Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Rainy Day in Nashville

Hello everyone--I hope you all have sufficiently recovered from your holiday weekend.  And I hope it was a great Thanksgiving all-around.  Mine was excellent, although most of the family was scattered to the four winds this year.  Still, it was nice to be home.

One thing that really stood out was Tim's deep-fried turkey.  Oh, the oven-roasted one was excellent, as expected, but oh holy hell, the deep-fried one was nothing short of amazing.  And I still haven't grown tired of the leftovers yet.  In fact, just last night, I had a toasted turkey-and-Havarti sandie for dinner. And it was damn good, too. 

This past weekend, we also celebrated the anniversary of Cyndi's 39th birthday, which was a pretty good time--another houseful of people came over on Sunday, so the weekend was chock full of entertaining.  But that's not all we did--on Friday, it was all about lying on the couch watching football all day while the womenfolk went shopping (I think they left the house at 2:30 am and didn't get back until the early afternoon, the minivan full to the top of Christmas gifts).  On Saturday, Cyndi booted Tim and I out of the house (after bringing all the holiday decor down from the attic), and while she worked on the inside of the house, we went to Home Depot to pick up more lights, gutter clips, spare bulbs, and extension cords, and then came back and decorated the outside. 

I did the net lights on all of the low-lying bushes and shrubs, while Tim was up on the ladder and the roof hanging the icicle lights.  I ran out of gas early in the afternoon, and passed out for a couple of hours while he finished the stuff on the second floor trim.  We still got almost all of it done before it got dark, and the house looks damn good at night--not the least bit Griswaldy.  Cyndi also decorated the front porch, and we have a low-wattage spotlight on it, so it looks extremely festive.  If it ever stops raining, I'll take a picture and post it up.

So yeah, it was a pretty full weekend. 

Yesterday, I went out and did a bit of shopping, but I didn't get much done at all--it was one of 'those' days that happen every so often, and I felt cold and tired all day long, so I ended up sleeping on the couch bundled up in my wool socks, fleece jacket, my beanie hat, all wrapped up under a fleece blanket, with the cat curled up on my chest.  I must've snoozed for about three hours like that, and I'm sure I was quite a sight to see. 

Once Tim came home, we puttered around the house for a bit, and I fell asleep again waiting for the football game to start.  Clearly, I've still got a ways to go before my recovery is complete, but the doctors can't yell at me for not getting enough rest.  I woke up though--it was only about a 45-minute nap then, and stayed up and watched that god-awful Monday night game.  Before going to bed, however, I stayed up an extra hour talking to my gal Cheryl back in Vegas--we hadn't chatted in what seems like forever, so we had plenty of catching up to do.  I remember hanging the phone up at midnight, and then that's it.  I crashed hard for another eight hours.

But this morning, once I crawled out of bed, I came downstairs and got a lot of stuff done.  I've got a few cups of coffee in me, and I also did a bit of online Christmas shopping.  My cyber Monday fell on Tuesday, I guess.  Love me some Amazon Prime though.  And saving the 9+% sales tax they charge here in Tennessee is a satisfying personal eff-yoo to The Man.

Anyhow, once I get showered and such, I'm packing a bag and heading out again.  I'm going to meet Amy for lunch over at PF Chang's, then I'm gonna do a little browsing at a couple of stores over there in Cool Springs.  After that, I'm driving over to west Nashville to babysit the puglets for the afternoon until Amy and Scottie get home.  I'm gonna stay the night at their place, and then in the morning, we're loading my truck with their old furniture (if it stops raining).  They got some new stuff, yet their old furniture is some of the most comfortable ever, and nobody wants them to get rid of it, even though they don't have the space for it and it doesn't match their new sectional.  So I'm taking it up to Mamasan's house and she's going to put it down in her converted den (it used to be a garage, but the previous owners changed it over--now it's a huge spare room).

While there, we're going to make another double-batch of peanut butter balls in preparation for the family festivities.  I'll spend Wednesday night up at her place, and then on Thursday I'll make my way back down to civilization, because I have to go to the clinic at Vanderbilt that day and get stabbed again.  Once all that is done, I'll make my way back down here to the Hill and relax for a day before Cyndi gets home and the silliness of the weekend starts up again.

So I'm keeping myself busy.  Also, just in case y'all were wondering, I've been looking around a bit for some sort of part-time job to replenish the bank account.  I'm not hurting yet financially, and I have enough on hand that I don't have to worry about it too much until the end of February or so (not counting, of course, the medical bills), so I've been poking around for a little part-time gig.  I know that there is still absolutely no way I can work a 40-hour week, even if it were a desk-bound office job.  I just don't have the strength or endurance to do it--I'm only good for a few hours at a time before I need to lay down and recharge my weakened batteries.  Still, nothing really noteworthy has popped up, but I keep looking.  On the plus side, all I really have to worry about is my truck payment and insurance, and I'm down to only seven more payments before I own the ol' girl outright.  So, like I said, I don't have to sweat the money so badly--my family has been extremely generous in making sure that I don't have to take much out of my own pocket so I can just focus on getting better.  For that I feel truly lucky and blessed.

Anyhow, that's the latest from the rain-soaked hills of Tennessee.  I'll be taking my camera and laptop on the road with me, just in case the weather clears or anything of interest happens.  I'll try and come up with some interesting reading for ya later in the week, too.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

So Much to be Thankful For

Friends, one of my favorite holidays is upon us, and this year especially, I have much to be thankful for.  First of all, I'm just happy to be here.  After spending five years spinning my wheels in the casino business, it's wonderful to be back home with family and friends.  For those of you who've never missed out on that, let me tell you, it truly sucks.  Everyone says they're ok with it, but deep down, I'm sure that I wasn't the only person out there in the neon playground who resented the hell out of the fact that the holidays were nothing special. 

Screw that.

Nothing is more important than family and friends--trust me on this, I know!  And as crazy as they can drive you sometimes, remember that it's only because they mean so much and have years of experience pushing your buttons.

But this year I feel truly blessed.  I appreciate the fact that I almost didn't make it to this holiday season.  I think about it every day, and in moments of solitude, when I stop to consider it, it's almost overwhelming to me.  I can't believe how lucky I am.

Having put a few month's thought into it, I truly believe that everything that has happened to me this year was timed perfectly to help me survive and get another chance at life.  I hope it doesn't sound too hokey, but getting canned from the job at Sunset probably saved me.  It set me on the path that led me back here to Nashville, and I can't discount all the wonderful coincidences that got me here.

After I got the boot, two weeks later I was here in Nashville visiting the family, and at that time I decided that I was done with Vegas.  I was willing to give it one more year, but that was it--I was gonna be gone by the end of the World Series in 2011.  At least that was the plan.

But after that visit, I flew back to Vegas, looking for a decent job to carry me through.  What I got was a shiatty job at the Golden Nugget, and a damn good job at Bally's.  Unfortunately (I thought at the time), neither one was a permanent gig.  Not knowing what I know now, I thought working at Bally's would be a dream job, and I truly felt that I was going to get an offer to stay on permanently.  I really liked it there--the people were top notch, and it really was a good place to work, previous references to the 'Evil Empire' notwithstanding.

Nothing else looked promising on the job front, so I told myself that if the Bally's gig didn't work out, then I'd just go ahead and move back to Tennessee this year-- I mean, hell, if I'm going to work a crummy job (which was all that was left in Vegas), then I might as well work a crummy job in a place where I could be near my family.

So I jumped through the hoops, did the paperwork, and tried my hardest to get that job at Bally's.  I lasted longer and made it further through the process than most folks, but in the end, they chose somebody else for the position.

Probably the best letdown of my life.

I'm not lying at all when I say that I was bummed out for about five minutes, tops.  At least then I finally knew what was going to happen with my situation, after having been up in the air all summer long.  And I know it may sound weird, but I feel like I owe the poker director at Harrah's my life.  He's the last one I interviewed with and ultimately made the decision on whether or not to hire me.  He chose somebody else, and I'll probably be forever in his debt, because had I got the job, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be dead right now, having passed away alone in my apartment back there in Henderson due to a massive pulmonary embolism and unable to get to phone.  (Yes folks, it was that close).

Just a couple of weeks after I got the word that I wouldn't be working at Bally's any longer, I found myself back in Nashville, among the people that mean the most to me.  Never once did I feel like I'd made the wrong decision.  And luckily for me, I happened to be at Cyndi & Tim's house a week later when I fell ill, unable to breathe, walk, talk, or do much else.

They rushed me to the nearest emergency room, where it seemed every doctor on staff dropped what they were doing in an effort to keep me breathing.  They ran tests on me all day long, and after about twelve hours, they realized that what I had was something they couldn't treat. Again, luckily for me, my doctor there at Williamson Medical Center knew of a doctor at Vanderbilt who specialized in some sort of new procedure that was thought might be able to help me.  So at midnight they had him on the phone, going over my test results, and less than a half hour later, I was getting evacuated to Vanderbilt from the local hospital.  While I was riding in the ambulance in the middle of the night, they were rounding up a surgical team to perform an emergency operation.

That's when I started getting a little worried.  They don't normally schedule surgeries at 3:30 am on a weekend.

They took me straight up to the intensive care unit to do my initial preparation, and I met with the surgeon for the first time.  He gave it to me straight, and let me tell you, there is no way to prepare for a talk like that.  He told me that he could do the surgery, but this embolism (basically a huge blood clot) had gone through my heart and was so big that it was blocking the artery that came out of my heart right where it split to go to each my lungs--it was called a 'saddle embolism' because it straddled both paths.  And it was as big as a fist--how it ever got through my heart without me dropping dead, I'll never know.  I was told that most people don't even make it as far as I did--most of them die an instantaneous death.  Even though I'd made it that far, the doctor told me that my chances of surviving the surgery weren't very good.

