Thursday, February 19, 2015

Caribbean Running Cruise Race Report

We loved the 2015 Caribbean Running Cruise -- huge thanks to John, Jenny, Mila, Karen, and our fellow running cruisers! I can honestly recommend this trip to runners, walkers, singletons, couples, what have you. There's plenty of support and love for anyone who moves at any speed, as long as you are willing to have fun.

To help anyone in the future who might be on the fence about whether this cruise is for them, I've put together this "omnibus" post -- with links to each day's write-up.

Day 1 - Embarcation Day, when we sailed from Fort Lauderdale and met our fellow cruisers

Day 2 - Sunday Night Lights Predictor Run, when we ran laps on a very blustery night ... with glow necklaces!

Day 3 - At Sea, when we learned about the Penguin Plan

Day 4 - St. Maarten Scenic Run, when we ran along the seafront in Philipsburg

Day 5 - St. Kitts Rain Forest Hash, when we ran with a local Hash House Harriers group

Day 6 - San Juan Amazing Race, when we ran amok in the streets, dressed as pirates (and that was before the piƱa coladas...)

Day 7 - Haiti Relays, when we met some of the Street Hearts boys and ran through the "island paradise" of Labadee

Day 8 - At Sea, and a Celebration, when we celebrated our successes, honored our winners, and met the captain

Day 9 - Debarkation Day, when it took us a Very Long Time to get home

Now... where shall we go next?

Caribbean Running Cruise Day 9 - Debarkation Day

Woke up today feeling a little sad, and dreading the travel day ahead. Peeked out the window and we were already back in our berth ... right where we started.

We got up and headed upstairs for our morning run -- on a glorious, sunny morning.

Four and a half times around for a quick mile... pretty funny when the boat doesn't appear on the satellite map picture:

We grabbed a bite to eat -- our LAST MEAL ON BOARD -- and went back to get cleaned up and say goodbye to our lovely cabin. We'll definitely miss the surprisingly comfy bed (how smart to round the foot of the bed -- makes it much easier to move around it in a confined space!), the oddly firm sofa (maybe there's a hide-a-bed in there?), the tiny vestigial curtain, our lovely balcony... and of course our amazing cabin attendant, Maureen, who fussed over us, folded stray gear, and sang love songs in the hallway.

Then the waiting game began... a game in which there are no winners, only losers, and would take all day...

We had asked to be late off the ship -- might as well stay somewhere comfortable, rather than rush to the airport to sit around for HOURS. But we vacated our room promptly, and then wandered around a little.

We rode the elevators for the first and only time from the tippy top to Deck 4.

Royal Promenade from the elevators
We poked our heads in the dining room, which had been designated a "departure lounge" ...

dining room atrium
but we were feeling a little restless, so we decided to keep meandering along. We bumped into a few friends in the Royal Promenade, got our last "free" soda (ha ha), and then, because they pried the railing from our fingers, finally left the ship.

If a cruise can be heavenly and relaxing, "debarking" might as well be called "coming back to earth with a thud". Slow-moving lines to get off the ship, through the baggage pickup area, and then through customs, everyone looking tired and a teensy bit miserable. The bright fluorescent bulbs in the port hall serve the same purpose as they do in a club at closing time -- the party's over, get out.

Forty minutes later, we emerged into the bright sun and chaos of the pick-up / taxi / shuttle area. We figured we would just grab a taxi to the airport ... But the taxi line was loooooong and didn't appear to be moving. So we allowed ourselves to be piled into an airport shuttle... along with some running cruisers... and just got out of there.

It is meant to be a quick 10-15 minute drive to the airport... but traffic was crawling, and it took about 45 minutes. We had toyed with the idea of grabbing a rental car for the day when we got to the airport... but seeing the traffic snarls (there was a large bike ride that had a lot of roads closed) made that much less appealing. 

Of course, it was a decision we would revisit and question several times over the next few hours, since we couldn't drop off our bags until hours later. (Note to self: never fly Alaska to Fort Lauderdale again.)

