We have travelled a fair bit as a family and yet we have always avoided cruising. Why? Well, I always thought it was a lot of work booking the cruise, then the flight and then figuring out all the logistics. I also thought it was too expensive. My husband has always been reluctant to cruise because of rumours we heard from friends. We heard that you wait for everything because of the number of people. We heard that the rooms are way too small and they make you feel claustrophobic. We wondered out loud if we would all get seasick. I wasn’t sure. I have a finicky stomach and I worried a bit that I would be unwell on a boat. We heard that a friend of a friend got food poisoning and of course who could ignore all the negative media about cruise travel when a cruise ship encounters some weather event or a drunken captain or….well, you have all read the headlines. .
Then of course there are the two kids. We travel with kids and family travel is very specific. You hope there will be enough activities for children to enjoy and you also hope, as parents, that there are some moments where your kids might indulge in a kid’s club and give you a rare night free. You search for properties and opportunities with active sports activities to keep them moving and you also kind of hope the food is not so fussy that the restaurant at the resort or cruise ship doesn’t make them melt down entirely. You have a check list of hopes and needs when you are shopping for your travel investment. It’s a bit like looking for a house. If you are lucky you get one or two big trips a year so they better count.
Our kids are great travellers. Thankfully we have raised them to be curious and to embrace travel as a way of life. One is fairly social and fairly neuro-typical but for anxiety disorder. One has some special needs that are mostly invisible. In the past whenever I brought up the topic of cruising, my husband would say: “No way, I’d be afraid Ainsley would jump over the rail.” For those of you who know our daughter well, you might laugh, but also realize that’s not an idle concern. She is impulsive in the extreme. Ainsley has sensory processing disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and I write about that often here. She sometimes has difficulty with emotional regulation and impulse control. In his mind’s eye, Jim always saw her somehow managing to dive off the boat and us having to rescue her or something. It’s hard to relax on a trip, he assumed, if you are worried your impulsive little creature will jump ship.
We have traditionally done resorts with the kids and we love that too. Mexico has been a popular destination and Jamaica too. But this year for Christmas I gave us all a big present of time together. I booked a cruise because I felt like we needed a really relaxing and epic week disconnecting from everything work and real life related and connecting with each other. Then I surprised them and told Jim, Payton and Ainsley the dates we would be away. I asked my husband to book the time off and, in true awesome Jim form, he did and never asked why until I told him we would be taking a week long cruise leaving Tampa. It was time to make the leap to cruise travel.
There were a few misgivings before we left. Ainsley is like that sometimes. Both girls get anxious. Payton needs to know that I am nearby to calm her down in an airport. She gets nervous in airports (so we don’t avoid them, but we rehearse our strategies. The kids need to be able to see one of us at all times) Ainsley gets apprehensive and so she asked over and over before we left: “Are you sure about this?” New things are tricky for her. But happily this one was a massive hit. Happily, after returning from our first cruise I am singing nothing but the praises of cruising. We loved every moment of it and parts of the trip were magical.
The trip started two days after Christmas. We flew to Tampa a day early because I was worried about weather. Oddly nothing weather wise hit at all until we were back in Canada on the highway at the end of the long day travelling back home. Saddest day of any trip. Our luggage got lost and the airline we travelled with lost pretty much everyone’s luggage that was on the flight that night. But the next day, before the cruise, it showed up at the motel we stayed in. We had only one night sleeping in our clothing and we made the best of it.
For the most part I gave up social media for a week. I left work in my office and locked the doors. The timing was good for that because I just wrapped up several big contracts at year’s end. I tweeted madly about the luggage being lost the night we were in Tampa and I checked instagram the night we got there. I posted two picture updates on Facebook the entire time I was away. Then I took the phone out only to take pictures. My travel package, which I bought for emergencies, never worked. And that was refreshingly awesome. We took the week to connect instead as a family and opened our hearts to new experiences. Was it perfect? Of course not. Were the arguments? Hell yes. Families argue even when they are on vacation. But it was all tiny minor stuff.
But cruising is different, very different and I had no idea. Truly, I had no clue how much we would love this type of travel. I have told about six of our close friends and their families that they have to try a cruise. Each time they have asked what was so special about it. Here’s what I have told them. The service is exceptional. Incomparable. The closest I can compare the experience to is staying at a Disney resort. That’s how well taken care of you are. The staff ratio to tourist ratio was something like 1 to 3. It was outrageous how much I loved having my room cleaned twice daily and towel animals and turn down service and chocolates on my pillow. LOVED it. Dining service was the same. Top notch. The activities were incredible and there was always something to do. The food was amazing and always fresh and served with class. The excursions were beyond memorable and the ports are a perfect chance to sample some venues you might never get to otherwise. Maybe you will return and maybe not. No pressure. Just a quick visit. Even shitty wifi made me happy. Why? Because then I had to really commit to being unplugged and it helped me to rejuvenate and refresh.
We never knew what we were missing. Now that we do we will return to sail the seas and explore more cruise destinations. It’s more than worth the effort, money and time. But I need to get moving if I am to catch up to the couple we met in the line getting onto the ship. They had taken 28 cruises. So if I cruise twice a year for the next 12 years….