Day 6 | Cozumel, Mexico!

This is the cruise that never ends, y’all. Okay. Day 6. Here we go!

Day 6 was the excursion I’d been looking forward to for MONTHS! I was so giddy excited when we woke up at 7. We went to the Windjammer buffet for breakfast at 8. We couldn’t get our “usual seat” – yes we had regular tables and routines at this point – so we sat at another table at the very back of the ship. I had miso soup, egg fried rice, vegetables and fruit for breakfast because I could. Bret had a delicious all American breakfast as per usual. We were planning to go for a walk around the track afterwards, but I forgot to bring a hair tie and it was SO WINDY so we settled for walking back downstairs and grabbing a Sudoku puzzle for later.

The ship took a while to dock because of the wind (which prompted me to change my outfit from a loose sundress to a t-shirt and shorts!), but once we docked, leaving the ship was easy peasy like usual, and the view was great. We had BEAUTIFUL weather every day.

words-0319 On the day before, we found our tour group right after we de-boarded, so I assumed it would be the same. It was still easy, but we had to go through security beyond the safe cruise ship bubble to find our excursion which confused me a bit, but everyone was really helpful and directed us to the right spot. We got a sticker, they collected our tickets, and told us to come back at 11:25.

We browsed some of the shops, but I didn’t love people asking me to buy something every few minutes. It was also unpleasantly hot everywhere – even in the shops. I needed some AC or open air. When it was finally time for our excursion, I was totally pleased with the organization. We were led in pairs over to the taxi stand, and then divided into groups of 5-6 to get into a cab.

Everyone at the hotel was incredibly nice. We LOVED this excursion. As soon as we sat down, everything was set and ready for us…

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…and there were chef hats for everyone!

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And servers poured frozen margaritas for anyone who wanted one!

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We sat with some really nice people and we all helped each other. There was a mother/daughter pair who did not like guacamole and there was a woman sitting next to me who was allergic to tomatoes, but everyone was super accommodating.

Bret and I got to work at a station together. In the timespan of a couple hours, we each made our own margaritas and then we made 6 different kids of salsa together. AND they brought us cheese quesadillas to snack on! And tons of chips.

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…Including the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted:

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Whenever one person was chopping or stirring, the other was supposed to stand up and learn some salsa steps. Bret volunteered to chop everything hahaha because he didn’t really want to learn to dance, but I did, and it was fun.

The service was excellent: they were constantly offering to refill our margaritas, get us hibiscus tea, and bottled water. The salsas were SO DELICIOUS and we got the recipe handout which is awesome (let me know if you want a copy!).

By far my favorite “salsa” was this dessert salsa which was served with Mexican vanilla ice cream:

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We opted to skip the dancing portion of the excursion and went over to the resort pool instead. It was the largest pool in all of Cozumel (a relatively small island with beautiful modestly sized resorts), so we had to check it out. I was a little afraid to be away from our group even though they were literally across the street and any cab could have taken us back to the ship. I expected me to be the brave one, but, nope, I was the baby. It was totally completely fine and safe though and another couple from our group joined us within a few minutes.

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After about a half hour, we met our group and got back into a cab over to the ship. We picked up a Christmas ornament on our way back to the ship!

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And that was Mexico.

As usual, we just loved getting back on the ship. It was our home. There is something so comforting about this floating hotel contraption. We grabbed a late lunch at the windjammer, and ice cream at sprinkles, and then we lounged in the hot tub and adults only pool for the first time. Bret listened in to all the seasoned cruisers talking about their experiences and, gosh, Bret was already SO READY to become a regular cruiser.

We headed back to the room and showered in preparation for our 5:30 dinner!

 

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After dinner, we went to Bull and Bear and ordered 5 beers from “around the world” to share… this was my idea.

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Little did we know the ship had just entered some rough seas. I mean ROUGH SEAS. People who had cruised 10 times said they’d never experienced something like this.

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I didn’t really like any of those beers.

