Travel With Sara

An Adventure Around Every Corner

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Horseback Riding On The Beach In Gulf County Florida

I love to ride a horse while exploring. I was delighted to learn that after I was invited to visit Gulf County Florida that I was going to be able to ride a horse on the beach while visiting. There’s something about a beach and a horse. The experience looked so amazing to me. I can also tell you that the experience lived up to what I dreamed it would be.

Horse on beach

 

The good folks of Rockin’ M Ranch met our group near the beach at Cape San Blas, Florida. We had a gorgeous day to stroll the beach on horseback and I was excited! Russell was our guide and my horse Joey was a great trail riding buddy. The moment I met Joey, I knew we were going to be an awesome team. I learned that Joey was a rescue horse and was now thriving. He came to the folks at Rockin’ M Ranch in need of some TLC. He is now a healthy horse and very well behaved. Although, he was like other trail horses I have ridden on, he liked to be at the back of the pack or racing toward the front of the pack.

Horse on beach

As with any horse, let them know you are in control or they will wander where they know they are not supposed to go.

Riding a horse on the beach was very different from the trail rides that I had done in Rocky Mountain National Park and South Dakota. The beach was flat. When riding in the mountains, your body has to work a little harder to stay in the saddle. Horseback riding on the beach was a fantastic experience. I cannot wait to do it again! We had a nice size group, not too big, not too small- just right!

Horse Group on beach

Rockin’ M Ranch offers morning, evening, sunset and full moon horseback rides on the beaches of Gulf County Florida. Most importantly do not find yourself disappointed, make your reservations to ride as soon as your travel plans are set. I found horseback riding on the beach in Gulf County Florida to be extremely relaxing and a fabulous way to experience the beautiful beaches in Gulf County Florida.

*Thank you to Gulf County Florida for hosting me and providing me with this awesome experience. The opinions in this post are mine and nobody else’s.

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Tips For Visiting The Skydeck In Chicago

Visiting the Skydeck in Chicago is a must while in the Windy City. Myself and several North Iowa Bloggers recently ventured to Chicago and boy, did we have fun. We were on a whirlwind tour of the city, in approximately a 24 hour time frame. And I’m here to tell you, that you can experience a lot of what the Windy City has to offer in 24 hours. Our group was very grateful for the private tour of the Skydeck that we were given during our visit and as usual, the opinions expressed here are all mine and nobody else’s.

Flag in Willis Tower

In case you don’t know, the Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower. The Willis Tower is 110 stories tall and is the second tallest building in the United States. Here are some fun facts that will leave your jaw dropping:

  • World’s tallest building until 1998
  • Approximately 16,100 windows
  • You can see four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan
  • Now the eighth tallest building in the world and the second tallest in the Western Hemisphere
  • 25,000 miles of electrical cable

I also found it very interesting that a building this size has only two entrances. It’s more than likely very smart, as this way it’s easy to track who is coming in and who is going out.

When you do go visit the Willis Tower, be prepared for a security screening. Your bags and you, are subject to search. Your bags are placed in a scanner and you will walk through a metal detector. The process is relatively simple, but be prepared to wait in a long line. The line can get long really quick if someone has something on them that they should not be bringing into the tower. Remember, it’s in your best interest that the screening process is thorough.

The elevator ride to the Skydeck is quick. Your elevator will probably be filled with people and your ears will be popping. Once you step out onto the Skydeck, you will say, “Wow!” The view here are stunning.

The Skydeck can be challenging for some folks that fear heights. We bloggers stepped right out and had a lot of fun! The Skydeck can help you conquer your fear of heights, it’s truly a fun experience.

Skydeck Ledge Bloggers

Photo Courtesy of Skydeck

The ledge here goes out 4.3 feet. You definitely get a “new” view while stepping out.

Feet on Skydeck

I have been in this tower at different times of day through the years and I might add that sunset is a really nice time to visit. We visited mid-morning and it was fun to see the city coming to life. Chicago is one of those cities that seems to never sleep.

