04/18/09 - Vacation Day 0 : Fort Worth – Our vacation doesn’t start until tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean we cannot start relaxing today!
A few months ago we stumbled across a new wine store in Fort Worth, Grand Cru, located just a few doors down from where Susan works. The owners, Karen and Kayne, are extremely friendly and this is fast becoming a great stop when we need to buy (or taste) some wine. Truth be told we kind of feel like we’re “cheating” on Chris at Put a Cork In It – with whom we’ve been tasting/buying wine for years (we don’t buy any less from Chris – we now simply buy twice as much wine – woohoo!). Fortunately, we have plenty of free time to make stops at both locations – and more is certainly always merrier when it comes to wine ;). Anyway, I digress – Grand Cru was offering massages with the wine tasting on Saturday and we simply couldn’t pass up that kind of opportunity. We followed up our tasting there with another tasting at Put a Cork In It and enjoyed a spa manicure and pedicure (yes, both of us). All in all it was a very relaxing start to a very relaxing vacation.
04/19/09 - Vacation Day 1 : South Miami Beach, Florida – Oh when will I ever learn? When planning a vacation I’m always so concerned about squeezing in activities during every waking moment that I forget one major item – in order to catch that 7AM flight to Miami we must wake up at 5AM! One of these days I’m going to listen to Susan when she says, “are you sure you want that early of a flight?”.
SoBeYou Bed & Breakfast
South Beach Botanical Gardens
The flight was fairly turbulent but we did make it to Miami in one piece, and even better, our luggage was actually waiting for us (instead of the other way around – I’m sure that will never happen again...but the return home made up for that…more on that situation later). After the speediest departure in history from an airport we hopped in a taxi and departed for Miami Beach. The Florida sun was shining, the vegetation was blooming, and the weather was simply delightful.
Susan Makes the Flowers Look Beautiful
We Found a Yummy Pizza Parlor on the Beach
We would be spending one night at SoBeYou, a little bed and breakfast near the beach. Miami Beach is actually a small island bordering Miami. Thus, while in the area, we were able to walk pretty much everywhere (and nearly everything was within a mile or so of the B&B). We visited the beach (not nearly as pretty as the Caribbean…thus we didn’t spend much time there), perused a nearby market with tons of neat trinkets and food, and saw parrots flying around. There were pretty flowers at a nearby botanical garden and lots of lizards (the small kind that would fit in your hand, or Susan’s hand, more precisely) and cats roaming the area. We did eventually find a bus that traveled in a small circle around the island; however, the walking really suited us just fine – especially since the caloric intake on the cruise ship was going to be gastronomical. Speaking of, the later part of our evening was spent at Taverna Opa, a wonderful and authentic Greek restaurant in South Beach. We were stuffed by the time we returned to the B&B for a late movie (“In Her Shoes” with Carmen Diaz) before finally calling it a night.
04/20/09 - Vacation Day 2 : Miami/Cruise Ship – This was one of the few days we actually got to sleep in (and we needed it after the 5AM butt-crack-of-dawn wake-up call we had the prior day). We relaxed a little by the pool, enjoyed some splendid home-made pancakes and fresh fruit at the B&B, and eventually made our way to the cruise terminal around noon.
|Pretty Tropical Flowers||We Stumbled Across the Holocaust Memorial - Quite Disturbing|
Clearing security and boarding the ship is always a drag but it actually progressed quickly (probably less than an hour). The first place we headed was the buffet (of course) since we hadn’t eaten lunch for the day. Afterwards we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the deck 3, reading and nursing a beverage. I should probably clear up “deck 3” right away – most of the action on Carnival ships takes place on decks 9 and 10. This is where the food, dancing, and most of the open areas are located. It is also where most of the people hang out. On our first cruise we located “deck 3” a small open area, closer to sea level, where it appears most people either don’t know about or are uninterested in. This is one of our favorite places to relax on a cruise. Other than the sound of the ocean it is quit and serene – the perfect place to read (which we do a lot on cruises) and sleep (there are some shady spots too…gotta avoid the sun burn).
|The Required Cat Picture||Departing For the Caribbean|
After getting a good head start on the relaxation we headed to the dining room to meet up with our dinner buddies – the folks we would be hanging out with for at least an hour every evening of the week. We certainly were lucky again this year to have a wonderful group of people who were friendly and excellent company. In addition, as usual, the food was delectable and certainly was a highlight of the cruise. After dinner we attended the last half of an evening comedy routine – LOL funny.
