Monday, April 03, 2017

Our Eight Day Eastern Caribbean Cruise with Kids

For our first cruise we chose to do an eight night Eastern Caribbean cruise which we booked through a travel agent. Gary and I have never been to the Caribbean and if we were going to fly all the way to Florida, we might as well make it worth our time by doing a longer one! We chose Carnival Cruise Line due to the affordability and the family-friendly nature aboard the Carnival Sunshine. Fifteen tips for first-time cruisers can be found here.

What does an eight day eastern Caribbean cruise look like? What should you do in St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Grand Turk and Puerto Rico?

Family photo in Grand Turk with Carnival Cruise
Family in Grand Turk

Here was our itinerary:

Day 1: Port Canaveral, Florida and Sea Day
We arrived the night before and stayed at Radisson at the Port. The rooms were huge and the hot tub was perfect. It was just a 10 minute taxi ride to the Port where we had an 11-11:30 AM check in time. This was the first shift to check in and we planned it so that we could have lunch on board the boat. It was great to get on early and just explore. We were able to get into our room at 1:30 PM. The kids went on the water slides, did the ropes course, wandered the ship and dined in the restaurant. Our kids were able to sit and enjoy the dining experience 7/8 nights (we skipped the last one). We left to the Port at 4 PM.

Eastern Caribbean cruise

Eastern Caribbean cruise

Eastern Caribbean cruise

{The elevator which they said was like the Tower of Terror}

Day 2: Sea Day. We spent the entire day at sea. I was worried we would be bored or we would feel the movement but the motion was minimal and there was enough to do as we were still on such a high exploring! There was more mini golf, I ran the track (you can see the blue track around the kids zone), checked out the Kids Club (which was a hit for Nya but the boys were not as into it as there was some crafting and dancing), went in the hot tub, and had one of our two elegant dining experiences.

{See the blue track below? Ten laps is one mile, it was perfect! The breeze kept things cool enough and it was much easier than running on the treadmill on a boat that was in motion.}

Day 3: Grand Turk (8 AM to 4 PM): We got up for an early breakfast (buffet) and had our bathing suits on and were ready to go!  The view at our first port was incredible; we were so excited. The walk from the ship to the beach is about five minutes–I loved it! We went back onto the boat for lunch for AC and to save money. I had my Ultimate Snorkeling Adventure (the only excursion we paid for through Carnival) from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. The snorkeling was worth it as we took a boat to two different locations. I saw so many fish and a few sharks. The one thing that surprised me was that the water was not as warm as I expected. We considered Gary and I doing it together and leaving the kids on the boat in the Kids Club but I'm so glad we didn't as they loved the beach so much and Gary was able to go snorkeling at a later date.  The beach was not busy and the water was crystal clear. The kids spent the whole day at the beach and we didn't need to do anything else! This was our cheapest day by far as the chairs and umbrellas were free too.

Day 4: San Juan (1 PM to 8 PM): We had a relaxed morning where I tried out the ropes course (okay, so maybe it wasn't relaxing). I am terrified of heights and although it isn't that high, it was really difficult. Many ladies below were cheering for me (I had done the harder route) which made me feel better. We ate lunch and then off we went! San Juan has a lot of history so we decided to walk to El Morro Fort along the water. It was a beautiful 45 minute walk (one of Gary's highlights) and although it was raining it was an enjoyable time. We did not spend long at the Fort and hopped on the free trolley to get a view of Old San Juan as we headed back to all the taxis in the Port. We could have walked but it was nice to do something different. We then took a 20 minute taxi ride to Isla Verde beach. The one thing that cost us a lot of money were the taxis. It's $5-10 per person each way so it really adds up at each port–something to keep in mind. This trip cost us about $35 each way. The kids loved this beach because they started body surfing! It was my least favourite of all of the beaches but still a good time.

{The day Koen discovered Banana Splits. A good day indeed.}

Day 5: St. Kitts (10 AM to 8 PM): I loved this Port! They have all these photo opps (like the Potato Heads one below) so that they can try to sell you photos but we didn't purchase any. They are about $25 each so not terrible but we have a lot of family photos already, if we didn't, I would likely purchase one. It was very overwhelming walking off this ship into the arms of many taxi and shuttle companies. We chose a small van and asked for a day rate. It cost our family $75. We went to the lookout where you can see the Caribbean Ocean and Atlantic on either sides of the island and then went to South Friars Beach. It was a beautiful beach and very hot! We paid the $20 for a chair and umbrella (I say the money amounts because I would want to know!). There was a reef with snorkelling here and we saw quite a few fish and Gary saw a ray. We had taken one adult and one child set of snorkelling gear with us and I'm glad we did just for this day. The boys went snorkelling with Gary but Nya just liked floating in the waves. Our driver left us at the beach for four hours and we enjoyed lunch at the restaurant there called Carambola Beach Club . It was close, had air conditioning and large servings. This was the only meal we ate off of the boat. We then toured the rest of the island which was somewhat interesting but slightly nauseating (winding roads) and the kids were definitely ready to head back to the boat by this time. If you have kids, I would not recommend touring the island. We were back on the boat by 5:30 PM for dinner as we were exhausted! Finally, for those that care about Internet usage, there is free WiFi at this Port.

