After disembarking from our cruise on Sunday, we picked up our rental car and drove north to Orlando. What we didn't expect was flashing signs indicating "severe weather ahead - take shelter" which we later found out was a tornado warning. The rain and wind was absolutely crazy.
After getting checked into our resort in Kissimmee and waiting for the weather to clear, we met up with the Loats and drove into Orlando to visit Downtown Disney and have dinner. It was so crowded but we had a fun night.
Monday morning we got up early to get to Universal's Islands of Adventure for opening. We headed straight for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am still in disbelief that I was there - this has been on my bucket list of places to go. Many times throughout the morning I gasped and squealed. It was so amazing (and SO crowded!!). The rides were amazing and we drank butterbeer, ate Hagrid's rock cakes and ate lunch at The Three Broomsticks as well as bought some treats at Honeydukes.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the other parts of the park and enjoying some rides (and getting a little wet).
On Tuesday we had a sleep-in and then did some outlet shopping before enjoying the pool and lounge area at the resort. On Wednesday we drove back down to Miami, stopping in Lake Worth for lunch at Havana Hideout, a Triple D location, for lunch.
After checking in at our hotel, we drove towards the Florida Everglades and stopped to do an airboat tour. It was an amazing experience. We learned so much about the ecosystem and its plants and animals and saw a few alligators and some alligator babies along the way. Adam even held a baby alligator at the end of the tour.
We drove into Miami Beach to have dinner at the 11 Street Diner, another Triple D location.
We have a list of places in Florida we would still like to explore, so I guess we'll have to plan another trip!
We had a great trip, very full of new places and experiences and lots of fun and new things learned along the way. It was one of those trips that you need a few days to recover from ;)
For our spring break this year, we flew to Miami and took a Carnival Cruise to the Western Caribbean. With all the disasters Carnival has faced recently, we were a little worried but it was an amazing trip. I can't say enough about how wonderful all the staff was on the cruise and the amazing events and opportunities that were provided. We travelled with the Loat family. We have done a small trip with them before to Great Wolf Lodge and spent some days together in Waikiki but this was our first major trip together. We commented several times during the trip how great our kids got along the whole time and for me, it was nice having some female travel companions for a change! We saw the best and worst of each other (there were some moments...) and there will be many stories to tell and special memories to hold on to.
We flew all day Saturday (through San Francisco and Houston) and stayed in Miami Saturday night before heading to the Carnival Glory on Sunday afternoon. We sailed off as the sun set over Miami.
Monday on the ship was a "day at sea" and the boys tried out the waterslide, the arcade and Colin played volleyball. We had our first formal dinner in the dining room.
On Tuesday, we had our first day in port at Cozumel. We walked around the town doing some shopping and got a great recommendation for an authentic Mexican lunch. We took a taxi to Paradise Beach for the afternoon and the kids all had fun on the apparatus and the pool available there.
On Wednesday, we arrived in Costa Maya, which is a little town created for cruise ships. We took an excursion to the Chacchoban Ruins which was one of the highlights of the trip for me. These are recently discovered Mayan ruins (1973) which are not fully excavated and have only been open to the public since 2002. Our guide was amazing and we all learned so much about Mayan culture and history.
On Thursday, we sailed into the Island of Roatan in Honduras. This was my favourite port of the trip. We booked an excursion to Tabyana beach which was really family friendly (unlike the Mexican beaches we experienced). The bus ride there took us along the coast of the island and through towns and residential areas. We got a real sense of what life was like there. The beach was quiet and stunningly beautiful. The snorkelling was the best I have ever experienced. The variety of coral and sea fans as well as the fish was outstanding. There were even baby sting rays swimming in the sandy areas of the beach. It was very very hot but there was lots of shade under the palms trees and lemonade to keep us cool. I didn't want to leave and this is somewhere I would go back to.
On Friday we had our last stop in a port at Grand Cayman. For this port, we had to "tender" in (take little shuttle boats) to the dock. The Loats went off to a stingray excursion and we headed to Royal Palms beach (which is part of the famous Seven-Mile Beach) where we swam and snorkelled and enjoyed the quiet and sun. We walked back along the beach and took a detour through an empty lot where we encountered several iguanas! We had lunch in Georgetown and did a little shopping before heading back to the ship and getting ready for another formal dinner.
