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Congratulations to Samantha Vang of Oroville, CA for winning the main giveaway! Congratulations to Nancy Pierce from New Hampire who won the lotus flower wand. Congratulations to Koobmong Kong from MN who won the powder food coloring.
I had the most amazing caribbean cruise EVER! This was my first time cruising. I found a great deal with Carnival and booked online two weeks before departure. My husband and I chose to cruise to celebrate our 22nd year anniversary. Along for the journey my sisters Song and Myra, brother Toby, and Song's fiance Erik came for the journey. We took the Western Caribbean cruise which sailed to Cozumel, Mexico ... Belize City, Belize ... Roatan, Honduras ... and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. We decided to get a room with a balcony because I don't like confined spaces without windows. It was a few hundred dollars more but totally worth the money spent. Cruising in Hmong is "caij nkoj".
Prior to boarding airplane Print the airfare tickets. Complete online forms for Carnival. Print the boarding passes for Carnival. Print luggage tags for Carnival and keep in a folder.
We flew out of Minneapolis to Miami the day before boarding the cruise ship. We packed pretty light and had carry ons only. It is snowing here in MN so we didn't want to take any chances with plane delays or possible cancellations. We departed out of MSP at 6:30 p.m. and arrived in Miami around 11 p.m. January, 30, 2015. When we arrived in Miami, all the places to eat were closed in the airport! We boarded a shuttle to a hotel and ordered late night pizza. The next day the hotel shuttle took us to the port of Miami around 11 a.m.
Saturday, January 31, 2015 Boarding Process in Miami, FL day of Carnival cruise boarding
Once we got to the gate for Carnival Glory, we handed our bags/luggage to the concierge. They will tag your luggage and within a few hours your bags will be delivered to your room. Then we proceeded to go through the first check point to show our boarding passes and passports. We proceed through a security check point similar to that like the TSA security checkpoint. Then we went up the escalators and filled out some health forms. Next we proceeded to another checkpoint where we receive our Sail & Sign cards. You also get your picture taken. These cards are synced to the credit card on file when you register online prior to boarding. We waited until our number for our section was called and then we boarded the ship!
On the ship, we went to the Lido deck 9 and toured the 10th and 11th floors. Then we went back down to the Lido deck and ate the buffet. We went to our room and checked out our cool balcony. It was awesome! The ship departed Miami at 5 p.m. and we sailed into the night.
Sunday, February 1, 2015 Sea Day
We toured the ship and ate tons of food. We also visted the casino and played bingo.
Monday, February 2, 2015 Cozumel, Mexico
We got off the ship and walked to the port. We saw many people hold up signs for tourist excursions. We met a guide named Javier and he was holding up a sign for an all inclusive day at Chankanaab Park which includes snorkeling, tequila tasting, sea lion show, and see dolphin swim. This was a Carnival excursion. Cost was $79 per person.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015 Belize City, Belize
To get to land, we had to take a tender boat which was about 20 minutes from ship to land. We had to get some tender stickers and wait for our tender boat number to be called to board. Once we got to shore, we walked into the market place and saw many tourist excursions for sale. We booked a cave tubing plus zip line excursion from Belize Cruising for $90 per person. It was a local excursion and not sponsored by Carnival.
Our driver was Thomas. It was a 45 minute ride to the Mayan Jungle. My husband wore his crocs shoes so he didn't have to rent any water shoes. Me on the other hand, had to rent a $3 croc shoe. It was another 45 minute uphill hike through the Mayan Jungle to the Crystal Cave. I didn't have any bug spray so I got bitten about 10 times all over my body. The cave tubing was awesome. Our guide Stephanie was excellent. After cave tubing, my hubby and I went zip lining. We almost didn't make it back on time because the tender boat was supposed to leave at 4:15 pm. We didn't arrive back until 4:35 pm. However we weren't the last people because a Carnival excursion to the Mayan temple was late so we were exceptionally lucky! If you are on a Carnival excursion, they will wait for you if the tour is late. If you are on a private tour, too bad you are out of luck and the ship will leave without you!
Wednesday, February 4, 2015 Roatan, Honduras
We got off the ship and walked to the port. This port was built by Carnival so it was exceptionally clean and beautiful. We booked an excursion for Tabyana Beach which was a 30-40 minute drive. Cost was $39 per person. My husband loved the snorkeling and he captured a lot of footage on his GoPro Hero 3 camera.
The picture below is a picture of a beach built by Carnival. We didn't get a chance to visit it but it looks beautiful.
Thursday, February 5, 2015 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
This was another port that had tender boats. I must have seen about 9 ships on this port. When we reached the port, we saw a local excursion for snorkeling at the stingray sandbar. Cost was $39 per person. It was about a 20 minute boat ride to the stingray sandbar. The stingray sandbar was so beautiful and magical that I felt like I was in heaven. The stingrays swim around you. I got to kiss one!
