Carrie is a stay-at-home-mom to two children, Jack (3) and Claire (1). Previously an account manager for a local insurance firm, she now spends the days wrangling small children and wondering how the house got so messy, and considers the day a success if everyone is dressed by noon. She also likes horses, books, iced tea and lip gloss. She blogs about learning to be a Stay-at-Home-Mom at Carrie Elle.

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Disney Cruise Line On-Shore Adventures!

I’ve been home for a whopping 24 hours, and it’s all I could do this morning not to lock myself in my room and get to work organizing all the pictures and exciting stories I have to share from our seven-day Western Caribbean Disney Cruise (that sailed out of Galveston)!

I have so many things to write about, in fact, that I don’t even know where to start…and that’s a great “problem” to have.

One of the highlights of this trip was getting to see three new places with my kids (and my sister, who traveled with us and helped out a ton – not sure I could have handled the two kids alone).

A typical vacation requires a flight or a long car ride, a hotel, a rental car, and all that “fun” stuff.  The benefit to cruising was that we set up in our hotel room for the week, and the “hotel” literally took us to new and exciting locations that we could explore during the day without the hassle of flying, renting a car, finding our way around a new location, etc., etc.

The Disney Magic, docked at Cozumel (a place I can't wait to visit again).

Our cruise stopped at three locations – Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Cozumel.  At each port, we had the option to participate in one of many guided shore excursions or to explore the area on our own.  I decided to take advantage of some of the guided activities so I could see what it was all about.

Before booking our excursions, I was sure to confirm the ages allowed (several excursions are geared towards older kids and not suitable for the littlest ones) and the amount of travel time involved (no matter how awesome the activity, I was not up for anything that involved more than 40 minutes or so of travel time to the activity location – I had to plan things around my kids, and a long bus ride just didn’t sound like a fun way to spend the day).

After two relaxing days at sea (well, relaxing except for the time my sister free-fed ice cream and chocolate milk to Jack after I had taken Claire back to the stateroom and he proceeded to throw up several times in the middle of the night, and aside from the time Claire was in her fancy dress for formal night and fell on the white marble staircase and busted her lip and bled all over the floor and her new dress), we anchored at our first port – Grand Cayman, in the Cayman Islands.  We took a tender (tender = motor boat) to shore, where were met up with our tour guide for the Dolphin Encounter and Turtle Farm shore excursion (which I had chosen after literally hours of researching all of our choices)!

The Dolphin Encounter and Turtle Farm was just a short 30 minute drive away (in an air-conditioned bus).  Claire was too little to get in the water with the dolphins, so she and I were “observers” —  meaning a lower admission fee, but no contact with the dolphins — while Jack and my sister, Polly, were to get in the water and experience hands-on time with the dolphins.

When we arrived, we were told that we’d visit the Turtle Farm first, and then meet the dolphins.  At first, Jack was disappointed – we’d really been talking this up, and he wanted to get right in the water!  But, as soon as we walked into the Turtle Farm, his tune changed…the turtles were so fun to watch, and there were *so* many (I’m not sure how many, but I would guess hundreds)!

These turtles were very busy swimming around - it was amazing how active they were.

We walked around the Turtle Farm and watched sea turtles of all ages swimming around us…the kids were even able to walk into one of the tanks with the younger turtles and pick them up (Jack was much too nervous to pick one up, or even get in the tank for that matter…but he did touch one!).

This old guy (gal?) came over to say hello!

After visiting with the turtles, we crossed the street to the Dolphin Encounter.  I was a little bit nervous on Jack’s behalf…he is wary about deep water (“deep” being any water that he can’t touch the ground in) and is terrified of getting his face wet, so I wasn’t sure how he’d fare.

As soon as we arrived, we saw several dolphins frolicking in their enclosures (truly, they were jumping around and just being cute, all on their own), and this was all it took to get Jack excited.

Jack puts his life jacket on and then gets excited as soon as he sees a dolphin.

Unfortunately, the area that Claire and I sat in to observe was quite a ways back from the actual pool that the dolphin encounter took place in, and I was unable to see Jack interacting with the dolphin.  However, he had lots to say about it once they returned from this adventure – mostly, that he had met a dolphin named Alma and put a ball on her nose, fed her a fish, and had a water fight with her – he even willingly let her splash him!  And luckily for me, there had been a photographer catching all of this excitement!

Jack and Alma play ball.

I was pretty sure we couldn’t top this experience (swimming with dolphins is, after all, pretty awesome), but I was determined to do my best at our next port, which was Costa Maya, Mexico.

