Last year brought us on vacation to Hawaii and this year we were off and trying our first cruise to the Mexican Riviera. We are sharing some of our tips and answering questions everyone keeps asking in our three part trip rundown.
Our cruise was a busy one. It brought one birthday and two different age groups to keep busy. The kids also had some good, serious feedback from the last trip that we tried to take into consideration for this trip.
So did we pull it together? Keep reading on:
PICKING THE TRIP
My oldest spent four years learning Spanish in high school. I told her if she did accomplish that I would take her to Mexico one day. So we did. We were excited to take a week long Mexican Riviera cruise trip aboard Carnival Cruise Lines.
Some of the feedback we got after last years trip on choosing a trip for this year was:
- Continuing to choose shore excursions and activities that teens, adults, and younger kids can do. This year instead of choosing the trip and excursions for them, we met with the older kids together and the younger kids together and gave them several options for shore excursions.The funny thing was, they all pretty much chose the same activities.
- Allowing everyone to choose their activity level: some of our kids are really active and want to be busy from sun up to sun down, others want to do one activity and then chill the rest of the day. That was hard in Hawaii so we really looked into a cruise for that specific reason.
- Giving the adults some down time and relaxation. This was HUGE after our Hawaii trip--we were exhausted after driving all over Hawaii, making every meal and getting little to no time to get out and spend time together just to relax for an hour. We went to McDonald's more times that I care to say because the kids didn't want to try anything new so it made it tough on us. The whole trip was focused on the kids and we adults were spent at the end of the day.
WHY A CRUISE?
Our travel planner, Scott at Andara Cruise and Travel raved about it. We had actually planned this trip last year but for reasons it fell through so we opted for Hawaii. He told us that we needed to try it again, that it would really be everything that we needed after all the feedback we got from the kids. So we did it. We went on the Carnival Splendor which will soon be replaced by the Carnival Panorama.
WHAT DOCUMENTATION DO YOU NEED TO CRUISE?
Since you are leaving an American port for the Mexican Riviera cruise, you just need documentation of citizenship--a passport or birth certificate is sufficient. My boyfriend and his daughter have passports and brought those, and I brought the kids and my birth certificates. We had to show our documentation before boarding the ship for the first time, and upon return as we went through customs. It was recommended that we bring it with us on shore excursions along with our sail and sign card, but we only ever had to show our sail and sign card when leaving or returning on shore excursions. NOTE: When leaving for shore excursions, our ship had the parent scan their sail and sign card first and then our kids. The kids CANNOT check themselves off the ship for shore excursions but they CAN check themselves back into the ship without their parent. (Even the teenagers, they tried at one port to go off the ship and into the plaza to grab one last souvenir).
DO YOU NEED ANY SPECIAL DOCUMENTATION TO CRUISE WITH YOUR CHILDREN AS A SINGLE PARENT OR AS A BLENDED FAMILY?
If you go to the cruise ships websites, they do ask that if you are divorced you have a notarized consent form from the other parent giving permission for them to take your child on a cruise and the dates you will be gone. If your spouse or ex spouse has died, a death certificate is recommended. We didn't need to ever show any of those at any point during the cruise but had it on us to show in case we were asked.
WHAT PACKAGES SHOULD I BUY FOR THE CRUISE SHIP? WIFI? DRINK? CHAT??
WIFI PACKAGES? NOT WORTH IT!
Again, that depends on you, but we opted to not get ANY Wifi packages while on board and we did great! The Wifi on ships is terrible anyway, no matter what package you buy so we didn't feel the need to buy one. We DO recommend downloading stuff beforehand though. Once the bunk beds were down in our room only one kid could see the TV so we never watched it. Prior to the trip we had each of the kids and adults download movies and shows from Netflix to their phones or tablets. We bought memory cards super cheap online and put them in their phones and tablets so they had more storage. Make sure they are signed into their Netflix accounts prior to boarding the ship or they won't get to access their downloads. (One kid learned the hard way). For a FRACTION of the cost of the Wifi packages our kids had more material than they were able to watch all week and it was stuff they enjoyed watching! Since I have no roaming charges on my cell phone plan in Mexico, the older kids everytime we were in port looked like this:
WHAT ABOUT THE DRINK PACKAGES? WORTH IT!
