My first visit to a nude beach

My first visit to a nude beach

So, we’ve debated for some time whether or not to write this post.

As you know, Steve and I are actually quite modest people. We don’t wear clothing that draws attention (unless you count a couple of Steve’s Hawaiian shirts) and we often blush at PG-13 movies. However, when we were preparing for our Christmas vacation in the Caribbean this year, I read something about the nude beaches there and what can I say … my first thought was YOLO!

Steve, on the other hand, was not feeling it. He said he was worried a NSFW (not safe for work) photo of him would end up on Instagram. He feared that even with the beauty only an X-Pro II or Valencia filter could deliver, he would be embarrassed if a photo was made public. As we all know, my body is not exactly in the ideal shape for the nude beach, but I’d always thought it could be liberating and I was willing to try anything once. I just didn’t want to go alone.

I brought up the idea at the start of our cruise vacation and our daughter, Meghan, quickly announced, “It’s a big NO for me.” That meant I had only one other person on the trip to ask to join me on this once-in-a-lifetime experience — my dear mother.

She’d been trying lots of new things in her retirement years and I thought she might be game. I planned my “ask” a few days in advance and then settled down at our favorite Martini Bar on Celebrity Summit with the woman who gave me life. We ordered cocktails and I began to encourage her to have another, and then another.

The Martini Bar on the Celebrity Summit was the perfect place for me to ask my mom to join me on a nude beach excursion.

It didn’t take long before she was loosening up a bit and I thought she might be ready for my request. Just as she was finishing off her third Manhattan, I decided to broach the subject. Surprisingly, she didn’t take much convincing at all and even confided she’d often wondered what it be like to visit a nude beach and suggested we do it on the next port of call. I couldn’t believe it!

Mom and I met for breakfast the next morning and although she seemed a bit nervous, I tried to ease her anxiety by commenting that her hair and makeup looked fantastic. No doubt in my mind, she was going to be the hottest great-grandma on the beach that day!

Breakfast that morning at Blu on the Celebrity Summit.

After a lovely breakfast, we packed our beach bags with nothing but sunscreen and a pair of shades. We said adios to Steve and Meghan, who had opted for a far-more conservative deep-sea fishing excursion, and mom and I headed for the beach.

Our beach bag was super light — just a tube of sunscreen and our sunglasses was all we needed for our day at the beach.

Our cab driver dropped us off near the entrance to the beach and with a little smirk, told us to “have a great day.” As we followed the narrow path, both of us were getting a bit nervous about our first public au naturale experience. Just as we approached the beach area, there was a sign that read, “NOTICE: Beyond this point you may see nude bathers.” It was getting all too real.

Suddenly, a man who appeared to be in his mid-50s, walked toward us wearing nothing but his sandals and a smile and said, “Good morning, ladies.” Mom and I gave each other one last look, said “It’s now or never,” and walked through the hot sand until we found an open space on the beach.

We laid our beach towels in the sand, took off our coverups and began . . .

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ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

DO YOU REALLY THINK I’D GO TO A NUDE BEACH, LET ALONE WITH MY MOM???

***None of the information contained in this post is true. We just love April Fools’ Day!


As always, thanks for SHARING and not adding any “spoiler” comments on social media.

Cruising the Caribbean: St. Maarten

Cruising the Caribbean: St. Maarten

I’ve always loved airplanes and flying, so I was really looking forward to our stop in St. Maarten. Situated at the end of the runway of St. Maarten’s Airport sits Maho Beach, a wonderful spot to take in some rays and bob in the waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is also a prime spot to watch airplanes as they come in to land on the runway which is located right across a narrow street from the beach.

Because of this unique location, you can get an amazingly close view jets landing and taking off. And while many of the planes that land in St. Maarten are small planes that hop around the islands of the Caribbean, there are also some really big planes that arrive from as far away as Paris and Amsterdam.

To give you an idea of just how close you are to the runway, as you approach the airport you’ll see this sign: “Danger. Jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death.” They aren’t kidding.

This sign warned people of the dangers of the aircrafts taking off and landing but people didn’t seem to care.

Check out this video taken by someone named PilotDynan who was willing to stand in the jet blast of a departing Air France A340. We don’t have one of those videos nor do we advise standing where he stood! As soon as we confirmed that we were taking this cruise, I started planning our trip to Maho Beach to see the planes.

