Chris & Cheryl Go on a (Belated) Honeymoon: The Great Barrier Reef

Hi friends,

Welcome back. On to Part II of our Australian Adventure. Last Monday morning (was it seriously only last Monday morning?! Gosh a lot’s happened since then.) Chris and I left his house in Bathurst seriously early in the a.m. with his brother Ben and Ben’s girlfriend to head back to Sydney to catch our flight to … drum roll … THE GREAT BARRIER REEF!

^^ Flying over the Reef.

^^ Flying over the Reef.

^^ Be-aut-iful!

^^ Be-aut-iful! [Ed note: Please ignore the smudge on the lower right-hand side of my lens. It pains me that it’s there in some of my photos, and were I any good at Photoshop, yes, I would try to take it out.]

It only takes about two hours to fly from Sydney to the island where we were staying , Hamilton Island, which is part of the 74 Whitsunday Islands all located on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. And thank goodness, because I was ready to get my relax on! The place we stayed — the Whitsunday Apartments — was actually a group of apartments … obviously.

^^ The view from our balcony. Not too shabby.

^^ The view from our balcony. Not too shabby.

So we had a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, living room and really huge bedroom. It was nice that we really felt like we were on our own during our honeymoon, but at the same time had the help of people in the lobby if we really had a question or concern.  The island itself is relatively small, and it’s pretty easy to walk to the majority of the places you’d want to go (like the downtown shop area, the other resort pools and stores, the beach, the place where you could eat breakfast with the koalas!), but it is pretty hilly, and some of the spots (like one particularly gorgeous sunset area), is much more easily accessible via free bus transportation, or …..

^^ Everyone on the island rents these little electric golf carts to drive around -- no one except the owner of the island is allowed to drive regular cars on the land. We only rented the car on Tuesday, as we were doing excursions the other days we were there.

^^ Everyone on the island rents these little electric golf carts to drive around — no one except the owner of the island is allowed to drive regular cars on the land. We only rented the car on Tuesday, as we were doing excursions the other days we were there.

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — the beaches here are gorgeous. And during low tide, you can walk out for what seems like miles into the ocean, with all of these little pools of warm water around you, and tons of sea life surrounding you.

^^ Yup, it was jellyfish season. You pretty much have to be aware of that, then ignore it, or else you'll be obsessing over it the whole time you're in the water.

^^ Yup, it was jellyfish season. You pretty much have to be aware of that, then ignore it, or else you’ll be obsessing over it the whole time you’re in the water.

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^^ Having a drink poolside at one of the other hotel pools. Pool-hopping was one of my favorite things about the low-key feel of this island. It's like we were all one big happy family. No one cared where you were actually staying -- everyone was welcome everywhere!

^^ Having a drink poolside at one of the other hotel pools. Pool-hopping was one of my favorite things about the low-key feel of this island. It’s like we were all one big happy family. No one cared where you were actually staying — everyone was welcome everywhere!

While we spent most of the day Monday familiarizing ourselves with the island and the pools and the oceans, we wandered into town around 4:30, just to check it out, and ended up squatting at the Manta Ray Cafe, which turned out to be a great place to catch the sunset over the harbour, as well as to learn about some of the local wildlife from our waiter:

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^^ What? I'm not paying attention to you.

^^ What? I’m not paying attention to you.

^^ Oh yes I am. As our waiter pointed out (and as we later witnessed) the cockatoos on this island are not shy, and they WILL steal your food if you look away for even one second.

^^ Oh yes I am. As our waiter pointed out (and as we later witnessed) the cockatoos on this island are not shy, and they WILL steal your food if you look away for even one second.

^^ The fruit bats seriously come out at night. Ick!

^^ The fruit bats seriously come out at night. Ick!

On Tuesday we rented our little golf cart early in the morning, and then spent the morning eating breakfast with the koalas (yes, my favorite ever), and checking out the zoo.

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^^ Don’t worry — he was behind glass ;)

^^ Who knew this docile (and weird) looking bird would be Australia's deadliest bird. Doesn't he look like a turkey?!

^^ Who knew this docile (and weird) looking bird would be Australia’s deadliest bird. Doesn’t he look like a turkey?!

^^ I know, right. It's like, how can this  much cuteness exist in the world?

^^ I know, right. It’s like, how can this much cuteness exist in the world?

The rest of Tuesday was a pretty chill day for us. We checked out the island a bit more, had some drinks at the swim-up bar, slept on the beach, drove the car out to this spot with gorgeous views. You know — pretty typical Tuesday stuff.

^^ Just having wine and cheese and crackers on our awesome porch.

^^ Just having wine and cheese and crackers on our awesome porch.

^^ W

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^^ Goodnight, Great Barrier Reef.

^^ Goodnight, Great Barrier Reef.

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^^ This little guy landed right on my arm which, of course, caused me to freak out. Oh, nature.

^^ This little guy landed right on my arm which, of course, caused me to freak out. Oh, nature.

