Safety Harbor Weekend Away

Last year around this time, Carl and I were invited to St. Petersburg, FL for the weekend for the Ted Williams Museum and (Baseball) Hitters Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. This year, we were again invited, although the event was moved to Safety Harbor, FL and the organization put us up in the historic Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

ESPIRITU SANTO SPRINGS
Where Healing Waters Flow
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On May 18, 1539, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto reached the shores of what is now Tampa Bay, landing near these mineral springs used by the native population for nearly 10,000 years.  Believing he had found the legendary Fountain of Youth somehow missed by Ponce de Leon, de Soto established a camp here, naming its crystal-clear waters Espiritu Santo Springs–“Springs of the Holy Spirit.”  Each of the five springs on this site was identified and said to cure certain ailments, a claim drawing thousands of visitors yearly to the “Health Giving City” of Safety Harbor.  In the twentieth century, Espiritu Santo water was bottled and sold commercially, and later a health spa and hotel were built over the springs. The Safety Harbor Sanitorium opened its doors here in 1926, offering porcelain bath tubs and a large swimming pool for “taking the waters.” The Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, as it is now known, continues to be a prominent visitor attraction in Pinellas County.

I couldn’t help but wonder as we wandered the halls of this historic hotel noted for it’s healing powers and health retreats if my grandma Donna had been a visitor here. It seems like just the type of place she might have come to.

We decided to make a whole weekend of it (as opposed to just one night like last year) and went down on Friday.

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On Friday, we took a long walk around the cute harbor city with small shops, plentiful restaurants and quaint houses.

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The town boasts this massive 300-500 year old Live Oak tree.

It was fun to walk to dinner just a few blocks from the hotel and enjoy the beautiful night.

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We laughed a lot at this sign. Why is this even necessary??

On Saturday, we enjoyed an even longer walk, going a full 5-1/2 miles down the waterfront and around the city. After going back to the Spa and hanging out at the pool for a while, we refreshed ourselves with a well-deserved nap. Then it was time to get ourselves ready and head to Spectrum Field (the Phillies training facility in Clearwater) for the big event.

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The main attraction is the autograph signing session where fans wait in really long lines to spend about 30-seconds with many baseball greats. Carl and I were just there for the food, sampling all the items at the different food stations.

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Then the main program took place, with several baseball legends, including Richie “Dick” Allen and Tony Perez being inducted into the Hitters Hall of Fame.

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Tony Perez, Dick Allen, Ron Guidry, JR Richard

The evening ended with a fireworks display over the field.

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It couldn’t have been a more perfect night, weather-wise. Not too hot and not too cool….it was just right!

On Sunday, we met up with my cousin, Kim, and her daughter, Kassie, at her church since it was on the way home. We thought it was interesting how after the worship portion, the stage went dark and then the lights came back on and there was a large screen. As the pastor started talking, it took us a few seconds to realize that he was not actually there but it was an almost 3-D like video of him speaking! Freaky!

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Afterwards, we took Kim and Kassie for brunch to visit and catch up before heading home.

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It was great to spend some time with them and we are grateful it worked out it everyone’s schedule. It was a nice weekend away and when it’s mostly free, it’s even better! I love these fun opportunities that Carl and I have to spend time together.

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Formal Nights

Cruise ship formal nights are always a great time for photos! So allow me to share some of my favorites with you now.

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Carl with his new tuxedo which he bought a few months ago since we are cruising veterans now! Since we apparently are avid cruisers (this was Number 6 for us), he figured it was worth the expense.

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Where was Anthony in all these photos, you ask? Several times before the cruise, I asked Anthony if he had clothes to wear for dinner each night. He kept telling me he had it covered. When shopping a few days before departure, I even texted him several casual shirts that I wanted to buy him but he again said he had it covered. And then when we got on the ship and we were all getting ready for dinner, he informed me “I have nothing to wear.” So much for having it covered, Anthony! Arghhhh! (But at least he still came to dinner with us each night, wearing the one Hawaiin shirt that he brought with him.)

 

Fourth Port-of-Call: Costa Maya, Mexico

Our final port-of-call was in Costa Maya, Mexico. For this port, the boys decided to stay on the ship with the grandparents while Carl, Kelly, Avram and I went to see the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben.

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Our bus and tour guide, Hugo, guided us through the countryside and ruins, explaining all about the Mayan culture.

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We got to see several ruins and were able to climb up them as well.

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The highlight of the day, however, was seeing the spider monkeys in the trees surrounding the ruins.

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It was a very interesting and educational day.

Third Port-of-Call: Mohagany Bay, Roatan, Honduras

Our third port-of-call was another new stop for us in Central America in the country of Honduras. For this port, I arranged a snorkeling excursion to the jungle on the east side of the country.

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We had another 45-minute van drive with one other family to the resort. The drive was very interesting to see the poverty of the country and the little gem of a resort hidden among the squalor. Our hostess, Barbara, fell in love with the country about 11 years ago and left corporate America to build her dream in the jungle of Honduras.

