Kinda cool to wake up as you sail into TWO countries’ lands–with room service breakfast on your balcony.
We arrived in St. Maarten (French), Sint Maarten (Dutch). By either name, it’s a lovely island that truly lives up to its universal nickname: The Friendly Island.
Yes, we played in the waves, got footrubs and walked the long stretches of lovely soft sand. (No, we didn’t do “as in Rome” and participate on the nude beach side. Although as our teenage fashion-conscious daughter noticed, that would avoid tan lines. Pas tres bien, mon amie!)
We also shopped a bit, mom got to see some churches, and then headed back to our boat via water taxi after a gloriously friendly day.
Thanks for writing your culture on our hearts and minds, Saint Maarten. J’adore.
Move over, Yellowstone, we have a new favorite U.S. National Park.
Meet St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, the most tranquil, unspoiled spot in the Caribbean/South America. That’s thanks to Laurence Rockefeller, who donated much of it to the U.S. Government to create a National Park. Before that, the United States had purchased this 20-square-mile jewel from Denmark in 1917. (Note the year: it was when Germany was poised to overtake Denmark; imagine if Germany had achieved this foothold. Whew.) Before THAT, it was a haven for pirates. So what is not to adore about St. John?
Our cruise ship actually ported in St. Thomas, one of the four U.S. Virgin Islands.
Yay, our pilot is here. Oh, cool, hope Captain Jack Sparrow is here, too.
Once off the Oasis, we boarded the Island Girl with Captain Mike. It was a wild ride through once-pirate, still amazing waters, while Mike pointed out landmarks new and old with charming, entertaining stories.
And then, we arrived in what surely must be similar to heaven: St. John. On the short drive from the port to “our” beach for the day in our safari truck, each beach we passed was more stunning than the last.
Mr. Rockefeller’s home is still here, now as a resort, with remnants of a sugar plantation.
Our destination: Trunk Bay, ranked in the World’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches by National Geographic Society. We loved every grain of sand on it, from the velvet soft beach for long walks, to the underwater snorkel trail of coral and fish in the clearest waters ever. (We brought our GoPro snorkeling, too!)
After exploring this glorious place, we headed back on the Island Girl, really refreshed the way only Mom Nature and a National Park can do so… (with a little help from a local brew of course)
Approaching San Juan, Puerto Rico by sea, it doesn’t look very welcoming.
Miles of stone walls and the Castillo San Cristobal fortress protected Spain’s critical settlement from frequent attacks, invaders who were after the gold, silver and other treasures from the New World.
Today, San Juan is an exuberant blend of colorful Latin culture. It was the very first time our ship had ported in this gorgeous city, and we loved every minute of exploring what is now a very approachable city.
Lucky us, our port side of the ship gave us a perfect view of arriving.
First stop? Birthplace of the Pina Colada, of course.
Then on to some sites–and sights–in our Latin whites!
Lots of cats in Old Town … probably not a rodent problem there, either, huh?
It’s not just a gate; for centuries, this doorway, La Puerta de San Juan, served to keep invaders out of the city. And when Spainards arrived, they walked straight up this roadway to the Cathedral to, like good Catholic boys, thank God for a safe voyage.
Plaza de la Rogativa
Amazing views, both panoramically around the sea and up close in the plaza.
The bronze sculpture, “The Procession,” tells the legend of a Catholic Bishop and his companions during a British invasion on San Juan in 1797. The Bishop and his friends made a procession in faith holding crosses, torches and chanting. The British thought they were Spanish Army reinforcements and gave up on the attack. “Faith does move mountains,” huh?
What do J. Lo and Ponce de Leon have in common?
Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony here. Ponce de Leon’s tomb is here. It’s graceful Catedral de San Juan Bautist or Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It’s also the second-oldest Cathedral in the Americas. Juan Ponce de Leon’s body is encased in a marble tomb here, but it wasn’t his original burial place. He was originally entombed in theIglesia de San José where his family worshiped. After 350 years in his original resting place, his body was moved to the Catedral de San Juan in 1912 to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of evangelization. Nice resting place, Juan.
Seaside resting spot
Only Puerto Rico can make a cemetery extraordinary! Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis is elegant and beautifully perched on the Atlantic, radiating tranquility and rich history. The oceanfront location symbolizes the journey over to the afterlife, reflecting the Spainards’ superstitions and fear of death.
