Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program....

... for a quick camping update.

Just saw on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Facebook page a post about the acquisition of the Powderhorn Ranch (17,351 acres off the coast of Matagorda Bay).  Texas Monthly has done an excellent write up about it, too.  

I'm thrilled about the possibility of another State Park within a three and a half hour drive from Houston!  Heck, with that much land, I wouldn't be surprised if there's gonna be a *couple* more State Parks that will be developed out of it.

Hmm, I wonder if they could dock a cruise ship in there?  ;-)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

*Tent on Wheels ON WATER* A Long List of Random Cruise Tips

An incredibly long list of thoughts and hints and tips and stuff that I collected during my research before the cruise.  Thought I'd put it all here in case it could help someone who's stumbled across my blog.  These are not all my original thoughts - I've pulled them from various sources: Crusiecritic.com, Facebook, and Uncle Google.

Enjoy - and thanks again for 'traveling' along with us!

WE'RE ON A BOAT.... I mean, SHIP!!

At the very least, consider purchasing the embarkation photo. That is the ONE photo that is sure to have a date on it, and makes a good way to remember all the countless cruises you've been on.

Make sure that your bank and credit card Company are aware that you will be out of the country. They will note it on your account so that you won't be flagged for fraudulent activity.

Do not use a debit card for your sail and sign account - credit cards offer lots more protection, and the hold on funds they place on your debit card account can be a problem for some people. Use cash or a credit card.

It is possible to ‘smuggle’ alcohol on board: RumRunners

For first timers, if you have early embarkation to the ship (before the cabins are ready), proceed directly to the lido deck for a buffet lunch. This is also the time the bar staff will try to get you started on your bar bill with their drink specials (often called a "bon voyage"). However, there are free alternatives, like coffee, tea, lemonade, and fruit juice.

Pack a change of clothes in your carry on baggage. Sometimes it may take some time to get your baggage.

You can call Carnival's Bon voyage department and pre-order alcohol to be delivered to your cabin.  You can order bottles of hard liquor so that you can make your own drinks. You can't order online. You must call to set this up. It is a little pricey but worth it and cheaper than buying by the drink.

Send yourself a Bon Voyage gift of champagne and snacks. Carnival does a fantastic job of having it set up in your cabin all ready for you when you board the ship.

Make photo copies of your passport (inside page with your photo/ID#/date of issue/exp), credit cards, and air tickets - if they're not e-tickets - and put them in the safe, another set of copies keep in your luggage under the bed [also carry one of the sets with you-not in your luggage in case it goes missing on your flight].

Never pack all of one person’s clothes in the same bag. Separate everything equally amongst the bags even if it makes unpack a bear.

Make it a tradition to "leave your worries on the dock."  They can't come with you- you're on vacation!

Self disembarkation is faster - if you can carry all your stuff!

Get your luggage outside the door early on the last night.

Make sure to stock up on "snacks" before debarkation. The wait can be pretty long and everything is closed during this time. Except for the coffee shop which takes cash

Pack lots of undergarments in your carry-on.

When standing in a long line to embark, pay the porter to take your bags and that will allow you to "cut" in line- don't forget to tip

Always bring extra clothes and toiletries in your carryon bags (on your return trip home). If your flight gets overbooked they will usually offer you airline vouchers if you stay overnight and take a flight out the next morning.

Tie a bright ribbon/scarf to your luggage for easy spotting. We are using all of the same color bright bandannas tied onto the luggage handles. When you debark and go into that large (and I mean large) warehouse area to get your luggage you will instantly know which pieces belong to you

If your dining times are not what you expected, go immediately to the dining room upon boarding and they will straighten it out. If you delay or wait until after sailing, you'll probably be disappointed.

If you don’t like what is offered on the main menu, you can ask the waiter for either a steak or grilled chicken.

Any pasta item on the main menu can be ordered as an appetizer. Just ask.

24 hour pizza place also serves Calzones and Caesar salads. If you want a special topping and they have it they will make you that pizza.  Also about the Pizza, if there is a special kind you like (different toppings than they show in the display case) if they can get them they will custom make you a pizza the way you want it, it takes about 8 minutes, but you do have to take the whole pizza, which if it's the way the whole family likes it - no problem.