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Her property includes a 7-room bed and breakfast and daily kayak and pontoon boat snorkeling excursions among the expansive coral reef. She also hosts yoga retreats in her large yurt hut.

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The day started out overcast and gloomy and we had to wait for a passing shower to head out on the pontoon to the coral reef.

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When it finally cleared enough to head out on the water, we spent about 45-minutes in the water around the coral reef for the best snorkeling we have ever experienced. There was so much living, vibrant reef and a huge variety of fish of every size, shape and color.

My favorite was the lion fish that looked just like this:

Lionfish (Pterois mombasae) in a Moscow Zoo aquarium

After we got back on the boat, it started to rain, making us all cold and miserable. It actually felt better getting back in the water for our second snorkeling location. The second time we got back on the boat was sunny and warm and felt wonderful!

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Barbara served an authentic Honduran lunch in her dining hall/yoga studio before the driver returned us to the port.

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Here are glimpses of our ship in the background.

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Despite some rain, it was a great day snorkeling in this beautiful place!

Second Port-of-Call: Belize City, Belize

Our second port-of-call was a new stop for us in Belize in Central America. For this port, Carl, Kelly, Avram, Zack and I took a private Ziplining and Cave-tubing excursion in the jungle. (Anthony was originally scheduled to go with us but decided it sounded too lame to him but boy did he miss out because it was so much fun!).

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After an hour van drive, we started with our zip-lining adventure.

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After getting suited up, we headed up onto the first platform in the jungle.

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We did five different runs that were super fun and very high over the jungle and river.

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It was way more exciting than we thought it would be and loved every minute, although I personally was scared to death for most of it, especially when I would turn backwards on the zipline and couldn’t see where I was going!

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After a short van drive down to the river, we then began our cave-tubing adventure.

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Although there were many groups in the river, it was just our family, plus another mother and son attached together for our trip through the cave.

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Again, it was way cooler than we thought. This was a 45-minute journey through a gigantic tunnel full of interesting formations in complete darkness, except for our head lamps.

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When we emerged from the cave, we then traveled another 20-30 minutes down the river.

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Although we thought we would have plenty of time for this excursion, due to some waiting around, we ended the river excursion with just one-hour to get back to the ship (with a one-hour drive ahead) for the last tender back to the ship. We briefly stopped at the office, where they handed us lunch-to-go (it was supposed to be enjoyed outdoors at a BBQ) and our driver skillfully and speedily got us back to the ship just in time. However, since there were at least 1,000 people in line for the tenders, it turns out we really didn’t have to rush at all and had an hour wait to get back on the ship. Talk about worrying for nothing!

It was a fun day doing something unique that turned out to be way more fun than any of us imagined. So glad we got to enjoy this exciting adventure in Belize!

First Port-of-Call: Cozumel, Mexico

Our first port-of-call, on Christmas Day, was in Cozumel, Mexico. Carl and I arranged a private driver for a 5-hour island tour so the whole family could be together.

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Cresensio drove us through the city and along the west and east coasts, telling us all about Cozumel and answering all of our questions.

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We stopped for lunch at a restaurant right on the water.

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Since the drinking age in Mexico is only 18, Zack was thrilled to enjoy his first legal alcoholic beverage and as a true Russian, he chose a shot of vodka for his inaugural drink.

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In a highly inappropriate and embarrassing Christmas day moment, our waiter served us all free shots of tequila from a male-anatomical vessel.

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Beckoned by the waves, Anthony took a few moments to jump into the bay.

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It was a fun and educational tour of Cozumel and a great way to spend Christmas day together!

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Merry Christmas from Cozumel, Mexico!

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Christmas Cruise

After missing Christmas together last year due to my father-in-law’s broken femur, Carl, our kids (plus Kelly’s boyfriend, Avram) and Carl’s parents made up for it in a big way this year by celebrating Christmas together with a family cruise!

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Kelly’s boyfriend isn’t in this photo since we met him on the ship a little later. Since he had to work through Friday, he flew into Orlando and took a shuttle to the ship while the rest of us drove down together from Jacksonville.

This cruise was also our celebration of Zack’s high school graduation this year.

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Last March, when my mother-in-law asked when we would be having Zack’s graduation cruise (since we did the same for the older two kids), I mentioned that it would be harder since everyone was in different states now, we already flew the older two kids home for Christmas and Kelly, Avram and Anthony all had busy school schedules. Thus was the inspiration to do our family cruise over Christmas, when everyone would already be gathered together.

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We enjoyed a week aboard the Carnival Magic, which happens to be the same ship the Carl and I sailed the Mediterranean for our 25th Wedding Anniversary in 2011.

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It was a great cruise with lots of fun activities and excursions (which I’ll tell you about in posts all week).

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We enjoyed cocktails together (which was fun since 2 out of 3 of our children can now legally drink…although that didn’t stop Zack from enjoying some drinks with the adults on occasion).

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We played games nearly every day.

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We enjoyed Christmas festivities aboard the ship.

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We saw nightly shows.

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We made towel friends.

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It was a great week of family bonding in the Caribbean!