Hidden Fees on Cruises – What You Need to Know and How to Get Around Them

We were hosted by Carnival Cruise Line.

While on our recent Mexican Riviera cruise with Carnival, we were able to meet up with a family member who lives in Cabo San Lucas six months out of the year.  She mentioned that she would never do another cruise because there are too many hidden costs.  This got me thinking…

It seems to me that there is confusion when it comes to the gratuities, purchasing beverages, and any other extras on board a cruise, so I just wanted to list out some “hidden” fees you can expect to see on your end-of-cruise bill.

Some Things You Have to Pay for on the Carnival Miracle

  • Casino (if charged to your Sail and Sign card)
  • Gratuities (per person in your cabin) – Ours were $90.65 per person; total: $362.60)
  • Alcoholic Beverages, Sodas and Specialty Coffees
  • Build-A-Bear At Sea Products (Bears are around $26, clothes around $12)
  • Cat in the Hat Breakfast Party ($5 per person)
  • Arcade Games (if charged to your Sail and Sign card)
  • Excursions (if booked through the cruise line)
  • Specialty Dining (Nick & Noras Steakhouse,$35 per person; Chef’s Table, $75 per person)
  • Internet Access (I paid for the $119 package for the week)
  • 15% Bar Gratuity each time you buy a drink
  • Camp Ocean, 10pm and later (Camp Ocean is free until 10pm)
  • Extra Games (ex. BINGO, Beer Pong Tournament, etc.)
Having been on a handful of cruises, I knew to expect the “hidden” fees.  Plus, we always tip our room steward extra and tip our favorite bar tenders extra on top of the 15% bar gratuities that are included in our bill.  We typically budget around $800 for our end-of-cruise bill for our family of 4, but we don’t usually spend this much.

Way to Get Around “Hidden” Fees on a Cruise Ship

I have discovered a few ways to get around some of the “hidden” fees on cruise ship:
Onboard Credit When Booking
Taking advantage of Carnival’s sales and check with your travel agent to see if they are offering any onboard credit.  This is a great way to rack up some credit to spend onboard on things like beverages.  My favorite travel agency is AvoyaTravel.com because they are always offering great bonuses.
Purchase the Beverage Packages

Depending on the types of beverages you plan to be drinking, Carnival offers great beverage packages for the entire family.  You can pre-purchase drinks to keep in your room, like waters, sodas and beer, you can purchase the wine package or the bottomless bubbles package.  Learn more here.


Cruise Loyalty Program Rewards
Carnival has a great program that they call the VIFP program.  If you sail more than once with Carnival, you have the potential to earn lots of great rewards including cabin upgrades, complimentary water bottles, arcade credits and more.
Cruise Cash
This option allows you to purchase credits in increments of $25, $50, $75 and $100 to be applied to your Sail & Sign account so you don’t have to worry about paying after the cruise.  This is a great option for budgeting and is something I recommend you do.
Bring Your Own Drinks (limited) – read more here.

  • Bringing Liquor and Beverages Onboard – Embarkation
    • Guests are prohibited from bringing water, sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages onboard that are packaged in bottles.
    • A small quantity of non-alcoholic beverages (i.e., sparkling water, sodas, juice, and milk) packaged in cans or cartons may be brought onboard on embarkation day and must be in the guest’s carry-on luggage. A small quantity is considered a maximum of 12 sealed, unopened cans/cartons of 12 ounces each or less per person.
    • Guests are prohibited from bringing alcoholic beverages on board with the following exception – At the beginning of the cruise during embarkation day only, guests (21 years of age and older) may bring one 750 ml bottle of sealed/unopened wine or champagne per person in their carry-on luggage. All liquor, beer, other forms of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages outside of this exception are strictly prohibited in both carry-on and checked luggage and such items will be confiscated and discarded and no compensation will be provided.
      • A $15 USD corkage fee, per 750 ml bottle, will be charged should guests wish to consume their wine or champagne in the main dining room, steakhouse or bar. A corkage fee is a charge exacted at a restaurant for every bottle served that was not bought on the premises.

