Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Caledonia, Fiji

Noumea, New Caledonia
Justin and I had wanted to visit the South Pacific, but when we did the research it seemed out of reach, budget wise.  Then doing research for something else Justin came upon a cruise deal for 12 nights in and out of Sydney to New Caledonia and Fiji.  So we decided to book this since it was probably the only opportunity we had to visit someplace in the South Pacific.  We boarded the ship and all went to Justin’s cabin to watch our exit from Sydney Harbor.  Justin and I had to book separate cabins to accommodate all of us.  Justin got a veranda cabin and had Caleb, Joel and Danielle.  I had an interior cabin a few doors down and had Eden with me.  From the veranda we had a wonderful view of the Opera House.  It was so stunning to see it from this vantage point.  Also, Justin and I really enjoyed the route out to the Pacific Ocean.  Right where the harbour channel ends and the sea begins, either side of the land ends in these huge cliffs down to the ocean, very impressive and beautiful.  I had not realized that Sydney itself was not directly on the Pacific Ocean, but somewhat inland.  Once on the ocean Danielle noticed dolphins jumping from wave to wave not far off of the side of the ship.  We also noticed tons of flying fish.  It was impressive to see just how far they could “fly”, flapping their fins throughout the flight!  

Good view of the Sydney Opera house on our way out of port
Leaving Sydney Harbour on the cruise ship with the pilot boat guiding us
The first two days were sea days and we had a great time exploring the ship.  Some favorite activities were playing chess in the Explorers lounge, hanging out at the pool or hot tub, the kids loved the kids club (btw, so did Justin and I), and getting ice cream just because.  Within 48 hours Eden was a rock star on board, everyone knew her name from the staff to the passengers, and she was given special snacks and treats.  The waffle man recognized her by the third morning and had her order ready, one fresh waffle with chocolate sauce and sprinkles, very healthy.  While on the pool deck one of the nice waitresses, named Ann Marie, brought Eden cheesy fries and a drink as a nice little swimming break.  Needless to say, Eden was in heaven, she ate up all of the attention, even blowing kisses to people when she walked by and called her by name.  I watched thinking, “Oh my goodness, we have a diva on our hands.”   Danielle, being such a social and outgoing kid, made friends with all the kids onboard.  Once a little girl on her way to kids club asked me if Danielle was there, when I told her no, that she was playing a game in the Explorers lounge but would be there in about an hour, the little girl looked at her mom and said, “can you drop me off in an hour instead?”  I just chuckled to myself.  The boys had tons of fun playing with other boys and since they were the oldest ones in their group, really enjoyed the younger boy’s infatuation with them.  Eden went to kids club twice but would have preferred not to, unless she could stay with Danielle, which the staff accommodated the 2 times she went.  

Formal night on the Cruise

We had three stops in New Caledonia and by far our favorite one was Easo.  From the cruise ship veranda we spotted a sea turtle and watched him for a few minutes until we lost sight when he dove down into the water.  It was a beautiful beach that we reached via tender.  Once on the beach we went swimming and gathered tons of shells. Justin and I got a quick snorkel in and we saw some pretty amazing fish.  I even spotted a sea turtle in the distance but once we got closer it dove down and we lost sight of it.  Our 2 other stops in New Caledonia were Tadine, a small village, and Noumea, the capital city.  It has a large French influence and everyone speaks French.  Apparently they have croissants as good as France, but unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to try them.  When the ship was departing that evening Caleb, Joel and I spotted 3 manta rays swimming near the surface just off of our side of the ship which I learned is called starboard.  

Easo, New Caledonia
Tadine, New Caledonia
On the Pier in Noumea, New Caledonia
In Fiji, we stopped twice.  The first stop was Lautoka, a port town, it was a little bit of a dud, and the second was Dravuni Island, which was amazing.  At Dravuni, we had a beach day and had a great time swimming and walking along the beach collecting shell and taking in the scenery.  In fact, Caleb found a huge shell that weighed about 30lbs and carried it back to our spot on the beach.  Along the way, people stopped him and asked to take a picture of him with it.  When he brought it back and announced that he wanted to bring it home, I unfortunately told him that we could not because, A) It weighed about 30lbs and B) It weighed about 30 LBS!!  Disappointed he put it down, but we did get tons of pictures of it.  We did gather lots of appropriately sized shells to bring home.  The water is a magnificent blue going from a light turquoise to a deep navy, and the sand is soft, and a nice light beige color.  It was not the sunniest day, but it was still warm and the water was easy to get into, so my favorite.  Along the beach front we came across a large rock formation at the edge of the water and Caleb, Joel and Danielle quickly climbed to the top, we got few great pictures of that.  

