Adventures in Belize at Altun Ha and the River Wallace

After our first relaxing excursion on the Carnival Conquest in Honduras, we were ready for some adventure.  Our second port brought us to the beautiful Country of Belize.  The cruise ship cannot get close to shore, so the anchor is dropped offshore and we were transported to shore on a smaller boat.

Because my husband is a History teacher, he wanted to check out the Mayan Ruins while we were in Belize.  After some research, we decided on the visiting Altun Ha and the River Wallace.  We boarded an air-conditioned bus and took a 90 minute bus ride through Belize City to Altun Ha.  Because I have two little ones, I was happy to see that the bus had a washroom.

I was worried that the kids would be bored on such a long ride, but we had three wonderful tour guides who entertained us with facts about their hometown and the sights we were passing.  It also served as a good opportunity to show the kids that not everyone is as fortunate as they.

Upon arriving at Altun Ha, we were guided through the various plazas by our guide.  We were allowed to explore the ruins and even climb to the top for about 45 minutes….simply spectacular!  Beware that this excursion is physical and very hot (we were there in August) but bottled water is available for purchase.

The air-conditioned bus was much appreciated as we drove about 20 minutes to the Black Orchid Resort for lunch.  Lunch was not included in this excursion, so remember to bring cash.  We had a choice of traditional dishes such as chicken and rice or we could opt for cheeseburgers instead.

The second leg of our trip began by boarding an open air boat docked at the Black Orchid on the River Wallace.  About 30 passengers and three tour guides could fit on the boat and kids were asked to sit on the inside.  For two hours, we searched for wildlife along the riverbanks.  We saw crocodiles, monkeys, birds, iguanas, dolphins and manatees but I will admit that my favorite part was when the boat got into open waters and picked up considerable speed.  I felt like James Bond!

The boat brought us ride to the pier where we caught a tender back to the cruise ship after checking out the duty-free shops at the port.  This was our longest excursion which lasted about 7 hours total.

Excursion Essentials:  lightweight clothing, sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses with strap, hat, sneakers or walking shoes, lots of water, snacks, backpack, motion sickness medicine (smaller boats made me a bit nauseous), camera, cash

I will admit that this was the excursion I was least excited about.  While my hubby is a history buff and adventure seeker, my place is generally at the beach or the spa.  However, I was pleasantly surprised and how much I enjoyed the day!  The River Wallace tour was so much fun and while the excursion was long and hot, the kids hung in there and crashed when we got back to the Conquest.

This post is the opinion of the Experimental Mommy.  I won the cruise during a social media scavenger hunt sponsored by Carnival Cruise Lines but excursions were not included.  All opinions are my own.

Our Day in Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan with Carnival Cruise Lines

Earlier this month, my family I were fortunate enough to have set sail on a 7 Day Exotic Western Caribbean Cruise courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.  After two days on our beautiful ship, the Carnival Conquest, we were ready to check out the sites at our first Port of Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan.

After researching the options, we decided to take advantage of the Maya Key Private Island with Snorkeling and Lunch.  As we pulled up to Port, we were treated to the most beautiful sunrise.

After a 15 minute ferry ride, we arrived at the private island which spans 11½ acres and is home to white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, snorkeling and animal encounters.  My kids spotted the pool first and could not wait to jump in!  One entire section of the pool was only about 2 1/2 feet deep which allowed my 5 year old daughter to play freely while we sat poolside and enjoyed the sun.

Next, my husband, sister-in-law and I took turns snorkeling in the beautiful barrier reef.  We purchased our own snorkel on the Conquest for only $5 and it was well worth the price.  It was our first time snorkeling, so we were assigned a tour guide to teach us the basics.  Once we were comfortable, we headed into 60-90 feet waters and enjoyed breathtaking views.

Working up an appetite, we headed for the included lunch of chicken, lime rice (delish!), salad and banana chips followed by playing in the white sands of the Roatan beach.

To escape the heat, we took time exploring the Maya Interpretation Center and Honduran Art Exhibit which gave us a great sense of culture and history.  The private island is also home to rehabilitated animals such as the American crocodile and Howler monkeys (both of which we were allowed to hold!).

The entire excursion lasted about 6 hours and cost $89.99 for adults and $49.99 for children (infants are free).  This was the perfect first stop for our family because both the kids and adults were entertained without being rushed.

