Author: john

There Is Always a Silver Lining

There Is Always a Silver Lining

Every situation, no matter how grim, can be looked at from more than its obvious perspective.

A glass of water: Is it half-full, or half-empty?

My thought: Who cares? If you’re thirsty, you’ve got a glass with water in it. Drink up, quench your thirst, life goes on.

One quality I’m truly grateful to have bestowed upon me from my mother, is her ability to find the good in any situation. Sometimes it’s harder to do, but there’s always a way to look at something in a positive light rather than dwell on the negative, if you’re open to finding that possibility. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my couch with one of the worst ear infections I’ve had in my 36 years of life. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. I can’t change that, but what I can do is change how I feel about it.

Sure, I’m bummed about it. I had to miss out on some things, but something very good did come of this.

For all of my life, I’ve never been able to swallow pills. I’ve tried for many years, and for whatever reason have never been able to get them down. I’d put one in my mouth, and it would swish around. I’d drink water… a little bit, a lot, nothing would help. I’d wind up having to spit the pill out and never be able to get it down. Some medications, which only came in pill form, I’d have to crush up and put into applesauce, even as an adult.

I didn’t want to do this forever, and I was determined to learn how to do this. Everyone else I knew could do it; even people I knew growing up couldn’t, and now miraculously could. I was determined to jump on that pill-popping bandwagon. As it turns out, it was surprisingly easier than I thought.

The problem, at least for me, was simple:  I was overthinking the whole process.

Everyone had told me their various ways of doing it…

“Put the pill in the back of your throat, right on your tongue.”

“Take a little sip of water, and just….*gulp* it down.”

“Just do it.”

So, a little over a month ago I told myself that if anyone else can do it, so can I. I went into the kitchen, got a small cup of water, and popped a Zyrtec pill in my mouth and just swallowed it without giving me enough time to overthink it. Rather than get myself psyched up, I just pop the pill in and swallow it with a little gulp of water. The more relaxed I am, the easier it goes.

I was overjoyed. I then went to the store and picked up a bottle of men’s multivitamins, which were considerably larger than the Zyrtec pill. I tried to take it, and it went down. I can do this!

I tried to take the multivitamin pill again the next day, and the original issue happened. The pill swished around in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow it. I started getting freaked out again, and then sat down to think about it.

I work in technical support, so taking a more analytical and logical thought process to this seemed appropriate: I’ve already proven that I’m physically able to do this – I’ve taken one larger pill and one smaller one and swallowed them without issue, so this confirmed the problem was completely in my mind. I waited a few days, then tried again with a multivitamin – down the hatch.

Fast forward to now…

I have one bottle of liquid, but when I get it refilled I’m going to request it be in pill form… mainly, because the liquid doesn’t taste that great!

I’m fighting an ear infection now so I’m taking two extra sets of pills, but this has been good practice for me to get accustomed to swallowing things whole. I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer need to drink water to get them down. I can put a pill in and swallow it, and just use the water to wash it down, since sometimes it tastes funny just after swallowing it. Not a bad problem to have, if you ask me.

So… the good from the bad… I’ve got a nasty ear infection. My left ear feels like it’s being stabbed with an ice pick… the good: I’ve finally been able to swallow pills, it only took 36 years.

There’s always something good to come from a bad situation: Just look for it. It’s there, and it just might help you get through whatever’s going on and make the experience just a little bit better.

 

My Next Cruise: Vision of the Seas to Cozumel

My Next Cruise: Vision of the Seas to Cozumel

It’s cruise time…well, almost! It’s been a few months, but I’m excited to announce I have my next cruise all lined up for February of 2018!

The last ship I was on, the Oasis of the Seas, is one of Royal Caribbean’s largest. On this cruise, I’m dialing it back a little and sailing one of their smaller and older ships, the Vision of the Seas. Vision has been around since 1997, making her only 5 years newer than the Majesty of the Seas which I sailed on back in February of 2017.  This is a 4-night cruise departing from Galveston, TX and sailing to Cozumel, and then back.  This will be my first time sailing out of Galveston, which is only a few hours drive from where I live here in Austin.

Cozumel is one of my favorite cruise ports; the water is beautiful and crystal clear, and the people there are wonderful and friendly. I’ll be cruising with another one of my dear friends who has never cruised before, so it will be fun to introduce him to this fabulous form of vacationing.

