Cruise Day 3- Split Croatia

The compelling thing about a cruise is that you tour the land by day and travel great distances on water at night. So by the time you wake up the next morning, you can be far away. In our case, we had travelled across the Adriatic Sea to Split, Croatia. Neither Croatia nor our next stops in Turkey were places I would have considered making a separate trip to, but that was the appeal of the cruise. I couldn’t imagine getting there any other way.

Split looked like a charming little town with a historic palace, market place and some museums to explore. Mike and I took the kids to the tourist attraction, the Diocletian Palace, while the other three adults visited the museum and market.

The palace was crowded, but once we climbed up the tower, we had great views of the town and out to sea. Unfortunately, the height of the stairs, as well as the rickety construction, gave Kate second thoughts about ascending. I felt bad that I had gotten her into this situation again. However, she bravely waited with me or Mike at one of the lower landings, while we took turns climbing. We were very proud of her ability to deal with the crowds and her appreciation of the old buildings we were seeing.

Next we had fun wandering the market. David, always the animal lover, spotted a woman selling rabbits. He bent down to pat them, just as he had with the pigeons in St Mark’s Square. They took to him immediately. For the rest of the trip, he tried to convince me that he should get a pet rabbit when we returned home.

After our tour, we stopped at a restaurant for pizza and salad. We sat at an outdoor table where we could watch the pedestrians from many countries walking by. While we were waiting for our food, I had my niece call home. I knew my sister would be anxious to hear from her and it was hard to get cell phone reception on the ship (not to mention very expensive).

Predictably, Kate only gave her mom minimal answers; “yes”, “no”, “cool”; so when she was done, I took over the conversation, filling her in on the details of our trip so far. I remembered how much I had longed to hear from my daughter when she was away with her Nana last summer on the Baltic.

My sister could not thank me enough for calling her. “You just made my day!” she exclaimed. I am sure Kate knew her mom would want to hear from her; but, as children do, wanted to draw the lines between her life experiences and her parents’. Fortunately, she had no qualms about sharing this experience with her aunt- so we had plenty of fun moments together, which we will remember for a long time.

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Day 2- Part B Dilemmas of a Responsible Parent

After lunch, Megan, David and Kate explored the ship. They discovered the ping-pong tables, swimming pools, the basketball court and the Crow’s Nest. By the time they came back to the room, David had broken off his id bracelet, claiming he was almost 13 and shouldn’t have to wear it.So what is a responsible aunt suppose to do when Kate declared she wanted her’s off too?

At first I tried to explain it was for her own safety. I told her if David had his off, she could still roam the ship with him and no one would care. I did trust David. He has a good sense of caution while being confident enough to try new things. However, here I was in the Mediterranean with my sister’s child who I perhaps felt over-protective of, (but you can understand why). So I felt completely torn between what was best for them both- safety or independence?

As it turned out, no one really ever checked their bracelets. The ship was very secure and any time we exited, someone asked if the minors were accompanied by us. Kate tried to follow the rules about wearing the bracelet, but I could see that it was very uncomfortable- too tight and with a long tag hanging off. In the end, she managed to break it off when no one was watching, and that was the end of it.

Amy’s Anticipated Arrival

As the evening approached, everyone became more excited for Amy’s arrival. She had been travelling all day from the west coast of Canada. The last time we had seen her was at Christmas. There had been several family gatherings since then, usually on weekends, but Amy lived too far away for such spontaneity.

Amy and her husband loved their jobs and their location, except for the fact that all of their family members were on the east coast. Having no children of her own, Amy treasured her nieces and nephews and was looking forward to this extended visit as a way to bond with them even more closely.

Hillary (Amy’s & my mother)  was beginning to appear anxious. All mothers worry about their children and Hillary was no exception. She was even more excited than I to have her family together and was already planning special activities with each one. I finally convinced her to take a walk on the promenade deck so we could get some fresh air and take our mind off the wait. It was relaxing to stroll around the ship and take in the views of Venice and the vaporetto action on the sea.

On the way back, we stopped in my suite to see what the kids were up to. We found them hanging out on the couch with some fruit salad, french fries and Fanta. Obviously they had wasted no time ordering room service. At least they made one healthy food choice.

Mike was sitting out on the verandah. When I stepped out to join him, my mouth dropped open and I blinked my eyes in disbelief. My surprise turned into pure joy as I stretched my arms out, shouting “Amy!” and ran around the table to embrace my weary but equally happy sister, who had just arrived and was sitting in the lounge chair. Hillary was four steps behind me and soon all three of us were entwined in a group hug.

Love is a powerful magnet to draw people together. Coming from 5 states or provinces, in small groups or alone, for the sole purpose of a vacation shows a strong committment to what it means to be a family. Over the course of this cruise we intended to take every opportunity to strengthen our ties and replenish our stores of love for when we would be apart again.

Day 2- Embarkation Part A: Organization & Challenges

Today we all slept in a bit – trying to catch up on some shut eye. However, by 10 am we were repacked and ready to head to our cruise ship. Once again we each had to drag our suitcases up and down stairs and through narrow alleys until we reached our vaporetto stop. By the time we arrived at the dock, we were soaked with sweat. Everyone received a room key but David and Kate were disappointed to learn they needed to wear identification bracelets due to their age. This would become a point of contention later in the day. However, at this moment everyone was eager to check out their staterooms and explore the ship.

We were staying on the Ms. Nieuw Amsterdam. We had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite for the four of us and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of our room! We had a king size bed, a large sitting area with ample room for the pull-out sofa, a spacious bathroom with 2 sinks and showers and a separate dressing area with plenty of storage space, including a large vanity. Our verandah was twice the size of the regular ones and had comfortable seating for 8 people- perfect for our whole group!

