Cruising with Kids - Tips for Sailing with Toddlers and Preschoolers

There was a time that cruise vacations were thought of as an escape for adults and families often shied away from them, but times have changed.  In recent years, cruise lines have been catering to the needs of young families and attracting them in droves.  And, why not?  As a mom with 2 young boys, cruise vacations are some of my favorite.  You have a floating city with seemingly endless amounts of delicious food, entertainment, pools - all while sailing to beautiful and exotic destinations - a new port each day! Sounds perfect, right? But we all know that traveling with toddlers and preschoolers isn't always as easy as the Instagram stories you see would make it seem.  Here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up over the years that may just make your family cruise even more enjoyable!

Research the Kids Clubs - Regardless of which cruise line you're sailing, most have space just for kids on board. . .and this is fabulous news for moms and dads everywhere! Kids will actually want to go and hang out in these amazing spaces which means that there is built in fun in store for your whole family.  Depending on which cruise line you choose, there are different age limits on these kids clubs.  Many of them start at age 3, but Carnival Cruise Line starts admitting kids as early as 2.  Some cruise lines even have nursery spaces, often for an additional cost, which can give parents a chance to sneak in some grown-up time on vacation.  We used the nursery on Disney Cruise Line when Brody was a toddler each at sea day for nap time.  It gave us guilt-free time to enjoy the Quiet Cove pool and relax on the deck.
Oceaneer's Club on Disney Fantasy

Pack for Success - Let's be honest.  You're in the middle of the ocean, floating on a boat, with a tiny human being that demands lots of things.  Part of the packing trick for cruises is not too much, but definitely enough.  While cruise lines have become more kid friendly, you won't find all the comforts of your neighborhood Target on board.  Pack more diapers then you'll think you need - they'll cost you an arm and a leg on board.  Bring some baby ibuprofen and such to help with teething or ear aches or whatever comes your way.  Definitely think about kid friendly snacks and baby food that you may want to bring along - a pack of goldfish can go a long way in holding off a meltdown while you're in port! I also highly recommend grabbing a few packs of disposable sippy cups.  Not all cruise ships have kid friendly cups available for use! On each of our cruises with the kids, I've brought an over-the-door shoe organizer and used those pockets to organize all of the kid essentials.

Oceanview Stateroom on Carnival Paradise
But Don't Pack Too Much! - Cruise staterooms are tiny, even on Disney Cruise Line which tends to boast more space for families.  Think about what you need - not what you want.  A special blanket or favorite stuffed animal is important to bring, but packing a suitcase full of toys will only clutter up your room and won't really serve much of a purpose.  Most likely, you also won't need a stroller on the cruise.  And most ships offer Pack 'n' Plays if needed for younger toddlers.  Older toddlers and preschoolers should be just fine in the beds provided.  Each cruise line has different options available so definitely do your homework!

Take a Look at Excursions - One of the best parts of cruising is exploring all that your destinations have to offer.  When looking at excursions, keep your little ones in mind.  Some excursions have age restrictions that will play into your decision making.  For example, snorkeling cruises and ATV adventures probably won't welcome your toddler and preschooler.  We tend to stick with beach or water park fun with our young ones, but we did venture out on an 11 hour bus tour of Cuba a few cruises back which actually turned out to be pretty fun - even with a 2 and 5 year old! And if you're cruising on a budget, don't forget to look at pricing on excursions.  Some may be free for young children! Many of the cruise lines have private beaches and islands on their Bahamian and Caribbean destinations which have great options for families.  Disney Cruise Line features a kids club on the island with supervision so parents can sneak over to Serenity Bay while Carnival Cruise Line hosts a pirate-themed water playground on Half Moon Cay.

Kid Friendly Fun at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
What About Travel Documents? - Currently closed loop cruises that depart and return to American ports don't require a passport, only your birth certificate.  However, travel document guidelines are always changing.  We always cruise with a passport for our children though as you never know what emergency might strike while traveling abroad.  Remember that you will need several weeks to process a passport application and both parents need to be present when submitting the application for a minor's passport.  Passports for children under 16 are good for 5 years so, depending on your vacation habits, you may be able to get several trips out of them!

Cruising has certainly become a family friendly travel option, allowing time for relaxation and excitement all packed into one vacation! With so much to see and do on the ships from exclusive kid spaces to family entertainment and the opportunity to explore new destinations, you can discover a whole new world!  Where will your next cruise vacation take you?

