Saturday, June 29, 2013

Crusinmama Discovers Sonesta Hilton Head Island

Usually my reviews are of one cruise ship or another and the adventures of my girls on the high seas. We had a couple of days and decided last minute to go somewhere we have never been before. I didn't want our same old vacation spots so I looked for something "family friendly". We live in PA so Hilton Head Island, being over 12 hours away has managed to stay far off of our radar. I am sorry it has. Arriving on the island, I kept hearing "ooohhhh" and "ahhhh" from the back seat. Hilton Head Island really is beautiful. 

The Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island is located at the end of a gated community called Shipyard Plantation. We stopped at the guard tower and got our parking pass for our stay. "Ahead and take the last traffic circle" he tells us. 

We continue past lush landscaped grounds, many families on bikes (everyone bikes here - so if you like to ride as a family, don't forget your bicycles) and ahead out of the trees opens the Sonesta.

Bellhops are quick to lend a hand at the door. Both valet and self parking (free) are available - your choice.  Before arriving I had read online that the Sonesta had undergone a $30 million renovation and has just reopened. When we walked in I thought money well spent. This place has the "Wow factor". As a mom, the real "Wow" happened at the front desk. Upon check in the front desk clerk addressed my girls directly. He said "I have something for each one of you" and came back with a t-shirt for my 9 year old that said ''Sonesta Kids - Hilton Head Island" and a water bottle for my teen. My 9 year old declared the shirt as her "favorite" and she is never taking it off. So far she is a girl of her word. 

The front desk also gave us an "itinerary" - kite making, turtle feeding, Princess manis/pedis for the KIDS. Yes, I said turtle feeding. The turtles are TRAINED to come to the edge of the water at one of their two lagoons.

My teen walked to the elevator and said "SCORE!" Do you know how hard it is to impress a teen that has been traveling the world since she was in pampers? 

Our room - we knew not to get our hopes up with view.  We requested a simple double queen, no view. And that's generally what we got. The room itself is very nicely laid out. There is a fridge, a coffee maker, mango shampoo, conditioner and body gel dispensers in the shower/bath. A hair dryer, flat screen TV, large very comfy new queen beds, and very high tech lighting under the bed that only turns on when you walk near it. Yes the kids keep testing out if they can get them all to turn on at once. This hotel is located at the beach HOWEVER - the way it is located if you want to see the ocean you must request an ocean view room. Our view is of trees and although I know the ocean just around the corner, we can't hear it. Each room does have either a balcony or a patio. But if ocean view is important to you, ask for it.

Our view...

There are two pools here. One zero entry "heated lagoon pool" and one "shade pool". There is also a hot tub next to the shade pool. 

And talk about being treated like royalty...

There is a kids club here that charges you a daily rate. I talked to a couple who used it because the mom was a self proclaimed "sun worshipper" and the preschooler didn't like the ocean. So they used the kids club so she could go play with friends while mom got her sun time. 

To get to the beach there is a very small walking bridge and you are there. When coming back there are two quick and easy wash off stations. 

If I had only one MINOR complaint with the Sonesta - and since we travel a lot I know you have this at all resorts. The housekeeper who was assigned to our room did not clean it. We had out our "Do Not Disturb" sign so we could sleep in from our long trip the night before. And as we have learned from other resorts, if you don't put that sign out, they WIlL knock on your door at 8am. So we left it out until 10:30am (not too much to ask to sleep in on vacation). We removed the sign. We left our room for a day at the beach/pool and when we returned at 4:30pm - the room hadn't been cleaned. So I guess we forfeited our right to a clean room by not vacating before 10:30 :( 

We did notice that the hand towels were still dirty from a previous stay (unknown pink stuff on it). And after a steamy shower, "Hey there Claire" appeared on the mirror. NONE of us are named Claire - so whoever you are Claire - HEY :) 

Back to the good stuff - the miles and miles of beach kept one little girl wandering for hours looking for Mr. Crabs. 

And no we didn't keep him. If we kept everything we have ever encountered on vacation this year alone we would have one 6 foot iguana from St. Martin, various camel ions from St. Thomas and one zebra ;)

The grounds at the Sonesta are beyond words. Flowers and lagoons and hammocks - oh my!

