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Updated: 2018-03-06T05:34:14.071-06:00


Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 5: Tortola! - Spending our 20th Anniversary in a Bath(s) in Another Country, Part 3


Need to catch up?  The previous installment can be found HERE!Eventually, we headed back inside.  Sheri felt a nap coming along.  I was still feeling great; besides, Eric was snoring on the bed where I usually lay, so I grabbed the camera and headed out to get some more pictures of the ship.  678 Ocean Place was my destination for pics.  I spent around an hour gathering pictures before heading back to the stateroom.  Sheri had a little nap under her belt and was reading a little bit on the deck.  The boys were still completely zonked.  We talked for a little bit, while I grabbed some more deck pictures as we passed the islands as we started on our way back west towards the U.S.  I know that there are a lot of pictures in here; please allow me this indulgence as I am writing this just a couple of days after Hurricane Irma went through the Caribbean, and much of the scenery will never be the same.  To avoid killing everyone's data, I'll send you to the folder that contains the pictures taken.  Please head to This link to view the pictures from around the ship.  They are, for the most part, chronological, so, once you get past the pictures from the Baths, you'll know you are close.Around 4:15, we headed back inside from our balcony, to this sight.Well…they weren’t waking up anytime soon…we decided that it was a good time to check out the Skyline Bar!!!We bellied up to the bar and asked for a menu.  I honestly am not 100% sure what we ordered for the first round – I want to say I got a Bahama Mama, but I can’t be certain.While there, we talked a bit with the bartender, but, as Skyline was a little busier, we tried not to distract him much.  Quite a few people came and went, tossing some money into the video poker machines embedded within the bar.  One gentleman sat down next to me, and the three of us struck up a conversation as he played.  He was from Minnesota, and he was on there courtesy of a Casinos at Sea offer.Round 2!We were hesitant to order this next round, but we were both looking forward to having a Caipirinha.  We learned about this drink at what Sheri and I consider “our” Skyline Bar…the one on the Disney Dream.  It’s impossible not to compare them.  Since the one on the Dream was the first one we visited, I think we’ll always rank that as our favorite bar on a ship.  The one we on the Escape is good…don’t get me wrong on that.  We’re just bigger fans of the other one.  Regardless, we did order one, and the bartender didn't seem too upset that we asked for a drink that involved muddling.Sheri finished her drink first and decided to head back to the stateroom to prepare for supper; tonight was our anniversary dinner at Cagney’s.  She headed out, while I stayed back for a few more minutes to finish my drink and talk a bit longer with our new friend playing poker next to me.The boys had awakened from the dead by the time Sheri had returned to the room, and they were already prepared for dinner.  Sheri and I were ready a few minutes later, and, knowing that we were cutting it just a bit close on dinner and our after-dinner entertainment, For The Record: The Brat Pack, we decided to head down to Cagney’s about 15 minutes before our reservation.  We were seated immediately, though the restaurant looked pretty packed.  Our servers were really enthusiastic as they greeted us, and, as I handed them the voucher for the anniversary cake, our main server asked if we were planning on something immediately afterward, like a show.I mentioned that we had reservations for The Brat Pack, and she said they’d accommodate us to make sure we’d make it in time.That, folks, is amazing service!!One of the great things about cruising and dining is the opportunity to try out new items.  I decided to try Oysters Rockefeller for the first time.  Hey…it’s our anniversary…we have oysters…it’s foolproof!Yeah, none of us really liked ‘em.Crab cakes an[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 5: Tortola! - Spending our 20th Anniversary in a Bath(s) in Another Country, Part 2


You can read the first part of the day HERE!We made to the exit/entrance around 9:40 and, after a quick bathroom break, we celebrated our success the best way we could that early in the morning…RUM PUNCH AT THE POOR MAN’S BAR!We sat around, talked, and people-watched for about 15-20 minutes before heading down to the Baths beach.While there, I pointed out to Sheri how far out the moorings were for this beach, and we both agreed that we all would have been able to swim in from there.  Around 10:30, we made our way back up to the Top of the Baths in the hopes that we would be ahead of most of the others on the excursion.  There were several taxis available, and, as we started walking towards the guides, they asked if we got our free rum punch yet?More rum punch?  FREE??OUTTA MY WAY!!!!!!The guide pointed us towards the location, and it was surprisingly quiet for being free alcohol.  Aaron was first to the table, and I could see the guy sizing him up to guess if he was 21 or not.  While I didn’t think he’d actually try to get one, I made sure the guy handing out the punch knew he was only 14 so he and his brother would get the nonalcoholic version.We downed the drinks quickly and hopped in a taxi for the ride back to Spanish Town.  On the way back, we talked with a couple of girls from central California; inevitably, the discussion turned to Wine Country, as we were interested in what they knew about (Central Coast), and they were interested in our favorite wine area (Napa/Sonoma).  They were great; in fact, the entire taxi was awesome.  There were a number of times where the entire taxi ended up in the same conversation or a joke.We made it back to the ferry a little after 11:00; we had a little bit of time to just marvel at the color of the water and reflect where we were.We again opted for the lower level inside.  Though it was still before noon, the boys were wiped out, and they were snoring before we even cast off.The ride back to Tortola seemed quite a bit smoother than the ride to Virgin Gorda, and we were walking back towards the Escape around noon.  The ride back apparently made the boys starving, so we made a beeline for O’Sheehan’s as soon as we made it back on the ship.Put...the camera...down...and EAT!While there, Michell came in and sat a couple of tables away.  We talked with her for a few minutes to catch up on how things were going.  I had a question or two regarding my being a travel agent and being able to post cruise reports over on Cruise Critic, and she gave some great advice.Sheri was getting a bit tired, so she headed out to our room before dessert – the boys and I (of course) had to try out dessert (in the name of research, of course).  After dessert, we made our way back up to our room, where Sheri was finishing up putting some stuff away.  The boys, after eating nearly half their body weight just a few minutes earlier, decided that a siesta was in order for them.  They turned the television on with low volume and found a place to crash.  Sheri and I headed out to the balcony to just sit, watch, and talk for a little bit.  As much as we loved St. Thomas and St. John, I think we both agreed that Tortola was even more beautiful.  We spent around 20-30 minutes out there, watching the watercraft arriving/leaving the area. We also watched the crowds returning to the ship.Continued...HERE![...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 5: Tortola! - Spending our 20th Anniversary in a Bath(s) in Another Country, Part 1


I'm going to preface this post by mentioning that I am writing this only a few days after Hurricane Irma devastated many of the islands that we visited on this cruise; in particular, the British Virgin Islands, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, received extensive damage.  While I write this day's events with the same style that I have thus far done so with the rest of the report, you may notice that there is a significant increase in the pictures included.  This is intentional: while these islands begin the rebuilding process, I want people to remember the way it was prior to the damage rather than remembering the impact that Irma had.  That being said, please keep in mind that it will take time and money for the residents of these islands to attain some semblance of normalcy.  I do not want to include any one particular organization; if you feel so inclined, I'm sure that any donation will help the people of the islands that so many love.With that...let's get going!Need to see the previous day?  Please click HERE.Daily Planner for Day 5I set my Garmin Watch to start vibrating around 5:45, and I quietly got out of bed soon after.  Following the same protocol as the previous day, I grabbed the GoPro and mounted it outside on the left balcony divider.  I started the time lapse just in time, because the pilot’s boat was heading towards us.  The other three were stirring, so I got ready first while they worked on waking up.  I think it was around this time that both Sheri and I realized that today was our 20-year Anniversary.  We exchanged cards and read them for a couple of moments…quick kiss, and then back to the grindstone, as we had a tight schedule in the morning.Don’t worry…that wasn’t the extent of our anniversary celebration.  More to come later on that.We flew up to Garden Café around 6:30 and found it to be eerily quiet.  We felt like we could have run around the entire buffet area naked without anyone seeing us.  Still, we opted for a quick grab-and-go with some fruit and headed back to our stateroom for final prep for our excursion to Virgin Gorda and the Baths.  Sheri was bust getting a day bag prepped, while I worked on getting everyone’s waterproof phone cases set up for the day.Coming into Tortola:At 7:00, we were at our meeting point for the excursion…the Escape Theater.  We received a few quick instructions and were soon following an escort off the ship.  It was a short 5- to 7-minute walk from the gangway to the area where our ferry was waiting for us.  I contemplated sitting up on the open-air top of the ferry, but I had previously read about how rough this passage could be; 30-40 minutes of constant slamming into the swells might have done Sheri and Aaron in, so I suggested we headed to the lower level indoors.Yeah…that was a good decision.Once we were full, we left the dock and floated slowly by the Escape, which made for a good photo opportunity.  Once we cleared the primary waters of Road Town, they opened up the throttle, and the sea started throwing her swells at us.  Immediately, Sheri looked for the nearest life saver and contemplated putting it on.  Aaron did his best to not turn green.Eric and I put our hands in the air and treated it like a roller coaster ride (complete with an occasional, “WHEEEEEE….GO FASTER!!!  LET’S GO UPSIDE DOWN!!!”). One of the employees handed out wrist bands for all of those on the excursion as well as liability waivers.  We received some more guidance on what to expect once we got to Spanish Town, which was where the ferry was to dock on Virgin Gorda.After about 25-30 minutes (to Sheri and Aaron, it probably seemed more like 2-3 hours), we felt the engines slowing down, and we started catching glimpses of the Union Jack flying over the island we were approaching.  We all thought that was pretty cool – though none of us thought about looking for it at Tortola LOL. &nbs[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 4: Swimming in (the) Trunk (of the) Bay, Part 3


