Day 5: Wednesday, October 12th. On Wednesday, we spent the day in Jamaica. When we originally booked the cruise and realized that Jamaica was on the itinerary, my mind instantly went to Dunn’s River Falls. Ryan and I visited Ocho Rios and climbed the falls in 2003 on our honeymoon. A friend of mine with young sons recently visited as well and I asked her if she thought kids could do it. She thought so, so we forged ahead with fingers crossed that this wouldn’t be way too challenging for them. We docked at Falmouth and the port and shopping area is absolutely beautiful. There are some touristy places like Margaritaville and Del Sol but also lots of local artists and food options. Our excursion to DRF included a stop at Green Grotto Caves, which turned out to be just as much fun for the boys. Our kids were the only children with our tour group and this served us well. First of all, they were having a wonderful time so they were incredibly well behaved, which is always helpful. Secondly, the other people on our tours thought they were cute and enjoyed talking to them. Finally, the tour guides loved them and let them (us) in the front of the group so they could see and the guides could help them navigate places with tricky or slippery footing.
I love the people of Jamaica that we encountered. I love the no-problem attitude. “In Jamaica, we do not have problems. We have situations, which can be shared with friends and family.” Green Grotto Caves was located 30 minutes from Falmouth and about halfway to Dunn’s River Falls, so we had lots of time to listen and talk to the guide on the bus tell us about Jamaican culture and interesting details about the lifestyle there. We found the info about their daily life the most fascinating, like how public schools work, how taxes are paid, and how homes are constructed.
The boys absolutely loved both the caves and the falls – they were troopers and I love their sense of adventure and lack of fear. It was an awesome, awesome, awesome day. The kind of day where you’re torn between soaking in every ounce of the experience and feeling bittersweet anxiousness because you know it’s just a fleeting moment in time you’ll never get back. During the Falls, Theo kept saying “I don’t want this to end!” and I didn’t either. I don’t know how else to explain it so I’ll let the photos talk.
A crystal clear underground lake at Green Grotto Caves.
Day 3: Monday, October 10th. This was our first full day on the Freedom of the Seas and a Day at Sea. There were so many things going on at all times but the only thing the boys really wanted to do was play at the pool. We were pretty okay with that.
As a side note, I thought it was interesting when we’d tell people that we were going on a cruise, many reacted with an “oh, you’re not taking the kids.” Ummm yeah, we’re taking the kids! “Oh, then it’s a Disney cruise?” Ummm nope. That cost twice what a Royal Caribbean cruise costs. “Oh.” It really threw me for a loop and I wasn’t sure if everyone else knew something I didn’t. There were fleeting moments during the cruise when I thought in the back of my mind “ohhh, this is what they meant.” For instance, there would be something Ryan and I wanted to do at 1pm but that would mean dragging the kids away from the pool at noon to get them back to the room, get them dressed, and drop them off at Adventure Ocean. It just wasn’t worth it. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy hanging out with them – we did. There were just a handful of times that we thought, okay, it would be really nice to take a cruise as a couple sometime too.
We had 5:30 dinner every night and Monday was a “formal” night. This was something I really stressed over in terms of getting ready for the trip. I worried over what to buy and what to pack – and did WAY too much of both. I was afraid people would give us dirty looks if the boys weren’t wearing suit jackets etc. We don’t have jobs or lifestyles where we have to dress up so this is totally our of our element as a family. Of course I had some dresses, but the guys had little to nothing to wear before I went out on a mad spree two weeks before the trip. Ultimately, we didn’t go too over the top and I was happy. We could have packed way less but there were men at formal dinners wearing everything from polo shirts with slacks to full-blown tuxedos. The boys thought they were pretty fancy and handsome…however they had no desire to get dressed up like that again.
Apparently I didn’t take any photos at the pool that day. I can’t say enough good things about the Adventure Ocean program. Every night after dinner, we dropped them off there for about 3 hours so we could catch a show, have a drink in the hot tub, or just try to figure out excursions for the next day (big mistake not booking in advance). They absolutely loved going. They met friends who they would then play with at the pool the next day. The kids’ club provided them with entertainment, physical games, crafts, and so much more. It was great for all of us.
