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Southern Travel Features

IN-DEPTH: A Family Vacation on Carnival Splendor

Kid-Friendly Adventures at Sea:

Photo of Jack and Casey Dinnigan with Carnival Splendor goes here.

Jack and Casey Dinnigan -- with mom Lizz and dad Joe in tow -- had a great family vacation on Carnival Splendor.*

Enjoying Family Fun on Carnival Splendor

By Lizz Dinnigan - Senior Contributing Editor of Family Cruising

Life prior to our eight-night Carnival Splendor cruise to the Turks & Caicos and Bahamas in late summer 2013 had become a whirlwind of work and camp schedules. So, as we readied to board this Carnival Cruise Lines ship at New York, I was very determined for us to come together and spend quality time as a "complete family unit" for the first time in months.

I envisioned that my husband Joe and I, along with our two active sons — Jack, 10, and Casey, 7 -- might just "disappear" among the ship's 3,000 other passengers for a family getaway. I hoped we'd reconnect, laugh and just be together, both onboard and in the ports of call.

Photo of Joe and Lizz Dinnigan goes here.*In addition, Joe and I (shown at right*) looked forward to some rare time alone while the kids were happily supervised in Camp Carnival, the line's onboard children’s program.

And although it seemed at times like a dream, through a little luck and inventiveness and Carnival's robust programming, we made it happen. 

A Sense of Excitement

Our family was pumped up on adrenaline simply with the anticipation of boarding Carnival Splendor.

This "Fun Ship," which entered service for Carnival Cruise Lines in 2008, was refurbished in 2012. It seemed clean, fresh and welcoming.

Photo of Carnival Splendor Main Pool area goes here.*

The main pool deck area of Carnival Splendor is open to the sky when it's good weather and, alternatively, covered during inclement weather by a magradome roof.*

Prior to our cruise, we prepped our kids with information about the ship. We talked with them about what to expect and what types of experiences they might enjoy onboard and ashore.

I highly recommend this to all parents; kids will feel more comfortable about the cruise, know generally what to expect and look forward to it for weeks or months prior to boarding. 

Frankly, I was amazed to see how enthusiastic my kids were to board, explore the ship and see our stateroom. 

Photo of Carnival Splendor jewel-like atrium decor goes here.*

Carnival's atrium is a sparkling space that projects a jewel-like décor.* 

Stepping into Carnival Splendor's multi-story atrium upon boarding, we felt as though we were in Candyland. Hundreds of fixtures and decorative accents were created from what resembled gem-colored gumdrops and pink-frosted donuts.

It was the first indication that this cruise vacation would be bold and fun. Another plus for families is that Carnival is affordability. As a mother, I particularly liked that there were only a few special activities for kids that required an additional fee; that was refreshingly easy on the pocketbook. 

Finding the Right Balance

Photo of Camp Carnival goes here.*

Camp Carnival is a colorful club where kids socialize and enjoy supervised children's activities.*

If you're sailing with kids and are interested in striking a balance between family and adult time, here's how we handled that. On each of the sea days, we dropped off our kids for a morning in Camp Carnival (shown in the photo above*)

Camp Carnival is a complimentary supervised children's programming for those 2-11, and there are separate activities for older kids as well. 

Circle C is for tweens (12-14) and Club O2 for teens (15-17). Outside the children's facilities, families also can enjoy an almost unending number of family-friendly team events, comedy club shows and outdoor water play.

Photo of Joe and Lizz Dinnigan in a Carnival Splendor hot tub goes here.*During the time our kids were engaged with their peers at Camp Carnival, Joe and I relished sinking into a hot tub (as shown at left*), playing Joker Poker in the casino or just spending quiet time reading together in a shady overview nook. 

One good tip? Pack walkie talkies in case you're separated from your spouse or friend.
Once during this cruise, I was playing poolside bingo while Joe was in a poker tournament.

We stayed in touch via the walkie talkies and then easily met up later for an activity or drink. Frankly, we might have wasted a lot of time "searching" for each other without the walkie talkies.

Our kids spent mornings at Camp Carnival, and at lunchtime, we'd pick them up to eat. Then we'd spend afternoons by a different pool each day or try new family activities. It was a good way to change things up for the kids, and we really "did it all" on the ship.

Camp Carnival Basics

Jack and Casey very much looked forward to their time in Camp Carnival. This kids' program is a huge plus for parents as well -- essentially daytime group babysitting with supervised activities.  

