The last week in January, we took a break from wretched winter and boarded a ship bound for the sunny Caribbean. It had been seven years (since our honeymoon in Belize) since we took an actual tropical vacation, so I was just a little bit excited to blow the literal popsicle stand that is Wisconsin in winter. We were traveling with my mom and her husband Joe, and my step brother Justin and his family (wife Ashley, kids Ashtin (2) and Lily (11 months)). It was so nice to be traveling with family that has kids the same age as Kai, as he is right in the middle of their two kids.
We left on Friday 1/22 and boarded a 6:10am flight to Fort Lauderdale. We woke Kai up around 3:30am, and though he seemed a bit confused, once he was up and dressed he was running around the house ready to go. We used a private parking lot near the airport that had a valet service for a very cheap price, so we were able to leave our car at the entrance and hop right on a shuttle. We got to the airport, checked in and went through security with no problems. There was a kids play area near our gate, so we let the kids get a little bit of energy out before boarding.
We flew Southwest so there were no assigned seats, but luckily families with small children get to board right after the A group, so there were plenty of seats left when we got on.
Of the whole trip, I was the most nervous about the flights. We took Kai on as a lap child, so he did not have his own seat. The flight down was totally full, so we had another person in our row. She ended up being a super cool lady, a marine going to FL for a drill weekend. She even offered to help with Kai if our laps got tired because she was the oldest of 5 kids and was used to taking care of them I was relieved to have an understanding person with us in case he started to act up.
Kai enjoyed looking out the window and watching the de-iceing process. Then he was asleep within seconds of takeoff. I was both surprised and relieved.
He slept for about 40 mins, and for the rest of the flight we kept him entertained with toys from the dollar store and a few small toys from Christmas that we had put away for this purpose. He also watched some videos for a while towards the end. Two other passengers commented on how good he was during the flight, and I was so happy not to have a screaming toddler on the plane. It did get a little long for all involved when the plane ended up having to circle for an extra 30 mins before landing because of weather, but overall Kai’s first flight was a success!
Finally we landed in Fort Lauderdale, got our bags and found our shuttle that would take us to Miami.
There was a small problem when we got to the shuttle, in that they only had a booster seat for Kai instead of a carseat. Justin and Ashley had brought their own carseats, but we didn’t, knowing we couldn’t use it on the plane. Definitely not an ideal situation but there was nothing we could do about it (and carseats actually are not required in commercial vehicles in FL). So Kai rode in a booster seat made for a much larger child, and Steve kept his arm across Kai in case of a sudden stop.
Kai loved looking out the window until he passed out for the last 20 mins of the trip.
Eventually we arrived at the hotel only to be told that our room was not ready yet. It was about 1pm and official check in time was 4pm. I had called the week before to request an early check in, but apparently they couldn’t make it happen. The lady at the front desk was less than helpful and slightly rude, and when I asked about a restaurant within walking distance where we could get lunch, she recommended a steak house. Mind you we are 4 adults and 3 less than happy kids 2 and under. It was raining, but I consulted Yelp and found a Gastropub about 5 blocks away that sounded good.
We ended up having a delicious lunch, and the waitstaff was awesome with the kids. Good choice! We got back to the hotel around 3pm and our room was ready, finally. We stayed all together in a 2 bedroom condo type deal, which worked out well. Unfortunately, the crappy weather stuck around all day so we didn’t get to use the pool or anything. We just kind of hung out, ordered pizza for dinner, and got excited about boarding the ship in the morning.
Saturday 1/23/16 – Embarkation day
This morning we basically got up and started to get everyone ready to leave. We had the front desk call for a cab around 9:30 I believe, and the cab company sent a regular sized car to transport 7 people and a mountain of luggage. After much standing around waiting for a bigger cab to arrive, a minivan finally showed up. It was not really big enough for us, but there’s no way at that point that we weren’t going to make it work. We sat 3 in the back with a kid on each lap and one in the front.
