Cruising is the Best Family Vacation!

Vacation time is looming on the horizon, and you still haven't found the perfect place to go? Perhaps, when Jupiter aligns with Mars, the Great Idea will hit and you'll frantically make the calls --and pay the price. The family will have its vacation after all.

  • But Mom, will you get to escape to a spa for the afternoon just by taking an elevator?
  • Dad, will you be able to sprawl out on a chaise and not have to make one decision all day, except what flavor margarita to order?
  • Teens, will you disappear for hours and not get any flack when you show up because, after all, you can't have gone far anyway?
  • And kids, will you get to watch new-release movies all evening while your folks are out and not need a baby-sitter?

If your family is like ours, you've been to a few lakes, a few beaches, the mountains, a few big theme parks, a couple of major cities. Maybe you have a time share or rent the same cabin every year. No doubt, you've eaten in every chain in America. But after a while, you get tired of the long car rides, tempermental weather, high admission prices and pit stops.

Most of all, you tire of the stress of wondering, "Will this be a great vacation?" When you consider that the cost of an average Boomer family vacation is about $3,000-$6,000 for a week of fun in the sun, it's understandable that no family wants to feel ripped off or emotionally unfulfilled when they get home and have to face the rat race.

In our case, the questions and complaints ended on our first family cruise. We all got to do exactly what we wanted, sometimes together, sometimes not, but no one felt compromised and no fights ensued. Sounds miraculous, doesn't it?

Although Matt, my 11 year old, began cruising with us at the age of two, we had not tried it as a foursome until our nine year old, Ben, joined us on what is becoming the next classic family vacation, the Alaska cruise.

The scenery alone would have been enough, but now that we have experienced the curative powers of cruising, I don't have to hawk the concept to the tough customers in my house. After all, Matt and Ben have walked on a glacier, panned for gold, steamtrained through the Klondike--well, those are tales we'll tell in good time.

I can assure you that unless you suffer from thalassophobia (yes, it's real; fear of the sea), you won't find a vacation experience that offers more to each member of your family.

To those of you who are nature lovers and tend toward soft adventure, I can tell you that seeing bear and eagles close-up in Alaska, swimming with the sting rays in Grand Cayman, and birding in Costa Rica, all possibilities on cruise ships and merely the tip of the, excuse the mention, iceberg, is a fabulous experience, especially when the family does it together, bonding all the way.

As terrific as whitewater rafting or sleeping under the stars are, an entire vacation without a hot bath or air conditioning might make certain family members just a bit touchy. But with cruising, the kids build a context for their lives, Dad gets the video, and Mom doesn't have to cook or pick out a new restaurant for the evening.

Unlike resort vacations, you're not continually sizing up restaurant menus to figure out if you've gone off the deep end of your food budget, or nixing an activity toward the end of the week because you've spent too much overall.

Yes, we've had fun at Club Med and other all-inclusives, but the evening activities and dining on cruise ships are a lot more grown up. It's really nice at day's end to go on a date with your spouse, knowing the kids are being entertained in kids' or teen programs, or safe asleep in the cabin with night patrol checking up on them.

I can dissect every earthbound vacation we've taken and identify the good, bad and ugly, but why bother? There are at least 10 top reasons why family cruising beats a vacation on terra firma. Try a few of these on for size to see if you can picture yourselves in our shoes:

  • You don't have to be together all of the time, but you won't have to worry where everyone else is.
  • You can be together as much as you want; swim, play bingo, take an excursion, play basketball, see a movie, and you won't have to figure out what else there is to do. There's always something.
  • You can eat your meals together but you don't have to eat the same kind of food.
  • Thanks to buffets and grills, the kids can eat on their own if they're old enough to make decisions.
  • Kids have the option of kids' programs instead of dragging around with the old folks.
  • Vice versa.
  • You don't have to worry about the kids getting lost; in a day or two, they'll know their way around better than you.
  • You'll be staying in a beautiful environment without stained carpets or worn bedspreads.
  • You can drink and not worry about driving back.
  • You can see a show, gamble and go to a party all in one night without having to call the baby-sitter.

I must stress that one family's Big Red Boat could be the Titanic for Princess customers. It's very important that, based on your family's needs, ages and lifestyle, you select the right ship for you.

After you've made that decision, you'll find the specifics of planning for, shopping for, packing for, and experiencing cruising family-style here in the family and kids' sections of CruiseMates.

Best of all, our community of cruisers enables you to communicate in advance with other families like yours -- and kids like your kids -- who'll be with you on your cruise. Everyone who's on to CruiseMates can get acquainted beforehand and eliminate those first few days of feeling "new." (You've got to check out Kuki's advice on how to hook up in advance --he's The Man on that subject!) Making friends in advance of departure can enhance the experience so much for everyone in the family.

When it's time for the family to decide, "To cruise, or not to cruise?," don't harbor any reservations. Everyone at CruiseMates promises you'll be on those message boards the day after you get back, converting more innocent families to the ways of the waves.

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