Craft the Travel

Cruise to Cuba. The Final Day.

Our bunco group (dice game) starting planning our get-away in August of 2018 and finally set sail June 3rd of 2019. Little did we know due to US policy change with Cuba, we would literally be the last cruise ship in the Havana Port!

The Norwegian Sky in the port of Havana, Cuba on June 4th, 2019 for the last time.

Our trip started in South Beach, Miami, Florida at the Cadillac Hotel and Beach Club found at Collins and 39th. I have stayed at many hotels in South Beach and the Cadillac was one of my best stays in Miami. The service was excellent and they accommodated my many special requests. I enjoyed their room service, beach side service and pool side dining. Their room rates include two beach chairs and access is easy and convenient to use.

Balcony view from an ‘Ocean View’ room on floor 5.

I arrived on the 1st anticipating the rest of the group to begin arriving early on the 2nd. Sadly thanks to weather and/or American Airlines, all the Sunday flights were delayed and the rest of our group didn’t get in until 7p, 8p and 9p o’clock, Sunday night. When your travel agent recommends arriving (at least) a day early for your cruise, listen!

Me, patiently waiting for the other ladies in our group.

We were still able to slip in a late dinner at Nikki Beach and enjoy friends and food!

The next morning, Monday, we left the Cadillac for the port of Miami for a 12/12:30p check-in. We had a great Uber driver the evening before that we used again for the Hotel-to-Port run in a big Suburban. He was able to fit all our ladies and luggage! What a champ!

We turned our luggage over to the porter, made our way through security and Norwegian check-in to the ship. The process was simple and easy. We stepped on board and started exploring the ship. I made my way straight to guest services to book our dinner reservations for the three nights we would be dining on the ship. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to eat in the specialty restaurants especially with a large party. We were aboard the Norwegian Sky, which was refurbished and completed in early 2019. Overall I think everyone felt that the ship was lovely with plenty of entertainment for the period of time we were aboard. I would recommend this ship for any short cruises with Norwegian.

On board the Norwegian Sky

We received access to our rooms later in the afternoon and luggage was delivered shortly after. We were all in row on level 9, balcony cabins 9016 to 9019 on the port side of the ship. It was a quiet, convenient, near bow location with good proximity to the stairs and elevators. The next level up was floor 10 which was also directly below most of the action, so I’m not sure I would book myself or clients on anything higher than floor 9. We settled into our rooms and dressed for dinner. Some of us that were ready early stopped in at bingo before dinner at Le Bistro.

Amy, Keely, Martha and I ready to B-I-N-G-O!

As part of our cruise package we had complimentary 3-course dinners at each of the 3 specialty restaurants on-board the Sky. Our first night was at Le Bistro, French Cuisine. I enjoyed mussels, the sea bass and a bite of several lovely desserts.

Our first dinner on the Sky at Le Bistro.

The next morning we pulled into Cuba and I was up bright and early at 6:30am to get our group ‘disembarkation’ tickets AND had the privilege to enjoy SUNRISE in CUBA! When you don’t have an excursion booked through the cruise line, you need these tickets to leave the ship.

Our reservations with the car tour company, Old Cars Havana, were for 10am, so we had breakfast and left the ship just before 9am. We were off the ship, through security and customs in no time. We also exchanged our money. We took Euros for a better exchange rate than Dollars and each had about 200-300 cucs. We had a little time to walk the streets before meeting our tour guides.

Special mention and thanks to Martha and Somer for booking this reservation from the referral of a friend. Our English-speaking guide, Katherine was quite knowledgeable and interested in making sure we were happy. Our drivers and cars were excellent too. Don’t be afraid to book outside of the cruise line. It was far less expensive, private and easy!

To say Cuba is the land of the ‘classic American car’ is an understatement. They were EVERYWHERE and FABULOUS to look at. Everyone was very friendly about letting us gawk, ooh-n-aww, and photograph their cars.

Tons and tons of mint condition classic American cars.

We drove all over to many historical sites like the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, the Marecon, The Jesus Christ, and Revolution Square. For all my sightseeing photos, checkout my photography website. We made a short stop for ‘the best pina coladas’, stopped in a rum & cigar shop and ultimately settled for lunch in a ‘backyard’.

