Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

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.

Another Board to Travel

 
Chocolate Edition Board

Over the holidays we have found another board to add to the list of “Boards Traveling”.  This one should be quite easy as it is the Monopoly Chocolate Edition.  The board itself has all of the same properties as the original game but the rest of the pieces are different.  There is a spinner and the deeds/chance cards.  In this edition, the deeds and chance cards are made of chocolate. 

Board and Pieces

Monopoly Chocolate Edition is probably one of the easiest and fastest editions to play.  The rules are as follows:

1. Place the board and the spinner on the table
2. The host spins first. If the spinner lands on a colored square, the player can take a chocolate of the same (street) color from the box and put in on the board on a street square of the same color.  Then it is the next player’s turn.
3. If the spinner stops on a square with a question mark, a similar chocolate is placed in the bank.
5. If the spinner stops on the Free Parking square, the player may take ALL chocolates from the bank.
6. Once the last chocolate belonging to a color on the board street has been placed, the next player to spin this color may take ALL the chocolates of that color.
7. As soon as all streets and all stations have been distributed, the player who has won the most chocolates wins!  The winner may also eat any chocolates left in the bank.

 
Chocolae Deeds and Chance Cards

 

This game is for 2 – 4 players.  That could be a lot of chocolate for 1 person if they are playing a 2 person game as there are 32 pieces.  I think we will wait for a couple of months to travel this board as there are plenty of holiday treats still around. 

There have been other chocolate versions created such as Chocolate – Opoly which is dedicated to chocolate aficionados. Then there was the Neiman Marcus Chocolate Monopoly Edition which was made entirely of chocolate including the board, deeds, and hotels.  This edition was sold in 1978 for $600.00 according to Extremechocolate.com. Apparently there were only 25 of the Neiman Marcus editions made.  I would have to have a fairly large gathering in order to eat all of that chocolate.  Finishing a complete game must have been near impossible due to pieces missing (eaten). What a great conversation piece though.

Chocolate Edition Box

This edition of Monopoly may not be quite as chocolaty as the Neiman Marcusedition; it doesn’t come with that kind of price tag either.  I believed that there was a Monopoly edition for everyone before with all that have been made over the past 75 years.  Now I’m convinced with the making of chocolate versions!

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. 

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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!

The Keys

Dividing the Waters of the Florida Keys

After visiting the Everglades National Park, we are going to begin our journey to the southernmost point in the continental United States – Key West. Driving the U.S. 1 through the Florida Keys is something that I have wanted to experience for a long time. During our excursion to Southern Florida we have decided to finally do just that – Drive the almost 160 miles from Miami to Key West.  This highway has been highlighted in such movies as True Lies and Licence to Kill which began my interest in wanting to drive this long span of bridges that connect many of the Florida Keys. We will be staying in Key West for one night before returning to the mainland for our trip back home.   

A tropical sunset

The plan currently is to leave right from the Everglades about mid-afternoon and drive the 4 hours straight for Key West where we will enjoy the rest of the night.  One of our games right now is to figure out where we’ll be for the sunset on this drive.  The next day we plan to take in some of the sights and attractions as we meander back towards Miami.  Since time will be limited we will have to stick to some shorter excursions.  Some of the places in Key West that may be interesting see are the southernmost point marker, beaches, the Butterfly Conservatory, the aquarium, and the Hemingway House.  I’m sure there is much more than this but these are some attractions the caught my attention.  

Feeding Frenzy

As we drive back through the Florida Keys some of the other places that might be of interest in our short time are Bahia Honda State Park, feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada or visiting Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.  Continuing on to Key Largo could bring a stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where there is snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking to enjoy.  I have read many positive reviews of this state park which moves it a little higher on our list of places to see while driving the Florida Keys.  Of course snorkeling is abundant in any of these areas and there is always the option of sitting back and taking in our surroundings.   

While researching the drive on U.S. 1 through the keys, I discovered that we could easily spend our entire 10 days in Southern Florida playing in the keys so to only take a day is a great teaser for future endeavors to this area.  I am eager to experience driving on a highway that has the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  It’s hard for me to imagine driving on such a long span of bridges connecting so many islands together.

Adding Biscayn N.P.

 
Boca Chita Key with Miami in the distance

While I’m sure we could spend many days exploring the Everglades National Park, we have chosen to visit nearby Biscayne National Park as part of our excursion to Southern Florida.  This destination is not on our National Parks edition of Monopoly but is a place we highly look forward to experiencing.  It is common for us to add non-board destinations to our trips which help both in tiring us out and packing more experiences into each trip. We have planned for one full day at Biscayne National Park so I hope the weather is nice.  This is not enough time to do all that we would like to do I’m sure but does give us a taste of this park which is the intention of our visits to all of the National Parks on our board.  

