memories to last a lifetime

my son went to summer camp. he returned today after five whole days and nights away. this was his third time attending (last summer, and this past winter) with our church. he had such a wonderful time. he's sitting on the couch reminiscing and researching some of the songs he heard and shared with his camp family. he shed a tear (a huge alligator tear) for the friends that he made, the times they shared, and for the overwhelming good time.

i explained that his feelings were normal and a sign that camp did everything it was supposed to do. these are memories that he won't ever lose or forget. camp is a memory that lives in perpetuity. it lingers on and on always bringing a smile.

we are fortunate enough to live just a half hour away from the mountains and the grand hospitality of Forest Home. the staff and facilities are top notch and geared to make a ten year old boy wish for camp — just minutes after having arrived home.

the three pictures above are courtesy of the Forest Home site. they do not allow electronic devices or phone calls (unless an emergency of course), which allows the kids to completely disconnect and take in the beauty of the world around them. the camp is faith focused and shifts the children's understanding of Our Savior Jesus Christ into a deeper yearning and learning. my son is already discussing his future as a counselor.

what more could a mama ask for? his prescription medication was loaded electronically into their site and administered daily by a nurse. their app: Forest Home Adventure Guide allowed me to receive updates; including when medications were administered, the plan for the day, the focus of the lesson shared, and my son's "camp store balance" (as cash is not accepted).

a faith based focused dedication on the Majesty of the Lord!! three allergy-free meals a day. mandatory hydration is required at all meals (drink two glasses of water). a safe yurt-like structure to share with his camp mates. a camp store in which to spend (his whole $15) frivolously. clean and accessible restrooms and showers. and all of the chaperoned and safe fun a ten year old can handle for six days. i am forever in debt to our church Immanuel Baptist, our children's ministry director, numerous dedicated chaperones, and the capable and trustworthy staff of Forest Home.


that picture and the gravity-defying toss are courtesy of our children's ministry director: Jaime and our church orchestra leader/director: Mr. Mike. thank you!

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vacation elation: part 4 ~ off the ship and on the shore

hello, hello, hello my darlings!

i hope that i haven’t bored you all to tears with my detailed explanation of How To procrastinate, deny and eventually get to your vacation. and once i got you on the line, i took a four-week long hiatus, right? sad. my apologies, darlings! the perils of the working girl have revisited and pained me beyond belief. however! i am forging ahead and doing my best to keep all avenues open and alive. so, with that said, i have returned (after a hard day at work and picking up my son) to bore you with more about my beloved vacation (also after a fight with my mouthy four-year-old about WHY i get to use the computer and he doesn’t).

so, let’s go with a little quick review:

  1. this was my first vacation in ten years. it was required, needed, wanted and thoroughly enjoyed.
  2. it was a gift. yes, a gift. the whole thing: one giant gift.
  3. while on the cruise, tropical storms detoured us from our original itinerary and had us visiting other places sooner than we had intended, and skipping other places that we’d rather have seen (those places being St. Thomas and Puerto Rico).

and now that we are caught up, let’s get moving…

our first scheduled stop was to Nassau, Bahamas. i had a late night the night before (hahhaha… or every night) and didn’t get up in a timely manner. once we (me: the one who gets ready and them: the three that say they are getting ready) were all together, we headed out to shore. i think it was about a quarter-to-one in the afternoon and we had to be back on board the boat by two-ish… so, we went into the customs office slash tourist trap, bought a fan (omg it was so humid), a pina colada and took a few pictures, we got back into the almost-hour-long line to get back on the boat. it would suffice to say that we did not have the opportunity to enjoy very much of the Bahamas. but, while we were there, Makeni and I did enjoy a very real, very authentic Pina Colada. it was delicious. the only other thing i was able to do in the short time that we were there was COMPLETELY MELT. the humidity in these tropical places is what makes them tropical, beautiful, inviting and two blips to the left of completely miserable.

the official "Bahamas" sign with "How Many miles To" arrows posted on it and a line of people waiting to be photographed with it. i skipped the line, held the camera high and snagged this very impersonal shot.

our next stop was supposed to be St. Thomas but that tropical storm pushed us on to Grand Turk Island. we were going to stop there, on day six or so, but here we are! day three and to Grand Turk we will go!

Grand Turk island is approximately seven miles long by three miles wide. it has a beautiful white sand beach (with a buncha rocks) and there are beautiful white and blue chaises and umbrellas for rent. you can’t get far without hearing about Margaritaville. yup! you guessed it.. the Jimmy Buffet song inspired Margaritaville (~singing~ wastin’ awaaaay again in Margaritaville. lookin’ fer my lost shaker of salt). so i went to the beach with the “say they are’s” and the rocky beach really put a cramp in my style… mostly by just being under my foot. so i left! i left the beach, i left the girls and went off my own. and whaddya know, there was music playing…

that’s where i found:

the DJ on the ones and twos that had MVille on full tilt!

um, sorry, that’s BSB for “this is the man that played wonderful music and brought the party, kept it alive and made it the most memorable inebriated event to date”.

Margaritaville is huge. huge on a 21 square mile island? either way, there was a bar and restaurant, but what caught my eye was the twisty windy waist-high swimming pool that didn’t seem to end. and, and, AND!! it had a swim-up bar. holy sweet tea on ice!!! that’s not what i had to drink, but boy was i excited. i got there at the same time as the other girls at our dinner table: Li and Shantel.

