I’m, totally, buying coffee stock in your next vacation!
We are back from vacation! My family went on a cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Disney Wonder. We’d been planning the trip for several years so that all of us could vacation together. Our group of 25 included parents, my sisters with their husbands and children, and even an aunt & uncle.
Saturday we flew out of Bloomington to Orlando and were met by Aby right as we finished collecting our baggage. She gave us a ride to our hotel to check in, and then we went on a quick shopping trip to the Premium Outlets to update my warm-weather wardrobe. Once I had added a few pairs of shorts and a new polo to my collection, we were off to Clermont, FL where we surprised Scott Hunter by joining him and a group of friends to celebrate his birthday! After dinner we drove to Scott’s house and had a great time visiting before heading to our hotel to get some sleep before casting off the next morning.
Sunday morning Aby provided us a private shuttle service to Cape Canaveral. It was really an excuse to smash in more visiting during the hour-long drive, but it also saved us a car rental. We arrived at the cruise check-in early, there were no lines, and we were able to relax until boarding. I ate a very light breakfast knowing that I’d be eating way too much excellent food once aboard the Wonder. We boarded just before noon, ate at a buffet provided in the Parrot Cay restaurant, and then began exploring the ship. I got a latte at the Cove Cafe, and re-grouped with Emilie, Ethan and Kallie. All three were too young on our last cruise to be in the adult-only section of the ship so that was fun for them too. Anna and Jack also joined us while we sat discussing our plans for the week and sipping our espresso beverages. That night Jantina, Emilie and I ate at Palo while the sun set. I enjoyed both the rack of lamb and the filet and for desert I had both the tiramisu and the chocolate soufflé! Because our family had the late-dinner slot at 8:15, we were able to join them after the 3 of us had finished our meal. I was telling my family that I had just experienced two entrees when their waiter finished the story for me by telling the crowd that I also had two desserts and he specifically knew which two! That was kind of strange in a stalker sort of way. I have no idea how or why he knew what I had just finished eating less than an hour ago! After visiting with the family for a while, we went on to the Diversions lounge to watch the Academy awards. There were actors and actresses there hosting movie trivia for small prizes during the commercial breaks adding to the atmosphere and creating a very festive event, it was a lot of fun!
Monday we docked at Nassau. Ethan, Kallie, Emilie, Jantina and I decided to get a few pictures with the ship as our backdrop while it was docked. Since we were already off the ship we walked around the island shops briefly and then re-boarded to eat lunch at Triton’s where we happened to meet up with more of the family by coincidence. Jantina, Kallie and I then watched The Blind Side and relaxed before getting ready for that evening’s stage show, the Toy Story Musical. That night we had dinner at Triton’s, where I was super-excited to get the Grand Marnier soufflé. I remembered it being my favorite item the last time we had cruised and I was so happy they still had it on the menu. I started by ordering one. Then my wife couldn’t finish hers, so I stepped up to help. Ethan decided he could eat a second soufflé, and when the waiter brought him his second, he also another for me. So I ate that too. At that point things started going down hill fast and before I knew it I had finished the equivalent of at least 5 soufflés! After dinner we changed out of our fancy clothes and went to the theatre on deck 4 to see When in Rome.
Tuesday we docked at Castaway Cay. Jantina, Amie, and Emilie were all excited to get a picture with Jack Sparrow in front of the ghostly pirate ship docked just off shore. We enjoyed the beach, ate lunch on the island, and then took a glass-bottom boat tour. We leaned about the reef, saw many fish, different types of coral, and crabs and other interesting sites. I did try finding a hat, knowing that there wouldn’t be enough sunscreen to protect my bald head all day long. As you can see, I didn’t really find anything appropriate. Jantina and I then headed over to the adult-only beach at Serenity Bay where we lay in a hammock and read our books and magazines for a couple of hours. That night they lowered a screen in the main theater and we watched Alice in Wonderland in 3D. Tim Burton’s take was a bit strange, but it’s worth seeing once. That night was the Pirate Party! We had a pirate-themed dinner and then went on deck for the festivities, fireworks, and even more food as the buffet opened up on deck including over 70 different desserts, turkey legs, fresh crepes, and other food I just didn’t have room for! We went to bed around 11:00 but my Dad, Uncle Jack and Aunt Anna stayed up and watched Pirates of the Caribbean on the jumbo outdoor display.
