Cruising with Kids, Part 3: Top 5 Lessons I Learned Aboard the Cruise Ship

Cruising with Kids, Part 3: Top 5 Lessons I Learned Aboard the Cruise Ship

After waging a campaign worthy of the military, I finally convinced my family to take a cruise over spring break.

And it was a disaster.

Here are the top 5 lessons that I learned (the hard way) aboard the cruise ship:

1. If the running track on your cruise ship has a mini-golf course in the middle, take a break from your training and skip the run. The very first morning, I had planned to wake up at 6:00 am to run before my kids woke up. I over-slept and didn’t wake up until 8:30 am.

I dressed in my running clothes and took the kids to breakfast before heading to the track. After climbing several flights of stairs to the Sun Deck, it took me a minute to fully process what it was that I saw at the top of the stairs. Not only was the running track ridiculously small (13 laps equals 1 mile) but some cruise ship planning idiot decided to put a mini-golf course in the middle of it.

I decided to ignore all of my screaming self-preservation instincts and run. Huge mistake! Hoards of kids hyped up on buffet breakfasts of sugar cereal, danishes, pancakes, waffles, muffins and ice cream were whacking golf-ball-bombs all over the course. But I tried to run anyway. I really, really tried.

On lap 2, I almost tripped on a ball.  On lap 5, I almost got hit by a ball.  On lap 8, I realized that I had forgotten to wear sunscreen. By lap 11, I was dizzy from the combination of moving cruise ship, running in a small circle like a dog chasing its tail, the brutal sun on my still winter white skin, and dodging the rainbow of balls being purposely hit at my body. By lap 13, my knee ached, my skin was burnt, and I was just plain tired of playing dodge-the-golf-ball. I only completed 1 mile that morning, and I never went back.

2. Even though the ship’s itinerary states that you will be stopping at your port of call from 8 am – 4 pm, don’t think those times mean you will actually spend 8 hours exploring your destination.

On the second day of our cruise, we arrived in Progreso, Mexico. Our Carnival Ship Fun Times said that we would be at the port from 8 am – 4pm, but it also stated that all passengers need to board the ship by 3:30 pm. Subtract 30 minutes.

To leave the ship, all passengers needed to go through security lines, which spilled into the stairwells. Once through the security line, we were stopped by a Carnival photographer to take a picture. Subtract another 30 minutes.

Our family decided to pay for an excursion to the Dzibilchaltun Mayan Ruins. The tour was a fascinating educational experience for the whole family. However, the bus ride was 45 minutes each way. Subtract 90 minutes.

By the time that the tour was over, we only had two hours to explore on our own. The kids were hot, tired and hungry, so we decided to return to the ship. The security line to board the ship was longer than the one to get off the ship. Subtract 45 minutes.

While the published time on our schedule led us to believe that we would have 8 hours in Progreso, the reality was that we really only had approximately 5 hours.

Our experience in the Cozumel, Mexico port was similar, though our commute to the beach only took up 20 minutes each way. We ended up with about 5.5 hours.

3. Wash your hands. Often. And then wash them again. Sure, I washed my hands after using the washroom and before eating. I reminded my kids to wash their hands so frequently that my youngest actually growled at me one evening. In all honesty, I probably washed my hands aboard the ship a lot more than I wash them at home. But it just wasn’t enough.

During the course of our 5 night cruise, three members of my family had emergency-run-to-the-bathroom-diarrhea. Thankfully, it ended as quickly as it began, and I had packed Imodium caplets and chewable Pepto-Bismal.

On the fourth day of our cruise, my 8 year-old developed croup, a barking cough.

My husband, Jeff, was greeted with gooey, red eyes on our last morning of the cruise. As we shared a steering wheel on our 15 hour drive home, Jeff and I came home with a matching set of his and hers conjunctivitis.

4. The cruise ship departure morning is exponentially worse than embarkation. While embarkation was overwhelming, our cruise ship departure was agonizingly slow. Again, the cruise ship information said that departure would begin at 8:00 am. My family woke up at 6:00 am, gathered the few items we had not processed the night before, ate breakfast and waited to be called for departure. And waited. And waited.

We waited until 10:00 am when our departure group was finally called. And then, it was the whole darn embarkation process all over again in reverse. Corralled into lines, asked personal questions, corralled into more lines. Only this time, I knew that the potential for relaxation did not await me at the end of the process. Nope, I had one last afternoon in New Orleans and a 15 hour car ride waiting for me at the end of the line.

5. A cruise ship is like an amusement park. I’ve been home for almost 2 weeks now. And it has become clear to me that the topic of cruising is very polarizing: either you love it or you hate it. As I’ve been sharing my experience and listening to others, the best analogy that I can come up with is that cruising is like an amusement park.From the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night, you are stuck at the amusement park.

Cruise ships are crammed with hot, sweaty people, a plethora of ill-mannered children, constant noise and action. You spend a lot of your day waiting in line for something or waiting for someone. There is excitement in the air at all times. There is always something to do, to eat, to explore. And there are people everywhere. People of all colors, shapes and sizes. All the time. Everywhere.

And a lot of people love this. They love cruises because of the excitement and the energy. They love all the people, activities, food, music, and shows.

However, others prefer all of the above in small increments and on their own terms. And my family falls into this category.

Sure, we love amusement parks. For one day. And then we need a quiet beach and a good book to recover from the excitement. As a mother of three, my daily life is already filled with plenty of noise, chaos and excitement. I go on vacation to escape this for awhile, to seek the calm and hopefully some sun, to settle my too-often weary soul and reconnect with my family.

So, I was lured by the cruise line commercials. And I was wrong. Cruising is not for me. Maybe had I chosen a different cruise line or a different time of year… Maybe…

I’m not willing to risk that experience again. I’ll stick to my favorite resort on my favorite beach in Sanibel, FL with pristine white sand and the distant laughter of my children jumping the waves in the background as I read the latest paperback romance novel with my husband next to me, holding my hand.

Where do you stand on the great cruising debate? What is your favorite kind of vacation? I love reading your comments and am always looking for new vacation ideas!

Just in case you missed it:

Cruising with Kids, Part 1: Exhausted and Overwhelmed Before the Ship Left Port

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




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    Can you share the name of your resort in Florida? It sounds lovely. Definitely not going a cruise. Not with a child. Maybe not ever again. Too many horror stories in the news. You just confirmed it.

  • Sure, we have stayed at Casa Ybel Resort in Sanibel, Florida. It is so beautiful. Each unit has a kitchen, so you can cook some of your own meals to save on cost.

    I really love that each unit has a screened in porch with a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico. You can literally open the porch door, walk down the stairs and take the path to a white sand beach. The resort is very clean and beautiful.

    Here's the website:

    Send me a message if you decide to go. I'll absolutely recommend restaurants and things to do. We spent our vacation funds on that darn cruise, so I'll have to wait until next summer to go back to Sanibel.

    Thanks for reading and for commenting!

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