Cozumel, Mexico – Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA – Harmony of the Seas – 2017 – Day 6-8

12/28/17

The port of the day – Cozumel, Mexico. My family all booked the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins tour ($130CAD). The Chichen Itza is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. We were all to eat breakfast then meet at the Royal Theatre at 745AM. We were all quarreled in the theatre and put into our rightful tour groups and given stickers to label us. They went over some rules and we waited for everyone to come in. We left by tours and disembarked off the ship to line up to take the ferry. Chichen Itza is in the Yucatan by Playa Del Carmen which is a 45 minute ferry ride followed by a 2-2.5 hour bus ride to the site. I can tell you that being on a floating island for a week, you barely feel motion sickness but this ferry was absolutely brutal. Headphones in and trying to sleep to keep from thinking about the motion and puking. They do hand out plastic bags just in case.

We arrived at the ferry pier in Playa Del Carmen beside Parque Fundadores and the iconic Portal Maya Statue. We were led to our specific tours and taken to our tour bus. Our tour guide gave us all tablets for the 2-hour ride and told us information about the Mayans. There is a toilet on the bus but bring your own toilet paper. Before we got off the bus, our tour guide handed us these audio devices that he will use to keep contact with us during the tour at the site.

We parked at Hotel Mayaland’s Chichen Itza entrance. We stopped to use the washroom and then walked over to the entrance. Cameras are allowed but recording devices such as GoPro’s must pay a $5USD fee. No drones allowed.

Mayan / Chichen Itza / Yucatan Information

-Place of the red fish – exact location of the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs.

-Land of the wood turkeys.

-Yucatan is the named the Europeans gave 15 centuries after Jesus was born.

-The Spaniards colonized. Ohyatan – Mayan – listen how they talk. Miscommunication thus Yucatan means in Mayan – I don’t understand.

-All the Mayan books were destroyed by Spaniards to convert to them to Catholicism.

-Only 3 books left of Mayan culture as the Spaniards punished the Mayans and burned almost 100% of all their books saying it was the words of the devil.

-The first book is on Astronomy. That book is housed in Germany.

-The second book is on Mathematics and housed in Paris.

-The third book is on the afterlife housed in Spain.

-The books unfortunately don’t speak of anything of the collapse of the Mayans.

-The Mayans could be the survivors of the lost city of the sea or that they came from outer space. 5 days after birth, they put tablets and elongated the heads to make them “beautiful”.

-The Mayans were advanced and knew about 5 of the planets. They recorded and could predict the solar and lunar eclipse.

-December 21, 2012 was end of their calendar, not end of the world. It is also when 6 of the planets was to line up.

-The Mayans used 10 numbers including 0. They created the calendar with 0.

-The Mayans made 3 calendars – An Agriculture (18 months), a baby calendar and the 365 calendar.

-The origins of the Mayans are unknown but the working theory is that they are descendants of an Asian bloodline. They hold similar features such as facial structure, skin tone and many Mayans last names are Chinese.

-Mayans are born with a purple mark at the base of the spine. All natives are born with the purple marking of sort. This purple mark is also known as a Mongolian spot.

-The Mayans most likely crossed over from Asia via the bearing strait of Siberia.

-What happened to the Mayan people? They abandoned their cities possibly over politics or over population. The Spaniards came to discover empty cities and then went further inland to conquer the Aztecs.

-The name Chichen Itza:

Chi – mouth

Chen – sinkholes/well

itza – clan that built the city.

-Chichen Itza is divided into 2 sections.

-The new Chichen itza and old Chichen itza.

-They were built at different times and by different cultures.

-The Old Mayans never did human sacrifice but new Chichen Itza did as influence from other cultures.

 

When we arrived at Chichen Itza, it was overcrowded. The main pyramid we saw is called El Castillo and it is the temple of the Kukulkan (Snake in Mayan). The tour guide led us over to the the giant courtyard which was a sports field. They would play a life or death game where the winners would sacrifice their lives after they won thinking it was an honour.

The tour guide gave us about 10-20 minutes to take photos and buy souvenirs. The precious stone that the Mayans are known for is the obsidian stone that refracts different colours in the sunlight.

Back the route we came with one more toilet break before heading back on the bus. Our tour includes snacks and we got a package with packed sandwich, apple, banana, a snack bar, a bottle of coke and a bottle of water.

2 hours on the bus and what felt like the longest 45 minutes ferry ride back to our ship. We got back really late and missed volleyball at 5PM (got back at 6PM). All of us felt nauseated so we all went back to our rooms to rest up. We for the most part had attended all the entertainment on the ship so we took it very easy that night and relaxed. There was an all white party where the solarium got turned into a dancing area. The top floor was blocked off and you had to scan your card or pass to get in. The party started at 11PM but it was very lackluster so we left.

 

12/29/17

Our final full day of cruising passing Cuba to head back towards Fort Lauderdale. 830AM breakfast then 5 hours in the sun (without really noticing). Windjammer for lunch then we took the Mini putt. We figured we might as well try the giant slide – The abyss however, you need to have a top with sleeves to avoid sticking. To try the zipline or Flowrider, you need to sign a waiver and get blue wristband to do so.

Not many activities worth doing, we all split up. I ended up re-watching the Hideaway Heist aquatic show because I didn’t have my camera with me for the first show and I wanted to capture some cool diving shots. Went to worked out one last time then to the Jacuzzis. Out of the cruising days, that day in particular was super windy and all the Jacuzzis were jam packed but I was able to find a spot but then 2 older asian couples got into my space so I left.

We had reserved our final dinner on the ship in the Fine dining – Silk. Really cute to see the staff come out to sing us a song to thank us for being patrons with the patrons swinging our napkins in response of celebration. I ordered the crab cake, 2 entrées – tempura cod fish and shrimp ravioli with carrot cake to finish.

We watched Spiderman on the big screen at the Boardwalk and went back to the room to pack. Usually on this night, people would pack their luggages and leave it in the hallway for the staff to take away and sort for check-out the following day. We opted to carry our luggage out with us for faster check-out.

