ON VACATION: Electric Forest Festival, MI

If you’re having trouble reaching me this Wednesday until Monday, it’s because I’m in the woods. I’m driving up to Michigan for the four-day music festival, Electric Forest. This is the first time I’ll be camping at a music festival; I’m pretty excited to have this opportunity to get away with a few of my favorite people and see some great bands and DJs.

ON VACATION: Electric Forest Festival

My phone will mostly be off save once a day to check for messages and maybe upload some photos to Instagram.

Happy summer!

[Photo by Cal Millner]

Food, sights, and culture in Rome, Venice, and Athens

As I mentioned in my previous post, my friend Kurt and I took a vacation to Italy and Greece earlier this month. What follows is a budget-traveler’s recap of twelve days from Rome to Venice to Athens (I don’t think we ever spent more than $50 US on a meal for two – and Kurt doesn’t drink). Since neither of us had been to this part of the world before, we generally stayed on the beaten path and hit most of the typical sights in each city. The two of us combined took over 600 pictures; you can browse through about half of them online (mine, Kurt’s) for more vivid pictorial accounts of the trip.

3D Photosynth mosaic

Read more Food, sights, and culture in Rome, Venice, and Athens

Caribbean Cruising

My extended family had the opportunity to take the Caribbean Princess out of New York for nine days to Bermuda, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk. I will attempt to sum up the worthwhile excursions and ship activities that we had the pleasure of experiencing. Pull up a separate window of the photos as you read along, particularly the map and itinerary.

Knight Family Tree
Knight Family Tree (double pink lines represent marriage)

First, I must thank Grandpa for funding and planning the trip. He’s taken us all on three cruises in the past ten years and they’ve been some of our greatest family memories. This year, there were 15 of us, all descendants (or spouses of them) of Mr. Clylas Elwood “Tex” Knight. We all wished Grandma could have been with us as the trip was in the works even before she became ill two years ago.

Everyone arrived in Philadelphia and someone had the fun idea to rent two First Baptist church vans (with Pastor Bob and Jeremy as drivers) to take us all to the Brooklyn pier. After a short delay with a flat tire, we made it onto the Caribbean Princess and embarked around 5pm EST, Wednesday July 8th. There were 2 to 4 of us in each room. Grady took the fold-down in our room and Grandpa and I each had single beds. We all met up for cocktails as the ship began its sunshine journey past the Statue of Liberty and out of New York Bay.

We’ve opted for reserved dinner seating on each of our cruises and having a dedicated waiter always enhances the experience. A lovely Peruvian, Joan (pronounced “Jo Ann”), took good care of us each night, although we did skip once or twice to check out the buffet meals. All meals were included with several eating establishments and room service available all over the ship. Drinks and special snacks were extra. Yeah, the lap of luxury – kind of insane!

Most of our time was spent on the ship since we never stayed more than 13 hours at any one port. The Princess Patter newsletter was delivered to our room each evening so we could plan our next day. There are dozens of activities going on daily, so we never got bored. Funny swimming/pool competitions and ping pong tournaments were on the deck, as well as a tropical dance party (although we didn’t attend that for some reason). I went to Skywalker’s Lounge dance club with Grady one night; while it was a lively, generally younger crowd, we weren’t in the mood. Our family tends to enjoy the after dinner live entertainment. I was particularly impressed by “mentalist” Joshua Seth (see his YouTube video). We’re also good at entertaining ourselves before dinner with Scrabble, Fictionary, Uno, and happy hour goodness.

Map room of Commissioner's House in Bermuda
Map room of Commissioner's House in Bermuda

We roped up at the Royal Naval Dockyard on Friday morning. Now that I’ve been to a dozen Caribbean islands, I can recommend Bermuda as a favorite. It’s starting to feel familiar now since we got to stay there for several days on our last cruise. None of us ventured far from the ship this time, but several of us were mesmerized by the  Maritime Museum. Grady and I spent almost three hours there, which is barely enough time for the average history buff at a place like that. Plenty to see and do, as you can see from the photos. Grady and I only ventured as far as the Victualing Yard – rum cake samples, glassworks, and Frog & Onion pub! It’s definitely an area geared for tourists with plenty of shopping and a clean atmosphere. There’s even a small, free, beach on the north side of the peninsula, called Snorkel Park.

We spent another day and a half at sea before arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Half of us were roped into a tour bus as soon as we got onto the street. Dad and I decided to stick with Mom and her plan to take the free trolley ride to del Morro castle. We were all a little annoyed that it was so difficult to find the visitor’s center, but I think everyone was happy at the end of the day. Old San Juan had plenty of gift shops and a few places to buy cigars. I was curious about Senor Frogs, but ended up missing out as we were pretty tired by the end of the day from all the walking and heat. Pier 4 where we docked had some great duty free deals, so several of us stocked up on liquor. Princess had a “one bottle” rule, but we were pleased to discover that they were not enforcing it at all!