The previous part of this day can be seen HERE.On tap for dinner tonight was the Supper Club.  I had heard that the food was only so-so here, but we didn’t select this venue for the food – we were looking forward to seeing Company Men singing!  We arrived around 5:40 and were seated with a column blocking some of the stage. Oh well…The food was pretty much as previously-described to us…”meh” .  The singers definitely were talented, and I actually felt a little bad that they weren’t getting as much applause as I thought they should have received.  Granted, that goes along with a dinner/show combination.  They have shorter-term contracts, so seeing them on the ship might be hit-or-miss.We were out of there by just after 7:00.  It would have been about 10 minutes earlier, but the servers misplaced my room key, and we were the next-to-last-table out.  No worries, though…we were planning on heading right back in for the 8:30 “Escape the Big Top” escape room.  Still, we had about 75 minutes to kill, so we headed back to our stateroom so I could turn off the GoPro, which had taken about 7,000 pictures of us leaving St. Thomas (please see video).  On our way to the room, though, we noticed a photographer with no wait, so we hopped in and got a couple of photos.This little montage, taken just after we left our rooms, gives you a little peek into how we typically are.We started making our way back to the atrium.  As we went past the Cellars, we heard the distinct riff of Orly’s guitar.  We waved, and he waved back.  We then pointed to the boys and shrugged our shoulders jokingly.  He laughed as he kept on playing.   A couple of minutes later, we found ourselves back at the atrium and sniffed out the onboard Starbucks.  We chose to be bad parents and decided to feed our kids’ addiction of caffeine.  I’m more of a purist…just give me a venti nonfat cappuccino, and I’m happy; the other three basically had them melt a candy bar in a cup and added a shot or two of espresso (they all got mochas or frappuccinos).  Since we didn’t think their pancreases were under enough duress with the candy-bars-in-a-cup, we also ordered some macaroons to share.We sat down nearby (rather, we tried to sit down, but our legs were starting to tremor a little from the buzz) and listened to Groove Addiction finish up their set.  Around 8:10, we went back to the Supper Club and got assigned to a table with just us.  We were expecting to be paired up with another family or two, but it was just us until right before the start.  We had a family from Florida at our table – the husband was an on-air personality for a local station, but I couldn’t remember what he said he did.The game started, and we all paid close attention to Ringmaster JoJo (it would have been really funny if it were ringmaster Jackie Tang…all the way from Hong Kong) as he gave the instructions for the game.  Now, remember…the Mushfam is competitive…this family is, too.  I liked our chances!  We had to solve six puzzles, which all fed into a seventh puzzle.By the time the game ended, we had figured out two of them.I felt like I should have put a bag over my head for the rest of the cruise, like Sylvestor the cat’s ashamed sonAfter leaving the Supper Club, we headed back to the Atrium.  The Celebrity Dance-Off was scheduled for tonight, and research told me that this was not to be missed.  We looked for some chairs and found nothing, so we headed upstairs.  While we were doing this, “Sing It If You Know It” was going on.  I expected this to be a lower-key event.Yeah…it was popular.  I only have about 20 seconds of usable footage, so I can't really show you how much participation there was.  I'd estimate about 40-50 people on the stage, singing their hearts out, with dozens of others sitting down but still singing.  One [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 4: Swimming in (the) Trunk (of the) Bay, Part 2


The first part of the day can be read HERE.Okay…I lied.  I’m taking over when we got back to Cruz Bay.  We decided to hit Woody’s Seafood Saloon for lunch, since we had over an hour before we planned on taking the ferry back to Red Hook.  This place has a small capacity, but it has a big reputation…especially later in the afternoon with its Happy Hour.  Before then, however, it was completely fine for the entire family.  I took a “When in Rome” mantra for this meal: I started with a painkiller to drink (2 oz Pusser’s dark rum, 1 oz cream of coconut, 4 oz pineapple juice, and 1 oz of OJ).  We ordered conch fritters for the first time (when in Rome, right?).  They were okay, but I consider them more of a “right of passage” for the islands than anything else.  The Drunken Shellfish…THAT was good!  I also drank a Virgin Islands “Island-Hoppin’ IPA (When in Ro…okay, it’s getting old), which was pretty decent.I love their menu!Conch FrittersDrunken Shellfish and a good IPA...Life is Good!While we were there, we struck up a conversation with a couple from Texas who were also enjoying their vacation in the islands.  We talked for quite a while about getting down to St. John, the national park, and Trunk Bay. Eventually, we did have to leave, though I could have stayed there and people watched (and drank) for another hour or so.  We wanted to make it back to St. Thomas with plenty of time, though, so we headed to the ferry terminal and hopped on the 2:00 ride back to Red Hook.  After we got off the ferry, we were directed to a van with air conditioning for the ride over to Charlotte Amalie.  For the same price as an open-air taxi, you know we took hold of the opportunity and got in!  We shared the ride with another couple that we saw at Trunk Bay as well as on the taxi ride to Trunk.  The driver stopped for us to get a really good shot of the Havensight Docks where the Escape and Carnival Magic where tied up.  He dropped us off near the shops (Garden and Main…or Dronningens Gade, if you are a local).  As soon as we crossed the street, we found ourselves in the middle of a number of jewelry stores.Now is probably the right time to tell you that I had an ulterior motive for going this way.  Our 20-year anniversary was the next day.  Again, with huge THANK YOU to my friend Karen (see pre-trip report), I was on the lookout for a popular Crucian Hook bracelet to see if Sheri thought they were neat or not.Sheri immediately smelled something, because I didn’t do my typical routine of whining, sitting down in the middle of the store, and asking if she was done yet when it comes to shopping.  I poked my head into one store and quickly inquired (out of earshot from Sheri) about hooks (they didn’t have any), and she looked at me quizzingly.  She then popped her head into a linen store, and we all entered to look around.  Aaron and Eric immediately started whining, sitting down in the middle of the store, and asking if we were done shopping.I noticed that the back of the linen store had a small jewelry area, so I followed Sheri into there.  She started browsing around, while I told her that I was going to sit down and rest for a while……and talk to the guy about the hook bracelets he had on display. She was definitely on to me, and she did like one of the bracelets she tried on.  I told her that Karen had already helped me out with this and that it was an anniversary present a day early.  The price was good, and she didn’t put up much of an argument.We found out after the picture that the hook faces toward the heart if it's taken and away from the heart if searching.After we bought the bracelet, we grabbed a couple of waters and picked up boys, who were still wailing on the floor of the linen shop.  We walked through an arcade down to the waterfront and shooed away th[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Day 4: Swimming in (the) Trunk (of the) Bay, Part 1


Just starting to read this?  The previous day starts HERE.FREESTYLE DAILY for Day 4They say that a picture is worth a thousand words…this is one of those days where my initial intent was to let the pictures speak for themselves and not provide much narration.  Then I remembered that I'm long-winded and boring and that I had to drone on about stuff that nobody cares about to keep my reputation intact. With that, let's begin our first port day in beautiful St. Thomas!I was wide awake early on (5:30), mainly because I wanted to get a time lapse of the sunrise and our arrival into St. Thomas.  I got the GoPro set up and started, and I then started going over the itinerary for the day…again…and again…and again…The game plan for the day was to do our own thing and head to Trunk Bay.  This would involve a little bit of logistics and a bit of luck on the timing.  We were going to try to get off the ship early and then grab a taxi to Red Hook.  From there, we hoped to catch the 9:00 ferry over to Cruz Bay and then grab another taxi to Trunk Bay.   To get back, we had to reverse it. The first order of business, though was sustenance!  We headed up to Garden Café, and it was markedly busier than we anticipated.  We decided to forego anything that would take a while (omelets were out), so Sheri and I opted for Eggs Benedict while the boys went with the quick pancake and/or cereal fare.  I’ll admit, I had my doubts with the eggs, but this morning’s offering was remarkably good!There weren’t any 4-tops available (even singing Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch didn’t help), (wow…that was bad, even by my relatively low standards), so we split up and grabbed a couple of 2-tops.  I ended up sitting next to a Korean War veteran from the Chicago area who was dining with his granddaughter.  We enjoyed a brief conversation as we ate.  We couldn’t stay too long, however, because we were on a mission to get off the ship early.  We bid them adieu and headed back to the stateroom for final preparation.Checklist:Swimming attire and rash guards…Check!GoPro…CheckLots of cash (many places do not accept credit/debit cards…taxis, ferry, etc)…Check!Day Bag…Check!Phones in recently-purchased waterproof cases…Check!  (the money fit in there well…FYI)Identification…Check!I wanted to test things out a bit, so I did bring our passports with us, but I also had photos of the passports on our phone.  I know – there is often a little controversy with taking passports with you vs keeping them on the ship.  This was a fact-finding mission for me as a travel planner to see what all would fly.We had a little time, so I did a quick download of the time-lapse shots from earlier.  As I did that, the other three questioned why I didn’t shoot the arrival into port.  I wanted to do it, but logistics wouldn’t really let me – I had enough storage space, but the battery would have been the potential issue.  The Hero Session 4 has a rechargeable battery that can’t be swapped out.  While the camera recharged and downloaded, the others started shooting pictures on the verandah.Around 7:45-7:50, we started to make our way down to the lower decks, and we were rewarded with being off the ship at around 8:01!  We made it to the taxis by 8:10 and were on our way soon afterward.  All of us were heading to either Red Hook (us) or Sapphire Beach or Coki Beach (everyone else).  When the driver turned into Secret Harbour resort, we all kind of looked around, wondering what was going on.  The driver hopped out and seemed a bit perturbed that nobody got out.  He hopped back in and headed towards Red Hook – he pulled into a strip mall by Ocean Surfari Charters and said that this was the stop for Red Hook.  We hopped out, lost and not sure which way to go.  We figured it out after[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. MORE Chilling at Sea (Part 3)


