If you’re a mom like me, you’re probably a little exhausted with birthday parties. I think a lot of us are guilty of a Pinterest fail from trying to plan the perfect birthday party. Or perhaps, like me, you’ve spent more time, energy and money on one party than your parents spent on all yours and your siblings’ combined. Or maybe you’re just tired of buying gifts and attending parties with a bunch of strangers just because your child received an invitation. This year, I decided to try something different for my young daughter’s 7th birthday, something that was more aligned with my love of travel and being immersed in new experiences. I considered a couple of vacation destinations to include the Nickelodeon resort in Punta Cana and an adventure in Belize or Costa Rica, but ultimately decided that the cruise would be safest and require less planning. After all it was my birthday too and although she hijacked it 7 years ago when I gave birth to her on my birthday, I was ready to celebrate together. So we skipped the typical birthday party, pushed our summer vacation to fall break and had the ultimate party at sea. Not only did my daughter and I celebrate our birthdays aboard a cruise ship, but we brought my mother along with us since neither of us would be here without her. I chose Carnival cruise line simply for the price. Considering that this was my daughter’s first cruise, I knew any cruise line would put a smile on her face. We booked a 5 day cruise out of Mobile, AL for less than $500 each. Being able to drive to the port versus flying to say Miami or Orlando fit within my budget, and was less stressful. To alleviate even more stress, we decided to drive a little over halfway the night before and spend the night in a hotel so that we wouldn’t have to rush and worry on the departure day. We woke up on the day we were scheduled to leave, put on our birthday girl shirts purchased at Crazy 8 and Amazon and the party began. Once we arrived in Mobile, we took a walk around the town. It reminded me of a low-key version of the French Quarters in New Orleans. I made a note to return one day for the original Mardis Gras perhaps and see the city during its most festive time of the year.
Our cruise departed at 4pm, so we arrived at the port around 2:00. We would’ve arrived earlier, but the directions to the parking deck were a little vague. If using your GPS, you must type in 201 “South” Water street. The address on the website only shows 201 Water street, which will take you to the wrong parking lot. Also note that reserving your parking space online ahead of time doesn’t guarantee you a space in the garage, which only holds 500 cars. We arrived with our reservation in hand and still had to park in the offsite parking, but a shuttle was provided so it wasn’t too bad. The printed boarding passes and itinerary were both necessary and beneficial and made our embarkation smooth.
Once on the ship we had a chance to settle into our room. I had requested one queen bed versus two double beds so that my mom, my daughter and I could be comfy and all sleep together. To our surprise they provided us with a comfortable queen bed and a bunk bed for my daughter! The look on her face was priceless. She enjoyed climbing the steps to get to her bed and hangout while we (the old people) were not allowed to climb up to her castle. After unpacking and storing our luggage, which I recommend since the living quarters are quite small, we headed to the lido deck to find some food and prepare for the mandatory safety briefing. I had been on a healthy eating kick 3 months prior to the cruise so I really tried to take it easy on the ship. However, “Guy’s Burger Joint” caused me to lose my mind and gain a good 5lbs on the cruise. The restaurant is the vision of Guy Fieri, the food network star famous for shows such as the popular “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”. The restaurant features made to order burgers with your choice of every and any topping you can think of, along with delicious hand-cut fries. If you’re a burger lover then you will spend a lot of time there.
This was my second cruise so I knew I would be really sensitive to the rocking, so I popped dramamine at night and used my DiGize by Young Living essential oils during the day. This combination worked like a charm. I was still able to function during the day and rest at night without ever feeling queasy. Our first day at sea really was a party on a ship. One of the best events we participated in was the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance lessons. Luckily for me I had just recently schooled my daughter on the “King of Pop”, so she was ready. We later performed what we learned while trick-or-treating during Halloween and taught our neighbors the moves as well. While we weren’t stuffing our faces with ice cream, pizza, burgers and fries, my mom and I lounged around the pool while the little one quickly became joined at the hip with a little girl from Tennessee. They played in the pool and must’ve gone down the 2 water slides 150 times each. I was a little worried initially that I’d have to be her playmate, but going on the cruise during fall break meant that the ship was full of kids.
Our first seated dining experience was great. We were immediately drawn to 2 older ladies from Mobile who were probably on their 50th cruise. One even worked on the ship part time. Every night they came decked out with elaborate ball gowns, shoes, accessories, hair and makeup. Our attire kind of fizzled off after the first night, but these golden girls brought class to every dinner. By the end of the cruise we had exchanged numbers and promised to visit them during Mardi Gras soon. Meeting interesting people is one of the many benefits of traveling and if we never see them or my daughter’s best friend for the week again, we know we made good memories with good-hearted people. Even the staff members danced with us and sang happy birthday. They were super sweet, but I must say the food wasn’t as up to par as I remembered from previous cruises. It was just okay. I was hoping for more, but they just didn’t deliver on freshness, seafood options and flavor.
