Fantastic Voyage
Fantastic Voyage of the Caribbean
It is so hard being back off of vacation --
especially one taken onboard a fabulous
cruise ship where you are literally pampered
like royalty for seven fantastic days.

I keep waiting to hear the band playing
steel drum Caribbean music out on my deck,
I can’t seem to find any iced down buckets
of buds close by, and there are no funny
animals made out of towels lying on my
freshly made, turned down bed at night.  Oh
well … maybe later.  

The Bailey and Crawford families set out
for a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise on
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s “Freedom of
the Seas” -- the largest cruise ship in the
world -- on May 27, 2007.
After reading all about our cruise, check out all the pictures for
Fantastic Voyage of the Caribbean
over on
Mike's Picture Library.
Here's a bunch of happy campers, I mean cruisers!
By Mike Bailey
Menu of the day's events to help you read about our voyage
  Sunday
  Monday
  Tuesday
  Wednesday
  Thursday
  Friday
  Saturday
  Sunday
Our voyage started off great. It was 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning and we were all huddled in the dark
(except for the street light above us) out at the end of my driveway by a huge stack of luggage and
anxiously waiting on our ride to the airport.

Only Deanna and I knew what was coming to pick us up.  Then around 5:45 -- right on time -- the
rest of them heard something coming up the hill on Oak Creek Drive and come to a halt at the
intersection with Caribou Trail. I heard Michael say some something like, “Can’t be for us, it is too
big -- I can see lights going way down the side of it -- must be a truck.”

From where we were at my driveway, the street level is lower than the intersection a block away
and you can not see a car there at the stop sign but you can see the tops of very large SUVs and of
course, trucks.

Then the truck turned and started heading down the street towards us.  I wish you could have seen
the grandkids and Elyse when the largest, longest Hummer Limo in Georgia pulled into our
cul-de-sac to pick us up.

Elyse was jumping up and down, shouting, and giggling all at the same time.  Garrett stood there,
his mouth wide open, smiling from ear to ear, clutching his chest and saying, “I am only 11 years old
but I think I am going to have a heart attack!”  Matthew stood there staring wide-eyed, grinning
from ear to ear, and said in a long slow drawl, “Oh … my … God!”

Every dime I had spent for the limo was paid back in those fantastic few seconds.

Soon the driver had some how or another packed our entire stack of luggage into the rear open
area (covered with a tonneau cover just like on my pickup truck) of this monstrous vehicle and we
were off and running for the airport. We placed Deanna’s wheelchair inside with us and it was lost
in the cavernous interior.

This thing was HUGE -- a 22-passenger limo -- complete with DVD players, flat screen TVs, full
service bar, sound system, and of course, mood lighting that constantly changed colors as we sped
away in the dark towards the airport.

The kids were continually jabbering excitedly about this limo and were already talking about they
couldn’t wait to tell so and so about the coolest limo in the world.

We arrived at the airport in grand style and were feeling like the Rich and Famous as we started
piling out of the rear of the Hummer Limo.  People were staring at us and you could just see the
questions on their minds -- “I wonder who THESE people are?”  

We all were wearing beautiful, bright, and very colorful Hawaiian shirts and I guess we did look
sort of rich and famous.

Then our fantastic voyage turned sour in a heart beat.

We found out from the Sky Cap trying to check in our entire collection of luggage that our 8:10 a.m.
flight to Miami had been cancelled by AirTran! He suggested that we talk with the counter agents
inside the terminal.

“We don’t run that flight on holidays ... so we switched you to the 3:30 PM flight,” was AirTran's
excuse answer.

“And your flight back next Sunday … that one is canceled also but don’t worry, we got you switched
to the 8 AM flight back home.”

No and no I thought ... we have to be IN Miami and onboard the ship by 4 PM to sail at 5 and the
return flight time was bad because we wouldn't even be off the ship by then.

In less than 10 minutes, we (me mostly) had gone from a euphoric high of happiness, silliness, and
carefree laughter to heart pounding fear that we were NOT going to be able to get to Miami in
time to make our sailing.

Anyway, we finally got AirTran to switch all of us over to a flight going to West Palm Beach around
9 a.m.   This was only after I had talked with the emergency travel folks with RCCL who told me
that if we could get to the baggage claim area at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, we could catch a RCCL
shuttle bus from there down to the cruise terminal in Miami.  The only catch was we had to come up
with our own solution on how to get between the two airports.

Deanna finally got me calmed down and after seeing that the others were starting to also feel
better about all this, I took a deep breath and prayed that our trial was over and that we could
finally get on with our magical voyage.

Soon, it was time to board our alternate flight to Florida -- West Palm Beach versus Miami -- but
what the heck, it was getting us closer to our appointment with the largest cruise ship in the world.  
Today's flight would be the first for Matthew and Madelyn and they were a bit tense just before
take off. But as we roared down the runway with everyone squeezing somebody's hand to death, the
anxieties started to quickly disappeared when we lifted up off the ground and  headed for the
clouds and Florida.

Our first timers did great -- I was proud of them (including Garrett).  My only concern was that I
prayed that they had placed Deanna's wheelchair down in the hold after we had reached the actual
door to the aircraft. It has always scared me when we fly that after Deanna gets out of the
wheelchair and walks onto the plane and we leave it behind us, all folded up, that they will forget it
(thinking it is just one of their chairs) and not load it below.

After we landed at West Palm Beach (and Deanna's wheelchair made it also) and was making our way
towards the baggage claim area, I spotted a sign for something called the Super Shuttle.  While
Michael and the rest of the group headed off to find our luggage, Deanna and I went over and
talked with the people there.  

We found out that yes, they could take all of us (and luggage) in one van down to the Ft. Lauderdale
Airport where we could then pick up the cruise ship shuttle from there back down to Miami and to
the cruise ship itself.

Things were starting to look much better.  The pain in my chest was finally easing up.

The Super Shuttle drove us straight to the baggage claim area at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. The
shuttle was a 10+ passenger van, with an area behind the last bench seat for luggage and to my
surprise, the driver had no trouble stacking up all of our luggage back there, including Deanna's
wheelchair.  I had been on the phone several times along the way down to the airport talking with
the shuttle coordinator with RCCL and when we arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale baggage claim area,
the RCCL folks there to assist passengers were aware of us and had our names on their lists to go
to the ship.  

I think it was about here -- seeing RCCL folks with smiling, caring faces who were aware of us --
that I finally really started to settle back down and drop back into full fledge great vacation mode.

By the way, it took four more days for our travel agent to get our return flights straightened out.  
We would have to fly back out of Ft. Lauderdale, but no big deal -- we could enjoy the bus ride
back to the airport.

Long story short -- we finally got to the cruise ship terminal by 1:30 and actually onboard the
Freedom of The Seas by 2:30 and by 3:30, I had already had several “Coco Locos” and was ready
to rock and roll and sail out of Miami on the largest cruise ship in the world.

I enjoyed seeing everyone’s faces in our band of nine as we had approached the Freedom of The
Seas on the shuttle bus and could see it docked there at the cruise terminal.  The grandkids were
speechless and excited at the same time.  I think the others were also awed by the sheer size of
the ship because of it being tied up to the dock there, you could compare its size to other things
like the terminal building, cars, buses, etc.  It was readily apparent to all that this baby was
HUGE -- bigger than anything that they had imagined.

It is like the Grand Canyon. You can see pictures, movies, whatever, about it but until you walk up
to the very edge of the canyon and look at it for the first time, “You ain’t seen nothing.”  Your mind
can almost not comprehend the vastness of all that you can see and sense.  