 

12/30/17

We grabbed breakfast at the Bistro and then met up with the rest before leaving the ship. You can stay on the ship until 10AM but must vacate the rooms by 830AM because they need to clean all the rooms and get it ready for the next cruise where the new patrons would arrive as early as 1030AM. Self carry checkout was really quick.

We took a taxi to airport and my parents decided to stay while the four of us headed over to Enterprise to rent a car to goto Sawgrass Outlets. Our flight was scheduled for 10PM that night (we departed the ship by 9-930AM) so we wanted to kill some time and not sit in an airport all day. We arrived at the outlets just before it opened at 10AM.

I finally bought new shoes from Nike (replaced my worn out shoes from 2014) and went to Super target for M&M’s. We ate lunch at the Cheesecake Factory – Mac & Cheese burger. Got back to the airport around 430-5PM and waited around as our flight was the last scheduled flight out.

So many delays due to snow in New York and Boston but unfortunately the plane for the flight to Halifax had some technical problems with the temperature gauge and needed 4 mechanics to come in to repair it, which delayed that flight by multiple hours. By the time our flight was to leave, we left on time but there were a few that were delayed further due to the weather. So happy our flight was on time but not happy to leave 17-30C degree to -19C degrees (felt like -30C) weather.

Falmouth, Jamaica – Harmony of the Seas – 2017 – Day 4-5

12/26/17

We cruised through the night to arrive at Falmouth, Jamaica port in the morning. The port itself is small and is all shopping. We decided to opt out of disembarking the boat. Andrew (his first time on a cruise ship of any nature, got off to explore on his own for a bit). We ate at the Bistro together, lounged in the sun for a few hours before eating lunch at Windjammer. This lounging life is a world I am not use to and not much my style. We had booked the Escape Room – Escape the Rubicon ($12USD/person). It was about 2 hours long and really well done. We had our group of 4 plus another family of 4 and a family of 3. We didn’t escape in time but came really close!

The cruise ship has a outdoor gym that has scheduled timeslots for certain sports and I thought I’d be productive and play some volleyball. The thing is when it is open volleyball, it isn’t all top notch players and literally anyone can jump in to play. I’ll just say it was a little rough to say the least but at least it got me moving.

After getting a little exercise in, showered and joined the full family for dinner at Windjammers. Our evening entertainment for the night started with iSkate show in Studio B. The skate cast, created another program that showcases songs that they like to listen to or inspires them and performed a more modern show which was excellent. The skate cast (pretty much all the staff) all originate from different places in the world. The skaters and aquatics show cast vary from ex-olympians to ex-competitive athletes who want to entertain others, meet new people and travel the world.

Following the ice show, we had reservations at the Aquatheatre with their show – Fine Line. The show showcases a collection of aerialists, acrobatics, slackliners, divers and synchronized swimmers who perform a multitude of skills and dancing. It starts off with one man literally spinning for 15 minutes non-stop – It made me so dizzy. The show itself was by far the most entertaining and sensory overload with multiple things happening at once that you would be looking at the main stage then an aerialist would be flying over you to a person emerging from the pool with the hydraulic pool platform lower for a diver diving from the 17th deck level to a tightrope walker. It had wonderful dance sequences and even included a bit of Maori haka dance. Later in the evening they transformed Studio B (the ice rink) into the coolest nightclub on the waters by turning it into “Red Nightclub” lowering the temperatures and covering the ice with a rubberize surface to dance on.

12/27/17

A full day of cruising so we all slept in. When you are in your statesroom (especially the rooms with no windows) you are basically in a dark room with no clocks so time can standstill. The TV in your room has the about 15 channels – about 9 of them are Harmony of the Seas information. There are a few channels you can watch cartoons, Dreamworks movies and reality TV.

Same routine as the day before – Bistro for breakfast, tan session in Solarium then lunch at Windjammers. Don’t forget about the frozen yogurt stations for a little cool treat.

The Aquatics cast also has a secondary show called The Hideaway Heist. I must say, some gorgeous, perfectly chiseled performers. Yes I know I had watched the main aquatics show the previous day but this show, there was no intense black make-up on or too elaborate costumes. This show showcased more diving and incorporated more individual elements such as slacklining, trampoline and more opportunity for intricate dives with a mix of kooky dancing.

What else is there better to do on a cruise ship than eat and tan? Gym session. Relatively empty so I could do my workout freely and end off walk the outdoor track. I spent a little time hanging out in Central park before meeting up with everyone to have dinner at Windjammer. We met up with the parents and watched the Columbus Broadway. The cast of Grease starred in this musical number which at first glance everyone thinks is about Christopher Columbus but it’s actually not. It’s a strange musical to say the least but the flying sharks were definitely the best. Still very confused at what I watched but good.

Labadee, Haiti – Harmony of the Seas – 2017 – Day 1-3

12/23-30/17

Over the Christmas break, my family and myself with the additional of my brother’s girlfriend went on a 7-day cruise on the Harmony of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. This Cruise marked the first time in 17 years that my family has travelled together since our trip to California back in 2000. This cruise was also to celebrate my father’s retirement. The 7-day Western Caribbean cruise ported in Labadee, Haiti – Falmouth, Jamaica & Cozumel, Mexico. These were the same ports as my previous cruise but this was the only one that worked with the timing of all our schedules. My parents are frequent cruisers so we were able to get on-board credits that we all put towards an excursion together (sort’ve).

The Harmony of the Seas is one of the largest ships in the world soaring over 17 decks high. It offers the fastest and most widespread internet service –Voom over water, The Abyss –giant slide from the 17th deck to the 6th deck, 2 flowriders for surfing and boogie boarding simulations, mini putt, rock climbing, ziplining, an outdoor gym, a spa/gym, outdoor track, 5 pools, 5 jacuzzis, a skating rink, a casino, an entertainment deck, a formal dining area, a promenade and much more.