There will be lots more coming on this cruise, so stay tuned!

Beautiful Sky

Beautiful Sky

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post, and for that I apologize! I’ll be writing some update posts soon to bring everyone up to speed on what’s been going on; nothing bad, I assure you! In the mean time here are some pictures I shot last time I was on an early flight.

I love flying early because of the benefit of arriving at my destination at the start of my day, but also for visions like the following.

Please feel free to check out my instagram for more of my pictures!

 

These and other pictures can be found here on my photography website. 

I Ordered A New iPhone, and It’s Not The iPhone X

I Ordered A New iPhone, and It’s Not The iPhone X

It’s Friday, September 15th, and I’m excited!

Apple announced two fabulous new iPhones at their event the other day, the 8 being an upgrade from the 7, and the X being a completely new design. Many folks have been going nuts over the X, but not I.

The iPhone X is pretty… it’s very pretty… but it’s a little bit too different for me to be as excited. 

My biggest hesitation is the heavy dependence on facial recognition: I’m just not sold on it being the new standard in authentication, but I have an open mind. My mind is more open than my wallet, though. I’m looking forward to it’s execution, and seeing how it works as a mass-market thing. I know it’s the direction these things are going, so at some point I’ll be adopting it, but I’m not ready to do so just yet.

The camera improvements are impressive on the iPhone X…for the non-photographer. For those unaware, I’m a photographer. I won’t ever be taking a selfie in which I want to achieve lighting similar to that which I’d use external studio lighting for…using my phone. If I want to take a studio-type of picture, I’m going to use studio-type equipment. It’s nice and convenient to have that functionality, but it’s not the tool I’d choose for that particular shot. 

The price is also a factor as well… I’m not interested in paying that much more for something I’m not that excited about.

These are just my thoughts… It’s a nice phone, and I’m sure whatever follows it will be even better, but it’s not the right tool for me right now.  I’m looking forward to receiving my new iPhone 8 Plus in the coming weeks.

Oasis of the Seas 2017 Cruise in Review

Oasis of the Seas 2017 Cruise in Review

 

Looking at pictures from any of my trips is a fun way to remember all the fun we had, but even better is seeing a slideshow! Of course I couldn’t resist making one for this trip, since so much had happened on this vacation. There was scuba diving, snorkeling, epic concerts, an incredible ship, and we can’t forget about that little solar eclipse… Go for it, check out the video!!

Hurricane Harvey and My Return to Austin

Hurricane Harvey and My Return to Austin

The hurricane known as Harvey made landfall on the Southeastern Coast of Texas just before I was due to fly back from my cruise, so it certainly made for some last-minute travel headaches. Thankfully I’ve made it safely back to my home in Austin, but even as I’m writing this the storm is still wreaking its havoc on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Having lived through hurricane Sandy a few years back, I would never want to wish anything like this on anyone, so my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the storm’s former and current path.

Since I was flying on United, my return trip from Orlando was going to connect in Houston. I like flying United; they’ve done fine by me despite the bad press they’ve received over the year. My only complaint is their lack of a direct flight between Austin and Orlando, but since I don’t fly that itinerary regularly, making the connection in Houston isn’t that big of a deal…unless there’s a hurricane in my way.  I was first notified of the storm on Friday, and some of the news sites were setting expectations for the worst. I hadn’t heard from United as of yet, but that changed on Saturday morning when I woke to find an e-mail showing my flight had been canceled.

I called United and was then rerouted to a later flight, also connecting through Houston. A few hours later, this flight was also canceled, prompting me to call back again. I was then given the option to reroute through Chicago O’Hare or Washington-Dulles, since I’d learned that Houston airports were closed until further notice. I chose to fly to Washington DC, and closely monitored the situation since getting those plans set up.

It’s reasons like this that I strongly recommend having the internet package (if only on one device, at least) while on a cruise. If I’d found out about all of this after returning to land, I may have been delayed further if I couldn’t take action as quickly as I had. Since I was delayed, I booked a room at the Hyatt within Orlando Airport, contacted my manager at work to notify her of my plans, changed my ground transportation in Austin to reflect my new pickup date, and even requested Monday off from work so I wouldn’t have to call out and use a sick day. Getting the internet package is great for posting quick selfies on vacation, but it also can really come in handy to prevent further travel headaches when plans change at the last minute.

