Easter Progress

Happy Easter everyone! I hope you’re all managing to make the most of the long weekend, despite the challenging circumstances. I’ve spent quite a significant amount of time in the garden over the past few days, including eating lunch our there for the first (and second, and third, and fourth) time this year …

… and it really has made me appreciate being able to open the back door to step into the great outdoors. We lived in a pretty small flat with no garden before we moved to our house and the thought of going through this social distancing without some outside space to escape to is pretty grim! I really feel for people living in less fortunate circumstances.

Last time I wrote, I reported that I’d sown my first seeds of the year and I’m pleased to report good progress going on there just over a week later.

New shoots seems very appropriate for Easter Sunday. In the green bamboo pots I have a few Sunflower ‘Teddy Bear’ seedlings and in the black pots some Sunflower ‘Autumn Beauty’. It always amazes me that you can look at your pots one day and there’s nothing, and the very next day there’s teeny tiny leaves pushing through. Nothing’s happening with the Dutch Sweetpeas or the Petit Pois yet.

Having spent quite a few hours in the garden, I’ve come to realise how many animals we’re sharing our outside space with, most desirable, others less so!

We spotted the first non desirable one through our kitchen window, but we did also see him saunter across the patio brazen as anything when we were having lunch on our bistro!

Rat! On the bird table! We’ve had to decommission the bird table for the time being! I actually don’t mind rats, in fact, if we didn’t have the cats I’d have a couple of fancy rats, but I also don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage them in the garden.

We have an abundance of squirrels who also like to steal the bird food from, well, anywhere that we put it! It is seemingly impossible to squirrel proof any kind of food!

Here’s one plotting his manoeuvre on to the bird table (pre rat-retirement!) I really like the squirrels, and I’m much less concerned about them pinching bird food than rats (probably because they’re so darn cute!) I’d rather they pinch bird food than my bulbs! Hubby gets cross with them though (mostly, I think, because they outsmart all his squirrel proofing attempts!)

Moving on to insects.

This striking Stink Beetle was living in the greenhouse. Apparently he’s not a huge threat to my veg or plants so I left him.

This is quite possibly the prettiest beetle I’ve ever seen. It is, according to Google, a Rosemary Beetle. I thought it was a ladybird until I got a bit closer, it was exactly the size and shape of the lovely ladybug. We don’t have any Rosemary in the garden, but we do have Lavender which they are apparently also partial to taking a munch on.

Sticking with the insect theme, but this time a highly desirable one, is the bee.

I nearly trod on this little lady as she was resting on the floor. I gave her some sugar water which she went straight to. After a while she started crawling around and scrambled up on my leg.

I sat there with her for a while before letting her crawl on to a leaf and I left her in my birthday planter.

I went back out to check on her after ten minutes or so and she was gone so I’m hoping I’d given her enough energy to fly off and continue her bee business.

Let’s flit off (see what I did there?) to some birds now.

Since the lockdown, the traffic has been much reduced on our road, and the air traffic above has practically zeroed! I feel somewhat guilty admitting this, given my love of flying and holidays, but I’m not missing the planes! Sitting in our garden sounds like sitting in an aviary.

We’ve seen quite a few different kinds of birds over the last few days, not all of which I’ve managed to photograph. We have Jays, Blackbirds, Magpies, Wrens, Robins, Sparrows, Thrushes, Finches, Pigeons and Blue Tits.

Here are the pictures I have managed to snap.

Finally, the piece de resistance …..

I did, for a second or two, think that a Pterodactyl had landed on our ridge tiles (I’ve been stuck at home for millions of years, my brain’s turning to mush!) but soon realised that it was a Heron. You can just about see his fancy hair do in the first pic. He stayed up there surveying the gardens for about half an hour.

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at our lovely wildlife. I feel so grateful to have our garden, it really is my little sanctuary.

Enjoy the rest of Easter, and if anyone has any mini eggs, please eat some for me. I don’t have any and I’m pretty sure they don’t count as an essential item so I can’t go and get any!

Alternative Six on Saturday!

I was a really busy bee yesterday. I spent about five hours cleaning, tidying and generally organising ready for some friends to come over in the evening so our house is now sparkling, then I went over to Coventry to get my nails done.

… I went for green with glitter this time and I’m a little bit in love with them!

By the time I got home I just had time to have some tea before everyone arrived so I didn’t have chance to write a Six on Saturday post, even though I had managed to squeeze a photo mission to the garden in. Not to worry, it just means I’m not limited to six things to tell you about today.

