Our 1st Royal Caribbean Cruise!
Hello friends! Happy NEW YEAR! We just got back from our 1st ever cruise and had the most amazing time. I am so excited to share all about our trip with you all!
Last year we realized that we had never taken a real family vacation! We were spending SO much money on junk and toys for Christmas when our kids already have pretty much every toy in the world. Our kids are both very involved with school activities and sports so the week of Christmas is really the only entire week we have off for travel. So it just works out for us to take a Christmas vacay!
We decided that every year we would take a different type of Christmas trip. My sweet friend Amber, from Amber Lackey Royal Treatment Travel, booked us our DREAM Disney vacation for Christmas 2018. It was everything I ever could have dreamed of! It was so amazing that we contemplated just doing Disney again for this past Christmas. But I knew we wanted to take our kiddos to as many different places as possible before they are grown and gone, so we decided on a cruise! Amber booked our cruise as well and I can’t recommend her enough!
I think the researching and planning the trips, is as much fun for me as the actual vacation. I love to search for deals, restaurants, things to do, and making plans! I had so much fun booking our excursions at each port! I loved our family countdown to our cruise. I also had several friends that gave me some GREAT cruising advice.
Our cruise was a 7 Night Western Caribbean Holiday Cruise with Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of The Seas that left out of Tampa and had stops in Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico. We planned different types of excursions at each port. Our Royal Caribbean ship, the Rhapsody of The Seas, is an older ship without a lot of the bells and whistles of the newer ships. But the service, food, activities and shows more than make up for that.
Day 1: Saturday: Depart from Tampa!
We arrive in Tampa and board the ship! We had heard that the Rhapsody was on the smaller side but it was our first time seeing a cruise ship and we could not BELIEVE how big it was!!! We brought anti nausea meds just in case but thankfully noone in our family had any problems with sea sickness! WHEW! We were given advice from friends for the first day, to get unpacked and organized, walk around and find where everything is on the ship and get both our kids set up with the teen and kid center on the ship.
Our 9 year old made it a point to get himself acquainted with the soft serve machine VERY FAST. I think he had 5 ice cream cones the first day. #BottomlessPit
We had a mandatory guest assembly drill at 3:30 before our ship set sail at 4! There was a little bit of a storm the first night and I’m gonna be honest, the ship was ROCKING! Since it was our first time, I thought it was gonna be that way the whole time. thankfully, it was only that way the first night. LOL. My husband and I LOVED sitting out on the top deck with our drinks and looking out at the beautiful pool deck and ocean. It was amazing!
We had dinner reservations in the main dining room at 7:15. I was told that the dining room was great and to take advantage of being waited on like kings and queens but I wasn’t sure if my youngest would enjoy the food. He is a great eater but he is 9, and I thought the endless options of the buffet in the Windjammer may appeal to him more. I had nothing to worry about and he actually ordered off the regular menu…not the kid menu… in the fancy main dining room every night! He was especially excited when he liked and ordered what our waiter’s recommendations were 😉 Our service was TOP NOTCH… the whole week!!!!
After dinner we went to the the Centrum to listen to some music and then to the Welcome Aboard Comedy Show starring Comedian Ralph Harris. This turned out to be SUCH a treat!!!! I had never heard of Ralph Harris but he made us all CRY laughing!!! I was so excited when they announced at the end of the show that he would be back later on in the week for an adults only show!!!
Day 2 & Day 3: Key West and a planned sea day.
So this ended up being the only major bummer of our whole trip. Unfortunately because of weather, the Key West port was closed so we ended up having an unplanned sea day instead of exploring there. We were bummed because we had planned to walk around the city, swim with Dolphins, stand at the southernmost point in America, and to have a slice of Key Lime Pie 😉
But now all this means is we have to plan another trip 😉
Since we now had 2 sea days, one unplanned on Sunday and one on Monday while we sailed to Grand Cayman, the Captain and Cruise director did a GREAT job planning lots of activities on board the ship to keep everyone entertained! One of our favorite things every night was when our cruise compass got delivered. It’s like a play by play of every event and show happening the next day and it was so much fun for each of us to go through and pick out the activities and shows we wanted to do and watch the next day!
