October 04, 2019

North to Alaska . . . Not!

I was going to title this post, “The Year of the Cancelled Vacations,” a phrase that Alan and I had each come up with independently of each other over the past week or so.  But it was so darn depressing that I couldn’t do it, no matter how accurate a title it was.

Right after the first of the year, I cancelled all the reservations we had for our spring trip to the southern states because we found out that our son’s long-time girlfriend would be graduating with her Master’s degree on one of the Saturdays in May we had planned to be away.  That’s one of the pitfalls of travel planning more than a year in advance.  (We ended up swapping our 2019 scheduled trip for one we were hoping to take in 2020 and it worked out just fine - more on that at another time.)  Then, in June when we had returned to our #1 favorite campground (Northampton Beach on Great Lake Sacandaga in central New York), and watched the rain come down day after day after day, we decided to cancel our fall camping plans at another State Park so that we could come back and (with good-weather luck!) have a chance at enjoying our favorite lake one last time before our camping season ended.  In my last post about the Outdoors RV Owners East Coast Rally, I noted that we almost had to cancel that trip a couple of weeks ago due to a malfunctioning trailer brake system.  All of those situations were minor bumps in the road compared to the major pothole we hit as our 40th wedding anniversary drew near.

More than a year ago, when we were trying to decide how to celebrate our 40th, we came up with a plan to return to Alaska.  We had traveled to the Land of the Midnight Sun twice before as a family, once in 1998 when Ryan was 4 and again in 2004 when he was 10 and Kyra was 5.  On both trips, we enjoyed a land tour and a cruise through the Inside Passage.  Additionally, I had flown up alone for a conference in June of 2005.  So, by this time, Alan and I were feeling more than comfortable with the idea of taking a week to explore parts of the interior by ourselves.  We came up with plans to return to Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks, and visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park for the first time.  Since our experience on both cruises was absolutely excellent, we decided we’d add a week’s cruise through the Inside Passage, carefully choosing a cruise that would be traveling to Glacier Bay National Park, and a departure date that would put us in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, on the day of our anniversary.  (That would be September 15th for those of you who want to mark your calendar as a reminder to send a card on our 50th anniversary.)  Well, have you heard the old adage, “Man plans and God laughs?”  Yeah, that.

As our highly anticipated trip was approaching, we ran into situation at one of our rental properties that put us on high alert and made us feel extremely uncomfortable about being out of town.  With a heavy heart, four days before we were supposed to leave I cancelled the cruise, our flights and our hotel and rental car reservations.  (Thank heaven for travel insurance!)  Yup, we were just a wee bit disappointed.

I have to tell you, the thought of sitting at home on our 40th anniversary when we were supposed to be celebrating in the magnificent state of Alaska just didn’t set right with us.  Not that Alan and I don’t enjoy being at home – we both love our home in the mountains and are quite content to settle in and putter around.  Just not on our 40th anniversary!

That’s when Alan came up with a brilliant idea!  He suggested a short vacation in Virginia Beach because, after all, “Virginia is for Lovers!”  No, he didn’t think of that; I did.  That’s because I had recently read that the “Virginia is for Lovers” marketing campaign was created 50 years ago, and so the lovely state of Virginia was celebrating a milestone just like we were!  How appropriate was that?!

Truth be told, Virginia Beach was a favorite hangout of ours back when we were young marrieds without children.  We enjoyed walking the boardwalk and the beach, and tasting our way through some wonderful seafood restaurants.  We even bought our first boat in Virginia Beach and, as it turned out, the beachfront hotel we stayed in on more than one occasion was still there and still had an excellent reputation based on the reviews we found on TripAdvisor.  Somewhere in our photo files, we even have a picture of our 1982 Jeep CJ on the parking deck of that hotel with the boat on its trailer parked next to it.

The Breakers welcomed us back after an absence of many years!

Alan’s proposal was such an excellent idea that we immediately blocked off a week that would allow us to spend our anniversary on the beach but keep us close enough to home that we could get back fairly quickly if we needed to.  I couldn’t make those hotel reservations fast enough.  And then . . . Hurricane Dorian.  Guess what!  I couldn’t cancel those reservations fast enough.  See, I told you.  “The Year of Cancelled Vacations” would have been a most appropriate title for this post. 