Friday, February 6, 2015 Sea Day
I had major sunburn and broke out into a rash. It was a good day to just relax and enjoy the ship.
Saturday, February 7, 2015 Disembark ship
We got up early and ate breakfast. Disembarking the ship was a bit confusing. Since we brough carry on luggage, we took our luggage and proceeded to floor 3 to disembark. We then had to go through customs. Disembarking can take anywhere from 1 - 3 hours. After we left the Miami port, we proceeded to the airport to rent a car since we were staying an additional 2 days in Florida and flying back home on Monday, February 9. We drove down to Key West and spent a night there. We then returned to Miami Sunday night and stayed at a hotel.
Lessons Learned on First Time Cruising
Pack light, carry on preferably.
Beverage package for soda costs $6 per day per person. It was inconvenient for us because we had to also buy the $4 Carnival bubbles bottle and it an only be refilled at the bar which you have to show your Sail & Sign card and sign a receipt every time you get your bottle refilled. If you forget your bottle, they will fill a glass cup for you. If you are still within the Miami port, you are taxed $0.13 cents each time you get soda.
The formal dinner - you can order anything on the menu really. However, we often ate at the buffet first and then we ate the formal dinner later since we were signed up for the late dining option. Early dining starts at 6:30 p.m.
The ship can get a bit rocky when it's stormy. If you are prone to motion sickness bring some dramamine or accupressure wrist bands.
Even though you are at sea, at night can get chilly, so bring a sweater or light jacket.
Book your excursions early, they may sell out fast if going through Carnival.
If you find a cheaper price online for any same excursion that Carnival also sells, bring a printed copy of the price and Carnival will match it 110%.
Book through Carnival if possible. If the tour is late by any chance, the ship will wait for you. If you book local and are late, bye bye.
If there is a tender, get up early and be on time. Excursions on shore won't wait for you.
The mini fridge items in your room are not free.
All you can eat food almost any time of the day and night! The buffets are open almost all day except during 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Don't worry even if you are hungry at that time, you can still eat at Guy's Burger Joint or the Blue Iguana Cantina. Every evening you get a formal sit down dinner at one of the assigned halls. For us, we were on the 8:15 p.m. schedule and we had the same waiters serving us all week. They were very nice. We had two elegant nights where you dress up in formal attire. They weren't too strict on the formal rules.
You are charged a daily rate for service tips. For our cruise that was about $12 per person, per day. It is split between the stateroom service and the dining room service. You can also tip more if you so wish. Carnival automatically adds an additional 15% tip for any alcoholic drinks you order at the bar. For shore excursions, the tour guides do ask for tips at the end of the tour. We did tip our tour guides in cash.
CRUISE CHARGES For balcony stateroom 2 people
Cruise Rate $1,428.00 ($714 per person, it was advertised on the site around $619 per person but when we selected our room this was the price)
Taxes, Fees & Port Expenses $263.26
Total Cruise Charges $1,691.26
We did not take the vacation protection insurance.
Airfare was about $300+ per person at the time we booked.
For shore excursions, it can cost anywhere from $39 to $100+ per person. You can plan and budget $100 per day per person as an approximate. You can save money by not doing a shore excursion and just visiting the port if you like.
You also are charged $12 per day per person for gratuity services (stateroom service, dining room service).
Bubbles (unlimited soda package plan) costs $48.30 per person ($6 a day per person)
Gambling money (if you like to gamble)
Sail & Sign card is charged for anything you buy on the ship.
Total Charges Overall: approximately $3,000
Overall this was an excellent experience and you will love the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. If you are looking for advice on a cruise, consider Carnival! It's got great pricing and much more affordable than the other cruise lines. Next time we will try the Eastern Caribbean cruise!
[Photo I took of Mt. Everest at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, FL]
This past year has been an extraordinary year of my life. I've never had challenges as quite as this before. I find that each year of my life gets more and more complex. I've been running on empty for the past year. I just needed to take a break and press pause.
These are the reflections of my 2014 I wanted to share with you. I hope the lessons I learned will help you in some small way.
No matter how crazy life gets, hold onto your anchor. In 2014, my anchor was Song and Nancy. I would not have made it through the year without these two special ladies. They were with me every step, every foot forward on this journey. Whenever I felt like I was floating away, they kept me strong.
Every effort counts, no matter how small. I started 2014 with a bang ... exercising at the YMCA every day from January to end of February and then I quit going. Everyday during that time, after work my family and I went to the White Bear YMCA, Woodbury YMCA, or Coon Rapids YMCA. Oh how I miss going there so much now. It was fun exercising as a whole family.
Saying goodbye to my material possessions. My house finally sold in April since I moved to MN. As much as I was happy to get it sold, I was also sad to say goodbye to my home. I'm now mortgage free! I still miss my kitchen and my house, sometimes I still drive by it. Most of my wardrobe I can pack up into two bags.