Saturday was another "day at sea" and was a pretty low key day. We did attend a magic seminar and learned three tricks from the ship's magician, Elton. He was so great with our kids throughout the whole trip. We got up early Sunday to disembark and say good-bye to the Carnival Glory!
On the ship, we really enjoyed the nightly family-friendly comedy shows, music and dance shows, the magic shows (often at our table in the dining room), the many buffets and dining experiences and the towel animals left in our room each evening.
Lots of stories, lots of memories. Such a great, full trip - but that was just part one!
We could see it as we walked out of our hotel, all special for the holidays with the Christmas tree on top. The boys humoured me with a quick iphone photo on the go!
We had dinner at our favourite pizza place in Seattle...Bambino's. Neil doesn't really like pizza but he will eat this pizza. It is cooked in a wood fire oven right in front of you and the sauce is just so so fresh and there are a great selection of foody toppings.
After breakfast, we walked over to Seattle Center to take in the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. As we were waiting for our ticket time (so glad we pre-bought tickets as they were sold out for the day!), we saw a display of artifacts from the 1978 exhibit. I squealed when I saw the book I had purchased when I visited that exhibit as a school field trip when I was in grade seven! I still remember the feeling of awe I felt as I looked at the treasures from King Tut's tomb when I was thirteen and hoped the boys would feel the same way after seeing this new exhibit.
We were not disappointed, except for the no photos in the exhibit rule! There were ten exhibit rooms, with the last four holding the treasures found in the four parts of King Tut's tomb. After an introduction to the history of the Egyptian pharoahs and other archaelogical sites and treasures found in Egypt, the timeline of finding King Tut's tomb was shared. Adam was miffed that the water boy who actually found the stairs to the tomb got one mention while Howard Carter got all the glory! Colin was amazed by the amount of gold in the artifacts and wondered about the time it must have taken to create such treasures. We all thought the cat casket was memorable as was the very embellished mini-coffin for King Tut's embalmed stomach. The mini-animation showing all the levels of security that helped keep King Tut's remains safe for over 3000 years was very well done. Neil commented it was kind of like watching matroushka dolls getting opened over and over again until we finally got to the solid gold death mask and the remains. The variety and amount of artifacts on display was amazing and just like I did in grade seven, I bought the book with images from the exhibit and hope the boys will remember the experience the way I have for all these years!
After our visit to the exhibit, we picked up doughnuts at Top Pot and then had a late lunch at a diner before we hit the road home. So glad that we made it to this exhibit finally and the little family getaway to Seattle was a nice way to start the post-Christmas part of our holidays!
This weekend marks the end of summer holidays for us and back to the structure of a school and work week and all that is inolved with that - schedules, homework, lunches, sports practices, waking up early etc. Not going to dwell on that yet though...
All photos in this post are from my iPhone and my Instagram album!
The boys had a pretty relaxing summer which was what they needed. We try hard to make sure they have balance and downtime during the school year but with the sports they want to do and the homework that they have, some days are a little hectic. The boys had lots of time this summer to sleep in and hang out at home if they wanted to. They often took off longboarding together or went swimming in the afternoons. Neil got things on his list done and I think he relaxed a little too. I had a frustrating July and a more productive and balanced August. I tried to enjoy time with Neil and the boys when I could, got outside and spent time with friends. I actually got a good chunk of writing done and feel okay about where I am with my dissertation as I head back to work.
I would say that overall, I am feeling content about the summer. At peace with it all.
Although it wasn't as full as many of our summers have been in the past, we still travelled, spent time together and tried new things. So just for the record...
Wood Lake in the Okanagan with my sister and her kids
Edmonton for a family reunion
Oregon for our annual trip
Things we did for the first time:
Colin fenced in the Canada Day parade.
Adam did a rowing camp.
The boys added wakesurfing to their sports repertoire this summer.
The boys did paintballing and shot pistols at a shooting range.
I made kale chips, focaccia and blueberry leather.
Colin saw the giant Ukrainian egg in Vegreville (the rest of us had visited there before).
We did crazy slides at the water park at West Edmonton Mall.
Neil did a solo overnight bike ride to Burlington.
We rented a boat in Horseshoe Bay and took it out on the ocean.
We ATV-ed over the sand dunes in Oregon (last year we ATV-ed out to the beach).
We went to our first Vancouver Canadians game as a family.
The boys tented in the backyard with friends.
We grew purple potatoes!
