Monday, November 10, 2014

Carnival Cruise June 2014 - Southern Caribbean (Grand Turk, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Curacao)

We sailed on the Carnival Breeze for free as a gift from Carnival Cruise lines June 7-15, 2014. We were so excited to visit four islands that we had never been to before. This trip was especially well-timed as we had just closed on the sale of our first home.

We flew to Miami and had a tumultous cab ride to the Historic Miami River Hotel.

Our first full day on the ship we enjoyed a relaxing day at sea. One of the more memorable experiences of this vacation was that my beloved San Antonio Spurs were playing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Oh boy, did I have fun watching the games on the big screen on Deck 10 of the ship at night. The deck was stuffed with Miami Heat fans with just a few Spurs fans sprinkled in. "Les go Heat! Les go Heat!" rang out through the Caribbean night. The first game on the ship was a Miami victory. But after that, the Spurs took the lead. The NBA Finals was a wonderful series, with the Spurs taking the Championship out of poor Lebron's hands :)

Grand Turk - We took a cab to Pillar Beach. We were very surprised at how poor Grand Turk appeared, once we drove away from the touristy Margaritaville at the pier. The beach was beautiful, with only one "resort" and bar/restaurant located on it. We had a wonderful time swimming in the warm water, and enjoyed petting the wild dogs that would come burrow in the sand beside us.

La Romana, Dominican Republic - We did the Catalina Island Beach Break excursion. It was our only ship-organized excursion of the trip. We took a bus to a dock where we loaded onto several smaller boats. The ride out to Catalina Island took about 30 minutes and was a nice but rocky boat ride. We pulled up to the whitest beaches, bluest waters, and most deserted beach I had seen in a while. As we arrived, people renting lounge chairs were running out to greet us. There were not many palm trees, but Dave and I ran to one and put our towels and bags under the shade of the tree. We enjoyed laying in the sand, playing in the water and then realized there was a little village of shops that locals had organized behind us. We spent some time walking through the shops, and then stumbled upon an outdoor massage tent. Dave fanagled an amazing price for us to have a couple's massage on the beach. The massage was wonderful. Unfortunately on the tender ride back to the cruise ship, I got incredibly sea-sick. All I could think about was the fruit loops and banana I had scarfed down before getting on the boat. Luckily, by the next morning, I was feeling back to normal.

Aruba - We had heard that the public transportation was very safe and easy to use in Aruba. As soon as we got off the ship, we headed for the bus stop. Pretty soon we were on our way to Palm Beach. The beaches were gorgeous and right in front of fancy hotels. Aruba is known for its miles and miles of continuous white, sandy beaches. Dave rented a couple of chairs and floats for the ocean. I tried to lay out and read but the wind was horrendous. Sand was pelting me in the face. We found it was much more enjoyable to play in the water with the Aruba wind. Apparently, Aruba is windy all the time. They have an especially "windy season" that we will make sure to avoid. :) For lunch we walked down to a pier that had a restaurant which served incredible sandwiches. Overall, I loved our day in Aruba.

Curacao - This Dutch island has lots of history with forts and rock walls on parts of the island. There are beautiful, colorful buildings and tons of people, tourists and locals alike. We found the bus station after walking a while, and ended up taking what they call a "short" bus close to 40 minutes from where the ship was docked to Mambo Beach, one of the more popular beaches on the island. Unfortunately, I was extremely underwhelmed. The beach was rocky, was partitioned off from the rest of the ocean with a rock wall, was crowded with people and overall just blah. The water wasn't even blue and beautiful. They charged quite a bit of money for yucky chairs. Dave swam for a little while, but pretty quickly we gathered our things and waited for the short bus to pick us up and take us back. We walked back to the ship, showered and got ready for a night out on the town. We had a great date night in Curacao. We had drinks and appetizers on one side of a waterway with a draw bridge lit up by neon lights. After our happy hour, we walked across the draw bridge and had dinner while listening to a live band.

Miami - Everglades Tour - We were trying to find something to fill our time since our flight was pretty late on the day the cruise ship arrived back in Miami. So we signed up for the ship's Everglades tour. We did have some troubles getting our luggage off the ship in time to go on the tour, but the tour operators took care of that for us and delivered our bags to the airport. I highly recommend the Everglades tour. We rode on a speedy airboat and were able to see lots of gators. It was exhilarating, gave us something to do and was not terribly expensive.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Historic Miami River Hotel

Historic Miami River Hotel
437 SW 2nd Street, Miami, FL 33130

I found this gem on, and Dave and I were happily surprised upon arrival.

Old, colorful buildings labeled A - G, a large rectangular swimming pool surrounded by comfy lounge chairs, a large grassy courtyard with a couple of cabanas and a hot tub and palm trees galore made quite the first impression. A continental breakfast served from 8-11am was included that offered toast, jelly, juice, bottled water and fresh mango and papaya. It was self-serve, and we could eat as much as we wanted.

Our room was comfortably furnished, had surprisingly high-quality bedding for the price of the hotel, cable TV, free Wi-fi, and we were even presented with a free bottle of wine upon arrival. I don't think that is the norm, but that night they had had a wine and jazz night out on the courtyard under the stars with free wine, cheese and crackers. We arrived just as the show was over, so I think that's how we got lucky with the wine.

The bathroom had big, fluffy white towels and while it was definitely aged, it was clean. It is one of those places that is old enough to feel special and you're glad it's still standing. It's old from the late 1800's, not from the 1970's. :)

The neighborhood is a little scary driving in at night, but we walked the old river front the next morning and felt safe (at least I did, with big Dave by my side).

I recommend this hotel to family and friends that need a cheap, comfortable place to stay before departing from the Miami Port. Cab ride to the port was a little under $15 and from the airport to the hotel it was about $30. We were able to do a late check-out at 1pm, which gave us plenty of time to unwind before boarding the ship.

Priced at $75 including tax, we will try to use this hotel again.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is one of the most beautiful places I've been. Pictures cannot capture the vastness of this place. Huge, open skies with bold, red rocks edging the horizon and lush green trees running through the valleys took my breath away.

We stayed at Alma de Sedona Inn, a modern bed and breakfast that was right up my alley. Comfortable and luxurious bedding, a gas fireplace that lit up with a switch, a huge jacuzzi tub big enough for me and my 6'4" man, a shower that I never wanted to leave and delicious breakfast and coffee every day.

Short and sweet, this trip consisted of three nights of relaxation and three days of heavy hiking, For the strong and courageous, I recommend hiking Cathedral. For a more relaxed hike I recommend Doe Mountain, Soldier's Pass or Thunder Mountain. My favorite views were on the Faye Canyon trail, and of course my phone and camera were in the car for that one.

Sedona was a lovely place to recharge and take advantage of the nature that God so clearly designed for us to enjoy.