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"Cruise Impressions" Column

6/12/2008
Cruise Impressions (07/07): Family Fun At Sea

Photo of family group on a cruise line shore trip goes here.

The Cruz clan -- grandparents, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren -- demonstrate that a family get-together is a one-time thing, but the memories are forever.*

Cruise Impressions:

Three Generations on the High Seas:

Editor’s Note: When we learned Georgina Cruz, one of our freelance cruise writers, was headed out on a family cruise, we asked her to write a short diary of her cruise. Although Georgina’s itinerary was to Europe, we felt this experience could have been on any Royal Caribbean ship worldwide. Since the line operates many voyages from southern U.S. ports, we believe the basic concepts and tips here will benefit readers regardless of the specific voyage they take. And while this story is -- by design -- a bit like “what I did on my summer vacation," we think that's just fine. It shows a true family traveler experience. 

By Georgina Cruz

“I’ll bake three pies,” our daughter Veronica always says when we plan a family gathering. To ensure, lots of choices she also makes a flan and a chocolate cake.

For this year’s family get-together, though, we opted for something different. Yes, we still chose a vacation with plentiful choices. But, this time, we wanted to assure no one got stuck with the inevitable cooking or clean-up.

So three generations of our family hit the high seas. We cruised!

Getting Organized

Like many families today, we’re scattered in different states. My husband Humberto and I live in Florida, while daughter Veronica, son-in-law Kyle and grandchildren Aidan, 6 and Julian, 3, reside in Virginia.

Even when taking a cruise, we wanted an itinerary and onboard experience that appealed to three generations. So we wanted each member of the family, even down to the toddler, to have plenty of onboard activity options.

Photo of Splendour of the Seas goes here.So we booked a Greek Isles cruise on Royal Caribbean International’s Splendour of the Seas.

That ship is shown at right in a European city.* 

Our cruise was reasonably priced from $1,099 per person, double occupancy.

We started planning a year before the sailing. That was crucial for getting good flights.

Advance planning was also important so that we could get connecting cabins.Two of three cabins had to be “connecting ones” so Veronica, Kyle and the kids would essentially have two cabins for the family, with an interior door joining the two.

For young children, it’s a good idea to prep them in advance for the cruise. Then they’ll feel more comfortable and know what to expect on the trip.

I created a book with pictures cut from Royal Caribbean’s brochures for our grandchildren. In the months and weeks prior to the cruise, Veronica and Kyle read this book to the kids. As a result, the entire family was eagerly anticipating the voyage.

Pre-Cruise Activities

Since the ship sailed out of Venice, we spent a day in the city “pre-cruise.” It helped to break up the traveling – a positive thing for all families with young kids. Even the adults appreciated the break between plane and ship.

Booking a land stay (one or two days) pre-cruise is also a good precaution; sometimes flights are delayed, or worse yet, cancelled. Having a cushion means the ship likely won’t leave without you.

Child is shown staring out the water taxi in Venice. In our case, it was a combination of all of the above. Plus, after all, this was Venice, one of the world’s most spectacular cities. We wanted to sightsee.

Or, as Frances Mayes put it in her novel, A Year In The World, “to hold our grandchildren’s hands when they go on their first gondola ride.”

My grandson Julian, 3, is shown staring out from the water taxi to new horizons. 

We overnighted at a Hilton property. One reason for our selection was the hotel’s free launch to St. Mark’s Square.

Editor’s Note: When staying one or two nights pre-cruise trip with a family – whether in Venice or a southern U.S. port like Miami – it’s advantageous to select a hotel that either allows the family to walk out to the sights or has free transportation to get you there. Start adding up the cost of taxi rides to and from the sights takes bucks. Multiply that times two or three or four, depending on how many family members are traveling and it can become quite pricey.

Photo of Aiden in St. Mark's Square with pigeons goes here.We also built “kid time” into our schedule. Some kids may need to nap. Others may be happier playing video games or watching TV for a time.

Throughout our trip, we tried to mix “adult-focused” sightseeing of cultural and historical attractions with child-friendly and appealing activities.