"I am never leaving this place! We don't have hammocks in Pennsylvania" she said.

At first we didn't know what to expect from Hilton Head Island. What we have found is an oasis for family fun. The girls were sad to leave. We will be back!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Crusinmama Breaks Down The Breakaway for Families!

The Norwegian Breakaway is the latest ship launched out of New York City. As a resident of the North East, we are darn lucky to have her! We arrived for our sailing and there she was with her brightly decorated hull
I knew right away that this would be no ordinary cruise experience. The Breakaway truly does break the mold when it comes to cruising. It offers a perfect resort experience. We checked in to our Family Balcony - located on Deck 12 right outside Splash Academy. On other ships we always had to try to figure out which cabin was located near the kids club - this ship actually offers the "Family Balcony". It's all about location - location - location.
The Sports Deck on Breakaway features a ropes course complete with a zip line, a "Walk The Plank" - the chance to walk off the side of the ship, have your picture taken to prove to the family back home that you did it and a mini ropes course for the smaller ones that prefer to keep closer to the ground. It also has a spider web climb, a bungee trampoline, a rock climbing wall, a full sized basketball court and a mini golf course.
Of course, Norwegian has come back with their signature slides. This time, they have really outdone themselves with the Free Fall slide. It counts down before it drops you several stories.
For those with little ones, SpongeBob is back with his friends Patrick, Sandy and Squidward for tons of splash park fun.
Some of the larger ships have always had the complaint that you don't feel like you are "at sea" because of the disconnect from the ocean. That is not true for the Breakaway. Norwegian hit a homerun with this one! They were able to create a huge mega ship with all of the bells and whistles, while bringing their guests right down to the sea with the Waterfront. Decks 6, 7 and 8 all have restaurants, clubs and sitting areas that overlook the ocean. Imagine cruising past the Statue of Liberty at sunset - yeah I don't have to imagine anymore ;)
There are two main dining restaurants on Breakaway (Taste and Savor) and a number of Specialty Dining experiences. Norwegian brought onboard "The Iron Chef" Geoffrey Zakarian to create Ocean Blue. You can also curb that sweet tooth with a trip to Carlo's Bake Shop. Master Baker Buddy Valastro - AKA "Cake Boss" - opened a bakery onboard. We tried some of his treats (in the interest of writing the best review, right?). Goooood stuff!
The entertainment onboard is as always with Norwegian, second to none. As was with our experience on Epic, we found ourselves RUNNING from one show to another, never wanting to miss a thing. So let me tell you, the answer to this is - DON'T MISS ANYTHING! The Cirque Dreams show that we did miss - I heard nothing but wonderful reviews from everyone that did see it. I am still kicking myself over this one. So let me break down the entertainment - add Cirque to your list. ROCK OF AGES - LEAVE THE KIDS AT SPLASH ACADEMY. Let me say this again - NOT FOR CHILDREN! Now, I loved it. It was a wonderful show. I enjoyed it. I LOVE 80's music. If you have OLDER TEENS who are used to "R Rated" movies, then fine, bring them. But it is for MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY. If you bring your younger children (under 10) and you are offended and have to leave, don't say I didn't warn you ;)
Burn the Floor - INCREDIBLE dance show. I am usually not one to like dance shows. I couldn't keep my eyes off of these dancers. They were extremely talented.
Second City Improv Comedy "Family Edition" - we could tell that they toned down the jokes. Would the younger set enjoy it? Mine would prefer Splash Academy. We had a great time as adults at the Family Edition.
Norwegian has created another "Signature Party" - this time it is the 80's party. Held in two different venues, one for families and one at the Adult Only Spice. And to top the night off, they had FIREWORKS off the side of the ship. Who says you need a Disney ship for fireworks? We had fireworks twice during our sailing since it was the pre-inaugural sailing. The regular sailings won't take place at Lady Liberty. ;)
The Breakaway is doing Bermuda runs over the Summer (my favorite port for families, you dock for 3 days and have your own personal floating resort to come back to). Then it will move to the Bahamas run over the Fall/Winter. This ship is a perfect choice for families who like a great amount of entertainment, flexibility and still love that closeness to the ocean.

