Quarantine Post #12: Family Cruise 2018

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There was a time when I went on cruises regularly. In the beginning, I had less money and big dreams of traveling. I was and in some cases still am enthralled with seeing new destinations that I have never seen before (whether they are considered touristy or not.) I have been known to work without taking a vacation. PTO didn’t seem that interesting when all I could afford to do was be at home.

I was first introduced cruising in December 2010 when the awful job I was working at told me I had over 40 hours of PTO that I needed to use before I lost it in the New Year. Only 24 hours would be rolling over to the next. Kinda weird that you would put in all that work and just lose PTO. (Don’t worry. Shortly, after this job, I went back to school. And ended up with an actual career.) At that time though, my co-worker and I decided that we wanted to actually do something with our time away from work. Where can we go? And what can we do for cheap? We figured we would google cruise deals. What we didn’t know was Christmas is the time for cruise deals.  She and I decided to take 5 days off… go down to Florida and take a cruise to the Bahamas. Now here are two people that do not drive… and don’t have the money to fly… talking about going down to Orlando. well Port Canaveral (Insert Eyeroll here.)

She and I ended up having a guy friend/co-worker drive us down in his two-door sedan. Great guy. But I often wonder what we were all thinking. At this time in my life… I hate the 8-hour drive/ride to Orlando. I have done it way too many times at this point. I made the executive decision that next time I go… if I go… (if I can convince my friends…) I will be flying. (Delta if I am flying with Leah.) It was an adventure. We ended up in a hotel for a few hours and then shuttled over to the boat. Not having any idea what to expect, tired and hungry, we found our room. A week before Christmas, we found ourselves in an interior room. (We didn’t know any better.) Interior rooms are usually the cheapest on a cruise ship but what we weren’t prepared for was that they are at the bottom of the ship. They are the smallest. (This is an understatement.) The room was the side of a shoebox, small bathroom, and no window. Well… we had youthful optimism on our side. We figured we would never be in the room and we weren’t. But hell you live and you learn.

The good thing was there was plenty to do on the ship, most things being inclusive. I ate way too much. (That much pineapple always leaves a burn.) It was my first time out of the country ( not my travel companion though. She has studied abroad in France. How fancy.) The boat stopped in Nassau… we got to do a lot of shopping and in CocoCay. CocoCay was pretty much a beach so we got to sit and relax. I know that it was 75 degrees in the Bahamas and there was an ice storm at home. So I definitely made the right choice.

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This experience… while relaxing… shaped the way I now travel. I mean… the more you know. I had no idea what to expect… we didn’t do a lot of vacations growing up (unless you count road trips to NYC to see family. I did thoroughly enjoy those.) I realized that if I saved my money and prepaid… I got actually book excursions instead of just sitting on the beach. (There are people that like that sort of thing.) Since this first one, I have been to the Bahamas another time with a different friend. Same cruise line though. We ended up spending time in the Atlantis waterpark there so that was cool.

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A hurricane was going to hit so we weren’t able to head to CocoCay the ship came back to the states. The Bahamas is a great, short, and cheap cruise. Or at least it was a few years ago. (More on that later.) 3-4 days for about $300-$400. I had also been to Jamaica and Grand Caymen on a Carnival cruise with a friend of mine. I was able to talk him into riding the ATV’s. First time trying that out so that was fun.

When it came time for another group trip, there were two things I wanted to do. The first was to tell my siblings living in Florida so they could decide to come with. The second was to figure out what everyone wanted to do. The interesting thing about this trip was trying to narrow down what everyone wanted to do. With so many friends going, (about 10 of us), it took a while to narrow down where we were going to go. We had to get everyone to agree on the date, location, and length of the trip. Not to mention the cruise line. There was a person that was not interested in visiting Haiti… There was another person that didn’t want to go to Cozumel. (I am still intrigued at seeing it but enough people voted against me. lol.) I didn’t want to venture back to the Bahamas again… (And just to let you guys know… they have actually built a waterpark in CocoCay. There is a lot to do now. How annoying after I have already been there twice. Will I ever revisit it? Well maybe.)

