Cruisin’ into Stress

So this post has sat in draft form for nearly 3 months because as usual, life got in the way. Because the outside world keeps stressing me the hell out, I thought now would be as good a time as any to relieve our big cruise vacation at the end of July.

We had originally planned on going to Belize with another couple and those plans fell through pretty quickly. My boss didn’t let me take the original start date of the vacation off after all, and then we waited too long and the couple couldn’t go. We thought about what else we could do since we could still take a week off, but just not go to Belize anymore since we also waited too long to get our money refunded (don’t worry, we used the credit for a trip to the Bahamas in December, so it all worked out just fine).

I ended up finding a 7-night cruise that took us from Fort Lauderdale, Grand Cayman, Honduras, Belize, to Cozumel aboard the Caribbean Princess from Princess Cruise Lines.

I absolutely LOVE cruises! There’s just something about boarding and not having to worry about anything: no driving, no taking luggage all over the place, no having to worry about drinking or where to eat or how to get to different places. You just get on the boat, unpack, and let the ship take you to the next location.

With the exception of maybe 4 major cruise lines, I’ve now been on them all at least once. I had never been on Princess but had only heard good things, so we booked and off we went!

And it wasn’t that great.

Let’s just say that the week started with me PMS-ing haaaaaarrrdd, and I wasn’t exactly the most delightful person to be around. Combine that with Timmy’s incessant lateness, and we didn’t have the best start or middle part to the trip. It was like the perfect storm of ugh.

The boat was beautiful but old, and many areas really REALLY needed an update. Our room was in the very back with a beautiful view and a huge balcony, but other than that, it was very late 80s in decor and nothing incredibly special.

Added to this delightful mix was the HORRID customer service we received from most of the wait staff at nearly all the locations except the specialty restaurants that cost extra,  the lackluster food selection, and we were left totally underwhelmed. And we spent a pretty penny on this trip, from the additional packages, massages, drinks, room, and food…just 100% disappointing all around.

We actually left one dinner early and ended up skipping our last two nights of the main dining service because our servers were just that bad. I’ve really never experienced anything like the service we had on board. At all the bars, the coffee places, the frozen yogurt spot, all of it was terrible. I’ve had better service on Carnival, which is just for like spring breakers and 20 year olds. I’ve had better service anywhere but Princess.

But let’s not dwell on the bad (believe me, we did enough of that on the trip). The excursions were the saving grace of our trip. Everything we did on port was something active and totally worth it. We’re usually not excursion people because they cost so much most of the time, but this trip we agreed we wanted to see the sites in a unique and active way.

Our first stop was Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We’d both been here before, so we decided to sign up for a bike ride around the town, which was super fun. We saw the major sights (including the Turtle sanctuary we stopped at during our Disney Cruise 5 years ago), sweated a ton, but definitely spent a unique afternoon seeing Georgetown!

Our next stop was Roatán, Honduras. I had never thought to go to Honduras, but this little tiny island was so interesting. We took about an hour-long ride to get to the other side which was totally uninhabited and free of most tourists. We passed through some of the most abject poverty I’ve seen. It’s always so hard to go these types of places but you know tourism is their main economy so support is necessary. This day, we did horseback riding in the ocean, which is an item we can now safely check off the bucket list. The views were incredible, the staff was amazing there, and we had a really relaxing, memorable time there.

The next day we were in Belize City, Belize, which, if you can believe it, English is the main language spoken there! We were so surprised, expecting to speak in Spanish first, which we still did because practice makes perfect. In Belize, we booked a zip-line tour of the jungle and underground cave tubing adventure. It took us almost an hour and a half to reach our location but the tour guide was one of the best we’ve ever had because it only felt like 30 minutes! We learned a crazy amount of information, like most Belizeans had kept panthers as pets before an educational campaign told them this wasn’t the best idea, most Florida orange juice contains a majority of Belizean oranges, and more! After our adventure above and below, we got some fresh coconuts (yum!) and when we did the additional rum, the bartender went overboard and I’m pretty sure my coconut ended up being 70% rum.

Our last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. I’ve been here, honestly, I don’t even know how many times. It’s such a popular cruise stop, and I’ve done the bar drinking, partying, and seeing the ruins before. Timmy had seen ruins in Belize in high school, so we made the decision together to do something totally different and took a cooking class instead.

This ended up being my favorite day the entire trip! We each had our own stations, and there were only 5 of us there: one other much older couple, a woman from Montreal, and us. We made delicious food from start to finish (nearly. It would have been even better if we’d been able to make our tortillas from scratch) and the staff was amazing.

