Though no longer a teen, our photo editor grew up going on annual family cruises. Read about her favorite childhood cruise memories and favorite cruise lines for kids.
When I was younger, my paternal grandmother, Mimi, would take all of her grandchildren and their parents on a cruise during the Christmas season. Lucky me, I know. I had the privilege of going on a cruise almost every year for about eight years. I was about 13 on my last cruise, which means I got a lot of cruising experience at a young age. In my travels I have gone to many cities in Mexico, all over the Caribbean, Panama, Colombia, Nicaragua and Guatemala, just to name a few.
Some of my fondest memories, aside from the tropical locals, came from the friends I made and the things that I did in the various kids’ programs that I attended. Each cruise line (I went on a total of four different cruise lines and review them in a separate article) had its own unique program for kids, which was usually divided up by age group: the youngest kids (usually ages 3 to 7), older kids (usually 8 to 12), and finally tweens and teens.
Each day, along with my parents’ newspaper and the ship’s morning newsletter, an agenda of the day’s kids’ activities for my age would be slipped under our stateroom door. Throughout the day, there would be a host of activities from crafts, to scavenger hunts, to tours of the ship’s bridge with the captain and much more. Usually whenever we reached a port, the kids’ activities would be suspended to allow families an opportunity to explore the destination together.
One problem that did arise from my diligent following of the kids’ activities programs schedule involved dinnertime. My family has always been notoriously late eaters. So, when given the option of whether we wanted to partake in the early dinner, starting between 5 and 6 p.m., or the late dinner, starting at 7 to 8 p.m., my family opted for the late dinner.
Much to my dismay, the kids’ evening activities were scheduled around early diners, meaning I’d have to choose between dinner with family or fun with friends. Often, my parents made the decision for me, making me a pouty Ashleigh. Today, with the growing popularity of schedule-free cruising—which means you can choose when and where you want your meals—families are no longer torn by those regimented dining decisions. Lucky them!
During these family cruises, I was bit by the travel bug; I was fascinated by the new and exotic locations that we visited. Even more fun were the shore excursions. One of my family’s favorite things to do was go snorkeling. With me being so young, and no one in my immediate family being certified to scuba dive, snorkeling was the perfect solution for us. Usually my grandmother, mom and aunt opted to stay on shore shopping, but the rest of us happily signed up for the snorkel excursion at all our port stops. I have been to snorkel sites all over the Caribbean. Some of my favorites: Key West, the Cayman Islands and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Cayman Islands, which I’ve visited multiple times, has one of the greatest snorkel adventures there is: Stingray City. After taking a ride on a catamaran out into the ocean, tourists have the opportunity to swim and feed stingrays. I immediately fell for these gentle giants, which were like nothing I had ever touched or been close to before. I even remember the hickey one unfortunate tourist got when a stingray was a little too excited during its feeding time.
In St. John, I had my first close-up look at a giant sea turtle swimming along the rocky shores of the island. I have drawers filled with murky photos from my many disposable underwater cameras that I happily filled up on most snorkel adventures.
Some of my other favorite activities include the pirate cruise that we went on during one of our stops in the Cayman Islands and shopping for knickknacks at any of our destinations. The pirate cruise may seem like it would be mostly for kids, but when I asked my dad about it recently, I was surprised to hear that he had just about as much fun as we kids did. In addition to sailing the seas in a really cool replica pirate ship, the cruise offered stories, pirate re-enactments, an entertaining crew of characters, music, light snacks, a plank to walk and even a rope swing for some of the braver swashbucklers. Not to mention, when we dropped anchor, the guests were invited to cool off in the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. Where was it fun for my dad? Well, until recently I never realized that what we kids called the pirate cruise was really a booze cruise for adults. Parents happily sipped rum (what else would a pirate drink?) while their kids took a plunge into Davey Jones’ Locker.
Looking back on my younger days, I am jealous of how much fun my pre-teen self had on these cruises. I really miss them, as does the rest of my family. With my grandmother’s increasing mobility problems and my older cousins beginning to start adult lives of their own, we stopped our annual cruising ritual before, in retrospect, I was ever able to fully appreciate them. My grandmother to this day still mentions how much she misses all of us getting together during the holidays. In fact, I’m not even sure if I have seen my aunt, uncle and cousins, who live on the East Coast, since our last cruise.
If I could afford to do one thing when I am older, it would be to continue this tradition with my own family. That way, I can make my kids go snorkeling with me!
I agree that cruises tend to be extremely addictive and I feel that going on them can help drive an enthusiastic and inquisitive personality for younger people. To get further information for family cruising in places such as the Caribbean, you could look at this family cruise holiday guide to help you decide what is on offer for you and your family. I really enjoyed this style of article.
Best Article I have read on the site hands down.