Dravuni, Fiji
Caleb found a big seashell in Fiji
On the beach in Dravuni, Fiji
Eden getting thrown into the air in Fiji
Back on the ship we enjoyed wonderful meals in the dining room, some fun nights of entertainment, and fantastic blues music from a group of musicians from Tennessee!  Eden learned how to swim in deeper water in the ship pool.  She could swim underwater as long as she would be able to touch the bottom whenever she wanted.  So one day Justin and I stood a few feet from each other and started to send her back and forth, getting further apart very slowly, in the pool that was about 4 feet deep.  Eventually, she would need to actually swim to reach one of us and once she realized it, she was over the moon and so proud.  She also had lots of compliments and support from her adoring “fans”.  Justin and I went to one of the many cooking classes and got tons of recipes to try of the food that we had been served during dinner.  I even got to ask a bunch of questions to their head chef.  The boys and Danielle entered a ship building competition, where they had to build a boat using materials from around the ship.  Before they started they had a lesson on buoyancy and then Justin and I let them loose on the design and fabrication, WITHOUT our help.  I decided this was a great way to slip in a science lesson without them even realizing it, they thought it was just a little contest.  Hehehe.  One of the rules to the competition was that it could not be tested beforehand and that it needed to hold 6 cans of soda.  They came up with a concept using empty milk boxes as the hull.  One morning the 3 of the set off to drink enough milk boxes for the hull, 12 in all.  I told them that they needed to make sure that they did not waste any food, I had no idea that they had planned on collecting all 12 boxes in one sitting.  We had a ton of comments about how they must really love their milk and that their bones must be so strong.  They had a great boat that floated and held all 6 cans, unfortunately, balance was an issue and the boat tipped to one side and dropped its load.  Justin and I were so proud of them, because they were the only kid team, everyone else were mature adults, and they did it all themselves.  They learned so much that they even came up with a better design to take into account balance.  They are just waiting for me to buy them 12 milk boxes.  All in all, we had a wonderful time on the cruise and were very happy that we were able to add a couple of stops in the South Pacific to our list.  

The kids at the boat building contest
Joel on the veranda of our cruise cabin

Saturday, December 19, 2015


We arrived in Sydney Australia after an overnight flight and we were beat.  We picked up the cars, we rented 2 smaller cars instead of 1 van because it was significantly cheaper. Then headed to the little house we would be staying at in a suburb called Eastwood.  We were so tired we just stayed there and tried to not sleep until bedtime.  I didn’t make it.  I fell asleep for 30 minutes and it felt great.  The following day was our wedding anniversary.  We found an Outback Steakhouse and had a wonderful romantic dinner, well as romantic as it can get with 4 kids in tow.  Justin and I thought it was pretty funny that they have Outback Steakhouses in Australia.  It is exactly the same as the ones in the states, except the staff’s accents are not fake and they don’t sell Fosters, apparently it is not Australian for beer.  We knew that when we arrived in Australia we would be replacing some items that we had run out of or outgrown.  Everyone kept telling us that Australia is “just like the United States.”  Well, they are right.  It felt very familiar.  There are a few differences like driving on the opposite side of the road, they DON”T sell Aussi hair products and Burger King is called Hungry Jack, but other than that things felt familiar.  We spent a day getting the things we needed and the rest of the time visiting some sites.  One of the days we took the River Cat (ferry) for 10 kilometers into Sydney harbor itself.  It was a great trip down the river towards the harbor and we got to see some fantastic sites.  While riding the ferry we got to ride under the Harbour Bridge.  It is huge.  We also saw quite a bit of people walking along the structure to get to the very top of the bridge.  That seemed like a terrible idea.  I have been told that each person is strapped to the next and so forth, great if one moron falls they all do.  Needless to say we were skipping that particular activity.  Once off the ferry we walked around the harbor and headed to the Sydney Opera House.  It is very impressive and I loved the magnificent view it has of the surrounding area and the harbor is indeed very nice.  I was surprised that the Opera House is off white and beige.  Seeing pictures of it I always assumed it was pure white.  Also, the entire outside structure is covered in 4x4 inch tiles.  The structure itself resembles large shells and it took over 15 years to build.  The architect finally resigned after many delays and cost overruns.  We walked around the outside and took in the views from every point.  I can see why this location was picked for this impressive building, it is quite a stunning area and building to welcome people arriving from the sea.   We heard an Aboriginal man playing a didgeridoo near the wharf.   We listened to him for a while and then the kids got a photo while looking at some boomerangs.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House
Danielle and Eden looking at the boomerangs with an Aboriginal man
We headed over to visit Darling Harbor.  We walked a few kilometers though town to get to Darling Harbor.  This harbor is geared more towards shopping and entertainment, definitely less industrial. We walked around and lo and behold found an amazing park were all the kids enjoyed some play time.  Although it is summertime in Australia, the weather during our stay was not very warm.  We had lower temperatures and cloudy days, but none of us minded. 

