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Monday, October 10, 2011

Planes, Ships, and Automobiles


Yes, I took this photo as we sailed out of Freeport. It's amazing.

Please note: If you dare to read this post, grab a cup of coffee and something to keep your blood sugar up. It's loooong (mainly because I need to document the trip for our family.) Next, I hesitate to post details of our vacation, as I realize many families do not have the means to take a trip like this one. If you know me personally, then you know that one thing I am NOT is a "material girl" (whatever, Madonna). I'm not impressed by "stuff" and I don't covet it. I am a girl who loves nature, wide open spaces, and minimal "stuff". The only reason we are able to take advantage of traveling as we do is because we are blessed through my husband's airline job with the privilege of doing so. I recognize that this is a blessing straight from the hand of my God and Father and for that, I am nothing but grateful.
Just wanted to make that clear before I begin.

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Just got back from our family vacation. My husband and I have taken many cruises over there years, but never with our children,....until this past week. They have been counting down the days since late July, eager to take in this new-to-them experience. In a nutshell, we all had a most blessed and wonderful time away. But let's step out of the nutshell for a moment, because outside the nutshell, our trip was, well, an "adventure" within an adventure.

Our children posing with one of the cabin steward's many towel creations we would discover in our stateroom on the ship.

We began with standby challenges. Our family always flies standby, as my husband works for a major airline and we are able to board flights when there are available ("open") seats. When we cruise, we always fly the day before our ship's departure, to guarentee that we don't encounter any standby problems. With our ship sailing on Monday, we had planned to fly Sunday.

"Honey, Sunday's flights are full. We're now traveling on Saturday night."

Okay then, we were now leaving TWO days early. There was a non-stop flight on Saturday evening at 6:30pm with 15 open seats (we need plenty of those with a family of six). Dh and I sparred a bit about what time we should head to the airport. He wanted to go early (3:15pm), while I didn't want to sit in the airport that long, rallying for 4:30pm. He won when he suggested we eat dinner there so I wouldn't have to cook.
Deal!
Good thing too because right after we finished our airport dining, we learned that the aircraft we were waiting for had to return to Miami after take-off and thus our outbound flight was now indefinitely delayed. Joy! We hustled to the gate to see what our plan B options were, only to realize we had to make a split second decision. Stay and wait for the now delayed non-stop flight or hop on the Dallas flight that was leaving in several minutes and hope our connection in Dallas ran smoothly. We chose that option and a dear co-worker of dh's quickly rerouted our bags so they would arrive in Miami that night as well. We arrived in Miami at 11:00pm and had to wait until about 11:45pm for our bags. Travel disaster averted.

Next, dh went to check in at our hotel, only to learn they couldn't find one of our reservations (we booked two, adding an additional night when we realized we had to leave another day earlier due to the full flights menioned above). The desk clerk could not locate our reservation, even though dh had a confirmation number, so he just booked us. Whatever. Just get us to bed, thank you for your help.
Our "littles" in one of the hot tubs on board.
The next morning, we walked to a McDonald's for breakfast, then inquired about the bus schedule to Bayside Mall. We had told the kids what fun it is to hang out there before cruising. It's very artsy and gives one a little taste of local Miami culture.
"Ooooooh, good luck with that. Today is Sunday and the bus schedule is seriously reduced. You can wait for it to come along, but it might be 90 minutes before you see it."

Swell!

Dh hailed a cab. $25 later, we were at Bayside and had a great time. The kids got to see Carnival Cruiseline set sail, and to imagine their departure from port the next day. We walked a few blocks down from Bayside and sat in adirondack chairs in the sand along the bay. And what did we see?

Porpoises!

Oh yes we did too. We saw about 5 or 6 of them feeding on schools of fish that were frantically leaping out of the water, trying to get away. And the feeding show continued for a good 10 minutes. They came as close as perhaps 50 yards away. What a treat to spot them while resting in such a beautiful spot. We also saw some type of shark at Bayside (again, tipped off by schools of fish leaping out of hte water to get away). We hailed another taxi back to our hotel after "negotiating" a single cab ("Sir, we only took one cab here. Yes, we know we have six people. Four are children." Oy vey!) And the cab driver's daughter is presently enjoying her sparkly bling evening bag, courtesy of my 8 year old, who accidentally left hers in the cab when we got back to the hotel. :(

We let the kids swim in the hotel pool before tucking them in for a night's rest prior to the big day (they were exhausted from our trip to Miami by way of Dallas).
We usually make our boys wear shirts into the water so they won't sunburn, but this time we let them go in without them. Brandon, our 4 year old, was beside himself with joy. "Oh, this is soooo es-siting swimming without my shirt on." You just have to love that boy's take on what is worthy of being dubbed "exciting", lol.

Monday morning finally arrived and we boarded our bus for the port of Miami. A short 15 minute drive and we were there. Four enormous ships were in port; 2 Carnival, 1 Royal Carribbean, and ours, the Norwegian Sky. It was last in line to leave port, so the kids would get to see three ships sail before their own gave the long departure blasts and headed out to sea. We always head to port early so we were checked in and on board by about noon. We knew to keep our bathing suits with us in a carry on, as the kids would want to swim and the porters take your luggage from you and deliver it to your stateroom later in the day. We all enjoyed a lunch in one of the formal dining rooms together, where the children loved being able to order appetizers, an entree, and a dessert without regard to price. It made me smile when they asked the very same question a dear friend asked me when they took their first cruise with us a few years ago; "You just get up and leave when you're done eating?" Yes, you do.

