Rafting on the Rio Bueno: Falmouth, Jamaica

Yeah, mon.

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.

And now we sail…

The Crystal Caves of Grand Cayman

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.

On to Jamaica…

A Lazy Day at Sea

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!

Grand Cayman tomorrow…

Setting Sail on Spring Break

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?)

Stay tuned!

A Final Day of Wonder

I think I’m mellowing with age. I used to hate being stuck on a ship for the entire day; I was always anxious to get out and explore. But I’ve come to realize that having an entire day to read, play games, and be passively entertained while eating meals I didn’t have to prepare is actually pretty awesome.

After a gorgeous (albeit very windy) early-morning jog on the promenade, we relaxed with some new friends by the adults-only pool, watched a really lame ventriloquist show, and lost badly at a couple rounds of trivia (how would anyone know the name of the actor who played Mini Me? Argh.) But that was all just the build-up to the coolest event of the day: dinner at Animator’s Palate, the most unique restaurant on board. Designed like a blank artist’s canvas, the walls and artwork start off as black and white, but over the course of the meal they transform into swirls of color; the artwork even changes from still pictures to fully animated graphics. The finale involves a montage of Disney films set to music, and sorceror Mickey comes dancing through the restaurant. It’s a truly spectacular experience.

The final production show tonight is a song-and-dance number celebrating the music of the more modern Disney and Pixar films, which I’m really looking forward to.

It’s been a great cruise! Home tomorrow…

Where the Waters Meet: Cabo San Lucas

There’s a reason Cabo is known as Land’s End: it’s located at the very tip of the Baja peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. And it is a spectacularly beautiful port. This is a top destination for many snowbirds, and I can see why. With its dramatic rock formations, white sandy beaches, and picture-perfect weather, Cabo certainly makes an impression.

We took a harbor cruise to get an up-close view of the enormous rocks that line the bay, including the famous Arch of Poseidon that resulted from natural erosion. Along the way, we also saw scores of sea lions, pelicans, and even dolphins. I wasn’t sure how I’d fare on the smaller boat given my motion issues, but it all worked out all right. Very cool.

That Frozen show last night was just meh (not coincidentally, that’s also how I felt about the movie version.) Olaf the snowman was cute and the overall production was well-designed, but the storyline just doesn’t appeal to me. As part of the ship’s Halloween celebrations, there was a special costume party with all of the characters in the atrium; there’s also a special 3D screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas on the main stage tonight, but I think we’ll skip that to do some ‘80s music trivia and see the Beauty and the Beast movie we didn’t get to watch yesterday due to Chris’s nap.

One more day…

Disney Fun in the Mexican Sun

Having one foot in both the adult and kid worlds is really working for me. I love being able to hide away in the adult-only areas but also join in on the family fun when it suits us—like at the pirate party last night. We found a perch on the upper level that let us observe all the fun without being crushed by the crowd of mini swashbucklers. The characters and cruise staff danced and boogied to songs catering to a wide variety of audiences—at one point “Captain Rock” and a selected group of middle-aged guys from the audience banged along on stage to a bunch of 80s hits (one guy got so into the air guitar thing that he wound up on his knees and there was some question about whether he’d be able to get up again). For the big finale, the Mouse himself rappelled from the ship’s funnel down to the stage and an amazing series of fireworks lit up the sky. AWESOME.

I enjoyed the illusionist’s show too. He did the usual card tricks and the old cut-a-woman-in-half bit, but this being Disney, he also got the kids involved. He called a bunch of kids up on stage, then asked each of them their name and where they were from. The first little girl, who couldn’t have been more than five, announced her name was Holly…but when pressed on where she was from, she paused for a few moments before admitting with great anguish, “I forgot.” It was adorable.

After breakfast and workouts this morning (I’ve been jogging the promenade deck and Chris has been hitting the gym…yay us!) we did a special tour of the ship where the guide explained what went into the design and “imagineering” of various areas and features. Can you believe Disney was so insistent about controlling every detail of the look of their ships that they battled for six months to get authorization to use yellow-colored lifeboats instead of the standard Coast Guard-approved orange ones? (Why? Because Mickey doesn’t wear orange; his shoes are yellow.) I appreciate attention to detail when it comes to theming—the Halloween decor on board is awesome—but that’s just unreal.

