The first place I look...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Carnival Cruise on the Breeze

SO... here is my plug for Carnival Cruise Lines: I LOVE Carnival. 

I love Carnival so much that I hope to work for them once I get my crazy crew grown and off on their own adult paths. If you are a mom and you have never been on a cruise, I would highly recommend that you consider one for your next vacation. It is the ONLY, and I mean ONLY, way that I am able to actually rest while on vacation.
While cruising I do not have to cook for anyone.
I do not have to clean up after anyone.
I do not have to entertain anyone.
I do not have to think about kids' nutrition, exercising their bodies and brains, getting them to make their bed, or even how I'm going to logistically get everyone where they need to go and all at the same time.

Did I mention that I love cruising with Carnival?

Our cruise director on the Breeze this year was Matt Mitcham...a HUGE shout out to him because he made our week wonderful with his warm personality, funny, quick wit and constant patience for my daughter, Paige, who was completely gaga over him. (she asked...What's your favorite color Matt? Lol) Her shining moment was getting to dance on stage with him at the Gold Members VIP party and the enormous smiles on her and Maggie's faces were priceless when he introduced them as the "future of Carnival Cruiselines". Carnival has created lifelong cruisers in my kiddos for sure and all because they do an excellent job of providing a vacation experience. From their first class entertainment to the amazing dining room menu choices that are out of this world, (FYI- their "warm chocolate melting cake" has converted every chocolate hater I know into a chocolate lover!) Carnival has their finger on the button of the perfect family vacation.  It only got better that we had the best waiter I have ever had in my whole 38 years, Jonathan.  Not only did he remember our names and dining preferences, he did fun table tricks and riddles for our family every single night and we all just fell in love with him.  Maggie, age 10, walked into the dining room every night and requested him and boldly refused to eat unless we got seated at one of his tables.
We moved up this year to the 9th deck to be close to all of the fun and to not have to be on the stairs so much (definitely worth spending a little bit of extra money to be higher up on the ship). The teenagers always enjoy Club O2 and Circle C, but this year Maggie struggled a little with Camp Carnival, which she had always loved in the past. I think that 9 to 11 year old age group is difficult to keep entertained as they don't want to be with the "little kids", but they still aren't ready for the freedom that comes with the older groups. But she still made friends and never got tired of the scavenger hunts, ropes course and sports court.
I love that my son Brady (15 years old) came away again this year with more friends and twitter followers (or whatever the teens are using for social networking these days).  Tell-tale of his love of cruising is that he still keeps up with kids he met on our first cruise 5 years ago and from all over the world!. That kid will do great things one day with his ability to remember people and juggle hundreds of friends and contacts at once! Our room steward, Oakley, deserves a huge kudos as he put up with all 7 of us with a smile on his face daily. He renamed our 17 year old, Tylar, "sleepy" because he seemed to have his days and nights mixed up, and just slept all day pretty much.  Oakley worked around him anyway and even accepted a proposal from Becky (our family friend who joined us) during our adult scavenger hunt!
Last, but not least, I must mention Chili. He was one of the entertainment staff who ran most of the trivia (which Reggie and I soaked up this year--brought home 2 ships on a stick and 2 Carnival medals to prove it!). Chili was an interesting character, the kind whom you can tell has tons of stories to share and you just want to listen to them, even if he was a bit hard to understand...but after the 1st day my brain figured out his accent and he just cracked me up constantly.
The Breeze was our families' 5th cruise and the best by far. I even teared up at the farewell song from the dining room waitstaff on the last night. For the first time on a vacation...I felt like I was leaving family may have only been 8 days, but each of these people touched my family and I truly hope I see them again on our next Carnival Cruise! And just maybe I will be able to give back and be a part of the Carnival family myself!

Hampton Inn and Suites Miami Airport South Blue Lagoon

The night before our cruise we stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Miami Airport South at Blue Lagoon. This was a very contemporary hotel and most of the second floor was dedicated to a very nice breakfast eating area which is always complimentary with your Hampton stay. The eating area overlooked a second floor swimming pool and nice views of downtown Miami. The breakfast here was a little different than what I'm used to because instead of bacon or breakfast sausage, they offered a smoked sausage in a casing, which in my neck of the woods a little more traditional for lunch or dinner. Luckily, they still had the make it yourself waffles, which are always a hit with the kids and fill them up nicely so they aren't begging for something to eat before it's actually lunch time. Our room was a suite, which as usual with Hampton's, was very clean, nicely furnished, and updated with plenty of room for the 6 of us to stay. My friend, Becky, and her two daughters were staying in the room next door, so they were able to to allow our 7th family member to stay in their room. It costs only about $150 for 6 people to stay the night and a good breakfast for everyone, making it well worth the price. And the location was just near the airport and only about 10 minutes drive to the Port of Miami. The hotel staff was very accommodating by ensuring we had extra towels, blankets and pillows which are always in short supply with a large family. In addition, the next morning while we were finishing up breakfast, they arranged for 2 van taxis to be waiting at the hotel's entrance to pick us up to deliver us to the Port of Miami to our cruise ship. And if that isn't enough, at the very last minute we realized that we did not print enough copies of our bag tags for the cruise, so the front desk receptionist was kind enough to make a few more copies for us. I would definitely recommend all Hamptons for family travel and especially this one here in Miami at Blue Lagoon.
PS Don't forget to sign up for Hilton Honors (HH) too! We actually stayed here for FREE by using our HH points from previous stays!! It's easy to sign up, costs nothing, and easy to keep up with your reservations, and best of all easy to cash in the rewards!

2014 Summer Vacation Introduction

Hi travel fans! I just got back to Texas from my 2 week whirlwind 2014 summer vacation with a cruise on the Carnival Breeze and a few extra days in the Florida Keys. My next several posts will let you know my own personal experience about each of the places I visited which will hopefully help you plan your own family travel. Reggie and I, along with 5 kids, started out with our flight out of Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS). I like to use American Airlines, as they are usually on time, seem to have more leg room, and they are usually pretty good about changing seats and trying to keep us happy overall. When we got to our gate at the terminal, we were just waiting for our flight and who do we see but the famous Johnny football! Johnny Manziel himself was there sitting with a group of friends awaiting his own 4th of July flight out of Austin. Despite his bad boy reputation, he was very kind and posed for pictures with the kids. The girls were just too excited to post their pics to Instagram so all of their friends could be completely jealous of their chance encounter! The next time you're in airport make sure that you're looking around... you never know who you may spot.