Cruising For The Good Stuff

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You want to cruise but not sure which cruise line will fit your needs the best? I have compiled a comparison of two of the most popular cruise lines.

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Dining

When cruising, this seems to be a deal breaker for some. When people ask about your cruise, it’s often followed with the question “How was the food?” There are very clear differences between these two cruise lines. When considering the dining rooms they have some similarities, but very different. Both lines have delicious meal options, varying every night. I do love the “Didja Ever” section on Carnival’s menu. I found myself trying this every night because, well I felt the menu was daring me to try it and I’m not one to pass on a dare. Royal’s menu options didn’t seem to have as much variety, but the food was reliably amazing every night. (Don’t pass on the french onion soup, it’s HEAVEN). I do think Carnival had more readily available options at all hours, more than Royal. Not only is the ice cream truly 24/7 on Carnival, (Royal’s soft serve was only open from 11am-5pm, IF the machine was working) they almost always had something else to choose no matter what time it was. And who doesn’t love hot fresh pizza at midnight?

Price

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Cozumel, Mexico

This can certainly be the deciding factor in your final decision. Carnival is often called the “Walmart” of cruising, while Royal holds their prices higher. In some ways, yes, you get what you pay for. However, a higher price tag does not mean a better vacation. My favorite vacation was a few years back with just my husband and I and it was the cheapest of all of our trips. Royal does seem to cater towards the “higher class” and it shows in many ways. Ted Arison, founder of CCL in 1972 had a vision of cruising being for all classes, not just those with disposable incomes as the majority of cruise lines were. The price for cruising will almost always be cheaper with CCL, and they offer a low price guarantee so you don’t even have to shop around for a cheaper trip, you won’t find it anywhere. For tips on how everyone can afford to cruise give this post a read.

10929145_10152580952421669_7800322880242762999_nCleanliness

The first time I ever cruised I was amazed at how clean everything really was. For this, they are tied. I will say, we witnessed more cleaning happening non stop on Carnival every where we went. There were employees washing down walls,railings, tables non stop across the entire ship. Royal does promote hand washing more than Carnival, this shows with the employees standing at the entrance of the buffet with their signature quote “washy washy” and herding everyone through the hand washing station. All in all, both lines clearly put in a lot of effort to keep their ships clean and their patrons healthy.

Value

People save for months and years to go on a vacation. They want to be 100% sure they are getting their money’s worth out of it. I think that on Carnival there is less division of “classes”, and all guests are treated the same no matter how much they spent on their trip. Aside from the ones that spring for the spa suites, the only real indication is the color of their sign and sail card. On Royal, there is a segregation of categories and they also have more “for fee” activities and food options. Value, dollar for dollar, I think Carnival takes this one.

Cabin

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Anthem of the seas oceanview. Photo credit cruisecritic.com

I am slightly swayed towards Royal on this one. Carnival rooms are great, every one I have stayed in are set up similar, storage is lacking, bathroom is a bit tight, and the shower curtain often causes a flood every time the water is turned on. Royal had plenty storage, so much that my family of 4 were able to completely unpack in our oceanview room and hide our suitcases under the bed for the week. The bathroom is spacious and on the Anthem the shower was encased complete with a glass door. This was amazing. The beds were amazing no matter which line, and our stewards were always great and kept our rooms exactly how we liked them. Love those ninjas that sneak in, clean up, and leave us adorable little towel animals.

15317973_10154037243791669_3655360763020005342_nEntertainment

If you are looking for fancy over the top shows and entertainment, then Royal is your choice. Bigger does not always mean better. On the Anthem of the seas, you had to have reservations prior to even boarding the ship in order to get a reserved seat for any of the bigger shows. This to us was a HUGE downfall. In our cruising experience this is the only time this happened and we found we were shit out of luck for the first few nights. You do have the option to send someone up about 15-20 minutes prior to the show starting and standing in the “open line”. Often people reserve shows and don’t show up so they open the doors to those without tickets but the seats are not guaranteed and you might luck out with a chair or two. If your party is larger then this doesn’t always work out. The shows on Carnival were great, but we felt they were a bit redundant though, and a lot of the same style shows, just different music throughout the week. I do feel that Royal was missing out on the random daily activities that Carnival does. They had a belly flop competition that drew a huge crowd, but Carnival seems to have those type of events more often. If you are looking for daily pool side entertainment like drink mixing competitions, and ice carving, then Carnival wins. If you are looking for fancy lighting, and crazy acrobatic evening entertainment, then Royal wins.