Photo of Camp Carnival games and toys goes here.*

(Colorful play spaces with toys and games characterize Camp Carnival's children's facilities onboard Carnival Splendor.*) 

My kids loved interacting and playing games with other children their age in a safe, controlled environment. Children participating in Camp Carnival are typically split by counselors into three age ranges: 2-5, 6-8 and 9-11.

Separately, Circle C for tweens and Club O2 for teens are separate clubs with age-appropriate programming.  

Photo of Club O2 for teens on Carnival Splendor goes here.*
(Teens 14-17 come and go as they please at Club O2, the dedicated teen club. No adults are allowed.*)

During the summer and holiday periods, Carnival Splendor sails with a sizable number of kids.  Our August 2013 sailing had nearly 1,000 guests cruising who were under 21; that's about one third of the total passenger count. Yet, we never felt the kids' club was congested or overwhelming.

During other times of the year when the kids are back in school, parents might routinely expect 200 to 300 kids in the clubs, according to Wella Maliwanag, youth director on our cruise. The number does vary by sailing date.

Photo of Camp Carnival facilities goes here.*

(Camp Carnival features games and toys, creative activities directed by counselors and plenty of space to "just be a kid."*) 

On Carnival Splendor, Camp Carnival’s 5,500-square-foot, semi-circular main venue is divided in half for the 2-5 and 6-8 age groups. The area has two separate entrances, with a door dividing the spaces.  

On this ship, the 9-11 age group sometimes spends time in a separate area of the 6-8 age group's section. Or, alternatively if there are a very large number of children, the 9-11 age group is engaged in activities within a 1,134-square-foot Boardroom that can accommodate about 100.

Photo of Boardroom goes here.*
(The Boardroom doubles as an "overflow" activity area for the 9-11 age group of Camp Carnival kids; supervised activities are set up here with counselor supervision.*)

This nondescript Boardroom -- often used as a meeting space -- was several decks down but directly below Camp Carnival. At pick up one day, we had a lot of trouble finding it. 

Tip? To find the Boardroom, walk between the Coffee Bar and California Roll sushi bar, head to the staircase beyond and descend one flight.

Occasionally, our boys found themselves together in the same facilities.
When the kids were younger, they preferred to be together for activities. But on this cruise, my oldest son, Jack, was eager to be in the Boardroom with other kids his age.

My advice? Go with the flow. Don't expect siblings to do exactly what they did on the last cruise.

Parents must have proper ID to pick their kids up at Camp Carnival.*I thought it a bit unusual that Camp Carnival didn’t open until 10 a.m. daily. Other supervised children’s centers we’ve encountered across the cruise industry have typically opened around 9 a.m.

(The entrance to Camp Carnival is shown in the photo at right.*)

But I learned that kids are very rarely dropped off before 10 a.m.
“Sea days are not as busy as you’d think,” says Maliwanag.

“In the first hour from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., there are not too many kids," she stressed. "There’s never a big line to get in." It's probably no wonder as there are plenty of water activities around the ship to entertain families. Maliwanag says the first and last sea days are generally the most popular for Camp Carnival.

The 10 a.m. opening time was a bit challenging for us because our children wake up at 7 a.m. and are raring to go.

Photo of Joe and kids playing bingo goes here.*That said, we had plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy onboard -- both in the hours before Camp Carnival opened and at other times during our cruise.

For example, our kids enjoyed bingo one day (as shown in the photo at left.*)

One big plus of Camp Carnival's hours? We liked that -- unlike some other lines' programs that typically shut down for two hours during lunch -- Camp Carnival was never closed in the middle of the day. 

So, parents have the flexibility to pick up their kids for lunch and return them back to Carnival Carnival on a schedule that best suits the family. 

However, be advised that if you don't pick up your kids for lunch, they won't receive a meal in the club; parents will also be paged. 

Hasbro Partnership

Two years ago, Carnival entered into a creative partnership with Hasbro, allowing Camp Carnival staff to integrate Hasbro-brand toys into its curriculum.

Photo of toys goes here.*

(Kids have a treasure trove of toys to play with at Camp Carnival.*)

“For example, we will do Mr. Potato Head relay races," says Maliwanag. "I’m trying to implement One-Minute Challenges into Camp Carnival using Hasbro toys. It’s a fun family activity the ship offers in the main theater, but I want to do one on a smaller scale for the kids in camp called ‘60 Seconds or Less.'"

