Sunday, September 29, 2013

Part 4 - Grand Cayman and Costa Maya

Research is so important, no matter where you are going make sure you have some idea of what you want to do or encounter, I am glad we had a plan, well mostly for Grand Cayman. We ate breakfast on the ship and grabbed our bags to head to the tender. We were greeted by a "flying" man.
 Once on land we walked around the port a while looking in shops getting a few free goodies before deciding to head to the beach. Now we had to decide to walk or find a taxi. In my research others had recommended taking a city bus which was located near the public library so that was my plan. I didn't make myself clear to my husband and couldn't find signs to point us to the library so when a taxi driver asked us if we wanted to ride with another couple we said sure. Since we didn't take the bus I can't verify that it would have been half the price of the taxi but the taxi one way was $16 for 4 of us. Make sure to carry small bills or exact change. Drivers will not give you change they think it is their tip and will walk off if you don't catch them. He took us to the Royal Psalms Hotel where we had to pay $4 to use the beach and facilities but in the end it was worth it. We had bathrooms, showers, and an adult only pool at our disposal. Not only that but we had pretty much the entire beach to ourselves and the other family that we rode with.

7 mile beach is suppose to be one of the most famous and best beaches in the Caribbean. The sand was white and soft and the waves subtle.

After a fun filled morning at the beach we decided since the drive didn't seem to take as long as we expected and we could see the ship from the beach we would attempt the walk back. We didn't know how far it was but I knew there would be some questionable points where there was no sidewalk and traffic was heavy but I am frugal and wanted to walk rather than pay another $16. Plus after everything we had eaten so far on the ship we needed the exercise. So we walked the 2 miles (we goggled the distance) back to the ship with very few issues. It was nice seeing the way the people actually lived and only thing we didn't think of was that traffic is opposite from the US. So trying to keep an eye for oncoming traffic was confusing especially with many drivers deciding to drive on both sides.

Once back we collapsed for a little while after lunch and then got dressed for the Alfred and Seymour show. Our boys didn't want to go but my husband and I really wanted to then we realized we could drop them off at the Oceaneers Club. They loved that idea, so they got to do their thing and we got to enjoy the show. It was a win win for everyone, although I kept checking the phone to make sure they didn't need anything.

We picked them up and headed to dinner at Animator's Palate. This was by far our favorite place to eat. Relaxed atmosphere with entertainment. There were screens all around the dinning area, we had 2 right next to us. Crush swam up and started talking to a kid when there was no response he says "Hey I'm talking to you in the striped shell next to the big fish with glasses" At that point we realize he was talking to my oldest son and describing what he and my husband were wearing. They carried on an actual conversation about our day and what we did. Our children's names are unusual so when he repeated it back and correctly we were a bit surprised. He talked to several around the room including the girls next to us.
 While waiting we played charades with the fish.
 And after a great night we came back to find...well we still aren't completely sure what it is what is your best guess?
 Oh and here is a picture of the boys sleeping arrangements. The oldest slept on the bunk that came out of the ceiling and the youngest on the couch bed.
Day 4 Costa Maya
I do wish I kept better records of what we did each day especially since I lost my schedule for this day. Posts probably wouldn't be so long if I just kept to the facts instead what is going through my head now as I remember it. I know we did a few things before this point like eating breakfast at the Royal Court (sit-down type meal) and a few other shows here an there along with detective games. There really was just so much to do that I didn't have time to write it down and if I did sit down I fell asleep.

Ok back to what I do remember about this day. We headed to port, very windy and overcast day. We went into some of the stores and redeemed some of our coupons given to us. One item was a charm bracelet where we could get free charms from each port. I'm not a big shopper and neither is my husband so we decided to wonder around outside the shopping area. I had wanted to go to the Mayan ruins but it was an hour ride and expensive if done through Disney. Not knowing the area we didn't want to take the chance of venturing to far on our own.

Once past the gates we saw a replica of a Mayan temple in the center of the town. Little one fell asleep so Big C enjoyed the attention and getting to climb. 

 While there we started to notice signs damaged, huts blown over, and paying closer attention we realized none of the stores in the area were actually open. In fact many of them you could see the roofs collapsed. Research... I remembered that this area was hit hard in 2007 by Hurricane Dean.The port had been rebuilt into the small section we had been in at first but where we stood now was the original port. We had just studied hurricanes in school so it was awesome to show my sons first hand some of the damage and sad that it has been almost 6 years since it happened and yet nothing had been done with the buildings.

If you look closely you can see the roof caving in.
Part of the building has been redone and is now a museum and the other side is covered in caution tape and the roof is gone.

