Cruise 10, Vacations

Vacation 2010: Coming Home

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Whenever you’re on a cruise, the night before you dock, you’re supposed to pack all of your things (except for the things you’ll need the next morning, like clothes, makeup, etc), and put your bags outside your cabin door. The stewards then take your bags down to cargo, and give you a number. When we dock the next morning, they will unload your bags onto the pier.

We reached New York at 7:30 in the morning, but Kevin and I were up at 6:00 taking showers and getting ready to leave our cabin.

They want everyone out of their cabins by 8:30 so they have time to clean them and prepare them for the next cruise.

We woke the boys up at 7:00 so they could take their showers and Kevin and I went up to the Promenade deck to eat breakfast. When the boys were ready to leave their cabin, they called me and together we went through to make sure they hadn’t left anything behind.

The boys kept their carry on bags, so each of them was responsible for their clothes. I had stuffed our dirty clothes into a plastic bag, and put everything else into my backpack.

This is probably my least favorite part of the cruise experience – departing the ship. It’s quite a process and it takes a long time, everyone has to be patient. (Kevin compares it to being in prison, they won’t allow you to leave and you can’t really go anywhere on the ship other than the Promenade deck to 1. stay out of the way of the people leaving the boat and 2. to stay out of the way of the crew so they can clean).

Everyone has to sit around and wait for their number to be called. This is an efficient way to make sure everyone gets off in an orderly fashion.

Our number was 19.

We ended up leaving the boat about 9:00, which was actually a little sooner than I thought it would be. But the cruise people have this down to a science and as long as people cooperate, it goes pretty quickly.

We left the boat, went through customs, found our bay number, and I unloaded the extra crap from my backpack into our luggage. I was a little stressed because I didn’t have a scale with me, so I had no way of knowing if I was keeping the weight under 50 pounds, but we guesstimated and did the best we could.

Then we walked out onto the sidewalk and waited for a taxi.

Along with about 500 other people.

It was pure chaos. There were no taxis waiting and there were literally hundreds of people needing one. Kevin noticed a woman handing out tickets and though we had no idea what they were for or why we might need one, he took one anyway.

Thank goodness.

As taxis pulled up, the woman called out the numbers. They set it up this way so people wouldn’t push and shove their way to a taxi whenever one was available (though some people took advantage of the pure chaos and stole someone else’s taxi anyway. Honestly, what is wrong with people?)

I was so focused on trying to hear the woman as she called out the numbers and trying to get her attention so she wouldn’t bypass our number that I nearly forgot one of our bags! Fortunately, I remembered at the last minute and then had trouble locating it, suddenly convinced that someone had stolen it. Luckily, I located it and didn’t have to make the taxi driver wait too long.

Our taxi was a Ford Escape Hybrid. Only, the man already had a huge bag in the back (his own) and I was sure we were going to have to give up that taxi because there simply wasn’t enough room for our four bags, his bag, the walker and all four of us. However, somehow, he got all of our stuff in and the boys and I climbed into the back, while Kevin rode up front with him.

The boys and I had to hold Kevin’s walker in our lap.

When the taxi driver learned that we needed to go to the Newark Airport, he wasn’t too happy about it. But, once we established how much it was going to cost (with tolls), we were on our way.

The traffic was terrible, as you can well imagine. There was a lot of sudden stops, hard gos and jerky turns. By the time we made it to the airport, me and the boys were on the verge of throwing up. It was an uncomfortable and long ride but we made it without incident and checked in. Kevin sailed through security, we located our gate, bought some sandwiches -(which were WAY over priced, of course – what are you going to do? Leave??), and sat down to wait.

(Side note: I miscalculated the weight and had to step aside so I could open our bags and shuffle crap around in order to make the 50 pounds per bag weight limit. That was a little stressful but luckily we got the poundage right the first time and didn’t have to pull the bags off the scales and go through stuff a second time).

When we saw how many people were on the pier waiting for taxis, I had been afraid that we would cut it pretty close as far as making our 2:10 flight, but when we arrived at the airport, we still had three hours to wait, so we purchased WiFi, the boys dug out their DS’s and we settled in to wait.

Our flight time came and went – still no plane. The board said it was delayed about thirty minutes. I started stressing about missing our connecting flight in Chicago.

All Jazz wanted to do was sleep. He was pooped.
However, the plane showed up about ten minutes later and we quickly boarded. It was packed – every seat was taken.

I started to relax. Great! We were on our way, we would surely make our connecting flight now. We had to wait a bit on the runway for our turn, but overall, it wasn’t that bad, we were probably in a lot better shape than if we had tried to fly out of LaGuardia.

We made it to Chicago. Luckily, our gate was only a few gates down from where we came into Chicago so we didn’t have far to walk. Even though Kevin was doing well, he was tired and I was afraid our gate would be five miles away.

And it was a good thing our gate was close, because no sooner had we scarfed down the rest of the sandwiches we had bought in Newark when they called to board our plane. If we had been delayed even fifteen more minutes in Newark, we would have missed our connecting flight.

Because a series of thunderstorms had blown through Chicago earlier that day, it caused all of the schedules to be delayed so that by the time they were cleared to take off, there were literally a hundred planes waiting. We had to actually taxi around the airport before we could get in line for takeoff.

These planes behind us? All waiting to take off. It was quite a sight!

One thing about the Chicago airport – there is one section where the planes literally taxi over a bridge over the highway to reach the take off runway. It’s really a bizarre feeling – like we’re in a giant car instead of a plane.

Dude did really well on the flights. He’s NOT a big fan of flying and actually hyperventilated on past flights. And even though he was nervous this go-around, he wasn’t AS nervous and I was really glad to see that – he’s getting more used to flying. This in turn, makes flying a little easier for me for though I would never tell him this, his nervousness makes ME nervous and though I’m not a big fan of flying myself, I’m not scared of it and would like to relax enough so that I can read or something.

