Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 7 nt Carnival Splendor Mexican Riviera "sisters" Cruise: Cabo; Mazatlan; Puerto Vallarta

Dec. 6-13, 2009 became our first 3 "sisters" vacation. It was the first time Carolyn and I got Jane (our sister-in-law) to come along with us. I'm very glad she was able to make it. Carolyn and I had done this same itinerary last year on Holland America so we knew a bit of what to expect---at least from the itinerary. At first I was a little disappointed to be doing the same itinerary, but it turned out to be alright. We were able to do some different things and since I was more familiar with the area, I didn't mind not doing organized tours.

Pre-cruise I met up with Jane at LAX and spent the night in a LaQuinta Suites Inn for $60 for the night. My flight from STL ended up being a little more exciting as Texas was hit by a 6 inch snow storm the night before. Some day I'll learn not to schedule myself through Texas in the winter (was stuck there during a couple ice storms in the past, as well as a couple snow storms)! But I ended up being able to catch a flight to Denver (where they're equiped for winter weather) and then on to LAX, getting there only about 40 minutes late.

Sunday morning we met up with Carolyn at the embarkation station. We were there early, so were able to register quickly and sit around outside for a couple hours visiting before boarding the ship. Jane and I did walk over to the Queen Mary (now a hotel there) and enjoyed wandering around in it. They were having a buffet breakfast there and there were lots of x-mas decorations, even carollers. Looked like it would be a neat place to spend the night. I found out after we got back that the firm Angie works for is doing some renovating to it.

Embarkation went quickly and easily. Fortunately we didn't go on the cruise the 2 weeks before this one or the one after it as there were problems. 2 weeks before, the ship had run into another ship in Puerto Vallarta, then later in the week the captain had a heart attack and they had to turn around and head back to Cabo making them several hours late getting back into Long Beach. The cruise after ours ended up staying over night in Puerto Vallarta after the ship ran into a dock and had to have repairs done before it could leave. Fortunately nothing unusual happened during our cruise.

Here we posed for our first of many pictures. It was a bit chilly that day---probably about 60 degrees---not what I expected for Long Beach. Soon we were on the ship and heading to the Lido buffet for lunch.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009-Pompano Beach, Florida (Oct.)

Day 1:
Finally Oct. 13 arrived and it was time for another trip. We had some Wyndham points to use this year and it was our first experience using our points. I was surprised when Ken suggested coming back to Florida.  Before he could change his mind, I booked it!  Instead of Orlando, though, we decided to go down to Pompano Beach by Ft. Lauderdale. I had to split the reservation, so we'll have to move down the street to another Wyndham in a couple days for the rest of the week. If the next one is this nice, I'll be really happy! I think Ken's even impressed.

Here's our resort, Royal Vista.

This is about half of our unit--a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo with full kitchen, free wifi, and great views. The whole area to the right is the master suite, complete with large jacuzzi and huge bathroom with washer and drier. To the left is the 2nd bedroom suite with 2 queen beds and a large attached bathroom. This picture doesn't show the large entertainment center directly to my right with stereo, tv, desk, and cabinets. Behind me is the lanai with a side view of the ocean. You can actually see sunrise and sunset from the lanai.

 master bedroom

2nd bedroom


Here's the ocean view from our patio. We're on the 8th of 9 floors--rm 8806.

By the time we got to the resort, it was past 4. After unloading and checking out the resort, we headed across the street to Stingers for pizza. It was pretty good, not great, but we were pretty hungry.  By the time we were done there, it was getting dark.  That pretty much does it for our first day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

OAHU, Hawaii --- a compilation of my 4 trips there: 1998; 2001; 2003; 2009

Our trips to Oahu:

Our very first trip to the Islands was to Oahu in 1998.  I found a great vacation package through TWA Getaway Vacations and surprisingly enough, Ken agreed to go.  So thus began our obsession with The Hawaiian Islands!