04/21/09 - Vacation Day 3 : Nassau, Bahamas – We woke early this morning and had breakfast in the main dining hall and then departed to catch our ferry to the Blue Lagoon, a small private island in the Bahamas (there are a lot of those since there are about 700 islands in the Bahamas). Blue Lagoon is a small, secluded, island home to a variety of dolphins and sea lions. We only had enough time to interact with one group during our stay, and since there are dolphin encounters elsewhere, we chose to participate in the sea lion experience.
|Flipper's Second Cousin||Agenda for the Day - Lots of Sunbathing|
The sea lions definitely turned out to be a highlight of our vacation! We thoroughly enjoyed our interaction with P.J., our personal sea lion ambassador. She gave us hugs, kisses, grinned, stuck out her tongue, shook hands (fins), blew bubbles, clapped, and generally just showed us a wonderful time. I was utterly amazed at how many tricks she was able to perform and how comfortable she was with people. Susan and I were in the water with P.J. and the other sea lions for most of the experience – I would highly recommend this excursion, through Dolphin Encounters, for anyone who might be traveling to Nassau.
|Plenty of Hugs to go Around||Susan & P.J.|
Near the sea lion encounter was a fascinating touch tank. Inside were queen conch (very neat – they would come out of their shell when you removed them from the water), starfish, and coral plants. Afterward we walked along the Blue Lagoon beach, enjoyed a drink from a beach hut, and eventually relaxed in a large hammock under several palm trees – ahhhhhh.
|Queen Conch - I Hear They are Slimy Kissers||Relaxing Under the Palm Trees|
From there it was a soothing ferry back to Nassau and then a taxi ride back to the cruise terminal. One of the places I wanted to stop in the Bahamas was the Tortuga Rum Cake store (I love those things - YUM!). I happened to know it was near the cruise terminal and I assumed our taxi driver did as well; unfortunately, not only was the taxi driver not very proficient in English (his primary language was likely French), but there is also more than one “Rum Cake” store in Nassau :). Well, you cannot say Susan and I are never up for an unexpected taxi adventure (check out our taxi oddity in Barbados a few years ago). Fortunately, I carry a GPS with me on all vacations, so even though we were in the wrong spot I did know we were within walking distance of the Tortuga store. In addition, because of this detour, we also found the Bacardi Rum Store! We discovered it just about the time a downpour started (is there a better place to wait out a rain storm than in a store serving rum samples?!?) and hung out there for about 10 minutes. Eventually we did make it to the Tortuga store, but not before Susan helped a gecko find a better home (it was living in the Bacardi store – apparently geckos have good taste – who knew?).
|Tropical Paradise||The Blue Lagoon|
After returning to the ship we relaxed a bit on deck 3 and watched the Bahamas fade into the distance as the cruise ship departed for our next destination. The captain’s reception and formal dining night (the only formal night of the cruise) was during the evening. Both of us got to meet the captain and enjoy his free drinks on the house…err…boat…boathouse maybe?
04/22/09 - Vacation Day 4 : Half Moon Cay, Bahamas – Imagine you received a postcard from a friend on vacation. The postcard shows a pristine beach, flowing palm trees, and the bluest ocean water you’ve ever seen. That is what Half Moon Cay looks like! We boarded the tender for the brief journey to the small private island (essentially owned by Carnival Cruise Lines) and marveled at the crystal blue water all the way there. It was simply breathtaking.
|The Bluest Water Meets the Whitest Sands||Seagulls Aplenty - Mine! Mine!|
We spent a lot of time hiking from one side of the island to the other. There was a typical clean sandy beach with sea gulls on one side and a lagoon with waterfowl on the other. During our hike we spotted lots of nightingales, blue lizards, baby chickens, and even stumbled across some old ruins from early explorers (very cheesy ruins…mostly just a couple of stone houses).
|The Best Way to Cruise in Half Moon Cay||Photo Opportunity|
The highlight of our trip to Half Moon Cay was the horseback riding on the beach. P.J. carried Susan (yes that is an odd coincidence of names) and Charley (Charley Horse) was my companion for most of the trip. Our trip started with a leisurely stroll along the beach – my horse really wanted to venture into the water, but that was for later. The trail wandered through the jungle up to the highest point on the island (a whopping 300 feet) and then returned to the beach where the horses were finally allowed to enter the ocean (after a quick change of saddle/harness). At that point the horses took off at a full gallop (as full as you can get when the horses are chest-high in water). It was thrilling to hold on tightly as the horse nearly parted the ocean. The horses seemed to love the ocean and it was amazing how fast they were able to go with half their bodies underwater. It was a blast!
|Paige, Nick, John, and Linette - Relaxing at the Beach Hut||Susan and P.J.|
After the horseback riding we returned to the main area for a BBQ meal enjoyed while sitting in a cabana hut on the beach (thanks to our dinner buddies, John and Linette, who reserved the hut). There is nothing quite like having a meal while sitting in the shade staring at the beach…with cruise employees walking by offering drinks. We even took a quick dip in the chilly waters before returning to the cruise ship.