Excursion Essentials:  swimsuit, beach towel, sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses, snorkel (some are available for rent), camera, flip-flops/sandals, and hat

An air-conditioned restroom with changing area is located on-site and snorkels/lockers are available for rent.  I highly recommend this excursion for travelers with children!

Top Ten Tips for Cruising with Family on Carnival

Just 36 hours ago, I was stepping off the Carnival Conquest after an 8 day/7 night cruise to Roatan, Belize and Cozumel which I actually won in a social media scavenger hunt.  Having never cruised before, I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare to cruise with my daughters (ages 5 and 8).  So, I did what any blogger would do…I researched the heck out of the topic on Google.  I found lots of great tips but I still wanted the real “insider” tips from real families like mine.

With no further ado, here are my Top Ten Tips for Cruising with Family on the Carnival Conquest.

1.  Boarding:  Don’t get to the terminal at the last minute.  Rushing through the lines will only make the kids nervous and give you a headache.  We arrived about 1:00pm and enjoyed taking in the whole experience as we boarded.  Our room was ready but in case yours is not, it is wise to bring a few “must-have” items in your carry-on.

2.  Book a Room with a View:  I cannot say enough about our balcony room.  With space being tight, having the freedom to go outside and take in the sights and sounds of the Gulf was peaceful and relaxing.  Not to mention, my kids loved trying to find fish in the water and gazing at the starry night sky.

3.  Dine Early:  We reserved the Early Seating for dinner which was 6:00pm.  After a long day in port, the kids (and the adults) were exhausted and hungry.  The wait staff is incredible and we were eating no later than 6:10pm every single night.  This allowed for plenty of time for showers and a reasonable bedtime.

4.  Don’t forget the iPad: While disconnecting on the cruise allowed for some quality family time, my kids needed to decompress before bed.  Downloading a few episodes of their favorite TV show or installing a few storytime apps fits the bill.  While some stations are available on your stateroom television, you do not receive Disney Channel or Nickelodeon which house my kids favorite shows.

5.  Know your Kids’ Limitations:  Half the fun of cruising is on-shore adventure!  Research the excursions before booking to make sure they are age appropriate (some are restricted to children over a certain age or height).  Don’t forget to check the activity level and make sure your child can hang in for the duration of the excursion.  We took three excursions that worked out GREAT for my kids.  Watch for those posts in the coming days.

6.  The Early Bird Gets the Pool:  Want to swim on board the Conquest?  Get there early!  By mid-day the pool is very crowded and it can be hard to squeeze in.

7.  Get Acquainted with Camp Carnival: Your first night on board, you and your kids can check out Camp Carnival and become familiar with their play areas, schedule and counselors.  This is a great time for your kids to get to know their fellow campers and explore all that Camp Carnival has to offer.

8.  Be a Contestant on Hasbro Family Game Night:  The Carnival Conquest really is a Fun Ship!  For three nights in the ship’s auditorium, you have the opportunity to be part of a live game show.  Insider tip: sit on the bottom level near the front for a better shot at getting picked to come on stage and win real prizes.

9.  Ice Cream 24/7:  ‘Nuff said.

10. Stay Cool:  A personal battery operated misting fan is worth it’s weight in gold if traveling during the Summer months.  Don’t forget to stay hydrated, too!

11. (Bonus Tip) Get Involved:  Days at Sea can be long, but Carnival has a jam packed schedule for you on board.  Take advantage of the activities available such as mini-golf, family friendly comedy hour, basketball, water slide, swimming, spa, and live entertainment.

Have any tips for cruising with families and young children?  Please share in the comments below!  Looking for more advice?  Check out the article on tips for plus sized cruisers!

Tips for Plus Size Cruisers

This post is written by a friend of the Experimental Mommy, Lena, who wanted to share her thoughts on Plus-Sized Cruising with you.  Enjoy!

I’m a big girl.  No, seriously, I’m a BIG girl…as in plus-sized.  My hubby and I have wanted to go on a cruise for…..forever & we finally did it this year.  We booked a 5-night cruise on the Carnival Fascination out of Jacksonville, FL.  The cruise was great & Carnival is awesome; but this is about what it’s like to be a plus-sized girl on a cruise….not about the cruise itself.

I have a confession:  I’m a research junkie.  I’m a data analyst by trade, so I analyze EVERYTHING.  To death.  I have no shame.  Anyway, there was surprisingly little info on the internet about a plus-sized person’s experience on a cruise.  Plus-sized people have to worry about different things than smaller people.  We have to worry about weird things like if our bottoms will fit in a seat with arms, if the booth at a restaurant leaves enough room to breathe, or if the pool ladder goes deep enough for us to actually get OUT of the pool.