At any rate, we got home about thirty minutes after we were scheduled to and as we were walking out of the secure area, we saw Kevin’s older sister waiting for us. She took pictures of us and wanted to know how our trip was. Even though it was really sweet of her to come to the airport, I wish she hadn’t. We were all so tired by then all we wanted to do was get home and go to bed.

And that’s it! That is our 2010 family vacation in a nutshell (HA!). Thanks for bearing with me. I know it was quite a process to reach this point, but I wanted to write all of this stuff down before I forgot it so … now it’s done.

And I’m done. It’s time to focus my energies on bigger and better things.

Peace out!

Cruise 10, Halifax, Vacations

Vacation 2010: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax is steeped in history: from the Halifax explosion to most notably, (or in our opinion at least), the 300 people from the Titanic who are buried there.

But let’s back up a bit:

Once again, we opted for the more relaxed and easy shore excursion with the Halifax City Tour. It was on a huge tour bus so Kevin was comfortable and we saw much more of the city than we would have normally. Our tour guide was dressed in a kilt and frequently sighed in either boredom or exasperation as he told us about the history of his fair city.

It was both amusing and annoying.

We toyed with the idea of taking a shore excursion that included the city and admission to two of their popular museums, the Martime Museum of the Atlantic and the Halifax Citadel, but we changed our minds at the last minute because we’re not sure Kevin would have been able to handle all of that walking.

I’m glad now that we stuck with just the city tour. Because by the time we got to Halifax, the week was catching up to him and he was reaching the exhaustion point of no return (though I suspect he had already reached it by that time).

We got on our bus and headed to downtown Halifax.

The tour was very interesting. I’ve really enjoyed taking these tours because you learn so many interesting details about the city, details you might not have learned otherwise unless you Googled the city before leaving.

One of the things we enjoyed hearing about, was the Halifax Explosion.

The Halifax Explosion occurred on Thursday, December 6, 1917, when the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was devastated by the huge detonation of the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship, fully loaded with wartime explosives, which accidentally collided with the Norwegian SS Imo in “The Narrows” section of the Halifax Harbour. About 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, or collapsed buildings and it is estimated that over 9,000 people were injured. This is still the world’s largest man-made accidental explosion.

The smoke stacks that you see in the above picture, in addition to being functional smoke stacks, symbolize the disaster that happened in the cove.

The tour guide told us that 24 short hours after the devastating explosion, a train carrying doctors, nurses and first aid supplies arrived from Boston to help take care of their wounded. As a way to show their appreciation, Halifax now sends Boston a huge Christmas tree every year.

In 1918, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to the City of Boston in thanks and remembrance for the help that the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided immediately after the disaster. That gift was revived in 1971 by the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producers Association, who began an annual donation of a large tree to promote Christmas tree exports as well as acknowledge the Boston support after the explosion. The gift was later taken over by the Nova Scotia Government to continue the goodwill gesture as well as to promote trade and tourism. The tree is Boston’s official Christmas tree and is lit on Boston Common throughout the holiday season.

See? Interesting stuff.

But it gets better.

Personally, I’ve always sort of had a fascination with the Titanic disaster. It’s hard not to have an appreciation (especially if you cruise) for what happened considering so many of our boating laws were changed and improved after the tragedy.

Shortly after the Titanic sank in April 1912, the White Star Line went out to try and retrieve as many bodies as they could from the water.

(Side note: The White Star Line, the British shipping company that built the Titanic, merged with its chief rival Cunard Lines in 1934 which then became a part of Carnival Corporations in 2005. Carnival Corporations, Carnival Cruise Lines … interesting that we were sailing on a ship made by a company that built the Titanic, no?)

The White Star ships were able to retrieve a little over 300 people. Most of them are buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetary in Halifax, though a few were claimed by relatives and taken home to be buried.

The slant of the gravestones symbolizes the bow of a ship.
The gravestones state the name of the person, the date he/she died and the number by which they were pulled out of the water. (Bogie was the 274th person they pulled out of the water).

We all huddled in close to hear the stories the tour guide told us about that fateful voyage.

We were all fascinated, yet horrified, at the individual stories. Looking at the gravestones made the tragedy personal, more real, and our group became extremely quiet. After our guide finished speaking and we were allowed to spend some time on our own in the cemetery, me and the guys quietly walked down the line of gravestones, our hands clasped behind our backs, and silently read the names of all the poor people that were fished out of the sea.

It was a very sobering experience.

There were two stories I thought were especially fascinating:

The grave of the unknown child, and Jack Dawson.

The title ‘Unknown Child’ refers to the body of a small, blonde boy which was pulled from the ocean after the sinking of the ship. When instructed to burn the victim’s clothes to discourage souvenir hunters, the morgue workers could not bear to burn the sweet little child’s shoes, and buried him in a grand tomb in a cemetery in Halifax

For years, it was believed the ‘Unknown Child’ was 2-year old Gosta Palsson, from Sweden, as Mrs. Palsson’s body had been found floating nearby. In 2001, however, DNA tests revealed the boy’s identity was actually that of Eino Panula, a 13-month old Finn whose entire family perished in the disaster, as did Gosta’s. Panula descendants came across the ocean to visit their ancestor’s grave. However, in 2007, scientists revised their opinion and confirmed the body to belong to 1-year old Sidney Goodwin, a third-class English boy who was the youngest of a lost family of eight. Nowadays, the ‘Unknown Child’ has become a symbol of all the innocence lost in the disaster, and how it can still be remembered and honored many years later.

Only the tour guide didn’t tell us the identity of the child, he left it hanging. We naturally had to look up the entire story when we got home.

