A Day on St. Kitts – January 2019

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St. Kitts was our 5th and final port stop on our Caribbean Cruise. After a pretty chaotic experience on Barbados, we decided to take it easy on St. Kitts. We wanted to just find a beach where we could soak up some sun and breathe in some fresh air, while on solid ground, as we would be sailing nonstop for a few days after this.

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After disembarking from our ship, we found an information desk right inside the port entrance. Everyone was so helpful, and we easily found transportation to Cockleshell Beach. This beach was on the other side of the island, so we had a nice drive around the island. I was pleased to find that the beach had a restaurant attached to it, so we immediately decided to eat and have a few drinks at the Reggae Beach Bar before lounging on the beach. This was our first time eating conch, and we both agreed that conch is not for us, but we are happy we tried it.

After we finished eating, we took our bucket of beers and went to go claim some loungers on the beach. The beach staff was super helpful and got us hooked up with an umbrella. We would relax here for most of the afternoon, and it was glorious. Secretly, we may regret not taking advantage of the jet skis and having some water fun. There is always next time.

This may not have been the most exciting part of our vacation, but it was a nice and relaxing way to end it. Plus, the beach and water was beautiful!

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Until next trip….HAPPY TRAVELS!!!

 

St. Lucia – January 2019

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What better way to start the new year than by spending a day having adventures around sunny St. Lucia. St. Lucia was the third port on our Princess Cruise in the Caribbean.

While it may be scary to book an excursion outside of your cruise line (for fear that the excursion won’t get you back to your port in time for departure), we are so glad we did, as it was the best time of our trip! We managed to do just a little research before leaving for the Caribbean and found a wonderful excursion option suggested by Excursion Everywhere. This excursion was hosted by Cosol Tours and was an adventurous way to see so much of St. Lucia in a day. We were given clear instructions on a meeting point near where our ship docked. Here we met up with our guide, Cassius. He was fantastic! Here are some highlights from our day:

Banana Plantation: Cassius gave a tutorial on the production of bananas on St. Lucia, which is the second highest source of income for the island. Here we also got to try banana ketchup, banana bbq, and banana spiced rum.

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Fishing Village of Anse La Raye (see picture on the right)

Brunch: Multiple tables full of local cuisine

Overlook of the Twin Pitons (see picture at top of page)

Sugar Beach: We gook a water taxi to a beach located between the Twin Pitons, where we had plenty of time to relax on the beach, swim and snorkel.

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Soufriere Volcano & Sulphur Spring Park: We drove into the volcano, the world’s only drive-in volcano, and then took a mud bath in the hot 20190112_211452springs. (see picture on the far right)

Toraille Waterfall: We of course did not get all the mud off from the hot springs, but a quick soak under a rapid waterfall helped with that problem. (see picture on the right)

Another meal: We worked up quite an appetite after all those wonderful water activities. We were fed delicious bread and cheese and enjoyed some local beer.

They certainly filled our day with lots of adventures and got us back to our ship with plenty of time to wander around the port a bit, though to be honest, we were pretty exhausted. It was the best $75 per person we spent on this trip!

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A Day in Antigua – December 2018

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Our second port on our Caribbean cruise brought us to Antigua. We again did not have a plan of what to do or see in Antigua. I guess you could just say that we were winging this trip. Luckily after disembarking from the cruise ship, one of the first buildings on the main street was an information office. We stopped in there to try to see if we could arrange a zip-lining excursion, but we were unable to get others to join, which would have made the excursion affordable, so we opted to take the free self-guided walking tour of St. John’s that was included in the map that they gave us.

Here are some of the highlights of that self-guided walk:20181231_113858

  • St. John’s Cathedral – a focal point of St. John’s landscape was originally built in 1681 but destroyed twice by earthquakes. The current structure, built in 1848, is located on a hill overlooking much of the city.
  • The Government House – official office of the Governor General, a position created after Antigua and Barbuda became independent in November of 1981.20181231_105616
  • The Antigua Recreation Grounds – hosts premier football, international cricket matches and the annual Carnival festival.20190204_105630

We had worked up an appetite from the walk around the city and stopped at the Antigua Habour Cafe and Restaurant that overlooks the harbor for a relaxing lunch and tasty fruity drinks. After lunch, we found a cab just one block over. We wanted to visit one of the forts on the island and maybe go to a beach. The cab driver recommended Fort20181231_160614 James, which turned out to be right next to Fort James beach. We got two great options and only had to spend $25 (solely for the roundtrip cab ride), plus the cab driver waited for us and took us back to the ship when we were done. We walked around the fort for about 45 minutes, enjoyed the beautiful and secluded beach and then decided to have a beer at Beachlimerz, which is a high-rated bar and restaurant. Overall, it was a very affordable and convenient excursion.

