We woke up docked in Basseterre, Saint Kitts. Fun fact: Saint Kitts and Nevis is the smallest independent country in the western hemisphere (in both population and geography). It’s home to around 55,000 people.

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Basseterre, Saint Kitts

After breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe, we walked off the ship at around 9:30am and made our way down the pier to Port Zante.

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Port Zante, Basseterre, Saint Kitts

In planning the Caribbean cruise, we wanted one day on the islands to be a “beach day,” so we decided to make it Saint Kitts. We thought about doing the train ride, but it seemed a bit pricy. We just wanted to relax.

So we booked a beach excursion through Celebrity – the Saint Kitts “Beach Break.” It was $40/pp. I just liked that everything was handled for us–transportation to/from the pier, beautiful beach, 2 reserved chairs, and a free rum punch drink. R-E-L-A-X!

We found our group quite easily under the pavilion at Port Zante. We waited 10 minutes or so before everyone was in attendance. Then they separated us into smaller groups to put us on shuttle buses. There were around 14 people on our shuttle.

Our driver, Agatha, took us from Basseterre on a 25-minute drive to gorgeous Cockleshell Beach. We made one stop at Timothy Hill for a photo op. At Timothy Hill, you have a birds-eye view, with the Atlantic Ocean on the left and the Caribbean Sea on the right. Breathtaking!

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Timothy Hill, Saint Kitts

I’m a geography nerd. If you look at a map of Saint Kitts, you will see it is shaped like a drumstick. This beach we were going to is at the bottom of the drumstick.

The driver let us off at the Spice Mill where the beach is located. We were each handed a cup of rum punch (or just fruit juice if you wanted). The food and drinks looked good there, but we did not partake. Other people in our groups said the food and drinks were good!

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Cockleshell Beach, Saint Kitts

The beach was perfect! We got two front-row lounge chairs. Umbrellas are not included, but we purchased one for the both of us for $10.

Here’s a view of Nevis across the way…

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Cockleshell Beach, Saint Kitts

I can’t say enough good things about this beach. It wasn’t crowded when we were there. The sand was soft. It’s in a protected bay, so you don’t get huge waves. And the beach doesn’t have a huge drop off at all. Just great for relaxing, swimming, or wading in the water.

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Cockleshell Beach, Saint Kitts

Here I am thinking about all those poor suckers back in Wisconsin!

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Cockleshell Beach, Saint Kitts

We had about 3 hours at the beach…and we didn’t want to leave!

The shuttle bus took us from the beach back to the Port Zante area in Basseterre. We did some souvenir shopping and grabbed a bite to eat.

Here’s Basseterre:

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Basseterre, Saint Kitts

Then it was time to head back to the ship. Saint Kitts was perfect–great weather, friendly people, and a beautiful beach!

More pics from Saint Kitts:


For more photos, check out my Flickr album.

Note: We visited Saint Thomas on December 12, 2017 while it was still recovering from severe hurricane damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

I am likely to get pilloried here, but I didn’t care for Saint Thomas. There, I said it. But here’s the caveat: It’s entirely ***MY OWN*** fault. See, I can admit my mistakes!

So, what was my big mistake with Saint Thomas? I didn’t plan any sort of shore excursion, either through Celebrity Cruises or independently. I didn’t even think to ask for an island tour.

In Fall, my work schedule can be all over the place, so I didn’t have time to research stuff like I usually do. I thought we could just fill the day walking around Charlotte Amalie…WRONG.

We got into port at 8:00am and docked at Crown Bay, which is further from downtown Charlotte Amalie and not quite as nice as the other dock – Havensight. Here’s Crown Bay:


Crown Bay, St. Thomas, USVI

Not having big plans, we had a leisurely breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe and strolled off the ship around 9:30am. We payed the $4 per person and took the open-air shared taxi from the port into downtown.

We were surprised by the hurricane damage in Charlotte Amalie–much more noticeable than in Old San Juan. Lots of downed poles, non-working traffic lights, power lines down, missing roofs, and piles of rubble.

After being dropped off downtown, we walked over to Fort Christian. Not much going on there.


Fort Christian, Charlotte Amalie

Then we headed over to the Frederik Lutheran Church. It was boarded up, having received extensive hurricane damage.

