S: Western Caribbean Cruise - 2011
BC: If you come home as happy as you leave, you have had a good vacation.
FC: Come Sail Away ... Western Caribbean Cruise February 27 - March 6, 2011 Carnival Valor Ports of Call: Grand Cayman - Isla Roatan Belize - Cozumel
1: Erika gave us a ride to the airport, where we were more than ready to bid a not so fond farewell to the cold weather in Omaha! While it was 18 degrees with a light snow falling outside, we made our way down to the gates to await Southwest Flight 1923 to Fort Lauderdale. Erika was obviously not happy that she was being left behind to house- and dog-sit for us! | Saturday, February 26 Omaha
2: Our route took us through Chicago, where (luckily) we did NOT have to change planes ... so less chance of lost luggage! | Randy's head (about four rows ahead of us) stuck out like a sore thumb! LOL | Mmmmm ... peanuts and soda! :)
3: Chicago was also cold and snowy ... | ... they even had to de-ice the plane before we could take off for Fort Lauderdale!
4: But oh what a difference when we got to Fort Lauderdale! Even at 10:00 at night it was around 76 degrees (which, of course, Kathi said was still "chilly"!). We rented a limo for the drive to Miami ... pretty comfy!
5: Randy never lets me forget that I'm #1 in his book! LOL
6: Sunday, February 27 Miami, Florida | We rented a two-bedroom, two- bath condo Saturday night in Miami. It was much cheaper than a hotel by the Port of Miami and was SO nice! There was a bar/restaurant right in the lobby that was very convenient for a late dinner Saturday and a Sunday morning breakfast buffet after church.
7: We woke up Sunday morning to warm temperatures, lots of sunshine and absolutely gorgeous views from the balcony!
8: St. Jude Catholic Church was a very short walk from the condo building. It was definitely the oddest mass I've ever attended! Come to find out after we got home and I looked it up on the internet, it was actually a "Melkite" Catholic church! Kathi and Mike said it reminded them of the old Latin masses, but it was completely in English ... the priest had his back to us a lot of the time and the flow of the mass (including some of the prayers) was completely different than a traditional Roman Catholic mass.
10: We arrived at the Port of Miami around Noon | I caught a shot of the tailfin of our ship just before we entered the building where no camera or video recording was allowed. | After making our way through the "processing" area and across the sky walk, we were finally on the ship (as evidenced by the backwards "Carnival Valor" reflection in the window)!!
11: Launched in 2004, Valor is one of Carnival’s largest ships. Valor's unique theme is “Heroes and Heroics.” There are tributes to American and international heroes throughout the ship, including two dining rooms (Washington and Lincoln), plus a half-dozen buffets, delis, and supper clubs), five pools, and 14 bars, lounges, and public rooms. | Ship Length: 952 ft Tonnage: 110,000 Registry: Panama Year Entered Service: 2004 Passenger Capacity: 2,974 Total Crew: 1,180 Decks: 13 Total Cabins: 1,487 Private Balcony Cabins: 555
12: We entered the ship on the 3rd deck (the "American Atrium"). I couldn't resist snapping some pictures of the interior right away! We took the elevator up to our floor (Deck 7 - "Empress"), so I took some shots from there too!
14: We had a couple of hours to relax, get acquainted with the ship and sip some nice cool drinks before we set sail...
16: Once we set sail, we headed back to our stateroom (#7261) to get dressed for dinner. | We didn't know the dress code was "waived" for the first night, so we were surprised when we saw Jamie and her sister, Sandi, at dinner in their "grubbies"! LOL Kathi and Randy had decided not to go down for dinner that first night, so I took a picture of their empty chairs!
17: I held true to my word and tried some seafood (tilapia) on the first night. It was okay, but I also ordered some kind of chicken dish as a backup ... and then I never did try any other seafood after that!! LOL | Our table was at the very back of the dining room so our view every night was the ship's wake ... until the sun went down, that is! | When we got back to the room after dinner, we found the bed turned down, the itinerary for the next day, mints and our first towel animal! I thought it looked like a walrus; Mike wasn't so sure. | Oh, and Carnival's Warm Chocolate Melting Cake ... simply the BEST dessert EVER ... that was a must-have EVERY night!
