The whole reason we ended up heading down south was for a wedding. Miami in January? Yes, please! Our Marine friends Stephanie and Ritchey were tying the knot and wanted a sword detail (you know, the arch of swords that the bride and groom walk under). They kindly invited us to share in their special day and Nate was a member of their sword detail. It was an absolutely beautiful wedding that not only celebrated their marriage, but also Ritchey and Nate's 1 year anniversary in the Marine Corps! They left for OCS on January 15, 2010 and the wedding was January 15, 2011. It's crazy to think about everything that's happened in the past year... But back to the wedding, it was BEAUTIFUL! Stephanie was a gorgeous bride and the reception was a blast. Here are some pictures.
We figured that if we were going to spend a good bit of money on plane tickets to Miami, then we might as well stay for a while and make a vacation out of it! A cruise out of Miami was just the ticket :)
The rest of my family (my parents, sister, and brother) were trying to plan a family vacation for Mom's 50th birthday and my sister's 21st birthday so we invited them to come along with us. Since Mom really wanted all of us to be together it wasn't hard to convince them to come and we had a truly wonderful family vacation in the western Caribbean.
Here's a recap!
We left out of Miami on Sunday. My family got in and were able to get on the ship without a hitch. Us on the other hand...well we had a sword. Nate had needed it for the wedding the night before and what were we supposed to do with it? We should have called Carnival before we left, but didn't. Oops. Lesson learned. So we had to stand around and ended up being told that we couldn't take it on-board (not surprising), but that they wouldn't hold it either! So... Luckily we had arrived early and they suggested we get a taxi and go find somewhere to mail it home. Someone ended up suggesting that we walk across the street to a place that was known to mail things home for cruise ship staff and passengers who had things they couldn't bring on board. We go over and the guy looks around at his boxes (clearly there's nothing big enough) and then says that he can just hold it for us on his shelf until we get back, he'll give us a receipt, and that he does this all the time. Sketchy. And yet, that's exactly what we did and prayed that it would still be there when we got back...
Monday was a day at sea. We had determined not to worry about the sword for the week and so it was a relaxing day spent reading by the pool. It was also our first formal night.
Tuesday we were in Grand Cayman! It was beautiful when we arrived. The island itself wasn't as pretty as I expected, but the water was breathtaking. Here's our day in pictures.
First on the schedule, we swam with Darwin the dolphin! It was the earliest time slot for this excursion and we were the only ones there! Can you say private session :) We got to pet him, feed him fish, let him kiss our cheek, kiss his nose, and dance with him. We also got to go for two different kinds of rides! The first was to put your upper body on a boogie board, put your legs straight out with your knees locked, and he came up behind you and pushed you forward with his nose on the bottom of your foot. Very speedy and super fun! The second time he swam up to you on his back, you grabbed both of his flippers, and he pulled you along. That one was slower paced, but a little more intimate. Overall it was a wonderful experience and a highlight for everyone.
Next up, we spent some time in a sting ray tank (sorry, no pictures) and then headed across the street to a turtle farm! We got to hold several turtles of varying sizes and see some full grown, very large sea turtles.
Then we headed over to Margaritaville for lunch where Dad took a shot of tequila, DJ had his first legal drink, and Brit and DJ did the cha-cha slide on stage! Fun times.
After lunch Nate and I headed off on our own. We ended up taking the public transportation (basically a 15 passenger van they consider the city bus) to Hell. Yes, that's right. It's a group of short, black, limestone formations in the middle to green, lush Grand Cayman. They have all kinds souvenirs playing on the name, you can mail postcards "sent from Hell", and they will even stamp your passport.
Wednesday was spent on a beach in Cozumel, Mexico. It was beautiful, drinks were included, there was a water trampoline, an inflated "iceberg" to climb up and jump off of, and snorkeling gear. What more could a person ask for?
Thursday we were in Belize. Nate and I went to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-too-nich) while everyone else went snorkeling. The ruins are on the western side of Belize (almost into Guatemala), which meant we got to drive through the country. For some people this means a boring 2 hour bus ride, but for me it was a chance to see the country. The countryside was beautiful and the ruins were cool to see.
We got to climb to the top of El Castillo! This is something that isn't allowed at ruins in other countries, yay Belize! This was Nate's favorite part of Blize.
Our final stop was at Isla Roatan, an island 40 miles of the coast of Honduras. It was by far the most beautiful countryside. We just spent the day hanging out on the beach right by the port. Dad and Nate did take a cab ride into the closest town, but wouldn't even get out because it was so sketchy.
Saturday was our final day and it was spent at sea. Having had enough sun (I got pretty burnt in Honduras) we stayed inside - watched a movie, played Bingo, and rescued a boat. That's right our ship rescued three Americans and a cat on our way home. The water was really rough that day, we're talking 6-8 foot seas, and it was super windy. Mom, Dad, Nate, and I were sitting by a window enjoying an all chocolate dessert buffet when we spot what appeared to be boat so far out that you could barely see it and realize that we're turning/not moving very fast. Turns out the boat had lost power and was signaling us with mirrors for assistance. After getting clearance from the Coast Guard we pulled up next to the boat and pulled the passengers on board (once the boat got close you could really tell how rough the water was, they were rocking like crazy). Unfortunately, they had to leave the boat behind, but I'm sure they were glad to be rescued.
Sunday we arrived back in port slightly anxious about whether Nate's sword would still be where we left it. We disembarked the ship, got our luggage, went through customs, and needed to catch a bus to the airport sooner rather than later because was had an 11:30am flight. So Nate runs over as soon as he's able and returns empty handed. My stomach sinks. The sword is kind of like a wedding ring. It can be replaced, but it'll never be the original. Turns out they're not open, I can stop having a heart attack. It's a little before 8, they open at 9. Great. Well, we have no other option than to wait and we should still have enough time to catch our flight. I look over a few minutes later and see that the door is open, maybe they're open? So Nate goes back AND...
RETURNS WITH HIS SWORD!!! Thank you, Jesus! What a relief.
We made it to the airport in plenty of time to spare only to have our plane delayed until 5:30pm due to a mechanical issue with the engine and the earliest connecting flight we could make in Atlanta wasn't until 11pm, which put us in Raleigh around 12:30am and we still had a 2.5 hour drive home. Basically we spent all day Sunday waiting around in the airport. But, we did finally make it home around 3am just in time to catch a few hours of sleep before Nate needed to be at work and I had to start packing...
It was a crazy week to follow, but it was wonderful to spend a week with family enjoying one another, God's creation, and relaxing.