In a couple of weeks we’ll be dropping our first child off for college. She is ready. We are ready. We think we are, anyways. In anticipation of this major event, we made the decision to take a celebratory/one-more-chance-to-bond, family cruise to Bermuda. No flights would be necessary as this cruise departs from Boston, just a short drive from our home. No cell phones would be needed either. Wait, what?
That’s right. We (OK, my husband) decided the only way to truly appreciate real-time vacationing as a family would be to do so without any access to our electronic devices. If, God forbid, our house was burning down, someone could certainly contact us some way.
The challenge in doing this was not that we would be hard to reach in an emergency. The challenge was that we had never all been unplugged for an extended period of time. Could we last a whole week without sharing with others how much fun we would certainly be having? Could we last, not knowing any drama that might unfold in our little town?
But can’t we take just one cell phone to take pictures?
We will use an old fashioned device called a camera.
My kids claimed that I would have the hardest time separating from my cell phone. (I really was forced to surrender it last minute — right after I managed to post to my blog, with no means of accessing any feedback).
Any one of us could have snuck down to the “Internet Café” if we felt the need (for a hefty price per minute). But we didn’t.
What we all discovered was that a week without any connections is not only doable, it is a welcome relief. The days seemed long, but they were long in a good way. We had time to make all kinds of choices of what to do on the ship but we could also choose to do nothing. No matter how benign it might seem, checking emails and texts and Facebook eats up large chunks of time. Time that could be used to develop relationships, enjoy hobbies or learn a new skill.
Our cruise ship was not the latest, greatest ship on the ocean. In fact, it was older, by cruise ship standards. There were no bumper cars or pool-side movie theatre screens like the newest ships that are just coming out. Yet it felt good to see our teenagers engaged in real-time experiences and interactions without any complaints of being bored or missing their devices.
Cruising with teens. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
Entertainment. On stage. Starring real people.
We were surprised when our 13-year old revealed she had never seen a comedy show before. None of our kids had. Oh, of course. Live comedy is usually for adults only…. in clubs or rented halls. Magic shows are usually at little kids’ birthday parties or on TV. We all sat, bewildered, watching a woman get sawed in half before our eyes. One night our 18-year joined us in a piano bar where we played a private game of name that tune as the pianist sang Billy Joel and Elton John songs. All of these activities are a welcome departure from Call of Duty and reruns of One Tree Hill and Full House, in my opinion.
Books. Yes, books.
Not everyone likes to read. My teenagers enjoy reading for pleasure, but if they have a choice between picking up a book and surfing on their cell phones or watching a movie on TV, they are more likely to choose screens. Yet each of them enjoyed stretching out on the sunny pool deck of the ship with their books. (Note: Were they actually reading the books behind those sunglasses or scoping out the scene on the pool deck?)
A little culture — on board and on land.
We learned that natives of Bermuda are nicknamed onions (after the sweet onion that originated there). We learned that Bermuda’s drinking water is collected from the rain and is purified as it runs off the special white painted roofs. We saw that the natives really do wear Bermuda shorts in Bermuda… even the businessmen, with suit jackets and ties. And we learned that the Bermuda Triangle refers to one point on a triangle that also includes points in Miami and Puerto Rico. (We viewed the remains of a shipwreck through a glass-bottom boat, at night via floodlight).
The ship has a culture of its own, too. It’s made up of crew members from around the world who work hard to please their guests. Often they’re doing mundane jobs like dispensing hand sanitizer to guests in line for the buffet. But they do so with big smiles on their faces.
My 13-year old likes to cook. How perfect that one afternoon she could watch the head chefs demonstrate how to make some of their best dishes. (All their prep work was done for them, I pointed out to her).
Two of our kids practiced their Spanish by exchanging greetings with their room steward, Arnold. He surprised them each night by shaping their bath towels into animals wearing their sunglasses. They sampled foods that they had never been exposed to at home (and probably never will be).
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After we returned home, a friend contemplating taking the same trip asked if there was enough for the kids to do on the ship. It’s a very good question. There’s plenty for kids: a basketball court, an arcade, a fully equipped gym, a pool for little kids, and a pool for big kids and adults, a library, and a hangout spot for kids and teens.
You may think you know your kids well until you take a cruise. Ours enjoyed the whole experience, even without their cell phones. In fact, the activity that became their favorite after dinner each night was none other than….Wait for it….