UNESCO says yes
A UNESCO site, Castillo San Cristóbal is a magnificent fortification. We visited on a Sunday, walking from the cemetery to the huge fort while people had picnics set out and were flying kites. So appreciate the Latin focus on family and fun!
The color of San Juan
…is anything but old. Strolling along cobblestone streets while the teenagers worked on their Spanish verbal skills with vendors, we soaked in the radiance of this marvelous Caribbean city.
We’re grateful you sailed into San Juan, Sir de Leon. And thankful for the vibrant history lessons and colorful day in today’s bright city! Thanks for making us feel so welcome.
The only “repeat” stop from our last cruise was this lovely private island, Labadee, in Haiti. Such a country of contrasts: gorgeous mountains, beaches, people and culture. Yet such a heartbreakingly troubled history–and present–laden with turmoil and hurt. With all this in mind, we appreciated our day in Haiti.
Walking ashore, where it’s hard to decide which view from the walkway is more gorgeous.
The first beach you encounter has big oceanside waves, yet also ankle-eating rocks and coral. So it was our mermaid Caroline’s favorite playground! Julia and I were happier on the shore at this beach.
The next two beaches are sandy and absolutely perfect for a beach day. Just the thing for this Midwestern American family. It was a day that brought us all peace.
As our feet sank into the sand, those early mornings of icy darkness as we all headed off to school and work — those sank away. As the waves lapped, those days of shoveling snow melted away. Under the Caribbean sun, the stress of tests and presentations and travel dissipated. Swimming, floating and playing in the salty waves, the chill of very late nights at hockey rinks washed away. In the wind of the palm trees, the tension blew away. And in the pages of new stories, the sting of that missed 27-yard field goal even faded. A bit.
We came out of the water refreshed, renewed. And hungry! With a steel drum band nearby, we enjoyed a yummy shore lunch. Caribbean jerk chicken, ribs, loads of fresh veggies and exotic fruits … and lemon coconut cookies. Love you, Haiti.
Thanks for starting our cruise port experiences off just perfectly yet again, Haiti.
A 10-day cruise? Three full days of sailing? Whatever will you do? So asked one of our friends. We all smiled, a bit knowingly, since we’d been on the same ship, Oasis of the Seas, two years ago for Spring Break, and were all eager to get back onboard. (The one place we never did find: The Library.) Highlights of our second cruise on the Oasis:
At home, we have careers, jobs, school, studies, sports, volunteering…gosh we’re busy. Which means we’re rarely together. So the real value of this cruise was all the time together. Mostly laughing. Lots of great chats. And more laughing.
Exploring the ship
Of course the first place we found (just a few doors from our staterooms)? The Library!
A few laps on the track, more laps in the pool, Zumba!, weight lifting, dancing poolside. Ahhh.
Some Vitamin D and “Sea”
We took in at least one show every day, including CATS (yeah, it’s a weird musical), dive shows, an acapella group, a singer/comedian, ice skating show, Latin dance party, adult comedy (highlight = Jim David of Comedy Central in this election year!), international belly flop contest and Greg’s favorite (laden with BeeGee’s tunes): 70s dance party.
View of one of the hot tubs that cantilevers out over the sea, which we could see from our cabin’s balcony.
We relaxed in all of the whirlpools at all hours. My favorite: A late-night soak with Matty where we solved all the world’s problems under the stars.
Admiring the sculptures
Creations in our cabins each evening and at the towel stands made us laugh…
After years of hauling our camper all over to great spots, we parked it this summer. Perfect timing for one our best decisions ever. Proof: We won first place, and I’m more proud of this award than nearly everything else we’ve achieved–together or in our separate ventures.
Here’s the award: Highest electric bill of the entire campground! We love that were were there often enough to spin that meter fast.
It’s a cool award. Literally. It means our air ran while it was hot and humid, so we still slept smooth.
What else our award means…
Our competitors are the best. When you’re at the same spot every weekend, you get to know the neighbors. And ours are the best! Iowans, farmers, parents, fellow campers…and people who truly care. Plus really care about having a great time. We made so many happy memories already.
The golf cart was always charged. Some days our boys golfed 27+ holes. And we had a sure-fire way to get around.
2. More time to watch stuff grow.
Rev and I watched the neighbor farmer’s calves grow and saw a mom and her twin fawns mature, week by week on our at-least-twice-daily hikes. If we left at just the right time, we ran into our golfing boys on #12.
3. More river trips.
Over, along, in, across and on our “waterfront,” the Root River. This river is crystal clear, fast-moving, ever-changing and cold (too cold and too fast for mosquitoes!).