Darling Harbour
Another thing that we enjoyed while in Australia was visiting an animal sanctuary.  I had never encountered these animals before and at this place we could touch most of them.  We saw kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, wombats, and dingoes.  The koalas were the most adorable animals.  They had quite a few babies and it was fun seeing them snuggle with their moms.  Although it is illegal to handle a koala in New South Wales we were given permission to pet it while taking a photo with one.  They are so soft!  Yet I did see one of the handlers arms after one of the koalas scratched her for no reason. Ouch!! We also got to pet the kangaroos and wallabies.  Almost as soft as the koalas. One of the mothers had a little joey in her pouch and every once in a while he would peek out of the pouch, very cute.  I was a little nervous that one of them might try to kick me, but thankfully that never happened. They must be pretty used to having people around.  

Eden and Caroline with a Koala
During our visit they had an echidna presentation. We headed over to that.  Caleb had done a school project a couple of years ago about echidnas and until then I had never known this animal existed. They kind of look like porcupines, but they do not “throw” their quills.  We got to touch and pet them also, very different feeling, sort of hard and scaly. Their noses are pretty long in order to dig into to ant hills to eat.  During the presentation they were feeding them and I will admit that the smell of their lunch made me gag, some kind of raw meat and fly eggs, yum.  

Caleb with an Echidna
We also enjoyed presentations on dingoes and “little” penguins.  They are actually the littlest penguins that exist and are found along the western coast of Australia and are actually called little penguins.  We watched a Tasmanian devil run around this enclosure repeatedly.  I felt sorry for him and it made me appreciate seeing animals in their natural surroundings so much more.  We saw an enormous crocodile with his mouth gaping open. He had a huge mouth and I could see how he could easily swallow someone whole! I watched him for about 10 minutes and he did not move a muscle. There was a nice animal handler who was transferring a snake and a lizard who stopped pulled out each animal and let the kids pet them.  Eden was terrified and so to show her that it is not so bad, only because I don’t want her to have unreasonable fears, I touched the snake.  Yuck.  My fear is NOT unreasonable to me!  Once Eden saw me touch it she mustered up some nerves and pet the snake herself and said, “It’s kind of slimy.”  I thought it felt leathery.  We had a really wonderful time at the animal sanctuary.  It was neat to see animals that are not in the US.  

Tasmanian Devil
Kids examining a snake

A couple of side notes:  They do call everyone “mate” in Australia, so this cliché is true.  I did think it was funny.  Lots of people told us they love our “cute accents”.  Not sure what they are talking about because they are the ones with the cute accent.   Driving on the left side of the road is getting pretty easy.  We knew parts of Europe would be expensive but were very surprised that Sydney was so expensive, considering the strength of the US dollar. It was a close second to Singapore.