For example, we visited the basilica in St. Mark’s Square, but the kids were more interested in feeding the pigeons.

At right, we captured this shot of Julian frolicking amid the birds.*

The next day we boarded the ship for our seven-night cruise. It went like this:

Day 1 – Check-In

After boarding and a trip to the bountiful buffet at the Windjammer Cafe, we scattered. During our pre-reunion discussions we had agreed that though traveling together, it was fine to pursue individual interests.

So Humberto and I toured the ship. Veronica headed to the Steiner-managed spa for a facial. Kyle decided to “get out there” on the ship’s rock-climbing wall.

The children, Aidan and Julian, were placed in the Adventure Ocean children’s program; it features science, crafts and other activities. Aidan was an Explorer (ages 6-8). Julian, in turn, was an Aquanaut (ages 3-5).

Editor’s Note: If you have children of varying ages, opt for a line that carries a lot of kids. Generally, the line will separate the children into age-appropriate groups. Activities will be full-bodied and the parents will find the kids will gravitate to the program daily as they meet and play with peers their own ages. And they'll do a lot of cool stuff.

If you split up onboard to pursue individual activities or relaxation, just be sure the family knows when it will meet later and where. We met on deck for spectacular views as we departed Venice.

Then it was on together to the first seating for dinner. To keep our duo entertained, we brought children's activity books, a very good idea if you want the youngsters to behave.

Editor’s Note: Request the first seating when you book if you have children. The later dinner seating is often a bit too late for many young children.

Photo of Aidan on the rock climbing wall goes here.Day 2 – At Sea

Picking an itinerary with the first full day “at sea” is a good idea for a family get-together or reunion cruise. It gives everyone time to settle into a routine, to check out the ship, and to avoid traipsing the family off the ship at an early hour on the first full day.

This day was happily filled with relaxing pool time, a rock-climbing outing (six-year-old Aidan amazed us by reaching the top -- see part of his climbing effort at left*) and lunch together.

Then we split up again. Kyle and Veronica went to a culinary demonstration; Aidan and Julian to a pirate party in the kids’ club; Humberto and I to a trivia game.Photo of entire family goes here.

 

 

This was our ship’s formal night. Since it was the first time the children had worn “tuxes,” we posed for portraits.

That was a challenge and the kids weren’t happy. But the photographer managed nice shots. Check out the one at right taken on an attractive stairway.*

Dinner – with new children’s activity books as a diversion — was fine.

But we decided the casual Windjammer buffet would be easier for the kids (and also the rest of us) for the next day.

Day 3 – Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos offers breathtaking sights. We walked together to take in the whitewashed buildings, windmills and the “Little Venice” section.

Photo of Veronica and Kyle in a romantic dining spot in Mykonos goes here.Since the ship was docked until 11 p.m., Veronica and Kyle enjoyed a romantic dinner at a harbor-side café to take in the spectacular sunset. See photo at right.*

In turn, Humberto and I took the children to the Windjammer so they did not have to wait for service. It was nice for adults too, though with port views and the same food as in the dining room.

Day 4 – Athens, Greece

Photo of Acropolis goes here.The entire family group signed up for the cruise line’s half-day Acropolis excursion. Aidan and Julian (and some adults) complained about the 150 steps to get to the top of the hill.

But once up at 512 ft. over Athens, we were rewarded with the sights of the Parthenon and the city below.

The boys had read a picture book about ancient Greece so that helped explain why we were visiting this site.

That said, Aidan proclaimed the Acropolis “boring” and the 104-degree temperature got to all. But we got our family photo of a lifetime for our memory book (see above*).

Day 5 – Katakolon, Greece

The heat wave continued. We decided not to tour nearby Olympia, where the Olympics originated in 776 B.C. As a result, we had the ship practically to ourselves. We cooled off in the empty pools and had our pick of other facilities including the rock-climbing wall (Aidan climbed it twice more).

Editor’s Note: In the rush to tour 'til you drop, some family groups may not realize that one of the pleasures of cruising is having a huge ship with myriad features all to yourself. If particular family members have "been there, done that" in a destination, port calls certainly might be just as enjoyably spent onboard. That’s particularly true if you want more spa time, or as Georgina’s family discovered, if you want to repeatedly tackle such activities as the rock climbing wall -- experiences you might have to wait for at other times.