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Frederik Lutheran Church, St. Thomas, USVI

Before going on the cruise, I had printed out a little map of Charlotte Amalie with a listing of attractions. I found it helpful, especially since I didn’t have data on phone.

We headed over to 99 Steps to take some photos–very pretty area!

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99 Steps, St. Thomas, USVI

Then it was up to Blackbeard’s Castle, but it too was closed due to hurricane damage. Although we did stop to take a picture. Then we made our way to the waterfront and over to the Havensight dock to take the Paradise Point sky ride to get a bird’s-eye view of the harbor…BUT they weren’t in operation either. Or at least, the closer we got, we noticed no sky gondolas were moving…so we gave up.

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Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI

Walking around the outdoor mall area (The Shops at Yacht Haven Grande) we noticed most stores were  closed. I used the restrooms and the lights went out while I was inside. They had lost power. I fumbled around in the dark (no windows), washed my hands, and then had to feel my way to the door!

Back in the downtown area we noticed a lot of the shops had lost power too. We then walked through jewelry row, but neither of us have any interest in that. Taking a break from walking, we had drinks and a light lunch at Cafe Amici.

We then took the shared open-air taxi back to the Crown Bay dock. There we bought some souvenirs and one of the storekeepers told us she had just got power back on at her home for the first time the day prior. Then we boarded the ship.

Again, it was my own fault for not booking a tour or doing some research ahead of time…I won’t make that mistake again!

Here are pics from Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas:

For more photos, check out my Flickr album.

After almost two full sea days on our Caribbean cruise, we were ready for a port. Don’t get me wrong; sea days can be relaxing…but we were ready to see some sights! Despite the hurricanes, one thing that did not change on our itinerary was the port stop of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

By the time we visited on December 11, 2017, Old San Juan was looking tidy and clean. There were, of course, the hum of generators and some rebuilding going on, but Old San Juan was ready for tourists. It’s the outlying areas that need more help and investment. In Old San Juan, we found friendly people, beautiful buildings, and great weather.

As we approached San Juan, we headed out onto the upper decks of the ship to get a primo view as we sailed past the landmark fort of El Morro.

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Sailing into Old San Juan

We docked at cruise pier for Old San Juan at 3:30pm and were off the ship before 4pm.

Because of the short time in port, we opted to do Old San Juan on our own. Being winter, the sun sets at around 5:30pm, leaving us with about 2 hours of daylight after docking. So we decided to hightail it over to El Morro to see the historic fortress.

But on the way, we took in the vibrant buildings of Old San Juan:

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Old San Juan

Old San Juan wasn’t particularly busy, owing to devastating hurricane. We could go a couple blocks on a Monday afternoon and encounter few people. Most places had power, although a few were running on generators.

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Old San Juan

We made our way through the colorful streets of Old San Juan to El Morro. It’s about a 30-minute walk. You can also take the free Old San Juan Trolley. It wasn’t running due to hurricane recovery when we visited, but hopefully service will commence again soon. The San Juan National Historic Sites had just reopened after hurricane damage on December 2, 2017. Prior to that, you could only walk the exterior grounds.

Having limited daylight, we had to choose between Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) or Castillo San Cristobal. We went with El Morro since you sail past it coming into San Juan. We were not disappointed.

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El Morro, Old San Juan

Admission is $7 per person (at time of writing) and you can use your ticket to also gain entry to San Cristobal. This time of year, the sites close at 6pm.

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El Morro, Old San Juan

We spent time wandering the grounds, exploring darkened stairways, and taking in the vistas from the turrets – an icon of San Juan. Owing to the lack of tourists, there were times where we felt like we had the fort to ourselves!

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El Morro, Old San Juan

After El Morro, we continued on our own self-guided walking tour of Old San Juan. I had found these articles online that I thought were helpful:

We stopped in at the San Juan Cathedral, burial place of Ponce de Leon.

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San Juan Cathedral

After church, it was time to drink. Just kidding. Well, maybe not. We walked around Old San Juan some more and did a little souvenir shopping.

I have to get travel magnets wherever I go. You should see our refrigerator–it would surely win a tackiest refrigerator contest! We also stopped in at a store that made wooden Puerto-Rican style “door” decorations with your names painted on them. We got a couple for Christmas gifts for back home.

Then we spotted a historical marker for the pina colada! We had to stop here.

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pina colada time!