Leonardo’s Dining room – such a big part of my memories of our family time on the cruise ship!
We all enjoyed the towel animals that greeted us when we returned to the room after dinner every night.
Day 4: Tuesday, October 11th. Tuesday was our first port of call and we docked at Labadee, Haiti. With Hurricane Matthew making a direct hit on Haiti just one week earlier, I wasn’t sure if we would still be going there but there was never an update to our itinerary. Turns out Labadee is a small section of the island on the northern coast that is privately leased to Royal Caribbean in an area that was not directly affected by the storm.
Monday night while the boys were at Adventure Ocean, we spent some time trying to figure out our shore excursion for Labadee but we couldn’t decide what to do. Unfortunately, the excursion we’d hoped to do had an age limit of 5+ but a height limit of 48″+ and little Dexter just isn’t there yet. We ended up having no plan and decided to wing it the morning of. WELLLL let’s just say it turned out to be a good thing because somehow, somewhere, this gal lost 3 of our 4 Seapass cards. We were in the gangway when I went to get them out and they weren’t in the pocket in our bag where I thought I put them. After about 45 minutes of sheer panic, I went to guest services like a puppy with his tail between his legs and told them I lost 3 of our cards. The dude definitely seemed annoyed but within 5 minutes we had new cards and were on our way off the ship.
I was stressed, I’d been lugging 2 bags and dragging my now-grouchy kids all over the ship looking for those dumb cards, and I was ready to relax. We went up to a golf cart and said something along these lines: “please take us to a cabana that we can rent so that we will have a place to sit all this crap down and start enjoying our day.”
Had we taken 10 minutes to check out Labadee, we would have discovered that we could have hung out on the beautiful beach (beach chairs provided) for free. However, we did enjoy our cabana, the beach, the floating beach mats, the cocktails, and the private buffet. I have to admit, I kept thinking about the locals. The people that were serving us fruity drinks and food and cleaning up after us faster than we could clean up after ourselves. I felt like a jerk. I felt like a stupid spoiled American for being there on this beautiful little piece of their island that was in utter ruins on the other side of the mountain. People died…probably family members and friends of the people who were serving us. People lost their homes. We were crabby because we were inconvenienced by misplacing cards and hauling around heavy bags full of cameras, sunscreen, and beach towels in the Caribbean heat. Yeah…jerks.
Despite being a loser (of SeaPass cards) and my guilty conscience about being a privileged American, we had a great time. It was gorgeous. I was not expecting to be as impressed as I was but we loved it there. I wish we could have stayed longer and explored the area a bit more.
We were back on the Freedom for a 330pm departure from Haiti so we got ready for dinner and then rushed the boys to Adventure Ocean because they didn’t want to miss out on the “Pirate Parade”. Those brave childcare staff took all the kids down to the Royal Promenade to sing pirate songs and dance pirate dances. I was impressed at how organized it was and how well all the kids did – you would have thought they’d been practicing for a week. It was kind of adorable how excited they were and then multiply that times one hundred when they realized we were there, watching the parade!
We went to bed happy, ready for a big day in Jamaica on Wednesday.
We’ve been home from our much anticipated cruise vacation for just over 2 weeks now and I’m still in a little bit of a euphoric/bittersweet fog thinking about it. I booked it with 410 days to go on our cruise countdown and much to my disbelief, it has already come and gone.
Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the Atlantic coast of Florida Friday afternoon, October 7th. The day we were supposed to load up and drive down. We were frantically watching the weather channel all week leading up to the 7th as the storm slowly approached the US. By late Thursday night, it started to look as though the eye would not be making direct contact with the shore as the meteorologists, Florida residents, and many vacationers feared. Since there was still so much that was unknown on Thursday night, I cancelled our Cape Canaveral hotel for Saturday night and switched the reservation to a hotel more inland in Ocala, a couple hours from the coast.
