“You should get combat pay for that.”
Not exactly the expected reaction when you tell folks about summer vacation plans. Deserving combat pay was one of my favorite replies, (and still makes me laugh out loud) but it’s a perfect example of the responses I had grown to expect as I told folks about a planned summer cruise to the Caribbean. At first, most were envious of the many sunny islands I would visit when sailing aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Fascination, but when I told them I would be sailing with five teenage girls, four of which had just graduated from high school, the anticipation seemed to instantly turn to downright fear. I wasn’t the only adult, but even strength in numbers didn’t seem to sway public opinion.
It was a celebratory cruise. The seniors, all headed off to college in the fall, were part of a Girl Scout troop that had been together from elementary school through high school. Some had even been friends since their pre-school days. They had been through a great amount of growing up together: they helped plant trees, held toothbrush donation drives, volunteered at community Easter egg hunts and school carnivals. In between it all they had sold thousands of boxes of cookies. Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Trefoils and all the other favorite flavors that are hard to say no to. Over the years they budgeted carefully, spent cautiously and saved enough so they could travel together.
Our Caribbean cruise was years in the making. In the time that had passed, the girls had gone to different schools, played on competing sports teams and pursued a variety of diverse interests. Picking a vacation destination, and figuring out a week that everyone could get away, took months and hundreds of emails. There were lessons in patience, hints about picking your battles and reminders never to give up.
I understood when friends, some parents and some not, remarked about courage, but I did my best to share my excitement about the trip. Two girls that did not have passports when the school year began, were ready and anticipating that first stamp. For one of them, our island hopping adventure would be her first time out of the United States. Even if it rained every day, in my mind, we had already achieved success.
I was confident and ready about all of the arrangements and logistics, until we were about to board the redeye that would take us on the first leg of our two flight journey to Puerto Rico. No, it wasn’t the lack of sleep that broke me – it was nerves. What if the girls didn’t have fun? What if the trip didn’t live up to their expectations? What if they didn’t like the ship?
I’d lost count of the many new ships that had set sail in the months before our trip, and keeping tabs on the amenities cruise lines have made possible afloat is mind boggling. New ships like Carnival Vista offer a long list of perks, especially for traveling families. From breweries, to IMAX theaters and aerial bike courses, there isn’t much you can’t do at sea these days.
But our boat, Fascination wasn’t new. She first set sail in 1994, making her older than the teens I was traveling with. Suddenly, I was concerned the one water slide, pool and mini golf wouldn’t be enough to keep the girls happily entertained.
Talk about overreacting.
Carnival Fascination may be an old ship, but what she lacks in flash and technology, she makes up for in other ways. The ship is smaller, with a normal cruise capacity of 2,052 and 920 crew. Wider hallways made for less crowded hallways. Less cabins have balconies, but those balconies are bigger and so are the showers. In family cabins designed to house four, both uppers come out of the ceiling, meaning during the day they can both go back up and easily be out of the way. Alternatively, they serve as a perch for kids young and old. Less guests mean cabin stewards can and do recognize you when you are away from your room, and dining room waiters can pick you out, even when you’re a floor away from your assigned dinner table. Taken separately, they may all seem like unimportant details, but they add up quickly.
As for the lack of bells and whistles, when the week at sea was up, the girls had squeezed in only one go down the waterslide, and run out of time to get in the pool or take a swing on the putt putt course. Turns out all they needed was each other and some great ports of call to explore together. They swam with turtles in Barbados, took a ferry from St. Thomas to Water Island and learned how wonderful having a secluded beach all to yourself can be, found colorful conch shells in Nevis and ate croissants in St. Martin.
Cruising life was good. So good in fact, that after making a final.. ahem.. breakfast run to Fascination’s 24 hour soft serve ice cream machine, someone had a brilliant idea of doing it all over again in four years for college graduation. I’m in. No combat pay required.
Dana’s sailing was hosted by Carnival Cruise Line, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.
About the Author
Dana Rebmann has successfully trained her family to be able to pack a carry-on bag with just minutes notice. Weekends spent exploring the San Francisco Bay Area outnumber those at home in wine country, but her favorite trips require a passport and typically a destination with warm sand and blue water. Along with travel, Dana writes about food, wine and anything fun.
Connect with Dana on her website, Twitter and Instagram.