Our All Included Cruise

By Diane Stark

Our All Included Cruise

“So we rented a fifteen-passenger van and the eleven of us are driving from Indiana to Miami,” I explained to a friend about our impending spring break trip.

“Are you kidding me? How did you let this happen?” She shook her head. “It sounds like a train wreck.”

I shrugged. “I know the drive down there could be a little rough, but once we get there, we’re going on a cruise. It’s all inclusive, but it’s also all included.”

She laughed at my lame joke. “The cruise part sounds great, except for all of the kids and parents and in-laws that will be with you. If you ask me, you included too many people.”

In the weeks leading up to our extended family vacation, I had this same conversation with several different people. No one could understand how my husband, Eric, and I not only agreed to, but planned, a vacation with our five children and both sets of grandparents.

People thought we were crazy, but I was actually looking forward to it.

The drive down went surprisingly smoothly, and the ship itself was beautiful. The kids were all excited, particularly Nathan. As we toured the big boat, he greeted every person who walked by. One lady smiled at him and said, “Well, hello there, Handsome.” Nathan turned to me and said, “How did she know my name?”

Despite Nathan’s serious cute factor, he’s four and that means he requires a lot of work. During the day, he was no problem. He had a blast swimming and playing miniature golf on the ship’s top deck. But dinner time was another story.

Eating dinner on a cruise ship is not just a meal. It’s an event. It lasts nearly two hours. And that’s about an hour and 45 minutes longer than Nathan prefers to sit still at any given time.

So while everyone else enjoyed visiting during our evening meal, I brainstormed ways to keep Nathan still and relatively quiet. I wasn’t always successful and more than once, I found myself wishing that Eric and I had been a bit more selective in who we invited on our little voyage through the Caribbean. This was especially true when Nathan decided he liked shrimp cocktail, and downed my entire appetizer while I took his sister to the bathroom. Although his cute factor returned the following night when he requested his own order of “shrimp cottontail.”

Our waitress at dinner was a beautiful young Philipino woman named Juliana. Right from the start, she paid special attention to Nathan. The first night, our other server brought Nathan a dish of ice cream. When he finished it, she brought him a second one. When I protested, she winked at me and said, “Please let me spoil him.”

And that’s what she did – every chance she got. She brought him a glass of Sprite, even though the only free beverages at dinner were iced tea and water. She brought him two orders of his now-famous “shrimp cottontail” and he routinely got a second dish of ice cream for dessert.

On the third night, she tried to cut Nathan’s meat for him. When I insisted that she didn’t need to do that, she said, “Please let me. Being with Nathan makes me feel better.”

And then to my surprise, tears filled her eyes. “I love being around children on the ship,” she said. “It makes my own kids not seem so far away.”

Juliana told me that she had a six-year-old daughter and an eight-month-old son. They were in the care of her mother-in-law back in the Philippines. “We sign six month contracts to work on the cruise ship,” she said. “My son was five months old when I left, and he’ll be almost a year old when I see him next.”

“So after your contract is over, you’ll get to stay in the Philippines with your kids?”

She shook her head sadly. “No, I will stay home for a month or so, and then I’ll do another six months on the ship.”

“Wow, that must be so hard,” I said.

“It is hard, but the time goes by quickly, and I’m doing it for them. This job allows me to provide for them in a way I never could if I stayed at home.” She shrugged. “The hardest part is that my son thinks my mother-in-law is his mommy.”

I swallowed against the sudden lump in my own throat. “You’re a good mom, Juliana,” I said quietly. “Your kids will understand someday.”

Juliana wasn’t the only one who’d left children behind in her home country. The man who cleaned our cabin had a wife and four kids in Indonesia. He’d been working on cruise ships for nearly ten years and had never lived at home with his family for more than a month at a time. He’d been present for the birth of only one of his children.

As I listened to their stories, my attitude about our all included vacation changed. Instead of longing for a quiet, relaxing day with just my husband, I embraced the chaos that taking five kids on vacation can often bring. I thought about the sacrifices that Juliana was making, and what she would give for a night of argument refereeing and shushing a rambunctious four-year-old at dinner.

So I went swimming when what I really wanted to do was lie by the pool and read. I went miniature golfing when I would’ve rather taken a nap. And I watched with pride as my older children pushed their grandpa’s wheelchair with patience and care.

And when Nathan crawled into bed between Eric and me for the third night in a row, I snuggled him close, remembering that doing so is a privilege not everyone on the ship could enjoy.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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