The best part was when they learned I spoke Spanish. You would’ve thought I was a goddess who came down from heaven, the way they treated me. It made me laugh so hard because it reminded me of our senior year trip to Cancun when my mother and her best friend were our chaperones. One night, they went to dinner and when the staff learned that they were Spanish, OMG, it was like their own personal spring break. The waiters were just lavishing attention on them, giving them an entirely free bottle of Bailey’s, and were just crazy about them!

The chefs were all about me, let me tell you. If I ever need a self-confidence boost, I know EXACTLY were to go! 🙂

We also didn’t factor in the fact that we live in a beach town year-round now. When we went on our last cruise, we lived in hell-hole Lakeland, so a Caribbean trip was oh-so-needed. This time, we were like, “Oh cool, more hot weather. Nice, more palm trees. Cool, clear blue water again…” Not to sound jaded, but St. Pete is amazing and we’re no longer in that head-space where a trip in the Caribbean is a needed getaway.

Unfortunately, the cruise brought some crazy news regarding both Timmy and my jobs that undid any relaxation our amazing massages gave us (and they were no doubt, the best massages we have ever had). I’d give this trip overall a C+. It certainly wasn’t our worst trip together, but it definitely doesn’t land amongst the best (other than our excursions, which truly were memorable and awesome).

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our anniversary package

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one of the last nights on the cruise

Oh well, we can’t win them all, can we?

♥, VB

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North Georgia

Over the holiday break, I decided to do a little special something for Timmy. This past year, he has traveled on average for work almost 2.5 weeks of every month. That’s a lot of airports, rental cars, losing things in rental cars, contacting rental car company and getting stuff back, ubers, luggage, hotel stays, hotel food, and stuff. Needless to say, by November, he was over it. I was over it. Floyd was very over it.

Traveling that much, I just can’t imagine. Going back and forth to Miami and Atlanta over and over and over again can really wear a person down, and in 2018, not only has travel started back up in high gear again, but he has now been given Alabama and Mississippi (the most shameful states in the Union I must say) to boot. My schedule will also be insane this spring semester, so quality time will be prioritized over most everything.

I wanted to do something special to show him how much I appreciate what he does to provide for us, and really give us a comfortable life through sacrificing time with me and Floyd so I secretly started planning a getaway.

When we lived in Atlanta, there was a bed and breakfast only about 2 hours away in Hiawassee that was beyond adorable. It was also the area that Timmy’s family owned a lake house that contained many happy times and the most sad memory ever for them.

We loved going there. I had never really been in my life and it’s just so beautiful in the North GA mountains. I also loved being able to give Timmy new memories of a town that had given him and his family so much despair and sadness as that was where his father had his accident before passing away nearly 14 years ago. It was healing for him in a way that I wish could be possible for everyone. Since we moved to FL, we haven’t been back up there, and we’ve missed it.

The holidays, year after year in FL, just SUDDENLY happen because we have no seasons, so out of nowhere it’s HalloweenThanksgivingChristmasYearOver. I wanted to experience cold again, and winter, and heavy clothes, and all that crap. Each year we’ve gone home for Xmas, it’s been barely cold enough to wear gloves, which is a real let down over the holidays.

My gift to him was a 3-day, 2-night stay at the Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa. We had been to dinner there once but never stayed, and I always wondered what it would be like to stay in a resort in the mountains. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

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On our way up, we stopped in Helen, GA for a quick bite and a beer. If you’ve never heard of Helen, it might be the most random town in the world. It’s quite literally in the middle of nowhere GA (which is never a good place to be in my opinion), completely German-ized. German architecture, German food, German music, all of it German. It’s kind of crazy yet awesome.

We arrived at the resort on the Wednesday before New Year’s to a nearly empty lodge. It was full of old people (hey, we’re Floridians now so it felt totally normal) and MY GOD WAS IT COLD. I left my heavy coats at my parents’ house since I have zero need for them in FL, and thank the Lord above I did that because my knee length down coat was a savior. Along with the hat and leggings I bought in Helen, I finally felt like winter had arrived for the first time in years.

[BTW, a high of 31 degrees is cold for anyone, so none of this “You think you were cold??? Let me tell you…” nonsense that I know some of you are thinking.]

I had reserved a cabin, which was like having a private hotel room in a cabin. We had a fire place, rocking chairs, and a really pretty view. As soon as we arrived, we got drinks from the bar (a hot chocolate with Bailey’s for me, thank you very much) and watched the sunset behind the mountains. It was just magical.

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the hot chocolate was the star of the show

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IMG_0969.jpgI didn’t do the greatest job planning because we tried to make spa reservations and they were completely booked up which was a bummer. No way in hell was horseback riding going to happen in that cold, so we opted for a 2-mile hike along one of the resort’s trails where Timmy proceeded to take a work call because hey, you can’t totally unplug sometimes in his profession.

