We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
When I was much younger and lived in the East I went on many barefoot and small luxury sailings all over the Caribbean, primarily to the more diverse and less "Americanized" southern reaches. From San Diego, however, the air connections to the southern Caribbean waste a full day of misery. You can't beat the islands of the south, but it's not worth the arduous flight unless for more than several weeks stay.
One of the advantages of having young sons is that they have not seen the southern Caribbean and would not be disappointed by the more touristy Western Caribbean. They are curious and adventurous travelers -- and well behaved, pleasant company -- so, off we went with a direct connection from San Diego to Miami, a day of relaxation there, and then a Carnival ship to Cozumel, Belize, Honduras, and Grand Cayman. Thanksgiving, Chanukah and my birthday made for a very special trip of lasting memories.
I haven't been in Miami since I left Florida in 1979. A convenient public bus took us to South Beach from our hotel on a bay. Lincoln Road pedestrian mall has certainly improved with blocks chock full of tropical plantings and ethnic restaurants surrounded by spacioius outdoor seating areas under large umbrellas or canopies. The Santa Monica pedestrian mall is inspired by Lincoln Road but far misses the mark. We lucked in to the very best Cuban food ("YUCA"=Young Urban Cuban Americans) I've had since leaving Florida, and the boys gobbled theirs with many Hmmmmms of delectable delight. A bit further along the walk we came upon a giant Menorah and Dreidal for upcoming Chanukah. We didn't count but took the sign's word that it was made of over 25,000 seashells.
The next treat was visiting the historic Art Deco hotels along the South Beach. Before they became trendy, and extremely expensive, my grandmother would come down for the winters in the 1960s and 1970s. The insides are deluxe now but the exteriors are preserved. Lit up at night you feel like you stepped back to the 1930s and 1940s. The boys stood on the spot where I have a photo of me with my grandmother. She would be smiling with nachas.
The famous wide Miami Beach and its high rise hotels of varying ages, from the 1950s to now, are across the street from Grandma's hotel and stretch for miles.
Caution: Beefcake photo below.
That night we lucked out again, with a colorful and scrumptious
Colombian restaurant ("Sabor") near the hotel. Jason is quickly learning
formal Spanish in school and gets a kick out of using it while picking
up some slang.
It may sound too crowded for there to be over 3-thousand passengers
on a cruise ship but the crew and arrangements are very professional and
it is rare to be in a line for anything. But, try convincing the boys
of that. The next day we arrived at the
Carnival Glory early, to get settled, attack the buffets, and go in to
the several pools and jacuzzis. There goes Gavin down the water slide.
Throughout the day and evening good movies play on the giant screen
above the pools and jacuzzis deck.
Not to brag (too much, that is), that night I won the Dancin' Dad contest and the next day the Hairy Chest contest.
Gavin was determined to match and beat my medal count. Before the cruise was over he did.
The meals were generally excellent. Acceding to popular demand, salts and heavy gravies were kept to a minimum, and many "heart healthy" choices were on the menus. Jason, Gavin and I had our main meals together. A highlight for me was that the ship provisioned in Miami, so the corned beef and the lox were superior, so super that at most lunches I had two corned beef sandwiches, on seeded Rye of course, a half-sour Kosher pickle, and lox and fresh fruit for dessert. When we got home, Gavin's teacher asked him for a favorite thing on the cruise. Gavin replied, "unlimited ice cream". The age bracketed Carnival Clubs were enjoyed by the boys, as by me in getting a little me time. The servers were mostly Indonesian, and much more pleasant than the Koreans and even the Filipinos more usually staffing cruise ships.
At Cozumel we visited the Maya ruins at Tulum. After we swam in the Caribbean below the Tulum cliffs. Gavin will be studying the Mayan Civilization next year in school. This personal exposure to it may (excluding human sacrifices, to act as communicators between Maya and their gods) make it more real for him.
There were Iguanas everywhere (that's Jason on the left, similarly camouflaged). On the way back to the ship we watched a group of Mayan men dance and play their ethereal instruments atop a 40-foot pole. That night Gavin racked up not only another prize on stage but every where we went the next days adults stopped us to say, "Aren't you that cute boy who was up on stage?" Maybe it was his "Hunger Games" pose.
Chanukah started the evening of Nov. 27. The ship set up a large Menorah in the lobby each night, where about 30 families gathered at sunset. There were likely many more Jewish families aboard but caught up in other activities. Many Christians, Moslems and Hindus joined us to celebrate the courage of hope to attain freedom. Latkes (fried potato pancakes) with sour cream or apple sauce were enjoyed by all. I'd brought a big bag of gold-gilt covered chocolate coins to distribute to the kids for the traditional Chanukah gelt (money) gift. I became known as the "gelt guy" (not to be confused with the goy with gelt). At the table each night, Jason, Gavin and i played Dreidal. Our Indonesian waiter joined in twirling the top but couldn't quite get the difference between a gimmel and a nun. We gave him Chanukah gelt anyway.
Sorry, no good photos of Belize. Many experienced tourists and adventurers tell me that they now go to Nicaragua instead of Belize or Costa Rica. It's less touristy, less costly, and more natural. Tourists are insulated from the radical Sandinistas' dominance.
One of our stops, in Honduras, was at a bird and monkey park. For us Three Stooges, we gained a new member of our club, fittingly bird-brained. Gavin got him self a Davido Crockett hat.
On Grand Cayman, we went to a turtle farm. No soup on the menu.
We stopped at a place named "Hell" because of the jagged giant black rocks around it. Jason got in the spirit. Gavin elevated to a higher standing.
Gavin will need all the praying he can muster for his San Diego Padres to score a winning season.
Each night the room steward would create another towel animal. This one was Gavin's favorite.
When we docked back at the Miami port, we had some hours before our flight to San Diego. We went on an Everglades tour, on a 50mph airboat, to see turtles and alligators. There was also many birds, especially beautiful white storks, but my camera hand was too slow to catch them in their regal glory.
Back home, and back to school, breakfast is not quite cruise fare but it is hearty victuals. (If you don't recognize the meal, my sister used to make it for me and called it Texas Eggs. Butter or marjorine both sides of the whole wheat bread -- more flavor, pluck out a hole in the middle, and put a whole egg into the hole. Carefully or recklessly turn, depending on whether you want your egg hard or soft, when light toasty brown.) Add fruit, milk, a smoothie, and your child will have a breakfast that lasts.
Talking of what lasts, it is the photos of family and the memories of the special trips and holidays that lasts. Stone ruins or pretty flowers may be nice, but it is photos of your family that blooms throughout your life and theirs.