It's difficult for me to even know what to write to go along with our pictures that pretty much sum it all up. We had an incredible vacation. You should come with us next year. That's about it ;-)
But seriously... I will give you the highlights of our trip but I also really don't understand why more people don't go on these trips. If you have been thinking of starting up a side hustle, with my company or another of the network marketing options out there... They have some free/earned trips that are incredibly motivating!
The results my clients see in terms of better health and better self-image are extremely motivating. The extra income I earn with this business also motivates me to work hard. But the incentive trip each year may be the best motivating factor of all for me! Just knowing that Sean and I will get this "couple time" together to relax once a year is such a treat. I know so many couples and families that don't get to take vacations together and I just wonder: why not open that up to yourself and your family by building a business in your spare time? (If you are interested in our team, you can apply here for my new coach mentorship that teaches you everything you need to know and offers killer support too.)
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'm here to give you a behind-the-scenes peek of our trip just in case you're only here to hear about our experiences and maybe get some tips for Miami, the Florida Keys, or cruising with Royal Caribbean.
We started out with a few days relaxing in the Keys. We flew into Fort Lauderdale, picked up a rental car, and stayed one night in Homestead. After a visit to Robert Is Here fruit stand, we made our way down to the Keys. It's about a 4 hour drive from Miami/Fort Lauderdale, so it was nice to split it up (and not make the whole drive late at night). Most of all, we were glad to be making the drive when it was light out, since the road to and through the Keys is stunningly beautiful as you travel along a long, narrow highway with the ocean on both sides.
Key West is the definition of a party town, so we were glad to be staying in a quieter setting: We found an AirBNB on Big Pine Key in the middle of a nature preserve (grandfathered development before new construction was banned). It was so pristine and gorgeous to wake up with a fresh breeze blowing in the open windows and palm trees and wildlife in the backyard.
On the way down, we stopped at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon (the last sizable city north/east of Key West). This is a veterinary hospital that handles sick and injured sea turtles, and because it's such a rare specialization, they rescue and rehabilitate turtles from all over the U.S. and sometimes other parts of the world. The turtles are treated and released, or, if their condition makes it unsafe for them to live in the wild any longer, they become permanent residents at the Turtle Hospital. It's a very touching and inspiring operation and was one of the highlights of our visit!
The Keys also have excellent options for nature and adventure tourism. We did a day-long tour that combined snorkeling with kayaking in the mangroves. Other than that we just enjoyed Key West and all the delicious food, live music, ocean views, and great people watching it has to offer (along with visiting the dive shop several times to update our equipment since it's not easy to find snorkeling equipment in Wisconsin). Boondocks was our favorite local restaurant near where we were staying on Big Pine—delicious food without the Key West prices.
After a few blissful days in the Keys, we drove back to Homestead, this time staying at the Hotel Redland, which was a historic hotel and a total bargain! Very well-maintained and quiet with spacious rooms and a lot more character than the Super 8-type options in the area.
Again, we stayed halfway to break up the drive, so the morning we boarded our cruise, we had a leisurely breakfast, then returned our rental car at the airport and took a taxi to Port Everglades cruise ship terminal.
This is one of my main tips for cruising... make the most of your time on the ship. I'm so glad we weren't flying in the same day we had to board the ship. I recommend getting on the ship as early in the day as possible. I also recommend booking flights to arrive the day prior (so you'll be covered in case of flight delays), or even further in advance if possible—personally I feel "off" for a couple of days after flying, so if I have the luxury of extending my trip to give me a day or two to get acclimated, I try to do that.
Once aboard the ship, Sean and I really enjoyed exploring all the different environments (including Central Park, our favorite "neighborhood,"' pictured here). We signed up for the option of taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship that got us into the galley, onto the brig, and into the crew work areas. It was very cool and perfect for someone who loves boats as much as Sean does.
The days at sea are really my favorites on a cruise because you get plenty of time to explore the different areas of the ship, meet up with friends for social time and have quiet time on your own too. There is so much food available all the time; I was glad this was a fitness-themed cruise so I could be active enough to enjoy it. (We had three workout options each day, and I actually participated in all three of them. Since I have an Apple Watch, I could also see how many calories I was burning walking around the ship, and it was a lot! On this cruise I actually burned more calories through activity than I do on most days at home!)
