I’m all for anyway to make successful family vacations easier. From planning to on the ground playing, I tend to have my hand in just about every aspect of my family’s time away from home. But with two teenagers in tow, I’m learning to appreciate cruising my way to what I call a little vacation freedom.
My family’s first cruise sailed out of New Orleans aboard Carnival Sunshine. It was a success all around. In and out of The Big Easy, paired with first time port stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel. While onboard, we ate and played on our own schedule. My oldest daughter made so many friends, she all but disappeared during seadays.
Sunshine had just undergone an unprecedented make-over to the tune of 155 million dollars; of which an impressive amount focused on services and amenities aimed at making families happy. This year it was Freedom’s turn. The combination of 15 days in dry dock and a 70-plus million dollar budget transformed the ship. More than a dozen new spaces have been added and once again pleasing families was a priority. Carnival carries 700-thousand or so kids a year, more than any other cruise line.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss
It’s a partnership that should have families beaming and reading for thousands of cruises to come. Seuss at Sea is more than basic character photo opportunities, it’s a series of activities spread out over the duration of the cruise.
No two family’s schedules are the same and that’s part of what makes Dr. Seuss Bookville such a success. It’s a reading room where even the Cat In The Hat could get cozy. Families can come and go whenever they please. Crazy, colorful furniture and walls decked out with the stars of Dr. Seuss pulls you in. A library of Seuss classics convinces you to stay put.
Everyone loves a parade. Instead of marching down Main Street, kids armed with pom poms, Seuss character cut outs and colorful noises makers strut their stuff at sea. Through the casino and down the lobby grand staircase with no other than the Cat himself leading the way. It may be designed for the kids, but everyone knows the Cat In The Hat, so when he marches through the ship, he tends to grab everyone’s attention. The parade ends with an onstage story time in one of Freedom’s many theaters.
Do you like Green Eggs and Ham? Here’s your chance to learn with no other than Sam I Am.
From the book to your plate, don’t be late for this very important sailing date. More colorful than brunch, the menu will leave no room for lunch. Red and white pancakes stacked so tall, the menu’s so clever, how do they not fall? The Cat In The Hat will be there, all his friends too. Be sure to catch up with Thing 1 and Thing 2. An egg-travaganza with photo ops galore, at just $5 per person, you’ll be back on another cruise for more, that’s for sure.
All kids clubs are not created equal. And while you might expect the floating kind to have a tough time competing with those on solid ground, Carnival uses its location to its advantage at Camp Ocean. With 200 or so ocean inspired activities, kids ages two through 11 learn a little about the wonders of the sea giving parents a chance to learn more about the art of relaxing at sea. On a ship, where space is precious, every inch is put to use, without feeling cramped and confined. Activities take place throughout the day, with late night options available for a fee. Young cruisers can apply for a Camp Ocean Passport and carry it from one Carnival ship to the next, earning badges and they sail the high seas.
That tough tween and teen age group isn’t forgotten. They’ve got their own space, floors away from Camp Ocean. They join in for as little or as much as they’re in the mood for. Which is nice, since that mood can change from one hour to the next. A floating city of sorts, cruise ships can be a good place for parents to offer the no longer little, but not really old segment some freedom to roam.
Parents will appreciate the amount of activities on board that naturally allow for together time. From family friendly comedy shows, to towel art classes, dive in movies and miniature golf, there’s plenty of options and choices are always changing so no two days at sea are the same.
The biggest benefit to cruising is being able to unpack your bags once, but wake up in a new location day after day. Time in port is short. You can’t do everything, but you can get a fun taste and return.
The Dominican Republic has a sweet side I didn’t know about. Truth be told, La Romana was one of the stops I was least excited about, and it wound up being one of my favorites. The highlight of our Countryside Experience sightseeing excursion was the sugarcane plantation visit. I feared a touristy, crowded hub complete with gift shop. What I got was a fun stretch standing in the middle of a growing sugarcane field. Armed with a machete, our driver chopped down and sliced up some sugarcane for all to sample.
The tour’s last stop is a souvenir shop. I opted to save my money and make a trip to the market in the city plaza. I found out about it when we passed by during the tour. About a five minute drive from the cruise ship pier, I had a good hour to walk around before getting back onboard the ship. It couldn’t have been easier. I shared a cab with three fellow cruisers; the cab driver parked, waited and delivered us back in plenty of time for an incredibly reasonable $30 US.
In Aruba, we didn’t learn anything about the people or culture, we just had fun. The 15 minute bus ride from the cruise terminal gave us a mini-tour of sorts, but sunshine was the priority. We hopped from the bus to a boat and in five minutes were delivered to nearby De Palm Island.
Along with two quiet coves for swimming, there’s a snorkeling area that’s home to colorful fish and a lifeguard. Snorkeling gear is included; life vests are mandatory. If you or your kids are good swimmers, take one of the snorkeling tours. It’s really not much of a tour, but it gives participants the opportunity to get out of the set snorkeling zone. Less people and deeper water combines for some nice underwater scenery.
For kids not as comfortable in open water, there’s a water park with multiple slides and soaking features. Some reserved stretches of open sand allow for volleyball and soccer. A lunch buffet, sodas and an assortment of frozen alcoholic drinks are included. It’s just enough beach time to avoid a bad sunburn and get back to the ship in time for an afternoon nap. If you’re family likes to wander, you can get dropped off downtown with close about two hours to explore before Freedom sets sail.
Throw in some sit down, dress-up dinners, some late night runs for pizza and ice cream and some movies watched while in bed and you’ve got all the ingredients for summer vacation.
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Editor’s Note: Dana and her family were hosted by Carnival Cruises, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann.
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