Saturday, November 29, 2014


Cancun, Nov. 2014

Ever since we had our baby Megan a couple years ago, we've been unable to go on vacation just the 2 of us.  We finally were able to do it.  Liz's Mom watched her while we went to Cancun.  Years ago we went on a cruise that stopped at Cozumel.  From there we took a day excursion to a place called XCaret.  We really enjoyed it and so decided to go there again, this time staying in a hotel so as to be able to do more things in the area.
We found a good Cancun tour company that we got a good deal on excursions and hotel.  The hotel where we stayed (Salvia) was in the hotel zone, which is on a strip of narrow land with the ocean on one side and a lagoon on the other (off the mainland).  Our room was right on the beach.  There were a couple of downsides like being next to a late night dance club whose sound kept us up a bit of the night.  Other then that, it was a decent place.


Our first day we went to XCaret which is just a little over an hour south of Cancun.  It's called an eco-archeological park that combines jungle, animals, Mayan history, beach stuff and Mexican history and culture stuff.  In the morning we did things such as wandering around underground tunnels.  That brought us to an enclosed butterfly area where we walked among them.  We also saw jaguars, turtles, sting rays and dolphins.  While taking a picture next to a macaw, it tried to nibble Liz's ear.
For lunch we went to a Mexican buffet. There were a variety of different dishes besides the traditional tacos, rice, and beans. Liz tried some fried cactus but didn't care too much for the texture. After lunch we swam in the underground river.  When we came last time, this was what we really liked most.

Now they've taken the one river and divided it up into three - one mostly underground, one mostly not and the last about half of both.  We only had time to do one section, we did the underground section.  It was neat, but we preferred the one river it used to be.

We then went to the beach area where we relaxed on some hammocks for a few minutes.  There was also a shallow area that we could snorkel.  We tried it, but the water was so murky that we couldn't see much.
When it got dark there was a 2 hour cultural song and dance presentation.  It started out with people playing the ancient Mayan ball game where using their hips they hit the ball back and forth and try to hit the ball through sideways hoops high up the sides of the court.  Next they played a game that looked like flaming hockey.

They did presentations that showed parts of Mexican history, like when the Spaniards came, the Catholic missionaries converting the natives to Christianity, the establishing of the railroad.  They also did songs and dances that different parts of Mexico are known for.


The next 2 days we stayed in Cancun.  We went to a flea market downtown called Mercado 28.  walking by each tiny shop the owners would continuously try and call you into their shops to buy something.  It got annoying after a while.
We spent some time at the beach.  Near our hotel there is a sea wall that blocks most of the waves and makes an area that is pretty calm.  The water in that area was very clear.  While we were in that water some fish came and wanted to make friends with us.  Also they nibbled on us a couple times.

We also spent some time playing in the waves.
We had put on sunscreen, but we still managed to get pretty bad sunburns.  Somehow we never manage to go to a beach without getting burned.


Our last day we went to an adventure park called XPlor.  The first thing you notice is that half the park is underground.  The entrance / ticketing area and more are caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  They give you helmets to wear the whole day.

The first activity we did was ziplining.  There are 2 routes.  The first route you went up very high towers and zipped to another tower, which you in turn climbed up and zipped to another tower.  That route you were quite high above the trees.  It took Liz a couple of zips to feel comfortable being so high up.  The last part of the route you zip through a waterfall into water in a cave.  That was pretty cool.
The second route wasn't as high (close to the tree tops).  There was also more water things along the route.  There was even a waterslide that you go down.  Very awesome.

We then went and did ATVs.  You get to drive on trails through the jungle.  At times the trails take you through underground tunnels.

After lunch we went to to do the rafts.

You sit on these 2-seat rafts, attach paddles to your hands and navigate underground caves.

It was pretty cool, though the people in front of us couldn't figure out how to control their raft.  They kept getting stuck sideways, which stopped us.  The people behind us kept running into us while we were waiting for the people in front of us.

The last activity we did was a cave swim.  It was a little bit different from the XCaret swim in that this was completely undeground and in more natural caves (with stalactites and stalagmites).

There were also sharp rocks that you occasionally stepped on or rubbed against.

