Category Archives: Caribbean

Vacation Style

Going to the Ocean on Vacation

What’s your vacation style? No, not vacation in style. How do you like to spend your time away on vacation. Just a quick internet search brought some entertaining results which centered around luggage styles and travel fashion. I’ve gone through three different styles as I’ve gotten older and my choice of vacations is an indication of that. They are: Beach Bum, Whatever Happens, and Adventurer.

The first vacations I had decisions in was crossed between ‘beach bum’ and ‘whatever happens’. Spring Break in Daytona Beach is what I consider my first independent vacation where I primarily just wanted to lounge on the beach with the biggest decision to be made for the day was what to eat. A second vacation on a cruise ship brought more of the same as I never wanted to leave the ship even while at port. Apparently there is enough adventure when you’re a college student between classes, homework, working, and activities that vacation was all about R & R. Of course, spring break usually came after difficult exams and large projects requiring a mental vacation.

Beach Bum

That first vacation along with several after did include a bit of ‘whatever happens’ as Daytona Beach was the sight of Mtv’s Spring Break broadcasts and I took part in those from time to time along with a quick trip for my first time to Disney World. Planning is not a priority for these types of vacations but you still decide to take advantage of an opportunity or two when they happen to go on an adventure. Maybe a snorkeling trip or a ride in a submarine for something to talk about later.

Currently I reside in the adventure vacation style which can take quite a bit of planning. As daily life now involves a lot of routine, vacations need to be more fulfilling to me. The need to just catch some sun has passed and actually feels like wasted time away from work. It usually takes 3 – 4 days away to begin to mentally get a break from the grind of everyday events so just using my vacation time a day at a time does not accomplish its purpose of refreshing me. My goal often times is to return from a trip needing to catch up on sleep but with many great memories packed into a short time.


There are definitely downsides to the ‘adventurer’ vacation style. Usually these trips can be more expensive because everything costs money and they require more time planning and making reservations. Along with the planning can often come additional stress because of trying to figure out if you’ve taken care of everything in preparation and needing to be at a certain place by a certain time once on vacation.

These vacation styles kind of came to me recently because of our next trip coming this spring break which happens to be a Caribbean Cruise. Cruising has lost its appeal to me because I want to spend the time in port doing things instead of be on a ship most of the time with all that food. So why am I going on a cruise you ask? It’s has become part of a family trip to celebrate my mother and father in-laws 50th anniversary and they would like that trip to be on a cruise ship. Our initial plans where to visit Padre Island and Hot Springs Arkansas for spring break which falls into the ‘Adventurer’ category. That will happen another time as a 50th wedding anniversary is an incredible milestone to me. I can only try to imagine it.

Going on a Cruise Ship

Back to my vacation style realization. When booking this next trip the portion I really was having a difficult time with is spending all that time on the ship. That has become kind of boring to me and I’m not all that attached to food so there is not as big of an appeal there either. That enlightenment helped me understand that I’m no longer a ‘beach bum’ and have moved further from the ‘whatever happens’ style as well. For this trip being in the ‘whatever happens’ category would be most beneficial but I’m not able to let myself and my family be that type of traveler because I know I’m missing an opportunity to create life long memories with my wife and children and the chances to do that are diminishing as the children get older.

It’s interesting to me to recognize changes in how I spend my vacation time from when I first started taking vacations to now. I’m sure that will continue to change as things in life continue to evolve. I know several people who like to be in the ‘beach bum’ or ‘whatever happens’ categories and that is a great place to be, just not for me at this point in my life. Is there a benefit to classifying vacation styles? Probably not. Just something I did without realizing it and decided to put out there. Enjoy you’re vacation any way you can!

Creating Family Memories

Underwater Photos at Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park

Conch in Seagrass

This was the first time I’ve seen a live conch scooting across the bottom. The intense red foot was surprising and amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good photograph of that.

A Beautiful Fish With Many Patterns

The color and variety of fish in the ocean is incredible. I love all the patterns on this fish. How do these patterns and colors benefit this species of fish? In the right location it becomes easier to figure out but no so much in this picture.

