The Perfect Family Caribbean Vacation

Tyrone's boys on Princess Cays
Tyrone's boys on Princess Cays

We parents know how tough it can be to find time to ourselves without worrying about the kids.  On vacation together, that can be even harder.  Well, I think I’ve found the perfect way to achieve the essential balance for a family vacation … a cruise vacation, which can be a romantic getaway AND a fun-filled adventure for kids.

Thanks to the professional youth staff of Princess’ kids programs – Princess Pelicans for the younger set and Shockwaves for the preteens – my wife, Tara, and I enjoyed more date nights during a December 2011 cruise than we had taken almost the entire year.

We cruised with our three sons through the Caribbean aboard the cruise ship, Emerald Princess. On most nights, Tara and I enjoyed the incredible nightlife: romantic dinners a deux, exciting poker tournaments at the casino, champagne toasts at elegant art auctions and rousing shows to rival anything you’d find in Las Vegas.

And on formal nights we joined the boys – we are a blended family, combining my 11-year-old son, Cedric, with Tara’s 11-year-old, Malik, and 7-year-old Javian – in the main dining room for a grand dinner.

When Tara and I married almost two years ago, we blended families and traditions. I introduced her to Cedric’s and my love of cruising. Since Cedric was five or six, I’ve taken him on a Princess holiday cruise. He’s such a seasoned cruiser, that I figure he’ll be an elite Captain’s Circle member by the time he turns 18.

These holiday cruises filled a void in our family life. Until I married Tara, Cedric and I only had each other. So we created family traditions of our own. For Christmas, we’d take a Princess cruise. From the cheerful holiday decorations and music to the Yuletide treats and holiday shows, Cedric and I always had a great time. And after the cruise, we’d fly off to New York to see the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. (When we go, we go big!)

When Tara and I married, she and her two sons rounded out our family. In 2011, we made it a combined Christmas and anniversary cruise as it coincided with our first year together.

Since it was the holidays, we hung stockings for the boys. They were in heaven. Javian and the other Pelicans took part in phenomenal youth and teen activities and arts and crafts. The two older kids joined the Shockwaves, where they had PlayStation, Wii and other diversions to keep them happy.  Santa’s Workshop, carolers and other festivities kept everyone in good spirits.

We’d all get together for swimming and shore excursions, but I have to admit how great it was to also schedule grown-up things, like a couples massage during the day.

In the evenings, Tara and I would enjoy peaceful dinners at specialty restaurants like Sabatini’s or the Crown Grill before heading off for some evening entertainment.

We enjoyed the kind of busy nightlife we only dream about from Wichita. Meanwhile, the boys would be having their kind of fun in their respective clubs, dining on the kind of food that kids love.

What really sells the finance director in me on Princess Cruises as the ultimate family vacation is the cost. The way I see it, we bring the kids for free!

I’ve figured that the cost of taking my three boys on the cruise amounts to about the same as 10 date nights would in my hometown of Wichita.

It’s not as easy as you might think to plan a date night from the suburbs.  The first hurdle is finding something to motivate you to go out in the first place. (Family environment and cost of living, not nightlife, are Wichita’s strong suit.)  Then, is a sitter available? I’m lucky to get an evening a month on our neighborhood babysitter’s calendar.

It costs about $200 per date for us to go out: $50 for the sitter, $30 for the pizza and drinks for the kids/sitter to share and the rest for our restaurant, movie or concert.  Taking the kids on the cruise, counting airfare for the three of them and the extra cabin, costs about $2,000. Everything balances out – and certainly we have more fun at sea.

It’s the ultimate way to get away from the kids … and still bring them along.

Tyrone lives in Wichita, Kansas and has taken three Princess cruises.