Sunday, July 31, 2016

Day 2 ... Diving

This morning I woke up with a rush of excitement! Today my Dad, our hostess, Foe, and I were going scuba diving. Dad was already awake and packing. I quickly changed into my swimsuit and went to join my Dad. Foe met us down stairs and we hopped in the car. We drove to the Westin. Lucky, Foe teaches at the Westin, so she helped us find our way around.  We would be diving with Cruz Bay Watersports  on their two tank morning dive.

We checked in and did some paperwork. Then we waited for a couple minutes for our dive master to show up. When he showed up, he introduced himself as Colin and took us to the boat. We got on and got introduced to two other men. We waited for a few minutes and they did not arrive. Finally we decided to leave. We sped away.We rode for maybe ten to fifteen minutes, If you do not like hitting bumps when on a boat, then you probably should sit out this dive. The boat ride was very bumpy.

Our first stop was "Cow". It is rated one of the top ten dive spots in the US Virgin Islands. The captain of the boat was very helpful in getting ready. After getting all my gear on I took a long stride into the water. I joined the rest of the divers. We began our descent. I luckily had no problem equalizing.

The dive was amazing! Though if you are claustrophobic, I recommend not going. We swam through coral and caves. It was beautiful. We saw so many cool fish, we even saw a turtle. Colin was great! He would bring up stuff for us to hold. We held a urchin that grasped onto your hand and a small squirming sea spider. My favorite part, going through the caves. I kept checking my air and dive time. I was afraid I was going to run out of air. Thankfully I noticed we were heading back to the boat.

Check out my dive video by ckicking...

Back on the boat we had a wonderful snack of soda and oranges. Then we rode over to "Ledges". As you guessed, yes, there were  a lot of ledges. I guess we were in a hurry though because I never got to enjoy them. Colin did bring up a brittle star for us. I kind of forgot what was on that dive because we moved so fast. I got really tired at the end. When we arrived back at the boat again I stuffed my face with orange slices. I was super tired.

We arrived back at the Westin and got in our car and drove home. All the kids and adults jumped in the pool. My dad brought a ginger beer home. He told me to try it, but I refused because it was "adult beverage" beer. He promised me it was not. I took a sip, and another, and one more, and a couple more. I asked to have the rest, it was so good. I fell asleep on the inflatable dolphin more than once, the dive was really getting to me then. We stayed in and had dinner. My favorite part about today was diving in caves and all the pretty coral.
My Mom stayed home with Alec.  The youngest you can get your dive certification is 10, so he is not there yet.  But he is asking.  Apparently she had to work a bunch, but she and Justin went into Cruz Bay with Rae and Georgia and had lunch at this great little Deli called Deli Grotto.  They have salads and sandwiches prepacked for grab and go as well as chips and drinks.  Or you  can order something and dine in.  They also have breakfast goodies.  Then they had ice cream at Moongoose Junction as well at a place called St Johns Scoops.  Just be ready with cash.  They don't take credit cards.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Day 1 ....One of many amazing snorkel trips and beaches to come

So we went non-stop while in St John's but that means we didn't have a lot of time to blog, so now we will try to catch up.

Day 1 we slept in some.  Our hosts, the Dad, Justin, is a friend of my Mom's from college, Indiana. We've known them too for quite a while.  Once they came through Tahoe and stayed with us when we lived at Alpine Meadows.  And then two years ago we stayed with them at this incredible farmhouse in Italy.  Mom and Dad weren't sure how we would be sleeping, but they had said they had room.  We slept great in our downstairs apartment, which had two bedrooms, two baths, and a spacious living area.  Which by the way our friends rent out the entire house if you are interested click here

We moved slowly that day while my parents made plans for the week.  Booked my Dad and I a dive for Friday.  Mom decided to let Foe, Justin's wife go, instead of her.  Mom likes to dive, but likes to know a bit more about where she is going and the conditions before going.  She's still pretty nervous. We saw their gardeners cut down a banana bunch.  Probably 50 bananas we would hang in their house from the rafters to ripen.  We also learned they chop down the tree the bunch came from because it will eventually die and a new tree comes from the root system.

