Gatlinburg, TN

I am spending a few days in Oakridge, Tennessee for Work training, and our group decided to take a quick trip to Gatlinburg.  1.5 hours on the back roads and we were there – an explosion of all tourist trap style shopping, drinking, eating, and things to do you can squeeze into a small area.  We walked around downtown, which is right around the corner from DollyWood.    We stopped in the Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine store and for $5, you get to sample 13 mini shots of liquor of every kind and a $5 coupon for anything over $5 in the store.  I bought my husband a T-Shirt our group pooled our money and bought a fifth of our favorite Moonshine – Caramel Apple Pie.    We shared our fifth with a few fellow students in the hotel lobby after class, then ate at Calhoun’s on the Water in Oakridge.  A delicious meal at a beautiful location for a fair price.   Love Gatlinburg!

 

5 things I wish I knew before I went to Cuba

 

20180409_213740I knew you cannot use credit cards in Cuba, and they have cigars and rum, but I did not know….

 

  1. We were told we had to have a cultural tour booked or we would not even be allowed to step off the Cruise ship (or if we flew in – not step off the plane).  This is not true.  The threat is empty.  We saw several couple walk off the ship (they were Americans) they said they had nothing booked and were unconcerned and when we were back on the ship they said they had a wonderful day.

2.  Everyone in Cuba, LOVES Che Guevara!

 

ErnestoCheGuevara  was an Argentina Marxist Revolutionary, a doctor, an author, guerrilla leader and HERO in Cuba.  He was a major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his picture and vision has become a symbol of rebellion in Cuba and popular culture.

I saw two pictures of Fidel Castro, saw 1000 pictures of Che Guevara.

3.  Every person in Cuba (except politicians) make only $50 per month.  You could be a doctor or street dancer, it is the same salary.

4.  We had no idea how much to get in Cuba dollars, so we got $150, which was more than enough since there was not much to buy when on a tour.  We did buy rum, one cigar, a necklace at a local children’s center and could have bought typical tourist trap t-shirts and carvings and plastic items you could get at any tourist trap location, but we are past that type of vacation item. When your on a tour, you do not have an opportunity to buy much, but if your so inclined sharing a few dollars with the locals, would be wonderful, considering #3.

5.  The Cuban people are wonderful, we expected them to be angry with many things, including our President, but did not find that true.  I was not afraid even for a minute, and would not be even if we were wondering around town ourselves, it is a safe place.   We would go back in a heart beat, but first so many other choices to explore!

Tropicana Club, Cuba

I figured out how to add videos! Better later than never! so this is older post updated.

We only had two days in Havana, Cuba – so we made the most of it – a day of everything, then an evening trip to the Tropicana Club.  I would describe it as an outdoor larger version of the “I Love Lucy” Show’s – Ricky Ricardo’s Club – which was also originally called Tropicana – then renamed Club Babalu.  David and I saw the Las Vegas review – Jubilee, and this show is superior, the dancers have a fire, the music is the over the top and beats Jubilee for me.

We took a bus on a 20min drive to the Tropicana, which had a huge entrance first with a Billboard show casing the Tropicana Club name and a dancing ballerina (club icon), then we drive down a tropical foliage filled drive to the entrance.

We stood in line a long line, but only for 5 mins to walk thru a lobby,  where a Tropicana show girl hands out a cigar to each man and a flower to each women.  There is a sign posted  – all must pay to take pictures inside the club, which we did (hence our photos and videos), but we saw no one else pay and no one was stopped from taking photos, so if you skipped this fee, I don’t believe there would be any trouble for you.  We then huddle into what we assumed would be an indoor theater, but instead we were walked outside to a lush outdoor garden amphitheater style venue, with elaborate overhead lighting.

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This picture does this location no justice.  It is a 180 degree theatre, with a waterfall dancing stage to our far left, a main stage for singers directly ahead, a mini dance bridge in between.  To our right was a three level tower of dancers and in between the main stage and this tower was a hidden full orchestra.

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This picture also does this club a small justice there is stages to the left and right.

The girls and the costumes are incredible.  There were tall statues of art with about 12  costume changes that each were more over the top than the previous, we saw bikini (no nudity) wearing model ladies, with fruit baskets 3 feet tall on their head, they wore chandeliers on their heads, they danced in the 80 degree night heat like it was nothing.