Now, the story of Jack Dawson.

Does that name sound familiar? It would if you saw the movie “Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett.

Jack Dawson’s name was taken from the 227th person the White Star Line pulled from the water, J. Dawson. There’s a bit of a mystery behind the J. Dawson name – it is believed that J. Dawson was actually Joseph Dawson and the story behind this man is perhaps even more intriguing than the Titanic story itself. I’ll let you read it for yourself.

However, that’s where the popular “Titanic” movie ends as far as accuracy. Our tour guide told us that if we wanted a more accurate (he said it was about 80% accurate) portrayal of the disaster, we needed to watch the 1958 “A Night to Remember.”

And Kevin and I watched it. In fact, I watched it twice, the second time around I listened to the commentary, which was fascinating.

The movie was exactly the length it took the Titanic to sink, from a half hour before the boat hit the iceberg until it sank. It gave me goosebumps. If you get a chance to watch it, I recommend it, and listen to the commentary, there are some really interesting facts about the tragedy, not to mention all of the laws that have been enacted since the tragedy.

The reason I took a picture of J. Dawson’s gravestone, complete with the bare earth leading up to the gravestone was because shortly after the film came out (and up to about five years ago, our tour guide said), people laid out flowers and all sort of memorabilia to remember “Jack Dawson.”

I found this disturbing. One, that people would become so emotionally invested in a movie that they would place flowers on a dead man’s grave (granted, they thought the character was an actual person), but that they would place flowers on a grave of a person they didn’t even know. People are honoring a fictitious person, it turns out. Does no one remember the REAL J. Dawson? I feel like the memory of the real Dawson has been eclipsed by Hollywood and I think it’s a tad disrespectful. Because even if people thought they were honoring the real Jack Dawson, they weren’t, they were honoring the PORTRAYAL of the real Jack Dawson (i.e. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character), not the actual man.

At any rate, I felt sorry for the real J. Dawson, whoever he might have been.

The tour bus took us to some Victorian Gardens (the plants were planted in symmetry, something that was (is?) very important to Victorian culture) and we visited the Citadel, though we didn’t actually go in (that was extra and we would have had to find our own transportation back to the pier). We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Halifax. The historical tidbits were just the icing on the cake and I think the boys really liked hearing about the details behind the landmarks.

The skies were a bit overcast when we were there (which is typical Nova Scotia weather, apparently), but it was still beautiful and quite warm. Our tour guide gave us the option of getting off the bus and walking the length of the pier back to our ship (which was about a mile and a half) and though normally we would have done that, Kevin just didn’t feel up to it, so we rode the bus back the entire way. Most of the people had gotten off though and our guide came back to talk to us. He asked Kevin what had happened to him and was suitably sympathetic when he found out. He also flirted with a pair of older women in front of us going so far as to satisfy their curiosity on whether or not he was wearing any underwear under his kilt

He was. (I didn’t exactly want to know that information, quite frankly, but it WAS funny).

We walked through the pier a bit (I bought a Nova Scotia hoodie) before we boarded the boat. We ate lunch and then took it easy for the rest of the day.

We had a full day of sailing back to New York the next day and though I have a few pictures to share with you, overall, it was a relaxing day for all of us.

And we needed it.

Cruise 10, Saint John, Vacations

Vacation 2010: Saint John, New Brunswick

If there’s one thing you should probably do whenever you go on a cruise, it’s take advantage of the shore excursions.


Because otherwise, you’ll hit the ports, stand awkwardly on the pier, look around, scratch your head and say, “Now what?”

We did that on our very first cruise. We didn’t want so spend the extra money on excursions and just thought we’d do something on our own. Though we still had fun, we wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what to do and I’m sure we missed a ton of things we might have seen if we had just shelled out the dough and did an excursion or two.

True. You could Google the location and have a plan before you arrived at your destination, but if you bought an excursion from the cruise line, you’re guaranteed to be back to the boat before it leaves AND you have the added security of knowing that you’ll get what you paid for. If you take a chance and do something that is not cruise sponsored, then you run the risk of being taken for a “ride,” so to speak.

Anyway, it’s something to consider if you ever think about taking a cruise.

We’ve taken excursions the last two times we’ve cruised and we haven’t regretted a moment. The excursions are lumped into categories: easy, moderate (some walking involved), active (be prepared to sweat). So you can determine whether you can handle the excursion from the get go. Considering Kevin’s condition, we had to stick to some easy ones.

(Side note: excursions usually only last two or three hours, which means you have several more hours to do your own thing, if you wish, before the boat takes off. If you book an excursion, it’s not like you CAN’T do anything else while you’re in port).

We decided to book the “Trolley Round Saint John” excursion.

We picked that one because it sounded like something Kevin could enjoy without killing himself.

We arrived at Saint John, walked on to the pier and we waited for our trolley to show up. (Your ticket specifies a certain time and when you walk onto the pier, there are people holding signs for various excursions. It’s all very organized).

We all loved Saint John right away. It was a quaint, friendly place – not too many people, beautiful countryside, fresh air … quite wonderful.

We found out from our guide, that about 210 days of the year Saint John has overcast, foggy, misty/rainy weather. We happened to land on a perfect weather day – there was hardly a cloud in the sky and it was in the low 80’s – considered hot for Saint John.

I confessed, I worried about the weather. I had Googled their average temperatures so I knew that their summer highs were only in the low 70’s and they got a lot of rain. But I was prepared, I had packed rain ponchos, just in case.

I’m happy to report, we didn’t need them, not once (neither in Saint John nor in Halifax).

We learned a lot of interesting things about Saint John, for instance, one long stretch of road had colorful marigolds planted in the medium.

They called it the “Marigold Mile.”

