Showing posts with label cruise planning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cruise planning. Show all posts

Where to Eat on the Disney Dream

Breakfast at Royal Palace on Disney Dream
What's breakfast without Mickey Waffles on your Disney Cruise?

Cruising on a Disney Cruise Line vacation means there is magic around every corner. . .even when it comes to the food!  You are sure to find something for everyone (and then some!) when you are on the Disney Dream.  Let's take a look at where to eat while on the Disney Dream.

Main Dining Rooms on the Disney Dream


As you may or may not know, Disney Cruise Line features a unique cruising feature - rotational dining.  Rotational dining means that each night of your cruise you change restaurants, but your wait staff travels with you.  This means you get to have varying dining experiences each night of your cruise with the bonus of having your waitstaff remain the same.  Like other cruise line restaurants, you'll find appetizers, soups, main courses, and desserts available regardless of where you are eating. Want to try more than one thing - just ask!  They'll be happy to make your dining wish come true.  Each restaurant also features a kid's menu so the little ones will find their favorites even when they're away from home.  During booking, you'll select either main dining or late dining.  Don't worry - all of the shows in the theater are scheduled so guests on either seating can enjoy them.

How to Meet Characters on Your Disney Cruise Vacation

Let's face it - kids (and some of us adults!) love meeting characters when we travel to Disney destinations.  A Disney Cruise Line vacation is no different and gives you a number of ways to meet & interact with characters while on board.  Check out these tips to make the most of your opportunities to meet characters while cruising with your family!

You can reserve some character experiences ahead of time


Just like FastPass+ and Advanced Dining Reservations can be booked prior to a Walt Disney World Resort vacation, guests sailing on Disney Cruise Line can book some experiences ahead of their cruise.  Some of these include character meet & greets! While I'm sure the reservation options may vary - particularly on special sailings - you will definitely want to check them out on the "My Cruise Activities" section of your reservation.  For our cruise, there were a few Frozen meet and greets plus several Princess meet and greets.  The ONLY way to participate in these is with a reservation - and they do book up quickly!  Also, depending on your sailing, there may be character dining experiences too.  Be sure to log into your "My Cruise Activities" as soon as your window opens to have the best chance of getting what you want to book.

The Pirate's League on Disney Cruise Line

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me. . .

Each Disney Cruise Line vacation in the Bahamas and Caribbean features a special Pirates in the Caribbean night where scalawags of all ages are invited to party aboard the ship.  For this special night, the usual Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on the ship also transforms into The Pirate's League.  We had done this experience twice before in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, but not on one of our cruise vacations yet.  On our recent trip, we decided to make reservations for the whole family - yes, that's right - all 4 of us!

Before we start, let's go over some basic information you need to know.  This experience can be booked online in your cruise planning section on the Disney Cruise Line website.  We didn't have a problem getting a reservation and there were still some available even on Pirate Night itself, but for the best times and to ensure your reservation, I recommend doing it when your window opens if you're interested.  You can always cancel or change your reservation if needed closer to the time.  The cost is $44.95 (as of January 2020) for a variety of makeover options - 3 piratey options that are more for the boys (Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard, and Captain Hook) and 2 options for the ladies (Empress and Redd).  For an additional fee you can also purchase a costume, but I recommend bringing one from home to save on cash.  Money Saving Tip - Check your local stores in the days following Halloween for deep discounts on costumes and accessories.  You also want to carefully pick your time during the day to schedule your makeover.  We chose to do ours at 4:45 because that allowed us all day in port to enjoy the beach and pool, but still have the whole evening to enjoy our new looks.

When you arrive, you'll check in at the front desk and roll the dice to find out your new pirate name.  After confirming your pirate selection, the buccaneers in your family will be whisked away to your chair for your swashbuckling makeover.  The makeover is quick - roughly 15 minutes - but the memories will last much longer.  The cast members entertain both the person getting the makeover and the family with jokes, stories, and songs.  At the end of the makeover, the newest pirate takes the pirate oath and officially becomes part of the league.

While it may be obvious that kids will have fun at The Pirate's League, the bigger question may be if adults can have fun there too.  Unlike the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, adults are welcome to participate.  The makeovers are the same as the ones offered for kids.  I didn't find my makeover to be overly impressive from the actual make-up side of things (could have been much bolder in my honest opinion), but I had just as much fun as my kids.  In my opinion, I think the male makeovers pack a bit more punch and thought my husband made quite the impressive pirate.

After you leave The Pirate's League, you will have a night to remember.  We used the remainder of the time before dinner to meet a few pirate characters including Pirate Mickey and Captain Jack Sparrow.  We then enjoyed our pirate themed dinner inside Animator's Palate.  Our night then continued with Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean Night Deck Party and the fireworks at sea later on in the evening.

Dressing up for Pirate Night makes the night even more fun for the whole family and I'm so glad we made the decision to book The Pirate's League on the Disney Dream.  Would we book it again?  I think I would definitely consider booking it again for our boys - at $44.95 I feel like it was well worth the price.  It's much more reasonable than the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and a fun way for the boys to  get in on the excitement.  Be sure to check it out on your next Disney Cruise Line vacation!  Ahoy mateys!

