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