This is the new port

 We spent the afternoon watching Planes in 3D. The boys did very well during this show. We played the interactive detective game where you go around the ship gathering clues from paintings to lead you to the crook. I'll explain more in the next post.

 We enjoyed dinner in the Enchanted Garden before going back and finding a lobster waiting for us.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Part 3 - Bon Voyage

If you are like me then you have it all played out in your head how the day of boarding will go even with a few hiccups because you know they are inevitable. Well here is your warning now, I was going to try to make the 7 days into one post but the more I think about the trip the longer I can already picture this and if it is like the 1st day it won't follow what's in my head ;)

Staying with family was great, they even made us pancakes but by now we have realized that pancakes + road trip = car sick for our youngest. We actually didn't learn that until the day we disembarked but it helped piece together why he was sick on the way home. We repacked the car at their house because we knew it would be hectic trying to unload all our luggage at the Park n' Cruise, although our repacking and saying goodbyes put us behind our schedule until my husband remembered we were avoiding tolls. We decided to bite the bullet and pay the toll so we could get back on schedule. Where we live we don't have tolls and have absolutely no clue how they work but I will continue avoiding them because it didn't save us on time nor money by the end. We would drive 3/4 mile and have to pay, another 4 and pay, 1/4 pay... you get the idea. I think when we totaled it up it was over $20, honestly I stopped counting after $18, I just wanted to get off.

When we finally got to Park n' Cruise we quickly sprang into action unloading and then the waiting began. Last year we used this company and they were pretty small but word had apparently spread, they are very good and inexpensive, we were second in line for our cruise but had to wait about 40 minutes until the next shuttle to take us to port. The only reason I was frustrated was because we were suppose to check in at 12:30 and didn't make it until 1pm.

Crowds get me a little anxious...ok very anxious. So arriving I felt just thrown into the hustle not able to regroup but our boys did great keeping up not complaining much. 3 bags were taken to our room while we carried the rest, not a problem except carrying 24 bottles of water gets a little heavy.

I did find out you are able to take small suitcases as a carry on ::Note to Self:: next time put water in small rolling suite case. Going through the metal detectors is always fun with kids because they are asking a million questions about the process and why they are taking our stuff and then not wanting to go through it without mommy or daddy. Our goal was to take pictures of the whole process but running late and trying to keep up with where to go...well there are no pictures, sorry.

Minnie and Mickey were taking photos when we first walked in the terminal but we decided to just go ahead and jump in line to check in. We normally eat lunch at 11am central time zone and it was already 1pm eastern so food was a high priority but we were hoping to put everything in our room before. Check in went very smoothly because we had done everything online before arriving and had our passports ready to go, 5 minutes tops and we were on our way. They took a family photo that was scanned into their system so when they would swipe our card they could see not only each of us individually but know we were together.

Right before we entered the ship they took our family photo to purchase later...we didn't. As we walked onto the ship they announced us and several staff were lined up clapping and welcoming us aboard. To think there was over 4,000 passengers...

First we tried to find our room but were directed toward the dinning hall because the rooms were not ready yet. Passengers disembark by 9am and check in for the next group begins at noon, so we were off with all our stuff to the Enchanted Garden to eat. We were escorted to our seat and after dropping off everything headed to the buffet. Felt bad for those sitting near us with all our junk everywhere until I realized they were in the same boat (literally). The food was ok granted there were a lot of people so I was still on edge and didn't feel like I could look over the food to see what I wanted. Buffets are not for me because they are always so busy.

Finally time to check out our room and dump our bags! It was pretty much like the photos on their website. I was impressed.

Our boys were swept away by the tv...watching our ship sit at port. We were very curious how the beds were made, we knew the couch converted and the top bunk came from the ceiling but that is when we realized if we wanted it before bed time then we would have to ask. After relaxing a bit and watching the information channel we headed out to explore well and attend our mandatory emergency drill. During the drill we met a very nice family from New Jersey, they helped the waiting fly by.

We discovered the children's area, the Oceaneer's Club and Lab. They were having an open house so we decided to take a look. At the same time we registered the boys. During an open house first few days on the ship is a little insane to try to register. We got a surprise while there, we thought that our youngest was to young to be allowed to go but they said since his birthday is coming up (Christmas) and he is potty trained and verbal that he was allowed to join. They were out of straps so I had to carry their bracelets around with me until they got more, again don't register during open house. During an open house adults are allowed to enter the children's area otherwise only one adult must sign in to go retrieve your child. Our oldest loved it as soon as he saw the video games and my youngest was asleep.
There was a dance floor that was pressure sensitive. Depending how hard you stepped on it then a blob of color would start to spin taking off from the point you touched it. (performed many other functions) 

There were also several other rooms inside the club. This was the laugh factory, there was a comedy playing.
The toy story room was the boys favorite. When we left them most of the time we would find them here when we returned.
We headed back to our room as the ship started to leave port. From our veranda we were able to watch NASA drift off in the distance.