  • Bottled Water
    • We know some of our guests are accustomed to bringing on their own supply of bottled water so as part of this policy we have significantly reduced the pricing for (purified) bottled water which will be conveniently delivered directly to your stateroom. Once onboard, the purchase is non-refundable; guests may take home any unopened bottles.
      • Pricing is as follows: 
        • $4.50 USD for a 12-pack of bottled water (16.9 fluid ounce per bottle) for pre-cruise purchase. Please visit The Fun Shops at www.carnival.com/FunShops/in-stateroom-beverages/water to place your order before your cruise to ensure we have an ample supply onboard.
        • $4.50 USD (plus gratuity) for a 12-pack of bottled water (16.9 fluid ounce per bottle) for purchase onboard by contacting Room Service.
  • Distilled Water
    • Guests may bring on board distilled water for use with a CPAP machine or nursery water for families with babies and packed in carry-on luggage.Distilled water may also be purchased onboard at $3.00 USD per gallon by contacting Room Service. The CPAP machine must be packed in carry-on luggage.
  • Coolers
    • Guests are prohibited from bringing large coolers onboard since screening and movement of large coolers through embarkation is an impediment to the boarding and security process. However small, personal-sized coolers, no larger than 12” x 12” x 12” for the purpose of housing small quantities of non-alcoholic beverages and/or medications are permitted as carry-on luggage.
You see, there aren’t really “hidden” fees on a cruise.  There are just things that you never thought to consider when booking your cruise.  Not only do you have to pay for transportation to the cruise terminal and the actual cruise itself, but you should budget for the extra spending you’ll be doing on the ship.  Planning ahead is always a good idea and expecting the unexpected is a must!
Do you have any other tips or tricks to share?  Leave me a comment!

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Las Caletas Beach Hideaway, Kids Adventure Park, Puerto Vallarta 2017

If you are visiting Puerto Vallarta on a cruise ship, Las Caletas is my absolute favorite excursion that I recommend you experience.  I have now visited Las Caletas via Vallarta Adventures twice and it never disappoints.  This excursion is loaded with lots of beach time, amazing food, endless drinks, animal encounters and so much more.

Something great about Las Caletas is they have their own photographers that are there to capture every moment for you, so you can enjoy your time on this excursion without having to worry about being behind the camera.  You can purchase a USB stick with all of your photos for $100 – and it’s totally worth it!

The Las Caletas Beach Hideaway excursion is great for any age, and they now have even more to offer for kids ages 5 and up.  The adventure kids park is loaded with fun including zip lines, donkey rides, face painting, wall climbing and more.

Here are some of my favorite moments:

The entertainment on the boat ride to and from Las Caletas is also so much fun.  The staff puts on quite a show, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for you.  You’ll have to book the excursion to see what I mean…

Outfits:
My dress: Tobi.com
My Sunglasses: Steve Madden
Kendall’s Flag Swimsuit: Rockin’ Baby
Charlotte’s Floral Swimsuit and Swim Shirt: Tea Collection (affiliate)

Learn more about Las Caletas Beach Hideaway:  http://www.vallarta-adventures.com/tours/las-caletas-day-trip

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Camana Bay — The Town on Grand Cayman That Stole My Heart

Grand Cayman is one of three islands that make up the Caymans Islands.  It is the largest of the three islands and it sits 75 miles southwest of Little Cayman and 90 miles southwest of Cayman Brac.  This 75 square mile island has much to offer, but I want to share with you a little town that stole my heart (and made me want to move) — Camana Bay!

Just a short drive from Grand Cayman’s capital city of Georgetown lies a hidden gem of a town that is bursting with liveliness and family-friendly fun.  I have never visited such a community-oriented Caribbean town that truly goes out of their way to get everyone involved, making it fun for all.   From holiday celebrations, to gatherings at the local bookstore to farmers/artisans markets and beyond – Camana Bay is a traveler’s dream.

If you are looking to visit a low-key, classy yet casual area of Grand Cayman, Camana Bay is the town for you.  You can enjoy the variety of shopping and dining that Camana bay has to offer, while also keeping the kids entertained.  Let them run on the lawn or indulge in the many flavors of Gelato from Gelato & Co. – or take a break and let the kids play in the fountains or at Starfish Village while you dine.


Credit: Chad Munro of Picture This Studios

Dining

Camana Bay’s Town Centre offers over a dozen dining, drink and dessert options.  Some of my favorite to dine at with the kids were KARoo, The Brooklyn Pizza & Pasta, and Mizu Asian Bistro (outside at the teppanyaki table). We also enjoyed breakfast sandwiches, smoothies and juices from Jesse’s Juice Bar and LOTS of Gelato from Gelato & Co.