The restaurant is Barrachina on Calle Fortaleza. And yes, we had pina coladas! They were good. We’re were also hungry. We each ordered the mofongo, a Puerto Rican speciality. Delicious!

Fully satiated, it was now dark. We wandered down Paseo de la Princesa to the water’s edge and then walked back to the dock to get back on the ship.

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Old San Juan

I know Puerto Rico is still going through hard times there, but we absolutely LOVED Old San Juan. People were extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. Down the road, I think I’d like to take a cruise based out of San Juan so we could explore it a little more.

Here are some pics from San Juan:


For more photos, check out my Flickr album.

Wisconsin is a great place in the spring, summer, and fall. But winter? You can keep it. For December, we decided to book a Caribbean cruise for some sun n’ fun–if just for a week. In 2016, we did an Alaskan cruise that was AMAZING! Now we wanted to go somewhere warm.

Choosing this Cruise
I got addicted to reading the boards on Cruise Critic. As only our second cruise we were still newbies compared to most people on that site! Price is a major factor in on our decision, but we’re also not willing to go “bottom of the barrel” either. We don’t need water slides or raucous crowds on a cruise to have a good time. For us, a vacation is intended for us to R-E-L-A-X. Around mid-May, I started checking cruise prices and we found a good deal with Celebrity so we booked the Celebrity Equinox sailing for December 9, 2017.

Then came the hurricanes… The original itinerary was Miami–San Juan–St. Maarten–St. Kitts–Miami. St. Maarten was axed and replaced with Punta Cana, then St. Croix, and then finally switched to St. Thomas. It didn’t really matter to us. We were happy to escape the cold in Wisconsin and knew that Celebrity would get us to warm and sunny places. Any inconvenience pales in comparison to what the people in the Caribbean are going through in recovering from the hurricanes.

Prior to the cruise, we decided to spend two nights in Miami Beach–a place neither of us had been to before.

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Itinerary: Miami–San Juan–Saint Thomas–Saint Kitts–Miami


  • Saturday, Dec. 9: Leave Miami on Celebrity Equinox
  • Sunday, Dec. 10: Day at sea
  • Monday, Dec. 11: San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Tuesday, Dec. 12: Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas
  • Wednesday, Dec. 13: Basseterre, Saint Kitts
  • Thursday, Dec. 14: Day at sea
  • Friday, Dec. 15: Day at sea
  • Saturday, Dec. 16: Return to Miami, Everglades Ecotour, Fly home

We packed up at our hotel in Miami Beach and got an Uber. After two beautiful days of sunshine, it was now pouring down rain! We arrived at the Port of Miami just before 11am. Embarkation was amazingly fast: I’m not sure we will ever beat the 11 minutes from curbside to ship. We simply got lucky.

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Leaving Miami on Celebrity Equinox

Inside cabin, deck 7, room 7304. We felt it spacious for an inside cabin, with lots of lighting. Bed was comfortable. Room featured two soft chairs and a desk chair. No couch. Plenty of storage space. Shower worked well. Room was next to a crew stairwell but we never heard any noise. It was quiet. Easy access to elevators and stairs. We spend most of our time outside the cabin, so inside for us is not a big deal.

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Inside cabin, Celebrity Equinox

This is where we thought Celebrity excelled. It’s top-notch. From waitstaff to the steward to the cleaners, everyone was so friendly and welcoming. Even though we were mere “plebs” in an inside cabin, staff made everyone feel special.

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Celebrity Equinox main dining room

Average to excellent. I know food is subjective. We had four nights in the specialty restaurants and that spoiled us!

Murano was absolutely wonderful. That rack of lamb is to die for! Tuscan Grille: I thought I might have to loosen my belt, hah! We ate in the main dining room (MDR) for 2 nights and it’s pretty much what I expect from banquet-style food. That’s not a complaint; just a fact of institutionally serving such a large quantity of food.

We also liked Oceanview Cafe (OVC) for breakfast and lunch and we were impressed by the various options and spaciousness of the set-up. Lunch on Friday was particularly nice, with large carved turkeys, peel and eat shrimp, and a chocolate fountain. OVC didn’t feel like a struggle to find a spot to eat. Also, one of us has a gluten allergy and we appreciated the alterations that could be made in the specialty restaurants and MDR.

