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My Best Cruise Ever

Before you start reading too much into the title you should know this was also my first cruise ever. To ensure a high impact title I decided I should go with either “Best” or “Worst”, and since I had fun I went with best. With that said let’s get on with the details of why this was the best cruise I ever took.

Getting There

The logistical planning for operation cruise started over a year ago. The cruise line chosen was Carnival Cruise Lines because our cruise expert (having survived 3 cruises) said she always had fun on Carnival. Then we worked out a date, which was pretty easy since none of us tend to know what we’re doing next week let alone next year. In the end we picked September because it was cheap.

The seven of us who made the final roster all knew each other from when we lived in Wisconsin, but some of us had moved away over the years. Since we were coming from all over the country to the port of Miami, the first goal of our trip was to meet up in Miami on Friday. Kristen, Joe, Natalie, and Lee all reside in Wisconsin so they all jumped on an early Northwest flight. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned how I dislike Northwest because I seem to have a problem about half of the time I fly on their planes. Anyways their flight was delayed. This caused them to miss their next flight. Then Northwest scheduled them to fly on a flight that had already departed, which they obviously missed. After 17 hours of travel they finally made it to Miami, but their luggage was lost. All Northwest could say was that they were looking for the luggage and would get it to them as soon as they found it. All they could do was hope that this luggage was found before the cruise left on the next day. Next to leave was Zimlor, who was flying out of Los Angles on some non-Northwest airline. He arrived in Miami long before anyone else. Eric and I decided to take a direct flight on American Airlines from Boston to Miami after work on Friday. Eric and I thought it was funny how we left about 12 hours later than the Wisconsin group, but arrived in Miami at about the same time. For some reason they didn’t think it was very humorous.

That night we all slept in the pimping Chesterfield Hotel. I got up early the next day to walk along Miami’s famous Long Beach which was only a block from our hotel. The water was a beautiful blue-green, and so warm I could walk into it without the feeling the slightest chill. At that point I realized that this was going to be a great trip. When I got back to the hotel I was greeted with the good news that the lost luggage had been found and was on its way to the hotel. The only thing we needed to do now was buy some underwear (it’s a story not meant for the internet), and get to the ship. Getting on the ship involved an hour long line. Then we were on our ship, the Carnival Triumph!!!

The first thing we did was grab a quick bite to eat. Then we rushed to the top deck to wave goodbye to the people on shore as we sailed off. They really need to update the term “sailed off” since cruise ships don’t really have any sails. Anyways a few minutes after we started moving a strong cell of thunderstorms came through and most people went running for cover. This was fine with me because it meant more deck for me. Standing alone on that rainy deck was when I finally realized I had made it onto the ship and my real vacation was about to being.

Time at Sea

My cruise involved three stops in different ports, which I’ll talk about later. But before I get to that I want to tell you about the time we spent at sea. Every night was spent on the ship, and three full days were also spent at sea traveling between these ports. Carnival called the days at sea “Fun Day at Sea” days and they did do their best to make them entertaining.

During my first fun day at sea I spent the early morning before the rest of my group woke up exploring the ship. It took a few hours to explore the 11 floors I had access to. It was certainly the biggest boat I’ve ever been on, but I didn’t find it to be a “city on the water” like many people described these ships to me. I found out the Triumph had a maximum capacity of 2700, which is a lot of people, but not quite a city. It’s also more compressed than a town of 2700 would be. After exploring the standard passenger areas I ventured off into a few of the crew only sections. I figured that the odds of me getting in any trouble over that was small enough, but after not finding anything all the interesting I decided to stop pressing my luck. I asked a crew member how many decks were below deck 0 (the lowest deck I had access to). She said 3 and that they were called A, B, and C. I also found out that the crew mostly slept in decks A through 10. She claimed ignorance to what was on the lower decks of B and C. I then asked her what this big grayed out section of deck 3 was and I think she started to get suspicious at this point. So she said that it didn’t exist. To which I replied by asking if it was crew quarters or what? She kept insisting that it simply didn’t exist and took my map and crossed off that section of deck 3. I said that crossing it off doesn’t mean that it’s not there, but she was insistent that that portion of deck 3 did not exist. If her goal was to stem my curiosity, it certainly backfired. Crossing out part of deck 3 on a map doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist and it certainly peaked my curiosity. I also suspected that there might be more than 3 decks below deck 0; however, I was so busy during the rest of the cruise I never got back to investigate this more toughly.

Most of the rest of my time at sea was spent attending comedy shows, musicals, magic shows, and eating. Holy cow was there a lot of eating. If I didn’t know better I would have sworn that they were trying to fatten us up for some island sacrifice. The food was all included in the price of the cruise and food was always available. Things like pizza, burgers, and an ever changing buffet were available 24 hours a day. Then at breakfast, lunch, and dinner they had the nice dinning rooms opened. You had to wear nice cloths to the dinners and you could order whatever you wanted (included multiple items) from the menu of the day. I had gone in the first day and saw the menu I thought that there were enough things that I could always eat something different every day. Then on the second day they changed the menu. I was a little sad that I couldn’t try everything on that first menu, but I was never disappointed with a single meal so I shouldn’t have been sad. I ate things like lobster, shrimp, sushi, ribs, steak, perch, calamari, and a bunch of other foods I can’t remember. All these meals were amazing. Luckily they had a gym and a running track where I tried to burn off some of the extra calories after gorging.