Costa Maya is a beautiful little beach town.  We decided that rather than participate in an organized shore excursion, we’d take a shuttle to the beach and do things on our own time (plus, Jack really wanted to build a sand castle at the beach).

The nearest beach (and I can’t imagine finding one more beautiful), was in the tiny little town of Mahahual.  I don’t think we could have picked a better location to spend our afternoon.   The town was colorful and clean, the people friendly, the ocean water just cool enough to be refreshing (but not so cold you couldn’t walk right in), and the sand white and soft beneath our feet.

Beautiful Mahahual, just a few short minutes from the cruise ship docks (I'm pointing at the docked cruise ships).

We took a shuttle to Mahahual and a taxi back (round trip, we paid just $10 to transport the four of us, and it was only a short five-minute drive each way).   I’ve been to several tropical beaches (pre-kids), and I just might put this beach (and this port!) at the top of my list of favorites.

We brought a few cups for Jack to dig (and make sand castles) with...this turned out to be the Best Thing Ever in the eyes of a three-year-old.

After our amazing beach day, I was again wondering how we could possibly top it…we still had one port left, and that was the Mexican island of Cozumel.

My sister and I wanted to see the Mayan ruins, and Cozumel is famous for having some of the most sacred ruins in Mexico,  so we signed up for the Cozumel Ruins and Beach Tour.

Again, I had checked out the drive times – they were about 40 minutes away, which was pushing it…but we decided that a 40-minute drive to see a piece of incredible history was worth it, regardless of the crankiness of my children.

This room is where Mayan women would come in search of fertility. I stayed away!

This ended up being a long day for the kids.  They were troopers, but it turns out Cozumel is pretty hot…and within minutes of beginning our ruins tour, Jack (who had been excitedly talking about the ruins all.day.long), was over it.  The tour was fascinating, and the tour guide was full of interesting information (for example, according to the Mayans, water should always be free…and to this day, Cozumel residents have free and unlimited access to water that springs from the caves below ground).  By the end of our 45-minute tour, though, even the iguanas that we found sunbathing all over the ruins couldn’t cheer Jack up, and he was happy to get into the air-conditioned tour bus!

Our next stop was the beach, and as we were driving the tour guide (an affable wealth of knowledge named Alen) told us that Cozumel has a 0% crime rate.  That’s pretty impressive, and more than a little reassuring…these days, you mostly hear of the crime in Mexico – you hear little about the safety of Mexico, even though most of the country is indeed a very safe place to be.

Following the tour of the ruins, we loaded up in the bus again and headed for the beach (and, after about five minutes in the air-conditioned comfort of the bus and with a cold bottle of water in hand, Jack was back to his happy self).  The beach we visited was part of a much larger federal park, and included a pool, a restaurant, water slides, a playground, and of course…another gorgeous stretch of white sand beach!

The kids were pretty wiped out at this point (and we still had to drive back to the dock), but Jack wasn’t too tired to enjoy a virgin strawberry daiquiri and some time in the pool!

Jack enjoys some strawberry goodness in the shade.

We ended up spending over six hours in Cozumel, and it was worth every second.  Cozumel was a beautiful and welcoming place, and I would travel back in a heartbeat (everyone we met from Cozumel was wonderful, and it was clear that they take pride in their island by both the way they talk about it and the way they care for it).

I’m not sure I could pick a favorite destination…all were paradise, and each had something unique to offer.  I spent a lot of time picking out the excursions that I thought would best suit my family, and if I do say so myself, I did a pretty darn good job!  If the kids were just a few years older, I would have had a much harder time deciding…there are so many things to choose from.

The best part is that there is truly something for everyone…had I wanted to, we could have just taken a taxi to a beach or a shopping location in each port, or maybe found a great place for lunch (personally, I avoid restaurants at all costs these days as I spend more time picking stuff up off the floor, walking the kids around outside, wiping macaroni off of faces, etc., than actually eating!).

It’s a little bit surreal to think that just a few short days ago, I was strolling around in my bathing suit in tropical paradise, and today I’m bundled up inside with the heater turned on because it’s so chilly out.  I kinda liked the tropical paradise better…and I can’t wait to go back someday (hopefully sooner than later!).  But until then, I’ll just dream of white sand beaches, the sound of waves crashing on the reef, my kids splashing in the turquoise ocean, and the warm sun on my back.

Ahhhh, yes.  Paradise!

If you’re looking to book a Disney cruise sailing out of Galveston, now would be a good time!  On many of the upcoming 6 and 8 night cruises, KIDS SAIL FREE!  

Disclosure: Disney paid my expenses for this cruise and for a portion of our shore excursions.  All opinions and experiences, however, are entirely my own.

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