Carnival Paradise Cruise


This past week we took a 5 day cruise out of Tampa, FL with our family of four. My husband Ben, myself and our two kids Caleb (11) and Naomi (9) and our stops were at Grand Cayman and Cozumel. If you’re here, most likely you have never been on a cruise before, you’ve never done a cruise through Carnival, maybe you’ve never been on their ship “Paradise”, or you just want to compare notes. I’m here to share with you our experience on the Paradise ship. I should start by saying that I did very little research and let our travel agent do all the work leading up to our trip. She was great at getting us info but there are always things that you just don’t know until you experience it. Please feel free to leave a comment below to let me know if you have more to add or possibly questions. Let’s get started.


  1. BEFORE THE TRIP: Within the week or your trip or before you will receive an email asking you to “Check In” to your cruise. This will give you all sorts of information such as a check in time to load the ship, information on parking, packing list, etc. I strongly suggest downloading the Carnival HUB app before the trip. There isn’t much you can do with it before your cruise but we used it a lot during. Keep in mind, when on the ship you’ll need to keep the hub open at all times on your devices for the app to work. I’ll explain more on this below.
    1. PARKING: We drove down to Tampa from Michigan so we had our vehicle. We were able to get parking near the port for the 5 days for $75. If you stay at a hotel near the port, sometimes they’ll let you park your vehicle there for a small fee and shuttle over. Of course if you’re flying you could do a shuttle or Uber as well.
    2. LUGGAGE: We brought our luggage with us and as we entered, there were gentlemen ready to grab our bags for us to get it to the port (These individuals expect a tip so be ready to have anywhere from $3-5 to give them. You’re able to bring your stuff yourself but they are pretty aggressive and will just take you bags. To be honest I didn’t care because I had a rather big bag so I was happy to have this service. We also had carry on bags. When you check in to your cruise online the week before they will have luggage tags for you to print.  We opted for plastic bag tags to put these in so there wasn’t a risk of then getting torn off. It also came with two lanyard to use for our “Sail and Sign Cards” which are used the whole time you’re on the ship.
    3. CARRY ONS: Something we wish we knew;
      • Each kid/adult was allowed to bring a 12 pack of pop on board but they have to carry it on.
      • Another tip, if you bring a bottle of wine (Paradise allows you one bottle per 21+ adult) You need this in your carry on luggage not in your checked bag.
    4. LUNCH: Our loading time on the ship was 12:30pm-1:30pm so we were able to get some lunch on the Lido deck when we first arrived (Floor 10) at 1:30 we were able to get into our rooms and receive our sail and sign cards.
    5. STEWARDS: When you arrive to your room your steward will touch base with you on how often you want them to check your room. This includes emptying your trash, makings your beds, freshening your towels and making those adorable towel animals on your bed. We signed up for one time and picked a later time in the morning so we could sleep in. If you want they can come in the morning and night but we didn’t think that was necessary. Their pay also comes out of gratuity. I’ll explain more of that later but if you give them extra tips you might end up with some extra surprises in your room after they clean.IMG_2923
      • WHAT IS IT?: These will have all the information about you on them. When you check into Carnival with your documents, they will take your photograph and this will show up to Carnival employees every time your card is swiped (Which is nice because then no one else can use your cards). Something we purchased that you’ll see most people wearing are these lanyards to connect your card to. This just assures you don’t loose it and it’s just nice to have.
      • ACCOUNTS: We were able to pre-check our kids into their Kid and Teen rooms so they could come and go as they please. Best decision we made. It’s also nice because parents will have their HUB app which will tell them if their kids checked in or out and where they are headed.
      • MUSTER STATION: Your cards will have your safety muster station on it. Before the ship takes off they will have you attend a safety briefing. They scan all sail and sign cards to make sure you are there. All kids 12 and under will then receive a bracelet to keep on the entire time with this station as well. This is to ensure their safety and to bring them to you in the event of an emergency.

DINNER: Your card will also tell you which fine dinning room you are assigned to. You do not have to attend but one of the nights you are on board will be a formal night. This is the dinning room you will attend. Whether you go or not your gratuities are charged for attending. I’ll explain more of this later.Untitled-1

      • PORT EXCURSIONS: Something I wish I knew ahead of time is that your card is what gets you on and off the ship. Kids are not allow to scan cards without a parent’s card swiped first, You do not need to carry passports and birth certificates because all that information is identified with your card and photo ID that comes up when it is scanned.

