Posts Tagged With: snorkeling

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is at the top of many a bucket list. One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s largest coral reef, and the only living thing on earth visible from outer space, it’s no wonder it’s a top tourist destination.  Over 2 million tourists flock to the Great Barrier Reef each year and we were keen to join the throng before climate change destroys it. If you’re interested in the science about threats to the reef due to climate change, you can read the National Ocean Service report here.

Our cruise on the Norwegian Jewel in February 2019 offered two excursions to the reef. We definitely wanted to book a cruise line excursion because we wanted to safeguard our plan as much as possible. We didn’t want to take a chance on missing the opportunity to see this natural wonder. The first excursion, on day 6 of the cruise, departed from the port of Airlie Beach and the second left from Cairns on Day 8. My friend, Lori, and I studied them and decided to book the first excursion on Cruise Whitsundays from Arlie Beach. We thought if the first excursion ended up canceled for any reason, we’d still have a shot at the second one.

On the morning of February 18, we boarded our catamaran directly from the cruise ship for the 2 hour trip to the Outer Reef. With clear sunny skies and calm seas, we enjoyed the views from our boat as we sailed toward Heart Pontoon at Hardy Reef. Before our arrival, the staff on our Cruise Whitsundays ship instructed us about snorkeling.

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Our ride

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Snorkel instruction

When we arrived at the pontoon, we got in line for the semi-submersible ride right away. We figured the lines would be long and they were. Although we noticed shorter lines later in the day, we were glad to have the experience of underwater views before we snorkeled.

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Arriving at Heart Pontoon

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Semi-submersible

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Semi-submersible

Honestly, the views from the semi-submersible (think glass-bottom boat) were somewhat disappointing. The glass windows seemed dull and scratched and the views were murky. We saw very little color causing me to wonder if we were seeing bleached coral.

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Goliath grouper

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Coral as seen from the semi-submersible

Following our ride, we ate a tasty lunch prior to snorkeling.

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After lunch, we donned our stinger suits. Stinger suits are lightweight lycra suits provided by all tour operators to protect snorkelers from the venomous sting of the box jellyfish. While they’re not especially attractive, I daresay I look better in a stinger suit than a bikini.

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Jim and I modeling stinger suits

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Jim and Rick ready to snorkel

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Lori and I are ready

I researched underwater cameras before our trip, planning to take lots of underwater photos at the reef while we snorkeled. I bought one with good reviews at a reasonable cost. (You can see my camera on a strap around my neck in the first photo of the stinger suits.) I should have saved my money. The challenge of managing my snorkel equipment and take photos at the same time was beyond my abilities and I soon gave up.

Opinions about the snorkeling experience itself were mixed. I felt safer staying near the ropes and I didn’t see a lot of colorful coral. Jim, on the other hand, stayed out there until he had blisters on his toes from the flippers. He offered rave reviews. He saw lots of colorful fish and some color in the coral. His favorite, however, was watching the giant clams (Tridacna gigas) languorously open and close.

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Jim and I prepare to enter the water

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Jim and I in the water

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Snorkelers along the guide rope

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Lori snorkeling

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Photo of Jim and me from under the water

I think our experiences differed mainly due to skill level. For those who lack snorkeling ability, the underwater observatory offered views of lots of colorful fish with little or no effort.

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View from the underwater observatory

Upon reflection, I realize I had unrealistic expectations of the Great Barrier Reef. I expected to see what I see on nature shows and photos on the internet. Fortunately, I purchased a package of photos and I’ve shared several below. Enjoy!

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Overall, I would rate our experience at the Great Barrier Reef a 9. Although we didn’t see as much color as I expected, the reef was, nevertheless, amazing and it’s an experience like no other.

Based on events from February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Puerto Aventuras 2017 Continued

Each year we look for new things to do while we’re in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. This year we found the Original Snorkeling Adventure to Puerto Morelos Reef National Park. The national park is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef which is the largest coral reef in the Americas and the second largest in the world. Only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is larger.

