Dr. Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century British writer, said, “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.”
Carnival Cruise Lines and my granddaughters beg to differ with Dr. Johnson.
A boat to me is just a bigger plane, which is just a bigger car, which is something I don’t enjoy being in for longer than an hour or so – kind of like jail, I imagine. Picture Steve McQueen bouncing the baseball in the movie The Great Escape, and that’s what I see myself doing on a cruise.
That being said, my wife (Cheryl, a critical care nurse) and our two older granddaughters (12 & 13) just returned from a five-day cruise out of Charleston on the Carnival Ecstasy, a trip they have been looking forward to for a year. Normally, we take the Charlotte girls to our family camp in Maine for a few weeks every summer, but this summer the girls opted for the cruise. Good for them. The three of them, my wife included, jokingly asked me over the last year if I would like to accompany them on the cruise. My response was always, [“Insert boat, jail, drown quote here.”]
And they had a great time – without me. Here is what I gathered from their after-action report.
The drive from Charlotte to Charleston is simple, much easier than getting to Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks. There are a couple of ways to do it, but since we live in the Indian Land panhandle, we opt for I-77 at Rock Hill to I-26. Directions to the port, the parking garage (pay in advance), and the boarding instructions are posted on the Carnival website.
Embarkation: Lines are Disney-like in their length and efficiency. Baggage handlers take your pre-tagged bags from your car to your room. Once you transition to the passenger lines, there is someone from the staff directing traffic and reminding passengers to have their documents ready because you don’t want to be the person holding up the line. Another cruise veteran tip from my wife: Since all of the rooms look alike, decorate your door to more easily identify your room.
Ship Fun: Kids have their own age-restricted ID badge on a lanyard and a variety of bracelets, which allow them access to age-appropriate activities, food, and beverages. The girls, being 12 and 13, were in the group Carnival calls Circle C. Carnival explains the C stands for things like “chill,” “connect,” and “cool.” They add, “It’s where young teens ages 12 to 14 go to hang out, meet new friends, and enjoy some pretty awesome activities like dance parties, games, outdoor movies, and more, in the special Circle “C” area or around the ship. It’s all supervised by friendly and fun-loving counselors who want your young teens to have the best vacation ever.” Which translates to my wife didn’t see much of the girls on the actual cruise, but that isn’t why she brought them. The girls were there to experience the cruise with other kids their age. Cheryl managed plenty of “chill” on her own, but left the “connect” and “cool” to the girls.
Food: Food for teens is always a major part of the fun. To teenagers, calories are calories. While the 13-year-old ate and drank her weight in pizza and soft drinks over five days, the 12-year-old apparently lived quite well on ice cream and bacon. Cheryl is usually super conservative about health, so I’m not sure who, if anyone, was monitoring nutrition on the voyage. Nevertheless, five days of pizza, ice cream, and bacon didn’t hurt the girls any. It was right back to lacrosse and dance when they got home.
Shore fun: The girls, including Cheryl, went snorkeling, swam with the Dolphins, and hit the water park — everything you would think a kid would want to do on a cruise vacation. Yes, they got a little shopping in, but it was minimal.
Debarkation: According to the Ecstasy cruise director, Charleston is the only port that requires silent debarkation, which means either be at the meeting or watch the shipboard TV for instructions because there won’t be any loudspeaker announcements in port.
Memories and cruise reunions: Cheryl and the girls had a great time. Although Cheryl didn’t see much of the girls because they were involved with Circle C activities, she wasn’t disappointed at all with her grandmother/granddaughter cruise. She understands from years of experience with our own boys that teens would rather be around other teens.
The last few hours of the cruise, the Charlotte area kids swapped email addresses and phone numbers and even scheduled trips to Carowinds.
Maybe stodgy Samuel Johnson could take a lesson from pop singer Cyndi Lauper: “Girls just want to have fun.” The same goes for boys.
If you want more information about cruising with your grandchildren or great-grandchildren, please contact your travel agent or Carnival Cruises Charleston.
About the author: Bob Poliquin is a resident of Sun City Carolina Lakes and the managing editor of CharlotteSeniors.com.