Thursday, August 26, 2010

Madame Tussauds

I've been writing reviews on Yelp a lot over the past months - I like to keep track of where I've been and what I thought of the place, and it makes sense to share those reviews with other people. Anyway, I reviewed so many things so quickly, that I was invited to join "Yelp Elite." As part of this group, you get invited to cool events to try food, drinks, and entertainment places for free!

So, the first event that I was able to attend was a reception at Madame Tussauds. It was really fun - with beer and wine and appetizers from Cafe Toscanna.

I've never been to Madame Tussauds before, though of course I've heard of it, so it was fun to finally see what it was like. At first, it's definitely a little strange to see all these fake, waxy famous people around you. But I liked the displays - they had really interesting little placards about all the people and some fun interactive quizzes. (I scored 100% on the quiz about the Watergate Scandal - Yay for comps studying having practical applications!) They also had a cool area set up with a DJ - it's actually kind of a neat area for a reception - the dance floor is surrounded by wax figures of Hollywood actors and famous singers/ dancers. (I was dancing at one point, and then thought for a second - why is that creepy guy smiling at me so intently - only to realize it was a - very smiley - wax figure of Tom Cruise.) On the way out, Jeff and I decided to take some pictures (they're all taken with my phone, since I forgot my camera), and it's really hard to hold back from making silly faces. So I didn't try.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wedding Magazines

When Jeff and I got to the airport in Fort Lauderdale, one of the first things I did was buy a copy of all of the wedding magazines at the airport book store (at least that was my plan - it turned out they only had one wedding magazine - Brides - so I just bought that one.)

I'm really excited for wedding planning - I loved planning and organizing things in general, and this is a big, exciting, important thing, and I think it (both the planning and the wedding) will be really fun.

However, I'm incredibly sappy. I always cry at other people's weddings. I cried when Jeff proposed. And I've already warned Jeff and others that they should prepare for a flood of tears during my own wedding. And it seems that wedding planning is going to be no different. While reading the magazine, I got choked up and teared up probably at least five times. (I only actually cried once.) I couldn't even get through the whole article listing song suggestions for the processional, recessional, and first dance - I had to turn the page and go back and read it later.

I'm planning to continue to post about my wedding-planning musings as we go along. I feel like I don't know the first thing about planning a wedding, so it should be an adventure learning about it...

Caribbean Cruise - Day 8 - Fort Lauderdale, FL

They don't serve room-service on the morning that you arrive back in Florida, but they do have breakfast at the main buffet restaurant. Jeff and I weren't willing to give up on our balcony-breakfast tradition, though, so he went up to the buffet and brought down a plate of breakfast food to share, and a pot of coffee.

After breakfast, we packed up everything and headed off the ship. One complication arose because we had almost run our of cash - we had about $12 left - probably not enough for a cab to the airport. The ATM on the ship was turned off, and there didn't seem to be one in the main building at the pier. So Jeff and I got creative.

We decided to take the rental car bus to the big rental car complex (all of the major car rental companies are in one big building) and then take the airport shuttle to our terminal. At first we were a bit worried, because we were the only ones waiting for the rental car bus, and it was taking a long time, but then the line of people grew a bit and the bus came eventually. (The rental car shuttle transportation plan was all Jeff's idea - I told him that now that we're engaged he's become a total rebel/ rule-bender.)

Caribbean Cruise - Day 7 - At Sea

Our last full day on the cruise was spent at sea. We had breakfast on our balcony around 9am, and then went to work out at the fitness center. We had lunch at the AquaSpa cafe.

In the afternoon we took a long walk around the ship, visiting every public room on every deck. We did soduku in the game room, printing boarding passes in the iLounge (full of Apple computers), and, of course, had some chocolate icecream with M&M's.

When we finished our walk, we brought a pot of coffee back to our room and sat out on the balcony reading.

Room service brought a bucket of ice so we could chill the bottle of champagne that Jeff had won earlier in the trip, and around 6pm we popped the cork and had champagne on the balcony. It was really nice. I loved the symmetry of starting and ending the trip sipping champagne enjoying our balcony together, and just sitting and chatting and appreciating the view was a great way to savor the last evening of the cruise. And of course it made us marvel at how almost exactly a week ago we had been in the same spot, just boyfriend and girlfriend, and were now engaged to be married.