As I stated earlier, I didn’t want a lot of stress. I would’ve been happy staying on the boat the entire time, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for my daughter to see some of the ports. I didn’t book them prior to boarding and I don’t regret it. There were plenty of excursions to choose from and if you are flexible and aren’t travelling with a large group, I don’t see the need to book them ahead of time. Unfortunately, my mom gets sunburned easily, so we participated in the excursions without her while she hung out on the quiet and relaxing adults only serenity section of the ship or walked around the local shops. Our first stop was in Progreso, Mexico. I didn’t know much about this city and being the beach fanatics that we are, we chose the private beach excursion. It was heaven! For around $120 total we were transported to a very quaint beach that included a chair and umbrella for each guest, an open bar, an excellent lunch buffet and superb service. The staff orchestrated lots of games such as pop culture trivia and water games with the children. I volunteered as one of the team captains and got a little too competitive with the children, but hey we won! One of my favorite parts was line dancing on the beach with the group and staff to classics such as the “Cha Cha Slide” and the “Cupid Shuffle”. It felt like a family reunion. The private beach also had hammocks, which were a struggle to get into after a few pina coladas, but after safely getting into the hammock and relaxing in them for a while, I was convinced I needed one in my home. In addition to my love of travel, I’m also a bit of a music freak and my ears perked up when I heard this Spanish, reggae, smooth jazz type sound coming from the DJ booth. I immediately came home and added Cultura Profetica’s “Nadie Se Atreve” to my Spotify playlist and it takes me back to the beach.
Our next stop was in Cozumel, which was much livelier. I booked the Dolphin Adventure excursion the night before. For a little more than we paid for our previous excursion, we were transported to the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park to swim with the dolphins. I’m not an animal lover, so this was nerve wracking for me; however, lately I’ve been trying to get over my fear of all animals and what better way to do it than to join them in their environment? It was amazing!!! Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed and I wasn’t about to drop $40 per photo just to prove to friends and family that we actually swam with, shook hands with and kissed a dolphin. She was cute a dolphin, but not that cute! Besides, the experience is forever etched in our memories. My daughter and I giggled the whole time and weren’t really good students for the dolphin discovery instructor, but we had lots of fun trying to fight the waves and not to freak out every time the dolphin came near. After another buffet lunch, which had some of the best steamed vegetables I’ve ever tasted, we went to catch the sea lion show. It was similar to what you’d see at SeaWorld and lasted about 20 minutes. The sea lion even gave my daughter a kiss! Once the show was over we headed back to the shops. She really wanted a “Mexican” guitar after seeing the Disney/Pixar movie Coco and I wanted to find some rum. I was also tasked with bringing back the coveted White Hennessy, exclusive to the Caribbean, for a friend. We found a cute guitar that looked like Miguel’s from the movie and I purchased a cream version of 43 liquor, a rum which I still haven’t opened and of course the “White Henny”.
Back on the ship we were able to check out shows nightly, try our luck in the casino, visit the arcade, and get a sugar fix by visiting the candy shop every night before bed. Stops at the arcade and candy shop became our routine and my sail and sign card reflected it lol. This card allows you to swipe anywhere on the ship without having to carry around cash or credit cards. You can check your bill daily via the Carnival app or by visiting the guest services desk. I really enjoyed listening to the live bands on the ship that weren’t located in bars and lounges. One band in particular had a soulful vibe with influences from the New Orleans jazz scene. They were very talented and I’m so mad at myself for not getting their information! We never checked the kiddo into the kid’s “Camp Ocean”. I think my daughter knew it was a setup and it didn’t seem like a lot of fun in my opinion so I didn’t mind keeping an eye on her during the trip. I was thankful for grandma being there to watch her while I attended a yoga class one morning and a massage one afternoon while they were napping. The yoga class was challenging due to the rocking boat, but if your balance is good I say go for it! The massage was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. That lady worked her magic and removed every little kink! We also signed up for the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast on the last morning. OMG I had so much fun. The decorations and details were spot on. I felt like a kid again. The food was yummy, we took some cool pictures and received autographs from Dr. Seuss’ most famous characters. Check out this menu to see the level of detail they put into this event. This experience was definitely a highlight.
Overall this was an amazing grandmother-mother-daughter birthday trip. We were three generations of women, making memories and enjoying life. I’m not sure if birthday parties have permanently been buried for us, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll skip more parties in the future and celebrate via travel adventures instead.