Wil and I found a reasonably peaceful spot outside, circled our suitcases, sat down, read books, and occasionally went in search of refreshments or a change of scenery.

ad campaign of the year???
Finally, the Alaska counter opened so we could drop off our bags, breeze through security, and wait a couple more hours on the other side. We had a very nice veggie burger at Shula Burger -- one nice feature was this cute "branded bun" (LITERALLY branded!:

Finally, it was time to get on our flight home. The less said about the flight, the better... but we made it home safely and had a bit of quality time with the cats before collapsing into bed. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Caribbean Running Cruise Day 8 - At Sea, and a Celebration

Wil and I tried -- really TRIED -- to sleep in today... but no luck. So we got up and went for our morning run, where I set the 5K world record. Or, I ran a mile on a moving ship. You decide.

Today's only scheduled event as the "closing ceremony" ... so we spent the day relaxing in the sun and meandering around the ship and wondering just where the whole week went. 

But at four we all reported for one last time to the fabulous Pyramid Lounge.

We had a nice ceremony, starting with John recognizing the state winners, the overall winners, and several other awards -- including an "Over the Top" award for Justin and all he'd done for Street Hearts, and a "Pirate" award for Bud and Claudia for their costumes in San Juan.

John also made a point of honoring our "volunteers" -- some of our non-runners who probably worked harder than the rest of us, helping everything happen.

And then we had a surprise visitor: Captain Manolis, skipper of the Independence of the Seas. He wanted to come by and meet us because he heard about the money we raised for Street Hearts. Of course, I kept thinking, "Who's sailing the ship?"

Captain Manolis
We gave him a medal and a hat (I mean, he did drive us around for a week, right?) and then took a couple of photos with him.
one normal... (photo courtesy Jenny Hadfield)
... one CRAZY! (photo courtesy Jenny Hadfield)
I love this photo, because the lighting makes it look really funny:
why does it look like they're posing with a cardboard cut-out of the captain? (photo courtesy Jenny Hadfield)
Then the captain left, and it was time for the Joke Off.

Bud telling his joke
I can't even remember any of the jokes... or even who won. But my favorite one was by Joyce... "First I used my right hand, then I used my left hand..."

Joyce telling my new favorite joke
We lingered a bit after the ceremony to chat with some folks, saying goodbye to a bunch of friends old and new. We decided to skip the dining room, opting instead for a quick dinner in the Windjammer. We did, however, go for a walk... and it was WINDY AGAIN!

We went to our cabin and finished packing, and then had a glass of wine on the balcony while watching the sunset, before having a late nap. (We had somehow NOT HAD A NAP ALL DAY!)

Later we went up to Olive or Twist for one last time ... I think the unscheduled evenings were my favorite part of the trip!

We finished our drinks and then said more goodbyes, wandered around the ship a bit more, and eventually went to bed. I can't believe the week has gone so quickly.

Caribbean Running Cruise Day 7 - Haiti Relays

Today was a GREAT day.

We could have slept in ... of course, getting so much sleep yesterday meant I woke up bright and early... and surprisingly bushy tailed.

We went upstairs to grab breakfast, but discovered this scene by the pool:

It seems the housekeeping staff got very busy (and advertised their towel animal class for the following day) by decorating the pool deck with dozens and dozens of towel animals.

We took advantage of the quiet morning to take some pictures of the pool area:

We especially loved the "H20Zone" -- the kids' splash area, which was usually empty, and was a great "post race" destination to cool off in.

We also made a stop in the hot tubs after breakfast -- did I mention that they're cantilevered off the edge of the ship?

Our briefing was at 9 -- but in a dining room, which made it difficult to hear and difficult to fit in the space. John was told he couldn't have a microphone -- so that we didn't disturb people dining on the other levels... so we *might* have made sure to CHEER LOUDLY on occasion....

It also meant it was a little rough to get off the boat early, and we crammed in with hoi polloi for 15 minutes or so.

We arrived in Labadee -- Royal Caribbean's "private paradise" on a small peninsula in Haiti.

Today we would be running a relay -- 2-4 miles each in teams of 2 ... but, more importantly, today we would be helping a great charity called Street Hearts.

photo by Jenny Hadfield

We found our meeting place, took our big group photo, and met Linsey, the founder of Street Hearts. She told us about how she moved to Haiti several years ago, and met young boys living on the street.

