Last week, I got to cross “Visit Somewhere Out of the Country” and “Go On a Cruise” off of my bucket list.
Back in October, my husband and I booked a 4-night cruise to the Bahamas on Royal Caribbean’s ship Enchantment of the Seas. At the time of booking, we weren’t sure when my dad was going to return from deployment, so we chose the safest date even though the port was clear down in Miami. We didn’t want to risk missing my dad’s homecoming!
Oh- and we decided to bring our two little girls, ages 4 and 1. This was intended to be a family vacation, after all!
As a first-time cruiser, I dug up as much information as I could about cruising and took care of most of our bookings ahead of time. One decision we needed to make was where to leave our car while we cruised. I stumbled upon this great post from Have Kids Will Travel about hotels that offer free parking during cruises. We booked the Snooze and Cruise Package at the Red Roof Plus near the Miami International Airport, which included the free long-term parking (for up to 7 days), a room for one night, and a complimentary one-way shuttle to the cruise port.
The Day Before the Cruise
We decided to leave the day before our cruise and blitz the long drive all in one day. It took us 14 long but pleasant hours to get to Miami from Nashville. Our girls were total champs and didn’t fuss the entire drive, which was surprising since they didn’t sleep at all during the trip either. (Don’t worry, we paid for the lack of naps the next day.) We made a few short stops earlier in the day, and then let the girls play for a while at the beautiful Scott Springs Park in Ocala, FL. The kids thought the palm trees in Florida were so cool!
We arrived at the Red Roof Plus around 10:30 at night, and there was a huge line at check-in. After we got our room key and began to take our things inside, we heard several planes take off- and they were LOUD. However, the noise wasn’t as bad once inside, and our fan blocked out the rest of the sound. Being late in the evening, we kept the lights on low as we scrambled to get our kids to bed. Because of the darkness, I didn’t notice the dirty room until the next day- grit in the shower, hair clinging to the back of the bathroom door, a previously used cup on the floor by our bed, and an unswept floor. It was disappointing, but sadly, I’ve been in worse hotel rooms.
Day 1: Miami/Sea Day
The first day was by far the most stressful day of the trip. It did get much better, but I can’t pretend everything was perfect the whole time.
After breakfast, we waited for the shuttle, which turned out to be a large van with a luggage trailer. I’ll be honest- I had assumed ‘shuttle’ meant ‘bus’, and was nervous because there weren’t car seats of any kind. We kept our toddler in the middle and just prayed our driver was a good one. We enjoyed talking with a couple from Brazil and a family from Costa Rica on the 10-minute ride to the cruise port. My husband loved the opportunity to brush up on his Spanish, and our kids entertained us as they tried to learn words in Portuguese.
Once at the port, we found a worker who could take our bags and direct us where to go next. Checking in and going through security actually went pretty fast, but it felt longer since our exhausted toddler screamed for a lot of it. I had an I Spy Book with us and fruit snacks, which helped a little, but I wished I had brought more to keep the kids occupied.
It was exciting to finally get on board. Everything looked so pretty and elegant. I had read somewhere that the Enchantment of the Seas was a small cruise ship, but it was huge to me! We never even got to explore some of the decks or attend many activities because there was so much to do. If this was a small ship, then the big ones must be just insane. I mean, we added more than a mile to our day just by walking to our stateroom every few hours.
We heard staterooms would not be ready until 1:30, so we got a map of the ship and then headed to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. Our kids needed to nap so badly and were starting to act out. For a few minutes, I really regretted the decision to come on a cruise. I was tired and snippy, and I was feeling sort of overwhelmed by the new experiences and I still had many questions about how things worked.
Do we just get up and leave our dishes? Do we pay somewhere? Do we tip extra and how often? Are there changing tables anywhere? What’s involved in a Muster Drill? How are we going to kill time with sleepy kids for an hour and a half before we can get in our room?
We quickly finished eating and then ducked into the small arcade to let the girls push buttons and let my husband and I get our bearings.
There was still a lot of time before we could settle in our stateroom, so we registered our kids for the kid’s club and nursery so we could leave them later that week to play. Then we went to the top deck to hang out and see the surroundings. It was gorgeous up there, and a good place to take grumpy kids without bothering anyone.