Friday, October 21, 2011


We are back from our NCL Gem sailing to Bermuda and I wanted to update about our experiences with their kids crew. I did my usual WARNING to the counselors about my youngest. We've had some "issues" in the past with other kids clubs (AHEM! Carnival Rubber Shark Abuse) And I have been known to be a little, let's just say, um, critical of other kids clubs because, let's face it - we ALL want the BEST care for our kids. I have to say WITHOUT A DOUBT that the Kids Crew Counselors on Gem ARE THE BEST, MOST PATIENT, AWESOME and PHEW STRESS FREE Kids club experience that we have EVER had!

I started by asking for the phone for my 7 year old (which they usually don't do) because I told them that they WILL want to be in contact with me when they want to be rescued from my HIGHLY ENERGETIC 7 year old. They reluctantly gave me a phone for the first night. I said "PLEASE feel free to CALL me, you are going to WANT to call me!" I have been down this path before. Well, color me surprised when I showed up at 10pm for the first pick up and the AMAZING "GYPSY" said "We WILL be taking your phone away! You do NOT need one. Yes, your daughter is energetic. But, she is not mean. She is doing GREAT! And we can handle her!"

GOD BLESS THEM!!!! A kids club that understands my spunky little kid!!!! I knew this was going to be a WONDERFUL cruise. I wasn't going to be glued to a phone waiting for the next "rubber shark abuse" phone call, terrified of hearing the phone ring. EVERY pick up was pleasant. EVERY comment and interaction from the counselors was a JOY! This was not what we were used to. This is our 11th cruise with the kids. We are no strangers to kids clubs.

So I have to say to GYPSY, JASMINE, FLIP FLOP, CUPID and ALL of the GEM KIDS CREW - THANK YOU for making this such a wonderful experience for my kids. They never wanted to leave. They went to a pirate parade, attended a PJ Party, played survivor, had a Kids Crew Dinner and partied on the pool deck during the "Family Deck Party".

And GYPSY, my 7 year old wants to challenge you to a cartwheel contest, you better start practicing ; - ) I'll bring the chocolate covered strawberries so you can keep your energy up!

Monday, June 27, 2011

CrusinMAMA Cruises WITHOUT the kids

This is the first CrusinMAMA cruise not as a MAMA {GASP!} A friend wanted to jump on a last minute cruise and asked if I would go with her, and being the end of the school year, the kids would have to stay home with dad {DOUBLE GASP!!!}

How would they survive without me? What would I do without them? I have been cruising over a decade with those little buggers. Almost my entire cruising life has revolved around kids clubs and pirate parades -- how would I adjust? You mean there is adult only places onboard a ship? No way! Who knew?

So I lay clothes out for 7 days for 2 kids (and one very patient hubby), kiss them all goodbye and set off for my 3 hour drive to Baltimore to start my new adventure as a solo (sort of) cruiser.

The first thing I notice when you drive alone, you can sing to yourself (off key of course) very loudly and no one yells at you from the back seat.

My home for the next 6 days would be Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas -- calling on one port -- King's Wharf, Bermuda.

My sea days were spent reading one book after another - completely uninterrupted in the Adult Only Solarium - except for the occasional "JOIN US FOR BINGO BONANZA IN 15 MINUTES!" over the PA speaker.

The nights were spent dining with adults in the Adult Dining venue - Chops Grille. As the mom of a child who can barely maintain her attention at Mickey D's, dining at Chops Grille has been something I have only read about. I swear, I heard angels sing. The fillet mignon, parmesan crusted potatoes and chocolate mud pie for dessert! Heaven on Earth!

We arrive in Bermuda. Since this is a "make no plans, let's see where the wind takes me" trip. I have no real plans for Bermuda. I grab a bus ticket ($12 per person/1 day CASH ONLY) to head to Horseshoe Bay. (Do not attempt the scooter unless you are a skilled rider or have a death wish - the roads in Bermuda fit two vehicles, barely, side by side, put two buses, driving on the wrong side of the road, a couple of pedestrians in for good measure, a cliff and your scooter into the mix -- which one do you think has the right of way? Um, yeah, not you. Stick to the buses.)

