Family Cruisin’ Can’t Be Beat! by Dean & Nancy Hoch

Can you imagine a family of 38 members gathering for a family reunion cruise – all courtesy of Grandpa and Grandma? For our family it wasn’t something to imagine; it was a reality, and it turned out to be a blast! Rather than leaving money in a will, we decided to enjoy some of our nest egg along with our family, and a great decision it turned out to be.

When we first told our neighbor about our tentative plans, she said incredulously, “Thirty-eight family members – and they all get along?” She really was amazed, but we knew our crew of five sons and their wives and kids, as well, or we would not have proposed the idea in the first place.

When we started out raising those five rambunctious boys, we could never have imagined what the years would bring. However, as they were growing, we often told the boys that somewhere in the world five wonderful girls were also growing up and that one day they would all be married and raising kids of their own.

That, of course, was beyond anything they could envision at the time, but it all came about just as we had said. Little did we dream, however, that those five sons and their beautiful wives would reward us with 22 equally beautiful grandchildren — and so far, three darling, little great-grandchildren.

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Okay, we’re prejudiced and admit it, but truly it’s amazing for us to live to see the start of not just one, but two whole new generations.

When the boys started to marry and have their own little ones, neither of us liked to shop much at all, so, for the many oncoming birthdays, we made it a policy to give the grandkids a dollar for each year of their ages, stopping when they turned 18. With their 18th birthday card, we jokingly told them that if we continued sending them money, we’d eventually run out of cash. By that age, they understood.

At Christmas time, we gave them each $10 toward a book of their choice. Then the rest of the money went toward our specially planned yearly reunions.

For more than twenty years, we planned all kinds of weekend reunions. Instead of Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, we undertook our family “Moveable Reunions.” Living in Southeast Idaho, we held various summer gatherings in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Lava Hot Springs, Heise Mountain River Ranch, water parks in Boise, Bear Lake and amusement parks in Northern Utah, and other locales. What fun they all turned out to be – mostly weekend events — and what grand memories were created for everyone.

When we first queried the clan about our tentative plans for the cruise, our oldest son and his wife from Seattle, immediately said, “Count us in.” Another family from our area of Idaho said basically the same, as did the three other families living 150 miles away. Months of careful planning followed.

Ferris Bland, an experienced and friendly employee of Vacations-to-Go handled a huge amount of the details for our Carnival cruise. He was outstanding, ever responsive to each of our queries, and, because of him, everything went off without a hitch.

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The cruise we chose, of course, was something we saved for and considered “the really biggie reunion” for our family — a three-nighter calendared during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, sailing out of Long Beach, California. The only shore excursion was a day in Ensenada, Mexico, or “Enchilada,” as Grandpa called it. An option would have been four nights, including a day on Catalina Island, but this didn’t work out in our time frame.

As travel writers, the two of us had been on a number of cruises, and years earlier we had taken our five sons and their wives only, on a similar cruise that they all remembered fondly. Most of the rest of the family had never sailed, so this was definitely an exciting adventure for them.

Excitement built as the time for our departure drew near, and, in spite of rain and snow and heavy traffic, we all converged in our individual vehicles on our Southern California destination — each coming from the various directions and everyone arriving safely for our overnighter in hotels near the pier.

We neglected to mention that, since gas for the trip was a consideration, we also provided a travel stipend of $300 per vehicle, as well as some colorful HOCH FAMILY REUNION – 2014 CALIFORNIA CRUISIN’ T-shirts for everyone, even the babies – both “gifts” each family greatly appreciated.

As we all arrived at the dock on the afternoon of our sailing, we marveled at the huge ship, and we all excitedly went about finding our cabins and getting settled in. The crew welcomed us warmly, and the first meal on board met with everyone’s approval, as did all the subsequent meals — both the formal, sit-down dinners, the ever-open pizza bar, and other food stations in many places on the ship.

Our group was comprised of all ages, the youngest being two tiny great-grandsons, both in the 1-2 year age range, as well as twin grandsons, age nine, who loved best of all the “endless ice cream machine” on one of the decks. We had several older teen boys who spent a lot of time in the work-out room, and all the girls and the adults especially enjoyed the formal dinners, dancing, shopping on shore in Mexico, and every other interest and activity you can imagine in between. What fun we all had!

Our ship, the Imagination, held some 2,000 guests, and was well appointed. We could have wished for more family-oriented evening programs, and the two of us did spend a half hour talking with the cruise director about this concern. He said he greatly appreciated our input and that the cruise line was definitely considering moving in that direction. We hope they do.

Did you know, by the way, it’s been said that media specialists figure that one comment represents the opinions of roughly 100,000 people? So it does pay to speak up. Even if it’s only a fraction of that number, it obviously pays to let concerns be known.

Now, if you are contemplating a family cruise, we recommend, of course, to plan well ahead. The rewards will no doubt be, as they were in our case, well worth the effort – such as many hugs, thank you notes and positive follow-up comments, often months after the event telling us what a great time everyone had and how much our efforts were appreciated. Surely the memories created were worth it all.

As we were disembarking, one of the twin grandsons took Grandpa by the hand and expectantly asked, “Grandpa, when will we get to go on another cruise?” And Grandpa replied, “Tell you what, son, you go and ask your daddy the same question, and see what he says. Also, tell him that when it happens, maybe you’ll invite Grandma and Grandpa to go along on that one?”

He seemed okay with that answer; we’re not sure about his dad.

It’s a bit redundant to ask that, if time and means were to permit, would we do all the planning and put up all the funds for this bonding experience with our big family again? The answer is: You bet!