I grew up landlocked. In Minnesota. Surrounded by water - most of which was frozen for long stretches of each year. I was lucky: my parents loved Hawaii. So I got to go there a handful of times. Vacations were typically someplace that was warmer than MN, which was not often difficult to achieve. But, until three years ago, I had never been on a cruise ship. I suppose I had a common perception of cruising: old people, shuffleboard, iffy food, Gopher, Isaac, and Doc. Not my bag. Plus, you're confined within a ship. I've never felt really comfortable on a boat. I've canoed all over the BWCA and the southern Quetico. But I was like Hoops in One Crazy Summer - just waiting for Demi Moore to come into my life and [EDITED FOR APPROPRIATENESS].
But then I married a Disney fan. And then we had two daughters, each of whom contracted the Disney disease like their mother. And we started spending our vacations in... Orlando. All of them. It may be called the Happiest Place on Earth, but it's really the Bataan Death March of family vacations. My wonderful wife, however, was reluctant to give up the Disney ghost altogether. But I needed a break from the Magic Kingdom. We had heard about Disney cruises from some other people with our approximate family dynamic. So we gave it a try. That was 2014.
We have now been on four cruises, have booked a fifth for next summer, and *may* surprise the kids with a sixth this November. We've done three Disney cruises and one Royal Caribbean cruise. We are, in other words, in.
I've been thinking about what it is that I like about cruising. Because I definitely like it. I like the efficiency. On our last cruise, we started in Florida, made stops in Haiti, Jamaica, and Mexico, before returning to Florida. But we didn't have to pack up our shit, much less get in a car, on a train, on a plane, etc, once from embarkation to disembarkation. Especially with kids, not having to pack all your stuff up every night, or every other night, is huge. And then traveling is tiring, and stressful, and a pain in the ass. Getting on and off a cruise ship at a port of call is easy.
I like how much you get for the one price. Maybe it's not materially cheaper than a land-based vacation, all in, but it's not materially more expensive, either. And not having to worry about paying for meals and entertainment a la carte also lends itself to a low-stress environment - which is a good thing when you're on vacation, no?
I like that, as opposed to the HPOE, your kids aren't tethered to you the whole time. As our kids have grown up over the past four years, they've earned more and more independence on board. We don't look at a cruise ship as a massive floating babysitter. But when our kids want to go check out the kids club, or a karaoke thing, that allows us to do something that we want to do. You get that flexibility at a much younger age on a cruise ship than you would at the HPOE. That's why it feels so much more like a vacation for everyone.
We have only had positive experiences with dining on our four cruises. Is the food outstanding? No. But it's not gross, either. And we've learned that cruises that embark out of a U.S. port must adhere to USFDA regulations, to the extent that they cannot even take on additional provisions at a non-U.S. port. We have also found our service teams to be professional, proficient, and charming and engaging. Look, are there slobs gorging themselves on cruise ships? Of course there are. Are there drunken idiots making asses of themselves on cruise ships? Definitely. But there are slobs and drunks at every other vacation spot I've been to - including the HPOE. There is probably a Xanadu of vacation perfection that is free of that kind of Tom Foolery, somewhere on the planet. But does it have twin FlowRider simulators, 25 places to eat, and a zip line on board?
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