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Tropical Cruise

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S: 2012 Family Cruise by Kimberly Ethington

2: Sunday, February 5, 2012 For Christmas this year the kids received a special gift, a ticket to go on a cruise! We warned all their teachers that they would be missing a week of school, and we packed our bags. We had everything packed yesterday except a few last minute things like make-up and glasses. Following sacrament meeting we ran home to lock up the house and drop off Nathan. My running buddy Jenn Frazier agreed to watch Nathan for the whole week! I have left babies before, (Alex was 8 months old when I left him) but because of Nathan’s temperamental nature I have been really nervous. | Day 1 | This was the last picture taken of Nathan before we left, so I looked at it all week long whenever I missed him.

3: Galveston, Texas | Matthew, Alex, Joshua, Kim, Samantha, and Jacob

4: With 7 people, we had a lot of luggage. It was drizzling when we unloaded the car and everyone ran to the shuttle. Initially I had nothing to carry so I helped lighten the load of one of the boys. The kids were so excited as we pulled up to the terminal and could see our ship towering over the building. Once we were on the ship everyone was so astounded by how big and spectacular everything was. We were just on the outside deck and they were pointing everything out. It was so much fun to be with them and soak in those first few moments, realizing we were going to be on this ship for the next week. Once we were on the ship we found our rooms, even though our bags wouldn't get there for awhile. We were in rooms 8645 and 8647 on deck eight. The first thing on our agenda was to go to the Windjammer café and eat lunch. We just walked around and surveyed the food, testing what looked good. I saw my favorite coconut cookies and knew from experience they would not be around in a few days so I got one while I could. We were required to go to the muster drill, although no one liked it that much. Other years we had to take our life jackets with us, but we were assured we didn't need them. Our group had to meet in the dining room, so at least we had a nice place to sit while we waited for everyone to be accounted for, and we were served water. I don't think anyone outside or in the halls go that nice of treatment. Because of the weather they moved the sail away party inside but we went up on deck anyway! | Gulf of Mexico

5: All day long we explored the ship. Samantha was really excited to find a library. It was so much fun because I had so many memories from two years ago when I was on this ship for my dad's birthday with most of my family. I’m sure the kids didn't care, but everywhere we went I would point out something that happened there. It was really fun to show them the room where we had surprised grandpa, and it looked exactly the same. We showed them the Ellington's lounge and I pointed out how I had taken a picture last time and changed it to say Ethington’s I really liked being on the same ship. We knew where everything was but it was all still so new to the kids.

7: We ate in the dining room called Sound of Music, which was the same level as we were before and towards the back corner, 553. The table was set for six so it made it squishy for seven but Alex is small. The kids were on their best behavior and we were putting their manners to the test. We tried to have everyone from the table order something different so we could try everything. Our waiter thought I was vegetarian but I assured him I just wanted to try something different. Joshua didn't know what he wanted but he could see the dessert on the right hand side and tried to order the black forest cake for dinner. We helped him pick something else out. When it did come time for dessert, there were too many choices. So Daddy ordered a few extras so we could all try everything, and Josh finally got his black forest cherry cake. Everyone was jealous because he got a cookie and ice-cream, so we asked for extra lady fingers too. Our waiter was trying so hard that he brought out extra cookie wafers the next day before the boys even asked for them. The funny thing was they weren't that good, so by the next day no one wanted to eat them.

8: Fast forward a few hours after a wonderful first day on the ship, our tummies were full, the ship was moving towards or first port, the kids were getting ready for bed and I couldn't find my toothbrush. My suitcase was missing! We checked with the front desk and made sure it wasn't confiscated. I hadn't brought anything illegal like an iron (fire hazard). Then it dawned on me, Scott had loaded the car last night but I had kept my bag out to add any last minute items. Then I had put it up front. When we unloaded the car to catch the shuttle we only got the bags from the back. My suitcase was still in the car! I had no clothes except the ones I was wearing and the formal dresses I had put in the garment bag. While everyone else was watching the super bowl I was shopping for the essentials. I bought some lounge shorts, two shirts and a sun dress that I eventually returned (I wore it to dinner one night and decided I really didn't like it). My total came to $112. Our stateroom attendant found me a set of kid's toothbrushes, I used Samantha's little make-up kit that I had been saving for her birthday, and luckily I had packed all my shoes separate. I was thinking that the suitcase full of Samantha's presents would have been a good one to have left behind, she would have been sad but she would have survived. I am thankful that it wasn't the boy's suitcase. Can you imagine finding clothes for 4 boys, the ship shop didn't even have women's swimsuits, and they definitely wouldn't have had boys’ clothes.