We didn’t finish all 5 beers (I had 1.5 and Bret maybe had 3), but we felt uncomfortably disoriented with the swaying of the ship. And that’s when we realized that seas were more than a little rocky…

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TONS of people were seasick, they had to drain the deck (I heard) and we were okay but it was hard to sit still or walk straight.

We watched a funny Canadian show called “Gag / Just for Laughs.” Bret could not stop laughing. Fortunately, neither of us got sea sick but we would later learn that was not the case for many of our fellow cruisers…

Another great day.

Cruising 2014 | Day 5

May 29, 2014 |  George Town, Grand Caymam

THE BEST DAY.

I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting my blog! I have plenty of excuses: I helped train someone to take over my old  job, I started a new job, I spent a week training in D.C., I was away this weekend, and now I’m getting geared up for a work trip to San Francisco. But, you know, I can make excuses all day or I can carve out an hour each day to work on a blog post. I don’t want to give up on these updates, and I want to remember how wonderfully relaxing this trip was. So, I’m back!

Looking back, Day 5 was our favorite cruising day. It started off with a fantastic breakfast. We ordered room service: eggs, hashbrowns, a roasted tomato, a fruit platter, a pastry platter, coffee and orange juice all for a grand total of $0.00. Yep. Room service is so convenient (you can order by phone, TV, or hanging the knob on your door!) and there is no charge, although we tip.

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We decided to do room service instead of a sit-down or buffet breakfast because instead of docking right next to a pier and walking off the ship at our leisure like we had been doing for the past two days, at Grand Cayman, everyone had to take tender boats from the cruise ship to shore. We were warned that can take up to 45 minutes. We weren’t scheduled to dock until 8, and we were supposed to meet for our excursion at 8:45, so we wanted to get one of the first boats over.

The tender was fast, simple, and enjoyable enough. I wondered if I would feel sea sick from being on this tiny boat, but I didn’t. It was a fun adventure and we got to chat with some other first time cruisers.

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We knew we had to look for a yellow tent, and friendly people were there to help direct us and check our tickets to confirm we were in the right place. We were there by 8:30, so we had plenty of time. It was hot and overcast early in the morning.

We had a large group, but our tour guide divided us into groups of about 15-17 people, and each group got it’s own tour bus. Ours was #5. The bus was comfortable and air-conditioned, and the driver had a microphone so we could hear everything he shared about the island. He even made a few stops for us to take pictures. Our tour was scheduled to go to the turtle farm, a Tortuga rum shop, HELL, and then a Stingray City adventure. We did all of those things but not in that order, I think they stagger all of the smaller groups.

Our first stop was in “Hell” and our driver told us that we’d have 15 minutes to check it out. We learned that this area was named “hell” because of the crazy rock formations in that area that formed from acid rain. We snapped a few pictures and then went inside to mail postcards to our families.

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We piled back into the bus and drove to our next stop: the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. Well, it was just a small store (everything was grander in my imagination) but we got free freshly-baked vanilla and chocolate rum cake samples and they were delicious! There were also free shots of rum available, but we skipped those.

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Our next stop was the turtle farm! We had an hour to spend there and to be honest my first thought was, “I hope that’s enough time!”

It was.

I’d been imagining what this Turtle Farm might look like for months. I imagined a HUGE property with different air conditioned aquariums and “farms” with turtles of different ages. It was well-organized and it seems like they have a great operation going on that helps sustain the turtle population (they farm them each year and then release 90% into the wild), but it was much more, well, unstructured than I imagined. We saw the giant turtles first.

They were climbing all over each other, but they had plenty of space to swim around. We learned a few facts like the males have longer tails, and the females have shorter tails.

After that, we went over to the pools of 1-2 year old turtles. We were allowed and encouraged to pick them up, but I declined. I felt bad for these turtles because there didn’t seem to be enough supervision. Kids could hop into the pools and lift the turtles up. There were plenty of signs around demonstrating how not/to handle the turtle (don’t hold them out of the water too long, they could overheat, lift with two hands under the shell; do not grab their fins). I just wished there was someone there enforcing the rules and monitoring everyone.

