It was 9 p.m. and we were under way on our first cruise. We had just finished dinner and settled into one of the lounge chairs on deck to enjoy the view. We saw the tip of Catalina and a gorgeous sunset as we headed south.
This was it. We had never sailed anywhere but to Catalina and now we were heading away from it. A dream come true. Ahead would lie tropical beaches, warm water, romantic strolls under moonlit skies, late-night shows and dancing until dawn. Well, almost.
Realistically we knew we would have to forgo much of the above and probably a few other things we weren't aware of. Because we took our 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Becki.
Waves of Excitement
Nonetheless, we had a great bon voyage party and began our 10-day vacation to five ports in Mexico on Sitmar's Fairsea. The streamers were flying, the people waving and even a few tears flowing as we pulled away from the pier. I found myself waving at people I didn't even know. Excitement was in the air and nothing could stop it.
Our friends cruised along in their small boat, waving and taking pictures as we made our way down the main channel of Los Angeles Harbor. I had seen this ship leave port many times and could only imagine that someday we would venture out on it.
Was that today? Or were we just cruising around in our sailboat as we often did?
Almost immediately, sea life set in as the call for the first sitting for dinner came over the loudspeaker. That was us. We hadn't even cleared the breakwater and we were off to dine.
Meals were outrageous. We had been forewarned that they were lavish. The food was truly the main attraction on board and our main headache, as it turned out. Have you ever tried taking a 2 1/2-year-old out to dinner for every meal for 10 days? It can be an enlightening or absolutely frightful experience.
Enough for a Week
To begin with, ordering. We realized that we would have to make drastic changes in our ordering when we received enough food to last us an entire week at just one sitting. In addition, the food is not exactly the kind a toddler eats every day. One taste of chicken liver pate in a Jell-O mold was enough to get the meal off to a wrong start, plus the time it takes to serve all that food to a toddler.
Becki was ready to go after the appetizer. Therefore, a doodler's bag became an instant necessity to entertain our active daughter while we tried to finish our dinner.
After a few hectic meals we found that a hot soup could last her halfway through the main course, at which point we would coax her into eating something she might like.
I know you are probably thinking, "Boy, am I glad I didn't have to sit at their table." But it wasn't all that bad. It gave everyone at the table a few laughs--sometimes a lot. A great way to end a day. In fact, the one night we didn't make it to dinner, we were told the next morning at breakfast that it was very quiet--rather boring.
Medal for the Waiter
After all, it was a group effort to get our daughter to eat. Every trick was tried and most worked for at least a few meals. At one point, Becki even toured the kitchen with our waiter. And our waiter deserves a medal for the person with the most patience.
Our first day at sea we set out to explore the ship, only to discover that there are a lot of stairs, small and few elevators, and a daughter who became fatigued after traipsing up one flight. It was essential to get well acquainted with the ship fast.
We found the youth center that we had heard so much about. We had chosen this cruise line because it seemed to offer more for kids than any other. This was important if we were to have any peace at all.
During an orientation meeting for parents and kids, we found out that we weren't the only ones who had braved taking along a youngster. Out of about 1,100 passengers, 308 were kids. There were 168 between the ages of 13 and 17, 136 between 2 and 12--and four of those were babies. This was the most children aboard all year. Their average was 200 a cruise during summer.
They had 12 counselors this trip. Charlotte Robertson, the youth activities coordinator and former second-grade teacher from Loose Creek, Mo., designed a program of crafts, talent shows, bingo, movies, ice cream socials, disco dancing, trips to the bridge and much more.
These cruising kids were destined to have fun. Now we had to convince Becki to stay in the youth center and take part.
To allay any fears we had about leaving our daughter in the care of strangers, I talked to Carlo Salsedo, who has been a chief purser for 23 years, 13 of them with Sitmar. He assured me that he had never heard of a child going overboard, getting lost or abused. His counselors are screened extensively, with backgrounds varying from schoolteacher, nurse and other child-related fields.
With the fantastic facilities and capable crew, you'd think Becki would have jumped at the chance to go to the center. She did, but only if one of us would watch her play.