Monthly Archives: November 2011

Come Sail Away with the Ladyfingers: Honeycap 3

We hadn’t lined up our Puerto Rico or Grand Turk excursions before getting on the boat, but luckily, there was still plenty available. They say to book early, and some stuff did fill up, but we really weren’t sure what we could and could not do financially until we got down to the wire. In San Juan, we chose a Rainforest Drive up through the Yunque Rainforest, a 28,000-acre rainforest that is the only one in the United States.

But first:  Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, from our ship

Our tour guide was funny and knowledgeable, regaling us with historical and political facts during the 50-minute drive to El Yunque. He was also resourceful: Since Carnival and plenty of other touring companies were sending scads of buses up those long and windy roads, he took us to the trail at the 3,000-foot peak first, rather than last, making the other stops on the way down. This meant the trail was less crowded and it took us less time to go through that stop. This also meant more spare time after the tour, should anybody care to go shopping or take a tour around Old San Juan.

Bano Grande

The hiking trail was no big thing, but it was stunning. I kept reminding myself I was in a rainforest. In Puerto Rico. For somebody who’s never been outside the continental United States, it was pretty exciting. OK, I’m a dork. But it was just the coolest thing ever.

Next, we stopped at the lookout tower, which is 98 steps and provides a view from 1,500 feet up. In all directions were peaks and hills of trees and mist. You could see water and villages. Yet the tiny top was crowded with people ogling the sights and taking pictures, so there wasn’t tons of time for oo-hing and ahh-ing.

Lookout tower at 1,575 square feet

Our last stop in El Yunque was Coca Falls, one of several rainfalls in the forest.

Once the guide dropped us back off a the port, we had about 4 hours before we had to be back on ship. He let us know about a free trolley that runs through Old San Juan, providing a quick and cheap way to see the city. You can get on and off anywhere. So we hunted one down and hopped aboard. We cruised through downtown, up hills, past the Castillo de San Felipe del Morro… and then came to a screeching halt as traffic mucked things up. We must have moved an inch every 10 minutes. Finally, we hopped off the trolley since our ship was in site, and just cut straight through town to make it back on board. We weren’t cutting it close necessarily, but it sparked a fear deep inside of me, because listen here:

  • The ship will leave with or without you. Which is to say, if you’re not on board by the appointed time (30 minutes before sail-away), you are paying your own way to the next stop. You’d think this was common sense, right? There were 3,300 people on board. How fair would it be for the ship to wait for stragglers, people who got lost, people who lost track of time? Not at all fair. Yet it happened all the time. Seriously, at every stop, they left people behind. Bring a watch!

View from the fort entrance

Old San Juan Cemtery

I wish we had planned better — we would have been able to cut straight through and done a better tour of the fort, taken plenty of pictures, etc. But as it was, we got some shots on the move. I took my standard late-afternoon nap, and prepared for our final stop in Grand Turk.

Part of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Grand Turk is where NASA had the 1962 splashdown of the Mercury space program’s Friendship 7 capsule. It’s the largest island in the archipelago, but is still only 6.9 square miles, with 3,720 residents.

We’d planned to just laze about the public beach right off the dock, but I kept hearing how clear the waters were and how great the snorkeling was. So at the very last minute (VERY VERY last minute, since the shore excursion desk was closing in about 30 minutes as we made our approach to dock), we booked the Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure.

Probably the best decision of the whole trip. We first stopped at the Horseshoe Reef, with depths up to 25 feet. We saw a couple of sand sharks and the reef at certain points was close enough that I could almost touch the fish (PSA! Do not touch the reefs! Even brushing against them could kill them, destroying entire ecosystems. I seriously saw like 4 people dive down and just touch the reefs. Why? Don’t do that. </nerdalert>)

 

 

 

Sand sharks!

Then, we stopped at a point where the reef sloped down to 40 feet deep, then dropped off to 7,000-foot-deep water. Here, our guide fed the fish, bringing them right to the surface where they swam among our group. A few even bumped into my mask. If you’ve ever wondered if you can giggle underwater, I am here to say, you absolutely can.

After our trip, I made a stop to appease Mr. Ladyfingers and we ate at Margaritaville. Tourist trap it is, the food actually wasn’t all that bad or ridiculously priced for what it is, and what we got.

