Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Passports with Purpose 2012 Starts Today!

Passports with Purpose is here!

This year travel bloggers are helping to raise $100,000 to build wells in Haiti in partership with

Access to safe drinking water is one of the most basic keys to good health.   Right now, 780 million people, three times the population of the US, lack access to clean water.  

In a world that can seem so connected and modern, it's sometimes easy to forget that the ability to drink a glass of clean water is not a guarantee.
If you're sick due to a water-borne illness or have to travel long distances to obtain water it's hard to
  • Go to work and earn a living
  • Go to school and get an education
  • Take care of your family
  • Spend time with friends and neighbors
  • Play sports or enjoy a hobby 
  • Cook / Serve foods safely   
You Can Help!

Click here to make your donation.   The widget on the right column of this page will show you the progress we're making towards the goal of $100,000!   

You Can Win a Prize!

The 2012 fundraiser with prizes started mere hours ago on November 27 at 11:59pm EST and ends December 11 at 11:59pm EST.    During this time, if you donate $10 or more, not only will you feel warm and fuzzy about supporting a good cause, you will also have a chance to win a prize.  A great prize.  Most likely, a travel related prize. 

In fact, every person blogging about Passports with Purpose has secured a prize.   There's bound to be one that you'd be happy to win.

Including this great prize...

I live in beautiful Denver, Colorado.   
If you live here, you know it's a great place.  
If you don't live here, wouldn't you like to visit in 2013?  

Enjoy the best of downtown Denver with Hyatt Hotels!  

The Hyatt Regency Denver and the Grand Hyatt Denver each generously donated a one night stay just for Passports with Purpose.   Read on to see what you could enjoy if you are the lucky winner.

I've stayed at both these hotels and enjoyed their service, restaurants and amenities.   These are the hotels I recommend to friends and family when they come to visit or when they want to stay downtown or celebrate a special occasion. 

These hotels are two blocks away from each other in downtown Denver and the winner will have a chance to stay at both properties.   Or, if you're feeling generous, you could give one gift certificate to a loved one for the holidays, and still have one for yourself.    Your call.   

Photo Credit: Hyatt

One night weekend night stay at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center including breakfast for two.      This Hyatt is right across the street from the Colorado Convention Center and one block away from the 16th Street Mall, within easy access to anything you want to do in downtown.    Peaks Lounge on the 27th Floor has an amazing view of both the city skyline and the mountains.


Photo Credit:  Hyatt

One night weekend night stay at the Grand Hyatt Denver including Grand Club access.   The Grand Hyatt just started a $28 million redesign that includes the guest rooms, lobby, and much of the meeting space.  The renovation finishes in June 2013, so if you visit in the second half of the year, you'll enjoy a "Grand" new hotel!    The Grand also introduced a new restaurant, Pub 17, in July of this year including a lot of locally sourced food and craft beers (this is Colorado, after all, and we're serious about our beer).

Whether you give the gift of water or win the gift of a Hyatt stay, thank you in advance for your enthusiastic participation and support of Passports with Purpose!

The fine print:
The winner of this prize will receive two gift certificates by mail (they will arrive together in one envelope/package).    Each stay must be booked following the directions on the gift certificate.     Each certificate is good for a one (1) night weekend stay (includes room rate + tax).   Parking and other incidental charges are not included.   Certificates are not valid for December 31, 2012.

Hyatt Regency Denver Certificate:  Good for a weekend night accomodation and breakfast for two. 
Expires December 1, 2013.
Grand Hyatt Denver Certificate:  Good for a weekend night stay for two with Grand Club access.  
Expires December 15, 2013.   

*Passports with Purpose will determine and/or draw all the prize winners.   As the writer of this blog, I am not involved in any of that, but my fingers are crossed that it's someone awesome, like you.  Good Luck!*

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thoughts about Shore Excursions

Earlier this month, I went on a Caribbean cruise for the first time in 7 years.   Our itinerary on the Carnival Legend was the "Exotic Western Caribbean."   I picked it because it included two new ports (and countries) for me.    Once you pick your itinerary, it's time to start pondering what you want to do at each port of call.     The cruise lines are more than ready to help you out with that.    You can look through their activity catalog, book online and drop hundreds of dollars real quick.  

