Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cruising Through San Juan

Since yesterday's breakfast was so hectic, we decided to order room service this morning. I had this great plan; we'd have fruit and croissants in the room and be up on the deck early enough to get a decent lounge chair, where we could listen to the steel drum band and sip Mojitos all day until we pulled into port. Well, we waited and waited for breakfast and it never showed up...because I forgot to put our stateroom number on the request form! So we just went right up to the deck, but the winds were almost gale force so every lounge chair was empty! But we grabbed a couple anyway, and within 30 minutes, the skies were sunny and clear and the winds had died down and it was perfect and we sipped Mojitos all day! We met this great gal named Cora from Indiana who was scoping out some guy; she had our waiter buy him an anonymous drink, but the waiter came back and told her that the guy said he was gay! But he still accepted the drink! I told her it could have been worse; he could have bought one for his boyfriend, too, and charged it to her room.

San Juan was really fun; there is a Honda Gold Wing Club on board (30+ bikes) and we watched them all disembark from the ship which was very fun, except for that one guy who couldn't get his bike to start and the rest of the group left without him. Bummer. Here's a picture of Robin, with San Juan coming into view behind her. Here's another picture of the two of us standing in front of this pretty walled park.

So we really got a feel for San Juan (cough, cough); we bought souveniers and safety pins at Walgreen's; shoes at Payless Shoes; and at the local grocery store, Robin bought Pringles chips and Dentine gum! (Oh, and we saw the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, otherwise known as the Castle of St. Phillip of the Headsland). There were a lot of homeless people, and little alleyways that reeked of something foul and rotten, but also pretty courtyards overflowing with flowers and vegetation, and the pastel housefronts and wrought iron balconies were beautiful. The people were all really friendly. I bought some little green, glass frogs for the girls since that's the national symbol (who knew?), and some pretty Caribbean-style coverups.

The entire harbor and shopping district were swarming with police, and I'm not talking your local rent-a-cops! These guys look like Delta Force operators, with flack jackets and ear-pieces, and deadly serious expressions. I took a covert photo of this one cop (his bulging muscles had nothing to do with it). I was hiding in the doorway of a shop across the street, but enlarged and cropped the photo to what you see here. You really have to see him to--ahem--appreciate him! Then on the way back to the ship, we bought a couple of pocketbooks -- inexpensive knockoffs of Coach and Kate Spade brands (although they looked real enough to me!). Here's a picture of the cruise ship from the shopping district -- we were actually hanging over this stoned wall, and behind us the houses were vacant and boarded up, probably from damage incurred during last year's hurricanes.

Not sure what we'll do tonight. Probably go up on deck when we leave so we can see San Juan by night, and maybe get a bite to eat since we skipped supper.


Okay, I think I’m getting the hang of this cruise thing. It’s every man for himself!

We slept late and then went up to the breakfast buffet at prime feeding time. There were absolutely no free tables to be found, so we stood around with our trays for about ten minutes until a waiter took pity on us and located a table for us. Afterwards, I wanted to lounge by the pool, but we forgot to set our clocks ahead (which I don’t understand, since we haven’t crossed any time zones yet, but maybe they’re just getting us prepared), so instead of being 9:30, it was really 10:30 and every lounge chair on every deck was being used. We finally managed to locate two chairs, but they were in the shade so we didn’t stay long. I think cruises can bring out the best and the worst in people; I watched this woman look for two empty chairs and she was being very polite, asking people if chairs were vacant. She finally located two, but as she was negotiating her way through the maze of chairs to get to them, another woman threw her towels from an overhead balcony down onto the chairs and claimed them as her own! I couldn’t believe it.

Robin and I went to a wine tasting this afternoon, but the best part of it was the accompanying cheese and cracker platter. Totally yummy. So yummy that I had no appetite for dinner, which was formal attire tonight. I wore my gorgeous chocolate gown with the beaded neckline, and Robin work a long black skirt with a beautiful beaded sweater. I ordered linguine with mushrooms in a champagne and truffle cream sauce, but it was awful. I couldn’t even tolerate the smell. I had a few bites of Robin’s salmon, and it was more than enough.