Shantel(L), Liana(R) and myself(M). LIVIN' IT UP AT THE 'Ville (that's right, me and the Ville are on a nickname basis)

so i met up with these two ^ and we shed our outer layers, grabbed our oversized shades and headed off into the crowd:

yup, into THIS! crowd

the crowd actually got bigger and bigger and closer together. this is a photo from when we first got there. i refused to take my phone (that’s where my camera is) into the water and so, pictures of the Ville are limited. after we got in, got familiar and sauntered over to the bar, we found these folks:

where you from? the Bay areaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

i apologize to those whose names i do not know… however. in the back row, from left to right: Stretch, Norm, Vange and “OH! I shoulda bought me some Monster, can I buy one from you?” and in the front, also from left to right is: Jay, the Homie Romie and The Mystery Man. 🙂

they brought a party, bought a party and let us join their fun. jell-o shots by the tray with tequila on top. really? can you do that? i didn’t think so either, but they did and then we did and we all did and it was all good.

mmm hmmm.. J & N lovin' up on the jell-o

i don’t know why Nikki is not in those pictures. but she is also from the bay area and she introduced me to her very fun, very generous and entertaining friends.

Vange, me and BabyCakes, havin' more fun than is legal for mothers away from their children (not really)

can you see the tequila in my eyes? hahahahah.. it was such a fun day. we had such a good time. i haven’t been that water logged since i was half the age i am now.

Stretch and Rome kickin' with the PrettyGirls

you see those smiles? look again. from the first “bay area” photo: not so much in the smile department, then Jay and Norm ensuring that a good time was going to be had, and the next two photos ain’t nothin’ but TEETH. good times, people. good times.

after the jell-o, the tequila, a mai tai (naturally), the push-up contest and the beginning of the “shake whatcha mama gave ya” contest, i was shriveling like a prune. i slowly made my way back to the boat. i got held up by security/customs/Turk-Island-Naitve who told me that i was not allowed to leave. it was his way of flirting. he was nice. i waved and kept it moving. i think it was that night that we saw Charlie Wilson. (i just consulted the itinerary and i was right, see my previous post for the goods on Mr. Wilson).

the next morning, i stumbled upon the bay area, having breakfast and perusing the photos from the day before (all taken by Vange on her fabulous evidence catching iPhone):

breakfast! with the bay. (sorry for the bright spot)

this day we spent at sea and BabyCakes (that’s Nikki) and i spent the entire day on the upper deck soakin’ up the sun and sharin’ a few laughs. we were donned “cruise celebrities” later that day and all we could was laugh and smile. we certainly made our fair share of friends and acquaintances. Rome came to hang with us later in the day and the three of us shared some of the buffets afternoon yumminess: nachos, chicken strips, french fries and as many cups of ice water that would fit on a tray. the only thing that made us depart was needing a nap before dinner.

the next day was thursday and our destination was key west. i think i gave you the low down on my aunt spraining her ankle on wednesday night. getting off shore on this day was difficult due to needing a wheelchair and all that other nonsense. it was just shy of painful. also, i know that i have complained about the tropical climate and the humidity but hear me now: key west florida is no less than four minutes from hell. apparently we made it ashore just after a little thunder storm. it was beautiful outside and very inviting but just beyond the threshold of the air condiditoned boat was air so thick with water that you could hold out a glass and quench your thirst. again, i was soaked from head to toe. we went ashore in search of key lime pie which seemed to be in every store, including the jewelry store.

“engagement ring? sure right here. and while you browse, here’s a piece of pie.”

Makeni wanted to find a key lime meringue and i was just done. i had hit my limit on the little shuttle. it was awful! awfuuuuullll! and then! my aunt said:

“look neesh, they sell Monster.”

holy smokes and artichokes! i honestly left my aunt, in her borrowed wheelchair, while i crossed the street and entered the smallest little store i have ever been in and found that sweet-glowing-jazzy-energy-in-a-can:

yessssssssss!

i walked out, Monster in hand and she said:

“i know you didn’t buy ONLY ONE. you’ve been complaining about Monster since we got on the boat and you only bought ONE?”

yeah, huh? so i went back in. spent everything i had and came out with an armful! we piddled around a little bit and then i had to protest:

“it’s just too damned hot for me, we gotta go back, i can’t take it anymore!!!”

i got on the boat buzzin’ from the charge of being Monster-sober for a week and then getting my first gulp. mmmmm mmmm. but before we go, let’s look at the few pictures i took before i melted on the sidewalk.

