Life's Sweet Journey

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Carnival Breeze Ports of Call and Excursion Options

Carnival Breeze Western Caribbean itinerary has some great ports of call!

Carnival Breeze Ports of Call
So the glorious Florida sunshine has me missing the open seas! I had been meaning to "unpack" more of our last Carnival trip a long time ago and just have not gotten around to it. But my longing to be on a boat right now has me ready to reminisce. We went on the Carnival Breeze in November and loved pretty much every minute of it. However, we would have loved even more minutes had we been more aware of what could be found at each port prior to our trip. I had done plenty of research before we left and I thought I had a pretty clear picture of what would be best, but some of the details weren't super clear. So I thought I would share a little bit of what we discovered for any of those planning a similar trip! Here are the Carnival Breeze ports of call excursion options. 

Carnival Breeze Ports of Call

1.) Miami

We didn't really think this one through, we were pretty cruise ship destination oriented and being from Florida our plan was simply to get on the boat. However, as we were leaving the ship on the way home we realized we probably should have given ourselves an extra day to explore places around Miami. Even though we are both born and raised Floridians we have never done a trip to the Everglades. That will be added to the next trip FOR SURE! I want to wade with the gators!!

2.) Grand Turk

Grand Turk Cruise Port of Call
This is undoubtedly our favorite island, not only of this cruise, but of any cruise we have been on. Grand Turk is 7 miles total. You are in port for 7 hours. That is a whole hour to explore each mile and we did pretty much just that! I knew going into it that I wanted to explore the lighthouse. While you don't actually go up into the lighthouse the grounds are beautiful and I heard that not a lot of people head out that far; the lighthouse is pretty much at the exact opposite point from the cruise port and based on what they tell you there is "no beach". However, I had read differently while researching, so we decided to head out on our own. One, because we like it that way anyways and prefer to spend our days in port just the two of us, without tons of other people who book the same excursion. Two, because the ship excursions don't really allow you to go at your own schedule/ pace. And three, because they charge way more than it will cost if you choose to explore on your own.

So upon exiting the ship we found and rented a scooter and started our trek out to the lighthouse. I will admit I was nervous being on a scooter, but Babe was a great driver and we arrived safely at the lighthouse (no admission fee). It was amazing!! There are two trails leading towards the water from the back of the lighthouse. If you take the one to the right you can explore an old armory that is now falling to ruins, as well as the coast line from the top of the cliff. However, if you explore the trail to the left it will take you down the cliff (not super steep, but rocky towards the bottom. I would recommend water shoes if you have them; we didn't) to a pristine white sand beach. There was no one else there but us and the rocks from the cliff had formed this perfect little pool so that the water was calm and swimmable. It was glorious!!

Grand Turk Cruise Port of Call

We stayed there for about two hours (lighthouse, trail exploring and private beach swimming) before we started making our way back to the boat. We made sure to leave ourselves time to stop at all the off-beaten places we spied on the way to the light house. One included an old, run-down, abandoned hotel (pretty sure it was named Coral Reef, but you can see what the entrance looks like in the above far left picture of our Grand Turk stops) and the other was a shipwreck at a pretty popular beach located right near the boat. I was surprised no one else was exploring the shipwreck. But we hopped right on. You can swim to it from the beach (not far at all, would even be reachable for older kids). We explored the length of the ship (interior) and then used the ropes hanging from the riggings to make a swing!! Seriously my favorite cruise port day of all time!!

*If you are looking for a more relaxed, less adventuorus day, the beach where the shipwreck was located is walking distance (probably .5 miles) away from the cruise port. They have lounge chairs, crystal clear water, snorkel rentals and a huge ship to explore. 

3.) La Romana

Carnival Breeze Things to Do
Photo from: Carnival

We didn't end up doing much in La Romana due to rain. Instead we decided to use the money we would have spent on an excursion to go and use the ships spa for the day. The ship has this glorious spa room with these therapeutic, heated lounges for you to lay on. They were so nice, and Babe, who had a sore back, said they really did help relieve a lot of the tension. However, if you do get off in La Romana this port is one that you can't explore from right off the ship. You walk off the ship to a transportation depot. You can't walk anywhere nearby. We did walk to the end of the gate to see if there was a better deal on renting a taxi to get to the old ruins (what we had been bound for when the rain really started coming down), but the deals are the same at the gate as they are at the terminal. However, still a better value than booking through the ship.