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  1. THE CARNIVAL HUB APP: This app was a life saver of staying in touch and knowing what was going on. We simply set our phones on airplane mode and connected to the ship’s server. Here is a breakdown of it’s features.
    1. CHAT FEATURE: This was a no brainer for us. We weren’t purchasing WIFI on the ship because the idea is to get away from it all right? For $5 per device for the whole week we were able to turn this on once we boarded the ship. This allowed us to communicate with our entire party.
    2. WHAT’S HAPPENING: The entire schedule of events is in this tab and allow you to “favorite” the activities you want to go to. not only were you able to see your favorites but it also would show the people in your group and what they “favored” So you knew if more than one of you wanted to go.Screen Shot 2020-01-12 at 11.09.08 PM
    3. KIDS & TEENS: This is a separate tab of events going on in which ever group kids were in. It would tell you what area they were in as well as if they are doing games etc. There were a couple actives that would show up with a $ next to it which meant that it cost money but we didn’t partake in those.Untitled-1 copy.jpg
    4. SHIP MAPS: This was very helpful, It was nice to see where things were happening and know which floor they were on.
    5. ACCOUNT SUMMARY: This was a very nice feature. While on the ship there are additional expenses that may come up such as gratuities, casino, beverages (if you don’t buy the bubbles or cheers packages), if you visit the stores etc. One thing we were not aware of is that you don’t have to pay gratuities for things you don’t attend. For instance, we didn’t attend our fine dinning every night and our kids only attended once, we were able to visit guest services on the ship and be refunded those charges. These all showed up in the summary. We also decided to tip most things in cash instead of on the card so we were able to tell them to take those charges off and we would like to pay with cash. There were no questions asked and they were removed.
  2. PACKING: I would love to share with you the items I did pack as well as items I added on if we go again. Completely optional but I will definitely use this list.
      • Luggage tags and sleeves for suitcases
      • Passports and birth certificates (We only needed these at check in and then used our sail and sign cards for excursions).
      • Cash (for tips and gratuities) excursions etc.
      • Sunglasses
      • Hat
      • Snorkel Kit (For cheap beach options on excursions)
      • Chair and towel clips
      • Hangers if you want to hang more than your room provides
      • Night light plug (Rooms can be very dark so it was nice having one)
      • Power strip (We had many devices to plug in at night but we also found that our room had quite a few USB plugs.
      • Water Bottle: You get plastic water bottles if you get the cheers or bubbles package but we didn’t get either so having a water bottle to fill with tap water at the buffet was nice.
      • Reusable Straw: If you do get beverages they now use turtle friends straws in everything so having your own that you can wash in your room is a bonus.
      • Coffee Mug: If you like to keep your coffee hot and walk around with it then this is a nice option. The downside is that you can leave your dishes anywhere one the ship and it will be taken care of so it’s up to you.
      • Sunscreen
      • Bathroom spray (They don’t have fans in the bathrooms)
      • Bandaids or over the counter meds such as dramamine (Non Drowsy) Ibuprofen, Tylenol etc. We had a very rocky first day so prescription bonine would have been nice. Friends of ours use the behind the ear patches but they were all experiencing blurred vision and very dried mouth from it.
      • Pump hand soap
      • Beach Towels
      • Hair Dryer
      • Shampoo and soap in your showers
      • Kleenex
      • Some items for room service morning and night. Salads, Cookies and some cakes, Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, toast, bagels etc.
      • Two glasses in your room (Bottles of water but they are $3 each if you use them)
      • buffets (My favorite was Guy Feri’s Hamburgers), unlimited Ice cream and frozen yogurt, Coffee, Hot Cocoa, Tea, lemonade and juice/milk in the morning.
  4. EXTRAS:
      • PIXELS: They constantly want to take your photo. If you’re with a character or prop they will not let you use your own camera or phone (You can see below I snuck a photo) but there are many places you can take your own pictures. Packages start at $21.99 for photos.IMG_2988
      • CHEERS/BUBBLES BEVERAGES: These are in addition. If you drink a lot of either of these then the pre purchase plan is the way to go but we don’t drink a lot of pop and we didn’t want our kids to so if we wanted any we just purchased as we went and it was added to our final bill.
      • ENTERTAINMENT: Most entertainment is free on the ship but the following cost extra. Bingo (Anywhere between $20-$40 a game), Casino, Excursions etc.
      • LATE NIGHT CARE: During the day most kid activities are open and are included with your ship costs but if you have small little children or want your kids to hang out late in these areas (Like past 10pm) they offer these for an additional fee. We did not do this so I don’t know the cost.

I Hope this helps you plan for a cruise or just give you an idea or what it’s like. I am not a pro by any means but like I said, I wanted to share the things I wish I knew. Please comment below if you think I missed anything or if you have questions.