Squid in the Seagrass

They are a little hard to see but there are several squid watching you. There are a couple of yellow stripes in the center of this photo. That is a squid. There are at least two more, one on each side of the most colorful one. Can you find them? I was surprised by these. At first I saw one swimming in front of me and all of a sudden I noticed a school of them. Once I stopped close enough and they stopped I realized what they were as they would move what appeared to be backwards.

A Piece of the Moat Wall

A piece of the moat wall of Fort Jefferson which has fallen into the water. It is surrounded by fish and coral.

Yellow Coral

A specimen piece of coral. I could have spent a lot of time observing and photographing these corals. Unfortunately time was short.

Another Seafan

Another larger seafan.

A lot of Activity Around This Rock

There is a lot going on around this rock. There are a number of smaller fish searching for food and/or shelter among some smaller corals and algae.

A Brain Coral

Brain coral with feather dusters emerged.

Red Seastar (starfish)

A red sea star or starfish sifting through the sand.


A large purple seafan moving with the ocean currents. Surrounded by a number of other corals together creating a beautiful underwater landscape.

My Favorite Place Was Nassau

Shawn and Goombay

It was an awesome trip! We did so much when we were gone and in so little time. We had a chance to swim each day which was a lot of fun! I personally love to swim. The weather was nice too. It was sunny and warm with a slight breeze so we weren’t too hot in the sun! Although when I got back everyone was telling me I was really tan! Of all of the islands Nassau, Bahamas was my favorite because we went swimming with the dolphins on Blue Lagoon Island through Dolphin Encounters.

Petting the Dolphins

We took a taxi to the Dolphin Encounters check-in and got our wrist bands/ tickets. From there we took a boat ride to Blue Lagoon Island where the dolphins are. The staff taught us a little about dolphin anatomy and dangers to wild dolphins. They don’t like to be scratched or patted, just rubbed on their back and stomach. Don’t go past the bellybutton though! One of the trainers talked about their bones in their pectoral fins which resemble a human hand. We also learned about how to tell if a dolphin is a boy or a girl. A boy dolphin has two slits and a girl has four slits below their bellybutton. Then, after all the information, we put on wet suits because the water was really cold! We also put on life jackets so we could float. It was also easier to swim without having to stay at the surface.

A Kiss from Goombay

We climbed down a ladder to a platform and stuck our feet in the water. The trainers introduced the dolphins we swam with, Shawn and Goombay. We rubbed their bellies and backs. They have hard skin but it’s so smooth! Then the trainers said “get in the water” which was freezing cold at first! We got used to it though and had fun. The trainers called the first part a Date with a Dolphin because first we would hug one of the dolphins. Then we kissed the same one and they kiss us on the cheek. Then Shawn and Goombay would get a fish which they would give to us. We would give it back if we didn’t want it and the dolphins would eat it. Then we danced with our dolphin. We held the fins and the dolphin starts dancing with us! Then it’s one last hug goodbye. I got to go on my date with Goombay.

Danching With Goombay

After everybody went on a date with either Shawn or Goombay we experienced the dolphin push. The trainers told one person at a time to swim to the starting point and lay flat on the surface with your feet bent down so the dolphins had a place to push us, and arms stretched out. Then a dolphin or two came and pushed us. You have to lift your arms for it to work. The dolphins would then push us through the water to the other side of the lagoon! It’s like water skiing without a boat because you start to lift up because of the speed! Our trainers told us the dolphins were pushing us 25 – 30 miles an hour. When we reached the end of the lagoon, the dolphins stopped pushing us and it’s like falling off a cliff because we stopped immediately and dropped back into the water. It goes so fast! It’s a one way trip though so we had to swim all the way back! I only had one dolphin which is harder because you have to balance on one leg instead of two! Once everyone went we got out of the water and took off the wetsuits and life jackets.

Waterskiing With a Dolphin
Touching a Starfish

Then we went and looked around Blue Lagoon Island before we had to get on a boat to go back where we checked in. While looking around we saw an iguana, a cat, and shells and stuff in a touch table. Dolphin Encounters has a sea lion encounter too so we went to see the sea lions which was cool! I really liked that place, but then we had to go. So we took a boat back to Nassau and got back on the cruise ship. I miss Dolphin Encounters a lot; it’s something I’ll never forget! You can get more information about them at I would go again! it’s a really cool experience! As they say “It’s a once in a life time experience!”

