ABOARD THE CARNIVAL PRIDE -- One of the most difficult things about planning a vacation is keeping everyone happy. That's especially true if you are planning a multigenerational vacation.
Grandma and Grandpa want to relax at a nice, slow pace, drink coffee in the morning and stroll around admiring the sights. The kids want action, adventure, pools and water slides. Mom wants to go shopping and find a quiet place to read a book. And Dad wants great places to eat, tons of stuff to do and doesn't want to have to worry about anything.
I found myself in the midst of that balancing act recently when planning our first three-generation trip. After hours of research, I ended up booking a seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise on the Carnival Pride.
The cruise to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas filled the needs of our diverse group in almost every way. And besides, the ship left from Long Beach, so we didn't have to fly anywhere.
Once on the massive ship we entered our rooms and discovered a feature that would bring us all great joy -- the balcony. While my boys, Matt, 11, and Gabe, 6, started jumping on the beds, I walked onto the balcony, surveyed the vast ocean and immediately felt a giant weight lifted from my shoulders. I was on vacation.
That night began one of my favorite shipboard rituals -- dinner in the gorgeous, two-story dining room with its ornate furnishings and amazing views (we got a great table next to the window).
But dinner on the Carnival Pride was, simply put, the highlight of my shipboard experience. The service was fantastic, with a multitude of options every night (including lobster one evening).
We enjoyed dining together as a family, which is something we rarely do these days. It brought us closer together, allowing us to catch up with each other. I remember thinking to myself, "This is how it should be," as I sipped my coffee at the end of another amazing meal.
We had two days at sea to relax and ready ourselves for the adventures to come.
The first port of call was Puerto Vallarta, a fantastic city full of beautiful old churches, the greenest jungle I have ever seen (the movie "Predator" was filmed in the jungle just outside the city) and wonderful, smiling people who are proud of the history and beauty of the city in which they live.
There were several tour options, including "jungle zip line," swimming with dolphins and horseback riding along the beach. We chose the Las Caletas tour and boarded a catamaran for the one-hour ride to a private cove called Las Caletas -- a destination offering a range of activities including snorkeling and spa treatments.
The ride to Las Caletas was fabulous. As the catamaran hugged the rugged coastline, we could see the mansions built along the hills, and I couldn't help but fantasize about what it must be like to live in one.
We arrived at Las Caletas and found a spot on one of several little beaches. Grandma, Grandpa and Matt grabbed snorkels and fins and waded out into the clear, blue water. We enjoyed the sun, and played all day along the shoreline until it was time to go back to the ship.
The next morning we sat on the balcony as the ship made its way into the port of Mazatlan. I could see Stone Island just on the other side of the channel. The beach was lovely, and in a short while my wife, Martha, the boys and I would be there enjoying it.
My parents chose the Sierra Madre tour, which took them into the countryside to visit old villages and churches and to see the wonderful arts and crafts made by local artisans.
Martha and Matt went horseback riding while Gabe and I played on the beach all day. I really could have stayed a long time there, but alas, we needed to bid our new favorite beach farewell and return to the ship.
Cabo San Lucas was our next stop, and Matt decided to go with Grandma and Grandpa on the air-conditioned bus tour of the Baja countryside. Gabe wanted to stay on the ship at the kids' club, so that left Martha and me with something we get very little of at home: We actually got to spend time together, without the kids.
We rode a tender to shore and just walked around Cabo San Lucas. The area around the marina is very upscale, almost like a Mexican Newport Beach. We actually found ourselves disappointed, as it has changed so much in the 14 years since we first visited Cabo.
We strolled the street and found some cute shops featuring local art, and Martha bought a few masks to add to her collection at home.
The weather was fantastic, so we took a taxi to one of the resorts, chilled out by the pool and had a few margaritas until it was time to go back to the ship.
The next day was our last day at sea, and came to demonstrate why these cruises work so well for extended families of wide age ranges and disparate interests. I went into the trip worrying about keeping everyone happy for seven days, but it was never an issue.
On the final day, the boys went for full-on pool and water slide action. I got to taste wine in David's restaurant. Grandma and Martha played bingo. Grandpa just got to chill out.
We all were having our own "mini vacations." And we were all having a blast.
IF YOU GO:
The Carnival Pride sails every Sunday out of Long Beach for seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises. Port calls are at Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. Rates through March from $439 for an interior room, $579 for an ocean-view room and $639 for a balcony room (all per person, double occupancy). Fuel supplement fee is $5 per person, per day. Prices climb during holiday periods and for summer travel. Information: www.carnival.com; (888) 227-6482.