I know there were some recent news stories about the wait times with the bus/ferry system and I have to say that I experienced NONE OF THAT. It took maybe, at most, 15 minutes to get a ticket in hand. When I got my ticket I walked right up to the next waiting bus and said "Going to Horseshoe Bay?" and with that I was on the bus. Within 25 minutes I was dropped off at one of the most amazing places ever (there is a little bit of a walk downhill)

Horseshoe Bay Beach has changing facilities, restrooms and a snack bar (CASH ONLY for snacks).
To the right of Horseshoe Bay is a great little beach for kids nicknamed "Baby Beach" . The waves are blocked by giant rocks and the pools are shallow.

I decided to explorer the more private beaches off to the left of Horseshoe, the more I walked, another new beautiful beach emerged.

I have been to many places on many different cruises. And I have to say, the entire time I kept saying to myself (the hazards of being solo) WOW -- WHOA, look at that, AMAZING!

At every turn there was just another more breathtaking view. I just can't put into words how truly beautiful Bermuda is. I kept thinking, "The kids are really missing this" and wishing I could share it with them. My husband is a see one island, you've seen them all kind of guy. But I knew that my kids would have been ooohing and ahhing at every turn.

It was a wonderful cruise, but it's just not the same for me without the kids. I love to see the world through their eyes. So I'll have to take them to Bermuda and see what they think. It's a good excuse to go back...for the children. ;)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cruising with ADHD, never a dull moment.

Sailing on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas right at the start of the new school year, we knew that this sailing wouldn't have many kids onboard. Usually, Adventure Ocean would separate the kids into 3-5, 6-9 and 9-11 -- on this sailing, they combined the 6 - 11 year olds into one group.

Well at first we celebrated. Our girls would be together! Yeayyyy! And then we thought, UH OH, our girls would be together.

Our youngest, has had a somewhat colorful experience on cruise ships. It all began when this adorable little 8 month old, out of the blue, got sick, practically stopped breathing and needed to be medically evacuated off a Disney cruise ship. That was 6 years ago. Now she is a energetic, vibrant and shall we say bouncy -- yeah, bouncy is a good word, 6 year old.

So we warned Adventure Ocean about her. Yes I use the word WARNED. I said that she WILL BE hyper. Not she may be, she WILL BE. So we drop her off for her first night at Adventure Ocean and BLESS THEM -- they did their best. There were a couple of mishaps. She climbed the rope on the outside of the slide and almost broke her leg. Another little boy slammed her fingers into a sliding drawer, if we wanted to go to the ship's medical center she would be treated for free (she was fine).

Because they combined the age groups - it was tough for my youngest to understand the more complex rules of the games set up for the older kids. So she asked to move to the 3-5 year old group -- she kept asking to go to the "baby room".

So if we had any problems, it was trying to keep our child to pick ONE group. If she saw her sister, she wanted to run to her in THAT room. Then when the game was too complex, she wanted to go back to the "baby room".

Other than that, the kids had a FABULOUS time! My oldest said that she didn't miss the "big ship". I thought she would miss the bells and whistles of the Freedom Class. I asked her if she thought she needed the H20 zone to have a good time -- she said - No, she was having just as much fun. So that was a nice surprise.

There was a counselor onboard - nicknamed - "Evan Almighty" -- I have to give a "HUGE THANK YOU" to him! One day he asked where my youngest was. I said that she was spending the day with me -- I told him that I thought Adventure Ocean needed a break -- he replied "I have a great time with her! I have no problems at all. Please make sure you bring her back tonight! We'll have fun"

He probably has no idea how much of an impact a simple remark like that made on me. To a mom who is so used to hearing from everyone how much of a problem her youngest child is, it was so nice to her that a counselor wanted to spend time with her child.