Elementary school children plant and nurture the marigolds into seedlings. Then in the summer months, they close off Main street and the children plant them in the medium. This teaches them about the importance of growing things as well as giving back to their community and making their town more colorful and beautiful.

In addition, the city council has been allowing art students in high schools to paint their artistic visions on the columns of their bridges.

I was very impressed with how the city encourages their children to give back and help beautify their community.

As we were driving, we rounded a corner and our guide said, “And this is our American Embassy.”

We all had a good laugh at that one. (I never would have noticed the Canadian leaf on the golden “M” if Jazz hadn’t taken a picture of it).

One woman jokingly apologized for our lame contribution to their country and the guide said, “Hey! My daughter works there so no apologizes needed!”

The highlight of our tour, though, was when we reached Reversing Falls.

It was beautiful and sort of mesmerizing to watch the rapids, that could, at times, become so strong they were considered a level 5. (Which, according to our guide, is quite impressive as far as rapids go).

The phenomenon of the Reversing Falls is caused by the tremendous rise and fall of the tides of the Bay of Fundy, which are the highest in the world. The natural southward-facing opening of the Bay of Fundy receives the on rushing ocean tides directly like a funnel. The tidewater is normal when it enters the bay at its widest point. But the farther up the bay it travels the more it changes. It is, in effect, squeezed by the ever-narrowing sides and the constant shallowing of the bottom forcing the water higher up the shores

As the bay tides begin to rise, they slow the course of the river and finally stop the river’s flow completely. This short period of complete calm is called slack tide. It is only at this time that boats are able to navigate the Falls. Shortly after this slack tide the bay tides become higher than the river level and slowly, at first, the river begins to flow upstream.

After high tide the bay tides begin to fall and the upstream flow of the river gradually lowers until the bay tides fall to the level of the river – once again resulting in another slack tide. The river then resumes its normal course and begins to flow back out of the bay.

This daily reversal constantly combines salt water with fresh water and confuses fish and wildlife.

Unfortunately, we weren’t there at the time this happened, but it was still interesting to think that a river reverses it’s course.

We also got a pretty decent family picture taken while we were there, too.

The trolley then took us back to town and gave us the option of getting off at the town square. From there, we could walk the rest of the way back to our boat. The walk was downhill and quite easy, so we opted to get off and walk the rest of the way.

We didn’t really do anything spectacular. We just walked down the street and took in the sights.

And then we rested.

I mentioned Saint John was quaint, didn’t I?

We strolled down the street and took in the sights. There was something so … relaxing and carefree about the place. It had a small-town feel to it, I think, and we all felt very comfortable with the place. The weather was just perfect and we really enjoyed being out and about stretching our legs.

It didn’t feel “busy” or overcrowded and though Saint John is quite old, it didn’t feel old. It felt tidy and well-cared for.

I could definitely see myself living someplace like that.

If I were looking to move any time soon. Which I’m not, just sayin’. Actually, I’m not sure I could live in Canada – their taxes are crazy high.

And we all know how I feel about taxes. πŸ˜€

Kevin took this picture to show the prime rate on mortgages: that's negative .5. Basically, they are paying YOU to buy a house. Not that weird considering that's where Canada gets most of it's income, from property taxes.

The guys went back to the pier to wait for me while I walked another half mile up a hill to take this picture:

I thought it was a cool picture, okay? The three lamps are the equivalent of a lighthouse and when they shine their red lights, it's a sign to incoming vessels that it's safe to dock.

This is what bored teenaged boys do when they are forced to sit still and wait for their mother to satisfy her photographer’s instinct.

(I apologize. Giving a camera to a bored teenage boy is risky, I know. Hey, at least Dude doesn’t have any cavities. HA!)

The clouds started rolling in about the time we were supposed to leave Saint John.

Kevin and I stuck around on deck to relax and made the mistake of sitting right under the boat’s horn, which they blew in succession to let everyone know we were preparing to sail. It scared the bejeebees out of me.

Goodbye Saint John, New Brunswick. Until we meet again.
Cruise 10, Vacations

Vacation 2010: Cruising the Carnival Glory

Cruise '10

Here’s the thing about cruising – it’s like five vacations rolled into one package. Or in our case, three vacations rolled into one package. (Unless you want to lump New York in there and then it’s four, but you get what I mean).

You have the cruise itself, then each port of call. And where else can you have so much fun while getting there??

I’m telling you, if you have never taken a cruise, I HIGHLY recommend it. And it’s not as expensive as you think it is. When you take in the cost of a hotel room (cabin), WITH food, WITH entertainment, WITH babysitting (the cruise camps are awesome programs for children keeping them busy while you go do your own thing – and this includes programs for pre-teens and teenagers), THEN the cost of traveling TO the ports of call, well … you have one heck of a deal.

It makes traveling places FUN. (Not to sound like an infomercial or anything).

The boys had their own cabin.

Our favorite part about cruising, and all four of us concur on this, is the food. The guys LOVE being able to eat at anytime. I love that the guys can eat at any time. This means, I don’t have to stress about finding someplace to eat, and then getting grumpy about having to pay an arm and a leg for it. If you’ve ever gone on vacation and struggled with the “where are we going to eat” question, then you can appreciate what I’m saying.

This was our third time on a cruise, the boys’ second time. We sailed on the Valor last year, the Glory this year. The Glory is the Valor’s sister ship so other than the (gaudy) decor, everything was pretty much the same – we didn’t have any trouble getting around. (Though we continue to get mixed up no matter how many times we’ve cruised).

Look at the tables. Now look at the seats. (And yes, they were VELVET!) Tacky!

Kevin and I have a theory about the decor on these cruise ships – we think the company must get the rejects or overstocks on fabrics and other items and use this stuff on their ships to save on cost. I mean otherwise, do they really PAY someone to decorate their boats like this on purpose?! Wow.