Oh and one of the reasons we went on this trip was celebrating my birthday just my little family, and the staff at dinner. As we started to sail my son sang happy birthday.

Dinner was casual, they ask for no shorts or flip flops. We had the late seating (8:15) so the first night was hard. We were scheduled to eat at Enchanted Garden and once we sat down we met our servers that would be with us for the next 7 nights. They were a great team, performing magic tricks to help keep the boys distracted so we could finish our meal. After desert they brought a sample platter and then they brought me a birthday cake, I was stuffed. There was another table next to ours, we became friends with them as the week went on, but one of the girls was also celebrating her birthday.

If eating with children at the late seating you can sign them up to eat and then be picked up to play at the oceaneer club. Just have to take them to the lobby area and find a team member in a yellow shirt. We never did this but thought it was a great idea.

Also make sure to give feedback to your servers, they bring food to you giving time in between each course unless you want to speed it up. With the kids and typically not eating every course we opted to have the next course within minutes of finishing the first.

Since we could barely move after eating a great meal we headed back to the room to find a seal waiting with the navigator (schedule for the next day)

Day at Sea - Sunday
An amazing thing happened, my youngest slept through the night in his own bed! Maybe this place is magic ;) Since it was a Sunday we ran up grabbed some breakfast enjoyed the view a little before going back to our room and worshiped God. It was important to us that our boys know that no matter where we are to take the time to do what we have been commanded.

Afterwards we grabbed our Navigator Schedule and headed out looking for an adventure. We headed to the Buena Vista Theater and watched Monsters University in 3D. Most of our family was having a great time but since we were one of the last to get in we were closer to the screen, honestly perfect spot for sliding in and out as need be, but my oldest has very sensitive hearing. We have tried to do movie theaters in the past and never have been able to stay the entire time. While he kept asking to go telling us he didn't like the movie we encouraged him to stay and he made it to the end liking it. Our youngest loved it.

Lunch and then off to see if we could swim. Every time we had seen the pool it had been crowded as it was this time but then we stumbled upon this little jewel.

There are 2 splash areas on the ship, Nemo's Reef for babies still in diapers and the AuqaLab. Every now and then you would have people come but for the most part it was always empty. It was kind of chilly because it was overcast and then we hit rain. We found the ice cream station, our stop every afternoon.
We went back to our room hoping to get the boys to nap...instead they watched tv and mommy and daddy napped. When we woke we found we were near a beautiful island...
 The only land we knew it could possibly be was Cuba.
 We spent a lot of time on our veranda, we loved not having to go up to look out. Even more of a bonus was it wasn't as windy as decks 11 and above.
 We had to kill some time before dinner so we took the picture frames we brought to the front desk so they could be signed by all the characters. On the last night they were brought back to our room, which was an exciting surprise for the boys. I have heard people bringing shirts, pillow cases, scrapbook paper, anything that fits in a ziplock bag for signing. Formal night at the Royal Court. It was very pretty and quieter compared to the Enchanted Garden.

 My son is very anti princess at the moment so when his menu had them on it our server Herry brought him a different one to color.
 The food was french cuisine. My husband had french onion soup for his second course. He said it was delicious, unfortunately the oldest didn't care for the smell and already had a headache.
We also hit rougher water, not horrible but enough that my husband wanted to get medicine to make sure he didn't get sick. As for my son they got him medicine as well and walking around helped. If he doesn't drink enough water he develops headaches quickly that leads to him throwing up so we definitely didn't want that happening.
 Of course the little one had to use the bathroom when daddy got back. Nearest bathroom was midship.
 We switched kids at dessert and took a few pictures.
 Big C explaining why he doesn't like princesses, their girls.
 In line to meet Micky while down below the princesses were taking pictures with guests.

Great detail went into the ship which I think helped make even special memories like the ones below even more special.

We are headed back to the central time zone. The few days after the trip we couldn't tell when we were suppose to be hungry.
Looks like I was right, the picture of the hilly island was Cuba and now on to Grand Cayman.
Lamp shades in our room.

Just 2 days and this has already turned into a longer post than anticipated.