No France For You!

The next port of call on our trans-Atlantic was Le Havre, France; or so we thought.  We had been excited to go see the beaches of Normandy.  We even watched a documentary a week before the cruise in anticipation!  Unfortunately, the port workers in France had other designs.  They were on strike, as were the pilot boat operators, and so we could not dock there.  Instead, we went to Dover, England – home of the famous White Cliffs of Dover.

119 The White Cliffs of Dover

The White Cliffs of Dover

120 I can see why they're famous

I can see why they’re famous

Dover turned out to be a charming little town.  After spending a few hours in the library using their WiFi, I dragged Stephanie off for that most important of British traditions: fish and chips.  The way to find the best food anywhere you go is to ask the locals, so we did, and we were pointed to a little take-away joint that apparently wins awards for its fish and chips.  This was one of those food experiences where I was tempted to go back for more despite being full – simply because it tasted amazing.

We tooled around the town exploring shops and parks and admiring the quaint architecture and how the streets all seem to curve in that oh-so-British way.  We walked up a huge hill to Dover Castle, but at more than £20 person just to get in, we decided that our photos and memories of Blarney Castle would serve us just fine.

There was only one logical thing to do. It was time to hike up the White Cliffs and check out the views.  We had seen the cliffs before on our crossing of the English Channel from London to Paris, but this time we could get up close and personal. It was only about a half hour by foot from the center of town to the visitor’s center up on the cliffs.  As the land dropped away behind us, the views just got better and better.  The cliffs themselves are white because they are made largely of calcium carbonate (aka chalk).  Considering how soft and soluble chalk is, it’s amazing that the cliffs have stood for so long.  They reminded me of The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride.

Next stop was Bruges in Belgium.  We spent about five days here before and completely loved it.  We were still in touch with our couch surfing hosts, so we had arranged to meet them. Unfortunately a communications snafu led to delayed transportation.  Once we realized we had to make the short run into Bruges on our own, the shuttle was sold out.  We took a different shuttle to the town of Blankenberge, only to find that we had *just* missed the train to Bruges, and the next one was in an hour.  That was fine with us!  We explored Blankenberge a bit, and checked out the seaside promenade.

By the time we got from the port in Zeebrugge to Bruges itself, we only had about two hours to spend there, so we had to be efficient.  This is Belgium, and in terms of edibles, it’s known for four things: chocolate, waffles, beer and French fries.  Guess which one was most important to Stephanie.  We wasted no time at all in heading to local chocolate shops.  Stephanie’s favorite of all the Belgian chocolates is Leonidas, where she hand selected a whole pile of assorted truffles to sample.  My favorite is Neuhaus – more expensive, but seriously yummy.

Elliott's favorite Belgian chocolate

Elliott’s favorite Belgian chocolate

As a result of our quick turnaround, our friend Pascal wasn’t able to make it, but Yannick met up with us, and took us through more of Belgium’s culinary delights.  We went to Chez Vincent’s, for what Yannick said were the best fries in Belgium.  Remember what we said about trusting the locals when it comes to food?  Well, the line out the door backed up Yannick’s claim, and we were not disappointed.  French fries were actually invented in Belgium, and I believe they truly are the best in the world.  They have a double frying technique that renders them crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside.  By the way, the trivia buff in me wants you to know that the word “French” refers to the way the potatoes are sliced, and not the country of origin.

Elliott, Yannick and the best frites in Bruges

Elliott, Yannick and the best frites in Bruges

Lastly, we stopped for a Belgian waffle. Again, it was amazing.

174 Finally - a Belgian waffle

Finally – a Belgian waffle

Suddenly, it was time to go.  Yannick, sweetheart that she is, walked with us (and her bike) back to the train station, and waited with us on the platform until we pulled away.

Back in Blankenberge, we stocked up on Belgium chocolate to bring home with us.  The Belgians take their chcocolate VERY seriously.  As a result, the stuff in the supermarkets is held to the same high standards as the artisan chocolate houses.  We took it easy, and only bought about €30 worth to take home.  With our case of chocolate in hand, we felt our quick return trip to Belgium was a complete success!

