Fast forward to the summer of 2017. It was time to start booking the cruise that we had been scrimping and saving for--planned for spring break in March 2018. Jared's dad, however, had just begun to get very ill, very quickly, with what seemed like cancer. As we looked at the prices for March, and even though I tend to estimate high, we found the prices more than we expected. Just for kicks and giggles, I looked at the costs to cruise over Christmas break and they were less. Not much, but it was hundreds of dollars and when you're counting pennies, every penny matters! We toyed with the idea of going over Christmas instead. Jared thought with his dad as ill as he was, he might not make it to March anyway, so going earlier could be a good thing. So we booked our cruise for December 31st for the 7 of us and my parents who we invited to come along. In all the traveling and experiences they've had all over the world, they have never been on a cruise! Well, my dad says he's already been on a big boat and it wasn't all that enjoyable. I told him his days on an aircraft carrier with stinky Navy guys didn't count!
We booked our cruise on the Liberty of the Seas departing out of Galveston, Sun. Dec 31st. When counting our blessings about the move we made from Oregon to Texas, this was a big one. We saved thousands of dollars on the cost of the cruise in airfare, hotel stays and taxi rides because we are only a two hour drive away from the port. We are most grateful for that "hidden" blessing.
We are big planners and play it SAFE when it comes to cruise excursions. I know many people (including friends) who just book something when they get off the boat. That's a bit of a risk because any excursion, not endorsed by or set up through the cruise line can't be guaranteed by the ship, which takes into account safety and should you get stuck somewhere and delayed getting back, the ship will not wait for you. So yeah. Maybe when I've been on 10+ cruises, I'll think about booking excursions differently. But this cruise was our one-time shot as a family and we weren't going to chance anything! After talking to the kids, these were the excursions we decided to do. My parents said they didn't care so long as they were with us!
*Cozumel, Mexico--Dolphin Push Pull with Manatee encounter and buffet lunch
*Roatan, Honduras--Maya Key Private Island Resort with lunch
*Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico--Jeep Tour and Beach break with lunch
The last excursion we were kind of wishy washy on. For starters, I didn't want to go to Mexico again. We wanted to go to Belize and had planned on it. But sadly, when we went to look at the cruise options again before booking it, we discovered there were no longer any itineraries that included Belize during the times we were going. Such a bummer. I guess the kids and I wouldn't know any differently anyway. However, there wasn't much that interested us in Costa Maya that the entire party, ages 76 to 6, could do. JJ's height kept us from some activities, including ziplining. We wanted to do all our excursions together so that was the priority. Interestingly enough, I was visiting with my good friend, Mel, at school, in November, when she told me they just got back from a cruise. I asked about her ports and she mentioned they went to Costa Maya. I told her how we were a little disappointed in the options there and her face lit up. She said we HAD to do the excursion they did--touring the Mayan ruins at Chaccoben. She said her boys (the ages of Calvin and JJ) loved it and they could climb the ruins and then snorkel and see other ruins underwater. But the lunch buffet was to die for! She said you rode on a very nice charter bus with a tour guide. After our conversation, I went right home and looked it up. It would be about a $40-50 price increase for each of us to do it, but after seeing pictures and hearing about Mel's experience, it was a no-brainer. Jared agreed so I called Royal Caribbean and changed our excursion and we started getting REALLY excited!
