We Are So Blessed!!!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Our 8 Day Caribbean Cruise!

Woot! We had such a BLAST on our 9 day jam packed vacation! Our cruise was out of Galveston, TX, so we flew to Houston the day before and stayed in a hotel.
We visited Cozumel (an island off of Mexico), Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay, Jamaica and every port was seriously incredible! We already knew the excursions we wanted to do in each port- so we wasted no time getting our tickets!

Little backstory: 11 years ago while we were on our honeymoon, our cruise director was talking (then) about all the exciting things to do in the ports we were going to (on that cruise)- but she ALSO mentioned like a million times so many awesome things about a place called Cozumel (a place we were NOT going on that trip) ... she spoke of it so much, I told John that I was making a mental note about Cozumel and that I hoped one day we could go there since it sounded so amazing! Well over the years we'd heard even more about Cozumel and felt even more compelled to go there some day.

We've heard that it is the number one place on the globe to swim with dolphins and the only place in the world that offers an "extreme dolphin adventure" and so much more... so when we were booking a cruise in the Caribbean- you KNOW that Cozumel was one of the first ports we'd choose!

We also chose Grand Cayman based on similar reasons: hearing about the Stingrays on the Sandbar- Yep, that had our name all over it! And Montego, Jamaica- well that was another easy choice! With that itinerary locked in- we knew we had nothing but fun adventures ahead!!

We always approach our vacations with a few simple "rules"... Wait? Rules for vacations? Aren't there no rules? Of course we have no real rules, more like our philosophy, but saying rules makes it sound official...

Pollard Rules for Vacations:
1. Have fun, like crazy fun!
2. Do something we've never done before. (be adventurous and try new activities, even if a little scary)
3. Do something exclusive to where we are. (activities not offered anyplace else)
4. Try new foods. (eat something exclusive to location, or just new)
5. See number 1 again

Having this philosophy or mindset has really helped us create so many unforgettable memories that would never have been possible if we just did normal everyday things on vacation- plus our vacations would all seem the same in distant memories. Instead each vacation is distinct, vivid, and extremely memorable!

Itinerary, check!
Mindset for new adventures, check!
Do you want to see everything we did?
Since there is so much to share, I will do it like last time and post each day separately (it's easier to read in sections, and its easier to edit, add pics and videos, and keep things organized too).

Day 1! Bon Voyage!

The actual first day was just a full travel day- catching our flight and getting our hotel. The kids loved the flight and the crew heard how excited the kids were (especially Sariah who told everyone it was her first flight and Maletch’s second time). The crew gave the kids plenty of special attention, and even gave them some ”wings.” I didn’t think airlines still did that anymore, so that was a fun surprise for them. We caught a shuttle to our hotel Country Inn & Suites. We stayed just the one night. The kids looked so cute pushing their own luggage through the airport (we all loved our new gear).

After taking 2 shuttles, going through all the checkpoints, boarding, attending safety meetings and getting unpacked, we managed to have a lot of fun!
We all wore matching Hawaiian outfits, and received lots of compliments! We got to tour around "Camp Ocean" (Kids Club) and peek at Seuss at Sea (more on that later). The Kids Club facilities were recently remodeled and were stunning filled with state-of-the-art technology! I liked the Kids Club facilities on the Miracle a lot, but these facilities had me super impressed!  For safety reasons, parents are only allowed inside during scheduled "Family Play" times (which is not very often during the whole cruise)- so the kids really love sharing with us everything during orientation day.
The kids are grouped by their ages: Sariah was in the group called the "Penguins" (for ages 2-5) and Maletch was in the "Stingrays" (ages 6-8). Each group has their own rooms and their own daily itineraries. The activities are so fun and so jam-packed its really mind-blowing!
Here is a look at Sariah's Penguin room:

Maletch wanted to play in the igloos too!
Here's a look at Maletch's Stingray room:

Check out the super cool video game systems- and other high tech stuff- so cool!
We went to Beary Cuddly Workshop (Build-a-Bear) where the kids picked out new stuffed animals. Sariah picked a Polar Bear she named Princess Polar Bear and Maletch chose a Puppy he named Stuffy. They got to stuff their bears and pick out outfits (Sariah chose bikini, Maletch rock star).
Our kids just love these Build-a-Bears, and I love that the cruise gives all the proceeds to St. Jude! We were super hungry, so we decided to grab our bears and run! We'll stuff and dress them later in the room- let's go eat! Well, we had to check out Dr. Seuss Bookville on our way out!

That crazy couch and the floor full of bean bags- would make any kid want to get comfy for story time!
 We went to the “Fancy Restaurant” where we enjoyed a walk-around magician during dinner. The magician seemed to enjoy the loud and enthusiastic reaction he got from our table, so he stuck around us and we enjoyed a long private show! The photographers came around bringing even more fun and energy (and sombreros)- we love dining in the Fancy Restaurant!  
Towel Animal: We came back to our room to find a very cute towel animal that we think is a dog.

