Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vacation Report #6 Cozumel, Mexico

September 13, 2006

As we again enjoyed breakfast at Topsiders Buffet, we were gliding between the Island of Cozumel and the Mexican mainland...specifically the Yucatan Pennisula. As we approaced the Punta Langosta pier, the ship slowed its motion and we saw the tender boats approaching.

Again, we had no tours scheduled, so we took our time getting off the ship. Our day would be a day at Paradise Beach. We boarded the huge tender boats. Cozumel did have three enormous piers, Punta Langosta, TMM International Pier, and the Puerta Maya. The latter was owned by Carnival cruise lines. All three were put out of comission when Hurricane Wilma hit last year. I believe she was a Category 5 when she stalled over the region for 60 hours! The piers are slowly getting back into repair. Due to this we boarded the aforementioned tenders. The tender process was much slower in Cozumel as the ships were much larger and the ship was anchored further from shore.

We finally were feet dry in Mexico. Immediately I noticed Hurricane damage to the Punta Langosta mall area. This bustling area is directly on the waterfront and a section of the mall was totally gone! I remember walking through the shops and on floors that were no longer there! As we rode in cab south on Avenida Rafael Melgar, more hurricane damage was evident as sections of the seawall were missing or crumbling. However, it was good to see new construction. As we went into the jungle south of town, there was evidence of trees being uprooted. We soon approached our destination. We got out, picked out our chairs and were in the Caribbean Sea. After about 40 minutes, storm clouds approached and the floodgates opened. For a short while, we all huddled under our umbrella, but soon Elaine took the kids to the pavillion. The storm refused to let up, so I soon joined them and then grabbed a cab back to town and the ship. Once in town, Elaine the kids and I, shopped in a few stores and bought some Cozumel t shirts. We had to get one for our dog sitter!

Soon we were back on board and in dry clothes! Dad, Mom and Tracy returned a little later and they reported to us that the storm cleared up and that they were able to rent a jet ski. They had a good time and were able to travel a great distance in a short time.

The theme for the evening was Pirates In the Caribbean. We came to dinner and were immediately given pirate bandanas. Dante and Cloverly tied them and placed them on all of our heads. Dinner was a tropical theme. I had Buccaneer's Sun Ripened Pineapple for an appetizer, Caribbean style Spicy Vegetable Gumbo soup, Castaway Cay's Chicken Breast rubbed with Pirate Island Spice, and for desert Walk the Plank triple layered Chocolate Gangplank Cake. This was one of my favorite meals! It was great! I must say that I enjoyed the tropical menu's the most!

The program for the evening was the Pirates In the Caribbean Deck Party. This started at 9:30 and concluded at about 10:45 with fireworks. It was a great time! Following the party, there was an 11:00 pm showing of Pirates of the Caribbean The Curse of the Black Pearl on the Big Screen at the Goofy Pool. Tracy and I grabbed a lounge each and watched the first hour or so of this great flick.

While enjoying one of my favorite movies in the Caribbean, i began to doze off and soon decided to head back to our stateroom. Our next day would be a relaxing day at sea.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vacation Report #5 Grand Cayman, BWI

September 12, 2006

Today we arrived bright and early to the beautiful island of Grand Cayman, BWI. This is my favorite island in the Western Caribbean. It is small, and very clean. A stop in Grand Cayman is not complete unless you visit the world famous 7 Mile Beach.

We arrived in Grand Cayman prior to waking up. I looked out our porthole and saw the tenderboats tieing on to the Magic. We went up to Topsiders and had a good breakfast underneath a bright Caribbean sky. As we were eating, some "Pirate" ships were circling the Magic as well as the Carnival Miracle. I was surprised to hear cannon shots, and it added to the unique realism. Grand Cayman after all, was a pirate haunt before the British navy banished and killed the pirates. Pirates such as Captain Morgan and Blackbeard frequented Grand Cayman.