Afterwards, we had our picture taken with the ship’s Captain, and then went to the evening show which was totally fabulous; a collection of songs and dances from some of Broadway’s greatest musicals. We changed into something more comfortable and went to Bolero’s nightclub to listen to the steel band and watch the salsa dancing. Very fun, but I am completely wiped out.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Freedom of the Seas

Whew...we made it!! I've tried to upload pictures, but for some reason the wireless connection here on the ship won't let me. I'll try again later. (Yay -- success!!) Anyway, Robin’s boss hired a limo bus to drive 22 of us down to Miami. It was so luxurious! I didn’t think there would be enough seating for everyone, but there was absolutely more than enough room. Somebody brought two enormous jugs of Bloody Mary’s with your choice of garnishes; celery, olives, or big dill pickle spears (never heard of that one before!), and another person brought dozens of yummy bagels from Panera Bread. The ride took about three hours, but we scarcely noticed.

Once we arrived at the port in Miami, I could not believe how gigantic the ship was – like a floating city! It took about an hour to check in and get to our stateroom, which is really roomy. Robin objected to the fact they gave us a double bed (how can they tell the lesbians from the sisters??) so we had them split the bed into two twins. We cruised along the pool level, which was already packed and the party was well underway despite the fact the ship hadn’t even left the dock yet.

We got a quick bite to eat at the buffet (small dish of pasta for me, and chicken parm for Robin), then we had to return to our state rooms to prepare for the evacuation muster. Sheer torture!! The life vests are designed to choke the life out of you (here's a really flattering picture of me, beginning to panic as the life is choked out of me) and I felt so claustrophobic in it! So we were all herded down to the fourth deck where we had to find our muster station and then stand there for twenty minutes while the sun beat down on us, trying to breath in these awful contraptions. I swear, if I ended up in the ocean, I think I’d rather make a swim for it on my own than be trapped in that thing!! It was so hot…a man two rows over collapsed, but they still wouldn’t let us take the things off. I think it’s the crew’s way of exacting revenge on the passengers. Then they go back to their own little staterooms and laugh about it.

Dinner was fabulous – three soaring levels of gold and crystal and white linen and each table has four waiters, each with his or her own specific purpose. I had shrimp ravioli in a creamy sherry lobster sauce. Robin had Atlantic Cod but didn’t like it and ordered the ravioli. The guy next to her ordered TWO plates of prime rib!! I couldn’t believe it. We went to bed early, around 9:30 and outside a storm is brewing. The skies are flashing with lightning and we can hear huge claps of thunder. I stepped out onto the balcony and it was really windy. I could have stayed out there forever, but was too scared of the lightning.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Seaworld...Not Just for Kids!

Parents, cover the eyes of your little ones... there's a reason the dolphins at Seaworld are so happy! We went into the underwater viewing area of the dolphin pool, and found one female being chased around the tank by two males...and alternately being caught by both of them! So if you've ever wondered how dolphins do the naughty...wonder no more! Here they are, captured on film. I have another shot of the three of them, and I swear it looks like one of them is laughing. And just so you know...I wasn't the one taking the pictures. That would be my 14-year old daughter who no doubt can't wait to get back to school to tell all her friends about the live sex show they have going on at Seaworld.

Okay...enough of that. I've gained about ten pounds since we arrived. John and the girls fly home tomorrow and I am actually very sad not to be going with them. I know I'll love the cruise, but right now I'm tired and my feet hurt, and I've been sleeping in strange beds for ten days, and I just want to go home. I hope I catch my second wind by Sunday!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Bates Motel

We arrived in Orlando around 3:30 yesterday afternoon and had a tough time finding our hotel; it's right on International Drive and is probably the biggest hotel on the strip, but it had no visible signs and it looked like a bunch of 4-story motels, with the entrance on the balcony. Maybe that's a Florida-thing, I don't know. But when my dad and I went inside to get our room keys, I kept saying, "It didn't look like this on the website!" and "I didn't sign up for this; where are the pools and the fun things for the kids to do?" Honestly, I sounded like Goldie Hawn in the movie Private Benjamin: "This isn't the Army I signed up for!!!" The girls were horrified and were sure somebody was going to break in during the night and kill us all. Compared to where we usually stay when we come to Orlando, it's pretty sketchy, but hey...we're only sleeping here, right? It's not like we're moving in.

So we dropped my dad off at Shades of Green this morning so he could play golf, and the rest of us went to Animal Kingdom; we've been there before, but it's been years. I couldn't believe the changes they've made in that time. I really wanted to go on the Expedition Everest--a roller-coaster type train through the mountain, but I couldn't get any takers. Here's a picture of the train shooting out of the mountain. I thought it looked great, but didn't want to go on by myself, and my family didn't want to wait the 40 or so minutes it was going to take me to get through the line. Oh well...there's always the Kraken tomorrow!

