Category Archives: Memories

I Kissed A Dolphin, and I Liked It

Structural Dissatisfaction: Returning to circumstances that once pleased you, having experienced a more thrilling or opulent way of life, and finding that you can no longer tolerate them.”

The quote above is from A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, the novel I coincidentally began reading on my vacation, which perfectly describes how I now feel that I am no longer on vacation.

From November 20th – 27th, I was aboard the Carnival Valor cruising for 7 days and nights with my bestie and travel buddy Erin. I was completely disconnected from the real world and it was absolutely blissful. Nothing but island time for a whole week. Rather than go through my trip day by day, I’ve decided just to list the highlights interspersed with some of my favorite photos.

THE SHIP

Being that this was my first cruise I don’t have a point of comparison, but in my opinion the Valor was fantastic.  With 13 different decks the ship itself is impressive and immaculately kept. We booked an interior state room as it was the least expensive, and I was more than happy with the accommodations. My bed was very comfortable and there was a lot of storage space for luggage and personal items. Never did I feel cramped. Our room was at the very front of the ship, so in rough waters we could hear the waves crashing against it as we sliced through the water.

Sailing away from Miami, Florida.

The Valor docked at Cozumel, Mexico.

THE CREW & STAFF

I cannot say enough positive things about the crew, staff, and service. Our House Steward was simply awesome. He was so friendly and always had a kind word. The housekeeping staff was also very observant and paid attention to when you left your room so as not to disturb you.

Amos, from Bali, was the Team Headwaiter for our dining table, and our Bar Waiter was Siwapakorn (who we nicknamed Sip Sip), from Thailand. Amos was very charming and included all the ladies at our table in the dancing routines performed by the servers.

Dinner on the first night. (Photo credit to Erin.)

Towel swan.

FOOD & DRINK

I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to want for anything on a cruise. There is constantly yummy food and even yummier alcoholic drinks at your disposal. One small complaint is that the healthy food options were not very tasty, so most people (including myself) opted for the non-healthy options. This makes it hard to not gain the 1.5-2 lb. per day that many people average. Drinks were more expensive than I thought they would be, but after a few days we figured out where the best specials and bartenders were to get the most bang for your buck.

Sunday drink of the day. It was tropical, fruity, and full of rum just like all vacation beverages should be.

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

THE SHORE EXCURSIONS

Erin and I booked shore excursions in the ports of Cozumel, Mexico and Georgetown, Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Both excursions were well worth the money we spent.

In Cozumel, we took a ferry to Playa del Carmen where we then caught a bus to the city of Tulum. Driving to Tulum involves going through rural, rather poor, areas of Mexico. It was interesting to see a part of real Mexico, rather than just another tourist trap. In Tulum, we hiked through the Mexican jungle to the Mayan Ruins of Coba. Our tour guide, Marco Polo (seriously) had a degree in history and was extremely knowledgeable in explaining the history of the area.

The Mayan Pyramid of Coba.

I did not walk to the top because stairs make me dizzy.

The second shore excursion in Grand Cayman took us to Dolphin Cove where we swam, danced with, and kissed dolphins. It was absolutely amazing to be in such close proximity to these creatures. After, we took a boat to Stingray City, which is a sandbar in the middle of the ocean where hundreds of stingrays live. Some of the rays are very old and large, up to five feet across in wingspan. They are very accustomed to humans and they glide around you and through your feet fearlessly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of these excursions because I couldn’t take my camera in the water.

Dolphin Cove - the weather was horrible.

Parrots at Dolphin Cove.

NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT

Our dining time was 8:15 pm, and often it was close to 10 pm when dinner finished up, so I was glad that Carnival provided a number of late shows and other entertainment options. We saw musical routines, magic shows, three comedians and some classically bad karaoke. Even if we didn’t go to a show there was always the casino or a number of bars and dance clubs to hang out in. I felt like Carnival really catered to the younger crowd in that respect, which I appreciated.

Mexican dolls.

Indigenous man dancing in Belize City, Belize.

SERENITY DECK

Probably my favorite part of the actual ship was the serenity deck, an adults only sun deck with circular lounge chairs, hot tubs, sauna, steam room and bar. It was incredibly peaceful to just lay in the sun with the sea breeze blowing against my face and sipping a pina colada.

A dying moth in Tulum.

Sunken ship in Mahagony Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras.

GUESTS

The success of every good party depends on the people who attend. We met so many interesting people who were all down to drink and dance the night away. The experience would not have been the same if the cruise guests hadn’t been fun! At one point, it was said that there is a 1 in 10,000 chance that you will ever see or hear from the other guests ever again, so just put yourself out there and live it up. While I agree with living life to the fullest, I have also located several other guests via Facebook because we (unknowingly) had mutual friends. So, the lesson here is to have fun but don’t be an ass. And, if you are going to be an ass, make sure you do it on the last night of the cruise.

