Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Flying Tigers and The Tampa Rays

In our attempt to find interesting things to do while staying in one location for a year, we have been visiting the stadium where the Detroit Tigers do their spring training.  During the summer, the farm league named The Flying Tigers plays here.  The prices can't be beat for a game and food combo.  One night a week they offer tickets for $1.00 and you can buy hot dogs, peanuts, and a drink for $1 each.  Another night they do a ticket and all you can eat food combo price.  Both nights make for a cheap date night and we get to mingle with the locals.  Well, the somewhat locals since Lakeland is not exactly local to Wauchula.  We've had a lot of fun listening in on the conversations of those who obviously are devoted fans to the team, and their ease in sharing the rest of their lives too.  Since we have not lived in "only one place" for some time now, it is a fascinating thing to us to remember how the rest of our society lives!

We were also lucky enough to see a Tampa Rays game thanks to Nick and Tonyia.  We were spoiled at this game, getting to sit in the section down near the field, with tons of great food and drinks.  We owe them something special after this nice treat!
 Living the life in HOT FL!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Day Four~Day at Sea

One of the things we enjoyed about the cruise was what we encountered all day long on the last day, or the day "at sea".  There was something to do all day long and we did not have to do any of the work involved.  We were able to show up and just enjoy it.  While it is not how I'd want to travel, or even want to live all the time-it was nice to be able to do that for this time period.  It really was so nice to let someone else worry about all the ins and out of how to make it all work.  

We ended up doing many of the shows and contests while we were on the ship and we thought they were enjoyable overall.  My only complaint at all, in fact, was one of the shows where there was far too much skin showing for my tastes. It didn't add to the beautiful dancing for me, it just made it seem more cheap.  Beyond that, I thought it was very family friendly and even though some of it was silly, it was fun.

Case in point: the Belly Flop Contest!  First off, I have to share a picture of the cruise director Marc who made all things fun, even more fun.  He was what I want to call a cutie patootie but most guys hate that so I will instead say he was gifted with a charismatic personality.  He was really witty and seemed to love his job and love people.  And he had an adorable foreign accent to boot.
 Back to the Belly Flop Contest.  Picture lots of people on the pool deck watching six poor souls provide entertainment for the rest of us.
They had to stand up and tell us about themselves.
Provide a little dancing:
And then leap into the air and do a belly flop.
Mr Tony, the dive instructor was the last contestant.  No, I don't think that was his name but he reminded me of Tony on Seinfeld.  So he became Mr. Tony to us.
He was also the winner!
You know how when you are in high school and engaged in the silliest of things, that you think are the most important things because well, they are in your world.  When you are there adults look at you and sigh and say, enjoy it while it lasts because once you grow up you won't be able to spend your days like that?  You kind of do get to do that all over again when you are on a cruise.  You truly do get to spend all day long doing silly, meaningless but fun things....because that is all there is to do there.  And while a steady diet of that would be nauseating to me, a vacation sized dose of it was just what the doctor ordered.

Living the life at sea and already thinking of how we can get the kids to join our next cruise!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pirates of Nassau Museum

We can't seem to visit any place without hitting at least one museum during our visit, so it is no surprise we had to do the same here.  This little museum was lots of fun, starting out with the hilarious tour guide.  Here he is encouraging me to take a picture of his "booty":
The museum was a little pricey for what it offered ($12 for adults) but we did learn a lot about pirates while we were there so I'd still recommend it.
From their website:
The Golden Age of Piracy lasted for thirty years, from 1690 to 1720 and Nassau was at its heart. Here was a tropical pirate paradise which attracted the greatest concentration of pirates ever seen in the New World.
Nassau was well suited as a pirate base of operations, its waters were too shallow for a large man-of-war but deep enough for the fast shallow draft vessels favoured by pirates. From their snug harbour they could employ their hit and run tactics to full effect; they devastated merchant shipping that plied the trade routes just a short sail away. Their pirate gold and goods formed the basis of a thriving community that attracted rogues, merchants and wild women from far and wide. 
 It was said that when a pirate slept he did not dream of going to heaven but instead to return to his favourite port of Nassau on New Providence Island.
Now you can join them when you explore Pirates of Nassau, an new interactive museum of Piracy in the heart of this historic city.

My favorite part was learning about female pirates.  They sounded pretty fierce.  It was a fun visit and added to our already interesting day.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day Three of the Cruise~Nassau

This was the day we were probably both the most excited about.  We have been settled in one spot for a long time (for us) now and we were thrilled to be visiting a new place that we thought might be so very different than where we were.  We discussed what we wanted to do since we only had one day here and wanted to make good use of it, and decided not to do commercial things like Atlantis or things that would limit our exposure to what this place was like by doing things like boat tours.