Abacus

Known for its chic design and lounge culture, Abacus combines sophisticated city dining with Caribbean ease. With a focus on sustainable farm-to-table cuisine, the weekly changing lunch and dinner menus are organized ‘By Land’ and ‘By Sea’ while the all-day tapas menu is perfect for dining with friends and sampling an array of dishes. Local produce also inspires the artistically crafted cocktail menu with drinks featuring seasonal fruits sourced directly from Cayman’s farmers. The restaurant offers two distinct experiences with seating in the warmly lit, modern dining room and outside on the shaded patio surrounded by palm trees and cool breezes.


Bay Market

Bay Market, a division of Foster’s Food Fair, is a gourmet, speciality food store with a focus on organic, vegetarian and vegan items. In addition to a wide-ranging selection of organic produce and pantry essentials, Bay Market offers made-to-order breakfast dishes, salads and sandwiches, healthy to-go meals prepared daily, a mouthwatering antipasto and olive bar, an impressive variety of international cheeses, a full-service espresso and coffee bar and much more.

The Brooklyn Pizza + Pasta

Experience Italian-inspired American favorites with a twist at The Brooklyn Pizza + Pasta. This waterfront restaurant transports diners into a laidback, urban setting where the industrial-chic décor matches the edgy and flavor-packed menu. Versatile in its appeal, The Brooklyn is the ideal spot for a family meal, business lunch or date night. The tempting menu features globally inspired brick-oven pizzas, contemporary Italian-American comfort food and an extensive wine list.

Café del Sol

Start your morning with the welcoming aromas of gourmet coffee and buttery pastries at the charming Café del Sol. Grab a freshly prepared salad or sandwich for lunch, enjoy a refreshing smoothie while strolling through the Town Centre, or curl up in a cosy armchair with a good read from Books & Books, conveniently located next door. Wireless Internet access and computer stations are also available.

Gelato & Co. Cremeria Italiana

Journey to Italy with Gelato & Co. Cremeria Italiana’s authentic, handcrafted Italian ice creams, sorbets and desserts. For incredible taste and freshness, Gelato & Co. whips up new, from-scratch treats every day using the finest ingredients. Choose from over 26 delectable gelato flavours, indulge in a ready-to-eat cake or pudding from the dessert bar, or opt for a dairy- and fat-free sorbet – often made using seasonal local fruit.




Häagen-Dazs


Häagen-Dazs, the leading brand in premium ice cream, offers a sumptuous selection of fine ice cream, sorbets and smoothies. Indulge in tempting flavors including dulce de leche and vanilla caramel brownie or enjoy a guilt-free treat like lemon, mango or raspberry sorbet. Häagen-Dazs also serves coffees, soft drinks and pastries.

Jessie’s Juice Bar

Jessie’s Juice Bar’s philosophy is simple: let your food be your medicine, not your demise. The popular juice bar serves up liquid refreshments boasting a range of health benefits, from freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices and assorted smoothies to loose-leaf teas, gourmet coffees and kombucha. A select range of health foods is also available, including vegetarian, vegan and raw options that incorporate age-old techniques such as sprouting, dehydrating and fermenting for added nutritional value.


KARoo

KARoo takes diners on a culinary journey with a wide selection of tapas dishes, small plates, tasty sliders and artisan pizzas. Pair the mouthwatering creations with a perfectly chilled glass of wine or pick from their selection of craft beers and crisp designer cocktails. Sit inside to enjoy KARoo’s bustling bar atmosphere or dine al fresco for spectacular views of the sea. With its perfect mix of cosmopolitan urbanism and Caribbean charm, KARoo is the perfect place to watch your favorite sports, grab a drink with friends or enjoy a leisurely meal.


Lola


Lola is a trendy and friendly neighborhood gem, fit for foodies, with a creative menu that gives diners an opportunity to experience a modern spin on their favorite dishes. With everything made fresh from scratch, this chic and cosy bistro serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. “Lola After Dark” offers handcrafted signature cocktails, ice-cold draught beers, great wines and freshly squeezed juices, while the in-house bakery and pastry shop specializes in artisan breads, designer cakes, sweet and savory treats and gourmet coffees by Illy. Relax in air-conditioned comfort or dine al fresco on Camana Bay’s vibrant Paseo, the ideal spot for people watching. Catering for events of all sizes is also available.