Certain members of my family were understandably concerned about my plans to fly directly into the path of a hurricane, and adamantly insisted I fly back to NJ with them to spend a few days up there before returning to Texas. While I understand and appreciate the concern, I did not want to fly any farther out of my way than I had to, and I wanted to minimize the additional time off that I may have to take from work in order to get back within a timely manner. I also put my full faith in the airlines knowing that they will get me back to Austin safely, even if it means reroutes and potential delays. If they were offering a flight that went near the hurricane but not over it or through it, they are doing so because they have the knowledge and experience to know it can be done safely. I’m not a meteorologist, so I’m not going to pretend to know more than the professionals do in this scenario.

Using FlightView Elite  I was monitoring Airport Delays for both Washington-Dulles and Austin, and both were showing on-time performance throughout the day on Sunday. I also used United’s app to keep an eye on my flight, which remained On Time and On Schedule throughout.

Sunday was an uneventful day, which mainly consisted of me relaxing in my hotel room at the Hyatt, sampling the fabulous food-court cuisines of Orlando Airport, and getting a drink with a friend who lives in Orlando and was kind enough to drop by the airport for a few hours to catch up. My flights went off without a hitch on Monday, and I made it back to Austin by around 4pm CST on Monday.

The big takeaways from this whole experience:

  • Wherever you’re traveling, whether it’s on a cruise or traveling abroad, stay connected. If you’re on a cruise, make sure you have access to the internet; even if it’s not on your own device (someone in your room with you, etc.) – If you’re traveling to another country, speak with your phone provider to have some type of international plan added to your account. You never know when that can save you!
  • Have a core set of Travel Apps on your smart phone, and know how to use them. Use apps to monitor Airport arrivals/delays, have your airline(s) apps on your phone, and know how to access your reservations or the customer service phone number for your airline.
  • Have enough room on an “emergency” credit card to cover unforseen expenses; If given the choice of being stranded somewhere with no food/shelter/means to get home, or getting home safely after having a safe place to stay and a meal but having some extra debt, I’ll take option B hands-down. Sure, it cost me a few hundred dollars to have to stay overnight in Orlando, but I was able to mitigate most of that with credit card points so it didn’t severely affect my bottom line.

 

Cruise Day 7: Nassau

Cruise Day 7: Nassau

It’s the last day of the cruise… the one before disembarkation. I don’t know what’s worse; the day before you have to leave the ship, knowing that it’s all over in one day, or actually getting off the ship itself.  You be the judge and post a comment… which is worse?

We had an early breakfast in the Windjammer and headed down to meet the rest of our tour group in the Opal Theater before going ashore When I was last in Nassau on Majesty of the Seas I did a great snorkel excursion called the Rainbow Reef Snorkel, and knew that I just had to show this fabulous place to my cousins. I’ll have video of our visit to the reef up on my YouTube Channel soon, but in the mean time you can check out the video from February’s visit to get a small glimpse at the aquatic life we spotted there earlier this year. Today’s visit was different, so be sure to be on the look out for the video that’ll be coming soon!

Once off the ship, there was minimal organization, so it was a bit chaotic to try to find our respective tour operator. I included some of this in my feedback to Royal Caribbean after the cruise, but I think we should have been kept on the ship until the tour operator had arrived and was in a clearly visible spot for us to meet them. We eventually did meet up with the woman from the tour, but it wasn’t as smooth as some other experiences I’d had in the past.

The excursion was great – I highly recommend the Rainbow Reef Snorkel on your next cruise to Nassau – the tour operators definitely make the experience memorable, as well as give some fun an interesting tidbits on the boat ride back toward the cruise ships, pointing out some celebrity houses right on the water.  It’s a great value for the price – I don’t remember it being more than $40 a person for the whole thing.

After arriving back on land, my cousins Jen and Lindsay decided to walk around before getting back on the ship, but I wanted to get back to the Oasis so I could throw some dry clothes on since I was meeting up with a few folks from one of the cruise fan blogs that I follow that happened to be sailing on Majesty of the Seas, which was due into port around noon. As I was walking back toward the pier, I did my little check to ensure I had everything I needed to get back on board:  Photo ID… check. Wallet… check. Sea Pass Card…. Nope.

As it turns out, my cousin Jen had my SeaPass card in her bag and I’d forgotten to get it from her before we had parted ways. I knew there had to be some sort of procedure for those without their cards to get back on board, and I was about to find out what all that entailed.

