Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bye bye not so terrible twos!

Whoever came up with the slogan "terrible twos" must not have had children. Every parent I talk with, loves or loved the twos. I too loved the twos. Both my children that year were filled with so much learning, talking, expolring, laughter, and love. It is all so new for them. The hugs a two year old gives is so big and warm. They are just so much fun to watch from a distance.

Kael was no exception to this. He went from a little toddler to a little boy right before my eyes. To watch him smell a flower or jump off a step or see his reaction to a bug, are all memories I hope to have forever. He loves to snuggle and keep me warm but he is independent and hard to catch. He fills my heart with so much happiness.

Well, we are turning to the next chapter... Kael is three. Over the past 3 months he has been asking for a Wall-E cake. He loves Wall-E. I love Wall-E too. :-)

So Wall-E is was. The night of his birthday, we enjoyed a few friends over to celebrate along with my parents. They never miss a birthday party. I wouldn't blame them since they live 3 hours away but it is so nice to have them, especially because all our other family lives far away too. And not to mention, Kael loves his grammie adn grampie!

It was a laid back celebration. We played outisde, ate Chinese food (which ALL of my boys love!), and some how found room for cake later in the evening.

I love you Kael!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

CRUISE! Western Caribbean

Western Caribbean on Carnival Cruise

DAY 1 – Leave Miami
DAY 2 – Day at Sea
DAY 3 – Grand Cayman
DAY 4 – Roatan Island, Honduras
DAY 5 – Belize
DAY 6 – Cozumel, Mexico
DAY 7 – Day at Sea
DAY 8 – Back to Miami

So it all started about 8 weeks ago when Ian came home one night and ask if we would go on a cruise with friends Dave and Shannon. At first I thought he was crazy. Ian, the guy who doesn’t like it when temps get in the high 60s and the guy who doesn’t like crowds of people? But to make a long blog just a little shorter (cause it will be long!), Ian badly wanted to go and I badly wanted to take a vacation with my husband (plus I love the sun and I adore Dave and Shannon), so we said yes. The only real issue was, was my mom able and willing to watch the boys.

Let’s just say that my boys aren’t angels and Kaiden is going through some growing pains right now, so although my mom loves her grandkids and she is fully aware of these growing pains, she isn’t insane. Actually, it turns out she is.

So we plan (ok I plan and Ian nods). Shannon is like me, a planner. She and Dave have also been on two other cruises, so it is nice to have her to bounce questions off and be able to tap into all her research knowledge. For example, she showed me which is The website to go to for non biased information on ports and anything else you could ever want to know about cruises. This site was very helpful and Shannon is a nut on this thing.

The week leading up to the cruise I was a bit nervous about going. My stomach was not feeling so good and I am not sure if it was worrying about my kids (they had been sick all that week), worrying about my mom’s sanity (what was left of it), or worrying about traveling (being on a boat and in other countries)… but what ever it was it did get the best of me. I think that was confirmed when I passed out on the plane and woke up to a doctor and a crowd of airline staff. All was well in the end. Ian worried, I was a bit uneasy the rest of the day, and Shannon was just excited that she got to hear over the intercom “Is there a doctor on board?” Actually all were concerned but all was ok. Just nerves or something that left itself somewhere in the air between New Hampshire and Florida. Although… that wouldn’t be the last time I would see a doctor on our trip.

Day 1 – Departure. We land in Ft. Lauderdale and take Ace Tours shuttle to Miami. We then board our ship. The Carnival – Valor!

Odd thing about today was that it rained when we were in the car to the airport, it stopped when we got out of the car. It rained when we were in the airport in Florida, it stopped when we were outside waiting for the shuttle. It poured when we were undercover and in line boarding the ship and it stopped by the time we made it to outside on the top deck. A sign that it was bound to be a great trip!

Day 2 – Day at Sea. We got to explore the ship, including a trip down the waterslide, chatted with our room steward Georgio, enjoyed dinner with friends, played bingo, saw a comedy show, and saw our first towel animal…. it was an elephant.

DAY 3 – Grand Cayman. We start the morning early to get the first tender to the island so that we can rent a car from Cayman Auto Rentals. It is just a short walk from the port. We rent a jeep wrangler and Dave drives us around the island on the left side of the road to Rum Point. Rum Point is AMAZING!

