A journey of
a thousand miles
begins with a single step
It sounds a little early to be discussing plans for the new year, but as vacation plans go, it's just one of those weeks that book up before you even start to think about it! Build in extra time for planning if you're traveling with kids, as it's difficult to narrow down what to do that can be age appropriate for all. But if you're looking for our best suggestions, cruising into 2020 is the only way to go!
For us, in 2017 we decided we would usher in 2018 with a long coveted first - a New Year's cruise! It doesn't sound that complicated, but when you live in Florida and 5 ports are in your backyard, it's not the first resolution for a unique new year, only because you likely have already cruised! The decision really came to us as a solution to the debate on what could we do that the kids will also enjoy? And after having cruised with kids for a few years, it felt like the perfect compromise. And actually created THE best start to a new year ever!
1. The timing is perfect - NO SCHOOL and an excuse to escape winter blues. So you're getting an off period where you don't have to pull the kids from classes and you likely have vacation time to burn too!
2. It's not hot! I mean, its still warm, but it is not the unbearable heat you get over the summer. It is also the perfect time to exchange boots for flip flops and sweaters for cover ups.
3. And let's talk perspective! I woke up on January 1st to pristine waters and umbrella drinks on the gorgeous island of Grand Turk. I can't think of a better to welcome a brand new start (you know, if you're into that stuff)!
And it goes without being said, it gave the kids something to do with a PG rating. We got caught in the monotony of having an early New Year celebration or spending it at home since being out was too much work. But the ship is your home away from home, so you're going out without all the nuances and worrying about the details. Add the bonus that the celebration by no means comes lack luster - you'll be sailing in comfort with a "couple thousand of your closest friends," so the celebration is even brighter than it would be watching the ball drop on your couch. The walks of life you get to surround yourself in such an occasion with; it brings perspective to your place in the grander scheme. This trip sure put a highlight on the "lonely years" of bringing up kids; not knowing what to do with them and not wanting to do it without them.
For this particular trip, we sailed on Carnival Magic out of Port Canaveral for 7 days, though we recommend itinerary and timing over any ship. The kids had the first week of January off, so we used the week after the holiday celebrations started to taper off to keep our spirits bright and this itinerary met our needs.
The ship itself highly promotes the celebration, particularly highlighting whatever sponsor was taking care of them for that sailing. New Year's Eve fell right at the beginning of our trip, which was deemed the ship's “formal night”. Having the celebration on a night where cruise goers were directed to fancy up a little more made the event feel extra special; everyone dressed to the nines and knowing that the party wouldn't even really start until closer to midnight.
During the day, the crew had guests write their "New Year's Wishes" and place them in a balloon which we filled with air. Around 11pm, a party in the atrium featuring a balloon drop in the atrium began. The net holding these wishes were released from a top deck and our wishes would be free to float and where the crew chose a few lucky wishers to win celebratory bottles of champagne. The party continued on the pool deck where the night was lit with excitement as we counted down to midnight. It could not have been a more perfect way for us all to celebrate, together most importantly.
Carnival has been known as the "Fun Ship" and I think at times a little too rowdy for more conservative crowds. But we find that their longer cruises do a better job of having a great mix of people. There were a great mix of people on board - from singles to families so we it was never a situation of feeling out of place. Add the slew of things to do that the longer itineraries feature, we all found ways to unwind for the new year.
The bigger ships feature a whole water park at WaterWorks, which makes cruising a blast for kids! Seuss at Sea themed activities bring a week of entertainment, including character greetings, a passenger story time production, and a brunch featuring foods like Green Eggs & Ham! Our youngest is now old enough to enjoy the kids activity drop offs, Camp Ocean, so we could partake in some alone time to enjoy the spa, go to the gym, or just not have to watch a toddler outdo herself - all of which we gloriously did. Parents designate who have sign in and out privileges so they're not just being released; there's alarms at the gates that will sound if someone comes in without permission; and there's a good ratio of counselors to children so the littlest ninjas (ours) are never out of sight. Plus the kids each get their own pretty cool wrist band to designate them to a muster station should something happen and parents were on the opposite end of the boat. We found that the time after dinner was *perfect* to get their energy out at camp and be able to crash right when we were ready to too. For New Year's they had their own pre-midnight celebration which made it a little extra special for just them too.
