Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cozumel, Mexico - Part 3 - Vacation Spring 2015

After one magical fun day at sea, on Tuesday, we docked at Puerta Maya, Cozumel, Mexico.
It was very easy to get on and off the ship.  We went down to deck 1, and we got our cards beeped on our way out, and we walked out onto the pier.  We got a new view of our ship, and it was pretty amazing.
We walked mostly through the "tourist trap", or the area designated for the cruise ship tourists.  Lots of shops, a few restaurants, a beach, etc.  We were pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that busy.  There were 4 ships docked here that day!  

We stopped for an early lunch at Pancho's, an authentic Mexican restaurant.  It was a very pleasant place; like many places in Mexico, it had open doors and walls.  
Ty had an enchilada, and I had black bean soup.  One of my favourite things from Mexico on our two previous trips was the refried black beans.  This soup was almost that good.  We also had chips and salsa.  I love it when they make fresh salsa.  Mmmmm...
We had a snorkeling excursion booked for 1:00, so we had a few hours to kill while we waited.  We moseyed around a few times, bought some t-shirts (I love t-shirts!!!), sat in the sun and watched people walk by,  and finally waited for our group to assemble.
I didn't get any pictures from our snorkeling adventure.  But I found this one on google, and it shows some of the reefs that we saw.  
It was pretty basic.  They took us on a bus just a few blocks down the street to a dive shop on the beach.  We got outfitted with basic snorkel gear, and four of us went with a guide for a swim.  It wasn't bad for $35.  A good way to learn to snorkel.  We swam for about 45 minutes, and that was long enough.  I always forget how much exercise swimming is!  Especially when you're trying to concentrate.  There were a few small reefs near the shore, and we saw quite a few different fish.
Here is a neat shot of two of the cruise ships on the pier.  Ours is at the back.  See the red and blue tail fin?
Here are the other two.  What gorgeous water, hey?
After our swim, we wandered around the shops a bit more, and eventually settled into Fat Tuesday's for a drink.  The music here was awesome (see the DJ on the far left?), and there were a bunch of spring break kids dancing it up and having a hoot.  (you can see a couple of the guys in the middle)  
It was a really fun place to hang out before we moseyed on back to the ship.
Cruising is so cool.  Every place you go gives you something different to look at.  Right beside us, they were building another leg onto the pier, so two more ships could squeeze in here!
The afternoon sun on the water was just gorgeous.
I love how turquoise the water is.
Having fun just hanging out on the balcony.  :)
Later that night, we went to the Play it Again Piano Bar.  Peter Damon was our guy.  This is when they get to say, "I'll be here all week."  This was hands down our favourite place to hang out.  We came here at least 4 different nights.  He was awesome!  So much fun!  And we had the same bartenders all week, too, and they work together as a very close team.  He joked around and sang about them all the time.  :)  That's Evie in the background.
Here's a shot of him from his website, since you can't see his face.  He reminds me a little bit of Dexter. What a talented guy.  He totally won me over when he played Mozart's "Ah Vous Dirai-Je Maman", which is one of my favourite classical piano pieces.  
Music on this ship was so awesome.  So many different things going on, and a few incredibly talented bands or performers made their rounds.  Never a dull moment!