Themes for Camp Carnival activities include: H2Ocean, in which the kids make science-based projects; SeaNotes, an introduction to musical instruments; EduCruise, interactive projects focusing on various cultures, landmarks, history and geography; Watercolors, teaching techniques employed by professional artists; A-B Seas, promoting reading; and ExerSeas, a recreational fitness program.

Activities on the roster for the 2-5 set included Tonka trunk races, parachute games, Play Doh bake shop, Static Electric Fishing, candy relay, hula hoop madness and bubble blast.

Kids 6 to 8, such as my Casey, loved playing Name that Song, Young Environmentalists, Wink Detective, spin art, decoupage boxes and Song Stompers.

Those 9 to 11 engaged in a ZipZap Challenge, Steal the Bacon, fireball, Ninja, and an UNO and SkipBo challenge.

Also, in the mornings, many of the brand’s board games would be set up for open play at the tables. On a few evenings just after dinner, Camp Carnival held Movie Nights.

Photo of Camp Carnival play and movie area goes here.*

(Camp Carnival holds movie nights during certain evenings of Night Owls.*)

All supervised activities for kids 2-11 take place in Camp Carnival. The only time children are permitted out of the center unsupervised is during group scavenger hunts, Maliwanag says.

“With the scavenger hunt, they go as a group," she noted. "They’re not alone, ever. That’s when they overcome their shyness and build friendships. We tell them there are cameras watching them all over the ship.”

Maliwanag says most kids are shy in the beginning, so on the first sea day, the staff conducts ice breakers. “We want everyone to meet everyone,” she says. “We do a group card or ball game to motivate them right away."

On the first day, not surprisingly, parents dropping off their kids will hear a lot of crying, particularly among the 2- to 5-year-olds. It's a new environment for the kids -- and interaction with new people they don't know.

So, "we always let parents of the little ones come in for a few minutes on the first day to calm their kids down," Maliwanag said.

Allergy Conscious

No food of any kind is permitted in Camp Carnival as a safety precaution to kids with allergies. They do, however, offer a drinking water station.

Every night for dinner, the youth counselors escort children 2 to 11 from the center to a designated section at the Lido Buffet for a kid-friendly dinner, and then return them back to Camp Carnival, which remains open for free until 10 p.m.

This affords parents the luxury of dining alone or with adult friends whether you’re assigned to an early or late seating.

Photo of hand washing station within Carnival Splendor's Camp Carnival goes here.*

Normally Joe and I would take advantage of this option, but it was important to us on this sailing to have dinner together in the dining room, a rare treat for my family.

With regard to allergies, the youth staff is not allowed to administer any medications except Epipens and nebulizers.

However, diabetic-testing equipment and inhalers are permitted.

Camp Carnival also pays attention to hygiene, with a kid-sized hand washing sink available within the club. (See photo at left.*)

Following Protocol

The youth staff on our cruise was comprised of 11 counselors and three teen directors. Maliwanag said if more than 60 kids arrive for play in the center at one time, additional counselors are added.

“We always have three counselors for each group no matter how many kids are in there," she stressed. The staff are always diligent, she said, as some kids will be, well kids.

Camp Carnival also exercises caution when children are signed in and out of Camp Carnival. Parents must pre-register, and fill out detailed allergy and special needs paperwork.

Only the two adults listed on the form are authorized to drop off and pick up kids using their Sail n' Sign card.

I actually saw a father turned away from the gated entrance because only the mother was authorized. It's very good to know the Camp Carnival staffers take safety seriously.

At the muster drill, every child under 11 is assigned a wristband to be worn for the duration of the cruise, so staff can escort them to their lifeboat station in the event of an emergency.

Something else I haven’t come across before is that kids 9 to 11, if parents permit, are allowed to sign themselves in and out of the center.

That's not something Joe and I wanted to do, as the goal was to have couple's time when our kids were taken to the club, but it's certainly a nice, flexible option that may be perfect for some families.

Special Needs

Parents with children of special needs should know that all children are welcome with open arms.

No child is turned away unless behavior is extremely aggressive and that rule applies to all children in the facility, special needs or not. 

The staff insists, though, that parents of special needs children must disclose the child's condition so the staff is educated and aware of the situation.

Phones are issued for free to parents of kids with special needs or allergies, or, if the kids are under 5. 