Day 6: St. Maarten (8 AM to 5 PM): This was another early start to the day! We had our breakfast and covered ourselves in sunscreen and off we went! Note that it is very wise to pack your bags the night before; we had one tourist bag (camera/money/water bottles/ID) and then a beach bag (towels, clothes, shovels, buckets, snorkelling gear, and Nya's floatie). We took a taxi cab to the Butterfy Farm which took about 20 minutes and cost $35. She gave us a tour on the way explaining about the Dutch and French sides of the island and it's history. I wasn't sure what to expect at the Butterfly Farm but we had the tour which was great. It cost us just under $50 (let them know you are with a cruise for a discount) and although pricey, I'm glad we did it. We learned a lot about butterflies and moths and then had free punch to try to attract them onto our fingers. My punch had rum so I did not share. We then walked 15 minutes to a local quiet beach where we spent an hour swimming and cooling off. As a heads up, tops or optional at these beaches. We then walked almost 30 minutes to Orient Beach which was busy but the kids loved the big waves. Again, heads up, there is a nude beach on one end. I loved the beaches here and the kids were pretty tired by 3 PM so we took a taxi back to the boat and then I did a power walk to Phillipsburg to check out the shops and beach. If it was just Gary and I, we may have spent half the day doing this instead of the Butterfly Farm.

{Above is the Atlas Moth. It only lives in this form for about a week. It is the largest moth based on wing surface area.}

{So many Owl Butterflies!}

{Above is the first beach by the Butterfly Farm, below is Orient Beach which is the most popular one}

Day 7: Sea Day. We finished off our cruise with two Sea Days. In an ideal world we would never want two of these together as they are not my favourite but the kids loved days at sea. They would just play sports, get ice cream, play more sports, get more ice cream, jump in the pool and repeat. The temperature was lovely and it was a low key day. The kids did go into the Kids Club for an hour and Gary and I did a quick work out in the gym and then read books on the deck. We then had our second elegant dining experience. Gary and Kai watched the Dive In Movie which was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them while Koen and Nya and I rested in the room. Although some people say you don't spend time in your room, we did spend 1-2 hours of down time in there as Koen and Nya (and I) need it.

Day 8: Sea Day. This day had rough waters and the only photo that I feel comfortable sharing is our Dive In Movie experience where we saw Trolls as a family. Although we had seen the movie before it was so relaxing and a highlight to just hang out like this. Everyone but me felt sick throughout the day and I'm glad it was at the end of our journey or I would have been nervous! By 3 PM the water calmed down and at 4 PM we were enjoying soft serve again as a family. It's amazing how as soon as the water is calm, everyone felt fine! Next time we cruise we will just get Gary and the kids to take anti-nausea medication regardless of how they feel.

Day 9: Port Canaveral and return home. We were packed up and off the boat by 8:30 AM. We opted to take our luggage off ourselves which meant we could get off right away. We had a bus booked through Carnival that took us to the Orlando airport which cost about $250 for our family. Our flight wasn't until 4 PM as recommended as it sometimes takes a while to get to the airport and then through it but we had more than enough time and had a long travel day home. The kids all asked when we were doing another one and wished that our cruise was a week longer (or 1,000 days longer according to Koen).

Overall, this was a family trip with not as much couple time as we anticipated but that was fine. It is also our kids' favourite holiday to date. I have to say the whole time I was just thinking "This is such a unique experience!"; you are travelling somewhere new each day on a boat with so many people that are interesting to watch. There are shows to see but Gary and I only went to two comedies. I was worried about getting enough excercise but we took the stairs from the second deck frequently, used the gym and ran the track. When it was all done, it was definitely pricier than we anticipated with all of the taxis, tipping, and insurance that we bought but it was worth it and we look forward to cruising again!

For remembrance sake, these are our Top 5's for each person in no particular order:

1. San Juan walk to the Fort
2. Dive In Movies
3. Food
4. St. Kitts snorkelling and Grand Turk beach because it was easy to get to.
5. St. Maarten Butterfly Farm which was a non beach activity.

1. Snorkelling in Grand Turk
2. St. Kitts beach (South Friars)
3. St. Maarten Butterfly Farm and Orient Beach
4. Restaurant Dining (we seriously never eat out with our family)
5. Sports Square for the kids–it kept them so busy!

1. Grand Turk beach
2. Mini golf
3. San Juan body surfing
4. Guys Burgers
5. Arcade (so painful for me to write–he was allowed to spend $5 there)

1. Ropes course
2. Water slides
3. Orient Beach
4. TV (kids channel)
5. Food (ice cream, fancy dinner, breakfast)

1. Ice cream
2. Butterfly Farm
3. Beaches
4. Waterslides
5. Games (chess, mini golf etc)

So there you have it. I hope you found this helpful if you ever end up visiting these ports and if you are crusing for the first time, be sure to check out these tips!