Posted in My Travels

Vacation Diary- Days 9-12- Cruise Disembarkment and Universal Studios Orlando

Hey Everyone,

Well, here it goes.. a very bittersweet end, though a long post, to a wonderful time with my husband, my children and my friends, who became like family. ¬†ūüė¶

March 27- Disembarking a boat is super easy, it’s basically a waiting game for when they tell you to get out. ¬†The night before you are to leave you receive disembarking paperwork and you’re instructed to leave your luggage outside your cabin’s door. ¬†Within the¬†disembarking paperwork you’ll find mail about your journey,¬†numbered/colored luggage tags and anything else they want to notify you about. ¬†The colored and numbered tags are on a guide list on the back of the paperwork, it details what time you are to¬†get off the boat. The list is long! ¬†Our luggage tags were PURPLE 5, and our friends had¬†something like PURPLE 3 or 4. ¬†Which meant we were to get off the boat at 10:30AM, they were to get off a little earlier than us. At your designated time you are to meet in the Symphony restaurant to wait for the crew to let you know you are ready to go.

We hung out after breakfast in the Horizon¬†Cafe to pass some time and fully wake up. When it was around¬†our friends’ time to go, we headed to the meeting point together and were allowed to leave all together even though it wasn’t our designated time. ¬†When you get off the boat all the luggage is in the terminal sorted by your luggage tag color. So we¬†snagged our bags from the marked luggage line up and went to wait for our car rental shuttle. ¬†WHICH FELT LIKE IT TOOK FOREVER!

ORLANDO!

Once we got acclimated into our rental cars, an hour or so later..no joke, we made our way to Orlando. ¬†It wasn’t a terrible trek, for us anyway, since we drive on the right side of the road. ¬†My buddy, who followed us and is Australian…well, he might have had an issue at first. ¬†The whole driving trip¬†took about a 2 hour and 45 minute drive, and we did make a stop for lunch on the way. ¬†We arrived at the Hilton Orlando, happily, because it was a spacious hotel and we had rooms right near one another. ¬†I forgot to mention, that on the boat we were five floors apart.

The main reason we went on this leg of the trip was to surprise our little girls with a visit to Universal Studios Orlando since we would be in Florida; mainly for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. ¬†We didn’t tell them we were going, only our family and friends knew (and you guys), so they were under the impression that we drove up to Orlando just to hang out with our friends one more night (which was true, too).

The hotel was about 11 minutes from Universal Studios, and about 4 minutes from anything else you needed off International Drive.  So convenient. It had a large pool area out the back that we visited on our second morning.  It had a large main area pool that had a water slide, graduating entrance points, a Frog themed water fall and tons of lounge chairs!  Behind it was a hot tub area, secluded with a waterfall and it faced the large lazy river that had so many fun components to it.  It had water canons, trickling falls, a span of bubbling water, and lots of water shooting around; it was so much fun.  Then beyond that there was a more secluded pool.  We noticed a basketball court, billiards area and tons of fun games all around.  Perfect for any family, single couple or group of friends.  I will def be going back to this place.

 

So,¬†how do you¬†surprise two huge Harry Potter fans when¬†you get to Universal and it’s all in front of you? ¬†Well, hope they are slightly oblivious like my two. hahaha¬†

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS!

When we arrived to the hotel, around 4ish, we told the kids we would freshen up from the ride a bit then take a drive over to City Walk for dinner. ¬†City Walk is the Disney Springs (downtown Disney) of Universal, but it’s attached to their parks, unlike Disney. ¬†My kids, however, didn’t know this. ¬†So, we parked at the lot, which was an awesome $6 after 6PM, then trekked down the walkways to City Walk. ¬†The kids loved it. ¬†They didn’t realize we were making a straight bee line for will call to grab our tickets that we ordered online a week prior to leaving. ¬†We grabbed our cards, but had an issue with the set we got for our friends, so we had to talk to the ticket kiosk. ¬†

Still my kids had no clue what we were doing. It was about to be a super sweet moment telling them.

So. ¬†Then my oldest asked, “what are we getting tickets for?”.¬†My husband replied, “well, we helped buy¬†tickets for Pat and Mel to take the kids to Universal this week while we are back home.”. ¬†

The girls said nothing, continuing to bounce around playing with all the kids.

Then we walked to the turnstiles, gave each girl a ticket. They were dumbfounded, “what is this for?”, looking at us confused. ¬†My husband then replied, “They gave us four extra tickets by mistake, and we are going to see if they will get us in the parks right now. Do you want to see if they’ll work?”. ¬†

“YES! “. ¬†¬†And the girls went into line with us, handing it to the ticket scanner. ¬†“It worked!”, my oldest daughter shouted to us,¬†as she hand slapped her sister.¬†But she wasn’t getting it. ¬†She thought they were for City Walk or something. ¬†So we congregated around her, and I asked her something like, “H, what if I told you that we were not leaving for home¬†tomorrow, but in three days? And what if I said we are here to take you guys to see The Wizarding World right now?”. ¬†Our youngest daughter jumped cheering around, “I was hoping so, yay!”. ¬†As our oldest daughter broke down crying, from shock, she was saying how happy she was to be going to the parks, BUT she was real excited to be with our¬†friends for three more days more than anything. ¬†She really got close to their kids. ¬†It was the sweetest moment that brought tears to most of our eyes, because she was just so sweet crying about this newly discovered secret we had been keeping.

We then zoomed up through all the other lands till we made it to the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hogsmeade side.

Just wow.  That is all I can say about it.