Hang onto the phone, though, because if a phone is lost, the replacement cost is $150 for the unit and $45 for the charger.

Separately, Carnival also rents strollers for $30 for the length of the cruise. If the stroller is lost, the fee is $75.

Nightly Babysitting and Night Owls 

Operating from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., the nightly babysitting program in Camp Carnival is designed for those six months to 11 years of age. 
This first-come, first-served service is limited to only 40 children. Cost is $6.75 per child, per hour, plus 15 percent gratuity per child.

“We have blankets and pillows, and we also have six cribs," said Maliwanag. “Infants to 8-year-olds are grouped together and have a slumber party with movies and games."

As a fleetwide policy, Carnival as with most other cruise lines does not offer in-cabin babysitting. But thankfully, with the nightly
group babysitting option in Camp Carnival, parents have the freedom to dine, attend a show, enjoy drinks with friends and dance the night away.

Photo of Circle C room on Carnival Splendor goes here.*

(While kids are in nightly babysitting at Camp Carnival, they can use the computers, play games and participate in counselor-organized activities.*)

But pay attention to the time. If any child is left past 3 a.m., the hourly rate for each child doubles, and parents forfeit night-time group babysitting privileges for the duration of the cruise.

For an added fee, Camp Carnival also offers "Night Owls," which involves special programming, often themed, for kids. For example, Nassau Night, designed for kids 9 to 11, features competitions, video games. sporting events and pizza.
Cost is $33 per child, plus gratuity.

Personally, we never used Night Owls, only because our children are very early risers. They're exhausted by 9 p.m. or so.

Each night, we took them to the main theater show or a comedy club presentation, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Cruising with Kids Under 2

If you're traveling with an infant under 2, you can use the Camp Carnival facility with your child (a parent must be present) from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. There is no babysitting for these younger kids in Camp Carnival during the day except on port days.

During port calls, infant babysitting is usually offered in the children's center for at least four hours in each port. Expect to pay $6.75 per child, per hour, plus gratuity.

Infants and those under 2 are, however, welcome in Night Owls.

Tweens and Teens

On Carnival Splendor, tweens have a 624-square-foot Circle C room with Wii and Play Stations. It's small but cozy. Some Circle C events are held instead at the Red Carpet Nightclub.

Teens also have their own 2,160-square-foot Club 02, from which they come and go as they please. 

Club 02 is decked out with clear tubes of bubbling water, giving the space an aquarium-like aura. Even the couch cushions are shaped like waves.

Photo of Club O2, the teen club on Carnival Splendor, goes here.*

(Teens on Carnival Splendor have a dedicated Club O2 space which has an aquatic aura with bubbling tubes and wave-like style elements.*)

Teen activities range from a glowstick party to karaoke, from a pizza pig-out to dodgeball and a dance-off contest. 

In addition, Club O2 has a smoothie bar, dance floor, foozball, air hockey and Chill Pod with Play Station monitors on the ceiling.

Maliwanag says the teens are most interested in the night-time theme parties such as Mardi Gras and Shades; for the latter, teens show up in sunglasses, of course.

Another plus? Tween and teen activities aren't just on the ship.

At Grand Turk, both Circle C and Club O2 participants -- up to 22 -- are able to sign up for a teen-oriented snorkeling shore excursion.

Spa Fare 

The onboard Cloud 9 Spa welcomes teens (13-17) with a “Teen Pamper Day.” For $99, each teen receives a mini-facial, neck-and-shoulder massage, and foot-and-ankle massage.

In addition, smaller kids (2-12) can partake in a Spa Pedicure Party for $39.

Of course, the spa offers a full-bodied menu of adult spa services as well as a small free-form spa thalassotherapy pool for adults only.

Splish, Splash  

Photo of Water Slide on Carnival Splendor goes here.*

(Yippeee! Kids of all ages (who meet a 42-inch height requirement) love splashing down Carnival Splendor's water slide.*)

Because there were three child-friendly water play areas, we chose a different one for each sea day so the boys could experience each without repetition. It somehow made the ship seem bigger.

Without a doubt, though, the highlight of water play for our family was the 214-foot-long twister waterslide ending in a skid, which was adjacent to a square plunge pool with accompanying whirlpool.

The day we spent here, very few kids were using the waterslide but were in the plunge pool instead. So my boys spend hours repeatedly climbing the two decks to take advantage of the slide without any wait time.

