Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Geocaching

(For you, Heather!)

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Before there was Pokemon Go, there was geocaching. Geocaching is an activity that uses the GPS on your phone to find hidden treasures in parks, along trails, or even in shopping centers. We are VERY new at this, so if you are a more seasoned geocacher, feel free to leave extra tips and tricks in the comments or feel free to correct me. I tend to get on board with things way late, so since Google tells me geocaching has been around since 2000 and I'm just now joining in in 2016, I suppose I'll get on board and begin Pokemon hunting in 2032. I'll eventually catch 'em all!

So, geocaching. In my limited experience, these things are everywhere. Lots in parks, lots in touristy areas, lots in shopping centers. It can be completely free to do, or you can go straight to Geocaching Nerd level right off the bat and subscribe for a year like we did. Subscribing gives you more geocaches to find, and who knows what else, but for $6 a month or $30 for the year I figured we'd just go ahead and do the year.

Ok, let me back up to the basics.

Alright. So, to do this activity you need the following:
  • A GPS enabled phone (or you can use a compass I think, but I have no experience using that method so I'm not going to talk about that here)
  • A pen
  • The Geocaching App
  • Some little trinkets to leave behind if you plan on taking something for yourself

You download the app and sign up for an account. (This is free). Once you've done that, you are taken to a map within the app which should show your exact location. From there, you just scroll around to see if any geocaches are located near you. The circles that are dark green are geocaches that are available for you to find. If there are any light green dots, you are using the free version and those light colored ones are only available to super nerd Geocaching Subscribers, like myself.

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Find one that looks appealing to you and click on it. You can see the difficulty, terrain and actual size of the container you are looking for here. If it all sounds like something you'd like to attempt, push the start button and the app gives you the mileage or the number of feet you are away from that geocache.

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A compass is also shown on the screen, with a red indicator at which direction you need to maneuver to get closer to the cache. Sometimes you can tell that the geocache is going to be off of this trail that you are walking on, but since the trail may weave back and forth you may actually walk against the direction it tells you to go in at some points. Does that make sense? Ultimately, you are trying to get close enough to the geocache that your phone buzzes and tells you:

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Once you get to within 30 feet of the geocache they give you a warning that the GPS may not be accurate to the exact location. Like, once you find it it may say you are still 15 feet away, for example, just because GPS isn't that accurate. In my experience though, I'd say it has been pretty accurate from 5-10 feet out. 

So from there? You just look! We have a whopping 8 finds under our belt, but there are at least 2 others (maybe 3? I can't remember.) that we never found. When Charley and I went geocaching last weekend though, I did feel like we were getting much better at this than we were when we started. You sort of start to learn what to look for. 

A few times it has been hidden under some sticks that are placed just so at the base of a tree.

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Sometimes they take advantage of little hidey holes in trees to hide the cache.

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That one above was really cool - the hole was in the middle of the tree where two trunks split apart, and instead of having you stick your hand down there to get it - because ew snakes and bugs and such! - they had a rope tied to it wrapped around the tree so it rested right in the hole. You just pulled it out by the rope and dropped it back in when you were done.

And some are even in just plain sight. This one was called "Bienvenidos" and was a fake rock next to a welcome stone at a nature museum. Turned the rock upside down and voila! 

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So what do you get when you find it? Mostly just the pleasure of finding hidden treasure! But, some geocaches are large enough for little trinkets too. So the idea is to bring something to leave, and to take one thing with you as well if you wish. This one here was the best we've seen so far for actual stuff to trade. Stickers and little toys and magnets and all kinds of things. 


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If you are stuck wandering around and just not finding the darn thing, there are sometimes hints you can use on the actual app, and if those don't help, you can go through the comments of those that have found it before you and try to pick up hints from those. Sometimes there are even pictures attached to the comment which can at least point you to the right tree or right area. We definitely used the heck out of those for our first few finds. 

Another 'hint' is to pay attention to the name of the geocache. Some have boring names that don't mean a thing, but often times they DO mean something. Like the "Bienvenidos"one I mentioned before was right next to a welcome stone, and this one below was called "Sea Turtle" which didn't really help until we actually found it and saw a turtle (not even a sea turtle!) on top of the box but worth mentioning as well. Sometimes the titles help, sometimes not so much.

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The last thing to do is to sign the log. Many geocaches are too small to include a pen in them also so it is usually a good idea to bring your own if you want to sign them. Sign, date, put everything back in the container and hide it just as you found it. Done!

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On the app, you then log your find (or log that you didn't find it) and it places a smiley face over the green dot so you can remember which ones you've found and which you haven't. It is important to log those you don't find also...one of our first ones that we didn't find we searched and searched and searched. Finally we gave up and logged our DNF (did not find) and moved on. I went back to check on it a week or two later and saw that many people after us had the same results so they took the listing off the site completely until the owner could go back and either reset it or hide one again in the same spot. Made me feel much better that others didn't find it either! 

