Latest Adventure – Royal Caribbean Cruise, Western Caribbean Itinerary

Sooooooo excited to share that we just booked a seven day cruise on Royal Caribbeans Allure of the Seas, setting sail out of Miami at the end of April. It’s part celebrating Damon’s new job and part big blow-out vacation since I won’t be able to travel much after this.

Now, you’re probably thinking – they’re going on a cruise with two young kids, while pregnant!?! And you’re right – this is a daunting task, but we’ve taken some pretty big precautions to ensure that a good time is had by all:

  1. The Cruise Line
    1. Selecting a right cruise line is very important. Some cruises are geared more towards young couples, like Carnival, or older crowds, like Celebrity. The most popular family cruise ship is Disney. But they cost 3x’s more than other cruises, and, our kids aren’t into DIsney characters, just yet, so it wasn’t a good fit for us.
    1. We landed on Royal because they have a wide variety of activities for kids and have kids friendly pool play areas that those who are not diaper trained can use. That’s perfect for our water loving kids.
    1. The Ship
      1. I did a lot of research on which ship we would take. Not all cruise ships are outfitted with the kids play areas – these are relatively new in the past few years. So it actually made it easier to choose a cruise ship – since there weren’t a lot.
    1. Itinerary

      1. When cruising in the Caribbean, there are two standard choices – Eastern and Western. Eastern usually has prettier beaches and more days at sea, while the Western cruises have more days in port. We chose a Western cruise as it goes to many of our favorite places (specifically Cozumel).
    1. The Stateroom
      1. There are many rooms sizes to consider – the smallest are interior room, them ocean view, balcony, and finally staterooms. I usually suggest a balcony room for those with young kids as it gives lots of places to spread out their toys and not feel on top of each other. It’s also a great way to give yours kids some quiet downtime without missing out on the wonderful, ocean breeze. I have found its really important to provide the kids a quiet place to relax, away from all of the excitement of the cruise.
      1. We chose the Owner’s Suite – it has a lot of room and it includes the Sky Package. This package gives you a personal escort to your stateroom (no waiting in line to board the ship, then finding the room on your own), includes drink packages for everyone, and guaranteed seats for all of the shows onboard. This makes vacation with kids much easier.
      1. Additionally, most of the suites come with bathtubs! Which means you can actually clean your kids while on board (Most of the balcony and below rooms only have showers).
    1. Alone Time

      1. This is very important part of vacation and cruises have some wonderful options, such as in-room sitters and kids clubs, where they can play with other kids their age and supervised by qualified ship staff.
      2. These are wonderful options, but not great for us as our kids don’t do well with strangers, so we invited my parents to come along with us and they agreed to watch the boys so Damon and I can go off on our own for a bit.
  • So that’s what we have planned, so far. We leave in 52 days and it cannot come fast enough. I hope that we have enough ate-up for us to have a smooth vacation. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.

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    The Dash to Nashville – Escaping Hurricane Irma

    Thanks to Hurricane Irma, instead of having a nice, relaxing beach trip for the next few weeks, we’ve had to change our plans and get as far north as fast as we can.

    We left Orlando on Thursday, September 7, early in the morning. Since we have kids, we broke the trip up into three legs – 1) Fl/Ga Border 2) Atlanta 3) Nashville. Each leg should have been 3-4 hours each. Unfortunately, we were trying to leave along with hundreds, of thousands of other people. Our first leg took us over eight hours! We found out later that this was short compared to other people who tried to leave on Friday, who experienced 14-20 hour long drives.

    At the Fl/Ga border, we stopped at an RV park, called Eagles Roost. I called a few days in advance for a reservation and super glad I did – we managed to get one of the last sites. Lots of RV families were leaving and this place was the closest, and nicest, places on the border.

    And I could see why – this place was absolutely beautiful. The sites might be a little close for some, but we didn’t mind. Everyone we met was super friendly and the noise settled down pretty early in the night. The staff we very friendly and accommodating – the were really trying to help people find places to go. I wish we could have stayed longer, but this location was still in the danger zone, so we proceeded to Atlanta the next day.

    We traveled the route to Atlanta with the same people from before who were all trying to escape the storm. So another leg, which should have been four hours, became nine hours! I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to get to our campsite – Shoal Creek Resort.

    This place was amazing – beautiful campsites surrounded by trees and water. It was calming just to stand there outside of the trailer. It was so great that none of us, including the cats, wanted to stay inside.

