My Ireland Experience: A Bucket List Gig

Standard

Ireland was a bucket list gig for me, and now that I’ve been there, it’s a bucket list gig to go back again, and again, and again for all of eternity. It will NEVER leave my list.

My family, our ancestry, and by proxy so much of my identity is held tightly in the arms of those of us from both parental sides who emigrated from Ireland and Scotland ages ago. I remember the moment my grandmother shared with me her letters and scraps of paper (which I still have) with handwritten family trees leading back to Ireland and Scotland.  That would begin my obsession with genealogy. Both sides, McConnell and McCoy trace back to Ireland, but the McConnell stories are the ones I had ready and consistent access to.

I was lucky enough to take this trip of a lifetime with my daughter in August of 2017 for seven days, as a gift for her high school graduation…and the gift of a life long goal for me. She could have chosen to go just about anywhere, but she chose Ireland. She has inherited a lot of my interest in our roots, and she identifies with it in much the same way I do.

Let me tell you – it was every single thing I ever thought it would be and SO MUCH MORE. I give to you … our Ireland experience.

Not long after we landed in Dublin, excited and tired, our first adventure began. Renting the car. I had reserved an automatic, because even though I know plenty good and well how to drive a standard (I learned on one), we’d also be driving on the left hand side of the road. They were convinced that I had reserved a standard car. I had to spend a lot of time assuring them that I was not the sort to take my life into my own hands by having to concentrate on shifting AND driving in the opposite way of what I’m used to. An hour later and for some extra money that was unplanned, we had an automatic. Crisis averted? Mostly. Driving from the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road takes balls when you’re an American whose never done it before – or it might just be stupid, but you know, face your fears for the sake of adventure right? I had not one iota of practice or preparation for this moment. Only the hope that I wouldn’t kill us or anyone else. I have one thing to say. Giant multiple lane roundabouts. Obviously we survived, and I did eventually get used to it.

PRO TIP: AIR B&B, HOTEL OR REAL BED AND BREAKFASTS?

I rented us an apartment to use as a home base. It was an adorable 2 level cottage built in 1832 with a bright yellow door on Bayview Avenue in North Strand, however, my advice is this:

If you’re staying in Dublin and you only plan to travel to the outskirts of Dublin for day trips (plenty to see that way!) then by all means rent an apartment or stay in a hotel, but not in North Strand. Try for one that’s closer to City Center so that you can walk. North Strand is unsafe and not all that pretty, and it’s also a 20 minute drive from City Center. Even with how cute the cottage was, our surroundings seemed sketchy from the start. The safety issue came to our definite attention when we were not only warned by the gas station attendants twice, but we were also warned by the one taxi driver who finally accepted our fair from City Center to the apartment one evening, after we seriously didn’t understand why we had been ignored by Uber drivers and other taxi drivers. He explained to us that they didn’t want to drive to North Strand at night.

If you plan on driving a few hours in any direction more than once (like we did), do it like a proper gypsy. Stay in different Bed and Breakfasts along the way. Inns and Bed and Breakfasts are plentiful, quaint, convenient and honestly less expensive and less tiring than having a home base to drive back to, plus they feed you GOOD FOOD. We could easily have done it that way for not that much over half the price of having the apartment for the week, and we would have had more time in the places that we loved, and more time for more stops along the way while also being submerged in the Irish countryside where the real beauty is.

We spent our first full day in Ireland tooling around City Center in Dublin. We walked to Dublin Castle, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we lit a candle for my grandmother, and Sky hung my grandmother’s name on the Tree of Remembrance, which is a war memorial first, but also encompasses remembering all those who have been lost to us. We walked down Grafton Street, and we walked all along the River Liffey which runs through Dublin with several bridges that cross it along the way. We visited Trinity College, but we were too late to get in to the famous Trinity Library to see the Book of Kells. We got lost looking for it. Ooops. We did make it to Marsh’s Library where we weren’t allowed to take photos, so of course we took photos. We rode the Hop On Hop Off bus which took us several places, two of which were the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery

PRO TIP: HOP-ON-HOP-OFF BUSSES AND BOOKING AHEAD

I will usually recommend the Hop On Hop Off busses to get the lay of the land pretty much anywhere you go (but not in Berlin!). You can buy 24, 48 or 72 hour passes, there’s always a guide on board or headphones for the recorded guide, and their maps are the best. I also recommend making reservations to actually tour the Guinness Storehouse and/or the Jameson Distillery well ahead of time, or you might miss it.

