I never sleep well the night before we fly out early for vacation. The combination of the excitement for the trip, along with a worry that I will sleep through my alarm and miss the flight, often conspire to give me a short night with lots of waking moments wondering what time it is.

A couple days before Christmas this year, we needed to be up by 3:30 a.m. so we could pick up Ann’s mom and be on the road to catch our plane by 4:30 a.m. Thankfully, we were able to book our flight from Lincoln’s airport, meaning that we only had a 30-minute trip to the airport instead of the 75 minutes to Omaha. I surprised myself by sleeping all the way until 3:27 a.m. before waking up to check the time. Relieved I had several hours before I had to be at work, I settled back to sleep before jolting awake realizing that I really had only three more minutes. Today was the day we were leaving for our Christmas cruise in the Caribbean!

We’d been planning this cruise for several months, and had pledged multiple times that for this trip we’d be organized and have everything packed a week in advance. After all, we were experienced travelers headed for the tropics for Christmas and all of our warm-weather clothing was hanging unused in the closet. This meant, of course, that we were stressed out and packing like crazy people until about 10:00 p.m. the night before we left. For the second time in our five-year marriage, Ann assured me we would NEVER travel at Christmastime again. Challenge accepted.

Nonetheless, we arrived at the airport on time, checked our bags, and headed for the gate. There, I looked out the window and watched snow lightly falling. Not enough to delay our flight much, but enough to make me happy we were headed south and leaving the cold weather behind. We boarded on time and our flights worked exactly as planned, meaning that we touched down in sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico, about eight hours after we took off into snow flurries. Such a wonderful and welcomed change!

We flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for our Christmas in the Caribbean cruise.

We flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with Ann’s mom, Carol, and our daughter, Meghan, for our Christmas in the Caribbean cruise.

Once through San Juan’s airport, (which is a crazy beehive of activity that has to be seen to be believed), we hopped in a cab and headed for our hotel. It turns out our Hampton Inn was right next to a large cockfighting ring.

cock fighting

Clearly, we weren’t in Nebraska, anymore. Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., but not a state. So while we were technically in the United States, we learned there were a few key differences.

  • Puerto Ricans pay taxes differently (tax exemptions on first homes)
  • Cock fighting is legal (and quite popular) in Puerto Rico
  • Spanish is the official language of Puerto Rico
  • Puerto Ricans vote in presidential primary elections, but not in the general

After settling in to our hotel, we went downstairs to sit by the pool and enjoy the manager’s happy hour where Bacardi rum was featured.

Rum was definitely the spirit of choice in the Caribbean.

Rum was definitely the spirit of choice in the Caribbean.

We basked in the late afternoon sun and warm temperatures and allowed ourselves to relax after a long day’s travels. After a couple cocktails, we meandered past the cockfighting ring next door to a local restaurant, Metropol, which specialized in Puerto Rican and Cuban food. Everything looked wonderful and it was difficult to decide what to eat, so we just began ordering.

We started with a couple of appetizers, including fried cheese and bacalaitos (fried cod fritters).

(Clockwise from left: 1/2 smoked chicken with beans and rice, seafood mofango, fried cheese, Mi Madre Pique, and bacalaitos.

Clockwise from left: 1/2 smoked chicken with beans and rice, seafood mofango, fried cheese, Mi Madre Pique, and bacalaitos.

Then came time to order our entrees and we decided to each pick something and share the dishes. We ordered chicken paella, Mofongo (a seafood stuffed plantain), cornish hen stuffed with congri, and the smoked chicken with rice and beans. The waiter wrote down or order and then suggested that move two tables together to accommodate all of the food we requested. Never had that happen before. We considered omitting a couple dishes but quickly agreed that we were all hungry, it was Christmas, we were in Puerto Rico for the first time. What the heck!

We really enjoyed the Purerto Rican and Cuban food at Metropol in San Juan.