The previous installment can be viewed HERE.On the agenda for dinner tonight was Food Republic.  Aaron, who is a big sushi fan, was REALLY looking forward to this one.  We started to make our way down around 5:15, and, at 5:30, when it opened for service, we were the second ones to be seated.Food Republic is another one of those hidden gems onboard.  Once word gets out, the place tends to get busy; however, if you go there on the first 2-3 days of the cruise, it tends to be quiet.  The menu is crafted by the geniuses from the Pubbelly Restaurant group, including chefs Jose Mendin (a 5-time semifinalist of the James Beard award), Sergio Navarro, and Andreas Schreiner, who are very well-known in the Miami area.  It is an Asian fusion restaurant with a little bit New England sprinkled in.  Guests order from iPads located at each table, and, as a plate is made, it comes out to the table; there is no order of entrees, per se.The first order of business was the drink selection.  Sheri decided on a “Revolutionary Cure” (Mandarine Napoleon…orange liquor, apple juice, cinnamon syrup, ginger beer, and fresh lemon), while I ordered a Toro Toro (silver tequila, chipotle pineapple syrup, and lime juice…it was interesting!).We let the boys have a little more free reign on what to order, and it was ALL amazing!Tiger RollChorizo DatesShort Rib & CornPhilly RollPork Belly & ScallionsChicken Teriyaki w/ Ginger MisoDragon Roll (we think)It was a la carte and not part of the specialty dining package that we had, but we would all agree that it was worth the price!!!!  You pay as you order at Food Republic, so we didn’t have to wait for the final check.  We were out of there around 6:30…less than an hour for our meal!Both Entourage and Splash had events going on at 7 that the boys expressed interest in.  This was good, because Orly was going to be at District starting at 6:45.  We made our way aft and dropped Aaron off first before heading to the Sports Court to drop off Eric.  Kidless again, we made our way BACK to Deck 8 Forward and headed into the District.  Orly had already about half-way into his set, and he again gave us a “Hi guys!” as we found some chairs.Before the cruise, I have delusions of grandeur to attempt to taste every beer that the District had; some words of encouragement from a brother-in-law or two made me even more set on trying it.  There was just too much to offer around the ship, however, and the beers I ordered that night were the only ones I had at the District.  I feel like I should turn in my man card.Orly finished his first set and, during his break, he performed some surgery on his guitar; mind you, we all thought it sounded amazing before he started working on it.  Before he started his next set, I asked him if he was okay with me recording a little bit.  He gave the okay, and I got set up to get some footage of his show.  I then told him that he had an impact on our older son and asked us about starting lessons.  Orly smiled and said that he’d love to talk to Aaron about it and show him a couple of things on the guitar.Me:  jaw hits the floorWe did tell Aaron that evening; unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out for them to meet up.  Still, his willingness to talk to him spoke volumes.  I doubt that he’ll ever read this, but I wanted to express our thanks for the amazing job he does on the ship!Sheri and I were content just staying in the District for a few hours.  It wasn’t too loud in there, the motion wasn’t too much for Sheri, and we were really enjoying ourselves!  Howl at the Moon was slated to start at 8:30, though, and we had heard really good things about that show.  We decided to listen to Orly until 8:10 and then head to Headliners for Howl; we both agreed that we could come [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. MORE Chilling at Sea (Part 2)


Part 1 can be found HERE.After lunch, we decided to head up to the Sports area to see how busy the mini golf was…with the ropes course closed, it was jammed!  At the same time, we all glanced at the water slides and noticed that the lines weren’t too bad.  It was unanimous – we were heading back to our room and putting on our swimming attire. Up first was the Aqua Racer – an enclosed slide that you ride tubes in.  We started up the stairs and grabbed tubes.  As we ascended the flights of stairs, I realized two things:It was REALLY windy…holy cow…it nearly took your breath away; andThe Ms. Norwegian Escape contest was going on, and, as we got higher and higher up, I could actually see some of the contest…holy cow…it nearly took your breath away.(something tells me I’m going to pay for that last one when Sheri reads it)The boys went first, and they chose to go separately (no surprise there).  They will allow two tubes to ride down together, so Sheri and I opted for that.  I got my GoPro started (there are already a million videos of the Aqua Racer online, but it’s something you just HAVE to do) and sat down on my tube to wait for Sheri to get situated. Sheri started down first; however, as she pushed off, she rotated around so that she was heading down backwards.  All I’m going to say about this is that you will want to see the outtakes video of this ride down so you can hear the audio of her predicament.  I nearly had tears running down my face from her reactions/comments!  One word of note, though – if you do find yourself going backwards, do everything you can to grab the wall at the bottom to spin back around, because there’s always the chance that the water at the end could flip you; if that happens, you could be going head-first into the side/end of the slide, which could be a lot of trouble.Along with an attendant, there was a photographer grabbing pictures.  I really liked the individual black-and-white pictures of the boys. Up next were the free-fall slides!  Sheri wanted no part in these, so she found a chair (yep, mid-afternoon, there were chairs to be had!) and started reading while the boys and I started back up the stairs.  I was going to go first so I could see who won between the boys.  As we got the top, the attendant noticed that I still had my wedding band on, and she said that it had to be removed to ride it.I didn’t feel like heading down, giving Sheri the ring, and then heading back up, so I told the boys I’d meet them at the bottom.  Now, in the attendant’s defense, there are posted signs stating that no jewelry was to be worn on the slides – I was thinking that they were talking about necklaces/bracelets/etc.  She was following the posted policy, and I wasn’t going to argue at all with that, even though I know that there was no way that ring was coming off my finger LOL.I headed back down to meet the boys.  As I was working my way down the stairs, I heard the horn going off, which indicated that someone didn’t make it up the incline a little over half-way through the slide.  My assumption was that it was Aaron who didn’t make it.  When I got to Sheri, Aaron came walking up, which meant that it was Eric who got stuck.  I headed back up the stairs to where the “Escape hatch” was (no pun intended…well…maybe it was a little bit intended…insert rim shot here), and Eric didn’t quite know what happened.  When we made it back to Sheri, someone overheard Eric getting stuck and recommended going without the rash guard shirt that he was wearing.  Aaron was up for riding it again, and Eric didn’t seem traumatized at the previous attempt, so I grabbed the GoPro, and we all headed back up.  I talked to the attendant to see if I could hop in to film them, and she n[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. MORE Chilling at Sea (Part 1)


The previous day starts HERE.Freestyle Daily for Day 3!We all slept in until after 7 this morning…hey…that’s progress!We had nowhere to really be this morning, so we took our time getting ready.  We all took in the next installment of the Tyler and Jacky show before heading up to the Garden Café to see how its breakfast was.  For a large buffet, it wasn’t too bad.  There was definitely a wide variety of dishes to try.  I opted for an omelet, and I noticed that the name tag of the crew member working the omelet station made mention of Teppanyaki, so I made a mental note of his face in case we had him as our chef later on in the cruise.  There was a guest or two that was making his job a bit tougher than it needed to be, however; a guy first tried cutting in line to get his order, and, then when he put his order in, he vanished for a while…his order was ready for a good 4-5 minutes before he strolled up to get it.  I would have paid money to see the Teppan chef, in the flash of a spatula blade, expertly toss the omelet in the garbage can, exclaiming, “Japanese cold breakfast!” as the guy watched.We enjoyed the breakfast, but we could definitely feel the motion.  The weather channel on the television warned of 11- to 14-foot swells with high winds from the ship’s 10 o’clock position.  For the sake of Aaron and Sheri, who were not quite green but definitely not 100%, we decided to stay lower and opted for trivia in the atrium.  As luck would have it, there was trivia as 9:30.  We arrived a little after 9 am, and the “Guppies: Big and Little” program for toddlers was still going onAt 9:30, JoJo (another member of the Director’s staff) led trivia, and the Mushfam finished in a 4-way tie for first place with 16 of the 20 correct.  All the team members won koozies.The ropes course was set to open at 10:00, but, based on the winds, I was reasonably confident that it wouldn’t be open.  I took the forward elevators up to Deck 17, hopped outside, and took stairs up to Deck 19.  It was 10:05, and there was nobody on the Ropes Course; it was either that or everyone was holding on for dear life over the wake behind the ship.  I headed back down to the atrium to deliver the news, and we all agreed to hang out there for a while.  One of Aaron’s hobbies is origami, and there was an origami class at 10:15.  It was a no-brainer to stay.  JoJo again was our host, and he had us making basic tulips.  The first three steps were easy; however, everyone was lost on step 4, and Aaron ended up helping about 10 people around him with the step.  Then came step 5, and every looked to Aaron for guidance.  While waiting for steps, he also made a crane and dropped it off next to JoJo, who exclaimed that it wasn’t one of those rocking ones.  Aaron smiled and asked if he wanted one of those made, too.In the end, we (kind of) had a set of tulips.  We had an older couple next to us that we were talking to, and the gentleman took a piece of paper and turned it into a paper airplane.  Of course, he launched it towards JoJo.  It took a lot of effort on Aaron’s part to not make a better one and show him up.  I think my glares helped him with his decision.JoJo gave Aaron’s crane to one of the kids nearby, and she immediately fell in love with it.  I joked with Aaron that he might finally have his first girlfriend, but that he might have wait about 8-9 years before her parents would allow her to date.  She flew that crane around everywhere…landing on chairs…taking a drink from the paper tulips…I even saw her fly it into the elevator as they left the atrium.The food carving demonstration was up at 11.  What the heck…we were there…we decided to watch that too!  The[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Freestyle Dailies, Splash Academy/Entourage, & More


