My First Cruise!

Life is strange and full of surprises.  I never wanted to go on a cruise. Why would I want to be herded along when I’m fully capable of traveling on my own?

I have a new job and a wonderful new relationship, and my marketing job decided to take us on a retreat – a cruise to the Bahamas!  It’s hard to turn down a free trip to the Bahamas.

The Carnival Liberty was a pleasant surprise in every way.  This ship was sparkling clean, the service was amazing, and it very rarely felt crowded.

Our cabin was larger than expected and housekeeping came by to introduce himself and take any requests.  Get a robe – they are free to use and super comfy. Gratuities are automatically charged to your Sail and Sign card, but if you feel that someone goes above and beyond, they would love a small tip!  You also use your card to purchase anything that is not included in your cruise.

So what’s included?  Our cruise included unlimited food from the buffet including water, juice, and coffee.  Dinner in the formal dining room was timed and tables are assigned so it is never overcrowded.  You can also eat tacos, deli sandwiches, and Mongolian wok noodles made fresh in front of you, all included.  You are welcome to bring one (normal size) bottle of wine each, and a twelve pack of 12 oz cans (not bottles!) of non-alcoholic drink.

WiFi, alcohol, sushi, the steakhouse, and special coffee drinks are extra.  You can purchase drink and internet packages, and if you think you’ll spend more than $50 a day on drinks, it’s a good deal.  The mixed drinks at Alchemy are excellent and would be $10-$12 each.  The bartenders are also lots of fun!

You’ll need either your passport or your driver’s license AND your birth certificate.  If something happens and you need to fly back to the states, you will need a passport to board a plane.  I have no idea how I managed it, but I did lose my driver’s license, so be sure to make copies of your ID and keep them in your handy room safe.  Do not lose your ship card!

The Liberty has several pools and hot tubs, a comedy club, a small dance club, a nice gym with exercise classes, and lots of deck seats. For an extra charge, there is a casino and spa. It was windy on deck!  Take advantage of Serenity, an adult only area of the ship.

We had two ports of call in the Bahamas, Nassau and Freeport.  Getting on and off the boat is easy, but the piers are a bit crowded with souvenir stands and tourists unsure of where to go.  Sign up for at least one excursion  ($60-$100) to get out and see some of the island.  In Nassau, hire a taxi ($4) to take you over to the other side of the island. Bum around Atlantis resort, and you can either pay to use their beautiful beach, or Cabbage Beach is open to the public.

We stumbled upon The Green Parrot marina bar, which was very nice.  Try a local beer – either Kalik or Sands.

Our snorkeling excursion in Freeport included a bus tour of the island.  The trips from A to B are not super scenic, so it was very nice to have a local guide to talk about the area.

We really enjoyed our first cruise, and while I prefer to travel in small groups and get a better feel for local haunts, don’t turn down a free ride on Carnival Liberty if the opportunity presents!

Quito, Ecuador

I want to take a quick break from our recent travels in Utah.  While moving some photos to my new computer, I ran across my trip to Ecuador with my father, and I was inspired to share some with you.

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We began and ended our Ecuador adventure in Quito. Even after visiting rainforests and the Galapagos, Quito remained a beautiful wonder.  Quito is situated beneath an active volcano.  Yep – it could blow at any time.  The textiles for sale are incredible, and I wish I could decorate my entire home with them. (I managed to bring home a few).

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The people of Ecuador speak primarily Spanish, or Quichua, or a mix of both.  I also see the indigenous language spelled Quechua, but I figure the official Ecuador website knows their stuff.  The people in the markets and on the street were very friendly and patient with my limited Spanish.

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We traveled with a group of teachers, college students, and a few retirees.  It was a great way to see the area safely without the inconveniences of a large tour group.  We felt very safe here, but it is always important to learn about local culture and basic safety practices.  In Quito, locals prefer for women to dress modestly (leave those jungle tanks and shorts in the suitcase), and there are occasional pick pockets.  Don’t keep your money in obvious places – just like you should in any large American city.

