So it's been far too long since my last post- but not for lack of content! In the past month, we've spent two weeks in the mountains of New Mexico (one was family camp at Glorieta- that post is coming soon!), delivered 3 gorgeous weddings to newlyweds, and road tripped to Galveston where we boarded a 5 day cruise to Cozumel and Progreso.
We all had a blast on the cruise and Shawn and I deemed it an overall success, with a few stressful moments thrown in there for good measure (because it's not a real family vacation if there aren't a few screaming toddlers).
This was our 2nd Carnival cruise- our first was when Knox was under a year old, so this one included 2 more kids and required a lot more of us as parents. We were aboard the Carnival Valor which made port in Cozumel, Mexico and Progreso which is on the Yucatan peninsula. We traveled with my parents and my youngest sister, brother-in-law, and my niece who is 17 months. It was extremely helpful to have extra adults willing to help feed a kid or take them for a walk if they were getting restless!
Before You Go:
• Book your excursions! We waited until a couple of weeks before we left to do this and we almost missed out, because some fill up fast.
In Cozumel, we'd selected a "beach" excursion that included lunch and a sea lion show. While the property was nice (Chakanaab), the time it took to actually get on the beach (after a bus ride and tour of the property) was way too long, and once we finally got there, it was densely populated. Plus, the restaurant and bar with our included meals was quite a walk- making it tough to watch kids and eat.
Progreso, on the other hand, was surprisingly great. We'd been warned there was a 40 minute bus ride both ways to the resort where the beach was, but that turned out to be a great nap time/applying sunscreen time for our kids. We ended up at Hotel Reef where the beach was beautiful and not too crowded. There were several food stations with delicious Mexican dishes and waiters who were very friendly and efficient at bringing drinks. After hanging out at the beach most of the day, we got in one of several pools to wash the sand off and swim before it was time to get back to the bus.
• Get passports for everyone. No, you don't necessarily need passports for kids while traveling on a cruise (birth certificates will work), but it sure does make getting trough security easier. Plus, now you can easily travel with your kids anywhere! We had to jump through some hoops to get Lucy's passport (she still doesn't have a Social Security Number!), but thankfully it came in time and was a lot more convenient than hauling around her original adoption decree.
• Download the Carnival App (if you're cruising on Carnival) The app is great and not only lets you see what's going on around the ship, but is the best way to communicate with your group. The chat function is $5 per device and worked pretty well for us. There were a few quirks- like keeping the app running so you don't miss messages- but overall it was great.
• Download music, videos or apps for any devices. Unless you pay for service on the ship, you won't be able to access any of your normal apps, etc. We chose to not bring the kids' iPads on the ship, but it was really handy to have our normal bedtime playlist downloaded when it was time to put kids to bed.
• Consider booking two rooms. Ya'll, I knew our room would be tight, but when we walked in with our luggage, it was laughable. Of course, we booked the smallest interior stateroom and really- it is ingenious how they have fit in a king sized bed with two twins. We made it through the week, but it was definitely tight- and now we know we could live in our utility room for a week if we had to (yikes!). Next time, we'll be going for the adjoining rooms so Mom and Dad don't have to worry about someone rolling off their bunk onto them. :)
• Don’t fall for the soda upgrade. Sodas aren't included in your cruise price, and in the weeks before you go alcohol and soda packages are heavily marketed via email. We really expected to be dealing with children begging for Sprite (we don't usually have it at home but do allow it on vacation), BUT they never even asked about it because there are several delicious juices and milk available at all times for free.
• Check your phone plan. Most companies include Mexico and Canada free (turn on service while at port). This is a great time to check for important texts/emails for free without paying for the pricey-yet-slow internet on the ship.
• Make a daily budget. We set a budget for ourselves every day and it really helped us enjoy the cruise and not stress out over money constantly. You will need to budget $65-70 per person in gratuities (no, it's not optional). This will hit your account the last full day- read up on this before you leave so it's not a surprise.
• Call a few weeks before the cruise for free upgrades. We did this the first time we cruised as a family, and my sister did it this time with the same result. She'd called Carnival to check about cribs (yes, they provide them), and they offered her a free room upgrade since there were available rooms and it was close to the sail date. Wish we would have given it a shot this go-round!
