2.27.2014

Second Honeymoon 2014


Okay, fair warning - if you are planning to read this, I suggest finding a nice and big bar of chocolate and a large glass of milk before settling in for the longest read of your life. I am documenting our amazing second honeymoon cruise, celebrating our 15 years of marriage. It was the first time we had been away together, without the kids, and it was a trip of a lifetime! I am documenting as many details as possible, here, so I can remember in future. If you are still game, then join right along in our adventure!
 We left our home in Alberta on Wednesday, January 15th, and made the drive to Regina, where we had been living when we booked our flights (not realizing we would be moving!). It was windy and chilly!! We stayed the night with our dear friends, the Cuellars, who fed us delicious pupusas and ice cream treats, and shared a movie with us. It was wonderful to visit with them. I wish I had remembered to take a photo with them - but this photo of their van, dropping us off at the airport EARLY Thursday morning (January 16), will have to do!
 We packed one regular sized suitcase, a garment bag (for our dress clothes), and a couple small carry ons - including my delicious Amy Butler bag (a birthday gift from my amazing friends over at HowDoesShe a while back). Oh, and a small bag for our electronics. The trip was almost 2 weeks - and this was more than enough room for all of our stuff, leaving lots of extra space for our souvenirs!
 We flew from Regina, SK, to the Pearson airport in Toronto, ON. Our flights were all on time and we had plenty of time to maneuver our way through the airport security, grab lunch, and even meet Don Cherry in our spare time :)
 We caught our final flight to Tampa and arrived that evening (still Thursday). We took the shuttle from the airport to our hotel - we stayed at the Quality Inn, which had a free shuttle both to the airport and to the Cruise port, which was handy. The hotel was only so-so - cheap but not the best "quality" despite the name of the hotel ;). We walked over to a local Thai restaurant for some supper and then headed back to the hotel to crash in bed!

 
Friday we had all day in Tampa, so we decided to check out the Florida Aquarium. It seemed like a good fit for our pocketbook and our interests :) The hotel shuttle took us to the aquarium because it is right next door to the cruise port - for a fraction of the cost of a taxi ride. I think the round trip cost us $8.

 The aquarium was filled with interesting things to see, though I was a bit disappointed that a couple of the exhibits were closed for renovations, including the penguins. Those would have been fun to see. Still, we had a lot of fun checking everything else out!

 My favorite part was the sting ray exhibit, where we were able to pet these amazing creatures. They would flap their little wings and come right out of the water to greet us as they swam past.
 Here are a few of the neat critters we saw there:









 We opted to do the wild dolphin tour, which took us out on a boat into the Tampa bay to look for the wild dolphins that make their home there.
 We sat at the front of the boat for a while, but were quickly soaked through from the waves.
 We were lucky enough to spot this family of dolphins swimming near the boat. It was surreal seeing them in the wild!
We waited outside, just before supper time, for the shuttle to pick us up. It was chilly for Florida - only about 12 degrees. Without warm sweaters, we began to feel the chill when the sun began to set.
Saturday morning (January 18) we were up bright and early to catch the 9:30am shuttle to the cruise port.
 Anything new is an adventure - it was nice that everything inside the cruise port was well marked and easy to figure out. We knew just where to go to check in and there weren't any lines (when we were there - we heard there were lines later on in the day). We then sat down for a few minutes until our group was called to board the ship.

 When we first caught sight of our ship, The Brilliance of the Seas (Royal Caribbean cruise lines), we were awe struck by the sheer enormity of it! It was 13 stories high and looked like a high rise building flipped on it's side!
 We followed the rest up a series of ramps, which took us to the 5th level of the ship (which was intentional, seeing as we all had to pass by all of the shops on board - ha ha).
 Before boarding, though, we each had to have our photo taken and our card scanned - this would aid in the ship keeping track of us on the cruise (and in port) and for security.
 Once inside, we had a few hours before the ship would be leaving port, and before our friends were set to arrive, so we took a walking tour around the ship - to get better acquainted :) Our first stop was to the centrium (the center part of the ship). Here we could lounge on chairs on almost any level, and enjoy the live musicians who performed in the center stage. This was also where the elevators were - you can see one of the glass ones on the right of the photo.
 Here is another view from above:
Outside on the top deck, we found the mini golf course, basketball court, climbing wall, and outdoor pools - as well as other fun surprises, like this fellow:

 This was a popular spot on the warmest days - the outdoor pool/lounge area. There was always fun music playing as well as movies on the large outdoor screen. It was really cool.
 
