The first place I look...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Carats in Cozumel

When we docked for our 3rd stop in Cozumel, (technically Puerta Maya), we seriously thought about staying on the ship and just relaxing for the day since we had been to this stop the year before.  But after lots of hype about Diamonds International from the onboard shopping specialist, Brook (he was a man with a girly name), we decided to put our feet on solid ground for the day and just shop around.  We attended all 5 of the raffles of the day given by Carnival at the various jewelry stores but didn't win a single one darnit!  I felt like a winner when we found the most gorgeous ring at the main Diamonds International...a 3 carat tanzanite surrounded by a carat of diamonds.  It is stunning.  I love how the tanzanite sparkles such a deep dark blue with tiny pink and purple points in the sunlight.  I love even more that it was a one of a kind design and that my hubby bought it for me!  definitely the BEST souvenir ever!  Next was his turn and we found him a silver coin from the sunken Spanish ship, the Atocha,  It was framed in 2 carat gold and he now wears it daily around his neck as a reminder of our trip.  It is a perfect fit for my Reggie, the history lover.  The kids each bought themselves a souvenir and I couldn't pass up a handmade hammock (which is now on the back patio and everyone's favorite spot to relax), a large bottle of Mexican vanilla and two large bottles of coconut rum--all tax and duty free!  The really cool thing is that Carnival has implemented a new program where as long as you shop in the stores that they "recommend", they will back your purchases...meaning the value of the ring, the coin, the hammock, etc are all refundable by Carnival if we are unhappy.  That definitely gives you peace of mind especially when purchasing 4 carat jewelry!  We of course had to stop by Fat Tuesday's before re-boarding the ship for some yummy frozen drinks (the kids had virgin ones of course) and to swing on their swings overlooking the water.  No fun filled by the book excursion, but a light day of strolling and shopping still made this a neat place to visit...again!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jamaican Me Happy in Montego Bay

Our excursion here was thru Explorer Jamaica Transportation and another Tripadvisor tip led us to them....and oh-so glad they did!  Our driver, Tony picked us up from the cruise ship terminal where our family loaded up into a 12 passenger van--just perfect to see the sights on our own.  We decided that we wanted to SEE Jamaica our way and on our time schedule and Tony was happy to lend his services.  We first drove out to the Rose Hall Great House, while on our way Tony told us her story and about how she killed 3 husbands to acquire all of her beautiful estate.  The house itself it breathtaking and sits at the top of the mountain overlooking the beach and the ocean below.  We saw amazing landscaping (some being worked on by a local man with a "stinky cigarette" said the youngest) and an almond tree loaded with almonds the size of my PALM.  Crazy.  We marveled at the beauty of the estate and then headed into town for some souvenir shopping, a tour of the downtown part of the city, and then back up to the top of another hill to look out over the bay to see our ship docked and dwarfing everything around it.  The downtown area was much different than expected and simply put, there were people everywhere, not one of the standing still (I guess it was just too HOT).  Tony then drove us over to the Old Fort Craft Market where a handful of women sell their handmade crafts to tourists. I was a bit overwhelmed as all the women wanted you to pay attention to them and as I was trying to differentiate between this painting and that, I look over and my sweet husband is holding with a smiling baby girl.  Of course, my girls come running to me, now begging to take the baby home with us. GOSH..if only they knew!  I did wish I could help them all, buy something from everyone, but instead asked God to use my money to do good in the life of the women whose crafts I chose.  Tony then gathered us up and we headed over to Margaritaville for a Margarita of course, some live music, and water fun.  Brady was the only one brave enough to ride the slide from the top of the building and curving into the ocean where water trampolines and floating slides and climbing walls awaited for anyone ready to play.  Unfortunately the margarita wasn't that good and our bill was $40 for 7 drinks (no food), but Margaritaville IS priced for its atmosphere after all.  By this time we are hot and tired and ready for a right on cue Tony is there to take us back the the cruise terminal.  On our way the children noticied other children their age on the side of the road selling clumps of some kind of fruit.  When they asked Tony about it, he motioned to a boy to bring us some.
This is a guniep...we all gave it a try (AND NO ONE LIKED IT!)...the taste wasn't bad it was just trying to get past the slimy coating on the fruit inside the green hull.  But another adventure down, we headed back to the ship...knowing that we would watch the Olympic running events just a little closer having just been right in the heart of where the Jamaican people were.  Tony was such a wonderfully nice man--he made us feel safe, showed us the beauty of the city, and even gave us hugs before we left.  I recommend Explorer Jamaica Transportation and encourage you to plan your own day like we did to ensure that you soak up all the sides of this amazing place.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reef, Rays, and Rum Point in Grand Cayman

Just catching my breath after our amazing cruise this summer...and the top of my list was our excursion during our day in Grand Cayman.  We booked our excursion thru Nativeway, who we found at the top of the list on Tripadvisor for about $60 for adults and $50 for kids.  They picked us up from the cruise ship dock and took us and several of our fellow passengers to a nearby marina.  They had two boats waiting for us and we were super lucky to be pointed in the direction of the "TrippinOut" ran by Captain Chris and Assistant Andrew.  We sat down and got comfy as we rode thru the canals and marveled at the beautiful homes, then we hit the open waters and raced towards Stingray City.  We were apprehensive to jump into the water-first because it seems so strange to have 3 foot deep water in the middle of the ocean, but second because the stingray were HUGE!  Crazy as it was when Chris got in the water, one of the biggest ones came up to him and "jumped" into his arms!  I truly believe this creature recognized him and he even said he affectionately named her big mama.  It takes a few minutes to convince yourself that these are truly gentle giants, but after they glide up against your legs a few times-it is evident that they are just curious about you and friendly.  We had the opportunity to feed them, to hold them, get our backs massaged by them and I even gave one lucky boy a kiss!  We spent almost an hour there and could have stayed forever just watching how graceful they are in the water.  We soon motored over to another local called Coral Gardens where we dropped anchor and snorkeled.  Chris and Andrew helped all the kids figure out their snorkel gear and in we went.  EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY CHILDREN WERE SNORKELING WITHIN MINUTES!  They took to it quickly and couldn't get enough of the underwater adventure.  One of the girls said it was just like putting her head in the fish tank!  I couldn't have said it any better....millions of different fish, coral, and even a barracuda stopped by to see what we were doing!  They had to force us back into the boat after about 2 hours but then we headed to Rum Pointe.  On our way there-Andrew called in our lunch orders and the food was waiting for us when we stepped onto the dock.   We had Mahi-Mahi, red beans and rice, corn and fried hit the spot!  We ate on the beach full of palm trees and plenty of shade, clean bathrooms and showers, crystal clear water and white sand, hammocks and beach chairs, and a cash bar.  We swam and relaxed some more and thoroughly enjoyed our time here.  It was mentioned several times by all how we could easily live HERE!  After Chris and Andrew convinced us that we had to return to the cruise ship-we hoped back on TrippinOut for the ride back to the marina.  Somewhere in the middle of the ocean, Chris stopped the boat and Andrew just jumped in---we were all a little baffled when he suddenly came to the surface with the biggest starfish I have ever seen.  There are no words to describe what a beauty this creature was.  He carefully kept it hydrated while we checked it out and took pictures and then jumped back in to take it home.  We were sad to leave our boat and our new friends but truly feel that we had the adventure of a lifetime here.  The owner of the company, Sharon, picked us up and delivered us straight back to our cruise ship after a interesting conversation about how she got to Cayman and the business  and all.  I promised her I would tell all...and here I go...I will recommend Nativeway Watersports to anyone who wants to do any excursion in Grand Cayman!  They have the system down pat and enjoy what they do.