10 Tips for Family Photos

Ok so I know I’m a photographer but family photos are the most stressful for me. I think it’s probably good to do it once a year so I can at least put myself in your shoes and know what you’re going through. From coordinating outfits, picking the best spot to have them taken and then getting everyone “clean” and ready. Then there is me, mom who needs to look presentable except I’m probably the least of what I “think” I need to look like because of the lack of time left. Am I the only one out there or are there others that feel like me? Well I have decided that it is time to list out 10 things to help make things a little bit easier for you during this stressful time. I mean we gotta do it right? It’s a must, a memory of us in time.

What will we wear


I know. It used to be a thing – everyone would wear the exact same outfit: think jeans and a white t-shirt. 2008, we even did it. I think this was the point in time that we all thought this was what we wanted. And while I wouldn’t change those captured memories, we have all moved on and learned to be more stylish. Choose a color scheme – mix and match colors so that everyone flows and coordinates.


Photo Credit Thompson Studios


When I don’t know what colors I want to choose for a photo shoot, I choose one piece and build around it. For this shoot below, Christy is wearing a vibrant yellow top which coordinates very well with blue (and makes her brown eyes pop!) If you’re unsure of what colors to put together feel free to Check out my pinterest board here! Think layers (if the season allows it) lots of textures make for a vibrant photo. Be careful though, you don’t want to take away from those in your photo with you. (You wouldn’t want some huge scarf that covers your entire neck and face!)



The more time you allow yourself to decide what you would like everyone to wear, the more calm you will feel. Waiting until two nights before your shoot is bound to make you feel panicked. What if something you choose doesn’t fit, you can’t find the right shoes or your five year old refuses your chosen outfit? Just give yourself time. Additionally: options never hurt.



Are you going to be on the beach? Surrounded by beautiful foliage? Sometimes you can choose what you are wearing to accent the locale. Fall colors – deep reds, oranges and greens look lovely this time of year, while a softer palette accents the lake side.   (suggested locations)



Since you ultimately want your pictures to be up all year long, you’ll likely want to avoid being too seasonal, so you may want to skip Santa hats, reindeer ears or Halloween costumes – even if you are taking specific holiday pictures.



Matching your clothing to your home decor? I know it may sound silly, but this is more about matching your personal style. As you will likely want your pictures to be on display for a very long time, consider if you are normally drawn to bold colors or neutral ones. This will allow your photographs to blend seamlessly with your home permanently.


Give your kids a look that says who they are. While I may want to put my daughter in some cute jeans she would rather be in a “fancy” dress any day. It’s about compromise and to show who ya’ll are in this point in time.


Photo Credit the amazing self timer


That favorite sweater or scarf or yours? You know the really loud one with the stripes AND dots?  A little bit of texture or patterning can be a good thing in one place, but if there are multiple patterns in a photo, it can be distracting. Take for instance this photo above. There are subtle patterns. Any more and it would be too busy.


I know your sweet girl loves her Frozen Dress and crown, but as this is a more formal photo and one you want to put on display, it is best to keep characters out of the picture. If this might be a fight, you can always bring the crown and much like my family ALWAYS does at least one crazy/silly/funny face photo, make the Princess photo one of the last ones you do.




Fashions and styles come and go. You want your family photos to be timeless, so it is best to aim for a look you’re willing to stick with, not one that instantly dates you. Just as we can easily point to wedding photos from the 80’s, noting the hairstyles, the goofy sleeves and lace, your goal is to have this year’s photographs blend right in.

I hope this helps, and have fun!

Cover Image of my family courtesy of Dany C Photography.

Orchard- Family Sessions

The first dessert I ever made from scratch was an apple pie (Next Best Recipe). I was so proud of it. The crust was flaky, the filling sweet, caramelized to perfection. If you asked me to make it again I don’t think it would be possible as I made it in Home Economics back in 2002. Nowadays When making an apple dessert I like to use Fuji apples but I love to eat Michigan Macintosh because you can sink your teeth right into it. This past weekend I had the pleasure of photographing 4 sweet, perfectly lovely families at a local Orchard in Standale, MI. Motmans Orchard is one of many orchards in west Michigan and was the perfect spot this weekend. Below are a few of the photos I had captured. Enjoy!

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Dykehouse Family

You guys, these are dear friends of ours Chad, Caitlyn and their daughter Lillian. I’m am so honored to shoot their family now that they are in Michigan. For the last couple years they have gone back and forth from living in Japan to the US. If I could have any say in it I would never let them go back. Now they are here I get to see them a lot more.  Also, Lillian and I are the best friends and I absolutely love her so they can’t separate us right? You should check out Caitlyn’s blog. lilliandykehouse1lilliandykehouse18lilliandykehouse14

See more from this session at

Check out Caitlyn’s blog at

It’s Fabulous!