Island Hopping


On a hot and balmy Sunday morn, the Keller, Adams, Harvill family (including my parents, husband and our two older children) boarded the Carnival Valor at the port in Miami. 
Carnival promotes itself as the “fun ship” i.e. family friendly line and I noticed the majority of the passengers were big extended families just like ours.  The kids were giddy with excitement and it was a treat to see their glee through unjaded eyes.
As soon as we passed customs and our feet hit the deck, the kids and I went exploring.  The Valor theme is Heroes and Heroism, paying homage to the greats of our time and times past. But despite the big theme, it’s not a particularly gaudy ship. It’s actually quite opulent and grand, like the interior of a castle or an old New York brownstone manse.
We felt like Harry Potter and his pals investigating Hogwarts or Diagon Alley for the first time with magical wonders around every corner. The kids and I giggled and oohed and ahhed with each new discovery. 
There was a giant twisting water slide, a multitude of splash pools, an outdoor grill, kids and teen clubs and trendy dance parties on the agenda. Art shows, live music and the piano lounge beckoned.   The spa looked soothing and sumptuous with a well equipped gym (which I am proud to say I used). 
There were shops and bars, a sushi bar, and a coffee-house.  The casino was lively and the adult only serenity deck, (where they make the best Bloody Mary’s ever) called out to me, “Sam, there are no kids here, come lay down on my hammock and chillax.”
How could I refuse?
But my absolute favorite part of this ship was the dining room. The service was divine- the waiters made us napkin animals, they sang and danced for us and magicians strolled about doing card tricks and amusing the children.  It was elegant, blissful even, as we watched the ocean waves through the large picture windows, and then there was the food.  The food was “to die,” as my dear friend Paola likes to say.  It was decadent, rich and tantalizing with lovely presentation.
My husband, the sauce connoisseur, generally had two entrees and three appetizers nightly.
Waitor-“Please sir, your order?” “
Tim-“I would like the shrimp cocktail, cheese plate, and seafood bisque, a lobster tail, the prime rib, and for dessert-another cheese plate please.”
Good thing we were busy enough to burn off all those calories we consumed!  After a blissful day at sea, our first stop was Grand Cayman, one of three of the Cayman Islands. We took a short taxi ride to seven mile beach and were greeted with majestic jaw dropping beauty.
Because the Cayman’s are a huge financial haven for off loading tax exempt fortunes, the island has a distinct upscale edge to it. It’s a strange mixture of island paradise juxtaposed with large banking institutions. My eyes are drawn to the bizarre mix of beaches, hotels and large fortress like banks all jumbled upon each other. 
We arrive, hop out of the taxi and try to exhale without holding our breath.
It’s surreal.
The water is a crystal clear aqua blue, the sand a blinding white and coconut trees sway in the island breeze. We lounge, we swim and we order over-priced drinks from the tiki bar. It’s awesome!
Our next stop is Isla Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras. As we pull in to the port I am transfixed by the sight of ships wrecked off the coast.  My mind conjures up images of violent storms, monkeys flying and total chaos.
Tim and Kyle take off to go ziplining through the rainforest while my parents, Faith and I head to the beautiful town and resort Carnival recently built next to the port. 
It’s a stunning sight with a lagoon, restaurants, private beach, gondola ride and of course, the topaz ocean and white sands surrounded by jungle.   We find a few lounge chairs under the palm trees and settle in with big blended rum and juice frothy concoctions while Faith plays for hours in the warm water. It’s hot and I’m soooo relaxed. Now this is vacation!
Next day is Belize, home to the Great Barrier Reef and islands worthy of Corona commercials. We are warned not to go anywhere in Belize without a tour and guide because of the poverty and third world conditions, which of course, we conveniently ignore.
The boat anchors about ten minutes off the coast, and we take tenders ( smaller speed boats) into the city. This is ridiculously fun because we sit outside on the boat and get splashed in waves by the warm ocean water. As we pull into Belize City, I notice colorful but decaying buildings and extreme poverty on a level we have not yet encountered. The port is heavily guarded to protect the tourists.
Only a few minutes after we arrive, there are screams and a small ruckus.  The police are called after a family walking in front of us is pick-pocketed.  We grab the kids and hold our bags tighter.  I wish I hadn’t brought my ginormous beach tote because now I am totally paranoid.
We walk to the edge of the gates and peer out. There are crowds of locals banging on the gates and yelling for our attention.  I’m kicking myself for not getting the armed guard and the advised tour. After an hour of walking around aimlessly and buying crappy trinkets we head back.  The boat ride to and from Belize was by far the most rewarding part.
I feel a bit cheated. I am missing what Belize has to offer because of our desire to scrimp and save money. I’m guessing we won’t ever come back, unless it’s on a mission’s trip or we win the lottery  Next time, if there is a next time, maybe we will actually listen to Goose the cruise director.
The last stop is Cozumel and clearly they saved the best for last for us. I have never in my life seen a more breathtaking beach.  The sand is pure white and the ocean so blue it’s as if the sky and ocean meet in an endless pool of azure.
At Chatanaab Park in Cozumel, Faith and I have paid for a date with the dolphins.  It’s a bit crazy and a little scary at first as we lower ourselves into the dolphin tank, but we end up smiling and laughing so hard my cheeks ache. 
Our dolphin Rachel kisses us on the mouth and then pulls us with her fins. She pushes our feet with her big nose and launches us high into the air on our boogie boards as we squeal in delight.  Rachel jumps in lovely arches and dances for our approval.  She is majestic and I am in awe of her dolphin glory.
Rachel has a baby dolphin that stays close by her side, mimicking her motions and learning the ropes.  It makes me sad because I miss my baby Kolby so much on this trip.  I envy Rachel’s ability to be a working mommy dolphin and keep her baby with her.
I didn’t factor in the I miss my baby so much it hurts side effect of being halfway across the world without her. During the day I am fine, because I am busy and having fun, but at night I miss her so much I cry. Only a mother understands this tension of wanting to please her husband and bond with him, while she simultaneously carries this enormous ache for her baby who can’t understand why mommy has abandoned her.
Then I am left to fall asleep, both sad and happy, rocking to the rhythm of the ocean and thinking about our crazy adventures. “Yo Ho!, Yo Ho! A pirates life for me,” plays in the back of my mind.
The funny thing about the Caribbean is the sense of danger that lurks just beneath the surface, only acknowledged at night as I mentally recap the day.
This place is untamed, wild and tropical.  The hurricanes are ferocious, the poverty is desperate and it’s hard to ignore the massive disparity of the island people and the tourists.  But mostly, there is an inherent unknown element to the vastness of the ocean and being on a boat in the middle of nowhere, no matter how big the ship is; it’s still a tad risky and I revel in it.
I fall asleep to the memories of my parent’s smiles, the kids pure joy, and the loving eyes of my husband  who is rested for the first time in ages.   

