October 2012

When we headed out on our amazing cruise vacation, the only sand we were thinking about was supposed to be between our toes and maybe washed out of our bathing suits. When we woke up last Tuesday morning to hear about Tropical Storm Sandy making its way to Jamaica and working its way up to hurricane status, I was (more than) a little worried, but although we passed within 150 miles of the storm it never really got too stormy. I think we crossed in front of it just in time to miss most of the rain and by the time we skirted south of Cuba on Thursday morning, the winds were incredibly strong but the skies had mostly cleared.

Imagine my surprise when I went to check the weather back home in Ottawa on the internet on Saturday and saw the ‘storm of the century’ warnings. Who the heck gets hit by the same hurricane twice?

From a weather perspective, our trip ended better than it started. Our first day at sea was a mixture of sun and cloud, and our day in Labadee Haiti was more cloud than sun, but we only saw a sprinkling of rain. In fact, considering we passed so close to a hurricane, we really didn’t see much precipitation at all. And the last few days were sunny and clear – exactly the kind of weather you’d want for a Caribbean cruise.

Last sunrise at sea

The seas were very rough (well, they seemed rough to me!) in the middle of the week, but with the ship running full steam ahead to get away from the storm, I think the Allure just plowed through most of the waves. I understand the waves were in the 12ft range, which is pretty impressive to watch as long as you don’t mind a bit of a ride! We could certainly feel the ship rocking but it was never enough to be disconcerting. The roughest ride of all was the last night as we approached Fort Lauderdale. The wind was howling and spraying mist from the prow all the way to the aft of the ship – for a while I was trying to figure out how I was feeling rain and seeing the moon and stars at the same time! I don’t know whether the seas were particularly rough because of Sandy farther north, or if the captain just wanted to give us a memorable ride, but that last night the ship was rocking and lurching so much it was hard to sleep – doors were swinging and hangers clinking in the closet and the ship itself was making alarming creaking and groaning noises. If that last night had been the first night, I may have decided to stay on land at Haiti and just catch the next flight home instead!!

According to the latest forecasts, Hurricane Sandy will now pass mostly south of Ottawa and then hook back up over us again in a few days. I’ve been watching reports of rain and wind from friends in Toronto today, but the wind is relatively calm here and though the skies are grey, no rain is yet falling. I can’t quite tear myself away from the news reports and am sending all my best wishes for everyone in harm’s way tonight.

I’ve got a few more posts yet to write about our amazing time on the Allure even though we’re now firmly back on dry land. But really, I feel like I never left the ship. Since when does my living room rock and sway like the ship? And that’s without a storm raging outside!

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I had wanted to do this as a wordless post, with just the photos to illustrate our day in port in Cozumel, but I can’t quite do it. The pictures do tell a great story, but there’s fun in between the photos too.

We wanted to do something once-in-a-lifetime for our day in Cozumel (yanno, aside from all the other once-in-a-lifetime experiences this week!) and we were eyeballing the “swim with the dolphins” excursions – but they are not cheap. It would cost something upwards of $300 for the five of us, and then we found this really neat excursion called “Everybody Loves Rays” where you get to pet and feed stingrays and do a bit of snorkeling. Half the price of dolphins, just as once-in-a-lifetime. Perfect!

If you ever find yourself looking for an excursion in Cozumel, I highly recommend Stingray Beach. Unless of course you are squidgy about stingrays, which it turns out that at least half of our party are. Oh well. You get to stand in knee-deep water and they are so tame they come up and bump your legs in a way alarmingly similar to the way cats will rub against your ankles. We hand-fed them, and then moved to deeper water where we could hold them and even kiss them if we wanted (none of us were THAT interested in the stingrays.) They provided everything from aqua shoes to snorkel gear to fish to instructions – you really just have to show up with your bathing suit.

Lucas lasted about four seconds in the water with the stingrays, but luckily Beloved wasn’t too interested in them either. Simon was a bit afraid that their suctiony mouths would suck him right up (stingrays are way cool!) but he warmed up to them eventually and Tristan was his usual stoicly adventurous self — willing to play along but showing no real signs of whether he was actually enjoying himself save for a tell-tale little smirk. I loved it!

After the stingray encounter, we suited up in snorkel gear. I have never donned snorkel gear before, and getting myself and the kids tricked out was a challenge on dry land. Between keeping Lucas afloat (we were all in life vests) and Simon on track, I didn’t actually manage to put on my own mask or get my face in the water but I still managed to swallow about my body weight in seawater. Beloved, on the other hand, had a great time with the snorkeling and saw all sorts of colourful tropical fish. I figure that’s a fair trade.

Then we all five had a blast just chillin’ (actually, cooking) on the beach and playing with the other residents of Stingray Beach – the parrots, the iguanas, and the hermit crabs. There were about a dozen of us on the excursion, and can you believe the boys came in first, second and third place in the hermit crab races? Way too much fun! And unlike some excursions I’ve heard about where they take photos and then badger you to death to buy them for the price of your first born child, the staff here were all great and I was happy to spend $50 to get our CD of 20 or so photos and a framed print.