Your kids must be 42 inches tall to ride. During our cruise, the water slide was open daily from noon until 5 or 6 p.m. 

Another afternoon, Joe and I planted ourselves in two plastic aqua-tinged rocking chairs. We read our books while the boys ran around and squealed with delight with a group of other kids in the Splash Park "sprayground."

Photo of water splash area for young children on Carnival Splendor goes here.*

(Carnival's Splendor's Splashpark is designed to spritz small children with sprays of water while they slide and play.*)

The sprayground has colorful small slides with rubber mats at the base built into a jungle gym. This area was open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Carnival Splendor's main pool has a unique lay-out, from our perspective. For starters, it has a retractable glass roof, allowing guests to swim even during rainy or cool weather.

Photo of Carnival's main pool area with the magradome closed goes here.*

(Carnival's main pool is covered by a magradome, which is closed during inclement weather.*)

When closed, it allows cruise guests to swim and relax, even on a rainy day. Hanging floral baskets encircle the pool -- creating the feel of a relaxing tropical oasis (as seen in the photo at left*).

Unfortunately, although the dome was closed on our first sea day when it was raining, Mother Nature didn't cooperate. The ocean waters were so choppy that water had to be drained from the pools; guests were unable to use them. 

But during smooth, inclement weather, the magradome is a great perk for water lovers. 

Photo of big movie screen above the main pool area goes here.*Most of the seating in this area was around the pool, but a section of lounge chairs faced in the direction of a massive seaside theater for Dive-In Movies.

Family movies such as "Big Miracle," "Spiderman 3," "Avengers" and "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" were shown. So were classic concerts by such artists as Billy Joel and Bob Marley.

Mostly the movies ran during dinner or at midnight. Consult the back page of the daily program for the day's show times.

A level up from the pool but still one deck below the top deck, there was an outer rim of additional oceanview seating overlooking the pool.

Carnival Splendor also has seven whirlpools scattered throughout the upper decks. All those whirlpools welcome children except the ones flanking the adult-only aft pool.

Beach towels are provided to each guest, but keep an eye on them at the pool because passengers are charged $22 if one is lost.

Also note that there are no lifeguards, and only potty-trained children are allowed to enter the water facilities.

While Carnival has a policy designed to keep guests from reserving deck chairs and disappearing for hours, we observed that the pool deck can still be very crowded in the morning and early afternoon. 

On our cruise, the families started clearing out around 4 p.m. to shower for the early dinner seating.

If you're on late seating or you plan to dine in the Lido buffet restaurant for dinner at your leisure, you might want to show up with the kids for pool play in late afternoon; the area is much less crowded with oodles of chairs available.

Comedy and More Family Fun

Photo of El Morocco Lounge on Carnival Splendor goes here.*

(The El Morocco Lounge exudes a North African flair and is home to the Punchliner Comedy Club.)*

I highly recommend taking children to see one of the family-friendly shows at the Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez, held in El Morocco Lounge (shown in the photo above*).

The cabaret-style theater resembled a true comedy club, and the shows were an enormous hit with Jack and Casey.

There were two comics -- Stanley Ullman and Diane Ford -- onboard our cruise for the first two sea days. They were replaced with two other performers -- ventriloquist Jerry Goodspeed and Shiela Kay -- on the last two sea days.

Each of those nights featured several family-friendly and adult shows. We absolutely loved each show. Stanley Ullman had an opening monologue, followed by a rendition of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

Photo of Casey Dinnigan at Punchliner Comedy Club goes here.*

(Casey Dinnigan and another young boy enjoyed being a part of this family-friendly show featuring comedian Stanley Ullman at the Punchliner Comedy Club.*)

Casey was invited up on stage to be one of the three contestants. Yes, I'm his mom, but I have to say he was hilarious. But what left an impression on both my boys was not the segment itself but Ullman's opening joke.

They found the story Ullman told to be so funny, they repeated it – in a British accent – throughout the cruise and for weeks after we got home. They even taught it to their cousins!

Photo of Jack Dinnigan at a family program onboard Carnival Splendor.*Families can also enjoy such daily activities as the bean bag toss, moonlight karaoke, dancing lessons, bingo, ice carving, pool volleyball, cooking demos, family scavenger hunt, charades and mini-golf tournament.

