Family Caribbean Cruise

As most of you know, last week we went on a Carnival Cruise in the Western Caribbean. David's parents gifted us this trip last year for Christmas and we've been anxiously awaiting it since then! It was great to spend some time with his entire family this week. We've never spent this much time together, especially with his sister Lindsey and her husband Brian. The girls loved getting that extra time with their Aunt and Uncle and Gigi and Pops last week. 

This was our second cruise that we've ever been on, and our first with children. Let me tell you, it is an entirely different ball game when you go with kids! Thankfully, we had help, but it was still exhausting. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time, but it was definitely not as relaxing as going with only adults.

However I will say this - once we learned to just relax and go with the flow, we had a much better time. The first couple of days, the girls were so excited and unsure of what to do because they were in an unfamiliar place and we were stressing about "keeping them in line" and not appearing like our children were wild heathens. We finally decided to let them do what they wanted to do (within reason of course), and try to say yes more than we were saying no. We didn't try to keep a nap schedule. We let them rest when they needed to instead of forcing them to lay down right at 2:00 each day. This was a game changer for us because the last 3 days were much less stressful than the first (still tiring, but less stressful!)

We spent the night at Brian and Lindsey's house on Sunday night, then woke up and left at 7:30 to head to the port in Mobile. They live in Birmingham so it ended up being about a 4 hour drive after stops. It took about 45 minutes to get into the parking garage, get parked, and get in line to check in. It was nice that as soon as you pull into the garage you can pull off to the side and leave your checked baggage with a porter, that way you're not having to carry as many bags down from your car to check them. 

It took over an hour to stand in line, get through security, and check in. We got in line around 12:30 and did not make it onto the boat until about 1:45. Once we got on we dropped our carry on luggage in our room and made a bee-line for the Lido buffet, which was crowded because everyone had the same idea. This was the only time that the Lido buffet was busy like this. Every other time we were in there you could get through a line very quickly.

After lunch we explored the ship for a little while until it was time to go to the safety briefing. This briefing is mandatory for everyone to attend and the crew will open every single cabin door to make sure no one is hiding to get out of it. They basically talk about what to do and where to go in an emergency and show you where to go if you have to abandon ship.

Before you board you have the option of picking early or late dining reservations. Early is at 6:00 and late is at 8:15. You will be assigned a table, which will be printed on your Sail and Sign Card, and you will sit at the same table every night. We chose early because we knew by 8:15 we would all be starving. 

"Your Time Dining" is also available, which is where guests can dine any time between 5:45-9:30. If you're cruising as a couple, you  may want to choose this route because you  may be able to sit at a table for two when dining this way. If you choose an assigned dining time you will be seated at a table for 8 with 6 other strangers (which is what David and I did on our honeymoon).  The downfall to Your Time Dining is that you may have to wait to be seated if they don't have a table available.

Dinner was definitely a highlight of the trip. The food was incredible and the menu was different every night. The waitstaff was amazing. Our waiter, Emilio, learned our names and would call us by name to ask if we needed anything. He also learned after the first two nights that Audrey loves milk and was a little fussy until she got it. On night three he had her milk waiting for her before we ever got to the table. On nights 4 and 5 he had the girls drinks AND their kids' meals waiting when we arrived. This cut down on a lot of boredom and fussing on their part. 

My hands-down favorite part of dinner - Carnival Melting Chocolate Cake. I loved it on our first cruise and before we came on this one I said I'd get it every night...and I did. Mmmmmm, so good!

After dinner, we were all exhausted. In our room we had a king size bed and two upper pull-downs, which are like Murphy beds but they're up high like a bunk bed. I was not comfortable with either girl sleeping up there so I slept in the bed with the two girls and David slept on the pull down, like a champ. I have to say that cuddling up with these two sweet babies was the perfect ending to a day. I was afraid that they would be antsy and not want to lay down and go to sleep but they were both so tired by the end of the day that they actually laid still and fell asleep fairly quickly. Audrey slept in the middle by me and Raley slept on the other side. Raley was ok with that as long as I held her hand until she fell asleep, which I was perfectly fine by me!

