Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It’s been a few weeks since my last post…and for good reason.  We packed our bags 2 weekends ago and headed south for the winter.  We (ok…I) wasn’t quite ready to go somewhere without Sassafras for an entire week so we decided to take her along for the ride.  Choosing a vacation spot with a little one is a delicate process…adult time, child friendly, budget conscious, and somewhere warmer than MO in the dead of winter.  We decided on a Royal Caribbean cruise (Liberty of the Seas) that sailed out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL and stopped in Belize City, Belize and Cozumel, Mexico (two ports we hadn’t been previously).  We sailed on a sister ship 5 years ago and loved the experience.  The company’s website touted their family friendliness…even for children under 3…all things considered, we thought we found a real winner.

In my mind the experience was going to be fantastic…the ship had a pay-as-you-go daycare so Little Bit would enjoy time with qualified caretakers when JPug and I wanted to have a nice dinner or hit up the gym.  We were hoping for the perfect balance of spending time as a family and enjoying our time as a couple.  In reality, the experience was so-so for a multitude of reasons.  So mediocre, in fact, that this was the first vacation I can honestly say I would have rather stayed home.

The Pros:
  • Our stateroom attendant was AWESOME.  She was ridiculously helpful and really catered to us (although she had a number of other rooms she was responsible for).  The only way Royal Caribbean has to recognize an excellent team member is to provide them with an additional tip (which we did)…too bad for Heather from Trinidad & Tobago that we couldn’t shout it from the rooftops.
  • The entertainment on board was really first class.  We saw a number of shows and I would rate them all somewhere between good and great.
  • Our port excursions were excellent experiences!  We took a private tour with the director of the Belize Zoo (in a Jaguar’s cage, up close and personal with Toucans, etc.) and joined a local Cozumel Chef for a culinary tour.  Both excursions were booked outside of the cruise line and were fabulous.
  • The weather!  Can’t beat 75 and sunny when KC is below freezing and under a foot of snow…literally!

 The Cons:
  • Pay 3rd person rate for a 3rd person no matter the person’s age…14 months or 50 years.
  • Although the ship touted being family friendly, they didn’t offer changing stations in any bathroom or cups with lids in any dining area.  Seriously?!  Aren’t those two of the top things you’d be sure to have on board if you’re going to welcome children under 3?
  • We also had a lot of difficulty getting a high chair (waited more than 10 minutes) in both the main dining room as well as the buffet.  The issue wasn’t lack of availability, it was lack of service. 
  • Special programming for children under 3 was not as advertised.  The website shows special developmental programs for families to enjoy together but they didn’t seem to exist.
  • The Food!  I couldn’t even believe it…5 years ago our dining experiences were top notch.  Unfortunately, this time around the food was some of the worst we’ve ever had.
  • In two instances, family members added shipboard credit to our account so we could enjoy the ship’s amenities at no additional cost to us.  In both instances, the Royal Caribbean representative on the phone asked what they would like their notification card to say but we never received the information.  Talk about sounding ungrateful when you recap the trip and have no idea credit was given as a gift.
  • Available elevators were hard to come by.  Carrying a 20-lb toddler up 10 flights of stairs isn’t feasible so the alternative was to wait a LONG time.

I’m sure I seem ungrateful for our experience and that’s absolutely not the case.  My problem is that the service and experience should be commensurate with the price of the trip and therein a major discrepancy lies.  We relied on information provided by the cruise line to choose our vacation and the “caring details” for children under 3 were all but forgotten.  At least we’re wiser for the future and I can say with certainty that we won’t make the same mistake twice.  I did send a letter voicing my concerns to Royal Caribbean and will provide an update if I receive a response. 

You may be thinking the least I could do is provide a few pictures of our trip.  Well, on the last day we (most likely I) misplaced JPug’s phone…which was on airplane mode (no find my iPhone).  Unfortuately, all of our vacation photos were lost with the phone.  Also, no iCloud backup because wifi on the ship is $0.85/minute and we would have never thought of the downstream ramifications of losing phone…airplane mode…no iCloud backup…no vacation photos.  Yes…I may never forgive myself for that one!  I had a handful of photos on my phone…below is Little Bit playing in the pool on our first day.

Given our experience…do you have any recommendations for successful vacations with toddlers?


  1. We take a vacation with my husbands family every year. We've been to Orlando, Palm Desert, CA, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Branson, Dallas, and we've taken kids to all of those. His parents have a Marriott TimeShare so we stay at a Marriott resort each time. The points we look for: good pool, childrens museum in town (like magic house or city museum), zoos, beaches. Our hotel rooms have kitchens in them which is great for kids. Some areas are more kid friendly than others, but as long as they have an indoor/outdoor pool and a couple of other local places to go I think you guys will have a great time. My kids won't stay with random babysitters at hotels or gyms, etc so we just know when we go on vacation we will be with them the whole time unless the in-laws or aunts/uncles watch them while we go out. Sorry your 1st family vacation was a bummer. I know you had a good time, but just wanted it to be exceeds expectations, which is completely understandable! There is always next time!

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  3. Travel with friends that also have kids, rent a beach house from VRBO, take turns between couples doing family things, babysitting duty, girls' night/guys' night, etc!

  4. Mark Miller has good advice. You could also take a friend or family members teenager (hint) :) with you (of course that would be extra $) and they can stay with Elle while you go out to eat or do whatever and then sometimes maybe you could give that teenager time to do something they want to do for awhile without the responsibility of watching a child.