A short while later, we arrived at the port. We got checked in for the cruise and headed to the boarding area where we met up with my mom and Joe. They were in boarding group 4, and we were in 10. We just went in with them and pretended it was all legit. At the boarding gate where they were letting people onto the ship, there was some kind of hold up (mechanical problem with the gangway I think), so me, Steve, my mom and Kai got held back after the rest of our group had already gone on. We waited for another 20ish minutes until they finally let us board. We met up with the rest of the group who had already gotten a table for lunch. I immediately ordered a cocktail and felt like vacation had officially begun.
I also had chicken fajitas which were tasty, Kai had a grilled cheese, and Steve had a burger which he said was not good. After lunch we went to our rooms to see if they were ready, and they were! We immediately checked out the balconies, and Kai was super excited.
His running commentary at this point was awesome. “A ocean! A fish! A cars!” He was so excited to point everything out. The best part about our rooms was by far the balcony situation. Our three rooms were next to each other, and we were able to open the balcony dividers so we basically had one long triple balcony where the kids could run around and we could go from room to room. We hung out for a little while before it was time to go to the safety drill. Kai fell asleep in the stroller and slept through the whole thing, which was perfect. He is used to sleeping and napping on a pretty consistent schedule, but he was a champ about going with the flow as far as sleeping on the whole trip. After the safety drill we headed outside to watch the ship set sail at 4pm, with more cocktails of course. We had the unlimited beverage package which was a promotion when we booked the cruise, so we definitely tried to take advantage
Bye bye Miami, see you in a week!
Somehow I have no more pictures from this day. We all went to dinner at 6:30pm, and there was a problem with our reservation which involved waiting and a makeshift table for 9. I remember having some sort of steak and ordering mac and cheese for Kai. He was really excited about it until he tasted it and it wasn’t the same as his Annie’s Mac that he has at home. He promptly spit it out and wouldn’t try it again at all. Thus began his weeklong diet of french fries, banana bread, bananas, chips, cereal, and the occasional grilled cheese. He did also eat some sort of pancake or waffle and bacon most mornings, and of course he drank plenty of his beloved milk each day. I’m sure no one was up too late this night, as we were all tired from traveling still.
Sunday & Monday, 1/24-1/25/16 – Sailing
The first two days of the cruise were at sea. The weather, though much better than WI, was a bit of a bummer. It was low 70’s and kind of windy and overcast. It wasn’t ideal for swimming or water slides, but luckily there was other stuff to do on the ship. Each morning the Guppies program had an activity for kids under 3 with their parents at 9:30am. We took Kai and Ashtin to it on Monday, and they got to paint a picture with vegetable based paints. We were very glad we stripped them down to their diapers before starting, and most of the other parents followed suit.
Kai and Ashtin were hard at work on their masterpieces.
Their artwork was hung on the wall when they finished.
There was a very cool ropes course on top of the ship that Steve and I did.
Not my photo
Also not my photo
It had beams and ropes to walk across, as well as zip lines and a plank that literally walked off of the side of the ship and was wobbly (see above). I did not do that part because I am a chicken, but Steve did. The whole thing was challenging but fun. I don’t have any pics of us doing it because we weren’t allowed to have anything at all in our pockets, so we left our phones in the room.
The ship had a bar that was all craft beers, so naturally we hit that up several times throughout the week. I got the Dogfish Head IPA every time, it was so good.
We spent some time exploring the ship and Kai did some laps on the running track to warm up for some Bocce Ball.
Kai and Ashtin both wore their animal backpacks that they got from Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas pretty much any time we left the rooms. Kai’s was a monkey and Ashtin’s was a dog, and they both had a detachable “safety tether” (AKA leash) on the bottom. Yes, we put our kids on a leash, and yes, it did come in handy on more than one occasion. Those kids are fast, man. Kai’s backpack held some small toys, his water cup, and some hand wipes, so it was nice to have that stuff along anytime we were eating as well. He loved putting it on because he knew it meant we were leaving the room.