Hey everyone!

I appreciate all the kind words over on Facebook, Cruise Critic, and here on the blog regarding the cruise report being written.  I've had a couple of requests for the daily planners that we received each night on our cruise; even though I'm including them by day in the report, some people are traveling soon and were hoping to see the rest of them.  

Here you go!!!

Freestyle Dailies:


Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Chilling at Sea (Part 3)


Part 2 can be viewed HERE.Once the trivia was done, we all made our way back to our stateroom to prepare for our first specialty restaurant – Moderno Churrascaria.  The boys were REALLY looking forward to experiencing meat sweats.   We had 5:30 reservations…right when it opened.  We got there around 5:28 and only had one party ahead of us, though it was a large party.  It sounded like there was an issue with trying to seat them, but it took about 5-7 minutes to take care of them.  No worries at all, though!  We ended up being seated in a perfect location…far aft to see the wake and next to the windows looking down into the Manhattan Room.  It was the unofficial formal night (“Dress Up…or Not!”), and there were a few parties dressed to the nines in the restaurant.Prime Meridian BarThe restaurant itself is on Deck 8 aft, situated next to Cagney’s Steakhouse.  The Prime Meridian bar lies in between the two restaurants.  If seated near the aft-facing windows, the light from the outside definitely brightens the interior.  With the sun down, though, I think the restaurant would be warm and very inviting for a meal.The awesome servers took our drink orders, and we were released to head to the large salad bar.  I warned the boys that they did NOT want to fill up here and to save room for the meat.I would have had better luck speaking Portuguese to the fern in the corner and having it understand me.They came back from the salad bar with loaded plates.  I told them that I didn’t want to hear anything about them hurting after this meal.  Meanwhile, I sat down and started working on my loaded plate…The sides came out next…mushrooms, mashed potatoes, rice, fried yucca, and the ever-popular cheese bread.  I took a bite of the bread and was immediately transported to Epcot from the previous fall when I sampled cheese bread at the International Food and Wine Festival.  I’d say that both Moderno and Disney nailed it…this version was just as good as the Epcot version, and I attempted some modicum of self-control to not go all cookie-monster on the bread and eating them all in a frenzy.  Our server then asked if we were okay with the meat being served at a medium-rare to medium temperature, and we all said yes.  This is important here, because wifey often orders her steaks at “shoe leather” temperature, and I was wondering if she going to be able to handle a little rarer temp.  FYI: they will have servers (gauchos) with more well-done meats walking around if you prefer meat a little more cooked.I noticed something at both the previous meal at the Manhattan Room and here at Moderno: with no internet service, the boys were talking to us!  Yes, they had apps on their phones that did not require internet service; however, our evil plan of this being a FAMILY vacation was working (muahahahahaha).We took a couple of pictures (Sheri loved the glassware that they used), and our server offered to get a family pic of us.Aside from the light REALLY highlighting my gray hair, I thought it was a really good pic of us.We only had to wait a couple more minutes before the meat started coming.  The way that Moderno works is by using a cardboard “button” with red and green on it.  If the green side is facing up, then it signals the servers with the meat skewers to come on over and offer some to you.  Red mean “no mas”.  Oh…the meat skewers…it’s exactly as you would expect!  The meats were sliced off at the table, and each person had a small set of tongs to grab the meat as it was being sliced.  With only around 4-5 tables in our area seated, the meat came out at a rapid pace.  We all grabbed a little of everything they [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Chilling at Sea (Part 2)


Part 1 can be viewed HERE.Since the Brew House was scheduled to open at 1, we all started dispersing around 12:45-12:50.  Sheri and the boys were going to chill (interpretation: they were probably ordering a drink or two LOL) at the Atrium while I did the group slot pull and the cabin crawl.  I talked to Michell a bit while we made our way to the casino for the slot pull.  I think we had around 25 people take part, and, when all was said and done, we each only had a net loss of $10.  We had a lot of interest, with that size of a group all watching a single machine!Once that was done, many said their goodbyes, while the group of us doing the cabin crawl huddled together to hear the logistics and the route that kirkleyv had set up for us.  The first stateroom was a studio. These first pictures are of the Lounge set up for those staying in the Studios.Entrance to Studio LoungeInside a studio...they're small, but, for many, it is a no-brainer decision to book one of these since it beats having to pay a 100% supplemental fee for a stateroom to cruise by yourself!These staterooms are DEFINITELY cool for a single cruiser. The Studio Lounge was definitely neat, and that, coupled with the rest of the ship surrounding you, will definitely keep you from being bored (unless you’re trying to be bored). Stateroom de la Mush was up next, and I went ahead to open things up while the rest of them made their way aft and up to Deck 12.  Joseph was around, so we talked for a quick moment while waiting for the group.  When they arrived, most initially just popped their heads in, thinking it was a standard balcony.  When I opened up the door to the balcony, they saw the angle and all went out to check it out.  Sunshine155 and her husband were curious about the price of the stateroom as they were comparing it to their mini-suite (their cabin seemed a bit bigger, but our balcony had a lot more room).  Speaking of which……we went to the mini-suite next, and they had their room decorated really nicely, with chocolates for visitors.  I made a mental note to do more for the stateroom for the next cabin crawl!After that, we all made our way up to Deck 15 aft for a penthouse suite. Oh….My…..I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves!Yes...both a shower AND a tub in there!Two doors to the huge aft-facing deck!Awesome views of the ship's wake from the balcony.Some of the veteran Cruise Critic folks surprised one of the ones doing the cabin crawl who was celebrating a birthday with a delivered cake, decorations, etc. (you can see some in the pictures).  For the life of me, I cannot remember whose birthday it was, though – I forgot to write it in my journal...sorry!  Needless to say, they pulled off a good surprise! The slot pull and the cabin crawl took about an hour, and the rest of the Mushfam was probably getting a little antsy.  I said my goodbyes to all (declining multiple offers to take a piece of cake for the road) and thanked them for helping put on all the events! I’m VERY glad that we signed up for the various events that was set up on the Roll Call.  I think we had a good mix of people that seemed to get along well, and, as I mentioned earlier, we found ourselves in the same place as those we met on a number of occasions.  Thanks to all who volunteered to put everything together!Back to the task at hand…linking back up with the rest of the Mushfam.  The boys were apparently dying of hunger (on a cruise ship with free food 24/7).  I was in the mood for a drink, so, after wandering around Deck 17 and hearing a few minutes of the Mr. Sexy Legs Contest going on poolside on Deck 16, we met up and decided to head to Margaritaville for [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Chilling at Sea (Part 1)