Room Service is free. (2-3 dollar tip is pretty standard)

Many people on the first day do not realize that the "Souvenir Glasses" are for keeps. We have found quite a few on stairwells, hallways, etc. We bring them home for the kids!

Ask for your drink in a plastic cup (not the fancy one ) saves $$$

If you have the souvenir glass you can order any frozen drink as a refill not just the drink of the day. They do charge you the price of the other frozen drink you ordered but you get it in the bigger glass. When you place your order say "refill’, it is only $4.95 compared to the original $6.95. If you order the drink of the day in the small glass, I believe you also pay $4.95, but it doesn't hold as much as the hurricane cup.

At breakfast there is an omelet station, they will fry your eggs to order, all you have to do is ask.

You may be able to eat free lunch at the places they charge for dinner.

Orange juice is available at the same place all day they just remove the label.

Ask for children’s dessert menu (banana splits)!

You can always get ice cream added to any dessert.

The main dinning room menu is on your TV; you can just check and see if you like the selections ahead of time.

If you want good bananas at the end of the cruise you better pick some up at the beginning of the cruise and put them in your fridge, they cannot pick up fresh fruit so by the end of the week they start looking a little bad.

If you order a bottle of wine at dinner and don't finish it, they will cork it and bring it back for you the next night. This is nice for people who don't normally finish an entire bottle at dinner but don't want to pay the higher price of ordering by the glass.

Carnival is a COKE ship...They do not carry Pepsi products. The Western Caribbean is also a COKE dominated itinerary. If you are a (Mt Dew) Pepsi person... Bring your own.

We had one couple at our table who really wanted to order more than one entre or dessert, but were afraid to look like pigs, so once I found that out, I made sure to order two of something each night...until she realized it was ok and joined me on the 5th or 6th night.

We had late seating so we wouldn't hit the midnight buffet...no worries about over stuffing ourselves (we didn't even see it until the 4th or 5th night when we stumbled upon it by accident.) Plus, we got in a nap before dinner. We did, however, always have ice cream before turning in for the evening, though.

I like the idea of ordering brownies or chocolate chip cookies from room service and taking them to the ice cream machine and dousing them accordingly... Yum!

There is 24 hour Soft Serve Ice Cream (Chocolate, Vanilla and Swirled) and the Frozen Yogurt (also Chocolate, Vanilla and Swirled). And check your daily “Capers” for the Sea Days that they have the Sundae toppings available.

Drink cards: not such a good deal for adults, unless you are a big soda drinker. Drink cards for adults are $38 and $28 for kids. The card allows you to get a glass of coke, which is about 2/3 can. A can of coke costs $1.50 for the whole can. That is about 30 cokes over a 7 day cruise (not including the time you are off the ship) or 4-5 per day. Alternatively consider getting one card and using it to "buy" sodas for your significant other (you must be discreet about this). As you move through the ship, order one soda at one bar and another soda at the next bar. That way, you only have to drink 2 per day to break even.

Ice tea is free in the dinning room. So are after-dinner coffees.

The water aboard cruise ships goes through extensive processing to assure its purity and taste, and is as clean as any bottled water you can buy. If you do buy a bottle of water, refill it from the faucet in your stateroom and keep it in the fridge.

For all the deck drinkers - Order all your drinks from the same bar server during the week. By mid-week they usually slip you a free one now and again. At minimum, you can make sure there's a little kick in your mix drinks.

You can order a pitcher of margaritas at the Blue Iguana Bar, about $25, and walk it back to your room for a personal deck party on the balcony!

I always take some rum onboard and use the free 24-hour punch on the Lido deck to make some great Rum Punches.

Forget Rum and Cokes. Long Island Ice tea is best Value, best Drink with all the Booze they pour into the Glass...Very Good Too!!!!!

If you want to order sandwiches to take off the ship in port, you don't have to order them the night before. Take Ziploc bags with you and order them in the morning. You are absolutely NOT allowed to take food off into port, but they only check your bags getting back on the ship. DO NOT try to take food off at the end of the week though. You will get caught there.

