Tag Archives: cruising with kids

Royal Caribbean: Brilliance of the Seas Minstrel Dining Room

20191231_181140With four children, three of whom were hungry, restless almost teenage boys, we knew the Windjammer Cafe buffet was going to be our main source of food on our cruise. But since we were celebrating not only New Year’s Eve, but also a birthday, we wanted to make at least a few nights a bit fancy by eating in the Minstrel Dining Room.

At first our boys were a little reluctant, until we mentioned that while it might not be a seemingly never ending buffet, they could order more than one appetizer, dessert, and even main dish if they wanted to. And of course, they did!

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On this cruise, my son was about two months shy of his 13th birthday and very tired of ordering off of children’s menus. He’s a very adventurous eater and always wants to try exotic things on menus. Unfortunately, those things are often some of the most expensive on the menu, so he’s been relegated to standard kid’s fair for most of his life. Granted, we do take him to some awesome places that have amazing kids menus, including one that will make junior portions of any regular entree at half price, but for the most part he’s been relegated to hamburgers, pizza, and chicken fingers for a large portion of his restaurant life.

So the chance to order whatever he wanted was pretty much his idea of Nirvana! He salavated over choices of steak, lobster, salmon, Beef Wellington, various tartlets, and escargot. And yes, he did get escargot as ONE Of his appetizers during one of our dining room meals.

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The first night he got salmon (one of his favorite foods) and loved it. The next time when we went to the dining room and he had a choice, he really wanted the salmon again, but he also wanted to try some steak. So we told him what the heck, have them both. He did…and ate every single bite of each meal.

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Thankfully the portions in the dining room are not huge. Even I found myself torn between two appetizers, but didn’t feel bad about ordering both as I knew the portions would be reasonable. In fact, our first night in the dining room I not only got a tasty pumpkin soup, but also an order of calamari. In fact, everyone in my family got calamari and my son got escargot and calamari.

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My absolute favorite appetizer was a slice of brie, which was lightly breaded and fried and served with a delicious raspberry compote. It was the perfect blend of salty and sweet. My son also got that one, along with a shrimp cup.

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My brother-in-law and I were thrilled when one night they offered a caprese salad as an appetizer. It was light, refreshing and tasty! Then again, I am always a sucker for a caprese anything.

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I was a bit wary of ordering the lobster dinner on New Year’s. It’s so easy to overcook lobster and I figured so many people on the ship would be ordering it in celebration that it might be quite overdone. My worries were completely unfounded. My lobster was perfect. My son was thrilled that he got one of his very own instead of just a small bite of mine per our usual routine.

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My favorite meal was the steak with a mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. The beef was perfectly cooked and the mushroom sauce was light but rich. I could have used a few more stalks of asparagus, but it was otherwise delicious.

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Of course, dessert was a highlight for all of us. I think my favorite one was an apple pie blossom with vanilla ice cream. Interestingly, it was the same exact one I get at a local restaurant (clearly a food service type dish), but I just love them so much that I didn’t even care.

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My son was super excited about trying Baked Alaska. I am not a meringue fan, so I didn’t try this one, but he said it was fantastic.

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My daughter was excited about her banana split, even if she didn’t eat the banana! She really just wanted the ice cream, but her brother was fine with that as he got to eat her ice cream tinged bananas!

My nephews were all about the lava cake with ice cream. I got it too and was happy that the cake was moist and just warm enough to get the ice cream melting.

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My husband was all about the creme brulee. He also really loved the apple blossom with ice cream and ordered it twice in the dining room.

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The only dessert I was not overly fond of was the peach shortcake parfait. The description sounded great, but it was mostly air and not much flavor. There was a ton of whipped cream-like topping and a tiny piece of sponge cake in there, but there wasn’t much peach to speak of.

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Still, one mediocre dessert compared to a whole bunch of yummy appetizers, main dishes, and actually brilliant desserts is not something to complain about. While I wouldn’t want to miss out on all the AMAZING Indian food at the Windjammer Cafe buffet, I am glad we ate a few meals in the main dining room. The kids had a blast, got to try lots of new food, and we all got to be a bit fancy!

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Royal Caribbean Cruise: Dolphin Push-Pull Shore Excursion in Grand Cayman

20191230_074625When I sat down to look at the shore excursions for our Royal Caribbean cruise on Brilliance of the Sea, I was ooverwhelmed. We only had two stops on our 5 night cruise, but there were at least 100 different options. While there may have only been a dozen or so basic components, there were so many combinations of those different components that I broke down after the third page of options. Finally I just sent my mom and sister some generic options: beach, animal encounters, historical sites, or something sporty.

Ok, I just threw that last one in as a joke. I knew no one in my family was going to pick something actually sporty. There are definitely several physical options for any shore excursion, but my people are not the sporty types. In all fairness, two of the group have limited mobility, so it’s understandable that we had to pick activities that were a bit lower-intensity.

The kids all wanted some sort of animal encounter. When I was listing some of them off to my mom, she was very keen on a sea turtle adventure. My kids thought that would be pretty cool too. And they even offered sea turtles with an additional option of stingrays. My daughter was not too keen on that one. But then my sister told my nephews that swimming with dolphins was an option and the decision was made.