Need to catch up and read the previous day's events?  That day starts with this post.Here's the Freestyle Daily for this day......and here's the video for this day AND the next day (both days were sea days). allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" frameborder="0" height="266" src="" width="320">Yep…slept good.  The CPAP didn’t strangle me; the rocking just lulled me to sleep; nice and quiet; BUT I WAS STILL UP AT 6:45 IN THE !#@$$(*&$% MORNING!!!!I just don’t know how to vacation, I guess. Not wanting to wake up anyone, I laid in bed for about 30 minutes before quietly getting up and working on the journal that would ultimately become this trip report.  Sheri woke up at 7:50, about five minutes after Eric arose.  Aaron, hearing everyone else and worried that he’d miss something, also woke up.  I started uploading the previous day’s GoPro captures – there was a LOT on there, and it was going to take a while to get it on the laptop.While we were getting ready, I turned on the TV and found the Tyler and Jacky show, which I had heard from previous reports is pretty good.That’s an understatement.  “Jacky” is Jacky Tang, who is a member of the Cruise Director’s Staff.  I don’t want to spoil too much, but this guy is downright hilarious, and he works really well with Tyler.  I can see him moving into an Assistant Cruise Director role very soon, especially as the Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy are coming online soon.  I saw Jacky on embarkation day (I think he was leading a ship tour), but I didn’t get the chance to meet him yet.  His character on the Tyler and Jackie Show…especially when you know his background and talk to an absolute riot!  All four of us watched the show at least twice.We decided on O'Sheehan's for breakfast – as we opened the door, Joseph, our cabin steward, walked by.  He stopped and introduced himself.  We chatted for a few minutes; he was on his last cruise before the end of his contract, so he was excited to get home to see his family.  He was really upbeat and seemed to enjoy what he was doing!We said our “so long!” and headed up to Taste.  Sheri ordered a mimosa – I had never had one before, so I took one for the team and tried one.Not bad!We all opted for the French toast breakfast.  No pics on that…sorry…we were hungry!After that, we headed forward to the Box Office to sign up for the “Escape the Big Top” escape room.  While there, we decided to also reserve a table at the supper to watch “Company Men”.  Once that was done, we headed to Deck 7 and grabbed a seat to see what was going on.  They were just finishing up trivia, and, had we played, we would have gotten 2nd place.  We all made a mental note to look for the next trivia contests onboard.  Not that the Mushfam is competitive or anything, but…After trivia, we decided to do a round of Cricket on the dartboard (we’re raising our kids properly!). Since I had the drink package, I decided to try my first-ever Bloody Mary.  Nope…not for me…that one would most likely be my last Bloody Mary.  At least I gave it the old college try.Aaron won that game; Sheri blamed her score on the movement of the ship.After Darts, we headed aft and up to Deck 8 to see what the shops had for us.  We perused around for a little before heading out for our first encounter with the Waterfront.  For those who don’t know, the Waterfront is a promenade deck with comfortable couches/chairs and outdoor seating for a number of dini[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Embarkation Day!!!! (Part 3)


Part 2 of Embarkation Day can be found HERE.We were behind Waves just a bit, and, being a smoking area, we caught a couple of wafts of cigarette smoke, though it wasn’t too bad at all where we were.  We started moving within a few minutes, and we could hear the Sail Away party starting in full-force one deck below.  Across the A1A highway, we saw a guy attempting to use a flyboard (and failing miserably).  A few minutes later, we met the car ferry arriving at the Miami Beach terminal.  The water was really clear, and we saw a huge ray swimming by (no picture…sorry).  Soon after that, the Miami Beach marina came into view, with some REALLY nice boats docked in it.  Quite a few were heading out for some Friday evening boating.  You can see quite a bit of this in the video posted in the first installment for this day.  I'll link it again here. allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" frameborder="0" height="266" src="" width="320">Eventually, South Beach came into view, and I instinctively sucked in my gut and made sure my hair was perfect.  Sure enough…I saw her.  Just across the pier, on the other side of the rocks, a mere 100-200 yards off the beach was this heavenly being, floating in the water.  Wearing nothing but what God had given her at birth, she was truly a sight to behold.Yep…it was a wild manatee floating just off the shore!!Kewl!Soon after, we were in open ocean, with the pilot boat cruising alongside us.  We watched thePilot hop on his boat to help another ship head out.  After the pilot left, we headed back to our room and noticed that we had 4 more bags waiting for us.Wait a minute…we brought 5 bags…and two were already in the stateroom.  The last time I checked, 5 – 2 = 3.  Our bags are breeding!  We noticed one that wasn’t ours…it was 12888’s bag.  I took it down and set it with the rest of their bags in the hallway.  I walked back to our room, and Sheri pointed to MORE STRAWBERRIES!!! She then told me to read the card.11272.Uh oh…dilemma…we have someone else’s strawberries.  It’s kind of weird to give someone else food, but it was easy to tell that the berries had not been touched.  Do I walk down and give it to them, hoping that they don’t think we’re complete freaks?  Do we just eat them?  Do we contact guest services and tell them of the issue?Decisions, decisions...I made the executive decision to take them down to 11272.  I knocked on the door, and, as luck would have it, the guy answering it stood about 6’4” and could have played onside alongside the security guard we saw at the terminal for the Miami Dolphins. I told him what happened and said that he had my solemn word that we didn’t touch them.  He seemed appreciative of them!In a five-minute span, I delivered luggage and strawberries.  I wondered if I could get a 7-day contract for the cruise.Sheri was going to town on unpacking, while I was taking down the GoPro from the balcony.  I could see what I was pretty sure was Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas in the distance, having just left Fort Lauderdale on its Western Caribbean itinerary.  I came back in, and Sheri didn't look too happy.“The Packing Cubes Don’t Fit.”My first reaction?  “Whew…I didn’t do anything wrong.”Okay - I'm going to take just a minute here and step aside from the report.  As you read this, it might seem that, based on my writing style, you'd think that I'm married to a nag and have two spoiled [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Embarkation Day!!!! (Part 2)


Part 1 of this day can be found HERE.We continued our way forward, noting that the pool one deck below was essentially empty.  We found the ping pong tables as we made our way inside to the forward elevators.  We then took the elevator down to deck 5 to head to Splash Academy to get Eric registered.  I’ll say upfront that Sheri and I were both a little concerned about the “fit” that Eric would have with Splash.  Though he jokes around about everything, he is a mature age of 12, and we thought that much of the activities wouldn’t interest him.  I knew that we couldn’t request him to move up to Entourage; we showed Eric an earlier copy of the activities, and he seemed interested in a few of them, so we took the chance and registered him.  He received a yellow wrist band that let the crew members know what level he was (he could check himself out after 2 hours of being in the Academy) as well as other pertinent information. Once he was registered, we stuck our heads into the Guppies room of Splash, and I grabbed a little video of it.  After that, we headed up to deck 6 to the atrium.  I wanted to stop by guest services to A) try getting the anniversary cake moved from La Cucina over to Cagney’s on the 21st; and B) to break a $20 so I would have tipping money.  While waiting in line, the Director of Guest Services, Odie, was greeting guests and seeing if he could take care of any issues without having to speak to a guest services member.  Seeing him there impressed me.I received a card to give to the server for the cake, and I hid it in my pocket…I wanted to surprise Sheri with it on our anniversary.  While I was getting this taken care of, Sheri and the boys grabbed a seat in the atrium.  The timing was good, because a server came around and got drink orders from them.  She got a mojito.Not that I was keeping score, but she was +1 on me on drinks.From the time we got onboard, we heard an announcement that the staterooms were not yet ready every 15-20 minutes.  It sounded like a lot of people were trying to get into the rooms early.  I wanted to scream to let the cabin stewards do their thing, but I instead took my anger out by gnawing on the straw of my ‘fish.  Once we had our drinks done, we started heading around to get a feel for the ship.  We worked our way aft and walked through some of the art gallery before finding ourselves in the chandelier atrium (“Atrium #2”, as we called it).  I stopped by Headliners to cancel our La Cucina reservation (I saw her typing something about “anniversary” in the Cagney’s reservation, so they knew :)).  Since I wanted us to see the variety show, I inquired about trying to move our reservation at the Manhattan Room up to 5:30, and she said that just showing up at 5:15 would be enough.  I thanked her and rejoined the Mushfam, who was still staring straight up at the chandelier.We walked a little farther aft, past the Mixx Bar and Taste/Savor restaurants.  Just as we got to the aft elevators, they announced that staterooms were available.  Good timing!  We hailed a ‘vator and made our way up to Deck 12.  Our room was REALLY close to the aft elevators on the port side…12272.  The Mushfam all commented on how close the room was, and I basked in the glory of being a good travel consultant and picking a good room for them.  I got my card out……and failed miserably at getting the door open.  Being the typical teen, Aaron grabbed my card and tried, with the same unsuccessful result.Eric then tried….nope.I started getting a bit nervous, until Aaron thre[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Embarkation Day!!!! (Part 1)