We also discovered where the rock wall and the bungee trampoline were on the ship. Unfortunately, these areas were closed when we went by throughout the week, so I can’t tell you how cool they are. But they are there!
Soon we got to collect our bags and relax in our stateroom. The cabin was tight with our pack n’ play set up, but it wasn’t a big deal. The room met our needs and was a great place to crash. In addition to the king-sized bed, the room had a tiny bathroom with a shower and toilet, a desk area with several drawers, a tv, a narrow closet with a small dresser inside, and a little green couch.
Our four year-old happily slept on the little couch in the room, and my husband and I had the bed to ourselves by our ocean-view window. I loved having that window!
We took a nap, but were awakened soon by our room attendant for the Muster Drill. We went to our assigned station. Then, one of the crew members instructed my family to follow her, and we were taken to the air-conditioned Centrum (the open, central part of the ship) with other families with young children and the elderly. She said it was difficult for kids to stand out in the heat, so they try to bring young families inside for the drill. It was really kind of them to do that, and it did help our kids get through the safety instructions better.
After the drill, we went to the Pool Deck for the departure party. We let our daughters swim in the shallow pool and splash pad and enjoyed watching the ship leave. The dj had super loud but fun music blaring, and there was some line dancing to get people excited about being on vacation. It was around this time that I finally eased up and felt like I could have some fun.
We ate in the My Fair Lady Dining Room every night for dinner. I sort of wish we would have eaten here for every meal. Our waitress was from The Philippines and our waiter was from Indonesia. We loved them both and thought it was great that we got to see them every evening and get to know them! The food was just excellent, and yes, we had two desserts. Each. My husband ordered this lovely carrot cake, and we downed a slice of strawberry cheesecake (every night). I also had a little chocolate hazelnut cake with ice cream, which was gone before I thought to take a picture. YUM.
After dinner, we explored the ship and watched the ocean on a quiet deck. We went to bed early so we could catch up on some sleep.
Day 2: Nassau, The Bahamas
It didn’t take long to discover that our cabin was located under the kitchen of the Main Dining Room. Between the noise from upstairs and the shaking of our bed from the ocean, I did not sleep in.
We ate at the Windjammer for breakfast. It is worth the wait to get a fresh omelet! Most of the food at the buffet is just ok, but the omelets, chocolate-dipped brownies, fried rice, fresh fruit, and the lemonade are delicious. The service was always amazing.
We arrived in Nassau around 9 in the morning. I was geeking out because it was so crazy that I was no longer in the United States! I stared out the windows during breakfast in awe. All the buildings were unique and colorful, and the ocean was so pretty.
Once off the boat, we were kind of forced to go through a very touristy marketplace. I hated it. I didn’t like being bombarded by the vendors at all. A lady chased me all the way across the the lot wanting to braid my hair. We had several people in our face wanting to take us in a boat or a taxi. Traffic was insane as well, so it was hard to cross streets and walk in peace.
I was very happy to get away from that first area.
But as we headed to see the Queen’s Staircase, we got lost in an area where we just didn’t feel safe and there were no sidewalks to protect us from the crazy drivers. We spoke to three friendly locals and finally got correct directions to our destination. The Queen’s Staircase was a neat sight to see!
We visited a children’s pirate museum after that. It was a cool museum, but I felt it was overpriced. You walk through a replica of a pirate ship and learn about what a life at sea was like and about some famous pirates. It was a good place for kids (although pretty dark) and air-conditioned. We spent about 35 minutes there.
We spent the rest of our time wandering downtown, which was my favorite area to see.
We slipped into a few shops to escape the face-melting heat but didn’t buy anything. Everything was insanely overpriced. We were disappointed to find that the ice cream parlor charged nearly 6 bucks for one scoop of ice cream.
Because it was so hot, we just called it a day around lunchtime and went to The Windjammer. One of the crew members brought free soft serve ice cream to our table :).
