The Easter weekend was coming, and we had covid credits to burn, so a quick family getaway to Toronto seemed like a solid plan. It would never have been worth it if we were paying out of pocket, but since the flight and the hotel were already covered, going all that way for three nights wasn’t totally crazy.
Plus, you know what they say: you’ll never regret spending money on experiences rather than things.
Our credits got us a deluxe room at the venerable Royal York Hotel, which was far too classy for the likes of us. The lobby was full of well-dressed, well-moneyed people with stacks of luggage, and there we were in our track pants and backpacks. Kind of felt like the Clampetts. That said, we did get the royal treatment on account of being “preferred customers” (we signed up for their loyalty program a few days beforehand) which was pretty cool.
We spent our first full day on a bus tour to Niagara Falls. It was a long drive to look at some waterfalls, but it was one of those landmarks you just want to say you’ve seen (like Stonehenge). We spent a few minutes taking pictures, then went for an incredibly expensive lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. Cheesy, I know, but we had fond memories of that restaurant from our first trip to Disneyland (c’mon, the thunderstorm is cool) and we were willing to splurge. Afterward, Justin and I played some mini golf while Chris and Brayden looked at souvenirs. A good day.
Sports was a major focus of the trip, since Toronto offers attractions that can be found nowhere else: the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Blue Jays. We’ve toured a few other sports halls of fame, but the kids had never seen anything like the room that showcases the Stanley Cup along with every other major hockey trophy. Very cool.
The highlight of the trip was getting to see a Jays game in Rogers Centre. We don’t get too many opportunities to see pro baseball–I’ve been to a Mariners game and Chris and I saw the Jays in Boston, but it was amazing to be part of the home crowd. The only downer was that the roof was closed, since it was about -5 outside…but we still enjoyed it immensely.
This vacation came about because I wanted to a) take the kids back to Disneyland and b) see Alcatraz. So when I found a cruise itinerary that began in LA, went to San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, and ended in Vancouver (such an easy hop home!) I was sold. I even convinced some extended family to come along.
A few highlights: – being at Disneyland for May the Fourth (a bunch of cast members formed an honour guard of lightsabers at the entrance to Tomorrowland, which was pretty cool) – seeing the polar bears, koalas, and giant panda at the San Diego Zoo – participating in multiple rounds of trivia competitions on the ship (although we peaked early…our first game was our best, and it went downhill from there) – learning some new line dance routines – beating my teenager at a game of 21 – sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge – touring the cell blocks at Alcatraz – getting amazing views from the Space Needle – marvelling at the brilliant glass creations at the Chihuly Gardens – getting me and my hubby, kids, parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew all together in the dining room for a nice meal (a lady from the next table actually complimented us on how well-behaved the kids were.
For someone just getting over a queasy stomach, the idea of getting into an open-air transport truck and driving 30 minutes over the world’s worst roads was a bit daunting, but thankfully it worked out all right. Our destination today was Lac Bay (technically a saltwater lagoon), where we climbed into a raft and went floating through what the guide explained was the biggest mangrove forest in the world. The whole area is a UNESCO-protected site and serves as a breeding ground for 250 species of fish. It was fascinating to hear how a creature called an upside-down jellyfish creates oxygen in this special environment—the guide even scooped one of the slimy little blobs up and let Brayden hold it in his hand. Very cool.
(Speaking of the guide: when he heard we were from Canada, he mentioned one of his good friends moved from Bonaire to Saskatoon of all places a few years ago. God only knows why. It really is a small world.)
On the way back to the beach, we saw a couple of huge green turtles and one loggerhead turtle bob their heads out of the water just a few feet from our raft. An awesome experience.
In other news: we’re fairly sure Brayden sprained his toe a couple days back, but he seems to be toughing it out pretty well. Plus, my appetite is back for the first time in three days. Woo hoo!
The next two days are at sea as we head back to Miami. Here’s hoping for smooth sailing…
Located just 70 km north of Venezuela, Curacao is a Dutch Caribbean island with charming pastel-colored colonial buildings. However, it’s also a desert island whose chief attraction is scuba diving (a no-go for our group) so I had a tough time finding an activity that would appeal to all of us. I settled on a cave tour followed by a walk-through of the historic city centre. It seemed like a solid option.
The caves, however, were not only smaller and less impressive than the ones in Cayman, they were also full of bats, which the guide couldn’t stop talking about. The kids were so freaked out that they literally clung to us; Justin was almost in tears. Not a great start to the morning.
