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It’s late November, and both of my kids really should be in school—grades two and four respectively—but instead, they’re bowling a coconut down the beach and hunting for geckos while I type this from a restaurant on the sand nearby. We’re on Koh Lanta, an island in southern Thailand, and we’re not coming home until March.
The kids are Ciaran, nearly seven, and Chloe, nine. Koh Lanta is just one stop on our six-month tour of southeast Asia and southern India. Together with my husband, Mark, we set off from Ottawa in mid-August for Bali, where we spent the first month helping the kids become seasoned little travellers. After that, we spent several weeks roaming north from Singapore up through peninsular Malaysia. From there we took in Bangkok and parts of northern Thailand before heading to Laos via a two-day slow boat trip along the Mekong River. Descending back south through Laos from Luang Prabang to the capital, Vientiane, we then made our way down to southern Thailand.
November 20 is the midpoint of the trip, so the balance has already tipped—sadly, we’ve got less time ahead of us than we have behind us. Coming up ahead, we still have Cambodia, Vietnam and southern India to cover. So far, everyone is healthy and happy and having a fabulous time.
The kids have stunned us with their infinite adaptability and flexibility. They virtually never complain about missing anybody or anything from home. They can find something to love about even the most hideous of hotel rooms. They can find something to order on the sketchiest of menus. They can see the funny side of any near (or complete) disaster. They can sleep in the strangest, noisiest, most disruptive environments.
Unsurprisingly, they can also fight over the silliest things and be incredibly resistant to the school work we sometimes impose on them, but overall I would say we’ve been amazed and dazzled (and relieved) by how well they’re coping.
Of course, a trip of this magnitude is not without its challenges—and the next one facing us will be how to mark the holidays. While we’re not particularly religious, our family has always celebrated Christmas, and Santa Claus has a reputation in our house for being excessively generous. We’re still working out how Santa will find us in Vietnam, whether or not he will be wrapping the gifts this year, and how he’s going to fly his sled around (and land it) in the absence of snow. More news on all of that in my next entry!
This is the question I’ve been alternately dreading and dodging since I began planning this trip two years ago.
I mean, the answer is obvious: of course Santa comes to Vietnam. I’m not going to impose a trip like this on my kids—taking them to the other side of the world, away from their friends, family, school and everything familiar for six months—and then tell them that on top of all that, Santa will just be giving us a miss this year.
But the question remains: exactly how will we celebrate Christmas, and how will we keep the Santa myth going despite the obvious obstacles? Complicating the answer is the fact that we’re not sure where we’re going to be, other than “somewhere in Vietnam” (we’re in Cambodia at the moment), nor do we know whom we may be spending the occasion with. Here are some of the main obstacles we’ve considered:
At home we eschew church (yes, even on Christmas Eve), but I imagine this year we may go looking for one, just to inject some much-needed ceremony and tradition into the day. We’ll also need to be flexible in our interpretations of traditions: stir-fried chicken for dinner instead of turkey, banana fritters instead of chocolate log, and we can always leave out some sticky coconut rice balls and sweet coffee for Santa.
The good news is that if online reports are accurate, Christmas is actually one of Vietnam’s four most important festivals. I’ve also read that children in Vietnam believe in Santa Claus, and put their shoes in front of their doors on Christmas Eve, expecting to find them filled with treats in the morning. This leads me to be optimistic about our odds of finding Christmas decorations, treats, trinkets and trifles in shops as Christmas approaches.
Meanwhile, we’re not entirely without resources:
And finally, of course, we’ll take some cues from local traditions. If Christmas is Vietnam’s fourth biggest celebration, there’s bound to be some buzz about it no matter where we are.
We arrived in Hoi An, a small town about midway up the coast of Vietnam, just a few days before Christmas. If you read my last entry, then you’ll know we had a few ideas up our sleeves about how to pull off a Christmas that wouldn’t disappoint the kids—but we had been unable to do much to prepare. More than four months into our half-year trip and carrying all of our belongings on our backs, it had simply been impossible to buy very much.