In fact, his exact words were "You need to gather your family and say what you need to say to them".

How do you even respond to something like that?  How do you go from feeling like one morning you've just got a severe chest cold to the point where you realize a few hours later that you may not see another sunrise?  So much left to say, so much left to do, yet I had absolutely no control over any of it...

While all this was going on, Mamasan was lighting up the phones, telling everyone in the family to get down to the hospital as soon as they could possibly make it, because I was in trouble.  And not the kind bail money could solve... 

While I was being shaved from shoulders to knees and being attended to by an army of nurses, the doctor took my entire family aside and told them the same thing--chances are that I wasn't going to make it.  I can't even imagine the feeling in that room at the time, but afterward, they allowed all ten or eleven of them to come see me.  I knew it had to be a grave situation because they never let more than one or two family members at a time back there, and there I was with a huge crowd around my bed.

There are a few images indelibly inked on my memory, and that night, lying in that bed with all those tubes and machinery hooked up to me and my family around me is something that I'll never, ever, forget.  I know it was tough on them, but nobody has any idea how tough it was on me.  Not only did I already feel like I'd been beaten to a pulp physically, but I laid there thinking This is it?  This is why I made it home--just to say goodbye?  This is where it ends?  It doesn't seem quite fair...

I don't even remember what was said--just how I felt.  The only thing I remember was giving my sister Amy all of my passwords to my accounts and such, just in case.  It must've been pretty awkward, and it seems a stupid, if necessary, thing to be doing with your last few minutes spent with your loved ones.

Maybe I just didn't think it was my time to go.

I say that now, but I was plenty worried, especially when I got to the operating room.   

This is the place where people die...

Take a deep breath for me Michael...

Hey, this smells funny.  I hope I wake up from this...  I *have* to live--I can't die on September 11th!

Although I don't remember one bit of it, due to the extraordinary talents of my surgeon and his staff, I woke up about eight hours later, with my sisters Sherry and Cyndi at my bedside.  A few hours later, I was able to get the ventilator tube out of my throat and was able to talk a little. I remember seeing my sister Nancy for the first time in years--she'd flown in from Houston on the first available flight, and she sat with me for hours, just holding my hand.  That made all the difference in the world--I felt like the worst was behind me.

Eventually, I got to see the rest of my family--Dad drove up from Atlanta and Reverend Dave had come in from Alabama.  Everyone was there and had spent a sleepless night in the waiting room.  It had to be a tough time for everyone, waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them one way or the other if they'd ever see me again.  It had to have been a miserable stretch of time, because I know how hard it would've been on me had it been one of my sisters under the knife instead.  The realization that there's not a thing in the world you can do is a tough pill to swallow.

But I was told by my doctor and several of the ICU nurses that it was a miracle that I survived--apparently, it was a very near run thing.  Three days later, I was able to walk, and five days after that, I was going home, very much alive.

Ever since then, the process of my recovery has been nothing short of amazing, and I know how very lucky I am to be here--like I said, I think about it all the time.  Sometimes I get frustrated, wondering if I'll ever have a 'normal' life again, and wishing that I would just be completely healed, but it doesn't work that way.  I have good days and bad days, but the more days I have, the good ones outnumber the bad.

That is why I'm so very thankful today, and every day, for the life I have and the life I've been given.  I love my family more than anything, and the lengths they've all gone through these past couple of months to help me have been more than I could've ever asked.  The sacrifices that they have made on my behalf humble me almost to tears when I sit down and really think about it.  I'll never be able to repay their kindness, all I can do is try to live the kind of life that makes them feel that their efforts were worth it.

I'm thankful that I'm living in Tennessee, where I'm close to them.  I'm thankful that there is a cosmic order to the universe and all the chaos of the previous year led to me being in the right place at the right time, just when things seemed to be their worst.  That in itself is its own kind of miracle.  I'm thankful for the close friends I have, and all those who've shown their support as I slowly make my way from being a helpless invalid to being a fully-functional normal human being again.  I'm thankful for the skilled hands of Dr. Stephen Ball of the cardiac surgery staff at Vanderbilt Medical Center--without him, I wouldn't be here today.  I'm thankful to all of the amazing nurses and staff in the cardiac ICU who treated me like I was the only patient in the entire hospital the entire time I was there.

But most of all, I'm thankful for second chances.  I got a big one, and all of the stupid stuff that I used to think was important, well, I realized that some of it really ain't.  Family is important, friends are important, and most of all, never forgetting that it could all be gone in an instant is important.

Friends, raise a glass and be thankful today for all of the important things in your life.  Not only that, make sure that you do something to show it, because they may not be there tomorrow, and you may not be as lucky as me.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Much love--


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gettin' Ready for the Big Day

Happy Hump Day, everybody!  I hope all of you office drones have a short and enjoyable day in the cube farm while you goof off until it's time to punch out for the weekend.

Me--my weekend is already here, heh...  Actually, right now, I'm up here in the woods of northern Tennessee at Mamasan's house, and at some point this afternoon we're making that long 70-mile trek back down to Spring Hill.

I got here yesterday afternoon, after another session at the 'park-n-jab' clinic down at Vanderbilt (only four more months of that, I'm hoping!).  Anyhow, since I was already halfway here, I just drove on up yesterday to spend the afternoon.  And since it's such a haul, I brought a bag and my laptop and just spent the night in her spare room.

We spent a good portion of the afternoon making a huge batch of peanut-butter balls in preparation for the holidays.  I've decided that next week I'll probably make another huge batch myself and deliver them to all the nurses over at the Vanderbilt cardiac ICU--they were the ones who took such good care of me for five days back when things weren't lookin' so go for me.  Of course, once they wheeled me away and took me to the step-down unit for my last three days in the hospital, they never saw me again, and I want to let them know that I'm alive and doing well, and that I appreciate how much effort they put into keeping me on the right side of the grass.

So yeah, we rolled about 120 of those little suckers yesterday, a double batch, and this morning they get the chocolate coating.  It's been probably twenty years or more since I've been around to help Mamasan make 'em, so it's been a lot of fun. 

Once our chores were done last night, we took off and headed down to the nearest town of any size, a little burg called White House.  It's interesting, because when we were kids, three of us (Cyndi, Nancy, and me) used to go to school out there.  It's a small town, and it hasn't changed very much in the thirty years since I was in junior high.  But we had dinner at a pretty good little Mexican joint, and then we drove over to the Wally world supercenter to pick up all the non-perishables we need for our contributions to the Thanksgiving feast.

Mamasan is making her famous fruit salad, while I'm making deviled eggs, stuffing casserole, and corn casserole.  I just found the recipe for the stuffing casserole a couple of weeks ago and gave it a shot.  It turned out so well that I volunteered to make it again for turkey day--one less thing that Cyndi and Tim have to do (they're hosting this year, and I think there are ten or eleven of us that are going to be there.  And we're having a regular roasted turkey, plus a deep-fried southern-style one, too).

As far as family goes, Amy and Scottie won't be joining us--they're going to Scottie's parents' place up in Kentucky, and Sherry and Steve are headed off for a weekend escape to a cabin in Gatlinburg.  Reverend Dave has been noncommittal all month, and might be using the poor weather as an excuse to go with a better offer, so it's doubtful that we'll see him.  So it looks like it'll be me and Mamasan, Cyndi & Tim, plus a few family friends for dinner.  Cyndi's girls will be by later (this year is their dad's year) with the kids after dinner, but they'll come and hang out that afternoon and evening.

Should be a good time, and I'm excited to finally be able to celebrate Thanksgiving again after five years--no shift at the casino for me this time! 

So once we get on the road this afternoon, we'll hit the grocery store for a few last-minute perishables, then the plan is to do our cooking and prep this evening.  Cyndi will be getting back in town late this afternoon, too, so it should be a good time there at the house while we all get ready to prepare for tomorrow.

Y'all drive safe and have a wonderful weekend.  And for those of you who are flying instead of driving, enjoy your groping at the hands of the TSA!  Don't think of it as gate-rape, just lie back and think of England...

More tomorrow--


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Another Walk In the Woods

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day down here in The Hill, and as tempting as it was to lie around on the couch watching college football, I just had to get out and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.  And after suffering through that cold and damp hike up at Percy Priest Lake earlier in the week, I wanted to reward myself with some quality time out in the woods when it was actually kind of sunny and warm out.

Referring to my 60 Hikes book, I saw that there was an 'easy' rated hike just a few miles down the freeway from Spring Hill on the Duck River, so today around noon, I put on my walking shoes and grabbed my hiking stick, and pointed my truck towards Henry Horton State Park. 

It didn't take long to get there, and the trailhead is right off the highway.  Yeah, at first I thought that would be a feature, not a bug, but I didn't like it very much at all--I could hear traffic noise for most of the hike.

Officially, the trail is called the Willhoite Mills trail, and it meanders along the Duck River, through a civil-war era grain mill complex.  In fact, just a few feet from the parking lot, you come across the first relics:

Just down the hill a few steps from the old industrial equipment, the path turns left and runs along the top of a limestone ledge that overlooks the river.  It's not exactly treacherous, but then again, you have to pay attention where you step, else you'd go tumbling down the hill into the water.  Not something I wanted to do, that's for sure.

The first point of interest along the river is the 'narrows', a spot where it was supposedly dammed up back in the old days.  Also, it's claim to fame was that Andrew Jackson crossed there way back in the day.  I have no political or military aspirations, so I just stayed on this side of the river. 

