Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Cruising Non-Essential ESSENTIALS

March 2018
The Woodlands, TX 

Happy Spring Y’all! Or at least it feels like spring in Houston, TX. 
That means it is TIME TO CRUISE!

4 days... FOUR DAYS! 

In my many cruises and travels, I get asked all the time from family and friends, “What items are MUST-PACKS for a cruise?” I call these the Non-Essentials ESSENTIALS and I have a list of must-haves. In light of our upcoming Spring Break cruise I created this list for y’all to reference.

Now obviously, you want to pack clothes, shoes and swimwear for each day of the cruise as well as toiletries and medication. In fact, I have a completely separate blog about WHAT TO PACK FOR A CRUISE but this list include items that are not on the essentials list but in our cruising experience, they need to be!

*Folder or Travel Organizing Case/Binder*
You will need your passport, birth certificate and other items from the cruise line like boarding passes but this keeps it all organized for you. I personally use a binder with dividers. I also include 7-10 page protectors to keep the “FunTimes” or “Cruise Dailies” in for future reference.

You know me... gotta be organized! 

*Outlet Plug or Power Strip with USB ports*
This is an essential for us because often times the cabins only have 1 or maybe 2 outlets and we have to charge phones, cameras, iPads, FitBit and etc. This allows us to charge 3+ items on an outlet and 2 on USB cords. We also use a small 3FT extension cord for our small fan (explained below). Be sure your this power strip does NOT have a surge protector.

*Towel Clips*
These are not essential but if you plan on being at the pool for large periods of time, they are very helpful. These clips are very inexpensive and can even be found at the Dollar Tree. They secure your towel, thus securing your chair. I throw these into a small Tote and use it to carry our towels, sunscreen and towel clips.

*Over-the-Door Shoe Holder*
We use this to hold pretty much EVERYTHING! We have one that holds 24 spots and we put our brushes, sunscreens, lotions and just about anything in it. When traveling with the kids we use it to hold their underwear and socks. It fits on the closet door and is very compact to pack. These are less than $10 at WalMart or Target.

Over the Door Shoe holder on

*Small Tote or Backpack*
This can be a backpack or a small “beach style” tote to carry your towels from your cabin to the pool and even off the ship. I fold mine up and place in my luggage at the beginning of the cruise and use it to bring my souvenirs home.

*Luggage Tags*
The cruise line will send you luggage tags via email or “My Cruise Planner” on line. You then print those off and place on your luggage. I used to print on cardstock but even then they would get torn by the end of the cruise (and sometimes even before). I learned about these from a fellow cruise and they are delightful. They are available on Amazon and are fairly cheap at $6 or less for a set of 4. They come with sturdy plastic covering and metal hooks to attach to your luggage.
Also be advised it is recommended to have ACTUAL luggage tags with your full name and full address on each bag you check in case it is lost or stolen.

*Small Fan*
I am HOT NATURED to say the very least. I have been on my life and for whatever reason, I swear cruise cabins are SO HOT. I have been on 12 cruises and I think maybe 1 of those cabins was cold enough for me. And at least 75% of those cabins were so hot we had to call maintenance to check the AC system. We invested $15 or so dollars and pack this fan in our luggage. It works with an AC Outlet or batteries which is nice. It keeps the cabin cold (or cooler), which keeps me happy so it is a win- win.

This is the type of fan we use. I cannot find an online link but we bought at WalMart for less than $20! 

*Metal AND Command Hooks*
I use these hooks inside the cabin for just about anything. Depending on which brand and style you use they can hold anything from 2-15 lbs.

I purchased a set of 6 heavy duty metal hooks from Amazon to place on the walls of the cabin that are magnetic. These hold hats and hoodies/ jackets in the cabin. Most of the cruise line cabin walls are metal so magnetic will work. I have an additional magnetic hook that has a clapse that I use to keeping the “FunTimes” or “Cruise Dailies” on the wall for easy access.

I use the Command hooks to hold our lanyards and SeaPass cards. They use a sticky tape that stays on the wall for 7 days and then pulls right off. I have never had an issue with them staying on the wall or peeling the sticky residue off the wall when disembarking at the end of the cruise.

*Door Décor/ Marker*
The doors on the cruise lines are often metal and anything magnetic will work. I have ordered our Door Décor from CUSTOM CRUISEWEAR and it is PERFECT for spotting our cabin door. This makes a great embarkation picture as well. I have also seen complete door coverings that can be put on the door using the magnetic hooks. Either option works well. Just be sure to research your cruise line’s rules and regulations about door décor.

