Conquest in the Caribbean

Yay!!  A cruise with five great friends!  Wait…you’re all cancelling??  Okay…Yay!! A cruise all by myself!  Wait…Mom, you wanna go?? Okay…Yay!!! Me and Mom are going on a cruise!!  Yes…Me and Mom are going on a cruise!  No more changes!!

So to back up a bit, some dear friends of mine were talking on Facebook about going on this cruise.  Since we all know how I feel about cruising, I invited myself along.  Plus, I’d never been on a Carnival cruise, plus it would be over my birthday, plus the people that were going are totally awesome and it would be a blast to be on a cruise ship with them!  Add in the fact that I could use miles for my airfare and points for my hotel and Carnival has these single cabins that do not incur the usual 200% single supplement and it seemed like a perfect opportunity!  BUT then two of those awesome, dear friends got engaged (yay!) and being responsible adults they decided to cancel their cruise plans so that they could save money for their wedding.

If there is one thing I have never been accused of it is being a responsible adult. So. Since airfare and hotel were already done deals, and I had already paid the cruise fare, and it was still my birthday I decided to go anyway.  I actually didn’t know for sure if everyone else was going to cancel or not, but I decided that I was going…even if it meant I was going by myself.

Then, at Thanksgiving dinner, Mom said that she would go with me if that was okay with me and since I think it is well documented that I enjoy travelling with my mother, that was fine.  Now I just needed to adjust the reservation.

The room I had booked was technically a double, however it was one single bed and one Pullman bed.  If you don’t know, Pullman beds are beds that pull down from the ceiling and you need to use a ladder to climb up.  Well, I knew I wasn’t climbing up a ladder to get into bed after a day on a cruise ship (with the drink package) and I was pretty sure that Mom, as spry as she is for her age, had no desire to climb either so I needed to change cabins.

After a super easy phone call to Carnival, we now had an ocean-view guarantee cabin.   Because the change was made so late, there were very few options left, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time in my cabin anyway so I wasn’t worried.  I should have been, but we’ll get to that!

Since I was flying on points, I had to take a roundabout way to get the flights to work so I was flying into Miami, renting a car and driving to Ft. Lauderdale.  Then I would stay the night at the Renaissance Ft. Lauderdale (on points) and return the car to the Ft. Lauderdale airport the next morning after dropping Mom off at the port with all the luggage.  I would then grab a taxi back to the port and meet Mom to get on the ship.

I am happy to say that this pretty much worked just fine.  I got to the airport super early (habit), made it through security and sat down at the bar near my gate for a birthday morning adult beverage.

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Mom showed up soon after, she got a ride to the airport, but since our flight schedules were different we didn’t ride together.  And soon enough we were both away.  Her directly to Ft. Lauderdale, me to Miami.  In Miami, I got my bag and my rental with nothing more troubling than how huge the airport is…truly I felt like I was halfway to Ft. Lauderdale before I even left the airport.

Then, after a harrowing ride from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale (seriously, the drivers there are crazy!) I pulled into the Renaissance to meet Mom.  Quick trip up to the room to drop bags, then off to meet Jarod for dinner and to show Mom his college campus.  We ended up eating at some hole in the wall British Pub near the campus.  Total dive, but the food was actually fantastic.  Then, we ran the gauntlet back to the hotel.

Up the next morning to start the luggage, rental car, check in shuffle.  Seemed like everything went well, up until we were waiting to board and there was some kind of delay, I never knew what it was.  But by noontime we were onboard and I was headed for customer service to find out why my drink package didn’t work!!??!!

Next…The cruise begins…I know, I know…finally!!  And I really do have pictures!  You won’t have to just listen to me ramble, I promise!

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Happy Birthday!!

So I am back from my venture on Carnival Cruise lines and I will write a full trip report shortly.  BUT!  Today is my dear brothers birthday and I wanted to take a minute and let him know how dear he is to me.

There are people in our lives that love us: family, friends, etc.  But if you are really lucky, you have someone that supports you unconditionally.  Without question or reservation, no matter what stupid decisions you make.  My brother is that guy.  I am blessed to have a plenty of loving family…sometimes part of that love is to call me out when I make an unwise decision (believe it or not it does happen…sometimes!).  My brother just supports (at least to my face…he may talk about me behind my back though!! :-).  And he always has.

In addition to being an amazing brother, father, son, husband and friend; he is also an amazing travel companion.  So to that end, he will be joining me on my next cruise in February.  This is the first time we have cruised, or even traveled just us so there really is no limit to the trouble I expect us to get into!

We will be sailing back on Royal Caribbean, on their oldest and smallest ship, the Majesty of the Seas, but even being the small, old girl she still has a loyal following so I am looking forward to sailing on another new ship for me.