Online check-in is supposed to help you get boarded faster. You get to print out your seapass and your luggage tags (print in colour). You go through security before boarding. You are allotted 2 bottles of wine to bring on the ship if you like otherwise, all alcohol must be purchased from the boat. Apparently all the early check-in things we did meant nothing, as we had to fill in that information and retake our photo again.

We flew to Fort Lauderdale to board the boat. You can take the Cruise transport, which is $11USD/person OR if you have a group – grab a taxi for cheaper transport to Port Everglades.

You won’t have access to your Stateroom until roughly 1-3PM as they have to clean them from the previous cruise. When the room is ready, you will find your room key/sea pass card in an envelope by your door with your luggage sitting outside your Stateroom. The new passengers can start boarding as of 10AM until 430-5PM before the boat departs.

You have the option to carry your luggage (if it’s small enough or carry on size) or you can choose to check it and just carry your passport, seapass print out and credit card.

You can opt to purchase the WOW wristbands for $5USD to replace or as an addition to the seapass card. The seapass/wristband asks as your credit card, ID and room key on board. You do need your Seapass card when you are at a Port and decide to disembark the ship for security purposes.

The boat uses a App called Royal IQ which you can use on your phone (additional fee if you want on-board chatting). With this app, you can reserve shows (for you and others by name), check your statements and see the program and itinerary for the day.

NOTE – There are hidden gratuity fee of $11-13USD/day which in the end pays the staff.

 

12/23/17

We got to the airport for around 330AM for our 645AM flight. Funny how a family with the last name U all books tickets together yet my name is the only one that can’t get checked in beforehand. As I went to the kiosk to check-in, my ticket comes out but as I am showing it to get to the first part of security, the lady takes a highlighter to my ticket. Turns out the SSSSS on my ticket means I’ve been randomly selected to be searched – yay….

At the airport, I repacked my personal backpack with a change of clothes, swim suit and flip flops because your luggage gets taken away from you and you won’t have access until 1-3PM.

We went straight for food at Windjammer and then to the solarium to sunbathe for a bit. Windjammer is the main eating establishment at the back of the ship. Buffet style. The Solarium is the adult’s only Jacuzzi section with giant egg nesting loungers. The Solarium also has an eating establishment – The Bistro (not as big as Windjammer and less variety). We walked around the ship to check out our “home” for the next week.

There is a mandatory emergency meeting where we are clustered into musters. The muster is shown in large print on your Seapass card. Our muster station was the gym.

We finally departed around 530PM and since the Harmony of the Sea is one of the largest ships in the world – you don’t actually feel it moving (not that often) as it is a floating island. The cruise was full of families celebrating Christmas and the holidays together. There was 6780 guests in total on the ship.

Dinner at Windjammer and we ended our evening watching the Grease broadway show.

12/24/17

First day cruising so I woke up, went for breakfast (ate way too much) and then decided I was going to workout – good and bad decision. Seeing as we were on a cruise ship over the holidays, everyone was trying to stay in shape especially the day before Christmas. The gym was super crowded and people (including me) were just trying to find a space to get our workouts in. I grabbed some dumbbells and found a spot by the mirror. After doing a half decent workout, I walked the track and came back to stretch.

After my workout session, I found my brothers and Tammy and hung out in the Solarium area to lounge and tan. We eventually got up and ate lunch at the Bistro. We walked through Central park and the Boardwalk then went back to our Statesroom to shower and just relax out of the sun.

We had made reservations to watch the Ice show 1887 in Studio B. Not 100% sure what the storyline was but nonetheless entertaining. The website description describes it as “a magical journey inspired by Jules Verne, legendary author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. This exhilarating, time-traveling journey blends fantasy with reality“. The cast from Grease put on a special Christmas Carol show in the Opal Theatre.

We had booked a formal family dinner that night at Silk -formal dining. The service is a little slower but the atmosphere is more upscale than say Windjammers. You can order as many apps and entrees as well as desserts as you want. I got the escargot, duck terrine, osso bucco and creme brulee.

After the formal dining, we went back to our rooms to change and went to the Attic on the entertainment deck to watch the comedy show. At 11PM, in the nightclub they held the Hush party – a silent dance party where all guests wear headphones and with a flick of the switch, you were either listening to one DJ or to another DJ. It was a very fun experience but more entertaining when you take the headphones off and hear people singing to the songs.

 

12/25/17

Our first port of the cruise was in Labadee, Haiti. We woke up early – around 7AM, ate together around 8-830AM at the Bistro. We departed the ship by scanning our Seapass cards. The port of Labadee has been renovated since the last time I was here (back in 2013) due to natural disasters and just expansion. This port is manmade and a private port for Royal Caribbean. It features 2 beaches, an outdoor water obstacle course, a water slide with hidden cabanas into the mountain on one side. There are canopies and ziplining the other side open to the main waters.

The volleyball court moved into the middle beside the kids water park. My full family set up beside each other and just hung out on the beach. Since we were ported and it was a private beach, lunch was a BBQ style buffet beachside.

After lunch, we headed back on board. We tested to see if the gym would be less busy in the afternoon. I got a little arms workout in. After the workout, I found my parents and brother and we just hung out in the Solarium for awhile before heading back to the room to shower and watch some TV and Dreamworks movies.

We met back up with my brother and Tammy to have Christmas dinner together at Windjammers. For once, our family didn’t have to host and cook a turkey and ham which was a nice little break and have other people do it for us. We had reserved the Headliner show for after dinner. The Headliner show starred Ronn Lucas who is a well known ventriloquist. He has entertained royalty to presidents and had his own show back in the day. He was really good. The promenade had 50’s-60’s music night. We called it a night after grabbing a slice of pizza from Sorrento (the only 24 hour food establishment) in the Promenade.