Other Thoughts

Liz enjoyed the food quite a lot.  She tried Mexican mole for the first time, which she liked.  She had lots of fruits and native foods. Close to our hotel there was a restaurant called Le'Natura specializing in healthy foods. The breakfast menu was pretty good. Liz loved the fresh squeezed lemonade, carrot juice and freshly made salsa and guacamole. At one point she ordered coconut juice, expecting it to come in a glass.  Instead, they gave her a green bowling-ball sized coconut, with the top cut off and a straw in it, she thought it was neat.  For me, let's just say that while some were okay, some of their hamburgers where quite far from the type of burger I enjoy at home.
Cancun is billed as a place where all the locals know serviceable English, but it was good that both of us know Spanish.  We spoke more Spanish than English while we were down there.

It was a fun vacation, hard to come home to normal life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th, 2011

July 4th, 2011

We spent this 4th of July evening at my sister Marie's house. She and her husband Nathan had a dinner where we roasted hotdogs.

Smore's with a Reese's Peanut Butter cup! Yum.

Marie and Nathan's baby - Jack. He's a cute one.

Liz enjoying some food.

Jack had a water gun and was squirting it at everyone. Here he's threatening my dad.

Om nom nom nom.

My family and a bit of Nathan's family was there. It was pretty good, then we did fireworks. Nathan had a bit of fireworks, and I also brought some fireworks to supplement them.

A cops and robbers set. The robbers sped away and the cops weren't able to catch them.

A cute turtle firework.

A laptop firework. With me being a programmer I only thought it appropriate. The first part of the firework it has some sparks coming out of the keyboard, doing one key at a time. At the end there was a whole bunch of sparks coming out of the top of the screen portion. The end was definitely the best part of it.

A haunted mansion firework. This was a very fun one. It starts out sending sparks out the chimney, afterwards another part of the house starts sending out sparks, and then a third. After that, a flickering light illuminates the mansions windows. It was a very fun one. Also, later some other fireworks set the mansion on fire and it burnt down to the ground. Luckily there was no one inside at the time. ;)

The fireworks were fun. Though with Utah's new laws permitting more powerful fireworks, neighbors would be setting off big aerials that would capture our attention more then the smaller fountains that were being set off at our get together. But it was all a good time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Full Of Stars!!!

Puerto Rican Cruise

Time for another vacation report. Puerto Rico and a cruise in the Southern / Eastern Caribbean.

Sat, Apr 2nd: We had 3 US Airways flights from SLC to San Juan. I am not impressed with US Airways. They separated Liz and I on 2 of the flights. We got in late. Stayed at the Best Western at the airport.

Sun, Apr 3rd: Taking a taxi from the hotel to Old San Juan, we dropped off our luggage at the cruise ship so we could spend the day exploring Old San Juan. The buildings there reminded us of Antigua, Guatemala - all brightly colored, flush to each other and their front all the way to the street. The streets were a bluish cobblestone and really hilly. We made it to the main fort (El Morro). In front of it were huge grassy areas where tons of people were flying various kites. We saw a lifelike shark, butterfly, dragon and a red baron airplane.

The fortress was pretty impressive. It had 5 major levels and walls that were 17 feet thick. We had lunch at Ben & Jerry's - we had some very yummy pizzas made on pita bread. We also went to the other major fort in Old San Juan (Fort San Christobal). It was pretty big as well. - We then went to our cruise ship - Carnival Victory. It was themed after the 7 seas.

Mon, Apr 4th: St. Thomas - US Virgin Islands. We had a snorkeling expedition. The tour loaded us up on a small boat and took us to a tiny nearby island named Buck Island. What was really cool was the tour rented us a waterproof digital camera. For underwater, it took really good pictures and we were able to see what we were taking pictures of. We first snorkeled in one bay that had some turtles. We then went around the corner to another bay. At that one there was a sunken very rectangular shipwreck (barge like). We saw a bit more coral there with some more fish.

We had put on plenty of sunscreen, but when we got back we saw that we were super burned. After dinner we went to a stand up comedy show. Then to the mid-ship pool on the Lido deck (9) where they had a huge outdoor screen and we watched Toy Story 3.

Tues, Apr 5th: At sea. We didn't do too much today as we were hurting and trying to recover from our sunburns. It was a formal night, so we got dressed up and got our pictures taken. After dinner we went to a dancing show called 'City Of Lights' - it was New York style broadway songs. We went to another standup comedian, then went back to the huge outdoor screen and watched a little of The Last Airbender.

