Cruising for Christmas, part 1

So this year I wanted to do something different with the boys. Arlene and I have been able to work together to share the boys during holidays, long weekends, and so on, and when she offered me some extra time with the boys over their Christmas break I jumped at the chance. David wanted to stay in Huntsville with his girlfriend; no one wanted to go to California, and I was not going to spend Christmas in a hotel room. After talking it over with them in some depth, we decided to take a cruise.

Thanks to the fine folks at VacationsToGo, we identified the 24 December sailing of the Carnival Ecstasy as our best bet. Alexander, our travel agent, did a superb job. This is my second booking with VacationsToGo, and it won’t be the last. We got what I considered to be a great price on the cruise, and Alexander handled all the arrangements because I was locked in The Bunker during most of the planning period.

We were set to depart Port Canaveral on Christmas Eve. After a long drive from Montgomery to Valdosta to Cocoa Beach, we stopped at the KSC Visitors’ Center for the big KSC tour. Unfortunately, we missed the last tour bus, though we did get to go ice skating (or, more precisely, the boys did; I was having no part of that.) The tickets were very expensive relative to what you get (~ $43/person), and I didn’t feel like the exhibits were worth the money. They also don’t accept a Space and Rocket Center membership as reciprocal, which is too bad.

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Tom, cold-chillin’ on the ice at the KSC mini-rink

One of the fun things about our KSC visit was the holiday decorations; the rocket garden had a huge tree, and there were decorations at the ISS mural as well.

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your tax dollars at work

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Closest I’ll ever get to the ISS

When we were done at KSC, we settled in at the International Palms Resort in Cocoa Beach, which I found through Kayak. For $53 a night, it was quite decent, although not fancy. We didn’t use any of the “resort” features, which include a basketball court and a boardwalk leading to the beach. Instead, we went to do some last-minute Christmas shopping at Walmart, a process which we reprised the next morning at both Walmart and Merritt Square Mall. Once all the shopping was done, we dropped our rental car off at Avis in Cocoa Beach and took their shuttle to the cruise ship terminal. Note: if you’re thinking about doing the same thing, be forewarned that the Avis staff was completely overwhelmed when we were there. We waited nearly an hour for the right shuttle, and the staff was just flappin’. They were obviously in a rush to get everything done before they closed, but their customer service suffered as a result.

The boarding process went smoothly and fairly quickly. We got aboard and started exploring the ship, which has a sort of metro-art-deco feel to it. Lots of neon (and faux neon), etc. I didn’t especially care for it. I think the ship, which was built in ’91, is showing its age, and I vaguely remember that Carnival is planning on refurbishing it in the near future. Anyway, we got settled in fairly fast, although our luggage didn’t show up until much later. At dinner, we met our table companions: a couple from upstate New York and a mother (with a daughter and two sons, all older than my boys) from Shreveport. David, Tom, and I all ordered escargot as an appetizer, and Matt tried them and decided that he liked them too– score!

Christmas Day was a blast. We opened presents in the morning, then made port in Key West and set out for our snorkeling trip, booked through Fury Watersports. I recommend them highly: great equipment and a superbly friendly staff made them a great choice. The snorkeling itself was eventful. Tom was one of the first ones in the water, and he was the first one out after an encounter with a Portuguese man-o-war. Then David got in, then Matt and I. Matt was very reluctant after Tom’s sting, and even with gentle encouragement from Missy (one of the boat crew; she did a great job with Matt) he wasn’t having any. Shortly thereafter I got stung by a moon jellyfish, and then David poked one accidentally and got stung on the finger. The snorkeling itself was anticlimax; I didn’t see anything except a few grouper. The weather and water were gorgeous though, and I loved being out on the water.

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David in full snorkeling regalia


 

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Matt and I get ready to get in the water

 

 

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Tom and Missy on the snorkel boat

After we made it back to Key West, we had a delicious lunch of conch fritters and shrimp poboys at Caroline’s, walked around Duval Street for a while, and had superb key lime pie at the Key West Key Lime Pie Company. At lunch, Matt pulled his own tooth, so that was his injury du jour— more permanent than a jellyfish sting. Back aboard ship, we had dinner, and the boys went to parties at their individual age clubs. Carnival, like Disney, has clubs for various age groups. David and Tom very quickly took to their peers; Matt thought the activities for his age group were lame, probably because he thinks he’s as old as his brothers (and partly because they were kinda lame by comparison.) Surprisingly, Christmas wasn’t an occasion for an elegant or formal night, although the food and service were excellent. (I should take this opportunity to point out that the ship was decorated quite nicely for the holidays– lots of tinsel, lights, Christmas ornaments, and so on.)

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll wrap it up in a second post once I’ve had a bit of recovery time. We just got back to Pensacola today and I need a bit of a respite from my vacation…

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