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dinner, Celebrity Equinox

We loved all the different spaces on the ship and felt it easy to navigate. It’s classy and elegant. The word “refined” comes to mind. It has a touch of sparkle, but it is in no way garish. Also, it’s clean…like sparkling clean. Housekeepers were always polishing, painters were always painting. We did notice large air dryers set up on the carpet all week down the hall from us, pointed at a couple balcony cabin entrances. I wondered if there was a leak of some kind?

Favorite places to lounge outside: besides the usual poor area, we appreciated the solarium on the first day (weather was a tad cooler and drizzly), the chairs up on the Lawn Club, the chairs on the Deck 5 promenade.

Inside: for quiet, we liked the Library (duh!) and the seating area by the elevators on Deck 7. We’re not big drinkers, but we liked the Martini Bar for inside and Sunset Bar for outside.

Negatives: I thought there was an overabundance of smoking spaces–one side of the Deck 5 promenade, one side of the pool bar, one side near the Mast Grill by the jogging track, one side of the Sunset Bar/Lawn Club. We would see open seats in those areas, go to sit down, and then realize…”oh, it’s a smoking area…that’s why no one is here.” I also missed self-service laundry facilities. Heck, we never even got a “stuff the bag” offer either. I also wished the deck 5 promenade was entirely accessible around the whole of the ship–I minor quibble, I know.

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Celebrity Equinox

Onboard Activities
The shows were good, but we went in knowing the musical-type shows here generally don’t have a plot. Mostly singing and dancing. There were two particularly good female leads. We loved the acrobats! The comedians weren’t our style, but others were laughing heartily. The hot glass show was fun to watch.

However, we found daytime activities to be lacking…or at least very little that caught our eye. Especially for a cruise with three sea days. It’s not that we got bored, but we would look the “Celebrity Today” daily newsletter and just go “meh.” There seemed to be an overabundance of “medical” type seminars (botox, dental implants, joint pain). Went on the galley tour but really missed a cooking demo like we had on our Alaskan cruise on Princess. The library was well stocked and I read a couple books during some “down” time.

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Equinox Theater

Almost as easy as embarking. From ship to our shuttle, it was about 15 minutes to get our luggage and proceed through Immigration. Super simple!

I’ll blog more about the ports-of-call later, but here’s a quick overview:

San Juan: Old San Juan looked better than I expected despite all the news we had seen about the hurricane damage. Vibrant buildings, friendly people. We walked on our own from the pier to El Morro and explored the fort. Enjoyed a self-guided walking tour. Wish we would have had more daylight hours at this port.

Saint Thomas: Ship docked at Crown Bay, not Havensight. We took the $4pp shared open-air taxi into Charlotte Amalie. Still a lot of hurricane damage in town and many shops closed. Some that were open, had lost power on our day there. Made the mistake of not booking an excursion (either through Celebrity or independently). We just walked around Charlotte Amalie. We’re not into jewelry, so this port didn’t have a lot to interest us.

Saint Kitts: Our favorite port for relaxing. Booked a “beach break” through Celebrity to Cockleshell Beach. PERFECT!

Miami: Booked an Everglades eco-tour and Fort Lauderdale airport drop-off through Celebrity. Enjoyed the airboat ride and appreciated not have to worry about luggage/arranging travel to the airport.

The cruise was relaxing, fun, and Celebrity made us feel, well…like a celebrity! I’ll wrap up with some concluding thoughts on cruising in a later post.

Here are some pics from the ship:


For more photos, check out my Flickr album.

Miami Beach: Day at the Beach

We were about to escape a week’s worth of Winter in Wisconsin on our Caribbean cruise. So why not expand it by two extra days by staying in Miami Beach? Sounded like a good plan to us! We penciled in one of those days as a beach day.

After having breakfast, we headed over to Lummus Park in South Beach for a relaxing day of lounging and swimming. We rented two beach chairs and an umbrella (some hotels have a deal where this is included, so check!) or you can just bring a towel and plop down on the sand.

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Miami Beach

The beach wasn’t particularly busy for a Friday and we enjoyed the sunshine, blue skies, and the peacefulness.

After feeling sufficiently crisped and tanned, we made our way up Ocean Drive, stopping by the former Versace Mansion which is now a hotel and restaurant.

