We flew into Tampa FL to board a cruise ship and spent a week at sea in the Caribbean, porting in at Key West, Belize City, and Cozumel before returning to Tampa. We were supposed to port in Costa Maya, but rough seas prevented it. I had never been on a cruise before, though I had read a hilarious article in Harper's Magazine about cruises years ago that pretty much set my expectations (SOURCE). They were set a little bit too high, but it was still great fun.
Another conclusion drawn from the cruise portion of the trip was that I tend to over eat when offered unlimited quantities of food, even if the quality of the food is only slightly above mediocre. The cruise ship had a buffet style restaurant with plentiful offerings. I mostly (but not entirely) stayed away from the worst of these, such as tater tots, processed meat byproducts, and cookies. But I ate a lot of fish and eggs and succumbed to certain non-cookie desserts on more than one occasion. There's always room for dessert (I drew this conclusion decades ago, so it is not a conclusion drawn from this trip). I will fully admit gaining 10 pounds during this vacation (though I've dropped three of them since returning to the healthier lifestyle rituals of home).
We were a week at sea or in the various ports. Our first port of call was Key West FL, where we went on a kayaking expedition through mangrove...groves? The most memorable snapshot from that excursion was passing a houseboat with a couple or permanent residents and their dog. Our tour guide told us that while real estate in Key West was beyond the grasp of most people with incomes under a million dollars (non-military...there is naval base housing there), you could rent a mooring ball for a houseboat for $80/month, and many people do this to enjoy the tropical lifestyle on the cheap. When storms come, boats can find refuge in "mangrove caves," which are gaps in the thick growth of this salt water plant. Of course, you first need a houseboat... We also learned how mangroves have adapted to living in saltwater by "sweating" salt and sacrificing certain leaves that take one for the team by absorbing any salt that manages to reach the foliage.
After Key West we had a day at sea churning across the Caribbean to Belize City. We never actually saw much of the city because we chose as our excursion for that port a snorkeling trip on a reef and a couple hours at a private beach resort with white sands, palm trees, and fruity boozy drinks. The ship did not dock in Belize City. Instead, passengers left the ship by way of "tendering." The ship anchors off the coast and smaller boats zip up and "tender" people to shore, or in our case to the second largest coral reef in the world, where we snorkeled in overcrowded rough seas. Hectic, but worth it.
The rough seas kept us at sea the next day, instead of dropping us off in Costa Maya. We were supposed to do some biking and more kayaking there, but we were refunded our fee for this excursion. It was rather fun being on the boat in 10 foot swells. I did a 5k power walk on the ships track on the upper deck that day and that required a fair amount of balance control. I would feel heavy as a swell lifted the boat and then light as the boat dropped into the next trough. Luckily, I am not prone to sea sickness at all. The crew set out piles of puke bags that day for passengers with weaker stomachs, and I only smelled the bilious acridity of vomit once.
It was another rough sea day back to Tampa (through a fun gale), where we arrived in the early morning hours and disembarked the ship after offering up tips to our favorite stateroom and restaurant service personnel via envelopes provided by the crew.
We spent the week after the cruise at Deborah's parents' timeshare in Sanibel FL. That's where we heard news of the cruise ship that sailed into the hurricane in the Atlantic (same cruise line as ours). We watched portions of the Superbowl there and saw dolphins, alligators, and all manner of sea life while various members of our families popped in to visit. My folks flew into Fort Meyers from Ohio on Superbowl Sunday and stayed with us until Thursday morning. Deborah's parents came down from Sarasota FL, where they are snowbirds from Wisconsin, for the day on Monday, and her brother Mark and his wife Michelle, also from Sarasota, hung out with us on Tuesday. The over eating continued in Sanibel, although it now had a considerable price tag. We seemed to develop an addiction to key lime pie. On Friday, we drove up to Sarasota in the rental car we had for the week and spent the day sightseeing around town with Deborah's extended family, the most memorable moment of which was seeing dolphins swimming in the boat channel from the patio of the restaurant overlooking the water we had lunch at. We ate Thai food that night and stayed up chatting with the loved ones until the threat of a very early morning on Saturday sent us to bed.
We woke before dawn on Saturday and drove up to Tampa to return the rental car at the airport before flying home to wintry Wisconsin. Deborah and I had a Valentine's dinner of delivered Chinese food on Saturday night and lazed about on V-Day Sunday until I had to go to my music class on Sunday evening. Good times.
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