Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 6 - Cozumel - New Year's Eve!

View of Nachi Cocum

Morgan on Beach
Today, we had a private tour on a private beach in Cozumel. It was nice to not be rushed in the morning. We went up to the lido for a quick breakfast - cereal for the girls and I had a bagel. We left the ship around 9 ship time (8 Mexico time), and we walked through the port area to the area where the cabs where. I think Katie asked where we were going 18 times. I kept telling her that we were going to the cabs. She kept saying that she didn't think it was the right way. We finally found them. Whew...

Katie and Michael
We got a van quickly for the 6 of us and headed to Nachi Cocum. It is a place that only takes 100 guests a day where you have included food and drink at a beach club. Basically, when you get there, they take your picture and you get shown to your little palapa shade with chairs.

Morgan Relaxing in Shade
We got Morgan into the shade and got settled as the sports guy came around. Chris and Mike have a dive at 10 Mexico time (it is 9:15 now). The boat comes and picks them up at the dock. I had a really hard time understanding him, and I was really wanting Mike and Chris to talk to the guy in Spanish. Instead, they let me flounder with him in his broken English and the heavy accent that I couldn't understand. We finally understood that he was saying that they would try to get the dive shop to pick them up but if not they would have to walk two piers down.

Beautiful View
Morgan, Katie, Michael, and I are going snorkeling at 11 Mexico time. The boys head off and we order drinks. It was unlimited drinks including alcohol. What a bargain. Too bad I am hungover from my little binge yesterday. I start with a banana daiquiri thinking it will help. The kids all get virgin daiquiris. Morgan tried several flavors before finding one she liked (strawberry with sprite). Michael got pina coladas, and Katie got strawberry daiquiris.

 Kids getting in the water and shrieking

Michael and Katie braved the cool water while Morgan and I chilled in the chairs. Judging by Katie's screaming, I didn't think I wanted to go in and I was wondering what snorkeling would be like. Michael was thrilled by all of the coral that you could just pick up in the shallow water and on the beach.

Family Relaxing at Beach

At 11, they got us for our snorkeling. We had paid our bills for scuba, snorkeling, and the beach. All of the prices seemed reasonable to me and matched what we were told ahead of time. We got in the glass bottom boat and went out a few minutes. Then, the guide led us through the water. We saw several angel fish, barracuda, puffer fish, a sting ray (the guide made it swim), big schools of fish (the guide swam down and forced them apart and it was cool to watch them go back together), zebra fish, and lots of other cool stuff. The coral in Roatan was way prettier and the dive was much nicer in Roatan. However, there were very cool fish and a lot of them in Cozumel. The coral was typical of Mexico. Reef then sand then reef then sand. But, it was really fun and relaxing floating on the top and looking at the coral.

Michael Chillin in the Hammock
After snorkeling, we went back to our rough life on the beach. Morgan and I read. Katie and Michael relaxed in the chairs. We ordered lunch. We had appetizers that ranged from nachos to french fries, to chicken wings. We ate chips and salsa waiting on the boys to come back from scuba. It was after 1 and I was starting to get a little worried about the boys when I saw the boat pull up. Whew. The kids kept ordering more and more virgin drinks. I bet they were regretting the all inclusive price about now. :)

Katie Snoozing
For lunch, I had fish tacos, Mike had enchiladas, Michael and Morgan had grouper, Katie and Chris had burritos. It was pretty good. Morgan and I read more while everyone else slept. It was pretty funny. Michael went into the hammock for a while. I think everyone enjoyed it a lot.  We got a cab back to the ship for a reasonable $30. Morgan was nodding off the whole way  back to the port. It was so cute to watch her nod and then realize she was sleeping and JOLT back awake.

Carnival Ships in Port (Legend was ours and the one in front)
We shopped at the port a bit and bought some souvenirs. Then, we got back on the ship. We rested, napped, and relaxed until it was time to get dressed for formal night. It is New Year's Eve! We all got dressed in our formal wear and went to get pictures made before dinner. We did two different stations to get different backgrounds. At the second one, we also got just the kids. I will have to scan in the pictures because they turned out really well. We even decided to get canvas versions of them to hang on the wall.

