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A Family Fiesta

A family discovers that a cruise can be fun-loving and have something for everyone.

  • plate of cheese at La Cava de Marcelo, image
    Photo caption
    At La Cava de Marcelo, a plate of cheese with fruit pairs nicely with a glass of red wine. 
  • looking down from above on people eating at La Cava de Marcelo, image
    Photo caption
    Visitors to La Cava de Marcelo dine next to racks of cheese.


Little guns . . . . Big guns. And little guns. And big guns. Now walk it out, and 5-6-7-8.

If someone had told me that I’d be on a cruise ship showroom stage, strutting through a dance routine and shamelessly doing my best ’70s finger-point dance move, I would’ve said she was crazy.

Which is what I had already told Kate, my determined 14-year-old who had dragged me down several flights of stairs and away from a nap in my cabin. Bubbling with anticipation, she bounced while I skulked into a hidden corner behind a group of booty-shaking cruisers.

She had cajoled me into attending this afternoon dance class during our three-night cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada and back aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Inspiration. And like a cranky, embarrassed teenager, I was dead-set on eye-rolling my way through it. That is, until something strange happened: I started enjoying myself.

Perhaps it was the celebratory vibe we had slipped into for the cruise’s short duration or the “what happens on the Pacific, stays on the Pacific” mentality of our fellow passengers. But I was now feeling no shame displaying my drunken-ostrich dance moves. I dissolved into laughter as I looked over at Kate, who seemed equally unabashed. The smile on her face stretched from stage left to stage right, and I instantly knew I’d made the right moves—and not just those hip swivels. In this brief moment, Kate had slapped me with a fresh pair of relax-and-enjoy-your-child-now goggles.

While I might’ve initially sniffed at a cruise vacation as not offering enough cultural or educational experiences, Carnival Cruise Line’s fun-loving atmosphere overrode my tendency to overschedule our family vacations. The Inspiration’s daily Fun Times contained an exhaustive list of activities, but nothing was mandatory, and if I missed the poolside ice carving or the men’s hairy-chest competition, no one would suffer.

At one point, hubby Steve and I even braved the small “grownups-only” hot tub, where we mingled with a hodgepodge of laid-back, jovial cruisers: We cracked jokes with a couple of party-hearty young single guys from the Inland Empire as well as a pair of 50-something nurses celebrating a milestone birthday. Nearby, parents soaked up rays and margaritas poolside after having sent their youngsters off to Camp Ocean (for younger kids) and Club 02 (for the teens).

But the Inspiration’s lively spirit and the impromptu dance break proved to be more than an exercise in getting parents to unclench. Steve and I had begun to see everything through the rosy lens of Kate and her 10-year-old brother, Jackson. Sure, we’d played shuffleboard and sipped umbrella drinks in our multiple decades on earth, but Kate and Jackson absorbed everything as though they were living out the ultimate kid fantasies: 24-hour access to ice cream; live shows that allowed them to stay up late every night; and “exotic” foods (“The Carnival warm chocolate melting cake is definitely my favorite thing right now,” Kate announced one evening).

And as Southern California youngsters unaccustomed to chatting with strangers, they relished the interactions with friendly Carnival employees, many of whom hailed from such faraway locales as the Philippines and Australia and seemed genuinely interested in how the kids were enjoying their cruise.

“What did you do today, Mr. Jackson?” our cabin steward Tonto asked as we headed inside to inspect the evening’s towel animal creation. At first, Jackson looked at me, unsure how to respond. But he quickly fell into an easy rapport, offering more details than even Tonto was probably counting on.

Those fresh eyes extended to our tour of Ensenada, a destination that, to the jaded Southern Californian, might seem passé. But both kids relished the funky little stores, the plucked-right-from-the-ocean fish tacos, and even the mariachi musicians, who, for a small gratuity, played just for them.

To infuse a bit of culture, we opted for the four-hour Cheese Cellar and Countryside excursion to La Cava de Marcelo, a commercial cheese maker tucked near the farmlands of Ojos Negros, 26 miles south of Ensenada. Inside the softly lit cave, we breathed in the rich, moldy aromas of aging cheese and we sampled butter as well as ricotta and variously aged queso fresco. Lunch consisted of a house cheese–topped portobello and a salad made from fresh-picked greens and a fire-roasted tomato.

“That’s what a tomato is supposed to taste like,” Jackson noted, approvingly. Our shopping bags filled with cheese, we climbed back on the bus, basking in the afterglow of one of the best meals of the trip.

That evening on the ship, Kate “dragged” us to the piano bar, another first for her. Between rounds of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” I felt the same warm glow I’d experienced at dance class. Sure, this wasn’t the symphony, but when I glanced over at gleeful Kate, singing along with the crowd, I smiled, knowing we’d made all the right choices for this family vacation.

Photography by Carolyn Graham


This article was first published in June 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.