It was actually a nice walk along the river, with several rocky outcroppings all along the way where you could sit and watch the water or toss pebbles in.  I just kept on walking, although I stopped to take a picture or two.

After about a third of a mile or so, the path veered away from the river and up into the woods along a dried up gulch that led to a spot called Haunted Springs.

According to the legend, and lady was doing her wash in the spring, holding a baby in a cloth sling.  But the baby fell out of the sling into the water and was immediately washed away, never to be found again, even after a large scale manhunt.  Somehow, that makes it haunted, but wandering through there on a sunny afternoon, it didn't seem too spooky to me.

As the trail wound it's way through the woods, uphill and further away from the river, the path found its way to another dried-up riverbed.  It was pretty cool to see, but I imagine that during the summer months, the place is just crawling with snakes.  It just looks like a good place to live, if I were a snake, that's all I'm sayin'.

Even so, it's still very pretty, and the last quarter-mile of the trail heading back to the parking area was nice and shady, too.  I enjoyed it a lot, although it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be.  The first bit had some up-and-down, and for someone who's still somewhat uncoordinated and out-of-shape, there were a few tricky steps here and there, but nothing major. 

The further you got from the river, the easier the walk became--no rocks, a fairly defined dirt trail, and minimal change in elevation.  According to the guidebook, it's only a mile, but with stopping for pictures and taking the occasional rest, it took me about 40 minutes to walk it.  Definitely a better workout than wandering the sidewalks around the neighborhood, and certainly more interesting, too.

Once I got back to the truck, I rested for a bit, then crossed over the highway to check out the camping area at Henry Horton State Park.  I'm always on the lookout for another good camping spot, and I had high hopes for this one.  Unfortunately, it was pretty sucky.  Easily the lamest camping area I've seen yet.  I mean, do they really need 4x4 timbers staked into the ground to mark where you have to put your tent?  Seriously, it looked like the outdoors version of a time-out area.  Not only that, the sites were tiny, way too close together, and on the edge of a huge field with a barn out in the middle of it.  Who wants to camp there?  Oh yeah, and it's not far off the highway, too, so there is plenty of traffic noise. 

Worst.  Campground.  Evar. 

Anyhow, now that I've seen it and scouted it out, we won't waste our time staying there next summer.  At least the hike was interesting.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Miraculous Voyage

Thank you all for your patience.  I know it's been a long time coming (2 weeks now), but I hope it's worth it--maybe you'll enjoy my thoughts about this latest cruise vacation.

It's hard to believe that it's over.  We planned for it for almost a year, saved for it and paid it off over the course of several months, anticipated it for what seemed like forever, and enjoyed it for eight wonderful days.

And now it's in the history books.  Kind of a bummer.

But that's ok--when things were winding down at the tail end of the trip, with no more adventures lurking over the horizon, everyone agreed that they were ready to come home.  Even so, I'd go back again tomorrow and do it all over again if I were given half the chance.  Since that ain't very likely, I guess I'll just try to re-live a little bit of it here on the blog by sharing it with all of you folks.

Instead of doing an hour-by-hour epic travelogue-type post, which is my usual style, I think I'm going to categorize it and cover the most memorable topical stuff.  I could've written a full-length rehash, but that would've required me to spend an hour or so each night jotting down notes, and well, I just didn't feel like doing that.  I was on vacation from everything, including this website.

So without further adieu, here we go...


For the two, maybe three readers who aren't aware, my sisters and I took a cruise together for the first time back in 2000.  We had such a great time that we decided to do it every year--which we did, up until 2004.  After that, I moved to Vegas and started working in the casino biz and weekends, holidays, and vacations became a thing of the past.  However, my sisters kept going, sometimes taking two or even three cruises per year, whenever the finances and vacation balance would allow.  I think Cyndi has been on 18 cruises now, and Sherry was on her 13th when we embarked.  Me--well, this was only my fifth cruise--I'm a piker compared to them.  But I decided a year ago that I wasn't going to miss another one, and come hell or high water, I was going this time around.

And I almost didn't make it.

Y'all already know about my near-miss with the Grim Reaper back in September, and for a little while there, we didn't know whether I'd be getting out of the hospital in either a wheelchair or a pine box, much less be going on a family cruise seven weeks later.  My survival and subsequent recovery has been nothing short of miraculous (Best comeback since Jesus!), so our trip aboard the aptly-named Carnival Miracle was especially sweet.

Anyhow, we'd been planning this trip long before I got sick, back when I was still making a fairly decent living.  Luckily I paid off the cruise, purchased my airline ticket, and even set aside $500 in spending money earlier in the summer.  Basically, all I had to do was pack my bags and go.  So a few twists and turns aside, once October rolled around, we were all good and ready to get our cruise on.  The cast of characters this time around included Mamasan and her friend Mary, Sherry and Steve, Cyndi and Tim, Amy and Scottie, our buddy Gaines, Reverend Dave, and I, your humble scribe.  That's eleven people, in case you weren't counting.

In the past, I've gone the bargain route and shared an interior cabin--you know, one of those cut-rate rooms on the inside of the ship with no windows.  It's very affordable, and the rooms are quite comfy (love taking a nap in the pitch dark!), but I needed me some ocean views.  So this time around, I splurged for a balcony stateroom, as did most of the rest of the our party.  In fact, we had four staterooms all in row on the port side, so the potential for buffoonery was damn near unlimited.  While most of our group was together in those rooms, Sherry and Steve went upscale and got one of those huge suites on the tail-end of the ship that had a corner balcony, while Mom and Mary booked their trip a little later than the rest of us, and opted to save a few bucks and got a regular ocean-view stateroom (no balcony) on a lower deck.

As far as getting to Ft. Lauderdale went, we got lucky and managed to all get on the same flight, too (Well, except Reverend Dave--he lives down in Alabama, so he flew Delta out of Huntsville).  So the night before we departed, Mamasan came down to Amy & Scottie's house for a slumber party, and we all carpooled to the airport together early in the morning, meeting everyone else there at the gate.  That night, however, we introduced Mamasan to the tasty goodness of tequila.  Yep, sixty-some-odd years old, and she'd never had a margarita before.  So she made up for it by having three of them with dinner, and she slept better than the rest of us that night.  While she drooled on the couch, I stayed up late packing and preparing, then piling up all the suitcases out in the living room.

Ready to go...

Getting There

We set the alarms for 4:45 in the morning, and we had the truck loaded and were on the road by 5:30.  We stopped to pick up Gaines, who lives pretty close to the airport, and I was standing in line checking my luggage by 6:30 for our 7:50 flight.  Everyone else had stopped for coffee and breakfast and whatnot, but since it was quite a hike to our gate, and I was dragging a duffel bag and my backpack, I just went with momentum and kept on walking--I knew that if I stopped to rest, it would be tough to get up and keep going, and Southwest's gates at the Nashville airport are a long way from the front door.  So with my slow and steady hike, I was the first one there.  But after a few minutes, the rest of the family came trickling through security and down the corridor, and then the excitement and laughter kicked in.

Our gang patiently waits to get on the plane and get to Florida.

The flight was uneventful, and we made it to Ft. Lauderdale a few minutes early.  While we were waiting at the luggage carousel, Reverend Dave came strolling up to greet us, as his flight landed about twenty minutes before ours did.

We broke off into smaller groups to cab it over to the cruise terminal, with some folks stopping at the local Publix to buy soft drinks, bottled water, and more wine to bring aboard.  Dave and I didn't feel the need, and we just wanted to get to the ship, so we grabbed a cab together and headed off to Port Everglades, about a ten-minute taxi ride away.

Between the two of us, we had a ton of luggage--I had a big suitcase, a garment bag, a rolling duffel, and my backpack.  I think Reverend Dave had one less bag.  But the cab driver dropped us off in front of the VIP entrance instead of just curbside, and ironically, there were no porters there to take our luggage.  We went inside and explained to them that Guest Services had told me to use the VIP entrance because, due to my surgery, I was unable to lift and carry my stuff, much less stand in line in the heat and humidity (and damn was it ever hot and humid down there!).  

The VIP folks were very understanding, and shuffled us along, although we still had all of our luggage with us.  But everyone we encountered just kept saying to keep moving along.  When we go to the third person in the screening process, I was dripping in sweat and feeling not-so-well.  Of course I looked every bit like I'd just gotten out of the hospital, but still, we were unable to ditch our luggage.  Dave even offered to take it all back to the curb, but the folks tending the check-in lines would have no part of it--they just kept saying to move on forward, it's just right ahead.  

That turned out to be a huge clusterf*ck, as we ended up having to drag all of our luggage on board with us, no matter how many times we asked to give it to a porter.  We even had to put our full-sized suitcases and garment bags through the carry-on x-ray machine, because once we got into the VIP line, there was no turning back.  And even though we requested help with our luggage, all they would do was offer up a wheelchair.   

No, I didn't need a wheelchair, I need one of you mofos to take my suitcases!

We never could ditch the bags, but Reverend Dave went above and beyond, though, and carried all the heavy stuff, while I just dragged two of the rolling suitcases and my backpack.  On the other hand, they *did* let us go through the VIP line with the upper-crust passengers and go directly onboard ahead of the herd.  

The downside, however, was that we still had all that stuff with us, and couldn't go to our cabin until 1:30.  But we were onboard the ship by noon.  Even though the main doors to the corridors on our deck were closed, discouraging people from going to their cabins, they were unlocked.  So we went to our cabins anyways and ditched the luggage in the closet.  The rooms were a mess, still being cleaned by the stewards from the previous weeks' occupants, but we weren't carrying those bags another step.  

