TRIP COACH

Western Caribbean

On our cruise, we don't want to do anything we can do at home in Florida

The group at Stingray City

(Vanessa Rogers)

Who's traveling

Wendy Crawford: A corrections officer in a county jail, she's looking forward to doing 'things together with my daughter, as well as having time apart.'

Karen McCleery: "I want to be treated like a queen for the week," says Karen, a nurse at a mental-health facility. "No beds to make, no dinners to cook, no dishes to wash!"

Leticia Crawford: Wendy's daughter, 13, likes to hang out with her friends and watch Prison Break with her mom. "I guess you can say it's an appropriate show for us to watch, since my mom works at the county jail!" she says.

Nicole McCleery: Karen's daughter, 14, and Leticia became friends as Girl Scouts. Nicole plays softball, and like Leticia, is a member of the school marching band.

Where they're going and why

Wendy and Karen became friends five years ago, after their daughters joined the same Girl Scout troop in Port Charlotte, Fla. When the foursome went on a Girl Scout trip to Key West, they realized they were good travel companions.

Now that Leticia and Nicole are teenagers, they all sought a vacation that gave the girls some independence--while giving the single moms a chance to relax. While none of them has been on a cruise, everyone likes the idea of having a safe, semi-independent environment for the girls, with plenty of activities on the ship and in port. The women eagerly signed up when the office where Wendy works organized a sailing in the Western Caribbean.

The Carnival Miracle is a 2,124-passenger ship with plenty to do. There's a Gothic-castle-themed disco named Dr. Frankenstein's Lab; three restaurants, including an upscale steak house called Nick & Nora's; Frankie & Johnnie's jazz club; and a Broadway-style theater.

How can we help?

First-time jitters: "None of us really know what to expect on a cruise," says Wendy. "We'd appreciate any tips to make the most of our trip."

Seasickness: "I'm concerned about it," says Karen. "A friend of mine got seasick on a ship once."

The right excursions: "On our cruise, we don't want to do anything we can do at home in Florida," says Wendy. That means they'll pass on hanging out at the beach. Instead, the foursome wants history, culture, and adventure. But which of the cruise excursions are worth the money?

Packing: "What kind of clothes should we bring?" asks Nicole. She's particularly concerned about the two formal dinners, because she's not into wearing dresses.

Souvenirs: Wendy asks about "shopping hotspots."

Making friends: Leticia, who likes to go to dances, is curious about the ship's teen program.

Getting ready

Because they're single moms, Wendy and Karen should complete a notarized form stating that each child's father knows she is being taken out of the country. In order to curb possible kidnappings by parents, border authorities are extra cautious about children traveling with one parent.

Ships like the Miracle are so big and stable that it's unlikely anybody will get seasick. To play it safe, we recommend a trip to the drugstore to pick up Bonine and Dramamine, as well as Sea-bands--wristbands that cost around $10 and combat seasickness by pushing on pressure points. What's great about the latter is that there are no side effects (Dramamine can cause drowsiness).

After check-in at the cruise port in Tampa, luggage is taken away, to be delivered to the cabins around dinnertime. We make sure the women hold on to anything they might want during the interim (such as their swimsuits, so they can hang out by the pool).

Casual clothing like sneakers and T-shirts is fine for breakfast, lunch, and most activities, though shorts, jeans, and sneakers aren't allowed during the sit-down formal dinner. There's no need to wear a dress to the formal dinners, though; dressy black pants and a nice top will do. Or the women could opt for the casual, no-reservations buffet, where shorts and flip-flops are always fine.

On board the ship

A roster of activities--such as trivia contests, variety shows, piano sing-alongs, comedian performances, even men's hairy-chest competitions--is distributed every morning. The activities are all free, though it's always a good idea to arrive 20 minutes early to get seats. "I think the towel-folding and other demonstrations sound interesting," says Karen.

Nicole, who aspires to be a chef, should look out for the food-oriented presentations, including the programs in which passengers make their own pizza and ice cream. "Cool," she says. "We can eat our creations!"

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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