Southern Cassowary

Black Necked Stork

Friday, December 4, 2015

Bali and Singapore

Flying knight statue
We arrived in Bali, Indonesia and the sun had already set, yet the air was so hot and humid it felt like walking into a steam room.  We took a cab ride to the hotel and along the way saw some pretty awesome statues depicting Hindu stories.  One in particular, the flying knight, which is located near the airport looked amazing all lit up.  The following day, we headed over to the pool to cool off. Getting in to the water was great.  The water was so warm that you could just dive in without feeling that uncomfortable cold on your tummy.  The pool was very deep, about 10-12 feet.  They have the pool this deep to keep it relatively cool.  They do have a kiddie pool that was about 1 foot deep and it was significantly warmer, too hot for me, but Eden loved it.  Also, along one side of the deeper pool they had 3 in pool loungers that Eden loved to play on, and Justin and I liked relaxing on.  Danielle went off to the kids club and really had an amazing time with all of the activities they had planned daily. The kids made sand art, did palm weaving, made muffins and played lots of games.  

Joel and Eden at the pool

Making muffins
We had decided to keep a low profile and stick to the area where we were staying.  So every day we went to the pool, ordered some fun drinks, checked out nearby restaurants and amenities.  One of the days all of us except Eden, went for a massage.  I had thought that the cost of massages in Phuket were reasonable, but here in Bali they were downright cheap.  A one hour massage turned out to be $4 including tip!! We went in turns, so I went first with Caleb and Danielle.  Once done, it was Justin and Joel’s turn.  Needless to say, we were all feeling rather relaxed and my back felt great.  That afternoon, Danielle learned Balinese dancing at the kids club.  They also dressed her up in a traditional Balinese costume.  Danielle asked if I could take her back to our room to show everyone else and they told her she could go.  Once Eden saw her, she wanted to get dressed up too.  In the end, the boys even decided to try the traditional men’s costume.  They all looked amazing.  They had done full makeup on the girls and even did their hair.  The costumes are so colorful and very pretty.  I personally loved all of the adornments in their hair.   

Danielle in Balinese attire
Eden liked being dressed up

All the kids dressed up in Balinese attire

On another day the ladies went for pedicures.  This was a little pricier at $5 including tip, but what the heck it was worth it.   The place we stayed offered cultural shows every other night and man was this a treat.  We experienced the traditional Kecak dance which is also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant.  The troupe of 30 men chanted “cak” while moving their hands and arms. There are also 4 other characters/dancers that appear at different times in the story.   The dance depicts a battle from Ramayana, a Hindu poem.  It was very interesting and almost trance like.   

Ramayana Monkey Chant Performance
With the performers after the show

On another evening we were treated to the lion dance.  This was done by a troupe of teenagers that used only percussion instruments.  There were 4 other teenagers that were in 2 different lion costumes (2 performers per costume). This is a traditional dance that is done for the New Year or religious festivals.  Eden was terrified of the lions.  We had to take her over to the side, away from the main stage.  Eventually one of the lions came over and they were very nice, trying not to act scary.  After a while, she warmed up to it and pet the lion.  My favorite dance was the fire dance. This dance was accompanied by 3 drummers.  Two of the dancers were female and they came out several different times with different fire accessories. Some looked like candelabras, others were rings of fire.  Each dance was beautiful and mesmerizing.  There were also two male dancers that came out with fire poi balls and batons.  At one point they twisted the 2 poi balls together and then pulled them apart to have them spin quickly.  The fire actually resembled a blade on a saw!  They took this and slowly traced a circle around their head, at a very close proximity to their face.  It was amazing.  Caleb especially liked it.  Last year in school Caleb participated in a hooping and spinning class.  Their last showcase consisted of them each doing at least one performance with one object on fire.  Caleb had chosen the poi balls. I know, right, I couldn’t believe they had a class like this in public school, no less with middle school boys, very brave teacher.  I will say I was more at ease watching the strangers perform then my own son.  I was the parent that kept gasping every time the fire came too close to Caleb, which during a fire performance is the whole time.  We all fully enjoyed the fire performance and Caleb was excited to share pictures of it with his teacher.  

Kids with the lions

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Bali and there was no turkey in sight.  We had wonderful tapas and traditional Balinese food with some amazing drinks.  All of it was delicious and we had a wonderful, yet unconventional, Thanksgiving dinner.  

