Happy (Long) Weekend!

The summer season’s officially underway this weekend, and I so, so wish I had somewhere to go.

I don’t, so I’ll stay put this weekend, but I’m on a beach in my mind and I’d definitely be packing a few of these items for a sunny getaway.

This tee would be perfect to wear during travel and to set the tone for the trip:

These espadrilles are completely adorable and would also make shoe removal at airport security a breeze:

Since my ideal destination includes sun and sand, a swimsuit is in order. This Mara Hoffman number is so unique:

For après beach, I love how J. Crew styled this fringe sweater with white jean shorts:

A colorful Rebecca Minkoff clutch would provide great contrast to the all white ensemble above:

I may be geographically restricted this weekend, but I’ve mentally packed my bags.

Hope your weekend is full of sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando Getaway

The kids and I spent three nights in Florida over the weekend.

I told them it was a “getaway,” and not a vacation due to its quick turn around.

They were not buying it and requested at least two months at Disney World in the immediate future.

Spoiler alert: not happening. Nope.

We left on Wednesday morning, which I thought was a generous bonus of letting them play hooky from school for three days.

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Our flight to Florida was uneventful and we were able to smoothly pick up our rental car.

My mom has a house about an hour from Orlando and we headed there to spend two nights.

I hadn’t been to my mom’s place in about two years, and I forgot how nice it was.

My mom and her husband spend the winters in a 55+ community where the primary mode of transportation is via golf cart. 

She immediately took Trixie and me for a spin, where we toured some of the holiday light displays in the neighborhood:img_1228

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Some of these were quite elaborate. One even had a feature that was activated with the push of a button. Trixie gave it a whirl.

We went for a swim. The pool felt like bath water. I mean that in a good way. Temps were in the high 70s.

The community has two lending libraries and we checked out a puzzle. Everyone worked on it. In the end we were missing a few pieces but you get the gist:

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End product

On Thursday we went to Legoland. 

This theme park is only about 10 minutes away from my mom’s place, which was awesome. It was totally un-crowded on a weekday. They had their “Christmas Bricktacular” up and running.

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I liked the area where they had miniature cities represented. Most of them had Christmas overlays, too. It was fun to spot the hidden Santas.

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NYC

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San Francisco

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D.C. with Vegas in the background

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MGM (9) being forced into a shot

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Santa’s sleigh is flying between the buildings!

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The First Family in Santa hats

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Lady Liberty and her Lego torch

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Trixie and her slushy torch

The rides were extremely tame.

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We spent about four hours at Legoland, which was more than sufficient. 

For the rest of the day, I went running, swimming, took another spin in the golf cart and worked on that darn puzzle. I was determined to get it finished before we left the next day.

When we woke up on Friday morning, we decided to head to a flea market that was about 20 minutes away.

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All I did was ask them to smile nicely for the camera

I was not prepared for this.

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There were live wolves and alligators:

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Trixie came home with a lot of swag. I think the total tab was $6.00.

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My kind stepfather finished the puzzle while we were gone, so we got to see that to the end.

After lunch the kids and I packed up the rental car and headed back to Orlando, where we were set to spend the night at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disney’s Castaway Club

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One of the best parts of going on a Disney Cruise is the anticipation.

You know you’re going to have fun.

And once you’re there, you’ll probably want to do it all over again.

After your first Disney cruise, you become a member of the Castaway Club, Disney’s loyalty program for veteran cruisers.

Currently there are three levels available:

  • Silver: 1-5 completed cruises
  • Gold: 6-10 completed cruises
  • Platinum: >10 completed cruises

So, what do you get with membership?

One perk is that you can book activities, excursions and specialty restaurant reservations ahead of the crowd. Silver members can book 90 days out, Gold 105 days, and Platinum members 120. [Note: You also get early booking with Concierge status, even on your first cruise].

There’s also a digital magazine you can read and a special phone number to use for assistance with booking or travel arrangements.

A dedicated part of the Disney Cruise Line website for the Castaway Club lets you see your personal status meter.

Here’s a snap of mine:

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But what’s probably the thing that guests love the most is the swag.

Castaway Club bonuses start arriving at check-in. You’ll receive a lanyard displaying your status to hold your room key. Here’s a Silver one:

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Personally, I carry my card around in my pocket and hate wearing a lanyard, so we don’t usually keep these. That puts us in the minority, though, because other guests seem to love wearing them everywhere.

