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Thursday, March 19, 2015

March 2015 - Fort Lauderdale, Oasis of the Seas, Vero Beach

***** NOTE - We just got back from the trip.  We'll add pictures and some reviews within a few days! Also, I'll add a post specifically for my reviews of the Oasis ship and Vero Beach Resort on a separate post for people who came here specifically for that.*******



March 18, 2015      Happy 20th Anniversary!


Today we started another grand adventure.  We are heading to Fort Lauderdale for a few days followed by a Caribbean cruise, and then 5 nights in Vero Beach.  When we travel we like to take long trips to make the effort of traveling and packing for seven people really worth it.  It takes us a few days to find our groove too.


Who needs more than one seat?
We were able to “sleep in”, since our plane didn’t leave until 1:30pm.  We still got there plenty early, of course.  Before going to bed last night, Kyrie and I agreed that we should get up at 6:45am so that we would have time to feed the kids breakfast and get the house cleaned up before we left.  Well, when Kyrie woke me up it was 6:15am and she was already showered and dressed for the day!  And I had my bed made. She said that she hadn’t been able to sleep since 4:45am, which isn’t that unusual for her.  Anyway, the kids gradually woke up one by one, and by about 7:30am they were all awake and eating breakfast.  We had no problem leaving the house by 9:00am like we had planned.   We gave ourselves plenty of extra time because we were using off-site parking for the first time and weren’t sure how long that would take, plus we knew we would have to eat lunch at the airport.
After using curbside check-in for the luggage, Kyrie took the kids into the airport while I took the car to the offsite parking.  We had one issue with the curbside check-in.  For some reason, they weren’t able to print out a boarding pass for our lap child.  So, Kyrie had to do that inside and it took forever even though the United counter wasn't busy – all while she had to take care of all 5 kids! 
The offsite parking worked out great-mostly.  We used airportparkinginc.com and selected the Best Western parking location because it was close and had 2 shuttles per hour.  The only little problem I had was that the parking was in a parking garage.  The clearance was 7’2”, which is basically right about what our full size van is.  Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while probably remembers the unfortunate RV incident I had with a bridge in Lancaster, PA.  So, I am VERY careful about the height of my vehicles now.  So, when I entered the parking garage, I slowly drove up to the hanging bar that had the clearance height painted on it – stopped, and exited the vehicle to be sure that I was under it – then returned to my vehicle and drove partially under the bar -  exited the vehicle again, just to make sure – and then slowly continued up the ramp once I was satisfied that I was in no danger of hitting any beams.  Everything seemed fine until I went to turn a corner and realized that the beams that I thought were ridiculously close to my roof were actually not the lowest beams I would need to cross under.  There was a beam around every corner that was about 5 inches lower than the main beams.  Well, I once again carefully checked it out and determined that I would still be able to squeeze under and I carefully made my way up through the garage until I finally found a parking spot.  I’m glad there wasn’t a bunch of people trying to park as I was making my way up there!


The dog got Zach's attention briefly
When I finally finished parking I had about 5 minutes to wait for the shuttle and then was able to head straight for the security line once I arrived at the airport.  Kyrie and the kids had such a long wait at the ticket counter that they barely made it through the line before me! 
Luckily, we still had plenty of time for lunch at the food court and time for Zach to take me over and over again on the moving sidewalks.  Finally our plane boarded at about 1pm and we were off to Florida!  Zoe and Zach really do not like planes.  I’m always surprised by it because our other kids seemed to always do fine with it, but Zoe and Zach hate having to sit in their seats and nothing keeps them entertained for very long.  I even tried buying the DirecTV package that they had on the plane to at least keep Zoe happy, but she couldn’t deal with the earbuds, and therefore had very little interest even in her favorite shows.  We had two very squirmy “Baby Z’s” by the time the plane landed, but no crying fits, so I guess it was a success.


Good thing we travel light!
When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale we took our mountain of luggage out to the taxi stand.  With there being seven of us, two in carseats, plus all of that luggage, I figured we would have to get two taxis, but somehow they squeezed us into one and we arrived at the Best Western Oceanside without any trouble.  We quickly dropped our luggage off in our rooms and headed out to find some dinner since it was now 6:30pm and everyone was quite hungry.



Bahia Cabana
At the advice of the front desk we headed to Bahia Cabana, which is only about a block away.  We enjoyed the outdoor seating and the view of the marina, but had a hard time waiting an hour for our food.  The older kids dealt fine with it, but understandably, Zoe and Zach had a hard time.  Especially Zach, who for some reason never took his nap on the airplane, was unable to stay in his seat as much as we tried to distract him and keep him happy.  So, we muddled through dinner and were very tired as we headed back to the hotel. 

The warm air and marina view made us feel like vacation had finally begun!

Cheers!
Today, is also our 20th anniversary, but we’ll have to celebrate that more later in the trip.  A long day of travel isn’t a very fun way to spend it, but I know the rest of the trip will be a blast!
Even though we were very tired, the combination of being in a strange place, overtiredness, and loud college kids on spring break, kept everyone from falling asleep for quite a while.  Hopefully we’ll at least sleep in and have a more relaxing day tomorrow!



Best Western Plus Oceanside


The loud college kids were in one of the two hotel rooms between Marc’s and my rooms.  There was a common balcony alongside the whole strip of rooms and the partying “kids” were super loud.  Marc even called down to the lobby to complain after about an hour of it but it didn’t do much good.  Finally we turned the fan on non-stop in our room and managed to fall asleep. Overall the hotel was fine though.  The beds were comfortable, they have done some recent updates and the location is good for the price especially since breakfast was included.
One of our two rooms

March 19, 2015  Fort Lauderdale, Beach and Oasis Cafe

Our early risers

True to the reputation of my room, we were awake, dressed, and ready for breakfast bright and early.  Jacob and Zoe quietly checked out the balcony and view of the shiplike hotel next door called B Ocean.  Zoe especially liked seeing coconuts on the palm tree nearby.