Kennedy Space Center For Kids

Kids are often captivated by the idea of visiting faraway places and space travel is about as faraway as it gets!  If your kids are anything like mine, dressing as astronauts and learning about space are favorite activities of theirs so when we planned our cruise vacation out of Port Canaveral we knew we had to plan a visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.  My husband and I had visited Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the past, but seeing it through the eyes of our children was even more enjoyable.  Here are a few must-do activities when you visit:

KSC Bus Tour - Included in your admission to KSC is a bus tour which takes you "behind the gates" and gets you closer to launch areas.  From the bus, you'll see the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where rockets and shuttles are assembled prior to space travel.  The building is so large it will hold more than 250 BILLION ping pong balls (that was a favorite fact of my son's that he's still telling everyone!).  You can also see the crawler that transports assembled space vehicles to the launchpads and get as close as possible to the launch areas.  The 20 minute bus tour ends at the Saturn V/Apollo Center where you take a step back to the beginnings of NASA and relive the excitement of JFK's challenge to go to the moon and the success of Apollo 11.  Here you can even touch a piece of the moon!  You also can experience the launch from the perspective of the control room and feel the excitement as countdown to liftoff happens.  When you're finished exploring the center, you board a bus back to the main visitor complex.  No worries - busses run continuously so you can stay for as long as you want.

Meet an Astronaut - One of the highlights of visiting KSC is the chance to interact with part of history. Beyond touching the moon, many days there are opportunities to interact with an astronaut as part of your visit.  We booked an additional experience while we were there called Dine with an Astronaut.  During the buffet lunch, we were able to hear from Astronaut Mike Baker about his time in space and the audience had the chance to ask questions.  My boys had a chance to each ask a question - one being how to do you become an astronaut and the other asked the ever popular "how do you go to the bathroom in space" question.  Following the lunch, each family was offered the chance to get a picture with him.  Later on in the day, he was also in the gift shop for an autograph signing.  This opportunity was free and open to everyone.  We went back to say hi again and had him autograph the NASA hats that the boys had with their spacesuits.

Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted - After learning about NASA's past, why not take a look at it's future?  There is much to see and do in this exhibit where kids can have hands on experiences learning about the next frontier in space travel - Mars.  There is a free stage program offered several times throughout the day which ignites young imaginations about what their generation may be doing in space in the years ahead.  You can also see what vehicles look like that have been and will be exploring Mars.

Atlantis Exhibit - By far, my favorite exhibit at Kennedy Space Center is the Space Shuttle Atlantis.  The tour opens up with a video history of the creation of the space shuttle program and ends with the big reveal of the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis in her final resting place at KSC.  Guests will marvel at this amazing shuttle, but that's only the beginning.  This has a TON of fun activities for kids to interact with during the visit.  They will have the opportunity to crawl through a play space shuttle, slide down a large slide, and play computer simulation games about docking and landing the space shuttle.  Also included here is the Shuttle Launch Experience.  This simulator ride gives guests the chance to feel what it would be like to "lift off" from Kennedy for your own mission to space.  My youngest was SO excited to do this, but he had to miss out as the minimum height is 44 inches.  However, my oldest and my husband had a great time and highly recommend this for everyone.

Still looking for more space adventures?  There are addition tours, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and other exhibit buildings to check out that we simply didn't have time to explore everything.  If you are short on time, make the Bus Tour and the Atlantis Exhibit your priorities - it's the best way to get the most out of your visit.  With so many hands on experiences, your little ones will feel completely at ease as they explore and learn about the wonders of space.  Whether your visiting Orlando, Cocoa Beach, or enjoying a cruise vacation out of Port Canaveral - don't miss visiting Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex during your Florida vacation!



My family and I received complimentary admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex so we could share our experience with you. 

Castaway Cay 5K - What to know before your run!

We're fresh off our latest Disney Cruise Line vacation in January 2020 and during our sailing on the Disney Dream we made a stop at Disney's Castaway Cay - a private island paradise in the Bahamas!  This island has it all. . .sun, sand, crystal clear water, food, a kids club, and much more.  But running friends will be happy to know that there is a FREE, yes you read that right, FREE 5K run available on every stop at Disney's Castaway Cay.  This was my second time participating in the run, but while many things remained the same, a few have changed and it's important to note what you need to know before you run.

It's a fun run, not a race - If you're a regular reader here, you know my deep love of runDisney races.  Alas, this is not considered a runDisney race.  In fact, it's considered an "onboard activity" for cruise guests.  When you are planning all of your cruise activities on the Disney Cruise Line website you can "register" for the race.  Once on board, stop by guest services and pick up a waiver that will need to be completed before the race.  Or, you can walk up to the race start and get the waiver to fill out.  Trade your completed waiver for a bib and you are good to go.  The start is a simple "1, 2, 3. . .Go!" announcement and there is no chip timing - just a simple clock at the start finish area.  

But you do get a medal! - The other thing you probably know about me is that I care about the bling. . .deeply.  All finishers in this fun run will get a fun rubber medal.  Yes it's only rubber, but it has a cute ribbon and a fun design to commemorate your accomplishment.  I mean, you ran on a cruise vacation while most people on cruises only run to the buffet line!  Wear it proudly and be sure to stop by and see the characters around the island after your run for some pictures showing off your bling.