We are on this small beach area all by ourselves for more than an hour. The water is aqua blue, white sand, and just really breathtaking. I can’t believe it. Later I rent a kayak. Dave and Shannon relax on the beach and Ian enjoys the water. Just before lunch, the four of us are wading in the water, and a huge stingray comes our way. We actually have to step out of the way for this guy. That was just the so much more than I could ask of what was already a perfect day.

We enjoy drinks and an awesome lunch at a shack right on the beach and soon after that it is time to head back to the ship.

That night we enjoy a juggler and a comedian. Not to mention another great dinner with Dave and Shannon.

Georgio’s towel animal for us that night… a rabbit.

DAY 4 – Roatan Island, Honduras. Arguably the best day of all. We arrive in Roatan in the morning. We hang out on Dave and Shannon’s balcony as we enter port and we can hear a group of Hondurans drumming and singing. As we get closer we can see that they are dancing for the arrival of our ship. A great way to be greeted.

The people of Roatan were so gracious and welcoming. We met a woman holding a Victor Bodden Tour sign and she was so nice and welcoming to us. She led us to Victor himself who was waiting as well and after a quick hello to him he introduced us to Benjamin our tour guide for the day. ALL three of these people were super nice and friendly. Ben was an outstanding guide. He told us all about Roatan, its people, culture, and answered in detail and in excellent English, every question we threw at him. He often pulled off on the side of the road to point out things. We eventually ended up at an iguana farm. That was neat and a great opportunity to see an iguana up close. They also had some caged animals that I was not too fond of (the cages, not the animals). I think there were some monkeys and an anteater crammed in some small cages, a few other kinds of animals too. I don’t like that kind of stuff at all. So that side trip was a little blah for me. They did have a beautiful craft shop. Wish I bought something from that place because it turns out we had no time for shopping.

The second major destination Ben took us to was a Zip Line tour of the jungle. AWESOME!!! Fun fun fun!!! And it was long. I can’t even remember how many platforms we zipped to but maybe 15. Some lines were hundreds of feet long. A bit scary on the first jump but they seem to be very safe, our guide Pedro was terrific. He didn’t speak much English but he knew enough to have fun with. He was a fun guide! And all the guides seem to take safety very seriously.

Also I lost my hat on one of the zip lines and another guide Joshua asked me if I would want it back. I said oh that would be awesome! He zipped all over the place and in a flash was back with my hat. That was very generous of him!!! It is worth mentioning that the zip line was built by some of Victor’s group. And again, everyone was so very nice!!!
The day continued with a trip around this small island, a chat about a big match of football between Mexico and Honduras, and a stop at a small local diner for some local food. It was great. The owner’s name was Bertie and he came out to greet us. He is expanding his diner to include a few hotel rooms. He was so nice to come out and greet us and chat about his business with us. I am losing count of the number of Roatan people who have been super pleasant with us.

Then one last stop to an orphanage there in Roatan which Shannon suggested we visit while there. We did so and had brought a few donations. Dave and Shannon brought a soccer ball… I mean football… and the kids LOVED it! They swarmed her and couldn’t wait for permission to play with it. They did wait patiently until they got the ok to play with it which was very polite of them. They also brought some school supplies. Ian and I dropped off some clay, glue sticks, markers, and pencils. These were all the recommendations from Kaiden who thought every kid should have a glue stick and pencil. One boy asked very politely if he could play with the clay. I just think it is so nice that they asked before just diving in (like my kids would have!). the name of the orphanage is: Majken Broby Children’s Home. A site that for some reason I think I haven’t seen for the last time. Dave is very interested is connecting with this home and making a difference there. We chatted for quite some time with Glen, the minster of the home.

Meanwhile our tour guide Ben was trying very hard to get us moving. I didn’t really know what his rush was since we were about 5 minutes from the ship and we had a little over an hour to get on board. He was very polite and just said he thinks we should head out now. I noticed that within about a 15 minute time frame he received about 5 calls. Each time kind of peering over at us and somewhat trying to move us along. So eventually we did. Interesting fact… Roatan is 2 hours behind ship time, not the 1 hour that we thought and planned for. So as we approach port and it is relatively empty.

The Honduras security guy tells us that our ship is leaving. We don’t really believe him because after all we are sure that we have almost an hour left to roam around the shops and get our passports stamped (which is Shannon’s big thing which we love too… get them stamped, although not required). But just in case we head toward the ship. On the way we see the immigration office and check in to get our passports stamped. Then as we head to the ship is becomes evident that we may be late. Minutes later, the ship pulls out.