Need to see the previous day?  Start HERE.I was the first one up (I’m like the kids in an old Walt Disney World commercial…can’t sleep…too excited!).  I looked out the window and did a quick count…1…2…3…4…5…yep 5 ships (insert a laugh from “the Count” from Sesame Street… “5!  5 Ships ah-ah-ah…crash/boom”).In the foreground was the luxury yacht, Seafair.Behind it was Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator, with four large ships on the other side of Port Miami’s Dodge Island.There’s MSC Divina, two whale tails, which were Carnival Glory and Carnival Vista, and then…there she was…Norwegian Escape.Soon afterward, the other three were awake and wondering what I was doing looking out the window for ten minutes straight.  I told the boys to look and see what was out there.They couldn’t get past the yacht docked next to the hotel.  Once I got them to focus over at Port Miami, their eyes got a little wider.We all did the bathroom shuffle to get 4 people ready in one bathroom.  I started packing up the electronics, while the others made sure nothing was left in the room.  We then headed down to the Starbucks in the lobby for a quick bite.  We didn’t want to fill up on a large breakfast – why pay for that when you could have free food on the ship in just a few hours???The boys enjoyed their café mochas at Starbucks (which, I should probably add, was their first taste of Starbucks and mochas).  I was fully expecting them to start emulating Beavis and Butthead when they had coffee (“I am the great Cornholio!”).  Luckily, they seemed rather subdued.  It could have been the cute girls in the store that kept them calm.  Aaron has this running joke where he’d claim to introduce himself to a cute girl with this falsetto “heellLLOOOOOOOoooo!”  I brought that up and told him to try it out with them.Yeah…he didn’t listen to me.We headed back up to pack, and I made an executive decision to download my videos to have as much storage space as possible on the GoPro, since I was planning on using and abusing that piece of equipment that day.  As I was downloading, it started raining outside.  I immediately went into planning mode for how to handle this; luckily, I didn’t have to fret for long, because the rain stopped about ten minutes later.  Despite my pleas for her to try Bonine this time, Wifey opted for scopolamine, and I helped her get the patch on.I did the texting checkout, and we were out!  I have to say again that the Intercontinental Miami really impressed me and that I would definitely recommend it; just make sure that you’re aware of any concerts nearby.I set up our Uber ride to the terminal, and Carlos was there in less than five minutes.  We were on Dodge Island within three minutes, but the tunnel traffic was thick!  With five ships embarking that day, it wasn’t a major surprise.  It took just over 15 minutes to load the car, ride to terminal C, and unload the car.  There was a momentary panic as we realized that the laptop was still on the car after we shut the door; luckily, we were able to flag Carlos down before he took off.  Counting the number of bags came in handy there!We immediately grabbed a porter and dropped off 5 bags, leaving us with 5 smaller tote bags to haul around (definitely doable).  After tipping the porter, we headed up to the door for Terminal C, not exactly knowing how busy it would be.  The line for security screening was moving quickly, and we were through it in about 4 minutes.  Up next was the medical form.  I was [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Arrival Day, Part 2!


Part 1 of this day can be found HERE.5 bags later, we headed outside, and I set up an Uber request.  We walked to the commercial pick-up area, which is where the website said Uber would stop.  The traffic on this level of the airport was exceptionally thick for nearly 11 pm, but we were able to find our driver fairly easily, once he was able to navigate through the throngs.  We all piled in and started our way down I-95 to downtown.  During the drive, we saw a nice Lamborghini in the express lane, which the boys thought was cool, and we saw a pair of street racers doing around 110 on the Interstate as we approached downtown Miami, which the boys thought was really cool!We’re going to be in trouble when they start driving.We were staying at the Intercontinental Hotel just off of Biscayne Boulevard.  This resort went through a $30 million renovation a few years ago, and I hoped that the timing would work out so the we could see the fruits of the renovation.  We pulled up when the “Welcome to Miami” marquee was playing.Now, for those of you who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, I would like to direct you to the video from the previous post.PALM TREE!!!Main Lobby of InterContinental MiamiWe pulled up and immediately felt like we were in Miami – the energy around this area is awesome!  We made our way inside, and, immediately, bell services asked if we needed help with the bags up the stairs.  While the other three marveled at the awesome lobby inside the hotel, I hopped in line for check-in.  About 30 seconds later, concierge saw me and called me over to help check in.Two-for-two so far on liking this place!The gentleman at concierge started working on check-in, and I threw a request out there, fully expecting to be shot down.  I booked the room using points from our IHG credit card, and the only option available with points was a city view.  I was hoping I could pay for an upgrade to a bay view so we could see the ships when we woke up, but, since I used points, I didn’t know if it was possible.  The worst they could say was, “sorry…can’t do it”.They didn’t say that.In fact, they bumped us to a bay view for no additional cost at all.Sweet!As we finished the check-in, I talked to him for a bit about the night-audit, capacity, and how things had changed since I worked front desk at a Holiday Inn (IHG owns that chain of hotels).  Being IHG members, we received vouchers for coffee at Starbucks.  He handed over the keys, and, after thanking him, we headed upstairs to the 12th floor to see our room (with a view).No pics of the room when we walked in…it was nearing midnight, and we had been traveling for around 12 hours.  Sorry!I could think of worse views!The reviews I have read of this property were that the rooms were a bit dated.  While I can see people thinking that, we were completely comfortable in there, and, as Eric said, “compared to the rest of the hotel, the rooms seemed average.”  It’s hard to compare the room when the rest of the resort is so stellar – that doesn’t mean that the rooms are “dated”, sub-par, or anything.  The sleeping arrangements are great, in my opinion, and I have absolutely no qualms about suggesting this hotel to any of my clients, so long as they would be the type that can appreciate the Miami nightlife.  They also might want to check the schedules of events at Bayfront Park, which is about ¼ mile away from the hotel; outdoor concerts at night could definitely impact the noise/crowd/excitement levels at the hotel.  I [...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Arrival Day!


Catching up?  The Pre-trip starts HERE.This is one of my first attempts at editing a video EVER, so please remember that when watching this.  Hopefully they'll improve as the report goes on.  Enjoy the pre-trip and arrival video! allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="" frameborder="0" height="266" src="" width="320">Our first flight wasn’t until 2:00 out of Champaign.  I’ve always been more of the antsy “LET’S GET THERE NOW!!!!” type of person; however, I couldn’t beat the ticket prices of the itinerary, even if it did mean a three-hour layover at O’Hare.  We worked on cleaning up the house a bit so that the guy feeding the cat wouldn’t feel like taking the cat to his house for fear of her safety.  I mowed the front half of the yard and then got cleaned up.  I then OCD’ed for about an hour, quintuple-checking to make sure we had everything.  Finally, around 11:00, we told the cat goodbye; she could tell we were leaving for more than just work and promptly bit me.I wish I were joking about that…the cat truly hates me. Who is the one that bottle-fed her at 2 weeks?  Who came home at lunch between classes to make sure she was okay?  Who takes care of her litter box?  Gets her food?  Plays “fetch” with her at 11 pm?  Yeah…and I’m the one she attacks.Anyway, the rest of the Mushfam hugged the cat, while I mentally flipped her off as I walk out the door.52 miles later (41 of which was one-lane road construction), and we pulled into Willard Airport just south of Champaign.  We parked the van, took a picture of the sign telling us the section, and figured out the logistics on how four people were going to carry five pieces of checked luggage and five carry-ons.  We made it to the entrance fairly well (it’s the economist in me…we were efficient!) and checked the bags at the counter.  My car keys went into a carry-on, not to be seen for 8 days; this is a huge mental thing for me, as it symbolizes that I’m FINALLY ON VACATION!!!!!  Next up was securit…….hmmm….security was closed as there were no flights departing for a little while.  Ooooookkkaaaayyyy…we sat down and watched a bit of television until the gates were opened.  Aaron somehow got TSA pre-check assigned to him a couple of years ago, so he got the special treatment – he laughed at us as he flew through while we disrobed.After security, we grabbed a snack at the bagel place.  I grabbed a fruit/yogurt thing and promptly spilled around 25% of my yogurt getting the granola cup out.We didn’t want to say too much on Facebook that we were going to be gone for over a week, but I was able to convince wifey that a few Instagram posts were okay (@MushrushTravel…shameless plug).  We got the requisite selfie:Having worked ground operations at the regional airport in Bloomington, I always like to take the time to watch how different crews work arrivals and departures.  I saw our equipment arrive and taxi to the ramp area…..and then I watched it hold to wait for the ground crew to make its way to the gate to bring it in.  United had only been flying into CMI for a week or so, so I’m willing to bet the cockpit didn’t know which line to follow to come in.  After about three minutes, I was about to head up to the counter to let them know that the plane was waiting for them; as I was starting to walk around to get a better view, th[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Pre-Trip and Introduction, Part II


Part I can be viewed HERE.In March, we decided to finally tell the boys.  We have surprised them in the past with trips, but the logistics for doing such a surprise have gotten harder as they have gotten older.  Besides, any time we sound like we’re not telling them the whole story, they think we’re heading on a plane for a trip.  We came down from our room on a Sunday evening, dressed in beach attire, wearing brand-new Crocs, wearing sunglasses and carrying towels over our arms.  We thought they would first think we had finally lost it before getting extremely excited and running around the neighborhood and screaming about how much they loved their parents.They took a moment away from their phones, looked at us coming down the stairs, and nonchalantly asked, “When and where?”Grrrrrrrrrr.We watched some videos on YouTube about the ship, and I started pointing out some of the features of the ship and the cruise, from the ropes course to the water slides; from the restaurants to the itineraries; and from the excursions to the restaurants.No, that wasn’t a mistake – they’re boys that attempt to clean the fridge out every day, so I emphasized the dining!Next up was getting down to Miami.  Being a good travel agent, I recommended to my clients/family that we head down the day before.  We had vouchers from United when we helped them with an equipment change (we accepted a different itinerary the day before our flight), so I started pricing out the options. Have I mentioned that I’m a researcher?I checked all airlines from Chicago, Bloomington, Champaign, Peoria, Indianapolis, and St. Louis arriving to Miami or Fort Lauderdale.  We settled on Champaign to Ft. Lauderdale and then grabbing an Uber to Miami.Lodging was the next item on the checklist.  Initially, I had booked the Holiday Inn on Biscayne Bay; however, I had clients that stayed there and gave me some feedback on that location, so I looked for another one.  It only took a few minutes to find what I was looking for:The Intercontinental Miami.We had points to use, so I got a City View room booked and canceled the Holiday Inn.  I found out about a lot of what the Intercontinental was like, and I kept pretty much all of it to myself without telling the rest of the Mushfam anything about it.  I wanted them to be a little surprised.About 2 weeks before final payment, I printed off the menus for all the dining on-board, and I FINALLY got three excited family members working together.  Based on our tastes, I knew that Moderno and Teppanyaki were going to be definite specialty dining reservations.  For our anniversary night, we were flipping between le Bistro, La Cucina, and Cagney’s.  We made the mistake of relying solely on reviews, which skewed our views of the options, though.  We opted for La Cucina for our anniversary dinner.Final payment day arrived, though we had paid a few days before.  Still, it was time for the reservations.  Though we didn’t really need them (Freestyle…remember?), having them meant that we likely would not have to endure much of a wait at all.  At the same time, we applied for passports for the boys, and we were surprised to get them just over two weeks later.  Sheri was in full-on planning mode, from the packing perspective.  One of her conditions was that we do “The Baths” on our Tortola day.  This lead to the age-old dilemma of choosing whether to book it through the cruise line or to do it on our own.  I was definitely concerned[...]

