Caribbean Cruise: A New Adventure for Me

In October 2018, I did something I’d wanted to do my whole life: I went on a Caribbean cruise!  One of my friends invited me to join her and share a stateroom with her, and I jumped at the chance!

We booked our trip through Susan Strong of Sanborn’s Travel in Corpus Christie.  Susan was a pleasure to do business with, and I would gladly recommend her to others.  She also came with us on this cruise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her a bit.

This was a one-week adventure, with three stops and shore excursions. Our cruise ship held about 6,000 people:  4,000 were passengers, and 2,000 were staff. It’s amazing to think of the ship as holding more than 4 times as many people as there were in the rural community where I grew up!

On this trip, I was able to do the following things that have been on my bucket list for most of my life:

  1. Go on a Caribbean cruise
  2. Swim with dolphins
  3. Visit Mayan ruins

Before the cruise, I was very frustrated with Royal Caribbean because of the many struggles I had dealing with their buggy web site. Royal Caribbean’s telephone support people were polite, but would put me on hold for 20 minutes at a time, only to come back saying they were unable to solve the problem.  Fortunately, once I boarded the cruise, things went smoothly, and I was able to have a great time with my friends!

Exploring Liberty of the Seas

Our ship for this cruise was called Liberty of the Seas, and it was operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

This floating city featured a large informal dining room with buffet that was open all day, several sit-down dining rooms, bars, shops, swimming pools, hot tubs, a fitness center, a spa, and more.  It featured a variety of entertainment on board, including bands playing music for dancing, movies, game shows, and other acts.

Each day, the carpets on the floors of the elevators on the ship told us what day of the week it was. I found it somewhat fascinating to think there are people whose job it was to change the elevator sign every day.

On the top deck, there were two swimming pools: one for children, and one for adults.  The children’s pool also featured a water slide.  I kept intending to try it out, but somehow my time filled up with other activities and I didn’t get to it.

Near the children’s pool is a dispenser of soft serve ice cream (shown above) called Sprinkles.  The ice cream cones are free, and I enjoyed several of them during the cruise!

The promenade deck was the level that featured many shops, bars, and restaurants.  During the week of the cruise, a number of events were held there, including a Halloween party for adults.  I particularly enjoyed the jellyfish sculpture that hung from the ceiling!

I enjoyed several treatments at the spa on board the ship, including three massages, a salt scrub, and a facial.  Word soon got out in our group that I was doing this, and the final night of the cruise our organizer Susan gave me a certificate proclaiming me “the Spa Queen”!

The Views

There were many gorgeous views to enjoy while on board the ship.  I found it very peaceful to stand at the side and look out over the intense blue of water and sky.

Our first two days of cruising, we were out in the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.

We saw several beautiful sunsets during the cruise.  This photo shows the one that greeted us our first evening on board.

The Shore Excursions

The ship made 3 stops during the week:  Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico.  We had the option of either purchasing an excursion package, going into town to shop and explore, or staying on the ship and enjoying the many facilities it offered.

The number of options for each stop was amazing. It was so hard to choose what to do!

Closing Thoughts

I enjoyed the cruise very much, and would going on another in the future, especially if I had a friend to go with.  Although Royal Caribbean’s online check-in process was extremely cumbersome due to a poorly designed web site, once I was on board the ship I was able to relax and enjoy the cruise.  I took over 500 pictures throughout the week.

As I make additional posts about the cruise, you’ll be able to find them at this link:

Cruising the Caribbean

 

Airport Moments of Beauty

We usually don’t think about airports as being beautiful places. And, usually they’re not!  But every once in a while, something gives me pause to smile, linger, and appreciate the moment.  Here are some I have enjoyed.

Chicago O’Hare, March 16, 2016

An airline crew member plays the piano at Chicago O’Hare on March 16, 2016.

When traveling to California on United Airlines in March, 2016, I stopped to enjoy listening to an airline crew member play the piano at one of the departure lounges.  I no longer remember what he was playing, but I remember he was a good pianist, and he gave me a smile!

Chicago O’Hare, Polaris Lounge, October 5, 2017

Entrance to Polaris Lounge, Chicago, O'Hare Airport
United Airlines remodeled its international first class lounge in Chicago O’Hare Airport in 2016-2017, and renamed it the Polaris Lounge. This photo shows the entrance to the new lounge. Taken on October 5, 2017, en route to Senegal.

I flew business class on United on my way to Senegal in October 2017.  When I entered United’s new Polaris Lounge on the C Concourse of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I took a moment to simply appreciate the beauty of the ceiling art. It consists of many twinkling lights, and was designed to give an impression of the night sky.  This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it’s the best my phone could produce.

Lisbon, Portugal, November 4, 2017

I saw this rainbow at the airport in Lisbon, Portugal on November 4, 2017 on my way home from Senegal.

Arriving at the airport in Lisbon, Portugal was actually a very miserable experience for me on my way home from Senegal in November, 2017.  I was already sad to leave my IBM colleagues and new Senegalese friends all behind.

When I deplaned in Lisbon, I had to stand in 2 different passport control lines and go through security before being allowed to go to the gate for my flight to the U.S.  The whole process took well over an hour.  It was a relief to finally arrive at my gate.  The rainy weather outside echoed my miserable mood.  When it was time to board, this rainbow came out, as if to say, “Things will get better from here!”  And they did.  The rest of my trip, though long, was reasonably comfortable and pleasant.