^^ And this little guy was staring us down as we ate our Fish & Chips dinner by the harbour. We think he's a baby stone-curlew. Whatever he was, he was seriously funny looking.

^^ And this little guy was staring us down as we ate our fish & chips dinner by the harbour. We think he’s a baby stone-curlew. Whatever he was, he was seriously funny looking.

Onto Wednesday. Wednesday was an amazing day because, as a wedding gift to us, good family friend’s of Chris’s got us a half-day boat ride out to Whitehaven Beach.

Oh Whitehaven Beach … how beautiful were thee? The beach stretches out over 7 km (yup, that’s Aussie speak), and is completely uninhabited. It’s received a ton of accolades, such as “Queensland’s Most Beautiful Beach,” and for good reason. The sand is pure white, and it never gets hot. Plus it’s so fine, it’ll clean your jewelry for you while you sunbathe.

Not too shabby.

Oh, and there’s some sort of ridiculous fine if you were to try to steal sand from it. Something like $35,000. So don’t do that.

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So that was how we spent our Wednesday morning — chillin’ on the most beautiful beach in the world. When we got back mid-afternoon we did a bit more pool-hopping and beach sleeping and eating and drinking and card playing … just general merriment.

Thursday, then, was the day of all days. On Thursday, we took a full day boat excursion out to the Great Barrier Reef. This tour included oh-so-much. There was a breakfast on the boat, lunch out on the pontoon once we arrived at the Reef and a tea service on the ride back. There was snorkeling equipment at the Reef, a glass-bottom boat ride and an open observatory deck from the pontoon. All of that was included in the price. ($225 per person which, honestly, wasn’t that bad.) You could also purchase some additional activities for an added fee, like Scuba diving (which Chris did), and a guided snorkel tour (which I did). So when we arrived, luckily Chris and I were the first group to go on our perspective diving and snorkeling tours. (A quick note about the jellyfish: Since it was stinger season, we had to wear wetsuits into the water. This was my first experience wearing one and I have to say — I didn’t hate it. I mean, they definitely aren’t the most attractive things … but they kept me warm and safe, so I’m okay with it!)

Then we met up afterwards for lunch, went on the glass bottom boat ride and then spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling together.

Me oh my, it was amazing. Besides how gorgeous the Reef itself is (don’t stand on it or touch it! it turns to sand!), we saw Clown Fish (aka Nemo), sea cucumbers (which no one else was impressed with, but I was), giant sea turtles, clams the size of my body, this other fish that I don’t remember the name of that is so territorial that when my guide picked up a rock and placed it near the fish, he picked it up with his mouth and spit it out far away from him. Amazing. Plus tons of other awesomely colored and incredibly interesting sea life. Experience of a lifetime, to say the least.

Of course I didn’t take a ton of pictures here, because I was busy doin’ stuff (sorry), but here are a couple shots I was able to snap:

^^ Fish at the Reef, as seen from the glass bottom boat ride.

^^ Fish at the Reef, as seen from the glass-bottom boat ride.

^^ Some coral from the same ride.

^^ Some coral from the same ride.

^^ A view of the part of the Reef where we snorkeled and dove. Look at all that gorgeous green/blue coral under the water, just waiting to be checked out!

^^ A view of the part of the Reef where we snorkeled and dove. Look at all that gorgeous green/blue coral under the water, just waiting to be checked out!

^^ A storm was brewin' on our way back from the Reef. It made for some pretty awesome pictures.

^^ A storm was brewin’ on our way back from the Reef. It made for some pretty awesome pictures.

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Thursday night we had dinner reservations at coca chu, a restaurant that one of Chris’s aunts had recommended. We ordered delicious cocktails, a bottle of wine and more food than we could even possibly hope to eat in two days. (Seriously, our waiter even told us we ordered too much food. We can’t be stopped.) The food is South East Asian, and our table overlooked the ocean as the fish jumped in and out of the water.

Am I setting the scene enough for ya?

Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling all that well that night (major bummer). I think the travel and jet lag and drinking and eating had all finally caught up to me. No matter — it was still an awesome night with delicious food and fabulous company. That’s all you can really ask for, right?

Friday was our last day on the island, and we spent it doing a bit of shopping, grabbing some delicious breakfast at the local bakery and eating by the harbour, and drinking the last of our wine and beer on the beach. It was seriously sad to say goodbye to Hamilton Island and our little honeymoon, but we had the best, most amazing time. Chris and I both keep saying how we loved that the island provided the perfect blend of fun activities and adventure with just the right amount of leisure and relaxation. You can chose to do nothing at all, and still have fabulous time, or you can do all the activities your little heart desires. (Chris even took a 2.5 mile hike one day while I took a nap. Gotta love that.)

Friday afternoon it was back to Sydney to meet up with our families for our last weekend in Australia, as well as to take in the International Fleet Review.

But I’ll be back with that blog post next week ;) Bis bald, friends! Hope you all have awesome weekend activities planned!

