We are back on the road again. After spending three plus months in St. Marys, Georgia working as volunteer camp hosts at Eagle Hammock RV Park on Submarine Base Kings Bay, we were ready to go when our time was up.
During our time in Kings Bay we took care of our annual dentist and doctor visits and were happy to learn that we should probably make it through another year without any major body part replacements.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with the majority of the guests at the RV Park as we assisted Charly in the preparation and serving of a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner. This year we served the dinner at the base conference center and included the Single Sailors in our group. We hoped we could get some cross-generation conversations going, but it seemed to me that the groups remained fairly segregated. It is too bad, because many of the old guys have great stories to share with the younger generation now serving our country.
We were able to sneak down to Orlando and take advantage of a super deal offered by Disney for active duty and retired military personnel. I got a four day pass free and Connie’s was deeply discounted. We stayed at Chip and Gidget’s mini home west of town which is perfectly positioned to avoid the Orlando traffic while being really close to the Disney properties. We had a wonderful time at the Disney attractions with a side visit to Universal Studios to see The Blue Man Group. It was a great time. Having Chip and Gidget’s place to stay in made it super affordable.
We were able to escape to Pittsburgh for Christmas, leaving St. Marys on Christmas Eve and returning on the Monday following Christmas. Although our time in Pittsburgh was short, we were able to celebrate Christmas with nearly all of Connie’s family and then a semi-surprise birthday party for her brother-in-law (80th) and her sister (ageless). I was even able to sneak in a six mile run with four of the most beautiful women in Pittsburgh; all great nieces and all good runners. I completed the run by thanking them for making me feel my age. It was really fun for me though, especially when other male runners approached us and then realized that the four beauties were dragging an old man as their anchor. We owe our friend George a huge thank you for filling in for us as camp host for most of our time away from the park.
We celebrated the New Year with our good friend Pat who came down from West Springfield, Virginia via Charleston, South Carolina where he picked up his girl friend, Marie, and our good friends Chip and Gidget who stopped in Kings Bay on their way to Niceville, Florida from Wilmington, North Carolina and our very close friend Trish who keeps us grounded while we are in Southeast Georgia. It was a wonderful and safe celebration of the changing of the year. We had a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and then the three couples rode a taxi back to the base where we all had rooms at the BOQ. We continued to party until sometime after mid-night in the safety of Pat’s suite. It was a lot of fun and no one got hurt.
We had so much fun with Pat and Marie that we decided to take a long weekend trip to Charleston to take in some of the city and get to know Marie a little better. We managed to squeeze in some birding time while trying to train Pat on bird identification. We also visited the CSS Hunley Museum where we got a good look at the first submarine that had a significant impact on a war at sea. We were also introduced to part of Marie’s family and a few of her friends. Certainly one of the highlights of this visit would have to be our private tour of the archives of the College of Charleston Library where we got to look through original prints of Audubon’s drawings of birds. Marie is the Library’s Archivist and she led us on a wonderful tour of the vault and let us look through these rare publications. It was great. Being a lifelong Charlestonian, Marie was the perfect choice for a driving tour of the city. She was able to show us much more than we would have ever seen via a tour. It was a great weekend and we even helped celebrate another birthday, this time for Marie’s daughter.
Of course our time as camp hosts was a whole lot of fun as well. We met many great people and renewed friendships with fellow camp hosts from seasons past. We really like working for and with Charly and enjoy her friendship as well as that of her husband Walter.
Other highlights from our fall and winter down time would include the completion of the repairs to the motorhome from the unfortunate encounter I had with that tree stump in Alberta at the end of our Alaska adventure last summer. The motorhome is at least as good as new even though the paint match is not quite perfect.
We also bought a new car just before our departure from Kings Bay. After a lot of research and a minimal amount of time spent on car lots we decided to stay with Subaru and simply traded our 2001 Forester for a 2010 Forester paying the same amount this year as we did nine years ago. Imagine that! We were really impressed with the professionalism and ease with which we were able to come to agreement on price with the good folks at Subaru of Jacksonville. It was truly a great experience, the best car buying experience we have ever had.
On February 8 we hitched the new car behind the motorhome and got underway. Our first scheduled stop was Niceville, Florida, where we once again met up with our good friends Chip and Gidget. We spent a few days sharing stories, food and wine together and then we all drove to Mobile, Alabama where we boarded Carnival Cruise Line’s ship Fantasy for a six day, five night cruise to Mexico.
A little background is necessary here. If you have been alive for the last four months you will remember that the weather in the south has been miserable. In fact we had days in Georgia that were colder than some places in Alaska. I got so tired of wearing sweatshirts and jeans with winter, yes winter jackets. Although we never got snow in St. Marys, there was snow further south and we certainly had our share of nights well below freezing. These were not the sort of conditions we had expected to live through in our mobile retirement status. So, a Mexico cruise seemed like the proper antidote to what had been a pretty chilly winter.
When we arrived at Kings Bay I was seriously thinking about making a run at one more marathon as a 60th birthday present to myself. From the day we left Colorado I have been on a training plan that included runs every other day with ever increasing distances. By the time we left Kings Bay I was convinced that I could complete another marathon if I continue my training as planned. Connie is committed to helping me achieve this goal by adjusting our travel plans for the summer and fall such that I can continue to train while we travel.