We wondered for a little bit, just gazing at everything with our mouths wide open.  Then we took a left to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  No detail was left to the imagination, it was the most perfectly segmented waiting queue I have ever seen. The decor alone, not even the video projections, were out of this world.  You really were engulfed into the world, no matter where you turned.  We got off the ride to find the sun setting, so we went to grab dinner at the Three Broomsticks.  They had a decent bar within. Just FYI, one drink per person with an ID.  No carrying for anyone.  Surprisingly, the food was actually good.  Hard to believe, we were all surprised at how decent it all was.

After eating, we took a walk across the way to Ollivander’s Wand Shop. ¬†They put on a real fun performance that will get any kid excited, and maybe some adults, too. ¬†When you walk in, you are inside Ollivander’s Wand Shop lined up with adults in the back and children in the front, and then in the darkness¬†comes the Wizard to help you find your wand… or the wand find you. ¬†At first the Wizard asks my youngest daughter if she needs a wand, and she shyly said no, burying her muzzle in my armpit. ¬†Then he asked her sister, who eagerly said yes, and was walked up to the desk. ¬†No one really knew what was about to happen.

It was so wonderful that it was her chosen for this experience: she is beyond a HUGE fan.  A slew of magical happenings ensued while trying to find the right wand for her.  The first wand sparked and blew off magic in all directions.  One wand deflated his flowers that needed watering.  Once the wand chose her, the room lit up, wind blew all around her to HP music.  It was wonderful for her.  Then you were directed to either buy the wand, and/or browse the shop..

We bought the wand.

I know, it’s $48.50 for the thing, but we planned on it ahead of time and at that moment it was her chosen for the show, and how could we wait till the next day? ¬†Exactly, we couldn’t. ¬†The wand has red light readers in it, my husband knows the technical term and wanted to turn her old wand into one..oye, but anyway. The wand is used around the parks, both parks, at designated magic areas that are marked with bronzed markers on the ground. The wizard’s wand performs “magic”. ¬†The wands came with a Marauder’s map that had diagrams for the¬†gestures on how to make the magic work. ¬†You face the area, swish the wand, and it animates the area. ¬†It was a lot of fun going around to the shop windows, all the kids were able to share it, but I had more fun¬†using it later in Knockturn Alley!! ¬†Like I said, who has more fun, my kids or me? ¬†hah

That first night we closed it out in that world.

March 28-¬†The next day we went around the park a bit. ¬†We arrived together, then split up at lunch for an hour. ¬†They got to ride the train and we went on 1 Fish, 2 Fish. ¬†That ride was super cute, a lot like Alladin’s ride at Magic Kingdom. ¬†We met back up and wanted to ride a lot of things, but went straight to Popeye’s area to ride the river raft ride. ¬†I backed out because I didn’t want to get wet, my youngest daughter either, so we elected to take a pic of the crew at the bridge above while they were on the ride. ¬†Last minute, my husband backed out seeing everyone getting off the ride wet. ¬†So, the six went.

OH MY GOSH! ¬†They came off soaking wet! ¬†Some more than others, and you guessed it, my daughter from head to toe, including her sneakers and uhm, everywhere! ¬†So we had to run to wring everything out, but nothing dried well enough. They had dryers but let’s face it, people are hogs and this little girl was upset being soaked. ¬†We were dealing with wet clothes for a long time. ¬†So, I¬†decided since the time was flying so much from us that we should split up the families so they¬†could do what they¬†wanted to do, as¬†we got clothes for her¬†up in the Wizarding World, where at least she could get something she wants rather¬†than not. ¬†Then we got¬†to spend¬†more time up there. ¬†So that is what we did. ¬†We scurried up there, bought a top, then wrung out her clothes again and again, and she was good to go. ¬†We treated the girls to a frozen¬†butterbeer, and then a¬†butterbeer¬†ice cream; that a waiter ended up getting us for free. ¬†Super score!

We spent the rest of the time up in Hogsmeade going around and enjoying some time, making magic happen with the wand.¬†We hooked back up with our friends¬†to take the train over to Diagon Alley. ¬†We were surprised at the details of King’s Cross station and the small area of their London; where my husband and I actually stayed¬†before in the real London!

Wow, just WOW!

The night bus was a wonderful greeting. ¬†We then walked around a bit, looking at all the stores, making our way to Gringott’s ride. ¬†Which is an insanely good ride! ¬†I loved it so so so much. ¬†Rides sure have changed since I was little! ¬†Everything is tracked with an extension arm as you look at a domed screen. ¬†Super fun, but not for the faint of heart. ¬†We grabbed dinner at The Leaky Cauldron, which was a lot of fun for us as a collective group. ¬†We chilled a bit more up there, but we couldn’t make everyone stay up there all day, so we separated with our group again. ¬†So, we scurried down to MIB¬†so the kids¬†could get another ride in on what they¬†wanted to ride and they ventured over to The Simpsons area.¬†

Right after¬†MIB we¬†ALL met up¬†with two¬†of my high school¬†friends and their families, while catching the movie water and fireworks show that closed out the park. ¬†I hadn’t seen one of my¬†HS friends for 22 years! ¬†WOW, right? We are adults now, well, I am not. haha ¬†Her husband was so nice, and fit, holy cow! To say I felt physically inept¬†next to him is an understatement hah. ¬†Her baby girl was so cute, she looked so much like her, and she was so well-behaved being out that late. ¬†Really, even my kids were talking about it! My other¬†friend caught up with us a couple of years ago, and I have met up with her at a few lunches near my office. Her son grew up so much, not only was he was¬†taller but¬†mature. So handsome. Wow where did those two years go? ¬†My kids were happy to see him too, as they remembered our Animal Kingdom visit so well. ¬†It was wonderful to catch up and have everyone meet! Hopefully we can do that again, but for longer!!¬†

March 29- The next day we hung out at the hotel pool. ¬†I liked¬†the pool area so much, it was pretty and this girl loves a lazy river! ūüôā ¬†Then around 1PM, we decided to head to the parks. When we got there we grabbed lunch, then headed to the parks starting at the other park first. ¬†By the time we actually got to the parks the weather started to change, and the day turned rainy. ¬†Booo. ¬†By the time we got out of our first attraction, we needed to get umbrellas and rain hoods. ¬†Which, btw, this very prepared woman packed for everyone…except I left them at the hotel. hahah

So $40 later, we went around the parks trying to get on rides, but with the rain all the indoor attractions and rides were more than 100 minute wait!! So we went on as many outdoor ones we could without the heavy rain, and then to MIB, because the girls really enjoyed it..and me, too!

