Tag Archives: Bahamas

Swimming With Pigs

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The final stop to our five days cruise was Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. This was the excursion we were all most looking forward to!

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We woke that morning to sunshine and blue skies, excited for the day ahead.

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After breakfast we disembarked and walked a few blocks to Senor Frogs, where we would be meeting our tour guide to catch a 30 minute boat ride to the island where our excursion was taking place.

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Our walk through Nassau was stimulating, with the sights and smells of the island filling our senses as locals called out to passing tourists, hoping to hock their wares and services.

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We arrived at Senior Frogs and settled in for a long wait as we became intimately acquainted with the concept of “island time.” 45 minutes later our guide strolled in, unconcerned by her tardiness,  and we headed to the dock to load onto our transport boat.

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It was filled to capacity and the rocking of the waves left us all wondering if this 3-hour-tour would turn into a life of coconut phones and Gilligan’s follies…

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But we arrived at our destination no worse for wear, and with plenty of time to participate in our scheduled excursion.

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Our plans for the day: Swimming with pigs!

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Yes, you read that right. In the Bahamas you can swim with pigs, and that is just what we planned to do on our last day of vacation!

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After signing safety waivers and being briefed on the guidelines of our interactions with the pigs, we were set free to love on some swimming swine.

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We were given bags of apples to feed the pigs as we splashed in the water with them.

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It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I was thrilled to share with my family. I mean, how many people have the opportunity to swim in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean with pink pigs coated in sunscreen.

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It was just too cool!!

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After our time with the pigs, we headed to the boat that would take us back to Nassau. There we had two hours to stroll through the streets before having to re-board our cruise ship.

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Everyone was eager to check out the Straw Market,

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A collection of local vendors all situated in a warehouse, selling their trinkets and treasures to tourists.

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The kids quickly learned the art of negotiation as they bargained for the best deals, finding joy in the game of haggling. They were all wanting to get the best bang for their buck with the last of their souvenir money, and everyone walked away from the Straw Market with Bahamian treasures to remember the trip by.

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Tyler opted to spend the last of his dough on a conch shell that had been turned into a horn with the removal of its tip.

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It was just the sort of treasure that appeals to Tyler. Once Toby showed him how to make it “sing the song of the sea,” Tyler couldn’t be stopped.

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He loved the noise he could create and we had to make a deal that he could play it until we boarded the ship but then it would be put away until we arrived home.

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I was afraid that left unchecked, a fellow passenger might not be able to resist pushing Tyler and his shell overboard!

Nassau was a perfect ending to an amazing trip. It is hard to believe it was only a week-long vacation. It felt as though we had been gone from home for a month.

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(I’m sure this extended retelling of the trip is making you all feel that way as well!)

But it was just what we needed. We returned home to find life escalated as we stepped into the fire of some particularly trying challenges unfolding on the horizon. It was a gift to be able to pull together as a family and fortify our walls before stepping into the fire. God knew just what he was doing when He prompted the plan for this year’s Christmas gifts, and I am forever grateful for the healing, connection, and fortification that time away from home offered our troops.

Thank you for tuning into to the most drawn-out recounting of a vacation, EVER!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programing.

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Stormy Seas

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On Friday we woke up ready for a day of sun and sand on Cassaway Cay, the private island owned by Norwegian Cruise line. We met up with the kids at breakfast, gathering on the top deck to eat our breakfast. Everyone was busily lathering up in preparation for our trip to the island on small transport tenders, when an announcement was made over the load speakers. Due to an incoming cold front that would case chopping conditions, it was deemed unsafe to transport guests to and from the island on the small boats.

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This port would have to be bypassed.

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Although disappointed at the lost opportunity to snorkel, our crew quickly rallied, embracing the adventure of a day at sea and a full day of fun on the ship.

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We headed back to our rooms to change out of our swimsuits, take some motion sickness meds in preparation for some choppy seas, and grab the new daily newsletter that listed the day’s “at sea” activities.

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The ship offered hourly activities throughout the ship, including: classes, games, movies, trivia competitions, poolside parties, athletic competitions and live shows.

Knowing we had a free day ahead of us, Braden headed straight to the basketball court where he participated in a free thrown competition and a three-on-three competition,

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And Tyler headed to the teen lounge to enjoy a full day of fun planned activities with the teen councilors and his new friends.

The cruise ship adjusted its course and began skirting its way around the storm on the way to our next port. While we traveled, the rest of the family enjoyed a full day of fun, taking advantage of many of the offered activities.

Documented below is a pictorial of our day of fun at sea:

The kids headed to the library to play board games,

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And then attended a few classes together, including a napkin folding class.

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At dinner they showed off their newly acquired skills!

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We also all enjoyed the ice carving demonstration offered poolside in the afternoon. It was amazing watching the ice artist race against the Caribbean sun to carve a block of ice into a swan before it melted away.

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The middle of the day was spent poolside, as everyone enjoyed the luxury of unlimited ice cream cones and many free hours to read or nap in the sun.