There was a Guppies playroom that was open all of the time where you could take your little kid to play with toys. We took Kai there a couple times, but he only really played in there for 5-10 mins before he wanted to get out of the room and sprint down the hall.
Our first towel animal was a dog notifying us that there would be a time change so we would have to set our clocks forward.
We hung out on the balcony while my mom and Joe went to a show, and we stole all of their bedding to keep us warm.
Monday night, we signed all three kids up for the Guppies Nursery where you pay $20 per kid and drop them off from 6:30-8:50pm so that all of the adults could have a nice quiet dinner. We started at the wine bar where they had a delicious cabernet that I went back for several times later in the week.
We went to dinner in one of the smaller dining rooms, and the service was so.slow. It was awful. The food was great as usual, but we were there what seemed like forever waiting for our food. Around 8:15, our pager went off from the nursery and we were told that Kai wouldn’t stop crying and we had to go check on him. Ugh. I was surprised because he does fine at the gym day care at home all the time, but when we got there he was really upset. I’m not sure what set him off, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to calm down, so we had to take him with us. Now we had one kid at the dinner table (past his bedtime), and still no main course. By 8:40, we STILL did not have our main course and Justin and Ashley now had to pick up there two kids from the nursery because it ended at 8:50. They got back and we now had three cranky kids at the dinner table late at night. They finally brought our main course and we ate, then requested our desserts be sent back to the rooms. They weren’t going to do it for us, but finally the waiter said ok, probably just to get us out of there. The whole thing was ridiculous. Dinner should not take 2+ hours to come out, especially when you order everything (appetizer, salad, main course) at the same time. So basically it was a waste of paying for daycare, since we didn’t even get to enjoy the quiet dinner. Oh well.
After dinner we hung out on the balcony and noticed the very apparent shift in temperature. Warm Caribbean air at last!
Tuesday 1/26/16 – St. Thomas
Around 8am on Tuesday we pulled into port in St. Thomas. Again, having the balconies was so cool because we could go outside and watch our ship approach the island. It was a perfectly sunny, hot day, exactly what I had been waiting for! We had plans to go to Sapphire Bay beach, and meet up with my friend Robin who lives on the island (I know). After eating breakfast at the buffet, we got off the ship. Now, there were open air taxis right there that we could have taken for about $8/person, but my mom said last time they were there they walked “just a couple blocks” and took a bus to the beach for $2/person. Ok great. Well about 2 MILES later, we got to the bus stop, dripping sweat from pushing the strollers and carrying our beach bags. I declared then and there that we would be taking a taxi for the return trip.
We were finally dropped off at the beach, and after walking down a huge hill we were treated with the beautiful Caribbean sand and water.
We got situated under a tree for shade, and waded into the water. True to form and unsurprisingly, Kai was not a fan. He didn’t want his feet to touch the sand. He didn’t want to be held where our feet were touching the water.
He whined and whined until we finally asked him if he wanted to sit in his stroller and he said “stroller! stroller!” So we had the one kid at the beach who just wanted to sit in his stroller. Figures, he is such a pickle sometimes.
After a little while my mom took him for a walk and he thankfully fell asleep for over an hour.
We just hung out and soaked up the sunshine, and a little while later Robin arrived with her two kids.
It was great catching up with her, as I hadn’t seen her since Kai was a little baby and she was in Wisconsin for a visit. Kai eventually woke up, and lo and behold, he warmed up to touching the sand. Before long he was actually enjoying himself with the beach toys we brought.
We ordered some food and drinks and hung out a little while longer before heading back. My mom and Joe opted to hike back up the hill and take the bus again, while we opted for a taxi. It ended up being $10/person, but at that point it was worth it. Steve, Kai and I got dropped off at the shops right by the ship, and we did a little shopping. We were waiting for Robin’s husband Matt to get off work. When he did, we met up again and went to one of the bars nearby for some beers. Kai played with their kids while the adults sipped some cold drinks.
It was great being able to hang out with them for a while, but before long we had to board the ship again.
Bye bye St. Thomas!