A few hours overnight and we were in St. Thomas. This time, we all went together on an open bus/truck tour. Being a small volcanic island, it was all hills and mountains and beautiful vistas. Our guide, Lyndon, was fairly knowledgeable, but it was kind of hard to understand his “Caribbean” accent – sounded Jamaican, but I’m not sure if any of us asked about dialects there. The shoppers walked around downtown Charlotte Amalie while most of us went to Emerald Beach behind a nice Best Western. It was the only beach time I got on the trip and it was well worth the stop despite only having an hour to spend there.

Margaritaville @ Grand Turk
Margaritaville @ Grand Turk

The next day was spent cruising west to Grand Turk. The Turks & Caicos Islands were devastated by Hurricane Ike less than a year ago. I’d guess that more than 75% of the ship’s passengers stayed in the small beach and resort area just off the pier. These islands have a more barren and unexplored feel to them, although sun worshipers and reef divers come from all over the world to appreciate the seclusion. I realized that about three laps around the island would make for a good marathon. Uncle John, Grandpa, Grady, and I took a taxi into the capital and were amazed at how unpopulated the place was. Their little National Museum was great, though. It’s housed in a small historic building, but packed with fascinating artifacts from some of the oldest shipwrecks in the Caribbean – and the history of the islands, of course. Mom, Dad, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Phibbie tried to get a tour of Conch World, a conch farm. The one employee stepped out, though, and they didn’t get to go in! Nick and his fam stayed on the beach which wasn’t nearly as nice as St. Thomas. Several of us met up at Margaritaville at the end of the day in the resort area to try some conch and watch the poolside shenanigans. While it would be another two days of lounging on the deck at sea to get home, leaving the island felt like the end of the vacation.

I can’t remember who we used on our first cruise, but I found Princess to be comparable to Royal Caribbean, which we used in 2006. This year’s Caribbean Princess was definitely the biggest, but I think we all agreed that there were more crew members per capita and speedier service last time. As can be expected with a big enterprise like  Carnival Corp., it was easy to be herded along in our affluent American comfort zone. While I appreciated being able to use the U.S. dollar and speak English everywhere, I probably would have gotten a better cultural experience if I had done more homework beforehand and took a few chances off the beaten path.

As always with the Knight/DiUbaldi clan, we had a very enjoyable time together. To family members reading this, please add your experiences in the comments below!

Atlantic Beach trip

South-facing sunset (courtesy of L1mey)
South-facing sunset (courtesy of L1mey)

My immediate family got together at the Peppertree Resort over Easter weekend. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so hopefully Nick will have the photos posted soon [UPDATE: All posted!]. Itinerary: Drive eight hours to Charlotte on Thursday and spend the night at bro’s house. The five of us drive five hours to Atlantic Beach, arriving at almost exactly the same time as Mom and Dad after their drive from Philly. Spend two days at the beach and head out Sunday afternoon. As a bonus, one of my best friends, Evan, happens to be in the Charlotte area, so we get to see him Sunday night and I take him to the airport Monday morning on my way back to Nashville.

November was the last time the seven of us had seen each other, so I was especially surprised at how much Ava talks now. She’s at the babbling stage now. She remembers most people’s names, although she likes to call me Tony since Nick and Denise’s friend is around a lot and I kind of look like him. Otherwise, it’s fun to try and interpret her gibberish sentences; even her mom can’t figure it out half of the time.

Mom and Dad got their Cape May renovation approved, so we were all excited to look at the plans for their planned retirement home. It’s currently an “awful” place, according to the architect, but Mom and Dad have managed fine spending almost every weekend there for the past two summers.

Walking to the beach
Walking to the beach

The time share we stayed in was typical – no complaints. It did have an interesting steam shower. We spent as much time as we could at the beach on Saturday. The wind was chilly, but it was clear and in the low-70s. None of us dared submerge in the water although we all got our feet a little wet. The most interesting thing we noticed was the chunks of dark gray clay all over the place. Anyone know what that stuff’s all about? I’ve seen bits of clay on the beach here and there in the past, but never this much. This was our first visit to the Crystal Coast, so we researched it a little but couldn’t figure out the cause. It may have been oil for all we knew, but I decided to risk toxic exposure to the substance by sculpting an Eiffel Tower. Ava stayed amused for hours with just two little shovels in her hands, Dad took a long nap in the sun, Nick flew his sport kite, and we buried Reese while shaping the sand around her lower half into a mermaid.

The back roads provide safe biking routes; Mom and I discovered a little nature sanctuary while were were out riding on Saturday evening. It included a little tree-canopied path and view of the bay.

On Sunday, Ava and Reese hunted for Easter eggs in the condo. We played some doubles tennis on the resort courts and then had a fabulous pancake brunch to rival Saturday’s scrambled eggs that Dad had prepared. The Salter Crab Shack was recommended to us Saturday night, but the wait was too long. We went next door to the Frost Seafood House instead and had the whole non-smoking room to ourselves. Other than our waitress forgetting a couple things (more than once), we didn’t have any complaints. Like the resort, though, it wasn’t really anything to write home about – wait, does blogging count?

All in all a good trip, as is usual with our family get-togethers. Mom and Dad are staying an extra couple days. They said that Fort Macon was worth checking out.