Florida and the Carnival Freedom

We spent two weeks on Sanibel Island.  We never left the island the entire time because we were too cheap to pay the $6 toll to go over the bridge. 🙂 Our typical day started with a quick breakfast in the condo; then shelling for a few hours; afterwards spending time in the pool talking with new friends (particularly Joan & Jerry and Pete & Mary); and then finishing the day with a seafood dinner at one of the many great restaurants on the island.  Whew, rough duty, but someone has to do it!

We loved all the wildlife we saw on the island: birds, lizards, gators and sea creatures including manatees, dolphins, mollusks and bivalves.  It was a thrill to finally see a Roseate Spoonbill in the late evening in the Ding Darling Refuge.  It was a totally different thrill to see an alligator eyeing us as we left Bowman Beach!  Most of all, we loved the shells and the creatures that inhabit them.  We were so glad we visited the Shell Museum and took the guided Shell Walk where we learned so much about these creatures.  Afterwards, we knew what to look for in the sand so we could dig down and see the live whelks, olives and other critters.

One of our favorite times on the beach was at low tide when the Lettered Olives were out writing in the sand. In about an hour we found over 20 letters of the alphabet!

Who knew Lettered Olives could write Cristie’s initials?!

All too soon we had to leave.  We packed our bags and headed east across Alligator Alley to Ft. Lauderdale.  The last time I drove through here it was a two lane road with Seminole “villages” along the road.  Now, it’s I75 and you speed along with no distracting alligators nor roadside stands along side the road…kind of a shame.  However, we still saw lots of ibis, egrets and even a few storks along the way.  We also took time to visit the Florida Panther Refuge.  Saw no panthers, but even the potential of seeing a panther was fun.

Roseate Spoonbill

Carnival Freedom

Next up was our eight day cruise on the Carnival Freedom.  The Freedom weighs in at 110,000 tons and carries about 3000 passengers along with 1200 crew members.  It has 13 decks, three pools, at least 6 restaurants, countless bars and music venues, a three story inside theater, an outside movie theater, and a large Serenity Deck for adults only.  But most importantly, it has a Guy’s Burger Joint.  In our opinion, these are the best burgers we’ve ever tasted and so as soon as we got on board we headed to Guys!

Our first Guy’s of the trip!

Mona got in line to grab two burgers and I found us seats with a good view of the ocean.  Mona quickly made it back to the table and I thought she was going to bite off my fingers as she waited while I took pictures of the burgers.  As soon as my snaps were done she devoured her burger.  I mean, seriously and without exaggeration, it was gone in less than sixty seconds.  Mona is a little scary at these times so I lowered my head and tucked my arms around my burger so I could dine at a more human pace.  (In the meantime she got seconds!)

After Mona was sated we explored the ship.  The Freedom has the same basic layout as the Liberty which we sailed on about a year ago so it was relatively easy for us to get around.
Something different about this ship was the productions.  The show on the first night was a tribute to 1980’s music and it was AWESOME!  This was easily one of the best productions either of us had seen anywhere in our travels.  The music rocked; the vocals were awesome; and the sets were amazing! This set the tone for all the shows for the week.  Each of them was a tribute to a different style or vintage of music and they were all good!  We talked to the Cruise Director about them and she said that these were new shows just now being rolled out to the ships.  We’re just glad we got to see them!
There were three “at sea” days on the ship.  We spent all three doing basically the same things: going to the pool, playing trivia, hot-tubbing, people-watching, dancing and dining.  Each night would end with a show or the comedy club or a movie on the big screen outside.
Our first port of call was Grand Turk.  I woke up to find we had already docked at Grand Turk…yes, I slept in and missed the docking.  I hurriedly dressed and headed to the Lido Deck. There I saw a huge building next to our ship which surprised me as I didn’t think there were any large buildings on Grand Turk.  Turns out I was right…and wrong.  There are no huge buildings on the Island; instead, that was the Carnival Breeze which at 130,000 tons is the big brother to our Freedom.
Freedom and Big BrotherBreeze

We disembarked and decided to first find a cache.  Took us a few minutes but we soon had the cache in hand (and poison ivy on my ankle) and then we set out to see a little of Grand Turk.  We first visited the memorial to the 1962 splashdown of John Glenn’s Mercury Spacecraft. Afterwards we headed about a quarter mile down the beach to Jack’s Shack.  We chilled there for awhile, taking in the beach scenes and just cooling down from the tropical heat.