Montego Bay, Jamaica – 2016 – Day 4-7

Day 4

Even going to bed at 230-3AM after starting file transfers I woke up naturally to 530AM. I woke up and immediately went to change memory cards to transfer. I apparently took 10600+ photos of the wedding day. HOLY. Anyways, this was the first day of relaxation. Bid adieu to those heading back to Toronto. After lunch, Mimi & myself went straight to the beach and started our tanning. We were later joined by the rest of the gang and we stayed there for majority of the day. Jamaican sun is strong so wear your sunscreen and RE-APPLY. I went a little too hard and burnt.

We had heard about a lobster shack off the resort on the beach we should try so we decided to go around 5PM to look for Leon’s Lobster Hut. We walked right of the main beach and past the fence of the Royalton property. to the right of the beach, there are little shacks that cover a stretch of the beach that are businesses of some of the locals. Each shack offers different things such as food, drink, art etc. The locals will all ask you to come into their shops to have a look. They seem a little pushy but just want to draw up business. We made our way to Leon’s to find that he actually closes early so we had a middle man/woman on the phone with him trying to negotiate a price but they wanted a money deposit and bargaining $20USD a lobster so we said we would come back tomorrow instead. We walked through the shack area to see these little shops. Met a few locals and made good conversation with a few.

We decided to go for the Italian restaurant that night and I must say that it is actually the best of the restaurants for food. I got the beef carpaccio, risotto primavera & panna cotta. It looked like everyone from our group wanted Italian that night as majority of the party left was there. We ended up at the sports bar to watch the basketball game.

Day 5

We all decided to wake up early to watch the sunrise on the beach. Got up at 5AM and headed down for 530AM. The sun actually starts to rise on around 530AM hitting its horizon. Bug spray is your friend at this hour of the day most definitely. I never really liked photographing sunrises as its nothing spectacular to me but the light that it gives off is another thing.

After the sun rose, we decided to go for breakfast at the main buffet. We went poolside and hung out with Angelina and her grandma for a bit by the kids pool before heading to the beach side. We situated ourselves there the rest of the morning slowly being joined by the rest of our gang. We played some beach volleyball but the court is built on concrete that isn’t even and the sand is a thin layer. We kept getting people joining that can’t play properly which made the game slow and boring. We contacted Leon again and we negotiated a price of $15USD/lobster. he did a beach delivery to us. It was fresh but slightly overcooked.

Around 3PM Mimi and myself walked down the beach line (right from the resort beach) to the end of the beach. At the very end, there is a beach bar called Touch Bar – It’s run by the same guy – Touch that Jess and myself met on the road riding his motorbike on our first day. Its sort of a tree bar. The waters are calmer along this side of the beach and further down was a public beach.

Day 6

Burnt. Slightly crispy. You know, the crispy feeling where you can only sleep one position and you awake in that position but emit so much heat and then you get up and try to bend your limbs an its sensitive. Yup.

We got up and had breakfast with a few of our group. Went straight to the beach afterwards where I put myself under a umbrella and kept in the shade. Naomi and Steven joined our group and 6 of us (Benham, Leanna, Cathy, Mimi & Naomi) took the kayaks out for a ride. The water was a little choppy but kayaking was fun. If only we knew how to sail, we could’ve taken the boat out. We also decided to walk down the other side of the beach and passed through 2 other resorts beach front to the very end.

It was the best weather this day. It was sunny and blue skies for the majority of the day and then the wind picked up and pushed some clouds overhead making it overcast. We played some beach volleyball but it started to suck when others joined our game so we capped it at 5 points before heading to lunch at the buffet. Buffet lunch was really good. The jerk chicken on the beach is also a treat especially with Jamaican patties.

It was just a nice relaxing afternoon in a pool and poolside playing Heads Up. The weather was perfect so we decided to play another round of volleyball. It was the best I’ve played here with the players just being people from our group only. We ended our game as we were captivated by the double rainbow that had formed overhead. It was a perfect rainbow where you can see all the colours so vividly and also both ends to be followed by another rainbow above it.

We cleaned up and went back to the buffet for dinner. It was a great meal with our group. Went over to the sports bar after to watch Game 6 for Raptors vs Heat – we lost. There was a Michael Jackson tribute show outside of the sports bar and it was really good with a guy actually singing and embodied Mr Jackson.

It was the last full day and this friday the 13th was no doubt a good one.

Day 7 – Final

Woke up to the the bright sunrise but stayed in bed a little bit longer. I ended off the final day with a workout with Mimi (we tried to do a HIIT session but it got really humid and we never finished the first circuit of it). Breakfast at the buffet and then to the beach we went for our last little session in the ocean.

Check out was for Noon so we stayed out until about 11-1130 before going to shower. For myself, I changed into my tank top with the built in sports bra (my travel tank top) and put on underwear and shorts. My shuttle wasn’t arriving until 330PM so I still had tons of time to hang at the beachside with the rest of the group who would be leaving for their 530PM shuttle.

We stayed beachside the rest of the day – NOTE: even if you check out, there are washrooms you can use to change after if you decide to stay in swim wear for the beach before leaving. The boys got pulled into an obstacle course on the beach courts followed by the staff challenging our group to a volleyball match. A few of us decided to go to the buffet for our final meal before heading out. I had a personal driver to the airport named Junior and he was funny and informative. Made it to the airport in good timing with liquid sunshine coming down rather hard. Last name problems like usual but otherwise, got through and had tons of time to spare. Ended up departing a little late as one guest checked in and had a check luggage but never showed up so they had to physically take that luggage off the plane. The ride felt long but it wasn’t. Came home to 3 degree celsius but it was refreshing. The best part now – the 20000 photos from the week are completely edited and finished with.

Irie.

Montego Bay, Jamaica – 2016 – Day 1-3

Jamaica no problem.

I had the privilege to photograph my friends, Naomi & Steven’s wedding in beautiful Jamaica – more specifically in Trelawny, Montego Bay. I have never done a resort stay before so it was a new experience for me. We stayed at the beautiful Royalton Whitesands which is owned by Sunwing. We had over 20+ guests of whom majority were volleyball players.