First of all I’m going to wish our Welsh friends a very happy Saint David’s Day.

More and more daffs are popping up in the garden now and they do make my Winter-battered heart sing with hope. These ones are in the corner of my birthday planter.

There are definitely signs that Spring is in the air I the garden, apart from the daffs. My friend gave me a Crocus bowl for my birthday back in September. I planted the bulbs and then left the bowl in the dark garage as instructed. I have to admit, I had completely forgotten it was in there until hubby saw the bulbs sprouting and mentioned it to me. I took it out to the light and it’s gone from strength to strength.

There’s lots of new growth appearing around the garden.

My Hydrangea is growing little cabbages at the end of its arms.

My Dogwood is looking beautifully red and is growing lovely limey leaves.

And my Pink Damask in my birthday planter has got pretty big already. This dies down completely in the Winter and then shoots up in the Spring ready for its big blousy pink flowers in the Summer.

There’s actually some pink already doing its pretty thing out there. In the front my Camellia’s gearing up to flower already and I’m going to start appreciating it from now on because once those beautiful flowers bloom, they don’t stick around for long.

In the back the Pieris is already starting to develop its pink tips ready for the full on sunset that it will impress with soon.

And my sale table Erysimum which must surely be the most stoic plant in the garden, determined to shine even through Storms Ciara and Dennis, is waving a couple of flowers above its foliage.

Gorgeous!

The lawn is a little unruly because we weren’t able to give it one last mow at the end of the Summer because, would you believe it, it kept raining, and I noticed yesterday that the fox run is visible.

This reminded me to check the garden camera to see what the wildlife’s been up to recently. This was a mission! I hadn’t checked it since before Christmas so there were more than four thousand photos on the memory card. It took me hours to go through them all and get rid of the blurry ones, the hundreds of pigeons and the ones that were apparently triggered by the invisible man! Do you know how many actual decent photos I was left with? Twenty! I’ll just show you the best ones.

Bit blurry this one, but look at the date! Looks like it was the pigeon Christmas party!

Just Mr Fox enjoying some chips …

… and a squirrel chowing down on a prawn cracker.

We got another hedgehog too! So pleased with this one.

Finally, how do I know it’s Mr Fox and not Mrs? I’ll just leave this here!

Harmony of the Seas Western Caribbean

So, I’m lying in bed with a slight (entirely self-inflicted) headache, waiting for 11am to roll around so I can order an Uber Eats Maccy Ds to neutralise the alcohol consumed last night, and I can hear Storm Ciara kicking up a fuss outside, so I thought it would be the perfect moment to start the post about our cruise which I promised last weekend. As an aside, am I the only person in the world who was annoyed when McDonalds extended their breakfast time to 11am? I’m sure it made perfect Golden Arches business sense, but on a morning like this one, I don’t want rubbery egg, I want a big fat burger and fries with extra grease, and now I have to wait an extra thirty minutes for it. Thank goodness for Uber though – at least I don’t have to venture out into Ciara’s midst to get my fix!

I can start pretty much where I finished the last post, because this time three weeks ago (time difference aside) it was embarkation day and we were making our way to IHOP on International Drive for our decadent brunch (the picture of which I will share again because it was just sooooo good!) …

… before we excitedly headed off down the I4 and the FL-50 E to Port Canaveral to board Harmony of the Seas. We could see the ship from quite far out – she was the only cruise liner docked at Port Canaveral that day, and there’s no mistaking her! She’s huge! She was, until overtaken by her sister, Symphony, the biggest cruise liner in the world and, in case anyone’s interested, she was made using steel plates and sheets produced by the company that I work for, ArcelorMittal. She was completed and delivered to Royal Caribbean in 2016 and that year she was on our calendars at work so I looked at her every day for a year as I changed the date, and I vowed then that one day I’d sail on her.

Where do I start with describing her? We boarded on deck 5 which is one of the main entertainment decks, so we entered into hustle and bustle.

These photos were taken on our last day so it’s quieter, but on embarkation day it was buzzing with people boarding and trying to find their way around as well as crew welcoming people and offering directions, and people who’d already learnt the ropes and were taking advantage of the restaurants, bars and cafes.

It was all quite overwhelming so we found a lift (or elevator as 99% of passengers seemed to be American or Canadian) and went to gain our equilibrium in our stateroom.

It didn’t stay that tidy for long! Our luggage was delivered before too long (always a relief when you’ve had to leave it with a random guy on the quayside!) and we actually completely unpacked rather than living out of our suitcases like we normally do (mainly because there wasn’t anywhere convenient to leave the cases with easy access).