This was the second of our elegant evenings, and was filled with just as much picture-taking as the first night. We caught a show, bedded down, and woke up around 8 the next day to enjoy our last day at sea — trying to ignore that the experience was almost over.

We tried to take as much advantage of the day as we could. We had the aforementioned breakfast and lunch in the main dining hall, lounged by the party pool for the first time on the trip, and played two games of Bingo. I also attended a class where they taught us how to fold all those adorable towel animals they leave in your room each night. I could totally come to your house and fold you an elephant, or perhaps a puppy. We sat in on a Newlywed Game-style panel, and took a quick nap before dudding up for our reservations at the five-star Harry’s Steakhouse.

I don’t even know words that would describe how amazing this was. Like I’d mentioned, it’s $30 per person, which is really NOTHING for what you get. They brought me a little teeny bowl of salmon chowder, and brought Mr. Ladyfingers two teeny lamb rolls. I ordered the lobster bisque and the surf and turf – filet mignon and Maine lobster tails. Mr. Ladyfingers had the iceberg wedge and the Maine lobster ravioli. I’ll take his word for it when he says it was awesome, because I was too absorbed in my meal. The filet was not only amazing quality, but they did this thing where I thing they coated it in brown sugar and caramelized it? Whatever, it was totally delectable. It was on top of a bed of caramelized toasted nuts. There were Yukon gold mashed potatoes involved, and a possibly-ill-advised ordering of the 4-shot-glass chocolate sampler for dessert.

We went to the Carnival Legends show that night, where guests who had auditioned throughout the week got on stage and dressed, sang, and swung it like James Brown, Britney Spears, and more. We sat in the lounge for a bit and listened to live music. We people watched.

And then we had our last sleep in the surprisingly comfy beds, packed up the remainder of our belongings, and prepared to leave.

Back in Miami…

😦

A couple of final tips for you:

  • Prepare for gratuity. I have found this listed a million places since I got back, but it apparently escaped me pre-cruise: gratuity for MOST services is included, and charged to your sail-and-sign account on the second or third day. However, gratuity is NOT included for the following: spa services, alcoholic drinks, dining in the steakhouse, room service, or the maitre’d. Duh on the spa, drinks, and steakhouse — but it had totally escaped me that room service stewards expected to be tipped. We seriously ordered room service three times and I didn’t tip a soul. I was so embarrased! And we also learned in that last newsletter that the maitre’d’s tip was not included in the $10/person/day already charged to us. They left us a little envelope and everything. But since we’d completely spent all our cash on shore and are too cheap to incur the $5/transaction ATM fee, we had no cash with which to catch up our room service folks or bestow upon our maitre’d. So! Bring plenty ‘o cash and be prepared.
  • Also, you’ll need to tip most everybody on all your stops: the porter at the port who takes your checked luggage, taxi drivers, tour guides, bus drivers, etc.

After disembarking – which was a startingly smooth experience (by the way, Port Authority employees are so nice and funny! No offense, but much nicer than TSA employees. Unless you or a loved one is a TSA employee. In which case, it’s not possible to get nicer than them.) – we kicked around Miami until it was time to check into our hotel at 4 p.m. Yeah… kicked around from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We’d decided long ago to spend the night in Miami for one last night of honeymoon, and while we didn’t regret it – the kick-ass Miami Book Fair International was going on and I picked up some awesome finds – I do wish we’d had that day/night to decompress. As it was, we got home around 2 on Sunday, and had to unpack, read mail, go grocery shopping (for the week’s food PLUS Thanksgiving), and prepare for the real world.

Like I said, we’re planning our next cruise already.

Well, that’s enough honeycapping from me! As we await our pro pics, I’ll take another brief leave from you before launching into my recaps. Till then!

All photos personal

Come Sail Away With the Ladyfingers: Honeycap 2

On our first full day, we dropped anchor off the coast of Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, where Carnival has a private island. Princess has a similar setup with Princess Cay. There’s no dock, so they tie tender boats to the side of the ship and shuttle you to the coast, which takes about 10-15 minutes. We were so stoked about settling down on the beaches, only to hear a disheartening announcement that the winds may prevent us from going to Half Moon Cay, since the tender boats were rocking to and fro, making for an unsafe load. Happily, they were able to tie up the boats on the other side of the ship, but it was still rocky.

