Steve and Ann’s guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise

Steve and Ann’s guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise

While informative and true, we want you to know that this post was written as an entry for Celebrity Cruises Ultimate Caribbean Cruise Itinerary contest. Winners of the contest receive a cash prize, social media recognition, and a guest post on the Celebrity Cruises blog. Opinions expressed are our own and are based on our actual cruising experiences.

If you’ve followed our blog for any time at all, you know that we’re a middle-aged, married couple from rural Nebraska, smack-dab in the middle of the United States and about as far from water as you can get. So yes, we dream about cruising often, which makes us experts in imaginary cruise itineraries. With this in mind, we offer our guide to the ultimate Caribbean cruise itinerary.

At port while cruising on the Celebrity Constellation.

Let’s face it, everywhere we’ve been in the Caribbean has included a beautiful island, crystal-clear water, warm temperatures, golden sand, lush palm trees, and friendly locals. But we have to start somewhere, so Steve will start in Key West, the heart of the fabulous Florida Keys.

Key West, Florida

STEVE: Ahhh….sunny Key West. I’ve been going the Keys and Key West to visit family since I was a boy, so feel that I know it well. But that isn’t why it makes our list. I include it because it is one of the most laid-back, relaxing places I know. It’s a place where no one takes anything too seriously, and everyone, including the chickens that populate every corner, just wants to have a good time.

Our view of Key West from the Celebrity Constellation.

Key West offers something for everyone, including an actual passport from the not-so-actual Conch Republic and fresh seafood that makes even the most entrenched landlubber drool. The shopping is divine, offering everything from high-end, luxury boutique items to natural sponges collected from nearby waters.

We loved shopping for sponges in Key West.

In Key West you can be literary and tour Hemingway’s home, or historical and visit Truman’s Little White House and then learn about Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. But whatever you do, don’t be too serious — this is the town where they throw stale Cuban bread at a U.S. Navy ship once a year, after all.

The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory housed 50-60 species of live butterflies.

A day spent in Key West can be action-packed with activities like parasailing, snorkeling and wave running, or laid back with a cocktail on the beach or a visit to the Butterfly Nature Center and Conservatory. By the time the sun sets on Mallory Square, visitors to Key West feel a sense of deep relaxation, the tensions of everyday life forgotten. For these reasons, I think that any traveler to the Caribbean should set their sights on Key West. 

Travel Tip: Take the Conch Train tour. It’s a great overview of the island and its history, and it’s only 90 minutes long so it won’t take up your entire day.

Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis

ANN: My ideal Caribbean cruise would have to include a stop in beautiful Basseterre St. Kitts and Nevis. I fell in love with this perhaps lesser known island a couple of years ago and we wrote about it HERE. As soon as I set foot in Port Zante, I was immediately attracted to the island – the iridescent waters, the lush flora, and blue skies made me feel like I’d died and gone to Instagram heaven. #nofilterneeded

Arriving at the port in Basseterre St. Kitts.

In addition, everyone there was so nice and legitimately seemed happy. And why wouldn’t they be? Kittitians share a 65-square mile island surrounded by pristine beaches, beautiful gardens, and all the mangos they can eat. Oh, and there are cute little monkeys everywhere!

That’s the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Caribbean Sea on the right.

We would recommend a visit to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park where you’ll learn about the island’s history and take in one of the most gorgeous views you’ve ever seen.

The incredible view from the top of Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts.

An excursion to the Caribelle Batik Factory at Romney Manor is also a must. Artists there demonstrate this unique Indonesian method of resisting dye with wax to create beautiful designs on fabrics. 

Batik fabric in St. Kitts

And don’t head back to the ship until you’ve stopped at a local eatery and tried salt fish and provisions. This dried fish dish is a local favorite and is served with salad and “provisions,” including a coconut dumpling, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam.

Travel tip: Find your way to Timothy Hill Lookout for a stunning, iconic photo of St. Kitts and Nevis surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

Phillipsburg, St. Maarten

STEVE: St. Maarten is one of those beautiful Caribbean islands whose palm trees, soft breezes, warm sand beaches, friendly inhabitants, and slow pace of life connect to your inner being in way that makes you happy to be alive. More importantly, for airplane fanatics like me, it is also home to Princess Juliana Airport and Maho Beach.

It was surreal to watch these planes land literally yard from where we standing on the beach.

Have you ever watched one of those YouTube videos where people are standing on a beach and they are so close to a huge jet landing that they look like they could almost jump up and touch it?

That’s Maho Beach.

The government in St. Maarten has actually put up warning signs telling people not to get too close to the end of the runway. And they mean it. Jet blast from arriving and departing planes is very dangerous. But if you stand off to the side of the runway, you have an amazing view of planes taking off and landing.

