Friday, July 24, 2015

Cruisin' - Half Moon Cay

Before the cruise, I went online to see which excursions were available for our boat. I found several interesting, but had concern over if we had time for more than one at each port.

 Paddle boarding, kayaking, a beer walk, and a hike/bike combo topped my list. When Jay hurt his ankle  during our sea-day, he said that the biking would probably be a bad idea. Given all the walking done to the breweries and the weighted pressure from the paddle boards, I suspect this was due to his lack of interest. We ended up booking the other 3, and left our schedule open to other potential adventures.

Half Moon Cay is an island owned by the Carnival corporation, and is mostly staffed by the ship's crew. As our kayak guide explained, a handful of people have a couple hour (each way) commute by boat from another island, but mostly the crew disembarks first to set up shop.

With no way to port on the island itself, the cruise ship ran tenders  all day. I had no clue what that meant until one of the seasoned travelers in our group filled me in; its basically a smaller boat shuttling too and front the island.

I don't mention this as an exercise of my vocabulary, but rather because it shaped our morning. Despite a later excursion time, our tickets required us to meet in the large theater at 8:30. The ship didn't arrive on time, so we had to wait a bit longer than anticipated. The staff tried to keep us entertained with trivial, but both Jay & I found myself more bored than we'd been the entire vacation.

There were, however, a couple of benefits to this. I used the time to run back to the room and grab a beach bag with towels, sunscreen, and a carbonated beverage. When I sat back down and opened the beverage, it spewed all over me. Once again, i returned to the room to change clothing.

Once we finally got off the ship, our first excursion was a kayaking trip into a cove. Jay and I snagged a tandem outfit, and paddled together like champs. We frequently had to stop to allow the others to catch up with us. The kayak also had a glass bottom, but I didn't see much in the way of sea-life. 

We paddled out to a predetermined location, where our guide had us get into the water and walk out a piece. He then informed us that the water we were standing in was filled with sharks and jelly fish. After having a good laugh at all the girls freaking out, he informed us that the kinds of creatures near us weren't dangerous. 

The lemon sharks are most common in that area, and we saw a couple off a bit in the near distance. The jelly fish are a type that are safe to pick up and only sting a bit if touched. While Jay was brave enough to pick one up and touch it, I made him piggy back me over the landminds of jelly fish on the ocean floor.

 At the last minute, we signed up for a Sting-ray excursion. While we were waiting, we reapplied sunscreen. Some random dude walked up and asked if his wife could borrow our sunscreen. Their bottle ran out and she needed to reapply. He thanked us profusely and even offered to buy us a drink to say thanks.

Turns out, they were booked for the same outing, and we chatted with them on the bus ride out.  He and Jay enjoyed laughing at me, when I yelled every time a stingray touched me. I wasn't necessarily scared of them, but definitely startled. I finally became brave enough to feed one, holding the bait in my enclosed hand as she sucked it out.

A young handicapped girl also joined our group. She too was a bit skiddish around the stingrays, but didn't let the opportunity pass her by. I shared my personal philosophy with here. Being brave isn't about not being scared, but rather being scared and doing it any way.

Jay and I only purchased 2 professional photos on the cruise. Both pictures were taken on this excursion. In hind-site, had I know that waterproof cameras were so inexpensive, we would have purchased one to take on the trip. The first picture is of us with our guide and a baby stingray.

The second is of Jay and I kissing a sea cucumber. Its supposed to be good luck, but she wasn't able to tell us which end was which. I sure hope I got the mouth end!!

Before returning to the trip, we headed out to the beach just to hang out. The water and temperature were both perfect. After enjoying the ocean, we dried off on the beach chairs with an frosty beverage. Our buddy Misael from the Majestic Lounge had a tray of Miami Vice cocktails so we both enjoyed one before calling it and getting back on the tender boat.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cruisin' - Grand Turk

After a couple of days at sea, Jay and I were ready to disembark. Grand Turk will forever more be known as our first international locale as a married couple. Over a decade ago I'd used my passport for a trip to Ireland with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. Jay had only ever been to Canada before this. Toronto, more specifically - not exactly a journey into another culture.

Given the nature of cruising, we didn't actually get a passport stamp at any of our excursion locations. While I'm a tad disappointed we missed out on all the ink we could have gotten, we'll have a chance to break our passports in properly late August, so I won't let it keep me up at night.

We decided to try the stand-up paddle boarding excursion for our first adventure off the boat. Jay had hurt his ankle the night before, so I worried a bit about his ability to paddle. I've SUPed before, and knew he could ride the board on this knees if need be. 

