As described in my previous notes, September was a very harried month for our household. So it was perfect timing that I had arranged back in the springtime for a ladies getaway trip to the Caribbean for late September.
It was the first official trip for my newest meetup group, NoVA Travelers (http://travel.meetup.com/1256). I formed this meetup in early summer at the request of several of the members from my other meetups (http://cooking.meetup.com/343 and http://walkers.meetup.com218) who reported that they enjoyed the short weekend trips I'd planned for those groups and looked forward to longer adventures. The basic operating principles of the group are as follows - I take input from members on destinations they'd like to visit, coordinate that info with the marketing and promotions info I am receiving on a daily basis from various travel agencies, consolidators, and transportation providers (such as the airlines or railways themselves) to find great deals for group trips. Depending on the location we either book a tour with a predetermined itinerary - or I research and plan an itinerary that I lead us on. We have our second group trip this weekend in NYC. We're doing a culinary tour of NYC and I'll be leading the group through 4 city sections [Little Italy, Chinatown, Astoria, and SoHO] while giving a talk on the history of each section and NYC overall. There will be a chocolate tasting as well as tastings and full meals in each city section. Nine of us are going and it should be a lot of fun. My compensation for the work is having my trip costs paid by the trip fees charged to the remaining members, so it works out for everyone as the cost is still much lower than on a commercial tour.
Anyway, for the Miami trip, we began with a weekend in South Beach from Sept 19th- 22nd. We stayed at Le Fountaine Bleu which is an AMAZING luxury resort. We had a one bedroom suite and attached studio suite. Marble bathrooms, bidet, Private ocean beach, spicy cabana boys to bring us iced cucumber slices and fresh water at the beach,amazing views off our private balcony, 7th floor rooftop pool, and more (And the hotel was only $130 a night per room thanks to the arrangements I'd negotiated ahead of time- an extreme discount off the normal $400 nightly rates.) Service was amazing and we all fell in love with the place. We crammed a lot of activity into the weekend from sightseeing in South Beach (the restaurants, the shops, the nightclubs!) and the heart of Miami (we went to Jungle Island - a sanctuary for rescued tropical animals and Little Havana-good cigars!) and everyone had a good time. We even rubbed noses with the quasi-famous, meeting Christopher Nolan's (directed The Dark Knight) brother at The Big Pink (a popular Miami restaurant in South Beach).
Monday morning rolled around and one of our members had to defect home (alas, work was calling) while the rest of us boarded the Carnival cruise ship Imagination for a 5 day Caribbean cruise. We had a day at Key West, another at Cozumel, and the rest of the time at sea. It was very lovely and just the sort of relaxation I needed. In Key West, a few of us grouped together to walk the city while another member ventured off on her own and another took an excursion tour offered by the ship focusing on Hemingway. In Cozumel, two of the members went on their own to see the city while three of us enjoyed an excursion tour that focused on sailing, snorkeling and then playing at a private beach. They had a water trampoline at the beach and that was very awesome (you swim out to it and climb on it and jump jump jump). There were also hammocks, plenty of beach chairs, and horses for riding. The cruise itself was lovely with plenty of the normal cruise amenities - spa (we had their massages and they were great!), pool and hot tub on the lido deck, funky drinks, late night dance clubs, fancy tea parties, formal night, tons of great food and music, and cheesy shows. I really hope to get an even bigger group assembled for our next cruise in the winter (a short and affordable Bahamas cruise).
Although the trip was fun, getting back home to see my husband was nice too after 7 days apart. And slowly I started to slip back into the regular patterns of life at home, although it took me a few days to adjust my sleep schedule and settle for just 3 meals a day. Heehee. :)
I think you are really going to laugh at the pics from the Miami trip - especially the ones from our cigar factory experience. You've got to see those! I've put them in a public album here:
So that pretty much wraps up September. Now you see why I've been out of touch since August- busy busy busy. But things are settling down now. Other than this weekend, we've got no trips planned until November and no major projects or interruptions. Just the peace of ordinary life.