So that was Cozumel in words – here it is in photos!

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico


A cruise had never crossed our radar as a potential holiday. Even though my parents have loved a few cruises in the last few years and regaled us with their adventures, it would still never have occured to us to even consider a cruise vacation for the family. However, I have to tell you — I could get used to this!

Here’s five things that have surpassed my expectations to become five of my favourite things about cruising with Royal Caribbean International in general, and the Allure of the Seas in particular.

1. The food

five things 2

Oy. They say you can easily gain 10 lbs on a 7-day cruise, and I can totally see how that would happen. From the snacks to the specialty restaurants, there is always food and it is always yummy. Our particular favourites are the guacamole, chips and self-serve ice cream in the Wipeout Cafe, the early-morning coffee and pastries in the Park Cafe and to my great surprise, dinners in the main dining room. Also worth a mention: the fresh food in the Solarium Bistro (my favourite and most scenic breakfast) and the family-style Italian dining at Giovanni’s Table. And the salads and roast beef sandwiches at the Park Cafe. And the kids want me to tell you that the buffet at the Windjammer Marketplace is awesome! (You can see, we are in no danger of starving!)

2. The ship

five things 5

The Allure of the Seas is a marvel. I’ve loved exploring her and getting to know her. Funny, I usually have a very good sense of direction, but she’s just so darn big that my internal compass is completely off. I start off heading for the Boardwalk thinking I’m on the Promenade heading aft only to have Tristan point out I’m headed forward. And if you do end up at the wrong end of the ship, it’s a substantial hike to get back where you thought you were going! But I’ve loved taking different ways to common destinations so I’ve gotten to see just about as much of her as I think is possible. Some of my favourite places are the deck just off the running track on deck 5 that looks back over the ship’s wake, the Boardwalk with its carousel and kid-friendly shops, and the splash-and-fun zone on deck 15 with the pools, hot tubs, kiddie splash zone and great views. I even love our compact little stateroom, which is much larger than I expected and is equipped with so much smart storage that even we are kept organized. And more than anything, I love our private balcony, although I also love just about any bit of the ship where I can lean on a rail or grab a deck chair and just stare out at that mesmerizing sea.

3. The crew

five things 3

Our room attendant, Andy, is always smiling. Every second night he makes an animal out of face cloths for the boys. Some nights he’s holding the remote control, and some nights he’s wearing kiddie sunglasses. The boys love it! Every single crewmember is cheerful and friendly, and the staff in the main dining room go out of their way to make us — all five of us, kids maybe even moreso than the adults — feel welcome and at home. There are 2,200 crew members from more than 70 countries throughout the world, and not a one of them has ever been anything less than welcoming.

4. The fun!

five things 4

Swimming, rock climbing, surfing, zip lining, skipping ropes and hula hoops, carousel rides, shows – these are just a few of diversions we’ve enjoyed in the last few days. The kids have come to love the Ocean Adventure kids’ clubs, and we’ve had the best time just playing together. Who knew ships were so much FUN?!?

5. The sea

five things

I love the sound of the waves, the smell of the salt, the sight of those amazing, unbelievable blues — I could honestly spend seven full days sitting on a deck chair simply staring out at the sea. I love the gentle rocking of the waves most of all, I think. I can’t bring myself to ignore a glimpse of the sea, and I’m only surprised that being 360 degrees surrounded by it that it is occasionally possible on a ship this massive to forget that you are at sea — even when you are charging full-steam-ahead away from a hurricane! Considering I have a visceral fear of deep water and wide open spaces, it’s odd how truly obsessed I am with the sea. I will miss it most of all.

But there’s no time for nostalgia — we have just docked and watched the sun rise in Cozumel, Mexico! Another day of adventure awaits!!

Okay wait - if we're going to do a sunrise over Cozumel photo, this is better! Ola!! #fisherpriceonroyal #ad


happy place


Okay, I’m feeling a little less freaked out about this whole hurricane thing now. Apparently we’re taking evasive manoeuvers which still sound to me to be perilously close to the storm, but as technologically advanced as the Allure of the Seas is, the transporter beams are still in the beta phase so we just have to chug out of the way the old fashioned way, full steam ahead.

In the interim, we did not let a pending hurricane cast a shadow on a perfectly fun (and perfectly exhausting!) day on Royal Caribbean’s exclusive beach enclave at Labadee, Haiti.

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (1 of 8)

It sits on a bit of a peninsula on the north part of Haiti, so you can visit a beach with a calm sea or a more active ocean beach. Of course, the first place the kids wanted to visit was the wavy beach.

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (2 of 8)

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (3 of 8)

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (4 of 8)

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (5 of 8)

And then I put the camera away and had fun just playing with the kids! They have a big waterpark with giant inflatable floaty things that are really hard to climb up on to but really fun to slide back down off from. You can see them in between the boys and the ship (they’re the blue and white things) and the ship in this photo:

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (7 of 8)

Other than trying to boost Lucas and sometimes Simon up onto the floaties while in water over my head (wearing a life jacket) without being able to get a foothold myself (oy, my arms!) and once accidentally losing my footing and crashing backwards off the floatie while taking Simon with me in the process, we had a fun time!