We had a great table at the Sunset Bar and Grill where we could enjoy a sandwich and guava berry colada while watching airplanes come in for landing.

And if you go a little further to the side you can find a nice little bar where you can relax with a cold beverage and take in this fantastic aviation experience. 

Travel Tip: Check the flight schedule for Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten to make sure you’re there when the BIG planes come in.

Costa Maya, Mexico

ANN: Although we haven’t been to Costa Maya … yet … It makes our ideal Caribbean cruise port list because there’s so much to see and do there. You can lounge on the beach, shop for tourist favorites like pure vanilla, serapes, and tequila, and even explore ancient Mayan ruins.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

Neither one of us had ever seen one of the Seven Wonders of the World until we visited the pyramid at Chichen Itza in 2017.

We also highly recommend strapping yourself up in a bright orange life jacket and jumping off a rock into a cenote.

Swimming in the crowded cenote.

Swimming in the cenote.

Steve and our daughter, Meghan, checked this off on their bucket lists a couple of years ago while in Mexico and loved the experience. (I took photos) They loved floating on their backs and enjoying the view of the vines and vegetation above and both said they would do it again.

Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Our daughter, Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Costa Maya is a planned port on a 7-night Western Caribbean sailing on Celebrity’s new Edge, and we are beyond excited to board that ship in early 2019.

Tip: Book your excursion through the ship, especially if you don’t know the language. Their tour operators will get you to and from your destination easily, and you’ll have a wonderful experience.

Don’t forget a few sea days

Of course, our ideal Caribbean Cruise would also include a few sea days. We’ve found plenty to do  when our ship’s at sea and wrote a blog post about it called “21  things to do on a sea day besides eat.” Here’s look at how each of us would spend the ideal sea day:

Let’s face it, the truly ultimate Caribbean cruise would have a stop at every port Celebrity Cruises visits. Most importantly, you would never have to dread the day when your disembarkation luggage tags arrive, because this ultimate Caribbean cruise would go on forever!

Our swim in Cenote Ik Kil in Mexico

Our swim in Cenote Ik Kil in Mexico

I had no idea what a cenote was before our cruise to Mexico.

With our daughter, Meghan, at Chichén Itzá in Mexico.

With our daughter, Meghan, at Chichén Itzá in Mexico.

In fact, I don’t even think I’d ever even heard the word. But I signed up to swim in one, anyway, because travel is about adventure, right?

After leaving Chichén Itzá, we made a short drive over to Cenote Ik Kil. On the way, our guide explained that the Yucután peninsula is made of limestone covering a system of underground rivers. Over millions of years, water has eroded pockets from the limestone and created huge sinkholes, called cenotes, that can be hundreds of feet deep. Civilizations in the past used these as both sources for water and as handy places to sacrifice someone to the gods. He told us that the one we’d be swimming in today was literally hundreds of feet deep and suggested that even if we were good swimmers we might consider using a life jacket as there was no way to stand once in the water.

We walked down a long, and sometimes slippery, staircase to enter the centote.

We walked down a long, and sometimes slippery, staircase to enter the cenote.

Because there were a lot of steps down to the cenote, Ann opted to stay up high and take pictures from a balcony while Meghan and I swam. After changing into our suits in a locker room contorting our bodies into our suits in a steam bath with no benches, we left our personal belongings with Ann and headed down the somewhat slippery stairs to the cenote.

I will say that the cenote was beautiful and I could imagine it would be as stunning as it was in the pictures on the website if there hadn’t been about 52,000 people swimming in, climbing out of, or standing around it.

Cenote Ik Kil, Mexico

Swimming in Cenote Ik Kil in Mexico. Note the line of people waiting for the ladder on the right side of the picture.

Still, we donned our life jackets, jumped into the cool water, and paddled our way past the mass of wiggly humanity out to the middle where we could relax a little and enjoy the experience. After a few minutes, we decided we’d done all the enjoying of the experience we wanted, and paddled back into the swarm of people to get out. The hardest part of the whole swim was waiting for a turn on the ladder to climb back out.

Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Meghan and Steve ready to swim in the cenote.

Back on solid ground, Meghan waited while I climbed some steps to a ledge where I could jump in from about 20 feet above the water. There were lifeguards on duty, and as a former lifeguard myself I felt pretty confident, so asked Meghan to hold my life jacket because I didn’t want to wear it jumping into the water from that height.

It was a fun jump, but the line for the ladder to get out was now even longer than when we’d gotten out before and I had to tread water for longer than I would have liked while waiting my turn. As a result, I’d recommend a life jacket for everyone who swims here no matter how strong a swimmer you are. There really is no place to go to rest if you get tired.

