A Mini Road trip, An overnight and a Caribbean cruise: The Modern American Family Vacation

The Drive Down

There are a lot of ways to frame and reframe “The Great American Road Trip.”  The most common that doesn’t involve GLAMPing is the drive up/down/over somewhere. Ours is the drive down to New Orleans, where we will stay the night before shipping off and out of port on a fun and sun-filled family cruise. Though, before we set out on the open sea, we must set off on the open road to the tune of a 14 hour drive.

My wife, however, determined to prove Google and our digital overlords wrong, says she can shave off 20 minutes (or so) and beat the scheduled arrival time. After more than many many years of marriage, I know this is less of a theory or bet and more of a dare and an inevitability.

At 3:30 a.m., the iPhone alarm goes off.

Since we’ve all showered the night before and aren’t too concerned with our outward appearances to each other, we collect the kids in various states of disheveled waking sleep mode, and quickly find ourselves on desolate side streets, before zooming down the highway.

 

I’ve painstakingly compiled and prepared a Family Fall Funtime Rippin’ Road Mix, but everyone opts for our pre-programmed Gaelic Storm Pandora station, and the new Beck album. As “Colors” bleeds into “Seventh Heaven” and I realize how much my kids are into it, I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ll hear this album at bounce house and trampoline playroom birthday parties over the next year. I surmise that it will still probably be less than Pharrell’s “Happy” but figure that has less to do with quality and more to do with the impact of perfect timing and placement in a beloved kids movie franchise.

Alphabet Game: Time taken between Q and Z: 26 minutes

As we bob and bounce up and down the interstate to the perfect pop of Beck Hansen, Bojangles and Jack’s dot the blue signs we pass in-between stretches of no civilization. Little stomachs rumble and bellyaching begins, but I must power through the hunger, ignore their cries, and use my veto so we can beat the college game-day traffic.

The roadside chicken shack off one of the ramps without the blue sign proves to be a lengthier pitstop than desired, but a much more welcome gastronomic experience. True southern fried chicken and collards more than make up for what my oldest described as “the dirtiest bathroom in the world.” Thank God for “hanitizer.”

License Plate Game – 25 states, 1 province

One or two premature teases of the cool bridge up ahead (Crescent City Connection cantilever bridge over Mississippi River) entertains us without the radio, Pandora, Spotify, or one of the 27 devices we brought along, long enough to make it to the real one.

As we gaze out in wide-eyed amazement over The Mighty Mississippi (R.I.P. Jeff Buckley), I reflect on my own mortality and worry about rising waterway levels and falling national infrastructure budgets.

For a brief moment, we match smiles over the shared joy of this family experience, before being quickly interrupted by another jaded, well-placed “When are we going to be there?” and an immediate follow up “How much longer?”

As I sink back in the seat and the kids return to the blips and beeps of their own devices, I think back on past road trips and travels when I was younger and realize there are decidedly less billboards for Shoney’s and Howard Johnson’s and way more for Adult Superstores. Sign o’ the times, indeed (R.I.P. Prince).

Defending the Crowne -The Crowne Hotel New Orleans – Airport

Rooftop infinity pools.
Million thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets.
Po-mo designed lobbies with in-house DJs.

Okay, well maybe not that last one so much, but nothing equals the lavish luxury that can only be experienced at the hottest world class hotels – unless of course, you’re traveling with kids.
When rugrats, ankle biters, kiddies, tots, or near tweens are in tow, all bets are off and most amenities go underused, or never experienced at all, because, well, kids, man. Kids.

When this is the case, there’s no reason to spend tons more on a half-experienced experience, when a thoroughly enjoyable stay awaits.

Gimme gimme that sweet convenience of the airport hotel. Normally, the trade-off for this convenience is comfort, quiet, and cool.

The Crowne Hotel New Orleans – Airport however, must be unaware of such a trade deal. As a part of “The New Orleans Hotel Collection,” a collective of historical, premium, and yes, cool accommodations in the Greater New Orleans area, The Crowne shines.

Equally as swank (and clean!) as the 5-Stars, this “Airport Hotel” is an underrated gem in a sea of bright, sparkly hotels sans the name recognition.