1998 Oahu---our first trip to the Islands:

2001 Oahu---3 nights around a Kauai vacation:

2003 Oahu---7 nights with Dad for Sean's reenlistment:

2009 Oahu---3 night solo trip:

If you want a place that's always bustling with activity and beauty, Oahu is the place to be.  It's not the laid back peaceful Hawaii most people think of when they've never been to Hawaii.  We don't often come to Oahu anymore since my husband usually wants to go to just one island and he prefers peace and quiet.  So we usually go to Kauai.  But I'm definitely not opposed to visiting Oahu again

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

2009 Alaska Cruise --- 7 nt. NCL Pearl; Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Glacier Bay, Victoria B.C.,

August 16-23, 2009----to Alaska on board NCL's Pearl.

I chose this cruise as Ken's first cruise (my 7th)to try and impress him enough that he would want to go on more cruises. With the beauty of Alaska and the ports being mostly American towns (he has an aversion to leaving the states), I figured this might do the trick. It started out as a cruise for just him and myself. As the months went by, my brother and sister-in-law, Aunt and Uncle, and at the last minute my sister also joined us. Although I was looking forward to all my family joining us, I had never cruised with more then 1 other person in my party and was a little apprehensive about how it would all turn out. In the end, I think it went well, although we all did spend lots of time hunting each other out. It also meant wait times at the restaurants and a little more work finding tables for all of us at the buffet restaurant, but it all worked out. It was also nice knowing that we didn't have to do everything together, but that we could probably find someone to do "whatever" with (NCL's motto---You're free to do whatever.) Ken and I usually found Uncle Joe and Aunt Carol in the buffet for breakfast about 8ish. The inside cruisers would usually make their appearance around 10 or later. I even had to call and wake them one day after noon to see if they were joining us in Ketchikan. Ken and I also joined the spa which in hindesite was a waste of money. The spa was nice (love the therapy pool and heated loungers), but we were in port so much and had high waves that caused them to drain the pools the last couple days so we hardly had time to use it. Plus I really enjoyed the outdoor pool and jacuzzis with the gals.

I had read poor reviews of NCL from different travel agencies, but they had the itinerary I was looking for. The poor reviews were for naught, we had no problems with NCL. The Pearl was a beautiful ship. Not any more beautiful then the others I've been on, but just as nice. It's a rather large ship at 93,500 tons and 2,394 passengers, 15 decks, and was only 2 years old.

In the months before the cruise, I participated in and even made it to roll call. Noone had set up a meet & greet for this cruise, so at the last minute (within a week of our trip), I emailed the group administrator and she got us a spot in the Indigo restaurant for Mon. morning at 11. It was a nice meeting with refreshments provided by the ship and the hotel manager even came and spoke to us. I requested a tour of the villa suites which we got at the end of the cruise---for $30,000 a cabin they are quite impressive. The meet & greet did have about 12 of us there. I got a kick out of the location we were put in. I don't know if they purposely put us in the corner by this artwork or if it was coincidence, but it made me feel right at home (St. Louis).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

2009 - June; Sunny West Palm Beach

June 7, 2009---waking up to a brilliant sunrise!

After a long day of travel the day before and arriving in West Palm Beach during an all night storm, it was a relief to see some blue sky in the morning.

Since I was awake at sunrise, I decided to watch the display. It was spectacular!

Lots of boats were even out and about already.

Barb also joined me on our lanai. For quite awhile we watched the changing colors of the sky and water.

When the sun was all the way out, we were treated to views of the bluest blue waters of the ocean.

Down on the beach we were surprised to see tons of half shells in lots of different shades of oranges and grays.

We spent the day mostly hanging out by the ocean and pool---and the daily trip to Walmart. By evening we were back at the ocean watching the clouds roll by.