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This is a dead even tie. The service on both lines are top notch. Every single employee we came across whether it be during dining, customer service, bartenders, or sharing an elevator with someone on the way to/from their shift, they were nothing but courteous, respectful, and most often questioned how our vacation was going. I always try to go out of my way to chat with them. I ask about their home country, their families, how long they have been on contract or have left. They are all very open and whether they enjoy the conversation or not, they entertain me and act like they don’t mind the conversation.

Summary

Whether you are going for a “do nothing” vacation, where you sit poolside with your book for a week, or you want to do literally as much as possible, filling your days with events and activities, you can’t go wrong on a cruise. Both lines have many pros with very few cons, it’s just about deciding which option is best for you! If you have any questions about any of this, or want some help deciding which line is right for you, contact me here and I will do the best I can to help you plan your cruise!

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Catching some waves

Happy Cruising!

Ah, the beautiful island of Saint Kitts. We had the pleasure of visiting this stunning Eastern Caribbean destination in 2016, along side two of our good friends. It was one of our ports to visit on our 7 day Carnival cruise. My husband and I are quite the adventure seekers, and not too afraid to venture off on our own in strange and unfamiliar territory. We decided to rent a scooter on the island and see what the day could bring us! What we found were truly amazing sights and fascinating culture!

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A rainbow is visible as we pulled into dock.

Wiki begins by saying how it was known as Saint Christopher Island, located in the west Indies, and borders the Caribbean on one side and the Atlantic on the other. It then lists a whole bunch of other facts that the majority of people going to the island could care less about. I’ll mention a few of them just in case anyone is really curious.

  • Location– 1,300 miles southeast of Miami Florida
  • Size– 18 miles long, 5 miles wide, covering 65 square miles
  • Largest TownBasseterre
  • Population– 34,983 (2011) The majority of whom are of African descent
  • Highest pointMount Liamuiga (3,792 ft)
Feel free to click on any of the links to get more information on those exhilarating facts.
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A stunning view on the Eastern side facing the island of Nevis

Some of the lesser known (more interesting) tidbits, along with our personal experience.

The island has three distinct volcanic groups. For the more adventurous folks you can hike to the crater of the dormant volcano Mount Liamuiga. Or you can stop at a local tourist pit stop known as Black Rocks, also referred to as Black Stone. This is a notable rock formation on the northeastern coast. This is formed from lava flow from Mount Liamuiga. This is a tourist hot spot so if you’re looking to escape the crowds, go early. They also have souvenirs for sale here.

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Black Rocks (Black Stone)

The one thing I was determined to see while on the island was Black Sand. Being from NH, black sand is not something we have around these parts. While on our scooter, armed with an island map, we set out to find this. We followed our map as best we could which lead us down a back road. We saw skinny stray dogs, and received a few curious waves from locals sitting on their front steps of their ramshackle homes. We stumbled upon the most amazing hidden gem known as “The Cradle of the Caribbean”  (More on this soon)

We found our black sand in two separate areas. One of them was at a little pull off spot right on the main road on the western part of the island. There was a little hut there with a sweet local woman selling her hand-made crafts and home-made cookies. (Husband says the cookie was great) We always try to support the locals (as opposed to buying souvenirs in port which doesn’t always go toward the island people) we purchased some jewelry from her to bring home to our daughters. The black sand was smooth and the view was incredible.

Cradle of the Caribbean- I can’t stress enough how truly breathtaking this little spot is. Prior to arriving on the island I didn’t know anything about this. It is the location where the Atlantic and the Caribbean meet. The waves went on for what seemed like forever. We spent about 30 minutes sitting there with our friends just enjoying the fascinating view. It’s not a well-known attraction and we had the area completely to ourselves the entire time, except for the visit from the monkeys! If you have a passion for stunning views, put this on your must see list!

