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.