Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Mexico… Oh my!

My oh my.. what a wonderful last week and a half it’s been.  And what a week it’s been trying to get back into the flow of.. well, life.  I tried my hardest to chronicle our trip but I certainly got sucked into the moment many times.  So yes, long post, but trying to cram three different countries during a week and a half trip is seriously harder than it looks!

Our family always asks with any event, “What was the best part vs what was the worst part?”  So in Yoder family tradition style, I’ll give you my run down.  The worst, by far was our sucky transportation to and from home.  A cancelled flight (getting there), a delayed flight getting back and a crappy car park service made the beginning and end a wee bit tricky.

My favorite part of the trip… that’s a harder one to narrow down.  I always LOVE spending time with my little sister, it’s fantastic to catch up on life.  We did a cave excursion in the Mexican jungle, which might be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. We also ate soo many wonderful meals, I couldn’t even choose a favorite.

The hubs and I are truly blessed to be able to travel and explore like we do.  We certainly both have the travel bug baaddd and before kids, we want to see as much of the world as we can! Now, I already covered the first 1/2 day that we were in New Orleans (check it out here).  We couldn’t leave Nola without a little Cafe du Monde treat, so beignets and coffee au laits were had before we boarded the ship. We braved the rain in hopes of seeing a New Orleans Style Easter Parade, but sadly it was postponed due to rain. We did however get to see lots of people dressed to the nines, as well as a lot of ladies wearing some pretty fantastic hats!

Kate, shortly thereafter, dropped us off at the cruise port where we waited to board (excited waiting for our shuttle as you can see).  This, unlike many cruises, started in fresh water.  We spent sunset sailing down the Mississippi River, drinking Pina Coladas and went to the ship’s steakhouse for a truly amaaazaballls dinner.  If you went the first night, you got a free bottle of wine, which is always a perk in our book!

If you look close in the first pic, you can see New Orleans off in the distance.

Caesar salad, french onion soup and lobster crab bisque.

Surf and turf, filet, hazelnut cheesecake and chocolate sampler.

After two days at sea, our first stop was Jamaica.  We had a wonderful tour guide named Brooks from Real Tours Jamaica. We were picked up at port and headed out to swim with dolphins.  I was so excited to test out my new waterproof camera!  We got to swim and touch stingrays, get ‘kissed’ by dolphins, and see a nurse shark.  Sadly, upon arriving, we realized that they wouldn’t let me take my camera in with the dolphins, instead, charging $100+ for a disc of our ‘dolphin photos.’ Now I’m all for supporting photographers (as I am one, duh), but this kind of seemed shitty. I literally had bought a camera for this, and I couldn’t justify spending more money on this excursion.  However, I got to take some of the stingrays (which allowed cameras.. odd) AND the dolphins when we were out of the water.  They also had a camel and ostriches, I know… super random on a tropical Caribbean Island.  But it made us laugh.

After we dried off, we got back in our van and headed to Seven Mile Beach (we went to one in The Cayman Islands too so stay tuned).  Our guide, Brooks, filled us in with little facts about all the island and it’s history.  Seriously though, arriving on the beach, I swear, it looks like a post card. White sand, blue water.  Perfection.  Brooks arranged for our authentic Jamaican lunch (jerk chicken.. yeeeess), while we jumped in and pretty much floated away, enjoying this beautiful beach.

Sean clearly, very much in his happy place.

Our awesome lunch with the view of the beach.

Sadly, as anyone who cruises knows, you have to get back to the boat.  If you don’t, they’ll leave you.  I’m not kidding.  You miss getting on board, you’re left behind.  Now granted, I could have stayed on that beach for a few days.. well.. weeks lol, but we had other places to see!  Off we went for to our next port, the Cayman Islands!!

Us heading out on a tender and our ship, The Carnival Dream.

Now seriously, bit of cruise advice.  Do your research.  We really just wanted to head to Seven Mile Beach in the Cayman Islands (which is actually just 5.5 miles, little factoid there).  It’s supposed to be one of the best beaches in the world, and we’re sucker’s for clear blue water.  However, excursions on the boat were $40-50 per person.  Now that’s all well and good, but being the travel junkies we are, a taxi there couldn’t be a ton.  We had to take a tender from the ship, landed ourselves a taxi driver (they’re literally waiting for you with signs when you get off), and paid $4 + $4 tip to get to where we needed to go.  Saved about $80.  So just be aware, before your cruise or vacation, get to know your port. The beach lived up to it’s reputation.  While there were more people (lots of ships docked that day), there was plenty of sand for us.  We even had a few tropical fish follow us.  One wouldn’t leave Sean alone and just circled his legs.  Got to play with the new camera and got some pretty unique shots. Almost looks like the fish are swimming in the clouds, cool right?