9: Day 2- At Sea | Monday, February 6, 2012 Since we stayed up so late last night we decided to sleep in this morning, or at least not set an alarm. We just waited till the kids woke us up. Joshua was first one up wondering where his clothes were. Within minutes everyone but Jacob and Alex were awake.

10: Once we were dressed we went to our first breakfast in the Windjammer. Alex got cereal, muffins and a donut. I got oatmeal, a delicious bran muffin and juice. Then I ate off all the other plates. A favorite was biscuits and gravy. The Adventure Ocean programs started at 9 AM and the boys didn't want to be late. Daddy ran to get Ice-show tickets and I headed to check all 5 kids into the kid programs. After that we didn't know what to do, there were too many choices. We peeked through the windows to spy on the kids before we settled on some chairs overlooking the back of the ship. Samantha, tired of the kid activities, checked everyone out around eleven. Luckily we found them in the room. Everyone went with us to the Thriller Dance class. Alex just watched but everyone else was interested in learning the Michael Jackson moves. Apparently we will know the whole dance by the end of the week and do a flash-mob style performance. We were a little late for the Meet and Mingle and barely got our raffle tickets in the bowl before the drawing. There was quite a crowd and we couldn't find any seats but we won 2 prizes! Alex got a bar of coffee flavored chocolate (yuck!) and Matthew got a hat. I was excited because I needed one, but he has been wearing it all day. I guess I'll have to get my own. Next we had ice-skating on the agenda. All the kids were in pants and I borrowed Samantha's leggings, but I don't think I needed them. I had also grabbed all the jackets but no one used them. It was surprisingly warm and the ice was even melting. Matthew fell once in a puddle of water and his pants were all wet. Jacob had fun collecting ice and making a snow ball. Matthew and Alex lasted the longest on the ice. We had to convince Alex we would come back to get his skates off. They made us wear helmets and a girl pointed out half way through that mine was on backwards. I will look goofy in the pictures.

11: Matthew, Mom, Alex and Samantha | Showing off our skills! | Matthew

12: Johnny Rockets | By now we had worked up quite an appetite and were ready for Johnny Rockets. Unfortunately, Samantha tried to get ahead of the group and got temporarily lost. The buddy system only works if we use it-- we found her on the stairs. Jacob wanted to eat outside but without sun screen we decided to eat inside instead. The fries and onion rings were awesome! The server kept bringing us more, but we wanted to save room for dessert. My BLT was really good and Alex actually ate his grilled cheese. When we ordered dessert we tried to get everyone to share, but all the kids at my table ended up with their own. Josh and Matthew were a little upset that they had to share, but I think they just liked the idea of getting their own, they would not have been able to finish. | Matthew, Daddy, and Joshua

13: Lunch Time! | Jacob

14: Back at the room we had quite the drama getting ready to go to the pool but we finally made it up to the deck. Since I don't have a swimsuit I get to watch everyone swim while I sit here eating an ice-cream cone. I am reading a book and listening to the music. | Samantha

15: Joshua and Alex

16: Joshua | Samantha | Jacob

17: Dinner

19: Everyone on the ship looked fancy tonight, dressed up for formal night. I am so glad I had a nice dress to wear. All the boys were in their suits and matching ties and Scott looked dashing in his tuxedo. We let Samantha open an early birthday present so she could wear her brand new dress. To say that dinner was great would be an understatement. I tried Escargot and Jacob ordered the Duck. Jacob also tried caviar this afternoon at the Meet & Mingle, so we are getting quite the culinary experience. The pineapple soup wasn't as good as the watermelon soup yesterday; but the rolls were really good. Following dinner we went to meet the Captain. The guys standing in the reception line were more talkative than the Capitan. We had the main camera on us and Alex got camera shy, hopefully the picture turned out. The older boys wanted to go to Adventure Ocean while Samantha and Alex went with us to the evening show. The place was packed with standing room only. We were amused with some of the musical numbers. The performers picked out a girl Samantha had met to sing a Kermit the Frog song with them, it was cute but not enough to make us stay. The advantage to standing in the back means it is really easy to sneak out. Instead we went to explore the front of the ship on the helicopter pad. The ship had passed through a rain storm so the ground was wet but the sky above was clear and there was a full moon and clouds on the horizon. I tried to take a picture to capture the mood but nothing turned out because it was too dark. With a long day ahead of us tomorrow we picked up the boys early. They had a fun evening with Space activities and got to bring home space mud as a souvenir. We tried getting kids to sleep quickly, but that is always hard. Daddy and I left to go get sandwiches for the next day and when we got back I thought they were asleep but then I heard giggling. They were faking and had started a sock fight-- Samantha was their target. At least Alex was asleep!

