Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Spring Break - St. Maarten

We had the most fun on our last stop - at St. Maarten.   We had opted to take a powerboat tour of the island, which is not the sort of thing we normally would go for, but it was super fun.  We had a uber-German boat driver, to whom the whole sea was an autobahn. I've never gone so fast in a boat.  It was crazy, and Declan loved every minute of it.
Look at Declan's "I can't believe how fast we are going" face!
 We stopped at a variety of different snorkel spots and beaches on both the French and Dutch sides of the island.

Declan was excited to spot some sea turtles- this one had fish hitching a ride on his back.

We got some good beach time in too.

At one of the beaches we came upon a heap of iguanas.  Here Declan tries to feed them a blade of grass.

We had much better luck after getting a tray of kitchen refuse from a nearby restaurant.  The iguanas came a-runnin' after that!

We did make a stop at the famous "Airport Beach" which has St. Maarten's airport runway immediately adjacent.  I did not capture in the photo how thrillingly close the airplanes really do come to touching down on sunbathers. It was off the chain.

This just looks like an airplane flying by.  Was way more exciting than that in person.  I'm just not a great  photographer! I used up all my action shots on the iguana.

Spring Break - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Our next port was St. John in the US Virgin Islands, but we wanted to head over to St. Thomas, because National Park.  So we chartered a sailboat and headed over for some National Park snorkel action!

This was Declan's first time snorkelling in open waters and he did amazingly well!  I made him wear his puddle jumper against his will, but we had to swim a long way from the boat's anchor point to the beach at the National Park.

At the National Park beach, not to crowded!

We were joined at the boat by a 4 foot long barracuda.  Declan opted to get out of the water, but I couldn't bring myself to get out.  
Needs something to scale, to recreate the terror!

Let's get out of here!

Spring Break - Puerto Rico

Our first stop was Puerto Rico, and we opted to spend our time at the San Juan National Historic Site of the Castillo San Cristobal, where we learned about Puerto Rico being the Gibraltar of the Caribbean.  


Declan became a Junior Ranger here, which was extra challenging because the workbook was in Spanish.  We muddled through somehow.

Exit through the Gift Shop

Declan opted to take some of his very own souvenir money to commission some avian novelty photos. He is a boy after my own heart!

Spring Break - Caribbean Cruise

We took a last minute spur of the moment trip to the Caribbean over Spring Break, and ended up on the Celebrity Reflection. going to Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.   We got a very reasonable price, with none of the expected school-holiday-price gouge.  Apparently because Celebrity doesn't target families as their preferred demographic, they don't charge a premium for school break holidays.  The time we took a Royal Caribbean cruise at Spring Break on the Oasis of the Seas, I think the premium was almost 100%, ie. we could have taken the same trip a week later for half the price.  The cheapness of the Celebrity pricing made me worry that it wouldn't be nice or family-friendly, but we found it to be nicer than all the other ships we have cruised on, and, surprisingly, had the best kids club programming- better than Disney even.
At Sailaway.

Obligatory towel animal shot.
 Our room was lovely, but Declan had to sleep on the least comfortable pullout on the Seven Seas.  The whole ship was only a year old, but they seemed to be using pre-War technology on the pull out.  There was sharp exposed metal that Declan had to climb over to get in and out of bed.  Poor baby looked as though he'd been mauled by a cheetah by the end of the week!  Anomalous crappy thing in an otherwise lovely ship.

Celebrity targets the spa-loving demographic, which apparently includes Declan.  

Food was very good- I would say noticeably better than the other ships we've been on, but we didn't eat in the main dining room, opting instead for the spa cuisine specialty restaurant.  

One night we had dinner at a different specialty restaurants- Qsine, which was a molecular gastronomy type establishment.  Declan loved it- especially how playfully all the food was presented, like the sushi lollipops.  This dinner had a terrible, unforeseen consequence:  now whenever Declan is asked what his favourite food is, he will say "molecular gastronomy" which is so punchworthy, I can't even.  

Breakfast on our balcony - if you look carefully you can see the beauty of the natural surroundings- Senor Frogs in the background.

There were a lot of fun adult activities onboard too- including a faux Amazing Race type game that Shane and I took way too seriously.  In the final round, I actually committed battery against a stranger in the ship's elevator.  In my defense, he kind of started it, and it clinched the silver medal for us! Super fun.  

