Cruising -- May 2010

This year we did something different. We took a very exciting adventure with my entire family, which includes my wife & kids, my sister, her husband and kids, and our parents. The adventure? How about an overnight train down to Miami, followed by a 7 day cruise to the Western Carribean, followed by a fun day in South Beach Miami, then an overnight train ride back to DC! Wow!!!

Why the adventure? we were celebrating my dad's 70th birthday! It was a gift that he gave to us for his birthday! I love this kind of birthdays!

The Train Ride Down

Let's start with the wonderful train ride. You might think we were crazy for taking the train, but it was a very cool experience on the way down. We got on the train around 6pm, had a nice dinner and drinks then went to bed to the rocking of the train. It was a neat experience, one that is worth doing once. Once. :) You don't get great sleep because the train ride is a bit rough, and I probably woke up 5 or 6 times through the night. However, it was cool to wake up and have coffee and breakfast on the train. Unfortunately, once you finish breakfast and look at your watch, you realize you still have 8 more hours on the train... If they could have gotten us to Miami by noon that would have been great, but you don't get there until around 5:30pm... around 23 hours on the train! It was a great experience once, but we probably won't do it again.

Oh, a few weeks before the trip, Catey lost her two bottom front teeth! Yay!

Riding in the sleeper car is like riding first class, including the first class lounge. The problem with the first class lounge is the waiting while the train gets prepped. Here's everybody finding something to do:

Tickets Please!

And here's some great pictures from the train ride:

Chase sitting on the tiny potty in our sleepers. Each tiny sleeper (two bunk beds), also had it's own fold up sink and a teeny tiny potty. It was actually more comfortable just to walk two cars down and use the larger potty for those traveling in coach.

The Potomac River from the train

Dinner on the train:

23 hours of train travel wasn't horrible for us, but it sure was tough on these bugs!

After getting off the train, it was a quick cab ride over to the doubletree on Biscayne Bay. Great rooms and a great view!

The next morning we woke up, had a nice breakfast and headed to the cruise ship... the Carnival Valor!!

Day 1 & 2 on the Ship!

The first two days were at sea as we were heading to the Western Carribean. Everybody had a great time eating, drinking and dancing. Here's us leaving Miami:

The Lido Deck... where all the fun in the sun happens!

Ah, day one, and they've already got quite a bit of sun... We put on sunscreen, but not enough obviously.

Since we were heading to the Western Carribean, the second day was a day at sea. But there is no time like the present to start drinking rum and working on our tans!

Fortunately, I don't have any video of me entering the "Hairy Chest" Competition. :) I lost by a long shot! Here's a video of the guy who won:

Here's the kids playing in the hot tub (actually not very hot, but still fun):

Here's Catey doing the robot dance on the Lido deck!

It's more fun in the evening starting with a dress up dinner.

Day 3 of the Cruise: Grand Cayman!

The third day was at Grand Cayman Island. You have to tender on these little boats between the cruise ship and shore.

They had a dunkin donuts, so of course we had to stop in!

Me and my new girlfriend on the island.

We spent a good chunk of change on the upgraded dolphin package, where we get to hang out at the turtle farm (cooler than you think), and then swim with dolphins later. First, som photos and video of the turtle farm:

Then we got to swim with the dolphins. Totally cool. At the end, we were able to buy a DVD of the experience. I've edited it down to the fun stuff (about 4 minutes of video):

Back to the ship, and after a quick shower, we headed to dinner. Non-formal this time. Here's Chrissie and Catey dancing at dinner.

Later that night was more fun and action. Karaoke!!!!

Chrissie sings, "Like a Virgin". Be afraid... be very afraid...

Day 4 on the Cruise - Roatan, Honduras

Roatan is a pretty poor place, so Carnival built their own private port to dock at. The port they built was nice and looked quite luxurious, designed to keep the cruisers at the port, where money spent goes directly to Carnival, instead of the locals.

We headed out on a Catamaran to go snorkeling instead. We drove through some sad looking areas, but finally got to our Catamaran, where everybody enjoyed the nice boat ride.

