Saturday, November 5, 2011

2011 Nov. Eurodam cruise do-over Eastern Caribbean: Grand Turk; San Juan, St. Thomas, Half Moon Cay

2011 Nov. Eurodam cruise do-over Eastern Caribbean: Grand Turk; San Juan, St. Thomas, Half Moon Cay

The "suite life"!  Originally I booked the same category room that we had last year (a VD veranda), but when the lowest suite came available for about $60/person more, I jumped on it and booked a SZ guarantee.  We had never had a suite before, so I was really looking forward to that. 

It just so happened that our daughter, Angie, and her husband, Josh, were going to be in Puerto Rico on vacation with some friends and scheduled to fly home the day we were in port there. After joking around with her about continuing on the cruise with us instead of flying home, I managed to get approval for her to board in San Juan for the last 4 nights of our cruise.  She was even elgible for a special 3rd person add on fare of $49 + about $90 in taxes and fees.  It took some doing, but persistence paid off.  I had to call 5 or 6 times and work out everything from: does the Jone's Act apply here; to writing a letter to get approval for "late embarkation"; to getting a room assigned (went from the SZ guarantee to a complimentary upgrade to an SS cabin) before she was approved.   So instead of flying home, Angie was able to join us for the remainder of the cruise.
About 2 weeks before our cruise, I even got an email from HAL offering us an upsell to an SA suite (next category down from the penthouse) for another $398 total. I immediately called them and jumped on the offer. Not only did we have a suite, but the SA, SB, and SC suites had a lot of added benefits over the SS, SY, and SZ suites, like breakfast in the Pinnacle restaurant, a private lounge and concierge, larger pull out bed for Angie; much larger room and balcony, flowers for formal night, free laundry service, and a few other things. We very much enjoyed the SA cabin. It may be hard to go back to any other cabin now!  

Too quickly it was time to disembark the ship.  We hopped in a taxi and took the $14 ride to the airport.  Angie lucked out and was able to fly standby on an earlier flight and made it home to Atlanta before our flight even took off from Fort Lauderdale. 
It was another fantastic vacation.  Made even more special by Angie joining us.  It definitely won't be our last cruise!

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011--Pompano Beach, Florida Sisters' trip

The last few years, my sister and I have managed to go on some pretty great "sisters'" vacations.  So in Nov. of 2011, we decided it was time to do another one.  Since Ken and I already had a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale planned in Nov., I asked Carolyn if she would like to come out and join me a week early and piddle around southeastern Florida.  She agreed to, so I booked us a 2 bedroom condo at Wyndham Sea Gardens in Pompano Beach, just north of Fort Lauderdale.  It's actually about 5 different resorts combined into one: North and South Cabanas Buildings (closest to the office); North and South Waterfalls buildings (just past the Cabanas buildings); Ocean Palms Building (the newest and most updated  at a 90 degree angle to the ends of the Waterfall buildings); Key West Building (the oldest and set off to the side by itself), and the North and South Ocean View Buildings (all studios, I believe).  Ken and I had stayed in the Ocean Palms Building and really liked it alot.  So when all I could get was in the Key West Building, I was afraid it would be old and grungy and disappointing after having stayed in the new Ocean Palms Building.  Although Ken and I are Wyndham owners, I actually picked this week up from RCI exchange company really cheaply.  I also know exchangers are often given the worst rooms, so that had me worried, too.  None of my VIP benefits with Wyndham would be honored as an exchange guest.

Things didn't start out too well.  I arrived a little after check-in time of 4pm and they didn't have our room ready yet.  I waited over an hour before it was ready.  Once in the room, I noticed the plastic cover on the door lock was broken and the toilette seat in the master bedroom was on the bathroom floor.  So I called maintenance, then had to rush out to head back to the airport to pick up my sister, Carolyn.  By now it was raining cats and dogs again.  I waited at the cell phone lot for quite awhile past her arrival time.  Suddenly the "Arrivals" board changed to list her flight as "Cancelled".  What?????  It took off!  Where was it???  After a frantic call to home to have Ken check the internet, Carolyn finally called to say her plane had landed----in West Palm Beach, about 50 miles away.  She was given the option of getting off the plane there or waiting for the weather to get better and continue on to Fort Lauderdale.  We decided she should get off and I'd drive to West Palm Beach to get her.  About an hour later we were on our way back to Pompano from West Palm Beach.