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In the afternoon we met up in the lounge to participate in a trivia game as a family. The game host displayed childhood photos of celebrities and we had to write down who we thought they were. Zach and I were particularly adept and brought home a second place win for our team.

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Before dinner we took part in the Deal or No Deal live show offered on board. Some were more actively involved then others. Braden and Tyler were the loudest voices in the audience as they shouted to the contestant the case they felt should be opened next. You would have though it was their money on the line with how emotionally involved they were in the outcome. Their commentary was more entertaining than the show itself!

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That night we enjoyed another amazing dinner and a fantastic comedy show.

It wasn’t the day we planned, but it ended us being a lot of fun. After all, who can complain about life making waves when you are riding them out on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

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Exploring Key West

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We woke Thursday morning to find ourselves docked in Key West.

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With a day full of sightseeing ahead of us, we ate a quick breakfast and prepared to disembark. We walked off the ship, ready to explore the city of Key West, the first stop on our five day cruise.

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Key West is an island city in the Straits of Florida. The city lies at the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north–south road in the United States.

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Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and the westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys.

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The island is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a total land area of 4.2 square miles. Duval Street, its main street, is 1.1 miles in length in its 14-block-long crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean. Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba at their closest points.

The island is popular for its eccentric, wild and laid-back vibe that is highly inviting to most cruise passengers. So popular is the island that it has provided seasonal homes to notable figures such as the 33rd president and one of the world’s most prolific writers.

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With the exception of Toby, the rest of us had never visited this southernmost Floridian city. Toby had visited Key West as a teenager, and had fond memories of the area. We were excited to take in the sites and learn more about this unique city. We decided that the best excursion to accomplish this was a city-wide scavenger hunt. We thought it would be a great way to learn about the area in a fun and engaging way.

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We walked to the starting location of the scavenger hunt and logged onto the website that began our hunt.

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By using a cell phone, we were given clues to follow and puzzles to decode that led us on a three hour foot race around the island.

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We had to seek out monuments and places of interest by relying on general knowledge, problem solving, keen observation and by utilizing the knowledge of the locals.

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It was a blast, and we were a pretty great team.

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It helped that we had a myriad of strengths between our team members, with some serving as the navigators, some were especially good at the puzzles that had to be decoded, while other’s had a strong knowledge of US history that we could tap into.

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Then there were our extroverts who boldly approached anyone and everyone to help weigh in on the questions we were seeking answers to.

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As we moved around the island, seeking out the next clue at the next location we learned much about the island’s history and soaking in its unique culture.

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Combining 19th-century history with its vast tropical charms, Key West is a haven for adventurers and historians alike.

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Its unique beauty mashes together brightly colored picturesque colonial houses with lush tropical gardens.

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Its narrow streets are lined with vintage shops, eateries, and watering holes. The coastline as well is breathtaking and is graced by the azure waters of the Atlantic and Gulf stream that boards the island on either side.

And then there are the chickens…

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Can we talk about the chickens?! They wander the streets like they own the place, something I found charming but that Gracie found terrifying.

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They are her greatest phobia. But like them or not, they are definitely part of the Key West ambiance!

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As we walked around Key West, the scavenger hunt clues led us to the following fascinating locations:

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If mystery is your thrill, visit Key West Cemetery to learn the interesting part of the town’s former times. The gravestones of fallen soldiers and townsfolk go into depth about the life and death of the individual. Epitaphs like “I told you I was sick” among others can be traced in this location, making it a twisted but interesting fun thing to explore. Here we had to seek out certain tombstones then add up the combined years of life to unlock our next clue.

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Key West, Florida, has a wild nightlife. One of its most iconic bars includes Sloppy Joes. Sloppy Joe is an old vintage bar that brags of Ernest Hemmingway as a longtime patron. Here we had to figure out whose picture was on the wooden sign out front. (It was Earnest Hemmingway.)

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Then we headed over to the Hemmingway House, an 1851 Spanish colonial building that hosted one of the world’s greatest writers of all time. The most intriguing thing about this home is that the famous writer lived here for almost a decade.

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The house is located in a picturesque, lush, peaceful environment and is easy to see why Ernest Hemmingway was inspired to write some of his masterpieces here.

Another home that required our attention was the Little White House. This home was originally a naval station’s command headquarters during World War 1 and World War 2. Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, called this house, home for several winters. Truman visited Florida 11 times and used to reside in this little white house. Our mission at this location was to figure out what other U.S. presidents had visited the Little White House.

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Our hunt led us to another iconic location. This one however was not historical but rather culinary.

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Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe is one of these popular restaurant destinations and has been for over 27 years. Being a signature dessert for Key West, Florida, Key Lime Pie is a taste visitors don’t want to miss!

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We entered Kermits with the mission of solving the riddle asking us to name the ingredients in a key lime pie, but ended up doing some shopping and spending time loving on Pirate, the shop dog.

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We continued our hunt, seeking out 20 different locations by answering 20 different clues, to win the hunt…Woo hoo!