And Hoi An did not prove an ideal place to make up for lost shopping time. Now a UNESCO world heritage site whose quaint old city district evokes Paris in its own uniquely Asian (decaying) sort of way, it does draw thousands of tourists and it did make for a beautiful place to spend the holidays. But modern, it is not. There was not a single convenience store or Western-looking shop in sight despite the seemingly hundreds of tailor shops and souvenir stands selling paper lanterns and wooden Buddha figures.
Undeterred, I began with the first order of business: finding a Christmas tree for our hotel room.
I hadn’t seen any shops in Hoi An selling Christmas decorations, but there was a large, artificial Christmas tree in our hotel lobby, and a small one perched on the front desk, so I figured the manager might know where I could get a tree. No luck, though; when I asked, he said he wasn’t the one who’d shopped for them and he was pretty sure they’d come from Danang, a much bigger city about an hour away. If I liked, one of the hotel drivers could bring one back for me later that afternoon, since he was headed that way to bring guests to the airport.
But I was skeptical about being overcharged, and preferred to choose my own. So the manager went off to make some calls, and returned 10 minutes later with a solution: apparently, artificial Christmas trees were available at a Vietnamese bookstore just outside Hoi An’s old city.
Chloe and I set off in a taxi in hot pursuit of a tree. Pulling up at our destination, we found ourselves in front of not just one, but two little shops hawking Christmas paraphernalia. We rounded up tinsel, stickers, craft supplies and gift wrap at the bookstore, then went to the next shop for the tree.
There were at least six sizes available—all on display, all fully decorated with lights—and the little one we liked, about two-and-a-half feet tall, was just $8. The shop itself was tiny (maybe 8’ x 8’), crowded, busy and noisy, so it wasn’t easy getting anyone’s attention. Finally, after waiting near the cash for a while, I was able to communicate by pointing and gesturing that I’d like to buy that little tree.
The shop owner made his way out from behind the cash, walked over to the tree, lightly touched the strand of lights woven into its branches, and looked at me expectantly. I nodded and smiled. He rifled through a shelf beneath the tree, came out with a package of lights, and handed them to me.
I tried again, getting his attention again and this time actually touching the tree’s branches. “Ah,” he said, and led me outside, to where dozens of strands of tinsel hung on display. He pointed to a strand and said, “Hah? Color?” He thought I wanted to buy the tinsel.
I was going to have to get a bit more dramatic. I shook my head, then went back to the little tree and moved my arms up and down vigorously over the entire length of it to show that I wanted the WHOLE TREE. After a few moments, he understood what I wanted. He unplugged the tree, picked it up whole—decorations included—carried it outside, and plunked it down on the middle of the sidewalk in the rain. Chloe and I looked at each other for a moment, incredulous and briefly puzzled, before both of us ultimately burst into laughter. Who could have guessed that the $8 price tag would include lights and decorations, but no box to take it all home in?
Flagging down another cab, Chloe and I rode back to our hotel with the tree in the backseat between us. She named it Milliter.
Procuring Milliter was certainly one of the more memorable events of my holiday this year, but it was just the beginning of an unusual Christmas. Since the former fishing village of Hoi An is now best known for its profusion of silk and tailoring shops, we solved the Christmas stocking problem by getting some made-to-order in a range of red and green silks. We handed those out, gift-wrapped, on Christmas Eve, and the kids were delighted.
We had brought about 30 photos of friends and family from home, and these we taped to a long string of thin, green tinsel that we draped across the wall over the beds. The kids made the rest of the holiday decorations from the motley assortment of craft supplies we’d managed to find—pipe-cleaner snowmen, sticker scenes, and even a second, small Christmas tree created by stacking cut-out paper snowflakes vertically along a toilet-paper roll taped to the floor.