We did eventually decide on Carnival (I mean it has Guy’s Burger Joint.) We knew that it was going to be an 8 day trip. So we chose the 4 best destinations:

  • St. Kitts
  • St. Maarten
  • Grand Turk
  • Puerto Rico

I usually pick cruise destinations by the excursions I can do in each port. (Now people have told me in the past that they like to get there and haggle with people about using jet skis and all that essentially creating their own excursions. The only issue I have with that is… It is easy to end up getting left behind by the cruise ship. Normally, the excursion is able to contact the cruise ship if something ends up running behind schedule. So they don’t leave without you.) Getting left behind is a big deal… because you can cruise without a passport. But if you get left behind… you can’t fly back into the country without one. Excursions were a big deal because… my sister was coming with… so I didn’t have to talk anyone into ziplining with me. The only downside is Mariah is down for all the things…  I should have known better because when I asked her what she was comfortable doing… she said… “Whatever you want. I am down.” She’s scary lol. I told her that I had settled on ziplining in Saint Kitts and riding ATV’s in Grand Turk. She never batted an eye. Since I had been on cruises before in all different rooms… I opted Mariah in for a room with a balcony. When talking to my brother (Mansa), I asked him if he would be upgrading to a balcony room and his response was… “Why? You got a balcony, mom has got a balcony. It is like I have one too.” (If you guys need an extra brother let me know.)

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What was funny is that when my mother heard that my sister and one of the brothers was coming… she took it upon herself to join us. I really thought she was bluffing. But she definitely called my bluff by calling up Carnival Cruise line and dropping the $500. My mother is not really into gathering and vacationing in the traditional aspect. My mind was blown when she decided that was what she was going to do. She revealed she had no interest in leaving the boat when we get to the destinations… I was more blown away because my mom is claustrophobic and has high anxiety. Cruise cabins aren’t that large and I wondered if she was going to be able to deal with that. Also, she is heavily allergic to seafood… so there was a bit of worry there because I know they serve a LOT of seafood on the boat. In the end… it turned out for the best.

My mother mentioned the cruise to my grandmother and my aunt. Now.. unlike my mother… my grandmother and aunt have been all over the world and have been on several cruises. They even took my cousin on a cruise to Europe and one to Alaska. They have been all over. You could call them cruise veterans. They decided that they would come along as well. This trip became a large group one very quickly. It was all good though. I knew everyone was going to get along so no worries. My grandmother, cousin, and aunt flew down to Orlando… they were the smart ones. At 3 am… My mother and I pile into the car and start heading down to Orlando…. (The ride itself can be uneventful if you aren’t caught in a speed trap in one of those small towns between Atlanta and Florida. Those tickets can be anywhere from $1000-$1500… what a crock of shit in most cases. I had one friend drive down to Port Canaveral and got a ticket and my mother who got one on the way back from another trip we took.) In any case, we made good time. But unlike with road trips as a kid, I get bored and stiff on this trip. (7.5 to 8 hours is just too long.) My mother has a playlist she likes to listen to OVER AND OVER again. We never agree on music and not in the mom/daughter way you think. (My mother loves gangsta rap or rap in general… DMX, Biggie, etc, etc… (It helps with her writing her books… She actually decided that she was going to come and write for the week.) We finally made it… (Nothing like seeing the boat while driving up.)

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Usually, I don’t like to drive for more than just being stiff as a board when we arrive. I usually do not want to pay to park… and the longer your cruise… the higher you have to pay. I tried to tell my mom not to pack lightly because I knew we would need to walk through security and there a long stretch before you get to the boat. She had a hard time and luckily we ran into Mariah and Mansa. They were the good children. (I had my own luggage to carry. I know… bad daughter right?) We have to wait for those to put cash on their accounts before all boarding the boat together. Being on a cruise before, I knew the dining room is closed. But we were starving… I do know that the buffets are all open and SUPER CROWDED. But I was hankering for a burger… a GUY’s burger… (Man do I love Guy Fieri… You guys have got to see Guy’s Grocery Games.) In the end, the choice came down to the Burger Joint or the Blue Iguana… (if you guys knew how much I love burgers.)

My grandmother and my aunt had been out on the lido deck for hours… because of course, they flew. It was great to meet up with everyone and eat. Mariah and I head to our room to drop things off… It was my first time having a balcony and I was impressed. It was a good-sized room and a good space outside. She and I started our photoshoot as any older sister would do with her younger sister. Shout out to her for getting me some sunglasses.