You also get a welcome aboard gift that’s waiting for you in your cabin. On our recent trip to Alaska, we received a one-shoulder backpack and an umbrella. On prior trips we’ve received a different style of backpack, a tote bag, and a keychain. Twice the backpacks were filled with snacks.

Here’s the Alaska bounty:

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Front view

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Back view, sling backpack

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We used the backpack once in Alaska and the kids both wanted the umbrella upon our return.

Unfortunately, they immediately weaponized it and attacked each other, umbrella style, so it’s tucked away out of their reach at the moment.

A new thing that started in 2014 is that Castaway Club members also get a 5″ x 7″ drawing mailed to them after the cruise. Here’s the one we received in the mail after Alaska:

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I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so it’s currently on the fridge. The line drawing is pretty cool, but I’ve already got way too much everything so this probably won’t stay there for long.

Once you cross into a new level, you’ll also receive a magnet for your car. We received a Gold one last year but I’m not the bumper sticker/stick figure/car magnet type, so it’s also on the fridge for now.

One benefit we just experienced for the first time was the onboard party for Gold and Platinum Castaway Club members. This was fun. During our Alaska trip, it was held during the afternoon of one of the sea days and there was free food/drinks and a take-home Mickey crispy rice treat for guests. The captain and several officers were there, and the crew made a point of coming around and meeting people, asking about prior trips. Everyone at the party was really friendly and trust me when I say that the guests could have talked about Cruising with Disney all night if given the chance.

We also discovered a 10% discount on select shipboard merchandise as Gold members, which was unexpected and cool.

Final thought: everybody loves to be a V.I.P., and Disney’s Castaway Club makes you feel like one.

 

 

 

Ahhhhh-laska!

Wow.

You know how you can anticipate something so much and then build it up to a place where it’s impossible to meet even the tiniest expectation? In essence, you’re just set up for disappointment before the event has begun.

Scratch that thought, because our trip to Alaska completely exceeded all of my wildest dreams.

We’ve been back for a little over a week and it’s still hard to take it all in.

Alaska previously hadn’t been a bucket list destination for me, but last year one of my partners went and raved about the whole experience so much that I had to check it out.

I also enjoyed the thought of having an unplugged vacation with the kids, mostly free of lights/buzzers/gizmos.

Huge bonus: the chilly weather in Alaska also precludes bikini wearing, so bring on the buffet! (Kidding, sort of).

We started the trip with a weekend in Vancouver, a city I fell in love with last year.

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The weekend was a mini-vacation in itself: spouse took a tour on a float plane, the kids and I went to the Vancouver Aquarium, we saw the Olympic torch from the 2010 Games, and I ran in Stanley Park twice.

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Our boat as seen from Stanley Park

By the time Monday rolled around, we’d squeezed in a lot of fun and it was time to board the Disney Wonder.

This was the sixth Disney cruise for the kids and me and #5 for Spouse (he missed out on a quick trip the kids and I took with my sister last winter).

The Disney Wonder was new to us. We’ve been on the Dream and Fantasy before, but not this ship. I was nervous because the Wonder (along with the Magic) is one of the older, smaller ships. Unlike the Magic, though, it hasn’t undergone a major remodel, so I didn’t know what to expect.

We stayed in a one bedroom suite on the 8th deck. Here are a few shots of the room. It was really spacious:

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Trixie liked the fruit bowl that was waiting for us:

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Concierge service is also different on the Wonder than the newer ships. Specifically, there is no Concierge Lounge, which is usually our favorite hangout.

However, Glenn and Rodrigo – the two Concierges onboard – really went over the top to provide a Concierge experience. In the end, I think they out-did the newer ships, and that is saying a lot.

Here’s a summary of Concierge amenities on the Wonder:

  • A welcome reception where you meet the team, have a glass of bubbly and go over your personalized itinerary. We were able to book a wine tasting and a chocolate and liquor tasting for later in the trip during that event.
  • Snacks delivered to your cabin every afternoon. These varied from the above fruit bowl to small cupcakes, a cheese tray and chocolate covered strawberries.
  • Priority disembarkation. Being the first group off the ship helps beat the long lines at Customs on the last day.
  • A twice daily cocktail reception. Ok, I’ll be honest: this is my favorite perk of traveling Concierge. I was worried that without the Lounge, this wouldn’t happen. It still did; Glenn and Rodrigo’s team took over half of the Outlook Café every night and re-created the Lounge atmosphere.
  • Free fancy coffee drinks in the Outlook café. This was a new one to me. The Concierge Lounge on the new ships has a deluxe espresso machine that you can use any time, but you have to make your own coffee drink. Without that feature on the Wonder, you can get your coffee fix made by a barista, for free. This was actually even better than on the new ships, since you could order off a deep menu of things like Salted Caramel Hazelnut Mochas. I probably should have taken more advantage of this perk, but I didn’t think that a 600 calorie coffee drink was in my daily best interest.
  • Glenn and Rodrigo also came around every day, checking in on us. I really liked them. Glenn told us that this was his last cruise for two months, as he was leaving for vacation and to run the Disneyland Half-Marathon. I was jealous about the race! I hope we see them again on a future trip.

