04 February 2017

Cruisin'

The Grand Celebration!
For my birthday, Jack always outdoes himself (it makes my gift giving skills look pathetic but I've accepted it and moved on since Jack never complains about getting socks for any of his special days, heehee). But, for this past birthday, Jack really, really outdid himself--he surprised me with tickets for a weekend Bahama cruise! He apologized that it was a combined anniversary/Christmas/birthday gift all rolled into one but I shushed him before he could get the words out. I'd occasionally catch myself daydreaming about doing something really elaborate for our tenth anniversary (has it really been a decade already?!) but I'd always brush it off. I didn't imagine it'd be possible, seeing as we are literally swarming with little children, farm chores, and work. Despite it all, Jack managed to pull it off. He booked the flights, bought the cruise package, and brought his parents out to watch the children while we were away because, though we would've loved to take the children with us, as Jack said, "Sorry, kids. We can't afford to take you with us." He always was one for honesty...maybe next time!
Jack running off without me at the airport.
Making sure all the chores were done and that we'd shown Jack's parents where everything was and who was supposed to do what chore and when they were supposed to be where, we went to bed early the night before our trip and woke at 3:30am the morning of our anniversary to hurry off to the airport. Along with our ten year anniversary, it'd also been ten years since I'd flown anywhere. Jack, however, travels frequently for work and zipped me through all the check-in and security, so we had more than enough time to catch our flight. It took us about an hour, while waiting for our flight, to even realize it was our anniversary and we exchanged sleepy well-wishes to each other.
Cruisin' above the cloud cover.
We boarded, the plane took off, my ears popped horribly, a baby cried and soon, I was bawling my eyes out, too. Why? As we watched Indy disappear beneath us, it kind of hit what was happening...for the first time in almost eight years, I'd be away from our children. I've had the occasional night away from them but that's only when a new baby has been born, so that doesn't really count. It was a strange feeling to be excited about going somewhere with just Jack while feeling like half my heart had been ripped out and left at home.
You know you're in the tropics when a Bird of Paradise is growing in the ground!
The trip was mostly uneventful, though we enjoyed the company of a hilarious flight attendant and a few other travelers who were friendly enough, and we arrived in West Palm Beach without any trouble (other than my ears feeling like they were blocked from all of the constant pressure changes. I happily accepted muffled hearing for some Florida sunshine) We snagged an Uber and made our way to the port where the cruise ship was docked. Thankfully, the cruise line let us check in a tad early and we were admitted into the area where we were waiting to board. We must have looked like easy targets, still sleepy and probably because we spoke English, and were pulled aside and sucked into listening to a travel presentation in exchange for what they touted as a delicious lunch buffet. Over a meal of crusty tuna sandwiches (which I passed on) and stale cookies. We listened to the dude giving the presentation, tried not to laugh as he kept reassuring us that they were not a timeshare company and ended up leaving with a voucher to use on the ship without having made what they insisted was a great travel investment. Yes, you only live once, buddy, but right now, our kids are our blue Italian lake and we have a house to fix up, cars that need new tires, and animals to purchase. Better luck next time!
Jack relaxing on one of the upper deck's odd wicker egg thingys.
We boarded the ship, headed straight for the food since we had missed breakfast and a decent lunch, then wandered the ship for a while, seeing what there was to offer. We were told the ship had just come out of dry dock, where they apparently hadn't quite finished everything because there were workers painting the pool and some areas were closed for repairs. So, we sat on the top deck, enjoying the sun and gentle breeze while other people mingled about. The next thing we knew, everyone seemed to have disappeared. It was kind of like The Twilight Zone and everyone else had slipped into an alternate reality when we chatting. Turns out, we just hadn't been paying attention to the captain's announcements and we were supposed to be meeting for mandatory safety instructions.
Don't be scared, Jack! They promised there were enough lifeboats for everyone.
Again, we tried not to giggle through the entire presentation, should we strike an iceberg in the middle of the Bahamas and go down. I'm fairly confident we could have swam back to Florida if needed.
Panama Jack, eh?
The ship took off about 5:30pm and slowly churned it's way to Freeport. I'd taken some motion sickness medicine earlier in anticipation of the boat rocking but mercifully, the sailing was calm, so the ship was pretty steady. However, someone was having trouble figuring out how to balance the ship and the entire trip there, we were pretty heavily tilted. It made for a few good laughs and calf muscle work outs, depending on which direction you were headed.
About to whoop me in checkers.
Honestly, I don't think Jack and I are exactly cut out for the cruise lifestyle. The workers couldn't wrap their minds around the thought that we didn't drink alcohol, coffee, or tea (which meant they didn't make any money off of us), we don't gamble, don't enjoy adult "comedy" and don't stay up excessively late. While people were getting drunk in the disco, we found a secluded spot in the library to play checkers.
There was still enough to do on the floating hotel to keep us busy. We went on a lot of strolls around to people watch, we probably drained their self-serve ice cream a time or two, and watched the ship slowly move away from land. Thank goodness for technology, too. We were able to briefly Skype with the kids even though it made my teary waterworks want to start all over again. It was nice to see them having a good time being spoiled at the hands of Grandma and Grandpa.
Saying hello to the kids...technology is amazing!
The rest of the time, I think we spent eating. It's hard to say no when you get to enjoy an entire weekend of not cooking or cleaning up the dishes. It was definitely a plus to eat...