As the southern Atlantic states battened down the hatches and settled in for the duration of Dorian, Alan and I kept pulling up web cams situated at several good locations along the Virginia Beach boardwalk.  This is how desperate you become when it’s looking like your anniversary dinner is going to be a choice between KFC and Mickey D’s.  Miraculously – and I do believe that is the best word to use based on how our travel adventures have been going this year – while Dorian did hit the Virginia coast, the damage was nothing like what was sustained by those poor folks in the Bahamas.  Even North Carolina, just a hop, skip and a jump down the coast, got hammered much harder than the Virginia Beach area.  Power was down for a short time but, at least, the beach was still there according to our trusty web cams.  We watched as more and more people ventured out and about, and it was pretty obvious that it wouldn’t be long before life was back to normal – in that beach town, anyway.  When I checked with the hotel, they were up and running.  Guess what!  I couldn’t re-book those reservations fast enough.  Good-bye, Mickey D’s, hello Captain George’s Seafood Buffet!

Despite the fact that this is a blog about RV adventures and the camping lifestyle, we specifically chose not to camp on this vacation.  We really wanted to stay right on the beach, and there weren’t any campground choices that appealed to us.  Although First Landing State Park is absolutely lovely, we decided not to camp there due to reviews mentioning the nearby military installation and the amount of noise that occurred at all times of the day and night.  As it was, with the Oceana Naval Air Station near our end of the beach, we ended up getting buzzed by fighter jets out on maneuvers on and off all week long – daytime hours only, though.  A small price to pay, I might add, knowing that these fine men and women are dedicated to preserving our country and our freedom.

So, what how did we travel?  In style, people, in style!

When Alan was a youngster, he owned a 1975 Camaro which he bought new with earnings from the various jobs he had while in college.  When Chevy re-introduced the Camaro some years ago, Alan looked longingly at them.  But, with two kids, college expenses looming and retirement on the not too distant horizon, looking was all he could do.  Fast forward a number of years and the timing was right.  This was not an impulsive, mid-life crisis kind of purchase.  True to our nature, it was a well-researched and well-planned process that culminated with my husband of 40 years grinning like a kid in a candy store as he drove his dream machine off the dealer lot in June of this year.

Boys and their toys . . .

Contrary to what you might think, the trunk of the Camaro is actually quite large, and we were able to fit two suitcases, the beach bag, the camera bag, a cooler, our travel container holding our maps and books, two bags of food and kitchen supplies and my all-important snacks for the road.  It does help that the back seat folds down to form one large storage area, but we still would have made out okay if it didn’t.  Another pleasant surprise is the gas mileage.  Alan’s baby is a 6 speed Super Sport with a 6.2L engine and a stick shift, and it consistently returns gas mileage in the mid-20’s.  On this trip, it actually hit 31 mpg.  Nice!  So, please forgive us for cruising, not camping on this go round.  But you should have seen us!  Rolling along with the sun roof open and the oldies on – doing the Baby Boomers proud!

On the way down to Virginia Beach, we traversed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  At the north end of the tunnel is a (very) large parking lot with a small visitor center and restrooms that makes an excellent and free overnight stop if you’re traveling by RV.  On one of our trips with the kids, we overnighted here.  It was definitely quiet and we felt it was safe due to its location adjacent to the Bridge Tunnel toll booths.  There were a few large trucks parked there when we stayed, and several other RVs, as well.  It’s one of those spots that’s good to keep in the back of your mind when you’re traveling as it’s easily accessible whether you’re northbound or southbound.  (That was today’s travel tip.  You’re welcome.)

Here's a pic of the lot and the restrooms - plenty of space here!

I found this in the ladies' restroom.  What kind of an emergency?  I have no clue!

