Labadee, Haiti

 

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View From the Ship

When planning a trip to the Eastern Caribbean, initially I was hesitant to spend time in Labadee, Haiti. After researching Haiti, I learned that Labadee is a 260-acre port built in 2009 along the northern coast of Haiti- truly a private paradise. The resort consists of lagoon-like bays, very touristy and guarded by private security. Guests are permitted from leaving the area. Royal Caribbean International leases the beach-rimmed peninsula from the Haitian government through 2050.

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The minute you step foot on the island, you’ll be greeted by the welcome band, playing traditional music and dancing. Make your way through the excursion desks,IMG_7117 pick up a colorful map and you’ll see an open-air shuttle that takes guests to the various stops on the island. I wasn’t feeling great that day and didn’t plan on getting off the ship so my husband and kids explored. I decided to get off later and met up with them. While wandering around looking for them, I felt very safe.

What is a Labadoozie? Wait staff walk around all day selling the Labadoozie made of Orange, Pineapple, and Papaya Juice, Coconut Cream, Dark Rum, Coconut Rum, Grenadine and crushed ice. Royal Caribbean provides all of the food for the barbeque, bottled water, and cocktails (for purchase) on the island from on-board the ship.

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Time for zip lining!!! The Dragon’s Breath Flightline is the longest zip line over ocean in the world! The scariest part may be the ride up to the zip line, 500 feet above the beaches, in an open safari vehicle, along a winding road. The tour includes an orientation and then the practice begins over at the “Little Dragon” zip line. Enjoy the thrilling ride down at 40-50 mph overlooking 2,600 feet of gorgeous beaches and the Caribbean. The zip line ends at the Dragon’s Breath Rock, where you can step off the zip line and play in the ocean or wander on over to a jerk-chicken style barbeque.

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Arawak Aqua Park

The first thing that we spotted upon disembarking the ship, were the inflatables. It was like a huge jungle gym afloat in the Caribbean, perfect for families. Arawak Aqua Park includes fun, floating trampolines, water slides, a riding and rolling log, as well as several other floating toys.

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Dragon’s Splash Waterslide~ This saltwater slide is fun for the entire family! My husband went down at a snails pace and couldn’t quite get the rhythm while our kids came barreling down doing spins. The slide is just under 300 feet long and ends in a 18-foot splash area. The pathway to the slide is called Columbus Coves’ forest where you’ll climb a stone pathway through the jungle to reach the Dragon’s head. The waterslide pass is good for the entire day!

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There is so much to do in Labadee!!! We cruised into the port on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas ship. As you can tell by the pictures, it was an overcast day with bright sun and then rain the next minute. In addition to the excursions that we participated in, there is a DreamWorks Photo Safari, Dragon’s Tail Coaster, Haiti coastal cruise, lounge chair & cabana rentals, yacht sailing, Sandbar Island Adult Party, beach bungalow rentals, full day beach bed rental, kayaking, historical walking tour, sport fishing, snorkeling and jet skiing. We are definitely doing the jet skis next year!

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Shopping!! Shop for beautiful handmade, local artwork, woodwork and crafts. Some of the vendors can be pushy and I read in reviews, that they can be aggressive as well. We did not experience any aggressive vendors. The shopping area is separate from the lounging beach area and the vendors cannot leave the shopping area. I noticed beautiful jewelry, sculptures and purchased an ornament. The shopping area is very clean and strategically placed on the pathway to the waterslide, inflatables, and jet skis.

Interesting Facts~ Royal Caribbean employs 200 locals at Labadee and allows another 300 to sell their wares on the premises. Royal Caribbean pays the Haitian government $12 per tourist.

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Fabulous day in Labadee

We will definitely be heading back to Labadee next year for Spring Break!!! Ironically, it was our favorite port in the Eastern Caribbean.

 

 

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The Amazing Race Excursion, St. Maarten

 

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Fill the cup up with sea water using a single sponge

 

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Ferry Ride

We’re always looking for something fun an exciting to do as a family while on vacation. Our kids are very athletic and love to be outside. So, after reading about Tri-Sport Eco Tours – The Amazing Race, we were all in!! Since our favorite family game is Clue, a scavenger hunt was right up our alley. The Amazing Race tour is the perfect way to sightsee while running (or walking) through St. Maarten. 3 hours of fun for $75 per person. A staff member was waiting at the meeting location to lead us to the ferry for a short ride over to the race starting point.