We were told a “just so you know”…. “you’re late”. But because it is Carnival, there is a smile after the “just so you know” and we take the next few hours of the night to think about our day over and over again and how we almost missed the ship! We could have easily ignored the security guy because we “knew” he was wrong! The security guy could have not said anything to us. We could have done some many things at that moment to find ourselves back at the orphanage asking if we could stay the night! Ahh… what a day!

The towel animal Georgio made for us that night…… a bulldog.

DAY 5 – Belize. Well this day certainly started off on the wrong foot. I woke up with my eyes sealed shut with gunk and a rash on my arm that was driving me crazy. I tried to go to the infirmary at 3am. Not sure what I was thinking but they were closed. Damn. You can get pizza and ice cream at 3am but not a doctor visit. They would open at 8am.

The problem was that we needed to catch an early tender so that we could get in the Belize City early for our Mayan Ruins excursion, which left at 9:20am. So I went down at around 7:45am just to make sure I was first in line. And sure enough I was. By the time the doors were open I was hanging out in close quarters with 3 sick crew members. Just thinking the whole time, please don’t cough on me. And for some reason, just because you are first in line doesn’t me you get seen first. I can understand in emergencies first come first serve isn’t always the best way to do business but come on people we are on a boat and I have places to go! So although I felt I was patient, after four other people went in front of me, including one guy that just walked in and didn’t even get a chance to sit down, Ian peaked in and was able to witness by tears as I asked to see the doctor, after all I was the first one here and have been waiting for almost an hour! I think the crying helped. Not to mention by eyes were burning and I could hardly see. Of course I just had conjunctivitis which after failing (thank God) a painful eye ulcer test, the doctor prescribed eye drops. As for the rash on my wrist, I decided to wait on that one since we were late and I could deal with the itching.

So off to Belize we went. Sneaking in the tender line for the 17th boat off the ship, I wasn’t quite sure we would make it on time. Ian had a tender ticket for the first boat off the ship so it wasn’t like we were really cutting in line. We were late but the group hadn’t left yet, they were waiting for their driver not me, which made me feel better.

Our tour guide was Elio, who was very friendly, knowledgeable, and spoke English very well. During our one hour trip in a somewhat air conditioned van we saw lots of the country side. The country seemed somewhat poor but compared to Roatan, it was well developed and their transportation is much more advanced (lines on the roads, school buses instead of pick up trucks, etc.). We however saw a lot of what looked to be starving animals. Dogs and horses. The flora was interesting.
Not sure what kids of species we saw but certainly many plants that I did not recognize. We were in the back of the van with 6 others in our tour group. We were about 2 decades younger than anyone else with us. There was an older gentleman who was very nice. He had to be in his 80s.

We made it to our next stop which was the New River. We needed to take a 45 minute boat ride up the river before we reached our destination, Lamanai. Along the way Elio took us to see two monkeys which his family found it their back yard and kept as pets until they grew to be too much for them to take care of. So Elio let them free on this island in the river. He visits them everyday to give them food.
We also saw some bats, laser hawk, black collared hawk, and a crocodile! Yes a croc. He was huge. That was quite the sight! And one highlight of the day.

But the best was yet to come.

We finally arrived at Lamanai (which means “submerged crocodile”). We got off the boat. Ian helped Elio carry a cooler full of food and drinks to a hut where we ate homemade Belizean food (rice beans, curried chicken, and spicy salsa… really really spicy!). The food was excellent!

We had to enter the ruins with a registered tour guide. It is not open to the public and you are not allowed to roam around by yourself. There were three huts there selling some very nice things. I wish I had spent more time looking because the people there made many of the items themselves. As we entered the site Elio explained that these Mayan ruins was from as early as 1500 BC. However, some of its later structures were occupied as recently as the 18th century AD. Which made this site unique in that way because you had some very old structures mixed in with relatively new structures (if you call 1700 BC new!). And unlike other ancient ruins, this site was built in layers. Instead of destroying the temples as they became outdated, the next generation built upon the existing temples. Of the 400+ ruins there in Lamanai, all but 4 of them remain unexcavated. The sites that have been uncovered are: the Jaguar Temple, a ball court, the High Temple, and the Mask Temple.