For a first time cruiser, selecting shore excursions through the cruise line may be a good choice, especially if you're new to international travel.  The cruise line will hold your hand through the whole process: gathering you in the lounge, herding you to the tender or pier, getting you on to your bus and guaranteeing that the ship won't leave without you.

However, the cruise lines do not have to be your only source for planning your time in port.   Do a little research, just like you would for any place you go on vacation.   Find out what are the must-sees / must-dos, read some reviews (cruise website, cruise critic, trip advisor, etc), and look at other ways that you can book your adventure.   

Supporting the local economy:  In a lot of these ports, the ships really do drive the economy.   The day we were in Grand Cayman, we were the only ship there.   One of the shopkeepers told me in the peak season in January there can be 7-8 ships a day.   Crazy!    Some ports of call are actually built by the cruise lines, so the shops closest to the ships may be owned by the cruise line and the prices are more likely to be fixed.     If you're willing to walk a little farther, or take a cab to the closest "real" town or village, you will probably see a little more of real life and spend your dollars in a way that can really benefit local people in a developing nation.   

As long as you fun and get back to the ship on time for the sail away jams, you're doing just fine.

Our ship docked in "Puerta Maya."   This development was built just for the cruise lines.    It's very clean, colorful, and has all the traditional Mexican souvenirs with the price tags attached.   You might be able to bargain a little in a some of the shops, but in reality, it's a controlled shopping area for cruise ship passengers only.   When the ship departs, the shops and restaurants close down and the employees go home.    

There is a huge taxi stand outside and the fares are pretty much fixed if you want to go to one of the beaches or elsewhere on the island.     We walked across the street and hit up a few of the shops there - prices were very reasonable, you could definitely negotiate, and I was able to have ice cream and an agua fresca.    You know you're having a good time bargaining when the shop keeper says, "Jenni, don't break my heart."

Sometimes booking your excursion through the cruise line has its benefits.    In Belize, all the cruise ships have to stay out in the water and passengers tender in.    My friend and I did the snorkeling and a visit to Bannister Island.     The catamaran picked us up right from the ship and headed straight to the reef.    We snorkeled for an hour in a beautiful section of the reef, then enjoyed some rum punch on our way to this little tiny island for some sun.  We even saw some dolphins swimming by our catamaran.    Included in our stop at this island were the beach chairs, water floats and kayaks.    If you wanted to eat or drink on the island, you needed to pay additional.     After an hour or so of relaxing in the sun, it was time to head back to the ship.     

We decided to take a tender into the port, just to see it.   We didn't have much time, and it was the standard souvenir shops and lots of jewelry stores.   I talked to some other passengers later and they said that if you left the area right by the pier and went outside the "fence" you can definitely tell that Belize is still developing and that the shopkeepers really wanted your business.

Roatan, Honduras
Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras.   It is beautiful, green and very lush.    Carnival paid $65 million (or so), so develop Mahogany Bay, which is where they dock on Roatan.   It's a complete development: shops, restaurants, beach and even a chair lift.   Yes, a chair lift.  Living in Colorado, the idea of riding a lift in my swimsuit instead of my ski gear makes me laugh.    But you can pay to ride this lift to the beach - rather than walking for 5 minutes.   Something I did like in this little development was a chance to get my passport stamp.   The local Rotary club takes donations to help provide plumbing and toilets for schools and in return you can get a stamp.   What a great fundraising opportunity!