Weds, Apr 6th: Barbados. Our excursion took pretty much all day. We sailed on a catamaran for about an hour before we got to the first place we were to snorkel. Unlike the last snorkel excursion, they didn't give us fins on this one. We saw about 6 turtles, but the water was pretty murky.

We sailed to a beach where people could either snorkel or enjoy the beach. I snorkeled for a bit. This place had more coral and fish then the previous location earlier in the day. I then enjoyed the beach for a little bit. We then set sail back for port. At which point my limbs were pretty white. When we got back to the ship, they were pretty red.

Normally the cruise ship leaves Barbados at 5 PM, but one of the passengers suffered a medical emergency and passed away. We had to wait 3 hours for the locals to unload the body and the family.

Thurs, Apr 7th: St. Lucia. We went zip lining today. To get there we were taken by bus through steep narrow winding mountain roads. The bus driver was going twice as fast as was safe. There was also construction, pot holes and pedestrians. The zip lining was something like 18 lines. There was a swing rope we had to go over and there was also a platform we got lowered from. For me, they sent me down in more of a free fall. The zip lining was lots of fun. We went into a jewelry shop to enter a raffle, and Liz really liked a blue topaz necklace, so we got it. Tonight was another formal night.

Fri, Apr 8th: St. Kitts (Actually St. Christopher - I don't know how they shorten it to Kitt). We took a personalized island tour in a mini-bus taxi. There was only one other couple. We stopped at a place where they made fabric designs by putting wax on and then dying the rest of the fabric. we went to a fort on top of a hill called Brimstone Hill. The island was split between the British and the French, with the British in the middle, and the French on the ends. We saw where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean. We did some shopping, then went to some more standup comedy in the evening.

Sat, Apr 9th: St. Maarten. This island is split between the French and the Dutch. It was divided by having 2 men race and when they met was where they divided the island. While there are markers where the division is - there are no customs nor border guards. We went on a tour of the island. Along the way they put us on a boat where we sat in the bottom of the boat. It had windows under the water so we could see the ocean floor. There was a bit of coral. They also sent down a diver with some fish food, so a ton of fish swarmed him.

At the main town - Philipsburg, we went to the beach which was a very nice looking sand beach. We also enjoyed the water for a while. We also said goodbye to a family from Minnasota that we had talked with throughout the cruise. Then we had to pack up.

Sun, Apr 10th: We had breakfast on the cruise ship before dis-embarking. We then caught a taxi to the airport so that we could rent a car (because none of the car rental companies would pick us up and we had to return the car back to the airport). They gave us a Ford Focus :(. We traveled east and visited the Yunque National Rain Forest. It was treacherous because the road was really windy and not designed wide enough to be a real 2 lane road. We stopped off at a waterfall off the side of the road called 'Coco'. We then stopped of at a watch tower that you had to take a ton of spiral stairs up to the top. We also took a hike down to another waterfall called 'Mina'.

We then had a series of unfortunate events that almost made us miss our last excursion. We stopped off at our hotel - the Fajardo Inn, before heading to the Marina Del Rey. At that point we got on a boat that took us on a bumpy ride to the neighboring island of Vieques. When we arrived they took us in vans to a restaurant for dinner. Then we got loaded up on a school bus that took a super rough path. We eventually got to a beach where we met a boat (it was night at this point). We got out to the middle of the bay (surrounded by mangroves) and got into the pretty warm water. When you moved your limbs it would cause micro-organisms to combine 2 chemicals to emit light - causing a short glow. It's called a bio-illuminecent bay. If you moved slowly you could get smaller numbers to glow. They would look like stars flowing down your arms. The glow was very short, but the experience was super awesome. We then got back on the boat, back on the bus, back on the vans, back to the other boat, back to Puerto Rico where we drove our car back to our hotel in Fajardo.

Mon, Apr 11th: Drove back to San Juan and took 2 United flights back home. It was colder back home, but luckily we had missed the snows while we were gone - constant 70-80 degree weather and only a couple short rains.