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However, our day wasn’t without a little stress and excitement. We are going to share our little embarrassing story just as an example that even if you travel frequently like we do, you can still make mistakes. After paying and exiting our taxi, we started walking over to an outdoor market, when my husband realized that he didn’t have our backpack. We had either left it in the cab or at restaurant. While we had our money and identification on our bodies, we still didn’t want to lose the items we had in our bag. Unfortunately, our cab had driven away. We remembered what our cab looked like and who our driver was and, by nothing short of a miracle, found she hadn’t driven very far due to the busy traffic on the main road. Our bag was not in the cab, and she agreed to take us back to Beachlimerz to see if we left it there. She was super nice about it and chatted with us during the ride, which eased our stress a bit. Luckily, the bag was still sitting where we left it at the bar.

We met a lot of nice people that day, but our cab driver was the best! It is her kindness, generosity and selflessness that I will remember most from our time in Antigua.

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A Day on St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands – December 2018

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We took a Caribbean cruise that left from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We disembarked at our first port, which was St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. After two days on the ship, we were very ready to be on solid ground.

We docked right outside Havensight Mall, which is a great location to do a little shopping. We did not have an excursion planned and really did not need one. St. Thomas was very easy to navigate. Plus, there was an Information office right next to Havensight Mall, which provided free maps and free wifi.

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20190115_142911Since it was a beautiful morning and the skies were clear, we decided to take the Skyride to Paradise Point for some amazing panoramic views before going to the beach. The skyride lift does cost $21 per person, but it is worth it for the views, and there is a restaurant at the top where you can stop and get some food and/or drinks. Their specialty drink is the Bailey’s Bushwacker.

After having some lunch at Paradise Point, we descended back to Havensight Mall to pick up a taxi to take us to Magen’s Bay beach. There are convenient taxi signs everywhere. The key to taking a taxi in most places in the Caribbean is that it costs less the more people you have riding with you. We were fortunate to be in a taxi with 8 other people, so we only paid $4 per person for the ride to Magen’s Bay. I believe we only paid $10 per person roundtrip. The beach was wonderful. However, it is a popular tourist destination, so it was a bit crowded. You can rent loungers and umbrellas. We did end up renting an umbrella. We then spent hours relaxing on the beach, reading and occasionally going for a swim. We even had drinks brought to us. It was all perfectly relaxing.

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IMG_20181230_112841_610We made it back to the port with plenty of time to grab food before getting back on the ship. While there was free food awaiting us on the ship, we felt that it is always more important to invest in businesses and restaurants on the islands and indulge in local cuisine, especially on the US Virgin Islands, which were devastated by a series of hurricanes in 2017. Some businesses have still not reopened. If you are an avid golfer, USVI is known for its golf courses – many of which were completely destroyed as well. St. Thomas was a beautiful island that warrants a visit. Although, I warn you: you may never want to leave.

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20 Years of Travel #11: Jamaican Wedding

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When my husband and I first got engaged in 2010 and started talking about our wedding that would be in 2012, we found ourselves gravitating toward the idea of doing a destination wedding. Our family is scattered around the country, so it would be difficult to pick one place to actually get married, so we decided to pick a place where no one we know lived and was a new travel destination for us. I’ve always loved the beach and water, so I really wanted to find an island destination. We chose Jamaica as a great island destination that we had never 457676_10150795098582986_668210987_obeen to and would also be close enough for our immediate families and closest friends to travel to. It was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives and is why it is being featured on our 20 Years of Travel series.

Once settled on a destination, we had some help picking a resort and settled on Couples Resort in Negril, Jamaica. I always hear stories about how stressful the days leading up to a wedding are, but I never experienced that. I only experienced sun, swim-up bars, beach bonfires and karaoke.

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The resort set up all the wedding details. I just had to approve of flowers. While we loved spending time with our family and friends who made the trip to Jamaica, the resort also set up some private time for us, such as a candlelight romantic dinner and a couples massage. Outside of the many restaurant choices, pools and bars, the resort also provides many other activities. Some of our group went on a nighttime snorkeling adventure. Basically, we told our family and friends that they had to be at the wedding ceremony and dinner that night, but for the most part, we let them know where we would be if they wanted to hang out, but otherwise, they could do their own thing and have their own little relaxing vacation.