177 Our Belgian candy haul_cr

Our Belgian candy haul

Blarney…Tastes Like Chicken

After sailing across the Atlantic, and spending nine glorious days at sea, we finally reached the Emerald Isle.  Okay, I’m jumping ahead a bit.  Let me back up…

We had this amazing Royal Caribbean cruise booked that sailed out of Copenhagen and covered seven Baltic countries.  (Look for details in future posts.) While Stephanie was diligently researching the best airfare, I happened to discover that the sailing right before ours was a transatlantic crossing.  What better way to arrive in Copenhagen than having spent 16 days already at sea?  Finally, Stephanie cracked under my relentless hinting and we booked our first ever back-to-back sailing.

The transatlantic leg began with six days in a row at sea.  Now, for those of you who have never cruised before, you should know that sea days can be even better than port days.  There are so many activities, shows, and of course, opportunities to eat.  We always tell people “If you’re bored on a cruise ship, it’s because you’re trying to be bored on a cruise ship.”  We spent our time relaxing by the pool, reading magazines, cross stitching, ballroom dancing, winning trivia contests, going to the gym, making friends, watching movies in the ship’s cinema, playing miniature golf, climbing the rock wall, and of course, eating.  As you devoted followers of this blog know, we usually travel pretty hard, so having a week of forced relaxation was heaven.

We did actually call in another port before Cork, Ireland, but if I had started with Ponta Delgada in the Azores, the opening for this post wouldn’t have had the same “gotcha” factor.  In truth, we had been to Ponta Delgada before when we were traveling around the world in 2012.  The Azores are beautiful islands belonging to Portugal, and located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  The only reason Ponta Delgada was less notable this time is simply that it rained all day, and so we didn’t do much on shore.  Stephanie and I did manage to wander around the town for a bit, and of course, we found the obligatory free Wi-Fi so we could catch up on the important goings-on at home.  In the end, however, we were glad we didn’t have big elaborate plans for the day.  We tried some local hot chocolate to stay warm, and looked in the local stores to see what types of treats and candies they had.

Ponta Delgada was just as we remembered it with interesting patterns in the sidewalks made out of black basalt and white limestone.  No two are alike.

Another two days at sea saw us to the port of Cobh, Ireland.  Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is just a quick 25-minute train ride away from downtown Cork, which in turn is only a 25-minute bus ride from famed Blarney Castle – home of the famed Blarney Stone.

The castle itself is exactly how one pictures an old castle: equal parts ominous and charming.  We climbed the narrow, spiral stairs to the top where we hung upside down over a 40 foot drop and planted our lips where thousands of other people planted theirs before.  It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s one of those bucket list things, so we did it anyway.  See….

The grounds of Blarney Castle are huge and varied.  Our first stop was the poison garden where they grow toxic plants including hemlock, belladonna, and nightshade.  Stephanie was delighted to find that Harry Potter favorites mandrake and wolfsbane are actually real, live plants and not just made up for the series.  The garden even had cannabis.  I never thought of marijuana as poisonous, per se, but just in case, it was safe in a cage where no one could accidentally lay their hands on such a toxic danger.

The Poison Garden

The Poison Garden

We strolled through glades and glens, saw waterfalls and caves, and even found a swing for Stephanie to play on.  There is a rock staircase called the wishing steps where if you walk up and down it backwards with your eyes closed, the Blarney Witch is said to grant your wish.  (Stay tuned for confirmation.)  We also strolled through the Pinetum which I’m sure is pronounced “pine-ee-tum,” but we had fun calling it the “pine-tum.”

Rock Close Waterfall

Rock Close Waterfall

Back in Cork, we discovered Dealz.  Dealz is to Ireland what Poundland is to England or a dollar store in the U.S.   Now, having British parents, I know a thing or two about candy from the U.K., and Dealz had great prices on two of my all-time favorites: Fry’s Turkish Delight, and jelly babies.  I know I went into detail about jelly babies once before on this blog, but they’re worth mentioning again.  So much better than jelly beans!  I may have gone a wee bit crazy stocking up on British candy. (A note to the jelly baby purists:  I looked for Bassetts, but couldn’t find them anywhere.  Crilly’s taste exactly the same.)

The UK candy stash

The UK candy stash!

