Florida – Caribbean Cruise April 2019

I can’t believe it’s already been years since our fabulous holiday to America and the Caribbean. This holiday had been planned with meticulous detail and we were planning on filling our 2weeks+ holiday to the brim!  The year that followed has been nonstop! From finding out we were having another baby to busy work schedules and school life.

Back in 2018 Dee and Ash (His brother) started throwing around the idea of taking the boys on a cruise holiday. Ash and Heena had previously been on a Caribbean cruise with her family and they had thoroughly enjoyed it. Dee was warming to the idea but I was not so sure. How were we going to keep 4 year olds content on the ship, what if they were sea sick? What if they tried to climb overboard! The last was a bit out there but it was truly a concern for me. Ash and Heena reassured me the ships were safe and there were no gaps children could just fall out of! They also told us lots about their experience and although they had not gone with children, they had seen all that was on offer for them onboard. I hesitantly agreed to look into it more and for the men to do more research on what would be suitable for us. We planned on going away over the Easter break as the boys got nearly 4 weeks off. Then the planning really began. I have never looked into cruises before and it’s a whole crazily large market. Lots of cruise lines to choose from then all the different routes and the different ships depending on what you wanted. My mind was blown! We ended up choosing Royal Caribbean, going on the Adventure of the Seas for a 6 day Caribbean cruise. We had picked the Adventure of the Seas as it is a family friendly cruise liner with lots to keep the children (and big kids- me) happy. The rest of the holiday would be split between the East and West coast of Florida so we could take as much of it in as possible.

Holiday Time!

With the weather warming up and the days becoming longer I was looking forward to our upcoming holiday! Easter Holidays were just around the corner and we still had lots of planning to do. The guys had been watching in cruise deals closely and were always watching for price drops on the drinks packages and upgrades. This I didn’t know before but the prices can vary greatly and it’s always good to get your packages separately from your main booking. Following cruise blogs and cruise sites will give you an insight when its likely prices are to drop and serial cruisers normally share tips. Drinks packages are worth it if you plan on relaxing with a few daily drinks on the ship. You can buy drinks separately but for every drink you will be charged a 20% service on top. So a $9 beer would end up being $11. Also not included in the charge of your cruise ticket is the daily service charge they add to your room. Some cruise agents might include this in the ticket price but do find out as it can quickly add up as it’s per a person per a day.  You can also book excursions in advance and see all the options available.

Our holiday was split into 3 parts; 4 nights in East Florida – 6 nights on the cruise – 5 nights in West Florida. We had decided to skip Disney as the boys were still quite young and our niece was only a year old. We would wait until they were all older so they could really appreciate it.

And we’re off!

As Dylan’s school had finished earlier than most we grabbed a great deal on a non direct flight to Florida via Dallas with United Airlines. It had a short stop over which I was ok with and with Dylan being so good on planes I was happy to make a saving on this. As always, even though Dylan is a little flying pro- he was still only 4! Its planning that keeps him turning into a mini monster mid air! I had repacked my plane seat organiser with small games, new toys, handy wipes and snacks. I use a car seat organiser which I just hang onto the seat in front. This way I’m not rummaging in bags for bits and bobs. His Trunki is filled with a few larger toys he has chosen, a change of clothes, his blankie & PJ’s and a few reading books. I let him help me pack this so he feels involved. Lastly the IPad is charged and child headphones are kept with our electronics.

The first leg of our flight went smoothly but when we landed in Dallas that all changed. Firstly the immigration queue was hideously long and I feared we would miss our connecting flight but when we got through our flight was not up on the boards and we were left baffled. After we found a helpdesk we were told that due to bad weather elsewhere our plane had not left its destination yet and we were waiting on the weather to clear. Having been stuck in America before due to bad weather we also knew this meant the airline was just shaking its hands off us. They did not have to provide food vouchers or anything as it was a natural incident. After 5 hours we were told we would be getting on the plane soon. They had given us a link to claim compensation which was only $50 credit to be used against the airline.

We finally arrived in sunny Florida tired after a total journey time 16 hours later. Ash, Heena and the kids would be joining us tomorrow so for tonight we had booked a basic hotel near the airport. In the morning we would return to the airport to drop off our car and pick up a bigger one. I had seen that a Tesla showroom was just around the corner and this was our first stop on the holiday! I was super excited at seeing the model 3 in the flesh. They were still not due in the UK yet. The car is a beaut! We pottered around one and headed off to a Walgreens to pick up some bits for our apartment.