So, let’s talk about the Carnival Fascination:

  • Staterooms – actually pretty roomy.  The bathroom was laid out nicely & didn’t feel overly cramped.  The shower in our ocean view stateroom was bigger than I expected.
    • Poolside chairs (not the loungers) – They had arms that made it uncomfortable for me.  Sitting on a folded up Carnival Pool Towel helped a little, but they were never comfortable for me.

  • Poolside loungers – they were sturdy and seemed a little taller than other lounge chairs.  I found them easy to get on and off of.
  • Pool ladder – YES!  Yes, it went deep enough to make getting into and out of the pool easy. *happy dance!*
  • Coconut Bar & Grill – the booths were absolutely fabulous!!!  There was plenty of room and there were several booths.   They had the same poolside chairs in there too, but because of the booths, I didn’t have to sit in them.
  • Aft and Walkway Tables & Chairs – The same poolside chairs were there too, so I didn’t get to eat there often…though I wanted to.
  • Main dining rooms – The chairs were a little too close together for my taste.  Hubby and I learned to leave an empty seat between us so we could eat comfortably.
  • Comedy Club – the benches & mini-couches were very comfortable.  The individual chairs near the stage were tight, but not uncomfortable.
  • Palace Theater – every seat in that theater was plenty big!  The bench seats in front of the stage were huge and comfortable.

All in all, I found the Carnival Fascination to be VERY plus-size friendly, though I wish they would add some armless chairs to the poolside and aft areas.  We will definitely cruise with Carnival again!

Sail Away With Me #CCLSummer

In just a few days, I will be crossing off a few things from my bucket list.  Traveling internationally…check.  Taking a cruise…check.  Swimming with dolphins…check.  It is quite an exciting time!

Almost a year ago, I boarded my first cruise ship, the Carnival Elation, and took a tour of the new Fun Ship 2.0 Improvements.  Even though the cruise didn’t leave the port, I was hooked.  A few months later, I was invited back to tour the Carnival Conquest and I participated in a social media scavenger hunt.

Guess what?

I won. 

I will be enjoying my prize in the upcoming days by setting sail with my family on the Carnival Conquest (don’t get any ideas, I have house sitters and an attack guinea pig).  I am starting to pack my bags but I need to hear your tips for first time cruisers.  Should I take Dramamine or Bonine?  Do I bring casual or fancy clothes?  What are the “do not forget” items?  Anything special to consider when traveling with kids?  Help!

Urban Adventure Quest Comes to New Orleans

This post is the opinion of the Experimental Mommy.  While tickets were received to facilitate this post, all opinions remain 100% mine.

The ONLY show that my husband and I watch on television TOGETHER is The Amazing Race.  We have both been hooked for about 8 seasons now and have often wondered what it would be like to participate.  Now, Urban Adventure Quest can give us that scavenger hunt experience right in our hometown of New Orleans.

This Smart Phone guided adventure lets you and your family experience the fun of the Amazing Race in just 2-3 hours.  You will solve clues and complete challenges while learning about the city in a fun new way.  My husband has his tour guide license so this is totally right up his alley.  This family friendly adventure is appropriate for ages 7-70 and is perfect to get the family out on a day of doing and learning.

The best part is that you can start on your schedule and play at your own pace…I just hope I don’t have to eat anything disgusting.  Ready to play?  Register on-line at www.UrbanAdventureQuest.com and save $10 with the promo code USFAMILY which makes the cost for a team of 2-5 people only $39.50.

Ready?  Set?  Go!

The Benefits of a Family Cruise Vacation

This post is brought to you by guest writer, Scott Meffen.

Around 20 million people are now choosing cruise vacations each year and family cruise holidays having become one of the fastest growth areas for the holiday industry. Two million of those jumping on board European and world cruises in 2013 will be children and teenagers. With a wide range of on-board activities included in the price it’s easy to see why families are choosing to take to the water.

Image by kansasphoto used under creative commons license

It’s not too hard to explain the rise in popularity of cruise ship holidays. This type of holiday does have a lot to offer when compared to the traditional ‘resort with swimming pool’ holiday option. On a cruise holiday you can awake in a different destination each day with the opportunity to explore new cities, islands and countries. Traveling across the globe also holds a certain fascination for children – would you rather stay in one location or explore the world by ship?

