Starting a Harmonious Family Life on a Caribbean Cruise

The Wilson family aboard Ruby Princess
The Wilson family aboard Ruby Princess

It’s customary in the military to throw a big party when you retire. Commanding officers, shipmates, family and civilian friends come together to toast the new retiree on his years of honorable service.

When my husband, Sean, retired as a lieutenant after serving for 20 years in the U.S. Navy, we talked about throwing one of those big retirement bashes. But the more Sean and I discussed it, the more uneasy he became.

Sean didn’t want to toast himself, he told me. He wanted to thank us, his family, and especially our daughters, Ashley, 11, and Megan, 9, for all the pain and loneliness they had gone through while he was serving his country. Through their earliest years, Sean was often overseas in precarious places: aboard the USS Shreveport to the Middle East to guard Iraq’s oil platforms; to North Africa and Yemen, site of the USS Cole incident; Somalia and Ethiopia and aboard the USNS Comfort to Haiti, bringing emergency care immediately after the tragic earthquake.

The way to thank us, he said, would be to go on a great family vacation. We’d take a seven-day Caribbean cruise aboard Ruby Princess. Such a cruise vacation would treat the girls with the things they love the most—the beach, snorkeling, kids-club activities and dressing up for fancy dinners.

Because Sean was upending Navy tradition by not throwing a party, he had to put up with a lot of grief at work. But it was more important to him to thank his family instead. What a great husband and dad!

We went the week after Thanksgiving. Sean was technically still in the Navy, but he’d accrued plenty of leave, so he packed his dress blues for the ship’s formal night.

The girls were so excited. They got to go on a ship with their dad for once, a huge contrast from before, where we’d wave tearfully on the dock as Sean departed for the better part of a year. One time, as Sean departed on the U.S.S. Shreveport, Ashley screamed in tears, making the people around us start crying. So, this departure was absolutely glorious, to actually be somewhere on a ship together.

For Sean, relaxation and food were two of the big things he enjoyed most. It was so nice to see my husband relax and not have to do a thing on the ship but eat, sleep and play (and he wanted me to say, thumbs up for the endless, amazing pizza!). He didn’t have to worry about an extra pound putting him outside the PRT (physical readiness test) standards anymore either.

We all loved to snorkel and made sure to do that off the shores of every island we visited. The girls loved the kids club where they’d hang out making crafts and meeting new friends.

Formal night was great. Sean donned his dress blues and we girls all felt like princesses. The girls ate duck and escargot for the first time and liked it!

Now home, Sean has a good job that his Navy training prepared him for, a medical physicist—he’s the guy who makes sure the imaging machines are not over- or underexposing.

By leaving the Navy, Sean gave up a way of life and the honor of an impending promotion. What we all gained was a different kind of life, a stable and harmonious family life without extended leaves, abrupt moves and tearful goodbyes at naval dockyards.

Amy resides in Frederick, Maryland with her family. They’ve enjoyed three cruises with Princess.