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Caribbean Cruise Christmas and New Year 2022-2023

Caribbean Cruise Christmas and New Year 2022-2023

Miami Beach, December 22-23

We aren’t strangers to Miami. In fact, we had a lovely weekend a year ago in Miami Beach at the Fontainbleu. We felt so much like regulars, we even went back to the restaurant where we had such an amazing anniversary dinner at last December. We love the vibrancy and the warmth. It felt so good to get off of that airplane and bask in the Florida heat and humidity knowing that we left behind some record breaking cold temperatures here in TN. The real drama was finagling the last two seats on the plane leaving a day early, sure that we would be delayed by weather if we stayed. Missing our cruise was decidedly NOT how we wanted to start this adventure! We stayed at an adorable boutique hotel, people watched and soaked up some poolside sun while we waited on our vacation to start. Yes, sometimes we realize just how fortunate we are to be us!

The Norwegian Encore Days at Sea- December 23-25

The cruise ship really is a floating resort. We spent the first two days at sea getting to know our way around, finding the best spots by the pool to get some sun, the best times and restaurants to show up for dinner and putting our drink package to excellent use. We had a great time on the sundeck watching sexy leg contests and making friends. We excelled at test-tasting mojitos, Bahama-mamas, and margaritas; although we never settled on a clear winner. The food was fantastic and plentiful. There were lots of people. Over 4,000 of them to be more precise. We settled in an embraced the experience. 

Aruba-December 26

At first glance, Aruba gave mixed signals. Beautiful water, but there were very few trees and lots of cheap unkempt industrial buildings and it just didn’t feel as clean as we expected for such a beautiful Carribean island. But, our first island day did not dissapoint. We didn’t have an excursion planned and just wanted to go to a beach and sit in the sun and enjoy the warm water. There were taxis right by the cruise ship pier and we shared a $15 cab ride with another couple we met while disembarking to go the highly recommended public beach known as Eagle Beach. We packed our own lightweight chairs, sunscreen and hats, as well as our own snorkeling kit and hit the beach. The water was crystal clear and and the sand was velvety soft. We got some rays and swam, then walked along the shore. When we decided to head back toward the boat we thought we would see how far we could make it on foot. We found a resort with a Tiki palava and got a fruity cocktail for sustenance. We then continued the journey, realizing that there is a boardwalk that runs from a public park just outside the cruise terminal, almost all the way to Eagle Beach! This includes many areas to swim and more waterside tiki bars. If we had known, we would have skipped the cab altogether. We did a brief walk down the mainstreet of town, but our stomachs and fair skin won out and we headed back onboard to have another evening of too much food and drink- woohoo!

Curacao-Decmber 27

One of the most common illnesses on a cruise ship is the dreaded GI bug- whether this was food borne illness or viral- the end result is that poor Adrian had a rough night and spent most of the day we were at port in Curacao catching up on sleep. I took the opportunity to check out a book from the ship’s library and the uncrowded pool deck to spend a very relaxing day looking out over the very beautiful Dutch island. Adrian’s take from the balcony was that there were more trees and seemed prettier than Aruba.

Bonaire-December 28

Years ago, Adrian added “Snorkeling in a tropical reef” to his bucket list. So, we had arranged with the cruise line to go on a snorkeling excursion while in Bonaire.  When we docked, we were thrilled with our decision, because the water was incredibly beautiful right off the pier and some people from the cruise chose to snorkel right there. In fact, the entire sea area around Bonaire is a protected marine park. The locals seemed friendly and cheerful and smiled as we walked by to get on the catamaran. The boat took us to two  snorkeling spots and both were incredible. It was like swimmming in a tropical  aquarium, with fish of all different sizes, shapes and colors. There were corals of all kinds- brain coral, tube coral, fans and so much more. Our favorite snorkeling spot was at No Name Beach on the island of Klien Bonaire. The beach was sandy and warm, the blue water clear as glass, and there was a small current that went from left to right. This meant we could walk up the beach, put on our snorkeling gear, swim out and be gently carried along while oohing and aahing at the amazing sea life below us. Adrian enjoyed this so much that he went back for a second run and almost got left by the boat. We did safely make it back to the ship, worn out after a wonderful day and then had to choose what fruity drinks to enjoy first. 

