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Sebring & Beyond

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Last week I revealed that I had recently spent 4 days and 3 nights up in scenic Highlands County Florida.

I activated the start of a dream that I’ve been dreaming (and blogging about) for the past 7 years. That dream is to relocate and retire near Sebring (the county seat). Shortly upon arrival in Lake Placid my Real Estate Agent and I drove to my dream neighborhood where we toured 5 condos. I selected my favorite one (which was the last one we toured), and I made a purchase offer on it. It was quickly accepted by the seller. I am now 15 days into the 30-day closing process, and everything continues to work out smoothly so far.

My new home is absolutely beautiful and clean. It was love at first sight upon entering it. I had to contain my excitement for it. It’s a 3-bedroom / 2-bathroom 2ND-floor condo in a 55+ active-adult gated-community. It comes fully-furnished, and the furniture is newish. I met the husband-and-wife owners of the condo. They bought it in 2022, and they refurbished and modernized it. They were pretty much done with that, so they put it on the market a couple of months ago. (I had been tracking it online since the start of the year.) They will continue to live in the neighborhood, buy vacated condos, refurbish them, and sell them for a small profit. (The husband is a retired Civil Engineer.)

The neighborhood’s homeowners’ association requires a background security check and vote before being accepted as a resident. (They will find absolutely nothing in their investigation of me.)

If all goes well then the final closing date should be during the week of St. Patrick’s Day, and I will drive back up there to be physically present for that, and be handed the keys to my new home. I’ll also have a trunk-load of personal belongings with me, as I will begin moving-in that same day.

It’ll be a slow and gradual relocation from South Florida (Miami-Dade County) to South-Central Florida (Highlands County). I don’t retire for another 9 months, so on most weeks I’ll live and work down south from Sunday mornings to Wednesday afternoons, and I’ll live and work up north from Wednesday evenings to Sunday mornings. My commuting distance will be 186 miles, and that’s about a 3-hour and 20-minute drive. Each drive northward will be another haul of my personal belongings. Eventually the drives will be less-frequent, and I’ll spend more time in Sebring than not.

I’m looking forward to the change in lifestyle, and the change in region. This will be the first time since I lived in the United Kingdom 35+ years ago that I’ll be living in a rural area (versus suburban). I’m moving to a 1,106-square-mile county with a total population of just over 100,000. Right now over 100,000 people live within about 5 miles of me. (Over 2.7 million residents call Miami-Dade County home.)

Sebring will also be the first time in exactly 30 years – and 2ND-time in my life – that I’ll be relocating to the city / area of my choice. Back in March 1993 I relocated to Melbourne Florida – because I wanted to. 30 years later I’m relocating about 100 miles away from Melbourne – because I want to.

I can’t believe that this is finally happening, and I owe it all to my Lord + Savior Jesus Christ. It’s easy to claim that these were my plans for many years, but these were really God’s plans for me. He guided and directed me to the Florida Heartland. I preached about that this past Sunday. “Sebring & Beyond” was the title of my sermon.

Next #TravelThursday I’ll tell you all about my 2ND visit to the main office of the Sebring Historical Society. I’ll be serving with them soon. Let’s keep traveling together.

All rights reserved (c) 2023 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

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My Carnival Celebration Vacation 2023

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Last week I wrote about my day visiting Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas U.S.V.I. – where I spent most of the day enjoying the cruise ship docked portside. That was Day 5 of my 7-day cruise aboard the Carnival Celebration from Sunday January 08TH 2023 to Sunday January 15TH 2023.

This week it’s on to Days 6, 7, and 8. That was Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – with Sunday being debarkation morning. That’s always the saddest part of any cruise – having to leave it all behind after all of those fun days aboard. This was the newest and biggest cruise ship that I’ve ever sailed on – with the most passengers (6,000+) and crew (1,700+). As a local in Miami-Dade County Florida I always strive to get off the ship as soon as I possibly can – if only to avoid as much traffic as possible between the port and my home – about 32 miles. (That 32 miles is a long and rough 32 miles that usually takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.)

