Saturday, June 11, 2016

Discovering the Lost City of ... Atlantis (Nassau, Bahamas)

Hey y'all!  I'm back and ready to tell you all about my amazing day at Atlantis Resorts in The Bahamas.  While booking our Carnival Freedom cruise I became obsessed with the idea of coming here and begged my friends to join me.  We researched the cruise excursions, Atlantis's website, and even some external travel packages.  We ended up doing a Day Pass with the AquaAdventure piece and spent the day riding water rides like teenagers.  Check out our day!
This was our view out the balcony of the Carnival Freedom when we woke up since we always stay on the back extended balconies.  The Atlantis hotels are definitely the "skyline" of Nassau.
If you can kind of see our balcony railing in the bottom right of the photograph, this is the port of Nassau.  Very bright and welcoming.  I thought the people directing traffic in the port were very helpful getting us to the taxis.  It was VERY busy as there were 4 cruise ships parked there that day.  The colors were really exciting to see (very different from Freeport).

Another interesting fact - the taxi rides from the port were all pre-fixe so there was no haggling room!  But they will put you with other groups/families if you're going to the same place and will squeeze you into a mini-van type vehicle.
So, the WORST part of the whole day was being dropped off at the resort.  There were no one really directing traffic and telling us where to go.  We kept asking and asking and no one could really tell us what to do for the day passes.  We ended up in a downstairs area near the teenager sign-in.  We were around 13th in line and waited over an hour to get our passes.  It was so long that the people behind us were beginning to get almost inappropriately angry.  There was only one woman signing in everyone and she wouldn't call for anyone else and no one came to relieve her.  It was really disgraceful.  Once we got our day pass wristbands, though, the day turned around perfectly.  [I just assumed, though, that this overpriced resort would focus more on customer service relating to getting people in.]
When walking from the lobby to the outdoor area we walked through the Shark Reef which is free to all guests and those touring the grounds.  Lots of BIG fish and tons of sharks to see.
The sharks swim really close to the glass so it's pretty neat for photo opps and such.  I mean seriously... take a look at these, simply on my iPhone.

While on this trip I became a bit obsessed with my Pano setting LOL but I think the shot looked pretty cool :)

After finishing up in the shark reef we continued trying to find our access to the water park.  We ended up finding our way, but as it was probably already 10-11AM we couldn't find a single lounge chair to put our towels.  We ended up renting a Medium Locker for $25 a day and put everything in there.  We were provided wristbands for our admission to the rides so nothing was needed.  The only thing I'm mostly disappointed about were the lack of access to my phone for pictures.  Other than that, we had a GREAT day riding rides with all the other teenagers.  I never felt overwhelmed by the stairs or uncomfortable with anyone else as I've been in the past.  This was definitely a GREAT crowd, especially since you're constantly bombarded with other floaters on the (not so) lazy river aka roaring rapids.

Seriously, not one ride was boring!  Try them all!

We spent the entire day riding rides and even though the resort was sold out of day passes we only waited in line for 20 minutes max.  Before leaving, though, I wanted to get a good shot of this ride, The Leap of Faith, that is a direct free fall and runs through the shark reef!
We left just in time to go through The Dig.  As we crossed the area to get to it we snapped a few shots of the hotel.
The Dig is a $45 aquarium that lasts a total of 10 minutes to walk through.  It is supposed to be the Lost City of Atlantis but is a bit overpriced.  Luckily, it comes with most Day Passes and Overnight Stays so if you're purchasing one of those tickets you'll get to walk in it without paying extra.  If you have to pay for it I really do think you should just wander to the Shark Reef and save your money.

The resort was SO big we just kind of walked until we found a taxi stand.  We were running a bit behind schedule and didn't want to miss our cruise ship debarkation but I got to get this shot of the real lobby.
This is a shot of what's across the "street" from the hotel upon coming in the true entrance.