There was also an amazing indoor pool/lounge area, which was nice since the weather was hitting record lows in and around Florida!

 Soon it was time to check out our stateroom. I was excited to get our luggage put away and check out our diggs for the next five days! We opted for a balcony room and I'm so glad we did! I loved our room and didn't find it too cramped, at all.
 I also surprised Lyndon with the "Grand Romance" package which included gourmet cupcakes, sparkling apple juice, lush robes for each of us, and fancy hors d'oevres delivered to our room.
 We went out on to our balcony to watch the ship pull away from port and we spotted the Bakers on their balcony a few doors down from us. Rooming so close made organizing our time together so much easier!

 Once everyone was aboard, we had to do a mandatory safety run through where we practice meeting in our designated areas and watch a safety demonstration. It ran pretty smoothly!
The first evening on the ship we enjoyed the live show which included the band (my fave was the amazing drummer!) and a stand up comedian who did a great set. The Pacifica theater was located right at the front of the ship and we could really feel the movement of the ship there. It was a nice, big theater and filled up quickly, even with each show going on twice each night.



We also enjoyed dinner each night in the dining room - we went with "My Time" dining, which meant that you could eat at any time in the evening, but you still had to book the time each morning. The food was always extraordinary. We loved it! Here is what we had for dessert on day one:


Day two at sea (Sunday, January 19) was spent enjoying the ship - we played a round of mini golf:





And Legrand tried out the rock climbing wall while the rest of us cheered from the sidelines:




Lyndon would have loved to try it out but didn't want to risk re-injuring his knee. I'm glad he didn't risk it. That's all we would need is a blown out knee for the rest of our cruise!

Later that evening it was FORMAL night - so we got all gussied up and stopped to snap a few photos before dinner time!



 These two served their missions together and have kept in touch all these years. It was so fun to watch them reconnecting and have a blast together - just like old times :)


Before dinner we were treated to these delicious appetizers, delivered to our room as part of the "Grand Romance" package:
There was also a tray of dessert Hor d'ouevres, too! Yummo!

For dinner we tried lots of yummy things. For starters we had some escargot - which our waiter brought out for us at every meal as an extra "bonus" :) 
 For the main course I believe I had some Beef Tenderloin - it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious! For dessert I had the cheesecake - mercy it was amazing!!!

 Lyndon had the lemon tart with the "Mile High Meringue". It wasn't quite a mile high, but still - there was a lot of it!


Our assistant waiter kept our glasses filled all the time - though it seemed like by the end of the meal, we had nothing but ice in our cups ;)


After dinner we checked out that night's show - it was a performance by Marcus Terell and the Serenades. He did a lot of motown-style music, which I loved. He was HIGH energy, too. It was a great show.



It was also "meet the captain" night, which meant he gave a short speech and there was a fun live show in the Centrium area from the ship's dancing and singing troupe.




By the time we retired back to our rooms, we were exhausted! We were pleasantly surprised by this adorable towel art. We were startled by this creature hanging in our room! Loved it


Day 3 on the ship (Monday, January 20) we woke to find we had arrived in Grand Cayman! It was such a cool sight to wake up to. Nothing like sleeping in a traveling hotel!

 We had to tender in to Grand Cayman, which was an interesting experience. We met in groups by the excursions we were going on, then boarded these water taxis which took us to the dock.

 It wasn't as convenient, but we were able to get a nice view of the ship at sea:
The excursion we chose for this port was a jeep caravan tour around the island. A bus picked us up at the pier to take us to where we would be picking up our jeeps.
We rode the bus to Tiki Beach where we were given a voucher for a free drink which we could redeem then or later on. We had a few minutes to look around the beach before we met at the front to get a run down of our excursion and get into our jeeps.




 The Bakers and us rode in one jeep together.

It was hair raising because the driver's side was on the left (like anywhere in North America), but we drove on the left side of the road (like in Britain), as well. It was a weird feeling. The reason is, Grand Cayman was a British colony, but most of their cars are imported from the States. I'm glad I wasn't driving!
 
We saw a few of these blue iguanas around the island as we toured around. 
 Our first stop was to this beach in Barker's National Park. From there you could easily see the barrier reef and the different gradients of the water. Our tour guides, Mason and David, who were from Jamaica, were filled with interesting facts and were completely entertaining!