Accommodation and family discounts
On-board accommodation is no longer a pokey cabin but includes suites and family rooms to easily rival, and sometimes beat, those offered by the best hotels. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included with buffets provided throughout the day. Most of the entertainment, excursions, transport and activities are included in the price making this a value-for-money holiday option. Many cruise holiday operators also provide free child places along with good discounts depending on how many family members are travelling.

The bonuses for adults
Adults looking for a little personal time can dine together while the children are looked after with their own special nightly tea parties. Cruise lines offer children’s clubs and have professional members of staff who will look after and entertain the kids. Adults are then free to enjoy the latest films at the on-board cinemas, spend some money in the casinos and shopping malls or relax with a spa treatment before enjoying nightly live entertainment and dancing in the nightclubs.

On-board and onshore activities
If you think you know what goes on when it comes to cruise holiday activities then think again. Cruise ships now offer an amazing array of leisure pursuits as you travel around the world including sports activities such as golf, rollerblading, tennis and even ice skating.  These ‘floating resorts’ can offer multiple swimming pools and water parks with flumes; the new Disney Cruise line actually offers a swimming pool with a water-coaster.

Shore excursions are of course one of the highlights of a cruise holiday and give the entire family the opportunity to try a range of additional activities. Activities will depend on the destination but can include swimming with dolphins, skiing, 4×4 adventures, exploring new cities and beaches, and indulging in a different local cuisine each day.

World cruises in 2013 have come a long way and are a hard to beat holiday option when it comes to value for money and the diversity of activities that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Ten Things to Know Before Camping at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park

This post is the opinion of the Experimental Mommy. Our cabin rental was provided to facilitate this review.  All opinions remain 100% mine.

Like any family, the end of the school year has been incredibly busy.  From tests to projects and parties to graduations, we have been non-stop all month long.  Fortunately, we were able to escape to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Robert, Louisiana for a two night stay in order to take a deep breath and have some fun.

Here are the Top Ten Things to Know Before Camping at Yogi Bear’s Jellytsone Park:

10.  It’s only about an hour from New Orleans.  The kids barely had enough time to say, “Are we there yet, Mom?”  I had no idea this fun escape was so close to home.

9.  Cabins are available at Jellystone Park with two separate bedrooms.  Moms and Dads need their quiet time, too!

8.  Consider bringing a mattress topper or egg crate.  While two double beds are provided in the Louisiana Lodges (plus a daybed with a trundle), the mattress could use some help in the comfort department.  Also you are required to bring your own linens and towels (and I would recommend bringing your own pillows as well).

7.  Cabins are available with both air conditioning and heating. During a hot Louisiana summer at Jellystone Park, this is pure heaven.

6.  The kitchen in the Louisiana Lodges include a stove, microwave and refrigerator/freezer.  Cooking meals is a snap! Plus, if you bring your own ice trays, you can have a constant supply of ice for your drinks!  Outside of the cabin is a grilling area, which smells amazing at dinner time.

5.  There are two different “Hey Rides.”  The morning ride is a fun sing-a-long lasting about 15 minutes.  In the afternoon, the “Hey Ride” becomes a rolling super soaker adventure…bring your water guns!

4.  Take advantage of the Rec Center! The campground has done a wonderful job of lining up constant activities for the kids.  We painted ceramics and colored pillowcases but you could also tie dye T-Shirts, play bingo or participate in the Watermelon eating contest.  While most activities are free, some require a cash fee.

3.  Some cabins, like the Louisiana Lodges, surround their own private pool.  I highly recommend taking advantage of this zero entry pool as it was much less crowded than the main pool.  We always had a lounge chair to sit in and relax as long as we liked.

2.  Concessions are available on the grounds. Until about 6pm, you can purchase snacks such as nachos, chicken fingers, ice cream, snoballs, and more!  Plus, a convenience store stocks things you may have forgotten to bring.

1.  You will have fun!  In just two days, we swam, played at the splash park, mini-golfed, colored pillowcases, took a Hey Ride, spent time on the playground, took a ride on the paddleboats, made a campfire, played Bingo, met new friends and the infamous Yogi the Bear.

But the best part is that we spent quality time together as a family away from the hectic pace of everyday life.  To find out more about Yogi Bear Jellystone Park in Robert, Louisiana, follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

Join Me for a #FinishTheFight Twitter Party!

