Planning a family cruise around both school and work schedules can be extremely difficult. Yet, for my family spending quality vacation time together, away from the stress and schedules of our every day life, is an important part of raising my children to be loving, responsible, and well adjusted adults.
A cruise vacation can be one of the best values and also best atmospheres conducive to quality family time. However, work and school vacation schedules may not always coincided. Cruise choices for US residents are very limited during summer break as most ships have repositioned out of hurricane prone Caribbean during those months. The multitude of European and Alaska cruise offered during those months can be two to three times as expensive as other cruises, especially with the air fare required to reach the departure ports. Christmas time cruises usually sell at about double the price of a non-holiday cruise because of the demand at those times. Also Holiday and Spring Break cruises can seem like more of a “Free-for-all” than a traditional cruise with the total number of children on board approaching 1000. That leaves parents wanting an affordable uncrowded cruise experience in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having to take their kids out of school for vacation.
Many parents, families, and teachers believe that parents should not have their children miss school for a “mere” vacation. However, I would counter that argument with the idea that a cruise is much more than a vacation, it is an educational opportunity for your children that will teach them more in one week than they would learn in a year in the class room. The trick is convincing your school district of that argument. I am lucky that our school district has the same philosophy about travel and education that I have. However, I have talked to other cruisers in other districts and states who have difficulty taking their kids out of school. The teachers did not allow students to make up work and gave them zeros for the days missed. Another cruiser received a truancy letter when her child missed one day of school on a 4 day weekend cruise. I feel that this is unfortunate because the children are missing out on such a wonderful educational opportunity and family bonding experience.
No matter what kind of cruise you take with your family, whether it is an extravagant Ancient Empires of Europe cruise or a simple cruise to some warm weather ports, opportunities for your children to learn abound. The educational value of visiting ancient cities of Europe presents its self clearly with their thousands of years of architecture, culture, art and history. However, the Caribbean ports also hold many educational opportunities for children. A simple snorkel excursion with a diver’s card identifying the local fish can teach a child more about the aquatic ecosystem than a whole week reading text books.
In addition to a science lessons, families can explore interesting social studies and history concepts. While visiting the Caribbean islands, parents could discuss the European and African influences on the Caribbean culture. They can challenge their kids to find examples of those cultural influence in the architecture, art, music, and language. A tour of a plantation can be a glimpse into the past when Europeans came to the new world in the hopes of growing rich through agriculture and trade. Parents can also discuss the unfortunate dark side of plantation farming, the importation and use of slave labor. Often a visit to a Caribbean island can be a child’s first glimpse into what it is like to live outside their own community or country, quite an “eye opening” experience for a child.
A visit to Mexico, another popular cruise destination, also serves up opportunities to learn about ancient cultures and more recent traditions. Even the most touristic souvenir shops in Mexico have examples of their ancient and modern history with Aztec and Mayan art and the ever popular big sombreros made popular by the Cabolleros of Jalisco. For a more in depth learning experience, cruisers can take tours to some of the ancient cities and pyramid ruins that can be found with in a few hours of the ports on both the Caribbean and Pacific costs of Mexico.
The cruise ship itself also provides children with the opportunity for social growth and development. The formal dining room dictates that children display a certain level of manners and dress that they may not be required to display in their every day experiences. They also will have the opportunity to practice gracious manners when meeting and talking with other passengers.
The kids program also gives them the opportunity to practice their social skill in meeting new friends. Often the other children come from different parts of the US or different countries, so while having fun, they have opportunity to learn through their peers about the lifestyles and cultures of different places. The counselors also come from different countries and speak multiple languages. They often will share insights about their home country with the children.
Finally the staff and crew throughout the ship come from all over the world. Our family brings an atlas with us on our trips and asks the crew members to find their home town in the atlas and sign their name. When we do this, we ask them to share something interesting about their home town such as a famous land mark, building, monument or person. We also ask them what the typical home made meal is in their home town. We’ve had our book signed by crew members from India, Peru, The Philippines, Japan, The Dominican Republic, Canada, Estonia, Croatia, and Slovenia. The kids have fun finding these places on the maps and learning about cultures from all over the world.
The service, amenities, and activities on board a cruise ship create a wonderful environment for a family to spend quality time together. On a cruise, the room steward keeps your room very clean – no bed making or toilet cleaning required. All of your meals are also prepared for the passengers. No worrying about meal planning, cooking, or dish washing. I even find the traditional set dining times to be such a blessing because there are no worries about reservations or scheduling dining around activities. Our family can simply show up at dinner time and have a wonderful meal and conversation with each other.
The close proximity of all the amenities also makes spending time together more convenient. Parents don’t have to drive anywhere for dinner or entertainment. Changing or amending your plans is so easy with the pools, restaurants, lounges, and theater all located just a hallway or flight of stairs away.
There are also plenty of fun activities as well as opportunities to just relaxing and do nothing. One of my favorite moments on our first cruise with our kids was watching my husband and daughter enjoy the first sail-away party as we left Kauai. As the band played music and the sun set behind a mountain, my husband pointed out all the sights and sounds to my daughter.
During sea days, many of the ship’s sponsored activities provide for family bonding. Some activities, like the “Family Scavenger Hunt” and “Family Bingo” are especially designed for the whole family. However, after dinner we have also enjoyed attending the shows and theme parties together. Though not specifically designed for kids, these activities are family friendly and often quite enjoyable.
Finally, if there is nothing on the activities list that interests us, we can even enjoy a family board game in the ship’s card room. These cruise times together with our kids affirm our family bond and create memories that will last our lifetimes.
Working With Your School
Some districts are very strict and will not allow kids to make up missed work, while others are extremely cooperative and willing to work with families to accommodate special trips. We are very lucky that our district falls into the latter category. We had out teacher conferences last week and I discussed the two week absence from school that will result from our upcoming transatlantic cruise. The teachers were more than accommodating.
My daughter’s teacher wants her to do a presentation to the class when we get back from the trip and also keep a Math log book with things like conversions of prices from Euro’s to Dollars and Celsius to Fahrenheit.
My son, will have the opportunity to complete assignments and turn them in before we leave for the trip. Other teachers have given him special assignments. For his Math, which he works on independently anyway, he will need to complete 10 lessons to cover the 10 days of missed school. For Science he needs to complete a report on the geology and rocks found in the places we are visiting. In addition he will collect post cards, brochures and pictures to present to several of his teachers.
For our readers whose children attend schools that are not as flexible, it might help to establish a long term relationship with the teachers and principal. Perhaps they would be more receptive to the ideas I have put forth regarding the educational and character building opportunities, if they understand your commitment to your child and their education.
It will be such a joy to share this vacation with my kids and to know that they have a great opportunity for personal growth from the experience.