So, a cruise with all that food and limited availability to continue to train effectively seemed a little reckless. The day before we left for the cruise I made a thirteen mile run in the rain and wind and then decided to take five days off. Period. No explanation necessary. I am an adult and I knew that after four plus months of dedicated training I could afford a few days off.
If you have never been on a cruise, you have missed out. Once you are on board it really does not matter how much you paid to get there. Everyone is treated like the most important person the ship has ever hosted. Our approach was to have fun and be nice to everyone. We easily achieved both goals. Chip and Gidget are experienced cruisers and therefore showed us the ropes. When we arrived on board we were not able to get to our staterooms for some time as the ship was doing a turnaround meaning that not all the staterooms had been cleaned before boarding started. Therefore, we were forced to go to the Lido Deck and all that food. “ Let the feeding begin!” was my thought. Actually, I did pretty well as I started at the salad bar and got a reasonably healthy salad for my first and most filling course. Then I went to the sandwich bar and ordered a Reuben Sandwich. Not bad for a first run. We eventually got into our staterooms where we got unpacked and settled.
We gave ourselves a tour of the ship which was really good for Connie and me to get our bearings and a feel for what would follow. We got underway at 4 PM and sailed until about 9 AM on day three when we docked in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico.
I am no expert, but I got the feeling that Progreso is a newcomer to the tourist industry. I say this because although the city has a tour bus, there is very little to tour. The bus took us around the downtown area and along the beach where there are a few hotels and a lot of restaurants and rental properties. The bus operates from the town plaza where there are open air shops in a courtyard and closed in shops around the perimeter and across the streets. After the bus tour we walked around the downtown area to get a feel for what was available. Unfortunately, the weather was not great as it was cool and breezy with on and off rain showers. Not finding a lot to keep us entertained we decided to return to the ship for lunch. By now we are getting ready to eat the fourth meal since boarding the ship. I was starting to wonder if I had made the right decision to not bring running gear on the ship.
The ship got underway again about 5PM that evening, sailing all night and docking in Cozumel the next morning at 8 AM. Cozumel is much more the tourist city. There is a large market area at the port where one can buy about anything in the way of souvenirs and clothing. A short taxi ride to the far end of the beach put us in perfect position to walk back towards the ship. Of course the place where we were dropped by the taxi was a little mall with several jewelry stores that the wives really enjoyed walking through. Chip actually found a computer where he was able to access his e-mail while he waited for the shoppers to be ready to move up the street. We wandered along the beach (shop side) for several blocks stopping frequently to check out the wares. We eventually moved inland one block to get out of the wind and did more browsing. Eventually we all got hungry and decided to eat in town at a place called Mr. Chile’s. It was a cute place with some pretty crazy waiters. The lunch was great as was the margarita. We eventually caught another taxi back to the dock where more shopping took place. We returned to the ship in plenty of time to rest up a little before getting underway and going to dinner.
We were once again underway by about 5 PM and sailed through the night and the entire next day and night arriving in Mobile around 6 AM. As we left the ship around 9 AM we saw passengers for the next cruise arriving at the departure lounge. Those folks were in for a four day cruise to Cozumel and back.
Our evenings on the ship were filled with shows in the main show room and people watching from a lounge along one of the main passageways going fore and aft. We also enjoyed getting to know some of the crew and hearing the varied stories as to how they came to be employed in the cruise ship industry. Of a crew of something like 940 there were only seven Americans. What a great opportunity for hundreds of mostly young women and men from around the world to get an opportunity to see major pieces of the world far away from their homes. We wondered if young Americans are crewing on ships in Europe and Asia.
We definitely had a great time on the cruise. I can also tell you that even though it seemed like a feed fest, we did quite well in the weight department. I am not saying we lost weight, but we didn’t gain nearly as much as we feared we would. When we booked our cruise we opted for formal dining for the evening meal. That was a great decision as it kept us away from the buffet where temptation would have been too great for me. We ate our breakfasts in the dining room as well. Lunch locations varied depending on whether the ship was in port or underway. While in port the dining rooms were not open for lunch. So, we had two lunches from the buffet, one in Cozumel and two in the dining room.
Chip and Gidget contributed immensely to what was a wonderful experience and one we will not forget. In fact, Gidget is already planning our next cruise adventure. Her timetable may be a little out of synch with ours, but we will work something out I am sure.
After returning to Niceville we had a few more days to unwind and rest a bit from the cruise while catching up on laundry and taking in several more hours of the Winter Olympics. We shared a few more meals with Chip and Gidget while prepping the motorhome for the next leg of our 2010 adventure.
We started that leg with a 191 mile drive to Gulfport, Mississippi where we intended to visit or friends and neighbors from our tour in Italy, Kim and Chris. Unfortunately, Chris is currently deployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan. However, we were able to meet his parents who are spending the winter in Gulfport in their motorhome leaving the snowy weather of Illinois. Like us, they found the weather in the south this year to be not what they expected nor accustomed to.
We had a great time getting to know Chris’s parents over dinner and we will likely look them up the next time we are in their neck of the woods.
From Gulfport we continue west to Texas where more exploration is sure to occur.
I have posted a few photos from our cruise on my web album. Click the link below and enjoy the images.
|Our First Carnival Cruise|