...and eat...
...and eat, even if the ship made it hard to keep the salt and pepper from tumbling over. Besides, I already practically look like a beached manitee. Pregnancy is great for not worrying too much about my figure.
Since we hadn't stayed up late (I'm pretty sure we were zonked out by 9pm the first night...vacationing is hard work!) we were awake pretty early and were able to get off the ship before the exit was crowded with people. We were met by a colorful band of locals who played some very festive music and if you weren't fast enough, would swallow you up, forcing you to dance and enjoy their entertainment. We managed to sprint through without being caught.
Despite what the cruise ship said about me not being able to do anything other than sunning myself on the beach because I was pregnant, Jack found a local snorkeling excursion that didn't ask any questions (I'm pregnant, not an invalid!). They picked us up nice and early and drove us to their private beach.
Powerline after powerline was snapped in half.
Shortly after we visited Florida for an Eliker family reunion this past August, the area was hit with a hurricane, which passed through the Bahamas on its way to the gulf. It was so humbling and sad to see the state of the island...powerlines and phone lines were down, roofs had been ripped off, rubble was just pushed to the side of the road and it didn't look like anyone was in any hurry to clean it up. Whenever I need to be reminded how blessed our we are as a family and a nation, it's not hard to see when I visit another place. Though it was subduing to witness, they understandably love having tourists there to boost the economy.
Yay, lizards!
The bus dropped us off at a remote, quiet beach that had been well-maintained and had already been repaired since the hurricane. Off the shore was a jagged line of rocks, around which was some of the world's second largest coral reef.
The water was a tad chilly but we quickly jumped right in and swam around, holding hands and looking at the marine life for a good hour. It was exhausting work since there were some currents to fight, but it was well rewarded. We saw stingrays, an octopus, sea turtles, lots and lots of fish, and when Jack went out a second time while I waded along the shoreline, he came across a 12 ft long eagle ray. The snorkeling in the area did not disappoint! We ate lunch, including trying some pretty tasty conch fritters and spent a leisurely afternoon on the beach.
After we wore ourselves out, we went to a local marketplace, where everyone was selling basically the same kinds of trinkets, some handmade, a lot imported from China. We found the girls some necklaces, Henry some rattles, and bought a few conch shells to take home. We cut it close getting back to the ship, too, because the taxi drivers wanted an unreasonably large amount of money to drive us a couple miles back to the ship but we found one grouchy driver who let us cram into his van for a slightly less unreasonable amount of money. Anything to help the local economy...as long as we had the cash for it.
Right before some random girl jumped in the hot tub to flirt with Jack, haha!
We spent the second night on the ship traveling back to Florida in a lot of the same way as the first--eating, walking around, people watching. Despite the cool night, we jumped in the jacuzzi since it was finally open but we had an awfully hard time getting out. We grabbed a couple of towels and dried off as fast as possible.
A private game of bean bag toss.
We had docked early the following morning and though we were in no hurry to get off, there really was no way we were going to get off early, even if we tried. The cruise ship limited how many people could get off at a time so that customs wasn't overwhelmed, especially with the number of foreigners who were on their ship. That strategy only resulted in a backup at customs anyway and a bunch of grumpy travelers. So, we played a few games, ate a bit more and when it was our turn, got right off and flashed our passports--the key to the fast lane.
That was one cool tree!
In the flood of people leaving, it wasn't hard to snag an Uber and we had them take us to the hotel where we checked in, dropped off our stuff, then walked across the street for lunch at the mall. The most memorable part of the afternoon was one very assertive squirrel, who not only chewed out Jack but literally chased down dogs who got too close. If I had to guess, he'd make a better country squirrel because the stress of city living was getting to be too much.
That was one assertive squirrel!
After a nap (because, hey, we could), we walked a couple of miles over to the beach. Along the way, Jack found some fruits he'd foraged and eaten when he lived in Mexico, lots of interesting vegetation (at least to us--it was all tropical!) and some frightening artwork. Like the one of four naked little boys seeming to be strangling Mother Goose:
Fly away, Mother Goose! Save yourself!
We waded in the water but didn't bother swimming. It was pretty chilly, windy, and had a large population of man-o-war jellyfish floating around the area. I've never been stung by a jellyfish and I'd like to keep it that way.