(My son Jack is shown in the photo at left; he participated in a family activity in one of the many shipboard lounges.*)  

Stuffed animal lovers likely will enjoy Beary Cuddly in Camp Carnival, where kids can own a teddy bear for $20 and create outfits for the bear at $10 each. 

Proceeds from the bears sold benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which is Carnival's primary charitable partner.

Other ways to entertain your family onboard include a 24/7 video arcade, nine-hole mini-golf course (shown below*) basketball, ping pong and laser tag ($5 per person).

 Photo of miniature golf course goes here.*

(Joe, Jack and Casey Dinnigan try the putt-putt golf course, one of the many family-friendly activity options on Carnival Splendor.*)

Casey and folded animal towels onboard Carnival Splendor.*Another activity we loved doing as a family during our cruise? We had a lot of laughs "attempting" -- and succeeding most of the time -- at the towel folding.

(The Dinnigan children - Casey is shown -- made the two elephants in the photo at right.)

We had so much fun we purchased the instructional towel-folding book sold in the onboard shops as surprise for our kids for Christmas.

Caribbean Itinerary

Our cruise had port calls at Grand Turk, Nassau and Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private Bahamian island, which is also used by Carnival.

We've been to all these ports in the past, so we knew exactly how we wanted to spend our days. Our prime goal? We wanted to enjoy our time ashore without the crowds.

Based on personal experiences on several cruises, I recommend parents who are booking a shore excursion with kids in tow strongly consider a simple beach stay. Kids often get bored on sightseeing tours.

We like the beach day options offered by the lines, as we find them easy. The kids are occupied for hours, giving us a much more relaxing time ashore than we'd have dragging our kids through historic mansions or botanic gardens.

The last time we visited Governor’s Beach on Grand Turk a few years ago, we strolled beyond the picnic table area where guests on shore excursions tend to gather. Instead we kept going and found a remote area.

We did the same thing on this cruise. Upon arrival, we immediately walked a quarter-mile down the beach and around a bend unnoticed.

Photo of Crystal Clear Waters around Blue Lagoon Island near Nassau in the Bahamas.* 

(Crystal clear waters around Blue Lagoon Island, an easy half day trip from Nassau, the Bahamas, can lead to quiet beach time and snorkeling -- if you find the right spot.*)

We spent five resplendent hours completely alone on our own “private” aquamarine beach of shallow, calm waters. The kids loved to snorkel (see photo above*) and we spent the time relaxing and telling funny stories.

Photo of Half Moon Cay goes here.* 

(Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island, is also used by Carnival Cruise Lines ships including Carnival Splendor.*)

At Half Moon Cay, my advice is to get a very early tender ticket so you can be one of the first passengers to arrive on the beach. We did so and secured a spot under a tree so we had a bit of shade for the day-long stay.

In fact, we spent nearly the entire six hours ashore in the aqua, jewel-toned ocean. We only emerged from water play for lunch.

One tip for parents? On a cruise we took a year ago on a different line, all inner tubes on the private island were sold out. So we didn’t want to be stranded without one again.

Photo of inner tubes brought from home for use at Half Moon Cay.*

(The crystal-clear waters of Half Moon Cay are a great place for inner tubing, especially when one brings the tubes from home - free and fun.*)

Our solution was to bring large inflatable tubes from home; they easily folded up and fit in our suitcase. Our kids had a blast with the tubes and the fun was "free" - no rentals required! 

Half Moon Cay is also a playground for kayaking and watercraft play, as well as sand-castle competitions, beach Olympics, a limbo contest, beach volleyball and relay races.

Photo of kayaks awaiting rental at Half Moon Cay; Carnival Splendor is in the background.*

(Rental kayaks await at Half Moon Cay; Carnival Splendor is in the background.*)

Before arrival at Half Moon Cay, reserve shady clam shells from the Shore Excursions Desk. They're first come, first served among those who've reserved them.

So be sure to get to the island early, particularly if you're renting two or more and want your entire party to be in the same area.   

In Nassau, many guests head to Atlantis. Instead, we opted to return to the pristine Blue Lagoon Island, where we had visited in the past.

This spot has phenomenal tidal pools, hammocks, tube/raft rentals and an inflatable water bounce park.

When we got off the water taxi for a three-hour stay on Blue Lagoon Island, we noticed that nearly all other passengers headed to the island's dolphin encounter.

As a result, our family was blissfully alone on this island. We spent our time in the over-water hammocks, on the beach and snorkeling in and around the tidal pools behind the open-air café. (See the photo below*). 