Note: For more pics from our vacation, click on the pics in this post.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hawaii, and all things vacationy

We just got back from our Hawaiian vacation. Let me give you all a rundown of what went down.

Thurs, Apr 22nd: We got to take a non-stop flight straight from SLC to Honolulu. It was nice that unlike previous vacations, we were actually going with the timezones, so in Hawaii we were 4 hours earlier (3 PM Hawaii = 7 PM SLC). Made for us being more or less awake for 7:30 excursions. We actually met a family from UT that we saw every single day of our vacation (and not because we were trying to, it just happened that way - weird). We got to our hotel in Waikiki with some daylight left, so we asked the front desk what there was to do. The attendant said that we could take a 20 minute walk down the road to Diamond Head park (next to the ocean). So we set off, but after about 40 minutes, and realizing we were only halfway there, we decided to turn back. We ate dinner at a place called "Cheeseburger in Paradise" where we watched the sunset over the ocean. Yum.

Fri, Apr 23rd: As part of our package we had a tour of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, but it did start at 6:40 in the morning :P. They drove us around showing us a lot of places: cemeteries, gov't buildings, king's palace, et cetera. The Pearl Harbor area had some replicas of weapons (torpedos, missiles, gun turrets) and the like. We got to take a ferry over to the USS Arizona memorial. Not much to see - 2 rusted out gun turret platforms.

I had talked to 2 different people about when the tour would finish (so I could plan on how to get to the Polynesian Cultural Center - on the other side of the island). The first person said it was ~4 hours long, and the second said it would end 11:30~noonish. So I had purchased transportation at 12:25. When we got on the Honolulu tour, we were told that we would be getting back later then that. Unfortunately the PCC transportation wouldn't give our money back. Fortunately the family from UT were renting cars to go to the PCC, so they gave us a ride. We ended up getting back from the Honolulu tour at ~2:10 (there was horrible traffic on the only way back to Waikiki).
When we got to the PCC, we only had time to see 2 small parts of the 7 villages - watched someone climb a tree for a coconut and have it husked, and watch the Tahiti dancing. We then went to the luau (where they bring out a pig that had been cooking underground and do some hula'ing and stuff. The shredded pork was really good, and there was some purple biscuits that were alright. We then went to the PCC's night show. In the show, they follow a man from birth to adulthood, and along the way it's as if he moves to the different island nations (they do a little bit of cultural stuff from each of them, like the different dancing). One really cool thing was when they had a few guys come out with grass skirts and there was some squares of flame on the ground. They would sit on the fire, and something about their skirts would make it so they wouldn't get burned. They also had regular fire dancing. The PCC show (Breath of Life) was great.

Sat, Apr 24th: In the morning we went to the International Market - a lot of little tiny shops. We then went to our cruise ship - the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL): Pride Of America. Just a little bit of a comparison from our Carnival cruise - NCL seemed to be a bit older crowd (and some of the activities were targeted to that generation). There were a few younger people, but nothing like our Carnival cruise (would have been nice to have some more people our age). On Carnival there were a few juices that were free anytime (juices and lemonade). NCL only had a couple juices for breakfast, the rest of the time I had to stick with water (not as tasty). Our stateroom was really tiny (it was an inside room), I think our Carnival balcony room was bigger. Overall, I think they are fairly comparable, but I think I liked Carnival just a little bit better.

Sun, Apr 25th: Today we ported at Hilo, Big Island. We went on a tour that started with the a waterfall called Rainbow Falls. We were only able to take pictures, no swimming there.

We then went to the Volcano National Park. There wasn't any flowing lava to see there, and all we could see there was a crater with some smoke coming out of it.

We did go to some old lava flows that we got to walk on. The roads all have curbs made of lava rock, and someone actually hit the curb with their car and popped their tire while we were there :-P. We also got to walk through a lava tube - where lava flowed at one time.
We went to Mauna Loa Macadamian Nut Plantation. Not a lot going on there, but we did get a bag of Hershey's Kisses with macadamians, they were really good - we ate the whole bag that day. We also went to the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, there were a ton of really cool looking flowers.