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Reading the Challenge Card

Enjoy the gorgeous views while sailing on over to the starting point. The waters of St. Maarten are emerald-green with tropical breezes and colorful umbrellas lining the white sand beaches. We were fortunate to meet fun and energetic competitors on the ferry. Upon arrival, the guide suggested that we team up in groups of 4-10, so we teamed up with two other people. Then, it was time to choose a team name. After careful brainstorming, we came up with Team Mana (magical power).

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Philipsburg

Next, the guide starts handing out the first clue and reviewing the rules. Pay close attention, to ALL of the rules as we learned the hard way and took a penalty. E.g. don’t use your phone to research answers on the quizzes. You may use your phone to snap pictures of sites and structures that you’ll need to remember later. Keep in mind, there is a quiz at the end of the competition so be sure to read the information on the monuments and statues. The guide ran through the rules very quickly and people were talking all around us.

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Team Mana

Team Prep~ Get to know the strengths of each person on your team. For example, my knee wasn’t real strong at the time so we chose another team member for the intense exercise drills. Choose a team leader and know who can interpret the clues fast and reiterate to the rest of the team. Since our family of four was on the team, we chose a ‘non-family member’ to spit out the clues to avoid any arguing. Ha! Most of all, designate a photographer to capture all of those candid moments.

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Ready, Set, Race!!! Let the race begin through 2.5 miles of downtown Philipsburg. Each team is IMG_7340issued clues and must use those clues to find the location of an item, which may be in a shop, store window or a symbol on a building. The guide encouraged our team to walk the race and take in all the sights; however, our team consisted of an IronMan and an avid runner so we all chose to run the race!

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Racing through Philipsburg

The website mentions bonus point challenges consisting of mental and physical challenges such as building a sand castle or sampling foods. We were not presented with bonus challenges.

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If you have questions during the challenge or if you’re heading the wrong direction, there are friendly staff in bright green shirts along the way to assist. At one point our entire team was running the wrong way and the other teams were following us, so the staff turned us around. Ha!

IMG_7377The finish!!! Keep in mind that the team who crosses the finish line first doesn’t necessarily win. The final score is calculated based on the finishing time AND the total points for the challenge.  Our team crossed the finish line first but did not result in the most points. Either way, we’re winners in our own right and scored a bottle of rum! It was refreshing to have a cold cup of rum punch (punch for the kids is available) at the finish. The staff is really fun and friendly. Although, I do believe the rules could have been outlined or explained more clearly.

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Winners!!

IMG_7354Tips~ Definitely wear tennis shoes, a hat and apply sunblock. A bottle of water is provided, but I highly recommend bringing your own. It was a long, hot day and we were running a lot and would not want to be limited to one bottle. Eat a hearty breakfast as only a small snack is provided at the end and there isn’t much time to go out to lunch afterwards if returning to a cruise ship. Most importantly, have FUN and LAUGH a lot.

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Book your tour at:

https://www.trisportsxm.com/the-amazing-race-tour-9.html

Château de Versailles

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While visiting Paris, The Palace of Versailles was top on our list of sites to see. I grew up following my mom around from home tour to home tour, and listening to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous playing in the background, so maybe it is in my blood? When I became an adult, I loved attending home tours put on by benefits and charities. To this day, I am fascinated by palaces and mansions.

Plan on taking your time going through Versailles. Don’t plan Versailles and other sites on the same day. Similiar to that of the Lourve, Windsor Castle, or Vatican, it is not something you can rush through.

The Palace of Versailles is located 13 miles outside of Paris which takes approximately 38 minutes by car. It is a World Heritage Site and noted as a great achievement of French 17th century art. To say that this blog post covers a fraction of the Palace would be a gross exaggeration. To put it in perspective, the Palace is capable of holding up to 20,000 people, 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 fireplaces, and 67 staircases, spread over 26,000 acres. Throughout the years, Versailles has undergone many phases of restoration and construction. I won’t dive too deep into the various renovations. I recommend booking a tour to avoid the overwhelming feeling when you step foot onto grounds and ask yourself, “Where do I begin?” We booked a tour which included transportation to and from Paris. The great thing about group tours is that generally, they include free time to explore.

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I love the picture above so much, that it is the screen saver on my laptop to which I view daily. One thing to note, we toured the Palace of Versailles in December and from the pictures it was overcast, gloomy and cold. I always use my own photographs when blogging, which takes me right back to the exact moment, temperature of the day and experience. I travel vicariously through my own memories via photographs.

If planning a trip to Versailles, do research to consider the best time of year, weather and crowds. I loved visiting the Palace in December. While I don’t have any other time of year to compare it to, I can say that it was not crowded. There is something magical about entering the palace, bundled up in heavy coats and boots with gloomy skies. The only disadvantage I can think of, is that we were too cold to spend much time walking about the beautiful gardens.

