April 7, 2012

We took a vacation!

Well, we did it. We left the kids for five days and did something awesome for our marriage. March 25-30 the kids were at Grandmom and Grandad's and we were in Florida, on the ocean in a ship, and in the Bahamas! It's a hard call as to who had the most fun, since the kids were thrilled to see us go. 

Every other year, several couples from our church go on what they call a "marriage cruise," a time to have fun with friends and focus on spouses. This cruise, well, any cruise actually, was a first for us. Pastor Levi and his wife Krista have now been at Concord for 18 months and they were able to go as well. He led us in a couple of short seminars during the week to help us refocus our marriages. It was valuable information and a powerful reminder of why we as Christians exist as a couple in the first place. It was also F-U-N with a capital F-U-N!!

I will go back and fill in January through the beginning of March posts....one day. No promises as to when, of course. I did want to document the trip though, while I could still remember what the heck we did!

We headed to Mom and Dad's on Saturday and spent the night there, then saw the kids and grandparents off to church. A short time later the D's swung by and picked us up, and we were off to Florida in a minivan. It gets no cooler than that, fo' shizzle.

Somewhere between McDonough, GA and Cape Canaveral, FL.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a rest area. Welcome. 

We made it to Cape Canaveral around 5:00 PM, checked into the Country Inn and Suites where our group was staying, and went to find dinner. We left Georgia early since we skipped church, but most of the others didn't and got to town around 10:00 PM. We wandered around a bit, as folks who don't know a town do, and landed at a place that had a deck with a view of the ocean.

Our van/dinner/hotel room companions.

Us! In Florida! By the ocean! With no kids!

Dinner was yummy, though unlike Jenny, I had my food cooked first. The company was fun, the temperature was nice, and I thoroughly enjoyed my Mahi Mahi sandwich.

After dinner we took a stroll on the beach and all talked to our kids. I wasn't sure what my phone would do on a ship and in a strange place, and at $2.95 a minute I was pretty sure I wouldn't be calling from the ship. They were, of course, loving their time at Grandmom and Grandad's.

With his amazing super-incredible night vision, James scans the seas for swimmers in trouble.

The next morning we got up early and Curtis and I went for a four-mile run, and James went running as well. It's quite pleasant to run on flat ground.

We headed down for breakfast after that, and finally saw our whole crowd, 15 couples in all. We had a quick meeting/seminar in the hotel, then got on a bus bound for the port. It was just a hop and skip over to it, and we were able to leave the van in the hotel parking lot.

Here we are at the terminal, with our first close up look at the Monarch of the Seas.

Don't want to leave any of that valuable luggage.

Boarding the ship. Thank goodness our passports were three months away from expiring and got us on, no problem.

The pool deck.

The ship pulled out at 4:00 PM, accompanied by a lot of sun and a hefty wind.


We saw some dolphins while heading out.

I finally got so chilly in the tropical storm force wind that I crouched down to get a break from it. Camera pointed at me = acting dumb, of course.

If you look way off on the horizon you can see the Kennedy Space Center from which lots and lots of things are launched into space.

A pilot boat guided us out.

I guess this wasn't a submarine, but a subterranean. It's the first one I've ever seen. I wonder if it ever comes up under people's houses. THAT would be a weird thing to see while eating dinner with the family.

It tried to run into us. Go away, Scuttle!

They followed us from the hotel. We couldn't escape them! Good thing too, 'cause it turns out they're a lot of fun even without their kids!

I tried out this new facial hair look while on the cruise...

But I decided I didn't really like it after all.

We stood on the upper deck for a long time, just watching the ocean go by, then headed to a conference room for a session with Pastor Levi. We also had the mandatory drill that afternoon where we learned where to go in case of an emergency. Then we wandered down to our room and found our luggage waiting for us, and met Irishe, our stateroom attendant from Indonesia who took good care of us all week. Our dining room was just down the hall on the same floor (three), and we had a 5:45 seating time each night.

We were quite happy with our dinner companions, Jenny and Curtis, Chris and Jill, and Jay and Nicole. We were especially happy to see Chris and Jill. We knew they were detained at the terminal, but didn't know exactly what was going on. Jay and Nicole stayed with them. Chris had a hospital copy of his birth certificate, but it wasn't a state copy, and they were refusing him entry. Somebody there told him they were out of luck unless they knew somebody in politics. That off-the-cuff remark led to a series of phone calls. Governor Nathan Deal is from our area and they know him, and between Jill and Nicole they also had a contact for Senator Johnny Isakson. After THREE hours of phone calls and faxes, which a person in the Virginia office told them normally takes three days, they got an official fax and let him on just in the nick of time. Good thing too, because our vacation would have been a great deal less fun without them.