Nightfall came, and guess what?  I was freezing.  

But guess what else?  My hoodie was at the hotel.  OOFA!!

So, now $94 later, the two families¬†decided to split up again because chasing down a decent looking hoodie took me forever..and I ended up getting one at MIB! ¬†haha ¬†So, everyone went to do¬†what they wanted to. ¬†We went to, of course, The Wizarding World through Diagon Alley. ¬†We spent time going through all the shops, the detail was just so beautiful. ¬†We played with¬†all the ‘magical’ wand windows, and stumbling upon my favorite area…Knockturn Alley. ¬†(mwuahaha! Yasss, I love the dark side ūüėČ ) ¬†

It was all so much fun!  We then decided to have dessert for dinner at the Leaky Cauldron, which is always a great idea.  We decided to go on the train back over to Hogsmeade.  

At that station, as you weave your way through the line, there is an area at the top of the stairs where¬†if you look to the left across the line, you can see your friends walking ahead of you walking ‘through’ Platform 9 3/4. ¬†It was such a great add-on in the station. ¬† PLUS, the visuals on the ride back was so much more fun..because I like the dark side!

We ended up going through Hogsmeade at snail speed to soak it all up and enjoy the sites while¬†grabbing some last-minute souvenirs. ¬†We then ran up to our last ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, that had a shorter wait…our first ride of the three-day trip. ¬† It was a great way to end our last day! ¬†We then met back up with our friends who were late night dining at Margaritaville, and went back home to the hotel. ¬†¬†

 The rain did not damper our last day!

 

 

March 30- The next day, our¬†last day, was so hard for me and the girls. ¬†We went to breakfast at a local spot near the hotel. ¬†All packed up. All nine of us together. One last meal. ¬†Our friends were moving on to another leg of their trip in Orlando, so we were the ones leaving. ¬†I tried not to think about it. ¬†I am real good at burying my feelings to come across stone cold, and I did so well!! ¬†UNTIL we had to say goodbye. ¬†I broke my tear seal when their youngest daughter hugged me goodbye. ¬†Ya see, every morning she would make¬†me laugh by running right up to me shouting in her accent “good morning!” about a hundred times in a row. Then when we’d meet up for dinner, she would say “good evening” a few dozen times, all while we giggled. ¬†When we walked around places, especially at Universal Studios, she would seek me out to hold my hand and we would play hand¬†heartbeat. ¬†All parents know the game..where you hold your child’s hand and squeeze gently, pumping their hand every few seconds, like saying I love you. ¬†

Well, she came up to me to say goodbye and I¬†replied good morning, and I¬†lost my stuff. The water works just ripped. ¬†I said goodbye to all their children, fighting back the gush. ¬†To her oldest, who was so soft spoken and smart. ¬†She was attached to our oldest, they made a great little couple. ¬†Their middle child, their son, who always left me laughing with his big brown puppy dog eyes. ¬†These kids were so special…but hugging Mel was so tough to¬†hold it in longer.¬†¬†I want to hang out with her always. ¬†She was a tremendous woman, and it hurts saying it now that I won’t see her for some time. Ugh. But, Pat’s sweet smile and cheerful goodbye made me feel a tiny bit better. ¬†Like he was saying, ‘we’ll see ya real soon’.

We cried the whole ride to the airport. My oldest daughter was hyperventilating; she took it the hardest. So much so, that she was so torn that it took her three days to console after this trip.  She even told me she is still sad tonight.  (Poor girly)

We had a wonderful time together… Two families from two different sides of the world coming together for a wonderful two weeks of fun. ¬†The memories we made will be in our hearts always and I will look back at it all fondly and joyfully. ¬†I wouldn’t change a moment, and I hope we get to do this type of stuff soon enough. ¬†ūüôā

Well, that is all folks! ¬†‚̧ ¬† You sustained my daily blogs for 9 days! ¬†Hope it was fun for you as it was for me to relive it all.

xoxoxo

Posted in My Travels

Vacation Diary-Day 8- At Sea

Day 8!?  

Well, everyone, this post is short because we spent the whole day at sea, without a place to be. How awesome!?  We enjoyed every 79F sunny moment poolside with cocktails, friends, and music right after breakfast. Just trying to get that last full feel of vacation in.  Between drinks and the pool, we toured the lido deck one last time to soak up the moment.  

What a beautiful ship.  

Since we had to be out of the room by 8AM the next morning, and no matter how much I packed up it never felt like I had enough in the bags.  I am just clearing up why you keep reading me say I was packing up since yesterday. lol  I am not a morning person.  So, once we saw the kids needed a little break, around 4PM, we went to the room to pack up as much as we could while they relaxed watching some movies.  They had a great movie selection on board.  We did a nightly watch of something at bedtime; which bedtime was always midnight, and I am not sure who had more fun.. the kids or me!  