Ann stood at the top over a lookout area and took pictures.

Ann stood at the top over a lookout area and took pictures.

Feeling cool and refreshed after our swim, Meghan and I climbed the steps away from the cenote and back toward where Ann was waiting for us. By the time we got back to the top of the steps, the heat and humidity had set back in and I was again covered in a sheen of sweat.

Showers outside the cenote

Showers outside the cenote

There were showers where we could wash off a bit at the top of the steps. While we no longer felt refreshed, we were glad to have had the experience of swimming in such a unique location even if we had to share it with 52,000 new friends.

Swimming in the crowded cenote.

Swimming in the crowded cenote.

After changing pasting our clothes back to our bodies, we hopped back in the thank-god-it-was-air-conditioned tour van and set off toward Progresso and the ship, our minds processing a full day of sights, new knowledge and experiences. We’d had a great day, and were looking forward to a relaxing evening on board as we sailed to the next stop, Cozumel.


Have you ever swam in a cenote? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you. 

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Our first wonder of the world: Chichén Itzá

Our first wonder of the world: Chichén Itzá

It may surprise you that despite spending most of my career as a public school administrator, I was actually an anthropology major in college. Yes, that’s right, I majored in anthropology and am not ashamed to admit that I’m an archaeology geek. I loved the semesters I spent studying the Mesoamerican cultures and their histories. So, when I realized our cruise last summer was stopping close enough for me to get a firsthand look at the ruins of Chichén Itzá, Mexico, I was super stoked. After all, it is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Progresso, Mexico, rainbow

A rainbow in Progresso, Mexico, provided foreshadowing to the mix of showers and sun we’d have today.

Our ship docked near Progresso, Mexico, on a gorgeous June morning. When we looked out the window of our stateroom, we saw a beautiful rainbow in the distance, with tropical showers scattered all around. Something told me this was going to be an amazing day. And it was.

The trip from the port to Chichén Itzá is about two hours down a modern highway. We rolled along, passing in and out of rain showers while our guide explained local culture and history to us. This, along with the lush, green scenery and the excitement of being someplace new, helped the time pass quickly and soon enough we pulled into the entrance of Chichén Itzá where the van driver gave us each a bottle of water and an umbrella that could be used to block both rain and sun.

Chichén Itzá tour guide, Mexico

Our tour guide for the day knew a great deal about the history and culture at Chichén Itzá.

Let me just say that Chichén Itzá is a pretty busy place. When you walk in, there are people everywhere trying to sell you those cute, seemingly irresistible trinkets that you want to buy but know you don’t have any place to put them in your house if you do.

Because we had a guide, we moved pretty quickly past the mass of souvenir vendors and into a clearing near the center of the archaeological site. There, I had my first look at the pyramid that dominates the site and is considered one of the seven wonders of the world and the first one of those I’d seen with my own eyes.

Chichén Itzá main pyramid, Mexico

“El Castillo,” the main pyramid at Chichén Itzá, is considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

Seeing it, I could understand why it has earned that designation. Look at the two people standing in front of it in the picture below–it will give you some sense of just how huge this pyramid is.

Chichén Itzá, base of main pyramid, Mexico

Serpents’ heads guard the bottom of the steps of the main pyramid at Chichén Itzá.

We walked through the ruins with our guide, stopping to look at the playing field of the sacred ball game. This game, a sort of combination of soccer and basketball in which players tried to get a solid rubber ball through a vertical stone hoop without using their hands, often lasted for days before someone scored a point and ended the game. The guide told us that the winning team won a prize unlike anything given to winners today. They won the privilege of being sacrificed to the gods.

Sacred ball game court, Chichén Itzá, Mexico

The court used to play the sacred ball game at Chichén Itzá. the goal was to get a solid rubber ball through the stone hoop suspended high up on the right side of this photo.

We wandered some more, stopping to look at bas-relief carving in the stone. Archaeologists have used carvings like these to help them get a better understanding of the ancient culture.

Chichén Itzá hieroglyphs, Mexico

These hieroglyphs help archaeologists understand what took place in Chichén Itzá.

At the conclusion of the guided portion of our tour, we had some time to walk the site by ourselves and explore the ruins. As we walked, I thought of the generations of people who once lived and worked in this ancient city.

Chichén Itzá, Mexico

A view across the archaeological site at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

I imagined the effort needed to build a massive stone pyramid, and thought of the amount of precise math needed to to align that pyramid just so it could be used as a calendar more accurate than the one we use today. I thought of the laughter and tears and children running that once filled the streets here. And I marveled that for all that we know about this place, there is so much more we don’t begin to understand.