We booked this tour at one of the local tour agencies in Puerto Aventuras. For $89 per person, they picked us up in Puerto Aventuras, transported us 34 miles (55 km) to the park by mini bus, took us out in small groups to snorkel at three different locations, fed us a buffet lunch with an open bar, and returned us to PA after a seven hour day. It was loads of fun at a reasonable price.

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The grounds at the Original Snorkeling Adventure

 

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When we arrived at the park, we learned we had to pay an additional park entrance fee of $4, cash only. We’d brought very little cash with us but managed to scrape together the fee for the four of us. Some people didn’t have any cash with them and I don’t know what they did. We were also informed that only biodegradable sunscreen was allowed but fortunately I brought a credit card and could pay the $15 for it. We were directed to use the lockers available free of charge for valuables and used the bathrooms before boarding the boat.

I was surprised when I saw how small the boats were. It made sense, however, after the short ride to the reef. The reef is protected and snorkelers must be accompanied by a certified guide. Snorkelers are required to wear a life vest and are prohibited from standing on the coral. More than 14 snorkelers would be difficult for the guides to manage and keep watch over.

 

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One of the boats headed to the coral reef

 

 

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Chuck applying biodegradable sunscreen, Gail, and Jim on the boat

I’m not a strong snorkeler and in spite of the life vest, I floated low in the water which made me nervous. One of the guides gave me the life preserver ring which I laid on top of with my face in the water and I finally relaxed enough to enjoy the experience. In spite of my unorthodox approach, I managed to see the coral and lots of colorful fish but I was unable to take underwater photos with the camera attached to my wrist. I’m sure I was an odd sight and I wish I had a photo to share. After the first stop, I happily stayed on the boat taking photos and video of the others. Jim, Gail, and Chuck offered rave reviews of the second stop as well as their entire experience.

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Jim snorkeling

I took a short video of Jim snorkeling which you can see below.

 

After the first two snorkel sites, we had a break onshore before the final site. Gail, Chuck, and I decided to forgo the third site and elected to have a margarita instead. Jim forged on without us and ended up with blisters and raw toes where the flippers rubbed the skin off. Next time he’ll bring socks to wear under the flippers.

 

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Chuck, Jim, and Gail at lunch

 

The buffet lunch was tasty including salad, rice, beans, shredded pork, chicken, tortillas, and the open bar with beer and margaritas. They probably served soda, too, but I don’t remember since I didn’t consume any.

 

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My lunch

Bellies full, we adjourned to the beach to relax and soak up a little sun.

 

 

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Gail and me

 

I also checked out the hammocks which are perfect for a siesta.

 

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This is the life

 

 

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Goodbye to the Original Snorkeling Adventure

 

I’ve seen some negative reviews online of the Original Snorkeling Adventure but I respectfully disagree. Some of the complaints address the length of time it takes to pick up people from resorts all over the Riviera Maya. If you don’t have the time to spend doing that, you’ll want to pay the price for a private tour. We were on Mexican time and enjoyed the price, the experience, and the open bar.

 

Based on events in January 2017.

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Categories: Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sailing Fat Cat from Puerto Aventuras

If you’re looking for a fun-filled sailing experience while visiting the Riviera Maya, check out Fat Cat Catamaran and Sailing Tours. For $100 per person, we got a four-hour sailing experience that included drinks, lunch, music, snorkeling, swimming, and even the catch of a dorado.

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Our catamaran, Fat Cat Two

As we set sail at 9 am, most of the passengers were ready to party to the thumping dance music with drinks in hand–rum punch or beer. While I don’t usually succumb to sea sickness, I felt that alcohol so early in the day combined with motion might not set well on my stomach so I declined the offer and stuck with water until after lunch. My friend Gail definitely tends toward sea sickness so she abstained with me. I admit when drinks are included, there’s some pressure to imbibe, just to “get your money’s worth” but the seas were a little rough and I think it was a wise choice for both of us.

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Gail showing a Corona Mega

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Setting sail

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Jim as we set sail

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Out of the marina and into the open water

After sailing north toward Playa del Carmen for an hour or more, we anchored to snorkel. I snorkeled briefly but then returned to the boat to take photos instead. Someday I’m going to get a waterproof camera and take photos while in the water.

