Caribbean Cruise — Taking off!

Before leaving on the cruise, we had to leave family.  Leave Cocoa Beach, leave Florida, leave land.

After leaving the dock in Tampa on Jan. 5th at 4 p.m., OF COURSE it started clouding up. All of you who would eventually FREEZE last week just couldn’t stand it. You HAD to send that cold front down to play havoc with our cruise!! hehe! But we were “fine” up until Wednesday night.

Here are a few shots of getting out of the Tampa Bay Harbor, which took over 2 and a half HOURS to accomplish!! ARGH! Because the channel for large boats is SSOO narrow, we had all of that water, but had to pass other large ships much closer than I would have liked. Getting out of the harbor was the entertainment for that first evening, other than walking all over the ship to see what we could see the next day!


Here are some of the miscellaneous pictures from the cruise that we didn’t want to spend  the money to transmit aboard ship. Unfortunately, though they are more or less in time order, that makes them out of order on here and kind of hard to follow. Just read the descriptions with each and you’ll get the general flavor of visiting the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico.

Approaching Paradise. Literally! The name of the ship was the “Paradise”!

Leaving Tampa!


 They’ll never catch us now!


We made it UNDER the Skyway Bridge going out of the Tampa Bay Harbor.  Looked like we “just barely” made it!

  My favorite color!

RULE OF THUMB for computer time onboard a cruise ship. You can buy internet time, using your own laptop OR the computers in the “Fun Hub” or a similar computer center onboard ship. Averages about $.65/min, so you need to keep the transmission of photos to a minimum. Words transmit quickly (for emails), but accessing the internet for “surfing” purposes or Facebook perusal can be VERY costly! Even if you’re a speed reader, the speed of changing screens and downloading info or uploading pictures is at the speed of DSL or something slower, which will eat up your minutes RAPIDLY. Sending pictures really SHOULD wait until you’re onshore in the USA. UNLESS the picture you’re sending is to INTERPOL of some international jewel thief or terrorist. Then your money might be well spent!

Phones and texts are a different kettle of fish. AT&T will sell you an International package starting at $30 for a month’s worth of unlimited texting (to add to your regular calling plan, whatever that is). We could send all of the texts that we wanted to, from our phone (not iMessage), but any pictures would fall under the 120 MB of data transfer, so we didn’t send very many attached to texts.

Caribbean Cruise – Day 1

Y’all AIN’T GONNA BELIEVE THIS!! Click on this video to see what happened while we were in Cozumel! The most exciting thing to happen on our trip and we were sleeping through it (on another ship)!!

While we were in the harbor at the Cayman Islands (on Wednesday, 1/7/15), we saw 3 other cruise ships out in the water with us — another Carnival ship (Freedom), a Holland America ship (Nieuw Amsterdam), and a Disney ship (we couldn’t see the name). It’s a “tender port” which means that the harbor is too shallow for large ships to dock, so they send little boats out to the moored cruise ships and bring passengers ashore. All four ships were in the water off Cayman, and three of the ships (the two Carnivals and Disney) headed toward Cozumel within hours of each other at the end of the day on Wednesday.

All ships coming into Grand Cayman port have to anchor off-shore and passengers are put on water-taxis to get to the shore.

During the wee hours of Thursday morning, as we were steaming toward Cozumel (we were on the last of the 4 ships to arrive in Cozumel), a 22-year-old man “fell overboard” off a Royal Caribbean ship (Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world) as it approached Cozumel port from elsewhere. Don’t know how far out to sea the ship still was, but in this video, the waves were “open water” waves. Shortly (not sure yet how long the man had to tread water) after he fell in, the Disney Magic was making toward port. David Hearn and his daughter, on the Magic, were on deck at 6:30 a.m. to watch the Magic come into port and they heard a “weird bird cry.”