If you ever get a chance, go there. It was definitely worth it and for us to experience winter during the holidays (finally), well it’s just another memory to treasure.

♥, VB

Ode to NY

Oh NY. The things you make my heart feel.

I absolutely love going back to my second home away from my real home in Atlanta and my actual home now in St. Pete (that was confusing). I love it because of all the things that city makes me feel, what it reminds of, and how I’m so happy that I no longer live there.

Yes, I said I’m happy I no longer live there. Odd how one can feel such conflicting feelings, yet it’s the truth.

My time spent in NY was a roller coaster ride during college. Becoming an adult in that city two weeks after 9/11 happened was tumultuous, emotional, rocky, overwhelming, and crazy fun. I miss it but I really don’t. Mostly I just miss the food and my friends. I don’t really miss the feeling of needing to be everywhere, doing everything, all the time, always.

But man, when I visit, we really pack it in. Usually, I’m with my BFF Denise and her husband Vinnie, sequestered away in the suburbs, but this time we were Brooklyn people, all the way. We stayed with our good friends Jenny and Joe (remember them, from the crazy beautiful Cali wedding?) in Clinton Hill, a super adorable south Brooklyn neighborhood with charming brownstones and vistas for days. Apparently, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis live down the street from them, so it must be a hot neighborhood, right?

The first night, we got there super late, like 10:30p, but we still went for a quick bite to eat at this adorably delicious spot named Walter’s. It was really dark and romantic inside, so no pix were bothered with.

The next day, we tried to sleep in because the sounds of NY are CRAZY obnoxious to me now that I don’t live amongst the sirens, birds, and children screaming outside. Needless to say, I slept like crap. We got up, made our way to another adorable lunch spot, took down a bottle of cava, and proceeded to walk all over the place. I ended up with 12,000 steps that day, so a success all around.

We settled in for a little while at a park in DUMBO and enjoyed the beautiful weather, which clearly we brought with us from Florida.

amazing views of south Manhattan

amazing views of south Manhattan

The night, Jenny and Joe made reservations for nearly my entire bridesmaid roster and partners at Lido’s in Harlem, where we gorged ourselves on delicious Italian food and lots and lots of wine. Jenny was like the mom of the group and just ordered everything for everyone, and all I had to do was eat and drink. I highly suggest you get yourself a friend like that. We laughed and laughed and laughed and Timmy and I almost came to blows during a newlywed-style game.

The question: Which celebrity is our number one hall pass?

My answer for Timmy: Chris Hemsworth (I won)

Timmy’s answer for me: JEFF GOLDBLUM

What the hell…the marriage is off people! (FYI, the answer I wrote down was Keanu Reeves circa “Speed”…yummmmmmm)

Later that night, somehow we all ended up with Pez dispensers because Joe went to the Walgreens across the street to get a Tide pen for Timmy, was gone for like 20 minutes, and showed up with Pez for everyone. It was weird and generous, all at the same time.

The next day, we went to Mission Chinese food where we annoyed our waitress by asking her every 5 seconds if there were peanuts in anything (because Timmy’s allergic), walked half the Brooklyn Bridge, got ice cream, then back to the airport. It was such an incredibly fast weekend, but it filled my heart to the maximum. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than see these amazing people and love and laugh with them.

Dammit, I love my friends.

♥, VB

The End of 2015 and Life Lately

So a lot has happened in the past two months and boom, now it’s 2016. I thought I’d catch you up on our lives the past two months before I launch into the great BIG changes that have happened in the last few weeks.

Halloween, Timmy and I celebrated our 1-year engagement at Spinners on St. Pete Beach. It’s a rotating restaurant that I dumbly reserved a table for AFTER the sunset, so we saw a whole bunch of nothingness. We will return with much better timing.

I finally talked Timmy into wearing a couples’ costume, which he poo-pooed until he realized that it was just a black cotton t-shirt with jeans. We were Opposites Attract, but apparently people also thought we were a pregnancy test, so it has multiple uses. #Imeanttodothat

We also went out to Green Bench Brewery, one of our favorite St. Pete spots and in one of the most random run-ins I’ve ever had, ran into the little sister of one of my close college friends. WHAAATTT?! We ended the night at Enigma for a lot of gay costume contesting and free beers bought for us by people wishing that Timmy was gay.

For maybe one of my highest professional achievements, I was selected as one of the 8 inaugural TEDxUSFSP speakers on November 13. I had a blast creating the talk, practicing it, and then finally performing on stage in front of students, colleagues, Timmy and Gavin, one of my friends that I met through St. Pete Pride. It was truly awesome, and I can’t wait until the video comes out.

