Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Break: Cayman Turtle Farm, Cayman Islands

When you arrive at Grand Cayman by cruise ship, you are shuttled ashore on a small boat called a tender, since there is no dock there large enough to accommodate the huge cruise ships. Riding the tender was no big deal for my little ones who are use to regular trips on ferry boats, but they were in awe of just how blue the water was. And, of course, the pirate ship we passed. What six and eight year-olds wouldn't be in awe of a "real live pirate ship?"

We had decided to spend the day at the Cayman Turtle Farm. I didn't know it until we got home, but the farm doesn't just raise turtles to release back into the wild; they also raise turtles for their meat and other parts. The Cayman Islands were originally dubbed Las Tortugas (The Turtles) by Columbus in the early 1500s due to the turtles found swimming around the islands. In fact, for many years ships would stop there to fish for fresh turtle meat to feed their crews. So much so that eventually the green sea turtles in that area had all but disappeared.

The Turtle Farm originally opened in 1968 to do just that - farm turtles. That continues today, but the farm is now also a research / education center and attracts over a half a million tourists each year.  The place is huge! Our time constraints only allowed us to see some of the attractions, and my husband and I decided that some day, we'd like to back to Grand Cayman. Perhaps rent a house on the beach for a week. I know it won't happen until I retire and braces and college are paid for, but a girl can dream...

Our first stop was the breeding pond. It was huge; full of turtles ready to mate and then crawl up onto the beach area to lay their eggs. Workers then collect the eggs and move them into a building where they control the turtle's development. Keeping the temperature below 85 degrees F (about 30 degrees C) creates mostly male turtles, while warmer temperatures produces predominantly female turtles.

The oldest turtle at the  farm is "Sparky." (She's the one in the bottom right of the photo above.) She is 65 years-old, has been at the farm since it opened, and is still going strong. We couldn't touch the big turtles,

or this guy. He posed so nicely for me on top of that pedestal, but as soon as my son made his move (to try to grab him,) the iguana bolted and hid in the shrubbery.

We could, however, get up close and personal with the younger turtles. They were so cute and stronger than you'd think. They've got a lot of power in those two front flippers.

Our guide told us the secret to keeping them calm is to rub them under their chin.When they would get excited and stare flapping those feet, a few little strokes was all it took to calm them down again. Just to be safe, we had to hold them over the tanks - in case one of them managed to wriggle away.

Even Grandma managed to catch one!

After we had our turtley fun, it was time to swim. At the farm they have a very large swimming / snorkeling area filled with many different species of fish, conchs, and sea turtles. Swim with sea turtles? We didn't have to ask the kids twice!

My son was much more confident this time and didn't hesitate to get into the water. Of course, little Miss K was off and exploring before I even managed to get my mask on...

We ate conch fritters, calamari, plantains, and jerk chicken for lunch before heading back to the ship. Along the way we were very glad that we had booked our shore excursion through the ship and not on our own. (When you book through the ship, they'll wait for you if there is a breakdown. Otherwise you may be left behind when the ship leaves port.)

As we rode along the highway, sitting in air conditioned comfort and reminiscing about our day, all of a sudden we heard an incredibly loud "bang," and then a repeated "thudding" and the back of the bus. (So loud that my ears rang for a long time afterward.) Just as we all turned in shock to see what happened, smoke started pouring out from under the seat on the back right side of the bus. The poor girl sitting there, who looked about 15, shot straight up and literally flew into her dad's lap a row or two ahead of her. 

Our driver assured us that he'd called for another bus to come pick us up and that we shouldn't have to wait long. I asked if I could take a few pictures of the wheel, which I did, but I would have loved a picture of the bus at the side of the road. Unfortunately, there was just too much traffic on the highway and it didn't seem safe, so I had to settle for the the photo of the delaminated tire.

Several of the ladies on the bus started complaining about how the wait was eating into their shopping time, but we didn't wait there for more than about 15 minutes. Another bus drove up, we got on, and were back at the port in no time. I thought the driver handled the situation perfectly. In fact, we really appreciated all the people we met on Grand Cayman.

Once we were back to port area we had some time before we had to board our tender back to the ship so the kids wanted to do a little shopping. My son learned how to haggle very quickly and managed to find a few good bargains. It was fun watching him decide exactly how he wanted to spend his vacation money. Sometimes waiting for him to decide was painful, but it's such an important lesson, don't you think?

Then we hopped on a tender, rode quietly back to the ship, and collapsed until dinner. If you've ever taken a cruise then you know all about the unending food. On a cruise ship, at least for us, dinner in the dining room was an event not to be missed. But that's a post for another day...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring Break: Stingray Beach, Cozumel

We decided to play it safe and use only ship-sponsored shore excursions that we thought would really appeal to the kids. The trip to Stingray Beach looked perfect! When we arrived we secured our stuff, got our supplies,

and got a short lesson on stingrays and the basics of snorkeling. (See the stuffed ray he's holding? The kids decided to part with some of their vacation money so they could each bring one home.) Our guide  also made sure to let us know that all the stingrays in their enclosure have had their stingers removed.