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From there we ventured in to see the hatchling and education building. One room had foam boxes full of eggs that were growing:

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We watched the video which explained a lot and convinced me this was a good operation. Other than that, the only things that we had access to were a restaurant and the gift shop(s). I was hungry – we both were – and luckily we found a piece of banana bread we could buy to hold us over.

I was pretty excited but also really nervous about our next stop…

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… 2 hours in Stingray City.

I brought our water shoes so I went ahead and put those on. I thought that would make me feel safe and protect me from their stingers (spoiler alert: you’re only allowed to go in barefoot). So, the back story: fisherman used to clean their fish on this sandbar to avoid mosquitoes. They found lots of stingrays there sunning themselves and staying protected from the sharks in the deeper water. They fed the stingrays some of the left over fish guts, and this essentially domesticated them. Nowadays, you can go out on this sand bar and play with the stingrays. I love animals. I really wanted to do this. But I was scared – especially when they told me I had to go barefoot.

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And then, we just hopped in with the stingrays.

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I was so scared.

I’ll let the video speak for itself, but I was squealing silently every time one brushed up against me: http://youtu.be/2fT5NERv8Wc

Bret was brave and cool and as a cucumber so that made me feel a little more courageous. We both held a female stingray and Bret even kissed her for good luck! Of course, we bought the $40 worth of digital photos they took of us.

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I did it!!!

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The boat ride back was nice and relaxing. The boat wasn’t fancy – but it was functional – and they gave us free water and fruit punch if we wanted it.

We had to wait in a long line to catch the tender back over at 2:45. As soon as we were back, we changed clothes really fast and then made our way up to Johnny Rockets. During “Happy Hour” you can order anything off the menu including milkshakes and sodas for a flat rate of $6/person. I ate way too much (onion rings, fries, tuna melt, vanilla coke, chocolate milkshake) and Bret ate even more! But after skipping lunch, it was a good feeling. We pulled away from the dock while we enjoyed our meal, and it was perfect.

During the rest of the afternoon, we watched some kids try to boogie board on the Flow Rider, we played some ping pong, and then made it back to our room for showers and laziness. We decided to skip formal dinner tonight mainly because we were still SO FULL from Johnny Rockets. Instead, we headed to the Champagne Bar for some delicious cocktails. We talked with another couple who was also on their first cruise, and we really enjoyed talking with the bar tender. We told her about our stingray adventure and she told us about when she had to jump in the water during cruise training.

She gave us each a free drink, and we headed over to the Once Upon a Time Show! This show was fun. The cast sang pop music while acting out parts of popular fairy tales.

After the show we were finally hungry(ish) so we went to Windjammer. I got my usual salad and a roll and added a seafood baked potato. We came back to the room for a few minutes and I considered all the fun things we could do: get the drink of the day in the souvuineer glass, go to the casino, watch adult karoke, go see our pictures, have a nightcap at the Champagne Bar. Well, we did it all. We got the lemonade-y drink of the day. It was very tart. We spent $20 at the casino. We found some of our port pictures.

After that we really fought the urge to be tired.

We went to the coffee shop and each had a coffee. There was a late night white party up at the pool, so we went up there to see the set up. There were fun crazy lights and some people were lounging on the chairs watching a poolside movie. We walked around a bit and then Bret decided he could handle a couple slices of pizza. We went to Sorrentos and shared a few slices. It wasn’t even 11, but I was dragging, so we decided it was acceptable to go to bed.

At the time, we felt like we were going to bed early, but when I consider everything we did that day, I think we had a very full very fun day. I’ll try my best to get Day 6 up this week!

Cruising 2014 | Day 3

Day 3 was our first port day! We visited Royal Caribbean’s private island, Labadee, Haiti.