A Sealion Posing For Us

Cruisen the Caribbean

Mesmerized by the Motion of the Water

Time for the R and R portion of this trip/vacation.  The beds are made and the food is prepared and all within a short distance from wherever you are on the ship. The first day was a full day at sea watching the clouds drift by and the waves go up and down.  Unfortunately the waves went up and down a little more than desired rocking the ship back and forth due to the higher winds.  That just meant holding on to whatever you are carrying very tightly anytime you’re outside.  It’s amazing just how quickly we can adapt to a different environment.  We landed in Miami and left all the thoughts of snow and ice at home and immediately transitioned into the green grass and open water where the birds were singing and the fish frolicking around boats and rocks in search of their daily fill.

A Great Tropical View

We left the Port of Miami to hundreds of police cars, motorcycles, and boats with their lights flashing as they were honoring two of their fallen officers.  It was truly humbling to see the respect and honor given to those killed in the line of duty.  As part of that respect, our ship left dock without the familiar sound of the horn blown three times signaling our departure.  Then it was off to the Caribbean waters for a day of sun and sea.  While Lysa and Kristy enjoyed the pool, the rest of us took advantage of the time for some conversation and to soak in our surroundings.

Playing with the Stingrays

Our first stop was Grand Turk of the Turks and Caicos Islands.  We only had a small number of hours at this location so quickly got off the ship as soon as we arrived to take in what we could.  There was a little time in a few nearby stores, learning about the Mercury 7 splashdown, burying our feet in the incredibly soft sand, snorkeling above a local reef, and kissing a stingray. All of this in the short 7 ½ hours we had on shore at Grand Turk.  On to Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. This is a private island only for guests of the cruise ship.  We spent some time snorkeling off the beach and then exploring this small island full of beautiful landscapes. Our third and final destination was the capital city of the Bahamas – Nassau. This was our longest stop of the cruise but also seemed to move the fastest.  After conquering the taxi and hair braiding gauntlet, we had the opportunity to quickly explore a few stores near the pier. Then it was off to swim with the dolphins for the rest of our time in Nassau. It was an amazing experience to spend some time this close to these very friendly (and well trained) animals.

Up Close with the Dolphins

Leaving Nassau we were quickly confronted with reality that this was our last night aboard the ship and it was time to pack for disembarkation.  While enjoying our evening meal we spent much of the time trying to figure out how to bring our server and room steward home with us.  The thought of not having them around was more than we could tolerate. Well, there was no viable solution so we decided to concentrate on our next destination – The Everglades.

Half Moon Cay

The Caribbean

Which One is Ours?

As we continue planning our Caribbean cruise portion, it has been duly noted that none of these locations are on the board.  We have declared it alright to take some side trips and add destinations as we are able to and desire to. When plans were being made on how to travel our National Parks Monopoly board we saw the Florida Everglades and planned on adding a cruise to this property.  What was unexpected was adding Biscayne National Park and a drive through the keys.  In order to accomplish all of these places and at least get an introduction to them we had to compromise and shorten the length of the cruise.  Our Eastern Caribbean cruise was chosen because there are 3 stops on a 5 day cruise, 2 of which we have never been to before.

Our first stop is to Grand Turk after a fun day at sea.  While researching some of the attractions of this location, I was surprised to learn that this is where John Glenn was taken after he splashed down in the Atlantic.  He also trained at the US Air Force Base and space tracking station located on Grand Turk.  We are expected to be in port a little over 7 hours.  Looking through some of the excursions offered by the cruise line, this should be enough time to enjoy one excursion and still provide time to do some exploration and shopping.  There are many references to the coral reefs around this island and the chance at seeing humpback whales as they migrate for the winter.