• Kids' arm and chest floaties. We have these PuddleJumpers and this Speedo one (this one is great for Lucy since it has shoulder straps- the others tend to slide down on her). They provide lifejackets on the ship, but we utilized the kids' floaties in port as well. They were really nice to have on the beach- especially since the girls wanted to play in the sand and wade in the water a bit.
• Peppermint oil for nausea. I used this a ton while I was pregnant, and it still works for me (not pregnant!). Simply inhale it or apply it to your chest with some carrier oil, like coconut oil.
• Swim diapers AND a reusable swim diaper (like this one). We did not know prior to the first morning that there are NO DIAPERS ALLOWED- NOT EVEN SWIM DIAPERS in the ship's swimming pools. We were lucky that Lucy is close to being potty-trained and just took her swim diaper off- but this rule is strictly enforced by some lifeguards (not-so-strictly by others). If I had an infant, I would definitely bring a reusable swim diaper like the one I linked above so they can take a dip in the pool on ship days, AND disposable ones for port days.
• Storage-sized Ziploc Bags. These were super handy for all sorts of things- but I was glad I had extras to keep dry clothes, sunscreen, and phones from getting sandy and wet in the beach bag.
• Snacks. We stock up on Z bars and Clif bars- they are our favorite travel snack since they don't get crushed or melt easily. You really don't need many snacks (there is PLENTY of food on the ship), but these came in clutch on port days or if we were just not at a place to get kids food and needed something quick for them. My sister made a good habit of grabbing a few cereal boxes from the buffet line (the individual-sized boxes) in the morning and those were great (free!) snacks too.
• No towels needed. There are plenty of beach towels provided in every stateroom, and if you need more they will bring them to you. You can take these with you to port and as long as you bring them back, it's free. You can also check out towels at the ship's pool area if you don't feel like dragging wet towels in and out of your stateroom.
• Insulated cup for coffee/water. I drink coffee all day (yes, really) and there were a few times we really needed water but there was none to be found (on the beach mostly). I was so glad we'd brought our favorite insulated mugs to keep our coffee hot and our water cold.
• Baby carrier or harness. Surely I am not the only mama who booked a cruise and then had a kid-goes-overboard nightmare...or two (yiiiikes!). We had this harness from when Knox was a baby and we totally used it on the ship with Lucy, who has a history of running off. I also carried Lucy in our trusty Tula carrier during embarkation, debarkation, and on the long walk on and off the ship at port. It was so nice to give her a place to rest and I loved having free hands.
• Signs or decals for stateroom doors. I saw lots of people bring decals or signs to hang on their stateroom doors, and thought it was a smart idea for kids. I would avoid using anything with our names for safety reasons, but having a picture or symbol that kids could recognize could be really helpful if someone gets lost and can't find your room.
• Umbrella stroller. My sister suggested this one- and I agree- a small umbrella stroller (anything larger would be too much for many of the tight spaces on the ship) would be helpful if you have a sleeping infant or one who does not like a baby carrier.
• Kid's water bottles. We carry one of these for each kid pretty much everywhere we go, and they were super handy on the beach in Mexico when we weren't about to give them water from the restaurant to drink. We filled these each morning in the ship's restaurant with ice and water.
• Travel-size dish soap and small dish brush. This is just one of my travel norms that has paid off many times. We use them to wash our water bottles and mugs, and have even treated stains in clothing with it.
• Card games, wiki stix, board games. The last day of the cruise we busted out some fun goodies that my mom had brought for the kids and just hung out in the restaurant- out of the hot sun. The kids loved playing with wikki stix and some modeling clay. I saw several families playing card games or board games, too.
• Cheap flip flops. To keep from overpacking, I try to keep it to 2 pairs of shoes per person. After this trip, I'm adding cheap flip flops to that rule. During our last day at port, Knox's shoes went missing. We're not sure if they were stolen or just buried deep in the sand, but either way, we left without them. I was glad he had another pair of shoes to wear, but wished I would have brought some cheap flip flops to take to the beach/pool since he didn't want to wear swim shoes.
• Silicone wedding ring. These are inexpensive and worth using instead of your actual wedding ring. Please, listen to the girl that lost a diamond while ziplining in Puerto Rico (thank goodness for that warranty!). I have these rings.
