Cruise 09

Our Western Caribbean Cruise (Part Five)

Lost? You can catch up here with the precursor, part one, part two, part three and part four.

****

We arrived at Cozumel, Mexico at 8:00 a.m., June 26th.

This was the stop we were looking forward to the most.

It had been 19 years since Kevin and I took our honeymoon in Cozumel, Mexico and everything looked different, yet at the same time, it all seemed familiar.

Nineteen years ago, we had arrived on the island via a little prop plane (that was only held together with duct tape and I’m so not kidding about that!) I was scared out of my mind. Not only because that was the first time I had flown, anywhere, but because that was my first time out of the country and I freaked out just a smidgen …

Okay, I freaked out a lot.

In fact, I was so freaked out, that I stayed in our hotel room while Kevin went snorkeling.

Yes, I was a downright wimp.

To say I’ve come a long way since those early days of traveling would be putting it mildly. Traveling has opened up my mind and heart to new experiences and given me a new appreciation for home.

I hope the boys are learning a lot from our travels as well.

We hadn’t planned an excursion this time around, we were more interested in trying to locate our old hotel and in getting to the other side of the island – the really pretty side. At least in my opinion.

The pier was stuffed with shops — really nice tourist-y shops. Dude felt downright uncomfortable with the sheer number of locals that tried to lure us into their shops. We were being bombarded from all sides …

“Senora, please come see our beautiful jewelry.”

“Senor, we have low prices. Come look!”

I always feel awkward in this type of situation, also. On one hand, I hate to be rude and just ignore them, but on the other hand, if you give any sort of encouragement they circle around and block your path like a hungry shark.

So, we just kept moving.

We located the pavilion where all of the taxis were lined up and rode one to the square. We had honeymoon pictures of us eating on the square and we wanted to see what it looked like today.

It was huge, much more developed and quite pretty. We didn’t see as many tourists in this section of town and we were a bit uncomfortable with that — we were heading off the beaten track.

There were several shops down alleyways and every time Kevin steered us down one, I started to get nervous. Even though I’m sure the people on Cozumel are perfectly nice and they were certainly hospitable, you still never knew what their intentions were so even though we wandered down a few alleys, we didn’t usually go too far from the main thoroughfare.

We were down one such alley when a man approached us. He was trying to coax us into renting one of his cars. I wasn’t terribly interested, but Kevin perked right up. He negotiated with the guy and the guy then led us back to his office down a side street.

My heart jumped into my throat. I began picturing all sorts of bad things happening (naive family of four is found murdered in back alley), but I kept it together so I wouldn’t spook the boys. He led us back to his office and we rented one of his cars. (There’s a picture of us standing in front of the car in the slide show. I have no idea what kind of car it was, but it was a convertible and we had a ball putting the top down and appreciating the clean, salty sea air). He even offered to give us a ride back to the pier so we could catch our boat.

And for the record, everyone was super nice. In fact, while we were waiting for them to bring the car around, we walked into a 7-11 to buy something to drink and the clerk didn’t know English. A local woman translated for us and we were able to complete our transaction. We walked away with 20 pesos (a little over a dollar in American money — the exchange rate, at that time, was 11 pesos = 1 dollar. That’s important later).

We piled into the car and Kevin drove us to the other side of the island.

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It was wonderful. We were on our own! We stopped for lunch at a restaurant right off the beach. We were hot, but there was a cool breeze coming from the ocean so it was really pleasant. The only fly in our ointment was our money situation. We hadn’t taken enough money on shore with us and we weren’t sure we would have enough to pay for our meal. So, we ordered two dinners and shared them.

There were three college-aged boys at the table next to us who were laughing and having a good time. They ignored us, for the most part, but it was hard for us to ignore them. They weren’t obnoxious, only interesting to listen to. After a time, they finished their meal and all three stripped down to skimpy spandex swim trunks.

I thought they were quite beautiful to look at, but all three of my guys were really uncomfortable being so near half-naked men and the top of my head nearly exploded as I tried to hold my laughter in at their horrified expressions.

The other side of Cozumel is undeveloped and wild. We asked our server why that side didn’t have big hotels and other development there and he said it was because that that was the side that received the brunt of the storms whenever they blew in and destroyed everything they built on that side. The current is very strong on that side as well, so it was unsafe to go swimming, though that didn’t deter our three “friends.” 🙂

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We got back into the car and continued our drive. Our car guy gave us a map with directions on how to find his office and when we reached the outskirts of town, we stopped at a gas station and began to navigate our way back.

(Side note: Our credit card was denied at the gas station. Luckily, we had another card to cover the cost [always carry a back-up credit card!], but now we were worried about why our credit card company had denied us).

According to the map, all we had to do was continue down the road we were on and it would take us directly back to the office. So, we sat back and enjoyed looking at the city. We passed one corner that had one speaker on one side, and another big speaker on the other side, both playing quite loudly and both playing something different — it was as if they were competing with each other for attention.

Imagine our surprise when we encountered a dead end. We could no longer go straight, we had to turn either left or right. We were unsure what to do, so we turned left and promptly got lost.

We were caught in a labyrinth of side streets that all looked the same. Kevin, nor I, had our glasses with us and the writing on the map was so small, neither one of us could read it. We had the boys look at it and since the streets are in Spanish, they couldn’t read them out loud.

They had to spell the names of the streets to us.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking. The afternoon was passing us by and if we didn’t make it back onto the boat by 4:00, they would leave without us. And to top my stress off, I forgot to bring my watch on shore with us (the watch we bought on the ship so we could use it for this very reason!) and we had no idea what time it was.

I started to panic.

We backtracked and made our way back to the gas station. We took a moment to look more carefully at the map and with the boys’ help, we managed to find the streets we needed in order to make our way back to the office.