The flight from Toronto is about 4 hours and Jamaica is 1 hour behind Toronto. The airport shuttle takes about 45 minutes from Montego Bay Airport to the resort.

I travelled with the videographer – Jess Cheng and we were booked a Diamond Club room. Diamond Club gives you some more perks than the normal bookings. These include, a separate private Cabana beach area (which I never used), the ability to make reservations for certain restaurants on the premises, a special Diamond Club room for your use (food, drinks, services etc). I can’t forget to mention your pillow options.

Your room key is actually a nice little bracelet that you just tap against your door to get in. Now onto our room. Jess and myself shared a room that is suited to fit a family with a king size bed, a fold out futon and bunk beds with a bathroom that is so long and large (Family Jacuzzi Ocean View Suite). There is also a option for a butler but that is strange to me. There is also a mini fridge in the room that gets restocked (I think this is a perk of Diamond Club). There is free WIFI covering the whole resort including the beach.

The main event of the week long stay was obviously the wedding day on the Tuesday (we arrived Saturday). Each and everyday, the Royalton hosts weddings every 3PM & 5PM. The Whitesands resorts offers a main buffet with 3 specialty restaurants – Italian (the best one in my opinion), the steakhouse and the teppanyaki. Also around noon on the beach, there is jerk chicken and Jamaican beef patties being served. The resort also offers a kiddie pool, waterslides, 2 family pools and 1 adult pool. The beach area is actually quite small to my imagination. The adult pool with the built in bar overlooks the beach volleyball court which is built on uneven concrete and a thin layer of sand (watch out for stubbed toes). There is also nightly entertainment.

The beach volleyball court leads onto the main stretch of beach that the resort owns as well as a Diamond Club members only beach with cabana’s to the left of it. The beach is patrolled by security guards as the actual beach is public and there are vendors who will stroll the beach and try to sell things. They are not allowed to approach the guests and must stay by the shoreline. There also is a feature of a little private island (manmade) and also the gazebo where the wedding ceremonies take place.

The resort also includes a Kids Club, a coffee / ice cream bar, sports bar, spa and gym facility as well as a water sports excursion centre where you can take out kayaks, paddle boards, sail and even for a price parasailing.

Resort life in a sentence is all about relaxing, eating, sun, sand, tanning – repeat. I can tell you that I for one am not made for resorts per se, but when it comes to working (photographing a wedding), it sure makes it more worthwhile. Now onto my week as a photographer and friend at the Royalton Whitesands.

Day 1

The sun rises at 530AM and the heat comes with it quite quickly.

For scouting purposes and just the explorer in me, Jess and myself ventured out of the resort and walked the street to find some locations to shoot the couple. (the resort cannot guarantee safety outside o the resort) We ended up walking the road for awhile and passed by a few other resorts and some local homes. Under British rule, they drive on the left so be warned to look both ways when crossing the streets. The locals that we did meet and strike up conversations with were incredibly friendly folk.

When we returned to the resort, we rallied up a few of our group and grabbed a van to town with our driver Andrew. He took us from Trelawny to Falmouth and told us stories and information along the way.

He was very informative. Apparently our resort is owned by Sunwing and is owned by a Canadian. The story of Rose Hall is about a man named Sam Rollins who married his first wife Rosa whom he built a white house for on top of a hill. She passed away and he re-married. Sam passed away naturally but then the new wife ended up remarrying. She murdered that husband and remarried then murdered that 3rd husband and in the end was murdered by her lover who was a slave. They do tours of the home and show you where each person was murdered for $20 entry.

Andrew drove us through the rich neighbourhood area, main tourist strip and pointed out Usain Bolts Highschool and the land where squatters have built homes. Our little taxi trip with Andrew through the city was nice but being a Sunday and Mother’s day, not much was happening. We wanted patties but the place to go was closed. We drove through Sam Sharpe Square and got out of the van to walk what was open of a little fruit market on a street. It’s not highly recommended for tourist to walk alone or venture into town without a local. For majority, the locals will leave you alone but also depends on your vibe. Apparently the large KFC in town has the most traffic and when you are in Falmouth or passing through, you need to stop there and grab some chicken as locals have told us. We stopped by a little touristy spot where Andrew said we can bargain and I picked up 100% blue mountain coffee beans that were priced at $70USD for $35USD. Andrew wanted to take us to the best look out spot to overlook the whole city – Richmond Hill but he called ahead and it was closed. Our last spot before heading back was Scotchies – the best place for Jerk Chicken on the island. We got 1/2 chicken, 1/2 pork, balmy (cassava) and festivals (sweet fried dough) and fresh Limeaid. They have their famous jerk sauce made of scotch pine nuts. To be honest, the food reminded me of Chinese food but nonetheless tasty. Between 7 of us, it was $7USD including tip.

We came back to the resort and just chilled/napped by the pool for about an hour before part of the group went on their lagoon excursion. Jess and myself stayed back and ventured the resort to scout spots to shoot. We didn’t make reservations early enough so we ate at the main buffet. There is a good selection of food ranging from american favourites – pizza, fries, burgers etc to a variety of Jamaican dishes like ackee fish, boiled dumplings & plantains to my groups favourites – ox tail and curried goat.

Day 2 – Group Excursion day!

We booked Sunwing Catamaran & Dunn Falls day trip – $106USD.

Woke up and went for a morning workout session. Grabbed breakfast at the buffet then off we went with our group of 20 with Cool Runnings for Catamaran and Dunn Falls with Chino our driver and Debby our guide. We booked a 20 person group of our own. We had one small stop before making our way to St Ann’s Parish – Ochos Rios. We were taken to a place where we had a light lunch of jerk chicken, coleslaw and beans with rice before embarking on a catamaran to Dunn Falls. The catamaran we thought was a private one with just our group but we were wrong. We hopped on and within 10 minutes or so we were anchored and got into the waters for snorkelling. After snorkelling, we had patties on the boat while we sailed to our next destination – Dunn Falls. You can opt for the wet hike or the dry hike. Dry hike is by far the better option. Wet option you need water shoes to climb (you can purchase for $10 USD or rent for $5USD). What sucks about the wet hike is that you are basically with your group and hold hands majority of the way up. The dry hike, we decide our own pace and there are several areas along the way up that you can get into the waters and we sure did. My dry hike group – Joseph x2, Kim, & Mimi went up the fresh water falls and came back down at our own pace to slowly meet up with our group (they were the last group to climb). The climb up is the same way the wet group comes back down.