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The Cradle Of The Caribbean- If you look carefully you can see a fisherman right in the center!

Monkeys– It is difficult to go anywhere on the island and not run into these wild monkeys. We passed many of them through our travels. Guidebooks say that they were brought to the island as pets in the 17th century and they either escaped or were set free. There are literally thousands of them on Saint Kitts and they live in tribes of 20-70 with an adult male as a leader. When we saw them they were always in a pack. Adorable but I am told that they are considered pests and do dramatic damage to crops. Local farmers do everything they can to keep them away.

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We found the monkeys!

Sir Timothy Hill- This is a popular lookout located close to Frigate Beach. From this spot you can see the southeast peninsula of Saint Kitts, the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. It’s a dramatic view of sloping hills with one access road. In the distance you can see the neighboring island of Nevis. Beautiful on the way down, and very impressive on the way up. (Especially with my husband and I sharing one scooter)

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Breathtaking Sir Timothy Hill

As we were finishing up our sight seeing adventure we made our way back towards port. When we got close we were surrounded by the traffic of Basseterre and the smells of amazing local cooking. We walked down the main area before entering the port area. We were drawn in by the smell and sight of the local caught food being cooked in the open right in front of us. We finally decided on a fresh gyro and some lemonade. My husband still talks about that meal!

Something to note- If you plan on renting a scooter and sight-seeing on your own, we got off the boat and just outside of the port we found Liz Pereira with Pereira Tours. With her assistance, we rented two scooters for the four of us for a very reasonable price. She then directed us on how to get our license. In order to drive on the island you must obtain one of these licenses. A short walk from the scooters to the town offices and a fee of about $15 US dollars we had our license in hand and were on our way! It was a bit of process but well worth it! This truly was the best way to see everything we wanted to while doing it all on our time.

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For assistance planning your cruise or vacation to this beautiful island, click here, and I can assist you with planning, booking, saving, or just provide some advice on things to do while visiting this beautiful island!

 

Thanks for reading! Comment below and let me know what island I should spotlight next!

 

 

 

 

You CAN afford to cruise and this is how to do it.

After our recent cruise with the entire family, our oldest daughter decided she wants to take a cruise to Alaska for her 24th birthday in 2018. Of course her biggest concern is how to do this without turning her wallet inside out. I decided to compile a list of the best ways to save and book an adventure of a lifetime! With these 7 recommendations, every single person reading this can go on a cruise within 2 years.

