Sunday, December 22, 2013

Carribbean Anniversary

We did it! We actually went on a cruise to celebrate our ten year anniversary! This was our first and probably only cruise for quite some time. I have been very hesitant about cruises as I seem to hear of people getting sick (food-born illness) or other disasters. Remember that Carnival cruise that was stuck at sea for days with no electricity and non-working toilets?

One day we happened to see a good deal that matched good flight prices to Florida for a Carribbean cruise. Also realizing that our kids are the perfect age to leave them for the first time EVER overnight made a prime time to ditch the cold weather for some tropical goodness. We didn't have to work around a school schedule since Reina starts kindergarten next year and Baelor is quite independent now and only requires his nubby blanket and pacifier at night. He is actually quite dependent on these two things and we haven't dealt with saying goodbye to attachments as Reina had neither.

Our ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam (New York)

Day 1- Goodbye to kiddos while they are dropped off at Mummi and Papa Will's for the week. We knew they were in good hands. They even got to go to cousin Lauren's birthday party that day thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Guinn. Plane ride all day for us (stop in Denver for plane change). We arrive in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and finally get to eat a real meal at 10:30pm with a delivery to our hotel- delish gourmet salads from an all night Italian pizzeria.

Day 2- Shuttle with many "cruisers" from our hotel. The air was humid, but warm and delicious. It seems that November in Florida is quite perfect! Easy boarding onto ship. We unpack our suitcases and immediately have a welcoming buffet and music in the dining and pool area. Too much food to try! We start out with yummy salads and move on to a variety of pizzas such as seafood pizza. We take a tour of the boat with Showhost Jazzy...find out he is from Portland. Our cruise has 2200 guests on board for the week. The seas turn rough as we are sailing towards Half Moon Cay for our first stop. I feel it. Alot. I try to eat dinner hoping that it will take away my queezy stomach. The only thing I can stomach is bread and hot chocolate while Paul enjoys prime rib and real horseradish. We watch a "welcome" show that evening in the showroom with all the singers, dancers, and musicians aboard the ship. I question how I am gonna get through the whole week after throwing up that night.

Sailing out of Fort Lauderdale
Our cozy (aka tiny) room
The Lido pool (adults only)
Day 3- Sleeping helped and I feel almost 100%  in the morning. We wake up early as we are arriving at Half Moon Cay for our first day on dry land. I am really anticipating a day of sturdy land and the fun activities that are planned such as a volleyball game against the sister ship that is also docking here. During our breakfast we hear the captain say that the water is too rough for the tenders to board passengers off the ship. (There is no dock for the ship at this location which is why the small boats load/unload people to shore). I almost begin crying as I knew the only way I could handle this week was to get off the ship and get my feet on solid ground occasionally. Half Moon Cay is also a private island known for it's soft, white sand beach that resembles that picturesque scene of aquamarine seas, smooth sand and palm trees while you lay in your perfect beach hat while people serve you cold drinks. We try to make the best of the situation and enjoy some of the entertainment onboard. The weather is cloudy but still warm and sultry.

Dinner in the Manhattan dining room

Day 4- At sea day. We are heading towards Grand Cayman Islands but are not docking until tomorrow. We try a variety of venues on board. The first was a Dancing With the Stars class. Today we learn a specific waltz routine. After learning the routine in 15-20 minutes we are narrowed down to the top four. I am one of two women who qualify, along with two other men (although is not gender specific.) Judges give scores just like on the real Dancing With the Stars, but really it is based on audience cheers to narrow down to the top two. The two men get the loudest claps because people apparently find it humorous to see men dancing all clumsily, us women don't qualify. I have stayed really positive so far on this trip, even with the illness and island cancellation and don't want to get down on something as frivelous as this so we move on to other events.

When it is a sea day (meaning no island stops) you have to "dress to impress". Everyone dresses in their finest for dinner. We sat at a table with four other couples. They just sit you with random strangers if you choose. We almost always opted to sit with company. It's interesting how many people you meet from all over the world who have such vastly different lifestyles. For instance, one couple was wealthy Australians who had a son who lived in Thailand. They have a daughter who was worth 21 racing camels to some UAE businessman who offered the deal to her father while on a business trip to Dubai. Crazy! Most people we met were older, much older and spent their time cruising. We were definitely a minority. The evening show that night was a ventriliquest who first debuted on America's Got Talent. Wow! He was amazing! Not only was he the best (and only) I've ever seen, he was hilarious!

Dressed to the nines!
A casual dinner with fellow cruisers

Day 5- Grand Cayman Islands. Woohoo! First real stop in the Carribbean. We chose to see the specialty of this island- swimming with the stingrays! We were that couple that got the best deal ever, of course. I am quite good at bartering so we payed far less for the TWO of us to go on the excursion than the lowest price for one. We literally touched, held, swam, and even fed the stingrays. The water was clear-blue and bathwater-warm. They warned us about not letting our fingers get sucked up into the mouths of the stingrays while feeding them, but those little suckers are so strong that both Paul and I got hickies on our hands. They did sting a little the rest of the week (hence the name "sting"ray)! The final stop on this excursion was snorkeling at a nearby reef. It was cool but all of us on board were content after about 20 minutes of snorkeling. It just couldn't beat the stingrays. We really didn't do much shopping on our trip; just to pick up some fridge magnets from each destination.