The walking tour of the old town was a letdown too. In retrospect, it was probably a bad sign that the guide warned us all up front to give her a head’s up if we were going to wander off…she said sometimes she’s talking and then she turns around and no one’s there. We all laughed at the time, but as we stood on a street corner for 20 minutes listening to a detailed description of the significance of the floor inside the Jewish synagogue, it became pretty clear why people would want to bolt. We bailed early, and we were not the only ones. Guess you can’t win ‘em all.
Aruba’s license plate slogan is One Happy Island, and we certainly found our happy place today. We spent the day at De Palm Island, an all-inclusive waterpark where we could snorkel, splash, ride banana boats, play basketball, eat, drink, and relax. The weather was perfect, everyone found something fun to do, and I didn’t vomit once. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.
We’re all tired and most of us are sunburnt, but it was totally worth it. A great day.
I usually find sea days a drag, but I was grateful for this one…I’ve had stomach issues since 1:00 last night and have spent much of today with my head in a toilet. I recovered enough by late this afternoon to do some line dance lessons, so at least the day wasn’t a total loss. We’re hoping to catch a country music production show on the main stage tonight; I’ll make sure to sit on the end of the row closest to the bathroom. We’ll see how it goes.
It’s a shame we have no photographic evidence, but there were smiles all around on our river rafting excursion today. Even Justin was looking forward to this one, mainly because we forced him to do white water rafting in the Rockies last summer and he (gasp) actually enjoyed it. This time it was a very different experience: we didn’t need wetsuits, we hardly had to paddle, and we didn’t have to endure a 30-minute safety briefing outlining all the ways we could fall in the river and drown (come to think of it, there was no safety briefing at all. This is Jamaica…no problem, mon.)
We ended up at a beach, where we had an hour or so to splash around, enjoy ourselves, and get some cool pictures. An awesome time.
Tomorrow is a full day at sea. The kids will be partying with their pals until late tonight, and Chris and I might check out a Yes or No game show in the observation lounge. I haven’t been super impressed with the evening entertainment on this ship, but it could still get better.
Grand Cayman is the epitome of what comes to most people’s minds when they think of a Caribbean island: gorgeous sandy beaches, sparkling blue water, and Jimmy Buffett tunes by the bar. Having been here once before, though, we were looking to go beyond the beach and explore something different. So when I heard about a relatively new attraction called the Crystal Caves, I jumped at the chance to go.
We walked through three separate caves (there are more than 100 of them in the northern part of the island, but only three have been developed for tourists) and marvelled at the amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations. The guide even showed us how he could tap on different formations to create different chimg sounds—it was like he was playing a series of bells. Very cool. The hitch was that we had to walk directly underneath 300 bats to get out of the caves…which wasn’t fun, but we made it.
I’m not going to pretend this trip is all sunshine and bliss. After all, we’re traveling with a mischievous 10-year-old who loves to push people’s buttons and a surly teenager who thinks everything we do is totally lame (actual quote while inside the caves: “I’m not trying to be negative, but how can you find this interesting?”) But even still, we managed to have a pretty good time.
I guess we should get used to falling asleep before our kids get home. Both boys were initially reluctant to join the kids clubs onboard, but we convinced them to give it a go, and we’ve hardly seen them since. Brayden gets to hang out with the 10-to-12-year-olds and come and go more or less independently; he was busy with his new buddies until 10:00 last night. Meanwhile, having just turned 13, Justin qualifies for the teen club (a fact that irritates his brother to no end) and has easy access to an adult-free zone filled with air hockey, foosball, and PlayStations. He even stayed up until 11:00 for a teen-only game of dodgeball on the sports court, and this is a guy who routinely falls asleep around 8. Huh.
Today was at sea, so we’ve been exploring the ship (though not together — we all get up at different times and it’s actually been a bit frustrating trying to keep track of each other). I went for an early jog, had a nice breakfast with Justin in the Irish pub, and got some sun on the pool deck. Brayden emerged from the kids club long enough to have lunch and a game of Scrabble with me; I even got to spend half an hour with Justin before he took off again. Both boys did (eventually) come back so we could all have dinner.
The kids are crashing in front of the TV tonight while Chris and I check out a Battle of the Sexes game in one of the lounges. Should be interesting!
After a bit of a bumpy start, we are off on our latest family adventure: a cruise of the southern Caribbean. We booked this trip eons ago because I was intrigued by the itinerary…and then hurricanes wiped out most of those islands last fall. We’re still going to have a great holiday; we just aren’t going to any of the places we originally wanted to see. (I know, I know. First world problems, right?)