Two's company. Three's a crowd

 ... how about 21?

by James Tierney

We've all seen that number plate, "We're spending our Kids' Inheritance" Well, we have put a new spin on it by spending it with them. We have just returned from a cruise with five children, their spouses, and nine grandchildren. Our youngest daughter, her husband, and her two boys couldn't come with us because she was expecting, and since has had a third boy. We worried about the odds of 21 of us getting through the cruise without illness or mishaps. Fortunately, all went well. Everyone had a wonderful time and arrived safely at home to welcome the new addition to the family. We highly recommend that grandparents take their entire family on a cruise and foot the bill, if they are financially and physically able. The many advantages include a great deal of getting along and bonding, as a result of bringing the entire family together for a much longer period than the usual holiday visits.

Our original plan was to cruise the Caribbean but our travel agent Elaine, Cruise Vacations, Medford suggested a five day cruise to Canada, via Halifax and St. John's, on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Sea. The ship is second to the Queen Mary in size and caters to children, with activities that include rock climbing, ice skating, roller skating and, of course, swimming pools and jacuzzis. It was a good choice because the kids were busy all day every day doing all the things they like, not being bored and bugging their parents, totally exhausted and sleeping soundly every night.

The trip began with a bus ride to Bayonne, New Jersey where we boarded the ship. We had our own 50 seat bus with plenty of room and the 21 of us rattling around in it. Most of us were picked up at our door in Melrose and two families picked up at a daughter's house in Needham. All of us had Kelly green T shirts with gold lettering, the front shows a ship and "NeeNee and Grandpa Jim's 1st annual Cruise" and the back lists 24 names,including "baby" who wasn't born as yet. The T shirts enabled us to have "crowd control" no matter where we were, being able to quickly spot and count the 21 of us. The kids are between 4 and 15 and the bus ride was a new and exciting experience for them.

We arrived at the pier in time to take advantage of a New York Harbor cruise before boarding the ship. The fully narrated tour featured breathtaking views of the Manhattan Skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, George Washington, and other bridges, the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State building. We passed the site of the World Trade Center and learned of the upcoming dedication of the new 1776 foot tower to be built on the site.

The weather cooperated and gave us sun and comfortable temperatures every day, enabling us to enjoy the pools, Jacuzzis, or, simply, lounging on the deck soaking up the sun. We didn't expect to see the entire family each day until the evening meal, where we had the same two tables for 12 for the entire cruise, because everyone went their separate ways during the day. Although there were 3400 people on the cruise we connected with many family members during the day at breakfast or lunch, or at the various activities. Besides rock climbing, ice skating, and in-line skating, there was a lot of playground type equipment for the younger kids, a game room, video arcade room, a jogging track, basketball and squash courts, miniature golf, and a golf simulator. Other activities include a fitness center, spa treatment rooms, aerobics area, hair salon, library, and internet access computers.

There were three separate formal dining rooms where we could have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was an Italian cuisine restaurant, Portofinos, as well as several other all day casual dining spots, including a Johnny Rockets Diner. Of course, there were several pubs and bars throughout the ship with musical entertainment at many of them. Spectacular shows were presented each night, including an ice show in the style of the Ice Capades, a Broadway musicals review, and the Platters, with the original Herb Reed. The Casino Royale provided blackjack, craps, roulette, electronic slot machines, and video poker.

The cruise to Canada was very smooth with very little "rocking" and no incidents of seasickness, except, ironically, a grandchild feeling queasy on the NY Harbor Cruise. After a full day at sea and enjoying the amenities of the ship, our first stop was at St. John's, New Brunswick. As was the case in Halifax, Nova Scotia some of us took a shore excursion, some just got off the ship and walked downtown for sightseeing, while others stayed on the ship making the most of what the ship had to offer.

The beautiful province of New Brunswick links Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada. Together they were called "Acadia" by the French who first explored the area. The term Cajun, usually associated with New Orleans, comes from Acadian and the people who migrated from Canada to Louisiana. St. John's, named after St. John the Baptist, is probably best known for the highest tides in the world in the Bay of Fundy, reaching 65 feet in certain areas, and where 100 billion tons of water surge in and out of the huge tidal area. The St. John's River reverses itself twice a day in a natural phenomenon, with whirlpools visible, as the river travels 450 miles to the ocean, via the Bay of Fundy and the harbor. St. John's has its own version of Ellis Island -- Partridge Island, where 200,000 Irish immigrated to between 1820 and 1860 and is known as the Irish capital of Canada.

A visit to Martello Tower gave us a breathtaking view of the harbor and Partridge Island. The tower is a fortification built as a defense against the US during the War of 1812 and the first in America of many like it throughout Great Britain, as a defense against Napoleon. There were many other tours available, including up close and personal Bay of Fundy high tide and Reversal Falls Rapids, Scenic St. Andrew's and St. Martin's, Nature Kayaking, and Moosehead Brewery.

The next day we stopped at Halifax which has 16 miles of natural harbors, facing the Atlantic and has served as a perfect "front porch" for British North America. It is named for the Second Earl of Halifax, who was then president of the Board of Trade in London. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of King George III and father of Queen Victoria, was also very prominent in Halifax as commander and chief of the Atlantic Headquarters of the Royal Navy and Army. Prince Edward Island was named after him.

A disastrous explosion in Halifax harbor as a result of a munitions ship colliding with another vessel caused the death of 2000, 9000 wounded and left 20,000 homeless. Many areas throughout Canada and the US responded to the need with Boston, perhaps, contributing the most, including trainloads of medical supplies and medical personnel. Since that time, Halifax has been sending a Christmas tree to Boston every year as a thank you and remembrance.

There were many shore excursions available in Halifax, including Peggy's Cove, an artist and explorer's paradise and a coastline famous for pirates, shipwrecks, rum running, and sunsets, not to mention the renowned lighthouse which also serves as a post office. Swiss Flight 111 crashed not far from here with the news focusing on Peggy's Cove. The Continuing Mystique of the Titanic, the unsinkable ship, which sank off the coast of Halifax and is the final resting place of 150 passengers.

Evangeline and the Acadian Journey, passing through communities originally settled by French Acadians in the 1680's, with a visit to the Grand Pre (Great Meadow) National Park, site of the church from where the British deported the Acadians in 1755. The Halifax City Tour includes a visit and history of the Province House and City Hall overlooked by the picture-perfect Town Clock, perched on Citadel Hill, the attractive Victorian style Public Gardens, the Metro Center, the Convention Center, and Historic Properties. The shore excursions reminded us once again of the need for the full metric system in the US. We also had to adjust to the loonies ($1) and the toonies ($2) again.

The ship headed for home and the consensus of the group was that the cruise ended too soon. We were back in New Jersey before we knew it, preparing to disembark the next morning and board the bus which was waiting to take us home. Memories of the cruise will also be in the form of pictures and video from the various cameras in the group. Ship photographers were also taking pictures throughout the week, both formal and informal, for us to purchase or not purchase. We DID have a formal picture of the entire group all decked out (no pun intended) for Captain's night. Formal pictures were also taken of the individual families. Before sailing, at the terminal, we had a picture taken of the group in their T shirts.

The cruise was a great experience and brought us even closer together as a family. Hopefully, we'll do it again in the not too distant future.  

October 1, 2004

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