*Note: If you have your own snorkeling gear, you can get the same experience for far less money by taking a water taxi to the beach at Klien. 

St. Lucia- December 29.

St. Lucia was one of the highlights of the trip and we laugh about it often. First, Castries is a beautiful port with classic Caribbean views of blue water, sailboats, palm trees, mountains, and colorful houses. We didn’t have a shore excursion planned ahead of time and soon after leaving the ship, we found a local business called Papa Boat Tours offering a “two hour” catamaran tour to a beach and snorkeling spot for a good price (around $65). You know what they say about “3 hour tours”? Our “2 hour tour” was much better than that, but not without some adventures. 

St. Johns, Antigua December 30 -Dirty, locals hanging about, no obvious beach to go to

St. Thomas USVI December 31-Magens Beach, tiki hut, sea turtles, snorkeling, beautiful views, new years eve on boat

Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic January 1. Damajagua Falls. Adrians Birthday, dinner at french restaurant

Day at Sea January 2 -Finished books, made certain we got moneys worth from drink package, teppinyake




Mexico- Merida and Progreso, Yucatan. December 20, 2021-January 10, 2022

Mexico- Merida and Progreso, Yucatan. December 20, 2021-January 10, 2022

2021 ended almost with as big of a bang as it started off. We left for Mexico on December 20th and flew to Merida, an historic colonial city in the Yucatan peninsula. We wanted to include international travel in our plans and Mexico fit the bill with low COVID rates and reasonable accessibility. Merida has been on our bucket list as a top expat town for beautiful architecture, complex history, safety, and many modern amenities. It did not disappoint. Initially, after being dropped off at night by our taxi on a strange, quiet street in front of our AirBnB, we were intimidated by the barred, high wooden doors and stark stucco walls. 

Once we entered the casa, we discovered one of Merida’s secrets: behind the nondescript exteriors, there are often beautiful dwellings with colonial roots including courtyards, pools, rooftop sunning decks, mile-high ceilings, Moroccan tile, fountains, and oodles of history. We were lucky enough to stay in two of these historic homes in the city’s Centro area during our stay. The first AirBnB was “Casa Munys” and the second was “Casa Opium”, a beautiful Moroccan inspired oasis. We learned to incorporate new sounds into our understanding, like the time Cameron commented that the bicycle has very squeaky brakes. The “squeaky brakes” turned out to be a squeaker horn on a bicycle that a bread peddler (literally) would ride by on every day for breakfast and dinner, with his horn announcing his arrival. 

There was also the beep of automobiles going through intersections. Not the blaring honk of a New York City cab driver, but more of a soft notification ; stop signs are suggestions in Merida.

On Christmas and even more impressively on New Years, the sound of thousands of firecrackers and other fireworks across the city at all times of the night was a constant background for hours, but not overwhelming or scary. The smell of gunpowder wafted across the rooftop where we spent so much of our time. It felt like a joyous celebration of the holidays that spans location and culture. 

One incredible highlight of our time in Merida was that our children Will, Rachel, and Drew were able to join us for several days, including Christmas. We explored the city together, including the sprawling city markets where the locals shop, historical sights, ate ridiculous amounts of tasty Mexican food and relished each other’s company. Then, on Christmas morning, we met a tour guide at 5:45 AM for a day tour to Chichen Itza, a beautiful, private Mayan cenote, and the historical town of Izmal.  This was an amazing day to say the least. Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world, and the cenote was an astoundingly beautiful place in a Mayan family’s backyard. This was indeed a Feliz Navidad.

