A family affair: The challenges of cruising with adult children

For 20 years we traveled with another “couple.”  We rented beach houses together, took cruises and went on golf vacations.  But then they split up and moved away.  And now, after several years on their own, we’re planning a reunion vacation, actually, a family reunion.  The other “couple,” Amanda and Scott, are our children, and are now in their late 20’s.

Oh course, it won’t be easy.  There are “Significant Others” (SOs) in the mix.  When we started planning, Scott, who lives in Tucson, had a girlfriend, and Amanda, in New York City, had a new boyfriend she was crazy about.  So there was the big question of what are the rules about inviting the SOs.

With no Dr. Spock or Dr. Bazelton for this type of thing, do I consult friends about inviting SOs or just go on gut feelings?  Since Scott was bringing his girlfriend we entertained Amanda bringing Matt.   Before we knew it, she told him about the trip and Matt was onboard.  Our criteria for inviting the SO was just how “S” the “O” was.   Scott was living with his girlfriend and they had been together three years, so that seemed pretty significant.  And Amanda had been with Matt almost constantly since they had met six months ago, so that seemed solid.  As it turned out, Scott and his girlfriend broke up before we booked the trip.

Since we heard from one couple who let their son bring his “girlfriend,” only to find out that they had been dating for just two weeks, we created a “six month rule” to let our son know that he should not start scrambling to find a new traveling companion.

So our decision was to go as a family of four plus one.  Wanting a vacation that allowed everyone to do their own thing and where we’d have some together time, we chose a 10-day cruise on Holland America’s Noordam.

We booked three cabins, one for us, a single for Scott and one for Amanda and Matt (they were practically cohabitating so sharing a room wasn’t breaking new ground.)  Even before we left, bonding took place.  Scott and Matt connected on line, (they had never met face-to-face) Amanda and Scott texted frequently and we had lots of input about the excursions from Scott.

Since we were five, we found it would be less expensive to book private tours at many of the ports-of-call rather than go with the cruise’s excursions and we could customize them.   We checked TripAdvisor.com and AllThingsCruises.com and found highly recommended guides.  Good guides will engage you in an email dialog before your visit, often responding to you within 12 hours.  When you book, ask if they are a licensed guide.  In most of the cities only licensed guides can take you inside the sites.  Others are drivers who can take you around and provide narrative but not go inside.  We had a driver and a licensed guide.

As the trip drew near, I was getting excited but a little apprehensive.  I went through the “what ifs” — what if everyone didn’t get along or what if it was too much togetherness?

With our coming from three different cities–New York, Washington and Tucson—we needed to make sure flight interruptions didn’t endanger the cruise so we arrived in Rome a day early.  As it turned out there was one problem:  Matt’s luggage decided to take a different itinerary to places unknown so he needed to buy some clothes quickly.  Luckily, since we had arranged a private tour of Rome for the day, we managed to get a nice overview of the city, find some cheap clothes (in a half hour, Amanda and Scott had helped Matt find enough clothing to set sail) and get to the port of departure at 3:00 in plenty of time for a 5:00 sailing.  (Hint, the times for boarding were 1:00 to 4:00.  By coming in the middle there were no lines.)  (Hint number two:  If you are traveling as a couple, instead of each having your own suitcase, divide your clothes between suitcases so if one gets lost you will each have something to wear and do bring a carry on.)

Thank goodness that after hearing of Matt’s predicament, Holland America gave him free laundry service and offered him free tuxedo rental.  Good thing, since his luggage never arrived, but more about that later.

We welcomed our first day at sea.  Time to explore the ship, sit by the pool (sun for Amanda, Matt and Scott, shade for us) and hit the gym.  The kids gave us a gift certificate for a couple’s massage and knowing appointments book quickly, we made ours immediately.

For dinner we chose “open seating” (more flexibility) and were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have too much trouble getting seats.  If you come at least 15 minutes before one of the set times, there should be no problem.  I am happy to report the food was delicious with plenty of choices.  We usually sat at a table for six.  The three kids soon created an imaginary sixth, “Fred.”  Fred was inclined to order a full meal that Matt and Scott gladly split, in addition to their regular orders.  (A big plus, on a cruise you never have to think about where to eat.)

Holland America lets you bring your own wine into the dining room but charges a corking fee.  So many nights we’d meet in one of our rooms and enjoy a local wine from one of the ports-of-call.  The kids did take advantage of the happy-hour drink specials, buy the second for a $1 (and they paid for those).  After dinner we all went our separate ways, Paul and I went to the Piano Bar, Scott to the casino and Amanda and Matt strolled the deck.

While everyone had said that you could easily make arrangements once you arrive in Dubrovnik, as the Noordam docked, I had a moment of panic because the kids were set on going kayaking.  When we arrived by the walled city, we easily found someone with information on kayaking. (Actually we couldn’t avoid it since the tour operators know exactly where the cruise buses let you off.)  At dinner we shared our day’s adventures.  Kayaking was great fun, but plenty of work even for these buff kids.  Glad we did the cable car instead.

In Athens and Ephesus (Turkey) we had excellent private tours.  Our guides maneuvered us through the huge crowds, gave us insight into the history and told us where to stand for the best photo ops.  They even gave us some unsolicited thoughts.  Like “you’ll return to Turkey for your honeymoon” or “Matt, are you joining the family?”  Matt answered with a polite “maybe.”   At least these gems didn’t come from my lips.

In Corfu, Greece we rented a car.  Quite an experience.  Scott was behind the wheel for our four-hour excursion.  Imagine steep winding roads hanging over the sea, one-lane roads with traffic lights to indicate when to proceed and crazy Greek drivers.  Usually I’d be nervous and a back-seat driver.  But being on vacation, I left the mother in me behind and thought of it as an adventure.

Santorini, Greece is the place of brochure covers and picture postcards.  Bright white homes, small hotels and outdoor cafes hang on the edge of the steep cliffside that runs down to the blue Aegean.  We took the cable car up to the top.  Once again, on the advice of friends, we didn’t arrange a tour.  The kids had done some research and thought we should take a boat excursion that went to the volcano and let you swim in a hot springs.  Fair warning, I’ve learned that the Greeks aren’t as worried about public safety as we are in America.  There was no mention that the trek up the volcano was strenuous.  And there are no guardrails.  Thank goodness we are all in good shape.  After we returned from the boat trip Amanda and Matt decided to take the cable car back to the top of Santorini.

The ship was scheduled to sail at 4:00.  At 3:30 Paul said, “Okay go knock on their door.”  No answer.  At 3:45 when two passengers names who weren’t on the last tender, boomed over the loud speaker, I was relieved it wasn’t them.  Yes, my kids aren’t children anymore but, I’m still a mother (advice: keep the mothering under wraps.)  I was saved even more worry when they didn’t tell us beforehand that they were riding an All Terrain Vehicle on the narrow winding roads of Santorini.   But then again over the years we’ve learned Amanda loves adventure.  We once watched her jump from a plane in New Zealand.  So, I was especially thrilled when she said, “We loved doing some more adventurous activities in addition to sightseeing.”

Sailing back to Rome we were all on deck as we passed another volcano.  As if on cue it spewed a puff of smoke.

Though I was sad to see the cruise ending, it had been the perfect vacation.  Best of all, they asked “Where is our next trip?”

P.S. Matt’s luggage was waiting at Kennedy Airport.   Paul joked that we had arranged it just to see how Matt handled it.  He was great – there was no angst!

And yes, Matt and Amanda are still together and Scott is busy looking for a SO to take on our next trip.

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