4.) Curacao

Oh Curacao! I had been so looking forward to this port. You see, I have ALWAYS wanted to go cliff jumping. I had found blogs that talked about this great place to do it from and so I was all set to go and try! We get off the ship and give the people the name of the beach we need to get to, but no one knew what I was talking about. Apparently there are older names for beaches and some have new or alternate names. So we walked further into the town center hoping someone would know which beach we meant. When I told them what we were looking for they realized we were looking for Playa Knip, which is 45 minutes from the port we were at. Because we got to port so late in the day it was too late for us to try to get there. Had we known more in advance we would have immediately gone to the Avis car rental (which is directly to the left as you exit the ship. We had looked for one right away but didn't see it; it is hiding behind a bush) and taken a car up the coast and then made our way back once it got dark (you are in port until 10pm). Instead we scratched our original plan, got back on the boat, showered and then went back out for dinner after the sun went down. Curacao is a great place for shopping and dining if you want to stay nearby. It is a beautiful town with bold colors and a fort like feel; great for pictures. The more adventurous exploring is further from the ship port. Next time!

*You can also book car rentals ahead of time, either through Avis or through the Budget Car rental at the casino in Curacao. By the time we got to the Budget place all the cars were gone and they would have had to be returned at 4:30, it was already 3:15.

5.) Aruba

Aruba Cruise Port of Call

Aruba probably ties for our second favorite port! It's a toss up between Aruba and The Baths in Virgin Gorda, which you can access by ferry from Tortola. Aruba was another destination where we knew we would be renting some type of our own motorized vehicle. We planned to go to Arikok, the national park in Aruba, which has a natural pool. I had read that the only way to get directly to the natural pool was by ATV, so that is what we got. It took a good bit of time to get out there and I would definitely recommend some type of off-road vehicle. However, it might be worth it to pay a little more for an ATV which has a back seat or cushion. We got a one-seater and I just sat in the extra space on the back; once you hit the rocky path, ouch!! My tailbone kept hitting the metal bars and it was not a pleasant ride. But the scenery was stunning, the natural pool totally worth it and the caves were amazing to explore! I won't give too much away, because you should get to be surprised, but you really should try to check out as much of the park as you can in the time you have. We did both main caves, the pool and even had time to stop at the little cafe on site to eat (it was decent, but not great). I do wish we had thought to pack a heavier snack so we could have spent more time exploring instead of stopping to eat.

Tips for Aruba and Arikok National Park

*If you are afraid of bats the caves may not be your thing. I was fascinated by the bats, but they do fly freely and while there were not a whole lot, because it wasn't night, there were quite a few that flew right past us.

*You can take any vehicle into the park, however, you can not take cars directly to the pools. You can park some distance away and will be walking (a pretty fair distance) over rocky, steep terrain. Even from the top of the natural pool (where you will park the atv) you must be able to walk down stone steps. You should be pretty physically able to reach the pool.

*If you choose to swim in the natural pool, you should be a strong swimmer or else stay furthest from the rock wall that seperates the pool from open ocean. Every so option the waves will hit and come over the rocks and you will get swept up in the wave. You won't get pulled out of the pool, but will definitely get tossed around a bit. 

*This would be one cruise excursion I would be willing to look into booking through the ship. They rode in these open-air, off-road, jeep-like vehicles and mostly kept pace with the rate we were going. They had maybe 15 less minutes at the pools and I am not sure if they explored the second cave, but otherwise the cushy seats and guide might be worth the extra money. Though if you are prone to car sickness (I can be) I may think twice, the drivers were spinning donuts and driving crazy! It looked like a lot of fun, but it also might have been a cause for Dramamine.

Overall I think this was one of our favorite cruises, between the ship itself and the ports of call. I would highly recommend it if you are a cruise lover like we are!

Disclaimer: Choosing to do your excursions on your own can pay-off (see below), however, we know that we take the risk of something happening and not having the insurance provided by booking through the cruise. If you book your excursion through the cruise and something happens while on the tour (bus breakdown, accident, etc.) you are insured through the cruise and are guaranteed to make it back to the ship. If something happens and your tour gets stuck or you are late getting back to the ship they will make sure the ship doesn't leave you. However, if you book your excursion on your own time the boat will not wait for you if something happens. Ultimately, if you book your own excursion and something happens you are on your own. And if you miss the call time to be be back on ship, well, you're just SOL. We always make sure we are back near the ship an hour before call time, just in case we run longer than planned (hit traffic, etc.) we are safe to make it back in time.

