Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January Cruising!

The Carnival Breeze
We always wonder why we don’t go somewhere in January when it’s cold; so this year we decided on a winter cruise.  We left home when it was minus one and headed south to warmth!

A few weeks ago we were talking to our friend Carolyn about her Bucket List item of watching a rocket blast off.  We loved that idea so we added it to our list. By a stroke of luck we happened to be in Florida when we heard that SpaceX’s launch for their Falcon 9 rocket was delayed till Saturday morning.  We found a cheap hotel on Cocoa Beach and set our alarms for 3:30 in the morning.  The launch was scheduled for 4:47 AM with an immediate launch window…meaning that it would blast off exactly at 4:47 or not at all.

Our best pic.  Bad zoom and blinded
by the light.  (Sounds like a song!)
We found a vantage point across the bay from the blast site and pulled our car onto the shoulder.  We were there with a few hundred others who, like us, were standing in the dark looking at a bright light across the way.  Some of our compatriots had NASA’s broadcast on so we could hear the launch technicians talking and could monitor the countdown.  Finally, it got to 10, 9, 8…..lift off!  Suddenly, a new sun emerged and we could clearly see the launch platform and the rocket.  It didn’t seem to be moving at all, but then started to lift lift lift!  It seemed to start slowly and then it gained momentum and shot into the sky.  Shortly thereafter came the thrum of sound almost pulsating through us, like nothing we’ve heard before.  We watched it for a least two minutes before it finally disappeared.  At that point, everyone, including us, began to clap and cheer.  IT. WAS. AWESOME!  It’s still a thrill just to think about it!
This was our view, but not our pic.  Our cameras were
blinded by the light.
Our home for the week was the Carnival Breeze.  This was the big ship that we first had seen in Grand Turks back in October.  The Breeze is one BIG ship.  While most of the other Carnival ships carry about 3200 passengers, this ship carries 4500 plus a crew of 1400. Big.  It weighs in at a mere 130,000 tons and has 14 decks and is 1004 feet long.  Did I already say it was big?  It’s big! Not only is it big, it’s beautiful.  The decor is light, airy and very tropical.  We love it!  And last but not least, it has Guy’s Burgers so for us it’s practically perfect in every way!
Mona and Friends Going Up the Falls.

Our first port on our cruise was Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  We were in Jamaica for a week about fifteen years ago and somehow we didn’t have time to visit Dunn’s River Falls.  This trip we’d fix that!  At the port we boarded a catamaran and sailed to the mouth of Dunn’s River.  There we met our guide, BBG…short for Big Belly Guide.  He and his cohort told us we’d be walking in a line holding hands up the falls.  Huh?  That sounded a little like overkill.  

The easy part of the falls
After a pep talk and everyone repeatedly shouting “Hot! Hot! Hot” at the top of their lungs we finally began.  You start at the bottom of the falls at about a 30 degree angle.  The water is rushing down the falls and you are walking on very slippery rocks with lots of holes.  Immediately, we’re glad we are holding hands in a line.  You need each of your adjacent hand-holders to help you stand!  

You slip and slide, slide and slip, slowly working your way up the natural steps of the cascade.  Neither of us fell but somehow we both got wet from head to toe!  We had gone about a tenth of a mile and finally, we were done!!! Whew!  But no, the river curved and the falls went up at about a 60 degree incline.  Up we went!  It took us at least 30 minutes to get up there, but we did it!  At the top was a sign saying we made it!  We high-fived and head back down to shore to party on the catamaran as it took us back to port.  Back in port we celebrated with jerk chicken and Red Stripe Beer…a fitting way to celebrate our conquest of the falls.

The Atrium of the Breeze
We loved cruising on the Breeze.  We even got to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship.  We got to go into the bowels of the ship to visit the storerooms and freezers.  We also got to go to the galley where they prepare over 15,000 meals a day. Then up to the bridge to meet the captain and get our photos taken with him.  (I was told specifically not to touch anything.  Can’t figure why I was singled out.)  We went behind the stage to learn about costumes and set movements and then finally we went down to the front of the ship where the spare anchor is kept.  For geeks like us, it was the perfect tour!

Overall, this was a great cruise.  Three great ports: Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Caymans; and finally Cozumel, Mexico.  We met new friends everywhere we went and we even ran into a couple of old friends on the ship.  The ship had four great shows and lots of other entertainment including outside movies at night.  We couldn’t get everything done, but we sure tried!
Gas Station Gators

All too soon it was time to head home.  We are working on finding a geocache in every Florida county and we already have all the “outline” counties so this trip we decided to drive up through the center of the state.  This is a part of Florida that most don’t see.  It’s Everglades, Indian reservations, sugar cane fields and orange groves for miles.  Lots of wildlife everywhere including two alligators that we saw while gassing up. (They weren't fenced in...I think they were attracted by the $1.73 gas!)

After driving across the Florida panhandle we decided to visit Baton Rouge.  We spent a night there and headed to Memphis to see the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  Our visit coincided with the MLK holiday and the 50th anniversary of the
Civil Rights Bill so there was a lot going on at the “hotel”, including lots of gospel singing and food stands everywhere. I put hotel in quotes because the National Civil Rights Museum has been built to envelop the hotel.  The lines were as far as the eye could see and too long for us to go into the Museum so we’ll have to go back for that.  

Just seeing the balcony was a very emotional experience.  I remember the day Dr. King was shot and I’ve seen that balcony in hundreds of news reports and documentaries.  Standing there you wonder at how much more Dr. King could have done for the country had he lived.  You’re also struck with how much he accomplished in just 39 years of life.  What an amazing man who was taken from us all too soon.  (Note: We saw “Selma” our first night back home.  It’s a great movie that gives insight into Dr. King and the horrible conditions in the South in the 60s.  Seeing this movie was a great complement to our Lorraine Hotel visit.)

We ended our trip the right way….with red beans and rice, étouffée and a Po Boy on Beale Street.  It’s hard to beat Memphis food…unless you're in Louisiana of course!

Now we’re home.  Our bags are unpacked, we’re doing laundry; and of course, we’re making plans for the next trip!
Remembering the Warm Tropical Nights!

P.S.  We highly recommend traveling to somewhere warm in January.  The only problem is it's so damn cold coming home!

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