    Luckily, we stayed here two nights and were able to take advantage of the property. During our stay, we played near the lake, walked around, and had a wonderful cook-out – complete with s’mores!

    Of course, while we were enjoying ourselves, Hurricane Irma strengthened and changed course. As we were preparing to leave, Atlanta issued their first ever tropical storm warning – with high winds and flooding expected. Luckily, we hadn’t planned to stay there to long and headed to Nashville.

    We’ve been told that Rock island State Park is one of the best places to stay and they were right. This small campsite has lots of trails to hike and sites to see. The kids had fun exploring and playing. And we had another cook-out. These are quickly becoming my favorite part of RV life.

    Next up, Kentucky!

    RV Stop #1 – Fort De Soto

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    We’ve said goodbye to Winter Garden RV Resort – our holding place while we finished prepping the house to sell – and headed to our first stop on our road trip, Fort De Soto, Florida.

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    This beautiful RV park is inside of the Fort De Soto state park – home to quiet beaches and a historic old fort. If you want a quiet beach weekend, this is the place to go.

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    We learned a lot even before we arrived.

    • The two-hour drive occurred during a big thunder storm, complete with thunder and lightning, which made for a very shaky drive. The kids slept most of the way and didn’t seem to notice that anything was wrong. The cats are a different story – the meowed the whole time (I hope they get used to driving soon).
    • Once we arrived, we had to do our first back-in setup (this is when you have to back the trailer into the site). Since I’m navigationally challenged, Damon took the task upon himself and managed to get us set up without hitting anything!

    Since it was still rainy when we arrived, we decided to stay inside and have a quiet evening with the kids.

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    After sleeping in, we decided that the kids needed to get out, so we took them to the Children’s Exploration Museum. This place is so much fun – the room is divided into different sections, giving kids a lot of options for play. Mini-man loved a lot of the sections and had an amazing time.

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    The next day we spent at the campground exploring. This place is very old Florida, with lots of trees, water, and wildlife. It was very relaxing to walk around. A few minutes from our site was a cute children’s playground that mini-man adored.

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    On our last day, we decided to be brave and take the kids to the beach. I’d heard that North Beach was a great place to take kids, so we headed there.

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    At first, we thought the beach near the playground would be ideal, but the waves were really high. Instead, we let mini-man play on the playground for a bit, then headed further up the beach.
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    This new location was perfect- hardly any waves and nice, warm water. Mini-man went in instantly with Damon. I sat at the edge with little-dude and let him get his feet wet (he liked the water but the waves scared him). All-in-all, a pretty successful trip (minus all the sand we brought back).
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    Today we head to our next stop, Terra Ciea, just 30 minutes from Fort De Soto. Fingers crossed we can get everything ready before check-out. Last time, it took us several hours to get going. This time, we have just four. Wish us luck!

    On the Road at Last

    We did it! The house is listed, the trailer is setup, the car is prepped – time to get this show on the road. Of course. For our first time picking up and leaving, it took a little effort to actually leave:

    1. You have to stow everything! And with a very curious toddler around, you can imagine how hard it was to get everything put away. Damon had to go back at one point after we got into the car to pick up some last minute things
    2. Once things are stowed you can’t get to anything until you reach your destination (unless you want to squeeze your way through). So I had to prepare several snack bags for everyone in the car.
    3. Triple check everything! For an RV to work it needs to be plugged and hooked up to lots of things. Damon got in the car and almost drove off before he saw that the power was still hooked up. Then he forgot that the propane was still on. Lesson learned – do several walk arounds before leaving.
    4. Driving in rain is hard. Of course we leave just as one of our lovely Florida thunderstorms shows up, making it a little harder to steer the car (it’s very bumpy back here)

    Not too bad for beginner, especially with two young children to care for as well. Hopefully we’ll get faster as we progress. For now, we are thrilled to be on the road, heading to Fort de Soto, Florida.

    Take A Peek Inside

    Welcome to our new home! As you can see it has many of our favorite parts of our previous house, just in a smaller scale.

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    I think the first floor of our house could fit our whole RV
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    Love that we could still have a fort for mini-man. Plus, its a great place to keep all his toys!
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    Smaller bedroom but it has everything thing we need

    And even though it’s smaller, we really don’t miss the space. In fact, it was frustrating having all this stuff stored away that we never used. Now everything had a purpose and is used every day.

    Home, Sweet Home … For Now

    We bought our RV and SUV a few days before little-dude joined our family. We decided to take a small break from moving to adjust to being a family of four and allow me time to heal from child birth. 

