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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We're back from vacation and we had a wonderful time!

My wife Robin, our 12 year old daughter Lauren, and I drove our Mercury Mariner from Northern Illinois to Tampa, Florida.



We left on a Friday and took our time driving. We had to board the Carnival Legend cruise ship on Sunday between 12:30 and 2:30 pm. The 2 1/2 day drive was relaxing and this country of ours is always amazing to me when seen from our highways. Once we got out of Illinois, the speed limit is pretty much a constant 70 mph. You can cover some miles pretty quickly at that speed (or around 78 mph, which was our cruise control set speed which returned a 23 mpg average with our V6 Mariner with luggage carrier).

I sure do like getting out of Illinois and seeing some of the billboards along the roadside as I go deeper into the south. Signs for GUN SHOW! THIS WEEKEND! and FIREWORKS, GUNS, AMMO, and KNIVES! and MILITARY SURPLUS, GUNS, and AMMUNITION!

Lauren has a tradition of jumping on the hotel's bed when we stop during our first night's drive. We had a nice dinner at Outback Steakhouse and then swam in the Hampon Inn's pool.



Lauren thought it was pretty neat to pick a lime off a tree at our hotel and cut it up to put in her Diet Coke:



We stopped at "The World of Coca-Cola" in Atlanta and I gotta say it's a pretty cool place.



They had a 4D movie presentation, a great history of Coca-Cola including an original Norman Rockwell painting, and you get to try all of their different sodas from around the world (Greece's pineapple Fanta was delicious!).

We always stop at the Florida Welcome Center when we cross the border into the Sunshine State (which kept its tradition of pouring rain as we drove) for a pic and their free fresh orange juice!





Back in 1995, my wife and I honeymooned on a Royal Caribbean cruise. 14 years later we decided to try Carnival for our summer family vacation. I must say that Carnival was fantastic! Everything about it was terrific, from the cleanliness of the ship, to the quality and variety of the food, to the outstanding service. All of the excursions made us feel safe and we were treated like royalty. The shows each night on board were stunning.

The Port of Tampa was super easy for parking and embarkation on the ship. We launched Sunday afternoon and spent Monday at sea.









The ship even had a water slide:



And a miniature golf course:



We had a room on the top most deck in the stern with a large balcony. Lauren was impressed the first time she stepped out Monday morning as saw 360 degrees of the Gulf of Mexico surrounding her.

There were two formal nights (Monday and Thursday) during the 7 night cruise.



Our first stop was in Grand Cayman where we signed up for the beginner's scuba diving. I've always wanted to scuba dive and they say the Cayman Islands is the best place on earth for it. The tour started with safety lessons and then we sat on the bottom of a pool to get used to the equipment. The coral and fish and sponges were amazing once we got in the ocean. I couldn't stop being amazed by our daughter. Looking at her 40 feet under water, having the time of her life was awesome. She fears nothing. I love shooting with her and being on the ocean floor with her was right up there as one of my most treasured moments.



Our second stop on Wednesday was in Cozumel. We had signed up for the Adventure Park excursion. We crossed a suspended rope bridge....



...A rickety wooden slat bridge with missing sections (when Lauren jumped it, I shouted the theme music to Raiders of the Lost Ark at her!)....



...flew down a zip line....



...climbed towers and then rapelled down from them. Here's me descending a tower as I pretended I was holding an AR-15 in my hands as part of a SWAT team:



After getting all sweaty with all that stuff, we snorkeled in the crystal clear waters and swam at the beach. I had a 4 foot barracuda paralleling me in the water which was pretty cool.



Our third stop was in Belize and we snorkeled again on a barrier reef and then the catamaran we were on dropped us on a tiny island for an hour and a half.





Our fourth and final stop was in Isla Roaton, Honduras. We took the beach break and rented kayaks (initially my wife and I shared a double and Lauren had a single, but then they shared the double while I took pictures) and snorkeled (amazing snorkeling there too) and swam and drank punch (or rum punch).





The ship offered amazing sunsets...





Carnival puts on a phenomenal cruise at a price that beats all the rest and I can whole heartedly recommend them to anyone thinking about going. We sat at a six person dining table with a couple from Ontario and their 13 year old son. It was fun to talk about what we all did during the day. They were more into taking bus tours while we wanted to get out in the salt water every chance we had.

After the cruise, we drove to Treasure Island, Florida on the Gulf Coast and stayed four nights at the Thunderbird Resort.



I found it through a Google search and booked an ocean view/balcony room.



The Thunderbird Resort was built in the 1950's and was designed by the same guy who designed the original Flamingo in Las Vegas. It was clean resort right on the beach with a great pool and facilities.





The Gulf was like bath water and we had a great time relaxing on the beach.





We found local restaurants with great seafood:



We drove to Walt Disney World and went to Magic Kingdom for one day. We had $288 on our Disney VISA Rewards card, so entry to the park and most of our food and souveniers for the day cost us nothing. We've vacationed at WDW once a year since 2002. We know the layout at the Magic Kingdom pretty well, so we got there when they opened at 9am and we did most of the big rides before the crowds started at noon.





We decided to drive straight through to get home instead of stopping at a hotel in Kentucky. It's amazing to me that you can leave Florida at 5am and drive home to Northern Illinois 20 hours later. We had no car troubles at all while driving through this beautiful country of ours. I remember making the drive with my parents when I was a kid in the 70's and this trip brought back all those warm memories. Except that back then car problems were more prevalent and the dumb speed limit was 55 and heavily enforced. The only police activity we saw was drug enforcement along I75 by the Georgia Troopers and truck enforcement in the other States. It was rather nice that gas prices were much less than our trip last year. Georgia had the best prices around $2.29 a gallon and everywhere else it was about $2.49 or so.

We stopped in the Great Smokey Mountains for a photo on our way home:



When we pulled into our driveway and opened our garage door, we all got out of the truck, and then we got slobbered on by our dog, Shelby, who was as happy to see us as we were to see him! Our neighbors took good care of him while we were gone, but it sure was good to see him and was even better to sleep in our own beds again.

It's good to be home....

I missed my favorite S&W Forum, the Thunderbird's lobby hotel was really slow and I couldn't log on to it. I'll leave you all with one last photo from the last night of the cruise. It's the background on our computer now....



-Steve
 

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Looks like you guys had a great time!!! And, as always, great photos! You truly are blessed with a beautiful family. Thank you for sharing
 

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Steve,
What a grand vacation you must have had! kfjdrfirii
Looks like those health issues all cleared up, too.
I'm glad you could all get away and do so many things. hpzl;n;
Glad you're back.
Don
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks Don! The five day steriod pills did the trick. I've never had neck pain like that before and I can't figure out how I got it. My neck was still a bit stiff on the first day driving, but on the second it was allllll gone! Phew!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Heh, heh, heh! My wife really liked the rum punch on the catamaran after snorkeling in Belize. They were orange colored and at first she said they weren't very strong. After her third one, she said, "Actually I think these are kinda strong....."
 
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