Mallory Square, where the shuttle dropped us off and picked us up.

the Shipwreck Historeum. doesn't it look like the ultimate treehouse or the lost extension for the Swiss Family Robinson monstrosity?

between the car and foot traffic and the unbearable humidity, this is the only picture that came out worth a hoot.. 😐

the intersection of humidity and hell... or somewhere in key west florida

shortly after staring at these two street signs i had myself-induced heat attack and went off ranting like a melting lunatic. seriously. i was just so darned hot. we went to the shuttle pick-up point which was next to a little indoor mall… WITH AIR CONDITIONING. lord love a duck.. i took my time walking in, walking around and just breathing. and then the horrible reality hit that i had to go back outside to get on the trolley and then stand in a line OUTSIDE to get back on the boat. geez. i’m not made for this. i’m a city girl, with country girl swagger. i’m not an outdoorsy camping type. i’m a hotel girl. i don’t mind being poolside, but i need less humidity and more beverage. yes, more beverage please!

out of the mall, melted. on the trolley, melted multiplied by melted as we waited for others and the loading of the wheelchair. off the trolley, melted. in the line to get on the boat, MELTED. up the ramp, through the metal detector, bag search and finally, into some air that was mostly void of moisture. sweet beans and histamines!! i hate to be so redundant about the humidity but just thinking of it makes me feel sticky.

on our last day we went to Freeport on the Grand Island of the Bahamas. there was much confusion over where to go and what to do. as one fellow shuttle-mate stated “it’s crunch time” and if you hadn’t done anything, now was the time to try and do it. i think the boat was empty that day. we went ashore and after another taxi cab squabble and a short ride we were far from where we actually wanted to be. i was with all of the girls when the day started, but once we got disparaged by the confused location, i split from them and joined up with another group of Cruise Crew members. Coincidentally, we all ended up at the same beach.

the groups merged and formed volleyball teams and a few amateur jet skiiers.

baby pine trees that were actually perfectly straight, but with the momentum of the craziest taxi ride ever, they appear bent

willie and torie. too cute. married forever and so in love.

volleyball at Taino Beach, Freeport, Grand Island of the Bahamas

me and torie. the non-volleyball players. enjoying the music, the sunlight and the company.

the winning team engaged in a group high-five!

Ruben. the best taxi driver ever.

the gang. the last outing of the last day of the cruise. that's Hank Sr. on the left and that's Hank Jr.'s on the right in the second row.

we had a lot of fun on this last day. we all tried to go to some other beach that was not what it was supposed to be. it was too far away, tiny, laden with rocks and generally lacking in all areas. we all ended up at Taino Beach. a picture perfect landscape with a little bit of everything: a bar/conch restaurant, jet ski rental, banana boat rental, sun bathing spot and impromptu gift shop. there was a group there before us that had most of the rentals tied up. so our groups split and played volleyball.

shortly there after, dwayne and i went jet skiing. whooo hooo! what fun. the water was choppy and it made for a less than smooth ride, but that had nothing to do with our fun. we fell off the jet ski twice and laughed so hard that i had a hard time getting back on. we skiied down a private channel and saw some very impressive homes. i told him “this makes me want to work twenty four hours in a day so that i can enjoy this life in the future”. it was inspirational, to say the least. we returned to the beach, to the taxi and to the boat. that last night i procrastinated and pondered on whether or not to actually go to the captain’s dinner, but i had to show my favorite server Tatiana some love and appreciation.

me and dwayne.

a good time was had by all. friends were made, experiences shared and memories forged to last a lifetime. i have relived the experience over and over again, always finding a new reason to smile. in the future i would do these things:

  1. take more pictures: you can never have enough pictures. i am going to look into the waterproof camera as suggested to me by Erika or “little miss ‘where’s my husband'” and her husband Chris.
  2. budget a little better: a few extra dollars would have given me a cushion of comfort.
  3. prepare to be solo: there’s nothing wrong with a group trip, with a group outing, with a group anything. but sometimes, it’s good to separate and take time to oneself. now, i can’t say that i didn’t enjoy a fair amount of time on my own, but i felt bad about it (at first). as if i had let the group down.
  4. get up and get out: when the boat docks, no matter where, get off the boat and see what’s going on. there’s no reason getting on a boat and taking a cruise with destinations if you’re only going to stay on the boat. don’t waste the experience.
  5. do not waiver: vacation is not the time to be timid or shy. if you want something, want to try something, want to do something, do it. it’s as simple as that. again, don’t waste the experience. like my early morning run in miami. when would i see the sun rise in miami again? i didn’t know then and i still don’t know now, but i’m so glad i got up and did it and snapped a picture to remind me.
  6. enjoy yourself. on every level.

and this concludes part four. also belated, but worth it just the same. i have one more part and that will be about the food. i hope i’ve convinced you all to think about a vacation, save for it and actually start planning it. you won’t regret it. we all take time off, we rest, we chill, we relax… on the couch, out in the yard or wherever we happen to power down at. but this! this was a vacation. a complete disconnect on every level from everything. it was needed, it was worth it and i can’t wait to do it again. so, until the next time my darlings… stay sweet.

vacation elation: part 2 ~ the ship, the staff, the service

have you ever had service so wonderful and surprising that instantly all previous service failed in comparison? the kind that makes you struggle hard to believe that anything before this exact moment was service at all? i had that experience just a few weeks ago while on my very first cruise on the Carnival Liberty. believe me, it was service unparalleled. the ship itself was impressive.  the staff was equally impressive and they delivered this phenomenal service that has me grinning from ear to ear. i stayed at two very nice Hilton properties during this vacation, and the service was also very exceptional, but it was still unlike the service delivered on the boat. i was in awe and very grateful.

the Carnival Liberty on the left... floating boating fun (docked at modified stop No. 2 ~ Grand Turk Island. home of Margaritaville. <-----this is where you should look FIRST, if a group of us Cruisers come up missing).

first, let me get you some actual factual information about the ship itself:

