Summerís here and many parents are contemplating
whether to send the future of our country to
manners school for three months or allow them to
join the rest of the family on vacation.
Recalling some episodes when I was a teen-in-tow
on family vacations, let me just say to you
parents, presidentially, I feel your pain.
Iím not a child psychologist. Nor would I attempt
to play one on TV. But I have three professional
recommendations to make.
Family, all together now, plan a real family
What, exactly, is a ďrealĒ family vacation?
I think I know what itís not. Itís not every one
in the family going somewhere together but
remaining ear-phoned and wired to his or her
various electronic devices so they can shut out
distractions; i.e. brothers and sisters, sons and
daughters, mothers and dads.
I also think I know what it is.
I know about a family vacation that is really
different. It is for all ages. It guarantees
quality family time. Itís an expedition, an
adventure, summer camp, summer school and even
manners school all rolled into one. Plus, itís
real in a way that Disneyworld and Busch Gardens
could never be.
The perfect family vacation? A cruise. Wait. Iím
not talking about a cruise on a big impersonal
ship with a thousand cabins. I mean a cruise on a
private yacht with just two or three cabins.
Instead of crossing an expanse of ocean to dock at
foreign shopping districts, imagine your family
cruising the sheltered Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
past Southwest Floridaís gulf barrier islands and
wild mangrove sanctuaries where herons, egrets,
pelicans and ospreys roost.
Leave the earphones, cell phones and laptops at
home. This is an expedition into the wild. This
is not the family vacations that I recall with my
brother, sister and me fighting for the best seat
in the family station wagon. On the bridgedeck,
there is no such thing as a bad seat.
Youíll see dolphins surf your wake, take note of a
magnificent frigatebird soaring overhead, and see
a giant ray in the clear water below, half-buried
in the sand, thinking you donít see him. Then,
when the ray knows his hiding place is exposed,
heíll blow out of there in a puff of sand. Disney
could fake that, but youíd know it was not the
real thing, and your heart wouldnít take the same
kind of leap.
Drop the dinghy in the water one morning and
paddle to a pristine Gulf beach. You may find the
paddle marks where a loggerhead struggled up
beyond the high tide mark to lay her eggs.
On the beach, maybe youíll find a coquina shell
with a tiny, smoothly-rounded hole in it. This is
the hole made by a snail or a whelk with a
tongue-like part called a radula. The predator
drilled that hole and ate the animal inside. Keep
it as a reminder that the natural world is not
always kind, but is endlessly fascinating.
Toward the end of the day youíll anchor up in a
remote cove and organize a family fishing
tournament on the stern. Maybe somebody will
volunteer to take the dinghy to shore and gather
up some clams and the family chef and his/her
assistant will make a one-pot fish stew satisfying
to all. As dark gathers, the family will gather on
the fly-bridge and watch a sliver of a moon appear
over the mangroves and stars emerge against a
black sky. Out here, on a clear night, without the
glare of city lights, you can see 5,000 stars. But
look at one. Now, imagine; you could be looking at
the light of a star that no longer exists. Youíre
seeing light that took a million years to reach
The best lessons are learned like that, not from a
Be sure to schedule some family events like a
beachside picnic, a dinghy race, a diving contest
off the transom. Memories are made of this,
memories as compelling as anything except for
perhaps ghost stories around a campfire at Girl
Scout camp. Oh, what the heck, tell some ghost
Hereís another bonus: in September, if a teacher
should assign the dreaded
what-I-did-on-my-vacation essay, the student will
have something to write about.
For safetyís sake there are some serious dos and
doníts on a cruising yacht and the captain insists
they be followed. You might say the atmosphere is
lighthearted, but disciplined. When you think
about it, you could say the rules for a successful
cruise are probably the same as the rules for the
A family vacation that teaches that lesson might
be the best vacation of all.