Irish Coffee, Saint Bridget’s Well, and The Cliffs of Mohor: 

Our first road trip was to the Cliffs of Moher in Liscannor, County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. It’s a beautiful, expansive, rolling green three hour drive from Dublin. We passed sheep and cow filled pastures (fluffy Irish cows!) that wound past farm after farm, and fields of giant windmills. It was green for as far as the eye could see.

Driving through Ireland with Sky will always be one of the best and most meaningful memories I’ll ever look back on for all of my life. We blasted Siouxsie as loud as we could. We sang every Smiths song at the top of our lungs. Siouxsie used to remind me of highschool. Now she reminds me of us speeding through the Motherland together. It’s a treasure in my heart.

As we got closer to the cliffs, we got off the main roads on to the small and narrow country roads walled in by low rock barriers and lush low hanging greenery that closed in on us at every turn. The Irish travel these roads at much higher speeds than I was comfortable with given that there was only room for one car at a time. There were a lot of “oh shits” and “bloody hells” to be had from this American girl sitting on the wrong side of the car driving on roads that had no side at all.

The car park at the beginning of the cliffs was full up, which left us with some time on our hands for a proper Irish coffee made by a proper Irishman in a proper pub called Consioine’s (Sky had hot chocolate). It also left time for an impromptu visit to Saint Bridget’s Well – a sacred well steeped in the Pagan roots that I feel so close to, and where we spent more time than planned…just because. Note: Saint Bridget is her Catholic name, but make no mistake, Brigid is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland.

We could see the beauty of the ocean from where we were, but there is nothing that could have prepared me for what we would see once we walked the long walk through the fields and climbed up the hillside to get out to those massive cliffs. Nothing could prepare me for how it would feel to stand out there with the wind and the mind-bendingly beautiful drop straight down to the sea below. To be standing on those cliffs in Ireland watching Sky as she was standing on the same ground looking at the same expanse as me was a real dream come true moment. I was where I have always wanted to be. It was as if Ireland had wrapped me up in her arms and bestowed upon me a quiet and peace I’d never known before. I listened to that quiet. It spoke to me. I sat down and legit cried.

We climbed all over where ever we could. I watched Sky climb out to places with her camera where my heart sank at the thought of the drop. Her feet dangled over the edge. We walked along those cliffs for a long long way, and as the sun began to set we found ourselves in a spot where there were more stacked rocks than we could count. There are those who say they wish tourists wouldn’t make these cairns, because it’s a bother to clear them. I disagree. They meant something to who ever made them. The way the setting sun rested across them was peaceful and beautiful.  A modern yet ancient testament to the sacredness of where we were standing.

We made the long and misty trek back along the cliffs and through the fields, stopping to trespass into where the fluffy Irish cows stood for some photos, and then back to the car. We stayed the night in the tiny surf town of Lahinch at the Sancta Maria Hotel.

PRO TIP: Go horseback riding at Mountain View Horse Riding Center. Request to ride Max. Don’t question it. Just do it.

Irish Horses, Irish Sunsets, and Twin Peaks:

Sky knew I had always wanted to go horseback riding in Ireland, and we had talked about it, but we hadn’t made the move to seek it out. The next morning she found us a place that had an opening that day. I was EXCITED beyond measure.

We drove 20 minutes to the Mountain View Horse Riding Centre. We showed up about 45 minutes early (that’s how excited I was, omg) in hopes that we could get some good shots of the horses and of the countryside. We weren’t far from the cliffs at all, we could see the ocean. We were openly welcomed by the owner and horse whisperer himself, Peter Williams. He took us around and introduced us to all the horses, his son and his border collie dog. He allowed us to meander through the stables on our own. I rode Max, a formidable and sweet Irish draft horse. We were submerged in the quiet of the Irish countryside on horseback. Sky was happy. I was happy. We passed old famine ruins, and sprawling hills and we rode along the seaside…and we were allowed to RUN. There is NO BETTER EXPERIENCE. Peter continually yelled back to me asking, “Aye Erin, are ya happy!?” I was indescribably happy, yes.

