I was invited to guest post on the Life Well Cruised blog about our trip to Blue Lagoon Island in the Bahamas. It was a lot of fun reminiscing about our day here, I was inspired to start looking at excursions for our next family cruise!
Check the post on LifeWellCruised.com !
Have you been on a cruise with your family before? If not, I highly recommend it! Check out my post about being a first time cruiser - I'm sure it will change your mind if you don't think you'd like a cruise!
My disappointing quality family time vacation (as described in this post) was saved by this place right here.
Every summer we try to go camping at least once, and we try to book at a camp ground that we haven't been to yet.
We have a love affair with provincial parks. So when we heard about the new railway exhibit in Brockville, Ontario, I immediately searched for the surrounding Ontario Provincial Parks. That led me to Charleston Lake.
As we were camping in a tent in the middle of a heat wave, this beach was a lovely solace. It was perfect: the water temperature was just enough to keep us cool in the heat and the surrounding trees offered a lot of shade for people to park themselves in the sand. And would you just look at the view!?
The campgoers were very friendly, and the kids made several friends as we spent the most part of the days on the beach.
Charleston Lake Beach Tips:
The day use beach has a lot more sand, and allows for swimmers to wade out almost halfway across to the other side before stepping into any seaweed. The sand at the campground beach is a bit muddier.
Northern Watersnakes are common in the area and there were several sightings at both beaches, and some of the islands when we were there, including one sighting by our daughter who followed behind it and pointed it out to all the swimmers on the beach. Other wildlife sightings included minnows, sunfish, and someone caught a large mouth bass when we were there.
Hemlock Ridge Trail
The only hike we made time to do was on the Hemlock Ridge Trail and I`m so happy that's the one we chose - it was beautiful and offered a lot of shade. We made sure to go first thing in the morning as it was cooler. This trail offered a guide to read about various species of trees along the path, passes by a beaver pond, and a section of it weaves through rock crevices. Along the way we spotted a great blue heron and lots of frogs in the water.
It was easy enough for our toddler to climb up the rocks, and the whole trail took us about an hour and a half.
Our daughter came across a poster of activities hosted by the park's Discovery Centre when we went to one of the park's washrooms the first day. She excitedly pointed out a beaver information centre and so we took the kids to the park's amphitheater. That was our first encounter with Shania, one of the park's Naturalists. Shania hosted the whole beaver information session (complete with videos and slide shows) without flash cards or notes or anything! She wasn't even phased when her microphone kept cutting out. This girl knows her stuff! You can tell she loves her job and is genuinely interested in what she does. I watched some of the children at the end of her presentation ask her random questions for their booklets and she knew the answer to every thing, and you could tell it wasn't just memorization - it was just knowledge she has soaked up by working at the park.
That's where we learned about the Discovery Guide and Photo Challenge. (I guess we were too concerned with cooling off at the beach to find out about these activities!) I loved the complimentary Discovery Guide concept which really seemed to have the older children engaged with what they saw in the park. So if you're headed to Charleston Lake, don't forget to pick some up for your kids right when you get there so they can start right away! If you get 12 or more of the photos or achievements in the guide, you get to be an official explorer and receive a button and your name on the Wall of Fame in the Discovery Center!
The following day, we visited the Discovery Center and stayed for a few hours! (And no it wasn't just because it is the only building with air conditioning in the park!)
Inside the discovery center there are many hands on activities for the kiddos, and for adults too!
This is also where the resident Black Rat Snake, Pi, hangs out. He was rescued a few years ago and has lived at the Discovery Centre ever since. He’s super friendly and followed the kids around the glass of his enclosure.
One of my favorite parts was the Wildlife Sightings interactive map - we added the Great Blue Heron to it.
Behind the Discovery Centre, Shania hosted an "Animal Babies" workshop, and again, her nature knowledge didn't cease to amaze. Our seven year old was captivated with the presentation and both of the kids had a lot of fun making the baby bird nest craft at the end.
