Come Sail Away

Those who know me best know my preferred method of traveling is cruising. For me, nothing can compare to sunrises and sunsets at sea. A virtually all-inclusive journey aboard a floating hotel. Cruises offer travel without the horrific torture of the TSA or the endless stops to gas stations. If I had my druthers, I would most likely live on a cruise ship. Well, that is, providing I could bring my small zoo of pets!

my beautiful family

It was not a hard sell to my (at the time) fiancé, to take a cruise on our pending honeymoon. At that time I had been on several cruises with my family and once with an ex. As I had traveled once previously on Carnival, I convinced him this was our best bet. I will not bore you with the details of the trip, but will simply say it was hell. It took a full year to convince him to take another cruise. Having been a bit wiser to the all too young behavior aboard Carnival, we decided to try NCL, we chose their ship the Sun. This was in February of 2006. It was our one year anniversary. At this time we fell completely in love with NCL. The contrast between Carnival and NCL was like night and day. Before the cruise was even over my husband was planning our next trip. We chose the Sun to sail on the next year and then again the next thereafter. In 09 the Sun was not at a port we had access too so we opted to try another member of her fleet, the Pearl. This made us miss the Sun! Amidst many other cruises with NCL we managed to find the Sun again close enough to our home to sail aboard in 2013. Then again she left our reach. Once we saw she was returning this year we were excited. We could not wait to set sail on our old faithful gal!

Perhaps the nicest part of NCL was its creation of the Latitudes program. I remember when we first started cruising how we anticipated jumping up to each next category. I looked forward to each bump as each offered another tier luxury.

Perhaps the nicest being the embarkation and disembarkation. Sadly this became tainted on this cruise. We woke up quite early (2:30 AM) to drive to the Port Miami to meet up with the ship. Per usual, there were many passengers walking in the terminal. It is always a lovely relief to see the section for the Platinum Latitudes members as it certainly does save time. Sadly, however, this time when we went into the line a crew member came up to us. In a rather demeaning tone, he asked us if we were Platinum guests. I told him we were and he said, “I do not believe you” and asked to see our passes. Now, if he had done this to everyone I would not be as offended. But out of the hundreds of Platinum members who continued to line up, he only singled out one other couple. And thus it began, our annual anniversary trip started by being called a liar by an employee. I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach as I stood quietly in line wondering why this man had isolated us and called me a liar to my face. I felt flush with anger but said nothing.

   Miami Skyline view from back of the ship

Embarkation post this man’s considerably poor behavior was, as always, a breeze. I must say, I am not a big fan of Port Miami. It is a mile and change from where I grew up on Brickell in Miami. Over the years it seems to have not kept up with the changes needed to support the traffic. Although the addition of the tunnel was absolutely awesome and made leaving the port a great deal easier.

The Sun (despite two apparent makeovers) looks just as she did back when we first sailed on her in 2006. The only visible difference is the bedding. I remember there used to be sailor knots on the bed covers. Of course, those have long since been replaced by the standard modern hotel style white striped duvet wannabe cover.

It had been 11 months since our previous cruise with NCL. Evidently, within that time, NCL made a host of changes to the Latitudes program. We were not aware of the changes. Mind you, we are now! We discovered last year that the one benefit of becoming a Platinum member, a behind the scenes ship tour was something we were not able to attend as our daughter is not 18. Always read the small print! It really seemed insignificant however as we knew the other benefits that came along with staying loyal to NCL would certainly make up the difference……..right?

Well, there evidently was a merger of sorts. Changes have been made. You cannot bring your own water on board now. (NCL says this was to speed up embarkation) Many cruise lines (if not, in fact, all) have implemented this change. So it seemed nice that the Latitudes membership now afforded one bottle of water free per Platinum member. One 20 oz bottle, for an 11-day cruise. But it seems in order to give that one bottle they had to then take away the nightly chocolate per passenger pillow as well as the special gift, which used to be a small box of Godiva chocolates. Mind you, we are not chocolate eaters so no big deal, right? Platinum Latitudes members receive a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine or champagne in their stateroom as well. We do not drink this stuff…so that really was a waste. We left it in the cabin for them to give to the next guests. Membership also provides a meal in one of their restaurants with a bottle of wine. Reservations have to be made before you ever get on board if you plan on cashing in on this, which sadly we did not make. Platinum members also receive 1 bag of laundry cleaned per member. Courtesy of advice from those who did use this service, we opted out as I had no ironing board and evidently their service’s pressing skills lacked. Members also receive 30 free internet minutes. Minus login time and patchy service, you can squeeze in about 17 minutes of actual online time. The exclusive latitudes party has changed drastically. It used to be quite fun. Endless drinks were free, there was a lovely band playing, they had future cruise information, and you could speak one on one with the staff. This time around you had one drink and the staff left as a DJ played music. It felt extremely ODD. Other attendees remarked that they felt the same way, and were not happy with the many changes to the program. Another note on this… A DJ…..we used to love to hang out in the lounges or by the pool for the live entertainment. Well, now they are replaced by a DJ playing digital music and his selection was a bit, well, awful. As a result, we spent no time at the pool or in the lounges. Live entertainment cannot be replaced by a man playing mp4s. We are almost at the Platinum Plus level now. This next tier adds Dinner With Officers and Priority Restaurant & Entertainment Seating. (Well, entertainment wise, some of the shows are the same as when we first started sailing!) At this point, however, I see no desire in those. I wish I had the old copy of the Latitudes Rewards Tier Benefits as I feel as though more has been removed and not replaced with anything other than just the silly chocolates which we never ate anyways.