All in all it was a blast.  We definitely stayed a weeee bit too long in the sun; and paid the price for it later that night.  It is harder then you’d think to lay in the bed without anything touching your shoulders.  I’m pretty sure we were both putting off nuclear heat lol. But onto our last port, MEXICO!

This was my favorite port by far.  This is also completely and totally because of the AWESOME excursion we did.  We booked this one with our cruise ship and it was run by Cancun Adventures.  Stepping off the boat into Mexico is an experience in itself;  from all the tequila, street vendors, and hilarious huge statues to take pictures of from a ‘zonkey’, to a life size cake you could climb in, to huge gross feet you could ‘pretend were you own.’ We went for a photo in front of the town marker, but hey, to each their own lol.

The port itself is beautiful though.  All the water and sand.  Stunning. We met up with our guide, and headed for a 20-30 minute ferry ride to the mainland.  It was rough.  Like seriously rough.  They were handing out barf bags.  Annnndd selling tubes of tequila, which they referred to as ‘Mexican Breakfast.’ It was an experience.



That yellow and blue boat in the background was our ferry.

Our first stop was to go snorkeling with tropical fish.  Some cool facts, where we swam, fresh water and salt water met.  The two don’t combine and instead stay separated.  When you’re swimming it actually kind of looks like there is a layer of ‘oil’ in the middle of the water. It’s very cool. But you’ll see a bit of a blur/distortion in some of the photos, and that’s what it is. We were also told not to put on sunscreen or insect repellent, as it affects both the fish and the coral/plants growing in the water.  It was the hubs first time snorkeling, so a new cool experience for him too!

And at that point, I was in hog heaven and was thinking, ‘seriously… this can’t get any better.’  Well guess what?!  It did.  It got SOO much better.  The photos on Carnival’s website don’t do this justice.  I thought we were going to strap on a hard hat and go into a lit cave and walk around.  No, no, NO.  First we head in the bus for about a 30 minute drive.  We actually passed Nicolas Cage’s house. For real.  Here it is.


From there we head into the jungle.  Yes, the Mexican jungle (you know jaguars, iguanas, snakes.. jungle).  There are still native Mayan’s living in this jungle.  Our guide pointed out their homes and school.  They use this cave as revenue for the village.  Here’s one of their traditional homes.

After that we arrived at the cave or as they call it ‘canote’, which refers to a natural pit or sinkhole made from the collapse of limestone. Most of these places are sacred to the Mayan people.  We straped on hardhats with lights and life jackets and just jumped in.  The water itself was quite cold, but it was beautifully clear and blue.  There were tons of little fish, and a few medium sized black catfish swimming around.

After everyone in our group was in, our tour guide proceeded to lead us deep into this cave.  Bats have also made their homes here.  They are flying throughout, and occasionally you can look up and see large groups of them. Stalagmites and stalactites are everywhere.  Did you know it takes them 100 YEARS to grow 1 centimeter??? At some points as we’re swimming through, they’re only a few inches from our heads.  The cave’s bottom is sandy and rocky and sometimes will just drop.  So you could be walking and then end up in deep water.  It was pretty awesome.  I felt like a bad ass adventurer for sure!

Various clusters of bats hanging from the ceiling when you looked up.


Believe it or not, these are actually tree roots that have grown from the surface.

No…. lol, I know what you’re thinking… the tall hubs didn’t break that off.  Limestone is so soft that when they have earthquakes some of the stalagmites and stalactites snap.  They actually have to close down the caves for around 2 weeks to make sure everything is still stable.  A few different kinds of stalagmites and stalactites are shown above.  The curvy one is the drapery variety while the very thin pointy ones are the straw variety.


One of my favorite shots from the trip.  The water droplets on the lens add a little something.

I don’t know if the photos do it justice, but that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.  I’m also glad I didn’t get eaten by a python or something, but all in all a wonderful, wonderful excursion.  After returning our gear, we headed back into town for some authentic Mexican food (soooo good) and got to see some cool shops.  Also, we indulged in a margarita and a mojito mmmm.