Here's a video of Chase on the front of the Catamaran. Very peaceful as the ships goes up and down.

Finally, we got into the water. Unfortunately, it was pretty rough seas, which made it very difficult for the kids, who had never gone snorkeling before. Catey ended up just swimming with fins and goggles, just like in the pool. Chase braved it out.

There were lots of very beautiful fish. I have my Olympus Stylus underwater camera for just such an occasion, fortunately!

And here's some videos I took underwater also. The water ranged from about 8 feet to 30 feet deep. Here's me diving like a dolphin to the bottom. About 25 feet. I had to clear my ears twice on the way down.

Just playing around, trying to get a neat video, here's me blowing big bubbles and our guide trying to move the camera through the bubbles.

In the deeper sections were some largish fish, including this big Parrot Fish.

I was surprised to spot this nice grouper from above. I had to swim way down to get this video.

A shot of the Catamaran, as it leaves me behind in Open Water. :)

And here's a shot of the coastline where all the dive shops were.

Back on board, Catey was treated to her favorite animal in her room, made up from a towel. Catey says she wants to be a bunny when she grows up!

Day 5 on the Cruise - Belize!

The next day found us in Belize, home to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Carribean (some say, best in the world!). So, we booked another snorkeling excursion of course. On the way to the dive spot, we saw some dolphins in the water... not as close as the ones we swam on in Grand Cayman, but still neat to see them in the wild.

I was hoping the water would be calmer, but the guys in ship said that a storm had blown in the day before, and the water was very rough. Probably even rougher than Roatan. The kids had a very difficult time, and ended up quitting early after a few waves splashed over their snorkel and they sucked in water. Yuck! However, if you were brave enough to stay in the water, you got to see some pretty neat stuff.

This shot is pretty rare. These are the animals inside the coral actually out feeding. Normally, you see the hard coral, and not the animals, but if you view the large image you can see all the animals out.

And this is a picture of one of the tiny invertibrates that eat Coral. when populations of these guys get out of control, they can destroy the entire reef. That's Lucio in the picture. Since so many people got out of the water, due to rough conditions, he became my personal guide for an hour or so.

We found a Brittle Star Fish.

The Brittle StarFish are the fastest starfish in the world. The video below shows the starfish crawling through my fingers.

The ocean was really moving, but that made the softer corals look very beatiful. Here's a little video of a sea anemone and tube coral swaying in the ocean.

Swaying Fan Coral with some pretty fishes in Belize.

A rather large school of Dory. I think they were looking for Nemo. :

The place that operated our tour was based out of this tiny little Island Caye. They were a "dive adventure shop". They did rent places for serious divers. Talk about tiny.

Even though the water was rough, I think the kids still enjoyed themselves:

Back on the ship, it was time to celebrate the original reason for this adventure... Grand Dad's 70th Birthday!!!! However, since you have to pay for drinks on board, we brought some of our own wine (you're allowed to bring two bottles legally, and anything else you might sneak is a violation.... so don't get caught!). Here's us partaking in a beverage in one of the cabins before dinner.

At the table, Rory was all smiles, looking pretty as ever.

Enough with the Rabbit ears already!!!!

Chase looking very serious

Sandi giving the camera a great smile!

Me and Chrissie, just happy to be here.

Grand Daddy with his Grand Babies.

The Cake!!!

And let's not forget the dancing at the end of every dinner!

Chase was too cool to dance this time.

But, then his goofy side kicked in:

It was a great birthday dinner, but the fun wasn't over yet. The kids were starting to get into karaoke too. In fact, if you haven't seen it, there's a great video of Chase playing guitar and singing "Bad to the Bone" on youtube. I didn't get any video this time, but here's Chase singing Bad to the Bone up on stage in front of thousands... I mean hundreds... ahem... tens of people!

And, of course, Chrissie couldn't resist again.