That’s how we found ourselves sitting in the Pacifica theater at 6:45 in the morning on the third day of our cruise. No one was particularly happy to know that that particular hour still existed on vacation. When we signed up for the excursion it definitely did not mention the need to get up before the sun in order to hang with Flipper. If they had, I think my mom might have insisted on befriending Crush and Nemo instead.

20191230_110814But, we’d pre-booked and we were not about to cancel and lose that money, so when our group number was called we headed down to disembark. We had to get the tender boats over to Grand Cayman and all 9 of us boarded together and tried to stifle our yawns as we made our way to the shore. Once there we were bustled into vans with about half a dozen other group members and we set off for our adventure. Our van was just doing the dolphin swim. The other van that drove behind us had one of those combo deals and was heading off to a beach after we finished.

I had no idea what to expect. It was actually pretty confusing at first. We were one of the earliest groups to arrive, but it still took our guide about 10 minutes to get everything squared away. We’d been told we could bring cameras, but once we entered in to Dolphin Discovery, the employees told us we had to leave everything in the provided lockers. Aside from our suits, and our locker keys and our shoes (which we took off close to the pools, everything else had to be left behind. I was disappointed as I wanted to take some pictures of my kids frolicking with dolphins.

20191230_081819Once our gear was stowed, we were taken over and given life vests. We were then split into groups of 10. Somehow we got separated from the rest of our family, so instead of one big family group, it was my family of 4 with 6 strangers. They were very nice people, but I had hoped to share the experience with my entire family.

Our group headed over to a large pool-like area. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I found this picture of it, so hopefully that will help. Our “pool” was at the far left-side of the picture–it’s the large one. Ours was actually divided into two with our group down on the non-sandy side. All 10 of us got into the water. There was a ledge about 3 feet wide and about 3.5 feet deep that ran the length of the area. Since only one person could swim with a dolphin at a time, it was a good waiting spot for the rest of us.

The weather was beautiful (in the mid 80’s) and the water was warm. Our instructor introduced us to Sherlock, our dolphin. Sherlock was charming and very well-trained. He waited patiently as our guide explained the “pull” part of our adventure. Each person would swim along the wall a little less than halfway out. Then, when given the signal, we’d swim about halfway into the middle of our “pool.” Our right arm would be outstretched ready to grab Sherlock’s fin when he came around and our left would be bend across our chest in order to grab hold of his flipper. Then Sherlock would pull us back to the ledge.

20191230_093226While we were waiting for the first person to swim out and get in position, Sherlock posed with the rest of us. We each got four non swimming interactions with Sherlock. We got to dance with him, get a kiss from him, give him a kiss, and hold his face next to ours. Each of these interactions were photographed for us and after the encounter we’d have the chance to buy our photos, hence why we weren’t allowed to bring cameras.

Frolicking with Sherlock was fun. He was very sweet. I’d never touched a dolphin before. His skin was sort of rubbery. His fins were oddly hard, but also flexible, which was such an odd combo.

When it was my turn to swim out, I did, worrying the entire time that I’d mess up and end up missing Sherlock. Thankfully Sherlock was a pro and our instructor told me when to grab, so I caught on the first time and Sherlock sped me to shore. Now, I am not a tiny person, but that dolphin had no problem pulling all of us back to the ledge, even the gentleman in our group who had to weigh close to 250.

After getting pulled by Sherlock, everyone was laughing. We all clearly enjoyed it. Well, everyone except my daughter. Her anxiety kicked in pretty hard core and she decided she did NOT want to swim out there (she gets very anxious in water). Our instructor offered to let her start from the ledge and have Sherlock just take her a small way and then turn around, but even that scared her. When he realized this, he was great with her. He let her play a few fetch games with Sherlock, so even though she didn’t do the swimming, she still felt connected to him and had fun.

Once our “pull” was done, it was time for the “push.” For this we each used a boogie board and swam out to the middle of the “pool” again. This time we had to lay on the board with our legs completely straight behind us. Sherlock’s job was to put his nose on one of our feet and “push” us back to the ledge. I watched as the first person, a young girl was pushed back to us. She zoomed at us giggling the entire time. Her dad was not as successful. He couldn’t keep his leg straight and Sherlock had to nudge him several times. He eventually got it and came at us a bit slower. When it was my turn I was once again worried I’d bend my leg and mess it up (like my husband did), but I managed to keep my leg rigid and Sherlock flew me through the water. Not nearly as fast as she shot my son through it though. He was like a 5 foot, 90 pound torpedo. I was worried he’d crash into us. But Sherlock knew when to stop and he came floating in.

When were were done, we changed back into our clothes and headed into the gift/photo shop. I took one look at the prices and realized no matter how cute they might be, there was no way we were buying them. To get all pictures for our group of 4 would have been about $250. I loved the experience, but to me it was more important to have it than to capture it on film. I would have liked one to, but I knew if I saw one, I’d want them all. So instead I let my son buy a little bottle of Grand Cayman sand in a bottle, and I bought a can of Pringles for my family to share.

Swimming with dolphins was something I’d always wanted to do and I was glad we got to. Even if my daughter was a bit scared, she had a blast and fell in love with Sherlock. It was definitely worth it!

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