Tuesday morning was our first full day at sea. Audrey woke up around 6 am and was being SO LOUD that I thought she would wake up her sister, so I took her out to walk around and find some milk. (Audrey has NO volume control and does not understand whispering whatsoever). We happened to run into Uncle Brian and Gigi downstairs on the Lido deck where I found me some coffee and Audrey some milk and a banana. We sat outside and looked at the open ocean for a little bit until it started raining and then went and sat inside. We hung out down there for probably an hour until David and Raley woke up and we went back up and got ready for breakfast.
Each morning they serve breakfast or brunch in the Celebration Dining Room and a buffet breakfast on the Lido Deck. Since food is all inclusive and you don't have to pay more for a sit-down breakfast, I definitely recommend breakfast in the Celebration Dining Room. The food is much better and you get to sit down and be waited on. Also there's no limit to what you can order - order everything on the menu if you want!

After breakfast we went to the room and got ready to swim and, of course, as soon as we got to the pool it started raining. It actually rained a good bit on this trip, but we tried to make the most of our time. Since it was just lightly raining with no lightning we still let the girls swim in the rain (the water was pretty cold though!) The water in the pool was super salty and Audrey kept getting it in her mouth. She ended up spitting up a little bit, I think because of the salt water, so I took her out of the pool and back to the room to get washed up. David stayed down and swam with Raley and luckily for them the sun came out. After swimming for a while he took her up to play putt putt on the very top deck, which she loved!

Audrey and I got a shower in the room and while I was drying my hair I let her watch Trolls on the tablet (We have a digital copy on our Vudu app and had downloaded Trolls and a few other movies onto the iPad before making the trip. These movies were lifesavers when they were bored in the room.). She ended up falling asleep about 20 minutes in and took a pretty good nap.

There was supposed to be a Cat and the Hat show at 2:30 that day that we were all planning on going to but for some reason they cancelled it. We went to the Camp Ocean (child care area) to ask about it and Raley decided that she wanted to stay and play. We were very proud of her for being so eager to stay and play in an area she had never seen before.

While Raley was playing we took Audrey up to the splash pad area to play. This was by far Audrey's favorite area. She loves pop jets and fountains. David even put her on the bottom part of the slide and helped her slide down (she was too little to go down from the top.)
That smile! 😍
They had Afternoon Tea in the Celebration Dining Room so Lindsey and I had to take Raley since she loves tea parties so much. They were coming around serving several different tea sandwiches and desserts. They served a scone with lemon cream cheese filling, which was to die for. The best part, though, was spending time with Aunt Lindsey, because even though she only lives an hour and a half away, we don't get to see her very much.
This is such a Raley face
After tea, Lindsey and I had appointments for pedicures, which were very much needed! They did a great job. 

That evening at dinner was Formal Night. It was fun to get dressed up a little nicer for dinner. Our attempt at pictures started out ok, but we weren't able to get pictures with the entire family, which was a bummer. 
Finger in nose
Thanks, Erica, for sharing this dress! I ended up getting it for $18.63, which I believe was over 80% off!

After dinner we decided to go for a night swim. It was cold, but the girls had a blast! This is something we rarely do, so I was happy we got the opportunity to do this. 
They did this until David could barely move his arms!
Audrey was so tired after swimming that she actually fell asleep laying on top of me in bed, while Raley held my hand and passed out right next to me. 💙

We didn't dock in Costa Maya until 1:00pm so we had the morning to swim and explore on the boat. I got up early and that morning and did a 7:00am "Sunrise Stretch" which I thought was going to be like a yoga class. Some of the stretches were yoga stretches, but most were literally stretches you'd do in gym class. It only lasted 20 minutes so I went back to the room and we got ready for breakfast. (Did you know that they charge for classes like Yoga? I didn't until last week. I'll be talking about several things I learned about Carnival Cruise Lines in a later post. They advertise "all-inclusive" but really it's not.)

After breakfast we all swam for a little bit but Audrey kept climbing out of the pool so I took her to the top deck to play in the splash pad. She was so funny - she would fill up a cup with water and then walk it over to me and dump it on my legs but by the time she got to me most of the water had spilled out because of her cute little waddle.

Here's a funny story: If you ask Raley what her favorite part of the cruise was she will tell you "going down the blue slide." What's funny about that is that she was actually too short to go down the blue slide, but David talked the guy into letting her go once with her sitting in his lap. And when they got to the bottom the water splashed up in their faces and she cried about it. I think it's so funny that that's what she considers her favorite part of the trip. I guess she remembers the ride down and not the water in her face (which is great!). I wish I had a picture but I honestly didn't think he'd let her go, so I didn't have my camera ready.