Our apartment in Luxury Circ Residents was a 2 bedroom, spacious flat located in Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale. When Druv and Diya joined us Dylan was over the moon! He knew we were all going on holiday together but seeing them on the holiday made him smile from ear to ear. The boys really are the best of buddies and they got down talking about the planes they had come on.

Sawgrass Mills/ Hollywood Area + Beach

Coming to America- Especially Florida, meant that shopping was a must! Sawgrass Mills is a large outlet shopping complex. We had all packed lightly to pick up a few bits before cruise and a proper shop after the cruise. We started our day by lining our stomachs with IHOP a pancake breakfast joint that do delicious breakfasts. Sawgrass Mills is huge! We got a good idea on prices and managed to buy a good few things.

The next day we took the children to the beach. Its wide stretches of light gold sand stretched forever. The main walking boulevard is heaving with small shops lining the street and a mix of tourists and locals enjoying the good weather. As we entered we saw a cocktail slush puppy van we picked up some drinks for the adults and stopped at a vegan ice-cream parlour for the children. We stopped at the Hardrock hotel and watched children playing on the wave machine. I was really looking forward to having a go on the cruise. We had an early night as tomorrow we would be boarding the Adventure of the Seas!

Hello Cruise Ship!

I had never really given much thought to the embarking process but it’s similar to going to an airport and boarding a plane. Our ship had a capacity of 3800 passengers and over 1000 crew. You are designated a slot at which time you have to arrive at the cruise terminal. The main roads leading up to the terminals get very busy so it’s important to leave plenty of time to get there. On the approach, once we saw the ship I was flabbergasted! It was HUGE! I was expecting it to be big but I hadn’t imagined it to be this BIG! The kids were all in awe too! We were checked in efficiently and made our way onto the ship. After a quick orientation we were ready to leave the port with a great song and dance the big ship started to move and we used the early opportunity to get the boys into their swimwear and into the splash pools whilst they were still quiet.

The ship has 7 main restaurants and a cafe. You could always opt to dine in the buffet restaurant-Windjammer or book into any of the others. The main restaurant is a dressy affair for which you have to book in for daily. We chose this for a majority of our dinners. It took me a whole day to get my bearings around this vast ship. We had chosen a basic inside cabin room. It was sufficient for our needs as we spent minimal time in there. Ash and Heena had a balcony room which was lovely, bright and larger than ours. Both our rooms were front to mid ship as we had read at the ends you feel the motion more.

We signed the boys up for the kids club, Diya was too young for it but the boys could go. As they had each other they were more confident and jumped at the chance. There are 3 sessions daily and you can pay to keep the kids there later in the evening. We would normally send them for 1 session on Sea days.

Grand Cayman

Our first port was Grand Cayman. I was very excited about this as I had booked an excursion to go swim with the sting rays with Dylan. Dee didn’t want to come so everyone else had made a plan to go to the 7 mile beach for a relaxing day.  Our excursion was booked through Royal Caribbean as it was the easiest option for us. We all met in the Lyric theatre where we were organised into groups by excursion and taken off the ship in order of times booked before the rest of the ship disembarked. If you had booked independently you would have to wait to get off the ship and might miss your slot with your vendor. In the queues Dylan made friends with a lovely chap named Sherman. I got talking to Sherman and his wife Linda who were a lovely retired couple from Michigan. There were pro cruisers who had been everywhere. We made our way onto a catamaran that would take us to sting ray city. It is a shallow in the seas where fisherman used to go to clean their catch and because of that sting rays used to come and eat there. Now they come because the tourists feed them. They are all wild sting rays and some have large stingers/points.