 

Most of Biscayne N.P. is underwater (95%) which is one of the features that really draws us to it.  Snorkeling is a favorite activity whenever we are in tropical waters with reefs.  Kristy is anxious to travel to Southern Florida as this will be her first attempt at snorkeling.  This will be Lysa’s second time snorkeling.  Her first experience was in Cozumel, Mexico three years ago. I am excited to take them and let them experience life on a reef.  They have both looked over pictures of reefs and fish and we have a small saltwater aquarium with corals and fish but to be able to see everything going on at a natural reef is so much more mesmerizing.  Fortunately by watching how different animals work together in our aquarium, Kristy and Lysa will have the opportunity to notice many things that can be missed when snorkeling such as how the cleanup crew (snails, crabs, shrimp, and sea stars) scavenge around the reef and interact with the fish.  Watching all of this will make the day go by exceptionally fast!  

Our home reef away from the reef

 

While snorkeling appears to be a great way to explore Biscayne National Park, there are other activities that highlight the diversity of this park.  There are hiking trails, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, boating, fishing, and a lot of history according to the National Park Service website.  The beginning of the Florida Keys is considered by many to be in Biscayne N.P. – Elliot Key.  Since we won’t have a boat to freely move about the reefs and keys, we need to plan ahead to use the park vendor for boating excursions in order to be able to experience this area and see what we can.  I would like to see the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key and Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay along with snorkeling.  Kristy and Lysa enjoy becoming Junior Rangers at all of the national parks that we visit so this will be a priority at Biscayne National Park as well.  

Motivation and Anticipation!

 

Camping is allowed on Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key which would be a great way for us to really enjoy and explore this wondrous area.  Unfortunately, we are limited by our arrival to Miami late the day before and have commitments early the day after.  I would love to watch the sun set and rise again from a key while star gazing and surveying the nighttime Miami skyline.  These are some of the things we may have to explore on another trip after completing our National Parks Monopoly Board.  

As I write this I am looking forward to this trip more and more.  Maybe it is time to stop writing about this national park and focus on the upcoming holidays.

Our Next Destination

The Great Egret Among Cypress Trees

Our next National Parks edition monopoly board property has been chosen and planned – Everglades National Park!     

We are planning on spending only two days there which is going to be enough time to start to experience all that this park has to offer.  Our intentions on these trips are only to get an introduction to these parks and experience many different areas of the United States.  Once Lysa and Kristy are older, they can return to whichever locations they may want to explore further and do the activities that interest them.  For now, our family will explore some parts of the Everglades to get a general idea of the intricacies of that park.    

Some interesting information about Everglades National Park:    

  • It is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states with 1.5 million acres
  • Created in 1947 when President Harry S. Truman dedicated the original 460,000 acres
  • This is a sub-tropical environment with a distinct dry season (December – April) and wet season (May – November)
  • Wildlife include the American Alligator, American crocodile, indigo snake, Florida panther, West Indian manatee, many different birds depending on the season, freshwater and saltwater fish, along with many different amphibians
  • Known as the “river of grass” and has the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America

    Sawgrass

 Exploring the everglades    

There are a number of different ways in which to explore this vast area.  Driving, hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, or boating all are options that can give different experiences and perspectives to the diversity of life in Everglades National Park.  For the diehard adventurist there is the option to camp overnight.  We have chosen to enjoy the comforts of environmental controls typically associated with a hotel.  Hiking, driving, canoeing, and boating are the modes of transportation that we are researching currently.     

Once arriving at Everglades National Park we will find out what ranger programs are available and begin to plan our two days according to which programs are of interest to us.  I always enjoy these ranger programs and gain some great information.  Being able to identify some of the flora and fauna or knowing some of the planning and history can really increase the enjoyment while we are out exploring the park on our own.     

There appears to be other tours available such as tram trips, boat tours, bird watching trips, canoe trips, and fishing trips.  These all would give different aspects to the wilderness of the everglades but due to our limited time we can only participate in a few activities.  How do we determine which actives will provide the best experiences for us?  We have to prioritize what we want to do and see the most.

Florida Bay

 

Once we get a list of the ranger programs we can determine which of those we want to attend and we know that Lysa and Kristy want to get their Junior Ranger badges.  Visiting the Everglades without riding on an airboat doesn’t seem like a complete visit so that is something we want to schedule in.  We will take some time to drive through as much of the park as we can to see how the scenery changes as Everglades change from the saltwater of the ocean to the freshwater rivers and streams that flow through the park.  While driving around we will likely stop in a number of locations to enjoy some hiking at a number of different trails.  If there is time, canoeing would be a great addition to the experience for a couple of reasons.  First, Lysa and Kristy have never really been in a canoe before. Secondly, much of Everglades National Park is based around water so seeing the park from this perspective can enhance our adventure.    

We have much more planned with our trip to southern Florida which I will write about in a later post.  For now, we are excited and looking forward to exploring Everglades National Park and including this location on our monopoly board!