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How to Plan for your First {Family} Cruise

Our family just got home from our first ever cruise! I thought that along side my sharing all sorts of fun pictures, I’d also show how to plan for your first {family} cruise, because I feel I went into it fairly blind. I put family in parenthesis because some of these tips are for first time cruisers alone without kids, and some tips are for families with kids.  I’ll also share a little printable packing list at the bottom that you can save for later.

How to plan for your first family cruise

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{I made the arrow shirts using my Silhouette Cameo machine to cut vinyl, use it as a sticky stencil and painted. For the girls I added a layer of blue glitter and fabric mod podge to hold it in. My youngest has a sad face here because I said she had to have dinner before ice cream. She wasn’t happy with me for that!}

Let me just say that a cruise has never been on my radar, it just never interested me. Maybe because I saw so many people going and loving it, I wanted to be different and not go just because. I’m weird like that. I also associated it with older retired couples, or often I heard of people going on cruises for their honeymoon.  My husband and I have done quite a few trips together just the two of us, such as Alaska a year and a half ago, to France (here, here, and here), Vermont in the fall, and a few other fun places. He and I actually view vacations very differently. I like to go-go-go, while he likes to stay in one spot.

Last year, when my sweet grandmother passed away, each grandchild was gifted a little inheritance money. Right away, I knew what I wanted to do with it. I wanted to take my family on a fabulous trip, something that we might not otherwise do. But where, I didn’t know. Around the same time, a local friend of mine just got back from taking her family (with 5 kids) on a cruise. She is similar to me with our thrifty spending, and upon inquiring all the details, I decided it might be something I’d enjoy after all. My husband would get what he wanted=relaxing in one spot, and I’d get what I want=adventure.  This friend told me that Roaton, Honduras was their most favorite spot, and that really sparked something in me…Honduras? Who goes THERE?  It had never occurred to me to vacation there, but all of a sudden, it sounded like such a mystical place. With so much going on last year, I didn’t take the time to research a spot to go with my family, sometimes I think it’d be nice to just have someone decide for you!  The cruise that my friend mentioned just kept coming back to me. In November, I booked the 7 day trip, and kept mum until Christmas morning when we surprised the kids with a cruise scavenger hunt! I had to make sure it was also gifted from my grandma, wanting them to appreciate it more.

The 3 big kids cheered as we discussed the details, the littlest one wasn’t sure she wanted to be on a big boat. Once I was booked, I started asking lots and lots of questions to friends in real life and on Facebook. I found that I appear to have been in the minority having never cruised before. It’s pretty commonplace as a vacation!

We traveled from Houston to:

Click on each city link to see the post and highlight of our day in those spots.

Now, here are some tips, observations, what I wish I would have known, etc. that I learned and hopefully it can help some of you out there, if you plan to go on a family cruise.

Booking the cruise trip–There are many ways to book the trip. We went with a travel agent b/c I really did want someone else to do it for me, and the gal we used had a good amount of experience. I told her out budget, and she found us what we needed. You can also go directly to the cruise line and book it yourself. There are also third parties such as Travelocity, and others that will offer you a credit sometimes, too. I might have been able to find a better deal if I spend time on those sites, but I just wanted it done. I didn’t know my travel agent charged me $25 a person until after we were booked. It’s my fault, I didn’t ask, but it seems she could have mentioned it? In the end, she did work for me that I didn’t want to do so she earned it. But I also wish she would have guided me in a different cruise line, knowing we were traveling with kids.

Cruise Vacation

All ships are not created equally–This is where I got frustrated that our travel agent didn’t mention that each boat is different with their amenities. All of them have a few standards, but they vary in quality. Our boat had a few pools, but none of them had even a slide or diving board or anything that kids might enjoy. I’d heard after that my friend traveled on a different cruise line, and they had an ice skating rink, rock wall, mini putt putt golf, and surfing on her ship and we had none of that. It was  something I had to just set aside and not let it bother me, though it did make me quite sad that I didn’t realize that. Luckily, my kids didn’t know about all of that, and they had a BLAST just with the experience. But some ships do cater more to that than others.

cruise stateroom

Where to cruise? Since we live just a few hours from the Houston Port, it was a no-brainer for me to book something out of Houston, as opposed to flying first to Florida, California, or even drive 6 hours to New Orleans to hop on a boat. Didn’t want to do plane tickets for 6 in addition to the cruise expense. Since I was already fixated on Honduras, I planned around that. Houston had a 3-4 day cruise (which time wise would have been my ideal) but it only went to one port and came back.  So we booked the 7 day trip, that included the 3 ports.