Our days were PACKED FULL! I cant remember what order everything we did was in but some of the highlights include:
– Our family competed in and won the ships SCAVENGER HUNT!!!! This was so much fun! It was a selfie scavenger hunt were you had to do certain things and find certain things on the ship and take selfies with them! My daughter is so dadgum competitive. She was running all around the ship finding stuff LOL! We got a super fun prize pack delivered to our room for being the winning family and it was just a blast!
We also played ‘Name that tune’ cartoon edition. We didn’t do so hot on this one but it was really fun!
The kids swam and did some activities with their friends in the youth rooms. They each made a legit group of friends the very first day and hung out with them a good bit on our sea days. My son got very involved in Gaga Ball tournaments and pretty much closed the youth center down playing it every night LOL. My husband and I had a drink, enjoying the view and the breeze on the top deck…. the best place on a cruise ship!!!!!
We played some table tennis as well, watched some Karaoke which was mostly terrible in the best way, and also a few great singers and also watched a hilarious ‘Finish the lyrics’ game show.
I have to tell you about one of the highlights of our second sea day. Our ship hosted a MALE BELLY BUSTER COMPETITION AT THE POOL AND WE TALKED MY HUSBAND INTO SIGNING UP AND COMPETING IN IT. I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard. It seemed like the entire ship was watching and cheering the good sport ‘belly busters’ on!
Uncle Bee took 4th place and we were so proud of him! He is definitely more of an introvert and this was way outside of his comfort zone. The FUNNIEST part, is he was recognized by people the rest of the cruise for participating in the popular contest!!! Every time someone recognized him, we laughed so hard! Another funny thing is the contest was filmed and televised and played pretty much on our cruise televisions nonstop LOL!
Another highlight was a tribute to Elton John by Jeffrey Allen full of costumes and comedy. We really enjoyed it! And comedian Ralph Harris was back to perform in an adults only show that had us ROLLING once again. (It said adults only but I think it was closer to PG13) I am now a Ralph Harris super fan and hope to see him again!
Day 4: Grand Cayman
This port day started off with a minor bump. Our planned port at Grand Cayman was closed because of weather, but our captain found us a spot on another grand cayman port. The problem was, we got their later than planned and we had an excursion booked NOT with our ship. Meaning, we had no idea if the people we had already arranged to pick us up at port 1, would know to be at port 2 at a later time. Thankfully when we got there, our driver was on top of things and waiting for us. But some people that had excursions booked, took cabs to the original port and ended up missing their excursions. Apparently it is SUPER important, if your ship arrives at a different port or at a different time, MAKE NO MOVES. Stay there. Your excursion people will be informed and waiting on you there when your ship arrives.
Grand Cayman is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful!
Our Grand Cayman excursion came SO highly recommended from friends and online searches! We went to Sting Ray City! Y’all… this may be one of the coolest things we have ever done!!!! The Sting Ray City tour was 3 hours total and started with a boat ride out to play with the sting rays on a sand bar in the middle of the Caribbean! We each took turns catching, kissing, and posing with sting rays! We held a humongous sting ray that was over 30 years old!
After we got done playing with the sting rays and taking photos, we rode over to and snorkeled at a barrier reef. I can NOT BELIEVE how clear the water was!!! Snorkeling ended up being my husband’s favorite activity of the week and he is already planning our next cruise around lots of snorkeling LOL.
After that we took a boat ride to Star Fish Point and found lots of starfish! We got our photo holding them! Also, its very important to note that starfish have to be kept under the water, even for photos as they are a protected species and they can not breath out of the water, just like any other fish. There is a big fine for people caught taking them out of the water and I am glad about that! They are such beautiful creatures!