Monday, April 13, 2015

My First Cruise - Part 2 - Vacation Spring 2015

This airport photo belonged at the very beginning of this saga, but I felt it didn't fit in with the NASA story, so I'm squeezing it in here.  This was taken at the Phoenix airport while we were waiting for our connecting flight to Houston.  And we couldn't have asked for a better view from our seats at the gate.  This plane looks so small compared to the Boeing we saw at the entrance of the Houston Space Center.
 On Sunday morning, we took a cab to the Port of Galveston, and it was here that I saw my first view of our home for the next seven days.  I am forever marvelling at the size, scope, and engineering feats that these cruise ships embody.  I believe it is good to always be in awe of amazing things.  I was full of child-like wonder throughout our entire cruise.
 Since we arrived fairly early (before noon), checking in was rather a breeze.  On the gangway to the ship, we looked down and saw some of the luggage being put on board.  All these things fascinate me. :)
 Once we found our way to the top deck of the ship, we took advantage of being so high up and took in our surroundings.  Harbours are very fascinating places.  I don't know what half the stuff is that we saw, but it's all pretty cool.  The next time I see a Discovery Channel show about ships or harbours, I will pay extra close attention.
 Behind us was our sister ship, The Navigator of the Seas by Royal Caribbean.
 It didn't look nearly as fun as our ship, though.  Carnival puts a lot of emphasis on FUN, and it shows! This is one of the biggest water slides/water play parks on any ship.
 To get to the sea, we would be heading this way out of the harbour.
 The fuel barge had finished its job and was now on its way.
 From the other side, we had an excellent view of Galveston.  It looks like a very interesting place.  There were lots of old buildings downtown.  It's quite a big island.  We had to take a bridge to get here.
 And the Navigator is off!  Everyone on the top deck of both ships enjoyed watching as it departed.
 Look at all those people on the top deck!  They were waving at us, we were waving at them!  Yay!  We're all on vacation!
 Shortly after they left, we started moving out of port.  So much fun to watch every little part of this endeavour.  We started by pushing sideways, and then we slowly started moving in our intended direction.  Well, it looked slow.  We started picking up speed very quickly.  These ships are incredible.
 We passed by an offshore drilling rig museum.  This was on Ty's to-do list.  Next time we cruise from Galveston, we'll stay in Galveston instead of Houston, and we will make sure to see this.  NASA was a little higher on the to-do list.  :)
 Very cool sailing past the industrial areas of the harbour, and seeing the high rises from the city itself.
 This ship was loading up with lots of industrial equipment.  If you look just past the ship, you'll see lots of earth-movers.  There were also lots of John Deere ones, and none of them were tractors!  They were all industrial.  I had never seen JD ones before.
 Being on the ship was an experience in itself.  I absolutely loved it.  I was reminded a lot of the Titanic, although this ship is much larger.  Sometimes I feel like I came from the 1800's, because all these engineering marvels, like planes and ships and rockets, absolutely blow me away.  I'm still flabbergasted that planes can fly.  And this ship.  Man, this ship was incredible.  The immense power of it moving through the water just took my breath away.  It was almost overwhelming every time I looked over the rail for the first couple of days.  After that, I got used to it, but I never lost my respect or wonder at how amazing it was.
 After our first full day at sea, which we spent wandering around, exploring everything, I noticed that the humidity was fuzzing up my hair!  But I knew that was part of the fun of being in a humid climate, so I totally embraced it.  :D
 This is a similar photo to the one above, both taken from our balcony.  The one above is at night, this one is during the day.  One of our favourite things to do was to find a spot to lean over the railing and just watch and listen to the water rush by.  This is something else that photos or videos wouldn't do justice to.  It's quite windy out at sea, so even if I tried to take a video of the rushing water, all you could hear would probably be the wind.  So, if you're really curious, you'll just have to hop on a ship and see and hear it for yourself.  I loved it.
 Here we are out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.  We didn't lay out in the sun very much until the last two days at sea.  I think we needed a few days to climatize.  It was hot!  So we walked a lot.  There is so much to do and see on a cruise ship.  If nothing else, people watching is a blast, because there's lots of them.  It's sometimes crowded, but it's a different kind of crowded.  Like, "we're all in this thing together, so let's have fun with it."  :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

NASA - Part 1 - Vacation Spring 2015

Long time no blog!  No better occasion than a vacation, am I right?  Tyler and I went on a 10-day holiday over spring break that included two days in Houston, and then a 7-day cruise from Galveston to Cozumel to Belize to Costa Maya and back.

We allotted a whole day for Space Center Houston, and we ended up staying for 6 hours, so our planning was worth it.  I had just read a novel about NASA in February, and a lot of it took place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.  When we booked our cruise about 6 weeks before we left, I realized that Galveston was by Houston, and NASA is in Houston!  Tyler is a bigger space geek than I am, but his interest has rubbed off on me, and that novel just pushed me over the edge.  