Back at Sea Gardens, things started looking up.  The repairs were made before we got back.  My fears of the older Key West Building not being nice was unfounded.  It had just been renovated and was actually very pretty, not as fancy as Ocean Palms, but quite acceptable!  It didn't look like much from the outside, but it did have it's own pool---albeit cold pool. 
 Our 2 bedroom unit really was roomy and clean.  Although we thought the little bar in the diningroom was rather odd.  The kitchen was behind the bar and was quite small, but adequate.
 This view is from the door leading out to the patio.  The master bedroom is the first door on the right.  The 2nd bedroom is the far door to the right.  Not seen is the tv cabinet and large flat screen tv to the left. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

2011-April 29-May 1st to the Biltmore Estate for Emily and Brian's wedding:

I didn't just get to attend their wedding, I was also their professional photographer!  Over the years I've had the opportunity to photograph some really fun weddings---everything from one in the back yard of my son and daughter-in-law's house, to one on a Southern California beach, to this one here at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina---not to mention many church weddings around St. Louis!  No--I don't do weddings for a living, but I've had lots of friends and family and friends of family ask me to take their pictures.  Emily and Brian happen to be friends of my daughter.  She went to college at K-State with Brian and she later met Emily at the Architecture firm she worked for after college.  She even convinced Brian that he wanted to come work there---where she introduced him to Emily. 
So why did they pick the Biltmore for their wedding?  Emily was the architect for much of Antler Village at the Biltmore!  Brian also did the museum there in Antler Village.  They're the architects of many interesting places (like Sea Worlds and other tourist areas), so it was fitting that they had a destination wedding to one of the places they worked at.  With all the time they've spent at the Biltmore, they know everyone and everything about the estate.  I was definitely spoiled!!!  Starting with the trip to the Biltmore in Oct. of 2010 when they were finalizing wedding stuff---like cake tasting, ordering flowers, checking out the venues.   I had never been to the Biltmore before. What a way to see it for the first time---with personal guides.  Emily even took care of getting permission for me to photograph their wedding.   

April 29, 2011:

So in late April, Ken and I drove from St. Louis to Alpharetta, Georgia, where our daughter was living and on the 29th of April, I rode up to the Biltmore with Angie and Josh. 
View of the Biltmore house from the mountains nearby.
I was shocked when I saw the room Emily put me up in for the 2 nights we were there!  It was in the Inn On Biltmore Estate.  One of their 2 luxury accommodations.  I can certainly see why!

Emily even left a bag of goodies there for me.
View from my room!
 and another
 AFter unpacking, I took a walk around the area.  The pool looked really inviting, but I imagine it was pretty cold in April. 

 heading back to the Inn

 a lounge inside the Inn.
 Angie and Josh dressed up and ready to start celebrating.
 Since they had to pay for their accommodations, they stayed in the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate.  It was a couple hundred dollars a night less expensive, but still very nice. 
First order of business was the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner.  The bride and groom had dinner set up for the guests that had arrived already.  It was at Antler Village on the outside area of Cedrics.  There was a carving station, another station for cooked to order pastas, ...
 and even a nice dessert spread.
And, of course, lots of Biltmore beverages.
 It was a fun time.
Cedrics and the outdoor balcony area.

April 30, 2011:

The big day had arrived, with lots of things packed into it: High Tea, wedding photos around the estate, the wedding, and the reception.   
But first, I woke to this amazing view from my bedroom window. 

 a short while later
 Emily (or her folks?) had set up a High Tea for the Grandmothers, mothers, maid of honor, and Angie and me--- in restaurant in the Inn.  I've only been to a couple High Teas, and this one certainly lived up to it's name! 

 made for a great breakfast!
Since the wedding was in the evening, we did pictures around the estate in the afternoon.
Getting ready
 a photo representative of the period of time the house was built.

 It was a small, but beautiful wedding.

Then we were off to Lions Crest where the reception was held.
 The 5 course dinner was delicious!
 The happy couple having the first dance.
The party went on for a few hours.  I don't think any of us left until after 11pm.  It was a long, tiring day---but a beautiful one that I won't ever forget!

May 1, 2011:

We were on our own now.  So we did some touristy things before we left---like tour the house.
 Parked at the upper lot and walked down The Vista --- Angie and Josh leading the way

 The Italian gardens to the SE side of the house

 heading down the steps from the Vista
 almost to the house
 love the exterior of the grand staircase.
 View from the back patio.

 one of the many gargoyles.
 The back patio
 one of the many grotesques.
 The huge patio to the south where concerts are held.
 looking out towards The Vista from the Grand Staircase.
 No pictures of the inside of the house.  I don't think they were allowed---although when I went back with my daughter and daughter-in-law to the Biltmore in 2017, it was allowed. 
AFter touring the house, we wandered the grounds a bit.
 Azaleas were in bloom throughout the property.

 Even checked out some of the other areas of the Estate, like here at Trout lake.
 marveled at the old bridges with their unique character.
 Even got to check out a waterfall on property.

It was a short trip, but we packed a lot into it!  I'm so glad I got to participate in Emily and Brian's wedding.  They certainly are a fantastic couple!