This night my mom and Joe offered to go to dinner early and then watch the kids while Steve, Justin, Ashley and I went to dinner. We took the kids to the buffet while they were eating, and then it was our turn.
We stopped for a glass of good wine from the wine bar before dinner, and then had a nice meal without the kids. After dinner, we stopped back at the room to check on things. Kai was asleep, and Justin and Ashley put their kids to bed before the four of us headed to the show that we had reserved at 10pm. The show was Million Dollar Quartet, and it was so good. It was probably the best show I have seen on a cruise ship, all of the actors were so talented. It was about a day at Sun Studios where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were together for a recording session for the first and last time. The music was awesome, and I stayed awake for almost all of it despite being out way past my bedtime.
Wednesday 1/27/16 – Tortola
When I woke up on Wednesday, we were already docked in Tortolla, and a brief downpour produced quite a rainbow.
My mom and Joe got off the ship bright and early to go on their excursion to The Baths, and the rest of us opted to stay on the ship all day and enjoy the less crowded swimming areas with the kids. We were only in port until 3pm and there was really nothing for us to do on land that didn’t involve a taxi, so the ship it was.
After breakfast, we took the kids to the splash pad for some fun. Again true to form, Kai did not want to be put down or get his feet wet for a good 15-20 mins.
After a while he warmed up to the idea, and before long he was running around.
Lily is just so darn cute with her little teeth.
After the splash pad we dried off and got the kids dressed back in the room. There was some talk of getting off the ship to check out the shops, but in the end we decided to go get lunch at the buffet. After lunch, I decided to take a nap when Kai did, and Steve and Justin went to the hot tub. We dressed up for dinner that night and I literally have no pictures. I’m pretty sure the kids were being terrible and this was the last time we attempted the big group dinner. It was just too much for the kids and they were miserable waiting around at the table for dinner to be finished. The only picture I have of Kai in his fancy outfit. Total fail. Kai had also developed a runny nose this day, which lasted through Thursday and he had a pretty bad cough for the rest of the trip. He probably caught it in the nursery, but what are you going to do.
I think this night involved drinks on the balcony and possibly the bar, I can’t remember. Oh, the vacation life.
Thursday 1/28/16 – Sailing
Thursday was our last ‘at sea’ day, and we spent it enjoying the fun stuff on the ship like the waterslides.
The green and blue slides on the left are the “drop slides,” and the blue one on the right is the tube slide. The yellow slide on the left is a small basic water slide. Steve was most excited to try the drop slide, and I was most nervous. You stand in a capsule, and when the guy pushes the button the floor slides out from under you and you literally fall straight down before going halfway upside down and finally coming to the bottom. The whole thing lasts only 8 seconds, and I don’t think I have ever screamed so loud in my life. It was very cool and we ended up doing it twice. The big tube slide was fun as well. Steve and I went together on a double tube and if you look at the picture you can see a small clear section in the slide. That part is over the side of the ship so you can look right down to the water. I don’t have any pictures from during the day on Thursday, because we left our phones in the room. This one was on the balcony.
After a day of fun, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the balconies.
This was another night where my mom and Joe ate early, and we took the kids to the buffet before going to our own dinner. We also saw another show this night, After Midnight. It was ok, but not nearly as good as the first show and I could not stay awake to save my life.
Friday 1/29/16 – Nassau, Bahamas
We were scheduled to be docked in Nassau from 12-7pm on Friday, so we had the morning to enjoy on the ship. We took the kids to the farewell disco party in the Guppies room where they each got a little stuffed Nemo fish to take home.
The party was complete with music and disco lights, which was cute.
A little before noon, we watch the ship pulling into port. The air was cooler, which didn’t surprise me since we were pretty close to Florida again, but I was bummed that we had left the tropical feel of the Caribbean already.