November finished out with a morning trip to Auburn immediately following my TEDx talk. It was a super fast trip that started with an 11 AM game and ended with a star-filled night at Lake Martin with good friends. We also got to meet Wiles, my friend Heather’s newest baby girl and Timmy got grossed out by my bachelorette party gift.

December ended the way it should. I made a gingerbread house for the first time, we moved Timmy out of his apartment in Orlando into mine (more on that later), drove to Atlanta for Christmas and New Year with both our families. A little drama here and there, a WHOLE LOT of driving, and so. much. love.

Hope you all had the best holidays, whatever you celebrate, and hope mostly that your final days of 2015 were filled with nothing but joy, love, and hope!

Happy New Year!

♥,

VB

Costa Rica

December started with a trip we had been planning forever and then POOF it was here. We went to Tamarindo, Costa Rica for my college friend Taamy’s wedding to her perfect match Dave. It all started with the card enclosed in our goody bag and ended with some of the best memories I’ll take to the grave.

We flew from Tampa to Atlanta, Atlanta to Liberia, Costa Rica. From there, we took a shuttle about an hour away to Tamarindo, a little surfer town right on the Pacific, close to the Nicaragua-side of Costa Rica. It was so cute and really hopping, with tons of shops, restaurants, and surfer hang-outs. We got to Hotel Pasatiempo, and tried to get a quick nap in before walking around and exploring the place.

Taamy is that friend (we all have one) who can’t wait to start planning her next exotic vacation, who will try anything once and more times if she likes it, who is fearless, beautiful, and fun fun fun. We were so honored to be invited to this intimate shin-dig and we were incredibly emotional to see their love and gratitude for their wedding weekend. Timmy actually had a moment during the ceremony where he couldn’t stop crying, it was really that overwhelmingly touching.

The first night we got there was the joint Bachelor-Bachelorette party at Casa Alang-Alang, the house that Taamy and Dave rented for the week. There was a moment where I was dancing on the side of one of their many infinity pools at the house they were staying at. All of the sudden, I got pushed into the pool, fully clothed. Now, I’m not one for drama, but if there’s ever a reason to get pissed off beyond belief, it would be when a grown ass adult pushes another grown ass adult into a pool fully clothed in a pretty dress.

Well, I did nothing because it was a wedding celebration party for Dave and Taamy and I will NEVER be THAT person who starts fights and takes attention away from the couple. I went upstairs, asked Taamy for a change of clothes, and obviously had to explain what happened, but I left it at that. Taamy and Dave were PISSED. I kept trying to diffuse the situation, but at this point, Taamy had had a few, and you could see the drunk spiral happen a mile away.

The next day, Taamy said she got so mad not because of the alcohol but because she hates when men think they can behave however they want around women because they’ve been drinking. I still think the spiral contributed to how upset she got, but either way, it was unfortunate and I wish it hadn’t happened. The guy who pushed me in however sent me and Timmy a nice bottle of sparking wine with a very classy apology note attached over the holidays, so it’s all good.

It was actually all good the first time he apologized, but I guess Taamy and Dave really let him have it later.

Their wedding was drop-dead gorgeous, their house was UNREAL (I mean it. It was like 10 bedrooms, owned by the guy who started Billabong and who owns Au Bon Pain, 3 infinity pools, and a cliffside view of the Pacific), their wedding vows were real and deep, and we couldn’t be happier that the two of these crazy people found each other in this world. Any opportunity to hang out with my college peeps is the best time ever.

Timmy learned from his Panama mishaps and decided to pack every undershirt he owns and also brought sweat towels. He DID NOT stop getting compliments from everyone on his suit choices and his towel decisions. He was so proud of himself. 🙂

There was a crazy, “This world is so small” moment we had while getting breakfast at a small place across the street from our hotel. We sat down and Timmy saw that the people next to us had an Oakland hat on. Taamy and Dave currently live in Oakland so it wasn’t a complete jump to assume they were there for the wedding. When we asked, they said no, they were actually on their honeymoon. This was the conversation.

Timmy: “Are y’all here for the wedding?”

Guy: “No, actually we’re here on our honeymoon.”

Timmy: “Oh cool, I thought you were since the bride and groom live in Oakland.”

Guy: “Nope, we live in Florida. We just got married in Orlando.”

Me: “Really?! I live in St. Pete and he lives in Orlando.”

Guy and Girl: “Where?”

Timmy: “Lake Mary.”

Guy: “Dude, I live in Sanford.”

After discussing the streets, they realized that they live 1.2 miles away from each other. WTF.

Then the owner of the cafe came out and said he was from Marietta and went to college at Georgia Southern. I mean, really.

So I’ll leave you with pictures, even though they don’t do any justice to the beauty and fun we had there. These college peeps of mine, god, I love them so much my heart wants to burst. Taamy and Dave, we love the hell out of you.

♥,

VB