We Found the Perfect “Get Me Out of Michigan” Cruise
We’re all in love with #puremichigan – unless it’s during a polar vortex or we’re on our umpteenth snow day.
Escaping winter (that sometimes spills over into spring break) is almost a necessity for winter-whipped Michiganders.
Thankfully, we planned a cruise for spring break 2019 well before the trying days of January and no-school February got on our nerves. We had friends that didn’t plan ahead and were faced with soldout or expensive flights, hotel rooms, cruises.
I think we found the perfect cruise for a Michigander looking to escape for spring break. It requires NO airfare, no passport, is on a newer ship, and gets you to warm weather, pronto.
We went on a 7-night Bahamas-bound Royal Carribean trip on the Anthem of the Seas – out of New Jersey.
(We bumped into quite a few Michigan families on our cruise – some we even knew from GR. Go figure!)
Honestly, I Didn’t Think I’d Like Going on This Cruise
The kids saw the commercials and wanted to cruise.
Me, not so much. Hubby and I cruised twice before kids were born, and while it was fun, it got a little boring with just the two of us.
We’re also big into exploring new places while we travel. Sitting on a beach? Maybe for an hour and I’m good. So the idea of heading to the Bahamas and a private island (all I could imagine were endless beaches) didn’t really spark joy.
I was so wrong about this cruise.
Turns out, hanging near a beach with a cruise ship home nearby is a pretty sweet book-reading gig.
And visiting Royal Caribbean’s private island was the highlight of the trip for everyone in our group. I’d cruise again just to get back there.
It’s Worth it Just for the Perfect Day at Coco Cay
Our visit to Coco Cay happened before the renovation was complete – but that didn’t matter. Coco Cay was the most magical part of our trip – the hands-down favorite of everyone traveling with us.
Atlantis in the Bahamas
After the perfect day in Coco Cay, the waterpark at Atlantis really didn’t measure up. The resort itself is beautiful with numerous freshwater pools, fantastic slides (the crazy river was a favorite) and the aquarium was cool, too.
But… the lines were long (I waited in line for almost an hour to get our group a locker), our shore excursion transfer rep had a hard time keeping our group together on the way to Atlantis – we got lost – and the price tag was really steep.
If we were doing this cruise again, we’d opt for the now-open slides at Coco Cay and skip the Atlantis waterpark in favor of a different Nassau shore excursion.
What’s the Ship Like?
In a word, enormous.
Picture a 15-story floating hotel with a roof-top pool and you’re getting close.
Glass elevators with a so-many-stories tall atrium service the thousands of passengers on the ship. There’s an indoor shopping mall lined with stores, restaurants, and cafes. Lounges are tucked at either end of the ship, and the kids have a section all to themselves in Adventure Ocean. Teens hang out in the Living Room.
24/7, there is always something going on, whether it’s live music, a show, cruise activities, or more.
Things to Do on the Ship
The SeaPlex is a convertible gymnasium at sea. It’s where we drove bumper cars, tried rollerskating (it’s harder on water!) and watched others test out circus school.
The SeaPlex upper level – that’s where kids played video games, ping pong and foosball.
Quick List of Activities You Can Try
By no means is this list exhaustive…
- Northstar (Big observation deck arm that goes up into the sky.)
- IFly – sky diving simulator
- Surf Simulator
- Bumper Cars
- Roller Skating
- Aerial Arts
- Climbing Wall
- Escape Room
- Dance Lessons
- Pool Tables
- Kids Camps in Adventure Ocean
- Cruise Activities (scavenger hunts, etc)
- so much more…
Here’s a look at the NorthStar fully extended…
This is the Luxury Life
The 8-year old’s favorite refrain on our cruise: “This is the luxury life.”
Set a dish down and magically, staff whisks it away. Want something to eat? The kitchen – unlike at home – is always open and the ice cream machine never is off.
Other than keeping their clothes somewhat picked up, there was no work to do. (That was true for me, too! No meals to prep, no grocery shopping…)
Our bodies adjusted to ship time. The adjusted to climbing lots of stairs and reading the Cruise Compass activity planner. I finally had time to read books and put up my feet.
Time to play cards and games with the kids. Time to talk to the people I care about.
Probably, that was one of the biggest wins this vacation gave me – it wasn’t hectic. We had time to be together – kids, parents, grandparents – it was something we all could do and enjoy.
Let’s Taco ‘Bout the Food
No surprise – food is everywhere on this cruise. All of your meals are included in the price of your ticket if you decide to keep your dining to the Windjammer Buffet, main dining rooms, Solarium Bistro (healthier fare) or little cafes (pizza, paninis, hotdog shop, desserts) that are found around the ship.
Upgrade the dining experience by adding specialty sushi, Italian, or brewery meal if you’d like – but it’s not necessary.
We bought a few drinks (no drink package for us) and pretty much stuck to what was included with the ship. We were perfectly happy.
“I thought it was really cool how they had a whole bunch of different options and I got to try so many different types of foods that I never had before. And you could just keep on refilling – it was like, an infinite buffet. The cake was awesome. There were so many different flavors that I didn’t even know existed.
You could eat outside or inside.
The dining room dinners were very fancy but very fun. The waiters were very funny and made us paper frogs.” – Norah, age 11.