I spent time on board doing miscellaneous activates like swimming, basketball, shuffleboard (I won the shuffleboard championship), ping pong, mini golf, trivia, and other things. Before I went on the cruise I was worried that I would be bored on the ship, but I was pleasantly surprised that I never got bored. By the end I could feel that I was about to run out of things to do on the ship, but just as that was about to happen the cruise ended. This makes me feel that unless we spent more time on shore and less at sea that a one week cruise is about the perfect length for me.

Cozumel, Mexico

On Monday we stopped at our first port in Cozumel, Mexico. There was no place to dock the Triumph so we took tenders off the ship to the mainland of Mexico. These tenders are free and there is always free shopping or exploring you could do at the ports; however, I chose to pay extra for special excursions at each of the ports we stopped at.

In Cozumel all seven of us took a bus to our first day excursion of the trip, the Tulum Ruins. The Tulum Ruins are the remains of an ancient walled Mayan city. I had expected a giant temple sticking out of the jungle. It wasn’t quite that spectacular, but it was still pretty awesome. We had a tour guide that did a good job of filling my head with facts. It surprised me at how educated the Mayan people were back 1500 years ago. They had figured out a lot in mathematics and science a thousand years before the modern world ever figure it out. One example is that their calendar included a leap year every four years. The rest of the world didn’t realize we needed a leap year until the nineteen hundreds. I think my favorite line from the guide was that the Mayans are to the Greeks as the Aztecs are to the Romans. The Mayans and the Greeks favored the sciences whereas the Aztecs and Romans favored the sword.

I think the best part of the tour was when some of us walked down the sea cliffs to the sand beaches on the coast for a swim. The water was the perfect color and temperature. The sand was soft, and the scenery was surreal. This was probably the best beach I’ve ever been to in my life. It was truly amazing.

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Wednesday morning we arrived at our second port in Grand Cayman. Lee and Natalie went to pet the stingrays and other aquatic life. Kristen, Joe, Eric, and Zimlor headed off to do some snorkeling around a sunken ship. One of my friends got a bloody nose from the pressure and another released his breakfast when he was kicked in the stomach. I was told that the fish found his breakfast tasty (icky). Even with these mishaps everyone had fun. I went off on my own to participate in scuba diving. I am certified in scuba and just couldn’t pass up the opportunity of diving at the world famous Grand Cayman Island.

My first dive was to the edge of the Cayman Trench. Being used to diving in New England the first things I noticed were the amazingly clear water and how much more free you feel when diving without a thick wetsuit. After going down to 100 feet we were going through some large caves and then we popped out on the edge of the Cayman Trench. It was an amazing sight to see. All you could see when you looked down was this deep blue that seemed to continue on forever, and for all the difference it made it could have. The sea went down for miles to the second deepest part in the oceans (only the Mariana Trench is deeper).

The second dive was at a wrecked ship they used to call Green Gold. It was named this because it would buy green bananas from the islands and then sell them in the United States for a lot of money once they had turned yellow. Eventually the banana market crashed and the captain decided to start smuggling marijuana. He kept the crew happy for awhile by keeping them on an all you can smoke diet, but eventually they realized just how much he was making from the sales and decided to wrap a chain around his neck and his buddy the ship’s navigator. Then they threw them into that trench I was just diving. Throwing the navigator overboard turned out to be a mistake because a short time later they ran into a reef which tore a hole in the bottom of the ship and left it stranded on top of the reef. The crew swam to shore leaving the ship there. It didn’t take long for the locals to hear what was still on board the ship and there were many ships heading out to that reef to grab some of the stash. The local police figured out what was going on and hulled the ship into harbor and put a fence around it. It wasn’t long before people were hopping the fence to get to the stash. Then the police decided to take out all the marijuana and burn it. They waited for a day when the wind was blowing out to sea, but right after they started the fire the winds shifted and the biggest beach on the island was covered by the smoke. There are pictures in the island’s archive that show an entire beach full of a bunch of high folks. Anyways after all this the police gave the ship to a local dive shop which sunk the ship in about 50 feet of water for scuba divers to explore.

The dive master had warned us to keep our elbows tucked into our bodies or these two foot long gray fish would start biting at them. I didn’t think much of this while I was still on the ship waiting to dive, but once I was down there I was glad I had listened. I would keep my elbows in for awhile and then I’d forget about it. Then MUNCH! One of those dudes would take a good old bite at my elbows and I’d quickly bring them in again. It wasn’t bad enough to bleed, but it sure made me remember to bring those elbows in. It’s bizarre how they would only try and take a bite out of a wandering elbow. The wreck was pretty awesome. It was broken up a little from a few hurricanes in recent years, but it was still mostly intact.