When we were standing outside of the shuttle bus before we went inside of the terminal, it was
sort of the same thing -- you could finally see and sense the utter vastness, largeness of this
beautiful, magnificent, white cruise ship.

We headed for our rooms as soon as we boarded the ship to check them out and to unload all the
carry-on luggage we had. We had already been told that it might be as late as 11 that night before
all of our luggage was brought to our cabins.  We had great rooms on Deck 3 forward and they
were outside rooms with huge windows.  

Our room was interconnected to Ashley, John, Matthew and Madelyn’s room next door and then
Michael, Elyse, and Garrett’s room was next to theirs. Both Ashley and Michael’s rooms had the
pull down Pullman type beds and the grandkids thought that was the neatest thing ever.

All the rooms had new flat screen TVs, a mini-bar, and the standard make-all-the-jokes-about tiny
cruise ship bathroom.  Actually, it is quite usable and these rooms had the new shower stalls --
the type that open up with curved, sliding doors and when closed back, it made for a neat,
watertight shower.

We met our cabin steward, a nice lady from Jamaica, and Deanna told her how we wanted our
beds made up in our room -- split apart into two singles versus one queen size. The closet space in
our cabin seemed larger than we have had before and with all that area plus the drawers by the
dressing table, the cabinets by the head of the beds, and the empty space underneath the beds as
well, we had plenty of space for all the stuff we had dragged along with us from home.

Looking back on it now (actually thought of it while onboard ship), I now realize that we bring
way, way too many clothes for just a 7-day cruise.  I KNOW I do.  I know that it is probably
fashionable to wear a different pair of Bermuda shorts every day, and a new, clean tee-shirt but
really-- back home, I can wear the same pair of shorts for days on end and maybe change
tee-shirts twice.  Plus we spend HOURS during the cruise wearing nothing but a bathing suit and
the same old favorite T-shirt.  

Next cruise -- I'm determined to go from three suitcases, two overnight bags and one carry-on bag
to just two suitcases, one overnight bag, and one carry-on bag.  I'm also thinking about dumping the
Tux also (takes up so much room in suitcase) -- just bring my light weight black suit.

After dumping all of our junk, we all headed for Deck 11. Being repeat cruisers, Deanna and I knew
where to head. Soon we were sipping cool ones and hanging out on the railings and looking at all that
was going on not only onboard ship, but in the harbor area itself there in Miami. Since we were not
sailing until 5 p.m., we were the last cruise ship in port. The waterway around us was alive with
water craft filled with people just gawking at us or headed for parts unknown. The harbor police
(read that, Home Land Security) were constantly staying close all around us -- making sure no one
approached the ship or tried to touch it, etc.

They've come a long ways in the last five or so years. Not too long ago, all they had for patrol
boats were small pleasure type craft -- maybe an 18-foot Boston Whaler type -- great boat but
not like what they have now. Most now use the military type (Navy SEALS) -- heavy duty Zodiac
crafts with triple 200 horsepower outboards on back and a .50 or .30 caliber machine gun
mounted up front. When they pull up alongside you and say slow down or stop, no one even thinks
about auguring (or trying to out run them).

I was hoping a sea plane would be over across the channel from us at the sea plane terminal but
none were there. I wanted the grandkids to see one taxing down the ship channel and lift off or
better still, watch one swooping down and landing along side of us.

I can not begin to tell you how totally fantastic and fulfilled I felt inside seeing how excited
everyone in my family was.  I was relishing in the obvious pleasures they were all experiencing.  
With our colorful Hawaiian shirts on, we really looked like we were ready to rock and roll when
we were all up on the top deck and waving to people as we left port.  

We left port shortly after 5 p.m. (the ship actually waited for a few passengers) and with the two
VERY loud blasts of the ship’s horn signaling that we were underway, we slipped out of Miami into
the Atlantic Ocean and then headed southeast towards the Caribbean island of Hispaniola -- home
to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

We were up on Deck 12 forward by then and leaning against the railings and enjoying the views,
talking with each other, and having a sip on our Coco Locos when the ship's horn sounded off right
above our heads.

Lord, I wish you could have seen the people around us jump -- they had NO idea it was coming or
that it would be that loud. They didn't know whether to run and hide or jump -- it was a hoot!  We
were all laughing hysterically at ourselves and at the others around us and then when it went off
again, it was one giant laughing match.

It was sort of like in an old John Wayne western movie when HE stood up in the saddle and
hollered "Wagons Hoooooooo!"

You KNEW it was time to leave (wagon or ship) and we were gone...

As we left Miami behind us in the late afternoon sky, we all went below to freshen up a bit and then
head to our assigned dinning room -- Isaac’s -- on Deck 4 at the stern on the ship for dinner.  

This dinning room was enormous.  In actuality, it was on three Decks -- 3, 4, and 5 -- and was all
opened up in that the center section was cut away above and below us so that you could see people
and tables on all three decks. The names of the dinning areas were different on each deck.

We ate at 6:15 tonight -- because of the late sailing -- and for the rest of the week our dinner time
would be at 6 sharp.  We had our own table, number 405 and beautifully set for nine people and it
was on the outside area with window views of the ocean.  It was a great table location and we really
enjoyed being there.

Our waiter for the week was named Allen and he took excellent care of us. He had a brand new
assistant waiter to help him.  She had only been onboard for just 2 weeks.  Anyway, they both took
excellent care of us all week.

After enjoying our first sit down dinner together, we all wandered off to explore some more of the
ship, especially the Promenade area with all its shops and stuff. The kids had fallen in love with the
glass elevators that were facing inward towards the open atrium area -- almost 9 decks tall there
at the two main elevator areas that were on opposite ends of the Promenade. When you were in the
elevators and looking up or down or out towards the open Promenade area itself, it was mind
boggling almost -- we were on a ship at sea -- not in some 5-star hotel or shopping mall.

Since this had been a LONG day, we finally headed back to our rooms for the evening.  Luck was
with us because by the time we got back, our luggage had arrived and we could start the ritual of
unpacking and storing a week’s worth of clothes etc.  After about an hour, we (Deanna) finally
figured out where every thing needed to be stored and with the empty suitcases stored under our
beds, we finally hit the sheets.

Deanna had also finally found the radio device that she wears and listen to so as to not have to
listen to me snore.  This was also why the beds had been separated -- to put as much distance
between her and my snoring.  

Sleep would come fast tonight -- real fast -- it had been a very long day!
After cruising all night Sunday, we woke up Monday morning to a beautiful blue sky and nothing
but ocean all around us. Today and our next to last day, Saturday, will be full days at sea. I love
sea days because it really gives you a chance to just relax and not really have to be worried about
getting off the ship, or catching a tender to go ashore, or meeting up with tour operators
somewhere, and then most importantly, not having to worry about getting back onboard.  

Like they always tell you, if you are ashore and hear one blast on the ship’s horn, you’d better be
running towards the ship.  If you hear two blasts, enjoy the view and wave good bye -- it left
without you!

We all met up on Deck 11 in the Windjammer Café for breakfast and enjoyed our first relaxed
breakfast aboard ship.  We tried to meet up all during the rest of the week but as each day passed,
everyone felt more relaxed and comfortable with the ship and came to breakfast when they felt
like getting out of bed. Sometimes we all got together or just some of us did.   

It didn’t matter -- we all enjoyed the breakfast area and all the great selections of foods available
(all buffet style).  They had waiters there but they mainly just got coffee, juice, etc, for you and
helped people with carrying food if they needed any help and also cleaned up the tables once you
left.  Most of the waiters in the Windjammer were also assistant waiters in one of the main dinning
rooms.

