The 2017 National Sweepstakes Convention was held on a cruise this year (“The Sweepers Escape”) and I was lucky enough to be able to go on the week-long cruise with my fellow sweepstaking friend Heather. The event was held on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest and largest cruise ship called the Escape, which is larger than the Titanic!
There were two days at sea during which the sweepstakes convention was held, and there were four ports of call: Roatan, Honduras; Harvest Caye, Belize; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Cozumel, Mexico. During our port stops, we participated in several very nice excursions.
Prior to boarding the ship, we spent an extra day in Miami and saw the spectacular Wynwood Walls, showcasing the greatest artists working in the street art and graffiti genre.
The 28th Annual National Sweepstakes Convention started with a meet and greet aboard the ship’s Spice H20 deck. It was a casual way to soak up some sun while introducing ourselves and chatting.
Day One of the Convention included an overview of the history of sweepstaking, different types of sweepstakes and contests, and the types of prizes that someone entering could win. It also included a newbies session for people both new to the conference or new to sweeping. And everyone was a winner on the first day of the conference! There were drawings for numerous prizes, and I won a $25 restaurant gift card, while Heather won $100 cash.
Day Two of the Convention included talks by an author duo who recently published “The Expert Guide to Winning Sweepstakes: Sweepstakes, Contests, Games & Prize Promotion Handbook,” as well as a speaker that represented the companies who ran sweepstakes. He had some wild stories about both sweepstakes winners and the sponsoring companies. The day ended with the “upgrade” drawings, which were for cash, lottery tickets, gift cards, and stamps. While I was not a lucky winner on the second day, the joy in the room was infectious as winners’ names were called.
Our first excursion from Roatan, Honduras was to take a boat to a little island called Maya Caye (pronounced Key). We were allowed to spend the whole day there until the time we had to be back at the ship, and there was much to do! Getting off the boat at the dock in front of the gift shop/snorkel rental was a tree with a colorful Macaw that greeted every passerby with “hello!”
The island had a gorgeous sand beach with clear water for swimming and snorkeling, as well as a pool and bar area with patio seating where they served an island lunch of coconut rice, beans, fish, and banana chips (which taste neither like bananas or chips).
Maya Caye also was home to a wildlife sanctuary with rescued and donated animals ranging from birds and monkeys to large and small jungle cats, and even a friendly pig that loved scratches on its back and side! This is also where I saw my first wild iguana as it ran out of the forest, and along the outside of one of the pens.
As the path meanders up a slight hill, at the top are replicas of Mayan temples and architecture, inside of which are museums. “The Mayan Interpretation Center and Ethnic Honduran Art Exhibit Center provides a peek into Roatan’s history and culture through displays and artifacts.” (http://www.mayakey.com/)
Finally, down near the dock you can see sea lions and even pay extra for an encounter.
Harvest Caye, Belize
While waiting for our Harvest Caye excursion, we took a stroll around the island looking at shops, walking through the Wildlife Experience complete with Toucans, Butterfly House full of giant blue and orange butterflies, and the small botanical garden.
On this day we participated in a Lagoon Wildlife and Mangrove Estuaries tour. What beautiful surroundings! In the water from our tour boat, we saw giant rays, jellyfish, and the impressive mangrove trees with their roots growing out of the water. We saw many birds including Cormorants, Anhingas, and Rosette Spoon Bills.
But the highlight of the tour was seeing the manatees come up for breaths of air every 3-4 minutes. The country has a population of 1000 manatees.
Costa Maya, Mexico
The first of our Mexico stops was Costa Maya. We signed up for a Catamaran Cruise and Snorkel, but since the meeting point was so far from the marina, along the ride we got a tour of the entire town. Our awesome tour guide Michelle pointed out the local hotspots, culture, and history.
At the marina, many iguanas were basking in the sun on the dock. We boarded our catamaran which was run by friendly “pirates” and off we went to the reef. Heather snorkeled while I just enjoyed the boat (which was like a floating party bus complete with music and drinks) and scenery.
Our final port of call was Cozumel. Our excursion for the day was called The Joy of Chocolate, and focused a lot on Mayan and native Mexican culture. We spent the day at Discover Mexico, starting with a film about Mexican culture and history and then on to a museum exhibition. From there we went to make chocolate at the Cacao Experience. We learned how to make Mayan chocolate from grinding the beans and mixing the ingredients, through putting it in the mold and wrapping it up! While we waited for our chocolate creations to be ready, we got to sample some delicious Mayan hot chocolate. We were educated about the chocolate process and the importance of chocolate in the Mayan culture.
Outside of the chocolate kitchen we got to meet Sofia, a friendly donkey who liked to pose for pictures. Then it was on to the winding paths of Discover Mexico park to view the miniature building replicas (dioramas) of ancient Mayan structures to more modern Mexican architecture.
Finally, we ended the day watching native Mexicans perform a ritual to call the rain which involved 5 teenage boys who were descendants of a specific tribe. One sat atop a very tall poll and played a drum while the others swung in a circle around the poll suspended only by a single rope each.
The Onboard Entertainment
While onboard the ship, we caught several shows. The first was a comedy showcase featuring two opening comedians and a headliner. The first comedian was formerly a writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and had won an Emmy.
Another night we saw a comedic juggler, and towards the end of the trip we caught the Mersey Boys at the Supper Club. It was basically dinner and a show with the Liverpool four singing oldies (Frankie Valley, Beatles, Otis Redding, etc.) while we were served a three-course meal at our tables.
The Specialty Dining Package
Specialty Dining Packages were offered as an upgrade on the cruise, so we purchased one that allowed us three meals at some of the more exclusive and fancier restaurants on the ship. We chose to indulge at Le Bistro, a French restaurant; Teppanyaki, a Japanese restaurant; and La Cucina, an Italian restaurant.
I have only included a couple pictures on this post. I have not yet sorted out all the photos from my various cameras so I plan to do a separate blog post with just photos. Look out for that coming next week!