As we drove away, I felt satisfaction that I’d finally visited but still had a yearning to know more about the people who once lived in Chichén Itzá. It’s what will bring me back again, someday.

Five things that made our first-ever Carnival Cruise so much fun

Five things that made our first-ever Carnival Cruise so much fun

When you quit your job after 21 years, the first thing you want to do is get away and have fun. That’s why the morning after my last day as a middle school principal, we were in the car headed south to the Port of Galveston for our first-ever Carnival Cruise.

Ready for the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

Ready for the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

While we are big fans of cruising, we had never cruised with Carnival, and we looked forward to seeing what it was like to sail on that line. They call their fleet “fun ships” and let me assure you, they are dead-serious when it comes to guests having fun.

Here are five things that made our first-ever Carnival Cruise so much fun!

1. The rockin’ sail away party

No matter the cruise line, every ship throws a sail-away party to celebrate the start of a new cruise, but Carnival’s was on a different level. Led by the high-energy cruise director and other ship staff, passengers danced to great music while cups overflowed and laughter filled the air. Carnival works hard to remind passengers that they are on vacation and it’s time to let go and have a little fun, and they set the tone before the ship is even out of port.

The decks were packed with people ready to have some fun at the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

The decks were packed with people ready to have some fun at the sail away party on the Carnival Valor.

2. A plethora of fun food

Cruises are well-known for having plentiful, good food and Carnival is no different. We loved some of the creative things they did to make every food experience fun. They offered a Dr. Seuss brunch at sea in which they served green eggs and ham, as well as french toast coated with favorite breakfast cereals.

Funnest French toast crusted with a choice of Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes.

Funnest French toast crusted with a choice of Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes.

Brunch isn’t the only special meal aboard. The main dining room even offered a chocolate buffet one day.

The chocolate bar on the Carnival Valor included beautifully carved watermelons with fresh fruit for dipping in a chocolate fountain.

The chocolate bar on the Carnival Valor included beautifully carved watermelons with fresh fruit for dipping in a chocolate fountain.

Our favorites from the chocolate extravaganza included the chocolate swans, chocolate rum balls, and pear chocolate cake.

Our favorites from the chocolate extravaganza included the chocolate swans, chocolate rum balls, and pear chocolate cake.

Another great option on the ship is an over-the-top hamburger from Guy’s Burger Joint, the on-board burger bar. Carnival teamed up with Food Network personality and chef Guy Fieri to bring guests the “best burger at sea.” Piled high with your choice of toppings and served with a side of hand-cut fries, this burger is guaranteed to please.

Made to order burgers at Guy's Burger Joint on the Carnival Valor.

Made to order burgers at Guy’s Burger Joint on the Carnival Valor.

The main dining room serves up classic food every night in a light, fun atmosphere, unlike anything we’ve seen on other cruise lines. I’m always impressed seeing how quickly cruise ships can serve quality food to so many hundreds of people, but our favorite part of dinner on board came near the end of the meal when Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” began playing over the load speakers and all the servers started dancing on the serving stands. Definitely added a new fun factor to fine dining.

Finally, you can take things up a notch and dine in the Steakhouse, a restaurant offering gourmet food with exceptional service. For a modest additional fee, you can dine here and get a meal that on land could easily cost more than $200. My steak was amazing and Ann loved her surf-and-turf meal.

Surf and turf meal on the Carnival Valor

Surf and turf meal on the Carnival Valor

3. Lots of fun-filled entertainment

Carnival works hard to offer a number of activities that cater to a variety of interests so that no one on board is, well, bored. Sure, you can sit, relax by the pool, sip a cocktail, and do nothing if you’d like. But if you want to have a lot of fun, the ship has plenty of it, including a beer pong tournament, hairy chest contest, dance lessons, and Congo train just to name a few.

Hairy chest contest on the Carnival Valor

Hairy chest contest on the Carnival Valor

One evening activity we especially enjoyed was heading to the aft lounge for a little Karaoke. Being on a cruise where no one knew me, I even channeled (badly) my inner Garth Brooks for a song. [Sorry, but I cannot fathom sharing the video, here]

Steve sang Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places" during Karoake one night on the Carnival Valor.

Steve sang Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” during Karaoke one night on the Carnival Valor.

All the entertainment isn’t found at a Karaoke bar, though. The ship also has a large theater suitable for impressive major production shows with great singers, dancers, actors, comedians, and magicians.

In addition to all the shows, there are so many other things to do on-board. You can soak in a pool or hot tub, or play video games in the arcade or try your luck in the casino. You can work on your jump shot in basketball, or try your hand at volleyball on the upper decks. Meghan and I even ventured up top to play mini-golf in high winds, with some hilarious results.