This night we decided to end our trip with our last dinner at Symphony.  It was a wonderful last night dinner with our good friends and all the kids.  Marvin stopped by for a chat, and the kids were so happy to see him before we left.  He found us every day on the ship just to say hello.  What a wonderful person. 

Well, this is it. ¬†See why I am so sad that it’s over? ¬†We really enjoyed so much time with our kids and friends all in new places, both things I love so much to do. ¬†Yup…Our last night on the ship and my last day blogging about it. ūüė¶ ¬†

Tomorrow I will tell you about our trip to Orlando.  The Orlando half of the trip was three days, but I am just putting it on one post to make it easy on me since we spent it all at Universal.  What an amazing time that was too!  

xoxox

Posted in My Travels

Vacation Diary-Day 7- Cozumel, Mexico

Hey Everyone!!

We are onto day 7! This was our last day off the cruise ship, and it was so much fun.  I know, I keep saying everything was so much fun..but it was! This day we spent it at a pre booked private resort for the day, Nachi Cocom.

March 25- This day the ship arrived at Cozumel, Mexico, at 7AM.  We disembarked after breakfast somewhere around 10AM, it was a gorgeous 82F!  Ahh yeah!!  The port was set up with the duty-free shop as our point of entry.  It was a liquor store at the front that turned into a souvenir shop.  They had people placed all around giving liquor tastings..which of course I partook.  There was one liquor that I tried, that I kick myself for not buying on the way back, cream tequila.  I will buy some though around here, it was THAT good.

I got to use my Spanish skills to get a taxi for the nine of us for $40 (each direction) to the resort. ¬†We showed up to the resort happily in twenty minutes. ¬†It was private, and clean. ¬†We were greeted by their photographer, who took a cute group shot of us. At registration, we were greeted with spumante and directed to the beach. ¬†Wow, what views. ¬†Their beach was amazingly clear and blue. The resort’s¬†stretch along the mile beach was about a quarter mile. ¬†The use of the beach with the lounge chairs and thatched umbrellas, pool, hot tub, playground, food and drinks were part of the package that we booked ahead of time, which was $50 adult, $25 child, and if you wanted any water sports equipment it was $35. ¬†

Beyond the registration stand, they had a large step down bar in the dining room, a big pool with hot tub on the other side outside of the thatched covering.  Once we sat in the dining room, I noticed a sandy playground for the kids, the gift shop, bathrooms, and a large shower to rinse off in.  

Lots of good things here. 

We started¬†out beach side with frozen margaritas, the kids with virgin pina coladas and lemonades, swimming and using some of the free wifi (score!). ¬†The kids ran right to the sands and water, they had a blast. ¬†Before we knew it, it was lunch! ¬†Before heading back to the ship, we browsed the gift shop and ordered lunch. ¬†Wow,¬†now, I really love Mexican food and I REALLY love a freshly shaken lime margarita, but wow. ¬†The food was authentic and delicious with the richest flavors. ¬†I wish I could’ve eaten it all, but it was just too much. ¬†We did ask before if they used only bottled water, which they cooked, washed and used only filtered bottled water. Thank God!

Ready! Salt, Lime and Down the Hatch! 

The tequila. ¬†I love tequila, guys. ¬†Not like I am having it all the time, but if I am in the partying mood, and you offer..I am taking it. ¬†haha ¬† It doesn’t go to my head right away, and since we were just being beach bums, I jumped in with both feet with my crew. ¬†Amazing. ¬†I did have to half ass the last shot because holy crap the time flew so we had to leave for the taxi! ¬†

We headed back to the ship, but all I can remember was giggling with my gf and her oldest daughter the whole way back being nerds.  So maybe the tequila was starting to kick in?  haha   

We stopped at a shop, but then quickly¬†ran up to the lido deck for the pool area once we got off the taxi. ¬†We hung out at¬†the pool, I may have had another margarita.. and then stayed till 7PM in the hot tub watching a movie as a whole group. All nine of us. We got that close. haha ¬†We were all a little out of it, and I think I was the only one really¬†watching the movie. It was the De Niro¬†movie he filmed down the street from our house in North Reading called Joy. ¬†¬†We all¬†parted midway through the movie, for those who needed some¬†rest, then we were going to meet back up on the lido deck for movie under the stars and an outdoor dinner from the grill. I didn’t get to finish the movie till the next day when it was on our DVR, and I watched the rest¬†while I was packing. ¬†A depressingly good movie.

This night was a tad disconnected because my crew got dressed in sweats and as I said, we planned to eat burgers by the pool just to unwind; ¬†my outfit of the night was literally yoga pants, a tank top and my Red Sox sweatshirt.. classy. ¬†But the other crew didn’t get the memo, and my gf wasn’t feeling all that well. ¬†We ended up having fun anyway, we broke off into our families and did our own thing. ¬†We looked around the cruise again, where they had this wonderful show set up in the piazza that we caught. ¬†These truly impressive acrobats grabbed our attention with their strength, contortion, and humor. ¬†They were pretty funny. ¬†(and they were easy on the eyes) Then we called it a night. Which means we headed back to our room to start packing it up a little while the kids rested¬†with some TV and writing in their journals.

Wow, day seven already? ¬†Well this is flying as fast as it did for us on board. ¬†Tomorrow is day 8, our last full day on the ship. ¬†ūüė¶

xoxoxox

Posted in My Travels

Vacation Diary-Day 6- Chacchoban Ruins and The Chef’s Table

Hey Everyone!

Happppppppppy Tuesday.

Wait, it’s Tuesday already? Wow, this snow is confusing me this week because it is flying.