21: Day 3 Cozumel

22: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 What an exciting day! Can I say that every day? Josh turned on the lights about 30 seconds before the wakeup call at 6:30 AM. He was ready to get the day started.

23: Everyone but me got in their swimsuits before going to breakfast. Samantha was given another early birthday present - new Keen sandals. Perfect water shoes for our day of walking and playing by the beach. I had tummy troubles all night, which I will blame on the Escargot, so for breakfast I just stuck with a bran muffin and bananas. However I saw lots of donuts, sausage, gravy and waffles piled with strawberries and cream at our table. We also cleared out the ice water tray to fill our water bottles. Our goal was to be off the ship by 8 AM (because I still needed a swim suit) and I think we were close. We found a dive shop and I tried several suits on, but they were all 1069 pesos. I found a cute one with a skirt for 869 pesos but that was still $66.00. I wanted a better deal. A taxi took us to town but the flea markets had only cover-ups or men's suits. After driving around he finally took me to Mega Mart! I spent all my time trying on swimsuits that didn't fit or I didn't like. This is where I needed to be to get all my supplies, be we had a taxi full of kids waiting for me so I tried to be quick. When my time was up I made me way to the register. My new swim suit was $15, definitely worth the extra $10 to have a taxi take us there, but I never got my lipstick or contact solution.

24: We finally made it to Chankanaab. Our appointments with the dolphins were at 11 AM and 12 PM. To see the sea lions half of our group went to the first show while the others played on the beach till their turn to go swim with the dolphins. Daddy, Jacob and Matthew were the first to go. Daddy had the camera but the people arranged it so he missed a lot of the good shots. Back on the beach, Alex and I attempted to build a sandcastle but found that volcanoes are a lot easier to build. Samantha and Josh came to help when we started filling the lava (water) from our masks but that would have taken a long time. We ended up with a lot of pictures of the kids with buried legs instead. | Jacob & Matthew

25: Samantha, Josh and I got to go swim with the dolphins next. Joshua was hungry and a little nervous but when Matthew came back super excited I think it helped. Jacob, Matthew, Scott and Alex went snorkeling while we headed off to our appointment with the dolphins. We had a group of 7 people with 2 dolphins. Throughout the next hour we got to take turns doing tricks with the dolphins--give a kiss, get a kiss, dance, hand touch, a dorsal fin and foot push. Josh got lucky because the trainer got confused and had the dolphins give him a dorsal fin swim twice. Then when he was to do the foot push he almost got another fin swim because he was giving the dolphins the wrong signal. They had another trainer come out and help him and he flew out of the water and stood up. It was an amazing feeling when the dolphin pushes you out of the water. I thought it was hard to stand up straight. I got the most pictures and video of Joshua. However, when I was out with the dolphins Josh was the photographer, so I was glad that he got one of me. Everyone loved our experience! In the past when we have fed the dolphins at Sea World I always kept my distance, but now I realized it was the fish I didn't like, not the dolphins. We got multiple chances to pet the dolphin and hold our hands out and touch them. We got to hold them and really play with them. I still can't believe I got to ride them. That was the best experience; I was shocked when the first person from our group did it and made it look so easy. The trainer had given them directions in Spanish so I didn't know what was coming. At dinner Matthew mentioned that riding the dolphins was the best part of his day. | Samantha & Joshua

27: We spent the next 2 hours playing at the beach and snorkeling. I know the park had more to offer, but it was easier to just relax under the umbrella and play in the sand and the shade. Samantha found her friend Shaina and collected shells while Matthew and I snorkeled. Daddy and Alex recreated the volcano that we had started. Of course they went above and beyond and also made a cruise ship out of sand! We had to be back on the ship by 3:30 PM. I picked up some vanilla as a souvenir for our babysitter and Samantha found a nice wrap for her swimsuit. For lunch we had packed sandwiches from the ships so we were hungry but didn't want to spoil our dinner.

28: YOU'RE ON THE WRONG SHIP!-- It was like being in a narrow canyon when these two Royal Caribbean ships were next together. Ice-cream cones were the snack of choice as we headed up to the pool to watch the ship set sail. I loved it up there. It was perfect weather. Samantha and I ran down to get books and read in the chairs. We were up on the deck with the view of the ocean and the clouds on the horizon. I know we had worried about rain ruining our day, but the sun had been out all day until then. Most of the kids had sunburns to prove it. While Samantha and I were reading, Scott and the boys snuck down to the Windjammer for more snacks. Needless to say, Alex only ate his roll and dessert at dinner. Of course he probably would have done that anyway.