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

Shortly after our ship docked in St. Maarten, Ann, Meghan and I headed off the ship with a plan of finding our way there. It should be noted here that the day we were in St. Maarten, there were six ships in port, (four of them from Celebrity!) meaning that there were something like 16,000 extra people on the island. We headed past the visitor’s center and found our way to the crazy-chaotic taxi stand. Seeing that the price to Maho beach was $9/person each way but $8/person if you had more than six in your group, we promptly found another family headed the same way and made our way into the “Maho Beach” line at the cab stand.

The reality, though, was that the cabs were 15-passenger vans, the lines were more like fiefdoms run by cab stand “managers” who would argue with each other, and they just stuffed people into the cabs from what they perceived to be the front of the line. Apparently, the front of the line was determined by who could weasel themselves closest to the curb. Vans were stuffed until they were overflowing with humanity.

People swimming in the Caribbean Sea would stop every once in a while to watch planes come in the landing just above their heads.

As we drove to the beach, I chatted with the driver (as I was wedged-in up front) while Ann and Meghan, crammed in the back, chatted with some folks from England. I learned a lot about the island–it is divided into two halves, the French side and the side belonging to the Netherlands Antilles. There are two official forms of currency there, the Euro and the Netherlands Antilles Guilder, although the reality is that the U.S. dollar is the only one that anyone uses. Finally, due to a treaty signed between the French and Dutch about 350 years ago, people on the island can pass between the two countries and do business anywhere on the island at any time. This was a good idea then as well as now as the island is only 37 square miles and is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two countries.

We got to Maho Beach, paid the cab fare, and made our way out to a prime spot just to the right of the end of the runway. The beach was remarkably narrow but incredibly packed with people; only about 15-20 feet of sand separated a narrow road from the beautiful blue water.

We didn’t get in the ocean at Moho Beach, but we did enjoy soaking in the sun and people watching.

On the other side of the narrow road was a fence, and the airport’s runway went right up to that fence. At each end of the beach there was a bar/restaurant to serve the flocks of tourists who came each day for the plane spotting. One of them even had a board with the projected arrival times of the bigger jets.

We found a spot to sit on the curb by the road and waited for airplanes. We watched a few small planes land and a few small planes take off. The sun was strong, and we knew we probably didn’t want to sit and wait over an hour for the next bigger plane without having some shade, so we headed to one of the restaurants, stepping carefully to avoid stepping on anyone as virtually every square foot of the beach was covered by someone.

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.

We grabbed a bite to eat, watched some folks snorkeling off a boat nearby, and saw several smaller airplanes make their final approaches to the airport. It seems so matter-of-fact as I type it, but it was an amazing, unique place. Where else can you eat a chicken wing while seeing planes close enough on final approach that you can make out the people in the windows? We picked our way out onto the beach in time to watch the arrival of an A320 from the U.S. It was a very cool (and surprisingly loud) experience to be that close to a commercial jet in flight.

After that, the next bigger plane wasn’t due for over an hour, so we headed to a nearby gift shop, bought a postcard and t-shirt and then found a cab (with with 12 complete strangers) back to the cruise port.

Once back at port, we took a moment to wander around and look at the other ships in port. It isn’t common that one cruise line will have so many of their ships in the same port the same day. On this particular day, Celebrity Cruises hosted a concert by Demi Lovato exclusively for the passengers on their ships. We didn’t go to the concert, but we did sit high up on the back deck of our ship, (Celebrity Summit), and listen to what we could while sipping cocktails.

Demi Lovato performed on the stage with the black cover in the center of the this picture.

If you visit St. Maarten and Maho Beach, I’d recommend that you know the arrival schedule of the planes you’d like to see. The big planes take off and land more frequently on YouTube than they do in real life. Waiting in between those planes could be a hot proposition in the Caribbean sun, so wear a hat, bring plenty of sunblock, and maybe a bottle of water. Still, it is impressive to be that close to a working runway even if you see only smaller planes. For me, it was an item checked off my bucket list — although if I ever return to St. Maarten I’d go there again.

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Checked another item off our bucket list when we went to Maho Beach in St. Maarten to watch planes landing just just yards from the beach.

Cruising the Caribbean: St. Lucia

Cruising the Caribbean: St. Lucia

I have been to tropical places. I’ve admired the lush forests and gazed at the blue waters. But nothing could have prepared me for the for sights and sounds above the treetops in St. Lucia. The second port of call on our Caribbean Christmas cruise was this incredible island, bursting with vibrant plant life and more hues of green than I have ever seen.