  • 13 passenger decks (several more that are not passenger friendly)
  • Specialty restaurant (Harry’s), 2 dining rooms, buffet (prepared fresh for breakfast (including omelet station), lunch (including stir fry station, burger stand, burrito bar and deli) and midnight buffet), ice cream parlor, pizzeria
  • Wi-Fi, in-room safe, refrigerator (pssst! there was no refrigerator available in our room, perhaps in one of those bigger rooms with room to spare…?)
  • 3 pools (1 indoor), children’s pool, (don’t forget the water SLIDE!)
  • Fitness classes, gym, hair salon, 7 hot tubs, sauna, spa, steam room
  • 9 bars (i think i visited each one, at least once), casino, dance club, library, showroom, video game room
  • Children’s programs (ages 2-17)
  • Laundry facilities, laundry service
  • Internet terminal

deck nine, the lido deck, (where the party was at), and the home of the water sliiiiiiiiiiiiiide

here is some information that was provided by ship staff:

  • 2,929 passengers (on this cruise)
  • almost 1,200 staff (including doctors, nurses, security, bar servers, food servers, bartenders, housekeeping, maintenance, chefs, fire department, sales and management)
  • the boat extends approximately twenty-seven feet underwater.
  • this is the funnel burning exhaust and paper waste:
  • the funnel... extending high into the sky, above every other accessible part of this humongous floating party

  • approximately eight tons of food waste per day (i made sure to clean my plate after i heard that news)
  • there are at least fifty-five nationalities of employees on this cruise ship, all born and raised in their native countries and fluent in their native languages, as well as English.

we had a quaint little room. it wasn’t “little” per se, but it was “to the point”. we had a total of three closets, four drawers and two cabinets in which to live from during our seven-day stay. as well, there were two drawers under the couch that made for excellent and adequate shoe storage. the bathroom was also “to the point” but seemed to handle two women in it’s midst without much complaint. we also had a window. a nice sized window, not the round porthole that we most associate with boats, but a window big enough for me to sit in. to sit in and gaze out into the endless world. where the ocean goes for miles and the sky goes for miles and they come together somewhere in the distance.

... where the water meets the sky...

i truly intended on taking a photograph with each staff member that i made a connection with. but as i went through my days and nights, i came in contact with so many that i fell short on photos from day one. either way, i made connections and i would like to share some of the wonderful people that i met.

myself and Tatiana, the spoiled and the spoiler... respectively

Tatiana from Estonia: Tatiana was my formal food server for the Captain’s dinner every night. she was a delight from day one. she spoiled me rotten and i would be a complete liar if i said i didn’t miss her. she knew right away what i liked and didn’t like (because my food tastes are elementary and simple) and she made special requests for me. i have never been so privileged. i enjoy a simple salad with a chunk of bleu cheese and every night, when i arrived to the table, my cheese plate awaited me. when there was no simple salad option on the menu, she still managed to get me one. i tried to leave early on two different occasions but she kept me in my seat by presenting me with the dessert menu and saying “sweet time?” flashing that little twinkle in her eye. we oooh’d and aaaah’d over creme brulee together and each night we gave the dessert menu our own personal review. the last night on the ship, i debated all day over whether or not to go to dinner. i was having fun and getting in my g’byes as i passed fellow cruisers. after some debate, i decided that Tatiana deserved a proper goodbye. she had been so wonderful to me and i didn’t want to leave her that last night without thanking her for her service, advising her supervisor of her wonderful service and ensuring them both that as soon as i had a chance, i would write to Carnival Cruises and tell them about the magnificent service i had received.  she was amazing and i will always remember her.

Luis from Mexico & Dokphikun from Thailand: after boarding the ship and attending the mandatory emergency meeting at our assigned location i was completely lost. i could not find my way back to the food so i decided to go to the room and see if our luggage had arrived. after entering the room i was soon greeted by Luis. he wanted to know if there was anything i needed. he was so wonderful and he called me by name. he didn’t attend to me anymore during our trip, but he did work down the hall. he always said good morning, good afternoon and good evening and his response to my asking him “¿como estas?” was always, always “todo bien”. it’s all goooooood.

towels. folded like a frog.

towels. folded like a dog (i think).

just a few moments later i met Dokphikun. she tended to our room and kept us in tip-top shape the rest of the way. she also used my name from the first time through the last time i saw her. i don’t know if this is standard practice, if it was special for our cruise group, if it was because it was on our door (i don’t think that mattered at all) or if it’s just something that she does… either way, it was wonderful. i would often see her in the hall during the morning or evening and she always said “hello Tanisha”. it was music to my ears. and to think, when i was younger, i would cringe at people using my name. i made it my mission to talk to all of those that came to my service, to ask them about them and find out as much as i could. Dokphikun and Luis set the tone and it was delightful.

towels. folded like an elephant. all the handiwork of Dokphikun.

Orlando from India and Ketut from Indonesia: two of the best bar servers ever! these guys were on a mission to keep me well hydrated and very spirited while i spent my days poolside. they ensured that my cup raneth over and over and over. always serving with a smile and calling me “Neesha” (say whaaaat? seriously? seriously. like we’d known each other for years) when they requested my signature. i know that we shared several hi-fives, a few knuckle bumps and at least one hug each. i know that at one occasion i waved my hand in the air, blindly, and within a few minutes Orlando came to my rescue asking me “you needing something ma’am?” hell-to-the-yeah!! that’s what i call service, sir. great guys, both of them.

