We Are So Blessed!!!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Our 10 Day Vacation! 8 Day Caribbean Cruise Plus Excursion in Tampa!

OMGOSH! We just got back from a super jam-packed 10 day vacation visiting 4 different countries! (Cozumel, Belize, Isla Roatan, Honduras, and Grand Cayman)

I am always amazed at how much we are able to do and see on each cruise - but this one just *might* have topped them all so far! (I'll have to take a family vote on that). It was incredible! We are so excited to share all about what we did!
We loved the Caribbean so much last year- we had to go back! Woot! Typically 8 day cruises stop in 3 ports, but this one stopped in 4! We got to revisit 2 ports that we went to last year and 2 new ones!

We obviously love cruising- we love everything about them. There are just so many things to do- any time of the day or night- fun all the time - just fun, fun, fun! But, our favorite part of every cruise are the excursions we take! Excursions are where you experience mind blowing adventures and make memories that last a lifetime! We always choose our itineraries carefully and base our booking decisions on the different excursions each port has to offer. We always look for something new/exciting/adventurous to do while also being age appropriate for the kids. Often the adventurous excursions have age restrictions of at least age 8 yrs old and sometimes higher. So by doing our homework ahead of time, we've been able to find just the right excursions that were full of adventure but were also appropriate for little kids (Sariah's been cruising since age 3).

Little Backstory:
Since we find and choose the cruise based on the excursions first (which countries have the best offerings)- for every cruise we already knew at least one totally exciting excursion that we were planning to do. This year, we were super excited about TWO things and that's what we based this trip around!
Ever since we saw the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 (movies based on true stories about 2 amazing dolphins that were rescued and survived very serious injuries). The real dolphins starred in their own true story movies and we completely fell in love with "Winter" and "Hope." They live at the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida which is an amazing place! The Aquarium began as a Marine Animal Hospital and still is to this day. They opened an Aquarium section to the public to help raise money for all of the work the do. They rescue, rehabilitate and release all the animals that can safely be returned back to the wild. They only keep and exhibit sea creatures that would not survive back on their own.
We always talked about wanting to go there and we always said, "One day, whenever we take a Caribbean Cruise, let's go out of Florida so we can take the kids to see Winter and Hope,"  

So last year when we were booking our Caribbean Cruise, we totally planned on doing exactly that! Unfortunately, the only cruise port terminal within driving distance to Clearwater is Tampa (the other ports are way too far to drive). Problem was, they strictly ran short 4-5 Day Bahamas Cruises out of Tampa and we are not interested in anything that short. The longer Caribbean Cruises were all running out of ALL of the other (further away) ports- such a bummer! So last year, we ended up just going out of Galveston, TX since it was closer and we couldn't do Tampa. I was disappointed that our dream of taking the kids there didn't get to happen the way we had long talked about. Of course we had an amazing cruise and didn't feel like we were missing a thing- until much later back at home watching those DVD's again and saying the same thing- one day we'll go there (just wishing it could be attached to a cruise to make the far travel worthwhile)!

Dream Come True:
Well this year was our lucky year!! I don't even know what made me even look up cruises out of Tampa again- since I've looked so many times and always found the short Bahamas cruises (the ships are all scheduled on repeating "loops")... but I decided to give it another try and I found they were taking ONE ship off the loop to run three "specialty cruises" (specialty because one of the ports is lesser traveled to).... they were only running it THREE times off the loop- then it would go back to normal schedule. We were lucky enough to book on one of the specialty cruises- WOOT!!!

The great luck continued - the special port of Isla Roatan, Honduras was on that itinerary and it offered an excursion called Pirates, Parrots and Monkeys that just had our name all over it! I mean who doesn't want to play with monkeys? Right?
The itinerary kept getting better (we already knew we loved Cozumel and Grand Cayman and wanted to go back- so, yes and yes AND Belize? We've always wanted to go there) so it was a done deal!
Oh and this fabulous trip all happens to be aboard John's FAVORITE ship! We sailed on the Pride 12 years prior on our honeymoon- and every ship we've sailed since then John always compares it to his beloved Pride- he really loved that ship! So he gets to sail his ship again- and the kids that have been hearing of this ship for years are so excited they get to experience it too! I mean could this trip get any better?

Highlights in a Nutshell:
This trip had so many highlights, as you'll see in the upcoming posts (and as I mentioned we did more this cruise than ever before)!
We went on a real submarine dive (over 100 ft deep), we swam with dolphins again (did the push/ pull rides), swam with and played with Sea Turtles. We went to the jungle where we had Parrots and Monkeys climbing and jumping on our heads, We rode on a chair lift that took us over jungles and beaches, and we also took a "safari like" cruise down a river and watched wildlife (Manatees, crocodiles, and so much  more), The kids were in a parade, and they were both picked to star in a show and so was daddy!  Maletch was also picked for The Game Show and he was the Grand Prize Winner!! We had fun on the twisty water slides, and went to the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast and met all the Dr. Seuss characters, the kids had a blast at Kid's Club doing all kinds of fun things. We enjoyed going to the Comedy Shows and we always love the Fancy Night festivities- so much to share!