Mizu Asian Bistro + Bar


Mizu Asian Bistro + Bar, a stylish Asian-inspired restaurant and bar, focuses on finely tuned flavors and fresh, local ingredients for an authentic Pan-Asian menu. Travel to the Far East with barrel-aged sakes, black salt-rimmed margaritas and traditional loose-leaf teas. Dine in Mizu’s intricate Asian-inspired interior or sit at the open sushi bar and watch the chefs carefully prepare your roll. After 4pm, the outside terrace offers a tranquil dining experience along the water’s edge.

Petit Paris

Petit Paris offers an array of baked goods, including fresh breads, flaky croissants, delicious pastries, macarons and cookies, and decadent cakes. Sip on a gourmet coffee or expresso with Nespresso – one of the most popular coffee systems in the world today. For heartier options, they offer a soup of the day, salads, crêpes, sandwiches on freshly baked baguettes, paninis, croque-monsieur and more. In addition, they have pre-packaged sweets like nougat, bonbons, hard candies and biscuits – all imported from France.

The King’s Head

Walking through the double doors of The King’s Head is to be transported in time and space. Sit inside to take in the unique décor or enjoy a view of the water with bar bites and drinks shared atop beer barrels or at the communal tables with traditional bench seating. Pull up a bar stool for a pint and enjoy the company of the bar mascot, Winston. An English bulldog, he embodies his namesake, Mr. Churchill, with his hedonistic appreciation for good food and alcohol and his penchant for relaxation. Chat with the friendly staff, raise a pint to Winston and enjoy a drink the ‘proper old English’ way.

The Waterfront Urban Diner

The Waterfront Urban Diner marries modern city dining with the laidback tropics. Experience quick, feel-good food at an affordable price. Savor American classics and gastro-pub fare made from the freshest local ingredients and enjoy warm hospitality in a charming setting of reclaimed wooden floors, funky industrial lighting and chalkboard writing on the walls. The Waterfront is perfect for an intimate dinner date or a hearty breakfast on the water with the entire family.

West Indies Wine Company

Both a tasting room and an inspired shop, West Indies Wine Company engages guests with a curated selection of 80 different wines by the glass – served at the perfect temperature via state-of-the-art Napa Technology WineStations. Gather for an informal tasting with the in-house sommelier or use your personal smart card to serve yourself. Watch the world go by from the outdoor seating on The Paseo or simply grab your favorite bottle to go – any day of the week.

Shopping

The eclectic variety of shops in Camana Bay are enough to keep you busy all day.  Most shops appeal to both visitors and locals, so you don’t feel like you’re being ripped off just because you’re a visitor.  You won’t find dozens of souvenir shops here, either.  Instead you can expect to find everything from designer fashion, jewelry, skincare, cosmetics, home decor and essentials, tech products, books, toys and more.  Think of it like your local shopping mall, just a little classier.

Tip:  Take advantage of Starfish Village if you have kids!


As I mentioned above, Starfish Village is the perfect place for the kids to play.  It is a unique and innovative children’s enrichment centre where playful learning sparks imagination, creativity, exploration and discovery. Children 0 to 12 years can interact with developmentally appropriate toys and engage in spontaneous play in a well-supervised environment with qualified and enthusiastic staff. Starfish Village offers a full-service Montessori program as well as a traditional preschool program that follows the Cayman Islands early childhood curriculum. Other services include morning and after-school programs, Drop & Play and Stay & Play services, speciality workshops, seasonal camps and birthday parties.

The Observation Tower

The Camana Bay Observation Tower is a structure you don’t want to miss.  This is a 75-foot tower that offers a full panoramic view of the area.  The inside of the tower features a stunning ocean-themed mural made of 3 million Venetian glass tiles.  These tiles took a year to hand cut and 8 months to install.  This tower was fun for both the adults and the kids in our group and is worth the visit.








Kaibo

Just a 20 minute boat taxi ride away from Camana Bay sits a cute little area called Kaibo.  We happened to be in the area for the annual heritage festival and joined local school children as they learned more about their culture.  We found some great home decor and jewelry here, too.

