I started traveling across the country when I was seven. My parents divorced and we moved from the quiet suburbs of Cleveland to the slightly busier and much more hip suburbs of San Francisco. While flying with my sister-who was nearly four years my junior-was new and unknown, I embraced the role as the leader and made sure she never saw my nerves. We’d cry when we left our mom to spend time with our father, and again when we left him, knowing how long it would be until we saw his face again. Through the pain and sadness there was always a rush of excitement for me. Perhaps it was my big sister defense mechanism, or maybe I just had the traveling bug early, but I always welcomed the long plane rides and journeys on my own.
Traveling alone with little people has taken on an entirely new meaning in the last year and a half. I’ve put on my big girl pants and delt with every situation that was handed to me and continue to somehow completely snow myself into thinking it’s “easy” and “fun” . I take on new adventures and excursions with my two children as quickly as they arise, somehow completely forgetting amidst my joy of travel how difficult it can be to do it alone. Being with my babies is very special-evidently hypnotic.
Before last week I had never considered taking a cruise. Not with my husband, or parents, and especially not with my children. Mostly because it just hasn’t been brought up. Lately I’ve heard stories of friends taking their children on cruises, and only then did it start to pique my interest.
Last week, I was invited to bring a guest to experience Nickelodeon’s first “All Access” Cruise on Norwegian’s Jewel. Justin was busy in school and couldn’t take the time off to join us, so we paid for the third passenger-Zoe-to join Jack and I for the seven day long cruise. I didn’t know what I was in for aside from the beaches of the Bahamas, lots of food and even more Dora the Explorer. I knew that both of my kids would be delighted to see the Nickelodeon characters, and I would never, ever turn a day on the beach down. So I booked it and off we went.
Cruise Days 1-3
After a tearful goodbye with daddy, Jack and Zoe were so excited to take a ride on the “big boat” that they could hardly contain themselves as we walked the ramps up to the gigantic ship. We got settled into our relatively spacious and very clean balcony cabin and waved goodbye to Lady Liberty and our beloved Manhattan.
The first two days of the trip were at sea as we traveled to our first stop at Port Canaveral in Orlando, Florida. We got comfortable in our cabin that had two single beds, one bunk, a rather large bathroom, a mini fridge and a little TV. Obviously, I took the bunk as I certainly didn’t want them rolling off in the night. I was anticipating sea sickness in the children, but the only one affected appeared to be me-for which I was grateful. We explored the ship while it was still bright enough out and eventually made our way to find some food.
There were about 1000 children on this ship for Nickelodeon’s very first All Access Cruise. Nickelodeon hosts other cruises throughout the year, but this is the first that will offer exclusive access for the entire seven days to Nickelodeon-themed entertainment including characters and TV stars. The network’s other All Access cruise aboard the Norwegian Epic departs on July 24, 2011 and travels from Barcelona on a seven-day Western Mediterranean cruise to Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Rome (Civitavecchia), and Naples, Italy; and Palma, Majorca, Spain.
The first couple of days were admittedly stressful. We had a crash course in learning the layout of the boat and options for food and activities. The enormous amounts of people and minus an extra set of hands really compromised my comfort level, but we eventually found our happy places once we got settled.
The first night, we attended a special welcome show featuring the characters and even a “sliming” of two audience members. As a part of the press we were given first access to the events, but everyone on the ship was invited to attend. My kids really enjoyed the shows and especially meeting Dora and Diego (let it be noted that this was the first and last time we saw Dora during the seven days aboard the ship).
We started every morning with a picnic breakfast in our cabin. It was easier to order room service (complimentary for our cabin) rather than drag them through the buffet lines at 7:30 in the morning. It was just more peaceful and a better way for me to spend time with my kids. We’d order fruit and yogurt, coffee, and sometimes a muffin or two to get us through until mid morning. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not packing enough of our own snack food. The ship’s stores really didn’t offer much of anything, and to get food in a restaurant/buffet was a major effort (for me).
Every evening, we were given a “Freestyle Daily” brochure that detailed everything available the following day on board the Jewel, including forecast, itinerary, and restaurant times. I learned to take one with me wherever we went so that I knew when and where to be for a character meet and greet or other special activity. These events almost always involved long lines and limited accessibility. Watching my children’s eyes get as wide as saucers and the huge smiles elicited made it mostly worth the wait. I found that the majority of the activities offered were geared towards 5+, so we hung back and took the mellow, mainly unstructured route-exploring the ship and taking our time. It was better for all of us (and my stress level).
I went to bed each night with them at around 8:00pm, and would sleep until around 7:00 in the morning. It was easily the most sleep I’ve gotten in many years, and it felt great! We’d even take a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day during their normal rest times… I was very spoiled by all of the sleep. It’s a cure-all of a commodity in parenthood.
The third day we spent in Orlando. There were many options for excursions to Sea World, Universal Studios, Disney and many more, but they were all quite expensive. The shuttle rides alone averaged $65 per adult and $40 per child for round trip transport. One couple I met took a cab from Sea World back to the ship with their 2 year old, and ended up getting nearly hijacked by the driver. Two hours, two filed complaints and a court case later and they were back on board. I wasn’t about to get off the ship with my kids sans my husband or even a stroller. We spent the day at the pool on the virtually empty ship and had a blast together.
After naps, I spent $25 to put the kids into the Kids Club, a babysitting service and play area offered by Norwegian, for an hour and 15 minutes. While in port, the Kids Club charges $6 for one child and $4 for the second per hour-the service is free on sea days. I was gone an hour and 15 minutes and paid a full two hours, plus tip. I got to sit in the sun in peace and drink a fruity cocktail though, so I was happy.
That night we said goodnight to Orlando and set out to sea with the beach and the Bahamas in sight.
(cont’d in a follow up post)