sunset and sunrise on the ocean

Excursions-Ahh, now this was quite the hidden expense. I knew that we’d have all we could eat food, and that in and of itself was pretty exciting. But each day we stopped to get off of the boat, we had to figure out what we would do those days, how we’d get there, do we pay double and go on the ships excursion or find an excursion on our own via a middle man or just risk it and grab a taxi and explore with them. I was plagued with stress over these excursions because just a week before we left, I hadn’t yet decided what we’d do. If it was just my husband and I, I would have gone the cheaper/riskier route, but with our 4 kids in tow, I wanted to make sure all went smoothly. I booked 2 of our excursions from The 3rd, I took my friend recommendation and booked something that wasn’t on shore trips or our cruise liner.  Some excursions have varying prices, and my friend told me to plan on about $100 per person per excursion, OUCH! Our 3 excursions combined came close to the price of our ship tickets, so all of that added up more than I would have liked. Some of the cruise prices were $200 per person!  Some were as little as $50 per person, but it really didn’t offer much more than taking you to a spot you could grab on your own with a $10 taxi. The cruise lines like to overly emphasize that if you do not to an excursions with the group and you are late to get back on the boat, the boat will leave you. If you are late with the boat’s excursion, you will be waited for. I felt risky, but after all was said and done, the locals running all of the excursions know how important it is for you to be back to your boat by a certain time, and they make sure it happens. Their jobs are on the line, too. Friends of ours on the boat hired a taxi to drive 4 of them around for the day and paid him $50 for the day for all of them. I think I’ll do THAT next time!

cruise trip drill with life vest

{first day, practicing our emergency drill}

Food on the ship–There were many food options on the ship which was really, really nice with children who don’t like a lot of things.  There was also a pizza place open and hamburger and fries place open. That helped when kids didn’t love the buffet main coarse. We ate a lot at the buffet which had many options, lots of fruits, breads, etc. There is also the more formal dining, restaurant style. There is “anytime” dining or “set” dining. We opted for Anytime dining b/c I didn’t want to be pinned down to eat dinner at the same time each night. It also required a lot of waiting, which my kids get restless in that scene. We were fine with the buffet all week, until our new friends told us we HAD to try it out, and it really was a pleasant experience. On the 2 formal nights, we were supposed to dress up (people ranging from a tux and sequin gown to a church dress/slacks). We hadn’t planned on going to the formal night, but we ended up going with our new friends and scrounged around for something a bit fancier than a t-shirt for my husband. Room service was included, and on the days were were rushing out, we wrote on a paper the night before saying what we’d like and what time to deliver it. The kids LOVED the all-you-can-eat soft serve ice cream cones, and they got up to 5 cones in one day. I gave my calories to the buttery croissants and the croissant doughnut and berry pies. Another hidden cost is soda’s. They are not all you can eat, you have to purchase a soda card (which also includes virgin daiquiris). Though we don’t drink soda that much, it also covered malted shakes and those fruity frozen drinks, so I purchase a drink ticket for the week for $50, and I’d get one and share sips with my family. I felt it was ok to do that because most people were getting up to 10 a day, and we got one or two a day.

food on cruise ship

food on cruise ships

Staterooms-Having heard from friends in the past that they got claustrophobic when they were in a room on the interior of the ship without windows, I decided I needed a balcony. They rooms do cost more, and I loved having the natural light in there, but if I were trying to save money in the future, I may not do that. The suites that would hold all 6 of us were quite expensive, so we got the room with the balcony/double bed and across the hall was 4 single beds. Our kids loved the bunk beds and freedom to watch cartoons when we were resting, and I loved them right across the hall while I watched a “mommy show.” There were only about 10 channels on the room TV’s, but always a cartoon movie for kids, and always a chick flick for me. We mostly did this in the evening when we were winding down. We were also in the middle of the boat both directions, so I think it helped us not get sea sick.

