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Monday, May 19, 2014

Its just amazing how quickly time flies - it seems like yesterday that I was madly rushing about at work trying to get things finished ready for me to be away from work for three weeks. Im back at work now (yes, we are back in Australia). But, there is still a weeks worth of activities to cover, so If you are still interested in reading about our trip, read on.....

Up early. Though, admittedly, not as early as planned. I set my iPhone to wake us up at 6:30 as we were due to meet the tour group at 7:30 to ready ourselves for the MASSIVE trip ahead of us for the day. At 7am, Kylie nudged me and said 'What time are we supposed to be meeting them?' I quickly jumped up and it took me a while to work out what had happened. You see, as we were cruising, and my phone was set to update time automatically, and since we were almost in Cozumel, Mexico, the time on my phone had automatically switched. Despite the local time, the time on the cruise ship never changes. So, we madly rushed around getting ready and made our way to the meeting point. Our day consisted of the following;
1. Arrive in Port, 2. 45 minute ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, 3. 3 hour bus ride to Chichen Itza 4. 2 hours touring the ruins and then the same in return. It was about a 10 hour day. I was most concerned about the 45-minute ferry ride. I dont suffer from motion sickness - but Kylie does. So, even though we had to meet at 7:30, I made us late and made sure that we found the Drammamine (for motion sickness).

So, we arrived at the ferry and boarded. Very quickly, I was happy I had made the time to find the tablets.
I knew that when they were walking around armed with water and 'barf-bags' that the journey ahead was going to be pretty bad - and it was! The woman seated directly in front of me was heaving. The young child across the aisle was sick. And, a gentleman on the other aisle wanted the entire ground floor to know that he was heaving. Very quickly, the odor filled the cabin (well, according to my super-sensitive smell it did). Kylie popped the tab as we were leaving and she put her head on my shoulder and didn't move. And, she was fine. Phew! Though, the girl standing behind us in line was sick as we were exiting to boat. When we arrived, someone else that was on the tour described where they were sitting as a 'Barf-a-rama!' I think you get the drift.....

First leg over successful - now all we had was a three-hour bus ride ahead. Even though, I was tired, I couldnt sleep on the bus. Kylie, on the other hand, had no problem.

This was taken at the start of our journey.

This was about ten minutes later. It might have had something to do with the Drammamine. lol. She wasnt happy to see that I took this photo and she wont be happy that you all have now seen this picture either. But, it was the first of many photos that we took of each other sleeping. Dont worry - she got payback. We received our tickets and were VERY excited!!!

We arrived at the same time as about seven other buses and all of the tour guides said; 'When you arrive, use the bagno (toilet).' At times like this, I appreciate being male. Using the bagno is an easy affair - no waiting required. The amenities at the ruins were like grand central station at peak hour. There was pushing and shoving, people cutting-in lines - it was nuts!!!! We had been given headsets and a meeting point. So, after the three hour bus ride and after using the bagno, we were ready! Ready for what? For this......

We have to admit, that we really knew nothing about Mayan culture and history. We had a very informative tour guide (Patrizio) who schooled us on all things Mayan.

One thing about Patrizio - he had a headset and we had headphones. And, he never turned off his microphone. So, we heard him breathing in our ear the whole time. And, it was not pretty to listen to.

Here are some of the pics we took that day;

People still speak the Maya language. In fact, according to Wikipedia, "In the Mexican states of Yucatán, some parts of CampecheTabascoChiapas, and Quintana Roo, Maya remains many speakers' first language today, with approximately 800,000 to 1.2 million speakers." Interestingly, look what is also available in the Maya language;

It was stinking hot there. We were happy to get back on the Air Conditioned bus and the three hour bus ride home. And, then the 45-minute ferry ride home. And, then we were on-board and off again. 

Our stateroom attendant like to leave us with Towel origami.

Thanks for reading.....

Thursday, May 15, 2014

This is part 2 of the cruise journey. The last night I wrote about in the last blog post was to the end of the first of 2 formal nights. Formal Night is a loose description. I wore a tie and thats about as formal as I got this night. But some people really go all out - particularly because of the photographers on board. 