This morning we started the day at the free breakfast buffet at the hotel.  The kids all enjoyed making waffles and Zach enjoyed decorating his pajamas with yogurt.

About the time we finished breakfast, Marc texted to see if I was in my room wanting to send Zach over.  I told him Jacob could come and get him to have breakfast with us.  Well, all the rest of the kids came with in their PJs and uncombed hair too.  Our rooms have different standards apparently.


Spring break in Fort Lauderdale!

After breakfast we headed to the beach.  There is a nice playground on the beach really nearby, so we headed there for a while and then spent quite a while playing in the ocean and on the beach.   The kids seemed to have a lot of fun, but they denied it later.




     




We walked over to the B Ocean Hotel for lunch and then used their very nice pool – shh, better keep that on the down low!  The pool at our hotel doesn’t work for our little ones because there isn’t any shallow area.







Just a big igauna hanging out by the pool

After the pool we went back to our hotel for a break.  Before long it was time to walk to dinner.  It’s kind of a pain not having a car.  We can’t take a taxi because then we have to carry 2 car seats everywhere.  So, we’re a little stuck here, but not too bad.  (We didn’t know about the Sun Trolley yet which could have taken us anywhere we needed for a $1pp per ride.)  




Tonight we went to Oasis Café where we had a very unique dining experience.  The booths here are all swings!  The kids loved swinging back and forth while we waited for our food.  Zach liked chasing the pigeons around.  The food here was okay, nothing special, but it was a nice setting with a decent view of the ocean except for a very busy road in between.

After dinner Kyrie dropped her phone in…some water…so unfortunately we lost all of the pictures we had taken so far.  Not to mention the pain and expense of getting her phone replaced.  But I got it taken care of at the Verizon store without too much trouble and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of pictures for the rest of the trip.  (Luckily we didn’t lose any pictures because my phone automatically uploaded them to Facebook before taking the plunge.) 



March 20, 2015  Mostly just the Crocs Store

Sun Trolley
Today we headed to Las Olas Blvd to do some shopping and sightseeing.  We took the Sun Trolley from our hotel until we saw a Crocs store.  Zoe needed to get some shoes because her flip flops were bothering her.  So we got her shoes and of course the second pair was half price so we picked up some for Jacob who said his flip flops were bothering him also.





Fort Lauderdale Beach

Then we walked over to where we were supposed to pick up the trolley to go down Las Olas, but it was really hot out, and everyone was walking super slow and we waited a long time for a trolley that never came.  Eventually, we decided it was about time for lunch and we saw some places by the Crocs store, so we headed back over there.




Policemen on horseback

We ate lunch at The Drunken Taco.  The food was really good, but Zach was only interested in the smoothie that we bribed Zoe with when she was upset about her lunch choices.  Even the smoothie didn’t keep Zach’s attention too well and he wanted to leave much sooner than the rest of us did.  We managed to keep him happy enough.  By the time lunch was over, Max was complaining about his shoes, so back to the Crocs store we went and ended up getting Max and Ella new shoes.  By the time we were done with all that we just wanted to head back to the hotel for a swim/nap. 
Four new pairs of Crocs
After a long, but relaxing, trolley ride we arrived at our hotel and split up between nappers and swimmers.

A napping swimmer?


Meanwhile, back in Illinois, Mom and Greg were delayed in their flight to Fort Lauderdale because the windshield needed to be replaced!  I wonder how often that happens?  Well, luckily they got a new plane instead, because who knows how long it would take to get a new windshield!  They arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a few hours late, but still in time to join us for dinner.






We took the Sun Trolley to Da Big Kahuna for dinner.  We had a good time enjoying the panoramic ocean view and the good food.  Zach had fun walking around the table and getting attention from the waitresses.  We ended up walking back to the hotel because the trolley stops running at 6:30pm

Da Big Kahuna on third floor overlooking the ocean and beach
Outdoor seating with a beautiful view

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March 21, 2015  Embarkation Day – Oasis of the Seas


Grandma keeping Zach safe while we loaded up
Today we began our cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.  Marc called for two taxis to pick the nine of us up, but they couldn't guarantee vans so they made him order three.  He wanted to cancel that and try another company.  The front desk recommended a shuttle.  Everything got kind of confused and we ended up sending away the taxis that showed up and catching a shuttle.  The timing was great!...only it wasn't OUR shuttle.  Whatever.  The guy loaded us up and we had the fastest transportation to port imaginable.  The driver got a call as we pulled into port inquiring when he'd be at the Best Western to pick up the big group who had actually called him.  He unloaded us incredibly fast and zipped back to get them.

We all met up with Melissa and her family at the port at 11:00am and were on the ship before noon.

Deck 4, The Grande Dining Room
The first order of business on the ship was to check out our MDR (Main Dining Room) assignment and request one big table if possible.  Not possible, and they had actually assigned all the kids to a table right by the adults and we decided we would reluctantly give that a try.











Jacob's shirt eerily matched the boy's in the retro poster above him



We had planned on going to the specialty restaurant Sabor for lunch, but decided on Johnny Rockets instead because the Sabor restaurant didn’t have a very kid friendly menu.  Johnny Rockets was a big hit and we still were able to avoid the embarkation crowd at the buffet.


Grandma, Grandpa, and Zoe

Avery and Ella enjoyed the smiley face ketchup plate






























Kids Pools and Splash Areas



Beach Pool and one of the many whirlpools





Muster drill is pretty boring - except the "wash your hands" song!
After lunch, we registered the kids at the kids club and then everyone except me, Kyrie and napping Zach headed to the pool for a quick swim before it was time for the Muster drill.
The whole day has really been a whirlwind of activity, just trying to get organized with all of our clothes and stuff.  It’s tough getting all the kids clothes organized in a way where we’ll be able to find them when we need them!  (Even though I packed in a very organized way and took pictures of the clothes the kids are to wear each day and pasted them on our itinerary as I packed them.)




 Marc's family surprised us with room decorations and chocolate covered strawberries in honor of our 20th anniversary.  We were definitely surprised and it was very nice!