At Thanksgiving, we were gathered with other families in the area at the church for a large pot luck dinner. That's when Jake learned his friend Chance (who is in another ward) and his family were booked on the SAME cruise as we were! Talk about a fun, little, crazy coincidence--to unexpectedly have friends on your first time cruise. The Millers had just moved into the stake that summer, so we didn't know them that well, and had their family over one evening in December so we could chat and get to know them, especially if we were going to run into them on the boat! ;)
As our trip drew near and winter settled in, I started to worry about the things that could go wrong. We have been dreaming about this trip and waiting and saving for so long. I hated to have such grand expectations and hopes. I know better than that. But I did. While I was really hoping for warm weather for my children, I was more worried about us getting sick. The flu was hitting our area in Texas really hard. I was worried about the stomach virus (which seems to run more rampant on ships anyway) and of course, getting influenza wouldn't be a picnic either. So I started praying. Hard. And at the beginning of December, I fasted. I fasted that we would be healthy and that we would be spared sicknesses of any kind because of the once-in-a-lifetime status of this trip. In fact, I told Heavenly Father that I was totally okay with my kids getting sick, but pled that it would be AFTER we were home. I'm sure He was sick of hearing from me that day. But that was the desire of my heart. I also prayed that the weather would be nice. :) After that, it was out of my hands.
Jake already had his passport, but we had to get passports for the rest of the kiddos. We decided on the passport cards, which are significantly cheaper, and work for *every* passport need except international flight--which we do not anticipate doing in the next five years with our kids.
About a week or so prior to our cruise departure, Jared was watching Fox News. He called from the room and asked what the name of the excursion was that we'd be doing in Costa Maya. I reminded him and he said, "Look." Fox News was reporting on a big accident with a Royal Caribbean bus full of tourists on its way to that very place. Twelve people died, five were Americans. So sad. But we certainly weren't going to let that stop us from going. Two days before our departure, however, Jared received a mass email from Royal Caribbean informing us that our excursion to Chaccoben had been canceled. Dang. Now we had to find something else. We were looking forward to seeing the Mayan ruins. Jake and Cooper are both studying the Book of Mormon in seminary this year and Karcyn had studied Mexico in Social Studies. We thought that would be a pretty meaningful stop for them. So we looked at other Mayan tours. There was one that was 6 hours total and took you to one site. Then there was one that was 8 hours total and you went to two different sites. The day of that excursion was also my Dad's birthday, so I thought that if we're already on a bus for six hours, what's two more? It came with a box lunch, too. So that was helpful. We decided to go for it. Fingers crossed the kids would be okay on the bus.
Packing for this trip took a whole day, not counting the months and months of buying things we needed slowly over time. Oi. I was jealous of my parents who were already done and ready to go. My mom explained it was a lot different to pack for two than seven. I kept thinking I was forgetting something and sure hoped not!! This was the first time taking kids with us on a trip where you couldn't just run to the store if you need something.
We managed to get by with three big bags and three smaller ones. One tip I found that was helpful, is to roll your clothes. And I arranged the kids' clothes in sets (shorts/capris, shirt, underwear, socks) for each day and rolled them that way. So no digging around for things. It all came in one package deal per day. That proved to be a life saver, especially with limited storage space in your cabins.
We had lanyards with a water-proof plastic pouch that the kids could put their sea passes in. I put bright orange duct tape on the handles of our luggage so we could spot it easily. We made signs for each cabin and put magnetic strips on the back so we could hang them on the doors to make them easier to spot when coming down the loooonnng hallway. Mom and Dad would be in their own cabin. Jared and I would share with Karcyn and JJ. Jake, Coop, and Calvin would be in the third.
I wrote the words, then had my resident artist, Karcyn, design the picture for our sign. I think it's fabulous!!
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31st--Departing Galveston
The long awaited day finally arrived!! We decided to leave around 8:30. Before we left, we read scriptures and prayed. And we tried to prepare our kids for the worst. We had been watching the weather at our destination ports and it wasn't looking favorable at all. Rain, rain, rain. Dang it. But we told them this cruise would be what we made of it and our attitudes are the only thing we can control. And that this would be our first and likely last true vacation we would have as a complete family until who knew when. And we hoped for the best.
We drove our suburban down to the port and my parents were behind us in our civic. Parking was easy to find and very well directed. It was SO exciting to see the massive ship just sitting there waiting for us!
