Friday, December 27, 2013

The Best Christmas Present Ever!

Well, the best Christmas present was actually last year when we had all our children with us for the holidays at Sun 'n' Fun. Nothing beats having every single one of your kids and their families all in one place for the holidays. We had a ball last year and got to have our families together for a whole week! But we couldn't manage it again this year as much as we would have liked to have done that.  This year, Eldy knew Sparky would be having a tough time without snow and family to make it a white Christmas, so he did some researching on cruises…Sparky has never ever been on a cruise. Eldo has been on about 20, as he used to be a cruise agent for Cruise One about ten years and further back. If you are a Florida resident, and willing to take your chances on booking something late, you can get some fantastic deals, if you are over 55.…How about 149.00 to go to Grand Turk in the Caribbean for four days? Or how about 179.00 for a four day trip to the Bahamas and Key West? These deals change from day to day and depending on how fast you jump on something and what kind of amenities you are willing to accept or forego. AND--if you have been a cruiser in the past, that helps get you some extras too. It's great that we could drive to the port, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, about three hours to get there from Bradenton. No flight costs to get there!

letters sculpture
Yep, Eldo gave Sparky a four day cruise to the Bahamas for a wonderful Christmas present! And we just got back! It was terrific! We were on the Celebrity Constellation ship. It has been remodeled in the past couple of years, it was beautiful! Beautiful art work on board, like this Chihuly glass sculpture (above) in the atrium along with many gorgeous Christmas decorations…..

He bumped up our accommodations from an inside cabin to a balcony/little veranda cabin, which was really really nice…..The Celebrity Constellation can accommodate 2034 guests and they said our cruise was full! It's a 91, 000 ton ship, a medium sized ship as far as cruise ships go, says Eldo. He really did his research as he always does-- a VERY thorough job of searching out the best deals. If anybody has any questions about cruising, send us an email. Eldy will be happy to answer questions. He really knows his stuff!

The food was wonderful! We could have had specific dinner seating times--usually the choices are 6:30 or 8:30 PM. That's the way cruises use to do things. You'd sit at the same table every night with the same people. But with a last minute booking, only 8:30 PM dining was available. Kinda late for us. Eldy chose select seating where it's like a restaurant. You can make reservations, or you can just go in at your convenience to eat. You can sit with a group, or you can have a table for two. We did both and enjoyed having the choice. 99% of the meals were fantastic at the restaurant/cafe and all your meals are included in the cruise price. The portions were very appropriate, leaning towards the small side which was just perfect for us. No reason to overeat! In the old days, Eldy said food was served differently, and it was possible to order multiple servings of something you liked. Sparky could have had multiple salads one night, it was so good! (fresh creamy tarragon dressing). There was a general buffet also open just about all the time, and that was ok….Your usual buffet stuff….There are other dining options as well. There were specialty restaurants where you pay for the meal which is not included in the cruise price. We didn't try any of those….
Celebrity deck
Sparky had a little trouble sitting in the dining room and eating the first two nights. The dining room was at the back of the ship and although the cruise was quite smooth, you really can feel the movement of the ship in the dining room. Sparky thought "Uh-oh!" But she never felt like she was going to be sick, just a little dizzy.. and after the first two days, it didn't bother her any more. But she always had to say, "Did you feel that? Wow, that was quite a roll." And Eldy would say, "That was really nothing, sweetie…I've been on some cruises where everybody is just lurching back and forth in the hallways and things are almost rolling on the tables."

There was some great entertainment…the best dancing music  was from the Miami D.J's Live, and unfortunately, they only played at the going away party for about 45 minutes and just as Sparky wanted to get her mojo going, they quit! Then they didn't play again until 12:00 AM in one of the lounges…Phooey! There were wonderful opportunities to participate in all kinds of stuff: learn how to make crepes, team trivia, music trivia, art auction, wine tasting, fitness classes, a Fun Factory for kids, a sports court where people played basketball, the casino--one of the biggest Eldy has seen on any cruise, several pools, a spa, a library, boutiques, eight restaurants, seven entertainment venues, and ten bars (!). Sparky had her first one and only strawberry daiquiri which everybody at the bar laughed at Sparky's incredulous reaction to the size of it! "Holey moley!" she exclaimed when they set it down in front of her….

After all this smorgasbord of eating, Sparky did zumba exercise class twice…whew! That was enough!   Check out some entertainment...There was a great water volleyball match between the captain's bridge staff and the hotel crew….The captain was CUTE! He's 35, and Greek.

A little later in the ship's agenda, was a Liar's Club Comedy show with the captain and some of the entertainment staff- the cruise director and activity manager who were natural comedians. The announcer gave a real word of obscure recognition and the captain and the other two had to give a definition. Two were lying and one was telling the truth. It was hilarious! The captain had a wonderful sense of humor which was quite evident throughout the trip as well. He kept prefacing his definitions with the word was "a Greek word meaning….".and he'd launch into a hilarious personal tale about what the word meant. In case you didn't know, "pismire" means a urinating ant. He fooled the audience with his tale of an ex girlfriend on a picnic with him whose food was ruined by pismire. We thought that was so outrageously out there, that we voted for the guy who said it was a marketing strategy gone awry.

