Sunday, October 21, 2012

remember when we took two kids on a cruise with 30 members of our family? i do!

whenever people caught wind that we were headed on a cruise, the first question we were asked was, "who is watching your kids?"
when we explained that they were coming with us, we were greeted with confused, supportive smiles wishing us luck. well, naysayers, do i have news for you: a cruise with 2 children under the age of 2 is not only doable, it is incredible! i would recommend it any day over simply carting the kids to the local pool. they loved it, we loved it, people loved us. thus, a recap of the greatest vacation ever.

first, to keep all thirty members of my family in the right frame of mind for the vacay, we took on the mantra, "i am going on a freakin' cruise!" and applied those words to any sticky situation or not-as-awesome-as-it-should-be moment. i have to say, it worked wonders. all thirty of us getting on an airplane? check. all thirty of us carting our luggage to a shuttle bus? check. all thirty of us taking over a small hotel in florida? check. all thirty of us sweating our butts off as we load more bags into another shuttle, wheel them through security and get on the boat? check. done. fin. and all with smiles. here are a few photos to show how awesome this process looked:

i was nervous about the girls making it through the long flights to florida. they, of course, skated through the whole process without a hitch.  violet insisted on carrying this gigantic backpack around that i had CRAMMED full with snacks and activities. that probs did some long-term damage on her back but it sure kept her busy.
ivy was a peach on the flight. her first! i think whenever people see a baby boarding a plane, they say a little prayer that the baby isn't going to be by them. well, let's just say that i think the whole plane was jealous of the people who got to sit by us. she was happy as could be. at one point in the flight, cade was throwing her in the air from his seat as she happily giggled. it was keeping her happy and the six rows of people behind us entertained. seriously! not wanting the passengers to enjoy themselves too much, a flight attendant got on the overheard announcement system and reminded all passengers to "please keep babies in their laps." buzzkill alert. nevertheless, ivy was the cutest thing on the plane.
violet got a set of wings. she felt awesome.
so, we arrived in florida first and spent the night there before getting on the ship.
it is no surprise that cade makes friends everywhere he goes. it is like that at home and no different on vacation. this woman was cade's first bff of the trip. she worked at our hotel. after she and cade became buds, she showered us with every variety of travel size toiletry there is. toothpaste, shampoo, shower caps, cologne... she gave it all.
ivy didn't like florida. it was a little hot for her taste.

sweatiest. baby. ever.

after a night in the middle of a ghetto somewhere in florida, it was finally cruise time! we happily boarded the ship and got busy doing what we do best: eating. owen and violet loved to study up on all the ship amenities.
that picture almost makes you cringe to see all that half-eaten, odd food scattered on plates around the kids. at least violet is dining on broccoli AND jello... and not just jello, right? really, we stuffed ourselves. we'll be the first to admit it. 

gotta love grammy. the reason we are on the freakin' cruise. 
after our first, hearty meal, it was time to do that annoying drill where you line up and pretend you care what a muster station is. we made the best of it.
and then said bon voyage...
we spent the rest of the day exploring, eating, walking around, eating, unpacking, and eating. by the time we sat down for dinner, we all felt like this:
it was a busy day! ivy was in heaven with all this food... did i mention she is an eater?
we spent the rest of the night watching movies on the big screen while we swam.

aaaaaaaand, all that fun left violet more than ready for bed.
the next day was a day at sea. without anywhere specific to be, cade took full advantage by making sure he was at every activity the ship had to offer. first: ping pong.
cade learned from previous cruises that it is best to bring your own paddle for these competitions. he was ready to win- and he did just that. here he is with the guy he beat in the championship game.
we spent time at the pool, time with the kids, time at the arcade and time napping with the babes. it was a relaxing and enjoyable day. that night, it was a formal night in the dining room. since we were all gussied up, we thought it would be a good thing to try and get photos taken. you can tell by this picture just how well THAT went...
the photos just weren't working for us.

day two and we were already in a routine: after dinner, we all danced together with the kids to the live band in the lounge and then went to our room to see what animal awaited us. the girls loved it all- the dancing and the animals.
the next day, we were up early to disembark at our first stop: grand turk. we had done a little research ahead of time and learned that we could easily rent some golf carts and motorcycles that would get us around the island. we had to walk to the place, but the scenery was gorge.
cade immediately made friends with the guy who was renting us the golf carts.
and then he made friends with that guy's friend.
and then we were off! we asked around and a few locals told us to head to pilary beach. "clean, clear and not so busy," they said. they were spot on....
it was clean, it was crystal clear and we basically had the beach to ourselves.
ivy enjoyed a little nap in the shade.

we rented some snorkeling gear here and took full advantage. there was so much to see!
violet, addy, and owen rounded up all sorts of shells to make a cool little city on the sand.

after a few hours on the beach, we piled back into the golf carts and headed off to see some more sights. this lighthouse seems to be popular- and the views were great.

by the time we were riding back to the cruise ship, the kids were all falling asleep and ready for naps. it had been a long day on grand turk- but we thoroughly enjoyed it all! it was an island set at a laid-back pace with no rush or worry.