Oh, and you have to try the Mudslides at the Kaibo restaurant!

Living in Camana Bay

You know I couldn’t resist looking up living in Camana Bay.  I absolutely fell in love with this town and wanted to see their living options.  I was pleased to see that they not only have luxury apartment living, but they also have residential living.  You can learn more at www.camanabay.com.


Where to Stay

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A special thank you to Camana Bay for hosting my family.

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Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma to Open May 2017

Photo Credit: Karisma

Two Karisma Resort announcements in a week!  

This is exciting and means that Karisma has been hard at work trying to provide us with as much fun as they possibly can.  If you missed it, make sure you read the Margaritaville by Karisma announcement I made earlier.

This week, the award-winning luxury hotel collection, Karisma Hotels and Resorts, announced plans to open Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma, which will bring a new expansive luxury beachfront property featuring premium suites and Gourmet Inclusive® restaurants and bars to Jamaica.  Karisma owns and manages properties in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe right now.  Some of their properties include: El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels, Azul Hotels & Villas by Karisma, Generations Resorts by Karisma, Allure Hotels by Karisma and, of course, the resort we visited, Azul Sensatori in Riviera Maya.

Featuring spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea and a chic contemporary design, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma is an all-suite beachfront property comprised of 285 suites. The resort will offer ten distinct room categories, all of which are ocean view and many of which offer private swim-ups. Couples will enjoy romantic Honeymoon Suites while those with children will appreciate the Family Suites with room for kids and parents alike. A Presidential offering will also be available. All accommodations will feature chic contemporary décor, luxury furnishings, state-of-the-art amenities, and private balconies or terraces.

Gourmet Inclusive® Dining

Guests of Azul Beach Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma will have access to a total of ten Gourmet Inclusive® restaurants and Gourmet Corners to choose from as well as eight Gourmet Inclusive® bars and lounges. Highlights include Mahogany Restaurant & Kitchen, Hua Hin – Thai Cuisine and the West End Gourmet Corner and Terrace. Furthermore, Indigo Denim Bar, Amber Oceanfront Bar and West End Swim Up Bar & Lounge, among others, will serve premium drinks and build on the resort’s exquisite bar and lounge offerings with live music, stylish décor and stunning views to create an unrivaled ambiance.

“The opening of Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma represents a new era for Karisma Hotels & Resorts,” said Armando Chomat, Executive Vice President of Premier Worldwide Marketing, the exclusive worldwide representatives for Karisma Hotels & Resorts. “This is Karisma’s first opportunity to welcome guests Jamaica and we are eager for them to enjoy the Gourmet Inclusive® Experience complete with unmatched service, contemporary design, and exquisite luxury amenities only steps from Negril’s famed Seven Mile Beach.”

Resort Features

Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma will feature indulgences including swim up suites, oversized terraces and stylish lounge patio furnishings that create the ultimate open air experience as an extension of each guest suite. In addition to innovative cuisine and impeccable service offered through the resort’s Gourmet Inclusive Experience, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma will offer guests a unique array of entertainment and activities including yoga, tai chi, rum tastings, Jamaican cooking classes, Caribbean dance class and more. Additionally, guests can find their Zen at the resort’s Vassa Spa, a luxurious escape offering an assortment of treatments, including outdoor sky massages overlooking the serene ocean. Families staying at the resort can enjoy a wide variety of amenities for kids and teens including the My Gym Children’s Fitness Program and Azulitos Playhouse for ongoing day and evening activities as well as Azulitos Spa Services to pamper and unwind.

Negril, Jamaica

Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma is located on the world famous Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica.   The hotel is located one hour and twenty minutes from the Montego Bay airport.

I visited Negril, Jamaica this past October and fell in love with 7-mile beach.  The sand was so soft, the water was so warm and the people were so friendly.


Attractions in Negril

Nearby attractions include the world-famous Negril Cliffs with their breathtaking views, the ecotourism destination Royal Palms Reserve, Negril Hills Golf Club, Blue Hole Mineral Spring, which sits beneath a cavernous opening in Jamaica’s terrain and is surrounded by natural limestone, as well as the Negril Lighthouse, which was built in 1894.


