Now here’s a crazy story

Since I have no idea how to slow down … I’ve decided to move house on Monday and go on a cruise on Tuesday.

That shouldn’t be stressful AT ALL.

But I figured I’d rather get the move out of the way so I could enjoy my holiday. Well, that’s the flawed theory.

Cruises have become a bit of a tradition in my family. This will be the third time we’ve done the multi-generational thing and sailed as an extended family.

The first was back in 2012, when we sailed all the way to Hawaii, in 2013 we tried a quickie cruise to nowhere and this time we’re off to Tassie. Mum bought the last two cruises as Christmas presents for us.

I know. 

Since I’m a little overwhelmed with packing (understatement) I thought I’d share the story I wrote for one of the Sunday papers about the Hawaiian cruise. I wasn’t paid for it – in a surreal kinda way the editor made ME pay – so I figure it’s mine to blog.

My ex didn’t come on the cruise. He stayed behind in Sydney for 17 days, then flew to Honolulu to meet us. Walking off the cruise ship is probably the first time I realised my marriage was in trouble. He greeted the kids with joy and cuddles, but barely looked at me. I can remember noting the moment, then pushing it aside.

Denial …

DSCN0111-001

Me and my mum and a matching pair of lovely cocktails.

My mother’s two great loves are cruising and spending time with her grandchildren. So I figured a family cruise would make the perfect gift for her 70th birthday (well, it turned out to be her 69th birthday – ooops – but that’s a whole other story).

I’d been avoiding cruise ships since I was 21, when I gave myself alcohol poisoning on a two-week jaunt to Fiji, but Mum assured me it’s the only way to travel. No cooking, no cleaning, endless entertainment, free child-minding, exotic ports … Just unpack your bags and relax.

I did my research and discovered The Radiance of The Seas was departing for Hawaii during Mum’s birthday month. Being a total Hawaiian shopping junkie, coupled with the cruise departing the day before the Easter school holidays, I was hooked. I booked cabins for myself and the kids, my sister, nephew and parents and joined 2000 other passengers at Circular Quay for a 19-day odyssey across the Pacific Ocean.

We weren’t the only ones eager to try multi-generational cruising. The wharf was crammed with extended families seeking quality time together, plus – I suspect – extra hands to wrangle their toddlers.

Cruise ships have totally transformed in the 20 years since I got alcohol poisoning. They don’t let you take duty-free alcohol on board for one thing. The pools are much bigger too. My recollection was something resembling a four-person spa. Our ship had a kiddie pool with water slide, a main pool – big enough for volleyball matches – with movie screen and two hot-tubs, and an adults-only pool with café. Add to that a massive theatre with nightly Vegas-style shows, various speciality restaurants, buffet restaurant, formal dining, nightclub, rock-climbing wall and movie cinema … yep, cruise ships have come a long way.

Prior to sailing, seasoned travellers raved to me that cruises were great for kids. They were right – mine loved it. And it wasn’t for the reasons you’d expect. They liked the independence of racing up the stairs to their grandparents’ room, then phoning to let me know they’d arrived. They loved choosing their own breakfast from the buffet each morning. (I didn’t like seeing it slide all over the floor sometimes, but accidents do happen.) They especially enjoyed staying up past their bedtimes to watch hypnotists, comedians and ventriloquists perform in the Aurora theatre.

The stuff I thought would blow their tiny minds, like the spiralling waterslide, didn’t. They never even tried it. There were too many other things to do, like playing mini-golf with Pop, checking out the kids’ club sessions and squirting their own soft-serve ice-creams.

Even shore excursions in Tahiti and New Zealand didn’t rock their world the way I thought they would. Sure, the kids liked being on dry land for a change, but they were soon begging to be taken back to the boat (and the soft-serve ice-cream machine). That didn’t stop us having some brilliant day trips along the way, like swimming with stingrays in Moorea.

I hadn’t planned on swimming with stingrays in Moorea. I thought I was taking my six-year-old on a “fish feeding” expedition. But it turned out the “fish” were stingrays. Lots of stingrays. Plus a few sharks. If there’s one thing I’ll never do again – but am grateful to have experienced – it’s having a stingray flap all over me. Post-Steve Irwin it was pretty terrifying, despite the guides insisting the rays’ barbs had been removed, but the experience was so completely different to anything I’ve ever done before. Standing in chest-deep water with a mesmerised six-year-old on my back, surrounded by stingrays, squealing myself silly whenever one brushed against my legs … it was indescribably amazing.

As for the children, the kids’ club was the big highlight for them. True to my mother’s word, they begged to go every day. The minute breakfast was finished, Pop was dragged upstairs to sign them in while we sipped a second cuppa in peace. I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the appeal of kids’ club, but it seems to have something to do with young staff having endless energy for games and craft activities (unlike middle-aged mummies).

Another bonus for the kids was having their grandparents around to inveigle into endless rounds of mini-golf and bingo and napkin-folding demonstrations. If Mummy wasn’t keen, there was always another grown-up they could hassle into joining them.

Nonna and Pop were pretty jazzed by the extended-family experience too. They’re not sure future cruises will be quite the same without little people along for company. Highlights for my parents included opening their cabin door to bright faces asking to be taken for pancakes in the dining room, epic ping pong battles, and dining together as a family each night. My mum reckons it was the perfect opportunity to get to know her grandchildren better.

And what was it like for the mums? My sister and I have vowed to cruise together when we retire, without the kids. We gazed enviously at the older passengers who spent their days reclining on sun lounges reading books. My time on sun lounges was spent perched anxiously on the edge watching my six-year-old doing not-drowning-swimming impressions.

We did squeeze in a few sisterly activities, like signing up for a series of pilates and bootcamp classes, spending a few child-free nights at the ships’ specialty restaurants (see side panel for details) while our parents wrangled the kids in the main dining room, and dancing like loons in the nightclub while Nonna babysat my kids and my nephew went to late-night kids’ club, which runs until 2am (my giddy aunt!).

My final verdict on cruising? I’m not sure I’m a long-haul traveller. Nineteen days aboard a ship had its moments when sharing a small cabin with two kids (not to mention all the withdrawal symptoms from my Blackberry). But that’s a personal thing – there were people on our cruise who were total addicts, they’d racked up 2604 days at sea and loved every minute of it.

So we’re tossing around the idea of a shorter extended-family cruise, this time around New Zealand. The kids have heard there’s a new boat coming to Australia – the Voyager of the Seas – which features its own ice-skating rink. Oh yeah, cruise ships have come a long way, baby.

Do you love or loathe cruises?

Song of the day:  Eurythmics “Would I Lie To You?”

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