Getting to Singapore from Bali ended up being much more difficult than expected.   There is a volcano in Indonesia, Mount Barujari, in Lombok, the island adjacent to Bali, that has been erupting on and off for a few weeks.  The ash from it got so bad that, in early November, the airport in Bali was closed.  Justin and I had been keeping ourselves abreast of the situation in case we needed to change our plans.  Everything seemed to mellow out so we went forward with our plans.  Once at the airport to leave Bali, we got a different story.  Our airlines, Jetstar, had turned the plane coming from Singapore back to Singapore when it was ¾ of the way to Bali, they said, due to the volcano.  So, in fact we had no plane for us because it was in Singapore.  While keeping informed of things in Bali before we even arrived, we had heard that Jetstar was pretty conservative and had cancelled flights longer than all the other airlines, for about 10 days.  Justin and I went to the board and no other airlines had cancelled any flight, in fact the volcano had not had any new eruptions since the earlier part of November.  Justin and I decided to get our luggage back from Jetstar and rebook our flight with another airline.  What a headache!! Oddly enough Jetstar refunded our full amount and we were able to leave Bali 10 hours late.  We could not miss our flight because we had booked a cruise out of Sydney and we could not miss that.  Once in Singapore we all breathed a sigh of relief.  

The following day we had a very late night flight to Sydney so we had the entire day to visit Singapore.  Justin and I had wanted to stay longer but since Singapore is now considered the “most expensive city in the world” we did not want to break the budget.  We had a great time in Singapore. Our first stop was Chinatown.  It is so lively and animated.  There are hundreds of different shops and restaurants.  I had wanted to get each of the girls a cheongsam, a Chinese dress, and a pair of embroidered Mary Janes.  We found both and got them each one. It looks totally adorable, they will be wearing it on the formal dinner nights on the cruise, can’t wait.  We picked up a few other items and grabbed a drink at one of the restaurants.  Justin and I had a Tiger beer, it is brewed locally in Singapore.  It tasted great and really hit the spot since it was about 95 degrees and 90% humidity. We were all so hot!! Caleb’s hair looked like a sponge, and we all had sweat pouring down our backs.  

Singapore Chinatown
We headed to the metro which was a little cooler and after a couple of stops ended up in an area called Marina Bay.  This place is incredible.  They have a botanic garden with these huge structures that look like enormous, 50 meters tall, trees called the super trees.  Around the outside of each “tree” is a living wall.  The super trees are surrounded by beautiful gardens and it is all free to the public. We had a great time exploring the gardens and taking in the views.  But it was still really hot.  We then headed over to the building that is adjacent to the super trees.  This building is called Marina Bay Sands, and is 3 separate towers that are connected at the top by a building that looks like a large ship.  It is the oddest and coolest thing that I ever saw.  It is said that the architect built it that way in case there was another worldwide flood, he at least had a place he could go, his own personal Noah’s Ark?  We headed toward the shops and ended up getting lunch at a food court that consisted of every different kind of Asian food imaginable, the kids were in heaven.  It was very nice to see the city of Singapore decorated for Christmas.  It was the first time it felt a little Christmassy.  We walked around the harbor and took in the sights then headed to the airport for our overnight flight.  I will say if we had more time and money both Justin and I would have loved to stay in Singapore longer.  The city is beautiful and clean, the architecture is amazing and the people are so nice.  We all loved it.  

At Marina Bay

The Super Trees
Marina Bay Sands with ship-like structure on top of 3 buildings

Overnight flights are horrible, full grown humans trying to sleep in a tiny seat that barely reclines while tiny humans try to use you as their own personal pillow.  No one really sleeps.  I hate overnight flights!!  