That's really it, I think! I know there's tons more that you can do with these but this is all we are doing so far and it is perfect for Charley's age. We enjoy it, it's free to try, and it gets us out and walking. Of course we completely forgot to look for any last week on vacation, but that's usually when we look for them - makes it easy to explore a new place. Let me know if you try/have tried it! Give me all the tips! 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Loving Lately

Here are some things I've been loving, lately.

This bathing suit top.


Publix's Jalapeno and Cilantro Hummus

WITH SOME Stacy's Simply Naked Pita Chips

This kid's shampoo (SheaMoisture Mango and Carrot)

This little holder for little hands to more easily wrangle playing cards.

The Chick Fil A One App. OMG. This should be the first thing on this list.

CoTZ Face Sunscreen. Is tinted, so this is all I wore on vacation. So light! Love it!

The Yeti Colster. Honestly have no idea what the point of other koozies are anymore.



And in that same picture, the Aden and Anais sleep sacks. So perfect for summer.

Again, from Publix (grocery store here, if not familiar to you), the cajun catfish filets from the seafood counter. So easy. So delicious. You want these.

The Norwex Dust Mitt

The Young House Love Podcast

Planning upcoming Disney trips on MyDisneyExperience.com.

Our camper

Season 4 of Orange is the New Black

These beach towels. (The Big One from Kohl's)

This man.


These girls.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

3 Year Houseiversary

Here we go! One of my favorite posts each year...not because it is anything wonderful or groundbreaking or clever, but because I myself like seeing our annual report card so to speak. To see what all we've been able to do in our home in one year's time. So, not the most interesting post as far as you are concerned, but I like it for myself. And, I include a full page spread of our house photos each year in our annual photo book, so this accomplishes that for me too. I would love to have had pictures of the houses I was in growing up (besides just seeing stuff in the backgrounds of other photos) but that was before the age of digital photography slash the age of take pictures of every tiny thing.

So, three years in our home! The clunkiness of the photo collages I was using in prior year houseiversary posts was going to be even clunkier with a 4th photo added to them, so I set up permanent pages for each section of our house which I'll link to in each category. I'll just show this year's picture on this actual post and will only include stuff we actually completed in this past year in the checklists.

Of course I'm two months late posting this again this year so I squeezed in some updates that technically didn't happen in year 3, but with the frequency I update this blog lately, I'm throwing them in here anyway for documentation purposes or else the documentation may not ever happen.

Honorable mentions for year 3 go to our master bedroom and the basement. Basement progress is still ongoing but it is well on its way!


OUTSIDE (these section headers are links to pages that have the pictures from every year, and the entire checklist of what we've done in each space)

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Completed this year:
  • Added a bench swing on the front porch, and removed two of the rocking chairs.
  • Pressure washed the deck.
To do:
  • Finish Charley's playground. We have a second slide and platform we want to add.
  • Build a lower deck.
  • Clean up the woods/natural area by the road.
  • Build an arbor around the garage doors.
  • We've found a new home for the trash and recycling cans, but they need something built around them so they aren't such eyesores.
  • Add some more flower/shrubbery beds around the entire house. (We did add one little section this year, but need to finish it all the way around the house.)
  • Furnish the rest of the deck.
  • Stain the deck.
  • On the front porch replace the two remaining rocking chairs. (Last year I said repaint - this year it is becoming more clear they need to be replaced instead.)
  • Finally decide on a paint color for the front door.
  • And maybe one day, replace the whole front door/sidelights with something more attractive. 
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Completed this year: 
  • Got rid of the collage over the desk and added a single large map. Still not completely sold on this, but it works for now.
To do:
  • Find nicer office chairs.
  • Crown molding. 
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Completed this year: 
  • Well, there is a play grocery store/lemonade stand living in here at the moment. (not pictured, but what Laney is playing with).
To do:
  • Move that grocery store toy to the basement.
  • Crown molding.
  • Find a rug for the room.
  • Maybe recover the chair cushions.
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Completed this year: 
  • Basically, nothing. But we did both decide we like almost NOTHING on the counters so a couple appliances (Kitchen Aid Mixer, Toaster Oven, Blender) found homes in the pantry or cabinets so that we have 90% of our counters empty. 
  • Added pendant lights over the bar.
To Do:
  • Repaint the walls.
  • New counter tops.
  • Back splash of some sort.
  • Possible cabinet refinishing.
  • Get some bar stools already.
  • Replace the builder's basic sink/faucet.
  • Decorate.
  • Maybe build an enclosure for the fridge - it sticks out a bit since it's not a counter depth fridge.
  • Wallpaper or paint the pantry walls.
  • Replace the spaceship looking light fixture with recessed lighting.
  • Crown molding
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Done:
  • Returned the accent chair to the corner, as large baby gear things are officially outta here!
To Do:
  • The walls are all getting repainted.
  • Hang a couple of wall sconces.
  • MAYBE get new living room furniture and move this stuff to the basement. 
  • Thinking about a new larger rug, also.
  • Crown molding.
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Completed this year: 
  • Added the cute little monogram to the headboard.
  • Changed the bedding.  