Getting Immersed In Aquatic Life

Next on the itinerary is Half Moon Cay (Little San Salvador Island) in the Bahamas. The revues of this stop have all raved about how nice the beach is with beautiful sand, crystal clear blue Caribbean water, and very friendly people.  Half Moon Cay is all about the sand and the water.  There really is nothing else on the island to see.  Perfect!!  Fishing, snorkeling, diving, and playing in the sand sounds like a great way to spend a vacation day.  Snorkeling and an encounter with stingrays top our list of excursions at this island.  Becoming immersed in the coral and colorful fish allow your mind to forget all of the facets of daily life and concentrate on the creatures beneath.  Little San Salvador Island has a protected area of stingrays where you can interact with them and feed them.  Watch out for the Stingray hickey!  Afterwards, taking a few minutes to bury your feet in the white, soft sand would be great way to end the day at Half Moon Cay.

Our final stop in the Caribbean is Nassau, Bahamas.  Watch out as you disembark from the ship or the hair braiders will get you. Fortunately there is much for them to work with on my head. There are many different experiences to be had at this location.  Those who enjoy gambling have a plethora of casinos in which to spend their day.  There are a number of pirate themed adventures that can be entertaining and educational as you discover the history of Nassau. For me, I prefer to be outside exploring nature and enjoying the warmth of the sun.  There are snorkeling, diving, fishing, and boating trips available for a day full of sun.  For us, one of the new experiences we would like to explore is swimming with the dolphins. I’ve tried to do this before but unfortunately the trip was canceled or altered due to weather.  Hopefully this time will be different.

Riding Off In the Sunset

After a short time back on the ship we will be back in Miami going through customs and re-entering the United States for the last part of our trip.  Fortunately we will still have a few days in Miami so that we don’t have to go from the warm Caribbean to the cold upper mid-west.  After getting off the ship, we get to take another property off of our National Parks Monopoly board – the Everglades and then off to the Keys.

Between the Parks

Between the Parked Ships

In between our visit to Biscayne National Park and the Everglades National Park we are going to explore parts of the Caribbean on a cruise. This 5 day cruise will take us to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, and Nassau. We have visited Nassau once before 15 years ago where we enjoyed a submarine excursion through some very beautiful waters being amazed at the colors of the fish and the ship wreck while looking into the Abyss as the ocean floor dropped out of site.  Claustrophobia entered for a brief time as the submarine began sinking until the sites of the ocean floor came into view. We enjoy cruises as they allow us to experience a number of different places in a short period of time.

This wasn’t always the case.  During our first few cruises we primarily wanted to stay on the ship and just relax.  We would get off the ship for a little while and shop in the local stores and then return never really exploring the destination just enjoying the ocean breeze.  One of the reasons for this was the cost of excursions at a time when we didn’t have the disposable income for traveling.  Another reason was a lack of desire to explore along with wanting to lounge around and relax.  As I have gotten older and in more of a routine of daily life, there is a greater desire to experience new things and explore areas I have not been to before.  Excursions make a tremendous difference in the number of memories there are while on a cruise. 

Sunset Over the Ocean

These excursions don’t always have to be booked through the cruise line itself, especially with the internet access today.  There are many destinations that have tourist information online where you can look for tours other than what the cruise line is offering. We are looking into a dolphin swim in Nassau that is not offered by the cruise line we are taking. Sometimes going off on an unplanned excursion can make just as many memories or more because it was spontaneous.  One of the times we did this was in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  We negotiated a price with a taxi to take us to some of the highlights of Montego Bay and began our sightseeing.  We were able to see the area botanical gardens and climb Dunn’s River Falls for a lot less than we would have paid from a cruise ship and we had more freedom to see what we wanted for the length of time we wanted. 

Rushing Back to the Ship!

One concern of creating your own excursions is that they are not cruise sanctioned so you have to be very aware of the time because the cruise ship likely will not wait for you if you are unable to get back to the ship on time.  I have tested this return time on more than one occasion and it is not a pleasant experience.  Fortunately I have made it back with enough time to get back on the ship.  On at least one occasion I have joined security as they were getting back on the ship and closing the doors.  After all was done, I made the most of this brief stop and have some great memories and a lot of laughs now.  Some of my family members won’t go with me on my custom made excursions because I make them to nervous about getting back to the ship on time.  This reminds me, I probably should keep my passport with me this trip so that if I do end up missing the boat, I can still get home!