Posts Tagged ‘cruise’

Happy New Year!

Wait, what?

I can’t believe we’re in 2016 already!

2015 just started, didn’t it?

I can’t believe how quickly 2015 has come and gone, and I can’t believe what an AMAZING year it has been!!!

It really is true how life can change in the blink of an eye.

Here are just a few of the highlights from this unforgettable year:

Caribbean Cruise!
If you’ve read my blog, you know I LOVE travel, and part of my travel bucket list was to do a Caribbean Cruise with my husband.

Well, at the beginning of 2015, our travel dreams came true!

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We boarded the Carnival Valor and took to the seas to soak in all of the wonder and breathtaking beauty of the Caribbean!
It ranks right up there as one of my favorite trips!

Check out our adventures here!

Taking the Leap into Wedding Anniversary #5!
My husband and I celebrated our 5th Wedding Anniversary in August.

Ever since we were married in 2010, we talked about doing something fun for our 5th, and we threw around some ideas…you know…like a romantic road trip, or wine tasting…or exiting an airplane and freefalling 13,000 feet above the earth!!!

As our 5th anniversary approached, hubby brought up the idea of skydiving again.

Even though I skydived over 10 years ago in New Zealand, I wasn’t sure if I was daring enough to do it again. I mean, I was younger, single, and taking an “adventure” tour of the island with likeminded people. I went to New Zealand seeking out the thrill of life.

10 years later, I’m still adventurous, but in a different way.  Falling out of an airplane wasn’t really something I needed to do again..but hubby hadn’t experienced the thrill I always raved about.

Well, as the date approached, I decided that life was too short, and this opportunity may not come around again, so after 5 years of wedded bliss, we decided to take the next big step!

Stay tuned for an in-depth review of our thrilling anniversary!

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Home Sweet Home!

At the beginning of summer, my husband and I decided that it was time to start looking for a house. We lived in our 1 bedroom 1 bathroom cozy condo for over 5 years, and it was time to find something a little bigger because we knew that eventually, our adoption dreams would come true, and we would need an extra bedroom.

What an adventure in home buying it was! Who knew it could be so difficult! It seemed like we weren’t the only ones in search of a new home, and these buyers meant business!

Our first offer was on this beautiful home in a perfect neighborhood…it was a dream house!  We made an offer at asking price confident that we would be homeowners soon!

To our dismay, there were several other offers made that were way above the asking price. The owners countered our offer and requested $20,000 MORE than what we offered!

WHAT?!

Talk about rude awakening! Unfortunately, we couldn’t meet their offer, so with a bitter taste in our mouth, we continued looking.

What we soon realized was that if the house was a family trust, then they don’t really care who you are…they just want the biggest and best offer, and that’s that!  Even our “About Us” letters that we sent to the families did nothing in swaying their decision. Every family trust offer we made was outbid by other buyers, and we lost out on all of them. Very disheartening.

The months dragged on, and every weekend was spent with our patient realtor searching for homes – everything from houses in almost perfect condition to houses that were still stuck in the 60’s!

After walking away from a house we made an offer on only to discover the myriad of problems, we came across 2 houses that we knew we couldn’t pass up.

House #1 was in a nice neighborhood across the street from a quaint school and walking distance to a mall. It wasn’t move-in ready and needed lots of work, but we could see ourselves there. And it wasn’t a family trust – bonus!!!

House #2 was a beautiful ranch style home in a quiet neighborhood. It wasn’t located near too many stores, but it was almost ideal in every way. The only thing I didn’t like was that the back fence backed up into an apartment complex.

After waiting anxiously for an answer, our offer on house #1 was accepted, and we happily made the decision that yes, that was our home!

We decided not to wait on an answer for house #2, and in mid November, we officially made this cute house our home!

home sweet home!

 

Boy Oh Boy!

Five days after getting our house and 2 days before Thanksgiving, we got a phone call that we’ve been waiting for for over 4 years…and it changed our lives overnight!

And I mean overnight!!!

Our adoption lawyer informed us that there was a newly born baby boy in the hospital who needed a home…by the next day!

