Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
The cheerful, hopeful words of Dr Seuss’ Oh the places you’ll go! resonate as we step from the port of Galveston, TX onto the deck of the recently refurbished Carnival Freedom. A happy sign invites us to sign up for the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (and yes, the eggs are really green!) It is the first taste of the fun to come, and boy, are we ready!
It’s opener, out there, in the wide, open air.
In 2014, over 700 000 children sailed on a Carnival ship. I did have a few reservations about the ease with which my own Thing One and Thing Two would climb over the railings and into the deep blue sea (practically impossible, as it turns out) but we nonetheless added our two kids to the growing tally for 2015.
The Freedom went into dry dock in early 2014 and re-emerged as one of Carnival’s “Funships 2.0” Some of the most major changes on the Freedom happened in the children’s areas and that, along with Carnival’s “Seuss at Sea” program is what has lured us aboard.
A person’s a person, no matter how small
The admonition from Horton Hears a Who! has obviously been taken to heart. The former Camp Carnival has been remade as Camp Ocean. The area is big and open and really colourful, with a large playroom for the youngest campers, ages 2-5 or “Penguins”–complete with big plastic igloo my 2 ½ year old spent lots of time climbing in and over and sliding down.
For the “Stingrays” (ages 6-8) and “Sharks” (ages 9-11) there is a really cool video game room as well as a nice open area for games and activities, and an easy clean craft room for the messier stuff!
Although our sailing carried an average number of kids for a mid-winter, non-holiday week sailing (average being between 300-400) the Stingrays and the Sharks were combined due to the low enrollment of Sharks at camp—much to the delight of my older-kid-adoring six year old. You could never have guessed there were that many kids aboard, as each time we were at camp there were fewer than twenty kids in each class. For sailings around school holidays the number of kids can swell to quadruple the average and extra staff (all of them with education degrees, at least three years experience and additional safety training) are brought on to accommodate all the campers.
Adjacent to the camp is Dr. Seuss’ Bookville. When the newest Carnival ship, the Vista, launches in 2016 it will also have a Bookville, but for now the Freedom is the only ship on the sea with this feature. We spent some happy hours in the space that feels like it was peeled right off the pages of one of the Dr. Seuss books that stock the bright shelves. There are games and puzzles in the library as well. The zany setting made for the most surreal interview of my career. I sat down with Ana Klacinski, the Youth Director of the Freedom, amongst amorphous shapes and striking colours; each of us engulfed in the brightly coloured vinyl of a bean bag chair; she with far more grace than I. Also I was wearing a sundress…not wise.
It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.
Had we not wanted to actually spend time with him, my elder son may have happily spent every possible hour (10 am-10 pm, longer on port days) with the kids and teachers at camp. With my younger son we discovered the efficacy of the parent paging system, as we were called periodically to come and get him. As Ana explained to me, it is the last resort. If the teachers were unable to stem the tide of tears, they would ask my big boy to go into the playroom to comfort his little brother. Barring that they would give us a call on the cell phone provided by the camp. For my part, I found it comforting to know they wouldn’t let the little ones cry for longer than about 20 minutes without calling the parents. Of course that put a crimp in my plans to laze by the pool with my novel and my margarita, but what can you do?
From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!
The Seuss theme pops up on the Freedom in a number of places. We joined a parade, led by Sam-I-Am, Things One and Two, and the Cat in the Hat himself. We wound through the decks of the ship with noisemakers and banners chanting “Dr Seuss is on the Loose!” The joy of my children, given permission to shout and make noise was delightful, certainly, but the most memorable part was marching through the onboard casino with the wild pack of children and furry mascots.
Some of the looks we got suggested that it was a tad early in the morning for so much commotion, except for one elderly Asian lady, resplendent in her golf visor and track suit. We must have been a surprising and outrageous good omen as she followed the parade briefly, clapping her hands together and crying “Oh yes! Lucky, lucky!” I REALLY hope we were lucky for her because she made my day.
After the parade was Seussapooloza! – a staged reading of The Cat in the Hat. My older son was over the moon excited to be chosen to play Thing 2. His little brother didn’t understand that only one of them had been invited onstage and climbed up on his own accord. Luckily our emcee graciously amended the story to include Thing Three!
Would you, could you, on a boat?
The last day of the cruise was the much anticipated Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast. The chance to have a brief meet and greet with the characters at table and eat some creative and delicious food was worth the $5 per person. The boys unsurprisingly opted for the green eggs and ham, I had the “From Here to there, from there to here” Belgian waffles, replete with multicoloured clotted cream, and my husband went with the Fox in Socks Steak and Eggs. We finished the meal with “You can think about yogurt parfait schlopp”: yogurt and strawberries layered in a distinctive Cat in the Hat hat pattern. The servers, dressed in red with wild blue wigs a la the Things, entertained with a musical number and it made me think of One Fish, Two Fish: “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” Although sadly, “tomorrow” was our day to leave.
If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good!
We started our holiday as cruise virgins, and while I’m not convinced I am destined to become the devoted cruisers we met who have been on 10 or 20 cruises, I can see the appeal. The camp and the Seuss at Sea program were so much fun, and perfectly suited for us. I could easily write another 1000 words on all the other on board activities! The careful attention to children and families we encountered is impossible to resist. Sam I Am has good advice, applicable to food of a different hue as well as cruises: “You may like them, try and see!”
Thank you to Carnival Cruise Lines for providing planning help and a courtesy rate for our family.