Just cruising along with a family of 22

By Aimee Talentino Sanders
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010; 1:39 PM

The cruise was my mother's brilliant idea.

Mom doesn't turn 70 until Nov. 9, but she wanted to celebrate this milestone with the whole family. So we had to do something before the grandkids went back to school. The question was: Where could we go and what could we do with 22 people? (That would be Mom, her four adult children and our spouses, and 13 grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 22.) You have to admit, that's a lot of people.

We weighed the options: We could rent a huge beach house, go to an expensive resort or have a staycation here in the Washington area. But then Mom said: "What if I took everyone on a cruise? We won't have to cook, clean or shop for food. And there's plenty of entertainment on the ship."

It seemed perfect, my brothers and I agreed. Plus, apart from Mom, none of us had ever been on a cruise, so it would be a real adventure.

To say the least.

I have to admit that the idea of 22 people traveling together seemed a little overwhelming. Try going anywhere with such a big crowd and keeping everybody together and everything straight and nobody from getting hurt or lost or otherwise misplaced. The logistics were daunting, right from the start.

A travel agent booked us on a seven-day Carnival cruise from Baltimore to Port Canaveral, Fla., and Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas, and she needed documentation and information for everything. She had to have everyone's birth date and name as it appears on their passport or birth certificate (and we had to make sure that everybody had a passport or birth certificate to present when we embarked). A lot of hunting for paperwork ensued.

We also had to work out our preferences for cabin assignments so that the agent could figure out how many cabins to book. Talk about complicated. You know how those family dynamics are. We ended up with seven cabins, all on the same floor (whew!) and down the hall from one another. Three four-person cabins, two three-person cabins and two two-person cabins. Got that?

Five were balcony cabins, and two were inside cabins for some of the grandkids. One was supposed to be for the girls and the other for the boys, but of course it didn't work out quite that equally. There were more girls than boys, so my daughter Regina ended up being assigned to the boys' cabin, where, of course, she didn't want to sleep. So some nights, my husband and I had to take the cushions from the couch in our cabin and put them on the floor in the girls' cabin so that she could sleep there instead. Other nights, one of our daughters would sleep on the couch in our cabin.

The week of the cruise, two of my brothers and their families drove in from Ohio, and my oldest daughter, Monique, flew into town from Kentucky. To be sure that everyone got to the ship on time, we hired two stretch limos to take us to the port with our luggage. This was one of our better ideas, because some people in my family have a lot of trouble getting anywhere on time. (I'm sure you have a few like that in your family, too.) No way, though, were the kids going to miss out on the limo ride, so they'd make sure that their parents were operating on schedule that day.

I can't imagine what the other folks on the cruise thought when the limos pulled up to the dock and disgorged 22 people and almost double that number of bags. We must have looked like those circus cars where more and more clowns keep climbing out even though it looks as though there couldn't possibly be room for any more.

But on the other hand, the Carnival Pride holds 2,124 passengers, so in that context we were just a drop in the bucket. Just 1 percent of the passenger list, in fact. And it wouldn't be hard to get lost among so many people, especially when there were so many of us to keep track of.

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