Day 6 – Corfu, Greece

Veronica and Kyle signed up for an all-terrain-vehicle tour. Having been to Corfu twice, Humberto and I stayed onboard to babysit. This was a great opportunity for quality time alone with our grandchildren!

Photo of Aidan on the top deck running track goes here.We had the ship to ourselves again – as if it was our own humongous private yacht. We had fun in the pool and game arcade.

We also played mini-golf, ping-pong, shuffleboard, and even baseball (having brought easy-to-pack inflatable bats and balls from home). At right, Aidan gets ready for a run with his grandfather around the ship's jogging track.*

While the kids' parents were ashore, we chowed down with our grandchildren in the Windjammer buffet. And we read the kids’ favorite Clifford and Charlie & Lola books while they were slurping an ice cream. Yes, we spoiled them rotten!

Day 7 – Split, Croatia

In Split, we hired a private guide and set out for two different activities. The entire family took a short walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace, which was the Roman Emperor’s retirement palace. We alternated that “boring” touring (according to the kids) with time at a nearby sandy beach, which we all enjoyed.

Photo of family goes here.Too soon, though, the voyage was over. 

Fortunately, we took home a treasure trove of memories, plus 607 digital photos. Among them are the shot (at right) of my daughter, son-in law and grandchildren dressed in their finery.* 

Would we do it again?

In a heartbeat!

10 Things I Learned 

1. Pre-planning pays off. The kids got excited about the cruise. We had a smooth journey and a good pre-cruise stay.

2. Our assessment -- that not all family members must spend time together every waking moment of the cruise -- was “right on.” Having individual activities helped each generation relax and have fun. It also made “joint time” more enjoyable.

3. Don’t expect children to happily participate in adult-focused activities – formal portrait photography, dinner every night in the main dining room and guided tours of cultural and historic sites

4. But that’s necessary at times; so take along their favorite video games, toys, books, iPod, DVD player and DVDs or activity books. The adults will be glad these "aids" are along.

Photo of a "pirate" goes here.5. A ship with a good children’s activity program is worth its weight in gold. That's evident by the happy pirate at right.*

6. Grandparents love spending quality time with their grandchildren. That's a given. Couple that with free food and a plethora of onboard activity options and you have a great opportunity for grandparents to babysit in style.

That gives younger couples (like our daughter and her husband) a chance for a romantic dinner ashore or time together enjoying a fun activity like an ATV ride.

7. Take some clothing in a carry-on bag, just in case your luggage goes astray. Our suitcase with all our formal attire was “lost” by a major U.S. airline en route to Venice. The bag never surfaced during our cruise. Thankfully, it was found a month later. Still, we could have moped around the ship because we didn't have "our stuff." But life is too short. We coped and it helped immensely that the cruise line lent us formal wear, gave us t-shirts, toiletries and free laundry vouchers. But next time, we’d carry on our things. 

8. Take photos at every turn. They’re priceless. How often will your kids or grandchildren be 3 and 6 again? How often will the family be together in some exotic locale? A family cruise is for memory making, so document it.

9. With the inclusive nature of the onboard product (food, entertainment, most activities), a cruise is an excellent family getaway bargain. 

10. We made the right choice. Had we opted for our usual family get-together, one or several of us would likely have had to cook or clean up. On Royal Caribbean, we didn’t lift a finger.

For More Information

Royal Caribbean International

800-327-6700 or www.royalcaribbean.com

Georgina Cruz writes, along with her husband, Humberto Cruz, a weekly nationally-syndicated column, Retire Smart, often dealing with touring and cruising topics. Her travel articles have appeared in more than four dozen regional, national and international publications and she is the author of a guidebook on cruises.

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Georgina Cruz, with rights transferred to SouthernCruising.com™ and SouthernTravelNews.com™. Photo of Splendour of the Seas ship shot is owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Royal Caribbean International. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos.


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