stateroom on cruise ship

Medicine–Speaking of sea sick. My husband was concerned right from that start that he might be affected by the motion. Many told us about the patch that goes behind the ear, which we also found is a prescription. We just called into our doctor to ask them to call in the prescription, so that was nice. I figured I might as well get one just in case. They each last 72 hours, so we got 4 and it costed us $67 which was more that I thought it should be, but I also didn’t want to end up being sick the whole time or paying double that amount on the ship. WE also brought Dramamine and the wristbands. In our first aid kit, we brought Pepto Bismol, headache medicine, neosporin, aloe vera, sunscreen band aids, etc .  Of course the day my youngest trips and scrapes her knee was on an excursion and we had left the neopsporin and band aids behind. However nice people in our excursion offered up theirs, which was so nice.

family cruise

{anxiously waiting to board the ship}

Meeting People-We planned this to be a really fun family trip, and I wasn’t really intending to mingle much with other passengers. My husband was shocked to hear me say that, and even I was surprised that I felt this way b/c I LOVE meeting new people! This trip was about my family, creating memories, and bonding with each other.  I wanted to focus on THEM. We were quite the anomaly walking around the ship with 4 kids in tow. First of all because people seem to think that 4 kids is a LOT anywhere we go, but mainly because it’s January, most kids are in school, and 85% of the passengers on the ship were retired. Every time we got in an elevator or walked down the halls, we got smiles, and sweet comments on our cute kids, how well they were behaving, etc. It was nice to hear, and nice that others noticed. They are good kids. Most people on the ship were simply happy-go-lucky, and had cruised many many times. It got to the point where I’d ask how many cruises they’d been on, and I liked to hear which ones they loved the best. I think the highest number that I met was 31 cruises, and that went to the sweet lady that gave my daughter a band aid. Because kids were so sparse, I found myself drawn to conversation with those that brought kids along. I met quite a few from UTAH, and since I have roots there and went to college there, that often came up and found those were also members of my Mormon faith. We also sported some BYU clothing on a few of the days. One gal in particular I got to know is from Provo. I saw her little family on the first day and without even talking to her, I thought to myself, “I bet they are Mormon.” There are a few tell tale signs that I notice with those that share my faith. Sometimes I’m wrong, but usually I’m not. When we first chatted, I asked where she was from, she said Provo, UT. “Uh, huh”, I thought. When I told her I went to BYU, she then said, “Are you Mormon?” When we realized we both were, it was an instant kinship. I saw she was expecting and had 2 girls with them. Turns out they brought their 2 oldest, left 2 at home with family, so she is expecting #5. Since Mon-Wed was so crazy with excursions, it wasn’t until Thursday morning that we hung out more, as her girls and my girls played in the pool together for hours. At that point, I was really grateful for another family to chat with because we had two full days at sea, and I wasn’t sure how I’d handle that. We spent quite a bit of time with them on Thursday and Friday. Hopefully we’ll get to meet up on our next trip to Utah!  I also ran into a lady that I knew from Austin, Andrea. It had been quite a few years since we’d seen each other, but fun to see someone I knew!

Family Cruise tips

{Our boat had “Movies under the stars” a few times a day, by the pool, on chairs we watched with the blankets they provided. Above, our new friends from Provo, and exploring the boat}

Activities on Board-One of my biggest worries was What on Earth would we be doing on the ship with all that time??  I just didn’t know what to expect, and they things I heard from past cruise travelers, I didn’t know that all of my kids would enjoy certain events such as dancing, and I wonder what was “family friendly”. Each night, we’d get the next days agenda all typed up so we could plan what we wanted to do, I really liked that. I’m a planner. It ended up being just great, there was a paper airplane throwing contest, an egg drop contest, fruit carving demonstrations, jazz bands playing, ping pong tournament, basketball and golf games with prizes, a comedian, and many other musical activities. It was fun to introduce our kids to the jazz playing, and even requesting a song from the piano man who had a voice like Michael Buble. I requested, “Blessed the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts, which sounded fabulous, and my #2 son requested Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” There was a “kids zone” that we could drop the kids off to do video games or whatever, but I wasn’t too interested in having them go there since I wanted our family bonding time. I was glad they didn’t see a need to go, either.

playing games on cruise ship

{we took home a handful of medals for golf and basketball. Even I got a medal! There were just 3 people competing, so I got the last one even though I only made ONE free throw!}

basketball free throws

My determination in this pic cracks me up…my face!

fruit carvings

{We were all pretty impressed with the fruit carvings. Two men, 15 minutes, 3 carvings each}

What camera to bring?–This is a tough one for me to answer. I actually used my SLR, phone camera, and an underwater point and shoot throughout the week. I had an underwater camera years ago, and it was fun, I wanted to get another since I knew there would be spots I couldn’t take the others very easily. I got a Kodak Easy Share sport camera (in yellow), it can do video and stills underwater. I also got a foam floating wrist strap (in turquoise), and a simple case. It’s hard to get a good focus underwater, so those images weren’t highlights. I’ll share some of them in the next few days. I brought my phone with me on the ship to take pictures (had it on airplane mode all week with no calls, texts, or internet), but I also lugged around my slr with my 35mm lens that is my favorite travel lens, along with my 70-200mm lens that I brought along for long distance shots. I knew it would be cumbersome to lug that around, but I also knew it’d give me beautiful pictures, so it was worth the sacrifice. 