Once we dropped the luggage off, we headed upstairs to the Lido Deck for lunch.  The problem is, only three of the elevators were available for passenger use (the rest were being used by the crew to deliver luggage and supplies), and then once we finally made it to the Lido Deck, every other passenger on the ship was there, also.  Besides the main lobby in the atrium, there was no place else to go until the boarding process was completed and people could get to their cabins.  So there were 2100 people, all dragging their carry-on bags with them, crowding into the restaurant area that had seating for maybe eight or nine-hundred people, max--another total clusterf*ck.  

At that point, frustrated, tired, covered in sweat, and unable to get a seat anywhere and needing a rest, my opinion of the Carnival Miracle was not very good.  I was kinda pissed.  Dave and I went up to the Sun Deck to take some pictures, and if all else failed, look for a shady spot on deck to rest until we could get to our staterooms, change clothes, and get a bottle of water. 

But once we got outside, away from the crowds, felt the breeze and saw the ocean, it was like a switch had been flipped.  Serenity now and all that shiat...  Things were looking up!  I even snapped a few pictures.

The Coral Princess was sitting across the harbor from us, also embarking that day, while the harbor patrol was busy telling the captain of that nice sailboat that he'd have to park elsewhere...

The smokestack that inspired a generation of ladies underwear.  Everybody loves the whale tail!

The Ship Itself

Due to the non-functioning elevators, the fact that we had to carry our own luggage aboard, and the overcrowded restaurant on embarkation day, I was full-on prepared to be pissy about the ship.  Also, if you do a google image search for 'Carnival Miracle', the pictures of the interior are not flattering at all.  It just looks a little too over-the-top and way over-decorated.  Well, that was the first impression that I think I wanted to form.  But after the first day, most everyone in our group, myself included, really fell in love with the ship.

Why?  Well, the Spirit class of Carnival ships (Spirit, Pride, Legend, and Miracle) are perfectly designed, if you ask me.  I've been on two other Carnival ships, Paradise and Elation, plus two Royal Caribbean ships, and the Miracle was my favorite, by far.  I loved the layout.  Granted, it helped that we were exactly in the middle of the ship (one door down from the glass elevators in the atrium), but the Spirit class ships hold only 2100 passengers, smaller than most other cruise ships, yet they still offer all of the same amenities that the bigger ships have.  

We were on the fifth (Upper) deck.  All we had to do was hop on the elevator to go anywhere, no walking down ridiculously long 900-foot corridors to get to the dining room or whatever.  Seriously, we took five steps to the elevator, got off at the Lido Deck and were in the restaurant.  If we went to the Sun Deck, we stepped off at the Steakhouse.  If we went down to the third deck, all the shops and the photo gallery were right there.  Down to the second deck, and we were in the main atrium lobby and the casino was a few steps away in one direction, the main dining room a few steps away in the other direction. It was extremely convenient and well laid out.  90% of the places we wanted to go were either on the ninth deck or second deck, with staterooms everywhere else.  

As far as the decor goes, yeah, it was a little extreme, but that's what Carnival does.  Subtle is not in their corporate dictionary.  That being said, it all went together pretty well, and it truly was a good-looking ship once you figured out the vibe they were going for. 

This is the interior of the steakhouse, Nick & Nora's, from the entrance.  It's a two-story affair with a dance floor in the middle of the dining room.  Also, that rail in front overlooks the atrium, and the lobby is eight floors down.

Yup, that's the lobby down there, as seen from the steakhouse.  In the upper right of this picture, you can see the base of the vertigo-inducing flying staircase made of glass that leads from the Lido Restaurant up to the steakhouse.  Think about that--a solid glass circular staircase eight floors up.  It's more of a chandelier than a staircase.  Now think about walking down it with a few drinks in your system when the ship is rocking back and forth in ten-foot swells...

As you step off of the mid-ship glass elevator on the fifth deck and take an immediate left, this is what you see.  That was my cabin door, #5204.  Cyndi & Tim were the next door closer in 5202, Reverend Dave next door further down in 5206, and Amy & Scottie next to him in 5208.

Like I said, we all pretty much loved the ship after our first day aboard.  The only bummer was the fact that we wanted to take down the partitions between our individual balconies and have one big damn long balcony, but we couldn't do it.  Apparently, there is a special brace required on each frame when the partitions come down, and they only have twenty per ship 'for safety reasons'.  That kinda sucks when there are about 400 balcony staterooms.  Anyhow, all of these braces were long-since snapped up by other passengers by the time we asked the room stewards to hook us up.  So we just kept our own individual balconies, although at one point during the week, we had seven people out on ours, enjoying the sunset.

One thing I really liked was the decor in the Lido Restaurant--Horatio's.  It's the casual buffet where we usually ate breakfast and lunch.  It was themed after the Napoleonic-era British Navy, and it had intricately-detailed model ships placed all about the dining area, and some larger scale ones hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the restaurant.  Since I'm into that kind of stuff, I really enjoyed wandering around in there just looking at all the details late at night when the place was empty.  I often wondered how many people actually took the time to notice how much craftsmanship it took to make them, because they looked to be museum-quality.  I'm kicking myself for not taking more pictures in there, because it was probably my favorite space on the entire ship for eye candy that wasn't bikini-clad.

I think Reverend Dave has a few more pics, and as soon as he gets them uploaded, I'll post 'em up.

The Staterooms

Carnival may have a reputation in the industry as a trailer-park at sea, and yeah, there were definitely some low-class boorish passengers bringing things down on occasion, but Carnival ships have some of the biggest and best standard staterooms out there--definitely better than Royal Caribbean.  Ours was no exception.

My only gripe about the layout is that when you have two twin beds like this, they should be up against the wall.  It's a lot of work to stay in bed when the ship is trying to outrun a hurricane, and having a wall to wedge up against is much better.  Also, one has to sit up to turn over--no rolling over else you're on the floor.  They were still comfy, but not nearly as restful as sleeping in a queen-sized bed or being up against the wall.

There was plenty of storage space--the closet was triple wide, plus there were plenty of drawers available too.  Maybe I just felt like I had lots of space because I wasn't sharing a room with three chicks this time.  Dudes travel much lighter, so we had lots of unused space.  Also, each cabin on this ship had a mini-fridge, stocked with beer, soft drinks, and liquor.  

I only have one picture of the bathroom, and it comes later, for reasons that will be obvious, but I have to tell you that I love love LOVED the shower in our stateroom.  It was some sort of kick-ass European design with all kinds of ways to adjust it, plus the head was a detachable hand-held shower massage.  But I really liked the fact that you could instantly adjust the water to a set temperature and take a scalding hot shower if you wanted to, or like the afternoon when we got back on the boat after spending the day in St. Maarten, you could make it blessedly cold--not just room temperature.  I mean, it was much nicer than any setup I've ever had at home.  Seriously, it was the kind of shower you'd expect to find on the dashboard of a Mercedes S-class, if they offered that sort of thing.  I can't rave about it enough...

The only gripe we had about the room was the fact that there was only one single electrical outlet available for use.  We solved that by bringing a short-corded power-strip, but still, if you don't bring one, you aren't plugging in anything except your iPod speakers.

The Service

This is where Carnival usually excels--every crew member on the ship is extremely friendly and helpful.  We loved our wait team in the dining room--Tomi from Indonesia, and Duro from Croatia.  Always great service, but we could tell that Duro was still a rookie and kind of learning the ropes.  Our room steward was just a little bit disappointing with a few minor things, but then again, we barely ever saw him.  However, I got a kick out of this towel animal he made for us on election night:

Another one of our favorites was the waiter we had out on deck every day, Gus, also from Indonesia.  He learned our names early on and earned some phat tips from us...

The Activities

Even though it's one of the smaller ships in Carnival's fleet, there was no shortage of things to do during our four wonderful sea days.  I spent most mornings the same way I always did--up early, a cup of coffee and breakfast in Horatio's, then out to the aft adults-only pool for some quality sun time.  But having a balcony, I spent a whole lot more time out there, especially first thing in the morning.  My plan was to also hit the track up on the Sports Deck every morning, but as we made our way southbound, we had a 20+ knot headwind, making it very gusty up top, so they closed off the sports deck for safety reasons.  I never made it up there again, but believe me, I still got plenty of exercise.

I loved the saltwater pool on the aft deck, and spent most of my free time out there.  I never once made it to the main pools in the middle of the ship, nor did I ever go on the water slide.  It's not like there were a bunch of kids on the ship (that's why we always go in October, all the rug-rats are in school), but there were still a few around, plus the usual collection of young couples that had their first precious snowflake still in a stroller.  So that kept me back in the adults-only area.

Even though I never rode the slide, my brothers did...

So every morning after breakfast, I went back down to the stateroom and grabbed a backpack full of stuff like a beach towel, binoculars, my camera, sunscreen, an iPod, a book, and a spare t-shirt.  Then I'd head up to the aft Lido deck and find a chaise lounge to camp on for several hours.  A lot of people had the same routine, and every day, the same gal from Virginia came and sat down next to me.  We had lots of enjoyable interesting conversations during the week, so I enjoyed hanging out up there.  Also, most of my gang would make their way up there, too, and we'd always order a few drinks of the day while slowly roasting in the sun.  Yeah--I got some good color while on vacation.

Well, hello there, sexy internet people...  How YOU doin'?