What we saw of Cork was nice, but between the trek to Blarney Castle and the candy, we didn’t really get to see the town itself.  So, as with many places we’ve been on our travels, we resolved to come back again someday.

Chillin’ in Jamaica Mon

As happens more often than you might think, in February I suddenly realized we had some hotel nights that would expire quickly if we didn’t use them.  Elliott and I each have a Chase Hyatt card, and each of those credit cards awarded us two nights at a Hyatt hotel after we met a certain spend requirement.  In the past the banks were often willing to extend the expiration dates on unused certificates, but they are no longer doing this for the most part.  Several years ago we had the cards and used our free nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, which we absolutely loved.  But this year we had no plans to go to Hawaii before the hotel nights’ expiration date, and since Chase was no longer willing to extend the expiration date, we had to find another option.

I quickly researched the best Hyatts at which to use the award nights issued by Chase.  Sometimes there are restrictions on how you can use free nights such as these, so I wanted to make sure I knew the rules before getting excited about any specific properties.  To my surprise, I found that Hyatt all-inclusive properties are included in those you can book with the Chase free night certificates, and Hyatt has all-inclusives in Jamaica and Mexico – both of which are about mid-way between our two home bases of Ecuador and Philadelphia.

I booked four nights for us at the adults-only Hyatt Zilara in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The Hyatt Ziva is the next door “twin hotel” that accommodates families, and we would have access to both.  I knew we wouldn’t leave the property, but didn’t feel too guilty since we’ve been to Jamaica before (and seen a couple of the sites).  I tried not to do too much research on the property since I love surprises, but I did read that this particular one had a full schedule of activities.  Since I don’t sit still for too long at one time, I was psyched.

When we arrived we were checked in right away.  We went right up to our room and were tickled to see my name on the TV on the wall!

DSC00676

My own personal welcome!

The room was spacious and gorgeous, with a desk, love seat, table and chair and bed with white linens.

It had a mini-bar in which everything was included, so we were sure to follow the advice someone had given us to take the snacks each day!

DSC00686

I’m takin’ the snacks, yo!

The bathroom had a huge tub, separate tiled shower, terry-cloth robes and lots of toiletries, including a mini scrubby thingy!

And we had a balcony with an outdoor lounge/bed, table and chair, and views of the pools and sand and ocean beyond.  We were going to like this place!

Normally, I would have wanted to jump right into a pool or the ocean, but the weather was not what we expected.  There were such strong winds that despite the temperature, it felt too chilly to go in water, even for me.  The hot tubs were barely warmer than the pools, so it wasn’t even tempting to go in them!  We were hungry though, so we had lunch at Blue Grill by Calypzo, a beachfront grill serving fresh seafood.  We sat for a while on one of the swinging chairs on the beach and just relaxed.  We had a bean bag toss, and then went inside and pretended our bathtub was the hot tub since the actual hot tub was too cold.  That night we had some of the best mozzarella sticks at FuZion, the Asian Grill!  (Go figure…)

The next day we slept in and I had an amazing jerk chicken burrito at Jamaican Rootz by Horizon.

I walked along all of the beaches scoping out a few good spots for Elliott to do yoga.  While he did some yoga I tested out each swimming area on the various beaches.  None of them were great; I tried finding the deepest one, and as they got deeper, they had more seaweed.  Once Elliott finished yoga-fying, we did have fun bobbing in the water, ducking under the waves and throwing seaweed at one another.

That evening we went back to the gym and did a new workout.  Dinner at the Italian restaurant Di Roza that night was actually our least favorite meal.  The caprese salad and bruschetta were both very good, and the pesto gnocci was so delicious I was tempted to order more.  But they forgot to make the pizza I had ordered, and it wasn’t finished until Elliott was just about finished with his parmesan crusted tenderloin.  Once the pizza arrived, I didn’t even enjoy it – the bleu cheese (or goat, or gorgonzola) totally overpowered the other cheeses, to the point where I didn’t like the taste at all!

On Day 3 we sat by the Ziva pool.

I did the 11am Aqua Gym but I did it outside of the pool because the water felt too cold to go in!  I worked up a sweat though so when the class was more-or-less finished I did dip in the pool quickly.  At 12pm we took the Reggae class together.  Elliott found a few moves he liked and said he wants to incorporate them into his future dance moves.  After lunch at Choicez, we went back to the beach we had sat on for a long time yesterday.  After relaxing we went for a beach walk and played bean bags again.   I went swimming in the ocean again and Elliott joined me for a few minutes.