Still curious? Here’s a glimpse of what this amazing Skydeck has to offer!

There is ample parking near Willis Tower and it is within walking distance of many hotels in the downtown area. Our base camp was the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. We walked a little more than a mile to get to the tower and took the “long” route back as we stopped off for lunch at one of Chicago’s most well known restaurants. Stay tuned….. A re-cap of our fun dining experience is soon to come!

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Navigating Chicago From The Sheraton Hotel & Towers Near Navy Pier Is Convenient

Sheraton Chicago

 

Myself and seven other bloggers were recently hosted at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Chicago. We were provided with two adjoining rooms and admission to the Club Room. Upon our arrival we were greeted with smiles and informative employees at the front desk. I can honestly say that this is not always the case. I often check into a hotel and the employees at the front desk are not always friendly. In my opinion, the front desk employees at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago were top notch! And if you have ever checked into a hotel with a group of bloggers nearby, you know that we bloggers ask a lot of questions.

Bloggers at Front Desk

We arrived on Air Choice One through our local airport, as we were traveling with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce. If I were to do this same trip again, I would use the same transportation that we used on our arrival day. We used the train and our feet. Round trip, we spent under $10 to get to and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to the Sheraton Chicago. Note: Pack what you can carry while visiting Chicago. If you purchase souvenirs and the like, you can always ship them home.

The lobby was gorgeous at the Sheraton Chicago and our rooms were spacious  and clean with amazing views!

Centerpieces Sheraton

I am all about the views when I am in a city that seems to never sleep. Home to me is Rural Iowa, so anytime I have the opportunity to explore a big city, I enjoying looking at it from many different angles.

Chicago Buildings With Lake

The Club Room was something that I had never experienced. This room was located near the top floor of the hotel and offered amazing views, sodas, coffee , water and appetizers at different times of the day. Breakfast was also served here. If you are thinking the Club Room is something you would like to experience, mention it at check-in and I am sure the front desk employees will be glad to help you take advantage of this cozy place.

The Sheraton, in my opinion, is located near most anything and everything you would want to experience. We did walk to the Willis Tower (it was a walk, but well worth it) and over to Navy Pier, as well as Millenium Park. There is so much to do within walking distance of the Sheraton Chicago, that you could easily spend a whole week in the hotel and not see everything. And then there is the food, Chicago is all about the food. Stay tuned, as I have a really great food post coming about where you must dine while in Chicago!

If location is something you look for when booking a hotel in a city, I would highly suggest the Sheraton Chicago. I also felt very safe while out and about. A special thank you to the Sheraton Chicago for surprising our group with these amazing treats!

Strawberries at the Sheraton Chicago

 

* As always, the opinions in this post are mine and nobody else’s.

 

 

 

 

 

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Memorable Dining Experience In Orange Beach: Cayman Grill

Orange Beach, Alabama is home to some of the freshest seafood on the planet. You will find amazing food around every corner in this coastal community on the Alabama shoreline. The Cayman Grill offered a dining experience with stingrays, unlike anything I had ever experienced. Yes, you read that correct. We literally sat four feet from a large stingray pool while we dined on freshly cooked seafood and listened to “real” jazz music.

Cayman Grill is located on the bay front, which offers water views with ample outdoor seating.

Outdoor seating Cayman Grill

This is truly a destination restaurant that even the locals make plans to visit. We found the parking lot to be busy at all hours of the day. We made our reservations for 5 p.m. and thought we had beat the supper rush. There were a lot of people dining when we arrived, which told us, that this restaurant is popular at all hours of the day. First up, my usual shrimp cocktail! If I am near the Gulf of Mexico, this is a MUST for me!

Shrimp Cocktail

 

Several menu items were cooked on the wood grill and oven, which makes for some great flavor. The chef recommends wood grilling almost anything and everything! From pizza to surf ‘n turf, wood grilling wins out every single time. We did not dine on steak, but I can tell you that the table next to us had ordered steak and it looked delicious!