When we get home, we miss coming in to a towel animal every evening!! Someone really needs to leave these on our beds- so fun!
 We remembered to bring door decorations! We put up battery-operated lights (shaped like starfish of course) and ceiling swirlys, netting, starfish, leaves- lots of fun stuff! It sure made our door easy to find and was a big hit with our neighbors!

We have TONS of video footage of everything from exploring the ship and throughout our entire vacation.. I will put together a really fun video soon!  Meanwhile, I'll just post a few pics now and I'll add slideshows and video soon!

Day 2! Fun Day at Sea, Formal Night, and Captain's Party!

The kids had a blast at Kids Club during the day! Sariah got to do a "Bubble Dance" where they danced and popped bubbles and Maletch got to play a "Mummy Game" where they wrapped each other in toilet paper and lots of other fun things!
While the kids did that, we booked our excursions, and planned out other fun things coming up...
 We love formal nights! We had such a blast at dinner and the Captains Party!
 We took lots of photos, these are a few of my favorites! The photographer that took these was so fun to work with!

This is our Captain!
Towel Animal: We are not exactly sure what this is, but we think he's cute! Maybe a polar bear in a scarf? That's my guess, what's yours?

Day 3! Cozumel- Dolphins, Manatees, Sea Lions, Parrots, and Tequila!!

What a super fun day!
I can see why Cozumel is world renown for offering the best Extreme Dolphin experience in the world. Unlike Cabo, the dolphins are in their natural habitat (the actual OCEAN) but are still in captivity. The facilities are really awesome. They had over 25 dolphins (including a brand new baby dolphin) that were all wanting to play! Our dolphin was Helen.  The dolphins have so much ocean space, you really can't see the perimeter of the fences- it's huge! In order for people to get in, you must walk out on a long pier and climb down a ladder. It takes you to a "platform" to stand on for the initial encounter activities (kissing, doing tricks, etc)... then to do the rides, you are told to swim (one person at a time) out to the middle of the ocean (no markers) and turn around. The trainer then tells the dolphin to go get you. It is so deep, you can't see the bottom (even though its turquoise clear Caribbean sea) it's THAT deep! It just turns into shadows below you! Funny, even though you know it's supposed to be fenced so the dolphins can't get out (therefore you believe that sharks can't get in) you can't help but for a second think, while you are out there waiting- "I hope there are no sharks, eek..." then when your dolphin shows up in the shadows (they have that scary dorsal fin) you're thinking.. "you have a bottle-nose right?" haha!
Dolphin Push/Pull... YEP! TWO rides!!
The first ride is really fun! The dolphin swims up, sticks out a fin, rolls onto her back, you grab her fin, climb on her belly (belly-to-belly) and she rolls more and you grab her other fin. She takes off across the top of the water (while she is upside down- belly up) and your holding on and it is crazy awesome FUN! The second ride is even MORE incredible... This time, you hop on a boogie board, swim out to the 'hopefully-no-shark-zone' by yourself again. This time she comes up behind you, you have to keep your legs straight out and still (no kicking of course), she nuzzles her nose into the bottoms of your feet to tell you to 'get ready'.... then she pushes you on the fastest ride ever where you're practically catching air and screaming with laughter!!

This was definitely a real once in a lifetime adventure, since this type of event is not offered anywhere in the USA, but also because Cozumel is where it’s at!

You would think that was a lot of adventure and fun for one day, but our day was just getting started! Our tickets included a lot of activities, in fact too many to do in the allotted time, so we had to choose what we wanted to do.
After our fun time with Helen and the other dolphins, we headed over to the Manatees- that was incredible also. I was surprised how heavy and wrinkly they were. One weighed in at 900 pounds- and he kept trying to lay on me, haha! It was fun feeding them (vegetables, plants and fruit) because they have a bunch of whiskers that tickle you.

We bought our picture package and a few souvenirs in a gift shop and then headed over to watch a live sea lion show. That was cute, and then we got to go on stage and kiss the seal lion! I need to add the pictures of that!

Next, we headed over to find the crocodile exhibit, but we stopped a few times along the way. We saw 2 parrots, and Maletch jumped right in on that and wanted to hold and pet them. They weren’t very friendly and were even trying to bite him, but he didn’t care- he thought they were cool! They were beautiful hybrid McCaws mixed with something else (I forget).

We also stopped at a fun place along the way to do some tequila tasting.