The Catamaran went far into the sea and I began to wonder if this was going to be as shallow as I imagined. How was I going to look after Dylan in the water if it was too deep? He had his swim float vest on but I wasn’t feeling confident. In the distance you could see the colour of the water changing and becoming lighter. Sure enough in the middle of the sea there was patches of shallow seas, shallow enough to stand in and even my 5, 4’ height was not going to get drowned. The catamaran had to dock in slightly deeper waters and a short swim took you to the shallows. Crap I thought, how was I going to go down the boat steps into the sea and swim with Dylan! Sherman was getting ready to go in and Dylan wanted to go with him. I asked if he would mind swimming slightly ahead and I would start swimming with Dylan and let him swim a little of the way to him. Sherman just scooped him up and put him on his back and swam the few meters to the shallows. I was so grateful. His 6 3’ height made it easier for him. Me and Linda followed and started enjoying the warm Caribbean waters. They were crystal clear and we could see sting rays just swimming around. Our tour guides talked us through how we should behave and brought over some of the larger sting rays to feed for pictures. They had a bucket of cut up squid which we could feed them with and as bits fell into the water more stings rays would come and swim by or between our legs! It was truly amazing! The area is busy with tourist boats but the rays didn’t seem to mind and it didn’t feel crowded in the water. We got to see some really large rays up close, it was magical how they glided under the water. We all got back on the catamaran buzzing!

After the excursion we got dropped off on the 7 mile beach at the Calico Jacks I had asked if it was a short walk to where everyone else was and the guide said it was about a 20 minute walk. I love the sand so was happy to go for a stroll. The 7 mile beach is stunning. The pristine white soft powder sand against the turquoise blue waters is heaven. And as we walked hand in hand I enjoyed every minute with Dylan. I had told him to stay dry until we got to the others and then I would change him into his swim stuff again, but the pull of the sea was too much and soon enough he had his tee shirt and shorts drenched. We met the others at the start of the 7 mile beach and spent the rest of the day on the beach and in the sea sipping on cold beer- bliss!

Costa Maya

This was our next stop and we had planned to spend the day in the port as it felt too rushed to be leaving with small children. Costa Maya is one of the most developed ports in the Caribbean and it is like a theme park in itself. It has a variety of shops/bars & restaurants and even activities such as swimming with dolphins on the site. We sat down to grab a cooling drink in a restaurant with a huge wrestling ring in the middle. Our table was close to it and the boys were curious about it. We told them briefly about Mexican wrestling and went back to planning our day, next thing we know 4 wrestlers emerge out from nowhere and start wrestling! They climb into the ring and carry on fighting which then spills back out of the ring. The boys at first were scared by all the commotion but they quickly got into it and were cheering different wrestlers on. After the fight the wrestlers took pictures with the children and the boys were so happy! We hadn’t booked a dolphin swim but went over to watch the dolphins with the instructors. They let us come into the enclosure to hear an interesting talk about dolphins and get a bit closer to them. The port also had flamingos and other wildlife dotted around. We had 7 hours on land at this port so decided to go to The Krazy Lobster after reading great reviews about it online. It is known for its fresh seafood and beach location. We headed there and found it was not what we had quite expected, the whole restaurant is set on the beach front and it’s pretty basic. The staff were friendly and helpful and we ordered a large seafood platter and buckets of beers. When the food came we were blown away! It really was a LARGE platter brimming with delights. Fresh Mexican accompaniments gave the platter lashings of flavour. Heena took the boys kayaking in the sea whilst Ash got a massage. We took Diya for a walk (her favourite thing to do) along the path, on one side are all the beach restaurants and on the other tourist shops. I was on the hunt for some obsidian and I found a massage stone at a really good price. Although the restaurant looks basic we had the best time, it’s nice and relaxed with great food & staff – what more do you really need?  We made our way back, as it’s such a busy port with other cruise ships there too we didn’t want to get stuck in checking in queues so we headed back in good time. A helpful hint is to check which ports you will be going to and which other ships will be docked to, giving you an idea on how many people might be there. Very helpful for excursions! https://www.cruisemapper.com/ports

Cozumel

Our last port was Cozumel we arrived early at the port the next day and got taxis to Chankanaab National Park. It’s an ecological park which also dolphin swims and sea lion shows and other sea life information bits. It’s a lovely place to relax and unwind on hammocks and sun loungers whilst the kids play with white sands. You can swim in the shallow sea and go up to nearby reefs or swim in the large pool with a swim up bar. It also has crocodiles and Iguanas and it’s a great place for young children. The boys loved watching the sea lion show and swimming. It’s quite expensive entrance wise but worth it as a day out. Dylan’s highlight was holding a large iguana and seeing the crocs.

