Our Vacation Adventure
Pre-cruise – I have been kidding Stephanie by saying we will get snowed in and not make the cruise. As we walk out the door about 4:00a.m., there is some snow falling. Stephanie had been hoping to start out driving on this long trip. Our route is Peter’s Creek to I-581 to 81 to 77 to 26 to 95 to 4. With the impending weather, I decide to drive. As we pass exit 137, I see a state trooper with flashing lights up ahead. There has been heavier snow by now with the sides of the road at turning white at this point. The cop is there to escort the traffic down 81 because of construction at Ironto. He took us from Salem to Dixie Caverns at 15 mph! The construction cones were being removed and the trooper pulled off opening both lanes. Traffic doubled up until we had another trooper sideways across both lanes with a single white light shining at the oncoming traffic. He is forcing both lanes down the exit ramp at Dixie Caverns. Has been snowing right much by now. Left lanes have snowy spots and in some areas, the entire north bound lanes are completely covered! I am glad we are heading south. We have snow, sleet and salt trucks all the way into North Carolina almost to Statesville. Then we hit traffic! We roll fairly well after Statesville until we hit the traffic at the Charlotte exits. The first four hours of driving are very strenuous. Sometime after the sun comes out, we discover that the salt truck must have thrown out gravel that struck our van’s windshield leaving a small crack. (We are driving the van because our car is in the shop getting new head gaskets.) After clearing Charlotte traffic, we make good time until we are on I-4. Then it is stop and go almost until we get off interstate near Kissimmee. We do very well until we have to turn off of highway 17. As we turn off, the GPS loses signal for some reason. We miss a turn and have to travel a couple miles before I find a good stopping point to reset the GPS. After getting it reset, we are only minutes from their house.
We are fortunate to have good friends that live about an hour from Tampa! We were able to schedule our vacation so that we spent the weekend prior to departure with them. We got to meet some of their friends on Saturday and on Sunday, visit their church. (Parkland Baptist Church is a very nice church. Saturday before the dinner with friends, we went to Circle B Bar Reserve. This is a beautiful nature preserve to protect water resources in Florida. Much wildlife can be observed here. The big story from the weekend was going to pick up pizza. We are driving the truck with the 7 year old boy sitting behind Calvin who is driving. I am in the middle of the back seat with Stephanie on my right. As we park in front of the pizza store, Susie exits the truck to get the pizza. I look out to see a man swing a belt at another man who has his belt in his hand. I am pinned in and cannot see Susie and there is a belt fight right outside the truck. Susie makes her way around the fight and Calvin begins to worry about his truck. The fight moves on to the street and Susie returns with the pizza. From her viewpoint, Calvin did nothing to save her from the belt fight because he was worrying about his truck! Truth is, it all happened so fast, there was really nothing different that could have been done. On Sunday after church and lunch, we visited a local Goodwill and a Winn Dixie. I had not been in a Winn Dixie since they left Virginia many years ago.
Monday – upon boarding, we skipped the first picture session. While we waited for the the departure time, I decide to relax on our bed. Susie and Calvin join us in our room. Calvin says, “We’re moving!” Having never been on a ship before, I quickly hop up to see. They all laugh at me like I had told a funny joke. We enjoyed watching the industrial parts of Tampa Bay and getting to see the Skyway Bridge. This is our first time leaving the mainland! We spent a little time learning the ship. For the “safety meeting”, we had to split from our friends. I guess the gold card people get a lifeboat before new people. The muster station for Stephanie and myself is at a bar. (Keep this fact in mind, it is important for a later story.) Stephanie got stuck next to a drunk lesbian during the meeting and at the lifeboat! At dinner we met our wait staff. Onesimo is from Honduras, Danny is from Peru and Natalia from Ukraine. Onesimo makes the cruise worth being on! Danny is real nice. Natalia is real sweet and has a beautiful smile. Our table mates consisted of a drunk couple & a homosexual couple. I had the hamburger for dinner, think this was the night I had Warm Melting Chocolate Cake for dessert. Our towel animal was a seal.