Stranded at Sea…Leave Your Fishing Pole at Home

Carnival Cruise Ship Splendor Arrives at Port ...

Image by Port of San Diego via Flickr

 Article first published as Stranded at Sea…Leave Your Fishing Pole at Home on Technorati.

My interest has been peaked, like most Americans, as the passengers of the Carnival Splendor cruise ship, finally disembark in San Diego Harbor after a four-day ordeal of being stranded at sea and then towed back to shore.  One comment in particular caught my eye chronicling a pair of traveling Honeymooners because my own husband and I celebrated our Honeymoon in a similar fashion. 

Here is what the bride’s father– Paul Patrick, who purchased the trip as a gift to the newlyweds, had to say about their interrupted vacation.“They’re hungry, very hungry and very eager to get off this ship,” Patrick said. “You can’t ruin a honeymoon, but this came close.” He added: “My son-in-law wishes he’d brought his fishing pole. What else can you do four days on the sea?”

Now, I don’t debate that they are hungry, I mean eating spam sandwiches pretty much stinks, but I do have an issue with the next line.  What else can you do for four days on the sea?  Ummmm… how about have sex?

Now that might sound crass, but if the couple had walked down a road of purity before marriage, their “ruined” trip might have been a fantastic reason to stay in bed and revel in the joys of intimacy, designed by God for marriage.

Oh, it’s such a sad story.  The poor husband wishes he had brought his fishing pole to fight off boredom.  When my husband and I traveled to the Mediterranean for our Honeymoon and cruised the seas on the Norwegian Jade for 12 days, we did some fishing all right, and strangely enough it didn’t involve any fish (though there was a fantastic sushi bar on the Jade that we enjoyed). After waiting for almost a year and a half to be sexually intimate, we practically skipped down the aisle and into each other’s arms.

This is the difference between shacking up, premarital sex, and all the compromise the world tells you is great…it steals the joy of true intimacy.  It robs the bride and groom of a night to remember.  It makes four days at sea with your beloved… a yawning bore. 

I can always tell the difference at weddings.  It’s obvious to me if the bride and groom have had premarital sex.  It’s all about the “event” for the jaded bride, it’s a rite of passage, and a big hoopla over the details.  For the couple who choose to be pure, it’s all about the relationship.  You can tell in their eyes, their smile, their posture…they have waited for a true treasure and they will celebrate and protect something so valuable.

I know the difference.  My first marriage started and ended in compromise.  But, the next time, God was gracious and gave me a second chance to walk down the path of purity, restoration and healing. When I married my darling husband, a Godly man and a pastor, I knew he loved me for my heart and not for how I made him feel physically. Our relationship, though by no means perfect, stands on a foundation of trust.

So, though I am truly sad for the vacationing Honeymooners whose trip was derailed, when my husband and I slip away for our next cruise, the “Please Do Not Disturb Sign,” will proudly hang on our door!

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