Friday we decided not to leave until midnight since our destination was now 2 hours closer to home and since we figured many evacuees would be trying to get back into their homes on Saturday morning. I was so worried about driving all night. How tired would I get? Would the boys sleep? What if there was traffic or construction problems? I pictured the drive down there and back as being as monumental of an event as the cruise itself. The boys were GREAT in the car. They are wonderful road trippers. They really entertained themselves well with coloring, writing, drawing, and sticker books. They didn’t complain a lot and for that, I am so thankful. This was our first really long road trip (16 hours total) so I worried about how we would all deal.
We checked into our hotel in Ocala around 230 or 3 then ate a late lunch/early dinner at a neat local place. We were all pretty exhausted and in bed by 8pm.
Somewhere between the Florida state line and Ocala, it occurred to me that we had to drive through Orlando Sunday morning to get to the port. That must have been around the same time that I found out that our cruise was scheduled to depart a couple hours later in order to allow for some extra travel time. Since we weren’t short on time, I covertly had Ryan check online for breakfast reservations at Disney World. Being less than 24 hours before breakfast, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought we might squeeze in at a lesser known resort and just enjoy the Disney ambiance. The beauty of checking reservations at the last minute is that people get there, change their minds, and rearrange their plans. Lo and behold, we were able to snag 10am reservations at one of the Character dining experiences that has been on my Disney bucket list for quite a while. This one is 1900 Park Fare, located inside of the Grand Floridian resort.
We got to meet Alice and the Mad Hatter, Pooh and Tigger, and Mary Poppins. That’s a lot of bang for your buck and the breakfast was delicious. It was such a fun surprise for the boys. Leading up to the cruise, Dexter kept saying “I can’t believe we’re driving ALL the way to Disney!” We told him over and over and over and over that we were driving to the CRUISE, not to Disney. You can imagine how great he felt telling us “told ya so” when he started noticing the distinct Mickey road signs everywhere. We were all floating on that Disney cloud and it was kind of hard to leave, even if it was so that we could go on a fantastic vacation.
We took a few minutes to walk around the resort. We’d never stepped foot on the Grand Floridian property before so I wanted to check it out a little bit. Honestly, I was curious to see the changes they’d made since little Lane Graves died there in June. I know this is weird, but I wanted to stand there where it happened and try to put myself in his parents’ place. I tried to imagine feeling what they felt, the tension and raw emotion in the air there that night as they waited and in the days following the tragedy. I closed my eyes and felt the same sun on my back. I took my flip flops off and felt the same sand under my feet. I couldn’t do it. I could not even begin to fathom losing a child, so tragically, and during what was supposed to be such a happy time. My heart hurt for them. It still does. Can you imagine leaving vacation with one less family member?
After I had taken a few moments honoring Lane and his family, we moved on and headed over to Cape Canaveral. One good thing about the Hurricane passing through there was that all tolls were suspended. Since I’m not used to tolls, they stress me out and it was nice to skip that. We parked, took our shuttle to the Royal Caribbean terminal, and got checked in without a hitch. The entire process was quick, painless, and seamless. We were on the boat by 1:30 and our luggage showed up to our room a couple of hours later. We were excited to eat at the Windjammer for lunch and check out the ship.
We swam and goofed off until it was time to do the safety briefing. As we were hanging out on the deck, we watched a Disney cruise ship and a Carnival cruise ship head out. As it turns out, we knew people on both of those ships. That was a neat feeling. Royal Caribbean notified us that we would be leaving port at 9pm but everyone must have made it on early because we pulled away around 6 or 630 – right at sunset. It was a beautiful and exciting start to our cruise!
The boys went to a mini-session at Adventure Ocean (the kids’ program) to get a feel for it. Theo was nervous but ended up doing fine and they both had a great time. We tried to go to a show at 10pm and everyone was falling asleep so we headed back to our tiny little cabin and called it a day. The sea was REALLY rough that night as the hurricane winds were still moving out and we were sailing at top speed. I assume anyone who suffered from motion sickness probably would have had a bad night. Theo and Ryan both complained a little but no one got sick.
Pics! Day one – Saturday October 8th.
Day 2 – Sunday, October 9th. Embarkation Day!
Being silly on the shuttle from port parking to the cruise terminal.
Oh, all the reminiscing makes me want to go back already! Why didn’t we play the win-a-free-cruise round of Bingo?