Then it was into the water! My little fish, I mean my daughter, took off like a rocket into the blue. No worries in her little head.

My, son on the other hand, needed a little encouragement to get into the water. Watching all those big gray spots moving around on the bottom was a bit unnerving, but once he put his face into the water he was hooked. Some of the rays were huge - easily three or four feet across. We learned later that the bigger ones were the females and that the smaller ones with the claspers at the base of their tails were the males.

We also spent some time in the shallows actually touching, feeding, and, if you wanted to, kissing the rays, but cameras weren't allowed during that portion of the day. Their photographer took pictures which they hoped you'd buy later. I understood because the majority of people don't have a waterproof camera and might have loved the opportunity to get a few pictures. But, I did have a waterproof camera and didn't think it was very nice when they asked me to put it away. However, they did ask me to put it away very politely, so I didn't argue. 

Later on, when I was looking at the pictures they took, I just couldn't see paying $35 US dollars for one photograph. I think they would be better off doing what I saw in Egypt - sell people a photo pass - permission to take pictures. I would have paid $10.00 to take my own pictures and they would have been ahead, but I'm not going to complain because we had a fantastic day.

After we got out of the water and dried off, there was a little time to hang out on the beach. They had lots for the kids to do while the adults soaked up a bit of sun, had a complimentary soda or looked at the photos available for purchase.

There were animals to touch and hermit crabs to race.

While my son just wanted to watch, my daughter chose on of the smaller crabs and immediately named him "Silly." He started out strong but then started to loop around the inner circle instead of heading out toward the outside. None of the other crabs moved until the kids were told they had to cheer for their crabs if they wanted them to win.

Once K started cheering, "Go Silly, go!" that little crab took off and beat every other one to the finish line. Which in and of itself was very exciting, but my daughter just about flipped when she found out that the prize for first place was a bag of chips - what ever kind she choose. She thought she might be able to bring the little guy home, but sadly he had to stay at Stingray Beach...

Here's their promotional video from YouTube to give you and idea about our day. If you are ever in Cozumel, I recommend stopping by...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring Break: New Orleans

I'd never been to Louisiana, so I was pretty excited to find out our cruise departed from New Orleans. The only down side was that we were really only going to get part of a day to explore the city. Of course it wasn't even a fraction of enough time, but we made the best of it.

After checking into the Intercontinental Hotel, we set out to find dinner. My Husband had read about this place and we were not disappointed. I don't remember which sandwich I had, but it was great and the kids were thrilled about having pancakes and bacon for dinner! Afterward, most of the group was ready to go back to the hotel, but not me. Luckily my brother-in-law was up for a little exploring. We decided to head over to Bourbon St...

Crazy would be an understatement - and it wasn't even Mardi Gras. I was glad we sent the kids back to the hotel - I'm not sure how I would have explained the "Barely Legal" club to my eight year-old son, or why he couldn't go into a bar to dance to Gangham Style. My brother-in-law and I walked around for a while listening to the music and people watching, (we were especially amused by the couple who were pushing an infant in a stroller while wearing T-shirts that said, "Drunk #1" and "Drunk #2.") We walked until we found this nice little spot with live music and fresh baked goods.

We didn't stay long - just long enough to pick up a few beignets for breakfast. (After watching the Princess and the Frog - I had to try one.) As the night life on Bourbon Street started to wind up, we were winding down so we walked back to the hotel and crashed. Though, I had to stop to get some pictures of the gas lights on the street. They were beautiful...

In the morning the kids, Grandma and I were itching to get out and see a bit more of the city before we had to leave. Neither my children or I had ever seen the Mississippi River - or the, as my daughter put it, "strange looking" sea gulls.

The train was also fun to watch. New citing always have so many interesting things to look at!

However, the highlight of the morning's walk was finding the ship. The kids knew it was going to be big, but they hadn't grasped just how absolutely gigantic it was.

All we had time left to do was get back to the hotel,  get in our taxis, and ride back to the terminal in time to board the ship at noon. The kids were all so excited; they knew our cruise aboard the Navigator of the Seas was going to be a trip to remember...

Photo Credit: 
Photo of New Orleans: kla4067

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Remember Me?

Hi there. I didn't mean to be away for so long, but as usual I got busy - very busy. But, I seem to have time to breathe again, so I thought I'd pop in to say hello.


Part of the reason I was so busy was that we took a cruise. You heard me - a cruise! My husband's parents took the whole family on a trip to help them celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Over the next week or so, I'll tell you all about it...