When the two hour ride was over, he allowed us to stay on for the next ride. We rode for nearly 4 hours that day, me on Max and Sky on her horse. When we were done, my legs were absolute jelly, to which Peter replied, “Have yourself a hot whiskey, you’ll be just fine!” Peter gave us a lot of special one on one attention, and seemed genuinely happy to do so. He showed us more of the stables, and he told us stories of taming untamable horses, his mother and father, his life, and his love for Ireland. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.

Since we were a few hours behind schedule (SO WORTH IT) Peter was nice enough to call in a favor for us to stay at a bed and breakfast not too far away – as luck would have it someone checked out early, and he secured our spot. We were off to Twin Peaks Bed and Breakfast on Fisher Street in Doolin. It’s a super cute place with a view of the sunset like nobody’s business, and the best Irish breakfast ever. We checked in, and walked to Gus O’Connor’s Pub where I had a proper Guinness with bangers and mash. We sat and listened to live Irish music, and then we walked the little town at sunset. The next day we drove the three hours back to Dublin for some much needed resting time. We were dead tired.

Trim Castle, Giant’s Causeway and a Wee Cottage:

The next adventure was upon us. This time we’d drive to Giant’s Causeway located in Bushmills, County Antrim on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Giant’s Causeway is also three hours from Dublin, but we decided to stop for a visit to Trim Castle first, since it’s on the way.

Trim Castle was part of the set for Braveheart. You know, the one about Scotland that was filmed mostly in Ireland? Make no mistake, I love that movie, even if it’s historically inaccurate, which the ticket takers at the entrance of Trim Castle will be sure to point out. It’s one of the largest stone castles to be built in Ireland and one of the largest Norman castles in Europe covering 30,000 square meters. It covers a lot of ground, and I wish we’d had more time there. PSA, do not eat the fish and chips at the little place right outside the castle entrance, where all of the Braveheart actors apparently ate. It sucks. Just…don’t do it.

With time ticking and two more hours to go (and the fact that we are not and never will be early risers, so no morning starts for us), we set out for Giant’s Causeway. As we passed through to Northern Ireland it went from Irish to British post haste. Upon arriving, the visitor’s center was closed, but you can walk around the visitor’s center through the open gates straight out onto the road/paths that lead to the causeway. Standing out there on those geometric rocks reminded me quite honestly of the Fortress of Solitude, only made from basalt rather than Kryptonian crystalline. As legend would have it, the columns are supposedly the remains of a causeway built by a giant (go figure). We walked, meandered and climbed as far as we could, and once again we found ourselves standing in a spectacular place in Ireland at sunset, only this time we were level with the sea rather than than so far above it. The sky was prismatic with sunlight. I sat for a long time watching Sky leap from rock to rock, with the sunset in her hair and her camera in hand to capture this place. If we had known better and planned better, I would have given us an extra day and night to drive along the Causeway Coastal Route, visit Ballycastle, and experience the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Next time!

As per usual, in need of rest and food, and running late (nearly 8pm) we went searching for a place to stay. There are lots of choices along Giant’s Causeway. Our first choice was all full up, but they directed us to Smugglers Inn. Smugglers Inn not only had room for us, but they kept the kitchen open late for us which allowed us to dump our things in the room and head back down for a late and delicious dinner, for which we were VERY thankful. I couldn’t shovel it in fast enough.

Dunluce Castle, Belfast, and the Titanic:

The next morning we were off to see Dunluce Castle, just seven minutes away! This medieval Irish castle shoots right out of the basalt ground and is located precisely on the edge of the sea with steep drops to marvel at from it’s ruin windows. Our castle experiences thus far had been that we were able to walk most of the grounds, and usually only partially through the inside which tended to be guided in most cases. Not so at Dunluce. Enter through the giftshop, pay a small fee, and then it’s free reign to explore to your heart’s content. Not to mention it’s featured in Game of Thrones! It’s breathtaking – worth an afternoon.

Thirsty and in need of something sweet, we walked up the hill to the Wee Cottage, which is absolutely worth a sit down. They had the fireplace burning and their handmade desserts were perfect.