So, this post starts with our first port of call - Labadee, Haiti. When I first saw that the ship was stopping at Haiti, I wondered why on earth we would be stopping there, particularly because of the widespread devastation in the country caused by the earthquake. In our planning meetings (by our planning meetings, I mean when I was talking to Kylie about things that we would be doing), I flagged the idea that I didnt want to get off the ship in Haiti. However, in our discussions with Daniel and Louise from NSW who were travelling with Stampin' Up! also, my fears were allayed. You see, prior to travelling, they visited their doctor to see which shots they should receive to ensure their good health. According to their research, the Australian Government will not allow you back into the country if you have traveled to Haiti without a stamped certificate that you have had the Yellow Fever immunization. The EXCEPTION to this is if you have travelled to the port of Labadee. You see, in simple terms, the port of Labadee is owned and operated by the cruise company. It is a gated community. Food is available by showing your cruise card, free of charge - the food is prepared on board the ship and transferred to a buffet on shore and you are served by cruise staff, with their names tags and all. For all of the activities available, you pay with your cruise card. So, we (and by we, I mean I) felt comfortable going on shore.

It was stinking hot in Haiti, so we spent time relaxing by the beach. A lot of the cruisers went snorkeling. Kylie found some French Stampin' Up! ladies in the water and they talked about the restrictions placed on them by the French Government (sounds familiar, doesn't it?) 

But, something that we did was the Zip Line. It was wholly over water and it was an amazing experience.

As we re-borded the ship, we were reminded of the enormous size of the ship. Being onboard, you forget that you are floating. To this point, we couldnt feel any indication that we were actually floating, so it was just we were in a hotel. But, we were not.

For those of you that know me well, know that on occasion, I enjoy doing Karaoke. And, I was very happy that the daily cruise diary had Karaoke available. I partook ..... several times. So much so that I had numerous randoms approach me knowing my name, but I insisted NO AUTOGRAPHS. 

The next port of call (next day) was Falmouth, Jamaica. You would think we were in the Caribbean as it was stinking hot in Jamaica as well. Go figure. We had nothing planned in Jamaica and to be honest, I would have been happy to just stay on the Allure. From our balcony, we could see a small shopping strip at the Port. 

Whenever you get off the ship, there is a photographer from the ship who takes your picture (which you can buy for a $25). So, we got our pic taken by him. Then we asked him 'Can you take one with our camera?' and to our suprise, he said YES!

very quickly, we discerned the 'hard sell' on the part of the locals. So, we learned that if we weren't interested in something, we wouldn't look at it, let alone touch it because if we did, the shop assistant would launch into a ten minute pitch to get us to buy it. I guess they are making a living so Im not complaining. But, it was annoying. There was a sign on one of the windows saying welcoming Stampin' Up! customers and that they could obtain a free gift. So, in we went to obtain. We were served by a nice Indian man who did his best job to sell some jewelry to Kylie. The stuff was nice, but she was not interested in buying anything. In fact, it always amazes me to see how many cruisers actually buy stuff from these shops - are there not jewelry shops where they live? Anyway, the guy was Indian, so in usual fashion, I asked him 'Kya aap Hindi samajte hai?' Like everyone, he was completely shocked to hear such 'perfect pronunciation' coming from a westie. Of course, he asked the usual questions 'Where are you learning? Why are you learning?' and we mentioned that we have many Indians in our area so we like to learn Hindi to be able to preach to them. Then, he mentioned that one of their employees was also a witness so we met him and had a nice chat with him and exchanged details. 

One of the popular shore excursions on board was a trip to Dunn River Falls. But, we didn't want to spend $150 pp on it, so we thought we would investigate getting there ourselves. We found a taxi driver who would take us there for $100 return for the both of us so we were totally stoked. He told us where his car was so he directed us to where he would pick us up. The port area is behind a large fence and is a restricted area and there was no taxis in this area. On the other side of the fence, it was wild. People everywhere offering to drive us wherever we wanted, offering to sell us their goods - it was intense. But, wisely, he had warned us of this and said 'Dont talk to anyone.' I was more than happy to oblige. So, we waited a minute or two and this american guy with massive guns (any by guns, I mean muscles)  came up behind us and excitedly said 'Hi Guys, where are you going?' 

The place was a sensory overload so it took us a few minutes to register who it was. It was Rick and Courtney from the ship. We had met them a few nights earlier and they were memorable because he had just asked Courtney to marry her the night before we met them (she accepted). 

They also were heading to the falls and they had found a driver that would take them for $120, so we agreed to go together and split the cost of the ride. We met our driver a few minutes later and he was driving a people-mover so we there was no issue with space to fit all four of us. And, to be honest (sorry Rick if you are reading this), I was more than happy to have someone the locals called 'Rambo' with us. It was about an hours drive. I wouldn't call the real Jamaica a developing country, but the areas that we drove through were small fishing villages and then a large resort would appear on the road. The disparity was very evident. The women were all immaculately dressed and everyone we saw always wore a smile. On the drive to the falls, I asked the taxi driver to point out any Kingdom Halls that we drove past. As it turns out, our taxi drivers wife is a lapsed witness. He called her while we were in the car and Kylie had a nice chat with her.