When we got off the boat, Nathan somehow got sucked into talking to a local vendor immediately even though I told him the "no eye contact-no slowing down and definitely don't smile at them" rule.  Actually I do know how he got sucked in the more I think about it-the guy had goods that Nathan was interested in.  No, not that.  Although he did tell us where we could buy that if interested.  He was offering a scooter rental.  Nathan looked giddy at the idea.  Nathan rarely does giddy so I could not say no.  Ok, let's do it!  So we ditched our plans and rented a scooter for the day.
 There were some pros and cons to this idea.  The cons hit me after we were on the scooter and then panicked me for the next half an hour while I figured out what to do about them.  Nathan got to ignore this because he is not the expedition planner-he leaves the details of those plans to me-so he got to enjoy the scenery while I worked.  The cons we did ok navigating and many we can avoid completely the next time we do it because we will know better.  I can honestly say we did not feel unsafe or completely unequipped at any point and time.  Any more so than we would if we were in some of the larger cities in Florida at least.  Probably the biggest downside to this plan was people drive like they are in downtown Miami.  If you've driven there, it was pretty much just like that.  With lots and lots and lots of roundabouts thrown in for extra fun!

Little side note: Roundabouts are not Nathan's friend.  Neither are 4-Way stops.  He is an excellent driver until he hits either one of those and then he is a bit more Rainman-ish than I am comfortable with as his passenger.  Basically he spends far too long trying to analyze when it's his turn to go, randomly decides it is NOW and jets out in front of others and throws every other person's timing off!  If you ever see a cluster of total chaos mainly comprised of tires screeching and violent horn honking and hand gesturing in a roundabout, you can safely assume that we are at the root of that fun.  And no, I'm not embellishing how bad it is.  It really is that bad.  To be fair, this time I was digging my nails into his side and screeching into his ear with great intensity and yelling words my Mother would not be proud of, so he was having equal amounts of discomfort during the experience!
 Even without this handicap, the traffic is intense and it's a little intimidating if you are the one on a scooter and they are mostly in cars and trucks and buses.  Oh and we got lost.  In Nathan's words, "Only about five or six times."  To further explain the differences in our personalities, that multiplied the fun for Nathan and that multiplied the stress for me.  We will reverse this process when we are going over how much we spent on this trip because Nathan is the planner in that area and I leave the details of how it actually works to him, so it'll come out even in the end.

The pros were we got to zip around the island on a scooter and we got to see the entire island.  And truly that was a huge pro.  It made for a pretty incredible experience!

I read reviews online before our visit that said this island was not worth the trip.  It was dirty.  It was uninteresting.  I recommend those people not visit SE Florida or NY city or Chicago or DC because they would say the same thing there I'm guessing.  We pretty much found it to be the same as SE Florida as far as its actual flavor.  Maybe the entire island was not the Boca version of S Florida, but it was still interesting and well worth seeing.  There were commercial things like Starbucks and McDonald's.  And there were the beautiful mansions alongside of the middle class and poverty stricken homes.  There were clean places and there were littered filled places.  It was real in other words.  Which is what we wanted to see.
Mostly though, there was this incredible view of the water almost the entire drive around the island.

Speaking of views, when you are short and sit behind someone on a scooter you can only see things like an infant in a car.  By looking directly up, or seeing it as it passes by quickly on your side view.  So at some point I asked if we could stop and get my camera out to use.  I then held that out over Nathan while we zoomed around and snapped away.  I had no idea what I was shooting but it was so cool when I got home and looked at what was on those shots.  I could see why Nathan found the scooter thing so much more exciting than I did.  I am getting my own scooter next time!  Because seriously, how great is this view?

It started to rain at some point, so we pulled over at Stuart's Cove and put the camera away and ate lunch there.  I got to chat with the lady who cooked our lunch.  She is from Haiti and we talked about our kids.  We chatted like Moms everywhere can and beamed with pride over our babies.  She had two girls and two boys so we were close in numbers and genders.  Her kids were roughly the same age as ours.  She was facing empty nest syndrome too.  She told me that she came to Nassau to send her son to one of the schools there.  She liked it ok there but she missed her family including other kids back home.  I told her I understood that all too well.  She said Haiti more like "Aiti" so it took me a minute to figure out what she meant.  She was the deepest brown that contrasted her whitest teeth and she had the most beautiful smile that reached all the way to her eyes.  I wanted to hug her goodbye by the time our food was ready and we left to go eat.  She was awesome.

This encounter made the entire day worth it to me.  I live for experiences like that.  It is what I take from every place we visit and they all become a part of me in some way and change who I am because I realize each time how alike we all are in some way.  It is good stuff.  Oh, and get the fish sandwich if you eat there.  It was incredible!
 When the rain stopped enough we could head out again, we did.  W drove and drove some more and visited the caves that the scooter guy told us about.  Not tons to see here but enough to make it worth the stop and the history is really neat.
After this we hopped back on the scooter and finished our island tour until my back and bum could not handle any more.  We took the scooter back to our buddy who boldly begged for a large tip.  We then did a walking tour including a trip to the Straw Market and the Pirate Museum.  I will share more about the museum in a separate post.  To the Straw Market I say a big no thank you to if we go again.  Ok to do one time.  Don't need to see it again.