Meal at Cayman Grill

 

A local jazz musician took to the stage while we were dining and his music was fabulous. There was a dance floor nearby, so I am sure as the evening progressed, several patrons were planning to dance the night away at Cayman Grill.

Once we were done dining on fresh seafood, we made our way over to the stingray tank. It was fun to watch them swim and even touch them! There’s something to be said about a stingray tank in the middle of a restaurant, it’s something you do not see everyday.

Cayman Grill Stingray Tank

 

Cayman Grill is a must experience while visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast. The staff was super friendly and it was evident that they wanted to be sure that all of their patrons left satisfied. So, the next time you want a unique meal, head on over to Cayman Grill in Orange Beach, as you will be glad you did. If you need any other reason to visit Orange Beach, Alabama, by all means, head on over to the beach! The Alabama Coastline is home to the best beaches you will find anywhere in the United States. Until next time… Happy travels!

* A thank you to Cayman Grill, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores Alabama for hosting us. The opinions here are mine and nobody else’s.

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Tips For Flying Air Choice One Out Of North Iowa To Chicago

I recently had the opportunity to explore Chicago through Air Choice One, a local airline offering service from Clear Lake, Iowa to Chicago. The good folks from Visit Clear Lake, teamed up with the North Iowa Bloggers for an epic adventure. We departed the Mason City Municipal Airport on time with a busy 24+ hour itinerary in Chi Town!

Leaving on Air Choice One

Air Choice One offers the Cessna Grand Caravan planes. These planes seat a total of 8 passengers, plus two pilots. If you are prone to motion sickness, I would highly recommend that you take some medicine before boarding your plane. One of our passengers, Jeni, was ever grateful that she had done that. As you can tell, it’s a cozy, comfy flight!

On Air Choice One Plane

Our ride out was a little bumpy, as we did hit some turbulence. As with any plane, keep buckled and you will be fine. You will also want to pace your drinks before you board, as there are no toilets on board these planes. There is an emergency port-a-potty, should an emergency occur. I am thinking that most passengers, do not wish to be “that” person when it comes to using the emergency port-a-potty.

We arrived in Terminal 3 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. As with many airports, this is a big airport, but the signage was ample. We followed the signs to the train station and we were good to go and explore the sights and sounds of Chicago.

Signage in O'Hare

Our return trip home did not go so smooth. We arrived at the desk to check in, which I might add is at the far end of the terminal. Our boarding passes were printed and we were told our plane would be arriving approximately 30 minutes late. Our group was then asked to provide a couple cell numbers so they could text us regular updates. We gave them two numbers and never heard “boo.” Well, our departure time rolled around and there was not a sign of an Air Choice One employee at the gate and we had not received any text messages. We began calling the number we had been provided to find nobody home. Approximately 10 minutes later, the gate agent appeared and announced that our flight had just been cancelled due to weather. I will admit it, we were not happy campers, but we understood that safety comes first. I understand that weather is out of our hands, but it would have been nice to have received a couple updates letting us know that our flight was on time or still 30 minutes behind schedule.

Air Choice One did accommodate us to get our group home the next day. The friendly staff of Air Choice One made the delay in getting home much better. Five of us could fit on the 10:30 a.m. flight out of Chicago and the other three could get on the 5:00 p.m. flight. Eight hours in terminal three at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is not all bad. There is good food, lots of people watching and views like this!

Chicago O'Hare

Thankfully the weather was fine and we were able to get back home to North Iowa. Our flight back home consisted of three bloggers, three pilots (two in the cockpit) and one as a passenger, along with this nice man from Garner, Iowa.

Home On Air Choice One

My thoughts on flying Air Choice One. If you want to make a fun day of playing in Chicago or North Iowa, this is a great option. Who doesn’t like to play in the Sky Deck, right?

Sara in SkyDeck

I would book the flight a couple days out, to make sure weather looked good. These smaller planes cannot fly in the conditions that bigger planes can fly in. If wind, rain or fog is in the forecast, I would make other plans.

