Flamingos, Chocolate, and Sailing…oh my!

PicMonkey Collage

I can’t believe it’s been a month already since we had our vacation.  If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook (and if you don’t yet please do), you might have guessed that we went away for Spring Break.  We went on a great 10 night Caribbean Cruise, and I’d love to share some of the highlights with you.

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We booked this cruise about a year in advance, and since we’ve been fortunate enough to cruise quite a few times before in the Caribbean, we were excited about this particular cruise because it had a really unique itinerary.  We visited Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, and Antigua, most of which we’d never been to before.  Now that the kids are getting a little older we changed things up from our usual routine in a few of the ports.  We typically take a cab to the beach, and spend all morning there, then head back to the ship for a late lunch, and sometimes venture back out in the afternoon while the kids enjoy the kids program on the ship, for a little shopping in the port.  We still did this a couple of days.  It’s a tried and true system for us that works well.  But we also had a couple of adventures that I’d like to share with you.

Flamingos 1

In Bonaire, we went to see the flamingos.  Bonaire is an amazing little island, that has really led the way in conservation in the Caribbean.  The island is home to a wild flamingo sanctuary.  I kind of have a thing for flamingos…remember my flamingo dinner party?  I mean they’re just so crazy, so pink, so amazing.  Almost too good to be true.  So when researching Bonaire and discovering that the island is home to lots of wild flamingos, I knew visiting them would be a fun adventure.

Flamingos 2

Doing research on-line I discovered that although you can visit the sanctuary you can’t get very close to the actual flamingos.  I also read that Lake Gotomeer was a place where they could often be found feeding.  I couldn’t really decide which option was better, since I read mixed reviews of both on-line, I decided to ask the locals.  We made sure to pack our binoculars, and I even found fun flamingo dresses for my girls to wear for the occasion.

Flamingos 3

The local ladies who drove the taxi and offered a tour suggested the lake would offer better viewing so we headed there.  And we found them.  It was one of those bucket list experiences for me.  They were so amazing, so pink, so remarkable.  I was even surprised to find myself tearing up and thanking God for the chance to experience these amazing creatures in their wild home, no zoo boundary between us.  When we got back to the port we found a few fun souvenirs of our flamingo day to bring home – a couple watercolour cards, and the coolest little folk art piece, made in an old tobacco tin, always fun to get something a little different.

Flamingo art 2

That was one of my favourite ports.  The other was St. Lucia.

St lucia

My youngest daughter, Maddie, is a chocolate lover, so when in my research before we left home I discovered that there are several chocolate tours available in some of the islands, I knew it would be right up her ally.  I did find it really hard to choose one.  They vary tremendously from hundreds of dollars to free, and everything in-between.  One of the deterring factors for us is that the cocoa trees grow in the rain forest, so in St. Lucia or Grenada they are quite a ways from the port, like hours on very windy, mountainous roads.  We settled on the one at Morne Coubaril Estate in St. Lucia for $10 per person.  I felt like it would be a good beginning point for us.  We tried to get off the ship right away, since it was about an hour and half long drive.  We paid $40 per person for the taxi, which was a fair bit, but we consoled ourselves by comparing it to the cost of any of the ship excursions.  The tour it’s self was really low key, but Maddie loved it, and that was our real goal so it was perfect. Maddie was so excited the day we were going that when she woke up in the morning she said “Mom, money doesn’t grow on trees, but chocolate does!”  Yes it does.

The tour included quite a few different tropical fruits and products, but we were there for the chocolate.  Here’s a picture of the cocoa trees growing.

Cocoa trees

And a close up of the cocoa bean it’s self.

Cocoa bean growing

Once they are ripe they’re picked.

Ripe cocoa beans

Inside you can see the individual beans, covered in a whitish coloured fruit, that you can eat, and the cocoa bean that is turned into chocolate is actually the pit of the fruit.  The fruit tastes kind of slimy, and a little like lychee fruit.

Fresh cocoa bean fruit

The pods are left to ferment, and then the cocoa beans are removed and spread out on huge racks to dry.

Cocoa bean drying rack

After a few weeks of drying in the sun, they are then roasted, traditionally in these small little ovens, where the fire is made on the bottom, and the beans go on the top.

Cocoa bean roaster

Once the beans are roasted, the outer skin is removed, and then they are ground into cocoa powder.  Here’s Maddie trying her hand at the traditional grinding method.

Grinding cocoa beans

That’s the end of the demo here at Morne Coubaril Estate, but to make the cocoa powder into chocolate bars like we know them, they would need to have sugar, and milk added to them.  I so wish they made some actual milk chocolate on this tour.  We chose this tour, but if I were doing it all again I might consider the Grenada Chocolate Factory tour, in Grenada, which finishes with actual chocolate, although it’s dark chocolate so it still might not be a hit with kids.  Despite there being no chocolate bar at the end, Maddie still loved seeing the process.  There are other tours available in St. Lucia at other places that are way more expensive, so I guess we did alright for $10.

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It was so great to get away from all the snow -hasn’t it been the longest winter ever?  And we so enjoyed the ports, including our relaxing beach days, and had so much fun on the ship too, swimming, relaxing and eating, and eating!  In fact we had so much fun that on our first day home, Maddie turned our house into a cruise ship by giving us all cabin numbers on our doors, making a daily activities schedule and putting a towel animal on our beds!  You know you had a good vacation when…

Towels 3

With awesome family vacation memories like these to cherish, life really is a party!

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  1. oh man, what an amazing trip! that is a really unique itinerary, and glad you achieved your bucket list item with the flamingos. we went to aruba a few years ago, but bonaire, as a scuba diver, is on the boyfriend’s bucket list. thanks for sharing these gorgeous pics!

  2. B, Bonaire has amazing scuba diving. We did a tiny bit of snorkelling there and it was amazing. I hope you get a chance to go someday.
    All the best, Dannyelle

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