Escaping Insanity: A Cruising Trip Report. Pre-Trip and Introduction


This trip was most definitely an odd one in the making.  Before I get too far ahead of myself, though, allow me to introduce you to the cast of this journey.First off, there’s me.  I’m Chris…known to many as “Mush”, thanks to my last name (“Mushrush”).  It has been my nickname since grade school.  It was my father’s nickname, as it was for his father and most likely his father’s father.  I’m 44, and, thanks to being A.D.D. and cursed with one of those “you can sleep when you’re dead” mentalities, I wear a number of hats.  I’m a full-time non-tenure-track Instructional Assistant Professor of Economics; at the same time, I’m also a full-time Travel Planner (for full disclosure) that specializes in family travel – Disney and Universal vacations, primarily; however, I’m expanding out into the Cruise Industry and am gaining experience so I can provide the best service I can for cruise customers. Then there is SWMBO…”She Who Must Be Obeyed”…she responds to “Sheri” or “wifey” every so often.  She’s younger than me…I’ll just leave it at that, since I value the air that I breathe.  She’s an accounting supervisor at a major insurance company, an awesome wife, and a terrific Mother to the next two entries.Did I say that correctly, Sheri?Next up is Son #1: Aaron.  He’s 14, though he looks more like he’s 17-18.  6’0” and 215 lbs.  Yeah, he likes football and can’t wait to start high school this fall.  He’s in the typical teenager phase, which makes for some “interesting” discussions.Finally, we have Son #2: Eric.  12 years old, but already 5’6”.  He’s the comic relief in the family – to a fault, at times.  This tends to bring out the monster in Son #1, as you see in most families with siblings.With the introductions out of the way, let’s get to how we decided on a cruise.  Sheri and I did our first cruise a couple of years ago on the Disney Dream (post link), and we found out quickly that, though I joke about her getting motion sickness on it’s a small world, she definitely gets green on the high seas.  Couple that with an accidental removal of a Scopolamine patch two days early (advice: keep the patch ON for 3 days…even if you are back on land!), and she vowed never to go on another cruise.  The boys, however, were reminding us every time I got a new cruise booking that they have been on one fewer cruise than we have and wanted to take one.After December, the stress levels were nearing an all-time high for both Sheri and me, thanks to work.  I actually had a minor scare where my blood pressure went haywire just before the holiday season.  Luckily, most everything seemed to point to a couple of issues that are both treatable – completely depleted ferritin levels (most likely from donating nearly 10 gallons of blood over the past 20 years), and the dreaded sleep apnea (which I have probably been dealing with since I was a teen…even when I was in excellent shape and not the donut shape that I am currently in).  Ending the blood donations, eating a half-side of beef every week, and downing iron supplements with an orange tree’s worth of juice has my ferritin levels on the rise.  Two dreadful sleep studies and a CPAP machine later, and the apnea issue is being taken care of.  Couple that with (what I hope to be temporary) high blood pressure medicine, and I’m happy to say that everything is going well, though I still know[...]

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 4; Wrapping up!


The previous post from this trip can be viewed HERE.We were all up somewhat early so we could pack up and drop everything off at the bell service, since we were checking out today.  We all took one last prolonged look at our room and stated that this would most definitely not be our last time staying at Portofino Bay; it was unanimous that we all loved it! We checked out and made our way to the boat launch one more time, and, within a couple of minutes, our chariot on water arrived.  It was a quiet, peaceful trip to CityWalk, even though we weren’t on the first boat in.  At CityWalk, we took our time to look around.  That was the theme of today – since we had seen most of Universal’s attractions, today was more of a down day to just enjoy.We were just a little ways back in the line to enter.  We were still able to make it to Gringott’s by around 8:10.  We stopped in the queue line to grab some pics of the atrium before heading in for one more ride of this awesome attraction.After Gringott’s, we enjoyed Diagon Alley for a little bit while we waited for the Hogwarts Express to start running.Right at around 9:00, we made our way to the station and, after a slight wait at the turnstiles, pretty much walked on the train for our ride over to Hogsmeade.We immediately made a beeline for Dueling Dragons and hopped on the blue coaster so Sheri could experience that one too.  After Dragons, we headed over to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast (research!!).  I got the Continental breakfast with lots of fruit, while the others got an assortment of meals (pancake meal, American breakfast, etc.)  The theming in here easily rivals some of the best theming that you’ll see in restaurants at their competition to the south!We left Hogsmeade and checked out the line for a pic with a velociraptor, but it was around 45 minutes, so we opted out…still, we had to get pics in the area…I call this “Jurassic Pic” (grroooaaaannnnn)We then made an executive decision to right the Hogwarts Express one more time and then say goodbye to Springfield…besides, I had to get a beer at Moe’s Tavern!!!  Another near walk-on for the train, and we were back in Universal Studios a few minutes later.  We slowly strolled around, and I stopped to mention to a particular wizard outside the Leaky Cauldron that he was a perfect wizard (natural beard, amazing personality).We made our way around to Springfield and into Moe’s, with a huge smile on my face.  It was quiet, and, with the Flaming Moe’s being popular drinks, we were okay with the boys up at the bar.  We ponied up and ordered two Duffs.  Sheri and I both counted to three for the chimes of, “CAN WE GET A FLAMING MOE?  CAN WE GET A FLAMING MOE? CAN WE GET A FLAMING…”  Sure – I wanted to see one anyway.Our bartender was sarcastic as heck…absolutely awesome!  This pic sums it up:I wanted to stay for another hour or so to soak it in a little longer, but the other three ganged up on me and threw me out, despite my protests that they needed me to get home.  We still had a couple of items left on our plan (Terminator, in particular), but we decided to call it a trip and make our way out so we had time to eat.  As we left, we had to take advantage of one final character experience:The boys had no idea who Woody Woodpecker was, but I saw a lot of his cartoons growing up.The boat ride back to Portofino Bay was calming, yet it was over far too soon.  W[...]

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 3: Smorgasbord Day! Part 3


Need to read what happened before?  Click here.It was about 4:30, and, if I wanted to have more than a couple of minutes to check out Cabana Bay, I had to get going.  I bid Sheri adieu and headed to the main lobby to see what options I had for transportation.Of course, I had to grab a couple of pics on the way.When I arrived at the lobby, I found out that the car was only to the parks and the premium resorts; to take a car to Cabana Bay, it would have cost $12.95.  I balked at that.  I remembered that there are also buses that go around all the properties; however, I was informed that those buses didn’t start until 6:00.  I went into planning mode and decided to head back out to the ramp and grab a boat to City Walk.  From there, I could see what it was like as a guest leaving the park and trying to get to the hotel.  The boat ride was quick … from the ramp, I’ll admit that it was a bit of a hike to get to the parking garage area where those staying at Cabana Bay caught the bus.  Luckily, there was one waiting there when I arrived, and it still had some standing room available.  I held on, and we were off on our 5-7 minute bus ride to the resort.When we arrived, I immediately commented to myself that it definitely wasn’t Portofino Bay.  I had to remember that Portofino was the resort’s flagship, just as the Grand Floridian is the flagship resort of Walt Disney World…and I’m perfectly fine staying at Pop Century or one of the All Star resorts.  I kicked myself for being a snob and started to look around at what the resort had to offer.I knew that I couldn’t stay for very long, because I had to reverse the trek (bus to CityWalk, walk to boat launch, boat to Portofino, walk to the room) and get ready, and it was already nearing 5:30.While I didn’t go into any of the actual rooms or suites, I definitely got a feel for what this resort was like.  I’ll admit that it was difficult not to compare it to Portofino Bay (no boat service – only a bus; the Express Pass is not a benefit of staying here; a food court as the primary meal location; etc.), and I struggled a bit trying to ascertain how I would qualify the resort.  Later on during the trip, I saw someone I have come to know over the years who is an expert in the travel industry, and I asked her about what she level she qualified the resort at, and her immediate reply was “Value!”  I knew I had ranked it at a level comparable to the All Star resorts at Disney World, but I was unsure if it was at the same level as a Disney World Value or not (was it Value, Value “+” or Value “-”?).   It is a beautiful resort with a lot of activities to keep families entertained.  If people are looking for a resort and are on a budget, then I can easily recommend Cabana Bay without hesitation – especially during quieter times when the Express Pass might not be needed much.I knew I had to get back to my room in order to keep the peace, and luck was on my side as a bus was waiting when I made it to the loading area.  I reversed my route and was able to be ready for our Mama Della’s reservation with about 45 seconds to spare.We walked in, and, wouldn’t you know it, “Mama” herself was there to greet us and walk us to our table!!!  The storyline is that you are at Mama’s Home in Italy, and the décor fits this perfectly.  Our server, Erick, introduced himself, and we immediately liked him.  Aa[...]