This morning we made sure everyone had a walkie-talkie and that it was set to the right frequency
so we all could talk to each other.  Deanna had bought these things over time -- have three sets of
them I think -- so that when she goes to Harrah's Casino in Cherokee, NC, she can keep up with
whoever she is with -- me, her sister, friends, whoever.

These things were great and with a range of about 5 miles (ours anyway), we had no problems
communicating with each other and as the week passed by, we relied on them more and more to
keep tabs on each other.  I also noticed throughout the week that lots of fellow cruisers had the  
same idea.  Lord, at times, it looked like we were back in the old CB radio days.  I could just hear
Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane calling Boss Hog on the old Dukes of Hazzard TV Show -- "That's a
10/4, little fat buddy, back atcha ... what's your 10/20, come on?"     

The kids hit the H20 Zone early there on Deck 11 and we hung around there for most of the middle
of the day.  This area was awesome for them and they all thoroughly enjoyed playing in and with all
of the water features located there. Deanna and I sat on lounge chairs in the shade and watched all
the goings on while Ashley and John cooked out in the hot sun -- as did Michael and Elyse.

Of course sitting there on a hot day required some refreshments and a couple of buckets of Buds
(or Coronas) helped fight off the heat attack. Besides, right next to the H2O Zone, was the family
pool area and there was a stage there that usually had a live band playing and singing and all of that
just made enjoying a few cool ones in the shade that much more enjoyable.

It is in this middle pool area that they have all sorts of ship-sponsored events like the cruise staff
against a team of passengers in a water polo game, or line dancing with passengers led by a cruise
staff member, or other hilarious events like the “Men’s Sexy Leg Contest,” or the “Men’s
Heavyweight World Champion Belly Flop Diving Contest.”

Today, after a fantastic “Line Dancing Event” with about 50 passengers participating and dancing
to great music provided by the live band right there on  stage, they had  the “Men’s Sexy Leg
Contest “ and what can I say -- “It was it a screaming hoot.”

About 15 guys joined in on the fun and the whole affair was directed by the Cruise Director
himself.  Deanna and I have been on lots of cruises but this guy was by far, the best -- the most
talented, versatile, funny, professional, crazy, and lovable Cruise Director we had even seen. He
was young and slender, a great singer, dancer, comedian, and talked with a British Accent and could
do “Austin Powers” better than Mike Meyers could.

These crazy 15 contestants strutted around in front of four women judges sitting in a line of
chairs.  The crowd was roaring with wild hoots and cat calls -- it was fantastic. Lord, the range of
sexy legs was unbelievable! There were legs that were young or old, snow white or deeply tanned,
fat as cows or thin as chickens, and hairy as an ape or hairless. The antics and dance routines these
guys went through in front of the judges was hilarious and of course, all the time being egged on by
Richard -- the Cruise Director.  

One guy -- gutsiest guy I have seen in a long time -- was a veteran (about 30 years old) who only
had one leg.  His other leg was one of those hi-tech metal post type prostheses with a fake foot
and tennis shoe on it.  He could dance and strut his stuff -- unbelievable and the crowd went nuts
with appreciated for his act.

We had an Ice Cream machine near us and of course the kids loved this thing -- free -- just walk
up, grab a cone and load it up with your choice of ice cream.  Deanna and I tried out one of the
spas (hot tubs) right in front of us and it was wonderful.  I love these things and generally stay in
them way too long (I wait until I get the wrinkles then climb out).

Sea days are great and I think my family crew enjoyed theirs.  Everyone felt free to go off
exploring all over the ship and check out different things. Michael and Garret went up to the 12th
deck all the way aft behind the rock climbing wall and basketball court and played (surfed) on the
Flow Rider.

Man -- this thing is awesome. The Flow Rider is a man-made wave of water that is made from
thousands of gallons of water shooting out at about 22 miles per hour from special nozzles lined up
across about a 20-foot wide area level with the deck .

Because the actual floor of the device then starts slopping upwards that the water is rushing over,
the height of the water/wave reached is about five feet high 20 feet away at the back of the
rider.  This back area is like a flat platform where all the water ends up at -- as well as most all
the riders who fall off of their surf boards.

The depth of the water is only about 3 inches at any given place and the course (surfing area) is
either wide open (full 20 feet available) or it is two 10-foot wide areas, side-by-side, with a padded
buffer curtain divided the two surfing areas.  

You can body surf (with standard sized boogie boards) or actually stand up on small surf boards
and surf as you would out in the ocean.  It is awesome to watch those that can do the stand-up
board surfing. Most people can not do it at first (might can later if they practice and fall a lot).
Generally, they get flipped off the board in one or two seconds and then the force of the water
carries them up and over the top of the slopped wave form and dumps then out at the top.  

Even the body surfing on the boogie board can be intimidating because one wrong move and boom,
you are flipped over and carried up and over the top and unceremoniously dumped on your butt.  

I thought that Garrett might have been intimated by all this, especially the sight of continually
seeing people -- young and old -- falling and getting dumped up on top at the back of the Flow Rider.
Garrett never hesitated -- he grabbed his boogie board and jumped out and down onto the
onrushing water and boogie board surfed like a pro.  He just knew he could do it and did it. The
ships photographers were there taking pictures and we got two outstanding shots of Michael and
Garrett surfing on the Flow Rider.  

Later in the week Elyse also did the boogie board ride and was outstanding. She was nervous about
it at first. Everyone is especially after seeing people fall over in one second and then go zipping up
and over the top of the wave in a, well, lets just call it an unflattering pose -- net -- upside down,
arms and legs stretched out like a scared chicken in flight as you tumble your way to the back stop!  
Anyway, she finally jumped on and was doing great but then she realized she had no idea how
to stop.

The water is coming at you at 20+ miles per hours and you ARE going to body surf whether you want
to or not (unless you fall off) -- it does not let you just quit!  Michael finally got her to steer her
boogie board over to the far side and she sort of ran into the side wall and then was able to
successfully stop/crash and get up off the board.  She told us later that it was great at first, but
when she realized she had NO idea how to stop, she was afraid she was going to be stuck there
forever or until they turned the water off.  Did I mention that Michael was laughing at her all the
time -- laughing hard?

Well, the day ended with another great meal at our assigned dining room table.  This was Ashley’s
birthday (and Garrett’s was just the Saturday before we sailed) and I had told Allen about it
before the meal had even started. As soon as our meal was over, here he comes with a bunch of the
other waiters, assistant waiters, and the Head Waiter -- all singing Happy Birthday to both Ashley
and  Garrett.  Of course the waiters had the one-candle cakes with them and both of our birthday
celebrators blew out their candles and made wishes.  The cakes must have been good -- they didn’t
offer to share them with anybody!

Afterwards, we all just did our different things.  Some of us went to shows, some to the Royal
Casino and some went to the Promenade area to just look around and maybe get some Ben & Jerry
Ice Cream or maybe find a Pub or bar like the Piano bar in the Schooner Lounge to just hang out
for a while.

Around bedtime for the kids, Michael and Elyse graciously took Matthew and Madelyn under their
wings and let Ashley and John have a night to just themselves and go party on the ship as they saw
fit to further celebrate Ashley’s birthday.  I am not sure (just rumors, understand) but I heard
that you could not count to ten in the time left between when they got back to their staterooms
and when it was time to get up and go for breakfast.

Just a rumor, you understand, just a rumor.
Tuesday morning found us arriving at Labadee, Haiti for our first stop (port of call) and in short --
it was fantastic.

This is a private peninsula on the north shore of Haiti and is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
The peninsula averages about 200 yards wide and 1,000 yards long and is like a tropical paradise --
beautiful beaches, palm trees, sandy grounds raked clean, clean restrooms, and happy smiling faces
everywhere. Elyse fell in love with it immediately and wanted to move there -- right then.