Unfortunately, our taxi ride back to the harbor was not as good as our trip there.  The taxis at this point were not regulated and I'm pretty sure we thought we were all going to die when we ended up in some deserted allies with big men coming toward the mini van.  Luckily, we passed this police station and I felt a wee bit safer but not much.  We ended up paying more in taxi fair and I even left my sun hat in the car I was so frazzled and wanting to get out.  The driver swore he didn't have change for our $20 yet as soon as we were out of the car he was bargaining with the next victims saying he had plenty of change.  Regardless, we ran to the ship and were about the last ones on the boat (not the first time LOL).

Overall, Atlantis is NOT to be missed!  It's worth the money.  The rides are amazing.  The cost is not a bargain, but you know what?  You're in The Bahamas on a beach vacation so get it over and get out there and enjoy!!!

Friday, May 6, 2016

"Cuz I'm Free.....Free Fallin'" in Freeport, The Bahamas

Hello!  Welcome back to my blog Where is Brandy?  I wanted to show you my day in Freeport, Bahamas.  My two travel amigas and I were aboard the Carnival Freedom and couldn't have been more excited to get here and experience our first TURQUOISE WATER (and yes, you're going to see way too many pictures of said turquoise water, but it's too beautiful not to post).
We got into Freeport fairly early and were up and ready to meet our excursion hosts - Pat and Diane's Tours - for their Snorkeling and Private Island Adventure.  There were many cruise ships due in and supposedly we were going to be the last to arrive so they had told us to get off the boat FAST...  Yeah...we were the first on the bus LOL.  Super, SUPER friendly company and fellow travelers.

The bus actually took us about 20 minutes away from the cruise terminal to Port Lucaya which included an infamous straw market, lots of bars, live music and touristy restaurants/pavillions.   During our drive we were given some information about the island and saw a school and some local businesses....Let's just say it's nothing super fancy!  In fact, one of the comedians on our cruise ship told us Freeport was a really poor island where you can sponsor a child each month and have plenty of people begging for money.  We never saw anything like that was definitely NOT like Nassau (next post).

*Just saying, I got a bit obsessed with my Pano setting on the ole iPhone...but it was just too cool to get everything going on in ONE shot.
 So after a bit of time signing our waivers and getting everyone on the boat we headed towards our snorkeling spot.  The water was definitely darker when we left the harbor and you can scroll to see how clear and light it gets!

*Still smiling at this beautiful sight!*

The boat had a great vibe to it.  The employees were so friendly and the radio blared with Top 40 songs from a local radio station.  Some of the songs were "Bahamafied" and we heard a good rendition of the steel drum version of Katy Perry's Fireworks.  While we were heading out to the water the different employees passed out all the snorkel gear.
So, to be perfectly honest the snorkeling was just okay....  As you can see in the picture we ended up where the water a bit darker.  It wasn't the most crystal clear picture so I'm not sure if it was just the quality of goggles or what but the reefs weren't anything terribly exciting.  We saw a couple of types of fish but every time kids threw the $1 bags of fish food (sure did look like puppy kibble) into the water the seagulls came right along and snatched them up.  

Don't get me wrong, I had a BLAST!  I just was hoping to have gotten more than 30 minutes in the water when we purchased a full day of snorkeling and beach.  No hard feelings, Pat and Diane's Tours but I'm just saying....I could have used another 20-45 minutes in the water!
*It's just so pretty!!!*
 So after snorkeling we ended up traveling another 20 minutes to a "deserted island" where we actually just pulled up to the dock or anything.  We climbed down off a 4 step ladder and there were were (you can see the beach here in the picture).  The team put together a bbq chicken lunch while we did our thing on the beach.
We found our spot on the beach and baked like chicken in a hot oven.   
This is a picture of my spot from the beach where my friend Brandi was sitting in the water... I just love this picture, one of my favorites I took over the whole vacation.
 One of the other guests found a conch shell and the team did a big demonstration on how to get the meat and teach us all about the animal.  They made a raw conch salad/salsa for us and put into little tasting cups.  I had heard from a coworker that conch was amazing so I tried it...but...