For the big kids (adults), we love the eclectic mix of venues we can spend an evening at, whether it be grabbing a drink, listening to live music or watching a show. All have been updated to keep with the changing times, so the thought of dated ships is a thing of the past. And if we don't feel like enjoying an adult beverage, there's a variety of activities from sports, movies, shopping or classes we can take. On this particular trip we decided to upgrade ourselves into a spa level room and capitalize on spa access for the whole week. So while the kids were playing in the kids club, we got to relax and rejuvenate with hot tubs, saunas and treatments. It was definitely a welcome way to end one year and start the next!
The itinerary on this cruise was similar to one we had done before; but this trip we were taking for the experience not the locations. We had the opportunity to unwind in Grand Turk on New Year's Day; discover Amber Cove, Dominica the day after; and explore a little more of San Juan, Puerto Rico. We also got three total days at sea, a nice break that allowed us to rest after the rush of the holidays and recharge as we embarked on a new year.
Looking for a better way to start the year? I couldn't think of a better one than this, especially with kids! We came into January, refreshed, in good spirits and with a (sun)kiss of extra color. What more could you need to feel rejuvenated to tackle a new set of 365 days?!
Best vacation ever? We think so!
Anyone who's spent their time at sea will come to appreciate how truly relaxing a cruising vacation is. We LOVE to cruise and try to take at least one a year to discover a new island in the Caribbean (or more recently, the Mediterranean coast)!
1. Your carefree vacation starts the moment you step on ship. We can't say this enough and there's proof in the pudding! Have you ever seen a cruise terminal vs. an airline terminal? Two completely different worlds. It all seems easier when you cruise - from the moment you check-in until you step on board - and that's because it actually is! No need to worry about long security lines where shoes and laptops need to be removed; or praying for decent seat arrangements; or trying to sort out unpredictable flight delays and changes - you're on vacation from the minute you arrive!
For someone who has never cruised, your stress-free vacation starts the moment you drop your luggage off with a porter, because it will be delivered straight to your stateroom. Yes, you'll still go through the standard protocol of checking travel documents, receiving your boarding pass (known as your cruise ship ID card), and security checks. But then, then your vacation really starts! Once you board, it's time to pull out that swimsuit and grab a spot by the pool because you have nowhere else to be for the next few days!
2. You get to pack light. What else are you going to do on island time? Whatever you want! Which loosely translates to "don't worry about getting all dolled up every day, you get to unwind and relax." What to pack should be the least of your concerns. No need to coordinate a ton of outfits or worry about bringing shoes to match - all you really need to get by is a swimsuit, coverup and lots of sunscreen!
We're usually at one suitcase when we travel, and cruising is no exception. We pack a few interchangeable shirt & bottom combos, a handful of swimsuits (because they never dry fast enough), items to workout in (which will work for excursions that require a little more manpower too) and then a couple nicer items to wear at dinner for the nights we choose to eat at one of the flagship restaurants. Cruises do have a suggested attire when entering dining rooms, but aside from that, you don't have to worry about packing the "right" thing.
And if you're still worried about not packing enough, all cruise lines offer some kind of pay for laundry service. Disney Cruise Line even has washers and dryers for guest to use themselves, laundromat style - just bring detergent and spare change! Our cruise through Europe on the Norwegian Epic offered us a midweek laundry service for a reduced set price. All we had to do was fill a bag, inventory it, send it to be cleaned, and we had it back the next day with clean clothes to wear through the second half of our vacation!
3. You can eat whatever, whenever, as much as you want. Unfortunately it all still has calories. But good news, is that it's all included in the price of your fare. And trust us, there's food galore!
One of the greatest things about planning a cruise vacation is knowing there's not too many surprises in what it'll cost you. Your per passenger price includes standard meals on board, from quick service dining by the pool to seated dinner in their main restaurants. AND there's no limit to what you get! This especially makes it great for traveling with kids (or picky eaters) because what a blessing it is to not have to plan a meal fit for all.