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There were acrobats and singers and non stop Mambo, cha cha cha rhythms action for the entire 1 hour 45 min show.

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You get an entire bottle of rum (and a big bottle, larger than a fifth) to split with four people at your table, each person gets a tiny glass bottle of Coca-cola along with a bucket of ice.  So of course we drank most of it in the flaming heat, which made our bus drive home a boisterous spectacle to our bus mates, we laughed so hard, I think we had everyone else laughing too.  I highly recommend the Tropicana Club for the Havana experience!  We sat at the back, and I would have paid the extra $30/ dollars for a middle closer seat, but the front section is not necessary – all views are amazing.

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First day on Vacation

Short post.  We flew into Fort Lauderdale, Fla the night before our cruise, and we spent the night at the Link hotel, about 12 minutes from the airport, $100.00/nite with breakfast, small rooms, but clean and free transportation to the airport, but it only runs until 8 pm and we missed the ride to the hotel from the airport.  We woke up around 7:30am, ate breakfast and shuttled over to the airport again, where we took another shuttle to the cruise ship yard.

A day a sea, and then we will be in Grand Cayman.  Looking forward to posting next.

 

Bon Voyage

We are headed out to our 7 day Cuban Explorer with Holland America Cruise, on the Veendam.  We started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida then to Georgetown, Grand Cayman, to Cozumel, Quntana Roo Mexico, then Havana Cuba, back to Ft Lauderdale.   We choose this cruise specifically for the Cuba Experience and we are really are very excited to step foot in Cuba.   We did read in our paperwork, we had to book an excursion or we will not be allowed off the ship, and that is a recent change to the US requirements.   So we booked an 8hr – Best of Havana, and a night trip to the Tropicana Club.  While many might not ever even consider visiting Cuba, for us something about seeing what has been forbidden is a thrill.  This might be a short window of opportunity that we never get to experience again, but if we enjoy Cuba, and it is still possible a longer trip might be in our future as well.

This is our third cruise together as a couple, but Davids ~10th, I only started cruising when I met David, so my third cruise.   This is our second with Holland, where the population is significantly older, but then again our cruise with Celebrity was also an older group.  I guess most can afford to cruise when they are older and finally have the time, so the ships population is filled with motorized scooters, canes and stories of grand children.

When I checked online reviews of the Veendam, I see Excellent reviews, and that it is a small ship with a max capacity of 1350.  We will report back on what we experienced upon return.  I am sure I will drink a few Cuba Libras (Rum and Coke) during this trip, so I will try and report back daily on our adventure, or might forget a fact or two.

Cruise to Cuba

After weeks of looking for a trip that we could take together (no kids) during the time our youngest would be on spring break (and could go to his mothers) we finally found a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico – Grand Cayman  – and two days in Havana, Cuba.  It is a Holland America Cruise, smaller older ship.  But the cost total for seven days and a day before stay in Fort Lauderdale is under $2100.  We searched Travelzoo, Travelocity, Groupon, Cruise.com and finally found a trip that meets all our criteria.  Whew, a lot and I mean a lot of looking (months of looking) our deal was on Cruise.com, but cheaper directly thru the Holland America site (like $150 each cheaper).    Now just to dream and figure out excursions, hopefully loose a few pounds and buy a nice outfit.

Hoover Dam

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On the way to Hoover Dam, a quick stop at Lake Mead.

Going back a few weeks, we visited Hoover Dam.   We were already in Vegas, and David has never been and he wanted to see.   The downside, the elevators to the inside powerhouse were down, so we only were able to see the outside and the museum, which was amazing.  The upside of this day trip – a quick nap on the bus ride and beautiful sites, with education learning that fascinated me.  As a physicist, I love learning how things work, and the museum there had a lot of information on both the history of Hoover Dam and the science behind the design.  The quick summary, is there were two years of fertile farming, and then years of severe flooding in the surrounding areas, which lead to this (originally named Boulder Dam) project.  The Dam is a concrete arch gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, right on the boarder of Nevada and Arizona.  It was built during the great depression, which paid super low paying, very dangerous (112 deaths) jobs to those who were desperate and had nothing.   The water is taken into the towers, then down the narrowing funnels to the powerhouse, the water pressure turn the turbines, which make electricity.  There is a lot of past fighting over who gets what % of the energy, but I honestly ignored that portion and focused on the awe and science.