We took our time to catch a tender as we did not have any tours or anything planned. Upon arrival on shore, we met our taxi driver Damon who took us to the beach and showed us some of the devastation from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. He took us to Sea Grape Beach, a section of the aforementioned 7 Mile Beach. We enjoyed our time there. It was interesting. There were some young adults no doubt from the Carnival Miracle floating around near us. They spotted a jellyfish. They had to be land locked as they were totally terrified by it. Samantha, my 6 year old daughter, grabs her bucket, scoops up the jellyfish and drops it in the sand! I guess she is a true new englander! Soon some storm clouds gathered just south of the beach and we decided to go back to the ship. Damon our driver was waiting for us. Dad and I took the kids to the ship, while Elaine, Tracy and Mom hit some of the shops in Georgetown.

For dinner we returned to Animator's Palate and had a good meal. The show for the evening was Twice Charmed. It is another story to Cinderella. This time the evil stepmother tries to change time with the help of Franco, the wicked godfather.

After the show, we took a quick walk around the deck and witnessed what would become a regular event in the evening. A light show on the horizon. Each night at sea we saw lightning off in the distance.

Our next stop...the island of Cozumel, Mexico

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Vacation Report #4 Day at Sea

September 11, 2006

I awoke this morning and right away turned on CNN on the stateroom tv and watched the 9/11 memorial services. It was a somber occasion and I am sure we can all remember what were doing when we first heard of the attacks on that day.

We took our time getting ready and headed to breakfast. After breakfast, we hit the pools! We spent most of the day in the Florida straits, with Cuba about 20 miles of the port bow. A few times throughout the day, the island was visible on the horizon. We were enroute to one of my favorite islands...Grand Cayman.

Today was a big day for relaxation and character meets. Having small children, we would call the character hotline every morning to plan where we would take the kids to meet the characters. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting the characters. Tracy and I also had a chance to see Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Great movie! It totally sets up for the 3rd movie.

After the movie, we rushed to the room and got dressed in our formal attire. We had dinner in Lumiere's. Dad, Tracy and I ordered the escargot, but only dad and Tracy ate it. I couldn't convince myself to eat a snail no matter how much butter and garlic was on it. I ordered the roast duck, but I must say of all of the meals throughout the week, this one was the least satisfying.

Following Dinner we enjoyed the Golden Mickey's show. It is set up to resemble an awards show and the Golden Mickey being an award. It was a very enjoyable show and featured Mr. Roy Disney. He reminded us that the entire Disney company started with a mouse. With that, Mickey burst on stage in a gold tux.

We then retired for the evening and looked forward to Grand Cayman the next day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Vacation Report #3--Key West

September 10, 2006--Key West, Florida
Today was another early morning. It was our character breakfast. Everyone on the Disney cruise is able to enjoy a character breakfast. There is a formula that I am not quite sure how it works, but our dining tickets said, Sunday morning at 8:00, so off we went to Parrot Cay restaurant where we once again were served by Dante and Cloverly.

Three early mornings in a row on vacation??? Let me tell you it was worth it! If I didn't have young children, I may have bypassed this breakfast, but seeing the kids excitement when the characters entered the restaurant was priceless. It only got better when the characters came to our table! Pluto, Chip and Dale, Minnie and Mickey came to our table. It was great. After breakfast we put the kids into the Oceaneer Club for a while and decided to take our 3 lap walk around deck 4. You see, 3 laps equals a mile, so it was good to burn off the calories and enjoy a view of the Florida Keys on the starboard horizon.

After our walk, we went to the rooms, got our swimming suits on and headed to the Adults only, Quiet Cove pool. We weren't there a few minutes when our pager went off with this message, "Jay wants to be picked up from Oceaneer Club." Elaine looked at me and said, "I guess I am going to the Mickey pool."

Soon we noticed some coast guard boats off the port and starboard bows, and the island of Key West was off in the distance. I went up on Deck 10 and watched us pull into port. After a quick lunch and change of clothes we stepped off the ship in the southermost city in the continental United States.