Eat more fish. Every time I ate some fresh sashimi and fish, I felt so good. Too bad I didn't get to go fishing much at all in 2014. I will make a better effort to go more in 2015!
Don't work yourself to exhaustion. I am guilty of that. I worked myself to the point of exhaustion for many months. I slept for 1-3 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some days when I rested my head, I thought that I would not wake up. Never again will I ever put myself through so much agony. That kind of suffering is not natural.
Take a break. I went to Florida with my Vang family in August. It was our first vacation as a whole family (mom, dad, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, hubby, son) since 20 years ago. We went to Disneyworld! Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios, and Siesta Key Beach. In November, my husband and I went on an adventure driving down south. We visited Georgia and North Carolina. I needed to see the world ... We didn't have a plan, just drove with the help of Google Maps.
Add more color to your life. I went through a MAC lipstick phase. Part of it was psychological, I knew I had to change. I needed to break free from the comforts of what I was accustomed to. I made bold choices in 2014.
Hug more people. I didn't get to socialize much in 2014. I really missed my friends. Thanks so much to the friends who made it a special date to see me in 2014. Sky & Donnie, Tasha & Matt, Aimee, Sarah, Valerie, Michele, Kayla, Ytevia, Macy, Nicki, and Molly. You may not know this but in 2014 is the one year that I hardly socialized with anyone at all. Seeing your lovely faces, made me so happy. *tears*
Bad things happen for a reason. In 2014, I had no work life balance. The signs were there. I suffered greatly because I am the type of person that braves through challenges. Sometimes it takes us falling into darkness to realize we need to reshift, reclaim, and rebuild ourselves.
It's okay to cry. Yup, 2014 was a year I cried a lot. Sometimes we go through life never noticing other people's tears behind their smiles. Everyone struggles in their own way. Everyday we are trying to champion our daily life battles. Overall, I've been really tested in 2014 ... emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I was very lonely in 2014.
These are some pictures I took on my visit to the House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI back in October. It's a very interesting place to visit. There are 3 buildings that have various collections. This will most likely take 4-5 hours to tour all 3 buildings. It's fascinating. Wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking a lot.
I went on a road trip to Georgia in November. It was a 12 hour drive from Wisconsin. My hubby and I drove through Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. On our way back, we stopped in North Carolina for a few days and drove back home through NC, TN, KY, OH, IN, IL, and WI. So many thanks for my hubby's cousin Myndi and her hubby Vam Tsav for hosting us while we were in Georgia!
My friend Nicki took me to this awesome vietnamese bakery called VN Tofu in Norcross, GA. It has the most selection of vietnamese bakery goods I have ever seen in my entire life!
This is a picture of my hubby's cousin Myndi, my friend Nicki and I. It was taken at the Hindi temple in the Atlanta suburbs. This place is gorgeous!
Hindi temple. Beautiful and majestic place.
My friend Nicki and I at an indian buffet. Nicki is a sweetheart! We met on Twitter and became friends. This was the first time I had met her in person. It's so wonderful knowing that we can talk as if we'd known each other our entire lives. She's super cool and I enjoyed hanging out with her! This place had the best pineapple juice/drink from a fountain I have ever tasted in my life. It was so refreshing and good that I kept going back for more.
Me, Myndi, and Nicki at the indian buffet. I was hungry I forgot to take a picture of my plate.
My good friend Molly and I in Winder, GA. We've known each other over 20 years. I surprised her on her birthday! This was the first time in nearly 20 years since we last saw each other in Fresno. She's a sweetheart and a caring friend.
Some yummy food my hubby and I made at Myndi and her hubby's house in Winder, GA. Hubby made the fish dish. I made the blue crab. Myndi made the pork and greens.
VN Tofu bakery goods
VN Tofu bakery goods
VN Tofu bakery goods
This is Assi, a korean supermarket as large as Walmart.
Assi korean grocery store - asian pears!
Assi korean grocery store
Assi korean grocery store - snow crabs
Farmers Market - blue crabs
Farmers Market - peeled garlic, what a convenience!
Farmers Market veggie stands
Some chinese grocery store, I forgot the name.
Chinese grocery store - ox tails, so beautiful
Picture of the Smoky Mountains.
Picture of me in the Smoky Mountains.
Picture of me at the Biltmore Mansion gardens in Ashville, NC.
Picture of me at the Biltmore Mansion Winery in Ashville, NC.
Biltmore Mansion in Ashville, NC. You should see it at least once in your life. It's about a $50 fee per person and you get access to the mansion, winery (free wine tasting), gardens, and trails. If you do plan to go, I suggest going early so that you can have enough time to view everything. I went on a self guided tour but you can also pay for a guided tour which gives you access to more rooms in the mansion. I went at my own pace and it took about 1.5 hours to walk through the entire house. The views of the mountain are breathtaking. Gorgeous views... You can take pictures everywhere except inside the mansion. There's lockers nearby so you can place your items before you enter the mansion. Make sure to bring quarters for the lockers!