Besides just the pool, there were plenty of other diversions to keep us occupied.  Of course there was the casino, which, yeah, I hit a few times.  I played blackjack a few times with my brothers--we'd take over a complete table and have a few laughs and cocktails while waiting for the girls.  There was one table in particular that I thought was amazing--it had the best rules I've ever seen on a Blackjack table.  It was an eight-deck shoe, but any 21 was an automatic winner, no waiting for the dealer to make a hand and maybe push--if you drew to a 21, you got paid instantly.  And if you got a blackjack, a 5-card 21, a 6-7-8 21, or a 7-7-7 21, you got paid instantly at 3:2 (no waiting to see if the dealer got a blackjack, either).  You could double after *any* card, not just the third one, double after splits, re-hit split Aces, and they offered late surrender.  I couldn't believe it!  It was like the most amazing set of player-friendly rules ever!

Then, three days into the cruise, I found out that there we no queens in the deck.  WTF?  Nope, they didn't have that posted anywhere on the table, nor where they offering up that info voluntarily.  You had to ask.  That's 32 fewer chances to get a blackjack, a HUGE advantage for the house, so I immediately colored up and quit playing as soon as I learned that.  I just never noticed that there were no queens coming out.  It turned out that all of their blackjack tables had some sort of god-awful Harrah-fied rules, so after that, I avoided the blackjack tables altogether.

On the other hand, the casino on this ship was huge--easily the biggest one out of the five different cruises I've been on--so there were other diversions available to me.  Yep, they had a double-zero roulette table, as expected, 3-card poker, Caribbean Stud, craps, and oh-by-the-way, one of them electronic dealer-less hold-em tables we've heard about.

I gave it a try during the second sea day, after I found out that they took a $6 rake (again, not posted anywhere, but then again, there is no Nevada Gaming Commission out there in international waters.  Apparently, the casino rules on cruise ships are derived from the Pirate Code, which we all know are more like guidelines, anyways...)

The only game they offered all week was 1-2 no limit, which was fine with me, and you played with your sail-n-sign card, no cash.  After my first try, I was less than impressed.  I mean, it was cool and all, and it really sped the game up, but I didn't really enjoy sitting there wasting my precious cruise time waiting for a hand.  I ended up leaving after about two hours, up $50, and I cashed out completely, never going back for the rest of the week.

My buddy Gaines, however, loved it, and spent almost all of his free time there playing it--he was actually up over $500 by the end of the trip.  But the difference between us is that he's been in Tennessee all these years and poker games are a lot harder to come by.  I'm still kind of coming down from living in Vegas, where I could almost always find a poker game, so I didn't feel the need to sit down and play so much.  And I don't much care for the electronic version, I've decided, so I took the money and ran after one session.

I did, however, play a bit of craps (the only bad rule there was the 12 only paid double on the field, but it's not a bet I'd make anyways), and I was able to enjoy it again.  Between my ignorance of the blackjack rules and conservative hit-and-run play at the dice table, I was up over $300 in the casino just three days into the trip.  But one night before dinner, we all played blackjack again, and I got pasted for $200 (at one point, the dealer had a stiff up card versus my 20 four times in a row, and drew to a 21 all four times, then finished me off when he dealt himself a blackjack).  That's when an observer told me about the no queens rule, so I bitched for a minute or two and then left, feeling a little bit violated.

I played a little bit of dice here and there, not really too much, and I think I was down about a hundred bucks on the last night of the cruise.  But late that night after dinner, I was back in my stateroom folding clothes and packing, I found $52 worth of casino chips in the pocket of a pair of cargo shorts.  So I went back down to cash them in.  While standing in line at the cage, I saw a huge crowd around the dice table, so I went over to investigate.

It turns out that there were only four people playing, but about 20 spectators.  There was a kid rolling the dice who'd never played before, but he was having one of those monster rolls. So I stepped up and put my $52 into the game.  He made me another $25 or so before he went out, so I was happy.  I was enjoying myself, so I decided to stick around until the dice got to me.

Luckily, just a few minutes later, a guy at the far end of the table had a monster 40-minute roll, and I turned my $52 into $667.  Oh hell yeah--and I was playing pretty conservatively at first.  I didn't really start pressing until I'd doubled up.  But this guy hit everything, and when it was over I cashed out--on the very last night of the cruise--for a $600 profit!  Oh hell yeah.  It was almost 1:00 am by that time, but once I got finished with my business at the cage, I ran down to the Purser's desk and put $540 against my sail-n-sign account.  That made my whole week even better!

Believe it or not, besides the casino, there were plenty of other things to do.  We spent a lot of time in the sports bar attached to the casino, because it was one of the few places onboard, besides our balconies, where we could smoke our cigars and pipes.  And even though there was no ESPN on the TVs in our staterooms, they had ESPN in the sports bar, so we got to watch football and the World Series, if we were so inclined.

During the sea days, they always had plenty of other activities going on around the ship, but the only thing I remember taking part in was the 80s music trivia.  I got 36 out of 40 right, and would've won, but the chick that won cheated a bit.  No biggie, it's not like there was prize money at stake, but my competitive nature made me think bad thoughts about her...

Of course they had the nightly shows, comedians and musicals and such, but I never went to any of them.  We had late dinner, so afterward we'd always go change clothes and either hit the casino, the sports bar, the piano bar, or just go up to Horatio's and play cards or board games or something.  That was always fun.  Gaines is big into games, so he brought a briefcase full of stuff.  Besides playing our 'golf' and Chinese poker, we had a few epic games of Dominion and Settlers of Catan, and then some silly stuff like Cheeky Monkey or No Thanks.  We played lots of games during our free time, and late at night, some of them were off-the-hook fun, especially when everyone was loaded up on red wine...

One thing that I thought I'd participate in, but never got around to, was going to the cocktail receptions.  Cruise ships love to throw cocktail parties, and this one was no different.  Everyone always goes to the 'Meet the Captain' receptions on the formal nights, but they don't do much for me--it's always overcrowded because of the free drinks and finger food.  Having not worn a tie in the past six years or so, except for a couple of job interviews, I didn't really feel like dressing up that early in the evening.

I did, however, score an invite to an 'exclusive' Past Guest reception, but then again, half the people on the boat were also past guests, so it wasn't such an exclusive group.  Besides, like the old saying goes, I wouldn't want to be part of any club that would have me as a member...  Heh.

The highlight of the week, however, had to be Halloween.  We went back and forth for months before we decided what to wear that night, but I think it all turned out pretty well.  Here's a few pics:

 Cleopatra and Caesar



 Willie and the Sunflower

Somebody's Robbin' the Cradle.

No pictures of Brittney would be complete without the obligatory up-skirt.

Reverend Dave, as Brittney, had by far the most popular costume on the entire ship.  It was seriously like being followed by the paparazzi wherever we went--everyone had to have a picture with him.  He got jobbed in the costume contest, though--didn't even place, although he was easily the crowd favorite.  The winning costume was a couple that had done completely over-the-top Ghostbusters uniforms, complete with lights and electricity on the backpacks, but my favorite were the four people who dressed up like Pac Man.  Well, one guy was the Pac Man, the other three were the blue monsters, and they arrived in the dining room fashionably late and ran through and around the tables like it was a huge life-sized video game.  It gave everyone a great laugh at dinner.  Oh, and there was also a 'Flo' from Progressive that looked exactly like the gal on the commercial, too, but when I went back to get my camera from the table, she was gone...

The Itinerary

Originally, we had a perfect itinerary--depart on a Tuesday, then two days at sea, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, then two more sea days before coming back to Ft. Lauderdale.  However, about four days out, we ran into this little thing called Hurricane Tomas, and well, that threw a monkey wrench into the whole plan.

We had our two sea days, then a wonderful time in St. Maarten, but that night at dinner, the Captain came on the PA system (even in the dining room, so we knew it was serious) to announce that the itinerary had to change due to bad weather and safety concerns.  So, at that point, instead of going to St. Lucia the next day, the plan was to go to St. Kitts instead (which you can see from St. Maarten), and then after that, we'd scurry back north, adjusting our sea days, and then on the last day of the cruise, we'd drop in at Nassau in the Bahamas.

That pissed off everyone on the ship, and there was a whole lot of murmuring going on all around the dining room. We've all been to the Bahamas numerous times, but we'd never been to St. Lucia--basically the main reason we chose this particular cruise--so we got jacked.  But that's the problem with cruising at the tail-end of hurricane season.  Usually the weather is perfect, there are no kids on the boat, and the rates are cheap.  But every now and then Mother Nature makes us pay.  It kind of put a damper on the end of an otherwise great day.

Still, we had a wonderful time in St. Maarten.  I'd been there before, back in 2001 (documented in my epic post about the greatest craps roll ever!), and I absolutely loved the place.  It was a beautiful island, full of beautiful beaches and beautiful people, and lots and lots of cheap duty-free booze and other goodies.  I was looking forward to getting back to the island.

The French side of St. Maarten, first thing in the morning, as seen from my balcony. 

Our plan on this island, was to skip all of the shore excursions offered on the ship.  First of all, they are a complete rip-off, overpriced as hell (and we found out that the cruise lines strong-arm the local tour operators, demanding a 65% cut of the purchase price!  For that reason alone, I'll never take a shore excursion again that's offered onboard), and usually they're overcrowded.  So a few weeks before we left, Steve and Sherry did some online sleuthing and found a private catamaran charter for us to take, so we jumped on it.  We wanted nothing to do with the cruise-ship crowd, and we really wanted to do some sailing and snorkeling on our own.  So the nine of us agreed to cough up $130 (plus tip) apiece for a private charter.  (Mom and Mary opted not to join us)

The ship docked early in the morning, and we were out on the pier about ten minutes after they lowered the gangway at 8:00 am.  We had to meet the sailboat at a local marina at ten, so our plan was to hit the town of Philipsburg and buy some Cuban cigars before our sailing trip.  We took the water taxi to the main town dock, but even though there were two ships in port, the locals ran on island time, and most of the shops were still closed.  We walked all up and down front street looking for cigars, but the main Habanos shop wasn't open until 9:00, and even though the proprietor was there, he didn't want any of our business.  So we moved on.