Cruising with Kids

cruise tips

{Fun family pictures in the elevator, on our balcony overlooking the water, and playing games on the rainy day at sea with our new friends. Also our steward, Christian from the Phillippines was so great to chat with, and inquired about Mormons, so I have him a copy of the Book of Mormon that we brought with us. He works on the cruise ship for 10 months straight with only 2 months off, and has done that for 8 years, sending money to his wife and kids back at home. Kinda broke my heart. Grateful for my blessings.}

Documents/Papers–All of these items on the list below may not be necessary, and some are common sense, but I figured I’d cover all my bases just in case!  My passport was outdated, and I didn’t want to do the rush on it. So I had to show my license and official birth certificate for me, all official birth certificates for my kids, but my husband had an updated passport and that’s all he needed. Someone told me I’d need my marriage license b/c my name is different from birth certificate to license, but I never had to show it.  (click on image below for pdf). We got travelers insurance, so kept those documents close by. I also printed off all details about each excursion and put them in their own envelope in my backpack that also held my camera and wallet and stayed by me at all times.

Here is a little printable I made for those that think you’ll cruise someday, a cruise packing list!


Cruise Packing List 2

We really had SOOO much fun, my kids are asking when we can go back. Now that I know more,  I may just look for something in the future.  Every time I mentioned to someone that we were taking our family on a cruise, pretty much everyone assumed and asked if it was Disney. There really is so much more than Disney out there! We went to Disney World last March, and I didn’t feel we needed to go that route again. I wanted something different, and this adventure was just that!

on top of the cruise ship

If you’ve cruised before, I want to hear about it! What did  you love/dislike about your cruise? What ports did you go to? What did you do there? I’ll tell you all about our excursions in the next few days!

Kristen Duke

Kristen Duke

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Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
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  1. Kristin, your pictures look amazing! My husband and I just traveled on our first cruise this past October and it was an amazing experience! We traveled on Royal Caribbean which not known for being a family cruise line, however they DID have a wonderful pool area JUST for children as well as a kids club that parents could drop them off at if they needed some time to themselves. The food was amazing, the service was top notch and the shows and activities they hosted were really spectacular. They are definitely pricey, however I feel like we definitely got our money’s worth. If you have time to plan extensively for your budget, I would definitely recommend this cruise-line. We traveled from Ft. Lauderdale FL and went to Nassau Bahamas, Philipsburg, St. Maarten, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. The views and sights were amazing, the excursions we didn’t really participate on though. We chose to rent a taxi for the day as well and cruise to the best local beaches, restaurants, and shopping spots that they could recommend. Best of luck planning your next cruise! I’m already itching to go back!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      THanks for the feedback! Royal Caribbean does sound like a great line. If I didn’t have kids with me, I would have been more adventurous and gone the taxi route, next time!

  2. Love how your little one was smiling on the last family photo. Great photos as always. Simply love your innovative shots!
    The hubby and I cruise at least once a year, sometimes much more. We have done NCL, RCCL & Carnival, so I can only speak for our experiences on those. Carnival is our favorite and we enjoy platinum status there. Carnival & RCCL are both very kid friendly. One of our excursions was on a boat going somewhere and this young boy about 10 was dancing with the adults to all the line/group dances and doing much better than the adults. I asked his dad how the boy knew so many dances and he didn’t know. He asked his son and found out he had learned them at Camp Carnival! I’ve heard the kids really love the activities at Camp Carnival. We are now grandparents and love seeing the kids and parents enjoying themselves. Since we have cruised many times, we book our own cruises and usually book excusions seperately from those offered by the ship.
    I have recently found, and been enjoying a few Facebook groups for cruisers where people ask questions and share their thoughts on things like favorite excursions and ports. Great for new and experienced cruisers alike.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      THanks, Carol! Sadly, the only time she was more sad the whole trip is just before we took our family anchor picture, because she wanted an ice cream cone before dinner and I said no. I’m so mean! It’s good to hear you love Carnival so much, I’d only heard a bunch of negative press lately, so didn’t look into it much. Then I heard its more kid friendly. Luckily, we had no idea what to expect, so we came out VERY happy, it can only get better from here! I guess I figure if I’m brining my kids on a trip, I want it to be family bonding time, not send ‘em off time. Otherwise, I’d leave them home.