When we got back to our room, we had another welcome message – this time for Elliott:

DSC00718

We had dinner at Brazil (a Brazilian steakhouse), and headed to the gym for another workout.

On our fourth day I joined the Reggae dance class by the pool which was a lot of fun and Elliott joined me part way through.  We had lunch inside our hotel at Urban Heat by Flavorz.  We finally got to sit on these cool “pretzel stick” chairs (sorry, no photo!).  I tried a new drink – Planter’s Punch – which I liked a lot.  It tasted great and was extremely visually appealing, with the drink color changing ever so slightly from top to bottom.  It looked like a red-orange sunset!  For lunch I had a beet salad and a salmon dish – both were absolutely delicious.

DSC00720

Afterwards I went swimming in the Zilara pool for the first time!  I first swam in the lower pool, then went exploring the upper pool and the long narrow parts that go along the first floor junior suites with lounge chairs in the pool.  Later we went to the gym together and did another kick-butt workout – you’ve got to burn off all those included food and drink calories somehow!

We went to Choicez for dinner.  It was Moroccan Food which Elliott really likes and the live entertainment show was going on outside, so we asked to sit outside so we could listen and half-watch.  There was a great steel drum band playing on the stage.  The drummers were also dancing at times which was impressive, and at the end, they came out one at a time and did some amazing break-dancing and gymnastics-type moves.  We walked back to Zilara and found a fire pit just for us, and sat for a little while.  The fire pits at night were one of our favorite features of the resort, and sitting by them after dinner had become a nightly ritual.

On our last day we had to check out early so I set an alarm for 6:10am!  I was determined to have some pool time and enjoy our last morning before leaving.  I got us packed and headed out at 7:30 and claimed us some awesome chairs right next to the pool.  It was the nicest day since we had arrived!  We both went to the yoga class on the boardwalk leading to the gazebo.  I was impressed – there were a bunch of people, the instructor had us do some tough poses, and the class lasted an hour long.  I was happy!

DSC00721

A great spot for a yoga class.

Afterwards we ate breakfast just across the way at the Blue Grill by Calypso – it was fitting as our first meal had been there too.  After breakfast we went back to the pool and we went swimming one last time.  Then we sat at the pool bar and ordered our last drinks – a Dark & Stormy for him, and a Bob Marley for me.  It was so much fun, finally sitting on those in-the-pool bar stools and enjoying drinks in the sun!  I went for one last swim under all the waterfalls as I said goodbye to the Hyatt Zilara.

DSC00724

Love the waterfalls.

We packed the rest of our things and went downstairs for the free shuttle, hoping one day we can return again!

2017 Disney in Pictures

After volunteering for four days during the Disney Marathon Weekend this January, we switched hotels and then spent several days in the parks.  As always, we had a blast!

We stayed in a Disney hotel that was new for us – Disney’s Art of Animation.

As you can see, we stayed in the Little Mermaid Building.

At Animal Kingdom, we…

went on a safari…

found a lizard that could stick to walls…

listened to some interesting musicians (you can listen too if you like to the sitar and the harp)…

and found some Hidden Mickeys!

63 Hidden MIckey

See the Mickey to the left of the book?

At Epcot, we…

floated through the Disney greenhouses…

watched our favorite Chinese acrobats…

and searched for our own legacy.

 

In the Magic Kingdom, we…

spun on the teacups until Elliott could no longer see straight…

raced like Andre Andretti…

rode some horses around and around in a circle…94a Carousing on the caourse-el cr

and flew through space in our favorite Astro Orbiter.

 

And at Disney Studios we…

ate at a new old café…

and feared for our lives as we were surrounded by storm troopers!