The Mask Temple:
The High Temple:

We were not able to climb on any of them except the High Temple which is 115 feet tall. Ian and I and another couple climbed to the top. At the top there was an amazing view of the jungle. You could see how deep in the jungle we were and off in a distance you could see Mexico. I wouldn’t have known it was Mexico but Elio informed us that it was. So going up wasn’t too bad, going down was definitely a mental challenge for me but I think I did well at not freezing up. The steps were near vertical and you couldn’t really see the next step down the temple until you got the edge of the step above it.
Also what was amazing about this temple is that even though it is so high, the people down below could hear the “ruler” speak. He did not have to shout. The acoustics are crazy amazing. As I was climbing down, I said a few things in the corner of the step and the sound just bounced off. It was so weird and fascinating. This trip is one to remember that’s for sure!

The trip back was fast. We were pressed for time and so we loaded up the boat, and off we went down the New River and then to Belize City by van. Elio was very nice, couldn’t hear anything he said while in the van, but got all the details once at Lamanai. We made it back to our ship with 8 minutes to spare!

Enjoyed a formal night dinner with Dave and Shannon. We heard all about their cave tubing tip which for the most part they enjoyed very much.

Dinners were great. Every night you sit at the same table and have the same waiter. Not to mention you can order anything you want (it's free!... well I should say, it is included in your cruise ticket). The food was great! The wait staff was very nice and they would dance or sing to you every night.

That night Ian suggested we get some drinks and go dancing… so we did! That was a lot of fun. We enjoyed the piano bar for a while then hit the dance floor.

Not sure how it happened but we came up with this silly call which is used similar to how Seinfeld says “Newman”. When something happens that sucks and you need to blame it on someone you clench your fist and shake it while saying “Suki!”. This is about the dumbest thing I could blog about but we had so much fun with this that I couldn’t leave it out!

Towel animal = snake. Thanks Georgio!

DAY 6 – Cozumel, Mexico
Last day at a port. I am sad already. The only thing that keeps me excited is seeing my kids. Our day is Cozumel was great but it didn’t quite compare with the other ports. Part of this was poor planning on my part, trusting a taxi cab driver, and realizing that swimming with dolphins isn’t quite like it is in the movies or in my dreams.

So we take a little time getting to port since we are exhausted from staying up the night before. That’s no problem because we arrive in Cozumel at 6am (local time) and our swimming with the dolphin tour isn’t until 9:30am. But we still don’t waste much time on the boat and we are walking around in Mexico by 7:00am. Not many of the shops were open in the port area, I was a bit surprised by that. If I owned a shop and I knew 3000 people were going to walk by it at 7am, I would open early.

So we go to sit down to get oriented and see how we want to get over to Chankannab park (where the dolphins are). I go to look a few things up in my paper work and a taxi cab driver asks if he can help. I tell him we want to go to Chankannab Park but I am not sure it is open yet. He tells us yes it is open and he would be happy to take us. He charges us twice the fare (he charged us $10, so we didn’t get taken that badly). But the worst part was that when we got there, the park would not open for another hour. That sucks but it is only an hour to wait so we just sit along the beach front and I hunt for shells for the boys.

For getting stuck somewhere, it was not a bad spot to hang out. Too much coral so you can’t get in the water that easily and the sand was not made of sand it was made of billions of shells. Very interesting. So an hour passes and by this time it is 8am.

We go to get into the park and they won’t let us in because we have a dolphin swim package, which came with a park pass, BUT the dolphin place does not open for another hour! So this is where I because a little ticked because here Dolphin Discovery included a park pass for Ian and I but they open an hour after the park does! This is so stupid on the parks behalf. They should work something out with their anchor store Dolphin Discovery so we tourists can be in there spending money. Oh well. We wait ANOTHER hour for Dolphin Discovery to open. There are about 4 other families that have to wait too. So we have been in Mexico for 3 hours and we haven’t really done anything. Oh, well. Now it seems silly to be upset about it but at that moment I was not happy.

Ian and I finally go into the park and took a nice walk along the beach. By now it was hot but we found some hammocks in the shade and for a short time we enjoyed laying there looking at the sea. Ahhhh…. this was very relaxing and probably my favorite part of the whole day!