30: DINNER | Alex:Jacob you're awesome. In fact everyone at this table is awesome, but not Samantha. Samantha:What? I’m not awesome? Alex:Oh, alright, you're awesome too. | For dinner most of us had the crab cakes and clam chowder. YUM! Samantha was looking forward to the Beef Stroganoff, her favorite meal. She wondered if it would be with pasta or potatoes, but it came with rice. My fish was good but nothing exciting. Our waiters gave us a little show and marched around the dining room and sang a song on the stairs. Alex loved swinging his napkin and cheering. He tried to show the waiter but kept dropping his napkin. | Dinner Conversation | After dinner there wasn't much going on so we let the boys go up to the Adventure Ocean kids club. Scott was getting sick and fell asleep early. Samantha and I read our books and ordered room service. At 8:30 PM I picked the boys up for bed time. We had ordered them hot chocolate and it took an hour to get them all ready for bed and settled. With everyone sleeping I went up to see a game show. When you see stuff like that on TV I always think it would be fun just to play, so on a cruise ship you actually can play. Did you know by popular opinion the most handsome man is George Clooney? And most people think a tiger would be a good pet to have?

32: Day 4 Grand Cayman

33: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 Samantha got another early birthday present today, a new swimsuit. Super cute! I had plans to go run, but without clothes to exercise in those plans were shot. We ate breakfast in the Windjammer with all the fixings’. Yogurt with granola, waffles with fruit and whipped cream, donuts, muffins. The four older kids had come up to breakfast without us and got their food. A nice lady came up later and commented on how well they had behaved. I am glad the kids are doing so well. We have had a lot of comments this trip. On a ship with not very many kids, a family with 5 kids (4 of whom are boys) really stands out. When we were going down the stairs I saw two people start counting. I bet people do it a lot and I just don't notice. Today we are in Grand Cayman. Our ship was still moving while we were eating breakfast. Here we have to tender over to the island, so Daddy got in line to get tender tickets while I took a group to the rock climbing wall. Since it was a port day no one was there. Matthew, Jacob and Samantha got to go “as many times as we wanted." Matthew was good with going up once, but the cruise people convinced him to try again. He went up even higher the second time. The first time up Jacob gave up half way, but then he made it to the top the next two times. Samantha wanted to race Jacob but they put her on a hard course with an overhang. I sped my way up the first two times, but my third try I got a harder course that took a lot of upper body strength. It would have been fun to do it more, but our muscles needed a break. We were finishing up just as Daddy came to see. We headed to our room to get ready to get on the boats and go to the island. After we were on land we took a bus ride through the town and passed the beaches and went through a jungle to get to the other side of the island. Then we got on a boat with a small tour group. We headed out to Stingray City first. Our boat had a deck with a great view. | Jacob, Samantha, Josh, Matthew, Mom & Alex

34: "Climbing may be hard, but it's easier than growing up." — ED SKYLAR | Matthew | Samantha | Jacob

36: Jacob wasn't shy and jumped right in with his mask. Alex watched from up on top while the rest of us got in the water. As long as you keep your feet on the ground you are safe. I got a lot of chances to hold the stingray with the guides help and even kissed one this time. Grandpa was the name of a small stingray that they brought over to the kids. The males are small and look like babies. Joshua and Matthew really liked the little ones. After 20 minutes they brought out the food. At first we had 3 stingrays swimming around, but once the squid came out there were stingrays swimming all over the place. If you held the squid under the water they would come and suck it right up. | Stingray City | Jacob, Joshua & Mom

37: Matthew | Scott with Alex watching from the boat | Samantha

38: Next we went snorkeling at the coral garden. Jacob was the first one in the water again, and one of the last ones out. Scott had brought easy cheese, so he was ready to see lots of fish. My favorite fish had a blue head, yellow tail with a thick black stripe down the middle and a thin white stripe in the middle of that. I saw more stingrays and a big shell at the bottom. The sun wasn't out so all the colors seemed muted and not as vibrant as I remembered. Alex got dressed up in his snorkel gear, but then he changed his mind. It would have made a cute picture but since daddy had the camera it will only be a picture in my memory. We worked hard this last month to get Alex comfortable wearing his mask and breathing under water. He could do it, but he just wasn't ready for the challenge. As a post note a month following our vacation Alex was looking at our pictures and expressed his regret that he didn't go swim with the fish. He asked me if we could go again because he wanted to try it. Actually all the kids always ask when our next cruise will be and now I always answer- not till you get married.

39: JACOB "Snorkeling is awesome- - I loved it!"