After the muster drill, the kids were hungry, so we headed down to the Promenade for some pizza at Sorrento’s before the sail away “party”.  
Sail Away Party










It was a nice little show, but there wasn’t much of a crowd (especially out of 6,000 people.) And those of us who were there, weren’t very enthusiastic.  Even the kids couldn’t muster up much excitement.  Part of the problem is that the Aqua Theater where the sail away “party” is held is sunken. (Maybe a poor word choice.) So that you can’t see the ocean as you sail away.  Also we started sailing before the show began.  It’s anticlimactic. 
Our kids just sitting there.  No Dancing, no clapping.
Grandma and Grandpa getting into it a bit
While Zach was still sitting
The kids' table
Then it was already time for dinner, so we headed there.  The 6 older kids got to sit at a table by themselves and they thoroughly enjoyed that.  The grown up table had a nice meal too, except that Mr. “ants in his pants” Zach made us take him for walks between each course.








The waiter laid down the law with the kids even before they had a chance to get rowdy.  Avery called the experience "evil dining" and especially took it upon herself to make sure the other kids didn't act up.  His tactic worked pretty well.  The seating arrangement stayed the same throughout the cruise. It wasn't all bad for the kids. Our waiter showed his kind side by bringing all the kids brownie sundaes.
An assortment of desserts at the adults' table to tempt Grandma who didn't order any


Marc's stateroom with a Central Park verandah
We returned to our rooms briefly to put the tired little Zs in PJs before the evening show.  Of course the rooms were nicely prepared for bedtime.
Kyrie's room across the hall with an ocean veranda



Next, it was time for the Frozen in Time ice show.  It’s a nice show, especially considering the small (and probably poor) ice surface that they have to work with.  My favorite part is the sand artist, Sergei that performs during a break in the ice part of the show (although I’m not sure that it’s too smart to have a guy working with sand right above the ice that people have to skate on!)

Frozen in Time is based on several stories by Hans Christian Andersen...
The Ice Queen
The Red Shoes

The Ugly Duckling

Sergei the sand artist 
The Little Mermaid

The Emperor's New Clothes
















March 22, 2015   Nassau, Bahamas

Bright (actually it was still pitch dark) and early this morning we arrived at the Bahamas.  Kyrie accidentally woke up extra early because she thought it was two hours later and then couldn’t go back to sleep when she realized what time it actual was.  Everyone in her room was up in time to see the sunrise and to see the ship dock.

Watching the sun rise over Nassau
I think they should still be sleeping!
So we headed to breakfast at Johnny Rockets.  I thought we'd eat breakfast here almost every day since they have eggs cooked to order and they aren't very busy, but we only ate there once. We walked through the Promenade and played a little on the Boardwalk waiting for it to open. It was pretty good, but the choices were very limited and other than this day, it never opened as early as we were ready to eat.
The carousel is the highlight of the Boardwalk

Johnny Rockets





Jacob and Zoe went to the kids club and I returned to help Marc take the others to the Windjammer buffet for breakfast.  My room was restless in the morning, but we definitely slept a lot longer than Kyrie's room.



The Zach Method: Dip the spoon in, then grab the cereal with your other hand


After breakfast, Zach, Kyle and all of the grown-ups except Kyrie went to the straw market in Nassau.  It was pretty much what I expected - plenty of souvenirs, including some unique ones, and lots of people trying to sell them.   Meanwhile, Kyrie and the kids that stayed on the ship went swimming.


It was a nice time to swim. Since many people were off of the ship, the pools were a lot less crowded.  The kids kept switching between playing pool games like Sharks and Minnows and sitting in the very hot hot tub.










Jacob, Max, Ella and Zoe decided to have lunch with the kids club – Zoe complained later that she had to hold hands with a boy on the way to lunch.  Kyrie, Zach and I had lunch at the Park Café which was quite good.

The rest of the afternoon was relaxing.  Zach and Zoe enjoyed playing on the balcony while we watched the ship leave the Bahamas.  Later, I took them to the baby play area where they had a blast trying out all the different toys.

 It was quite a chore getting everyone cleaned up and dressed for formal night.  Not to mention packing special clothes and shoes times seven and we have decided on future cruises we will skip it.  

We wanted to get a nice picture of our family so we were ready ahead of dinner time and on the Promenade where they had many extra photographers tonight.  The process was a bit torturous and I could add a whole blooper wheel of pics here, but we managed to get one that would do, thankfully.
I blame it on Formal Night



Then, came dinner – Zach is really not interested in dinner at the dining room, which is understandable for an energetic 1 year old.  Still, today was especially difficult.  I eventually had to just take him back to the room.  I had a nice dinner on the balcony later though.  The waiter sent three freshly prepared main dishes and dessert to go for Marc.  
Marc wanted to see a movie that was playing in the Aqua heater tonight, but cranky Zs took up all the time and he missed it.  Everyone (especially the Baby Zs) took a very long time to settle down and go to sleep again tonight even though everyone (especially the Baby Zs) were exhausted. 


March 23, 2015 – Day at Sea

Today was our first day at sea and I was definitely ready.  Even though we didn’t do much in the Bahamas, it still made for a busy day and I am ready for a slower pace.  Today we had the whole day without much of a schedule which was nice.

My room was up early as usual.  Again, we found ourselves waiting for our chosen breakfast venue to open.  The MDR was hosting a DreamWorks Character Breakfast this morning.  We did this the last time we sailed on Oasis and chose not to do it this time.  But we were seated so close to the group that unfortunately it just made are breakfast loud and slow.  We didn't return to the MDR for a table service breakfast again until departure day although I'm sure days without the character breakfast were better here.

Uncle Jay on the Zip Line
We got up whenever we wanted and I took the “sleep in” group to breakfast at the buffet.  By that point, everyone else was already by the pool and some were even going on the zip line – bunch of early birds!  Jacob wanted to zip line, but was 5lbs under the 75lb requirement.  He said he needed to eat a lot today to gain the weight, but that would be pretty tough for him.


























