Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miami day 2: Jungle Island
More animals!

I’d read about this place called Jungle Island. It’s in downtown Miami and sounded pretty fun. They had a VIP experience you could book where you got to hold and interact with lots of animals. I booked it a few weeks before we left. It was going to be a bit of a splurge but I was hopeful it would be a vacation highlight. I was told by the girl at the time of booking that it was really much better to do the 10am tour rather than the one at 1pm. It seemed obvious; its cooler then and the animals tend to be more active in the am than later in the day.

We arrived a bit early and went to check in. Unfortunately, although I’d received a confirmation of our tour, they had no record of us. After they piddled around for awhile they finally said they could do our tour later… there also seemed to be some question about whether or not they’d have all the amenities available. For what it was going to cost I had some concerns that we were going to end up with a great experience and we decided to just pass. I was kind of bummed. Truth be told, I’m still a bit bummed but what can you do? We decided to just do the regular park entry and we did have a very nice day.

They have a couple dozen macaws and other birds that stand out by themselves on perches and you can buy little bits of food for a quarter from dispensers to feed them. It was amazing to me how entertaining G found this to be. I was concerned at first about G feeding them but amazingly the birds moved very slowly and took the food so gently from your hand that my concerns were immediately laid to rest.

There were a few shows featuring birds and tigers. The place wasn’t too crowded midweek and pretty much everyone in the park moved from show to show. The best one was the bird show. They had a condor and another large bird, a six foot Cassowary, that we were told was the closest living relation to the velociraptor. From where we sat in the front row it was kind of intimidating looking. It didn’t help that the guy came out before the show and gave us a warning not to put our feet between the bars and a sobering explanation about what to do should the animal challenge us during the show. I’m not sure why we didn’t move… I guess it seemed safe :-) As it turned out the day’s highlight was a little photo thing we did with a baby tiger. It was so soft and sweet. They have a thing where you can play with them for like 20 mins that I was interested in but you had to be at least 6. Bummer.

Anyway, it was still a fun day. I’d actually like to go back sometime but I’d choose a weekend when the park would be fully functioning and I’d double check on my tour confirmation.
Dinner was a neat little Brazilian place called Giraffa’s. It was another of my Groupon things and very near our hotel. I guess it’s a chain in Brazil and this one in Miami is the first one in the states. I’m just going to say it…. YUM!!! Bobby and I completely agreed that it there was one of these in Rancho Cucamonga it would make a killing.

Requisite family photo
G feeding the birds. I think you she could have done this all day. As it was she spent a few hours off and on.
G's impression of a llama

I love the way G is holding her dress out on this pic... always posing!

My meager attempt at nature photography

I think these are spider monkeys which means the monkey from the day before, the one walking upright on two legs, wasn't.

So cute!

When we first walked into the park they handed us all these birds, including the one G is rocking like a baby, and said "smile!"
And of course, no florida theme park visit would be complete without a gator
"Rock a by birdie"

And again with that gator

And finally, the tiger!!! We were told that a newborn tiger can fit in the palm of your hand. This tiger is only 8 weeks old. Amazing how fast they grow. Oh my gosh, its fur and little foot pads were so soft. I just wanted to snuggle.

It turned out to be a great day. I'm still disappointed we didn't get to do the tour. Its definitely on my list of things to do next time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Miami day 1: Lion Country Safari
When I was a little girl my mom once took me to Lion Country Safari. I believe it was in Irvine. I have fond memories of that day. When I found out there was a LCS in Florida, I was in. It’s a bit of a drive, maybe an hour and half, from the Miami Beach area in a town called Loxahatchee.

After a slow start (return to hotel for forgotten item, emergency bathroom break for G) we finally arrived there just after opening at 10am. Going on a Monday in November was great. We practically had the park to ourselves. We took longer than average driving through the safari part. We had some amusing encounters with an ostrich, saw just how much poo a group of rhinos can make and enjoyed the playful monkeys. The lions were kind of a dud but, hey, what do you expect from an animal that sleeps 20 out of 24 hrs in a day??