She encouraged them to run with her, and if they did a certain number of runs, they could "buy" things from her. It has since grown into a large charity, helping hundreds of boys. We had brought shoes and clothes and toiletries for the boys, and had been told that if we could raise $5000, we could help them buy another house so they could help more kids.

Today eight of her boys came to meet us in Labadee to run with us and spend the day with us. It's making me tear up just typing this -- but it was so great to watch these amazing kids take so much pleasure in the day. A bunch of us brought shoes and gear and other items for the boys... and Justin really went above and beyond to bring enough toiletries and supplies to 50 boys. So awesome.

photo by Brook D
(Love seeing that gear go to good use!)

The run was pretty simple -- a half mile out, a half mile back. One runner holds the watch, the other runs. When the first runner comes in, he takes the watch while the other person runs. Sort of a reverse baton.

The lead runners lined up ...

And then took off. Look at the StreetHearts boys -- you can tell they've been training for this!

photo by Jenny Hadfield

The day was hot hot hot and crazy humid. Wil went out for his leg while I stayed behind and cheered. When it was my turn, I ran out through the "town", along the main drag, dodging shuttles and tourists, past the art market, through the "artists village", and out to the far beach to the turnaround. By the time I came back in, my shirt was soaked, my fingers were tingling, and I felt woozy. OOF. I chatted with John and said I might want to make a race-day decision to cut it off at two miles each, rather than four.

Linsey had made a sign for each of the boys, so we took turns holding them so they'd see them when they came in.

photo by Jenny Hadfield
photo by Jenny Hadfield

Wil came back from his leg 2, and I headed out again. I needed to walk a bit this leg -- up the little hill both ways. Still, it was great to be able to see everyone ... including the StreetHearts boys ... running their hearts out, cheering for each other.

I came back in and said to Wil, "How about we stop now?" -- but he wouldn't hear of it... and went out for his third leg. Luckily (ha) the heat was getting to him too... so I had a little more time to rest before it was my turn to run again. This time I walked even more, but I certainly wasn't alone. Still, I ran it in for the end of my leg 3. Wil proposed we walk ... together ... for our final mile. That seemed like a pretty good compromise, so we headed out together, Wil plying me with water (aah!). We walked out to the turnaround and back, running the last little bit. We managed not to actually capture our time. Oops.

We stood and cheered for a little longer, but I was in pretty desperate need of liquid so we went to our "private party" site. Soon I had some water and a Diet Coke in my hand, and felt much better. I also managed to try the famous "Labadoozie", which was amusing because the bartender made it by pouring rum in a glass and then scooping pink slush out of a cooler.

We also had lunch, the boys sang a song, and we got to watch the boys get their first ever buffet lunch. We also celebrated everyone completing the staged marathon / half marathon.

photo by Jenny Hadfield
photo by Jenny Hadfield
photo by Jenny Hadfield
Eventually Wil and I decided to go for a swim -- first just walking in to the water at the closest beach, then changing into our suits and walking out to the far beach (by the run turnaround). We also stopped at one of the art markets and I picked up a Labadee Christmas ornament. (Note to Royal Caribbean: if you had sold an "Independence of the Seas" ornament, sticker, charm, badge, postcard, etc., I would have bought them. Seriously.)

We spent an hour or so in the water and lounging on the beach, but we were pretty much done. Even finding ourselves with Wil Wheaton (ha ha) didn't hold much allure.

(Spotting Wil Wheaton, who was one of the featured speakers/entertainers on the JoCo Cruise, because a running gag with our group... )

We headed back to the ship, marveling at the "little" ship that had also come into Labadee ... and how tiny it looked next to our behemoth:

We got cleaned up, had a nap (hooray!), relaxed on the balcony, did some reading and writing, and spent a little more time poking around the ship -- we couldn't believe our week was almost over.

Every time I think about those sweet boys it just makes me smile. Huge thanks to John and Jenny for introducing us to Linsey and her boys and arranging this wonderful day.

photo by Jenny Hadfield