To Do: 
  • Move some of the larger toys to the basement (kitchen, anywhere chair, maybe Disney castle too.)
  • I'm getting close to wanting to redo her whole room too. Paint, curtains, bedding, all of it. As it has evolved over the years, it doesn't really go together anymore. Curtains for sure are the first step, and if that doesn't solve it, paint next.
  • Crown molding.
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Completed this year: 
  • Well, I added these flower 3-D wall sticker things I found at Target on clearance that I actually don't like but cannot remove because they are taking off the paint behind them. BLAH.
  • Added hardware to the dresser.
To Do: 
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Completed this year:
  • Replaced faucet.
  • Added fabric covered cornice.
  • Replaced counter top with granite.
  • Replaced sink with an undermounted sink.
To Do:
  • On the wall above the light switch, I've swapped out art several times already and I just can't find something I love in this spot. I'll keep looking.
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Completed this year:
  • Painted
  • Refinished nightstands.
  • Painted mirrors above dresser.
  • Added pocket door into master bath.
  • Upgraded to a king sized bed.
  • Built and painted a new bed.
  • Upgraded the TV in here to a larger Smart TV so we can now Netflix in bed. (ahhhhhh!)
  • Tiled the middle of the faux fireplace, and therefore moved that outlet as well.

To Do:
  • Crown molding.
  • The other side of the room that isn't pictured needs SOMEthing. I've considered large mirrors (already have them, just not 100% sure yet) or even built-ins along the whole wall (may look too busy since the view out of the bedroom door is the built-in shelving in the living room). Just need to figure this out.
  • Maybe replace carpet with the hardwood floors we have elsewhere in the house. And then we'd need a rug, of course. 

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Completed this year:
  • Nothing, except the door was replaced by a pocket door to give us easier access to the linen closet, but I included that on the master bedroom list so I can't double dip and include it here too.
To Do:
  • Replace the linoleum with tile.
  • Take out the shower stall and make a larger tiled shower instead.
  • Paint.
  • Decorate.
  • Update the giant builder's basic mirror by framing it in or replacing it. 
  • Replace faucets and light fixtures.
  • Replace towel bars.
  • Add some chunky shelving over the toilet and decorate the tiny room.
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Completed this year:
  • Nothing at all.
To Do:
  • Get one of those fancy fold-up ironing boards or figure out some other solution for where to put our ironing board.
  • Build or buy a counter top over washer and dryer.
  • Paint. Something fun in here. Stripes or something. Maybe wainscoting or wallpaper.
  • Replace linoleum floor with tile.

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Completed this year:
  • Framing. John and I drew up plans of what we wanted to do with the large right half of the basement and then John and my dad put up the framing.
  • HVAC. Hired out and got a unit for the downstairs installed.
  • Electrical. DIYed it. Lots of wires, light fixtures, outlets and all that kind of stuff. Also wired in speakers in the ceilings like we have upstairs.
  • Walls! Hired out for the huge job of hanging and mudding the dry wall.
  • Paint. Picked one color for the whole basement. And chose it in the store (instead of buying testers and all that mess) and bought 20+ gallons of it. Living on the edge.
  • Baseboards and moldings added and painted.
  • Purchased flooring. (Went with laminate down here instead of the real hardwoods we have upstairs. Mainly because this space is huge and our bank accounts are not.)
  • Began installing flooring.
To Do:
  • Finish laying the flooring, and then add the shoe molding.
  • Add a bathroom to the roughed-in plumbing.
  • Buy carpet for the guest bedroom/craft room.
  • Paint walls in guest bedroom/craft room.
  • Build/buy a high top table and bar stools which will go under those pendant fixtures.
  • Organize my craft stuff and create a craft area.
  • Stain the treads and paint the handrail and maybe do something fun on the stair risers on the steps coming out of the basement.
  • DECORATE/begin emptying out that storage room! Acquire furniture! (pool table, couch, cabinetry, rugs, etc etc etc - there's a lot of space down there to be filled...and a TON of stuff I've acquired that is just waiting in that storage room.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Laney - 13/14 Months

Well, I said I was going to quit doing these updates, and here I am doing another one anyway. I guess I forgot how much changes and how quickly it changes during the second year.