After lunch we were off in our Jeep to explore the Beaches.  Our biggest goal for the day was to find Alec a turtle.  We crossed to the other side of the island to Hawksnest Beach. The great thing about St John's is there are only about 3-4000 residents and no cruise ships can pull in, so it's not very crowded.  Then add that most of the island is a National Park, including the coral reefs right off the beach and it's well loved and taken care of. 

We were late getting there, but parking was still no problem and our hosts had loaned us beach chairs, towels, and a cooler.  We were set.  We already have our own snorkel gear.

There were a couple of reefs right off the beach.  The first one we went to the right and it was beautiful.  Easily out for 45 minutes we saw lots of coral, fish, and more.  It was amazing.  We went in for a rest and played in the sand, but we had to try again.  Alec had not seen his turtle yet, so went out again to our left for another 45 minutes.  Still no turtle, but a stingray.  The snorkeling was amazing though...better than any we have done in Jamaica or Turks and Caicos and there it was right off the beach.

We had evening plans with our hosts.  Happy Hour is HUGE on the island, so we headed back and then gathered with our friends and went into Cruz Bay, the main town on the island.  We parked and made our way to the beach facing the harbor where our ferry had dropped us and eventually stopped at The Beach Bar where they had tables right on the beach so we kids could play and climb some trees.  We ordered Shirley Temples while our parents ordered the island favorite, Painkiller.  Food was on special too, so we ordered a lot of items and just shared.  It felt like I was back in Italy where every night the parents would make up a huge anipasta platter and we'd all stuff ourselves with cheeses, crackers, and more..  We also took our picture for our summer school spirit project.
We watched a beautiful sunset, but then our little hostesses, Georgia and Rae, were getting tired and it was time to head home.  A quick stop at The Market Place for supplies (which by the way can be very expensive....a loaf of bread is $5) and we were on our way.  I needed to get to sleep too because tomorrow I would be diving.

Monday, July 25, 2016

On the St John

Finally we got to sleep in...until 7AM.  Another quick breakfast in the room but with a little upgrade. Our hotel room came with a $75 food credit to be used in the hotel on anything except adult beverages.  We had gotten some lunch stuff, ice cream, and this morning there was enough left for fancy coffees for my parents and hot chocolate for my brother and I.

We didn't want to wait on a bellhop, so we hauled our luggage downstairs ourselves.  Mom went to check out (worried check-out would be as long as check-in) and Dad went to get the car.  Self park should have cost my parents over $20 a day, but as they are so new they don't have a way to account parking yet, so we parked for free.

Off to the Orlando Airport where we boarded on-time without any issues.  We flew 50 minutes down to Miami.  While in Miami we got lunch.  We got empanadas at Half Moon Empanadas.  This was my first time eating these.  I had cheese and it was really good.  My brother had pepperoni and cheese and my parents went for the more traditional filled with jerk chicken.  I actually like them. Mom and I then went to the newsstand where she bought a book and I picked up trail mix for the flight.

We had a 2 hour flight mostly over the ocean.  When I looked out it looked more like a painting than reality.  We flew over several islands...Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and more.  So many shades of blue.  More then you'd ever find in a Crayola box.  I saw one island completely of white sand that swirled out into the blue ocean.

We landed on St Thomas where we picked up our bags and exited outside to the humidity again.  There were lots of uniformed taxi drivers.  We went to the head one and told him we needed a ride to the "Red Hook People Ferry Terminal."  We had learned from our friends this would be a longer drive, about 40 minutes, but only a 15 minute ferry ride.  Also if we missed the 5PM there were ferries every half hour to our new home for the next week on St. John's.  It's also important to tell them the people ferry because they  also have a car ferry where they can fit 20+ cars on board to go between the islands.  The drive was interesting.  They drive on the left side of the road, BUT like America the steering wheel was on the left side of the car.  I thought this was silly because I thought it would be difficult to see people approaching.