We were anchored at sea in a lagoon on the leeward side of the peninsula and therefore, we had to
take tender boats over to the dock near one of the beach areas and the kids thought this was
fantastic.  The tenders ran back and forth the entire time we were there at Labadee. Remember
the rule I stated earlier about one blast, two blasts on the ships horn? Same is basically true here
-- miss the last tender and you get left.  I have no idea how you would eventually get back to
the ship.

With the property being a peninsula, there is the lagoon side where the ship was anchored and
where the tenders dock and then there is the ocean side which has rougher water (small waves)
because it faces directly to the Atlantic Ocean.  Both sides have beautiful beaches and there are
hundreds of beach lounge chairs on both sides and it is really just a personal preference of the
water type (calm or tiny waves) that makes the beaches different.

When we had first arrived on the ocean beach (opposite side of the peninsular from where we
landed), we saw what looked like some sort of new electrical transmission lines crossing over the
ocean right in front of us. There was a tall metal tower way over and up on the mountain side to
our right that looked just like those things you see around the country side carrying electricity.  

Anyway, it had five wires strung from it over to way over to some sort of raised platform device
out near the end of the peninsula on our left and we just assumed this was how they now got power
to the RCCL property.  

We thought this until low and behold, here comes five people zipping along in front of us -- hanging
down from the wires, arm outstretched, and yelling their heads off as they went flying past us
towards the ends of the wires.  

A ZIP LINE -- the wildest looking one I had ever seen.  As soon as we saw this, I KNEW I was
going to try this baby out.  

Michael, Ashley, John, and I did the “Over the Ocean” zip line -- the longest one in the world.  All
I can say is, “Oh my God,” it was FANTASTIC!  

One end is a huge metal tower sitting perched 800 feet up on the side of a mountain and the other
end is over 3,000 feet away on the tip of the peninsula at sea level.  

With five zip lines, you are released five at a time but slightly staggered apart. When it was our
time to go (fearlessly step off into space and pray that your harness apparatus is properly
attached all around your body), I was last to go (Ashley was number 4) but I beat her to the
landing platform.  

Lord, were we both flying through the air -- it was utterly fantastic.  We both started out like we
were told to do -- spread both legs out and raise and spread your arms -- all to cut down on the
speed and help stay straight because the wind was picking up.  We zipped along and were both
yelling and hollering with excitement.  We could see Elyse over on the beach frantically trying to
take pictures of us but we were hauling by too fast.

About half way to the landing platform, I lay back (was not supposed to -- makes you go real fast),
held my feet out in front of me and torpedoed through the air.

Stretched out like that, plus with my weight, I was hauling butt through the air.  I passed Ashley
about 100 feet before the end and was up on the landing platform when I heard her zip line
traveling block slam into the braking system.

It was awesome -- I would do it again in a heart beat.  Deanna was going to try it but after we saw
how hard you land (slamming with a head-jolting hard stop into the braking system) at a 200 foot
practice zip line that you have to do first, we decided that this might not be for her. She was not
a happy camper. I honestly think that she could have done the main zip line because you actually
end up landing a lot easier than you do on the short practice zip line.

Once you successfully do the test run to get checked out on how to do it and if you are still game
(and survive the jolting stop), you get on specially equipped 4-wheel drive open air trucks (like
Land Rovers) and take a narrow, very steep and winding dirt road trip up the side of the mountain
to the launch tower.  

Just standing up there on the tower (about 100 feet in the air and way above the  trees) was
worth the whole ordeal.  The view was utterly awesome -- we could see forever in all directions.  
We could just barely see the landing area way over on the other side of the small bay we would
zip over.  You are actually out over the ocean for about 80% of the total zip line run.

We all had gone swimming out in the ocean on the Atlantic side before we did the zip line and while
we were doing it, all the kids went to a special water park feature that was set up in the lagoon
side of the peninsula. Garrett fell in love with the water -- it was crystal clear and warm -- plus
he could see rocks (limestone and coral) on the bottom in all sorts of weird shapes and soon had
himself quite a collection.  

There was shopping on the grounds -- all native goods -- and some stalls were set up outside in the
shade of trees and some were inside huge market sheds that were so crowed, that it made you feel
uncomfortable to walk through them.  Each vendor’s stall inside the sheds was only about 4 feet
wide (maybe 6 feet deep) and each one (vendor) was high pressure hawking their wares. Deanna
and Madelyn had walked through there (after I warned them not to) and it frightened Madelyn a
little bit so they made a bee-line for the other end of the shed and got back out side.  

Mid-afternoon brought threatening clouds and a hint that our time here on this beautiful peninsula
was drawing to an end. We knew that tonight was the first of our two formal nights and since
everyone wanted to have plenty of time to get all dolled up for the evening’s festivities, we
decided to call it a day and head back to the ship.

Because Deanna was in a special beach wheelchair provide by RCCL, we got to bypass the very long
line of fellow passengers waiting to get back on a tender to return to the ship. We said our
goodbyes to the kids and to Labadee and caught a tender back out to the ship. They ended up
catching the next one.

We made it back out to the ship OK and just as we were approaching our cabin, Deanna realized
that she had Garrett's cruise card in her beach bag.  He had his card in a holder attached to a
lanyard that he wore around his neck and had taken it off and laid it on the lounge chair beside
Deanna's chair to go swimming. Sometime in the daily activities, it had gotten knocked off and
Deanna had found it lying in the sand, picked it up and had put it in her beach bag and forgotten
that she had it.

We suddenly realized that now back on ship, we had his card and without it, Garrett could not get
back on ship.  I frantically tried to reach Michael on our walkie-talkies to let him know that we
had Garrett's card but could not reach him.  By the time I found him, they had just come aboard
and all was OK.

Long story short, they had to go through a small hassle to get him back onboard -- nothing major,
thank goodness -- and had to cancel out that card and issue him a new one.  It all ended well but it
was scary for a moment.  We found out later that a child loosing his card is one thing compared to
an adult -- especially if the card is lost off of the ship and the adult was trying to reboard
without one.

Garret kept a tight reign on his card after that -- never took his lanyard off.

We would be having a fancy setting at our table in the formal dinning room where we ate every
night, and then we knew we would be in for several picture-taking events (by the ship’s
photographers) before finally heading for the big live production show in the Broadway-style
theater located on two levels at the bow (front) of the ship.

Slipping back into a Tux again actually felt good.  Deanna and I have always enjoyed formal night on
all the cruises we take. We get the chance to act out like we were back in the golden age of cruise
liners when they steamed valiantly across the Atlantic and everyone dressed to the nines for
dinner and all that sort of thing.

We were both seated in the dinning room at our table when the rest of our brood showed up. The
grandkids were picture perfect models of manners, good looks, and feeling good about themselves.  
Matthew and Garrett looked so handsome -- like miniature James Bonds -- complete with red vests
and bow ties and black pearl cuff links and shirt stud pins.  

Michael and John were dressed the same way (and same as me) and they looked so handsome and
smart -- straight out of the movies.

Madelyn -- my only granddaughter -- Lord, she was so beautiful and so grown up looking.  My heart
melted when I saw her smiling face and saw the pleasure she herself felt about how wonderful she
looked.  Ashley was absolutely stunning in her evening dress -- sexy, classy, and God, just plain
beautiful as was Elyse -- drop dead gorgeous also and pure class and both her and Ashley walking
very tall, proud, and happy.

Deanna had already turned all my wheels over the moment I had seen her after she told me in the
stateroom, “OK, now I am beautiful.”  