If you book the steakhouse on the first night leaving port, you get a bottle of house wine, free.

Post cards, foreign postage stamps and playing cards are available at the pursars desk.

Get a free lanyard at the Casino. Pursars desk will punch a whole in it for you.

Sit close at the port talks sometimes they toss out free stuff

How about a free facial?  After getting settled in your cabin, go up to the salon - spa area and let someone at the desk know you are willing to be a volunteer for whatever during the spa tour later that day... I haven't missed a free facial yet, and it's kind of fun to be the model and listen to all the questions people ask!

Use of the sauna/steam room is free

If you get sea sick you can go to the Pursers desk and ask for pills. They are free there

Dramamine. Take it before bed. It works 24 hours. You'll have any side effects while you are sleeping and you'll awake bright eyed, bushy tailed and sans seasickness.

If you need aspirin, seasick pills, or a variety of general medications, check the "0" deck where the waiting room is for the doctor. There were free samples for the taking in individual packets... also a weigh scale in case you need to weigh a suitcase (or yourself!).

You can order green apples and plain crackers from room service. The crew swear by this remedy.

Go to tea-time: they have different snacks and its a nice place to relax.

Take the tour of the galley (Excursion: Behind the Fun Tour)

Watch for happy hour (half off) in the afternoon when in port.

Be very careful of cotton or cotton-blend swimsuits in the Jacuzzis - these are SALT WATER, and hot salt water will bleach your suit - trust me on this one.

When having any service in the spa - tell them up front you already use and have most of the Elemis products, and order off the web. They won't try to sell you to death.

They have an early and late night seating at the Captains Party...take advantage of both for double free drinks. You can order free drinks from the bar in the room at Captains dinner as opposed to those on the tray....and try the drinks, even if it doesn't look like something you'd particularly like! I found out that I just love lime martini's!! I can't find them anywhere else like the ship ones, but we can't wait to get back on board...for the lime martini's and the mochaccino's from the coffee bar (They use Giardelli chocolate and...drrrrooool....whipped cream. Hence the "walk everywhere" tip!)

Don’t sit in the balcony when attending shore/shopping talks, they give stuff away and it rarely makes it past first 15 rows of main area.

There are steam rooms and saunas in the Spa that people may not realize are free to use, they are separated so men and women can't go together.

When the regular hot tub is too full, use the spa one.  REMEMBER, the hot tubs are all salt water, except for the one in the gym.

Use the spa shower if multiple people need to shower at same time.  These aren't the normal cabin showers, they are like the 'rain' showers that you find in some higher end hotels it’s a great place for a guy to go shower while the wife is using the cabin bathroom for a formal night or something.

Most ships have secret decks ...find them

Here's a biggie...WALK EVERYWHERE. Don't take the elevators. Take the stairs. No lines and you'll work off all that food you eat.

Don't be afraid to do separate things...just pick a time to meet back up - in the room, at the coffee shop, at the ice cream place...wherever.

Don't over plan your day. It's very easy to plan something for every minute you're awake. But you won't make it to everything, and the sun will sap your energy. Plan the things you really want to do, and keep others in mind. If you have been looking forward to the galley tour for the whole trip, you don't want to be too tired to enjoy it.

When the lights start to dim in the dining room this means Entertainment is coming. Make sure you have your camera ready!!

Casino tips
1) if you play blackjack, one secret to keep in mind is the Fun21 table - there are NO QUEENS in the decks
2) Slots are really tight.
3) Best odds are on the 3 card poker.

The Purser's Office will carry stamps of the different countries that you are going to. You can buy stamps ahead of time so you don't have to find a post office in each port. It makes it much easier to send postcards home from the different ports.

On the formal nights - have your picture taken at each of the settings but only buy the good ones. After your cruise contact Carnival directly and they will send you a photo release so you can duplicate them.

Wait until the last day to purchase your pictures, that way you can choose the best. If you pull them each day, they should hold them for you (at least they will on RCCL) that way you don't have to search through everything for the same pics day after day either! And sometimes they will have discounts for purchasing multiple pics!

Pack a 9x12" manila envelope with a piece of cardboard in it to keep your photos from getting crushed on the way home.