 This beach was cray windy and we saw this guy taking advantage by Kite Boarding.
 Our next stop was at the Tortuga Rum Cake factory. We didn't try any rum, but Lyndon did pose with this cute guy:
 We then checked out this beach which had beautiful huge waves and interesting rock formations:




After that beach, we went to Hell :)

 This is a place that was once underwater - this was a black coral bed which is now limestone (from what I understand). I can see why they called this place "Hell". It has a crazy, other-wordly look to it. I really loved it.


 After Hell, we headed back to Tiki Beach where we stopped to have some lunch at the restaurant. I had a delicious chicken quesadilla which really hit the spot, with some fresh salsa and guacamole.
 After lunch we headed over to the beach to do some maxin' and relaxin'. It was awesome sauce.
 The sand was like powder - so soft and white, and the water was crystal clear and warm. 

Lyndon and Legrand opted to do some beach snorkeling using some free vouchers as a part of our tour.

They saw a lot of schools of cool fish and some coral formations, and had a blast. 

 I could have stayed all day (or all WEEK) at this beach!~ It was glorious. LOVED IT!!!
 Soon it was time to head back to do a little shopping and catch the tender back to the ship. 
 After dinner, we caught the evening live show - it was a plethora of Broadway songs, most of which I recognized. It was over the top and had us almost dancing out of our seats. These singers are crazy talented, and so are the dancers. It was spectacular!
 After the show Lyndon and I took a moonlit walk around the deck, even stopping to take in some of the movie that was playing outside - Fast and Furious 6. It was such a relaxing evening.

Tuesday morning (January 21) we enjoyed breakfast out on the sunny deck as we looked out over Cozumel. I could really get used to a giant buffet every morning - especially the fresh fruit. It was so yummy!
 Beautiful Cozumel, Mexico!

 In Cozumel, the ship docks right up to the pier, so we just had to walk right off. It was nice to do that.


 Right off the dock are a BUNCH of shops and restaurants. We had a little bit of time before our excursions were ready to leave, so we had a look around. This guy was dressed like a statue and would stand completely still until someone walked by. I wish I had gotten a photograph from the front.

Diana and I opted to go on a Shopping and Highlights tour, which started by taking us to the "Discover Mexico" park. The park collects all the Mexican wonders in one place and allows visitors to discover the most representative sites, styles and art crafts of Mexico.
 We watched a short video highlighting the different parts of Mexico. Then we headed into an art gallery showcasing some amazing art from around the country.

This piece of artwork was created using colored sand. There was a video showing the artist creating it - it was mesmerizing!

 After visiting the gallery, we headed outside for more fun. Just outside the door there was this set up where you could get your photo taken with a donkey and snake. I would have loved to hold the snake, but I wasn't about to shell out the cash for tips just for a photo op.
 Our tour guide, Jose, took us to the section of the park that had the models of the different Mayan ruins that can be found all over Mexico. He was really knowledgeable about the Mayan history and culture. I enjoyed listening to what he had to say.
The models were very detailed. It made me excited to see the real thing someday!


 After that, we bought some soft tacos, made with freshly made tortillas and three different kinds of meat filling, with a meat and bean side dish and some green habanero sauce. SPICY GOODNESS!
While we ate we watched a performance by the Papantla Flyers. Intense :)








Soon it was time to get back on the air conditioned bus and head to our next destination - a tiny town called "El Cedral" on the island.
El Cedral was founded in 1847 and its ruins were the first to be found by the Spanish. Today it is a small farming community famous for its country fair held in May, Fiesta de la Santa Cruz . You can find the small ruins of the Mayan temple right next to a larger Catholic chapel - really interesting to see the two cultures colliding like that.

This was inside the Catholic chapel:
There was a large shaded area, which was nice to escape the heat. This area was surrounded by little shops where you could shop for black coral, which the area is known for, and other knick knacks.



We soon hopped back on the bus and were headed to our next destination:
 We drove to this beach on the side of the Island where the hurricanes hit. The vegetation barely grows higher than half a foot, here, because of the storms that blow in. Swimming is off limits along this coast, as well - and no wonder! The waves were huge here! I thought it was gorgeous.





Our next stop was at a Tequila distillery. Now, I don't drink alcohol, but I still found the process interesting. Plus, the landscaping was beautiful.



 I had no idea that tequila was made out of these enormous agave fruits. They look like pineapples, but are huge.
Lyndon and Legrand chose to do a snorkeling excursion. They boarded a catamaran and sailed out to two different reef locations and snorkeled away!




