"At the Captain's Table" is Cruise Critic's original series of stories penned by Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis. Joyce knows the ins and outs of life onboard -- both as a cruise ship staff member and as the wife of Celebrity Cruises' venerable Captain Adamidis -- and offers a behind-the-scenes perspective on issues facing cruisers and the cruise industry.
The issue of children on cruise ships has increasingly become a topic of heated debate: How should they behave? How should they be treated? The passengers are divided between those critical of the behavior of the children and those more tolerant. Those more easygoing tend to be traveling with their own kids and with a philosophy that "kids will be kids," which is just fine until one of those kids cuts in front of a passenger who falls and groans and sues.
But the problems can, potentially, go way beyond that darkest scenario. Even as cruise lines are adapting rapidly to families (offering specialized kid-related programs and hiring professional counselors to staff them), there is still much confusion on issues relating to safety and courteousness to fellow passengers -- who may sail with or without a brood.
Let me tell you this, though: While cruising is a wonderful choice for a family vacation, life at sea is not the sand lot, the baby sitter's house or a school room. A cruise, while hopefully restful for parents, is not a bona fide opportunity to relinquish responsibility. Life at sea is different and dangerous.
Crewmembers onboard are usually quite happy to accept and adopt kids during a cruise. Many have children of their own and miss their families -- and take comfort in playing proxy parent. But they do not wish to play policeman, even though they are many times forced to adapt that role and discipline a child who is disturbing or endangering someone.
Pity the crew member who has removed the unruly child from a situation which was at best an annoyance to a fellow passenger and at worst an immediate danger to the child. The wrath of the parent can be his. Many times the disciplinarian does become the villain as the outraged parent becomes judge and jury and the hapless crew member is threatened with all available ammunition: no tip, being reported to a superior and a verbal barrage. An audience is always appreciated by the parent. The humiliation of the crew member is a bonus. Believe it or not, these reports are received by the Captain.
Even the Captain's family has no immunity in child behavioral situations. Because my son, in essence, was brought up from his very early days onboard, we gave him on-the-job training. He learned what parts of the ship were dangerous, the difference between port and starboard, aft and forward -- and simple behavioral niceties. Still, as a young child, he did occasionally misbehave. And it was my job as his mother, as well as that of my husband, to handle those situations.
One instance is still clear to me. We were in the ship's boutique and his giggling escalated quickly from the wonderful childlike laugh to a high-pitched scream. I immediately removed him from the premises. And from the end of the corridor I heard, "That kid is old enough to know better! You don't know how to be a good mom. I know. My kids were perfect..." The words were spoken by an elderly gentleman. I answered him back: "He is one and a half years old and learning, but there is no perfect child. If only I had been around back then to see how you made your perfect kids." What I learned then was this: I would never expect other parents onboard to have "perfect" children and yet their child's behavior is very much their responsibility.
Another issue of concern from my many years as an onboard staffer not to mention as an onboard mom is basic safety. The signs posted around the ship are vital to the safety of all passengers. Those little people who cannot read need to be told what the signs say and they need to know the rules are directed to every single passenger. "No Children in the Jacuzzi" is a simple non-debatable phrase. "Off Limits" signs are posted and in many cases house electrical systems and other potentially dangerous areas. I'm still amazed to see parents who refuse to ensure their kids will obey the orders!
For instance, the Jacuzzi rule evidently did not apply to the woman I once met who took her infant in with her. The baby's face looked crimson. I called for security to handle it and some hours later, heard the story of the ship's surgeon and his successful attempt to revive the infant who was compromised by being on antibiotics and who was effectively parboiled.
I once dared to return a 2-year-old to her mother. The little girl was pushing a stroller, inside which sat her infant brother, only inches away from a long flight of stairs. I grabbed her -- terrified -- and returned her to her mother whose response to my having saved them both from tumbling down a steep flight of stairs was that she had paid for this cruise and crew, of which I was apparently one, could watch her kids. After I attempted to set her straight, she raged on. Personalized child care was my job, she insisted furiously. This lovely passenger then said she would have me fired and would sue me for ruining her cruise. I would never work on ships again.
It's important to understand that crew members are very much like parents. They do not enjoy an unpleasant confrontation and feel that if the kids would just do as they should, everybody would have a wonderful time. There are precious moments wasted in discipline that could as easily be spent in listening to the stories the crew has to tell. They know and love their countries, their families and their customs, and enjoy talking about them.
But something seems to happen to egos, common sense and emotions once the lines are pulled and the sea becomes home. Sometimes the crew is victimized by this phenomenon; sometimes the passengers are. Sometimes a child is seriously and permanently harmed because he or she just didn't listen to parental rules or worse still, never heard them.
On their part, the passenger without children on board has to realize he or she is on a two-way street. There are adults-only special cruises but in general, there will be the sounds of young voices. Little feet will walk, not run (it is hoped), on that street. Peaceful coexistence. It is devoutly to be wished.