We finally stumbled onto the office. I was the only one who had paid attention to the landmarks surrounding the office and it’s a good thing — we would have likely driven past the thing, several times.

We got out of the car and went into the office. There was a different guy behind the counter and he didn’t act none too pleased to hear we had been promised a ride back to the pier.

I started to panic.

We were out of money. We had one dollar and the peso note. That was it. It cost $7.00 to take a taxi back to the pier.

And time was ticking.

Thankfully, our guy came running and he happily loaded us back into the car and drove us to the pier. Kevin engaged him in conversation (his English wasn’t great so we all got a laugh at our attempts to communicate with him) and asked him if very many people had gotten sick from the swine flu.

To our surprise, he snorted and then began to laugh. He said that no one got sick and that it was all a ruse from the media to make people scared. He said that the mainland (Cancun and beyond) had had a few cases reported, but nothing like the American media made it out to be.

We liked him instantly. 😀

We arrived safely back at the pier, thanked our very helpful guy and made our way back to the boat. It was about 2:45 by this time so we had cut it close, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been if we hadn’t found our way back to the office as quickly as we had.

We really enjoyed renting that car. And it had been a spur-of-the-moment thing — just like it had been 19 years ago when Kevin rented a scooter and we had driven to the other side of the island together. We felt like we had come full circle.

(Side note: Kevin called the credit card company. Apparently, they got suspicious when they saw that someone was trying to buy gas in Mexico. Which was us, by the way. Even though it was a little annoying that they had cut our access, it was reassuring to know that they were on top of it and noticed a strange transaction like that so early. That company was Citibank, by the way, and no, they didn’t pay me to tell you that.).

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(You can see a larger version of this slide show here).

And that’s it. We had a full day at sea the day after our Cozumel stop and we had a chance to relax and stuff our faces. We arrived back in Miami right on schedule. Our number was finally called about 11:00 a.m. and we left the boat, picked up our baggage, slid through customs and got right into a taxi — very smooth process. We arrived at the airport about noon, had some lunch and boarded our plane back to St. Louis at 3:30.

We caught the parking lot shuttle back to our car and started the four-hour trip back home, which seemed like it took much longer because we were all pretty tired and really ready to get home by that point.

We did pull over and have dinner at a Jack-in-the-Box (Dude had heard about their tacos and suggested it) and Kevin had to take over the driving from that point on. I was feeling really dizzy and drowsy by that point (something about my inner ear being out of whack from being on a boat all week long) and we finally arrived back home at about 11:00 p.m.

It was a great trip. We had so much fun and if you EVER get a chance to take a cruise, we highly recommend it.

We’re now on a course to plan our next one.

I’m thinking the Eastern Caribbean this time ….

Thanks for reading!!

Cruise 09

Our Western Caribbean Cruise (Part Four)

Lost? You can catch up here with the precursor, part one, part two and part three.

****

This bit of vacation dribble is brought to you by the city of Belize.

I feel I must apologize, upfront, about the boring pictures this go-around. There are a lot of pictures of broken down homes, and overall poverty.

But I learned three important things while we toured Belize:

1. I am sooooo thankful that we live in the United States. (And it REALLY upsets me whenever I hear people slam the U.S. – visit a third-world country, sometime. I’m betting things will suddenly look A LOT better here in the good ole U S of A).

2. I think Jazz has an interest in photography.

3. I will never wear spaghetti strap shirts any place OTHER than the beach/vacation/away from home. (I hate my football shoulders).

These pictures … depress me. The good folks of Belize are working on building up their community, thanks to tourist dollars, and you could see improvements in spots, but overall, most of the Belize people are poor and live in rusty, tin houses.

I thought it was especially important for the boys to see this, and we talked about their living conditions afterwards. I think it gave them a new appreciation for everything they have. It sort of makes getting upset over a slow internet connection seem shallow and superficial, doesn’t it.

We took a tender to shore. The ship had to dock about thirty minutes away because the waters were too shallow to get any closer. The pictures of the outside of our boat were taken on the tender, as well as the pictures with the waves. Jazz claimed the Canon Rebel camera and shot away.

I think these are the coolest shots from the trip.

We finally arrived at the pier and were herded through a mall-type structure where the tour buses were waiting out back. We loaded our bus and began our tour of the city.

Everywhere we looked, we saw impossibly skinny dogs sniffing through clumps of garbage. We saw buildings barely held together with twine and other materials. Belize is a structured chaos, if that makes any sense.

Belize also doesn’t have a welfare system – everyone works or they go hungry. They have nationalized health care, but have to wait weeks to see a doctor. Their schools are built next to churches, as the churches run the schools. And they allow their teachers to discipline their children by spanking them whenever they disobey the rules. As a result, their children are very well behaved, both at school and at home.

Whenever our guide was going through these various facts about Belize, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was telling us this to somehow teach us something about our own chaotic and politically correct society.

I couldn’t help but agree with her.

I found the history of Belize really interesting:

From Wikipedia: The history of Belize dates back thousands of years. The Maya civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites—notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich—reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlements.[1]

Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the “Colony of British Honduras” until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on September 21, 1981.

They have to bury their dead above ground. Belize is one to three feet under sea level. This means, they get flooded, a lot. They soon discovered, that burying their dead below ground, wasn’t feasible as the bodies would float to the surface whenever their city flooded. There is a picture of a graveyard in the slide show – it’s a plot of land with several concrete boxes.

We spent 45 minutes on the bus. It was a long and bumpy ride and I nearly tossed my cookies before we reached the ruins. I was literally swallowing my bile back down when we finally turned one last corner and were there.

Belize only has six street lights in their entire country and do not have speed limits, though they have speed bumps which forces people to slow down. They also have police checkpoints, which we had to pass through in order to leave town and head to the Mayan ruins.