We bought the bus ride on Groupon, with Grand Canyon tour (below)  just two days before we left, and they picked us up at the hotel, took us to a depot, where we sat for about 20mins before leaving for our trip.  Since the Hoover Dam, Powerhouse tour was not available, they did refund us for that portion, and I would definitely recommend this tour.

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Below we are on the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which was built to help with traffic and to help with safety on the Dam drive over (to minimum traffic which helps maintain security).  Note each of those (which look like lego blocks are 6feet tall), it looks so small, but the size is almost unimaginable.

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Seeing the world with my husband, is my dream, and I am living it.  We don’t travel as much as we want, but we make it work, and I love looking back at these pictures and how happy we were and are.

Disney for Two

David and I just returned from Disney today, What a fun time.  Two and a half days alone with my husband, what a treat!

Yes, we were just in Disney in July, but that was with four kids, which had its drama and I was exhausted at the end of the trip.

Florida this October weekend was cooler, and actually invigorating.

We stayed at the time share – Summers Bay, which is a timeshare my husband has from way back.  We went down for an owners meeting, that turned out to be a sales pitch.  We did not let that stop our good time, and it was interesting to hear their offers.  They start with a deal for $11,600 upgrade, then only $8,000 for a lesser version, then $4000, then $3000.   I learned alot, so my time did not feel wasted, but don’t think I will be sitting thru one of those again soon.

The rest of the weekend was wonderful.  Sharing some pictures of us at Universal City Walk, we also enjoyed an afternoon at Disney Springs (used to be Downtown Disney).

Ok, so reviewing the images, I realize, we  saw the blue man group show, and then mostly ate.

We stopped at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at Universal City Walk … they specialize in milkshakes, wow they looked amazing, the table behind us was a birthday party and they had one each.  We saw them making a potted chocolate cream, which was a pot of what looked like hot fudge – super decadent.  We had the chocolate bread, a peanut butter candy, baked apple macaroon, and a savory chili Brussels sprout dish to counter all the desserts.  I LOVED this place.  Steam punk meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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On Saturday we took a break from eating and cooled down in Disney Springs, Jock Lindsays Hanger Bar.  The cool headed monkey was so lite and refreshing, I want one right now.

 

We also had a quick snack at Universals City Walk – Camacho Cantina.  The corn pudding in the enchilada was so moist and delicious.   I was just starting to enjoy the mariachi band, when the finished up for the nite.

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The nite before we went to Joes Crab Shack and David ate all he could. 20171013_213207

We were back home Monday early and we really just love these little escapes.  I forget sometimes just how much I love being with David, and then I Also feel guilty for wanting him all to myself, he is also a wonderful Father and sharing him when were home is important to me, but damn I love all this alone time.

Next alone trip…. Chicago in November for RSNA – Radiological Society of North America.

Graduation!

The twins Graduated!  We had a big party and just finished up cleaning up the house – three months of prep (we even painted part of the house & re-did the kitchen – which should add to re-sale value and we get to enjoy it in the mean time).

My whole life I have always said if I could just raise these children to become happy, healthy and great members of the world, I would be happy.   I am one step closer. Whew!!! as all parents know, you start to think – this will never happen, the late night homework helper, drama filled situations, school events, vacations where no one is happy, messy everything, an ex-husband who argued every single step of the way with me, to the point I was the bad person of the family – another post for another day I suppose.   So glad I have David now to help with the support – we might not always agree, but we never never say it in front of the kids….team work to the end on the subject of kids.  Stand or fall, we do it together.

So now the girls are graduated and off to study graphic design at the local community college and then off to an art school to finish up a bachelors.  I could not be prouder of them.  How lucky am I to have two such wonderful daughters who are respectful, smart, beautiful and with the biggest kindest hearts and they are finally on the way to be the adults they want to be.

The bonus is – David and I are one step closer to our dream of retirement.  In fact we even had two whole days with no kids this past week.  We did not do much, but did sleep in, went out to breakfast, took naps, enjoyed the quiet (missed them a lot for sure).  We imagine this combined with travel as how our retirement will be – just enjoying life and each other.