    Two weeks ago, we talked with our Realtor and are getting the house ready to sell. Which means we need a place to put the RV. After some research we found a cute place close to the house so we could be nearby while we sell the house and move into the RV. 

    The actual trip to the RV resort was nerve racking for me – this made it real. Everything’s been abstract for months but actually seeing the resort made it real. And I have to admit, I’m still nervous. This is such a drastic change from what I’m used to. 

    However, I’m also kinda excited – the resort is walking distance to parks, restaurants, and much more. Now we will have the opportunity to get out more as a family. 

    It took some time to get the RV here as the place we bought it from kept “losing” our moving information. Thankfully, we managed to get the RV to it’s new home a few days ago.

    We now have about half our stuff in the RV and spent our first official night. So far, so good. We still have some work to do, but it’s getting there.

    Beep Beep, Beep Beep

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    Once we got our camper, we needed a way to transport it. This was much harder than I anticipated. I assumed that the trailer would be harder, since there were so many options, layouts, sizes, and colors – but I was wrong. First, Damon and I needed to agree on what type of car:

    • Easy to drive: I didn’t want a car so big that I couldn’t drive it. I am used to full-sized vans and didn’t want to go bigger than that.
    • Comfort: We love our current mini-van. It has leather seats, lots of room and LOTS of cup holders (Damon loves his beverages. Our current mini-van has six cup holders in the front and five of them are usually taken up by Damon’s beverages).
    • Towing Capacity: I wanted something powerful. I didn’t want a car that would barely pull the trailer and could possibly leave us stranded somewhere because it broke down
    • Space: In addition to our human family, we are bringing with us our two cats and we need a space to put them while we are on the road.

    Seems simple, right? Unfortunately, not. The towing capacity became our biggest issue. This instantly eliminated the standard car, mini-van, and SUV – which are the cars I am used to driving. This pretty much left us with full-sized trucks and some suburbans:

    • Trucks
      • Pro
        • Availability: Being in Florida, trucks of all shapes, sizes, and power are easy to find.
        • Towing Capacity: Trucks are made to haul stuff, so most trucks can handle pulling campers.
      • Con
        • Size: We are a family of four, with two young kids. Many cabins support this, but don’t have much leg room or capacity to store extra toys or snacks.
        • Storage: They have large truck beds but your stuff can’t be accessed while your driving. Plus, we would need to get a cover if we wanted to protect our stuff from the elements.
        • Unfamiliar: I haven’t been in a truck since I was eight (despite living in Florida for twenty years). This just isn’t a vehicle we are familiar with.
        • Budget: Trucks don’t lose a lot of value overtime, so to get one powerful enough in our budget required something with high mileage. This made me nervous since most trucks start to have major issues as they get more mileage on them
    • Suburbans
      • Pro
        • Familiar: Suburbans are very similar to vans and mini-van’s, which we are used to driving.
        • Size: Tons of internal room. Plenty of space for the kids, toys, snacks, and whatever else we need. Plus we can fit the cats inside of the car.
        • Storage: The storage is large and flexible – we can move seats around to accommodate whatever we need.
      • Con
        • Availability: There are only a few suburbans on the market that meet our criteria. In our short time researching, we have only found two that we like. People like these cars so much, that they rarely come on the used car market.
        • Towing Capacity: While there are just a few suburbans on the market, there are even fewer that have the towing capacity we need (and we soon learned that most car dealers don’t know that there is a difference).

    So as you can see, the suburban makes more sense for our needs but trucks are much easier to find. I assumed that we would end up with a truck, since it would work and we could find one. Luckily, Damon kept his eyes open for a suburban and we hit the jackpot!

    Damon was searching Craigslist and found a suburban that was 45 minutes away. This car had everything we wanted – good mileage, well cared for (the interiors looks brand new), powerful towing capacity (that was specially made for the original owner), easy to drive, a great size, and a great price. Needless to say, we jumped at this car.

    Of course, being such a great catch, there were other people interested. Fortunately for us, we had two things going in our favor – location and cash! The first person who wanted the car lived in Georgia and was trying to figure out how to get the car. The second person lived nearby, but needed to go to the bank to arrange financing. Sometimes, the stars align and everything just goes in your favor.

    So meet our new car:

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    Next step is introducing our car to our trailer. Fingers crossed that the meeting goes well :p

    Downsizing

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    How do you fit a 1600 sq ft house into a 300 sq ft trailer??? The simple to say, but hard to do, answer is – DOWNSIZE. I’ve tried to put myself in a practical mindset – the more we sell, the more money we have to travel and less stuff to lug around. It also helps to remember that if we get rid of something, and want it later, we can always re-buy it.

