The end of the semester and holiday season were so busy that they made the school year seem leisurely and relaxed in comparison! Fortunately, everything turned out well though--my last final went quite well despite the fact that I had a harrowing experience while submitting it and our Christmas celebrations with family and friends were very blessed and enjoyable. To top it all off, the Browns won their last 4 games and the Cavs beat the Lakers on Christmas Day! Needless to say, I was excited about going on the cruise and relaxing. Of course, I was super nervous before we left because I was afraid that we had forgot something! (As it turned out, the only thing that we forgot was my sandals. *Side note from Sheila: "And ONE of my flipflops!")
We have been on many trips since we got married, but this would be our longest one (longer, in fact, than our honeymoon!). Although we were a bit worried about getting bored, we were definitely excited to have some time to relax and to enjoy some sunny weather in the Caribbean.
Doing this day-by-day would be far too long, so I think I'll just cover the highlights and the lowlights of the trip. Of course, Sheila put up plenty of pictures on Facebook for your viewing pleasure!
--By far, one of the highlights of the trip was having the opportunity to spend a lot of time relaxing. I've forgotten how great it can be to relax and read all day long! I read a great book about three families on welfare, which taught me a lot about the intricacies of the American welfare system and various attempts to reform it. I also began reading Twilight, but this endeavor coincided with the beginning of the Jets\Bengals game, and I didn't get much read.
--Eating in the Normandie Dining Room. Every element of the cruise dining experience was fantastic. Initially, we were scheduled to eat by ourselves every night. However, we realized that doing that would mean that we would talk to nobody but each other for the entire week! Thus, we switched over to the late seating. We were seated with two older ladies who were friends and two younger girls who were sisters; we hit it off very well with them, and it was definitely sad to say goodbye at the end of the week. Sheila and I have been on three cruises together, and we have had great dinner companions every time! Our head waitress was named Martina and she was great--we had excellent service all week long and she was very friendly as well! I was particularly impressed with the fact that they picked up on my beverage preferences and towards the end of the trip I started getting an iced tea brought at the start of the meal without having to even ask for it. Of course, the food was amazing. The varied selection of food was impressive and I was able to try many foods that I had seen on the Food Network such as chilled fruit soups and various desserts. Best of all, everyone at the table ordered multiple items at each course, so we didn't feel bad about doing so either =)
--Our airboat ride in Port Canaveral. Neither of us had ever been on an airboat before, and I was especially interested in going on one after seeing Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian ride around on one when their car ran out of gas in The Everglades. Although the ride was frigid, the ride was beautiful and a lot of fun! We saw a ton of birds, including a very cute mother stork and her little flock of baby storks. Although we didn't see any gators in the wild, we did have the opportunity to see a tame gator and some other tame wild animals up close because a woman from a local wild animal rescue was there with some animals who are too tame to be in the wild and need homes. Sheila even got to hold the gator...and both of us even got to eat gator, since all who attended the airboat ride got fried alligator bites! It was yummy--a bit sweet and a bit salty!
--Atlantis! I had seen the commercials on TV and looked at it from afar during our previous two trips to Nassau, but I had never been there. We finally decided to make the trek over on our own after looking at the price of the shore excursion. All of the reports of crime in Nassau made us a bit nervous, but I felt pretty comfortable after I saw that the taxicab company was licensed and that it was operating in plain view right at the port's entrance, complete with a booth inside of the passport processing area. I didn't know what to expect, and both of us were pretty disappointed at first because it seemed that we couldn't see much without paying. We bit the bullet and paid using the money that we had originally been given for a different shore excursion--what a great decision! I had a blast--Sheila almost had to drag me out of there! The resort itself was gorgeous--I can't wait until we can stay there--and the aquarium and re-created Atlantis in "The Dig" were amazing! We talked about going to Bobby Flay's restaurant to share an appetizer for lunch, but unfortunately it was located in a part of the resort that was available to guests only.
--The piano bar! Sheila and I had a great time at the Schooner Bar on our last cruise and we were excited about hearing some live music on this one. We had been listening to a lot of Billy Joel and Elton John while studying for finals too. Anyhow, the guy at the piano bar was awesome--he played for long stretches of time without a break and everyone sang along and had a great time. Many of the entertainers on the boat talked way too much in between the songs or took too many breaks. The variety in songs could have been a bit better, but you can't beat hearing a lot of Elton John and Billy Joel on a regular basis.
--We had the misfortune of frequently sitting next to people who thought that it was perfectly fine to talk during the evening entertainment. I find that to be very distracting to my viewing experience and very disrespectful to the people who rehearse and work hard to put on great shows each night. Most of these chatterboxes were my age or younger. I don't know if they happened to congregate on the second and third levels of the theatre--we sat there because the seats were much more comfortable--but in any case, it definitely was something that hadn't been much of a problem on our earlier cruises.
--Many of the guests also seemed to be in a every-person-for-themselves mentality on the cruise and there was TONS of congestion and waiting. Lunch was especially bad--the lines were exceptionally long all of the time! Someone literally cut in front of Sheila to try to get some of the pizza that we had ordered and I had to literally yell over him to get our pizza. Is this how it is on longer cruises with more people? Man, I can't imagine what it's like on the Oasis of the Seas! (That's the biggest cruise ship in the business; it just opened up in December, and I am excited about going on it in the future!) People would stop and have conversations in the middle of a walkway like there was nobody else around or something.
--The weather was definitely a bit of a downer. I had expected it to be cold for the first few days, but the weather in Port Canaveral and Nassau was colder than expected. I didn't mind too much--I like it a bit cooler--but Sheila was pretty bummed. Fortunately, God blessed us with wonderful weather in Freeport, allowing us to take home some pretty nice suntans. In addition to the cold, the ocean was also pretty turbulent. I felt awful on the second day, but I'm not sure if that had to do with the brilliant idea of doing stomach exercises right after I ate or the waves. Praise God that I didn't throw up and that we were fine for the vast majority of the trip!
All in all, it was a great end to Christmas break, and it definitely helped us to get rested up after a long and hard semester! We were truly blessed and it was a fabulous time.