They do not display gas prices. All gas stations charge the same amount and the overall price is controlled by the government. This sounds great on the surface, but they currently pay a little over $8.00 per gallon. As a result, most people can’t afford to have cars so most people either walk or ride bikes everywhere. Yet another reason competition is necessary in order to bring prices back down to an affordable level.

There are several pictures of the ruins. We had all three cameras out and, well, we had a lot of pictures. Our guide took us around the grounds and told us the history, but unfortunately, she was soft-spoken and we didn’t hear 3/4 of what she said.

Here’s a short video that Kevin took of our guide and our group shortly before we started the official tour of the Altun Ha ruins.

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From Wikipedia: Altun Ha is the name given ruins of an ancient Maya city in Belize, located in the Belize District about 30 miles (50 km) north of Belize City and about 6 miles (10 km) west of the shore of the Caribbean Sea.

“Altun Ha” is a modern name in the Maya language, coined by translating the name of the nearby village of Rockstone Pond. The ancient name is at present unknown.

The largest of Altun Ha’s temple-pyramids, the “Temple of the Masonry Altars”, is 54 feet (16 m) high.

The site covers an area of about 5 miles (8 km) square. The central square mile of the site has remains of some 500 structures.

The ruins of the ancient structures had their stones reused for residential construction of the agricultural village of Rockstone Pond in modern times, but the ancient site did not come to the attention of archeologists until 1963, when the existence of a sizable ancient site was recognized from the air by pilot and amateur Mayanist Hal Ball.

You can see a larger version of this slideshow here.

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Last stop: Cozumel, Mexico. Kevin and I honeymooned on Cozumel 19 years ago. It was a real treat to take the kids back there and to revisit the place where it all started.

Cruise 09

Our Western Caribbean Cruise (Part Three)

Happy birthday, America!

God bless America!

America, bless God!

(I thought the teacup graphic was appropriate at this time. 🙂 )

Lost? You can catch up here with the precursor, part one and part two.

****

I like animals … at a distance. I’ve never been one to invite a cuddle or even interaction because well, I don’t really know why. They’re cute and fun to watch but actually having one underfoot or to care for one … uh, no thanks.

Not my thing.

So when we stumbled across a shore excursion that would bring us up close and personal with exotic birds and monkeys, well, we hesitated.

But when we weighed our excursion options, it seemed like the most attractive alternative, so, we scheduled a time to see exotic birds and monkeys.

The Carnival cruise director strongly suggested we sign up for a shore excursion. Isla Roatan, Honduras is a rather volatile, and unstable country so we were cautioned to not leave the gates beyond the pier unless we had an excursion planned. We were also cautioned not to buy anything from anyone outside the gates as it was likely illegal contraband and it would not be allowed back on the boat.

These warnings were enough to make us uneasy.

However, we met our party on the pier and loaded an air-conditioned van to drive into the bowels of the island to see Gumbalimba Park.

Once we arrived at the park, we were instructed to leave our bags on a table in a pavilion. We had to do this because the monkeys associated bags with food and would likely run off with them. Since none of us wanted to chase a monkey around the jungle to retrieve our precious belongings, we all gladly obliged.

We were also told we were not allowed to use flash when we took pictures. The flash would confuse and irritate the monkeys and put them in defensive attack mode.

Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, my camera defaults into flash mode whenever it’s turned off and then turned back on again. So, I took a picture and the flash went off. Our guide was not happy. In fact, everyone in our group was not happy, though most of them didn’t know where the flash came from and to prevent getting lynched, I also pretended not to know where the flash came from.

When the flash went off, the monkey froze, its eyes grew large and it stiffened. Actually, we all stiffened and waited with bated breath to see what would happen. Thankfully, it wasn’t currently sitting on someone’s head but on a vine, which might have made a difference to its reaction.

But after several long seconds, it simply went back to being … a monkey. And we all went back to being … skittish tourists.

I nearly fainted from relief. How embarrassing would it have been to be involved in a gruesome monkey attack that I carelessly started?! I endured several dirty looks, but, thankfully, everyone’s attention soon turned back to the monkeys.

Whew.

To coax the monkey to climb on people, the guide placed a sunflower seed on top of the person’s head. The monkey would then scurry up the person’s body, or jump onto the person’s head, and forage around in his/her hair until it found the seed. This allowed us an opportunity to take close-up pictures of the animals, hence the reason you see several strangers with a monkey on their heads in the slideshow.

None of us volunteered our head – we were just content to watch, but I have to say this, they were awfully cute to watch. Their jerky movements and their sheer innocence was fascinating. They also had a two-month old baby, which you can see clinging to its mother’s back in a few slides and we all kept a respective distance from the momma.

We mothers KNOW about that protective instinct.

But it was really cool because apparently, that was the first time they had had a baby born in the park, so the tiny monkey was a big deal.

Even though I never had a monkey on my head (as opposed to my back – haha), I had one monkey scurry through my legs and I felt it’s silky soft fur against my skin.

That was close enough, thank you very much.

The brightly-colored parrots nonchalantly walked among us. They were intent on picking at the fallen sunflower seed shells that the monkeys dropped so they completely ignored us humans.

At various intervals during the excursion, we would hear this zipping/rope sound. When we looked up, we saw tourists from another excursion riding a zip line over the jungle trees. I thought that particular excursion sounded fun, but I couldn’t get the guys interested in it.

After the monkeys, we walked through an area that contained several large cages of macaws. There’s a picture of Kevin allowing one to sit on his shoulder. I refused because I had seen another bird on another man’s shoulder poop on him and I wasn’t particularly excited about spending the rest of the day with warm poop on MY shoulder.

