I sat around the dinner table on the first night of my Royal Caribbean holiday week cruise, looking back and forth between each member of my family. My 5-year-old nephew was working his way through an indulgent brownie sundae when he looked up and said, “can I go back to my room?”
I laughed, almost involuntarily, and asked if he even knew how to get there. Without missing a beat, he shot back: “yes, I just go down to the third floor.”
While allowing a 5-year-old to roam the halls of alone was out of the question, it still amazed me how comfortable he already was just a half day after boarding Enchantment of the Seas. And it’s that exact sense of autonomy that drew my multi-generational family to cruising in the first place.
My family is a big one and there were 11 of us on this cruise ranging in age from my 88-year-old grandmother to my youngest 1-year-old nephew. That’s 11 different suitcases, 11 different dietary preferences, and 11 different ideas of the best way to spend the day. And the cruise offered a million ways to please each one of us.
After a busy year, I was looking forward to a week of relaxation and awoke on my first full day on board to a lazy late breakfast. Half my family was already there finishing up, while the rest were sleeping in. It was a luxury to be on my own schedule while still being able to meet up with family, and a unique one I would find extended throughout the cruise.
Over a hot cup of coffee and some crispy hash browns, we planned our day, agreeing to meet up for a game of bingo half-way through. Over the course of the first two sea days, I explored the ship, at first with my mom and grandma, and then again with my sister. As I walked around, I would run into different members of my family, stopping to chat before heading to whichever activity each was pursuing.
In the mornings, my dad and 5-year-old nephew would get up before the rest of us and play with a giant rainbow slinky, watching it roll down the stairs from the fifth floor all the way to the first. Then we would all join, trickling into the main dining room for breakfast and a chat.
Most nights, we gathered around one large table for dinner, taking turns buying a bottle of wine to toast the trip and each other. Some nights, my sister and I went off to one of the specialty restaurants, enjoying a Champagne dinner at Chops Grille, or the company of fellow cruisers at the communal Chef’s Table.
We sat at the blackjack table together, teaching her mother-in-law how to play, and never missed a bingo game when we saw how excited my nephew got while playing.
On day three, we pulled into Port Canaveral and left the ship as one big group. We were all headed to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, as excited to see all that NASA had to offer as we were to see my nephew’s reaction to it.
We walked amongst the stars as we learned about the Apollo and Space Shuttle Atlantis missions, and watched my nephew try dehydrated ice cream. And we took full advantage of the interactive elements with half our group braving the re-entry slide before the little one tried his hand at the astronaut training simulators (spoiler: he crashed).
The next day, we landed in Nassau and I went with my sister, brother-in-law, and older nephew to the Aquaventure Water Park at the Atlantis Bahamas where we roamed the darkened halls of The Dig underneath the largest open-air marine habitat in the world.
My nephew ran from tank to tank, watching sting rays gracefully float through the water and jellyfish mesmerizingly expand and contract. But the real highlight was when he found a group of clown fish — or Nemo fish, as he called them — and asked for my phone so he could take photos to show my dad later.
We then splashed around in the Poseidon’s Playzone, which features a dizzying array of 40 different water elements, before heading back to the ship.
The rest of the family had chosen to go for a walk around Nassau, commemorating the 1-year-old’s first time out of the United States. They told us all about it when we got back as we gathered in my parent’s stateroom to swap stories of our days.
My family lives between Brooklyn and Long Island in New York, and Maryland, and we don’t all get to see each other all of the time. But a weeklong cruise ensured quality time and the chance to make memories as a group.
We marveled at how my grandma, who eats like a bird at home, couldn’t resist ordering half the menu each night (dessert included). And stared in awe at how my brother-in-law out gambled all of us at the casino when I lost every time.
My parents loved walking around the pool deck together and basking in the warm weather while docked in Nassau, and I loved spending one-on-one time with both my nephews when they came over for some morning cartoons one day.
On our last night, my dad held up a glass and thanked everyone for coming.
“Maybe we should do this all again next year?” I asked. We just might.