Laney....


...does NOT give kisses. She gets about a million a day but she refuses to give kisses back.



...loves to eat. She's usually the first to begin eating and the last to finish. She'll eat every little crumb on her tray.

...loves her bunny blankets. EXACTLY like her big sister, she sucks/chews on the corners to soothe herself to sleep, or just when sleepy in general. I thought it was so weird that I have TWO children that did this strange behavior, until John brought out his bunny blanket from when he was a kid and showed us the corners that were in the same condition as theirs. So it's a genetic thing, apparently!



...is completely done with bottles. And we sort of skipped sippy cups too and went straight to the Take N Toss straw cups. So much easier.

...is a chatterbox. Lots of new sounds and words these days. Some recent favorites - 'nana (banana), sshhshshshs (shoes), and while pointing to herself she says something that doesn't really sound like 'Laney' at all but I know that's what she's trying to say. I love this stage.

...is still a slow(er than her sister) teether. Charley had all 16 teeth at this same age and she got her teeth in the correct order too. Ha. Laney is all over the place. She's all uneven and stuff in there with her 7 teeth. 2 molars on one side, 3 up top, 2 on the bottom. She may have a 4th up top too, and then a new molar is coming in on the upper right side. But no canines at all!

...walks. She began right at 13 months like Charley. Once she walked, she walked. Rarely crawls any more.

...is a snuggler.



...is Mama's girl. Can't get close enough to me if I'm home so she spends a lot of time on my hip.

...is a climber. Nothing scary yet though, just more climb-y than her sister was.



...is a very serious baby. I love when strangers try and get her to smile and her brow just furrows further. She's got no time for your antics.

...sleeps great. Goes to sleep at 8:00, sleeps until we get her up at 6:30. Gives us an 8:00 or even 9:00 wake up pretty regularly on the weekends. Still 2 naps a day for a couple hours each.

...is a light sleeper. So, she sleeps great, AS LONG AS nothing disturbs her. It's actually kind of perplexing. She's a light sleeper if she hears one of us outside of her room, or a slight floor creak if we are tiptoeing into her room, or if we are tending to her sister with a stomach bug in the middle of the night. But, last night the fire alarm went off in our house (smoke from a machine John was using in the basement) and she has an alarm IN HER ROOM and not a peep was heard from her. Okayyyyyyyyyyyyy.

...is getting a mullet. I know this is a normal hair growth stage for babies, but I'm pretty close to evening it out. Or, rather, having someone even it out. It's just hair, and it's not like she's got any curls that we'd be losing by cutting some of it. I am not a fan of this messy hair stage at all.

...is such a love. We love this little sugar muffin so much.




Monday, July 11, 2016

Week In Review

Haven't done one of these in a while. This is for the week of July 3-9


The highs of the week were:

  • Visiting the NC Zoo on Sunday. It was a perfect day weather wise, we had a brief lapse in children sickies, and we had ourselves together enough to get there right at opening so there weren't many people there at all. Charley and Laney were so well behaved too. It was a great day!
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  • Taking Charley and Laney to Carowinds' (our local theme park) water park solo on Friday night. I got to skip out of work a little early Friday so I scooped them up and went straight to the water park. We had SO MUCH FUN. I was pleasantly surprised with how well I did solo with two kids in a water park. ::pats self on back:: Good times had by all, and followed by good sleep had by all!
  • So yeah - that good sleep I was talking about. Laney slept the next morning until 9, and although Charley got up at her usual 7 something, she's figured out the TV and how to get to Netflix and all that so she can entertain herself in the mornings until the rest of us wake up. 

The lows of the week were:

  • Sickies. We finally got through a stomach bug thing on Tuesday, but it lingered (infected and reinfected) for an entire week before we finally figured out how to get rid of it. Blah. John and I managed to avoid it completely, thankfully.
  • And then once we were all through that, 3 of the 4 of us (no man cold yet, thank goodness!) have a cold now. 
  • I had my one work-late day of the month this week. So while that sucks, I'm glad it is usually just one (sometimes two!) (sometimes none!) day a month. Still got home in time to see my babies before bed though.
The best money I spent was on:
I love a photo booth so much. I was pretty happy to spend the $6 at the zoo and add to our collection of these on the side of our fridge.
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The book I am currently reading is:

I've been reading Jojo Moyes 'One Plus One' in an effort to get back on the reading train. It is good so far, I'm just so slow in reading it.

The TV shows I watched were:

We finished season 2 of Bloodline and anxiously await another season. We then started the newest season of Orange is the New Black.