After we finished with the animals, we waited our turn to walk across this rope bridge. Actually, it was quite safe, it was held with strong cable, but it crossed over a lake and it swayed from side-to-side enough that it was enough to freak me out. I was even more freaked out when Kevin, who was ahead of me and Dude, turned around to take pictures and nearly tossed himself into the lake below. Even though our guide told us that they had yet to rescue a tourist from the water, that didn’t mean there couldn’t be a first time.

I seriously sprouted three more gray hairs from that experience alone.

When our tour was over and we were deposited at the pier, we noticed several armed soldiers patrolling the gates. Kevin was stupid brave enough to venture closer and a few of the soldiers tensed.

That was enough to send us scurrying back to the boat.

Coincidentally, the day after our visit, the Honduran President was kidnapped by their military.

We look pretty rough in the following pictures. It was h..h..hot over there – it was close to 100 and 98% humidity. Since we were in the jungle, there wasn’t a breeze, so the air was heavy and sticky.

Please excuse my sopping self.

You can see a larger version of this slideshow here.

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ø There’s a picture of jungle foliage – if you look closely, you can see that rope bridge I talked about in the background.

ø The next picture is a group of people bent over a plant. I don’t remember the name of the plant, but once you touched it, it wilted in your fingers and died instantly. There’s a picture of Kevin bent over and touching the plant,too.

ø Our tour guide was awesome. So nice and funny. There’s a picture of him with small dark pink flowers in his hand. He gave those flowers to all the ladies and if you look closely, you can see mine in a lot of the pictures.

ø The thorny tree bark – it was called “Monkeys Don’t Climb” trees because monkeys don’t like the thorny texture and stay far away from those types of trees.

ø We did end the tour walking through a man-made cave. There they told the story of one of their more infamous pirates discovering the island and a few tall tales of his adventures.

Overall, our tour was a bit disappointing, at least to Kevin. It was all manufactured – the monkeys had been brought over and then the man-made cave. But it was still a fun excursion because it took us places we never would have seen otherwise.

Here’s a short video Kevin took on the pier.

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Isla Roatan was certainly different and we’ll likely never choose to go back there, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to see this small, and volatile, part of the world.

Next up — seeing a third world country, up close and very personal.

Cruise 09

Our Western Caribbean Cruise (Part Two)

Lost? You can catch up here with the precursor and part one.

****

I’d like to preface this entry by saying: I’m not a big water sports person. In fact, it’s safe to say I’m a teensy-weensy bit scared of the water in general.

Scratch that. Whenever I’m in over my head, literally, I’m actually PRETTY NERVOUS. It’s just not something I care to do. I’ll participate, but it’s a grudging participation.

I’m not the greatest swimmer – I CAN swim, just not that great. I CAN tread water, but not for long periods of time before I start sinking. My wide berth will be the death of me yet.

So when Kevin suggested we go snorkeling, I swallowed my dread. I’ve been snorkeling before, but it was right off the coast and I never felt out of control or out of my depth; as a result, I quite enjoyed the experience.

But that didn’t deter me from steering clear of the snorkeling excursions that required jumping off a boat in the middle of the ocean. Just the thought of that and not having any solid footing to sink my toes into just a few feet away was enough to cause me to hyperventilate.

We compromised. We signed up for a snorkeling excursion, but it was a shore excursion and not a boat excursion. I thought I was home free on the deep thing.

Wrong.

We arrived at Grand Cayman at 8:00 a.m. Our excursion was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. So, I dragged the boys out of bed, we ate a quick breakfast and then loaded the tender to be shipped over to the mainland.

I have to interject here: Carnival has these shore excursions DOWN. It was very organized and we quickly found our group. When enough of us had arrived, they began walking us to the spot.

That was another reason we picked this particular excursion, it was within walking distance of the pier.

We were a bit disappointed when we arrived. It was nothing like we envisioned. We pictured a white sands sort of beach where we could just walk into the water and begin our snorkeling adventure.

Wrong again.

The “beach” was all rock. (There’s a picture of it in the slideshow below). And our guide gave us all life jackets to wear.

I was immediately apprehensive. If we were going to be required to wear life jackets then that must of meant we were going to be out in deep water.

*GULP*

I kept my cool. I didn’t want to panic in front of the boys, who didn’t appear all that nervous, quite frankly. Apparently, I was the wuss in the group.

Kevin, Dude and Jazz quickly donned their gear and headed out into the water. It took me a bit longer to adjust my stupid mask. I have a rather prominent bump in my nose and I couldn’t get the mask to sit over that bump comfortably.

Damn this crooked nose.

When I finally got situated, had the fins on my feet and I flopped awkwardly slid gracefully into the water, I had lost track of the guys. Kevin I wasn’t worried about, but this was the first time for the boys and I wasn’t sure how they would handle it.

I once again swallowed my panic (which by this time was beginning to taste pretty sour) because I figured they had their life jackets on and were pretty good swiimmers and did a little snorkeling.

Again, I was disappointed. The landscape was brown and not at all pretty, but I chocked that up to the fact that so many humans had trespassed on the area and killed any remaining coral.

So, I ventured out a little further. And then my mother instinct kicked in and I surfaced, in a panic (really no reason why, just a feeling) and started looking around for the boys.

There were several people in the water and they all looked the same with their masks on – I had no clue where they were.

I started flailing because I was in deep water and well, deep water freaks me out. But luckily, Kevin was behind me so I had a visual anchor. However, he didn’t know where the boys were so my panic doubled.

In the meantime, I’m bobbing like a drunk frat boy on the water, whipping my head from side to side in an attempt to see where the boys were. And in the process, swallowed about half the ocean to boot.

I started feeling queasy.

But I ignored it, my children were not in sight.

Even though they are teenagers, and boys to boot, it doesn’t matter, a mother’s instinct never ages. I needed to know where they were so I could resume drowning, er, snorkeling.

