Sunday, February 21, 2016

Report: 2016 Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise

It was Monday, February 15, 2016 and we were waiting for our shuttle to the ship in downtown Miami at our hotel and another guest, cruising on a different ship, asked us: "You aren't going to be in marriage counseling all week, are you?"! LOL! Here is a short recap of our 2nd cruise with FamilyLife aboard the Carnival Victory. Enjoy!

Our history with FamilyLife out of Little Rock, AR goes way way back to a marriage conference we attended in downtown Akron in the 90s but then really began in 2001 when we attended our first small group study in Colorado Springs. Since then, we've attended several of those, led some, led a few Art of Marriage retreats, a few men's retreats via the Stepping Up program and we even returned to the Weekend to Remember getaway a few years ago, again in Akron. We've even used their phenomenal "Passport 2 Purity" curriculum in raising/teaching our girls. Last February, we sailed on our first Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise aboard the Carnival Ecstacy. It was much so that we booked the 2016 sailing before we left the ship. We've cruised many times but this is very different. We still enjoyed the "cruising lifestyle" but instead of ship's entertainment, art auctions, and bingo, many authors, speakers, comedians, and musical artists cruise with us and bring us entertainment, teaching, etc. FamilyLife literally charters out the entire ship so it's just us...and it sells out every year far in advance of the sailing. So enter 2016...

Post-Workout at CrossFit Vida
We flew to Miami a day early just like last year. This really alleviates the stress of flying out of Cleveland in the middle of winter on the day of sailing. One never knows what Old Man Winter will bring to Cleveland. We rack up points throughout the year and stay at a Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, just minutes from the Port of Miami. The logistics worked out perfectly, we enjoyed dinner Sunday night, got in a CrossFit workout on Monday morning at CrossFit Vida two blocks away and by 1pm, we were checking in at our second LLYMI marriage cruise. Like we always do, we dropped out luggage off in our room and navigated around the ship to get our bearings and discover where everything is...and eat, of course! Lunch was already being served. We snapped a few photos and sent them home before we set sail at 5pm.
Looking forward from the putting green back aft

Downtown Miami skyline from aboard the Victory on a 100% overcast day!
At 5:15, we had the plans set to meet friends we met last year from California. The doors opened for the first seating at dinner at 5:30pm so we were sure to show up, exchange handshakes and hugs and claim our table. Daniel and Cara definitely influenced us a bit in booking this year's cruise. I remember them showing up to dinner last year having booked wasn't long after that and we did as well. We also welcomed in a few more couples to our table of 8 and enjoyed our first dinner as we set sail for Grand Cayman! The first night's main session was at 7:45pm and after being led in a few familiar songs, Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) spoke. Afterwards, we found ourselves scrambling to the other end of the ship for 321 Improv. They were a comedy act and downright hilarious! We loved them. While we wanted to stay up to see Selah perform, we were beat and headed to bed.

Day 2: Tuesday (at sea): On a day at sea, the schedule is packed but it's really up to each cruiser what they want to do. Food is always being served somewhere (literally! the pizza bar is open 24 hours), the pool deck and pools are open, the gym and spa are open, but there are also breakout sessions taking place inside the ship. We decided to work out first so up to the gym we went. My bride did 3 miles on the treadmill and did some dumbbell presses and I got on the Concept 2 Rower, a familiar machine to me, for a sweat-pouring 5000 meter row. That was miserable! But, I got it covered in 18:38. I wrapped up my time with a bunch of dumbbell presses and pull-ups. I had a feeling this would be the last time in the gym for our cruise...I was right. We got some breakfast and then I decided I wanted to go hear from Jeff Kemp, a former NFL quarterback for the 49ers, Seahawks and Eagles. He gave a talk to the men called "Surviving the Blitz" which was really, really good. I almost bought his book but had a moment of reality when I once again realized that I never finish books that I start/ I saved my 14 bucks. Much of the day after this was just us being lazy until dinner time and the main program. Session 2 brought us a married couple who co-taught the packed crowd before we all funneled out, just to get right back in line before my most anticipated concert of the week...MercyMe! Last year, it was Steven Curtis Chapman who I really looked forward to. MercyMe did NOT disappoint! With over 20 years under their belt, Dove Awards, and lots of #1 hits, they made the very most of their 50 minutes. They did a compilation of several hits just to appease the crowd but were sure to play out "I Can Only Imagine," perhaps their most popular, timeless song ever. We sat only a few rows from the stage, too. It would've been fine with me if they went on all night!