The dinners we had were:

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Sunday: We were camping and had grilled chicken and fruit, followed by lots of s'mores. 
Monday: Charley's FAVORITE, chicken and dumplings.
Tuesday: I had an after work thing, so I had awesome chicken strips from a local wing place, and John and the girls had chicken fried rice
Wednesday:  I worked late, so John made them chicken alfredo pasta
Thursday: Domino's pizza with more chicken alfredo pasta
Friday: I took Charley and Laney to Carowinds this evening, so we grabbed Wendy's on the way home.
Saturday:  Grilled chicken, baked potatoes and sauteed squash and zucchini 

Reading this back over and I just now realized we had chicken EVERY SINGLE NIGHT this week. Hahahaha. We like chicken! And obviously we did not meal plan this week at all.

My favorite picture from the week was:

Not one picture stands out to me as my absolute favorite this week. My pictures on my good camera from the zoo aren't that great because it was SO HUMID out that day that every time I put the camera up to my face everything would fog up. Not even joking. My glasses, the viewfinder, the lens. I swear, all of it. So, with all that said, the next day at home I tried to recreate my favorite picture from the 4th last year and I just don't love it as much. I forgot to use flash to get rid of some of the shadows, there was a smudge on the lens right over Charley's face (likely from the constant fogging from the day before) and it just isn't my favorite. But, these people ARE my favorite so I'm choosing it anyways.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Cruisers We Are Not

Look at me following through with a promise to blog about our cruise! I'm pretty sure this is the first time that's happened over here in the last couple of years. Life of Lacey = broken blogging promises.

Before I start telling you all what we thought of the cruise and what we did and all that, let me give you this for your frame of reference. I have done a total of SIX "big" trips. Meaning saving up, flying there, and usually passports are required. I only consider this cruise a "big" trip because we went to another country. Of those six trips:

(3) were to Europe - (2) bus tours, and (1) I just planned/didn't plan myself.
(2) were to the Caribbean - (1) all-inclusive resort and this (1) short cruise.
and
(1) was to Alaska - which I planned myself.

So that gives you an idea on how much you should rely and trust my extensive travel knowledge. (::whispers:: you shouldn't!) It is very clear that I spend most of my vacations in a trailer, after all.

So, with all that said, we went on a 4 day cruise courtesy of my place of employment. It was a Carnival cruise out of Charleston, SC on their ship Ecstasy, with one port day in Nassau, Bahamas. So, days 1 and 2 were boat days, day 3 was in Nassau and day 4 through the morning of day 5 were boat days.

Beware - there are a ton of selfies in this extremely long post. You've been warned.

DAY ONE

On the night before we left, we got a message that the cruise ship was late in returning from the previous cruise to Bermuda due to a storm, so our cruise would now be delayed as well. Instead of a 12:30-2:30 boarding time, we were now being told to board from 3:00-5:00. That was a bummer, but nothing you can do about the weather. The next morning we woke up and tried to get all of our remaining things together, as well as get everything together for Charley and Laney's weekend. They were bouncing from house to house while we were gone (my sister's, my parent's, my other sister's, then back to my 1st sister's) so packing for them was a bit difficult too as I had to make sure each house had what it needed as well. It was a very frantic and frazzled morning. Finally though, we dropped Charley off at preschool, took Laney down to my sister's and we were on our way. Later than we originally planned, but that was still more than okay since the boarding time was delayed anyway.

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It looks like John is saying "DOH" about his passport right as I took this.

We get maybe 15 minutes down the road and I say something about our passports. John immediately panics and says he forgot his. I sort of laugh and tell him not to worry, that I packed his for him earlier in the week. We both think it is a good idea to pull over and double check though and I was right - I DID pack his for him earlier in the week. BUT, I didn't pack my own. Idiot. Our passports were in two different locations when I grabbed his because he recently had his out when booking a flight for a different trip. I'm thinking that after I grabbed his I got distracted and never made it to get my own. So, we turned around and headed back home to get mine. Again, not a huge deal since the cruise was delayed anyway. It takes 3 hours to get to Charleston from Charlotte so we still planned on arriving around lunchtime.

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Finally - we are on our way and feeling slightly less frazzled than we were that morning. I did realize that I left my phone charger at home, though, so we made one more stop to pick a new one up and arrived in Charleston with plenty of time to spare. We found a restaurant for lunch which ended up being SO DELICIOUS and left there to arrive at the cruise terminal at 2:45p.m. We followed the signs and ended up in a huge line of winding cars in a giant parking lot.

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Right when we got into the winding line - we probably wouldn't be smiling if we knew we were going to be in this line for 2 more hours.
   
We followed this winding path and the huge line of cars for TWO HOURS. I'm not sure if this is the norm for a cruise departure, but it sucked. It was rainy and grey and it wasn't until 5:09 p.m. that we finally got to our stateroom.

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Not so bad, really!