40: Starfish

41: We got to snorkel for awhile but it never seems long enough. We thought they were going to take us to another snorkeling spot with star fish, but the boat only stopped long enough for a guide to jump in. I thought he was looking for star fish but within minutes he had 4 in his hand that they brought on board and continued our ride back to the dock. Alex didn't feed the stingray and didn't get to swim with the fish, but at least he got to touch the starfish. All our kids on the boat loved the starfish, but after the novelty wore off they sat back down. Alex stayed right there and kept picking them up and feeling their ridges. I’m sure it was the highlight of his day.

42: Seven Mile BEACH! | Our tour included a ride back to the ship, but Scott talked the guide into dropping us off early at 7 mile beach. We could see our ship down the shore, but we still had a few hours to enjoy before we had to be back on board. They had a lot of fun activities on the beach, parasailing and such but I think the kids were just happy to play in the sand. Right there on the beach we ordered some Caribbean Jerk Chicken, fried mozzarella sticks and the kids loved the French fries. It is hard to pay for food when you know there is plenty on the ship, so we were just trying to hold their appetites over.

43: "“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.” | Gradually the beach crowds disappeared and the activities and beach chair places started closing up. I got kicked off my chair. Apparently Grand Cayman is an hour ahead and with another ship already having left the port their work day was over. Then again I don't think we realized how close we were cutting our time to getting back on the ship. We called the kids out of the water and told them the situation and that it was time to go. Our plan was to get a bus back into town. We started washing our feet, and gathering our stuff and I noticed Jacob had crossed the busy street to wait for a bus; I started to chase him down with my 50 pounds of snorkel gear.

44: I was mad, but really Jacob saved the day. A bus (a little passenger van) stopped and Jacob convinced him to wait for the entire family. We all loaded in, sand and all. When the driver got to the edge of town and had let everyone else off he detoured off his route and took us straight to the terminal. I felt so bad for the mess we had made--wet suits--bottles of sand dumped, so I hope we gave him a nice tip. We made it to the terminal with only minutes to spare. There was a security line, so Samantha and I felt we had at least a minute to pick up a quick souvenir. The problem was that I only had a credit card which wasn't going through. Samantha had already left the store with our purchase, so just not buying wasn't an option. I was the last one to board the tender and had the embarrassment of walking up the gangway all by myself. I couldn't even find where Scott and the kids were sitting on the boat; I guess they were too embarrassed to admit they knew me. We finally reconnected once we were back on the ship. We had tickets to the ice show so we decided to skip the dining room and just eat in the Windjammer. As much as I love the dining experience, sometimes it is too much for the kids. They are working hard on their manners, but it is a long time to | sit and be polite. Plus I feel like we are wasting a lot of food. The kids order these gourmet meals that they hardly touch. In the Windjammer they could see it before they put it on their plate and go back for more. The cold chill soups have been really good all week, but we found them in the Windjammer too. Instead of sipping it properly from a bowl, we both just filled a cup and drank it like a smoothie. So good! | We sent the kids up to play in the adventure ocean while we waited in line for good seats. We were at the front of the line and got a tip to put our kids in the front row so they could be part of the show. Apparently those seats were reserved, and since there weren't that many kids we didn't have much competition for them. We probably didn't have to stand in line for over an hour, but we met some nice people. Bud and Melissa from Austin, they had a set of eleven year old twins. Samantha and Jacob were too tall to be in the show, but Alex, Joshua and Matthew were excited. During a clown/circus number they came out with a train and lifted the kids into the cars. Matthew and Josh seemed a little shy and almost too embarrassed to smile, but Alex was in an entirely different world. He didn't notice all the crowds of people looking at him because he was so mesmerized by the train and clowns on ice-skates. His smile was priceless because it was so genuine and sweet.

47: Thursday, February 9, 2012 We woke up early for our day in Jamaica. Samantha loved the decorations that we had put up last night after she went to sleep. I even put a balloon by her bed and she couldn't believe she didn't wake up when we put them up. | Day 5- Jamaica & Samantha's Birthday!

48: Breakfast was good but I noticed everyone getting the same things. By 8 AM we got off the ship and found our driver easily. Courtney Taylor. We took an hour drive to Ocho Rios for Dunn’s River falls. At the falls it was crazy. We were put in a group of 40 people and told to hold hands. There were lots of people and it was slow moving at first. Luckily we were at the front of our group so once when they stopped we kept going and lost our guide. Think that's when things got better, we could go at our own pace which was a lot faster.