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    Now some of our stuff is a no brainer to get rid of, such as the furniture (since it’s included in the trailer), TV’s (we won’t need four in the trailer), my car (my Honda Fit can’t pull an 8,000 lb trailer), and kitchen stuff (I won’t need my fancy dishes any more).

    Then it gets a little more difficult for me. We have cultivated quite the toy collection and play area in our house. I know, realistically, that our kids don’t NEED all these toys, but I do have a joy seeing them play with these toys. I didn’t have a lot growing up, so being able to provide these “things” for my children gives my great satisfaction.

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    But then I’m reminded that what we remember most isn’t the actual toy we played with as children. We remember spending time with our loved ones and experiencing the world with them. And that’s what I want for my children – to experience value and love from those around them; not the things around them.

    So while I know that downsizing my kids toys will be emotional for me, I also know that we are giving them an awesome experience.

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    Now on the flip size, I am used to cooking in a 300 sq ft kitchen (which is the same size as our trailer). How am I supposed to cook in such a small space? Where am I supposed to store everything? I am used to having a lot of cabinet space, not to mention fridge space, to store food. I currently have three different solutions for my dilemma:

    1. Shop every few days, instead of once a week
    2. Stop buying in bulk and only buy what you need for a the meal (portion control)
    3. Grow fresh herbs and lettuce in a window

    I have no idea if any of these will works, but I guess this is only part of what I’ll have to get used to going forward. On the plus side, it’s much easier to keep 300 sq ft clean than 1600 – especially with two kids!

    The Great Movie Ride

    A few weeks ago, the Walt Disney Company announced the closure of a beloved attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – The Great Movie Ride. While I understand the need to retire the attraction, I am saddened as it holds a special place in my heart.

    In October of 2004, I’d been working at ‘The Great Movie Ride’ for a few weeks when I met a new person in the break room – Damon. He’d just transfer from ‘The Tower of Tower’ and was finishing his training for the ride. I remember this meeting because of how we clicked. I’d never felt an instant connection with anyone before. From then on, I constantly looked for him in the break room. Unfortunately, he kept getting assigned to ‘The Tower of Tower’, so I never saw him. 

    Then in June 2005, we were both selected for be character trained for the ride (which means doing the gangster/bandit scenes). At this point, we were seeing more of each other each weekend and definitely had a crush on each other.

    During training, Damon tried to help the trainer by grabbing a box of pens for our class. The next thing we know, Damon tripped and pens went flying across the room. He turned beet red and I thought he was the cutest thing ever!

    After work, Damon invited me to his house to watch a movie. I don’t remember much about the movie. What I do remember is how comfortable I felt with him. While we were talking, he asked if I’d like to go out with him sometime. I said that sounded like fun (girl code for yes). Unfortunately, Damon didn’t speak girl code and asked me again. I explained that my answer ment yes and thus began our journey of being honest with each other.

    So, as you can imagine, ‘The Great Movie Ride’ means a great deal to us. Which is why I was thrilled to get to go back one more time. Last night, the Disney Parks Blog hosted a meet-up at the ride and allowed us to walk the track! Not only did I get to relive some very fond memories but I got to take all the pictures I’d neglected to take while I worked there (lesson learnes + always take pictures).

    What a wonderful way to close such a meaningful chapter of my life. I only hope it’s replacement will live up to ‘The Great Movie Ride’

    Taking our Furbabies on the Road

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    These poor cats. We adopted Kizzy and Cloud in 2008 while we were living at our townhouse in Orlando. And over the past ten years, these cats have lived in a lot of different places:

    • 2009 (October): We drove them cross country for three days to move to California.
    • 2010 (April): About six months later, in early we drove them back to Orlando, and into my in-laws house in Celebration, Florida.
    • 2010 (October): After many months of house hunting, we then moved them to our new house in Orlando.
    • 2013 (February): After a few years of downtime, we moved them to an apartment near SeaWorld
    • 2014 (January): We moved them back to our townhouse in Orlando.
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    I think this pretty much sums up how he feels about car rides

    Is that it? unfortunately not.

    • 2015 (September): We flew them out to California!
    • 2016 (September): We fly them back to the townhouse in Orlando

    And now we are asking them to live with us on an RV and travel the country to who knows how long. I think I better stock-up on kitty treats.