Our tour guides said…’Would you like to have lunch in a family’s backyard?’ We thought….ooooh! How fabulous, yes! We will be their honored guests.’ After a long hot morning and early afternoon of touring we were starving and ready to feast. We walked to a house and sure enough, through the fence was a full blown restaurant called Buenaventura with MANY tables and honored guests! Ha! Excellent, authentic, Cuban food in a fun, music-filled atmosphere. After lunch, we made our way back to the cars, shopped for a few quick souvenirs and headed back to the port for a little rest and relaxation.

Hot, tired and sweaty….but FULL of FAB Cuban cuisine.

This is where things got interesting…we were chilling on the ship when the cruise director came on the PA to announce that we MAY not be allowed back off the ship into Cuba. He was waiting for more info from Corporate and would get back to us. About thirty minutes later he announced all was a go and we WOULD be allowed back off. We decided we better hurry up and get back off before they changed their minds again! We had terrace top, dinner reservations at The Cuban Coin,

Alex and Jordan picked us up in their convertibles after dinner and took us to The Tropicana where we had reservations for the show.

Amy, Keely and I in Alex’s Car.

I booked our tickets direct with the Tropicana versus through the cruise line and saved us half the price. We had premium-seat tickets which included rum & coke and peanuts and we were seated directly center stage. The show was amazing! It went on for about an hour and a half and was very entertaining. The opera singers were phenomenal! If you are on facebook and want to see my videos of the show, view here. To see all my photos from the Tropicana, view my photography site, LoveCameraEarth.com. After our evening in Havana, we re-boarded the ship and sought out the dance club. We enjoyed dancing and celebrating Amy’s pre-pre-birthday! ūü§£

Cheri did an amazing job and surprised Amy with a ‘Happy Birthday’ door!

If we learned one thing about touring in Havana, Cuba is take TOILET PAPER with you as none is provided in most public restrooms and RUM is plentiful and handed out by the bottle when you order drinks!

Key Havana insights….Rum and Toilet Paper!

The next day, Wednesday, we marveled at our good fortune and how we were the LAST cruise ship in Havana!! How awesome! Everyone had a ‘chill’ day and did their own thing. I booked a hot-stone massage, attended a painting class, napped and dressed for the ‘Captain’s Cocktail Party’ Keely and I attended. We met the group for dinner at the Italian Eatery, La Cucina. This was also ‘white party’ night hence why we are all dressed in white!

Our last full day aboard the Sky was spent at Norwegian’s private island called, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. We took tender boats over to the island where we had booked a private cabana. Martha, Irina and Somer went to ‘Swim with the Pigs’ while the rest of the group relaxed at the beach. Our cabana was on a lovely out-of-the-way beach on the island. We enjoyed swimming in the ocean and eating at the restaurants on the island. Since the island is owned by Norwegian all the food and drinks are included in your cruise fare. The only downfall is that they close it up early and stop serving food by about 2pm. Amy and I first stopped at the taco bar, then found some nibbles on the main lunch buffet and Cheri helped me find the dessert bar to top it off! Ha! Last day – had to blow it out! ‚̧

We spent our last evening and Amy’s official birthday dinner at Cagney’s steakhouse. It was a late dinner so we meet up early at our favorite bar on the ship, ‘Sugarcane’, The Mojito Bar for Friends trivia. We played Yahtzee and ate bar snacks until time for dinner. Everyone enjoyed dinner and lots of desserts to celebrate Amy! The thoughtful and amazing, Cheri surprised us all with birthday hats and cups. She really is the best!

Final dinner at the Steakhouse, Cagney’s for Amy’s Birthday!

The next morning everyone had their own departure plans, so some left as soon as they opened the gate at 7:40am, while Martha, Somer and I were the last ones off the ship at just after 9am. We enjoyed breakfast in the main dining room and took our time getting off the ship and getting a car to take us to the airport. No customs issues with our Cuban purchases and no flight issues for anyone getting home. Amy once said ‘Life is about experiences’ and that is a sentiment very close to my heart too. I thank these ladies so much for taking time away from their families to spend with me and as a group. We all refueled our tanks with adventure, excitement and relaxation…something every mom needs!

Bon Voyage, from the Norwegian Sky!

