Monday, October 24, 2011

#39: Take a cruise

Oh yeah, so that last minute cruise I took in September? That was number 39 on my Life List. Only 89 left.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 5

Day 5: Miami

One last sunrise (still no sleeping in for me!) and vacation's over. Time to head home.

The trip home was uneventful. Caught the transfer bus from the port to the airport, dropped my bag (and paid another $25!) and wandered until it was time to board the plane. Arrived in Montreal on time and then, to my surprise was met with the biggest crowd ever in the customs area. So big that airport staff were holding passengers back at the top of the escalators/stairs so that the crowd could move a bit, before allowing us down. It was long. The plane landed at 4:15pm and I walked in my front door at 6:45pm. It was faster to take a bus, metro and bus home than it was to move through that queue. Crazy!

That's it. All caught up. I've been home for over 2 weeks now and with the way things are picking up at work, I hardly feel like I had a vacation. But I still have about 8 or 9 days left to take and will probably take a few days off towards the end of November. There's a little plan in the works for that, so stay tuned!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 4

Day 4: Key West, Florida

Another beautiful sunrise. I'll tell you, starting every day of this vacation with a beautiful sunrise was one of the highlights of the trip.

We arrived in Key West shortly after breakfast and without really planning to meet, I managed to meet up with a bunch from the group as we were getting ready to disembark for our day in Key West. I only had one thing I wanted to do and that was visit Ernest Hemingway's house. For the first time in the trip, I actually felt the heat. The first day in Miami and the other days in the Bahamas there was always a breeze, not so on this day. Our stop in Key West was hot and humid and we felt it. Anyway, enough about the weather (although, short aside, scattered thunderstorms were forecast and that never happened!)

After getting our bearings myself and a couple of friends headed over to Hemingway's house and did a little visit. It might have been a good idea to do the guided tour but I didn't feel like being pushed around from room to room, so we just wandered around and took our time viewing the place. It is really quite a beautiful home. Lovely high ceiling and huge floor to ceiling windows. Hemingway's studio was very interesting to see as well, even if we couldn't go right into the room. The gardens are also very well kept and the swimming pool looked all too inviting! The one thing that bothered me, even though the windows were all open, were the cats. Every time you turned around there was another cat or two or three, jumping off some piece of furniture or strolling past. And as you walked through the gardens they were just everywhere. It was a bit too much for my sensitive allergy and I pretty much spent close to an hour trying not to rub my eyes and breathe through my scarf.

After our visit there we walked over to the Southernmost Point in the USA. We were told it was a photo opportunity. Arriving there I wondered why people were lining up to take their picture against a big piece of concrete painted in a variety of colours but I guess ... well, I don't know. I just took a picture of the area and the ocean and moved on. I suppose the best thing about that was the price - free!

By this time we were about melting so found ourselves a little bistro on Duval Street and had an enjoyable lunch, complete with air-conditioning. One of the few instances that I have really appreciated a/c.

After lunch we walked back down Duval Street to visit a butterfly conservatory. That wasn't air conditioned as much, but it was still cooler than being outside in the heavy humidity. We had fun with the butterflies. There were just so many different kinds, of every size and colour imaginable. Really impressive.

It was probably about mid-afternoon at this time and we decided we would stroll back up Duval Street and head for the ship and a refreshing dip in the pool. On the way, we stopped for some Key Lime pie and ran into two of our friends so we all sat down and enjoyed our pie together.

Back on the boat, it was a relief to jump into the pool. A number of our group somehow managed to meet up again and two of our own guys were selected for the Sexiest Man competition. And what do you know, one of them even won!

A quick shower and change and we were back in the dining room for our final meal together. Once again the menu did not disappoint. I was impressed with the food. There was always a good selection and the portion size was just right. I could eat the appetizer, main and dessert and leave the table feeling well fed without feeling I'd need to order a second dish or without feeling I'd eaten too much.

After dinner we all went and got our packing done and then met up in one of the bars for a few cocktails and some laughs. Given that we were 16, while it was difficult to get everyone to meet up, when we were together we all really enjoyed the atmosphere as a group. It was a good mix of people and I think that's why I had so much fun. Shortly before midnight I headed to my cabin to finish my packing and hopefully get a good rest after the long day of walking.

We would arrive in Miami around breakfast time the next day and head for home.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 3

Day 3 - CocoCay, Bahamas

We went to the beach.

I could end the post there because really, that is all we did and it was amazing! But maybe I could give a few extra details.