We just needed a few more pieces to complete the traditional Christmas picture. Back at the hotel, I was able to download our favourite Christmas cartoons—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. After a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner at an old-city restaurant overlooking the river (during which we ate not a single traditional food), we made our way home to watch some of them on the laptop.
With the fast, mostly reliable WiFi connection at our hotel, we were able to visit the NORAD website on Christmas Eve to track Santa’s progress, hustling the kids into bed when we noticed that he was already over Indonesia.
Despite the dismal shopping scene in Hoi An, we managed a respectably large pile of wrapped gifts under that small tree after all: we got four silk sleeping bags made at a fair-trade shop in the old city, and we’d stored away Lego and new books that we’d picked up in Bangkok some weeks back. Other small gifts included bookmarks, a deck of cards, a Buddha figure, a box of M&Ms, and lots of other edible treats, including mangoes, rambutans and chocolate. There were also some lightweight but big-ticket “promise” gifts: certificates for new bunk beds at home, the promise of a puppy (delivered in the form of a fifth, matching silk Christmas stocking), and one “get out of homeschool free” pass for each child.
The kids were a bit discouraged, at first, by the lack of snow on Christmas Day, but perked up when we told them there was none in Toronto this year either. They happily settled for sand castles instead of snow forts, and body surfing instead of sledding.
We had been eagerly awaiting a Christmas package that my sister-in-law in Ottawa had put together and shipped to Hoi An’s main post office for us. We’d hoped it would arrive in time for Christmas, but it got held up until the day we left Hoi An, December 30. This didn’t cause any disappointment for the kids, however, since we hadn’t told them it was coming. Instead, its contents were a magnificent bonus. “This Christmas just keeps on getting better and better!” was Chloe’s response to the additional books and generous stash of candy canes.
I’m not sure what the kids will remember best, years from now, about this unusual Christmas. But it will be a while before I forget what it was like to wrap all those gifts in the same small room as the sleeping children (freaking out the entire time about the possibility of them waking up while all the loot was still scattered across the floor), cutting the wrapping paper with tiny cuticle scissors, making our own gift tags out of plain white paper and stickers, and eventually running out of both wrapping paper and tape altogether. Whew.
Twelve years ago, before kids, my husband and I travelled around Asia and Africa for a year, spending four of those months on the Indian subcontinent. When we had reached the end of our stint in India, we couldn’t wait to leave. It is a huge understatement to say that India is a challenging destination even for seasoned travellers, and our experience there had been a complicated love-hate affair. In a year of traipsing through a dozen difficult countries, a third of them in Africa, no place had been anywhere near as trying, exasperating or wearying as India. This is probably why many people looked at us with one eyebrow raised when we started planning, two years ago, to take the kids there.
The thing is, a strange thing happened after our first visit to India: we started to miss the place. It turned out that most of the stories we found ourselves recalling and recounting about our year away were about the bizarre, amusing, maddening things that had happened to us in India. We had seen only the north of the country during that trip, and as the years went by I knew that some day, we were going to feel compelled to go back and see the south.
And so here we are—and I have to say, so far it’s nothing like what I remember.
We flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Chennai, India a few days ago, stayed one night at an airport hotel, then caught another flight to Trivandrum the following afternoon. Trivandrum is about a hundred kilometres north of India’s southernmost tip, a half-hour drive from the small beach resort of Kovalam. Exiting the Trivandrum airport, we caught a pre-paid taxi to Kovalam and began our adventure.
We were prepared for all of the things that had made India so difficult the last time: aggressive touts and beggars, overcrowding, unbearable heat, unpleasant smells, choking traffic, crooked rickshaw and taxi drivers, garbage and cow manure and open manholes to dodge as we walked the streets.
So we were pleasantly amazed to find ourselves in a little piece of India that is like nothing we encountered before. “Have you taken us somewhere else without telling me?” my husband keeps asking me with mock suspicion.