I must confess that I wasn't too impressed. First of all, it was very hot and the kids were cranky. Secondly, I noticed that there was a huge party atmosphere in the town and we are not drinkers, so that did nothing for us. Thirdly one of the shops openly had drug paraphanelia in the windows. We walked around a bit and returned to the ship, and noticed a lot of families on board. Perhaps our thinking was not a minority! We enjoyed the rest of our day on board and dinner in Parrot Cay. After dinner we went up to deck 10 to watch the sunset and ship pull out. At 8:00 dad, Tracy and I went to deck 9 to the Goofy pool to watch the Giants and Colts game on the big screen. That was great. I think the screen is about 12x24 feet, so that was neat.

Our first full day on the Magic was behind us. Next at sea enroute to Grand Cayman, BWI.

PS...I am having trouble uploading pictures. I hope to get some up.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Vacation Report #2--Embarkation and Atlantis

Saturday, September 9, 2006
Today is embarkation day. We woke up bright and early almost without alarm clocks. After getting ready, I went out to the parking lot of our hotel and tried to catch a glimpse of our ship, but it was blocked by the larger ship, Carnival Glory. Oh well, I would be seeing it soon enough. We soon had all of our luggage closed up, and tagged. We then headed down to breakfast in the hotel lobby. There were clearly a lot of cruise ship passengers in the lobby. A lot of people had on Disney cruise shirts or had luggage with Carnival tags on them. After breakfast, we grabbed a luggage cart and loaded our luggage into our cars. In a few minutes, we caught our first glimpse of our home for the next 7 days, the Disney Magic. There was more traffic then usuall around the port as people were lined up to watch the Space Shuttle Atlantis lift off. I was hoping to see it as I have always wanted to see a shuttle go up.

Dad and I dropped off the women and the kids to check in and went to return our cars. About 10 minutes later we were back to the port. Mom and Elaine had already checked in and gave us our Key to the World cards. Soon the time was approaching for Atlantis to lift off. There was a buzz in the terminal as the cast members wanted to see the lift off as well. Soon someone yelled, "there she goes!" I soon made my way over to the large windows, and snapped this picture.

The excitement of the launch past, but the excitement of getting ready to board was just beginning. At about 11:45, we saw the doors open and the concierge guests board. We had boarding card 4, so when group 4 was called, we went over to the Mickey ears porthole, our Key to the World cards were swiped, pictures was taken and we walked the gangplank onto the ship.

After a quick lunch, we walked around the ship. OUr rooms would not be ready until 1:30, so we got to know the ship. Soon the kids wanted to go swimming in the Mickey pool. We had their suits in their carry on bags, so in a couple of minutes they were in the water.

At 3:30, we went to our cabins, donned our life vests for the mandatory muster drill. That went smoothly, but it was hot! AFter the drill we proceeded to deck 9 for the Sail Away Party. Soon Mickey and the gang were out on deck, the horn blasted and we moved up the channel to the Ocean.

5:30 came and that meant dinner time! Cruise food is great! We met, Danted our server, Clloverly our Assistant, and Aleksandra our head server. All of them were great from the start, and got better as the week progressed. I enjoyed my Filet Mingnon that night. Very tasty! Elaine even ordred it and enjoyed it. Jay had his usual staple of chicken tenders, french fries and soda.

Following dinner, we went to the Welcome Aboard show. It was our first glimps of the great shows on ship.

All in all it was a great start to a great vacation. Tomorrow, Key West.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Vacation Report #1

This is the first in a series of blog entries that I will highlight our recent vacation. We went on a Disney Cruise and had a great time! It was our family, my mom, dad, and sister Tracy.

September 8, 2006
Our day started bright and early. I woke up at around 6:00 and got ready to go. I had loaded the car with most of our luggage the night before, so all I had to do was get cleaned up. We went into the kids rooms and all we had to do is say, "are you ready to go to Florida?" The woke up right away.