Usually adoptive parents meet with the birth parents a few months before the birth, but in our case, little Samuel had already arrived!

So with much excitement, we met with our lawyer and the birth parents that night, and after a positive, yet emotional evening, the birth parents chose us to be Samuel’s parents!

Early next morning, my mother and I raided Target and filled our carts with everything Samuel needed!

What a thrilling morning it was!

At noon, my husband and I arrived at the hospital, and by 3:00pm, we were holding our new son in our arms!

Talk about a Thanksgiving to remember!!!

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Since November, it has been a nonstop roller coaster of new house renovations, packing and moving into the house, adjusting to instant parenthood, rearranging our lives and finding balance between it all!

Now that everything is falling into place and we’ve adjusted into our new normal, it’s nice to sit down, take a few minutes and just marvel at what an amazing and blessed year it has been!

I look forward to writing about the new adventures ahead: Adventures in parenthood, home ownership, owning my own business, balancing life, and yes, traveling with our bundle of joy!

I hope you join me for this exciting ride into 2016 and beyond!

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The last day of our Caribbean cruise was upon us…and so was Valentine’s Day!  

We couldn’t think of a more perfect place to celebrate than on the dual-nation island of St. Martin/St. Maarten!

Half Dutch and half French, there’s no shortage of delicious food to savor, duty-free shops to discover or turquoise water to swim in…
but for us, the order of the day was toes in the sand and drink in the hand!  😉

IMG_6065There was no rushing off the ship for us…
we were in relaxation mode from the beginning.

IMG_6049Our port of call, Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, St. Maarten.

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IMG_6073I love their logo! So colorful, cheerful & fun!

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Upon disembarking the Valor, you can take a water taxi to downtown Philipsburg, or you can do what we did and enjoy a 20 minute walk to the very popular Great Bay Beach.

Brightly colored umbrellas dotted the soft sand while plenty of shops, restaurants and hotels lined the boardwalk.

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IMG_6208If you want an easy day without going too far from the ship, this is it!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking down cobblestone alleyways, there was always something around the corner…like this courthouse…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…or this quaint Roman Catholic Church, St. Martin of Tours.

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IMG_6202And don’t get me started on the many amazing shopping opportunities!!!

After a fun morning of exploring the island’s Dutch half, St. Maarten, it was time to take our $20 one-way taxi ride to the French side, St. Martin!

On our Caribbean cruise, I experienced many gorgeous beaches, but I must admit, there was one that left my jaw in the sand.

IMG_6193Say “Bonjour” to Orient Bay Beach!

For me, Orient Bay Beach is the quintessential Caribbean beach!

Soft white sand?  Check!
Crystalline turquoise water?  Check!
Bountiful rays?  Check!
Sweeping views all around?  Check!
Nudity?  Check!

That’s right folks, if you forgot your swimsuit (or if you’re in a daring mood)…

you’ve come to the right place!

The right side of the beach is clothing optional!

We opted to remain clothed, but if you want to let the bountiful rays give you a head-to-toe overall glow, pass the short rocky divider (see below) and feel free to roam “au naturale!”  That little divider didn’t do much in keeping those tanned bodies in their section though!  Don’t be surprised if that picturesque photo you’re taking is suddenly photo bombed by a full moon! 😉

IMG_6120Yep, that’s the rocky divider!

There’s lots to do on Orient Beach!

A variety of shops, restaurants and resorts line the 1 mile beach, and a plethora of water activities like parasailing, windsurfing and jet skiing are available for the more adventurous!

If lounging the day away in paradise is more your style (like me!), you can score 2 beach chairs, 2 umbrellas & 2 beverages for $14.00 – not bad!

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IMG_6134Tis the life!

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What I loved the most (aside from the view), was that you can walk out into the water for what seems like an eternity & not worry about the ocean floor dropping out from under you. You can just let the water gently lap over you as you float, wade or swim to your heart’s content.

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With our time in St. Martin coming to a close, we decided to head back to Great Bay Beach and stop at Dirty Sanchez’s for some nachos & refreshing beverages. They allow customers to “graffiti” their names on the wall, so my hubby (Crispin) did the honors…can you spot our names?