We had a blast on our sting ray city tour and I can not wait to go back! We got back to port in time to do some souvenir shopping before getting back on the ship. Grand Cayman is an absolutely beautiful place!
Day 5: Cozumel
Wednesday was Christmas Day and we woke up in COZUMEL!!!
We booked our beach excursion through our ship so we didn’t have to worry about a thing. Royal Caribbean arranged our transportation to and from our excursion. We went to Playa Mia Grand Beach Park and got the all inclusive package. The beach had a 500 foot long floating park in the middle of the ocean… with water trampolines and an obstacle course. Our kids spent several hours out there and we were thankful life jackets were required. They also had life guards floating around on jet skis that made us feel better about enjoying our all inclusive adult beverages while the kiddos had a blast.
The only downside I have to say, was the food was NOT great. It was a VERY low quality outdoor buffet and I was more than a little worried about food poisoning but we were starving from a day at the beach and we all ate. Noone got sick from it by the way 😉
A huge plus to booking through the ship, is they handle getting your group back to the ship. When it was time for us to leave, they called our ships name over the intercom and we all made our way back to the bus. The bus had air conditioning as well. We got back in plenty of time to do some fun sight seeing and shopping in Cozumel.
It was an incredible way to spend Christmas day!
Day 6: Puerto Costa Maya
We definitely saved the best for last! This was my absolutely favorite day, favorite port and favorite excursion! I spent a lot of time researching Costa Maya and we booked the most amazing excursion at Maya Chan Private Beach Resort. Maya Chan arranged our transportation from our port to their resort. There is a 20-30 minute bus ride along a Federal Coastal Highway. It is bumpy but it was a lovely drive along the Costa Maya Coastline. My family of 4 was in the bus with another great Southern family and we made fast friends!
Once we pulled up at Maya Chan, it was so beautiful and everyone was so friendly!
They treat you like absolute royalty! It is a private beach and they reserve your spot for you so there is no crowds or waiting. It is all inclusive which includes: English speaking staff. transportation to and from port, over-sized beach chairs for each guest, beach beds, private pre-assigned shaded area for each party, all you can eat Mayan inspired buffet, all day open bar, WIFI, clean bathrooms, lockers, changing rooms, fresh water shower, use of: professional snorkeling equipment, floating chairs, glass bottom kayaks, sand toys, life jackets. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by friendly staff that gave us a tour and escorted us to our private beach area. They brought us and the kiddos ‘welcome’ drinks and chips, pico and homemade guacamole! We had the best service I have ever received anywhere.
I kayaked for the first time ever! And the floating chairs with the cup holders may be the best thing on earth. We played and relaxed and then it was time for our AMAZING buffet lunch. I have to say this amazing Mayan inspired taco bar was the BEST MEAL we had on our entire 7 day cruise! And we had a lot of good food on our trip! The taco bar included marinated and grilled steak, chicken, pulled pork and fish, with all the fresh fixins! I had 1 of each tacos except the fish because unfortunately I don’t eat seafood.
After lunch we went back to relax and play on the beach some more. Uncle Bee and our son threw the football and I may have had a couple too many drinks 😉 What can I say? They were just SO GOOD and When… in… Mexico….
We probably spent 6 hours at the resort but it absolutely FLEW by. We all agreed it was our favorite excursion and we can not WAIT to go back!!!!
This was a planned sea day as we cruised back to Tampa and Me and Uncle Bee did a LOT of resting! We were tired from so much activity on the previous days. We were also relieved the kids had so much fun stuff to do in the youth programs. Because this was a day when me and Uncle Bee spent a LOT of time horizontal by the pool lol
Since we laid low most of the day, I am going to talk a little bit about the youth program on Royal Caribbean. Both of our kids absolutely had a BLAST with their youth programs!!! They both made friends the very first day and spent every waking moment they weren’t with my husband and I, hanging out and doing activities in the youth centers!
Here are both my kiddos with the killer face painting they had done on one of the sea days on our ship!
