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2022: Year in Review

Pitons of St. Lucia

The Pitons of St. Lucia

2022 was once again an amazing travel year for us! We spent two weeks on cruise ships, many hours in airports, and saw many amazing things! We went both the farthest south and north that I have ever been and crossed off three more National Parks. This year travel felt like it was getting back to normal.

Unlike in years past, our first travels of the year didn’t come until the end of the first quarter with our port-a-day Southern Caribbean cruise on the Explorer of the Seas. We visited some of my favorite ports of any cruise we’ve taken and I have been watching flights to St. Maarten, St. Lucia (top), and Puerto Rico since we returned (we are actually heading back to Puerto Rico in the not-too-distant future). We got to snorkel in the pristine waters of Virgin Islands National Park and explore the oldest fort in the United States (bottom). 

Ship Sailing through Fog in Tracy Arm Fjord

Cruise ship sailing through fog in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

Almost exactly two months after returning home, we got on another plane and headed to the Pacific Northwest. We explored Vancouver, which I have been dying to see for over ten years. From there we boarded another ship and headed north to four ports in Alaska. We got to see a glacier, bears, raptors, and whales, and ride a dog sled. It was an amazing trip but I feel like we barely scratched the surface of Alaska and I can’t wait to return and explore it some more. 

After getting off the ship, we took a bus back to Washington where we spent a week exploring all of the unique ecosystems of Olympic National Park. From the mountains of Hurricane Ridge to the Hoh Rainforest and more green than the brain can process, it was a week of exploring the outdoors. My favorite part would have to be Rialto Beach and the crazy rock formations coming out of the water. It was otherworldly.

Hoh Rainforst

One thing that ties our travels together this year is rainforests. We hiked in El Yunque in Puerto Rico and drove through the rainforest in St. Lucia and St. Kitts. We explored the temperate rainforest at Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver and visited bears in the rainforest of Sitka. We hiked through the fascinating Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park (right). Near-constant rain and lush greenery seems to be the common denominator of 2022’s travels.

Of course, we took the camper out after returning from the PNW and spent some time at some new campgrounds and some old favorites (those stories coming in the next few weeks). The highlight of the summer in Michigan would have to be kayaking Pictured Rocks. That is something I have wanted to do since my first visit to the National Lakeshore and it was an amazing experience that I recommend to anyone!

San Juan National Historic Site

Since the summer, we have been pretty much at home, but more travels are coming soon! You will have to stay tuned to the blog to see what 2023 has in store for us! If all goes to plan it should be another amazing year of exploring this beautiful world!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Explorer of the Seas 2022 Review

Explorer of the Seas from St. Lucia

Explorer of the Seas from St. Lucia

This Southern Caribbean cruise on Explorer of the Seas was a trip full of firsts for me. This was my first time sailing the Southern Caribbean, my time sailing Royal Caribbean, my first time sailing with a balcony, my first time sailing with friends, and my first cruise with a port every day. A lot of new experiences, to be sure!

My first impression of the ship is that while it is one of the older ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet and it was due for an upgrade in 2020 that got put on the back burner, it is a beautiful ship. The decorations were more elegant than the two Norwegian ships I’ve been on, but not as over the top as Carnival. Everything was clean and they were committed to keeping the guests healthy.

With a port every day on this cruise, we barely had time to enjoy our balcony. This wasn’t that big of a deal to us because when we booked this cruise, an ocean view was actually more expensive than a balcony. I was really excited to finally cruise with a balcony but I was disappointed by how little we actually used it. Our next cruise has several sea days so I’m hoping to get more use out of the balcony. If you are looking at a cruise with a port every day, save your money and get an ocean view. There’s not that much time to actually utilize your balcony.

The activities and entertainment onboard are where Royal shines. Even though we had a port every day, there was still a lot to do on the ship. Where Norwegian would have trivia once a day, there were 3 or 4 trivia games every day. We played pickleball and mini-golf. We went ice skating. We even tried the Flow Rider. Tip for ladies, if you are wanting to try the Flow Rider (the onboard surfing/boogie boarding simulator) bring a one-piece swimsuit. The first time, I did well until I felt like was going to lose my bottoms and then I was just trying to figure out how to get off it. We probably wouldn’t have done so much if we weren’t traveling with friends who were first-time cruisers and wanted to try everything, but I was really glad we did.

The Explorer didn’t have any big Broadway-style shows during our trip, but all of the shows we saw were top-notch. The ice show was spectacular and how many people can say they saw an ice show or went ice skating on a cruise ship? The singers and dancers were great. They had a group of Argentinian Bolo Dancers on the ship called Impact! and it wasn’t something I had ever seen before.