At the mall with Christmas Tree

Helix bridge

Singapore skyline at dusk

Monday, November 23, 2015

Phuket, Thailand

Eden near the hotel pool
After getting up at 5am in Marloth Park, driving 4 ½ hours to Johannesburg, taking a 10 ½ hour flight to Singapore, waiting 6 hours in the Singapore Airport (our flight got delayed), taking a 1 ½ hour flight to Phuket and a 30 minute car ride to the hotel we finally arrived at 3pm the following day.  We had traveled for 28 hours and had a small amount of sleep.  Of course the first thing Justin and I wanted to do was lay down and sleep, the first thing the kids wanted to do was go to the pool.  So we went to the pool.  Actually, the pool is pretty great.  They have a kiddy pool with a small but fast slide and a splash zone with lots of water squirting from the ground and other features.  Eden asked to go to the pool every day.  Once we finally got to bed we slept for 15 hours and when Eden did wake up she stated, “I can’t sleep anymore.”  We decided that since we still felt rather jet lagged we would just spend the day at the resort.  Up to this point, we had not stayed at a resort of any kind and Justin and I decided that since our time in Phuket was short, 1 week, we would go ahead and book something fancier.  The resort has a kids club, which Danielle, our little social butterfly, took full advantage of.  She had the schedule in hand and knew exactly what she wanted to participate in.  She got to make all sorts of things including puppets, ice pops, cookies and elephant hats to name a few.  Caleb and Joel played table tennis and lots of water volleyball.  Eden went down the pool slide, a lot. Justin and I partook of some pool side drinks and then we headed to a Dim Sum buffet for dinner.  Now, just to let you know, our kiddos would rather eat Asian food any day than anything else, so we all took full advantage of the buffet and left feeling very stuffed.  At the hotel we met the housekeeping manager, Joelle.  Joel was very excited to meet the female version of his name.  She is from the Netherlands and has been working in Phuket for 1 ½ years.  We got to talking and she offered us some wonderful advice on things to visit and do while on the island.  She is such a nice and charming person, we really had a great time getting to know her. The following day we took Joelle’s advice and picked up some bikes at the cycle center in the resort and biked around the adjoining resort.  We then headed towards a nice lake that has a path all the way around.  The entire time we were here the temperature has been 90 degrees and about 90% humidity, so it is very hot.  The air feels thick, almost like you can grab onto it.  So needless to say, we got rather hot on our bike ride.  I was not exerting much energy, yet I felt like I was melting because I was drenched in sweat.  After our bike ride we headed over to a restaurant for lunch called Bill Bentley’s which was a take on and Irish pub of all things.  I skipped the Irish dishes and ordered a Pad Thai that was amazing.  The shrimp was so succulent and the flavors were extraordinary.  After lunch we headed over to the beach to take a dip in the Andaman Sea.  Well, that had to wait because the waves were rather large and the sea was rough.  Since we were still hot and ready to swim we just headed back to the resort pool.  