18: Monday, February 28 Fun Day at Sea | After donning our finest swim attire, we headed up to the Lido deck for the breakfast buffet at Rosie's. Our view from the table was nothing but ocean!
19: Although the cruise director had tons of organized activities planned for the day, we chose to just spend the entire day relaxing!
21: This was such a great way to spend a Monday ... it would be so easy to get used to this (if only we had unlimited funds)!
22: Monday was also the first formal night. It was great to see everyone in the dining room decked out in their finest! | Jamie Mills and her daughter, Kelsey | Jamie's sister, Sandi Chamberlain, and her daughter, Brittany Weaver | We decided to enjoy a quick drink at the Captain's Reception before dinner.
23: Our waiter, Santos .. he was a lot of fun! | The second night's towel animal. Mike dubbed this one "Patches"! | The view of the sunset from our table ... beautiful! | After dinner we went to the show at the Ivanhoe Theater on decks 3, 4 and 5 Forward. It was a variety show set to 80's music, so it was a lot of fun. It's amazing to think that a theater of that size can fit inside a ship!
24: Tuesday, March 1 - Grand Cayman | We got up early Tuesday to get some pictures of the sunrise and then also got treated to a nice view of the tenders coming out to pick us up ... there were also some other ships (one of them the Carnival Destiny) docked out there with us.
25: We were being "typical tourists" taking pictures of the shoreline and the ship from all different angles ... yes, we're nerds! LOL
26: We did the "Best of Cayman" shore excursion, which included a stop at the "Hell" Post Office. It's a coral formation that someone thought looked like "Hell," so they erected a whole tourist trap around the theme! I even sent Mom and Dad a postcard from "Hell"!! | Gas was a lot cheaper ... equivalent to roughly $2.57/gal in US currency!
27: I thought the restroom sign was cute!
28: On Grand Cayman, we also visited the Turtle Farm, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and took a stroll down the main street to visit the Hard Rock Cafe, where the bartender let us go behind the bar for a "photo op"! | The turtles were so cool ... when they got upset, you just had to "tickle" them on their neck and they would calm right down. They would stretch their neck out for you even further to give you more room to "tickle"! | The turtle on the left is female; the one on the right is male...you can tell by the length of the tail.
29: I actually participated in the fun and games at Margaritaville ... and this guy helped me out. I took his straw, sunglasses, shoes, belt and even some money, but I never got his name! LOL
30: Just a few last images of the city of George Town, Grand Cayman ...
31: After a long day in port, the tender ride back to the ship and an awesome dinner, it was so nice to get back to a turned-down bed and another cute little towel animal!
32: Before we got off the ship, we went up on deck again to snap some scenic pictures of the island. Even though the Mahogany Bay area is totally commercialized (built and owned by Carnival), it's still pretty impressive! And, it was really nice to just walk off the ship instead of having to be tendered into port. | Wednesday, March 2 - Isla Roatan, Honduras
33: The other ship in port with us was the Carnival Triumph. Cindy Geschke, a friend from work, was on that ship and we did run into her on the pier on our way back to our ship!
34: We had some time to kill before our excursion, so we took the skylift ride over to the Mahogany Beach area to get Erika her bottle of sand, water and seashells!
35: One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. Anne Morrow Lindbergh
36: Our excursion in Roatan was the Barefoot Catamaran Sail & Snorkel. Kathi and I were debating whether or not we were actually going to snorkel, but the guide pretty much decided for us when he pushed us both into the water! Not only had I never swam in the ocean, I also had never snorkeled before, so I had two firsts in one outing! The excursion involved a 45-minute drive to the opposite side of the island to snorkel over the world's second largest coral reef. The drive was hair-raising because not only is there no speed limit anywhere on the island, there also are no stop signs and the roads are very narrow! The camera batteries went dead, so I didn't get any pictures of the drive. All of these pictures were captured from the video recorded on my Flip video camera. One of the guides took it down to the bottom for me to get most of these!