On both of the dives the sea life was amazing. One really cool part of the sea live was these little bug creatures with long legs. When a couple of these group together they become a fish cleaning station. Some of the larger fish will swim up to these cleaning stations and open their big mouths, and these little guys will go in there and clean out the fish’s teeth. I swam up to one and it would clean off my finger. I was told if you remove your regulator and open your mouth these guys would start cleaning your teeth. However, when I tried this they didn’t seem interested. Bad breath perhaps?

Ocho Rios, Jamaica

The shipped booked it all night at near its max speed of 21 knots and we arrived at Ocho Rios, Jamaica on Thursday morning. In Jamaica the Triumph was able to dock and we walked off the ship. We were given many warning about the green green grass of Jamaica (Marijuana), but no one ever tried to sell us any. Lee and Natalie had a blast snorkeling; while the rest of us went on a canopy adventure.

The canopy adventure was a series of zip lines high up in the jungle that leads you down a mountain. It wasn’t all that extreme, but it was a nice ride through the jungle. Anyone who isn’t too scared of heights and can walk down steps for five minutes should be able to do it. There was ton of jungle vegetation to look at which was cool, but not as much wildlife as I had expected.

After that everyone headed back to the ship except Eric and me. We needed a little more beach time so we walked a few hundred yards to a nearby beach. This beach had a lot of hotels built up around it and we could see the cruise ship in the waters so in my opinion it wasn’t as beautiful as the beach we went to in Mexico, but it wasn’t bad for a short walk. The sand and water were just perfect. I already miss just how awesome that water was for swimming. I think I need a vacation.

I’ll probably write a little more about this trip, and I’ll certainly be posting more pictures in the future.


Danvers State Insane Asylum

Last weekend I went to Danvers, Massachusetts; the home of what is probably the most famous abandoned insane asylum in the world. It was designed by the famous architect Nathaniel J. Bradlee. The main building was erected in 1878 and for a long time it was considered one of the most human treatment facilities for mentally ill patients in the world. However starting in the early 20th century budget cuts and overpopulation started this institution down a long road of decline. In 1992 the hospital was closed because of budget cuts to the mental health system.

The hospital is in the process of being torn down to make room for new a new housing development. Loosing this piece of history makes me sad.

Motorcycle Permit

For quite awhile I've been thinking about getting a motorcycle license. It's used to be a ways down on the list, but it has slowly moved up the list and recently got to the number one spot. So this past Friday I went to the DMV to get my motorcycle permit.

I despise going to the DMV since it usually means long lines and I am always nervous I'll forget something like a piece of identification I need. This time I also needed to pass a 20 question test that is supposed to be similar to the written test you must pass to get an automobile license. I remembered the automobile test being pretty easy, but just to be sure I spent about a hour reading the motorcycle handbook put out my Massachusetts which is supposed to contain all the information I need to pass the written test to get a motorcycle permit. I even found a practice test on the internet that Massachusetts puts out, which as I suspected was full of easy common sense type questions. My plan of action was to go to the DMV nearest my house in the morning just before they opened the doors to see if I could beat the crowds.

It turned out getting there early was a great plan. I was the only one there who wanted to take one of written tests (actually they're computerized now). When my number got called after only a minute or two of waiting I walked up with the form all filled out and handed it to the guy. I set my envelope on the counter which was aptly labeled "Important Documents". It contains just about every form of identification I could think of: a check stub, a water bill, an electric bill, my driver’s license, my birth certificate, my social security card, and my passport. If this information can't prove who I am then I'm pretty sure it's impossible to prove that I'm me. My fingers nearly starting to twitch I was so eager to hand him my pile of identification. He spent a few minutes entering my data into the computer and then sent me to take my test. I almost asked him if he needed any identification, but I decided they must check that at the end. So I went to take my test.

I answered the first 14 questions correct and then the computer terminated my test. I was a little disappointed since I was hoping to get a 20 out of 20, but the stupid computer cut me off. I didn't really let that bother me though since I did pass and I was about to get my permit!

About two minutes later they called me up and handed me my motorcycle permit. I almost asked them if they needed to see any identification before I could leave, but I decided not to. Why press my luck? I was in and out of the DMV in 20 minutes (including the time it took me to do the test). That must be a record and didn't want to get the guy who forgot to ask for my identification in trouble since he did get me through so fast. But he certainly did screw up. On the DMV website it clearly states that I'll need four pieces of identification, but I had shown none. It's sort of scary that I had just been given a valid state issued photo ID card which is valid for two years without having to show any identification to prove who I am.

Anyways I now have a valid motorcycle permit. It's sort of scary... I can legally drive a motorcycle and the only restrictions are: I can't have a passenger and I can't drive at night. I'm certainly not qualified to drive a motorcycle. I'm sure I could figure things out, but instead I'm going go the sensible route and take a motorcycle safety course before I go out on the road. It will be at least a few weeks before I can take the safety course since I'm going on vacation next week, but I'll let you know how that course goes once I take it.



Labor Day Weekend

Eric and I went camping to Windsor State Forest, which is in the Berkshires, for a few days during the Labor Day weekend. My lack of navigational skills resulted in us coming back on a difficult to traverse stream bed on one of our hikes, but I think Eric forgives me. Here are some pictures!

Gunn Brook Falls

A Mountaintop Meadow

Eric and a Puppy!