**Let me first start with this disclaimer before my review: A reminder that we are a family of ELEVEN. Yes, NINE children and 2 adults. So basically you are getting a review from 2 crazy adults.
When Matt and I were trying to plan our summer vacation–wayyyy back in January–we had many factors to consider: cost, timing, fun for all age groups, etc. However, the biggest factor for ME was the fact that THIS particular summer vacation may be one of our last trips all together. I wanted something extra special.
Our oldest son, age 20, just returned home from a two year mission and is starting college. Our next oldest, a daughter, age 18, is going away to college and the next oldest child, a son, will be a senior in high school this year. What this means is that by next summer who knows if we will be planning a wedding, having another missionary, someone going to school abroad, you name it. So, THIS summer had to be memorable.
We chose to book a 7 night Carnival Cruise. The ship, Carnival Splendor, would leave port in Long Beach California with destination stops in: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. We left August 10th and returned August 17th, 2019.
Let the vacation begin!
In order to keep the cost down, our family drove from Utah to Long Beach. That’s a really LONG drive (about 10-11 hours), especially with nine children. Movies, snacks, iPads, podcast, headphones, music, more snacks, bathroom breaks, and thankfully NO ONE got car sick on the way there!
Here we are arriving to Long Beach, ready to board the ship!
The wait to get checked in wasn’t long but Weston couldn’t hang…
So what do you do on a cruise like this–in an “affordable” way with all these kiddos? Let me share with you!!
**But first, let me explain “affordable”. My husband researched the heck out of this cruise experience and every single excursion that was offered, including all of the prices. YouTube is full of videos from different people showing lots of fun activities but keep in mind every person paid a different price. This is part of the problem when dealing with people in Mexico. You might settle on a price for a taxi ride for $10 only to find out someone else paid 50 cents!!!! True story…
Okay, let’s get started!
Day One! Bon Voyage!
This is the day you get settled into your room and the ship is out to sea. It’s an interesting process of waiting for your bags to arrive to your room, unpacking, and exploring the ship.
A quick tour of a room for three:
**My personal suggestion: ALWAYS use a duffle bag because they are collapsible. These rooms are small and large luggage will be a nuisance, unless they can fit under the bed.
**Also, there is only ONE plug in the entire room. If you have several cell phones/kindle/iPad/ laptop this will be an issue. Bring a power strip or a charging dock for multiple devices.
**Another suggestion: We made it a rule to eat at fine dining each night together. You will be assigned to a time, a restaurant, and a table. Ours was 5:45pm at the Golden Pearl. We allowed all the children to make their own plans throughout the day BUT we all meet for dinner. And no one eats from the kids menu, except the baby. FYI: dress code enforced
Here we are heading into our first night of fine dining–they had awesome live music as you entered the restaurant.
Day Two-Out to Sea
Out to sea, headed to Cabo San Lucas. For us, this was Sunday. We met as a family, in the library, to have a little scripture study and lesson. Then, we enjoyed movies outside by the pool, ping pong, mini golf, and it was Formal Night.
We all enjoyed getting dressed up fancy and eating a jumbo shrimp and lobster dinner!! Pinkies up! After dinner we took the little kids to Camp Ocean clubs (daycare) and then Matt and I went to the comedy club! Great, clean acts were offered. There are rated R versions later in the evening.
**PS: up till now EVERYTHING has been included. Yes, even the lobster (and the kids daycare)!! We did not order soda pop, alcohol, or anything additional. And we didn’t permit our children to charge either.
**Drink options can add up so for our family, it’s water and the free lemonade! Free juice is offered in the morning as well. Other FREE drink options: milk, chocolate milk, tea, and coffee.
**BE CAREFUL with your children’s swipe card. If you don’t put a limit on it, or block it from use, it can be used in the arcade!
**Today you can get tickets (for the tender boat) to exit the ship at an early time for tomorrow’s destination. We ended up not needing our tickets. However, if you have an excursion planned and need to be there at a certain time, get your tickets!
Day Three: Cabo San Lucas!
To start, our initial plan was to just go to the beach. However, after looking at the beautiful coast I wanted our family to explore!
To make this excursion to Cabo more “affordable” we all met at the Lido for lunch BEFORE we left for the day. Feeding a family of eleven, even in Mexico, adds up! Besides, by day 3 on the ship we were all wobbling from the amount of food we had consumed.
After lunch we got aboard the tender and headed to the Cabo coast. When you get off you are practically ATTACKED by Mexican men shouting and holding signs to come to their activities. It’s very overwhelming!!