The "gold by the inch" and "silver by the inch" are all plated, not solid.

When the ships are in port, look for lots of specials to keep you on board!

Take a hand towel with you to the beach it will help remove sand and is handy for lots of other things, too.

Baby powder helps remove sand.

If the port is not a tender port and you are there for most of the day you can come back on board, freshen up, drop off packages, grab a bite to eat (it's already paid for) and go back out.

Book Shore excursion on your own in most cases- we saved over $500 by doing this last year and got to see & do more. Check the Cruise Critics forums for suggestions- they were all pretty accurate. Ask lots of questions.

Buy a bottle of water for the trip back to the ship and ask for change in local currency then you can have some foreign money to put in your scrapbook.

Early and extra tips for stewards = more perks for you.

Ask the steward if you forget something i.e. toothpaste, they often have samples.

You can ask for extra pillow chocolates.

The mini bars are full... but If You Ask, They Will Empty Them For You...

Use a magnet to trick the balcony door into thinking its closed to keep the air on.

Cards become demagnetized - don’t use your credit card for the room safe.

If the safe will not open call the desk they will send someone to open it.

The safes operate with a magnetic strip. You can use anything with a magnetic strip, (room key, credit card, store discount cards, etc.) A good choice are the blank gift cards you find in stores. There is no value to them until you purchase it and have it activated, so basically a nothing card to you and it has the magnetic strip.

If your stateroom is cold (mine usually is), call your steward and ask for 2 extra blankets

When they push the two twin beds together to make a king they just overlap the twin sheets. They will put king size sheets on if you ask.

Ask your cabin steward for a foam pad for your bed. It makes the bed very comfy.

Don't be afraid to ask for extra pillows

You can also ask your Room Steward for the book that is in your cabin (a carnival book that tells about the ship), just ask and they may give it to you.

The couch may have drawers built in underneath.

I find the easiest place to store larger suitcases after they've been emptied is under the bed.... good place to stash stuff you've bought and then lock the luggage... and it's out of sight and you're not stuck tripping over it.

Every room should have a hair dryer

There are two beach sized towels for you to enjoy at the pool or on an excursion. They only downfall is you have to keep up with them. If you loose them they will charge you $22.00. They are very nice and thick.

Bring a salt and pepper shaker and a bottle of ketchup up to your room for our mid-night snacks or whenever we brought our breakfast up. It is quite a convenience.

If you don't have clothes on every hanger, be sure you have at least something hung on every other hanger in the closet. That way, they are cushioned, and you won't be kept awake with the noise if the ship rocks at night.

The ship uses two types of toilet paper. Both are made by the same company. The sandpaper they call "envision" you will not want to subject your bottom to for 8 days. Ask your room steward to make sure that your stateroom is stocked with the "preference" paper instead.

Don't sit on the toilet and flush at the same time (same for airplanes): it's a vacuum!

Things take FOREVER to dry in the bathroom, so if you have a balcony take along a short piece of clothesline and some clothespins and rig up a line on the balcony. Hang things out there and they will dry MUCH quicker. You

Here’s a twist on clothes line we used karabiners to secure the lines and then strung our clothes through the lines, like through the sleeve or pant leg. You’ll never lose any clothes due to wind.

On some ships, the balcony door frame has a button on the inside of the door frame. When you leave your balcony door open, the air conditioner in your room will not work while the door is open. Simply put a small refrigerator magnet over the button and your air will continue to run while the door is open.

Bring baggies of assorted sizes. For saving snacks for excursions and wet clothes.
Bring on your own bottles of water, and soda and save $$
Bring a reusable cup with lid...less trips to get a drink
Bring Duct tape
Bring a highlighter
Bring post it notes
bring an extension cord/power strip
Bring travel hooks to hang stuff in your room
Bring a few paper funnels to make filling the water bottle easier.
Bring towels from home to avoid fearing losing one/Buy a beach towel at the first port
Bring a sweater the dining room can be cold
Bring a night light/ alarm clock
Bring water shoes
Bring a few underwater disposable cameras
Bring at least 2 bathing suits so you never have to put on a wet one.
Bring a flashlight with you for late-night bathroom trips.
Bring a flask so you can “spike” your free fruit juice.
Bring an over-the-door shoe holder is valuable for the bathroom

If you have a balcony cabin bring a Bungee cord to hold the door open.
Bungee cords also make nice clotheslines.