Our last day at Sea

We spent our last day on the ship doing all the fun stuff we could squeeze in! We joined in with the daily dance aerobics, climbed the rock wall – had a quick dip in the Jacuzzis and in general just had a great day. We let the boys have ice-cream when they wanted it and took Diya for plenty of strolls around the deck. Heena and Darshan were feeling a bit delicate from attending the cruise party the night before but they quickly livened up in the sea breeze and sun. The cruise has a white party once during the stay and all the guests and crew dress in white clothes. The evening had started with a parade down the main promenade and singing and dancing, we had all sat and watched the entertainment from the pub on board and whilst we went to put the kids to sleep Dee and Heena carried on partying. This is also the day to tip any staff members if you wish too. Although the service charge is included, all the staff really do an exceptional job – from remembering your names and favorite drinks to added little touches for dinner. Our last meal in the main dining hall was a sad affair. We would be missing this fabulous grub from now. I’m sure I had put on kilos just from the cruise alone and we still had nearly a week left of holidaying. Our 2 main servers were great throughout the week and we had learnt so much about them and their families it was like saying goodbye to friends.

At night you have to leave your main luggage outside your room for it to be collected, keep only your essentials for the next day as everything has to be carried off the ship with you. The next morning we had a good breakfast and made our way off the ship into the midday heat of Florida. We had hired 2 cars to take us to the west coast of Florida for the 3rd part of our holiday.

Cape Coral/ Naples

We had chosen a villa in the Cape Coral area which is 3 hour drive from Port Miami in Fort Lauderdale. We set off with a plan to stop in Naples along the way for a late lunch. The main route is on the I-75 and through the everglades. We stopped in Naples and hit the pier where we saw free swimming wild dolphins just frolicking on the beach, what a beautiful site. We picked up a few large pizza slices and carried on towards our Villa.

Our Villa

Villa Aquaventura was in a quiet residential area backing onto a large lake. When we entered the property we were blown away! In the main entrance was an American size pool table, with views of our indoor swimming pool. The kids were buzzing around the house excited by the new space.The pool area was in a large conservatory which was locked with stoppers and as an added layer of protection it also had a baby gate around the pool. This was one of the main reasons we chose the property as it gave us peace of mind. We had booked the villa through Roelens Vacation rentals and they were beyond helpful with choosing the right property for us. https://www.roelensvacations.com We sent the men off to the local supermarket whilst we got the children showered and changed. It had already been a long day so an early night was needed.

The next day we had planned to go shelling! West Florida has some beautiful beaches for collecting shells and we thought it would be a fun activity with the children. We did a drive down to Sanibel Island. I had seen wide beaches before but nothing prepared me for this! The sand stretched out to the sea for what felt like forever before you could see the water lapping at the edges. The water was rough so we didn’t venture in and I think the walk had taken it out of us. We all collected some beautiful shells.

The local area

After this we had planned for some light shopping in the local area. I was looking forward to browsing through the rails of Ross (a cheaper TK Maxx) and my favourite- Walmart! We managed to pick up some great bargains, including new hard case suitcases! We would now be coming home with even more stuff! To keep the kids happy we had promised them a swim and pool table time once back home. They were also loving the Wii and bowling was a family hit.

Our last few days were spent relaxing and enjoying our villa.  Whilst the kids were occupied I snuck away and tried to do some fishing from the back garden. I love fishing but it’s been a while since I’ve had a go and on a time limit at that! It was nice trying to show Dee what to do and watching his cast and reel. One of my highlights was going for a proper southern bbq meal.we had got tothe restaurant starving and everything on the menu looked so good that we ordered enough for a party! when the food arrived we were not dissapointed, beautiful smokey flavours served with southern sides. We managed to finish our day with a quick dip in the Jacuzzi with a glass of bubbles to end a fabulous holiday.

Flight Compensation

Our journey home, although long was uneventful. Luckily Dylan was a dream through the flight. One thing we had found out was that our flight out had not been affected by bad weather but due to plane shortages as some were grounded due to the extensive checks on the Boeing 737 MAX’s. After we knew this information we came home and put in a claim with https://www.airhelp.com/en-gb which won the claim against the airline and we were awarded compensation for the delay and misinformation. It ended up covering the flights we had paid for, so it’s worth looking into if you are delayed abroad.

….and with our new flight windfall we started looking for our next holiday 🙂

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