In the News: Cruise Chaos

Consumer Reports had an interesting little tidbit today about the hazards of traveling via cruise line [and no, I’m not just talking about the possibility of boarding a toilet of the sea cruise].

According to the article, “After more than a week of the company providing virtually no updates and no media interviews, on Friday visitors to the Cruise West site were told in blunt terms that all operations were ceasing as of Saturday the 18th and that only the line’s Danube Cruise, scheduled to depart on Wednesday, will operate.”

Poor sad cruise travelers. Luckily for us readers, though, we can learn something from this melodrama. So without further ado, here is the gospel according to Consumer Reports for what you can do to protect yourself if a big-ticket vacation provider such as a cruise line or tour operator suddenly goes bust:

*Book all travel purchases via credit card (good information in general, actually, as it’s ALWAYS easier to dispute a wrong charge or dropped travel plan if you purchased it on a credit card other than with debit or cash)

* Consider travel insurance for every travel purchase, especially for things like cruises. And go for the independent travel insurance companies, as opposed to the “third-party” offers that some cruise lines or tour operators offer. If that cruise line or tour operator goes bust, you coverage could go bust as well.

* Lastly, when booking something like a cruise, Consumer Reports suggests using a reliable, unbiased travel agent (you can find a good one through the American Society of Travel Agents).

Bis bald, friends! Only three more days until I’m Munich-bound!

What Would You Do With 94 Days?

How much time could you spend on sea?

According to this USA Today article, Crystal Cruises has just announced its plans for a 2012 94-day world cruise to include a three-day land voyage in and around Beijing. The ship will fit 1,070 passengers, and will stop at 34 other ports as well, including Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Hong Kong, Honolulu, Sydney, Perth, Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai, Osaka and Yokohama, to name a few. Prices haven’t been released yet, but I’ll be interested to see how much something like this could cost.

For my part, I’m just not sure how I would feel about spending 94 days on a ship (even though a few of those days will be spent on land, as well). Seeing the same 1,000 people over and over and over again for 3 months? I bet that ship would start to feel pretty tiny after a little while….

G4: Grounded

I hope this volcano in Iceland stops acting out—otherwise my sister and I will be traveling to Europe like Seth did in Grounded

I mentioned a while back that I was reading a book a friend had recommended to me–and I just had the pleasure of finishing said book. And so here goes my first foray into an actual travel book review…

“Grounded: A Down To Earth Journey Around The World,” written by Seth Stevenson, chronicles the tale of the author and his girlfriend as they travel around the world, roaming from latitude to latitude, without ever setting foot on a plane (well, spoiler alert, that’s not totally true of both of them). They take container ships and cruise ships, buses, trains and rental cars. They even book it for a while on a bike journey.
I have to say that what I liked most about this book was how Stevenson managed to tell his personal journey so well, while teaching me something about the history of travel in the process. (That, and the fact that Stevenson settled it for me—I could never travel around the world the way he and his girlfriend did!) I’ve never known more about the origin of air, ship and train travel. And who even knew you could catch a ride on a container ship?

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In the News: A True Destination Wedding—Tying the Knot at Sea

Given my prior (and only) experience on a cruise ship, when I first started reading this NY Times piece about the popularity of couples getting married on the high seas, I thought I’d never in a million years be interested in something like that.

But then I kept reading.

Besides the fact that some of these couples then disembark on the cruise ship for their honeymoon WITH their family and friends still on board (not a fan of that idea), everything else seems like it could be quite the deal.

Consider this: According to the article, Norwegian Cruise Line performs more than 400 weddings annually, with prices ranging from $1,850 for an on board wedding to $2,450 for an on shore wedding by a canal in Venice, or other ports of call.

I mean, HELLO! Obviously you would need to buy the ticket to get to the departing port for the cruise line to begin with, but still, even with that expense factored in, it seems like a wedding on board a cruise ship is still WAY cheaper than what the average wedding is going for these days.

In fact, one couple in the article opted for a basic wedding package for 50 friends and family members that included the venue, an officiant from the local port of call, flowers, music, a strawberry and Champagne toast and an hour at the bar—ALL FOR $1,500! Then the couple got to stay onboard for an additional $5,000 for their honeymoon cruise. Too easy.

Now, I’m sure that planning a wedding on a cruise ship comes with its fair share of drama and issues, but what wedding doesn’t?  In the end, it seems to me like having a wedding on board the very same cruise ship that is going to take you and your new spouse off to your honeymoon seems pretty romantic (assuming you don’t get seasick, of course).

From the Archives: A Throwback to Valentines Days Past

This year I spent Valentines day at my mom’s house, planning an upcoming trip to Europe with my sister. Last year, however, Chris and I were on a boat heading out to snorkel in the Bahamas.

There’s a lot to be said about this. For our first Valentines day when we were actually physically together (the first year we were dating he was in Banff), it was pretty great to be in the Bahamas. On the other hand, we learned a pretty valuable lesson on that trip—if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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