We spent all morning and some of the afternoon at the pool and several had a bit too much sun.  Everyone had fun though and I don’t think anyone was hurting too badly.
Some of us opted to try out Sabor for a light lunch today.  Most had the tableside guacamole and chips and I tried the barbacoa tacos.  Everything tasted very fresh and delicious!  The others had lunch at The Dog House and played around the Boardwalk.  Grandpa Greg and Uncle Jay spent a long time babysitting on the boardwalk while the rest of us had a leisurely lunch at Sabor.



The boys decided to ride on every animal of the carousel while we ate our lunch - They succeeded!
Crazy Hat




Zach took a long nap in the afternoon while the rest of my kids played at the kids club.  Can’t remember what their cousins were up to, but I’m sure they were having a good time too.












Zach was still sleeping when it was time to leave for the dining room, which was just as well because I was planning on waiting a half hour to bring him anyway.  He woke up soon enough and had a really good dinner for a change (although the food could have been better!)  Marc and Zach arriving to dinner a half hour late became our strategy for the rest of the trip.  I ordered for them and they arrived about the time our appetizers did too.  I worked a *little* better.

Stripes

Solids


After dinner, the boys stayed with Kyrie while I dropped off Zoe at the kids club.  She really wanted to go even though there was only about an hour until the show we were going to. 

While we were waiting to pick up Zoe, I took Ella and Zach to see Abbacadabra (an Abba tribute band).  I was surprised to find the main theater packed for this show.  I didn’t know that Abba had that big of a following these days, but I guess I was wrong or else the people are just starved for entertainment.  We could only stay for about 15 minutes, but Ella and Zach both enjoyed the show.

Then I picked up the boys and Zoe and we all headed to the Oasis of Dreams show in the Aqua Theater.  The show was great.  It’s kind of like a Cirque du Soleil show.   There’s a lot going on and the kids loved sitting in the splash zone (which was definitely quite wet!)  Now, I would just like to take a moment to say that the Aqua Theater is not a good place to show movies.  Several times on each cruise they show movies at the Aqua Theater which would be fine except that the seats face towards the center of the theater and the two screens are on the sides.  So, you have to turn your head the whole time you watch the movie.  Personally, I think they should add a screen in the center, but I don’t know how feasible it is.  Anyway, just my opinion.


March 24, 2015    St. Thomas

 We arrived in St. Thomas today.  After a quick breakfast at the Park Café (highly recommended.)


St. Thomas
We headed off the ship with the intention of going to Sapphire Beach.  After some not so successful haggling with the taxi drivers we settled on $250 for the 13 of us to go to Sapphire beach and back.  During the ride over, the driver recommended that we go to Coqui beach instead.  He said that there would be more restaurants and better snorkeling.   Well, we’ve been to Sapphire beach before and really liked it, but I knew it only had one food stand and figured it would be helpful to have more choices and I trusted the taxi guy to know what he was talking about, so we went with the driver’s recommendation and went to Coqui beach.  That was a mistake. !!!


Crowded Coqui Beach
It was obvious from the time we arrived that the taxi driver had a vested interest in dropping us off there with the chair attendant and server.  It was a complete shameless set-up.  There were more restaurants, but the beach was ridiculously crowded and we could barely walk to the beach from our chairs without stepping over people.  We were sitting behind at least three rows of tightly packed chairs with not even a peek-a-boo view of the ocean.  Not relaxing or desirable in anyway.




Don't eat here!
I didn’t have a lot of chance to check out the snorkeling, but the little bit I did was nowhere near as good as we had at Sapphire beach.  And finally, the restaurant we picked (the only one that had anything more than a hot dog, I think, took so, so, so, long to get us our food.  We sat down at a table at the restaurant, but we should have just ordered from our chairs.  It took seriously, two hours, to get our food.  It was crazy, and they kept telling us that it wasn’t going to be much longer!  It really ruined our experience. 




Some of the kids were in tears before the food came and when it finally did, it came one plate at a time and we were paying our bill before little Ella even got her grilled cheese with no guarantee it would ever come.  Ridiculous.
By the way, the food was good when we finally got it and the real fruit smoothies were amazing and they came quite a bit faster than the food. Just wanted to put in some positives!



We’ve been to Maegan's Bay and Sapphire Beach and I would highly recommend both of those over Coqui beach.

Now, with that being said, I would still say that we had a decent time.  The kids (and we) had a really good time playing in the water.  Jacob and Kyle tried snorkeling for the first time and overall it was better than not going.  It just probably would have been a lot better if we had stuck to our original plan.







Future contraband
One other problem was that poor Max bought a big Conch Shell as a souvenir from some guy that was selling them on the beach.  They were only $5 and Max really wanted it, so I told him it was fine and Max loved it.  He really studied the shell and noticed every little thing about it.  But, when we arrived at security to get back on the ship they said they had to confiscate it because it wasn’t all cleaned and sanitized.  It was really a shame because Max was so excited to have it.




Zach had a little nap in the open air taxi that brought us home.  We enjoyed the scenery, although we wanted to jump ship and join Disney's Fantasy when we saw her in port. (She was the last ship we sailed on and we couldn't help but compare Oasis to her this time.  Fantasy fits our family better!)

Fantasizing about DCL's Fantasy.


Shopping in port before boarding

The girls and "Vanessa", Zoe's new doll 

When we arrived back on the ship it was nearly time for dinner.  The ladies (except Zoe) plus Grandpa Greg ate at the dining room, while the rest of us ate at the buffet.  I think it worked out well.  I’m sure the ladies had a nice peaceful dinner and the rest of us seemed to enjoy the buffet (especially Zach).









Ella gives it a try


It was a quiet dinner.  We all sat at "the kids' table" and the highlight was a challenge our waiter gave Avery to move an empty soda can from cup to another without using her hands or touching it at all. She liked it so much that she asked him to challenge her brother Kyle with it the next night.


The sign on Max's door tonight






After that, the boys were anxious to get to the kids club for Free Arcade night and Zoe joined a pirate party at hers.  Lots of fun for all!