Steve and I booked a SCUBA diving excursion this day, and the rest of the group went to the zoo. I have no pictures of our dive trip because we didn’t bring our phones, and I never picked up a disposable water camera to use. Really wish I would have, but oh well. The dive trip was not the greatest. It was a 45 min shuttle ride to the dive shop clear on the other side of the island. The first dive was a wreck dive at about 70 feet of water. Steve thought it was cool because the ships were very intact, but I thought it was a little boring. I much prefer reef dives where there are tons of corals and marine life. We did see a big sting ray and a shark, but that was about it. It was windy, so the seas were rough, and back on the boat after dive one I was freezing cold and getting nauseous. I really didn’t want to dive again because I was so cold, but I knew that I would get sick if I stayed on the boat.
The second dive was a “reef” dive, again about 65-70 feet of water. We were told it was one of the top 5 dive spots in the area, and honestly there was not much to see at all. It was less of a reef and more of a mound of sand with a few corals, kind of disappointing. We did see a big sea turtle which was cool, but not much else. It seemed the seas were even rougher when we surfaced, so between that and the diesel fumes on the boat I was just trying not to be sick on the way back in. Once back on dry land I felt fine, and we made the 45 min trip back to the port. Overall, I do not think diving here was worth the money we spent, but then again we have been spoiled with our last dives done in Cozumel and Belize.
The rest of the group had fun at the zoo, where there were apparently a lot of flamingoes.
The boys were wearing their matching outfits that day, but of course it was impossible to get a picture of them.
Steve and I didn’t get back to the ship until 6pm or so, and again my mom and Joe went to dinner first. We spent that time packing since it was already our last night on the ship😦 When my mom and Joe returned, we put Kai to bed since it was already almost 8pm and he had only napped for 10 mins in the stroller all day. Then we went out to enjoy our last dinner. I sure will miss ordering a 5-6 course meal every night, including chocolate lava cake. Can’t believe I don’t have a picture of that one, as I enjoyed it 6 out of 7 nights. We didn’t stay up too late the last night because we had to be up and off the ship by 8:30am.
Saturday 1/30/16 – Debarkation
I woke up around 6am on Saturday and took a quick shower, then Steve and Kai were up shortly after. We finished packing up our last few things and went to the buffet for one last breakfast around 7:30am. We opted to carry all of our luggage off the ship ourselves because otherwise you have to wait until at least 10am to get your luggage back, and we needed to get back to Fort Lauderdale for a 12:40pm flight.
The debarkation process was very smooth, thanks to Justin and Ashley having an extra luggage strap that we could borrow to make a luggage train with our four suitcases.
Once we were off the ship, we went through customs and found the shuttle we had booked to take us back to Fort Lauderdale. They assured me they had a carseat this time, but when we arrived at the shuttle we saw it was actually a high backed booster seat. Whatever. At least we could buckle Kai in with the full seatbelt this time. We arrived at the airport about three hours before our flight and waited in a huge long line to check in. Then we made our way through security and to the gate, where we had maybe an hour and a half more to wait.
Don’t even care that he’s laying on the airport floor at this point. On Southwest, families with kids under 6 get to board right after the A group. This is huge, because there are no assigned seats on Southwest, so this pretty much guarantees that families will be able to sit together. My mom carried Kai on and Joe carried Ashtin so they could board with us too. The flight was once again totally full, so my mom sat in the row with us, Joe sat right behind on the aisle, and Justin & Ashley’s family was right across the row. This time it took Kai a good hour before he succumbed to a nap, which he needed badly. He slept for about 40 mins again and then we entertained him with some videos.
Back in Milwaukee while we waited for our bags, I let Kai get out of the stroller and after he ran around a little bit he had a full blown meltdown when it was time to corral him and put his jacket on. He screamed, cried and kicked the entire time we walked out to the shuttle and rode the shuttle back to the parking lot. He finally calmed down when he saw our car with his own familiar carseat, and I was glad that it was the only full boar five alarm meltdown of the trip. We made it back home, and it definitely took Kai a few days to adjust to being back on his schedule. The first few days were a little rough with a super tired and crabby toddler on our hands. It was totally worth it though. As always, the entire vacation that we had looked forward to for nearly a year was over in the blink of an eye. Until next time…