Day 6 on the Cruise - Cozumel

Our last stop in Mexico... Cozumel! This was a beach day for us at Playa Mia. It was an organized beach park that you pay to get into, that has shopping, food, drinks, and lots of water activities. They had also sunk some big rocks and structures about 30 yards out where there were lots of fish and coral starting to grow as well. This was a fun day, and I wish it would ahve lasted longer!

On the water, they also had a water trampoline, and an inflatable "iceberg" that we could climb and jump off of. Here's folks playing on it.

Here's a little video of Chase jumping off the iceberg. He couldn't make it all the way to the top as one of the handles was just barely out of his reach.

Chase underwater... shocker.

Chrissie got into the action too.

And here's a video of me sliding off the top into the water. The cool thing about this is that, once I hit the water, the camera captures all of the fish that are in the water directly underneath the iceberg.

And here's a picture of all those fish:

Here's a fish that seems to be saying, "You lookin' at me?" Actually, I think I snuck up on him and caught him by surprise. :)

Because the kids didn't enjoy snorkeling, I really wanted them to see the fishes here and enjoy them. Chase loved it! Here's some video of some very pretty yellow fish:

I couldn't help but chase them with the camera

And Chase got in on the action too!

I was really surprised to see such big schools of fish... and not small ones either... so close to the shores where everybody was swimming and playing.

And even more suprised to see Coral actually growing on the sunken structures. Totally unprotected structures, but I saw sea anemones, tube corals, and other stuff starting to grow. Very very cool indeed.

And there was lots to do on the beach as well. There were a lot of late 20 somethings on our cruise, and they were having a great time, playing some very interesting drinking games. I wish I had gotten video of the two lovely ladies trying to pop balloons by placing the balloon between themselves and hugging. :) I, of course, don't condone that type of activity. :)

Ahem, here's Chase just looking cool again.

Back near the ship, there's plenty of shopping, and we managed to not spend a dime (or peso either). Chase and Catey did manage to crawl into one of the fountains for this quick pic before heading back to the ship:

Day 7 - Last Day... all at Sea

It's a long trip back to Miami, and Day 7 is all at sea. The Lido deck was MUCH less crowded since so many folks probably already had entirely too much sun. That included us! We hung out indoors, and tried to do as many indoor activities as possible, which included watching some movies and TV. Lots of window shopping as well.

Our last supper on the cruise. Catey gets french fries and does her best vampire impression:

A few shots with the staff:

chase and I went immediately up after dinner to play putt putt golf, since we had seen it earlier, but still hadn't found time to play a round yet. Unfortunately, there was a heavy wind, and they had shut it down because it is on one of the top decks. Bummer. I did get a nice shot of Chase with the sun setting in the background though!!

Our last evening, and we spent it watching "Julie and Julia" on their giant outdoor screen. Best of all, we watched it from the hot tub!!! You can see the screen in the background on some of these shots.

Day 8 - Time to leave the ship

When we planned this adventure, we debated whether to take the train back the day we disembark, or to relax, and spend a day in Sout Beach, and then get on the train the next day. Fortunately, we decided on the latter, because the morning of disembarkment, DHS's computers were down, and we ended up not getting off the ship until around noon. We would have definitely missed our train as a result. But, instead, we spent another beautiful day in Miami, walking around Lincoln Rod, having a nice dinner, and hanging out by the pool. We stayed in the DoubleTree Surf Comber Hotel, which was very nice, and only two hotels up from the famous Delano hotel. If you ever get the chance, be sure to walk through the Delano. It's classicly beautiful.

Day 9 (and 10)- The Train ride home

So, after an evening of Sushi, and a nice night's rest we got back on the train. I was REALLY not looking forward to the train ride back. If I could do it over, I would have still taken the train down, but I would have booked a one way ticket home on the airplane. It would have been totally worth it. The train ride is just too long. It was a neat first experience on the way down to Miami, but the ride back seemed to take forever. Fortunately, I had my laptop and had some movies, so we got to watch movies, and play a lot of card games. :)

And this concludes our adventure. I hope you enjoyed reading about it! See ya next time!

-Dave