This morning, we woke up around 6:50 and I was SO EXCITED. The sun was already up and sparkling over the water again. Such a pretty sight to wake up to! We decided to have breakfast at the Windjammer buffet, and I got a big pile of fruit and a piece of toast with apple jelly. Bret ate lots of eggs and stuff.

After breakfast, we climbed the stairs up to Deck 12 to watch the ship pull us into port in Haiti. It was so beautiful.

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Bret and I both thought the island reminded us of LOST (which was filmed in Hawaii).

As we got closer, the boat started to turn around to back up into the port. Most people headed to the left, but Bret was clever and directed us to the right because on both sides the track makes you move through in a singe file line. Even though our path was a little longer, we made it to the back of the ship first and got to watch us pull into the beautiful misty mountain landscape.

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We decided to head inside before we docked because we’ve read warnings of malaria carrying mosquitoes being present several hours after sunrise, and we didn’t have our bug spray on yet.

Back in the room, we changed into swim suits and cover-ups, packed up our backpack with water shoes and sunscreen and bug spray, and headed down to level 1 to depart. Disembarkation (is that what you call it?) was totally simple and fast. As we walked across the pier toward the island, we got our first real glimpse of the ship. What a gorgeous sight! The weather was perfect and the mountain-scape behind it was just gorgeous gorgeous breathtaking.

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It was so HOT though – even at 9AM. We bought a giant bottle of water before we even left the pier. Of course, the only water they were selling was a $4 Evian bottle… but it was worth it!

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We walked around and looked at a map to find a the tram station. After reading cruise review boards, I knew we wanted to take the tram to the beach on the other side. Bret was skeptical, but agreed.

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Also, I really just wanted to ride the tram. Bret never wants to ride the tram at Disney because he thinks we can walk faster than the it takes to ride the tram from the parking lot which is true but then you don’t get to hear the zip-a-dee-doo-dah song.

Anyway. So we took the tram over to the second beach, and then a man brought us a couple of chairs which were super comfy and relaxing. He offered a blue shade tent, too, and we said no thank you, although, I later realized they were free.

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You can kind of see the tents behind Bret’s head here.

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Luxurious white canopy cabanas run for $500/day; blue tents are free!

After being comfy in the chairs for a few minutes, my swim boy was anxious to get in the water. We waded in and I could not believe how rocky it was by the shore. Fortunately, we had our water shoes in the bag, so I put mine on and then I felt super safe. Bret didn’t want to wear his shoes because he wanted to swim. Yep, he brought his swimming goggles!

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The water was malibu blue crystal clear and I’d read it’s a good place for snorkeling. I considered swimming out with him, but I decided I was happier hanging onto the flipcam and enjoying the waist-deep water instead.

Bret swam for a bit and came back and said he saw a “Dorie fish” (from Finding Nemo) and a bunch of other tropical fish. He told me he was glad he’s been swimming because he wouldn’t have been able to reach the bottom, and even if he did, he said the bottom was completely covered in long sea grass. This mental image was very haunting to me for some reason and then I decided that I absolutely would not be swimming over my head.

We took a few pictures together and then Bret wanted to swim out into the even DEEPER part of the water and explore. I was very content sitting by the water on one of our comfy chairs. I watched him swim away.

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And that’s the last I saw of him.

Just kidding!

But at one point, I thought I was watching “Bret” swim, but the “Bret” I was watching starting splashing a five-year-old kid on a raft, and I knew he wouldn’t do that, and then I realized that wasn’t him. I scanned the horizon, but I’d lost sight of him. Ten minutes passed, and I worried a little. I’d get a glimpse of someone and then realize it wasn’t him and I just started to wonder…what if his feet got tangled in that awful haunting long sea grass?!

I tried not to worry, but after a half hour, I stood up and walked toward the water, and then I saw him walking toward me. So relived! He had swam back to the shallow end and he was walking along the beach, but he couldn’t tell which chairs were ours since so many tents had popped up during his swim. He recognized my teal bathing suit and my hat and I was SO HAPPY to see him.

