Isolation Ward 8200

We are taking advantage of living in London – a simple jumping-off point to family holidays all over Europe. This little story summarizes are trip to Rome and a 7 day cruise in the Mediterranean.

We are planners. We tend to plan way ahead so there are no surprises. This actually helps with small kids – so when things go wrong, you always have a sippy cup full of water and box of cheese crackers to keep everyone happy. But, we simply didn’t plan for this trip. We booked the cruise on a whim with minimal research. The Virgin Holidays sales guy told me the boat would sell out because we’re trying to book over term break. The cruise ports of call looked interesting, the sales guy said there were kids clubs and we were assured of babysitting.  Since Kevin was off school for 10 days, we decided to book 2 days in Rome before our 7 day cruise. We booked a hotel room and a shuttle from the airport but gave little thought to what to do and see with our 2 days in Rome. 

I flew home from a Redmond, WA business trip 12 hours before we flew 2 time-zones in the opposite direction. So, I was useless in the preparations and also too tired to be useful the first day or two as well. Dave and I were both sick (my sinus and his stomach) and the kids were so tired they behaved like little drugged zombies (which was actually helpful). Regardless, we got ourselves out the door in a cab at 4:15am to Heathrow.
Unfortunately, our hotel shuttle driver “couldn’t find no parking” and was an hour late to pick us up. Dave was doubled over our luggage at the airport holding his stomach while I had a number of frustrating calls with the hotel attendant who spoke broken English. We had a very large “quadruple” room in Rome, which was a long 87 steps to the 4th floor. Hardly ideal with a stroller, a 2 year old and 4 year old. Oh, and the place was under construction, so on one side of the stairs, behind a thin sheet of plastic and no railing, was a 20 foot drop off. Europe is not a litigious place.
Things got better though, especially after a nap. We spent the next 2 days checking out the highlights of Rome. Kevin’s highlight was buying a refrigerator magnet of “the broken building” (the Coliseum). Dave’s highlight was a solo tour of the Vatican Museums. Ryan enjoyed the strawberry gelato everywhere we went. And I was simply happy hanging out with the family with no Skype chat, work email, or product problems to think about.
All in all, we accomplished quite a bit given our lack of preparation. We saw the Vatican Museums, the Castle St. Angelo,, the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and took a double-decker bus tour of Rome. On departure day, we took a train from Rome to Civitavecchia (the cruise port). I even pushed both kids in the stroller over a mountain for 2 miles to find a bookstore to buy kids’ books in English. (In our hasty planning, we forgot to bring any books. And our kids are major bookworms.)

Anyway, we got ourselves to the cruise ship in Civitavecchia. We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. The Virgin Holiday sales guy (that pressured me to book before the boat filled up) did do something right. He talked me into the “family suite.” Our room was amazing.

It was on the 8th deck in the very FRONT of the boat, room #8200. The room had 3 huge circular windows, and when we looked out, we could see the bow of the boat and the Helicopter landing pad. Kevin had his own tiny room, with a set of “boink beds” (he called them). Dave and I had our own room with a King bed. The living space in the middle, which a couch, coffee table, television, closets, etc is where Ryan’s pack n’ play was set up. We also had a nice bathroom and the shower was bigger than ours in London. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect room set up. We were ready to sleep and get rested up…..little did we know…..

The boat’s tour route took us to:

· Day 1 – Boarded by 5pm

· Day 2 – Palermo, Sicily

· Day 3 – At sea

· Day 4 – Athens, Greece

· Day 5 – Ephesus, Turkey

· Day 6 – Chania, Crete

· Day 7 – At sea

· Day 8 – Returned to Civitavecchia port

Day 2 was everyone’s favourite. We stopped in Palermo, Sicily. With bathing suits and sunglasses in hand, we headed for the nearest soft-sand beach. We spent several hours on the beach – Kevin made sand castles, we all went swimming and enjoyed the day. It was warm and relaxing.

Our short bus ride back to the boat was very exciting. A nice Midwestern family of 7 had a run-in with the Italian bus mafia. Their little freckled white kids were crying, the father was pleading, in English, explaining that he purchased bus tickets for everyone in the family. The Italian bus mafia guy was yelling in Italian. The poor Midwesterners got off the bus, all in a tizzy, and just started running. I’m guessing they won’t be back visiting Palermo, Sicily anytime soon.

About the boat – these huge cruise ships are a really impressive site. Fourteen decks in total, several swimming pools, miniature golf, arcade, rock climbing wall, huge dining halls, shops, dance clubs, etc. It is a bit overwhelming and very over the top. It’s also embarrassing in some ways. So many overweight Americans, standing in line at all-you-can eat buffets, a chocolate cookie in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. This particular boat was built in 2004, carries over 3000 passengers, 1200 crew and is over 1000 feet long.