Offering unparalleled guest service and unexpected charms, The Crowne Hotel New Orleans – Airport in Kenner, LA (just minutes-drive from Bourbon Street) is a most welcome and satisfying choice for staying in Nola, whether you’re on your way to Mardi Gras, Voodoo Fest, or a family cruise. With an inviting and deserted outdoor pool, well-lit and climate-controlled onsite gym, and a connected upscale casual creole restaurant, The Crowne lives up to its name and the reputation of all hotels within The New Orleans Hotel Collection.

Tight, buttery grits and fresh, juicy shrimp lightly seasoned with traditional cajun spices is a lovely staple of the region and a dish that welcomes, comforts, and satisfies. Bonus: Not too heavy on the sauce.

Cruise Control

Sometime after Carnival killed the Kathie Lee experiment and South Park’s Mr. Garrison almost killed Kathie Lee, the “Golden Age of Cruising” took place. These were the cruise experiences that would encapsulate the new all-inclusive vacation experience for an entire generation of middle class families. In the process, this would incite the ire of celebrity iconoclasts and travel show television hosts. And I get it. To the tragically hip and the painfully cool, fun isn’t cool.

Fun is excitement with cheese. It’s trashy TV, Talk radio, and processed junk food. If GLAMPing in Southeast Asia is Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar, going on a Caribbean cruise is Weird Al and Sir Mix a Lot.

Let’s face it though, sometimes, life calls for a little more Yankovic and little less Yorke.
As long as you let loose and lighten up a little, you’re going to have a great time on the boat and off. Everyone from the cruise director to the cabin attendant play an integral role in seeing to that. For me, A lot happened on our week-long Carnival Cruise to the Caribbean.

3 days at sea. 3 days in ports of call in the Caribbean countries of Belize and Honduras, as well as coastal city of Cozumel, Mexico. There was shopping and beach fun and lots of walking, but here’s what I remember most:

I remember my kids having a blast

I hear the belly laughs of pure joy bellowing from my kids at the all-ages comedy club show.
I picture their coat hanger smiles on their faces just running up and down the stairs of the boat.

I feel the sun kiss my cheek as I watch them float and swim in one of several outdoor pools.

Whether it was the sight of them dancing gleefully along to the choreographed crew at the close of dinner or the awful din they made running back to the room (Sorry, Empress deck).
I remember what I captured on camera, and even more so what I didn’t.

Towels folded into animals adorning the beds daily.
Onboard games of basketball, soccer, and miniature golf played at least once.
Comic book trivia and paper plane challenges bested and Marvel movies with complimentary popcorn projected on an outdoor big screen under the moonlight.

They slept in bunk beds and wrestled over the top bunk. They had eyes bigger than than their stomachs at times, but new foods and flavors were explored or at least, tried.

Musical shows covering Motown, The 80’s, and American Classic Rock were all initially dismissed, then accepted, and in the end, thoroughly enjoyed thanks to solid singing, dancing, stage design, and production values. Seriously, this was unexpected high quality entertainment.

I unapologetically devoured spicy tuna rolls, braised ox tongue, smoked brisket and andouille sausage, lobster, mussels, escargot, chicken tandoori and tabouli salad, szechuan noodles and tofu, fish tacos and Guy Fieri burgers, western omelets, and banana pancakes.

While it is normal and expected to challenge, ignore, or scoff at everything that’s been before, it would be unwise to rule out a cruise vacation. Whatever your vacation style or taste, there’s a good time to be had on a cruise. There are lots of choices, but Carnival does it up and surprised the hell out of me with service improvements, new amenities, and just a really great time free of hassle or harshness of good vibes.

You can be as lazy as you want and just hang out by the pool (no judgement), or as active as you want to be, snorkeling, scuba diving, and exploring ancient ruins (if you’re into that sort of thing). A modern cruise experience offers an awesome family vacation full of fun and it might sound crazy but it seriously may even be a little cool.

And don’t worry, Millennials, they even have avocado toast.

Factbox

The New Orleans Hotel Collection
neworleanshotelcollection.com

Carnival Cruise Lines
carnival.com

I'm a writer who knows more about music, film, and pop culture than I do about load bearing walls, stabilized population growth, or animal husbandry.

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