Lessons from the Cruise Ship

It’s never too late to learn new things about yourself. For example, last week I learned that I am not a big fan of large-scale cruise ships.

For fall break, my parents and I embarked with my children on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas: six intrepid explorers, ready for adventure on the high seas. My only agenda was to unplug, rest, and relax.

I accomplished the first of my goals. The other two? Well…

Now, look – I am not a stranger to traveling with children. I fully embrace the theory that expeditions with children tend to be “trips” rather than “vacations,” but I was sure that this voyage would be different. Our cruise line had ties to the happiest place on earth (you know, the one with the iconic, super-friendly mouse?) and promised to be a children’s paradise. With a dizzying array of fun scheduled activities, the kids would be busy all day, leaving the grown-ups to sip fruity drinks on the adults-only pool deck. Perhaps I would even schedule a massage at the ship’s spa. They’re ridiculously overpriced, of course, but we’re on vacation! Let’s enjoy!

But here’s the thing about my kids. They love their family far more than any organized activity, no matter how magical. When given the choice between hanging at the pool with their grandparents or being dropped off at a “kids club,” there was no hesitation.

Thus, we were together all day, every day. It was exhausting. And it was pretty great.

Although I didn’t enjoy many aspects of the cruise experience – the pitch of the boat, the throngs of people, the constant barrage of ‘upsell’ opportunities to spend even more money – my kids found many things to love. They were enamored of the glass elevators and the sparkly chandelier in the ship’s atrium. They delighted in the nightly discovery that the housekeepers had created elaborate “towel animals” and sprinkled the beds with chocolates.

They squealed with joy during the Broadway-style theatrical productions that featured their favorite characters, well-known songs, and confetti raining from the ceiling onto the audience. They fell madly in love with our waiter, who rotated with us from restaurant to restaurant each night, teaching the kids magic tricks, remembering their favorite drinks, and greeting my youngest daughter with a gallant “good evening, little princess!” She cried for twenty minutes straight after our final meal together.

This trip had been planned for several years. We don’t do big vacations every year. In fact, we had never undertaken a true vacation before. Our summer trips are always to visit family, which is tons of fun but a very different experience. My children have rarely stayed in hotels and hadn’t set foot on an airplane since infancy.

I picked this year for a big vacation because my kids are old enough to remember the experiences and young enough to embrace the wonder of meeting fairytale creatures and learning cheesy magic tricks at dinner. I can already tell that they walked away from the cruise with beautiful memories, and for that I am deeply grateful. Engineering those beautiful memories was a lot of work, however.

Between the hours spent waiting in line for the water slides, dozens of trips to the self-serve ice cream bar, repeated applications of sunscreen, and frequent refereeing of inter-sibling warfare, there wasn’t a lot of rest or relaxation. I did, however, manage to “unplug” while on-board and will reflect more on that (fantastic) aspect of the trip another time.

My takeaway from the week is that we learned a valuable, if expensive, lesson about family vacations. Cruise ships – even really nice ones – just aren’t really my style. On the other hand, we all love fun in the sun and spending time together. Next time, we’ll rent a condo on the beach and call it a day.

Maybe in a few years, when I’ve recovered from this vacation!

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