Before MercyMe went on stage at 10pm, though, the captain spoke over the speakers to all guests about a schedule change. It turns out, someone on board had fallen ill and the U.S. Coast Guard told the ship that they had to turn around and head back northeast to Key West and not pull in to Grand Cayman for her to get treatment. The schedule was supposed to be Grand Cayman on Wednesday and Ocho Rios, Jamaica on Thursday which are essentially side by side, south of Cuba. No more details were given to the guests, except that both port visits were not going to happen and instead, we'd be visiting Key West on Wednesday, a day at sea on Thursday and now to the Bahamas on Friday instead of being at sea. I KNOW that on a "regular" cruise, people would've been downright ugly and disgusting about this change, complaining endlessly about it. I call it the "Angry American" syndrome. It's so prevalent in these days of entitlement and intolerance. Instead, though, we prayed for the family and the wife who fell ill and said often "yea, we wanted to stop in the Caymans and Jamaica, but her care is more important." And so we sailed to Key West...

Day 3: Key West: We stopped in Key West on the 2015 cruise so we knew our way around...bonus! After sleeping in and grabbing breakfast, we opted just to walk the town and eventually enjoy lunch before returning back. The weather started out gloomy but quickly turned to a breezy, sunny, low 70s day...perfect for walking around town. We found our way to the pier we stopped at last year, chilled out a bit by the beautiful water/landscape and then moved back towards town, in search of lunch, but away from the main tourist trap called Duval St.

White St. Fishing Pier, Key West
Fortunately, being back in the U.S. (although really a Caribbean Island) brought us a cell signal and my favorite Yelp! app to find a great, local restaurant. We found "Deuce's 'Off the Hook' Grill" on Simonton St. At first glance, you'd probably never stop there but with 4.5 stars out of 5 over almost 200 reviews, it was worth a look. When we arrived after about 4 or 5 miles of walking, we were ready to feast on something good. The place is so small that the hostess is outside the front door and peered in the front door to see if there was room for us two. There was and we found ourselves at the bar in a room that "maybe" sat 30 guests...super small! We started with fried green tomatoes, topped with lump crab meat and drizzled with a mango mint dressing. I then enjoyed this amazing sandwich (pictured) called the "Off the Hook" Sandwich that was coconut encrusted Mahi Mahi, topped with a mango jalapeno salsa. Oh my!!!! So very good. It was complimented with sweet potato tots! My bride enjoyed a seared ahi tuna BLT wrap that had fried green tomatoes in it along with an avocado wasabi aioli. When we return to Key West, we will return here! Before returning to the ship, we called home and talked to our girls, snapped a selfie, and re-boarded the Victory.

Dinner was great again as we set sail from Key West and for the main session on Wednesday, an off-the-chart word was brought by Pastor Bryan Lorritts, the son of well-known Crawford Lorritts. The theme was forgiveness which struck home for so many as it was talked about the rest of the week. Afterwards, we went to see Harris III, a master illusionist. He gave a little teaser during the main session so we definitely had to see him. We saw 321 Improv again, too. The great thing with improv is that it's always different!

Thursday: At Sea: We slept in again (this became normal and was easy due to our pitch black room and absolute silence) and enjoyed some breakfast together before I decided to get a little workout in. Up forward and high up, they had a jogging track...or more like a hamster wheel. It was a rubberized track and in 11 laps, one mile would be covered. In true CrossFit fashion, I decided to make a workout out of it: 3 rounds of 1 mile, 20 pushups, 30 burpees, 40 air squats then 2 more miles (or 22 more laps). It was a great workout and interesting in the high winds and moving ship, especially during those bloody burpees! Afterwards, I fell asleep in the sun on the aft end of the ship next to my bride...and enjoyed a few bites of calamari. :) At 1:30pm that day, another men's session was taking place with Jeff Kemp so I went to that and my wife headed to hear author and speaker, Lysa TerKeurst. She spoke really highly of that session and Jeff's didn't disappoint, either. It was more focused on the Stepping Up event that I've led twice before. We got in some rounds of rummy (our long-standing tradition when we cruise) before dinner again at 5:30pm. For the main session, Dave and Ann Wilson talked on conflict. If you haven't heard of the Wilsons, they are awesome! We saw them last year and they never disappoint. Powerful, hilarious, and always super relevant. They teamed up with the husband/wife drama team called "Acts of Renewal" to really bring it all home. Dave Wilson has been the Detroit Lions chaplain for over 30 years. Afterwards, we got in line super quick for the 2nd-most anticipated concert of the week for me...Sanctus Real. Little did I know, the lead singer was leaving the band and last fall, they did their farewell tour. This concert was going to be the last time he performed with the band he founded some 20 years ago in Toledo, OH. All week, I wondered if Sanctus Real was even going to be there and if so, who would be the lead singer? It wasn't until the concert that it all came together. The icing on the cake? In a most classy move, he introduced his replacement near the end of the concert and they played their first single as the "new" Sanctus Real. After that, they all came back on stage together for a standing ovation.