There were so many misconceptions I had about cruises in general coming into this trip. I'd venture to say that most people I know have been on a cruise so I'd heard lots of things about them. One thing I'd heard many times was how incredibly small the rooms were. And sure, it was small, but not as small as I was expecting. We weren't tripping over our things or anything like that. There was enough space for both of our suitcases and plenty of closet space also. Maybe I'm used to smaller vacation spaces with our camper and having traveled to Europe and all, but I was pleasantly surprised in this aspect.

In particular, I'd heard many people talk about the itty bitty bathrooms, also. So naturally I went to check that out next. A coworker was just telling me how one of her friends who happened to be 6 foot something and 200+ pounds really could only fit half of himself in the shower at a time. Just went on and on about how small the shower was. But, again, I didn't think it was so bad once I saw it for myself! I've told you before our shower at home is terrible and is so small so maybe that clouded my judgement, but I thought the shower size was just fine for a small bathroom. Plus, the smallest shower I've ever used was in a bathroom on a train from Prague, Czech Republic to Stuttgart, Germany and that shower shared the faucet with the sink so I don't think "small shower" will ever compare to that one. This cruise ship was so large that it even had separate faucets for both the sink AND the shower! Wow! Ha. So again, pleasantly surprised here too.

After we dropped our things off we went to explore the boat and all that there was to do. We stopped at the pool deck to get a drink at one of the bars there and sit under the covered area because it was still rainy and yuck outside.

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I was less than impressed at the beer selection offered. But I managed to find something to drink to sit and people watch for a bit. Afterward, we continued walking around the boat to see everything and made our way back to the center of the boat where we started. I stopped right there and said to John "that's it!?" I wasn't sure WHAT we were going to do to fill up the next 3.5 days.

Dinner than night was delayed too thanks to the delayed boarding and was open seating instead of following our assigned table number that was listed on our little on-board credit card thing. We found one of my coworkers and her boyfriend luckily, so we at least had someone at our table we knew and we were sat with 5 other people that we didn't know. All 5 people ended up being pretty great and we continued to talk with them anytime we saw them over the next few days. Yay! Socially awkward me didn't ruin it for everyone!

Dinner though was only okay. Again, based on what I'd previously heard, I was expecting great food. That food was definitely NOT great. I wouldn't even say good, really, just okay. The chocolate lava cake for dessert was pretty good, but not so good to make me forget about the rest of the meal. Since dinner didn't begin until after 8:30, it was close to 10:00 when it was complete so we called it a night and went to our room to sleep.

DAY TWO

We woke up the next morning refreshed! We slept pretty great on the rocking boat and woke up a little before 8, I think. Another thing I was worried about was getting seasick due to the location of our stateroom. It was on the highest floor of staterooms, and was towards the very front of the boat, maybe only 4 or 5 rooms back. I read that those rooms can be the rockiest so even though we have sleeping-on-a-boat experience, I was still a little worried. So far, so good though. Neither of us felt nauseous at all.

We headed down to the breakfast restaurant and some muffins and bread were brought to our table. The muffins were DELICIOUS. SO delicious. There was one chocolate muffin that is tied for one of my two favorite things to eat on the whole boat. My pancakes however, weren't very good. Instead I ate all of the things in the bread/muffin basket and all of my bacon and that was enough. John had an omelet and seemed to like it.

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We went out to do some more boat exploring and wound up outside at the front of the boat. It was a very pretty day out and the wind felt great. I remember thinking this was the best part of the boat I'd seen yet. We stayed out there for a while before deciding to head to the pool deck.
 

Everyone on the boat is around this pool it seems. There are no chairs available at all except some regular chairs (not the lounging type) at tables near the bar. We sit here for a while and get a bucket of beers while we chat and people watch. The people watching on this boat was.....interesting, to say the least. At some point we had lunch (I had chicken fingers/fries covered in cheese sauce - which wasn't as good as I'd hoped and John had some Asian noodle something or other which he said was great!) and we eventually see a couple of people I work with and make our way up to the deck where they were sitting and had found chairs. We spend the rest of the afternoon drinking and talking with them and a couple other coworkers as well.

At some point we all decide to head to our rooms to rest some before dinner that night at 8. I want to say it was a little before 6:00. When John and I got back to our room and realized we had 2 full hours to shower and get ready for dinner, we said "forget that!" We don't need that long to shower and get ready so we put on our swimsuits and headed to the hot tub. We had hoped that since the first dinner began at 6 that the pool deck would be cleared of most people - and we were right! There was only one other couple in the hot tub. And calling it a hot tub is being generous, it was definitely more of a "warmish tub". We had yet another drink and sat in the hot tub for a while before going back to the room to get ready for dinner.