It was so chewy I had to spit it out and bury it in the sand :/  The onions didn't help either (I hate onions....more than hate, loath.
I was about to brag on the fact that I made an intelligent choice and put a light t-shirt on when I felt my body burning in the hours of sun...  But then I remembered the fact I didn't take my sun hat...
 and proof that my face was RED when we got back on that boat!
*Just a side edit: I don't normally do duck faces in pictures, nor publish said pictures, but it just shows you what a wonderful beach day in The Bahamas can do to a middle-aged lady.
The entire boat ride to the deserted island included bottomless Bahama Mamas full of rum but they ran out while we were at the island...go figure.  On the way back to the harbor, though, the team made Sky Juice which is a combination of milk, coconut water, and gin.  It was really sweet but tasted really good!  Definitely something I suggest when visiting the islands.

And lastly, upon arrival at the harbor we walked around the Lucaya Straw Market.  It wasn't a great experience for me as I was just uncomfortable.  There are 3 dark hallways filled with cheap tshirts, jewelry and toys all things I've seen in every country I've visited.  When I asked about an elephant (since I get one in every country for my mother) they wanted me to pay much more than I expected.  I tried to haggle with them but they weren't having it.  They were so persistent in coming into their "booth" which was COVERED with kitschy touristy goods and ugly Disney straw purses but not willing to work a deal.  It was just strange.  Luckily, on the main walkway there are additional shops (kind of the size of a large clothes closet) that had actual doors on them.  There were 3-4 local artists inside some of these individual stores and I was lucky enough to find a man making Christmas ornaments out of shells and sand.  It was the perfect gift for me and my Travel Tree.  My genius friend stopped at an artist next door who was making notecards and got the woman to write "Bahamas 2016" for her to frame.  How cute is that going to be on a wall?  

The rest of the day we waited on a bus back to the cruise terminal and did a little more shopping for souvenirs (which ended in no purchases).  Overall, I highly recommend Pat and Diane's Tour.  The people were great and I felt like we got a great experience in Freeport which some people didn't have the highest regard for.  I would definitely return and would love to go snorkeling more!  

Stay tuned for the next post when I show you Nassau and Atlantis!

Safe travels!!


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Key West Highlights

Earlier this month two of my girlfriends and I boarded the Carnival Freedom out of Galveston and headed for a weeklong adventure!  The ports included: Key West, Florida and Freeport and Nassau, The Bahamas.  

Here is our adventure in Key West!

Our Key West plan: I took the lead on this port because the excursions offered by Carnival were over priced and I told my friends I was going to go to the Hemingway House regardless of what they wanted to do (solo traveler habits).  I'm glad they joined me, of course!  I also begged them to get a photo of all of us at the Southernmost Point of the USA and then we wanted to hit the main bar/restaurant street (Duval).
The port at Key West was very hip and easy to navigate.  This panoramic picture shows how accessible it was and it took maybe 2 minutes to get from the boat to the shops/restaurants.  Because it was the USA we had access to our phones the whole time and were able to get to our destinations using Maps. 
We woke up pretty on time (but I think the boat was about an hour late) so we had a chance to get our free breakfast on the boat before heading out.  Luckily, my two girlfriends know and accept my nerdy girl ways and as soon as we were docked and full we headed straight to the Hemingway House.  It was about a mile walk but was nice because we could kind of get our feel for the island by the time we got there.  It was humid and sprinkling a bit but nothing that bothered us at the time.

When you arrive at the Hemingway House you pay a flat $13 admission fee in CASH and then you are able to walk the grounds on your own (a few plaques for information but not much) or you can wait for a tour guide on the half hour (which we did).  