Obligatory Bingo game

Los Angeles - Jeopardy

So our main purpose of this trip was to attend the tapings of the last three rounds of the Jeopardy Battle of the Decades tournament.  Shane was the alternate, and sequestered away in the green room for the whole first day of taping, while Declan and I were in the studio audience.  It was a marathon of being well-behaved and quiet as the audience was miked during the performances too, so any peep that Declan made would be turn up on the show's audio.  Even during the commerical breaks when they weren't taping, Declan still had to be quiet as either Alex Trebek or announcer Johnny Gilbert would come out and talk to the studio audience.  Normally, audience members must be at least 10 years old, but Declan was invited to attend specially by the contestant coordinator, so we were working overtime to keep on our very best behaviour.   Declan was particularly excited to watch Ken Jennings play as he had been reading some of the children's trivia books that Ken has published- his line of Junior Genius guides.  Declan was also very excited to see Shane get up on stage and play a warm up round during a filming break.  He yelled "That's my Daddy!" for the whole audience to hear, and followed up with "He's the alternate!" by way of explanation.  It was very sweet- he was so proud of Shane!

With Cardboard Alex inside the Studio

Each day we were there they taped 5 episodes with an hour break for lunch.  During commercial breaks in the filiming of each episode, Alex Trebek would often solicit questions from the audience and everytime Declan's hand would shoot up right away.  I can't begin to express to you how much terror that would bring in to my heart, as there was no telling what he would come up with.  Indeed, the first time Alex called on Declan to ask a question, Declan said "I have seen you try to sell me things on a commercial, Alex Trebek".  It wasn't even a question- very much an accusation.  Luckily Alex seemed to relish the opportunity to talk about his work schilling for Colonial Penn Insurance.

After the end of the first day of tapings, we were mingling outside chatting with friends who were either playing in the tournament or there to watch it.  The "quiz" community is not overly large, and we have made a lot of friends through the various quiz groups that Shane is involved with, which overlaps with the Jeopardy crowd quite a bit, so this tournament was a nice little reunion.   I brought Declan over to meet Brad Rutter, who although he is not quite the household name that Ken Jennings is, he has beaten Ken Jennings before, is overall the most winningest player in Jeopardy history, and is the only player never to have lost a game.   I introduced him to Declan saying "this is Brad Rutter, he has won more money on Jeopardy than anybody else.  He's won over 3 and a half million dollars!"  Declan looks right at Brad and says "Where's Ken?"  To his credit, Brad laughed and retold the story in his contestant interview the next day, during the finals where he played against Ken Jennings again, and won again, adding another million to his total winnings.  Ken got a kick out of the story too, and sent Declan an autographed Junior Genius Guide for his troubles!

After the final taping we were all invited over to a Jeopardy 30th anniversary party over on the Wheel of Fortune set.   It was pretty tony, featuring signature blue cocktails, a french fry bar, and a candy table to end all candy tables.  For once we put no limits on Declan letting him fill up a whole punnet box with whatever candies he fancied.  He then proceeded to dance jigs for the producers and the contestant coordinators and anyone else who wanted to watch.

Partying with Alex

Los Angeles - Channel Islands

For our last day of our LA holiday, we took a daytrip out to the Channel Islands National Park.  It was the perfect complement to the busy crowded theme park days.  It was so lovely and quiet.  Because it is hard to get to, it is one of the least visited national parks in the US.  We went by boat- it was about an hour-and-a-half each way.   Declan was confused to see what appeared to be the exact same buoy with the exact same sealions on it that we saw in Alaska last summer.

Confused face
There are no services on the island at all, so we had to pack our own lunch.  We ordered a lunch to go the strangely luxurious Hilton room service and it did not disappoint- a mammoth wicker basket with all kinds of punnet boxes full of delectables and table linens.  On the very top was one marked "chocolate covered strawberries" which made us the target of much taunting from the other park-bound passengers on the boat over.  They were all hard core hikers packing only dehydrated foodstuffs.   We enjoyed the heck out of our picnic though.

After lunch we went for a hike around the island. It was gorgeous and no other people around.  Lovely day.

Declan earning his Junior Ranger Badge on the boat trip back.