Friday, September 25, 2015

An Afternoon in The Rainforest

It really was a joy to return to the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid.  I had been once before - probably around 8th grade - and knew that it was a neat adventure.  Construction began in the early '80's and the Rainforest Pyramid opened to the public in the early 1990's.  It's gone thru a major renovation after Hurricane Ike in 2008 - no damage to the Pyramid itself, it was designed to handle the strong winds - but the flood waters reached 14 feet in the parking lot.  The renovation included a canopy-level walk way, that gives visitors the ability to see the rainforest form an entirely new perspective.  Pretty neat:

It was really awesome to have a bird's eye view of the jungle-like environment.

We arrived around 4 in the afternoon, and hadn't thought about it until one of the on-staff biologists mentioned it, but about that time of the afternoon, all the nocturnal critters are starting to wake up and move about, whereas the day-time creatures (like the birds) are finding a place to bed down for the night.  Didn't think about that until we walked past the canopy area that contained the bats.  Yes, BATS!!

They were stretching and moving along, scratching their faces and bodies against the wired fencing of their containment area.  The pictures really don't show the size of these guys - their bodies were easily 6-8" long and 4-5' inches wide, thier wing span was easily 2 feet!  Like gerbils, but with wings.  Eek!

I was ready at that point to leave the canopy behind, but someone was blocking our exit!

Once Shaggy moved away from the door we were able to start our trek down to the forest floor.  The way they've designed the exhibits really is neat - you go from the outdoors, up in the heat and humidity, into an air-conditioned and dark area that houses numerous small creatures in terrariums so that you can get an up-close look at them.

Did I mention, it was air-conditioned?  There were a few of these areas spaced throughout the exhibit.  RDB and I were talking afterwards - they were spaced at just the right points where you'd have had just about enough of the 'natural environment' and were longing for a bit of a break.  That's smart engineering right there!  It made the entire experience enjoyable.

The floor of the rainforest was lush, lovely, and cool.

Probably the neatest part of our trip was the Ocelot.  Also known as a dwarf leopard, it's habitat is mostly in South America, but it's been seen as far north as Texas.  It was an incredible little critter!

Happy as a Clam at High Tide

Oh, camping - how we've missed you!  

It feels like forever long ago that we were last with SETPUCC - now renamed the All Campers Welcome Club (ACWC) - and agreed to scout for this trip to Galveston Island State Park.  Just a short hour or so from Houston, its a great campground to head to after a long week of work and travel.  It was nearly 10pm when we finally arrived, though, and as much as we wanted to socialize with the Club, we went nearly straight to bed!

Saturday morning, we woke to beautiful weather and an awesome short jaunt to the beach.

Diesel wasn't all that excited about the sea water (there were stickers on the path to the beach, and we have a feeling he got stuck and then stung by the water).  I was loving it, though.  It has been so long since I've walked along the Gulf of Mexico with my feet in the water, feeling the cool waves lap at my ankles.  It was amazing how beautiful and clean the beach was; the only thing littering the coast was the multitude of teeny-tiny little mussels.  

After a lengthy morning walk on the beach, we found ourselves back in the camper again, enjoying the air-conditioning and deciding what we wanted to do with the afternoon, before our scheduled pot-luck with the Club. 

Pros and Cons of Galveston Island State Park: Pro? You're super close to a very private beach. Con? Not a tree in sight.

I had a few ideas on what I wanted to do around Galveston, Trip Advisor had a few more suggestions as well.  (I did *not* know there was a train museum and running train in Galveston!! We will be going back to do that for sure!!) And no, even though the Bolivar Ferry was rated as #1, you will not see me going on that adventure! We finally decided on eating lunch at a favorite spot on the water and then heading over to a well-known tourist spot.

So, if ever you're in Galveston, and you're hungry for some of the best fried seafood on the Gulf Coast, head over to the Fisherman's Wharf on Pier 21.  RDB and I have had lunch here before - watching the cruise ships leave out on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago.  We didn't expect to see them again this trip, but both the Carnival Freedom and the Triumph were anchored, getting ready for their next trip out.  The Fisherman's Wharf has seating both inside and out - with direct views of the pier and harbor.  I guess you could say, it was lunch and a show! ;-)  And just so you know, the Shrimp Kisses (part of the appetizer platter) were the absolute best thing we had - although the mini crab cakes (also an appetizer) are what brought us back again for lunch!