Tuesday – A day at sea. The captain said we would pass by Cuba about 5:00-5:30 p.m. He said we should be able to see something. I watched and watched, but I saw nothing. No picture for Pastor. This was our “formal” night. Everyone looked real nice. Stephanie and I had our pictures done with a “fake” background and on the atrium staircase. At dinner, I tried something new, at this point cannot remember what I had, but it was good! My appetizer was something called Strawberry Soup. Onesimo brings the appetizers out and sets a dish in front of me that contains what appears to be a single mashed and formed strawberry right in the center of this shallow bowl. Others begin asking me what I ordered. I tell them strawberry something. Then Onesimo says, “You let me know if that is too much for you”. As I am laughing very hard, he says “I’m just teasing you” and brings a pitcher of this frothy “strawberry goop”. It was very tasty. After dinner Onisemo showed us a dance move called the “dog”. Apparently there is an American version and a Honduran version. He had me laughing so hard, I left my camera at the table! During a show, I remember it. I went back and they had taken good care of it! The show is a comedy show with an old black lady just telling stories and interacting with the audience. VERY funny stuff. As she is ending her act, a young man from the audience goes up to help her get off the stool. (I would have done so myself had I been closer.) She then takes off her wig and glasses to reveal a much younger women and then she imitates a young Tina Turner! Tonight our towel animal is a dog.
Wednesday – we arrived at Grand Cayman! When we are going through the checkpoint to show us being off the ship, Stephanie’s card does not work. They have to use her room number to look her up manually. Susie and I have already gone on ahead. I appreciate Calvin staying behind with her to make sure she makes it out. This island does not have docks for large ships, so we have to tender in on a small boat. At this port, we do pictures of all four and each couple. The tours seem expensive so we just walk and shop. I feel the sun on my head so I buy an over priced hat that is too big. I need it big enough to help shade my head and back of my neck. Calvin also looks for a hat. First shop seems too expensive for a ball-cap. Second store is a little cheaper, but he moves on. The third store is the cheapest yet, so he bites the bullet only to find a store even cheaper later on! The music choices in the shops is very interesting. Some shops have island sounding music. One shop had Christian contemporary music. One shop had island sounding music, but the name of the song was “Who put the pepper in the Vaseline?”. Stephanie is the one to noticed the lyrics. Unfortunately, I have forgotten what dinner was for Wednesday. Tonight our towel animal is a crab.
Thursday – I am up earlier than normal. I surprise everyone by being ready before eight. Today is Cozumel, Mexico. It is nice to have a dock to port to and walk in, but here they corral you into a long store with many people selling you the goods. We are basically able to just keep moving on the way in. We shop the little stores and run across these “Mayans” who are more painted than dressed. They pose for pictures for tips. After shopping some more, we decide to eat at Fat Tues Day’s. After sitting down, we realize that there is a who lady makes silly balloon hats and takes pictures. Of course she needs tips. On the way back through the long original store a very nice lady asks if I need any cigarettes or tequila. I tell her I do not smoke or drink. With a big smile on her face and a Spanish accent, she replies, “today is a good day to start”. I walk on with laughter and find a another lady giving out samples of a drink that was coconut and tequila. Calvin and I taste it. It is good, but we decline to purchase the package and begin to leave. Before we get away, the first lady walks up and in her Spanish accent says “so, you ready to start?”. As we leave the building and head to the ship, my balloon hat blows off. I am holding my expensive hat and Stephanie chases my balloon hat all the way to the water, but it gets away. Tonight, as we enter the dining room, Onesimo tells Stephanie, “I know what you are having for dinner tonight”. When the menu arrives, she picked out black bean enchiladas. When taking the orders, Onesimo told her, “black bean enchiladas”. I wanted her to try the frog legs. She declined my suggestion. After dinner, as we head toward the show, we had to pass our muster station. I tell Calvin, “if they call us to our muster stations, THAT would be a good day to start!” Tonight’s shows were a gender competition and a “wedding game” style show. We had a newlywed couple, a couple with 27 years experience and an elderly couple married for 63 years. The newlywed couple did not stand a chance, but the other two had a real battle. I think the middle age couple actually won it by one question, but the elderly couple was the absolute funniest couple. All three are awarded champagne with a ship on a stick. Our towel animal tonight was a dinosaur.