Getting off the ship - So this was a change from the last time I ran this particular event and the guest services staff told me it started just a few months ago.  In the past, runners would receive a "shore excursion" ticket the night before and meet in a specified lounge around 7:45.  As soon as the ship was cleared, the runners disembarked first together as a group to take the nearly 10 minute walk to the start line.  That's in the past now.  Runners just meet up at the start line which means that you have to join the pack of people exiting the ship when it's cleared at 8:30 and make your way very quickly to the starting point near the bike rentals.  I have to say, I was not a fan of this change. . .even if I got to sleep in an extra 30 minutes!

This run is for everyone - You will find serious runners here who go all out and others who are 100% walkers just looking to stretch their legs with some exercise and take home a unique cruise souvenir.  I know sometimes we all find ourselves being self-conscious with our abilities, but don't be nervous about joining this fun run.  The course is a super simple out and back and the island terrain means you will encounter no elevation change whatsoever.

Speaking of the island - Regardless of what time of year you run, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Even with an 8:50AM start time, you are running on an island. . .in the Bahamas.  It's hot and oftentimes it humid.  The sun is intense most days too.  Even the walkers in this event want to take hydration very seriously.  Think about it in the days leading up and drink plenty of water on board.  Along the course of the fun run, you pass a water aid station 4 times - take advantage of it!  I saw a lot of people stretching out cramps along the way.

The Castaway Cay 5K is truly a family fun event that casual and serious runners will want to check out on your Disney Cruise Line vacation.  Kids as young as 10 may participate.  If you need a space to check-in younger children while you run, Disney has a kids club, Scuttle's Cove, on the island which is open as you make your way to the run.

You may also want to pack some extra money for the race apparel that you'll find at the finish line! There is a cute collection of hats, tanks, tees, and long sleeve shirts along with pins and much, much more to further commemorate your fun run on the island.  I picked up a Castaway Cay 5K hat to bring home as my cruise souvenir and something I can use on cold training days to remind me of the island vibes this run leaves you feeling!  Enjoy the scenery, the fun, and the bling. . .then enjoy the sun, sand, and drinks!


A Day at Margaritaville on Grand Turk

On our most recent Carnival Cruise vacation, we traveled from Baltimore to the Bahamas on the Carnival Pride with stops in Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Freeport.  While planning our cruise excursions we were torn on what to do in Grand Turk.  Traveling with a three and six year old meant that we needed a kid friendly activity to enjoy the beautiful island.  We had read prior to the trip that there was a free beach right at the cruise terminal, but then were drawn to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville.  We decided to rent a cabana for the day and give it a go.  Without a doubt, this was a perfect day for us and I definitely recommend giving Maragaritaville a try!

Maragaritaville is a free, yes you read that right, FREE pool complex located right at the cruise terminal.  While it doesn't cost anything to use the pool there, you can "upgrade" your experience by renting VIP seating or a cabana for the day.  The cabana was advertised as an excursion on Carnival's website and we decided to go for it as this was the only port that we were booking anything so the cost wasn't prohibitive to us on this trip (I believe it cost $240 for the day for our whole party).  The cabanas feature indoor seating which includes a comfy couch, a refrigerator, and the ability to lock the door so you can feel safe leaving any belongings in there.  There are also lounge chairs on the covered front porch that you can use if you just want to get out of the sun for a bit, but still enjoy the warm outdoor air.  The cabanas also include wait staff that will take care of your eating and drinking needs throughout the day!  We loved having this option to go and cool off at during the day, but it's also a "luxury" at Margaritaville and I'm sure you can have a wonderful time without one too.  If you are looking for a less expensive option, they do offer free seating by the pool as well as some VIP seating.  This VIP seating option wasn't advertised on Carnival's website so we didn't know about it ahead of time and may consider this in the future.  With this option, you have chairs closer to the pool, a locked safe, an umbrella, and waitstaff.  Of course, there are free chairs around the pool area and on the nearby beach if you want to use them as well.
Inside of our poolside cabana

Margaritaville is also a restaurant and bar which offers restaurant seating and pool service.  With our cabana, we ordered food through out waitress and she delivered it directly to our cabana so it was waiting for us when we were ready to take a break from swimming and playing.  There was also a swim up bar so you could get your drinks without ever needing to leave the pool!  Drinks and food are expensive, but servings are HUGE - definitely consider sharing with others.  We ordered several appetizers off the menu and split them instead of ordering our own meals.  They also offer drink specials where you can save money by purchasing souvenir glasses that offer cheaper refills throughout the day and buckets of beer that can save some money.
Wasting away again in Margaritaville!

With our Faster to the Fun option, we were among the first ones off the ship in Grand Turk and were among the last to board in the evening.  Margaritaville was a perfect place for our kids to play, featuring a huge pool, zero entry option, and fun music as well as offering a relaxing place for the adults in your group as well.  If you have older kids, they may enjoy taking a turn on Flow Rider at this location too.  I would definitely plan to visit Margaritaville again on a future trip to Grand Turk or in one of their other destinations.  If you need me, I'll be looking for my lost shaker of salt!

Know Before You Go: Camp Ocean on Carnival Cruise Line

The cruise industry has adapted and continues to make changes to meet the needs of families as more adults are choosing cruise vacations that include little ones.  Let's face it - a cruise is a great family vacation.  There is so much to do on the ship, lots of food, and incredible ports of call.  Cruising is even more family friendly thanks to the kids clubs that most cruise lines offer now.  Our two most recent cruises have been on Carnival Cruise Line - the Carnival Paradise out of Tampa and the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore.  On each of these trips we had kids under 6 and I'm here to answer some questions you may have about Camp Ocean on Carnival!