Some of our favorite places in Merida: The markets are lively, colorful, and a great source of fresh fruits and vegetables. We bought fresh vegetables almost every day, right around the corner from our AirBnB at the Mercado de Santiago. Usually, what they didn’t have, we were able to pick up at the Super Aki across the street. Soriana was a bigger store and a bit further away;  we did make a few trips to Wal-Mart via Uber for American style Christmas dinner. We also bought most of our meat there because we just felt it might be a bit safer, besides, at the markets, the meat may still have a head on it. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the big market, Lucas de Galvez. And by “big”, we mean ten+ city blocks with stalls, street vendors, people selling things balanced on their heads, carts, and throngs of people. One of our favorite street foods turned out to be a Lebanese-inspired gyro type meat on a tortilla shell, or Tacos al Pastor. The first time we tried it, there were no seats at the outdoor, covered patio in front of the food vendor. No problem. The waitress asked a local woman if it was okay if we shared her table. We managed to have a beautiful conversation despite the language barrier and were delighted to buy her lunch, which for all three of us, including delicious ice-cold Coca-Cola in glass bottles, came to under $5.  We enjoyed this so much, we brought the kids back to experience it. 

With the holidays and extra relaxation, we unfortunately missed the museums, which are said to be very good. That’s on our list for next time. We did enjoy the many parks around Merida. The Paseo de Montejo was an enjoyable walk with historic mansi0ns that we toured. Overall, we would highly recommend Merida and would be happy to return. 

A few days after the kids flew home, we traveled on to San Benito. This is a tiny little beach area that is a few kilometers from Progeso. In San Benito, we rented an AirBnB beach house with a pool deck that was steps away from the Gulf of Mexico with coconut palms right outside our door. 

San Benito is very rural and quiet, with few restaurants or stores. The entire shoreline seems to have been started and stopped at multiple times. There are currently multiple dwellings under construction and even more that appear to have been started at some point in the last decade and the stopped. We never could piece together a good reason for this, i.e.; weather or economic and are very curious what this area will look like in the next decade. 

We were fortunate enough to visit a local reserve called El Corchito. This island, filled with cenotes,  friendly racoons, and coatis was a delight. We were relieved to see how responsibly they were caring for the environment and not allowing sunscreen, perishable items, or food into the reserve. Additionally, the area is known for its salt water flats, which are pink and are home to crocodiles and pink flamingos. The area originally was developed as part of the Mayan salt trade. There are Mayan ruins in the area that are accessible and were built for this purpose. 

San Benito is near Progreso. This is a small town with a pretty beachfront area and many tourists. Cruise ships often stop here and allow passengers to disembark. There are a few fun restaurants and markets in town. 




2021 Year in Review

2021 Year in Review

Wow! Looking back on 2021, there is a lot to say. On the one hand, an epidemic was going on and with it, much uncertainty. But for us, the year held mostly promise. It started off with us as newlyweds embarking on an epic trip across the western United States. What an adventure! After spending almost every minute together in tight spaces for three months, we knew we wanted even more. 

After returning to Knoxville, we buckled down and returned to our routine at home. This involved some return to the office for Adrian and Cameron completing her DNP project proposal and getting back into the hospital setting as a graduate teaching assistant. Also, we continued our stint as home remodeling “experts”, completing a kitchen and laundry room redo and Cameron planted and maintained an impressive garden.

We managed to do a few side trips along the way:

  • Mother’s Day in Crystal River, Saint Augustine, and Gainesville, Florida
  • Big South Fork camping and trail work in June
  • Lake Jocassee  camping in July
  • Adrian went to Arizona in September

We had several family members visit along the way as well. Then, in December, we left for another epic trip- Mexico!

Bentonville Arkansas, March 28- April 1

Bentonville Arkansas, March 28- April 1

Bentonville, Arkansas was a wonder of a town and we weren’t sure what to expect other than lots of fantastic mountain biking and a good recommendation about the art museum. As a friend said The Walton Family basically screwed over the rest of the United States but made Bentonville awesome. with the money. The trails were even better than we had imagined and made Adrian wish we had similar beginner-friendly dirt trails here, the restaurants were great and the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art was astounding. This was another highlight of our trip and definitely plan to go back. 

Colorado Memories- Beautiful towns, great friends, more adventures. March 10-March 26

Colorado Memories- Beautiful towns, great friends, more adventures. March 10-March 26

This was one of our favorite parts of the trip. Colorado was even more beautiful than we had anticipated. One of our absolute favorite towns was discovered and involved all-day hot spring soaking, unlimited champagne, and fabulous views. We even had some visitors in Colorado Springs and enjoyed the snow. Despite this being the wrap up leg of our trip, it did not disappoint. 