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Our group snorkeling

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Gail snorkeling

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Gail returns to the boat

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Jim snorkeling

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Jim returns to the boat

While in the warm, crystal-clear water, the snorkelers saw many varieties of colorful reef fish, stingrays, and sea turtles. When they were finished, everyone had worked up an appetite and it was time for lunch. The others had a typical sack lunch containing sandwiches, chips, and cookies but I requested a gluten-free lunch and I was thrilled with my offering of tuna, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.

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My lunch 

After lunch, we headed back at a leisurely pace.

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Jim enjoying the ride

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Enjoying a rum punch on the return trip

The fishing lines were trolling off the rear of the boat and we were thrilled to watch the staff land a dorado, also called mahi-mahi in Hawaii or dolphinfish in other places.  In Spanish, dorado means golden which perfectly describes this tasty fish. Everyone who cared to was offered the opportunity to pose with the fish.

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Gail with the dorado

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Jim with the dorado

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Laura (me) with dorado

We made a final stop near our marina for swimming. While there we discovered one of the other passengers onboard was a firefighter from Iowa who knows my brother through rugby. I’m always amazed by the connections we find with people as we chat.

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Swimming off the boat

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My handsome man

As we sailed into the channel to the marina, I got a photo of our condo from the water.

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View of our condo as we sail into the marina

It was a great day at sea and Jim was already talking about going again next year.

 

Based on events from January 2016.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Better than Finding 20 Bucks in a Cenote

I’m from a family of storytellers. Funny storytellers. I’m a storyteller, too, but not a very funny one. Or so they tell me. Years ago, my sons shared a technique to rescue my stories from a boring finish. At the end of a boring story, they told me to say, “…and then I found 20 bucks.”  It’s been useful at times.

While we were at the Latitude 20 Restaurant enjoying the results of our Mexican cooking class, we asked the women sitting with us about the cenotes in the area. A cenote (say-NO-tay) is a sinkhole created when porous limestone collapses into the underground water beneath it. Cenotes were sacred to the indigenous Mayan people who regarded them as the entrance to the underworld.  They were also the only source of fresh drinking water. There are over 7000 of these sinkholes on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and we definitely wanted to see some.

We got a helpful tip from one woman who told us a number of cenotes have been developed into Disney type tourist attractions and we first needed to decide what kind of experience we were after. The adventure parks or private tours in the area cost $100-$150 per person depending on the package which may include a guide, transportation, equipment, and lunch.

After studying the list of nearby cenotes and their amenities, we chose one that allowed snorkeling and provided minimal facilities including restrooms and a restaurant but not the crowded, popular adventure park atmosphere. Rather than hire a guide, we opted to do it ourselves at a total cost of less than $25 each. Our first stop was the dive shop to rent our snorkel equipment. We rented the snorkel tube, mask, fins, and life vest for the day for $10. Gail also rented a shorty wetsuit for another $10 as the water in the cenotes comes from underground and can be chilly.

 

Dive shop in Puerto Aventuras

Dive shop in Puerto Aventuras

Talking to the staff at the dive shop, we learned that Dos Ojos, the cenote we planned to visit, was closed that day, Saturday, for a Mayan religious observance. He suggested another cenote, Chikin Ha. So, Chikin Ha it was. On the highway outside Puerto Aventuras we hopped on the local bus, called a colectiva, to ride the couple of miles to the entrance at Chikin Ha. The cost was 25 pesos or about $2.

When we got off the bus there was a sign, a ticket booth, and a guy selling tickets. He collected our fee which was about $10 and directed us to walk 15 minutes down the dirt road where he said they would collect our tickets and direct us to the cenotes. We walked, and walked, and walked, toting our equipment and finally arrived more than a half an hour later. If I hadn’t seen signs along the way, I may have questioned whether we’d find anything back there.

The road to Chikin Ha

The road to Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha Ecopark

When we finally arrived, we were somewhat surprised to be almost the only ones there. The ticket taker seemed listless and disinterested and really preferred to talk on her cell phone rather than give us directions. I admit I thought maybe we’d made a bad pick. The restrooms were fine, however, so we used them and we were ready to explore the three cenotes in this park.