Just before 7pm, we headed to the Solstice Theater. After my complaints about the previous show, it might seem surprising that we went to another one. However, this evening the performer was Lindsay Hamilton, who had plaed Eva Peron in 'Evita' and Fantine in 'Les Miserable' in London's West End. I really enjoyed the show - I thought she was funny and entertaining, and her voice was incredible. Plus I love 'Les Miserable,' so just hearing 'I Dreamed a Dream' was enough to make the show worth it for me. (Another fun fact - just a few weeks after we'd started dating (in November 2003!), Jeff and I went on a long-weekend trip to London and saw "Les Miserable" in the West End.)

After the show, we had a fair amount of time until dinner, so we stopped by the Martini Bar, which looked really cool and had a bar that was completely covered in frost. We ordered the martini flight to share - it had six mini-martinis. It was worth ordering the flight just to watch the bar-tender pour it. He mixed all six martinis, stacked the mixers, and then poured them all at once. Pretty cool.

We enjoyed our final dinner on the ship, and though we were full and tired, decided that we weren't quite ready for the night to be over. We went up to the top deck of the ship for a little stroll in the sea air. It wasn't raining, but you could see a thunderstorm off in the distance with dramatic lightening. Jeff and I stood at the railing for a long time just enjoying the view and trying to catch some of it with my camera.

Dead tired, we eventually headed back to our room. We weren't quite ready to concede that the last night of our cruise was over, though, so we put on "The Fantastic Four," as if we'd stay up and watch a movie, and then promptly fell asleep.

Caribbean Cruise - Day 6 - Roatan, Honduras

We slept in a bit later on the sixth day of the cruise, and had breakfast on our balcony at about 9am. Then we decided to switch up our normal routine and workout in the morning. We had a quick lunch at the AquaSpa Cafe, and then walked off the boat.

The port this day was Roatan, Honduras. Again it was a pretty remote-looking place with a pier that could only fit one boat. The island was lush and very  hilly, and very picturesque. Like Costa Maya, there seemed to be a little town. It seemed much more like a real place than a place created for tourism. At most ports, Jeff and I like to just grab a cab to any local beach and spend the day laying by the water, but the cruise people had recommended that in Roatan we do the cruise-sponsored beach excursion, because people had had problems with sand fleas at some of the other beaches.

So at 1pm we met our excursion group, and got in a van. The beach that we were going to was on the other side of the island, so we got a pretty awesome driving tour on the way there - we went to the top of the highest peak and then back down the other side. On the roads near the top, you could see water out both sides of the van. It was really beautiful.

We arrived at Tabayana beach fairly quickly. It was a private beach, which was nice in a few ways. When Jeff and I were looking for a place to sit, one of the workers asked if we preferred sun or shade (we said shade), and then set up lounge chairs in a shady area. Then he let us know that he'd be staying in that area (there were lounge chairs all around us, too), so that if we wanted to leave things there while we were swimming, they would be watched. That was really helpful, since otherwise it's really hard for Jeff and I to swim at the same time.

Jeff and I headed down to the water - white sand, clear crystal blue water, perfect temperature. After wading around a bit, we decided to rent a kayak ($15 per hour for a two-person kayak - not bad at all). We had an awesome time exploring the whole length the beach. At one end there were some crazy rock formations and little over-hangs. We could see coral and fish just by looking over the edge.

After kayaking, we went swimming for a while, which was really fun. There were crazy tropical fish swimming around, even where it was pretty shallow.

After a while we headed back to our lounge chairs, where all of our stuff was sitting safe and sound. We sat and read while we air-dried. Jeff got us drinks to complete the tropical paradise feel - he had some kind of island beer and I had a pina colada.

Once we were back on the ship, we got dressed up (this was the second formal night), and decided to go out for a drink before dinner. We went to the skybar, which is in the front of the ship on one of the top decks - we had a great view as the ship pulled away from the pier and headed back to sea. They also had really nice drinks - I had a rose martini and Jeff had a cucumber and lime gimlet.

Since we were mixing things up, we thought we'd head out to see a show, too. The show that night was "The Spirit of Broadway" featuring the "Stars of Solstice." I figured that since I liked broadway shows, I'd enjoy seeing some of the songs performed. And I did have a good time, generally. But, objectively, the show was not good. I'm not sure what I expected - it was exactly like any other resort or cruise ship show - like a high school show choir with grown-ups. The acting was super-hokey (and unnecessary... just sing the songs, no need to make up a story about why you're singing a medley of broadway tunes.) The choreography and dancing left a lot to be desired, and even the overall song choices were just... odd. Ah, well - at least it was peppy. ;)

When the show ended, we still had some time before dinner, so we stopped into another of the ship's lounges for a drink. The ship was really rocking this evening, and we were hoping to be able to see out a window, but the view was blocked by life-boats.

