Monday, February 13, 2012

Where I'm At

I'm going to do one more post to recap our whole Disney vacation, but before I do that, let me take a moment to give an update of where I'm at and what I'm doing as I'm sure you are all (well all of you who read this for me and not for the Disney stories) are wondering.

We're 6 weeks into the new year now, and while I'm not blowing the doors off, I'm still feeling pretty strong. One of the areas of discipline that I've always struggled with is the restart. If something ever popped up that stopped my progress, it would usually be very difficult for me to get back started again. I faced such a hurdle over the last couple of weeks and it seems that I've been able to get back on track.

I'd been averaging 9-10 miles a week through the first few weeks of the year. At the end of January, I had to do some unexpected travel and while I was able to maintain through that travel, when I got home there were some struggles. My wife got sick for a couple of days, then one of my daughters got sick. This forced me to skip a few morning workouts and I barely got 5 miles in that week.  Then I got sick. I tried to run on the weekend and barely finished.  I didn't get running again for a whole week. Here's where in the past I would falter. Its always difficult to get started again. It hurts, your body needs to get used to it again and who wants to hurt? But, this time I did it. Yea, the first couple of workouts were difficult, but I forced my way through it and made sure to get right back into my regular routine.

Last week I ran 11 miles, my biggest weekly total yet. I know its not a huge amount, but considering where I was this time last year, I'll take it happily. I have my eyes set on a few races coming up this spring and of course I still want to do the Peachtree, so I'm really looking forward to a great spring time. Right now I need to continue my discipline in keeping my schedule and I have to do better with my nutrition.

Yesterday I went to the inaugural meeting of a pipe club we're forming in the area. We've decided to name ourselves the Lanier Smokers Pipe Club, as most of us live in communities that are close to Lake Lanier, and it sounded better than the North Georgia Pipe Club. For me it was pretty neat, as it was the first time I'd ever smoked my pipe with someone else also smoking pipes. There were a half dozen of us there, sharing different tobaccos, talking about different pipes and pipe makers and getting to know each other. We're going to continue to meet each month and I think it will be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our Ocean Voyage - Part 7

Another beautiful day dawned and it is our last full day of the cruise. Today was a day we'd really been looking forward to, a visit to Disney's Castaway Cay. It is Disney's private beach island in the Bahamas. We didn't have anything on the agenda today but relaxation and Daddy's little run around the island. Once again, I got up early and this time headed to Guest Services to get our bill and see how much we spent for the week. We were still under budget so I was feeling pretty good!

I went back up to the room and hung out on our balcony as we approached the island, taking pictures and enjoying the sunrise.

We hit the buffet one last time for breakfast. I needed to be in the sports bar on deck 3 at 9:30 to sign up for the 5K run, so I got suited up, packed a bag with my bathing suit for later and left the girls to get themselves ready. There were probably about 25 people that were running the race, most of whom looked like pretty serious runners. I knew I wasn't going to be getting a top 20 in this one, but I was going to have fun. We all debarked together and headed to the starting point, where they explained the route to us and handed out race bibs. Right when we were about to take off one of our table mates was getting off the tram and yelled "Go Jamie" which was pretty cool.  My first ever race fan!

I'd love to say that the race was a breeze, but I was struggling. I tried to keep a group ahead of me in my sights but after the first mile I was cooked. I probably went way to fast, and I'm sure the week full of eating and drinking wasn't the best preparation. The route takes you through the bike path and then up the long airplane runway to the adult beach, then back around the bike path again and returning to the start point.  At least the loop back allowed me to see the other runners again. And of course, like every other part of this trip, who did I see out jogging while I was running?   our fairy wicked step sister.  I ran the course in 35:14, which was  a pretty good time for me, but it was a struggle with several walk breaks. At they end they were taking pictures as we finished and handing out Mickey medals, which was nice. They said the pictures would be posted on a facebook page, but I've yet to find them.  Still, this moment was the inspiration for all that I'd accomplished in running so far this year, so it felt really great.