My Favorite Day:
I loved the whole trip but my favorite day was the Isla Roatan, Honduras day! That day really blew my mind the most and is the one I think about the most! Starting with Monkeys and Parrots in the jungle jumping on us and playing with us, then (to a completely separate excursion) the chair lift ride, then back to the ship for the kids in the parade, then the show starring my family and then Maletch being chosen and winning the game show (and more) - yep that was all in one day! That was one amazing day!! More details, photos and videos about that day (Day 7) and much more to come!!

Posts Coming:
We took over 3,300 pics/videos- which is crazy and is taking a very long time to go through! I still haven't even been through them all once yet! We took way more than we normally do because we did much more (which I didn't even think was possible).
Normally we do 2 excursions on each cruise and then some exploring on our own and lots of activities on the ship... this time we did 6 excursions (instead of 2) and lots of activities on the ship! I'm so glad we were able to capture all of our adventures!

I'll be working on getting this posted over the next week or two. You might notice that I made placeholders for each day. That will make it easier to edit and add the stories, pictures and video clips. It also keeps it chronological, so if your checking in before its all up, you'll want to scroll down each time to see if the last day (Day 10) is posted yet.

Day 1! Travel Day!

Day 2! Clearwater Aquarium- Winter and Hope!

Like anyone that has seen the movies Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, we fell in love with Winter and Hope.  Two dolphins that were rescued and have incredible survival stories. They made movies about their true stories and the dolphins starred in their own roles!

Winter's story is very gripping. If you are unfamiliar, she got entangled in the rope of a crab trap. She was discovered by a fisherman that noticed a buoy bouncing strangely and decided to investigate it. He cut her free, but she was badly injured. He called for help, and the Clearwater Marine Hospital Rescue team picked her up. Unfortunately, the rope strangled off blood flow to her tail, and she eventually lost her tail. Dolphins need that flanged tail (as a flipper, up and down) to swim. Even though dolphins are marine animals, they need to come up for air to breathe quite often- and she couldn't swim. She had to learn to swim wiggling side to side (like a shark). She got better at it with practice, but unfortunately her swimming that way lead to a serious spinal condition that threatened her life. She needed to be able to move her tail up and down again to correct it.
A company that makes prosthetics for people learned of her story and volunteered to make a special prosthetic tail for her. She didn't take to it at all and banged it against the sides of the pool to get it off. They designed many different tails, she continued rejecting each. They were desperate to design something that would work, since her life depended on it. The designing of so many tails and sleeves (the sock-like thing) you place between skin and a prosthetic lead to many scientific and engineering breakthroughs in prosthetic designs used for people!

She lives at the Clearwater Aquarium and Marine Hospital; in Clearwater, FL. They are a wonderful facility that rehabilitates and releases all animals that can safely be released back to the wild. In Winter's case, she would not be able to survive the wild, so she will remain living there. That place does a lot of great work. They even provide hope and encouragement for amputee children and military vets, by providing them special visits with Winter.

Hope arrived a few years later, with injuries. Her injuries were much less severe. She eventually made a full recovery, but she was too young to survive the wild without her mother teaching her necessary survival skills, so she lives there too- and the two dolphins have developed a very strong bond.

We always said that whenever we had a chance to take a cruise out of Florida, we'd plan to go out of a port near Clearwater so we could go to the Aquarium and visit Winter and Hope.....  we were so excited to do just that!


This is Hope!
 We got to watch Winter and Hope work with their trainers!
I have really awesome videos- I'll be posting soon!
Here's Winter!
 She was swimming without her tail!


 The Stingray Touch Pool!

 We love Rufus! The "pesky pelican" added so many cute and funny elements to the movies.
 We were so excited to meet Rufus. Here he is, his real name is "Ricky."
They have the coolest aviary under construction right now that will be his future oasis- it is HUGE!




Look at the cute little ones getting rest for their cruise in the morning!

Day 3! Bon Voyage!

Sariah was so excited as we were pulling up to the ship on our shuttle.

After we unpacked, it was time to decorate our door!

Look who we spotted walking around Lido deck!!!!
It's Ellie the Elephant (The Towel Animal Character)

We had to get hugs and pics!
We love watching "Sail Away" from our private balcony!

We waved goodbye to Tampa, see you again in 8 days!
We went to Orientation at Kid's Club (Camp Ocean), It's one of the few times that parents are allowed inside (for safety). The kids love for us to see everything- and we enjoy it too.
They made so many friends on this cruise!
They played a hilarious game of twister. 
How cute is this Seal?

Day 4! Fun Day at Sea! Fancy Night and Captain's Party!

Post Coming....