 

We docked at St. Lucia, the second largest of the Lesser Antilles’ Windward Islands, at about 8 a.m. When we opened the curtain to our veranda, we had a spectacular view of the island, surrounded with blue green waters and sailboats passing by. I knew it was going to be a good day.

The view from our veranda in St. Lucia.

For this stop, we had already booked a Celebrity Cruise excursion for an aerial tram where we’d glide above the rainforest on an open-air gondola. We picked this excursion because it was labeled “mild” for activity and we suspected because of my health, I may need a lighter day by this point in the trip. We took a van from the port to a rainforest reserve where we marveled at the lush flora and fauna.

We boarded the open-air gondola, sitting two to a seat, and began our more than half an hour journey to top of the rainforest.

My mom and our daughter, Meghan, on the aerial tram to the top of the rain forest.

Our tour guide was fantastic. She shared a brief history of the island, explaining St. Lucia was originally occupied by the Carib Indians and then had both French and British settlers. St. Lucia changed hands 14 times before it became a British Crown Colony by the Treaty of Paris in 1814 and remained under British control until 1967 when it became an independent state in association with Great Britain. In 1979, it was granted full sovereignty and became a full-fledged member of the British Commonwealth.

On our way to the top, our guide also pointed out the wide variety of plants and trees in the rainforest, including stunning views of gommier trees and the remarkable strangler fig. Here’s a short video clip so you can see and hear and what we experienced.

We saw giant ferns and the magnificent Heliconia (bird of paradise). While our guide was thorough and answered our questions, she also spent long periods of time in silence so we could hear the sounds of the rain forest. It was incredible.

The giant ferns were absolutely amazing.

Although it was a bit overcast that day, the view from above the tree tops was breathtaking.

The view of the Caribbean sea from above the tree tops.

We enjoyed the tram ride down the mountain, looking for hummingbirds and identifying the various trees and plants. None of us wanted the ride to end. At the bottom, we walked down a slight hill and the guide told us our tour also included a 15-minute hike in the rainforest. Our daughter, Meghan, who like seeing nature but not being in it, had her doubts about the hike and opted to stay behind.  My mom, Steve and I agreed to take the short hike to take a quick peek at floor of the rainforest.

Our excursion labeled “mild” suddenly turned into “moderate” and five minutes later could have easily been considered “strenuous.” We climbed up dozens of tall, uneven steps in the forest, grabbing onto trees (and each other) to get from one level to the next. Our guide continued to talk about the trees around us, but I don’t remember hearing what she said or looking at any of them because my eyes were fixated on my feet and the hazardous ground below.

The floor of the rain forest. Not exactly the type of terrain I’d consider “mild.”

Fifteen minutes in to our so-called 15-minute hike, we were all dying and looking for nearest escape. There was none.

I didn’t have time to take many pictures on our hike, but I did stop briefly to get a shot of this unique tree/root/rock.

You could barely hear the guide speak over the wheezing sounds of the tourists but we hiked on. Finally, we began to descend but then I realized the steps down were going to be even more difficult than the ones we’d just climbed. I told my quads to get get ready — today was apparently going to be leg day.

It wasn’t easy, but I made it. We all did.

We made it!

When we reached the bottom of hill, Meghan rejoined the group. She asked about the difficulty of the hike and of course, I lied and told her it was a breeze and she should have come. I guess the shortness of my breath and the sweat running down my back gave it away and she just smiled and said, “I told you so.”

Fortunately, we were greeted at the visitor’s center with a glass of cold and refreshing rum punch and then headed back to the ship. Next stop — St. Maarten.

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Celebrating Christmas at sea

Celebrating Christmas at sea

Christmas has always been a really important time for me. I love preparing for and celebrating the birth of my Savior, giving and receiving gifts, singing Christmas carols, and spending time with family and friends. So, it was’t easy for me to agree to taking a family vacation over the Christmas holiday, knowing I would be leaving behind traditions I’ve always cherished. However, Steve’s time off this year for the holidays was limited, and this was one of our rare opportunities to get away for more than a few days at a time, so we decided to just go.

We did our best to incorporate as many of our Christmas traditions as I could, and we enjoyed a wonderful vacation, along with our daughter, Meghan, and my mom, Carol.