IMG_6215With our relaxation mission accomplished, it was time to go back on the ship & enjoy our last night on the Valor.

IMG_6252We decided to have our Valentine’s Day dinner in the main dining hall…and might I add…every dinner we had here was AMAZING!

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Adventurous hubby tried frog legs for the first time..and yes…he’d have them again!

IMG_6257Usually you can select your own dessert, but instead, they created a special Valentine’s Day dessert!

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As the ship pulled away from St. Maarten, we looked back at the wonderful memories we made and promised eachother that this wouldn’t be our last time in the Caribbean!

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During our Carnival Cruise, I did a lot of reflecting while gazing out into the ocean, and one view that was particularly hypnotic was that of the ship’s wake.

Recently, I read a quote from Wayne Dyer that beautifully captures the essence of a wake and how it relates to life.

The past is a trail you leave behind, much like the wake of a speedboat.  That is, it’s a vanishing trail temporarily showing you where you were.  The wake of a boat doesn’t affect it’s course–obviously it can’t since it appears behind the boat.  So consider this image when you exclaim that your past is the reason you aren’t moving forward.  ~ Wayne Dyer

So whenever I feel stuck in life, I’m going to remember that hypnotic wake and remind myself that the past is behind me, the future is ahead of me…

…and I’m moving forward!  🙂

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For seven days and nights, we called the Carnival Valor our home. 

Although we spent most of our time exploring the various islands on our cruise itinerary, we got to know the Valor very well and discovered that it was more than just a floating hotel. They don’t call it the “Fun Ship” for nothing!

So come aboard and discover all the fun you can have on the Carnival Valor without leaving the ship!

1. Share your room with different “animals” in your room every night…or just take a towel folding class and make your own!

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2. Enjoy a bon voyage party on your first night at sea complete with music, games and fun!

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3. Try different culinary masterpieces every day…

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4. …or satisfy your sweet tooth craving with 24 hour soft serve!  My husband agreed that dessert before dinner was perfectly acceptable! LOL!

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5. See entertaining shows every night!

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6. Enjoy a party at sea complete with a “Hairy Chest Contest!”

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7. Gaze out into the vast blue.

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8. Watch movies outside…in the middle of the sea…in a pool…or a hot tub…or on a lounge chair…the choice is yours!

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9. Get competitive with games like “Name that Celebrity.”

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10. Snag a beach chair, & work on your tan.  These empty chairs were a rare sighting!

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11. Get windswept!

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12. Enjoy perks of being a return Carnival Cruise customer.  The perks get better with each cruise you take. We were treated to a jumbo bottled water…and it came in handy!

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13. Go on a photo safari.

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14. Play miniature golf…in the desert…and on the sea!

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15. Do absolutely nothing…

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16. Make new friends. (Ours were from Montreal, Canada)

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17. Watch your server shake his money maker!

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18.  Release your inner child!  (And we released it twice!)

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19. Watch the sky turn into a brilliant shade of coral.

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20. Awaken to a breathtaking view.

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21. Indulge in a decadent dessert!

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22. Be curious & explore the ship!

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23. Get gussied up and have a professional take your photo!  (There are backdrops for every mood…so be creative and have fun!)

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24. Realize that you love cruising and can’t wait to do it again!

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And that just scratches the surface!  The list goes on and on…from comedians to karaoke to yoga to the casino to dance lessons to kids clubs…the Valor has it all!

Never once was I bored!

The selection of activities was endless, and at times, we had a hard time fitting it all in!

So if you’re on the fence about cruising, trust me when I say, go for it!

It’s an experience you’ll always cherish for years to come!

 I know we will!

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The breath-taking island of St. Thomas was the first stop on our Carnival Valor Caribbean cruise, and we were excited for the adventure ahead!

Months prior, my hubby decided that he would cross off his bucket list item of scuba diving in the Caribbean, and so he booked a scuba diving excursion at the Coki Dive Center located on the eastern end of the island.

Knowing that the excursion would take about 5 hours from start to finish and that I would be on my own, I decided to find something fun to do, and as luck would have it, I discovered Sunny Liston Tours online.