This is our door decor made by Custom CruiseWear. Around $20! 

We like to put our SeaPass card into a protective plastic case and carry it by a lanyard. I have purchased most of mine at Sam Moon here in The Woodlands but can be purchased at stores like Academy and WalMart for $3-5 each. Most of the embarkation ports offer these for sale and most cruise lines offer these as “freebies” if you purchase a certain amount in the photo store.

*Downy Release*
This has worked WONDERS for us as we have cruised. We do not dress up too much but we like to look nice for dinner and in traveling and packing the clothes get wrinkled. Most cruise lines have laundry rooms with irons available but who wants to do that on VACATION? I pack the Downy Release and spray it on our clothes the afternoon before dinner and by the time dinner rolls around it is perfect.

*Clothes Pins*
Another Dollar Tree buy (or WalMart) and comes in handy in the cabin. We use these to hang up our wet swimsuits in the shower. You can survive a cruise without them but for $1 or less, it is a bargain and very useful in our experience.

Again, this is not a MUST but we have used them on every cruise. Thanks to our binoculars we were able to spot 37 humpback whales and 1 orca (killer whale) while cruising in Alaska. You never know what you will spot.

This is the pair we use. They are compact and work well. 

*Bonine, Dramamine, SeaBands, etc*
Fortunately, we have not had trouble with sea sickness but we pack these every time because you never know when rough seas will hit and we want to be prepared. Be advised that these medications on board will cost you well about $15 (usually $3-5 on land).

We personally like Bonine better than Dramamine or other motion sickness pills. They are less drowsy and our kids enjoy the flavor of the chewables more than others. 

These are our Non- Essential ESSENTIALS and we take them on each and every cruise we go on. In fact, we have a bag filled with all of these that stays in our "READY TO GO" bag year round. 

We are headed out on our annual Spring Break cruise in just 4 days and this year we are going to be celebrating not only our 12 year anniversary but Chris's 40th Birthday as well. Plus we are trying out a new cruise line, Norwegian (or NCL), for the 1st time. We will be traveling to the same-o, same-o places but we are thrilled to just get away. These 2 tired teachers need a break... from EVERYTHING! And this year it is needed more than ever! 

Stay tuned for that cruise blog! In addition, check out our past cruises for lots of tips and tricks for the corresponding ships. These blogs include pictures and tips on how to have the best cruise! 

As always... 


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Girls Gone Cruising- The Carnival Valor 2017

Happy Birthday Ladies- September 2017
Carnival Valor

In September 2017 I took Natalie on a Western Caribbean Cruise aboard the Carnival Valor sailing out of Galveston, TX with my mom, Shirley, and sister, Allison, to celebrate our milestone birthdays. This beautiful floating resort took us to the following destinations: 

Cozumel, Mexico
The Carnival Valor... Our home away from home for the next 4 days! 

Chris and I have been on 11 other cruises prior to this one; 8 with Carnival, 2 with Royal Caribbean and 1 with Princess. This blog will include daily entries of our 4 days, a broad "Foodies" blog highlighting all of the food options available on the Carnival Valor as well as an extensive photo review of the ship. Thank you SO MUCH to all my followers... without you the blog would not be as popular as it is today!  Be sure to stay tuned for MORE cruise blogs! 

Galveston/ Embarkation- How Suite It Is

Sea Day 1- Life on Lido

Cozumel- Diego and Amadeus Take Us Away

Sea Day 2- The Last Hurrah

Disembarkation- All the Fun is Done... For Now!

Other Posts 
Carnival Valor 4 Day FOOD- This A'int My First Rodeo

Once again, we owe all of these blessings to our Lord and Savior! He has truly blessed Chris and I, as well as our family! We currently have 3 more cruises booked and a few more after that on the horizon for the next 2+ years, with and without kids, and we are very excited to set sail once again.

NCL Pearl- 12th Anniversary and a new cruise lineMarch 2018
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the SeasGotta get on her before she leaves- June 2018
NCL BreakawayThanksgiving Cruise with the kids- November 2018

 Thank you so much for following along and until we meet again... 

Keep Calm and CRUISE ON!  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Girls Gone Cruising- Disembarkation

All the Fun is Done... FOR NOW!
Galveston, TX
Monday, October 2, 2017

It's been FUN... Let's Do it AGAIN! 

