Days Spent On A Ship…

Well, hello.

Sorry I took a month off. After traveling to 100 schools in 25 states over 15,000 miles and 40 cities… I needed a break. But here is the problem: insomnia! Right now, I’m going on about 3 hours of sleep (taken in one-hour increments) in the last 48 hours. And it’s been this way the entire month!

After we last chatted, on election day, there was an election. And then I met up with a whole bunch of friends in New Orleans and we set sail on a little Carnival Cruise. I thought I could share a few photos to ease myself back into this blog. Whadya’ say?

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I love having fun… don’t we all? More specifically, I have to make sure others are having fun, as well. This trip centered around Joe’s friend from high school, Shelly. This was her first vacation in a couple of years and her first cruise— so it was up to Joe and I to make sure she had a blast. Above, we are in New Orleans, getting ready to stroll through The French Quarter. Go ahead— laugh at the hats. They brought out many smiles that night. By the way, notice Shelly’s mustache? It will make more appearances…

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Now, when we made it our goal for Shelly to have fun, we didn’t expect mechanical bull riding to be a part of the equation. This was all her idea.

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The illustrator of Pete the Popcorn, Kathleen Smith Waters, went on the trip with us, as well. Here she is pictured with her Mom, Susan. Susan was a riot! She told us that the last “cruise ship” she was on was a freighter. Long story…

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Gotta love the life jacket drill. It’s a part of the whole cruise experience, so just go with it.

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Here is a fun game if you find yourself bored on a sea day. Me? Never bored on a sea day– sea days are the best days! Casually walk up to a rail where you can look down at the water. Stand there for a few minutes and then shout, “Look! Dolphins!” I guarantee that you’ll draw an immediate crowd. If someone asks you where to look, just point. They’re hard to see anyway. And I’ll bet that someone pulls out a camera and takes a picture, like they actually saw something. Above, we took pictures while Brigette (another first time cruiser…) went to pull the prank. Susan accompanied, which helped. For this, Susan was awarded Best Supporting Actress for our group, because of her clapping and pointing while the crowd gathered. Good times. But you didn’t learn it from me!

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Although cruise ships offer plenty of activities, it doesn’t hurt to plan some of your own. If you’ve got a large group of friends, this is easy to do. Or else get involved with the Cruise Critic group for your sailing. Don’t let the unfortunate name fool you— you’re not there to pick apart and criticize every aspect of your trip. Cruise Critic is a valuable tool for you to “meet” folks that are going to be on your ship with you. I’ve made so many friends throughout the years using Cruise Critic. Now, for the above photo, on every cruise I sail, I organize a Wig Party. That’s right— everyone that comes has to wear a wig. You can’t imagine how much fun we have. Or maybe you can. Doesn’t Shelly look natural with that afro?

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Susan took over the drums during our Wig Party… I’m digging the hair.

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Here is the group that came together for the Fall 2012 Wig Party. I see a few that snuck in without wigs. Their names will be noted 🙂

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75% of people will forget to take pictures of the simple beauty that you can find on a cruise ship. That’s why I make it a point to wake up very early one morning and catch a sunrise. The lighting is perfect and the ship is empty– perfect time to grab some images without being disturbed. Although, I let Joe handle the duties on this trip. Shelly and him got these photos. What a great sunrise— and the fish-eye lens makes it pop.

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We were on the Carnival Elation for this cruise… it’s an older and smaller ship in Carnival’s fleet.

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The pool was tiny compared to some of the mega ships I’ve been on in recent years… but that water slide sure was fun!

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The best tip I can give anyone preparing for a cruise vacation: book your tours independently. Don’t book things through the ship— they’re overpriced, overcrowded and just not very authentic. I searched high-and-low for a party boat that our whole group could go on during our day in Cozumel, Mexico. In past years, friends and family have always used the now-closed Fiesta Party Boat. Well, after some digging, I found this pirate ship excursion. They used to only offer dinner cruises, sailing after cruise lines were gone for the day. But they recently began offering a daytime snorkel with lunch and open bar. For once in my life, I got extremely lucky. This ship had just returned from San Diego, where they travel for maintenance every five years. Upon its return, the ship is pretty empty for the first few weeks until resorts and activity companies know that they’re back. Well, our group was the very first sailing after maintenance— and we had the entire Pirate Ship to ourselves. 9 people got to share this big boat and make it our own private party! This was, by far, the best shore excursion I’ve done in Cozumel. And it was made all the better by great friends to share it with.

IMG_5658Shelly doesn’t know how to swim. She tells us this right before she jumps in the water.

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But she did fine! As you can tell by the smile on her face, her very first snorkeling adventure was a success.

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My favorite night on board a cruise ship is the Deck Party! It’s typically the same night as the special late-night buffet, served on deck. Of course there is music and dancing and shenanigans and conga lines (!). And I do have to say— everything was more fun with that damn mustache!

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Shelly with the kitchen staff…

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Desserts make for pretty pictures.

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And just like that, we were off the ship! This cruise was fairly short: a day at sea, Cozumel, a day at sea, back to port. I’ve been quite spoiled over the past several years, because if you can get the time off work to do it, you can actually travel on longer cruises for less money. But it was worth every penny to have such a large and diverse group of friends. Joe has been talking for years about going to New Orleans and eating at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. According to Food Network and The Travel Channel, this place has the best fried chicken known to man. Now, I’m not a huge fried chicken guy. I mean, if it’s there, I eat it. But I don’t crave it.

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Well, let me tell you: this little, unassuming place in the middle of a rough neighborhood offered the best lunch I’ve ever had. For right around $10, you get three pieces of their chicken and a side dish. It’s the best money you’ll spend in New Orleans. Make sure you take a cab, it’s not walking distance. And don’t go at night, according to lots of people.

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A plate of deep fried awesomeness.

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The whole group at lunch, Willie Mae’s, New Orleans.

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Our group outside of the restaurant. This was the last photo before everyone split up. Some flew out. Some drove. Joe and I wrapped up our Encouragement Across America tour after the cruise, traveling through Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. And we had a very special guest— Shelly came with us for the ride back to Michigan. We’ll post photos of that very soon.

Hope you’re all having a great time prepping for the Holiday craziness. Talk to you later.

 

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