We ended up leaving a little late but once we returned to the catamaran, it becomes a boozy boat. Unlimited alcohol plus patties were given out. The waves heading back were HUGE and you could feel each ripple of the wave as the catamaran would go flying up and then come down hard. Our group was good and the staff loved all of our guys. This one lady kept coming around dancing with alcohol (bottle and then a tray of drinks) on her hand and dancing when the boat was crashing those waves. Pure skills there.

We returned back to our resort after an hour – hour half ride from St Ann’s. Awaiting us was Jess, the videographer who stayed on the resort for the day. We ventured outside the resort to take some clips and shots of the couple on the streets. We even got some advice from the locals about marriage. We were hoping to get back in time for golden hour but the sun was already setting during our walk outside. Jess and myself made reservations for the steakhouse while everyone else went to Zen – japanese teppanyaki (which apparently sucked and was really bad). Our steaks were pretty decent and the creme brûlée was tasty but the mac & cheese was more of a casserole and dry.

Day 3

Wedding day!

I keep waking up early but its all good since the sun rises at 530AM each day and Jamaica is an hour behind Toronto. The wedding party met at 9AM to do a walkthrough and then off to the races we went with the bridesmaids getting ready at 930AM and the groomsmen to start getting ready around 1030AM. Things went slightly behind schedule but otherwise we did pretty good. It was a very humid day for sure and windy at times. Jess and myself tried to work fast with our filming and shooting but alas we didn’t get many shots that we wanted in the end (or at least what we had planned). We got to the beach for the bridal party and family shots and the weather started to shift as dark clouds started to loom. We were back down for 430PM and 5PM the ceremony was to begin.

As the ceremony prep was finished and the bridesmaids started walking down the path to the gazebo the skies were slightly darker but still the light emitting from far out was magical. Once Naomi and her parents started to walk down, the Jamaican skies decided to bless them with some liquid sunshine. It made the ceremony even shorter as things needed to get sped up to get everyone out of the rain as quick as possible. This left barely any time to get shots of the whole thing. The dark clouds above made way for a burst of light leaking far out on the side that made it soft yet a slight golden glow. Once the ceremony was completed, everyone hung under the gazebo to avoid the rain and until they setup our cocktail hour and steel drums in the same space. The rocks off to the left of the gazebo make for beautiful photos for sure. The skies cleared and going into reception we had smooth sailing in terms of rain.

After cocktail hour was over, 30 minutes to set up the reception area. They chose non tented seating area poolside. 3 long tables of 12 with buffet styled dinner. We had a live band and they were amazing. Tons of speeches and games. The reception went smoothly with music, drinks and dancing flowing everywhere. The night ended with the bridal party deciding to jump into the infinity pool. Bridesmaids went first in their dresses, Groomsmen went in matching boxers and bowties. With this group, even the guests decided to join in and jump in as well.

Cozumel, Mexico – Oasis of the Sea – 2013 – Day 6-7

03/21/13

Ate at Park Cafe then to land we went – Cozumel, Mexico. It’s so strange to see other cruise ships docked right beside our boat making all the rest look tiny in comparison. The port basically was a outlet shopping centre but you can also go out into the city. We made our way to the excursions area to line up. From there we were put into specific taxis to bring us to Uvas Resort (uvas means grapes) which has a spa, bar, pool and of course our excursions of clear kayak and snorkelling. Our guide Angel and Louis made the day really fun. My first time kayaking and with the guidance of Jo I think I got the hang of it. I had attached the go pro to the selfie stick and held it with the paddle to get some cool angles but I guess the paddle hit the release button and my go pro sunk into the water. Luckily, we had just gotten into the water so it wasn’t too deep so my hero for the day Louis dove down and retrieved it for me. We were only in the kayaks for a short period of time before we switched to snorkelling. It was a great experience as there are coral reefs which we went over.

Back in the port area, we did a little shopping then back onto the ship to make it in time for volleyball. After a few hours of playing we went for dinner in Windjammers (surprised? I think not). We had timed it perfectly so we could go straight from dinner to our show which was Come fly with me starring performers from Hairspray and the other productions – the performers are multi talented and I guess because they are on the ship on contract, they provide entertainment in a variety of ways. There was some pretty cool acts like the aerialists and gymnasts. Right after the show, we decided to line up for the comedy show and we are so glad we did because the acts were great. Simian was my favourite who actually knows Tokyo Disneyland theme song and dance by heart.

03/22/13

Final night on the cruise ship in cruising mode. We decided after that that we should try Flowrider. It’s actually more difficult than it looks. Jo and myself went in just our swim suits with no shirt to cover up on top and Jo was wearing a strapless. You can tell where I am going with this… NOTE: wear a t-shirt over your swim wear. Final session of volleyball then we quickly washed up and headed to Windjammers for dinner then straight to the comedy show where we bumped into our volleyball crew. On the final night, you pack your things and leave your large luggage in the hallway so the crew can relocate it to its proper section for when you depart and check-out from the ship. We attended farewell party at Blaze Club and met all sorts of people from around the world including a couple named Brooke and Christina who are both in the army and don’t get to much time with each other as they are deployed for 6-10 months away from one another. Christina turned 27 at midnight and they had been dating for 6 years and married for 2. It was a good night.