At the ferry terminal a man offered to take our bags and get them loaded on the ferry.  We bought our tickets which luckily I am still a "child" as I am under 12 for a few more months and saved my parents a few bucks.  We also needed to pay for bags.  We learned the guy who took our bags was really only making a quick buck.  We could have loaded the bags on ourselves and given our bag tags to the captain.  Oh and learn.

We got on the ferry and opted to sit inside, but with open windows on the bottom floor.  I sat by the window and got sprayed.  When we got close to St John's we could see several small high rises, and homes dotting the the hilly landscape.  We would pull into the Red Hook Ferry terminal in a lovely little marina.  Mom spied her friend Justin waiting for us.  My brother and I grabbed our bags and ran out to meet Justin.  It had been two years since we had last seen him in Italy.  My Mom laughed when she got there "Love the backdrops we get to catch up in" she said to Justin.  Last time we were together it was Castellina de Chianti in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Justin and Dad left us on the corner sitting on our bags while they went and got our Jeep.  Almost everyone drives Jeeps on the island due to the steep hills and crazy, curvy roads.  Ours would be candy apple red.  About a 10 minute drive around bays and up massive hills we wold reach Justin's house perched on top of a hill above Fish Bay.

We were greeted by Foe (Justin's wife) and their daughters, Georgia 4 years old, and Rae not quite 2 years old.  Rae was in Foe's belly when we were in Italy.  She was a mini of her sister, but very spunky.  Also Foe's Dad, Malcolm, who is from South Africa, and is sailing around the world.  His sailboat is parked down in Fish Bay and we call him using a walkie talkie for dinner and other adventures.

We had a wonderful dinner and welcoming drinks on their decks.  The girls warmed up to us and we ran around playing.  We would have our own little apartment on the bottom floor.  Two bedrooms perfect for our family overlooking the Bay and a small swimming pool.  We settled into bed while our parents sat upstairs and plotted out the week's plans.  Can't wait for tomorrow morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Univerisal's Islands of Adventure & Hogsmeade

Another 5:30 wake-up call and a continental breakfast and we were on the ferry again at 6AM this time bound for Islands of Adventure.  Again first in line we positioned ourselves more central to the gates as we learned yesterday they pull one family from the front of the line to open the park and get a express pass for the day (which normally costs $100 per person).  We watched the sun come up, but were not chosen.

When the gates opened we were ushered via roped off path to the back of the park.  About half way there they did check to ensure we had our room key.  We could see rising in the back of the park the castle that is Hogwarts.  Entering Hogsmeade we went straight for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  Another ride that is a mix of 3D, moving cart, and incredible imagery.  We were flying on our broomstick around Hogwarts.  It was much so Alec and I went on it again while my rather green parents sat it out.  It was now 7:50 and we played with our wands a little in the streets of Hogsmeade while we waited for Dragon Challenge™ rollercoaster to open.  Dad, Alec, and I were one of the first in line.  

Now 8AM the park was opening for the public, so we decided to move it along outside Hogsmeade and went on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®, again without my parents as it was a 3D high-flying adventure.  Now 8:30 the sun was up and it was getting warm fast, so we went on back to back water rides.  I mean once you are wet...why not.  So we did Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls®,Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges®Jurassic Park River Adventure® all in a row.  In fact everyone except Mom did Jurassic twice.  I was now miserably wet, so my Dad was nice enough to pay $5 so our entire family could go get into a huge stand-up dryer.

It was only 10AM and we had done all the rides we wanted to do.  Well, there was Kong, but it's line was 90 minutes and my parents were a little worried about the fear factor for Alec.  And then the Hulk roller coaster was not open.  So we headed back to Hogsmeade for a snack.  Well, a snack Harry Potter style.  A frozen butter beer for us kids as well as a chocolate frog from Honeydukes.  And then my parents had beers that are brewed especially for the adults in the Harry Potter portions of the Universal Parks, Hogshead brew and Dragontail Ale. My parents sat in the shade while we rode the Dragon Challenege again.  Now 11:30 we decided to hurry back to the hotel and try again for the pool.