As for the trip itself, it was amazing! After setting sail the first day, the second day was at sea. The scenery was spectacular.

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During the third day, we slowly floated through Tracy Arm fjord, ultimately ending near Sawyer Glacier. Spouse and I had brunch at Palo that morning and were treated to views of iceberg chunks and jumping whales. (I also ate most of a gorgonzola and grape pizza, washed down with Prosecco. Just thinking about it now makes my mouth water…)

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The glacier:

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Trixie on our balcony, taking in the sights:

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The four of us took the Whitepass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway the following day, riding all the way to the summit. Spouse is a train nut and this was a long-standing item on his Wish List. Check! We followed up the four-hour trip with lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company.

The next day in Juneau, our first stop was whale watching. Hands down, this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We watched a group of five or six humpback whales bubble-net feed for nearly two hours. The whales swim in an underwater circle, blowing bubbles that force smaller fish (herring) to the surface.

Here is a National Geographic video of what this looks like (totally worth your time to watch this!):

The whales simultaneously jumped out of the water, over and over. I overuse the word “awesome” all the time, but this truly was something that left me awestruck. I could not believe this was happening in front of my eyes. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Whale tail

Our crew took us to lunch on an island and we feasted on freshly grilled salmon. MGM hunted for rocks when we were done:

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We also capped that day with a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier.

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Our last stop was Ketchikan. The guys went salmon fishing (double thumbs up from them) and the girls went bear watching.

Trixie and I saw about ten bears, including a mom/cub combo:

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The streams were packed with salmon. I felt like I could have grabbed one bare-handed. The mama bear above just caught lunch and has a fish dangling from her mouth.

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High density salmon

There were also a lot of “Frozen”-themed events on board, which Trixie loved. She met Anna and Elsa, plus Olaf.

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There was also a “Frozen” scavenger hunt around the ship that went on for three days. If you completed all the clues, you won a Rice Krispie treat decorated in a “Frozen” theme. Trixie and I had so much fun finding the clues, but it was disappointing in the end that she couldn’t enjoy the reward since Rice Krispies aren’t gluten-free (malt is the culprit in the regular version, although there are special GF Krispies out there).

One night even featured a “Freezing the Night Away” deck party. This was a stage show with all of the characters from “Frozen,” culminating in Elsa singing “Let It Go” (of course it ends with Elsa singing “Let It Go;” you knew it would) with fake snow falling on deck. MGM was having none of it and requested to be in the kids’ club that night. Trixie wore her Elsa dress and basically lost her mind.

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One other event worth mentioning: Trixie lost a tooth onboard. Fortunately the Tooth Fairy was able to scrounge up ten quarters in exchange for her tooth (the going rate around here), but there was much speculation about how she got to the ship (Flying? Her wings would get too cold? On another boat? But how? The final verdict was via helicopter).

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Two cute towel animals (why do I find these so hilarious?):

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My souvenir:

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A coffee mug, natch

Final thoughts: For so many reasons, I think was quite possibly our best vacation ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Alaska really outdid herself. I am so grateful that we were able to have this adventure.

Is Alaska on your bucket list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anchors Aweigh

Today we’re finally heading off to our family vacation, a Disney cruise to St. Maarten and St. Thomas for the next seven nights.

