Hi everyone! Hope you're all gearing up for breakfast in bed next Sunday! I remember being pregnant three years ago and hearing that the #1 Mother's Day wish was a day away from the kids. What monsters! I thought. Flash forward to last week, when I was preparing to leave for not just a day, but a whole week. The kicker? I went by myself! Read on for my account of the good and bad of taking a mothering sabbatical.
WHAT I DID ON MY (SOLO) MOMCATION
I had my first child 2 and a half years ago. While pregnant, I tried to bask in my time alone, realizing every restaurant outing was one meal closer to that typical family-with-toddler meal—one parent furtively swipes the table clean of glass and silverware while the other parent holds a kicking two-year-old and death stares the waiter until a high chair appears. One minor tussle and the toddler is buckled in and ready to start their infinite loop of beg-for-something, throw-thing-on-floor. (Repeat, repeat, repeat.) When I left my job a year ago to stay with my daughter full-time, I knew I was trading eight precious hours of adult identity outside my home to become the right-hand (wo)man to a very boisterous two-year-old who is a delight, but requires every moment of my attention.
Needless to say, I'm exhausted.
But what could I do? I'd been so used to my decade in the working world where days off meant a break from everything. My husband and I have taken a few kid-free weekends here and there, but nothing I would call truly rejuvenating. Add to that a second newborn with some health challenges and a husband who started his own company, a double-edged sword of make-your-own-hours and work-days-nights-and-weekends.) Long story short: I desperately needed a week without diapers, loading the kids into the car for mommy-and-me-classes, being grounded on the couch for hours while a baby ate themselves to sleep, and trying to reason with the whims of a two-year-old.
When I tallied up the midnight feedings, weeks parenting alone while my husband was on business trips, and hours during the weekends when it was just me and the kids, I realized that if this had been a company job, I would have some vacation time coming. I also found myself jumping more quickly to exasperation with my kids, and I figured if I didn’t get some space apart, I might become one of those miserable mothers. I was too happy to be able to stay home with my kids to become a terror doing so.
So I broached the topic with my husband of taking a little getaway. He wanted us all to come of course, but we both realized that if the kids came, it wouldn’t really a getaway for me. My original plan had been to go to a city like Austin with a friend, driving around and taking in the food and music scene. But as airfare went up and Airbnb availability went down, my husband saw me become more and more desperate for a friend to lock in their Yes so we could start planning. I tried to recruit my friends, but for the week I wanted to go away everyone was either too pregnant to travel, too strapped for cash, too ensconced in full-time parenting, or just coming off a vacation themselves. I had to figure out a vacation I could take that would be fun on my own.
“I know what you should do,” my husband announced confidently. “Just take a cruise, one that leaves from New York.”
Innnnnteresting. While I wouldn’t call us cruisers, we got engaged on our first cruise from New York to the Bahamas on New Year’s Eve, and for our honeymoon we took a two-week European cruise. I knew the advantages and comfort of a cruise, especially one you could take without getting on an airplane. I started watching prices as my target week approached, and on the Tuesday before I booked a cruise to Bermuda leaving that Sunday. A bargain $720 all in with taxes to buy out a double inside stateroom. $100 a night to go to a sunny destination, including meals and entertainment? Yes, please! I frantically clicked “Submit Order”, then ran upstairs to go pack.
It's a short ride from Westchester down the West Side Highway to the cruise ship terminal with my husband as driver and two kids nodding off in the back. I excitedly and sadly got out, touched their two sleeping faces, and went on my way. Luggage dropoff is easy, and since there is no real baggage allowance I was able to pack anything and everything I wanted to bring.
I boarded the ship at about 2:00 pm for a 4:00 pm departure and spent the first few hours unpacking, touring the ship, and getting in a workout at the fitness center. The gym has floor-to-ceiling windows, so it's a good spot to watch NYC go by once the boat leaves. Which seemed like a great idea, except once we took off I realized I was on the side of the boat where the view is of New Jersey. Eek! I rushed upstairs to the sundeck in my gym clothes. The boat travelled down the west side of Manhattan, by the Statue of Liberty, and under the Verrazano bridge (which I swear we only cleared by 10 feet). As the last of the boroughs went by, I realized I was officially on my cruise. Alone, for better or for worse. This next seven days would either feel like liberation or like jail, and I was nervously excited to find out which.
The great thing about cruising is that there’s plenty to do or not do, and so many people that walking around alone is not particularly noticed. I wasn’t ready to go into full-on meditation mode, so I spent the first night taking advantage of free giveaways and raffles. Free shots at the duty free shop, a champagne raffle at the art gallery. I took in dinner at the main restaurant. After eating hundreds of meals where a tiny human in a high chair got to decide when I started and stopped, I did not waste a minute of my dinner feeling sorry for myself. I was too grateful for the quiet. So grateful, in fact, that I was in bed by 9:30. After all, the point of this vacation is to relax, not push it.
The seven days went by delightfully slowly. I was relaxed and on my own schedule for more than 170 continuous hours. I quickly settled into a routine: tea delivered to my room at 7:00 am, forty-five minutes at the gym every day, time in the hot tub and on a sun chair, entertainment throughout the day, slow meals in the restaurant, purchasing a half carafe of wine deck night at 5pm that I leisurely doled out throughout the evening.