They also have a walk thru part that includes giraffe feeding (a total bargain at $2.50 per feed), a petting zoo ($1 for food) and budgie feeding (again, $1) as well as a few small carnival type rides which are included in your entry. We had a fantastic time and almost closed the place down around 4pm. The only drawback of going on a Monday was that a few things were closed like the camel ride but the empty park was a good trade off. We found the whole thing to be a bargain!

G slept hard in the car on the drive back and we picked up dinner at a place called the Flashback Diner. G loved it because she got to have ice cream for dessert after eating hardly any dinner and watch TV at the table on the little flat screen they had mounted there. Hopefully our return to normal life will not be too painful for her.

Another of G's terrific poses
I don't recall now what this animal was but they were super close to the car, like 3 feet
G really liked being so close to the animals. As we went through each group, she began mimicing their actions and/or characteristics. For these she started showing us they had wiggly little tails.

More wildlife

Then G's impression of them eating their food...

and their twisted horns :-)

We had some close and very entertaining encounters with the ostriches. I saw a few people who opened their windows when the ostriches came around. That did not seem like a very good idea to me. I saw them peck at a few cars. I'm pretty sure they would have no problem pecking at someone's face.

G's impression of the rhinos

The actual rhinos. They were fascinating. We pulled the car over and watched them for quite awhile. We all watched with juvenile fascination as we discovered the incredible amount of poop they can make. Really gross, I know! :-)

Q? How does a rhino cross the road? Answer: however he wants!

Again, I love zebras!!!

After we did the drive through safari we checked out the walk thru part of the zoo. They had budgie feeding which is always lots of fun.

G and B and the giraffes. I fed them too!

Then we took a little boat ride. They have these monkeys (I believe they are spider monkeys but I cannot recall for sure) who live on a very small island in the middle of the pond. This one, and the guide there said he is the only one, walks upright!! I couldn't believe it!! I really need to do a bit of research on how common this is. She told me that all the workers at the park were pretty amazed too.

They even have a mini golf course. G did a couple holes.

The mini Crowell gang near the exit after a long day!

Bobby and I agreed that Lion Country Safari was a total winner. A++ day!

Tomorrow: Miami day 2, Jungle Island

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sea Day #3 and disembarkation:
Wahhhhhhh!! How did this happen?? How did the cruise go by so quickly??

I find the last full cruise day to be the saddest. By then there is no ignoring that it’s coming to an end and then, to make things even worse, I have to re-pack. Ugh. I hate repacking. So depressing. Nevertheless I was proud of us because we got started on it just after breakfast. G was at the kids club and it had to be done. It always takes longer for me to pack up than I think it’s going to. Then there are all those things I realize I haven’t done yet and try to get to. Like, I still hadn’t had one of the made to order crepes in the café, explored a few areas of the ship or taken pix of some things I wanted to remember.

After getting packed up we had a bite to eat and then another LONG nap. Ahhh, a person could really get used to this nap thing! Why is it that toddlers resist them?? Anyway, we switched to a different dining location for dinner and had a bit more success. The food was still pretty crappy but the service was better and it was all served warm. Yippee.

That night they had a pretty good show. It was a Bollywood thing with some Cirque style stuff thrown in. It was by far the most entertaining show of the cruise, nice costuming, etc. G went too but, not with us, with the kids club. She said she wanted “to go with her friends.” Ugh. I can already see what middle school is going to be like. After that G went to the pajama party for about 30 mins and that was it. Cruise over. I repeat, wahhhhh!!!!!

The following morning when we woke up we were already pulling into Port of Miami (POM). First disembarkation was supposed to be 9am, we had tix for 9:35. Not bad. We got off the ship pretty close to that time and then spent HOURS trying to get our shuttle, get our rental car and get to our hotel. What a mess POM was. There were 4 ships in port, two NCL, two Carnival and they were all disembarking one set of cruisers as well as starting to board the ships to go out that evening. The term cluste&uck comes to mind. Sorry but that’s what it was.

At one point, the port authority guys were no longer letting the passengers coming off the ships cross the street to the middle area where the shuttle pick ups take place because the sidewalks were too full of people and baggage and there was no more room to stand!!! People were jumping into the middle of the street to stop cabs that were dropping people off hoping to catch one. This is strictly not allowed by POM security. One guard started screaming at a cab driver and banging on the side of his car. One of the porters loading bags for the new cruisers on the carts was hit by one of the taxis. Thank goodness he wasn’t too injured but OMG what an unbelievable mess.

