The snow is starting to fly and after an extensive autumn coming behind a beautiful summer, the cold seems quick and unwelcome even though it is still just barely below freezing. While the kids are basking in the white stuff and excited for more with sights on sledding and Christmas trees, my thoughts are elsewhere, my thoughts are somewhere warm.
I hate the cold. I mean I absolutely detest the cold. I hate being cold, it is the worst thing ever. And I mean that from a visceral standpoint. I HATE it. But of course I live in Manitoba and that will not be changing for at least the next 15 years so I have learned to make the best of it, and every year that means going somewhere, not cold, just to break up the monotony of winter.
This year – the Caribbean. Not just an all inclusive resort somewhere stuffing our faces with bad booze and sub-par food as cheap as we can, no we are off to cruise the Southern Caribbean on a 9 day cruise with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines starting in one of my favorite US cities, Miami Florida.
I love cruising – this will be my fifth cruise and my second time on this particular ship, The Navigator of the Seas – which has been refurbished since I first saw it in 2004 – I am pretty excited about that! The other reason that I am excited, as if cruising the Caribbean wasn’t enough is that this will be the first and most likely the last family vacation with all four of our children. Ranging in age from 3 to 23, we have never had all four of them together on a trip and as Jesse gets older and his personal life is expanding, I doubt he will ever want to travel with his young siblings again so we are taking advantage of this trip, wholeheartedly! This will be Jesse and Sera (12)’s third cruise and our two youngest Ivan (6) and Roman (3) first. Also joining us on this trip are my teenage nephew, my niece, my mother and sister in law – none of which have cruised before. I am not sure what to expect but it is bound to be an adventure!
What I love about cruising is the ability to see so much with the convenience of -one-stop-shopping. What I mean by that is that we get to our stateroom and we unpack – once. From there we get to enjoy all of the benefits of the ship itself, and there is literally something for everyone and for every mood. Want pizza at 2am? Check. A secure kids club (daycare) for the toddlers so you can lounge by the pool while they have fun making new friends? Check. Nightclubs? Casino? Spa? Broadway caliber entertainment? Check. Check. Check. Burger and fries? French Bistro cuisine? Check. All combined with the convenience of a cashless system and 5-star level service. I love it – and that is just the ship!!!
On this 9-night cruise we will be enjoying excursions and visits to Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, Haiti – four countries, 3 cities and a private island beach. A taste of each for sure, but sometimes a taste is all that is needed. A week in any one of these locations is probably not enough either, but when traveling as a family, it also may be too much. A day time visit, 6, 8 or 10 hours may just be enough to let mom and dad decide if it is worth another extended visit – sans enfants.
We actually reserved this cruise last January, more than a year in advance of its sail date when the sales were enticing. We locked in ‘kids sail free’ rates for a panoramic ocean view (no balconies for us when we travel with the little ones), which made the shared cost of the cruise just over $1100 each, Canadian. With airfare and transfers added on we are looking at approximately $2000 per person, all in minus excursions, alcohol and tours of course – that is always an extra. If you are the type of winter traveler that waits for the $600 all inclusive Mexico resort and airfare combo sales, this might seem extreme, but for those of us wanting a different type of travel experience, we are thrilled at the deal we have received by acting early (yeah spontaneity a year in advance!). And don’t forget, this is NINE nights cruising the Southern Caribbean and all that entails!
I have been on Eastern Caribbean Cruises, Western Caribbean and Alaskan (with Celebrity Lines – HIGHLY recommend!) but this is the first time to the Southern Caribbean and any of these ports of call other than Labadee Haiti.
Labadee is a private island owned by Royal Caribbean, it is our first port of call after two days cruising once we leave Miami. I love Labadee and this will be my third visit there. Our last was on Christmas Day in 2008, not a snowflake to be found! The island is stunning, with beaches and trails through the jungle-like trees. Local Haitian villages set up shops there with crafts and services like hair braiding and custom jewellery. The same wares you can find all across the Caribbean, but super fun to browse. RCCL sets up food kiosks and bars around the island and it is a perfect stop for lounging or enjoying the myriad of beach-type excursions. Inflatable water castles and trampoline, snorkeling, parasailing, jet skis… they have even added a jungle canopy coaster since our last visit. A perfect day at the beach and no algae or itch in sight!
After another day of cruising with all of the shipboard amenities, we send 11 hours in Willemstad Curacao. I have never been and am super excited! The cruise ship arranges city tours, cave excursions, jeep and ATV tours across the landscape. I am not sure what we plan to do – we just may wander on our own like we often do, discovering our own excitement, visiting sites and stores and sampling as much of the local cuisine as possible! It is a picturesque city and I am sure that when the cruise shops are in there is no shortage of entertainment and excitement to be found.
After another night on board we wake up in yet another beautiful Caribbean city, Kralendijk Bonaire. This Dutch City is full of history and culture. It is a prime nesting site for sea turtles which I am expecting our little ones to absolutely be enthralled with. I am already practicing my ‘No we can not bring one home’ speech. I expect that this day too will be full of sight seeing, leisurely touring and an incredible amount of amazing local food. Excursions and tours range from water parks and ATVs to distillery tours and shopping excursions. No lack of things to do, eat or see in Bonaire!
Our final stop before two more nights of cruising back to Miami is in another Dutch island, Oranjestad Aruba – probably the port of call I am most excited about and can see my husband and I returning one day for a longer, more romantic winter get away. There are so many beautiful aspects I have found in my research but I know my family (at least the older ones) are most excited about the very cool excursions we can take part in here. Like the Jetlev experience – yep, a water-powered jetpack allowing you to ‘fly’ above the ocean. How about a family submarine ride or touring the beach on horseback? They seem to have it all! So many choices and yet only 11 hours there. The one major drawback of cruising – it’s just a taste of so many very cool things.
Cruising is not for everyone but for me, it is a perfect blend of inclusivity, relaxation, excitement and adventure – while maintaining a family-friendly environment and allowing a great mix of family and couple time. All in all the perfect family vacation! 9 nights on board. Amazing food, pools, entertainment. 4 countries (5 if you include Miami), mixing with cultures and people from around the globe. Sun, sea, excitement and adventure.
We are counting down the days.
~ Michelle Budiwski
*** If you are wondering why I didn’t mention our first stop – Miami… it’s because I love this city so damn much, it deserves a blog all of it’s own. If you are looking for a US city get away for adults, this is in my top 3! Stay tuned for more travel blogs to inspire your winter getaway!***