We had slipped into a routine — hardly our normal one, mind you. Watching the sun set behind the Dominican Republic, or maybe it was the Virgin Islands, as we toasted craft cocktails while our kids sipped virgin piña coladas. It was just the end of another day aboard a floating oasis, the Top Sail Lounge in the Yacht Club on the MSC Seashore. Our Plano home seemed far away.
Once again, we opted to go with MSC Cruises, a boutique cruise line that may not have the brand recognition of its competitors, but they’re the gold standard among people who know cruising. The MSC Seashore has more open decks for walks and lounging than your typical cruise liner. Their standard offering is excellent, but the Yacht Club experience dials up the pampering to 11. Cruise ships can feel echoey and loud, but not the Yacht Club.
Our fellow passengers aboard the MSC Seashore numbered north of 5,000, but up here in the Yacht Club, there were less than 200 of us. Our royal blue wristbands, with near-field communication (NFC) sensors, got us into the club and our cabins, where our own private butler — Ana, who was decked out in a black suit with tails — was ready to make our plush voyage even more so.
In addition to getting our daily infusion of vitamin D, the ocean air and blue skies nourished and replenished our souls from what had been a long couple of years. A very long couple of years. Deciding to sail the Caribbean for two weeks with two sets of grandparents and our little ones ended up being one of the best decisions we could have made.
Being on a cruise made juggling the logistics of a large family vacation easy and painless: Everyone could come and go as they pleased, with ample activities, be it going to the pool, gym, casino, kids club — or any of the seemingly hundreds of things taking place throughout the day. Our days were flexible and relaxed, able to change at a moment’s notice. But one thing was constant: Watching the sun set was how we always ended each day.
Setting sail, we had high expectations and still managed to have those expectations surpassed. The entire experience was so luxurious and relaxing that we were only tempted ashore three times. Why would anyone ever want to leave?
All Hands on Deck
Onboard, everything was impressive. It’s all the little details that count, even the ones you’d never think you’d need. “Is this a pillow menu?” I asked my husband, perusing options that included down, foam and hypoallergenic.
Our cabin, an MSC Yacht Club Deluxe Suite, had ample space for us, two young children, toys, bedtime books and a Pack ’n Play. A partial room divider in the form of a shelving unit between the bed and the sofa was a lifesaver when it came to putting the littles to bed. For those needing a little more space, adjoining rooms were also available. We didn’t spend much time in our cabin, but when we’d return from a day of activities or lounging by the pool, there were little sandwiches or intricate pastries served on mirrored glass waiting for us.
Routine-oriented people — whether they try to or not — inevitably fall into a routine. Even on vacation, as it were. For breakfast, we’d take the expansive (and delicious) buffet by the private Yacht Club pool, then discuss what we’d like to do. That conversation was a lesson in rhetorical composition because regardless of the grand designs we had for the day, our children, ages 3 and 5, could not wait to be checked in to the kids club, followed by the Pirates Cove Aqua Park and then maybe some gelato.
Don’t get me wrong: We love vacationing with our children, and we’re fortunate to be able to bring them on a luxury cruise. But the kids club on MSC Cruises was smartly designed to make kids want to be there. That’s decidedly different from a lot of resort kids clubs that treat the experience like high-end babysitting. The kids participated in events like “Master Chef at Sea,” where they got to bake and design biscuits in a competition. As fate would have it (or just good kids clubbin’ acumen), everyone was a winner. There was a dance competition as well, and just in case the kids needed to learn some moves, parents were encouraged to boogie down with their kiddos. I felt it incumbent upon me to bust a move. The grandparents declined to cut a rug with us and took on the ever-important role of videographers.
A Vacation Within a Vacation
As the kids were sufficiently occupied and happy, that allowed my husband, Philip, and I to power down and do what we like to do: relax in the sun, smell the ocean breeze from the Top Sail Lounge at the front of the ship, and eat, drink and read. With unobstructed 180-degree views of the sea and attentive waitstaff (including the best cocktails on board), the Top Sail Lounge is a luxury living room to rival the most beautiful oceanview villa — and one of our favorite Yacht Club amenities.
When we needed a break from all the indulgence and lounging and drinking, we walked around the ship. Strolling around the Yacht Club’s private deck, the ocean stretches for as far as the eye can see. Sun loungers looked out directly across the glittering waves, tables and chairs huddled around the bar, and at the front, two whirlpools sat on an elevated platform. It was not crowded, and only the occasional lounger had been reserved with the careful placement of a towel. Beyond the Yacht Club, we found a solarium and the Bridge of Sighs, a glass-bottomed path teetering 72 feet above an infinity pool.
We were at our most adventurous when Philip and I decided to tackle the giant waterslides. Unfortunately, our children were too small to try it, but that was for the best. We were like kids again as the tube wrapped us over the side of the ship and brought us back to deck. We returned to the buffet by the Yacht Club pool for lunch: lobster, grilled shrimp, pork chops, veal, fresh fish and salad served with cold cuts and cheeses. The older generation enjoyed a very leisurely lunch with plenty of wine in the private Yacht Club restaurant.
But what should we do next? Hit the interactive XD Cinema? Go to the arcade and try out the F1 simulator? Maybe a quick round of poker at the Platinum Casino? Or, like most evenings, head back to the Yacht Club, where we enjoyed a delicious multicourse dinner before our butler chauffeured us to the theater every evening for the show. Every once in a while we sneaked away for date nights, leaving the little ones with the grandparents and trying out one of the specialty restaurants or the countless lounges with live music.
The 10-day cruise took us from Miami to Mexico, then to Honduras, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, culminating with a stop at MSC Cruises’ private island, Ocean Cay. With relaxation being our main goal, we ventured ashore only three times: traditional beach excursions in Honduras and the Bahamas and a full-day beach adventure at Ocean Cay. With its two miles of pristine white shore and crystal blue water, it was a highlight.
Why walk when you can be chauffeured via golf cart to a private beach reserved for Yacht Club guests? Here, butlers delivered drinks — water, margaritas and piña coladas, of course — while the kids played in the sand and dipped their toes in the warm Caribbean Sea.
Later, we traded the golf cart for comfortable shoes and explored the island on foot. There was still much to discover: more beaches, lagoons, bars and shops. We even climbed a lighthouse.
The last night of our cruise was spent on the balcony of the Top Sail Lounge. We toasted with margaritas, Aperol spritz and two virgin piña coladas. Our routine — exploring the ship, splashing in the pool, eating, drinking and relaxing — was coming to an end. Work, and our North Texas home, awaited. But for a few hours more, the beautiful sea views cleansed our souls and refreshed our minds.
The takeaway: Even the best laid plans of rest and relaxation can be thwarted from time to time. The same holds true with routines. Try as we might, people in a routine culture realize it’s hard to break routines, or at least it’s hard to keep from assuming other routines. But as routine-assuming goes, MSC Cruises is a fine place to create your new normal. Even if it’s just for 10 days.
For more information about MSC Cruises, visit msccruisesusa.com