Heidi: Ok, I'm sure you get the question all the time, just like I do: What are the best cruises? Not easy to answer in a snappy one-liner, of course. As we both preach, it depends on what you like and who you're cruising with. Since I do this for a living, my cruise companions are key in deciding which cruises I do when and where. I wouldn't take my young children on a ritzy Silversea cruise to Africa any more than I'd take my tank-top and baseball-cap-wearing brother on the QM2. You know?
Matt: I do. Right now I'm trying to decide between two completely different ships in the Caribbean this winter, MSC's 2,550-passenger Poesia and Star Clippers' 227-passenger square-rigger Royal Clipper. My heart says Royal Clipper, but my 8-month-old son would be more manageable aboard MSC: more space, more diversions, and (probably) more tolerance from other passengers when he starts squalling at 3am. I was hoping to do a small-ship cruise on the Columbia River this year too, but an 80-passenger ship with a fussy baby? Not so much. Now I'm thinking, "Disney . . ."
Heidi: It's true, the big megaships can be vapid and predictable, but they're ideal for families with young kids. I should know, having schlepped my not-quite-seven-year-old sons on 20 cruises so far. They're as comfortable on a cruise ship as they are anywhere. They love the playrooms of course, but also the shows, especially the magicians and illusionists, and even some of the song-and-dance production shows -- especially if Abba and Queen songs are part of the repertoire.
Matt: Abba and Queen? Are your kids from the 70s? Oh wait, you're from the '70s. I get it.
Heidi: Go figure, they're retro cool. And suckers for the dining routine too. They love friendly waiters who make a fuss and show them tricks with napkins, toothpicks and wine corks. They're happy as clams ordering pizza, spaghetti and ice-cream night after night. They can't wait to explore the ship the minute we board, and they're old enough now that they can read the daily schedules to plan what they want to do. They're active, hands-on joiners and the big ships are ideal for that.
Matt: Yeah, I have to really think in those terms now, 'cause it's all about family travel at the Hannafin house these days. Ideally, I'd like to talk my parents into doing a cruise with us soon. It's such a great way to catch up and give them time with the baby, but good luck getting them on a ship -- ironically, in my dad's case, since he was in the Coast Guard, but he's got the "I'd be bored to death on a cruise ship with nothing to do" mindset. I've told him there's actually a lot to do, and you're off-vessel half the time anyway, but that argument hasn't sunk in yet.
Heidi: Funny, my parents love not doing anything --- which of course is also an option on a cruise. They like the cocoon setting and the 1950s-style glamour they still associate with cruising. They like a ship that's small enough for them to get to know the waiters in their favorite lounges, but on the other hand, they like their privacy and appreciate the anonymity of bigger ship. They could care less about rock-climbing walls, Internet centers or branded bath amenities; they just want to travel in a nice way to nice places on a nice mid-size ship that isn't too extreme in any way.
Matt: Lately, I know how they feel. My MO when traveling has always been to try and pack as much into a trip as possible, fill up every minute, and (if possible) do it all in some crazy-ass locale like Siberia. Lately, though, I've started to daydream about just being on a ship and doing absolutely nothing. Chalk that up to the baby: Having to chase him around all day and then get up with him three or four times a night has just been so exhausting, all I want do to is sit in a deck chair and read. Ultimate current fantasy: The wife and me on a SeaDream ship in the Adriatic, while baby spends a week with a mythic kindly aunt who showers him with affection. Would settle for: Two hours in the adults-only Solarium on a Princess ship in the Mexican Riviera, while we pay an off-duty cabin steward to babysit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I found myself musing this morning about a midwinter transatlantic crossing, with giant waves making everybody bounce of the walls like Spaldeens. Exciting! But none of the cruise lines offer those anymore -- and who would I ever get to go with me, even if they did?
Heidi: It takes all kinds. I have friends who like to rough it and those that just want to join me on the Crystals of the world drinking champagne and getting their nails done. Different strokes. Luckily I'm a chameleon.
Matt: I'm a karma chameleon: a ship has to speak to me somehow if I'm really going to enjoy the experience. That's why I'd really love to do that Royal Clipper sailing. My wife would love it too -- we took a cruise a few years ago on Windstar's Wind Surf, and she just loooooved that. But again, the kid.
Heidi: Yeh, the kid. Definitely don't take him on Star Clippers, those beauties are for adults only. My problem is my hubby tends to get seasick on small sailing boats, so I recruit a gal pal to sample lines like Star Clippers (and leave him at home with the kiddos!). Hubby also finds river boats a bit confining and lacking in amenities (namely in the gym area; he's addicted to working out), but since I can't claim that addiction, I happily did a river boat cruise recently with an old high school friend. We glided down the Mekong River on the 60-passenger Pandaw Orient (www.pandaw.com) and just loved it. We spent our days on excursions or sitting on deck watching the scenery float by. Works for me!
Matt: River cruises: another option that will have to wait for the kid to get a little older. I mean, I could go alone -- it would technically be a business trip, after all -- but I'd feel guilty leaving the wife by herself with little Malcolm 24/7.
Heidi: I don't think I've ever cruised alone, actually. But if I were to, I think I'd always go for something smallish, casual and education-oriented. Cruise West, maybe. That crowd is down to earth and chatty, and interested in actually learning something about the ports. That's always a plus in my book.
Matt: I've done Cruise West alone. Hell, I've done most of the lines alone, sneaking around with my notebook and camera. It was fun, and I met some nice people, but for the foreseeable future I'm a three-piece band -- though maybe the kid and I could hit some ship as a twosome: a father-and-son cruise! Somewhere the wife wouldn't enjoy. The Canadian Arctic, maybe.
Heidi: Yeh, your son would love that in his stroller. Can you get snow tires on those things these days?
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