Discount

In celebration of the resort’s May 2017 debut, Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma is now offering 57 percent off savings on Gourmet Inclusive® vacation bookings. This special grand opening promotion is available for bookings now through February 28 for travel, May 1 – December 22, 2017.

Learn More

Azul Beach Resort Sensatori Jamaica by Karisma is now available for bookings for stays starting May 1, 2017, with rates starting at $198 per adult, per night, encompassing the Gourmet Inclusive® Experience of a la carte dining, premium alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, full-service concierge, and 24-hour room service. Reservations can be booked through Karisma Hotels & Resorts by calling 1-866-KARISMA or by visiting www.karismahotels.com.


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Tips for Dining with a Toddler on Vacation (or anywhere, really)

Dining with a Toddler on Vacation - 3 Tips from a Family Travel Blogger
Dining with a toddler while on vacation might not sound like the most enjoyable experience, but if you take the kiddos along, you have no other option (unless they stay in the kids club).  As a travel blogger, it’s part of my job to experience each all-inclusive family vacation destination with the kiddos and by doing that, I’ve learned three valuable tips that I’d like to share with you.
When we visited Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa, my oldest was four and my youngest was just about one.  My oldest loved the kids club but chose to dine with us every night and my youngest was in “cling to momma” mode, so she came everywhere with me.  Thankfully, all of the restaurants at Beaches were super accommodating and understanding.
The truth is, teaching kids to behave themselves in adult environments only works if you actually bring them around adult environments.  There’s nothing wrong with taking them to nice restaurants and teaching them good table manners, especially at a family-friendly resort.

Tip #1 – Don’t worry about other diners.  

Kids talk loudly, they occasionally scream and they like to drop the silverware.  Everyone knows this!

With my first child, I would cringe inside when she would cry or act out at the dinner table while on vacation.  It took me until she was about three to realize that she was bothering me way more than she was bothering other diners.  In fact, most of them thought she was cute.  If you’re on vacation with your kids, you’re most likely at a family-friendly vacation destination.  Honeymooners or couples that are looking to escape the kiddish atmosphere most likely wouldn’t be staying there anyways.

Tip #2 – Order your kids’ food first or keep them distracted with bread and shiny silverware.

I actually learned this on a cruise when my oldest was about two.  One of the staff members suggested that he bring her meal first to keep her distracted.  It worked like a charm and we’ve done this ever since.  In some instances, though, the kids finish before the adults which creates another need to distract them.  What a great time to order dessert!  After all, you’re on vacation and if you’re staying at Beaches, it’s all-inclusive so order every dessert on the menu.
My little one has plenty of fun playing with a spoon and a piece of bread, so if the restaurant brings bread before your meal, tell the waiter to keep it coming – and warn them that most of it might end up on the ground.
Some restaurants offer kids crayons and a menu to color, but this has never worked to distract my girls very long.  The crayons usually end up on the ground with the bread crumbs.

Tip # 3 – Ask for a kid-friendly cup and extra straws!

I don’t know what it is about those Beaches bendy straws but my girls couldn’t get enough of them.  From what I’ve read from other Beaches Moms and Dads, their kids loved them, too.  No matter where you’re dining, though, they most likely have a kid-friendly drink option for your little ones.
My girls love to play with straws and swirl them around in their drinks, but more often than not, the straws end up on the ground.  Having an extra straw (or five) within arm’s reach is always a good idea to avoid meltdowns.
Also, don’t be afraid to have the waiter remove any glasses that you don’t need from the table, if they haven’t done so already.
And when all else fails, hand them the iPhone!

Do you have any tips for dining with little ones?


This article was sponsored in part by:

California’s Great America Theme Park

We were hosted by Great America.

This weekend I attended a press event at one of my favorite Northern California theme parks – California’s Great America.  This was a fun barbecue-style event complete with hot dogs, barbecued chicken, some amazing mac ‘n cheese and ice creams galore!  During our lunch, we were briefed on the new and exciting updates happening at the park this year including the extravagant Winterfest, which I am super excited for.

I’ve been going to Great America since I was a kid.  I remember going at least once every summer, sometimes more.  What I have always loved about Great America is the family-friendly atmosphere that they work so hard to uphold.  Quite a few park updates have been made since I was a kid, though.