We got to the terminal a little before 11am which was perfect timing. It was a bit crazy trying to figure out where to go after getting dropped off by the shuttle. Tons of people were milling around everywhere. I wasn't sure if they were getting off the ship or getting on. We were a little "lost" until we found a porter who took our bags for us and told us to go inside. A few of us hit the bathrooms and then we got in the long lines where they checked our passports/IDs. Then we went through security. Both of these sections went relatively quickly. I mean, they've got this down to a science. Inside the terminal where we got our sea passes, it really opened up and didn't seem crowded at all. Considering there were seven in our party, this part went fairly quickly, too. I was worried about losing IDs and passport cards. It was super handy having my parents there so my kids could have a seat and not stand around with us. :) Jared did have to fill out a form before being cleared and there was a slight goof between him and JJ because of their names. I was envisioning long lines, masses of people and a long wait for the kids during this part. But all-in-all, it was smooth sailing!
All aboard! Jake and JJ walking the gangway with Jared, Grandma Lee and Calvin up ahead.
Karcyn and the very kind chef the first day in the Windjammer.
Jared and I watched the boat leave the port when we were on our first cruise and we wanted the kids to have that same experience. After lunch we went to find our cabins on deck 8, our luggage already waiting for us, and then headed up to the very top of the bow. This is where miniature golf was--of course, in the windiest spot of the whole ship. JJ was mad that he couldn't play golf right at that moment. So it must be time to take a family picture! It was cold up there. A high of 50 degrees not counting the wind chill!
The main reason why we wanted to be up there with the kids was so they could experience the earth shaking, ear piercing explosion of the horn when the boat was ready to pull away from the dock. It penetrates your entire body! Because of the delay, and the cold and wind, we were turning to walk away and abandon that idea when all of a sudden the horn got us!! We seriously were forced dead in our tracks (after screaming in surprise)! Yay! Mission accomplished. :) We were finally on our way.
Good bye, Galvaston!
We chose to do My Time Dining at 5:30pm each night so the kids weren't up super late waiting to eat. It was the perfect time for all of us. When we arrived at our dining room on deck 4, we told them we were a party of nine and we waited a moment to be seated. We were lead to one of the back sections of the dining room, in a corner, off to the side, by a big window. Being in a corner is actually the perfect place for our crew.
The first night--FORMAL attire (which translates to church clothes for our family). AND it was New Year's Eve. What a treat that there were hats and tiaras and noise makers and streamers at the table for our enjoyment. The menus were rolled up in scrolls and tied off with ribbon.
My beautiful parents. I'll never forget the time I was at work right after I got married, showing the gals my wedding photos. One older lady pointed out my parents in the wedding line and asked, "Who are they?" I told her they were my parents. She said, "No way. That can't be." I asked her why not and she replied, completely serious, "They're too good looking."
I was actually not feeling very well, nor very steady on my feet. I stumbled to our table. Some waiter saw me struggle and joked they needed to stop giving me alcohol since I was so tipsy. Just feeling the waves a bit, I guess. I had my sea patch on, too.
Dessert!! This was Jared's cheesecake, which I'm not fond of. But it was pretty so I took a picture.
I hated to admit it, but I was feeling increasingly sick, and just wanted to get back to the cabin to sleep. My head hurt and my stomach felt iffy. So we all went back to our cabins. Jake and Coop stayed up late in their cabin (which was adjoining to ours), but the rest of us crashed. Not sure what my parents did. They're kind of party animals. :)
We all met up for breakfast in the Windjammer that morning. I was feeling better. My headache was gone. Karcyn looked a little pale though. We didn't get sea patches for the kids--most don't have a problem with sea sickness. We brought some stuff to give them though, just in case. I gave her a drammamine (Jared said the non-drowsy isn't very effective) after breakfast and she was feeling a little tired, so we went to the library to find her a book and then headed up to miniature golf where the little boys were playing with Grandma. JJ was addicted. Grandma even took him up there before breakfast.
Grandma said that when she and JJ were playing a game, he was losing, so he announced, "Let's just call it a tie." Hahaha!