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We are headed to Nassau and CocoCay.  This is just a quick 3 day cruise, but I am honored to have my brother along.  So Happy Birthday dear…I can’t wait to cruise with you!

Trying Something New…

As you know, I cruise a lot.  And up until now, I have only cruised with Royal Caribbean.  But thanks to a series of amusing events, I am leaving on Saturday to fly to Ft. Lauderdale to have dinner with my Dear Son and then hop on board the Carnival Conquest on Sunday for a 6 Night cruise that will visit Nassau, Bahamas; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos.

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With the exception of Nassau, I have not been to any of the other stops.  I have nothing planned at any of the ports this time, I am just going to wing it.  I do have reservations at the Conquest Steakhouse and Chef’s Table so I will be able to compare those venues to the similar and much beloved venues on Royal Caribbean ships.

I will be trying to give live updates as my wifi access allows, so if you follow me on social media, you will hopefully be able to travel vicariously with me!  Feel free to ask questions or comment as we go along!

 

 

Part 10 (Dubrovnik, Croatia) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

KINGS LANDING!!!  WE ARE GOING TO KINGS LANDING!!!  Okay, so I was the only one that was super excited about that.  Even beyond Game of Thrones though, Dubrovnik has some pretty cool stuff to lay claim to.

DISCLAIMER – This post has a lot of Game of Thrones and Star Wars references so if you are not into either of those things, my apologies!!  At least the pictures are still pretty!

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It’s a beautiful sail in to begin with.  Much greener than I thought and after seeing Kusadasi, the green seems really, really green!  The port is a little bit away from the old town, but a 15 minute bus ride drops you right at the gates of the walled city.

I had reserved a tour…Game of Thrones, of course!  I booked through Dubrovnik Walking Tours and paid online so that I would not need to worry about exchanging currency.  I did end up using an ATM to get some Kuna and they were super easy and accessible…and in English!

We met our tour guide under their red umbrella by Onofrio’s Fountain near the Pile Gate.  This serves as the entrance to King’s Landing, the gate through which Jamie returned after losing his hand.

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We then moved on to the Docks of Kings Landing.  This is where Myrcella was sent off to Dorne.

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Here is where Robert Baratheons infant son was dashed on the rocks.

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We next climbed the 650 stairs to the Red Keep, otherwise known as Fort Lovrjenac.  This site was home to so many scenes of note: Joffrey’s Nameday Tournament, the Purple Wedding, Sansa’s rescue by the Hound, and many more.  The views from here were totally worth the climb!!

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And from here you can see the House of the Undying in Qarth.

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Back down the stairs (a much easier prospect than the trek up!), and on to the Spice Kings Palace in Qarth, actually the Rector’s Palace (at least the current version, the first two being destroyed by explosions.).

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And finally we moved to the most famous of scenes…SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

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And the most famous walk that followed.  Our guide told us a funny story about living in the city.  At night, when the tourists start to get a bit tipsy, you can hear them running down the stairs, yelling Shame, Shame, Shame…I really hope they are not naked and I guess at least they don’t have bells!

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Lastly, we got a bit of a sneak peak into another movie that had recently been filmed inside the walled city of Dubrovnik…Rogue One, A Star Wars Story.

I am so excited for this movie, now that I know I have walked the same streets!!  Our guide told us that LucasFilms came in and polished the main street so it would look better for their hovercrafts!  HOW COOL IS THAT!!

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The main street was still nearly that shiny!  All in all, I really enjoyed Dubrovnik and I would absolutely come back for a longer visit.  I did not have a chance to try any food or drinks while I was here so that is totally a reason to return, right??

Our next stop is back in Venice.  We will dock at 3pm, but then we don’t have to get off the ship until the next morning.  And really…they may have to forcibly evict me after this trip!  But, we do have an extra day in Venice, at the Hilton Molino Stucky…a really incredible hotel!!!  See you back in Venice!

 

 

 

Part 9 (Santorini, Greece) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

Santorini.  The most picturesque of all the Greek Isles, as I had been told over and over again by friends and family that had been there and loved it.  I will admit, my expectations were high heading into our third and final tour with The Travel Insiders.  We chose a tour called, “The Highlights of Santorini – The Black Pearl of the Aegean.

This was our only tender port so I did have a little heartburn about getting off the ship and up the cable cars by our tour’s assigned meeting time…I am a little, teensy bit OCD about being on time so I tend to get really crabby when I am late.

We did eventually get off the ship and to our meeting spot and we were about 10 minutes late…this means that I was almost in hives stressing about it, but I tried not to be too crabby!!!  (That only worked for part of the day!)

