My name is Jennifer McLaughlin and this is my travel blog. I love to travel. Who doesn’t?
I’ll be talking about all my wanderings, plus give you the low-down on what it’s like to live in California.
So sit tight and enjoy my experiences as I take you into a world of adventure! When you travel with me always expect the unexpected!
What had my girls in such an uproar this morning? I had already gotten 3 calls, two texts and so many Facebook updates on my phone I was about to huck it out the window. Day drinking, laying out and dancing all night sounded great but they also sounded like my typical Sunday funday. A cruise. That’s what this is all about? I always thought cruising would be something akin to 7 days in Laughlin on sea legs. I had just about given up on the idea when I read the last post and was turned completely around. Girls trip. Now you have my attention. I love vacationing with my other half (Hi, babe. Now, earmuffs) but there's something rejuvenating about traveling with the girls. The necessity to get pampered, sip martinis, go shopping, sip martinis, lay out and sip martinis (did I say that already) without a drop of testosterone in sight. It strengthens our friendship bonds, darkens are tans and most importantly strips away the stress from 10 hour days and 6 day weeks. Last year, my friends and I hopped on a plane and headed to Costa Rica splurging on volcanic ash facials while enjoying the vast amounts of adventurous activities of the rain forest. It was agreed. I was in. We booked a Western Caribbean cruise -- a seven-night voyage on-board Carnival Valor with stops that included Belize City, Grand Cayman, Cozumel & Roatan. So boys, as much as we love having you pull out our chairs, doing cannonballs into the pool and shotgunning beers, we needed girl time. Now I was excited and quicker than a 14 year old with 4 thumbs I had joined the texting frenzy. “OMG, we are going to have so much fun. <3 u. C U soon.”
Flying into Miami made the perfect excuse to add a girl’s night out in South Beach. We hit the ground running. Dinner, drinks and maybe a Kardashian sighting if we were lucky (aren’t there like a dozen of them?) The first stop was Barton G. They had me at hello. Any restaurant that serves cotton candy for dessert sounds like a must to me. Being a girl’s trip we are free to order all of the stuff you boys roll your eyes at. For example, salad (hold the cheese, croutons, onions, bacon and bring the dressing on the side), latte’s (with more complicated instructions than a flight manual) and drinks with dry ice and silly names. We started with a round from their Below Zero Nitro Bar; I opted for the Sabrinatini a carefully crafted martini with Belvedere vodka, watermelon puckers, a nitro-champagne swivel stick and a chocolate chimp for garnish and copious amounts of dry ice. Perfect.
It is near impossible to eat right on vacation and their menu was making it much tougher. We chose the Lobster Pop-Tarts; they came served in a vintage toaster oven and were stuffed with lobster and gruyère cheese in a flaky crust accompanied by a trio of sauces: hollandaise, brandy tarragon and lemon caper. Then it just got plain crazy(er). A 2 foot tall statue of fish tackle was attached to my plate. You heard me right. Then dessert came. A Chocolate “G”-Cuzzi, melted dark chocolate served in a doll sized bathtub equipped with a bubble making machine, talk about creative. Dorothy, we are not in Laughlin anymore. We finished our night at the iconic Fountainbleu with a little dancing but how interesting does that sound compared with dry ice, lobster pop tarts and desserts in bathtubs that actually bubble?
Having never been on a 7 day cruise before, I had some concerns. The main concern for me was my adult obtained attention deficit disorder. Will I get restless and want to throw myself overboard? What could we possibly do (aside from drinking and sunbathing) to take our minds off the obvious deficit of things to occupy us? What else did I really need?
Day 1: Explore
Getting on board the 110,000-ton 3,260-passenger Carnival Valor was quick and painless. I noticed right away the decor centered on a “hero” theme that ties together everything from the themed “Bronx” sports bar to the “One Small Step Disco” (a tribute to Neil Armstrong’s “supposed” walk on the moon). After taking a tour I was sure my ADD would stay in check. It was like the Twelve days of Christmas. There was always something for this ship to give to you.
22 bars and lounges, 300 slot machines, two dozen gaming tables, four swimming pools, 8 hot tubs, 214 foot long water slide, a Vegas styled theater called Ivanhoe...5 golden rings.
The 3 story Ivanhoe theater was very cool. It hosts Vegas-style song and dance performances accompanied by live orchestras. We were lucky enough to get a backstage tour from Backstage Manager Anna Thompkins, she pointed out that the multimillion dollar stage was equipped with over 200 lights for each show.