For all three meals, you have a choice of eating a sit-down meal or eating at a buffet (or at least this was the case for this type of cruise with Royal Caribbean). We did "My Time" dining so you can just go when you're hungry or when it's convenient for you and work around any shows you want to see. (The ship has multiple different shows going on; when we were there, our options were a high-dive water acrobatics show, an ice skating show, and the musical "Grease," among others). We generally did a sit-down dinner and the buffet for breakfast and lunch, simply because the sit-down meal takes longer. Pro tip for the sit-down meals: You're presented with different options for appetizer, main course, and dessert, but you can choose more than one for each course if you're extra hungry or more than one option sounds good! From the buffet lunches, one of the highlights was very memorable Indian food options that were different each day.
It might seem counterintuitive on a ship with nearly 10,000 people, but it was possible to get quiet moments to yourself outside of your cabin if you knew where to go during "off" times. This includes the top deck after dark (since all the bars are closed), the running track at night (with some very cool water views lower down on the ship), and pretty much the whole ship during the times in port when most of the people are off on excursions. That's when I got some hot tub time all by myself (except for Sean, who took the picture)!
A time when the top deck was NOT a place for quiet moments to yourself was during the workouts each morning. It got very crowded but if you didn't mind not having a direct line of sight to the trainer leading the workout (and just looking at everyone around you to see what move is coming next), it was possible to find a spacious spot where you didn't have to worry about kicking anyone when you kick back for a burpee. Since the nature of online coaching is to work out at home by yourself and then connect for support in via an online group, it's always a special treat when we get to work out together in person and see our online friends in real life.
Those moments on the top deck of the ship each morning were sheer bliss, getting your heart rate going and getting the endorphins pumping, then stretching out in the cool ocean breeze just as the sun was coming up. (And then going to grab a complimentary Shakeology or two from the daily concoctions being blended up on board!)
Our cruise had two ports of call: Nassau, Bahamas, and Labadee, Haiti. We actually didn't do an excursion in Nassau because we had been on a snorkeling excursion from Nassau on our last cruise three years ago and the reef was in really poor shape. Instead we walked around central Nassau. Sean renewed his membership at the Bahamas National Trust and then we went to Pirate Republic Brewing Company, which we highly recommend as a place to get a pint.
Labadee is a private island under long-term lease by Royal Caribbean. It's basically a tourist playground, although the historic walking tour we took did have some interesting tidbits about the surrounding area and the overall history of Haiti. This was where we went snorkeling on this cruise—and it was awesome! The reef was in good condition with lots of colorful fish. The water was warm and calm, so swimming was easy, and there was plenty of distance to cover so people weren't swimming on top of each other.
There's also lots to do in the "just chill out" category on Labadee. There were multiple different beaches on the small island, with different types of swimming and water sports environments. Just be sure you don't book an excursion over the lunch hour—we made this mistake and we missed out on the buffet of Caribbean food that was provided!
At the cruise ship port in Nassau
Post-snorkeling near Labadee
Back on Labadee and embracing the flip-flop lifestyle
Back on the ship and savoring our time before returning to Fort Lauderdale
Once the cruise ended, we had three nights in Miami (mostly due to the price difference for the plane ticket home by waiting three days, but also to give us a little more alone time without any scheduled excursions or group workouts). Like Key West, Miami is a great place to eat, although it's expensive. Memorable meals were at Joe's Stone Crab and at the Sugar Factory (below).
We also chose AirBNB in Miami, and found a one-bedroom apartment a few blocks off Ocean Drive. It was perfect because it had free parking and it was close enough to the action that we could walk, but it was quiet when we wanted to sleep at night. We were very happy with it. However, we did notice that the Hotel Tonight app had some excellent deals for last-minute stays at boutique hotels on or near Ocean Drive. We could have stayed at a fancy hotel for the same price (or less) than our dated and bare-bones AirBNB. We plan to keep this option in mind for next time in case we can be flexible with our plans!
Lastly, we highly recommend spending time in Little Havana. We enjoyed both Cuban and Mexican food, and there were plenty of restaurants with live music and dancing, as well as a street festival while we were there! South Beach is fun for what it is (spring breakers and fancy cars) but it was nice to be in a neighborhood that wasn't 100% oriented toward tourists.
This trip gave us some much needed couple time before heading into Sean's busy season and we pretty much loved everything about it. If you are going to any of these places, please reach out with questions and let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with planning!