Shortly following graduation...ok, the next day...I set off on my graduation/30th birthday celebration cruise. Carrissa joined me, and although I had initially hoped for a large group of girlfriends, I think we had more fun being just the two of us! I have yet to find someone who I can travel with like I can with this girl. We always have a blast, we know when we're ready for some apart time, and neither of us takes it personally when it comes to that. I think it helped that her early to rise/early to bed ways combined with my sleeping in/night owl personality made for a built in alone time format! When we've traveled together before, we've had to initiate that apart time because we are waking together, spending the day together, and crashing together. This time, we had nowhere to go but elsewhere on the boat (for the most part) so there was no schedule that required set bed times and rising times. It was awesome! Here is us on our first night on the boat. Ready for some relaxation and entertainment!
Here is us on our formal night...we both had great tans and let's just say we were exploiting our assets!
Our first stop was Grand Turk, which was beautiful but more of a cruise island. We decided this would be a good time to do an excursion. Now, I have to give myself credit for truly conquering a fear with this one. We decided to to a Sting Ray/Snorkeling excursion. Quick side note...this would be a good time to know that I am terrified of water creatures. That's not entirely accurate, I am terrified of bodies of water through which I cannot see that happen to have creatures in them. So yes, this was different, but still a stretch. Let me see if I can paint you a picture...
We get on the little ship that's going to take us out to the island with all the sting rays. While we're going, the guides are going through the typical safety talk which I pretty much let go in one ear and out the other until I hear..."Don't worry, no one is going to get killed by a sting ray." Another pat on Kristin's back for not piping up with "Have you ever heard of Steve Irwin," the immediate thought the popped into my head. Well...seeing as this lessened my faith in our guide's ability to keep us safe, I decided it would be best to listen to the rest of the instructions so I could take responsibility for my own safety. He started talking about the Sting Ray Shuffle...assuming we weren't going to be coreographing a dance on our already time crunched trip, I listened even closer. The Sting Ray Shuffle refers to the concept of shuffling your feet through the sand when walking, rather than lifting up your foot to take a step. Why? Because sting rays really only attack when they are stepped on. Sounds easy enough, right? So we get on shore, we disrobe into our bathing suits, and about 20 of us enter the water en mass. Everything's going well, and I feel pretty darn confident in my shuffling abilities. We all get situated in a crude semi-circle around the guide while one of his minions fetches a sting ray. While they're doing this, another guide is telling us that there will be sting rays swimming in and out from around our feet and just to ignore them...wait, what???? Sure enough, about 2 minutes into the activities, a school of sting rays decided they would have a better chance at free food if they were doing acrobatics around the fleshy posts sticking out of the sand. At this point, I'm wondering why I decided to conquer this completely rational fear, and out of the water I go...
Briefly...then I decided that I would forever regret that move and that I needed to get myself back in the water, embrace the sting rays weaving in and out of my legs, and ready myself for whatever was next. So I shuffle myself back into the water, tolerate a few sting rays swimming around, and settle in to watch and listen to the guide. I hadn't thought about the tide, however, and was soon finding myself losing my footing as the waves were coming in. This may not sound like a big deal until you think of how you steady yourself when knocked off balance. Need help? You pick up your foot and place it down in a location more conducive to standing upright. Oh wait...I can't pick up my foot and put it back down because I am convinced that if I do so, I'll join Steve Irwin on the very small list of people who have been killed by a sting ray. So again, I ask you to imagine (and don't worry, I've come to grips with the fact that you'll be laughing) I am standing in the sand, the wave then comes in and knocks me off of my balance, I manage to keep one foot in the sand and I am flailing my arms around frantically in some sort of treading water attempt trying to stay upright while sliding my other foot down my leg and into the sand so that I don't step on a sting ray. Whew...just recounting it is exhausting!
Well, just when I got this down and was feeling quite comfortable, the guide calls me up. It's my turn to hold, kiss and be massaged by the sting ray. I almost ran out of the water again, but instead I mustered up the courage to shuffle my way to the front and come face to face with one of the cutest, yet ugliest creatures I have ever seen. Here are some pictures of the experience...
Holding the sting ray.
Sting Ray Massage
And Carrissa's turn. She's so tiny, she couldn't get her arms wide enough to hold him right.
Sufficiently convinced that I had conquered my fear to a satisfactory level, I decided it was time to get out. I waited on shore until the rest of the crew joined me (I would like to point out that there were a handful of people who NEVER got in the water) and it was time for snorkeling. Turns out, the snorkeling was really just an excuse to charge more for the trip...there wasn't really anything to see at that particular location, except for more sting ray. So instead I went back on shore and meandered around the beach. I walked onto some lava rock and suddenly see no less that 8 conch shells sitting out for the taking. (I did take one, endured the odor for the rest of the trip, made it all the way back home with it, only to realize that I had no way of polishing it.) I also found a beautiful piece of coral which I quickly claimed as my own.
At this point the guide calls us all to get back on the boat so we can head back. As I was getting onto the boat, a wave came in, and the coral was knocked out of my hand and back into the sea. I was bummed, but only temporarily cause I knew it was gone for good and there was nothing I could do about that. So I climb aboard and get myself settled for the short trip back to Grand Turk. Then one of the guides taps me on my shoulder and hands me my coral!!!! Our guide, Lucky, had seen me drop it, seen my frown and dove into the ocean to retrieve it for me! You would have thought I had been reunited with a long lost relative. I thought that definitely merited a picture with Lucky and the piece of coral, so here you go.
We returned to Grand Turk, relaxed on the beach for a bit, and then trekked back to the ship (not really much of a trek, but it sounded good). On our way out, I saw these beautiful flowers and wanted a picture in front of them. Wish I would have taken a close up of the flowers, but here's a picture of me and Riss as we were leaving Grand Turk Island.
That was the most exciting story from the trip, so the rest of the recap will be pretty brief! Our next stop was Half Moon Cay, by FAR the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. Due to the aforementioned fear of murky water, beaches and I don't typically mesh too well. But I was almost completely comfortable hanging out in this water. It was clear as clear can be, and so shallow. In the picture below, I am guessing we are about 30 feet into the water. The groups of people in the distance behind us are standing up! It was amazing, and I can now relate to the draw people feel to tropical locations.
Our last stop was Nassau which was really just a shopping stop. There wasn't too much to do without purchasing another excursion. We did some shopping through an outdoor market which may have been the craziest shopping experience I have ever had. Then we enjoyed some conch for lunch and made our way back to the ship. Not an overly exciting day, but fun nonetheless. Here's a picture of us as we are leaving Nassau...and yes, the water really was that blue.
So we got back to Miami, spent a day at South Beach (where I proceeded to get one of the worst sunburns in my entire life) and made our way to the airport to go home. It was an awesome time and a perfect way to celebrate!