Kirk and Denise, Harriet and James (our minister of music), and Randy and Connie at the next table over. Somehow I missed getting pictures of the other tables of folks we came with.

There's no picture of James and I at the table together, but somehow there's one of James and Jay (?)

We went to the opening show that night.

And then Chris and Curtis went shopping.

After that we caught our pastor and his wife in a smoky lounge. Actually we were all there for some karaoke. Here are Tim McGraw and Faith Hill''s alter egos singing "It's Your Love." They were by far the shining stars of karaoke that night, 'cause some of it was BAD!

The emcee asked him what his profession was, and after he told him he was a pastor he had folks coming up to him here and there over the week. They had an encore performance a few nights later.

We Concord folks offered our moral support by dancing. Oops, guess I just incriminated us Baptists.

Then we went to bed. JUST KIDDING! We maximized every square inch of time that week in the name of fun. This was the first night we played cards with the Baumgardners and Davidsons. We enjoyed playing in the Windjammer Cafe because they had pizza and cookies every night.

Jill acquired quite a large hand of cards during a bluffing game we played, which shall remain unnamed due to its scandalous moniker. I can't begin to recount the hilarity of the evening, but since between the six of us we had cut loose eleven kids for the week, we were almost giddy. This was the first night we stayed up way too late.

The next morning we got up way too early, just for fun. Nicole, Sally, and I did a "Fab Abs" class, from which I was sore for the next few days. James ran on the treadmill, which is really interesting since it rolls with the ship. We went to the Windjammer for breakfast, then to a morning session with Pastor Levi.

The day before we learned that our schedule for ports of call had changed. We would spend the first day at sea, then go to Nassau, then to Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean's island. Turns out we had a change of course even after that, when a passenger had a medical emergency and we had to swing by Freeport.

Here's what we could see of Freeport from where we parked.

Here comes the tugboat to get the sick passenger.

Here's the ugly, nasty cloud that tried to ruin my day in the sun. It stayed over us the entire time we were stopped for the tug, about two hours. I put on sunscreen, sat down in a chair, and then put my coat on. Not exactly what I was expecting!

Braving the chill.

Tug/rescue boat.

They don't make water this blue even on the log ride at Six Flags.

Here's the stretcher going out. They were onboard for awhile. We never did know what the problem was, but heard rumblings about a heart issue. I wondered if that passenger's sea pass card would be charged for all that extra fuel. We didn't go back to get him either, so I guess he had to figure out how to get home from Freeport all by himself.

Bye tugboat, bye sick passenger, we hope you are feeling great again soon!

The ominous cloud, my foe.

Go away, ominous foe cloud. Thankfully the rain never reached us. We finally gave up our much in-demand chairs and went in for lunch, which happened to be the exact moment we cruised out from under the cloud into sunshine, naturally.

After lunch we gave it another try.

We enjoyed an afternoon of sunshine after all, recovering from the frenzied days before the trip that were full of packing and getting young 'uns situated.

"De plane! De plane!"

"Yep, it's de plane alright."

At some point during the day there was a bellyflop contest.

Pastor Levi and Krista gave the climbing wall a go.

So did Chris.

It didn't have quite the appeal for James and I since we have one at home and our socks were all the way down on floor three. That's like a four mile walk, or something.

After soaking up the sun all afternoon, we headed to the dining room for formal night.

Hawaiian formal.

It didn't take us long to get used to ordering two appetizers, two entrees, and three desserts at every meal. The cook at our house isn't a motivated enough individual to cook like that. I'm thinking of letting her go.

The gang, all 15 couples. Let's see if I can remember everybody, just for the record. (Feel free to skip this part, you know, like everybody does the begats in the book of Genesis.) There were the...Himstedts, Davidsons, Baumgardners, Burketts, Williamsons, Johnsons, Ellises, Jacksons, McCunes, Forresters, Dollars, Skippers, Yoris, DiBartolos, and the Hills.

We found this guy on our bed when we got back to the room. He tried to text the kids.

There was a spirited game of Spoons after dinner.

There was also some country line dancing, which took us all back to college days when it was all the rage. (No really, it was.) That was fun.

Nicole was a clogger back in the day, and when "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" came on she busted a move.

Another late night was followed by another early morning, and when we woke up we were docked at Nassau. By this point we were expecting to eat about every 45 minutes, so we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the dining room with a couple from Orlando. We met the D's, Baumgardners, and Johnsons to disembark and start another day of fun.

The Monarch of the Seas.

The Monarch of the Seas is heavy.

Curtis and Jenny had been to Nassau before, and Curtis is quite good at searching out deals and forums on the internet, so we had a good plan for the day that didn't involve a $75-$200 per person excursion through the cruise line.