I love that we have this option here in North Iowa, as it does connect us with the world. O’Hare has so many connecting flights to many amazing places, which makes it a great place to fly into to connect. I would fly the day ahead, to be sure you did not miss your connecting flight. I have flown a lot the past year and I have had one (now two) flights cancelled, such as the flight to nowhere that happened when Thor arrived on the East Coast.

The best part of flying on Air Choice One out of the Mason City Municipal Airport is the fact that there is FREE parking! The amount of money that I would spend at a Park ‘n Fly in Minneapolis or Des Moines, easily covers the airfare for a roundtrip flight to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The other beauty? I was 15 minutes from home!

*I would like to thank the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce and Air Choice one for the opportunity to experience Air Choice One. The hospitality that we have in our local airport here in North Iowa is top notch!

 

 

 

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Three Reasons To Visit Gulf County Florida

I was recently introduced to an area of Florida that I had not explored, Gulf County. Florida is a huge state with a lot of unique opportunities and Gulf County alone was filled with a whole lot of opportunities. I quickly found three reasons why you need to visit Gulf County, Florida.

The People

Everywhere I went, I was greeted by a local person that was willing to answer my questions and talk about the weather. The local boat captains were also a bucket full of knowledge. While strolling through the Farmer’s Market in Port St. Joe, a local started talking to me and we quickly learned a lot about each other.

Farmer's Market

Chuck and his wife had moved to Gulf County from Kansas. They loved the weather, but most of all the people. I should also add that the hospitality in Gulf County was top notch.

Nature

If you love the great outdoors and water, Gulf County is your sliver of paradise. From fishing to strolling the beach on a horse, Gulf County has you covered. I can now check riding a horse on the beach off of my bucket list.

Horse on beach

 

A tip that I would offer anyone visiting Gulf County is to be sure to pack a pair of binoculars. The birding here is amazing. Bald eagles were fun to see out on the point of Cape San Blas and the osprey were beautiful in the Dead Lakes area. Sunrise and sunset were also experiences of their own. Each day brought a new view!

Food

Seafood lovers will absolutely love Gulf County, Florida. The oysters were abundant, and as many of you know; I am a lover of shrimp. I cannot get enough shrimp when I visit a location that is known for its fresh fish. Gulf County was no exception. There’s just something about dining in a coastal community with a plate of fresh fish. If you like to fish, you will more than likely end up with the opportunity to cook your own fresh catch of the day. And then we had crab legs…. they were so good!

crab legs

Gulf County, Florida did not disappoint me in any way. I cannot wait to share more of my adventure with you over the course of the next several weeks.

*Thank you to Gulf County Florida for hosting me and providing an experience of a lifetime.

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Three Reasons Why You Need To Book Your Summer Vacation To Rocky Mountain National Park Today

Many of you know that my family and I have been visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for several years. We hiked with our boys in Banff National Park when our youngest son was a year old, and he turns 20 this May. We quickly embraced our love of hiking and decided that the next summer we would hike closer to home. Rocky Mountain National Park was only twelve hours from home, as opposed to twenty plus hours from home. We visited Estes Park and have not missed many summers since. If you need encouragement on planning your summer vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park, here are my three reasons why you need to book it today!

Todd looking at mountains

 

Reason #1

Rocky Mountain National Park is celebrating 100 years this year! I cannot think of a better reason to visit. Why would you not want to be part of this year long celebration? This celebration started September 4, 2014 and runs through September 4, 2015. Follow along on Social Media to stay up to date on what’s going on. I can’t wait to get to Estes Park in August of 2015 as it’s always a great way to wrap up summer.

Reason #2

Rocky Mountain National Park is a nature enthusiasts paradise. From hiking trails that will leave you with your jaw dropped in awe of all the beauty around you to an elk in their natural setting. Tip: If you come upon a herd of elk on a hiking trail, stay back. This is not a time to be a hero with your camera. Pictures are ok, but keep your distance. Sprague Lake also offers a hiking trail for all park visitors, check it out. Wildflowers are all around, even in August.

Wildflowers

Reason #3 

The mountains offer solitude that you cannot find anywhere else. Plan a full day of hiking, pack your lunch and reflect on the beauty and majestic views that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer.