A cruise made it very easy to enjoy each other’s company, but have space and freedom to relax and ‘do our own thing.’ Norwegian never made my experience feel restricted and I would hands down recommend the line for your cruising vacation!

Norwegian Sky in the Port of Havana
Craft the Travel

Costa Rica, Yoga and Boca Sombrero

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica! I found myself invited by my friend Brook to photograph her yoga retreat.

Bye Dallas, Hello Costa Rica!

Let me take a step back and mention this conversation happened a week before she was set to depart. Thanks to my travel agent connections, I was able to secure the same flights as my friend at below market rates, so I took this as a sure sign it was my destiny to attend. This was the first time I left Sebastian and Cliff for more than just a few days and I sure missed them! Our flights started early on a Saturday taking us from DFW to FLL, Ft Lauderdale to San Jose, Costa Rica and finally SJO to the tiny air strip of Puerto Jimenez (PJM).

Upon our arrival in Puerto Jimenez, we met our driver and he took us to Boca Sombrero. Boca Sombrero is a property owned by two German families and managed by Monika & Walter. There are three, multi-room, open-air houses and seven ‚Äėglamping‚Äô tents. The houses have kitchens, outdoor showers, toilets and sinks, one large bedroom with multiple beds, a sitting area and the house I stayed in, a pool.

The tents are a raised bed with tent and patio with seating. The have showers and sinks, but no toilet. There are common toilets in the area.

All living quarters are open-air, meaning, no air-conditioning, but the temperatures are moderate (80-90’s) and at night lower paired with frequent swimming and finding shade, acclimation is not difficult. The property is on the ocean, specifically the Pacific side in the bay of Osa.

After arriving to the property, it was late and the kitchen was closed so we made our way to a local restaurant/bar called Martina’s and had great local homemade cuisine. Since I arrived early with the retreat organizers, I slept my first night in my house by myself. All night I could hear the sounds of the Jungle and was greeted bright and early by the rising sun. Meals were prepared for us during the rest of the stay in the main house.

Beautiful assortments of salads, fruits, homemade dressings, breads (and gluten free options), tortillas, rice, beans, assortments of cooked vegetables, papas, fish, soups and always a freshly squeezed juice.

My first morning was spent at the pool getting to know a fellow guest that had arrived overnight. Later in the day, Brook had arranged a Thai massage for me. Thai massage involved lying flat on a padded floor mat while the practioner moves limbs, connects to pressure points and joins in with guided breathing. It can be an experience of intensity and pleasure.  After this two hour experience the majority of our group had arrived and I met my fellow housemates. Brook and Javanne, lead an opening circle of intention setting, meet-n-great and team building. Then we adjourned for dinner and a brief overview of what the week had in-store for us.

Monday morning started bright and early with a Brook-lead yoga session. I observed through my lens. Processed photos, chatted with my new housemates, enjoyed amazing healthy, meals by the staff at Boca Sombrero and shot the late day cool-down yoga class.

Tuesday morning after yoga, a guest lead a ‚ÄėFollowing your Passion‚Äô talk and I enjoyed a great brainstorming session afterward with the group. After lunch, seven of us left the property by horseback with the staff of Rancho Tropical for an afternoon‚Äôs journey. Several in the group repelled a 125ft tropical fig and later a waterfall. I enjoyed photographing the group and exploring the terrain. We rode the horses back to Boca Sombrero and enjoyed sunset.

Wednesday morning we enjoyed a several mile hike with Monika and Nele who run Boca Sombrero. They took us through the jungle, in the river, through waterfalls and caves and taught us about native trees and animals. We stayed mostly under the canopy and wet, so the warm temperatures made for a lovely day.

Thursday took us out on the Golfo Dulce by boat on the La Sirena. Josh taught us about the golfo, told fun tidbits and stories and took us to many areas where the dolphins play and frolick.

Part of the group split off and toured a local animal sanctuary where we met, Sweetie the monkey and Rose with her baby. Sweetie loved to be scratched and would jump on the back of the men. She is partial like that. ūüėČ We also met a tayra, an ocelot, a kinkajou, a peccary, a few more monkies and sloths. We had up close and personal encounters with each which made the experience one to remember.

Each day offered yoga classes, pool time, surfing on some days and lots of eating and socializing.

