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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
August 2017
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Senior Spectrum Publications

This 'n That
by Anne Vargas
Happy Birthday

The perfect family trip… there really is such a thing!

Anne Vargas
Anne Vargas

At this juncture, every birthday is significant. Nevertheless, when my spouse’s “particularly significant” one began to loom on the horizon, we wanted to celebrate. But the only thing that would be meaningful would be for everyone to be present.

Ours is a geographically challenged family; our three children have given us eight grandchildren, none of them nearby. One family lives on the east coast, two on the west coast but one of those spend their summers in Finland. One-on-one visits rather than gatherings of the clan are the norm for us so getting everyone together at the same time in the same place would be an enormous challenge. A family cruise was a possibility; something for everyone to do, togetherness without suffocation, no one would have to cook and chocolates on the pillow every night.

Cruising is not new to us; we sail often on intimate (500-700 passenger) cruise ships where my husband is a guest lecturer but those are not ships where there are many (or even any) children. For this we needed to sail on something (affordable) that caters to families which, by definition, would mean a large ship; totally unfamiliar territory.

Friends directed us to Barbara Gardner at Welcome Aboard Travel, a wonderfully patient travel agent who spent the next 15 months (yes, it took that long to get this celebration off the ground) answering questions and imparting words of wisdom. She was both astonished and amused that we knew so little about planning a cruise since we are always “at sea” but we just go where we are sent, a mindlessly comfortable situation that requires no thought or planning on our part; we just show up. This was quite different and we were bewildered by all the decisions we had to make.

kids in a tub

Barbara was a font of helpful information and guidance as we evaluated cruise lines and itineraries and calendars. Our grandchildren range in age from 8-20. They are all busy and their parents are all busy so a seven-day cruise seemed the most practical and Alaska sounded like the destination that would be most appealing. Princess Cruise Line specializes in that region and is known to have a particularly good children’s program. So…we were convinced. Now it was time to entice the family.

We composed a clever invitation to join us on a celebratory birthday cruise fifteen months in the future; plenty of time to plan their schedules. We would pay for the cruise, they would take care of their travel. Everyone would be free to do whatever they pleased during the day but meet for dinner every night. We included a lot of assurances about activities and entertainment on board the ship on sea days and information about the many options when on shore. Since no one in the family had ever cruised, we were concerned they might not find the idea appealing but everyone immediately accepted the invitation and assured us they “were in”. Fifteen months in the future.

During those fifteen months, life happened. Complications arose, there were second thoughts and plans were changed numerous times, resulting in repeated reminders from us about the deadline for cancelling; a gradual monetary loss of 25%, 50%, 75% and eventually 100%. At one point, we were certain it would not be a full family trip after all and at another point, (a week before departure), there had been so many glitches that if we could have called the whole thing off, we probably would have.

I spent hours composing detailed messages about what to expect on a cruise, how to get from the airport to the port, what to pack, how to deal with possible seasickness (certainly not anticipated on the Alaska Inland Passage but just in case) and everything else I could think of that might be helpful. No one read any of it, as evidenced by the phone calls with questions the night before we left. Yet somehow, on the 3rd Sunday in June, everyone managed to arrive in Seattle and board the 3200-passenger ship and we were off. So far, so good but I had some misgivings; had this really been a good idea?

Bon Voyage

Yes!!! Seven days later we looked back on what can only be described as a memorably magical week that we will forever cherish; everyone had a wonderful time and It was perfect in every way. During that week, cousins who seldom see one another had a real chance to bond. Much of that was done on the tours they all chose to take; zip-lining, panning for gold, dog-sled riding, wandering in the towns but much more was done on the ship.

The cruise line features three exceptional youth programs for ages 5-7, 8-12 and 13-17, all well planned and organized, no parents allowed. The two oldest boys spent most of their time in the teen center or on the basketball court. Everyone enjoyed the outdoor movies on the top deck while snuggling under provided blankets and there was a variety of appealing programs and activities for every age. The two youngest grandchildren visited the ship galley, donning chef’s toques and decorating cakes that were then presented to us at dinner that night. We did all meet for dinner; two tables adjacent to one another. The adults were at one, children at the other having a wonderful time ordering whatever they wanted from the menu and ignoring their parents’ suggestions about vegetables.

They were free to roam the ship as they pleased and they had the layout figured out within 12 hours of arrival while we, accustomed to much smaller vessels, were still trying to get oriented at the end of the week. Wandering the ship for the grandchildren invariably included stopping by the pizza or ice cream bar or the 24-hour coffee bar with freshly baked pastry. There were a lot of text messages flying between everyone asking where someone was or whether so-and-so had been seen recently but there was no cause for worry; everyone felt safe and the only people who got lost were the grandparents.

There was entertainment for every age; magic shows, musical stage presentations and comedians. We selected a particularly inviting lounge for frequent board games (available in the library) with a cast of rotating players as family members of all ages drifted in or out.

Happy Birthday

This was the perfect choice for a birthday celebration and the nicest thing the birthday guy receivedand the highlight of the week for himwas the thoughtful gift of some oneonone time during the week with every single member of the family; a breakfast or a lunch, a walk, a private game, a father-son massage. And lots of time for everyone to just talk.

There were a few queries about a celebration of MY “particularly significant birthday” but I reminded everyone that is three and a half years away. After a moment of silence, one granddaughter said we shouldn’t wait that long because “we want you to be there!” She has a point.