I have finally unpacked the suitcase.
Um, just yesterday.
A few astute readers guessed that we were on a cruise, and we were. Cruising is one of my go-to vacations because it requires very little thought. I don’t need to worry about how we’re going to get to our destinations, where we’re going to eat, how much everything is going to cost … it’s all taken care of. And I love that. Because sometimes the logistics of planning a vacation can seem challenging, especially if I’m doing it all by myself.
This was my sixth cruise, Nick’s fifth, and Madeline’s second. All with Royal Caribbean. We have gone out of three different ports, and my favorite is leaving from NJ/NY. Because the vacation starts right away. Although leaving from other ports opens us up to more varied itineraries, I don’t want to lose a day on either end because we have to fly to a new port.
At least not now.
This was a new itinerary for us, with two stops in the Bahamas (one in Nassau and one in Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island), and one in Port Canaveral. Three days where the ship is docked, four days at sea. It’s a pretty sweet balance between being active and completely inactive.
As we have been on this particular ship several times before, the layout is very familiar to us. Although one of the older and mid-size ships in the RCCI line, there is a wealth of things to keep you busy while at sea. Spa treatments, arcades, a kids’ club, wine tastings, art shows, ice skating, musical performances, ice shows, towel demonstrating classes, napkin folding classes… the list is endless. You can be as busy as you want to be. The kids both put ice skating in their top three favorites things on the trip, and we attended the musical performances every night.
On the first full day at sea, we were heading into and through a storm. And in six cruises, this is the first time that I bought seasickness bands. We didn’t get sick per se, but just felt nauseous and off all day. Between the bands, munching on green apples, and spending the afternoon napping, all was fine by dinnertime.
Our first stop was Port Canaveral and as I mentioned before, I had a tough time deciding how to spend our afternoon. We docked at around 1 pm, and left the port later that night. The easiest choices for excursions were Sea World (to feed Madeline’s dolphin obsession), Kennedy Space Center, or any of the Disney properties. Because it was Spring Break, I nixed the Disney properties, because the crowds were going to be pretty terrible. The ship doesn’t offer an excursion for Sea World, so it would have meant renting a car, which is fine, but because the car rental companies close at 6 pm, and Sea World was a little over an hour away, I just couldn’t make it work (and believe me, I tried my darnedest). Kennedy Space Center it was (you can read our recap of that right here).
Our next stop was Nassau. And that was an easy decision, with the Atlantis Aquarium being offered as en excursion. We took a shuttle bus from the ship to the aquarium and back. On the way to the aquarium, as the bus drove through the windy streets of the downtown, the disparity between the town versus the resort area was disappointing. Just such a dichotomy between the two, like fantasy versus reality. The kids loved the aquarium, and the complete review for that is here.
The last stop on the itinerary was Coco Cay. We had decided that this stop would be a total beach day. We took a small boat (tender) from the ship to the shore, and spent the day in the ocean. The kids loved the floating mats (a bargain $12 rental), and spent their time swimming and looking for seashells. They are both such little water babies, there wasn’t a better was to spend our day. On the way back to the tender, we stopped at the little outdoor market where they chose a few little inexpensive treasures (Nick picked a necklace and Madeline went with a wooden flute with her name engraved on the side). Despite using 60 SPF sunblock and the temperatures being in the low 70s with a beautiful breeze, we came back looking like a trio of lobsters and immediately went off searching for some relief via lots and lots of aloe.
And then, two full days of sea as we began to make our way back to Jersey waters. We concentrated on anything we wanted to do on the ship that we hadn’t done yet (a visit to Johnny Rockets, buying a few souveneirs in the gift shop, pictures from around the ship, ordering the ship’s DVD of our week at sea, and more).
Then it was over. We pulled into the port as the sun was coming up (I love this picture below), and started saying our good-byes. After months of planning and dreaming, it was over. But it was perfect. The perfect amount of time to be away, a good itinerary for us, and time well spent. We enjoyed every second of the trip, but loved coming home too. Isn’t that always the way? And I’m proud to say that although it took me a month to unpack the suitcase (although I swear I took the dirty laundry out right away), I did manage to upload 700+ pictures, edit them, and get them in a photo album in one week’s time. Mostly because I know if I didn’t do it right away, they’d just sit and languish on my computer (photo album post coming soon!).
We have only cruised with Royal Caribbean, so I can’t compare them to other lines, but wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. This time, I ended up booking the cruise through Costco’s travel department, because, surprisingly enough, even though I am a travel agent on the side, their buying power got a better deal in terms of on-board credit.
The staff really goes above and beyond to make your vacation as enjoyable as possible. The food is not OMG, but it is good, and hey, someone else cooked for us for seven days. And I certainly can’t complain about that.
Our only negative takeaway is that I don’t think I’d be in a hurry to book another Caribbean cruise during Spring Break (out of six cruises, this was the first time we actually had sailed during Spring Break). The ship has approximately 3000 guests, and in a normal week, there are about 300 kids. During this week that we went, there were 1,100 kids. And it wasn’t so much that there were too many kids, it was that the teenagers tended to run wild around the ship in little packs, particularly noticeable the last two days at sea, and take over whatever area they were in. It’s a longer story, but it just wasn’t an ideal scenario.
That said, we’ve found that people either love cruises or hate them. There’s not a lot of grey area. We happen to love them. They provide a good variety of activities and itineraries, are budget-friendly (especially if you pay attention to the cruise line’s sales and get creative), and take a lot of pressure out of vacation planning. Madeline is desperate to take a plane ride, and has been begging for one for several months now (she has no idea the actuality of that is sooner than she thinks), and there is so much of the US that we haven’t explored, I think anything goes when it comes to our next Spring Break vacation.
*Observant readers might notice that Madeline usually has a stuffed animal with her. On the trip, she chose to bring Charlotte (seen in a few pictures above). Charlotte is going to need a passport at the rate she’s going!