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  1. Set your goal: My best tip is to figure out exactly how much you need/want to save. Do a mock booking on your dream cruise to give yourself a dollar goal. If it’s your first cruise, this will also allow you to sign up for cruise line newsletters. All lines send out deal emails which will give you a heads up of an upcoming “money saving deal”. (I personally LOVE Carnival’s $50 deposit sale when it’s available) Also, while doing the mock booking choose your needs wisely. Do you really need that suite? How often are you truly going to use the balcony? Booking an inside room can dramatically cut down that final price tag.
    • Choose a cruise port you can drive to that will eliminate the need for flights.We only spent $112 to park near the port on our last 7 day cruise.
    • If you do have to fly, book on a Tuesday! Historically airfare is almost always cheaper this day of the week.
  2. Start putting the dollars away: Now you have your price, and you want to book the trip but feel overwhelmed with that big number? Saving small amounts daily, weekly, and monthly will mentally change your thought process and give you the motivation to put those pennies in a jar. Cruise fever recently released  a 52 week challenge that starts by saving $1 the first week and increasing by $1 every week for a year. If your anything like me and love checklists then print out the challenge and check each week off as you go! You can find that here.
    • My additional recommendation for the 52 week challenge- I suggest actually reversing it. Right now it’s the first of the year and you are feeling motivated. By starting with $52 a week and decreasing by $1 per week you end the year with the same amount, but you also know for the month of December you only have to save $10!
  3. Book EARLY: For our daughter, she has 18 months from now until sail date. 18 months away means that she has roughly 15 months to book and pay it off. Many lines offer perks if you book this far ahead of time. I told her to plan about $2,000 for the trip. 15 months to pay it off means she only has to save $134 a month! That $2,000 total doesn’t seem so bad now.
    • If she follows my advice on reversing the weekly challenge, she would have enough saved to book the cruise in just 5 weeks!
  4. Pay it off a little at a time: As you start accumulating those pennies, set a goal of $25 or $50 and put it towards the cruise when you get there. This way you don’t stare at that jar full of shiny coins and be tempted to use it on something else. Added bonus, you see that “total amount due” number start dropping!
  5. Watch closely for price drops: For every cruise I have booked I check twice a week for price changes. You can check this by doing a mock booking for your exact room for your sail date and if the total amount due is less than what you will pay, you can contact the cruise line and request a fare change (or on board credit). Most lines will take care of this very easily, but the customer HAS to request it!
  6. Make use of the gift cards: This is one hidden gem that many people I speak with do not even know about! Verizon, AARP and many chain stores have cruise line gift cards for sale. I personally choose to use my Verizon smart rewards and purchase the gift cards whenever they are available! These gift cards can be purchased at a 10% discount so realistically you can save %10 off your entire cruise! Now my daughters $2,000 cruise is really only $1,800. Plus these gift cards can be used for anything on board as well. Hello drink package!
  7. Sign up for online rewards: Did you know there are websites that will give you money for basically doing nothing? There are many online reward programs such as inbox dollars and swagbucks that do just that. There are tons of options out there but these two are my favorite! Inbox dollars sends you .02 for every email you confirm you received. When you reach $30 you can submit a check request. It might seem like it would take forever to add up but if you think about it, it takes less than 3 seconds of your time, and you will be surprised how fast it accumulates. Swagbucks offers cash back when you shop online through hundreds of websites like Staples and Old Navy.

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If you follow these steps, you can finally go on that vacation you have been dreaming about. I can’t tell you how many people comment on the fact that my husband and I choose to cruise as often as we do. The reason we can do this is that we have made the choice to put traveling, relaxation, and reconnecting at the top of our list. Then collectively we make an effort to not purchase things we can do without(This is the exact reason my oven door has been held together with a bungee cord for the past year…. Seriously.)

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I wasn’t kidding.

Thanks for reading and happy cruising!

 

RCCL Anthem of the Seas Review

On December 9th, 2016 my family and I, along with 2 friends embarked on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the seas for a 7 day cruise out of Port Liberty in Bayonne New Jersey. It was our first experience with Royal Caribbean, and we had chosen this ship and port based on a few factors. We chose this one due to the cost of the cruise overall, the port location which allowed us to drive ourselves to port, and the size and amenities on the ship played a major role. I should mention this was 3 of our 5 children’s first cruise. And their ages at sailing were 7, 13, 18, 22, and 30.

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Solarium

First impression -The traffic getting into the port was terrible. However, we were early and some of the back up was due to the fact that the previous cruise was still disembarking. We found a great parking lot located a mile from the port that offered a shuttle service for almost half the cost of parking at the port. Bayonne Parking is one we would highly recommend. The price was great and the shuttle service worked well.

Checking in- Check in was a bit chaotic but they had many employees standing just outside of security scanning passports and the lines moved relatively quickly. Security was a breeze, we were through and walking onto the ship within minutes! We were on the ship around 11 am at which point we went right to our room. Our setsail passes were ready and waiting for us just outside our door. We peaked at our room, dropped a few things off and met our steward. We were told our rooms would be ready at 1:30 so it was time to go exploring!

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Bionic Bar

Beverage package– My husband purchased the beverage package which included alcohol, soda, coffee, and just about everything except the fancy drinks in the special cups. The price was reasonable and they gave him a special cup needed for the soda machines. The biggest perk about this package in comparison to other lines is that only 1 person needs to purchase the package. Having the kids with us I didn’t plan to drink much alcohol at all, so we were relieved to know we didn’t have to both buy the package. We found throughout the cruise that the drinks were well made, the specialty coffees were delicious, and the convenience of the cup was nice, however it was slightly annoying to carry the cup around if we only wanted the soda with lunch. 15356688_10154038279991669_7236443863074890855_n.jpg