 Curacao

I feel petty even wondering about it as in all actuality the cruise itself was PERFECT. Despite a bit of redirection of Ports Of Call courtesy of hurricanes, the itinerary was wonderful. The weather and the sea were perfect. Perhaps the smoothest sailing I have ever experienced in my 44 years of cruising.

St John’s, Antigua

Our cabin steward, Roman, was an absolute gem, as was the entire staff on board the Sun. The food was delicious, as always. The service was excellent. Although I must add this, and we did not complain because we never did see his name tag,….there was one busboy in the Garden Cafe who had significant issues. I guess he thought no one could see him as he opted to squat behind his station and pick his nose then rub his hand on his pants. He then proceeded to walk around the dining hall and pick up plates and cups from tables. I was absolutely disgusted. Normally there were white coat officers everywhere but of course not then! Perhaps I feel a bit jaded as we opted against other cruise lines because of the Latitudes Rewards and maybe I feel as though we have missed out somewhat by strictly sailing with NCL all of these years, cruising once or twice a year, per year.

St Kitts, Nevis

We have decided we will most likely start using other cruise lines as well. As our daughter is older now, Carnival poses less of a threat to our parenting advice and they certainly are cheaper. Plus we would like to visit ports NCL just does not offer to us. I still love the Sun though. She offers larger cabins and has never once had a rude staff….at least, not that I can remember. We set sail again in 43 days, this time aboard the NCL Dawn. We have had some rough trips with this particular ship in the past but are going to give her one last chance as our last two times aboard her the staff seemed upset. Perhaps fog delays had everyone cranky. Nonetheless, we always give second chances and this is her third.

I am not afraid of change, I embrace it. I am, however, against things being changed without being at least notified. Especially when these changes were once considered a loyalty program. I love the Sun. I do love NCL, but I think perhaps it is time to branch out and see more than just what they offer.

 

All art, images, and text
Elizabeth Eichelberger Art©

 

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For The Love of Earth

Spartacus

Instead of talking only about myself and my art, this time I would like to remind everyone that today is World Environment Day. There is a wonderful website designed for it, which I highly recommend everyone read and join. http://worldenvironmentday.global/

As far as I know, right now our environment is the only one we have.  I would like to believe my great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy it, and all it has to offer. That, of course, is up to us to ensure.  Little changes we make can make a big difference.  Recycling is easier than most people think.  It becomes a habit.

I took the above photograph while visiting the Cedar Lake Gardens Festival in Williston, Florida a short time ago. It is a photographer’s dream! I was not able to capture all of the moments I wanted to, as it was extremely crowded for the festival.  I look forward to a return visit soon. This fella was the only animal on display, I am assuming as a guest.  Spartacus, an  African Spurred Tortoise, was quite large. Why did I choose him for this post? Well, you see, this environment of ours affects not only us.  The wildlife around us all call this home too. It truly is our responsibility to make smart choices. This world of ours is absolutely beautiful, as are all of its inhabitants.  Whether you believe in global warming or not, taking care of this planet and all she provides is essential. You would not let your home fall apart….why would you let your planet?

May The Fourth Be With You

Growing up as the original Star Wars generation is simply wonderful. Not only did I get the best movie and toys ever growing up, but I now also get to experience it all over again with my own child!

When Kira expressed her love for Star Wars, I squealed with excitement.  The geekiness had indeed been passed down to my young Jedi offspring!