Splurge on the drink packages. Especially if you are travelling in the summer. We didn't do the adult drink packages that include unlimited alcoholic drinks and soda drinks (for some looking at alcohol packages you may want to look at the cost to see if it's worth it--it's anywhere from $8-15 per alcoholic drink and pitchers of alcoholic drinks run about $26+. They do have daily alcoholic drink specials which run from $4-8 each). Bottomless bubbles for the kids that includes soda is worth it! The kids love being able to go up to the bar and order their soda and having someone serve it to them. They drink MORE which keeps them hydrated! My kids don't get to drink soda very often so it was a treat for them and in the humidity it was essential to keep them hydrated with anything I could get down them.
ONBOARD CHAT PACKAGES? IT DEPENDS.
Within the first day I had ordered chat packages on our Carnival Hub App for the teenagers and I. It wasn't necessary for the younger kids so it will really depend on the age. The younger kids had clubs they liked to go to in the morning and it requires an authorized person to drop them off at the clubs and pick them up. In the afternoon and evening they swam with us and went to comedy clubs and dinner so they were always with us. The teenagers? Not so much. They were ALL OVER THE SHIP. They can also come in and out of their clubs at their leisure. Sometimes they wanted to go to the comedy club together while we went to dinner. The chat plan through the hub cost $5 total per phone. So for $15 the whole trip while at sea we could text each other back and forth while in airplane mode. But it was so worth it. I totally got my money's worth and it made the teenagers more willing to get out and explore knowing they could ask where we were and opt into some of the younger kids activities or easily locate us at BINGO if they were coming from another activity.
WHAT SHOULD I PACK?
We did fine with shorts, walking shoes, shirts, flip flops and swim suits but quickly learned that people go ALL OUT!! We learned very quickly there are formal nights, etc. on the cruise ship. We survived without packing all the fancy stuff (because honestly there was NO WAY I was going to get my son or boyfriend in 90 degrees and 80% humidity to wear a suit and tie) but there are several things we recommend as a MUST to bring.
Charging Station: YES!!! Oh my gosh we would've DIED without this. This allowed us to be able to charge all of our tablets and cell phones each night. We only had one outlet in our entire cabin. We saw this on almost every 'list of things to pack for a cruise' list we looked at. If you have more than one electronic device you are bringing--buy one of these before you go! Also know if you are going to be sharing a room with 4 people and will have bunk beds--most of the people won't be able to see the TV they have in the room for you. So having our own phones and tablets was nice to have stuff we liked already pre downloaded to our individual devices.
Over the Door Organizer: NO!!! I saw this on a lot of websites on what to pack that would give you additional storage in your small cabin but we had plenty of storage. And I'm the queen of packing my whole closet on a trip. We had lot's of storage and drawers and shelves in the bathroom. It wasn't necessary at all. We utilized the space we had well.
Goggles: YES!!! My kids didn't grow up in the ocean like I did. Salt water isn't their thing and two of my kids wear contacts so between the ocean and the salt water pools on the cruise, the kids loved wearing goggles. I went without them on this trip and had no trouble in the ocean but the pools on the cruise irritated my eyes and I wished I had packed mine.
Blanket and Hoodie: YES!!! Depending on the time of the year bring a jacket instead of a hoodie but we brought a hoodie and were glad. It gets cold at night and our dining room was freezing! The boys didn't wear a hoodie at all the entire trip but we girls did. I also recommend bringing a blanket...maybe a light fleece for the outdoor movie nights. I got a little cold and I got in trouble for hauling down my extra (white) blanket from my room. Oops!