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Now, I am not sure at this point where we went first but I do remember it was two days on the ship to get to the first destination. One thing that stood out in my mind was the comedy club. We spent a lot of time after dinner waiting on the adult shows… (Carnival had the shows broken down between kid-friendly and adult.) The guy Spike was hilarious. I think we saw every adult show he did. It was great to take a few hours after dinner and relax and meet up for a comedy show. It is even better when your siblings are old enough… we settled in… had a few drinks and enjoyed the show. Spike saw us on the ship and was nice enough to take pictures. Great guy.

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From this point on, I will be talking about highlights… or things that stood out to me the most. We on the ship for 8 days…I do not remember everything that went down every day… I am getting old lol.

Waterworks

What does stand out to me was that there was no rocking climbing wall on this ship. I remember doing it on one of my cruises to the Bahamas. What the Carnival Sunshine did have was the Waterworks… which my family (with the exclusion of my mother got dressed and headed to try out.) Ever see your grandmother take a water slide down? Mariah and I looked over to see a giant splash. It’s the way you know someone finished their journey down. There was no one but my grandmother climbing off the slide. Good times, good times. What I didn’t realize is that this area varies from ship to ship. On the Carnival Sunshine, there were four large water slides all different colors.

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My brother, Mansa, had purchased a gopro and could not wait to use it on these slides. I think the next time I take a trip… (I plan on doing a winter trip in the future…. and learning to snowboard.) Nothing better than having that footage you know. But he seemed to have a blast. I don’t think I ever got as fast as he did. But it was good times nonetheless. He seems like he had fun right?

SkyZone

The next time we had a free day… We decided to tackle the Sky Zone. Which was essentially a ropes course on the ship. It was so windy that day… the funny thing was that I was struggling while younger kids were conquering the course no problem. (Kids have no fear man. LOL.) I decided to follow Mariah… She has no fear guys. I mean seriously. Her concentration was sharp. Her mind was a steel trap. I knew I wasn’t going to go ahead of her… but trying the rope after her was nerve-racking too. But at least she was talking me through what I needed to do. But I would like to point out… there were two sides to the ropes course. Easy and Hard side… we were on the easy side… LOL… we all made it but it was a struggle.

St. Kitts – Ziplining

When the bought docked in St. Kitts, Mariah and I took our passes and headed out for ziplining. All of the people had to gather and sign a waiver… (BTW waivers generally freak me out… ARE YOU SAYING I AM GOING TO DIE?) What was great was they had a practice area where everyone was able to get suited up and fitted for helmets and test work on the technique. The helmet was a bit of an issue for me… (I had too much hair… I was almost defeated but Mariah made sure to get the helmet on me.) She was like a woman possessed. Shot out to her again because I would not have been able to do this excursion. Which I may not have thought was a good thing at the time.

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What gave me the biggest misconception was the practice area that we were in. I did not think ziplining was going to be that big of a deal. I was lulled into a false sense of security. Once everyone had the technique down we were jostled into a van and head up the mountain. I don’t know why I didn’t think this through. On the ride up, I had so much anxiety. Luckily, Mariah was there. The ride was bumpy and we just kept climbing higher and higher. (This is like when Mariah and I were at Six Flags, and we got on the Goliath… I let her talk me into sitting in the front… I remember having a conversation… we were talking and talking and talking… We still hadn’t reached the top. I decided at the last second I didn’t want to ride. But alas… it was TOO LATE. lol.) But I made a last will and testament. Someone should know what to give who when I am gone. (Leah doesn’t know but she has to take my whole manga collection.)

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There was a great view at the top. But I had decided that I was not going down. Mariah being who she is would not hear of it. I was prepared to let the people keep the money that I paid for the excursion… ($300) and wait for Mariah at the bottom. She told me she would not hear of paying for something and not doing it. She basically told me that she would give a 300 kick if I didn’t. Looking at the view at the top of the mountain didn’t help. But I got up there and did it. (One of the best things I did on vacation. No matter how long I live, I will always remember ziplining with my sister.)

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Mariah went first. No hesitation and went for it. My turn next. No turning back now. If I don’t come down after her there will be hell to pay. So down I went…

She was impressed. There were only about 6 lines down the mountain. Which was great for me. I am not sure I could have taken more. It ended when it was supposed to. We managed to get to the bottom. The last line being ridden side by side.