Senor Frog, smushing James.

Vehicle madness near the Straw Market.

We caught the Number 10 bus through town, and went to the Sheraton Resort for the day. A day pass got us access to their private beach, chairs, towels, water toys, lots of pools, hot tubs, and to the Wyndham Resort next door which had an awesome water slide.

It was a difficult, burdensome day, but we suffered through it.

We were visited on the beach by Stephanie, a local who had lived on the island all her life. She had stuff to sell, and we were tourists...what are the odds that the two should meet?

Shockingly, we all bought something.

Curtis, whom we dubbed "Tour Guide," drove a hard bargain. What kind of discount could we get for ALL our stuff put together? Also, and I quote, "We don't want to buy any of that Chinese crap." She reassured us that she didn't sell Chinese crap. Whew.

Here's that fun water slide.

That water was COLD!

A surely never before discovered grotto beside one of the pools.

Don't even ask.

We figured out a way to while away nearly five hours. It was a great way to spend the day!

Part of Jenny's workout routine, I think.

Jill's "Pretty Woman" shot by the weird asparagus-looking plants in the hotel's atrium.

We hopped the Number 10 bus again and headed back to town. Here's the resort from across the bay.

Would you believe they drive on the wrong side of the road? It should be illegal.

We asked the driver of Bus 10 to let us out at The Fish Fry, a series of small restaurants that specialize in conch and seafood. We wanted to try conch since it's not something you find on most menus in America.

We picked this one, which turned out to be a good choice. Conch is delicious.

James' conch fritter crab art.

Since it was already 2:30 and we would eat at 5:45 we settled for a conch fritter and conch salad snack. 

A local guy carrying a jug of coins with some kind of hand drawn pink ribbon logo on it stopped us to chat and plead his cause. Exactly what that cause was is still up in the air. Just because we are all white, and toting fanny packs with cameras around our necks doesn't mean we're tourists, geez. Profiling, that's what it is. Turns out our local guy was raised up north in the U.S.

We walked the mile back from The Fish Fry area to the Straw Market.

Tour Guide Curtis demonstrates proper cannon riding technique.

Fascinated, the tourists stop to take pictures of a guy chopping up a coconut.

I didn't get any pictures inside the Straw Market, but it was basically booth after booth of the exact same thing, over and over. There were straw hats and purses, swimsuit cover ups and wraps, ball caps, jewelry, toy critters made out of coconut shells, and a person at every booth telling you how much you needed something and asking what you were looking to spend on it. We got Bahamas caps for the boys, and necklaces for the girls. Oddly enough, I found the exact same necklace I bought from Stephanie at the resort, who assured us her jewelry was handmade. She's one busy lady, making all those necklaces for the Straw Market, too! I did really like it though, so we got one (for two dollars less!) for Amelia.

More Nassau.

There were quite a few of us flooding Nassau, with four cruise ships in port. Ours is the smallest ship on the right. We were told it's in its last season of service, as it has been sold. It appeared to be in great shape to us, but it's the smallest of Royal Caribbean's ships and is an older one. James speculated that perhaps an oil magnate from Dubai had bought it for his personal enjoyment.

I never saw the captain the entire time we were on board. Jenny snapped these pictures, so I know he was on the ship somewhere. It didn't bother me that I didn't see him, I was hoping he was doing his job driving the ship!

Atlantis, at twilight. For only $300 we could have spent the day playing there instead.

Dinner was delicious, as usual, and then we went to see an entertainer in the theater. He was funny, could play several instruments well, and swung boleros with great skill. It sounds like a weird combination of talents, and it was, but it was great. My favorite part was his commentary on the workings of the ship's toilets, made all the funnier by his Uruguayan accent.

After that we went back to the Boleros lounge for some more karaoke fun. Randy sings solos at church regularly, so it was fun having another quality representation from Concord.

My favorite, of course, was James, singing "My Girl." We all requested a follow-up performance, but the song choices really were quite obscure and not very good. He wasn't willing to insult his audience by struggling through a song he didn't know very well, unlike 90% of the rest of the participants. Since they didn't provide us with a gong, we opted to leave when it got painful.

Back to the room to find some more towel origami.

Kinda looks like a dead turkey in this shot.

That evening we also joined what appeared to be pretty much the whole boat for a salsa lesson. It was a wee bit crowded on the dance floor.

That night there was a midnight buffet, and since we were starving, of course, we went to it. It's not good practice to start whimping out early before the end of vacation. I figured if we didn't go home exhausted we didn't have enough fun.

We met friends for breakfast, then got on the tender boat to Coco Cay. The water was smooth, the wind was quiet, and it was a perfect day for lounging on a private island.

The D's knew where to go to find the best chairs in the shade.