If I could redo any of the ports, I would redo Nassau. I think we missed out on a lot of cool things by not researching the area better before we visited. We didn’t even make it to the beach- which is a shame, because look at that water!
After our daughters napped, we took pictures of the area from a top deck and hit the pool again. I returned to the stateroom early to clean up for Formal Night, and it turned out to be a really nice evening. It was so fun to get dressed up. My four year-old loves to match, and so my daughters and I wore gold dresses.
Our girls helped us make lots of friends on the cruise. Everyone wanted to talk to them. Nearly every crew member would stop us in the hallways or come to our table so that they could talk to the girls. It was a refreshing surprise, because I think I had it in my head that everyone would be annoyed to some degree by us bringing our kids.
We went to the Captain’s speech in the Centrum, and several little kids danced during the music that was played. We let our girls dance with them. Their smiles were so big! Many adults enjoyed watching the funny dance moves and listening to the bursts of giggles coming from the middle of the room.
Day 3: Coco Cay, The Bahamas
After breakfast, we slathered ourselves in sunscreen and prepared to spend the day on the beach.
We took a smaller boat on a short ride to the island.
I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the water was, and the weather was perfect.
In the morning, the beach was less crowded, and there were rows and rows and rows of beach chairs.
We grabbed a couple of chairs to hold our things and then headed straight to the water.
We encountered fish and crabs right in the shallow area! My four year-old was so excited when these big striped fish circled around her.
It was my one year-old’s first time at the beach, and she was fascinated with the sand and seashells.
We explored the island a little bit, and found that the beach side by the private beach was less crowded and the sand was super soft. The sand where we were first gave me the pedicure of my life.
Royal Caribbean served a free bbq lunch right off of the beach. There were burgers, hot dogs, salads, ribs, and tons of sides and fruit. I tried the suckling pig and really enjoyed it. It was hard to find a place to sit, but we found a bench outside of a scuba shop where we could enjoy our lunch.
To get out of the sun, we checked out some of the merchandise on the island. It was refreshing to have helpful vendors that also didn’t get in your face.
After swimming for a while longer, we hurried to catch a ride to the ship. I returned to The Enchantment with a smile and a massive sunburn.
I wish we had had more time here. Coco Cay was by far the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to.
I know I’m a dork, but I can’t help but be amazed by the color of that water! Zero photo doctoring, here.
We had made reservations for the kids to go to the kid’s clubs after dinner, and so the girls went there around 7 pm. My husband and I didn’t make it to a show because dinner ran long. We ended up eating dessert in peace, exploring more of the ship, and watching the sunset on the top deck. We also laughed at the bad superhero movie that was playing on the giant poolside movie screen. It was so nice to get a little relaxation time with my favorite person.
Our kids had a blast in the nursery and kid’s club. Our four year-old loved the Pirate Night theme for her activity session. Her group searched different parts of the ship for clues to a treasure chest, and each kid got to color their own pirate bandana and receive a toy from the treasure chest. There was face painting, too.
Also, can I just say that I LOVED BEING UNPLUGGED on this trip? I felt much happier without my phone, except when I wanted to contact family or share photos.
Day 4: Key West, FL
Because we were back in the U.S., we had to go through a loooooong line to get off the boat, and this time we had to bring our passports or birth certificates in addition to our sea passes. Just prepare for that if you do a similar cruise.
Key West was an awesome city. It just had a cool, safe, chill vibe that I loved. I really want to go back.
We rented bikes from Island Safari Rentals, which was a short walk from the dock. I’m not gonna lie, I was nervous because it had been like 14 years since I had last ridden a bike. But I practiced a little on a quiet street (to the amusement of onlookers), and I quickly felt comfortable again. The kids loved riding in the trailer that was attached to my husband’s bike. I highly recommend riding bikes! We were able to see so much in the short time we had there in Key West, and biking turned out to be one of my favorite activities on the trip. The traffic is slow and there are bikers everywhere, so biking is pretty safe to do.
First, we rode to the discovery museum. This was a free activity, and even though it was small, there was a lot of good information. It’s an interesting place to spend anywhere between a half hour to an hour. The girls loved the 3D glasses station and the “undersea lab”.
