Retirement Magic with the whole fam!

Retirement… that thing everyone dreams of. My stepfather retired this year after many, many years in the work force and his gift to himself (and us!) was a family cruise on the Disney Magic.

The crew was a party of fifteen and included my husband and daughter, my sister and nieces, my brother and sister-in-law and his sons, my stepsister and two of her children, plus my mom and stepdad.  While I book a lot of multi-generational trips and my family has done a few, we had never vacationed with all fifteen of us together.  Concerned, was I?  Yes, young padawan, I was.  The kids ranged from 8 to 16 and then the adults ranged from 30+.  We all have big personalities and being together on a cruise ship for 6 days seemed like maybe we’d need a little Magic to make it back in one piece.

We started our journey in Richmond, flying down to Fort Lauderdale for the night.  Most Disney Cruises depart from Port Canaveral but this particular sailing went out of Miami.  For many air travelers, Fort Lauderdale is a cheaper route than flying direct into Miami so we took that option.  After taking a shuttle van (15 people plus a week’s worth of luggage!) to the Port of Miami, we were on the ship and ready for the fun.  The Port of Miami experience was very different from Port Canaveral sailings and I’d definitely prefer to sail from Port Canaveral.  Miami was just missing that ‘Disney feel’ for me personally.

Onboard, we ate and ate (and ate and ate) all week long.  The never-ending ice cream was the cat’s meow for the kiddos (and my husband.)   The weather was delightful with an occasional rain shower and despite some rough water, I think we couldn’t have asked for better.  We enjoyed two days at sea with a day in Cozumel, Mexico plus a day at Castaway Cay (Disney’s island in the Bahamas) mixed in.

Cozumel was a blast with a little shopping and then a half day excursion out on Polaris RZRs to a beach and Punta Sur Eco Park.  The beach was plagued by seaweed which has been a huge problem off and on all year in the Caribbean but we didn’t let it get us down.  You haven’t lived until you’ve waded through feet and feet of squishy seaweed. Blech!  The RZRs were a blast and everyone loved the ride around the island.  We did get soaked by a quick downpour — less than exciting going 80 km/hr with no windshield in the pouring rain — but it was all good.

Castaway Cay never disappoints with the calm waters and bright sunshine.  Hours were spent floating and laughing in the ocean there.  It was shocking how much the water depth in the lagoons changed during the course of the day, I had not noticed that big of a difference in the past.  It went from say 4-5 feet max in the morning to well over 8 feet by early afternoon out by the lagoon edges.  The shoreline was also really eroded, I’m guessing from Hurricane Joaquin but not sure.  I have never seen a drop off like there was on this visit from the beach chairs to the shoreline.

Service, excellent.  Food, divine.  Activities, great. Hey, we even met Jack and Sally from Nightmare before Christmas and trick-or-treated on the boat!

After the cruise, we went back to Fort Lauderdale and went out on a brief trip to Everglades Holiday Park home of the Gator Boys of Animal Planet fame.  An airboat ride through the Everglades followed by a quick gator show and some gator bites (not for me!) rounded out the trip before our flight home.  The airboat was so much fun!  I would love to do that again.

Overall, we saw a lot, did a lot, and ate even more.  Disney Cruises never disappoint.  You know what the best part was though?  Bonding with my family.  I’m not one to be sappy but I tell you, this was the best trip.  I spent some quality time with my brother and sister and I will treasure that forever.  I’ve never spent any real time with my stepsister or her kiddos and that was a great addition.  Super kids and I’m happy they were with us on this journey.  I expected to have fun and maybe a little conflict while all together in close quarters, which of course happened, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  I can’t wait to plan the next adventure to get us all back together.

A special thanks to my stepdad, Mike, for taking us on this journey.  It means more to me than you’ll ever know and I know I’m not the only one.  You brought us all together and that’s no small feat.  ❤

Dessert at Animator's Palate

A rainbow from Palo

A rainbow from Palo, at the rear of the ship.  It is a double rainbow with a reflection going horizontally across from the restaurant lights.

RAZRs at Punta Sur Eco Park

RZRs at Punta Sur Eco Park in Cozumel

A Lobster!

A Lobster!

The Magic waiting at Castaway Cay

The Magic waiting at Castaway Cay

Reflections in the Everglades

Reflections in the Everglades

The Pumpkin Tree

Amber and Mickey

Amber and Mickey

Gator Boy!

Gator Boy!

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A solo trip to Jamaica

Ah, the life of a travel agent.  This past weekend, I ventured south to Jamaica for a first visit and agent program at Sandals Whitehouse European Village Resort and Spa.  I spent four days in Jamaica, touring three properties, learning about updates to the Sandals and Beaches brands, and soaking up the sun.

Sandals Whitehouse is a lovely property, perfect for couples that want some alone time together whether it be for a honeymoon, anniversary, or just special time to reconnect. The resort is about an hour and a half from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and while the bus ride back and forth is not for the faint of heart, it is definitely worth it.  On a secluded beach (no hustling for any vacation ‘enhancements’) and seemingly disconnected from the rest of the world, Whitehouse has many activities and great food to keep you and your significant other occupied during your stay.  The sunsets are amazing!

I also toured Sandals Negril and Beaches Negril during my visit.  Both of these properties are very different from Whitehouse and each other.  Beaches is a family friendly brand so lots of kiddos were at this property, enjoying time with their families and new friends at the many on-site offerings provided by the resort.  The beach in Negril was much narrower and more public; both of these resorts were more compact in layout than Whitehouse.  All are great properties and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

One thing I will say, if you are a drinker, these resorts won’t disappoint.  The top-shelf liquor flows freely and often including at the swim up pool bars.  There’s no shortage of delicious food either with choices to please everyone.  Water activities, pools, spa services, tennis, beach and pool volleyball, giant chess, shuffleboard, and more keep you busy during the day and candlelight dinners on the beach make the magic happen in the evening.

I had a great time in Jamaica and would love to take the family for a visit!  Such a beautiful, tropical getaway!

Sandals Whitehouse at dusk

Sandals Whitehouse at dusk

The beach at Sandals Whitehouse at dusk

The beach at Sandals Whitehouse at dusk

Flying into Montego Bay, Jamaica

Flying into Montego Bay, Jamaica

Sailboat at Whitehouse

Sailboat at Whitehouse

Jamaica sunset

2015-10-11 17.58.17

Coconuts with or without the rum

Coconuts with or without the rum

Me

Me