On monday we decided to head over to MacArthur Beach State Park about 5 or 6 miles from our resort. There was a $4 admission fee/car, but it was well worth it.
While sitting in the park eating our pic nic lunch, we were entertained by this fellow---

And this fellow---

The walk to the beach was over the intercoastal waterway and then down this switchback trail to the beach. It is a beautiful pristine beach with lots of shells and open empty spaces.
I did have an underwater camera with me, but it decided to quit again. I guess it's time to replace it. But I found this picture on the internet of a fishy that we saw. Yes! It was a shark! My first ever shark sighting while playing in the ocean and hopefully my last! The one we saw was only about a foot long and was hunkered down in the reef. I believe it was a nurse shark. We didn't stick around it too long, even though it was so small.

This is looking back at the snorkel area from the walkway. The rocky area is actually pretty good for snorkeling. I saw plenty of fish there, some quite large---such as the largest angel fish i've ever seen as well as some large ornamental wrasses like we see in Hawaii. Even saw a squid swimming around---not to mention the baby shark. It doesn't look too deep from the picture, but there were plenty of spots before the rocky reef that were over 5 foot deep. I was too chicken to venture on the other side of the reef all by myself. Barb had problems with the snorkel gear (or was it problems with seeing a shark?!) and didn't stay in the water long.

We spend a good 5 hours in the park. It was a hot sunny day, but an afternoon storm rolled through and gave us a short spell from the sun. It wasn't long enough or bad enough to get us to leave the park, though. It was just long enough to rejuvenate us for another couple hours.
Another place we were told to snorkel was here by the marina in the intercoastal waterway under the bridge going to Singer Island. We did check it out, but Barb had enough gulps of seawater---I mean snorkeling---at Mac Arthur park and the ocean by our resort, so we never made it back to snorkel here. We did see a large puffer fish swimming along close to shore while we were standing here looking around, though. I thought it would be an interesting place to hang out and swim for awhile---lots of shade under the highway---but we never made it back there. I had also hoped to make it to Peanut Island near the Marina, but the lifeguard told us that it was probably murky with all the rain they had in the previous couple of weeks so we didn't bother going there since it would have meant a $7 rt water taxi fee and about a mile walk to the snorkel area once we were on the island.

We did enjoy a walk around the marina area and taking a few pictures, though.

Back at the resort beach near sunset, we watched schools of fish swimming along the shore line and jumping out of the water. I was able to catch one surfacing, but there really was a bunch more of them jumping around there, too.

Although the sun doesn't set over the Atlantic ocean in Florida, it still can throw colors across the sky over the Atlantic. So we watched the sun set from the beach by our condo.

Thurs. we decided to head out of West Palm Beach and down to north Miami to catch the afternoon Marlins/Cardinals baseball game. This is the first time I've been able to see the Cardinals play other then at their home field. It was pretty neat and quite different. Parking was a breeze, tickets were cheap ($10), and there was lots of space to move around. After spending the first 4 or 5 innings in the direct sun, we moved over and up to a section that was beginning to get shade. Probably at least a quarter of the fans were Cardinal fans.

Here's Duncan shanking a ball to the right.

Here's Barb enjoying the game.

Here's Ankiel catching a fly out.

What is a Land Shark? (I've learned that's a type of beer)
Note, we're actually winning---and ultimately did!

Here's Pujols catching the final out.

They definately have a strange looking stadium. Actually it's the football stadium and I understand they're planning on building a new stadium for the Marlins.
The last 3 days of our trip were without any rain. We spent most of our time hanging out in the really nice pool at the resort or playing in the ocean. Here's another view from our room.

We even encountered lots of jellyfish the last day. Sort of freaked us out at first until we realized noone was getting stung and kids were playing with them. We were told they were tentacleless critters in the jelly fish family but they couldn't sting. They were like blobs of gel. Glad they were only around on our last day there.
We only stayed 6 nights and they flew by way too quickly. I had a great time and hope that Barb did, too.

Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 May--vacation to the Sunshine State

Day 1 in Orlando, May 17:

We were up bright and early for our 8:40 non-stop flight for Orlando. Our take off was delayed when the tow bar wouldn't come loose. Finally they got it off and we didn't have to be towed all the way to Orlando.

We arrived in Orlando about 1pm eastern time and picked up our Budget rental car (a Chevy Impala---pretty nice car!). It was pretty nice weatherwise at that time---blue skies and lots of puffy clouds, but soon a cold front moved in and the deluge started.

We got to Orange Lake Country Club too early to check in, but we were able to pick our unit---3rd one was the charm (1st was unrenovated, the 2nd was in a highrise, 3rd was a beautiful renovated golf villa in the West Village). We killed time until we could check in by running over to the brand new Target.

By then the rains had started and has pretty much looked like this since!

About 6 we headed to the OLCC reception "party" where they had some raffle drawings and free snacks (nachos and veggies and dips) and drinks. It was a fast "party" since they wanted to get out of the rain.

For dinner we headed to Giordano's---home of the world famous Chicago stuffed pizza:
The place was busy, service was slow for 8pm at night, but the pizza was great. We didn't actually get the stuffed pizza, though, we got the "thin", which is still thicker then most thick pizzas in St. Louis.

That pretty much took care of day 1.

May 18, Day 2:

Awoke to more rain and temps in the 60s. Since there were no golfers to watch, we watched tractors running around the golf course in the rain.

Also marveled at all the agapanthus growing all over the resort.

Since it kept raining, we decided to go shopping and headed to the Prime Outlet Mall. I offered to let Ken stay at the villa, but he chose to go. Guess he wanted to make sure I didn't go too wild.
After that we decided we might as well go swimming in the rain. I was very disappointed to find that they've closed the West village jacuzzi and stage pool for renovations, so we decided to check out the North Village pool and jacuzzi ---only to find they don't have a jacuzzi there. So we headed to the East Village and hung out there for a couple hours.

On the way back to the villa, we saw this guy in one of the resort ponds. I don't recall ever seeing a flamingo outside of a zoo!

Here are a few of the resident birds in that pond.

For dinner we decided on a bar b q place named Westgate Smokehouse Grill. Wish I had my camera with me then! Ken ordered the combo dinner which came on a platter larger then any serving platter I have at home! It had a 1/2 slab of ribs, 1/4 white chicken, about 1/2 lb of pulled pork, a large piece of skirt steak(sort of like round steak), ear of corn on the cob, bowl of baked beans, mashed potatoes, bowl of slaw---not to mention the salad and rolls and corn bread that came before that. I got the baked potato and skirt steak and brought half of it back to the villa. Needless to say, Ken brought half of his dinner home, too. It was excellent and a great deal at about $32 (including 25% off for a coupon we found).

Day 3, May 19: Iron Chef of OLCC!

The deluge continued today. The news said about 5 inches of rain has fallen here in Orlando so far. Even had pretty hard spells today. So, what do you do when it rains all day on vacation? We started by doing the 1 hours "owners" presentation for the new Holiday Inn points system they're trying to convert all the owners to. Of course, their hour really equals 3 hours, but we didn't have anything else to do so let them talk to us and cart us around the resort for awhile. Then we got our $40 in OLCC gift certificates . With cookies and doughnuts from the tour being our breakfast, we were ready to head off to another pool. Today we went to the River Island complex. It was only about 68 degrees for the high today, so we didn't have to share the pool complex with many others. We hung out there for about 2 hours, then came back to the villa to get ready for the Iron Chef competition.

It cost $15@ to attend the Iron Chef competition, but it was raining so we figured, why not. Turned out to be the best $30 we've spent so far. Along with the competition, between 2 high ranking chefs of Orange Lake, there was a wine tasting (all the wine you want), plus appetisers of cheese, veggies, dip and hot wings. They also chose a helper for each chef and 3 judges. Here is one of the chef helpers flambaying for the audience. Turns out she had just graduated culinary school in Canada. She obviously knew what she was doing---even came up with the winning presentation for the appetisers.