We boarded the Celebrity Summit on Christmas Eve and awoke Christmas morning to sunny skies and the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. We started our day with a lovely breakfast in Luminae where we were reunited with Gustavo — one of our favorite servers from a cruise we’d taken earlier this year on another ship. We loved his smile and bubbly personality, his strong work ethic, and all the ways he went above and beyond to make our last cruise so enjoyable.

Gustavo is one of the many incredible crew members on the Celebrity Summit whom we've had the privilege to meet.

Gustavo is one of the many incredible crew members on the Celebrity Summit whom we’ve had the privilege to meet.

He had mentioned when we met him this summer  that he was going to be working on the Summit next, so we were anticipating seeing him onboard and wanted to do something special for him for Christmas. I remembered he was from Mexico and since the town where we live has several Mexican bakeries and grocery stores, I picked up a few treats that I hoped would be familiar to Gustavo and packed them in my suitcase, along with a Postcard Jar t-shirt.

We packed a Postcard Jar t-shirt as well as some snacks from Mexico for one of our favorite crew members for Christmas.

We packed a Postcard Jar t-shirt as well as some snacks from Mexico for one of our favorite crew members for Christmas.

Christmas morning, I wrapped them up and brought the gift bag for him at breakfast. I know it must have been difficult for Gustavo to be so far away from home (and working) on such a special day, and we wanted him to know he was loved by God and by us. The smile it brought to his face was such a blessing!

After breakfast, we took a short walk around the ship’s deck, just soaking in the sun (which we hadn’t seen in a while) and enjoying the spectacular views.

It didn’t seem quite like Christmas to be surrounded by the sea and the sun, but we enjoyed every minute of it.

After that, we went by the grand foyer where Santa Claus was making an appearance and greeting all of the ship’s children with gifts.

Celebrity Cruises had the Grand Foyer beautifully decorated for Christmas and Santa was there to give gifts to all of the children on board. From what we saw, the older kids received beach towels and the younger ones got plush toys.

Celebrity Cruises had the Grand Foyer beautifully decorated for Christmas and Santa was there to give gifts to all of the children on board. From what we saw, the older kids received beach towels and the younger ones got plush toys.

We got a kick out of the kids who were so excited to see Santa and we especially enjoyed watching the woman in this video who was concerned about someone not waiting their turn, only to find out he was the Captain of the ship. (oops)

Next, we returned to our cabin to exchange a few gifts and I surprised the rest of group with personalized stockings. While I wasn’t able to display them on a fireplace mantel or under a Christmas tree, I made do with a small chair in our room and we had a great time opening presents and celebrating Christmas together.

I chose gifts this year that were very small in size and packed wrapping paper and bows ahead of time.

I chose gifts this year that were very small in size and packed wrapping paper and bows ahead of time.

Mom loved her Nebraska volleyball t-shirt we got her for Christmas.

Mom loved the Nebraska volleyball t-shirt we got her for Christmas.

To read more about how I was able to pack nine gifts, stockings, stuffers, and wrapping supplies in my suitcase and still keep it under 50 pounds, CLICK HERE.

We relaxed much of the afternoon and met up at the Martini Bar for a cocktail before dinner. We enjoyed another wonderful meal at Luminae, which even included traditional Christmas favorites like turkey and dressing.

Gustavo and Steve at dinner in Luminae on Christmas Day.

Gustavo and Steve at dinner in Luminae on Christmas Day.

After dinner, we gathered in the foyer with other passengers and crew to sing Christmas carols while fake snow was blown in.

Fake snow fell for three decks as crew and passengers joined in the singing of traditional Christmas carols.

Fake snow fell for three decks as crew and passengers joined in the singing of traditional Christmas carols.

We ended the evening in the Celebrity Theater with a holiday show and then retreated to our rooms. There, I found this lovely ornament and message, which will both be nice reminders of our Christmas at sea.

This Christmas tree ornament was a nice gift from Celebrity and will be a great reminder of our Christmas at sea.

This Christmas tree ornament was a nice gift from Celebrity and will be a great reminder of our Christmas at sea.

note

This Christmas was different than most we’ve shared. I missed our church service, the snow-covered landscape of our backyard, and watching the lights twinkle on our Christmas tree. But I cherished the time with family, the opportunity to travel someplace new, and the joy of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ — no matter where we are.

A look back at 2016

A look back at 2016

After traveling in the Caribbean for 10 days over Christmas, Steve and I returned to our home in Crete, Nebraska, about 15 seconds before the clock struck midnight Saturday night and just in time for a New Year’s kiss to ring in 2017. Before we delve into our travel plans for the upcoming year, we wanted to take a look back at 2016 and thank all of you for coming on this journey with us.