The band of 3-5 year old Pirates

Ella led the way to the Pirate Show trying to get us there on time… “Come on… I can’t let my sister down.”  The three to five year olds in this Pirate Show were adorable and hilarious.  At one point a little girl interrupted the show with some funny and unplanned comments that would have won the grand prize on AFV if only we had captured it on video.  Zoe looked so surprised and pleased to see us all there watching her.  So cute!  
Meanest pirate look she could muster



March 25, 2015   St. Maarten

 This morning we arrived at St. Maarten, my favorite island of the Caribbean.  The girls ate breakfast and got off of the ship early so that they could go get the girls hair braided.

Ella, Zoe, Vannessa and I ate at the small buffet in the MDR this morning.  The offerings are a lot fewer than the Windjammer, but it's a lot less hassle when you have kids that can't serve themselves.  They pretty much just ate cereal anyway.

Sorry to complain again, but I wasn't happy with breakfast on this ship.  There should be more diverse options.  Every place seemed to have pretty much the same thing.  At best, cooked to order eggs; but trying to find a made to order omelet with real eggs was not an option.  The quality of the food was better in MDR but not worth the wait.

The guys got off the ship about an hour later and met up with the ladies, only to find out that they didn’t find a place to do the hair braiding.  They were told that they would have to go to the beach for that so they waited for us.









So, instead of going to Little Bay Beach as we had planned, we just went to the big beach that you can take the water taxi to (or walk to in about 15 minutes.)  We knew that there was a hair braiding place there and decided that was more important than going to the correct beach.



Oasis looks like the mama.  I'd say papa, but there all girls, right?

Max and I did some shopping at the port.  We were too sunburned from the previous days that we needed to stay out of the sun today.  Wouldn’t you know, as soon as we walked around the corner after leaving the others in line for the water taxi, we saw a hair braiding place.  Ahh, well.  Max carefully looked through each shop for something suitable to replace his confiscated conch shell.  He eventually did find a cool spikey shell that made a lot of “ocean noise.”  We also got him a baseball cap which he wore backward to keep the sun off of his neck.   He wanted to make sure that didn’t count as a souvenir though. 




St. Maarten

Central Park

  Once we’d been through all the shops that aren’t jewelry stores (most are), we boarded the ship and ate a couple slices of pizza for lunch then toured the other dining venues sampling desserts from each.

Enjoying the sights of St. Maarten without braving more sun exposure

The girls did get their hair braided and they all looked adorable.  We were able to get chairs right up front this time and the beach experience was much better than yesterday.  The waves were pretty big, so it was a job to keep Zach safe, but we managed and everyone had a good time. 
When we arrived back on the ship in the afternoon we all rested for a while before watching the ship leave and then heading to dinner.  It was another good meal, and we’ve all been enjoying having the kids at their own table.






After dinner, Zoe went to the kids club, Avery and Ella went to the dance party and the boys and I took a walk around the jogging track.  The boys had a lot of fun running around and Zach fell asleep in the stroller.  Kyrie headed to the adult comedy show which she said was really funny.


March 26, 2015   Day at Sea #2

Today was my favorite day of the vacation so far.  I’m always a big fan of days at sea because it gives me plenty of time to explore the ship.  We had a lot of fun today finally getting around to doing a few of the things around the ship that we’ve been trying to get to.











Jacob did rock climbing in the morning and Max, Ella, Jay and I did it a little later.  Grandpa Greg wanted to give it a try, but they didn’t have a big enough pair of climbing shoes for him.  I didn’t have much success myself.  I’d like to blame it on the loose rocks in the section that I was in, but Jay managed to climb all the way to the top in the same section.

Cool Spectator

The kids got their faces painted in the Promenade.  They loved that!  Zoe passed on her standard scorpion and picked a pretty design for her forehead.

We weren't thinking about how long this would take to wash off before dinner









Pizza at Sorrento's while waiting for parade
A while later we saw the DreamWorks parade which was a lot better than I expected.  They really should have had something like that at the beginning of the cruise - it was the most energy I’ve seen on this ship!








Max and Jacob tried the boogie board.  It was harder than it looked, and we only had time for them to try it once before we had to leave to get to the movie.  

I don't have any pictures of the boys on the boogie boards because I took video.  I did take a few pics before it was their turn.  One boogie boarder thought he was being funny splashing the attendant on purpose.  The attendant laid on the area the water shoots out splashing the heck out out of the guy for a minute straight. Pretty funny!


Ella and Zoe observing the boogie boarders

Jake and Max switching out
The movie was supposed to be Penguins of Madagascar (which we haven’t seen), but instead they showed How I Trained My Dragon 2 (which we have seen).  So that was a disappointment, but we still watched it and it gave Zoe and Zach a good nap.  Kyrie left after awhile to go to the Splish Splash comedy diving show which she said was entertaining.





After dinner most went to the Come Fly Away show which was supposed to be good.  I don’t really like that kind of show, so for the second time during the trip I tried watching The Theory of Everything which was showing at the Aqua Theater, but I took Zach with me since I figured he could play on the little bus and boat that are nearby.  Unfortunately, the music from the Mexican restaurant was too loud for me to hear the movie without actually being down in the theater. 

The kids persuaded the waiter to bring them double dessert and were so jittery it was tough for them to wait the 30 minutes in their seats before the show began.  Come Fly Away was better than I remembered and the girls especially seemed to enjoy it.


Come Fly with Me

Today there was so much to do on the ship that we couldn’t even do everything we wanted.  I can’t believe we missed the belly flop competition.  None of the others days had enough good entertainment and the kids are bored with the Kids’ Clubs. 
Sometime earlier today, Zach got another visit to the play area.  Didn't want to leave it out!

March 27, 2015   Day at Sea #3

We finally ate at Windjammer for breakfast.  It was meh just like all the rest,
Our last day on the ship was a quiet one.  After a quick breakfast, we took Zach, Zoe and Max to the puppet show in the kids club.  They all enjoyed it.  Zoe was up way too early this morning, so she’s been difficult to keep happy.  After the show I had to take her to the Wipeout Café for a snack. 
Jacob’s been spending the morning with Kyle.  They were swimming at the beach pool and then headed to the Solarium for lunch.  
Black Light Show in Kids Club
See the ship passing?