We gathered ourselves into the car to head back to Dublin. On our way to Giant’s Causeway, we drove past Belfast – another place I’ve always wanted to go. As we approached Belfast on the way back I mentioned it.

Sky: You wanna stop in?
Erin: Yes. I believe I DO want to stop in.

Belfast is separated with peace walls, which are a series of barriers in Northern Ireland that separate predominantly Republican and Nationalist Catholic neighborhoods from predominantly Loyalist and Unionist Protestant neighborhoods. Truth be told, every time I speak to this subject, I have to look it up, because that conflict is hard to keep straight. Driving next to the peace walls is a stark reminder of all the violence that was prevalent in Northern Ireland for so long. It’s also a reminder that even though the violence has mostly subsided, the divisions are still very much alive. The Britishness of parts of Northern Ireland is also VERY prominently displayed.

Sky noticed the signs for Titanic Belfast. We had room for one last adventure, and this was it. I HIGHLY recommend it. I wasn’t completely sold on it when Sky said she wanted to go, but I’m so very glad we did. This was the best museum experience I’ve ever had, and I wish we’d had a full afternoon to spend there. Take note, it has a ride. One day, I’ll spend a few days in Belfast, and give it the time it deserves – and I’ll absolutely go back to Titanic Belfast.

All good things must come to an end. We made our way back to Dublin, arriving in the dark to pack up and have our last night’s sleep in the arms of the Motherland. I will remain forever thankful to, humbled by, and in love with Ireland. I cried, I swooned, and my heart skipped all the beats. I’ll go back. I’ll always go back.

~JezzabellGem

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loud, Gritty, In-Your-Face and Perfect. Hello NYC.

Standard

*Featured header image: NYC skyline from Central Park taken by JezzabellGem 2016

When I was 18, punk rock, fearless, and ready to get the hell out of dodge, I ran away on a train to New York City, much to my grandmother’s fear and disappointment, which as a parent, I now understand in ways I certainly couldn’t even relate to back then. I was waiting to get into art school, and I just couldn’t fathom staying in my hometown any longer. My high school friend who had moved there just after graduation said to me, “Take the train. Live with me”. So I did, but I didn’t last long. New York City has no patience for the faint of heart.

With swarms of people in a hurry everywhere, bodies fearlessly crushing through the cross walks, and the continual sound of sirens above and beyond the typical noisiness of traffic rushing by and people everywhere, it’s easy to see how the people of New York can become pretty desensitized to most things. It’s even easier to see why they all walk so fast and with such purpose; because New Yorkers are busy people with places to be. Period.

Jumping to the present day, once our flight landed, we hit the ground running with a long and harrowing cab ride from Laguardia to our hotel. Cory stared out the window the whole way while my eyes were fixed on the news ticker that scrolled across the bottom of the tiny TV screen in our cab that read, “Woman falls 8 stories to her death…missing teen found dead behind dumpster…two men shot to death in armed robbery incident…the latest on the Chelsea explosion…” and so on, and so on. It was all death and mayhem. It did cross my mind that we might not survive, and that out of the two of us, Cory’s chances were better, because he would be at work every day where as I would be all over the place. Clearly we both survived, and we didn’t witness even one single crime. I took the regular precautions any lone woman would take while walking in a big city (I logged nearly 15000 steps every day), and I felt perfectly safe. At the onset of a Zombie Apocalypse tho, all bets are off.

photo-sep-27-1-52-26-pm

Taken from the Empire State Building 86th floor observatory by JezzabellGem 9/2016


The Empire State Building is a touristy thing you absolutely SHOULD do.

Back in 1990 (when the murder rate in NYC was higher than it’s ever been, and I was walking around like it was nothing, because teen balls) I’d been inside the Empire State Building with it’s huge revolving doors and art deco mystique, but I never had the money to take the trip up to the 86th floor observatory to experience the view. This time around, since it was just a few blocks down from our hotel, the 86th floor was the very first thing I did. When I walked out on to the observatory, it was much more still than I anticipated it would be, with only a slight breeze. The view was everything I expected it would be and more – incredible. I must have stayed up there for at least 45 minutes, walking around and around, marveling at how far the city stretched, one sky scraper or building after another for as far as the eye could see. Well worth the $32 fee. For $20 more, you can go up to the 102nd floor, which we did together on our last night there. Yep, I went twice. SO WINDY the 2nd time. No regrets.