And we had time for some more mellow beach fun, too.

Allure of the Seas in Labadee Haiti (6 of 8)

This was one of the days I had been really looking forward to, and I was worried about the rain and thunderstorms forecast for our day at the beach — but it turned out to be a perfect day with only light cloud cover, warm and breezy and perfect.

As I write, we’re chugging our way along Cuba’s coast toward Mexico two days hence. I’ll keep you posted on the hurricane watch and share more of our adventures soon!

Oh, and yesterday Julie asked about seasickness and the motion of the boat. I haven’t had any problems at all, and actually love the very gentle swaying motion. Beloved and Simon are both prone to motion sickness and so we’re well equipped with gravol and ginger, but neither one of them has felt unwell enough to use it. I think the fact that we are on a low deck toward the aft of the ship helps, as does the fact that it’s just such a honking big ship that it takes a lot to get it rocking. We’ll see what tomorrow’s stormy weather brings!

Any other questions about cruising? You know, now that we’re experts and all! 😉


We were in the elevator on our way to breakfast when the captain’s voice was broadcast throughout the ship. (He calls himself Captain Johnny. He seems like quite the character.) Anyway, he announced that unfortunately we would not be able to dock in Jamaica tomorrow as planned, on account of the tropical storm named Sandy, which is forecast to coalesce into a hurricane overnight as it hits Jamaica.

The who now on the what where?

I looked at Beloved, who was looking at me with the same sort of open-mouthed surprise. Did he just say hurricane?

I don’t know what it is about me and travel. Did I ever tell you about the time when I was traveling through Europe by myself when I was about 24 years old? After four weeks of solo travel, which was both difficult and the best thing I’d ever done in my life, I was exhausted and ready to come home. And on my final day in Paris I got lost in the RER and missed my flight home to Ottawa. After a frantic (okay, hysterical) conversation with an unsympathetic Air France agent, I called my then-boyfriend, who had driven from London to Ottawa to pick me up and was staying in my apartment waiting to pick me up in the morning.

“I mu-mu-missed my flight home! Can you drive to Toronto to pick me up in eight hours?” And he did. So I married him.

And then there was the time we drove all the way to Nova Scotia, only to realize we’d left the key to the cargo carrier that contained all of our luggage on the kitchen table at home. My mother overnighted it to us in Halifax. And you might remember the one where I lost my bank card (the first time ever in my life, I believe) on a Sunday about eight hours before leaving for Mexico.

Murphy likes to travel with my family. My parents were on a cruise to from South America to Hawaii when the tsunami hit Chile and points north a few years ago, and I spent a few frantic hours watching the ship’s web cam to make sure it was still on the right side of the water. They have some pretty cool video footage of the water splashing out of the pools as the ship rocked to and fro. Or fore and aft. Or something like that.

So. Apparently we are not going to Jamaica after all, but nobody here seems nearly so alarmed as I am about all this talk of hurricanes. We just move slightly out of the way and hang on, I guess. And I suppose if you’re going to be on any ship in a storm, it’s nice to be on the world’s largest.

I tell you, there is NOTHING I won’t do for good blog fodder!

Sunrise over Haiti

(Apparently this is our silver lining, the sun rising over Haiti as we pulled in to port this morning. Haiti post to follow!)

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Hi National Post readers!

22 October 2012 Mothering without a licence

Welcome National Post readers! If you’re looking for the blog post referenced in Sarah Boesveld’s article in the weekend National Post, it’s here: http://danigirl.ca/blog/2009/09/21/no-strollers-allowed/ On the issue of kids being banned from public spaces, I love the quote Sarah pulled out of our interview. She wrote: Danielle Donders, a mother of three boys in Manotick, […]

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Zipping along on the Allure of the Seas

22 October 2012 Allure of the Seas 2012

We had a lot of fun on our second day at sea with Royal Caribbean International and Fisher Price on the Allure of the Seas today. So much fun, in fact, that I’m exhausted! I will get around to telling you a whole lot more about our ship tour tomorrow, but I wanted to share […]

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Hello from the sea!

21 October 2012 Allure of the Seas 2012

As I type this to you, I am sitting on a pulled-out sofa bed in our stateroom, listening to the sea rush by below us. In case you missed it, we are aboard Royal Caribbean International’s flagship Allure of the Seas, currently at sea between Florida and Haiti., courtesy of our friends at Fisher-Price. I […]

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Are camera-crazy families raising a generation of narcissists?

16 October 2012 Mothering without a licence

I read with interest an article in the New York Times parenting blog this past weekend: Why we should take fewer pictures of our children. The author’s premise is that we are making our children too self-aware with our incessant documentation. David Zweig says, “Like most everything, self-awareness is healthy in moderation, and problematic in […]

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