Joseph from Thailand: the bartender that i had the most one-on-one contact with. when i approached the bar, i greeted Joseph by name and asked him how his day was going. he served me next and always asked me to try my drink and make sure it was to my liking. he’s my kinda bartender. 😀 he cared that i was satisfied and wanted to make sure that he had met my expectations. that’s certainly a way to ensure repeat business if you ask me.

Eliana from Romania(?): how rude, right? i don’t remember exactly where Eliana was from but she was my bar server at dinner. she was tall and elegant. her accent was gorgeous and made “may i bringck you sumzing from zee bahr?” sound like “how many carats do you want in your diamond ring?” i’m not sure if i ordered from her because i wanted a drink (bahahaha) or if i just wanted to hear her repeat everything (moh-heet-toe or jhin-jher hale or nuh-sing?). she was equally as personable and pleasant as the rest of her service team.

Kristian from Hungary: Kristian came to deliver a wheelchair. unfortunately while on vacation, my aunt suffered an injury. when exiting onto the Lido deck  she fell into a unmarked drainage hole and severely sprained her ankle. she had to get x-rays and e’rythang. sad. the next day we docked in Key West Florida. we didn’t get off the boat until late, but we still went ashore and tried to find the ultimate Key Lime Pie and a little something to bring home. in order to do so, we needed a wheelchair. Kristian was the gentleman that delivered the chair to our room. he was very happy, very helpful and very handsome (hubba hubba). he was upset to learn the nature of the accident and expressed his concern.  we used the chair to eventually make it off the boat and onto land. it was probably eighty-something degrees but it was also eighty percent humidity. i don’t know the actual numbers but it was horrible sticky madness. i was elated to find a mini-mall with air conditioning, a liquor store with Monster and even more elated to get back onto the air conditioned boat.

sadly, i do not know the names of two of my regulars: the gentlemen who served me daily an egg-white omelet with peppers and cheese and my staple “veggie burger with cheese ma’am?”. they were both at a distance and reading their name tags sufficed to be a challenge. they worked two of the busiest stations and trying to converse with them just held up the line and got us both dirty looks. both men were polite, helpful and happy. it was a common thread throughout the entire staff. it was simply beautiful to see and made my vacation a little more vacation-y.

and last, but definitely not least on my list is Jayash and Lany, both from India: both worked in security. i came upon Jayash quietly surveying the happy dancing crowd on the night of the Mardi Gras Cool White Night Party. such a large crowd in close quarters makes me a little uneasy. i chose to cruise around up top where i could see everyone, but also enjoy the ocean breeze and gaze at the stars.

up top, near the dj booth... and away from the body heat

 i started here, on the dj side, and made my way around to the forward side. people were filling up each level as they arrived from dinner and it got more and more crowded. it was my first white party also, so it was quite interesting to see an entire boat full of people ~ all dressed in white. and dancing. once i made my round around the top i came down i landed next to Jayash. he was quietly examining the crowd.

the party from Jayash's point of view...

i asked him a few questions that led to so many answers. it was great. he took me on a tour and i felt so much more comfortable… at sea. we had good conversation. i shared my fear of cruising and plans to become a big-name published writer and he shared his daily at-sea routine and his plans for a future together with his girlfriend. after our introduction, i would see him throughout the days and nights. i introduced him to the other ladies in my party and anyone i happened to be loitering around with when i saw him. he was very attentive and kind.

Lany was also very kind. he would often wave and say “good evening ma’am” as i usually saw him around dinnertime. he wore a very genuine smile and was chivalrous, opening doors and bowing slightly as he saw me in and out. on our last day, we had checked our luggage and were supposed to meet in an early group. due to cane return and wheelchair complications, we were singled out and blasted over the intercom as we were late. when i finally made it to the right area, Lany was there and he said “you! we’re waiting on you?” he shuffled me this way and that and shook my hand as he said “goodbye ma’am, it was a pleasure to meet you”. i told him that i would write about him, made him write down the blog address and told him to say goodbye to Jayash for me as i had not seen him since early in the day before. he nodded and said “my pleasure ma’am”.

the ship sufficed as more than a home away from home. and the outstanding staff and exceptional service definitely made my vacation experience something to write about. i was thoroughly impressed from start to finish. my only hope is that the other passengers and guests recognized it in the same way i did. i found this to be one of the most memorable and touching vacations i have thus experienced. i will hold all levels of service next to this one and hold my expectations high. i have been spoiled by the Carnival Liberty crew and i don’t think i’ll ever settle for less. i am writing that letter, i am singling each and every one out for their good deeds and outstanding service as a whole. they have made a friend, a fan and a sailor out of me.

share your exceptional service experiences with me. did you tell that person that they had provided you with outstanding service? did you tell their superior or write a commendation to their management? tell me what you think great service is. until next time, when we return for part three ~ the cruuuuiiise… stay sweet, darlings!

vacation elation: part 1 ~ traveling to travel

excellent? fantastic? stellar? none of these words seem to do justice in describing my most recent vacation. in fact, i have so much to share that i had to write four pages of notes and break up the experience into parts in order to have some sort of method to my madness. in short, it was a great time. better than i could have imagined and or expected. my aunt has tried to get me to go with her for five years. can you believe that? it was the mere thought of cruising and floating about in the ocean that made me not want to go. i, inherently felt more than a little nervous and claustrophobic at just the thought. she kept telling me “i just know i wouldn’t see you, other than to change your clothes”. well, i went and she was right!!! once i got in, got settled and familiar with my surroundings, i didn’t see her much. i tried to keep close and continuously say “thank you, thank you, THANK YOU”, but even that doesn’t seem like enough to share the appreciation for such a generous gift.