Our dinner was at 8. Our table was assigned to us and was among all of the rest of my coworkers on the cruise. We got our menus and decided on our appetizer and main course. I was not impressed with any of the choices, but eventually decided on ordering some crab ravioli for my main course. It was a little adventurous for what I normally order, but I just went with it. I was the only one at my table of 10 that chose that dish, but, I was NOT the only one that deemed our meal inedible and didn't have another bite. Several of us just couldn't eat what we had chosen. Y'all - it was awful! Even John - who is basically Mikey and will eat ANYthing - tasted my food and said "Nope. You cannot eat that." So, I had some bread and butter and waited until the main course portion was winding down before we made our escape. Dessert wasn't even worth waiting for, and that's saying a LOT coming from me.

And the dinner show that the waiters participate in left a lot to be desired. Cheese with a capital C. Like, not even the entertaining kind of cheesiness, either. Another thing I was told prior to this cruise was that the service would be impeccable. Yeah. Not at all. As we left and made our way to the pizza place, we decided we were not coming back to the dining room again on this cruise. We ended up eating there that night and the next 2 nights as well - pizza ended up being my other favorite food item on the boat.



We had some drinks with my coworkers that night at the casino bar and were in our beds by midnight. I just read back everything I wrote about this first full day, and it is full of negativity, especially about a cruise we were on for free. Y'all know I'm the furthest thing from negative, so just know that even though there are lots of complaints, we actually did have a lot of fun on the pool deck and at the casino bar that day. I'm just so glad that we had fun people to hang out with because they really made this trip for us.

DAY THREE

So the next day was our port day in Nassau. I had told anyone that would listen about the place we were headed called The Tiki Bikini Hut. In my informal surveying of people on Facebook and by word of mouth, it became really clear to us that we did NOT want to do the Atlantis thing while in Nassau. Eventually I went on trusty Trip Advisor and saw that this place was the number one thing to do in Nassau and I was sold. It wasn't expensive, we could walk there, it gave us a casual, relaxing beach day and had free wi-fi. That covered my entire wish list of what we wanted to do while on the island. Done and done.

Since we had no way to communicate with any of my coworkers, we weren't sure if anyone would be joining us at all. We were up early enough for breakfast and to get ready for disembarking by 9:15. The skies, though, did not look promising.



We got off of the boat and made our way through the pack of people trying to get us to do this excursion and that excursion. They were annoying, but once you told them "no thank you" they left you alone. I didn't have exact directions to the place we wanted to go, but I knew it was on the beach so that narrowed it down quite a bit, and I knew the general direction it was in. So we decided to just mosey our way through the town and a few shops on our way to the beach. It was pretty early to go to the beach and have a beer, plus the skies were still looking pretty bad so we didn't want to be stuck on a beach with no roof over our heads in a downpour.

We went into some t-shirt shops to find a couple little souveniry things and before we knew it, the bottom completely fell out. It POURED down rain. We left the shop we were in and tried to decide what we would do to wait out the rain.



We  passed a bar that advertised free wi-fi on our walk to the shop we were at, so we decided that was the best place to go until the rain stopped. Apparently 9:15 was too early to go to the beach and drink, but 9:47 was perfectly fine. I mean, we HAD to buy something (in my opinion) so we could use their free wi-fi, after all.



I was pretty happy sitting there in the open air bar catching up on my children through messages with my sisters and catching up on Facebook as well. Eventually, the rain stopped so we started to make our way to the Tiki Bikini Hut.

We were about halfway there (I think the walk straight from the ship would have been 15-20 minutes to get there) when my coworker and her boyfriend spotted us. Yay! The four of us then made our way to the beach.

The servers were very accommodating as soon as we got there. They weren't super pushy or salesperson-y, but offered us (2) chairs, (1) umbrella, (2) lunches, (8) beers and (8) shots for $65. (Looking on Trip Advisor, the reviews are all over the place with what you pay/what you get. So I bet you can barter a little bit, but I didn't feel the need to argue with that price.) I mean, sounds like a pretty great deal to us so we were sold. Apparently that was the VIP package so the beach boys immediately started setting up our chairs and umbrella right at the water's edge.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Beach day.



There were a couple more passing thunderstorms that we waited out underneath our umbrella, but overall the day was perfect. The shots did not contain much alcohol (thank goodness!) so we weren't completely drunk - because usually that much alcohol would for sure knock me out. And the water was just perfect. Crystal clear, NO waves thanks to a sandbar/peninsula thing, and the perfect temperature. It was also saltier than I was used to, so it was very easy to just float on top of the water. Truly - I loved this day! Had we been bused to Atlantis and been with the crowds (4 other cruise ships were there that day too) I KNOW I wouldn't have had a good time. I bet Atlantis is really cool, but maybe one day we'll actually stay there so we can enjoy it when thousands of other people are not also trying to enjoy it at the same time.