Let's see ... once again I was up early. Think I managed to sleep until 6:15am (progress!), so I hit the gym for a bit of exercise before our beach day. The sky was cloudless and I got a few pictures of the amazing sunrise. The boat had dropped anchor (saying stuff like "dropped anchor" makes me want to throw in a pirate-y "Arrrr") just off the coast of a little island. This island is a private island for the cruise line, called CocoCay. They had all kinds of activities set up there: a snorkeling beach, a water sports beach, small market and hair braiding, bbq and picnic area, volleyball, Fisher Price Power Wheels track, water slide, kayaks, floating mats, parasail and glass bottom boat tours, corners with hammocks strung up between the palm trees and the best part - Barefoot Beach!

At breakfast I met up with only one of our group. Apparently most of the others were still sleeping and/or hungover from the previous night's festivities (it was the birthday for one of the guys). We decided that we weren't going to miss a single second of our eagerly anticipated beach day and headed out on the first tender over to CocoCay.

Getting there so early gave us the pick of beaches, lounge chairs, etc. We did a short walk around the various beaches and finally plunked ourselves down at Barefoot Beach. We choose a corner just off the beach but beside the walking path, with plenty of hammocks for our group and lots of lounge chairs. It wasn't even 10am but the call of the hammock was too much for us. We ended up having a nice little snooze for probably close to half an hour. The thing that woke us was this irritating golf cart that drove around the island selling bottles of water and beer. The guy's voice I could have ignored. The horn he honked sounded very much like this. And he would honk it about 3 or 4 times when he drove by.

Anyway ... by this time we were pretty sweaty, the sun having moved and our hammocks not being in the shade anymore, so time to get in the water. The water was heaven. There were really no waves (not like at Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island where you could sit in the water but only get knocked over by the waves) and it stayed shallow for ages. After swimming for a while, we finally saw that a few from our group were showing up. We directed them to our camp site and eventually everybody showed up.

Lunch was provided by the cruise and consisted of a buffet lunch set up at various stands in the picnic area. Lots of barbequed meat and stuff, some salads, and fruit for dessert.

After lunch it was back to the beach and we discovered that the tide had gone out. I went for a walk along the beach and discovered lots of exposed shells. I had never seen quite so many before. While a bunch from our group went to play beach volleyball, a couple of us stayed in the water and watched a storm approach. It was pretty cool to see it move closer. When it did start to rain a lot of people grabbed their stuff and headed back to the tenders. We just covered our stuff (that waterproof backpack cover was the best MEC investment ever) and jumped back in the water to wait it out. About 15-20 minutes later the rain had stopped and were almost the only people left on the beach. It felt very much like a private island. No noise from other people, no blaring music, no sellers passing with junk.

At 4pm we had to catch the tender back to the ship. With the last stragglers back on the boat, the ship set sail again at 4:30pm.

Another delicious meal (think I had a battered fish plate) and for once we managed to make it to the show. It was announced as a comedy and juggling show. What it was, was a juggling show with a few (terrible) one liners thrown in. I hate juggling so probably I'm not the best judge but really, I expected better. Following the show, some from the group did a bit of shopping after the show but I didn't get anything.

Thursday would be the last full day of the cruise and we would be in Key West, Florida, so off to bed for a good rest (after a day of doing nothing).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 2

Guess I'm a little behind in my posts. Sorry!

Where was I? Day 2 - Nassau, Bahamas

Up before dawn (4:15am, in fact) just for kicks, you know. Had to wait until 6am before the gym even opened. The gym was right at the back of the ship so there was a great view. Not like you could see any of it at 6am but as the sun started coming up, bit by bit, you could see the line of the horizon a little more clearly each moment. By the time I finished my run/bike at 7am, the clouds were taking on some beautiful colours from the sunrise. I walked outside to stretch and cool down. Not like you could cool down much outside, it was about 30C already, not counting the humidity - but still.

The ship was just pulling into the port in Nassau and we had a good view of Paradise Island. It was very odd to see it and know that Club Med wasn't there anymore. Strangely, I felt a bit emotional seeing it all again.

Anyway, the sunrise was beautiful and it was interesting to see the crew prepare to dock the ship. At 8am our group met for breakfast and decided on the plan of the day. There was lots of discussion about renting a van or getting a few taxis to take us all over the place for the day. Far too complicated for my taste and really, all I wanted to do was jump on the water taxi over to Paradise Island and chill on the beach all day.