Once I left the Empire State Building, I made my way to the beginning of the High Line, walking from 33rd street all the way down to 14th street and then over a few blocks. Even though the walk was full of places to photograph and things to see, I began to think I’d never get to my destination – my energy level was high, but my feet were already getting cranky.  My route took me through Greeley Square,  Union Square Park and into the Meatpacking District where I climbed the stairs to the park. The High Line is a mile and a half long linear park built in Manhattan in 2013 on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. (PERK: the Whitney Museum of Art is near the end of the park.) It’s a striking garden walk with a mishmash of NYC views. Old architecture against new architecture, finished buildings against massive crane filled construction. It took me past Penn Station and along the water and let me out at Chelsea -just 5 blocks from our hotel, which was located on West 35th Street not far from Times Square. I did it backwards though: I started at the end and walked to the beginning.

Dinner was back in Midtown at an Asian Fusion place called Mew, where there was a long wait (we had a big group), but it was inexpensive, delicious, and well worth it.

Three separate views from the High Line taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016


After dinner a group of us walked (the wrong way in a circle) to an overtly over priced and ridiculous pool hall called Space Billiards. Trust me when I tell you this place is worth neither your time nor your effort to get there at $49 an hour for a shared pool table. The only thing it has going for it is the name, which is why we chose it. Shame, really. I’d do so much more with a space that large and a kick-ass name like that.

On my second day, I made my way to Washington Square Park on the NYU campus which serves as the dividing line between the East and the West Village. Washington Square Park is a nostalgic place for me. Too far to walk from our hotel, but less than 15 minutes in a cab or an Uber if it’s not rush hour. I used to walk through this park to get to work oh-so-long ago. While so much of it is the same, it’s also very different to me then it was 26 years ago. Like before, there are plenty of street musicians scattered about, and I LOVE street music. Plus Pigeon Man. I couldn’t resist taking his photo. He was 100% covered in birds 2 minutes before I took my photo, but a loud noise scared all of them. After spending a long while hanging out by the fountain watching all the people, and after walking all the surrounding streets, I made my way up MacDougal Street to Monk Vintage Thrift Shop and it’s an awesome little place. If you like vintage thrifting, I highly suggest it.

Dinner on this evening was pho at Saigon Shack on MacDougal with some old design school friends of mine. There’s always a wait, but once again reasonably priced and completely worth it. We followed dinner with a visit to The Grisley Pear for Guinness and comedy, and then back across the street to Up and Up, a “dimly lit cocktail lounge offering sophisticated drinks plus snacks in a space with banquettes.” Not only did they serve us absinthe (no formal presentation; they usually only use it as an ingredient) and luxurious cocktails, they also play old wave goth music and will only allow as many people in as can fill available seats. No limitations to standing room, no over crowding, and a very personalized experience.

Pigeon Man in Washington Square Park, The Grisly Pear and Up & Up taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016


On our third and final day, I took an Uber to the beginning of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. During the 20 minute ride, the driver asked me what I had planned for the day. As it turned out, he helped me put my list in order and we came up with the most efficient plan of action. I started off by walking across most of the bridge and back again. Informational guided tours across the bridge are offered, but I wanted to walk the bridge on my own, and find out all the facts for myself. It was windy and cold on the bridge, but looking out from all angles was beautiful.

From there I was able to walk just a few blocks to Ground Zero where I viewed both the North and South pools for the first time. As I stood there in quiet memory and snapped photos I couldn’t help but imagine how it might have been to experience first hand everything I watched on television on 9/11. So many people lost. So many names to remember. It truly shook me. I walked through all of the construction pathways around the outside of the new Freedom Tower (One WTC), Tower 3 (Three WTC), Tower 4 (Four WTC) and the incredibly bizarre and spiky architecture of the Transportation Hub Oculus.

I didn’t have the time I would have wanted to dedicate to the National 911 Memorial Museum on this day, and I also didn’t set aside aside enough time to wander into the Oculus, but next time these things (and SO many other things, because NYC is huge) won’t be skipped.

