Friday, August 12, 2011

Bon Voyage!

My Mom celebrated a special  birthday on July 27th. She turned 60 years old and while I'm sure she doesn't appreciate me announcing her age I believe everyone would be in agreement that she looks FABULOUS!

Back in January I decided to plan a family vacation to celebrate her special day. For most of my life it has always been my Mom and me up against my Dad and two younger brothers. Once I got married that made their side one man stronger. And as most of you probably know, it can be hard to rely on the men in your family to pull together any kind of vacation.

Most of our family vacations as kids consisted of a week at the beach. Don't get me wrong, those were some of the best week's of our childhood and we have many great memories. But for years my Mom commented on how she would love to go on a cruise, especially as a family. Once I went off to college in the fall of 2000 we haven't taken one single family vacation. Since that time at least one of us has been in college. Brandon is still at NC State so as you can imagine it has been nearly impossible to coordinate everyone's school, work and personal schedules for the past 11 years. We are lucky to be together at Christmas!

For years Chris's family has made an annual summer beach trip. It's a great tradition and is usually the one time of year that we can all be together. Last year we had 17 people, all in one house. That breaks down to 10 adults, 7 kids (one of them around 4 weeks old) and 1 babysitter. It was a lot of fun but absolutely exhausting. I don't know if I've ever come home from a vacation that tired. Chris and I haven't vacationed with my family before so we decided that this was the year. We don't have any kids so it was a perfect time to enjoy an adult vacation with the Cockerham clan. Even though the process of organizing this trip was extremely stressful I will have to admit that it was worth it in the end!

Wall Family Beach Trip 2010

I looked into cruises out of Baltimore, Charleston, Port Canaveral and Miami. Chris is the only one in our family that has gone on a cruise before so for all of us first timers I figured a four night cruise would be perfect. The cruises out of Baltimore, Charleston and Miami were all seven night cruises so Port Canaveral it was! My family was able to drive to Cape Canaveral in about seven hours and Chris and I were able to catch an easy flight into Orlando.

If you're looking for an affordable vacation with family or friends I would highly recommend a cruise with Royal Caribbean. I wouldn't suggest it for one-on-one time or quiet relaxation. It's definitely more of a group and party environment.

Here is a recap of our trip!

On Sunday my family drove down to Cape Canaveral and were kind enough to pick Chris and me up from the Orlando airport. The drive from Orlando to Cape Canaveral was about 35 minutes. If you're ever considering taking a cruise out of Port Canaveral, rest assured that it's an easy commute from the airport. We spent the night in Cape Canaveral and set out for the port around mid morning on Monday.

The check-in process was a little more lengthy than I expected. It took us about two hours before we were on the ship. Once you drop off your luggage outside the check-in facility you go through security just like you do at the airport. After the security screening you get in line to officially check-in. This is what took the longest amount of time. After we all checked in we had to take a family photo before making one last stop at Homeland Security.

Bahama Mama anyone?

Our living quarters for the week.

Around 2:00p.m. we were finally on board the ship and read to party! We didn't waste a single minute before we were on the pool deck enjoying our first Red Stripe.

When we left Florida on Monday the waters were a little rough. A tropical storm had just moved north-east of us so that contributed to the problem. The ocean certainly didn't look rough but as I was sitting in the pool at one point trying to enjoy a drink, I was repeatedly tossed from one side of the pool to the other. Keep in mind that we were probably only going 10mph. After Monday evening passed the rest of the cruise was smooth as silk. Never once did I ever feel like I was on a moving ship.

We sailed on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas. It was originally built in 1991, weighs 73.941 tons, accommodates 2,354 passengers and 827 crew members. This ship sails back and forth from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas year round.

Monday night was our first dinner on board the ship. This was our first evening meeting our wait staff for the week. I cannot get over the entire staff on board the ship. Everyone was extremely friendly and accommodating. Our dinners each evening were definitely a highlight of the day. We got to know Mustafa, Imade and Alejandro very well and can't thank them enough for taking such great care of us.