38: Randy's camera batteries were charged, so he was able to get some shots that I couldn't of the shoreline and the buildings ... some of which were extremely close together!
39: Because the excursion also included lunch and we didn't eat that until almost 3:30, we opted not to eat dinner in the dining room that night. After all that swimming and being in port for more than eight hours, the turned-down bed was a very welcome sight at the end of the day (not sure what the "animal" was that night though)!
40: “You don't need somebody to interpret for you what a beautiful sunrise it is. ” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Indian Spiritual leader, 1931-1990) | Thursday, March 3 Belize
41: Tenders into port again! (And this time we were a LONG way out!)
42: We booked the Belize City Tour and Altun Ha Mayan Ruins shore excursion for this day. It was a long drive to the ruins, but we had good guides and got a tour of the city on the way, starting with the North side ...
43: St John's Cathedral | ... across Haulover "creek" (pictured at left) to the South side. | This old brick church is the oldest Anglican cathedral in Central America, and the oldest standing structure in Belize. Built in 1812 by slaves using bricks brought over as ballast, it is also the only Anglican church outside of England where kings have been crowned -- during the 1800s four Mosquito Indian kings held their coronation ceremonies here.
44: Like Roatan, the roads outside the city were very narrow and at times, one or both vehicles had to go off the road in order to pass oncoming traffic.
45: Mike and Randy thought this area looked like a military parade ground.
46: See the face in the wall? Per our guide, Ken: "It has been said to be the face of the rain god; however, professionally, it has been known only as the face of a Noble as there is no empirical evidence as to it being the face of any god."
47: The Temple of the Masonry Altars is Altun Ha's largest temple and is thought to have been the focal point of the community's religious activities. A single stairway climbs the temple to an altar perched at the peak. Inside, several tombs were discovered that are believed to have kept the bodies of Altun Ha's high priests.
48: On top of the Temple of the Masonry Altars ... something like 56 feet up, if I remember correctly. It was quite a climb, but well worth the effort! | There were a lot of these strangler fig trees at the site. The tree begins its life as a small epiphyte ('airplant') on the host tree, then sends its aerial roots to the ground attaching itself to the host and gradually wrapping itself around the host until eventually it will strangle the host by depriving it of light and water.
49: This was the altar where human sacrifice likely took place. | Climbing back down was pretty scary! The "stairs" were all uneven and some were very narrow.
50: Randy fell asleep on the bus trip back to the ship! | In 1926, Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss sailed his yacht, Sea King, to Belize and fell in love with the green Caribbean Sea and the balmy climate. He spent months off the coast of Belize attempting to recover from food poisoning. He never came ashore. Fishermen and colonial administrators treated him kindly and taught him about Belize. The Baron died on March 9, but not before he changed his will, leaving almost $2 million dollars to Belize in a trust fund. The fund is used for the benefit of Belizeans and has made possible the building of the Bliss Institute Library and Museum in Belize City, health clinics and markets around the country, and has helped with the Belize City water supply system. The Baron is considered Belize's greatest benefactor. The Baron's tomb lies under the Baron Bliss Memorial Lighthouse and Park overlooking the harbor entrance to Belize City.
51: On the tender ride back to the ship one of the deckhands (riding on top of the tender) took pictures of the ship as we approached, and after he handed me the camera back, I took a picture of him!
52: Thursday was also the second formal night, as well as one of the nights that the waiters performed for us. Jamie and Kelsey didn't make it down for dinner that night ... they took an afternoon nap and didn't wake up until 5:45! Our towel animal that night was a pig, I think. I think it was very appropriate since I felt like a stuffed one most nights after dinner! LOL
54: Friday, March 4 Cozumel, Mexico | We got up early again so we could go up on deck to watch our approach into port, then headed out for our shore excursion. It was nice to again just walk right off the ship!
55: Puerta Maya, Carnival's Pier and Shopping District
57: Our excursion in Cozumel was the Mayan Ruins & Beach with Lunch tour. It was a much shorter drive to the ruins this time, and the first stop was the Pee Pee Station, where they (of course!) encouraged us to do a little shopping before we hit the road to the San Gervasio archaeological site.