Todd and Sara hiking Odessa

A hike with your kids offers a time to talk about things you don’t normally talk about in your busy day to day lives at home. Let’s face it, the ability to connect with your kids is priceless. And the beauty of hiking, is the fact that your family is outdoors and unplugged.

Lodging is available in all styles near Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are opting to camp in the park, I would suggest you reserve your campsite as soon as possible. Estes Park is home to numerous hotels, cabins, cottages, condos and more. We have fallen in love with Wildwood Inn, which sits near one of the park entrances.

Have you visited Rocky Mountain National Park during the 100 year Celebration? If so, I’d love to hear about it! I am looking forward to visiting in August and being a part of this grand celebration.

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Three Midwest Day Trip Ideas From Minneapolis/St Paul

Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota are home to many people and there are several amazing locations nearby for memorable day trips. We have found three midwest destinations that we think you will enjoy. A little day trip can brighten your spirits and offer a new leash on life.

Stillwater, Minnesota

Stillwater Main Street

 

Stillwater, Minnesota is located about a 1/2 an hour East of St. Paul. This community is a river town that is bursting with history. Stillwater is the 1848 Birthplace of the state of Minnesota and is located on the scenic St. Croix River. We recently visited on a nice early April Spring day. The town had a sense of “waking up” as Winter had recently tried to exit.

Stillwater Trolley

The bed and breakfasts, restaurants, antiques and fun shops brought smiles. A stroll along the waterfront is always refreshing. Parking was abundant, but it was easy to see that during the busy season, parking could become an issue. I would plan to arrive early in the day to get the most out of a day in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Clear Lake, Iowa

Clear Lake is located two hours to the south on I-35 and makes for a fun summer day trip. It’s no secret that Clear Lake, Iowa offers some of the best water activities in the midwest. From boating to fishing, this lake is a happening place. While in town be sure to take a swing into the world famous Surf Ballroom & Museum. Here you will find some fun pictures and memorabilia that performers have left to share with visitors.

Beach Boys

And before you leave town, be sure to swing into The Barrel Drive-In, here you will find the best broasted chicken around! And in case you do not have plans for the 4th of July, I would highly recommend making lodging reservations a.s.a.p. to visit here!

Mall of America

The Mall of America is located in Bloomington, near the Minneapolis Air Port, and many local folks in the metro Minneapolis area have never been. So, here’s your invitation. Go and visit! This world famous mall is in the backyard of many that are, in my opinion, missing out. There are shops for everything you can imagine.Thrill rides, as well as kiddie rides all under one roof. And the beauty of this mall, the weather is always perfect! Where else can you experience shopping, unique dining experiences, an amusement park, miniature golf, and even an aquarium all under one roof?

Mall of America

So…. tell me. What are some of your favorite day trips from the Minneapolis/St Paul area? I’d love to hear about them. There are many amazing midwest destinations that are often overlooked and I’d love to hear your recommendations of where I need to venture to next.

 

 

 

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Cedar Point Opens For The Season On May 9th, 2015

Cedar Point is a roller coaster enthusiast’s paradise. If you love roller coasters, you will instantly fall in love with Cedar Point. If you are passionate about theme parks in general, Cedar Point will leave you with your jaw dropped. From the traditional Antique Cars to roller coasters of all speeds and size, you will find several attractions that meet your needs. Cedar Point opens for the season on May 9th, 2015.

Cedar Point Attractions

Rougarou (roo-guh-roo) is the new coaster for 2015! This floorless train will take riders on a legendary journey that travels 60 mph, while passengers feet dangle inches above the track and the murky water below. Rumor states, ” It Feeds on Screams. All Season. Long.” And I can tell you, the good folks over at Cedar Point, are usually spot on when it comes to describing their attractions.

Rougarou

Rougarou Ride Train (Photo Courtesy of Cedar Point)

If you are looking for a swamp like, fun roller coaster adventure, Cedar Point is where you will want to be this Spring!