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 3: Smorgasbord Day! Part 2


The first part of the day can be found HERE.We stumbled outside from the Forbidden Journey that lasted Forever and felt the sun hit us; it seemed like eons since we had last seen the sun, and we soaked it in.  With the free passes in hand, we all agreed to use it for an attraction that doesn’t offer the Express Pass – yep, we were heading to Gringotts!  Before we headed to the station, though, we stopped to watch the frog choir croak a song.  After we had seen enough, we went through the turnstiles and were queued up for the Hogwarts Express in no time at all.  The lines were small, and we were able to have a compartment to ourselves.  As soon as we sat down, we all started the “it’s such a beautiful wall!!!” talk (check out the previous day's blog posts).  We enjoyed the air conditioning while we saw new hidden “Easter eggs” in the attraction (and again cringed at “Hermione”).  We also saw Voldemo…well…just to be safe…we saw He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in the distance.  I think we all agree that we liked the Islands-to-Studios version a bit better than the other direction's version, though both are really good!We exited the Express and decided that, since it was right around 11:00, we’d do lunch first before the throngs descended upon the restaurants.  We took a “when in Rome” mentality and went straight for the Leaky Cauldron.  The food was good; nothing to write home about, but we were still glad we ate there and soaked in the atmosphere.  To let the food settle, we opted to hold off a bit before riding Gringotts, so we toured Diagon Alley.As you could see, we spent quite a bit of time in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes...All we ask for is an occasional smile from the boys...Around noon, we went down Knockturn Alley and looked around Borgin & Burkes for a few minutes before exiting out onto Horizont Alley (say it fast…then think about the name of the area.  Yes, this is the actual name of the street). I mapped out a couple of locations for us to visit after we got done with Gringotts.  We made our way over to Gringotts, stored our stuff in a locker, and flew through the queue line which had a posted standby time of 30 minutes.  We were in the very back for this ride through, and there’s one part where the back section seems to tower over everyone else.  I think we all liked the back row the best, though I would still recommend trying to get the front row or two for your first ride.  We exited and grabbed our stuff from the locker – we were experts at the lockers by this time.After Gringotts, I had an ulterior motive in mind and set a plan in action.  I had us look around a magic shop or two for a couple of minutes, making sure that we had Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor within eyesight.  I was going to lobby the rest of the Mushfam that we were having a great time and that we should celebrate by having some ice cream!  I knew that the only thing I needed to do was mention this to the boys, and they would be on-board.  Sheri would be outnumbered 3-1, and, though her vote usually has a 400% weighting taken into account, I didn’t think she’d put up much of a fight on this one.  As we looked at the flavor choices, I let them in on my ulterior motive: I wanted to get several flavors and have all of us taste and rate them.  My plan was to then record our review and send it to the Unof[...]

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 3: Smorgasbord Day! Part 1


To see the first part of the previous day, please click HERE.I never go to bed at 9:30, and now I know why……for starters, my brain simply never shuts down, and I have to get myself good and tired before going to bed.  I had some school stuff on my mind, but I was able to eventually fall into a restless sleep, even though the bed was great.  Around 1:30, I was woken up to the sound of boys’ arguing over how much of the bed each one was taking.  I put a quick end to it but then couldn’t fall back asleep.  I spent the next 2 hours or so doing school work and crawled back in bed around 4 am…and, of course, was back up at 6:00.This is going to be a greeeeeaaaaaaat day.We were going to start the day with a tour of one of the other Loews resorts on-site: the Royal Pacific resort!  With Islands of Adventure opening at 8 that morning and the restaurant we were going to dine at opening at 7:00, it was going to be a tight fit on the schedule, but I thought we could to it.  At 6:45, we headed out and grabbed a quick water pic:We then headed down to the lobby and successfully were able to get another privilege of staying at a higher-end Loews resort: the free on-site town car service!  We walked up, grabbed a ticket, and were at Royal Pacific in just a few minutes…for nothing more than the gratuity we gave to our driver.We were just a couple of minutes behind my internal preferred schedule, so all we had to do was rush to the restaurant and get in quicklhhhheeeeeeyyyyyyyyywaitaminute!!!This place is BEAUTIFUL!!!!!It evoked essences of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. I could easily see us staying here!We found Islands restaurant, and I was pleasantly surprised to see only a 3- to 4-minute wait to get seated.Sheri and I immediately commented about longing for the 100% kona coffee in a pressed pot from the Kona Café.  I know that it’s not fair to compare the two restaurants (or the two resorts, for that matter), because they’re not the same; however, I think it is hard not to.  Royal Pacific looks to be an absolutely amazing choice for many people who want a taste of South Pacific theming!I got the closest thing I could find to my beloved Tonga Toast…the Tahitian French Toast a L’Orange.  Sheri opted for the Hawaiian pancakes.  The boys, seeing unlimited food, ran to the buffet. Our entrees were good – just different from what our palates were expecting.  Again, it’s really hard to NOT compare this place to Kona Café down the road.  They are different restaurants with different experiences and different entrees.  Sheri’s pancakes had a LOT of coconut, which I liked.  The orange flavor of my French toast was good – just different.We all got a kick out of the condiments…I really wish I would have suggested that we stay to look around some more, because this truly is an amazing-looking resort!  We had a park to get to, though, so we paid and said our goodbyes to Royal Pacific for this trip and made our way out to the boat launch.  We got a good view of the construction of the Loews Sapphire Falls resort on our ride over to City Walk.We arrived into Islands of Adventure around 8:10…not a bad time at all, considering we left our room at Portofino Bay less than an hour and a half before.  We got through the turnstiles and found the park to be nice and quiet once we got through the Port of Entry.We [...]

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 2: Wizards and Simpsons and Bilge Rats (Oh My!), Part 7


Need to see Part 6?  HERE IT IS!At around 6:30, we made our way back to the boat launch, and, just as we arrived, it started sprinkling a little.  After the security check, we grabbed a seat under an awning.The best part of the Mushfam:Sheri and I:The boat arrived, and we were on our way!  I hopped on the Cowfish app and tried again.  I knew I was in range, so I checked in…or, at least, I tried to check in.  Though I had created an account, something was messed up with the app and wouldn’t let me get in.  I expected a wait of 45-60 minutes, and the rain was coming down pretty hard now.  Grrrrrrr.We docked at City Walk, and we walked at a brisk pace up to Cowfish when the lightning started.  The other three went inside while I put my name in and explained that I wasn’t able to get the app to work; our host said that it almost never works for their Orlando site.  I let it slide when he said it was only going to be 10-15 minutes before we would be seated.  Actually, it was only about 5 minutes before we made our way up to the top floor next to the windows overlooking Islands; the boys hadn’t even gotten their digital fish customized yet (I’ll let you figure that one out).  It was a deluge outside, and City Walk was rapidly becoming deserted.Our server presented us with menus, and we put in our drink order.  The boys got milkshakes, while Sheri got a Blue Moon and I ordered a Dogfish Head IPA.  We also put in an appetizer order of crab Rangoon dip.The dip had a panko crust on top, and the wonton chips were drizzled with a sweet chili sauce.  Great start to the meal!!For the entrée, Eric ordered the Dynamic Duo, which was a burger topped with braised short rib meat.  Sheri, Aaron, and I each got Bento Boxes.  All came with mini burgers, sweet potato fries, edamame, and Thai cucumbers.  Sheri opted for the ½ firecracker roll (tempura shrimp and crab (kani) wrapped up and topped with salmon and yellowtail, which is then topped with two roes (Masago and Tobiko), spicy mayo, and scallions. Aaron and I went the Nigiri route: tuna, salmon, and shrimp for me, and Aaron opted for two salmon and one shrimp).It was good…definitely a bit odd eating a burger with sushi, but it worked!  It was definitely a bit pricey, but, given the uniqueness, and, coupled with beverages and an appetizer in a theme park, I think it’s in-line with expectations.  I had heard of spotty service, but we did not find this to be an issue at all.If you do decide to eat here, do yourself a favor and hit the restroom.  I nearly died laughing at the audio that was in there.  The best way to describe it is to think of what a “redneck-to-Japanese (or Korean)” audio book would be like! We were happy to see the rain had subsided by the time we were done eating.  I wanted to do a little bit of research and suggested we take the boat to the Hard Rock Hotel and then walk to Portofino Bay.  The other three just wanted to get back and get off their feet, so we split up and glared at each other in different boat queues.  I made it to the Hard Rock and was able to wave to them as they went by on their way to Portofino.  I hopped onto the grounds of the Hard Rock and started looking around…When I went around to the front and upstairs to the main entrance, I heard Prince’s I Would Di[...]