Going on a bike ride
At the JW Marriott in Phuket
The following day we headed over to the adjoining resort to watch the turtle feeding.  The area where we are staying, Mai Khao Beach, is one of the last beaches where green sea turtle come to lay their eggs in Phuket.  Once they lay the eggs, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation retrieves them and hatches them in a protected environment.  Twice a year the turtles are released.  The turtles that we were able to see are 3 of the turtles that, due to disabilities, are not released into the wild.  The first turtle, Tommy, was born without eyes.  JJ has a deformed shelled which does not let him swim correctly and the last turtle, Keiko, has been released 3 times but he keeps coming back.  We had a great time watching the turtles eat.  I thought it was interesting that they feed Tommy seaweed with chopsticks because he has a difficult time finding the food in the water.  They need to keep him in a smaller pool because he is easily confused.  The kids were given special pellets and were able to feed JJ and Keiko.  They all had a kick out of that.  After the turtle feeding we walked over to the beach and each got a 1 hour beach massage.  Now, I had never expected my kids to have a massage at their age but when they are only 400 Thai Baht ($11) for 1 hour, Justin and I thought why not.  They boys went first and Danielle and I went second.  Eden did not get a massage because, as she would put it, all she would do is “screw around.” It was amazing.  I felt so relaxed and mellow.  I thought at this price I may just come back every day!  
Danielle at the turtle center
Joel and Caleb getting a Thai massage
Later that afternoon we headed over to a dinner and Thai cultural show called FantaSea.  Once we arrived Joel saw the sign and said, “Wait a minute is that how you spell fantasy?  Have I been spelling it wrong this whole time?”  I laughed so hard.  “No, dude, you’re spelling it right.”  Walking in, I had this weird Disney moment.  There are parts of it that are very Disney like and then there are parts that are very Thai.  We headed over to the restaurant for dinner and walking in we were blown away by the sheer size of the place.  It could easily seat 2,000 people.  Here we had a Thai buffet and every dish I tried was amazing.  I think the green curry was my favorite, but the beef meatballs in this brown sauce was a very close second.  Joel went back 7 times.  Justin and I felt like Joel carried the team and made sure we got our money’s worth.  After dinner we had a little time to kill before the show so we walked around and went to check out the elephants.  You could take an elephant ride, but while the elephants were not busy they let you pet and take pictures with them.  Of course we went over and petted the elephants.  Then we snapped a few pictures.  One of the handlers tried to get Eden to sit on the elephant’s trunk for a picture but she wanted nothing to do with that.  A very nice man bought some bananas and sugar cane to feed them and gave some to the kids.  So Caleb, Joel, Danielle and Eden got to feed the elephants.  Once the food was gone the man came back with more and again gave it to the kids.  They were delighted to be able to feed them. It was so cool how they eat.  They take the food right from your hand so gently and pop it right into their mouth.  We thanked the man and headed to the show.  I was totally blown away by the man’s generosity.  The show itself was a mixture of cultural music and dance with animals, the main ones being elephants.  There were 15 different elephant on stage and also goats, water buffalo, doves, a horse and some chickens.  It was very interesting and we had a great time, except Eden did not like the pyrotechnics, she did love the fact that they dropped tons of balloons from the ceiling at the end of the show.  Here is a quick side note.  During the show there is absolutely no photos or video to be taken.  To insure this, you are to hand over all cell phones and cameras before entering the theater.  No one seemed to mind.  Justin and I thought that if they tried this in the United States there would be a huge backlash.  By the way, they go through your bags and pat you down to make sure everything is turned over and nothing gets past them.  Weird.  
Phuket FantaSea
Entrance to FantaSea
Palace of the Elephants where the night show is held