From my Instagram photos of the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC:
I took this photo on my trip home from Door County in 2012. I am reminded that we are beautiful inside even when we don't see it in ourselves.
Whether you are having a bad day on the job or someone did something to upset your day, always remember that beyond today ... tomorrow will bring a better day. Everyone has bad days. These are the things I do for myself when I am having a bad day or bad week.
Talk to a friend/loved one I instantly feel better when I am able to share a load with a good friend I trust.
Listen to your favorite songs Listening to your favorite songs can help put your mind at ease. I love listening to instrumentals because they soothe my soul.
Hug Hug a friend, hug a pillow, hug a teddy bear! The warmth of touch does something special to the soul. Who says no to hugs?
Write down one thing you love about yourself I write down one thing I love about myself. Sometimes when I am feeling down or feel self doubt, I remind myself of the things I like about myself whether that be a hobby, skill, or attribute.
Go for a walk Going for a walk can help clear up your mind and relieve stress. Just being outside breathing fresh air can help re-energize your body as well as your mind.
[A picture I took of the tree outside my mom and dad's house. The first thing I see when I go outside.]
It's been 100 days since I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. It's been an eye opening experience. I'm learning new things every day and staying busy. I still travel back and forth to Madison, Wisconsin because my house has not sold yet and the transition has taken longer than expected. I'm currently residing with my family so I haven't bought a new house yet. Please pray for me and hopefully my house in Madison will get sold soon.
I haven't had the opportunity to cook up any recipes. I really miss my kitchen. I enjoy my mom's hospitality but truly--you can only have one queen of the house. However, it's a pleasure eating my mom's home made food and her super simple easy khaub poob. I long for my own kitchen and personal space. It's been such a long time since I have lived with my parents and siblings. I'm very happy to be close to them and see them every day. Living in Madison was a bit lonely because I had no relatives nearby.
When you move away, you really learn who cares and who doesn't care about you. The ones who care about me follow up with me. The ones who don't care never speak a word.
What has these 100 days been like?
Physically-- It's cold here in Minnesota (same as in Wisconsin). Wish winter would just end! I am living in the most Hmong populated city in America yet I haven't really seen that many Hmong. Guess I don't go out much. Mostly just work, home, grocery shopping, and YMCA. I wish the rush hour traffic could improve, still getting used to the long commute.
Mentally-- I haven't been this challenged in quite a long time. Over the course of these last 100 days, I have learned Groovy, Grails, Angular JS, C#, .NET, and WCF Web Services. I'm a big tech geek so I really enjoy learning new programming languages. It's very important to stay current and relevant with technology so it makes you marketable and competitive in the industry. I feel gratification when I can solve problems and create eloquent code!
Emotionally-- I miss my family and friends in Madison. I get to see them when I travel down to visit on weekends. I am thankful to all the support from my MN family. I love them!
Spiritually-- I haven't gone to church in the last 100 days. I am feeling a bit spiritually depleted. I need to find a church here soon. I've been traveling a lot so I have not made the time to visit a church and worship. God, please forgive me!
Deliciously-- The best food I have eaten since I arrived here has to be the chicken makhani I bought from India Palace. I also love the food trucks in Minneapolis. My brother's zuppa soup has been my favorite home cooked meal he's made for our family. My husband also makes a delicious ox tail soup that I love, love, love!!!!
Youtube and Facebook -- I've also been greeted with happiness and disappointment too. Happy that I have 17,900+ subscribers on Youtube now. Sad that I see my recipes on some blogs online and no credit or linkbacks to my site. Also disappointed to see people crop out my name from my photos and try to pass on as their own photos. Totally uncool ... In February someone made a fake Youtube account and uploaded all my videos from my Youtube channel to their fake channel. With the support from my friends online, they helped me report the fake channel and Youtube suspended that account. It was a victory but as soon as that one came down, two more came up.
Korean Dramas-- I haven't watched any in the last 100 days.
TV Dramas-- My sister and brother got me into Game of Thrones. I watched this during my christmas break in Madison. My 3 faves are Tyrion, Arya, and Daenerys. I'm also following the Walking Dead now that it's airing again.
Plans for the spring/summer-- I plan to take a vacation this summer. Not sure where I will go yet. Maybe France ... It's always been a dream of mine to go there. When I was a little girl, I was so infatuated with french culture that I studied french for years. Haven't spoken it in forever but I can read, comprehend, and write it. Speaking french, I can but with not a lot of confidence anymore... Maybe a POTLUCK MEETUP this summer? We shall see if there's any interest ... if you are in the MN area and are interested, leave me a comment below.