A Dream Family Vacation Come True


I had wanted for quite sometime for my entire family to go on a cruise together. A wish which turned to be pretty elusive, and took a long time to fulfill.

Why I love going on cruises?

My husband and I have been on many cruises and loved it. It is hassle-free, less stressful and easier to plan. It gives the best value for your bucks; with food and entertainment already included in the fare. Going on a cruise is a convenient and comfortable way to get to your destination. You’re able to move freely on the ship versus being confined on an a car , bus, train or an airplane; and with added  bonus of you unpack only once. There’s a variety of activities, games, shopping, gym provided onboard to keep you busy while at sea. Optional sightseeing, excursions & more activities at each port for extra costs. There are Kid Clubs geared to different age group. For sure, there is something for everyone, whether you choose to be active or just relax. I can’t think of a better venue or way to spend a family vacation.

I first planned a family cruise when my nieces and nephews are still young.  To entice my siblings & their family to go, my husband and I offered to pay for half the cost and urged them to use their credit card for the balance. Two families decided to go. As luck would have it, or rather “it wasn’t meant to be”, I cancelled at the last-minute. A great work opportunity opened up that conflicted with our sailing date…..resulting in guilt which lingered for many years to come.

Ten years later, I tried to make it happened inviting everyone to a 3-day cruise to Vancouver with all expenses paid including airfare back to Los Angeles from Vancouver. But only one of my nieces (Grace & her then boyfriend Ian), along with my siblings and in-laws decided to join.

Come one, come all for a free cruise vacation.  Persistence does pay off and in early 2015 my wish, finally, came true!  On March 17, twenty of us (16 adults, 2 kids & 2 infants) embarked on Norwegian Cruise Line for a 5-Day Cruise to Cabo San Lucas.  Five family members could not go due to work, school and other commitments.  I came to accept it is nearly impossible to get 100% and this is as good as it gets, so I’m happy with 70% participation.

norwegian-star[1]

Norwegian Cruise Line (Star ship)

I booked 8 cabins, all inside to save money for after all, we would use our cabins only to sleep and shower. As we have some 1st time cruisers who might be prone to motion sickness, I specifically chose cabins located mid-ship on lower deck as they are more stable; swaying/rocking motion less felt. I advised those that are prone to motion sickness to buy armbands (use pressure points) which I find very effective and better than taking tablets that cause drowsiness and nausea.

March 17, 2015: DAY OF EMBARKATION

St. Patrick’s Day is written all over when several passengers show up wearing something green: T-shirts, hats, necklace, even “drink of the day” aboard the ship is colored green.

Embarkation was organized and went smoothly, except I forgot our passports at home. My husband & brother-in-law drove back home which took 2 ½ hours both ways. Another incident at the Port caused more delays, but fortunately all worked out in the end. Truly ” a blessing in disguise ” my niece declared. We were last to check in (seven of us) among our group, and starving so we quickly head to Market Café for lunch before the mandatory drill begin in half an hour.

Dining Options at Star ship

Dining at NCL, unlike other cruise ships, is freestyle meaning you go to dinner when you want. Other cruise ships during booking you have to choose between early or late seating for dinner; and usually gets to seat with the same people every night.  Our ship offers 3 places to eat free: buffet at Market Café on Deck 12 and two sit down dining at Aqua (more casual) and Versailles (smart casual attire, no shorts). On pool deck, hamburgers, pizza, sandwiches are served, plus grilled meats, sausages; even paella. Juice, tea and coffee are free but sodas, bottled water and alcoholic beverages cost extra.

The Market Café a buffet on Deck 12,   our favorite hang out.

The Market Café a buffet on Deck 12, our favorite hang out.

The Versailles

The Versailles

All dressed up for our 1st Family fine dining at Versailles.

All dressed up for our 1st Family fine dining at Versailles.

Aqua, a casual sit down place for breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Aqua, a casual sit down place for breakfast, lunch & dinner.

On our 1st dinner aboard the ship, every family/group is free to choose where they want to dine. We (the senior group) dined at Aqua, and ordered different items for appetizers: crab cake, shrimp cocktail, mushroom soup. and did the same for main entrees: pappardelle pasta with duck comfit, fish, Caribbean pork, steak. Everyone ordered crème brulee with pistachio for dessert. Food is good and service excellent from our waiter who gave double entrée for one of us who could not decide which one to order. On our way out, we see the younger members of our group in line for the same restaurant.

Entertainment

We head to Stardust theater for evening live shows held daily at 7:00 pm & 9:00 pm. Tonight is a Welcome Show and a preview of what to come: NCL group of dancers and singers, Comedy, acrobats, etc.

Stardust Theater where we go for nightly show of music, dance, acrobats and comedy.

Stardust Theater where we go for nightly show of music, dance, acrobats and comedy.

Instant Celebrities

Our two babies became instant celebrities on the Star cruise ship during our trip.

The cousins, Lily & Kylie.

The cousins, Lily & Kylie.