We got our tickets for the ride up the cliffside and hopped on the cable cars.  My mother is terrified of these things so I am pretty sure she kept her eyes closed the entire time, but if she hadn’t, she would have seen a pretty steep ride up the side of a volcano.

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Okay, it’s a little steep…but a quick 5 minutes and you are up to the top where you now realize that you are standing on the rim of a volcano.  From the town of Fira you can really see how the cone of the volcano used to look and you realize that your ship is parked right in the middle.  I know a bunch of really smart science and geology people have proven this volcano to be dead, but there is a minute when you look around at the throng of tourists and wonder which one you will toss over the side of the cliff in case an emergency sacrifice becomes necessary.

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We met our tour guide and she walked us around Fira showing us some lovely views and giving us the history of the caldera and how the island came to be so popular.  We wound through very crowded streets to get to our coach that would take us to Oia.

After a bit of a harrowing ride along sheer cliff walls, we arrived in picturesque Oia.  This is what everyone thinks of when they think of Santorini.   This is the white washed buildings with the blue domes, this is the endless vistas over the caldera, this is beautiful.

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In case you were wondering, yes I did notice the For Sale sign and yes, I do have that number written down!

Once in Oia, we were given plenty of free time to walk around, shop if we wanted and of course take pictures!

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You can see how incredibly close to the sheer dropoff these houses were built.  I know quite a few Greek nationals and I promise you, many of them are a schosh crazy…seeing how close to death these folks choose to live?  I get it a little bit!

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This may, in part also explain the abundance of churches for such a small island, between the cliffs and the volcano, I could certainly see wanting to stay on good terms with the Almighty!

After wandering around for a bit, shopping if we wanted, or desperately searching for a bit of shade, we meandered back towards the bus.  Our guide promised us a treat on the way back to the bus and she was not wrong!  Gelato!!

We stopped at Lolita’s Gelato and it is cute, kitchy, very greek.  BUT…and this is the most important part…the gelato is fantastic!  i don’t know if I would say it was the best I had on the trip, we did spend several days in Venice, but it was the best we had in Greece.  And we tried some in every port.  My son was on a mission to find the best gelato so he was certainly well equipped to make a determination.  We tried all the fun flavors, Cuban Lover: a blend of coffee and chocolate (my favorite); Zabaione, Stracciatella, and the flavor that they are famous for: Greek Viagra.  This is gelato flavored with honey and pistachios and it is fantastic.  If you can get past saying the name, it is totally worth it!

We then moved on to Pyrgos.  This traditional village is supposedly the least spoiled by tourism and still has many features of the medieval village such as narrow streets, fortified walls and secret passageways.

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Many of the houses are still inhabited mostly “as is,” small and built on top of one another.

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This village also has the best vantage point of the island.  It isn’t “untouched” by accident…the villagers could see an invasion coming for miles.  Remember those walls?  This is a fantastic example of a fortified city still around for us to see.

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Yep, you can see for miles and miles and miles.

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That’s Oia…way over there.  It took us about 30 minutes to drive here from there in the motor coach.

After some time for picture taking, we headed for a quick stop at the Black Beach of Kamari.

There are cafes and shops and things here that I am sure would make a lovely stop by themselves.  However, we were running out of time and really, I had to put my feet in the water so I could say I had been in the Aegean and Ionian Seas.

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This is from the beach looking back up the road we had driven on to get here.  The sand is indeed black, and I did put my feet in the Aegean.  A word of warning…if you go to a black sand beach in the Mediterranean in August, spend some time before hand studying with the fire walkers so you are prepared to withstand your walk from the side walk to the water.  Just saying.

Back in the coach to head back to Fira to wait in the incredibly long line to get to the cable cars down the mountain.  There is a path to walk, but it is hot and covered in donkey poo and there is no place to rest on the way.  I knew mom wouldn’t make it, so I waited the two hours to get to the cable cars.  This is likely not as bad when there are fewer ships in port, but still…its better than sitting on a donkey the whole way down!

For me, Santorini was the supermodel of the Greek Isles.  Pretty (stunning actually), but kind of superficial.  This was also my one disappointment with the tour I had taken, because of the time crunch we did not get to see the Venetsantos Winery, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to be on this tour.  Ah well, next time!

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Here is the port area where you catch your tender back to your ship hopefully still waiting where you left it, in the middle of a collapsed volcano cone!

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And there is the cable car track and the path back up to Fira…yeah, not walking it!  Back on board I was devastated to learn that SOMEONE drank all of the Aperol on the entire ship and I (I mean…someone) would now have to find another refreshing beverage to get me through the sea day tomorrow, and then…KINGS LANDING!!!  Well, I guess some people call it Dubrovnik.