Oh and here's a glimpse into the stressful part of the trip: After she went down the slide she and David were going to go play putt putt again. But she decided that she didn't want to wear her swimsuit anymore, she only wanted to wear her swim cover up and started undressing out in the middle of everyone at the pool. He told her no, you can't take your swimsuit off in front of everyone and no, you can't just wear your cover up. She threw an epic fit, so he took her back to the room where she proceeded to kick and scream for about 30 minutes. So, yea...although sometimes social media and even this blog can make it seem like everything is perfect, we definitely have our fair share of issues.

Anyway, we eventually grabbed some lunch and got ready to debark the ship to head to the beach in Costa Maya. We didn't pay for an excursion at this port. We had originally planned on paying for a beach day, but when I started reading more about it, it got some pretty terrible reviews, so we decided to just get off and take a taxi to a public beach. We roamed around the shopping area at the port until we found where the shuttles were to take you to the beach. It's $3/person to take a shuttle to the public beach and $3/person to take a taxi back. On the way there they didn't make us pay for the girls, so that was nice. They both actually passed out in their strollers on the way to the shuttle.
That fit Raley threw that morning must have wore her out, because this is a rarity for her.

The beach was not what I expected. I expected white, fluffy sand and blue water with plenty of room to play in the sand and swim. In actuality, it is a strip of shops and restaurants on one side and beach on the other. The beach was very crowded and the sand is not sand you wanted to play in. The water was more of a tan color, not blue. And there were areas of seaweed, which the girls did not like their feet to touch. We tried to make the best out of it and swim away from the seaweed. The girls still liked floating out in the ocean and Raley liked that she could touch the bottom. It made her feel like a big girl. We saw a live sting ray swimming around too, which was cool.
Public beach in Costa Maya
It started raining and we decided to start making our way back to the ship. There were taxi drivers everywhere just waiting for people so we didn't have to flag one down, which was nice. Once we got back to port we shopped around a little bit, then headed back to ship. Getting back on board was quick and easy. They scan your Sail & Sign card and you have to pass your bags through security but it was quick and painless.

This is at the port. This water is what I was picturing it was like everywhere

We wanted to be sure and make it back on ship for dinner because that night one of the options was chile rellenos, which has been a favorite of mine since our San Diego trip. This one was different than I have ever had - it was stuffed with chicken, cheese and corn. SO good!

*Tip: If you go on a Carnival Cruise, be sure to download the Carnival Hub app before you go. You can connect to their wifi and use this app to keep up with activities and events, the weather, what time restaurants are open AND menus (which is how I knew they'd be serving chile rellenos in Costa Maya), plus you can pay $5 to be able to chat with others in your party. This was a lifesaver for us since we weren't all together all the time.

That night, after dinner, David's parents offered to let the girls sleep in their room while David and I got to do our own thing. I was actually pretty exhausted after the day and seriously considered just going to bed. I did take about an hour long nap before getting up and going again. We went down and spent some time on the Serenity deck, which is the adults only deck. I drank some coffee to help me wake up. On our honeymoon we spent alot of time on the Serenity deck because it is much quieter than the rest of the ship. After waking up a bit, we caught up with Lindsey and Brian in the casino. We thought about going to a comedy show, but when we got there it was standing room only and ended up not staying. We didn't do much on our night to ourselves, but it was nice to have some quiet time without chasing the girls around.

Our ship docked in Cozumel about 7:30 that morning. We ate breakfast on the Lido deck and then met up for our excursion at 9:15. The person in charge of the excursion made sure everyone was there and had all the appropriate wrist bands, then we headed out to the port. We met up with some people from another Carnival ship who were going to the same place and we all took shuttles to Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park. This place was incredible! The excursion we got included a dolphin encounter, open buffet, and access to the rest of the park, which included a very nice large pool, beaches and a snorkling area. There was also a complimentary tequila tasting and guacamole tasting. I wish we could have done the guacamole tasting but we ran out of time.

When we first got there it was pouring down rain! Everyone was huddled up under this one area, just waiting for the rain to pass. We were doing some major praying that the rain would pass quickly and the sun would come out, and it did! (God is so good) We were able to get in shortly after and do our dolphin encounter, which to me was the best part of the trip! We got to swim with Olympia and her baby. We were told not to touch the baby because he was in an attention seeking stage and when he gets attention he can get rough. But he kept coming up and rubbing up against us and the girls and rolling on his back. I think he liked them because they were so small. 

