There’s a running joke among parents that any vacation you take with your kids is not actually a vacation, it’s a trip. God knows I’ve leaned on this joke myself from time to time. Because it’s true.
If you ask most parents to name their best vacation ever, odds are they’ll cite one they went on before they had children. Or on which the kids were left behind. I would have said the same thing; both of my favorite vacations – my big fat Greek honeymoon, or our trip to Tuscany – took place pre-kids.
That changed last month, when I went on my new best vacation ever. And surprise surprise, I even brought my kids along! It was the best of both worlds.
I’d been on a cruise once before. It wasn’t my favorite. We traveled through the Caribbean, with short stops at a trio of beaches and a lot of time eating at the same two restaurants on board. I didn’t expect to take another cruise ever again.
This time around, I sailed the Mediterranean on the Royal Caribbean “Symphony of the Seas” cruise ship, with three stops in Italy, one in Spain, and one in France. I ate at a half-dozen fantastic restaurants (all on board), got lost in the sprawling decks more than once (it’s the world’s largest cruise ship!), and best of all, barely saw my kids!
That’s not entirely true. But it could have been! And that’s what made the trip so special.
Even before landing at some gorgeous European port, we had our fill of excitement. The ship itself is loaded with family friendly amenities, like killer water slides that Detective Munch loved zooming down, a variety of pools for adults and kids alike, including a toddler zone for The Hammer (although he preferred the poolside shower, for some insane reason), multiple hot tubs for my 7-year-old to repeatedly dip into like some weird pre-pubescent Lothario, an open-air mini-golf course with amazing views of whatever coast you happen to be sailing by, free ice cream stations, more than one arcade, a carousel, and on and on and on. There is more than enough on board to keep your kids entertained – while you stand in the background with a drink.
Even more importantly, there are the ship’s kids clubs where they you can drop your children to be entertained by someone else! These ingenious little camps afford parents time to themselves, to explore the ship alone, eat dinner alone, or take an excursion alone. The stress of dragging your kids to a nice dinner every night? Gone. The frustration of taking them into a strange, tricky-to-navigate foreign city? Erased. The agony of dealing with kids exhausted from walking around looking at architecture and museums all afternoon? Eliminated.
The beauty of a cruise vacation, and, in particular, our stay on the Symphony of the Seas, is that it was both family friendly and parent-friendly. It was like getting two vacations in one!
One vacation was full of exciting and memorable family adventures, during which our kids got “authentic” gladiator lessons, Detective Munch toured the ruins of Pompeii and made pizza in Sorrento, The Hammer(‘s stroller) got pushed around the narrow cobblestone streets of Rome shortly after he screamed everyone’s ears off during an otherwise lovely lunch in a restaurant at the foot of the Coliseum, and more!
The other vacation was a romantic, kid-free, pre-anniversary European jaunt just for us! We explored the tallest cliff in Provence, France, took a train to the seaside towns of Cinque de Terre, dipping into the refreshing waters of the Mediterranean in Monterossa al Mare while our kids were back on the ship watching Paw Patrol and playing Duck Duck Goose or whatever. We grabbed a drink and some amazing bruschetta by the water in Venazza before heading back to the ship for a drink on our waterside balcony and a gourmet meal (and a drink) at an elegant restaurant with nary a kid in sight.
So we were able to avoid too many scream-shattered outings by ditching the kids on the ship and going off by ourselves. And they were never the wiser, as they spent those days enjoying themselves, being entertained by the kids club counselors, who actually worked all over the ship and would call out to our kids by name when they saw us together elsewhere on board. They played board games and video games, had dance parties, and interacted with other kids their age, all while we were walking around France, buying gelato, and drinking local beers – and/or champagne – on the coast of Cassis. Or eating at a fancy steakhouse or chilling at a piano bar or begging your wife not to make you do karaoke. The point is, there are options. For everyone. (A few times, after leisurely days exploring some European port, we returned to the boat early to spend time with the kids, such is the benefit of not being prematurely burnt out by being forced to entertain them all day long!)
Was it all smooth-sailing? Of course not; kids were involved! We all shared a cabin, which made getting the two of them to sleep – with jet lag, on vacation, next to each other – wasn’t always easy, and one night Detective Munch had an allergy scare which resulted in him vomiting all over the room. All credit to the Royal Caribbean’s medical staff – who diagnosed a heretofore unknown allergy to penicillin! – and to their housekeeping crew, who cleaned the bathroom, changed the bed sheets, and scrubbed the carpet in record time, allowing all of us to get some sleep – and some of us to get some booze! – after the harrowing incident.
Before the Symphony of the Seas, I would not have considered taking another cruise. But the ship offered a bounty of self-contained activities while also offering excursions into a variety of ports, depending on where your itinerary takes you, and the resulting effect was of a very well-rounded, if action-packed, vacation.
It was essentially two trips in one, offering us plenty of time with the kids, on and off the ship, and more time by ourselves than we even get at home! I’ll definitely consider another cruise. Especially since The Hammer was a bit too young to remember it!
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Royal Caribbean but all thoughts and opinions are either mine or my wife’s that I’m pretending are mine.