Even 45 years of marriage does not diminish the total beauty and class that she so elegantly
carries with her soft voice and melting smile.  She too stood tall and proud and looked absolutely
stunning in her formal evening gown. Plus, it was just cool -- and I loved seeing Deanna dressed to
the nines and glow as a beautiful woman who feels loved and cared for.

I was a proud grandfather, proud father, proud father-in-law, and a proud husband.

Deanna and I hit the Royal Casino just about every night at sea after we went to the shows and
contributed to the casino’s 401K pension fund. It was fun and some nights, Ashley, John, Elyse, and
Michael would join us for a short time.  

I have become hooked on all the crazy penny and nickel slot machines -- 20 dollars will take you a
long time to spin through it plus it is just fun. Every now and then I will venture over to the
quarter machines and after dropping 10 bucks in 3 minutes, I am back on the penny slots.  

After breaking even on the slots, Deanna and I headed back to our stateroom -- we were both
worn out.  Tomorrow was going to be another great day and we were both tired.  I am not sure
what kind of animal (made out of white towels by our cabin steward) it was waiting on Deanna’s
bed when we got back to the cabin but she swore it was an elephant.  I still say it was either an
Aardvark or an Ant Eater.
Wednesday morning found us sailing into the beautiful harbor area of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Located
on the northern shore of Jamaica, this was the first real port we were visiting and everyone was
excited.  The kids would be going to their very first foreign city and were ready to go.

We had an Ocho Rios highlight tour with a visit to Dunn’s River Falls scheduled for mid-morning, so
we took our time getting off the ship.  We actually docked here so we got to just walk off the ship
and head for the tour buildings located at the end of the pier where the security check points
were located.

I have always been amazed (and rewarded) by seemingly simple and spur of the moment things that
happen in my life.  One of my all time favorite tee-shirts is a black one with the words in white that
say, “I do all my own stunts” printed above a crime scene type, white-chalk outline of a body
sprawled out on the ground.  

Today seemed to be the perfect day to wear it since we were going to be doing a crazy stunt like
climb up Dunn’s River Falls, so when Deanna and I headed off the ship early to wait for the others
at the end of the pier, I proudly wore my favorite tee-shirt.

We were down there at the end of the pier at the security check point and entrances to the tour
building killing time when I heard Deanna say, “Mike, you need to come over here and see this.”

I was taking pictures of the ships in the harbor and walked back over to where she was sitting and
looked back out the long pier we had just come ashore on when I saw what she was talking about.

Marching tall, proud, and laughing all the way down the pier was my three grandchildren -- ALL
wearing tee-shirts just like the one I had on. God, it was fantastic -- I broke out into a wide smiling
yell and tears all at the same time I was so happy.

Deanna had planned this for months -- buying the tee-shirts, getting them to the grandkids and
when she saw me dressing this morning, frantically called Ashley and Michael up and told them that
I had finally picked today to wear the shirt.

So simple, so beautiful, yet so overwhelming wonderful and I will remember it for the rest of my
life -- that the four us hit the beach in Ocho Rios wearing the same tee-shirt -- “YEA, Baby, that’s
what I am talking about!”

We found our tour guide after a while and finally loaded up into an air-conditioned van and took off
on our short tour of the surrounding countryside.  It was a typical tour through some very poverty
stricken areas in St. Ann’s Parish before ending at Dunn’s River Falls, our main thing to do on
the tour.  

I am glad we saw what we did along the way to the falls because it showed the grandkids that
everyone in the world does not live like we do and do not have all the material things that we almost
take for granted in our daily lives.  We drove all around in a tiny village called Saint Ann’s Bay.  On
one street, we saw a local lying back on a low rock wall and was obviously smoking some sort of drug
-- he was so spaced out and pathetic looking.

However, we saw several good things along the way like so many types of beautiful flowering trees
and plants, fruit trees, and all the banana trees and the breadfruit trees. After our short tour, we
finally arrived at the parking lot at Dunn’s River Falls. The place was already packed with buses,
vans, and people.

We all had our bathing suits on and after locking all of our stuff up in the van, we followed our tour
guide into the park (I guess this whole place is like a State Park) and down to where we would meet
up with our “Falls Guide.”  

These people worked at Dunn’s River and knew all the best ways (supposedly) to walk, hike (struggle)
back up the falls from the beach where the river water ran straight out into the Atlantic Ocean.
They also carried a DVD type camera with them and filmed their groups coming up the falls.  

The place was crawling with people -- thousands of them. When Deanna and I came here over 10
years ago, it was almost empty.  Today, it took us almost an hour just to make our way down the
long, steep, and winding path to the beach where you actually start your hike back up the falls.

Even though I knew that Deanna and Madelyn were not going to try and hike back up the falls
(river), I couldn’t help but think about (and worry about) those hundreds of steps we went down
and realized that she and Madelyn would have to make it back up the same way they came down.

I tried to talk her out of it but it was no use -- she and Madelyn both were determined to see us
get to the beach and then take pictures us as we hiked back up in the river that literally ran right
beside the paved, stepped walkway.

Our group had about 100 people in it (as just about all groups did) and you hold hands and
walk/climb/struggle in single file up the roaring falls. Hand to hand, higher and higher we climbed
with each wet, shaky foot movement in the water and on slippery rocks. Sometimes, the lines
crossed each other and it was like a crazy scene in an old “Keystone Cops” movie with everyone
trying to stay connected to their group while passing through some other group’s line of fall hikers.

At times, we all stumbled and if it were not for holding on to each other, we’d all fallen more often
than we did.  One time Ashley fell and the old man behind her who was holding on to her hand fell
(was pulled) into a deep hole with her -- scared the devil out of both of them.

Most of the time, the water was moving so fast and heavy, it would almost knock your feet out from
under you. We were constantly climbing higher and higher, so it was a never ending series of finding
a place to get a foot hold and step or jump to the next level.  

I have to admit that at times, it was scary and I was so proud of Matthew and Garrett -- they were
tough troopers and hung in there and had a ball. I was in the middle between them and they helped
out their granddad more than they will ever know. I can not emphasis enough how proud I was of
them because hiking up Dunn’s River Falls is a difficult task to accomplish and lots of people do not
make it -- slip, fall, or get hurt right off the bat.

Like I said, it was a struggle and very, very hard at times, but we all had finally hiked up the falls
from the beach all the way back up to what they call the almost there mark. The total height of the
falls is something like 600 feet -- spread out over about a quarter of a mile run to the ocean.  We
had probably climbed back up a little over 400 feet of the actual vertical climb.

The wide open and beautiful place in the river where we sort of stopped to gather up our resolve
and to figure what to do next was an absolutely gorgeous place in the river with wide expanses of
falls -- water spilling over creamy white limestone rocks. Our conga line of fall climbers had
become totally busted up -- no longer knew what group we belong to. There was an easy exit here
over to the paved walkway where Deanna and Madelyn were (soaking wet, I might add as it was
pouring rain) and it looked awful tempting.

We all stood there in the middle of the river and looked at each other and after a few quick nods
of agreement, all of us except Michael & Elyse decided to call it quits and exit the river while we
were still ahead of the game. Even though we were almost to the top, it had become so hard to do,
and so dangerous.

Plus, there were at least 10,000 (it seemed) people trying to do it at the same time and the lines
just got to be too confusing and frustrating trying to all stay together (almost to the point of not
being safe any more). Two minutes after we exited the river, Michael and Elyse changed their minds
and climbed out also and joined us on the trail back up to our tour van.

I had rented (borrowed) a pair of what they call wet shoes (tiny slip on rubber shoes with great
ribbed soles for traction) and had to run out to our van to get money to pay the person who was
holding my Nike tennis shoes as hostages until I returned with her rental money. Trying to hike up
the falls without the wet shoes would be foolish but I saw lots who were trying it but I  also saw
them slipping and sliding on their bare feet.

