We all have our own perspectives. For some the cup is half empty, for others half full. Some hear the tree fall in the forest and some don't. Frommer's cruise correspondents Matt Hannafin and Heidi Sarna, for instance, hardly ever agree on anything -- at least not without a long, bitter argument first. This week, they address the issue of taking your kids on a cruise.
Setting the Scene
What Matt Knows About Kids: They're smaller than we are. Most don't have all their teeth. They often scream in high-pitched voices but can't carry a tune. Sometimes they throw up on your shirt. I've known two who refused to eat anything but hot dogs and apple juice, respectively, for the first five years of their lives. Big corporations market to them from birth, trapping them in a cycle of consumerism that leads to catastrophically high credit card debt. Ah, youth!
What Heidi Knows About Kids: Well, mine don't have credit cards yet, but they do have cell phones and a weekend share in the Hamptons -- after all, three is the new 25. I can honestly say my twins are incredibly adorable and perfect . . . except when they act like monsters and I want to just run away and hide in a cave for two weeks. I mean, dribbling food everywhere, breaking chairs, and peeing on the carpet is really quite cute, don't you think? But I do have to give them some credit in the tolerance department. They can sleep just about anywhere and don't mind living on crackers and peanut butter for days at a time. I've schlepped them on twelve cruises and to India four times, and do they ever complain about it?
The Judgment of Youth
Matt: So, are three-year-olds aware? Do they walk onto a ship and say, "Oh yeah, a ship. We've been on one of these before"?
Heidi: They know more than you think. Like, when we were wheeling into the terminal to get on Cunard's QM2, as soon as they saw it they squealed, "Big cruise ship, big cruise ship." Then they asked where Uncle Captain was.
Matt: And do they have a favorite from their dozen cruises? Put one of 'em on the line. Kavi? Tejas? What's your favorite cruise so far?
Heidi: Well, as their spokesperson, I think only the last few really clicked in their little brains. Our most recent, Star Cruises' Star Virgo, had a kiddy pool area with slides and a ball pit in the playroom; it really doesn't get much better than that if you're a rambunctious three-year-old. Were you a rambunctious kid?
Matt: I don't know. Hold on, I'll e-mail my mother and ask.
Carol (Matt's Mom): Rambunctious? Not really. Matt's exuberance was very controlled. He went to Catholic school. He still got into his share of trouble, but he was very quiet about it.
Heidi: Controlled exuberance -- ha! That's you alright. Well, except for that Windjammer cruise a few years back. Carol, did Matt ever tell you about that trip?
Carol: I'm afraid to ask . . .
Matt: OK, ladies, this press conference is over. Good night, and good luck.
Family Cruising: Heaven or Hell?
Matt: You've cruised with your husband and kids. I've cruised with a succession of interesting and attractive single women, until I picked one to marry. Tell me what's so great about doing it your way.
Heidi: Umm . . . errr . . . well, can't honestly say it's a better way to travel than yours, Mr. Playboy, but since I have no choice but to bring my kids on my "research" cruises, I get unnaturally excited over ships that have great playrooms and babysitting. It means I won't have to run around all day screeching, "Don't touch that, watch out, shhhhhhh!" And it's almost guilt free: My boys are nearby (ships are only so big) but doing their own thing for a few hours a day while I do mine. Stopping in different ports helps to keep the whole family sane, too. I'd say the cruise lines' private islands in the Bahamas are my favorite ports for young kids. Disney's, Holland America's, and Royal Caribbean's are the best. Who can argue with water slides, biking, and playgrounds in the sand?
Matt: Zzzzzzzzzz. . . . mmff. Oh, sorry, I dozed off. What were you saying?
Father Knows Best vs. Families of Choice
Matt: Now, the definition of "family" is a little wider these days than it used to be. For every traditional nuclear family (that'd be you, missy), there's also a self-identified family group -- maybe cohabitating heterosexual couples (with or without children), gay couples (ditto), or larger groups that are just as close as traditional families, only they don't share a last name.
Heidi: Here we go again, channeling Dr. Phil!
Matt: I sort of have the same hairstyle as Dr. Phil. But really, one of my favorite recent things in cruising is R Family Vacations, the company started by Rosie O'Donnell's partner Kelli. They call their trips "gay cruises that you can feel comfortable bringing your parents on," but mostly it's about gay couples traveling with their kids. I think that's great.
Heidi: All is know is bringing my mom on a cruise isn't always so comfortable. She's a lot of work. So's my brother. My dad, on the other hand, we went to Alaska one year with Cruise West. That was fun: Whale-watching and exploring by day, dinner followed by Johnny Carson reruns by night. We're pretty compatible.
Matt: See, now we have another problem with the term "family cruising." You and your father are obviously family, but not a complete nuclear family unit. It's like to really qualify as a family cruise, in the sense the industry uses the term, you have to have the whole atomic structure: neutrons, protons, and electrons.
Heidi: Now who are you, J. Robert Oppenheimer?
Matt: No ma'am, I'm just a simple country doctor.
Not Home for the Holidays
Heidi: Ever taken a cruise over a major holiday? We were on Norwegian Dawn a couple Easters ago, but not so much as a bunny hopped through the ship. Business as usual. Guess the lines don't want to step on any religious toes, so Christmas is about the only holiday they really "do" . . . now that Santa has gone all pantheistic and Hallmark.
Matt: I think the cruise lines should just embrace the holidays of every religion. Think about it. In December alone they could observe Bodhi Day, Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Pancha Ganapati, and the death of the prophet Zarathustra -- though that last one's a bit of a downer for a cruise.
Heidi: For more of an upper, passengers in March would have a ball celebrating Holi, the Indian holiday where you get to throw colored powder and water balloons at each other to mark the coming of spring. I can see it now: Pandemonium of the Seas.
Matt: Sign me up. Why should kids have all the fun?
Do you have opinion about cruising with kids (your own or someone else's)? Talk with fellow Frommer's cruisers on our Cruise Message Boards.