I found Dude first, and he was beginning to look green around the cheekbones. I knew that look. He got that look from me.

“Are you okay?” I asked him, careful to keep my voice down so he wouldn’t be embarrassed.

“Not really,” he muttered and I nodded. It was time to get out of the water.

I caught Kevin’s attention and told him to look for Jazz, I was taking Dude back to shore.

Dude and I dragged ourselves back to the rocky shore and gratefully sat on a rock. We were both sea sick from the bobbing and swallowing too much salt water. I walked Dude to the bathroom where he remained for nearly ten minutes.

I didn’t ask. He didn’t tell.

In the meantime, Kevin had found Jazz, who had ventured out near the buoys we weren’t supposed to swim past and was fine. In fact, he was more than fine, he was having a ball. So I concentrated on getting Dude back to our chairs where he promptly collapsed and covered his face with his t-shirt.

I gingerly sat down and waited for my own nausea to pass. I will admit, I panicked on the water. I hope I did a good job of hiding my panic from Dude, but he’s pretty intuitive – he might have noticed. The bob and salt combination nearly did me in and I thought I was going to upchuck for the entire group to not only see but likely swim through as well.

Which only made me more nervous. I’m sort of glad Dude was feeling queasy because it gave me an excuse to also go back to shore.

About fifteen minutes later, Jazz surfaced and collapsed onto his chair. He wasn’t having any trouble with the bobbing or the salt water, he was simply pooped out from all of the swimming.

Kevin joined us about fifteen minutes after that looking flushed and very pleased with himself. He had taken some underwater pictures (I talked about those yesterday) and he was excited to see how they turned out. He was disappointed that Dude and I didn’t have a better time, but what can I say – I have a motion sickness “thing.” Apparently, Dude is just like his momma. 🙂

So, Dude’s first snorkeling experience didn’t go exactly as planned, but when (notice I said “when”) we go back to the Caribbean, we’ll try it again. At least the next time out, he’ll know what to expect.

We finished the rest of our time on Grand Cayman just walking around. George Town is a pretty little village but I’m afraid I just wasn’t that into it because all that was left to do was browse some shops and ya’ll know how much I hate to shop.

Being on a tropical island doesn’t change that fact.

Now moving on to the pictures …

You can see a larger version of this slideshow here.

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(RSS Readers: I had to insert the slide shows using Vodpod. As a result, the slide shows won’t show up in your readers. Please click over to view. Sorry about that!)

ø The first set of pictures are a mixture of Miami, Grand Cayman and more of us around the boat. Because you can’t have too many pictures of yourself awkwardly posing around the boat. 🙂

ø There’s one picture where Kevin has the camera at his eye and trained at something (Dude is in the background) and he’s standing on the ship track. This is where I walked … well here, Kevin took a video.

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I have to tell you, listening to my music while walking on that track, in the open sea and fresh air was exhilarating. I felt close to God and it was a wonderful experience. I wish I had had more energy and time to devote to more walking.

I also wish we had taken more little videos like this. It makes it seem more real, doesn’t it?

ø When you take a cruise, one of the first things that you MUST do is participate in a lifeboat safety drill. You feel like an idiot wearing those bright orange vests and it seems like a waste of time, but it IS a good idea to know what to do and where to go in case of an emergency.

ø Next few pictures are of the clubs (Kevin is playing air guitar on the “banana” stage). The train-looking room was The Caboose, this is where the teenagers could hang out.

ø I took the picture of Kevin with the walkie-talkie to remember that was how we communicated with the boys the entire time we were on the boat.

ø The next picture is of the tender we took to get to Grand Cayman.

ø After we reached the island, you can see us heading toward our snorkeling adventure. See the rocky shore? *sigh*

ø After we finished snorkeling, we ate at an open-air restaurant. Dude was feeling considerably better by then and after eating something, he was back to his sulking self. 🙂 (Our boys are so skinny – I wish I had their problem).

ø Here are a few pictures from around George Town.

ø Here are a few more pictures from the first formal night.

ø We found a sword shop and the boys really enjoyed looking around and “testing” a few swords out. (They’re boys, what can I say). I think Jazz secretly wants to be a knight when he grows up.

And that was our experience on Grand Cayman. Next stop? Isla Rotan, Honduras. There’s nothing quite like being attacked by a monkey and dodging scary military soldiers to get your blood pumping.

Cruise 09

Our Western Caribbean Cruise (Part One)

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

If you’ve ever thought about taking a cruise, let me tell ya, it’s worth every penny. Yes, it can be expensive (but if you budget and book early enough, it’s truly not as bad as you think it is and most of that expense is your flight, quite frankly), but you have to remember that when you take a cruise, you’re actually taking about four, or five, mini-vacations all rolled into one.

There’s the experience on the boat (which is a vacation in and of itself) and then there’s the experience at every port of call.

All of your food is provided. There are numerous programs to entertain you and there are clubs and even a casino that offers even more excitement.

And let’s not forget the fun stuff you can book with shore excursions – things you would most likely NEVER do, or see, on your own.

Taking a cruise means you don’t have to stress about being a certain place at a certain time. You can eat whenever you want. You can sleep whenever you want. You can even lounge around and allow someone to wait on you, if you choose.

It really does give you the most bang for your buck.

We are absolutely sold on cruises. And if we can swing it, we plan on taking a different cruise every summer. (If you’re thinking about taking a cruise and have some questions, feel free to contact me and I’ll try and answer them).

But that’s IF we can financially swing it. The winds are changing in our world and it looks like I WILL be getting a job, outside of my webmaster duties, very soon.

But more on that later.

Let’s start at the beginning …

I spent all day Monday and Tuesday sorting through pictures. I had no idea we had taken so many. We took three cameras and between the four of us, we captured quite a few things. (Note to readers: If you go on vacation, don’t be afraid to take an extra camera or two and give it to the kids to use – you’ll be surprised at their different perspective!).