58: San Gervasio was once a Mayan ceremonial center for worshipping the fertility goddess, Ixchel. It was continually occupied from 300 A.D. until the 16th century. | "Temple of Hands," named for the small red handprints decorating its walls, and for the remains of an altar underneath a graceful Mayan arch where offerings to the "Rainbow Goddess" were placed.
59: "El Arco" (The Arch) Six levels on one side, six on the other and one on top represents the Mayan belief of 13 levels to heaven. By passing under the arch, they believed they were crossing into a sacred area similar to heaven.
60: After the tour of the ruins, we continued on to the opposite side of the island where we were serenaded by a Mariachi band, got free margaritas (one each!), ate authentic Mexican tacos and got to spend some time at the beach. We got Erika a bottle of sand, shells and ocean water from here too.
63: After we got back on the ship, we had some time to kill before dinner so we went up on the deck to watch as we sailed away from Cozumel. We could see on the horizon that it was raining and we ran into the rain while we were at dinner. When we got back to the room that night, we found a monkey hanging from the rail along the ceiling!
64: Saturday, March 5 - Fun Day at Sea (and also my birthday!) | We woke up Saturday morning to a decorated stateroom door (courtesy of Chris Pellman, the organizer of our group). We had breakfast in the dining room and then spent the rest of the day on deck trying to enjoy our last full day of relaxation. Unfortunately, it was very cool that day (around 75 degrees) with 30mph winds. The sea was pretty choppy and with the boat sailing at 22 knots, it made it even windier (and colder)!
66: Celebrating my birthday on the last night of the cruise was SO much fun! Kelsey made me a birthday card. Erika, Kathi and Randy bought me a cake (which, sadly, I didn't get a picture of), a bottle of champagne and a pair of "Happy Birthday" champagne glasses with the Carnival logo on them. Mike also bought me a cake and a watch, necklace and earring set. They had pre-arranged to have the waiters deliver the stuff to the table and then they all sang "Happy Birthday" and we shared the champagne and cake! Of course, Santos still brought some of us the warm chocolate melting cake too! YUM!
68: As the sun set on the final night of our cruise, I couldn't help but feel a little sad. After seven days of relaxation, new experiences in exotic places and "just a little bit" of pampering, it would soon be time to rejoin the "real world" and all I wanted to do was just keep on sailing! But after dinner, I grudgingly packed our bags and left them outside the door, as instructed. Oh, and we also didn't get any towel animal that night either!
69: After I finished packing our bags, I went down to the Shogun Bar to have a drink with Jamie. Since Mike and Jamie had been there most every night, they knew the bartenders quite well so I figured I had to put a picture of them in here too! The picture on the right (which, as evidenced by Jamie's shirt, was NOT taken this same night) is Mike and Jamie with her sister Wendy.
70: Sunday, March 6 Back to Reality! | We were off the ship and at the airport by around 9:30 in the morning. Had we known that, we would have booked an earlier flight! Since we couldn't get an earlier one, we had to spend more than seven hours in the Fort Lauderdale airport and, yes, the birds were INSIDE the airport! Then, when we got to Chicago, we learned that our connecting flight was delayed three hours, so we spent another five hours there (where I had a very sinful brownie sundae at Harry Carey's, while Mike had a beer). We finally got back home around 3:00 Monday morning! Talk about a long day! But when Patches and Ripley greeted us at the door, it was all okay They were SO excited to see us!!! | It was raining while we waited in the Fort Lauderdale airport. Little did we know that our suitcases were sitting out in that rain (until we got home and found everything was wet!).
71: This is the collection of souvenirs and gifts we bought over the course of the week, (separated by port), as well as general purchases and other memorabilia from the ship (above). From top to bottom: Grand Cayman Isla Roatan Belize Cozumel
72: Note how pale we were at embarkation (especially Mike!), but how tan we were at my birthday dinner on the last night! LOL
73: A vacation trip is one-third pleasure, fondly remembered, and two-thirds aggravation, entirely forgotten. ~Robert Brault