What ages are able to go to Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is open to young cruisers from 2 through 11.  This is great news for parents!  Most cruise lines don't accept children until age 3 in kids clubs and several require that children are potty trained.  The fact that Carnival accepts 2 year olds and there was no potty training requirement was a big part of our decision to sail with Carnival in 2017.  Camp Ocean is divided into different age groups to make sure that activities are age appropriate and little ones don't have to worry about being with 11 year olds all day long.

Is there a cost for Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is included with your cruise fare so no extra fees.  Well, maybe a few for some extra activities if you choose.  Camp Ocean closes in the evening at 10PM, but if mom and dad want to stay out and party later, you can enroll your child in Night Owls for a small fee and they will keep care of them until 1AM.  The counselors have a variety of activities and also offer quiet space for kids who are ready to sleep.

Sample Schedule from Carnival Paradise - 2017
Speaking of hours, what hours is Camp Ocean open for use?

This will definitely vary day-by-day.  During embarkation, Camp Ocean is open for an "open house." You can't drop kids off during this time, but it's a great opportunity to see the space with your children and meet the camp staff.  They are super friendly and can answer any specific questions you have.  On at-sea days, the camp is typically open in the AM for some time, closes mid-day and then re-opens in the evening.  Throughout the mid-day, there tends to be some family-friendly entertainment planned on ship including the Seuss At Sea activities, Build-A-Bear, and much more!  The kids staff tends to lead these events for younger cruisers so it makes sense why they are close during this time.  For more information on kid-friendly activities on board a Carnival Cruise, check out my older post about Seuss At Sea.  During port days, you can usually find Camp Carnival open the duration of the time in port.

Wait. . .I can leave my kids in Camp Ocean while off the ship?  Is that a good idea?

Yes, you can check your kids into camp then disembark and enjoy some more grown-up excursions.  Some excursions do have age requirements so if you are traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, this may be an option for you.  As far as if it's a good idea, that's up to you.  Personally, I have never opted to do this and don't see myself doing so in the future.  There's so much to consider here in my opinion that the risk (while admittedly slight) of something going wrong far outweighs the benefits.  I would be a nervous wreck that something terrible would happen and I wouldn't make it back to ship - then my kids are on board and I'm not.  I also really believe in family travel.  While we love Camp Ocean and enjoy using it for mom and dad to take a nap on the Serenity Deck or grab an upscale dinner one night, I don't want to have my kids spend our entire vacation away from us.  We have never had a problem finding excursions that our whole family will enjoy!

You mentioned dinner.  Will Camp Ocean feed my kids?

Yes and no.  You cannot send food with your kid into camp.  On at-sea days, camp will always be closed for lunch so you'll be feeding your own children.  If your child is in camp on a port day, lunch will be provided.  A great option offered nightly though, especially for parents looking to enjoy some of the more upscale dining options on board, is a Kids Only Dinner.  You can drop your child off at the Lido Deck buffet with camp staff and they will feed them dinner before taking them up to camp for the evening.  The only downside to the meal is that it is pre-selected and can't be changed for picky eaters.  We took advantage of this on two nights and it worked well.  One of the nights was a chance for us to do the Chef's Table which was incredible!
Inside Camp Ocean on Carnival Pride 2018

What about safety?  How do I know others won't have access to my kids?

Great minds think alike as this is always one of the top priorities I look at when talking childcare anywhere for my kids!  And you can rest assured that we felt Carnival took great care of keeping our kids safe.  When you register your child for Camp Ocean, you designate who can check your child or children in and out.  These authorized adults must present sail and sign cards which will be scanned and reviewed at check-in and check-out.  You can even give adults permission to access your children who are in other staterooms which is perfect if you're traveling with extended family or friends.  If you kids fall in the 9-11 age group, you can choose whether or not to give them the ability to check themselves in and out of camp.  I'm still a few years away from that decision yet, but I find myself leaning towards keeping control of their time in camp.

Last, but not least - will my kids have fun??

While I certainly can't guarantee this for every child, I will say that my boys have LOVED their time in Camp Ocean.  Both of them were a little nervous the first time at drop off, but after that couldn't wait to return each day for some play time with their new Camp Ocean friends.  They even enjoyed seeing their friends throughout the ship when they weren't in camp and playing in the pool together.  The activities are well organized and they bring home lots of goodies - crafts, prizes, etc.  The staff has always been amazing and we felt our boys were well cared for.

As with any program that is offered across a large company, there will be variations from ship-to-ship.  You can always find out more information at www.carnival.com and look for specific details about your ship.  If you have questions that relate to the Carnival Paradise or Carnival Pride, feel free to drop them in the comments below and I'll do my best to give you my experiences! Happy sailing!

Is Faster to the Fun Worth it on your next Carnival Cruise Vacation?