What I really can’t wait to experience is the new rooms at Hotel Breakers. This hotel has underwent two years of renovations and I will admit, I am anxious to see the final product. I have stayed at Hotel Breakers several times and I can tell you, it’s a very nice place to stay.  It’s conveniently located near the park entrance and offers a fantastic way to experience Cedar Point and all it has to offer. Take a peek here at the newly renovated Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point.

 

 

With 511 Rooms and Suites, Complimentary Wi-Fi, Cedar Point Beach Access, Outdoor Water Play Area, and a Full Service Starbucks, just to name a few amenities when you stay at Hotel Breakers… Oh yeah, and how could I forget early entry into the parks? What’s keeping you from booking your stay now? With newly remodeled rooms, I have no doubt that Hotel Breakers will be booked solid most of the 2015 season, so do NOT delay booking your room today.

Cedar Point has become a family favorite of ours. It’s been fun for our family through the years. With so many fun opportunities, there is truly something for everyone at this mid-west vacation destination. Now is when you want to plan your summer visit to Cedar Point, so you won’t be disappointed to find your hotel booked. Book your room today and plan your vacation at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

I’d love to hear about your favorite attraction at Cedar Point. With so many to choose from, it’s hard to nail one down. Personally, I guess I am a softie, I really enjoy staying at Hotel Breakers and walking out to the beach. Can’t go wrong with a beach, right?

 

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The Carnival Sunshine: What’s A Little Rain?

Cruising on the Carnival Sunshine is always a fantastic experience, even when the rain begins to fall from the sky. Cruising is unique in that a little rain will not limit you from fun! On our last Carnival Cruise on the Sunshine, we had some days of sun and others we experienced rain.

 

Carnival Sunshine In Port

 

When people think of cruising they often think of sunshine and the beach. Yes, cruises are often made up of those things, but a little rain makes things a little more interesting. Cruise Director, Jaime Dee, made sure that everyone had somewhere to go, with something to do around the clock. If you can’t find something to do on the Carnival Sunshine, you are not going to find anything to do anywhere during your travels.

LIVE MUSIC

The Carnival Sunshine has live music playing in several areas of the ship. From country to rock ‘n roll, you will find a style of music that fits you. The friendly servers will gladly sell you the “drink” of the day, as well as a drink of your choice. If dancing is your thing, there will be an opportunity to try out some of your grooves. Rain or shine, the music plays on.

SHORE EXCURSIONS

Depending on your port of call, your shore excursion may or may not go on. By booking your shore excursion through Carnival Cruise Lines, you will know when your excursion is cancelled and what your other options may be. We arrived in St. Thomas on a very rainy day. Several cruisers had their excursions cancelled and spent the afternoon in the port area. We had planned on checking out St. Thomas by foot, so we had not booked an excursion.

 

Rain In St Thomas

 

However, we did get caught in a heavy downpour and were pleasantly greeted with warm towels upon returning to the Carnival Sunshine!

FINE DINING

Several options await you in regards to fine dining. If you find you are looking for that extra fun, due to the rain- go ahead, book that fine dining experience! Your spirits will quickly be lifted. I would highly recommend the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse and then head right across the hall to get ready for some fun in the Piano Bar.

PIZZA

Pizza on Sunshine

 

Pizza lovers will love the fact that pizza is available from 11 am- 11 pm. Rain or shine, you can always count on a hot slice of pizza.

GAME ROOM

The Kids Club and Game Room will keep kids entertained for hours on end. Take advantage of this opportunity while cruising, as your kids will have a blast. The Carnival Sunshine is not only an adult friendly ship, but also one of the best family oriented ships in the fleet.

Do you love taking photos? Cruising on the Carnival Sunshine, in any type of weather, offers amazing photo opportunities.

St. Thomas Rain

 

A little Caribbean Sunshine, as well as a little rain can make for some amazing photos. So, tell me…. Have you experienced a cruise in the rain? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.

*We paid for our own cruise. A thank you to Carnival Cruise Lines for providing wi-fi so we could stay connected.