The pictures below are a hodge-podge mix of various shots we took around the boat during our week aboard.

Let me see if I can summarize this for you. It might seem a little choppy, formatting it this way, but it’ll save me from writing a novel and save you from getting bored and moving on … though I suspect it’s already too late for that. *grin*

You can see a larger version of this slideshow here.

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(RSS Readers: I had to insert the slide shows using Vodpod. As a result, the slide shows won’t show up in your readers. Please click over to view. Sorry about that!)

ø Beginning at the airport: We flew out of St. Louis on Saturday, June 20th. Even though we didn’t set sail until 4:00 on Sunday, June 21st, I wanted to go ahead and get to Miami the night before so we (okay, I) wouldn’t get stressed out about missing the boat. The last cruise Kevin and I took we cut it really close and were one of the last people to board. I didn’t want to go through that again.

ø Our flight was non-stop. We flew directly from St. Louis to Miami (about a 2 1/2 hour flight). We scheduled it that way because Dude HATES to fly and we figured it would be easier on him as opposed to dealing with layovers. (He did great, by the way). We flew out of St. Louis instead of Springfield because to fly out of Springfield would have cost us an additional $1,800. (!!!) It was way cheaper for us to drive to St. Louis and then park our car for a week.

ø We got into Miami about 9:00 p.m. and it took us a while to figure out which shuttle bus would take us to our hotel. Though we were tired and we stressed about finding the right shuttle, at least we didn’t have to pay $30 bucks for a taxi ride.

ø Miami is like stepping into a totally different country. It was rare to actually hear someone speak English. It both annoyed me (because hello, we’re in America, speak the language) and fascinated me.

ø We arrived at our hotel at about 10:00 p.m. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express (because we’re smart like that). The room was small, but comfortable. Even though I handed out ear plugs (Kevin snores something fierce), they fell out for the boys and they didn’t get much sleep. In fact, Dude told us that between Jazz’s restless flopping around (he’s the type of sleeper that wakes up upside down and backwards) and Kevin’s snoring, he tried to sleep in a chair and even the bathroom, but ended up sleeping maybe three hours – total. To say he was cranky would be kind.

ø We had a relaxing morning at the hotel before catching a cab to the pier.

ø We arrived at the pier at noon (the place was packed by this time) and was herded through various channels (moo) before we made it to a live person to check in. I was a little nervous because everyone else had these packets with their cruise information in them and all we had was a piece of paper that had our “Fun Passes” printed on them. We had registered through the Carnival website and that’s all they gave us. But there was no need to worry – it was a smooth and flawless process and we left with our sail and sign cards in hand.

ø There was a lot going, and there were so many people, that we were a bit disoriented. Even though we didn’t have our luggage with us (there were porters outside the complex who checked your luggage in for you), we still had four bags on us. We were leaving the counter to head toward the boarding entrance when a woman caught our attention. We had nearly left our expensive Canon Rebel camera behind! I swear, if that woman hadn’t hailed us, we would have lost that camera. Thank God for nice, honest people.

ø Side Note: Even though you don’t “technically” have to have a passport when you travel (depending on where your cruise is taking you), get one. It makes your life a whole lot easier, trust me. The folks that didn’t have passports were kept a lot longer than the folks who did. And remember, passports are valid for 10 years so it’s not like you’ll have to go through the process each and every time you travel.

ø We had our embarkation picture taken. There are photographers all over the ship – it’s an excellent chance to squeeze more money from the tourists. And even though they are expensive, I would recommend purchasing a few because they really ARE a great thing to take home with you. (I love our smiles in our picture. We all look happy, relaxed and ready to have fun. Except Jazz, he looks shell-shocked. lol).

ø The picture of Kevin in his safari hat is one of my favorite pictures of him. He looks so cute and relaxed. He bought that hat in Cozumel because he refused to wear sun screen on his face – it breaks him out – and his face was getting pretty red [duh]. My husband is an oddball, but I’ll take him. 🙂

ø The funky circle pictures, and the slightly distorted pictures after that, were taken with a fish-eye lens. Kevin wanted to try and capture as much of the ship as he could. I don’t know about other cruise lines, but Carnival ships’ decor is a little (okay a lot) on the gaudy side – think tacky Vegas style. But they’re fun and I suppose that’s the whole point.

ø Picture of Jazz on the steps: Our cabins weren’t ready when we boarded, so we had to sort of wait around until 1:30 when they would be ready. Jazz looks a little depressed in this picture – I think he’s still shell-shocked and trying to take it all in. At least, that’s what I tell myself. *grin*

ø The diner pictures: This was the 10th deck I referred to earlier. We ate all of our diner meals here. It was quiet and had a spectacular view. The boys also spent a lot of time playing cards on this deck, too.

ø We took most of the pictures of us on deck before we left the Miami pier, and I’m glad we did. Because when it came time to set sail, it started pouring. The pictures of us sitting on the deck is when we were waiting for the rain to pass so we could watch us take off. The rain delayed our departure about 30 minutes. But it was worth the wait — there is nothing quite like leaving the pier for the first time. Our vacation had officially begun!!

ø Picture of Kevin in front of the accounting office: inside joke. He’s an accountant in real life so … we sort of HAD to take that picture.

ø Picture of disgusting food substance: There was a fish and chips station on the 10th deck and one day we were walking past and noticed tentacles sticking out of a pan. The chef was cooking baby octopus. The dish? Something with BBQ octopus in it. Yeah, I couldn’t even eat the rest of the day (okay fine, for a few hours). Have any of you tried octopus?

ø There are two pictures of Dude after the octopus picture. The second picture – his expression … omg, so cute. He looks so much like my little boy in that picture. People outside of the family don’t see this expression very often. It just melts my heart.