The boat spent three days in Bermuda where I traded in my deck chair time for a towel on the sand and my hot tub time for the ocean. The best part of cruising, and especially important when cruising alone, is that the hotel room is always a two-minute walk away. Anytime I needed a break or a nap or just to be invisible for a while, I could go back to my room and unwind.
On the third day I booked a spa treatment, and since I was alone the technician threw in free access to the ship’s private thermal spa for the entire week of my stay. This would have cost more than $200 if I had purchased it myself. Now I could add to my routine a soak in the thermal pool and a visit to the steam room or salt room. The cushy deck chairs and floor-to-ceiling ocean views were reason enough to visit at least once a day.
That’s not to say traveling alone wasn’t without its awkward moments. The crew, not other passengers, seemed to be the most confused about my solo status. My spa facialist (who had a fully articulated cat’s eye and red lip at 7 in the morning) started chatting me up. When she heard I was here without the kids she blurted out, “Don’t you miss them?” Internal eye roll. Of course I do. Then there was this gem:
"What do you do?"
"I stay at home with my two kids."
"Oh, so you don't work?"
Yeah, I thought. I don’t work. My kids dress and feed themselves, change their own diapers, and take Uber to the baby gym and music class by themselves. At the end of the treatment she was giving me her hard sell on skincare products to be used under foundation, but stopped halfway through as she realized: “I don’t know if you wear makeup, since you stay home.” I resisted the urge to inform her that “staying home” was not meant to be taken literally.
I felt hilariously alone when perusing the nightly photographer setups. I had won a free photo and was bound and determined to redeem it. The first night I dressed up and posed in front of each of the six somewhat tacky backdrops by myself while groups of people stared with a look I can only imagine to mean, “What the…?” I went to look at the photos the next night and—OMG! I looked terrible. Then I remembered that cruise ship lighting rounds you out. Even on my honeymoon cruise, at my wedding-thin weight, I was horrified at how chubby I looked in the photos. Flash forward to having actual post-baby chub, and the results are horrifying. I couldn’t buy any of these photos. I made it my mission to get a good picture to take home, so each night I marched through a myriad of setup and poses. The photographers were surprisingly friendly and helpful. Five days and about eighty photos later, I had one that looked like me—not like someone else swallowed me. The person who loaded those eighty photos of one woman alone into my personal picture binder must have been either confused or amused at all the solo posing. What’s with this chick? Does she live alone surrounded by professional photos of herself leaning on a white Grecian column? All I know is I got the shot.
If you’re a New Yorker on a cruise, you’re in the unique situation of living in a place where you already have access to the best of everything. You have to let those standards go when you’re on ship. For me, the Broadway show performed on ship was just ok (having had seen the original on actual Broadway), the dueling pianos entertainment was nowhere near as great as the one I saw near Times Square once, the food was okay but not fantastic. The art at the art auction was nothing you’d see at any city museum. Let’s just say Thomas Kinkade is a superstar on a cruise ship. But those cheesy moments are what makes cruising fun. And you have to dive in deep.
I played Bingo. I drank cheap wine. I watched people bid on a painting of a landscape where the clouds were in the shape of dogs. I went to a Glow party where people wore glow sticks and the DJ played Baby Got Back.
But the best part of cruising if you are a weary mom is how easy it is. Someone cooks every meal for you. The steward makes up your room twice a day. You don’t have to make a bed or even fold a towel. You walk away from your dirty dishes. There’s always time for a nap and a shower. The difficult parts are lack of digital access, but if you wanted to spend the money there are internet packages on board.
I had discovered my phone’s iMessage worked through most of my journey, so I was able to text my husband as well as some friends and family throughout the cruise. I had not expected that and it made the week of solitude a little more friendly, as I was always a keystroke away from communication. It was so wonderful that when it stopped working on day 6, I panicked. My husband and I discovered a workaround where I could receive Facebook chats from him, but since my replies didn’t go through, I went to the free “Send-A-Photo-And-350-Characters” kiosk to snap a pic and slowly type out my reply. This meant that he had instant access to tell me anything, and I could only get back to him once every hour or so when I dragged myself back to the touchscreen. It was actually pretty romantic to be on the receiving end of someone's thoughts without having to type out a “lol” or “ok” each time. My replies read like telegrams due to the curt nature of the touchscreen. “love this keep texting” I would beg while other cruisers waited for their turn at the kiosk.
At the end of the seven long days, I was ready to go home and excited to squeeze those baby cheeks I had missed all week. Getting off the ship, through customs, and into the car of my waiting family took fifteen minutes. We zoomed up the Henry Hudson and within a half hour I was back at home. It was a pleasure not to undo all my relaxation with the stress of flying.
So if you’re a tired mom who wants to get away, and wants an easy sunny spa-y vacation with no baggage fees, 3-ounce liquid constraints, or navigating new places by yourself, you should check out checking out on a cruise from New York City. For Westchester moms, it’s kind of the perfect getaway. I don’t think I’ll accrue enough days to leave again for a long while, but getting a week off from the demands of my baby bosses reset my stress meter, and I’m ready to happily go back to “staying home” and “not working”. Now excuse me while I go put on some makeup.
See you next time!