Upon arriving at the pier, I was told to talk with a guard in a military uniform, who wasted no time making me feel stupid for having lost my SeaPass card. He then verified my name on the manifest, and let me on to the pier via the crew access gate. Once there, I realized it was a very long walk back to where the Oasis was docked; we were docked all the way on the end, since we were the largest ship in port that day. Also in port with us was the Disney Cream, Carnival Somethingorother, and the Majesty of the Seas.  Since my clothes were almost completely dry at this point, I opted to just wait for my friends on the pier rather than go back to Oasis, and get off again later. Majesty had just finished docking at that point, so I knew it wouldn’t be long.

I had a fun meet up with some other folks from the RC Periscopers group, which is a cruise enthusiast group of folks who perform live streams via Periscope from whatever ship they are traveling on.

You can tune in to my broadcasts via Periscope any time, and join the group via rcperiscopers.live. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some wonderful people from this group, as well as the Royal Caribbean Blog, an unofficial fan blog run by a friend of mine who lives in Florida and gets to cruise more often than I do! It was on his podcast that I was featured a few weeks ago talking about travel credit cards.

After I’d met up with the guys from Majesty, I started heading back to the Oasis and heard my name being called from behind me. It was my cousin Jen, who was on her way back as well. Thank goodness! I didn’t have to deal with trying to board without my SeaPass card!

We made it back on and proceeded directly to the Solarium for our departure from Nassau. The cantilevered hot tubs are my favorite spot on Freedom and Oasis class ships; I love being able to look down the side of the ship, especially while pulling away from port. I’m always amazed at how effortlessly these massive ships can move, and with pinpoint precision.

Dinner was at Chops Grille tonight, a fun way to end this fabulous trip. The rest of the family had such a great experience on their first visit to Chops, the night Jen and I went to Izumi, they wanted to revisit once more before the trip had finished. I’m not a steak person, so I went more for the experience of dining with family than the food itself. Dinner was good, and we headed up to Deck 16 for some impromptu family portraits taken by yours truly; we wound up saving a good bit of money by having me take our pictures instead of going with a ships’ photographer.

By then it had gotten dark, and it was time to do that which I dread at the beginning of every cruise: Pack and put my suitcases outside of my door. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. As much as I hate that saying, I just tell myself that the end of one cruise means it’s one day closer to the start of my next one.

We went to bed around 11pm, and ended yet another fabulous day, on a fabulous vacation.  Thank you for following along on my trip; I was having so much fun, that I wasn’t blogging “live” as much as I thought I would. A little confession; I’m actually just finishing this up about 4 days late… but reliving the memories are part of what brought be back into blogging in general. I love being able to go back at a later time and think about all the fun I had on this trip.

I saw a legend perform one of her iconic songs on the same day as a once-in-a-lifetime full solar eclipse, that I even got to photograph! I spent time with incredible people, and I got to perform a full-on scuba dive. That’s just a few of the amazing experiences I’ve had on this trip, and why I’m always humbled and blessed for the opportunity to be able to take vacations like this, and share them with all of you.

I do have a number of cruises on the horizon, so be sure to stay tuned, because the next one just around the corner… granted, it’s a fairly big corner, because it’s not for a while, but stay tuned!

 

Cruise Day 6: At Sea

Cruise Day 6: At Sea

Today was another lazy day, since we were at sea and thus had the ship as our destination. It’s hard to believe the vacation is nearly over! This is the first cruise I’ve been on where our final day was a port day. Usually the cruises I’ve taken have ended with the last day being a sea day, and the following be disembarkation day.

Breakfast was in the Windjammer again – my family and I have never been ones to do the main dining room for breakfast, not sure why. The buffet always gives a nice variety of offerings to get your day started.  We then made our way to the pool and spend a majority of the day hanging in or by the pool, and this is where I was introduced to one of the bar staff named Lindell, who had his own twist on a Rum Runner drink that had come to be known as the “Lindell Special.”