Out in the open sea, they could barely see arms being waved at the ship, and they contacted a crew member, who propelled a life preserver overboard (it has a gas cartridge beside it on the ship’s railing) toward the man in the water. The crew member then notified the bridge, which sent an immediate order (and signal throughout the ship — MOB [Man Over Board]) to release the “instant release rescue” boat and to stop the ship. 20 minutes later, the man was rescued. Ironically, the two ships were docked next to each other at Cozumel when we arrived.

Caribbean Cruise — Cayman Islands

Some “recently discovered” pictures from the Grand Cayman portion of the cruise.

The one important part was the wedding. We met the new parents-in-law, from Duluth, GA, on the front deck on the first night out. The wife had an accent that I could recognize, though her husband’s accent proved that he “wasn’t from ’round heyah.”

Their son would be getting married when we arrived in Grand Cayman. Never thought we’d hear about the wedding again, but we saw the bride and her maid-of-honor. Can you imagine carting all of that fur-fru and finery to another country to get married? Wait a minute! Seems like our DAUGHTER and SON-IN-LAW did that 17+ years ago!! In Jamaica! More power to all of those brave enough to attempt the high seas AND carry all of your finery with you to do that!!



Just basking on the walkway!


Heading out to swim with the sting rays, at appropriately named “Sting Ray City.”
Many different “excursion boats” at the time gather at “Sting Ray City.” You just have to remember which one you came on so you get back to the right place!
Local “residents” seen on the walk to swim with the Dolphins.


There’s a Margaritaville in every port!
We couldn’t dock at the shore, because the bay was too shallow. All shore visits at Cayman started with a “water taxi.”

NEXT TIME we go back to the Cayman’s, we want to take a TOUR of the island (Grand Cayman). Getting to play with stingrays and dolphins was phenomenal, but we spent so much time on the buses and boats getting to and from Dolphin Cove and Stingray City that we didn’t get to see/do anything else! Not EVEN to visit Margaritaville!!


Caribbean Cruise — on board ship

MORE miscellaneous leftovers…, including the cruise ship that lost the man overboard (Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas — the largest cruise ship in the world!) last Thursday (1/8/15), without realizing that he was overboard! The Disney Magic came by several hours later, threw him a life preserver and stopped to pick him up. Ironically, those two ships are side by side here, where they docked when we were all in port at Cozumel, Mexico.

I’ve gotta get down THERE?!?

 Kissing Cousins!



The place of our noon meal.
The looooong building you have to go through to get from the ships to the shore. “Affectionately” known as the “tourist trap.”
Our drinks arrive!

Feeding our faces.

If you’re on a cruise where the last day of the trip is a “day at sea” (no stops before you arrive home), check out the possibility of taking a “tour of the ship” as one of your excursions.  FASCINATING!  Ours lasted about 3 hours (you HAVE to be able to walk and climb stairs well, ’cause they go down to areas where the only elevators are to the kitchen or laundry rooms), and ended up on the bridge.  Of course, I wanted to be the one (in red) standing next to the Italian Captain in our “class trip” picture!

Caribbean Cruise — reflections on trip

Every night while on our cruise, our room steward, Tryana (from Indonesia), made us a different “towel critter.” I can only find 4 of the 5 pictures of the ones he created and left for us, during his “turn down” service.

I know that, on our last cruise, I attended a “towel class” where we were taught how to fold the towels like these creatures.

And I know that I bought a BOOK that shows you how to “create” with towels and washcloths.

But I also know that my granddaughter hasn’t digested that book yet to show me how to do these. So. I’ll have to settle for taking pictures of the ones that someone else does!



On our last day onboard, we took a tour of the ship.  AMAZING!  THAT was the best tour we’ve EVER taken!  Cost about $50/each and can only be taken if there is one full day before docking (“day at sea”), but it is WELL worth it!

The “Tour of the Ship” group. I’m never far from the Captain of the boat (on his left, in red)! hehe!

Caribbean Cruise — leaving

AFTER leaving the Port of Tampa, but before heading north to go home from our cruise, we detoured.