When you are on vacation, waiting in lines can be a big pet peeve.  And on cruise vacations, lines seem to be everywhere - checking in, boarding tenders, at the buffet, etc. So when Carnival Cruise Line offers a "Faster to the Fun" option for guests, it seems pretty appealing.  But is it worth it?  I've been on two Carnival Cruise vacations with our family - one where we purchased Faster to the Fun and one where we didn't.  Let's first talk about what is included in this optional add-on to cruise and then compare my experiences to determine if it's right for you and your vacation.

What is Faster to the Fun? - Carnival Cruise Line offers guests essentially a "FastPass," to borrow from my Disney knowledge, that you can use throughout your cruise vacation.  The cost of Faster to the Fun varies based on your departure port and cruise length and the option must be booked for all guests in the stateroom.  Faster to the Fun jumps you to first in line for a number of opportunities on the ship.  First of all, you have priority boarding for the ship and are among the first to begin your vacation fun as well as having early access to your stateroom and priority delivery of your bags.  During your cruise, Faster to the Fun gives you priority tender and debarkation options when in port as well as access to priority lines - both in person and on the phone - to guest services.  And when you return, you can also take advantage of Faster to the Fun to have priority debarkation by selecting your preferred time to leave the ship.  There is certainly a lot to consider when choosing whether or not Faster to the Fun is right for you.


via GIPHY

5 Night Cruise to Key West and Cuba from Tampa w/o Faster to the Fun - Our cruise on the Carnival Paradise left on a Monday and we stayed in the Tampa area the weekend before.  On the day of embarkation, we arrived at the port by a car service around 1:30.  Boarding began several hours earlier.  We waited in line to check-in for about 15 minutes and then, once through the process of going over documents and getting our ship cards, we were able to walk right on the ship - no wait at all.  Each of our two ports did not require a tender and guests exited the ship fairly quickly.  Things were a bit slower in Cuba with several extra steps needed to disembark and enter the country.  We were also granted one of the earlier disembarkation times in Cuba as our tour was scheduled for 11 hours that day.  There was no point during this cruise that I regretted not having Faster to the Fun.  Actually, that's a small lie.  Faster to the Fun guests do also get priority lines at guest services on the ship and I did make a stop by that counter one time during the ship.  I was slightly jealous of the non-existent line next to me while I was waiting about 20 minutes to speak to someone.

7 Night Cruise to the Bahamas from Baltimore w/ Faster to the Fun - When it came time to book our next Carnival Cruise Line vacation for the following summer, we initially decided not to add Faster to the Fun due to our experience on our other cruise.  We were cruising with another family and, when Faster to the Fun became available again closer to the cruise (it was showing sold out and then more opportunities appeared), they encouraged us to book it as they use it regularly out of Baltimore.  We figured it was worth a try and added it to our cruise vacation.  With Faster to the Fun, we were granted first access to board the ship.  We arrived at the port along with lots of others and were greeted with long lines to check in.  Once we were through security and checked in, we waited in a crowded waiting area for about an hour.  The ship was slightly delayed arriving back in port that morning and so we were slower to begin boarding.  When we got on the ship, it was nice to have first access to the pools and lunch.  We also had early access to our staterooms and our bags were first to arrive.  After the long wait in port, the perks on the ship were welcome.  The next time we noticed a perk to Faster to the Fun was during our day at Half Moon Cay.  At this private island oasis, guests tender from the ship to the island.  Faster to the Fun also provides priority tender.  We were told to gather in one of the theaters and were quickly escorted to the first tender.  We were able to grab a perfect spot on the beach and had a drink in our hands while other guests spent the next few hours tendering ashore - best perk of the trip in my opinion!  The final time we really utilized Faster to the Fun was on disembarkation day.  We had to wait for the ship to clear and then those without checked bags to exit before we were allowed to go.  It was hours of waiting - didn't really feel "faster" to me, but I guess there were lots of people behind me.

So would I do it again?? - Maybe.  If I was taking a cruise with a number of options to tender I would definitely recommend it.  If I had the extra money in the budget to pay for it, it may be beneficial on embarkation.  However, I didn't feel like there was any benefit to the disembarkation process.  I think I would have enjoyed a more leisurely morning and being last of the ship then to hurry up and wait.  This may be a good option for your family if you can grab it to avoid long lines tendering and to have first access to ship amenities on embarkation day, but I wouldn't recommend skipping another experience on the ship or during your vacation just to pay for this option.  I think this is an add-on that's true value varies greatly from cruise to cruise and family to family so it's a very individualized decision.

Have you used Faster to the Fun on your previous Carnival Cruise Line vacations?  What's been your experience?  I'd love to hear other thoughts to compare with my own experiences!

Get Animated at Animator's Palate on Disney Cruise Line

We're gEARing up for our next Disney Cruise Line vacation and I'm revisiting some old favorites from previous cruise vacations! Disney Cruise Line is known for bringing the magic of Disney to the high seas.  Even a simple dinner can be turned into an extraordinary experience.  This is especially true at Animator’s Palate on the Disney Fantasy.  Disney Cruise Line uses rotational dining where guests rotate their nightly dinner service through three different restaurants.  During our 7-night Eastern Caribbean Cruise a few years ago, we had the pleasure of dining in Animator’s Palate three nights and each featured a unique dining experience.

The restaurant itself celebrates the animation that Disney was founded on and continues to embrace.  Mickey Mouse inspires the chairs and the wait staff wears shirts featuring classic Disney sketches.  The art throughout the restaurant is mostly digital and changes throughout the cruise as each night features a different theme.  Fun Tip: Did you know you can request a particular order for your rotational dining experience?  I love Animator’s Palate so much that I plan to request this again as the first restaurant on a 7-night cruise so that we can visit it three times again! 

Our first night in Animator’s Palate featured a special guest – Crush from Finding Nemo.  Throughout the dinner, Crush swims up to tables and chats with guests.  He asks questions about what life is like in the human world and then teaches everyone to ride the EAC just like our turtle friends.  Kids and adults alike will have a great time playing and interacting throughout the meal.
One of the sketches on Pirate Night at Animator's Palate

The second night we dined in Animator’s Palate was Pirate Night.  Disney Cruise Line hosts a Pirate Night on each of it’s Bahamian and Caribbean sailings.  On this particular night, all restaurants on the ship feature a special pirate themed menu and the wait staff dresses as “scurvy scallawags.”  Spending Pirate Night in Animator’s Palate was a nice treat as the art in the restaurant changed to reflect pirate favorites like Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Jack Sparrow. 

The last night of our cruise was also spent in Animator’s Palate and featured the show that is unique to the Disney Fantasy and perhaps the one that people look forward to the most.  When you are seated for dinner, guests are given a paper to draw their own cartoon.  The wait staff then takes all cartoons and, at the end of the meal, you get to see your animation come to life.  Each drawing is featured alongside Disney classics in a magical cartoon experience that you won’t soon forget.  Also, all guests will have their names featured in the credits of the cartoon for contributing animation.

Regardless of which night you dine in Animator's Palate, you will certainly be treated to delicious food! With so many great options on board Disney Cruise Line, don't be shy and definitely try new things.  As you would expect, the Kids' Menus feature family favorites that will make even the tiniest artists happy to dine here.  And while your little ones probably won't want to miss a minute of the action in Animator's Palate, you can take advantage of the Youth Clubs during dinnertime so the grown ups can enjoy a more leisurely dinner.


Animator’s Palate will certainly satisfy guest appetites and quench thirsts for an entertaining evening on your Disney Cruise Line vacation!

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?

Meet the Carnival Pride!

When it comes to cruise ships, bigger doesn't always mean better.  In 2017, my family and I sailed on the Carnival Paradise from Tampa to Key West and Havana and were very impressed with the Carnival experience and the small ship atmosphere.  For 2018, we decided to stay closer to home and sail on the Carnival Pride from our home port of Baltimore.  There was obviously a lot to love about sailing from just 45 minutes from your house, but it wasn't just the ease we enjoyed about our recent Carnival cruise.  While the Carnival Pride isn't the newest or largest ship in the fleet, it certainly has a lot to offer families and guests while on board.

From the moment we stepped on board, we felt right at home.  We purchased Faster to the Fun and were among the first to board.  A towel animal character greeted our children and helped build their excitement for all of the activities that were waiting.  When you have Faster to the Fun, your stateroom is ready earlier than others so we were able to head that way right away to drop off carry on items and check out our room.  Friends of ours had surprised us with the Bon Voyage package which added decorations and a few presents to our room.  We had a stateroom on Deck 6 which featured an extended balcony.  There was plenty of room for our family of 4 to spread out throughout the length of the cruise.

The pool areas on board were our next stop as we were anxious to "jump" right into the fun!  There were two pools on Lido deck for the whole family to enjoy and another small pool in the Serenity "adult only" area.  If you're a fan of waterpark fun, don't miss the slides and play area above the pools.  Little cruisers will love the small slides and spray ground, while older children and adults will certainly enjoy the two water slides - yellow for milder fun and green for more extreme adventurers!  

Cruising on the Carnival Pride certainly features fun for all ages!  My littles were 3 and 6 on our most recent cruise vacation and had a blast playing in Camp Ocean.  Carnival Cruise Line kids club activities start at age 2 - the youngest in the industry!  Children our separated into appropriate camps by age and there is plenty of security while checking kids in and out of camp that you can feel safe having your kids play there.  It's great to have this option while cruising as our kids often were begging to go to the fun and games that awaited in Camp Ocean so mom and dad got to enjoy some adult time on the ship!  When the whole family is ready to play together, the Dr. Seuss at Sea activities like story times, parades, and the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast as well as Build-A-Bear at Sea will create many family memories.

One of the best parts of cruising though is the food!  In addition to the main dining room and Lido Deck Buffet, Mermaid's Grille, you won't want to miss Guy's Burger Joint and Blue Iguana Cantina.  All of these are included in your cruise fare ensuring that you won't go hungry while on vacation!  If you're looking for even more flavors, you can also visit Bonsai Sushi, David's Steakhouse, and The Chef's Table for fine dining options at an additional cost.  Want to try some of these premium options without paying premium pricing?  Check out one of the cooking demonstrations!  I went to the cooking demonstrations for both Bonsai Sushi and David's Steakhouse during our first day at sea.  While I enjoyed learning about how they prepared some of their signature dishes, I enjoyed tasting all the items even more!  These cooking demonstrations are free, but fill up fast.  Check out your Fun Times on board the ship to find out when they take place.  And speaking of the the Fun Times, did you know that you can access all of these activities and much more for free on the Carnival Hub app??  Download the app prior to boarding the ship and then connect to the WiFi once on board.  You'll be able to access your Fun Times for free on the app without purchasing an Internet package!

The Carnival Pride is a great ship and the itineraries from Baltimore are wonderful options for those of us in the Mid-Atlantic area.  I can't wait to see what updates occur during the scheduled refurb in February 2019, because I'm sure this ship will only get better with time!  

What Carnival Cruise Line ships have you sailed?  Which are your favorites?  We can't wait to try more as a cruise loving family!  To check out more of the fun waiting for you on the Carnival Pride, see our You Tube video below!


Paradise Found: Carnival's Half Moon Cay

When you close your eyes and picture the perfect tropical paradise, what do you see?  Beautiful, soft sand?  Palm trees gently swaying in the island breeze?  Pristine blue water?  Well, when you visit Half Moon Cay on your Carnival Cruise Line vacation, you don't have to imagine paradise - you actually find it!  Whenever we cruise, my favorite port day is on the cruise line's private island and Half Moon Cay was no exception on our Carnival Cruise from Baltimore.  There's so much love about this perfect little island!  Here are some of my key points to make the most of your day in paradise:

Tendering - Despite having cruised several times, this was my first experience with tendering into a port.  The boats used for tendering were large, double decker vessels that helped to transport people pretty quickly.  We had purchased Faster to the Fun (FTTF) for our cruise and I think the best benefit of it was the priority tendering.  With FTTF, we were on the first tender over to Half Moon Cay allowing us to have first choice of where to set up on the island and maximizing our time there.  If you don't have FTTF, you need to go to Lido deck in the morning and grab tender tickets which will tell you which boat you take to your day in paradise!
The Pirate Ship Water Playground - Perfect for Kids!

The Beach - Simply perfect!  The sand is soft and there are lots of beach chairs available all along the beach.  When we got to the beach we turned left and went to the end of the row.  We were able to purchase a clam shell for $25 that was basically a tent that covered two beach chairs to provide shade.  We also grabbed the two beach chairs in front of it for our family.  If you are interested in grabbing a clam shell, go to the blue beach rental hut as soon as you arrive - qualities are limited and they can't be reserved ahead of time.  Our spot was great as it was right next to the pirate ship water playground.  With young kids, they were able to run to the playground, play in the sand, and jump in the water all with us watching from one easy location!  A favorite mom travel tip - purchase some sand toys from the dollar store before heading on vacation.  They are small enough to pack and will keep the kids entertained on the beach without breaking the bank and purchasing them while on vacation.  I have to say though my favorite part of the day was simply floating in the water!
A view of the clam shells available for rent.

Food and Drink - Carnival provides lunch included in your cruise fare while on the island during a set lunch time.  The food is served buffet style and features typical "cookout" food - burgers, hot dogs, chicken, chips, various salads, fruit, and an assortment of desserts.  Just like on the cruise ship, water and lemonade are included but you have to pay for sodas or alcohol.  It's also important to note that the Cheers and Bubble packages don't work on Half Moon Cay so you will be paying for each individual soda or adult beverage.  Prices for drinks were comparable to on the ship.

Smiles like this are what vacation is all about!
Excursions - We didn't book an excursion on Half Moon Cay.  In fact, I have never booked an excursion on a cruise line's private island simply because the islands themselves are usually so beautiful that I want to soak up the day enjoying the beach.  However, the option to book excursions exists if you're looking to add some excitement to your day.  There are also cabanas of various sizes available to rent if you want some more privacy while on the island.

This was probably one of my favorite days of the cruise and I hope we have the chance to visit again soon!

The Chef's Table - A Memorable Dining Experience on the Carnival Pride

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have an appetite for great food and I regularly look for signature dining experiences wherever our travels take us.  On our August 2018 sailing on the Carnival Pride, we found a gem of an experience.  Carnival Cruise Line offers premium dining options at an uncharge on their ships similar to most other cruise lines.  On the Carnival Pride, the two options are David's Steakhouse and The Chef's Table.  For this sailing, we decided to try The Chef's Table and we were certainly not disappointed.

After checking the kids into Camp Carnival for the evening, we met our friends we were sailing with in the Atrium Bar at 6:15.  When we arrived, we were greeted by one of our servers for the evening.  She greeted us by name (she had a print out with not only our names, but pictures so she could do so -  smart customer service, Carnival!) and offered us champagne or sparkling water to begin the evening.  Before I forget to mention, one big perk of this dining experience is that champagne and wine is included throughout the meal.  We chatted with some of the others that would be joining us for the evening.  The meal is meant to be an intimate experience and we were among just 16 guests.  The chef greeted us around 6:30 and then escorted us to the elevators where he explained what we were about to experience.  He then escorted us down to the galley (that's the kitchen for you land lovers!) and we had a brief explanation of how operations worked.  We were there during the early dinner seating and things were busy, but ran like a well-oiled machine with cooks and servers bustling quickly about.  We were then taken to a table in the galley for our first food of the night, but not before Katerina offered more champagne!