An example of what we saved by going out on our own:
Carnival Breeze Ports of Call
In Grand Turk

How Much You Can Save Planning Your Own Excursion

Our cost:
Scooter rental: $60.00 (+$15.00 tip after; optional)
Extras: $10.00 snocones and drinks at lighthouse
total: $85.00
perks: we had plenty of time to stop, explore and even pet the donkeys
Ship cost:
Excursion: $69.99 per person
total: $139.98
* The excursion is only about 2 hours and you are completely at the mercy of the tours time schedule. The bus that got to the lighthouse only stayed for about 15-30 minutes, which (in my opinion) is not enough time to explore the whole area even if you don't plan to swim. 

In total we saved over $50 dollars and also gained more freedom and time to explore at our own pace.
Hope you found this helpful! Happy cruising!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Words for Wednesday: Dreams and Things

I have been thinking a lot about my "bucket life list" recently. Trying to think of the things I want to do, the places I want to see, in my lifetime. I love this quote for many reason, but ultimately for all the promise it holds. We are made up of every bit of our past, present and future thoughts. The places we have visited before, the things we have already read, but also of all the dreams we hold and all the places that call to us for some reason. Right now what is calling to me is a nagging desire to see the world immediately around me, to immerse myself in it and explore its hidden corners. I would love to have a tiny house, hooked onto the back of a truck, that could take me from town to town. Take me from my little slice of Florida, all the way across the U.S., to the seas of the Pacific and back again. I would love to spend a few months trying out different states; eating in the mom and pop diners, browsing the shelves of a local bookstore, sipping coffee on the sidewalk of the corner bistro. And while I don't know if that will every really happen, at least not anytime soon, I believe that specific desire is a part of my soul for a reason and I believe it's part of the make-up of who I am. 

Who are you? What dreams are part of your makeup? 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Woman in Gold

My husband and I went to a prescreening of Woman in Gold last night. It was hands down the best movie we (we meaning he actually agrees and not just me speaking as a we for him) have seen in a very long time. And we see A LOT of movies. I untderstand if you wish to stop reading at this time, while I do promise this post holds no specific spoilers you may be able to deduce the general feel of the from the following thoughts.

I had figured going into the movie that I may cry. I knew what it entailed and I knew there would be scenes from the life of the main character portraying her life as a young Jewish woman in Austria during the Nazi occupation. What I didn't expect to have happen was to feel so utterly connected to the woman she becomes in her later years of life. Maria is now an elderly woman living in America and has enlisted the help of a young family friend who happens to be a lawyer. At one point in the movie she remarks that you must hold onto pieces of your history so that the memories those tangible items hold do not get forgotten. She then states that it is often the younger generations that do the forgetting. Woman in Gold paints a tragically beautiful, hope-filled picture of what happens with our histories. A picture of that younger generation as it learns to embrace a history that it has more distant connections to, while the direct link to the past learns that while objects can pull memories to the surface they have always been held within us wherever we go.

It was for that very reason that I was a sobbing mess at the end of the movie. I have often thought that with age our memories may grow more gray, the edges may fog and fade, the image become less clear. But I wonder now if that is true. Maybe the older we get the more clear the past becomes, fine tuned by the crisp memories of a youthful soul. Maybe that line between the past and the present becomes thinner and it is easier to see the histories we have tried to block from our minds. That thought was crushing, but it was also inspiring, to think about all the memories a lifetime can hold. I think of the memories, pleasant and not, that I carry with me now. The weight of another 50 years of them seems astonishing. 

I can remember sitting with my mimi. While she never had many memory problems there were days when I could tell that she thought she was talking to my mother. It was the present memories, the things that had happened the day before that were easier for her to forget, like the fact that my mother was now a grown adult and not the woman in her early 20s sitting across the able from her. That is was actually me.  I was ok with that, because the stories she remembered so clearly were the ones that showed me who she was as a woman my own age.

It does get me thinking, about the things I will recollect if I am around to hit the age of 80. What scenes will I be walking into, what memories will I come face-to-face with, whose faces will I see smiling at me from corners of rooms that are no longer a part of my actual surroundings? I sat there in that theater and I could picture myself old and wrinkled, skin thin but bravado strong, saying things so matter-of-factly. Maybe it really is true that the older you get the less you care about speaking your mind. Maybe you speak what you think because you have waited too long to speak your truth and it is finally time to let it all out. To let out all the memories, all the knowledge, all the lessons learned and life lived. You let it out while at the same time it pulls you in. You get pulled into the past, pulled into the story of who you were and who you have become and in that moment you get to live the best of both worlds. You get to live with all you have learned, all you have walked through, all that you are now, but for a brief moment you also get to live it with all the people who had to leave before you did, including the version of yourself you once were.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sharing Saturday!!