Just as I was finishing, my family was getting off the tram. We headed out onto the beach and claimed some chairs. There really is plenty of space on the beach, with palm trees and umbrellas for shade. I'm sure the larger ships fill the place up a bit more, but we had nice chairs near the food, the bar and the water slides. I changed into my suit and sat down for a minute before the girls wanted to hit the water. I left an order for a drink with my wife and headed to the water with the girls.  Oh man, it was cooold. If we thought the water in Cozumel was chilly, this was frigid. We decided to try the water slides. They have a barge about 50 feet off shore with two water slides. You have to swim out to the barge and then climb up to slide down. The girls put on life jackets and we headed out, after taking a few minutes to ease all the way into the cold water.
Pelican Plunge Water Slides

The water slides are a lot of fun.  There's a slow one and a fast one. Of course, I always went down the fast one and the girls did the slow. We did that 4 or 5 times and then I'd had enough. The girls went to play with some of their friends by the water and I went to my seat. By this time my drink had arrived and I sat with the wife enjoying the sun and sipping a lovely rum concoction. Lunch was a barbecue with burgers, hot dogs, chicken and ribs served right there on the island. It was really delicious. The ribs were phenomenal. I may have gone back a couple of times for more. But I'd just run so I deserved it.

After lunch the girls wanted to go back on the slide, so we hit that a couple of times. Then I was pooped, so I flopped onto the beach chair and let mommy take over. The girls had talked all week about getting some braids in their hair so they went off to find the hair braiding while I fell sound asleep on the chair.

We headed back to the ship to shower and rest and ran into Daisy along the way, so of course we got more pictures. Our cabin was on the side of the ship that faced the beach, so I took some shots from the ship back onto the island as the sun went down. After we got cleaned up, one of the girls fell asleep. Mommy took the other to the last show Remember the Magic, and I stayed behind while the other napped. One other cool thing that got us through times in the room were the movies. The TV had Disney movies on all the time and we watched several of them several times. I watched Harry Potter and had a glass of wine.

We packed our bags before we headed to dinner and set them out in the hall.

Tonight was our last dinner with our friends and we made the most of it. The girls all played with glow sticks and the parents enjoyed a final stuffing at the hands of our great servers. We gave them their tips and gave last handshakes and hugs. After dinner there was a Til We Meet Again party in the atrium. All of the characters and performers from the whole week came in to music and then were available for pictures around the whole area. Of course, we took this opportunity to hunt down our friend and get a picture with her and the girls.

After this, the girls wanted one more chance to go to the Kids club, so we sent them off and had a last drink with our friends. We all exchanged facebook and email to make sure we could keep in touch and headed to bed knowing we had one more meal in the morning.

On Saturday morning we woke up to the worst view of the trip ... the dock in Port Canaveral. We gathered all of our things and my wife called her family to let them know we'd arrived. Because we had late dinner, we had the later breakfast, and there were plenty of people heading off the ship before we got to breakfast. The food was pretty good, but everything was a bit rushed, understandably because that afternoon some other lucky family was about to take our place. We all hugged and headed out back to the real world.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Our Ocean Voyage - Part 6

Thursday is Day 6 of our cruise, another planned sea day as we sail from Cozumel to Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. In my original plan for this day, it was going to be filled with relaxation ... but there's just so much to do on board that we filled it up very quickly. My wife and I had brunch at Palo planned this morning plus the girls were part of the big Friendship Rocks show this afternoon. More on that to come.

Once again I got up early. Today was a picture morning for me. Getting out and around the ship early gave me great opportunities to take pictures without any of the crowds blocking my views. I spent a good hour wandering every deck taking pictures. The details and design of this ship is simply fantastic. I really enjoyed playing with my camera and trying to capture as much of the beauty as I could. Of course, the real beauty was not the ship, but Mother Nature. The sunrise was glorious and I snapped it the best I could.