I’d been saving up a large chunk of my time for Central Park, and I am SO glad I did. NYC is in-your-face every minute of every day, so it’s hard to believe there’s such a giant space right in the center of it all that can provide so much peace and tranquility, but there is, and it’s my favorite place in the city. Central Park is is 2.5 miles long between 59th Street and 110th Street, and is 0.5 miles wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. I took a cab from Ground Zero to the entrance of the park (about 15 minutes, if it’s not rush hour). I didn’t have a plan in mind except to just walk, watch, see, and experience. I was offered glamorous horse and buggy tours, sketchy rickshaw tours, and other types of guided tours, but since I was on my own, on a budget, and ready to walk, I said no to all of them. I didn’t even grab a map.

The Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016


I mainly meandered down the right hand side of the park (59th Street if you’re facing the entrance) zig-zagging my way to wherever the next thing pulled me. There are lakes, and bridges with spectacular views. There are giant rock formations to climb up to the top of. There are paddle boats and water falls…fields and arches…and the Central Park Zoo. There’s even a castle; Belvedere Castle toward the center. I was hoping to stumble into it, and had I grabbed a map, I might have found it. I did happen to stumble upon Alice in Wonderland in Central Park, and for anyone who knows me, you’ll know how utterly thrilled I was to find it! This expansive park brought me 3 hours of tranquility and a deep well over flowing with creative inspiration. I took photo after photo after photo. It was over cast, but still bright on this day – on the verge of rain which made for such breezy weather and the most beautiful golden glow over everything. It was photographic lighting the likes of which any photographer, novice (like me) to pro, would die for – the magic hour except ALL DAY.

When I return to Central Park (and believe me, I will return) I’ll get a map, rent a bike, and devote an entire day to nothing but this amazing place. As an aside and FYI, as a lone female, I stayed on the main paved pathways and away from heavily wooded areas. I left the park at 5:30, before it started to get dark. Any New Yorker will tell you to do the same, because people who are alone on the off beaten paths or in the woods, especially at night, are at greater risk for untoward and possibly dangerous experiences.

After Central Park I took an Uber to meet my husband with plans to hop the Staten Island Ferry (all the ferrys are free!) for a night time view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty from the water. However, rush hour and eventual rain coupled with the onset of cold winds were not the best circumstances under which to be out on the ferry. I used to take the ferry all the time, so I was ok with missing it, but I was sad not to be able to share it with Cory.

Instead, we did our aforementioned (second for me) trip to the top of the Empire State Building. Though it was windy and cold, it was tremendously beautiful to view all the lights from way up there. Frankly, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Times Square could be seen from the moon – it’s that bright and blinky. (I wonder…*runs off to google it*) While the 86th floor observatory is open and outside, the 102nd floor is completely enclosed, and kept dark for the best photos at night.

photo-sep-29-9-48-55-pm
Absinthe at William Barnacle Tavern taken by JezzabellGem 9/2016


We then made our way back to Greenwich Village to spend our last evening in NYC at William Barnacle Tavern; an original speak easy equipped with formal absinthe presentation, the original wooden bar and speak easy decor, film noir projected on to the back wall AND true accounts of hauntings and mob related murder in the cellar. Frank Sinatra was even once a waiter there.

Our bartender was smartly dressed and very well versed on both the history of the Speak Easy in its prohibition days and the wily ways of the absinthe they serve. The drinks are high priced, but the absinthe selection is at least 5 brands deep and the ambiance coupled with the theater clientele plus its compelling history is well worth every penny you’ll spend. And you may as well dress the part, because if you can, why wouldn’t you? The bartender does.

We woke up on the morning of our departure to all sorts of weather related flight issues, which lead Delta to re-book us on an earlier flight thereby forcing us to be in a hurry. New York cab drivers do NOT like driving to Laguardia in rush hour, and certainly not on a Friday. Mostly, they just say no. As luck would have it, our hotel arranged a car for us. What sort of car you ask? A LIMO! Limos make an hour-long ride much more tolerable, in case you hadn’t already made that assumption.

photo-sep-28-7-31-48-pmI didn’t get to go to Williamsburg, take the ferry, see the castle in Central Park, go to SOHO, visit the 9/11 museum or the Metropolitan or the Whitney. There are a million things I didn’t get to in my short four-day excursion. All it means is that we’ll go back. And when we do, I’ll be booking tickets to The Late Show. Until next time NYC!