A Parent's Guide to Wonder Park

My boys and I decided to have a movie date night over the weekend.  It was their treat using the movie gift cards they received from recent birthdays and since they were treating they got to pick the movie.  We actually were torn between the new How to Train Your Dragon and Wonder Park, so we left it up to friends who were going to be joining us and went with Wonder Park.  I'll be honest - this movie caught me off guard.  I went into the movie expecting to see a story about a little girl who has the imaginative amusement park she had created come magically to life, but instead found myself fielding questions like "Why is her mom going to the hospital?", "When is she coming back?", and "Can you tell me when the darkness is going to be over?"  Now don't get me wrong, I'm really glad that I took my boys to go see this movie and there were many humorous and lighthearted moments in it, but as a parent with young kids, there are a few things you may want to be prepared for before you arrive.

Most of what I'm going to discuss here went right over the head of my 4 year old, but it landed square in the mind of my 7 year old and I'm going to attempt to keep this as spoiler free as possible.  The movie begins with June and her parents living a simple, happy life.  June and her mom love building and creating their imagined amusement park, Wonderland.  But life soon deals them a cold blow.  Without ever speaking specifically to the details, you clearly see June's mom get bad news and grow more tired in a time lapse sequence.  Finally, June's parents tell her that mom is too sick to stay at home any more and needs to go to a hospital.  Despite attempts from friends and family to cheer her up, June becomes angrier and more sad with each passing day.  She takes out those strong feelings on the one thing that triggers those happy memories of mom and destroys the Wonderland they had created in the house.  In an effort to keep a sense of normalcy in her life, June's dad insists that she goes to Math Camp for the summer, but June has other plans.  She sneaks off the bus and escapes into the woods to head back home to be with and care for her father.  But she's drawn deeper into the woods and discovers that Wonderland may not be make believe after all.  Finding the darkness consuming and destroying Wonderland, June must work with her familiar friends to find the light within her and use her light to overpower dark.

Wow.  Does that say a lot?  So in the movie that I was expecting to be a carefree film, we have serious illness, hospitalization, and depression all rolled into one.  Brody asked A LOT of questions during the movie, especially about the mom and her illness.  Since he hasn't experienced a serious illness and extended hospitalization of a close family member, he didn't know what exactly was happening - but he could tell it was bad and it was making June very sad.  I can imagine this would be a very sensitive movie for a family that has been through something similar.  The message in the end is positive, uplifting, and hopeful, but not without showing us that you must sometimes battle a great deal of darkness to shine your light brighter than ever.

I would not steer away from this movie based on what I know now.  Definitely take your kids to see it as it does give an opportunity to talk about some serious issues in a safe context, but know that those questions most likely will come.  Those of you who know my reviews, know I often like kid-friendly movies that tackle bigger issues, I was just surprised to see it happen in this one.  I curious to hear and read even more feedback in the days and weeks to come as more people experience the world of Wonder Park.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

To Infinity, Beyond, and Toy Story Land!

Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort has been a magical addition to this fabulous park! Ever since Andy welcomed us into his home and shared his favorite toys with us back in the 90s, Toy Story has been a fan favorite.  We've watched Andy grow from a little boy to a college freshman and his toys have grown up along the way too learning the true meaning of friendship.  And with Buzz, Woody, and the gang making a return to the big screen in June 2019, a whole new generation of Toy Story fans are ready to join the adventures.  The timing was perfect to unveil this land and I'm excited to share with you an overview of everything you need to know about visiting Toy Story Land with your family on your next Disney vacation!

Which characters can you expect to meet in Toy Story Land? How do I think the rides compare to others across the Walt Disney World Resort?  And of course, what is there to eat?  Check it out and let me know what you love most about Toy Story Land!

Tales from a Self-Proclaimed Slacker - Training Update 2/12/19

So here's the down and dirty truth - I've been a slacker.  Life has gotten in the way these past few weeks and I need to get myself back on track.  I can't say it's been a bad few weeks - it's actually been really exciting around our house!  Both of my boys celebrated birthdays the first week of February which meant birthday fun and a big birthday party.  February is also the busiest month of our friends and family birthday parties too so we've been running each weekend to parties.  We've also been doing lots of fun things like visiting the Baltimore Auto Show and renewing our membership with our first visit of 2019 to the Maryland Science Center.