But also I wish to get off the ship early to avoid prolonging the inevitable. Why hang around for a couple more hours when I can put a cap on the fun and look back at all of the great memories had and great people met.

Days 6 and 7 were fun days at sea sailing west-northwest from the U.S. Virgin Islands back to Miami. The ship took a more southerly (than usual) route back (along the north coast of Cuba) due to ferocious winds north of us in the Bahamas caused by an unusually strong Arctic cold front that had made its way that far south. Winds were actually gusting up to 50 MPH at times against the starboard (right) side of the ship, but surprisingly the big ship handled it well. I could barely feel the motion of the ship, and that was a great thing, as I can easily get seasick when the ship gets a rockin’ and a rollin’. As we traversed the north coast of Cuba we lost the heat of the tropics and we plunged into the cold air of the north with temperatures into the 60s and wind chills into the 50s. (When we arrived en Miami early on Sunday morning – wind chills were well into the 40s !)

This was another excellent Carnival cruise. Why sail any other cruise line when I usually enjoy a fantastic experience on Carnival ? I feel like I’m returning home every time I board a Carnival cruise ship – old or new. I know what to expect, and I enjoy every possible minute of it. Carnival specializes in activities and things to do and see from early in the morning until early the next morning. I think they do it better than any other cruise line. Their customer service is the friendliest at sea.

As for my next (17TH) Carnival cruise – I’ve been looking – but I haven’t booked yet. It’ll likely be out of Port Tampa Bay (the closest cruise ship port to my new home) – or Port Canaveral – a little further away. (Carnival sails out of both ports, but with not as many ships as PortMiami.)

I may skip a year of cruising in 2024, or maybe I’ll wait until later in the year to do so. My income will change dramatically next year since I’ll be retired instead of employed, so I’ll need to assess my budget once I reach that milestone in my life.

And speaking of which – I spent 4 days and 3 nights up in Highlands County Florida last weekend, and I activated the start of a dream that I’ve been dreaming (and blogging about) for the past 7 years. That dream is to retire near Sebring. Last Thursday morning with my Real Estate Agent I toured 5 condos in my dream neighborhood, selected my favorite one, made a purchase offer on it, and it was quickly accepted by the seller. I am now 8 days into the 30-day closing process, and everything is working out smoothly so far. I’ll write more about that – next – #TravelThursday.

All rights reserved (c) 2023 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

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My Carnival Celebration Vacation 2023

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Last week I wrote about my day visiting Castillo San Cristóbal y Castillo San Felipe del Morro en Viejo San Juan Puerto Rico. That was Day 4 of my 7-day cruise aboard the Carnival Celebration from Sunday January 08TH 2023 to Sunday January 15TH 2023.

This week it’s on to Day 5 – and the 3RD and final port-of-call in Charlotte Amalie St. Thomas U.S.V.I.

But First: It was another day of full-use of my cell phone (iPhone) without any extra International “roaming” charges, so I got all caught-up (again) on the Interwebs. (I rarely use my iPhone as a phone. I use it mostly as a little computer that fits in the palm of my hand.)

Before the cruise when I was researching and purchasing shore excursions to do on the islands – I didn’t really see anything that I was interested in on St. Thomas. I could go back to the top of the mountain (1,500 feet above sea level) to that big gift shop / liquor store (Mountain Top), and take-in the views from up there. But every good cruise has a fun and relaxing day on the ship when there’s not that many other people around, and I decided that St. Thomas Day would be my personal “Fun Day On Ship”.

Well – a lot of people on the ship had the same idea as me. Of the approximate 6,000 passengers – perhaps 2 out of 3 went ashore (just a rough estimate). That means 1 out of 3 stayed onboard – or 2,000 out of 6,000. The Carnival Celebration – after all – is a very nice and beautiful and modern and huge cruise ship – the biggest and brightest that Carnival has to offer.