4. Quirky decor and towel animals

From the moment you step on-board, you know that you’re in a different kind of place, one in which the normal, traditional, and mundane have been replaced by the atypical, unconventional, and quirky.

Our first look at the unique decor inside the Carnival Valor

Our first look at the unique decor inside the Carnival Valor

Matching its name, the Carnival Valor’s decor theme is “heroism.” You’ll see tributes to Neil Armstrong on the moon, golden statues of eagles next to the elevators, busts of U.S. presidents, and statues of Greek gods.

Lighted faces on the Carnival Valor

Lighted faces on the Carnival Valor

In addition, the ship’s color scheme combines bright greens, reds, and blues with more muted mauve and beige to create a visual panoply quite unlike anything we’d experienced on a cruise ship before. Even the decor has fun, eschewing normal design rules in favor of trying something new.  Like this statue with a banana skirt.

Interesting display on the Carnival Valor

Interesting display on the Carnival Valor

You’d never see that statue (or the banana skirt) within 100 miles of anything Ann is decorating, but on the ship, this bizzaro combination works in with what the designers wanted to accomplish. It also seemed that cruisers did a little decorating of their own on the ship. We noticed lots of cabin doors that were decorated with signs and pictures. 

Decorated doors lines the hallways of the Carnival Valor

Decorated doors lines the hallways of the Carnival Valor

Sure, the decor might not be what you’d put in your house, but isn’t that the point? You’re not at home, you’re on vacation, and the whole idea behind that is to have fun.

Towel animal on the Carnival Valor

Towel animal on the Carnival Valor

One last little decor detail that added to the fun were folded towel animals we found in our cabin and on the pool deck. We looked forward to being in these areas as we were never sure what we’d see. Whether it was a bear sitting on a counter, or a monkey hanging from the light, we loved being greeted by these fanciful creatures in our cabin, and all around the pool.

5. It’s super easy to meet fun people

One of our favorite things to do on a ship has always been meeting new people and passengers on our Carnival cruise were some of the most outgoing and friendly people we’ve met at sea. It’s fun to sit, chat and learn about someone else, where they are from, and hear their perspective on the world. You never know, you just might make a life-long friend on the ship.

New friends on the Carnival Valor

New friends on the Carnival Valor

Carnival cruises did seem more open to meeting new people and definitely tried hard to make sure no one was left out of the fun. The crew on Carnival ships were also having a great time. We always enjoy getting to know the room attendants and bartenders on ships and those on Carnival were extremely personable and looked like they were even having fun on at their jobs.

Master mixologist Milos at the Alchemy Bar onboard the Carnival Valor.

Master mixologist Milos at the Alchemy Bar onboard the Carnival Valor.

Our first cruise with Carnival was definitely memorable and when people ask us what we thought of it, we can honestly say it was a lot of FUN!


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are our own. While we paid in full for our cruise fare, excursions, and drink packages, Carnival Cruises did provide us complimentary internet access and priority boarding. 

21 things to do on sea days

21 things to do on sea days

We often hear from people who tell us they would never want to take a cruise because they think they’d get bored. Somehow, the thought of a day at sea takes them back to their childhood, stuck in the middle of the backseat of their parents’ car for the entire eight-hour trip to Aunt Lavern’s house. We’ve learned firsthand that there is nothing boring about cruising. We think of cruise ships as floating resorts that give you a new view every day. They have so many things to do we can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself wishing you had more time on board to take it all in. And, we’re not just talking about the food.

We’ve taken five cruises so far, all with Celebrity, and not only have we never been bored, we’ve never had enough time to do everything we’ve wanted.

Here are 21 things you could do if you were on a ship at sea right now:

1. Test your knowledge

Trivia contests happen several times a day and cover a variety of themes including general knowledge, music, sports, and more. Plus, there are always prizes for the winners. In addition, they only take about 20-25 minutes, so they aren’t an all-day commitment.

2. Wine a little

We have taken several classes on wine while cruising, including everything from how to pair wine with food to why it is important to serve wine in the correct glass. We’ve also been to wine tastings and sampled some of the finest reds and whites available in the world.

We really enjoyed the Riedel wine glass workshop onboard a Celebrity Cruise a few years ago.

3. Relax in the spa

Nothing says vacation quite like a massage, facial, or pedicure. Treat yourself. For special deals, visit the spa on port days.

4. Read a book

How many times have you thought to yourself that you’d finish that book if you just had some time? Cruising is a great way to unplug from the world, and a couple hours reading on the veranda is a wonderful way to unwind. If you didn’t bring a book, check out the ship’s library and borrow one.