We left for Bradley International Airport at around 7:00 am. There were some minor traffic slow downs, but after about an hour of driving, we were in Long Term lot #4, and boarding a shuttle bus to terminal A. We checked right in at a kiosk, took our luggage to TSA and breezed right through security. I was a little worried going through security. No I wasn't smuggling anything, but I had a Yankee shirt on and the main screener was teasing me about it. Clearly he was a Red Sox fan! We breezed through no problems and grabbed a quick breakfast at McDonalds. I don't know if it was the excitement, but I hardly ate anything! Once breakfast was over, we made our way to our gate. Shortly after arriving the gate agent came on and said our flight was delayed a half hour on the ground from its departing airport. When she said the name of the airport, I knew why! It was Philadelphia. That airport is a mess! Well, the plane arrived, and we boarded quickly. I am amazed at how well Soutwest Airline turnaround is! The planes also seem to move faster on the ground. Is that just me?

We were wheels up and heading to our cruising altitude of 40,000 ft. Despite our delay, we arrived in Orlando only 15 minutes late. We grabbed our luggage and went to the Budget Rent a Car kiosk, and found our way to our Ford Taurus. We grabbed lunch...McDonalds again! The kids had their Happy Meals, but Elaine wanted a fruit salad, so I obliged. I don't care for McDonalds, but my quarter pounder was quite good and the service friendly. I called Tracy and told her we were on the Beachline Expressway heading for Cape Canaveral.

Once we crossed the river, either the Indian or Banana, I can't remember which, I saw two Royal Caribbean ships in Port Canaveral. That only made me more excited. Also, the shuttle launch was delayed again and we would get a chance to see it. I have always wanted to see a shuttle go up and to be only a few miles away would be great. In fact, I knew it didn't go up as scheduled because I saw it still on the pad from the plane. I will post about the shuttle tomorrow.

We arrived at the Residence Inn but had to wait for our room. It was being used by some NASA officials and due to the launch delay, they wouldn't be leaving. We were able to get our room and go swimming in the warm pool surrounded by palm trees. Don't you just love Florida?

After splashing around in the pool, we went to a local restaurant right in the Port called Grills. It had great food. We all enjoyed what we ordered. After dinner we went to the world famous Ron Jon Surf shop. I think of it as the LL Bean of Florida. It never closes and features all kinds of tropical wares. Clothes, surfboards, sunscreen and even toys! Jay was upset he wanted a space shuttle toy, then an alligator toy!

We soon went back to our hotel and retired for the evening. We would have a busy day the next day as our vacation would really get started.

More to come!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

We are Back

After a great vacation, followed by a long day yesterday, we are back home in Connecticut. We woke up at 5:30 am yesterday, and got home at 12:05 am this morning. The cruise was great! I will post about it in the days ahead.

Talk to you soon

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Vacation Time

Well its that time. The bags are packed, the car is going to be loaded. We are going on vacation!

Tomorrow morning, we will wake up nice and early and drive to Bradley International Airport and board our Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando.

Saturday we board the Disney Magic for our 7 day cruise.

While I won't be blogging on this trip, I am doing a live trip report on the DIS boards. Here is the link for the forum and trip report.

I hope to post a report everyday beginning tomorrow from Cape Canaveral. Until then, see everyone later!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My first cars

One of the things about me is that I am a total car nut. Ever since I was a kid, I have had a love for cars. My mom often tells the story of picking me up from pre school and me impressing one of her co-workers with my knowledge of makes and models. After reading that my youngest cousin turned 16 today, I decided to blog about driving and cars.

I couldn't wait to drive, and I literally drove as soon as I could. My birthday is January 1st. Due to the holiday weekend, I wasn't able to make my appointment until January 4th. The earliest appointment was March 22nd! Yes I had to wait nearly 3 months, but it gave me plenty of time to learn how to properly drive.

I did drive with my mom for a while. If anyone knows my mom and Tracy will attest to this, she isn't a very good passenger. One night my dad told me that he would take me and let me drive the tavern route. He sat in the back of our Dodge Caravan and the lady sat in the front. At our first stop, he had me parallel park. He just said, "Chris, stop here and parallel park." I said, "I don't know how." He replied, "Now you will learn, do it." That night I was parallel parking between all of the Mercedes and BMW's outside of the ghetto bars of Waterbury.