Mom and Dad bought us these bright green shirts that say: Keep Calm we're on a family vacation. They were a good idea to wear that day on the ship. In fact, on our way to the dining room, a lady stopped Jared and wanted to take a picture of his shirt and ended up getting a picture of Jake, Jared, Calvin and Cooper--four strange guys in green shirts. :)
Karcyn and Cristian--he is from Malta and has a 9 year old son. He won't be home until March.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 2nd. COZUMEL, MEXICO
Today was the day! The port I was looking forward to the most--swimming with dolphins. We all got changed into our bathing suits and water shirts, lathered up in sunscreen and brought our towels from the ship and a change of clothes.
The Liberty of the Seas is on the right.
While it was sunny outside, it wasn't warm. Not the tropical "I'm-in-the-Caribbean" warm. Only a high of 75 degrees. It wasn't totally freezing, but there was a cool breeze. Maybe that's also the disadvantage of cruising from a place where you're used to it being more warm than not. Perhaps 75 degrees would have felt warm if we were still living in Oregon.
The kids had fun taking pictures with him.
Waiting for our bus to the park.
We got our instructions from Pablo or Pedro. Either way, he was great. Very funny and down-to-earth. We found three lockers to put our clothes into and went to get our life jackets on and then find a group--even though we basically made up a group of our own.
We were lead by a photographer down to the dock pictured on the right. There were three different areas for three groups that stretched out to our left and we were in the middle section.
The wind was kicking and it was cooler by the water. She took our picture before we got in. (This is a picture of a picture.)
We slipped off our water shoes and walked down the steps into the water, which was a fenced off section of the ocean. And it was COLD! Took our breath away when we got in.
When Jared and I were there in 2012, our trainer allowed us to take pictures with our own camera, but they were really cracking down on that now. Cooper had a go-Pro he had forgotten about and they made him put it away. I understand they make their money off pictures. But it's not like we wouldn't have bought some from them because the photographer has a much better angle and camera. Not to mention she knows what's coming up and can anticipate the shots.
We bought the first picture they took of our group on the dock before we got in. (See above.) After our excursion, they told me the cost for the pictures from our session--$470!!!!!!! Not kidding. Five years ago, it was $99. I was prepared to pay $99 now. Not $470. Apparently it was more expensive because we were a party of 9, not 2. When I refused, they came down a little bit on the price. I kept refusing. So they came down some more. I still refused. They came down a smidge more and I still said I couldn't do it. I think they talked to their manager at that point and gave me a final offer of $250 for 25 pictures. STILL too much. So we couldn't have any memories of this day which made me really, really, really sad. But I just couldn't justify that much money. However, when I got home, I noticed there was a bright ad stapled to my receipt for the one picture I bought (this picture is just a bit larger than a 5x7 and it cost $25). This notice mentioned a web site for a final chance at our memories. So I checked it out and found all of our pictures. Turns out, they were still $25 per picture. But as I played around and added some to the cart, I noticed the price went down. The more you ordered, the cheaper they were per picture. I got it down to less than $5 each! Now that's something I could do. We had some cruise money left over, so I ordered the ones that I wanted and I was given the fifty digital copies. So...here they are!!
Wooo-doggie!! Trying to get used to that water!
We were told our dolphin, Kathy, was a bit particular with tourists--that she doesn't have much patience. Hmm. Probably not the best fit with kids!
The rest of us were lined up at the dock, standing on a wiry platform in our bare feet with water up past our waists. The wind was blowing which meant the waves were kicking and we were getting tossed into the back of the dock. It was really hard to keep our balance and we got slammed more than we didn't. You had to hold on to the wire fence behind you with one hand, but the water was strong and kept knocking us all around, especially the younger kids. One of us had to hold on to JJ the entire time. That said, we were excited to watch each member of our family participate, so, for the most part, that helped keep our minds off the cold and the strenuous exercise required to keep from floating away. Honestly, not one of our kids complained about the cold water while we were doing this excursion. Fortunately, the trainer kept us moving right along. If one did the push, the next one in line was getting ready to do the pull and we alternated until we got to the end and then switched. When the front of the line had done both experiences, then they got to dance, kiss and pose with Kathy. Our trainer had to hold on to us by our life jackets though because we couldn't stabilize ourselves--at least not efficiently enough for pictures. :)
And then it was time to say goodbye to Kathy.