So THANK YOU to "Evan Almighty". For this mom, your compassion made all of the difference!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Saint John New Brunswick - Fundy Coast to Fundy Shore Tour

Before the cruise, I looked for the best way to see Saint John/St. Martin, New Brunswick, Canada and the Sea Caves. I had read about the ship excursion buses arriving later than the private tours. And in St.Martin, if you arrive even a few minutes later, with the tide schedule, you could entirely miss the chance to go into the sea caves. So, we booked a shore excursion called "Fundy Coast to the Fundy Shore" with Freedom Tours.

We were scheduled to dock and be off the ship by 9:30am....but the ship wasn't cleared until 10:30. God bless their souls, our Freedom Tours tour guides were there waiting for us with a smile on their face. {Note: For parents of children 5 and under, if you are unable to bring a car seat, Freedom Tours will provide one for you. Just have them note it on your reservation. The cars were 8 passenger mini vans}

The terminal at Saint John is brand new so we were the first guests to arrive at the terminal. Each lady was handed a rose. Each gentleman a pin. And each child a Canadian flag. Volunteers in Saint John started this tradition 10 years ago and do it for every passenger that disembarks in Saint John.

Since we were late, the guides took us straight to St. Martin (an hour away) on a scenic coastal highway. Let me tell you - this area is GORGEOUS! The Sea Caves....

So we arrive at the St. Martin Sea Caves and our guide Peter (a fabulous gentleman) tells us that we will only have a few minutes until the tide rises too high to safely get across to the caves. We put on our water shoes {don't forget those} and make the trek across the rocky beach. If you have ANY problems with mobility, this is not the tour for you. The rocks are very difficult to walk on, they slide under your feet. Very different from walking on sand. Right next to the caves was a SMALL stream of water, about an inch deep, but VERY cold. Peter said that the Bay is always a steady 30-32 degrees. We had to walk across this cold water (about 10 feet wide) to get to the caves. Once over there, we had about 5 minutes to get our pictures and get back across.

One member of our group, decided to try to make it into the 2 sea cave (there are 3). The guides were telling him to come back. This person decided to ignore the guides just to get a shot of the 2nd cave because, come on, it's just an inch or 2 of water. Within minutes, the guides were yelling "We hope you can swim!" - the water had risen a lot in just a few minutes {see below, just 10 minutes later} But we all made it back safely from the caves. And we were able to get some great pictures.

Peter also told my girls some local lore - if you find a rock with another rock layer the whole way through and it created a complete circle through the rock, then you will have luck with the boys (god help me). And if it has 2 layers, then 2 boys will be fighting over you. I think my kids carted back 50lbs of rock in their pockets, I kid you not. Every time we stopped, Peter would secretly throw one or two rocks out of the mini van. Smart guy!

So one thing not to miss is a bowl of the "World Famous Seafood Chowder" at The Caves Restaurant. {I think it started at $7.99/cup} but my oldest declared it - the WORLD'S BEST.

By the time our chowder arrived, so did the Carnival buses, TWO of them. They walked off the bus, and went right into the restaurant for their bowl of chowder. They missed the opportunity to go into the sea caves because they arrived so late. I was VERY happy that we had booked the private tour.

On our way back to Saint John...We stopped at a lighthouse "Visitor Center" - those stairs were SCARY. Peter took both kids up because there was no way I was able to do it.

And stopped to check out the covered bridges.

And since we had the kids, Bill and Peter decided to veer off from the other group and take us to a Mini Horse Farm (a B&B) in St. Martin. My youngest was so tickled by the chicken at this farm - the chicken's name was "Chicken Little". And every time my daughter talked to the chicken it would say "Booooooock" almost to answer her.

This is reversing falls, not much to see, but still pretty interesting. The water runs backwards certain times each day.
And I can say that we don't have these signs in Pennsylvania....MOOSE CROSSING! And yes, our guides were trying to spot some moose for us, what a sight that would have been...

At the end of our tour, Peter and Bill took us to the Marketplace for some shopping. And then it was back to the ship. I have to say, our tour in Saint John/St.Martin and the wonderful people we met on this excursion was the highlight of our cruise. I can't recommend this tour company enough. For a family, they are the perfect option.