once out of the house i came to realize that this was my first vacation in ten years. yup, ten years. the last vacation was also memorable as it was the week of the World Trade Center disasters (September 11, 2001). that same week my grandmother had a quadruple bypass (September 10, 2001) and i woke up with a sinus infection and ended up spending my then-boyfriend’s birthday (September 12, 200i 1) in the emergency room of Kaiser hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. this, however, is a much better, much funnier, much more exciting story. so let’s move forward, shall we?

as i have decided to tackle this monstrous event in parts, i will begin with “traveling to travel”. in order to get where you want to go, you must travel there. whether it be literally or figuratively, getting from one place to another can be a feat. this is one such occasion. as i stated, this was my first REAL vacation in ten years. i have stayed away from home for a couple of nights here and there, went to a weekend bachelorette event and, of course, spent time with the bestie and the babies, but none of that compares to a plan for almost eleven days away from home. the longest time away from my son since the day he was born, more than four years ago. the vacation plans have been in the works for an entire year. it consisted of a two-night stay in Miami, Florida (known as the pre-cruise party) followed by a seven-day cruise known as the “Festival at Sea”. some return to the initiation point for more post-cruise fun, but i was unable to commit to fourteen days away from Super-Boy.

with travel comes plans, itineraries, tickets, reservations, confirmations, identifications, passes, passports, tags and receipts. this is what some of that looks like:

here is MOST of what i needed to complete my travels.

without any one of these items, your trip could be ruined. not just ruined, but ruinT! you could get held up, delayed, denied or rerouted. and even with all of these items, you could still get held up, delayed, denied or rerouted (i did).

  1. flight itinerary: ya gotta know where you’re goin’ and how long it’s going to take you to get there. for the first time ever in my travels, i had layovers. two, to be exact. layovers have always made me uncomfortable. not because of the on and off the plane (even though that is annoying) but because of the luggage. i have always feared that my luggage would be lost and this seems like the easiest way for it to happen. it didn’t happen, but with every change and every delay, i felt more uneasy and certain that i would have only two outfits: my travel outfit (chosen for comfort, not for style) and my pajamas. i would have toiletries, but no swimsuit, no hair fixins and noooooo makeup. not to mention my only shoe choice would be running shoes. brooks. not ideal for twelve days away from home.
  2. boarding pass: required for boarding any mode of travel. i guess if you’re all snazzy and whatnot you can skip the printing and scan your iPhone… but i’m just not that snazzy yet. so with three boarding passes printed (for each way), i was set.
  3. luggage tags: i did not manage to keep the original luggage tags required for my luggage to make it to the same place that i do. with layovers, the case may be that the luggage gets to go on ahead on a straight-through while i’m stuck touring America’s airports. in what universe is this alright? i, the person, have to play airplane hopscotch to get where i need to be but my clothing items and hair fixins are waiting, impatiently, at my final destination. booooo. the tags you see here are the tags to get my luggage from the hotel to the cruise ship. a whole other matter entirely. but, another set of paperwork just the same.
    1. let me take this opportunity to bring up heightened security measures and how i can’t take a can of shaving cream over so many ounces and had to pop the razor off my razor and the constant removal of my shoes and being body scanned and the 3-1-1 rule and no cords (it’s a cell phone charger) and no scissors (they’re for my eyebrows!!!) and no jacket and no sunglasses and all that other blah-tey blah blah madness. if you’re going to travel, RESEARCH, and know what you’re up against. don’t just go and then have to throw out your hair gel, favorite cologne and just purchased 1-liter jug of carbonated goodness. trust me on this.
  4. cruise itinerary: again. it’s nice to know where you’re going, an estimate of how long it will take to get there, how long you’ll be there and what time you’re leaving. since “a tropical storm” decided to hitch a ride, we had to skip stop two (St. Thomas) and stop three (Puerto Rico– my WHOLE reason for going) and just jam right on to stop four (Grand Turk Island — which turned out to be the party of all parties, we’ll get to that in part three) and fill the rest of the time with stops in other places not listed on the ITINERARY! i’m sure one of you is saying “it’s a plan, it’s not set in stone” and to that i say “it’s written in BLACK and WHITE”. i’m not complaining though, really. i wouldn’t want to take on Mother Nature, particularly while at sea.
  5. cruise ticket: required at customs along with your passport to prove that you have a valid and verified reason for boarding a boat with 2,928 other people. and for some reason this magic piece of paper says “ticketless”. hmmmm. this same paper was also required at the cruise check-in location to verify confirmation of my reservation prior to the verification of my identification.
  6. hotel reservation confirmation: prior to boarding our cruise, we spent two nights in Miami, Florida. it allows folks to get acquainted, get familiar and then get crazy at the Pre-Cruise Party the night before push-off (that’s cruise talk for setting sail). you need confirmation of your reservation, followed by the verification of your identification, again… i’m so glad i planned ahead and had all of this ticketless paper madness in one place.
  7. courteous door tag: our cruise-tastic cruise director “The Mayor” donned the doors of his group with a lovely greeting and welcoming. it also served very helpful in finding the oooooooone room amongst the many rooms when the Mojitos set it. it was purely a courtesy but much appreciated.
  8. detoured, delayed, denied and rerouted: mmmmm.. yes. well, the weather detoured our cruise and subsequently our flight home. the detour caused a delay. the delay caused us to be completely denied requiring us to be rerouted. on the left is the luggage tag given to me as i checked my carry-on, thinking, “i won’t need it, i’ll be home in 5 hours”. on the right is the denied and rerouted paperwork received when i tried to scan my delayed boarding pass. details? our flight from Tampa to Atlanta was detoured due to weather. we were detoured to Huntsville for fuel. several hours later we resumed our flight to Atlanta, obviously delayed. upon landing our connecting flight to Ontario was already gone. we were denied exit from Atlanta for TWENTY-FIVE hours and requested to return to the Atlanta airport the next night. we made it home sunday night instead of saturday night.
  9. passport, key cards and “Sail & Sign” : (clockwise) a) your passport is your life. do not travel to another country without it. if you don’t have one, get one, keep it safe. seriously. b) key cards are almost as important as passports since they open the locked hotel rooms where one’s passport currently resides. and c) the “Sail & Sign” card as issued by Carnival Cruises. you must have it. it’s the only way to do ANY and EVERY thing on the boat. it’s your credit and your key. don’t lose it. might i suggest a clear plastic waterproof lanyard? i wished i had one. as i mentioned, the weather changed our itinerary and we made a stop in Key West, Florida. prior to disembarkation of the ship to Key West we were notified via loudspeaker that in order to reembark the ship home, we had to show either 1) our passport and “Sail & Sign” card or 2) our legal state issued identification and BIRTH CERTIFICATE. say whaaaat? yup. serious.
  10. receipts: i didn’t NEED receipts for anything. but it’s good to keep them, because when the final bill comes and i needed to make sure that i consumed hundreds of dollars worth of Mojitos, Mai Tais and Red Bulls over a seven-day period, receipts were far better at recollecting what happened that my shoddy memory. they added up faster and easier too. (there are waaaaaay more receipts than what is pictured here).