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This is the fourth year in a row that we’ve done this trip. I’ve written about it before, but I promised to post some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. Most important tip: Do not even consider going on this trip without children. The omnipresent shrieking and the inevitable meltdowns (adult and child) would make this experience a unique hell. Don’t do this to yourself unless you have kids of your own coming with you! Save your money and go somewhere relatively kid-free, like this place.
  2. Second most important tip, and this is what makes this trip tolerable: Go Concierge. Yes, these cabins are more costly. Yes, this is a luxury. But boy, are they worth it. On the two largest Disney boats – the Dream and the Fantasy – decks 11 and 12 hold the concierge cabins. The decor on this part of the ship is nicer than the rest of it. The halls are quiet since traffic is limited to only concierge guests. Plus:
  • You have access to the Concierge Lounge, which is stocked with desserts, snacks, cans of soda (fountain soda is free but cans otherwise come from room service and will cost you), a deluxe cappuccino/espresso maker, and – best of all – two gratis cocktail hours every day. Seriously, you can make up a lot of the expense right there. Tip: book the second dinner seating, and you’ll be able to hit both cocktail hours every day. Hour #1 begins about 5 PM, the time we’re usually starting to get washed/brushed/groomed for dinner. You can swing by the lounge for a cocktail or glass of wine to sip as you shower and get ready, and if you time it right, you can swing back for Hour #2, which starts at 7 PM before your dinner at 8 PM. Cost savings: $10 a drink x 2 drinks per adult per night x 2 adult drinkers x 7 nights = $280.
  • Concierge guests get to walk right on the ship. No waiting in line at the port. You have your own check-in area. That saves you about two hours right there.
  • You’ll be able to pre-book spa treatments for the busy at-sea days, adult dinners at specialty restaurants, and – if you have children less then 3 years old – the all-important Nursery Services (which are limited in space and must be reserved for the under-3 set) a month ahead of everyone else. With >3,000 people on board, the 2 PM massages on sea days go quickly. Get there first.
  • There’s a private sun deck. This is such an awesome perk. No more fighting for a deck chair that others have mysteriously “reserved” by placing towels down the night before. There are top-of-the-line lounge beds, free sunscreen, and misting machines to keep you cool. I want to live there.
  • Concierge cabins basically come in three flavors: regular rooms with a private terrace (no bigger than anywhere else on the ship but in a more desirable location), one bedroom suites, and luxury suites – the all-out “Walt Disney” suites that go for around $30k a week. Personally, I think that the best two cabins on the ship are 12004 and 12504. Both of these are the regular terrace rooms, but there’s something really special about them. The front five cabins on the ship – including two luxury Disney suites – can be purchased as a group and connected together. The decor is even nicer than the rest of the concierge rooms and they have a unifying nautical theme. If there’s a celebrity with a huge family or entourage on board, you can bet this is where they’ll be. Most of the time, however, the rooms aren’t booked en masse, and when the luxury suites are individually reserved, Disney will release the remaining rooms (including 12004 and 12504) for anyone else. We lucked into cabin 12004 on our first trip and loved peeking over our deck rails to see who was in the Disney suite (alas, no one glamourous). We asked for and got it again on our second trip, then last year we reserved it for Spouse’s parents who were traveling with us. This time and last, we decided to try a one-bedroom suite, which is super nice but honestly, I’m not sure the extra expense makes it that much better than a regular concierge cabin. Moral of the story: go concierge but stick to a regular room if you can get it.

3.  If you’re worried at all about being sea sick, bring scopolamine patches with you. While there is a small medical clinic on board, the hours are brief and they don’t stock the patches. You will be miserable if you need them and can’t get them. Play it safe and get a prescription before you leave home. If you don’t need them, toss them; they’re not that expensive. If you do need them, you’ve got gold.

4.  Consider staying on the boat if there’s nowhere you want to go in port. Some of the shore excursions are lame. Staying on board will guarantee lots of open space in the pool and no line at the waterslide.

5. Check out online boards ahead of time. Disboards is one example. People from your particular cruise will start to post a year and a half before embarking and virtually get to know each other before setting sail. This isn’t really my thing, but if you’re into it, then by all means make some friends in advance.

6. Discreetly give a cash tip – maybe $40 – to your server and your room attendant the first day. Especially since we have a daughter with a bad food allergy, we discovered that a cash tip on Night #1 is a great investment for above-and-beyond service the rest of the trip.

7. Get there the day before. Stressing about making the boat isn’t worth it. Stay at a Disney resort and they’ll pick you up and take you right to the port. It’s slick.

8. Liberally use the Kids’ Club. Ideally, I’d check MGM and Trixie into the Kids’ Club for at least 2 hours every day. Two delicious, quiet, nap-filled hours. 

Have fun. If you have kids, this trip is really a blast for them. Their happiness makes it all worthwhile. Our kids talk about the “Mickey Boat” all the time. Really, all the time. The experience is carefully curated, but when you’re five and six, it’s pure magic.