I actually did get off the ship for about 90 minutes of walking around the strip shopping center that sits adjacent to the port. I wasn’t planning on buying anything – just browsing – and getting some exercise in.

That was the first part of my Breakfast – courtesy of Emeril Lagasse. (He has a bistro on the ship.) The second part consisted of a half-dozen powdered beignets with strawberry sauce and chocolate sauce. (That’s why I needed those 90 minutes of walking off the ship.)

After that it was back on the ship to resume my “Fun Day On Ship” and explore portions of the ship that I had not previously seen. Oh – and it was time to eat again.

Next #TravelThursday I’ll wrap-up my cruise review of the Carnival Celebration with some final thoughts, and then I’ll reveal my plans for my next (25TH) cruise. Let’s keep traveling together.

All rights reserved (c) 2023 Christopher M. Day, CountUp

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My Carnival Celebration Vacation 2023

Welcome back to #TravelThursday. Last week I wrote about Amber Cove, Puerto Plata, and the surrounding area up to 2,600 feet above sea level along the north-central coast of the Dominican Republic. That was Day 3 of my 7-day cruise aboard the Carnival Celebration from Sunday January 08TH 2023 to Sunday January 15TH 2023.

This week we jump to Day 4 of my 7-day cruise – and the 2ND port-of-call in San Juan Puerto Rico.

But First: It’s always good to return back to the U.S.A. – whether it’s stateside or a territory at sea – if only to get full-use of my cell phone (iPhone) back again without any extra International “roaming” charges. Those LTE signal bars look so beautiful after not having any since a few miles offshore Miami Beach.

I pre-purchased a shore excursion for Old San Juan – visiting fortresses. Shortly after arrival and U.S. Customs clearance on the island, I met my group and we hopped on our bus. Our tour guide / driver narrated during our short drive up to the first fortress. She also exhibited a little bit of Puerto Rican road-rage along the way, as traffic was thick and slow due to several cruise ships in port. Cops were blocking roads in an effort to make traffic run more smoothly, but it seemed to be causing more problems than not.

We made it to Castillo San Cristóbal, and our tour guide /driver handed-off to another tour guide who told us a little bit about the fortress. Then she told us to go check it out for ourselves and return back to the bus about 40 minutes later. (This was very unlike the shore excursion that I enjoyed on the previous day in the Dominican Republic as described last #TravelThursday.)

Our next fortress was Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and it was essentially the same situation. Our tour guide told us a little bit about it, and then we went to check it out on our own. After we were done – we walked back on our own to the bus to be there at a certain time.

After the two fortresses our tour guide / driver drove us to the city center of Viejo San Juan, and that was pretty much the end of the tour. She recommended that we walk back to the ship from there (a short walk), as traffic was muy malo. (She essentially gave up for the day.)

While the shore excursion for the Dominican Republic was a perfect 5 stars because of our tour guide and what we saw – this shore excursion was more like 3 stars. It wasn’t really a waste of time or money, but we could’ve had better, more knowledgeable, and more patient tour guides with less attitude. We could’ve also had cold air coming out of the bus vents instead of air.

I took some good pictures from the fortresses. They will appear on my Flickr Photostream in the weeks to come. Here’s one of the 3 cruise ships in port at the time from atop Castillo San Cristóbal. (The Carnival Celebration is in the middle.)

Fun Fact: This was my 2ND-ever visit to San Juan Puerto Rico. My 1ST visit was a little over 12 years ago on January 20TH 2011 as part of a 7-day cruise on the Carnival Glory.

Next #TravelThursday we’ll head over to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to enjoy a fun day on a nearly empty ship, or – perhaps – it didn’t quite turn out that way. Let’s keep traveling together.

All rights reserved (c) 2023 Christopher M. Day, CountUp