Ok so, ¬†I am continuing on my diary with our next stop in Mexico; one of two stops in this country. This was my¬†first time visiting¬†Mexico, but my husband’s second time..so much fun!! ¬†We had booked a tour previously, with a tour company affiliated with our cruise, to see the Mayan ruins of the area. What an experience.

March 24–¬†This morning flew by¬†eating¬†a quick, as healthy as possible, bite at¬†the buffet, grabbing our gear and heading to the kids’ events they had going on in the piazza. ¬†This was the first day they dedicated the public space to a specific event for the kids. They had tattoos, button making and cookie decorating. ¬†Then right before it was over they had the mascot visit with the children. ¬† Our tour was for 12:30, and at noon we were able to disembark from the Regal Princess in Mahahual/ Costa Maya, Mexico. ¬† It was a hot 85F, which meant I was a smiling, happy girl. ¬†This girl can get used to that weather!

Once we got off the boat, we made our way to the port entrance lines where our tour was awaiting on the other side. ¬†We shuffled aboard the bus, on what was later coined as “Reggie’s Tour”. Our tour guide’s name was Reggiano, and he was a funny little character. We took an hours drive through the small town and into the jungle of Mahahual to see Chacchoben (Mayan Ruins) all while Reggie talked about the Mayan and Mexican people, and the landscape.

Chacchoben is one of the most different places I have been, historically, in North America..and I have been to a lot of places. ¬†But this area reminded me of the Valley of the Temples in my parents’ hometown in Sicily. ¬†This hidden niche of major history scattered around a large area of land. This place was just amazing and so rich with sights, and history. ¬†Some of the earliest history can be recorded from 3000 years ago! ¬†And the kicker is, that it was all constructed in alignment with the stars, Orion’s Belt, to be exact.

There were two parts of the tour that struck me a lot, made me think.

One was a weird fact bit of info that the tour guide passed to us about the Mayan ritual during the Day of the Dead…which some of the people still perform today. ¬†Most of you know that I love All Saints Day/Day of the Dead, everything about the idea of celebrating the dead intrigues me. ¬†So, their burials grounds are not like the America’s, they are not underground, but in individual cases alone or in grouped in drawers within a larger, what I call, apartment of shelves¬†in a building type burial, or in mausoleums. ¬†Actually, when you leave America, you will see most cemeteries are not with burials underground. ¬†So, the Mayans on the Day of the Dead, take the bones of their ancestors out of their cases and wash them.

Then drink the water.

Yup.  I puked too.

Then the second thing that struck me was that at the sight of the ruins they were set up in three..there was one ruin that was below, which had a mural that was now covered to preserve it. ¬†Then as you walked away from it to go up to the next level, there were these stairs that had an odd oval-shaped rock placed upon one step. Not in the middle, not at the top, not at the bottom, but about 3/4 of the¬†way up. ¬†The rock on the step had a hole cut out. ¬†But when you looked within the hole it was not straight but curved. ¬†The main ruin above, on the next level, was the main place of worship and where the reigning queen and king would speak and perform rituals with the high priests. ¬†This large temple¬†had an interesting shape at the top, where it¬†aligned with the¬†sun¬†every morning. ¬†When the sun shone through the central part, it reflected to that rock on the stairs. ¬†The sun’s rays would shine through the curved hole to¬†light up¬†hundreds of yards away to the first ruin to shine on a¬†mural!!

Amazing!  What engineering from before Christ!!!!

 

After our tour, we headed back to the boat to get ready for the night’s events. ¬†The guys took the kids out for a quick bite to eat then dropped them off to kids’ club, since we would be spending an adults night out.. FINALLY!

Tonight we made reservations for the four of us to dine at the Chef’s Table Lumiere at 6:30PM. This was not part of the cruise package, and cost $115 pp. This included food and drinks. ¬†This truly is a once in a lifetime experience. This was a back of the house tour along the galley with a special dining experience lead by the executive chef, Naveen Quadros, ¬†and maitre d’hotel, Francisco Patricio.

We kicked off the night putting on the kitchen’s white coats with 7 other guests for the evening. ¬†We looked so much like doctors, it was hilarious. ¬†So much so, that when we went through one of the main dining rooms towards the kitchen I overheard someone say, “oh there must be a doctor’s convention”…uhm yeah, sure. ¬†haha ¬†We were led into the kitchen. ¬†Wow, that is all I can say. ¬†The executive chef and maitre d’hotel walked us through each station, explaining how they are able to put together so much food a day. The kitchen was meticulous, and run with military precision. ¬†Truly spectacular. ¬†Once we turned the corner at the end of the galley,¬†we found a large corner decorated just for us with carved fruits and veg with white linen dressed tables.

We were greeted with a champagne toast and then a walk through of about 5 hors d’oeuvres¬†followed. ¬†Some spectacular things like:

  • blue crab and shrimp margarita with avocado and mango
  • sushi grade ahi tuna tartare with wasabi and pickled ginger
  • roasted new potatoes with sour cream and osetra caviar
  • fontina cheese and black truffle tartlet
  • breaded brie lollipop with port wine and plum reduction

*drool* ¬†I was all set at this point, but it wasn’t over!

Then we were led to the Lumiere dining room where they had a truly special chef’s table. ¬†The table was in set in the middle back of the restaurant, inside a giant circular pagoda. ¬†Then as we were seated, a giant sparkling¬†Swarovski privacy curtain swirled encompassing us and then another one that was more static dropped from the ceiling around us. ¬†It was beautiful in person. ¬†The table was inlaid with pearl, and the centerpiece was a large mass of a sculpture made of Murano glass from Venice. ¬†So sparkly.