There was a mini-straw market on the island.

So much to do!

The reggae band from the ship.

For some extra cash you could do this.

It was hard to tell where the blue water met the blue sky.

At the direction of our pastor, James and I spent some time talking about the purpose of our marriage, and creating a "mission statement" for it. It was time well spent.

Here's a bunch of goofballs getting ready to snorkel. This is by far the most fun thing we did all day.

There was a huge area to explore, and we saw tons of different tropical fish, sea urchins, starfish, coral, and more. There were sunken planes, anchors, and cannons, which I suspect MIGHT have been put there by the cruise people. They were great places to see marine life, because a lot of fish schooled inside of them.

We went out with the gang for an hour or two that morning, then James, Curtis, and I went out again in the afternoon. It was quite chilly during the morning session, but a big lunch and some time in a sunny chair helped me thaw. I got up from my chair at lunch to get something and a seagull attacked my plate! James had to stand guard over it. All of us kept quoting the line from Finding Nemo where the birds swoop down yelling, 'Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!" That's exactly what they're like. Most of the Coco Cay birds are fatsos. I guess it's a symbiotic relationship though, since it probably saves the clean up crew several hours of time after a ship leaves.

Now here's a lovely couple.

Cheers! The island drink, a Coco Loco. There was the option to make it a "loco" with rum.

The new Coco Loco advertisement photo.

James, feigning boredom with my company. At least I hope he wasn't serious.

Just in case he was...

I'm at a loss for a comment on this one. Words fail me.

Amelia has officially adopted the Coco Loco cup as her own since we've been home.

Jay and Nicole treated vacation more like a vacation and less like a never ending party than we did. It was fun hanging out with them on the island.

We snorkeled until the last possible second and caught the last tender boat back over. We barely had enough time to get ready for dinner, our last on the ship.

Our wait staff for the week. Our waiter Apurva (who we called A.P.) from India, Head Waiter Victor from India (who is a Christian), and our beverage filler upper Rian from Indonesia. They took very good care of us and it was a pleasure to be waited on!

That evening the kitchen and dining room staff did a type of congo line dance around the dining room for us. Many were talented, balancing all manner of utensils and dining room apparatus on their heads.

A drink tray.



Here's the only sunset I saw, since we were at dinner every night when the sun was going down.

We went to the final show in the theater and decided the song and dance ones aren't really for us. We also went back to the Boleros for one last night of karaoke and heard an encore from Pastor Levi and Krista. The musical talent only went downhill after that, so we split for some pizza, cookies, Farkel, and ridiculousity in the Windjammer.

We finished our run of good food with breakfast in the dining room, then got all of our stuff and went to our appointed areas for departure from the ship. The staff is kind and gracious, friendly and courteous right through the end of your cruise, but you know they want you the heck off of the ship since they only have two hours to turn it around for the next group! It's amazing that they can do it.

Here's some of our crowd in the theater on Friday morning, waiting to be called back to the harsh reality of less than stellar customer service and the weight of responsibilities back at home. I decided after my week of pampering that the kids are getting big enough to take on some more chores. New jobs at our house will include: Turning down our bed, creating towel animals, offering me yummy bread and rolls no less than four times during a meal, cleaning the bathroom mirror every time it gets a spot on it, and never letting my glass get empty. I think they can handle that.

And we're back to where we started, except going the opposite direction. I'd love to say we were more rested than we'd been in years, but that just isn't true. I'd say we were definitely more relaxed though, which is in my opinion even more important. It was a phenomenal week, a time of just plain enjoying my husband's company, building relationships with friends, and laughing a ton. It would be good medicine for anyone, and I highly recommend it!

Back in McDonough we got the update from the kids. I had spoken with them briefly on speaker phone from Nassau from James' phone. My phone was absolutely useless the entire trip, even as a clock, which is why I was carrying it at all. It wouldn't make calls or text, and it kept telling me it was January 5, 1980, and three hours ahead of the time it actually was. No wonder it didn't work. Cell service didn't exist in 1980.

The kids spent time with Nanny, played outside, went to Mom's friend Peggy's house to play with her grandsons, visited the Tellus Museum near Cartersville, played with cousins Jordan and Reagan, went to Burger King and the Dollar Store, and generally had a we-never-missed-you-guys good old time. I'll always treasure the time I spent with my grandparents as a child, and I know they will too. It was great to be able to leave them in good hands and not worry about them. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

It's now Saturday, eight days after getting off the ship, and I'm just now starting to feel like the ground is stable again. I've had pretty serious rocking in my head all those days. Who knew I'd get to enjoy my cruise for another whole week?

I think this concludes this brief summary (ha ha) of our trip, unless someone else's pictures I don't have surface. If so I'll add them later. Bon voyage!