The cruise director on the ship, Elvis, was one of the best cruise directors I have ever had. He was fun and engaging and was funnier than the comedian they had on board. If you’re ever lucky to sail on a Royal ship with Elvis, you are in for a treat!

Explorer of the Seas in San Juan

The only area where I can complain about the Explorer of the Seas is the dining. We had My Time Dining and I assumed it would work like Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining and I was very wrong about that. While you don’t have to make reservations for My Time Dining, it is recommended. Since this was my first Royal cruise, I didn’t realize you could reserve this before getting on the ship so we were left with late dining times every night because that was all that was available. I want to say it was on the second night of the cruise, even with a reservation we waited an hour in line for a table. After that, we learned to just get there earlier, but no one wants to spend their vacation waiting in line.

My other complaint is that they increased the capacity of the ship (our sailing was close to 100% full) but they were not staffed for that! Dining was the area where this was the most obvious. By the end of our cruise, the buffet was back to being self-serve so hopefully, that will allow additional staff to be serving in the dining room. But, the servers all seemed like they were stretched too thin. In the section we were seated the first two nights, our server came up and asked our table and the table next to us if anyone wanted drinks. Since someone at the other table said no, none of us got drinks. We ended up flagging down the assistant waiter and getting a drink, but we shouldn’t have had to do that. After the second time of this bad service, we asked the host if we could sit in a different section and the service was much better.

We ordered the complimentary continental breakfast room service for the first day before we headed to St. Thomas. We ordered it with an hour buffer and it did not arrive before we had to meet our group on the pier. So, we snorkeled on an empty stomach. Luckily our tour included snacks so we survived until lunch back on the ship but it was very disappointing. The following day we received chocolate-covered strawberries as an apology and that was nice, but it didn’t make up for the fact that we had to go to shore on an empty stomach. We just had breakfast at the buffet for the rest of the cruise.

Our ridiculous table of sushi at Izumi

Our ridiculous table of sushi at Izumi

We did try two of the specialty restaurants: Chops Grill and Izumi. Chops is Royal’s steakhouse. The steaks were great and the atmosphere was relaxed, but it was expensive. I would rather just pay the upcharge for the Chop’s Filet in the dining room and call it a day. Izumi on the other hand was fantastic! One of the friends we traveled with, Joe, was adamant that he doesn’t like sushi and after this experience, he told his wife that he wants to be included when she has sushi with her friends. We learned that you don’t have to book Izumi in advance and pay the $35 fee for this meal. Everything they serve is priced a la carte and we had a hard time reaching $35 per person. Look at all that sushi on that table (right)! Our server was so impressed he insisted on taking a picture!

All-in-all, I really enjoyed our first Royal Caribbean cruise and I think our friends enjoyed their first-ever cruise! We have another one coming up soon and I did consider changing to a set dining time, but then I heard that they are back to sitting you with strangers. I think I would rather wait in line to eat than sit with strangers, but you can make that decision for yourself.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Timothy Hill View

View from Timothy hill

Wordless Wednesday: Boats in Marigot

Boats in Marigot Bay

Wordless Wednesday: St. Thomas

St. Thomas

Wordless Wednesday: Charlotte Amalie

Docking in St. Thomas

Snorkeling Virgin Islands National Park

Honeymoon Beach

When I booked this cruise with two ports in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the first thing I did was look up Virgin Islands National Park and see how possible it would be to get there from St. Thomas or St. Croix. As it turns out, the National Park is located on St. John and there is no airport on the island. The only way to get there is by boat, with a ferry running from St. Thomas.

With a limited time in port for the day and the number of steps needed to get to the National Park (taxi from the port to the ferry dock, ferry to St. John, taxi/tour around the island), we decided to book a St. John Island Tour excursion through the cruise line. Unfortunately, that tour was canceled due to lack of interest so, with one day’s notice after we had boarded the ship, we had to figure out a new plan. We decided the easiest way to the National Park was through the one available excursion which they called “Champagne Catamaran Sail and Snorkel”.

Boats at Honeymoon Beach

Boats at Honeymoon Beach

From the port, we took an open-air bus to Red Hook where we boarded our catamaran for St. John. After tossing anchor at Honeymoon Beach, we got a snorkeling safety talk and tips about where to view the coral and the turtles and we jumped in the water. For one of my friends, this was the first time she had swam in saltwater, so it was a shock for her!