Hopefully more details to be added later…


Grand Junction and Fruita, March 3- March 9

Grand Junction and Fruita, March 3- March 9

After leaving Moab and Arches, we headed on into Colorado. This was Adrian’s first time ever being there after many people recommending the state. It did not disappoint, and Grand Junction and Fruita were a good introduction. 

On our way into town, we stopped in Fruita first to grab a bite to eat at the Hot Tomato pizza place in the quaint downtown area. We had seen the Hot Tomato in a Banff Mountain Film Fest film that highlighted the restaurant, the owners, the town, and mountain biking.  It was neat to eat at a place we heard about months before on the other side of the country.  While in downtown, we stopped in a local bike shop and bought some trail maps. These maps are excellent and extremely helpful, with detailed directions and descriptions of the trails. 

From downtown, we checked out the famous 18 Road trails. These are fantastic, and a good “intro to Colorado mountain biking”.

The city of Grand Junction wasn’t very impressive, but the surrounding areas are magnificent and it is a mountain biker’s dream town, mostly thanks to the hard working folks at the Colorado Plateau Mountain Biking Association





Arches National Park, February 28-March 3

Arches National Park, February 28-March 3


We thought the entrance to Zion was stunning and hard to beat and then we arrived at Arches National Park. We had been driving for most of the day and were fairly worn out, but the higher than high and impossibly red cliffs once again captivated us. We took the time to drive through the park at sunset, mouths hanging open in astonishment, and quickly making plans for hiking the next day. With a fresh skiing knee injury, we opted for the a more moderate hike with the most views of arches. We were not disappointed and have some wonderful photographs to prove it.

Since we were staying in Moab and had some shiny new bikes, we definitely had mountain biking planned. We headed out to the famous Bar M trails and couldn’t believe how warm it was. We shucked off some layers and headed out on the trail. There was a good climb at the beginning but the Rusty Spur trail at the end had lots of fun twists and turns without being too technical. The sun had set and we realized what a difference that made in the temperature…it was a race to get back. Except that…we had….no keys!  We started with keys, but dropped them somewhere along the trail.  The pockets were empty except for some lint, which was just about as exciting as the prospect of riding the 5 miles into Moab. Luckily, an energetic biker popped up next to us and she offered us a lift. Adrian turned out to be the short straw holder while Morgan from Moab took Cameron back to the hotel for a spare key. In the end, we got to take Morgan to dinner as a thank you, and enjoyed meeting a fellow traveler/road/work/warrior to boot. All’s well that ends well when people are nice. And you know what, they usually are!




Capitol Reef National Park, February 27-28

Capitol Reef National Park, February 27-28

We got into the town of  Torrey, UT in the evening, but were so close to Capital Reef, we just wanted to take a sneak peak. We drove into the park directly through the historic town of Fruita. This little farming town that had been originally settled by Mormons, was bought out by the National Park Service in pieces throughout the 1900’s. Fruita had never been a large settlement.  The one room school house that doubled as a dance hall and wedding venue was scarcely larger than a walk-in closet!

Still, it was easy to see why the settlers had stayed and hard to see why they left. The entrance to Capital Reef is flanked by red-cliff walls and a sweet lush meadow in the valley, with the picturesque Fremont River, complete with bubbling rapids, running right through the center. Mule deer graze without a care. We caught a stunning sunset and then braved the chilly night air to watch the sky turn to velvet. The full moon made a spectacular guest appearance. However, our grumbling stomachs took over and we found a BBQ/pizza establishment with red ale on tap that was still open in the off season. The warm atmosphere contrasted with a fun but surly waitress to cap off the night spectacularly. 

Our first hike started out on a canyon wash that had been at one time, the only road into town. Very old (and very neat) graffiti had been carved into the cliff walls by bored teenagers near the turn of the century. These carvings appeared at great heights, making us wonder about the degree of erosion and how different the wash looked today as opposed to hundreds of years ago. The scenery remained stunning, and we questioned if we could just take in any more natural beauty. We finished up the hike grateful for the experience and ready to see what the surly waitress had on tap. We got to meet and chat with a few fellow travelers in the hotel hot-tub (this has become our main method of meeting new people)!