119 The whole gang cr

We sure were exhausted by the end of that week!87 Main Street USA

A New Way to See Disney

In 2006 and 2007, we participated in the Disney Marathon and raised over $25,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in honor of (and then in memory of) my mom, Sharon.   Over the years we went on to do several other endurance events to raise money for that and other charities, but the Disney Marathon was definitely our favorite of all the events for several reasons.  First of all, it’s Disney!  Our love of the place is probably quite apparent given that we visit every year.  Even if you don’t inherently love Disney, you have to admit that Disney knows how to run and operate things smoothly; that was certainly the case with their Marathon Weekend.  In addition, you get to run through the Disney theme parks during your event, and they entertain you like crazy!  You even get great snacks at the rest stops.  We always describe it as a 26.2 mile long party.

Now ten years later in 2017, we decided to approach the marathon from a different angle – this time we would not be the runners but the volunteers making sure the event runs smoothly!  Not only does it feel great to volunteer for such a wonderful charity as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Disney goes out of their way to compensate volunteers who work at their events with points and/or vouchers towards free days at Disney.  This seemed like a no-brainer and a win-win.

Disney Marathon Weekend consists of four different events that run over four days – a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon.  Luckily I called ahead to ask a few questions about the registration process, including how long it would take for the positions to fill up.  I asked if they might be filled up five hours after registration began, and was told they would all fill up within 15 minutes of when it began!  Whoa – I was not expecting that.  I prepared myself with multiple browsers since I had to sign both Elliott and myself up and he was out guiding a tour of the local market.  I managed to get ourselves registered for volunteer positions for all four events, which was a feat in and of itself.  (If you are ever interested in trying to get volunteer positions for these events, definitely talk to me for some tips!)

We decided to stay at Disney for ten days – five days for volunteering, and five days to use some old existing park 5-day park tickets.  We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and had to go straight to the enormous Expo center to pick up our registration packets.  After the Expo we took Disney buses to Downtown Disney and walked a mile to a local grocery store we know of so that we did not have to pay exorbitant prices for every morsel of food we were going to consume over the next four days.  Then it was back to our hotel and to bed at 9pm(!) so we could get some sleep before our first volunteer shift.  We were spending the first five nights in the Disney Swan, which we deemed within walking distance of the volunteer locations and saved us from having to rent a car.

01 The Swan

The Walt Disney World Swan.

20 Disney Swan

Up-close view.

01a Seven swans a-swimming

Swans in a fountain.

The most difficult aspect of our four volunteer shifts may very well have been the timing.  Endurance races begin very early in the morning, sometimes as early as 6am.  And when there are 10,000+ people running in an event, it takes a long time to get them all organized in their corrals… which means they need to arrive as early as 3 or 4am.  And of course the volunteers need to be there *before* the runners, which put our shift start time at 3am!  Add an hour long walk for us to get there, and that meant we were rising for our day at 1:30am.

The hotel lobby was empty when we left each morning!

Having volunteered for other types of events in the past, we weren’t sure how much work would actually be involved; sometimes there is a lot of standing around when you volunteer.  But Disney definitely had our work cut out for us.  For the 5 and 10k races we would be hanging medals around the runners’ necks, which was actually quite fun.  But before the race began, that meant we needed to cut open endless boxes of medals, unpack the medals and take the plastic off of each one, then hang the medals in an organized fashion on endless pegs on wooden racks.

It may sound trivial, but the medals are quite heavy, and the runners cross the finish line in large numbers for hours and hours.  During the race some volunteers spend their time transferring twenty or so medals at a time from the pegs to the arms of other volunteers, and then those volunteers have to work really quickly to unload one medal at a time off their arm and onto a runner’s neck.  If the medals aren’t organized well on the pegs, they won’t be organized when they are placed on your arm, and when you try to get them off to place on the runner’s neck, you will just have a tangled mess.  Needless to say, our arms and shoulders got quite the workout during each shift!

Awarding medals was quite gratifying.  People were so proud when they crossed the finish line, and the smiles on their faces as we placed the medals over their heads were super rewarding in themselves.  Often the runners wanted us to be in their selfies with them; sometimes they even wanted to give us a hug!  (We managed to hide our looks of astonishment when the hugs were super sweaty.)  And many of the runners made a point to thank us for our time and efforts despite their weariness.

The 10k shift was similar to the 5k shift, starting super early in the morning but lasting a little longer due to the increased distance.  On our third day we were shocked when the half marathon was canceled due to impending rain and thunder and lightning storms.  It was the first time in Disney Marathon Weekend history that a race had ever been canceled!  The runners were promised their medals (and volunteers their compensation) despite the cancellation, so we figured we’d just enjoy our day off at our hotel.