Eating red beans and rice and drinking Belizean beer!

Erin and I excited to swim with dolphins! (Photo credit to Erin.)

Overall, I had SO MUCH FUN. The words I have written here cannot even begin to encapsulate what I experienced. We’re already starting to plan another trip. Going on this cruise and swimming with a dolphin also fulfilled numbers 18 and 30 on my Thirty Before 30 list! I can’t wait to complete all 28 other items!

– A Very Sad, Post-Vacation,  American Twenty-Something

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Goodbye, Borders

Photo courtesy of Geekosystem.com.

Earlier this week it was announced that Borders plans to liquidate their assets and close. This is unfortunate news for the nearly 11,000 employees that will now be out of work, but as a loyal customer I am also deeply saddened.

Over the years, Borders became more than just a bookstore to me. Borders was my third place:  not home, not work, but a comfortable third spot where I could just hang out. (Starbucks, coffee shops, and bookstores strive to create this kind of welcoming environment so customers will spend more time in their stores, make purchases, and return frequently.)

At Borders, I could get lost for hours perusing their floor-to-ceiling stacks of books, especially the buy-one-get-one-half-off section, randomly picking up novels to read a few pages or just catch a waft of that new book smell.

I was a fan of their coffee shop even before they became Seattle’s Best Coffee. The coffee shop sold warm cheddar-cheese-stuffed soft pretzels and iced chai lattes that I sipped while flipping through the glossy pages of fashion magazines and lounging on their leather couches. I once spent a whole day on those couches reading about mental illness when, in a life-altering series of events, my ex-boyfriend was diagnosed with one.

Borders was there for me when I purchased GRE preparation books, and then when I needed a place to study that also had a bottomless supply of caffeine. In graduate school, I went there to write grueling 20 page papers for mind-numbing classes like Project Management. Need another resource for your works cited list? Just get up and find one.

Often I would leave the office early and set up my laptop at one of their tables. I distinctly remember one evening working on a project with my then-supervisor, now-BFF Louise literally until the store closed and we had to leave. At work we were always distracted by some immediate task; at Borders we could actually make progress.

When Louise and I began a Stitch n’ Bitch group we frequently met at Borders to fuel up on caffeinated beverages and compare our latest knitting attempts. The coffee shop was always busy and tables were scarce, so we perfected the art of convincing others to give us a table. (Don’t ever underestimate the intimidation factor of knitting needles.) S&B group members came and went over the years but the venue stayed the same.

In exchange for all the time I spent there, I made significant financial contributions to their business as well. I was a Gold Rewards Member, someone who spends over $150 a year at the store.

I bid you farewell, Borders. It was great while it lasted.

– An American Twenty-Something

Where Were You?

Today marks the nine year anniversary of terrorist attacks that collapsed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

On that fateful day, I was 16 years old, a junior attending a performing arts magnet high school in Palm Beach County, Florida. For some reason, I remember it being an early-release day (half day), but that could be incorrect.

In any case, the school was in-between classes and I was heading out of the Social Sciences Building (3) and on my way down the hill to the Music Building (7), when I overheard a classmate tell someone else in the hall that a plane had crashed into a building in New York City. I remember shrugging this off as being a sad occurrence but nothing extraordinary because planes crash all the time. As I walked across the school to the Music Building I noticed an electricity in the air, a sense of urgency as students rushed to-and-fro to their next class.

As I entered the Chorus Room where such a large portion of my high school tenure was spent, I met faces captivated by the mounted wall television (a box TV, certainly not flat screen) that portrayed footage of the first plane crashing into the tower, which was when the true nature of the crash became clear.

For the next hour or so, we all sat watching that same footage on repeat until the second plane hit the other tower and augmented the devastation. I stayed in the Chorus Room throughout that entire day and there were no class changes. Likewise, many students throughout the school flocked to the buildings that housed their art areas, the places where we felt most familiar and safe and could seek solace in groups of people who shared our similar passions and experiences.

When those two planes hit the World Trade Center, my grandparents were vacationing in New York City. Their hotel was two blocks from the towers, and their group had a WTC tour scheduled that morning at 9:45 AM.  Luckily for them, the first plane hit before they left for their tour and so their lives were spared. I knew that they were okay because my grandmother left a very bizarre message on my parents’ answering machine saying they were safe before the media had even began to cover the first plane crash.

On that day, many of us discussed how we would always remember where we were when it happened, just like our parents remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Nine years later much has changed in our country, yet the one thing that has remained constant is that we will never forget.

– An American Twenty-Something

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