later, on the ship, we all gathered in our "secret spot." on a big cruise ship, it is near impossible to escape and be alone. you are always surrounded by people. well, cousin korbin, being the adventurer he is, managed to find the oddest, little spot on the ship that was only accessible through a door that looks like something you shouldn't go through. on the other side of that door was a place totally removed from the bustle of the ship. it was great. the kids ran wild and we didn't mind one bit.
the next day was another busy one. we were ready to take on the dominican republic! we had researched ahead of time and decided to charter out a little tour of an island off the coast of the dominican republic called saona. all our research said it was one of the most beautiful places on earth.

they weren't lying.

first, we boarded a private boat. when there are thirty of us, it is hard to get ALL together anywhere, but this boat was perfect!

 our first stop was at a really cool pier that had been washed away after a hurricane years ago. since the storm, this pier has become an awesome place to snorkel. we all jumped in- even violet- for a chance to see all the sea life. gramps was a great sport to hold up all the kids as they clung to him for safety. ha ha ha.

after we snorkeled for a bit, it was back on the boat as we headed to saona. i cannot get over, nor can i fully express how beautiful this place is. sooo gorgeous. so... unreal! 

we played in the sand, got odd massages from the locals, sipped from coconuts, took naps and loved every second of it. the people who were guiding us on the boat had prepared an authentic dominican lunch for us to eat while on the beach. cade and i did a service project in the dominican republic a few years ago and i remember the food to not be the best- but this lunch turned out great! we all ate our fill. they were, however, confused at why we didn't want any beers to go with our lunch...

after lunch and more beach time, we got back on the boat again for a tour of the mangroves. this awesome ecosystem is full of wildlife like sea turtles, manta rays, and starfish.

at one point, we all hopped off the boat into a huge starfish field. they were everywhere! we picked them up, explored and played.

 on the way back to the main island, we enjoyed our time on the boat. the kids loved sitting on the netting and we all loved dancing on the boat. cade especially loved this part.

we absolutely loved this day. it was an incredible experience that i will always remember. it sure left vi pooped....
with a brief rest in our beds that night, we were back at it again the next day in beautiful curacao. we had heard that this was a great place to shop and have fun- especially if we had just had a busy beach day. we took full advantage walking the streets and sorting through all the shops.
curacao was definitely the most colorful stop we had. the sky was so blue, the buildings were so bright and the people were great.

violet found all sorts of treasures here that she HAD to have. a drum, a doll, a snake, a turtle... she is for sure a shopper. we all bought and found some great souvenirs. another busy day left violet all tuckered out- with her drum still in hand.
no rest for us, we were back at it AGAIN the next morning as we headed to aruba! we had arranged ahead of time to rent some cars on aruba in hopes to drive out to the famous baby beach. typical of island life, we showed up at the rental car place only to find that the girl was closing for lunch. ok.... we were sent to another location (which just so happens to be located in an adults only hotel) and sat in line for over an hour to get into a car. it was crazy! those kid-hating hotel guests were peeved to see all the kids crawling through the lobby, swinging on chairs and jumping into the pool as we waited.
after the long wait, we finally got into our cars and drove all the way out to baby beach it was totally worth the wait! baby beach is surrounded by a breaker so that the entire beach is a calm expanse of warm, clear water that doesn't really get deeper than 5 feet or so. kid heaven!

after the beach, we were late getting back to the boat on time. we were racing back to get the cars returned and onto the boat. in all the excitement, cade accidentally rammed into the car in front of us- which happened to be my sister's rental car. yikes! good thing we had insurance... but, true to island life, they didn't look too close or seem to notice any damage. cade was feeling very relieved after that... 

those were a busy four days! we were ready to relax as we enjoyed two more days at sea while the boat made its way to florida. we spent our time doing crafts, exercising, painting nails, pool adventures, and competing in more tournaments. cade came home with quite the collection of first place medals.

ivy, violet and cade were probably the three most popular people on the boat. i am not kidding. everybody knew who we were. we would be walking along and people would say say hi to ivy- using her name! i had never met them... one woman stopped us and to confess that she almost bought a picture of ivy that a photographer had taken and posted on the ship's photo gallery. she thought ivy was that cute and was thrilled to meet the baby in person. cade was also mr. popular. my favorite moment was walking by the pool and hearing a group of teenage girls yell hello to cade as we passed... a little fishy, but just another day in the life of cade. everyone knew him! 
i had to include this picture of another friend cade made. we walked past this guy (who looked like a statue) and cade immediately asked if he could get a picture with him. right before i took the photo, cade stopped me so he could take his shirt off too. naturally.
violet also loved her time spent at camp carnival, the ships free kids activities. she asked to go all the time- and even still asks for it sometimes.
the food was great and so was the service. kitty, our server, was so great to always have plenty of finger foods on hand for all the kids. he has kids at home- so he knew how to keep our rugrats happy.

it was SO hard to leave. we really could have stayed for another month. in fact, i wish i was back there right now. we loved every second of it... but alas, it was time to go. ivy had gained 2 pounds on the trip- it was for sure time for her to go!
overall, i couldn't have asked for a better group to party with. i love my family. our photos were always a little sketchy- but we had a blast!

and we couldn't be more thankful to grammy and grandpa. they truly love and value family. grammy's entire happiness is wrapped up in the happiness of her family. we love her so much.

but seriously... who wants to go on a cruise next week? i am ready at a moment's notice.