Castaway Cay

I spent half my teaching salary on a family vacation and it was worth every penny!

Video of the Best. Vacation. Ever!

I would never recommend that someone carelessly spend money they don’t have on a family vacation. For the first time in my life, I was in a position where I could actually do something like this.

As a stay-at-home mom, my husband and I participated in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. We were able to get ourselves to the place where we had paid off all debt except our mortgage, and we already had a little over three months’ worth of savings in case of an emergency. When I decided to go back to work, we were in great financial shape. It had taken an insane amount of sacrifice to get to the spot we were in, so I proposed that we use my first year teaching salary to go on a luxury vacation for our family. One where I didn’t have to cook or clean, and we would feel spoiled!

It was the Best. Decision. Ever!

We planned the most magnificent vacation of all time, and, for the first time in my life, I did not feel guilty about spending the money to do something extravagant for my family. This vacation was in celebration of my college graduation and my 15th anniversary of being married to the most incredible man in the world! We also threw in birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Groundhog Day, and just about every other holiday we could think of because this was going to be the vacation of a lifetime. And it was!

Orlando: Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort- The pool was a family favorite.

We began our vacation in Orlando and stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. It was perfect for our family. It had a retro theme, a bowling alley, a fun food court with old commercials playing, and fantastic pools. There were water slides and a lazy river, which is my children’s perfect place. The kids took videos on the waterslides and floated in the lazy river while Loren and I laid by the pool and read. Loren was learning about Mayan culture since we planned to visit some ruins in Cozumel. I was reading Sean Lowe’s book, For the Right Reasons. Don’t judge me; it’s my vacation! (The Bachelor has always been a guilty pleasure of mine and Sean Lowe is my favorite bachelor). The hotel also had a Starbucks, which was terrific because I had over $60 worth of Starbucks gift cards from my students. #teacherperks. We were able to get two breakfasts out of them. Thank you, second graders, for providing coffee on the best family vacation ever!

Universal Studios VIP Tour Experience- a family vacation first

The next day we did the Universal Studios VIP Tour Experience! The tour was an incredible experience. With only twelve people in our group, our guide tailored the activities to our interests. Our tour guide, Kory, was knowledgable and would tell us interesting, fun facts and history about everything. He planned the day around things he thought we would like. We never waited in a line because he would walk us around all of these secret places to go right to the front to get immediately on. We spent a considerable amount of time doing Harry Potter stuff, which was perfect. The whole time we were wondering if this is how the rich and famous live!

Our VIP package included meals and snacks. So that, of course, meant that we had to get some butterbeer from the Leaky Cauldron. My boys wore Harry Potter robes and carried wands that we purchased in Diagon Alley before the tour. We are thankful for some friends who gave us money and told us to do something for the kids we wouldn’t normally do—buying robes and wands from the stores in Diagon Alley certainly meets that criteria. Because we stayed at a Universal property, we were able to go into the park an hour before it opened, so crowds were not an issue. Shopping at Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions and Ollivanders Wand Shop was an experience. I felt like I genuinely had Hogwarts students that I was getting ready to send off to school. Our fantastic guide held them for the kids on every ride. It’s like bringing your mom with you. It was amazing!!!

We already felt like we had had the best. family. vacation. ever! We went back to our hotel and had a lovely evening together, talking about how perfect the day had been.

Disney Cruise- Western Caribbean

After a perfect day at Universal Studios, we headed to Port Canaveral to embark on our Disney Cruise. All I can say about this is WOW! They announced our family as we stepped onto the ship, and it was like walking into a fantasy world, which makes sense because the ship was called the Disney Fantasy. Everything was clean, beautiful, and glamourous. I loved that even though it was Disney, it was very classy and not just for kids. We hung our fish extender on our door and went to explore the ship. (A fish extender is something you hang on your door to join in a gift exchange with other people on the cruise. We joined a group about six months before our sailing and prepared our gifts to bring. I made aprons with the ship logo for the women, a multi-tool for the men, collapsable buckets, journals, and other fun things for the kids. What we received in return was unbelievable.)

Every night we ordered a carafe of coffee from room service, and it was still warm in the morning. Loren and I would sit on the veranda and drink it together before the boys woke up. I highly recommend doing this if you are traveling with kids or a non-morning person who might not appreciate an early knock at the door.

Cozumel, Mexico

We woke up in Cozumel, ready for a fun-filled day. Loren had picked out our excursion through the cruise. We met up with our group and hopped on the bus to head out for the day. First, we went to tour Mayan Ruins. The kids remember this as the part where we put them through torture for several hours while they had to learn things in the vexing heat. But Loren remembers it as the best part of our vacation. At the ruins, there was a man with several Macaw birds. The colorful birds provided some entertainment and helped the boys to stick it out.

We followed that up with an impressive chocolate-making demonstration. It was made from cocoa beans and we sweetened it ourselves. We finished off our day by playing at Playa Mia. We didn’t think to bring water shoes, so the boys spent more time in the pools than they did in the ocean. They had so much fun that they almost forgot about the previous torture at the ruins. Almost!

Grand Cayman

It was rather disappointing to wake up and find that it was raining in Grand Cayman, but it did not put a damper on our day. (Get it DAMPer?!) I can not wait to go back someday. Seven Mile Beach was the most beautiful setting I have ever seen. When I think of “tropical paradise,” this is what I pictured in my mind. I can imagine what it would be like if it were a clear day. Even in the rain, the water was the temperature of bathwater, and it was still crystal blue. We took a taxi to the beach and spent the day there. In Cozumel we learned that water shoes were helpful, so we came prepared, and the kids didn’t have a single complaint. It was a lovely day.

