I told my kids it would be a fun vacation. I told my husband it would be a relaxing vacation. I told my family that a cruise vacation would be the best vacation ever. I was wrong
For years, I've been lured by the cruise industry commercials: Giant glossy ships floating in pristine clear-blue waters, tropical-calypso-steel-drum-music playing softly in the background, flashing vividly-colored picture vignettes of children laughing and playing while adults lounge in poolside deck chairs, drink in hand.
I've always been a sucker for commercials, and after an emotionally turbulent autumn, my family was in desperate need of some relaxation. I decided that a spring break cruise would be the ideal way for us to relax and experience something new together.
As my husband, Jeff, needs a lot of convincing whenever I want to A.) spend money and B.) try something new, I launched my cruising campaign with him this past November. I spent weeks printing idyllic cruise ship pictures and hiding them in his underwear drawer and work folders. I was so desperate to go on the cruise that I even sold the whole we-must-go-on-a-spring-break-cruise-package to him by agreeing to drive the 900+ miles in our minivan instead of purchasing airfare for five people. I was an idealistic idiot.
He finally relented, and we surprised the kids on Christmas morning with - what I thought at the time would be - the Best Christmas Present EVER! Nope, I was wrong then, too. It turned out that my kids really did want piles of plastic crap imported from China under our Christmas tree, not a big box filled with clues promising a future cruise vacation adventure.
But I wasn't about to let their tepid Christmas morning reaction deter me. Those expensive tickets were non-refundable, after all! I initiated the next level of my brainwashing campaign, Child Edition. I subjected my kids to daily pep-rallies, which were written and performed by me. I was a fool.
Two weeks ago, we loaded the minivan, which perpetually smells of goldfish crackers, urine and spilled milk, and drove 15 hours from Chicago to New Orleans, our cruise ship port of call.
We were supposed to leave the house at 5:00 am and arrive in New Orleans around 8:00 pm to dine on seafood in a restaurant filled with lambent candlelight and live jazz music. We didn't leave until 9:00 am, so when we finally arrived in New Orleans it was past midnight and the kids were so jittery from a gas station dinner of Twinkies, Doritos and Coca-Cola that I feared the hotel would kick us out of our room.
Thankfully, we weren't booted from the hotel that night. However, the lovely day of New Orleans' pre-cruise exploration I had planned was trashed when all three kids slept in until 10:30 am and woke up, still exhausted, with sugar hangovers. Jeff and I woke up with an urge to ditch our spawn and cruise without them.
As the fastest cure for a sugar hangover is more sugar, we took them to Cafe Du Monde and filled their bodies with beignets and soda.
In an attempt to assuage our guilt, we opted for a quick drive-thru New Orleans' cultural lesson for the family. We loaded our powdered-sugar-coated crew into a carriage for an hour tour of the French Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery #1.
The cruise documents said to embark the ship no later than 2:30pm, so we loaded up all of our luggage and headed to the port, exhausted and hungry.
Cruise Ship Embarkation Chaos:
Chaos exploded around us as soon as the taxi-van stopped at our Port of New Orleans' terminal.
As the five of us tried to assess and navigate the vehicles, crowds, noise, lines and luggage of the terminal, a Carnival employee man popped out of nowhere and pelted me with rapid-fire questions and expected me to make all sorts of luggage decisions within 30 seconds because we were holding up the taxi line.
My spirit hadn't been crushed yet, so I cheerfully replied that it was our first cruise and asked for the pros/cons of checking the luggage with him or taking it onto the ship ourselves. He had no patience for my ridiculous question and asked if I had printed enough luggage tags. As we had been planning on carrying the majority of our dang luggage with us, I had not.
Not-so-helpful-or-patient man muttered something, which I'm sure was not very kind nor complimentary, and dodged out of sight. My boys spun in circles and tried to whack each other with their backpacks. My daughter looked longingly at the other passengers walking effortlessly onto the ship. My husband glared accusingly at me. I forced a cheerful smile and offered him some gum.
Mean man returned and thrust 7 luggage tags at my husband and me and barked "Fill these out - Fast!" He was not thrilled when I had to put them down to dig for two pens in my gigantic Jolly Rancher and gum filled purse. While I'm trying to fill out the pile of luggage tags, watch my daughter, yell at my boys, the impatient man asked for our cruise documents and passports. I threw the tags at my husband and had to dig again in the Willy-Wonka-Purse-Of-Delight. I swear the worker man glared at me with beady little eyes and started to tap his foot.
I yanked out the large manila folder containing our documents and thrust them towards my newest arch-nemesis. He was finally done with us, whisked our luggage away and pointed to the massive line leading into the building.
I imagine that what happened next was similar to the Ellis Island immigration experience of my ancestors: We were corralled into a series of impossibly long lines, were required to prove our identity at numerous check points and answered a series of detailed questions regarding our health. After each station was completed, we were presented with yet another task to complete. People spoke to us in a language that as first-time cruisers we did not understand. And, then, as we were nearing our collective breaking point - Flash!- someone took our picture!
By the time that I even entered the massive ship, my patience was depleted and my anxiety was raging. And I first started to question the wisdom of embarking on a five-night cruise vacation.
Next Tuesday, I will continue my story. Will my family be able to relax aboard a cruise ship bursting with spring break revelry? Or will we find ourselves stuck on the Ship of Disease and Despair? I'll answer those questions with humor and honesty.
Tags: Cafe Du Monde, carnival cruise, Chicago, cruise, cruise review, cruise ship, cruise with kids, French Quarter, humor, New Orleans, New Orleans carriage tour, Opinion, Parenting, Port of New Orleans, road trip, ship embarkation, spring break, St. Louis Cemetery, travel, travelling with children, Vacation