Cruisin’ For Vacation

Well, I am back from my cruise vacation!  We got back to 40° weather with 25+ mph wind gusts from a dry, warm 84° with slight breeze.  We went to Aruba, Curacao, Dominican Republic and Grand Turks.  All had beautiful weather,  water.

The big question is, would I do it again, with kids?  Yes, most definitely.  They had a cool pool, water slide, video arcade, a dance floor and craft and play club for kids.  In fact, I really did not see many kids while on the ship for 8 days but then seen a bunch at the kids club, so I knew they were there. If you have kids who can tour places for a short time and then like swim and play, a cruise is for your family.  Not only can cruises do both but they have something for everyone, including grandma and grandpa.  We cruised 8 days for $399pp + $98.00 gratuity tax pp + $109.00 port/tax fees pp.  It may seem like a lot, but keep in mind this includes your food, drinks (coffee, juice, water), cabin, entertainment.

 Carnival Cruise

Carnival Cruise

Our cruise had a Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint (yum), Punchliner Comedy Club, stage shows, casino, arcade, kids dance club, outdoor new release movies, made-to-order pizza, and buffets. This does not include any activities the cruise director plans.  If relaxing and swimming is all you want, you can do that.  Lots of options on board, which is perfect for a diversified family.

Family concerns: I personally prefer a cabin with a view.  When worrying about who might be seasick, I find if I can see the horizon, I feel better.  So hence, a window in the cabin. There is also plenty of downtime for families.  Also, instead of worrying about touring islands or areas, using a tour group gets all of your family safely and comfortably from place to place, with opportunities for photos and bathroom breaks!  Yep, you know the kids will have to go and who wants to try and find a bathroom in a foreign place?  My husband would love not having to drive through foreign areas with new driving rules or guess what that sign means type of vacation. lol.

My favorite island is tied with Aruba and Curacao.  I loved them all, but these two had a very European-type feel to them.  Both have Dutch influence.  Aruba was a little more modernized with Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy’s.  These two countries try very hard to make their tourists welcome.

Aruba

Curacao resembled a small Amsterdam.  Very quaint, but also modern in some parts.

Curacao Island

Dominican Republic had a beautiful old city called Santo Domingo. It had this old world Latin charm. Just gorgeous. Our tour guide was so accommodating and encouraging, but we felt as though if we strayed too far, we may encounter trouble.  People would watch our group walk by and no one would smile. Weird. We were constantly followed by people trying to sell us trinkets.  We must have said, “No thank you,” a dozen times and within earshot of the guy waiting behind him to try to sell us “his stuff.”  I understand they need to make a living, but at the same time, we would like to enjoy our visit so we are encouraged to come back!

Dominican Republic

Grand Turks was recuperating from a hurricane, so quite a bit was under construction or being renovated.  It was very small and reminded me sort of like Key West (ish).  It was sweet but had a ways to go for tourism. The people were very friendly though, so that is quiet hopeful for their island to bring more tourists back.  Not too much there but relaxation and non-tourist type atmosphere.

Grand Turks Island

Would I cruise every vacation?  I think if I was the type who wanted to see new places frequently, I would cruise.  Small doses of areas to test and then return if acceptable to your family is the way to go.  I think cruising once a year, for max 5 days would be great fun and my family is definitely ready to book our adventure!

Some of the pictures were taken through a bus window so I hope you can appreciate the beauty as I did.

South Dakota or Bust!

Planning a family vacation is rough.  Everyone’s needs and wants are trying to be met, and those needs and wants change daily.  I have been busy planning our South Dakota trip and then actually going on that same trip.  We live approximately 12 1/2 hours from the Black Hills area.

We planned on taking our dog and three children, which causes problems with hotels in two regards.  One, three kids puts you in two rooms or a suite; secondly, a dog significantly limits your places to stay and increases your amount.  Seems like either way they get you.  So, I felt that since we have a camper and we could bring our home along with us, why not?  It would save on a hotel and keep our dog comfortable while we went to places he could not accompany us.  Not to mention having the crock pot cooking our dinners!

After much investigating, here is the price break down.  Hotel for all of us was approximately $125 and up.  The lowest being ok places (smells like smoke and kinda not-so-nice-anymore looks).  I am not one to stay in ok places.  Sorry.  Full hookup at a campground with heated pool and playground with wooded sites for keeping the camper cool started at $41 per night.  Since we would be staying for a week, we also received a discount camping rate. Oh, did I mention that we would sleep in our own bedding and use our own towels and shower?  Some things are truly – priceless.  🙂

Our stay was at Beaver Lake Campground, Custer, SD, in the heart of the Black Hills area for $36.00 per night.  We did have to pay $5 extra a night for our third child, which I do not agree on, but it was still cleaner and more affordable than staying at a hotel.

Ok, so now planning the trip out there.  We all know that the map says 12 1/2 hours but when you add in children (3 girls) and a dog, you can easily add 2 hours to that.  We decided not to push it with kids, a dog and a camper, so we would stay half way in Sioux Falls at a state park.  We didn’t feel sleeping somewhere and leaving early morning warranted $40+ for a camp site.  So we chose pretty and affordable. You can rarely go wrong with a state park ($30 State Park sticker but we would be using that many times over the course of our vacation).  We stayed at Big Sioux Recreation area (awesome clean showers and toilets).  It was on the east side of Sioux Falls and close to Falls Park, which was also on our check list to see.

 photo fallsparksd2_zps3cd74b7c.jpg

If an easy and beautiful walk with some very cool falls or some old architecture is enjoyable to you, then this is your place! Stunning red rocks with multiple waterfalls and a few old buildings to explore.  People and dogs are allowed to climb all over the rocks and boulders along with fishing.  Imagine a pretty town park where you can just hang out and picnic, and this is it.  Very enjoyable, but also something you can accompalish in a couple of hours, if need be.

So we were off in the morning after visiting the park and onward to Black Hills.  It was about another 7 hours with bathroom stops and some small picture taking stops.  I have to say that the Black Hills area is faith inspiring.  Some of the scenery is breathtaking and you just could stare at it all day and still not see everything.  Lots of history to soak up also.

I think our gas with our 2004 Yukon (which gets less gas mileage due to being able to tow more than the newer Yukons) was around $700.00 round trip.  This did not include the sightseeing we did with the truck, but the mileage was better due to not towing the camper.  I priced a rental, but again, we could find a low cost rental for touring but it always included some ridiculous security deposit which was held captive until “up to 7 days after returning the vehicle.”  Sorry, we are a family of five who is trying to save money, not lock it up and not earn interest!

Our return drive included staying at an ok hotel at the last minute because my husband was convinced he could drive the whole trip back in a day.  Um, ok.  We ended up staying in a hotel because it was so late we could not find a campground open, nor did my husband want to unpack the camper that late.  This change of plans at the last minute cost us $125.00 plus tax.

The total for the vacation was $1150.00 for 9 nights and 10 days.  Of course, this did not include our sightseeing because that is pretty individualized but I will cover that later anyway.  We all loved the trip and are talking about where else we can go with our camper.  My husband on the other hand, is curious to see pricing on a house rental.  So if anyone has some awesome rates on renting houses, we would love to hear it!