Exact opposite of river SUPing, we took the boards out with the current on the way to our snorkling site. We had no trouble paddling out or staying standing (unfortunately one poor guy in our group was not as fortunate). 

Once we got out far enough, we tied our boards together, put on our goggles and flippers and explored the water below us. The spot must be one used by plenty of guides on a regular basis, because the guy in charge of our crew knew exactly where to dive and find a nurse shark. He even brought it up towards the surface of the water for us to see more closely and pet if we wanted. 

I regret not having an underwater camera, because we saw such beautiful flora and fauna. In addition to the shark, there were colorful fish, some pretty purple algae-like things, and a barracuda! Maybe I'll spring for a Go-Pro (or a more reasonably priced knock-off) for Jay this birthday/Christmas season.
Paddling back proved more difficult than the trip out, thanks to the current and wind resistance we were facing. For whatever reason, I couldn't get my stride and ended up far behind everyone else. It wasn't one of my finer moments.  Instead of enjoying myself, I found myself thinking nasty things about my husband.

When I got back, the guide wasn't in the water. We'd finished up early and he allowed us to swim in the water before taking us back to our cruise ship. Maybe I wasn't slow, everyone else was just fast. Yeah, I'm going with that. While we splashed around, we got to know our excursion mates a bit better. Turns out, one of the couples vacations where Jay and I live. Our town is definitely not on the same level as Turks & Caicos, but its cool to know that there is something special drawing people here, and I'm blessed to see it daily.

Jay and I saw a bit of the city driving to and from our paddle site. Most of the friends we had cruised with decided to take a historical tour to see it up close and personal. While we had to slow down for a donkey in the road, they had time for pictures. I think a couple of them even petted a group of them. 

Jay and I saw the touristy end of the beach, but had no interest in getting a chair or back into the water. Signs everywhere warned us not to leave our possessions unattended, and we obliged. We took our bag o'stuff and got back onto the boat. 

We had a bit of time to relax before getting cleaned up and heading back to fancy dinner. Then of course we hit the Majestic Lounge for Blue Moon Martinis, buckets of IPA, and Cards Against Humanity. I'm pretty sure any other group of people would be embarrassed to play this in a very public setting, but not us. Which of course only served to make the cruise that much more fun!!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sail Away - Days at Sea

Despite being cruise newbies, Jay and I knew all the tips and tricks of season veterans. My friend Holly and her husband Todd had gotten the trip together in order to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. Having never experienced a ceremony. they wanted to do a vow-renewal ceremony.

Jay and I drove 4 hours Friday to spend the night with them, then Saturday morning we met up with the rest of the crew - Mike & Karen and Mark - and caravaned to Savannah. They wanted to get on the boat early, so we were on the boat, in the dock for hours before we ever set sail.

We all had our first drink immediately upon boarding and Jay experienced his first (and only) bar sticker shock. For the rest of the cruise we took a "its vacation" approach. We had the money to cover the bill so we made an effort to enjoy ourselves instead of nickle and diming things. I considered it our reward for being so frugal the rest of the year.

After our cabin rooms were ready, we dropped off our carry-on luggage and head around the boat to explore. We found the walking track which surrounded the mini-golf course on the very top deck. 

 Jay had never been to Charleston before, so Mike & Karen gave us the tree-top tour, pointing out the tops of the the tallest buildings in the City.

Leaving the port we saw our first and only dolphins of the cruise. We also watched as the armed Coast Guard boat guided our ship to see. With a machine gun at the helm, it was a tad intimidating despite the relative smallness to our vessel.

Dinner dress-code regulations weren't in effect the first evening, since some people may not have had their luggage. Jay had a bit of dread for these events because he loves flip flops and stretch shorts (basketball shorts with elastic waist bands), but we ended up attending every evening. Through the mornings and afternoons we did our own thing, then our group would meet up for dinner and spend the evening together getting into some form of foolishness.

Most all of the evenings were spent in the Majestic Lounge. Our server came to know us by name, drink order, and finally room number - to the tune we didn't have to show our room key to charge to our accounts. 

We chose the lounge because it was the one place with a TV for Jay to watch the NBA finals. Every-other evening we watched basketball and the other evenings we watched NHL. Finally when both sports crowned their champion, we explored other evening activities. We caught a couple comedy shows, "The Game of Love" interactive game show, an adult scavenger hunt, and listening to a performer in the piano bar.

I cannot overstate how lost Jay and I were the first day at sea. We are used to action-packed vacations and we felt like we were missing something. By the second day we had no problem kicking back, ordering a drink, and enjoying the slow pace of the cruise.