Monday, April 4, 2011

Vacation 2011

Last weekend we got back from what was maybe the best vacation we've ever taken as a family. We decided that with our oldest starting college in 3 short years and the other 2 following quickly after, that this may be the last chance we'll have to take a big vacation for a long time. So with that in mind we proposed to the kids last year that our main Christmas gift be a family cruise to the Caribbean for spring break this year. They all agreed it was a great idea and it turned out to be the best decision we could have made and the trip came at just the right time. With our incredibly busy schedule being gone almost every night, this was the perfect opportunity to slow down and really spend some quality family time together. When you can get a teenager, pre-teen, and 9 year old to actually be excited about family time, it's always a good thing.

So off we went. We flew to Cocoa Beach, FL to spend the day on the beach before boarding the ship. The moment we got on the plane, it was like all the stress from work, sports schedules, activities, etc. was all gone, which is very unusual for me. It usually takes me a few days to unwind, but not this time. God truly blessed us as we left. It was like the whole family was able to take a long, deep breath and just relax. Florida was warm and beautiful, especially after a long, cold, snowy winter in Missouri. (I hate snow and cold weather by the way). We enjoyed our afternoon on the beach and had time to visit Ron Jon's Surf shop in the evening. Despite a minor issue with a small fire in another part of the hotel that had us in the parking lot for about 30 minutes in the middle of the night it was a good day.

The next morning we boarded our ship, the Norwegian Sun. This was my 4th cruise, my wife's 2nd, and the kids 1st. The kids (and adults) were very excited about the food and anxious to try new things and the ship did not disappoint. We're blessed with kids that are very adventurous, especially when it comes to trying new and unusual food. The food was wonderful the entire cruise. I think the teenager actually found enough food to fill him up, which is no easy task. One night he ordered 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, dessert and then finished what his sister didn't eat.

We visited 4 very different ports on the trip: Cozumel, Mexico; Guatemala; Belize; and Key West, FL and had 2 days at sea. Sea days were very relaxing basically just sleeping in, hanging out by the pool, and playing games in the Observation lounge and Las Ramblas Tapas Restaurant. Port days were much busier, but very fun. My wife and I have traveled internationally before, but this was the first time the kids had been to another country so they were very excited to see different cultures.

In Mexico, we decide to just catch a taxi from the pier and spend the day at Paradise Beach. It was a good decision. The beach was beautiful and had a lot of fun toys in the water. There was also a beautiful pool on the property and a good restaurant right on the beach that had some excellent guacamole. We headed back to San Miguel in the afternoon and did a little shopping, which gave our kids their first, but not last, taste of street vendors. They did a great job handling themselves in the craziness and it produced one of our favorite quotes of the trip, "I'm cheaper than my neighbor".

The next day in Guatemala we decided to take a river cruise up the Rio Dulce. While probably the poorest place we visited, this turned out to be our favorite port of the trip. We boarded a small boat from the pier, which took us around the coast to the mouth of the river, where we headed up river through a beautiful canyon. It was very interesting to see the local children in dug out canoes paddling up to the boat to sell us things and show us their small animals (turtles, crabs, etc.). We had about a 25 minute stop at a women's, Miss Silvia, house on the river, where we got to see how people live along the river and we got to make tortillas in a very rustic kitchen. Afterward we headed back down river to the town of Livingston. Our guide, who was outstanding on the whole tour, took us on a walking tour of the town and gave us an excellent history and cultural lesson along the way. While very poor, it was still a very lively place with very friendly people. It was a very eye opening experience for the kids to see the difficult conditions that other people around the world live in and to realize how blessed we are. But at the same time I was encouraged by the sense that these people were not living in despair. They may not have much, but they did not let that rob them of their joy. As I said this was our favorite port because we all felt like we got to immerse ourselves in the culture more than anywhere else we went. We also ran into the most aggressive vendors here, but the kids really handled it well and never seemed too bothered by it.

The next day we visited the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha in Belize. This was a really interesting site. It was a little smaller than the site my wife and I visited in Tulum a few years ago, but it was a little older and we were able to climb up the temples, which we could not do at Tulum. For the history buffs in our family this was a great excursion, though I think everyone enjoyed it. The only complaint was that we didn't have much time to explore on our own after a long, hot, bumpy bus ride from the pier into the jungle. The formal 30 minute tour was good, but we only had 20 minutes to see things on our own. Would have liked to have an hour or two. Afterward we headed back to Belize City and had lunch on the pier and did a little shopping before going back to the boat.

Our last port day was in Key West, but since we only had a half day there, we just visited the aquarium and walked around town a little and headed back to the ship for lunch. Nice day, but nothing too exciting.

Fortunately we decided to stay an extra day in FL after the cruise and enjoyed a day at the pool and the beach, while it was snowing back home. By the time we got home on Sunday, most of the snow had melted. Overall, it was an amazing trip. The best part truly was getting the opportunity to spend so much family time together and build memories that will last a lifetime. God has truly blessed me with an amazing wife and kids that are a blast to travel with. As different as the 3 kids are in their personalities and interests, they all love to travel and really do get along amazingly well. It was a great experience for everyone and really went a long way toward recharging my batteries. Now it's back to reality. But I find that reality is a little easier to take when I can look back and reflect on the great time we had. I'm glad the kids got to experience traveling internationally and hope that they get many more opportunities to do so in the future. It really broadens your perspective on the world when you realize that people are people no matter where they live. We are all created in God's image and traveling this journey together.

God Bless.


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