We were given a wonderful glass of wine from France and our first course… yes, more food! ¬†We were presented with an asparagus risotto topped with a giant Maine lobster tail all inside a Parmigiano Reggiano basket. ¬†So delicious. ¬†This was then followed by a palate¬†cleansing by a roasted orange and crystallized ginger sorbet topped with a cookie and drowned in Grey Goose Vodka. ¬†It was too pretty to eat! ¬†Then they opened a part of the curtain where they showcased the chef cooking table side for us. ¬† ¬†He was cooking and flambeing¬†a lamb rack and beef tenderloin, all carved in front of us, then presented with the cutest mushroom-shaped potatoes and root vegetables. ¬†This was paired with an Amarone from Italy… gah it was the perfect pairing. ¬†Then they brought us a cheese plate that I wasn’t gaga for, but it was a baked Camembert de Meaux with pine nuts, a port wine reduction with walnut and fig breads. ¬†Then they brought out a type of ice wine, a late harvest Sauv Blanc from Chile…yes, it was amazing. ¬†Then we topped off the night by being served a chocolate mousse with caramel cream and milk choc crunch.

HOLY FULL!

It was as delightful and filling as you would think!  We were given photos that were taken when we were seated, a culinary journeys cookbook, a flower and a copy of the menu. Thus my details! hah

The whole evening was wonderful, but we had to jet off before 10PM to grab the kids.

 

 

The kids had a wonderful time in kids club making crafts and playing games. ¬†I gave their caretaker my rose, because, well, what the hell was I supposed to do with that! hah (yup I am Elaine Benis) ¬†¬†We went up¬†to the lido deck for a walk around, but to our surprise there was a big dance party happening. ¬†We didn’t go dance on the deck, but it was a fun time being up there with the kids and the music and the warm breezes. ¬†Then we went off to bed!

 

Day seven up next…Cozumel!

oxoxox

Posted in My Travels

Vacation Diary- Day 5- Grand Cayman

Hey Everyone!

We are really steaming ahead now with all these diary entries, on day 5!

March 23РThis was our big day on Grand Cayman.  We booked this tour ahead of time back so long ago, and had been looking forward to it since.  This tour was a water and land one.  We were to visit Stingray City, Starfish Point, scuba dive a bit then off to see the turtle reserve. Lots to see.  Plus, we wanted to know if we could stop in a special little city called Hell, just to get a few photos.

Disembarking for this trip was different from the first one.  We were tendered off the ship at 9:20AM after a quick buffet breakfast. Tendering means we had to board little boats that took you from the cruise to the port, instead of the cruise being tethered to the port.  This was an interesting experience, a lot of people packed on these little things, and I am thankful it was with my friends!

We got on port to meet our tour guide, Captain Charlie, of Captain Charlie Charters. ¬†We had to separate because of our size, so my family went with Carlo, his companion, and the five went with Capt Charlie in his car. We¬†were then brought to Capt Charlie’s¬†dock. ¬†The dock was beautiful on its own..a sandy man-made island greeted you with these twisty trees and hammocks.

Ugh, I am so sad I am not there now!

We all met there, then boarded his boat.  It was a real nice boat with dual engines for INSANE power, and there were amenities as needed..a bathroom, water and soda, snorkels with flippers and life jackets.  We brought towels with us, dressed in bathing suits with covers, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen.  YOU WILL NEED IT!

The waters were choppy due to all the storms around the Caribbean. ¬†We were almost going to miss this stop if the direction of the storm hadn’t changed. ¬†We were so glad it did! ¬†The ride out to the first stop was an interesting one. ¬†At first, while in the marina, the ride was smooth as water. ¬†A real joy. ¬†Then they warned us that the ride was about to get BUMPY and WET. ¬†<– that was an understatement ¬†haha ¬†The boat was put into a faster gear and we took off to scuba dive first. ¬†HOLY BUMPY. ¬†It was like the boat was getting slapped by the water, and slapping it back twice as hard. ¬†The kids enjoyed it. I snuck to the back to sit and not get so wet. ¬†It worked!

We arrived to scuba, and everyone (not me) went out for about fifteen minutes or so.  My kids had never done that before, so they got fatigued quite fast.  Captain Charlie and Carlo were great.  They talked about everything around us, and instructed on how to properly scuba.

Everyone got back on board and about 50 – 100 feet from us was Stingray City. It was swarming with other tours, which was sorta gross to see. ¬†It’s in the middle of the ocean, but this part of the ocean is only like 3 feet high. And everyone is trying to get to this area..even tour boats with thirty people on board! ¬†As I said, it’s not deep in this area..but¬†this day, the ocean had swells of up to 6 feet all around. ¬†I thought I could go out to the stingrays to share in fun, but nope. ¬†I got off the boat, walked over fifteen feet, got slapped with a wave, jumped on my husband’s back and said NO THANKS. ¬†I should tell you I have a slight fear of water. ¬†I love the ocean, pools, and stuff, it’s just I don’t swim much, and water that is over my head freaks me the eff out. ¬†This is why I always made it a priority that my children learn how to swim from age 2. ¬†I should take a class I know! ¬†But anyways… the groups were fighting swells and hanging with the fish. My tour stayed fairly close, and they had a blast getting massages from the stingrays, kissing them and learning about them. It was amazing. ¬†Then after a half hour, they hopped back on board and we went to Starfish Point. ¬†This place was 10 minutes closer to the shore, opposite of where we left from.

My Lord.

What a beautiful place.  Seriously, breathtaking and dreamy.  It seemed fake.  The water was so clear, only a few feet high, and there were starfish peppered all along the sand of all types.  Some were red and large, some were orange, even a few were green camo colors!  We spent about twenty minutes there exploring and taking photos.  We then boarded back onto the boat to take the bumpiest ride back to the dock.  When we arrived at the marina, we were told about the iguanas that hang out along the trees..and these iguanas were so colorful and enormous!!  It was so cool!