Back by ferry and up to our room we again met our room being cleaned.  We quickly in broken Spanish asked if we could change and down to the pool we went.  My brother and I got two slides down the water slide when the thunder bombed and the lifeguards told us to get out.  We had just wrapped up in towels and were on our parents lounge chairs when the sky opened up and out came one of the largest downpours I have ever seen.  We were soaked!  We went up to our room to find our cleaner still there.  Wow!  They sure are thorough...or slow.  We hung out in a little nook in the hallway and waited for about 25 minutes until she finished.  Changed we went downstairs to a little grab and go type place and got sandwiches and other for lunch.  Again another big nap for my parents and some tv vegging for us.

The skies would finally brighten up again around 5 and we headed to CityWalk and Jimmy Buffett’s® Margaritaville®.  At first we followed the crowd into the main lobby where their was quite a wait, but Dad overheard them telling someone there was seating out on the deck.  Ahh...everyone wanted the air conditioning.  We went around the corner to the deck and was greeted by a really nice lady who we would find out was married to the man who was Jimmy Buffet's plane mechanic and the plane right out in front of the restaurant was the one that was shot at and the song "Jamaica Mistaica" was about.  Our family is very familiar with the song because it happened in Negril where we have traveled numerous times.

Back into Universal we went back to Hogsmeade for a little shopping at Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods and we watched the a show of the Hogswart choir complete with croaking frogs.  Ready to say goodbye to the crowds we opted to walk back to our hotel this evening.  It was about 15 minutes and we earned ice cream before heading to bed.  My brother and I ordered this Caribbean shake that turned out to not be very good, so my parents traded us for their cones of Nutella Pistachio and Salted Caramel.  Then off to bed as we had a fairly early morning flight to Miami, then on to St Thomas in the American Virgin Islands and then a ferry ride to St John's.  It was going to be a long travel day.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Universal Studios and Diagon Alley

In the morning my family and I woke up at 5:30 am. Not bad right, that is 2:30 am in California. We were taking advantage of our early park opening for people staying in Universal hotels. We forced ourselves out of bed. We had a plentiful breakfast of one “ity bity” scone and yogurt.

I was afraid I would feel cold outside. As soon as I stepped outside, I was already sweating. We got on the hotel ferry. I highly recommend using the ferry. It is a beautiful ride and is faster than the bus. It was us and like two other families on the earliest ferry. Once we got to City Walk (a restaurant filled area outside of the parks) we walked to the gates of Universal Studios. We were first at our turnstile and waited for forty minutes and finally got let in.

Everyone rushed to the back, where (if you have not guessed yet) the Harry Potter themed area is. We passed through a San Francisco themed area and arrived in Kings Cross London. We followed the crowd behind a brick wall, which hid an opening into Diagon Alley. It was amazing! The shops were so real, everything made me feel as if I were actually in Harry Potter.

We quickly made our way to the ride “Escape from Gringotts”. There was pretty much no line, thanks early entry. This ride is a motion simulator ride. You pretty much get in a car and are rushed around while watching a screen that make you feel like you are in the adventure. I highly recommend this ride! We enjoyed ourselves in Diagon Alley afterwards. We went into Olivander’s Wand Shop. There were so many wands. We picked the ones we wanted, but decided we would purchase later so we didn’t have to deal with them on the rides. 

Next we exited Kings Cross and went to another ride. We went to a huge rollercoaster called Rip, Ride, Rock It! First the ride takes you straight up. Then takes you through a series of loops. I was really afraid of the straight up part. Dad and Alec convinced me to go. We waited in a small line (the park had just opened to the public). We got on our coaster. I sat next to Alec. My heart did a dance. You can choose your own music to play. I was flipping through the playlists. The car started to move, finally I found the song “I Will Survive”. What?!? I needed some reassuring. So we started to go straight up. I was freaking out in my head. Finally, we went down and went through the loops. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I recommend it to people who love rollercoasters!

