Our Caribbean cruise vacation: part 1

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.

We hit Atlanta around 830am Saturday morning and stopped at the most interesting Chick-fil-a on the south side. Part of it was fast food and the other part was sit-down.


At some point when I was a kid, we stopped at the Florida welcome center and I distinctly remembered getting fresh-squeezed orange juice. For whatever reason, I wanted to do that with the boys. They also got a free map. Traditions are the best.


The Mojo Grill where we ate in Ocala. Delicious.


Two happy, sweet, tired little boys who didn’t know we were visiting Disney (sorta) the next morning.

Day 2 – Sunday, October 9th. Embarkation Day!



Mickey shaped food just tastes better.






We couldn’t visit a Disney resort without pressing a couple pennies.
The Grand Floridian is truly beautiful.

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Being silly on the shuttle from port parking to the cruise terminal.

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Photo cred goes to Theo!
“We hope we don’t need this safety briefing!”
They loved their bunks in our stateroom.

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Oh, all the reminiscing makes me want to go back already! Why didn’t we play the win-a-free-cruise round of Bingo?



#mcdanfamloveswdw: Days 9 & 10 – The End

In case you missed it:

Day 8 – Dexter’s birthday at Walt Disney World. Click back through previous posts to see the ones before that.

Day 9: May 14th, 2015.

We decided that there were enough things that we missed at Hollywood Studios to go back for most of our last day. That’s when it hit me that I really wasn’t going to get a family photo in front of Cinderella Castle this trip and for some reason that made me sad. Not sad enough to use up our entire last day’s pass on it (we didn’t get park-hoppers this time) though, so off we went to Hollywood Studios.

Back to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground – one of their favorites.001 002

More pennies…more souvenirs.003 - Copy

One of my favorite stage shows at WDW – Beauty and the Beast.006 008

We ate at Starring Rolls for lunch – I never realized that they had mouthwatering gourmet deli sandwiches. The cupcakes and treats I knew about. We had to check there one last time for a Star Wars cupcake for Dex. No luck, but we decided to treat ourselves to dessert anyway. Calories don’t count at Disney!010 011 013 015

More Star Tours…016

More watching the Jedi Training Academy participants. This was about the time we realized that both of our kids actually WERE old enough to do this. My nephew Spencer did it last time and for some reason I had it in my head that the child had to be 6 or 8 – then we see these tiny little guys and girls up there fighting Vader. I felt sick to my stomach with regret for not checking into this sooner – my boys would have absolutely LOVED to do this. Mommy dropped the ball. 018 019 020

Slushy Man.021

We were slowly making our way back to the front of the park – really in no hurry at all as we knew we wouldn’t be back here for at least two years. We stopped to watch the Streetmosphere performers. The boys were actually a lot more interested and amused by the slapstick comedy routine that what I would have expected. 022 023

Time to go.024Ryan took the boys to the pool for one last swim while I attempted to figure out how to condense the explosion that was our room back into a few, suddenly very small looking suitcases. I did the best I could and we called it a night.

Day 10: Friday, May 15th. Getting out the door and down to the bus stop by 7am was quite the mad scramble so pictures were not a priority. Once we got settled at our departure gate, the boys had some time to play.

Dreaded Transportation Notice. Evicted.001 002I zoned out on the flight home and as soon as we got back, we were in a rush to get unpacked and the house put back together somewhat – my mom and grandma were in town and coming over for dinner! Having something to look forward to when we got home made the depression of leaving Disney a little less intense. We haven’t stopped talking about every detail of our trip. Every day a different story or moment is mentioned, at least in passing. I can’t believe we’ve been home for a whole month! BUT, hey – I’m pretty proud of myself for finishing these many, many recap posts and getting through all my pictures in 29 days. That’s an accomplishment to feel good about with how busy this past month has been. I can now resume my once a week posts.  🙂

For tips and other specific planning information, please visit me over at The Affordable Mouse. I post in a series called “Disney with Little Ones” every other Monday.





#mcdanfamloveswdw: Day 8 – Dexter’s Disney Birthday!

I’m in the homestretch with these recaps! We’ve been home for 4 weeks already; how is that possible? I’ve been obsessing about all the wheres and whens and hows of our next vacation (not a Disney  trip). I think I have a disease…Obsessive Vacation Disorder. As soon as one trip is over, I’m thinking about the next. I just love spending that time with my family, making memories, having something fun to plan look forward to, and let’s face it – a good reason to be off work for a week. Now, on to a very special day, Dexter’s 4th BIRTHDAY!!