After snorkeling, they enjoyed a cold drink and some dancing back on the boat!
We met up back near the pier after our excursions to grab a bite to eat and do some shopping. Lyndon and I ordered some chips and fresh salsa, as well as some fish tacos. DELISH!



We bought a few nice trinkets for ourselves and our loved ones, then it was time to head back on the ship in the midst of a gorgeous sunset!

We enjoyed a late dinner on the ship. I mean, can I just drool once more over these amazing lobster tails? Mercy, I loved them. Our waiter brought out seconds without us asking and I almost could have gone for thirds. Major yum factor!!
 We finished off our amazing day back in our room where we were greeted by this cute little creature, wearing Lyndon's sunglasses. LOVED IT!
Our last day on the ship (Wednesday January 22) started out with a glorious sunrise that we enjoyed from the balcony in our stateroom.
 Most of the day we just lounged around the ship, reading by the pool and relaxing. We ate - more. (yes, that was a highlight of our cruise - the delicious food!)

 Seeing as it was our last night in the diningroom, we had to get a photo with our amazing waiter, Adson. He rocks at what he does!!

 We also had to capture some of the incredible food art that the staff created. These were done every day and were found in the buffet area. Amazing talent!



We also caught the last live show, which was a huge production including numbers by the many musicians who had been performing all around the ship all week. They were mad talented.







 we also said a fond "farewell" to the amazing staff. They were outstanding!
Early on the morning of the 23rd, we arrived back in the port of Tampa. It was a lovely sunrise over the city, but we were sad to be leaving the cruise ship. It had been an amazing cruise!
 After leaving the ship, getting our luggage (what a process!), and setting up a shuttle to take us to the airport later, we had a few hours left in Tampa to ourselves. We decided (since the shuttle holds on to our luggage for us) that we should check out the famous Ybor City!

Founded by Vicente Martinez-Ybor as a cigar-manufacturing center, Ybor City today is one of only two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida.  Red brick buildings, wrought iron balconies and narrow brick streets give it an old-world charm that is a refreshing change of pace from the beach and the mall.
It was pretty quiet around Ybor at 9am, but as the morning progressed, people came out of the woodwork and the place came alive. I would have loved to be there for the night life!
Ybor is known as Tampa's Latine Quarter and was filled with interesting things to see and do.





We first checked out the visitors center to get more info on what to see and do for the few short hours we had there. We watched a cute short film about the history of Ybor city and learned about how so many different cultures worked and lived together harmoniously.

We also toured through a cigar worker's home and garden. I loved seeing how people lived back then, especially the nail in the wall by the front door that the baker would hang the cuban bread on each morning. Too funny.



We walked down the main strip to check out Florida's oldest restaurant - "The Columbia". It was established in 1905 and is still run by the same family. We would have eaten there, except it was a little pricey and more than we wanted to spend for lunch. It was a cool restaurant, though.

We opted, instead, to eat at another place recommended by a local, which was also on the main street. it's called "La Tropicana Cafe". It was quaint and the food was yummy - all for a good price.
We went with a cuban sandwich. The sandwich is made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on Cuban bread.
In April 2012, the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich" was designated as the "signature sandwich of the city of Tampa" by Tampa's city council.
 It was super yummy!

After lunch, we used the trolley to ride back to the cruise port so we could catch our shuttle to the airport. It's a great little trolley system that goes all around downtown, and it's only $5 to ride all day. We only needed a one way ticket, so we it was only $2.50 to ride.



We got off a few stops away from the port so we could walk through the beautiful outdoor mall on the way there. We bought some chocolates and spent our last few moments in outside Tampa to soak up the glorious rays. It was blissful.


Goodbye, palm trees! You will be missed sorely!!
We flew from Tampa to Toronto and arrived back in the bitter cold.  It was a rude awakening, but it was also nice to be back in Canada. We went to our hotel and had a good night's sleep. 

On the 24th (Friday), we got up early and rented a car to spend the day touring a bit. First we went to a laundromat to do a couple of loads of laundry, then took the hour and a half drive to Niagra falls!

 It was insanely windy on the drive there, especially as we drove past Lake Erie. It was nuts. Especially when we would drive over the over passes.

We parked and walked in the freezing wind to the building by the falls. It was soooooo cold!
 I can't express how chilly it was next to the falls with the mist and the winter wind, but it was exceptionally beautiful there.

