Cruising with Kids, Part 2: Party Atmosphere Mixed with Lack-Luster Kids' Programs Equals Stressed Parents

Cruising with Kids, Part 2: Party Atmosphere Mixed with Lack-Luster Kids' Programs Equals Stressed Parents

In last Thursday's post, Cruising with Kids, Part 1: Exhausted and Overwhelmed Before the Ship Left Port, I detailed my Ellis Island-esque experience of boarding the cruise ship. Today, I continue my account of life aboard the cruise ship.

After being corralled into a series of never-ending lines, answering repetitive personal questions by strangers and posing (dazed and confused) for pictures, I hesitantly walked through yet another narrow corral onto the ship.

Our boarding information said we could board the ship between 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm.  Our information stated in no uncertain terms that we board no later than 2:30 pm.

Hoping to avoid the agony of dreaded downtime with children, I thought that 2:00 pm would be the perfect time to arrive. I thought that 2:00 pm was neither too early nor too late. I thought that 2:00 pm would be ideal. I thought wrong.

My frustrated and overwhelmed family stepped onto the cruise ship and landed smack dab in the middle of a Girls Gone Wild video: Speakers blasted music. Children in bathing suits with ice cream cones in hand were running, yelling, shoving each other into the elevators. Parents chased them, sloshing frozen tropical booze concoctions. Spring break revelry exploded from every square inch of the cruise ship!

And I suddenly couldn't breathe.

I had no idea where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do. I didn't know where on the crowded, chaotic, half-naked Girls Gone Wild set that I was ever going to sit down, take a breathe and look at the damn map, which had only moments before been thrust into my face.

Each member of my family looked at me expectantly, and my husband had the audacity to ask, "What are we supposed to do now?"

However, before he could even finish his question, my middle child chimed in with "I'm hungry."

I abandoned every piece of advice I've gleaned from a closeted lifetime addiction to etiquette books, pivoted my body and poked a charging crew member with my papers. Fighting back tears, I begged for directions to the food and a place to look at the maps and ship information. And, that's when I heard what I quickly realized would be the worst prepositional phrase aboard the cruise ship "by the pool."

Even though I had not even caught a glimpse of the pool, I knew that no good could come from this pool mecca the masses were abandoning all sense of decorum and etiquette to visit.  I glimpsed identical fear in my husband's eyes and faintly whispered, "by the pool."

Oh, yes, my dear sweet readers, the pool was as we expected, as we had been led to believe thus far in our five minutes of Purgatory. It was that tenth circle of Hell.

As Dante wrote in Italian so eloquently centuries ago, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Oh, Dante, how could you have known what my heart would feel at that moment? For surely, his words should have been inscribed above the pool deck entry doors.

But I grabbed my youngest child's hand, pushed through the masses and blazed a pathway to safety for my family.

The remainder of that first day passed in a frenzied blur of unloading luggage in a miniature postage-sized cabin room which would have been so cute and quaint had dread not filled every pore of my body as I realized that I would spend five nights with my family crammed into it, a kinda-funny but mostly-sad introductory first night show, and a dizzying crash-course tour of the ship.

All five of us entered our teeny-tiny cabin more exhausted than we had been since bringing my 8 year old home from the hospital as a newborn.

While each day got a little better, I never did find that relaxation the cruising commercials promised me.

Kids' Programs

Carnival offers Camp Carnival, a program for kids with scheduled activities for each age group. However, my kids were the oldest in their designated groups and wanted to do the programs in the other, older groups. When I asked about moving each kid to the next age group, I was told that it wasn't possible. I offered to sign some kind of a waiver document, napkin, child's forehead, anything to move my kids. They still refused.

My 14 year old daughter revels in intelligent conversation sprinkled with heavy doses of teenaged slightly-inappropriate banter and sarcasm. Cassie was placed in a group with kids, ages 12-14.  She participated in two activities and was stuck with kids closer to her 11 year old brother's maturity level. She spent her on-board cruise time reading, writing and Sudoku-puzzle-solving in the cruise ship library and watching the always-slightly-buzzed college students at the pool.

Cassie was incredibly disappointed that Carnival would not let her change to the older age group. My mother's guilt kicked in high gear, and I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a mother-daughter spa package. We both agree that it was worth the cost.

My 11 year old son has very recently started drinking some kind of Alice in Wonderland potion and now is 5'3" tall. At home, Phillip spends his time playing totally inappropriate, gory video games, talking about inappropriate, gory video games or reading various series of books about totally inappropriate video games. He also ends most conversations with a fart/poop/balls/wiener reference. He was placed in the 9-11 age group, where he towered over all of the other children like some kind of an awkward tween mythical creature.