We got to the falls. Out the front of the falls, they were selling $10 water shoes. And, then we passed four or five shops that sold the shoes. I had seen pictures of what was in store, but Kylie hadnt. Kylie thought that we would go and see a waterfall, similar to (but not as impressive as) Niagara Falls. This is what we saw;

We were not dressed to climb the falls and I don't think either of us were in the mood to do it either. Im not sure what the Australian Government would think either as the immigration form asks the question 'Have you been in an open stream in the last 30 days?' Added to that, the falls don't meet the DDA either (there are no handrails, no tactile indicators) - lol. I crack myself up. Having said that, we saw about a thousand people climbing the falls and didn't see anyone slip and injure themselves, which surprised us.

After the falls, you literally have to run the gauntlet of sellers selling their wares. Like most shopping centres, the places is designed for you to get lost in. Its completely nuts. And, they are all selling the same things (wooden untreated items that would not get through customs in Australia, T-Shirts with 'Yah man' or a picture of Bob Marley, or something in in the colours of black, green, yellow and red). I heard one Australian say to them 'You know, you would sell a lot more if you just left people alone to look rather than pressuring them to buy.' Very true.

On the way back, we stopped at a restaurant for a local specialty 'Jerk Chicken.' While we are adventurous travelers, neither of us partook of the chicken. It was a beautiful setting.

What I did try was a Red Stripe.

It was probably the coldest beer I have ever tried. And, was DELICIOUS! And, thgood thing was that it was also served on board. 

This place was also famous as a place that Christopher Columbus stopped in Jamaica (I didnt know he stopped there, and I am yet to to confirm this).

Back to boat, but, first, lets take a selfie....or two. Actually, its not called a selfie if there is more than one person, so its more like a groupie ...... or two.

Wait! One more thing! I saw someone drinking directly out of a coconut - gotta try that.

Wait a sec! Did you just pour rum into the coconut? 

Next day was a sea day. One of the items on our Stampin' Up! itinerary was what is called a 'Service Project' - its a way that the company gives back to the community. This year, since we visited Haiti, the service project revolved around raising money to build houses in Haiti. The way that we did this was doing a walk-a-thon around the ship. I dont know how long one lap is but for every lap that we did, Stampin' Up would pay towards this cause. Here is a photo of the Stampin' Up! group, most of whom took part.

Here is a pic of Kylie and I during the walk

Nice vista? Enough was raised to build homes for three families whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. It helped me because there is a lot of food on the ship and this counteracted the damage done by this. For the rest of the day, we spent our time in the pool. There was an area at the front of the ship that is exclusive to those over 16. It was fun to have kids around. But, when relaxing, it was fun to not have them around. Here is a pic I took with my iPhone using my brand new waterproof case.

I was gloating about how cool my new case is until someone pointed out that they could see some water underneath the case. Not happy Jan. So far, my phone is OK.

I had a turn at the surfrider simulator later in the day. It was a little disconcerting because in front of the surfrider pool, there is a audience stand and people inevitably laugh when people fall over. So, later in the day, everyone had gone for dinner, so I had a turn. This is me!

This night, it was the second formal evening. We had decided to go for dinner at 150 Central Park. This is one of the specialty restaurants on board (there is a $40 charge per person for a 6 course meal). It was amazing. This was our group of diners for the evening;

I was HANGRY that night (ie. so hungry it made me angry). Our dinner reservation was at 8:30 and it took ages for the waiter to explain the food, so it wasnt until the third course that I felt normal again. Kylie knows me well - she knows when I need food. 

Next day, we had a BIG day ahead in Cozmel, Mexico. The flight is about to board so I best leave that for next time.....

Hope you enjoyed this post.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The 7-day Allure of the Seas Western Caribbean Cruise has finished. It seems like the week flashed by in a heartbeat. All week, we continued to repeat to one another 'We are on a cruise ship!' We simply could not believe it. Rather than having one massive post for the whole cruise, Ill break it up over the next few days.

We woke up in the hotel and the ship had arrived into the dock. We could see it from our hotel room. From there, the size was just inexplicable.

We caught the first bus to port at 9:30 and wanted to enjoy as much as we could on board before sail away. Nice thought. So, we checked in ........ And waited for four hours as there was a problem. We boarded with some other Stampin' friends (Shannean and Woody) so we had no troubles when it comes to being enteratined (if you know Shannean, you know what Im talking about.) It was the weirdest experience when while we were waiting, we saw some people we knew from Melbourne walk past. 

So, when we eventually got on board, we started saying 'We are on a cruise ship!' I saw a video the other day that encouraged to enjoy the moments in life rather than enjoying them through a screen, so I was consciously trying to do this. Unfortunately, this means I dont have as many pictures to show you (though, I do have a tonne).