This is a sponsored conversation from The Motherhood written by Bridgette of Experimental Mommy.  All opinions remain 100% my own.

Earlier this month, I created my “Life List” to help the American Cancer Society #FinishtheFight.  As a science geek, I love that research is at the heart of the mission of the American Cancer Society which has been finding answers that save lives.  In fact, no single nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization in the United States has invested more to find the causes and cures of cancer.  For these reasons, I am proud to be co-hosting a Twitter Party and I would love for you to join in the fun!  Details are below:

LET’S MAKE SOME NOISE! Because silence won’t finish the fight, action will. In honor of the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday (May 22), join us for a Moment AGAINST Silence, Wednesday, May 29, 2013, to make some noise and finish the fight against cancer.

What: From deadly to treatable, from curable to preventable, the progress the American Cancer Society has helped make in the past 100 years is remarkable. There was a time when the word “cancer” was spoken only in whispers – a time when we lost almost every patient. Yet today, 2 out of 3 survive to celebrate more birthdays. Let’s make it 3 out of 3.

Join us for a Twitter party in honor of the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday to help finish the fight against cancer.  Help us make noise by taking a pledge and creating your life list on Facebook.

When: Wednesday, May 29, at 2p ET / 1p CT / 11a PT

Where: We’ll be on Twitter – follow the #FinishtheFight hashtag to track the conversation. You can see the details and RSVP via this Twtvite: http://twtvite.com/finishthefight

Hashtag: #FinishtheFight

Prizes: Five prizes will be awarded throughout the party to participants who respond correctly to trivia questions. Each winner will receive a $25 VISA gift card.

Hosts: @theMotherhood, @CooperMunroe, @EmilyMcKhann, @AmericanCancer

TweetGrid for the party: http://bit.ly/11j2oER

Hope to see you there!

 

How to Save for a Disney Dream Vacation

For many young families, a dream vacation means taking the kids to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, or to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Disney is all about entertaining children and families in a wholesome, safe and fun environment and people travel from all over the world to share the Disney experience with their families.

President’s Day, the period between Christmas and New Years, and the summer vacation months are traditionally the busiest times at Disney properties.  And to make matters worse, these dates are usually blacked out from the special packages and deals. If you plan on taking the family to Disney and traveling during a busy season, be sure to check the fine print on all offers to make sure the promised money savings will be in effect during your visit, and be prepared for long wait times and bigger crowds at the parades and special events. On the upside, staying during the holidays mean special parades, shows and events (have you seen the holiday lights?) at the Disney parks in the United States.

Depending upon the dates of travel, the level of accommodations and amenities desired, making the most of packages and deals, and the cost of travel from your home to either Orlando or Anaheim, a family of four can enjoy a modest vacation of between 5 – 7 days at Disney for between $2,500 – $3,500 dollars.  It is always a good idea to plan that type of expense in advance and adjust your monthly household budget to allow for saving money for your dream vacation at Disneyland or Disney World.

If you have a full year to plan for the vacation and expect to spend about $3,500 on the trip, start making that amount your goal and start looking for ways to shift about $300 each month toward the vacation fund. It is easier to not spend money if you don’t have it in your hands, so if you can afford to just redirect the vacation funds from your paycheck, check with your employer to see if they can deduct the designated amount from your check and deposit it directly into a dedicated savings account. If this is not available through your employer, consider opening a bank account with online access and transfer the funds yourself to that account every payday.

Not everyone can just redirect 10-15% of their paychecks to a vacation fund, so you might have to tighten the belt and make some changes to your spending habits to “find that money.” Household and discretionary expenses that typically have some flexibility to make adjustments include:

  • Food and Beverage – eat out less and make more food at home
  • Personal Care and Grooming – use less expensive products
  • Transportation – ride share and consolidate errands to make less trips
  • Entertainment- search for free family entertainment (check your local library)

If you get a windfall, such as a large tax refund, a bonus check at the holidays or a large commission check, put away a lump sum into a savings bond or certificate of deposit (CD) with a bank or credit union. Check with several banks to see who has the best interest rate cd and make sure that the CD is insured by the FDIC. Certificates of Deposit have different minimum amounts and varying lengths of time that you must commit to, so check around and find the plan that best meets your needs in the time frame you have.

Having your vacation paid for before you leave makes for a much more relaxing time!  What do you plan to do for summer vacation this year and how to do you plan to save?

This post is brought to you by guest author, Jenna Smith.