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]

  • A chic, swanky boutique hotel, located in a renovated Middle School, @hotelgrinnell offers guests comfortable accommodations as well as great food and drink options. With a full auditorium, and a ballroom in the former gym, this hotel is perfect for anything from a weekend getaway to a major event. We had the opportunity to stay in the hotel on a hosted visit, and wrote a blog post about our stay. See the link in our bio.
  • On the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, there is a point where you round a bend and see this view, with the Atlantic Ocean on the left, and the Caribbean Sea on the right. ⁣
⁣
Ann took this photo several years ago when we visited St. Kitts for a day while on a cruise in the Caribbean. ⁣
⁣
We met our friend, Mikey Tross, on the island and with the help of a local driver and guide, we toured the entire island in a day. ⁣
⁣
We climbed to the top of Brimstone Hills, saw the beaches, at at Fredo's (a local restaurant) and toured Caribelle  Batik at Romney Manor. ⁣
⁣
St. Kitts is a beautiful island and the people there are incredibly generous. If you haven't already been there, add St. Kitts to your bucket list.
  • The Grinnell, Iowa, Chamber of Commerce offices are located in a former bank designed by famed architect, Louis Sullivan. The architect built a series of "Jewel Box" banks, called that because they resemble jewel boxes.⁣
⁣
These buildings are intricate in detail and rich in their finishes. The next time you pass near Grinnell, it is definitely worth the stop to step into American architectural history.
  • In downtown Kearney, Nebraska, you'll find @mccuesnebraskataproom, home to all sorts of Nebraska libations. When you visit, you can choose from a large selection of beers, wines, and even liquors all made in Nebraska. It's a fun environment where regulars welcome visitors, and fun is had by all. We look forward to going back one day and know that a visit to McCue's will be a part of our visits to Kearney in the future. ⁣
⁣
@visitnebraska @visitkearney
  • A rite of passage...⁣
⁣
The Swinging Bridge in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, has thrilled residents and visitors alike for decades. When it was originally built in 1929, it was the only way to cross from one side of Bird Creek to the other. Today, there are other bridges, but the beloved swinging bridge still spans the creek and dares folks to cross.⁣
⁣
Long-time residents will tell stories of rieding their bikes across it when they were kids--and it should be noted that back then it didn't have the chain link side guards.⁣
⁣
No visit to Pawhuska is complete until you've tried The Pioneer Woman's chicken fried steak AND crossed the swinging bridge. Go ahead and try...we dare you!⁣
⁣
@TravelOK @VisitTheOsage
  • While looking for a coffee shop in @visitkearney, we stumbled into a really cool store. @elevate.people is a locally owned business specializing in both leather goods and in helping people around the world build better lives for themselves. ⁣
⁣
All of the leather goods for sale here are handmade by people in third world countries. Elevate, it turns out, is a non-profit that gives local artisans small, low interest loans to get started in the leather making business. When loans are repaid, the money is loaned out to another craftsperson so they can get started. Meanwhile, Elevate provides access to a market to sell the goods produced so the worker continues to be supported. They also have an online store.⁣
⁣
We have purchased several items from Elevate, and have loved all of them.⁣
⁣
@visitnebraska
  • After a day of tests and appointments at the Mayo Clinic, this was a perfect place to relax and unwind.⁣
⁣
We were treated to a complimentary stay at the brand new Hilton in downtown @minnesotas_rochester. Located near the Mayo Clinic, it's an incredibly beautiful hotel with nothing but the best amenities and top-notch service. One of our favorite places in the hotel is the hot tub in the pool area. How can it not be? Look at this place. And yes, it's as relaxing as it looks, especially at sunset. ⁣
⁣
The room in this new luxury hotel are just as nice. We enjoyed it so much that we changed our travel plans and booked a second night on our own dime. It's our new go-to hotel in Rochester, Minnesota.⁣
⁣
@minnesotas_rochester @exploreminnesota @hiltonhotels
  • Our hosted food tour in @visitkansascityks began with a bar-b-que spread from several local restaurants. Needless to say, we had to sample a little bit of everything because it was for science. We enjoyed ribs, smoked sausage, brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, burnt ends, rice, beans, and even warm potato casserole. ⁣
⁣
If you love bar-b-que, head to KCK. Trust us, you'll love it. Just wear your stretchy pants.

Second most popular blog in Pawhuska