The weather has been dampening my training plans - literally.  Between the polar vortex, snow, ice, and rain, I am once again renewed with my feelings of bitterness for training in Maryland winters.  Bring on the sunshine and warmer temperatures!  My treadmill has been getting me some miles, but it's admittedly not the same.  And with my hubby traveling a lot for work lately, getting to my elliptical at the Y has become more difficult.

And diet - don't even go there.  Training diet went out the window with the birthday cakes, pizza, and Super Bowl food about a week and a half ago and I haven't gotten that ship righted either.  In January, I lost 9 lbs and in February I've found 2 of them again!  I've been a yo-yo dieter most of my adult life so I'm used to this ride, but I'm hoping to end that cycle.  This time around I'm not doing a "diet" - I'm working to balance healthier eating choices with exercise to take weight off once and for all.


So now it's time to refocus and get back on track.  But how?  Getting back into a routine is HARD - like seriously hard people.  How do you do it?  I need to hit back with consistency.  Whether it's what's on the training plan or not, I simply need to do something every day.  Training for a marathon is, well, a marathon not a sprint.  I know ups and downs will happen over the next 11 months and my success next January won't be determined by one or two weeks where I fell down on my plan, but by the weeks where I pulled myself back and kept pushing forward.  That's a good metaphor for life too. We're all bound to fall down from time to time, but it's not how far or how hard you fall.  Instead, it's about how you pull yourself back up.  And remember you are not alone - in life or training.  Admitting our failures and our struggles as well as celebrating our successes with family, friends, or total strangers on the Internet means we find support and encouragement.  So today, let's lift each other up and make each other stronger!

The LEGO Movie 2 - Is Everything Still Awesome?

All these years later and you probably still have "Everything is Awesome" stuck in your head.  Am I right or am I right??  Well, with "The LEGO Movie 2 - The Second Part" being released on February 8th, everyone is asking the same question - is everything STILL awesome?

I'll be honest, the opening minutes of the movie had me questioning if this was going to be worth it, but the story quickly grew on me.  Bricksburg has fallen under attack by alien invaders from the DUPLO Universe and the happiness has disappeared as Apocalypseburg has become the new norm.  But all of this heart hardening can't dampen the spirits of our happy-go-lucky hero, Emmet.  He continues to see the glass half-full and life for what it can be, not what it is.  However, he soon finds his friends taken prisoners and transported to the Systar System where he fears they will be brainwashed and all of Apocalypseburg will be destroyed.  Emmet knows he must save the day and learns to "toughen up" thanks to the help of a new friend he meets along the way, Rex.  Old favorites like Lucy and the always chiseled Batman, meet new characters like Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi as this adventure takes the citizens of Bricksburg to where they have never been before!  Will Emmet be able to save the day or will all hope be lost forever?

One thing is for sure, there is plenty of music along the way!  "Everything is Awesome" is back with a new reprisal, "Everything's Not Awesome" and a new favorite, "This Song's Gonna Get Stuck Inside Your Head" will do just that.  With the silly laughs, catchy songs, bright colors, and exciting action, there is plenty for your kids to enjoy.  My 7 year old son was slow warming up, but after about the first 15 minutes, was captivated by the story.  While there wasn't anything I would object to my 4 year old seeing as part of the film, I don't think he would get most of the storyline - but he'd certainly dance to the "fresh beats." My favorite part of the whole movie?  Batman.  He's simply the coolest LEGO character EVER.  His big ego and sarcastic comments are perfect for the grown-ups to enjoy.

There are also a few valuable life lessons that can be learned through the movie.  The first - everything is not always awesome.  Throughout the movie, our heroes battle against adversity.  In fact, they very plainly point out that it's unrealistic for everything to be awesome all the time.  I like a message that teaches are kids about grit and perseverance.  The second life lesson - people (or LEGOs in this case) aren't always what they seem.  I don't want to spoil any plot lines here, but there are a few character twists and turns along the way that remind us that we might need to look beyond the surface and get to know someone before we judge the content of their character.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and found myself unable to control my body from dancing along in my seat at different parts.  Don't worry if you didn't see the first LEGO movie, you'll be able to quickly jump in and understand what's happening.  This is a great movie for elementary and up to see.  Be sure to check it out in theaters everywhere beginning February 8th!

My family and I received complimentary admission to an advanced screening of this movie.  As always, opinions are my own!  Thanks to Allied Media for the opportunity to screen this movie and share my thoughts!

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