 

We were able to take pictures with the crew and even hold their monkey. (Don’t ask me why they had a monkey. Or why Mariah wanted to take pictures with it.)

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Good Times. It was an experience. I am not sure I would ever do it again. But I am glad I did it here. Anyone going St. Kitts via Carnival cruise in the future… (Not sure how the COVID-19 will affect travel in the future.) I recommend the ziplining.

Grand Turk – ATV Adventure

As I have stated before, I went on an ATV adventure in Jamaica. Super fun. So I knew I was going to enjoy this. I knew that if anyone would want to do it… it would be Mariah. Mansa had already been on a cruise and rode ATV’s in whatever city he stopped at in Mexico. I wanted to see Mariah’s reaction. So when it came time to disembark, we got off early… (Our ATV time wasn’t until late afternoon.)

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My sister being the photographer she is wanted to take pictures under the giant GRAND TURK sign. That took a while since it seemed like everyone on the island wanted to do that.

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We spent some time down by the beach before heading over to get food. I got to watch people ride by on jetskis. (I promise I am going to get to do that on a trip here soon. It is still on my bucket list.) There were even people who were on their parasailing journey.

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Because we were off the boat so early, we were able to hang out and get food at the Margaritaville and get in the pool. Nothing better than getting your food and watching people fall on the surf machine.

The weather was great. Something about cruising in August instead of September. (September is hurricane season. Generally, we avoid September when talking about cruising. It is usually cheaper but in the end, your trip may be cut short.) The place was crowded… we weren’t the only ones that wanted to eat off the boat. (Nothing wrong with eating on the boat. A lot of it is free but sometimes you just want to experience what the Island has to offer.)

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The issue then became trying to find a place by the pool to wait for ATV time. It took a minute but we were able to get seats poolside and relax our minds.

We managed to get to the group on time and get fitted for our helmets and pick our ATV’s. The first thing that stood out to me was how different these looked from the ones I rode in Jamaica 3 years before. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to handle this. Take a look for yourself. This is me in 2015 in Jamaica. I wish I had a scarf or something because I came off of this one being super dusty.

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And then this was what we got in Grand Turk. (Both were great btw… just different.)

No cages this time.

This was a guided tour. However, unlike the tour, I did in Jamaica, this one was through the streets of Grand Turk. I remember the tour guide saying… “A lot of you guys are visiting from the United States where you drive on the right side of the road. Just remember here it is the opposite. So keep in mind that left is right and right is suicide.” Talk about the jitters beforehand. But it was pretty easy to follow them. It was great because we were able to stop and take pictures and they even provided us with free waters. If I get another chance to ride an ATV somewhere… I will take it.

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I noticed Mariah was extremely quiet. This never happens. She told me when we got off to take pictures that she had to concentrate and make sure she didn’t end up on the wrong side of the road.

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Had a good time. It was a two-hour tour. We headed back to the ship to get food. We were tired but happy. The dining rooms are normally closed on a disembarkation day. So we had Guy’s Burger Joint to choose from or the Blue Iguana and those things close pretty early when it is time to shove off again. So I got tacos… (That is a close second for me to cheeseburgers.)

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

Now, this was after Hurricane Maria… and if I was paying more attention I would have chosen a cruise with a different destination. Maybe it was too soon to be visiting. But when we arrived the city was beautiful. If I hadn’t known a devastating storm passed through the area, I wouldn’t have believed it. My siblings and I decided that we were going to take a stroll around the city. Such history all over. I loved it. Nothing better than walking around a new place with family.

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It was great to be able to walk around in another US city and get cell service (which is spotty at best in other places.) I was able to call my dad. In the meantime, we got food. (Tacos, which interestingly enough people felt that I should have bought something else. People love to complain about something.) There was so much great architecture… Old San Juan has the best most colorful streets.

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There is nothing better than seeing the Umbrella Street up close.  My niece was thoroughly entertained by it.

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Just great scenery where ever you looked. It was the most peaceful setting.

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I had so much fun and all I was doing was wandering around. It was great to experience that with my family. Great music was being played… it was easy to sit back and relax and enjoy my time there.

In the end, my family and I had a lot of fun. Great times, good people, and great food. It really is all I can ask for.

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But that is my blurb for now. I have said this would be my last cruise for a while… But I have a lot of other places that I want to visit. And I get there and explore… you guys will know about it.

 

 

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