Sadly, that was our last port for our cruise.  This was followed by a day of relaxing back on the ship and heading back to New Orleans!  We lucked out that my sister had the week off from school (this almost never happens).  The ship docked early, and we immediately got picked up, and decided to go explore the Oak Alley Plantation.  It’s actually been nominated as one of the most beautiful plantations in the world.  Man oh man, would I LOVE to photograph a wedding at this venue.  Talk about just drreammy wedding photos.

That large metal bowl with fish in it at the top?  That’s what they used to make molasses in with the sugar cane harvested at the plantation.

We took the tour inside the house, where we learned all about the plantations history.  At one point, the house was even abandoned and cows took over.  No joke, cows.  They ruined all the Italian marble that had been on the first floor, which is why there are hardwood floors today.

These were various examples of what the slave quarters would have looked like.  Fun fact learned, they actually had a master grafter (who was kind of a big deal back in the day) on the plantation.  Pecans, at the time, had a hard shell that made it difficult to crack and process at a large industrial scale.  He grafted plants together, so the pecan’s shell became soft, helping to make it easily processed, eventually getting it to where pecans are today.

Now, if you know anything about New Orleans, you’ll know that there is pretty much a festival going on every day.  No joke. 300+ a year.  It’s definitely a happening place.  We were lucky enough (as were our stomachs) that it was Foodfest.  All kinds of food vendors placed along the Mississippi River.  The smells alone were wonderful.  Luckily, there were three of us so we got to try A LOT of food.  The hubs also had his first crawfish experience, and being a good ol’ crab breaking, shellfish loving Baltimorean, he was in hog heaven.

Bacon wrapped hot dog, brisket, and sausage after getting smoked, double chocolate whiskey brownies.

Custard, bacon bloody marys (with bacon vodka), meat pies, smoked oysters, crawfish boil.

Delicious right? We left with full bellies, crawfish salted hands, and in need of a nap.  Our last day consisted of catching up on some sleep (as we had a long drive ahead of us that night).  We spent a lazy morning walking through New Orleans, as I love capturing photos of all the old houses, and stopped at a fantastic doughnut shop (District Doughnuts and Sliders).  This place not has only has some pretty fantastical doughnuts, but they also have things like Vietnamese Coffee on tap.  Yes, TAP. Along with amazing sandwiches (lots made with doughnut dough), beers, and sliders.


The last stop on our journey was at the best fried chicken establishment in America, Willie Mae’s Scotch House. No lie, it’s won a James Beard Award, been featured on just about every food show (the Travel Channel was filming the last time we went), and usually has a line out the door. We lucked out and pretty much walked right in.  Last time we waited an hour.  Soooo lesson is… if you want some fried chicken and don’t want to wait – Monday at 2pm is primo time!

And that’s a wrap folks!  I hope you enjoyed the read and the photos.  Seriously, I urge everyone to travel. You can do it on a budget… do a long road trip… grab some friends for an adventure… and get to experience a little more than a 100 mile radius where you live.  Getting to learn about new cultures and meet new people is truly humbling.  Every time I get to see somewhere else I realize how lucky and blessed my family and myself are.  What a wonderful world it is out there!  Get out and enjoy it!  Until this weekend – Alysha

Photography and writing by:

Alysha Yoder Photography


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New Orleans in Half a Day

So let me start off my saying… what a freaking 24 hours the hubs and myself have had.  If I can give advice to anyone, it would be that you should never.. ever.. EVER… even if the price is awesome… fly with Allegiant Airways.  Not only did we drive three hours to get to Pittsburgh, but upon arrival, got delayed, sat in the terminal for 2 hours and then were told our flight was cancelled.  No apparent reason was given, and we were given a crappy $8 voucher for food (which is like… half a beer at an airport) and a hotel room for the night.  We lost out on a whole 24 hours with my sister (who I only get to see twice a year), a corporate world vacation day, and all the money we had spent on a fancy hotel room.  It all sucked. The whole situation.  And in talking to the customer service line at the airport, they didn’t even know the flight was cancelled.  I’ve never dealt with a more incompetent business.

That being said, lessoned learned with Allegiant.  We did make the best of the whole situation and tried to remedy the night.  Being an ex-Pittsburgh native, I got to show the hubs a little of the city I love.  We got to go to the Andy Warhol Museum and a great restaurant called Butcher and the Rye. It did turn out ok in the end but we’re still bummed about what we missed.