All I was looking for was something light-hearted, fun-filled and informative that would include shopping, sight seeing and beach time, and for $40.00, Sunny provided all of that and more!

Let me start by saying, if you don’t like to sing, laugh and make instant friends all while exploring the island, this tour is not for you!

We started off at 10:00am by boarding the open-air cab (otherwise known as a “safari”) and being driven to the most popular outdoor market in Charlotte Amalie where we got to enjoy 1.5 hours of duty-free shopping. I instantly hit it off with Shirley and Vick, a sweet couple from Canada, and we spent our time exploring the rows and rows of many Caribbean souvenirs and gifts.  Shirley gave me some pointers on how to bargain with the shop owners, and I was able to walk away with some amazing deals!  Did you know you can get freebies at the jewelry shops just by asking? I walked away with several unique charms…for free!

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IMG_5166Me, Shirley & Vick

On the way up to our first scenic vista, Sunny turned up some upbeat Caribbean music that pulsed out of our safari that got everyone clapping and singing along. He interjected his personality to the music by adding “uh-huh uh-huh’s” and “wooh-wooh’s” to every song!  As other tour vans passed us, we made sure to cheer, wave, scream and sing…and watch as their expressions turned to “I wish I was on THAT tour instead!”

IMG_5153Our colorful safari!

Sitting on the very edge of the seat, I had to brace myself during those hairpin turns or else I would have exited the tour a little too early!  The gentleman sitting in front of me who went by the alias of “Lieutenant Dan” turned out to be a fun addition to the tour group. He, too, was sitting on the edge, and would make sure I didn’t roll out of my seat each time we rounded those tight corners.  There were lots of screams and “Whoas!” along the ride, and some people even threw their hands in the air as if they were on a roller coaster ride.  At one point, “Lieutenant Dan’s” hat flew right off his head and landed in my lap!  An adventure indeed!

IMG_5117Our first vista overlooked the lush island, harbor and all of the magnificent ships.
The water couldn’t have been any more blue – it was breathtaking!

IMG_5124Sunny was such a friendly and gracious tour guide.  He ensured everyone had a great time!

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Our next stop was Mountain Top where we got to empty our wallets again, enjoy a banana daiquiri, get to know our tourmates better and be in awe of the crystalline views of Magen’s Bay Beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world!

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After our fun-filled afternoon of shopping and sightseeing, it was time for my new friends and I to part ways as Sunny dropped us off at our pre-selected beaches of choice.  I decided to go to Coki Beach since my hubby would be there.  Everyone else either went to Magen’s Bay Beach or Sapphire Beach.

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Coki Dive Center was right off the beach, so it ended up being perfect!  For $5.00, I rented a chair, and the attendant even put it in the shade upon my request. You can also rent umbrellas and snorkel equipment…whatever your heart desires. Everything that was needed was right there, and I got to spend about an hour relaxing, gazing out into the water, and swimming! (Just be careful, the undertow is a little strong!)

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As I strolled along the beach taking pictures, I heard “JENNNNN!!!”  Looking up, I saw my hubby waving to me from the Coki Dive Center. We had about 30 minutes left before Sunny would come back around to pick us up, so we spent that time enjoying the water, soaking up the sun and talking about our adventures. And yes, he thoroughly enjoyed his scuba diving experience! 

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As scheduled, Sunny picked us up around 3:15, and he even let my hubby join the much smaller group even though he wasn’t part of the tour.

On our way back, rhythmic Caribbean music filled the air, and the fun continued all the way back to the ship. As we drove by the cruise-goers waiting in line, our tour group cheered, clapped and screamed, “SUNNY LISTON’S THE BEST!!!”

And on the island of St. Thomas, he is!


Sunny Liston Tours
P.O. Box 9108
St. Thomas, VI 00801
340-690-0126
liston@sunnylistontours.com

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As we exited the San Juan Airport, a wave of humidity thawed us out after our chilly overnight flight.

We joined around 25 other people who were waiting in line to get a taxis. After filling out a form documenting the number of bags and people in our party, we were escorted over to a minivan where our driver assisted us and welcomed us to San Juan.

