes on a cyclocross course in the fall.

More of the biking type? Sandpoint has several biking trails that entertain both the beginner and the extreme bikers. Get your GoPro ready and make your own action film. These trails range from 2.1 miles to a 28-mile loop, and are available starting in mid- to late spring.

Hikers often use these trails, as well, and others to see the gorgeous countryside. Just make sure you know your skill level. Some of the trails may be short, but steep, like the Maiden Rock Trail. Hiking up to the Maiden Rock, is only 2 miles up, with a round trip of 4 miles and gets really steep the closer to the rock you get. The view is worth it, if you are in good shape!

A wakeboarder is catching air in an early morning session as fog slowly lifts in the background.

Sandpoint has golfing, horseback riding and, my favorite, water sports including kayaking and rafting. If you are not looking for a trill and just want a peaceful paddle, Sand Creek is a good choice. Not only is the water calm and relaxing, you can see much of downtown Sandpoint from your kayak. For a more adventurous outing, the Priest River is good for beginning rafters with eight miles of Class II-III rapids to keep you busy. More experienced? The Moyie River is for you, with challenging Class III rapids that may turn into Class IV when the water is higher.

Add all this up with the usual winter sports and you have an outdoor lover’s delight. But for the ones looking for something else, Sandpoint is also known for its music festivals, craft breweries and, of course, a spa. Even a floating restaurant at the marina offers a unique experience in dining.

a beautiful rural countryside scene in northern Idaho.

There are several campgrounds and RV parks that offer beautiful views, B&B’s or luxury accommodations, and even glamping, for those who want a little more than just a tent. In short, Sandpoint, Idaho has something for everyone at anytime of the year. Of course, you can get there by flying into the Spokane airport, but did you know that Amtrak also could get you there? But that’s another adventure!

City of the White Rose

York, England

Candymakers in York are known for their delectable chocolate!

I’ve written two recent blogs about York, but there is still more to cover. York is a city of history that began in Roman times and still thrives today. This city is the most popular tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, welcoming over 38 million overnight visitors in 2018. 13.3 million of those came from international destinations. This statistic proves that York is as popular in the UK as it is out of it.

All that's left of the Roman fort.

My family and I only spent 3 days in York, far too little time in my opinion. Around each corner is another tidbit of history. Across each street, another story. Romans. Vikings, Normans and Kings wandered these streets. 300 hundred-year-old pubs are still serving pints to the people.

The best tour company to help you help you unlock the mysteries of York is White Rose Tours. Alan Sharp is the owner and original tour guide and his knowledge of the York and its history is unmatched. As he studied drama at college, his history “class” isn’t boring and he captures your attention and holds it at each site.

Stands on old Norman castle grounds.

Our tour started with Alan meeting outside our hotel. As the location was across from Cliffords Tower, he started there and told us the saddest and most horrible incident in York’s history. Cliffords Tower is built on the site of a wooden castle built by William the Conqueror in 1069. Over the years, it burned and was built again using stone. In 1189, Richard I, called Lionheart, refused to allow Jews, many of whom were wealthy, to attend is coronation, unintentionally sparking a countrywide of anti-Semitic backlash. In York, this sentiment was egged on by 4 merchants seeking to abolish their debts to the Jewish money lenders. The Jewish community took refuge in Cliffords Tower and barricaded the doors. There, in 1190, the Jewish people in York chose to kill themselves, rather than submit to torture, forced baptism, or death at the hands of the mob. Afterwards, a royal inquest was held, but no one was ever held responsible.

Another site on the tour is the Richard III museum, contained in one of the bars marking entry into the city. Richard III really gets his bad reputation from Shakespeare’s play, bet even today, Yorkshire’s still love him. He held his seat of power in the city, although that was ended when the War of the Roses was finally won. Richard III of York and his family represented the White Rose and Henry Tudor, who eventually became Henry IV after Richard was killed, represented the Red Rose.

A hallway in York Minster

The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York, otherwise known as York Minster, is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the third highest church official in England. The site dates back as a Christian place of worship to the 4th century, when, into 627, a wooden chapel was built. This chapel was built to baptize Edwin, King of Northumbria when he became a Christian and the faith. In 637, a stone structure was built by Oswald, a Viking missionary, and dedicated to St. Peter. Now it stands as the largest Cathedral in England. For more on the history of York Minster, let me book you a tour with White Rose Tours!

For more information, contact me at AmberRoadsTravel.com.