I Hate to Admit I Love Cruises…and why you might love ’em, too

Cruise ships are populated by boorish, overweight Americans who squander their time in port shopping, eating and whining about the heat (or mosquitoes, filth, pickpockets or lack of WiFi). That is, if they get off the boat at all.

 Cruise passengers fork over vacation dollars to endure long lines, mediocre food, jam-packed pools and nonstop PA announcements about “bonus bucks bingo” and “napkin folding workshops.”  

So goes the conventional wisdom about cruise passengers and the cruise experience. Some of which is true — at least some of the time, on some of the ships.         

Yet in the last five years, I’ve enjoyed a cruise to Alaska, another to the Mediterranean and two to the Caribbean. And I already booked a 7–night cruise that departs out of San Juan the day after Christmas.

You can learn to fold napkins, or better yet, juggle, while cruising.

I’m not sadistic; I don’t like crowds, boors or inane entertainment any more than the next person.  But I do love the fact that my kids love cruises – and I know that a happy kid makes for a happy parent.    

I’ve also experienced the opposite — how a cantankerous kid can ruin everyone’s vacation. When my oldest son was in his early teens, he let us know he wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of spending a week in Williamsburg, Va. We told ourselves he would change his tune once we got there.  

Nope, his tune didn’t change…it just got more raucous. He complained during the long drive, refused to wake up at a reasonable hour to go sightseeing, yawned loudly during the historical tours, harassed his siblings incessantly and soon made us all miserable. 

I wasn’t comfortable leaving a 14-year-old alone in a time-share condo in Williamsburg. But if we had been vacationing on a cruise ship, I would have ditched him in the Teen Club and gone out with the rest of the family to have fun. (And he would have had way more fun, too, playing the club’s video games and surfing the Internet.)

Spending every minute of vacation together can be great when your kid is a well-behaved kindergartener. Spending every minute together when your kid is a teenager is a recipe for disaster.   

Cruises give a family some breathing room but also opportunities to connect. My non-negotiable cruise rule is that everyone attends dinner together every night, no exception. We make it a leisurely, sit-down meal in one of the main dining rooms, not a grab-and-go at the buffet.

During days at sea, I often get in a few hours of pool time with my youngest, a fourth-grader, before she’s ready for the Kids’ Club and I head off to read in a deck chair or work out in the Fitness Center.

On port days, at least two of my four kids usually decide to head ashore with us for either an organized excursion or (more often) sightseeing on our own. The kids who stay onboard are safe and secure, either in the Kids Club, or in the case of my older teens, on their own by the pool, in the game room or on the basketball court.

I’ve sampled the pleasures of some great places while cruising – from Monte Carlo to Glacier Bay, Barcelona to the Bay Islands of Honduras.  On a Christmas cruise, my daughter and I spent a day together in the Caymans – we went to a turtle farm, to the town of Hell and then spent a few bucks to laze on a hotel’s chaise lounges on Seven Mile Beach. Later that afternoon, we connected with the rest of the family for a late afternoon snorkel. Half the fun for Natalie was telling the boys about all that they had missed by sleeping away the morning. (The tourist talk might have made my husband jealous but after a late night in the Teen Club the boys didn’t care that they had missed the turtles.)   

I’ve met plenty of cruise fanatics – the types who take three or four cruises a year and never vacation any other way. That will never be me. My family and I cruise but we also continue to travel independently, take guided charter tours, rent time shares and condos, sign up for volunteer vacations and enjoy every possible way to get away.  

Stay tuned, next week I’ll share survival tips for the reluctant cruiser. Discover which ships and lines attract more boozers and bozos. Which ships still do formal nights. The ones that offer a decent breakfast – not just muffins and croissants — on disembarkation day. And, even more importantly, which ones don’t kick you off at 7 a.m. on that last day.

 –Margo McDonough       

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