So! It was time to mosey our way back to the boat. The combination of sun and alcohol had me super happy (::coughmaybestumblytoocough::) so it was a pretty enjoyable walk back to the boat. We boarded at 4:30 and a nap was definitely in order for me. John, however, decided he didn't need a nap (he was wrong) so he went and found coworkers to hang with on the pool deck.

A few hours later John came back to the room and we decided to go get some pizza for dinner. My coworkers met us there as well. All of us were boycotting the dining room apparently.

After that, we went out to a piano bar on board and OH MY GOODNESS that was right up my alley. I loved that place. The pianist played my request (Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody) and that tiny little bar was so energetic. We stayed there for a few hours before going to meet other coworkers at the casino bar.



This was our latest night - I think it was just about 2:00 a.m. before we made it back to our room.

DAY FOUR

We slept really great again and I was SURE this time that I'd slept in. I was so proud of me! So I picked up my phone to check the time and....

7:30. Ughhhhhh. I think I laid there for at least another half hour and finally decided to just get up. John, however, was struggling this morning. He never took a nap the previous day like I did, just continued having fun and drinking, so he was paying for it this morning. He didn't want to eat. He didn't want anything but water and sleep. And lucky for him, we had already finished both giant bottled waters that they "gave" us in our room. We had the hardest time finding water on the cruise ship. The water in the bathroom was nasty tasting (we tasted it when brushing teeth) and bottled water was never offered anywhere. You could get a glass of water from the pool deck restaurant, but John and I both drink a lot of water so it seemed like a whole lot of effort to bring back one whole glass of water to the room that we would finish drinking in just a couple of sips. I did take our giant water bottle and fill it up in the restaurant, but ice wouldn't fit in it so it was warm water. Better than nothing, though.

So, since John was needing his rest, I went exploring by myself. I went to get some more of those chocolate muffins for breakfast and went outside to the front of the ship in the sunshine and wind for a bit. I went to the disembarkation instruction show thing that was going on so I knew what to expect the next morning. I considered playing some bingo, but ended up passing on that. I bought a couple little things for Charley on the ship. I just wandered around for a while. Finally I decided I'd grab my book and put on my bathing suit and go to the pool for a while. When I got back to the room, John was coming out of his funk and decided he'd go too. So we both made our way to the pool deck. He didn't want anything to do with any more drinks, though. I think I had a beer or two, and we found lounge chairs under an umbrella which was perfect for me and my pale skin.


Later we found a couple coworkers again, and then found lounge chairs near them too so we relocated. It was a very quiet day though, and the most exciting thing I did was to try out the water slide. Twice. It was pretty awesome!



That evening we did go to one of the live shows - it was something about the British Invasion so included some Beatles songs and Rolling Stones, etc. It........was just ok if I'm being honest. Then we went back to the piano bar, but the energy just wasn't what it was the night before. It was still fun, and the pianist did play my request again (Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back To Me") but with the trip winding down, neither John nor myself really wanted to stay up late or drink much at all. We called it a night around 10 and went back to the room to pack up for the next morning.

DAY FIVE

Our disembarkation time was 7:30-7:45. We woke up at 7 and started to get the rest of our stuff together. The disembarkation instructions were on the TV, so when we finally turned it on around 7:10 we realized they were running early so we were actually able to leave right then. Hooray! We were more than ready to leave so we threw everything together and got off that boat. Boarding took us 3 hours, but they get you off QUICKLY. We were in our car by 7:30 and on our way to get our girls that we missed so much!

Snuggled them right up when I got home!

So. Would we do this cruise again? Yes and no. Here are the scenarios in which we'd say yes:

- it is free again, and there are fun coworkers going too.
- a big group of friends or family are going and want us to go too (although I'd still urge them to pick a different cruise/trip beforehand)

and that's about it. Would we cruise again? Again, yes and no, and here are our reasons for yes:

- Disney Cruise. Duh. If only I could get that one for free!
- A lovely blog friend suggested a cruise that leaves from Puerto Rico so you basically get a different Caribbean Island every day and not many at-sea days. THAT I would enjoy.
- To MAYBE try a different cruise line. Carnival is the Wal-Mart of cruise lines, as I understand, so we would probably enjoy a different cruise line much more.

But even with a different cruise line, if trying to decide where to spend my vacation money, an all-inclusive or a domestic trip to see another U.S. city or a trip abroad would all still beat out a cruise in our minds, hands down.

This got crazy long - didn't it?

Cliff's Notes version? Basically, we went on a free cruise. We had fun with my coworkers but didn't like the cruise much otherwise. We decided we were right about not being cruisers. The end.