Sun Rays So Pretty

View from Cozumel Port

Morgan and Michael were disappointed that there wasn't any lobster for dinner.  I had prime rib and so did Mike. Morgan and Chris had salmon. Katie had chicken, and Michael had pasta I think. They all split at the end of dinner to go to Circle C. The big debate was whether to change clothes or not because the schedule says formal but last time the kids weren't dressed up. They decided to change. Chris did go to O2 dressed up though. Mike and I went to the lobby bar and told the kids that we would be there if they wanted to meet us.

Mike Being Silly

Morgan with her fancy water (with a cherry!)
Mike didn't want to dance because he was all dressed up. I kept trying to get him to go back and change. We had drinks at the bar and then  got our champagne that was part of the wine package we got earlier in the week. We were all ready. We got one last Malibu Bay Breeze while we waited. The dance floor was packed, and the music was fun. Then, the countdown began. Morgan showed up about 11:45. Katie said she came about 5 til, but we didn't know that and didn't see her. At midnight, they dropped balloons from the lido deck all the way down the atrium. It was pretty cool. They had a contest where you could put your name in a balloon and if you caught yours, you won a cruise for 2! It was pretty funny watching everyone bat them around and pop them. A girl about Morgan's age won!

Balloons on the way down

Balloons as they are falling

Balloons Getting Closer

View of Bar

2010 was a good year in many ways. I accomplished fitness goals that I never dreamed possible. From my first half marathon to my first Olympic triathlon, to my first half ironman, to my first full marathon, it was quite a year. Unfortunately, it was also a year of health challenges. I am proud of the way Morgan and our entire family has rallied after her diagnosis, and I am hopeful that Cure JM can help fund a cure. We did our part by raising money through the second half of the year with a finale of the Jacksonville Bank Marathon fundraiser where we raised over $8K for Cure JM!  I am very, very thankful for my fantastic family and my wonderful friends. 2010 would have been a harder year than it was if it hadn't been for both.

We are proclaiming 2011 to be the year of health and house since we are hopeful Morgan will get better and our whole family will get healthier too. We also want to get a new house, so that will have its own journey as well. So, here is to health and house! Happy New Year! 2011 - Bring it on!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 5 - Belize

Today, we had to get up and get off the ship as early as possible. We are doing a "double" tour with a private tour company. I woke up and the room was freezing. Grrr... I guess one of the girls turned it down really far. I get out of bed and almost fall on my face as there were towels on the floor right between the bed and the wall. I didn't see them in the dark. knee is still paining. Double grrr....Then, I see our pre-order breakfast form on the floor. Triple grrr...I guess it fell off the night before. I turn the temp up before I turn into an ice pop, and Katie is great about ordering breakfast to see if it can get there in time. could. They send cereal. Breakfast of champions.

We get ready in record time and Mike and the boys head to the Follies lounge to get a number. We are not on a Carnival cruise so they punish you by not letting you get on the tenders right away. We asked if there was any way to get off early. No dice. I wanted to try to sneak into a carnival group, but Mike didn't think that was a good idea. So, we waited. Finally, we got to go with the 1's (we were the first 2's). We ended up getting off the tender about 8:45 (docked at 8). Not too bad since it is about a 20 minute tender. We found out that we had two extra people on our trip - one from Chicago and one from St. Louis. We thought we were going to be just the six of us, but they were nice people and I didn't mind.

We follow the instructions to go to terminal 1 (we came in at 2), and as we walk out the door we see the sign for us. Perfect! We had a tour with NCQ Adventures to go Ziplining and Cave Tubing. It was about an hour and 15 minute drive to the spot. Our tour guide Nacho was fantastic. He told us stories on the way there about the history of Belize, the history of cruise ships in Belize, the telephone company monopoly, the hurricane in 1961 that moved the capital, etc. It was very informative and entertaining. The roads were not too bad in the beginning, but the last few miles were AWFUL. I couldn't believe that they didn't fix those roads since the cave tubing and ziplining are two of the biggest cruise excursions from what we could tell. It was very uncomfortable to be banged around so much, but it was only for a few miles.

When we stopped, we all got some bug spray on, put our belongings away except for a camera, etc. We were so lucky to be some of the first people there. I had read reviews that NCQ always gets you there earlier than the other tours, and Nacho didn't disappoint. We went right in, got fitted for our helmet and other ziplining gear, and we were off! No waiting for us!

We had a guide for the first two stops, but then they got so busy that they went to an "assembly line" pattern. At that point there were guides at each stop to help but you didn't keep the same ones the whole time.