The Balcony Room, Please
I recommend working with a travel agent to book your cruise. We did and we scored balcony rooms for no extra charge. What a treat!
Our rooms were on the 11th floor – we liked that because of the great views from the ship. We had three rooms for our crew, with either two or three people per room.
Travel agents often have access to specials that the general public isn’t privy to, and they can help you out even after the purchase has been made.
Bonus – there’s usually no charge to work with a travel agent. (That’s the case if you go with Eric at Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Grand Rapids. Disclosure: Eric asked me to write about our cruise – we had it planned before we knew Eric – but he will be our go-to guy the next time we want to escape the Michigan winter.)
If you are thinking about going on a cruise, have Eric check prices for you – he doesn’t mind and it certainly doesn’t hurt to check. They currently have availability on many dates (even around holidays and spring break.)
When you give him your travel dates, he is going to find the best available price for you. And, he says, it’s a myth that waiting will get you better airfare. It’s often the opposite when you want to travel at peak times. (Reach him at 616-773-2727.)
Tips and Tricks for This Cruise Leaving From New Jersey
Inside info that families from Michigan will want to know…
Driving is Doable and Will Save you $$
One of the reasons we chose this cruise was the 11-ish hour drive (that’s with no stops – it really takes longer than that) to port. The drive was pretty easy – there were toll roads at times, but you could make it one really long day or break it up into two.
Since you can see the Statue of Liberty during departure, I wondered if we’d have to fight New York traffic. We didn’t.
Our route went through a lot of suburbs and industrial areas but in the end, traffic was smooth and we saved thousands by driving our 7 passengers to the docks. (There’s a shopping mall, Costco, and other stores near the cruise dock in case you forget any essentials.)
Parking was Smooth
Luggage for seven meant we needed the cartop carrier on our van, which made it too tall to fit inside the onsite cruise parking ramp. If that happens to you, don’t worry – Royal Carribean has a surface lot for oversized vehicles. As of April 2019, parking was $22/night.
(We could have parked offsite and paid less by using a shuttle service, but we didn’t want to add the extra time to our arrival/departure since we were already putting in a lot of car hours.)
Our cruise left at 3 pm. We showed up at the port drive around noon. We thought we were early – but that wasn’t the case. There was already a really long line. If we were going again, I’d arrive at port around 11 am. The sooner you make it through check-in, the sooner your vacation begins!
Unloading is a Streamlined Process
Just pull up to the curb and all passengers and luggage get out.
The driver of your car parks the vehicle and takes a short walk back to the terminal. Any luggage you don’t want to carry is put on a cart and checked (before you leave home, tag your luggage with special room ID tags that you print off.)
It’s wise to have a small carry-on packed at this point and let the cruise staff take your big stuff. You’ll be carrying what you keep for the next few hours till your room is ready.
Get Through Security and Check In
Next up is a security check-point where you show travel documents. You’ll need enhanced driver’s licenses or passports for adults. Kids can get by with a birth certificate on this itinerary (although passports are recommended in case you have an emergency).
Checking in at the cruise terminal is done per stateroom. We had three rooms for our group and none of my kids were in my room! That meant that grandma needed travel documents for my girls, and grandpa needed travel documents for my son. (A lot of things are done per stateroom on the ship – I wasn’t ready for that at first.)
Sailing away from Bayonne is part of the fun. You can see the Statue of Liberty off in the distance and the ship has to navigate under a bridge by taking on balast, sinking down, and just making it under.
You Have to Use the Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner… and the Royal IQ App
Ok, you don’t have to, but I highly recommend it.
This is where you will make reservations – well before your cruise sets sail – for many of the limited-space activities that happen on the cruise.
I used the Cruise Planner to make dining reservations (if you don’t have a dinner reservation for the main dining areas you will wait in line. If you have a reservation you walk right in.
I used the Cruise Planner to make reservations for iFly and the NorthStar, plus reservations for the shows we wanted to see. There’s no extra charge for any of these activities – you just need to save your spot.
You would use the Cruise Planner to make all dinner reservations, buy drink packages, purchase internet packages, shore excursions, and special behind-the-scenes experiences as well.
The Royal IQ App
Some things, like the Escape Room, can only be booked using the Royal IQ app. And the app only works when you are on the ship, connected to the ship’s *free* wifi. I recommend downloading the app before you board the ship. You can activate it using the code on your room’s television after you board.
(The wifi powers the ship’s app, nothing else. We found it to be spotty.)
The app – and your in-room television – will give you a look at your calendar for the day. The television gives you a way to check your onboard ship balance.
What Else Do You Want to Know?
This cruise is a great spring break option for Michiganders because:
- You can drive there.
- It’s a good value (the price you pay for this level of ship is less than itineraries out of other ports).
- There are endless things to do for all ages and everyone had fun.
- Parents get a break from cooking & cleaning for a week.
- Depending on where spring break falls for your school, there are 2 cruise date options that are likely to work: Sunday, March 29, 2020 or Sunday, April 5, 2020.
Other than that, what questions do you have about this cruise? I’m sure I missed something – please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
More Trips and Tricks to Consider While Planning Your Family Vacation
There’s something special about getting travel advice from people who live nearby.
Check out these articles. Let us know if there are questions you have that we haven’t answered. Wondering about a specific destination? Ask – we might be able to help!