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!

Happy Birthday To me

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Green Girl Gardener is a whole one year old today! Where has that year gone? I knew it was coming up because about a month ago my iPhone calendar reminded me to ‘cancel WordPress if not using’. I just swiped it away, and that made me happy because it meant I’d been successful in my venture.

After I published my first post, hubby turned all Del Boy and declared that ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires!’ Well I haven’t been successful in that way  (not that the intention was ever for that to happen), and I don’t even have that many followers/regular readers, but it still feels like an eminently successful year to me because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every second of blogging. I’ve always been a closet writer (I still think there’s a novel in me somewhere) and this is a fabulous way for me to express myself creatively. It makes me happy to play with words, find the most amusing way to express myself, to conjugate to my heart’s content.

I think the blog has had its main focus on my gardening adventure, but I’ve also managed to bring other passions into it – crochet, cats, holidays, teddy bears, tennis. Hopefully I’ve provided some light entertainment on otherwise dreary days, and maybe I’ve even provided a little bit of education along the way (although probably not in gardening because I’m still right down the bottom of that particular learning curve).

I’ve found lots of fellow bloggers who blog on all sorts of subjects from crochet to mental health to cooking to travel, but most of all I’ve found fellow gardeners. Luckily (for me) most of them are far more experienced than yours truly and they’ve helped me identify mystery plants, they’ve offered tips and tricks either directly or through their own writing and they’ve opened my eyes to different kinds of gardening. I can honestly say that starting my little bloggy venture was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve complemented by space here with a Green Girl Gardener account on Instagram (@greengirlgardener if anyone’s interested) which allows me, when I don’t have time to blog, to share those random photos that I take when I pop out to check the garden before work, or when I spot a beautiful plant while I’m out and about or when I’ve created something scrummy with my own homegrown goodness.

I’m going to celebrate my first birthday by sharing some of my favourite photos from the past year.

I’ve tried to pick one photo from each month, but I’ve got so many photos that I love that I think I’m going to have to do another montage!

Above we have for July my Eupatorium (that had to be in there, didn’t it), Olive and Tink, our furry girls for August and my birthday planter for September. Then there’s the fox cushion I made for my mother in law in October and hubby and I in a cenote in Mexico during our November holiday. Next row shows my Hellebore flowering in December and my Christmas present greenhouse housing a hubby (a husband hut as my friend on Facebook quipped) in early January. Penultimate row is us with a friendly falcon in Malta in February and the Palace of Holyroodhouse during my trip to Edinburgh (which was also in February but I must’ve written my post in early March) and finally one of my raised beds all planted and netted in April, the iconic Universal globe on our fantastic holiday to Orlando in May and last but not least, the Confetti Fields that I visited in June.

Here we go again. Top row shows a Gazania which was the first sale table find that I blogged about back in July 2018 and an Eeyore house at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens which we discovered in August. Jump down a row to a wild pony in Sutton Park which we came across in September, I still remember how happy I was to have seen one because I was starting to think they were a myth, and my set of Clover hooks which revolutionised my crocheting life in October. Next up is a white feather in November which I think is my gardening expert Grandad popping down from heaven to check I’m not messing up the garden, followed by our yummy Christmas dinner in December, our furry girls keeping warm in January and me meeting my new baby niece in February. Fourth row shows a mountain of bears in March (that’s been added to since then!) and an elephant that I crocheted as a leaving gift for my boss when he retired in April so he doesn’t forget me and lastly a Gringotts vault at the Harry Potter studios in May and the start of my love affair with overnight oats as I started Slimming World in June.

It’s so nice to look back at these photos – yet another benefit to my blog. I also take more random photos when I get an inkling of an idea for a blog post and I find that quite often they evoke the strongest memories.

I’ll finish with a thank you. To all you lovely readers – friends, family, colleagues and fellow bloggers – thank you so much for reading, liking, commenting, complimenting and educating me for the last year. I really do appreciate it every time someone takes time out of their busy day to read my musings and ramblings, and I hope I can continue to entertain and perhaps amuse for a long time to come.

Underwater World

We are jet lagged! I imagine this is what it feels like to be on mind-altering drugs. Earlier we went to Tesco (through necessity certainly not desire). I generally avoid supermarkets. Life is just too short when you work full time to be faffing around in supermarkets in your free time, wondering how the human race hasn’t become extinct. If it can’t even handle a shopping trolley how on earth does it undertake more complicated activities such as, oh I don’t know, crossing the road or raising a child! Anyway, somehow today, in our multi time zonal state it suddenly became more bearable. I’m pretty sure I managed not to leave my trolley horizontal across the end of an aisle whilst I wondered off to (at length) ponder the virtues of Cushelle over Andrex as is the want of your seasoned supermarket goer, but I was definitely less spatially aware than usual and (joy of joys) pretty much unaware of the irritating foibles of my fellow shoppers. Maybe that’s as a result of post holiday relaxation, or maybe the jet lag. Either way, I shall return to online shopping next week because I’m sure both will have deserted me not to return until our next holiday, leaving me open to the possibility of committing hara-kiri with a carrot should I attempt to enter a supermarket.