it pays to think ahead when traveling. i had all of the items above (minus the key cards, the “Sail & Sign” card and the receipts) inside clear plastic sheet covers, assembled accordingly in a bound notebook. i kept the notebook with my carry-on luggage and as i made each stop and checkpoint, i was prepared and able to move on quickly. included in my handy notebook was emergency contact information, a brief medical history (i’m allergic to a few things) and a few select pictures of my son. it might seem a little overboard (is that a boat joke?) but it worked out really well. any and all paperwork was organized and at my fingertips. i did the same for my aunt. it gave us a sense of security, which is needed when traveling.

so, now that we’ve talked about the paperwork, let’s actually talk about the traveling. yes, i still have more to say. it can be difficult to budget for a long trip. be sure to account for long-term parking, shuttles and taxis. be sure to have some singles to tip your drivers, baggage handlers and bellmen. if you’re going to stay at a hotel for several days, include money for meals and go to the local store to purchase snacks. even at touristy prices, they will cost less than inside the hotel or airport. speaking of snacks, here’s a question: how long has it been that they stopped serving food on airplanes? and since when did 0.42 ounces of peanuts suffice as a “snack”? that is a pitiful shame and a farce!

that brings me to the topic of airport yumminess. there tend to be an outrageous amount of mini restaurants, bars and eateries inside most airports. i had the pleasure of enjoying Charley’s Fresh Grilled Subs in Atlanta on our way to Miami. egg, cheese and jalapeno type omelet served on a fantastically fresh and warm roll. served to me by some of the happiest working women i have ever seen. laughing, joking and all of them smiling. but with that said, beware of eating in airports as it is expensive. seriously. my sandwich and soda was close to ten dollars. while most of it is very delicious, where a budget is concerned i wished i had stopped outside of the airport and grabbed a bite.

airports also tend to be loaded down with reading material. hours on a plane can provide ample time to knock out several magazines, peruse pictures or read hundreds of pages in a long-anticipated current read. i suggest getting this stuff elsewhere. listen… the airlines and the airport are getting their money. they once provided us with room for ourselves, our luggage, carry-on items, headsets, meals and snacks — all for the cost of one ticket and a tip to the porter. but these days, you’re allowed one bag. any additional bags, cost. any overweight bags, cost. parking, meals and extra thoughts, cost. save yourself some trouble and some cost and plan ahead.

one more item before i let you rest is that you can’t beat interesting conversation with another traveler. sitting between my aunt and i from Ontario to Atlanta was Mr. Grover C. he was on his way to his niece’s wedding. he was just as sweet as pie. as my aunt napped, he and i engaged in conversation. we talked about everything in the few hours we were together. two things stand out: our conversation about how clouds look solid, yet fluffy and delicious and also about my writing, my blog and of course his encouragement of me going back to school. i gave him a bookmark with my blog address and i hope to hear from him soon.