❤ JezzabellGem

..

Cruising to Cococay and Nassau Plus 5 Tips About Cruising to the Bahamas with Royal Carribean

Standard

We had never taken a trip alone together until we went on a 2 day/3 night cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Enchantment of the Sea cruise ship.

View our snazzy photos here. 🙂

Once we got into Miami and were shuttled to port, it took us about 45 minutes to check in and get our sea passes in order to board the ship (Royal Caribbean). As with most cruise ships, this was a BIG boat with 11 decks full of luxurious indulgence. The minute we boarded, my first thought was, I hope we don’t sink, which was followed by, Holy-shit-this-boat-is-packed-with-people. There were giant hats, sparkly sunglasses, sailor shirts, elaborate sarongs and billowing scarves for as far as the eye could see. We had a plan to put into action. We needed to find our stateroom, then find some frilly drinks post haste. Despite walking down the wrong hall (that smelled a bit foul) on the wrong side of the ship, we finally found our stateroom, which thankfully was located down the non-smelly hall on the other side. We dropped off our things and made our way to the very loud and very active pool deck for our first drink. We quickly learned the pool deck bar was to be avoided, unless loud and crowded is your thing. As luck would have it, we found the less popular Schooner Lounge, where we met the best bartender on the ship. His name was Sid. Sid was an incredibly talented, dedicated and creative drink master, who made me three original and delicious drinks all according to things he learned I liked. Needless to say, we looked for Sid often.

He’s my best friend. ❤

Soon after we left port it was time for dinner. We were seated at table #150; a large round table that we shared with three other relatively quiet couples. These more formal dinners in the main dining room were as proper as they come – always at the same table with the same guests. The food was opulently served and the wait staff had their jobs down to an art form. We got to know a little about the other couples who were seated with us over the two nights that we dined there, but after that second night we realized the less formal and equally glorious self serve buffet, where we could sit on our own looking out over the ocean, was more to our liking.

Oh, and since we haven’t really had a honeymoon, I may or may not have said we were on ours. We may or may not have received a complimentary bottle of champagne in our room. Classy.

Watch out CocoCay – this white girl is on your island. By that I mean layer on the sunscreen, otherwise I’ll catch fire. No joke.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from CocoCay. All I knew of this tiny island was that it was owned by the cruise line, and that it offered several expensive shore excursions like parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins or stingrays and jet-skiing, among other things. The Stingray adventure interested us, and we gave it serious consideration. That is until we walked away from the crowded nucleus of tiny beach-ware shops and bar-fronts onto a more secluded part of the beach where there was a lone bar and rentable covered areas that looked out onto the water. For $70 (equal to or MUCH less than an excursion fee for just one of us) we had the luxury of a private covered half dome umbrella, plate of fresh fruit, a cooler full of cold water, two floating rafts, an attendant, a tram to take us where ever we wanted to go, that peaceful little bar and the quiet of the beach breeze. This is where we spent the rest of our day together, sipping drinks and swapping stories we’d never told each other. We only left to bring back lunch and to stroll the beach at low tide. We saw small barracuda lurking so eerily still – some with tiny babies. We came across a few live conch, some scallops, clams, a stingray and a sea cucumber. FYI, sea cucumbers don’t have eyes, and they’re larger than you’d think…and they’re WEIRD. This day was magically relaxing. My favorite part of the whole weekend.

Scenery at CocoCay, but this collage doesn’t do it justice. 


Time to catch a show

The two-story Orpheum Theater on board was damned impressive. That night, as it filled with people after dinner, we were looking forward to what we hoped would be a fun show. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have great respect for anyone who can do magic tricks or juggle. I have even more respect for good comedians, so I was prepared to love at least one thing about the man who claimed to be all three, and who we were about to spend two hours watching. Granted, I was a tired monkey, but this poor man fell flat with us. I imagine that a job providing cruise ship entertainment might not be that exciting for him. Entertained, we were not. Embarrassingly, I fell asleep on Cory’s shoulder. Talk about a show faux pas – way to go me.