The park's campsites were really nice, and offered a lot of privacy and shade. Beware of the many sites that have an abundance of poison ivy surrounding them. Our site was okay, but there was an abundance of poison ivy patches along the road on the way to the washrooms from our site. We are also very lucky that our kids don't wander into the brush and mostly stay to roads and paths.
Another bummer was that at the end of the day, we had to keep a fire going (yes, even in the heat wave) to keep the maniacal bugs away. The mosquitoes weren't the worst we had ever seen, but as soon as we walked out of our campsite, we were literally swarmed by deer flies. If you're headed here, bring a good bug repellent and keep a small fire going with the wood sold by the park - the smoke will keep the deer flies away.
Have you ever wanted to go on a cruise? Last November we finally got our sea legs!
We have dreamed about taking a cruise since we were planning our honeymoon back in 2006, but we always thought it would be beyond our budget. We were afraid to even ask for a quote back then. Twelve years and two kids later, a cruise seemed like the most affordable way to get our family of four down to the Caribbean.
Our good friend, Ilana Schattauer, just so happens to not only have been cruising for over ten years, but she is also a cruise consultant and she blogs about her cruise life at Life Well Cruised. Ilana knew exactly what we needed (especially when it came to our budget) to get some much needed time-off together as a family. She found us an amazing deal on the Norwegian Breakaway.
A few things had worried us, being first time cruisers and all. I can bet that we asked Ilana more than our fair share of the common questions that non-cruisers tend to have. Here are some of the things I was pleasantly surprised about when we got home.
As I mentioned above, I have always worried about the price of a cruise, especially for our family of four. The luxurious pictures and videos I always saw just made everything seem really, really expensive. The ornate rooms and restaurants, the beaches on private islands, the FOOD.
When Ilana approached me with Norwegian's "Friends and Family Sail Free" promotion, I knew we could manage this and not break our budget. We booked an interior cabin - the cheapest cabins on the ship. With the interior, we got one "perk" of our choice as a promotion; the third and fourth passengers sail for free! That meant that all we had to pay for our two kids was the taxes. Also on promotion when we booked was their "Canada At Par" deal. This meant that what we were quoted in USD, we paid that amount in CND, which was a huge saving because the American Dollar was quite high at the time. The best part was that we we were able to drive the 6 or so hours from Montreal to the port in New York City and the itinerary was round trip (With stops in Port Canaveral, Florida, at Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas), and in Nassau, Bahamas.) Which meant... we didn't have to spend money on airfare!
In the end, we justified the budget by acknowledging that we were investing in some quality time as a family and memories we will have forever.
Speaking of the cabin - one myth that I have learned that every non-cruiser worries about is the size, "Aren't they like... the size of closets?" I was asked a few times when we returned home. Um... maybe... If I had a gigantic walk-in closet with it's own bathroom!
Interiors have no windows and are a bit smaller than once with a porthole (window), or balcony. However, when all four of us were in the cabin, it was more cozy than confined. It was perfect for nap time with the kids, sleeping, and relaxing.
The Dress Code
I'm probably not the only one who pictured the movie "Titanic" when I thought of a cruise. I mean... the ball gowns, the tuxedos, the feathery hats? I've seen professional photographs of acquaintances’ cruise trips where the family dressed in gowns and suits to go to dinner. I just couldn't picture this for our family. As an early childhood educator, with a husband who works in the transport industry, and a 6 year old and a toddler, we're a pretty laid back, casual family, whose main vacation experiences were tent camping. I pretty much have to bribe my family into wearing something other than sweats and leggings.
One of the reasons Ilana strongly suggested Norwegian Cruise Line for our family was because of their "Freestyle Cruising" mentality. The dress-code is resort casual: by all means wear that gown if you want to, but we were comfortable the entire trip wearing sundresses and polo shirts to dinner, and our pyjama pants or bathing suits to the buffet.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't worried about the safety on a cruise ship in particular. As a mom, and because of who I am as a person, safety is something I obsessively think about, no matter how or where we travel. So I had a question for Ilana that I was almost embarrassed to ask, and in hindsight seems really silly. "Are the railings safe, will the kids like... slip under it? Is there any way they will fall into the water?"