I’ll admit I am an organization maniac and I set to work right away trying to figure out where to store four people’s stuff for the next 12 days. The guys were easy. They were able to share a closet and use some drawers. I found some drawer space for myself and used a closet for shoes and hanging things. That just left Megan’s stuff.

I knew she had packed way more than she needed, but a 15-year-old girl needs her fashion and her make-up so we agreed that, as long as it fit in her suitcase, she could bring it. As it turned out, the dressing room was perfect for her. She could fit everything in the closets, lay her makeup out on the vanity and I could draw thew curtain on her mess so the rest of the room looked presentable. Problem solved!

Since Megan and Susan were returning Mariners, they were able to attend a special Embarkation lunch and invited the rest of us as guests. We walked in to the Manhattan Dining Room and were immediately impressed by how friendly and helpful the staff were. The choices of food on the menu indicated the luxury of the options we would have during our stay.

Since it was only lunch, I skipped the appetizer and ordered a chilled asparagus soup and a raspberry walnut salad, followed by a scoop of watermelon sorbet for dessert. Everything was as delicious as it sounds! Little did I realize what a sensitive issue our food choices were to become during the cruise.

At the outset of our trip, my mother-in-law was seriously underweight. Since being widowed less than 8 months ago, she had not been eating well. Compounded by the stress of her new situation and occasional depression, she looked shockingly frail. Her goal was to put on 5 pounds and revive her spirit on this trip.

Kate, on the other hand, had been sent on this trip by her mother- who tried to maintain healthy eating habits at home and asked us to be mindful of sticking to them. With so many courses to eat and tantalizing desserts everywhere we looked, we quickly knew this was going to be a challenge.

The remaining members of the group, myself included, were foolishly trying to enjoy a variety of foods without gaining a pound. This idea seems ridiculous in retrospect, as there was always good food available at the Lido buffet, in the Neptune Lounge or by ordering room service.  Fortunately, none of this was on my mind as we finished our first meal. Everyone smiled at each other and complimented the waiters on how delicious everything had tasted.

 

Day 1- A Venetian Family Reunion

The various members of our group arrived separately, from Boston, New York, Tucson and Victoria BC. Everyone was exhausted from the trip, but excited to connect and begin our vacation. Hillary had flown from Tucson to pick up her granddaughter, Kate (11), whom she was escorting to Venice with her daughter’s blessing, envy and set of instructions. I had flown with my husband, Mike and children, Megan (15) and David (12) [a.k.a. the Cruise Family]. We had all crossed paths at JFK the night before and exclaimed “See you in Venice in 12 hours!” before went to our separate gates. Susan had flown in from Boston and, unlike the rest of us, managed to get a row of 3 seats to herself and was able to catch a few winks. Amy would not be able to join us until the following day, but her arrival from British Columbia was much anticipated.

The Cruise family landed at Marco Polo airport  and were excited to see a familiar face awaiting them on the other side of Immigration. Mike’s mother, Susan/Nana, held her arms open as Megan and David ran to greet her! Then we all boarded a bus headed for Piazza Roma in Venice.

We decided to walk to our hotel  – advertised as a mere 10 min walk from the bus stop. Each person had one suitcase to manage, but David quickly realized his Nana was having trouble with her large upright. He offered to take charge and gave her his much smaller, towable bag. Needless to say, he provided plenty of entertainment on the walk (which was much longer than 10 min btw). Crashing the suitcase in to walls and tripping over it when it skidded on the cobblestones in the narrow alleys. But his efforts at lugging it up and down the bridges were much appreciated by his Nana as she could not have managed it by herself. “Next time I need to get a more portable suitcase!” she proclaimed.

We finally arrived at our hotel, Al Duca di Venezia, and were more than happy to freshen up in our beautiful rooms. Hillary and Kate had arrived earlier and were eager to get out and explore Venice. Within an hour we were ready to head out. We decided to go to Saint Mark’s Square – an obvious tourist trap, but a must see.

It was as beautiful as we had remembered (the Cruise family had been there 2 years earlier on a tour of Italy), but the lines to enter the basilica were so long that we decided to ascend the bell tower instead. Kate very much wanted to go up, but when she discovered there was only an elevator, she confessed that she was afraid of elevators and could not bring herself to do it. Her Uncle Mike thoughtfully patted her back and told her they could explore St. Mark’s square instead. Conversely, Hillary and Susan had assumed it would be a climb up the tower, which their knees would not be up for. They had already taken off to walk along the canals and people watch together. They were excited to use this trip as a chance to get better acquainted. They had always declared they would be best friends if they lived closer to each other.

That left me, Megan and David to ascend the bell tower. When we got to the top, we took in the breath-taking views of Venice! We looked down on the moveable clock and crowded Saint Mark’s Square and across to the dome of the basilica. All the way out to sea we caught a glimpse of our Holland America cruise ship. We became very excited to think of the long adventure that awaited us tomorrow.

    

Megan was looking forward to visiting many historic sites. David was determined to take full advantage of room service on the ship, and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with each and every member of the family.

When everyone reconvened at the bottom of the tower, it was time to head to dinner. Mike had looked up a favorite restaurant which the Cruise family had visited last time we were in Venice. He printed out a step by step set of directions which led us through 42 twists and turns on back alleys until we arrived at Casa Mia- only to discover it was closed for the day.

Shrugging off our disappointment (and hunger pains) and demonstrating how flexible everyone in this odd group could be, we wandered for a few blocks until we found another place to eat. At that point some salads, Margarite pizzas and a bottle of Chianti  (or Fanta) were all it took to make everyone happy. We finished off our first day with authentic Venetian gelato and fell into our comfy beds-  exhausted but relaxed. All the stress of planning this trip was over. Now we could enjoy the next 12 days!