Nassau – A mixed bag of tourism

We woke up early and had a buffet breakfast in preparation for exploring Nassau that day. We booked two excursions (even though I know they’re usually over-priced and under-rated). The first was the Seaworld Explorer. The boat tour portion of the excursion took us out past downtown Nassau and it’s port on one side, and Paradise Island on the other. The cruise director was incredibly witty as he pointed out all of the famous homes and landed us on the deck of a partially submerged boat called the Seaworld Explorer. This is the part we were super excited about. I know the ocean and it’s inhabitants are unpredictable, but we were supposed to see a huge variety of fish on a coral reef and a ship wreck, two things that don’t move. We saw the sand on the bottom 20 feet down, small tuna, tons of sergeant major fish, some old tires and someone saw a crab. That thing I said about excursions? I don’t suggest taking this one.

Junkanoo Beach, The Queen’s Staircase and Bay Street – Nassau

I’ve learned that an enthusiastic and knowledgable cab driver can enrich ANY travel experience.

We had 2 hours until our next excursion to a beer tasting and a tour of the pirate historical museum, so we hired a cabby who took us to The Queen’s Staircase and then gave us a 30 minute tour around that side of Nassau. He spoke of the absence of racism on the island, and he made it a point to talk about how everyone lived in peace. He talked about the history of the island and what the old houses looked like before the tourism built everything up. He told us that Sean Connery lived in Nassau and is a tall old man who is often seen walking around carrying a cat. Our ride with him gave us more of a feel for this place than anything else we could have done, and our ride was a short one. He took us by two public beaches that we hoped might be like the one we lounged on in CocoCay, but no such luck. I would thank him by name, but for what ever reason we never got his.

Mostly, Nassau reminded us of of how we felt in Malta, where there is rich history, but every bit of it has been taken over by the tourism industry, which makes everything you do expensive. That tourist feeling is even more compounded by shop owners and photographers who come at the island visitors pretty aggressively, and they don’t take no for an answer.

Relaxing in cruise ship luxury

After our cab ride and a short walk on Junkanoo Beach right next to where the ship was docked, we decided to forgo our beer tasting tour and head back to the ship to relax for the rest of our day, and relax we did. We laid on lounge chairs, we drank fancy drinks and we walked the ship. We finally found a way to get to the coveted deck at the back of the ship for the breezy view of Nassau as we pulled away to begin the journey home. We had dinner that night at the Wind Jammer and watched the sunset over the water as we dined. That night when we got back to the state room, we found our towels sculpted into the shape of a bunny, which made Cory very happy.



5 fun facts we learned about cruising to the Bahamas with Royal Caribbean

Research Your Destination: Rather than base your whole trip on expensive ship excursions, do some research and catch a cab. There’s a lot to be said for exploring on your own.

Walk the Ship – Get a Map: Cruise ships are HUGE, so before you give up on that quiet spot with the great view, take the time to walk the entire ship. I promise, you’ll find the spot you’re looking for as well as tons of other things you didn’t even know were there – like the rock climbing wall we found on the back of the ship.

Exchange Rate: The exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Bahamian dollars is NADA. They look different, but are worth the same thing.

Ship Photographers: Generally not worth the money, but you can buy pre-made photo books of the ship and the destinations.

Ultimate Drink Package: Soda is not included in your cruise package unless you buy a drink package of some kind (alcoholic or non), at least not with Royal Caribbean. Our ultimate drink package covered all non alcoholic drinks, but only covered single shot alcoholic drinks, one drink at a time. However, if you’re crafty, you can find bartenders who just want you to have a good time, and who will gladly give you that extra shot of rum in your piña colada.

Gratuities: An 18% gratuity is added as an extra charge on top of what you paid for your cruise package, and on top again for any spa treatments. Just like anywhere, tipping extra for good service when you sign for that drink usually gets you some loyal attention.


 

cheers-departing-nassau_26851625331_oWhen all is said and done, we did it! Our first weekend away, just the two of us! It didn’t matter that Nassau wasn’t what we expected. It didn’t matter that our coral reef was made of sand or that we thought the shop owners might show up in our room to try and sell us something. All that mattered was that we were together. Where ever we are – what ever we do – that’s all that will ever matter.

❤  JezzabellGem