Wednesday was our day at sea. I woke up early at 5:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep so I decided to get ready for the day and to venture out to see the sunrise. By the time I was ready to leave, my wife decided she was up too and joined me. To our surprise, my sister Katie and Jeff had the same idea and found us so we were able to get some great pictures of each other. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and visiting. I had coffee with mom in the morning, then read a book on deck enjoying the sunshine, had coffee with dad in the afternoon, re-joined more family in the theatre to see The Princess and the Frog, and that evening was dinner at Animator’s Palate. Since this was our last night with our servers we gave them a big rowdy standing ovation, took pictures and exchanged Facebook information. They did a fabulous job serving us the entire cruise, bringing us every manner of extra over-the-top entrees many times over and anticipating our every want.
Thursday morning we woke already docked. We packed up last minute things and grabbed breakfast at Animator’s Palate before getting a group picture and disembarking. Again, “Aby Taxi” picked us up and we made our way back to Orlando. Jantina and I went to Artist Point with my parents to jointly celebrate our mutual wedding anniversaries. My favorite item there is the Smokey Portobello mushroom soup, which I enjoyed, however I was disappointed that my favorite dessert, Coffee Two-ways, had been discontinued. When we arrived back at the hotel that night, the Renaissance surprised us with chilled Champaign and chocolate-covered strawberries to wish us a happy anniversary also!
Friday it rained all day so we took that opportunity to go monorail hopping. We started at the Polynesian. Ethan and I ordered Kona blend coffees while the rest of our party started looking through the shops. Then we hopped on the monorail and went to the Grand Floridian. We especially enjoyed learning about bath bombs and salt & sugar exfoliating soaps. Once we were done making a mess at Basin, we were back on the monorail to the Contemporary. We decided to get lunch and we couldn’t break the habit of getting ice cream after our meal, only this time it cost us like five dollars each! We got used to that being included on the cruise… oh well, we are on vacation right? Then we left the family and drove to Clermont to visit with Jamie, Nate & Hannah for a few hours before our dinner at Season’s 52 with Emilie! It was wonderful, and afterward we met Aby for gelato, spent some time looking around Barnes & Noble, then we added Ethan to our group for more visiting and a spontaneous trip to Downtown Disney where we had yet another coffee from Ghirardelli.
Saturday Jantina went to meet Donna to visit, shop, and dine while I went to Epcot with Mom, Dad, Anna, Jack, Marilyn, and Jeff. We visited The Land attraction, the Coca-Cola exhibit, and ate lunch at the Rose & Crown before heading to Paris. Jantina joined me, as well as Ethan, Kallie, and Emilie and by this time our Fast Passes were ripe for Soarin’. Anna and Jack joined us for the Californian adventure and then we all went our separate ways again. Jantina and I went around the World Showcase, she picked out a dessert in Norway, I tried a canned coffee from Japan and Jantina tried red-bean-paste wheat buns that are frequently featured in many of the Japanese anime shows she watches. Then we drove again to Clermont to visit with Aby, Nate and Hannah before joining Jamie at church that night. After the service we had a great time visiting with Aby, Scott & Jamie and even iChatted Jenn into the conversation. We had some great pizza from a local place called Smashmouth and it was so yummy! With the time change springing us forward an hour and our early flight Sunday morning, we had to call it an early night.
We had a great vacation! It was very relaxing; we got to enjoy great company and way too much great food. I feel like I shouldn’t eat for days now!
Intro (skip to Music Seen article if you’re impatient)
I was taking our dog for a walk about an hour or so ago thinking about the events of the day and my station in life when it occurred to me, “I should post this!” Well, after it just took me about a half hour to log on to this site as me (I love computers!), I decided not to share. What is life without a little mystery?! Here’s a little sample of what it’s like to be me, though. The music side of me, the side that’s safe, but opinionated (in a good way).