We finally got our rental car and headed to the hotel. After some confusion and about an hour or so of driving up and down the Atlantic coast, we arrived. Yeah. I booked us at the Newport Beachside which is in a north Miami Beach area called Sunny Isles. I’d been watching the Groupons hoping something would come up in the Miami/FLL area for awhile and it finally did. The deal included an ocean front room, a massage for each of us, breakfast daily and 2 nights of chocolate covered strawberries and champagne! The price seemed pretty fair for the area and it included parking which is big because parking in the area runs between $18-25 per night! It seems that all of Miami Beach is expensive.

When we arrived we found the hotel lobby and public areas are nice and the location is good but the room itself is kind of shabby. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a dump and it did suit is purpose but I don’t think I’d be recommending it to anyone. We ended up having dinner at a Mexican place across the street from the hotel that we could walk to: a complete mistake. The food was typical, although not so great, mexican and cost us $50… for chips, beans and tortillas??? Really???

Again, laugh it off. It’s better than being at work :-)

This is the Kids' Cafe area of the buffet. We ate breakfast here almost every morning of the trip. The area to the left is the kids buffet. G loved the fact that she was able to get her own food. They even had scaled down pitchers so the kids could get their own drinks. It was really cute.
Enjoying the view of the beautiful ocean from the balcony on the last day.
We followed this ship most of the last day. Isn't that sunset unbelievable?

Since I booked the hotel from a Groupon I wasn't EXACTLY sure where it was. As it turned out, it was in Sunny Isles which is the more north part of Miami. It actually turned out to be a really nice base camp and, although I do not think I would book the hotel again, I would definitey stay in that area.

The beach was really pretty but it had this seaweed all over it. I didn't care too much since we weren't planning any beach days in Miami. But as it turned out, each morning they had a tractor type machine they used to clean all the seaweed up so it was completely clean during most of the day. Each evening the tide would bring in more... that's a lot of seaweed!!!
G loved this playground area the hotel had on the beach.

Tomorrow: First full day in Miami!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sea Day #2
I generally dislike sea days. I find them boring. If G was a little older maybe they’d be better. Maybe I’d lie by the pool or even play some bingo. That doesn’t really work with a 3 yr old that well. Like the other trips we’ve been on the offerings for families are limited. G would have been happy to spend the day in the kids club. I guess a lot of people do that but I don’t like leaving her there for too long. Anywho, our sea days ended up being very relaxing. Late wake up, sitting on the balcony, breakfast, walk around the ship, little snack, long afternoon nap, more sitting on the balcony watching the waves go by, etc. It was super quiet and lazy but in a good way.

Even though NCL is “freestyle” cruising they do have a formal night. They call it “dress up or not” night. Most people choose to dress up. We decided to have our own little second formal night on the second sea day. As it turned out a lot of other people had the same idea.

We got dressed up which included a tiara for G. She really loves that little tiara and asked to wear it almost every day. G really loves to dress up and kept telling me that we needed to get “dressed for the ball”. So cute! She was also excited because they were having a pirate and princess theme at the kids club that night. Unfortunately that excitement really seemed to get hold of G that night and she was such a booger at dinner that we finally just left mid entrée. She couldn’t seem to sit still to save her life and my continual reminders to do so–along with the painfully slow service and crappy food --were not making for a pleasant meal. Even while we were doing our family pix a few minutes later (which is something she normally loves) she was so antsy it was driving me bonkers. Eeek! All she wanted to do was get to that kids club. OMG!

Truthfully, she wasn’t really that bad. I think the problem is that normally she’s incredibly well behaved, almost Stepford maturity for a 3 yr old, that when she has her normal 3 yr old moments I’m completely baffled. It’s one of those “stop acting your age” kind of things :-) Anyway, G went to kids club and Bobby and I went to the show. It was a stand-up comedy thing done by the cruise director. I’d rate it as kind of funny. After that we caught a late snack to make up for our missed dinner and picked G up around 9:00. I was crashed out by 10pm. Bobby jokes that cruising exhausts me. In a way he’s kind of right. I don’t know if it’s the movement of the ship, the weather, the general relaxed atmosphere or what but I do sleep a LOT on the ship when I have time.