We landed back down on earth with a bump today (and not one of a Dreamliner!) As well as braving Tesco, I’ve emptied both suitcases and my beach bag, put the passports away, hung up everything that didn’t need washing, filled and emptied the dishwasher, watered the plants, cleaned the kitchen and straightened my hair (but I drew the line at applying make up – one thing at a time, eh?) Hubby has emptied the bins, cleaned the cats bowls and changed their litter trays and between us we’ve done two loads of washing (including hubby’s uniform ready for his return to work on Tuesday) and now we’re cooking tea. There was a fairy for all manner of domestic chore whilst we were on holiday and I was hoping it might have popped in our suitcase to continue back home, but no such luck!

So, I’m going to live vicariously through my past self this evening and tell you about our excursion last week. We decided we’d just do one excursion while we were away, partly because they were flipping expensive but mostly because we really felt the need for copious amounts of lying, relaxing, snoozing and general nothing doing. We looked at the options and toyed with a trip to Chichen Itza, but ultimately we realised that this would’ve just been a box ticking exercise and we weren’t all that desperate to see it. Impressive as I’m sure it is, you can no longer climb the pyramid, the pick up was at some ungodly hour and it would’ve meant spending several hours of our precious holiday on a coach. So, we opted for Underwater World.

Our pick up was scheduled for 7.55am, but by 8.15am we were still lounging in the sun on the front steps of the hotel. I have to admit I was starting to worry, but there was no need, the minibus had got held up getting into Playa Carm (as the locals call Playa del Carmen). There’s a checkpoint to get in and every vehicle is checked. This must be irritating for people coming in for deliveries and hotel staff etc. but it’s for safety reasons and did mean that the hotel felt super secure.

Soon we were on our way down the highway to our first stop which was a cenote, which is an underground lagoon. There are over six thousand cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsular and as there are no rivers in the area, they provide the primary source of drinking water. The water filters through the rocks when it rains and it is crystal clear (until, that is people go in and stir up the silt on the bottom).

We entered the uunderground world down a very steep staircase.

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Please excuse the swimwear! I promise I won’t make a habit of posting pics in such attire! You can see the steepness of the stairs and the concentration on hubby’s face to make sure he doesn’t fall down them!

There is absolutely no natural light down there once you’ve moved away from the entrance so for most of the time we had to follow our guide Ricardo’s torch as you can see in this photo.

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Luckily nobody asked what would happen if the battery died until after we’d got back to the stairs! Apparently it has happened and they all had to hold on to each other and feel their way around the rocks until they got back! Argh! When we were in the depths of the cave Ricardo turned the torch off and you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face!

The cenote is filled with stalagmites and stalactites which are thousands of years old, formed by the water dripping through. You have to be really careful not to touch them because they are very easily damaged.

This is one of the most special things I’ve ever done.

After we scrambled our way back up the stairs we headed back to the highway down the bumpiest road I’ve ever known. Halfway down we suddenly stopped to the cry of ‘tarantula!’ Somehow our driver had spotted this little (big) fellow crawling around at the side of the road.

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I’m not the biggest lover of spiders, although I’ve got better since I’ve been gardening more and coming across all manner of creepy crawlies, but I was very impressed by this guy. Now, I’m not saying I want to find one of these in the bath, but I find them a lot less shudder-inducing than the common house spider, because they don’t scurry. They’re too big for scurrying! You can see some scale in the next photo.

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Another minibus was heading towards the cenote and they pulled over when they saw the commotion and the driver picked the tarantula up!

Brave guy!

We carried on and headed to our final stop, a beautiful beach where went snorkelling. Unfortunately I don’t have photos because we had to leave our belongings in the minibus because there were no lockers, but imagine Caribbean paradise and you’ll be part way there!

We suited up in our life jackets and snorkels and followed Ricardo into the water. There’s no guarantee of seeing turtles because they’re not in captivity, they’re free to swim wherever they please. Apparently ten years ago you’d be likely to see close to a hundred on a good day, but now you’re lucky to see five or six.

We were reasonably lucky, we saw three.

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These aren’t the actual turtles that we saw. Well, they might be, but I didn’t take the photos, they were in a photo package that I bought of the day. They’re pretty close to what we actually saw.

It’s very serene when you’re floating around looking down at turtles, not able to hear anything because your ears are below the water. Very calm.

Sadly some of the turtles are getting cancer because of the chemicals that we, the human race, are putting into the sea. I couldn’t see any evidence of it on the turtles we saw (apparently they get white tumours) but it really makes you realise that we need to change our ways for the good of the animal kingdom, and the planet as a whole. Obviously we need to wear sun protection, but there are animal safe products available. There are alternatives to many plastic consumables.

As well as the turtles we saw two sting rays, an adult (mummy?) and a baby.

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Again, not my photo, but a good likeness.

This was an absolutely brilliant day! I’m so glad we chose this over Chichen Itza, we have amazing memories that we can cherish forever.