First, we did the chicken run. I was pretty anxious but also excited. I think Morgan was also a little anxious. Nobody else seemed to be too anxious. You would stand next to the line, and the guide would tell you to jump up. As you jumped, they hooked you in. Then, you sat down in the straps that went under your but and behind you and started moving. You held to the front with one hand, and then your other hand went behind you on the cable. They went on and on about not applying too much brake and to keep your hand behind you but in an open position unless braking. Also, do not squeeze the cable but press with your hand. It was a bit confusing as to how much to apply the brake and what to do if something happens was not discussed. Oh well...I guess I just have to be brave. Chris went first, then Michael, then Morgan, then Katie, then Mike. The chicken run was run but a little scary as I really didn't know what to do. Next we went up these really high stone steps. The lady with us said that we were doing our "buns of steel" workout. It wasn't too bad, but I was sweating at the top. Then, we did two 500 feet lines, a 750 foot line, two 500's again, and then a short but steep finishing line. At one of them, I didn't make it as my hand came off the cable and I freaked and grabbed on. That made me stop too early, and I had to pull myself in. Oops.

Our guide explaining the process
Another time, I didn't break enough and the guy was gesturing for me to brake harder. I didn't do very well figuring all of that out I guess. The kids did great, and so did Mike. At the end, I didn't get to see it, but Nacho said that Morgan came flying in and did a flip at the end. They told me to brake the whole time in because it is steep and shorter, but Morgan said nobody told her. So, she didn't brake at all. She went flying in and the guy had to catch her.

Chris showing that he is ready to go
 My heart was pumping really well when we left, and I was definitely sweating. Hope that counts as a workout since I have been a slug since the marathon (trying to let my knee get well). The scenery was beautiful, and I actually would have liked to go twice. The first time I was nervous and didn't get to really look around. After knowing what each line was like, I think it would have been fun to do it again.

Michael and Morgan Ready to go

Michael getting hooked in

 Videos (sorry Katie and Mike, they made me move before I could get any more!)

After the ziplining, we noticed the line was REALLY long. There was no equipment hanging where it was full when we got there. Those people were all having to wait as each person came off to get their equipment. I was SO glad that Nacho got us there so early! We took off shirts and shorts and put on water shoes. We got a tube, a helmet with a light, and a life jacket. Our guide was Rick, and he was really good. He has been doing these trips as a guide for 12 years. He does about 4 trips a day. He has abs of steel and I could see why after the trip.

View from van
Boys in Van

Girls in van

We first walked about 35 - 40 minutes through the woods. We saw chicklet trees, mahogany trees, termite nests, and beautiful rain forests. My knee was paining for a lot of us, so Morgan, Mike and I took it easy in the back. Katie and I had the "tube" incident on the early part of the walk, but then we made up along the way. Gotta love teen drama. When we got to the water, it was about 72 degrees - chilly but refreshing. We didn't get all the way wet. Just your legs walking in get wet and then your butt as it sticks through the tube. He didn't tie us up, but instead we formed two lines where the person behind you puts their legs under your armpits and you hold on to the tube next to you. It was a bit uncomfortable, but it wasn't too bad. We went through the cave and saw the beautiful patterns on the rocks and it was amazing to imagine how the water did that over time. It was dark, so the light on the helmet was helpful. I leaned my head back on Katie's tube most of the time and she had her legs under my arms. Morgan was to my left, and I held onto the tube there. I think using rope to keep everyone together would be nice, but it wasn't that big of a deal. The trip was about 45 minutes or so down the river with about 25 of it in the cave. It was very scenic and we did see some iguanas. At the very end, he let us "break the line" and float on our own. It was so nice to be able to relax the muscles and just enjoy. It also felt good to get out of the tube and to get rinsed off in the water.

After tubing, we had a very short walk back where we dropped off the gear and then went to eat lunch. The restaurant was a buffet and was included in the price. The food was ok - nothing spectacular but not bad. They had hamburgers and baked chicken, several salads - pasta, fruit, cole slaw, and vegetable salad, rice and beans, french fries, plantains, and some fish fried in a cornmeal pouch thing (very yummy). There was water, tea, and lemonade included in the price, and you could also buy beer (Belkin the beer of Belize was really good) or Coke (no diet). This was at the Jaguar Paw Restaurant that is right outside of the cave. After lunch, we went to look at our pictures. The picture desk is not very efficient. They had lines and chaos. We did get them to look for ours and we bought one of each so that we can remember our journey. It was a lot of fun! On the way back, Nacho entertained us with riddles. When we got back to port, we shopped a little bit. I had given Nacho a tip for his excellent service, and he actually came to find us in the shops later to make sure that it wasn't an accidental overpayment. How nice! It was meant as a tip though, so we said thanks and good bye. Mike and Chris got some hot sauces, and  Mike tasted the cashew wine. I was going to try it, but after Mike said that it tasted like old corona and oil mixed together, I decided that didn't sound very good. :) Morgan, Katie and I bought sensible souvenirs like a mahogany carved turtle, a small bracelet, and wood carved jewelry boxes. We also got a magnet for the fridge. Tradition - gotta love it.