Chicago O’Hare at Christmas, 2017

Connecting through O’Hare on American Airlines on December 12, 2017, I saw these holiday decorations.

When flying American Airlines on my way home from a business trip to Boston on December 12, 2017, I connected through O’Hare Airport.  It was a delight to see that the concourse had been beautifully decorated for Christmas.  Although I was tired from a very intense business trip, it made me smile to see it.

Chicago O’Hare, January 11, 2018

One of my favorite airport sites for many years has been the tunnel at Chicago’s O’Hare airport that connects the B concourse and the C concourse. These two concourses are used by United Airlines flights.

This tunnel at Chicago O’Hare airport connects the B and C concourses.

I always enjoy going through this tunnel when making connections.  Sometimes, if I have a long layover and the tunnel isn’t too crowded, I’ll walk back and forth through it several times just to get some exercise.  I enjoy both the cascading light show and the accompanying background music.

The Day I Didn’t See Lisbon

On my way home from Morocco, the airline itinerary required me to spend an overnight layover in Lisbon, Portugal.  At first, I was frustrated at having to pay for a hotel and have the journey home take so much longer. But then I started thinking about it, and started to view it as a fun opportunity to explore a city I had never been to before.

The day I departed Marrakech for Lisbon got off to a rather painful start, with 2 hours of standing in lines at the Marrakech airport.  The line to check in for the flight, the line to go through passport control, and the line to go through security all added up to that. My back was really hurting from all that standing. It was a relief to collapse into my seat once I boarded the plane.

Upon arrival at the Lisbon airport, there was another hour of standing in line, thanks to passport control and the taxi stand.

When I reached my prepaid hotel, the reception agent told me that plumbing issues had flooded several rooms at the hotel, and therefore they were not able to assign me a room. They had re-booked me into another hotel, at no cost to me, and they provided me with transportation to the new hotel.

There were check-in delays at the replacement hotel while the front desk staff tried to tell me to go back to the original one.  Eventually, the manager appeared, acknowledged that they had agreed to host me, and all was solved.  However, in the process, I endured another 30 minutes of standing around hotel check-in desks.

By the time all this was resolved, I was exhausted.  My back was really hurting, and I was tired. It was only 2:00 in the afternoon, but the only thing I wanted to do was sleep.  A voice in my head said I “should” go out and explore Lisbon, because who knows, I might never again have such an opportunity. A different voice in my head responded that sightseeing is supposed to be fun, and in this case I was in too much physical pain to enjoy it.

I knew I had a 23-hour trek home the next day, crossing an ocean and half a continent, with more grueling hours standing in line at airports, so why not take advantage of a nice hotel room to get some much-needed rest? And that’s what I did. I closed the curtains, and crawled into bed. When I woke up 2 hours later feeling better, I knew I’d made the right decision.

I walked across the street to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. I ordered a sea bass entree, which sounded very appealing. I was a bit dismayed when it showed up with the head still on it.  But it smelled delicious, so I tried not to think too much about the head and proceeded to eat the fish, leaving the head behind. It was a simple meal, which is what I needed at the time, and tasty.

Enjoying a fish dinner at the restaurant across the street from my hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. September 13, 2017.

After dinner, I returned to my room, did some reading, and reorganized my packing for the next day’s flight home. I made it to bed early, and slept well. Very well.

So, I have been “in” Lisbon, but all I saw was the inside of the airport, two hotels, a restaurant, and the view out of a car window going between these places.  But… I started my 23-hour trip the next day feeling reasonably well rested and pain-free.  For me, it was worth the tradeoff.

Sometimes, when traveling, self-care is more important than sightseeing.

Not Easy Traveling to Morocco from U.S.!

It’s not easy traveling from the U.S. to Morocco, especially if you live in an area where the closest airport is NOT a major hub!  I was in transit 26 hours, on 4 different airplanes, with long layovers.  I was exhausted when I finally arrived in Marrakech!  I flew from Cedar Rapids Iowa, to Chicago O’Hare, to Washington DC Dulles, to Lisbon Portugal, to Marrakech Morocco.

When I finally arrived in Marrakech, I bought a local sim card at the airport for my spare phone so I could call home affordably.  It cost me 300 Moroccan dirhams (about $36) for 4 hours of international calls and 10 gigabytes of data. I felt that was a really good price!

A driver from my riad (bed & breakfast) picked me up at the airport. The friendly riad  owner wanted to welcome me, and offered me lovely Moroccan mint tea with petite cookies.  That was nice, but… she was French, and spoke very little English.  I do speak French, but I was  very exhausted from traveling so many hours. Therefore, my brain was mush, and I had trouble carrying on the conversation!  Finally, after finishing my tea and cookies, I fled to my room so I could nap.

I had arranged to eat supper at the riad, so after a one-hour nap my alarm sounded and I went downstairs to eat.  The meal was delicious! It was chicken tagine, which is a Moroccan stew made with chicken and vegetables (carrot, zucchini, etc.)

After eating, I again retreated to my room and went to bed.  I slept 13 hours.  I guess I needed it!

Introducing Jewel’s Travel Adventures!

I love to travel! I’ve been to Egypt 13 times, Morocco 3 times, Turkey 3 times, Senegal once, and also various parts of Europe. People keep telling me I should start a travel blog so they can follow my adventures vicariously, and at last the time has come! I’ll use Twitter to announce when I have new updates posted.

My Twitter link is https://twitter.com/JewelAdventures