And….there are always shore excursions which are almost always pricey…We did two…One was a flat bottomed boat to the reef out of Nassau which was 29.00 a person…Really wasn't much to see in the reef on that particular day, but a nice ride out on the ocean with some historical background information about the residents of Paradise Island in Nassau…Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds, Oprah Winfrey, the owners of Lloyds of London, Michael Jordan all have homes on Paradise Island, an island you pass on the way to the reef. Whoop de doo! But still fun to see….We saw the natives hawk their wares on the docks and in the Straw Market.
conch shells (correct pronunciation is "conk", Sparky was informed)
The straw market used to be a bunch of shacks, now it's in a building and the wares are piled high to the ceilings with baskets, hats, tee shirts. Everybody is in competition to sell you stuff, so they call out to you constantly, trying to engage you to buy something. Everybody there selling something is making something at the moment.

Nassau accommodates a LOT of cruise ships. There were six in the harbor at one time while we were there… You should see the captains BACK some of these ships into their docking positions. Yep, turn 'em around and BACK them in. Pretty impressive. These things are BEHEMOTHS!  HUGE! HONKIN' HUGE!

The second tour we did was the Key West Extreme Adventures Shark ECO Tour..Now that was cool! 79.00 a person, we felt it was a great tour. However, it was unremarkable as far as seeing lots of different wildlife today…As the "winter" season is upon us here in Florida, the abundance of wildlife that you might see in the spring is greatly diminished in the winter. We saw a couple of turtles on the way out to the "back country" as our guide, Ken, gave us lots of information about sharks. Ken was a fishing guide for 32 years and he had his boat especially built for going into shallow areas in a certain area of Key West… He and his son are dedicated to promoting the education and conservation of sharks and marine wildlife. The boat had lots of great vantage points, and today there were about 19 people aboard which made for a very pleasant viewing experience. No jostling at the rails to see the sharks. The guys bait a pole, and lemon sharks come and take turns feeding…legal as plenty of people sport fish for sharks in the Keys…..There's no hook involved so you get to see the sharks up close and personal..Sparky means REALLY up close! Ken, the guide, said you could jump in on the other side of the boat and the sharks could care less if you were there…Anybody want to jump in? he asks. He was just joking but serious about the sharks not being interested in people, only fish….Hmmmmm….says Sparky. What about the surfers and swimmers who lose arms and legs every year to sharks thinking they are seals?

The end of the excursion trip resulted in seeing some dolphins playing and swimming around. Just caught this guy out of the corner of my eye and camera. Never get tired of seeing dolphins!

The cruise was over before we knew it, but it was wonderful to get back home to our beautiful home in Bradenton, only to find out we have BATS! Where we don't want bats! Stay tuned for "Batty in Bradenton"…..Hope you had a wonderful holiday….


  1. Man! That sounds like a really fun trip. I'm jealous!

  2. WOW Jeannie what a present! Way to go Eldy. Was it a surprise I hope????
    Bats? Lucky you. Sure hope you keep them. They will take care of your mosquito problems and maybe you can sell the guano. :-) No but seriously bats are good. Put up bat houses if they are in your belfry.

    1. We've hired someone for the bats. More about that later, but bat guano is really toxic and does a lot of damage to the underlayment of the roof if you let them stay. Not only that but it's bad for human lungs.

  3. What a nice Christmas present. I've been thinking of a cruise again after reading about Howard and Linda's recent luxury cruise.

    Like Sherry says, bats are good and people pay good money for the guano.

    Al says you'll have to figure out where they are entering the house and plug up their entrance....once they leave.

    1. There are several entry points. We've got a company coming out soon…Haven't seen them since we've been back. Is it possible they could have left on their own?

  4. Good on Eldy. Glad to hear you enjoyed your first cruise. Be warned, though, once you cruise in a balcony cabin, it's nearly impossible to go back and cruise in an inside or oceanview cabin ;-)

    We got off the Constellation on Dec 9 in Port Everglades after 27 days on it ... we boarded in Istanbul to cross back to the US. That's a great shot of the Captain ... we never did make it to the water volleyball, but enjoyed his participation in lectures, the Can't Cook Won't Cook show, and the crew show where he danced a mean sirtaki to Zorba, the Greek. We always looked forward to the stories he told from mythology before sailaway from each of the ports of call. He's probably the most personable and friendly of the captains with whom we've sailed, and his attitude was reflected in the crew members we encountered on the ship.

  5. It sounded like a fun time! Years ago I went on a cruise on the Celebrity Horizon to Bermuda with a girlfriend. We had such a great time! Maybe I can get George to go on one of those inexpensive cruises while we're in FL :-)

  6. Love taking cruises, such a fun way to travel.

  7. wow. . .so, so happy you got to experience cruising. . .nothing like it!