Celebrating Family Milestones on a Panama Canal Cruise

by Sara Santaniello

Sara, left, and her family in front of Sabatini's aboard Island Princess
Sara, left, and her family in front of Sabatini's aboard Island Princess

My family and I don’t vacation often—it’s not that we don’t want to go to exotic countries and stay in fancy hotels, we absolutely do—but life has a funny way of flying by, especially with kids. Later, we come to  realize that we hadn’t treated ourselves to a true getaway.

In 2010, as three generations of our family assembled at my parents’ annual Christmas Eve dinner, we noted we had three major family milestones coming up: My parents’ 50th anniversary; our 25th and my oldest son, J.R.’s college graduation. We all agreed we should do something special together before it was too late. My sons pushed taking a cruise vacation; then my mother piped in with cruising the Panama Canal.

We agreed,  “Let’s do it!” But in the back of my mind I thought, “Nah, it’ll never happen. This is all hoopla and talk, and we’ll be back at my parents next Christmas Eve.”

The next day, as the family regrouped for the traditional opening of the presents at our house, I noted we were still talking about it. This could actually happen. So we agreed, no Christmas presents next year. Instead, we’d take the Island Princess for a 10-day Panama Canal cruise.

Christmas of 2011 found grandparents, parents and children doing a very unusual thing…flying to Fort Lauderdale and boarding a glistening, white cruise ship headed for the Caribbean and beyond. Years of habit and duty evaporated. We were going on a fantastic, family cruise vacation devoted to fun and adventure.

Okay, I had a few small worries about how our multi-generational group (spanning 15 to 79) would handle all this luxury and freedom. Would there be enough for my youngest, Brennan, to do? I shouldn’t have worried! His brother checked him into the teen center and from that point on, we had to beg him to spend time with us.

Brennan had so much fun playing games, meeting kids from all over the world, including some from Italy that he keeps up with on Facebook. He kept his word to meet us for the daily regroup in the dining room.

As for J.R., a Princess bartender was responsible for introducing our 22-year-old to whom he considers will be life-long friends. He even met up with one young lady in Arizona during a road trip with his baseball team.

My husband, Joe, and I had a blast rekindling our 25-year marriage. Looking back, it was probably the most relaxed we had been in 25 years. You see, we typically spent school breaks driving J.R. to baseball tournaments, so this was a major break from our typical driving to games and staying in economy hotels by the ball parks.

As for my parents, they loved the dining choices and the production shows. There was something going on every day for them to enjoy.

Caribbean shore excursions were another way our group could pursue their interests. J.R. and Brennan teamed up for active days of snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and hiking along a waterfall. They balanced all that physical activity with asloth sanctuary shore excursion.

Joe and I are shoppers, so we did a lot of shopping tours, including one to a great Jamaican pottery place. My parents particularly enjoyed a horse and buggy shore excursion through a plantation in Jamaica. Truly, this was a vacation for all ages!

While J.R. is moving to Connecticut for his new job and my father is turning 80, I’m so happy that we made this cruise happen. Now that we’ve finally taken a pleasure trip, we are determined to break with family tradition and do it again.

Sara resides in Kingston, New Hampshire and this was her first Princess cruise.