Next we paid five dollars to get into the state park were we could see Ft. Taylor, an old Civil War fort. This was another interesting location! There’s a neat look out point there, and information about the history of the fort and the living conditions of the soldiers that stayed there.
We rode past the beach there in the park, too. It looked gorgeous, but it was horribly crowded.
We stopped by the Southernmost Point. Instead of waiting half an hour in line to get a picture by the sign, we enjoyed snow cones in the most southern point in the U.S.
Next we went to Higgs Beach and let the girls play on the playground and wade in the water. The water wasn’t anywhere as pretty as Coco Cay, but the beach was quiet and a great place to cool off.
Oh- there were chickens everywhere! It was so funny! The little chicks were super adorable.
Our last stop was Kermit’s, a little shop famous for their key lime pie. My friend told me we needed to come here, and I’m so glad we did!
My husband returned from the shop with an entire key lime pie in hand, which we happily ate for lunch.
It was sooo good.
People passing by were literally cheering us on as we took down that pie.
Next time, I want to try the pie on a stick, because they dip it in chocolate!
We returned to the ship a short time before it left port and wrote thank you notes to our wonderful waiters and room attendant. We found this adorable towel monkey when we came back to our cabin.
I wanted our last evening to last forever. Our dinner was fantastic, as usual, and I enjoyed the most delicious virgin Strawberry Daiquiri. The waiters and chefs danced and sang a goodbye song to everyone in the main dining room and we got a chance to cheer on our wonderful waitstaff.
We were hoping to look out on the ocean one more time before reaching Miami, but we couldn’t walk on the top deck because of turbulent weather. So we let the kids dance again to the live band in the Centrum. It was a great ending to a fantastic cruise.
Day 5- Departure & St. Augustine
We decided to carry our luggage ourselves so we could get off the ship and on the road faster. It was a little stressful because the line wrapped around two deck levels. Be prepared to carry luggage down some stairs!
The hotel we had stayed at in Miami only offered a one-way shuttle to the port, so we had to find our own transportation back to the hotel. We were lucky and talked to a lady holding a MIA sign. She let us on an airport shuttle and offered to take us to the hotel for $25.
We made it off the ship, back to the hotel, and in our car driving by 9:40 am.
My husband and I had previously decided we were going to break up the drive home into two days. We weren’t done with the beach yet, so we drove to St. Augustine. We went to the beach in Anastasia Park. It was a beautiful park with a playground, a look-out area, trails, and a place to get some cold treats and change clothes.
We loved this quiet beach! It won the Best Sand Award in my opinion for its white, soft sand.
My little family spent a couple of hours making sandcastles, splashing in puddles, wave jumping, collecting seashells, and just running free. Seeing my children’s innocent, carefree, unbridled joy are the moments I live for.
I never wanted to leave the beach, but it was time to head back to real life.
We grabbed some Pollo Tropical for dinner and stayed in the newish Comfort Inn in Valcosta, GA. We were upgraded to a suite for free, and the room was so nice! I’ve never seen a hotel room with high ceilings.
The next day, we finished the drive home and concluded our vacation by grabbing some ice cream to celebrate Mother’s Day.
I would definitely sail with Royal Caribbean again. Everything was clean, itineraries were great, and the staff exceeded my expectations with their service and friendliness.
And would I cruise again with young children? YES. Yes, I would! Things weren’t always relaxing and perfect, but I felt the good outweighed the bad. Not only did I get to have an incredible adventure with my kids, but they made it easier to meet other people. I also didn’t have to deal with the constant worrying if they were okay back home for a week and hoping nothing would happen while I was in the middle of the ocean. I felt that I didn’t miss out on that much that the cruise had to offer, either.
Before even getting off the ship, my four year-old asked if we could do a cruise the next Saturday. I think she had a good time.
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Great blog post! Happy that you went on your first family cruise. So much to do! Our family went on our first cruise about 3 years ago and we are hooked! LOL. We have been on the Norwegian Breakaway twice and Norwegian Gem once. Our 4th cruise is already booked for July, 2019. Hope you get to again very soon. Safe travels to you and your family!