We arrived at Space Center Houston and were immediately greeted by a spectacular sight.  A space shuttle perched atop a Boeing 747.  
 Here is a view of them from our tram tour, which I will get to shortly.  
The space centre itself isn't very big.  It reminded me a lot of our own Telus World of Science.  Although this one is primarily space related, specifically NASA.  They did have an exhibit in the middle of the main floor of Ripley's Believe it or Not.  We moseyed through that a little bit, but our focus was primarily on the NASA stuff.
 Shortly after we got there, we got in line for the tram tour, which the website will tell you is the most important thing to do here.
 The Space Center itself is the only tourist-friendly building on the site.  The rest of the area is government property and there are dozens of government buildings.  Driving through it in a tram feels pretty special.

Our first stop was the astronaut training center.  I envisioned being able to walk right through and look at stuff, but it really is a privilege to get in there.  They led us up stairs to a windowed catwalk that ran the length of the building, which was quite long.  Our guide stopped at 3 different places and explained what we were looking at.
 This is one of those robot thingys that they use to help them fix stuff out on the International Space Station.
The most interesting thing to me was that there was a robot competition taking place at the far end of the building.  
 Wouldn't that be so exciting for a student?  To win a spot in a competition that takes place in the astronaut training facility at NASA?  I was excited just watching them.
 When we first drove past this building, I didn't think anything of it.  Just wait till you see what it has inside...
 This is Rocket Park.  Cute, right?
 They were really cool.
 We were being touristy.
They were pretty awesome in their own right.  
 This is just a taste of what's to come...
 Then I stepped inside the building, and was greeted by the most overwhelming, astonishing, massive, incredible sight I have ever seen.
 This is one of those times when pictures do not do justice to the subject.  This thing was so huge, and so unfathomable, that I was almost emotional.  I ran back outside to get Tyler, and he didn't know what was inside, either, and maybe thought there were some random exhibits of some kind.  I was pretty excited and dragged him in to show him "the giant spaceship"!!!
Can you believe there are 5 of these monsters?
Someday maybe I'll get a panoramic camera.  I couldn't get the whole thing in one shot.
 So, we wandered around and gawped.  Very cool.
Then we randomly stumbled onto the beginning of the guided tour!  It was led by Lee, who is now a volunteer.  He was an employee of NASA since the 60's, and lived through the golden age of space exploration.  His knowledge and passion shone through.  He led us through all 17 Apollo missions, and his tour was about 45 minutes.  I was enthralled with all of it, although some of the scientific stuff went over my head.  Super nerds would have a blast soaking up all the info he bestowed on us.
 This particular rocket would have been Apollo 18, which never flew.
 This was by far the highlight of our trip to NASA, and one of the biggest highlights of my whole vacation.
We went back to the space center and soaked up as much as we could.  There was an exhibit of space suits, and this one was actually on the moon.
 Some of them were quite old.  A lot of the older stuff from the late 50's and early 60's reminded me a lot of WWII.
 Here is an actual cockpit of one of the space shuttles.
 We went to a short film, and when it was done, they led us into a dark area and we were guided by some pretty important NASA people.  There were some amazing exhibits in this area.
 This is one of the 4 moon rovers that they built for the Apollo missions.  This one never went to the moon.  The other 3 are still up there.  How cool is that?
 We went into a big vault full of moon rocks.  The case is full of moon dirt.  It looks very cool.  Kinda shiny and metallic.
 There were so many exhibits and so much information to take in.  I was on information overload!  But it was a good feeling.  Like, if I learn anything else, my brain might explode!  Some of it has sunk in since then.
 We thoroughly enjoyed our day with NASA.
 Definitely a day full of great memories.
 I was so enthralled with that big rocket that I went on Pinterest that night and found some amazing photos of it in action.
 I can only imagine how incredible it would be to actually witness a rocket launch.  Seeing it laying on its side was spectacular enough, can you fathom what it would look, feel, and sound like to see it launch into the sky?
So amazing!!!