Breathable Clothes!! If you are going in the summer you will want breathable clothes. My son lived in tank tops and shorts, the girls the same. My boyfriend and I are a little older now and went for lightweight, breathable materials. I lived in these North Face Do Everything Bermuda Shorts. I have never in my life spent that much money on shorts but I splurged and bought two pairs before the trip and ended up wearing them the whole trip. They dried quickly when i was hot, they were easy to throw over my swim suit and I loved how comfortable they were. My boyfriend and son swore by these(similar) Under Armour shorts. We found theirs at Sierra Trading post for less. The boys loved how light weight they were for touring around on port days. We went with similar materials for our shirts too and stayed cool the whole trip. Nike, Under Armour, Oakley, North Face, Columbia and Eddie Bauer all seemed to be brands that regularly sell the breathable sports material shirts that are great for wearing in heat and humidity.
Anything You DON'T Have to Purchase on the Ship: YES!!! I ran out of lotion and spent $10 on the ship for a small bottle. Trial size lotions were $4-5! I luckily didn't have to pay for any medicine because being the over achieving pack my closet person I am I was prepared for any pharmaceutical emergency. I remembered everything for coughs, colds, stomachaches and allergies but forgot the lotion. Also pack your own sunscreen--it was $20 a bottle on the ship! Waiting and buying what you need in port helps to save a little money but Cabo and Mazatlan were harder to find more than little stores that had pharmacy essentials. In Puerto Vallarta there is a Walmart kiddie corner to where the ship docks and we went over there and stocked up on a few things we wanted that the ship didn't have.
DAY 1: BON VOYAGE!
Our first day started at 3:00am! I had to be up and out early to the airport for our 6:00am flight. We got to Long Beach around 10:30am because Southwest always lays you over coming out of our city --cattle lineup, moo!, 2 hour friggin' layover!!!--However, I have NO compliants about Southwest Airlines today (other than my two usual complaints) because our flight attendant was amazing. He went above and beyond making sure the young girls had a great flight. He made them a pink mocktail drink (Sprite and Cranberry juice with a Southwest heart stirring stick inside), and let them tour the cockpit and meet the pilots after the flight.
My daughter brought along her animal from my ex's funeral. Tootsie (short for Tootsie Roll) goes everywhere with us along with her other stuffed animals. half my youngest suitcase was packed with stuffed animal dogs. Tootsie got to go on the plane ride this time. The flight attendant asked her about her dog and she launched into the story. And then she got the mocktail and the tour of the cabin. But the crazy cool thing was when she met the captain, he said that the flight attendant had told him to ask about her stuffed animal. She told the captain and co-captain about her animal and the captain said, "I was 10 when I lost my parent. And it is hard. REALLY, really hard." He gave her a few words of understanding and advice and I of course was crying by that point. She and her friend we were flying with got to sit in the cockpit and had a great time. THANK YOU SOUTHWEST!
We toured the Queen Mary prior to boarding the ship. (PS if you show your Carnival boarding pass you can get in FREE!)
And then we got on the ship. We were TOTALLY lost once we got on the boat. I wish there was a little more information given to you prior to boarding regarding the kids clubs, activities that would be happening, etc. We had no idea about formal night and there was a The Office trivia game where lot's of people had Dunder Mifflin shirts on. But we muddled through and made it. One suggestion: BUY A LANYARD FOR YOUR SAIL AND SIGN CARDS. You are always lugging them around with you. If you want to order a drink, food, or make a purchase on the ship....you need your card. (You even need your card even if you have purchased a drink package or bottomless bubbles package). If you leave or come back on the ship, you need your card. The kids and I bought lanyards and they were hung up in a special spot in our room each time we went in and out of the room. Anytime the kids left the room, they had their lanyards on. Surprisingly I'm usually the one that looses my room key at least 2+ times on a trip but I didn't loose my card once this trip. This trip I struggled with the time changes and ship time and I got lost all week on the ship.