We headed back to Dolphin Discovery for our excursion with the dolphins. Overall it went smoothly. There was a long wait for the trainer to come and he did not really tell us much about information about dolphins. He just told us the signs for getting the dolphins to do their tricks (how to get them to kiss you, hug you, give you a hand shake, let you ride on their belly, and how to get them to push you while you are on a boogie board). There was a lot of…. ok look at the camera and smile. It was just too commercial and staged for me. Your “free” time with the dolphins is standing in a line and the dolphin swims by you and you get to touch him. The most fun thing was to ride with the dolphin on his belly. And it was cool to be in the water while he jumped in the air in front of you. They are awesome animals. Overall a great experience, I don’t regret spending the money for it, my expectations were just too high for this swim.

After the swim they corral you into a room to watch a video. Ian and I skipped out on that part. We headed back to the beach where they had snorkeling gear to rent. We did that. It was my first snorkeling experience and it was nice. The water was clear and there were lots of fish to see. Not the best area for snorkeling though, the fish were not that diverse nor that colorful. I look forward to snorkeling again near a reef or an area that is known for snorkeling because I think that was well below par for what Cozumel and other places in the Caribbean offer. As we finished up snorkeling we ran into Dave and Shannon snorkeling. They had a great time renting a scooter and seeing the island.

As we headed back to our ship, there was another ship next to it. It was a great sight as we walked between these two ships.

And the water…unbelievably blue. I just can’t describe it so all I can say it that I love seeing this blue, blue water.

That night after enjoying a dinner with Dave and Shannon we went to a show and headed back to our rooms for a quick 9pm nap. Shannon and I never made it to the midnight Mexican buffet, which I was looking forward to all week, but apparently Dave and Ian enjoyed playing games and hangin’ together.

Our towel animal that evening was a monkey.

DAY 7 – Last Day at Sea
After sleeping in, which felt so good, we had some breakfast. We just lounged all day. I spent a few hours on the Lido deck enjoying the sun while reading a book. Later we spent some time in the casino. My first bet was at the roulette table. I placed $1 on the number 8 and then hit it. That was my one and only big win for the night. Shannon taught me how to play Caribbean Stud which was a lot of fun. We later spent some of the evening in Dave and Shannon’s room playing Ticket to Ride. We also had to pack so the day was pretty busy.

Georgio’s last towel animal for us was a seal. Georgio was awesome.

We had our last cruise dinner with Dave and Shannon who I must say are an absolute wonderful couple to take a trip with. Ian and I really enjoy their company and are so thankful they asked us to join them on this once in a lifetime trip… and after having a great time we realized by the end of the week that this will not be a once in a lifetime trip… we already put down a deposit for a future cruise! I hope we go with them again.

DAY 8 – Back to Miami
By morning we are back in Miami. We needed to be out of our rooms by 8:30am. We were in no hurry to leave the ship since our flight did not leave until 6pm. We finally got kicked off around 11am. If you knew Shannon, it would be needless to say, she wasn't ready to go. Fly in Lexi and I think she would live on a boat!Customs was pretty easy. Lines moved fast. Eventually we made it to the airport where we killed time by playing Ticket to Ride. The flights were smooth, on time, and by 11pm I was hugging my children and just so thankful to be home with them. I really missed my boys. Great to see my mom, too. I am so blessed to have her. I can’t believe she watched my kids for a week by herself. I don’t even think I could do that!

Thanks to great friends and amazing memories.

We are looking to go again soon, maybe the southern Caribbean, but definitely with Carnival. Can’t wait!


Amy’s Ratings
Carnival = 10+

Cruises Only = 10

Southwest = 10 (great staff! So friendly and was very responsive and professional when I had my needy moment)

Ace Tours shuttle Ft. Lauderdale/Miami = 8 (reasonable price, clean van, pick up at Ft. Lauderdale was smooth, but pick up in Miami we waited a long time and our driver was not friendly at all!).

Cayman Auto Rentals = 10 (close to port, reasonable prices, opened early to accommodate me, and the jeep was practically new. The guy that checked us it wasn’t particularly pleasant but he wasn’t rude).

Victor Bodden Tours = 10++ = 10

Dolphin Discovery = 6 (did not like that they included the park tickets but did not let you in until an hour after park opens, too much posing for the camera, no information about dolphins, and to pushy with video and pictures)

Chankannab Park = 8 (did not like that if you had park tickets bought through Dolphin Discovery they make you wait for it to open before coming into the park, snorkeling wasn’t terrific, love the hammocks!)

Overall rating = 10++ amazing trip! Better than expected and I had high expectations!