49: The falls were so amazing and Alex was such a trooper even when going through deep water. When we got to the top we went back down in and climb up again. The second time was even better. The crowds were gone and we could just play as we went up. We got lots of pictures and slid down the rocks in a few places | Dunn's River Falls | Dunn's River Falls

50: One thing that people don't like about Jamaica is the pushy salesman. We told our kids not to act interested, but when people start giving stuff to your kids and saying it is free, it is hard to resist. At one point all the kids were holding wooded turtles and had necklaces. We walked away with 2 necklaces, 1 turtle, and 1 stingray. I think we negotiated down and got a good deal. Next we wanted to go tubing. I felt like we had the river all to ourselves. Alex wanted to just stay and watch, but we convinced him to sit down and try his tube. After the waterfalls he thought we were going to fall down, but once we convinced him it was safe and the rapids hit he was all smiles after that. He loved them! We were singing songs too. If you're happy and you know it say, “Yah Man” Our driver had also taught us to say, “No Problem” and “I-ree” which were all part of the song. We sang Happy Birthday to Samantha too. Towards the end we stopped for some fun, high jumping, swinging and looking at pictures that we didn't buy. Josh was ready to give up his life savings but I had to convince him I had some good pictures too. Plus they didn't even have a picture of the group. It was had keeping all the tubes together but at the end when it calmed down we just held each other to make sure we kept going-- that’s a picture I would have paid for. Our day was going fast! For lunch we stopped at a local joint for Juicee Patties. They were meat filled pastries like empanadas but they were spicy! Scott asked Alex if he could have a taste of his and Alex replied, “Yeah, you can taste it all gone!” Everyone was calling for water, be we were running low on cash. Luckily by the time we got back in the car they forgot.

51: White River | Tubing

52: Green Grotto | CAVES | The Chosen One | Lead the way, | We still had a few hours before it was time to board the ship so we stopped at the Green Grotto Caves. Samantha wasn't so sure that is what she wanted to do on her birthday but majority ruled out. Actually the caves were on the road back to Ocho Rios, so the plan was to stop and see if they took credit cards. Luckily for us they did, because I think it was a highlight of the day. | As we got to go into the caves, we all had to wear hard hats for safety. We had an exceptional guide who really interacted with the kids. First off he gave them all nicknames. Princess, Superman...wish I could remember them all....and The Chosen One. Joshua was a little nervous about being in the cave, but the guide picked up on it and picked Joshua as her personal helper. Joshua got to hold the flashlight and help guide others. I have been in caves before, but there was something so amazing about these caves and how they would open up to the rain forest above them. The trees had super long roots and would have to grow down to get to the hidden lake beneath. We also heard great stories about movies that had been filmed there and how people had lived in the caves in hiding for years. I was really sad when we left because we had no cash for a tip, but he definitely deserved it one because he did such a good job. | Kim, Samantha, Jacob, Joshua, Matthew, and Alex

53: Yah man Be happy I-ree | Our personal taxi driver took us back to our ship. He had been so much fun and over the day had shared so much history and culture with us. The kids were so timid and quiet at first, but by the end of the day they were laughing and making up jokes with him. Just as we were getting out of the car we were about to pass the souvenir shops and we commented that we didn’t have any more money, but Jacob said excitedly, “But I still have $30!” Jamaican money is a little different, it sounds like a lot but he just had some left over change from lunch. Scott told him to keep it, it was a better souvenir than any thing he could buy. | Courtney Taylor

54: Ready, Set, Blow!

55: Hip Hip Hooray, It's My Birthday Today | Before dinner we had a little birthday celebration with a tradition we like to call, opening presents. Samantha had actually been opening her presents all week long, so there wasn't much left to surprise her with. Matthew and Joshua had pulled their money together to buy her a purse that I helped pick out. Jacob had bought her one of her favorite books (he had another book picked out, but then she got it from one of her friends so we had to make a switch), and Alex had picked out cute window stickers for her room. She got sandals, clothes, dresses and new swim suit, and a cruise from us. She is definitely growing up when all she wants and gets are clothes, I am glad she thinks I did a good job of picking them out for her. I think those days are limited. We decided to skip the show for the evening and went swimming instead. It was fun sitting in the hot tubs (there were three to choose from) but once you were in the warm water it was hard to get in the pool. I went straight for the warm water, so I never did swim. Just before the Windjammer was about to close we rushed down there to get some ice-cream. You can't have a birthday without the ice-cream! This birthday was so much fun. Different, but a lot of fun, plus everyone enjoyed the day with Samantha.