It truly was the cruise of the lifetime and the memories made were PRICELESS but it was time to go home! 

The alarm went off (on purpose) and that meant we had to get up and get off. I got ready and of course went to the balcony. I was able to see the sunrise over Galveston before the other girls got up. I spent about an hour out there and even was able to call Chris and Luke since we were within land range. I found out that Chris walked WITHOUT crutches several times in my absence. This was HUGE ordeal at this point. I was so PROUD OF HIM! I ran down to the nightclub and picked out my purchases of adult beverages before we left for breakfast. Tip- Many Carnival ships deliver to your stateroom the night before but the Valor had them available to pick up from 6AM-9AM in the nightclub.

A very hazy sunrise of Galveston island! 

The Galveston Cruise terminal #1. 

One more morning on our balcony! 

We made our way to breakfast as we were docking and pulling into the terminal. Tip- I hate the last morning on the ship. Everyone has their bags and are cramming into the buffet area. Seats are really hard to come by so be sure to have 1 person in your party to save seats.

We opted to do the "zone" debarkation and since we were in a suite we had zone 3. Although the debarkation was not the smoothest I have encountered, we were able to get in line to get off the ship at 8:44AM. By 8:56AM were were off the ship and had our luggage in hand. Tip- I opted to pack a small suitcase and then had 3 shoulder bags. Next time I will just use the LARGER suitcase so I have space and do not have to hassle with the shoulder bags.  We were through the customs line and walking to our car by 9:13AM. We pulled into my driveway in The Woodlands at 10:50AM, which is a new record (thank you Gigi). 

It was a very SPECIAL cruise indeed and one we will surely never forget! Memories were made that will last a lifetime! We are already planning our next #GirlsGoneCruising for August 2019. 

Up next... Girls Gone Cruising #2- August 2019!

What's Next? 
 Chris and I will be sailing on the NCL Pearl in March 2018 for our 12th anniversary and a party cruise for Chris's 40th birthday! 

We have 2 other cruises on the horizon and are awaiting final details to book. But this is NOT ENOUGH... I am thinking a last minute cruise may happen in the near future! I am getting the FEVER! 
Our upcoming other cruises:
Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas- June 2018
(Gotta get on her before she leaves Galveston- there IS gossip)
NCL Breakaway (welcome to NOLA)- March 2019

This was one of my favorite cruise experiences all around and I am so lucky and blessed to have been able to share it with Natalie and my mom and sister! Thank you to Jackie and Dan for helping take care of "my boys" while I was off having fun! 

Thank you once again for following along! This blog would not be all it is today without your following and support! I LOVE cruising and I LOVE blogging! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!

Thank you all for following along but it is not over yet... We still have a FOOD BLOG, Carnival Valor pictorial review and the FunTimes scans! Be sure to check back for those!

Girls Gone Cruising- FOOD

This Ain't My First Rodeo
Carnival Valor 2017

We are true foodies and love trying new things while on a cruise ship as well as enjoy our favorites. The Carnival Valor offered the FunShip 2.0 upgrades including Guy's Burger Joint and Blue Iguana Cantina but it also had Mongolian Wok, Good Ole' Fashioned BBQ and the new Sushi at Sea and Seafood Shack (a la carte prices). This made for an amazing dining experience throughout the cruise. In addition, the Valor had the American Table and American Feast menus in the Main Dining Room. 

I am going to highlight all of the Lido deck offerings individually as well as each night's menu from the MDR. We tried to eat at as many venues as possible but even with a 7 night sailing, it is difficult to get to it all! 

Lido Deck and Various Lunch Offerings

Rosie's Cafe Buffet- Deck 9 Lido mid-ship
This is the main buffet and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with various hours during sea days and port days. As usual, we did not eat here very much but we LOVED the set-up and décor of this buffet. Tip- There is AMPLE seating between the front and back buffets on each side of the ship! Also, the back buffet is ALWAYS less crowded than the front!  

I LOVE this area and mural! 

Typical breakfast options on the Lido Buffet!

This was a lunch "theme" option! Check your FunTimes for more specifics! 

Guy's Burgers and Fries- Deck 9 Lido mid-ship
This NEVER disappoints and is EASILY the best burger at sea!  This is open everyday from 12 (noon) to 6PM (port or sea day), although I really wish it would stay open later as a burger would be a perfect late night snack!