Post-its are good, but you can leave notes on the door on a white-board; small ones are inexpensive and come with magnets on the back and a wipe-off pen

1)      Take different SPF’s and use them based on your anticipated exposure times
2)       Always take something along the lines of 40SPF waterproof.
3)      Aloe burn gel and/or other sunburn remedy in case you “forgot” to use sunscreen!
4)      DON”T underestimate the amount of sun you are getting!
5)      Don’t forget to apply it to
a)      Feet (especially if your wearing sandals in port)
b)      back of neck
c)      under arm area
d)      Anything that is exposed

HAT! Bring a HAT! Bring a HAT!

Clothespins are very useful! Use them to clip curtains closed (on balconies or room dividers). Or, use them to hang bathing suits or clothing to the clothing line in the bathroom or chairs on the balcony, you can also use them to weight down the bottom of the shower curtain.

Money clips...that have MAGNETS holding everything together......Never and I mean never put your S & S card in the same pocket of your money clip!!!!! As the magnets will demagnetize your card and you won't be able to get into your room or even buy a drink.....At the Pursers desk they can fix this...

Do walk the entire ship on your first day. It will help you learn where everything is, and will help you discover spots that others never find.

If you own at least 100 shares of CCL stock, you are entitled to shipboard credit depending on the line and the length of your cruise. For a 7 day cruise, it amounts to $100. The credit can't be used for gaming chips, and must be asked for in advance.

If you are traveling to Mexico remember one very important thing. In Mexico they sell tons of sling shots made out of wood. I'm talking the Bart Simpson variety. If you have children (especially boys) they will want one. Do NOT buy one. The crew will confiscate it the second you try to board the ship as they are considered weapons. The crew will NOT hold them for you and they will NOT be returned.

Take a journal with you (like the ones at Barnes and Noble) and remember to write each day's events. They are so much fun to re-read years after the cruise.

For first time cruisers, here's the best tip ever, there will be some things that don't meet your expectations, and some things that surpass them. Someone will get a better deal than you did, someone will not follow the guidelines, somebody will cut in front of you, and someone will let their kid(s) be unruly. DON'T expect everything to be perfect, it won’t be! If you have a concern write the “Hotel Manager” a letter and forget about it (his or her name will be posted in the lobby by the purser’s desk). If you try and solve a problem at the purser’s desk you will only get more frustrated! (Most personnel at the desk are “newbie’s”).

Friday, February 13, 2015

*Tent on Wheels ON WATER* A Last Day at Sea

Someone was up early enough to catch our last sunrise at sea....

Wasn't me.  I was sleeping in.  Glorious, wonderful (wine induced) sleeping in! The one thing I didn't think to put in my Justin Case was some kind of sleep aide.  Rich was snoring so loud sleeping so well the first few nights, that I couldn't stay asleep - some kind of PM might have been helpful.  But by the last night, with the few thousand stairs at Uxmal, and a few glasses of wine after dinner, I slept like a dream.  When room service brought our tray of coffee and danishes, I was still, delightfully, lazying in bed.

Some of our group made their way up to Lido to enjoy the loungers and the sun, as well as the movies playing in the Sea Side Theatre that morning.

Mom, RDB and I spent an hour listening to the future cruise talk in the Comedy Club.  If you've never attended one, you're not missing much.  For the most part, the hostess tries to sell you on the merits of the Carnival credit card - which isn't nearly as good a deal in points/cash back as my Fidelity Rewards American Express.  My biggest take-away from the talk was all the shifting of ships that will take place over the next year and a half - Galveston will get the Freedom, the Breeze and the Liberty, and the Magic will head to Florida for a bit.  (And BTW - if any of the Beards are reading this: bring back the Future Cruise Certificates!!)