The night we cruised into town, we headed straight for Captain George’s Seafood Buffet, still in business and still an extremely popular place.  You all know how good wait staff can make or break your dining experience.  Well, we lucked out when Rick arrived at our table.  He was one of those attentive servers who constantly scan their tables.  (Unlike those servers with tunnel vision who never seem to look at you or for what you might need.)  Used plates were unobtrusively swept away, questions were answered and we never felt rushed.  Rick made our return to one of our favorite Virginia Beach restaurants an absolute pleasure and kicked off our celebratory trip with an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Because we had decided that we simply wanted to chill out at the beach, we booked a room with a direct ocean view and a balcony.  We enjoyed our morning coffee on that balcony for the same reason we enjoy morning coffee sitting in our recliners and looking out the back window in our RV – it was a cozy and comfortable room with a small refrigerator and microwave so we had all the comforts of home, just like in our Creek Side.

A room with a view

Speaking of coffee, the coffee maker provided by the hotel was a little dinky thing – certainly not up to the challenge presented by two vacationers who believe that coffee is the elixir of life.  We could have made it work, but when we checked the prices of breakfast meals in town, we decided to buy an inexpensive Mr. Coffee, some filters, a supply of coffee and some cereal, yogurt and fruit.  We spent less on that purchase than we would have on one breakfast out, so we figured we were already ahead of the game and we hadn’t been in town but 24 hours.  (My kids call me cheap; I prefer the word frugal.)

We did scope out a few good restaurants during the week we were there, enjoying lunch at Waterman’s on the boardwalk, an anniversary dinner at The Cheesecake Factory (I can report that the Pineapple Upside Down Cheesecake is scrumptious!), and two breakfasts out – one at Pops Diner Co. and one at the Pocahontas Pancake House.

Waterman’s is a seafood restaurant right on the boardwalk with both indoor and outdoor seating.  We chose to sit outside, and were protected from that day’s cool breezes by plastic screens that didn’t hurt the view but kept patrons comfortable when the weather was on the chilly side.  Waterman’s receives excellent reviews and I must admit that the Just Seafood dish I had (shrimp, crab and scallops) was delectable.  Alan had a crab cake (a specialty) and deemed it okay.  Our server, Tony, was top notch, going about his duties cheerfully and efficiently.  While it was an enjoyable experience, I don’t think we would return.

Photo credit to Tony, our Waiter Extraordinaire at Waterman's

Pop’s Diner provided the biggest dining surprise.  It’s a fairly small, freestanding diner in a small plaza across from a Walmart.  Our breakfast there was amazingly delicious.  I had a seafood omelet that was to die for.  Alan had more of a traditional breakfast that was tasty, too.  But what impressed us the most about Pop’s was the staff.  One of the bussers cleaned a table behind us like it was an Olympic sport, and every single one of the staff members was attentive and unfailingly polite.  It’s obvious that the kitchen takes pride in the meals it delivers and that management stresses excellent customer service.  We’d return to Pop’s in a heartbeat.

The staff at Pop's Diner gets an A+ in customer service!

Our breakfast at the Pocahontas Pancake House was a wonderful way to end our stay as we hit the road for home right after breakfast on the morning after our anniversary.  The staff was exceptionally cheerful for it being so early in the morning, and even the ice machine randomly spitting out ice cubes on the floor didn’t throw them for a loop for long.  My pecan pancakes were as delicious as they looked, and Alan enjoyed his omelet, too.  We would definitely return here, as well.

No, I couldn't finish them, and Alan wouldn't help me.

We entertained ourselves in Virginia Beach by doing what we usually do – enjoying the great outdoors (sunrise over the ocean!), soaking up the views, biking, dining out and exploring our neighborhood.

We spent a lot of time watching the beach, boardwalk and ocean activities from the balcony, delighting in daily visits from dolphins, surfers, tour boats and parasailers.  Plus, we walked at least part of the three mile boardwalk ourselves every day.  Talk about a great place for people watching!

Loved watching families in their rented "surrey bikes!"

We explored First Landing State Park, which proved to be the gathering place for the local squadron of pelicans.  While we had decided not to stay in the campground at First Landing, I have to say that the beach there is just beautiful and was scarcely populated at the time we were there.  We also visited the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, another quiet spot along the shore, but the biting flies there chased us off the beach.

I don't think I've ever seen so many pelicans in one place before!