Final morning breakfast before disembarking the floating island of a ship. We ended the trip the way we started – in lines. Security checks, luggage pick-up, final ship check-out, airport security and waiting in a crowded airport only to have your flight be an hour delayed with you sitting in the plane for 30 minutes before even moving.

All in all, this was a great experience and for a person who was skeptic about cruises, I would most definitely do a cruise again. Although I would much rather do my own thing, for a short trip where not much thinking needs to be done except choosing what free shows to see, where to eat free food and whatnot, this type of travelling is perfect for it.

Falmouth, Jamaica – Oasis of the Sea – 2013 – Day 4-5

03/19/13

Woke up and made our way to Johnny Rockets for breakfast (which is free for breakfast only) then made our way to the track where we did a nice walk around to take in the view and wonderful weather since we had worked out the night previously. When we finally docked, we made our way to the Artisan market and I grabbed some Blue Mountain coffee beans. Shortly after, we met with our group to go on our horseback riding and swim excursion with Chukka tours. From Falmouth, we drove an hour to another parish named St Ann’s – Bob Marley’s hometown. We also drove through Usain Bolt’s hometown of Trelawny.

In Jamaica, they drive on the left like Australia and London. There are houses alongside the highway that look run down or abandoned but in reality they are houses that are slowly being built. Their way of life is to save a little and build a little to customize their homes or even to expand on the land to share space with family. They have a motto about Jamaica as everyone is seen not by the color of skin but as equal people – “out of many, one people”. It’s only been 51 years that Jamaica is independent as the Spanish ruled the land until 1665 when British took control until 1962. English is one of their national languages as well as Creole however it’s a different broken down version. Wha ta gwan is how they say how’s it going? To say yes is yeah Mon; no is e e with a head shake like a dolphin noise. Irie is how they say it’s good. And they have words that are made up of different languages like yes siouiya which is English-spanish-french-german. To introduce yourself to the group “I” isn’t used to describe yourself as “me” is what they would use. So it would be “me name is Rosanna, me from Canada, me live Toronto, me like mangoes”.

Our guide Courtney for horseback riding was full of great energy. My horse’s name was Imagination. We rode through a course that was beautiful and very fortunate for us to be in. Crazy to have the opportunity to ride horses in the water too. Make sure your feet aren’t too far into the stirrup and to hold tight enough to control their movement. It was a cool experience (my first time riding) but I felt bad for the horses when we were in the water as they are trudging around and panting a little from the energy they are using and salt water. When we finished our ride, we ordered jerk chicken with rice and jerk sauce – so good especially with a cold Red Stripe beer. An hour ride back to the port kicking back listening to the music of Bob Marley. Being from Scarborough, we grabbed a Jamaican patty to see how good it would be. I think back home has better as it seemed like the ones here were just meat paste and not thick at all (mind you, we did purchase from a stall in the port and not locally).

Back to Opal theater for the Headliner show that consists of 5 men and just their mouths being the instruments. We grabbed front row and centre seats since we arrived early. The show was well performed but at times it got awkward when you locked eyes with the performers. We made our way to On-air where karaoke was happening and watched for a bit before heading to solarium for a dance night.

03/20/13

It’s a cruise day. We went to solarium for breakfast which is suppose to be the healthier option but it just didn’t taste as good (go figure). We then lounge on the top deck for a few hours before heading to Central Park to have lunch in Park Cafe where you can make customizable salads and paninis. We caught the tail end show of the belly flop competition. Back to Opal theater for bingo where we unfortunately didn’t win but used a electronic bingo unit. The ship feels like an island in itself that each floor holds something different. By now, Windjammers was our go-to spot for meals. We attended the Summer Breezes performance back at Opal theater where cast members of Hairspray performed with the Oasis band. There was a fountain performance which was basically what it is; the water fountains going off with lights to music. We left and headed to the Promenade where it was 70’s boogie night. There was another dance night happening but I all of a sudden got hit with motion sickness/headache which was the only time on this trip I had even felt the ship. It’s strange to be on such a large vessel that you forget you are at sea.

Labadee, Haiti – Oasis of the Sea – 2013 – Day 3

03/18/13

We woke up to find our bodies burnt from the sun the previous day.

We went back to opus for buffet breakfast which features smoke salmon. Right after breakfast, the ship docked at Labadee Port and intercoms announcements about the schedule for the day. We left the ship and hopped on a little speedboat for our Haitian cultural tour which took us to a private beach where we were dropped off in the water (knee high waters) to walk to shore. We were given complimentary drinks with Haitian rum. Our guide Pierre brought us around this little section where we saw some of the plants the Haitians use for everyday uses. Haitians try to use all the natural resources to make their life easier by living off the land. The country has been under major turmoil but they make the best of what they have.

We were shown an example of what some of the houses they live in which consist of structures made from branches, leaves, mud and clay. Pierre told us since he was a child when it rains he would just get naked and take a shower and till this day he continues to do so. We saw locals demonstrating everyday life routines such as a fisherman making lobster traps out of bamboo. Did you know they use fruit to capture lobsters – fact: lobsters are vegetarians. We saw local ladies making peanut butter with nothing but Haitian peanuts and using a mortar & pestle then adding some pepper flakes for a little kick. It is absolutely delicious. We were also shown the same technique for making coffee. Over a hot stone surface, they made cassava bread/pizza/naan which was made with just shred cassava and sugar.  Our little haven of a beach was lovely with white sand and palm trees that nestled us from the sun.

In Creole to say hello/what’s going on you say Sak pasé and they answer nabulé.

Returning to the main beach at Labadee Port which is owned by royal Caribbean, we ate jerk chicken and ribs along the beach side (all provided by the cruise line). At the very far depths of the beach, there were a few beach courts where we managed to find our BC friends Joel, his wife Anita, their boys Rylan & Landon as well as their friends Ian and Ramira. The water was wonderful but rocky. We played volleyball for a bit then would occasionally take a dip. The area was nice but it was hot and the courts had rocks stabbing at your feet. We spent majority of the day on the island before heading back to our room around 230-3PM. We then rested for a bit then went back up to the Upper deck to Wipe out to make ourselves nachos and grab ice cream.