Each person in the dolphin encounter got to do tricks with the dolphin. You put your hands up and the dolphin would kiss your hand, you put your hands out and dance with the dolphin, and you could put one hand flat and the dolphin would put her chin in your hand and give you a kiss on the mouth and on the cheek. She also did a trick where you could put a hand out and she would put her chin in your hand and open her mouth like she's smiling. Dolphins are such beautiful, majestic creatures and it was incredible to be in such close contact with them. Makes me think maybe I should have been a dolphin trainer! They also did several tricks for us before we were done. The girls just loved it! Audrey kept saying "yaaayyy dolphin!" and Raley had the biggest smile on her face saying "this is so much fun!" 

Once we were done with the encounter they take you inside to look at the pictures, which were great, but what they charge for them is absolutely outrageous! For a CD with all of our pictures they were charging $265. For just one print it was $35. So if we wanted just one photo of each of them we would have had to pay $70. We had heard that you can talk them down on the price but they wouldn't budge. It's incredibly frustrating because you know its a rip off. These photos are unedited and literally just copied onto a CD. Lindsey and Brian did a scuba diving excursion and had pictures taken under water and paid $15/print. I wish we had gotten some pictures, but not at those prices. Oh well.

After swimming with the dolphins we swam in the pool for a little while then ate lunch. We had read in the reviews that the food was not great, so we had very low expectations. And they were right, it wasn't great, but it was free food, so we didn't mind. 
This was a very large, very clean pool with a swim up bar.
After lunch we headed over to spend some time on the beach. The girls had fun playing in the sand for a little bit. I forgot their sand toys in the room, but they still had fun digging. Raley wanted me to bury her legs and make a mermaid tail. The Audrey wanted hers done too, because she has to do everything big sister does (it's so sweet!) Audrey kept getting her hands covered in sand and then wiping her eyes and face with her sandy hands. Poor girl didn't understand not to do that!

David took them down into the ocean for a little while, where they were surrounded by fish. They loved floating out in the water with the fishies. The water here was beautiful and so clear.
Best family pic we could get. haha
We stayed as long as we possibly could - the last shuttle was leaving at 2:30. We packed up our things, got washed off, and headed to catch the shuttle. Raley and I got to enjoy a popsicle on the way back. The girls looked so little sitting in this van without a car seat.
This is a typical Audrey face

We had a little bit of time when we got back to port to explore before having to get on the boat. We walked around a few shops and stopped for our complimentary margarita. 

Raley was excited to see our towel animal when we got back to the room. She loved seeing what animal would be there each day!
David got the girls washed up and I got them dressed. Audrey's ear had been looking red for a few days but it had gotten worse (it actually had discharge coming out of it) so I decided I needed to take her to see the doctor. We sat in there for about an hour before the doctor finally came in. He told us what we knew, that she had an ear infection, gave us an antibiotic, and we were on our way. When we got to the room Raley was passed out. At this point I didn't have much time to get ready for dinner so I quickly got ready and me and Audrey went to dinner. We tried to wake up Raley but she was not having it. David stayed in the room and let her sleep for as long as she wanted to. She ended up sleeping for about 2 and a half hours.

At dinner there was a magician coming around to each table and performing magic tricks. He did a trick where he made the deck of cards jump and Audrey squealed and said "yaaaaayyyyy!" and clapped so big. It was hilarious and precious. She also enjoyed the music and all the waiters dancing and was dancing with them in her seat.

After dinner we walked around a little bit and then the girls laid in bed and watched Storks before falling asleep. Audrey fell asleep pretty quickly, but Raley stayed up and watched the whole movie. I'm not surprised though, she slept until 7:00pm. She fell asleep fairly quickly once the movie was done though, which I was thankful for. 

Friday was our last full day on the boat. We started off with a fun Green Eggs and Ham breakfast. The girls loved this!  The dining room was all decked out in Dr. Seuss decor. We got to choose from a quirky, Dr. Seuss inspired menu. Raley insisted on getting Green Eggs and Ham and then wouldn't try it (ha!). I don't blame her though, those green eggs were not appetizing.