56: Friday, February 10th You would think that with a day at sea everything would be relaxing and calm, but we had quite the schedule. Following breakfast we sent the boys to Adventure Ocean for some fun activities, even Alex was ready to go play with kids his age. Then Scott, Samantha and I went to a lecture on how to become an author. Samantha loves writing stories and dreams of becoming an author someday. It really was more on how to self publish and get your name out there. I thought it was really interesting. It seemed like we were just going from one thing to the next all day. We played family crazy tag, went to more dance rehearsals, Samantha and I went to a jewelry making class, and some of us went to see the ice-skating performance again. | Day 6 At Sea | Matthew | Joshua

57: Jewelry | CRAZY TAG This is the Adventure Ocean room where the boys spent a lot of their time! | Samantha in the Dragon's Lair | Up in Elliongton Lounge | Alex

59: Sunset! | I think the boys would have come to the ice-show again if they could have sat in the kids seats to go on the train, but we thought they should give some other kids a turn. Ironically, there were no other kids. Alex was the only one with one other boy and they really had room for 5-6 kids.

60: Joshua and Matthew

61: For formal night we got all dressed up again and headed to the dining room. It was another fun night of exciting food. Joshua was brave enough to try the lobster. I think it looked better than it tasted. Every night we have been taking pictures of our food, so tonight we let the kids control the camera and we just ended with a lot of blurry pictures of rolls. Following the torture of family pictures we let the kids change and let them go back to Adventure Ocean. | Jacob and Samantha | Scott and Alex

62: Thriller

63: "Arrr!" | They had a pirate theme night and took the kids on a pirate parade. I actually remember seeing the pirate parade when we were on the ship a few years ago, but we missed it tonight. Daddy and I were getting ready for our zombie performance But here are some of the quotes that we heard for the next week. “ARRR--We are the Pirates -- Swords up, Swords up--Where's grandma?—Bingo, Bingo, Bingo--Walk the plank!—See ya wouldn't want to be ya.-- How do you feel? Sea sick, Ugh--We're not cute-give me all your lute; we're not funny, give me all your money.” Our thriller Dance was just before the Quest Game show which is an adult-only show. But I wanted the kids to see it and I wanted Samantha to help with the video. Five kids walking in the door just before 10 PM got them a lot of attention, and they got a personal escort over to us. I had saved seats for them, but by the time people had filled in they had moved our stuff. Samantha had a perfect view but seconds after the video started she saw the record button turn off. So she turned it back on, but really it was just flashing on and off, so she turned the video off and didn't realize it. I was so sad that we didn't get the video. Someone else posted it on YouTube, but you can hardly see us.

64: Day 7 Last Sea Day

65: Saturday, February 11th My watch started going off at 6:20 AM. I had thoughts of getting up for the sunrise, but sleep won over. I got up later to go running and met the family at breakfast. My idea was to run on the track but now that we are back in the Gulf the weather is switching. It is cold and windy! I only made it a half lap around the track and then found the treadmill down in the fitness center. With the last day there is so much to do. The boys all wanted to go play in the Adventure Ocean so they went upstairs. Jacob hasn't’ spent any money this trip so he wanted to play some arcade games. Because we were afraid of the money they would spend we never told them how to load their cards. Scott went to hear the Captain talk about the ship and navigation. I went to an enrichment lecture on video scrapbooking which was over in 15 minutes. So I went up to hear the captain too. Samantha finally hooked up with her friend and we gave her a little bit more freedom to wander for an hour with a meeting place. Without kids, Scott and I ventured to the Future Cruise Sales desk and put down our deposit on our next cruise. We know we will go again, we just don't know when. We also watched the boat races (out by the pool (we wanted to make one but lost our directions the first day). The boys would have had fun, especially being such great competitors for the pinewood derby last month. Since it's too windy and cold outside we found a nice and comfy cozy corner to just sit and relax and write. Samantha loved her morning wandering with her friend and we arranged to all meet at noon for family Bingo. However when it was time to meet, the boys had gone down to the real BINGO room. Luckily they noticed we weren't there and finally came back to the right spot. We also found out that they did learn how to load their cars and have spent $50 in the arcade. That's right $50! Jacob spent $20 and it was gone quickly. Joshua also loaded $20 and had $5 left. Matthew was a little more conservative and loaded $10 but still has $7 left. Samantha has been spending a lot on souvenirs and the boys were concerned that they had be so frugal, but I can't believe they spent their money so crazy. I was going to let them pick up some souvenirs in the shop, but I don't want them to even look at postcards now. At lunchtime no one was hungry, but we went anyway. All the food is so good. We just took our time in the café. The boys watched the waves while eating their burgers and fries and Alex and I visited the most beautiful bathroom in the world, I don't think any other restroom con compete with the ocean view. When we were sitting down Alex said, "Mom I don't want to sit by you." After hearing this a couple of times this week and he stole my purse my response was, "I don't know what I did to become his personal enemy.” It is one thing to cling to Daddy and make him your best friend but I was starting to feel left out.

