Its the thinking parent's dilemma: do you book a vacation that's going to thrill the young 'uns, or pick something that will engage an adult's interest and may have its ups and downs in terms of child friendliness? So often it seems like the types of vacations available to families please either one generation or the other, with very little overlap.
cruising's mega ships. My daughter and I just debarked the latest Leviathan, Norwegian Cruise Line's Epic, a 4100 passenger giant, which boasts the tallest water slides at sea. I've posted a photo above of that incredible water park above. It's the part of the ship I got to know best, as my seven-year-old literally camped here for most of the 2-day sailing.
Seeing her mile-wide grin as she conquered the water slides (in every possible sliding position), the climbing wall, the trampoline bungee jump, the massive jungle gym and the weird "ice-skating" rink (plastic sheets covered with oil)....well, it made my heart leap. There's no doubt in my mind that seeing your children enjoy themselves sets off some sort of endorphin surge for the parents.
But did that make up for the low-grade headache I had for most of our two days on the ship, caused by the constant, ceaseless blasts of pop music (there literally was nowhere on the ship one could escape from over-amped versions of the Pina Colada song)? Was it enough to make up for the mediocre food, the often witless nighttime entertainment options (the on board "Cirque" show, no relation to Cirque du Soleil, as anyone watching the rabbis dance out with martini glasses on their hats--no, I'm not making that up--would realize had to be one of the worst shows I've sat through anywhere), the constant crowds?
And really, was I doing my child any favor by exposing her to a small universe where there was no culture but the most obvious forms of pop culture (there wasn't even a library aboard the ship); and where unhealthy excess was celebrated non-stop (tables groaning with food manned by attendants always pushing you to take more of the most caloric options)? We toured the outrageously overpriced, elitist "villa" area of the boat, and my daughter remarked "Wow, it's so much better to be rich isn't it?". Whoops, that is not a lesson I wanted to give to my daughter, who last year in kindergarten wrote that she when she grew up she wanted to be a Salvation Army worker so she could give clothes to people who needed them.
To my mind, she likely got more out of our spring break visit to Guatemala, where she got to explore a rich, very exotic culture and see great works of architecture and folk art. She saw some examples of extreme poverty there, and I was able to teach her about the conditions that exist in so many parts of the world. (I also felt good about spending my tourist dollars there, since the local economy really needed it).
To think about this from another angle: do I destroy her ability to enjoy vacations to calmer, cultural destinations by taking her on these action-packed cruises? Will she be satisfied with more subtle, intellectual pleasures if she's used to thrill-a-minute vacations? She isn't allowed to watch TV at home and her computer time is limited because I want her to develop the ability to amuse herself, without the crutch of spoon-fed media. But am I teaching the opposite lesson on these vacations? It's a conundrum.
For those traveling without children, the Norwegian Epic does have one terrific innovation that I hope other cruise lines will copy: studio cabins for singles. This will be the only cruise ship anywhere that single travelers can take without having to double their costs with an ugly singles supplement. The studios while tiny are quite cute, with a swinging-singles, Austin-Pendleton vibe (four settings of mood lighting, a groovy padded headboard and a nearby lounge where the solos will mingle).