I got my license and actually logged many miles in that 1989 Dodge Caravan. I even took a girl to the prom in it. I had to swallow big on that one, but I had no money! I did wash and wax it really nice though! When my parents moved to Philadelphia, I was thrilled we had a Bonneville!

Soon it became time for me to get my first car. We were driving around and narrowed our picks down to two cars. A 1983 Honda Prelude, and a 1985 Dodge Daytona. I have always loved Honda's, so that was my first choice. At the time I could not drive manual shift. The Honda was an automatic, and the Daytona was a 5 speed.

We bought the Honda, and I felt like a million bucks driving it around! It had a sunroof, and tinted windows. It was a nice looking clean car. After about 6 weeks of ownership, I was driving it home from college and my temperature gauge was soaring. I blew my head gasket! $800 dollars and a couple of weeks of repairs later, I got my car back. I was happy, and things were going well until a couple of weeks later when the engine was making some horrible racket and had no engine blew!

Instantly we began to look for a new car. My mom actually found a station wagon, but my dad said, "I am not buying my son a wagon." Way to go Dad!

Mom and Dad found a car for me while I was at work one night. I asked my dad, "did you find any cars tonight?" His reply was quick and stern, "Yes we did and we are buying it, a 1989 Plymouth Horizon." My heart sunk! A Plymouth Horizon I thought! All I see is 80 year old women driving them! My dad continued about how it only had 43000 miles on it, and we would have the balance of the factory warranty on it. At the time Chrysler products had a warranty of 7 years/70,000 miles. After the junk Honda we bought, dad wanted protection. At least the car was my favorite color...silver. I owned that car for 6 years. When I sold it it had 98,000 miles on it and I would have taken it anywhere. It was a great car. It didn't look like much, but it had it where it mattered.

I asked someone recently who was related to the person I sold it to if it was still on the road and they didn't know. It wouldn't surprise if it was. That car was an energizer bunny.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Two More Days of Work!

I can't believe it! I only have two more days of work this week.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) promises to be a busy day. I have to meet an elevator consultant at our corps to look into installing an elevator to make the building more handicap accessible. We have a great building in a great location, but having three stories of program space does not make for a productive facility. There is a lot of redevelopment happening in Norwich, and The Salvation Army will perhaps join the city in the renewal.

In addition, I have to do my other work. The deposit needs completed, the bills need to be sent to DHQ for processing and payment. The building needs to be cleaned and prepared for next Sunday. It will be a busy day! Getting things in order before leaving for 11 days always makes things exciting. All of our ducks should be in a row at the corps by tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, I have to take my father in law and niece to Boston's Logan Airport to catch a flight back to Buffalo. The problem is that he needs to be there for 7:00 AM! That means I have to be leaving by at least 5:00 AM. Oh well, tomorow will be an early night. I guess I can't watch the entire Yankee game. I am not much of a morning person, but I will burn a few cd's and make sure I am all set for the ride home. Getting in and out of Boston is a nightmare. It is even worse now with the mess at the Ted Williams Tunnel. I saw a funny shirt at Yankee Stadium last week. It was a picture of an I-95 South Sign that said, "New York 227 Miles" The bottom of the shirt said, "the only sign of life in Boston."

On Thursday, although I am on vacation, I will still go to the corps to print my Southwest Airlines boarding passes and to send in the payroll so I and my employee get paid next week. I told Elaine that we will be at the corps no more than a half hour! Let's see if she listens. She is going to attend Home League Thursday night. Hopefully by then the suitcases will be packed and ready to go...maybe even loaded into the the Sienna. I told her to pack light! Although we have a nice big minivan to take us to the airport, when we get to Florida we will have a mid size car.

I must confess that although I have two days of work left, I am pretty much on cruise control for my cruise pun intended.

