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Carnival Big Family Cruise to Mexico & the Caribbean – First Time Cruisers


    On a trip to Galveston Island Texas last Fall, our first time visiting there, my kids took note of all the cruise ships departing and arriving.  “That would be fun to take a cruise some time!”, my teen daughter said.

    The idea stuck with us and for fun on a wintry day, we began researching cruise lines, destinations, and duration options for a family Spring Break cruise out of the Port of Galveston. We found a holiday deal for two staterooms on the Carnival Valor five-day Cozumel Plus cruise to the Caribbean and Mexico – $2800 for the five of us, a fantastic value for the remarkable family experience we had!

    Carnival Cruise Line

    The website has a wealth of information on their ships with deck plan maps of the staterooms for each floor. We needed lodging for five (we are a family of six but our eldest’s college Spring Break didn’t coincide, much to her dismay) and chose an interior stateroom and a balcony stateroom on the 6th deck midship, near one of the main sets of staircases, thinking we’d be close to everything. The pools and many dining options were three floors up on the Lido deck.

    You select from the staterooms available as you book so we knew exactly where we would be on the ship. Both rooms were more spacious than we had imagined and had modular beds so you can choose to have two twins separated or made up as one. The balcony stateroom also had a couch that could be made into a third twin.

    The kids were beyond excited about going on a cruise, visiting Mexico, & especially the 24-hour self-serve ice cream station by the pool on the ship! I was looking forward to the first family vacation I didn’t have to grocery shop or cook!


    Pre-Cruise Stay in Galveston

    The kids & I decided to hit the beach in Galveston for a couple of days before our cruise and flew Spirit Airlines Chicago to Houston. We hired a Lyft ride to our favorite Homewood Suites on Galveston Island, much cheaper and easier than renting a car and figuring out what to do with it while we were on our cruise.

    As I’ve written in my article on our TX travels, the Galveston Homewood Suites is new and directly across the street from the expansive and gorgeous Stewart Beach. The suite is roomy with two queen beds in the bedroom and a fold-out queen sofa in the TV/kitchen area. A hearty breakfast is included as well as a manager’s happy hour most evenings. Also, there’s a grocery store and a Whataburger just a short walk from the hotel.


    The ocean was much cooler and calmer than it had been in October so we played more on the sand than in the water and eyed the cruise ships sailing with great anticipation.

    My husband flew in late Friday and on Saturday morning the hotel complimentary shuttle drove us over to our cruise ship.

    Cruise Ship Boarding

    Going through security and check-in flowed easily. The staff was welcoming and enthusiastic.

    Each person over 21 can bring one 750 ml bottle of wine and each passenger of any age could bring a twelve-pack of can pop if they choose. Those items are inspected in the security line. We had a bottle of wine for each my husband and myself, and a twelve-pack of our family’s favorite – diet orange Sunkist soda. We splurged and bought the kids the $6/person/day unlimited soda package but opted not to buy the adult drink package at $52/person/day plus 18% gratuity which had to be purchased for every day of your cruise!

    Ship Staterooms

    We found our staterooms and were delighted with the towel ‘origami’ animals and welcome materials set out for us. A Carnival tagline is “Choose Fun” – it’s on the daily newsletter, notepads, and more. I’ve added it to my list of favorite mantras!

    You can only book rooms with an adult assigned to each but the guest services desk happily prints multiple key cards so families can access one another’s rooms. My husband and I took the interior room, the kids took the larger balcony room. From the start & throughout the cruise, the kids had a ball calling room service (complimentary of course) daily for fresh-baked cookies – oh the luxury!

    We opted not to buy the wifi add-on and went off the grid for the length of the cruise. No one minded, not even our teens as there was so much activity on the ship. We did bring post-it notes to leave messages for each other in our rooms with our whereabouts, it turned out to be handy for checking in.


    Fun-Filled Family Activities

    Our cruise itinerary:

    • Depart Saturday late afternoon from Galveston
    • Sunday – ‘Fun Day at Sea’
    • Monday – port in Cozumel
    • Tuesday – port in Progresso
    • Wednesday – ‘Fun Day at Sea’
    • Thursday morning debark back in Galveston

    There was never a dull moment on the ship! It was like summer camp for the whole family!

    TJ, our cruise director, was somehow everywhere on the ship, all the time, day and night, spreading joy and laughs. His positivity was inspiring!

    We all enjoyed the multiple pools and hot tubs on the Lido deck, the ‘dive-in’ movies on the pool jumbotron at night, the family comedy shows and game shows, the live musical theater, the poolside dances, games & activities. My husband & I were lucky (enough) playing blackjack and craps in the casino after we bid the kids goodnight.


    Great Food

    The food on the ship exceeded expectations – there were many healthy options in addition to the indulgences. When we booked, the only seating in the main dining room was 8:15 pm. We ate there one night and the others we had lovely meals on the Lido deck where everyone was thrilled to choose from more options on the buffet or other cooking stations.

    In the morning and during the day, our favorite meals were made to order omelets & grilled sandwiches (especially the Cuban), the Mexican fare at Blue Iguana, and burgers with fries at Guy’s Burger Joint.


    Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico Port

    In Cozumel, the color of the sea is a breathtaking turquoise. (My pictures don’t do it justice.) The port and city are touristy, as expected with umpteen cruise ships and people visiting.

    We had fun shopping for souvenirs, swimming at a beach bar a short walk from the ship, and my youngest got special beaded braids.


    Progresso, Yucatan, Mexico Port

    In Progresso, we took an excursion to “Blue Hole Cenotes and Mayan Village”. We highly recommend the experience!  It’s an hour and a half ride from the port. However, the ride is on a luxury bus and our tour guide made the ride fly by telling stories of her family’s Mayan history and culture as well as historical facts about the Yucatan area.

    The Yucatan is one of the few places in the world with underground rivers and cenotes caves.

    It’s magical to climb down into them and swim amongst the stalactites and stalagmites.


    No surprise they are cherished spiritual places for the Mayan community. Our excursion included visiting two cenotes, a special Mayan lunch in the Santa Rosa village, and a cultural dance while we ate. For $95/person it was an incredible value!



    Let’s Cruise Again!

    The cruise came to an end much too quickly, as all fun times do. We’ve already started thinking about what port to depart from and which cities to visit. We may ‘Choose Fun’ with Carnival cruises again or try another cruise line. My kids suggest we make taking a cruise an annual family tradition. I’m definitely on board!


    Tina L. Park

    Tina L. Park

    Tina Park has been creating exceptional travel experiences for her family and friends for several years. She lives in Elmhurst, IL - a quick train ride from downtown Chicago - with her husband and four kids ages 8 to 18 where she serves on her City Council, tutors students in mathematics, and coaches her kids' youth basketball teams. She enjoys yoga, walks, wine and book discussions with friends. Upon the return from each trip with her family, she starts planning and researching the next which is usually many months out. Her love of anticipating & learning nearly equals the adventure itself.