Eventually, we gave up on the whole Front Street hike and made our way back down to the beach.

We still had a little time to kill before we had to be at the marina, so we stopped at a couple of shore-side bars and had a fruity drink or two.  At one spot, our waiter brought out some extra-thick pistachio flavored liqueur, which was quite tasty, but not exactly thirst-quenching out there in the hot sun.  Once we finished off our drinks, we did a bit of shopping where I was able to get my hands on some Cuban cigars and also a kick-ass straw hat to protect my melon from the sun.  Eventually we all made it to the marina to wait for the catamaran to show up.

Our boat was just a few minutes late, but that was no problem.  We all kicked off the flip-flops, boarded the sailboat, and headed out of the harbor, a day of seagoing adventure ahead of us.  We headed south, and then west, out towards the Princess Juliana airport, hoping to catch a few jumbo jets landing on the beach.

We saw a few jets, but mostly it was a bunch of prop-driven island-hopping commuter planes.

We circled around a bit, trying to get some good photos (I think Reverend Dave has quite a few), but then we decided to move on and get some swimming down.  We found a nice cove, with a beautiful sandy beach, and anchored about 200 yards offshore.  There were a few rocks and reefs around for snorkeling, and everyone dove right in.  Almost everyone--I was still hesitant.

First of all, my chest still has a huge fresh scar down the middle of it, and it's still pretty sensitive--it's still kind of hard to sleep on my stomach, and participating in the belly-flop contest on the ship was completely out of the question this year.  Also, even though we were on a small catamaran (45 footer), it was still about a five-foot drop down to the water, and I didn't know if I could handle the jolt.  Also, my biggest concern was getting back up into the boat--climbing up that tiny vertical ladder might've been too hard for me.  I had no upper body strength, unable to lift anything more than ten pounds since my surgery, and hauling my carcass up that ladder seemed a daunting task.

So I stood there on the edge of the boat, thinking about jumping in, for a good five minutes.  Reverend Dave was telling me not to, but everyone else was egging me on.  That water looked good and refreshing, as it was hot as hell that day, but I'll admit, I was scared to jump.  And even more worried about how I was going to get back on the boat later.

Eventually, I just said out loud (everyone was watching me and waiting for me to jump) F*ck it--if I'm gonna die, I'd rather it be here in the Caribbean than in some hospital bed back in Tennessee.  And then I leaped.

Everyone held their breath to see if I'd surface without any problems, but I was just fine.  The moment I hit the water, I felt like a million bucks.  The water was clear and cool and about 30 feet deep down to the sandy bottom, and I just floated around for about a half hour or so, feeling better than I had in what seemed like forever.  That time spent floating around in the ocean right there was worth every penny I paid for that cruise.  I felt cleansed, both literally and figuratively.  Life was good and I was gonna be ok.

Hell, I didn't want to get out!

Eventually, we had to move on, and I was a bit nervous about climbing back up into the boat.  I had a couple of my brothers on deck, and a couple more in the water behind me to help me up if I needed it, but after a bit of grunting and groaning, I managed to pull myself up out of the water and back on deck.  It was a bit slow and deliberate, but I made it without hurting myself.

We sailed on a bit more, maybe 45 minutes or so to the next cove.  It was a beautiful spot, completely empty.  We were offshore from the perfect beach, and there was nobody else around.  Again, we anchored about 120 yards offshore, and I announced to everyone that I was jumping overboard and swimming to the beach.  Of course, everyone else beat me to it, but over the side I went, and after splashing around the boat for a bit to cool off, we headed for the shore.

There was a slight swell to help us along, but even so, swimming in the ocean is quite the workout for someone who hadn't really used their arms in a couple of months.  The beach was a little steeper than expected, and even the small waves rolling in were very powerful.  We treaded water offshore while watching Amy get rolled over and over again, her laughter cracking us up every time she got knocked down. It was like she was in a giant washing machine up there, flopping around in the boundary zone between ocean and shore.  She was finally able to remain standing and walk up on the shore, so we all followed. 

Seriously, does it get any better than this?  I think not.

It felt a little like we were swimming in the worlds largest bottle of Bombay Sapphire, minus the olives.

We hung out on the shore for quite awhile, looking for shells, picking up interesting rocks, but mostly just splashing around in the waves, slowing getting buried in the sand.  It was a perfectly sunny day, with a nice occasional breeze, and the ocean felt wonderful.  I could've stayed there forever.  But it was not to be--we got summoned back to the boat for lunch.

Honestly, sitting there on that beach, I wasn't sure if I was able to make the swim back out to the boat, much less climb back aboard.  I mean, there was a nice swell rolling in that I had to swim against, plus I could tell that I was already pretty much spent, and for a minute or two I considered just walking up to the road and catching a cab back to Philipsburg.  Lucky for me, my gang offered up some moral support and I jumped back in the water.  Tim swam behind me in case I got too tired, but the one thing I had going in my favor is my complete inability to sink.  And salt water is even more buoyant than your typical swimming pool, so at worst I'd just rest and maintain position, then swim a bit more.

But when I got the last twenty yards or so, I did a 'sprint to the finish' and got to the stern ladder, pretty much worn out.  However, I managed to climb up it one more time and get myself onboard.  It wasn't that easy, though.  There was a big school of over sized Angel fish swimming around the boat looking for food.  They were pretty aggressive, too.  All you had to do to scare them away was to smack the water and they'd scatter for a minute, but then they'd come right back.  

Sherry and Steve were the last ones back to the boat, so by the time they got there, we were throwing pieces of bread overboard, creating a feeding frenzy in front of them.  Gaines has it on video (not posted to YouTube just yet), and it's pretty cool to watch.  

Lunch on board was absolutely amazing, and the highlight of the trip.  The crew really outdid themselves with some top-notch food.  While we were off frolicking on the beach, they were back on the boat grilling and preparing a feast that would rival any restaurant found on land.

We had some spicy island BBQ ribs, grilled mahi-mahi with a wasabi cream sauce (everyone's favorite), seafood paella that was just loaded with shrimp and calamari, not to mention the saffron rice.  There was bean salad, green salad, macaroni salad, garlic cheese toast, fruit, and all the rum punch and Presidente beer you could drink.

And after a full morning of sailing, swimming, and snorkeling, it was a perfect lunch.  We ate until we were stuffed, declaring that it was the best lunch we'd had yet, and not likely to be surpassed by anything in Horatio's back on the ship.

After stuffing ourselves on the great lunch, we cleaned up a bit, hauled the anchor, and set sail for another cove for more snorkeling.  By then, everyone was in a food coma and just wanted to lie around in the sun, watching the sea roll by.  But we we still had plenty of time to relax and goof off.

We sailed back towards Philipsburg, anchoring in yet another cove, but it was open to the swell and much too choppy for me.  I remember trying to snorkel is choppy water back in the Caymans several years ago, and it sucked.  I'm a strong swimmer (at least I was), and even then I felt like it was a little too far out of my comfort zone.  So, knowing that I was already pretty worn out, I opted to stay onboard.  A couple of my sisters did, too, and everyone that swam there on that last stop got back on the boat complaining about the chop.  But it wasn't all bad, there was plenty of sea life lurking around on the bottom.

The starfish that ate Scotties head...

Still, a great time, although we all agreed that had we known, we would've just stayed at the second stop all day and swam some more after lunch.  It was an unbeatable combination of sun, sand, and good times with my brothers and sisters, and it was a truly wonderful excursion.  I can't say enough good things about Captain Neil and the crew of the Celine, but if you're ever in the neighborhood, you should definitely look him up.
After our last stop, we had about a 45-minute motorsail into the wind back to the main harbor in Philipsburg.  We were all exhausted, salt-caked, and sunburned.  But the good times didn't end there--we cooled off with pitchers of BBCs, Banana-Bailey Coladas.  Oh hell yeah, they were every bit as good as you can imagine.
Once we made it back to port, we were absolutely wiped out.  A full day sailing, swimming, and sunshine had taken it's toll.  It was all we could do to make it back to the water taxi, much less walk down that long-ass pier back to the ship.  We made it, barely, as they were getting ready to pull up the gangplank when we got there.

Once we got back onboard, it was like a mad-dash for the showers.  Ocean water leaves you all sticky with salt, not to mention all the sand we still had in the pockets of our swim trunks and such, and there was no fresh-water rinse available on the sailboat.  Once both Gaines and I had finished our showers, our bathroom looked like a giant litter box because of all the sand and salt we'd brought back aboard.  It felt great to hose off in cool fresh water, and once I changed into some clean clothes, it was hard to motivate myself to dinner that night.

A few of us gathered on Tim & Cyndi's balcony to enjoy the sunset and smoke a fine Cuban cigar while we departed St. Maarten, putting a well-deserved exclamation point on a very good day.  As the sun set on the starboard side of the ship, I took a picture of St. Bart's off in the distance as we cruised by.

Tim and I didn't think anyone would make it to dinner that night, as we were all beat, but we still had a full table in the dining room.

The amended plan for the next day was to go to St. Kitts, just a few miles away, so that night the ship just did an out-and-about cruise to nowhere, circling around until we could go into port first thing in the morning.  Well, the next morning, it was pretty windy and choppy out, and you could definitely tell that there was a hurricane out there lurking just over the horizon.  