The promenade will have nights where there are sales such as a $10 blowout sale on items such as scarves, watches, bracelets, ties, wallets etc. Our first show of the evening was by the front deck on the 14th floor below the solarium to take in the Sunset in Haiti. Once the sun went down and we made out way over for the Oasis Dream Aqua theater for their performance. It’s an amazing show with people diving from all over the place including the very top of the 16 floor ship to the 6th. To describe how spectacular and well coordinated a show it was is to let you know the the stage runs on hydraulics but looks like a normal stage however the platform lowers and becomes a pool which gets lowered and raised for certain routines which is such a crazy thing because worst case scenario, the stage isn’t low enough when the diver jumps it could be their demise. There is also a trampoline that is built into the floor that rotates in. Great show and also so many good looking people with great bodies. We moved from that show to another – Jerome Bell performance. Jerome was on American Idol and now stars as Seaweed in the musical Hairspray on the ship as well. After the show, we walked around the boardwalk and grabbed some cookies and pizza before deciding to head back to our room and changing to go workout.

Oasis of the Sea – 2013 – Day 1-2

02/16/13

I went on my first cruise with Royal Caribbean – Oasis of the Sea on their 7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise. I travelled with my friend Joanne. We picked up a last minute deal and flew down to Fort Lauderdale with WestJet and with our deal we also have included gratuity and airport transfers. We boarded the boat at Fort Everglade (a 10 minute drive away from the airport) and cruise for a day before we arrive in Haiti at Labadee port which is it’s own private manmade beach area. So what is there to do while we cruise; tons of activities on the boat.

To check in, you go from line to line but that is expected with such a large vessel. After the airport transfer we had a security check then a final check in where we received of sea passes which is like the octopus cards in Hong Kong. It’s cool as they embed your photo into the strip of the card. We were then led to walk the boardwalk on the 5th deck of the ship which looks like a mall and not a ship. We then went to the solarium which was suggested for food as there are healthier food selections. Aftering finally settling into our statesroom, we booked our excursions: cultural tour in Haiti, horseback riding in Jamaica, clear kayak and snorkel in Mexico adding up to $220USD.

In line to book, we met a family who was suppose to depart the same week on Carnival Dream (the boat that broke down at sea) who got the last room on Oasis as someone cancelled. Shortly after booking our excursions, we decided it was time to start soaking in the sun as much sun as we could for the day as it was already 330PM by that time. We stayed outdoors for awhile but realized we had a show that night. The entertainment on the ship is free but you do have to reserve spots (you can call in from your room or book at info desk) We went back to our room and got ourselves ready for dinner and also caught the first sunset aboard. We went to the Windjammers Marketplace for a casual dinner buffet located at the 16th floor at the butt of the ship. Our show for the evening was Frozen in Time – A show on ice. On ice you say? yes, there is a skating rink on the ship. By far the highlights were the couple that did amazing tricks and one handed to no hands tricks and Alexa the sand artist illustrating a story with sand and her hands. After the show we had a second wind and took to the on-board running track and hit the fully loaded gym for a workout.

02/17/13 

You lose track of time on-board a ship. I woke up early and I went directly to the top deck to catch sunrise. It’s nice to see that some people do appreciate a nice sunrise. I walked around almost falling over as the force of the wind came shooting at me. We went for breakfast at the Opus dining buffet. We were “cruising” today so a full day spent on the ship sailing to our first destination. From there we grabbed our seats poolside and planted ourselves there for a good 5 hours soaking in the sun even with the crazy amount of wind. It’s so awesome how there is free soft serve ice cream built into the walls with rotating featured featured flavours.

Continuing trying out all the food options, we went to Wipeout cafe for a late lunch and then back to the room to change for the volleyball competition on the sports court. They have a full sized basketball court on the upper deck with mesh netting surrounding the entire open air top so balls don’t get launched off or around the ship. When we arrived, we made friends with a family from British Columbia. Joel and his sons Landon and Rylan. We also met some other cool people to play with like a group from Georgia – Morgan, Will and Keith. We lost the competition unfortunately as three boys weren’t allowed to play because they were under the age of 18 but we did play again when it became open gym time. We then returned to our rooms to quickly changed for the formal dinner in Opus dining. It is a nice feeling to get dressed up for a semi-formal dinner. The dining experience was nice but it took a while for food to be served which you get instantaneously from the buffet style of the other food options on the boat. From there, we did some cosmic skating. We walked the crowded promenade and made a friend at promenade cafe where they had a great selection of cookies and desserts. We then rushed to the Opal theater to watch the last showing of Hairspray.

Itinerary – Oasis of the Sea – 2013

I went on my first cruise with Royal Caribbean – Oasis of the Sea on their 7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise.

Boarded the Oasis of the Sea in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and travelled through to 3 separate ports:

Labadee, Haiti

Falmouth, Jamaica

Cozumel, Mexico

I travelled with my friend Joanne.

The time on the boat also known as it’s own floating island, there is plenty to do and see. Take in a comedy show, go skating, climb the rock wall, surf on the Flow-rider, gamble in the casino, take in a show, swim in one of the 5 pools, eat to your hearts content and so much more.

FLL_LAB_FMT_CZM_FLL

Day 1 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

-Pick-up from airport

-Check-in & Board the Oasis of the Sea

 

Day 2

-Cruising

 

Day 3 – Labadee, Haiti

-Dock at Port of Labadee

-Optional excursions with a fee

-Take in the manmade beach

 

Day 4 – Falmouth, Jamaica

-Dock at Port of Falmouth

-Optional excursions with a fee

 

Day 5

-Cruising

 

Day 6 – Cozumel, Mexico

-Dock at Port of Cozumel

-Optional excursions with a fee

 

Day 7

-Cruising

 

Day 8 – Fort Lauderdale

-Return to Fort Lauderdale and depart for home

 

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