The girls loved getting to meet the characters. They met Thing 1 and Thing 2, the Cat in the Hat, and Sam I Am.
Audrey just wanted to hug him, she didn't want to turn around for pictures. haha

We had a great time at this breakfast!
Raley carried her bright orange "sock monkey" just about everywhere she went

After breakfast we got ready to swim, and of course it started raining! Luckily we passed through it quickly and were able to have some fun in the water. David took Raley to the pool and I took Audrey to the splash pad (the doctor said she shouldn't swim in the pool with her ear infection). It was very windy at the top, but Audrey still had fun. 

We grabbed some lunch and then we went to do Friends Trivia by the Bistro, which was fun, because it's my favorite show!

After this we went to the pool area where Raley swam. Audrey actually passed out in David's arms so I stayed and played with Raley and David took Audrey back to the room and took a nap with her (he was starting to feel a little nauseous). I was incredibly thankful for this time spent with Raley because I hadn't really gotten one-on-one time with her for most of the trip. We swam in the pool for a while. Up on the stage they were having a line dance party and she was so cute dancing to the songs in the water. She decided she wanted to get out and dry off and then go play putt putt. She requested some lemonade and a banana, so we found her some lemonade and a banana, which she chowed down while we sat and dried off. She looked like such a big girl sitting there eating her banana. 
She sort of spaced out, just watching everything going on around her
We went up to play putt putt, but it was so windy that we couldn't even walk. So we immediately went back down and decided to get some ice cream. We grabbed some ice cream and found Gigi and Pops on the back deck. This was Pops' spot on that last day.

We sat with them for a little bit and then David and I traded off. He took Raley back down to swim for a while and I got a shower and got ready for dinner. Audrey stayed with me and watched a movie on the tablet. 

We tried again for family pictures, but for some reason Raley wasn't having it  (she's usually my good picture taker!)

After dinner the girls went and hung out with Gigi and Pops and David and I went to see The Brits show. It was a show about the British Invasion with songs from several British bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, etc. However, the swells were so bad and the boat was rocking a good bit so they couldn't do the entire show. Instead the cast sat on stools and sang their songs. The music was still good, but I would have liked to see them singing and dancing.
*Tip: If you go to a show in the Universe Lounge, try to get there early so you can get a seat on the bottom level or on the front row of the balcony. If you're short it's very hard to see if you're not near the front.

After the show we went to the 80's party in the atrium, which was a lot of fun. Then it was time for bed. We went to get the girls and they were both already asleep. We took them to our room and we all went to bed. We all four squeezed into the big bed that last night.

We didn't have to be out of our rooms until 9am, so we got up about 7:30, went to have breakfast, then came back to get our stuff. (I will talk about what to do with your luggage and the debarkation process in more detail in a later post. This one is long enough as it is!)

We hung out in the Lido Dining Room while we were waiting for our zone to be called. David took Raley to play life size chess while we waited. Getting off the boat luckily didn't take as long as getting on it. We hit the road and ended up stopping at Cracker Barrell in Prattville for lunch. That first meal off the boat was  mean we can't have everything on the menu for free? 

The girls were both very good car riders. We took two cars and put one kid in each car, which worked out so much better than having both in one! When they ride together they feed off of each other and get each other worked up. They were both very quiet and very good riding separate. 
Audrey typically still faces backward, but for this trip we let her sit forward facing. It allowed for more room in the front seat.
We hit some traffic between Birmingham and Madison so we ended up getting back home around 6:30 that evening. We basically got all our stuff inside, ate dinner and put the girls in bed. We were all exhausted!

This was overall a wonderful trip! One of the best parts about the trip was being able to completely disconnect from reality for a week. We paid for a wifi package but David basically used it to check his fantasy football. I was able to not look at email, get phone calls or texts, get on facebook or instagram or any sort of social media for 5 days. And to tell you the truth, I didn't miss it! It was nice to not be affixed to your phone at all times. I'm going to try to limit the amount of time I'm on it at home too.

Anyway, thank you Gigi and Pops for making this trip possible! We had a great time!

I included a few tips that we found helpful in this post and I will be posting more later. I also plan to include answers to several questions I had going into this trip, such as are there refrigerators in the rooms, what is the embarkation/debarkation process like, do you have to pay to see the doctor, questions about drink packages, and are kids in swim diapers really not allowed to swim? (I think you know the answer to that last one!) 

Stay tuned!

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