We finished the weekend with a hike to see our first true arch of the American Southwest and were awed by the wonder. We were sad to leave Capital Reef, but excited to head into the legendary Moab and Arches National Park. Our list of adventures and favorite places continued to get longer…just not quite as as wide as the smiles on our faces.


Salt Lake City, February 21-26

Salt Lake City, February 21-26

After a fast, amazing weekend in Zion National Park, we arrived in Salt Lake City after a beautiful but snowy drive north that took a bit longer than planned. It was absolutely worth it. We arrived in the evening and met Cameron’s brother Greg for a quick bite. Greg spends the ski season in Salt Lake due to the amazing snow conditions and nearby resorts and we were happy to get to spend time with him.

The sheer size of the greater SLC area was a huge surprise to us. Somehow, we had pictured a smaller version of the city with much less sprawl, yet still surrounded by the majestic snowy mountains.

Our cute, homey Airbnb was in downtown and getting around was pretty easy. We had ordered a replacement bike for Adrian that he was (and still is) excited about. With so many neat areas still to explore on this trip, we were hopeful that a city of this size would have some bike options for Cameron as well, despite a severe shortage of bicycles due to the pandemic. A great tip from our AirBnB host had us in a great local bike shop with an amazing selection. Cameron matched with a fantastic bike and we made plans to pick it up on the way out of town. Knowing that some epic mountain biking destinations were in our path, this was important to us.

In the meantime, work was awaiting us both, knowing we were planning to take Wednesday off to ski. A fun time was had by all, and it was Adrian’s first time ever skiing a big, western ski area. Needless to say, he is hooked!

Zion National Park, February 20-21

Zion National Park, February 20-21

We were not sure what to expect heading into Zion National Park. We had seen many beautiful landscapes by that point, from the barren Texas desert to snow covered mountains in Flagstaff. However, Zion turned out to be something truly remarkable. First, the majestic red cliffs of the Checkerboard Mesa rose high above us with a simultaneous archaic and otherworldly feel. Just as we were ingesting the impossible soaring cliffs we entered the 1.1 mile long tunnel and more formal entrance into the park. The tunnel itself is impressive as we imagined tons of dynamite blasting away at this grand vestibule that literally millions of people have driven through. Along the way, sudden picture windows would arise out of nowhere, giving drive-by glimpses of the stunning canyon below, framed by even higher cliff walls than we have ever seen.

Once we made it to the more popular west entrance, we could not decide which view captivated our attention more as the red cliff walls seem to reach to the heavens and the canyons to unbelievable depths. In a beautiful Purgatory sat grassy meadows with a meandering river and frolicking mule deer. A friend told us that Zion would be life-changing, and she was right.

The only downside was that we arrived at the park in mid-afternoon and the weather was already turning colder with rain clouds visible in the distance. Many of the hikes in Zion take advantage of the slickrock (which isn’t slick) and slot canyons. Both of these are dangerous during wet and rainy conditions. We did opt for a beautiful hike to the three Emerald pools and were not disappointed. Our videos say much more than we can.

After some great hikes with lots of other tourists, we decided to hike a less popular trail up a canyon on our way out. We saw some beautiful twisty, thin slot canyons with pools of water in them and at one point, we surprised some Bighorn sheep which was very neat.


We were thoroughly delighted with the town of Springdale, which is a fun and beautiful town just on the outskirts of Zion National Park. The people were friendly, there are many options for restaurants and excursions, as well as great options for lodging. An absolute shout out to the Best Western in Springdale, Utah as it had an enormous hot tub that was not only open, but with plenty of space to safely relax and look at the amazing sky and views and still keep our distance. We did meet a few people in the hot tub, even from 6 feet away. One gentleman who was lucky enough to come to Zion for work from Colorado often and a group of young people visiting from Minnesota. In the social desert that has been COVID-19 it felt like an absolute cocktail party. Perhaps an even better analogy is the first day of kindergarten when you come home and are excited to realize that you’ve made friends! We love, love, loved this part of  the trip and hated to leave with so many things in Zion left unexplored but recognizing at this point that every new adventure meant something new and fantastic around the corner.