5. Watch the world go by

Speaking of slowing down, another thought is to grab a cup of specialty coffee (or maybe a cocktail) and go sit and watch the waves go by. One of my favorite pastimes on board is to head to the lounge at the front of the ship and simply sit and watch the scenery. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the world is found in the Stockholm Archipelago, as you can see in the video below.

6. Tour the ship

Ships are huge machines, and there is a lot going on behind the scenes to make things work. You can take a galley tour and see just how they prepare a gourmet dinner for 2,000 every night. Other tours might visit the navigational bridge, crew areas, and engine control rooms. You’ll learn so much about how they make all the magic happen.

There are so many interesting things to explore on the ship.

7. Cut a rug

I put this on the list hoping Ann doesn’t have any photos of me learning the dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In any event, there are classes for everything from classic ballroom dancing to swing dancing, and so much more. If you like to trip the light fantastic, this one’s for you. If you have two left feet, don’t worry. This is your chance to let down your guard. Remember, you’ll probably never see these people again.

8. Deal yourself in

We have not been on a cruise where we didn’t see a group of people happily playing a game of cards. If you’re a bit more adventurous and want to try your luck, the ship offers card games in the casino, as well.

9. Craft a cocktail

One of our favorite on board activities of all time was a mixology class we took at the World Class Bar on the Celebrity Eclipse. We learned about the history of classic cocktails and the technique of making them. We even got to go behind the bar and try our hand at mixing a drink. I now understand why a Japanese jigger is better than a traditional one, and how an orange peel and a little flame can add a whole lot of flavor.

10. Learn something new

On Celebrity’s Solstice class ships, they perform demonstrations of glass blowing. It’s pretty neat to watch a blob of glowing orange gunk become a work of art right before your eyes. We’d never see that in Crete, America. There are also a variety of lectures on board, including talks about the ports of call, art history, and the engineering of the ship.

We enjoyed watching this glass blowing demonstration last summer at sea.

11. Raise your hand

Do you like watching cooking shows on TV? Have you seen Bravo’s “Top Chef?” Cooking competitions pair a volunteer contestant passenger with an experienced ship chef. It’s fun to watch, and would be a blast to participate. There area also game shows like Family Feud and The Newlywed Game that are always looking looking for volunteer participants. Don’t be shy!

Audience participants are teamed with professional chefs in this onboard game show.

12. Go to the movies

Many ships have huge screens on the pool deck that show movies throughout the day. Others show them in theaters. Either way, it’s a fun way to pass some time and catch that flick you’ve wanted to see without having to pay the high cost of a movie theater ticket you would back home.

Most cruise ships have either indoor or outdoor (or both) screens for watching movies onboard.

13. Introduce yourself

We’ve met so many interesting people while cruising. Whether at dinner or at one of the bars, there are always wonderful people around who are willing to visit. We’ve always enjoyed meeting new people and hearing about their travel adventures. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a life-long friend.

We’ve met so many nice people on cruise ships including this couple from Chicago.

14. Shop till you drop

Believe it or not, ships host an entire mall of duty-free shops. Whether you are in the market for high-quality spirits, jewelry or cosmetics, the ship probably has it and they will price match what you can get in port. There are actually some good deals on board. What’s more, you can use any onboard credit you might have to make those purchases!

15. Put on your walking shoes

Ships are huge, often 1000 feet or more long, and well over a hundred feet wide. In addition to a walking track designed for those who want to get exercise, there are plenty of outdoor and indoor spaces for you to explore. Meander around and see what you can find. On Celebrity’s Solstice class ships, you can even take a stroll on a lawn with real grass. Just watch out for people enjoying a game of bocci ball.

We love being able to walk not only on a walking track, but also on the lawn.

16. Feed your inner foodie

Another on-board activity we enjoyed was a cooking class in Q Sine restaurant on the Eclipse. We learned how to prepare favorites like disco shrimp, slider party, and taco royale, and then we got to eat our creations! (In the video below, check out my knife skills compared to those of the chef!)

17. Reconnect with each other

Cruises are a great opportunity to really connect with friends and family with whom you’re vacationing. No cell phone coverage and limited internet access make it really easy to put aside distractions that we all have on land and really talk to face-to-face to one another. Cherish those moments.

Meghan and Steve relax and visit in the lounge.

18. Write a postcard

We usually dedicate some time on sea days to write postcards to send home to loved ones and to our Postcard Jar. We’ve also taken time to write a note to crew members who have gone above and beyond to make our cruise special. They put in a lot of work and those notes mean a lot to them.