One of my favorite updates to the park (since I was a kid) is the addition of Planet Snoopy.  This is an entire area dedicated to kids and it is so much fun!  Another one is the Gold Striker wooden coaster.

Mass Effect New Earth

Another fun addition to the park this year is the Mass Effect experience.  This is in place of what used to Days of Thunder and then (I think) a Spongebob experience.  This is a 4D holographic journey to Terra Nova – a beautiful destination in space.

This was such a fun experience for all of our senses.  It’s definitely must-do at the park.

Winterfest Sneak Peek

During our Great America press conference, they announced that they would be opening up the park during the holiday season for Winterfest.  Winterfest is going to have one of Northern California’s largest Christmas trees in front of the carousel that will be completely decked out with festive decor.

The entire park will also be decked out with all of your favorite winter characters like Jack Frost, Frosty the Snowman, Santa and Mrs. Clause, and more!

One of my favorite features of Winterfest is the giant ice skating rink that will be in front of the carousel.  This is going to be so much fun!

Learn More

You can get ticketing information, season pass information and updates at cagreatamerica.com.

Video: Highlights from our Trip to Beaches Resort in Turks and Caicos

As you probably know, The Bucket List Mom/The Naptime Reviewer visited the Beaches Resort in Turks and Caicos in October of 2015.  I’ve put together a little highlight video sharing some of our favorite things from the resort.

You also might like:


Bucket List: Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa
How to Afford a Deluxe All-Inclusive Vacation to Beaches Turks and Caicos
Dining with a Toddler on Vacation at Beaches Turks and Caicos

The Hofsas House Hotel Review – Carmel, California

Thank you to Carrie and The Hofsas House for hosting us.  As always, all opinions in this post are mine.
The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea
Located on San Carlos Street between 3rd and 4th Street in the quant village of Carmel-By-The-Sea sits one of the most unique European-inspired hotels – The Hofsas House.  Known for it’s consistently warm hospitality and iconic charm, The Hofsas House has been a favorite for 60+ years.  It has also been my #1 hotel choice in Carmel for three years in a row. 

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

Close to Dining, Shopping and The Beach

The Hofsas House is located within walking distance to the beach, shopping and dining, but is just enough out of the way of the hustle and bustle of car and foot traffic.  If you’ve ever visited Carmel-By-The-Sea, you will understand how tricky it can be to find a parking space around town.  Have a hotel that is within walking distance of everything allows for more time to explore and experience all that Carmel has to offer.

It Feels Like Home

Many people have a hard time adjusting to hotel rooms when traveling.  Most of them don’t feel very homey and it can take a while to get acclimated.  From the first time I visited the Hofsas House, it felt like a home away from home.  The beds are comfortable and the rooms have just about everything you need to make you feel at home.  These rooms are especially nice when traveling with kids.
The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea
Not all of the Hofsas House rooms have a fireplace, but I have now stayed in three different rooms with a fireplace.  It’s a must!
The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea
The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea
The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea
All of the rooms I’ve stayed in have a mini fridge, a microwave and a sink.  Under the cupboard you’ll find silverware, plates, cups, etc.  If you’re traveling with kids, these are great to have.

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

Updated Amenities

I’m sure you’re looking at my photos from the room thinking “these rooms don’t look very modern.”  The wallpaper, bedspreads and antique furniture just adds to the charm of The Hofsas House, but rest assured, the bathrooms are super modern and clean.  The water pressure is amazing and the heated lamp is such a luxury.

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

Affordable Pricing and Unique Package Options

The Hofsas House has many ways to help enhance your stay in Carmel.  My personal favorite is the campfire package which provides you with everything you need for s’mores and a campfire on the beach.  They also have special options for pets, romance, wine lovers and so much more. 
The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

Free Pastries and Coffee

One of the things I always look forward to when visiting The Hofsas House is the free breakfast pastries and coffee.  While our room is always set-up with a coffee machine and coffee packets, you can’t beat the fresh brewed coffee from the lobby.  If I am remembering correctly, the coffee is from one of the local coffee companies.

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

It’s so nice to be able to run down to the lobby to load up a tray with some fresh pastries, fruit and coffee to bring back up to you room.  When I’ve traveled with my kids, it was so nice to not have to worry about getting everybody ready to eat breakfast.  Mornings with kids tend to run a little slower, so this breakfast option is the best and is very much appreciated.