The experience you'll have dining all over the ship in their inclusive venues is enough to keep your appetite satisfied. But cruise lines do have specialty add-on restaurants, where you can book a "fancier" dinner usually at a flat rate. Unless you're an avid cruiser looking to change things up, or a cruiser wanting to celebrate a special occasion, there's no real need for the upgrade. We spent our honeymoon on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, and we made it a point to have one night to celebrate one-on-one. After months of madness called planning a wedding, it was nice to have a quiet night just the two of us, in a restaurant that offered even more superb service.
4. You can relax whenever you want. There's that island time again! Because really, it exists. Try to find a clock somewhere onboard - it's hard to come by and that's really a good thing! Want to sleep in and order breakfast in bed? Go for it! Want to take a snooze by the pool? Just remember to lather up and turn over to keep your color even. Need to sneak back to your room for an afternoon nap? It's the perfect time to escape before the evening's festivities begin.
Want to splurge and relax? Spa services are available on board for an additional fee. And though we're not usually ones to use them, we decided that we deserved it on our 2017 "end of the year" cruise on Carnival Magic. And it was so worth it! We booked spa level rooms that granted us access to the sauna and steam rooms at our leisure - our only regret was not using it more! We dropped the kids off at their respective kids' club and we snuck off for some time to unwind AND gear up for the new year, in a way we'd never get to at home.
5. The amenities are great. The bigger the ship the more there is to do, though every ship has a great selection of something for everyone! If the pools with live band weren't enough, many have been upgraded to include water park/play areas or amazing water slides to take your fun at sea up a notch. We cruised Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas where there literally were activities on every corner. Kiddie to adult only pools, putt putt, ropes course, an arcade, sports court, A CAROUSEL and so much more!
For adult only fun, ships have a variety of bars and clubs that each uniquely cater to every type of fun seeker. If gambling is your escape, most ships have a floating casino (available once you reach international waters) - Disney is the only that does not incorporate this in their brand. And more recently, to accommodate growing demand to help limit surprising costs, most lines have introduced a form of unlimited drink package (both non-/alcoholic). We've tried it and its a total benefit for someone who plans on enjoying their trip, without watching their bank account. Just prebook the package and you're ready for arrival - you know what it's going to cost you for adult libations and you can start drinking once you get on the boat!
6. The live shows are included. The caliber of productions that you're going to see is beyond anything you'd expect, especially as cruise lines continue to progress and enhance their offerings! And believe us when we say what you get is fantastic! Disney Cruise Line has always been top notch in their theatrical productions, and can delight children (and kids at heart) of every age. But more recently, we've been able to experience Broadway shows at sea on two separate lines, which truly left us blown away.
Back in 2017, we cruised Allure of the Sea and caught a production of Mamma Mia! which was as great as the touring production we saw a few years before that. And this was in addition to the outdoor stage shows, live musicians, ice skating productions and even a parade this ship offered, all in the same sailing. More recently on Norwegian Epic, we made time to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (and no, not because it was my namesake). I had watched it a few years back and enjoyed it - the ship production really rivaled what we saw on dry land, even on a much smaller set.
If live theater isn't your thing, most cruise lines also offer a variety of other options, including comedians, guest karaoke, live bands, and movie under the stars. We've had some of our more memorable nights as a family cuddling under a blanket and letting the kids doze off under a star filled sky. Just pick a seat, grab some popcorn and enjoy a movie by the pool. Those have always been an absolutely perfect end to our cruises!
7. Don't like to plan? You don’t have to! Everything's scheduled for you - that is, if you want to follow a schedule. Each ship has a cruise director and his staff of employees that coordinate and handle all activities. There's everything you could want to do from games, shows, art auctions, cooking classes, exercise classes, and more!
Every night in your stateroom along with turndown service, you will be provided a detailed daily schedule of what there is to come the following day. Have your pick of what appeals to you! You can start your day with a class at the gym, spend time at the pool, check out an art display, test your luck at BINGO, take a cooking class and then still make it back in time for lunch (and start all over again after that).