Getting here was easy. People are helpful and friendly. The hotel, although cheap, is clean and welcoming. The beach is also clean, with clear water and vigilant lifeguards. There’s fabulous muesli for breakfast. The coffee is the best I’ve had on this entire trip so far. There are bins along the beach for garbage, and people actually seem to use them.
In other words, it seems we’ve inadvertently stumbled upon India For Beginners—the perfect place to get re-acquainted with (and introduce the children to) the subcontinent.
To be honest, it’s likely that when we recalled everything that was difficult about India on our first visit, we were thinking about our introduction to the country. That time, we flew into Delhi, got dropped off at the train station, and were wildly unprepared for the chaotic scene that greeted us. This time, with the benefit of hindsight, we chose deliberately to begin in a small town after four months elsewhere in Asia—with the kids as seasoned as they were ever going to be—and it has made all the difference.
Since our arrival, we’ve established a relaxed routine that involves a leisurely breakfast followed by two hours of school work, then lunch and afternoon at the beach, where we can rent chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards for about $8. Happy hour begins at sunset—it’s quite spectacular, setting over the Arabian sea—when the kids enjoy mango lassis and we share a few cold Kingfisher beers. The kids know just what they like when it comes to Indian food, and it always gives us a moment of combined pride and amusement to hear them ask for palak paneer, veg korma, channa masala and chapattis when the waiter comes by.
As pleasant as Kovalam is, however, there is something artificial about it. It’s a popular destination for package tourists, which may explain why it seems so familiar and easy to manage. We’ll soon have to move on. Today’s task: deciding whether to head to the next town by car or by train, and maybe finding a yoga class.
We’re into the final six weeks of our half-year trip now, but there are still lots of exciting things to see and do as we move north, including an overnight houseboat tour of Kerala’s backwaters, more overnight sleeper trains, a hill station, a wildlife sanctuary, ruins of ancient cities, more beaches and, of course, our final destination: busy, massive Mumbai. So far, we’re loving India.
No more land border crossings. No more visa applications. No more cold showers, grotty bathrooms, scams to dodge, hotels to research or train tickets to book, and not very many more blog entries.
Finally, we’ve worn out two out of three of our iPods and used up nearly all of the memory on our laptop. Our whites are all grays, our ends are all bleached, our backpacks are weathered and the soles of our shoes are worn flat. We’ve taken all our malaria pills (just about), used up all our Band-Aids, flown our last flight and spent all our money.
We’ve arrived home scruffy, seasoned and rejuvenated, sad that the trip is over but happy to lay eyes on the familiar modern world again and stay in one place for a while. The kids, in particular, are thrilled to see their toys and friends again.
The trip will live on as a family legend, not just a vacation but something more on the scale of an epic accomplishment. It was at turns exhilarating, exhausting, fascinating, trying, thrilling, entertaining, frustrating, surprising and, very occasionally, death-defying. It was a wild ride, a fabulous adventure and often a grand test of our patience, fortitude and immune systems.
When it was good, it was the best decision we’d ever made, and when it was not, we thought ourselves mad for taking it on. When the kids were managing beautifully and the travelling was easy, we thought about what excellent parents we were for showing them the world and spending so much time in their company: 24/7 for six and a half months. It was harder to be smug when they fought non-stop, resisted home-schooling, threw up on their shoes and missed their friends. And when occasionally we found ourselves in physically dangerous situations with them, we were appalled at the poor judgment that had caused us to drag them halfway around the world just to increase their odds of dying in a fiery bus crash.
It was a crazy, unforgettable experience that we’re amazed and pleased to have shared and survived, and so lucky to have enjoyed.
In the end, we visited eight countries, including more than 45 cities or towns. Between us we read more than 150 books in the 180 days we were gone. We had six months to learn what we could about each place we visited, but that time also gave us the luxury to learn about anything else that interested us, including each other. It also gave us the benefit of perspective on the lives we had left behind and would be returning to. It was half a year of new experiences, new languages, new foods, new friends and family bonding.