Friday was a great day for everyone to relax, have massage, acupuncture or thai massage. That evening we had an early dinner and then went to Martina’s for the local craft market and drinks for those that wished to partake.

Over the course of the week I was able to catch Brook for a few impromtu photo shoot moments.

While I am not a morning person the sounds of the jungle start early and whether you want to or not you learn to live with nature. I found myself up one morning enjoying the sunrise and the macaws.

During the retreat, we were eached given a ‘secret santa’ person that we were to observe and grace with some sort of small gift. It could be in the way of words like a poem, small token or something found or handmade. I elected to gift a photo shoot to my friend, Katie.

Saturday found everyone making their way home back to California, New Mexico, Texas or Pennsylvania. The traveling day can be a long one, but Costa Rica is a beautiful country with unique adventuress, animals and lots of eco-conscience lodging. I will leave you with sounds from Playa Sombrero.

Sounds of Playa Sombrero

If you would like assistance booking a trip to Costa Rica, let’s chat! I’d love to use my inside knowledge to help you have the best experience possible! Contact me to get started. To view all the pictures from Costa Rica and the Retreat, click the provided links. Adios!

Craft the Travel

2018, A year’s reflection. Welcome, 2019!

January took us to Santa Fe, NM for skiing and to breath in the blissful aromas of pinon wood.

February and March were trip free, but we made a big decision to put our beloved lake house on Lake Texoma on the market.

218 Island View.

April, Sebastian and I took an educational trip to Washington DC …..

Washington DC, In front of the Portrait Gallery

…and later that month a friend and I got away to a women’s retreat in Hugo, OK.

Crescent Moon Lodge in Hugo, OK

May we went to Disney World in Orlando with my sister and nieces….

the Magic Kingdom shot

AND I joined a travel agency and started Craft the Travel.

June 23rd we closed on our lake house and shortly after left for Punta Cana, DR to celebrate our closing and the 4th of July.

the DR has some of the most pristine beaches I have found to date.

….and later that month I went with a friend to Riviera Maya, MX.

El Dorado Maroma by Karisma

At the tail end of July into August, we made a trip out to Vero Beach FL to see friends.

Nasa in Cape Canaveral

Later in August we did a few days of learning and exploring museums in Ft Worth, TX.

Exploring Downtown Ft Worth and Musesums

In September, over Cliff’s birthday we left for Abaco, Bahamas and lived on the catamaran known as Goya for a week. Then sailed down to Eluethera, BH and journeyed by car around the island for a few more days.

The Amazing Captain Keino on Piggeyville, Cay

In early October, I went to Charlotte, NC for the Dream Maker training with my travel agency.

Dream Maker Training

At the end of October into November, Sebastian and I went to Salem, MA for Halloween, and then made our way down to Plymouth, MA and the Cape.

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass

We finished up the year, over my birthday on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Finally and sadly, right after Christmas and our 14th wedding anniversary, we lost my mother of 68 years to Cancer.

Me, my Mom & Dad…back in the 70’s.

2018 was bittersweet. We made some major life decisions, saw more of the world in one year than ever before and lost people that were close to our hearts. I am excited for where 2019 will take us….destinations, decisions and always striving to live our best lives. #12tripyear #10byAir #2byCar #500DaysSober #GoodbyeMom #GoodbyeChris #GoodbyePat #CatamaranCharterLife #2019Skiing #2019Miami #2019Exuma #2019England #2019Cuba

Craft the Travel

This is not the Cancun I remember! It’s better. It’s the Riviera Maya.

The last time I was in Cancun, Mexico I was in my twenties. We did a typical ‘hotel zone’ stay off the strip, tanned on the beach and visited Mayan Ruins in Tulum. I remember getting off at a small airport and taking a small school-bus type van to our hotel. The guys on the van had a cooler full of iced down Corona and liberally distributed them during the ride. Long gone are those basic days for Mexico. It has clearly ‘grown-up’ in the world of tourism.