But when we walked outside, we noticed many people running with their numbers pinned to their shirts as they would in the race.  We thought about it and quickly decided if people were running, we should be volunteering.  We went inside and grabbed what we needed to deal with the rain, then walked back and forth and up and down and around the “race course” the runners were following, and cheered on every runner and walker we passed.  After cheering for several hours, our voices were hoarse, our legs were tired from the amount of walking we had done, and the runners were thinning out.  Hundreds if not thousands of people had completed their own half marathon and earned their medals.  It was a truly great day.

 

During the rest of that afternoon, and during the other afternoons, we did have some free time to enjoy our hotel grounds and amenities.  We’d often be back from our shift by noon, sleep for a few hours, and then go play.  There were pools, ping pong, hammocks and other activities.  We loved it!

On the last day we got to “sleep in” until 6am, as we were handing out a different type of medal.  There are actually six medals you can earn during Disney Marathon Weekend; the 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, Goofy (if you completed the half and full), and the Dopey (if you completed all four races).  We were handing out the Goofy and Dopey medals, which runners have to pick up after receiving their full marathon medals at the end of the race.  We were putting medals on the necks of people who had walked or run a minimum of 39.3 miles over the prior four days!  It was the elite of the elite.

Regardless of time or number of events, we were super proud of every single person who crossed a finish line during those four days.  We know the time, sweat and effort that goes into training for one of these races, especially for those that are also fundraising.  Volunteering was a rewarding experience which we absolutely hope to repeat next year!

The Perfect Cruise

Almost 18 months prior, I had booked an exciting 16-night Royal Caribbean cruise from Venice to Dubai via the Suez Canal.  At $22pp/night plus taxes, who could resist?  But as the departure time grew close, we realized the cruise itself was the only thing that was going to be a good deal.  The one-way airfares were going to cost a fortune – even with my travel miles and expertise!  We had a heart-to-heart and came to the conclusion that after all of travel we had done in 2016, our primary goal in December was simply some major relaxation.

And so it came to pass that we found ourselves on a 12-night Royal Caribbean cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, round-trip, out of Baltimore.  Maybe not quite as exciting as the original plan, but it fit the budget, didn’t require airfare, and had plenty of R-E-L-A-X-A-T-I-O-N written all over it.  Elliott was thrilled that he could pack a million pairs of cufflinks and shoes, throw all of the luggage in the car, and not have to worry about airline baggage restrictions.

01 car full of luggage

Leaving Philly with all of Elliott’s shoes, cufflinks, and dress shirts.

We really didn’t have any expectations; we simply relished the idea of warm weather, calm blue seas, and not having to cook for a while.  We started out with three days at sea, as we left the cold North and headed down to the Caribbean.

 

It only took about a day and a half to get to the warm weather, which really surprised and pleased us!  I was out swimming in the pool before I knew it.

01a Relaxing in the pool

It’s my favorite place to be.

That wasn’t the only surprise, however; the entire cruise turned out to be one, big, happy surprise.  In those first three sea days, we went to Ballroom and Latin dance lessons, and found there were many more dancers onboard than we are used to.  What a treat!  We got to know many of the other dancers, and traded moves and inspiration night after night.  In addition, the onboard dance instructor loved dance so much, she offered free private lessons to anyone who wanted them.  What?!!  Unheard of!  We took her up on her offer more than once and added a few new beautiful moves to our Waltz and Foxtrot.

I had sadly assumed that since we were on a cruise, any holiday spirit would be totally forgotten for 12 days; it was, after all, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas!  I was wrong and couldn’t have been more pleased.  In the beginning of the cruise, there wasn’t much to remind us of the holidays other than the decorations a few passengers had hung on their cabin doors (which were really cute).  As the days passed, we’d hear a Christmas song here and there, then a Christmas tree was put up in the atrium… then at the end of the cruise some of the crew wore Santa hats!  We found it was the perfect amount of holiday spirit without being in-your-face or overwhelming.

 

There were a lot of fun activities onboard.  One night I joined in the fun for a rendition of an old favorite, Family Feud.  My team was terrible, but somehow made a comeback in the last minute (perhaps due to the fact that the last question was worth 3x the points?!).