Chikin Ha Ecopark

Chikin Ha Ecopark

 

Chikin Ha

Chikin Ha

As we walked the path to the first cenote, we encountered this fellow with a Harris hawk. I have no idea why he and the hawk were there.

Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk

Cenotes range from entirely open, like a lake, to entirely enclosed within a cave and many variations in between. The first at Chikin Ha was open. The water was so clear that the limestone rock and fish beneath the surface were easily visible.

Open Cenote at Chikin Ha

Open Cenote at Chikin Ha

 

Chikin Ha Cenotes

Chikin Ha Cenotes

We decided not to snorkel in this cenote and moved on to the second. The second cenote was in a cave and we struck up a conversation with the young couple we encountered swimming in it. Hannah and David were from Australia traveling around Mexico and heading next to Cuba. They had been to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, and disliked it as too touristy but they loved the ruins at Tulum because it was the opposite. They had talked to someone familiar with many of the cenotes in the area, and picked Chikin Ha based on the recommendation that it was exceedingly beautiful and not so touristy. I felt reassured that maybe this was a good pick, after all!

Gail and Jim in cenote

Gail and Jim in cenote

The line that you see in the photo above was very useful for guiding us across the cenote allowing us to keep our masks in the water to see beneath us.

I'm going in!

I’m going in!

Swimming and snorkeling wasn’t allowed in the third cenote due to its fragile ecosystem. It was probably the most beautiful of the three and we could fully appreciate it without getting in the water. The turquoise color is so amazing and really more impressive than I could capture in photos. There were also many stalactites and stalagmites in this cenote.

Cenote at Chikin Ha

Cenote at Chikin Ha

We observed a candle ceremony at the back of the cave of the third cenote. We assumed this was a Mayan religious ceremony of some sort.

Mayan ceremony at Chikin Ha

Mayan ceremony at Chikin Ha

When I was about to enter the water of the second cenote, I went to remove my Fitbit (an activity monitor) from my wrist and discovered it was gone. I howled to Jim, “Oh no, I lost my Fitbit!” Hannah asked, “What color is it?” I responded, “Orange” and she said, “We found it on the road on our way in!”  So, while I didn’t find 20 bucks on this adventure, something even better happened.

 

Based on events of January, 2015

 

 

Categories: Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Fit for Travel in 2015

Happy_New_Year_2015

On New Year’s Eve, one of my Zumba instructors asked me when I was going to write a blog post about Zumba. My first thought was, “I do a travel blog, not an exercise blog” and my second thought was, “Why not?” I’ve attended Zumba classes while traveling in northern Wisconsin; St Louis, Missouri; Sarasota, Florida; on a cruise ship in the Caribbean; and even in Krakow, Poland where the instructor didn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Polish but we both spoke Zumba which was good enough. It’s obviously travel-related for me. So, Brenda, this one’s for you.

When I’m at home, I go to Brenda’s class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and to Nikki’s class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It’s a fun way to get fit by dancing. You can go at your own pace and once you know the basic steps, you can go anywhere and feel comfortable joining the class.

Zumba with Brenda

Zumba with Brenda

Zumba Love

Zumba Love with Brenda

I’ve found Zumba classes all over the world while traveling, and if you want to find one near you, check out Zumba.com. The one below was in O’Fallon, Missouri at the YMCA.

Zumba at O'fallon Family YMCA, O'Fallon, MO

Zumba at O’fallon Family YMCA, O’Fallon, MO

When not going to Zumba, I still try to stay active wherever I go. There are lots of opportunities to move your body that enhance the travel experience and don’t feel like “working out.” So here are just a few suggestions I’d like to share.

First of all, we walk–a lot–wherever we travel. If a point of interest is within walking distance, we walk rather than ride. I admit it’s probably more about my budget travel goals than getting exercise but it’s also a healthier option. And sometimes you can’t get there unless you hike, like we did in Krakow, Poland. Michael took us to see Kościuszko Mound which involved a long hike through a forest and then when we got there we still had to climb the mound. But the view was totally worth it.