Our farthest ranging excursion was to Norfolk.  We wanted to check on the Waterside as well as take a boat tour of the Naval Base.  Back in the day, the Waterside had been an absolutely delightful waterfront shopping and dining complex with much to do for both adults and children.  Keep in mind that we’re talking more than 30 or 40 years ago.  Alan and I remember spending afternoons wandering among the tasty food choices (I still recall the steamed shrimp with Old Bay seasoning from Philip’s Seafood Restaurant) and sitting outdoors with ice cream listening to live music and watching the activity at the marina.  You know that saying, “You can’t go home again?”  Well, unfortunately, sometimes it rings true.  The Waterside now seems to be geared toward nightlife only, with establishments I’d call bars that happen to offer food on the side.  At some point during the evening (maybe around 6:00 p.m.), you can no longer park in the metered parking places directly out front – they are all reserved for taxis.  While I applaud the forward thinking city officials, what does that tell you about the Waterside?  Exactly.  It was a quick walk through for us, and we spent the next half hour whining and complaining about our loss.  Sigh.

The Waterside just doesn't hold the same appeal for us.

The Naval Base boat tour aboard the Victory Rover, however, was wonderful.  This was the second time (in 40 years!) that we had taken this particular tour, and we agreed that we wouldn’t take it again.  But that’s because having done it twice and seeing that it hasn’t changed much over the years, we are happily satisfied with both experiences and simply don’t feel the need to go back again.  If you’re a first time visitor to Norfolk, I would highly recommend the tour.

A container ship about to dock and unload

One of the mighty ships at the Naval Yard
A fire boat testing its systems
Our 40th anniversary celebration was delightful, enjoyable, magnificent, remarkable and memorable for all the right reasons.  Of course, this has to do more with the company than the location.  Wink, wink.

Instead of a 40th anniversary photo of the (still) happy couple standing next to the Windfall Fisherman, a bronze statue of an Alaska brown bear located near the Capitol in Juneau, we have a photo of that happy couple on the beach in Virginia with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.  After all, Virginia is for Lovers!

The (still) happy couple!


  1. Congratulations on 40 years, and you both still look so young! Bummer about the cruise cancellation, but leave it to you to make lemonade, as the old saying goes.

    1. Thank you, Mike! We got married when I was 5 and Alan was 7. (Really big wink, wink.)

  2. Happy anniversary! Your "Plan B" looked like a lot of fun! So smart to get travel insurance!

    1. Thanks, Janis! Alan gets all the credit for the excellent fallback plan, and it turned out to be a good mix of old favorites and new experiences.

  3. My heavens, what a collection of travel and vacation mishaps! We all know that life happens while you are making other plans, but give me a break! The fact that you came through all that in one piece and still able to put the Virginia Beach trip together is a real testament to perseverance.

    Congrats on your anniversary and making special memories, even if they were thousands of miles away from your original ones.

    1. Thanks for both the congratulations and the outpouring of empathy, Bob! Alan and I agreed that this was the worst year we've ever endured as far as travel planning goes. But, after 40 years of marriage, we've come to the conclusion that we can handle just about anything life throws at us as long as we work through it together - something I'm sure you and Betty concluded a long time ago, as well.

  4. Hi, Mary,
    I'm catching up on your blog now that we are home from a trip to South Carolina. I feel your pain from having to cancel those well-planned vacations. We had to cancel a trip to Canada planned for the Fall when hip and knee issues kept us home.

    I love your alternative. All of your wonderful food pictures made me hungry--I have a weakness for pancakes! There is a lot to do in Virginia Beach and we have camped at nearby Fort Story and spent some time at Sandbridge Island where the seafood is great.

    Happy anniversary! Looks like you two deal with travel setbacks in splendid fashion. Have a great week! Joe

    1. Hi, Joe! Thanks for the Happy Anniversary wishes! We, too, are just back from a camping trip. We closed out the season at our favorite place - Northampton Beach on Great Lake Sacandaga. That last trip of the year is always a bittersweet one.

      Those pecan pancakes were every bit as good as they looked! I understand that the Food Network once featured the Pocahontas Pancake House as the "Best Pancake House in Virginia Beach." It's definitely on our list of restaurants to return to. Yum!


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