We really enjoyed the Purerto Rican and Cuban food at Metropol in San Juan.

The food was amazing. Although we had more than we could finish, we were glad to have been able to try so many different dishes, including the surprisingly wonderful “Mi Madre Pique” hot sauce. Stuffed, we waddled back to the hotel and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, we awoke to sunny skies. But soon, clouds formed and it began to rain, and we began to worry that our first day on the ship would be a wet one. But soon, the sun came out again. Then it rained. sunrainThen the sun came out again. In fact, that morning, it rained and turned sunny three times before noon! I mentioned something about the changing weather to the clerk at the front desk of the hotel. She simply said, “Welcome to the Caribbean!” This simple statement reminded me that we were in a new place, about to see and experience new things. I couldn’t wait.

[well]Stay tuned for our next blog post about Christmas Day at sea in the Caribbean.  Have you ever traveled during the holidays? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.[/well]

  • Have you always wanted to visit @thepioneerwoman lodge in Oklahoma? We’ve got a new blog post today with 12 tips to make your visit spectacular. Our website link is in our bio. And if the lodge is not open for tours when you can come, no worries! There are plenty of great things to see and do when you @visit_the_osage and @pwmercantile I’m Pawhuska. #pawhuska #pioneerwoman #drummondlodge #ranch #postcardjar #reedrummond
  • This is our first spring in Osage County, Oklahoma, and we are in awe of these trees!! It is a red bud and is the state tree of Oklahoma. They are everywhere around here and we love spotting the bright pinkish purple blooms among the green trees. So much beauty in nature. #redbud @visit_the_osage  @travelok
  • Sitting in our hotel room in Venice, we could look out across the busy canal toward St. Mark's cathedral. The fact that it's an island city makes it different from any other city in the world. Water taxis zoomed around, larger vaporettos chugged past, as well. Occaisionally, a cruise ship would glide past our window. Tourists from all over the world came to take in this spectacle, yet to the locals, who drive boats down tight canals with ease, this is what normal life looks like. The world is indeed a large, interesting place. Have you been to Venice? ⁣
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  • Seeing this photo takes us back to the the cooking class we took last summer on the island of Mykonos in Greece. We went to a woman's home, learned about Greek culture and history, and then prepared a meal using fresh ingredients from the garden in her back yard. Suffice it to say, it was one of the most delicious meals we'd ever had. But perhaps even better are the memories of the warm welcome we received as we entered her home and the glimpse into the lives of real people in another part of the world. ⁣
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  • Trust us on this: there is nothing that relaxes more than kicking back in a hammock in the shade on a beach in the Caribbean. Except maybe leaving that relaxing spot and getting back on a cruise ship for cocktails and a gourmet dinner. What do you do to relax on vacation? ⁣
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  • Near Valdobbiadene, in the heart of Italy's Prosecco region, is a bar with no bartender. You simply go inside, take the wine or beer you want from the fridge, and leave your money to pay for it in a box. We weren't sure who the owner of this bar is, or even who keeps it stocked. What we do know from the cards and notes they've left is that people from all over the world have come here and respected the honor system. It's amazing how honest folks will be if you just show a little trust. ⁣
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  • Ahhh...the Piazza del Campo in Siena! We absolutely loved our time here, sitting at a sidewalk cafe, sipping delicious Chianti Clasico wine and savoring the some of the best lasagna and pasta carbonara we'd ever had. While there, we noticed a number of people drinking some kind of orange colored drink. Our waiter explained it was a spritz of some sort. We asked if it were good. She shook her head and said that only the Americans seemed to like it. ⁣
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  • This barn at at @Calamus_Outfitters in @visitnebraska serves as a reminder that this really is a working ranch. The Switzer family has poured their hearts and souls into the land. We think it's pretty neat that they're willing to share this piece of the beautiful Nebraska Sandhills with visitors. Have you been to the Nebraska Sandhills? ⁣
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Making the most of midlife.