This is what it looked like on embarkation day at 11AM.
(Easily the least crowded I have seen it on day 1 at this time. )

The Guy's Burgers Menu

The "Ringer" with extra donkey sauce! 

Blue Iguana Cantina- Deck 9 Lido mid-ship
This is available DAILY for breakfast until 10:30AM and lunch from 12PM to 2:30PM.  I LOVE the breakfast burritos and I enjoy the lunch burritos and taco salads. Tip- The line moves quickly so don't be frightened by the long line!

Blue Iguana on a sea day morning is usually not busy (port days, that's a different story)

The Blue Iguana Menu *lunch

My taco salad! I really like this new addition

Mongolian Wok- Deck 9 Lido mid-ship
This is Chris's favorite place to eat on the ship and offers made to order Asian food. I did not have any Mongolian Wok this trip but Allison did and LOVED it!  It is open from 12PM to 2:30PM daily. Tip- Eat here on the 1st day as it is usually unknown by most passengers. As the week progresses the line will get longer and longer! 

I enjoy this venue but I have yet to find MY perfect bowl! 

Good Ole' Fashioned BBQ- Deck 10 aft (above the buffet)
This is a newer addition to the Valor, just added during dry-dock December 2016. This features delicious BBQ meats and all of the fixin's and sides. Tip- It is not well known at the beginning of the cruise and there is hardly a line. Also, you can bring food from other lunch options upstairs to eat with your group. Finally, this is where the Kids Club meets for dinners at 6PM.  
The BBQ Menu

The workers and servers were fantastic! 

The Mac-n-Cheese was not as good as the last time I was on the Valor

Sushi at Sea- Deck 9 Lido (headed towards the aft on the starboard side)
This is an a la carte eating venue that is open daily from 12 to 10PM (although we passed by during these hours and it was closed). This was very good sushi and the presentation was superb but it is not near as good as the Bonsai Sushi offered on other Carnival ships.

The Sushi at Sea a la carte menu! 

The California roll from the menu. 
For $5 (plus tip) it is not the worst sushi I have ever had but not near as good as Bonsai. 

Seafood Shack- Deck 19 Lido aft (starboard)
This is a newer option on the Valor since it's December 2016 drydock. It offers a wide variety of seafood options both fried and grilled as well as fresh Lobster rolls and New England Clam Chowder. The prices are a la carte but very reasonable for the amount of food you get. Tip It is only open from 12PM to 2:30PM daily! 

The Seafood Shack menu. 

This is the lobster roll (which comes with 2 rolls). It was buttered to perfection and the meat was tender and flaky. Again, not the best I have ever had but really good! 

Pizza Pirate- Deck 9 Lido Aft (port) 
This venue ALWAYS has a line (day or night) and the pizza is RARELY worth it for the time you spend in line. We did not eat any pizza on this trip, and that is OK with me!

Pizza Pirate Menu!

Taste Bar- Deck 5 Promenade (Starboard side) near the nightclub
This is a sample size appetizer of various "Additional Fee" dinner options on board Carnival Ships. It is open on SeaDays and Embarkation day from 5PM to 8PM. We only managed to eat here 1 time in our 4 days but it did not disappoint.

The Formal Night Taste Bar featured Cucina del Capitano
(The Italian restaurant on Dream class ships) 

SeaDay Brunch- Washington Dining Room Deck 4 (aft)
This is an excellent way to start your day on board a cruise ship. It is offered as a brunch option from 8AM to 1PM. We arrived around 9AM and had a great breakfast. Be advised, the service is TERRIBLY slow. You can easily take an entire morning waiting for food in there. I personally do not like it as much as I used to because the service is so slow. However, the food, and especially the dessert, is FANTASTIC! 

Natalie's Ham and Cheese omelet 

French Toast- This was a little bit of a disappointment. I guess it NEEDS the Fruit Loops to be tasty! 

My omelet... Again, it is not better than the Lido offerings so in my opinion it is not worth the 1.5 hour time it takes. 

THIS... This right here is Carnival's BEST dessert!
(The only one I REALLY like)
Banana Cream Pie with butterscotch ice cream.
It is delicious and for whatever reason only offered at SeaDay Brunch! 

Main Dining Room- Lincoln Dining Room- Deck 3 forward
Tip- We had Your Time Dining and could eat anytime from 5:45 to 9:30PM. If you have set dining times you will be eating in the Washington Dining Room (deck 4 aft) OR Lincoln Dining Room deck 4 forward.