Just after Sunrise with Cuba in the distance

The girls were sleeping late now, and instead of getting them up to go to a dining room for breakfast, I brought them some cereal from Topsiders and we served them breakfast in bed.  They really loved it. We got them dressed and off to the kids club so that we could make it to Palo's for our 10:30 brunch.

My first plate
The dinner at Palo was fantastic, but the brunch is another thing all together. They start you off with a mimosa and they take you on a tour of the buffet area. This is supposed to be for the appetizers, but its so much food. There are breads and fruits, cheeses and meats, fish, shrimp and crab legs, caviar and then a whole table of sweet danishes and donuts. Then after that, you order a main dish that is brought to the table, anything from eggs benedict (three different varieties) to veal saltimbocca or chicken parmesan.  Oh, and I cannot forget about the pizzas. They serve little thin crust pizzas. We ordered one that was Gorganzola and Grape. Trust me, it tastes 100x better than it sounds.  Simply phenomenal. We ate and ate and then ate some more and enjoyed every single second of it.

After we finished, we went and gathered the girls from kids club. We stopped by the future cruise sales desk to talk about doing this again. They give you a good deal when you rebook on board, and there's no risk if you cancel so its worth doing. Well the second princess gathering was just ending in the atrium as we were there, and we just happened to be standing at the top of the stairs as the Princesses were leaving. They each stopped to talk to the girls and give them hugs and allow me to take more pictures. Cinderella and Tiana both remembered our girls and were really sweet to them. The girls lit up again and we had another one of those magical moments that we'll never forget.

My wife wanted to rest a bit, so I took the girls up to eat some pizza on the pool deck. We had a great time enjoying the sunshine and I think the two of them together almost ate a whole pie! But, it didn't last long, because today was the big Friendship Rocks show. Its like a good bye show for the kids, and they all get to go up on the big state in the Walt Disney Theater and sing a song. I brought them back to the kids club and went off to find my favorite spot on deck with a book and a nice strong rum drink.

 The show was really cute. All the kids got t-shirts and they marched them up on stage where they got to sing a song with Mickey and Minnie. Our girls are pretty tall, so they were stuck in the back, but they saw us and had a great time waving and jumping up and down. At this point we've already had a pretty full day, and it was only 5:30. We had a little time until the Disney Dreams show for today, so we gathered the kids from the club and wandered until they opened the doors.

The show was another really nice story. Its about a girl who wants to fly and Peter Pan has to help her believe in all the fairy tales before she can fly. They travel through some more of the Disney stories, including Little Mermaid, Cinderella and Lion King. The special effects in this one were pretty cool too. They even made it snow.

After the show, our stateroom attendant had asked if the girls wanted to learn how to make towel animals. Duh, yea, of course!  Of all the things that they did today, this is the one they kept talking about, the one they couldn't wait to do. He came with one of the other attendants and showed us how to make all the different animals. He made an octopus, a lobster, a dog and a monkey. Then he showed the girls how to make little baby chicks out of two wash cloths and gave them to the girls to take home. They are so cute they both still keep them on their dressers to this day.

Now it was time for dinner. Tonight was semi-formal night, so we got dressed and headed to Lumiere's. The menu tonight was lobster and I love me some lobster. Everyone was having a great time. The girls at the table ate their Mickey bars and had a crazy face making contest while the adults took their pictures. The head waiter came to our table and shelled each person's lobster tail. We all joked because we'd seen very little of him the whole week, but tonight, the night before tips, he is suddenly there. We ate and ate, and had a great time.

The only characters we hadn't yet gotten autographs from were Donald and Daisy. And they just happened to be making an appearance right outside the dining room when we finished dinner, so we all lined up and got pictures with them in their lovely formal wear. They were really hamming it up,  with Donald getting mad when some guy took a picture with Daisy. The girls were cracking up as Daisy calmed Donald down.