Phillip tried one activity and hated it. He complained that it was all "little kids" and they did only "boring, little kid things." Phillip spent most of his time reading in the library, playing chess with my husband or playing games on his I-pod and Nintendo DS.

My 8 year old son, Brooks, is a whirlwind of precocious boy energy. While Cassie and Phillip were old enough to sign themselves in and out of the Camp Carnival programs, poor 8 year old Brooks was not. He picked one 45-minute program to try on the very first night and was so miserable at the pick-up time that we never made him go again. Brooks swears that he was the only 8-year old in the class and that most of the kids were 6 and "couldn't even read!"

As this was a family vacation and my husband and I wanted everyone to have a good time, we agreed to keep Brooks with us for the remainder of the cruise.

So within the first 24-hours of our cruise, all three of my children had tried Camp Carnival and rejected it. And all my dreams of lounging in a chair, napping in the sun, relaxing and reading the stack of ten romance novels I had packed faded away.

I honestly don't think that my relaxing dream vacation would have materialized even if my own children had spent all their time ensconced in the Camp Carnival rooms as packs of wild-perhaps-even-rabid children ran free and their stumbling, partially-clothed and questionably-sober parents trailed far behind.

On Thursday, I conclude my story and reflect on how our cruise went so very wrong. I'll provide an honest assessment and include some things for you to consider before you decide to book a cruise vacation for your family.

Thank you for reading my story and please leave a comment (or more) which you think would help other prospective cruisers. Were my expectations too high? Did I choose the wrong cruise line? Or was it just the wrong time of year for a relaxing cruise? Are cruises ever relaxing?










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  • My husband has made it pretty clear that he will never go on a cruise and now I appreciate why. Wow. Sounds terrifyingly dreadful.

    One of my readers lost a child while on a cruise. It is a wrenching story of a young girl (just three or four years old) with her Dad on a cruise for the Christmas holiday. The cruise line stopped at a designated island and the young child drowned in a shallow pool that was not monitored by any staff on the cruise line owned island. Mom got a call on Christmas morning, thinking it was her girl she missed terribly, only to hear the awful news.

    Because of that, I don't think I could ever cruise. Now I read your story and that dread is compounded.

    Good read. Also shocking to note how little liability cruise lines actually have. They are beholden to no law tied to land and are basically liable for nothing that occurs on them. Sigh. I will be grateful that you are all home in one piece and can write the true story of your vacation. MTM.

  • My heart breaks for your reader whose child drowned on their cruise vacation. It makes my story seem so very ridiculous and ungrateful.

    My husband never wanted to take the cruise, but I am such a sucker for good advertising and was lured by the commercials. I finally convinced him, and it was a mistake. Too much chaos and very little supervision.

    And, yet, I have been talking with neighbors who love cruising aboard the massive ships of chaos...

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment.

  • Just so you know, you are in great company in hating to cruise. David Foster Wallace wrote an amazing essay about it a zillion years before he died. His observations, like yours, were so sad they were funny. You can find it here:

    What I have always heard is that you either love it or hate it -- no middle ground here. Love or hate. MTM.

  • I couldn't help but laugh reading your posts. We went on a Disney Cruise, and it was a MUCH better experience. I loved it. But, my wife had very similar feelings to you, and thus, we shall never cruise again.

    But, if you do change your mind, definitely go Disney.

  • In reply to Hesham Hassaballa:

    Thanks so much for reading, and I am so happy that my posts made you laugh!

    It helped me a lot writing them because I was so very disappointed and needed to figure out why exactly it was such a mess. And I really needed to step back and see the humor. Much better than crying!

    It was great to read that your Disney cruise was better than mine. We chose Carnival because it was cheaper. I guess you get what you pay for!

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    I have been dying to do a cruise with hubby and my 8 y.o. son. Disney is too expensive and I am loathe to do Carnival or another "grown up" cruise (I traveled on Royal Caribbean in my younger days and loved it).
    I think we'll just save up and do a trip to Disney/Orlando.

  • As I've been talking with others about my spring break cruising disaster, I have consistently heard positive things about the Disney cruise. I, personally, would not want to risk another bad cruise experience, but please let me know how it is if you go.

    My family has been to Disney twice, and we loved it. We spent the mornings at the park, napped/rested/swam at the hotel in the afternoons and returned to the park for the evenings. It helped a lot to break up the day. I know that many families can stay an entire day at the Disney parks, but it just doesn't work for my family.

    The last time that we traveled to Orlando, my husband and I took the kids to Magic Kingdom for one day, Sea World for the second day, and then spent five days to recover on the beach in Sanibel, Florida. Now, that trip was relaxing!!

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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