We learned that the crew on board these cruise ships work grueling hours for little money. Most of them work six to seven month shifts, with absolutely no break. Then they'll typically get two months off to be back with their families. When we pulled into port on Friday they were clearing off the ship just to board a new group of folks a few hours later. So as you can tell, there isn't much rest for the crew. It's also interesting to see the large number of nationalities in the crew. There are many different cultures and each person has a unique story to tell.

Early Tuesday morning we threw the anchor down close to Cococay. Most of the cruise lines have their own private island where folks can enjoy a beach day. Chris left our ship bright and early to head over to Cococay to go scuba diving. While he was out swimming with the sharks the rest of us took some time to make a few laps around the ship and take in the beautiful views. You could see a storm moving in but we knew it wouldn't last long because there were blue skies directly behind it.

Arriving at Cococay in the rain

Around 5:00p.m. we lifted anchor and were off to Nassau. Tuesday evening was our formal dinner night. It was very entertaining to see how differently folks were dressed for the evening. We saw plenty of couples dressed in tuxedos and formal ball gowns. Then there were a fair share of families dressed just like we did- khakis, sport coats, nice dresses. However, I did notice a gentleman sitting a few tables away from us wearing a bright orange t-shirt, jean shorts and blue crocs. Whatever floats your boat! :)

Once you're on board the ship you'll notice photographers everywhere you turn. There is always someone wanting to snap your picture. They have a photo gallery on the ship where they print all of the pictures at the end of the day and put them on display in hopes that you'll buy them- for $25 a pop! On formal night they had folks lined up everywhere to take family/couple shots. It was hilarious because it was your typical prom photo all over again. We decided to go a different route and I think our photos speak for themselves, ha-ha.

Mom's birthday dinner


Each night Mom and I found ourselves in the casino. I don't believe that my Mom has ever gambled before so we would go with about five dollars each night and take a seat at the slot machines (we're big gamblers as you can tell). One night Mom won around $30 and the next night I won around $40. We didn't dare try the tables- that took too much thought, ha-ha!

Around 8:00a.m. on Wednesday we pulled into Nassau. After breakfast we got off the ship and took some time to walk around the town. It was fun to see but I can't tell you how hot it was. MISERABLE! I think the guy's lasted all of about 30 minutes before they were back on the ship. Mom and I lasted a little longer and did make a few rounds through the straw market. We both bought a few things but overall the ladies there drove me crazy. You couldn't look at one single thing without them hassling you on the price, how many you wanted, etc. It was very aggravating to say the least.

Later that afternoon we took a boat out for a snorkeling excursion. We snorkeled around several great coral reefs; however, the snorkeling in Cococay was definitely better. A highlight of the boat ride back in was hearing about all of the celebrity homes we passed. Our guide pointed out homes that belonged to Chuck Norris, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods (or I guess I should say Elin Woods), among many others.


After dinner that evening Chris and I decided to take a cab over to see the Atlantis hotel. We're trying to decide on where to go in January for my 30th birthday so we thought we'd check things out. Atlantis is unbelievable. It is an entire world to itself. We were there for about two hours and I don't even think we saw half of the place. It was breathtaking and I definitely haven't taken it off my list of possibilities.

On Thursday we spent the entire day cruising back to Florida. It was a picture perfect day to spend at the pool and take in the beautiful views. Chris and Brandon decided to participate in the men's belly flop contest, which was quite entertaining. Brandon didn't even place. I believe the emcee actually compared his splash to Flipper. Chris came in second place; however, he most certainly deserved first!

Chris & Bjorn, our pool bartender for the week.
Chris was very proud of his metal

That evening before dinner we watched a gorgeous sunset. There is nothing like being surrounded by 360 degrees of deep blue ocean water and watching the sun disappear on the horizon.

This was our final evening with our dinner crew. We were sad to say goodbye!
Imade, Erin, Chris & Alejandro

 Here are a few of the cute creatures that greeted us in our room each evening.

 We pulled back into Port first thing Friday morning. I was worried that de-boarding the ship would take as long as boarding, but I was wrong. We were off the ship and had our luggage in 30 minutes. We were sad to see our wonderful vacation come to an end but what great memories we made!

Happy Birthday Mom! We love you very much!!