ø Picture of Kevin’s legs – yeah, I put that one in there as payback for the HUNDREDS of pictures he took of me this vacation. Just wait, there is one set where it’s all me and I’m quite annoyed with him for being so shutter happy.

ø The funky light pictures: We were waiting in the Ivanhoe Theater for the next show to start and Jazz took my camera and started experimenting. I thought they turned out pretty cool, myself. Just another example of what happens when you mix a bored kid with a camera.

ø The ship actually had a miniature golf course up by the smoke stack. The snake on the rock pic is from that golf course. It’s missing it’s head and for some reason, Kevin thought that was hilarious. (Snake issues?)

ø Me and Kev – posing right off Isla Roatan (Honduras).

ø The next set of pictures is of the guys playing some card game that someone taught Dude at school (during class one day. WHY they weren’t learning is beyond me). The boys played A LOT of cards.

ø The boys posing with their towel animals. They really got a kick out of the towel animals. Alfredo made one each night and put it on our beds while we were at dinner. I thought it was funny that the ship actually sold a book on how to make towel animals. We actually saw one kid reading it while we were waiting for a show to start in the theater. Talk about milking tourists for every single dime! (Alfredo made a towel heart just for me and Kev. Aww).

ø Picture of Kevin and the boys looking at something. They are looking at the underwater pictures that Kevin took while snorkeling off of the Cayman Islands. We bought a cheap (but reusable!) underwater camera at the photo gallery. He RAVED about the great pictures he took and when we got them back (they developed them on the ship), they were … uh … anything BUT great. We laughed about them the entire cruise.

Here’s a short video of the guys looking at the pictures:

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ø The boys, standing outside their very own cabin. (If you have teenagers and can afford it, BOOK THEIR OWN CABIN!!! Man, was that worth the privacy).

ø Next picture: Me and Kevin on the first formal night. I love this picture of us, but I’m hating how white my face is. I’m definitely wearing the wrong powder. I look like a mime. 😦 Cruisers had the option of having dinner in the restaurant each and every night. We had scheduled our dinner for 6:00 p.m. and we ate at the restaurant each night. We could order anything from the menu we wanted – we could even order two dinners if we wanted – but we didn’t want to. We all enjoyed the food, but Jazz wasn’t crazy about it because he’s such a picky eater. However, our waiter was awesome and made sure that Jazz liked his meal. There was even one night that he brought him an extra pasta dish because he didn’t look too happy with the dish he had chosen.

Even though a lot of people dressed up for formal night, the mode of dress was varied. There was one gal in a ball gown and tiara, but for the most part, everyone was dressed in cocktail dresses. I sort of wished we hadn’t participated in formal nights – it was a PAIN to come back from an excursion all hot and dirty and then rush through a shower and get all dressed up for dinner one hour later, but it’s something that should be experienced, at least once. It IS pretty fun to get dressed up because that’s not something you get to do on a daily basis.

ø Last picture: This is the first (and probably last) time the boys wore a tie. Aren’t they handsome?! It cracks me up how low Dude’s pants are though. The boy should have worn a belt but we didn’t pack one. And I’d just like to add, getting the boys to pose for the photographer was hilarious!! The photographer was of some Indian descent and so he talked very fast and tried to pose us like plastic people and Dude was so uncomfortable …. “he is very stiff,” says the guy. “He is so awkward!” “Oh, his hands very cold.” I was laughing so hard that the pictures he took of me and Kevin didn’t turn out, but at least it broke the ice and that’s the reason the boys are smiling so much because it was one of those really funny, awkward moments.

And that’s it. We spent our first day at sea and we explored the ship, hung out by the pool, played a little Bingo, dressed up for dinner and watched a Vegas-style show. It was a relaxing and fun day.

Little did we know that the next day, Dude and I would nearly drown …

Cruise 09

So, I Lied (Cruise Precursor)

Being back sucks.

There’s no one to clean up after us.

We have to get our own food.

There are no smiling, friendly people to wait on us.

We simply can’t go up on deck and lounge around all day, sip lemonade, read and soak in the sun.

Reality bites.

Actually, we lounged around on the deck the first and last day of our cruise, we hardly sat down at all the rest of our cruise.

My goal was to try and write about the day’s activities every day on my laptop, but

1. there were no outlets on the ship (that I could see, anyway) save for one in our cabin (and who wants to be stuck in their cabin all day!?)

and

2. there simply wasn’t time to write anything.

And when there WAS time, I was too pooped to do anything other than curl into the fetal position, whimper like a whipped puppy a few times before passing out.

When Carnival advertises that it’s the “Fun Ship,” freak, they aren’t kidding, folks. They had something planned nearly every single minute of every single day.

And let’s not forget about the shore excursions, too.

But where to start. I seriously have so much crap clutter rattling around my dizzy brain (because I’m still feeling dizzy and out-of-sorts [I researched this feeling, this swaying/rocking sensation, and apparently, it’s pretty common among cruisers]), I honestly don’t know where to begin.

Well, I know where to begin, but I think my problem is, I have so many little details that I want to remember that I’m afraid I’ll forget to mention them in my posts and then *POOF*, they will be gone and forgotten.