Kyrie and I took turns packing and the kids were pretty lazy/tired this afternoon, so they mostly just watched TV.  Plus there were really no activities the kids were interested in on the ship today and they were bored with the kids club. 

Max and Ella went to lunch and then hung out with the rest of the family.  Kyrie and I took the Z’s to Sabor for lunch.  That kept Zoe happy for a bit, but Zach was restless and had no interest in sitting in his seat or even the restaurant in general.
A tired Zoe

The carousel always perks her up



















I took Zoe to the matinee showing of CATS.  She fell asleep on my lap within five minutes of the start.  She slept through the first half and I needed to move around after being trapped in one position so long, so we left at intermission.  The nap was just what Zoe needed!  The scenery , costumes, and performance of CATS was quite good, but not so compelling that I felt I was missing out by leaving at intermission.





He actually made it to dessert!
Before long it was time for dinner.  Everything was good as usual, and Zach managed to sit in his seat some of the time. 
















Tonight they had a family comedy show.  It definitely wasn’t geared towards kids, but at least it wasn’t terribly inappropriate.  The comedians were the same as the adult show the other night.  The headliner was very good.  Zoe wanted to go the Kids Club after dinner, but then was disappointed that she had missed the show.  


My little copy cat
The Zs bid a final farewell to the play area before we all laid down for one more night's sleep on this ship.


I literally had to drag Zach out of here!  At least he enjoyed his Kids Club.


















March 28, 2015   Everglades Holiday Park

I woke up to this view this morning.  I miss the ocean and island views, but I am ready for the next leg of our trip.

Marc and I decided to eat breakfast as a family for the first time on this ship.  We went to the main dining room together. Ironic that we were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary and we spent so much time apart on this cruise. From now on, we'll be sure to get connecting rooms.

This morning we disembarked the ship, which was quite an ordeal.  We had the 8:45am group, but we weren’t off the ship until about 10:30am and we didn’t get out of customs until about 11:30am.  A week ago we were boarding the ship at that time!  I didn’t hear any official reason for the delay, but one of the security people speculated that it was because of spring break and the fact that more teenagers were on the ship than usual.  Because of that, they speculated, a lot of people who would have been off the ship early, waited until later and caused a large backup.  In addition to the long delay, we also had a missing booster seat when we picked up our luggage.  I looked around the entire place but couldn’t find it. Luckily one of the people in charge of finding luggage had better luck than me.  They found it under a suitcase on the complete opposite side of the building.  They found it just in time for Marc to meet up with us at the other side of the huge snaking line to clear customs.  Our porter was great in facilitating this process.

After we finally got out, we headed to the rental car shuttles and headed to Sixt Car Rental.  I was concerned about renting from a place I’ve never heard of, but they were great.  First of all, they had a food truck there with free lunch for everyone renting from them.  Also, I had accidentally reserved the wrong day for my Mom’s rental, but they were able to fix it and didn’t give them any trouble about it.  Unfortunately, we didn’t take advantage of the free lunch because the food was a little too adventurous for my kids (like parmesan and truffle oil on the french fries). 




A lot of crying going on in both vehicles as we headed to the Everglades
We headed to Everglades Holiday Park for an airboat tour of the Everglades and an alligator show.  We had planned this trip because Mom and Melissa’s flight home wasn’t until 8:40pm.  Everglades Holiday Park is on what seems to be the edge of the Everglades.




















They said that in total, the Everglades cover over 4000 miles of southern Florida.  This place is fairly small, but the airboat tour was fun.

Alligator

Vultures
We immediately saw an alligator, and they say they saw another one swim across the water.  Soon after that, the driver cranked up the motors and sent us full speed down the canal.  Within a minute we heard a loud “ding” and then the driver stopped the boat and said he needed to take care of something.  A few minutes later he said that the microphone had gone through the propeller, so he would have to stop the boat every once in a while and crawl in it to tell us stuff, instead of just saying it along the way.
Some kind of bird related to a chicken

Another one



That worked out alright and it was a very informative and interesting tour even though we didn’t see any more alligators.  We saw a lot of birds and fish.  We saw a fish jump out of the water and then Jay pointed towards the water to show someone where there were other fish and then one jumped out of the water and tried to get his finger!  We joked that it must have been a piranha, but the driver said that the fish in the water were oscars and bluegills.  The tour lasted about an hour and was a lot of fun.
A herron... alligators worst enemy (eats eggs)
Our own wildlife show
We decided not to stay for the alligator show because we were all tired from the long morning and we just didn’t want to stand in yet another line to wait for the show.  My family headed up the coast to finish our vacation at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort while the others headed to the airport to fly back home.  I think it took about 3 1/2 hours to get to the resort, but that included a stop for groceries.







Arriving at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort was like a breath of fresh air.  There must really be pixie dust in their lobby, because it felt absolutely magical walking in there.  We have enjoyed the rest of our vacation, but Kyrie and I have hardly seen each other and we were a little bored on our cruise. When we walked in to Vero Beach we just had this feeling like our vacation was saved.

It was pretty late when we arrived and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so we basically headed straight for Shutters, the casual sit down restaurant at the resort.  I had a really delicious Fig and Goat Cheese flatbread and I think everyone else enjoyed their dinner as well.  We had a fun waitress and had a good time – even Zach cooperated a little!  Marc’s Mai Tai and my Bahama Mama helped too!

Shutters

Frowns turned upside down when we stepped foot on Disney property

Our room is very nice.  It’s a 2-bedroom villa which looks nice like all of the Disney Vacation Club resorts.  The layout is a little different, but it works well and has 2 balconies, including one that doubles as an eating area.  The only thing missing is an ocean view.  I don’t remember if that was a choice when making the reservation or if it’s just random.  It’s dark, so I haven’t seen much of the resort, but will comment on that later.

