Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cruise Recap

While I provided lots of photos from our recent cruise, I have yet to offer any details about where we went and what we did, so brace yourself for a long one!

We sailed on Norwegian Epic, a seriously huge ship. The Epic had everything you could possibly want (and more): water slides, pools, "hot" tubs (they were well below 90 degrees, so we called them "warm tubs" the rest of the trip), theaters, a pub, bowling alleys, a library, several bars, and over a dozen places to eat. If you've never cruised before, you should know that some of those amenities (bars, multiple restaurants) are standard, but you won't see water slides and bowling alleys on your average boat! The Epic also had tremendous entertainment: Blue Man Group, Howl at the Moon (dueling pianos), Cirque, an impersonators show, The Second City improv comedy group, and lots more. We were especially impressed with all the ship had to offer in terms of things we could do while on board.

Cirque Dreams and Dinner

Look how much fun we're having!

One especially important aspect of the ship: food and fitness! One of the best aspects of cruising is that it's all-you-can-eat all the time! We certainly took advantage: made-to-order omelets, fresh cinnamon rolls, corned beef hash, lobster (our friend Ed ordered lobster for dessert one night!), amazing filet mignon and brownie sundaes (at Cagney's, the specialty steakhouse on board), and plenty of fresh fruit. I found it a little more difficult to get in all my vegetables, because lots of the buffet veggies were marinated in what looked like too much oil, so I stuck with fresh garden salads and tons of fruit. We also enjoyed our share of adult beverages, especially because the ship's Shaker's Bar offered two martini tastings (with almost-full servings for each of the four drinks!). We tasted several new drinks, but my favorites were the Just Peachy and the chocolate martini. Can you believe that someone who loves chocolate and martinis as much as I do never thought to try a chocolate martini? Well, they're a revelation. I believe I ordered two every night after I tasted the first one!

Impressive on-board gym

Martini tasting!

Oh, and as for fitness: the ship had a fully equipped gym with tons of cardio equipment, plus a running track on an outdoor deck. There was also a basketball court and a rock climbing wall. I did all of my workouts in the gym because I was completing my boot camp workouts (I already mentioned how difficult it was to do walking lunges on a moving ship!), and I was pretty impressed. The only drawback? It was seriously crowded and HOT in there. (On the first day, it was super crowded, but luckily folks either stopped coming or varied their times because it wasn't so bad the next few days.) Our friend Corey took advantage of the basketball court and played in one of the tournaments - until he sprained his ankle. :-( He really did a number on it (lots of swelling and some terrific purple coloring throughout his heel and toes), but luckily his wife Katie is a nurse and took great care of him. By the end of the trip he was almost walking normally, and he was a total champ throughout all of our walking excursions and didn't complain a bit.

Our cruise took us to the Eastern Caribbean; we departed from Miami and then sailed to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and the Bahamas before returning to Miami. The trip gave us three days at sea and three days ashore, which I loved. I had actually been to all three ports before with my family (and to St. Maarten with Terry), but it was great to try new excursions and see different parts of the islands.

St. Maarten
St. Maarten was my favorite island of the three. While Terry completed a two-tank dive with Scuba Fun, four of us walked and one of us (you know who you are) hobbled around, checking out the local markets. We eventually found a little cafe with an upstairs patio and settled in for a few tropical drinks. I'm pretty sure I needlessly said, "Oh my goodness, it's just so beautiful here!" about sixteen times, but everyone agreed.
View from our upstairs patio

View while driving to our excursion
After we met back up with Terry, we all took off for our excursion: Rhino Ride Adventure. We had booked it through Shore Trips, a website that sells discounted cruise excursions, and we all loved it. You get to explore about half the island (from the water) in a two-person mini-motor boat! We passed tons of ridiculous yachts, a nude beach, and gorgeous scenery. The boats were really fun, too, even when I was a little nervous about the huge wakes from the yachts on the way back. I grew up waterskiing with my family, so I actually felt very comfortable driving on the way back (normally, I'd be terrified of something like that - remember the go-kart incident?). We also got to snorkel for about 45 minutes before heading back to the ship.

Rhino Ride FTW
St. Thomas
St. Thomas offered us a really fun excursion: a kayak, hike, and snorkel tour of the island. I hadn't kayaked very far before, so it was fun to go a full two miles in a two-person kayak. Once we arrived at our destination, Cas Cay, we snorkeled for about 30 minutes before taking a short hike to a local blowhole (Ed said it was certainly not as impressive as Hawaii, though). I loved the activities for this excursion and enjoyed working my muscles in ways I hadn't before.

Ready to kayak!

Nassau, Bahamas
The Bahamas were gorgeous and much more developed than the other islands. Terry and I took a taxi over to Cable Beach, which connects several large resorts, including Sheraton and Wyndham. The spot we found was stunning! It was very peaceful and utterly relaxing. We were glad we chose this spot instead of the ever popular Atlantis, which sounds cool but super expensive. Most other passengers getting off the ship were hailing cabs for Atlantis, so we were grateful to find a quieter place. Meanwhile, Katie and Corey took advantage of the See & Sea excursion, where they got a tour of the island, and Heidi and Ed swam with the dolphins!

Heidi getting a kiss from a dolphin!

Our quiet spot on the beach
A gorgeous photo from Katie and Corey's tour

Thoughts on Traveling with Friends
We traveled with two other married couples: Heidi and Ed and Katie and Corey. Terry and I have been together almost six years, and we're the newest couple, so we've got some young love here. Katie, Corey, and Heidi went to high school together (Katie and Corey started dating then). Corey went to UCLA and met Ed, and Heidi came to UCLA the following year and eventually met Ed through Corey and they started dating. Heidi and I met on the UCLA Spirit Squad (she was on cheer, I was on the dance team), and then Terry and I started dating. Finally, Katie and I were in Bible study together the year after I graduated from college. Whew! So that's how we all know each other! 

The ladies
Edward, Heidi, Corey, and Katie

This was our first big trip with a group of friends, and I have to tell you, I think it was perfect. We didn't spend every waking moment together, and we agreed long before the trip that we didn't need to do everything together, hence the separate excursions in the Bahamas. We did, however, eat dinner together every night, and lunch together most days. The mornings were pretty much on our own, but we tried to do the entertainment stuff together. This balance worked perfectly. I don't think anyone got sick of each other, and we still felt like we really got to spend quality time together as a group. Heidi, Ed, Katie, and Corey all live within walking distance of each other, so it was really nice for Terry and I to see them all so much (we live about 45 minutes away, which is an eternity on a weekday and still pretty bad on weekends because of traffic). We would certainly travel with this group again! I also think traveling in a group of six was awesome, because it wasn't difficult to sit together or get a table for dinner; more people may have been a hassle. My only concern before the trip was that, as a group, we tend to be terrible decision makers. We're all the same: "I'm up for anything!" Well, that makes actual decisions difficult. Luckily, planning ahead of time and agreeing to just do what we wanted, even if the others didn't want to, made for an easy trip!

We really had a blast on the whole trip. We truly relaxed for the first time in forever, and we loved all the ports. We weren't big fans of NCL's "freestyle" dining, where you can eat any time and "dress up or not" - we like more formal dinners and really enjoy getting to know our waiter by eating at the same table each night. We've cruised on Princess and Royal Caribbean (together), and I've cruised on Carnival and Disney as well, when I was younger. Our favorites are the first two, but NCL certainly had the entertainment beat! We're already excited about our next cruise - perhaps Alaska?

Have you ever been on a cruise? What was your experience?

Tina Fey's Bossypants describes an absolutely hilarious cruise experience, and she hasn't cruised since, but luckily ours have all been great!


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