Falmouth, Jamaica

Everyone who went on an excursion here absolutely loved it! Unfortunately, we didn’t book a trip on this day, so we decided to stick close to the ship. The Falmouth Port has a gated area to ensure tourist safety, but it also has fun restaurants and shops. We decided to go to Margaritaville, where the kids could swim, and we were able to grab a drink. They also had free wifi, so we sent out some text messages to update our family about our trip. We intentionally choose to go places without cell service to force us to unplug and have family time, but our family likes the updates as well.

Castaway Cay, Bahamas

Disney’s island, Castaway Cay, was a big highlight for us. We started by running the Castaway 5k. Our youngest wasn’t old enough to join the race, but they let him do it without the bib. He ran the whole thing like a rock star. I walked part of it because the humidity sucked my energy (yep, I’m blaming the moisture and not the fact that I hate to run), so I surrendered my metal to him. I was so proud. We then rented bikes and rode around the island. We also rented snorkeling equipment and floatation devices to play on the beach for the rest of the day. There were hidden treasures and sea life that could be discovered under the water (like Mickey Mouse or a shipwreck). It was beautiful. Food was included on the island so we could fill up on soda and soft-serve ice cream to our heart’s content. In traditional Disney fashion, there were character visits and entertainment all around. It was an excellent time for all.

Florida Family Vacation- Kennedy Space Station

When we returned to Florida, we spent the day at Kennedy Space Station. It was much more interesting than any of us expected, especially after we had just had so many great experiences. The rockets and rovers made us imagine what it would be like to live on Mars, and nothing had prepared us for the speed of the slide. We were hoping to see a launch, but they postponed it due to weather.

A bonus came to us when we realized that fifth-graders go for free. I discovered this in my research before our trip and was able to bring both of the boys’ report cards as evidence. One was entering fifth grade, and the other had finished it. It saved us a pretty penny.

Not that it mattered anyway, since I was already pretending to be wealthy with my extravagant vacation.

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Cocoa Beach, Florida, was the last stop on our trip. The original plan had us leaving the day our cruise returned to port, but I realized a couple of weeks before our trip that I had booked our flight home on a wrong day. So glad I did because it was so much fun that we want to go back. We loved the ocean in Cocoa beach. It was shallow for a long way, and the kids played in the warm water for hours. They didn’t want to leave!

The view from our hotel room in Cocoa Beach, Florida

Lesson Learned on our Family Vacation

The thing that made this trip so special is that we were together for two whole weeks. For the first time as a family, we were able to focus on each other with no distractions. This experience bonded us as a family in a new way and helped me see what a necessity this time away is for our relational health. While I won’t be able to continue to spend half my salary, I will make it a priority to put money aside for actual family time. I also think I can bond better with my family while lying on a beach near some crystal blue water, but we’ll have to test that theory out.

Our Mimeo Photo Book

This part has an affiliate link. I will earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the link. This is my true recommendation. I became a Mimeo affiliate because this is literally my favorite souvenir from every vacation we have been on!

My Mimeo Photo Books are my favorite

When we get back from a vacation, we put together our Mimeo photo book first thing. I mean, even before laundry or unpacking. We do it right away so that our trip is fresh in our minds. I look forward to getting our book every single year! If our house was on fire, these are the first things I would grab… after making sure my family and dog were safe, of course. I’m not a monster! These books also make beautiful gifts for grandparents. Mimeo makes it easy for us because we use everything Apple in our house. Mimeo works perfectly with our Mac to make creating the book a breeze. I highly recommend saving your memories with Mimeo!

If you are planning a Disney Cruise, read about 16 essential items that you will want to bring on your Disney Cruise. <<click here to read it>>


  1. Jeanette Pankratz Reply

    That sounds like the best vacation ever!! I would love to do something like that with it family some day.

  2. Pingback: 16 Disney Cruise Essentials | Messy Joyful Journey

  3. Oh, you really are my child! The year I went back to work, I did exactly the same thing, only I took Larry on a three-week trip to Hawaii–his dream vacation. We planned (and saved) for a year ahead of time. He still considers this our best vacation ever. We have been back many times since, but this one was the best: 13 hotels, 5 islands, 8 flights, and visits to places that aren’t there any more. I have NEVER regretted doing this! The first line from our book “The Memory Keeper” is: In the end, only memories remain. It is one of my favorite lines because “things” wear out and go away, but memories remain as long as we have breath. So glad you wrote this down so your boys will have this recorded forever. Love you, Bear!
    Auntie Lorna

    • I never knew that you did that. I always knew that you guys were great travelers. This trip got me hooked! It was an incredible time for us as a family.

  4. Pingback: Easy last-minute party for teens | Messy Joyful Journey

  5. Pingback: Family Costume Ideas For Halloween Fun | Messy Joyful Journey

  6. Pingback: How To Say No, So You Can Say Yes | Messy Joyful Journey

  7. Pingback: Best Sentimental Gift ideas | Messy Joyful Journey

  8. Oh WOW!!!! This is such an inspiring post! I absolutely love sharing the world with my children. We are planning our next big vacation for next Summer….and this may just be a contender!! Thanks for sharing 🙂 I love your site!

  9. Pingback: Grand Tetons Family Vacation 2020 Style | Messy Joyful Journey

  10. Mom Grandma Karen Reply

    Your blog is quite impressive. Your suggestions are so creative. I loved seeing all the photos and watching the 15 minute video of your most splendid family vacation…it makes me wish I were a kid again.

Write A Comment