Lily turns one year old in May this year,and become very popular in Market Café as “the dancing baby”. Every time she hears music, she would move her hands and body and do “kembot”, nonstop!  A month later, Kylie turns one year old too. We call her “the singing baby” for her constant loud screams, but is popularly known as “the cute baby”. The staff at Versailles adore her, and she garnered instant fan club among the on lookers during her photo session. Dressed in pink, with headband and sparkling shoes to match….irresistably adorable!

Live Music for listening pleasure

After the theater show we head to Deck 7 for pop music. There are other choices, but this is our favorite. Surprisingly, even the kids enjoy listening to music and would stay late.

Late Snacks

Our routine consist of heading to Market Café opened 24/7) for late snack before retiring to our cabin. After all, we are on vacation and our motto is “ENJOY AND FORGET ABOUT DIETING”.

Leanna enjoying her spaghetti.

Leanna enjoying her spaghetti.

MARCH 18: and 21`: DAY AT SEA

It’s do whatever your heart desire day. Sleep late, do nothing, workout, etc.

Walk or Jog: Trying to counterbalance our non-stop eating on board. Some are early risers, others are late risers and even no risers (Lina & Andy) who shared the same cabin and chose to sleep in late.

Play basketball: William, the loner. found companions to play basketball. In fact, he participated on the basketball tournament and their team won.  Unfortunately, on the 4th day we saw him limping and in much pain. He fell and hit hard his butt (ouch).  With 3 nurses in our group, Grace & Ian are quick to offer him pain relievers.

Activity pool (4)

Swimming: Big hit for the kids. The ship has 3 pools dedicated for kids, complete with slides and other kid paraphernalia. They spend a great deal of time here except on our last day at sea as it was very windy and cold.

Kids went swimming.

Kids went swimming.

Kid’s Club: Without a doubt this is Leanna’s favorite place. She spends most of her time here and prefer the company of her new-found friends. She declares “Tita Ade, this is my most favorite vacation”!

Kids Café and Club for different age groups.

Kids Café and Club for different age groups.

Win some money: The lure of playing slots at the casino did not escape my two sisters, but after playing only a short while they quit. Bingo failed to bring some winning, as well.

These seniors are so unlucky.

These seniors are so unlucky.

Better options, a sure bet and winning choices are: people watching, relaxing and enjoying the sun. Or join some fun games such as “Battle of the Sexes”. We did and have so much fun.

Simply enjoyi the surroundings.

Simply enjoy the surroundings.

Sun-bathed and get some tan.

Sun-bathed and get some tan.

Battle of the Sexes: You decide who wins.

We, women are smarter & more beautiful.

We, women are smarter & more beautiful.

Oh Yeah, we men just let you think so…to keep peace.

Cocktail Reception for Latitude Members: More than half of us, being Latitude members (have cruised before with NCL), are invited to the Cocktail Reception and bring as guests the rest of our group.

Cocktail Reception for Latitude Members

Cocktail Reception for Latitude Members

Our family enjoying free cocktails on board.

Our family enjoying free cocktails on board.

Shopping: No vacation is complete without shopping. Besides the ship will try everything to make you part with your money. Anytime we are at sea, the ship offers great sales on clothing, jewelries, handbags, etc.  Hey, I need to have a souvenir.

Give me your best shot: Think of it as a photo session without paying a professional photographer for sitting fee. Tonight dress code is “smart attire”, used to be called formal night where men would wear tuxedos and women long evening gowns. Now a days, they have relaxed the dress code and just call for “smart attire”. At the main lobby (Deck 5), there are different photo booths set up with different backdrops. You can posed as many times as you want, with no obligation to buy. Or just choose the best one to buy. But beware, you may end up with many posed or pictures that are really nice and could not resist buying them at $15 for 5 x 7 or $25 for 8 x 10 1/2. Of course, if I have to buy just one it has to be our group shot as souvenir of this special occasion.

Our Family/Group shot taken by ship's photographer.

Our Family/Group shot taken by ship’s photographer.

It’s helpful when we bring our own photographer, Patrick. He looks so professional carrying his own equipment that other passengers stood in line thinking he is a cruise photographer.

March 19: OVERNIGHT in CABO

Our ship arrives in Cabo an hour earlier than scheduled at 11:00am.  The ship used tender boats (5-7 min ride) to take passengers to the Marina every 10 min, then every 1/2 hour after midnight. They resume their schedule of every 10 min the next day until we leave Cabo at 2:00pm.

Going on a sunset cruise aboard Rissalena is to be the highlight of our visit to Cabo. My husband & I took it in 2011 and enjoyed it. To make sure our group of 20 will be accommodated in their catamaran (maximum 24 people), I booked eight months in advance and paid 50% deposit in cash. FYI, they only accept cash. It costs $55 pp (children 1/2, less than 1 yr free), and includes dinner and open bar.

 

A beautiful catamaran with white leather seats.

A beautiful catamaran with white leather seats.

Cabo San Lucas was hit and damaged by a big hurricane in October of 2014.  At that time, the airport sustained damages that it closed and was inoperable for few days stranding many tourist. It’s amazing how quickly the Marina recovered, although not completely and evidence of the damage still visible.  It looks nicer, expanded with more shops, restaurants and added attractions like the Dolphin Museum where you can swim with the dolphins.