Amenities- The features that the ship offers seemed very appealing to us, and our children with their broad range of ages we thought there would be something for everyone. The Ripcord, the North Star viewing pod, and Flowrider were only open at random times, and the lines were outrageous for them. The North Star needed reservations for which we were unaware of. We called on our second day to make reservations and there was nothing available for the ENTIRE week. Our only chance was to go up and put our name on a standby list, and then wait there and hope someone didn’t show up. This was most disappointing as we chose the ship because of these great features, but with never having sailed on Anthem we didn’t realize we had to book things ahead of time. I did ask around and those that were able to make use of them enjoyed it so if your planning to cruise Anthem, don’t make our mistake, book ahead of time! Highly recommend booking it weeks before the cruise sails. 15439718_10154053231931669_2206222634803278777_n

Entertainment/Activities for the kids- They have this great place called the seaplex. We wandered up there quite often throughout the week for various activities, and for when we had some free time and needed something to do. The line for bumper cars was unreal so if it’s something your interested in, get there about a half hour before the time and get in line. There was air hockey (for a fee) ping pong (free) and video games in the upper level that we never had to wait long to use. Our boys used the arcade and wasted a few bucks pretty quickly in there and I noticed that it was pretty empty for most of the week. They also have a rock climbing wall, which too I recommend getting in line early when it is open. There is space for 3 climbers at a time and the line moved along but not very fast. My husband and our two youngest tried it out and loved it. My daughter even won the climbing contest for her age group! For teenagers there is a place called “the living room” to go and hang out. My daughter (13) went on the 3rd day and after some time made some friends and we barely saw her for the last two days! They even have a nightclub just for their age group and she found herself there sometimes.

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My husband enjoying the bumper cars..

Adventure Ocean-This is where our 7 year old went a few nights. I loved how secure it was, and convenient! We would bring him there after dinner and he could stay until 10pm without extra charge. We also had the option to send him earlier in the evening and the staff would take them to dinner in the windjammer which he did a few times. They had plenty of activities planned out and I was very impressed with the staff and how they kept the group engaged. Checking him in and out was easy enough. The security on it was impressive, as nobody else can check him out, not even his siblings, unless they are on the list. Made for great piece of mind. 15541702_10154058712551669_7000023553663946707_n.jpg

Food/Dining- I haven’t mentioned this yet, but our family LOVES to eat. We ate breakfast and lunch in the windjammer buffet, and we were NOT disappointed at all. The variety was fantastic, during peak times we struggled to find seating but the lines for the food were not bad at all. Everything was very tasty. Dinner- Our party of 9 all chose your time dining. We have never experienced this before so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Your time dining still requires a reservation in the main dinning rooms. If you didn’t have reservations there was a bit of a wait. With a smaller party I would expect that the reservation wasn’t as important. With reservations though we ended up sitting at the same two tables throughout the entire week which was great. We had fantastic waiters and they all went above and beyond to make sure we were happy. The maitre d even gave us complimentary champagne on two occasions when we had waited just a few minutes for our table to be ready. The food choices were pretty good, and we had some of the most amazing meals. 15107247_10154037243831669_1398860403495112276_n

Cabin- We booked 2 oceanview rooms on deck 3 for the 7 of us. From the start our room was kept clean, our steward was attentive, and he always managed to sneak in like a little tiny ninja when we weren’t looking. This might be my favorite part of cruising. I leave in the morning and come back to a clean room and a made bed! Then we come back from dinner and our bed is ready for us! The storage was great, I felt we had plenty of space to spread out, unpack and stay organized. We had 4 suitcases in total, and had plenty of room to unpack everything and put our luggage under our bed for the entire week. The bathroom was roomy, and the shower was big. They even have a little rod in the shower for my foot to rest on while shaving my legs. (It’s the little things that I love)15400535_10154037238971669_7632919649161634821_n

Cabin Tip- I brought a collapsible laundry hamper with us for the first time to use for dirty clothes. This was GENIUS. I read it on a facebook post and loved the idea. It worked perfectly, and the hamper fit into the closet. I put a trash bag in it so when it was time to pack up to go home, i just took the dirty clothes out and put the whole bag into a suitcase.