Then we went on Minion Mania. It was another motion simulator ride. Adults, you might want to sit out this one. My Dad is a rollercoaster champ, but he was a little green after this ride. My super motion sick Mom? Yeah, she just closed her eyes. Then my Mom, Alec, and I went on MIB. I highly recommend it to all ages (except like kids who are not tall enough).

Then we went back to Diagon Alley and entered Olivander’s. We bought wands! I got Professor McGonagall’s wand and Alec got Narsissa Malfoy’s wand. We actually got interactive wands, which are like eight dollars more, but that is worth it. With the interactive wands you get a map that leads you around Diagon Alley, and if you go to Islands of Adventure, Hogsmeade. There are markers where you can do some “magic”. You go stand on the marker, wave your wand in a certain pattern (it is on the marker), and you should see some magic happen. Actually it is pretty cool for all ages. Despite the “dreadful” eight extra dollars, it is so worth it. Then we got BUTTERBEER! If you don’t want overwhelming sweetness, then get the frozen (and that’s coming from me, my mouth is filled with sweet teeth). Then an employee came up to us.

“There is a show starting soon that is taking place here”, she explained.

“Oh, so sorry, we will move out of the way”, my Dad apologized.

“Umm, thanks, actually I was wondering if you would like to be a volunteer”, the employee asked. My Dad agreed and was told all the instructions. Soon enough a sign was carried out on stage that read “Celestina Warbeck and the Singing Banshees”. Celestina Warbeck was a witch singing legend! I silently laughed in my head. Soon a lady with a beautiful dress walked out on stage with three girls wearing blue dresses. Celestina sang one song and then asked my Dad to come up on stage. He blushed and walked up. He wore a blue feather boa. The girls flirted with him (acting of course), he was a bright shade of red the whole time.

Then we went to Krusty’s Funland. If you haven’t guessed it is the Simpsons part of the park. It was yet another motion simulator. My parents both closed their eyes. If you have small children who are already anxious, they should not ride this ride (I sound like one of those signs, “also you cannot ride if you are pregnant, had recent surgery, blah, blah, blah). The poor ity bit girl in the seat behind us got off the ride with tears in her eyes and said in the most adorable queen’s English accent… “that ride was not lovely!” That is our tagline for the rest of the trip. Anyway, I thought it was hilarious.

We decided to get lunch. We can to a sushi-ish restaurant called the “Cowfish”. I read the kids menu (9 and over, oh well, I am almost three years over). I was in heaven! They had PB&J SUSHI ROLLS! I got two helpings of edamame. Then we went back outside. BOOM! It was a thunder storm. They had closed down the ferry system. We ran to the bus stop. Finally, a bus arrived and we rode back to our hotel. I was “mega bummed” because I really wanted to go in their pool. We got back to the hotel and it was pouring. Mom and Dad napped while I had to blog.

After their “years” of napping they woke up. Dad, Alec, and I went to check on the pool. It was not open. We went back to the park. We walked a whole useless circle around the park. Then we came back to Diagon Alley did some more magic and got more butter beer. We got back on the ferry and ordered pizza from Flippers that deliver to the hotels. We had yummy pizza for dinner and chilled out. Tomorrow we are going to Islands of Adventure.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A WINTER Surprise... in the summer

On July 16, my family and I drove to San Francisco and caught a flight to Orlando, Florida.  A red eye flight, so in the morning I woke up on the airplane.  We like taking red eye flights to the east coast as it helps us acclimate easier to the time change.   I slept through the night fairly well.  I awoke to the sound of wheels screeching on the runway. The whole plane was shaking, it sounded like our convertible, which is older than me. Then we had to wait on the runway for a while. While we were waiting, I had some work to do. I begged and begged Mom to let me go to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. I am a huge Dolphin Tale fan, and Clearwater was where it took place.