Though I love everything about cruising (well, except for the seasickness part, but that can be knocked out with a Draminine or two), I think my favorite part is leaving the port. There is something SO EXCITING about being on the deck of the ship and watching the city you just navigated like crazy in order to make the boat on time get smaller and smaller.

But this departure was my favorite, I think. We had a bird’s eye view of New York’s breathtaking skyline.

I'm seriously thinking of blowing this up and framing it, I love it so much.

The only time we actually SAW the Empire State building while in New York.

(In fact, Kevin edited a few of the New York skyline pictures, you can see one here and here).

There’s a sense of anticipation and your nerve endings start tingling with adrenaline because you know you have DAYS of fun and adventures ahead of you – it’s hard NOT to get excited.

See the people in the hot tubs? It's like "Dude. Could you not wait TEN MINUTES and appreciate the view before jumping into hot water swirling with bacteria?"

Jazz is such a goofball. (And I wouldn't want him any other way).
See that large white ball near the tail of the boat in the above picture? We were standing on that same deck, only toward the front of the boat and to say it was a tad windy? Would be pretty accurate. πŸ˜€

Another reason I love cruising is because we’re forced to sever all ties with the world. Our cell phone service stops working and there isn’t any Internet. Wait, scratch that, there’s an Internet Cafe that you’re welcome to use on the boat, if you don’t mind paying $25.00 for ONE hour of service.

Seriously. Only, that’s nothing compared to what it was last year – $60.00 for one hour. Oh yes, yes it was.

This means that the boys? Have nothing better to do than actually TALK to us. I love it. It’s so nice to have their full attention and I can’t tell you the number of times they’ve surprised me with things they’ve said or an opinion they had about something that I didn’t know before simply because we were all too distracted to listen to each other.

I honestly think that’s the number one reason why I love cruising so much – it gives us a chance to bond as a family and I hope the boys are taking some pretty awesome childhood memories away from these trips so they can wistfully sigh as they retell the stories to their children.

We relaxed and goofed off our first day at sea. This was exactly what Kevin needed to recuperate from the whirlwind that was New York City. The boys played video games. I mentioned before they have clubs for the kids – they have three, actually. They have Camp Carnival for kids 2 – 11, Circle “C” for tweens (12 – 14) and Club O2 for kids 15 – 17. If you have social kids (I do not), your kids will love these clubs. They have all sorts of activities that the kids can get involved with and it gives them a chance to make friends their own age on the boat instead of hanging out with boring mom and dad.

While the kids played video games or hung out in the cabin, Kevin rested on deck

and I cuddled with my Kindle.

I was wearing a jacket because the closer we got to Canada, the colder it got.

This cruise was different for us. The last two times, we cruised to places down by the Equator so it was hot. So hot, in fact, that I had had to edit the sweat stains out of our vacation pictures. (True story).

But this time, since we were sailing toward Canada, the temps dropped and we actually had to wear jackets at one point. In fact, about four hours out of New York, we ran into some dense fog. So dense, in fact, that we couldn’t even see the water. While standing outside, and leaning over the railing.

It was really strange. To top it off, the ship blew it’s fog horn every five minutes so it was sort of an eerie feeling. Though it was still warm, the air was cool, like outdoor air conditioning. It was quite pleasant (initially, too long though and it was chilly) and quite a different experience for us.

It's like I'm standing next to a green screen, only it's fog!

Kevin took a video. Listen carefully, you can hear the fog horn in the background. And note the people out in bathing suits – it was an odd juxtaposition of warm and cold.

I also made a short video about our first day of cruising:

I mentioned that we were going to go play the slot machines, we did. We allotted $10 and when that $10 ran out? We’d stop. That lasted for five minutes and I’m sad to report, we did not win that BMW. *sniff*

The boys loved relaxing in their very own cabin.

I’m seriously thinking about taking a cruise to no where one of these days. We all really love just hanging around the boat and relaxing. It’s so nice to be waited on, to have food readily available and to have entertainment decks away.

One of these days, we might just do that.

Next stop? Saint John, New Brunswick.

Cruise 10, New York, Vacations

Vacation 2010: New York (Part Three)

(You can read parts one and two here).

If you’re just tuning in, my husband was in a motorcycle accident back in April – a pretty serious accident. He crushed his pelvis, had to have three surgeries and when we went to New York? He had only been up and walking for three weeks. (I know!)

The first day we spent the day riding the New York subways and walking all over New York (okay, not really, but it felt like it), the second day I meant to take it easy on him. I had every intention of letting the man rest.


Only, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Now before you go and think I was a cruel and heartless task master and wielded a whip over the man’s head, I didn’t. In fact, I begged him to stay around the hotel and just take it easy. The boys and I would go around the city, take pictures and show him later.

But he refused (just one of the reasons I love him so much – his stubborn streak) and he insisted on coming with us. Since we were only planning on going to Rockefeller Center and Central Park later, I thought, what could it hurt?

Famous last words.

Look at those geniune, relaxed smiles!
We headed out to Rockefeller Center. The highlight of our New York trip, for the boys, was our trip to Nintendo World.

The boys are big-time gamers. BIG TIME. They live for games. They talk, eat, sleep, breathe games. So getting a chance to visit the Nintendo World Store in New York City was a dream come true.

When we finally located the store (we got a bit turned around trying to find it), the boys actually broke out into smiles. Even Kevin got into the excitement and we spent an hour roaming around the store and looking at all the Nintendo goodies. (I confess, I was a bit disappointed with the store. I was expecting something bigger and flashier, but the boys really seemed to enjoy themselves while we were there so …)

I told the boys that they could pick out one souvenir; I’ve never seen them put so much thought into shopping before.