 This was a super day and left us so tired that we actually took a nap when we got back to the ship.  Which is a good thing because we had tons of fun left for the night and since we did nap we stayed up really late to enjoy it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day Two~Coco Cay

I am not a morning person.  Nathan is a morning person.  When we vacation we tend to live on Nathan's schedule which makes him very happy and me somewhat cranky at times.  This morning however, I am the one that begged to get up extra early.  I am the one that set the alarm for 6 am.  Because I am the one that did the research and read if you take the first tender over to Coco Cay you will not only not have to wait for the tender, you will have the island to yourself for a bit.  It turns out that the recommendations were spot on!

Coco Cay is Royal Caribbean's private island.  It was much bigger than we thought it would be.
 There is no dock there so the ship is anchored and then you ride small boats over to the island.
When you first get onto the island it is a bit commercial looking.  Shops and restaurants and places to pay money to do day activities.  We were there so early that none of these were open to begin with.
There are tons of beach chairs and many hammocks to hang out in.
I figured out which hammock would be under shade for most of the day and grabbed it right away.  I was thrilled that I got to spend most of my day there, reading books and drinking fruity drinks.  I didn't even have to get out of the hammock to eat lunch.  It was my idea of a great day!  I even had a buddy that kept me company most of the day.
  Nathan joined me after he did some snorkeling and we snuggled together while swinging in the hammock.  We decided we need a hammock right away.  Hammocks are wonderful.
 Beyond that, we walked around the island and enjoyed the very warm water and soaked up the beauty of all that was there.  The water was just incredible.  So clear and such a pretty color.
As you can see, we had this section of the island to ourselves for the most part.  This part of the island was Barefoot Beach and for some reason, most people just didn't walk that far to know it was there.  Which was fine with us!  The time on Coco Cay alone made the cruise worth every penny.
We spent the whole day here, taking the second to last tender back to the ship.  That night we had more night time fun and more great food.  We headed to bed fairly early so we would be ready for Nassau the next day.  We had a wonderful day today too.  We slept well with lots of dreams about island living.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day One on the Monarch of the Seas

Happy Birthday to me (and Aric!).  Today was my second favorite birthday gift ever.  Aric being the first and ultimate best of course!  He was 21 today, and it was odd to celebrate without us being together.  I still think of Aric being like this:
Wait a minute, I still think of *me* being like this until the mirror sets me straight.  Not sure how he became an adult so quickly though, but he is!  We will celebrate with him after the cruise.

We work up early today and headed over to the place where we parked the car.  They drove us to the port and that was the last we did any work for the next four days.  We were there early enough that we boarded the ship very quickly and easily.  We headed up to the buffet first thing so we could eat before it got super crowded.  Then we walked around the ship to explore and take pictures while it was still fairly empty.
There is a lot to see on a ship this size.  Each deck has different things and each one looked like lots of fun would be happening there.
We then headed to our room.  We laughed as soon as we saw it because online people commented on how tiny the rooms are on this particular ship.  We thought it was huge!  I mean you can actually walk alongside the bed completely on the one side.  There is room for a desk and there is a big closet.  And we did not have to duck down while getting out of bed.  I guess this is one time our low maintenance living gives us an advantage in living in other spaces.  On the other hand, we get weirded out a bit when trying to stay in regular size houses so there is that trade off.
We went to the pool deck, sat in lounge chairs and read and watched the boat leave from there.  We stayed there until dinner.  Dinner was a wonderful experience.  Our waiters were Putu and Dwight and they were the best.

When we were back from dinner, we met our room attendant.  His name is Arson and he was fabulous too.  We took it was a very good sign that the staff we encountered so far were great and we hoped that it would be the case across the board.  I'm happy to say that it was.

Our nighttime fun for the first night was Karaoke and listening to the cover band Eclipse.  We were very impressed with them!  At the end of day one, we decided if this is what cruising is like, count us  in.  We decided we may still want to do cruises even after we get back to our vacation free life.  It is a great experience even if not being used as a "vacation".  We said we'll see what we think at the end of the cruise.  We headed to bed somewhat early because I wanted to be on the first tender that headed out in the morning. It was a wonderful first day.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

United States Astronaut Hall of Fame

Day two we visited the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.  This place was very touching to me.  It is a strange thing to visit a place that has such significance in our history and know that I was alive during part of it, yet too young to really remember it.  It was a really neat place that we enjoyed a lot.
From Wikipedia: The United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, located just south of Titusville, Florida, honors American astronauts and features the world's largest collection of their personal memorabilia, focusing on those astronauts who have been inducted into the Hall; as well as Sigma 7, the fifth manned Mercury spacecraft. It is operated as part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, 6 miles (9.7 km) to the east on Merritt Island.

After spending time here, we headed out for dinner and ate at the same place that Rich and Donna introduced us to.  Nathan had the giant calzone again.
We headed back to our hotel, and tried to get a good night's sleep so we'd be fresh for our cruise.