Jordan and I make taking an annual vacation a priority. Instead of exchanging birthday/anniversary/Christmas gifts, we stow away money for a trip each year. Usually, we try to see at least one national park on our trip, but this year, we decided to mix things up and try a cruise. We joined a travel club a few years ago, and they ran a special on cruises this year, so we figured, why not? Here’s a recap of our latest adventure, complete with lots of pictures! The camera on my phone broke just a few hours before we left (and it’s still not fixed, so you might be in for some pictureless posts in the near future), so all the pictures are thanks to Jordan.
We booked a red-eye flight because it was significantly cheaper than more pleasantly-timed flights, and we decided we’d deal with being tired and spend our money on excursions. We flew out of Denver at 11:30 on Friday night, landing in Miami at 5:00 a.m. I’d hoped we could sleep a bit on the plane, but the screaming twin babies behind us had other plans. Ah well; we made it to Miami in one piece, got our luggage, and spent most of Saturday morning waiting: waiting at the airport for the transfer to the ship, waiting at the port to be allowed to board, waiting in line to get on the boat. By lunchtime, though, we were on the boat, eating boat food and ready to start our adventure!
We explored the boat for a bit, and once we were allowed in our cabins, we napped while we waited for our luggage to be delivered, then took some much-needed showers and headed to the dining room for dinner.
The next morning, the boat docked at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, and we set off on our first excursion: snorkeling. We got on a little boat, got fitted with snorkel gear, and were taken out away from shore, where the water was deep and clear, and the coral and fish were gorgeous.
We went snorkeling in Hawaii on our honeymoon, and this was so much better. The water was crystal-clear, and the variety of fish was incredible.
Before we knew it, our time was up and we had to head back to the island. We grabbed some lunch, and then went on excursion #2: a bike-and-hike tour of the island.
We had a good time cruising around the island, but when we booked the tour, we were expecting to learn about local culture. What we didn’t know was that Carnival owns this island, and the only people who live on it are a few maintenance staff. Everyone else comes in the day that the cruise ships arrive. The “tour” was basically, “here are some excursions that you could have done if you paid for them.” That was a little disappointing. But the beach was pretty.
On the hike portion, our guide told us about the types of plants and animals on the island, and she showed us some ruins from the island’s first settlers. That part was interesting, and we hiked to the island’s high point: a whopping 60 feet!
When we got back from our tour, we had just enough time to dip our toes in the water one more time, and then we had to get back on the boat.
The next day, Monday, was a day at sea, so we spent the day reading and playing in the pool. Those are not very photo-worthy activities, so the only picture I have from Monday is from that evening, which was one of the ship’s “formal” nights.
I’m mostly sharing this picture to prove that I do occasionally wear something besides running clothes.
On Tuesday, we docked in Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. I ran on the ship’s (tiny) track that morning, so I got to watch this as we approached:
Not a bad view, right? We had an early-afternoon excursion booked but the morning was free, so we walked around the shops in St. Thomas, which is famous for its jewelry deals. I’m not a big shopper, but my watch died a few months ago, so I hoped we’d find a new one here. We did. Yay! After shopping, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to the ship, where we met our guides for the next excursion. They took us to Sapphire Beach, which was billed as a secluded, quiet beach with great snorkeling.
The beach was beautiful, but it certainly wasn’t secluded: a resort backed up to it. The snorkeling was mediocre at best — the coral was really close to the surface (we both banged ourselves up on it) and the water was murky — nothing like the experience we had in the Bahamas. We got frustrated trying to snorkel, so we spent most of the afternoon just chilling on the beach — not a bad thing, but disappointing since we’d paid for what was supposed to be a snorkeling trip. Not cool, Carnival.
On the way back from the beach, the bus made a quick photo stop at one of the high points on the island. Beautiful.
The next day, Wednesday, was by far my favorite day of the trip. We docked in Puerto Rico, and our first activity was a zip-lining excursion. I was a little nervous about it, since the St. Thomas excursion had been a letdown, but this one did not disappoint. We loaded onto a bus that took us out to a former plantation just outside the city of San Juan. As he drove, the bus driver also acted as a tour guide, and he was knowledgeable, funny, and interesting.
EcoTours, the zipline company, also impressed me. The staffers, all college-aged guys, were personable and knowledgeable, and safety was clearly a priority. I also loved the zipline course: it was beautiful, and it was fun, requiring hiking and crossing suspension bridges between lines. The longest line was 1,000 feet, so we really got to enjoy the views. If you go to Puerto Rico, check out this company! Here’s a zipline photo dump for your viewing pleasure.
After ziplining, our bus driver/tour guide dropped us off in downtown San Juan. We didn’t really have enough time to take a taxi to the “real” beach, so J and I walked down off a pier, just enough that I could say I’d been to the beach in Puerto Rico.
Then, we went to Castillo San Cristobal, a fort at the San Juan National Historic Site. We’re both kind of history nerds, so touring the old fort (originally built in the 1600s) was interesting and a lot of fun.
We spent only a few hours in Puerto Rico, so I would love to go back someday. There’s a ton that I’d like to see and do!
Our final port was at Grand Turk. None of the ship’s excursions appealed to us (at least not enough to pay for them), so this was a beach day — not a bad choice, since the beach was beautiful.
Friday, the final cruise day, was another day at sea. Honestly, it was a boring day. We could never get in the pool because it was so crowded, so we’d read for a while, walk around in the air conditioning for a while, repeat.
On Saturday, the cruise was over and we were back in Miami. Our flight didn’t leave until 9:15 that night, so we rented a car and explored Miami for a few hours. We visited the Botanical Gardens (where I made a new friend),
spent a few hours wandering the Lincoln Road Mall, where we had an amazing lunch (if you’re ever in Miami, eat at Spris. It was honestly the best meal we had the whole trip), and took a stroll at Oleta River Park. Before we knew it, we were back at the airport, back on a plane, and eventually, back home.
We certainly had a lot of fun on this trip, but I don’t think we’ll do another cruise. I like to get away from people on a vacation, and that’s pretty much impossible on a ship. I also like to do things on our own timetable and not be subject to someone else’s schedule. But we had a great time, and the towel animals were fun.
Since this is a running blog and all, I should probably briefly discuss my training on the trip. In short: training on a boat kind of sucks. My options were to run on a treadmill in the well-equipped but very hot and crowded gym, or run on the nine-laps-per-mile track, which was also crowded and hot but at least had an ocean view and an occasional breeze. I chose the track on all but hill-training days, but the longest I ran on the trip was 7 miles (that’s 63 circles. My sanity could take only so much). I still got in all my scheduled runs (this week didn’t have a long run on the schedule, which was kind of weird but also perfect), so I was satisfied.
As always, vacation was a ton of fun, but it’s also good to be home. Now it’s time to start planning for next year’s trip! We’re thinking the Smoky Mountains, but no decisions have been made yet. Any suggestions?
Have you ever been on a cruise?
Tell me about your favorite vacation ever (and maybe we’ll steal your spot)!