Set on the top deck was the aptly named Serenity area. This is just what we needed—adult only pure relaxation. The ideal location to getaway from the many kids that were on this cruise. Don’t get me wrong I am fine if you want to bring your kids on a cruise but can’t you keep them in the cabin? Just kidding. After riding the elevator to every floor after one pushed all the buttons and laughed at my expense I was ready to lock a few of them away myself. Just Kidding. Don’t you love how you can say “Just Kidding” after anything and it makes it OK?
About the food. Let’s just say that everything you have ever heard about cruise dining is true. It is more of a feeding. There was never a time when you could complain that you were hungry. Do not even joke about dieting onboard. You are here to indulge. Everything that happens on the cruise stays on the cruise (except your noticeably heavier thighs). Never realized it but size and sighs appropriately rhyme with thighs.
Our mornings started at the ocean view gym where we tried out the latest fitness equipment, working off a few calories before hitting the breakfast buffet. It felt good to know that out of the eggs, sausage, pancakes, syrup and butter I had just wolfed down I had managed to at least burn off the butter pre-breakfast on the Pre-cor.
Day 2: Grand Cayman
Day two made for our first stop to Grand Cayman. Our goal was to tackle a to do list. Drink, swim and Tan. DST. Our must do attractions were swimming with the stingrays, sunbathing on 7 mile beach and rum tasting at the Tortuga Rum Factory. Stingray City has been claimed the most famous excursion so we headed there first. The massive amount of stingrays is a bit intimidating but I am a huge animal lover so I was in. In Grand Cayman we were reminded it was our job to relax so we headed to 7 mile beach to set up shop and claimed a desolate portion of the white sandy beach. After a few hours basking in the sun and taking the occasional dip in the turquoise waters to cool off it was time for some rum. The exit strategy was quick, I hadn’t seen the girls move that fast all day. The Tortuga Rum Factory was just as expected and one without self control could fall off the deep-end taste testing all the rum and rum cakes one could handle. Trust me when I say we had our fair share.
Day 3: Roatan
Located about 30 miles off the coast of Honduras, Roatan offers some of the best scuba-diving in the world and a laid-back island atmosphere. Scuba diving wasn’t for all of us but one thing we could all agree on was that we wanted to play with monkeys and Gumbalimba Park is just the place to do it. This park included multiple opportunities to visit with adult and baby “jump-on-your- head-out-of nowhere” monkeys. They will use you as their personal playground climbing up and down and hanging off your arms like you were a tree trunk. I thought we left the boys at home? Just kidding.
Now we needed some DST. After a twenty minute cab ride we pulled into the Mayan Princess Resort, much more our style. The resort is located on the top of West Bay Beach and offered a lot of options for us to take advantage of including para-sailing, snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding. Sounds like boy-stuff. After a signature cocktail compliments of the staff we ventured out to explore the second largest barrier reef in the world, one word…amazing.
Day 4: DST.
Day 5: Belize City
With only a limited amount of time to visit Central America’s second smallest country where diving is the claim to fame we booked a Cave Tubing tour. The thought of meandering through underground cave channels seemed an exciting feat. With nothing but an inner tube and a miner-style headlamp we were off. This was about 4 hours of low key fun sitting back in our tubes and floating along a river, although not as exciting as we hoped but it was unique. I would have to say our tour guides made the excursion; joking with us, dancing down the aisles of our tour bus to Michael Jackson and filling our cups with Coconut Rum and Pineapple juice it couldn’t get any better.
Day 6: Cozumel: Bad shopping. Not cute. Back to the ship for DST.
Day 7: Recovering from the relaxation.
Our last day was spent at sea sailing back to the port of Miami. Of course for us that meant spa and tanning day on the top deck of our ship. We booked a deep conditioning treatment to help with the sun damage. I was assigned to Steven, a hilarious over the top Brit. Lucky for him we had the same personality and shared quite a few laughs within the 2 hour treatment. He was a good sport to say the least. After the treatment it was off to say goodbye to everyone at the final dinner.
Feeling a little melancholy leaving the ship and ready to head home we said our round of goodbyes and departed our separate ways. As I headed back to Orange County I remembered it could be worse I could be heading back to cold weather but instead I am lucky to “rough it” in 70 degree weather year round. Until the next trip. Here’s a reminder to get your girls together and DST. By the way if you are not a big swimmer, re-read the story substituting shopping for swimming and have just as much fun.