It's blurry, I know. But, I was excited.

We were excited to see our room. 
And, it wouldn't be A Stampin' Up! Incentive trip if our room wasn't decorated with current Stampin' Up! colours. This was our third cruise and we had never had a bacony before. And, we were on the 14th floor, so we would have a great view.
It was a great size room. To give you an idea of the layout, here it is;
I didnt get a picture of the bathroom, but it was a decent size. And, it had a fixed shower screen (ie. not a curtain) which meant that the bathroom didnt get flooded everytime we had a shower.

It was a KING SIZE bed. It was so amazing. I slept right through the night EVERY night. It had the egg crate bed topper too - we are totes going to get one of those too.

So, when we walked onto the cruise ship, we walked onto what is called the Royal Promenade. This pic above is directly above the promenade and is an area called Central Park. I have taken more pics of this up close. But, what is cool about this is that the rooms inside the ship are usually windowless. But, because the ship is so large, the rooms inside the ship not only have windows, but balconies looking over this beautiful area. 

It was time to sail away. And, in Fort Lauderdale, it was stinking hot. We never quite worked out how it worked with temperature as everything is in Farenheit. But, its was stinking hot on deck. So, we found this awesome place at the very top of the ship (level 17) and we could see everything. This is the Viking Crown Lounge. This ended up being the hangout for duration of the cruise.
This was taken as we were sailing out of Fort Lauderdale.

Here are a few pics of the Royal Promenade (Level 5);
There was a Starbucks on board, which during our planning made me happy. Though, I have to admit that over the week before the cruise while we were in New York, I actually got used to drip coffee, so coffee wasnt a necessary staple for me. It might have had something to do with the heat in the Caribbean?

We never actually got something from here, though it was cool to look at.

This bar was called the Rising Tide - it rises from level 5 to level 8 every half hour (thus the name). I have to admit that the fountain shown in this image (thanks Google) looks much nicer than the 'fountain' in real life. A shooting jet of water is not a fountain to me. lol - I crack myself up sometimes.

This pic looks down at the outdoor theatre onto the 'Boardwalk' and YES we are on a ship (you can see the water).

If you followed the blog on our last incentive trip, you might remember us getting gifts from Stampin' Up! every night. 
This was the first 'Pillow Gift' from Stampin' Up! It was a towel/deck lounge cover. I got one too.

The first night, there was a meet and greet for all of the Stampin' Up! achievers at the Boardwalk. The boardwalk was cool - there was a merry-go-round, candy store, ice cream bar, johnny rockets, a mexican cantina and a bar.   
They had Stampin' Up! themed popcorn bags. 

Some of the rooms overlooked this area too.
Stampin' Up! had Ben and Jerrys ice cream for us. We hadnt had dinner yet, but I really wanted to try one. So, Meaghan said that it would be ok because its 'Pre-sert.' I laughed for a good five minutes and then got one. So, as you can see above, Kylie enjoyed my ice cream too.

Right after this, we saw a show called Ocean Aria. It was really cool. It was diving and acrobatics. In case you cant see, this theatre is outside. 

This is the Royal Promenade. You can see Sorrentos - this is the Pizza Place. The Pizza was really, really, really good. And, yes, we are on a cruise ship.

So, whats the point of having a balcony without having breakfast on it. 

This morning, there was a Stampin' Up meeting.
We saw Brandi who works at the Stampin' Up! home office. 

From left to right - Shannean Moncrieffe (Cairns), Amy Swartz (Home office), Tami White (US demonstrator supremo), Kylie.

One of the things to do on the ship is a zipline (or flying fox for those in australia) across the top of the Boardwalk.
This is me doing the zipline. It was totes cool.

This is Kylie at the Viking Crown Lounge on the first formal night.

This is me - and Im wearing one of the shirt/tie combos purchased in Brooklyn.

This is us at the Ice Skating show. It was really cool. 

There is a story behind this ...... one of the things on the cruise ship that is .... annoying .... is the photographers. They are EVERYWHERE. And, for a small cost of $24 you can purchase one of the photos that they take. They print the photos they take and throw away an enormous amount of photos. But, they still sell an enormous amount of photos. We have never bought one. We dont like posin for photos - its too restrictive for us. Anyway, we were walking past and I stopped Kylie and pointed to a photo of Louise Sharp (from NSW). The photographer was taking a photo of her. She told her to turn to the side, put her head back and arch her arm (as shown in the photo above). It looked completely ridiculous. So, we copied that pose for the rest of the cruise.

That's all for part 1. Next stop - Haiti.
Thanks for reading.
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