And get out of the water. But we weren't totally finished yet. We had to walk up to the top of the dock we came out on and then down to another area next door to have our manatee experience. It was fine and well and such, but after getting out of the water, JJ was cold and not very happy. Quite frankly, I wasn't far behind him in that department, so I offered to take him out and get dressed while the others finished up.
He's much happier when he's warm! My caboose!
And my engine!
After we got changed, we tried their buffet lunch and had some time to spare before we caught the last sea lion show.
Grandpa taking a picture of me while I take a picture of them! We were a brightly colored group!
What a fun job that would be to work with these animals!
A quick pic before we heading out!
Calvin and JJ posing with the cut-out prop.
Grandma, Grandpa and Coop waiting for our ride!
This floating guy's set up was really cool to stare at. I never figured it out, but my kids said they did!
Back on the boat, and we hit the wall!! SO MUCH FUN!!
Cooper going up again.
The two big boys going up together.
Calvin gave it a try and got about halfway up before he got tired.
Waiting to be seated for dinner.
The dining room.
Karcyn eating her pork belly appetizer!
Gluten free lava cake just for Sis!
Definitely a frog.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 3rd. ROATAN, HONDURAS.
Sadly, forecast called for rain--absolutely and definitely. But we hoped it would hold. This excursion was at a private beach that we had to be ferried to.
My crew and my heart!!
A shot of our ship as we ferried away.
Roatan is so pretty. Just wished it was sunny.
The view of our ship from the island dock.
Props to him, though. He went down that water slide two or three times. I was shivering just watching him.
Jake coming back down from the top.
Cooper going up.
And then he got stuck. ;) And kind of panicked. He didn't cry or scream, but his chin was quivering and you could tell he didn't know what to do and was worried.
Yay for awesome Royal Caribbean staff.
Waiting for the show to start...most of our group was asleep! Playing on a beach, snorkeling, and rock climbing (not to mention climbing lots and lots of stairs) can sure take it out of you. The show was awesome! Amazing the things they could do in a very small space. We all enjoyed it very much.
A monkey on its tummy?
THURSDAY, JANUARY 4th. COSTA MAYA, MEXICO (and Grandpa Lee's 76th birthday!!)
A beautiful, sunny day in Costa Maya, but still cool. 75 degrees at best. And we would be in the jungle for our excursion. We were all sporting our bright green family t-shirts so we wouldn't lose anyone.
All aboard the charter buses. It was the nine of us and maybe five or six more. Not a big group. They gave each of us a brown paper bag when we got on. In it was a small water bottle, an apple, a granola bar, a chocolate candy from Mexico and a mayonnaise packet. My mom and I busted up over the latter. What on earth do we do with the mayo? Is it for the granola bar? Is it a Mexican thing? Karcyn's bag (for her GF needs--which we had to notify them of before we began the cruise) had two apples and a banana in it. Fortunately, I had brought many of the GF snacks I had packed from home for this very reason. This excursion also came with a box lunch, but we didn't know what would be in it.
JJ sat with me.
We've decided Mexican drivers are a wee bit crazy on the road. This was how close we were passing another tour bus!info on Dzibanche.
Karcyn IS afraid of heights. But she did it. Up and down all on her own!