We found a man who could take us around the coast in a glass bottom boat for 45 minutes then drop us at the beach. The boat ride was $100 and the dock fee was another $12 to go to the beach.
**Again, I’m sure someone else got a better deal then us and others paid way more. Most signs say $35 per person but this was the deal we got.
What a good time! Wow it was beautiful! The boat driver threw tortillas into the water to show us the swarms of fish and we all loved it.
The coast we were viewing was the Sea of Cortez and was intersected by the Pacific Ocean. When you go in the middle of these two bodies of water the waves are HUGE and a couple of us were terrified…but we all survived. I REALLLLLY wish this video did the waves justice. They were SO BIG and the boat was small and I was getting sick!
After the glass bottom boat experience we headed to the beach. We LOVED the beach but the entire time you are there you are hounded by people to buy their stuff. VERY annoying. One thing I wanted to do was have all the girls get their hair braided, so we did that as a “souvenir”. The cost was $12 a head for 2 braids each with beads–there were 5 girls. Again, I’m sure someone else got a better deal.
Also, the water was warm and waves were perfect! We didn’t want to leave!
Total cost for today’s excursion: $172
Let me be perfectly honest with you about this disembarkation–everyone told us not to even bother getting off the ship. Between the stories of the dangerous drug cartels and the filth of the city, I was worried!
Well, we decided NOT to listen to the stories and stuck with the idea that a nice, easy day at the beach would be fun.
Again, to save money we ate BEFORE we left the ship–huge buffet breakfast, we were all stuffed…
You disembark the ship to this place–not the nicest but you eventually pass the storage containers and it’s a beautiful city.
We found a driver and told him our plan of wanting to go to the beach for the day. He told us for $30 he would take us to a hotel with a nice beach but we would have to buy food or drinks there when we were hungry or thirsty. We agreed and off we went to Las Flores Beach Resort in a van!
When we arrived to the location there was a man who greeted us and told us there was a $20 charge for an umbrella. He led us to our “spot” and told us if we were hungry or thirsty they would be helping us. Great! Not only did we have an umbrella but we got lounge chairs too! They had parasailing right there in front of us and it was so fun to watch all day. We could have done the parasailing but it was $40 per person and I wasn’t interested haha!
Another amazing day in warm water and beautiful waves!
Here’s the negative…
Again, the people on the beach trying to sell you stuff is just annoying. We did buy sand toys and a hammock for $25-souvenirs for the boys! But it’s hard to relax when you have a sales pitch every 2 minutes…
Sand toys were $5, and we bought 2 large water bottles for another $5.
One funny thing that happened here…a woman sitting near us was constantly being photographed–well, her butt was being photographed. Not sure who she was but she really did have a nice one! Ha!
My FAVORITE part of this day was the ride back to the ship. Our van driver didn’t show so we got three open air taxis for the same price:$10 each car ($30 total for ride back).
These were the FUNNEST cars and it was so beautiful having the wind in your hair, the ocean air, baby fell asleep, and the kids all having a fun ride. I could have driven up and down the coast all day long here–beautiful!!
Total cost for this day of fun off the ship, including souvenirs: $115
Day Five-Puerto Vallarta
Matt had already researched every website about this destination and decided on a jungle hike to a spot called Los Colomitos.
Eleven people hiking in the jungle?! I wasn’t too sure about this, especially with tales of drug cartels and beheaded tourist swirling in my head…
Matt also told us we would have to take a couple busses to get there and it was far away from the ship so I went in to this destination completely nervous.
Of course, we all ate BEFORE we left the ship. This time we knew we would be gone for awhile so we packed water bottles, Thermoflasks, and trail mix. Also a baby backpack!
We got off the ship and there were several people holding signs wanting to sell you on their excursions but Matt wanted to find out how to get to “the orange bus”. We knew where we wanted to go just not sure how to get there.
Upon discussion with a local driver, our chosen hiking spot was over 45 minutes away from the ship!!! We decided to hire this driver who would not only take us to our spot (45 min away) but WAIT for us (at least 2-3 hours) and drive us back (another 45 min).
This cost us $180. Sold! Off we went in a van!
The city was beautiful!
Weston fell asleep on the way haha!
After a beautiful drive through the city and coast we arrived to a little fishing village called Boca de Tomatlán. This is where we began our hike to Los Colomitos Beach. Our driver parked and told us he would wait there. He also kindly told us we were crazy to hike in 80% humidity with high temperatures outside. Yep, it was hot and sticky! But we felt adventurous so here we go!
