By Danielle Hauser
Cruise ships are a great place to relax and enjoy time with your loved ones.
As seasoned cruisers, many of our family’s fondest memories come from past sailings to the Caribbean. Our kids Ryan,16, and Charlotte, 13, still recall the excitement of exploring the large ships, so it’s no wonder they have been asking for another vacation at sea. When Covid hit, our cruising days were put on hold, and with all the bad publicity that cruise lines got during the pandemic, we were leery about ever getting on another ship. But now that restrictions have eased, our family decided to test the waters with a three-night cruise over Thanksgiving week on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. Leaving out of Port Canaveral, our itinerary included stops at Nassau, Bahamas, and CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas.
The Independence of the Seas has 15 decks that include restaurants, theaters, pools, a spa, a casino, a sports court, rock climbing wall and much more. There really is something for everyone. When looking for things to do, the Royal Caribbean app is a great planning tool. It has a list of every event for the duration of the cruise and deck maps to help navigate the large ship.
We took in as many activities as possible, including mini-golf and a soccer skills competition on the sports court. While Ryan made some new friends at the Teen Lounge and spent his evenings there, my husband, Phil, Charlotte and I attended the art auction in the Star Lounge. This was something we’d never done before and found it both educational and entertaining. Though we didn’t purchase anything, we discovered that many people like to spend a lot of money on artwork while on vacation. We met a couple who half-jokingly told us they bought a second house just to display all the artwork they’ve bought on cruises.
The three of us also participated in fun trivia sessions that tested our knowledge of Harry Potter, geography and 80s music. We did very well in all of them, but 80s music is my specialty and I’m proud to say that I was the only person who could recognize a song from the band Crowded House.
Food and Drinks
One of our family’s favorite things about cruising is the amazing food and service. At dinner each evening in the beautiful main dining room, we were spoiled with attentive service and delicious food. But it wasn’t just in the dining room where we enjoyed our meals. From buffets to cafes, there are a plethora of dining options, and everywhere we dined provided excellent service and a variety of food choices. As for drinks, Royal Caribbean offers several packages for alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. We found water, iced tea and coffee readily available at many of the cafes, and there are Coca-Cola Freestyle machines throughout the ship. Each morning, Phil and I started our day at the Promenade Cafe and enjoyed self-serve coffee and pastries as we planned our day.
Ports of Call
Having been on several seven-night cruises that went to St. Thomas, St. John, St. Maarten and San Juan, I’ll admit that Nassau doesn’t compare to the beauty of those islands. However, we did disembark briefly in Nassau to shop at the Straw Market and have amazing craft beer at Pirate Republic Brewing Company. The real delight was our day spent on CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island. The setting is quintessentially tropical with turquoise water, swaying palm trees, white sand and lounge chairs shaded by umbrellas. There is an enormous freshwater pool with a swim-up bar for adults and a water park that boasts the tallest waterslide in North America. We spent our time snorkeling and relaxing on the beach, and it was an absolutely perfect day.
We had two connecting balcony staterooms on Deck 6 Aft. Cruise ship accommodations are not spacious, especially the bathrooms, so if you’re traveling with kids, I highly recommend getting two staterooms. Not only does this give you two bathrooms, but everyone has more space which makes for a more relaxing vacation.
Planning a Cruise
Since we enjoyed our cruise so much, we decided to book another sailing for Spring Break. Royal Caribbean offers incentives if you book your next cruise while onboard, so we took advantage of their personalized planning services. Before booking a cruise, consider what’s most important to you. Do the ports of call or the size of the ship matter more? If you’ve never been on cruise, talk to your local travel agent who can answer all your questions and help you plan the cruise that’s best for your family and budget.
Cruises offer a great way to spend a family vacation. As Floridians, we are lucky that we can drive to an in-state port and get on a ship instead of dealing with the hassle of airports and additional cost of flying. After unpacking once, you don’t have to worry about driving, cooking or cleaning for the duration of your sailing. Cruises make it easy and convenient to keep the entire family happy and well fed. We can’t wait to sail again in March.