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I really enjoy seeing a lot of architecture and local crafts when I travel, and I was certainly not disappointed.

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 This shop is famous for their hand dyed and woven rugs.

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Transportation to the mountain towns and jungles was a new experience.  We may have broken down a couple times, but strangers were always happy to get us back on the road.

I hope this gorgeous city is always easily accessible to tourists.  I will share my Galapagos and Amazon pictures after I find my notes with travel details (a little more complicated than the easy international flight from Miami to Quito).

Meet Lakota

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I’ve been wanting to introduce my buddy for a while now, and I was inspired by the WordPress photo challenge Beneath My Feet.

When I worked at the animal hospital at the Birmingham Zoo, a vet tech told me about a stray dog that was hit by a car and taken in to her clinic.  I went to visit, burst into tears, and Jon translated them into “when can we take him home?”

Lakota is always underfoot, but we don’t mind.  I’ll introduce my other fur baby another post…

Capitol Gorge & The Tanks

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While visiting Capitol Reef National Park this year, we decided to start our hikes with the Capitol Gorge Trail.  It is listed in the park materials as an easy one-mile trail.  Somehow, we managed to do four miles, and scampered all over the universe.  We should have relied on the Live and Let Hike trail guide for a better description, but forgot to look at it before heading out.

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This trail has wonderful views, is very level (without the optional side trips), and we marveled at the historic signatures.  How did they reach up that far?  We looked it up, but I’m not going to spoil the secret!  We managed not to find the petroglyphs, but still enjoyed the main trail.

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An available side trail is climbing around on the The Tanks.  I believe the little sign is on your left as you hike the main trail.  This is a cairn trail – the way is marked by small piles of rocks.

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And sometimes a helpful lizard.  Cairn trails always make me feel like I’m exploring where few people have gone before.  Please never knock over a trail marker, but feel free to repair them or add a rock.

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The main attraction of this side trail is a series of small pools.  There was not a lot of water for our hike, but we hear that they are sometimes larger.  We did get to see “tadpoles” which are actually shrimp.

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Bring your sunscreen for this one.  There are areas of shade for resting, but the entire hike was exposed during the middle of the day.  We were confused about where to stop (since it was advertised as a one mile trail).  Surely, we’ve gone a mile already!  We stopped when we were hot and tired and headed back.  On the return trip, we accidentally frightened off this nesting swallow while shade-seeking.

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I felt terrible!  She returned fairly quickly and allowed me to get this shot from across the trail.

Next stop – Grand Wash Trail, Capitol Reef NP!

Capitol Reef National Park

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Our all-around favorite park on our recent Utah trip was Capitol Reef National Park.  See our itinerary here.  The landscapes were amazing, and the trails were not crowded in mid-May.

Disclaimer #1 – Do your research about the rainy season.  I would not want to be on these trails in the rain, and flash floods are a concern in many areas.

Disclaimer #2 – If you prefer structure and the company of your fellow man to a little gentle isolation, then Zion and Bryce are your parks.  And they are gorgeous parks.  That said, the trails in Capitol Reef are clearly marked, there enough fellow hikers to help keep the mountain lions away (yep, I said mountain lions), and there are very convenient rest areas.

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We parked and walked down to a boardwalk view of petroglyphs.  This was my first view of drawings done by ancient peoples, and these were designed between 600 and 1300 C.E.  Apparently, things have changed since my school days, and we are using C.E instead of A.D. now (had to look that one up).

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We saw strange human figures, lots of bighorn sheep, and we saw dogs and horses at other sites.  Going in search of a snack, we visited the Gifford House for a huge cinnamon roll and old-fashioned bottles of soda.  For safety and convenience, we also traveled with six gallons of (cheap Wal-Mart) spring water and trail mix.  I always make our own trail mix so that I don’t have to remove all those pesky raisins.  I hate raisins.