Friday: Nassau, Bahamas: Well, you know how the day begins by now and after that, we decided to just walk. In a nutshell, the Bahamas don't offer much, in my opinion, except for the lush Atlantis Resort that is as expensive or more than getting into Disney World. Back some 12 or 13 years ago on a cruise, we went there and were able to walk through much of it, including the aquarium. Well, we walked the 2-3 miles there but upon arrival, none of that is free anymore. We didn't stay long and began our walk back but via a different route. Now, if you want to snorkel, snuba, scuba, etc., they do offer excursions but not much else. As soon as you step off the ship, you'll instantly be immersed in a tourist trap. By the time we left that day, there were FIVE cruise ships docked. Yikes. We were back on the ship by 1pm...almost 4 hours early. I got some rays on the sun bride caught a nap. At dinner, our final dinner, we caught up on the week and before heading to the final session, grabbed this group photo. Daniel and Cara are on the right and our newest friends from just outside Denver, CO, Ken and Amy are seated. Meeting new friends, sharing a little bit of life with each other and our journeys are definitely major highlights of the Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise. You just can't put a price on it!

So after dinner and saying our goodbyes, we headed to the final session where Dennis Rainey, Founder and CEO of FamilyLife spoke. We also got an update on the woman who fell ill. Due to confidentiality, not too many details were given except for what the family released: "Something" happened on Tuesday that forced that medical staff to put her in a medically-induced coma. They transported her via helicopter to Miami upon docking at 2am in Key West on Wednesday and as of Thursday night, she remained in the ICU in the same condition, with her husband at her side. Bob Lepine, who was the MC all week on the cruise, led us all in prayer for her. Afterwards, we stayed for the 10pm concert where Selah performed. WOW!!!! That was incredible. Amazing voices! At 11:15pm, we headed to the pool deck where two things were going to happen. For one, Dennis and Barbara Rainey led us in a Vow Renewal Ceremony. Just like at the altar some 23+ years ago for us, we stood there amongst hundreds of others, holding hands and facing each other and spoke vows again to each other...once again, sealing the covenant we made long ago. It hasn't been without cracks over our years so any chance to re-affirm it and seal it up is an honor not to be passed up. "I love you, Babe!" Soon after, the farewell concert took place where several of the artists sung two songs a piece. It's hard to see in this photo, but they stood on the raised deck to the right. The captain of the ship was nice enough, too, to steer the ship in such a way so the winds weren't blowing us all around topside.

Back to our stateroom, packed and in bed. The 2016 iteration of the Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise was a wrap. We didn't book the 2017 cruise like we did last year. I highly recommend it but for us, we've decided to take a break and will most likely do something different and as a family next year. We'll definitely be back, though. It really is a cruise like none other and one we have come away from being stronger together and "on mission." Much thanks to Dennis and Barbara Rainey and their incredible team at FamilyLife. You can bet we'll continue to use your resources as we raise our family and reach out to other couples around us. Till next time!

Below is the compilation "wrap up" video of this year's cruise that they showed us on the pool deck before the Farewell Concert. Enjoy!!! (The couple kissing at the very very end is Daniel and Cara! Celebrities!!!) ;)

We had the most amazing time on the 2016 Love Like You Mean It Cruise! Watch the highlights as we water-slide, dance, laugh, and love our way across the ocean.
Posted by Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise on Saturday, February 20, 2016

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