Returning From Holiday

There is nothing that can compare to a beautiful vacation aboard a cruise ship.  Sailing has always been my preferred method of travel.  In fact, I have not even been on a plane in over 30 years. If I had my druthers, I would live on a yacht as opposed to being on land. There is something so tranquil and calming that the ebb and flow the ocean provides. It can rock me to sleep like a mother gently rocking a cradle.  The beautiful salt air from the sea soothes my soul. It would seem for me, the roughest days I have experienced at sea were still more relaxing than the calmest of days on land.  Let me not forget to mention the glorious sunrises and sunsets at sea.  The horizon unfiltered by the congestion of buildings and clutter of man….simply stunning.

sunset at sea

Granted, planning a vacation at sea can be a bit nerve wrecking at times. Especially when hurricanes are involved. Last year’s hurricanes devastated many of the ports which cruise lines frequent.  Several of our cruise ports were shifted.  For me, this is honestly not a matter; I feel worse for those who have suffered living at the regions affected, and find it incredibly selfish when those who are vacationing complain about not being able to travel to these destinations.  A vacation is a vacation, regardless of where you go. This was the second time I had a plan to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico that was altered due to a hurricane.  The last time was in ’98. Eventually,  I will visit Puerto Rico.  In the interim, however, I am praying for those who live there and the horror they have experienced after the devastating effects of the 2017 hurricane season.  And to the passengers who insist on complaining,  I offer you this; imagine, for a moment,  that you were on the ship during the hurricane.  Redirection of ports is not that horrible, it is inevitable.  Nature happens.

wreckage

In all of my years of cruising, and there are many, I must say NCL is by far the best cruise line I have ever been blessed to sail on.  They have, what I believe to be, the friendliest and most talented of staff. NCL’s crew always make us feel like family.  Being an OCD neat freak, I must add that NCL is also the cleanest line.  A spec of dust cannot be found! NCL has become our preferred choice for sailing for 14 years now. I cannot recommend them enough to anyone who is considering a vacation at sea.  I realize have had been a little bit annoyed at times with the experience as a Latitudes member, (example is our cruise this past Thanksgiving, article click  here)  however, overall no other line comes even close to the wonderful vacationing experience NCL provides.

ncl

Now, some may say my daughter is pampered.  I mean, how many 14 year olds can tout that they have taken fourteen 7-14 day cruises in their life time? We have incorporated these cruises into Kira’s home school lessons, however! Each port has a rich history.  Even the ship provides education.  We loved Kira’s questioning the knots to miles conversion! There is a learning opportunity everywhere you look.

 

horses aruba

aruba horses2From the significance of Horses in Aruba………

 

truman key west

the impact Truman had on Key West, Florida….

cayman

to the relations of the United States of America and The Cayman Islands!

cayman 2

Not to say that we did not manage to have a little bit of fun amidst Kira’s cultural/historical and artistic educational experience.  After all, the entire point behind this specific holiday was the celebration of our little girl turning 14!!!

bday decor

kira bday cake

And NCL helped us by having our cabin fully decorated with cake ready when we first arrived!!

We had a glorious 11 days at sea in celebration of Kira’s turning 14.  The only down side was we are all sick now.  Evidently, someone on board (actually several someones) were ill.  Upon our arrival to land, we all fell ill.  Kira’s fever finally broke at 102.4 the other late evening/early morning.  I, myself, have been in bed non-stop. We feel a bit miserable, but it is quite worth our epic adventure.  After all, without the bad, how can you truly appreciate the good?? I finally felt able to move to my computer and try to post. I have managed to fall quite behind on things in my illness stupor!

There is a big artistic significance behind this vacation as well.  I will for now, however, leave that for a separate post.

 

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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©

 

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.

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.

Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells Hacker Image

 

Because taking a 14 day cruise in the heart of December did not make me behind h enough……

I come home to discover that on Christmas Eve I was hacked.

Why anyone would want to hack my site is beyond me. Apparently I am not the only one.

With severe memory issues redoing my entire site is similar to repeating your final year of education 15 years later…..I have forgotten virtually everything.

Silver lining, I like my new set up better.

In happier news, Santa thought I was good.  I have received a new DSLR. I am looking forward to learning it’s ins and outs and creating with it soon.

For now I am composing my resolution list….at the top will be having a super secure website!!!!!

Here is looking forward to a 2017 that is memorable for good reasons unlike 2016.

 

Caribbean Holiday

caribbean holiday

 

I am slowly settling back into normalcy after taking an incredible 14 day aquatic journey. For two weeks the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Jade was my home. Formerly the Pride of Hawaii, this ship was adorned with Hawaiian themed decor. Although sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, the ship’s contrasting pacific decor was quite lovely. Sadly, the Jade lacked the beautiful murals most NCL ships adorn on the Promenade deck. I imagine it at one time had images of a Hawaiian nature as well.

The staff were absolutely AMAZING. I have never met lovelier people than those who work aboard NCL’s ships.  Each staff member was kind and made this experience all the more incredible. An extra special surprise was having the same cabin steward we had on our second NCL cruise 10 years ago! I never forget a face. At first no one believed that we had the delightful Armando tending to our cabin previously. I was able to find an image of him (courtesy of the cloud) to remind them!

There was never a hungry moment with the endless food being served. A bit salty for me, as I do not use salt, but delicious nonetheless! There really is something to eat for everyone’s taste as well. Children were delighted to find endless pizza, pasta, burgers, fries, and ice cream. Oh and the cookies….I have never seen so many cookies in my life.

I have been blessed to take many cruises in my lifetime.  At least 15 that I can vividly remember. I must say that cruising during the winter holidays is quite wonderful. The ship being fully decorated with Christmas trees, lights and even hand crafted gingerbread houses make it extra special. One downside however, is that Christmas is 3 days away and I have not done any shopping! I think souvenirs would have been a bit tacky as Christmas gifts.

The ports we visited were in Mexico, Honduras, and Belize. Each absolutely beautiful. An endless array of sights…a photographer’s dream.

14 sunsets to photograph!

Four epic ports of call.

Even after being home 4 days I have yet to sort the endless photographs.

This photograph was taken shortly after departure from Roatan, Honduras. Our sister ship, the Norwegian Dawn sailing past a glorious sunset.

I captured this image on my Nikon L810.