We often use sea days to write out postcards to our jar back home or to friends and family.

19. Try a tournament

From slot and blackjack tournaments in the casino, to pool volleyball and ping-pong tournaments on the lido deck, there are competitions all over the ship. Take an hour, and join in the fun!

20. Take a dip in the pool

This one is pretty obvious. Ships have multiple pools, including indoor pools, so you can always take a dip even on that early-season cruise to Alaska. There are also hot tubs galore on board and plenty of deck chairs to use to soak up the sun.

21. Enjoy the view

Sometimes, the most enjoyable thing to do on a sea day is simply enjoy the view. We’ve watched sunrises and sunsets, listened to glaciers calving, admired the mountains in the distance, and waved at townspeople below when we’ve left port. There is nothing like the view from a cruise ship, and we never miss the opportunity to take in one more look.

Enjoying the view from our veranda while cruising in Alaska.

This is by no means a complete list. On board, you’ll find “Celebrity Today,” a daily newsletter published that shares useful information as well as a list of the dozens of different activities offered every day. If even five or six items on this list piqued your interest, you’d have a pretty full day. Our guess is that by the end of the cruise you’ll find yourself wishing for more time at sea.

Which of these things do you want to try? Is your favorite activity on this list? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Following our hearts to St. Kitts

Following our hearts to St. Kitts

Two years ago, I had never even heard of St. Kitts. Then, in August 2015, two incredible young men from this small island in the Caribbean stepped into our lives and into our hearts.

We met Michael and Josiah their first week in Crete when they came to our church one Sunday morning. Steve and I help lead the college ministry at Crete Berean and were delighted to welcome them to small-town U.S.A. It didn’t take long before they were coming over to our place for a home-cooked meal, a game of cards, or just to hang out.

Doane University students Michael Tross and Josiah Oyebefun.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve grown to love these young men and have empathized with them on cold, snowy days when we knew how much they were missing the sunshine, beaches, and their families back home in St. Kitts.

When we booked our family Christmas vacation in the Caribbean, we were so excited that the Celebrity cruise we selected would be making a stop in St. Kitts and we prayed that Michael or Josiah would be there at the same time. God’s provision prevailed, and Michael was able to go home for Christmas, and Josiah would be traveling there a few weeks later.

My mom Carol, who has also grown to love these guys who call her “grandma,” did not know that Michael would be there the same time we were going to be there. We decided not to tell her and let it be a surprise. And was it ever!!

We told my mom that we’d arranged for a private tour of the island that day. When we got off the Celebrity Summit, we walked down the pier told mom to keep and eye out for two people with signs that said “Rose and Jim’s Taxi.” As we all walked toward the meeting place, we saw Rose and Jim, and a third person, hidden behind a tourism sign. When we got closer, Michael moved the sign away from his face and my mom was absolutely shocked!

My mom, Carol, was absolutely shocked to see Michael at Port Zante in St. Kitts.

The look of surprise and joy on her face, was the best Christmas present we could have ever given or received. She wrapped her arms around Michael, took another look to make sure it was him, and said, “Michael, what are you doing here?” In Michael’s ever-so-calm and deep voice, he simply said, “I live here.”  It was a moment in time I’ll never forget.

Another thing I’ll never forget about our stop in St. Kitts was arrival in port that morning. Steve and I woke up early as the sun was just rising over the mountains. When we pulled back the curtains to our veranda on deck 9 of the Celebrity Summit, we saw the most amazing colors and scenery. We quickly threw on some clothes and shoes and went up to deck 11 to get an even better view.

The pictures really don’t do justice to the awe inspiring view as we sailed into port at St. Kitts.

Of course, we had made arrangements ahead of time for Michael to join us on a tour of the island by Rose and Jim’s Taxi Service. Rose was our tour guide and gave us a customized tour of St. Kitts, making stops not only at popular island attractions, but also at places important to Michael.

Rose gave us some of the history of St. Kitts as we drove along the shoreline and into the verdant rainforest which encompasses a quarter of the land the St. Kitts. We were amazed by the tropical plants and flowers and all of the different types of trees and wildlife.

We were told this tree was more than 400 years old.

The wide variety of tropical plants was just amazing.

Our first stop was at the Caribelle Batik Factory at Romney Manor. Visited by thousands each year (and occasionally the rich and famous), Caribelle uses ancient Indonesian methods of resisting dye with wax to create beautiful designs and fabrics. You can watch the video below to see how it is done.

The grounds there were absolutely stunning. Plush gardens, colorful flowers, and even a tree that has stood there for more than 400 years made the most incredible backdrops for pictures.

Mom and Mikey at Caribelle Batik in St. Kitts.