Krakow, Poland

Hiking in Krakow, Poland

Kościuszko Mound, Krakow, Poland

The trail circles the mound with no railings until you reach the summit at Kościuszko Mound, Krakow, Poland

Kościuszko Mound, Krakow, Poland

View from the summit of Kościuszko Mound, Karakow, Poland, April, 2011

Closer to home, you may recall my post from July 15, 2014 about the hike my husband and I took around Devil’s Tower, Wyoming or the July 22, 2014 post about hiking part of the Spokane River Centennial Trail with my girlfriends. If you don’t remember, that’s a shameless plug to check them out.

Devil's Tower, WY

Devil’s Tower, WY

Spokane River Centennial Trail

My friends hiking the Spokane River Centennial Trail, 2014

Another option is to ride a bike. Bike rentals are often inexpensive and add an experiential dimension to any trip. We rented bikes on several occasions in Belgrade, Serbia and Lucca, Italy which got us farther than we could have gone by walking but still enabled us to enjoy our surroundings at a leisurely pace.

Belgrade, Serbia

Biking to Ada Ciganlija, Belgrade, Serbia, Sept. 2010

Biking the ramparts in Lucca, Italy, 2013

Biking the ramparts in Lucca, Italy, 2013

Even hitting the links or the pool is fun, especially when entertaining children. Of course, you can’t take your golf game too seriously with children, which I think is a good thing.

Golfing at Winghaven Country Club, O'Fallon, MO

Golfing in Missouri

Pool at Winghaven Country Club, O'Fallon, MO

Pool Time

If you’re more adventurous, try snorkeling. Most rentals will give you instructions but it’s pretty easy especially if you’re near the shore and can stand up if you start to feel uncertain. It’s such a great way to enjoy tropical marine life in the Caribbean. The coral and the colorful, iridescent tropical fish look amazing when viewed from underwater.

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Still more water options include kayaking and paddle boarding, both of which are much easier than you may think.

Kayaking in Isla Mujeres

Kayaking at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Paddle boarding in Florida

Paddle boarding in Florida

Cruise ships are notorious for weight gain among their passengers so to counteract this threat, I make an effort to do something active every day. We always explore the fitness center as soon as we board the ship so that we know what is available and where to go to find it. On every ship we’ve had weight machines, free weights, treadmills, and elliptical machines in the fitness center. They also offer classes that may include pilates, crossfit, Latin dancing, stretching, abdominal work outs and more. Some of the classes charge a fee, however.

Fitness Room on the Norwegian Star

Fitness Room on the Norwegian Star

We also like to play a little shuffleboard which probably doesn’t burn a lot of calories but at least we’re moving. Notice the walkers behind our friends on this deck, too.

Shuffle board

Shuffle board

Our last cruise on the Norwegian Star had a water slide and I even had a turn at that just for the fun of it.

Water slide on the Norwegian Star

Water slide on the Norwegian Star

There are really so many fun ways that support fitness while traveling that it’s not difficult to find something you’ll enjoy. If you really dislike any form of exercise, however, here’s a suggestion. I received a Fitbit Flex as a Christmas gift and it tracks every step you take, syncs with your computer, iPad or smart phone, and shows you the results. Health experts tell us we need to take 10,000 steps a day. With this on your wrist, you’ll see how many steps you’re taking all day long and find out whether you need to do a little more. I love it and you may, too.

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Flex

Do you make any New Year’s resolutions? I usually try to think of a few ways to improve my health and fitness but not commit to anything that will likely result in failure. This year I’m resolving to take 10,000 steps each day. Fortunately, the Fitbit tells me that one hour of Zumba racks up over half of those steps each day and burns 300-500 calories.

Yes, that's me in the headband at a Zumba Pretty in Pink fundraiser against breast cancer

Yes, that’s me in the headband at a Zumba Pretty in Pink fundraiser against breast cancer

 

Brenda

Brenda between my friend and sweaty me (post workout)

“Ditch the Workout, Join the Party” as the Zumba slogan goes. I’ll look for you there!

Share how you stay fit while traveling and/or your fitness goals for 2015 in comments.

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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