I wanted to go zip-lining and started to research options other than the zip line tour that Carnival provided.   I booked a "Zip and Dip" from Viator for about $30 less than Carnival's price.     There are other third party shore excursion providers and many of them will also offer "return to the ship" guarantees if you're worried that they will sail away without you.   The zip line provider was South Shore Zip Line and they were fantastic.  I would definitely recommend them.    We got a bit of an island tour on our way to the zip line and their facility has something like 13-15 lines so it lasts for quite a while.   All the guides were great - they would ride tandem with anyone who was nervous, or encourage you to hang upside down if you weren't nervous.    It was pouring rain during part of our trip, but hell, you're in a rain forest anyway.  I would say that this was the most fun I've had in the pouring rain.   I'm glad I wasn't wearing makeup - some of the other ladies in our group had raccoon eyes from their dripping mascara. 

After our zip line, we were scheduled to hit the beach.   Since it was cooler and we were all wet, no one really wanted to swim, but we had some rum punch and a chance to pick up some small souvenirs along the beach.   On our way back to Mahogany Bay we drove through the main town and where the other cruise ships dock - if I would have had more time, I would have liked to explore that area.     

Grand Cayman
On my last (and only) visit to Grand Cayman, I went to Stingray City, so this time, I wasn't really interested in an organized shore excursion.   I just wanted to lie on the beach.   Now the cruise line offers a variety of beach excursions costing about $40 or more for an air-conditioned bus to private beach clubs - depending on how much you want to pay, you could get a beach chair or lunch included.    However, there are tons of shared vans/taxis that have set pricing (between $4-7 each way) to take you to a variety of stops on the famous 7 Mile Beach.    We paid $4 and went to the first stop, the Royal Palms.   The $2 access fee gets you access to their showers and bathrooms.  They also have a beach side restaurant and my mahi mahi sandwich was great.    I didn't need a beach lounger.   The sand was just fine.   I had time to get some rum cakes in port before heading back to the ship.

The annual Pirates Week festival was starting the night we departed Grand Cayman.   One of the storekeepers told me that as soon as the ship departed everyone would go home, get changed and come back for the fireworks that kick off the celebration.    

So there you have it.    My take on my shore excursions, or lack thereof, at these ports of call.

If you've been on a cruise, what was your favorite port and/or activity?

Friday, November 23, 2012


The Grand Illumination - Downtown Denver
Always the Friday after Thanksgiving

Today's Five Minute Friday prompt is Thank You.     I can't think of a better prompt for five minutes of writing.    Working in the hospitality industry, there were years that I worked on Thanksgiving Day.    Usually I've worked the day after Thanksgiving (aka today) if I'm not on vacation.    This year, our fantastic office of three decided that we'd all take a vacation day today.     A four day weekend is definitely something to enjoy and celebrate.  

A lot of people are doing the 30 days of gratitude on Facebook, on their blogs, or maybe just in a notebook by their bed.    That's how I'm using my 5 minutes today....

This year I'm am grateful for:
My old job with awesome co-workers
My new job with awesome co-workers (same company, different property)
Visiting 3 new countries (Greece, Honduras and Belize)
Chaperoning the youth mission trip to Joplin, MO - I'm reminded every time I go on a trip or hear the kids talk about it, that taking time for serving others changes lives
The 10 years I had with my Chey dog
Seeing almost all my family either here or there
Lake Tahoe
The ability to cook
My tan (although it's fading daily)
My PHR recertification - and that I didn't have to take the exam again
HR Team of the Year
Cappuccino in a real cup
A day under the laziness cloud
Living in Colorado
Frequent flier miles
The Wisconsin State Fair
Road Trips
Free hotel nights


It's a good thing that time ran out before I ran out of things to be thankful for or people to say thank you to.   I saw a cartoon recently that showed a glass half full.   It showed that the bottom half was water (50%) and the top half was air (50%) and that technically the glass is always 100% full. 

I want to always be able to say my glass is 100% full and be that thankful. 

I hope you are having a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Five Minute Friday is taking a vacation in December - to learn more about how you can get involved visit Lisa-Jo's site

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stay in the Moment

This week's Five Minute Friday prompt is Stay.


