Instead of watching the television screen as the advertisement for Nickelodeon’s All Access Cruise splashes images of middle-aged men and women getting pies smashed in their faces and giant buckets of green “slime” poured over their heads, I watch my daughter’s face.
“Please don’t say you want to do this. Please don’t say you want to do this,” I wish, fervently.
You see, taking my children on a family vacation that highlights meeting the guy who is the voice of Spongebob Squarepants (or getting a pie in the face) sounds like my worst nightmare. A week on a cruise ship, with thousands of children and a “staff” of grownups dressed like cartoon characters – dancing and singing cartoon characters, singing songs I probably know, due to their frustrating inclination to echo over and over in my head (“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Spongebob Squarepants!”). A family vacation where my husband and I can’t escape water slides, video games, or life-sized cartoon characters. A family vacation on which our children, and their childish whims and impulses, rule.
It doesn’t sound like a vacation to me; more like indentured servitude.
“If your family just can't get enough Nickelodeon, imagine their excitement when you tell them they'll be sailing on a Nickelodeon All Access Cruise vacation. Nickelodeon will take over the entire ship with imaginative surprises around every corner,” the announcer booms.
I try to imagine my family’s excitement. It would be like our trip to the Denver Children’s Museum last fall: Children swarming everywhere like ants, waiting impatiently for their turn to see this or do that. Parents, milling around the periphery of the wriggling childish mass, smiling only when their kids are looking. Looking, otherwise, like they need a drink. I imagine a Nickelodeon cruise to be like that, except 24 hours a day, for five days straight.
Is it wrong to admit a vacation where my family did something 100 percent child-oriented, like boarding a cartoon-themed cruise ship, would send me to the loony bin?
Becoming a parent strips one of a lot of former dignity. Yes, I often spend my afternoons attending elaborate tea parties, alongside a pink bunny who sings “Here comes Peter Cottontail” and a naked baby doll with marker scribbles across her face. My husband can frequently be seen, in public, with a pink Dora the Explorer bag in one hand, escorting a white tutu-frocked fairy (i.e., Elle) in the other. So much of our everyday life is devoted to our children and their whims and fancies. Must our vacations be wholly devoted to the whims and fancies of our children too?
Like most ski-town dwellers, the approach of midwinter finds my thoughts wandering to the milder pace of spring and the coming off-season, and, inevitably, where we’ll take our next vacation (because, like most working vacation-locale dwellers, ours doesn’t provide us with enough of a vacation. And so any extra money we have made in the winter goes directly to getting out of here, in the spring).
This spring off-season will present us with our first opportunity to vacation with not only one, but now two kids. Which means… what? Visits to zoos and circuses and amusement parks, attractions you can tell are “family friendly” thanks to the subtly insulting scent of dribbled-on undergarments and the shrill sound of a hundred children demanding snowcones that hits you like a pie in the face as soon as you walk through those pearly, overpriced gates?
Elle’s eyes are still glued to the television and the Nickelodeon cruise commercial, where children are being invited up on stage to dance alongside Spongebob, while their gleeful parents boogie and cheer.
“Hey Elle…” I wait for that flicker of consideration that lets me know she stands a chance of noticing something other than what’s happening on the television screen.
“Should we go to the beach? This spring?” She glances at me, then back to the cruise ship.
“You know, the ocean. We can build sand castles, play in the waves – we’ll camp on the beach!” I’m trying, but I haven’t complete lured her away from the cartoon characters waving at her from the deck of that giant, castle-like cruise ship.
“We’ll build a camp fire…and roast marshmallows!”
“Marshmallows?” The promise of sugar always gets this child’s attention.
“Yes! Marshmallows – with chocolate!”
“Yeah!” Forgotten is Nickelodeon and its wicked cruise ship. Camping, on the beach, sounds positively divine: No squirming masses of over-stimulated children and their video-recording parents. No dancing and singing cartoon characters – we can dance and sing by ourselves, at a sandy campsite on the California coast, to far less annoying music. While eating marshmallows. Just the kids, the dog, a well-stocked camper and the sand between our toes. The best family vacation I can imagine.
“OK, let’s go!”
Elle has wriggled off the couch. She is heading for the door.
“Well, honey, not now,” I clarify. “This spring. For vacation.”
“But I want to go to the beach now!” she pleads.
“Me too, Elle. Me too.”