^^ Look!! It's a Ferris brick!! A HOUSTON Ferris brick! I had no idea they even existed!

With full bellies, we headed towards Hope Street and the Moody Gardens pyramids.  I had been to this indoor rainforest once before, back in 8th grade, and thought it would be a great idea for an afternoon adventure.  RDB wasn't so sure: rainforest? Hot, humid, tropical environment? It wasn't until I told him they'd designed the pyramid with air-conditioning that blows directly onto the walking paths that he agreed to go.  Can't say I blame him!

I'll write a separate post for our time at Moody Gardens - it was such a neat experience, and I have lots to share about it!

Once we returned from our rainforest adventure, we headed over to M&D's campsite where everyone was gathering for the pot-luck dinner.  Since renaming the Club this spring, we needed a new banner - M&D took it upon themselves and came up with a great one:

 "Owl" bet you didn't see that coming! ;-)

We had a rather large group this campout: M&D and D's mom, JS&D and their daughter, D&J, the Happy Camper, The Photog and K, their daughter and niece, and a new (younger!) tent couple: Submarina and Isle.  There were several other new additions to the group, as well, but I didn't get a chance to get around and meet them all.

The pot-luck, as always, was wonderful. It never ceases to amaze me how we can all come together with different tastes and dishes, and no one ever leaves hungry!

We brought the Bird with us as well.  It took no time for the guys to crowd around RDB and ask about all the features and capabilities of our DJI Inspire1.  While he played around with the quad-copter, I got old school and went over to the beach to fly a kite.

I absolutely love this one:

True to form, after dinner M suggested that we head out onto the beach for a walk: a Crab Crawl, if you will!  Several of us walked out to the sound of the waves, under a deep full moon, and chased the tiny little critters as we came across them. Submarina was by far the most hilarious, blinding the crabs with her flashlight and then taking off in a rush after them when they'd gather the courage to jump out of the light and make a break for freedom.  One she chased all the way to the edge of the tidal line, where it stood for a moment with a look at the waves like "I can't swim!" but then jumped into the swell at its own peril.  It was a perfect end to a great night.

The wind shifted as the sun set Saturday night. We went to bed with it whipping around at anything that wasn't tied down, and then sometime after midnight the sky fell out.  RDB and I both woke at various points to the crash and bang of thunder and lightening, and the constant drumming of rain on the roof.  Before we went to bed, a last minute tent camper had shown up in the spot beside us; by the next morning, they were gone.

Perhaps you can see why:

Seriously. We went to bed and there was a tent in the spot between us and Happy Camper's trailer (in the upper right hand photo). We woke up, and they were no where to be seen.  And that was only 1.5" last night.  We checked the radar, we were in a lull in the rain and it wasn't going to get much better, so RDB packed up the outside, while I quickly packed up the inside, and we were on the road back home again in no time.  There was quiet a difference in the swell as we rode along the Seawall and made our way back to Houston.

Yet another wonderful trip, and another wonderful campground.  We were in site 15 on the beach side at Galveston Island State Park. Very level side to side, but also a low-spot if it rains.  No trees (obviously) so bring a pop-up shade tent if you're planning to hang out at the campsite for a while.  The park has recently undergone (and is still undergoing) renovations to make repairs from the 2008 hurricane season.  Ike did  a number on the island, and the beautiful beachy park was not spared.  All that being said, I think Diesel liked it well enough.  Happy dog.  

For more camping photos, go here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

*Tent on Wheels on Water AGAIN*

Because we just couldn't stay away, and, because it was RDB's 30-ifty-th birthday, and, because I got injured in a car accident in June and RDB wanted to do something to take my mind off the pain and frustration, and just maybe, we might be addicted to the aqua-blue-navy beautiful waters.  Which is why we booked an aft balcony on the Carnival Triumph heading back to Cozumel. And oh, was it worth it.