Get us off this ship!
Ready to swim with the stingrays

This candy store had mega-sized everything
What a stud!
Fresh coconut milk from some local with a trailer and a machete

Day 6- Cozumel, Mexico. The day started out very hot, but soon after we started walking around it rained for a few minutes then just stayed overcast. I thought we would get tan on this trip, but neither of us even got a was swimsuit weather the whole time but not tanning weather. I never needed a jacket day or night during the whole cruise, that's how warm it was. Again, we wanted to use our time wisely so we chose to do snorkeling on the Reef as Cozumel is known for great snorkeling. We saw pretty interesting sealife and caves. By the time we were done with the snorkeling excursion we were beat and covered with salt. We wanted to see as much of Cozumel as we could so we decided to rent a scooter and cruise up and down the coast. We only paid for one hour, which passed faster than expected, but what fun! This place was really poor. A lot of the locals live in conditions that are way below poverty. Poverty in America is middle class here. That night on the ship we danced until 1 am at the disco. It was a ton of fun even though Paul and I were literally the only people dancing!

Scootin' around Mexico

The real Cozumel

Day 7- At sea. This was another one of those days where we didn't see any dry land, the winds were calm and we were able to enjoy a day relaxing on the ship. Our day started at the Lido Pool on the back of the ship. They were playing pool games and of course we volunteered to take part. It was pretty funny to watch a bunch of middle-aged (and older) ladies trying to pop balloons by squeezing them between Paul's lap and their bums. Paul said he had never had so many women tell him "I'm so sorry". We did win a prize for playing; some much appreciated soda! That night was our final formal dinner. We sat at a table with eight other people and ate things like quail, surf and turf (filet mignon and lobster tail) and even escargo (if you like garlic and butter, you probably will like escargo). We finished the night off watching an hilarious version of the Newlywed Game.

Believe it or not we weren't the whitest people on the ship
A sample of some of our favorite meals...the food was UPSCALE!

Day 8- Our last full day of the cruise was spent on Key West, a small island in the Florida Keys. It has the Southernmost point of the United States (not including Hawaii), as well as Ernest Hemingway's house.

We were actually closer to Cuba than we were to a Walmart! The first thing we did was call Reina and Baelor (not international rates anymore). We rented bikes and rode all over the island. Of all the places we went Key West was our favorite.

Typical house

Key West's feral roosters
Biking around Key West
Lots of outdoor bars...this one just had a fun vibe.
No real beach (all their sand is imported) but plenty to see. That night it was dinner and then I had practice for the Dancing with the Stars performance. During the actual show I scored perfect tens, although looking at the video I can see where I could have spiced it up even more. I guess you are bound to be a little reserved when hundreds of people are watching to see if you can pull off an error-free performance. I ended up taking second place! Many people came up to me and said I should have won. It is hard to beat a man who can shake his hips and gain audience votes for being Canadian like an unusually large portion of them were. I'm just happy that I got to take part in this act. My reward was a bottle of champagne which we left for our stewards, Boy and Man. Yep, that was their names!

Stage practice with my partner Mario right before the performance (competing dancers had to be dressed already)
 Our stewards Boy and Man
A new animal towel every night waiting for us
  The first real day on the ship had both Paul and myself a bit worried as I was becoming sea sick, but the seas calmed down after Half Moon Cay, and for the majority of the time felt nearly like being on ground. Every once in a while there was a big shift that reminded you that you were on a boat. We had such a wonderful time just being with each other full time and our biggest concern was what to eat and be entertained by. Would we love to go on a cruise again? Yes, yearly. It's a good way to be pampered and not have to be rushed or figure anything out. Also a good way to see so many places that don't require more than a day to experience. Now I can see why so many "seasoned" people go often. Of course when we got home we smothered the kids with loves. I think next time we go may be with another couple or our kids...we've got lots of time to decide.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Cowboy Kind of Halloween

Our little family likes to dress up in themes, or maybe it's just me that does. And what Mommy says goes, so we always have a theme for Halloween. It just looks so fun when you get a whole family looking the part! Last year we were from the Medieval era. This year we went Country since Paul and I already had costumes and we pretty much already had what I needed for the kids. It was so simple this year!

We had trunk-or-treat at our church building the night before Halloween and then went around the neighborhood with neighbor friends from church. Reina seemed so much bigger this year since she was hanging out with friends for trick-or-treating. Baelor mostly was carried, but many times when he went up to the door to collect his treat, the wife would say "Oh (insert husband's name here), you have to come see this cutest little cowboy." He was a trooper and didn't mind all the hustle and bustle.

Day before Halloween she got to be Rapunzel (found wig in our costumes box and just braided it)

Now what to do with all this candy? Reina prefers the Cheetos she received over sweets. Although she has discovered the pleasure of M&M's.

Dressed to survive
The drive in already had "walkers" trying to get through the fence
A few days before Halloween Paul and I did our first organized run together. It was a Zombie 5k run. It was challenging in that you had to dodge through whole packs of creepy-looking zombies. If you could get through the race without all three of your flags being snatched from the zombies then you are a survivor. Paul lost two right away because there was such slippery leaves he tripped and fell. I had two until the very end where there was an "unusual" amount of zombies (although, let's be honest, any amount of zombies would be unusual). I didn't see a single person escape without cheating in some way- very difficult. The run itself was not even a factor when you are trying to fake-out the walkers.

If this were real, we would not have run toward the zombies without a plan or weapons. I'd prefer a Katana (Japanese-style sword) since my accuracy with a gun is not the greatest. Paul would prefer a hatchet and an assault rifle so he could fight from a distance or close up. Just remember to go for the head and you'll be okay.