Getting close to an elephant
The elephant snatched the food right out of Danielle's hand
Eden enjoyed this rather unique faucet/sink at a FantaSea bathroom
Since we got back after 11pm, we stayed at the resort for the following day.  In the afternoon, Joel and I headed over to a nearby restaurant, Thai Express, for a cooking class.  We had a great time learning how to make papaya salad, spicy shrimp soup, chicken green curry, pad Thai and ruby red dessert.  We got to try everything as we made it and all of it except for the ruby red dessert was delicious.  I am not a pudding person so I didn’t love the texture.  I was amazed at how fast it is to cook.  The prep work is what takes the longest but the actual cooking time is 10 minutes or less per dish.  And everything was so flavorful.  We got to bring home all of the leftovers so the rest of the gang could give it a try.  They were impressed.  I told Justin that once back in the States, Joel and I will be having a dinner party serving these great recipes!  Every good chef needs and even better sous chef.  After dinner we headed over to the ice cream shop, Swensen’s, just down from where we were staying.  I have to say that I have found it rather interesting which America businesses are abroad. Here in Phuket there are tons and tons of 7/11s, KFC,s and Swensen’s ice cream.  I had thought that Swensen’s went bankrupt, but I guess not.  Lucky for Eden she was able to get her strawberry ice cream fix.  
Caroline making Pad Thai
The following day we had hired a van to take us around the island and visit a few paces.  Justin and I had decided that driving ourselves in Phuket was a bad idea since we had heard that sometimes accidents are not accidents at all.  Well, I was glad with our decision because the driving is crazy.  So picture this, three lanes in the same direction, the driver is in the right lane and the road curves to the left, so the driver shoots over to the left most lane.  Who cares if there are cars around, just shoot over.  Then the road curves to the right and we shoot back over to the right most lane.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Your lane goes away, no problem just cut off your neighbor.  I was very glad we did not rent a car.  Although the drive was crazy the scenery is beautiful, rich, green jungle.  Justin and I found that the city itself is cleaner than other places we have visited, Mauritius for one.  People have pride in the land and in what they have and it is very evident.  I love that.  After about an hour we arrived at our first stop, an elephant trek in the jungle.  The boys got on a fourteen year old male elephant named Lucky and the ladies got on a 16 year old female elephant named Sara.  We headed down the slope and when you are on top of an elephant’s back it seems much steeper.  Once down the slope we stopped and the handler took some pictures for us.  Then he told Caleb and Danielle to climb towards the elephants head and sit right behind it.  Danielle had nothing to hold on to, but she did great.  She ended up continuing the rest of the trek there.  After a while Caleb moved back to his seat and Joel took the spot.  All three of the kids were thrilled to have been able to not only ride an elephant but ride right behind the elephant’s head.  Once we got off of our elephants we got to pet a baby elephant.  I absolutely love that the baby had this pokey black hair sticking straight out of his head.  It was so adorable.  Their skin is rough and thick and their trunk seems to be constantly searching for something.  We found out that their trunks are made up of 100,000 muscles! 
Ready to go
View of the coastline from the elephant trekking site
Stopping for a snack
Not to be left out, the lady elephant took her turn for a snack
We continued down the road to visit the “Big Buddha”.  I think that that is a funny name, but that is really what it is called.  It is as it sounds a big, as in huge Buddha at the top of a mountain.  The view point in magnificent and the Buddha itself is pretty incredible.  It is completely covered in small 3in x 3in white marble tiles.  It is built by private donations only.  
Big Buddha
View of the water from Big Buddha site
Once done visiting the area we headed down the mountain to Chalong to have a seafood lunch.  We stopped at a restaurant that was chosen by the driver right on the sea front and thought this is going to be good.  We ordered some prawns and rice to share.  They brought the platter out and we all dug in. The meal was so so at best.  Justin and I were rather disappointed.  We had figured that being right on the waterfront, you would have some fantastic seafood, but I guess location is not everything.  The shrimp had little to no flavor, kind of like the rice.  To make matters worse it was grossly overpriced.  
After lunch we headed north to take a long tail boat to Naka Island.  Joelle had suggested that this would be a great and economical way to visit another island.  She was right.  Our driver was able to negotiate for us and off we went.  A long tail boat is mainly used by the locals to fish and get from place to place.  Riding in the boat was a unique experience in itself.  The scenery along the way was stunning.  In the distance, we could see these other island that are taller as opposed to wider.  They are towering rock formations just sticking out of the water.  Once we arrived on Naka Island we got off the boat and set up on the beach to go swimming.  The water in Phuket is a beautiful green color and very clear, and the sand is, in Caleb’s words, “like your sugar in the raw, mom.”  We all got in the water for a nice swim to cool off.  Unfortunately after 30 minutes the kids started to complain that something was stinging them.  As luck would have it each of the kids got stung by a jelly fish or two. Oww!  So we headed back to our boat a little sooner than expected.  The boat owner took us a different way back to be able to see more and that was greatly appreciated.   The scenery is really beautiful and so peaceful.  It was later in the afternoon and the sun was lower on the horizon and the water was absolutely calm.  There were no other boats in sight.  It felt like the entire bay danced in the sunlight just for us.  We headed back to our place and Justin picked up some green curry for dinner.  We had a pretty awesome day.
Our long tail boat.  Engine sits on top of long propeller shaft to the rear
On the long tail boat to Naka island
Jagged islands in the distance
We had one more full day in Phuket before leaving and we decided to hang by the pool in the morning, eat lunch at Bill Bentley’s again.  Then we did a bike ride.  I had one more beach massage, amazing!  And then met Justin and the kids at the beach.  Caleb and Joel tried the kayaks and Danielle got a boogie board.  We had a great time swimming in the Andaman Sea.  Then all of a sudden the sky got dark and it started to downpour.  We all made a run for it but by the time we got back on the bikes and rode to the resort we were beyond drenched, although we all laughed the whole time.  Luckily, the rain is nice and warm.  Phuket has been a great experience.  They say that it is the land of joy and smiles, and I can say that I really think that it is very true.  Everyone we have met has been so nice and happy.  Phuket is a truly amazing place. 

Joel and Caleb kayaking

Danielle trying out the boogie board