New Year’s Cruise Days 8 & 9 – The Wrap Up

January 7, 2019 – Miami/Ft. Lauderdale

We woke up around 7:30 a.m. to prepare to disembark from the ship. We had placed a breakfast tag on the door, but there was no breakfast delivery this morning. De-boarding the ship was easy and we were off by 8:30. We located our bags and passed painlessly through US Customs without needing to fill out any forms or answer any questions.

We snuck to the front of the line and took a shuttle to Miami International Airport. At the airport we picked up a rental vehicle for the day – a very manly Dodge minivan. We packed everyone up and headed up I-95 for our hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Despite it being only around 10:00 a.m., we were actually able to check into our room.

We were getting hungry, so we set about looking for breakfast. We found the Moonlight Diner down the street. Moonlight was a kitschy 50s-style place with stainless steel outside walls and plenty of neon lights. The only thing missing was waitresses in poodle skirts. I caffeinated myself with a couple cups of Joe and ordered homemade corned beef hash with poached eggs.

After breakfast (or was it lunch?) we packed Mom’s bags into the van and I took her to the airport for her long flight home.

After a little rest, we packed up the boys and headed back to Miami to explore. We decided to visit Little Havana. As far ethnic neighborhoods go, Little Havana was nice, but not like the real thing. We walked down 8th Ave. (The famous “Calle Ocho”) looking at the art and shops. We passed by Domino Park, where old men played dominoes all day in groups of four.

We stopped at Azucar Ice Cream company for a sweet treat. Azucar is a family-owned ice cream shop that makes all their ice cream by hand in amazing flavors like dulce de leche, sweet plantain, and Coca Cola. The boys enjoyed their treat, and we enjoyed talking with the owner about his family’s ties back to Cuba.

After dessert, we found ourselves at the Esquina de la Fama (Corner of Fame) restaurant. Esquina proudly proclaims they have the best Cuban sandwiches in Miami. We ordered a round of sandwiches and listened to a lone musician play a mix of traditional Latin songs and instrumental covers of modern pop songs. The sandwiches were grilled panini-style and had ham, bacon, chorizo, cheese, and lettuce. Esquina’s take on the Cuban sandwich was good, but just didn’t feel quite the same as those we had in Havana. They cost a lot more too!

We left Little Havana for a place called Wynwood Walls. Wynwood is a former industrial neighborhood that has been revitalized into an art hub. The story goes that a warehouse owner caught a boy painting graffiti on his building. Rather than have the boy punished, the warehouse owner offered the boy payment to paint the entire wall. Soon other street artists were invited to paint walls in the neighborhood, transforming it to the art hub it is today, as well as giving street artists an outlet to practice their craft in a legal way. Some of the biggest names in street art have exhibits in the neighborhood.

As we walked around the neighborhood, we saw ESPN Deportes was doing live broadcasts celebrating both the 15th anniversary of ESPN Deportes and the College Football Playoff National Championship that was being played that night (in California).

We met a videographer, John Sierra from the Miami Medial School, who was walking around getting footage of the murals when he saw the boys. He asked if they wanted to be interviewed; of course they did. However, the normally talkative boys froze up once the camera started rolling (go figure). It was still a fun experience for them.

We braved Miami traffic back to the hotel and settled in, preparing for the flight home in the morning.

January 8, 2019 – Ft. Lauderdale to San Francisco

We awoke at 5:45 a.m. to head to the airport. We forced our full suitcases closed and headed out. We were worried about crowds at the airport, but we breezed through check-in and security, giving us well over an hour to spare.

We were sitting by the gate enjoying a breakfast of muffins and coffee when I was a guy walk by who looked oddly familiar. He bore a striking resemblance to someone famous, but I couldn’t quite put a name to the face at the time. I didn’t think much of it.

Our cross-country flight on JetBlue was much better than the one on United. For a “low cost” airline, they sure pull out all the stops. The seats had more room, the entertainment options were better, and they offer better snacks. They even have a pantry with snacks and drinks that they open to customers during the flight. The six-hour flight went very quickly.

After landing at San Francisco we headed to the baggage claim to get our bags. While in the baggage claim I saw famous-looking guy again and got to thinking. I pulled out my phone and did a quick Google search to confirm my suspicions. I then asked Alicia if she agreed with my theory about famous-looking guy. So what did Alicia do? She walked right up to him and asked. My suspicions were correct. Famous-looking guy was none other than 2012 World Series MVP, one of only four people to hit 3 home runs in a World Series game, San Francisco Giants hero, the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval!

I have to admit, I fanboyed a bit at the experience of meeting one of my favorite baseball players. He was kind enough to pose for a picture with me, and one with the kids. Pablo even signed an autograph for Ryan.

Pablo was so gracious despite having spent six hours on a plane. He didn’t have to talk to anyone, and he didn’t have to pick up his own bags. Nor did he have to pose for pictures with random people in the airport, but he did. This was definitely not one of those moments they talk about when they say “don’t meet your heroes.”

We managed to make it out of the city without too much delay and found ourselves back home in the early evening. Despite the exciting journey, coming home was a relief, and as always, it’s nice to get back to your own bed.