Now, you'd think these kids would have been tired and wanted to head to bed after this busy, full day. Nope, they all wanted to go back to the kid's club and who were we to argue! So the kids headed to the club and the parents went up on deck where they were showing a football game on the big screen. We sat around enjoying some rum and some great company until midnight when they forced us to pick up our kids.

I don't think we could have packed more into this day even if we tried, and looking back now at the newsletter for that day, there are tons of things we didn't do.  Oh well, good thing we stopped by the future cruise desk.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Our Ocean Voyage - Part 5

OK, sorry its been a while, now to pick up the rest of our story

Wednesday was finally going to be our first stop at a foreign port. As with most mornings on this trip (okay, all mornings on this trip) I got up early and quietly made my way out of the cabin. Today I made my way to the fitness center and ran a couple of miles on the treadmill as the ship approached Cozumel. We had booked a day at a beach club called Nachi Cocom that I'd read good things about during my pre-trip research. The girls took their time waking up and we made our way upstairs to Topsiders for breakfast. The weather was beautiful and we were excited to get off the ship.

After breakfast we grabbed our beach gear and headed off the ship. I'd been to Cozumel about 15 years ago for a spring break, but didn't remember too much about it. To get off the ship and get a taxi, you have to go through an open air shopping mall with lots of junk for sale and plenty of people trying to grab your attention. It was all I could do to keep the family moving through there. We got a cab and headed for the 20 minute drive out to the beach. We drove by a few of the places I did remember hanging out the last time I'd been there, which was pretty cool.

One mistake we made ... we did not bring any towels with us from the ship, so we had to rent ratty towels from the beach club. Not a huge deal, but $20 wasted. The approach to the beach club is a bit run down, but once you got to the beach, it was lovely. The place limits the number of people it lets in each day, so it was rather quiet. At least until later in the day, but I'll get to that in a bit.The girls played in the waves a bit and we ordered some drinks and really just relaxed. We met a couple of other families that were on the ship with us and enjoyed the sunshine. The club has a pool which was frigid cold, but there was a hot tub (or a warm tub) which was barely habitable, so the kids were drawn there. The margaritas were flowing and flowing. The food was good, nothing to write home about, but good fresh guac and yummy tortillas with the fajitas.

At one point, one of my daughters was in the ocean with some of the other kids and she broke out screaming and crying. She'd discovered that her Mickey Band, the bracelet that all the kids have to wear to get into the kid's club on the ship, had disappeared. The poor thing thought that they weren't going to let her back on the ship without it. In between comforting her, stifling my laughs and ensuring her that she will be allowed back aboard, I tried to look around the beach and water for it, but its gone to Davy Jones' locker.

After lunch, a late arriving Carnival ship had come in and a group of about 20 people from that ship arrived. The place took on a much more "spring breaky" vibe after that. The kids stayed mostly in the pool so they weren't exposed too much to the shenanigans, but things were decidedly less relaxing. Around 3pm we had our fill of the beach and we packed up to head back to the ship. One of the waiters brought the girls cute little rainbow headbands as gifts. We also purchased the silly sombrero hat picture that they took of the family as we arrived. 

When we got back to the terminal, we ran into our fairy wicked step-sister friend and some of the other cast members at starbucks using the wifi to do important things like check their facebook. We picked up some little souvenirs at the mall and headed back aboard as the sun was setting. 

The day wasn't over yet though, because tonight was Pirate night and the Pirates In The Caribbean Party. We all had a great time at dinner, pretending to be pirates and taking lots of pictures with our hook fingers. Lots of people on board got all dressed up as pirates, and the characters were all around in their pirate gear. After filling up at dinner, we headed up to the deck for the show and a really fun party, highlighted by Mickey flying in from the stacks to rescue the ship from Capt. Hook followed by a firework display. And of course, there was our fairy step-sister pirate friend right in the middle of the show. The girls danced with the characters and once again got right up front for the best parts of the show.  A fun end to another great day in our vacation.