The captain made two attempts at docking the boat in St. Kitts, but gave up because the wind was gusting up to 45 mph.  There was no announcement made, but since we were obviously heading back out to sea at 9:00 am, instead of pillaging the island, we speculated on what would happen next.  It was obvious that St. Kitts was off the table and that we were headed back north.  

 This was as close as we got to St. Kitts

While the captain and crew scrambled to figure out another port we could visit, the rest of us speculated.  We were hoping for either St. Thomas or maybe even going back to St. Maarten, but we knew that was highly unlikely.  I was up for San Juan, Puerto Rico, but we all agreed that we'd be completely pissed off if we ended up at Key West.  Nobody wanted to go there.

A couple hours later, there was a palpable sigh of relief all across the ship when they announced that we'd go ahead and have our sea days 'now', instead of at the tail end of the trip, and that we'd be visiting Grand Turk next, then finishing off in the Bahamas.  

Nice!  None of us but Sherry and Steve had ever before been to the Turks & Caicos, and we'd heard that the beaches there were pretty nice.  We figured it would be a nice consolation prize since we missed St. Lucia.  And, as a bonus, I got to add another country visited to my list of blank stamps in my passport.

As we headed north, we passed Saba Island on the port side.  It was such a hazy day, though, that it didn't make for a great picture.  Still, Saba kinda looks, from a distance, like the kind of place where you'd find Jurassic Park.  Or at least a bunch of drum-pounding natives searching for a virgin to sacrifice to the volcano...

After a couple of days at sea, we escaped the Caribbean and were back in the Atlantic, pulling into Grand Turk.  As much as I hoped to like it, Grand Turk was just kind of meh...  Basically, it's just a small, carved out cruise ship stop, like a lamer version of Costa Maya.  Oh yeah, there were beaches, but you had to walk through all of the duty free tourist traps just to get off the boat, and you couldn't rent any snorkel equipment or do anything unless you'd signed up for it onboard the ship.  Yep, the cruise line had a complete and total monopoly on that island, so no, I won't be going back.

However, it wasn't all bad.  There was still plenty of white sand and gorgeous blue water available.


Everyone kind of split up and went shopping and whatnot, but Amy, Scottie, and I staked out some primo chaise lounges next to the huge freshwater pool at Margaritaville. Oh hell yeah.  After being immersed in salt water for a good portion of the week, the appeal of a freshwater pool was too much to overcome.  Oh, and lying under a palm tree drinking umbrella drinks seemed like a good plan, too.

It was nice and relaxing, and damn near the perfect way to spend the day, except for a few caveats.  It was the most overpriced place I'd ever been (and that's saying a lot, having lived in Vegas for the better part of the past six years).  One pitcher of margaritas, one order of nachos, and one order of coconut shrimp cost us--get ready for it--seventy five f*cking dollars!

I am not making that up.

Oh, we justified it by saying that yeah, we were on vacation, and yeah, we were using their pool.  But $75?  Geez, at least give me a kiss in the morning and tell me that you'll call...  Of course, we were far too relaxed to summon up much righteous indignation, and ended up ordering three more $39 pitchers of margaritas throughout the course of our stay.  But as good as the pool was, the coconut shrimp sucked.

  Fourth of July on Amity Island.  Wait, no... It's the first of November on Grand Turk! 

As much as we enjoyed the pool at Margaritaville, there was one little mishap that can't go unreported.  About two hours after we got there, a woman showed up with five screaming brats in tow, the oldest probably eleven years old.  Yep, Parent of the Year brought her kids to the bar.  So of course they started screaming and splashing around in the pool, pissing off everyone else and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  It went on for about a half an hour or so, and just about the time people were fed up enough to complain, they all hastily exited the pool and disappeared. Not a minute later, a couple of maintenance guys came over, looked at the water, and shook their heads.  About a minute later, an announcement came over the PA system that the pool was closed immediately and everyone must get out of the water.

Yep, one of those f*cking brats dropped a deuce in the pool.

Again, I'm not making this up.

So the pool was closed for an hour and a half while they skimmed it, shocked it with chemicals, and scrubbed the area down where the kids were playing.  Some tourists, however, were oblivious, and still jumped in, and folks sitting around the edge got a kick out of watching the reaction when they were told Hey, the pool's closed, some kid took a dump in it...

Eventually, we grew tired of the crowd, the prices, and the polluted pool, and headed back to the ship.  And although we had a good time, we agreed that Grand Turk is not a place we'd come back to voluntarily.  Too much of a 'company town', designed from the ground up for no other purpose than to empty the wallets of American tourists.

The next day, the last full day of the cruise, found us in The Bahamas.  Again, not a place we wanted to go, but Mother Nature and the Captain insisted.  Of course, sailing in, we saw that there were already four other cruise ships in port, and the Miracle would make it five.  Having been there a time or two before, I knew it would be crowded as hell, so I decided to just stay on the ship for the day.  Everyone else got off to explore, but I hung out on the aft deck and had the adult pool all to myself for most of the afternoon.  

 The approach to Nassau harbor, as seen from my balcony.

 Once we tied up at the dock, I had a pretty nice view from the stateroom.

Wondering if they need a roommate...

After The Bahamas, it was just a quick hop, skip, and jump back to Ft. Lauderdale.  But I'm not finished quite yet.  Let's talk about the subject everyone has been waiting for.

Food & Drink

Some folks believe that the food is best reason to take a cruise, but I'm not one of them.  Some other folks believe that drinking booze will double the cost of your cruise, and I firmly believe that.  First of all, the food in the buffet was below-average, I thought, but then again, I'm not a fan of buffets at all.  

Breakfast, which you shouldn't screw up, was pretty much always screwed up.  The grits were runny, scrambled eggs, well, we weren't too sure if they were real.  And the bacon was a source of contention for many people--even though they offered it every morning, it was that cheapo thin stuff, and the serving station had a bacon nazi serving it out.  Apparently some previous cruisers had ruined it for the rest of us...  The biscuits and gravy were just plain bad, but the French toast and pancakes seemed ok.  

On the other hand, their fresh fruit selection was wonderful, and the baked goods were pretty good too.  So if you didn't want to eat the typical buffet stuff, you could have a fairly decent breakfast.  My biggest complaint was the coffee.  If you got there too early in the morning, the coffee was absolutely horrid, like it'd been sitting in the machine all night.  Later on, when the crowds were there, the coffee was fine.  Usually, I stuck with apple juice, and then after breakfast I went to visit my Ukrainian girlfriend who was a barista at the coffee-house booth in the back of the restaurant.  Yeah, there was a fee involved, but I loved the coconut lattes.  I got one every morning while flirting with the girl from Odessa.

I had hoped to get a made-to-order omelet once or twice, but no matter what time in the morning you got there, there was always a line.  And with only one omelet station, it just wasn't worth the wait.  My usual breakfast was fruit, some sort of muffin, juice, and an occasional foray to the buffet line to see if there was anything intriguing.  Usually, there wasn't.  

There was also free room service available, if you wanted continental breakfast delivered to your stateroom, which everyone took advantage of, if only for a pot of coffee to enjoy while sitting out on the balcony and gazing upon the early morning sun and sea.

Sunrise at sea, as seen from my balcony.

On the first sea day, I was tired of being out at the pool, and not wanting to fight the crowds in the restaurant, so I just headed back to the cabin for lunch.  I ordered a roast beef on baguette and a fruit plate.  It looked so good that I just had to get a picture:

Room service is always nice, but lunch in the buffet was still fairly good.  I thought it was miles ahead of breakfast, with a few notable exceptions.  They had a pretty good Asian station, and an Italian station that was popular.  The grilled sandwich station always had a line, but I hit it once during the cruise.  I didn't like it much--even though the sandwiches were grilled panini-style, the cheese was never melted and the meat was always cold in the middle.  So after my first visit, I never went back.  However, I really liked the do-it-yourself cold-cuts and the endless array of cold salads and pasta.  There was some to-die-for Vietnamese glass noodles with veggies that I ate almost every day.

Of course, there was also the 24-hour pizzaria, and it was really good if you got a fresh one.  Sometimes, the slices were the re-heated premade ones, and they were pretty pedestrian.  Nope, it didn't compare to Grimaldi's, but it sure beat the hell out of the chain stuff.  It was a pretty popular stop for lunch and late-night snacking.  They also had the outdoor grill in the middle area of the Lido deck by the main pool, offering hot dogs and hamburgers all afternoon each day, but again, that was a stop I never made.

Dinner in the dining room was the highlight meal of the day, and it was obvious that it was the meal they put the most effort into.  I was surprised at how good the food was in the dining room each night, and there was always a great variety of things to choose from on the menu.  They had grilled mahi-mahi every night, which I had a few times, and also, some of their vegetarian offerings (I know, blasphemy!) were extremely good.  I think one of the best things I had in the dining room was prime rib, believe it or not.  Yep, they knocked it out of the park with that one, and it was a huge hit with everyone in our group.

They offered steak, and shrimp cocktail every night, just in case anything on the main menu didn't suit your fancy, but I always found something I liked.  I remember having a decent chateaubriand one night, and as usual, the dining room lobster was always overcooked.  On the other hand, the pasta was always excellent, as were most beef and chicken dishes.