Some of those little things that I don’t want to forget are:

  • Our cruise director was from Texas – and he was a big, and very funny, boy: hence the reason he was called “Big Tex.”
  • And every time he made a ship-wide announcement, he began with, “Hi folks. This is a Tex message to let you know a few things happening around the ship.”
  • He would then end each message with a “Buh Bye, ya’ll.”
  • Our cabin steward’s name was Alfredo (as in the sauce) but he told the boys to call him Fred.
  • Every time Alfredo saw Jazz, he would smile really big and enunciate every syllable of his name. So much so, in fact, that he became a joke among us the entire cruise.
  • Alfredo woke the boys up several times during our cruise so he could get in and clean their room.
  • Alfredo also kept better tabs on our boys than we did. They did their own thing on the boat – we kept in touch via walkie-talkies. But still, it was a little embarrassing to knock on the boys’ cabin only to be told, by Alfredo, that they were having breakfast on the Lido deck.
  • Speaking of food, we (the family) always met on deck 10 to eat. It was the floor directly above the food buffet and hardly anyone ever used it – so we had the whole place to ourselves and were able to enjoy the spectacular view without interruption.
  • We bought the boys some playing cards in the gift shop and they spent most of their spare time playing cards on the Lido deck or in The Caboose (the place for teenagers to hang out).
  • I am so glad that we decided to book a cabin for the boys. The boys did their thing, we did ours and everyone was happy and relaxed. Worth every penny.
  • I walked on the (outdoor) track and listened to my music and never felt closer to God. It was an exhilarating experience to be on the ocean and breathing clean, salty air while walking off the extra calories.
  • It was really hard to control myself when there was food, scrumptious food, around to eat at all times. In fact, if Kevin hadn’t been around, I would have GORGED myself on the chocolate buffet. Their fudge was so rich my eyes actually bulged. Thank goodness the chocolate buffet was only one night or I’d be the size of my car right now.
  • We passed a small African-American boy dressed as a sailor on our way to our cabin and I nearly passed out from his sheer cuteness.
  • The Carnival Valor dancers were incredible. IN.CRED.IBLE.
  • The Carnival Valor singers were spectacular.
  • I nearly had a heart attack each and every time we had to exit, and then board, the ship because I was afraid we had lost our sail and sign cards. These cards were our key to everything ship related. It was crucial not to lose them.

card

  • The Carnival Valor musicians were unbelievable. In fact, we stumbled upon their performance in the lobby and I caught Jazz nearly salivating over the saxophone player – he was amazing. (Jazz is now thinking about getting a job on a cruise ship and playing with the band. Wouldn’t that be something?)
  • We had the best time laughing over people’s pictures. Photographers were everywhere, and they snapped pictures of you everywhere and then displayed the photos in the photo gallery where you then had the chance of buying them. It was obvious some people had no intention of buying them and many made funny faces or did funny things and it was truly hilarious.
  • If I forget to tell you, Kevin and I gambled exactly $1.25 on the slot machines – we won five free turns and that was it. We also played a round of bingo but sadly, didn’t win. THAT was the extent of our gambling the whole cruise.
  • The fifth deck was the party deck. This is where the shops, casino, piano bar, cigar room and clubs were located. The fifth deck was always loud and always crowded and I felt totally out of place there. But it was still fun to walk through and make fun of all the drunk people. 🙂
  • We got lost several times in the first two days, but over the week, we established secret little routes and got around surprisingly well.
  • If we were above deck and the boys were in their cabin, we often couldn’t get them on the walkies (too much interference. There were also A LOT of other people using walkies too and we often had to change channels). It was disconcerting at first to not really know where the boys were, or to call them, but I learned to just get over it – we were on a ship, where exactly would they go??
  • There were over 3,500 people on our cruise, 1,400 of those people were children.
  • We are absolutely, positively, sold on cruises. In fact, Kevin and I talked over lunch today about possibly taking another one next year – this one to the Bahamas.
  • I ate more fruit in the past week than I have in the past two years and I’ve felt the best I’ve felt in a very long time. We’re definitely keeping fruit in the house from this point on.

I am currently sorting through four camera cards full of pictures. I’m also actively seeking a flash slideshow program that I can post all of those pictures in so I don’t have to clog up blog posts with a gazillion pictures. I’d like to find a program that allows the visitor to manually click through them, that way, I could number each picture and the visitor could go through them at his/her own pace. The problem is, can I find such a program and will it post on a wordpress.com blog? We shall see.

I plan on talking about each day of our cruise in the upcoming days. Please bear with me. There will be times your eyes might glaze over, but if I don’t record these details now, I’ll forget them by next week, let alone years from now. I’ll try and pepper the posts with other things so you won’t be too bored.

Thanks for sticking it out so far.

More to come …

Cruise 09

Waiting to Go Home

Hola friends!

I’m currently sitting in the Miami airport waiting to board our plane to St. Louis. I can’t believe our trip is over. There is so much to tell you I don’t even know where to start.

In the meantime, my body is trying to adjust to being on land again and I’m feeling light headed and a little spacey.

Then again, maybe I just never came down from my caffeine high from the strong coffee I drank on the ship this past week.

Either way, all of this seems surreal and very disconcerting.

We took three cameras, and one of us had a camera in our hands at all times, so there should be a ton of photos to share with you. However, it drives me nuts whenever bloggers post picture, after picture, after picture so that you spend fifteen minutes scrolling through an impossibly loooong blog post, so I’ll likely put all of the (good) photos into several slide shows to spare you the scrolling hell.

It’s been a really great, but really weird week:

  • We nearly left our Canon Rebel in the cruise terminal.
  • Dude and I nearly drowned.
  • We nearly broke one of our cameras.
  • Kevin allowed a bird to sit on him.
  • We climbed on top of a Mayan ruin.
  • We got lost in Cozumel.
  • We ran out of money and didn’t have enough for a taxi ride back to our ship.
  • We got mooned by about seven girls.

Oh, and five people died.

The time is now 2:40 and we’ve been waiting for about three hours. Our plane hasn’t arrived yet and I’m getting nervous – we should be boarding in about 30 minutes.

It’s hard to board when there isn’t a plane.

After we arrive in St. Louis, we still have another three hours before we make it home.

Either way, it’s been, and will be, a long day.

Starting in Miami

It’s good to be home – almost.