We flew on Sun Country.¬† I hadn’t used them since my 20’s but the tickets were a great price and I thought I would try them again. The flight going to Cancun was delayed twice, so they did rob us of having a real dinner at the resort our first night. We settled for room service after check-in. The airline did complimentary¬†upgrade us to¬†exit row seats and functioned on-time returning home. I want to note that with this airline if your flight is delayed – it does NOT mean you can check-in later than the 2-hr window from your original flight time. We did not know this and waited at home during the ‘delayed’ time. Come to find out we checked-in with 8 minutes to spare. Since charter, vacation airlines only fly a specific route/day/time they don’t keep a schedule like the majors (AA, United, Southwest) do. While this doesn’t mean all charters are late and all majors are on-time, I do think the fact that the majors have a schedule to keep helps them stay on time more often than not.¬† Just my two cents when choosing who to fly!

To my pleasant surprise, we stepped off our plane and into Cancun’s fully updated and modern airport. It was clean, air-conditioned, fast and efficient at handling the tourist. If you are ‘carry-on only’ you are through lickety-split. They have craftily created an area that you must pass through full of small lectern-type desks. It appears that these are here to help guide you or give information…..while they will happily give you info, it is not agenda-free. These are representatives of ‘Mexico Tourism’ and the Mexican-owned ‘time-share’ property Vidanta. They want you to buy/stay in Mexico-owned properties versus foreign-owned. They will entice you with all kinds of good freebies or discounts on tours/excursions for a mere 90 minutes of your time (try more like 5 hours). Just keep walking! If you have prearranged transfer or need a taxi, they will be waiting for you just outside the exit, so again KEEP MOVING.

We had pre-arranged, private transfer with Lomas Travel and they did a first class job at getting us to and from our resort. This was my first time to stay in an ‘Adult-Only’ property as I typically travel with my son. I was interested in staying here because of my desire to investigate the ‘Palafitas’ (which I will cover later), but the generous travel agent discounted rate on the suite helped seal the deal to take the trip. Oh, the demands of the travel business! ūüėČ

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Continue reading “This is not the Cancun I remember! It’s better. It’s the Riviera Maya.”

Craft the Travel

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Leaving the Flock

Friends, Let’s Catch-up!

We are here in Orlando getting close to the end of our trip. This has been a well-timed trip.  Many things are in flux and changing in our world, so to take time to slow down and just enjoy ourselves in the company of family has been a nice change of pace. I will follow up with more on Orlando and Disney in a follow-up post.

I’ll catch you up on the last month or so of homeschool activities. We continue to tackle our basics (reading/writing/math/spelling/good citizenship) on a weekly basis and keep our schedule full of ‘field trips’ and ‘meet-ups’. The DMA continues to provide lovely, monthly art classes rich in both art education and hands-on fun. We gave a run at an ‘escape the room’ game with some of our homeschool friends and made it out with moments to spare. It was exciting for the team to work together and WIN! We worked a month on studying Picasso and cubism. This study finished with painting ‘Picasso inspired’ selfies. I guess my inner ‘she’ is¬†Medusa! Ha! We have a new relationship with the director of Soar United, Lynn. She has REALLY stepped up to the plate and opened up the doors to Soar so our kids can have a fun, weekly place to be ninja warriors, play soccer and dodgeball. We are excited that this is continuing on and if you are Dallas local, feel free to join. (Tuesdays from 11a to 3p). Mention you are with the homeschool group for a discounted rate. We had heard about everyone visiting the Crayola Experience up in Plano, so we decided to try it too. We enjoyed the day, but for others considering it, we felt it was for younger kids or those really into coloring/crayon projects.

If you haven’t heard by now, we are making some big changes in our personal lives. We are selling our lake home in preparation of moving in a worldschooling¬†direction.

Deck-Exterior1.jpg

I have also affiliated with a wonderful, long-standing, incredibly connected travel company and taken on an Independent Travel Agent role. You will see changes as our blog evolves from just ‘homeschooling in Dallas’ to ‘Worldschooling and Travel Adventures’.¬† The deals, resources and inside info is TO DIE FOR!! I’m through the preliminary training and business set-up and really have not been as excited about my career since I launched Juxby in 2011.¬† I CAN.NOT.WAIT to share more info about this new journey and how it may help you too! CLEARLY a blog is coming about this.

Enoy¬†the rest of your weekend and happy early mother’s day to all my fellow moms. Whether you homeschool, worldschool, public school or private school, we are all just making the best choices with the resources we each have available to us for the betterment of our child’s future. I salute you and hope you do something nice for yourself tomorrow! (like take a nap! ūüėČ ) ūüėė