Melinda and I, leaving the hotel and ready to start the cruuuuuuuise! (i was operating on NO sleep).

in the future i would do the following to make my traveling just a smidge easier:

  • tag all luggage with the exact same indicator. ribbon, bow, tag, whatever. all of them the same.
  • clear plastic waterproof lanyard to hold the “Sail & Sign” card. it was hard to keep track of while i spent the first four days in the pool. it’s not something you want to leave lying about.
  • take beverages of choice. we were allotted unlimited water, lemonade and iced tea on the cruise. everything else was at cost. inflated cost. i would bear the brunt of a case of water and a case of carbonated goodness.
  • pillow. i hate other pillows. i don’t even know why i try.
  • waterproof camera. it’s too hard to keep track of cameras and phones when you’re spending so much time in the water (perhaps that’s just me). it would have been ideal to have a waterproof camera near so that when the moment struck i could snap the shot and keep on keepin’ on instead of having to get out, dry my forearms, dig into my bag, dry my forearms, turn the camera on, aim, try to shoot, dry my forearms and take three really bad pictures before giving up.

from the Hilton Miami Downtown to the Carnival Liberty.. "Welcome Aboard"

so this, my lovelies, is part one ~ traveling to travel. just a hint at what it takes to leave home for a total of twelve days and if you’ve never done it, just a little glimpse into what you can expect. i hope it was helpful. if you think of something to share, please let me know. i love and appreciate your comments. i’ll return soon with part two ~ the ship, the staff and the service. until next time, my darlings…. stay sweet.

vexed over vacation

tomorrow i will be going on vacation. this will be my first notable vacation in many years. i’ve had some weekend getaways and a few sleepovers with the bestie and the babies, but that’s nothing in comparison to what is planned for my very near future. and while i am very excited, anxious and extremely “ready” for this vacation, i am saddened, as well as heartbroken to be leaving my main man, my sidekick, my number one buddy, my son at home. he will be well taken care of and perfectly comfortable at our home with his toys and his bed. however, i am not so certain that i will be the same.

so, enough with the suspense already, huh? ok. i’ll tell you. due to the overwhelming generosity of my aunt, she and i are going on a cruise. yup, a cruise. we are going to the bahamas, st. thomas, puerto rico and grand turk. i’ve never been on one, have you? i hear they are the bees knees and not to be underestimated. from what i understand it’s a floating party with numerous types of parties and options aboard. sounds exciting right? oh! and the food. i heard that cruise food is food to die for. that it’s just never-ending and mostly delicious (i say mostly, because someone somewhere doesn’t like something– usually). if it’s all so good, why do i feel so bad?

is it because we wanted and planned to take my son? and then later after much deliberation we decided that perhaps we should not? or is it because i’m leaving him for the first time for more than two nights since the day he was born? that seems more like it to me. my son often spends the night with his dad but calls for me rather crankily when he gets hungry or tired. we all love mom’s cooking, don’t we? i know i do. and of course, mamas bathe us and comfort us just before it’s time to sleep. no matter how much complaining he does, his time with his dad is always a great time.

so, again, why do i feel so bad? i have the normal traveling woes of not getting where i need to be on time, lost luggage and forgotten reservations. i have the normal concerns of anyone who is traveling with toiletry items (because of TSA), shoes that require tying and untying (because of TSA) as well as having to purchase my own in-flight food (because of TSA). i’ll remember to remove my eyebrow grooming utensils including tweezers and tiny sharp scissors, so that i don’t get held up and questioned (because of TSA). i’ll also be certain to remove that handcuff key from the bottom of my purse (because of TSA).

everything is taken care of. it’s all been paid for and reserved. our reservations for flights, hotels and cruise ships have been acknowledged and confirmed. the bills are taken care of, the refrigerator is taken care of and the house is taken care of. even my son, is taken care of, for twenty-four hours for all of the days that we will be gone. but… something keeps nagging at me. something is keeping me unexcited when i should be over-excited. i need to shake that feeling. i need it to be gone. if i’m bummed, i will undoubtedly bum someone else out and that’s just a bummer. boooooooo!

ok! so, with that said, i will do as i have been instructed by close friends to do a few things to remedy the homesickness that will fervently consume my son and i. first, i will leave a picture of me with him, that he can hold and keep close. you should know that i’ve already done the same, i think i packed pictures of him FIRST. second, i will make a calendar for him showing the days that we are gone with a photo of the person who will be caring for him that day. next, i will leave my favorite t-shirt behind so that he can sleep in it and feel juuuuuuuuuust a little bit closer to me. i will try to call him every night around bed time to let him know that i am thinking of him and wishing him sweet dreams. and last on my list is to take one of his blankets with me (and i plan on hijacking one of his small trains too) so that i can feel close to him when i want to.

*sigh* ok. i think these things will help. i think. i hope so because i really need to shake this before i get on a plane to the other side of the country and then on a boat for a whole week. i’m sure that tomorrow will bring a renewed feeling of excitement and joy as i finish packing, check items off my checklist and get the show on the road. in the meantime, i’m going to sit and watch him play and smile and drink in as much as i can. drunk on my preschooler’s love is how i wanna be so that the “i left him” hangover doesn’t set in until the plane has taxied off the runway and is into the air where my only options to protest are to jump or jump.

have you ever left your kid(s) for more than a couple of nights? how did you handle that? how did he/she/they handle it? was it bearable? did you have a hard time sleeping? were you too worried to have a good time? talk to me, darlings, i’m about to crumble and i’ve run out of things to blame on the TSA.

aww. back when he was six months old and teething.

just last weekend, he's a little over four years old and having fun at the Orange County Fair.