• Tampons/Feminine Products. Trust me, you don't want to have to buy these in Mexico (sketchy) or on the ship (super expensive).
• Probiotics. Just to keep everything regular while you binge. I use Young Living probiotics for myself and heard they just came out with kids' gummies! You're welcome.
• Bucket/Shovel for playing in the sand. Our kids played in the sand 90% of the time we were at the beach and even used them at the pool on the ship. These were a little annoying to carry around, but worth the few dollars we paid for them for the amount of entertainment they provided.
On the Ship:
• There are lots of freebies! Check the daily schedule to see what is being offered that day, and even if it sounds a little lame, show up. We had a ton of fun at the trivia games and shows. There were cooking demonstrations and art and jewelry presentations (that boasted free champagne!). They even had a Dr. Seuss parade for the kids. All free!
• Take advantage of the childcare. Truthfully, I intended to snub the childcare on the ship, assuming it was a sad, lonely place full of disgruntled workers (sorry, my mom-judgement is harsh sometimes), BUT when we boarded the ship, they told us we needed to go register the kids whether or not we were planning to utilize the childcare area and services. I was totally surprised to see a very cool, clean, brightly colored space with an underwater theme and friendly workers. They walked us through the facilities and their procedures- which were very safe, clean, and totally age appropriate for our kids and told us that anytime we had kids there that we'd be given a phone that they could use to reach us. We ended up taking the kids almost every day because they enjoyed it so much- and they even ate most of their dinners with the childcare program (called "Camp Ocean"), which meant we got to have a peaceful, adult dinner every night. They served kid-friendly food our kids loved- and the same childcare workers were there every day, actively involved with them. This was a major win in our book!
• Wear your swimsutis and apply sunscreen first thing in the morning. This may seem super obvious, but our family just doesn't tan...we burn (well, Lucy is our exception). But, applying sunscreen before we even left the room was super helpful because without fail, the kids wanted to get in the pool right after breakfast. Which leads me to my next tip...
• Hit up the pool first thing in the morning to snag the good chairs! This may seem silly, but trust me, it will pay off about 1:00 P.M. when the pool is packed and you still have a prime spot in the shade to watch your littles while you drink your piña colada.
• FREE Room Service! I'm usually too cheap to order room service during hotel stays, but Carnival offered free room service until 10 PM to staterooms (you can get it for a small fee after hours as well). There were actually door tags in our room where we could order what we'd like for the next morning. We were able to select what we wanted delivered, pick a delivery time and set it on our door before 10 PM. Then amazingly, the next morning we had hot coffee delivered for us and bananas to tide hungry kids over until we made it to breakfast.
• Don’t stress about what your kids are eating/not eating. This is one vacation rule I've adapted this summer and it has been a great thing for my mindset. We battle "how many more bites" from at least 1 kid at almost every meal, and it wears on Shawn and I both. Since food is readily available 24 hours of the day on a cruise, we chose to just not worry about what- or more importantly how much- our kids were eating. No, they didn't just eat ice cream the whole time- but we definitely had it for breakfast on the last day!
• Keep bedtime routine. Our kids were exhausted every night, but somehow when their heads hit the pillow, they still wanted their normal bedtime music. We had downloaded our bedtime music playlist on Spotify and brought our bluetooth speaker which were really handy.
• Unpack when you get there. Like I said, our room was TIGHT. I unpacked all our suitcases and utilized the drawers, cabinets, and shelves in bathroom. It made getting ready and keeping the room organized much easier. I laid kids' clothes out paired in outfits and made a shoe drawer the kids could throw their shoes in. We hung a giant laundry bag (purchased at Ikea) in one of the closets and all dirty clothes went there. When it was time to pack up, I just filled one suitcase full of dirty laundry and it was so nice to just dump it in the laundry when we got home.
• Cash is king. You need cash for tips and spending. Yes, many stores will take cards, but if you take an excursion you will need cash for tips.
• Keep passports with you always. Never, ever leave your passports on the ship while in another country. Yes, it may be annoying to keep them safe in your beach bag, but you do not want to have an emergency in another country and have no identification.
Yikes, I hope that was helpful- because it ended up being super long. I'm just writing the blog post I really wanted to find before we headed out. Happy cruising!