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Mini marshmallows are much better.  We love our Nalgene bottles, but Zion had these great reusable bottles for the filling stations at the national parks.

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Our two main hikes at Capitol Reef were the Capitol Gorge/Tanks trail and the Grand Wash trail.  I’ll link over to them as soon as they are posted.  Happy travels!

Utah – The Plan

We had a hard time deciding how to divide our time in Southern Utah.  You could easily spend a week in every park and go home happy.  We tried the usual research methods – park websites, maps (Jon loves maps), and a few books on the area.  I came across this video advertisement about Highway 12.  Utah tourism claimed to have the most beautiful highway in America.  We focused our travel plan around Highway 12, and I’m so glad we did.

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Since we enjoy hiking (and try to avoid the more crowded areas), our best information came from a local blogger at Live and Let Hike.  He writes amazing and detailed trail guides for southern Utah, and I will link up with his pages as we explore each park.  Another great resource is Rick Stinchfield’s book, Capitol Reef National Park: The Complete Hiking and Touring Guide.  Of course, we found this literary gem while eating lunch on one of our last days, but it did help narrow down our last-minute choices.

On some of our previous trips, research was necessary to make sure that we saw something worthwhile.  For this destination, you need to do some research to prevent getting overwhelmed with choices.  Once you see this landscape, you’ll want to do everything!  Settling on an itinerary was a challenging task, so I hope that including ours will help you in your future journeys to Utah.  More photos of our trip soon!

Day One

  1. Flew into St. George (coming from another direction, you may end up in Vegas).  Rental car and Wal-Mart for supplies.
  2. Zion National Park.  You can bypass the park (and its fees) but the drive through the park is really something.  We stopped in for a bit and did the common shuttle stops.
  3. Checked into the Bullberry Inn B&B.  We really enjoyed our stay with Bella (the dog) and her family.

Day Two – Bryce Canyon National Park

  1. Mossy Cave and waterfall, 0.4 miles from the inn
  2. Visitor Center, overlooks
  3. Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail
  4. Sunset at Sunset Point

Day Three

  1. Escalante Visitor Center in Cannonville (there are two VC’s)
  2. Cottonwood Canyon Road and Grovesnor Arch
  3. Kodachrome State Park including Shakespeare Arch

Day Four

  1. Escalante State Park (Petrified Forest)
  2. Main Escalante Visitor Center
  3. Anasazi State Park
  4. Checked into our Airbnb home stay in Torrey.  Always read the reviews, but we had a great experience.

Day Five

  1. Highway 24 to Capitol Reef National Park
  2. Gifford House for cinnamon rolls and old-fashioned soda bottles
  3. Capitol Gorge trail
  4. Grand Wash trail
  5. Sunset at Panorama Point

Day Six

  1. Breakfast at Castle Rock Coffee & Candy (looked like a gift shop, but peek inside)
  2. Visitor Center for flood warnings (rained overnight and this afternoon)
  3. Notom-Bullfrog Road to Red Canyon trail
  4. Went back very wet, but great hike.

Day Seven

  1. More rain overnight ruined our plans for slot canyons, but chased us to Arches National Park.  Great day trip.  If you’re in moderately good shape, don’t let the park publication scare you away from the arch trails.  We saw a ton of arches in one day and only had to skip the strenuous hikes.
  2. Supper and shopping in Moab, Utah

Day Eight

  1. Tour of our host’s property and fossil collection
  2. Highway 12 and Zion National Park on return journey to St. George

Utah Critters Video

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The incredible wildlife of southern Utah was everywhere we visited.  The animals were constantly in motion, so I had fun putting together a little video of their antics.

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I made good use of my camera zoom – especially with the baby rattlesnake!  Please use caution when photographing wild animals.  If they have been habituated to people, they are even more dangerous… (PSA over).