In case you missed it:

Click HERE to see the photos we shared on Instagram from our trip. 

Click Here if you missed Day 1.

Click Here if you missed Day 2.

Click Here for Day 3.

Right here for Day 4. 

Here for Days 5 & 6.

And my most recent recap, Day 7.

Day 8: May 13th, 2015

As I mentioned on Day 7, we had early morning reservations again as part of our celebration of Dexter’s big day. This time we went to the Polynesian Village Resort for breakfast at ‘Ohana with pals Lilo & Stitch as well as Pluto and Mickey Mouse.

We took the bus from our resort to Magic Kingdom and then the ferry boat over to the Poly. 002 003 005

Recently renovated lobby. 007

The food at ‘Ohana was reeeeally good! We loved the pineapple bread.010

Served family style – Mickey pancakes, hash browns, sausage, bacon, biscuits, all the fresh melon and berries we could eat, that POG juice, and more, more, more food. 016The kids loved participating in the mid-meal parade. 012 015  And meeting the characters of course.018 025 We all have on our buttons – Dexter’s is a birthday button and the rest of ours’ say “I’m Celebrating.” A good way for a birthday boy to get lots of attention throughout the day! 027 031 032

After a delicious, entertaining, busy breakfast, we rode the monorail back over to Magic Kingdom to continue our fun day.033

I have a picture of Ryan here with Goofy from trips past and he asked me to take another. A nice bystander offered to take a family photo so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. 036

By this point in our trip, we’d promised and missed about 3 opportunities to meet Buzz. We knew on Dexter’s birthday, this was a non-negotiable. That was one happy little birthday boy. I didn’t think about the fact that I was WEARING my Buzz Lightyear shirt until after we walked away. I bet he would have given me a big thumbs up.039

The goal was to hit a bunch of stuff we hadn’t had a chance to do yet this trip – one of these things being the Astro Orbiter. 040

A special treat for me on Dexter’s big day – my friend Rachel moved from Indiana to Florida in December of last year. She’s as much a Disney lover as I am. So much that she and her family have annual passes. She drove an hour to meet up with us for the biggest part of the morning. It was GREAT catching up! 042 043 045

Ryan’s obsession with slushies continued as we made our way back to Gaston’s Tavern for another Lefou’s Brew. 049

Rachel had to get back to Realityland so she left us in Fantasyland. I hugged her so tight!051

One of the boys’ favorite rides for sure – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  053 054056058059

All he talked about, leading up to our trip, was getting a cupcake on his birthday. We get him in Big Top Treats of Storybook Circus and what does he choose? A marshmallow/cake pop thingy! Because….it’s blue. He loved it, that’s all that matters. We sung Happy Birthday to him right there and I got a little choked up. What a special boy. What a special day. 061

Penny pressing fun. 062

And when the sugar rush turns into a sugar crash…ha. Dexter slept for about 2 hours. I know Ryan and Theo rode Carousel of Progress and I remember walking around the gift shop at Space Mountain’s exit. I believe this was the only mid-day nap either of them took the entire trip. He was so out of it during this nap that Ryan and I both voiced worry that he would wake up not feeling well. We actually woke him up after two hours and he bounced right back to his happy, excited self.064

One of the birthday boy’s favorite things to do at Magic Kingdom is the Tomorrowland Speedway. 065

If I’m being totally honest, he’s a terrible driver. 067068069070

Ryan decided to skip this puke-maker.071072

Catching this show was on our to-do list. Check. 074

Jungle Cruise!077


Playing in the souvenir shop after riding Pirates of the Caribbean.079

Country Bear Jamboree – done. Now I don’t ever need to do this again. Unless I need a nap.081

We love Voyage of the Little Mermaid.083

And seeing Cinderella Castle all lit up at night. 084

We also made time for once to watch the fireworks (I didn’t bother taking pictures during, but I took this one below right beforehand). A magical ending to a magical day. I can’t imagine a better way to spend Dexter’s birthday. 085Throughout this day, Ryan and I discussed several times where we would spend our last park day the next day. We had done the majority of what we wanted to do in each park by this point. It was kind of depressing leaving Magic Kingdom, not knowing if we’d be back this trip. Even though the last-day-blues were starting to creep in, I went to bad happy knowing that Dexter could not have had a better day.

Up next – our last day!