Colin - Everything we did at West Edmonton Wall: the waterpark, the rides, the shooting and hanging out with our cousins; in Kelowna: the wakeboarding and wakesurfing, paddleboarding and doing paintball and in Oregon: ATVing over the sand dunes.
Adam - Said "ditto" to Colin's list.
Neil - Doing all the different things we did in Oregon, his solo bike ride to and from Burlington, Washington (he's already planning a longer one for next summer!) and eating scones ;)
Janice - The mom in me loved watching the boys do things they loved and try new things, even if those new things horrified me a bit! I loved watching Colin fence in the parade, seeing Adam row down the Fraser River, cheering them on as they wakeboarded on Wood Lake, seeing both of them being so excited to do paintball with Duncan in Kelowna and shooting the pistols in Edmonton. I loved our time away as a family in Oregon and had fun playing around in the kitchen and garden.
Oh summer, how we love you. A fond farewell until we meet again.
A friend that I went to university with did med school in the Portland area so I visited her there regularly and that's where my love of the city started. I used to love going to the Saturday market for inspiration and we make sure to make that part of our trip each time we go.
We have visited the city of bridges many times, usually en route to California or the Oregon coast. Other than the often extreme heat that hits it in the middle of the summer, it is a city that speaks to me with is unique neighbourhoods, bridges, parks, the river, sculptures, foodiness, artiness and overall coolness.
This year we spent the afternoon in Portland on our way down to the coast and stopped by Powell's Books and lined up in the heat for a visit to VooDoo doughnuts. We stayed the night out in Woodburn to do some back to school shopping at the company stores out there.
On our way back from the coast, we stayed a night in Portland. Friday was so very hot and we checked into our hotel in the late afternoon heat and stayed in the air conditioning until the temperature came down to under 100 degrees! We walked across the street for dinner and then walked across a bridge, through downtown and another stop at VooDoo, across another bridge and for a beautiful walk along the river.
While we were out for our walk, we realized what a bicycle-friendly city Portland is. As we were walking down a set of stairs to a promenade along the river, we noticed a gutter-like ramp along the stairs and then saw two cyclists pushing their bikes up the "gutter". So clever! There are bike lanes, signs and lights all over the city. I am predicting a bike trip to Portland in our future!
On Saturday morning we visited the Saturday Market and I got all inspired to make things! Adam bought a ring and then we headed over to a Triple D location for lunch. Pine State Biscuits has been on my list for awhile and it was so good! We did have to wait outside in line for about half an hour and if we go again, will avoid the weekends! Once we were in, the service was great and the biscuit sandwiches were delicious. I had fried chicken, bacon, cheese and apple butter on my biscuit.
After lunch we hit the road for home, bidding goodbye to one of our favourite cities, knowing that we will be back soon!
Some people have summer homes, cottages or cabins. Although I wouldn't turn my back on that if it were an option for us, we have something else. We have the Oregon coast. We drive down there for about a week every summer.
We have our traditions...
We camp or stay in a yurt at Honeyman state park (and often another state park sometime during the trip as well...this year it was a new one for us - Beverly Beach).
We have campfires and cook many of our meals over the fire. This year we roasted hot dogs, made grilled cheese sandwiches with Tillamook cheese, made bannock and of course, had some smores! And the boys and Neil always have some sunflower seeds around the campfire (not my favourite tradition!).
We sandboard and play on the dunes.
We swim in the lake and usually go kayaking or canoeing.
For a little more fun, sometimes we skimboard or surf. For the last two years, we have gone ATV-ing on the dunes.
We drive up Highway 101 and ooh and aah at the scenic views. We listen to an audio book as we drive. We pull over to explore the beaches.
We stop in cities along the way and eat at a Mo's or other local diner. When in Newport (like this year) we enjoy the harbour and the sea lions.
We stay at a hotel in Lincoln City, right on the beach. For the past three years, it has been Surftides for us and we really like it there. Beautiful views from the balcony.
We do some back to school shopping at the outlet centres outside of Portland and in Lincoln City. Often, the boys save their money in order to make a big purchase. This year, Colin bought a Penny banana board.
We always take at least one long walk along the beach and over the rocks while in Lincoln City. When the boys were younger they could explore the rocks for hours. This year, it was me that was determined not to leave until I had found a seastar!
We try and get at least one family photo while on our Oregon trip.
It is our special place full of traditions and new experiences and our time together as a family every summer. Can't wait to go again next year!