Chris and I cruise frequently and enjoy "rating" each menu item from 1-5 with 2.5 being what you would expect from a restaurant on land. We consider a 4.0 to be about standard for most cruise food! I realize that food is VERY subjective but we enjoy reviewing these menu items to help us remember what we do like for future voyages. 

1- awful and would be fast-food level quality (McDonald's or Taco Bell)
2- decent on land offering 
2.5- par for land meals (Chili's and Red Lobster) 
3- Upscale land restaurant quality 
4.0- standard for cruise industry food 
5.0- One of the best foods (of the corresponding category) we have ever had

Thursday, September 28, 2017- Embarkation/ Day 1
American Table Menu

Night #1 Menu (American Table) 

Nightly bread basket!

Cream of Ripened Tomatoes- 4.0

Calamari- 2.5 
This was awful and not cooked very well at all. This was very disappointing since it has been my favorite appetizer the past 2-3 cruises. 

Jalepeno Poppers (port of call menu)- 4.5
These were fantastic and I enjoyed them very much! 

Fried Shrimp- 4.5
This is never a disappointment. The accompanying rice is fantastic! 

Honey Glazed Pork Loin
I did not order this but Allison spoke very highly of it! 

American Table #1 dessert menu

Nutella Tiramisu- 4.0
This is SO RICH! 

Friday, September 29, 2017- Sea Day #1/ Formal Night
American Feast 

The American Feast menu 

Baked Stuff Mushrooms- 4.5

Scallops with Risotto- 4.0
The texture of the scallops was great. The risotto was not as good as usual. 

Heart of Iceberg Salad- 3.0
This was new for me and it was tasty but again the Davis motto is
"YOU DON'T WIN FRIENDS WITH SALAD" at least on a cruise! 

Kids Spaghetti- 4.0
This was very tasty! Natalie ordered but I tasted her left overs and it was fabulous! 

Blue Crab Ravioli- 4.5
It makes me sad that they took away the Formal Night Lobsters on 5 day cruises or less but this was a fantastic substitute. 

Grilled Shrimp- 4.5
This hardly ever disappoints and it was excellent once again. The mustard potatoes really complete the dish in my opinion. 

Creme Brulee- 5.0
Wow... just wow! 

Saturday, September 30, 2017- Cozumel (Port Day)
American Table Menu


American Table Menu 

Port of Call- Cozumel 

Tortilla Soup- 4.0
This was great and had fantastic spice to it... But the Tex-Mex person in me needs CHEESE! 

Mac-N-Cheese (Especially made for Natalie)

Greek Salad- 4.5
This is my favorite salad on Carnival and even though I try not to eat this salads, I could not pass this one up! 

Port of Call Entree/ Steak Tacos- 4.0
These were better than usual and the meat was very tender and seasoned well. 

American Table #3 dessert menu!

Vanilla Ice Cream for me- 2.5
Carnival needs BLUE BELL! 

Sunday, October 1, 2017- Sea Day #2
American Table Menu

American Table Menu 

Western Caribbean Port of Call Menu

Escargot- 4.5
Excellent as usual! 

Fried Shrimp-2.0
This was about as good or worse than Red Lobster quality, which was very disappointing! 

Shrimp Ceviche (from the port of call menu)- 3.5
Interesting! It was not near as 'fresh" as I have had in the past BUT I have literally watched locals catch conch for me and then make ceviche so I do have a VERY high standard. 

Penne Mariscos- 4.5
This is always a pleaser and has become of my favorite dishes Carnival serves. 

Beef Lasagna- 4.0
This was very good and BEEFY but a HUGE portion! 

Night #3 dessert menu! 

Buttered Popcorn Pot de Crema- 4.0
This is always a unique dish with a custard base and then buttered caramel popcorn on top and then of all things... a blueberry marmalade. 

I decided to go ahead and choose my favorites from this trip, as each trip is different. 

Favorite Appetizer- Escargot
Favorite Entree- TIE- Blue Crab Ravioli AND Penne Mariscos
Favorite Dessert- Creme Brulee (hands down)   
Biggest Surprise- Jalepeno Poppers (these seemed so much better than other ships)
Biggest Disappointment- Night #3 menu (I know better...)

We love cruising and EATING on cruises. We use this blog as means for us to know what to order on future cruises and it is fun to look through and get our mouth watering while we are dieting! 

Thanks for following along! 

Until we meet again... Keep calm and CRUISE ON!