  3. Love all the pics and information! Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing. We went with Disney for our first family cruise just this month, January 4-8 out of Galveston (to Cozumel). It was the perfect first cruise experience for our family. The meals were wonderful, restaurants and room service alike (free 24 hour room service btw!), service in every category was excellent, entertainment/shows top notch, character interactions AMAZING. They brought tears to our eyes at least twice. The excitement in both of our girls’ faces the first time Mickey came prancing their way… and the first time our 4 year old locked eyes with Cinderella… truly magical moments which are now memories we will cherish. We brought along a Disney storybook which we carried around for all the characters and princesses to autograph at each interaction. Per recommendation of online reviewers, we also picked up 2 white pillow cases and a pack of colored sharpies, which were dropped off at the front desk the first night for autographing by all available characters. They were delivered back to our room on the final night — the finished products were even more precious than we imagined! There was always plenty to do and we had a tough time deciding “which??” when activities overlapped. We could barely keep up! Our children were never treated like just a number. Not once. Not by the staff, not by the characters, not by anyone. I read before the cruise (and we kept hearing during the cruise) how wonderful the onboard childcare facilities were, but like you we were there to spend time together as a family. No desire to do adults-only activities while vacationing with our littles and moreover, no desire to leave our girls with strangers. It’s just not our style. The price was right, much better than we ever imagined a Disney Cruise would be, before it was recommended to us by friends. We went with the large porthole stateroom, which was plenty roomy for our family and honestly we could have comfortably fit 2 more if we wanted to. I’m claustrophobic myself and never once felt crammed in. Oh, and we did get off the ship in Cozumel but did not do any excursions. We browsed some shops, snapped some photos and got back on the ship to enjoy as many activities as possible, minus the lines! It was a good thing we did not prebook excursions, as the weather in Cozumel was cool and rainy that day. We were much happier where it was dry and warm. Well, not totally. We did go up to the top deck and kick a soccer ball around in the rain since for the first time no one else was up there. While heading back down to our stateroom to change into dry clothes we spotted the ice cream machines. So we shivered as we enjoyed our cones, then changed. Totally spontaneous and so much fun! If you ever have the opportunity to cruise with Disney, we highly recommend! Fun for all ages!

  4. Great tips! Looks like everyone had a great time! I’ve only been on one cruise to the Bahamas and it was ok, but it was just my husband and I and frankly we were kind of bored ;) We are planning a family cruise this spring though in conjunction with our 2 week Italy trip we’re planning to cruise to Greece and Turkey and are a bit nervous about being trapped in two tiny rooms with 4 kids! Your packing list and tips should help out, thanks!
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    • Kristen Duke says:

      Cari, My husband and I travel a decent amount just the two of us, but while there I was thinking….not sure I’d enjoy a cruise with just he and I. Seems best with some sort of group whether a bunch of adults or kids. Italy and Greece sound AMAZING!! Nice to hear from you;)

  5. We have cruised twice. I have posted on your facebook page about our experience between the two so I won’t bore you with it but both times we went for the same reason family bonding. The first time they were strict not letting our youngest go to “Camp Carnival” but we didn’t really want to let them anyway. We went in off season so the kids had the run of the place. The ship was older so I think that played into our experience as well. It was smaller and my husband was sea sick most of the time. Overall it was ok but I wasn’t really looking to go on another one unless it was Disney and I wasn’t planning on paying that much for one. The entire time we were on the cruise we would talk to other passengers and they would make sure we knew next time to choose Disney, without us even saying how our trip was going. It was really good learning experience and family bonding time.

