Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Truly Enjoy a Family Cruise

This might not be of general interest, but I thought I'd just wrap up a few observations from our trip last week before moving on to the kind of posts that document the startling glamour of our daily life at home.

Brief Recap: We spent a week aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas as a family group that included myself, my husband, our three children (ages 11, 8 and 6) and my 60-year-old, recently widowed mother. We departed from Galveston and spent the week cruising the Western Caribbean -- first-time cruisers, all six of us.

It's true what they say: Cruising is a pretty handy way to travel en famille, especially with multiple generations involved. Are all the bells and whistles necessary ingredients for a great vacation? Of course not. But for a special trip once in a while that can satisfy a range of activity levels and desires for together time, it definitely works.

(And here I have to give a grateful hat tip to one of my oldest friends, Erica Silverstein, who actually earns a living as a senior editor for Cruise Critic. We met as shy and overwhelmed freshmen on our first day of high school, have reunited via Facebook, and once again she held my hand, virtually this time, sharing invaluable advice as I planned and packed for this trip. Also, thanks to my friend Stefani and her mom, both patient recipients of my neurotic questions.)

It occurred to me during the trip that the lessons I was learning during a week on this gigantic boat were the perfect souvenirs to carry home and apply. Such as ...

1. Pack light ... but take a sweater. This was a source of angst in the week or so leading up to the trip, since I'd never cruised before, and we needed to prepare for everything from formal nights to hiking through a Belizean rainforest (in the rain, it turned out). But we ended up with one carry-on-sized rolling suitcase per person and one carry-on bag (like a backpack or tote bag). Really, why not simplify the options, taking what truly works and leaving the rest behind?

If you want to know more specifics of how I packed, email me. My only mistake ended up being the neglect of a light, rainproof jacket.

2. Make the journey your own. A couple days into the cruise, I still wasn't sure how I felt about the experience. I don't particularly like crowds, for one thing. Something about swarms of large people circling the buffet for one more dessert when I'm trying to guide a six year old to the table  without causing a cacophonous collision just sets my teeth on edge. For other reasons, too, I felt slightly out of my element. Plus, I wasn't sure whether it was somehow obligatory to attend nighttime performances, when what my body was really telling me to do was go to bed early and SLEEP.

Then I realized: our trip is OUR trip. Nothing is obligatory. Missing activities is fine. We needed to only do what felt enjoyable to us. I learned to get up early and watch the sunrise up on the deck while reading my Bible and staring prayerfully off into space in relative solitude. Being simple folk, attending a terrific ice show in which my girls got to ride in a clown car and watching our dining room waiters do origami provided all the evening thrills we needed. We also located  the spot on the ship most conducive to quiet daytime reading. It worked for us. Very much so, in fact.

3. Happiness is a side effect. During my morning time, I'd read from the Psalms. absorbing reminders that "there is none upon the earth that I desire besides Thee." (Psalm 73:25) That re-centering spilled over into each day, until I found that I was most happy when I didn't expect the vacation to make me happy. Does that make sense? I wasn't plugging in to the EXPERIENCE as my source of satisfaction. Instead, I plugged into HIM. Jesus. The Fountain of living waters. Then, the experience became a nice bonus. Whether people swarmed the buffet or whether my children made a happy beeline for the Kids' Club, whether the front desk staff gave me inaccurate information or whether our family frolicked together in golden sunbeams, I could simply say:

"Thank You ... for this moment. Right now." 

Which is the best memory to bring home, unpack, and start savoring immediately. 

Never mind the T-shirt. 


  1. What lovely memories for the family!

    ps: what did you pack, oh Packing Light Queen?

    1. Hmmm ... maybe I'll have to dedicate a separate post to this after all! :-) (Or finally start that family travel blog ...)
      In brief, I picked a color scheme (Black, white, pink) so I could mix and match a lot. I packed mostly casual clothes, tops and shorts (2) and capris (2), with one sundress (which I wore twice with different accessories) for dinner and one dressy dress for Formal Night. Two swimsuits, one coverup, one pair pajamas, 1 dressy blazer, 1 casual cardigan, and three scarves! And a sunhat. And one set of workout clothes.

      I think it's a strategy that could work for going anywhere that's relatively warm (i.e. doesn't require bulky clothing). Hope that helps! Let me know if I need to be more specific. :-)

  2. Aw, I got a shout out! Helping people plan awesome vacations is one of my favorite things and I'm so glad you all had fun. And you hit the nail on the head -- on vacation, you do what makes you happy and never feel obliged to do anything you don't want to.

  3. Looks like fun, and awesome packing advice! What about shoes? Did you take a pair for every outfit or was there one that worked for dressy night and the more casual?

    1. Ah, shoes are tricky, esp. because they take up so much room! I ended up cutting it down to one pair of cute flip-flops that could dress up or down (gold, platform), one pair of old running shoes in which I could both exercise AND hike through rivers and rainforests (although they were soggy for days afterward), and one pair of dress shoes.