Ilana assured me that she got that question a lot and that it was impossible to slip under the railings and that accidentally falling in is very, very rare. She taught us that the railings are higher than ones on land - that they would be taller than our 6 year old, and that most of them would be shatter proof glass and if they weren't, the spaces would be too small for someone - even a toddler - to get through. In all honesty, I felt the safest on this trip, both on and off the ship.
One thing my husband and I have always done when on vacation, or at an event or park... we take our chairs, leave the crowd and find a more quiet spot. When we were on our honeymoon, we would drag our lounge chairs to the farthest point of the beach and it was like being on a private island. At home, our two children range from needing to climb, run or yell to definitely needing their down time too. Embarking on a ship with a capacity of 3,963 guests made me wonder if we would be able to have some rest and quiet.
But, just like on our honeymoon, there were plenty of chances to get a perfect balance of excitement and relaxation on the Breakaway! We went from splashing in the kids water park to finding a small, fun trivia game in one of the bars, to a dance show in the main dining room for dinner, to a calm walk outside to a family dance party at the forward of the ship. We even played a private game of bowling just the four of us. If ever we felt overwhelmed by a crowd, we were able to find a place to fit our moods.
For more tips on how to plan a family vacation on a budget, check out Ilana's article: "Yes! You Can Plan an Amazing Family Cruise on a Budget!
I could talk about this vacation all day... be sure to stay tuned for more posts about our last family vacation to the Bahamas with Norwegian Cruise Line, and our dreams of going on another cruise by subscribing to our blog above, and following us on social media:
I was so lucky growing up. My mom worked from home, so my summer vacations as a kid were really relaxing. I would spend hours on our deck reading the books I chose at our local library, biking to and from our friends houses, and swimming in the lake.
Do you remember the excitement you felt at the end of the summer and you were excited to buy your new supplies and see your friends that you haven’t seen in a while? That’s when you knew that your vacation actually did you good - you looked forward to going back to routine.
Now-a-days, because most families have both parents that are at work, daycare, day camp and sleepaway camp is more the norm. But it’s not only the summer months that can be of concern. Because I work with preschool aged children and volunteer at the school-aged level, I often see parents use their entire vacation time away or simply staying at home while children continuously follow their routine of being at daycare.
I completely get it. I am one of those parents that will turn on Paw Patrol just to get in a few minutes of silence so I can drink my coffee in peace, or put a meal together. I am with 2-10 children from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep at the end of the day, so the thought of having a weekend or week away just me and my husband with zero kids is a dream of mine. However, in a society that is seeing more anxiety, stress disorders and depression than ever before, kids are feeling it too! Not only do they have an innate sense of their parent’s stress - they have their own stressors too.
Yes - it’s hard to imagine. For example, I have often heard in parent-educator meetings: “What does he have to be worried about? He’s three!” Well, a lot actually. We as adults have adult size worries, and a three year old has toddler worries, and each set of worries can have the same impact on each person's health.
Have you ever been to a child’s birthday party? Can you imagine sitting at your desk while a birthday party with 8-10 children is happening in your cubicle? Five days a week? That’s the energy that a child experiences in an early childhood classroom - 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week. It can be overwhelming.
For fun, let’s put ourselves in a toddler’s shoes and compare their possible stresses during day to an adult’s stress-filled day at the office:
And these are just a toddler's worries. Can you imagine adding homework, tests, bullies, sports, extra curricular on the elementary and high school levels? AND add in that these are just minor stresses and not something life-altering like divorce, abuse, loss, poverty...
I feel like it is part of my parenting duty to model and provide ways for my kids to learn how to relax and have fun while being away from their rigorous routine at school and daycare. Even if we aren't able to afford a luxurious vacation every year, I started this blog to encourage myself, and maybe others, to take that break and make it work with what little money and time we have - even if it is just to sit at home watching TV in our PJs. For my children to be relaxed and happy and enjoying what this life has to offer, I have to do the same and be their guide.
Melissa is a mom, wife, and early childhood educator who blogs about her journey looking for new experiences for family time.