Then, it started raining.

People were bailing off the boat, but not us! I was determined. And by the time we got to shore, the weather looked like this:

The water throughout the Caribbean was unbelievable. You’d swear it was dyed — crystal-clear, turquoise blue. The sand was smooth and soft with no grit or shells underfoot. It was just crazy stunning. Carnival also brings all its food service ashore in Half Moon Cay, so you can eat for nothing extra. We didn’t do any of the shore excursions there, since it was pretty unnecessary. We ended out first full day happy — and tired! We were in bed by 11 every night, and usually up by 7. Mr. Ladyfingers said he got more sleep on the honeymoon than he has in a long time.

Our second day was an at-sea day, when I really started feeling the effects of the rocking boat. I never got pukey, but my stomach was plenty unsettled. They had an infirmary on board, where I was able to score four doses of generic Dramamine for $3.29. I had borrowed a friend’s Sea Bands, but they didn’t work. I also sipped plenty of ginger ale and munched on ginger snaps I’d brought along. Oddly, I heard green apples help allay sea sickness. And why are PB&J sandwiches on the room service list? According to our cruise director, “Because they’re the only thing that tastes OK coming up.” Bleh.

Speaking of ginger ale:

  • Soft drinks are not included in the price of the cruise. A can of coke will set you back $1.75. However, you are allowed to bring a 12-pack of bottled water or soda aboard. We did not, but we did purchase the bottomless bubbles program. For $45 ($51.66 with tax) we got all the soda pop we could drink. Which really came in handy for those sea-sick moments.

That second night was the first of two elegant evenings, which basically means people get all dudded up for dinner and there’s lots of portrait studios set up. Everywhere. Shorter cruises only have one elegant evening.

The dress code is apparently a big point of contention aboard cruise ships. Trolling the forums, I found two classes of people: Those who asked if they could just wear a nice T-shirt to dinner given Carnival’s recently relaxed dress codes, and those who ranted and raved that cruising isn’t like it used to be and it’s disgusting that people don’t wear suits to dinner and what’s wrong with you that you can just look nice for an hour each night.

That being said, the dress code for each evening is marked in your daily newsletter — but we saw plenty of people in the main dining hall wearing forbodden flip flops, people in T-shirts and ballcaps on elegant night, and even a guy in jeans at the five-star “elegant dress code” steakhouse. In a nutshell, I don’t think they’ll kick you out. But Mr. Ladyfingers wasn’t comfortable dressing down so much, so he kicked things up a notch with jeans and a polo shirt on “cruise casual” evenings and dress pants and a button down on “cruise elegant” evenings. I wore nice jeans and tops on casual nights, and dresses on elegant evenings.

Our next stop was Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. We’d booked a shore excursion though the online travel service we’d booked the cruise through, mainly because we got a free one when booking. People say all over the place that shore excursions through Orbitz or Expedia are far better quality, far more diverse, and far cheaper than those on cruise ships. I honestly didn’t see the difference. In fact, I found a lot more to do through Carnival, and the prices were all comparable. The St. Thomas shore excursion we booked was an “Island Experience” tour, where our guide took us up and up and up in his little safari bus until we were 3,000 feet up at Mountaintop, looking down at the beautiful water and bays.

In our safari

A guy stumbled out of the bushes and offered to take our photograph with Lady Gaga (center).

1500 feet up

The view from Mountaintop

Another couple of pieces of cruise-vice:

  • Before docking, I asked a guest services employee which pier we were docking at. Orbitz had given us different directions of what to look for and where to walk, depending on whether we were at St. Thomas’ Havensite or Crown Bay piers. I wanted to be prepared. But when the employee asked me why on earth I’d need to know something like, because really it doesn’t matter, there’s just one pier (lie.), I made the mistake of telling her it was because I had shore excursion directions from Orbitz. I was pretty much dead to her at that point. I don’t know that everybody’s like that, but maybe try not to tell cruise employees you need help with a shore excursion you booked elsewhere.
  • Also, I asked her for the local time, since some islands were ahead. Ships don’t adjust their time in different zones – it’s just too difficult – so they ALWAYS go by ship time. That means if your ship is leaving at 3, it’s leaving at 3 ship time – not 3 local time. But the shore excursion booked outside the cruise was running on local time. Long story short, she told me the island was on ship time. She was wrong. St. Thomas is one hour ahead of Eastern time, and had we not gotten off the ship early just to make sure we were going to the right place, we would have missed our tour. Lesson learned: Nobody on a cruise ship really knows what time it is.