We ate dinner in a fancy dining room with a family of 4 from the Netherlands.

Their 6 and 10 year old girls loved Kevin and Ryan. The food was delicious and had a wonderful variety. Our dinner seating was at 6pm and we could not finish before 8. When you think about the magnitude of feeding nearly 3000 people all at the same time with variety of selections, I can’t complain that it took so long. Most breakfasts and lunches we ate in the “Windjammer” cafe – buffet style piles of food which all starts to look the same after a few days. Dave and I enjoyed one dinner in a fancy steakhouse while the boys ate fish sticks in room service with two babysitters. The babysitters were part of the housecleaning crew, didn’t say more than 5 words and Kevin said they never got off the couch for the entire 2 hours. I don’t believe everything Kevin says, but I believed that.

Children in nappies (diapers) were not allowed to swim on this boat. (This is something that pushy sales guy neglected to inform us….and, it wasn’t in any of the fine print of the documents we got before the trip.) Dave and I discussed this issue at length, as newly-turned-2-Ryan was not potty trained. He loves the water and we had planned to spend a fair amount of time in the pool. So, we decided he was ready for a crash-course in potty training. He did quite well, actually! We pushed the bathroom often, and he had very few accidents over the course of the trip. So, we swam in the hot tubs everyday. The pools were not all that great. The larger swimming pools were cold and filled with salt water (directly sucked in from the ocean, perhaps?). They were also too deep to stand in, so it made it difficult to hold kids and swim with them. But we enjoyed the hot tubs.

Dave took a day tour in Athens while I stayed on the boat with both kids. I had been to Athens before with my friend Jennie and we toured the dirty, chaotic city of Athens and spent most of our time on the wonderful Greek islands. So, I knew I wasn’t missing much.

We did a tour called “Easy Ephesus” in Turkey. It was for the old, handicapped, and wheel-chair bound passengers of the boat. There was very little walking (to really see Ephesus, you have to walk 2km up a big hill which wouldn’t have worked with our stroller) and the whole tour lasted 2.5 hours. The “evil eye” necklace and bottle of water in the tour gift bag kept Kevin and Ryan busy for at least 20 minutes. Ephesus’ main claims to fame are the Virgin Mary (the last place she lived) and the Temple of Artemis. The Temple originally had hundreds of columns, but there is only one original left, and it’s in the British Museum (about 500 meters from where I work in central London). The kids enjoyed the “hunt for dead people” in the Ephesus museum, but otherwise were bored of looking out a bus window at the sites.

That evening, the trouble started. Kevin threw up all over Dave, the floor, the bed, and himself just before going to sleep. He had been suffering from mild diarrhea for several days before hand, but he has a sensitive stomach and it isn’t uncommon. He spent the night in bed with us and a metal garbage bin, throwing up every 20-30 minutes until long after midnight. This vomiting cycle continued if Kevin consumed any food. As long as he didn’t eat or drink, he didn’t throw up. Déjà vu to our Ixtapa, Mexico trip. Dave took a break and got off the boat in Chania, Crete. It was nothing to write home about, so, I won’t.

Kevin was a tough trooper. He complained little, given how he must have felt. But he continued to throw up throughout the day. And he was on day 5 of diarrhea. The next day, I took Kevin to the ship doctor. They gave him a shot (of what? I don’t know) to stop him from throwing up since he was starting to get dehydrated. They also quarantined him to his room for 24 hours, plus another 24 hours after that of avoiding the buffet eating areas. That basically meant Kevin had to spend the remainder of our cruise in our room. Dave and I took turns carrying trays of Windjammer buffet food back to the other members of the family.

Our room’s housecleaner was Marvin. Marvin was a very nice man with a wife and 8 year old son back in Honduras. He was very good to the boys and very talented with towels. He made a different towel animal every day. If I wasn’t quarantined to our room, I would have gone to the animal-towel-folding-class.

We returned to London in one piece, but exhausted. We left the boat on Sunday at 9am, wandered for an hour trying to figure out what we were supposed to do, waited around Civitivecchia 3 hours for a train to the Rome airport, waited in the Rome airport for 3 hours, took a 2. 5 hour flight to Heathrow, then an hour taxi ride home.

This is a picture of Ryan guarding the luggage (while playing with Dave’s iPhone) and Kevin sleeping in the bottom of the stroller.  Everyone was so delighted to get home. Kevin and Ryan were hugging their animals and running around the house like madmen.

The next day was Halloween. Kevin was feeling pretty good by this point, though weak and still tired from the trip. He was VERY excited about dressing up as a superhero and getting lightning bolts painted on his face. He went to school for half the day, so he could enjoy the parties and still have a nap in the afternoon.

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