We did make a lot of friends and comrades sharing in our misery at the airport.  I’m pretty sure we all would have rented a bus and pulled a 16 hour drive today if they had cancelled our flight again.  This picture says it all… we’re finally getting to board a plane.. the hubs still questioning whether we’re going to actually take off and me… happy that we’re on our way.


Buutttt we finally made it!  24 hours later then expected, but here!  Kate picked us up at the airport with a list of restaurant suggestions in hand.  These are moments when Yoder genes come out strong with our love of food and it’s wonderful!  Now, I’ve been here three times and New Orleans is just one of those destinations that you look forward to your eating.   Kate’s top pick and recommendation was K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen and man, I don’t know how anyone could be disappointed with a meal here.  I’m seriously still in a delicious food coma.  We had the most wonderful waitress named Sheila.  She gave recommendations (Kate asked her to pick her favorites and surprise her with dinner), showed us how the chef wanted us to eat meals and made the whole dining experience amazing.  Every time a new round of food came, forks were passed around with little bites of everyone’s dish.  I’m pretty sure we would have licked the plates if it wasn’t frowned upon.

If you had a gun to my head, I still probably couldn’t decide what I liked the best here.  The decision making process to even pick an item on the menu was hard enough.  See this intense pondering?

K-Paul’s is this wonderful mix of a little bit eclectic and a little bit classy.  It still has that Southern Charm too.  I loved all these illustrated recipes both framed on the wall and on the tablecloths.

So what did you finally decide on you ask?? Here was our lineup:

  • Apps
    • A bowl of rolls (yes, a bowl) with hot jalapeno cheese rolls, cornbread muffins and a sweet dessert muffin.
    • Rabbit and Veggie Sausage with Creole Mustard Sauce
    • Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
    • Cajun Jambalaya
  • Main Course
    • Blackened Stuffed Pork Chop Marchand de Vin
    • Eggplant Pirogue with Seafood Atchafalaya
    • BBQ Shrimp (and I honestly can’t remember the name of it but it came on a bed or rice, with sautéed veggies)

Our wonderful waitress, Sheila, showing us how the chef recommends eating these meals.  She was without a doubt one of the best waitresses I’ve ever had in my life.

  • Dessert
    • Sweet Potato Pecan Pie
    • Custard Marie Crème Brûlée with a Praline Bottom
    • Espresso

A few of you might ask, “Why the lemon rind?” Well, I have an answer for you on that. In America, serving Espresso with a lemon rind is often seen as a “classy addition” as well as a means to dampen it’s bitterness. It is served this way in North America and sometimes in France, but never in Italy. Outside of Italy, this is called an “Espresso Romano.” It actually does seriously alter the espresso flavor.  I haven’t decided if I love it one way or another.

Dinner was followed by a good stroll through the French Quarter.  Street performers, Pat O’Brians, people watching, and weddings.. yes, even weddings.  I can’t escape them, even on vacation.  What a lovely bride and groom though!  I loved their umbrellas, especially the ring bearers lol.

Here’s some New Orleans trivia for you.  Wedding and funerals typically have a “second line.”  This refers to the brass brand parades held for these events. The “main line” or “first line” is the main section of the parade, or the members of the actual club with the parading permit as well as the brass band. Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the “second line.” The second line’s style of traditional dance, in which participants walk and sometimes twirl a parasol or handkerchief in the air, is called “second lining.” (source: Wikipedia)

Pretty cool right? Pat O’Brian’s was, of course, a place we always stop (and the husband’s personal fav), so we swing by to grab drinks before we continued our walking tour of the Quarter.

We stumbled across a street performer we had seen the last time we were in New Orleans.  This wonderful older gentleman who plays songs by request on various sized glasses.  He even got Kate in on the action, letting her play one and showing us how you can ‘see’ the tone of the glass in the water.  Certainly one of the more unique performers, but New Orleans is loaded with them.  There is no city like it and being a photographer, walking around taking photos at night, is a dream.



Our journey continues tomorrow!  We have high hopes that the rain will hold off and we’ll get to see one of the Easter Day parades here.  Fingers crossed!  I’ll then be taking a hiatus for a week, as we’ll be out of the country cruising.  So clients, have no fear!  I’ll get back to you as soon as I have internet access.  Until then, cheers from The Big Easy.  – Alysha

 Alysha Yoder Photography (b)

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