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We were drinking in the pool with our friends when the wedding planner (from the resort) scolded us on not being ready as we only had one hour before the wedding ceremony. I guess it was time to get out of the pool. We got ready and then all headed to the beach for our ceremony (see setup picture above). While this has been a great story to tell, if you don’t want your wedding party (and occasionally the groom) to be giggling460833_10150784920972986_248609937_o during the ceremony, make sure that your ceremony is not placed right next to a nude beach. It was actually difficult to get pictures of the ceremony without getting photo-bombed by a nudist. After the ceremony, we did a sand ceremony (see picture on the right) and then had cake with our friends and family. It was simple and lovely and stress-free. I wouldn’t change a thing about  having made Jamaica our wedding destination.

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20 Years of Travel #4: Cuba

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My fourth destination on my 20 Years of Travel series is Cuba! As many of you know, as an American, this destination was not open to US visitors during my lifetime until recently. In 2015, Americans were allowed with some restrictions to travel to Cuba, so my husband, his parents and I jumped at the opportunity to visit. At that time you still had to provide an reason for being there, so we were on a People to People Excursion, which was also a photography tour.

I’ve never been on a photography tour like this before. It wasn’t just walk the streets and 10629491_10153326903992986_2203594805029205430_otake pictures. It was get up before the sun to learn how to take sunrise shots. There were no naps on the bus rides, because that was when you learned about your camera’s features and editing features by professional photographers: Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring. Then you get to have your photos critiqued (nicely…of course) by the other members in the group. It was a very intensive course, but I learned so much. I hope I am still using at least 10% of what I learned about photography during that week..

Trinidad

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I loved this town. It was comprised of vibrant colors and interesting people. We spent a lot of time wandering the streets here, getting a real taste of the Cuban culture. We found a few musicians, who were very talented. That convinced me that I should check out one12370645_10153326900147986_5447113127593441798_o of the Cuban salsa clubs in the evening, which was interesting and definitely not something I had experienced before. While taking a break on one of our daily walks, we found a man who was telling us about his daily routine of walking many miles down a hill outside of town to come and sell a few bananas for not even the equivalent of $2 US dollars. Then he would walk back up the hill every evening. His shoes were worn almost completely through, and it was a bit heartbreaking. Shoes that cost us $50 US dollars would cost Cubans 5 times that, since at the time they were imported from China. I really felt that I was gaining a huge understanding of basic Cuban life during our time in Trinidad.

Cienfuegos

If you have read Hemingway, Cienfuegos might sound familiar. It was featured in The Old Man and the Sea, which I read for the first time while I was in Cienfuegos. I thought it1933246_10153326904842986_8162388911926568875_o was quite appropriate. This town is located on a bay, so you will see a lot of boats – both yachts and fishing boats. While we did have some luxury time to indulge in some of Cuba’s famous liquor (see photo below), we spent a portion of our time at an art school. These young people were so talented. They just blew me away on how they could take any item and turn it into an amazing piece of art (see picture on the right where they were using just clothespins). They were so happy to tell us about their school and what art means to them.

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Viñales

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This part of Cuba was the biggest shock to me. The lush greenery reminded me of something I would see on a South Pacific Island. I wasn’t expecting this. As we headed 12366043_10153326907947986_173294949960655377_ointo the hills, we saw a lot of farm land and stopped at one such farm. This farm grows crops, raises animals like chickens, and produces coffee (see picture below). The owners of this farm were really welcoming. It was interesting to experience farming without the giant machinery, though it has to be such hard labor (see picture on the left). The land in this part of Cuba seems to get enough rain that an advanced irrigation system is not necessary at least. I felt a little bad for invading on this family during their work day, but they were so friendly and even brewed some coffee for us.

After getting a true taste of rural Cuba, we headed into the hills. If you enjoy biking there are some great biking trails in this area. The scenery is just amazing. While our hotel (Hotel Los Jazmines) did not produce the most comfortable night’s sleep, the views were just stunning (see below). I almost didn’t regret getting up before the sun to capture these amazing photographs.

Havana

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We ended our trip with a few days in Havana. It has been a dream of mine to see Havana12377523_10153326893612986_8703232530813394301_o since I was a little kid (thank you Guys and Dolls), so I was really looking forward to this. Havana is not just a great place to learn about Cuba’s history (though we did visit the Revolution Museum, which was great) and view it’s amazing architecture (see picture on the right), but the arts are prevalent in Cuban culture as mentioned in my Trinidad section. We started our exploration into their arts scene by visiting the studio of Compas Dance. They performed for us as well and just blew me away.

We also went to visit a Cuban ballet company, where they were rehearsing for a performance of Giselle.

I enjoyed this trip so much! It wasn’t about being a tourist. It was about exploring a culture that had been so unfamiliar to me. Cubans are such hard workers with so much passion. The people there opened up their homes and their hearts to us, and I just couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to finally have explored Cuba.

Stay tuned for the next feature in the 20 Years of Travel series. Until then….

HAPPY TRAVELING!!!

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