We’re all a bit wistful about the end of the trip, but maybe it’s best to end on a positive note. Ciaran, never the sentimental type, is looking at it this way. “I’m really looking forward to going home,” he said the other day with great enthusiasm. “Want to know why? It’s because of our three-storey house! We won’t all have to share a small hotel room anymore! And I won’t have to use bottled water to brush my teeth! And it’s been way too long since I ate some of Grandpa Kip’s barbecue chicken.”
Well, there you have it.
I think North American women are ready to put up an ‘arret’ sign against the recent barrage of books by French femmes who are writing about how they drink champagne, eat foie gras and don’t get fat; bring up beautifully behaved children simply by setting out a few non-negotiable ground rules; get those same children to eat anything (only at prescribed times); and how they simply don’t allow pregnancy and childbirth to disturb their bodies, their clothing size or their lifestyle.
They would have us believe that instead of yelling at kids to turn off the television, finish their homework while heating up a frozen dinner and tipping toward that white wine box in the fridge, that a typical French evening is spent at an outdoor bistro, with their well-dressed and charming progeny quietly entertaining themselves, eating haute cuisine without complaint, and participating in meaningful yet respectful dialogue. In fact, the tranquility of their evening would likely only be interrupted by the whining and misbehaviour of the demanding and obnoxious American (or Canadian—who can tell—or cares) at the table next to them, in their baggy t-shirts showing their sports team loyalty, their low slung pants and their plastic gardening shoes, repeatedly requesting ketchup in their increasingly loud English voices.
Right. Sometimes it’s just time to get real. C’est vrai.
I’m in Paris right now, sitting at a bistro, carefully observing a Parisian Mom, sitting at an outdoor café with her two young daughters, fresh from school pick up. While they are all beautifully dressed, and sitting quietly, there are some details which don’t go unnoticed by me. One of the girls has a hot chocolate, topped with elaborate whipped cream in front of her, while her sister flips through a graphic novel and repeatedly kicks the leg of her mother’s chair. I observed Le Mom herself having a glass of rose and catching a quick cigarette. Not judging, just noting, of course.
Back at my hotel room, at least eight of the 20 channels are taken up by children’s programming, leading me to believe that there is indeed a market here for early morning and maybe after school television for children as well. Noted as well.
I put deux plus deux together and come up with this: could it be that the French are (gasp) sort of like us? Could it be that the hot chocolate is their Oreo cookies and milk, that their graphic novels are our unconnected iPads and that Mom grabbing a glass at an outdoor café isn’t really doing any different than the quick chardonnay we throw down while making (a crappy) dinner? Is there a French equivalent of Phineas and Ferb? Doesn’t the smoking, in one single stroke, wipe out any superiority feelings about parenting they might have?
Perhaps. But perhaps not. After all, that Mom did get to have that glass served to her at an outside cafe in Paris, instead of serving herself from a box in her sticky-fingered fridge. Maybe all we need to do to embrace the French lifestyle is to turn that ‘arret’ sign into a ‘go’, as in ‘Go to the Bistro.’ Vite.
Last summer, my husband and I chose to drive from Toronto, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with our two daughters. It was one of the most memorable and awesome summer vacations we had ever experienced as a family.
Along with being able to capture the historic beauty of Quebec, we also visited New Brunswick and PEI for the first time. After spending time with friends in Halifax, we were awe inspired by the breathtaking Green and White Mountain ranges as we drove back home through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Never having experienced a family road trip before, I wasn’t sure how everyone would adapt to spending so many hours on the road but planning ahead really paid off and we can’t wait to do it again.
If you’re planning a road trip with your family anytime soon, here’s what you might like to know:
1. Consider the age and temperament of your children. Travelling as we did with two older children who are quite capable of entertaining themselves, and each other, made our trip that much more enjoyable. I don’t think it would have been quite the same if we had made the same trip when they were much younger. Although travelling overnight so that young children can sleep the hours away may make getting to your destination easier, there are cons to this. For one thing, you may feel exhausted from driving without getting a night’s sleep and the beauty of your surroundings will be lost.