Yep. One big run-on sentence.  But grammar goes out the window when you get just a little excited!

This time around, we were sharing the adventure with Dad and Bunny - who had also cruised before.  It was a very laid back, make no plans, come and go kind of a trip.  Just what I needed!

And of course, RDB and me:

Just a quick note there - the above photo was taken during the life boat drill (muster).  On the older ships, you'll find yourself standing out on the deck adjacent to the actual boats, standing in line sardine-like with all the other passengers.  Two things I would *highly* recommend: ear plugs, as the announcements and sirens were deafeningly loud, and a folding fan, as it was hot and you'll be standing for a lot longer than you think.  Or, as RDB recommends, just don't travel on the older ships.  ;-)

Now, on to the fun stuff - like, our cabin!  We booked cabin 7427. It was a little small for a balcony - only a bed and table, no couch - but the extended area on the balcony more than made up for it!

Just like the last cruise, after booking I looked to see what Facebook groups were out there.  Come to find out, this was the second annual CCPPF Diva's cruise!  I've joined the group, and have had lots of fun getting to know the ladies on-line.  RDB and I attended the first night's event: a Cabin Crawl and Poker Run, and even hosted since we had an aft balcony to show off!

So, yeah.  We had Security called on us about half way thru the crawl.  Let's just say,it was a GREAT group of very fun and laid back ladies.... and I've got my eye on the next cruise with them coming up October of 2016!

Talking about our room, though - Cabin 7427 - on the aft port side.  I had read great things about having an aft balcony, and knew that I loved the view of the water, churned up by the propellers as we travel along, so booking it for this short cruise just seemed like the perfect idea.  

We loved it.

 Ok, so I loved the view.  RDB loved the bed....

In case you wondered - no, we didn't spend all of our time in the room or on the balcony.  We had one day at sea, one day in Cozumel, and another day back at sea heading home.  Lots of fun to be had all along the way.

Bunny introduced me to a new game in the casino: Jacks or Better.  Dad played his hand at the slots, and RDB tried the Cash Cube and the Quarter Drop a few times.  It was a lot of fun, as long as you remember: it's entertainment, not income!

RDB and I enjoyed our evening's before dinner in the World Atrium.  Triumph serves Thirsty Frog (Carnival's exclusive brew) and so we enjoyed a few rounds of it.  I found a spicy pineapple martini that I fell in love with, as well as a sage-infused strawberry martini.  The lounge singer had an amazing voice, and the shows were just 'ok' this time around.  They made a change to the line-up of shows the first night: I have a feeling one of the principal players may have been sick or injured, and that's what caused the change in entertainment.

But truth be told, we weren't on the ship for what Carnival could provide.  We were on our way back to Cozumel!!

To those beautiful blue chairs under the green and yellow palms, next to Pancho's Backyard and the pina colidas the size of your face!

Our server, Marco, dropped by shortly after we sat down.  He brought us the first round along with the check - we asked if he minded if we opened a tab, we were planning to stay for a while.  He snatched back the receipt so quickly and had a smile from ear to ear!  I had heard great things about the chips and guac, so when we ordered our next round, we ordered a snack as well.  Can I say: you will *not* be disappointed!

Not long afterwards, Dad and Bunny made their way down to join us.  

It really was just an enjoyable day; hanging out on the beach, looking back over the crystalline waters, enjoying a few drinks and great conversation.

All too soon, though, we were heading back to the ship that would take us back home.

The view from our balcony gave us the ability to watch as the pilot boat came to guide us out of the port....  

...with those beautiful blue aqua waters.  Oh, I love them so.

It was a short, but wonderful trip.  I really could see us taking this same trip once a year (*hint*hint* RDB, if you're reading this: my birthday is just 6 short months away!)

Still one of my favorite things that Carnival does, are the towel animals with the evening turn down service.  We had a few really cute ones:

Pretty sure he wanted to come home with us.  In fact, I think they all were sad to see us go.... 

Maybe next time, Towel Cuties.  Next time.

Why? Because, well....

For more cruising photos, go here!