Our villa seems like a mansion after the tiny staterooms that are typical on cruise ships.  It’s adorably decorated in a casual beach house theme.
Living room

Dining area and balcony

Kitchen

Master bedroom

Master Bathroom Pt1

Master Bath Pt2


Kids Bathroom
Kids Bedroom

March 29, 2015   Kennedy Space Center

One of my favorite things about staying in a DVC villa (or any nice timeshare) is the full kitchen.  Might sound silly, but it was great to just make eggs and cinnamon toast for breakfast this morning.  A few strawberries on the side and it’s the best breakfast we’ve had since we left home.  Not to mention saving big bucks by not having to go out.  We bought $90 worth of groceries and it fed us three breakfasts and two lunches.  Considering we spent $70 to $100 per meal on this trip, the grocery stop really paid off!


Happy Zs!
Our plan today was to just stay at the resort and spend some time at the pool and beach, but it was chilly today (like the mid 60’s), so we decided to shuffle our schedule a little and head to Kennedy Space Center.  It’s a pretty good drive from here – about an hour and a half and it took a little longer because there was a bad accident on the other side of the road.  We saw a medical helicopter land on the road, so traffic slowed down quite a bit to see what was going on. 




The Rocket Garden
The space center is pretty expensive ($50 for adults).  If you sign up for the NASA passport program (a free email registration), they send you a coupon for $5 off per person.  Although I would question the cost compared to other museums, science centers, etc. that we have visited in the past, we did have a good time and it certainly is a one of kind place.    I think with the two IMAX movies and the launch simulator, the price is not out of line. Not to mention the rare opportunity to see a real space shuttle. But the food costs are too high.

As soon as we entered the place, the kids immediately say a large playground thing that they have setup near the rocket garden (a bunch of different kinds of rockets displayed outside.)  The kids loved that.  There were large slides and a lot of climbing areas inside the structure. 
Mural of the International Space Station
After a while of letting them play, we moved on to a building that has displays about the future of space travel.  This was sort of interesting, but the little show they put on there was kind of cheesy.  It was really funny (not intentionally) when the lady giving the presentation was pretending to interact with this large screen like it was a touch screen monitor that was actually just a video. 

Then Kyrie, Jacob and Ella watched an IMAX video about the International Space Station and I took the others back to the playground where they wanted to go and to a small display about technology and nature which had a diorama about Florida wildlife and somehow they tied this in to the space program.



When the movie was over (and everyone had ice cream), we headed over to the space shuttle Atlantis exhibit.  This was definitely the big draw at the space center.  They have quite a bit going on in this building.  First you watch two 12 minute movies about the space shuttle and then the screen opens up to the room with Atlantis actually on display which is pretty impressive.  It was definitely neat to see the space shuttle up close.


I was surprised to see that every single tile and part that was visible was labeled – almost like it was a big puzzle that someone had to put together.  Definitely looked like a lot of wear and tear, most likely from reentry into the atmosphere.  The way they have it set up allows you to see inside the cargo bay and to walk around the outside, but not see in the cockpit at all.  That was disappointing since it didn’t give you any feel for what it was like to be in the shuttle as an astronaut.


Mocked up cockpit
Now, in the building they do have a simulator that lets you “feel” what it’s like to launch in a space shuttle.  But that was really just simulating G-forces and gave no sense of what the space was actually like at the controls.  It was clear however, from seeing just the outside of the shuttle, that there isn’t a lot of space in there for 7 astronauts. 


Another crawl through area for the kids

They have a crawl through replica for little kids that ends in a clear tube suspended way above the ground.  I was surprised that Zach would crawl in it.
In addition to the shuttle itself and the simulator, they also have a big slide that you can go down to see the near vertical angle the shuttle had to descend at in order to land.  I’m glad planes don’t have to do that!  Also, in the building are a few displays about the International Space Station which are interesting.
Ella and Jacob
Zoe and Max



Space Toilet


Space Kitchen




      We spent most of our time in that building since that’s where most of the stuff is.  We didn’t get to much else.  There is another IMAX movie, an early spaceflight building, and a “Meet the Astronaut” exhibit (I don’t remember what it was really called).  There is also a bus tour out to the launch building which would have been interesting for the adults and the big kids, but probably would have been torture for the little ones, so we decided to save that for some time in the future. 






We got back late and decided to have dinner at the quick service restaurant by the pool rather than brave a sit down meal with tired kids.  It was just right!










March 30, 2015  Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

Today we just spent the day here at the resort.  The resort consists of several buildings that contain the one and two bedroom units.  The studios seem to all be in the main building and the grand villas are in individual beach cottages that face the ocean.  Besides the grand villas, it doesn’t appear that many of the villas have an ocean view.  The vegetation blocks the view from at least the first floor, and other buildings block views from the upper floors.  We can see the ocean a little from out on our balcony, but not much.  The villa is very nicely decorated and has sleeping capacity for 9.  That includes a king size  and a queen size bed and then two sleeper sofas and a sleeper chair.  The layout seems similar to the Old Key West Resort from what I remember.   The resort isn’t very big – easily walkable from one end to the other (which is nice.)  There is one pool area that gets pretty busy, plus of course the beach that has some chair rentals available.  But the resort was probably full this week and it wasn't too crowded to enjoy everything.



The water here is pretty rough – 1’ to 3’ waves today, but lots of shells for the kids to find.  In addition to the pool and beach, there is mini golf, an outdoor pool table and ping pong table, shuffleboard, a playground and an arts and craft area.  There are 4 restaurants onsite.  Shutters is the casual restaurant that we ate at the first night.  Sonya’s is a fancier restaurant which I probably won’t see.  Bleachers is a quick service place by the pool.  Lastly, is the Green Cabin Room which is mostly a bar, but also serves appetizers and a light dinner menu.