We would take a few photos, then run back into the building and view from inside, then run back out to take a few more shots. I couldn't get enough! I focused my photos on the one set of falls, because it was too cold to walk down to see the other ones. Maybe another visit :) Here are a few shots I managed to get:






After checking out the falls and almost losing our fingers to frostbite (okay, I'm joking - but it felt like they would freeze off), we headed over to Clifton Hill where a lot of fun attractions are to see.
 This is where we parked - behind the upside down house :) This place had me as giddy as a school girl :)

 We just had to stop by here and get ourselves a beaver tail. We had heard about them but they don't sell them out west. When in Rome.....


 A nice warm pastry was just what the doctor ordered! We got the traditional beaver tail pastry with the cinnamon and sugar.
 Yummy.
After eating our Beaver Tail, we had to choose what to check out on Clifton hill. Our kids are HUGE fans of Ripley's Believe it or Not, so when we saw this Ripley's museum, we just had to check it out - in their honor :)
 
There were a lot of interesting things to see there - we took our time and looked at everything!





We also did the "Ripley's 4D ride", which was only "okay".
After the Ripley's adventures, we decided to do the Sky Wheel. I'm so glad we did! It was fun to get a view of the falls at night with the colorful spotlights shining on them. I wish I had brought my zoom lens to get a better shot of them, but I enjoyed them in the moment!





By the time we got off the sky wheel, we were famished! It was time for dinner, and we spotted a Planet Hollywood that was calling our name.
 We loved the whole experience of eating at this restaurant. It was a lot of fun. There were movie clips and music videos playing, and the entire place was filled with movie memoribilia.

 The bathrooms were really cool, too. I don't normally go around taking photos inside public washrooms, but in this case I made an exception :)

After dinner, we drove back to Toronto and had a good night's sleep. We woke up in the morning and hopped on the shuttle to the airport to catch our flight to Regina. We were nearing the end of our amazing trip!
 There was more wind and snow waiting to welcome us back to Saskatchewan. We were quickly forgetting the feeling of warmth and sunshine from our cruise.
We weren't quite finished, though. We had a 2 hour drive up to Saskatoon where Lyndon would be having a meeting the next day (Sunday the 26th). We stopped at our hotel room, dropped off our luggage and relaxed for a bit before dinner.
We were bold and went out to eat at the Brazilian BBQ place in Saskatoon. We lived in Saskatchewan for 6 years and never once ate here, even though we had heard awesome things about it. Lyndon was spoiled, though, because he had eaten Brazilian BBQ in Rio, Brazil, so this wasn't anything special ;)

The wait was about an hour long, so we ordered some virgin drinks to tide us over. They were scrumptious!
I especially loved Lyndon's "Bacon straw" for his virgin caesar. I had a virgin strawberry margarita. Yummy!
The Brailian BBQ was so, so, so good. If you enjoy eating meat (and I do) you will love this. Waiters come around to the tables with large skewers of different BBQd meats and if you want some, they slice off pieces on your plate for you. You can just keep eating until you are stuffed. They also include a big salad bar, so you aren't only eating meat the entire time. 
It was the last "hurrah" of our incredible 2nd honey moon. It seemed to go by too fast. You know what they say about time flying when you are having fun! I loved it, and hope to do something like it again - maybe for our 20th anniversary! (hint, hint Lyndon - better start planning!). 

I highly recommend cruising - we loved it. It's like going to a floating all -inclusive hotel and when you wake each morning, you are in some new and fabulous location. You can't beat that!

It's been a wonderful 15 years with my sweetheart, filled with learning, growth, laughter, and lots and lots of love. 


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4 comments:

April Story said...

I stuck with you the whole time. What a great trip. I agree with you - cruising is awesome. Glad you had a great time.
April

M said...

I loved this whole post what an amazing way to spend a vacation with your sweetie. You are a great storyteller, I felt like I had gone now!

Christie said...

WOW. What great photos. Can you tell me, how do you get your outdoor shots to looks so blue and beautiful? Specificly, your Niagra photos, or the shot at the beginning of your holiday of the hotel you were staying at. I use elements and love the effect you have given these photos. Thanks for you help.

Bobbi Grunewald said...

Great question, Christie! I used a technique called "High Dynamic Range" (or HDR) which takes braceketed photos at different exposures (in my case, I took three successive shots with one exposure 1 stop underexposed, one shot correctly exposed, and one shot 1 stop over exposed) and then I use software (Photomatix Pro) to compile the images into one. This basically shows an image with details that the natural eye sees, but a single exposure won't capture. You can read a tutorial on how to do this here: http://www.stuckincustoms.com/hdr-tutorial/

I might create my own tutorial for my blog one day. We'll see :)