God, it had been so fantastic, so exciting, so beautiful, but no more for me -- getting too old for
that stuff.  As I said before, it also had been raining like a son-of-a-gun the whole time but it
didn’t matter -- we were soaking wet any way.  

After we all had made our way out of the falls (river) safely and back up onto the pathway that
leads down to the beach (and I had returned with my wet shoe rental money), we all walked out of
the park soaking wet -- including Deanna and Madelyn.  We found our tour guide and driver up in
the parking lot, now jammed packed with people, cars, and vans, and piled back into our tour van and
rode back to the ship soaking wet and laughing and talking excitedly about the great adventure we
all had just shared.

Normally, these type of tours would then take you some where and stop so you could shop.  I am
quite sure there are all sorts of agreements between tour operators and shops. The tour, stop, and
shop routine is a common practice seen all over the Caribbean.  Our tour guide seemed quite put off
that we told her and the driver, "Skip the stop to shop -- we want to go straight back to the  ship."

We were wet, tired, and just wanted to go home (ship).  Some things never change.

As we left the parking lot, I could not help but think again about Madelyn, and Deanna especially,
walking back up all those steps from the beach.  Four months ago, Deanna could never have even
been able to walk down to the beach area, much less been able to climb all those steps back up to
the parking lot.  The girls both had a challenge set out for them this day -- cold, raining, and hiking
back up over 600 feet in elevation -- GOD, I was so proud of them. Madelyn stuck right by her
grandmother, held her hand, and made sure she was OK.

Back onboard ship, a soak for me in the hot tub spa on Deck 11 that is cantilevered out over the
ocean was a wonderful, wonderful reward.  Oh, yeah, I could get use to this spa -- you are literally
suspended out from the side of the ship about 12 feet and then about 100 feet above the ocean
below you.  The views were spectacular to say the least.

We had tickets for the Ice Show down on Deck 3 for tonight and everyone was excited about going.  
After dinner, we made our way to the arena which can also be used as a dance floor or other events
because of the specially designed floor that hides the ice when not in use.

The kids were blown away (so were us adults) by the thought that here we were on a ship out in the
middle of the ocean, in the hot Caribbean, and watching a fantastic and mesmerizing show being
performed live by dancers on ice. The show was stunning with all the various acts and presentations
-- each with its own theme and music.

Once again, another day on our fabulous cruise was coming to a close. While the soak in the tub had
felt good after we got back from Dunn’s River Falls, I was starting to feel the aching muscles in my
legs and back and I for one, was ready to see what sort of animal our cabin steward had made out
of towels and placed on Deanna’s bed to greet us tonight when we returned to our cabin.
We arrived Thursday morning in the beautiful port of Georgetown, Grand Cayman.  We were unable
to dock directly here which makes getting on and off the ship not quite as easy like yesterday in
Ocho Rios where we just docked and dropped the gangway over to the pier which allowed us to just
walked off the ship.

Today was like Tuesday in that we had to transfer over to tenders for a short ride to the docks in
port.  Since the seas were calm, the process was easy as compared to doing it when the seas are
rough and there is a lot of movement  up and down, etc, of the tenders as it is being loaded while
tied tightly to the ship.  They always tie off (lines from tender to ship) and then throttle the
tender forwards to keep it snug against the ship but occasionally when the seas are rough, even this
configuration produces a few anxious moments after you badge out at security and try to board the
bouncing tender.

You have to badge out and back in every time you leave or board the ship. The very first time you
put your cruise card in the card reader at the security check station when first coming aboard,
your picture is taken and from then on out, every time your card is inserted into the reader, your
picture pops up for the security guards (Royal Caribbean's) to look at.  

If you and the picture do not match up, you are detained.  This procedure prevents someone from
stealing your badge (card) and trying to use it to gain entry to the ship.  Plus, by making all of us
badge out, they know at any given moment who is or is not onboard ship.  When it gets time to leave
port and the counts do not add up (number that left ship is more than number returning), not only
do they know how many are missing, but exactly who it is that is missing.

That is one of the great things about taking ship-sponsored tours. If they are late getting back,
the ship will wait on that tour. However, if you are out and about on your own and are late --  its
wave at the ship as it sails time.

We had no tours planned for Grand Cayman so we all just walked into town (literally at the foot of
the pier where our tender docked) and agreed to meet at “Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville” in an
hour or so. Georgetown is very much British as she is still a part of the British Commonwealth as a
British Overseas Territory. It was cloudy again and you could sense rain in the air. We didn't care
-- we were on vacation.

About an hour later, we all finally met up at Margaritaville.  After working our way through the
huge gift shop on the first floor, we walked up a set of stairs to the second level where there was
another gift shop and a huge restaurant/bar area.

Lord, Margaritaville was loud, thumping with music, jumping with dancers, and lots of fun. There was
a live DJ on the scene and he had the place buzzing with energetic excitement.  

I was sitting there drinking one of the house specialty beers and listening to the music when the DJ
broke in and said he had a special announcement to make -- he wanted everyone in the restaurant to
know that the Bailey and Crawford families wanted to say thanks to “Mike and Deanna” for bring all
of them on a cruise. God, I felt so wonderful inside listening to all the yells of the well wishers in
the crowd as well as those from my family.  Deanna and I were touched very deeply by the unselfish
thanks that our children wanted to publicly share with everyone there at Margaritaville.

There was a stage, elevated up about 3 feet in the middle of the restaurant area, and the DJ
usually had some sort of event going on up there like beer guzzling contests, hip hop dancing,
whatever. He knew how to work a crowd and kept up a constant chatter.

We stayed there several hours -- ate lunch and drink a few cool ones. The place even had a
swimming pool right outside and next to the restaurant/bar area. Both Garrett and Elyse just HAD
to go in and try the slide that started from a 15-foot high platform in one corner and then the slide
curved its way down and into the pool. I kept trying to catch Garrett in a picture but missed him
every time. By the time Elyse tried it, I had the timing down pat and got a great shot of her
zooming down the slide just before she went feet first into the pool.  

By the way, it finally rained liked the devil on us here but again, so what -- we were having fun.  We
escaped most of the rain by being inside Margaritaville for so long but in truth, we really did not
care.  If you let rain stop your fun on vacation, you might be in for a world of down times and gloom
and doom.  Not this crew -- it was full speed ahead.

After a wonderful time in Margaritaville, we started to make our way back to the ship. Since we had
used a tender to come ashore, we left in plenty of time to avoid long lines at the docks waiting to
catch a tender back out to our ship -- our home at sea. We were also very thankful that this was a
clam sea day because the tender ride back out to the ship was very smooth and not NOT bouncing
up and down, swaying back and forth in rough waters ... understand?

We eventually made our way back onboard ship and once again it was hot tub spa time for me and a
bucket of buds. This was a galvanized bucket that held six Bud Lites (new 16 oz heavy aluminum
bottles with RCCL’s logo on the side) and you get six for the price of five.  You could request any
brand of beer for the bucket but everyone, even the waiters, just referred to them as a bucket
of buds.

Tonight was our last formal night so once again all of us guys got James Bond hansom in our black
Tuxes with red vests and waited for the girls to dazzle us with their formal evening wear. My 11
year-old granddaughter, Madelyn, Lord have mercy was she beautiful as were my other ladies --
Deanna, Ashley, and Elyse.  It was fun dressing up and looking sharp. Both of my grandsons told me
it was cool to dress up like this.