Photo of snorkeling on Grand Turk goes here.

Photo of Bahamian Conch Salad joint goes here.*Back in Nassau?

If you have enough time left (Don't miss the ship!), you might consider delving into an authentic Bahamian experience.

For that, we like to get out of the downtown area -- walking for 30-minutes, or alternatively, taking a taxi to Arawak Key's Fish Fry, which is home to several local eateries.

One yummy specialty is fresh conch salad right out of the shell. 

Lizz Dinnigan dines on fresh conch salad at Arawak Key, the Bahamas.*(Above right, the Dinnigan guys are shown as they order Bahamian food at the Fish Fry Fresh Conch Salad stand. At left, mom -- Lizz Dinnigan -- is shown at left, eagerly chowing down on her conch salad.*)

Alternatively, if families want to delve into the history of Nassau's pirate past on an edu-tainment outing, head for Pirates of Nassau.

This pirate-themed attraction is a good one to two-hour diversion. It's also just a few blocks from the cruise piers. 

RELATED STORY: SouthernCruising.com  covered the downtown Nassau pirate-themed attraction in a previous story; go to Pirates of Nassau  for the article and original photos.   

Spacious Balcony Cabins

Photo of Cabin #6459, made up with the third and fourth berths.*

(The balcony stateroom, #6459, had third and fourth berths for the kids, yet gave the family plenty of room.*)

Carnival Splendor has 1,503 staterooms, 537 of which are oceanview balcony cabins. Our spacious balcony cabin, #6459 was located aft.

My assessment? It was the perfect size for our family of four and not a tight squeeze. We had abundant space for the belongings and luggage of four people.

The steward pulled down an upper berth above the single sofa to create an upper bed. The sofa converted into a second bed. (The third and fourth berths are shown in the photo above.*)

So our kids essentially had bunk beds; a small ladder provided access to the top bunk.

Photo of Jack Dinnigan climbing to the fourth berth on Carnival Splendor.*Jack loved having his own nightlight on the top bunk. Our boys spent all their time in the cabin climbing up and down (as shown in the photo at right*).

Stateroom amenities included a mini refrigerator, hairdryer, shaving mirror and body wash and shampoo dispensers.

Families will appreciate the ship's six launderettes with ironing boards. So you don't have to overpack.

For our family, the worst thing about our stateroom was knowing we'd have to say goodbye to it -- knowing it was set to belong to another family for a week.

We've sailed on many cruise ships in the past and, I have to say that our cruise vacation on Carnival Splendor was phenomenal. It was the perfect family getaway.

Photo of Jack and Casey Dinnigan atop Carnival Splendor goes here.*
(Jack and Casey Dinnigan explored the Carnival Splendor and posed for mom on the top deck.*)

While our family embarked at New York, Carnival offers Bahamas and Caribbean sailings from myriad U.S. home ports including New Orleans, LA, Charleston, SC, Galveston, TX, and Jacksonville, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, FL.

Late breaking news! In addition to its regular schedule of New York sailings, Carnival Splendor will spend winter 2013-2014 sailing from Miami, giving families driving from southeastern destinations a chance to experience this ship. 

Photo of Dinnigans at sunset onboard Carnival Splendor goes here.*

For the Dinnigan family, our Carnival cruise allowed us to reconnect as a family, to spend quality time together and to just enjoy the moment.

(At right, see the photo of the Dinnigans at sunset on Carnival Splendor.*)

Kids grow up so fast, and this year's vacation at sea is one we'll cherish for many years to come.

And that means all of us. Jack refused to take off his muster wristband for two weeks after we returned home.

For more information on Carnival Cruise Lines and cruises onboard Carnival Splendor, visit www.carnival.com.

Editor's Note: Look for Lizz Dinnigan's separate story about family dining on the Carnival Splendor, coming soon.

Photo of Lizz Dinnigan onboard Carnival Splendor goes here.*About Lizz Dinnigan

Freelance writer Lizz Dinnigan is the senior contributing editor - family cruising for SouthernCruising.com. Formerly, she was a trade cruise journalist and Dinnigan’s Diversions newspaper columnist.

Dinnigan is author of the book, "I Have Sand in My Arm," a collection of humorous vignettes and short stories about her kids and their comedic exploits. It's available from Amazon.com.

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Lizz Dinnigan. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.  

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