 

Another night, we celebrated the ship’s 20th birthday with a big celebration and ship-shaped cake in the atrium.

 

Watch the balloons fall!

The itinerary was a fabulous one, and at the same time, an itinerary about which we felt very relaxed.  We had been to all of the ports before, so we didn’t feel pressured to do a lot on each one.  On our first port of St. Thomas, we walked around a bit and went shopping.  For those of you who don’t know, St. Thomas has many jewelry bargains; and it’s one place where I feel very lucky to have a husband who likes to shop!

04 More jewels from St. Thomas

Happy with my St. Thomas souvenir.

On Dominica, we didn’t even get off the ship, preferring to have a relaxing day of our own “at sea” and having the ship mostly to ourselves.  We did see a gorgeous rainbow from our ship:)

08 Rainbow over Dominica

Rainbow over Dominica.

In Bridgetown, Barbados, to the shock of the locals we walked a whole half hour to a local beach.  We spent a blissful afternoon relaxing under a poisonous(!) tree and swimming.

 

In Castries, St. Lucia, we got off the ship and walked around the town for a few minutes.  We didn’t feel the need to do much more, as we honeymooned there, and had a 10th anniversary trip there a few years ago.  Plus, we were on the wrong end of the island, in our opinion!

 

The most fun and adventure we had on land came the next day, on Saint Martin.  We made our way by local transportation (always fun) to Maho Beach, which is next to the Princess Juliana International Airport.  Maho Beach is directly under the flight path of the planes, so you can stand under them as they come in for a landing.  Pretty cool!

 

See a plane come in for landing yourself!

It is so close to the runway that you can stand on it and feel the jet blast of the planes taking off.  Should you though?  Well, I guess each person has to make that determination for him/herself…

 

Elliott was smart like most of the people standing there and ran to the side when the blast got to strong; unfortunately I simply tried to run away from the blast, going further onto the beach and into the ocean.  Warning: don’t do what I did!  Not only did the bare skin on my back get totally sandblasted, every time I popped up out of the water to see if it was over yet, more sand got pelted into my head and hair.  Not a fun experience!

60 Sandblast

Run, Forrest, run!

Sandblasting and all, we had a fabulous time on this cruise.  So much so, that we did something we’ve never done before; we booked the same exact cruise for 2017, while still on the 2016 sailing!  I’m not saying it would be perfect for everyone, but this appeared to be the perfect cruise for us.  And we’re really looking forward to this year’s version:)

Attack of the Sea Urchin

Stephanie kind of minimized the events of my devastating sea urchin attack, but here’s what really happened…

We were SCUBA diving off La Digue in the Seychelles, and we were about 90 feet down. I was so enthralled looking at the reef that I failed to notice a giant, man-eating, killer sea urchin sneaking up on me. This thing had to be at least three feet across!!!

giant sea urchin.jpg

Giant, Killer Sea Urchin

Stephanie tried to signal me, but it was too late. Suddenly, the sea urchin grabbed me in its tentacles, and started jabbing me with its venomous spines – at least 60 or 70 puncture wounds!! Meanwhile, Stephanie was having none of this. She unsheathed her diving knife, and saved my life by killing the sea urchin.

It was too late to fend off the worst of the attack, however. The venom was affecting my central nervous system, and I was beginning to black out. Thinking quickly, Stephanie fashioned a makeshift tourniquet out of her bikini top to prevent the venom from completing its fatal work. It was then that she brought me slowly to the surface making sure I didn’t get the bends. Once on land, she hoisted me up in a fireman’s hold and carried me the 19 miles to the hospital.

The clinic turned out to be in some guy’s garage, so I was grateful that I didn’t actually need surgery. Instead, they prescribed fresh lemon juice to break up the spines still stuck in me. As much as I wanted to take the lemon juice orally in the form of a cooling (possibly alcoholic) beverage, it was to be applied topically.  I spent the next two weeks in traction recuperating while Stephanie tried to get me on “Good Morning, America.”  (Note: They weren’t interested.)

All in all, it was a lucky break for all involved except for Stephanie’s bikini top which was never seen again. 😦

bikini top