The Staff

Carrie from the Hofsas House is one of my favorite people in Carmel.  She’s just the sweetest and is always so accommodating.  She’s not only helpful to us but I’ve seen her giving helpful advice to other hotel guests, as well.  She knows Carmel like the back of her hand, so if you need advice on activities for the day or directions on where to go, make sure you ask her!

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea
Carrie, unfortunately, wasn’t in the office during our most recent visit but I happened to find an older picture I had taken (from 2014).

The Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-By-The-Sea

There are so many choices when looking for a place to stay in Carmel, but I hope I’ve made your hotel decision a little bit easier.  The Hofsas House is so unique and makes for an enhanced Carmel-By-The-Sea experience.

Thanks again to Carrie for hosting my family for the 3rd year in a row!

Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma – Riviera Maya, Mexico

I received complimentary meals and transfers to facilitate my tour and review of Azul Sensatori Mexico.  Any information shared is based on my own personal experience.
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
Azul Sensatori Mexico by Karisma Hotels is another awesome family friendly vacation destination in Riviera Maya.  This resort has all the great qualities of the Azul Beach Resort, but in a larger scale with 438 fully appointed rooms – including honeymoon suites, presidential suites, swim up suites, complete with private outdoor hot tubs, and of course family suites with everything from strollers to bottle warmers.  Kids can also indulge in the fantastic Nickelodeon Experience at Azul Sensatori Mexico!

Azul Sensatori Mexico also has its’ own adult buildings, with accompanying pool/bar areas with in-water lounge chairs.  Everywhere you turn there is beautiful blue water at Azul Sensatori!  Being a larger resort, Sensatori also has a few other activities like tennis, pool volleyball, beach boot camp, water polo, tug of war games, a teen club with live DJ, arcade, conversation pits, and pool tables.
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
We had the pleasure of having a meal at the Zocalo Mexican Restaurant at Azul Sensatori.  Fabulous food, excellent service, and beautiful sunset views from the large picture windows!
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
The Nickelodeon Experience at Azul Sensatori will be something your children will remember forever!  They will feel like celebrities at the Orange Carpet event, with paparazzi taking their pictures with all the Nickelodeon characters!  The Nickelodeon staff put on such a high level energy show and encourage audience dancing and participation.  I saw quite a few sleepy kids being carried back to their rooms after this event!
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
In addition to the Nick Experience, there’s also nightly entertainment for the entire family with magicians, singers, and other great performers.
Like Azul Beach Resort, Azul Sensatori Mexico also has the gorgeous Vassa Spa, with special rooms to accommodate bridal parties, as well as the cutest treatment and massage rooms for kids!  Vassa Spas’ menu includes everything from waxing to pedicures, for men, women and children.
What could be better than gathering your closest friends and family at sunset on the beach to celebrate your wedding?  The oceanfront venue at Azul Sensatori is absolutely magical!  You can include a rooftop cocktail hour for your guests, as well as a sit down reception inside the resort.
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma
Azul Sensatori offers you and your family the trip of a lifetime, with endless activities, shows, and relaxation! 
Azul Sensatori Resort by Karisma

Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort
Needless to say, I’m missing Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa more than ever right now.  It’s been chilly in California and I’m just dreaming of the clear blue water and clean, warm sand.

Social Media on the Sand

For those of you that don’t know, I attended the invitation-only Social Media on the Sand blogger conference in October 2015.  We attended amazing, information-filled conferences and had lots of opportunities to meet mommy and daddy bloggers from all over.  We were able to bring our families along and enjoyed many family-friendly adventures and experiences.

Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa

Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa is home to a 45,000 square-foot waterpark; four magnificent villages, boasting the architecture and ambiance of Italy, France, the Caribbean and Key West; a 12-mile beach lapped by clear turquoise waters; 20 restaurants and bars; endless fun activities for everyone, from tots to tweens and teens, featuring Sesame Street characters, the new Xbox® Play Lounge and a sizzlin’ teen disco, Liquid at Beaches – all located on one of the world’s best beaches.
((follow me on Instagram @bucket_list_mom for more travel pictures))


Some of my favorite images from our trip:

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort
Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort
Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort
Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort

Images of Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa - All-Inclusive Resort