Then we got back to the dock to get back in the cars to go to the turtle farm.  It was a real special place.  They were farming a species of turtle so old its ancestors saw dinos! lol  When you walk in there is a giant enclosure, of three spaces put together, that housed Loggerhead turtles.  It was their home with breeding grounds in an artificial beach. Then beyond them there were many tanks set up where their offspring that were like teenagers, got to swim and hang out.  Then beyond them were some spots of alligators and some other wildlife.  Then it flowed into a touch tank and wading pools where we could touch and get in with them.

 

It was an amazing experience, and we could’ve hung out there longer, but we had to make it back to the boat. BUT first, we had to make one special stop.

TO HELL… mwuahahah

This is literally the dumbest stop, but who else can say they’ve been to hell and back?!

Hell is a grouping of stubby black limestone rocks all together.  It may be the size of maybe an olympic sized pool? Maybe smaller?  The formations had a silly devil made out of limestone sitting there, which was hard to see. But it was a perfect 10 minute stop for pictures.  They had some fun post office decorated with a giant sign and fun photo ops, but the formations were behind the building out of sight. But my husband and I found them!

Since we didn’t eat on this trip we quickly ran up to Alfredo’s for lunch..where our buddy ordered some food ahead, and the amount of food on the table was HILARIOUS. ¬†There’s a small shot of it below in the food collages. We ended up talking to Vlad again this afternoon, and it was a great time as usual. ¬†Too funny…and so needed and delicious! ¬†After lunch we separated a bit to relax and do whatever we wanted to wind down. ¬†

For dinner this night we went to the Crown Grill, which is not part of the cruise package. ¬†This was another place that was¬†$25 per adult, and $15 per child. ¬†It was fabulous. ¬†We were seated in the chef’s table area which was inside their displayed wine cases. ¬†Just the perfect space for all nine of us. There was live music near us at the bar, which was a perfect backdrop. The service was wonderful, and the food was absolutely delicious. Steaks, chops and anything you wanted! ¬†We ordered an array of apps from lobster tails, salads, and crab cakes, then we all got steak entrees..so good! ¬†This night we talked and dined a long while, too. We closed out our night here. ¬†

 

Actually, the four hour dinners, eating and talking, were my favorite parts of my days. ¬†I enjoyed the rhythm and the laughter so much. I need more friends like them in my life everyday..but they won’t move up here! ¬†haha ¬†

Well, that was day 5 in the Grand Cayman!  Next up our first of two stops in Mexico!

xoxoxo

Posted in Random Stuff

Vacation Diary-Day 4- Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Hey Everyone!

We are on day four.. Port of call: Ocho Rios!

As I mentioned yesterday, the cruise had to change its course from Princess Cays to Jamaica, to avoid terrible storms that were too risky to travel into.  The cruise ship arrived at port at 7AM, and by 8AM passengers were allowed to disembark. My husband and I had been to Jamaica before, not Ocho Rios, but the other side of the island for our honeymoon in 2001.

Wow, I forgot how absolutely beautiful Jamaica is.

March 22–¬†It was another balmy 81F day, and I was really in heaven by this day. ¬†I love Summer weather.

Before getting off ship, we all decided to grab some food up in the buffet and a few bottles of water.  Then we decided to take the leap of faith at port to find a local taxi to take us to a local beach.  Man, we were surprised at how easy and awesome this leg of our unplanned trip was to be!!

We disembarked at around 9/9:30AM, I was nervous because this was the¬†first port stop in my life. ¬†I wasn’t sure how hectic it would be or how easily things would go, like would it be a huge ordeal. ¬†Well, Regal Princess is seriously amazing at this process. It was seamless and we were off the boat in no time.

Right outside the port there were tons of taxis lined up along the shopping zone, and they are there at every port, so we chose a van/bus taxi¬†that looked reputable. ¬†The two people running the service were two of the nicest people ever. Everything was marked with numbers and their company information. ¬†We ended up agreeing on a trip that was¬†$90USD for the nine of us to ride two ways; the bus would take us over¬†to a private beach resort, Bamboo Blu, then pick us up to get back to the ship. ¬†The resort¬†was free to use, except food (which we packed our own from the buffet), drinks and lounge chairs ($10ea). ¬†Because the bus was also driving other tourists to their destinations along the way, we got to see a little bit of the area, too.¬†Their first stop was to Dunn’s River Falls, then to our beach. ¬†The total trip to the beach took about 15 minutes. The bus also had free wifi..bonus!

We arrived to find a beautiful resort beach. ¬†As we walked into the place, the bus company tagged us with their bus number on a wrist band and made sure we would be waiting ready to go back to the ship at our time choice, 2PM. ¬†The resort had everything you needed…sand, sun, ocean, bathrooms, loungers, a gift shop, bar and grill. ¬†We took our towels off the boat, so we were clutch no matter what. ¬†We got there to find a beautiful Jamaican woman dressed in traditional garb dancing at the entrance, teaching a group of kids how to dance. We scouted the place, and it was too nice to be true.

We walked to the end of the beach where there were palm trees and a little more quiet.   My husband and I got two loungers, then immediately laid out.  Our friends went for a swim.  The kids had a blast in the clear blue waters chasing fish and digging in the sand.  It was perfection.  We grabbed a few beers and cocktails, and really enjoyed the time together talking and exploring the beach.  The area we chose to camp out was on the end of the beach where they had a cut off line with a guard; who was the coolest guy.  He was guarding the other side; the private beach beyond him belonged to the houses on the beach. Very swank.