Cabo San Lucas Marina

Cabo San Lucas Marina

The weather was hot and sunny, but bearable. We stop to watch four men climb up a tall pole and from there, they came down while swirling around the thin pole suspended from a rope. The show is free, but repeatedly announce they make their living from tips only.

A free show at the Marina makes their living from tips from the crowd it attracts.

A free show at the Marina makes their living from tips from the crowd it attracts.

The urge to pose with Mexican sombrero is irresistible. The shop owner is clearly irritated that my sisters are re-arranging her merchandise, and do not even bother to look inside her shop.

sombrero (1)

Sunset Cruise on Rissalena

Spectacular sunset on Los Arcos.

Spectacular sunset on Los Arcos.

It is finally time to board the Rissalena and get close to Land’s End or El Arco, the iconic symbol of Los Cabos.  Located at the southern end of Cabo San Lucas and sandwiched between Playa del Amor or Love’s Beach and Playa del Divorcio or Divorce Beach. The rock formations are created from the rough winds and seas of the southern Baja peninsula, where Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meets.

The catamaran is really nice and flashy with all white leather seats.

One of the 2 most comfortable seats on Rissalena.

One of the 2 most comfortable seats on Rissalena.

Soon after we came on board libations kept flowing from the open bar for margarita, tequila sunrise, beer.

All You Can Drink Cocktails...they make the best margarita & tequila sunrise.

All You Can Drink Cocktails…they make the best margarita & tequila sunrise.

Take advantage guys, back on the ship each drink cost $7 to $8 bucks.

Take advantage guys, back on the ship each drink cost $7 to $8 bucks.

Drinks on the cruise are expensive ($6.00 to $8.00) so most of us took advantage; especially the guys who had up to 6 or 7 cocktails.  My sister Andy does not normally drink, but on the catamaran had 2 or 3 cocktails (yes, they were that good) knocking her out! Totally drunk she had to be pushed on a stroller, unable to walk straight.  It was hilarious and we laughed so hard, including passers-by as we head back to the tender pier for our ride back to the ship.

Can you spot my drunk sister? She's wearing orange dress.

Can you spot my drunk sister? She’s wearing orange dress.

Our buffet dinner consists of BBQ chicken, rice & beans, salad, chip with salsa & guacamole….yummy!

Barbecue chicken, rice & beans, salads, chips, salsa & guacamole....yummy.

Barbecue chicken, rice & beans, salads, chips, salsa & guacamole….yummy.

The captain announced, this is your lucky day. Since it’s the season we’ll go whale watching too. We saw many whales as our boat chased them as the sun sets. What a treat. The whale watching tour usually costs about $35 US per person, but we did not pay extra. In return, I made sure we give Laura & her crew a BIG tip!

These guys have the best seat on the house for whale watching.

These guys have the best seat on the house for whale watching.

Our ride is very choppy, giving us a roller coaster feel as we rode the waves. Too bad,  Lorraine and Marc suffered from motion sickness which limited their enjoyment.

Without a doubt the sunset cruise aboard the Rissalena is the highlight of our trip. Everyone so happy, dancing, singing and really enjoying the experience. I’ll just let the photos speak.

What can I say, it was all worth every penny I spent to have such HAPPY AND UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS WITH MY FAMILY.

This is awesome! Thank you Uncle Mon & Tita Ade.

This is awesome! Thank you Uncle Mon & Tita Ade.

March 20: Day 2 in Cabo San Lucas

Those who signed up with ship tours departed early. William to go parasailing, while Marc and Ruby to do zip lining. The majority of us left around the ship around 10:00am to explore downtown Cabo and find cheap tacos and $1 beer, without luck.  We ended up at Wabo Cantina, popular among tourist. Their tacos at $2.50 – $3.00 each are very small and salty. Definitely a thumbs down, and felt those in Los Angeles tastes better, bigger and cheaper.

Wabo Cabo (2)

We’ll be back

Marina pics (7)

Special Dinner on our last night

Cagney’s Steakhouse, is one of the six specialty dining with cover charge, $30 plus 18% gratuity per person and worth it.  Other specialty dining has less cover charge from $10 – $25.  It is a great way to end our dining aboard the ship, gourmet dining experience. Outstanding choices for appetizers include shrimp cocktail, crab cake, wagyu beef sliders.  The aged rib eye steak is so tender, sea bass so sweet, moist and flavorful, as their lobster tails.  And crème brulee, top the list for desserts.

You are the best, and this is the best!

Thank you Ate Ade & Kuya Mon!

Thank you Ate Ade & Kuya Mon!

FINAL THOUGHTS:  I’m grateful for this opportunity for our family to go on a cruise vacation, enjoy each other company and spend some quality time and have fun. It was so relaxing and stress-free, having not to worry what or where to eat; or what to do for entertainment and activities. I’m sure we all gained weight, but most importantly we came out richer emotionally, physically, mentally and most importantly, a stronger family bond and lasting memories.

What are you waiting for?

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