A Big Birthday Cruise Bash in the Caribbean

Ilene and her daughter, Jana celebrating their birthdays
Ilene and her daughter, Jana celebrating their birthdays

On my birthday 30 years ago, birthdays changed forever. I lay in the hospital cradling a true gift, my daughter Jana, who had arrived unexpectedly while I was supposed to be attending my surprise birthday dinner.

Jana came quickly without contractions; I just had a strange feeling to stop by the emergency room to check on my pregnancy. Six minutes later, my husband at the time was calling the restaurant to tell our guests to stop hiding behind the furniture and celebrate without us. As I looked at Jana I thought, “What could top you for a wonderful birthday surprise?”

Jana and I have tried to create special birthdays for each other ever since. Among the many, I remember doing my best to surprise her on her Sweet 16, but she found the guest list ahead of time. She thrilled me on my 50th by sneaking her older brother, Brett, to town for the celebrations.

This year, we planned to spend the big day, March 6th– my 60th and Jana’s 30th– together, onboard a cruise to the Caribbean. Enlisting my sister, Robbi, who works for Princess Cruises, we commandeered 30 additional family members to join us.

Our family absolutely loves to get together. We made turquoise t-shirts and tote bags, playing off the symmetry of our ages and birth date. Furthermore, the special gear made it easier to spot our group on board.

Cruise ships are an absolutely great place to celebrate a big birthday. Our group ranged in age from 1 to 71, not a one-destination-fits-all gathering. Between the multitude of Caribbean shore excursions, ports of call and on-board activities, everyone could plan the kind of vacation they wanted while still having plenty of family time. We could go our separate ways during the day, but always got together in the evening for dinner.

Jana and I spent plenty of time together. On our big day, a group of us swam with the dolphins during a shore excursion in Honduras, something Jana had always wanted to do.

That night, we arranged a pre-dinner cocktail hour at Skywalker’s Nightclub. A talented cousin had put together a video of Jana and me through the ages, which played on all the nightclub’s monitors.

I told our guests the story I tell Jana every year, of how special she is to me, and her sudden arrival in my life. I also told our guests of another mother/daughter birthday duo: my own mother and grandmother.

If you are wondering about the surprise element of this birthday cruise, well I’d planned a good one! Richard, my love of 13 years, and I decided that having so much family in one place provided an irresistible opportunity to finally get married. We, along with my sister, Robbi, and the Princess wedding maestros, secretly planned a beautiful ceremony and reception for Day 2 of the cruise. We only revealed the surprise after Crown Princess set sail from Fort Lauderdale, inviting our combined six children to our cabin for a drink, to toast our one-day engagement.

A wedding of my dreams, followed by a birthday celebration for all times, then, as everyone disembarked, another 7-day honeymoon cruise for Richard and me. While this joy was expected, unlike Jana’s express delivery, it will remain just as memorable.

Ilene lives in Overland Park, Kansas and she’s enjoyed nine cruises with Princess.