Many of you already know that I was in the United States for ten days in November for a family reunion. I flew from Paris into Houston and then stayed with my brother, Steve for a few days before our cruise with the entire family started. I was so glad to see everyone in my family again, especially my nephews and nieces who have really grown since the last time I saw them. Our party included every member of my family – seventeen people in all. Our ship was the new Carnival Magic. What a ship ! It’s huge ! Because it was the week of Thanksgiving, there were many people aboard with their families as well so lots of children were running around. Of course, the ship had many activities for them to participate in including their new water park called WaterWorks. For adults, there were places like the Serenity Deck and the Cloud Nine Spa which I took full advantage of. The cruise lasted seven days with stops in Key West, Florida and Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas. The weather was perfect every single day with plenty of sun and very warm temperatures. After boarding the ship in Galveston, I checked out my cabin on deck nine. It was a beautiful room with a balcony that proved to have exceptional views every night when the sun would set. Before we left the port, I took some time to sample some food on the Lido Deck—there was so much to choose from and each day brought new things to the menu. Our first port of call was Key West. I just loved walking around and seeing all of the old houses and buildings—The Art Museum was open but I chose not to go inside as there were many other things I wanted to see. There are some great buildings along Duvall Street including the old movie theatre, The Strand (now a drugstore) as well as Sloppy Joe’s Bar. At the end of the street is mile marker zero which claims to be the southernmost point of the United States. People were lining up in droves to have their photo taken but I wasn’t going to be bothered so I just snapped a picture of the marker and one picture of me near the sea. For lunch I had a Cuban sandwich, a beer and a delicious slice of Key Lime Pie from a place called Kermit’s. One very interesting place on the island was the old lighthouse. From the top, one could see for miles including our ship in the distance. The place I wanted to see the most however was the Hemingway House. Fortunately, by the time I strolled in, most of the tourists had left and I had an excellent opportunity to visit the rooms of the house and explore the grounds. The property has many cats. Very peculiar cats. They all have six toes instead of five. At the end of the day I got back on the ship and exchanged stories with my family about the different things we did. From my balcony, I could see some beautiful private islands and several large yachts. Our next day was a day at sea and my father booked early with the excursions desk a tour of the inside of the ship. Only two groups of 20 ever get to see this part of the boat which included visits to the crew’s quarters, the large galley, mega-laundry facilities, the morgue, the brig, and an exclusive visit with the Italian captain, Giovanni Cutugno on the main deck where he steers the ship. He allowed us to have our photo taken with him. As an added bonus, we were all taken to the very front of the ship for a group photo. The tour ended with champagne and free goodie bags that included backpacks and hats that say “Behind the Fun”. Our second port of call was the town of Freeport in the Bahamas. In 2008 they suffered from two devastating hurricanes which destroyed much of the island’s tourist industry. Fortunately, it is bounding back and our guide for the afternoon was a taxi driver named Patricia who took us to all of the places that are recovering from the damage as well as all of the pristine beaches including Paradise Cove. All of my brothers and their families joined me for a day at this private beach. We tanned in the hot sun, built sand castles and snorkelled in the sea. The coral and the fish were so colourful. I will always remember how pleased I was to have done this part of the island. Don’t I make a good middle-aged model ? Ha, ha, ha ! It was also my first time eating grilled conch. Yummy. Back on ship, I spent late afternoon on my balcony before going to dinner at the Southern Lights Dining Room. My whole family sat together at two large tables while three stewards who waited on us hand and foot to make sure our dining experience was exceptional served us every night. The food was delicious and every night I tried something different. The sunset leaving Freeport was stunning. The next port of call was perhaps my favorite, Nassau. The streets were busy with tourists since there were five large cruise ships docked here for the day. They included our ship, the Carnival Magic, the Norwegian Gem, the Disney Dream, the Carnival Pride and the Carnival Fascination. Along with its old colonial buildings, Nassau is famous for its fort at the top of the hill, Fort Fincastle as well as the old water tower. To get there, one has to climb the famous Queen Victoria Staircase carved entirely out of limestone in the 19th century by slaves. Nearby, there were plenty of souvenir booths selling handmade crafts and crazy shirts. I bought one although I only got to wear it once. I also bought a calendar, another hat and a Christmas tree decoration made from a conch shell in the shape of an angel. The views from the fort were great and once again, I could see all of the ships docked in the distance. Instead of choosing to book an excursion, I decided I would walk the city by myself and see many of its historical sights which included, Parliament Square with its statue of Queen Victoria, Ansbacher House near the Garden of Remembrance, the octagonal-shaped Public Library, Providence House, Government House atop the hill, as well as the staircase leading up to Govenment house with a statue honoring Christopher Columbus, a tobacco drying building and the National Art Gallery. Along the way, I tried to visit as many of the local churches as I could including St. Francis Xavier Cathedral--it was in a ruinous state. Next door to it was the more modern construction, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, and the most beautiful of them all, Christ Church Cathedral with its exquisite interior, stained glass windows, glorious organ and wood ceilings. It is truly a fine place to explore if you enjoy visiting religious buildings like I do. As for the rest of my family, they chose to take the bus to the private resort beach on the nearby Paradise Island. The large hotel on the island is called “Atlantis” and is famous for being one of the places where Michael Jackson lived much of the year before his death. I walked across the bridge to the resort and took a look at the beach and then did some shopping at the Marina tourist shops. For lunch I ate an enormous pastrami sandwich from Murray’s Marina Deli. Total price for the sandwich, chips and a drink : $25 ! That was outrageous but worth every penny since it tasted so good. After my meal, I wrote several postcards and bought some stamps from the post office in town. According to many of my friends, they still haven’t received their postcard ! Mail must be slow on the islands. It was November 24th, Thanksgiving and we had our second formal dress dinner at the Southern Lights dining room. Photographers were located throughout the ship to capture every moment. I had lots of professional photos taken but I only bought one from the day I left the ship for Freeport. The sunset leaving Nassau was so pretty. The next two days were days at sea. In that time, I relaxed in the Cloud Nine Spa, played some trivia games and joined the entire family for several hours of a professional photo shoot. We each went away with nearly 75 photos of us taken in a variety of settings throughout the ship. Earlier in the week, I won a karaoke contest which earned me a place in the final show at the end of the cruise called the “Carnival Legends Show.” The entertainment personnel aboard the ship dressed me up as Michael Jackson and taught me how to dance and to sing Billy Jean live on stage for all of the Carnival Magic passengers. I was so embarrassed and forgot some of the words but in the end, everyone said I did a great job. They gave me a free picture of the whole cast and a DVD of the entire performance. I would like to thank our Cruise Director James Charlton for showing us a great time all week. I admire how he was able to cope with so many different activities each and every day with thousands of passengers and crew under his wing. Bravo ! Most of all, I would like to thank my wonderful parents who planned this event and brought the entire family together for Thanksgiving. This being my first cruise, I truly enjoyed every minute and hope that we can cruise again in the future. Just for your information, I took close to 500 digital images but narrowed them down to about 75 to post on my blog.