Our beautiful daughter, Meghan, at Caribelle Batik in St. Kitts.

We spent some time learning about plants like the traveler’s palm. Rose showed us how the plant can be stretched to provide clean water for weary travelers.

We learned all about the fabrics and batik designs before stopping in the store for a little shopping. We each found a traditional batik shirt and selected a few gifts for others. We entertain a lot and I found a gorgeous table runner and matching napkins that I thought would be great additions to our tableware and a nice reminder of time there.

We purchased a batik shirt for each of us and also bought a table runner and napkins to remember our time in St. Kitts.

We left Caribelle Batik and headed off on our next stop at Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. Rose told us there were quite a few steps up to the top, but that the view was worth the climb. She was right.

Michael actually trains for track by running up these steps at Fort Brimstone. It took me awhile to get up all the steps, but the view from the top was worth it.

From the top, we had the most amazing view of the Caribbean Sea and the beaches below, along with the village called Sandy Point, where Michael lives.

Michael and Steve at the top of Fort Brimstone in St. Kitts.

We were even able to see the grass track where he’d practiced his sprints while in school there. Not long after we got to the top, rain began to fall, so we headed into the fort to look around as we waited for clouds to pass by. When they did, we returned to the lookout spot to find an incredible rainbow just below. It was a beautiful sight and I knew at the moment exactly why Michael and Josiah loved this land so much.

The incredible view from the top of Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts.

After that, we drove down the hills to Sandy Point where Michael lived. We were greeted at his home by his mom and sister who treated us to Caribbean cold drinks and a homemade rum cake that was absolutely divine. It was so great to meet them and see all of Michael’s track and field medals and trophies and where he grew up.

It was so great to visit Mikey at his family’s home where we could see all of the medals he has won in track and field.

Often when we visit a new place, we spend all our time at touristy attractions and rarely get an inside look at someone’s home to see and understand how people really live there. The Tross family had a beautifully decorated home and their hospitality was just amazing.

Michael’s family welcomed us into their home with open arms and the most delicious rum cake we’ve ever had.

After a short visit, we all went to a local restaurant to meet some others for a traditional Kittitian meal. We arrived at El Fredo’s Bar & Grill where we were greeted by the rest of Michael’s family, Josiah’s parents, and another young man named Davron who was planning to attend college in Nebraska and his family. It was so wonderful to finally meet everyone!

Most of the lunch group outside El Fredo’s Bar & Grill in St. Kitts.

The men all sat together at one table and the ladies at another and most of the young people gathered together, as well.

The dads.

Our daughter Meghan enjoyed lunch with Michael and his girlfriend, Rochelle, and Davron and his sister.

I ordered the meal I had heard the most about over the past year from Michael and Josiah — salt fish. The dried fish dish was served with salad and “provisions,” including a coconut dumpling, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam. It was all delicious.

The salt fish I ordered was served with “provisions,” including breadfruit, green banana, sweet potato, white potato, dasheen and yam.

After lunch, Michael’s sister and girlfriend joined us and we went for a drive around the island and made a quick stop a one of the most picturesque places in St. Kitts where I was able to get a photograph of the mountains below with both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in the same shot.

That’s the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Caribbean Sea on the right.

Rose did a wonderful job showing us points of interest, spotting the popular free-roaming vervet monkeys, and stopping whenever we wanted to get out and snap and few pictures, like at this beach.

Mikey and his girlfriend, Rochelle, at the beach.

We’re hoping Mikey’s little sister, Calvinesha, will also be able to come to Doane University someday.

We enjoyed a leisurely drive around the island and then back to the cruise port where we said a fond farewell to Rose.

Rose was a fantastic tour guide!

On a side note, we would highly recommend using Rose and Jim’s Taxi Service if you are ever in St. Kitts. Rose has a wealth of knowledge and is just an absolutely delightful person to get to know. Their prices were reasonable and she was able to accommodate all of our requests which made for an incredible day in St. Kitts.

Back at Port Zante, which opened in 2005 to accommodate large ships, we had time to do a little shopping and look for a postcard.

We said our goodbyes, knowing we’d see Michael back in Nebraska in just a few short days.

Walking back from Port Zante to the Celebrity Summit.

As we walked back to the ship, after a full day in St. Kitts, I knew this would not be the last time we’d visit the island. Not only was St. Kitts one of the most stunning places we’d ever been, it was also home to some of the most caring and generous people we’ve ever met. Everyone from the taxi driver to the restaurant servers treated us like old friends and the relatives of the Kittitian college students we knew made us feel like family. In the end, we all agreed — it was the generous hearts of the people of St. Kitts that make this Caribbean island one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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