Oh…my…goodness it was delicious. I asked him what was in it, and he explained it in his very thick Jamaican accent; sadly I didn’t catch much of what it was, since I’d already had about 4 of his Specials in me when I asked him. I probably should have written it down, because I know I can’t get on another Royal Caribbean ship and ask for a Lindell special, since they’ll have no idea who Lindell is and what’s in the drink. I tried ordering a Rum Runner from one of the bars at a litmus test, and it tasted kinda close, but not close enough. All I can remember was Mango, Pineapple, Banana, and Rum, but I’m not sure if there was more to it than that. The only solution: Go back on Oasis of the Seas ASAP and try to track down Lindell again! Or, those going on Oasis soon, find him and ask him about his special drink! Trust me, it’s very well worth it. It’s lighter and more refreshing than a Rum Runner… perfect for those hot days by the pool.

Dinner this evening was in the Main Dining Room, and I have to say compared to past cruises I’d been on with Royal, I wasn’t as happy with the service in the dining room this go around. Food wasn’t as good, and the waiters seemed like they had far more to do since there were no dedicated bar staff. Our primary and assistant waiter had to also juggle drink orders in addition to our food orders, so it slowed down service time and had us waiting for drinks more often than previously. I heard some talk that this was a decision made by corporate to cut costs, but I’m hoping this is revisited some time because it’s certainly detracting from the overall customer experience. Our servers were very nice and pleasant, but the overall experience wasn’t the highlight of the trip for me by far.

 

After dinner I had another brief visit to the casino, but then decided I’d had my fill since I was up quite a bit from the night before. Always good to quit while still ahead, right?

One of the really fun events on board was called “60 Seconds or Less”, which had contestants doing silly things within a 60-second timeframe. I’d arrived before my family so I tried to find a seat, and heard someone calling my name off to the side. I looked around and made eye contact with someone who looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place who it was. He was doing the “I know I know you” look, as was I, and it then hit me: It was a guy named Chris, one of my pals from Berklee, someone I went to college with!  What are the odds???  We chatted for a few minutes before the event started, and made plans to catch up again tomorrow after setting sail from Nassau – I wish we’d connected earlier in the cruise, but it was so much fun to see a familiar face on the ship.

The game show was hilarious, as it ended with Joe (one of the hilarious members of my group) having 41 shoes hanging from/stuffed on his person!

Tomorrow’s Nassau…the last port day, stay tuned for more fun stuff coming!

Cruise Day 5: St Thomas

Cruise Day 5: St Thomas

 

We didn’t have anything planned for this day, so we took it easy on this port visit. We woke up late and had a quick breakfast in the Windjammer before heading off the ship. The port of Charlotte Amalie was built just for cruise ships, much like the one in Costa Maya in Mexico, so it’s very “Tourist trappy” when you first get off, and you have to take a taxi of some variety to get to where all the shopping and attractions are. We opted to just take a little stroll around the surrounding area, and then get back on the ship to change into swim clothes and head to a beach of some variety, since we’d gotten most of our shopping done in St Maarten the day before.

We decided on Emerald Beach, which was only a $4 taxi ride from the pier. This beach came recommended by a few folks that had gone to St. Thomas before, and it really was a beautiful place. It’s a small secluded beach tied to a nearby hotel of the same name, so it wasn’t packed but it certainly was crowded. The water was crystal clear, and my cousin and I decided to do some impromptu snorkeling. I’ve got some video of that which will be up on my YouTube channel some time soon. We saw lots of tiny fish, as well as a few surprises along the rocks. As it turns out, we swam quite far away from the swimming area, but it was well worth it given the sights we’d seen.

We headed back to the ship around 2:30pm, and made our way to the Solarium, where we enjoyed the refreshing pool in the center. It had spray jets in the center which my cousin and I nicknamed “The People Washer” – clearly this had become my new favorite pool on board. While I love listening to the Caribbean band playing “Hot, Hot, Hot” and other soca hits, I also love my serene quiet peace time as well.

While the rest of the family dined at Chops Grille, my cousin and I decided we weren’t in the mood for steaks so we had our dinner that night in my favorite speciality restaurant: Izumi. Since we’d done the Hibachi experience already, we decided on doing the regular sushi menu, and I couldn’t resist revisiting my meal from my last Izumi experience on Anthem of the Seas. It was amazingly delicious, and I honestly can’t recommend Izumi more highly.  For those mildly curious, we had the Chicken Karan-Age and Spicy Miso Ramen appetizers, and I had a Snow Crab California Roll. I’m not an overly adventurous eater, but this hit the spot beautifully and I recommend all of those if you’re unsure what to try when visiting Izumi.

After dinner we visited the casino, and I made a few more donations before calling it a night early.  Stay tuned for more about the last 2 days of the trip!