Friday – Our last day on the ship :,( Today was mostly relaxing and reading. I have been able to stay on track with my Bible reading and get some reading done in a book called “The Islamic Antichrist“. The eating areas of the Lido deck are very crowded this morning. After some relaxation, Calvin wants to go eat lunch and then catch an ice carving demonstration. It took so long to get food, by the time we get out to the ice, it is just a small blob. After some packing and resting, we head to dinner. Calvin and Susie bring us a surprise early anniversary gift. We get a plate of chocolate covered strawberries! The chocolate is actually is milk and white chocolate made to look like tuxedos. For the starter at dinner, Calvin orders a soup that is a chilled asparagus soup. As a back up he orders a crab cake. We can safely say that Calvin will not be ordering this soup again. When taking up the appetizer dishes, Onesimo tells him that he did not say anything about the soup because he ordered the crab cake also. The meatloaf was good, but not like my mom and step-mom make. Stephanie ordered an Indian main course. She did not like the taste of one dish, said it had too much lime. She gave me bite. Thought my throat was going to blister! Wow that was hot! I had to finish off this meal with the warm melting chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. Stephanie ended with Baked Alaska. Susie also ordered the Baked Alaska, but it came without the cake part. We were able to get pictures with each of the wait staff. (As seen above) We attended a comedy show and a musical. The song “God Bless the U.S.A. received a standing ovation. Tonight, we still have our dinosaur along with a heart surrounding our chocolates. At bed time, we are cruising at less than 12 knots. Very smooth sailing. Several veteran cruisers have commented this has been their smoothest ride ever. We are just hours from port of Tampa. Thank you God and thanks to the captain for a job well done.
Saturday – Debarkation Day. The worst part of taking a cruise. Actually this part would not be so bad if the foreigners would do as they are supposed to and meet with the immigration officials on time. We found out if you are roaming the ship as you get to the dock, you better get back to your room to retrieve your belongings or your expected path may get blocked! This is especially likely if your room is on the level the of entry/exit door of the ship. They turn off elevators and close fire doors that you had not seen shut before. Once immigration is done, the process is relatively smooth considering how many people are trying to leave at one time. When they scan our cards to show us being off the ship, Stephanie’s doe not work again! I think she broke it this time so she could “ride again”. Once we get off the boat and through the customs checkpoint all we have to do is cross the street to the parking garage and up to level three. As we get off the elevator, we do not see the truck. Thankfully there was a very nice man there that pointed us to the long-term parking area. A longer hike than we initially thought, but we made it. On the way back to our friends house, we have to make a stop at his favorite store for a 52oz. soda. He has grown tired of repeated trips for 6oz. cups on the ship. That afternoon, we go to a local flea market. It is sort of like Roanoke’s Happy’s Flea Market inside shops only much larger. I have spotted signs for a gun and archery shop. After walking most of the market, I find the door to the gun shop! They are closed. They also have one whole end set up for local market farms. We pick up some strawberries and tomatoes that taste like true home-grown tomatoes. We head to bed relatively early so we can get a good early start and hopefully miss traffic, especially on I-4.
Sunday – We wake up nearly an hour late and rush out the door. The GPS loses signal again, about the same spot it did when traveling south. I have to pull over to get it reset. All I really need it to do is to get me to I-4 the fastest way possible. Once on I-4, I figure it is all about just the driving for 12 hours. I figured wrong. I-4 went well. I-95 through Florida also went well. We got most of the way through Georgia when it happened. A steel belt in a rear tire let loose at 70 mph. and I am in the left lane. This vehicle (2005 Kia van bought new) has never had a flat tire. I had only looked in the jack compartment once. I have learned that I do not like changing tires with vehicles whizzing by only a few feet from you. I earlier had made a joke that many people think the blue signs are the speed limit signs on this road. Once I finally get the spare tire lowered and the van jacked high enough to pull the spare out from under the now broken bumper, I realize that this vehicle has never used its spare. Consequently, it has never been maintained. With what is left of the factory air in the spare, I get back in the car and begin using my smart phone to find the closes place for tires. The closest store is a Wal-mart less than two miles from my location! The exit ramp is ¼ mile behind me! The re-entry ramp for that interchange is visible out my right side windows. I seriously consider the illegal procedure of using that pavement. I decide to chance the tire, not the cops. God blesses that decision. We ride on a couple miles to the next exit. We see a tire store when we get to the bottom of the ramp. Of course they are closed on the weekend. As we pull out of their parking lot, we see a tire delivery truck making a turn on a road that the Internet said had a tire place. We follow him to a warehouse distribution center. He says he doesn’t know of any places open on Sunday. I do find a store with a pay for air pump. Now, I am more comfortable to drive further for another store. We get back on interstate and look up the closest Wal-mart. They are a little slow in getting the tires installed, but the price was reasonable for decent tires. Now, except for a few stops for gas, food and bladder relaxation, we are good. Traffic got a little heavier than I had hoped, but all went well. We got home about 7:30 p.m. I told Stephanie to only bring in anything she needed and our fresh strawberries and tomatoes. We can rest now…right? Wrong, I have to go to work with Jeffrey on the other side of Roanoke. Made him drive to the store for that! I sure hope your Sunday was a little more relaxing than this.
For more pictures from this adventure, see my website!