We were dropped off here–looks safe, right? This is Boca De Tamatlán:
In America we have annoying flies, here in Mexico there were swarms of butterflies. I can handle that!
Here we are starting on the trail:
On the rugged trail there were some homes…and animals ha!
Goats, parrots, cats, dogs…
There was a look out point:
It was like hiking inside a sauna🤣🤣🤣
There were a couple cool bridges like this one. Some spots on the trail were pretty steep, and uneven.
I have no idea how my husband and son carried little Weston on their back!
Then you get to the end of this hike and arrive to a piece of HEAVEN called Los Colomitos–just watch this😍😍😍😍
We arrived to this little cove “Los Colomitos” that you can only get to by hiking or boat. No bathrooms or any services except a lady did set up a table and chairs and sold water, beer, and ceviche.
There was a fresh water waterfall with cold water and then we enjoyed the warm ocean water. Actually I thought the water was hot!
We hiked up to the top of the waterfall!
We all did!
The ocean water was like sitting in a hot tub. I NEVER go in the ocean and yet this trip I went in everyday!
The thought of hiking another 45 minutes back sounded exhausting after this fun time playing in the water. We lucked out and a guy with a boat came by and said for $3 per person he would take us back! SOLD!!! Total of $33
Here is the boat ride back-look at how green and lush it is. That’s where we hiked!
We met up with our driver and headed back to the ship. We did give him one request: we wanted some REAL MEXICAN TACOS!!
He took us to a little restaurant and the tacos were $1 a piece.
We got 10-total $10
Total for today’s excursion with food: $223! Not bad for 11 people!
Back to the ship!
Day Six-Sea Day!
For the next two days we will be out to sea, headed back to California. What do you do all day on the ship? All kinds of stuff.
**Here is one important thing I learned about this Carnival cruise experience with a toddler: don’t bother bringing them if they aren’t potty trained.
That’s right. The ship does not allow ANY swim diapers in their pools so basically they aren’t allowed in the water. Tell that to your screaming child….
Our little guy is pretty good about “holding it” so we took him to the splash pad with no swim diaper. He did great holding it until he got out of the splash pad then peed on the deck.
Sorry Carnival, I tried!
We did attempt to bring him in the pool and were kicked out because I had a swim diaper. They told us if we took it off and then “told them Weston was potty trained” they would let him back in the pool…
So we did that, but on a different day ha!
Another fun event on the ship is movies on the deck! Here is “Dumbo”!! They passed out free popcorn and the kids loved swimming while the movie was on.
**life jackets are provided!
**beware that each room you are given one blue pool towels per person to use. Make sure upon checkout that those towels are there or you’ll be charged $22 each!!
**you can checkout towels by the pool and will need your swipe card for that. They MUST be returned or you’ll be charged. So don’t let anyone take your towel!
Day Seven-Sea Day!
Since this is our last day and a Sea day, I’ll recap some of our favorites.
Here is what our kids enjoy in their free time on the ship-by age group:
My older boys age 20 and 17: loved the gym and the mini golf. I wish I had a picture of the golf but I never made it up there! Here’s the gym view–I saw some whales while working out!:
Our girls ages 18, 16, and 12 like walking around the ship, the gym, swimming, checking out the stores, and the shows.
Our 11 year old daughter liked Club Ocean (kids camp) and the Hasbro Game show. My son got to go on stage!! Here he is:
We also LOVED the formal nights where we all dressed up:
Our little boys ages 9 and 6 enjoyed going to Camp Ocean (childcare) as well as the live entertainment shows!
Our youngest is age 2 and he loved the endless ice cream cones, daycare, and the bunk beds in the rooms:
What was mom and dad’s favorite?
Being together! Ohhhhh….and the Chocolate Extravaganza!! Chocolate shakes, chocolate covered fruit, the best mousse I’ve ever had, and even a chocolate swan made of ice cream.
All in all, this vacation was a success–unforgettable memories made!
Things I left out:
*”The Office” Trivia game (one of our favorite shows
*8o’s night (the people who dressed up were fantastic and I was jealous I didn’t bring an outfit!)
*The Gender game show our daughter was a part of on stage-Women vs Men so funny!
*Comedy shows were great
*I could write an entire post on the food. Seriously, the Mongolian Grill, the juiciest burgers, the food theme changes everyday (Italian, American, etc)
If you have ever considered a cruise, plan and book one now!! You don’t have to lift a finger, cook, or clean for a week-that’s convincing enough for me!
If you have any questions about this trip or the excursions we went on, just ask!
#carnival #carnivalcruise #carnivalsplendor #cruise #mexicancruise