Mon, Apr 26th: Normally the ship spends 2 days in Maui, but the ship had originally been scheduled for drydock during this time, but the drydock got pushed back. When NCL decided to cruise this week, their Maui dock space for today had been taken. So instead, we got to cruise off the coast of Molokai. The sea cliffs on Molokai are supposed to be the tallest in the world. While we were on the ship Liz took hula dancing and sarape tying classes. We also went to a kukui nut lei making class. Today was Liz's birthday, so we dressed up and went to the Liberty restaurant onboard. We had some awesome banana cheesecake. Yum.

Tues, Apr 27th: The port was Kahului, Maui. We took another tour. This one took us to a place called Ioa Valley, though there was no valley - just a kind of canyon with big mountains on either side.

They then took us to the Maui Tropical Plantation. They took us on a little tram tour, where they had little patches of different crops (pineapple, coconut, sugarcane, coffee, et cetera). Overall, not that impressive.
After the tour, we took a shuttle to Walmart (looked inside at some souvenirs) and had lunch at Panda Express. Really authentic, eh?

Weds, Apr 28th: Instead of docking at a pier, the ship had to anchor and send us ashore in tenders (actually the ship's life boats) at Kona, Big Island.We went on Captian Zodiak's raft and snorkel. Basically they take us on this inflatable 20 person raft to a place called Kealakekua Bay. On the way we saw some wild dolphins swimming in the ocean.

At the bay we got to snorkel for an hour or so. It was really cool how the ocean floor sloped pretty steeply away. There was a good amount of fish and coral. There were even some sword looking fishes. I really liked this one, one of the best things we did in Hawaii.
On the way back, the guides pointed out a black sand beach where there was supposed to be turtles. There was also supposed to be a free shuttle to the beach. We started out trying to find the shuttle, which we never found. We just kept walking. After about 2 miles in thongs, we decided to give up (big blisters on our feet). So we were able to catch a ride back to the pier.

Thurs, Apr 29th: This was the first of 2 days at Nawiliwili, Kauai. We went on the Jungle Mountain Trek at Kipu Ranch. They took us on this covered trailer pulled by a tractor up into the jungle area. We then took a hike through the jungle. For lunch we stopped at this pool that had steep sides and a wooden platform built on one side. You could jump off it into the pool, or hold onto a stick on a zipline and zip/fall into the pool. It was really fun.

They then took us on 2 regular ziplines. I only wish we had more time and more runs on the zipline.
When we got back to the pier, we shopped a little, then went to a beach in front of the Marriott hotel where there was a sheltered cove. There I tried to do some body surfing. Was a little hard as the waves were right near the beach, didn't have a lot of room to do it, but I had some success.

Fri, Apr 30th: We went on another snorkeling excursion - Sea Fun Beach Snorkel. This time they actually hooked us up with wetsuits (though i didn't like the mask/air tube as much as Captain Zodiak's). They took us to 2 spots right next to each other. The guides had us stick together, but it made it so we kept running into each other. It was also quite a bit rougher sea then normal, but it was still fun. At the second area, we saw a bunch of sea turtles. A baby one even swam underneath me. We couldn't touch them though (against Hawaiian law).
We only had half a day on shore, so we went back to the boat, where Liz had her Hula class graduation.

For the afternoon the ship cruised off the coast of Na Pali, Kauai. The wettest place on Earth is there, a mountain that gets 450~500" of rain a year. We saw a double rainbow.

Sat, May 1st: Disembarked the boat back at Honolulu. We got a shuttle back to Waikiki and stored our bags back at our original hotel - Waikiki Resort Hotel. We went to a shopping area called the King's Village, but most of the shops weren't open yet. We went to a store in Honolulu called Hilo Hattie - a Hawaiian clothing and souvenir store.

When we got back to Waikiki, we went to a little park where they were celebrating May Day - Lei Day. They had some performers who hula'd and sang. At the end they gave some flower leis to a few people in the crowd, Liz being one of them. We went back to the International Market. Then had dinner at the Cheeseburger in Paradise again. Then we went out on a rocky jetti at the beach before heading to the airport for the very long trip home.

Synopsis: We really enjoyed Hawaii. I wish we had more time to go swimming (like at Waikiki beach). We liked having the cruise where we were able to visit a bunch of different places. Our favorite things were the snorkeling and the jungle pool / zipline. It had snowed back home, so it was nice that we missed out - being in 82 degree weather. We were very glad that we were able to go.

Now in video!