Southwest of Tampa, entrance/exit to Tampa Bay, Anna Maria Island, the last inhabited island (south of Tampa) protruding from the mainland out into the Gulf of Mexico. Rich developers were turned away years ago and the island fathers refused them buying or building permits to build large hotels or resorts on the island. Thank the Lord for that, because every square inch of the island is covered in houses. Charming places, to be sure, but COVERED in houses. The island is no longer “pristine,” but it still maintains its “small town” atmosphere because there are no resorts there. No MASSIVE traffic snarls. No HUNDREDS of tourists walking the sidewalks to the 2-3 small restaurants and “touristy” properties on the island.

You’ll never know what you’ll see on the streets of Anna Maria Island!

It is a beautiful place, nonetheless, very peaceful and calm. At least in January it is. In June, that might be a different story. We saw “snowbirds” (Yankees that come down to “winter” in Florida) everywhere, as well as locals.

But there was a BIG difference between the snowbirds and the locals, as evidenced by their apparel. The snowbirds wore shorts and sandals in that 56 degree weather. The locals were covered with coats, hoods/hats, boots, and gloves/mittens. A parade of life!!

IF, and that’s a big IF, the island maintains its allure, even with the “carbon unit infestation” during the summer (see “Star Trek, the Movie” for that reference! hehe!), we might have to vacation there one day!!

The only hotel on Anna Maria Island
All of the houses on Anna Maria Island look similar — 2+ stories, big square houses, bright or muted colors, no yard but bricks.

Beautiful houses!  Very low maintenance yards!


The MOST interesting part of our visit to Anna Maria Island actually had nothing to do with the island, other than its attraction to other people.


On the Gulf beach, at the Visitor’s Center, we met a young couple from Hamburg, Germany. All because the wife was doing handstands on a blanket in the sand. Most of you know me and know that I talk to sign posts, so a simple little thing like someone, all alone, doing handstands on the beach, is NOT going to escape my notice. Or my conversation!! Antja (the “j” is pronounced like a “y”) was a few months pregnant, nearing 40, but a beautiful girl nonetheless. And quite athletic, too! Her husband, Christoph, was watching their small son as he played on the Jungle Gym set about 30 feet away. They each spoke excellent English, though Antja said that now that she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get to practice her English as often. Sharing with them our own experiences of living in Germany made Antja much more at ease, once we stood there for a while.

We got no last names, but after we left, we realized that the terribly tall Christoph (over 6’5″) “might” be someone famous over there, although you couldn’t prove it by us. When I told them that I would be writing about them, Christoph put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Ah, another book!” If I’d had the sense to take a picture of the three of them, someone here might be able to tell me whether we brushed greatness or not!! But by that time, Dorkus here was TIRED of travel and still had 5 hours of driving to get to our beds for that night (which was only 2/3 of the way home).

Hope you have enjoyed our anniversary, cruise, and vacation as much as we did!

NEXT, takeaways from this trip.

PROPOSED Wyoming Trip

OK, life is about to be complete-ER. The people in Buffalo, WY have decided to have “Longmire Days” again this year. And WE ARE GOING!!!

The TV show “Longmire” was cancelled last year by a young-people-are-the-only-ones-who-count jerk-wad executive at A&E (who later resigned after all of the hoopla by the we’re-over-the-hill-and-we-still-matter crowd hit the fan).

So, for a long time, there was no word as to whether or not “Longmire Days” in Buffalo, WY would ever be held in July again. Buffalo is the home of the AUTHOR of the “Longmire” series, Craig Johnson, so they have always held “Longmire Days” near his home. Complete with visits by (some of) the actors that portray the characters in the TV series, including Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips, etc. Buffalo is the also the de facto model for the town in the “Longmire” series, the fictional Durante, WY.