As the others were trying to negotiate prices, I bought my little water taxi ticket ($6 return now!), a few of my friends joined me and we waited for the boat to fill up. Funnily enough, every last one of the group ended up doing the same thing.

A short 10 minute ride later and we were arriving on Paradise Island. On the way over we went right past the old Club Med buildings. I'd forgotten about the old shack used in the James Bond Thunderball movie, the Harbourside building that housed the restaurant of the same name and also was where the Chef de Village lived. Then past the theatre and bar area. The old dock is still there but everything is fenced off. And finally past the dining room. You could there was all kinds of furniture piled up close to some windows in there.

Now the hard part, to find the beach. Paradise Island was unrecognizable. In the 12 or so years since I left, hotels, shops and time share condos have popped up everywhere. I honestly had no idea how to get to the beach anymore. A few questions to a security guard and about 20 minutes I was running down the beach to be the first one with my feet in the water!

We managed to find a tiny bit of shade and dropped our stuff off there. Some of the group stayed there to snooze while others jumped into the water and some others started negotiating with the ever present jet-ski, banana boat drivers for deals.

The water was heavenly. The beach wasn't terribly crowded but there were lots of people selling things: hair braiding, water/beer, recorders (you know, those irritating wooden recorders elementary kids "play" as a musical instrument), lounge chair & umbrella rentals, jet skis, banana boat rides, snorkeling tours, parasail rides ... I just stayed at the beach all day. Luckily I had thought to bring a bit of food and water with me, so I didn't have go hunting for food or leave the beach.

On a day that forecast scattered thunderstorms, it rained for about 5 minutes, max. A lot of the tourists left to go back to their hotels or wherever at that time but it didn't bother us. I knew it wouldn't last long and it didn't.

In the end we spent a little too long at the beach and only had a few short minutes to hurry through the straw market for a bit of shopping before having to rush back to the ship and be ready for our 6pm dinner seating.

After dinner some of the group took taxis or scooters back to Paradise Island so they could have a look at the aquarium and then went out to celebrate one of our friend's birthday. I stayed on the ship with some of the others and just relaxed outside on the top of the ship. We watched the lights, did some people watching and somehow, I forced myself to stay awake until our departure at 11:30pm. Hopefully I would sleep in tomorrow ...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 1

Sorry for the delay in details about the cruise. I've been ... not busy actually, just still on vacation and taking a few days to sort out laundry, groceries and some fun stuff like reading until noon and seeing movies.

Day 1, Monday:

Had to set my alarm for the hideous hour of 3:15am. I'm still asking myself why. I should've just been better prepared the night before is all. Except that I was well prepared. It's those ridiculous last minute things before you go away that have to be taken care of. Anyway, the taxi I had pre-booked, picked me up right on time (4:15am) and I arrived at the airport shortly after 4:30am. My check-in had already been done online, so all I had to do was drop off my bag (and pay American Airlines $25 for the privilege ...) Going through security was long, even at that time. Thankfully the customs officer was chatty and had even been on the same cruise before so he just told me to enjoy myself.

The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Miami spot on time. The cruise representative met me at the luggage carousel and sent me on to the bus to transfer to the port. A short bus ride later and we were at the Port of Miami. Checking in for the cruise was also a breeze because I'd done that online too (how did we live before?!) No sooner had I lined up to pass security, did I bump into nearly all my friends that were coming on the cruise. Boy, was I glad to see them (had started panicking that I'd be spending 4 days on a cruise all by myself.)

After a buffet lunch on the ship, we all wandered off to our staterooms and some exploring. The buffet was ... a buffet. I'm not the best judge anymore thanks to nearly 4 years of buffet meals (3 times a day, 7 days a week) back in the Club Med days, but there was certainly plenty of variety.

My room, located on the 5th floor, was small but not any smaller than I really expected. I took an inside cabin and can honestly say that I didn't miss having a window. I'm not really sure I would ever have had the time to look out of it anyway.

At 3:30pm we had the obligatory muster drill. Fine, whatever - it was hot out, it wasn't raining (yet) and I was on vacation! Then somehow most of us managed to meet up in one of the bars for a round of departure drinks. Just in time too because the rain came down - and hard! Time flies when you're having fun and we had to break up the party to get ready for our 6pm dinner time.

Dinner was fun, if long, and somehow we missed the opening show and the sunset (in fact, missed every single sunset). After a bit more exploring on the ship with the others, I headed to bed around 10pm. It had been quite a long day for me.

Tomorrow ... Nassau!

Pictures, if you're interested are up here.