The cabin had every modcon necessary. We had aircon that actually worked well, lots of drawers and hanging space in the cupboards, and also a free to use safe that was big enough to take my iPad. There were plenty of plug sockets (most US style and one European) including one next to the bed which was very handy for charging our phones/watch/AirPods overnight. The bathroom was very nice with a decent shower which always had hot water despite the vast number of passengers on board (six thousand six hundred from sixty five nations plus two thousand two hundred crew from seventy five nations apparently). We also had a fridge which was handy for the two bottles of wine that we were allowed to bring on board with us and also leftovers from the breakfast that you could order from room service (this was handy for port days when we had excursions booked and needed to be off the ship early).

I ordered granola, yoghurt, honey and a fruit plate and made myself an almost Slimming World friendly breakfast! You could also have croissants, Danish pastries, toast and preserves, cereal and milk, donuts (American spelling, obviously) or for a charge, a full American breakfast or a breakfast Margharita (is that even a thing?)

As you can see, we had a big porthole which looked out to the starboard side. The ship has staterooms with balconies but we weighed up the pros and cons versus the cost and decided a porthole would be best for us. The sea facing balconies were several hundred pounds more. We could have had an internal facing balcony for a similar price …

… but as you can see from these photos, there’s much less privacy because of the balconies opposite and with the porthole you have the advantage of being able to see where you are on port days. We also enjoyed sitting in the window with a glass of vino watching the sea slip by as we sailed off into the sunset.

It also became a good place to display my new fridge magnets.

In the photo above with the pink slides snaking their way down ten decks from sixteen to six you can see the boardwalk. Here you could find the Doghouse which served various different kinds of hotdog and other speciality restaurants, the Aqua Theatre, various shops including the Royal shop selling Royal Caribbean branded items and the carousel.

In the next photo you can see Central Park. This was an oasis on deck eight. It was always quiet, sometimes with peaceful live piano music. There was one inclusive restaurant in Central Park and a couple that required a supplement.

All the plants and trees are real. As it was open air there were umbrellas at each end just in case there were any showers.

I’d be hard pressed to mention everything that there is to do on the ship, but I’ll give it a go!

There are two rock climbing walls …

… three water slides seen here on the model because I somehow neglected to take a photo …

… one dry slide called the Ultimate Abyss which was AWESOME …

… two flowriders where you could have a go at surfing or body boarding …

… a mini golf course …

… a zip line which sent you zooming over the Boardwalk ten decks below …

… and an ice skating rink.

There were four pools, twelve hot tubs, hundreds of sun loungers (including really cute child sized ones), a casino, art gallery, card room, climbing wall for kids, full size basketball court, two table tennis tables, two arcades, an escape room (we got out with about five minutes to spare), an adults only solarium, a gym and spa, hairdressers and beauty salon and a running track on deck five.

Excuse the horrendous photo of me, but it’s proof that we did it!

You could eat in twenty restaurants. We stuck to the ones included in the price of our cruise. There was Sorrentos serving pizza and anti pasta, Cafe Promenade where you could go for a hot drink and a cake, the Doghouse that I’ve already mentioned and a couple more that we didn’t even manage to fit in, but we had most of our meals in Minibites on the pool deck serving breakfast and lunch (great nachos) and Windjammers which was a massive buffet restaurant with more food than you could possibly eat! In addition to this there were many bars including the Schooner Bar which had live music every night and various quizzes, the Rising Tide Bar which slowly moved between decks five and eight, and my favourite, the Bionic Bar where you ordered your cocktail on an iPad and then a big robot arm made and served your drink.

We went to see three shows (which wasn’t all of the ones available!) We saw Grease in the Royal Theatre on our first night …

… which was really good.

A couple of days later we watched 1887 in Studio B which was the ice rink …

… and the final show we were lucky to see because it had been cancelled the previous couple of nights because the weather wasn’t good enough. It was in the Aqua Theatre and was called the Fine Line.

There was aerial acrobatics, diving from height and lots of water! The stage in the pool raised and lowered depending whether the performers were in, on or under the water.

Phew! With all that at your fingertips you’d wonder if it was worth actually getting off the ship! Of course we did!

First stop was Perfect Day at CocoCay which is an island in the Bahamas which is exclusively for Royal Caribbean cruise passengers.