We’re having drinks by the pool right now, but will shortly be heading to the movie theatre for a show before going to dinner at the Little Mermaid-themed restaurant. Tonight’s big production is a stage version of Frozen, which should be pretty cool. (Get it? Ha! I crack myself up.)

Cabo San Lucas tomorrow…

Exploring Ensenada

To be honest, we chose this cruise for the ship. The actual itinerary was only important insomuch as it involved warm and sunny places. I can’t say I was excited to come to Ensenada, but I always like to get off the ship and explore, so away we went.

Our tour started at the Riviera Del Pacifico, a former hotel-casino that in its heyday was known as the Monte Carlo of the Americas. Stars like Lucille Ball, Jack Dempsey, and Frank Sinatra used to come down here to gamble, drink, and enjoy the good life. The place closed in 1964 and barely escaped demolition; today it’s used for weddings and civic receptions. A plaque outside the bar claims the margarita was invented here, though our guide pointed out that anyone could go on Google and find out that wasn’t true. We did get free margaritas, though, so I wasn’t about to argue.

We were also taken to the main downtown shopping area, which consisted of dozens of cheesy souvenir shops interspersed with stores advertising cheap Viagra. The guide set us free to spend our money and highlighted what she considered the best deals, even mentioning that we could get a full-body massage for only $50. (Frankly, there is an extremely short list of things I might consider purchasing in Mexico, and “full-body massage” is not on it.) Instead of shopping, we spent the hour walking and chatting with a couple from Minnesota who also left their two kids at home so they could celebrate their 15th anniversary Disney-cruise style. Nice.

Back on the ship, we got our asses kicked at trivia in the British pub, then hung out by the adults-only pool. Right now I’m watching sea lions play on the rocks at the pier while the ship pulls away. Tonight is a magic show on the main stage followed by a pirate party on the pool deck. Ah, vacation.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Day at sea tomorrow…

Setting Sail From San Diego

I knew I wanted to do some kind of special getaway to celebrate our 15th anniversary this year, so when I saw that Disney was offering a five-day Mexican riviera cruise out of easy-to-get-to San Diego, I leaped at the opportunity. So yes, we’re on a Disney cruise without our kids. And it is awesome.

Sure, there are plenty of kids on board. However—and I can’t stress this point too strongly—none of them are ours, and the adult-only pool area and bars are peaceful oases where it’s easy to find both a chair and a drink. Plus we can also join in on the family fun stuff like the sail-away party featuring Mickey and friends at the main pool. For those of us adults who are really kids at heart, this is super cool.

Dinner at the New Orleans-style Tiana’s Place tonight, then a Mickey and crew production in the theatre, and then (if we can manage to stay awake) a match-your-mate game show in one of the lounges.

Ensenada tomorrow…

Airplanes and Interstates: Day 2 in Seattle

I live with geeks, so the first thing on the agenda today was a tour of the Boeing manufacturing complex to get an inside look at how some of the world’s biggest jumbo jets are put together. The building itself is, of course, enormous: it encloses 472 million cubic feet of space and is actually recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest building in the world by volume. We saw 747s and 787s in various stages of production and learned how the massive crane system moves all the pieces into place. That’s not something you see every day. (You can’t take photos in the actual factory, so I shamelessly stole a pic off the Internet to illustrate our experience. I doubt I’m the first.)

After a quick bite, we headed off for the zoo–but it turns out that Sunday afternoon of a long weekend is not the optimum time to try to find a parking spot. We drove through five jam-packed lots before finally giving up. I’m actually surprised that traffic hasn’t really been an issue before, but I guess that’s the beauty of having an interstate that doesn’t force everyone to drive straight through town (take THAT, Kelowna!)

The rest of the day shall be devoted to swimming, eating, and drinking. Home tomorrow…