After a short 15 minutes drive to Old San Juan, we turned onto a very narrow cobblestone road and were dropped off at the steps of our lodging for the night. Airbnb.com is our favorite way to find accommodations when we travel, and Old San Juan was no different! With bags at our feet, we contacted Tony via the intercom system located at the front of the gated building. Within minutes, Tony greeted us at the gates with a warm smile and immediately assisted me with my luggage carrying it up the three very long flights of stairs. I knew gaining weight would not be a problem here with this intense workout!

As we climbed the stairs, I noticed the decorative tiles that adorned the sides of the walls of this beautiful and spacious building. After ascending the third flight of stairs, Tony welcomed us into his home and gave us the grand tour. I was immediately drawn to the open floor plan with high ceilings, exposed beams and a peaceful terrace!

Another winner from Airbnb!

Tony made us feel at home and even provided us with a complimentary bowl of bananas and granola bars. After showing us to our cozy room that was adjacent to the shared bathroom, he informed us that he would be away for the evening but would return the next day, so we had the place to ourselves. He gave us our set of keys, answered questions we had, gave us restaurant suggestions and left us shortly thereafter.

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We unpacked, changed into warm weather clothes and set out to find a place to eat because after our extended flight of only peanuts and chips, we were starving! We took Tony’s suggestion and decided to try one of his favorite eateries, Restaurant El Jibarito…and we were glad we did!

We were seated immediately and ordered beverages to quench our thirst – rum punch for me and the local beer, Magna, for my hubby. The menu was full of flavorful choices, but I decided on the chicken in creole sauce, friend plantains and salad. Let me just say, I left nothing on the plate!

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As we exited the restaurant, the streets were buzzing with locals and tourists. Little did we know that we arrived during the weekend of the Festival del Circo, an international festival that brings street art, theater, puppeteers and circus performances to the streets and plazas of Old San Juan for everyone to enjoy!

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Old San Juan was a joy to walk around with its’ cobblestone roads and European-esque charm.

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We strolled along the tree-lined (and sometimes pigeon-filled) Paseo de la Princesa and marveled at the gorgeous views of the bay.

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We came across the Puerta de San Juan (San Juan Gate), a massive, wooden gate built in the late 1700s that closed at sundown to protect the city from invaders.

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Our day ended with a visit to the stunning Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”), a huge fortress at the end of a large green field, constructed to guard the entrance of the San Juan Bay and protect the city from seaborne invaders. A San Juan National Historic Site, it’s easy to spend the entire day here, but evening was quickly approaching, so we passed on the paid tour and admired the fortress from the outside.

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You can find locals and tourists alike hanging out on the massive field and around the fortress walls, having picnics and parties, resting, playing, taking photos, flying kites (did I mention how windy it is?), and spending time with family and friends. There’s something very special about this place.

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Looking out from the watchtowers, the views were spectacular! It was the perfect way to end our first day in Old San Juan, and I couldn’t wait for the next day’s adventures!

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Grab your Coppertone 45, put on those flip flops and meet me on the lido deck!

The giveaway you’ve been waiting for is here!

Two years ago, I held an “Aloha Mystery Giveaway” which involved me searching high and low for that perfect mystery gift during our Hawaiian vacation.

I had so much fun that yes…I’m doing it again!

Ladies and gents, I present to you the…

caribbean mystery giveaway

Next month, a floating hotel will take my hubby & me to six gorgeous Caribbean islands!

Throughout our cruise, I will be on the lookout for the perfect gift for one lucky reader.

Unlike Hawaii where I had an idea of what kinds of gifts I might find, the Caribbean is a completely different story.

I have no idea what I will find!  (But that’s all part of the fun!)

The giveaway begins TODAY so enter NOW to win!

How do I enter, you ask?

1.  Leave a comment telling me what your dream cruise is and why…AND YOU’RE IN!

2.  If you want to DOUBLE your chances, follow me on Twitter (and just notify me that you did.)

The giveaway will close at midnight (PST) on Tuesday, February 17th  

Good luck to you all!

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