At dinner we had a table right by the window, though, and could see the white tops on all the waves. Even writing this blog, I still have a residual feeling of rocking back and forth.

Since it was our night on the town, we decided to follow dinner with a dessert wine at the wine bar on the ship. (Well, I had a dessert wine - a really sweet Riesling, Jeff had a Pinot Grigio). Jeff and I actually had a glass of wine with dinner almost every evening, and the wine on the ship was actually very nice - I think that's one thing Celebrity does better than other cruise lines.

Caribbean Cruise - Day 5 - Costa Maya, Mexico

On the fifth day of our cruise, the port was Costa Maya, Mexico. Jeff and I had booked an all-day excursion, so we didn't have the option of lounging around all morning like we had the day before.

We had breakfast on our balcony at 7am and were off the ship by 8am to catch our tour bus. I liked Costa Maya almost immediately. The port was really small - there was only room for one ship at the pier, so it couldn't be too crowded. There was a small village nearby that looked really cute. It felt very remote and pristine.

Jeff and I had signed up for a tour of some Mayan ruins - Kohunlich and Dzibanche. Even from the remote port, it took two hours of driving into the jungle to get to the first location - Kohunlich. But it was worth it.

Kohunlich was a big Mayan town with some very tall stepped pyramid-like structures as well as some smaller foundations of houses. There was plenty to see, and you were free to climb to the top of the pyramids and to explore everything.

Dzibanche was about 30 minutes drive from Kohunlich, and was also very cool. It was deeper in the jungle - Kohunlich had been in a sort of clearing. In some ways, the jungle-y aspect of Dzibanche was really cool - it looked really tropical and felt like a hidden city. There were howler monkeys in the area that kept yelling or growling (I don't even know what to call it - they make the craziest sound - it almost sounded like there was a stadium full of people cheering nearby - here's a clip that's pretty accurate. On hearing it again, I'm also realizing that it sounds a lot like the smoke monster on Lost. Crazy.) The main downside to being in the jungle was that the bugs were out in full force, and I got pretty bitten up by the mosquitoes.

The bus was air-conditioned, but only sort-of, so it was not a particularly comfortable ride home. The tour guide decided to make a pit stop and pick up beers ($2 each) from a local store. (The store name said it was a "Mini-Super," which I thought was an awesome combination of a mini-mart and a supermarket which seems to imply that it's just a normal-sized market - ironically, market being the only word they'd cut out of the name.)

When we got back we showered and went for a snack at the oceanview cafe (I had chocolate icecream with M&Ms). It was a bit late in the day to work out, and we'd gotten a fair amount of exercise climbing around the Mayan ruins, so we just relaxed and read in our room until dinner, ate, and went right back to laying around and reading.

Caribbean Cruise - Day 4 - Cozumel, Mexico

On the fourth day of the cruise, we were at the port in Cozumel, Mexico. Jeff and I got up around 9am and had breakfast on our balcony (again). We kind of got ready to go, but realized that neither one of us really felt in much of a hurry to get off the boat. We'd had a long day at the beach the day before. So instead, we spent the whole morning lounging around in the room.

Kick-AssWe watched the movie "Kick Ass," which is about a high school kid that decides to dress up and try to be a super hero. It was pretty funny, but be prepared for some seriously bad language from some fairly young kids.

I think having a balcony caused me to spend lots more time in my room than I usually do on a cruise. It was just so convenient to have your own place to relax and enjoy the view and fresh air.

We finally decided to get up and go around lunch time. Our first stop was a restaurant on the ship called "Bistro on Five," which specialized in crepes and panini's. There was a $5 service charge for eating there, but I loved my panini, and it was incredibly filling - I couldn't even fathom ordering a dessert crepe when I'd finished, even though that had been my original plan.

It was really hot in Cozumel, so Jeff and I did a quick loop of the shops at the pier, decided we were too hot and sunburnt to want to go to the beach, and then went back to the ship. We were probably on land for a total of 15 minutes.

Instead we went to the beautiful, shady, cool Solarium. I decided to take a nap, and somehow managed to sleep away two or three hours. Then it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the Fitness Center. (I was now reading "The Girl Who Played with Fire.")

In the evening we had dinner and then continued our reading back in the room.