We went back to the ship and rushed to the slide since it would close at 5. We were back around 4 so we had time. The slide was fun, but I got major salt water up my nose at the end. Checked that box. Next! We were getting ready to sail, so we went to the cabin to watch and to have a drink. We had dinner reservations at the Golden Fleece Steakhouse at 8:30. So, we kicked around, relaxed, had a few beers, then a few more, then a few more. Oops. I think I am drunk. Well, dinner should be fun!

We got ready for dinner and headed up for our 8:30 reservation. I was weaving and it wasn't because of the ship. I accidentally knocked over a vacuum hose and tripped Morgan and Mike. Oh man...this is going to be ugly.

The food was really good. I had escargots (too many of them - I think these are meant to be eaten in very small quantities). Since Morgan didn't like appetizers, we ordered escargot for her. I had a bisque soup that was really good. I had the steak and lobster for dinner. Michael had the rib eye which was pretty spicy. I think everyone enjoyed their steak. We had wine, but I don't remember what kind. Oops. I do know the guys next to us were drinking Silver Oak. Yum. After dinner, Mike and I sat on the deck and the kids went to the kids clubs. Morgan was back early and I was in bed early. Mike apparently went to the casino after I went night night.  Fun day...I know I must be getting old since it took me 5 days on a cruise ship to get a good hard buzz going...

People gathered by the street
Blackbeard Tavern

A shop with a boy Michael's age working

Selling Carvings

Nacho told us that when people ask where we went on our cruise to say, "I be gone to Belize." When they ask how it was, we are to say, "It was unbelizable." LOL We did have a fantastic day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 4 - Isla Roatan

Mike and Misael

 This morning, we arrived to Isla Roatan earlier than we were originally scheduled since we didn't stop in Cayman. We werent' the first off the ship, but we got off around 8 or so. We weren't sure if our driver would be there yet for West End Divers, so we called the dive shop. We couldn't find a pay phone, so we used our cell. Wonder what that bill will be? :) Anyway, they said that he was already there waiting for us but that we have to leave the port area and walk a couple of blocks to get to him.

We walk through the "fake town" as Morgan called it. The port was recently built by Carnival, and the buildings are very cute and new. It definitely doesn't match the rest of the country, but it was nice. They have a ski lift to the beach from the port. It is kind of cute, but it was $57 for all of us to ride over and back so we skipped it.

We walked out of the port and went left as instructed. We had to go up and down a few hills and then we saw all of the people waiting. This guy was standing there with a sign for Mike Gleason. Woo hoo! We found it! Our driver was Misael. He ROCKED! If you need a driver in Roatan for the day, his cell is 011-504-9912-0027. I highly recommend him. He was courteous, safe on the roads, a great guide, and patient with us, our schedule, and the kids.

We piled in the minivan and headed to the West End. It was an interesting ride. Roatan is definitely divided between a upper class and a lower class. Some of the houses made you want to cry when you think of a person actually living there, and others are incredibly beautiful with a fantastic view of the water. The roads are narrow, and Misael told us that there are no speed limits and no stoplights. Interesting...

Kids at Shark Bite
Fam at Shark Bite
Chair at Shark Bite

As we got to the west end, the road was dirt and very, very narrow. There were little shops, restaurants, and apartments all there next to the beautiful water.