What to buy ... what to buy ...

Dude ended up picking this character and Jazz picked this thing. I don’t know man, I don’t even pretend to know who these characters are or try to understand the appeal, but *shrug* to each his own, I suppose.

One good thing about hanging out at the Nintendo store though, it gave Kevin a chance to catch his breath and relax for a bit.

"Pa-PER" (Inside joke)

A dragon made out of Legos hanging from the ceiling at the Lego store. Cool.
We walked across the square and went into the Lego store. Again, I was a little disappointed – I was expecting something BIGGER and FLASHIER! I mean, we were in New York, everything was bigger and flashier. But it was a nice, two-story store with a bunch of Lego sets for sale along with a tower filled with an assortment of various Legos of every shape and color that kids could buy by filling up a cup for such-and-such price.

Can you imagine trying to get that cup of odd Legos home?

We headed back to the Subway after the Lego store. I think now, we should have just stuck around Rockefeller Center and hung out for a while. But instead, we spent our time trying to find somewhere to eat (we ended up at some Chinese joint), and navigating an indoor mall.

Since we didn’t spend that much time at Rockefeller Center and had some time to spare, I made the stupid brilliant suggestion of going to Grand Central Station. I had read about it in the tour book and they recommended going if for no other reason than to appreciate the architecture.

Standing at the heart of Rockefeller Center.

Again, I was thinking about Kevin. I knew he was getting tired (he was also sweating profusely – not only because it was hot outside, but because his body was working overtime trying to keep up) and I figured, “HEY! We’ll get to Grand Central Station, sit down, people watch for a bit and then head back to the hotel.”

Sounds like such a simple plan, doesn’t it?

Erhm … no.

Here’s why …

We found our way back out to the Subway platform from Rockefeller Center. We got on our train, then got off on the stop we needed to transfer trains – the “F” train. The “F” train platform is two floors down, this meant stairs, a lot of stairs. Not so bad going down, but hell for Kevin going back up.

Once we got off the “F” train and up the stairs from hell, we then had to walk another 1/2 mile before actually getting to Grand Central Station.

True. It was impressive.

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Yes. The building was magnificent.

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But until I could find someplace for poor Kevin to sit down, I didn’t really pay attention to the beauty or appreciate the magnificence because my poor husband was now a puddle of sweaty goo.

To my horror, and EXTREME annoyance, there was no place to sit down unless you wanted to go into a restaurant and buy something.

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Now I ask you, what sort of station doesn’t have places to sit?? (Though I’m sure it’s because New York doesn’t want to encourage homeless people from sleeping in the station – I get that, but STILL).

Now normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem. However, Kevin really needed to sit down and rest and since we couldn’t find any place to sit down, we did a “National Lampoon’s Vacation” moment: we looked around Grand Central Station, nodded, said, “Yep. Here we are. It’s quite grand” and then left.

We were there probably about five minutes, tops.

We walked the 1/2 mile BACK to the “F” train and were able to snag a bench for Kevin. He sat to catch his breath. Only, it was super hot (there is absolutely no air in the Subways until the cars whizzed by) so I know he couldn’t have been very comfortable.

We walked the two flights back down to the “F” train and back up two flights of stairs to reach our street. We made it back to the hotel and Kevin just collapsed onto the bed from sheer exhaustion.

Keep in mind that this whole trip? He was ONLY using his cane. He had nothing to lean on and help support him.

I felt terrible. I mean, really awful. I thought it would be such a simple trip out to Grand Central Station, that he would have a chance to catch his breath before we started back and … no. If I had had any inkling that there would be so much walking and then no place to sit down, I never would have suggested it.

Trust me when I say, Grand Central Station was Kevin’s least favorite part of this entire trip. 😦

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel so Kevin could rest. We ate dinner at the Green Cafe

Then we headed to Central Park.

With his walker.

We hadn’t used his walker up to this point, but after our afternoon fiasco, well, I’m really glad we had it because it really helped him get around a lot easier.

Central Park was gorgeous.

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It’s so amazing that the city planners put this gorgeous, wooded piece of land in the middle of the madness that is New York City.

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Central Park is literally a breath of fresh air after the noisy, crowded New York streets.

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A sweet haven from the madness.

I can see why New Yorkers love it so much.

There were runners, bikers, families with strollers, young lovers sprawled on the grass making out (that was uncomfortable) and even an amusement park for the kiddies.

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When we happened upon a clearing that had five baseball fields on it, we stopped to rest.

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Though it was still hot, it wasn’t AS hot and we savored the cool breeze while we watched a variety of different baseball games.

Many of the benches had small plaques that people had paid for with various messages on them. This one was my favorite.

The trip to Central Park was balm on our Grand Central Station wound.

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We didn’t get to explore Central Park very much. The evening was wearing on and we were ALL getting pretty tired by that time, but we saw enough to satisfy our curiosity.

(I apologize for the shakiness – Dude took this while we were walking through, but I thought you might be interested in watching it. You can see me helping Kevin at one point – I had my arm around him because we were walking up an incline and I was gently “pushing” him so it wouldn’t be quite so hard for him).

Even though we were only in New York two days, it felt like a week. We did a lot. We saw a lot, but not nearly enough. I’d like to go back someday. Maybe take in a Broadway show (if I can bring myself to cough up the money [expensive!]), visit the 911 Memorial, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Though New York fascinated me, I have to be honest, it simply wasn’t my bag of tea. I didn’t care for the noise, the sensory overload, the feeling I was being stuffed into a sardine can of humanity – I much prefer my soft, quiet, slow-paced town in the middle of nowhere.

But I’m glad we went. It was quite an experience.

Thanks for reading along. I’ll write about our cruise next.