2. The journey is really just as important as the destination. If you plot out stops and points of interest along the way, then the final destination becomes the place that you are spending the most amount of time at, but is not that much more important than all the special stops along the way. If you journey over several days and don’t need to be somewhere in a hurry, then you’re more likely to appreciate every place you stop at. And dont be afraid to make slight diversions along the way if something special catches your attention.
3. Involve your family in the planning stage. If your children do research on the internet, for example, about special places they’d like to visit and if you integrate these stops along the way, they will feel that their needs have been equally considered. Then the vacation truly becomes a family vacation.
4. Take lots to occupy them in the car. One of the great things about car travel is that you don’t have to worry about your luggage being a couple of pounds overweight. You also don’t have to worry about other restrictions such as products that are not allowed on board an aircraft, for example. Other than the portable DVD and other electronics, how about a knapsack of creative car activities such as paper and crayons, stickers and maybe even a small lap tray to place the material on. This knapsack can also be taken in and out of restaurants too.
5. Other than material items for the kids, think about other games that require nothing more than thought and imagination. Counting the number of red versus blue cars between point A and B or playing a memory game such as ‘I went to the market…’ are great ways to pass time.
6. Help your children know in advance how much time between stops so that they don’t ask ‘Are we there yet?’ every half hour. Older children, who understand time and can read, can be provided with an itinerary including approximate time planned to be on the road. Children can also be helped by showing them how to read a GPS so that they can see at a glance how much time remains until they can stretch their legs or visit another place of interest.
7. If you typically drive a smaller car, consider renting a mini van for the time you’re going to be away. A van allows you the luxury of extra leg space, extra luggage space and extra elbow space may even mean that the children are less likely to fight with one another—both physically and verbally.
Most importantly, take lots of time planning and researching a road trip so that you know where and when you are coming and going. Treasure each stop and inhale every moment along the way. Don’t rush the trip but plan the scenic route so that you can experience the beauty of your surroundings.
This time last week my two children, husband and I were cruising. Prior to our adventure, I’d never pictured myself as a sailor. I worried about motion sickness and feeling lost adrift a gigantic vessel on a seemingly infinite sea. I could barely watch Life of Pi or Titanic without projecting myself onto the screen, fear rising up inside me. Ultimately, I began meandering closer to thinking about cruising as a vacation possibility. Many of my friends are avid cruisers, so I became more and more curious about what all the fuss was about.
Upon exploring the option of all inclusive resorts in the Caribbean versus a cruise holiday, I was surprised to learn that the cruise was actually more economical. I became excited at the idea of being able to see five new places in one week, while only unpacking once. I realized that being on the ship was about enjoying the journey along the way to sampling wonderful destinations. Suddenly, I became hooked and before long, we were all booked and raring to go.
Here are some tips I’d like to pass onto you following my first voyage atop the no longer scary waters.
1. Book your own flights. Next time we cruise, I will arrange to arrive at the destination we are sailing from with at least a day to spare. Since we booked our cruise and flight as part of a single package, we weren’t given a choice as to time and date to fly out. As a result of a five hour delay in our flight the day we were to set sail, we arrived at the ship with an hour to spare before sailing. We missed the orientation and muster drill, which allows you to know what to do in the case of an emergency. In regards to the flight home, I would prefer to arrive home at a reasonable time, such as mid-afternoon. We didn’t get home until 10 pm on Sunday evening so there was no time to catch our breath before having to get our kids ready for bed and Monday morning at school. Returning home on a Saturday is ideal, if possible.
2. Read and complete custom forms carefully. Take special note of what you can and can’t bring on board your flight. Whether cruising or not, fruits and vegetables, for example, need to be declared. We inadvertently didn’t declare an apple and were interrogated in a secondary screening room. When the US agriculture customs official spied a US sticker on our apple, we were suddenly free and clear. Apparently, US apples are allowed into the States. Canadian apples are not. Make sure to complete the customs forms carefully and accurately. I don’t think my children will ever look at an apple the same way again.