CABO SAN LUCAS + SHOULD YOU DO CARNIVAL SHORE EXCURSIONS?
Cabo San Lucas was our first shore excursion. At Cabo San Lucas there is no pier for the cruise ship to dock so you need to take water shuttles over to the shore. We recommend standing in line at least an hour prior to the water shuttle tickets being distributed. That way you get on one of the earlier water shuttles over so you have more time to explore. Listen to morning announcements, watch your hub app and get in line early!
SHOULD YOU DO CARNIVAL CRUISE SHORE EXCURSIONS? IT DEPENDS.
Our cruise planner told us that the Carnival Cruise line excursions often had more people in them, were a little more money and he recommended ShoreTrips for the same price or better for the same excursions. (Our groups for the activities we chose were always limited to 8 with ShoreTrips. Carnival is usually double to triple that amount of people for each excursion). However, if you like to get off the boat and know immediately where to go when you're in a foreign country, Carnival Cruise excursions are very organized. As soon as we got off the water shuttle there were signs to the Carnival excursions and you walk right over to them and line up by the designated sign. Your guide meets you and takes you off on your excursion. We noticed it was this way for the Carnival Cruise Line excursions in every port we went to. If you didn't, than you get to walk into the market area and navigate to find your way. Our ShoreTrips excursions usually had us walk alittle bit once we got off the ship but gave great directions on where to meet our guides. We had no issues. Along the way though you get bombarded by people holding signs for private excursions, selling things and free cocktails with food purchase.
HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND GETTING AROUND CABO SAN LUCAS?
Uber baby. We were given the advice to just take taxis but it would've been very expensive to have taxi's take us---double that of Uber. If you choose Wild Canyon they do have a van that runs out there for free but the times they run can be weird and we had issues with our shore time versus Cabo time and missed the first van and we were stressing a little to get back on time so we Uber'd. The taxi was going to cost us $40 one way for six of us and an Uber cost us $23 one way for all six of us.
BEST EXCURSIONS FOR FAMILIES OF DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS:
Whale Shark Swimming: This was our top favorite pick from Hawaii. We went swimming with sea turtles and dolphins in Hawaii and the kids still talk about how much fun it was. So we gave them the option of being able to go swimming with whale sharks and they thought it was cool, but it was only the first choice of one of the kids.
Wild Canyon Park was the way we chose to spend the day in Cabo San Lucas. For $15 you get entrance to the park. you can walk across the world's largest wooden suspension bridge, and you can visit the animals and the waterpark. You can choose to do the zipline adventures, ride camels and ATV across the bridge for an additional cost but we decided to sweat it out and run across the bridge and back. And I do mean sweat it out. Every pore was sweating in the 80+% humidity. We all hogged the fans when we got back from the bridge.
There was also a water park there which would've been really nice to dip our feet into. Lot's of people were taking advantage of the water area. There were water slides and a water playground perfect for kids. (After sweating out every pore, I was loving the water park too). The water park is free with admission but the zipline, camel rides, and ATV are additional.
The best part of our trip there was the interactive tour. (It was not too much--I believe an additional $10-15 per person along with the $15 entrance fee). Wild Canyon is a rescue center for many animals. Our tour guide was amazing and took us to see and interact with pet turtles, macaws, guinea pigs, bunnies, camels, iguanas and crocodiles and gave amazing information about the animals that grabbed the kids attention the entire time. our tour ended up being 2 hours long and we couldn't even believe how fast time went!
NEED MORE TIPS AND ADVICE FOR GOING TO THE MEXICAN RIVIERA? COME BACK TOMORROW FOR PART 2. WE WILL GIVE TIPS ON IF YOU NEED TO LEARN SPANISH BEFORE YOU TRAVEL, OUR OPINION ON FEELING 'SAFE' IN MEXICO, AND OUR CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE MEXICAN RIVIERA GRADES...