As far as desserts go, I indulged a few times.  Everyone raved about the chocolate melting cake, which was pretty good, but I think it's more of a chick thing--a little cup of hormonal-activation love.  I swear, it's the closest thing to a working aphrodesiac that I've ever seen.  Too bad I was dining with all my sisters...  They also offered a few standard things, cheesecake, tiramisu, and the like, and every night they also offered ice cream and an assortment of other cakes and such.  Still, the chocolate melting cake was the crowd favorite, even though it was sometimes tough to keep it on the spoon, especially after a few glasses of wine:

As much as I enjoy having dinner in the dining room, I do have one serious gripe with Carnival Cruise Lines.  I know they're supposed to be the 'Fun Ships' and all, but seriously, do the waiters need to sing and dance every frickin' night in the middle of dinner service?  Imagine the staff at TGI Friday's breaking into that annoying birthday song every night, and then multiply it by a hundred.  It's annoying as hell, and it detracts from an otherwise nice meal.  I really hate it.

That little pet peeve aside, I really enjoyed getting together in the dining room every night with my brothers and sisters.  It was a fun family meal in a nice setting, and we always had a nice time lingering over a good meal.  And we always do the latest seating for dinner--no kids in the dining room, which makes the evening even more enjoyable.

Even better than the dining room was having dinner in the steakhouse.  On the third night of the cruise, Steve, Sherry, Reverend Dave, and I had a really nice dinner in the reservations-only supper club steakhouse.  It was off-the-charts fantastic.  And you couldn't beat the price, either--for only $30 per person, you got a great meal in a nice restaurant, that would easily be $100+ per person if it were out in Vegas.

I had French onion soup and crab cakes to start my meal, while Reverend Dave had escargot and some amazing beef carpaccio.  He got the porterhouse, while I went with the 18 oz ribeye.  For sides, I had a loaded baked potato and sauteed wild mushrooms, which were easily the best I've ever had.  How's about a few pictures, eh?

This was that amazing beef carpaccio that Reverend Dave raved about.  It was raw prime beef, covered in a crouton, mache lettuce, and shaved parmesan.  Drizzled with a little olive oil and cracked pepper, it was wonderful.  If you're having a hard time believing me, just think of it as beef sushi.

My Maryland crab cake--one of the better versions I've had.  Plenty of sweet lump crab meat, no shells or sand, and an only-slightly spicy sauce that complemented it perfectly.

 This is what a 28 oz porterhouse looks like, in case there was any doubt.

 Not to be outdone, here is my 18 oz. ribeye, which I think is even better than the porterhouse.

One can't forget about dessert, either, and they had us covered.  I had a slice of cheesecake.  Now, normally, I'm not a huge fan of it, but this one sounded pretty good, so I ordered it.  Of course, it looked HUGE when they brought it out, but what I learned was that they whipped up the batter and got a lot of air into it, so it was a tall slice, but it wasn't brick-heavy like your typical restaurant cheesecake.  It had a nice, lighter consistency, kinda like a thick mousse.  I really liked it a lot.

If you notice in the background, Reverend Dave had some sort of 'chocolate sampler', which he really liked, too.  In fact, it was such a nice meal that we decided to do it all again, and before we left the restaurant that night, we made reservations for the last night of the cruise--all four of us, plus Mom and Mary.  I didn't take any pictures on the second visit, but I had the ribeye again, and also had my own beef carpaccio.  And I also had the chocolate sampler for dessert.  It was damn good, as expected.

As far as wine at dinner went, I didn't bring any of my own wine aboard.  I'm glad I didn't, either.  Carnival seems to be cracking down on it.  The new rule seems to be that you can have one bottle in each carry-on, and that goes right through, no problem.  But if you've stashed some in your luggage that you check with the porters upon embarkation, well, you're screwed.  They x-ray each piece and if they see any bottles, the suitcase goes to the security office down on the lower deck and you get a note on your stateroom door saying that you have to go down there and claim it.  But first, you have to open said suitcase in front of a security officer, and if there is any booze in it, they confiscate it, and won't let you have it again until the last night of the cruise.

That happened to both Sherry and Gaines.  On the other hand, if you had a bunch of carry-on luggage, anything you brought (as long as it was just one bottle per bag), got right through the security checkpoint, no problem at all.  I guess I could've brought four bottles since I had to drag all my damn luggage aboard with me...  Still, they'll charge a corkage fee of ten bucks per bottle also, unless you open it yourself before you get to the dining room.  More hoops, not worth the effort to me, but some folks went through all kinds of contortions to bring their drinkables onboard.

I was going to just say farkit and spring for a couple of bottles in the dining room, as I researched their offerings beforehand and saw that their more expensive stuff didn't really have that high of a markup.  And then, less than an hour after we boarded, Amy, Scottie, Reverend Dave, Gaines, and I were sitting in the lobby sipping on our first drinks of the trip, when a waitress came around offering pre-paid wine packages.

I was intrigued, and ended up getting five bottles of their premium wines in advance, and in doing so, I saved $55 off of the cost of buying them individually throughout the week.  Eight nights, five bottles, not too shabby.  Of course, I shared with some of my dinner companions, but it was totally worth the expense (I think it cost $175 or so).

I got a nice bottle of white (Pouilly Fuisse) on the first night to eat with my seafood dishes, and the next night picked up a good merlot, but the best was during our first visit to the steakhouse, I got an absolutely fantastic bottle of Sebastiani Cabernet.  It was some of the best wine I'd ever had, and I ended up using the last three of my choices on it.  I think I even bought an extra one on the last night of the trip to share with Sherry and David while we were in the steakhouse.  Even Mamasan, who doesn't drink red wine, had a small sample and said she liked it.  (In fact, that reminds me--later today, once the liquor store opens, I'm going to go down and pick up a couple of bottles to keep here at the house.  I've become a firm believer in the health benefits of red wine!)

Anyways, the pre-paid wine card was the way to go, at least for me.  They had different pricing options, and I think the lowest priced wines were like $90 for five bottles, but then, you only saved about twenty bucks, and well, you weren't drinking the top-shelf stuff, either.  Regardless, I thought it was a good deal, and I recommend it if you like to have wine with your meals.

As far as the rest of the booze goes, well, I was a little disappointed in the prices.  It was *expensive*.  Granted, I hadn't been on a cruise in six years, so yeah, there was some inflation, but still...  I remember back in my previous cruises, all of those random sail-n-sign receipts I had floating around at the end of the week, almost all of them for about $6.75 per cocktail.  Well, on this trip, most of them were eight or nine bucks.  Beer was a relative bargain at $5.50 (loved the Amstel Light), but those fruity umbrella drinks really added up.  Not so say that we didn't indulge...

About two minutes after Reverend Dave and I found Amy and Scottie during our first hour onboard, this landed in front of me.

Instead of fighting the crowds up in the buffet at embarkation, this is how my crew spent their first afternoon of the cruise.  We had orange slices for lunch.

At the end of the week, the total charges on my sail-n-sign account were in the neighborhood of $650.  And yeah, most of that was wine and drinks-of-the-day.  Oh, I lifted a few diet Cokes from the mini-bar, and bought drinks for other people throughout the week, too, so that contributed greatly to the total.  Those coconut lattes added up, too.  I know I drank more than I should have, because a couple of nights I was feeling kinda crappy and went to bed early.  Still, it didn't stop me from having a good time.
 Straight from the it-sounded-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time department, apple mojitos. 

I think that pretty much covers it, don't you?  Overall, it was a fantastic vacation, exactly what I needed.  A few final thoughts:

  • Gotta go with a balcony from now on.  Nothing better than watching that ocean roll by each day.  Besides, all that time we spent out there kept us out of the casino.
  • The meals got better as the day wore on.  Breakfast was weak, lunch was better, dinner was pretty damn good.
  • A favorite spot for our group was the sports bar attached to the casino--it seemed to be a natural meeting place.
  • Love the idea of adults-only areas.  I'd pay a premium for a nobody-under-21 cruise if some enterprising business would only offer it.
  • No cookies.  It seems that Carnival has done away with offering cookies with room service and even in the restaurant.  Only once during lunch did I ever see any cookies on the dessert station, and they were small and lame.  I don't understand this.
  • Also, they're saving tons of money by not putting bread baskets on the table at dinner.  Before the meal service, the assistant waiter comes around with a basket and offers rolls and such, but then that's it--once they're gone, they're gone.  Obviously, you can ask for more, but it seems like a small thing that saves them huge amounts of money and time.
  • I can't praise the bathrooms on this ship highly enough--compared to the ones in the staterooms on previous cruises, these were ten square feet of ultimate luxury.
  • Dutch islands kick ass.  British islands retain their reputation for gouging you.  
  • Still pretty disappointed that Hurricane Tomas jacked up our itinerary.  The main reason we chose this particular cruise was because we wanted to go to St. Lucia.  Still haven't been.
  • I know it's a piano bar, but dear sweet jesus, Billy Joel should be outlawed.
  • Five-and-a-half bucks for a can of diet Coke might seem reasonable at the Ritz-Carlton, but we weren't sailing on the Ritz-Carlton.
  • Aside from the clusterf*ck at embarkation, and the fact that the scrunt at the Purser's desk refused to give me luggage tags unless I showed a copy of my flight itinerary, service was pretty much excellent all week long.  (Went over her head, though, and got my early-departure tags anyways.  Heh.  Take that, biatch)
  • Steakhouse.  Definitely worth the extra $$$
  • Shore excursions.  Definitely not worth the extra $$$
  • Due to my medications and jacked-up TSA rules, I didn't buy any duty-free booze while down in the islands.  No rum cakes, either.
  • Still managed to bring back a load of Cuban cigars, though...
  • I don't get it, and it was never explained, but why are all the channels on the stateroom TVs the local Denver broadcast?  I thought it would be Miami stations.
  • Found the 'map' channel to be oddly fascinating.
  • With five cruises under my belt, the Carnival Miracle is by far my favorite ship.  Loved it.
  • Already started looking for next year's trip
Comments?  Questions?  Fire away!