I think I dozed off a bit while looking at the ocean...its mesmerizing.
No pix of our lazy day at sea but here's one of Bobby and his little princess after we picked her up from kid's club that night. She was super tired.

This is a few of our professional pix from that night. Its hard to believe that any of them came out any good. G was so squirrely while they were taking them.

Ahhh, so cute!

Our official second formal night photo.

Tomorrow: Final sea day...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Basseterre, St Kitts
Oh no!!! Our final port!! How did the days go by so quickly??

St Kitts was another new port for us. It was also the port that I’d done the least research on. I’d decided early in my planning that by our 7th port day we’d likely be sunburned and/or exhausted. This required an easy day. I did a quick search and found a tour guide named Thenford Grey who seemed to be the absolute clear choice. I booked him and gave it no additional thought thinking we’d just get on the van and go where he took us. It was also a late port day as we weren’t arriving until noon.

It was a bit of a relief really to just wake up on our own (well on G’s own anyway) and not have to rush, rush, rush. We decided to go to the dining room for breakfast instead of eat at the buffet as we’d done on all earlier days. As usual the service was painfully slow and the food barely passable. Bobby and I joked that we got most of the things we’d ordered and some of it was even edible :-) Not really that funny after 8-9 days but hey, what can you do?

I can tell you that Mr Grey’s reputation was well deserved. He is a real gentleman and his experience and knowledge were quite helpful. As soon as we –along with 6 others from our ship-- got on his little bus he explained that we would be doing the tour in a different order from usual and visit the fort (Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park) first. Apparently there was a party planned for that afternoon and the fort was closing early. We ended up being the first group up to the fort and had plenty of time to explore with no one else around. After a bit a few small groups joined us. I learned later from some of my fellow passengers that the NCL groups skipped the fort telling everyone it was closed for the day. And, many people who chose other guides actually drove up to the fort later in the day and were turned away because by that time it had closed. In this instance my small amount of planning turned out to be good enough.

The fort itself was pretty neat. As always G was fascinated by the canons. She likes to sit on them, lay on them, and pretend she’s shooting something. Then she’ll get down, do some twirly ballet type moves and then run off to find another canon. It’s really quite amusing to watch. She sometimes draws a small crowd with her antics.

Next stop was Romney Manor and Clarabelle Batik. There’s a pretty garden there, lots of awesome photo spots and truly beautiful batiks. Bobby didn’t know where we were when we arrived but he knew something was up because I told him to make sure he had his wallet and the credit card :-) The items, mostly clothing, are pricey compared to most things you can buy in the Caribbean but so pretty. I was able to limit myself to one dress and matching hair tie for G and a beach cover-up for myself.

Next stop was the beach. By then it was pretty late in the day but still very warm. There are some wild mongoose (mongeese??) there. They feed them fruit and people watch them. Someone told me that they’re illegal to keep as pets in the states. Not sure about that one. I guess earlier there’d been green monkeys too but we missed them. Oh well. G played in the waves some and we got a bite to eat while watching her turn into a shadow in the sunset. So beautiful.

We didn’t have to be back on the ship until 6:30 but we left the beach early… some kind of bug started biting at us and it was time to go. We had dinner at the buffet. Again, pretty bad. Sorry to keep harping on it but geez louise. As tired as G was she still begged to go to kids club.

All ready for our day in St Kitts. The formal name of the island is St Christopher's.
Up at the top of Brimstone Hill. Gorgeous!

I love this pic of Bobby and G ((hearts))

G walks into the fort with complete confidence

The grounds of Romney Manor are beautiful

Right behind us is the narrowest part of the island. I believe our guide said its only about 300 yds across. In the distance is St Kitts' sister island, Nevis. Atlantic Ocean on the left, Caribbean Sea on the right.

Moving on to the beach.

Georgie, Mistress of the Sea!!!!

It was going to be our last beach day so I was glad to see her run and run and run. What a beautiful site.

Tomorrow: Sea day number 3!