Excited Zoe
The early birds and Max headed to the pool first today.  It was cute how Jacob took care of Zoe in the pool.  The life jackets provided make it so she can swim on her own but she's always hesitant at first.  It's cool in the mornings, so I was able to sit and read by the pool while the kids got in (the heated pool) and had fun.  Zoe even went down the pool slide twice once I got in to "catch" her at the bottom.


Helpful Jacob

We spent most of the day at the pool.  Today was pirate day, so the pool party was pirate themed.  The kids had fun playing games and winning prizes.  Ella really liked the water slide and Zoe and Zach liked swimming with their life jackets – Zach also liked to eat his.

This was the view of Zach we saw most often-- dashing off somewhere

Ella, a natural model
The kids enjoyed the playground by the pool too, especially before and after swimming.  

Jacob is reluctantly dancing here.  He just can't resist organized activities.

The girls went to the UnBirthday Party and had fun playing games and decorating cupcakes.


We also spent some time at the beach looking for shells and playing in the sand.  

I’m impressed by all of the advertised organized activities and surprise activities too that this resort has going on.  Besides the pool party daily, there are various other things going on almost hourly from sun gazing to campfires.  We’ve been considering letting Jacob take a 3 ½hr surf lesson on Wednesday and Max take a fishing fundamentals class.  Both have extra charges but sound pretty cool.  There’s more stuff like that too as well as lots of free activities.

Giant bubbles appeared from a hiding cast member
Heading "home" after a fun day to get ready for dinner
Zoe ready for dinner complete with her Royal Caribbean pirate bandana
For dinner, we ate at the pirate party at Shutters.  This was a pay one price, all you can eat, family style service.  There were characters (Donald and Goofy) dressed like pirates.  Everyone got pirate bandanas; the kids also got eye patches and necklaces at the end of the meal.  They also got to participate in a pirates oath and get a treasure map.  The food was BBQ and everything was good.  Zach loved seeing the characters – he kept pointing them out and waving to them whenever he would see one. 


Woke Zach up from a nap for dinner.  It's gonna be another great dinner! :(




March 31, 2015   Another pool/beach day

The girls started the day at the beach today, while the boys lounged around for a while before heading to the pool.  I'm happy to say that the last of many loads of laundry has been started - yea!  

The beach isn’t too crowded and is just lovely.  I enjoyed watching all the kids looking for and collecting sea shells.  They are more than plentiful… the shells… not just the kids.  
Seagull in foreground, Pelicans in background
But my favorite experience here has been observing the pelicans.  I love when they fly in flocks.  I saw a flock fly down close to a wave, skim the surface, then fly away.  Beautiful. I never got a good picture of my pelicans though.


Ella doing the limbo at the pool party







The kids played at the pool party again and Zach played a lot in the pool and at the playground.  After lunch we went to the beach.  The waves were quite a bit gentler today.

I’ve finally had a chance to get some reading done the past two days.  I’m about two thirds through a book I was supposed to read for a seminar I missed during this trip.  I still wanted to read the book and it is good.


 After a little break, I took Max and Zach out for a drive to look for Manatees.  We stopped at a couple of places, but didn’t have any luck.  We did manage to see a little sting ray though, which was a nice surprise.  We had a nice time looking for the Manatees.  Maybe we’ll find some tomorrow!


For dinner tonight we ate at Pizzoodles.  We were trying to eat at Mr. Manatee’s, but the wait was at least an hour.  Pizzoodles turned out to be really good though and I think we all agreed that we were better off there.  Pizzoodles, as you might expect, serves pizza and pasta.  The restaurant is very small, but the food was delicious and didn’t take too long.

On the way back to the resort, I noticed that we were passing the power plant where manatees like to hang out near the discharge water.  So we made an impromptu stop, but no luck.


April 1, 2015   Last day

Jacob, Ella, Zoe and I started the day at the pool... you have to get there early to get any chairs.  We got pretty much the last three chairs poolside at 8:30am.  But surprisingly, the pool hours changed today from the 8am-10pm it had been on the other days to 10am - 8pm even though it was the warmest day of our trip and we know the resort is pretty full or completely full.  

There was a lifeguard stationed to be sure all the people there hours early stayed out of the pool.  The cast members soon passed out hula hoops to occupy the kids. Bleachers was open so many people had breakfast by the pool.  

Kids Splash Area
Dare Devil Zach used the slide as a monkey bar for quite a while swinging back and forth
Pool games at the daily 
Today we have simply enjoyed the resort.  We had to change rooms because the 2 bedroom unit was only available until today, so now we have 2 studio units instead and most of our luggage is packed away in the car – ready for the airport early tomorrow morning.
















Time passed super quickly today.  I never even had time to finish my book (or read any more of it.) We had lunch at Bleachers.  Then the Zs really needed a nap.  

Well, another vacation is coming to an end.  The Z’s are taking a nap right now, which is quite a break for Kyrie and me.  Those little ones have been quite a handful on this trip.  I know it’s tough for them to have their schedules all disrupted and have so much going on all the time, but this vacation has seemed harder than usual.  Anyway, I know that we’ve all had a good time and also look forward to getting back to the routines of being home.

The kids played games at the pool again and right now the boys are at the UnBirthday Party that the girls went to a couple days ago.  We questioned whether they really wanted to go to it since it seems geared towards younger kids, but they both said yes, so we’ll see how they liked it. 
They liked it.

The original sensitive child aka honorary "Z"
I got a little time to swim with the big kids until Max got mad at me during a splash fight he initiated.  

This afternoon we played some mini-golf and then headed to dinner at Shutters again.  

The Zs awaken and join us for miniature golf





 Dinner was good again, but for some reason the service was really slow today.  There weren’t that many people, so I’m not sure what the reason was.

The sun setting on our last night of vacation

Zach explored avery little thing on the way back from dinner


He had to be dragged back inside!


I guess that’s about it.  We have to get up at 3:30am (3:15 for me) to leave for the airport tomorrow.  Not looking forward to that!
















Still pitch dark when we checked our luggage at the curb

A few pics from our travel home
Cute cars at the car rental return.  The horns sounded so funny, the kids called them "giggle machines."

Sun coming up now on the tram after the security point

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