West End Divers was right there in the middle, and Mel was there to greet us. She was awesome. She squeezed Mike, Chris, and I onto a boat that was about to leave, and she got Katie, Morgan, and Michael ready to do their instruction for their first dive ever. Mike Chris, and I were on a boat with 5 or 6 other people, and they were from all over the US. Nice people. Chris buddied with Heida. Mike and I buddied together. I noticed that we were the only people without a wetsuit. uh oh...hope I don't freeze! Virgillia was our divemaster. She was awesome! We saw all kinds of stuff - huge grouper, a turtle, an eel, and lots of beautiful coral and other fish! Some beautiful angel fish and some blue flurescent coral. We also saw a puffer that was puffing! Very fun dive. We went about 60 feet and we were down for about 50 minutes including our safety stop. I think stopping smoking and all this exercise paid off on the dive! I ended up with 1800 psi of air when most where around 1000 or less. :) I used to be an AIR HOG and would always be one of the first to get low. No more! :) I really enjoyed this dive. It had been a long time since I had gone for scuba.

When we came back, the kids were in the shallow end learning the basics - buddy breathing, clearing your mask, etc. Laura was their instructor, and she was very patient! She was great with the kids, and they all liked her a lot. We went back to the shop to warm up a bit and to get something to drink before going on the boat. The water was really nice but it was cold when I got out with the wind! The kids had watched some video about scuba diving and the dangers that can happen. Morgan was especially freaked by the video. I told her that she isn't going deep enough to worry about it today and to relax and breathe and she would be fine.

We all got on the boat with our divemaster, Ray. Then, Morgan, Katie, and Michael got on with Laura. I was nervous that one of them would freak out. Our group went in first and went around for about 15 minutes until the kids came in. I was so happy when I saw all of them below the surface and signaling that they were ok. They all did FANTASTIC! I was so proud of them all. We had a great dive and saw lots of beautiful coral and some cool fish. No turtles though...the girls would have loved that. I think it was a huge success and they all said they want to get certified. Too cool!

We got back to the dive shop and dried off, tipped the staff, thanked them for a special day, and went to eat! Misael was there waiting for us, and Mel settled out our bill. She was awesome! Thanks Mel for a FABULOUS day! We highly recommend West End Divers if you are in Roatan, Honduras!

We went to the Shark Bite for pizza after the dive. I guess we should have been more adventurous, but we were all starving and it was recommended. Misael came with us. The place was decorated really nicely, and the pizza was SOOOOOO delicious! We got two pepporoni ones for the kids and then we tried the mediterraean and shrimp slices. Misael was so nice to have eating with us, and he was fun to talk to. We also had beer from Honduras. Salva Vita, which means Life Saver! It was really good.

After lunch, we had planned to quickly stop at the monkey farm and then go for quick shopping. However, the monkey place was full. Misael was so great and instead he found a guy who had a monkey so that the girls could see one! His name was Douglas (his real name) or Dollar (when he is working). He was SOOOOOOO cute. Morgan, Katie, and Michael all played with him, and we took pictures. It was $2 a picture and well worth it. The only bad thing was that the monkey bit Morgan's thumb as we were leaving. He was sitting in her hand and didn't want her to leave. He was so affectionate and hugged each of them and curled up on them.

Road by West End Divers

Other side of road by West End Divers

Morgan with Douglas

Katie With Douglas

Whole Family With Douglas

Douglas curled up giving love

Michael with Douglas

Katie with Douglas

Next, we did a quick shopping trip. I got a key holder that has a pretty view of the water and some info about Honduras. Morgan got a couple of things too - two small vase like things and a parrot picture. Katie got a small wooden piece. Michael got a duck carving.  It was fun!

In front of Legend

We ended up back at the ship where we debated whether to ride the ski lift, to go to Fat Tuesdays for a drink, or to go back to the ship. The ship won! We got back on board and dropped our stuff in the room before going up to do the water slide. I couldn't believe we had made it to day 4 without the slide, but I guess it had been so cold the first few days that it wasn't worth it. Unfotunately, by the time we found a table and put our stuff down and walked to the slide, it was CLOSED. Like at the minute we walked up. Ugh. It closes at 5! Oh well...

Mike and I got a drink and sat in the adult only hot tub. Morgan went back to the room to nap. Katie and Michael got ready for Circle C. Chris went to find his O2 friends.

We didn't do a show before dinner. We just hung out on the deck and watched us sail before geting ready for dinner. Morgan also went up to deck 9 to take pictures of the sunset. Man was it beautiful!!! She did a great job of pictures!

After dinner, we just hung out on the deck and then went to bed.  The kids went to Circle C and O2. Morgan went to bed early as she was really tired.  We also found out that Carnival doesn't have cheese and crackers on room service. What a sad sad thing this was. We LOVED that on Holland America. It was sad. Minus one for Carnival.

On deck relaxing....