Fitness Center- I used this almost every morning for the entire cruise.  I like to start my day with a few miles on the treadmill and watch the sun come up, or the ship pull into port. They had plenty of treadmills, bicycles, and a great spot for group classes. The weight options were not as great as I’ve seen on other options, but there were many people using them all week. They had a lot of options for the group classes but I didn’t attend any.15267724_10154037236991669_4038893812908190083_n.jpg

Spa– For the first time, I made use of the spa services on a ship. My friend and I decided we would get a couples full body massage and split it. We went over to the spa to inquire about pricing and maybe make an appointment. We chatted a bit with the girl, and she said they had time right then to take us. The massage was wonderful, however a bit pricey. For 50 minutes I would say it was worth it though. They did try to sell us some of their products afterwards but were very nice about it when we declined.

Entertainment- They have the 270 and royal theater that they offer shows in. Another thing I wish I had known prior to sailing was that you need reservations for most of these shows! Any of the headliner shows you must have reservations for. We were able to catch most of the bigger shows, and I’m glad we did. “We will rock you” and “The Gift” in the royal theater were my two favorites. We saw Spectra’s Cabaret and a few others in the 270 and enjoyed them as well. The aerial dancing and robotic screens were pretty great. Not to mention the big screen in the back. (It has 18 projectors!) 15317973_10154037243791669_3655360763020005342_n

Things not to be missed- Dancing with the suits was hands down one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Along with the Quest. These happen in the 270 and are worth every minute. Also, the “silent dance party” was another great time. I won’t go into details, but it involves headphones, two djs, and lots and lots of laughs and dancing. Don’t miss this. And finally, the thriller flash mob. I missed the first dance lesson in the beginning of the week, but I caught the rest. They teach us the thriller dance, and then we performed it on the last night in the royal esplanade right before the farewell event. Very entertaining! Spend some time in the solarium, it’s quiet, peaceful, and always plenty of room in the hot tubs and pools. Can most often get a lounge chair at any time of day as well.

Ports- We stopped in Port Canaveral, Nassau, and Cococay. I won’t elaborate on the ports themselves, but I will say that disembarking wasn’t too terrible except at Cococay which was the only tender port. Another thing we were unaware of is that you have to go to Boleros lounge on deck 5 and get a ticket which assigns your party a number. They then call numbers accordingly. This was awful. By the time we realized what the numbers being called were for and made our way to Boleros, we had number 31 and they were only at 5. We didn’t get off the ship until after 11 am, and then sat on the tender boat for about 30 minutes while they got everyone on. I didn’t like this and felt that it created chaos that wasn’t necessary. 15380714_10154038279741669_3515397277242053245_n

Disembarkation– This was very easy. Almost felt too easy. We learned that we had to go up to the guest services mid week and request self assist and then choose a time. We chose an early time of 6:30 am and kept all of our bags in our room. We got up, went and had breakfast, back to our room to get our luggage and off we went. Walked up on flight, they scanned us out, and off we went. Customs was done in about 3 minutes to get the 7 of us through, and then we waited about 5 minutes for our shuttle. In our car and on our way home within an hour or waking up. As much as I didn’t want to come home to snow and cold, getting off of the ship was very easy.

I also have to send out my congratulations to our friends who got engaged on the final night! Congrats Timmy and Kayla!15541572_1418323581510981_3965608096900143503_n

Pros-

  • Beverage package
  • Embarking was easy
  • Staff was friendly
  • Food was amazing
  • Seaplex
  • Entertainment
  • The ship is beautiful and well decorated
  • Great options for the children for entertainment

Cons-

  • Needing reservations for EVERYTHING (Well, it felt like everything)
  • Tender port system was a nightmare
  • Traffic getting into the port
  • They kicked me off on the last day
  • It was cold the final sea day, however I am well aware that RCCL has no impact on the weather and therefore this is not something to hold against them. I will choose my ports and dates more carefully in the future. 15327324_10154037237591669_9089459256107330980_n

Thanks for Reading!

I didn’t mention quite a few things, because if I did this would be much longer. If you have any questions reach out to me and I will respond as quickly as I can!