The views were stunning, and we learned plenty of interesting tidbits. We arrived back at the boat with time to spare, and made it a relatively early night since we’d be docking at the butt-crack early hour of 7 a.m. in San Juan the following day.

Next up: Puerto Rico traffic sucks, swimming with the fishes in Grand Turk, I learn to fold towels, we have a nice cry.

All photos personal

Come Sail Away with the Ladyfingers: Honeycap 1

Initially, Mr. Ladyfingers and I weren’t sure we could do a honeymoon at all, much less one outside the state. We tossed around the idea of St. Augustine — the oldest city in America and local, in Florida — but finally settled on a Caribbean cruise after running the numbers and discovering we could do it, after all. Yay!

Man, oh man, are we glad things turned out that way. We seriously had the best time ever, have been doing nothing but raving and reminiscing about our honeymoon cruise, and are already planning our next cruise for early 2013. Southern (or Western) Caribbean, here we come?

We researched (OK, I researched) the different lines to exhaustion, and finally settled on Carnival as the most cost effective option with the best itinerary at that time. We sailed out of Miami on the Carnival Liberty, on the way to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; Old San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Grand Turk.

Miami, one of my all-time favorite skylines, pre-sail-away

Throughout the honeycaps, I’m going to attempt to provide you with some cruising advice, but be forewarned: this is pretty much only advice for those sailing on Carnival. Other cruise lines and experiences might have different outcomes. There is a really good site, though, called Cruise Critic, where we trolled the message boards. Each cruise line should have its own forum on its site, as well. Some of this advice may be commonsense, but it’s stuff I didn’t know pre-cruise, so perhaps it will help a few others.

My first bit of cruise-vice:

  • Plan to “check” most of your luggage, especially for cruises of 7 nights or more. Though we packed far more than we wore or used, I believe most people will overpack, and there’s a limit to what the cruise line will allow you to carry on board with you. Besides that, Carnival generally has embarkation for a 2-hour period, and you’ll need to be on the boat 90 minutes before sail away. For our 4 p.m. sail away, that meant we could start boarding the boat at 11:30. Our cabins weren’t ready until 1:30. That was a roughly 2-hour period during which we had to wheel around a little piece of luggage, which was annoying enough without being weighed down with everything else. On other cruise lines, like Princess, I’ve heard your cabins are ready right away. But for ease of travel, plan to check your bags at the port’s porter if you can.
  • Along those lines, bring along a few basic necessities in 1 or 2 carryons. Obviously you’ll want to pack important documents and medications justincase, but you’ll also want a book and maybe a swimsuit and some sunscreen so you can take advantage of the pool while waiting for your room. Also, your bags could take until 7 or 8 that night to get delivered to your cabin. Carnival delivers by piece, not deck, so where you are isn’t necessarily a determinant of when you’ll get your luggage. You’ll probably want a change of clothes for dinner, some toothpaste, etc.

Waiting for our cabins to be ready, hanging out by the pool. My hair was pretty much a disaster all week long.

We were really excited about the layout of the ship, which put the loud and rowdy party pool near the front of the Lido Deck, and the quiet no-kids-allowed pool at the back of the deck. And we were pleasantly surprised by the size of our cabin. We booked a balcony, which isn’t necessarily essential, but we really enjoyed going out there and watching as we approached or left islands, or just marveling over how cool it was that we were shuttling through the Atlantic Ocean with nothing in sight.