We had a great day and left the park around 4:00. We'd just made it back to the hotel when it started to pour. It rained heavily for about an hour, and then cleared up in time for us to go across the street for supper (Ben & Jerry's). My parents went to TGI Fridays, but we just wanted something quick and light. So get this...four single scoop waffle cones cost $17! Is it just me, or is that crazy??

Anyway...one more picture of this good-looking guy we saw at the park today. He was pretty relaxed and seemed to enjoy the attention he was getting.

So tomorrow...Sea World.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Off to Disney

So we spent most of yesterday at the beach; I guess the surf was a little wilder than normal, since there were lots of surfer-boys with wave-boards riding the surf. It was entertaining, but only if you weren't actually in the water. There was a good chance they might wipe you out! At one point, Caitlin and I thought we were about to become the first shark-casuality of Englewood Beach, but the creature swimming less than four feet away turned out to be a dolphin! Once my heart rate slowed down, I thought it was pretty amazing. Afterwards, we went to dinner at Sharky's on the Pier, a seafood restaurant directly on the water with an enormous pier that extends out about 400 feet into the ocean (okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it's enough that people actually catch sharks off the end. Here's a picture of the restaurant from the pier...
So today we're off to Orlando for a couple of days in the parks. Sad to be packing up our suitcases, since we won't be coming back here to my parent's house before John and the girls head home, and I meet up with my sister for the cruise. More later!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just Another Day in Paradise

We got up early (okay, 9:00) and headed out to Venice for a little shopping. John volunteered to join us, but I think it was because he thought it might be a boat-viewing opportunity. Unfortunately, no boats...just lots of old ladies and boutiques. Here he is, being a good sport and waiting for us while we cruise the strip... The pretty teenagers are my two girls, Caitlin and Brenna, and my niece, Colleen.

After scooting back to my parent's house, we did a quick change into swimsuits and drove out to Englewood Beach, where the surf was amazing; crashing turquoise waves that were perfect for body-surfing. We stayed there for about two hours and only got out of the water when a storm rolled in and it started to rain. Here's a shot of John and the girls playing in the surf.

We drove down to my sister's house last night and dropped off Colleen and my parent's dog, since we can't bring him with us when he head over to Disney tomorrow. He seemed pretty happy to hang out there, since they also have a dog.

We went up to St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota the other day, and walked around. Gorgeous breezes coming off the Gulf. We also went to Circus Sarasota that night and although the venue is small, the acts were really great. The performers came from around the world...the Ukraine, Germany, France, Bulgaria, and Hugary. Here's a picture of Brenna and Colleen just inside the Big Top.
So today, we're off to the beach, before coming home and packing for Disney. It rained last night, which cooled things off, but it promises to be another sunny day here on the Gulf.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Down by the Seashore

My folks said the weather hasn't been this gorgeous in several weeks. It's been absolutely grand. Yesterday, we went down to Punta Gorda to the Fisherman's Village, a collection of shops and boutiques directly on the Gulf. The girls enjoyed it for the shopping and the guys enjoyed it for the surrounding piers and collection of boats. Here we are at Harpoon Harry's, an open-air restaurant and pub where you can have a drink and watch the boats come in. And here is a picture of a spectacular sailboat, heading out to sea...hopefully the Captain had less to drink than we did!

The wildlife is amazing; we've seen dolphins and pelicans, alligators and little lizards, and while we were leaving my parent's house, found this turtle trying to make his way across the street. Here's a picture of John, gallantly giving the little guy a lift across the street. Yesterday afternoon, we headed over to the beach on Manatee Key, just a few miles down the road from where Stephen King has a mansion directly on the Gulf, and where he apparently got his inspiration for his latest novel. Here are the girls, raking the surf for shells and shark's teeth. A pod of dolphins was swimming just off shore, and we stayed until the sun set, which was breathtaking.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes!

So here we are, in sunny Florida, and it's hard to believe there's any part of the country that isn't sunny and 80 degrees! Our flight down was extremely turbulent, and I'm not just talking about the air currents! SkyBus does not have assigned seating, so it's pretty much a free-for-all melee once you're on board. We didn't get to sit together, but I can't complain too much since many families were separated.

But once we arrived in Punta Gorda....ah.....so beautiful!