There has to be something said about the way it feels to watch the return of Star Wars to the big screen, (Yes, I know there have been many prequels, sequels and everything you can possibly imagine in between) and having your child watch it with you.  What made the experience of watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens all the more special was the fact we watched it at the drive-in! This added to my sentimental nostalgia.

Kira as Princess Leia. Halloween 2015
Kira as Princess Leia. Halloween 2015

Halloween 2015

Before the movie even had been seen, Kira decided she wanted to be Princess Leia.  Thankfully, she already had the hair for the costume! Being an exceptionally tall child made finding a costume difficult, however. The solution came in an oversized sweatshirt/hoodie! I was amazed that this little costume, which was thrown together, virtually last minute, was a hit. Kira loved it.

Chew and Kira

Flash forward to Kira’s 13th Birthday.  Guess who she wanted to spend it with? That’s right, Star Wars.  A week in the Magic Kingdom it was.

From Storm Troopers to R2D2 and C3PO, we were in heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I this year even had lesson plans to celebrate Star Wars Day! I know, silly but fun!! You really should visit this website; http://www.starwars.com/may-the-4th

Kira colored BB8

BB8 is perhaps my new favorite character. I was extremely lucky this Christmas and received a rc BB8.  He is the sweetest little thing ever, and drives our cats nuts!

In honor of Star Wars day, I also decided to push my neuropathy ridden, arthritic hands, and fibromyalgia ridden body, failing eye sight, and glaucoma eyes to their limits and paint a teeny tiny 2×2 acrylic Yoda!

Paint Yoda I Must
Progress shots

So, as you can see….this is somewhat of a family holiday. We embrace the force.  We also wish you all a very happy Star Wars day! May the force be with you all!!!

For The Love Of Animals

I have always been an animal person. As far back as I can remember, I would get into much trouble with my mother for bringing strays home. A fish here, a cat or dog there.  It was always something. At the age of 7, my mother gave in and agreed to get a cat. A delightful orange tabby, I lovingly named Champagne.  Do not ask, I do not know, I was only 7. Perhaps my mother believed that by allowing me to have this cat, I would somehow be deterred from my seemingly endless endeavours of rescuing every and any animal around our neighborhood. Alas, Champagne only served to validate my purpose in life as an animal lover and rescuer.  Realize, the irresistible urge drawing me to animals was completely reciprocal. On more than one occasion, throughout my life, I have had animals literally walk through my front door, or jumping into my car. My mother said I was an animal magnet.

Flash forward, to my  teens. Many rescues and multiple pets later, I discovered a deep love for photography. Whether it be the fact my art was less than realism, or the fact I simply loved the idea of capturing a moment and making it last virtually forever, I was hooked. On my 15th birthday, my mother gave me a Kodak Disk camera.  I fondly remember torturing my classmates and friends. I took pictures of virtually everything. I can only imagine how much was spent on developing my film. I know I spent quite a bit of time waiting to get my pictures back.  My, how times have changed. Hoping the shot turned out okay, praying no one blinked! But the quality was superior to my old Polaroid, and thankfully I did not have to shake the pictures FOREVER to see an image!

Over the years one thing has remained, the subject of most of my photography; animals. Unpredictable, but always photogenic.

I am quite blessed to live on five acres of blissful solitude, amidst farm country, yet only a few  miles away from suburbia.  My yard, enriched with wildlife.  Birds singing their beautiful melodies, squirrels darting from branch to branch, gopher tortoises burrowing. And, much to my heart’s content, feral felines.  These wild cats have become family. They have accepted us, thankfully, and will allow me to photography them.

I have awoken to peacocks, horses, donkeys and even ostrich in our yard. I have learned now to ALWAYS have a camera handy.

The subject of this photograph is Pharaoh.  A loving feral beauty who recently lost a batch of kittens, one of which she brought to us in the hopes of saving it. Sadly, it was too late for the precious kitten. The one downside to my animal magnetism is this, I cannot save them all. Lord knows how I have tried to. I am grateful for what time I am granted with each beautiful animal.  I am also grateful to be able to capture them, briefly, making it last virtually forever.

Artists ~ Visiting The Cedar Key Arts Festival

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I ventured over to Cedar Key. I had been longing to return to this magical little shanty town that I remembered visiting back in the 90’s. It was the closest thing to the Florida Keys that I had ever seen.  Visiting the keys virtually every weekend was my favorite part of growing up, so when I realized there was an area close reminiscent of the Keys, I had to check it out! I instantly fell in love!

We have passes to all state parks. I remembered visiting a park or two the last time I had been to Cedar Key. Prior to going, I ensured the parks were still there.  Much to my surprise, one had a beautiful face lift of sorts! So it would be a bit of a new adventure for me.