I do so love a great beard! Love journeying through life with this one! 
While I had all intentions of posting yesterday for 5 on Friday, in typical Melanie fashion the day got away from me. So I am dubbing this Sharing Saturday. Sharing 5 things I am loving lately and sharing a few of those things in a happy little giveaway to share that love with you! Here goes: 
1.) Disney Flower and Garden
Our passes are almost expired and I think I may cry for a long time, but before that we will be going big with one last hoorah... and a lot of watermelon salad!! This stuff is my jam!! Seriously, if you have passes, the ability to make it to Epcot or are planning your yearly visit during Flower and Garden, you can NOT miss the watermelon salad. I love this amazing little blend! I waited all year long to get this again and it did not disappoint! If I could eat it everyday, I would. I have tried watermelon salad other places and Epcot's is by far my favorite!
2.) Snavely Vegetables and Garden!
We have a theme going on! Garden! Garden! And more garden!! This weekend, after being at the beach with a girlfriend, I came home to my our very own garden. I was beside myself!! I have been wanting one for so long and while Babe has too, I think he thought my enthusiasm for a garden was a lot like my enthusiasm for other things. I can quickly jump on an idea, but then quickly lose appeal for it. I have wanted a garden (and bees) for oh, going on about 4 years now! He was shocked, and I think I may have even surprised myself, with how much I am loving it. I basically cried the night I saw it. And within a few days it was already sprouting!! YAY!!!! First stop garden, second stop honey bees!! We are growing cucs, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots and watermelon; basically growing tacos, with a happy sweet treat!! Only one week in and it is already sprouting!!
3.) Clean Sweep!
I never thought I would say this, but "I have been loving cleaning." I have been purging my way through the house. A friend started a challenge to get rid of 40 things a day, for 40 days, for Lent. At first I said, "No way! Uh uh, not gonna happen." Next thing you know I had gotten rid of 240 thing in a period of 1 hour (in order to catch up) and I was hooked. It has recently gotten a little more challenging now that I am getting past the definite throw-outs, but I am excited to keep going and to learn what simplifying looks like (more on that later), as of right now it looks like 3 trash bags to pitch and two to donate! 
4.) Snuggly Beards!
Babe has kept his beard around (per my request)! Yay! Who enjoys shaving anyways?! And you just can't beat a man with a beard, at least in my opinion. However, Babe is very low maintenance. He just keeps it trimmed and typically doesn't listen when I talk about things like beard upkeep. But when I got the opportunity to try a beard care kit I couldn't turn it down and he obliged to try it out for a while! His beard is so snuggly! I love it. Smooth Viking is a wonderful company that offers 100% natural beard care options. While Babe's beard isn't long enough to use the beard balm he has been using the oil (Beard Oil - 100% Natural) which he says has made his beard less itchy and also much softer. It makes snuggling during movie night so much better. I also love that they are an Orlando based company. When I first partnered with them I didn't know that this was the case. I found out when I received the products and read the address. I love supporting local businesses and will definitely be using Smooth Viking in the future. If you love beard snuggling as much as I do you should totally give them a try!
5.) Tea Time!
I was recently given some Organic Dandelion Root Tea to try. I love tea! And while I am not typically a floral tea lover, I couldn't pass up a taste test. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this tea from Kiss Me Organics. It has a subtle floral taste and dash of cinnamon, it blended nicely with my honey (I add honey to everything I drink) and a little sugar. It was delightful! The fact that is organic was great too. It's the perfect treat for an afternoon pick me up and being naturally caffeine free it didn't keep me up until all hours of the night.

*This post is sponsored by Smooth Viking and Kiss Me Organics and because they were so great to share some of their wonderfulness with me I thought I would share some with you! Here's a little treat for one lucky tea-drinking, beard-snuggling winner! (Beard Conditioner - 100% Natural Beard , Beard Balm - 100% Natural, Organic Dandelion Root Tea)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Words for Wednesday: Adulting

I found this quote not too long ago and while times aren't that dark today I know there is someone somewhere who could use a push, a reminder, to keep chugging along. Whenever I read this, on a dark day or a brighter one, I am reminded about why I love it so much. It is short and simple and to the point. You have made it, you have made it through hard things and while you will face them again, you also know that you have the strength to make it through. You have done it before! So hold tight and be strong, there is light to look forward to. 

And just in case you are more of a "I need humor more than a dose of reminders in order to keep my head up today" kind of person, then I hope you enjoy this little ditty that has kept me smiling for the past week or so... 

And with that I am off to Disney, because that is where I take myself when I am just plain done and over the "adulting" thing for the day!! Seriously, why didn't the grown-ups warn us better about this whole thing?!