My parents treated us all to an absolutely amazing vacation last week to celebrate so many life events together... Me being cancer-free for 9 years this month, my dad's milestone of being cancer-free as well, my mom's birthday, my 40th birthday last year, my husband's 40th birthday last year, a brother's 40th birthday coming this year, his wife's college graduation this year, another brother's college graduation this year and his girlfriend's college graduation this year as well. We just wrapped it all into one HUGE celebratory week together in Caribbean! We sailed on Celebrity's Silhouette ship for a week to Cozumel, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Haiti. It's nice to get away, and even nicer when you visit new beautiful places... more importantly, though, vacations like these resonate in my heart and remind me of how wonderful life really is and how thankful and grateful I am to be living it... with family.
For those of you who may be unable to travel to such places, I hope that you will enjoy seeing a few images and reading about this trip and that it brings a smile to your face and warmth to your soul.
Of course, no vacation comes without my dark but always faithful companion, anxiety. A plane ride was inevitable for this trip as I needed to get from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale in one day. I know the drive should take about two days and trust me when I say I seriously considered driving down in one long stint... by myself. The thought of being held captive in a small seat barreling through the skies with no ability to step outside to breathe fresh air and claim some space around my body if it so chooses to panic is not a happy one, to say the least. However, the thought of allowing this disorder to cripple my ability to travel the world is far scarier than that plane ride. I do everything I can think of to overcome my fairly new fear of flying. I've traveled the world my entire life and LOVED it! I've been to Italy multiple times, France, Scotland, Greece... sailed the Mediterranean... I've been around the globe all the way to Australia even! I've flown to Hawaii... twice! I've been to the Caribbean and all over the U.S. What is the problem now!?! I internally argue with myself every time I book a flight because I'm angry with myself for now having this issue to deal with and it must come from within, but it cannot win! (Though, honestly, sometimes it does.) I even go so far as to try to estimate when the busiest time at the airport will be and then hope to get a flight during a slow time. (Psycho) So, I got on that plane and kept myself occupied with music and a movie and made it down to Florida... ALIVE and able to walk off the sky bullet consciously, happily and newly excited for the cruise! Cruises, on the other hand, do not make me anxious, oddly enough. I've determined that it must be because I can walk around, I can have space around me and I can step outside and breathe if I need to. Whatever. It is what it is.
We started the vacation off with a full double rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast while having some tasty beverages. If you've ever wondered what's at the end of a rainbow... here ya' go! Nothing but beauty and amazement. I'm sorry my camera did not capture the second arch... if you're not aware, when there is a double rainbow the second one sits above the more vivid first rainbow with colors in reverse order. When there is a triple (which I have only ever seen once), it will then reverse back again. As you know, I love rainbows. They are a sign that everything is ok. What a perfect way to begin this family vacation of celebrations!
On the most upscale, relaxing ship I've ever been on, we set sail on Sunday afternoon. I'll be honest, our first two days were rocky with high winds and our captain was hysterically funny about it during his morning announcements. Our first stop: Cozumel, Mexico. I'm not a fan of Mexico... only because my body doesn't handle it well. After living in Arizona and California and having traveled to many places in Mexico only to return with Montezuma's Revenge each and every time, I've decided that Mexico is not good for me. It's a beautiful place and has such a unique culture, but it just doesn't agree with my body. So, when we arrived, I only shopped a little for gifts for the kids. I had considered taking the long journey up to Chichen Itza or the Tulum ruins because I so very much love seeing ancient ruins and have never seen a Mayan pyramid or any pyramid for that matter. But, I was told I would not be allowed to bring my own food and beverage, so I nixed that option pretty quickly and stayed on the island. Unfortunately, my husband's dive excursion was canceled so he was stuck with me for the day. It turned out to be a warm, sunny and gorgeous day and I was happy to have him by my side as the rest of the family went on submarines or played games on the empty ship.
We were in Cozumel for the day then sailed on to Grand Cayman... I love that place. Once again, though, my husband's dive excursion was canceled. Poor guy. I had originally planned to rent a Jeep and drive my parents around the island to a beach- simply because I just wanted to drive on the right side of the car and left side of the road... in a Jeep because I love Jeeps. But, in Cayman, there is no dock and people are tendered in to port. There were 7 ships in the bay tendering at the same time and we were the last to arrive. Figures. So, we didn't get tendered in until the afternoon which meant no Jeep for me. But... if that's all I have to be bummed about right now, that's great! Fortunately, at there was no anxiety for me... though I did think about the possibility of it if I was was going to be stuffed into one of those lifeboats which they used as tenders. I was able to get a seat in front on top and outside! Score! Once again, we casually meandered around town. My husband was able to buy some of his favorite rum cakes and we bought some more souvenirs for the kids then went back to the ship. The view from the ship was stunning... each stop was more beautiful than the last.