Castillo de San Cristobal watchtower and cannon embrasure

The next day we were in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The ship docks at old town San Juan so it’s easy to just get off the ship and start exploring.  Here, we had booked an excursion to take a three hour walking tour of old San Juan.  Mistake.  Don’t get me wrong, the tour itself was great…we walked all through the city and learned so much.  We also got to climb up to the highest point of Castillo de San Cristóbal which is one of the oldest forts in the Americas and a marvel of 17th century engineering.  We also got to go inside several buildings including the capital and the Spanish House which reminded us of Spain.  All that was good.  What was bad was the heat.  All that climbing in the heat was exhausting!  Even Mona sweated (Is that a word?)   and by the end of the tour we were drenched.  Ugh!  On the other hand, our tour guide was dressed in long pants and a long sleeved shirt with a tee over it and she was perfectly dry.  How can that be!?!?

After the tour was over we found a geocache, had a quick drink and headed back to the ship to cool in the pool.  I think the pool steamed as we let our hot bodies finally chill!
Our next port of call was St. Kitts.  This time we decided we would just relax.  But of course we had to find a cache first.  The nearest cache was 2 1/2 miles from the port so we hired a taxi to take us there.  We had a wild ride on the wrong side of the road to the Veterinary College where the cache was hidden.  Interesting that most of the students at this college are Americans!
Let’s hear it for the monkeys!


We then had the driver take us to the opposite end of the island to The Shipwreck Bar.  This place is literally built with pieces of wrecks that have landed on the island.  Here we relaxed and watched all the monkeys and mongooses (what is the plural of mongoose?).  The monkeys are Green Vervet monkeys originally brought here by the French as pets but now they run wild on the island.  There were lots of them near Shipwreck until about 1:00 when they all disappeared.  I guess they were on lunch break.

Our final port of call was Sint Maartens.  Actually, this island has two countries on it…the Dutch Sint Maartens and the French Saint Martin.  These two countries have shared this island since 1648, most of the time peacefully.  The ship docks in downtown Phillipsburg on the Dutch side.  Here we had booked another excursion; this time to do a 90 minute photographic scavenger hunt.  Need I say the word “Mistake” again?  Yes, we had a blast solving the mysteries and taking pictures of the solutions.  Yes, we learned a lot.  But damn, it was HOT!  We finally were so worn out we ducked into a McDonalds to cool down and have a beer.  Yep, McDonalds sells beer here…and of course it’s Heinekens.  Due to our McD’s chill down we came in second on the scavenger hunt.  Oh well!

Mona loves Orient Beach!


We found a geocache on the Dutch side then hired a taxi to take us to the French side of the island to find a cache there and to see how the French do islands.  We quickly found the cache and landed at Pedro’s, an island bar right on the beach sands.  Here we chilled, listened to island music and watched people….and oh, the people we watched!  This was indeed the beach for people watching!
Finally, our cruising days were over.  We docked, debarked and then as usual Mona got in trouble at Customs and had to pay a fine (No, I’m not telling why.) Finally, we were on the road north much to Mona’s dismay.  She kept pleading with me to turn back and let her find just one more shell.  Nonetheless, we landed in Savannah, Georgia for our first night back in the real world.  We checked in to our hotel and then walked down to River Street for Shrimp n Grits.  Mmmmm…good!  Next morning we drove through the historic district and reminisced about our stay there last year.  We ended our visit by bidding farewell to Forrest Gump’s bench and hit the road north.

Our trek took us across South Carolina and to Asheville, North Carolina.  There we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway which travels 469 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Parkway was a Depression-Era construction project to link the Shenandoah National Park with the Smokey Mountain National Park.  It winds up and down and side to side of the mountain tops with breathtaking views at every turn.  There are lots of tunnels blasted through the mountains and pulloffs seemingly every mile where you can stop and take in the vistas.  The trees are just beginning to turn color making the views even better.

Some early splashes of color on the Parkway
We were on the Parkway for several hours and it started to rain.  Frankly, we were tired and ready to stop looking at breathtaking views and instead look at the views from a comfy bed. However, you don’t simply get off the Parkway.  There aren’t a lot of exits and we had reservations in Boone for the night so we had to keep going.  Unfortunately, for me, Mona was driving and she began pushing the speed, especially on those hairpin curves….going downhill…in the rain…with no guardrail on my side.  White knuckle time!  At long last we found our exit and made our way to Boone and much needed rest.  Whew!
Now, our trip is basically over, even though about once an hour Mona says she wants to find a shell. Tonight we’ll visit Lexington, Kentucky and then head home.  It’s been a great trip but it’s time to go home, visit our family, do our laundry and make plans for our next trip.

Till then I’ll say goodbye!


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