Yep, I was picked as one of the 3 judges. That turned out to be really neat. The announcer was hilarious and made the 45 minutes contest time go by really fast. The plates in front of us in this picture were the Original Iron Chefs concoctions. The surprise ingredient was lobster. His appetiser was chunks of lobster over asparagus and covered with a fantastic butter/wine/garlic sauce. His entre was loster lomaine with a vinegar/honey/soy sauce/garlic/salt/pepper/.... sauce. Also had mushrooms and red and green peppers in it. Loved the noodles!

The other chef (Viet) had this great presentation for his entre---lobster in lobster with a cream sauce and garnish on top over fried ginger infused potatoes. His ginger potatoes were amazing! I wasn't too thrilled with his appetiser---a sweet and sour lobster. The sauce was made with catsup/vinegar/honey/pineapple/???/ .

In the end, the original iron chef won by 4 points. I had him winning by 1 point. AFter we tasted our dishes, a waitress placed the remainder of our dishes on a table behind us. I let Ken eat the rest of my 4 dishes. I came out of there feeling dinner was served! Even Ken liked it.

That's it for today. Now to go watch the pouring rain some more.

WEd. May 20: Blue skies!!!

That was just a tease!!! By the time we had breakfast and headed to the pool, lightening started. So we sat by the pool for a little while in the sun, but with lightening all about. When we decided it wasn't going to blow over, we headed back to the villa.

Didn't take long for the skies to open up again and we had heavy rain and continuous thunderstorms the rest of the day and night. The news here keeps talking about all the flooding now and how the rainfall amounts for the last 4 days are record breakers for those days. Aren't we lucky!?!

We tried to take a casino cruise excursion tonight, but the storm cancelled it.
So we settled for dinner at Logan's which was very good then came back to the villa and watched the Cardinals beat the Cubs on ESPN.

Thursday, May 21:

Rain stats are up to about 8 inches here in Orlando. Only got about an inch today, but it was mostly in the early morning and late night. The day was cloudy, but dry. So we spent about 3 hours in the pools this afternoon. Actually got a bit sunburnt---not sure how, though, since there really wasn't a lot of sunshine today. We tried to do another resort activity---the not so Newlywed Game, but the resort staff never showed up.

We spent the evening in the resort sports bar watching the Cardinals beat the Cubs again.

Friday, May 22:

It looked as though we might have another relatively dry day today, so we decided to play tourist and head to Bok Tower about an hour away from Kissimmee. We hit rain along the way, but it stopped for a short while when we got there. It is set in a really nice gardens. Bok Tower Gardens is 250 acres of botanical gardens with the carillon tower being the feature. The tower was built in 1927-28 to house the carillon (bells) and for the private use of the Bok family. The garden was developed as a bird sanctuary. The tower is now a National Historic Landmark.

At about 300 feet high, the grounds of the garden are the highest measured elevation in Florida. Of course, a thunderstorm rolled in shortly after we got there and unlike these ladies, we were without umbrellas. So we were stuck in rain shelters within the gardens a couple times.
When the rains finally quit, we continued through the gardens. Ken even tried feeding a couple swans.

It was a great place to see some flora and fauna of Florida.
Here is one of the colorful ducks in the "window on the pond" area.
On the way out, I got a kick out of seeing trailers full of oranges.
Now we're heading to the Sports Bar again.
Foiled again, they say they can't get the Cardinal game tonight.
Saturday, May 23:
Last day---we're throwing in the umbrella! If only we had one to throw! We actually did see a little sun today, even though it was mostly cloudy. We spent about 3 hours at the pool. When we were out for dinner, we got caught in the rain again. Probably got an inch of rain just going from the restuarant to our car. I wouldn't actually call it rain----it was more like a waterfall! So ends our vacation.