Heading to Jamaica. I've never been to Jamaica before and haven't heard many good things about it from others, but we had a WONDERFUL time! The views were breathtaking, the beach was gorgeous, the food was great, the drinks were plenty and we were all on the same excursion this time. 40 of us loaded on to an air-conditioned bus and drove about an hour to a private beach where we each had a large, padded beach chair under palms and other trees, which surprisingly housed hundreds of very large, leggy, striped spiders! Needless to say, I was in the water nearly the entire day. And for some, that was the highlight of the day. Jamaican dancers worked their way across the beach for the guests and my husband and I had probably a little too much fun as we danced in the water behind the actual dancers. My brothers both have video of course... and likely many others do as well. You may find us on You Tube soon. LOL When we got back to the ship, we didn't realize we were suddenly famous and now known as "The Water Dancers" who provided several minutes of pure hilarity for many beach-goers that day. Another day with no anxiety. If only I could do this EVERY day.
One last stop on this trip... sadly, it's already almost over. It's so nice not worrying about anything for a week though... other than the occasional, yet scarce, anxiety tugging on me like a small child in constant need of attention. We head to Labadee, Haiti for our last land visit. Having seen the poverty in Jamaica and having been to Labadee before, I know what's coming. I like to spend my money with locals rather than corporations so when I shop abroad, I do tend to look for people on the side of the roads or in small markets who sell handmade items not found in big shops with brand names. I know Haiti has such a market, but I didn't know how big it had gotten since my last visit there. We docked! Last time it was tenders only. We talked to many of the locals who beg you to buy ANYTHING from them. They are all competing for your money... because they need it so desperately. I had saved the bulk of my cash for Haiti for this very reason and I knew I could buy some artwork from them, which is really what I love. I had tried to negotiate a price on a Oaxacan wood "animalito" in Cozumel, but wasn't able to get it where I needed it to be and so I am animalito-less. The beaches on Labadee are stunning with views of distant mountains and endless skies. We had wanted to ride the zip-line across the bay, but we didn't book it in time and missed out. (I suppose I should really try to be a better planner; I tend to let anxiety get the best of me though and prefer to play-it-by-ear so I'm not committed only to cancel if anxiety shows up that day.) So, once more and for the last time, we wandered small booth-like shops. Mark and I chose two beautiful paintings of beaches for a steal of a deal with cash to the locals and then we bought a few small items for the kids as well.
Cruising isn't really about where you go and the stops you make. It's more about the journey... such is life. I've been on a few cruises in the past and this ship was by far the best. (The worst ship was the one that sunk in the Mediterranean on the sail date immediately following ours! My mom and I wondered how that ship was floating and contemplated walking around with our life jackets on just in case... then it sank!!! Thankfully it sank AFTER we got off.) This cruise had very few children (which is nice if you're on an adult-only vacation) all of whom were so well-behaved! The food was phenomenal, the views were spectacular, the service was top-notch, the ship was gorgeous and we had such a great time!
There were two "Evening Chic" nights (formerly known as "Formal Nights") this sailing. My dad was not feeling well the first night and missed out, but then gradually came back to life and made it out for the second special evening. He is Scottish and owns his own kilt... we rented kilts for the rest of the men. I didn't take photos those nights since they had photographers all over the ship. We did buy some photos, but I have yet to scan them to post them for you. My husband is also Scottish, but has a different tartan than my dad's family... it was fun to see them all in kilts and in their appropriate colors. The ladies all wore black cocktail dresses. The food that is included with the cruise price was so delicious on this ship, but the specialty restaurants... there are no words... we had a hard time leaving those places after such decadence. How very blessed and lucky we all are to have been given this opportunity to enjoy life together for a week in such luxury. I am SO thankful. SO SO THANKFUL!
We said goodbye to our beautiful white ship, which they paint at every port, and headed straight to the airport. In usual Griswald form, I got stuck at security. TSA wouldn't allow me to go through the new scanner (even though I was TSA approved) and forced me through the metal detector, which ALWAYS alarms because of my metal hip/leg. And, as you likely know, if the metal detector goes off, they pat you down. So, I got the pat-down. Usually, this isn't an issue. This time though, they rubbed my entire body and then tested the gloves and told me that I tested positive for explosives!!! WHAT!?!?!! Of course, my dark companion showed up immediately to handle the situation for me, so I let TSA know that I have anxiety. They informed me of the process and allowed my husband to come to the little room with me. I was told that hopefully, the next rub-down will clear... according to TSA, many people test positive for explosives in this airport because of all the sun-tan products and lotions... whatever... news to me! If the second rub-down hadn't cleared (thankfully, it did), then they said they would have to question me and search my bags... then possibly DETAIN ME!?!?! And here I was, entering the airport just moments earlier with hardly any worries... relaxed, not fearing the flight and ready to go home. So much for that blissful feeling. Party's over... back to reality... BAM!
I'm home now and as I reflect on this family vacation, I can still feel the calmness and joy that sat inside me throughout the entire week. I hope I can hold onto it a long, long time. <3 It's interesting to think about how I feel when facing the possibility of having cancer and then comparing it to the feelings I have of worry when it's not about cancer. I often feel guilty. But the reality of it is that anxiety comes and goes in my life... regardless of the severity of the situation. Anxiety doesn't care as much as cancer isn't prejudiced. I was happy to have not had as much anxiety as I now "new normally" do... if only for a week.
P.S... Regarding my selfie at the top, before anyone gets the wrong idea... Yes, I'm in the car. NO, I'm not driving.