As I type this the Yankees just got the tying run on base. Another exciting game for the Yanks! Its time to stop blogging and get into this game 100%.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day Reflections

Tomorrow is Labor Day...the end of summer. For some this is an end, for others it is a start. As a child I used to get Labor Day and Memorial Day confused. However, I knew that I usually was at either Camp Ladore, Camp Allegheny or Camp Connri on Labor Day. Those times have changed and now the Army typically has its Camp Meetings the week before Labor Day. I believe this is an effort to boost attendance. I still refer to the camp meetings occasionally as Labor Day Camp.

Over the years, I have reflected on what Labor Day means to me. This was more evident for me 5 years ago last week, when I drove from Maine to Florida. It was a reflection on what a great country this is, and the various industries, past, present and future, as well as those who work in those industries, that have made America great.

My journey began in Sanford, Maine, and as I crossed the Piscataqua River from Maine and New Hampshire, I looked to my left and saw the city of Portsmouth. Portsmouth is an old ship building and fishing community that has made a definite stamp on our country. Countless naval vessels were built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. A yard that was recently saved in the latest round of BRAC closures. Men have fished in the waters off Portsmouth for ages to the areas of Skellwagen Bank and Jeffrey's Ledge for Cod and Haddock and other tasty fish.

My journey continued down to I-495 and the communties of Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts. The Merrimack valley as it is known. When crossing the Merrimack, there are textile mills that seem to go on forever. These textiles were instrumental throughout our history.

As I continued to Connecticut, I passed East Hartford, home of Pratt & Whitney, and then Hartford, home to Colt Firearms. These defense contractors are necessary to make America the super power it is today. I believe that Pratt & Whitney's logo is Dependable Engines.

I soon crossed the Hudson and contined south on the New Jersey Turnpike. I looked out my window and glanced at the skyline on Manhattan. The Empire State building glistened in the distance. I recalled the images of Life Magazine of men walking across beams several hundred feet above 34th Street as the bolted the beams together. I also glanced at the financial district where the WTC towers shined as beacons. I never would have dreamt at the time that would have been one of my last glimses of the great buidlings. They were destroyed on 9/11 a couple of weeks later.

We continued through Philadelphia, then Wilmington...home of Dupont, then Baltimore and Washington. The history of those few cities is too numerous to write in this blog!

As I drove, morning soon rose and I was immersed in the deep south. Richmond, Virginia and the smell of Tobacco soon filled the van. As I drove into the Carolina's cotton fields dotted the horizon. I was reminded of the slaves that once filled those fields and the oppression that they lived under. I wondered if the abandoned building along the highway once housed slaves or were perhaps part of the plantations. I said a quick prayer thanking the Lord that slavery was abolished.

It was a long drive, but after a nights stay in Savannah, Georgia, we made it to Florida. Like NBC's "must see tv" if you drive to Florida, you must stop at the welcome center for orange juice.

Upon arrival in the Orlando area, I was amazed at the progress that has taken place there in my lifetime. Who would have thought when Walt Disney bought 43 square miles of property that it would develop that area into what it is now. I imagine the amount of Labor, and dollars is staggering to think about in that context.

Happy Labor Day! Enjoy the holiday

Saturday, September 02, 2006

First Day of School & Cheerleading

Summer is gone! Labor Day weekend is here and the kids are back to school. Just this week, Samantha started 1st Grade and because of that, she will be in school all day. Here is a pic of her getting on the bus.

Jay also started pre -K at the charter school this past week. He will be able to attend the charter school now through the 8th grade. He gets picked up and dropped off by a bus as well. He thinks he is so cool getting off the bus everyday. I would have had a pic of Jay, but my battery went dead on my camera.

One of the things that Samantha has really looked forward to is cheerleading. After a month of practice she had a her first game on Friday night. I was so proud of her. She looked great and I could actually hear her. It is something she is enjoying and I am glad my kids have something other than the "Army" programs in their life.

Although school is here, we are counting down to our vacation this coming week. On Friday the 8th, we fly to Florida for our cruise on Saturday. We are all looking forward to it. We will meet Grandma & Grandpa Camuti, and Tracy at Cape Canaveral on Friday and spend the day at Cocoa Beach after arriving in Orlando. It will be a great time for all of us. We will all board the Disney Magic on Saturday.