We made our way up to Lido for lunch - only to realize the Chocolate Buffet was scheduled to begin at noon.  For most of the cruise, you didn't feel like you were on a ship with 3600 other passengers - except for this moment.  The lines for the Chocolate Buffet were wrapped all-the-way-around the Lido Marketplace.  So, we ditched that idea and grabbed hamburgers at the grill.  (They were awesome, btw - wish we had found them earlier in the cruise like Sis and BNDN!)

There was one thing on this cruise that I knew, for certain, that I wanted to attend - Afternoon Tea on one of the Sea Days.  We'd missed it on the first Sea Day because of the Facebook meet-n-greet, so I was not going to miss it today!

Aunt J had spa appointments booked for most of the afternoon and Mom had taken off for the last Art Auction around 1pm.  Tea was scheduled for 3pm, so about quarter till, on our way to the Southern Lights dining room, we stopped by the conference center where the art action was taking place, and I went to retrieve Mom.

She was all the way at the front of the auction house, seated right in the center. I sneaked in beside her and said it was time for tea, if she was still interested?  She looked at me and whispered: I have to stay - I bought something!!  Later that evening, I went back to the conference center with her for her shipping appointment, and they had her art on display.  Two very beautiful pieces! That's my V.I.P.!!

As for the rest of us? We were off to Tea! (Well, minus BNDN - he went to work out on the fitness equipment on the Sports and Spa deck.)

It was exactly what I had imagined, and more!  Beautiful, simple white linens and place settings, an assortment of finger sandwiches and little cakes and pastries, and of course, a fine selection of teas.  We each received our own little silver tea pot, so we could brew our selections. (Just a note - you place the tea bag in the little pot, so that the servers can refill your hot water to brew more tea.... learned something new!)  The chocolate macaroon in the bottom right was the absolute best treat I had had all week - even beating out the Warm Chocolate Melting Cake!  There was no defined time for this activity, so we could have stayed for as long as they let us - but after about half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, we had enjoyed a few cups of teas, a second round of the treats, and we were off to other adventures.

Sis and BNDN, RDB and me wandered back to the aft Lido deck and found a bar to have one last Miami Vice, a Rum and Coke, and a Pirate Punch (minus the umbrella and fruit!)  As we enjoyed our drinks, we noticed that the wind was starting to turn chill - we were getting closer back in to Galveston and the February winter weather we had left behind.  It wasn't long before we saw people huddling up with their pool towels wrapped about their shoulders or jackets starting to appear on the upper decks.

RDB and I played a round of mini-golf, but I didn't get any pictures.  I did get a headache though - beware of the mini-Whaletail on the first hole!

All too soon, it was time for our last dinner in the Northern Lights MDR, with our servers singing "Leaving on a Fun Ship" to us as a way to say goodbye.

Even though I indulged in the macaroons at Tea, it didn't mean that I wasn't going to enjoy one last WCMC (and two scoops of buttered-pecan ice cream!)  Until next cruise, this'll be the last one!

We were disembarking the traditional way - allowing Carnival to take our luggage down to the dock for us in Galveston - so everything had to be out of our rooms by 11:30 that evening.  The three rooms that Ihar was servicing all had Group 1 tags - but Sis and BNDN had Group 15.  Their steward, Willie, heard them say that we all had Group 1 passes, and in no time, he had swapped theirs out so that we could all have our luggage grouped together.  Being the night before Valentines, we each had a heart shaped 'towel animal' left on our beds.  So many reasons why we loved the incredible service we received on our trip with Carnival.

One last sunset and we'd find ourselves waking up in the port of Galveston, with this cruise a sweet memory.  It was over all to soon; we were having to kiss this sweet, celebratory adventure goodbye:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

*Tent on Wheels ON WATER* Hacienda Ochill

Welcome to the Hacienda Ochill.  A little Mexican ranch that will shade your brow, cool your thirst, and fill your belly!  This was the second stop on our excursion, after the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and I'm grateful it was included - as it gave us a nice restful place to grab a quick bite and enjoy a lush, shady place before heading back to the ship.

We settled in - our large group of 8 once again, needing 'special accommodations' - and immediately ordered a round of cervezas to go with the food that was included with our excursion.  As much as we were wary about eating food off the ship, this was actually very well prepared and tasted pretty good.  Not sure I would call it anything more than a light snack, but it was enough to tide us over till dinner back on board.