Background~ When the château was built, Versailles was just a small village in the 11th century. Today, Versailles is a wealthy area outside of Paris. The fascination with the palace is not just its mere grandeur, it is the history of political power, The French Revolution, Louis XIV and the royal family dating back to 1682.

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Gate of Honour

The picture above is the Gate of Honor which can be seen from the three main avenues that meet to form the Place d’Armes. 10 million people walk through this gate annually to tour the estate! The original gate was made of 80m of wrought iron and gold leaf. The picture above is an exact replica which cost £4 million, over two years to contruct and 100,000 gold leaves formed in the shape of crowns, makes of Apollo, and cornucopia. The original Gate of Honour was created in the 1680’s.

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Queen’s bedchamber in the Grand Appartement de la Reine

The grand appartement de la reine was the residence of three queens of France to include Marie Therese d’Autriche, Marie Leszczynska, and Marie-Antoinette. The apartment represented heroines from years past while adding balance to the room’s decor.  The apartment consisted of seven rooms with doorways in line on the left-wing while the right-wing was almost an exact layout of the grand appartement du roi.

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Ministers Courtyard

The palace has a massive cobblestone courtyard, above, which opens up to gorgeous, detailed, architecturally designed buildings to make up the Ministers Courtyard. The name represents the two long ministerial buildings standing on either side. The Versailles chapel, located in the center of the courtyard is assessable from inside the palace. I enjoyed walking through the courtyard and looking up, taking in the size and detail of each structure.

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Bronze Statue of the Rhone River

Fe Brun and Le Nôtre collaborated on the numerous fountains at the palace.

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The Mercury Room

The Mercury Room, also known as the Mercury Salon, is located in the King’s Grand Apartment. The room is fascinating as it houses the original, royal bedchamber in the State Apartments. It is referred to as “the bedroom”. The room is decorated with tables, mirrors, andirons (metal supports that hold wood in a fire-place) and chandeliers made of silver. The nook is separated from the rest of the room by a terrace made of silver. While much of the furniture in the Mercury Room has been recreated, the bed is the original bed that was placed by Louis-Philippe when he transformed Versailles from a royal residence into a museum.

 

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The Palace of Versailles, as we know it today, was completed by the death of Louis XIV in 1715. There are two enormous asymmetrical wings on either side of the Royal Court totaling 1,319 ft in length. 

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Chapels at Versailles~ I love touring cathedrals and chapels throughout Europe, taking in the columns, colored marble, ornate detail throughout, and of course the murals. The ceiling in the chapel is breathtaking.

Since the palace began, five versions of the chapel at Versailles have evolved. The current chapel, located at the south end of the north wing, is The Chapel of the Palace of Versailles, the last major project for Louis XIV. The Chapel represents French Baroque architecture and ministerial decoration. The Chapel was dedicated to Saint Louis, patron saint of the Bourbons.

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Galerie des Glaces

The Hall of Mirrors~ I have to say the most popular room seems to be The Hall of Mirrors, whose construction began in 1678. The picture does not do it justice. Obtaining a picture without anyone in it is nearly an impossible feat! As you can see, I managed between the tours. The official name is ~ The Galerie des Glaces, perhaps the most celebrated room in the château of Versailles. Jules Hardouin-Mansart replaced Le Vau’s large terrace, facing the garden on the west, with the most famous room of the palace, the Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors north side displays art work inspired by the Salon of War, depicting the king’s victory against a European coalition.  While the south side of the Hall, displays art work inspired by a Salon of Peace. It is famous for many of the ceremonies of the French Court during the Ancient Regime. There are numerous renditions around the world, but there is only one Hall of Mirrors. Comparable to being in Florence and settling for the replica of the Statue of David.

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Gardens of Versailles

The Gardens of Versailles~ The gardens represent a French formal garden known as jardin à la française. The garden has a specific style in a way of calling nature to order. Notice the symmetric lines, the garden was designed by Andre Le Notre for Louis XIV. We would have loved to have spent more time exploring the gardens but it was so cold in December. Nonetheless, they were very beautiful even in December.

Interesting Facts~ 181 films have been shot at the Palace of Versailles. A television series called Versailles set during the construction of the Palace in Louis XIV’s reign premiered on November 16, 2015 in France and later in Canada, Britain and the U.S. Dior filmed one of the most glamorous commercials in the Hall of Mirrors featuring actress Charlize Theron advertising the fragrance J’Adore at the Palace of Versailles in 2012 to Depeche Mode’s song Enjoy the Silence.

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Versailles is definitely worth the time that it takes to tour the grounds. Make a day of it!

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