After all that walking, we figured we'd be famished, so we headed back near the hotel to find another restaurant. We chose a nice Italian one near a colorful, dancing fountain and were seated. Between being served by two different waiters, Jack giving them two different orders because he changed his mind, and figuring out we had zero appetite and that we were only really thirsty, we sheepishly took two bites of food, asked for a box and paid. I hope they weren't too offended by our bad manners...sorry! It really wasn't your food!
We'd heard from our Uber driver that the hotel we were staying at had an excellent pool and boy, oh boy, was he right! It was HUGE and beautifully lit and warm. I could have floated in there for days. We could only stand the jacuzzi for a few minutes before we felt like boiled lobsters. Then, we sat around and dried off, holding hands and talking and talking. I can see why people retire to Florida.
Best hotel swimming pool ever.
But, all good things must come to an end. So, we traded the sands and sun of West Palm Beach...
...for our own wintery paradise.
Looks exactly the same as I left it.
One of the best things about traveling is coming back. While it's nice to see new places, I for one always appreciate the familiarity of home. There were hugs all around, I was relieved that Henry hadn't permanently disowned me since he was the only one who didn't really understand why we'd abandoned him, we handed out souvenirs, ate lunch and without meaning to, crashed for a looong nap. I set an alarm for half an hour, only to wake up two hours later, blissfully rested and ready to get back to the daily routine.
Getting a good rest is hard when Henry wants to climb on you.
Jack's parents were able to stay for a couple extra days after we returned, so true to our nature, we worked on a few projects that require extra help. I asked Jack and his dad to do some work on the banister in the great room and they did a fantastic job. Now the rest of the sanding, staining, and painting can be done--hooray!
Of course, Henry was willing to help, too.
Probably the most fun of all was being able to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday. How lucky is that to be able to spend birthdays with both grandmas within a year when we live ten hours away? Pretty darn lucky.
But, along with us returning, it eventually meant Grandma and Grandpa had to leave, which always makes Henry sad. He hates goodbyes, even when we're just dropping the girls off at school or Jack's leaving for work.
Undeniably, there were some very refreshing, relaxing, and enjoyable parts of the trip--it's nice not to have to constantly be on the lookout to see if your kids are drowning or having to clean up messes or being able to hold hands because we aren't holding kids or being able to sleep in without someone bursting into our room--but being home, having everyone happy and our kids seeing our commitment to marriage, along with the chance to celebrate our milestone, makes coming back to diaper duty and breaking up fights so much easier. Who could've imagined what life would be like when we got married a decade ago? I for one couldn't have imagined such bliss?! Here's to seeing what the next decade brings (and the one after that, then after that, and after that...)!
It's good to be back!

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