04/23/09 - Vacation Day 5 : Grand Turk – Today we awoke at Grand Turk for a day that would be full of snorkeling. The first thing we did after breakfast and hopping ashore was catch our snorkel excursion boat from the pier. Like many tours in this area they always seem to depart for a more secluded location (which I certainly prefer). Our first stop was Circle Cay where the primary coral reefs run alongside Grand Turk. It is hard for me to remember how clear the water was at some of the reefs we have visited in the past, but I’m pretty sure the water at Circle Cay ranks at the top. There were several shallow spots where I would swear I was swimming in an aquarium.
|Underwater Adventures||Barracuda - About 20 Feet Deep|
We spotted lots of colorful fish, tons of coral, a single dolphin, a fairly large barracuda (it bared its fangs when I got close – certainly a little spooky, but it was only interested in the fish for food), and even a baby lemon shark (probably less than 3 feet in length – the babies live in shallow water until they get older).
|Nathan With a Stingray||Feeding the Stingrays|
After an extended snorkel at Circle Cay we took a short jaunt over to Gibbs Cay where we were able to swim with stingrays. The stingrays were practically cuddly as they brushed up against our legs and allowed us to pet them on their fins. If you had fish food in hand they were more than happy to take it from you or even let you hold them in your arms (gently…you have to hold them a special way).
|Mandevilla in Bloom||Susan With a Hermit Crab|
After snorkeling we returned to the main island for a little bit of shopping, a drink at Margaritaville, and finally a thoroughly enjoyable massage on the beach while listening to the waves crash into the sand. Once our massages were done we returned to the ship and chilled (literally…what is it with cranking the A/C on the cruise ships?) until it was time for the repeat-customer party. The repeat customer party was a pleasant surprise on our second cruise – this time we were definitely looking forward to it. It was a very similar reception as the captain’s meet and greet; however, in addition to the free drinks, there was also free hors d'oeuvres (yes, we love free – stuff always tastes better when it’s free). There was also dancing and music – a nice little prelude to dinner.
04/24/09 - Vacation Day 6 : At Sea – A day at sea on a cruise ship is pretty much a day of forced relaxation. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly look forward to having one of these days on every cruise. It gives us a chance to sleep in, a chance to eat, a chance to read and rest, a chance to nap, a chance to eat again….you get the picture ;). We participated in all of the above and even attended an art auction preview (we didn’t stick around for the auction itself because we didn’t see anything that “spoke” to us).
|Circle Cay||How To Get a Sunburn|
This is a good day to express how much fun we had at dinner with Nick & Paige, John & Linette, and Nate & Becky. It’s always fun to have a crowd that shows up to dinner every evening. We thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and we sincerely apologize for Susan threatening to kick everyone’s posterior when she was slightly inebriated (refer to the before mentioned free drinks – they were unlimited).
04/25/09 - Vacation Day 7 : Miami, Florida – We had plenty of time to hang out in Miami again before needing to catch our 8:30PM flight back to Texas. We discovered something neat this year on our cruise ship – they have excursions at the port of call. Part of the excursion includes a drop-off at the airport (which, considering the cost of a taxi, is really a bargain).
|See Ya Later Alligator||Gone Fishin'|
Our first stop was a trip to the Florida Everglades (something I really wanted to see since it is such a unique habitat). It turns out the Everglades aren’t really a swamp, per se, but more like a very shallow and constantly moving lake or a very wide river. The glades are bursting with vegetation and packed with wildlife. We spotted several birds, turtles, and even got within several feet of several alligators while traveling on the glades in an airboat (also something I wanted to do – it kind of goes hand it hand with my images of the Everglades).
|The Everglades||Baby Alligator|
After the glade tour on the airboat we were allowed to walk around the park and explore what was kind of a zoo for alligators. There was even a quick show where one park ranger entered a closed environment with several alligators and discussed their physical attributes and how they differ from crocodiles. The gentleman was quick to point out he still has all his original fingers and toes. Afterwards Susan was allowed to hold a baby alligator – it was very cute (cute alligator…odd…but true).
|Polly Want a Cracker?||Giant Tortoise|
We departed for Jungle Island after the Everglades. This was also similar to a zoo except it featured mostly exotic birds (mostly out in the open where guests can easily feed them bird food) and several other unique specimens. Susan held a baby tiger, I held a baby gibbon, and we both were able to pet a variety of kangaroos, goats, giant tortoises, llamas, rabbits, and cows (I know…we we went to Florida to pet a cow).
|Baby Tiger and Gibbon||Hungry Hungry Kangaroos|
Once all the petting was done we headed to the airport for the end of our vacation. We had a splendid week in Miami and the nearby Caribbean islands – when is the next vacation?