The Last Vacation Together to the Caribbean

by Beth Shaw

Beth and her sons, Collen (left), Ryan (center) and Kyle (right)
Beth and her sons, Collen (left), Ryan (center) and Kyle (right)

I’m lucky because I have three great loves of my life….however I would soon be losing them. Many parents have experienced the mixed emotions that come with sending their growing children off into the world for the next phase of their lives. But as a single mom, that inevitability would have even more meaning for me, as my three sons and I have been a tight and supportive team their entire lives.

The challenges of raising three boys as a single parent for me have been offset by the tremendous pride I have for each of them and the young men they’re growing up to be.

With Kyle (20) off at college, Ryan (18) joining the Marines, and my youngest Collen (14), already in high school, I couldn’t help but feel that time was running out for one last vacation all together. We’d dreamed of taking a cruise vacation forever, so I vowed Christmas of 2010 would be it.

Throughout my boys’ childhoods, we would vacation by loading the car with groceries and driving the 14 hours from Ohio to South Carolina, where we’d stay at a place with a kitchenette to save money on restaurants. When my parents retired to Florida, we would travel there and stay with them. We would also visit Port Canaveral and watch the cruise ships dock.

We’d talk about the impressive size of those ships and how incredible they must be inside. Our fascination with cruise ships would continue long after we left the Florida coast. Whenever a cruise ship commercial came on TV, one of us, usually Collen, would say, “Wow, just think what it would be like to go on a cruise!” I could put it off no longer.

That was how we made this trip happen. To afford it, I put aside every dollar that I could from my job: managing front-desk operations for a chain of physical-therapy clinics. Each of us had also cut out extra expenditure from our budgets.

The closer we got to our goal, the more excited we got. We agreed upon a Christmas cruise to the Western Caribbean on Crown Princess. That way we’d skip a week of Ohio winter. We made a grand occasion of going to the post office to get our passports. We pre-booked activities – swimming with stingrays, snorkeling, Mayan ruins, the “Twister” speed boat to Passion Island and an excursion to Roatan, Honduras, because we read about monkeys there that would sit on your head.

Then we drove 18 long hours to get to the ship, arriving tired and hungry and thrilled to have finally arrived.

The week that followed was perfect. The days flew by with me hanging out by the pool and the boys playing basketball and grabbing pizza and hotdogs whenever hunger struck.

Yes, we snorkeled, swam with the stingrays and experienced the weirdly pleasant sensation of monkeys on our heads, exactly as we had planned. Time flew by in a blur of happiness and pure enjoyment.

Each night, I took one of those wonderful peanut butter cookies the pastry chef made along with a cup of decaf coffee to my room. It was my nightcap and my moment to reflect on what we’d achieved. I’d think about how we’d spent the day, that precious family time together and try not to dwell on Kyle going back to school, Ryan taking that major step to boot camp and Collen the next to go.

Mostly, I thought about how wonderful I felt to be able to give this trip to us. Then I’d drift off to sleep with the balcony door slightly ajar, lulled by the sound of waves and the soft breeze of fresh ocean air.

Beth resides in Dublin, Ohio and she’s enjoyed one Princess cruise. She hopes to take another cruise very soon!