Yesterday, we went shopping and I just about went broke buying swimwear and sandals for the girls. The beach, however, made it all worthwhile. Gorgeous, aqua-green swells that buoyed you up, while (no kidding) dolphins broke the water less than 50 yards away! Pelicans did low fly-by's while beach-combers stood knee-deep in the surf with their wire baskets, panning for shark's teeth. Sheer heaven.

Last night, we went to the local country club for karaoke night and cheap beer. Here's a picture of me and my sister, Robin, swilling down the local ale (Bud light - ugh). Except for the kids, we were the youngest ones there by about twenty years. Sheeze. I hope I have the same energy these people do when I retire! Later, John and the girls got up and entertained the crowd, singing Garth Brook's I've Got Friends in Low Places. Very nice. Here's the picture:

So we're off today to this great place on the water called Fisherman's Village where you can sit and drink and watch the boats come in, then back to the beach. Later...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful...

...But Florida will be soooo delightful!!!

Here's what was going on at my house at 5 a.m. this morning, after a night of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Not pretty, although it's good to know the remote starter for my car works when I really need it (that would be the man in the hat!). I stuck my head out the front door to take this picture and although you can't see it, freezing rain was pelting down. I did manage to make it to work, and the roads weren't too, too bad. The kids have a two-hour school delay. Caitlin will need it, since we were up until 11:30 last night working on her Holocaust report.

Did you catch American Idol last night? Is it my imagination, or is Simon going soft? I can't believe some of the people they let through...

My sister-in-law is coming by this afternoon so that John can give her a walk-through of things she needs to know (like the fact that our dishwasher doesn't work, and how to open the damper in the fireplace). Caitlin has a 3:30 hair appointment with Nick, John and I are going to grab a bite to eat at Michaels (one day early to beat the V-Day rush), and I have a Silpada jewelry party to go to tonight. I love their jewelry; I just wish I wouldn't end up losing it all!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fighting City Hall

Through some miracle, my husband and I managed to have a child who actually excels in school--even math! So when she came home with straight A's in her academic courses last quarter, we were naturally thrilled. All that changed when we learned she was not eligible for the High Honor Roll because she got a B in Phys Ed. That's gym class, folks. So I got on the horn to find out what was up, and was told that Phys Ed is considered a "major" class and anything less than an A in all classes (including--ahem--gym), means you don't qualify for High Honors. So, I'm standing there, scratching my head and thinking, "What the...?" Since when do academic courses take a backseat to gym class?? Since when does Advanced Mathematics compare to gym class?? I was completely baffled. Now I'm not saying my precious darling deserved an A in Phys Ed; I'm no dummy. I know my kid; in her mind, Instant Messaging is an athletic event. Nothing short of imminent pain and suffering could induce her to exert herself, physically. Still...it's gym class. In my day, this was a pass/fail course, not something that could potentially ruin your class standing, your GPA, and your eligibility for the High Honor Roll! So I put together a letter to the Superintendent and the School Committee, asking them to consider revising this policy so that it doesn't impact a student's academic standing. At the same time, I sent an email to the Phys Ed teacher, asking him to explain his grading plan. Let me just interject that this man is one of the nicest men I've ever met, and he was quite candid in telling me that while my child is bright, engaging, and a joy to know, she's also one of the laziest kids he's ever encountered. I know from the way these words resonate through me that they are true. So now I'm having second thoughts about pursuing this through the school system, because the last thing I want to do is to suggest that this man's class is somehow less important or vital than the academic classes (although I think it is). I don't want to imply that he is somehow less. Does that make sense?? But I know I will pursue it, because I think even he would agree that a B in gym class shouldn't be enough to tarnish an otherwise perfect records.

Oh, the stress...I'm getting a flare-up in my right shoulder. Probably the way Roger Clemons feels after pitching nine innings without the benefit of HGH. Excrutiating. I really need a vacation...

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Bags are Packed...I'm Ready to Go...

But it seems Brenna and I are the only ones really ready to go! I dragged the suitcases out over the weekend and lined them up on the windowseat in the kitchen, with mine being the biggest (since I'll be gone a week longer) and the girls each getting a weekend case and a carry-on. Brenna and I have been dutifully making lists of the outfits we'll be bringing, as well as organizing our cosmetic bags and lining up our shoes, while the other two-who-shall-not-be-named look on with mild amusement. I've also been making lists of the miscellaneous things we'll need; camera, batteries, passport, itineraries, frequent flyer cards, hotel confirmations, etc. The only thing I haven't packed yet is my gorgeous evening wear, because I don't want to crush it, although I still need to shop for one of those Scarlet O'Hara stye corsets that will suck my waist and stomach in; ugh.