Sandos Eco Resort, Cancun Mexico

We decided to start rating the locations we visit on our travels.  Scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the best experience we could ever imagine.  The Sandos Eco Resort, in Cancun Mexico is a great family all inclusive.   We spent 7 days at this resort, and never ran out of things to do.   We are giving the resort an 7.5.

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Our favorite dining locations were the surf and turf, Los Lirios, with the best filet I can remember eating in a long time, and the potato soufflé was also very tasty.  The Japanese Teppanyaki (table top cooking style) Steakhouse, El Templo, was a fun nite, but you will need a +5day ahead reservation, so do that when you book your trip.  We also really loved the Brazilian Steakhouse, Fogo De Brazil.  All of these are on site and included.  The two buffets, International and Italian, both were OK, but there was a large choice of food, and almost always open for a quick snack.   All of the dessert at the site we just above OK,  mostly dry cakes and the lower end of flavors.

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By far the best part of the resort, and the entire reason our daughter choose this specific location was – the animals on site.  This trip was for our twin daughter we are graduating high school, they wanted the beach, the Caribbean and site with lots of animals.  The Sandos.com website showed us quite a few animals and the location delivered.   There were rabbits, donkeys, dear, peacocks, sheep, pigs, monkeys, tapirs, coati, dogs and lots of stray iguanas and cats.  Animals were noted on signs as rescues and site animals are spayed or neutered and fed everyday, there areas were very clean and you could sign up to be an animal caretaker and feed them at lunch time.  There are signs not to feed the animals, but my daughters did feed them – a lot, and even though they look skinny they looked happy and would stop eating when full.

Baby Deer

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There was plenty to do, and ALOT of walking.  We were in the furthest location from the beach, our daily location of choice, so much walking I have the blisters to show it.   There are bicycles to borrow, but we never used them.  There are several pools, including an adult pool by our rooms, a mini water park with quite a few water slides and a big sized kids pool.  We spent most of our time at the beach which honestly it was way too rough to actually swim safely.  This for my husband was the biggest turn off of the resort – he loves the ocean and it was unsafe to swim.   We did really enjoyed the man made cenotes for swimming, these were cool, and it was hot.  There were fish and turtles and quite a bit of algae in these cenotes, so not for everyone, but we loved it.

The nite time shows were actually great.  The Sunday Fire show at the onsite Mayan ruins were just incredible.  We recommend you go to all of the variety of ancient Mayan culture shows.  There was also a Freddy Jackson Tribute show, a Disney Princess show and a super hero show at the Theater – which were cute, but don’t worry if you miss them, save your show time for the culture shows in our opinion.

Our rooms were very clean, and huge, and the best part, there was really cold air conditioning, which is important, because the days were SUPER hot and it was so nice to sleep in the cool.

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So, would we go back, yes.  But we are the type of family who likes to see what is next, so maybe after many other visits to many other places.  Next blog, pictures of the beauty of the resort.

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Cancun Mexico

Were on a Senior Trip for the girls in Cancun, Mexico!   I forget my regular life – my Metro Detroit life, where I get up at 4:45 am to make sure my husband has his lunch, tea, and breakfast when he heads off to work, I then crawl back into bed and talk to him on the phone for 30 minutes as he drives into work.  Back up at 6:15am to get ready for the day, make sure the kids are awake for school, I remind all three kids I love them and to kick the world’s butt as I drop them off.  I either work from home, or off to kick the world’s butt.  After the kids are home, I plan dinner, we eat and I continue to work until I get to sleep next to my husband.   He tickles me until I laugh so hard I beg him to stop, and we cuddle like two lost puppies until the next morning… 4:45am.

My husband has a saying I love: “I do not think we are better than anyone else, but I also don’t think anyone is better than us”.  So I know we are not the only ones who work hard and tirelessly, but what surprises me is how I forget how to relax.

But as soon as I walk in the huge Lobby of the Santos Carcacol Eco Resort, with its thatched roof and large hanging chandeliers the size of a car, the air is heavy with flowers and your handed an orange mango drink with tequila and I stand there with my mouth open looking around while we wait for check-in and I forget all about everything but the moment.  I have a whole entire week with my daughters and husband to enjoy them….. fun relaxation times to be posted soon.