TRIP COACH

Western Caribbean

On our cruise, we don't want to do anything we can do at home in Florida

There'll probably be plenty of other kids to hang out with; more children and teens sail on Carnival ships than on any other cruise line. The ship's Club 02 teen program hosts nightly dances as well as waterslide races, scavenger hunts, and other games. Because teens tend to make friends and form groups quickly, we urge the girls to join the group soon after boarding. Many teen activities last until the wee hours of the night, so the mothers will want to discuss curfews beforehand.

Cruises are cashless environments: Everything passengers buy is charged directly to their accounts by way of a stateroom key card. The moms aren't sure if they should allow Nicole and Leticia charging privileges. If they do, we strongly advise ground rules, perhaps telling the girls they're limited to a certain amount each day. Karen and Wendy can periodically ask for a printout of their accounts.

Ports and excursions

Exploring independently often costs less than organized ship excursions. In Grand Cayman, the foursome can take a walk to George Town for upscale boutiques. In Cozumel, there are good jewelry stores in a huge building right by the pier. Haggling is a must.

As for organized day trips, a tubing adventure through caves in Belize costs $79 through Carnival. There's no requirement to book excursions through the ship, though. Belize Cruise Shore Excursions, an independent tour group, sells a slightly shorter version for $60 (belizecruiseexcursions.com). "That leaves us time for shopping," says Wendy.

Of the ship's excursions, a few stand out as likely favorites. The Stingray City trip in Grand Cayman ($74) includes a tour of the island and the chance to get in the water with actual rays. In Mexico, they might prefer the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins program ($69), which visits impressive pyramids in a secluded jungle, to the Tulúm trip ($79). The group is most fascinated by an all-day, Mayan Jungle Explorer tour ($109) with biking, snorkeling, and zip lining. "What a day that'll be!" exclaims Wendy. Bon voyage!

Just some of the answers that experts have given during weekly chats at our website, BudgetTravelOnline.com . . .

Costa Rica: "Forget the malaria concerns. You have a much better chance of being eaten by a polar bear." -- Rob Hodel, cofounder of Tico Travel

Mount Kilimanjaro: "Find yourself a lunar calendar and plan to hit the summit on or around full moon. You'll not regret it." -- 2Afrika president Kenneth R. Hieber

Las Vegas: "Pirates can serve as the ring bearers and even give the bride away." -- John Bigley and Paris Permenter, authors of The Destination Wedding Workbook, on getting married at Treasure Island

Cell Phones: "Your standard Verizon phone is a paperweight overseas." -- Ken Grunski, CEO of Telestial, on the limitations of some U.S.-based cell phones in Ireland

Buy any good souvenirs?

"I like to buy things native to the area," says Wendy. "At some of the souvenir shops, there was stuff made in the U.S. Why would I want that?" Instead, she purchased a stone Mayan calendar and Mexican blanket at a market near the Chacchoben Ruins in Costa Maya, as well as an elephant figurine while in Belize. "The blanket is draped across our couch right now," she says.

Was the food delicious?

"Food was available 24/7, and I loved absolutely every minute of it," says Karen. "The highlight was the Chocolate Buffet, when they set up an area with chocolate cakes, ice-cream sundaes, pudding, mousse, pie--you name it." Wendy couldn't agree more: "I'm kind of loud and kept on saying, 'Oh my God! Oh my God! Where do I start?' The crew was laughing at what a kick I was getting out of the whole setup."

How was your trip?

Hands down, Mayan Jungle Explorer was the women's favorite excursion. Wendy paid extra to get a video of the zip lining because she "didn't think people would believe" her otherwise. "The one problem we had was that if Carnival said the excursions would take four hours, it actually wound up being more like six once you added in travel time and waiting for other passengers," says Wendy. "As a result, we didn't have time for much shopping. I complained about it to Carnival." Because the other excursions ate up so much of their time, the group decided to skip any organized activities in Belize. "We wandered around and found some markets," says Wendy. "It felt good exploring on our own. The girls got their hair braided."

How did you like cruising?

"We had an absolute blast!" says Wendy. "The staff was wonderful. Whenever we came back to our room, everything was tidied up and towels were magically refolded. I grew so used to things that on the day we got home, I told Leticia that we should just call room service for dinner."

Would you do anything differently?

"It was a very busy week," says Karen. "I wouldn't have minded staying in a port for a few days to relax."

Did the girls have fun?

"There was so much to do on the ship that you never saw kids bored," says Wendy. "The girls loved that they had all that freedom, and I loved that there was no place they could get into trouble. They went to the dances, and days would pass by when we only saw each other during the meals."

Parting gift

As a memento, we sent the group Carnival's book showing how to fold towels into cute animals and shapes.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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