As a recently divorced mom of small children, a vacation of any kind seemed unlikely. Especially since I got divorced with no job of my own. I took the leap into the future on a wing and a prayer, and a few months later, I had a part-time job and a determination to give my children a life filled with adventure.
My income wasn’t high, but I kept my overhead low. I also learned to be clever with the money that did come in. I figured out how far I could make it stretch, and I made savings a priority- for me and for my kids. I started a small savings for them when they were born, and I put all of my change in their piggy banks, to be deposited once a year into their own savings accounts. We didn’t have much, but I made sure we had everything we needed.
Sometimes that’s meant buying used items, and other times that means clipping coupons. It means hosting a garage sale and picking up odd jobs for extra cash. It means making some sacrifices but also choosing our indulgences carefully. It’s an entire lifestyle to live off a greatly reduced income, and to do it while handling 2 active, growing children.
Even though a vacation seemed like it would be a challenge, I was determined to make it happen. Initially, I tried to get friends or family to accompany us so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed away from home with a 2 and a 4 year old. When no one was able or willing to go with us, I decided that I would do it on my own. I couldn’t just sit around and wait for someone to come with us or give us permission to take the risk.
That’s when I booked a cruise. Me, who had never been out of the country or gone much of anywhere in the whole of my life. I booked a week to the Bahamas with my kids on the Carnival Cruise line, and I never looked back. I began to research, plan, and save for this big trip- a first vacation for my kids and a first vacation on our own as a family.
We made the road trip to Florida without a hitch. Our night in the hotel was drama-free. The next morning we caught a bus to the port, and that’s when I began to wonder if I had lost my mind. My youngest child screamed through security. The staff expedited us to the front of the line while I tried to manage our luggage and a double stroller. They were kind, courteous, and -frankly- pitying, as my child screamed as if he was being tortured rather than taken on a cruise. We were rushed on board the ship where a porter helped us into the elevator and to our room.
Yes, he screamed all the way through security until we finally made it to our room!
The double stroller couldn’t fit into the room. I managed to get the kids inside and fold it up to get it in, and then I collapsed in an exhausted heap on the bed we were sharing for the trip. I was insane to do this, I decided. I didn’t know how I would cope when either child could melt down at any given moment. I was on my own for the week, and it was terrifying.
By dinner time, we’d settled into life on the ship. We’d checked it out thoroughly, and it was unusual enough to hold my children’s attention. In fact, just going up and down the glass elevator in the atrium was enough to occupy a happy hour while we waited for dinner. Dinner times were challenging, as my children tried and failed to sit still and be quiet in the space of the meal. But we managed, barely.
Within 24 hours, we acclimated. But we had so much help. The Carnival staff would rush to help me at meal times, helping carry trays at the buffet and helping with refills when it seemed I was struggling to manage 3 trays, 3 drinks, and 2 active small children. Everywhere we went, people held doors or offered to help- guests and staff alike. I was reminded constantly of the kindness of strangers as we made our way to our first destination.
One mother even came over during a particularly trying dinner and brought her small child and an iPad with cartoons to help me have a chance to eat in peace while my children and her child watched a cartoon. She provided support and encouragement for what I was doing. In fact, all over the ship, people stopped me to comment on my bravery- even when I sometimes suspected that they meant insanity. Still, it helped bolster my courage when it faltered. They saw me as brave; maybe I was.
Every morning after breakfast, we would head to Camp Carnival, where my kids would spend 3 hours participating in activities with other children their age. Every night after dinner, they would return for more playtime. That gave me 6 hours a day to explore the ship and take a break, and the rest of the day, I had wonderful quality time with the kids, enjoying the ship and the 3 beautiful beaches. It was the most rested I felt as a single mother, and my children were having the best time.
On the last night of the cruise, my youngest woke up with a vicious stomach virus, vomiting all over the room. Again, I questioned my sanity. But I called Guest Services and was expedited off the ship. At Customs, the staff remembered us and asked about our trip and made sure to rush us through the line with my sick toddler. When the wait for the bus became too long, a taxi driver offered to take us to the hotel, even though my son was clearly sick. Everywhere we went, people stepped up to help and applauded my courage. It was touching and inspiring.
This cruise wasn’t just a cruise for me. It was a test of my personal fortitude and courage. I was becoming such a helicopter parent, so fearful of taking the kids out and handling them by myself. I had been limiting our activities out of fear, and taking the cruise was a way of facing those fears head-on. It helped me understand that I am capable of more than I ever knew, that I am resourceful, and even when I feel alone, I’m not.
It also reminded me that I am capable of saving for what I want, even though my financial resources are a fraction of what they once were. I can put back a fraction of tax returns, put a small amount of money into savings each month (even if it’s just spare change), and look for ways of earning money on the side. I can’t afford a cruise every year, and it may be a while before we’re up to international travel. But we did it, and it’s still the best vacation we’ve ever had.
This cruise was even a reminder that we are never as alone as we fear. Even though the world seems dark at times, there are people who will step up and help, even if it’s just holding open a door while we struggle to manage a double stroller. Even when people aren’t helping, they are often more kind than we suspect, offering words of encouragement.
Sometimes a cruise isn’t just a cruise. It’s a dream come true. It’s a single mom’s chance to face some fears and make some memories. It’s a test of our independence. It’s a reminder of the kindness of strangers and a reminder that our income doesn’t have to limit our opportunities.
It looked like a family vacation. But, for us, it was so much more.