The kids then swam the rest of the afternoon until it was time to set sail. There are millionaire homes along the channel at the port of Miami so it's fun to look at them as you leave. I'm so not a materialistic person, not at all impressed by "stuff", but it's still fun to catch a glimpse of such pricey real estate as the ship leaves port.

Our oldest son playing on Junkanoo Beach in Nassau
Our first port was Freeport in the Bahamas and oh, let me tell you, it's a tropical,...er,..it's,...there are palms and sunshine and,.....okay, so there's nothing to do there. Nope, nada. We walked around at the portside shops and passed on our chance to take a taxi 11 miles into town to shop some more. It was fine though. The kids wanted to spend some time in the ship's Kids Club, which gave dh and I time to walk 2 miles on the ship's jogging deck. Ah, mighty nice.

The view from a porthole on the ship's walking deck, in Freeport.
The next day was sure to be our favorite; introducing the kids to one of our favorite spots in the Caribbean, Norwegian's private island, Great Stirrup Cay. I was hoping it wasn't too torn up as it is currently under rennovation and I wanted the kids to see it for the tropical paradise we have come to love. A day of snorkeling and swimming, dancing on the white sand beaches, enjoying an island barbecue, reading in a hammock while an island breeze dares to turn your page, hiking to the "airport" and lighthouse. Oh, what fun they were in for.

Were.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I am most sorry to have to make this announcement but do to current water conditions, we have been unable to safely bring the tenders shipside to take you over to the island. Multiple attempts have been made and at this time, it is my decision that we must cancel our scheduled day at Great Stirrup Cay." And we were literally heading out our cabin door to board the tenders when we heard this announcement. Sad, sad, sad! (Tenders, btw, are smaller boats that transport passengers from a cruise ship to dry land when the ship does not physically dock in a port). We were most disappointed but quickly decided not to let it ruin our vacation and got on with swimming, an afternoon craft class, a magic tricks class, a story read to our children in the library by moi, and an afternoon gameshow where guests played the ship's version of A Minute to Win It. We also watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader together as a family.

Our "littles" watching the Dawn Treader."
The next day was spent in Nassau. We walked to Fort Fincastle and the Queen's Staircase, then went back to the ship for lunch before walking to Junkanoo Beach so the kids could make up for not having the chance to swim in the Caribbean waters. What a great time they had, diving down and bringing up shells and coral remnants.
Ironically, the hotel directly across the street was one of three that we stayed in on our honeymoon (we went to Kennebunkeport, ME, the Bahamas, and Tampa, FL). We chose the hotel through an airline travel guide, pre-internet era, only to discover it was a dive. We were so uncomfortable being there that we promptly left Nassau the next morning for Tampa to finish out our honeymoon.



Sailing out of Nassau was a bit unnerving, as we were experiencing very high winds (higher than the conditions that caused our captain to cancel the private island the day before). As we left the harbor, we experienced quite a bit of rocking. Not comforting, seeing as we weren't even in open water yet and could see breaking WAVES (not caps) on the ocean. As we entered the open waters, the ship listed toward the starboard side and basically just stayed that way for a good 90 minutes. I did not enjoy that, as we've never experienced it quite like that while sailing. But I had to keep my concerns to myself since I didn't want to frighten our children. Eventually, the ship uprighted again and we didn't have much to contend with after that. A good final evening was had by all. We went to dinner, took in a show, viewed the many pictures taken of us by the ship's photographer throughout the cruise, danced by the pool, and finally settled into in our staterooms after I packed our bags for home.

Home.

Home is very far away when you travel standby, especially if you're leaving out of a busy city like Miami. Especially if you need 6 seats. Especially if flights are full. And they were. Usually, it's the "get out of Miami" part that is challenging for us. Not this time. We boarded a 10:30am flight to Dallas, no problem. But ALL the flights from Dallas to Indy were full for the day. Our options were A) spend the night in Dallas and fly out in the morning (and hope there are no weather or cancellation issues) or B) fly to Cincinnati and rent a car for the 1 hour 40 minute drive home. We chose B, arriving in Cincy about 10:15pm, then drove to the Indianapolis Airport, arriving after midnight to claim our van and our bags. Only, our bags were locked up in baggage service and hubby didn't have his work keys with him. Oh well, we'd drive back and pick them up the next day.

AND contend with the over-charge for our hotel stay.

Hey Mon, is this the cutest little Jamaican dude ever or what?!
At 1:00am, our children were finally tucked into their own beds at home after beginning their day on the ship with a 6:30am wake-up call. They're troopers, every last one of them. They know how to roll with the punches of stand-by travel and how to deal with long lay-overs when we can't get on a flight. They had a wonderful time and for my part, I loved seeing the experience through their eyes. They're already "planning" their next cruise. Brandon has put in his request for "Royal Caribbean." Did I mention he's 4? How the heck is that boy learning the lingo already? :D
Pictures to come!

End note: If you've never sailed before, don't let my description of the ship's rocking scare you out of going one day. The fact is, I have periods of vertigo that have plagued me for many years. ALL rocking bothers me but even I don't get sea-sick on board, not even in rough seas. I just don't like it. Today's vessels have wonderful stabilizers in them that reduce rocking tremendously. In fact, if you feel it at all, it's more of a comforting sensation that makes you sleep like a baby. ;) If vertigo was not a constant challenge for me, I doubt I'd give it much of a thought at all. Cruising rocks! (no pun intended)

Live wise in Him!

~Toni~

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