Tonight’s big time production show in the big theater featured an Illusionist as the headliner.  The
kids all sat with me on the front row because they were sure if they were that close, they could
figure out how it was all done. Matthew says he figured out a few things but I saw nothing  -- I
might have been sleeping for all I know -- Margaritaville HAD been fun!

I had once again contributed to the Royal Casino’s retirement plan tonight and with all of the other
today’s fantastic events still fresh in my mind, I hit the sack to get rested up for our last port of
call coming up tomorrow. Sleep came quick for me tonight -- visions of spinning slot machine wheels
of Texas Oil Wells and Squealing Pigs trying to fly lulled me to sleep.
Friday found us at Cozumel, Mexico.  By the time we arrived, all the piers in the center of town
were full so we ended up docking at the International Pier which is about three miles from
downtown.  It’s not too bad there -- lots of brand new shopping places right there -- but I wanted
the kids to see old Cozumel so we caught a cab (van) and went into town.  

There, we all wandered around on our own and enjoyed the sights. Deanna and I found a neat little
place on a side street right by the square in the middle of town that had several small tables with
umbrellas out front and Coronas for $1.50 -- who could resist?  Later, on another side street, we
spotted Michael and Elyse parked at a similar small table under an umbrella and drinking Coronas
there for just a dollar. I could get use to these prices, oh yeah!

We joined them for a round and then we all headed back over to the main boulevard by the ocean to
meet back up at a McDonalds with Ashley and her group. They had visited the museum in town and
were amazed by all the stuff that they had seen -- especially the stuff about the Mayan people and
their pyramids, etc.

We all took a potty break at one of the neatest McDonalds around -- was upstairs and had a killer
view of the ocean from balcony seats that faced the ocean and to the bustling boulevard down
below.  After refreshing up, we caught a cab back out to the International Pier.

There, we headed straight for Señor Frog's right there at the entrance to the pier where we were
tied up alongside another Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship -- the “Serenade of the Seas” -- and
camped out there for about three hours and ate lunch and drank a WHOLE lot of Margaritas and
beers.  Deanna  and I had camped out at the very same place a few years ago and were excited
about coming back for a visit.

The location of the bar, literally right there at the edge of the ocean with the cruise ships in the
background, the azure blue seas all around them -- was just breathtaking -- the sort of place that
once you plop down, you do not want to leave any time soon.

Since Ashley’s birthday was on Monday, we had been celebrating her birthday all week long.  On this
day, we sort of let it all hang out. I heard, just a rumor you understand, that some of us (adults
anyway) were not feeling ANY pain by the time walked back to the ship where we put our cruise
cards into the security readers to get back onboard ship.

Tonight was a semi-formal night and I wore my light weight black suit with a bright purple shirt and
killer black and purple tie to match.  With my cream colored boots on, I felt better than I did with
the Tux on.  Garret and Matthew also looked good with their casual suits and Spider Man ties on.
And once again, the ladies were knock-out beautiful as ever.  Michael and John looked good too --
like ads you see on those New York outdoor posters in Times Square -- cool, handsome, and on
the go.

After another great dinner at our table, we all did out night time routines of going to shows, or
playing in the Casino, or strolling down through the Promenade, or hanging out at various bars listing
to music and singers, eating ice cream, and just all around having a great time.

Back in our stateroom, I think a towel dog was waiting for us on Deanna's bed -- or was it a
kangaroo?  Anyway, I felt protected and quickly slipped off to sleep feeling happy and secure.
Saturday (like the previous Monday) was a full day at sea and we all hung out around the pools and
spa areas once again.  There were lots of pools on Deck 11 -- some for just adults, some for
everyone, and some like the H2O Zone that were just for kids with all sorts of fantastic water
features for the kids.

One of the pools there in the H2O Zone was elevated up off the deck and was about 25 feet in
diameter and had a clear glass wall around it starting at about the 3-foot high level and it
extended upwards for about another foot and a half.  All the kids loved this pool because it had a
constant huge input of water that made the whole volume of water spin around in a circle and they
could literally float, play, and swim around in circles for hours if they wanted too. I know that
Matthew, Madelyn, and Garrett must have spun around in this pool at least 2 million times.

"Ladies ... and ... Gentlemen ..." crackled our Cruise Director's voice out over the middle family pool
area like an old time boxing match ring announcer.  "It's show time -- The Men's Heavyweight
World Champion Belly Flop Diving Contest is about to get started."

The next 30 minutes or so was a jammed pack, spectacular spectator screaming and clapping filled
"Special Event" like no other on Deck 11. I  was up on the next deck level pressed tight against
the railing looking down at what looked like well over a thousand people on both decks gathered
around to watch all the  activities next to the largest of the pools there on Deck 11.

Richard, our Cruise Director, was whipping up the crowds as the various contestants signed up for
the contest.

There were some big men signing up -- larger than I had ever seen before in this type of fun-filled
event. One crazy and fantastic guy was named TJ (from Las Vegas) and he was HUGE -- had to be
well over 350 pounds. There were other large contestants but the crowd was sure TJ would win
this contest hands down (belly flop down). TJ had entertained the crowds earlier in the week
during the Men's Sexy Leg contest and before that, was the lead passenger dancer in the wild and
foot stomping Line Dance event that was held here at poolside.

One by one, Richard called them up to take their dive -- whipping the crowd up as he did so. Some
of them were pool drainers -- Lord they made a big splash when they hit the water.  Round one had
them just jumping flat footed from the side of the pool. Then it got interesting -- here comes a
staff member dragging a raised platform out to the edge of the pool. Richard then announced that
round two would be the PAIN round in that the highest score would be given for the dive that
inflicted the most pain on the diver. Then that score would be added to the first round scores to
determine the overall winner.

It was brutal -- Lord have mercy -- some of those men hit SO HARD.  The sound of their
outstretched bodies hitting that water flat sounded like the loudest, hardest slap in the world you
have EVER heard. My skin crawled every time one of them hit the water. The crowd was absolutely
going wild with cheers, yelling, clapping, and verbal Ooooos and Ouches....

Well, all the so call experts were wrong -- TJ did not win. In fact, he came in third. A 150 pound,
good looking young man about 25 won. He blew the competition away with a fantastic belly flop first
dive and then with his second almost skin-ripping-wide-open high pain dive, he won the event hands
down. The crowd went wild with applause and appreciation for his valiant and painful efforts. After
his second dive, he was beet red from his neck down to his knees where he had slapped the water
so flat and so hard.

Just goes to show you that big surprised do come is small packages sometimes.

Later, after the crowd thinned out and poolside got back to normal, I went over the "Pool Bar" and
perched on one of the rear stools so I could just be out of the way and look out at the whole pool
area and people watch while enjoying a few cool ones.  

From where I was perched, I could see my family all out around me.  The kids were playing in one
of the pools, Michael and Elyse were up on Deck 12 sunbathing at the edge facing back down into
our pool area, and Ashley and Deanna were sitting over in some lounge chairs and just yakking away
when Ashley was not up and interacting with the kids.

I was overcome with emotion as I watch my daughter -- proud, self assured, tall, beautiful --
walking around tending to the kids, keeping them in line but at the same time, laughing with them
and having a great time. I could see the natural nurturing, protective, giving, and loving nature in
her as I saw the laughter exchanged between her and Matthew and Madelyn and even Garrett
when he buzzed by.

I could look up and see my son standing up next to the railing looking down and watching Garrett in
the circle pool. I could see a very tall, good looking man who I was so proud of -- a man of great
physical and spiritual strength who was right with himself, with his wife and family, and with the
world as a whole.