As we boarded the bus for our next stop, the bus driver gave each of us another water bottle and our tour guide was reaching into a cooler and handing out, I kid you not, a sandwich in a zip top baggie. The sandwich consisted of two slices of white bread and a slice of ham. When we were in our seats, I I shot my parents a questioning look and whispered that I thought we were getting a boxed lunch on the tour. Dad looked at the sandwich then quipped, "Well, the sandwich did come out of an ice box cooler and it's what's for lunch." Touche, Dad. This made me doubly grateful I brought GF snacks for Karcyn or she would have had nothing but the fruit, which worked, but wasn't enough. As we were looking over our sandwiches, realization struck me and my mom. The mayonnaise! It was for our sandwich--not our granola bars! :) Haha! (They could have mentioned that...or given it to us with the sandwich maybe.)
We went up an early classic pyramid flanked by masks.
As we boarded the ship, we noticed many people with sunburns and I found myself a tad jealous. Not for the sunburns, but that they were actually in the sun. *sigh*
JJ wanted to go again. We told him if he got stuck or too tired, he just needed to let go and fall...the rope would catch him.
Calvin was up next.
The hanging monkey!! One of my favorites!
FRIDAY, JANUARY 5th--At Sea
Jake and Cooper waiting in line to try out the Flowrider.
We determined that green means "go!" and orange means "slow."
Calvin trying some French onion soup. I wish he were this adventurous at home, but I'm really really pleased he totally went for it all week!
SATURDAY, January 6th. Final day at Sea and finally some sun!
Our last day on the ship! Before we were even done with breakfast, my parents had already gotten up and went on the big Tidal Wave ride five times together!! They said it was awesome. I couldn't wait to try it. Calvin and I went to do it first. Only to find out he was not heavy enough. :( Big, big bummer. He went off to the Flowrider so my mom grabbed me and we went up. Here's a description of the ride and a picture from Royal Caribbean.
Liberty of the Seas features the first Boomerang style waterslide at sea, named Tidal Wave. The hair-raising slide features a steep drop that propels riders up a near vertical wall for a moment of weightlessness and into free fall.
Yes! There's a super steep drop! Yes! You fly up a near vertical wall! Yes! You feel a moment of weightlessness and feel like you just might go over the edge of the ship! Yes!! It's super fun! I went 2 times with my mom then 2 times with my dad and once with Jared. Jake and Cooper had already done it. They were trying out the Flowrider again with the Millers. The Tidal Wave was my favorite water adventure on the boat. Worth the climb up those many, many steps and being cold for a little bit while waiting for your turn. :) After we got the water out of our system, we got dressed and went to...you guessed it. The Rock Wall!
Calvin hit the wall first.
Even Grandma wanted to give it a whirl. When I'm 72 years old I hope I have the stamina, ability and desire to do such things!
Calvin took full advantage of the menu on our final night in the dining room and ordered not one, not two, but three entrees. The pasta, the steak and the sliders.
My parents and Jared and I went and watched the show "Saturday Night Fever" while the kids slept or watched either "Rise of the Guardians," "Madagascar 3," "Penguins of Madagascar" or "Megamind" (Dreamworks movies) which were on a continuous loop the entire cruise! The show we saw seemed fine...what I saw of it. Everyone dozed off during "Saturday Night Fever" except Jared. Haha. Whoopsies! It's hard work playing on a cruise!
SUNDAY, January 7th. Back in Galveston
After breakfast, I headed to the towel folding class. That was fun to see the secrets behind the animals. They make it look so quick and easy.
JJ was plumb tuckered out before we even vacated our cabins. Poor kid.
I had several friends who called or reached out after we returned to find out how our cruise was. I told them it was good, really nice, but admitted the weather was a disappointment for me, only because I knew what my kids were missing, even though they didn't know. My friend who cruised in the Eastern Caribbean on the Carnival boat that left just ahead of us said their weather was terrible also. It appears that half of the United States was hit with an arctic blast that week and it made its way to the Caribbean too, darn it. However, I did remember that I prayed a few times before we left that the weather would hold. And part of me thinks that what we experienced really was a blessing. And I don't want to complain about that!