If keeping it low key is more your style, you can also opt to do NOTHING AT ALL. Even when docking at your scheduled ports, you don't ever have to leave the ship. For us, we love a good excursion, especially if it's to discover a new country and her people. And we'll definitely return to the ones we love to experience to see it all over again. But there are times when the offerings on the ship are more enticing, and your port day plan can be to stay on the boat all day long! We did this when we cruised the Disney Dream with the kids, and opted not to go to Nassau. We had been a handful of times and there wasn't anything we particularly wanted to do. Instead, we chose to take advantage of an empty ship, which still had scheduled activities, and allowed our kids to meet characters, have play time in the kids club, and enjoy the pools ... all without a crowd!
8. Your kids will have a great time too! Our kids have each been cruising since they were a year old, and it's been by far the best trip we can take as a family, especially with littlest of ones. If all the activities above aren't enough to convince you to cruise, than consider what else there is to do for your tots!
Depending on how old or young they are, there's a selection of activities that cater to each age. Typically cruising can start as early as 6 months old, so strolling the ship or letting them nap while you relax is exactly what you both need. You're limited to paid babysitting services for the littlest of the bunch, but it's worth your while if you're looking for an evening of conversation. For some ships, starting at age 2, your little ones are welcome to their kids club, where they can mingle with other kids their age while being supervised by a host of professional, fun-loving staff! Ships also typically offer this service free of charge until late night (10pm), so it gives parents a chance to grab an uninterrupted meal and post-dinner drinks and still call it an early night (because who are we kidding, staying up late nowadays is non-existent)! You may also keep your children playing after hours (usually until 12), but that comes at a nominal fee. Then for your big kids, they can explore tween and teen rooms; each giving them a safe haven to hang out with kids their age, while giving you the peace of mind of knowing where they are!
Beyond the kids club, unlimited food (and soft serve ice cream), pools, games, and so much more, cruise lines have also done a great job of catering to families by offering a specialty dining experience - like breakfast at sea with characters from Dr. Seuss (Carnival) or the gang from Madagascar (Royal Caribbean).
Disney Cruise Line itself, the pinnacle of fun for kids, offers daily meet-and-greets with Mickey and friends all over the ship, and special appearances by a host of other characters and princesses. You can pay for your kids to get a special princess or pirate makeover (similar to the parks) to adorn the rest of their trip. And you get to end one night at sea in a pirate takeover with fireworks to match (the only cruise line that does this). Disney, like the parks, has taken their experience up a level for family fun and if its something you're considering, definitely book a Disney before your little ones outgrow the magic!
9. You get to visit a ton of places all at once. Beyond all the reasons above, our number one incentive for cruising is the selection of stops we visit. If you've got a vagabond soul (like us) and you're eager to explore - but sometimes all you need is one day. Some of these stops, though beautiful and culturally enriching in their own right, are also new and unknown to us. Cruising gives us the option to see a handful of different places at once without the individual plane ticket prices. From there we can decide which ones we want to come back to spend a little more time at!
Aruba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti, Dominician Republic, Puerto Rico, the Virigin Islands, Curacao, Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, Mexico, Belize - we've seen them all! And more recently, we jumped on a Mediterrean cruise and got to explore parts of Italy, France, Monaco, and Spain, all in one swoop! It definitely gives us a taste of what we want to see so much more of - and reason to start planning where our next adventure is!
10. Your real world can't sneak in. And if you need any more reason to go, it's because cruising is your one true way to disconnect. Cell charges for roaming on international waters are ridiculous. The first thing you will want to do after setting sail, is to turn your phone to airplane mode. Or like my husband loves to do - turn it off completely!
Cruising really does encourage an atmosphere to unplug, though cruise lines are customizing ship ready apps to keep you connected while on board. It's all a matter of figuring what makes sense for you, all while staying present in your family vacation. I keep my phone on me to make sure I'm capturing all our memories at a moment's notice; my husband locks his phone in our in-room safe only to see it once we're back home. Regardless of how you see it, you're disconnected from work, emails, social media and all those other distractions - and there can't be a better way to spend quality time with your loved ones!
So do we have you convinced? Need anything more? We've cruised the major lines (Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean) a handful of times each - all of which have great offerings for couples and families alike. There really is no right or wrong choice in what you choose, as each is different and will give you a unique experience from the other. For us, that's what we love about trying each out and figuring out which line is a right fit for us (right now, we don't have one)!
Ready to take the leap and need help planning the perfect trip for you? Let me know and we can find the right cruise - from ship to destination(s) - for you!