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Versace mansion, Miami Beach

Then we headed over on the Miami Beach Boardwalk and north to the landmark Fontainebleau Hotel, famous as a setting in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger. With ample beach time and a long walk on the boardwalk to see the sites, we felt our beach day was time well spent.

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Fontainbleau Hotel, Miami Beach

Here are a few pics from our beach day:

For more photos, check out my Flickr album.

In preparation for our Caribbean cruise, we decided to spend two nights in Miami Beach. Neither of us had been there before and we wanted to do two things: 1) see the Art Deco architecture, and 2) spend a day at the beach. After all, we wanted some sun n’ fun and escape Wisconsin in December for a week! We opted to base ourselves in the South Beach area.

The weather was perfect – low to mid 80’s Fahrenheit. There was a bit of mix up with the hotel though. I had booked The Kent Hotel through booking.com. We got to the hotel, but our room wasn’t ready, so we dropped of our bags and went to go find lunch on Ocean Drive. While at lunch, the hotel called and said they were overbooked! Wow…what a way to start a vacation. However, they said they had a room at a sister property (that was more expensive) and only three blocks away on the same street. The hotel would pay the difference and deliver our luggage–so luckily, everything worked out!

So we checked in to our new hotel – the Chesterfield Hotel & Suites on Collins Avenue. The room was nice and the bed was comfy…that’s all we really ask for. Oh, and it was one block from the beach…a definite plus!

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Chesterfield Hotel & Suites, Miami Beach

We had dinner that night at Larios on the Beach, a great Cuban restaurant owned by the Estefans. Make sure and get a mojito!

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Mojito time!

After dinner, we did a self-guided art deco walking tour along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue taking in the historic buildings and hotel, all lit up in the nighttime neon. Free Tours by Foot has a nice map and historical overview to do it on your own.

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Leslie – Miami Beach

Here are some pics from the walking tour:

For more photos, check out my Flickr album.

Autumn in Wisconsin

I’m not originally from Wisconsin, but it’s been my home since 2011. Winter? You can keep it. But autumn? It’s lovely! Just wish it was longer. Here are a few pics from this fall in Wisconsin:

Cedarburg, Wisconsin

Classic “small town” Wisconsin can be found in Cedarburg, about 30 minutes north of downtown Milwaukee.

The main street, Washington Avenue, is lined with restaurants and shops, from antique stores to boutiques to art galleries.

My mom and her boyfriend were visiting from Indiana. They like antiquing and wine tasting, so Cedarburg was a good match. Bret and I drove them over to Cedarburg on a rainy November Saturday.

Not letting the rain deter us, we toured around the restored woolen mill, now filled with shops, went wine tasting at Cedar Creek Winery, and had lunch at Anvil Pub & Grille.

Cedarburg is a nice daytrip from Milwaukee, Madison, or the Chicago area.

Here are some photos:

Bizarre. That’s the only word to describe Wisconsin’s House on the Rock, near Spring Green–about an hour east of Madison. And I mean bizarre in a good way! It’s organized hoarding–part museum, part house, and odds-and-ends you might find at your grandparents.

Began in 1959, and possibly owing to a dispute between its founder Alex Jordan, Jr. and famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (the Wikipedia page is interesting!), House on the Rock does actually sit on a rock.

The house is a bit dark, cramped, and filled with antiques, Tiffany-style lamps, and vintage furniture and appliances. Parts of it reminded me of a cabin in the woods. The house is built around the natural stone.

Particularly striking is the Infinity Room which overlooks the valley.

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House on the Rock, infinity room

The rest of the House on the Rock is more of a museum of “things”: dolls, calliopes, cars, ships, and a whale! The highlight is a large carousel:

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House on the Rock carousel

It’s a fun side trip from Madison or Milwaukee. Make sure and purchase the full experience to get the most out of the trip. Set aside at least three hours. Then consider wandering into Spring Green or touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin.

Here are some pics from House on the Rock:

Milwaukee: China Lights

This fall, Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin hosted China Lights. This was the second time it was hosted here.

It’s an enchanting display. Constructed entirely by Chinese artisans, their creations are illuminated each evening. You show up before sunset, maybe have a beer or a glass of wine, tour around the beautiful gardens, then after dark watch the magical displays get lit up!

My favorites were the traditional Chinese dragon and a series of animals representing the Chinese zodiac animals.

Here are some photos: