Yes, you read that title right. I seriously hopped on board a cruise ship with just the little and me. Now, as many of you know, Charlotte and I travel together frequently. Mommy owning a travel business, (www.strange-escapes.com), means Charlotte has seen much more of the country than your average three year old.
But, this was different and for the first time in a very long time, I had travel anxiety. As the cruise loomed ahead, I found myself worrying more than I was excited. I worried so much, that at the last minute, I tried to bring a friend. When I called Carnival to add someone, the whole ship was sold out, so that back up plan was out the window.
I’m so glad. It forced me out of my comfort zone and we ended up having a lovely time.
We departed from Baltimore on the stunning Carnival Pride and headed to the Bahamas for seven days of fun and adventure. Charlotte couldn’t have been more thrilled to have Mommy to herself for a week and for me, it was such an incredible bonding experience with her.
Some tips and tricks! (I’ll probably blog more in depth about particular parts of cruising as time goes on. I could write a book on this!)
- Not necessary or always practical, but for us, we chose a port close to home so there wasn’t much travel time to and from the boat. Since I was alone, this was important to me.
- Bring things for your child to do, but don’t go overboard, (see what I did there?) I always bring Charlotte a few small toys, three or four books, some coloring books and a puzzle, her ipad and a couple stuffed animals. If your kiddo isn’t potty trained and they want to swim, grab a little inflatable swimming pool like this: Intex Sunset Glow Baby Pool (34 in x 10 in) It’s perfect for them to splash around in, either on your balcony if you have one, or even by the pool. Fill it with an inch or two of water by using your ice bucket in your room or pool water by the pool. *Note: Someone pointed out that Carnival does not allow these any longer. We didn’t use one on this cruise, as Charlotte is potty trained. But every cruise line is different, and some allow them, just check their web site beforehand. For example, Carnival allows a bottle of wine in your carry on for each adult passenger in the room, other cruise lines do not. 😉.
- Check to see if your ship has a laundry room, then pack accordingly. I usually at least do a load before we leave so I don’t have to do it at home.
- Bring diapers/pull ups and medications you might need. The ship store is pretty well stocked, but can run out.
On Board Activities
There’s lots of family friendly entertainment on cruise ships and your kids might surprise you at what becomes their favorite. Carnival has a great “Seuss at Sea” program, where kids can go to Dr. Seuss story time, meet their favorite characters from Cat in the Hat and even have a Green Eggs and Ham breakfast. Charlotte definitely enjoyed those things, but her favorite entertainment was the guitar players in the atrium. Every single day, she wanted to spend the afternoon listening to the guitar players and watching the glass elevators go up and down. It seems so small, but those afternoons of us sitting in the center of the ship, putting together puzzles or reading stories is my favorite memory from the trip.
We went to a couple of the broadway style shows at night, which Charlotte enjoyed very much. She also helped me play bingo one day…though they tell you to yell “Oh Ship!” if your number isn’t called….and Charlotte is still yelling it….two weeks later… 😉
There is a library on board, a game room, mini golf, a water park, movies by the pool at night, you name it…it’s hard to be bored.
Cruise ships always have some sort of kids club as well. For the Pride it was Camp Carnival. This was the first time I’d ever utilized it. I have to say, I was completely paranoid at the prospect of leaving my child in there. But on night 1, they leave it open so you can come in and meet the staff, tell them about your child and everyone gets acquainted. I was instantly at ease and Charlotte didn’t want to leave. The second day on board, I dropped her off to test the waters and when she was sad and missed Mommy, they called me on a satellite phone they give the parents and I went and picked her up.
The next day, we ran into the head of Camp Carnival, and I mentioned Charlotte got a little sad and I probably would just keep her with me the rest of the trip. The woman, (who goes by the name Mermaid), was so sweet and encouraged me to bring Charlotte back. She said sometimes, the first day is a little hectic and to not give up.
So, the next day, I brought Charlotte back. She was a little hesitant, but ultimately went and played. I took the time to go play the penny slots, but I was still so nervous she wasn’t having a good time. After half an hour, I rushed back to Camp Carnival to pick her up, (total guilty Mommy complex.). They have a video monitor outside the Camp, so you can look inside at any time. I looked in, and there was Charlotte, laughing and dancing with the other kids. I can’t explain the sigh of relief that came out of me at that moment. I went back to the penny slots, ordered a glass of wine and enjoyed some time to myself. Each night after dinner, Charlotte would go play in Camp Carnival for an hour or two, and I would have Mommy time. It was really wonderful. For both of us. (Thank you, Mermaid, for convincing me!)
Our Port Stops
Our first stop was Port Canaveral. This is close enough to all of the Orlando parks Florida is famous for that the cruise line has a number of excursions that will take you to the parks for the day. We are going to Disney World next month, so rather than take a trip to the park, we opted to explore nearby Cocoa Beach Village. The ship also had excursions to the Kennedy Space Center, but I wasn’t sure Charlotte was quite ready for that one.
My in-laws are snowbirds and just bought a condo about 90 minutes away from Cape Canaveral, so they picked us up and spent the day with us. This is where our weather started to turn unfortunate. It was raining a bit, and very cold and windy. It was still much warmer than New England though, so I was fine with it. Just keep the weather in mind when you’re cruising in January, it’s a risk you take. It also effects the motion of the ocean and this was the first cruise I ever got a little nauseous on. (Easily remedied for me with a product I discovered called Nauzene.)
Cocoa Beach Village is a little historic shopping area about 10 minutes from the port. Super cute, lots of little artsy shops and boutiques. There’s also a lovely park right on the water. We arrived and some of Charlotte’s friends from the ship happened to be there too, so she had a blast playing the afternoon away.
Our second stop was Nassau. I have been to Nassau half a dozen times at this point, and to be honest, Nassau can be a little sketchy crime wise if you don’t know where you’re going. Even in the touristy areas near the boat, I’ve heard stories of unsuspecting tourists being pick pocketed. Charlotte and I got off the boat for a few minutes to visit the vendors just off the ship and grab a couple souvenirs, but then headed right back on board.
This is one area, where if we had traveled with a group, I might have booked an excursion or explored one of the nearby resorts, (which I hear are lovely.) But I was nervous to walk around Nassau with just the two of us, and Atlantis isn’t our bag, (which is where most people with families head.) So, we used this day to take advantage of an empty ship. We had the pool to ourselves, which was brilliant! Port days are also a nice time to take advantage of spa deals on the ship, so Charlotte and I had pedicures. It was her first one ever. She didn’t hate it per say, but she was an interesting customer!
Our final stop was Freeport. I have never been to Freeport, but Carnival had a great family beach day excursion there, so I booked that ahead of time. But as I looked at the ominous, cloudy sky when we left Nassau, I began to wonder if our beach day was going to happen.
The following morning, the rocking of the boat woke me up. The wind was howling and rain was pelting our balcony. It was 5:30 am and I could see our ship was outside Freeport. All of the sudden, the engines kicked back up and we began to cruise past Freeport. That’s when I knew we were missing the port due to weather. This has happened to me before on cruises, and again, is always a possibility when you travel in the winter. The Captain makes this call because of safety, and honestly, our beach day would not have been much of one with the weather we were having.
I was definitely disappointed. Charlotte was too. She had been saving her little bucket of beach toys in the room all week and when I told her we were going to have to save them for next time, she took it like a champ, but I could see the disappointment in her eyes. Of course, she instantly forgot that when I suggested we head up to the lido deck after breakfast and have an ice cream cone. (Any time of day, you can just help yourself to soft serve ice cream. Yes, it’s true.) Carnival handled it SO well too. The cruise staff kicked it into high gear and started announcing extra activities for the day.
By the early afternoon, we had cruised into sun – glorious sun! And for the first time, I was able to lay out on my balcony. The next day was a beautiful sunny one as well. So for almost two full days, I soaked up the sun like a lizard on our extended aft balcony , (wearing sunscreen of course – have you seen me? I’m practically translucent.) We even saw dolphins jumping in the wake a couple of times.
We didn’t meet one staff member who didn’t have a smile on their face. I can’t say enough about the people who made our visit on the Pride so special. Ken, the ships famous singing maître d’, helped me before I even boarded. I emailed him because we had been assigned to late seating, which wouldn’t work for Charlotte’s bed time and he got it taken care of and even sat us with kids near Charlotte’s age. I’m one of those people who love the formal dinners at night on cruises. I’ve always made friends on board that way. You don’t have to though, most cruises, Carnival for example, have anytime dining options. Our head waiter, Roy, always greeted Charlotte with a big hug and had her apple juice waiting for her at the table when we arrived every night.
Our room steward Arnold definitely outdid himself on the towel animals! One night, we came back to our room and Arnold and another room steward were giggling in the hallway and were clearly waiting to see our reaction when we opened our stateroom door. I don’t know how long this must have taken, but Charlotte wanted to sleep on the bed with all the animals.
There are so many cruise lines out there and I’m not married to any one of them. But, I do seem to come back to Carnival more and more now that I have a child. First of all, the value of a Carnival cruise is tough to beat. They’re also very family oriented, which I love. This cruise in particular, I was also super impressed with the food options. Every night the main dining room food was a home run, we also tried David’s Steakhouse and Bonsai sushi restaurant.
Cruising in general is one of my favorite ways to travel. Cruise ships offer you a chance to escape as little or as much as you’d like. They’re not just a floating hotel on water. They’re resorts with constant activities and things to do for people of all ages and personality types. Our boat had daily trivia in the pub, bingo, tons of meet ups, a casino, countless bars, food 24/7, an art gallery, shops, the pools, a water park, mini golf, shuffleboard, an arcade and I’m sure many other things I’m missing. There were also many places to just sit, relax and quietly take in the ocean.
This is all in addition to seeing many parts of the world that would be tough to pack into one trip otherwise. Your resort comes with you, and that’s tough to beat.
When Charlotte and I left the boat, there’s always that little touch of sadness as you leave behind what suddenly feels like your home on water. But this trip was so easy, even with the weather issues, that I knew it wouldn’t belong before we were on a ship again. In fact, I’ve already started shopping future itineraries.
How have your cruise experiences been? Any great tips for people cruising with kids?