At the table in the kitchen we were served a selection of 4 appetizers, one at a time - each including an explanation from the chef on it's preparation.  Our appetizers included a Mango Sphere on Rosemary Biscuit, Salmon Tartar Cornets, Beef Carpaccio on an air pillow served with chocolate bacon (yeah, you just read that right!), and Double Cooked Lamb.  Everything was delicious, but I think my favorite would have to be the Double Cooked Lamb - although the Beef Carpaccio practically had a little party in your mouth when you added the chocolate bacon.  After our four tastings, the pastry chef came out to show us how to make Carnival's signature dessert - Melting Chocolate Cake.  Actually, he didn't show us - he opted to teach someone.  And being the ever eager student, I volunteered and got to be a pastry chef for a night!  It's amazing how simple the recipe is for such a fabulous little dessert!  After the brief lesson, we were whisked away back to the second floor where we entered Beauties Nightclub, which had been transformed into an elegant dining space for the evening.

Before I go any further, I should say that the chef prepped us at the beginning of the evening that the evening would feature a "tasting menu" and portions would be small.  For those unfamiliar with the process of how Chef Table's typically work, he didn't want them to be worried with small plates - assuring everyone they would be full when the evening ended.  We were served 7 courses once we were seated and by no means were they small!  Everything was so delicious, we had to keep pushing on to try it all.  Timing was beautiful throughout the evening to allow for guests to let their stomachs process a bit before pushing forward!  Partway through the dinner service, a magician came and performed for about 15-20 minutes which was a really fun addition.  The menu included Beet Blanket with Spiced Grape Tea, Crab Stack, Duck Textures, Bisque Our Way, Sea Bass, and my absolute favorite Wagyu Beef.  This was the first time I had Wagyu beef and I couldn't believe the taste and texture - so tender you could cut it with you fork!  The Wagyu was also served with bone marrow souffle which was a first for me, too.  The final course featured a selection of desserts from the pastry chef.  I was so full that I could only muster a tiny bite of each, the Raspberry Mojito and the Apricot Vanilla Gel were my favorites.  It was a sweet end to an even sweeter evening!

So, now for the big question - was it worth it???  I would answer with a resounding "yes!"  The charge of $75 per person was more than reasonable when you factor in the quality of the food, the nearly 4 hour evening, wine and champagne, and the tour of the galley.  We also received an 8x10 group picture from the evening and walked away with souvenir menus and the recipe for Carnival's Melting Chocolate Cake.  I would definitely recommend this and look forward to doing this again on another Carnival Cruise Line vacation!

Dr. Seuss is on the Loose!

Last Summer, our family embarked on our first Carnival Cruise Line vacation.  We sailed on the Carnival Paradise out of Tampa, FL and enjoyed the ports of Key West and Havana, Cuba while on our 5-night adventure.  Cruising is one of my favorite family friendly vacations as there is something on the ships for everyone!  Carnival has teamed up with Dr. Seuss to create family fun that highlights some familiar favorites.  On board, we participated in just about every Dr. Seuss event possible with our two boys who were 2 and 5 at the time.

Dr. Seuss Parade and Story Time - Families met in one of the lounges and were greeted by the enthusiastic kids club staff.  Our boys were regulars in the kids clubs and they found some of their favorite counselors.  The staff entertained families with singing and dancing until our Cruise Director, Jamie, came out to introduce the guests of honor.  As each of the four Dr. Seuss characters arrived (Sam I Am, Thing 1, Thing 2, and the Cat in the Hat), kids were handed musical instruments.  A few lucky families were asked to carry parade banners.  They then lined up the characters and families to march across Deck 5 to the large Noramandie theater on the other side of the ship.  Along the way, we all chanted "Dr. Seuss is on the loose!" while the kids were happy to comply with the request to make as much noise as possible.  Once we arrived at the theatre, kids were invited to sit on stage and parents were asked to take a seat in the theatre.  Caleb was a little timid to get too close to the characters, so he and I grabbed a seat up in the balcony.  Jamie told everyone that they were about to read the story of The Cat in the Hat, but first she solicited helpers.  Picking both kids and adults, Jamie assembled a cast to help tell the story.  My husband was selected to be the Cat in the Hat.  I think the fame went to his head as he was greeted by many kids and parents the rest of the cruise!

Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast - For a small fee, guests can register to attend the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast that is held on one of the "at sea" days.  The cost was just $5.00 per person and we were able to register at a small table the day we boarded the ship.  Our breakfast was the final at sea day and it didn't disappoint!  The menu was beautifully themed to highlight some Dr. Seuss inspired creations and the breakfast choices were delightful to children.  One of them included french toast that as coated in Fruit Loops - talk about a sugar rush!  Kids and adults can choose from such dishes as the ever popular Green Eggs and Ham or a whimsical Truffula Pancakes to name just a few.  Throughout the meal, characters came to each table and then they also positioned themselves at the front of the restaurant for additional pictures.  The dining room was also decorated with really cute Dr. Seuss accessories.

Other Dr. Seuss Fun - Carnival Cruise Line has also partnered with Build-A-Bear Workshop to create a Build-A-Bear At Sea Experience.  This opportunity featured a chance for kids to make a Cat in the Hat in addition to some more traditional bears or animals.  My boys of course wanted to each make the Cat in the Hat to remember their fun time on the ship.  One of the evenings also featured photo ops with Dr. Seuss characters prior to dinner.

The Dr. Seuss experiences on our Carnival Cruise lead to some pretty amazing moments for our family.  The boys enjoyed the opportunity to interact with some of their favorite stories and each activity provided family fun on the ship!