But “Longmire” has finally been picked up by Netflix and will begin shooting the 4th season of the show in March 2015. So “Longmire Days” in Buffalo is a GOOOO! And this time, Jimmy and I are GOOOOOOing!!

Now. My reason for saying all of this is that we want YOUR ideas of places to visit while we’re on the way there and back. We need to be in Buffalo by July 15th and will stay 4-5 days. We leave Ashland City, Tenn. (where we attend a family reunion there almost every summer) sometime after the 4th of July, headed northwest into the great unknown. I’m sure that Mt. Rushmore, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, etc. will be part of the purview, as will Cheyenne and Denver on the way home.

What else is “out there” that you’ve seen and recommend? We’ve seen St. Louis, but nothing west of there, that far north. Taking recommendations.

Let us know, ’cause Jimmy’s Twitter finger is dying to tweet!


Great Western Odyssey — anticipation!

Tell all of your friends to “like” this page, so everyone can keep up with the Great Western Odyssey that will be pulling out of here next week!


Well, we’re gonna crank up the Prius about this time next week and head north and west. The REAL west!

Yes, that’s the “covered wagon” we used for the whole trip!

First, we’re heading to our family reunion for the 4th of July outside of Nashville. After that, it’s first to Kansas City overnight and meet with a Principal who wants to meet and talk about some of my books.

Then, it’s several days of what seems to be continual driving, mostly 8 hours per day and less. Maybe I can get another book written while we’re on the road! West to Denver for overnight (Kansas is a WIDE state!). Up to Cheyenne then west to Salt Lake City, then up to West Yellowstone KOA for 5 nights. Using that as a base, we’ll go to Jackson Hole, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.

Over and down to Buffalo, WY for 7 nights. Longmire Days Festival is 7/17-19 and we’ll stay at the same hotel (only 4 star hotel in a 2-star town; all the rest were 1-stars) for day trips to Deadwood, Little Big Horn, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments. Then across SD to someplace with a drugstore. Wall, SD, I think. That’s the only “thing” in that town. Down to Kansas City again, where I have 2-3 speeches (same topic) at different libraries. Then back to my brother’s house in Ashland City for a couple of days, then home by the 28th or 29th.

THIS, and the lack of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee between Salt Lake City and Kansas City again, more than anything else, will test the mettle of a marriage!!

YES, Bad Guys, there WILL be someone in our house watching out for your approach!!


Great Western Odyssey — Family “Leg” of the trip!

What a start to a month-long Western Odyssey!

SERIOUSLY rained in Dalton, causing traffic to crawl at 37 mph. Traffic crawled through Chattanooga because those DOT people have YET to recognize, 50 years later that the I-24 chicanes through town are STILL only 2 lanes past downtown. Can you say northbound FUNNEL?!? Southbound traffic CREPT past us as we picked up speed near Nickajack Dam.

If you've got to take I-24 east between Nashville and Chattanooga today, take a room and wait until tomorrow. 3 different backups, SB/EB each with traffic STOPPED DEAD STILL for 1 to 5 miles long. So far…

Rain on Monteagle, but there's a @Dunkin'Donuts at the top, so we calmed down a mite. Until we crested the mountain.

A fiery tractor-trailer rig on fire, on southbound I-24, just north of the crest of Monteagle, TN. Scary!

Traffic will be stopped just before the top, southbound on I-24 for a few week this day. Tractor fully engulfed in flames. The couldn't detach the trailer because the inferno was too great!!!

Onward toward Nashville! Pray for that truck driver. Wish I knew about his safety. I'll check my secret sources and get back to you…

Great Western Odyssey — Family “Leg” of the trip!

Mama, I’m home! Almost. My dear departed mother, Vivian Rebekah Binkley Wright, was born and raised in Ashland City, TN, so every year, we have family reunions near there. God’s Country.

Saw this in Scottsboro, just down the road from Ashland City. Made me feel VERY welcome!!

Not ours, but what a good name for a country store!
And I agree with them!  I sure felt at home in this store!