We got back to the bus drop off area for 2PM.. the bus was right on time! Phew!  We trekked back to the port, and our friends went shopping for some souvenirs.  My family jumped back on the boat to secure some beach chairs and relax a little while longer by the pool.  Our friends soon followed.

Then after a great long hang out, where the music of that time was the resident Barbadian singer giving a tribute to Bob Marley, since we were in Jamaica. ¬†He was so fun, and the band was ‘jammin’. ¬†As the sun started to go down and our skin was now a delicious color red apple haha, we decided it was the perfect time to get to our rooms for a little unwinding and get ready for our next dinner.

This night we decided to meet up at Alfredo’s. ¬†This was a restaurant on the cruise’s dining plan. ¬†Alfredo’s is an Italian pizzeria with pastas and salads. ¬†It was amazing pizza, seriously. ¬†The capricciosa pizza without ham was tdf, If you love mushrooms, that pizza is for you … ¬†and I ate two! (yes, though personal sizes, I pigged out on two. ¬†we all did!) ¬†To say that we loved this place is an understatement. ¬†The waiter of the night was this hilarious Serbian guy, Vlad, who really made the night memorable. He was a great waiter, but with this hilarious ‘don’t give a f*ck’ type attitude, that I am not so sure he knew he was giving off. hah ¬†OMG, we had a great time with him and his stories and all the drinks he kept running to get us. ¬†Great service, and a great time. ¬†We hung out here all night long eating and drinking. ¬†¬†It was a very special night with our Australian friends.

After dinner, we decided to take the kids down to the gelato place for some ice cream. ¬†Surprisingly, the gentleman working the place was also Serbian..and you guessed it, one of Vlad’s friends. We¬†learned that Vlad has Serbian friends all over the boat that we should ask for .. ¬†After hanging out on the piazza with gelato, we took¬†a quick glance around the boat. ¬†My pal grabbed me a coffee, and we talked till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

 

It was a wonderful day!  Surprises around every corner, and it was just perfect.

 

Moving onto Grand Cayman/day 5 next!

xoxoxox

Posted in My Travels

Vacation Diary-Day 3-At Sea/Formal night

Helloooooo Everyone!

It’s Saturday, and I hope you guys have great big plans, because I am doing nothing. Well, nothing except cleaning! ¬†But first, I am journaling about day 3, the first full day at sea and our first formal dinner night.

Every night, late night, when we returned¬†to our rooms, we would find the mail for the next day. ¬†It would include notes from the bridge, weather, the happenings like the day’s activities/itinerary and major events, any words from the feature executive on board and shopping discounts that were happening. ¬†Like this:

img_3396

On our first day, however, it was the first time we received mail before heading to lunch.  We received an update that our port plans had changed due to some sketchy weather.  Originally, the cruise was to go to Princess Cays, their private island, but since the weather was too dangerous to risk traveling through, they diverted us to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, on the following day.  Giving us an at sea day that first full day on board.

March 21Our first day at sea was spent poolside.  It was a perfect 81F on the Straits of Florida this day.  We had Cuba on the right side of the boat for the entire trip going South as we swam around. It was a beautiful view.

The pool set-up was nice. ¬†The Lido Deck¬†had two bars, one ice cream spot, a pizza place and a grill. ¬†There¬†were four hot tubs in the main area, two on the first level and then two on the second. ¬†There were also adult pools with hot tubs, along with a private pay area called The Sanctuary, that was all cabanas and service hands a foot. ¬†So back to the regular people, there was a large pool on one end that was split by a deck then to the kids’ pool, it was all surrounded by a two foot surround where people can sit and wade in the pool. ¬†This was all in view¬†of¬†a large TV and surrounding decks. ¬†You did have to get there early to get a chair.. so be aware!

There was live music a few hours on the Lido Deck every day, this day was the Jamaican steel drum player.  It was the perfect backdrop music for our first real day of vacation.  There was also a deck between the two pools that cleared out by 5/6PM, to reveal a water show nightly.

After cooking¬†our skin into a crisp all day, we got ready for our first dressy night of the week. ¬†Apparently, cruise ships require formal nights, which is a total b*tch to pack for alone, nevermind for four people. ¬†This night we went to Symphony at 7PM, this was the main dining room which was part of the cruise package. ¬†We dined and wined till almost midnight talking and goofing around. ¬†It was so much fun. The kids made a friend on the ship named Marvin, his job was to be aware of all the happenings in and around the ship, and the children. ¬†They loved Marvin, and coined this restaurant as “Marvin’s Place”.

This (below foto) made me laugh on this night.. so, long story short, I fell down the stairs at the pool area because i didn’t dry off my feet from the hot tub upstairs. And I mean I fell THE WHOLE WAY DOWN, breaking my favorite pair of jewel¬†encrusted¬†sandals..and bruising my left leg (bummer). ¬†I was so upset, but I am a klutz and am used to this stupidity.. I didn’t hurt myself, thankfully, but man, I loved my new sandals. ¬†I had only wore them a few times last year. ¬†But, from a crappy situation innovation is born.

Unfortunately, my husband lost his cufflinks, which he was bummed about because he just got them from the kids for Xmas.  BUT ALAS, his creative mind went right to my freshly broken sandals.  He tore them apart to fashion a pair of cufflinks.  He used a jewel from each shoe and my bobby pins!  Boom..cufflinks.  Now that is one sexy mind.. hubba hubba.

img_3090

Then..our daughter found the missing cufflinks on the floor behind our luggage the last day of the trip!  She was so relieved!..and so was he. 

Voila..day three!  Next up Ocho Rios!

xoxoxox