    The second we found great deals, balcony for cheaper than inside stateroom. I still wasn’t sure but it was my birthday weekend and my husband really wanted to be disconnected. My kids aren’t big into the characters, we only stood in line twice and both times were less than 10 minute waits. Even though my youngest was to young to go to the kids club on Disney by just 8 months they made an exception because he was potty trained, could speak, and had his brother with him. Still wasn’t as crazy about leaving them with strangers but they had Open House times where we could go in all as a family and meet the staff. The kids had bracelets which were removable (an issue we had on carnival that they were not) and told the staff where the kids were. There were also windows through out so you could see them playing. After seeing getting to know the staff and seeing they were the same ones each time, and the kids begging to go we let them. It was also comforting knowing that the ship provided wave phones for us to carry around so they could call/text us if the kids needed anything. It also allowed my husband and I some alone time, I am ashamed to say that time alone is very rare.

    Between both cruises we have been to Port Canaveral, Nassau, Freeport, Halfmoon Cay, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Castaway Cay. I am not a very good blogger (new and always open to tips) but I did do a blog about it.

    Looking forward to reading more.
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    • Maybe I should add that we didn’t ship them off but maybe an hour the last few days. It gave us time to get ready for dinner, pack, shop for their souvenirs but usually within 30mins we were already missing them and making trips to walk by their windows.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I think stopping at the different ports is one of my favorites! We aren’t super into Disney, and after a trip to Disney world this year, we weren’t as interested in the similar feel on a cruise.

      • Totally understand that. I am not one that likes crowds and we did Disney while there on a business trip earlier this year which made me scared to do the cruise but was pleasantly surprised. It was very crowded at first which made me uneasy but we finally figured out when to hit the pool/movies/food without being overwhelmed. We actually ended up getting the pool/slide to ourselves for an hour when we went right before our dinner. It wasn’t as over the top Disney as when you go to Disney World. It was great being able to watch movies that were just coming into theaters (Planes, Monsters University, etc)

        Honestly the BEST thing was that smoking and alcohol was not around us 24/7 and pushed. Once we said no on the first night we were not asked again. Our kids weren’t having to ask about what the “fancy” colored drinks were and why we were saying no. Oh and sodas were included. I have a friend who has been on many different cruise lines except Disney and said Holland was one of her favorites but it is geared towards the older and retired wanting to get away from kids.

        Do you mind me asking how push princess was about offering their drinks? Smoking areas? Modesty?

        I don’t mean to take up your blog but am curious.

        • Kristen Duke says:

          Hey, sorry it took me a bit to get back to you–I left town again–and still not caught up! I feel VERY fortunate that we did not have an issue with smoking. I heard from a friend after I returned that they had to hold their breath walking through varying cruise lines, but I NEVER saw a smoker, but heard from my husband that there was a specific section of the ship that had it. Could not do it on your balcony which is GREAT because my friend told me they never went on their balcony because all around was smoky. Alcohol was a non issue, too. The two times we had the sit down dinner, they didn’t even suggest it. I paid the extra for one drink card so we could get shakes, virgin daiquiris, and soda. Modesty–didn’t notice anything different than our community pool, but there were not a lot of kids/teens, and most adults didn’t get in the pool. Hope that helps!!

  6. It’s so interesting to read about others’ cruise experiences. I’m glad you could go with your kids. My husband and I went on our first cruise a year ago for our 10th anniversary. We went on Royal Caribbean and LOVED every second of it. It was the perfect vacation for the two of us and so good for our relationship. My favorite excursions were going on a bike tour on St. Maarten (wonderful guide, such a pretty area) and snorkeling at the cruise line’s private island – so many amazing colors and fish. We were on a ship like your friend with the ice skating rink, putt putt golf, surfing, an amazing kid pool, etc. We loved our ship and were never bored. Shows were amazing. Now our kids want to go on a cruise with us so we’re thinking about going this fall, if we can save enough money. We’re expecting #5 in May, so I want to go before the baby is big enough to crawl and walk! I’m thinking we’ll go with Disney, if we can afford it. Otherwise probably Royal Caribbean again since we loved it so much (Freedom of the Seas was our ship).
    Oh, and I completely understood many of your comments and observations. We also could spot other Mormons and loved to talk with them! My husband wore his BYU hat a few times, so we always had people commenting on that and saying hi. It’s so great to have an instant friendship with others of your faith. And it also was amazing to me how much other people cruise, like you said, they would all tell you how many times and I think I met a couple that had been on over 100 cruises!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      It’s the countenance, the GLOW, right? We wore the BYU a few times, too. Yeah, will definitely look closer at ships next time around. I can’t even think about the ice skating and surfing on other ships without getting a knot in my stomach, sad that ours didn’t have that. My son instagrammed a picture this morning and hash tagged #bestweekofmylife so I think he survived just fine not knowing what other options were out there! A bike tour on an island sounds so heavenly!!