Our approach to St. Thomas. So nice to see these sights without having to crowd up on the deck with everybody else.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about Carnival food, but there wasn’t one thing we didn’t love. OK, that’s sort of a lie: I hated the coffee. HATED it. And the cheesecake was weird. But everything else was awesome. Some dining tips:

  • Carnival has three dining classes: Early dining at 5:30, late dining at 8:30, and anytime dining from 5:45 to 9:15. My advice would be to choose anytime dining. While we typically got there right when the dining hall opened, you never know when you might need a nap, or be hungry later rather than earlier (or vice versa). These options are first come, first served when you book your cruise, so book early if this matters to you.
  • You can order as much as you want. Really. Since the main dining room is included in the price of the cruise, you can get 2 of everything on the menu. The only rule is no doggy-bagging. However, it took me a full week to realize if I only got ONE appetizer, or ONE bowl of soup, I had a much better chance of finishing my entire yummy entree and having comfortable room for dessert. I ate like a pig for the first 4-5 days.
  • On at-sea days, the main dining hall is also open for breakfast and lunch. On port days, only the buffet is open for these meals. I would strongly recommend taking advantage of the at-sea main dining hall availability. While your dining hours are somewhat limited, everything is so delicious, and it beats standing in line.

Each day, Carnival also delivers a newsletter with everything pertinent to the following day. This includes a schedule of on-board activities and information on tendering to shore (like we had to in Half Moon Cay), disembarking, and tipping. We really liked the range of activities available – they had nightly production shows, stand-up comedians, several lounges, live music, a Seaside Theater at night with a big screen by the pool, trivia contests, Bingo, and more. Or, you could just do nothing if you wanted to. We left with no regrets about what we had or hadn’t done on the vacation.

He woke up at 9 a.m. just to play movie trivia — and won! You don’t know him like I do, but trust me when I say that’s dedication.

Next up: I wish I could stay here forever, St. Thomas from 3,000 feet up, we meet Lady Gaga.

All photos personal

Mr. and Mrs. Mr. Ladyfingers

What’d you do this weekend? I got married. No big.

For the record, it was perfectly perfect in every way. I forgot to wear my dress’ sleeves the way they had been tailored, a guest brought an unexpected date, I had a moment where I thought the Reverend had left without us having signed the marriage license (I remembered that we’d both signed it when we got it at city hall a couple of months ago), the DJ played a Spongebob Squarepants interlude in the middle of “Shout!” and played our cake cutting song an hour after the cake cutting, and somebody brought a baby, which made it awkward for those who we’d told could not bring their babies.

And you know what? I barely even noticed any of these things. Because we were man and wife, and that was that.

In a little less than a week, we’ll be heading off for our 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise honeymoon. This week at work will be a bit tough with that on the horizon. I’d lie if I said I didn’t get a little weepy earlier after having 11 months of planning, obsessing, crafting, and dreaming all of  a sudden come to an end after one very kick-ass party. And soon, I’ll be able to begin my recaps. I have a couple of projects to share in the interim (but you’ll probably have to wait until after the honeymoon, if that’s OK with you). But in the meantime, here’s a quick peek our photographer posted on Facebook. I think it about sums things up.

Image via Shorts Shots

Today is the Day Before The Day

The weather, so far, is so good.

On Tuesday, I said goodbye to my coworkers as a single lady, to return as a married woman.

On Wednesday, we carted all our items to the caterer and put them in their capable hands, leaving us with nothing to do but hang out with family and wait.

My stomach has been doing flips, even though I would tell you I’m not stressed out, and everybody’s been saying how calm I am. You could have fooled my tummy.

Family descended upon us.

Today, we rehearse our wedding. The girls and I will get our nails done, and then eat some yummy seafood. I’ll stay up way too late.

And then, we’ll get married.

All these months of planning, of weighing the merits of each shade of hot pink and degree of gray fonts, of agonizing over which flats to buy, of first dance selections, of tastings, of check-writing and stress-eating and fighting and giggling and marriage-license-applying and trying to keep my skin clear and trying not to bite my nails… it’s all come down to one day: four-and-a-half hours of getting hair and makeup done with some of my best friends. Two-and-a-half hours of driving and dressing and trying not to freak out. Thirty minutes of dedicating ourselves as man and wife to a crowd of our closest friends and family members. An hour of formal photographs. Four-and-a-half hours of eating dinner, dancing, cutting cake, and tossing things. A nighttime of giddiness.

At least, that’s the plan.

Did the time fly by for you, as well? Did you feel nervous physically the week of, even though mentally you seemed just fine? Did you totally check the weather like a crazy person, even though you told others not to when their weddings came along?