Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January Cruises and Travels

In January we made the most out of being in Florida by doing 4 short (4 & 5 day) back to back cruises out of Tampa on the Brilliance of the Seas.  We like that ship, but now that we have done those cruises, have determined that we do not like short cruises.  One of the drawbacks was that we went to the same ports several times.  The advantage was that we experienced mostly nice weather, and, of course, were pampered on the ship.  Needless to say, we went in and out of Tampa 4 times.  Here is a picture of the downtown as we left: 

   There is a very nice Riverwalk down there which we enjoyed several times while in port. 
     The crew on the ship was extremely friendly and efficient, and we got to know some of them quite well.  Every day when we went to the Concierge Lounge at 5PM, we were warmly welcomed and well served by Mickey, the bar server: 

  We also met quite a few people there, a few of whom we had cruised with before.  Most of the people doing the short cruises are Floridians, and many of them are younger than the people we usually cruise with and are still working.  On the longer cruises, we usually met retired people, because they have more time to cruise.  On one of the cruises we met two women who have been in a committed relationship for a long while and who raise foster children, even though they have adult children of their own.  They recently adopted a 2 year old girl who was their foster child since she was a baby.  This is a picture of us with them;  from the left:  Mary, Khloey, Arlene, Lisa, & Elaine 

  Another couple we enjoyed spending time with was Phyllis and Larry Tandy, whom we first met in Sept. on the Oasis transatlantic to Barcelona:   

  All of these friends live in Florida.  Several of the new friends we made, who live in Florida, have invited us to stay with them the next time we return.
     On Jan. 12, the friends who hosted us for Christmas in Punta Gorda, George and Elaine Lewter, joined us for 5 days.  On the way out of Tampa, we passed the Vision of the Seas: 

  The first port was Grand Cayman, where they had been before many years ago.  We all took the public bus to the Cracked Conch restaurant, out on the west end, because there is a snorkeling cove right there.   

  They had their own equipment, but I rented some fins and a mask.  Elaine C. decided it was too rough for her to enjoy it, so she stayed onshore.  Here I am snorkeling with George: 

  and both George and his wife, Elaine, snorkeled for quite a while.  After the snorkeling, we all had some food and beers at the outside tables: 

  Apparently I swam too close to some jellyfish because I ended up with 2 rows of tentacle stings along the inside of my upper arm which I didn’t even notice until a few days later!  Back on the ship, we had a delightful dinner at Giovanni’s with Elaine and George.  

 The next day at Cozumel, 

  we were meeting friends sailing on the Vision, which was also docked there.  George and Elaine went on a ship’s shore excursion taking them to 3 different places to snorkel.  We went to Mandy’s, a Mexican bar and restaurant right in the port area, where we enjoyed a few Mexican beers and the company of Peter Blosic & Jim Thompson, and David & Colleen DeForest: 

  The next day was a cruising day and Elaine L. was having pain in her hip and leg which she thought was caused by getting off and on the snorkeling boat.  The last day, when they needed to get off the ship, she couldn’t even walk, so we helped her get a wheelchair and into their car at the port.  When we spoke to George later that day, she was in the hospital with a broken hip!!!  Such a fun cruise which ended in such an unexpected and painful way.
     The last cruise we had a different port: Key West.  We enjoy walking here, and this time we walked to the marina area where we saw this colorful whaling wall, painted by Wyland: 

 This is a picture of Elaine with a colorful marlin display, made to look like the real thing in the area where they used to bring in lots of them: 

  After the walk, we just enjoyed sitting on our balcony in the warm weather.  The last night on the ship, we had this picture taken with some of the staff up at the Windjammer: 

We ate up there so often that we got to know them pretty well and Alex, the chef, went out of his way to get us anything extra we wanted, such as my favorites, mushroom soup and Key lime pie.
     After getting off the ship, on Jan. 22, we drove back to our RV, which was stored at the Elks Lodge in Brandon, quickly got it ready to roll, and headed for the SKP park in Bushnell.  That same day we managed to get our laundry done, and also some shopping for food and cooking.  The next day we drove the car to The Villages, a very large retirement community about 30 miles away.  Our friends, Stephanie and Paul Bernhagen, who used to be RVers, and who built a beautiful home in Las Cruces after that, relocated to The Villages 2 years ago.  They bought a home which needed lots of TLC, almost totally renovated the inside, and now it looks beautiful.  Here they are in their living room: 

It happened to be Stephanie’s birthday the day we were there, so we went out for lunch with them and some other former RV friends, Jim and Cindy Cook. 

 After lunch Paul and Stephanie gave us a very extensive tour of The Villages, which took hours because there are about 110,000 people living there now.  It was built for people over 55, and it has extensive amenities which have been built for each little area of homes, called a village, as well as about 32 golf courses.  There are so many groups and clubs that it takes a daily newspaper to list all the activities.  There is quite a variety of house types and neighborhoods, and each recreational area also has its own theme.  We were quite impressed, but definitely not interested in moving there.  It suits Paul and Stephanie quite well, and he is playing golf nearly every day and also working part time at the golf course.
     We left Bushnell on Jan. 24 and started driving cross country on I-10, heading to Livingston, TX, where we are now happily set up at Rainbow’s End.  This is the headquarters of our RV club, the Escapees, and there is an extensive campground here, where we are boondocking.  Good thing we have until Feb. 8 to stay here because we have lots of things to catch up on.  The mail forwarding building is here, so we were able to pick up our mail, which means we had 3 months of business and statements to deal with.  We have to get visas for 6 of the countries we will be visiting when we sail between Sydney and Istanbul in April, May, and June.  And, we have to get our taxes done before we leave the country on March 28.  On Feb. 8 we will be driving in the car to Galveston, where we will board the Navigator of the Seas for 2 weeks of cruising with David and Diane and other friends.  We planned to visit them while we were in Texas, and when we contacted them, they said they were cruising, so we said we would join them!
     Once the cruises are finished, on Feb. 22, we will pick up our RV and continue heading west, back to California.  Planned stops to visit friends and family will be in Las Cruces, Tucson, Yuma, San Diego, Palm Desert and possibly Temecula.  We have to be back at Park Sierra early in March for medical checkups and to prepare for the trip to Australia.
     Tomorrow is Elaine’s 68th birthday.  We don’t have any big plans, because as usual, we are trying to lose some weight and get in better shape between cruises.  We will have to celebrate properly when we join our friends on the ship.


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