  7. This is a GREAT post, Kristen! We’re planning a BIG family trip this year, but haven’t narrowed down what we’re doing. A cruise is on our possibility list, but haven’t decided how it would be with 3 little ones. This is really helpful information! :)
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    • Kristen Duke says:

      What are the ages of the littles? I saw 2 year olds roaming around, but I’d say 3 or 4 it would be a bit more fun for everyone. It’s totally safe (I wondered about kids “falling off”). With a big group, you can separate for different things or sit together, but communication on ship is tricky because we didn’t have phone service to text and say, “meet me here in ten minutes” we had to go back to primitive times and tell each other ahead of time where we’d be! I can see that being tougher with a bigger group.

  8. Jacqueline says:

    Fun to see you in so many of the pictures!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Girlfriend, I refuse to be absent from family memories! There are some that are out of focus when I passed it to a stranger, but my husband and son have been trained pretty well;)

  9. My husband surprised me with a honeymoon cruise to Alaska when we got married… it was amazing!!! Not sure how I would feel about cruising with little kids… it was amazing with just the two of us… I think its great your kids were across the hall from you! Loved all the photos!
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    • Kristen Duke says:

      An Alaskan cruise would be fabulous! We went a year or so ago, but just stayed within 2 hours of Anchorage, to see all the different spots along the coast would be great! We had to actually book the rooms with an adult in each room, but I felt safe enough to let them have it (I’ve got a 13 year old), and they thought that was so cool!

  10. Kristen,
    As a travel agent who specializes in cruises, I am appalled charged you $25 per person to book your trip. 95% of travel agents do not charge anything to book a cruise or package (Disney, Universal or similar). The vendors all pay us commission. plus many (myself included) watch for lower fares for their clients. This means if the fare lowers before you leave, you get more money to spend on your trip! Sounds like your travel agent missed the boat on a lot of things with you. Cruising is fun, especially for families and it looks like your family had a blast!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Kendra, it surprised me, too, and I was in such a rush that I didn’t ask about extra fee’s before booking. Partly my fault! But yeah…live and learn. I’ll call you next time I need help!!

  11. Hi Kristen,

    Lovely pictures…love your anchor shirts…where did you buy those yellow tshirts?


    • Kristen Duke says:

      I made them! I cut out vinyl on my silhouette came, but you can also get your own vinyl and cut it to shape. It’s like a sticker, I put it on the shirts and painted inside.

  12. tricia dunlap says:

    you did such a great job documenting all the details!!! i am often lazy on vacations and don’t shoot as much as i should! thanks for scoop regarding a cruise – we’ve yet to try a cruise, so i will definitely go back to this post when we do!

  13. Kristen, so glad you all enjoyed your first cruise. :) My mom is a travel agent (specializing in cruises) but we’ve only been on one. She highly recommends Royal Caribbean – try that one next time!! Sorry to hear you got a bum travel agent – many do NOT charge per person and many will also be able to MATCH any online deal you find. She should have asked you all want you were looking for as far as ship amenities…. I strongly suggest trying another agent – it’s nice to have someone on your side to “battle” for you if needed and as another said the best ones will watch for your fare to drop. Looking forward to hearing what you did in Belize – we did a manatee and snorkeling tour (on our own). It was fabulous! Next time you cruise check out – you’ll find PILES of ideas – you can research ships and ports. I found great recommendations for the tour company in Belize we used. For what it’s worth we were on Royal Caribbean with our kids and found there was plenty to keep them entertained – ice skating, pools, basketball, shows, etc.
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  14. Hi. I am a new follower and wanted to introduce myself. We have been talking about going on a cruise with our son (9yrs old) but we have so many questions. Thanks for your helpful post. I look forward to following your page.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hey! Glad this was helpful!!! Thanks for saying hi, I’m sure your son would LOVE the cruise experience as well as you!

  15. Wow that’s a detailed post. Thank you, so much information here.

  16. We would like to take our adult children and grandchildren on a Christmas cruise, and I have no idea how to start. We’d be a total of 6 adults and 4 boys (6 to 14). Houston would be our port of choice, but we will have to make the arrangements long distance, since we work out of the country.

    Would you mind telling me how much it totally cost your family for the Honduras trip?


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    How to Plan for your First Family Cruise