3. Be tourist savvy. Beware that tourists (especially those coming from cruise ships) are like prey to some locals. Twice we were intentionally misled as to the cost of our taxi fare in Puerto Rico. Another time in St. Kitts we were handed the most irresistible green monkeys to stroke but before we knew what was happening, we were asked for ten dollars in exchange for the photo we had taken. I understand that this is how some of the locals make money to survive, but don’t assume anything is free—not even directions—on some of the islands.
4. Making connections. Everyone is required to carry a set sail pass with them at all times. An excellent system allows computers to scan in your personal electronic bar code on it so that ship personnel know who is onboard and who is not. This pass is also used in place of cash on board since ships are cashless. It’s also the ‘key’ to your cabin. We asked guest relations (open 24/7) to punch a hole through the corners of ours so that we could wear them on lanyards around our necks. Prior to leaving Canada, we purposely purchased dollar store red and white lanyards with ‘Canada’ on them so that we could proudly identify our nationality. This proved to be a great way to meet people. Other Canadians made themselves known—one person even lived in the same community as ours.
5. Communication. Christian Franco, Adventure Ocean Manager, suggests bringing walkie talkies with. These are great ways to keep in touch with your kids, in particular, and vice versa. He also suggests another simple, but great idea for communication—a white board left in the cabin, so that family members can leave messages for one another such as ‘meet me at pool.’
6. Cabins. Although inside cabins are slightly less expensive, it’s worth paying the extra bit for a cabin with a balcony. Even though our standard balcony room was very tight for space (and I had to keep reminding the girls to keep organized so we didn’t misplace anything), it was great even leaving our empty suitcases on the balcony. It was especially nice just standing out at night looking up at the stars in a clear sky or leaving the door open slightly to hear the breaking of the waves against the ship. Better yet, if you can afford a junior suite or the crème de la crème, an owner’s suite, you will experience true luxury.
7. Footwear. Christian Franco recommends that each family member brings along at least a pair of waterproof shoes, such as Crocs—these are great for around the pool, at the beach or at the kids’ club.
8. Excursions. Before leaving, I did a lot of research on various excursions offered through the ship as well as by local companies. I also researched places of interest that we could get to by foot. I’d recommend internet sites such as cruisecritic.com and tripadvisor.com to learn about excursions at the various ports of call that others have taken. Ultimately, I booked a combination of tours—one through the ship to the amazing Dolphin Academy in Curacao where we hugged, stroked and kissed dolphins, another through Island Marketing Tours for an excursion in St. Thomas and a third through a wonderful woman, Beulah Mills, who you can contact through Welcome Tours in St. Kitts. Both these companies offered reasonably priced tours, the guides were incredibly knowledgeable about their islands, very friendly and extremely familiar with how to manage cruise guests, such as making sure that we got back to the ship on time. I corresponded with Beulah and island marketing tours several times via email before leaving and felt good about supporting locals. Resortforaday.com, operating on various islands, also allows outside guests to take advantage of their facilities for the day, should you choose.
9. Leave all technology at home.Connecting to the internet or sending texts or emails from a ship is extremely expensive and the perfect reason to leave all technology behind. If you really need to connect with others or check emails, you can find eating places on the islands that offer WiFi connections.
10. Dining. On board you can choose to sit at the same table at the same time every evening or you can choose My Time Dining which allows you the freedom of choosing when you want to dine. The benefit to sitting at the same table each night is that you avoid line ups, get to know your waiter and they get to know your family, and if you choose the earlier time slot, you have a longer time for entertainment in the evening. If you’re travelling with an only child or have children who would like to meet others their age, request a larger table with a family who have children of similar ages.
Overall, I highly recommend cruising with kids. Explore which lines and ships will best suit your family’s needs and then sail away, leaving all your worries behind you.