Cruise 10, New York, Vacations

Vacation 2010: New York (Part Two)

See the boys' serious faces? I think it's safe to say they weren't exactly loving New York.

We slept well in New York, despite the fact that there is an infestation of bed bugs (and many other places, apparently). We were first clued in to the bed bug problem by all of the ads for getting rid of bed bugs on TV. Though we know what bed bugs are (sort of), it never dawned on us that it could become such a problem that an entire city had to advertise to get rid of them. They hang out in hotels and snuggle down into suitcases so that the unsuspecting traveler inadvertently takes them home with them.

You can imagine how that could quickly become a country-wide problem.

But so far, it looks like we left those critters back in New York – at least no one has come forward with tiny little bites all over their body.

One night, we were woken up at 3:00 in the morning by loud pounding. You’d be hard pressed to NOT find any sort of construction going on in New York and our street was no exception. In fact, a few doors down, they had imploded a building (not while we were there), and were working on building it back from the ground up. WHY they were working at 3:00 in the morning is beyond me, but it was very annoying to wake up to. Seven o’clock in the morning I can understand, but three o’clock in the morning?? Listen here New York, YOU may not like to sleep but WE do!

Other than that, Kevin and I slept fine. Dude and Jazz, on the other hand, didn’t get much sleep. One was always kicking the other or hogging covers so they spent the majority of the night trying to find comfortable positions or silently cursing each other.

Heading to the subway.
Because Kevin had only been walking for three weeks and really couldn’t physically handle a lot of activity, we purposefully kept our itinerary low key. I really wanted to see the Statue of Liberty and Central Park and Kevin really wanted to see Times Square, so we made plans to try and squeeze those things in.

We decided to go to the Staten Island Ferry first. (If I had known our cruise boat would sail right past The Statue of Liberty [in fact, it got a lot closer than the ferry did] we would have skipped this activity all together. Ah, for the gift of foresight).

But we needed to find a way there. I didn’t want to spend half our vacation budget on taxis, but I wasn’t sure if Kevin would be able to handle the subway, mainly the stairs down into the subway. So, we asked the front desk if there was a handicap accessible entrance anywhere close and luckily, there was one one block away. We used the elevator to get down into the subway, purchased our Metro cards and waited for our train to arrive.

Now, we have some experience with subways from our trip to Washington D.C. a few years back, so we knew what to expect. And to my surprise, the cars weren’t all that crowded (but filled up fast around rush hour). And we easily navigated the subway routes while we were there, though not all of our stations had an elevator for Kevin. So he ended up navigating way more stairs than we thought he would have to. But as usual, he handled his discomfort like a champ.

Standing in front of a forest-y looking divider at a subway station.

The ride out to Staten Island was quite long. We must have gone through close to ten stops before we reached the one we needed. As usual, there was a lot of construction going on, so it was noisy and a bit congested as people had to walk around it, but we entered the HUGE building. There weren’t that many people there (though it filled up close to the time another ferry was scheduled to arrive) and Kevin had a chance to sit down and take a load off while we waited for the ferry.

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We waited about thirty minutes, boarded the ferry and started making our way across the harbor.

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I actually ended up on the wrong side of the ferry (the Statue of Liberty was on the other side), and it was so crowded that I didn’t even try and make it – I would just make sure I was on that side on the way back. In the meantime, we spent a relaxing fifteen minutes or so admiring the New York skyline.

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We made it to Staten Island, read a little about it’s history, grabbed some hot dogs wrapped in pretzels and then caught another ferry on the way back to Manhattan.

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This time, I made sure I could see the Statue of Liberty.

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A myriad of emotions washed over me when I finally saw her: pride, freedom, accomplishment, strength, confidence, hope … it was amazing. There is just something … awe-inspiring about actually seeing the Statue of Liberty. She’s beautiful and it was interesting to watch people gaze at her. The boat got quiet as we passed her and you could almost reach out and touch American Patriotism.

It wasn’t nearly as crowded on the ride back and we sat back and enjoyed the cool breeze.

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We got back on the subway and rode uptown toward Times Square.

Though there were more people on the subway by this time, they were surprisingly quiet. I guess I was expecting there to be a lot of chatter, but there wasn’t, everyone kept to himself/herself. And it was interesting to see the number of people who offered Kevin a seat, which we thought was really nice (of course, I later found out that they are required to give up their seat if a disabled person is in the vicinity – it’s the law. So … even though I’m sure they were being nice, I’m also sure they were sort of forced to be nice).

How cool is it that the truck behind Kevin says "Inspire."
We arrived at the Times Square stop, walked up the stairs and out into pure chaos.

It was loud.

It was noisy.

It was crowded.

It was completely overwhelming.

I felt like I was in a movie – I turned around and kept being bombarded by over stimulation. There was so much to see, so much to hear, so many people pressing in on us from all sides – it was insane.

The boys almost immediately shut down. I’m pretty sure they frowned the whole time we were in Times Square. They didn’t care for it, at all. Kevin was fascinated.

We didn’t stick around Times Square too long, Kevin was starting to get really tired so we headed back to the blessed quiet of our hotel room.

We stuck around the hotel room and rested until rush hour was over, then we walked a few doors down from our hotel to a quaint cafe to eat dinner.

Even though Kevin didn’t complain, I could tell that our day had taken a lot out of him, poor guy. So, I told him the next day we would take it easy on him.

Unfortunately, I lied.

(… to be continued)

Cruise 10, New York, Vacations

Vacation 2010: New York (Part One)

Part Two
Part Three

There are currently 13,000 taxis in New York.
Though I’ve always wanted to go to New York, we hadn’t planned on going to New York quite so soon. All we really wanted to do was catch a boat out of the New York harbor and sail to Canada for a few days.