66: Joshua was really interested in the towel folding so we headed down to the demonstration while Scott took the others to the pool. Joshua wanted me to record the whole thing. There weren't enough handouts to go around so I had to take a picture of the directions we missed out on. Back in the room Joshua and I practiced our new skills and then tried to trick the family into thinking our stateroom attendant had already visited our room. Too bad we saved our swimming for today because now I wished we had taken advantage of the beautiful weather yesterday. The kids participated in the pool games, so once they were wet it was easier to stay in the water. But when Josh and I came up they were all huddled in the hot tubs. The ice-cream cone still was good even though it was cold outside. We decided to skip the dining room tonight. Although it would have been fun to say goodbye to our waiters, I don't think they missed us. The Windjammer at dinner time is so nice because it isn't crowded. At one point we were sitting at a table and Matthew came over with a server carrying a plate of fries for him. Scott asked, “How do you get a personal server to bring you fries?” Matthew's response: “I dropped the first plate of fries!” | Joshua

67: While we were waiting for the evening show to start we snuck into a conference room for some family games. The kids were worried we were somewhere we weren't supposed to be, and we assured them that if anyone needed the room they could kick us out. We had already looked upstairs at the official game room and it was full. Plus it was nice | to have a big room to let the kids be in where we didn't have to worry about bothering anyone. However I think it was Daddy who did start to get into trouble. He started playing with the monitors and lighting and somehow turned on the cameras and lowered the projector. It was a fun game of Incan Gold but I don't think anyone remembers who won. | Samantha and Matthew | Alex

68: The Farewell show was fun to see a lot of the performers again, and plus they did a number with an assortment of all the staff that are on board. The kids loved the confetti that came raining down on us at the end. Jacob was trying to collect it so we could take it home, but I assured him it we weren't packing it away. We decided to let the kids stay up as late as they wanted. We had to play in the arcade to spend the rest of the money on the cards, but we also had a 11 PM deadline to have our luggage packed to be picked up. I thought it would be fast, but we were scrambling to stuff everything in a bag. A little bit of contention crept in and the kids were fighting. I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise, they were all sleep deprived and then we let them stay up as late as they want?!? | Matthew and Joshua just wanted to go sleep so we let them rest while the rest of us left our bags in the hall as requested and then snuck down for a midnight snack. All week long I had been visiting the café late at night asking for lots of cookies and sandwiches, or hot chocolate so it was fun to bring the kids down to pick out their own treat. I couldn't believe Alex stayed up so late, I guess he got a second wind.

70: Samantha, Alex, Joshua, Kim and Matthew | Last Day Galveston, Texas | We were hoping there would be fog so the ship wouldn't be able to dock and delay our arrival. We were in no hurry to return home, although we were excited to see how Nathan was. Alex had mentioned all week how much he had missed him. Following our last meal on the ship we just had to wait. We could either wait on the ship or wait in the long line to get off the ship and go through customs.

71: Shaina, Samantha's friend | Sunday, February 12, 2012

72: We took pictures of the ship and went upstairs for some miniature golf. This was one of Alexander's favorite things, and we hadn't made time for it on Saturday. A few days before Jacob accidentally hit his ball and it had hit a poor lady in the head. Luckily we had the course to ourselves, so we didn't have to worry about that. Everyone was cold and bundled up, so I was glad we all had our jackets.

73: When the ship finally seemed empty and like it really was time to get off, we took the glass elevator all the way back down. All week long we only used the elevator a handful of times since we insisted the kids walk up and down the stairs. Once we were off the ship and onto the gangway we realized too late that there was still a long line and we should have waited another half hour to avoid just standing.

74: When we finally made it back to the car, we found my lost bag in Nathan's car seat. I can't believe I made it all week long without all that stuff. I had been hoping to pick Nathan up before church, but we were running late. I had to sneak into the chapel and sit on the bench next to him. At first he didn't notice me, but when he did he ran over to my friend and then buried his head in his blanket and just stayed that way for a minute. I finally dared to pick him up and he just started crying, so I had to take him out. It took the full 3 hours for him to really warm back up to me, and then he wouldn't let me out of his site for the next week. I felt bad for him, but a week without taking care of a baby while on vacation was worth it.

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  • By: Kimberly E.
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  • Title: Tropical Cruise
  • 2012 Cruise Vacation
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  • Published: about 6 years ago