Since I last posted I’ve seen the Chicago band Hairbanger’s Ball twice in Bloomington and I’ve seen Skillet, Puddle of Mudd, and Shinedown in Peoria. Hairbanger’s Ball was pretty good, but not great when I saw them in January. When I saw them again last month, they were at the height of their glory. The following is a post I made on their Web site, hairbangersball.com:
Your show at Daddios on Saturday was a full-frontal musical assault! From your set opening Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” to Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” (1st set) you kept the energy flowing and the crowd jumping. Thanks for adding Journey to your set along with Claire and The Kid. Polly, with her rock-star stage presence, was awesome as usual! An added bonus this time, was arriving early and catching you guys at sound check without your wigs and get-up on. You guys never fail to deliver, but this show rocked even harder than usual! Keep rockin’!
My friend and I were in the front row at this show! We were close enough to touch the stage and bump fists with and hi-five the lead singers! Unfortunately you won’t see us under their pictures tab since we left after the first set and all the pictures were taken during the second set. Oh well.
Their next show at Daddios in Bloomington is 10 p.m. March 27.
The concert collaboration of Skillet, Puddle of Mudd, and Shinedown was a mixed bag. Let me start with the least memorable band, Puddle of Mudd. They played the two songs I like, “Blurry” and “Spaceship,” and a host of forgettable songs that kept coming back to “She Hates Me.” They seemed to go over their allotted time, but kept on playing, even returning to the stage once to play another round of “She Hates Me,” no doubt.
The headliner, Shinedown, was only slightly better. They, also, have about two songs that I really like, “If You Only Knew” and the song that I can never get enough of, “Fly From The Inside.” Some of my issues with them in concert, though, are this: They only played about half of “Fly From The Inside” while they played an extended version of “45” (which I hate) that included a rambling anti-suicide message. The lead singer didn’t realize that loud, fast, continuous music gets people going at a concert not slowed-down filler and frequent breaks in the music to give pep talks, one of which included (I kid you not), “No more yawning.”
In all, Shinedown’s strength as a band is found in their lead singer’s voice. He is, without question, one of my favorite singers. Their songwriting could use a little work as a whole, including adding more songs with a wider variety of tempos (especially faster tempos for their live performances) and they need more interesting drums (I say as a drummer). They definitely have the potential to appeal to me more with some tweaking, but I will always love them for the two songs I mentioned above.
Now I come to the best performance of the night, which also happened to be the first, Skillet. They opened their set with “Hero” with a driving beat and drummer singing backup. One of the few bands I know of with a female drummer and she was awesome! She had a flat black set with platinum cymbals that she played with agitated finesse. They soon followed up with “Monster” which, although not my favorite song, rocked live! They played with such intensity that mosh pits opened up on two different songs (the only mosh pits the whole night) and people were just crazy into it. Toward the end of their disappointingly short set (due to them being an opening band, not the headliners), they pulled one off of the album, “Collide” (2003), which happens to be the only Skillet CD I have ever owned until now. I believe they played, “Under My Skin” and it was great to hear some of their old stuff. They kept the energy high, the crowd pumped, and added interest to their set by adding electric string instruments at times.
Going in to this concert, I expected that either Skillet or Shinedown would be the show-stealers of the evening, and I was not disappointed. Skillet dominated and I hope to see them again!
My next concert will be: Winter Jam at Redbird Arena (Normal) on 6 p.m. March 27. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show ends around 10 p.m.
Billed as “Christian music’s largest tour,” this show is a family-friendly event with a lengthy line-up of Christian artists including: Newsong, Newsboys, Third Day, Fireflight … etc. It only costs $10 at the door (no advance tickets necessary or available) and is sure to be amazing. I attended a Winter Jam in Peoria (?) a few years back and really liked it. I’m taking my son for sure. He’s 13 and needs some more concerts under his belt. Cool. See you there!