But, since we were planning on cashing in our frequent flyer miles (not a sponsored link – calm down) in on four free (well, we paid $10 bucks a piece for tax and then we paid $20 bucks a piece for our two bags) flights, our fly options were limited. Even though I understand why American Airlines does this (after all, they’re flying us for free – why would they reserve prime-time money-making flights for us?), it’s still a bit annoying that we only have a narrow window of opportunity to work around.

But hey, I’m grateful they even HAVE this program, let alone still running it after Obama’s “hope and change” crap he’s pulled since being in office, so I am not going to complain; the program has saved us boo-coo bucks over the years. (I mean, you’re going to buy/pay for stuff anyway [groceries, utilities, etc], why not earn points why you do it? Just be sure and pay it off at the end of the month so you’re not paying interest. If you can’t pay it off, then don’t charge it. Just sayin’.)

Check out the reflection in the building.
Anyway, since we were cashing in our points, our options were limited as far as when we could fly out to New York. I have learned, from our 10th anniversary cruise, that I will NEVER AGAIN fly out and try to catch a boat on the same day. It’s WAY too stressful. So, ever since then, we’ve made a point of flying out at least one day ahead of time so if there are any delays, we won’t miss the boat.

So to speak.

The closest time we could get to New York and still make our boat was two days. So, we thought, “hey, we’re going to be in New York anyway, let’s just splurge on a hotel room and hang out in New York for two days.”

And that’s what we did.

We started planning this trip back in January of this year. January has become our “vacation planning” month. We plan, book and by the time vacation time rolls around, it’s paid for. The only money we have to dish out is last minute expenses.

Only this year, Kevin had his accident in April and suddenly, we weren’t sure what to do about our pre-paid vacation. Though we had purchased insurance on our cruise (which sounds like a waste of money, but something you’re REALLY GLAD you have in case something comes up and you might not make it, like we did), we hesitated on canceling it. The accident happened in April, our vacation wasn’t until July – that’s a lot of time to heal and get back to normal. Since the doctors were confident that Kevin would walk again, we remained optimistic.

We oscillated between taking the vacation and canceling the vacation. I had doubts, but I left it up to Kevin on whether he wanted to cancel or not – it all depended on what he felt like doing and what he could handle.

Obviously, he decided to wait it out and we ended up going.

My guys at Times Square.

I was a little worried about getting him through security.

I needn’t have worried. Though he did indeed set off the alarms in the Springfield airport, that was largely because he was wearing his leg brace. Why do I know this? Because when we went through airport security in Newark, NJ, he wasn’t wearing his leg brace and the alarms didn’t go off; he sailed through without a second glance. (Though we did have to put his cane and his walker through the x-ray machine).

Our flight up to New York went off without a hitch. Everything was on time and we arrived in New York at 6:30.

Look at how thin the building on the left is.
We hailed a taxi. Though I had read a lot about New York taxi drivers and that was enough to make me nervous using them, I was so concerned about getting all of our luggage, Kevin’s walker and Kevin himself settled into the car that I didn’t give myself time to really BE nervous. We ended up having to put the walker in the backseat – me, Dude and Jazz had to hold it on our laps, which was uncomfortable and cramped, but we dealt with it.

Since I was sitting in the backseat, I couldn’t see. And it’s a good thing. Because every hair-raising story you’ve heard about New York taxi drivers weaving in and out of traffic and getting within inches of the surrounding cars are absolutely true. I would NEVER survive driving in New York. I’d be a bumbling basket case, even more so than I am now.

We arrived at The Salisbury. Since we had used Google maps at home and saw what it and the street looked like, there were no surprises; it was exactly what we expected.

The bellman took our luggage up to room 611. We had read reviews of the place on (in fact, we booked our hotel through them – recommend them, by the way), and one of the complaints were the slow elevators.

They weren’t kidding. There were only two elevators for 15 floors and yes, they were slooooow. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother me, we would just take the stairs. But since Kevin doesn’t do stairs very well, we were forced to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The hallways were also really, really hot and stuffy. I don’t know if the hotel was trying to save money on their utility bill or what, but it was unbearable, especially in the afternoon after the building had had a chance to bake all day. (New York in July is HOT and STIFLING).

How appropriate for my musicians to stand in front of Carnegie Hall.

However, that is the extent of anything bad I have to say about The Salisbury – everything else was great. We had our own window unit, so our room stayed nice and cool (in fact, I was amazed to see just how many buildings in New York had window air conditioners – I guess this is because most of the buildings in New York are so old they may not even HAVE central air installed). The hotel is indeed old, but it was clean and we loved the location!! There was an entrance to the Metro just one block away and Central Park was literally around the corner. There was a coal-oven pizza place next door (they have since outlawed coal ovens so it was cool that we were so close to one and could sample a coal-oven pizza), and a quaint cafe that we ended up going to several times while in New York.

We couldn’t have asked for a more centrally located hotel. (I’d recommend staying there – though I forgot to mention that though The Salisbury advertises a continental breakfast, you don’t figure out, until they drop off the voucher that you are required to give them if you want the breakfast, that the continental breakfast? Is $6.00 PER PERSON. Twenty-four bucks for doughnuts and bagels?! Yeah, we did that exactly ONCE).

(Side note: We had pizza the first night we were there and I took one bite and burned the ever-loving CRAP out of my lower lip because the cheese was so hot. My lip was numb throughout the rest of our trip. 😦 )

This truck in the background was stalled in the middle of the intersection and it was pure chaos.

We didn’t do much our first night in New York. We arrived, got settled, ate some famous New York pizza and crashed. But we had been in New York long enough for me to understand what people meant when they said NY was the city that never slept. The energy was nearly palpable. I felt small, insignificant, lost, overwhelmed, and naive.

But I was already hooked and couldn’t wait to see more.

(…to be continued)