Meanwhile, work is piling up at the office while my only partner in crime had to take emergency leave due to a bum knee. She might be gone longer than me. I actually shouldn't even be going on vacation, that's how much stuff I have going on at the office.
So in between packing my suitcase and being a good doobie at the office, I've been frantically cleaning my house in preparation of my sister-in-law coming to stay for 10 days to take care of the pets. Hmm....I wonder if there's anything I should consider hiding from her...nah. My life isn't that exciting!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Last Mango in Paradise

Today was my last appointment at Pleasure Island, our own little slice of the tropics here in snowbound Groveland. The girls say I look like an Oompah Loompah -- that I have an orange tint -- but I don't think so. In fact, DH hasn't even noticed, and I have tan lines!

So....I went and got the Vera Bradley laptop bag, but I chose a discontinued pattern, which I actually like better than my first choice and I got a 25% discount! It was so pretty that I splurged and got a matching wallet to replace the one I have that's too big for my pocketbook and is splitting at the seams (hey, rationalization is everything!).

I'm sitting here tonight watching the Italian job, an thinking about the cruise, and wondering what the shopping will be like in St. Maarten, touted as one of the best shopping mecca's in the Caribbean. So I did a quick Google search, and came up with a list of shops, including this one called Last Mango in Paradise, which looks like it sells a lot of Jimmy Buffet style stuff, as well as touristy souveniers.

I'm not a gal who has a passion for expensive jewelry, and most of mine is silver with glass or mineral stones. But I have a friend who came back from the islands with a gorgeous silver bracelet with shimmering blue opals that gave the impression she was wearing the tropical waters of the Caribbean around her wrist. So, if the price was right...maybe. So now you're probably thinking I'm this person who has no other ambition in life but to shop and spend money, but -- okay...(who am I kidding)...you're right!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Oh Happy Day

It's Friday...it's Pay Day...my house is clean...and my book advance arrived in the mail today! Yay! This should help defray the costs of any bar tab that sis and I manage to rack up on the cruise (heh, like that's even a question)! Can life possibly get any sweeter? I had completely given up any hope of receiving this before we left for Florida, but my editor came through for me! Big hugs to Brenda. We celebrated by ordering Chinese...mmm.

Now maybe I can afford that Vera Bradley bag...isn't it pretty? I'm really hoping to get some writing done while I'm away. Really.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Countdown Begins

We're less than a week away from Florida launch-time; I ordered a pair of Hawaiian-print board shorts for each of us (long for me, to hide my butt and thighs) to wear with our bathing suits, and they finally came today. They're gorgeous, made of lightweight, beautiful fabrics and they're really well constructed. Check out their website at http://www.boardshortworld.com/. A little pricey, but good quality and terrific customer service. I've included a sample picture of the board shorts, above, but you need to check out the selection of fabrics to really get an appreciation for them. I couldn't decide which I liked best! Anyway, I couldn't wait to try mine on, but when I modeled them for my girls, all I got was this deer in the headlights look. Probably too petrified to tell me the truth, but unable to even lie through their teeth that I looked good in them. Totally discouraged. Why didn't I join Jenny Craig like four months ago?? I could be looking like Valerie Bertonelli right now, instead of Jabba the Hut! Even four weeks at the tanning salon won't be enough to fool people into thinking I'm healthy and robust, versus just plain fat.
Okay, self-flagellation done.

Anyway, I'm putting together a list of the things I still need to pick up:

  • Bathing suits -- We've all outgrown our old ones. The girls have gotten taller, I've just gotten wider. I'd been putting this off until the board shorts arrived so I could match the suits to the fabrics

  • Sandals -- Something comfortable and waterproof, and lime green would be nice

  • Gifts for Robin & Colleen (my sister and her 13-year old daughter)

  • Laptop bag -- I've been thinking about a floral bag from Vera Bradley, but wince at the thought of spending $80. Maybe my old black one will be fine.

  • Hairdresser appointments -- I can wait, but Caitlin tried to cut her own bangs and now she needs someone who actually knows what they're doing to clean up the mess...I mean, the rest.

Well, if I had the courage, I'd post a picture of me in the board shorts, but maybe I'll save that for the end of the vacation, when maybe (please, God) I'll have actually lost a few pounds!