In our over-connected society it takes a real effort to stay in the moment.   Between computers, smart phones, social media and endless other distractions it's easy to get caught up in what's happening with someone else somewhere else.
I just returned from a Caribbean cruise.   I made a conscious effort to stay in the moment.   Enjoy the beach.  The show.  The hammock.  The book.   The food.   I did not need "bow2stern" wifi.    I didn't need to watch tv.    I didn't need to watch the election results come in. 
Over the period of 7 days, I only went on Facebook from an ice cream stand in Cozumel.   Other than that, I was basking in the sun and not worrying about what was going on with everyone else everywhere else.  
It drives me crazy when people are checking their phones at dinner or while being a part of a conversation.    You can't be in two places at once.   Either be present or stay home.  
Sharing your thoughts and pictures with friends is great.   Staying connected with friends all over the world is amazing and important.    It's a matter of balance.
Life is made up of individual moments.    Stay present. 


To participate in these scribing shenanigans either today or next week visit Lisa-Jo's page here on  Friday/Saturday then write for five minutes on the topic she provides. Then you can post a link to your post on her page. Finally show some love to the person who posted before you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cozumel and Election Day

(at the time this posts, I should be sleeping the sleep of the relaxed on vacation)

The only other time I was in Cozumel was on a cruise ship stop when I was in college.   I don't remember much, other than shopping a bit.    That was my first exposure to Mexico.   Since that time, I've been to Playa del Carmen twice and Tuxtla once - for mission and volunteer trips.  

Today Cozumel is my port of call.    I'm not scheduled to do anything.   And that is freeing.

Today is also Election Day back in the states.   I've already cast my ballot and have been hiding from all the malicious political advertising for about a month.     I'm curious when I will find out the result of the election.   I know it will happen while in "foreign waters."  There is no way I'll make it home without finding out - even though I won't seek it out.  

Will it be on board?   The next port?   Will they post it in the daily newsletter?   Will I catch it when passing a TV in one of the lounges?   

Ohh the mystery!  

My goal is not to stay connected during this trip.   

To relax.   To enjoy.   To be.

The only victory party I'll be attending is the midnight buffet.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flexibility while Traveling

A friend once told me "Blessed are the flexible because they will never get bent out of shape."

Today our cruise ship is delayed coming in to port.  Epic fog meant the ship couldn't go under the bridge at the appointed time this morning.
Had everything gone according to schedule we'd be listening to the steel drum band during the sail away party right now.

Instead of rushing to wait, I enjoyed a long leisurely brunch...mimosas, oysters, sushi, and bananas foster and great company.  Then a trip to the port and margaritas with friends.

You can get worked up over things you can't control.   Or you can roll with it and smile.

And now I'm in the cruise terminal and the kids are jumping up and  yelling "We can see it!"

I'm jumping on the inside.

Bon Voyage.

Friday, November 2, 2012

What Runs Deep In You?

This week's Five Minute Friday prompt is Roots.

As I'm finishing last minute packing on a Friday and wondering why summer weight clothes weigh so much, I know that I'm not the first in my family to go this route.     Third generation world traveler here.    Not my first rodeo, but still a procrastinator.   

Both my grandmothers had lots of travel experiences.   One grandma when she was newly married before having children.   My other grandma when she became a widow when she was still very able to climb in and out of safari jeeps and tour buses.  

Mom is another one.    She took me to Greece earlier this year.   Then she went off to the Canadian Rockies.    Thanksgiving will be in Spain followed by an early December jaunt to St. Lucia.   

I want those roots.    The roots that take pride in an old suitcase, photos and a well-loved passport.  

In the words of country music, "these are my people."  
To participate in these scribing shenanigans either today or next week visit Lisa-Jo's page here on Friday Eve (aka Thursday night) or on Friday/Saturday then write for five minutes on the topic she provides. Then you can post a link to your post on her page. Finally show some love to the person who posted before you.


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