4. Acting like locals.
We embraced the very best parts of all the little towns nearby, from Lanesboro pastries and Rhubarb Fest to the Amish, the butcher and of course the great small town bars. They embraced us right back.
5. Staying put.
Starting now, we’ll do something else we’ve never done: camped after Labor Day. And since we also have heat, we hope to keep that electric meter running. After all, we have our #1 status to maintain.
Today was my last lunch date at our kids’ elementary school. Ever.
After 10 years, you’d think I walked out of school relieved. I didn’t.
It all started when our oldest, Julia, was in first grade. She wanted me to come to lunch every day. I am a self-confessed helicopter parent and surely would have. Instead, we compromised: She picked a certain menu item, and every time that was served, I would come to lunch with her at school! Julia selected Build Your Own Hamburger day. So I went every one of those days.
Our middle kiddo, Matt, selected Chicken Patty on a Bun. And our youngest, Caroline, opted for Lakeville Nachos.
For one year, all three kids were in the same school. I had a lot of school lunches that year. More than that, I learned a lot from my 20 minutes in the lunchroom. I learned about their classmates (yeah, some of them ARE weird). I learned lunch ladies are polite and kind and encouraging. I learned our kids were so proud to buy my lunch, because I could never remember their lunch codes! I learned the latest gossip at the lunch table. I learned the kids’ dreams and goals–and fears. I learned who always brings home lunch. The last few years, our girls have brought their own home lunches, but I still joined them on “our” days.
So after lunch, while Cara skipped out to recess with her friends, I walked through the parking lot crying at this end of an era: but mostly happy tears, remembering all our kids’ had let me experience.
I’m not much on giving advice, but I will venture this: if you have a kid in elementary school, join him or her for lunch. Just once a school year if you can. Flex your work schedule, change your workout class, forget the laundry. It’s 20 minutes. But it’s a rare peek into your kid’s world. And I, for one, thoughts the Nachos were pretty tasty.
Like our friends and colleagues and relatives, our family runs in every direction, often at warp speed. It’s crazy good fun filled with love and laughs. But it’s also nice to get away a bit. So this Spring Break, we headed to Moon Palace in Cancun.
We went with a great group of fellow Minnesotans. Total of 14 adults; 13 kids, I believe.
Matt got the most air, parasailing over Beach Palace one afternoon (looked like the jet ski ride out and back in to shore was quite a rush too!)
Our Caroline is a mermaid. We all joined her, too. How could you not? Fifteen pools (most with swim-up bars; all with water polo, water zumba, water volleyball), miles of beach (albeit not real swimmable, so our day at Beach Palace’s turquoise waves was a treat).
“Pets” at our favorite pools
It’s a good day when your biggest decision is where to go to dinner that evening…
I think we tried ’em all. Seafood? (The first night, Julia ordered baby octopus with “I think I’ll like that.” As they served it, she saw it really was baby octopus, suction cups and all. “I can’t eat this,” she admitted. Lesson learned for our Midwestern girl!) Mexican? Italian? Room service (why order 30 chicken nuggets? Because you can.)? Steakhouse? Hibachi? Japanese? Brazilian steak house:
Treats at every turn…
A few other surprises:
Coconut milk outside our front door
“Fresh Catch” one afternoon
Apparently this only happens once a month (we got lucky!). Fresh grouper, octopus, shrimp, mussels, clams and more, caught then grilled up on the beach.
Early morning beach walks
(just Greg and me) – note earlier info about teenagers at the swing bar!
Most of all, it was time for us, together, unplugged. That is really all we need.
Caroline was in her element.
She Swam with Delphinus (dolphins) at Xcarat in Cancun.
The best part was the baby dolphin who wouldn’t leave Cara’s side:
As the mom and friends did their interactions, the baby tried every trick she knew to get attention (aka fish). We tried to find out the baby’s name, but there wasn’t much English spoken at the park. So we just call her Baby.
Thanks for letting your Baby play with our Baby, Mama Dolphin.
Our Dad/Grandpa, a retired longtime teacher, loves to party. Each year, we get together at his home to celebrate Halloween! This year was especially awesome, with some clever costumes, creative pumpkin carvings, beautiful day … and a full theatre presentation of “The Greedy Goblin” by the grandkids! Some highlights…
Standing Ovation for our theatre stars!
Happy Halloween, all. Make it safe, sweet and full of laughs.