After our lunch, we all took off in different directions to explore and enjoy the lush surroundings.  Not too many stairs here, and lots of shades areas and water features.

40 years married and still acting like Newly Weds!

Located behind the sprawling verandah where we had lunch is a quiet little amphitheater.  Grass and stone risers led down to a stage underneath the roots of an amazingly old tree.

You would think this was the most amazing feature of the Hacienda Ochill, but there's something even more awe-inspiring hiding behind the pool and it's root-lined stage....

A cenote! With crystal clear waters and stalactites drooping down.  The excursion description mentioned that you could bring your swim suit and enjoy the small pool at the Hacienda, but it didn't mention anything about the beauty of the cenote that was hiding behind the amphitheater!

Two of my favorite things in one place: caves and water.  Oh, and more of my least favorite: stairs. ;-)

It wasn't long before we were being called back onto our bus, for a short 45 minute ride back to the Magic.  It had been yet another splendid day in paradise, with more adventures still to come!

*Tent on Wheels ON WATER* The Mayan Ruins: Uxmal

Uxmal - Spanish word for "stairs"

If the Mayan Ruins are one of your bucket list items, then visiting Uxmal is for you. We were absolutely blown away by the majesty of the grounds, the ingenuity of the builders, and the awe of what could be accomplished with just the bare hands of a civilization that we know so little about.

It was impressive.  Massive.  Expansive.  Every other -ive you can think of!  We had about two hours to enjoy our guided tour and some time to ourselves for this excursion, and it was just so... wow.  The first pyramid you see (above) is the Pyramid of the Magician - legend has it that a dwarf built the entire structure in one night.  The pyramid is unique among Mayan structures because of its rounded sides, height, and steepness. There are actually five pyramids there, each larger and built over the one beneath as was customary among such Mayan pyramids.

Walking around to the backside of it, is Nunnery Quadrangle - a 74 room governmental palace.  Given it's name by Spaniards (who thought it looked like a traditional convent) it was most likely used to house the princes and royal elite.  The rooms are very sparsely decorated, but the exterior of the builds were certainly a tribute to the craftsmanship of the Mayan people.

The carvings on the Nunnery buildings are some of the most impressive of the remaining Mayan culture.  Our guide informed us that back when the temples were being used, a red plaster would have covered most of the walls - making the carvings stand out even more than they do today.

As you turn to leave the quadrangle, you had a view thru the structurally impressive entryway, across the Ball Court and beyond to the Governor's Palace.

At this point, I'm going to stop for a moment and warn you - because it's obvious, but not obvious.  If you decide to do this excursion, wear comfortable shoes.  Take a hat and sunscreen.  Bring bottled water.  And be prepared to climb stairs.  And I mean climb.  As in, there will be more stairs than you ever thought possible in. Your. Life.  

I mention it here, because it's at about this point that you realize that if you want to get to the Governor's Palace, you're going to have to climb more stairs.  More steep stairs.  

Did you know, that Uxmal in Spanish means "stairs'?  

Don't believe me? I have 16 different photos to prove it!

But the climb is worth it.

The Governor's Palace would have been were the royalty of the day resided.  Its sits in a position so that the main entryway aligns with Venus - the star representing the goddess of fertility.  It also sits high enough amongst the other structures that you ave an incredible view of the Ball Court, Nunnery and The Magician's Pyramid. Embedded in the ground directly in front of the palace is a large stone, um, statue, also meant to symbolize fertility (I'll let you figure that on out on your own!)

If you're willing to climb one more set of steep stairs, you'll be rewarded with a view fit for a king:

The tiny dot on the grass to the left is Mom!

The old saying holds true - what goes up, must come down.... so all those stairs that you climbed up? Now you've got to climb back down them.  And btw, don't be ashamed if you have to butt-scoot down the steep ones; we saw several people resort to that!

There were a few additional structures we didn't get to on the other side of the Governor'sPalace: the Dove Cotes, the Giant Pyramid, and the Turtle House.  The entire site is 150 acres, so there is so much to see that you could probably take a full day or two to soak it in.

It was certainly an experience we won't soon forget.  And one that we would highly recommend.