It has a water park, several beaches and inland pools, a market and, conveniently, a couple of all inclusive restaurants. As with the ship, drinks are extra, but as I’d paid for a freestyle soda cup which I could refill whenever I liked for the whole cruise and on CocoCay, and twenty four bottles of Evian, we didn’t need to fork out for any drinks.

We’d booked a swimming with pigs excursion here so we headed off on a speed boat to a nearby island for this quite early. This was brilliant. There were tiny four week old piglets right up to huge sows, all of whom were very keen to eat the apple on sticks that we were given to feed them. At one point one of the tour guides knocked over a box of apples (I’ve a feeling it might have been accidentally on purpose!) and we found out that pigs can move pretty quickly!

Sorry about the swimwear shot – there might be a couple of these!

We were supposed to be going parasailing in the afternoon but unfortunately this got cancelled because the forecast was for rain. Given the rain that did appear, I’m very pleased we weren’t up in the air! Anyway I’m glad I booked the excursions the way round that I did, because we can parasail anywhere but we can’t swim with pigs anywhere else. We had the money refunded so we were able to book an excursion when we got back to Florida.

The second day was at sea and was actually a bit chilly, but we found a sheltered spot and I settled down with a book, hubby with his music.

On the third day we docked at Costa Maya in Mexico, not far from the Yucatan peninsula. We got off and had a look around the dock. The weather was beautiful this day.

It was a really busy and bustling port and there were four cruise ships in so after we’d had a scout around we decided to head back to the ship for some lunch and sunbathing.

You can see how big our ship is in this photo that I took on the way back.

The ship next door is the Seven Seas Explorer and she has capacity for seven hundred and fifty passengers and five hundred and fifty crew so she’s not exactly a tiny rowing boat but she’s dwarfed by Harmony.

Day four saw us arrive in Roatan which is an island off the coast of Honduras. Here we’d booked a snorkelling tour and time on a private beach. The second biggest reef in the world, the MesoAmerican reef, runs down the coast of Central America so we were excited about snorkelling here. It was actually a little disappointing in terms of the sea life that we saw, but I think this is because we’ve spoiled ourselves for snorkelling by doing it in the Maldives. If you want amazing snorkelling, the Indian Ocean is the place to do it. Anyway, we did see a couple of rays, some sea urchins and best of all, starfish.

Back on the beach it was idyllic. We had sun loungers right on the shore and the weather was beautiful. We were lucky – our tour guide, Jordan, told us that it had rained the day before. There wasn’t a drop in sight for us.

Day five took us back to Mexico, this time Cozumel island.

You wouldn’t believe how long I had to wait for people to get out of the way so I could get this photo without random strangers in it! The port area here was nice. We had a look round all the shops and watched snorkelers swim around. We almost went to eat at Bubba Gumps (one of our favourite restaurants) but decided we would save our money and eat back on board Harmony. We took advantage of the various photo opportunities though.

Day six was at sea again so we made the most of the facilities. We went down the Ultimate Abyss (twice), went ice skating, hubby went on the zip line one more time (it started to drizzle just as I was about to go and they closed it, but I had already been on so no big deal), escaped from Escape the Rubicon, the on board escape room and then set up camp in a huge squishy chair in the solarium to read, listen to music and do some puzzles. Sounds so simple, but it’s just blissful to have the time to do these things without a little voice in the back of you head telling you that you should be cleaning or cooking or tidying or working or any other number of mundane (but unfortunately necessary) tasks. One of the things I love best about holidays is just time!

On our last day we were docked back at Port Canaveral by six am, and we had to be at our meeting point by quarter past seven. Early, but al least we had a good few hours to still enjoy being away. We’d used the refunded money from our cancelled parasailing to book a trip on an airboat.

This was great fun, but boy it was cold! It hadn’t warmed up enough for any alligators to surface unfortunately which was a shame, but we have seen ‘gators before in Florida so not the end of the world.

I’m quite partial to this photo that I took on the way round.

We saw several really big birds and we got to try deep fried alligator (maybe best that we didn’t see one!) I won’t be rushing to eat it again, I’m not a massive fan of meat anyway, and it was quite chewy, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.

After the tour we were dropped back at the airport with our bags. It was still only morning and we didn’t fly until six thirty, but Orlando airport’s a good one and we looked round the Universal and Disney shops, had some lunch and I caught up on the Crown on Netflix. The iPad and AirPods are just perfect for travelling. I love all my technology!

Wow, that was a long blog! Are you still with me? I really enjoyed reliving our a,axing holiday! Now, how quickly can I save up to go again? We’re not done with you Harmony!