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Oh, and we watched some awesome zip liners! Check out Bret’s Day 3 recap for the video.

We sat by the water for a few more minutes to dry off, and then we gathered our stuff and walked over to the bar. I ordered a screwdriver and Bret ordered a corona.

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We moved over to a little seating area and talked with a couple from New Jersey and then  walked around through some of the shops. Bret really wanted a wooden flute(?) and sure enough we spotted a guy playing a wooden flute within minutes. I told him to act “not that interested” so he could barter the price down. As soon as we got close, all of the shop owners tried to talk to us and get us to buy things right away. One of them put a bracelet on my hand and told me to touch anything I liked and he would give me a good price. I kept saying, “no” and, “no thank you” and finally managed to pull the bracelet off as politely as possible. I squeezed over to Bret who was looking at the flute. The guys said it was $10 and Bret said he only had $5 and he said we could have the flute for $5. Then Bret looked at me because I had $5 and he actually had $10 haha. The guy offered to carve Bret’s name on the flute, but Bret said no thanks.

For the buffet, the cruise ship actually carts food off of the ship, prepares it on site, and then distributes it to three different buffet locations. If you like barbecue, this is a great option. If you don’t eat meat, there is some yummy salad and potato salad. Bret got all the BBQ stuff, and he also grabbed some desserts for me. We ate lunch and almost went over to watch a local show but we realized they wanted us to tip and we didn’t have any small bills with us and I felt horrible because I did want to tip them, but we ended up leaving.

We decided we were done swimming so came back to the ship to drop off the stuff we didn’t need (i.e. the flute, our beach towels, goggles, swim shoes) and we picked up the good camera. We took a bunch of pictures. Bret used the fancy cam and I used the flip cam. I felt like a child taking pretend pictures, but I love that little camera.

We sat by the beach again and saw some people training for the awesome zip line that went down the beach. I told them, “Good luck!” And they laughed.

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Ah, the life.

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We walked around and took a few more pictures and then decided to come back on board for good. As soon as we were back on the ship, we both agreed that we felt like we were, “home”. This is a reoccurring theme of our cruise week!

We left our swimsuits on and went up to the pool deck/Windjammer because we wanted cookies. We were still taking the stairs everywhere so with each floor we climbed Bret would say, “three more floors until cookies!” “two more floors until cookies!” “one more floor for cookies!”

We did get some delicious coconut cookies, but we decided to grab an ice cream cone from the pool deck first.

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When we sat down to eat them, we sat in lounge chairs in the cooler shaded area next to this sweet woman in her 70s or 80s. She told us that she’d been trying to use her tablet to take pictures of the island all day, but she couldn’t get it to work. Bret helped her figure out how to take pictures and she was so incredibly grateful. She said, “It’s not that hard is it? It’s just that no one ever told me how to do it.” I loved how Bret was so patient and took the time to make sure she really understood how to take, view, and save pictures. He even set up a short cut so she could access the camera easier!

Then, Bret took a nap, and I talked to this lady for, like, an hour. Her husband doesn’t travel anymore, but that doesn’t stop her! Instead, she travels with her friend. Her friend loves to “bake” in the sun, though, and this lady was a skin cancer survivor.  She pointed out her friend, an 80-year-old woman sunbathing, and she just shook her head and said, “There she goes – now she’s baking the other side.” I agreed that that wasn’t healthy. I talked to her for a little while longer and then Bret woke up and we decided to finally get those cookies and also another round of lunch since I only ate fruit for breakfast and salad for lunch.

We came back to the room I went ahead and took a shower in preparation for dinner. The ship took off a few minutes earlier than planned and the captain made an announcement thanking everyone for being fast and he said that it will get less windy shortly… hopefully that means less wobbly, too, when we aren’t going into the waves.

Dinner was “smart casual” and I wore my fun white dotted dress that I love.