Turtle Swimming at Honeymoon Beach

Snorkeling with Turtles

I enjoyed snorkeling through the reef and seeing all the interesting sea life, for me, but the highlight of this snorkeling adventure was seeing a turtle! It was easy to tell when someone had spotted a turtle because there were a bunch of people in a circle around it. We watched it swim to the surface and then go back down to the sand.

After our snorkeling adventure, we got back on the boat and sipped champagne and cocktails on the way back to St. Thomas. It was a great excursion and I am glad we chose it, but I am disappointed that we didn’t get to see the rest of the island. I guess we will have to go back sometime and get to spend some time on the land!

Fish seen snorkeling

We originally didn’t have any snorkeling booked for this cruise, so I didn’t end up buying a new action camera or waterproof housing for my phone as I had planned. So, the first night after booking this excursion, I had to go to the photo studio and pay cruise prices for a waterproof phone case, so I would have photos to share with you from this excursion. Learn from my mistake! If there is a possibility of snorkeling and you want photos to remember it (or if you’re like me and wear glasses and take photos while snorkeling so later you can see what was down there), buy your gear before your trip!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Virgin Islands Pin

One Day in Luquillo

La Pared BeachWe chose to stay in Luquillo, Puerto Rico before our cruise because of its proximity to El Yunque National Forest. It is only about a 40-minute drive from San Juan airport to Luquillo. We chose to stay in an Airbnb as opposed to a beachside resort and I am really glad we did. Later in the trip, we spent a little bit of time in the Isla Verde area. While we enjoyed our time there, most people in the area were from the mainland, and the shops and restaurants catered to mainlanders. By staying in Luquillo, I feel like we got to experience real Puerto Rico.

Luquillo is known for its beautiful beaches and the most popular one is known as Luquillo beach. More than a mile long and shaded with coconut trees, Luquillo beach is a beautiful place to sunbathe and enjoy the ocean.

Luquillo Beach

Luquillo Beach

If you get hungry while at the beach, step over to the Kiosks where 60 local food vendors serve all kinds of food and drink from local Puerto Rican food to Mexican and Italian food as well as your favorite tropical drinks. Before visiting Puerto Rico I read everything I could find about the Kiosks (honestly there’s not much out there) and I had no idea what to expect. Some of the kiosks serve grab-and-go fried food or pizza, but some of them are full sit-down restaurants with a view of the beach. We chose to get dinner from Kiosk number 2, La Parilla. It is one of the full-service, sit-down restaurants serving Caribbean and Puerto Rican food. We tried the Pastelillos (Puerto Rican meat pies), arepas (dumplings), Queso Frito (fried cheese), Bolitas de Queso (breaded fried cheese), Sorullitos de Maiz (fried corn sticks), and Nuggets de Pescado (fish nuggets). Everything we had was wonderful and we finished with flan for dessert!

It is only about a 40-minute drive from San Juan to Luquillo so it is a doable day trip. Or, stop on your way back from El Yunque, enjoy the beach and get some food from the kiosks before you head back to San Juan!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Island a Day Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Luquillo Pin Luquillo Pinterest Graphic

An Island a Day Trip Report

Explorer of the Seas in St. Croix

Explorer of the Seas in St. Croix

We just got back from a busy cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas! The cruise was a southern Caribbean itinerary sailing out of San Juan, Puerto Rico with a port each day. This was a new cruise line for us and our first time cruising with COVID protocols in place. It was also the first time we had a balcony stateroom! Here is an outline of what is to come:

Day 1: Luquillo, Puerto Rico (Hiking El Yunque National Forest)

Day 2: San Juan, Puerto Rico (Board Explorer of the Seas)

Day 3: St. Thomas (Catamaran cruise to St. John and Virgin Islands National Park)

Day 4: St. Croix (Explore Fredriksted)

Day 5: St. Maarten (Jeep Rental and Exploring the Island)

Day 6: St. Lucia (Island Tour to the Pitons and Mourne Coubaril Estate)

Day 7: Barbados (Explored the port area)

Day 8: St. Kitts (Island Tour to Romney Manor, Brimstone Hill Fortress, and Timothy Hill)

Day 9: Old San Juan (San Juan National Historic Park)

Explorer of the Seas Review

The ports on this cruise were incredible and there are a few of them that I am looking forward to planning a return trip to! I am excited to share what I loved about each of these islands with you!

We took our friends with us on this trip who were first-time cruisers. It was fun introducing them to the cruising experience, but this cruise was intense for newbies. If you are looking to take your first cruise, I recommend that you start out with at least two sea days so you can get to know the ship.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Explorer of the Seas Pinterest Graphic Explorer of the Seas Pin

Flashback Friday: Great Stirrup Caye

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