Meet our new friend Sergio! He was hilarious and he introduced us to a million fun-flavored tequilas! We don't even drink, we don't even like tequila- BUT we bought 2 bottles to take home- because it  tasted delicious and we had a good time! Did you know they make coffee, chocolate, and caramel flavored tequilas? We sure didn't! We've tried 1921 Crema De Tequila (which is a Bailey's flavored tequila recommended by Oprah) before in Mexico and it is delicious, but this guy had so many fun ones!! 
Then we headed off to the crocodile exhibit and to check out the rest of the Chankanaab Park! Full of jungle and waterfalls, and white sand beaches and turquoise ocean- it was seriously what I’ve seen paradise look like in movies- except I was there and it was real- and so much in one place!  As we were walking along we saw a huge Iguana just sitting on the edge of the path, and of course Maletch had to chase him- we saw a few others too.

 Cozumel is so beautiful, in one view was a hammock between coconut trees, white sand, turquoise water and a lagoon with a coral reef that we could snorkel in, surrounded by jungle- I never wanted to leave! Before we hopped in our taxi ride to head back to the ship, we were given silver charms at another gift shop (gifts they said were included in our excursion) nice touch!
Before leaving that gift shop, the owner said he needed a model, for his new sandals and asked if I would mind posing for a picture he could hang in his store. Of course that sounded like fun, but of course I used that as a bargaining tool… I asked “Well, since I work here now, do I get a discount?”- and I did! I got a HUGE discount- YAY! I bought some super cute and comfy sandals, and the kids got wiggly wooden crocodile souvenirs.
Oscar our tour guide almost made us miss our boat- no kidding that was stressful! He was a good guy with good intentions- he really wanted to be sure we got our lunch (included in our excursion). We were planning to skip the lunch since we spent so much time on so many other activities. He said he arranged for a later cab to get us. He was really insistent and was practically upset at the thought of us missing out on lunch. Local cuisine is always a fun treat, but of course we weren't worried about it since we could just eat when we got back to the ship. So we kept saying we needed to go- he said “you’ve got time- it’s okay.” We thought he was in touch with the ship, but when we found out he wasn’t and he was wrong about us “having time” we told our driver to "drive like a maniac" and we literally had to run through the pier and were the last ones to board- wayyyy toooo close Oscar! But aside from that mistake- he was awesome took good care of us- and it all worked out (but barely)!
We still love you, but you've got some 'splainin to do!
Thanks to Oscar's shenanigans, we did enjoy our tasty lunch. Funny story: I asked where they had salsa. This man shows me some green sauce and says, "that's mild." I said, "Oh, do you have spicy?" He said, "Yeah" and pointed it out and added, "but you might want to try this one"- pointing to the mild. I said, "thanks I'll take both please, but we all love spicy- even the kids." I got back to the table, not giving what the man said a single thought. I loaded up a chip with the spicy one -like I was coating it with peanut butter or something... and I proceeded to take a big bite... holy moly that had some serious burn-the-skin-off-your-mouth-HEAT!! I was so glad I hadn't given it to the kids! So before John took a bite, he saw my face and said, "Oh yeah, I forgot- think about where we are... their hot is ACTUALLY HOT- not like back home, and we both laughed so hard! Then he took a tiny bit to try, while I tried to put out the fire in my mouth!  As crazy hot as it was, I still liked it better than the mild and somehow don't ask me how, I adapted to it and couldn't stop eating it. My mouth was stinging for a while!! I will say, I've had plenty of spicy peppers and salsas from my Mexican and Salvadorian friends (many friends that I used to work with would bring spicy stuff in)- this was by far the hottest I've ever tried! I keep laughing thinking about how much I put on that first chip! I wonder how I have any skin left on my tongue? haha! 
Believe it or not as much as we did and saw this day- there was still more to do at the park, including zip-lining and MORE! We'll definitely be going back to Cozumel again! 
We came back to change for dinner and take a few pics from our private balcony of leaving the port!
Look at her! She looks like a professional cruiser!!

During the entire cruise, when the ship would take off, the kids would look down from our balcony (at the splashing wake)- and say "look at the MILK" and they'd both laugh every time. It is very white looking, so they said it looked like they were pouring milk in the ocean! I'm sure every cruise from now on, when I see the whitewater splashing, I'll think of milk!
You can't really tell how high this is, but we are on the 7th floor!
Funny, I got a weird raccoon sunburn that day (sunburn only under my eyes)! I had bought a new eye cream for the trip that claimed to have SPF in it... apparently they lied! My face makeup had SPF which blocked the sun really well, but the eye cream didn't work at all! Luckily, that weird sunburn faded a lot by the next day so I didn't look as weird! That eye cream got returned, and a bad review from this girl! LOL! 
Sariah was really into her activity book they gave her!
Towel Animal: We came back from this awesome Best-Day-Ever to find this cute little froggie waiting for us!!

Hard to believe this was all just one day's worth of fun... so much good video to post- stay tuned for that!
And even harder to believe this is only the 3rd day of our 8 day cruise... so much more fun to come!!
Click HERE to see Days 4-5
Click HERE for to see Days 6-8