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We ended up returning to Kermit’s at the end of our hunt to indulge in one of their famous Key Lime Pies.

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We just couldn’t leave the Keys without tasting their most iconic dishes. It was AMAZING! Best Key Lime Pie I have ever eaten!

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We were done at 2:00 and had until 4:00 before we had to be back on the cruise ship. We debated as to what to do with our remaining time. Tyler and Braden were eager to get back on the ship so they could get in the pool and cool off. That sounded good to Zach too, so he took the boys back to the ship.

Toby expressed a desire to revisit an attraction that left an impression on him as a teenage boy: Mel Fisher’s Treasures.

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There is a well-known treasure hunter called Mel Fisher, who made the discovery of “Atocha” the sunken vessels.

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Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Spanish: Our Lady of Atocha) was a Spanish treasure galleon and the most widely-known vessel of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. At the time of her sinking, Nuestra Señora de Atocha was heavily laden with copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, and indigo from Spanish ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively) and Havana, bound for Spain. 

Beginning in 1969, American treasure hunters Mel Fisher, Finley Ricard and a team of sub-contractors, funded by investors and others in a joint venture, searched the sea bed for Nuestra Señora de Atocha for sixteen and a half years. In 1980, Fisher had earlier recovered portions of the wrecked cargo of the sister ship Santa Margarita. He also proposed the idea to several other potential helpers, who were discouraged by the fact that this dangerous professional diving job would be paid at minimum wage unless the ship could be found. The Nuestra Señora de Atocha wreck and its mother lode of silver, gold and emeralds was finally discovered in July 1985. 

The treasure is on display at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, a place Toby was eager to visit again, so he and Grace headed to the treasure museum for a daddy/daughter date.

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One of my bucket list items was a visit to Southernmost Point Monument. It was a 25 minute walk from the port, but despite the hot and humid weather, we thought it was worth the hike!

After all, how else do you let the rest of the world know you have been to Key West? One must take a photo of onesself at the Southernmost Point Monument. This monument is a giant buoy built in the ’80s to represent the southernmost point of the United States.

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Molly and Rusty opted to join me. We enjoyed our stroll, then patiently waited in line for our chance to snap one of these iconic photos.

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We returned to the ship with 30 minutes to spare.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. I fell in love with Key West and hope to return again for a visit someday!

“Sealed” with a kiss and I’m not “Lion!”

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On Saturday we docked in Nassau, Bahamas

and I participated in one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

At the end of the day I turned to Toby and said,

“I think this might be the neatest thing I’ve ever done!”

He looked at me, grinned, and mockingly replied,

“Really?!  Better than adoption days? Better than the birth of you first child? Better than our wedding day??”

Okay, maybe it didn’t top those big life milestones

but it was a very close second…

We spent the day swimming with Sea Lions!!!!

Our excursion time was set for 8:30 am. At our set time we exited the ship and followed a crew member to the port where we boarded a ferry that took us to our destination for the day: Blue Lagoon Island.

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We boarded the boat for a thirty minute ride.

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Along the way we stopped at another dock where we picked up about 100 primary school children. They all filed up to the top deck where we sat. They all wore St. Joseph Primary School T-shirts. They were a delightful group and made the trip a lot more fun. They sang along to the Bahamian music that was playing over the speakers. The teachers danced in the aisles. It was a joy to witnesses such a joyful group!

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Our view as we traveled to the island:

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Doesn’t it look too pretty to be real?!

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When we arrived we were led to the Sea Lion encounter area where took part in a safety briefing and and information session. We learned all about Sea Lions, how they differ from Seals, and more about the rescue/rehabilitation process on the island.

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They have nine Sea Lions in their program, including the Sea Lion who played in the movie, “Andre.” We were able to swim and interact with him and three others.

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After the education portion of our experience we were taken to the “Meet and Greet” area where we were able to interact with these charming animals out of water. It was here we were able to hug and kiss them and have photo opportunities…

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It was AMAZING!

Then we got into the water with them:

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Here we were able to interact with them in a more playful way as they swam with us, did tricks, and played games. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience!

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After our class was over we had the rest of the day to explore the island, swim, and relax before we had to return to our cruise ship at 5:00pm for departure.

The island was small and quiet with few people visiting. We found an empty stretch of beach where we set up “camp” for the day…

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A grove of hammocks to sleep the day away...

A grove of hammocks to sleep the day away…

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Here was my view!

Here was my view!

It was so relaxing and just what we were hoping for on this trip:

A chance to sit and be still.

Where we spent the remainder of the day...

Where we spent the remainder of the day…

“Sometimes you just need a break in a beautiful place, with someone you love, to just…Be.”

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At 4:00 we boarded the ferry-boat back to Nassau.

As we were waiting in line to show our passports to leave Nassau we saw these horse-drawn carriages that take visitors around the island. I thought they were charming.

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Then I saw the horse pulling the carriage and I died!

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I wish they were selling the straw horse hats and I would have bought one for George.

Wouldn’t he look divine?!

It was another magical day in Paradise!