The more infamous part of the house are 6-toed cats that are around the area, about 80% of them descendants of the cats that lived here when Ernest did.  The outdoor cats didn't really have anything to do with the people but the inside cats loved the guides who gave them cat treats the whole time.  They did let us pet them, which of course made me happy :)
Just wanted to take a quick shot of our guide, who was hysterical, and one of the cats.  Also to note, the house was a bit small in our standards but is full of pictures of Ernest along with movie posters that featured his books.  I had NO IDEA how many there were!
Hemingway sounded like he had a good sense of humor.  This was what looked like a nice, tiled water pond on his patio that was actually a sideways urinal from Sloppy Joe's Bar (see below).  
My all-time favorite part of the tour was seeing the attached office of Ernest Hemingway...  As you can I love to write and was so inspired by his office.  The guide offered that he was a very disciplined writer and would come here every day with a self-mandated 500 words deadline.  He even had a 2-story catwalk from the house to this upstairs studio.

One thing I love to do while traveling is to read a book that matches the areas I'm exploring.  As the Hemingway House was my most anticipated stop on our cruise I had a copy of The Old Man and the Sea and while touring the house the guide offered that this was a photo that showed the catch that Ernest and his real friend Santiago made that inspired the story.

After the Hemingway House we headed about a 1/2 mile down the street to the Southernmost Tip of the continental USA.  While walking along the path of beautiful, unique homes we found one of these signs in the yards...  Reminds me of one of my Texas Weather Stations I have on my porch...
When we approached the iconic photo opp. there was a very short line but it started to sprinkle harder and harder.  Eventually it went to pouring and everyone ran in all directions.  At first we tried to seek refuge under the two or three trees around but with the wind we were just getting drenched.  After a good 5-10 minutes of just getting completely soaking wet I decided it'd be best to just take the picture in the rain (no lightening was happening) and move on with our day and try to get out of the rain.
So I snapped a few here in the rain...
My friends followed and a nice man in a poncho took a picture for us...  At least it'll be one of those memories we have forever!
Also by the point was this nice mosaic on the group...really represented Key West to me.

So, back to our story...  we ended up trying to seek refuge under more trees but it just started to DOWNPOUR so I ended up running a good 300 feet to a local hotel with a huge outdoor covered porch where we waited out the storm for 1/2 an hour and tried to get dry.
After the storm we turned on Duval (the main street of Key West with many shops, bars, and restaurants) and made our way store by store and bar by bar...  Captured this photo of their Walgreens.
Their free-roaming chickens were everywhere!  I thought they were cute but got a bit skeptical when they got this close as I went to the post office to mail some post cards...
Just took a few shots of the colors and close homes/B&Bs that line the streets of Key West.  
Loved this church as well on a random corner near Duval.
Also LOVED this tree we saw...
Cute feel on the beach at the end of Duval too... where Tennessee Williams came often.
On Duval we also stopped at Kermit's Key West Lime store for some Key Lime Pie... Oh my goodness, they had so many free samples and their key lime pie slices are to DIE FOR!
They even have a few chairs and a cute patio in the front of the store to stop and eat your pie right there!  (My friends got the chocolate dipped key lime pie and loved it too.)
The last intentional stop was Sloppy Joe's Bar (probably the most famous bar on the island).  It was a owned by Ernest Hemingway's friend and a frequent/daily stop for the author.  It's also home of the famous sloppy joe sandwich, which of course I tried (definitely recommend).
(Inside of the bar)
(Menu pictures)
(Had a margarita and a frozen run runner since they were "famous" on the wall LOL 
& a picture of the sloppy joe sandwich - if people offer you cheese you say YES)
After leaving Sloppy Joe's we did a little bit of shopping but couldn't find much...  When coming back to the port we walked through the old customs house building where they had a really interesting sculpture garden.  This one was almost 2 stories high!  After walking through the area we quickly showed our IDs and got back on the boat.  It was smooth sailing!

Other than the rain downpour we had a fabulous time in Key West!  We definitely experienced the unique vibe and felt like we got a good feel for the island.  If you have a cruise stop here I highly recommend a day's visit (as it might be all you need).  My only regret is that we didn't get to see one of those famous Key West time!