Last year, we rang in the new year with friends and family at home spent most of the spring in our home state of Nebraska. In February, we drove to nearby Wahoo to pick up a half a beef and ended up spending a delightful day in the town previously known as the home office of the Late Night with David Letterman Show.

 

 

In March we drove to the central region of the state to witness, first hand, the incredible Sandhill Crane migration. It was an absolutely amazing sight.

 

 

Although I’ve spent most of my life in Nebraska and had heard lots about the Sandhill Cranes, for some reason, I’d never taken the time to visit the sanctuaries and see these majestic birds up close. Let me just say, if you live in or near Nebraska — GO SEE THE CRANES! I would rank this experience among my Top 10 best travel experiences ever.  You can read more about our visit HERE.

Another Nebraska highlight for us was our visit to the Museum of American Speed in nearby Lincoln.

The car driven by Louis Chevrolet in the 1915 Indy 500. It achieved a maximum speed of 81 mph.

The car driven by Louis Chevrolet in the 1915 Indy 500. It achieved a maximum speed of 81 mph.

 

We hadn’t really heard of this museum and were absolutely amazed by the quality and massive quantity of car and speed-related items in this hidden gem of a museum. Not only did the three-story building include car collections, it also had a metal lunch box collection, a taxi cab collection, and lots of guitars, record albums, and movie posters. It was absolutely amazing and great pit stop for those traveling Interstate 80.

In May, we returned for another visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and then went on to Minneapolis for the North American TBEX, a conference for travel bloggers. We loved the conference, met some great new contacts, and became even more exited about growing our blog. We also had a chance to spend a day in Stillwater, Minnesota, while we were there. You can read all about HERE.

In the summer of 2016, we took one of the best vacations of our lifetimes to northern Europe. We’d been planning (and saving) for this trip for a long time and it exceeded all of our expectations. I picked Steve up from work the day his summer vacation began and he was able leave the middle school where he is principal. We flew to London, England, and took the Chirton Grange car service to South Hampton with a stop at the iconic Stonehenge.

 

Stonehenge

After a night in South Hampton and a visit to the local museum that chronicled  the sinking of the Titanic, we gathered the courage to board a ship and set sail on a 14-night cruise on the Baltic Sea.

The magnificent gold fountains at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

We had an incredible experience on the Celebrity Eclipse and enjoyed stops in Belgium, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Sweden, and Denmark.

Bath, England

Bath, England

We disembarked in South Hampton and took a train to Bath, England, for a couple days and spent another three days visiting friends in Taunton before flying back to the States. It was an absolutely unforgettable vacation, filled with new experiences and adventures that we’ll always treasure.

Upon our return, we spent one day doing 12 loads of laundry, then packed up the car, picked up our daughter, Meghan, and headed out on a road trip across Nebraska. Less than a month after visiting Stonehenge in England, we found ourselves taking selfies at a cheesy replica called Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska.

Carhenge

We had a great week exploring our home state as a family, including stops in Hastings (where Kool-Aid was invented), Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff/Gering, Crawford, Chadron, Valentine, and Norfolk. We loved taking the highways instead of the interstate, stopping to explore small (sometimes abandoned) towns, visiting quirky tourist attractions (like the Fort Cody Trading Post) and eating peanut butter sandwiches in city parks along the way.

With the exception of a short trip for appointments at the Mayo Clinic, we spent much of the fall near home and enjoyed taking friends and family to Nebraska Cornhusker football games. We even got to go to one away game when we flew to Columbus Ohio to see the Huskers play the Ohio State University in the Horseshoe. Great flight. Awesome venue. Devastating loss.

While we typically are home for Christmas, this year we decided to escape the cold and did another Celebrity cruise — this time to the Caribbean. We flew to Puerto Rico on Dec. 23 and boarded the Summit on Christmas Eve. We spent Christmas Day at sea and then enjoyed stops in Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Kitts (our favorite island) and St. Thomas before returning to San Juan and flying home on New Year’s Eve. Can’t wait to share some of those experiences with you, soon.

All in all, we traveled to two U.S. territories, six states, and 11 countries in 2016. We are still working on our travel schedule for 2017, but will likely spend most of our time in the United States, as there is so much here we have yet to see and experience.

Where did your travels take you in 2016? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.