We were excited to find out that both of our kids were old enough to check themselves in and out of the youth programs at will so it was super convenient and we were able to set up times to meet them for dinner and stuff. My youngest, age 9, really loved the independence he had on the ship. The security was amazing and I felt really comfortable letting him do his own thing.
On sea days, there was a 3 hour morning, afternoon, and evening session followed by a late night session in the youth room. Since my youngest was old enough to check himself in and out he was able to just participate in the activities he wanted, then meet up with us when he was hungry or wanted to relax. My teen just came and went as she pleased and met up with her group of friends after dinner a lot! They went to a silent dance party one night where you wear you dance wearing headphones and everyone is listening to the same thing. She said it was SO FUN!
The ONLY thing I would do different is bring some 2 Way Radios to make it easier to communicate on the ship. There was several times Uncle Bee and I changed our plans and had to walk around the huge ship to let the kiddos know our meet up spot was going to be different or whatever. 2 Way Radios would be a great option since we didnt have cell service at sea!
We DID pay for the wifi for 2 of the days because I had some work stuff to take care of and to check in with friends and family back home. The WIFI on the ship is awful and slow and I would not waste my money paying for it again unless it was absolutely necessary.
Day 8 was Saturday morning and we woke up back in Tampa. We were SO sad for our cruise to be over. We definitely were happy to head back home to our pups though! Our pups board and do occasional daycare at Madison Animal Care Hospital boarding. (Click here for their facebook page) My sweet friend Page, (their vet’s daughter) is our dog’s main caretaker and she always texts me how they are doing and sends me photos of them playing with their doggy friends. I highly, highly recommend them if you are local to Madison, Alabama and need to board your furbabies!
THE FOOD!!! I am not going to go into a lot of detail on all the food we ate on the cruise because it was a LOT LOL, other than to say our whole family really enjoyed it!!! The service in the main dining room was also some of the best we have ever had. We did take photos of a lot of our meals so I will share them here:
PACKING FOR OUR CRUISE
Other than the usual vacation packing list, here are some cruise specific things I was glad we packed:
Hats: NO amount of sunscreen is enough to prevent sunburn on a beach day in Mexico. DEFINITELY bring hats for the whole fam and make SURE everyone keeps them on! We loved having ball caps and sunhats!
Backpacks: Backpacks were so much more comfortable for lots of walking and carrying stuff. We had 3 backpacks and a beach bag and we were all ‘NOT IT’ about which one of us was going to take a turn carrying the beach bag. A backpack for everyone for excursions is a must!
Anti-Nausea Meds: just in case. We didn’t end up needing them but were so glad we had them for peace of mind.
Febreeze Fabric Refresher: There isn’t a laundromat on board to use unless you want to pay them to launder some stuff for you, so we ended up re-wearing some of our shirts, shorts and sweats a few times. No big deal, but when we took off an article of clothing we were going to re-wear, we just sprayed some fabric refresher on it and hung it on a hanger. This worked well and even our clothing items stayed fresh.
Hanging Toiletry Bag: Cruise hotel rooms are notoriously small. Especially if you want to save money. Hanging toiletry bags are a lifesaver for sharing small space with your family. We brought 2 and they were a big help.
Cash: LOTS of small bills for tipping
Cruise specific items we wished we had packed:
2 Way Radio – THESE ARE A MUST for communicating with your family on the ship!
Lanyards and Badge Holders– They hang around your neck to keep your hotel key, some cash, whatever else you need to keep on you at all times.
COMFORTABLE flip flops – I made the mistake of bringing my old cheap walmart flip flops and did not think about HOW much I would be walking in them. HUGE mistake!!!! Definitely going to invest in some comfortable flip flops next time!
Our first cruise was an absolute DREAM and I can not wait to go on another one! Since we did the Western Caribbean cruise this time, we think we may do an Eastern Caribbean cruise next! Thanks for reading along and let me know if you have any cruising questions!