My daughter and I were in heaven.  It was absolutely beautiful. Kira got to see her first shell mound. You should have seen the expression on her face! It seemed a higher climb than I remembered.  Ahhhh, the benefits of growing old!

I was able to feed my photography cravings as we visited the shell mounds and the Cedar Key State Park & Museum. The admission of only $2 per person is well worth it. Although we have passes, we opted to also pay as donation.

In route (it is a long drive) we saw signs for the upcoming Arts festival.  I squealed with excitement! I absolutely LOVE art festivals! Plus, Kira had never been to one.

This past weekend was the festival. It surely did not disappoint with the endless food, wonderful entertainment, and amazing art and photography booths.

Stage? Who needs a stage when you have a boat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish I was able to take more pictures. However, it seems some of the artists do not like free advertising.  As an artist, I absolutely do not understand this.  For the photographers, I can see why they have signs requesting no photographs be taken of their work, but for an artist? Is there a trade secret???? It is free advertising; do they thing someone will steal their idea? I am baffled by this concept, quite honestly.  Then there are those who are on the opposite side, which I tend to favor;

Make note, they welcome photographs and even list all of their social sites! Now this is a SMART artist.

As an artist who also is a digital artist, I am no stranger to having my work stolen. But for artists who have painted or sculpted, I cannot see why they wouldn’t want their work shared publicly by as many people as possible. To each their own.  I respected the signs that said this once my husband was gracious enough to point it out. Subsequently I had to delete at least 20 images.

We had an amazing time. The weather was absolutely beautiful.  Warm with a beautiful coastal breeze.  The location is second to none.  Cedar Key has changed quite a bit since I first went in the 90’s. The quaint charm has sadly been replaced in spots by a concrete mess.  However a visitor need not search far to see historical homes and shanty landmarks.

 

Florida Living

Pelicans

Living in Florida 99.9% of my life has helped me have an appreciation for parts of this amazing isthmus that perhaps many tourists may miss, parts of Florida overlooked that are slowly vanishing.

Many may not know that there are species of Pelicans that are endangered or threatened. This is not the only beautiful creature that sadly haunts the lists of endangered/threatened species.

While more towers of concrete masses congest the shorelines around this amazing state, more animals lose their homes.

Spectacular views are now shadowed by a concrete jungle of all too many seeking the Florida life.

I am not a true native. I was born elsewhere and brought to Miami when I was 18 months old. I remained in Miami for 20 years. When I recently visited Miami, it was unrecognizable. Although I am all for progress and understand change is inevitable, this was a bit different. This was not progress. To put it plainly, this was a congestive mess. I only wish I would have had a deeper interest in photographing nature when I was younger.  Instead, I then focussed on taking pictures of my friends.

I digress, I have strayed from the topic. These changes, this “progress”, is causing drastic side effects. This beautiful biodome we live in has a natural law and order to its existence.  Regardless of whether or not you believe in global warming, it is undeniable that more and more of our wildlife is slowly vanishing.

I have made it a mini mission to try and photograph all I can while I can.

A King On His Throne

king throne 1

Say what you will, but there is certainly a reason why the Lion is known as the king of the jungle.  As I watched these three lions in awe, I was simply too enamored to realize just what was taking place.  It was only thereafter, as my husband and daughter sat next to me, giggling, did the situation become clear.

Let us just say the king was on his throne, so to speak.

Here I was, believing I had captured the expression of a wise beast.  Holding centuries of knowledge. An amazing shot! I mean he was looking RIGHT AT ME….or so it seemed.

king throne 3

The guide remarked she would try to take us to a location where we could get a better view.  As she did, I was clueless as to why some of the safari members were giggling like shy school girls.

As we rounded the bed I was feverously taking photographs…all the while absolutely oblivious.

king throne 2

Now, considering what I shall mention later, I really should have know.

king throne 4

I am sure by now this image makes it painfully obvious. The poor lion. I mean, an audience as he relieves himself!

Here I thought I was actually capturing a beautiful moment, not a bowel movement.

The kicker is this, it would seem every time we (specifically me) are near an animal, no matter the species, they have to relieve themselves. Whether it be a zoo, a park, on safari, or even just walking in our own neighborhood. My husband is all too quick to point the animals out, in the off chance I somehow manage to miss this.  I probably should have never told him about the elephant ride I took as a child. Yes, the elephant decided to go then too.

Shortly after these images were taken we visited a petting zoo…..

I will leave this here.