I saw for the first time in one place, I think, both of my children in a totally new light -- now grown
adults with families of their own and each proud of who they were and what they were
accomplishing in life.  I realized then that all of the love and caring and hollering and screaming
that we all shared as they grew up had paid off and that they were there now in front of me --
free and standing tall and proud.  As a father, I could not have been more proud of my children as
I was there at that moment.

I actually held my drink out to each of them and gave them both a silent toast and realized that
yes, I had done a few things right in my life and that Deanna and I both were very blessed.  What
was also great was that I knew that all of those wonderful qualities that both Ashley and Michael
possessed were being instilled into their children.  As a grandfather, I couldn’t have been happier.

Freedom of The Seas itself was also a great enabler of good times and excitement. All of our time
onboard ship was fantastic -- great production shows at night in the huge theater, great foods, and
dozens of things to do like rock climbing on the tallest climbing wall in the entire cruise industry,
basketball, and shuffleboard.  

They had also had a 9-hole put-putt golf course where Garrett beat the socks off me on one game
we played.  Then there was the “Flow Rider” that Michael, Garrett, and Elyse loved so much, and
then there was ice skating, the video arcade, game rooms -- the list was endless.

Then there was the Promenade -- a cavernous 430 foot long, 50 foot wide, 4-story high mall right
down though the middle of the ship -- loaded with shops, bars, eating places just like you were on
5th avenue in New York City.  

The Promenade is SO large, your brain can NOT fathom that you are actually walking around
INSIDE a cruise ship that is whipping through the water at 22 knots and 500 miles from land!  
They have parades here, live performances each night, dancing in the streets -- fantastic place to
hang out.  There are also rooms on three decks (interior rooms) that instead of just being in a
closed rooms (no windows), these rooms have bay windows that open up to the Promenade -- such a
fantastic view and ring-side seats for so many activities that take place there.

And -- we had cell phone coverage the entire time -- “Bla Bla at Sea” Cellular Service or something
like that.

Every one of us had a blast.  This was the first time cruising for the grandkids and Elyse.  She had
been so hesitant about cruising -- might not like it, out on the water, nothing to do -- all the usual
excuses you hear from people who have no idea what it is really like to cruise on the new mega size
ships.

What a difference one week can make?  She is a CONFIRMED cruiser now -- had to make her leave
the ship!  The “Freedom of The Seas” is over 1100 feet long, 185 feet wide, and weighs over
160,000 tons.  You totally loose the concept that you are on a ship the minute you walk onboard --
everything is SO LARGE.

The food all week was fantastic and Matthew -- bless his heart -- valiantly tried new things out
during the week.  We were so proud of him for doing that because he is such a limited food item
person and it was great to see him actually trying out new foods.  He fell in love with Shrimp
Cocktails and was tickled to death to find out he could order as many as he wanted to at dinner.

Garrett -- God, he was in heaven.  He ate EVERY thing he could get his hands on.  He could not get
over that you could eat anything you wanted from the menu and then order more if still hungry.  
Miss Madelyn ate well all week -- we were so proud of her also.

As I said earlier, we all ate breakfast each morning up on Deck 11 in the Windjammer Café.  
Garrett just could not get over the fact he could eat as much as he wanted to -- thought that he
had died and gone to heaven when he saw all that food up there on the buffet lines and it was his
for the taking.

Yes, the week was great and I had a ball watching my kids and grandkids have a fantastic vacation
without ever once worrying about anything else except for them to just have fun and see and do
things that they might not see or do again.  If they do, then they will have something great to
compare it too.

Another thing that had made the trip so fantastic was that for the first time in a long time,
Deanna went on a cruise pain free and was that way all week!

With dinner tonight, I knew that our fantastic voyage on the Freedom of The Seas was drawing to
a close.  Just as I was feeling the saddest as I looked around the table at all the still smiling and
happy faces of my family, out pops this wrapped package and card hidden under the table.

The card was a simple blue card with a fantastic cover of a neat beach scene that I could have
jumped into in a heart beat and laid back and enjoyed a few cool ones.

But what was really fantastic was what was inside -- handwritten notes to us from all the kids,
their spouses, and the grandkids.  I was emotionally overcome with such a tremendous wave of love
and gratitude to all of them for writing such wonderful things in the card to both Deana and myself.

I could see each face, see each smile, and hear all the week’s laughter of each person as I read the
magical words. For but a brief second in time, the writer of the words and I were locked in a bond
of love, trust, and happiness that in reality, will never go away.

I thank you Michael, Elyse, Garrett, Ashley, John, Matthew, and Madelyn from the bottom of my
heart -- your simple but elegant gesture of love made me feel whole and loved -- what more could a
man hope for. I know that Deanna feels (felt) the same way. The words that all of you wrote
touched our hearts forever.

Once more after dinner, we all struck out in different directions to explore and enjoy the magic of
our ship -- our safe home for the past seven days.  A few last coins in the slot machines, one last
trip to the ice ream bar, one more round of beers and a glass of our favorite wine, a stroll up on
deck and looking out at the silent sea and listening to the waves slipping past our bow as we steadily
made our way back home.

Sleep came slow tonight -- my mind was racing with all the adventures of the past week spinning
around and around. It seemed like it was just 10 minutes ago that  I heard Matthew say, “Oh, my
God” when he saw the Hummer Limo pull up in front of us to start our great voyage.
Sunday morning signaled the start of the end of our long voyage and we were up early to get
dressed, eat breakfast, and get ready to disembark.  We had packed all our main luggage the night
before and set it outside of our staterooms and during the night, they had taken it all away and we
would not see it again until after we left the ship and went though Customs.

We all went up to the Windjammer Café for one final breakfast.  The ship was alive with crew
members already in turn-around mode.  Oh, they were still treating us royally but they were also
doing other things in preparation for our replacements passengers.

Replacement passengers -- odd term but true.  In the matter of just a few hours, all of us -- over
3500 current passengers -- would all be gone our separate ways and will be replaced down to the
last stateroom with a brand new set of wide-eyed, happy passengers eager to get started on their
voyage.  The cycle continues.

We finally got our call to leave the ship -- goes by the color code of the tags on your luggage which
is determined by the type of transportation you have set up to leave Miami, flight times, etc. We
made it off the ship with no problems and after finally collecting our luggage we boarded our bus
for the ride up to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport.

The only problem was that we got there about 10:30 in the morning and our flight was not until 3:30
that afternoon and you could not check your baggage longer than three hours before flight time. So
we sat there in the lobby area for hours with our luggage stacked up all around us until finally, I got
a curb-side ticket agent to check us through early and we were finally free of the luggage.

Soon, our long wait was over and we boarded the plane and headed for Atlanta.  The flight home
was easy but sad.  We each sat there and remembered all the wonderful things that we had seen
and done all week and the airplane flight really signaled the end -- we were really leaving and going
back home.

After we got to Atlanta, we once again went through the numbing process of rounding up 20 pieces
of checked luggage and after securing all of it with the help of a Sky Cap, we went down and
outside to pick up our Hummer Limo which was waiting on us.

Once again, our driver Bill did his magic and got all the luggage packed in the rear bed area and we
were once again riding in style through the streets of Atlanta like the Rich and Famous.

Alas, Caribou Trail soon greeted us all too soon and our fantastic voyage was complete. We had
traveled 3,699 miles by limo, train, plane, van, bus, ship, tender, taxi, foot, and zip lines and were
finally home -- safe and sound.

We had all made a life-time set of memories and from experience, I know that many times in the
future, that each of us will be able to think back on this fantastic voyage of the Caribbean and
remember all the good things.  Deanna and I both were and are blessed to have shared in such a
voyage with our family.  

As my first cousin Bill “Hump” would say, “And a good time was had by all.”
The End ...
Fantastic Voyage of the Caribbean:
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