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The dinner theme was “shitake” and I had chilled mango and pineapple soup (in the same bowl as last night – good thing I didn’t knock it over this time!) For my entree, I had the.best. shrimp dumplings ever ever with bok choy. And then we shared two delicious chocolate desserts. Dinner was really yummy and, fortunately, I didn’t feel seasick this time.

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Each night, there is an evening show at 7PM for second seating guests (8PM dinner) and then again at 9PM for main seating guests (5:30 Dinner). We met someone who suggested trying to go to the 7PM showing right after the 5:30 dinner. They said they will let you in if there are still seats even though we’re technically supposed to go to the 9:00 one. We missed the Broadway show from the night before, so since we were finished with dinner at 6:30, we decided go go ahead and grab seats for the magic show.

The Magic Show “Now You See It” features Drew Thomas from America’s Got Talent. We’re supposed to check his facebook page later because he took a video of the audience (May 27, 7PM), but I couldn’t find anything.

Bret goes into more detail about this, but the show was not great. They had a bunch of technical difficulties and the magician basically performed the same magic trick over and over. It was super loud and flashy (to distract you from the actual magical secrets) and I just hated the way women were represented the whole time as half-dressed objects to be cut in half, disappeared, and saved. The magician also told a story about this kid at a children’s hospital who was sick and wanted nothing more than to see snow …and then he used the “magic” of a fake snow machine to blow snow into the audience. It was sweet, I guess, but I felt like he was using a made up story to pull on our heart strings only to tell us that he never got to perform the snow trick for the kid, but he would do it for us now. And literally, it was a snow machine.

Anyway. I’m glad we saw the show only because for the last “trick” our cruise director appeared behind a curtain in a bathrobe and shower cap. He’s funny.

We came back to the room so I could grab a cardigan and then we went down to Windjammer to get some more food…(?) You’re probably thinking there’s no way you could eat anything more, but next we headed over to the Promonade. I wanted to go to Vintages for their dessert and port wine flights.

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There was no one else in the whole bar! We talked to the bar tender and shared a dessert wine flight… and he went next door and brought us 3 brownies to share! I would have been so delighted if I wasn’t so full. The dessert wine flight was great, though, because Bret found a chilled sparkling sweet red wine that he likes.

We walked around for a bit after that, but we were both sleepy and happy with our full day, so we headed back to our room. I was feeling good, not seasick, and so in love with cruise life by this point.

Cruising 2014

DCIM103SPORTBret and I didn’t take a traditional honeymoon after we got married. Instead of taking a romantic trip to a tropical paradise, we spent half a week in Las Vegas at a conference with several of our colleagues. It was a good decision at the time, but we promised each other that we would take a REAL honeymoon vacation in the near(ish) future.

Well, 14 months later, I am thrilled to share all about the 7-night Western Caribbean cruise we took this past week! We had an amazing time and are both now completely obsessed with cruising.

We both journaled throughout the trip and collectively snapped over 600 pictures so I’m going to split our vacation recap into several blog posts. For now, I just wanted to say that we had a really, really, really amazing time and if you haven’t cruised before or if you’re not sure that cruising is for you, I’m here to tell you it’s the best idea ever!

Here are a few teasers:

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Yep, our ship had an ice skating rink on board along with a rock wall, a putt putt course, and a FlowRider surfing simulator.

2. I got a massage from a stingray! I was terrified but it was worth it for the photographic evidence:

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3. Together, we learned how to make 6 different authentic Mexican salsas in Mexico:

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4. And best of all I did NOT get malaria while in Haiti (heads up, though, if you’re going to be in Haiti around dawn or dusk, malaria precautions are recommended):

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This private Royal Caribbean island was beautiful. Bret and I both think it looks like LOST from a distance.

We wanted to soak in every minute and make lots of memories and I can’t wait to revisit all of them by blogging about our cruise. Check back later this week for more.

I hope everyone had a Happy Memorial Day weekend!