 

Healthy Eating On the High Seas

In a few months, we’re going on vacation. The same vacation we’ve taken four years in a row, a Disney cruise.

We’ve taken this trip over and over for the same reasons: our kids are still little enough to believe Mickey is a real friend to them and they genuinely delight in the organized, sanitized magic of it all, I’ve figured out many tricks to maintain my sanity among the masses (separate post about that in the future), and there is a kids’ club where they can be checked in to spend hours and hours a day, exhausting themselves in supervised Disney fun, while I relax in the spa and Spouse naps in the sun. Bliss.

Someday, we’ll do an adventurous trip to, say, Nepal, but that’s not happening right now. This crew? Forget it.

Cruises get bad raps for legitimate reasons. I get it. I really do. I would not want to aimlessly float for days at sea in a toilet-less incapacitated ship, for sure.

Food is almost always one of the things people complain about when they deride cruising.

To quote Woody Allen in “Annie Hall:”

There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Except that on cruises, the portions are ginormous. Quality can still be meh, as this is food prepared for the masses, not by a private chef. But one thing’s for sure: there are opportunities to eat 24/7.

So how do you stay healthy and avoid weight gain on a vacation like this?

My friend A., a dietitian, coach and my fitness inspiration, just came back from a cruise, and I asked her how she stayed slim and sane. Her tips:

• Pack a healthy mindset.
• Be active: take the stairs, use the track on the sun deck, rock climb, golf, play basketball.
• Go to the spa and relax. Enjoy some lemon or cucumber infused water.
• My top pick…Use side salad plates rather than the buffet platter. Be sensible with your portions. Don’t put yourself into a food coma.
• Don’t order room service for breakfast before you go to the dining room for breakfast [Sidenote from me: This is a thing? I didn’t realize people even could or would do this. Wow].
• Always choose the salad option as a starter. Order your dressing on the side.
• Cruise lines pride themselves in service so ASK how things are prepared and if you can get a substitution for a healthier option.
• Ask your waiter not to bring bread before dinner…that’s a meal in itself.
• Order double vegetables.
• Seafood is usually a healthy option but make sure it’s not swimming in butter or cream sauce
• Bring healthy foods with you like raw nuts, protein bars, Shakeology (protein drink)
• Avoid the umbrella drinks. A 7oz pina colada has 500 calories and 17 g fat. Opt for vodka with a splash of juice or a Corona light for 110 calories.
• Be mindful. Stay in the moment. Practice conscious eating.
Did I mention you should pack a healthy mindset?

Thank you, A!

I really appreciate this advice. Some of the things I do:

  • Run on the deck. Every day. It’s fun and challenging, as one side usually has a terrific headwind and the other a tailwind. Go as early in the morning as possible to avoid languid shuffle boarders.
  • Take the stairs. Elevator lines are often long when everyone is trying to get to the same place, like a show or dinner. Take the stairs! You could easily tally 20 or 30 flights a day if you just walk up and down.
  • Eat things that are special or unique, and try to avoid things that are easily available at home (unless you are hungry for it and it is a healthy choice, like fresh fruit). Last year I signed up for a chocolate and wine tasting, and this was worth it!
  • Stop eating things that don’t taste good. Last year I found myself eating stale tortilla chips and lame salsa at a late-night buffet, and I thought, ick, this is gross. I tossed it. I felt a tiny bit of guilt for the waste, but it wasn’t worth the calories to keep eating. Just walk away.
  • Better moral of the above story would be to avoid the late-night buffet altogether and eat only at regular mealtimes.
  • But don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry. A frequent pattern for us is that I will wake up the earliest, before everyone else (a curse of doctor-dom, waking at the crack of dawn after so many years of practice), and quietly head out to run on the deck for an hour or so. By the time I get back, the rest of the crew is waking up, and then it still takes a bit of time to get everyone presentable enough to show up for breakfast. This usually puts us in the position of eating much, much later than usual, and when lunchtime rolls around shortly thereafter, I’m usually not into it. I might have a snack later in the afternoon so that I’m not famished at dinner, but if I’m not hungry for lunch, I don’t force it.
  • Stay hydrated. With water. Bring your own water bottle and use it.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol during the day. Just because it’s five o’clock somewhere doesn’t mean it’s cocktail hour on the boat.

P.S. Here’s some more sensible advice for cruising here and here.