"Maybe, you guys are tricking me and you actually bought the tickets a long time ago and must keep it a secret," I jeered as soon as my Dad and brother joined us. My Dad laughed at me. We collected our bags and went to Hertz car rental and got our car. Florida was super hot and SUPER humid. I was so glad that we had air conditioning in the back of the car. We loaded our bags up and got in the car.

"Hey, Ally can you hold these papers", Mom asked.  "For how long," I said rolling my eyes. "Can't you guys do it." I took the papers assuming they were for our hotel.  "You can hold them till...we get there," Mom said. My eyes traveled up the paper. Up at the top, a logo read, "Clearwater Marine Aquarium." My heart jumped, my eyes googled, my stomach did a twirl. "THANK YOU SO MUCH", I yelled, I had been wanting this ever since I learned about our trip. "Will I get to see Cozi (the actress that plays Hazel), she is coming for a QandA session you know", I asked.

We got breakfast from Mc. Cafe and Dunk'in Doughnuts. Those doughnuts were good. We had a two hour drive ahead of us. When we  saw the first sign for Clearwater I squealed in delight. When we got to the aquarium we quickly changed into some cooler clothes. I strained to walk with my family and not go rushing ahead.

We slowly walked through the sea turtle hospital. Then we went to the upper deck. A small dolphin was swimming around the pool. I knew that cutie anywhere. It was Hope. I saw another larger dolphin in the quiet corner, the dolphin had no tail, it was Winter. That dolphin is legendary, she lost her tail to a crab trap. She was made a prosthetic. I highly recommend the movie. We went to our meeting point so we could go on a behind the scenes tour. If you want to learn about the history of the aquarium, I highly recommend it. If you want to see the animals the tour might not be as enjoyable. After the tour my family hopped on the "Jolley Trolley" (how ironic), We rode to their second building in which Hazel, Sawyer, and Phoebe would be doing QandA and autographing. We took a seat and waited for a really long time an finally, the CEO walked out and.... informed us that they would start soon. Finally Hazel, Sawyer, and Phoebe. The Q and A session was very informative.

Then the CEO announced they would be doing autographs and photos. I quickly ran to the end of the line. The line wrapped all the way to the door. I sighed in disbelief and got in line. I really wanted an autograph from Cozi. Mom hopped in line with me. The boys went over to the hurricane simulator. We waited twenty minutes and the actors were not even there yet! Dad offered to take me to the hurricane simulator. I agreed and left Mom and Alec to hold my place in line. The hurricane simulator was pretty cool, there was a lot of wind. I highly recommend it for kids not to small. Mom was very tired. She ended up bribing me out of line. I sighed and walked to the gift shop. Mom bought me a shirt.

Alec was so hot and so tired, Mom and he went to the car. Dad and I looked around the aquarium a bit more. We went up to the stranding deck. A dolphin named Nicholas was about to do a demonstration. He did flips and jumps, he was so cool! Dad never buys cheesy pictures that employees edit, but we ended up buying those, they were super cute.

We left the aquarium and had dinner at Olive Garden, which I love! Then we bought groceries at Whole Foods. Finally we checked into our hotel. I was so tired, so jet-lagged, I was just ready to lay on a nice comfortable bed. It was 8PM at night and our room was not ready.  WHAT?!?!  The hotel had only been open 3 days and my parents warned us they were still working out the kinks.  It the Lowes Sapphire Falls which is on the Universal Studios resort.  It took the employees more than an hour to get our room ready.

After exploring their gift shop and Mom and Dad ordering an "adult beverage" we finally went up to the front desk   "I am Paul Jolly, is our room ready yet", my Dad asked.  "Let me see, hmmm, yep", said the concierge.  "You had our phone number, why did you not text like you said you would," I thought. Finally we got up to our room. At least it has a great view. After even more time waiting for the bellhops to deliver our bags and Dad giving up and chasing them down with pleas about how exhausted his family was they finally delivered the bags.  Showers and we were out we had a 5AM alarm for early entry to the parks (one advantage of staying on site).